I am a Child of God

Today Raine turns 7. She arrived on my doorstep shortly after her 3rd birthday. It seems a lifetime ago

Athena & Raine ready to celebrate

Athena & Raine ready to celebrate

and only yesterday. The report received by the private fostering agency I work for said she had an acquired brain injury from falling out of a bassinet at 6mths.

For years I’d been carrying a crib with me. Everywhere I moved to, I lugged the unopened box. It was a gift from a friend who believed me when I said, “One day soon I’m going to adopt two children – whether I’m married or not.” In the sea of people I knew, this one friend reached out and gave me a gift which cost her dearly. She wasn’t exactly prosperous, struggling with three young children of her own.

When I got the call about Raine, I set up the crib. Having just turned 3, with a brain injury, she might need it. There was also a bed in the room prepared for her. I didn’t know what she’d need.

The social worker and her co-op student, released Raine from her carseat then set about unloading the boxes of clothing and toys sent from the previous foster home. Alone, Raine made her way up to my front door. I introduced myself. She moved past me, talking a mile a minute. Venturing through the house, she landed at the dinning room table that was set with tea and cookies.

Her last name had been exotic. The case manager with my agency told me to expect a Hispanic child. Instead a chubby girl with fair skin, blond hair, and blue eyes asked me a million questions while gobbling up cookies. Raine was bright and articulate. She was not what I’d expected.

“Maybe her sister will come and you’ll get to adopt them both,” my case worker said when the social

cupcakes I made for Raine's 7th birthday

cupcakes I made for Raine’s 7th birthday

worker was gone.

“Maybe,” I agreed. But that didn’t seem remotely possible.

When shown her room, Raine pointed to the crib and said, “This is for my sister. When is she coming here?”

Due to some complications at the previous foster home, a separation was thought best for the young girls. Three months later, their social worker defied her supervisor and the medical adviser deciding to bring 1yr old Athena to my home. The crib was hers, though at that point I didn’t know this was the fulfillment.

I didn’t know these were the children I would adopt. But I invested everything I had in them. Sometimes I didn’t have much to give. Some days I still don’t. This year, as Raine’s birthday drew near, she and I were both reflecting on the time before we knew each other. My daughter hasn’t always been mine. For 3yrs she lived with people I don’t know experiencing a life I know very little about. I’ve worked hard to lay claim to her. Yet there’s a portion of time when Raine wasn’t mine.

Since coming to me, Raine has been adding up the passing time. She’s longed to reach 4yrs “because then I’ll be with you longer than I was without you.” As we near that point, there’s a reflection on that life before. Hundreds of what ifs race through my mind. Maybe it’s because I’m a novelist at heart, I always want to rewrite the past. What if my daughters hadn’t needed to become mine? Wouldn’t that be so much better?

Raine and I both awoke somewhat subdued today. It was a time to celebrate. We tried but mostly failed. Then a friend sent a message with a song attached.

I clicked on the youtube video. Raine stood quietly beside me, watching and listening while I cried. The past is what it is. I can’t rewrite the reality that the family who created Raine is no longer present in her life. Given the circumstances, it’s right that she’s not with them. It’s right for her to be here with me. But that doesn’t erase the pain for her, for her birth parents and siblings, for me. I missed three years of Raine’s life. But I’m exceedingly grateful for what we have shared and will continue to share.

I love watching her change from a slave of fear into a child of God. The transformation continues to amaze me. In the midst of difficulty, Raine’s heart has come alive. She’s learned to love her sister. She’s learned to trust me. Fear is loosing it’s grip. Raine is growing in the realization of who she is. I’m celebrating that today. I’m celebrating the beautiful daughter the Lord brought into my life.

Raine on her 7th birthday

Raine on her 7th birthday

This is How it’s Done

Despite all her progress, Raine still suffers from a great deal of social anxiety. This became overwhelmingly apparent when we visited the pediatrician on September 15, 2014. Normally she’s a little out of hand. But that day she was wild.

