Tuesday, October 23, 2012

I'll be the one to say it: some people SHOULDN'T adopt

Mani rides a pony
If you've read this blog for any length of time, you know that I am a big proponent of adoption. I believe every child deserves a family. I believe that God calls people to open their hearts, their homes, and their families to children who have been orphaned. I believe that the term orphan is nowhere near as cut and dry as we think-- meaning, some children are orphans even when their biological parents still walk this earth. 

Most of all, I believe that it is God's desire for us to enter into the complicated, life changing relationships that adoption brings to bear. Because really, if you want to know the heart of God, try explaining to a four year-old that it doesn't matter at all whose tummy he grew in ... he's just as much a part of your being as the little one he feels kicking under your ribs this very minute.

Adoption has done amazing things in my family. I have seen my husband open his heart wider and wider and wider still. I have watched Jo grow into a young lady who has no fear or awkwardness around people with physical or mental disabilities, but instead a deep, abiding compassion for those people who so many others can't even make eye contact with. I have had Logan approach me and ask why it is so that so many children wait for homes around the world. "Don't people know they're there?" I have felt a warm glow when hearing Atticus plan out his own future family. "I don't know how many kids I'll have. But I know we'll adopt and have biological kids." I have had to explain time and again to Seven that no, she is not adopted and that yes, that's an o.k. thing, too.

And, of course, I have had the honor of raising, loving, knowing children who share no biological link with me at all, but still call me Momma. Without adoption, there would be no Bee telling me about her science exams, no Oli chasing the new puppy, no Mani asking endlessly if I will read him "just one more" book.

Adoption is a good thing. It is a worthy cause. It is a gift from God.

And yet ... I still fall into the camp that cannot believe that adoption is for every individual or family.

The truth is, I cringe when I see the phrases tossed out: "If every Christian adopted just one child, there'd be no more orphans on the entire continent of Africa!" "Adoption is so affordable, everyone can do it!" "Adoption saves a life ... YOURS!"

Adoption is complicated. It is messy. It is painful and hurtful and beautiful and awful and terrifying and blissful. Adoption is so many things, all wrapped up in an amazing bundle of emotions and spiritual growth. But one thing that adoption is not is easy.

Now, please don't take this as a negative ad for adoption. Please don't think that I'm saying that only the toughest of the tough need to apply. And definitely don't think that I'm advocating for only those people with a stomach for self-abuse should sign on. What I'm saying is that people who walk into adoption should do so with eyes not only wide open, but with hearts prepared to take whatever comes.

Adoption, people ... it's not about you. Truly. It's not about your new child, your new baby, your growing family. If you think it is, you've got it dead wrong. Adoption is about your new child. It's about your new baby. It's about your growing family. It's about people with faces and pasts and futures and problems and dreams. You are only a player in the story. Just one in a cast of hundreds, really. It's not about you.

But so many (too many) Christians I meet who are adopting don't seem quite ready to grapple with this reality. They have given birth to a dream child, waiting for them on another continent or in some corner of their hometown. They know what pattern quilt this child will adore, how his or her personality will fit into their family, what sports he or she will want to play. They already know that this dream child will be gracious, and kind, and will never question why God chose to place him or her in the category of "adopted kid" because their adoptive family will just be so fabulous, so unique, so perfect for them, that it will all be crystal clear. This child will not have a difficult time attaching, will love American cuisine, will take to English as easily as a fish to water, and will forget all about the first (or second, or third, or fourth) mothers who came before. This child will not hoard food, curse when angry, have developmental delays, set things on fire. This child will, in short, be perfect and unscathed, despite having walked through hell to get to the comfort of that middle class lifestyle he or she now enjoys.

Put that way, you can see the recipe for disaster. But no one thinks that way in real life, right? No one is in that much denial. Think so? Think again.

I'm going to say it as gently as possible, so that I don't scare off every single hopeful adoptive parent who might ever stumble upon this post: That parent you'll never be? The one surrendering their child because the dream has turned into a nightmare? Listen to her. Learn from her. Because while nothing can every truly prepare you for every twist and turn you might possible encounter, sometimes just hearing the horror stories can open your eyes that much wider and bring you to a place where you're at least willing to look at the dark side before you commit.

