Monday, November 22, 2010

not always thankful

tonight i sat down to write a post about thankfulness.  i began to type with plans to tell you how thankful i am today for doctors and medicine and 24  hour pharmacies.  the fact that it happens to be the very week of our thanksgiving holiday only  increases the pressure to express great and enormous amounts of gratitude.   but i have to tell you, i am just not feeling it right now.  i am just not feeling all that thankful.  THERE.  i said it.  i am sorry if that is inappropriate... or shocking...or at the very least incredibly disappointing.  i am sorry.   i had no premeditated plans to deliver such a lowly admission.   i was, in fact, raised to be better behaved.  i can remember my grandmother telling me (more than once), "if you can't say something nice, then don't say anything at all." i have even heard myself firing that same old adage at one or more of my own children.  i suppose there are times when it is better to not share every thought.  every emotion.  it might have been better for me to put down my laptop and pick up some fall leaves and a hot glue gun for thursday's centerpiece.  perhaps that would be more holiday worthy.  it would have at least been more productive.  but, for some strange reason, i am feeling the need to expand on this thought of unthankfulness.  or at least i am feeling the need to explain myself.

last week i came down with the flu. absolutely no fun.  i felt really miserable, but knew i'd get better and be back on my feet before too long.  i had my eye on the fact that this week i would have a houseful of company. i knew i had time to recover, to grocery shop, to pull out the china and even to get clean sheets on the beds.  it was inconvenient, but it was not crushing.  it was only the flu.  and it had nothing to do with swine.  i was determined to not let it get the best of me.  determined.  but then bella came down with it.  i heard the first cough come rattling from her little lungs thursday afternoon and i just knew all my determination and inner fortitude would be lost. totally useless.  each day i saw her grow sicker and weaker and more and more pitiful.  by sunday afternoon i detected a wheezing in her chest, actually, more of a squeaking.  i described it over the phone to our doctor, "it sounds like a rusty gate hinge in need of oiling."  "hmm....," she replied.  i had the feeling she didn't get that kind of description often.  after some considerable back and forth we came to the conclusion i would need to take bella to an after hours clinic.   i bundled her up, left my husband in charge of the other 5 kids (my niece is also in town) and headed off to the clinic.  i drove away from home feeling certain we'd be back before sundown.  i asked rick to take over the chili preparation and was almost confident i could ask him to set a place at the table for me as well.  we'd be right back.  what was i thinking? bella is our fifth child and though it has been a long time since we've had to see a doctor on a surely hasn't been that long.  when i walked through the door of the facility i was greeted by a clipboard and a sign informing me the wait time was at 90 minutes.   with my rose colored glasses firmly in place, i acknowledged that number and quickly told myself they must be overestimating.  surely a wait time couldn't possibly be 90 minutes.  surely.  and then i turned the corner.  just around a bend the waiting room sprawled out in front of me.  i could barely take in what i was seeing.  sick children and tired parents absolutely everywhere.   there were only a few seats to be found and so i opted to stand right there at the door and wait.  you probably don't even have to have a child to realize you cannot possibly stand in a doorway with a sick child for 90 minutes.   i won't go into detail about the horrors of my waiting room experience, but i have to tell you they were wrong about the 90 minutes.  it was a full 130 minutes before we were actually in a room ready to see a doctor.  they had underestimated. grossly.

at this point i was thankful.  i was thankful to finally be in my own 6x6 cubicle with my sick bella.  i was glad to take a break from shielding her from other sick kids and the onslaught of their germs.  but then in came ms. nasty nurse.  she was tired and overworked and had probably less than 3 minutes to retrieve bella's vitals and be on her way to the next 100 patients.  she grabbed bella's foot and wrapped a pulse monitor around her big toe.  the numbers jumped around in the low to mid 90s.  "what's her pulsox normally?" she snapped at me.  "um..i don't know." i replied.  wrong answer.  "WHAT?  you don't know???? you don't know????"  i was certain her next words would be, "are you kidding me?  what kind of mother are you?"    though she didn't finish with those exact words,  her eyes and voice and body language were clear.  no.  i didn't know.    i immediately felt ashamed.  i felt unqualified.  i felt like a loser mom.  i always knew i was in over my head adopting a congential heart baby.  i always knew this was bigger than my non-medical brain could handle.  i have always acknowledged my disinterest and inadequacy for medical matters.  i am the mom dumping her purse at the playground in hopes of finding a bandaid or at least a not too badly used tissue.  i am not the mom who regularly replaces the hand sanitizer bottles on her children's backpacks.  i am not the mom who at a moment's notice can provide tylenol or visine or even cough drops.  in fact, if you ever have to borrow some visine from me, you may want to check the expiration date prior to using.  i am really not that woman.   i have tried. i have made vows to improve.  i have made resolutions to be better.  recently i sat up one night and reorganized my meager medicine cabinet.  i even started a list of items i probably needed to purchase in hopes of rounding it all out - making it more official.   i bought an extra supply of cough drops (sugar free) and the kids ate through them before the week's end.   i purchased bandaids in bulk and one afternoon bella opened the box and decorated a cabinet door.   lately i have attempted to be better about making sure everyone was taking their vitamins at breakfast.   but if i was being brutally honest here, i would admit i don't like the look of those ugly pill bottles on my countertops and so i put them away after a couple of days and then completely forgot about them until the next wave of guilt assaulted me.   i digress. 

