Sunday, June 15, 2014

Sweet Sixteen

I'm not sure why the good Lord gave me the privilege of parenting my favorite 16 year old, but I'm so glad he did!  She truly is a special girl (somehow I got 5 really special kids!)  In honor of her 16th birthday today, since we can't be together, I wanted to share 16 things that I love about my Abigail Grace.  Since I'm not in the same country as all of our old printed photos, you'll just have to trust me that she was one beautiful baby and a pretty terrific toddler too.

So here they are Abby, 16 things that make you my favorite 16 year old!

1.  Your love of shopping

2.  Your beautiful smile

3. Your sense of humor

 4. Your compassion

5. The kindness you show to little ones

6. Your "reasonable" thrill-seeking side

7. Your creativity and perseverance

8. Your willingness to try new things

9. Your love of family

10. Your uncanny ability to get your siblings to do just about anything.  It's good for them that you're such a rule follower!

 11.  Your love for the "least of these."

12.  Your amazing fashion sense (well, once you grew out of your DC Cupcakes t-shirt!)

 13. The energy with which you celebrate others

14.  Your unparalleled ability to sniff out a good cupcake, cheesecake, smoothie, frozen yogurt, candy store....

15. The loyalty you show in your friendships.

16.  Your patience with me, even when it means wearing matching outfits far longer than any child should have to. (And yes, your father and I will supplement your therapy bills someday!)

Happy Birthday Baby Girl!  I hope it's a great one.  I pray that you will follow hard after Jesus all your days and I'm so proud of the woman you're becoming.  

Thursday, June 12, 2014

Keeping it Real

It's hard to believe that it's been over 6 years since I started this blog.  When I did, it was for a singular purpose and that was to chronicle our adoption and our journey to Abe.  After we brought him home, I thought I would close it down, its purpose fulfilled.  But, I found, along the way that I liked blogging and though I've been erratic at it, it's been a great way for me to reflect on the events of our lives.  It's also helped me to see the goodness of the Lord through the crazy years we've lived.

I never dreamed, when I filled out the account information for blogger, that one day, I'd be chronicling our life in Africa, the death of my mother, or safari vacations.  It was about adoption.  Except, I don't know if you've noticed, but adoption isn't a topic that I've brought up much since Abe came home.
And honestly my friends, it's because our journey with Abe has been much, much harder than I ever dreamed it would be.  

For those of you who have written me over the last several years sharing your dreams of adoption and expecting me to be your biggest cheerleader, I apologize.  That wasn't likely the response that you've gotten.  When someone comes to me with great excitement about their decision to adopt, I typically have a very guarded response and I encourage you to seek the Lord and do what He leads you to do...  usually with a lot less squealing than you expected.  And, I'm sorry for that, I am.

It's just that we've realized something as we've pursued our call to parent Abe.  Adoption is hard.  It can be really messy.  And even though we believe it's a work of redemption and we have absolutely NO regrets about our choice to bring our precious boy into our home, it has been one of the toughest decisions we have ever made.

Since the early days after Abe came to us, we've faced uncertainty and struggles in parenting him.  From the start, it was obvious that he was wired differently and that he had behaviors that were absolutely exhausting to us.  But we believed that with time,  TLC,  good nutrition, and happy memories, it would be okay.  It wasn't anything that love couldn't conquer.

We had heard of kids who had attachment disorders and we felt so sorry for those parents.  I mean, we had struggles with Abe, but he didn't resist our touch or hide food or set things on fire.  After all, he was so charming when we were out and about, it was really only at home that we were facing these issues, so maybe we were over-reacting or something?  We could do it, we could manage, we just needed a little more time.  Yes, that was it, just a little more time.

But the reality is, time hasn't fixed it.  Over the last year, I've become increasingly concerned with Abe's behavior and the fact that in so many ways, he obviously still doesn't trust us.  It made no sense to me.  I mean, he was just 15 months old when he came to us.  He can't even remember life before our family.  Right?  That's what I told myself.

Last summer, I began to suspect that maybe we were dealing with some attachment issues, but as I began to read and ask questions, I decided that it was too scary.  I made a few inquiries, read a few resources, talked to a few friends, and then decided that I just couldn't go there.  I told myself, once again, that we just needed more time.  I would give Abe more structure and more love and that would do the trick.  Except it didn't.

