Time for School

All summer long I debated what to do about school this year. I knew for sure I wouldIMG_20140909_122125 continue homeschooling Raine. But what about Athena? Her teacher was very honest in the final Junior Kindergarten report card. Things weren’t going well for her at school. Athena was withdrawn and eerily quiet. Generally when teachers or children spoke to her she either ignored them or walked away. It was impossible to assess what she’d learned because Athena would not interact with the instructors.

In March of last year the dentist informed me that Athena’s habit of skewing her jaw was creating lasting effects. Her mouth was beginning to grow incorrectly. At that point it was correctable. I started keeping her home from school most days and we worked on putting her mouth the right way among other things.

Based on those two factors I was planning to homeschool Athena this year. Still, as the summer wore on, I wasn’t sure. Her primary interest became making her sister scream. Raine’s come a long way in her ability to interact with other kids. It took a great deal of effort to get her upset. But Athena devoted herself to honing that skill. Our days were filled with lots of angry shouting from Raine followed by riotous laughter from Athena. I was not amused.

Then there was the actual school part. We kept working a bit over the summer. I would give Athena a task to complete – for example a page of the letter K. After writing one she would shout, “I’m done!” My request that she wait a minute fell on deaf ears. She’d continue shouting, “I’m done!” until I looked at her sheet.

“You’ve only written one letter. You still have lots more to do there.”

“I know,” she’d answer with a smirk. “I just wanted to tell you I was done one.”

After the next one the scene would repeat.

So……I decided to send her to school. It wasn’t my proudest moment. As a mom, I like to think I can make every decision based on what’s best for my child. This choice was in favour of what was best for me and Raine. Based on last year, I had no reason to expect school to be good for Athena. It was with a heavy heart, I got her ready to go on September 2nd.

Excited for Senior Kindergarten.

Excited for Senior Kindergarten.

Surprisingly, Athena was eager to pose for pictures. Normally she refuses to and hardly ever smiles while I’m snapping shots. This morning she was beaming. She walked to school carrying her backpack. And ran into the fenced kindergarten yard without a second look at Raine and I.

When I picked her up, Athena was happy. Last year she was always miserable at the end of school. Never did I know what was going on because she’d angrily tell me, “What I do at school is not your business.” This year, she chatted all evening long with story after story of what went on.

Her good mood and eagerness to share have continued. Even her teacher has noticed a marked difference, commenting that, “Athena is a completely different child. She’s talkative and interacting with the kids.” The teacher and a few friends have asked what changed over the summer. Nothing that I’ve noticed. She’s remained herself – a little more bothersome at times.

With Athena my focus has been confidence. She arrived very insecure and fearful. Time and prayer have brought her to a better place. I didn’t expect going back to school to increase her confidence. Honestly, I expected her to be shy and withdrawn like last year. Instead she’s confident and self-assured.

The information I had while making the decision didn’t indicate such a positive outcome. Yet, sending her to school felt right. Guiltily, I thought it was only going to be right for Raine and I. We would get some much needed quiet. Maybe if I’d taken the time to listen a little more to Holy Spirit, I wouldn’t have picked up that guilt. He knew going to school would be the best thing for Athena. Glad I at least listened to that nudging.

IMG_20140909_122545

1st day of school

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Joy of Arrival

For me, becoming a mom has been a lot like getting to California. There was a decade of heart ache, disappointment, betrayal, loss, and grief before I arrived. Maybe you know what I’m talking about. Maybe your own journey hasn’t been all that smooth.

Still I arrived. And when I did instead of becoming easier life got a whole lot harder. I was finally living the call of God on my life. My mind knew that. But my spirit and soul were struggling. Some days were good. But most weren’t. I carried on. What else could I do?

I knew the pain from the journey to motherhood was holding me back from the joy of arrival. In the whirlwind of everyday life, there was never a good time to work through all that old stuff.

Being here in California, childfree, the Lord has my attention in a way that’s not possible at home. He’s taken full advantage of that opportunity. In the midst of jetlag, worry, and the residue of a complicated journey to our destination, the Lord has been unburdening me. We’ve revisited some key moments of heartache. His truth reframes them so when they hang on the wall of my life there isn’t the same pain.

