Lessons Learned in 2013

Oops. The end of 2013 has snuck up on me. Even today, driving in the van, Ken and I discussed when New Years Eve is. We both agreed it was tomorrow, until we subsequently agreed that there is no such thing as December 32nd.

Tough and tumultuous. Promise and progress. 2013 has been a chronicle of contradictions and a season of learning.

A year ago this week, we challenged the kids to speak no more Lingala. Addie and Palmer were content to have their own family, their own conversations, and exclusivity of their loyalties and affections. They were content to live in our house, play with our toys, eat our food, but only converse with each other. Sure, they knew some essential phrases to get along, “Pizza,” “Please,” “Bathroom,” but relational conversation was just between the two of them.

So Ken and I bribed them.

With incentives of bicycles and allowances, Addie and Palmer began to let us into their world.

I sometimes think this is how God must feel about us — we are happy to consume His provisions, enjoy His creation, bask in His blessings. We may even offer up phrases, “Thank you Jesus for this food. Amen.” or recite a laundry list of prayer requests. What He wants even more is relationship — He made us in His own image, breathed life into our nostrils, walked with us in the Garden.

Addie remained fairly silent for months. She started speaking in sentences a full 9 months after coming home from the Congo. That’s a really long time to wait for a child to speak. Fortunately, Palmer’s verbal skills were much more quick to develop. Intelligent  and analytical, he has an incredible memory. As he began to speak, we began to learn more and more about their lives in the Congo — and why they had been so hesitant to speak to us to begin with. They have experienced more tragedy and hardship in their lives than most of us adults have or even will. The guilt associated with their life experiences was unbearable. How do you parent a child who has more life experience, more survival skills, more responsibility shouldered then you can comprehend? He has a bent toward not disobedience and arrogance because he has been his own parent. Can we teach him to merely be a child again?  Can we teach him to trust and respect authority?

Countless times throughout scripture, we are encouraged to have faith of a child, consider ourselves children of God, and even challenges us that if we don’t become like children, we will not enter the Kingdom of Heaven. Why? After living with a 9-year-old adult for the last 18 months, I can see it: trust and respect for God’s authority in our lives. Willingness to release our guilt and experience joy. Less dependence on our survival skills and more dependence on God.

Addie has had different struggles. Because she is less verbal, her grief has been expressed in behavioral problems. After months of baffling and awful behavior at home, I talked to her about the dark places in our heart that hurt and make us want to do bad things. I also talked to her about Jesus being the Healer of those dark places, and if she wanted, Jesus would come and help heal the hurts in her heart. I felt so inadequate to try to explain theology of the sinful nature to a 7-year-old with poor verbal skills. Fortunately, the Holy Spirit translated for me and she accepted Jesus into her heart. The change in her behavior has been, well, miraculous.

I am reminded that Jesus not only wants to take away our sin, but heal us of our bent to sinning. Too often we want Jesus to forgive us for our actions, but what He really wants to deliver us from is the sinful nature itself. We want a band-aid. He wants to do surgery.

At the end of the year, I am shocked by the remarkable progress the kids have made. Physically they have grown approximately 7 inches and gained nearly 20 pounds each. They look very much like the 7 and 9 years old that they actually are . . . we think. Educationally, they are catching up to their peers, and getting good grades at school. Spiritually, they ask very deep questions about God, salvation, heaven, and sin on almost a daily basis. Emotionally they are beginning to relax and have a sense of belonging to our family.

My health has made less progress this year. After thousands of dollars of treatments, procedures, far too many steroids, and cultures we still know very little. The cultures from my bronchoscopy all came back negative, but I always improve almost immediately on antibiotics. Unfortunately, we have progressed to using strong antibiotics used at dosages that most medical providers wouldn’t feel comfortable prescribing. I’ve gone through 2 courses in the last six months, but the residual nagging cough seems like it’s here to stay. Again this year, I’ve come close to death several times, but I’ve realized that I’m not afraid. “Jesus likes to keep me close,” is my mantra. Illness just reminds me that I cannot do His work on my own, but must trust Him for my every breath.

The biggest challenge of the 2013 has been my job. With the loss of 4 employees (out of 11) and 2 more going part-time, I’ve felt like I’m trying to steer a ship in a hurricane. I’ve retained my old job as Didactic Education Coordinator, taken on the position of Program Director, and am also doing much of the work of the Clinical Education Coordinator. With no one to train me, it’s been a steep learning curve. I recently did a utilization review to try to establish bearings, and found that my to-do list per day is usually around 70 items, and additionally I get between 80-100 emails daily, and respond to most. Then there are meetings to attend, classes to teach, students to advise, interviews to conduct, and on and on, that aren’t really to-do items, but important nonetheless. We’ve had more critical issues in our Program in the last six months than we’ve had in the 5 years that I’ve been there combined. I come home exhausted every day. Fortunately, I’ve been blessed by an all-star team of new employees who love God and want to be a part of His work in our Program. And God is at work. Students are coming to know God in ways that are remarkable. They are learning to balance grace and truth. He is calling students to Himself,  to work among the poor, and now even in countries where Christians are persecuted, because this is where the future of missions is. We are still teaching excellent medicine, but God is clearly calling us to focus on serving the poor domestically and globally.

