Sunday, August 24, 2014

A Race, Relationships & Redemption

Yesterday, I took part in a fundraising 5k/2k for Beautiful Gate Lesotho. You would think that it would just be a race and in some ways it was. There was Rocky music playing (and a bit of AC/DC), cups of cold water, homemade signs, and medals for the winners.

But it was unlike any race that I have ever participated in.

Because this happened:
Maletsatsi with Aussi Christina

And looking back 20 years, as a girl just entering her senior year of high school, I could have never imagined this kind of day. I was a girl whose life was in turmoil. A few precious relationships were ending and I wasn't sure about anything anymore. What I did know was that there was a guy who lived in Michigan and a God who had big plans.

I'm pretty sure I lived off of Jeremiah 29:11 that year. It sustained me. But the plans that God had, or so I thought, included a highly successful writing career. 

And as I travel the twisty road that has been my life, I see how God has twined amazing and unexpected things together to create, namely, a picture of his plan of redemption for me, for our family, for Mali...and prayerfully, for many others. 

And in a beautiful twist of fate it all came together in the most remarkable morning yesterday. 

It started my freshman year of college. I was far from home, felt really alone and hadn't made many friends yet. I wasn't from the area around my school so I didn't have established relationships like so many other people I met. I took Biology 101 that first semester and then joined a classmate, Lauren, for lunch. I tagged along as she met up with a group of friends from her floor. Sitting at our table was another girl who was equally an outsider. And I threw food at her. 

Yep, the beginnings of a life-long, life changing relationship was cucumber and green pepper slices. 

A year later that same girl, Anita,  gave me a bunch of tulips for my 20th birthday and asked if I would be her roommate the next year. 

We weren't the closest friends. There was a third girl, Meika, who would join us after she returned from her semester in Egypt. I was intimidated by both these women. the one who was coming back from Egypt, well, would I have anything in common with her? She was so exotic and cool.  

My level of nervousness still amazes me. God was knitting together something amazing. Yet none of us had seen it yet. 

The next year we added two more roommates, Julie & Cindy. One whom I liked, the other I didn't. (In fairness, Julie didn't really like me either. But we've worked through that.) But I got married that year and went off to start this new life that I thought wasn't supposed to include these four women. Everyone else got married too--and we all started our lives.

Meredith--from that first amazing small group
Photo credit: A Beautiful Race
We bought our first house and within a year, Anita and Bryan bought the house across the street. We still maintained separate lives, I worked at our church and they had a phenomenal small group. We met and knew and shared life with both Bryan and Anita's family--spending time in Ludington, game nights.

Katie, Hannah, Erynn, and Aaron
All grown up & Racing
Photo Credit: A Beautiful Race
And the five roommates somehow managed to remain connected: weekends in Ludington, in depth Bible studies, our kids knowing each other. (Out Bible study was a crowded place. There were a lot of kids between us: Josh, Katie, Olivia, Aaron, Hannah, Erynn, Megan, Eli, Faith, Mercy, Chloe, & Maryam).

Josh & Mali
Photo Credit: A Beautiful Race

And during this time, the summer of 2009, I felt an incredible burden to pray for a woman I didn't know and a child I didn't know would be mine. 

Terp & the girls cheering racers!
Photo Credit: A Beautiful Race
But again, our ways parted when they moved out to Zeeland and started to attend a new church, Haven. Through that church, Anita fulfilled a life-long promise to herself to go on a mission trip. So in October 2009, she flew away to spend time serving at Beautiful Gate Lesotho. On that trip, she developed new life-changing friendships, particularly with Terp (Christina Terpstra). 

Within months, Bryan and Anita received and accepted the call to direct operations at Beautiful Gate Orphanage. It was just a few months later that I met the phenomenal Terp. And after a blink of an eye, the Geurinks moved their family halfway around the world. 

God continued to knit and weave and twist the relationships around me. I met and got to know a member of the Geurink's first, excellent small group. I reconnected with the one roommate whom I didn't like so much back then, but now, is one of the first people I would call in a crisis. The second is that exotic roommate from Egypt. 
Mali & Terp
Photo Credit: A Beautiful Race
And somehow it all culminated yesterday in a race supporting Beautiful Gate Lesotho, the orphanage where Mali lived and where the Geurinks direct operations and Terp is the North American Ambassador. Because Terp was one of the people who gave love to my daughter while she waited for us. Because no one knew this girl would be our daughter. Yet they loved her anyway--so much, that Mali trusts Terp, totally and completely. 

