Friday, April 12, 2013

Piecing It Together

The adoption of a child with special needs is like having to put together a giant puzzle. Each piece of that child's past, present, and future must somehow all fit together as it was meant to be. It is up to us, the adoptive parents, to lovingly, patiently, and carefully put it all together. What we so often forget to realize is that the puzzle was created by an awesome God who already knows the end result of His great masterpiece.  -Jenny Monier

Adoption is a wonderful blessing to a family.  So much joy, love, and happiness.  So often we read adoption blog after adoption blog of a journey that is just so blissful and perfect.  Adoption soon becomes romanticized.  But I want to take a moment and share the stark reality that adoption, while wonderful, can be messy, painful, and enigmatic.  Most adoptive families are not very quick to share the tough times because that can illicit a negative reaction from friends and family.  Today, however, I want to share some difficulties with you all.  It is my hope that if I share my struggles it can somehow bless or encourage someone else that may be facing the same struggle.

For those of you that are new readers our son, Dima, has Down Syndrome and no other health issues.  We adopted him when he was seven years old and he is now about to turn nine.  He is an energetic, clever, very verbal, and a very high functioning little boy.  Dima currently attends a typical school and is in a self contained ESE classroom that has multiple grade levels though technically he is in second grade.  When it comes to academics he is doing extremely well.  He has had straight A's, can grasp a new concept that is at his level with ease, and he enjoys learning.  Our family is so proud of him and all that he has learned this first year of school.

Behaviorally, however, he struggles at school (not at home).  I do not think the details are important but suffice to say he can be disruptive and unkind.  His teacher, the ESE specialist, and I have wracked our brains for months attempting to figure Dima out and why he does what he does.  We email back and forth, we have phone calls, we have IEP meetings, and yet Dima's behavior continues to decline.  I will not lie, it has been trying and very stressful.  Sometimes we wonder if Dima even understands that he is making poor choices.  But today something hit me.

Dima is a huge, complicated puzzle.  A puzzle so complicated it takes a very long time to complete.  It is not a 100 piece puzzle that you can complete in one afternoon.  The pieces of this puzzle represent his past (a very abusive and traumatic time in his life), the present (a time of adjustment and learning), and the future (a time of reflection on the past struggles and success; having overcome the past).  Moreover, the individuals responsible for piecing it all together, Eric and I, must piece it all together.  Carefully, patiently, lovingly, one piece at a time.  What makes it all the more complicated is that there is no completed picture to look at as we work.  Eric and I are merely trying to fit the pieces together without forcing anything together thus ruining any of the pieces.  The good news is that there is Someone who knows what the end result will be.  God.  The Creator of all things!  He is able to guide our hands as we painstakingly piece together this extremely complicated puzzle.  All we need to do is ask for His help and ask often.

There has been tears, trials, smiles, laughs, pain, mistakes, and even times of doubt.  But ultimately God will not allow us to fail.  In fact with Him we cannot fail.  Not if we are truly seeking Him in all situations.  Not if we trust Him to guide us.  We as parents also must believe that God did not bring Dima into our family to fail.  God has a plan for his life.  This holds true for all of our boys!  

So this afternoon as I walked into the assistant principal's office to get Dima, it hit me.  My puzzle was sitting in that chair writing his name over and over again, somewhat aware that he was in trouble for the hundredth time this week.  I wanted to scoop him up and cry.  Instead I firmly told him it was time to go home.  We drove home in silence for a bit but then I blurted out how much I love him and it makes me sad to see him making poor choices at school.  As I glanced at him in the rearview mirror I saw two brilliantly blue eyes looking back at me.  Dima said nothing.  At that moment I would have given just about anything to read his mind but I could see the gears turning.   I think sometimes he is just as confused as I am.

There is one truth about our adoption that I am certain of:  Dima was meant to be a part of our family!  Dima is pretty sure about that, too.  In time we will figure it out and Dima will heal.

Someday we will see  this complicated puzzle completed and whole.  Someday we will understand all of the nuances of how each piece fit together and give thanks to the designer!  Until then.....