Doing this sooner would have been better. I get that. I’m resisting the burden of guilt for not encountering Him ages ago. I could have. He’s always there – waiting. I should have. It would have made the past while much more life giving for my girls and me. I know. At least it’s done now.

There’s something about being here in California, a place I’ve always wanted to visit. There’s a freedom in not having the role of caregiver lingering around me. Even when my kids are asleep, with a babysitter, or in their class at church there’s a realization that at any moment I could be called upon to meet their needs – be their mom. That reality kept me from diving fully into healing my heart. It’s not a good reason. But it’s reality.

I won’t bore you with the details of how my heart got hurt along the way. It wasn’t one particular incident but a lot of big ones all put together. During worship at church on Sunday, Father God brought each to mind. He pointed out the pain I was still carrying and the lies I’d come to believe. Graciously, He spoke truth. Sometimes simple things like, “People make choices. Not always the right ones. But they make them.” He let me off the hook for some really bad choices people in my life had made. I let go of the shame I’d been carrying because their choices made me feel like I wasn’t all that loveable. If I was they would have chosen to build me up instead of tear me down. The cross came between me and those choices breaking the power of them in my life. That doesn’t change the fact that those were really bad choices people made that affected my life negatively. But it does release me from the pain of those choices. I still live in the reality of them. But I don’t have the carry the burden in my spirit and soul. I can move forward unhindered.

It’s amazing what the Lord can do when we take time to encounter Him. Getting here has been hard. But I’m glad I’m here – in California and in my life. I’m glad I pursued the call of God on my life. Being a mom was the dream He birthed in me 27yrs ago. It’s right that I’m here. It’s time to start living in the joy of arrival.

this is how we roll - fancy dresses while biking

this is how we roll – fancy dresses while biking

Happy Easter

But if the Spirit of Him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, He who raised Christ from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through His Spirit who dwells in you.

Romans 8:11 (NKJV)

The same Spirit who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in my family. His power may appear, to the natural eye, somewhat less dramatic than Christ’s resurrection. But in the case of my girls, He’s brought them from death to life in a marked way. In truth, every one of us requires His resurrection. Our own hearts are dead with sin until He gains access. Thankfully, I encountered Jesus early on. The same is true of my daughters. Holy Spirit is at work in their hearts.

Raine quickly took hold of her sister when I was snapping pictures and said, WP_001125“Hug!” That is a small miracle. For a long time she’s resented Athena. But Raine’s heart is turning towards her sister as the Lord brings life to the deepest part of her.

Today my parents are taking the girls for their first sleepover. It’s been a slow process for Athena to connect to her adopted grandparents. Two weeks ago, she suddenly announced, “We should go to Grandma & Grandpa’s to sleep!” I contacted my mom and we set up a plan. When Athena realized I wasn’t going, she burst into tears. But when the time came today she couldn’t contain her excitement. With incredible joy she climbed into my dad’s truck. My mom’s promised to bring Athena home if at any point she becomes upset. I don’t think that’ll be necessary. With some time to get used to the idea, Athena is happy to go. It’s a small miracle. Where fear once resided, the Spirit is bringing confidence and courage.

I am grateful to have the Spirit who raised Christ at work in my life. I am grateful for a Saviour who brings me alive to Himself.

It stands to reason, doesn’t it, that if the alive-and-present God who raised Jesus from the dead moves into your life, he’ll do the same thing in you that he did in Jesus, bringing you alive to himself?

Romans 8:11 (The Message)

Saying Her Name

As mentioned before, I began blogging when my girls were still foster children. As such, their identities had to be protected. I used alternate names in my blog and have continued to do so. But it gets a little confusing since lots of friends read the blog. In fact when dedicating the girls at church our pastor used the blog name. He quickly corrected himself. I found it funny, but can see how this is getting old. So, tonight’s the big night. I’m going to reveal Elise*’s real name! But you’ll have to read the story to find out.
Once upon a time, in reality, on June 2011 a 21mth old little girl came to me. Her 3yr old sister had arrived 3mths earlier. I had lots of experience

birth picture (courtesy of birth grandmother)

birth picture (courtesy of birth grandmother)

with older special needs children but none with babies. And that’s what she was. The little girl didn’t trust me or anyone else. I’d never seen a child so sad all the time.
For some reason I decided to put mirrors all around her room. Nearly every spot she looked at from the crib showed her reflection. Much later I read somewhere that looking in mirrors helps increase children’s self-esteem. At first she’d cower and turn away whenever she spotted herself. Slowly, over time, she began intentionally looking.