That prompted a referral for behaviour therapy. Owing to the fact that I don’t have private health insurance, our case went to the regional government funded organization. In a matter of days, someone contacted me to do an intake interview over the phone. I explained Raine’s history and the issues we’re still dealing with – which are social anxiety and the acting out that comes with that. The courteous woman informed me that, due to limited funding, private therapy was in the process of being done away with. “Group therapy is the direction the organization is heading in. As this services more families in a shorter amount of time.”

“It’s really unpredictable,” my pediatrician warned at our appointment. “You might get someone who is wonderful. You might get a therapist that isn’t really helpful. In which case, just end the treatment.”

Those words put this whole process into perspective. It might be helpful. It might not.

“Group therapy really isn’t going to work,” I told the kind woman on the phone. “Raine is very disruptive. It wouldn’t be a good situation for her or the other participants.”

“Well…….we do have a few one on one therapy options. But the wait will be considerably longer.”

We went with that option. Our intake appointment was booked for December 16, 2014 but the office had to rebook to January 20, 2015.

I explained to Raine where we were going and why the day before our appointment. She woke in a rage and proceeded to have a complete meltdown before breakfast. “I’m not getting dressed! I’m not having breakfast! And we’re not going anywhere!” she shouted as the sun came up. It was frightful as she rolled on the floor growling.

This used to be a daily occurrence. This used to be what our life looked like most of the time. It’s been so long, I’m caught off guard by the occasional slip backwards.

She did get dressed. She did eat breakfast. We did go to the appointment. We arrived a little bit early and the therapist was somewhat late. Raine had time to play in the waiting room and calm herself down.

We were escorted into the one office by the woman who we were scheduled to see. She introduced us to another therapist. We all sat in his office for a few moments. Then it was revealed that I would be staying there to meet with him and Raine would go elsewhere with the lady. Raine was eerily silent in the room while we were all together. This turn of event surprised us both. Reluctantly, she went.

And I thought, This is ridiculous! My child has sever separation anxiety issues. I explained that in the telephone interview. The whole scene was rather awkward and terribly executed. When I spoke to the therapist on the phone to confirm our appointment, she might have let me know this is how it would look. But she did not. And, apparently, this is how it’s done. So that’s what we did.

Perhaps being part of the foster care system makes me exceptionally suspicious. I wondered if the point of interviewing us separately was to fish for “causes of concern” or some sinister secret in our life that is causing her anxiety. I don’t know for certain what the rational behind the separate interview on day one is. The execution certainly left a lot to be desired. Still we did what was required in hopes of accessing the help available.

My interview involved repeating everything I’d said on the phone interview. The man made notes, underlining key items. I recounted what I know of Raine’s birth family, why she came into foster care, how adoption ended up being her fate, etc. He took it all in with detached professionalism. Then one of the standard questions had something to do with “violent images seen in video games or elsewhere.”

The man stopped and started with great alarm when I said, “Raine doesn’t play video games. Her media intake is very limited. She doesn’t have any computer access or anything so I don’t think she’s really seen violent images.”

“She doesn’t have computer access?” he inquired, with alarm.

“No,” I answered, wanting to laugh that this of all the information shared was his greatest cause for concern.

“She must ask for it, though.”

“No, she doesn’t. Raine’s happy to play with toys or draw. I find too much screen time increases her aggression. She watches movies some, but doesn’t use the computer.” The fact that she doesn’t ask for computer access seemed to console him somewhat. We moved on. That statement – no computer access – was written down and underlined.

At the end of our interview I was informed of the process moving forward. The gentleman will write up a report. The lady who interviewed Raine will write up a report. It will take at least 4 weeks to do so. Then, based on the report, someone, somewhere, will somehow decide on a therapist to see us for treatment. Then we will go on that therapist’s wait list. All of this, obviously, takes time. If Raine’s needs become more pressing, I was encouraged to call and they will see about speeding up the process. (Perhaps Raine’s lack of computer access will speed things up.)

