Can I love them the same?

8 years ago I was sitting in a hotel room in a Chinese province far away from where we live. I thought the knock on our door would never come. We were waiting to meet our new daughter. It was our first adoption. Looking back, I now know how clueless I was.

One of my biggest fears as I waited to meet the three year who would become our daughter – could I love her the same?

I get asked this question a lot – by people who are considering adoption, by my neighbors who can’t quite believe that I could love my kids who came to me through paperwork equally as I do my biological kiddos. I am able to answer that question with confidence now, but as I waited in that hotel room….to be honest, I wasn’t sure.

The knock on the door came mid-morning just like they told us it would. A man and several women entered….maybe orphanage workers. A lot of the moment is a blur. I am not really sure who all the adults were that accompanied a scared, tiny three year old. I only had eyes for her.

I would have recognized her anywhere, probably because I had been staring at her photo for months and months as we slogged our way through mounds of adoption documents. I had so many expectations that I didn’t even realize for this first adoption. Expectations for that moment and for her – they all flew out the window.

She was scared. Hardly moved as she was set down on the floor. It wasn’t love at first sight. We weren’t happily and loviningly embracing as she called me momma. But I knew – a new love. I knew that I would do anything to protect the tiny wisp of a child that stood before me shaking. Protectiveness, compassion, anger at all she had been through leading up to that moment, urgency to help her – love. It wasn’t the precious bonding moment at birth when they placed my newborn son on my chest. This was so very different but the same.

It has been 8 years since that first meeting. It is almost impossible to see the tiny, scared child in the quiet, strong 11 year old who sits at my dinner table tonight. She chose take-out and a movie night as a way for our family to spend time together remembering the day she entered our lives.

It is hard for me to see the mother I was then – my journey has been significant. I have transformed from a mom who wasn’t sure if I could love a child of a different mother equally as my biological children to a woman who see my own adoption in Christ more fully. I now understand love, grace, new beginnings, and healing like I never would have without my adopted children. They are examples to me. I am bound to their stories and lives in a way that I can only describe as miraculous.

One of our favorite Christmas movies is “The Grinch Who Stole Christmas.” You know the part of the movie when the Grinch realizes that the Whos of Whoville still celebrate Christmas even without the gifts, food, bows, whistles and horns? His heart grows 3 times larger.

That is my heart. Before adoption my heart was small. After adoption – my heart has grown so much that it pops out of it’s box.

The answer to the question I asked myself 8 year ago – could I love an adopted child the same as my bio kids? Yes! The question I didn’t know to ask – would I love the same after my life had been turned upside down by these little people? No. I will never love the same because adoption has grown my heart not just my family.

To not belong

We have arrived at our Asian home and recovered from jetlag enough for a celebration to suit our boy who turned 8.

He is all about dinosaurs- so a trip to the small science museum was just the ticket. We are so thankful and blessed to have good friends, who are really like family, to celebrate with. I watched our sons running from one station to the next enjoying each one, and it made me sigh with such deep contentment. As hard as it is to say goodbye to family and the home of my birth – it is also hard to explain fully how good it feels to return to our other home and to embrace our friends and loved ones here. Sometimes, it can make me feel like I have dual banjos playing in my heart. To call two places home. To have so many loved ones I call family. To cry when I leave and cry when I stay.

My kids really amaze me. They seem to embrace both sides of their lives with ease and grace. Moe and Little Man both totally believe they can not speak Chinese – and if they are around Americans or Europeans they don’t. But the Chinese lady that comes to our home every week to hang out with our kids while I teach – well, they have full conversations with her too. She doesn’t speak English. They say thank you in Chinese to the vendor on our street corner and answer the questions from our neighbors. Flipping between the two languages comes so naturally that they are not even aware that they are doing it.

These two worlds that they flip between – they belong and they don’t. I have white kids who have lived most of their formative years in Asia and Asian kids who think white because of their parents and family culture. I could write a whole book about that in itself. But today what I am pondering…how my third culture kids teach me to embrace life and call no where home.