One of the biggest issues was her delayed speech. She could say, “No!” very well but not much else. The previous foster parents had been taking her to speech therapy. I continued with this. During our first appointment, two months after she came to me, I said something very stupid to the therapist.

“I hope she’ll just catch up,” I commented.
“At this point that can’t happen. It will take prolonged, intentional intervention. Even then she may not catch up,” was the gentle answer I received.
My little girl snuggled in my lap, her face hidden from the therapist. Our appointments became monthly. Nothing the therapist did lured her from my arms. I tried really hard to get her to sit at the table and interact with the woman. She wouldn’t. She only wanted my arms around her. I was frustrated, but the therapist rejoiced.
“She used to run around and couldn’t sit for more than 10 seconds,” the woman exclaimed. “There didn’t seem to be much of a connection with the other foster mom.”
I’d worked hard to connect. For the first couple of months she pushed me away continually. I’d just smile and talk. I talked constantly to her, fully expecting her to one day answer.

It became apparent, she understood. When I’d say, “Go get your shoes,” she’d do just that.

In October she began daycare. After a few weeks, the teacher moved her up to the older group where her sister was.

“It’s clear she understands,” the teacher explained. “And she can keep up with the other kids.”

I worried, but it did give her more time with more people talking to her and expecting her to answer. The three year olds wanted much more interaction than the 1 ½-2yrs old she should have been with.

The words came in complete sentences. There was no baby talk. She simply began talking. 9mths after her arrival, she could speak wonderfully. The only thing she wouldn’t say was her name. The speech therapist considered this to be very unusual.

When I spoke her name, it seemed to pain the child. So I called her by nick names that came unintentionally as I made up songs at bedtime. The boo-ka boo baby and beaubeana is what I called her. Her sister didn’t like it, but the other kids joined in.

By the spring of 2012 she was nothing like the baby who arrived in June. Her laughter echoed through the house. She smiled at me and the other kids. Her speech was excellent. Still she wouldn’t say her name.

July 2012 - confident & happy

July 2012 – confident & happy

I prayed off any trauma associated with it. I declared over her the meaning of her name and the verses I’d found connected to that meaning. Still she wouldn’t say it.

Easter Sunday, as we walked into church, a lady I knew stopped to say hello. She knelt down to my little girls and introduced herself then asked their names.

“I’m Athena,” my shy little one blurted out. Immediately her hand shot up to cover her mouth. In absolute shock, Athena looked at me. That was the first time she’d ever said her name. It was completely by accident and made me laugh. In so many ways the Lord had caught this little girl off guard – nudging her into health and wholeness.

In June, a year after Athena came to me, the speech therapist was finally able to complete a formal assessment. In every area Athena tested above average. The therapist was thrilled and completely amazed. “The credit goes to you,” she told me. “You brought this about.”

Jan 2014 - vintage thrift store find

Jan 2014 – modeling her vintage thrift store find

The words she spoke at our first meeting had stayed with me. The prognosis was so dismal – especially since Athena wouldn’t work with the therapist. The prolonged, intentional intervention was me talking to her as though she were an adult. I’ve never been much for baby talk. I do try to speak in age appropriate terms. Since I wasn’t sure at first if Athena understood, I talked to her like an adult. We’d have long conversations at the thrift store. Bear with me for one more story. This was when I caught a glimpse of Athena’s consciousness.

When she’d been with me for two months, I came across these amazing vintage shoes (which I had pictures of but lost when my computer crashed a while ago). I was so excited when I tried them and they fit Athena. Up until that point she’d refused to keep any shoes on. When I attempted to take these off, Athena let out a horrible scream. “Mine,” she shouted. For days she’d only remove the shoes to bath. She even slept with them on. Seems I’d finally found her style – vintage. Just like me!

*name changed

 

Sept 2012 - out for lunch (Athena's favourite activity) shortly after adoption

Sept 2012 – out for lunch (Athena’s favourite activity) shortly after adoption