5/16/17

Mirror, Mirror: How Our Children Reflect Our Spiritual Condition

One of the aspects of becoming a parent that no book prepared us for was the way our children are a living mirror to us of how we must look to God (except that God is patient and loving, and we are, well...). I was prepared for the kids to come with all manner of bad habits and lack of manners, but when you're living with it - day in and day out - the frustration mounts as you repeat over and over again, "Say thank you, stop whining, don't hit your sibling, how many times to I have to remind you to flush the toilet..."

Very early on in this journey, Peter and I were talking about ideas to put an end to the whining, and during our conversation I found myself saying to him, "Ugh. This is so hard! I don't want to do this anymore!" {Insert pregnant pause} And then we both glanced at each other before I said, "You know, for as much as we hate whining by our kids, you and I sure do a lot of it!" Mirror, mirror. Reflections of ourselves.

This spring, after one particularly good section of time (when everyone had been given new things, everyone was happy, no one was fighting, and Peter and I kept pinching ourselves to see if it was real), three of our children informed us that they wanted to go back to their birth country. One wanted to go back now. One wanted to go back with a sibling. And one wanted to go back - but only after all the fun events that were coming up over the next year took place. The point was, by the time the third child said, "I want to go back... can we go back to..." I was ready to throttle them all.

I wanted to shout at them, "WHY?! You ungrateful little twirps!! There's no one back there who cares about you or loves you like we do! You had no freedom, no opportunities, no actual friends. You didn't have an amazing extended family or Church family like you do here. What in the WORLD do you have to go back to that's better than what you have now?!" Now, bonus point for mom, I held my tongue, nodded my head, informed them - calmly - that when they were 18 they were welcome to go wherever they could afford to travel, and continued to drive them to their various schools and activities (with a marvelous attitude, of course!).

Later in the day I was venting to Peter via text message, and God proceeded to give me an out-of-body experience. I read what I was writing, I thought about what I was saying and how the kids were responding so poorly to grace and generosity and love, and I began to chuckle. You see, I've lost count of how many times over the last few months I have said to God (and to Peter), "I just want my old life back.Mirror, mirror. Egypt was so much better. 


This journey of obedience has given me more understanding of those stubborn Israelites. Almost five years ago, God began to answer my prayers to be led out of the spiritual desert and do something with my life that would make an eternal difference; but during that time, I have whined (see above), complained, and longed for the easy life - the one that I had been praying would end. When God brought us all the way to the end of the official adoption process and real life with 5 kids began, my wails of frustration and fear switched to whiny statements about how much better it was before, and how I wanted to go back to the way it was, and regularly saying, "I want my old life back."

Last month, God stopped me in my tracks. God used three children who were not grateful for what they had been given, and expressed a desire to go back to what - by all human standards - was a sad, dysfunctional life, with no hope for the future. In their wistful pleas to return to their former life (a.k.a. Egypt), I saw myself - rejecting what God has given me, ungrateful for the opportunity to rely completely on Him and grow in my faith. For much of my forward journey, I've been casting one eye backwards, longing for the life I left - despite the fact that I am much more God-reliant now (something I wouldn't trade for anything).

People ask me if there's anything about being a parent that I enjoy, and I can definitely say that yes, there is, but it might not be what you would expect. I'm grateful for my role as a parent because I see myself reflected in my kids, coming face-to-face with my own struggles and sin on a daily basis. I'm thankful as a parent to be feeling the regular pull of the Holy Spirit to change, open and honest in my mistakes so the kids can see changes in me, and  eventually desire to hand their own life over to God. Mirror, mirror: may my mirror cleanly reflect the God who brought me on this journey.

5/11/17

The Adopted Mother's Day

I've been dreading this coming Sunday (Mother's Day in the United States) ever since we first decided to adopt. 

Every year, our pastor always talks about how Mother's Day can be a bitter-sweet day for everyone. Some people (like me) were blessed with incredible, Godly moms who trained us up, loved us unconditionally, and still stand like pillars in our lives. Others dealt with abusive moms, absent moms, sick moms, emotionally unstable moms, unsaved moms - making Mother's Day a day that they do not look forward to because it's hard to honor the women who gave birth to them.