Want to watch my kids squirm….ask them where they are from. They know you would expect them to claim a city in America, maybe one of the rural communities their parents identify with, but I can assure you what flashes into their minds are beds in a small apartment in a city of more than a million people. But is that home? Can we call it home when we have to get a visa to stay and our passport is from a different country? Not really. We are keenly aware that this also is not home.

The more I strive to live life well, to be righteous and to lean into who God has made me, I am learning that “homelessness” should be my goal. I belong no where. It is hard to type those words and even harder to wrap my heart and mind around the truth that God sets out for all believers. We are not of this world. Heaven is home. A place I have never seen and a place I can not comprehend.

I want to let go of the things that tie me down and pull me away from having a heavenly mentality. Desires. Comforts. Culture. Thoughts. Expectations.

I heard a sermon in college by Dr. Kinlaw that still bounces around in my soul. He said, “Your eternity can start now.”

I have been letting that sink in for the past 20 years and yet I still uncover ways that I should lean into it more. I want to embrace my God given gift of eternity…now. I don’t want to belong to this world. I want to live fully in righteousness my heart turned towards heaven. Lord Jesus make it so.

6 years

6 years. That is how long we have had Little Man in our lives. I can honestly say that my life would be less blessed and would lack laughter, adventure, and flare if I had not been gifted this child to parent.

Recently and totally out of the blue he told me, “Good thing you named me Isaac (meaning laughter. I didn’t know he knew that.) because I am hilarious.”

I really could write a book with just his quotes, antics, and jokes. But, then again I really might not be able to capture in words how he makes me laugh so hard my sides hurt. He is funny in a way that catches you off guard. Like today when we were praying for his older brother who is getting a tooth pulled. Ouch. Little Man with all seriousness says, “Well at least he will get money for the pain.” Nudging me in the ribs, he then said, “If the tooth fairy remembers to give him a little something for it.” A knowing look shot my way with a “get it done, mom” thrown in for good measure. Hilarious!

I think back to the days before this funny kid. We were in seminary and didn’t have two pennies to rub together. For sure not the time to jump into an adoption. I had a vivid dream two years earlier that God would give us an Isaac – when I saw his photo on a waiting list the hair on the back of my neck stood on end and I knew I had seen our Isaac for the first time.  Timing was irrelevant.  Our son was waiting.

Today as I hugged him a bit tighter remembering the moment they placed him in our arms for the first time – I wanted to weep over what I could have missed. What if we hadn’t stepped out in faith to bring him home? What if we had said we don’t have the money.  This isn’t the right time.  I would probably eat fewer noodles, there wouldn’t be as many messes around my house, and things for sure would be quieter.

But this boy – this boy who flings his arms wide open as he runs – this boy who laughs with his mouth wide open – this boy who buries his face in the food he loves – he has taught me to love and laugh in ways I never would have learned without him. I am forever thankful. I would have missed so much.

81.5 million Americans have considered adoption. If just 1 in 500 of these adults adopted, every waiting child would have a permanent family. (From the Dave Thomas Foundation)

I could have been part of that statistic. For each of our adoptions – it really never felt like the right time. We never felt prepared enough to have another soul join our family. We always thought we needed more resources or finances. I am not sure what propelled us forward. God’s grace really is the only answer that makes any kind of scene.

In his grace he has gifted us with Little Man. On this anniversary of us becoming mom and son – I want to share how thankful I am that I didn’t miss out.

The end of another year

I have a little ritual – to write an end of our year review for homeschool. I started these posts for my mom, but they have morphed into a memento of sorts for me too. I love looking back and seeing how far the kids have come over the year….and even taking a peek at years past.

With a son who will be entering his 3rd year of high school, now more than ever, I feel the need to really slow down and recognize how far we have come. We started this homeschool journey when Soccer Dude was entering 1st grade. With a few years off while we lived in Kentucky, we have been at this for 8 years. Actually, I should write a post about how far I have come as a home educator. I knew nothing back then! Maybe I will add that for next year. For now, I am celebrating the end of another year.

Here is a peek at what the kids have learned this year, where they are headed, and some encouragement to myself that we have accomplished a lot during this crazy year. Wohoo for another year in the books!

