Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Ups and Downs (But Mostly Up)

Talk about a strange mix of emotions.

Laughing. Crying. Grieving. Rejoicing. Looking ahead with great anticipation.

Mr. Tony and I have had a beautiful few days together. 

It hasn't been all roses and butterflies, but I've been learning a lot about caring for him and we've been getting to know one another. We're already getting quite attached. Oh, Friday...

It's funny how, upon arriving here, I really thought I had already grieved this place and the damage done to my kids. I know the ugly history in more detail than any human can handle in one sitting and didn't figure it could get much worse.

But looking into the face of a 40 pound 14 year old, whose rotten teeth are the only indication that he is not, in fact, five. And smelling the stench of decay every time he sweetly sings, and every time he spits…out of frustration, or sometimes for fun (and even smelling it as I lay down to nap this afternoon and realizing the smell is on my face, right under my nose, from interacting with him). For these things, and so many more, I know now I will continue to grieve.

It didn't have to be this way.

But this is the way it is. 

Though so much has been stolen from him, there is still much to recover. His life has value.

And he has so much potential to grow.

He is surprising me constantly.

Yesterday I got to observe a staff person feeding him lunch, and then I got take a turn feeding him as well. Tony was an absolute gentleman sitting in his tiny blue chair waiting for his food. He LOVES his food, so I suspected he might get a little worked up when they brought in his tray. But he was patient and polite.

And get this! He helped to hold his spoon, AND he drank out of an open cup with help. I was very impressed.

Today the teacher from Tony's class came in and and showed me some of the things he has been working on. You would not believe how focused he is and how hard he works. I love his teacher because she clearly loves him and knows him well. She sang some of his favorite songs and helped him  to do the actions. Tony was able to identify his foot when the song talked about feet.

And, perhaps the most amazing thing he did was to stack a set of rings (you know, like the fisher price rings we all have in our house). He knew just how to do it. And if ever he would accidentally put one out of order, he would take the stack apart and make it right. 

After the teacher left, he and I did some dancing and singing of our own. We must have sung Father Abraham about forty times. He loved it! He would rock back and forth, adding a little flourish as he would tilt his head to the right and to the left along with his body. The boy's got rhythm! He especially seemed to like the part where we put out our "right hand, left hand, right foot, left foot." I will definitely tuck that song away as one of his favorites.

This morning, at the end of our visit, Tony was getting tired. He was sitting in front of me and we were facing one another. He laid his head in my lap, and I combed my fingers through his hair. To my happy surprise, he loved that and any time I stopped, he would pick up my hands and put them back on his head requesting more. He is such a little love!

At the end of our afternoon visit today, Tony was sitting in my lap, facing me, and I was singing to him the song I've sung to Sam every day since I've met her, He Knows My Name.

Tony melted into a puddle of pure sweetness, making perfect eye contact and trying his very best to sing along, so softly, in his best voice, "ooh ahh ba ba".

When it was time to say goodbye, he leaned in to the caretaker who was about to take him away, and started in again, singing softly, "ooh ahh ba ba", to which she replied, "I'm sorry, Tony. Only mama knows that song."

He walked backwards to the elevator, holding onto only one hand, watching his mommy all the way.

I say it over and over every day, so I might as well say it here, too. He is such a good boy. I am blessed to love him.

Lots of love to all of you.

"Row, row, row your boat…"

"…we all fall down!

"Kiss me, Mom!"

"A little to the left…"

Beautiful teacher. Perfect student.

Are you kidding me? This is actually blowing my mind.
Laughing and singing a song.

"Are you proud of me, Mom?"

"So proud!"

"So, let's all praise the Lord. Right arm..."

"...turn around…"

Monday, February 24, 2014

Son Of My Heart: More Pictures, Day 1

I think he looks like me. What do you think?

Little Man Of My Dreams

I've been imagining him since April.

"How big is he?" I'd wonder.

What does his voice sound like? Will he fit well in our family? He's 14 years old…how will he handle change? Will he attach? Will he and Samantha like each other?

I don't have answers to all of my questions yet, but I am very happy to report that I have peace in my heart and a strong confidence that he belongs with us.

He fits.

He fits in my arms, and he most definitely fits in my heart. As I've been hoping and praying for, there is room for him. There is love enough for he and Sam and I can see now how we all fit together.

Little man of my dreams is now real. Living, breathing, precious, perfect little man.

Truly, he is perfect.

These pictures were taken just minutes after first meeting.

He came in walking, holding on to just one hand. He came to me without hesitation, hugged me with his arms and legs (smile) and held on tight. His sweet little head laid down gently on my shoulder, and we rocked. Perfectly content. A gentle spirit.

Can you believe this tiny little guys is 14 years old? I'm having trouble wrapping my mind around that.