On top of that, for years, I have known that if we had Abe evaluated for ADHD, he would definitely meet the criteria.  But, Ryan and I didn't see the need to get that label.  After all, we wouldn't medicate him and that was the only reason that we would need a label.  I mean, what kind of parent puts their child on those kinds of drugs?  Especially a 5 or 6 year old?  Only a lazy neglectful one, right?

But, this spring, when I went to the homeschool conference, I decided to just dip my toes in the water and attend a seminar on ADHD.  Just because, why not?  And what happened in that hour is that I walked out absolutely certain that my son was ADHD.  But more than that, I understood much more about the disorder and for the first time I realized that not asking for help was actually not the kind thing.  I understood that if Abe's brain was really wired the way that I'd just learned about, it was really more cruel to not give him the opportunity to try treatment.  So, I came back determined that when we came to the States in December, we would immediately begin to look for help.  That was my plan.  I just kept telling myself, I can do this until December.

But then, May came... a really hard May.  And one day, after a really, really hard day, I wrote to someone in our organization and explained the depth of my concerns with Abe and some of the typical behaviors that were so concerning to us.  I explained how these behaviors were weighing really heavily on our family dynamics and how I just wasn't sure that we could make it until December without some sort of resources.  And thankfully, she heard me.  She didn't just send me a book title or a web link to resources, which is all I expected.  She told me that it was time for us to get help.  We needed to know what we were dealing with and begin to look for ways to address it.  She told me that there was a place on the other side of the continent that did this kind of thing well and that she was going to do what she could to get us there.

It was humbling in so, so many ways.  We are givers, we don't want to burden anyone, that's not who we are.  Allowing mission dollars to be used so that we could buy plane tickets and see special doctors was humbling to us.  And yet, we knew that our family, our little guy needed help.  So we agreed.  Over the course of a few days, Abe and I tied up loose ends and packed suitcases with hoodies and blue jeans and we boarded a plane for East Africa.

We arrived about ten days ago and the next morning, we were taken to a great place, where doctors who have a heart for co-laborers serve them through their mental health expertise.  They spent about 8 hours with Abe and I over a period of two days.  At the end of that time, my fears were confirmed...Abe was diagnosed with significant ADHD.  In addition, they explained to me that Abe has an insecure attachment.   They've also thrown an Oppositional Defiant Label in there, though the more I learn and read, the more I believe that his oppositional behaviors are probably a manifestation of the attachment issues.

You can imagine my emotions.  They have swung from relief that I wasn't loosing my mind to guilt over why Abe hasn't felt secure with our family to grief over the fact that my little guy is so broken to fear that I am going to have to learn to parent in a whole new way.  It's been a rough couple of weeks.

 I knew that adoption comes as a result of loss and I knew the sad story we'd been given about his first 15 months of life, but somehow, I was naive enough to think it would all be okay.  I didn't understand that just because Abe doesn't recall that early trouble, doesn't mean that his brain and development weren't affected by it.  Once again, I'm reminded that we live in a broken world where children have to live through unspeakable trauma and sin is ugly and it has consequences that affect people, even when they are innocent.  My beautiful boy has suffered grief and loss and trauma that we will never know that details of, and he has needs that are beyond what we initially understood.

I  have so much to learn about how to love him well and how to guide him toward a place of healing.  As I've begun to read and educate myself, I've begun to understand that this is going to take even more energy and effort than I assumed.  But, I also know that we are the ones that the Lord chose to parent Abe.  It is not a mistake.  We have been given this ministry and we have the responsibility and the privilege to walk this journey with him.

So for now, Abe and I wait in East Africa.  The rest of the family will join us here in a few days.  The next couple of weeks will be spent learning how to parent Abe in a way that will better meet his needs.  We will get counseling and education that I pray we can be good stewards of in the days ahead.  We have to determine what sort of resources we need to walk this road with Abe and establish how we can gather them.

We are thankful for those who give to the Lottie Moon Offering so that we can be equipped to minister to others...even when those others are simply our 5 children.   We covet your prayers in the days ahead.  We have a lot to learn about "trust-based" parenting and how to balance all that we're learning with the many demands of our lives.  Just in the short time we've been here, as I've begun to apply some of what I'm learning, it's obvious that with two steps forward, we can expect one really ugly step back.   We are trusting that the prayers and encouragement of God's people can help to carry us in this leg of the journey just as they have along the way.