Tuesday, November 4, 2014

My journey to becoming one less orphan

"Don’t copy the behavior and customs of this world, but let
God transform you into a new person by changing the way you think.
Then you will learn to know
God’s will for you, which is good and pleasing and perfect."
Romans 12:2 (NLT)

I once heard a Pastor talk about the exodus of believers in the church.  His theory seemed simple: When people receive Christ's salvation, they don't come to grips with the actual ugliness and realness of sin in their life, so at their first post conversion hardship, they bail on God.  I nodded my head in agreement.  So many Christians find it difficult to look within themselves and recognize not just their salvation, but the great need for it in their personal lives that took a perfect God to the cross because of his love for us.....for me. 

If someone had told me 2 years ago that the adoption of my son would shatter my view of Jesus Christ I would have laughed.  My foundation as a believer was solid.  Part of our journey to Jacob was due to our trust and faith in the Lord and obedience to Him.  In my imperfectness, I tried the best to make him the center of my life.  How could bringing a child into our home through adoption, one that we had wanted for a long time, affect my Christian discipleship?

As a former youth leader, one of the models we used to assess how our youth were growing in their faith was when they reached a point where the Great Commission (Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.” Matthew 28:19-20) was imbedded in their hearts, minds, and actions.  It was when they came to a point where they wanted to share Christ with the world and go beyond their personal salvation.  I was well at that point by the time I entered High School.  Looking back, I realize that although I knew that the Gospel of Jesus Christ was not a matter of works, I somehow still found that it was in works that I best expressed my love of Jesus.  I was active in service.  I believe it is one of my spiritual gifts.

It was in the adoption of Jacob, where my life suddenly went from a life of service (and ease in my faith), to a life of need.  I had never been in actual Spiritual need and hunger before.  In the process of trying hard to attach to a toddler that didn't know (nor seem to want to know at times) how to be a part of a family, I found myself holding on to God for dear life fearing mostly that I did not have what it took to help Jacob through life.  What I found is that when I hit the bottom rung of the ladder of selfishness and shame, I felt incapapable of being the Mom I wanted to be.  For a woman that had excelled at service, I found it difficult to serve and meet the needs of my precious little guy.  I couldn't seem to grit my teeth and successfully do the hard work that needed to be done.  I felt inadequate in that we had waited a long time to bring Jacob home, with a lot of excitement around his arrival, and at times I felt so much shame and isolation in that I could not seem to make this work.  I often wondered if God had really given me what it took to be an adoptive Mom. 

It was at this place that God found me.  He picked me up, cradled me in his arms and whispered this, "You can not be an adoptive Mom until you let yourself be adopted."  Suddenly, my separation from my almighty Father consumed me, my undeservedness for what He had done was bold in my life, and my sin, shame and selfishness were revealed to me like never before.  I was an orphan.  I had nothing apart from Christ.  In my journey to embracing my adoption as a child of God I learned to live joyfully in the freedom that the cross had brought.  I got up every morning and thanked God that because of his works, I could be sinful, and still do the work of helping Jacob heal, integrate into a family, and flourish. 

Once I came to that place, I was able to let go of my expectations that I needed to do everything right and the feeling that I alone was responsible for Jacob's welfare.  It was in this place that our healing could really begin........both for Jacob, and for me. 

We found ourselves surrounded by a joy that is indescribable despite the circumstances we were and are facing.  A love that goes beyond the bonds of family and brings true healing. 

Two years ago today my sweet boy came into my life and started in me a renewal of my mind in being a daughter of the King.  I am more aware of how unworthy, despicable, undeserving, selfish, and sinful I am than ever before......and I wouldn't change it for the world.  It was through this that my debt to Christ expanded expontentially, as did my love and need for the Savior.  The joy and gratefulness has seeped into every aspect of my life and has transformed me.  My darkest hour became my most defining, and I wouldn't change a thing.

I could spend another hour writing about the amazing things that Jacob has accomplished and the incredible love and unity that we have come to as a family.  The amazing work that has been done to help Jacob connect and feel safe and secure in his environment and yes, even to thrive and flourish.  But, in the case of Jacob, I'll let you take this journey through pictures of our amazing little boy......come on, for many of you, that's the only reason you are here!
Referral Photo at 1 year
Meeting our scared little guy for the first time.