Some people just shouldn't adopt. If you are already overwhelmed with the number of children in your family, your home situation (marriage, job, difficult child), your circumstances ... you shouldn't adopt. If you think that an adopted child is going to fill a still aching void in your life left by infertility or loss, you shouldn't adopt. If you have never picked up a book on attachment, you shouldn't adopt. If you think that children--even infants-- who have suffered loss will not be affected by their past, you shouldn't adopt. If you are uncomfortable welcoming--even just verbally-- another mummy and daddy into your world, you shouldn't adopt. If you are adopting to "save a child," "do the right thing," or"be a good Christian," you shouldn't adopt.

I have personally known some very well-intentioned, good people who adopted under the wrong motivations. It is not pretty. In fact, it's so not pretty that one has to step back and ask the horrible question: Would this child have been better off remaining an orphan? I never thought I'd be at a place where I could even consider that as a possibility but there it is. Sometimes, it's just that ugly.

This is a very un-PC statement that goes against a huge movement currently taking place in the evangelical wing of the church right now. Record numbers of Christians are adopting and yes, by and large I am sure that this is a good thing. The stigma is gone, and the culture of ignorance is largely being stripped away. People who may not have even considered adoption before are now familiar with families who have been there, and done that, so a certain comfort exists. For this, I am glad. Truly. The world will be a richer place for it, and the lives of so many people are being blessed with an abundant, beautiful gift.

What I worry about are the people who jump on the bandwagon without counting the cost, or who go in with blinders on. These are the dangerous folks, and frankly, I haven't been impressed with the ability (or willingness) of agencies to screen them out. Christian agencies, especially, seem more concerned with simply making sure that prospective families line up with their statement of faith than of vetting the background and stability that a child will be moving in to. This terrifies me. I have seen the effects of this practice in day to day life, and it is every bit as heartbreaking as a child languishing in a children's home or bouncing from foster home to foster home.

Are we all called to help the widows and the orphans? I believe we are. For some very blessed people, that will look like a family portrait that is more of patchwork quilt a simple afghan. For others, it will look like donating to a missionary working with children or supporting an orphanage on a monthly basis. For others, it will be opening their home to latch-key kids after school and being the ear to listen and the mom with the cookies. For others, it could be collecting clothes to donate, or becoming foster parents, or volunteering, or buying Christmas gifts for kids whose parents are in prison. 

So yes, do something. Get involved. But please, weigh very carefully the full measure of whether or not adopting a child is the right thing for your family. Ask God to be more clear in His calling than He has been with any other message to you in your life. So much is riding on this one decision. Make it the right one.

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Sabbatical, part 2

Seven's second birthday

 Yesterday, I posted about the deafening roar of my struggle to come to terms with my grandfather's slow decline, and how it rocked some of the deepest places of my heart. I offered this personal glimpse into my soul by means of beginning to explain my long-term absence from this blog, which was once part of my daily existence.

But you knew there was more to it than that, right? You knew that it wasn't as simple as a woman grieving something lost but not yet gone. There had to be more. People's lives don't just go into tailspins based on one event, usually. Sometimes it happens, sure. But more often than not, there are a basketful of smaller things complicating that main event and leaving the swimmer treading water and looking for a lifeline.

In the post just prior to the one that left this blog hanging for months, I shared that we'd taken Seven in for a full workup to diagnose perhaps more fully the allergy issues that she was experiencing. Even I, the mother who'd somehow sense a frailty in this child from the very beginning, wasn't ready for the full weight of what the results held. Seven, it turns out, is allergic to pretty much the entire environment. No foods. Just trees--namely, those most commonly found in Western Washington. And mold. Yes, we got a lot of that, too. A long list of chemical sensitivities that, with a little research, were found to lurk in our foods, our clothing, our everything.

In short, sweet little Seven has her work cut out for her as she grows up, because memorizing such a long list of no-nos is going to take up a good bit of her time.

At first, we held ourselves on vigilant watch for anything that might be on the list. After a while, we realized that many things are, simply put, a losing battle. There is no way, for instance, to keep a toddler who is forbidden to play with plastic buckets, shovels, sieves, and watering cans to also forgo the amazing sticks that she sees on the ground all around her while she plays outside. I take that back--it may be possible, but it sure isn't fun. Indoors, things are much easier. But outside--where the kids spend pretty much their entire summer-- well, it was a season of choosing the lesser of two evils and living with the results.