Aside from that, the situation is hardly pressing. Raine is doing the best she has since her arrival nearly four years ago. There’s still some lingering issues that it would be helpful to resolve.

The gentleman escorted me to the room where Raine was being interviewed. The therapist informed me that my daughter didn’t want to go home at all. And I started to worry. Despite the finality of legal adoption, despite nearly four years together, there’s still a lingering fear of loss. It’s something that plagues Raine as well. She worries that one day she’ll once again be apprehended and lose me the way she lost her first mother.

I smiled and encouraged Raine to come along “because it’s nearly lunch time and I’m sure you’re getting hungry.”

The therapist quickly told me, “I said she could finish drawing the picture she’s working on. I think it’s important for her to complete it. She’s working very hard.”

003I’m terrible at small talk. I sat where I was told to. The woman made a few comments about Raine, I responded warmly. But resisted being drawn in. I worried about what Raine had said. There’s absolutely nothing that would ever warrant her being apprehended by child protective services. But we didn’t exactly have a great morning. She wasn’t really happy with me for bringing her there. At times, Raine can put a nasty spin on the truth. I suddenly felt insecure and wondered if I really am failing.

When Raine completed her picture. The therapist walked us, through many locked doors, out to the waiting room. “I’m really glad to have met you,” she said with surprising sincerity. “It was great to get to know you.” I took a deep breath. Maybe Raine didn’t paint such a bad picture.

Fulfillment

This time last year, in a moment of reflection, the word that landed in my heart for 2014 was fulfillment. Today 2014 draws to a close, I’m pausing to reflect. It has indeed been a year of fulfillment.

For me, adopting is something God put in my heart as a child. It came to pass in a rather difficult manner that left me feeling doubtful. Having already been with me a year and a half, the finality of adoption sent Raine into a tailwind of grief. As she came to grips with the reality of loosing her birth family and the last name she was born with, I became the target for all her anger. There were times Raine actually accused me of stealing her from her birth mother. We reviewed the reality of how she came to me many times. It’s a sad story to accept – parents unable to care for you properly. Her grief was real and complex.
I never regretted my choice to adopt her, but questioned my ability to parent her. Maybe the couple the adoption worker had wanted to place her with could do this better – with more grace, more patience, more joy. Maybe. Maybe not. It’s useless to ponder because I challenged the adoption worker’s decision and won. On dark days, I would reread the final verdict from the review panel. They were sure I was the right parent for Raine and Athena. So often I needed an infusion of certainty.
This past year Raine has settled in – accepting her fate with joy. She’s now at peace most of the time. Overall, our encounters are positive. Homeschooling is often fun instead of a daily struggle.
“Your girls are so peaceful,” a friend recently remarked. She knows it wasn’t always that way. After being away most of 2014, my friend is experiencing the final product after seeing us at our worst in the midst of 2013.
This is the reality of adoption. Change is possible. Healing can happen. But coming together as a family is a process – especially when we’re starting from a place of brokenness.
Growing up with the dream of adopting, the Lord often called me to a place of prayer. As a teen and young adult I would spend hours praying into the children who would one day be mine. Often I read the story of John the Baptist’s birth in Luke 1. I’ve always loved John’s determination. He went against the flow – a direction I often find myself going in.