Friday, April 5, 2013

Let Me Tell You Why

This time two years ago our family was in the throws of the adoption process.  Lots of paperwork, fundraising, and sleepless nights praying for our son.  It was an intense time of watching God move on our behalf over and over.  It was also a time of seeing the ugliness in people's hearts.

"Why would you want to adopt a retard?"

"That retarded child will ruin your family."

"That child is ineducable and will not fit into our society."

Those were common sentiments spoken to us directly.  Not once did I waiver in my resolve to make Dima part of our family.  The only way that the adoption would not have gone through is if his birth family had not wanted him to be adopted.  As it turned out, however, they had no rights to him whatsoever due to severe abuse and neglect.  Dima was in every sense of the word an orphan.  Chances of him being adopted within the borders of his country were slim to none as it is difficult to care for a child with special needs due to lack of medical care, understanding of disabilities, and no hope for a future.  Ukraine does not yet have many opportunities for individuals like Dima.  I have hope, though, as I slowly see things changing there and for the better!  I even toured a facility for children with special needs where various therapies are available!  It was one of the first in all of Ukraine.  But with Dima's orphan status he would have never had the opportunity to benefit from such care.

So Eric and I pressed on throughout the spring and summer of 2011 and were blessed with a wonderful little boy who has dramatically changed our lives for the better.  Those that doubted watched form afar when Dima came home and really wanted nothing to do with him. Then we moved away.  Sometimes I wonder if those doubting individuals ever stop by this blog to see just what is becoming of Dima.  On the eleventh of this month Dima will have been home with us for nineteen months.  So much change has occurred in his life and sometimes it is hard to believe that he was ever an orphan in another country!

Are you reading?  Are you watching?  Do you see God working in our lives?

So WHY would I want to adopt a retard?  Because Dima, a boy with different abilities, needed us.  Dima deserved to be part of a family.  Why not ours?  Most importantly, however, God put it on our hearts and He has never led us astray.

Has Dima RUINED our family?  I don't think so.  If anything, Dima has taught us patience, unconditional love, childlike faith, and perseverance.  My biological boys are learning about compassion, patience, love, acceptance, and humor in all situations.  Most of all we are all learning to love others just as Jesus loves us.  Does it sound like it ruined our family?

That child is INEDUCABLE?  Hardly!  Dima has learned to speak English in a mere nineteen months and is learning ASL (which would make him quad-lingual, by the way; how many languages do you know?).  He is in second grade, only one grade level behind where he is supposed to be and had straight A's this past marking period!  In fact, he has never had any grade on his report card that was below a B!  He adds and subtracts simple numbers with visual assistance, he writes his full name and can recognize it when it is put before him, and he is able to choose words that rhyme.  Oh yeah, and he just learned how to tell hourly time.  That is just a short list of all that he can do.  Ineducable indeed!

And as far as fitting into our society we live in a county where individuals like Dima are commonplace.  Thanks to the Key Training Center many families that have individuals with special needs live here and I see these amazing people just about anywhere I go each and every day.  At school Dima is a rock star and everyone knows him and likes him.  Whenever I go in to see the boys at lunch every child that walks by Dima says, "HI DIMA!".  So yeah, I think people like him.

It is my sincere hope that your prejudices against Dima are being challenged and that you can see God working and moving in that child's life.  And not just Dima's life, but our lives, too.

We are, after all, called (no, commanded!) to love all people as Jesus loves us!

Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.  The second is this: Love your neighbor as yourself.  There is no commandment greater than these.  -Mark 12:30-31

Wednesday, April 3, 2013

Oh Happy Day!

Another winter season has passed and it is now spring!  Easter has come and gone and we are eagerly anticipating the upcoming summer.  This past year has brought about so much change, sorrow, and joy in our lives and I can honestly say it has been one of the biggest roller coaster rides of our lives.  But now God is leading our family into a new season.  A season of daddy being home, the boys feeling as though all is right with the world once again, and a sense of adventure as we wait on the Lord to lead us into the next season of ministry.