Moe: Age 3 (our pre-school comic relief) This guy is everyone’s favorite. Each of the big kids take a turn playing with Moe as I homeschool. That really is one of the only ways I can keep sane while homeschooling 5 children with a pre-schooler under my feet. What started out as a chore (babysitting) turned into the privilege everyone fought over. Moe is just fun to be with. Play dough, reading picture books, forts, light saber fights…the kids all love finding ways to keep their three year old brother entertained during school time. You can bet that he also entertains us as he pretends to be a cat or a kangaroo.

Favorite subject: trucks and tractors

What he wants to be when he grows up: Grandpa

Favorite food: hot dogs

Biggest accomplishment: Moe has been in our family for just a bit over a year. Hard to believe when you hear him talk. He rocks English. He narrates EVERYTHING. “Look. There is a truck coming. That is a big truck. I like trucks. Mom, do you like trucks? Trucks can go over speed bumps.” On and on it goes, in perfect english. He is amazing.

Little Man: (Our 2nd grade graduate.) This guy is as smart as he is hilarious. He has taught me more about dinosaurs and the Jurassic period then I ever have cared to learn. He also can pronounce more dinosaurs names than I can.

Favorite subject: Math and geography (because he can do it fast.)

What he wants to be when he grows up: Archeologists

Favorite food: Chinese noodles

Biggest accomplishment: Little Man attended an art class that I taught for local kids. This year I have seen his Chinese language skills improve, his ability to make local friends has improved and our outgoing dude is blossoming. During one class I caught him challenging the boys to see if they could stomp on his foot hard enough to make him cry. I couldn’t help but laugh at all of the boys who were in awe over how strong Little Man is – none of them can stomp hard enough on his fake leg to make him flinch! I wonder when he might show them that he wears a prosthetic! That is our Little Man for ya.

Little Monkey: (completed 5th grade) It might be time for a new nickname for this sweet young lady. She is growing and maturing so quickly. It is fun to see the person she is becoming. We spent a chunk of time this year helping her determine her talents, gifts, and what she enjoys doing. She feels most comfortable following her big sister’s footsteps – but it has been fun to see her come into her own a bit this year.

Favorite subject: Geography and literature. It is even better if those two things are combined.

What she wants to be when she grows up: unsure

Favorite food: rice

Biggest accomplishment: urged on by one of her best friends, Little Monkey has determined to practice piano enough hours to make herself an expert. Based on the idea that 10,000 hours of practice can make you an expert in a field – she has upped her piano practice time in hopes that she can be an expert before she is mom’s age!

Roo: (will be starting High School in the fall!) This girl loves the arts. Painting, drawing, playing piano, knitting, crafting….you name it. Our home would not be the same without this creative spirit who is always pressing us to do school in a new way, bringing a creative twist to our lessons and thinking of some new fun way to entertain her brothers.

Favorite subject: She would say art and that she hates math – but really she is very good at math and language. This girl can diagram a sentence better than her momma.

As a family we based our homeschooling on My Father’s World’s curriculum “Exploring Countries and cultures.” Roo has loved our family read a-louds that are based on expats who have lived and worked around the world. We were all inspired by the series “Christian Hero’s: Then and Now.” We plan to read many more of them. This year, I have watched this tendered hearted girl fall in love with and have a heavy heart for a particular country and people group. Makes me wonder where she will end up one day.

Favorite food: ice cream

Biggest accomplishment: I will let this photo of one of her art projects speak for itself. I love seeing her art skills develop. This is was an assignment she did after studying famous artists including Van Gough.

B: (Surprise addition to our homeschool crew.) This guy is so very smart. I can’t even begin to put it into words. Our original goal was to slowly introduce him to our educational ways – let him hang with Little Man with 2nd grade work as he learns english. No pressure for him or for me. HA! I saw in the first week that wouldn’t work. We did placement after placement test for math. When he aced the 5th grade placement test even though he has had little formal education, I knew it was going to be hard to keep a head of this kid. He is learning words in math like parallelogram, is racing through Rosetta Stone English and is being diligent in his Explode the Code series.

Favorite subject: Math

Favorite food: gan ban (A Chinese noodle dish)

Biggest accomplishment: acclimating to our family. He has rocked this life change. I can’t say enough about how strong, flexible, kind, and tender-hearted this kiddo is. So thankful that he has joined our homeschooling crew this year.