And the child grew and became strong in spirit….
(Luke 1:80) I often prayed over the children who would come. That seemed to be the key – being strong in spirit. I knew then and know now that in myself, I can’t fix the many issues. I can’t take away the real pain of loss. I can’t wipe away rejection. There are things I can do to help. I can be a place of comfort, encouragement, and stability. There are things I can do and try to do consistently to ease the discomfort. But in the end, it’s the God of all creation who can bring healing. Knowing that, I prayed fervently for the day that I live in now.
As a teen and young adult, I could pray for hours at a time. I could delve into the Scriptures and discover His plans. Now as a single mom, I don’t have that kind of time. But I’m reaping the benefits of those prayers.
Not long ago, I was reading the Christmas story from the gospel of Luke. Raine kept trying to interrupt. I wouldn’t let her speak until we’d completed the section on John the Baptist’s birth – ending with the verse about growing and becoming strong in spirit.
“When I turn 10 we’re going to celebrate by taking a break from eating for three days. We’ll just pray all day and maybe all night. You and me, and Athena if she wants to do it,” Raine announced what was burning in her heart while I read to hear about John the Baptist. Her idea came from her spirit and she didn’t even have the word for it – fasting. That discipline has not been part of my life since Raine and Athena entered it. Nor is it something I’ve explained. All of a sudden, I remembered the years of prayer.
In those times of prayer, the Lord showed me my children following Him passionately in every stage of life. Raine embraces the things of God with fervency. She longs to understand more and more. Her spirit is strong and growing everyday.
DSC_8033This past year has been one of fulfillment. The daily battles, the discouragement, and the exertion of effort has given way to peace and joy. The dream I had of being a mom was technically fulfilled in 2012. But only in this past year have I reaped the joy of that relationship. There have been highs and lows, but in 2014 I’ve been able to enjoy my calling as a mom more often than not.
The theme for my church has been the year of the harvest. I am now seeing the harvest of the prayers I planted so very long ago. And I am reaping the rewards of the investment I made in Raine from the beginning. Even in the darkest times (after regrouping), I chose to return to her with love.
“It took so long because God knew Athena and I needed to be with you. He made sure you waited for us,” Raine said when I explained how long I’d waited to become a mom.
He knew. He knew how difficult it would be. He knew the joy on the other side. He knew I would be too tired and discouraged in the midst of our family’s formation to really pull on heaven. He knew. Existing outside of time, He held those prayers – releasing their fulfillment at the appointed times.
 
…You know with all your heart and soul that not one of all the good promises the Lord your God gave you has failed. Every promise has been fulfilled; not one has failed.
Joshuah 23:14
The Lord promised me a family full of love and joy. This year I saw the fulfillment of that promise. It’s been hard but He’s been faithful. Though many times I fall short as a parent, He has not failed.
 DSC_8031
photos courtesy of Shannon Guiler

Athena Turns 5

IMG_20140922_115545On Friday, September 19 Athena turned 5. It fills my heart with joy to see the amazing child she’s become. Birthdays always have me looking back on changes over the years.

My mom has started a tradition of taking the girls shopping shortly before their birthday. They’re allowed to pick out their own birthday gifts. Last year, before her 4th birthday, Athena didn’t enjoy the shopping trip. She couldn’t understand why only she was going. Without her sister or I along, Athena was very shy and withdrawn.

This year as her birthday drew near, Athena reminded my mom she needed to take her shopping. With joy, she looked forward to their time together. “And you’re not coming,” she told her sister. “Just me! Only I’m going!” Athena said with a smile.

The Sunday before her birthday, she went. Athena wanted to go to my parents’ house first. My mom had a friend visiting from England. That surprised Athena but it wasn’t long before she was comfortable. Athena devised a plan for lunch – bagels with Nutella and sliced strawberries. Apparently it was delectable. “I made up my own recipe!” Athena told me. Often she contemplates being a baker.

Athena and I - so happy together

Athena and I – so happy together

After having lunch, they went shopping. Athena returned talkative and excited. Last year she was sullen for the remainder of the day, unimpressed with the gifts she’d chosen and the fact that I’d sent her off without the safety net of our immediate family.

This year everything was different. More and more, Athena’s becoming comfortable in the world at large. When she sees familiar faces at church, she runs to greet them. When friends come to visit she doesn’t want them to leave.

And the girl who hates photos, kept jumping into every shot I tried to take the day of her birthday. I love watching my girls grow and change. I love seeing them flourish as they become confident in their position and the love of those around them. I love celebrating all God’s done!

Raine wanted to dress up as a princess in celebration of her sister's birthday. Athena didn't want to be left out of the picture.