anyway, here i was in a room draped in my sick daughter and my guilt over not knowing her normal pulsox number.  and i am feeling pretty close to the edge.  i may not know her pulsox number, but i know where she is most ticklish.  i know the sound of her laugh.  i know the texture of her hair.   i may not have an ample supply of bandaids in my purse, but i have a lot of love for my bella.  i have an enormous supply of protection for this sweaty little girl clinging tightly to my torso.  i know for a fact i would trade places with her in an instant. i know for a fact i would battle beyond exhaustion if it meant making her better.  i also know for a fact i could take this so called nurse down to the ground if she handled my child abruptly one more time.  the nurse left the room as hurried and frenzied as she had entered.
within that same hour the doctor told me she thought perhaps she should admit bella to the hospital for further care and, what's more, she was going to have her transported by ambulance.   i sat there listening to her words and felt the tears well up.  any trace of my Capable Mother Image was officially shattered.   i called rick and could barely get out the words, "they want to admit her into the hospital."  he kept telling me to calm down.  i couldn't.   i finally hung up the phone and waited for our next step.  in that waiting period though i discovered a little treasure.  i found hidden underneath all the layers of my love for bella this thing that was raw and pure and powerful.  it was the fact that this little girl from china... this little girl whom i have only known for a handful of months was my daughter.  she was as much my daughter as if i had dreamt her up, carried her 9 months in my womb and bore her in a painfully long birth.  there was absolutely no difference.  i guess i would have told you this a week ago or a month ago.  but i guess i didn't have the emotion or the experience or the essence to really understand it myself. but now i knew.  i knew without a shadow of a doubt that a parent could love an adopted child as much as she could love a child formed from her own flesh and blood.  i could tell you that though bella looked nothing like me, she was as much mine as if she had my very own 
as it turned out the doctor retracted her original plan.  we spoke with their cardiologist and our cardiologist and came to an agreement that bella could be treated and released.   it meant a long night sitting in this small box of a room and still a longer night finding an open pharmacy and waiting for the appropriate medicines to be mixed.  i didn't walk back into my house until after 11pm.  the chili had been put away and the dishes had been done.  the five children were all in bed and i couldn't find my rose colored glasses anywhere.  i wasn't especially thankful for this clinic or the nurse or the indecisiveness of this doctor.  i just wasn't.   i hated seeing bella so sick.  but on this monday night before thanksgiving i know i must give thanks.  i didn't feel like it last night.  i still don't quite feel like it tonight.   right now i am a mother who has a daughter who is sick. sometimes it is hard to be thankful.  i know it could be worse.  i know she will get through this.  i know i have a ridiculous amount for which to be thankful.  but i am just being honest here....there are days when we just don't feel it.  and i believe very much that in heaven is a God who would rather hear from our honest hearts than listen to us pretend.  i think He is okay when mothers and fathers cry out to Him and tell Him they are not okay with what is happening.  sometimes we aren't.  somedays we just aren't feeling all that thankful.   i know the verse about giving thanks In All Things...i know that verse.  chances are you know it too.  and, for the record, i happen to agree with it 100%.  and i know it is exactly what we are to do.  but i also believe God understood it wouldn't be easy.  i think He knows this is a process at times for His children.  He knows we are frail and sinful and scared. and He knew we wouldn't always be very forthcoming in our thanksgiving.  what is amazing, however, is that even in all of this He can give us raw and pure and powerful moments.  He gave me a moment while sitting in that examining room.  He allowed me to see the depth of my love for this little bitty girl.   and this is how i know i serve an authentic God.  He doesn't tell me i can't feel frustration or anger or even ingratitude....but He quietly and firmly redirects my faulty eyes to see the gift He has waiting for me in the midst of it.  and for this i am forever thankful.  completely thankful.