Because at that race were life-long friends and family of the Geurinks, new BG supporters in Holland/Zeeland area, parents who were waiting to adopt, Terp and people who love and support her, other adoptive parents. I met a woman waiting to meet the children God has for her in Lesotho. 

Photo Credit: A Beautiful Race

And the quilt God has made of my life continues to be woven. He's adding depth and layers and relationships and friendship and love. 

I'm not for one instant proposing that the race yesterday had anything to do with me, it was a fundraiser for a great organization and 63 beautiful kids. 

But, for me, it was my life, full circle. It was redemption. It was what God had done in my life in the past 20 years--which I never could have expected. It was the way he brings people together. It was healing from my brokenness and the journey of healing for my daughter. It was people who loved me and people who loved her, before I ever knew she was mine. It's about strangers who care for the needs of other strangers. It's about the hands and feet of Jesus, about caring for the lost sheep, about calling the children to Him. 

It was God's crazy plan in action and view for the whole world to see. He's taken each of us, individuals He created, and made something beautiful. 

And I'm humbled to be a part of it. 
Michael & Yang Feng
Olivia at the finish line
Cindy & Daryl

Julie & Hannah
Josh--looks impressive, doesn't he? 

Katie & Eric 

Tuesday, August 5, 2014

Some contemplatings

Lately, I've had time to think and when I do, I always think in the form of what I would post on this blog. Silly, I know, but in my head, I've had about 10 really great ideas for fun/quirky/heartfelt/reminiscent/reasonable blog posts.

So instead of busting my butt right this moment to get every single great thought down on paper, I thought I would list out the titles of said posts along with a blurb and you can tell me which ones you want to read.

They are listed in order of nothing. Just random thoughts.

Strength and Dignity--the aging process is real, but trading in the grasping for beauty for strength, wisdom and dignity. And chopping wood gives you a strong back and great arms!

Freeze Frame--for the first time ever, I looked at all four of my kids and wanted to freeze them right now, in their stages of childhood before I loose them to growing up (which is happening faster than I would like).

This is how much I love her-- As a homeschool mom, there is a certain amount of can-do-it-yourselfness that I have. But I love my RADish daughter so much that I am sending her to school. Here's why.

What I learned about parenting on a cross-country vacation--Truly, it was ugly. Full of moments I'm not proud of.

End of school 2014/Beginning 2014

The Elusive shiftiness of "Calling"--I've often struggled with what a call looks like in my life: to do something big and different and change the world. To seek justice. To walk with mercy. To serve those with great needs.

A New Kind of Mommy Guilt--I'm not one to struggle with such things, until it comes to adoption and attachment and all the things that we didn't know.

Meeting Baby June--yep, we went to Utah to meet our new cousin. It was fun--and there are lots of gratuitous baby pictures. But also prompted a lot of thought about babies and parenting and attachment and beyond.

A Novel Update--Things have happened and haven't. Betcha you're curious as to what. And maybe you know someone who could help me.

So, I guess if you're being technical, that's only 9. Oh well. Someday I'll get to writing them. A bit sooner, if you'd like. Or anything else. Sometimes what's hard on a blog is that I don't know that the mundane parts of my life are interesting to others. Can I share something that would be an encouragement to you? Let me know, I'd love to try.


Thursday, May 29, 2014

The Marathon

I feel rather contemplative lately.

Maybe it's the end of a school year.
Maybe it's that Mother's Day and Father's Day surround the trip where Mali was added to our family.
Maybe it's that sun and warm temps encourage me to think positive, thoughtful thoughts.
Maybe it's because I realize how very far I've come.

Thoughts have been swirling through my head about this crazy, wild ride called adoption, both what we expected and what it has been.

I shake my head at my own level of naivety. I can hear my younger self (because I have aged more than just a few years in the past year) telling people, "Oh yes, adoption will be so great. We've been called to it. The kids are ready for adding a sibling. And we home school. Is there any better way to build a family than by spending our time together and cuddling on the couch reading books?" I shake my head in embarrassment.

I thought I'd be so much farther: a model for trusting God and peace written across my brow. I had unrealistic images of a family bonded by true love and trust. I imagined myself a vocal advocate for adoption and for the one million orphans.