Visiting Weinan Orphanage
Finding Jacob
All together for the first time.
My favorite smile
Just after surgery
The face of discovery
First swim
Climbing my first mountain
My loves
One blessed mama
We love you Jacob and are so proud of the hard work you have done and are still doing.  Thank you for loving me everyday.   Today we celebrate the day we both became one less orphan. 

Monday, July 21, 2014

Ode to the hot dog

Ode to The Hot Dog

Dear Mr. Hot Dog I don't understand,
why children in this world think you're so grand.

You're a mystery meat, your insides atrocious;
to pronounce what's within you takes someone precocious.

Yet despite this poor attitude,
I owe you some gratitude.

For tonight my child so sweet,
started to chew on your meat.

He took a tiny bite and then shoveled the rest in,
I beamed with pride (the pieces were cut thin.)

We had hit a milestone with you as our aid,
Tonight our child chewed, as we had often prayed. 

And dear Mr. Hot Dog I could not love you more,
Come over whenever, you are welcome at my door!

Friday, July 18, 2014

20 months in, 20 months out.

Jacob just after our adoption.

The other day, Jacob and I were reading through his lifebook and I said, "Look, Jacob, there's your nanny that took care of you.  It's your Ayi (Chinese word for aunt which is the name traditionally given to nannies.)  Where's your Ayi?"  Without missing a beat he pointed to his eye.  I laughed and said, "I guess it's official, you're Americanized."

This month represents the half way point of Jacob's life in a Chinese orphanage and his life with his forever family in the U.S.  20 months in, 20 months out. 

It seemed like something big should happen.  Someone should set off Fireworks.  Throw us a party.  Name a star after us.  March around with our family on their shoulders.  I mean, shouldn't the fact that we have officially had more influence on his life than any other caregiver mean something?

Jacob this past April.

Of course it does, but what I have learned over the last 20 months is that Jacob's brain has been forming and growing since he was born.  Every experience, every fear, every victory, every smile, every interaction, has molded his brain into what it is today.  And I know that I can't go back and undo all those synaptic connections that occurred with his experiences.  But at the same time, I know that his brain is plastic, and I know that I can create small synaptic side roads of hope, that can blossom into 10 lane highways of achievement as we create for him an environment of safety, healing, and one that gives him voice in this world. 

20 months later I can still see some maladaptive behaviors (from all of us), but 20 months later I also see small gifts that give me so much hope.  His hand running through my hair, his arm seeking comfort by touching and stroking my arm, his evergrowing smile that seems more freer and more present than ever before.

Jacob is not the only one to have changed over the last 20 months.  His mama has.  I have known love in greater ways than I ever thought possible, in every meaningful relationship, because Jacob has come into my life.  But, the biggest love experience has come from my Heavenly Father.  He has sustained me in my fears, my inadequecies, and my failures.  He has reminded me of forgiveness and redemption which has given me freedom to get up every day and try again.  He reminds me that this journey was predetermined by Him and somehow, I get the privilege of walking it.  These 20 months of parenting Jacob has been side by side with the Lord.  It has been the best gift that Jacob has given me.  I will never be able to thank him enough for it.  In so many ways, I am the one that has been changed the most.  433 months in, 20 months out (let's not do any big numeral calculating here, people.)

I love you Jacob.  Here's to many, many, many more months of learning and loving together.....and creating more synaptic connections! 

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

The Hard Work of Redemption

Today we invited into our home the Jones family from PACT (Parenting Adoptees Can Trust).  They are coaching us in the TBRI (Trust Based Relational Intervention) method, a training developed by Drs. Karyn Purvis and David Cross out of the T.C.U. institute of child development.  From their website:

TBRI® is based on a solid foundation of neuropsychological theory and research, tempered by humanitarian principles. It is a family-based intervention that is designed for children who have experienced relationship-based traumas such as institutionalization, multiple foster placements, maltreatment, and/or neglect. For the past ten years, Drs. Purvis and Cross have been implementing and evaluating TBRI® , and their strategies have proven extremely effective in creating healing environments for children who have come from “hard places.”