I went to a Christian Community Health Fellowship conference in Atlanta back in May, in the first few weeks of my Program Directorship. In the week afterward, I debriefed with the students who went with me, and we all came up with summarizing statements about what God was speaking to us about. It was at that time that I shared with my students that just like our hearts individually, our Program needed a Savior, and I am not it. Jesus is. The job of calling, cleansing, and redeeming is not mine. I am only a tool in His hands, and my job is to ensure that our Program lives and breathes the aroma of Christ in all that we do. There are many Programs that train Physician Assistants, but He has called us to educate not only excellent medical providers, but PAs who practice medicine as ministry. Yes, there have been obstacles this year, but Kingdom work has never been safe work, has it?

Ultimately, 2013 has been a year of diving into the dangerous waters of knowing God and doing His will. My students often tell me that they are impressed that I have the ability to make everything spiritual. Perhaps that is because I believe everything is spiritual. We were not meant to have divided lives. Whether it is parenting two traumatized children, coping with illness, or directing a medical Program, God has lessons to learn in all things.

 

 

“I always questioned if I was ready to adopt and then realized no child was ready to be an orphan.” — Unknown

When I was growing up, I always knew that God wanted me to save room in my home for children who did not otherwise have one. With so many children in the world without homes, options were plenty, and still are. Domestic adoption of minorities, international adoption, and foster care all have tremendous needs. I realize not everyone is directed by God to bring an orphan into their home, but I do believe we are all called to do something for the cause of the orphan.

“Satan hates adoption,” was one of the first phrases I became familiar with when we first began our adoption journey. It was difficult. It always has been, and continues to be. The adoption community is full of difficult stories — almost no one is immune. Fraud, scandal, kidnappings, corruption, apathy, bribery, and abuse are common topics discussed behind the curtains of the adoption community. Most of us fear sharing the reality of adoption because we do not want to scare others away, realizing that many of us likely would not have chosen such a difficult road had we knew what it would be like. So we hide in Facebook groups, online forums, and private messages to support one another through difficult times, and celebrate the victories along the way. But not a one of us regrets the journey, because these are our children. What cost is too great to save the life of a child? Would not any parent face any dangers necessary to save the life that God had chosen for them?

Caring for orphans is dangerous work. Satan does not meddle with initiatives that do not storm the gates of hell. But adoption certainly does.  Adoptive parents are some of the toughest, and most tender people you will ever meet. And they need prayers, support, and encouragement, even if they won’t allow you to know what’s really going on. Sometimes it’s just to hard to put into words.

Let me try.

To give you a glimpse of what is public, there has been a development in Congo adoptions: exit letters are suspended for up to 12 months. I have friends who have legally been parents of children in the Congo for nearly a year, who have yet to get permission to bring home their child. First, there was a new 6 month investigation phase initiated earlier in the year, and just when they thought they had cleared that hurdle, exit permits were suspended. That means that even if adoptive parents even have the permission of the United States to bring their children home, but the DRC will not let the children leave.  To make matters worse, dysentery has swept through one of the orphanages associated with American adoptions, killing 33 of 52 children, while the government works out new processes for adoption. The heartache is palpable. The needs are so urgent. Hope is hard these days.

And yet these families continue to pray, plead, and fight and raise money to bring their children home. Because that’s what is what they are called to do. They are not giving up on their children.

Because God never gave up on any of us.

Today is Orphan Sunday.

Not everyone is called to adopt. But we are all called to do something.

I’d ask you to consider being a tangible encouragement to a DRC adoptive family today.

I’ve collected links to those who are fundraising to bring their children home from the Congo.

1. Look through the links and make at least ONE purchase to make a difference in the life of a child this Orphan Sunday. There are some wonderful, creative, and beautiful things for sale, and would make terrific Christmas gifts. Would you consider making all of your Christmas purchases ones that will make Kingdom impact?

2. Comment on their blogs or pages with a word of encouragement.

3. Pray for their families. Their WHOLE families, including their precious children stuck on the other side of the world. Pray for stamina for the parents. Pray for health, nutrition, and emotional and spiritual protection for their children. And pray that they are united soon.

4. Post this blog on your Facebook wall. Encourage others to do the same.

This store has absolutely adorable merchandise. I am in love with this rosette necklace, and they have beautiful burlap and chevron items that will add style to your home and self. Handmade Necklace

If you haven’t had Just Love Coffee, you are just missing out! As a former barista, I know good coffee, and this is it! We used to fundraise through Just Love Coffee, and now we are subscribers in order to pass along blessings to current adoptive families. My favorite is African Skies. African Skies

Here is a fundraiser that includes a drawing for some great prizes that would make great gifts for yourself or someone else. Each ticket is only $10!

This fundraiser makes me wish I was closer to Oklahoma! If you are in the area, you are in luck! I’m hoping leftover items will be posted for sale!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

This Etsy shop features some very cute felt toys for kids, shirts, and custom-made “hair pretties.” I think Addie would love the Busy Book, and it would help her develop her fine motor skills! 

Oh my sweetness, this Etsy Shop has so much hand-sewn love in fabric form. If you’ve ever searched for the perfect black baby doll, look no further. Even if you have Caucasian kids, I know they would love to have a chocolate brown baby doll like this one. And a vanilla one to match!

Little Girl Fabric Doll

This shop features adorable hair accessories for girls, including clips, headbands, and barrettes, and even cutesy legwarmers. Don’t you think Addie and I need matching hair clips? Jenni Price Photography

I love these customized items! Celebrate fall, Christmas, sports, kids, in these many different items that would add a personal touch for someone special. Check out the page for more options!