Instead, I tremble in knowing fear as I listen to those I dearly love consider what we are walking through. I pray hard and encourage such prayer for those who've adopted from foster care, an older child, a tramatised child. I'm not ready to encourage someone into what has happened to us. But I can say that we haven't walked alone. Jesus was walked next to us each step. He's heard my cries. The Holy Spirit has been present in this home, even in the midst of day-long, multiple tantrums from multiple people, myself included. God has provided answers and glimmers of light in the darkness.

Our therapist likes to use a marathon as analogy for this attachment/trauma journey. And lucky me, I've run one, so I know exactly what it's like. The thrill at the beginning. Settling in for the long haul. There are a couple times when you're able to grab a pit stop or a slice of orange or a sip of gatorade. And these little breaks keep you going.

Until you hit The Wall.

At 20 miles you start to loose sight of those you were running with.
At mile 22, you look around and you are completely alone. On a long lonely stretch of asphalt. You know that there are at least 2 miles before you see people again.


And you hurt all over. All you want to do is lie down and quit, but you know that if you do so, you may not get back up. Walking hurts more than running and every step is searing itself into your muscles.

You have to keep going. I have to keep going.

But then, just when you can't take another step, you're cursing yourself for ever thinking you could run a stupid marathon, there's a glimmer of hope. An encouraging voice, the sound of cheering in the distance, the end in sight.

What's my point? I don't know. These are the things I've been thinking of lately.

Adoption is hard. God is faithful.

Wednesday, May 14, 2014

The days are long, but the years are short....

My dearest Mali May,

One year ago, this happened:

Gotcha! May 15, 2013

May 15, 2013, you walked into the conference room at Beautiful Gate. And into our family. (Well, technically you were a Beuker in late April, but on this day you became 'ours.')

I remember you walking in with your head held high, such bravery on your face. It seemed like only a few moments passed before you plopped yourself onto my lap. To me, not knowing anything about you, you seemed so sure of yourself. You knew that we were your 'family', whatever that meant and had resigned yourself to your fate. 

I remember that on your first night in our family, you didn't cry and only one tear leaked out. That broke my heart. Since then there have been many, many tears (and a couple tantrums ;)). But also lots of hugs, laughter, smiles. 

One year later, here we are. 

You have grown so much. Physically (10 lbs/6 in. in 12 months), emotionally, and socially. There's been so much to learn: English, American food, the winter that never ended with snow and cold, new routines, new toys, how to be friends. 

You, my sweet one, have been so very, very brave. You had no idea what it meant to belong in a family. The rules, the structure, the siblings, being dependent on 'Mom' and 'Dad'. There is a lot of hurt in your past. You're still learning to trust, what it means to share people and know safety and love. 

And I'll confess, this has not been easy for me either. I've had to learn how to be a new kind of mom. I've never been an adoptive mom before. I didn't know how to earn trust that had always been implicitly given to me by my other kids. I still learning how to earn love from a broken heart. I've wanted to hide from our struggle so many times, but you would always draw me back to you with that bright smile, your deep need, that brilliant laughter, a simple statement of trust. I never knew how much trust was spoken with a head resting on a shoulder until it took 10 months to earn it from you. 

I'm trusting that now that our first year is behind us, we only have hope in our future. Hope for sweet smiles and deep laughter, hope for shared secrets and quiet, honest moments together, hope for unity as a family and trust from mother to daughter.

Someday, you're going to read these words. And I want you to hear my heart. Despite everything we've been through this year you are a forever part of this family. 

I love you, I will never stop loving you. 

Easter Sunday 2014

Friday, March 28, 2014

A new kind of Parent

(Let's here a cheer for the single blog post for March!)

One reason this blog has been so quiet is that much of my energy has been devoted to being a parent. Specifically, becoming a new kind of parent.

A parent to children with special needs.

Discovering the depth of need in the one in whom it was expected.

Realizing that there are other great needs in one not expected.

My past months have been filled with therapy appointments, referrals, parent meetings, result meetings, home testing, inquiry phone calls, and questions. Lots of questions.

I've been learning lots of new words and abbreviations: IEP, Language delay, OT, Attachment Therapy, Sensory Integration, RAD, ADHD, and neuropsychology, and whether or not they apply to my kids.

These months have brought me to my knees in a new kind of way. There are things in my kids that my love can't heal. I can't fix it. There is a fundamental way that the brain is not working. And it rips my heart apart as I realize the ways that coping is now beginning to fail them. God has incredible plans for them and has provided an array of professionals & friends with amazing skills that are walking with us through this.

