Wednesday, August 1, 2018

The Skin We're In

"Mom! Mom!! I'm in that movie!"

We were watching a short clip about Chinese culture a few weeks ago, and admittedly I was zoned out when suddenly I heard my oldest say he was in that movie. Before anyone jumps to the conclusion of negligent parenting and not screening what they watch, Derek and I had both watched the video previously and thought the boys might like it. They did like it (it was about food, after all)...but I can assure you, they also were not in it.

My son is three and a half, going on fifteen. I know I'm his mom, so there's a little bias, but sometimes he shows a maturity that I don't expect. He wasn't actually saying he was in the movie, but he was noticing that the people in the video looked like him, and that's how his three year old brain expressed that to us. Not having expected that comment, I simply said "No, you aren't in the movie, but the people in the movie are Chinese, just like you." End of story.

Since then, if someone is watching a clip on culture or looking at photos, both of the boys now ask "Is that me? Is that my brother?" and I know they know it's not them. Each time, I say "No, that man/woman/boy/girl is Chinese, just like you." And for a week or two, that was enough.

But like I said, my older son is very observant. He's starting to notice differences more than his brother, and it's just one more thing in a laundry list of items that have recently bothered him.

"Mom, are your eyes blue? What color are my eyes?"
"Mom, do I have a brave scar?"
"Mom, did I live in China?
"Mom, did you come get me?"

Three years ago, to prepare for international adoption, Derek and I took numerous required classes to equip us with answers for when these inevitable questions came. Some of the important takeaways were (1) to always be honest but also (2) to keep our answers age appropriate.

"Yes, my eyes are blue. Daddy's are light brown. Your eyes are dark brown. Judah's are dark brown."
"Yes, you have a brave scar."
"Yes, you were born in China."
"Yes, Mommy and Daddy flew in an airplane to China where you lived to bring you home with us."

The other important takeaway? To read between the lines.

"Mom, why am I different?"
"Mom, what happened to me?"
"Mom, why was I not with you?"
" really love me?"

These. These are the real questions he's subconsciously asking and not even realizing it. He's only three and a half, but his brain is in overdrive trying to make sense of things that may never make sense. If you were to read a child psychology book about typical anxieties in children and the ages they start to present, these fears that he's displaying are above and beyond what he is capable of understanding at his age, which makes for even more fear and anxiety. 

And the answers? They change depending on what he needs. Sometimes the answers just mean extra play time or hugs. Sometimes we use simple picture books to help reinforce simple truths, like all the cool things skin can do and all the colors it comes in, or books that remind us that we're a family, and families stick together. And sometimes Derek and I know we are out of our realm of expertise and look to the professionals to help us help them. This has made us once again batten down the hatches a little, so to speak, to give him (and really both of them) time to adjust and find their footing.

Our boys have beautiful brown skin and the darkest, brightest eyes. One has a giant dimple and the other has the most mischievous grin. One has a brave scar with a unique heartbeat and the other has special and oh so very capable hands. Now, just now, they're starting to realize these differences...not in others, but in themselves. One little girl asked one of our boys what that thing was on his chest. A high five for the other turns into a fist bump, because the other has suddenly realized he can't open and close his hand. These were the moments as parents we knew were coming, but it still hurts to hear and see. Yet, when we hear answers simply stated like "my brave scar" and see the flash of a dimple when a fist bump turns into a super cool handshake...those are the moments we pray they remember: the victories in the differences.

Our boys need to be secure in their identity. Part of that is knowing their background, their history, their ethnicity and culture. However, a much bigger part of that is knowing where they fit in. That scary things can or have happened, but we, as their parents, will be there to help them to the best of our ability. That this family loves each other and celebrates all of our differences. That they will always, always be a part of this family.

That they can know that God gave them this skin they're in, that they will know who they are, and who loves them.

Sunday, May 13, 2018

Yuán Fèn

Yuán Fèn: fate

When Derek was in country this last time adopting Judah, one of his guides explained the circumstances of his own birth, and how it was determined to be yuán fèn for him to be born. He explained that's why he loves what he does as a guide helping adoptive families, and that many people view the adoption of these children as yuán fèn/fate--or for a more accurate translation predestined by a supernatural power.

Now, I've asked a of couple people in order to fact check if yuán fèn is ever associated with adoption, and I've received mixed reviews. However, I can at least confirm that culturally, it's incredibly important. Fate is not a word we as Christians necessarily believe in, but predestined? That's a word we're familiar with. While the culture in our sons' country of birth does not acknowledge the Biblical meaning of the word predestination, it's an easy jump for us to accept that our sons were predestined to be ours by God, orchestrated before we could even begin to imagine.

We know a time is coming soon when we'll have to explain in a way for Jet and Jude to understand why they don't live with their China moms, also called their first families, meaning the families they were born to. Jet is already starting to make assumptions based on what he knows so far: he and Jude were born in China; therefore, babies come from China. We know the grieving and mourning and confusion that may, or most likely will, occur when they realize what adoption means. And we will never, ever take for granted the gift, the honor, of raising these two boys, and any more that come after, for however long God ordains.

When the time comes that they want or need to know their full stories, we will be ready to explain it to them. We do realize it's a bit of a stretch, using a word, a concept, that's culturally associated with fate and luck to explain they're exactly where God wants them to be; but what an amazing tool we have been given, to not only use this to explain their own adoptions, but also to use is to explain the mystery of the Gospel!

