Todd’s brother met us at Chicago International Airport and drove us to his home where we had kept our car for the duration of our trip to Russia. Strapping our new children into car seats with safety belts was uneventful for Anna but traumatizing for Zachary. For some reason we never discovered, Zach was terrified of the car seat and belt and he screamed until he finally fell asleep in transit from Chicago to Cedarburg, Wisconsin, our home, nearly a two hour drive. I sat in the back seat trying to soothe him but only sleep would settle.
When we turned into the driveway, we told Anna and Zachary, in Russian, that this was their new home. Their eyes surveyed the property and the house. Set back off the road behind a stand of Norway spruce some 60 feet high, our two-story, four bedroom, two and a half bath Colonial sat on the edge of our subdivision, on a one acre lot. We unbuckled and, hand-in-hand, walked in the side door, through the mudroom. As we entered the bright kitchen, Anna and Zach looked around amazed. We walked through family room and up the stairs, into each of their bedrooms, all prepared and waiting.
Zach’s room was decorated in navy and white with a half way up wallpaper border of primary colored cars and trucks. His room had an oak floor. Immediately, Zach ran to the shelves of cars and trucks in his room, starting to play. A blur of Russian words came tumbling out of his mouth. Though we could not understand even half, tone told us he was delighted.
While Zach played, we took Anna across the hall. Her room had thick, peach-colored carpeting with three walls papered in a breezy, green and peach floral print. The fourth wall was painted pale green and had a border of Peter Rabbit characters. A floral quilt covered her antique brass and ivory enamel double bed. A stuffed rabbit sat squarely center, nestled between puffy pillows.
Anna walked slowly around her room, not touching a thing, saying over and over in Russian, “My room? My room?” She questioned as if she couldn’t believe the room was actually hers and hers alone, Her smile grew bigger as she took in her new reality. This was her bedroom. This was her house. This was her yard. We were her parents.
Finally—after years of wanting and praying and searching—after months of trials—after week of desperate pleas for miracles—we were home. And we were an instant family—two parents with two walking, talking Russian kids.
The first night in their new home was practically sleepless for Anna, Todd and me. Zachary fell into slumber immediately and slept soundly through the night. Anna, on the other hand, woke up screaming terrified after only a couple hours. Though we had nightlights everywhere, her screams were such that no one needed translate the meaning.
“I’m terrified! I’m alone! Where did everyone go?! Where am I?! Someone help me!”
I shot straight up in bed at the sound of her first wail and took off down the hall running, heart racing wild. I wrapped her up in my arms and spoke in Russian, “It’s OK, Anna. Mama and Papa are here! It’s OK. You’re in your new bedroom in America. You’re OK.” She cried but calmed down as I rocked her back to sleep—as I prayed for our God to comfort and calm us both. And I stayed with her through the night.
From then on, for about four weeks, Todd and I alternated sleeping next to Anna’s bed on an air mattress. Every night at first, Anna would wake with the same scream and we would assure her she was not alone—that we were right beside her. Sleep became less interrupted and by the end of the month Todd and I both stayed in our own room, in our own bed, with Anna in her room, in her bed. Repeatedly, we had walked her back and forth between our room and hers before bedtime, which was just a straight shot down a short hall. It seemed she needed the repetition to be sure of how to find us should she wake again in the middle of the night. Such required repetition was one of the main clues that something in her cognitive functioning was not quite right.
Zachary had no such issues with sleep. His terror came when we tried to give him his first bath. Apparently, he had never seen a tub of water before. He screamed and kicked when I tried to pick him up and put him in the tub with just a couple inches of warm water. Unsuccessful, I coaxed him in by sitting in the tub first and showing him how fun it was to splash and play with the water toys, especially those plastic boats with white sails that you could remove and, voila, the sailboats became motor boats! In he came with me and our bathing dilemma ended right then and there.
Todd and I noticed immediately that both kids had a peculiar habit of not crossing thresholds without permission. When they came to the entrance or exit of any room, they stopped and waited, often rocking back and forth from one leg to the other in an effort to self-soothe. Sometimes I forgot to tell them it was alright to cross from one room to another and they would stand, waiting for permission, rocking. Obviously, they had been trained, like a dog, to wait for verbal cues. I suppose when a place houses sixty children under the age of six, most who can toddle around, such rules are necessary for safety and order. In our home, however, I felt sad to see little ones so constricted. So Todd and I gave plenty of reassurance that it was okay to move about freely, to explore, to play, to be a child . . .