Raine wanted to dress up as a princess in celebration of her sister’s birthday. Athena didn’t want to be left out of the picture.

 

Perfect Love

Raine is absolutely in love with horses. Before ever having ridden one, she’d already planned her life around having one. Everywhere we go, despite my discouragement, she asks people how much they get paid for the work they do. She’s gathering information to select a career that will give her enough money to own a horse (and buy me an electric car – but that’s another story).

When a friend told me she was putting her 3 foster children in horseback riding daycamp, I decided to send Raine as well. I was sure she’d have the time of her life.

heading to camp Monday morning

heading to camp Monday morning

Monday went ok. But Tuesday was a disaster. She refused to listen to the teachers – repeatedly running away from her group into a small cluster of trees. My friends girls went after her. That didn’t help. When my friend’s husband arrived to pick the kids up, Raine was completely out of sorts – telling people to leave her alone and shut up. There’s a lot of power in her verbal punches.

At home, I sat Raine down to talk to her. She dished out more of the same attitude telling me it was none of my business what she did at camp.

Instead of being happy about camp,  Raine took it as an act of rejection on my part. She thought I was pushing her away when in reality I was giving her an amazing opportunity.

The more I talked the more hostile Raine became.

“If you keep acting this way at camp, you won’t be able to go back,” I said.

Apparently, the camp instructor had been completely overwhelmed by Raine. I know how forceful she can be. I thought her love of horses would prevent any major upsets. Clearly, I was wrong.

Raine’s attitude stopped when I told her she wasn’t going the next day. Suddenly she relaxed. Then we could talk about the real problem.

“It’s too long to be away from you,” she explained.

“She needs to get used to it,” I’ve been told before by friends and social workers.

It’s true. At 6 1/2yrs this type of separation anxiety isn’t natural nor is it healthy. Before the adoption, when Raine was my foster child, she did really well at daycare two days a week. There were never any issues. But something happened with the adoption. It introduced a deep rooted fear in Raine. Likely because she was completely cut off from her first mother she worries about loosing me. She knows it’s possible. At the age of 4 1/2 Raine found out parents can change. You can be disconnected from one family and attached to another. Staying with me soothes some of the fears.

So she stayed home on Wednesday. Maybe I should have pushed her. I don’t know. Were she plagued with a physical illness, no one would think anything of me deciding camp turned out to be too much for her. Wounds of the heart are not so easily forgiven.

Our time of being together on Wednesday wasn’t pretty. Raine unloaded all of her anger. She was down right furious that I’d sent her to camp for two days. I wasn’t much help, feeling like a failure. After all this time together, my daughter should be doing better. At least I think she should. I want her to because I can see how the fear cripples her. I know my God is capable of instant miracles. That’s what I want for Raine – a miraculous healing of her heart.

After a few hours of lamenting the state we were in, I realized in many ways we’re ahead instead of behind. Attaching to adoptive parents can be difficult for children – especially in the case of older child adoption. The fact that Raine values our connection so much she’s afraid to loose it is a good thing. Fear isn’t helpful, but the valuing is incredibly significant. She really loves me and wants to be with me. As we move through our day, Raine intentionally imitates me. So much of her pursuits mirror my own interests – gardening, cooking, sewing, and so on. She wants to be like me and wants to be with me. Those are healthy signs of attachment. Maybe we’re not doing as poorly as I thought.

Yes, Raine’s behaviour is completely unacceptable. I’m not excusing the outbursts at camp. In speaking to her about it, Raine reminded me, “I live in fear.” We prayed together. I prayed breaking off fear of rejection.

Thursday Raine was ready to go back to camp. She managed without incident.

Friday, we got to watch her and the other children perform their new found skills.

I wish, for Raine’s sake, the week had gone better. I hate that fear holds her back.

“How do I get it out of me?” she asked.

“The Bible says: perfect love pushes fear out,” I answered. “You need more love.”

“From Jesus.”

“Yes.”

love fear