How did one website manage to feature so many items that I LOVE at such great prices? I want one of . . . everything! This one is the epitome of my weaknesses. Necklaces, bracelets, earrings, scarves and more for as little as $3. For such a good cause, I refuse to feel guilty about making a serious investment here.  Here are a couple of my favorites:

This store features beautiful fabric crafted items. If you are a local, check out these neat towels! IPhoto: OWL HATS are here!!!  $16 each + shipping.  (They fit babies and toddlers best.  Can be stretched to fit a 4 year old + but will be tight.)Get them while they last!  I sold out very quickly last year!LIME GREEN/BLUE (4 AVAILABLE)LIGHT BLUE/BLACK (4 AVAILABLE)HOT PINK/LIME GREEN (4 AVAILABLE)BROWN (4 AVAILABLE)LIGHT PINK/DARK PINK (4 AVAILABLE)

If you’re not within a tornado siren of Franklin, you’d still love their other items, including chevron scarves, owl hats, and custom-made shirts for Christmas.

Looking for a perfect baby gift that was made with love rather than by a robot? Check out this sweet Etsy Shop that features baby bibs and bows to suit all tastes. This one is my favorite! Sweet little owls reversible bib

I hope you all remember this painting from Worth the Wait Creations. The artist took time to get to know our family before putting together this perfect representation of who we are as a new family. Ken said it is his favorite gift ever, and it hangs in our living room. Why would you buy someone a sweater or tie, when you could give something this significant, while making a difference in the life of a Congolese child? The paintings make great wedding and baby gifts as well. 

If you want to sport your support of Congolese adoptions, check out this great shirt, featured on Etsy. Lots of sizes are available! Adopt Africa Shirt - ADULT MEDIUM

Another awesome t-shirt design is featured here! I’m totally digging the pink shirt!  Image of HYDE ADOPTION! / Love Is Thicker Than Water

If you’ve ever been to Africa, chances are that it will always be a part of your heart. These canvases feature variety of bold and subtle prints that help keep Africa in your heart.  There are many more designs to choose from!

These are incredible original stained wood art pieces. Aren’t they beautiful? I look forward to seeing more offerings from them, as they are all stunning!  Check out their site for up-close views.

This Etsy Shop features many different Congolese ornaments and Ugandan bead bracelets. I especially love this!!

DR Congo FLAG ornament/magnet Adoption Africa fundraiser

This family is having a super fun giveaway! There are four different packages to enter for, but this one is my favorite. It has ME written all over it! Entries are only $5, plus there are many more ways to enter! Yikes this is awesome!

Here is another unique adoption t-shirt, as well as another opportunity to purchase Just Love Coffee!

This shop just opened and items are selling like lightening! Featuring African-themed items, there’s a little bit of something for everyone with a heart for Congo. I love these! 

Every child needs to be taught about families who are built through adoption. This is a book that does just that! 

This Etsy Shop specializes in linens and totes that are trendy and even African-themed. I adore this bag and this blanket! Owls Tote Bag Halloween Purple Navy Blue Groceries Candy Congo Adoption Fundraiser Superman African Baby Blanket Wax Print Fabric Toddler Congo Adoption Fundraiser

This family is selling high-quality sheets (among other things) to support their adoption. Who wouldn’t love a new set of comfy sheets?

This Etsy shop features beautiful embellished t-shirts. I love this one for Christmas! Green holiday pull over crew neck  50/50 poly- cotton blend sweatshirt.  Small thru 4x sizes available.

I would LOVE to get a locket like this for Christmas. Hint, hint, Ken, ahem. They are so personalized and fun, it would be a great gift for any mom! Create one of your own for yourself or someone special in your life!

Origami Owl Fall Collection

This family is featuring an auction that starts this week, and features items that would make great Christmas gifts! They’ve already announced that there will be a diamond necklace, noonday earrings, and doTERRA items. I’ll definitely be checking back on this one!

As you start building your Christmas list, why not buy items that will mean so much to the recipient and to the seller? Each purchase from the above list will encourage, strengthen, and support those in the DRC adoption process. And the recipient will love the hand-touched meaning behind each gift. It’s a win-win.

Not all of us are called to adopt, but we are all called to do something for the sake of the orphans in the world. Here’s my challenge.

Ready?

1. Buy at least one item.

2. Comment on at least one page.

3. Pray for at least one family.

4. Repost on your blog or Facebook page

And I’d love to hear what you bought! Come back and share how you are making a difference in the life of an adoptive family!

Go make a difference!