And then there are women for whom Mother's Day is just another reminder of their inability to be a biological mom for various reasons (infertility, never married, multiple miscarriages), and this day pours salt in wounds. For sixteen years, I am pretty sure people looked at me as I sat in church on Mother's Day and felt pity for a situation that did not exist in our home. As I've shared before, I never had any desire to be a mother, so it has never been a negative or difficult day for me because we were kid-free by choice.

When we finally decided to walk in obedience to God's calling, I recall one of the first conversations we had, being about how much we were both going to hate the hoopla around Mother's/Father's day - especially our first of either. You see, it's hard to be excited about celebrating something you never wanted, and being the INTJs that we are, we don't fake it well. Ol' "poker face" here doesn't hide what I'm thinking, and when people express excitement about something that doesn't excite me, they usually get a half-smile and a non-committal, "uh huh...," which leaves them wondering what my problem is. Welcome to my life.

It's already started - the "Oh my goodness! Your FIRST Mother's Day!!" comments - and I have been stammering and stuttering in my responses, trying to be kind, but royally failing. And although I was expecting the knee-jerk reaction of, "Nooooo!!! Don't be excited about this for me! I haven't been looking forward to this all my life." what I wasn't expecting was how I feel defensive of our kids. The need to protect them from all Mother's Day hoopla has taken me by surprise. 

You see, from where I stand, I see five kids who have lived with us for eight months, a relatively short amount of time compared to the rest of their lives thus far. I see certain kids who didn't want to be adopted - by us, or anyone else - but who have come a long way towards having something that resembles a healthy adult/child relationship. I see a daughter who might very well call me "Carrie" for the rest of my life, and for whom the title of "mother" is reserved for the woman who gave birth to her. I see kids who call me "Mom" half the time, and "Carrie" the other half - the title of "mom" being what they call the newest caregiver in their short lives. And there have been many before me. It may feel like a betrayal of their former life, it may feel forced when everyone around them is making plans for their moms, it may hurt that when their lives have been uprooted and changed, it is the woman who did the uprooting who gets the spotlight. This year, Mother's Day may be a little bit uncomfortable for more than just me. 

Earlier this week, we attended a "May Day" school performance for our middle daughter. Towards the end of the evening, the 5th grade class did a song which included holding up framed baby pictures of themselves - inciting ohs and ahs from most of the audience. And while tissues were coming out all around me I sat there, with my husband holding the 4 year old on his lap, the 8 year old between us, the 6 year old to my right, and the 12 year old hundreds of miles away on a school trip, and thought, "Our kids could never do that, because those photos don't exist."


The earliest photos we have of them are grainy, scanned in images from their original adoption file, taken about a year before we met them. I don't know what my kids looked like as babies. We don't have a hallway of 1-year photos. I've only just framed their first school photos from the U.S. so that we have something to look at later. For almost 12 years of her life, there's a void of photographic history for our oldest daughter. When I get to the "family history" section on medical forms, I have to write, "None known." When I'm asked about allergies, the best answer I have is, "We haven't seen any reactions yet."  These are the things I think about at Mother's Day.

People often praise us for the step we took in adopting our five kids, but the fact is: we're not their saviors. Our job isn't to swoop in so that we can now celebrate two new holidays, it was to step in and follow the direction of our Savior, and to point these kids to Him as the most important Father they could ever meet. It's our responsibility and privilege to share our adoption stories as a son and daughter of the Almighty God, and to talk about it when we sit at home, and as we walk (or drive) along the road. My job for the moment is to show them the Love of Jesus, whether they call me "Mom," "Carrie," or (as happened one morning after I laid down the law when we were late for school), "Cruella DeVil".

Every day I am doing my best to mother these kids for Jesus, so if you see me on Sunday, please don't forget our kids. Rather than praising me for being obedient to God, show them that they are loved and wanted, not only by their adoptive parents, but by the Body of Christ. This is my Mother's Day wish.

4/24/17

Every Day, In Every Way...

I had a woman ask me yesterday how it felt to have little people calling me "mom". I think I shocked her a bit when I responded with, "Very strange." Motherhood was never something I dreamed about or prayed for or wanted - it was something that was thrust on me when I finally listened to the calling that God was pounding me with for years. If left up to my own devices, I'd be sipping coffee on a Parisian street corner rather than telling a child for the umpteenth time that they need to blow their nose into a tissue, not gross out their siblings by blowing snot down their face at the dinner table. But for reasons that I could not see until very recently, God chose to put me with snot-child.

