My Orphan Heart was Given a Name

When she came to me, Raine knew her name. She’d always introduce herself by her first and last name. At the point of adoption, she struggled with gaining a new last name. I received a great deal of resentment from her. She didn’t like being adopted and certainly didn’t want her last name to be changed. I pressed on, wondering if I should have refused the change or made her last name a middle name so Raine could hold onto that portion of her past. In the end, that frame made me uncomfortable. I knew it wasn’t ideal for her to hold onto the past. But I also knew that being adopted was costing her dearly.

Raine struggled with the loss of her family of origin. And for what felt like a very long time, she resented her new last name. I thought of my sister who, caring nothing for marriage most of her life, entered into the institution after her son was born. His arrival made her want to have their family unified under a common last name. Giving Raine my last name gave us a recognizable connection. It mattered, though she didn’t know it in the moment.

Now, years later, she can’t recall the first last name she bore. It’s gone from her memory and she values the name she has. It means she belongs to me and, finally, her heart is able to rejoice in that reality.

When I decided to adopt Raine, several people said, “You’re crazy! I’d never do it. She’s so wild.” She really was. But I had a vision of who she could be. In the midst of all the nay-saying, a friend dreamed that during a Sunday morning church service Raine was at the pulpit saying, “I used to be so wild but Jesus healed my heart.” In the challenges following the adoption, I clung to that dream.

“Are you sure you’re ok?” our pediatrician asked more than once in those early days. Raine ended up on medication and it took quite a while before we got to the right type and dose. Sometimes I wasn’t ok. But I had a vision of where we could be and was willing to do the work. There were days my willingness didn’t line up with my ability in the moment to manage her rage and resentment. Still, not wanting that vision to become a fantasy, I pressed on.

There are things that remain obstacles, like Raine’s intense fear of abandonment that surfaces whenever we’re apart for more than a couple of hours. And that’s why you will find her in unlikely situations, such as when I’m catering an event at the church or yesterday when she and Athena came along to an all day seminar by Arthur Burk. The topic was “When Your Call is Blocked.” Watching Raine quietly colour all morning then watch movies in the afternoon while I listened, I realized my call may not be as blocked as I had imagined. I’m called to help my children heal and reach their full potential.

“Your children are so well behaved,” was the comment we received through out the seminar. It took most of the day for me to accept the truth. It’s easy for me to cling to that old label of wild, difficult, or challenging. But it’s time for some new labels. Calm and peaceful are the words most often used to describe Raine these days. Of course there are still times when anxiety overtakes her but that’s no longer her constant state.

After the season of struggle, I’m now able to catch my breath and see just how far we’ve come. Marvelling at the transformation, I was brought to tears when this song was sung at church this morning.

Your love made a way and let mercy come in

When death was arrested and my life began

Now, ash was redeemed only beauty remains

And my orphan heart was given a name

My mourning grew quiet and my feet rose to dance

When death was arrested and my life began

 

 

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Raine learning to skate with my sister (Feb 2016)

Live Your Life Filled with Joy and Wonder

This is the phrase I’m keeping in mind. Social workers have informed me that studies show weakened immune systems in children who have been in foster care and a tendency to be accident prone.

For six days Raine has been under the weather. Her appetite is gone and she’s not her usual energetic self. Refusing to admit she’s unwell, Raine keeps making up silly excuses for her symptoms. For example, she’s arguing that the bathtub is now dreadfully too small for her 8yr old body. Because it’s so painfully small, her head is hurting from trying to washing her hair. Despite the statistics, she doesn’t know much about being sick.

The last time she suffered was at age 3. Shortly after receiving the required flu shot, she came down with the flu and step throat. Then there was the time she burned her leg our first Christmas after the adoption took place. That healed remarkably fast without a trip to the ER.

In the midst of Raine’s lingering flu like illness, Athena managed to give herself a black eye. She has a way she likes to do things. Something mimicking modern dance or creative movement is how Athena goes about the house. While retrieving a stuffed seal from the floor, she somehow managed to cut her eye on the dinning room chair. No one knows exactly how since the rest of us were upstairs. Athena’s scurrying feet and tiny howls made me think she needed to go the bathroom. (Often she waits until the last minute then runs around in circles, panicking at the thought of not making it to the toilet in time.) I was about to shout, “Get to the bathroom,” when I realized she was crying.

Rushing downstairs and gathering Athena into my arms, at first I didn’t realize she was bleeding. She buried her face on my shoulder and I managed to calm her. When she lifted her head there was a stream of blood coming from the corner of her eye. I mentally prepared for our first trip to emergency. Staying calm, I put Athena down and went to get the first aid kit. With a bit of pressure, the bleeding stopped. The cut was much smaller than I expected. Athena assured me she could see perfectly fine – and found my constant questioning and testing annoying.