Vertigo

When I was a little girl, my friend Lynette and I loved the merry-go-round. We would push it as fast as we could, hop on, and spin to our hearts’ content. If we were really fortunate, we would find a high school boy wandering by, and pester him into pushing us faster and faster. We’d lean back and watch the wondrous pattern of the trees spinning in a circle above us with the summer sun glimmering through the leaves as the breeze wisped through our hair. My favorite was jumping off the merry-go-round and trying to walk, or even stand. It was gloriously fun trying to find firm footing on the ground as the world spun around, until slowly, the spinning would come to a stop. Or, if I was feeling particularly adventurous, and a plentiful supply of compliant teens were around, I would hop back on before my equilibrium was reset.

 ver·ti·go ˈvərtəgō/
noun
a sensation of whirling and loss of balance, associated particularly with looking down from a great height
     
     
I think a sensation of vertigo sums up how I feel right now. There’s not much that has remained steady in the last year. A year ago, I had a 4 and 5 year old who didn’t speak English. Now I have a 7 and nearly 9 year old who have each grown more than 6 inches in the last year. I was on part-time maternity leave last year. Now I’m back to not only my previous full-time job as Didactic Education Coordinator, but Program Director, and the Clinical Education Coordinator. My work was previously all in-house, but now I find myself in regular meetings with the mayor’s office, talking with legislative offices, hospital Vice Presidents, and national leaders in education, in addition to all of those in-house responsibilities. In the last three weeks, I’ve attended two different week-long conferences in Gatlinburg and Memphis, interviewed our first round of prospective students for next year’s class, planned a conference with the mayor’s office, developed a marketing plan with my boss, finished publication of a video (which you should watch), reviewed accreditation standards with administrators, prepared a new orientation session, attended an all-day grant-writing workshop, hired an adjunct instructor, and attempted to stay ahead of the 100+ emails I receive a day.
         
 Things have dramatically changed for Ken too. Last year, he had church responsibilities 5 nights a week, and all day Saturday and Sunday. With two kids from very traumatic backgrounds, trying to catch the kids up in school, and trying just to manage life, it was wearing on all of us. Ken was almost never home to put the kids to bed, and the “Daddy at church, again?” made me realize that there was a great chance that our kids would grow up resenting the church for what it was doing to our family, unless something changed. We decided it was better to take the reduction in pay for the sake of our family’s emotional and spiritual health. So Ken dropped Upward Sports and went back to working with just college students, which is where he started at our church. It was hard to adjust expectations from full-time to genuinely being part-time in order to meet the needs of our family. By the end of the summer, Ken was asked to move to doing assimiliations. For the first time since 1993, I was no longer working with college students in the local church setting. We’ve been with this college group since 2007. I love these college students. LOVE. I made (and sometimes bought) breakfast for them every Sunday for over 6 years. We had weekly dinners with them in the cafeteria or in someone’s home, listening, laughing, and sharing life. We prayed them overseas and back. Most of them are choosing careers in ministry or serving the poor in some way. As with most of our college ministries that we’ve had over the past 20 years, substance was the goal, more so than size, which means deep love, beyond the confines of a job. Now I find myself suddenly disconnected at a church I’ve been attending for almost 7 years.
          
 My health has been another vertiginous situation. I’ve tried to be especially careful about getting enough rest to make up for my IgG titer deficiency, which gives me a decreased ability to fight infections. I have to pay attention to feelings of exhaustion, knowing that stress further weakens my immune system. Fortunately, the kids’ adaptation to American germs has helped significantly. Because they are not sick every week, neither am I. My cough has not improved. I had a bronchoscopy 2 weeks ago under general anesthesia (in between 2 weeks of traveling for work). I was congratulated to have the thickest lung secretions that they had ever seen. So thick that they could not suction out my lungs, and asked me how in the world I was breathing. Not easily. While they didn’t find any sign of infection anymore, there’s not a whole lot that can be done to fix my lungs either. The pulmonologist recommended that I try a flutter valve to help me clear my lungs on my own, but it looks like the cough is here to stay. Sigh. Coughcoughcoughcough. Sigh. I’ll have to decide whether or not to continue Xolair when my deductible resets and I have to start paying $3500/shot again.
    
     
In the last year, whenever I’ve felt like life had stopped spinning, something else would push me back on the merry-go-round. When I was a child, it was fun. Now, I just want the merry-go-round to stop. There was one special trick that I eventually learned about the merry-go-round. The closer I stayed to the center of the merry-go-round, the less dizzy I got. In fact, if I could fix my eyes on one of the trees next to the playground as I was spinning around, I could avoid the sense of vertigo altogether.
     
And that is much like the relationship into which God draws us. When life is running at a dizzying pace, He longs to draw us closer to Himself, to center us. Our health doesn’t really matter, nor our jobs, our churches, nor even our families. Those are all forces pulling us to the edge of the merry-go-round, in comparison to the centrality of His greatness and love. If we can anchor ourselves on Him and fix our eyes on our heavenward goal, the dizziness and disorientation of life disappears.
     
     
“The Lord is a refuge for the oppressed, a stronghold in times of trouble. Those who know your name trust in you, for you, Lord, have never forsaken those who seek you.” Psalm 9:9-10
     
     
“Therefore we do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day. For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen, since what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.” II Corinthians 4:16-18

Normal

The one-year-home anniversary was met with, as is typical in international adoption, a mild freak-out by the kids. Lost focus, disruptive behavior at school, resistance to authority.  You know, the usual.

And then, it stopped.

The kids are now getting high grades at school, coming home with good behavior reports (except for one who is chatty, ahem), cleaning their plates and their rooms, learning their memory verses, reading books without being told.

They are bickering over opinions (in English!), playing “I Spy With My Little Eye,”  and love playing board games because they can now count and know their colors. They love swimming, snuggling with the dogs, hate bedtime, and can’t get enough of Leave It to Beaver.

Our lives are becoming surprisingly, well, normal.

No one has tried to jump out of the car at 45 miles an hour, refused to ask to get down from the table for 90 minutes, spit food at me, or purposely peed on furniture in a pretty long time.