Over the weekend, the Hubs and I were talking about what it has done to us - how it has changed us - to follow God into this adventure of snot-filled craziness. I found my eyes misting over as I confessed to finally realizing why I was so angry with God back in October when we first arrived in Costa Rica and met the kids.

Even though I had spent months - years even - telling people that this adoption thing was all God's story that He was writing, when we were finally at the point of picking up the kids, I threw everything I had at God. I was so angry. Angry that He told us to do this. Angry that He destroyed my comfortable life. Angry that He thought two people who didn't like children should be saddled with five of them. Angry that He didn't come through at the last minute with some kind of sacrificial lamb, letting us off the hook and allowing us to do what we really wanted to do (move to Paris). I cried a lot. I pounded my fists on bed pillows and kicked floorboards in frustration, all while trying to fight for the opportunity to raise these kids that I didn't want.

Eventually, I read enough Scripture, poured forth enough anger, and cried enough tears that I was willing to listen when my wise husband looked at me one day and said, "ENOUGH. You and I may not want to do this, but that is totally beside the point. God called us to do this. You know that, and I know that. It's time to suck it up and DO IT." And so we did. We fought for our five kids. We stood strong against the pressure to bend our beliefs and change our convictions, and in the end, we stood still - and God fought for us.

It's been almost six months since the adoption was finalized, and five months since we flew home to the States. We've moved from survival mode to acceptance mode to "hey, is it just me, or is this getting easier?" mode. My standard answer when people ask how it's going is to say, "Every day is a little bit better." But here's what I've learned... it's not because of me. 

The realization of why I was so angry in October didn't hit me until yesterday, as I sipped hot tea in the car with the Hubs (while other people were taking care of our kids in Sunday school - hello, free parent time!). I suddenly understood that I was angry at God last fall because even though I was paying lip service to His story and following Him and His calling for us (all true, by the way), what I was really thinking, deep down - so deep it took me almost 7 months after the fact to realize it - was, "God, don't You understand what I am doing for YOU? Don't you realize what I have given up? You should appreciate my sacrifice a bit more, and honor it by making life easy now." HELLO!! I'm grateful I wasn't struck by lightening in my ignorant arrogance.

How often, my friends, do we think along those lines? How often do we "serve" God, but really consider it a favor for Him (even if we don't necessarily think of it in those terms)? Who was I to think that obeying God's calling was anything more than just submitting my life to His plan? God didn't need to use me. He could have let me sit still in my passive, contented, spiritual desert, sipping coffees in foreign lands and occasionally praying to Him because it's something Christians do. But He didn't!

Instead of giving up on me when my thick head couldn't get the message of adoption, He hammered harder. Rather than making the journey easy on us, He taught us complete reliance on Him. When we started to take over, He reminded us that apart from Him, we can do nothing. When, in my anger and arrogance, I blamed Him and questioned His choice of life calling for us, He loved me still, and He held my hands when I put my eyes on the waves and wind. Instead of dunking me under the water, He allowed me to walk on it with Him. 

And so yes, as I realized that my anger came from deep within me, I teared up as I looked back and saw how far He has brought me. I am not naturally mom material, but because of the love of Jesus to me, I am able to pass the napkin to snot-child and not be totally grossed out. Because of the faithfulness of Jesus to me, I can say 'yes' to umbrellas and muddy feet that mess up my neat home. Because of the grace of Jesus to me, I can fold laundry and explain to a child that Jesus died for them and what that can mean to them. Because of the forgiveness of Jesus to me, I can seek the forgiveness of the children He has entrusted to me, turning angry outbursts into important life lessons.

Every day is a little bit better... all because of Him.


1/30/17

Let's Talk About Lice

When I logged on this morning to type up this post, I realized that it had been several months since I shared an update (here) about the adoption, the kids, and where God led us as He wrote our story. If you've been checking the blog for those updates, I suggest you head on over to the Facebook page to get caught up. Time is precious, and Facebook updates are about all I can manage these days. At some point I will try to sum up what happened since October 21st (when I last blogged about the adoption), but since I currently have a 2 hour snow delay (and 5 sleeping children), I wanted to knock out the "Lice Wisdom" that I have acquired in the last 4 months, so the longer update will have to wait for another day.

