Sunday, January 13, 2013

This Big Problem

I was sitting in the church nursery one Sunday morning, holding a really fussy baby.  Now, you wouldn't usually find me doing Children's Ministry- most people know that isn't my area of giftedness. But I could hear the babies screaming from my pew, so I went to see if they needed help.  They did.  So I sat and tried to comfort a baby boy.  Another one of the volunteers, a young, pregnant friend, was also comforting an upset child, and trying to chat about her excitement for the upcoming birth with a slightly-older parent. I sat there for the rest of the service, cringing more and more as their discussion went on.  I heard my friend's excitement turn to anxiety, then near panic as the other woman espoused all kinds of parenting theories to her- everything from delivery to breastfeeding to potty training.  She left bewildered and overwhelmed and I wanted so badly to pull her aside and tell her to just forget the whole conversation.

As we left church that day, I said to my husband, "I just figured it out.  I just figured out what I hate about parenting.  It's other parents." 

Maybe saying "other parents" is too general.  There is this phenomenon that I've witnessed growing among wonderful, caring, Christian parents.  I can't quite define it.  I'd start with the word "judgement" and then move to "superiority" and "false wisdom."  But it's still more than all of that.  It includes shaming others who don't raise their kids exactly like you think they should.  It involves raised eyebrows and knowing glances between those who think they have it "figured out."  And above all, it focuses on theories and ideas that I can find nearly no Biblical specifics on- and calls those theories and ideas "God's Way."  

I just call it This Big Problem.  

I saw it with my first son, and it surprised me.  I see it every day now, and it angers me. 

This Big Problem is destroying relationships.  It is making enemies of women who should be each other's biggest cheerleaders.  It is hurting the feelings of people who are already really hurting.  And the most crazy thing is that none of us really know exactly the right way to raise our kids when it comes to some of these much-debated topics.  I can't find a verse about the right age to potty train.  I can't find a story in the Bible about when to stop breastfeeding.  I don't know if Jesus had a pacifier or cried in his crib or had a dairy intolerance.  

I am ashamed to say I've been on both sides of This Big Problem.  I have judged others and thought I knew it all.  I hope I never directly hurt another person with this, and most of my judgement happened within my spirit and not outwardly.  But the Lord knocked me off my high horse fairly quickly, and I feel like my eyes snapped open fast.  And now, whenever I witness this, either firsthand or just observation, I am sick. 

I am sick of it. 

I am so sick of wonderful, Christian parents totally missing the point and using the energy God gave them to tear others down rather than build up.   

I wrote a post about this on my previous blog years ago, called "She's Doing the Best She Can."  Most of the women you know right now are doing the best they can.  Sure, we can all think of strangers or acquaintances who we don't think are doing their best.  But your friends? The women you see at your kids' school, the women in your Bible Study, the parents at your church? They are TRYING.  

And you have no idea what their life is like. 

But I DO know what they need.  They need someone to say, "I am FOR you.  I am in this battle WITH you."  Not "I am here to point out all you are doing wrong and shame you for it."  

My youngest with his Nana

As I've alluded to in past posts, our family is just recovering from a rough time.  The things we experienced were humbling, strengthening, and wisdom-giving. One of those experiences was having a child who's been hospitalized 3 times in his short life.  

I am now a freak about exposing my kids to illness.  Our son has a myriad of gastrointestinal issues- reflux, dairy allergy, delayed gastric emptying, and irritable bowel syndrome.  The last time he picked up a stomach virus, he got gastroparesis (stomach paralyzation), and had to be hospitalized for 6 days.  He became severely dehydrated, and food was no longer being digested or absorbed- it just came back up.  One night, after he had vomited every piece of food he'd eaten for the last 24 hours (for the 4th time that week), I sat up with him all night because I knew he was going to die.  (He didn't).  But I was watching my child waste away in a hospital bed and I felt helpless.  
 It was a horrible feeling.

Thankfully, he recovered from that.  But he is now on $300/month worth of medications (5 different medicines a day), and we make regular trips to a specialist that is 2 hours away.  We have to monitor him constantly.  I stress about every piece of food that enters his mouth, and the way it does or does not come out.  He is 3 years old and not potty trained because he still has no control over his watery, loose stools that come out multiple times a day.  That isn't his fault.  That isn't my fault.  

As I said, this has given me tremendous respect, compassion and empathy for people who have sick kids.  It breaks my heart.  And there are many, many kids sicker than mine- we are lucky and blessed that we just have a "management" situation rather than something dire. 