I had been told prior to our visit that he loves music and dancing, and that has proven true. I brought along a stuffed animal that sings and lights up and he loves it, leaning in close to listen, sitting contentedly in my lap for song after song after song.

And oh does he crave touch and affection. He let me cradle him like a baby, and laid still in my arms, relaxed, soaking it all in.

So far his vocabulary includes "day day day", "mamamama", "babababa", and "guhguhguh". I am impressed!

One of his nannies showed me how when she says "Where's Tony?", he hits his chest. He also found his ear and neck on command. So smart!

I kissed him on the cheek and he thought that was pretty much the best thing ever, so he occasionally would offer his cheek to me as if to say, "Feel free to do that again, Mom!" So, of course I did.

His breath is…bad. And his teeth are rotten. The dentist will most definitely need to be one of our first stops after coming home. He also has a sore on his forehead from hitting himself. I imagine he does that for stimulation as well as when he's anxious or frustrated.

But overall, for all he's been through, I'd say this kid is remarkably strong, brave, well adjusted, even happy. Only time will tell how he will adapt to being in a family, but my gut is telling me he will do quite well. He is longing desperately to be loved, and once he realizes that he truly belongs with us, I suspect he will flourish.

Thank you all so very much for your prayers. Keep praying! Please pray for the continued success of my visits with Tony (I'll be going back for visit number two in a couple of hours) and for Samantha. She's is doing well so far and is in great hands, but I miss her and of course worry about her.

God's blessings and lots of love to all of you.

Friday, February 21, 2014

Pushback Time

Several years ago, as a young twenty-something, I was doing youth ministry out in California.

I remember a period in time when it seemed all the young people in our church were struggling. Like really struggling. And I knew I needed to call on people to pray.

So, first things first, I met with my buddy, Rosalie, a favorite prayer warrior and friend and we prayed. And then I send out a publication (I called it Saturate) and sent it out, far and wide. It didn't ask for specific prayers about our student's personal business. The goal was simply to awaken the church to pray for her young people.

People prayed. Or I assume they did, because I could feel the pushback. The oppression. It hit in ways that were personal to me at the time, and it hurt. I became depressed. I knew right away that there was a connection between the prayers going up and my discomfort, so do you know what I did then?

I stopped asking people to pray.

True story.

I didn't have the maturity or strength of faith at the time to press in and push back. So I called it quits.

It's funny that I remember that time in my life in such detail because I have a pretty terrible memory. Friends and family will often recall things we've done together, things I've said, even gifts I've given them…and I won't remember.

But I remember this. And I'm certain there's a reason God brought it to mind this morning.

As I type this, I can still feel a stiffness beneath my eyes, where tears were welling only minutes ago.

The devil is putting up a big fuss about this boy I'm on my way to meet, and he's not shy about letting me know how he feels. Now, I know we may not all be on the same page about how this whole spiritual warfare thing works…and that's ok. But let me tell you, I've experienced it firsthand many times, and I'm experiencing it now.

I'm not a rookie anymore, so as much as his fighting gets under my skin, hurts my feelings, hurts my flesh, hurts the people I love the most, threatens my confidence and wastes my time…

he will not win!!!!!!!!!

It is NOT time to shrivel up, back down, throw in the towel.

It IS time to press in.

To push back.

Stand up straighter.

Narrow my focus.

Capture my thoughts.

Trust God for safety for my family, Anna's family (who's traveling with me) and everyone we come in contact with.

Recall a lifetime filled with kept promises. My God is faithful. Always.

Will you all pray with me? And call on others to pray?

God is greater. GOD IS GREATER!!

And it's go time.

T-minus 26 hours to takeoff.

This boy has a mama. And she's on her way.

Thursday, February 20, 2014

The Big NINE! (And kindergarten is awesome!)

Another birthday's come and gone.

Number nine!

You wouldn't believe all my NINE year old has accomplished this year. I didn't know if we'd come this far in her lifetime…let alone by now, just a year and a half after coming home.

As I think back over these last 365 days (well, plus a few now, I suppose), one thing stands out to me above the rest.

It's the reason Sam has come as far as she's come.

It's the reason she's walking. (!!!)

It's one very big reason why she's thriving the way she is.

And it's something I dreaded. And put off. And cried and drug my feet on.


Yes, school!

You may recall me confessing that I cried for a full two weeks before I sent Sam for her first day.

Or that (oh yes, I really did) I went with her on day one, eyeing everyone who set foot near her, thinking nasty thoughts about how I could do what they were doing better. (Yep. I did that, too.)

In my head (it's crazy in there) I continually threatened to pull Sam out. Or to send her for half days, or only a few times a week.

The climate of my inward thought life was only made worse by the looks Sam and I were getting as we rolled up to school every day. And the comments.

"What's wrong with her?", kids would ask.

"Is she a baby?"

"Then why does she act like a baby?"