We've acclimated now to our primarily plastic-free lifestyle. We still have stashes of the contraband here and there. The older boys have their Legos, of course-- stashed in the off-limits-to-little-people game room. And I just couldn't make Mani part with our massive collection of Rescue Heroes, even though I admit that, in my more educated state, I find myself shrinking away from putting any plastic anywhere for anyone. (Really, the stuff is that nasty. Research for yourself if you're curious.) It doesn't feel any more stressful to do things without plastic--or to keep Seven away from it-- than it did to do them with plastic, now. So in that regard, we've achieved new norm status.

Which is good. Because just as the allergy avalanche and the whirlpool of my grandfather's ill health took over my world, I discovered that I was pregnant.

No, really. 

Yes. Despite having felt firmly that Seven was a one-off blessing from the Lord, despite feeling amazingly satisfied with our crew as they stand, despite never even considering that I'd ever even buy another pregnancy test, let alone watch two lines form ...

Yep. Pregnant.

I immediately asked close friends for prayer and started on the regiment that had done such a fabulous job of keeping Seven inside. Unlike my pregnancy with Seven, where I was full of joy and energy and just about bursting at the seams with the awe of it all, this time around has been far more subdued. A large part of it is simply to overwhelming busy that seems to rule our days. Jo is in 10th grade now, and the stakes of educating a child who will be heading to college or career in a mere couple of years are much higher. Having a special needs 5 year-old, a curious, bouncing 4 year-old, and a spitfire of a 2 year-old doesn't make my days any less complicated. Then there's the fundraising for our mission to Nepal, the weekly doctor's visits for my shots ... Some days, it feels like a whirlwind ride that I endure more than enjoy.

But still, I am taking the time to stop and be still. This little one inside is not one to go unnoticed, which helps a ton. He or she spends the bulk of every day wiggling, kicking, and writhing to keep my attention. I suspect that in a few short weeks, when we meet this child, he or she will have eyes wide open, a wail like a banshee, and a personality that resists taking no for an answer. I also suspect that, as child number eight, those are pretty good skills to be equipped with.

All of this brings you almost up to speed on the events of the past few months. Almost. Next up: some promising options in treating Oli, or, Why Mary Grace Flew All the Way to Philly While Pregnant and Sick.

Monday, October 15, 2012

Sabbatical, part 1

The view from my grandparents' front porch

When I published my last post-- five months ago now-- I had no idea that so much time would pass before I felt comfortable coming back here and sharing.

I had no idea that I would wrestle with the notion of never coming back at all.

I had no inkling that five months of simply living could remold everything a person seemed to know and be.

So, where to begin?

Within days of publishing my last post, I was on an airplane to the place I will always call home-- my grandparents' house in Kentucky. I've shared here before that it was my Mamaw and Papaw, not my mother and father, who laid the foundations of all that is strong and true in my life. It was Mamaw who took me to church, taught me to match socks, sat me on the counter and gave me lessons on making cornbread, dumplings, and some pretty rockin' fried chicken (if I do say so myself), and taught me that there's nothing wrong with being a lady who isn't afraid to fight-- for the right things. It was Papaw who told me I could be anything, that I was too smart to act stupid, that I was worthy of immeasurable love, and that I would always, always be his princess.

Fourteen years ago, my grandfather suffered a major, catastrophic stroke from which he fought back with more bravery and grit than I can ever imagine mustering. Just as he reached a place of being "back to normal," he was felled yet again, this time by a massive heart attack. Months later, a series of mini-strokes followed. Then there was the Alzheimer's diagnosis. More heart attacks. Another stroke.

Nearly a decade and a half later, the hits keep coming.

It's at this point that I want to pause and offer you a stark, lonely fact: my children have not seen my Papaw in ten years. And I feel no remorse for this.

Oh, yes ... I dream of what it would have been like for Papaw-- always a sucker for kids-- to know my brood. I can tell you that rather than being horrified at the size of my family, he would have been tickled pink. This man would have been our biggest cheerleader, goading us on and probably showing up for births and Gotcha' Days just so he could be the first one to get his hands on the latest model. He would have teased Atticus about his bookish ways, and gotten Logan into twice as much trouble as the boy manages on his own with his impulsive "let's just try it." He would have buddied up with Oli, taking him everywhere a four-wheeler can go on 50 acres of property. He would have taught Mani some of the worst behaviors ever, like spitting watermelon seeds at sleeping dogs and how to mash a tick between two boards just to see them go splat. And he would have spoiled Bee, Jo, and Seven to the point where their future husbands would have looked like mere cads no matter what they had to offer.

