Thursday, December 29, 2011

A Christmas Letter

I stood looking out the window, after having paced the floor for hours on end.  Outside I look down on a scene that had come to feel far less foreign than it had a mere 3 weeks earlier.  The desolate, empty streets lay below drab concrete apartments, and the wind whipped the snow into miniature tornadoes as I viewed it through the ice encrusted bedroom window.  My heart and mind were on overload as I tried to imagine a future ahead of us that I already knew would be a difficult uphill battle to win the heart of an 11 year old girl.  Her sister's heart was primed and ready to accept the love being offered by a new family, for she had not suffered so much at the  hands of her first mother...she brought with her no memories of drunken rages, of rejection, of murder.  Thankfully, she had been spared.

Two years ago, we were on the verge of a court date after an incredibly rocky visitation period with Angela and Olesya.  The adoption at one point was abandoned, as we knew it would clearly be impossible to bring home an unwilling pre-teen, despite the fact that for years prior she had waited and yearned for us to come.  It appeared to simply be too late, the window of opportunity had slammed shut, and her heart had hardened unexpectedly...and yet understandably.  We had been encouraged by so many to continue to push her, to force her to come with us regardless of her own strong reluctance to leave behind the familiar.  We felt the decision was made for us when she made it clear that she no longer had any desire to be adopted, and she laughed and smiled as she walked away from us during what we thought was going to be our last visit at the orphanage.  With broken hearts we climbed into the car on the coldest night I had ever experienced, both literally and figuratively, and it was the single most painful moment of my life as I looked back over my shoulder to discover that Olesya was staring out at us through the window, watching as her mommy and daddy drove away without her, for we could not take the willing one without the unwilling one.

Two days later we found ourselves in the Director's office, a very contrite and apologetic Angela sitting before us, her red rimmed eyes told the story that was verified by the Director, that she had spent the last 24 hours begging to call us, looking for forgiveness, recognizing that maybe she had it in her to give love a chance one last time.  It wasn't the phone call asking us to return that convinced me that we should move forward, it wasn't even the look on her face.  It was what I felt as I held her in my arms as we spoke of our great sorrow at a birth mom who had let her down, and of the truths that we shared about her recent behavior and our reluctance to do something that might prove to be damaging not only for our family, but for her as well.  There was a molding into me as I held her, momentary though it was, that hinted at a future that just might hold a special relationship.  There was a sense of her honesty as she allowed us to catch a glimpse of her heart.  Mostly, there was God whispering "It's won't be easy...but it's OK."

And initially, it sure wasn't easy.  There was a prickliness, a few incidences bordering on complete disrespect, there was boundary setting and Tough Love.   There have been profound emotional releases, reliving the past, and learning to trust again.  There was language learning,cultural exploration, introduction to what family is all about, and an undoing of harmful habits and behaviors.

I try to convey here on the blog what has happened throughout these past two years, how children adopted at older ages adapt and cope, how they heal and move forward, how they struggle against setbacks and deficits that many of us can never imagine trying to function with.  If infant adoption is scary, then older child adoption is terrifying.  It is why so few children over the age of four years old are adopted, because the older they are the harder it is for them to adapt, or so the mindset goes.  They can be more emotionally damaged, crippled by years of neglect, malnutrition, lack of stimulation, and much more.  They are at higher risk of reactive attachment disorder, making it impossible for a family to connect deeply with them.  And they can sometimes be dangerous, as we all understand from stories we have read.

But sometimes...and in our case three times with older children...a miracle can occur.  A heart can be made whole again, a brain can be taught to function better, a body can be healed.  Every once in awhile, and I believe it is more often than we hear about, a child and parent can truly become family regardless of how hard the road is to get there or how old they are when they begin that journey.

This Christmas, two years out from that journey that broke not just child but parent as well, we received the single best Christmas present we will likely ever receive. It didn't come wrapped in pretty paper or tied with a bright red bow.  Instead it sat unpretentiously propped up on a branch of our tree, waiting to be quietly handed to me to read.  I was unprepared for the emotional note I would find under the beautifully drawn cover...a tree decorated with ornaments bearing the names of each member of our family.  As I began to read, I was unable to hold back the tears.  There is no gift that could have measured up to this one, and it was a validation of how hard we all have worked to build this family of ours, as well as an acknowledgement of the fact of just how worth it the arduous journey is.  For those of you who have followed our family for years, who have prayed for us and our children, who know us personally and have offered up your heart and helping hands and wondered how we really are doing with Angela, let me share this:

The body of the letter says the following:

Dear Mom and Dad,

Merry Christmas!  I hope you have a very wonderful Holiday with us.  Sence (since) I came to this house I'm so happy everyday even when I get in trouble or having a bad time, I so glad it is this house and you are my parents.  I don't care if you are reach (rich) or poor I really care that you love me everyday and night, that is the most important thing in my family.  As I'm writing this letter to you I mean every single word about you.  Thank you for always incourage (encourage) me that I can be anything I want.  Thank you for teaching me at home I learened (learned) a lot from you and about you. Merry Christmas.