I knew they were only kids. I really did. And God gave me the grace to answer them kindly. But I sincerely feared my Samantha would not have a friend.

Oh, but let me tell you what!

School, particularly Mrs. Lammers and her kindergarten class, have been one of the best things that has happened to us since we became a family.

I remember the turning point.

I was wheeling Sam through the parking lot, up to the door where her para was waiting. We were running a bit late, as we often are. Up beside us pulled a car from which a tiny girl bounded, backpack dragging behind. She was running late too. But not too late to stop, and with a beaming smile exclaim, "Samanthaaaa!"

Before long, that became the norm.

On one cold, slushy winter day, we approached her class, lined up neatly outside the kindergarten door, waiting for Mrs. Lammers. Rather than facing the door, though, a group of half a dozen little cuties was turned and facing us, shouting in happy unison, "Sa-am! Sa-am! Sa-am!", so excited to greet their friend. 

Sam's class celebrated her birthday on Tuesday this week. (Her birthday was Sunday and there was no school on Monday. The whole lunch room sang to her, her class wrote her notes and drew her pictures, and Mrs. Lammers asked the kids to help her compile a list of 9 questions to ask Sam's mom about on her 9th birthday. I loved answering them!
1. Where was Sam born?
Sam was born in Bulgaria. She only weighed about 4 pounds. I bet she was really cute :)
2. Where did/will she go for her birthday?
Sam saw Frozen two times this weekend! She also went to church and to youth group with her mom and the kids there sang to her. 
3. What kind of cake did she eat?
Sam had confetti cake with pink frosting and hot fudge Sundaes. She loved the ice cream. She thought the cake was pretty but she spit it back out. 
4. Did Sam wear a birthday hat?
Sam didn’t wear a hat because she doesn’t like things touching her head. BUT, she did wear a “Birthday Girl” pin on her shirt. 
5. Does Sam sleep with her mom sometimes?
Sam usually can’t sleep very well unless she’s in her own bed. But sometimes she lays in her moms bed for a little while when her mom needs a nap. But she doesn’t really let her mom sleep :) She likes to bounce on the bed! 
6. Did Sam get a birthday card?
Yes, Sam got a Tangled birthday card! 
7. Did she get any presents?
Yes, Sam got an elephant ball popper and a new piano toy that makes animal sounds. She thinks they are both very funny! 
8. Did she chew on her new toys, or did she get a new chew toy? 
She didn’t chew on her NEW toys, but she does have some toys she can chew on. She has a little kermit the frog toy that she puts in her mouth.  
9. Did she blow out her candles, did she have candles on her cake?
Sam’s mom helped her blow out the candles. Sam thought they were very pretty.
Great questions, huh? And honest. You gotta love number 8, asked without a hint of ugliness. Just a genuine question from a friend. 

This wasn't the first time a para or teacher has brought me questions from Sam's friends. They're so interested in her life, and they truly want to communicate with her! And since Sam can't answer their questions they'll ask an adult to ask Sam's mom. "What is Sam going to be for Halloween?" "Will Sam be at the carnival tonight?" "Is Sam coming on the field trip?"

Perhaps even better than the interview questions were the handwritten birthday notes. 

"I like Sam because Sam is pretty."

"I love you Sam so much. You are a good friend. I love you because you sit with me. I love you so much. Happy birthday. You are good."
"I like Sam because she is nice and fun to play with. Happy birthday. I like reading to her. She is funny."

"Sam you are a special friend! You are the best!"

"I like Sam because she is cute! I like to hug her! She is the best girl in the world!"

Oh man, I got a lump in my throat as I read that last one. From sweet Charlotte. What a God-send this little girl is, who wrote in her diary at home, in a blank that said "Who is your best friend?"…Answer: "Sam". 
Charlotte is like a little mommy to Sammers. Can't you just almost hear her saying, "Look at the camera, Sam."

That's better.
And as if that weren't enough, that Sam would have true friends, a little family really, in her kindergarten class, you should meet her teachers!

They occasionally text me pictures or videos of things Sam is doing at school. I'm sure you can imagine my excitement on the day they sent me this:

Or when I showed up for parent teacher conference a couple weeks ago and was surprised to be gifted with a video set to music of Sam doing therapy, learning to walk, kicking a ball in PE, and playing with her friends. All things she wasn't doing back in August. Sam's therapists plan to use this video at a district event with other therapists and school professionals.

I thank God for leading us to this school, at this time, with this exact group of kids and staff. Just when I thought I'd found something I knew better than He did (wink wink). He write the best stories.
I'll leave you with a few more pictures and videos from  Sam's birthday.

And I'll be back soon (maybe tomorrow?) with a detailed prayer list for our upcoming trip this Saturday. Tony-boy, I'm on my way!

Lots of love to all of you.

Watch for her face when they sing her name :)