Saturday, January 28, 2012

On Special Needs/Waiting Child Adoption

         I’ve been thinking about special needs adoption more lately, likely because of some comments I’ve heard in recent days:

          “I could never do that, it takes very special people.”

          “My husband wouldn’t adopt a child with a difference.” 

And then another, “You just have to figure out what you can handle.”

          Here is what I want to share, please hear me: all children have special needs, whether bio or adopted, whether visible or invisible.  Each child is born with giftings that deserve to be nurtured and issues they will need someone to help them with. The information in a child’s file will give clues as to who they will be, but much is indefinable and won’t be in that chart, and some of what is in the chart may be incomplete or inaccurate, despite the best efforts of an agency. Special needs may crop up later – as they may with any child – and so will many wonderful aspects of the child’s personality as they blossom and grow.

          We entered into waiting child adoption with the realization that any of our three bio children could have been born with a disability, and we would have loved them just the same. Still, we researched extensively which issues we felt comfortable with, and found ourselves open to more than we might originally have considered. We felt strongly led by God to pursue this course and each of our children, and yet we knew we had a responsibility to educate and prepare ourselves. We researched extensively about adoption issues – attachment disorder, adopting toddlers and preschoolers, attachment parenting – and spent hours talking to and corresponding with experienced adoptive parents.

          When we adopted our first waiting child, the Musician, we were cautious, and took his file to an international adoption specialist. He was a preemie who’d been diagnosed with a scary-sounding special need that, had it occurred with other anomolies, could have caused blindness, seizures and serious developmental delay. Despite the fact that at 18 months he was on target developmentally, had no other issues and was in good health, the doctor we visited was bleak and painted a worse-case scenario, as perhaps was her job.

We took the file home, prayed, and by day’s end, we knew the Musician was our son. We knew the doctor could be right, and we knew we needed to be prepared for our son to have difficulties. Yet we knew, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that he was our child. We prepared mentally for him to have developmental or attachment issues, studied the best ways to help him, and read and reread ToddlerAdoption: The Weaver’s Craft, one of the most helpful books I’ve read about adopting toddlers, and one that helped us greatly with his adjustment process. As it happened, our Musician is a natural athlete, a guitarist and singer, a kind and gentle brother whose biggest special need was one you won’t find in files – more on that later.

          We took the same approach when we adopted the Wrestler. His special needs were obvious: missing tibias, malformed little feet, cleft hand and missing fingers. His file stated that he had “almost normal” intelligence. While we were frightened of the unknown, we also knew beyond a shadow that he was our child, and we began preparing. We called our county committee for preschool special education, and learned what we would need to do to have him evaluated for services upon homecoming. We were concerned about attachment because of his multiple placements and surgeries, so we connected with an attachment therapist, watched the videos she sent us, and prepared to parent a delayed, attachment resistant child.

          Instead, we found ourselves parenting a dynamic, wildly intelligent little boy who had “shrunken” emotionally out of fear and perhaps a feeling of being judged for his differences, but who blossomed in a family who loved him. He tested out of all services save physical therapy, which he needed to prepare him to wear prosthetics.

          Our Littlest had a file full of question marks, out of which it was hard to make a clear picture. At three, he presented as withdrawn, nearly silent and delayed. He was also gentle, kind and starving for love, and once home, he began to blossom in ways that were amazing to see. With the help of an awesome speech therapist, encouragement of other adoptive parents and family, and lots of research, we learned to encourage, teach and patiently wait as our little treasure unfolded like a flower finally exposed to sun, and started to become the child God intended him to be all along.

          We learned what we suspected all along: that children are children, regardless of diagnoses, and all deserve a family in which they can thrive. They are more than the words in a file, and yet it paid to give credence to the reports and to be prepared for whatever needs our children might have. There was one other special need, never listed in files, that is perhaps the most important one for adoptive parents to be prepared for, and it was this special need that took the most patience, nurturing and special handling: a broken heart. More on this next time.

     In the meantime, I'd love to hear of others' experiences, if you'd like to share. What has most surprised you about waiting child adoption, and what helped the most, going into it? Your words may help others as much as we were helped by those who went before us.
Giving Thanks, and
Trusting in Him,

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

The Rower Turns Photographer

      The Rower has been enjoying the camera feature of my cell phone, capturing snippets of life around here.

Puzzles during read-alouds

"Lord, you will establish peace for us, for You have also done all our works in us. "
Isaiah 26:12

Peace carries her catnip pillow around the house

We think she's hooked.

The Student left his hat here when he went back to college.

Sadie does not appreciate it.

Having fun, and
Trusting in Him,

Sunday, January 15, 2012

Singing His Praises

          During each of our adoption processes, there’s come a time when we’ve begun to pray earnestly about a small person with whom we've fallen in love.  Each of those times, a certain promise from scripture came to my attention again and again: on the radio, in the Bible, in sermons, and on huge banners at church that seemed to be displayed each time we’d reached that stage of the process.

          “For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the LORD, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.”
                                                Jeremiah 29:11

Today, the Musician sat under one of those banners as he sang and played his guitar during the offering: “All the Earth Will Sing Your Praises.”
As I watched this beautiful boy, I reflected back on the months of prayer for him as we waited for approval to bring him home; on that promise from Jeremiah; and on the countless blessings this son has brought to our family. So proud and so grateful to God, we sing His praises too.

Giving Thanks, and
Trusting in Him,

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

The Fruit of the Spirit - Patience

          I’ve been thinking about patience a lot this week. Homeschooling a child with processing issues, listening to multiple narrations and trying to tune in to the emotional needs of a variety of ages and stages will do that to a person.

