We have crammed a lot into this trip, and God has placed a lot on our hearts for growth as well. I have been surprised by the issues we have visited and the continuing progress in so many directions.
On Friday Matthew and I had a special date together, as we left the rest of the kids behind with Daddy to go swimming while we had a more serious mission. We visited the Simon Wiesenthal Museum of Tolerance in Los Angeles. This is an amazing experience as you walk through a 70 minute series of scenes with video imagery and displays that explain events leading up to the Holocaust and help you gain an intimate understanding of the atrocities committed from the victim's perspective. While this would not be for everyone Matthew's age (He was the youngest present of the 2 groups we saw), and the other children were definitely not ready for something like this, we felt Matthew was educated enough about the background and mature enough to take away some real meaning from it. We also arrived early enough to participate in a small group discussion with a short film led by a self-proclaimed former skinhead which was a powerful presentation as well.
As we walked from scene to scene, Matthew kept gently grabbing for my hand as he took it all in, we quietly sat near one another for video segments, our eyes riveted to the screen as we silently took in images of a hatred and loathing that is utterly unimaginable to us. Man's inhumanity to man became real in a way it never could before, and we shook our head in horror as later we discussed how evil begets evil, and what group mob mentality can do to an entire society. We also talked about something I believe in passionately, and that is how evil exists because good men and women stand by and do nothing...and how God can work through a single person to bring about change in this world by helping others break free of the bonds of inertia simply by stepping forward with courage and leading the way.
As we talked on the drive home, I asked Matt what he would have done had he been a young German man then...would he have been so afraid for his own life that he would have felt it impossible to do anything but what was asked of him? Would he have tried to flee the country? Would he have willingly joined with the rest of his countrymen believing the lies that Hitler obviously was able to "sell" to millions? Without hesitation he responded "Mom, there is no way I could have killed innocent people, I would have joined the Resistance and done whatever I could to help my country be a good place." "What if you were threatened with death?" I asked. "I would die either way, probably, and I'd rather die knowing I had done the right thing." he replied. But he admitted he could understand the fear that led so many to do such horrible things. What he couldn't understand is how some came to love the killing, how their souls rotted from the inside out and created such hard hearts that all compassion had left them.
Was all of this appropriate for an 11 year old? Yes, for this 11 year old it was. For some it might not be, but Matthew has studied World War 1 on his own for a couple of years now. He knows names of battles, equipment, and some of the causes. What he had not yet encountered was the reality of national prejudice and hatred that was at the root of it all. While he has never, ever glorified war despite his great interest, he had not yet had it personalized for him beyond dates and names. That is why I selected "The Hiding Place" by Corrie Ten Boom as his first real adult novel for a book study this fall. Not only is the writing evocative and powerful, but it addresses another side of war in a very personal way which will leave an indelible impression on him, just as it did for me when I read it all those many years ago. We will read some of the chapters together, and some he will read alone, then we will discuss the material using a book study from Progeny Press to help go deeper with meaning and understanding. I have a feeling this fall will be a time of rich personal growth for Matthew.
Saturday was spent at the dentist...again...finishing up Angela's root canal and the remainder of the fillings for everyone else. It was another marathon day, from 9 AM till 4:00 PM, and everyone was in at least a little pain and extremely tired from sitting in the office all day long. Angela's root canal caused her a lot of pain initially but it calmed down later in the evening. Poor Joshie was in tears in the chair as he had a rough filling to suffer through when 2 shots of anesthetic didn't fully work. It was at that moment when I gained an even greater respect for the mothers of critically ill children who undergo incredibly painful procedures on a routine basis...I don't know how they make it through and I am thankful that we have not had to face anything of that nature.
We are profoundly grateful to Dominick's extended family (the office is a family run business) for their care for the kids, and for helping us be able to afford so much dental work. When you bring home older adopted kids, dental care can be incredibly costly as most often there has been little to no attention paid to oral hygiene, and even if there has been many children enter the orphanage after years of living with biological parents whose concerns were not always exactly focused on whether their kids brushed their teeth or not. In our case, even Josh who came home as an infant had a rotting tooth suspected to be caused by poor early nutrition in-utero or in his early months as it was literally rotting from the inside out, and we were told "This has nothing at all to do with poor brushing...it actually looks good on the outside but is crumbling from the inside when I touch it with a tool.".
We had a wonderful short visit with relatives from Tucson who came in to see the kids while we were here, and it was so thoughtful of them to make the quick (and VERY LONG drive) turnaround so we could all get together and the girls could meet their aunt and her mom who is the very special lady who has made each of our children a welcome home quilt as they arrived. As our family started adding children later than our siblings, our kids' second cousins are closer in age to them than their first cousins are, and I think it has all been a little confusing to the girls!!
Today we had the privilege of meeting a years long adoption friend in person for the first time and we spent the afternoon with her and her mother. It was beautiful in Santa Barbara and while the kids swam, we adults visited and shared our experiences with one another. It is always a kick for me to meet folks in person whom I have known online for years and years, and a special blessing to be able to say face to face "Thank you for being there, thanks for your support and help, thanks for your friendship." The adoption community is a remarkably special group to belong to, and many of my friendships over the years have been very rewarding even if we don't hang out in person. The power of the internet has allowed relationships to blossom and connections to be formed where before we might never have connected.
Our remaining few days here will be spent relaxing, visiting with grandma's and probably visiting the church Dominick and I were married in, as we have been bugged at least 25 times by the kids to go see it. Our time here is winding down, and we will head back soon to spend a week at home catching up, then on to Chicago for Round Two and Kenny's next surgery. He will have a bone graft from his other hip for the other side of his cleft in the jaw bone, and another attempt will be made to close his palate. We pray that this time it is successful, and that his recovery is as easy as the last time.
The waning days of summer are upon us, fall will soon arrive, and we have a pocket full of deep meaning to take back with us as we look over this trip. So much more happened here than just a family visit, so much more might still be awaiting us in our last days and drive home. We are all missing our own beds, our friends, our life back in Montrose but we are squeezing as much out of this time as we can.