But twice in the last month, we've had people close to us judge us, and it has hurt.  One was a direct confrontation about potty training- being told I was damaging my child because he was getting older and not potty trained.  This person said they were "concerned" of course.  But they were judging, period.  The other time was friends who did not understand when we did not want my son exposed to someone who had the flu.  Our concern meant a slight hardship for them, so they were angry, upset and could not in any way fathom why we'd be so strict about it. 

They haven't watched their child suffer in the hospital.  They haven't cried and prayed that their baby would live (through something it takes most kids a day to bounce back from).  They don't pay for medicines and specialists and special food.  They do not understand.  What we needed from them was compassion and concern for our child: not judgment for making a choice they think they'd  never make.  

You can't understand unless you've been there. 

And I am not asking everyone everywhere to understand everything each parent has gone through.

But here is the bottom line: YOU DON'T HAVE TO UNDERSTAND.  

You can tell yourself, "I am not capable of understanding why each parent makes each decision. I am going to leave it to the Lord to judge them, and I am going to do my job: LOVE THEM."

You have no idea how you'd react if you lived the exact same experiences as that other woman you are judging.  You don't have the luxury of going to that place to make a judgement, so all you can do is believe the best about her.  Believe she is doing what God wants her to, and if she isn't, that's up to Him to sort out.  Your job is to love her.

Your job is to say, "I might not understand why you are doing this, but I love you and want to help however I can." 

You can say, "You are doing a great job." 

You can say, "I am on your side.  What do you need from me?" 

Shaming a person who chooses to deliver a baby differently than you, or throwing judgmental glances at a bottle-feeding mama: not in any way helpful. You have no idea what she's going through.  

(I got dirty looks a lot when I was bottle-feeding my first son, who we adopted. It shocked me.  I wanted to wear a sign explaining it, but then I realized it wouldn't matter. I'd just get judged for something else). 

Starting with love, offering to help, and then sharing your own experience from a place of humility with the goal of truly caring for that other young mom- that's what we all need.  

I'd love for everyone reading this to comment and say this: I want to take myself out of THIS BIG PROBLEM.  

No more passive-aggressive Facebook posts.  No more thinly-veiled comments, even to friends. Especially to friends.   No more self-involved, self-centered, time-wasting thoughts about other parents.  

Just true love and concern for all the other parent-warriors out there who are putting their heart and soul and life into raising children.  Put that energy you'd used to judge to instead help. 

Stop being a part of the problem, and seek first to love, then to understand.  This is my plea to all parents, especially those who claim to know Christ.  

We can start something opposite of a Big Problem- and people will see our love for them first.  

All of our hearts will be better off for it.  

Tuesday, January 8, 2013

Our History: Part 1

Since I desire to share some of the experiences in our family's daily life, I thought it would be good to go back and review some history.  Many of you have known us for years, while others may be new on the scene.  And even if you were there for part of this history, I wanted to let you in a little bit more- to see a deeper view of where our family has been.

This part of the story is about waiting.  Exciting, right? Just hang in there with me.

J & I got married in 2002, after nearly 4 years of dating.  We waited so long because we felt it was important for both of us to finish college first.  This was a good decision for us personally.  I wouldn't normally recommend 4 years of dating- but we were young and needed to get a good start in life.  So I was 22 and J was 23. Looking back now, it feels like we were babies.  J likes to tell people that we "grew up together."  This is true on many levels. 

We wanted to wait for awhile before having kids.  So we let 2 years of marriage go by- we bought a house, we had started careers, we'd saved some money.  And when the 2-year mark hit, we began to talk about starting our family.  At that time, some families from our church had adopted children internationally- and some good friends of ours were considering going that route.  There was a seminar at our church, given by an adoption agency, so we attended.

Adoption had always been on my heart.  We had even told people we wanted to adopt "someday."  After the seminar, I couldn't stop talking about it to my husband, but still with the idea that it would be later down the road.  After a week of non-stop information- sharing and excited talk, J finally said something outright that I hadn't even realized.  He said, "You seem to be really excited about adoption.  If we're both so excited about it, why don't we adopt FIRST?"  

Adopt first? Not after you try to have biological kids? The idea hadn't even occurred to me. I just always thought of it as a "second" option.  

Within the month, we applied to and were accepted by our adoption agency: Children's Hope International.

We worked (ok, I did most of it- J isn't really into details!) on our dossier frantically. Doors opened like crazy, and we felt God's leading.  We were accepted into the Colombia program and we requested a baby boy, age 1 year or younger. By November of 2004, it was certified and in the mail, on its way to Bogota, Colombia.  We had selected Colombia through prayer and talking- and really it fit us perfectly.  We were given a wait time of 12-15 months.  Wow! By next Christmas we would maybe have a baby!

