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

 

 

photo

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.

Picture1

Athena’s still happy and eager to make me laugh

 

 

Time Does Not Heal All Wounds

Raine age 3

Raine age 3

This month marks 4 years since Raine came into my care. It’s something she’s been looking forward to for a very long time. The child, with a depth forced upon her by tragic circumstances, found significance in being with me longer than her birth mother.

But as the specific date draws near, emotions have derailed any positive feelings Raine might have expected. This past Saturday, I witnessed the life we used to live. When Raine’s eyes opened, she started screaming at everyone and about everything imaginable. This went on for nearly an hour in the morning then started again in the afternoon. Come evening she decided her room was unsuitable for sleeping in and that she would “absolutely never be sleeping anywhere near anyone named Athena ever again.”

I wanted to be calm. I wanted to be something other than what I was inside which was just plain fed up. It’s been a long time since life looked like this. How did I make it through that year and a half? “It nearly broke you,” a friend recently informed me. “I don’t think you have any idea how stressed you were.” In truth, I did. But I didn’t realize how evident it was to everyone else. I scraped by – pushing myself to love and embrace my daughter even when I didn’t want to. Occasionally, I shouted back in response to her irrational ranting. Later saying, “I wasn’t shouting just speaking really loud so you could hear me over all the noise you were making.” Raising my voice is something I was incapable of until I became Raine’s mother.

In the midst of the turmoil following the adoption, there was nothing I could do but ride out the storm – keeping my eye on who Raine really was. Under all the anger she heaped on me was a little girl who’d just lost her family forever. It didn’t matter to her that she now had a new one.

Since her room was unsuitable, I somewhat calmly told Raine to get her pillow and blanket. When she did, I marched her down to the basement. With visiting foster children, there were no other rooms available. Despite her pleas for help because “the basement is really creepy” don’t feel the need to pity her. We live in a newer home. The space is mostly finished and nicely put together. Raine was settled on a lovely futon in the warmest area of our home. She was hardly being mistreated, though an hour of screaming would give you an all together different impression.

My latest goal is to stop rewarding bad behaviour with increased attention. But after I got the other kids to bed, I did go down to see her because the screaming was getting on my last nerve.

“I wish someone else had adopted me,” Raine said when she’d calmed down a bit. This was something new. Nearly always in these moments of rage, she wishes to be back with her birth mother. I can understand that. It makes sense and I can stand being compared to an actual person. However, an imaginary perfect family that is happy to hang out with Raine while she screams at them and barks demands is someone I will loose to every time.

A lengthy discussion ensued. Early on, Raine admitted, “Whenever I act like this it’s because I’m thinking about my birth mom.” I acknowledged the pain and fear she’s carrying then assured her there is a way to be free. It will take time. But time alone won’t heal her heart. We’ve walked together for four years. Raine is not the brazen, defiant 3yr old who walked into my house. Most of the time, she’s quick to obey. She’s learned to love and think of others. She’s learned to share – even the tastiest of treats. When she first arrived, if anyone came near her while she was eating Raine would snap. Driven by the memory of lack, she was like a dog with a bone. My friend and I rejoiced the first time the little girl walked home from Tim Horton’s with her timbits. Normally, she’d devour them before they were even paid for. It’s been a gradual transformation caused by Raine’s choice to trust, a great deal of prayer, and my flawed determination. Time alone hasn’t brought her to this point. Time alone will not move Raine to complete healing.

In our conversation, Raine began describing her apprehension. This was the first time she’d ever spoken of it. Never sharing the details I knew, I assumed Raine had forgotten or blocked the memory. Dr. Phil’s warning not to ask children to deal with adult situations ran through my mind as Raine asked me to fill in the details of the vague framework she described. I suppose it’s too late. When apprehended just before age 3, Raine had already experienced more than most adults. She’s overheard social workers discussing details of her life that have left her confused and angry.

WP_000156For instance, she heard her birth family was living somewhere in a hotel. The terms around that word told me it wasn’t a good situation but all Raine heard was hotel. For quite some time she was furious to be stuck with my rules and limitations while she imagined her her family enjoying a Jacuzzi tub, swimming pool, hot tub, sauna, and all you can eat breakfast. She’s been to hotels in Niagara Falls. My friend and I regularly go with all our kids. It’s fun and the rules are lax. Raine really resented being in our dull home while her birth family was living it up in a hotel. Finally I had to paint a clearer picture of where they were.

Saturday evening, I answered the questions and painted some more pictures all the while wondering if it’s right. Honesty feels right. But Raine is 7. I tried, as always, to give her the truth while honouring the parents who brought her into the world. “Your birth mother’s heart is hurt. That stopped her from taking care of you.”

“Why doesn’t she just go to church?” Raine wanted to know. “Does she even know about Jesus? He can help her.”

“She knows about Him. And He’s trying really hard to help her,” I answered. “People have to choose to work with Jesus to heal their hearts. You’re choosing to work with Him. That’s why your heart is so much better than it used to be.”

008

Strengths in Weakness

5yr old Athena is spectacularly good at peeling wallpaper. I know this because she’s done it many times in a variety of spots. Occasionally it’s done out of anger. Most times I can’t figure out why she’s picked and plucked at my beautiful walls. I was quick to blame myself – I must be missing something she’s trying to communicate.

Then one evening, I was painting the upstairs hallway. Athena had been home from school that day, as she often is. I’d made a point of spending lots of time with her. At bed, I read her books and stayed to talk for ages. Raine, having a separate room, had gotten her own alone time with me as I tucked her in. I closed the doors feeling as though I’d done everything possible to nurture my daughters that day. Opening the can of paint, I realized I’d forgotten the paintbrush. To the basement I went. When I returned, paint was smeared all over the floor.

I entered Athena’s room and told her about the situation, asking her to go wash her hands properly so she wouldn’t get paint all over the bedding.

“I don’t have paint on my hands,” she sweetly informed me.

Earlier in her life, that little voice got me every time. For a while Raine ended up in time out for the messes Athena made because both swore it wasn’t them. And Athena’s gentle demeanor seemed much more believable. Then I caught her in the act of clogging the bathroom sink with chunks of hand soap.

There are times when Athena will march into the bathroom and slice the walls with a stick her sister forgot on the ground because she’s just been sent to her room for some infraction. Then there are times when she peels all the paint of a door jam while she’s supposed to be watching a movie with friends. After saying it wasn’t her, Athena shrugs and says she doesn’t know why she does it.

I don’t know why. As a person who like to know, this really irritates me. Since there’s not much rhyme or reason, I’m trying to be more diligent in keeping tabs on her. And I’m choosing not to blame myself because even on my best day as a mom I ended up with paint all over the floor.

But today, Athena got to make the most of her experience in peeling wallpaper. She helped me strip 007away the coverings in the dinning area to make room for the new paper she helped pick out.

She was absolutely delighted – ripping of the top layer, spraying, and pulling off the 2nd layer.

Another 5yr old, who is visiting while his foster family are on vacation, loves cleaning. When I announced we needed to get the torn wallpaper off the floor because a friend was coming for lunch, he set to work. There were a few questions about my friend and her two boys. It was clear his anxiety was mounting. Turns out sweeping warded off a breakdown. He focused on getting the wallpaper tidied and swept all the floors – only stopping when I promised he could do it again after our guests left.

It would be lovely to have a solution to Athena’s destruction and our visitor’s anxiety driven cleanliness. Without that, I’m enjoying my daughter’s skill at tearing down wallpaper at this welcomed time and the other little one’s delight in cleaning it all up.