I love you bolth (both) so much,

The depth of relationship we now have with Angela is beyond anything I dared hope for during that long, frozen winter in Kazakhstan two years ago.  I would have been overjoyed to achieve half of what we have today.  All our children are a gift, each equally special and priceless.  Winning Joshua's heart was a herculean effort, a battle I spent years not certain we would actually win.  And yet, there is abiding love.  Matthew's love was simple, easy, very much like Olesya's from the very first moment.  For some the opening of the heart is not as difficult, and once in awhile a child appears to have been waiting for your arrival, as if to say "Hey, what took you so long?".  Kenny's love was offered the quickest and yet at first was shallow and offered casually...he would have loved anyone who walked by and paid him the slightest attention!  Today his love is appropriate and centered, it is mature and selective as abiding love ought to be.  Angela's love was hard earned, and required a toughness of spirit that demanded respect from her first, for it was easy to see immediately that respect and a show of inner strength would have to preface love, or she'd never feel safe enough to relax into it.

Those awkward, painful, frustrating first months are long behind us now.  Our days are filled with giggles and warmth, walking through the store with arms around one another, working side by side in the kitchen as we call out to the others to come help put away dishes, ocassionally being tested as is the case with any 13 year old and yet when "called" on the infraction there is an owning up to it that surprises every one of us  and humbles us with the willingness to take the heat without excuse.  There is incredible mutual respect, and a deep appreciation for what we now have as we sometimes quietly talk about that hard, long winter of distance and cold shoulders.  The apologies for that time have finally stopped, forgiveness has been internalized, and an awareness has blossomed that yes, we actually do love her, no matter what.  And we always will.  Each and every one of our children know that, and now believe it.

Team LaJoy is a unique entity.  It is a group of individuals brought together by the whisper of the Spirit that was heeded, it exists to provide support and encouragement to one another as we make our way through lives that can be terribly difficult sometimes, and it is here within this little clan of non-blood related individuals where we have found our true family, the one we were always each meant to have.  Every single one of us has shed tears of loneliness prior to finding one another, we have all felt a profound sense of loss as we once had no one to  to hold or be held by.  Our souls cried out to one another across time and continents.  Looking around the dinner table at this motley collection of people, hearing the laughter generated at ridiculously bad jokes or the passing of gas, sharing the little kindnesses offered one another or to others outside our family, it is so easy to see that these specific people simply belonged together, regardless of any prior lives.  At this time and place, and with the exact backgrounds we all come from, we fit...we belong together...we are Team LaJoy for a reason.  We are connected in ways we can't describe...even if others sometimes look at us and assume we are nothing more than a foreign exchange class!

What I'd most like for others to know from our past 11 years of life as a family formed through adoption is that children can heal, and you can handle more than you think.  Our stories shared so openly for the world to read are to share that truth with you...and to show that indeed it is not easy.  Pre-adoption fears should not be ignored but should also not stop you from moving forward.  You might find yourself facing the very challenges that were the most fear inducing, we did.  You also might find that those very challenges build you into someone new, and in the process help a child become whole again.

This Christmas was the best ever, for many, many reasons that had nothing to do with the hyped version of Christmas we all have thrust upon us.  I hope sincerely that yours was as well. 


Karon and John said...

What a truly wonderful gift. I love reading your blog because it is nice to know others who worked so hard for a family that we can recognize together that all we truly want in life is time and love with each other as a family.

Anonymous said...

B.G.E. - Best Gift Ever! You are outstanding parents!

Anonymous said...

I remember that time 2 years ago - checking your blog several times a day looking for updates. I remember it as if I was there with you, as I am sure many of your readers do. Look at you all now. I just knew it would come to this!! Love wins! And the best Christmas ever! far! Love to you all!
Miss Joan xoxoxo

Anonymous said...

You've taken me back--to anticipation, hope, anxiety, heartbreak, possibility, hope, anxiety, growth. Angela takes up the story, the present, the growth, the possibility. I look forward to the future with each of you--the dreams, the anxieties, the anticipations, hopes, growth, setbacks, triumphs and all with God, with each other, within and shot through with love.

Thanks for this Christmas present to me and to so many others,

Anonymous said...

What a gift, Cindy! I know the battle for a child's heart, though ours did not have such a rocky start. It began more like Kenny's, the indiscriminate love, passed out to everyone with ease, not discerning...and mostly not aimed at me, the new mom. I spent time with that child only at my parents these past few days, while the rest of our teens and hubby came home earlier for sports practices and farm chores. My sister and my parents are working towards moving them to a retirement well as working through some of the emotional baggage my extended family comes with. This daughter of mine listened to my own hurts and witnessed some of my past life these past few days. She truly opened up on the way home, and also listened more and asked meaningful questions during some of my history telling. I realized that the time was very well spent with just she and I, for though she wasn't in on some of the difficult conversations and such, she was observing. I'm thankful she was willing to learn more about me and about what type of family she wants for herself... both now and in her future.

It comes in varying stages for each of them, and I'm thankful for all the healing that has taken place over the past two years in Angela's heart. What a blessing for her to know family!

Nancy in the Midwest

Carrie DeLille said...

Dear Team LaJoy....we love you and are celebrating your miracle with you....cried as I read thought back to those difficult moments you went through, but all so worth it!