As we wait, however, Eric and I have begun to volunteer in our church's Love Department.  For those of you not familiar with First Baptist Church of Inverness they have a wonderful ministry for adults with special needs.  These amazing individuals are also part of the county's Key Training Center, a nationally known organization that helps provide wonderful opportunities to adults with developmental disabilities.  The Love Department is the very reason Eric and I chose to worship at First Baptist and it is through being around such special people that I personally have found healing for my hurting heart.  I mean really, how can one feel pain and sorrow when sitting with such a fantastic group of people week after week?  Not only that but these special individuals have also played a key role in the lives of Sammy and Dima.  When Eric was gone week after week and I was left to get the boys to church on my own it was difficult.  Jeremiah and Elijah would happily go off with their friends and sit with them during the service whereas Sammy and Dima needed me and refused to sit with Children's Church.  We sat with the Love Department and week after week and my special friends would help me with the boys.  If I had to take one to the bathroom someone would gladly take over for me and watch after the one I had to leave behind.  Sometimes Sammy would get restless and his buddy, Troy, would be patient and encourage him that Pastor Donnie was almost done (but would call out, "Keep preachin'!" in the next breath!).  One week Dima wanted prayer after the service and he boldly approached his buddy, Aaron, who also has Down Syndrome.  Aaron passionately and lovingly prayed for Dima and has been a "big brother" of sorts to Dima ever since.  Whenever we see our special friends around town it makes our entire day and it brings so much joy to our day.  Spending time with them has also brought about a new perspective and hope with raising Dima.  I see adults with Down Syndrome reading, writing, holding down decent jobs, volunteering in the church, and overall leading very productive lives.  Never once did I actually doubt that Dima would have any of this in his future, but when you are doing the day to day care and dealing with the various hiccups that come along with having a child with Down Syndrome, it can become quite easy to loose sight of the bigger picture.  Our family is so grateful to the Love Department.

This past Sunday, Easter Sunday, Eric and I had the most joyful day celebrating with our friends.  Everyone was dressed up, excited, and really into worship.  In the main service we sang "O Happy Day" which I think is one of their favorite songs.  Then we headed to Sunday School after the service and worshipped some more.  It also happened to be Doughnut Sunday so that only added to the festive mood.

Dima and his buddy, Aaron.

Dima and sweet Miss Caroline.  As you can see, Dima was in rare form (BEFORE CANDY!).

Dima and Miss Barbara.

Sunday School worship.

It was fantastic!

I only met this sweet woman for the first time on Sunday.  She is one of the most adorable people I have ever met!  

A little bit of ASL.

Miss Ruth dancing before the Lord!

This is my special friend, Lisa, and I.  We sit together on Sundays and sometimes on Wednesday evenings at supper. She likes to sit with Sammy and sometimes she holds him in her lap during the service.  She loves my boys.

More amazing worship.  The beautiful lady in the blue dress, Mary Jude, is a lobby manager at a McDonald's!  

Each week I walk away from church wondering why more churches do not reach out to the special needs community.  Eric and I are beginning to see that is is imperative that those with special needs have the opportunity to be fed spiritually and worship with fellow believers.  Eric and I are supposed to be teaching them but little do they know that are actually teaching us!

In the meantime I just finished reading a book authored by a friend of mine:  The Ignored, Overlooked and Often Forgotten Souls:  Church + Special Needs Families = Joshua's QuestThis book discusses the dire need for a special needs ministry to be in place in churches and how to go about doing so.  I can speak from first-hand experience in that families that have individuals with special needs NEED to be in church!  Church is where we get fed, uplifted, encouraged, etc...  When I had to miss church while Eric was on the road due to Dima's needs, it was very depressing and detrimental to not only me, but the boys as well.  In the book the author addresses the Scriptural basis for having a special needs ministry in the local church.

In the meantime as Eric and I wait for the next chapter of our lives to unfold we will enjoy worshipping our Lord with some amazing individuals who teach us so much about life each week.  We are so grateful to be in a church where life is valued.  What a blessing to our family!