What does it mean to be a child? What does it mean to be taken care of by parents? What does it mean to have just one sibling, not fifty-nine?
Our kids had to learn how to be children, not orphans. Todd and I had to teach them how to be children, not orphans. How many enter parenthood expecting children to know how to be children?
Anna needed to learn that she was not Zach’s caretaker, Zach’s mom. I had to remind her, over and over, that she could relax and let me take care of Zach because I was the mom now.
In the orphanage, caregivers expected older children to assist with younger children. Children as young as five and six worked more than they played. They nurtured more than they were nurtured. When there aren’t enough adults to go around, I suppose one learns to survive the best one can by self-soothing and trying to soothe others, if there is any emotional energy left over to do so. I have always been amazed at the spirit I saw within so many children—that I see within so many children—who instinctively know what they need and even if they are starving for love, seem able to give to another. Then again, don’t we often give what we most wish to receive?
As the weeks and months passed, Anna’s fears of being left alone did not subside. She literally needed to be in such close proximity to either Todd or me that if we could not see her, she would start screaming as if her life were at risk. And this was no manipulative tactic. Her screams were survival cries. As hard as I tried to remember to always keep her in view, sometimes I forgot—like the time I was at a friend’s looking at her gardens.
Anna was with me in the backyard, playing on the nearby swing set, content. My friend led me around the corner of her house to show me the perennial bed on the east side. Suddenly, a blood-curdling scream shot through the air. I knew. I knew I had accidentally and immediately set in motion Anna’s panic response. I ran back and scooped her up, feeling her heart racing like a baby bird just fallen from the nest into a circle of predators. I wiped her streaming tears with my fingers, cupping her small face in my hands.
“I’m sorry! I’m so sorry! I didn’t mean to scare you! I just walked around the corner! I’m here! I’m never going to leave you! I’m here!”
She calmed. So did I, eventually.
But slowly, the weeks and months took their toll.
Two months into parenting, I laid in bed one night, staring at the ceiling, tears streaming in a constant current. No sobs. Just a steady flow of tears. Todd reached over. He knew.
“Are you crying?”
No response. How could I admit I was crying? Because if I admitted I was crying, he would ask why. And if he asked why, I wouldn’t lie. But I didn’t want—no, I couldn’t tell him the truth. So I just said that, yes, I was crying, but I was afraid to tell him why I was crying. I was afraid to tell him the truth. Even more, I was afraid to say out loud the truth that was screaming in my own brain . . .
But I did. I blurted it out like projectile vomit coming from the depths of my very soul . . .
“I want to send them back! I want them to go back! I can’t DO this! I just can’t DO this! I feel like I’m babysitting and the kids aren’t ours and they are NEVER, ever going HOME! Because WE are their HOME!”
And the quiet stream of tears broke whatever soul dam I had tried to fortify and the rush became a force I could—not—stop.
I sobbed from places deep I never knew existed in myself. And it scared me. When you discover such deep and dark places you’ve never encountered before and you are left looking straight at whatever it is, Eve comes, offering advice.
Eve came to me, alright. She came offering me a fig leaf to cover my shame. But my Adam, my Todd, he would have none of the fig leaf covering.
“I know,” he said gently. “You’re OK. We’ll be OK.”
Honestly? I thought I was a monster. I thought I was an unfit mother. I had taken positions of judge and jury and condemned myself to life in prison for ONE WRONG CHOICE. I thought I had heard God. I thought WE had heard God. Now here we were, two months home, and I wanted to send them BACK?
Yes, I thought I was a monster. And I wish I could say I got over the thought quickly, but I didn’t. My faith went into a downward tailspin. I became more and more despondent, even as I was sure we had heard God’s calling correctly.
By January, I was going through the motions of parenting in practically a catatonic state. I did all the right things, said all the right things. But I was watching myself like I was outside of myself. Dead but alive. Good and dead. Trapped and desperate inside a walking, talking shell.