It’s almost like we’re, well, normal.

The only time I feel not-so-normal is when talking with other parents of biological children. While others worry about play date partners, getting a pet, or screen time, we are working through issues of death, abandonment, starvation, child labor, and violence from our children’s past. As our kids master increasing amounts of the English language, they can now communicate that their past is anything other than what would be considered normal in first world countries. Their previous life is almost surreal. I don’t know what it is like to parent a “normal” child.

And yet they giggle at squirrels, are engrossed by the symphony, and play like they have not a care in the world. As if all that had happened to them was, well, normal.

Will our children ever escape the chains of their past? How can we facilitate healing of wounds that are so deep?

I don’t know why God chose Ken and I to be the parents of children with so many wounds. I feel so inadequate in many ways. But the truth is, I don’t have to be adequate, because He is. As much as I love Addie and Palmer, I am not their Redeemer. Jesus is. And I get the joy of walking down the road toward the Ultimate Healer with them.  I don’t pretend to comprehend the mysteries of God’s grace and healing. I’m glad I don’t have to. Somehow, our prayers intertwined with the Holy Spirit’s intercession combined with the unmerited favor God has granted is healing the wounds of our children’s past. We listen to the kids, we give permission to grieve, and sometimes we just cry for them because they have no more tears left to cry.

I suspect if things were ever really “normal,” we would never know the deep dependence on God we’ve experienced in the last year.

A Year Later

I’m not going to lie. This was a really long year.

If I had only just been sick for 11 months, with $20,000 in treatments for a resistant infection that is triggering my asthma and complicated by an immune deficiency, it would have been a long year.

If I had only had a massive work transition and assumed my boss’s job, a coworker’s job, and retained my former job without anyone to train me on how to do what needs to be done, it would have been a long year.

If I had only adopted a 4 and 5-year-old who turned out to be 6 and 8, had to re-age them, walk through medical testing, IEP testing, EL services, convince them that they had to speak English after months of them only speaking to each other, try to acclimate them to new cultures and ages, help them recover emotionally from the horrific trauma they’ve been through, it would have been a long year.

But in true overachiever style, I have had three long years in one. Everyone in the Jewett house has.

I’ve been asked a lot how I’ve survived this year. There is only one explanation: Jesus. I can literally say that there is no way I could have survived this last year without Him. If I could have done it on my own strength, I might have become proud. Instead, I’ve realized how weak, wicked, and weary I am. Anything good from me has come from Him.

My friends in the drive through at Sonic tease me, “Why you so happy all the time?”

“It’s Jesus in me!” is my reply.

Jesus has been the best part of my year.

There have been other great parts of this year. Some of my favorites:

  • The kids’ first bubble baths. More water ended up on the floor than in the tub, but they had a great time.
  • Celebrating Palm Sunday with the kids and explaining heaven, to which the kids replied, “Yeah!”
  • Addie telling me she loved me as we watched the movie Annie together
  • Palmer snuggling with me during movies
  • Bonding with Addie over three-hour hair styles
  • When I showed Palmer that letters made sounds, sounds made words, and words told stories
  • Addie losing her first tooth and trying to implement the “Tooth Angel” without making it seem like a creepy lady was breaking into the house at night
  • Palmer winning the Triple A Achiever Award for his school
  • Teaching the kids to build forts out of blankets and playing hide and seek
  • Grandma teaching the kids how to hula-hoop
  • Going to the beach as a family

There have been so many special moments and shared laughter. I hope that the next year will be a little less dramatic, but no matter what, we will face it together as a family, with Jesus.

IMG_1778

Because this is too cute not to post

SAM_0252Yep, her hairstyle lasted 3 days. So I had to change it up tonight. She’s going swimming tomorrow, and I didn’t have the three hours of hair time I needed so I threw her hair into some flat twists and called it a night.

What have I gotten myself into!?

Hairable Experience

I’ve been blessed with several black female friends who, when they found out I was adopting a black girl, issued me  a challenge: “You have to take care of her hair.”

Of course, I thought. Wouldn’t all mothers take care of their little girl’s hair?

Clearly I was naive as to the depth and complexity of the hairable world of hair of little black girls.

Long before I met Addie, I was introduced to the blog-bible of Caucasian mothers who have adopted black girls, “Chocolate Hair, Vanilla Care.” I began to study at the feet of the author, who  taught lessons of cowashing, shingling, plaiting, and carrier oils. It would take months to read and understand her years of experience and wisdom. I’m not quite there yet.

Out of all the hairstyles I studied, I decided that the one I liked best was just a natural Afro.  I so hoped that Addie’s hair would be ringlets that would be naturally suited for a cute curly Afro!

When I first met Addie, her head had just been shaved days before. Apparently, lice was common in the orphanage, so the children’s hair was regularly shaved. I would have much rather dealt with lice than a year of, “Why is your little boy wearing all pink?”  I was so sad for Addie’s shaved head, but as her hair grew, I realized that it was growing into perfect tiny spiral curls. I was elated that my little girl would have beautiful perfectly ringlet-ed natural hair.

Fast forward 10 months.

My bathroom closet looks like a drug store clearance rack — a hodgepodge of products — conditioners, detanglers, moisturizers, curl activators, frizz tamers and on and on. We’ve experimented with a dozen different products in different combinations, and all with the same results: Addie’s hair looks adorable when she walks out the door, and like a rat’s nest when she walks back in.