For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn among many brothers. And those whom he predestined he also called, and those whom he called he also justified, and those whom he justified he also glorified. --Romans 8:29-30

We don't know why we were chosen to be, or why these boys were chosen to call us Mom and Dad...but they were. We don't know why God chose us while we were yet sinners (Rom. 5: 6-8) to be justified, to be sanctified, and to be one day glorified as children of God. It's one of the greatest mysteries and, dare I say, most contested parts of the Bible, but it's something we believe with every fiber of our beings and are thankful for everyday--and praying for the days that Jet and Jude understand that they too can become children of God.

But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God, who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God. --John 1:12-13

Years before we even discussed adoption, I knew in my heart it was something I wanted to do-and thankfully Derek did too. For whatever reason, we never really pictured our own biological children or pursued it in depth. In my naivety, I may not have understood fully the concept of adoption until I read into these verses. We've done nothing for God to have chosen us as his sons and daughters, but praise God, we can call him Father because of His sacrificial love for us.

These boys are not biologically mine or Derek's, but through yuán fèn, fate, predestination...they are our children.

And they call me Mom.

"A child born to another woman calls me mommy. The magnitude of that tragedy and the depth of that privilege are not lost on me." -Jody Landers

Wednesday, May 2, 2018

First Birthday

Today we celebrated Judah's 3rd birthday, and his first birthday with us. I'd love to hear some of your birthday traditions, because every family is different and I know some families have some pretty cool ones. In our house, we get birthday breakfast cookies from Trefzger's (or birthday cake pops from Starbucks if that's what's requested instead), and try to spend the day doing things the birthday person would like. No one here lasts long enough to wait until after dinner for birthday cake, so after Derek gets home from work we open gifts and eat dinner sized portions of said cake. That probably isn't the smartest idea for our now officially two three year old boys, but they weren't complaining.

But as many adoptive parents know, birthdays can have hard parts mixed in with the fun. A conglomeration of emotions that as parents have us swinging from high to low all day long, leaving us knowing that someday all the questions circling in our minds now our kids will ask as they come to understand what "adopted" means. Since we're all about keeping things even here, I know I wrote a letter to Jordan on his second birthday and first with us, and I'll also share what I wrote for Judah, too. 

Dear Judah, 

Today was your very first birthday with us. You've been an official member of our family for only 58 days, home for less, and yet in that short time you've come so far. When you first got home, you clung like an octopus to us any time we took you out of the house, and, while those moments still occur when you're in an unfamiliar space, you now are comfortable enough to push our hand away and run ahead sometimes, trusting that we will follow you, and we will. The glimpses of personality you showed on your Family Day are now completely you. We love your righteous sense of justice and strong will. You may just be the silliest one in the family, but your compassion and affection for others is the most special thing about you. (Personally, I also appreciate your incredible neatness, and how you keep us all in check if we leave something out of place. Our house has never been cleaner.) You continually surprise us with your accomplishments; you don't let your difference stand in your way. 

We watched you today as you carefully opened each present, and they weren't much: a board book, a picture book, a puzzle, and a shapes game, but to you? They were precious. Each scrap of wrapping paper was carefully handed to me before you moved on to the next, and you were in awe of each and every gift. Amazed at the things that are now only yours, just Judah's. It's hard right now, because there are probably so many things you want to tell us and we don't understand, but I think, or hope, that we got your special day right for you. 

When I went to post pictures, I used a hashtag #wecouldhavemissedthis. (If you read this someday and don't know what a hashtag is, you can make fun of us for our archaic social media skills. Obviously your mom still blogs like it's 2007.) It's a somewhat overused and cliche saying by adoptive parents that means we could have missed out on days like today, eating cake pops and picking dandelions and birthday celebrations, if we hadn't adopted you. Except, it's so very true. We could have missed this. We could have missed you. 

But it makes us remember that there are still things missed, or people missing them. We missed most of the first three years of your life. Were you a happy baby, or a stubborn one? Big or little? When did you take your first steps? Did anyone hold you when you cried? What was your favorite toy? Who was your favorite person? Have you had a birthday party before? Is this your actual birth date? We can fill in some of the blanks thanks to pictures, some of the other parents who adopted your friends that were like brothers, and the updates we got periodically...but nothing is definite, and some things we will never know. These are the questions we expect you'll ask us as you get older, and we'll all have to understand that "we don't know" is the answer. You don't have to be okay with not knowing, because sometimes we aren't either. 

The biggest question though isn't really a question. Your dad and I can say "we could have missed this", which is very true, but there are two people who really are missing this. Missing every silly dance and cheesy grin, your little strut when you know you're right about something, your scraped knees (you've got some good ones on) and elbows and somehow your foot too, sicky snuggles, and all your extra hugs and kisses every night. Yesterday, when I went to leave your room before nap and close the door, you softly called out "love you" before I could, shocking me silent for a moment. After I shut the door I was so torn, wishing to share that moment with your China mom, yet selfishly thankful I got to experience it, but overall sad for all you've lost. 

Adoption comes from brokenness, and it leaves so many holes and questions and scars and wounds. We don't have the answers; we'll do our very best to fill in all the missing pieces and support you in every way if and when you want to find more. We'll love your scars, and as new sore spots or wounds open up we'll do our best to heal those too. 

The most important thing though we want you to know is that yes, we could have missed you...but we didn't. You, Judah Lev, are living proof of God's plan even if sometimes you don't feel like it. Sometimes, when I don't understand why something happened, or why things have to be a certain way, I repeat over and over to myself "God is God, and I am not" until I know in my head and my heart that God is in control, He has the answers, and I don't and/or won't, but I can go to Him for comfort. Maybe to some people that's not enough, but we hope and pray that will be enough for you when you have those moments too. You are so very capable, and don't let anyone tell you otherwise. 

Happy 3rd, Judah. We love you.