Let's talk about lice (or "piojos" as they are called in Spanish). Evil incarnate is what I refer to them as after almost 3 months of waging war against them, both in Costa Rica and the U.S. after we returned home the end of November. Our two oldest gals never got them (thank the Lord!), but the younger girls apparently have heads that lice find hospitable, and our 6 year old must have some kind of 5-star lice hotel on her head, because the lice fought hard to keep that party going.

Over the course of our Three Month War, we tried everything. Mayonnaise (which several friends swore by), traditional lice shampoos, Tea Tree oil-laced treatments... even PILLS (if those would have worked, I would have stockpiled while we were in Costa Rica... they were, in fact, too good to be true). We have used plastic nit combs, metal combs, hand-picking, and vinegar soaks. If you are waging your own war against the powers of lice evil, let me tell you what has worked for us (finally, Lord willing!), and what I have personally been using that has kept me lice-free throughout this ordeal.

YOU HAVE LIVE LICE... 

Congratulations. I feel your pain. Even though I remember having lice as a kid (one time - thanks to some play hats at a local children's museum), they were apparently less resistant to traditional "RID" treatments than the lice of today, and outside of a painful day of being nit-picked by my mother, I got off pretty easily. Not so with my children. 

After trying traditional and non-traditional solutions, I found myself standing in the lice aisle at our local CVS, scooping every treatment I saw into my basket and praying that one of them worked. Let me introduce you to Vamousse - the wonder foam that FINALLY knocked out the live lice and killed the nits (we'll get to nit-picking next). No, it's not organic and holistic and guaranteed not to ever in your life cause cancer, but it KILLS those suckers and after 3 months, I'm pretty sure your stance on "organic and natural" will have changed too.


TIPS FOR USING VAMOUSSE
  • Don't forget to pick up a cheap shower cap (or 2) to use with the mousse. After you saturate the child's head with the mousse, you need to leave it to soak for 15-30 minutes, and it will start to drip down the child's neck, causing discomfort, drama, and tears (don't ask me how I know this). The adult shower caps that I purchased were too big for my girl's heads, but by twisting the back and securing it with a clothespin, it held up well enough for them to walk around and pass the time. 
  • Don't bother using the lice comb that's included in the box. While it will take out the dead lice, it won't do a thing for the nits (never fear, I have a comb for that too!). 
  • Use a LOT of mousse. Seriously - do not skimp! If necessary, do two treatments, 1-week apart. We did this with both of our girls, but for the youngest it was more of a "peace of mind" for Mom than an actual need since the lice were dead after the first round. With our 6 year old "lice party" head, we didn't use enough of the mousse (or leave it on for long enough) the first time - a mistake which we corrected the second time with total success.

THE LICE ARE DEAD, NOW LET'S DEAL WITH THE NITS...

"Liendres" (Spanish for nits) - do nits by any other name cause the same amount of angst? Yes, they do. In Costa Rica, we did what all parents are told to do when it comes to lice and nits - WASH EVERYTHING. EVERY DAY. Guess what? We still had lice, and we still had nits. While I didn't stop washing their laundry in hot water, after a month, I stopped washing their sheets daily because it clearly wasn't stopping anything and it was drastically increasing my stress level, not to mention our water bill! 

Throughout the lice treatment and subsequent nit removal phase, we tried everything to loosen the glue that held the nits (alive and dead) to the hair. We doused them in a vinegar/water mix, we soaked them in straight vinegar, we sprayed them with nit-removal aids, and then there were the combs. Plastic combs in Costa Rica (total joke), metal combs in the U.S. (a close second on the joke front). After painstakingly combing through the hair and watching the comb go right over the nits without even nudging them, I might have shed a few tears. I knew what lay before me, and it was a path I didn't have the patience to walk... nit picking

After spending hours (some 10+ hours over 4 days with our 6 year old the FINAL time we picked) using my fingernails to physically remove HUNDREDS of dead nits, the Hubs gave me a golden gift... the Nit-Free Terminator Comb. I brushed that sucker down through my girl's hair, and watched as nits floated off of it in my bowl of hot water. I've never seen a prettier sight. 