Tonight we started with the parent interview, tomorrow we start with training, and the next day we get to apply it ourselves with the skillful coaching of the Jones family. I am so excited about this. It is no secret to me what brought me to this point. The work of the T.C.U. folks on this parenting model is straight from the heart of God. It is rich with an amazing balance of structure as well as re-do's, forgiveness, and praise. It sees through behavior and straight to the beautiful heart behind it. It works hard to breaks down walls of fear and shame and build them back up with love, value, trust, respect and authentic relationships that are forever. It is a story of redeeming the true child.

I can look back and see how God has guided me closer and closer to this model of parenting my children as he has shown me that I have my own issues of fear and distrust in God. As I turned to Him I have needed to see that I am valued by him, and I am enough to parent my children. He has given me immense re-do's and forgiveness while gently correcting me and letting me know when I was out of line. And just tonight, He put His beautiful fingerprint on the end of our day when our 5 year old son, Ethan, told us he wanted to ask Jesus into his heart. God reminded me once more, that he is central to the work of redemption of all our family.

Now off to bed! Lots of redeeming work going on in the Lutz home!


Friday, May 23, 2014

"Cleft Lip and Palate? Oh, they can fix that."

Throughout our adoption wait, and especially when we received our referral, many well meaning people in our life would say this...."Cleft Lip and Palate?  Oh, they can fix that."  While I know most people meant well, there was and is a lot of ignorance that went into that phrase.  What I would normally say was something polite like:

"Yes, it's incredible what they can do surgically now for these children." 

But here is what I really want to say, now that I am a mama to a cleft child:

"Yes, they can fix the large gaping hole that is so evident in their beautiful faces but just so you know:
  • The average cleft child will endure seven surgeries to create just the right aesthetic and functional mouth they can possibly have by the time they have fully matured.
  • If they are lucky enough to still have an intact eardrum after all the ear infections they had while institutionalized, nearly all cleft children will need PE tubes.  Should they not have them put in, then 25% of cleft children will develop a growth around their eardrum that must be surgically removed.  Let's also talk about what all this does to their hearing, resulting in further  delays in mastering expressive speech and sometimes requiring them to get hearing aids.
  • Did you know that many institutionalized cleft children are malnourished?  They have difficulty getting the oral mechanics needed for sucking to get good nutrition.  Imagine what this does for early brain development and cognition. 
  • So, what about the teeth?  They are at greater risk for cavities. Their teeth often have small, weak or defective areas in the enamel that are more prone to decay. Their saliva can be thicker, which reduces its natural washing action in the mouth. Their teeth can be crowded, which can make it hard to brush well. These children also have a high risk of some tooth irregularities such as missing or extra teeth, abnormally shaped teeth or teeth in unusual positions. Most of us are told to (at the minimum) expect orthodontic work, but some children at around 6-10 years of age will need to prepare for bone graft surgery.  The cleft of the tooth-bearing part of the jaw needs to be repaired with an alveolar bone graft if this had not been done at an earlier age.  To prepare for this bone-graft surgery, it's often necessary to put the tooth-bearing segments in better position in relation to each other so the jaw has a more normal shape. The front teeth in the upper jaw may need to be aligned if they are irregular. Oh, and by the way, children with a cleft are also at risk of having less growth of the maxilla (upper jaw) than of the mandible (lower jaw). If this growth difference is large, the child might develop an under bite. An under bite at an early age may need further orthodontic treatment.
  • Now, let's talk about what looking different and sounding different might do to a child's self esteem.  Even one of the most popular cleft lip and palate foundations has resources on their website for anti-bullying strategies.  Surgery might help our children's faces look more symmetrical, but never will all evidence be removed that they were born different.  Many of our children will struggle with low self-esteem and figuring out how to navigate in a world where they look different. 
  • For our family, almost 16 months after out first major cleft lip and palate repair, our son is still not able to chew solid foods.  Almost a year after initiating Physical therapy to assist in the motor aspect of chewing, I am still pureeing almost all of my child's food, seeing no evidence that he will begin chewing anytime soon.  Many cleft children have difficulties with food.  If not chewing than difficulties with consistency and textures.  Many have to learn how to keep their food away from fistulas in their oral cavity so food doesn't escape into the nasal canal. 
  • Speaking of fistulas, did you know there are some families whose cleft children have had four surgeries to try to "plug" a fistula in the mouth without success?  Any fistula in the mouth is an area where precious airflow can escape which will then negatively affect speech output. 
  • Can I just tell you about the debate that still exists on surgeries?  Some have potential side effects of sleep apnea and difficulty breathing.
  • And no one tells you, in this "they can fix that" society, that there will be days where you open up the photo books and see pictures of "before the surgery", and wish that you could go back and spend one more day with that cleft baby.  (You see, many cleft Moms see their unrepaired children as perfect just the way they are.  To indicate to a Mother that "they can fix that" feels a little like they aren't acceptable until that is done.  We know that they are.)
So, yes, it can be fixed, but it is a journey of a cleft child's entire youth; until they are fully matured.  We will wax and wane between periods of surgeries, recoveries, and lots and lots of therapy in between.  It is not a quick fix nor a "one and done surgery."  It is the journey of a family united, working through the long haul to achieve the best possible functional outcome.  To say, "It can be fixed", minimizes the work, the sacrifices, the courage, and the joys that come from parenting a cleft child.  