Because folks, once someone has woken you up in near darkness on a Tuesday morning, set you in the passenger seat of a pick up, taken you to an auction and told you to pick out any horse you want for your very own, well ... you're kind of ruined for this world.

But notice something in what I just said. "Would have." "Would have." "Would have." Because even though I long for those things, even though my grandfather is still very much in this world, he is not capable of any of them. He is, instead, a shadow of the man he once was. And the Lord has not yet chosen to call him home.

Here is where I admit to a touch of bitterness that I have yet to root out of my heart. Because Jesus, who can do anything, anything at all, chooses to neither release my grandfather-- and our family-- from the hell of this slow spiral and to welcome him to heaven, nor to heal him completely and give him back to us here on earth. And me-- simple, stupid me-- I cannot keep from asking to somehow understand why.

I flew in May to the one place on earth that always makes me happiest. I walked in the front door and took a deep breath and waited for that touch of tension that always sits in my shoulders to slough off. Instead, my eyes instantly settled onto the monolithic, ugly La-Z-Boy recliner that has held my beloved Papaw for the past ten years. Goodness, how I loathe that brown cord monstrosity. It was empty. His walker still stood dutifully by, his extra pair of thick wool socks still sat on the arm. But the chair was empty.

Papaw had suffered yet another stroke. This one dealt the final blow in my rock of a grandmother's ability to care for her husband at home: he was now incontinent.

And with that, not only was his last shred of dignity gone, but his ability to live out the rest of his days under the roof he himself had built was gone, too.

I visited with my Papaw instead in a lovely nursing facility. Truly, if you have to be confined to an institution for the end of your life, it was a beautiful place. More hotel than hospital, the staff was friendly, the food was good, and the activities offered were top notch. I sat in a tasteful, tan armchair that was the antithesis of Papaw's hulking La-Z-Boy and watched as he drifted from sleep to mania to disorientation. I listened to him curse like a sailor at invisible people, then berate a young nurse's aide for not being his sister, who had died in 1988. I held his hand as he sobbed and begged me to take him back home, to his beloved wife, to his own house, to the land he had worked nearly his whole life.

And I cried. I cried a lot. I cried for the fact that my girls never got their horses. I cried for knowing that if he knew the nasty names he had called me, he wouldn't be able to live with himself. I cried for a marriage that withstood fire and hell but was separated at the last gasp of "in sickness and in health." I cried because my grandfather never got to look at the beautiful crop of great-grandchildren who carry on his history and feel the pride and gratitude that are rightfully his. I cried for the loneliness of realizing that the end will come, and when it does, I will be relieved.

For the first time ever, the distance between my home and my home felt like a blessing when I returned. I was glad that my children were not mourning alongside me, but instead were rejoicing in my return. There was a space, a small breath, between the shiver I could not shake out of my soul and the warmth of so many arms forever drawing you in and pulling you into the future. I spent weeks (months?) poised between the past and the future, mourning what I had imagined life and death were and would be, and grappling with the fact that God's plans for me, while always good, sometimes, yes, hurt like hell.

This is me being raw and honest and vulnerable. You see, I never wanted to live on the edge of this continent. I never wanted my kids to have Northwest accents that stumble me as I help them along in their phonics lessons. I never wanted to leave behind churches on every corner, small towns built around a handful of families who know every intimate details of each others lives. I never wanted to stray so far from home that when I come back, people look at my hair and my clothes and my mannerisms and say, "Well, Mary Grace! I sure wouldn't have known ya."

And yet, here I am. The truth is, I am more comfortable now here than there. I can't deny it. And I look forward into a future in a developing nation and a season of raising children more accustomed to Hindu symbols than Coke signs in the grocery store and realize that while the past is killing me and the future is foreign, I am but a handmaiden of the Lord learning, yet again, this whole die to self message right here, in the painful present.

I have no doubt that when the time is right, God will take my Papaw. That stubborn old man may very well have been the reason that Luke 15:7 was written. A ne'er do well who resisted the Gospel and his wife's prayers long after most men would have simply given up just for the sake of peace, when my Papaw came to Christ, it was a real, profound movement in his soul that makes me more fully grasp the notion of "reborn." So I know where he's going. The only question, then, is "when?" No. That's not quite right. There is a second question, after all. That one, though, has more to do with me and less to do with Papaw. It's "Will I be ready to let God be God and accept everything that has happened, and who I am, and how this journey has impacted me?" 

Because if I can, I will know the answer to why it has all been such a long, winding road to the end. But if I can't, I'll be no better for the ride.