One morning, Todd came down to the kitchen while Anna and Zach were still asleep. He found me there, on the floor, sitting upright in front of the dishwasher I had started even though only half-full. I just wanted to block out sound—all sound—even the sound in my own head. I wanted white noise. I wanted the quiet of white noise. I was grasping for peace that eluded. And I couldn’t feel God. I couldn’t think God.
“What’s the matter?” He asked with genuine concern.
I didn’t even look up.
“I need to go to the doctor.”
“I need to go to the doctor, today.”
“I think I’m depressed. I think I’m really, seriously depressed and I think I need medication.”
I’m not sure exactly what he said after that. I just felt that he wasn’t hearing how serious a state I was in and within a few minutes I became indignant.
“Either you take me to the doctor and I get medication or I will admit myself to a psych ward.”
I wasn’t really trying to threaten. I was really trying to convey the depth of my despair. I couldn’t keep it together for even one—more—day. I was sick. I needed help.
All the years I spent convincing patients that there is no shame in having a neurochemical imbalance—that medication can be a grace, not a curse—that sometimes, it’s okay to accept help like that—it’s different when you have to follow your own advice. Now I knew. Now I knew the stigma. Now I knew why people didn’t want to admit their need and accept available help. But when one becomes desperate enough, one will finally let pride die. And I did. I let pride die that day as Todd drove me to the doctor. And as I swallowed my first pill, I knew.
I knew what some people would think.
I knew what some Christians would say.
“She’s relying on medication instead of the Lord.”
And my answer I prepared in my own head without saying aloud?
“Call me crazy. Call me spiritually immature. I don’t care anymore what anyone calls me. I need help and I’m going to get it—for the sake of my husband, for the sake of our children, for the sake of my life—I’m going to get help.”
Often, desperation makes choices perfectly clear. Often, God grows through desperation.
Desperate to regain emotional well-being, desperate to help children come to terms with their own new reality, desperate to understand a growing awareness of special needs we never knew we were adopting—that we only thought were developmental—that turned out to be pervasive, permanent, life-changing needs in the two we took into our forever family and the one to come along two years later—I was desperate, alright.
But a desperate soul is in just—the—right—place—for the God of the universe to work miracles. Because desperate souls are soft souls. Desperate souls are finally ready to receive refreshing, like parched earth yearning for the rains to come, opening their cracks, welcoming the pour. And soft souls can be put on the Potter’s wheel without complaint. They are ready. They have been moistened with tears. I was ready. I was so down-and-out worn, wanting to be transformed into whatever God had in mind. And for this—for this brokenness—for this softening—for what seemed like torturous molding and moving and sometimes pounding hard the hard, I will be forever thankful.
Because often the best we can ever experience this side of heaven is found when we realize we have nothing—when we come empty, ready, and willing to be reshaped and filled by the One who made us to be full—to be complete—to become a holy vessel of God . . .
Forever and only . . .
to be filled to overflowing . . .
He loves me? He loves me not? And the last petal of God’s flower always ends with . . .
He loves me . . .
He grants peace to your borders and satisfies you with the finest of wheat. Psalm 147:14
When a farmer plows for planting, does he plow continually? Does he keep on breaking up and harrowing the soil? When he has leveled the surface, does he not sow caraway and scatter cumin? Does he not plant wheat in its place, barley in its plot, and spelt in its field? His God instructs him and teaches him the right way. Isaiah 28:24-26
So many more miracles to document! Special needs discovered, special people entering our lives, another special child adopted with multiple special needs, a ministry helping people with depression and anxiety—especially Christians, but best of all—a continued, amazing story of God’s provision—of God’s glorious grace that is completely sufficient in ALL circumstances.
My blog is now turning back to daily ponderings and worship from my daily place of God’s wonder on our Wisconsin farm of 44 acres. Someday, perhaps, you might want to read more? Someday, perhaps, God might lead the remarkable story of His amazing grace to fall into your hands? My journey of faith continues. Join me? I give you thanks. I give HIM thanks—in ALL things. Because the WORST of times is often our BEST of times—our precious gem we’ve always sought but never knew where to find till He led us to right—where—we—are . . .
Thank you, dear readers, for following me on this most remarkable, most amazing, journey of faith! Thank you , dear God, for leading and loving us all!