Well, time went by. We started preparing a nursery.  I had taken a part-time job so that when the baby came, I could mostly stay home with him.  We learned Spanish.  We attended monthly meetings at our adoption agency. We busied ourselves trying to become the best parents ever.

Our social worker had told us at the beginning of the process was that the one thing you could count on with international adoption was change.  They would always keep us informed and be honest and up front, but most things were not certain.  However, in the end, somehow, some way, we would have a baby.

Our "change" happened slowly, sort of painfully.  We saw the months go by and no families ahead of us on the list were getting referrals.  We were told things were slowing down and to just be prepared to wait a little longer.  Christmas 2005 came and went with no movement whatsoever.  As 2006 set in, we found ourselves justifying to family and friends why we were waiting.  We prayed a lot and God never gave us the green light to "try something else."  We knew our first child would come to us through adoption in Colombia, and that was that. We just had to wait. And wait. And wait.

But when Christmas 2006 came, my faith was small.

 I usually love Christmastime, but this time I had no interest in decorating.  J had to drag me to get a Christmas tree.  I sat on the floor and cried while he decorated it.  What was God doing? Had he forgotten us?  The news was that Colombia had changed the laws and so domestic adoptions within the country were given first priority.  I knew this was a good thing, big-picture-wise, but for me it just meant lots more waiting.  My spirits were definitely down.  I had to repeatedly dust the crib, which had set unused for over a year.

It was getting harder to explain to people.  One person even told me that we needed to sue our agency- that they had stolen our money.  I knew it wasn't true, and we were in regular contact with our Colombia Coordinator, who we loved.  Spring came, and no movement.  Finally, in May, a family from our program got a referral for a sweet little boy, Miguel.  The day I found out, I was on cloud nine! It was a huge positive sign.  Then bam, bam, two more families got referrals! We were just behind one other family.

In late July, we were informed that the family ahead of us had been moved to a different region of Colombia- most likely to be matched soon.  This news discouraged us- why hadn't we been moved too?  If there were babies anywhere in Colombia, send us to that region! I settled in for more waiting.  When would our news come? The family ahead of us hadn't been assigned a baby yet, even.

So on August 6, I was at work, getting ready to distribute paychecks.  My husband came in the door, looking flushed.  I was really surprised to see him. He came up and said, "We got the call."  I said, "Oh, about your job?" (we had been waiting to hear if his company was being bought out). He said, "No.  We got THE CALL."  I was still not following him.  I said, in my usual direct manner, "Tell me what you are trying to tell me!"  He said, "Our baby! We got our baby!"
Our referral picture

I burst into tears- I didn't understand! First, our agency had instructions to call my cell phone first.  Somehow our social worker called Josh instead.  And the family ahead of us didn't have an assignment yet.  But they were moved out of the Bogota region, which meant we were next on the list, and we were assigned the next baby boy who showed up.  Our son was 7 1/2 months old at the time of referral, which is very young by international adoption standards.

We were out of our minds with joy. We both thought we'd finish out the work day, then make a plan to share our news with friends and family (we'd had many years to plan how we'd share our announcement- but most it went out the window because we were just too darn excited)- however, there was no way we could think about anything else.  I handed out paychecks, and we went to our church to tell our pastor.  The rest of the day was spent telling family and friends the news.  Everyone shared in our excitement.  Even those who had been doubters were sharing in our joy.

We had to be in Bogota in 3 weeks (Colombian adoptions work like that- you have all the waiting up front, but once you have a referral, you go!).  Lots of paperwork and final preparations.  I walked around in a daze- hands full of checklists and baby info.  Somehow we got on a plane for Bogota on August 28.

We met our son on August 30.  He was a little over 8 months old by then, and smiley, adorable, healthy and sweet.  We were in love instantly.  I know that doesn't always happen in adoption or in biological families, for that matter.  But he was so easy to love.

Here's the kicker.  Remember the Christmas of me crying by the Christmas tree and not decorating?  Our son was being born right then.  His birthday is December 6.  I could not verify it was the exact same day, but it was close because we had to hurry and get the tree done for a party on December 8.  That fact was a huge lesson for me. I had always believed and hoped that God was working on our behalf in ways we could not see.  Knowing that my moment of being almost ready to give up was the same moment his promise to us was fulfilled is awesome to me.  As humans, we can only see the tiniest portion of what God is doing- and usually we are so focused on our own feelings, demands, desires and hopes that we forget the reality.  The reality of God never sleeping, always loving, and working things together for good.  We cannot see most of it.  But it is there.  Believing that- that is faith to me.

I am always open to adoption questions.  You will be hearing more about this as the days go on.  For now, thanks for reading this opening history post.  More to come...