That's what I would say. 

Sunday, May 11, 2014

To an Unknown Mother

To an Unknown Mother:

I know that day was not what you planned,
As you looked at your baby, cradled in your hand.
I imagine you wished there was a different way,
As you sacrificially gave him another home that day.
I wish you could see him and his beautiful, bright eyes,
The ones that reflect you, who gave him his life.
On this day, especially, I think about you,
I wonder what it's like, what you daily go through.
I imagine you wonder whose arms he is in.
Where he is, is he cared for, are they loving him?
I wish I could reach across this vast world,
And let you know in my arms, nightly, he is curled.
He is loved, he is wanted, he is such a delight,
He is joyful, he is cared for, he is a beautiful light.
We want you to know, as we celebrate Mothers,
You are part of our family, and he to another.
We tell him of your love, a kind to be celebrated,
One that is ever present, though you are separated.
We want you to know we are grateful for our son,
Who is blessed to have two Mothers, not just one. 

-Jennifer Evans Lutz

Wednesday, March 5, 2014

Turning 3

It's hard to believe our baby boy turns 3 today.  3 years old!  I can't believe it....where has the time gone?  It seems just months ago I was staring at his picture willing him home.  Now, he sleeps peacefully and beautifully upstairs, as though he has been here forever. 

We have so much to celebrate!  The year has been a roller coaster of huge peaks but also deep valleys, yet here we are, thankful for every day that we have together.  The colorful balloons, brightly wrapped presents, and celebratory feel to the day testifies to the joy in our home to be celebrating with Jacob.

But catch me at the right moment, and you will see a sober, reflective woman who is haunted by the past.  By things she can't control and by days she can never have. 

Jacob's birth.  His first birthday.  The first half of his life......his first 20 months of snuggling, feeding, rocking, reading, discovering, laughing, learning, loving, trusting.....these will never be ours together.  Why do I have such a hard time letting go of this?

I know the answer.  After 16 months, I have fallen madly in love with him.  All his loss, all his pain, all his neglect, all his lack of touch, all the bottles he drank alone, all the nights he cried with no one to hold him.......I have felt the sting of this, and I wish I could take it away from him. I wish I could have been there.  I wish....I wish......

I wish love didn't hurt this much. 

But if it didn't, I wouldn't be able to look Jacob in the eye on our hardest days and see the behavior apart from the child.  You see, this pain of knowing his past has given me empathy, the cornerstone to building attachment with my son.  This pain has given me compassion, as I try to see how his past might color his present.  This pain helps me fight for him, in knowing he doesn't even know what he should be fighting against.

And so I let the pain have it's way.  I suspect it will always show up in some form on this day for years to come.  It comes in for a reflective visit, and then leaves as soon as the festivities begin.  It will always be a part of our story as a family and my journey as a Mom. 

Happy 3rd birthday to one of my heroes.  You have journeyed through more in 36 months than most people do in a lifetime.  You are loving, joyous, stubborn, wickedly smart, funny, and beautiful.  Your ever increasing hugs and snuggles light my day and encourage me in this journey of being your "mama".

I'm so thankful on this 3rd birthday, that love hurts this much.