Soccer Dude: (10th grade graduate – he is half way through High School!) We made a lot of changes in homeschooling this guy. Last year he was enrolled in an online High School. It was a good solid program and he did well, but it was hard on all of us to have him at the computer all day long. So this year, he took two classes online and we went back to traditional homeschooling the other courses. I was nervous at the beginning of the year, but it has been so much better for all of us. I am thankful to be more involved in his schoolwork again, he has taken more initiative in his learning, and we are having some big and good conversations. Who says parenting and homeschooling the teen years are hard? I am learning with them and enjoying this journey….even with the bumps along the way.

Favorite subject: Science (that is a new things this year!)

Favorite food: grilled bratwurst (can you tell he spent more time in the states this year?!)

Biggest accomplishment: Grieving well. This might sound like a weird thing to put here, but seriously this guy has been an example to me. He is leaning into Jesus as he has walked through the grief of saying goodbye to a foster brother he adored and loosing both of his grandmothers. When we transitioned to the States for the spring semester he did it with strength that rarely is seen in a teenager. He has handled it all well and is finishing his 10th grade year with all A’s. I am proud of him – not just for his high grades, but for setting aside his life and friends to help his Papa. It gives me a glimpse into the great man he is becoming.

I have never been so ready for our summer break. It has seemed like a long year and I have often felt that I could not meet all of the educational needs of these 6 souls – not to mention keeping our home going! I appreciate looking back over the year and seeing how God has met all of our needs – the needs of the kids and mine!

I am taking a deep breath and enjoying the beach before it is time to start another round of the Williams academy.

Just another day

It doesn’t matter how many years I live here, I will never get used to Christmas being just another work day (or get used to being away from family over the holidays.  You might think we are great adventurers, but we do get homesick.  Just say’n.)   A few days before Christmas the stores put huge Santa head signs on the doors, but I am the only one shopping in the toy section for my kids.  On Christmas eve many young adults go out to eat and fill the few western restaurants in our city which makes it feel like we are the only ones making a feast at home and reading the true story of Christmas.

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How do we make it not just another day?  We spend much time hosting and using every opportunity to share what the story of Christmas is about.  We have had cookie decorating parties for Hubby’s students and for the kids at the orphanage.  Sugar cookies are seriously one of my favorite foods, but I have made so many batches of them and baked them in our toaster oven sized oven (that would be 6-8 cookies at a time if you are counting.  I was.) I can hardly stand the thought of eating one now!   As much work as it was….we had a ton of fun sharing our holiday with all of our students.

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So we might feel like we are on our own celebrating Christmas, but really we are not.  There are several other expat families in our huge city.  The holidays is a great excuse for us to come together and celebrate.  Since we are from all over the world the ways we celebrate vary drastically, but that is part of the fun.

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Our girls participated in Christmas plays at the international school and at our Sunday fellowship.  Roo sang her first solo and rocked it.  Soccer Dude had a christmas recital with the group he is learning guitar with and Little Monkey sang in a choir and had a line in the play.  She worked at getting over her fear of the stage.  Proud of them all.

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Little Man was also supposed to be a sheep in one of the plays.  I was starting to sweat the morning of the performance.  “Mom I think I should be an elf who shakes his booty NOT a sheep.  ”  hmmmm.  Then, a package came in the mail from my parents.  The kids were thrilled with hats that my mom made for them.  Little Man’s is a lion.  “Mom do lions eat sheep?  Now I know!  I will be a lion in the play and see what the shepherds will do!”  No matter what I said he walked around the apartment practicing his lion growl.  I guess a growling lion/sheep is better than an elf/sheep who shakes his booty!?  I was wondering what this loose cannon would do on the stage.  In the end he got cold feet and took a nap.  I won’t say that I was disappointed – relieved actually, to have another year before he has a live audience.  This kid.

 

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I might never get used to Christmas not being a holiday here, but it did save my tail when I forgot (again!) to buy batteries.  Thankful for all the ways we were able to celebrate.  Over and over again I was thinking of how JC is with us.  Immanuel.  What a special holiday.

 

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Thinking of all of you on the other side of the world and wishing you a blessed holiday season as well!