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22nd of March

When What Hurts Most, Blesses Most

God’s ways are perfect.  God works all things together for good. 

For years, these Scriptures gnawed at me.  When intense emotional pain pervades, the disconnect between head and heart seems so vast we fear there will be no crossing, no connecting of head and heart, ever again.

So it has been in my life at several times. 

What started out as a dream come true quickly turned into fear, anger, confusion, grief, and—at times—despair.

After coming to terms with the reality of infertility, my husband and I decided to adopt.  We prayed hard, believed God, and trusted His leading.  We began by adopting two beautiful children from Russia in 1997, a 6 year old girl and a 4 year old boy.  Two years later, we returned and adopted a 19 month old boy.  Our family was complete and we were blissfully happy.

And then, the disabilities began appearing.  What we were told and thought were developmental delays common to all adopted orphans soon looked like something far more severe.  As a former elementary school teacher with a doctorate in clinical psychology, I began wondering about Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder, although we had “specialists” screen videos prior to our adoption and were told that our children seemed not to suffer from such.

Over the years, more and more specialists were brought on board to help with a myriad of learning disabilities, physical disabilities, and behavioral challenges.  Our daily lives became filled with appointments and interventions—physical therapists, occupational therapists, speech therapists, hearing impaired specialists, neuropsychologists, psychologists, special education teachers, tutors, orthopedic surgeon, wound specialist, ophthalmologist/surgeon, and of course general practitioners to prescribe on-going daily medication needs. 

And then, as our kids got older, we have added case managers at high schools and tech school, at the Department of Vocational Rehabilitation, at the Aging and Disabilities Resource Center, and at Social Security.  We’re about to add a couple other professionals to to our team for when Todd and I are no longer able to provide for semi-independent living needs.  On top of all the kids’ specialists, Todd and I have needed our own to support and guide us through.

This past fifteen years, the hardest by far in my journey so far, has turned out to be the biggest blessing in my life.  Here’s why . . .

I’ll be gut honest.  I’ve never experienced such intense, prolonged emotional pain EVER as I have in the past fifteen years.  I didn’t think it was possible to survive such pain and I’m not being dramatic.  I really didn’t know how I was going to make it out of the deep pit of grief and confusion and exhaustion into which I had fallen. 

The temporary delays we had expected turned out to be permanent, pervasive disabilities affecting the way our family would function—the way my husband and I would live—forever.  No turning back. 

We found ourselves like those dropped by helicopter into a foreign and rough wilderness to learn how to fend for ourselves.  The stages of grief have been long and intense.   Shock.  Anger.  Bargaining.  Grief—such intense grief I thought would swallow whole and consume slow, tearing and dissolving painfully into nothing.  I never knew a body could make so many tears.

And I haven’t cried just for myself.  I have cried most for our kids.  Their struggles.  How they feel different from others though they don’t look different.  Their rejections.  Their being ignored and not included.  The fact that what comes easily for most isn’t easy at all for them.  Like completing a thought or following a conversation.  The fact that dreams for baseball and soccer and basketball teams and ballet and piano lessons and invitations to parties and prom and dating and jobs—none of this.  And we wonder.  Will we ever see a wedding dress or a newborn grandchild?  And we ponder.  Who will care for our precious adult children when we’re dead and gone?  Do I really trust God to provide for those who can’t provide for themselves?  

But then, I’ve learned that when you’re at the end of your rope and you can’t hold on another minute and you lose your grip and you start free-falling . . . .

Someone catches you and suddenly you find peace that passes understanding.  That’s what happened for us.  Want to experience a miracle?  How about LOTS of miracles?  I’m here to testify that miracles happen all the time—every day even—but most of them require letting go—opening our gripping hands—to discover the loving hand of God opening and pouring and gripping us securely—replacing overwhelming fear with peace.

I’ve seen so many terrifying dead ends along the way that I’ve come to call them “Red Sea Moments.”  When our backs have been up against the Red Sea—against all odds—when it looks as though there is no way out—no way through—THIS is when we see God work miracles—THIS is when we see the WONDROUS Almighty break through and pull through.

God has never let us down—not one little bit—in the past fifteen years.  He has led us to amazing people.  I have been blessed abundantly by spending time with gifted, generous people who have not only shared their talents with our family, but also their love and emotional support.  One such specialist has become a dear friend.  (And, might I add—though  it will make her humble heart blush—she was just named Wisconsin’s Speech Pathologist of the Year!  Kuddos Jennifer Janikowski Eggert!  I think she should win “Speech Pathologist of the Century” quite frankly!  Amazing woman.) 

The blessings continue to come from all our kids’ challenges.  People often tell Todd and me how blessed our kids are to have us—to have a loving home.  While true, I think we’re more blessed to have THEM.  Because each of them has grown us spiritually and relationally in ways I’m convinced would not have happened without them entering our lives.

First of all, our marriage is richer as a result of raising three kids with so many challenges.  Sometimes recipes need some rapid stirring to blend all ingredients and bring out the best flavors.  Todd and I have been in the blender all right!  But instead of it breaking us apart, it has unified us and blended us into a oneness that’s comforting and secure, better than before.  When you go through the trenches with someone, you never forget.  It binds you together in ways like nothing else can.  And that’s where we are today.  We are blessed.

And personally, I must have needed something this hard to bring me to the end of myself—to show me that my intellect, my education, my good intentions, my hard work ethic, my positive attitude—all these weren’t enough.  I try hard.  Too hard. 

People who try hard often miss the blessing of resting in God, of trusting God alone.  I’ve learned this lesson and it’s one of the most precious gifts I’ve ever been given—learning to trust in God alone.  Because nothing has brought me closer to God’s heart than having all my self-sufficiencies shattered and discovering that God can take care of me when I can’t. 

And there’s more!  I’ve discovered that God takes care of me even BETTER than I thought I could.  He takes care of our kids even better than we thought we could.

Of all the blessings, the best by far has been getting to know these three amazing creations of God and to have had the opportunity to save and nurture three lives.  Anna has a refreshing simplicity and trust in God that reminds me every day how possible it is to be grateful for everything, to trust God in everything, to find joy in the simple things.  Zach is happiest when he’s serving others.  He works hard and loves to please.  Nick is just plain happy all the time.  Nothing seems to get him down.  He looks for God’s hand of grace in the every day ordinary and lives with a spirit of infectious thankfulness and joy.  

By the world’s standards, our kids might not succeed in great paying jobs or contribute in ways the world applauds.  But in our eyes, and in the eyes of God, these three wonders are rich in spiritual gifts and they share them generously right where God has transplanted them.  They have taught me and they remind me every day  of this . . .

Every life is precious.  Everylife contributes.  Every life is worth living—worth saving—worth giving a forever home with forever love.  And that’s what they have given me—a life worth living—worth saving—worth giving a forever home with forever love.  I thank all three of them.  

And I thank Father, Son, and Holy Spirit for wondrous love, incredible grace, perfect provision, and the fulfillment of a promise spoken over all three orphans when brought from Russia to Wisconsin, with love:

“For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the LORD, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.”  Jeremiah 29:11

Little did we know then that God was speaking His promise over the lives of their new parents as well.

God is—beyond words—GOOD and FULL OF GRACE.

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