Just today, I received the results from an evaluation that I agree with--everything in it rings true, the professional is not making things up. And I want to cry. To see the words "difficulties", "well below average", and "decreased skills" associate with my beautiful, insightful, sensitive children just hurts. I want to wrap them into a cocoon and make it all better. Take away their challenge and struggle and make life easier.

Accordingly, I am becoming a new kind of parent. I'm asking a whole lot of questions. I'm not ready to assume anything anymore. I really don't care how uninformed I look, but I need to understand everything so the best decisions possible can be made. What worked for one child in terms of parenting, schooling and discipline doesn't work for another child.

Also, before you respond: "I don't remember any of this from when I was growing up," I would agree. I knew no one who went to therapy that long ago, but there were always those kids: class clowns, loners, someone who just didn't fit in. Kids with needs have always been around, it's just that now we have names and therapies that help.

Regardless of what was true then, this is true in our family now. And I'm pretty sure that many other parents have been in this same place. It is real. I will name it and help my child handle it appropriately. However, I don't want it to become our family's crutch. Giving a label and understanding is important, but it is simply a step towards healing.

I have great hope for our family's future. With constant prayer, appropriate guidance and therapy, and a lot of really hard work, I know these little brains can be healed. God has great things in store for each of us. The lessons I'm learning, well, they aren't the easiest, but they are good. Because God is, all the time.

And it's the new kind of parent who really focuses on that.

Thursday, February 20, 2014

One Year ago..

One year ago, we waited anxiously by the phone. Our stomachs were in knots. We could hardly function.

And waited..

And waited…

The future of our family was being determined in a meeting halfway around the world.

And by the end of the day all we had was a name and age: Maletsatsi and she's 3.

Within a few weeks we had one picture:

Oh my word, what a year does!

And in the past year, I have been asked a few questions. Some of them have been, well, amazing (but not in a good way--Why did her mother give her up? Does she have contact with her?). Most of them have had to do with Mali's history--which frankly, is none of a random person's business. Of course, I understand curiosity. But no, I'm not telling you about her biological parents or why they could no longer care for her.

However, in the midst of all the intrusive questions, I have been asked a few really great ones. But the best on came about two weeks ago and warmed my heart.

"I have a family member traveling to pick up their toddler in a few weeks, given your experience, how can I best support them?"

I have to be honest with you, I almost cried.

Attachment and adjusting and becoming a family with a new little person is gut-wrenchingly hard work. If anyone tells you otherwise, they're lying. Not only that, but it takes a really long time. We're still in the throws of attachment and healing.

So, if you know someone traveling soon or has added someone to their family through adoption, international or domestic, and you want to support them, I have a few words for you. (And this could be true for almost any family--we all need a little support from time to time.)

First, some physical things to do:

  • If they're traveling, make sure they come home to a spotless house. And fill their fridge and freezer with food. We walked in the door and knew we had dinner in the fridge. It wasn't fancy, but it was perfect. We ate, showered, and went to bed. From there on, we were blessed with food and gift cards for food. One less thing to worry about. 
  • I had two friends who did similar yet different things and I am still grateful. One friend committed to coming over for a few hours once a week to do whatever I needed. She usually brought a meal for my freezer. She usually did laundry or cleaned something, then she just sat with me. Another came over from the farmer's market a couple times with fresh raspberries and flowers. It was a total surprise and appreciated. I still choke up when I think about how those two served me. (thank you, friends)
  • Want to help, but don't want to cook? don't have time to spend at someone's home? No biggie. There is a real way you can help. Money. Cold Hard Cash. I'll tell you, adoption is expensive. But God laid it on so many hearts to bless us with money. That cash made it possible for us to not worry. $20, $50, or $100 dollars can go a long way when you add another mouth to feed and body to clothe. 

The physical aspects are way easier than the emotional ones. But here's the short list of things to be emotionally supportive when someone brings home a child.