I realized that I needed to call in backup.

So I met recently with two of my black female friends to discuss the trials of the hairable world of little black girls.

They assured me I would do fine. Yeah right.

I explained that after trying to do “natural hair,” I am waving a flag of defeat and trying to do something different with Addie’s hair. “But my problem is that I can’t find anyone who does black little girls’ hair. I’ve Googled numerous terms and can’t come up with anyone.”

Both of my friends laughed. “Oh, you don’t Google these folks. At least no one good. You have to have to find them by word-of-mouth.”

So I asked them for a reference. One decided to give me the name of someone she had recently used and that person’s cell phone number.  “Candice. 555-1212.*”

“There’s only a first name here,” I remarked. “Can I have her last name?”

“Oh, there are no last names in black women’s hair. But tell her that Shari Jarvis* with the Senegal twists gave you the number and tell her your story.”

“Gotcha,” I replied. “Where is her salon located?”

“No, no, no,” she chided. “You ask her to do it ‘on the side,’ and she’ll come to your house to do Addie’s hair. It’s actually even cheaper that way.”

She was speaking my language. I proceeded with my line of questioning. “So if I like a black woman’s hair, can I ask her what products she uses in her hair?”

“Nope, that’s a secret.”

“So, I can’t ask who does someone’s hair, or what products they use, but recommendations are all word-of-mouth?

“Exactly.”

“What if I were to do her hair myself? I’ve seen this great website that shows me how to do Bantu knots, cornrows, and extensions.”

They assured me that extensions were beyond my scope, but I could probably attempt something more simple. By this time, I was starting to get nervous about having anything to do with Addie’s hair. They reminded me that she had to sleep in a satin sleep cap with a satin pillowcase. Be careful about her rubbing her head against the car seat, and make sure she doesn’t play with her hair.

They also reminded me that they themselves were thankful that they had boys and never had to deal with the hairable experiences of dealing with the complexity of little girl hair. Very reassuring.

So Sunday night, I attempted to put Bantu knots into Addie’s hair, but I soon realized that her hair wasn’t long enough, so I quickly switched to comb coils. The rest of the night wasn’t so quick. THREE  HOURS LATER, I finished my first hairstyle on Addie, with no small amount of whining. Addie didn’t enjoy it much either. (Ain’t nobody got time for ‘dat!)

How long will it last? I’m told that many styles will last for 2-3 weeks, which is 2-3 days in Addie time.

When I picked up Addie from day camp today, the black woman sitting at the entrance table complimented me on Addie’s hair.

“I really had no idea what I was doing, so it means a lot to me that you say that,” I replied.

“Are you kidding me? I have no idea how to do that!” she replied.

“Oh, it wasn’t too hard. Maybe I’ll be able to put you in touch with some people . . . once I know you a little better.”

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* Identifying information has been changed to protect the innocent.

Surprising Parenting Skills

When we became parents, we didn’t start with infants, we started with “ready-made” kids. Well, ready-made kids who spoke another language and came from a completely different culture. There was no time to learn their personalities before embarking on disciplinary methods. We often didn’t know if their behavior was disobedience or ignorance. We didn’t know how much they could be trusted or if they were plotting evil against us.

We were thrown into the deep end of parenting awfully quickly. We were four strangers trying to become a family, one way or another. So along the road to figuring out this wild-style parenting, I discovered that Ken and I had some really unique gifts that we never realized that we had.

Our surprising parenting skills:

The ability to make up a rule for no apparent reason. Tonight I literally told the kids, “You cannot have a cookie until you finish your popcorn.” Why? I don’t even know. But somehow it seemed like the right thing to do. And in a strange but not entirely unexpected twist, only one child earned a cookie.

To have a straight face when our kids are hilariously naughty. Palmer’s biggest crime at school has been giggling. He’s a goofy boy, and if he gets tickled about something, he has a hard time keeping a straight face. Still, we understand that inappropriate laughter can be very disruptive, so when his teacher sent home notes that he was giggling in class, we had to take it seriously. But to punish a child for laughing too much is a skill that has to be developed, even if the child’s story is hilarious. The parental laughter is saved until after 8:00 p.m. when the kids are asleep.

To come up with double-cross punishments. Many internationally adopted kids come to America believing that they will have whatever they want whenever they want, and have difficulty with limits. Palmer was especially that way. He would cry and scream if he could only watch one cartoon instead of two, or throw temper tantrum complete with kicking and yelling if we told him to put a toy away so we could leave the house or eat dinner. So we told him that if cartoons and toys made him sad, he shouldn’t have them. After all, we want him to be happy! If cartoons make him sad, he just shouldn’t watch them for the next week! If a toy made him cry, we should either break it or give it away to someone else who will be happy to have it!  A particular favorite of mine was when the kids used to refuse to ask to get down from the table. So I’d let them just at the table until they asked to get down. For over an hour. Boy, they really showed me! ;-) I took pictures, which I will show at some important late-high-school event. Or their wedding.

To recognize the level of misbehavior our kids are engaged in by the tone of their laughter. Addie has a particular high-pitched giggle, which automatically earns an, “Addie, are you being good or are you being bad?” question from across the house. 97% of the time there is complete silence from Addie. Then I remind her that she needs to be good. To which she responds with a sheepish, “Okay.”