Let me be clear - this doesn't totally remove the need for some hands-on removal, but if I'd had it a few weeks sooner, it would have made a HUGE difference and saved me a load of time. While there may be no way around doing at least some nit picking (especially if you have a child with a head-full of nits, like I did), this comb is a MUST HAVE in your lice treatment kit.

{If you're wondering what makes this one better than the "free" combs in the kits, the free combs are slick metal, and this comb has teeth that grab the nits.}

I NEVER WANT THIS TO HAPPEN TO ME...

This was the stance that I took when it came to lice, which is why I did a lot of research before we left for Costa Rica and ended up traveling with Fairy Tales Rosemary Repel Lice Prevention Shampoo and Conditioner. I started using it as my regular shampoo/conditioner before we left, and I haven't stopped using it in the last four months... and NO. LICE. These kids are all over me, and the party head girl is my most snugly, so I give it two huge thumbs up from a prevention point of view.

{Note: It comes in 32 oz. bottles, as well as a more convenient, travel friendly 12 oz. and 8 oz.}

You may be wondering why I didn't use it with the kids to prevent the lice from ever starting, and you'd be totally justified in asking that question. The fact is, I purchased the (pricey) 32 oz. bottle and took it with us, but I also learned a very important, new-mom/new-mom-of-kids-who-have-never-controlled-their-own-shampoo-before lesson... kids who have never had access to shampoo should not be given free access to said shampoo or 32 oz. will be gone in less than 1 week. {gag} Talk about money down the drain! But also an important lesson learned by this new mom.

Now that it's been a few months, the kids are getting better about moderation and self-regulation. With the nits/lice finally banished - forever, Lord, please - I have ordered two more 32 oz. bottles with pumps and we'll try this again. While the 32 oz. bottles are not inexpensive, it has been worth every penny to me not to have to deal with lice on my own head, while trying to rid my kids of theirs.

NOTE: Fairy Tales also has a leave-in conditioner (something I use anyway because of my girls hair type) that helps repel lice, so while I haven't yet tested it personally, I'm looking forward to giving it a shot this school year.

SO WHAT'S THE BOTTOM LINE?

Everyone, or so it seems, has a horror story about lice, and everyone has a different, "no fail" solution for getting rid of them and keeping them at bay. I know people who swear by the mayonnaise treatment... and while it didn't work for my kid, that doesn't mean it might not work for yours. Google is a tremendous wealth of ideas and information (some good, some bad, some totally wacky), and Amazon has 2 day shipping to help out frazzled, lice-infested households like ours. Rosemary smells good, and I'm all for chemical mousse if it works when nothing else does. Tea tree oil is a go-to by many moms, and I even got a recipe from the school nurse for a shampoo mixture made of vinegar, Dawn (dish washing soap), and tea tree oil that she says someone else swears by.

The bottom line is that this is what worked for us, in our situation. If you are at your wits end, as we were (and yes, I DID, in fact, cry. HARD. when they called me earlier this month to tell me that "party head" still had nits - even if they were dead), then you'll try anything. Hopefully this post gives you some new ideas to add to the list.


May your school year (and home) be lice free in 2017!

10/21/16

It's Still HIS Story

Forgive the briefness of this post, but since I just sat here for the last 5 minutes and tried to make my brain work in order to come up with a title, it's probably best to keep it short and sweet. The last three weeks have been mentally and emotionally exhausting, but we can see His hand throughout the process - working on us, working on the children, working in the lives of all involved.

After our meeting with those in authority on Wednesday, we felt like we were finally being heard (thanks to the use of an official translator). We spent yesterday with the kids again - and despite some boundary pushing, it went well - and then picked them up this morning and headed to child services for another meeting.

While Peter stayed out in the hall (attempting to corral the younger four), I met with the social worker, our oldest gal (Tica #1), and the translator for an hour and a half. We were able to have a conversation that was productive, accurate, and clarifying, the end result being that I felt that our position was acknowledged and accepted, Tica #1 understood our position, and we found middle ground.

Bottom Line: They're coming home to the condo to live with us on Monday, and we'll start U.S. Embassy meetings next week. We have a new court date for November 3rd, and we could be flying home by the end of November.

Just In Case You're Wondering: We have had a number of larger expenses that we were unable to foresee, so if you feel inclined to donate, everything will go to help cover those items, as well as our extended time in Costa Rica. Thank you!

The next chapter is just beginning...

It is well.