Thursday, November 4, 2010

blue squiggles

she colored on a piece of ordinary construction paper.  a blue squiggly line.  that was it.  just a blue squiggle.  but she stopped and looked up at me.  i was busy doing something busy moms do.  sorting . arranging. wiping.  honestly, as i write this,  i can't even remember.  but i nodded at her and said, "yes, bella-boo...that's good."  then she added another little squiggle.  well not even a full squiggle, just barely a squig.  she stopped.  her crayon poised midair.  she looked up at me again with a small grunt and pointed to her drawing. "oh honey, yes...that is so pretty.  good girl."  another squiggle.  another look. another pat of affirmation.  

but it wasn't enough.  she quietly put down her blue crayon and reached across the island countertop grabbing my busy hands.  in her own tiny hands she held mine and began to put them together. together. apart.  together. apart.   yes, she was making me clap.  i couldn't believe it.  my little bella was making me clap my hands for her picture.  for her.  apparently my affirming words were not enough.  she wanted applause.  she wanted a standing ovation. she requested a grand celebration.  a parade of pomp and circumstance.  she wanted my full blown, foot stomping, whistle blowing, thigh slapping applause for her blue squiggles.

isn't that what we all want sometimes?  isn't that what we sometimes require? just a little applause?

i feel some days like i've known bella forever.  the truth is though we have only been home a mere 3 months. that is practically nothing.  but it is everything.  bella already has her handprints all over our home...all over our hearts.   this little girl lived two years in an orphanage of 3000.  and after just 3 months in a family of seven she rules with ease...she beckons with confidence...she directs with determination.  it seems impossible knowing her first two years were spent abandoned and orphaned.   this seems hardly recognizable.  

a month or so ago, i had a conversation with a woman at my daughter's volleyball game.  she had been watching bella and me play below the bleachers.   we started chatting and she began asking me questions about bella.  she was blown away when i told her we had only just brought her home from china this summer.  her response was, "she's so comfortable with you. it looks like she's been yours forever."  of course her observation made me glow.  positively beam.  

the truth is it does feel like that most days.  but then i see these orphan moments.  these little glimpses of how much she needs my praise, my affirmation, my affection.  like with the blue squiggles.  i stumble across one of these encounters with bella and i just want to weep.  i see the neediness in her dark eyes.  i can see her longing for my attention.   i don't want to read too much into all of this, but i can't help wonder about what is going through bella's mind.  does she know she's here for good?  does she understand we love her... unconditionally? no matter what.  does she understand she is ours and we are hers... forever?   i worry about that sometimes.  when i have to leave her with a sitter or in the church nursery or in her bed...does she ever question my return.  does she ever question my love.  my applause.  

just a couple of weeks ago we heard a sermon at church.  it was about how much we choose to live as orphans.  how we just can't seem to grasp the deep love of our  God.  so often we live our lives as if something is missing....and we are just waiting.   i don't care who we are or how together we look...we were born with this great void.  this great hole.  and we spend our lives trying to fill it.  we will fill it busy-ness, homes, cars, prestige, fame, money, children...heck, we will fill it with shoes and exercise and even banana bread.   it is a huge hole.  a gaping, enormous crater in the center of our souls and we are born with the innate desire to fill it up.  kind of like dogs burying a bone.  why do they do that? they just do.  it is how they are created.  to bury.  we are created to fill.   when that hole feels empty we run around doing what we do quickly trying to stuff it full of ...well, stuff.  we scramble for old things and new things and bad things and even really good things.  and we cram it all down into this hole and then we sit back and we wait for that sense of wonderFULL.  that sense of plentiFULL.  and it comes. oh, how it comes...and it can be downright beautiFULL.  but then the moment changes and it is gone.  quickly.  wiped out. and we are empty again.  and we realize none of it was enough.  none of it was sufficient.  and we begin our cycle again of searching and filling and cramming and stuffing.   

but just like bella with her blue squiggles we are looking up.    we are looking up and waiting for applause.  we so often are waiting to feel like we are FULL.  like we are complete.  like we are daughters and sons of the King.  we forget how little this has to do with us...with our insufficient attempts.   we think there is something magical and mystical...and so we search and we pick things up and we look them over carefully and we wonder ....will this be The Thing?

and so bella took my hands.  she clapped them together.  when i realized what was actually taking place i stopped and switched around our hands.  my hands now held hers.  mine were on the outside and hers the inside. and i looked at her and at her beautiful blue squiggles and i began to clap for her.  and cheer for her.  and tell her how proud i was of her simple picture.  and immediately i saw contentment creep across her face.  her mom was proud of her and her mom was in control.  and it was enough.   not because she filled her picture with beautiful blue squiggles...but because she removed her orphan  outfit and she saw herself as my daughter.  she is not orphaned.  she belongs.  she is filled not because of anything she does or deserves, but because she is mine.  ours.  His.   

how much more so with my heavenly Father. there is nothing i can do to deserve His love...there is no blue squiggle perfect enough...but He loves me anyway.  He loves me despite what i do or don't do or can't do.  i am no longer orphaned. i am His daughter.   and it is enough.