To turn three pages at a time in a book that is way too long to be read just before bed. I know my children plot to find the longest books they can as bedtime stories. Two can play at this game. As long as Addie is sitting on my right, I can pull it off turning multiple pages at one time. Palmer is too observant. It does take a special diversion to get them to look at something on the page on the left. I have become a master of such techniques, because let’s be real, mommy really needs the little people to go to sleep so daddy and I can catch up on laughing at all the hilariously naughty things they did today. And eat chocolate.

To know which child has their eyes open during prayer without opening mine. Ahem. It must be the Holy Spirit.

To know who really did start it. Addie. She has a special gift.

To say things that my parents said and I swore I never would. “Because I said so.” “If I have to stop this car . . .” “When I was your age . . .” It’s almost like relearning to ride a bike, only you weren’t the one riding it 30 years ago. Some phrases just must be genetic.

Fortunately, our children have survived our initiation into parenthood and are doing well. Most of the time, I have no real clue what I’m doing, but count on the fact that God entrusted them into our care, and so He’s sort of obligated to give us the wisdom and resources to give them what they need.

Well, Look at You

You’re still here!

Let’s see if I can sum up the last 2 months . . .

We have now been home from the Congo for 10 months. Our kids are both now speaking in sentences, with Palmer completely comprehensible. Addie speaks with enthusiasm, although we’re never quite sure about what.

Addie finished educational testing. She now qualifies for speech and occupational therapy and will get an IEP. They say that they are still a little baffled by her because she has mastered more advanced skills for which she doesn’t have the basics. (She can hop on one leg for over a minute, but she cannot stand on one leg. This sort of thing happens academically too.) She has completely caught up with her gross motor skills. If you had seen her try to run or climb stairs in the first month she was home, you realize how miraculous this is. We hope to make similar progress in other areas, but it’s beginning to look like Addie is always going to need some extra help.

Palmer finished out the school year with a top award from the school: The Triple A Achiever for the overall school — academics, attitude, and attendance. He won a huge giant green frog stuffed animal. He still is behind his classmates, but his teacher recognized that his effort to try to catch up was remarkable. The first day after school ended, he begged to continue to work on schoolwork. So we’re working through some online learning programs with both of them, and have enrolled them both in a summer academic enrichment camp. Today was their first day, and they loved it.

Part of me wrestles with how much the kids have to do and work at. Not only the last year of school, when they both skipped a grade, but the 6 and 8 years prior to that when no one introduced them to numbers, or read them bedtime stories, or made sure their toys weren’t tainted with lead. They didn’t get the benefit of learning the language they are being educated in until they got to America. There are a million snuggly, enriched, carefully crafted moments that our kids missed out on. They have to make up for lost time. They have told us so many stories that make me shudder — and they don’t even know that all kids didn’t grow up the way they did. So sometimes they struggle with sitting still, or recognizing social cues, or trusting us as parents. I’m thankful for all the people in their lives who give them the extra grace that they missed out on the first 6 and 8 years of their lives.

I’ve now received my third injection of Xolair. I still have the same yucky cough, but my fever is better. My cough almost went away in the last few weeks, and then I had a bad weekend and it’s back. They say I should start noticing a difference in how I feel after month 3. I’m still waiting for the $10,000 worth of treatment to kick in. Most of the time, I feel okay. Some of the time I feel plain awful, and I still get random infections. Case in point: on Addie’s 7th birthday, I woke up with a raging case of bacterial conjunctivitis. I’ve never seen anything like it. My eye was swollen shut and goopy, fever, nausea, vomiting. But a little girl only turns 7 once. (Well, actually that might not be the case for Addie, ahem.) Anyway, so I pretended to be well for an hour that evening  because I didn’t have the energy to actually make any food, and we went to a dark Rainforest Café Restaurant and ordered the VOLCANO! for dessert. On the way back to the car, Addie asked me why my eye was gross. Because I like to do things really special for your birthday, Addie, like get a facially mutilating infection and appear in public. Isn’t that what every 7 year old girl wants for her birthday?

Addie and Palmer were presented for dedication in church at the end of April. While we’ve always recognized them as God’s children, we had to wait for a time for our kids to trust us enough to allow us to present them in front of the church. Given some of the things they have experienced in the past, this was pretty scary for them, but they did great! My parents flew out from Oregon, and my Aunt Nettie came down from Kentucky, making it all the more special.

Both kids played Upward soccer this spring and both did very well. Addie was quite good, in spite of the fact that she really only learned to run less than a year ago. Palmer excels at soccer, and now that he actually comprehends the rules of the game, he has been able to combine his skills with strategy and is a force to be reckoned with on the field.