  • Listen, without judgement. Some of my ugliest emotions and greatest faults have made themselves known in this past year. Don't judge me for them, love me through them. 
  • Offer childcare/respite care--but adhere to every single crazy rule they tell you. Parenting an adopted child is different than a biological child. 
  • There may be things going on in their home that you will never see. Emotions are hard and draining and well, emotional. If you see an outburst, let the parent do what they need to do. (if you have a strong enough relationship you may able to ask about it, but if not, please don't pry.) If you never see one, let me promise you that they are real. Believe them and the exhaustion of the parents. 
  • Pray hard. I've become convinced that Satan hates this: adoption, redemption, love in action. We have been attacked in our marriage, we've struggled in numerous areas of our family life and even work has been affected. And long after a child comes home, after the newness has worn away, pray still. There are still days when I am so discouraged, so convinced of the error of our life that I want to quit and run away and hide forever. Yes, the darkness has mostly passed, but that doesn't mean it's gone forever. 
  • Finally, if there are other children in the family, be a special person to them. We all agreed to this addition to our family, but watching those three struggle has been the most heart-wrenching part of our journey. 
Of course, this list isn't exhaustive, nor does it apply to every situation, but it's what's on my mind. And I'm sure it applies in situations other than adoption. 

What about you? Do you have some helpful words for a friend wanting to support a family member through a transition? I'd love to hear them!

Thursday, January 2, 2014

A year of books--2013

It's a tradition now. 

For the second time in a row, I attempted to write down every book that I read throughout the year. 

I was more diligent in recording books, including the books I read to advance my professional life, my parenting life, and my faith life. 

I'm sure I still missed a few, but I think I did better this year than last. 

Before I give you my list, I want to point out this one thing: It's not up to my standards. I didn't read the quality or quantity that I wanted. So if you peruse this list and discover a bunch of cheap, easy or YA reads, it's because I needed escape this year, when I had the energy to read anything at all. I did start a bunch of more thoughtful books, but found that I didn't have the brain power for it. 

Enough excuses, here's the list. 

Sammy's year of books--2013
(YA books are Young Adult books--generally written for teenagers, however, many of the YA books have rather grown-up content)

(I have bolded the most memorable books. If you can, read them. However, they aren't all easy or nice. Some are rather disturbing. But memorable.)

Dovekeepers--Alice Hoffman
Room--Emma Donaghue
7--Jen Hatmaker
Life of Pi--Yann Martel (reread)
The Paris Wife--McClain
Home--Toni Morrison
Redeeming Love--Francine Rivers
The Girl who Fell from the Sky--Durrow
Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows--Rawling
Gold--Chris Cleaves
Unconventional Lives--Kody Brown and wives
The Year of Magical Thinking--Joan Didion (okay, I started this, but it's the story of her grief after the sudden death of her husband and daughter's two near death experiences-I began to imagine I had cancer--time to put the book down)
A Reliable Wife--Robert Goolrick
Kisses from Katie--Katie Davis
Gregor the Overlander (YA)--Suzanne Collins
Half the Sky--Nichoilas D. Kristoff & Sheryl Wundunn
Wild--Cheryl Strayed
The In-Between World of Vikram Lall--M.G. Vassanji
Between Shades of Gray (YA)--Ruta Septys
Septimus Heap (YA)--Angie Sage
     -Magyk Bk 1
     -Flyte Bk 2
Admission--Jean Hanff Korelitz
The House Girl--Tara Conklin
The Widow of the South--Robert Hicks
The Divergent Series (YA)--Veronica Roth
Self Editing for Fiction Writers--Renni Browne
Gone Girl--Gillian Flynn
Raising Dragons (YA)--Bryan Davis
Fly Away--Kristin Hannah
Cooked: A Natural History of Transformation--Michael Pollan
The Sun also Rises--Ernest Hemingway
The Fall of Five (YA)--Pittacus Lore
Nefertitti--Michele Moran
Ender's Game (YA)--Orson Scott Card
Parenting your Internationally Adopted Child
The Connected Child--Purvis
The Scandal of the Evangelical Conscience--Ronald Sider

Kid's books I read with/for the kids not related to our curriculum:
The Borrowers--Norton
Owls in the Family--Mowat
Snow Treasure--McSwigan

Total for the year: 39 read, plus the 4 more with the kids. 29 fiction, 10 non-fiction. Of the fiction 9 were YA. 

So the goals for the upcoming reading year: The entire Madeline L'Engle Wrinkle in Time Series (Five books--I got the box set as a gift for Christmas. They're beautiful.) Short Stories (I'm pretty sure I haven't read an adult short story in years). 

Have any suggestions? My book list is pretty short. I need some good titles. As you can see, I'm pretty eclectic and open to a bunch. So fire away, I'm eager to hear your favorites from 2013.