Of all virtues, I’m surprised to be most often commended for my patience, a quality of which I actually possess very little. By nature, I can be impatient, brooding, and have a tendency to want to fix the outcome of any situation.  If any glimmer of patience is visible, it’s a patience from God that I could never manufacture on my own, despite years of effort.

          In my early parenting years, I was thunderstruck by my lack of patience; I’d never had much of it to begin with, and here I was responsible for a few completely unpredictable creatures who depended upon me entirely - for everything.  One sweet child was sensory defensive, like me – bothered by tags and seams and noise and chaos – and another was sensory-seeking; a dynamic, creative, singing, dancing, whirling, twirling bundle of energy and emotion that reached extremes. The mixture of these two was like oil and water, but louder.

          I loved parenting and found it much more rewarding than my career in public relations, and yet, it required so much more of me. Among other things, like energy, endurance and the ability to do a lot of laundry, it required patience – that thing I didn’t have much of yet.
          Somewhere along the line, I found a scripture I clung to, wrote out and posted on my cabinets, memorized, and even found printed on a mug that I bought and used daily.

“But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law.”

Galatians 5:22-23

          The way I saw it, this was a promise – a promise that if I walked with the Spirit of God and ask for His help, these things could be active in my life. I knew I needed them. Mornings started with teacup pressed to my forehead as I recited this verse and asked for patience, and I murmured it many times throughout the day, asking not for my patience, but for His.

          I realized later that a funny thing happens when you ask God for something like patience – things take place that are sometimes not funny at all, but that do God’s work more fully than anything we could orchestrate.

The end of a matter is better than its beginning, and patience is better than pride.
Ecclesiastes 7:8

       There was sickness and recovery; the addition of a delightful baby who grew into a toddler operating in search-and-destroy-mode, and there were autoimmune and food issues. There were three new children who joined our family, each with special needs (I’ve since determined that all children have special needs), and a few long, loud, adjustment processes. There were adolescent crises that kept us on our knees, homeschooling with a range of learning styles and needs, and through it all, God added His patience where mine waned. In the midst of it all, He also added incredible blessings, bountiful joys and gifts too numerous to list.

          Daily, hourly, I  still reach for that gift of patience, this week as I ponder how to best help a small person absorb and retain information. Looking into an earnest little face as he works to repeat information that’s been read, explained and repeated several times over, I remember the early days of parenting him, and know my patience is as vital as any curriculum. In those early days, any sign of displeasure or frustration in voice or facial expression caused a panicked anxiety, and he would shut down completely. It’s better now that he’s secure in his place with us, but my mood still sets the tone in a way that’s a bit alarming in its responsibility. So along with phone calls and searches for curriculum, I add to my list: keep praying for patience.

         And we pray this in order that you may live a life worthy of the Lord and may please him in every way: bearing fruit in every good work, growing in the knowledge of God, being strengthened with all power according to his glorious might so that you may have great endurance and patience, and joyfully  giving thanks to the Father, who has qualified you to share in the inheritance of the saints in the kingdom of light.
Colossians :11-13

Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience. 
Colossians 3:12

Trusting in Him,

Saturday, January 7, 2012

Major Construction

            I don’t know what was more remarkable tonight;

   The 52-story tower the boys built;

        The fact that their father brought a ladder into the living room when it got too tall for them to reach the top;

Or the fact that I slept through the whole stinkin’ thing, just feet away in my favorite chair, where I’d crashed after dinner.

Note the slipper on the left...that's me. How did I sleep through this?

Luckily, they woke me to see the finished product.

Citiblocs are wonderful; the Musician says, “Every kid should have Citiblocs.”

Feeling much more rested, and

Trusting in Him;

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Into the New Year

          I haven’t thought of a word for the New Year. Folks do that, you know; they choose a word, perhaps one God has whispered in their ear, to signify what they’re going to focus on in the coming year. Reflecting and pondering and praying, though, I realize instead what I’ve learned in the year past. I started 2011 with the hope of being more present - the word I felt I was hearing – to the big and little people around me, in a “be where you are” sort of way, and to recognize the blessings in my life.

Still worthy goals, these, but looking back, there are other words I recognize as a current through my days.

          A few years ago, a wise friend told me of a little axiom that had worked wonders in her marriage, and those words came to me repeatedly throughout the year, with regard to many situations and relationships. The axiom:
“Pray it, don’t say it.”

Anyone who’s been married any length of time, parented a child into the teen years, or well, been human, knows how words – even well-intentioned - can incite quarrels, derail progress and harm relationships.

Some words are necessary – some problems, mine to fix. Other problems are not mine to solve, and misplaced words can make things worse. Praying for wisdom, I’m trying to use words more wisely. Sometimes I succeed, sometimes I fail, and it’s usually quite obvious to me when I haven’t listened to that still small voice advising me to hush for a bit; it never goes well.

     “Whether you turn to the right or to the left, your ears will hear a voice behind you, saying, “This is the way; walk in it.”

Isaiah 30:21

          Looking back over the year, I can see what great work God does when my mouth and I get out of the way. There are areas where for years, I’ve tried to engineer change myself, but God is able do it so much more effectively when I step aside and speak my words to him instead.

          In 2012, I’d still like to be more present. I’d still like to listen more, and speak less – pray it instead of say it. I don’t have a word for this year, but I’m waiting, listening, and eager to see where God wants to take us next. I’m so aware of being a work in progress, a sinner saved by grace, living with people who deserve grace and mercy just as much as I do - and it’s only with His help that I have any to give.

“Not that I have already obtained all this, or have already been made perfect, but I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me. Brothers, I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it. But one thing I do: forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus.”

Philippians 3:12-14

So I step into the new year, praying for openness to His plans, and for release of my own.

Happy New Year, from our family, to yours.

Trusting in Him,