Somewhere in the midst of all of this academic testing, award-winning, injection-receiving, relatives- having-in, soccer-playing, and infection-getting, I was promoted to the Director of our PA Program. I still have mixed emotions about this. On the one hand, what an honor! On the other hand, I’m drowning in work. We’ve had three and a half administrative faculty leave this year due to illness, retirement, family issues, etc. and I have a enormous task of taking on much of their jobs, delegating when I can, but most of it just has to be done by me. In the past fourish weeks, I have filmed a baccalaureate video, redesigned and edited the student handbook, coordinating a hooding ceremony, said good-bye to two employees, hired a new faculty member, helped coordinate our program’s first ever-indoor graduation because the outdoor one got rained out, took 11 students to an awesome conference in Atlanta about serving the poor through healthcare and debriefed them, written a magazine article, reworked our ACLS/PALS courses with a new team of instructors from out-of-state, conducted a two day orientation for new PA students who just started classes last week and managed the process of getting them started in a new Program, took part in alumni board meeting, negotiated a new position for our Program and the clinic for which I hope to be hiring soon, helped work on a neighborhood restoration project, staff a 12 week class exclusively with guest lecturers and an overseeing adjunct, continued to see patients in the clinic, negotiated several contracts for student software purchases, finished putting together and submitting a 116 page accreditation document with 28 supporting documents, and many other things that fill the spaces in between. And we are just getting started on the busiest time of year. Things are hard now, but they are going to be oh so good when we can catch up, adjust to the changes, and move forward with confidence that this is exactly what God had in mind. I know it seems a little crazy — to me too– but God has spoken to me about not wasting a vision, and how many examples scripture holds of God calling the weak and unsure so that only He would be glorified. I’m excited to see where God is leading. And slightly overwhelmed.

Ken just finished up his second year of Upward Sports. Last year, Ken worked 5 nights a week. This year, he worked 4. That’s in addition to working Saturdays and Sundays. Trying to balance that much work on the part of both of us has been exhausting. Ken and I almost never have a day off together, and barely have any evenings together. Those projects like: cleaning the basement, taking the kids to a museum as a family, sorting the junk mail, visiting friends who live out of town, or spending a day lounging in pajamas never happen. Add to the equation two new kids with some very unique needs, my illness and work challenges, and we are just . . . broken. It’s hard enough to do everything if both of us had “normal” jobs, but with nearly opposite schedules we needed a change. As God-honoring as both our jobs are, I don’t believe that God is honored when our fragile family is being stretched so thin. Yes, our kids are resilient, but haven’t they also had to deal with more then their fair share already? So Ken asked to take a salary cut and go part-time. And fortunately, the church said yes. It was a very painful — and costly — decision. Honestly, had it been me (the wife) going part-time, I don’t think it would have been as controversial, but I have benefits and salary that could absorb Ken going part-time. The opposite wasn’t true. We needed a new plan to make our family function more healthfully. So we’re tightening our belts and giving Ken working part-time a try.

So that’s the latest from our family, and a bit of an explanation of why we’ve been silent. I haven’t had a Saturday off since April, and my evenings have been packed as well, and I’m just starting a new semester. I hope that one day, things will slow down for us, but for now, we are continuing to trust in God’s guidance for our lives personally, and as a family.

Here are some photo highlights from the last 2 months . . .

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Stuck in the Middle

When I last left off, I was diagnosed with two immune problems: too many allergy antibodies, and not enough infection-fighting antibodies. We decided to address the allergy antibodies first and hold off on treating the infection-fighting antibodies. It was made clear by my nurse practitioner that my lack of infection-fighting antibodies is more correlated with stress than most people. The more stress, the fewer antibodies I produce. It is very important for my immune system to reduce stress as much as possible, and I would possibly be able to avoid having antibody infusions or injections.

Stress reduction in order to live. No problem. Especially with two children adopted from Africa in the last year, and a husband who works four nights a week and all day Saturdays and Sundays, in addition to me working full-time. Still, it was manageable.

Then my boss resigned. Not the one that was diagnosed with the brain tumor, the interim boss after that. He’s giving plenty of notice, and is definitely being helpful, but it’s become clear that I need to step up my responsibility at work in a very short period of time. There is no one else in place at this point that can do it. But I’m still pretty sick.

Stress reduction in order to live. Now it’s a problem.

So I went back to my allergist/immunologist physician and did nothing short of beg for IgG antibody replacement. It was really rather pitiful, actually. But in my perspective, I’m somewhat begging for my life and my job, which are both pretty important to me. I cannot stop my children from bringing home viruses and bacteria from school. I cannot quit my job. The only variable is giving a boost to my immune system.

He said no.

Now, in his defense, he has never seen me sick because I only see the NP when I’m sick because he’s booked months in advance. And in his mind, because I was about to get anti-IgE Xolair, he didn’t want to do two immune therapies at once.

He told me, “You just need to work on reducing stress in your life.”

I kind of wanted to punch him in the face. With the love of the Lord. And maybe call down some fire and brimstone. And tear up the $600 bill he’s going to send me for that sound advice. And mail him the pieces.

Too far?

This week, I finally got my first injection of Xolair, which will reduce my ability to have an allergic reaction, although it takes several months to really see the benefits. It’s a two hour process to get the injection and then you have to see a medical provider afterwards, all the while having lots of vitals taken, peak flows measured, and a nurse giving you the stinky fish eye across the room because Xolair has a surprising side effect of causing anaphylaxis. I felt a little yucky and had some blood pressure issues, but I lived.

So three hours after my Xolair injection, I met back up with the NP who has been seeing me. I blabbered on about all I’ve been through, and the changes in my responsibilities that have occurred since we last talked. She believes I should start IgG and wants to start the approval process. She has seen me really really sick. I have scared her on numerous occasions. After all, no one is more stubborn about asking for medical help than a medical provider themselves. She is going to talk to her supervising physician (my doctor) and see if she can get him to change his mind.

Meanwhile, I start my third month of running a fever. I start my seventh month of having a productive cough. I wash my hands even more obsessively than before. I avoid crowded places with coughing people and perfume.

And I wait, stuck in the middle between two medical providers and what they believe will make me well.

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