Later when I put Athena to bed, I tried to discover if she’d been afraid when she got hurt. The idea didn’t make any sense to her. “I wasn’t scared,” she told me. “Jesus was there standing right behind me.”

Well, that’s a crisis averted, I thought to myself. Athena isn’t gripped by fear or anxiety. She’s still dancing through the house and happily eating meals on the chair that maimed her. Her eye is swollen and black – but not in an overly noticeable way I’ve been told. Of course it is noticeable to me.

Looking at it, I’m filled with joy and wonder. It’s a miracle that the injury wasn’t more serious. And it’s a miracle that it’s been years since Raine was sick. In the midst of illness and injury, I’m filled with joy and wonder.

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Athena’s still happy and eager to make me laugh

 

 

Peace on Earth and Mercy Mild

Six years ago I served Christmas dinner in my pajamas. It was a miserable moment summing up the state of my life. I was renting an old farm house that turned out to be infested with mice. Though my greatest fear, I’d dealt with that in a few other places I rented over the years. But when sign of the rodents showed up in my bed, I must admit I never did sleep well again in that house. Turning the dinning room into my bedroom kept the critters out of my bed but didn’t offer me much peace of mind.

That Christmas, my teenage foster child forgot to take her morning medication. After she opened her gifts, I was busy getting things ready for the family get together. She wanted to help. Normally, she did a good job of remembering the pills and the medication helped her to function. The hyperness I mistook as being related to the excitement of the holiday. Then she dropped the turkey on the floor while trying to dance with it. I thoroughly washed the bird and got it in the oven. Everything was a struggle that morning. I shed a few tears when family and friends arrived and I was still in pajamas.

I was still a relatively new mom, having been caring for a teenager for 2 years. I wanted everything to be magical and perfect. I wanted to give my foster child shiny new memories to help balance out the years of pain and heartache. That child grew into an adult. She left with all the life lessons I could cram into her head and the memory of laughing at me repeatedly that Christmas as I served dinner in my pajamas. By the time everyone arrived, slightly early, getting dressed seemed much too difficult.

Having been at this now for over 7 years, I’m no longer a new mom. With every passing season, I’m excusing myself more and more from the pressure I put on myself. I can’t always make it magical. I certainly can’t make it perfect.

Yesterday, I decided to get dressed if I felt so inclined. Despite my parents being late, I ended up receiving them in my new Christmas pajamas. There were no tears over this fact. It was a rather conscious choice. The kids were in the pajama pants I’d made for them and their cousins. Since the adoption, our tradition has been to either buy or make matching pajamas for Raine, Athena, and all their cousins. At first it was very significant – making them feel connected to a family that had previously not really been theirs. It was a tangible item that helped Raine make the leap from being a foster child who took part in our family celebrations to an actual member of the family. My parents and siblings had never treated her as anything less than part of the family but Raine had considered herself a visitor when she was a foster child. The pajamas were something she could look at and say, “We’re the same because we’re family.”

This year, I made the pajama pants for our 9yr old foster child as well (whose face I can not show).

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Christmas Eve 2015

Raine’s acceptance of family has expanded to the point that the matching pj’s are likely redundant but it’s a tradition I enjoy keeping. So all the cousins received a pair of pants with a shirt I purchased. Raine, Athena, and J had the same shirt. Getting them Christmas Eve, they wanted to keep them on Christmas Day.

They sang Hark the Herald Angels Sing repeatedly as they have been for weeks. They were thrilled with their gifts. They were joyful. And peace reigned. I’d been secretly bracing myself for a major upset – particularly from J. She’d been to her mother’s for two days prior to Christmas to celebrate with her family there. Things hadn’t ended well due to some miscommunication between the worker, the mother, and myself. I informed J of the scheduling information I’d been given. But turns out there were alterations I was unaware of. J’s birth mom told the volunteer driver I’d completely ruined Christmas for J because of the misinformation. I expected J to fulfill her mother’s wish of having a miserable holiday. But J was mercifully mild. She went along with our traditions and my instructions. She even seemed to enjoy herself. At bedtime, she hugged me tight saying, “I won’t let you go. You’re my special Christmas present.”

There was no perfection. The tree was slightly haggard from an incident

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The Stockings were Hung

last week when the kids tried to shake a bunch of needles off to use as food in the play kitchen. I’d been upstairs sewing pajamas. The floors weren’t mopped. And somehow Athena broke a curtain rod in the dinning room while my parents carried in the gifts they brought. I wasn’t impressed. There’s now no hiding the dirty sliding door. This is life with all it’s imperfections. I’m not a great housekeeper. But the kids have matching pajamas, stockings I knit, and so much more.

And I appreciated the joy and peace in our home as I moved through the day in my pajamas.

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