There are people who future gaze, who value mornings and fresh starts. I am more of a past reflecter. It is so much safer- I know I have made it to this point, despite all the dangers and things that could have gone wrong. I also like to savor all the hard work that is behind me. I see life more accurately in retrospect. So, in lieu of resolutions I give this instead. Not an all inclusive prioritized list of everything I value, but a way of highlighting the unique goodness of this past year.
1.Tenth anniversary trip to Seattle– A commemoration of our first decade. We watched our wedding video, amazed at how young we looked at 27. Remembered what we felt then and relived the memories since. We visited Pike Place market, Puget sound, the Space Needle, Snoqualmie Falls and the Oregon coast. We savored our uninterrupted thoughts and the simplicity of life without children. We didn’t dig too deep into our issues or work on marital problems. We just enjoyed it, and it was over too soon.
2. Seeing the joy of the ocean in my son’s eyes. Ocean city in July. The beach was crowded, but it could not encroach on the Atlantic’s grandeur. The Jade ran laughing through the waves and rolling in the sand. We spun and danced and splashed without reproof. Every child deserves a summer by the sea. I remember transcendent moments as a child, and they were always outside. A magical forest, a starry sky, that awe and mystery that makes the heart first turn towards God.
3. Meeting my friend’s baby, and finding a way to prioritize friendship during the toddler years. Friends are easy to make but hard to keep. Especially if you move around a lot. A lot of people don’t keep in touch, they keep their circle limited to those in town, those who are convenient. But I can’t let go of those jewels, those rare “kindred spirits” I’ve walked a chapter of life with. I want to reignite those fervent conversations, to feel understood by those who were there, who watched me being formed by life’s circumstances and who even remember what I was like before. We reflect on our adventurous naivete , ideals tempered by reality, and wonder if we have become cynical or wise. Phone conversations are hard with screaming toddlers in the background. A quick update- an hour max- and we both have to go. She had been one of my closest friends, and I hadn’t met her 2 year old yet. Strong friendships can feed off the past for a long time, but they get stale and need new memories to revive. I flew to Indiana with one kid in tow. By day we enjoyed each other’s babies, and in the evening we talked for hours about the stuff that really matters. Unhealed wounds, uncertain calling, marriage issues- we had the conversations that remind you that humans are made in the image of God. We have eternal souls with transcendent longings that can be communicated to someone else. We can’t keep up with every friend, but we should sacrifice to hold onto some. This year some friendships deepened, others drifted, and one or two new ones with potential began. It feels like such a coincidence of circumstances. I think many friendships formed in my youth developed because I had so much time to build them. They wouldn’t exist if I met them today, in the frenzied task oriented world of a preschool mom. But other friendships are intended for us, inevitable signs of grace that happen despite their unlikeliness.
4. We became financially healthy-paid off our loans and got serious about our retirement account. School loans are supposed to be the best kind of debt. But because of their amount (2 med schools) they loomed like a specter over our married life. When you apply for adoption you have to calculate your net worth, and ours has been negative for most of our marriage. Until now. We have finally crawled out of the big hole, and are starting to taste the rewards of 15 (combined) years of postgraduate work. It feels good. We will, however, continue to live as residents, partly to keep lifestyle expectations consistent with life overseas, and partly to do the saving we were supposed to do while we were busy amassing loans.
5. We decided to start a third adoption, amidst much controversy. As I wrote in the “China” post, Bob had finally come on board with the idea of going. We were mostly on the same page about moving overseas for the first time…ever. But as I thought about our family there, I realized that I really wanted another baby. The director of the agency we got Nick from said something that haunted me the day we picked him up; “If you come back and work with us again, I’ll find you a girl”. I wasn’t sure I could go overseas right now and face all the blunt questions about my infertility and family with this longing unsatisfied. I asked if we could start another adoption, and Bob agreed. I told myself that it would go quickly, that it wouldn’t delay things that much. But of course it has, and now our whole life is on hold. China is waiting on this, and all Bob’s other ambitions have been pushed even farther back. I still feel right about both of them. I know that I am threatening my long held dream in pursuit of this little girl. But though I’ve never met her, I can’t walk away.
6.The Jade made progress, with or without therapy. His preschool semester was better than I feared. This summer was our wake-up call that our beloved child might have some unaddressed issues. With the first child, you don’t really know what normal is; he defines it. But his little brother developed to the level that he was able to sit still in a restaurant. He was calmer, less aggressive than his older sibling. The Jade had crossed over from the toddler years, where we could still place his behavior at the extreme end of normal. It was looking more and more like ADHD- and something else. We began the visits to the therapist, child psychologist. The former said sensory seeker, the latter borderline ADHD. Now I am in the middle of 6 months of play therapy, utilizing proprioception and cerebellar input, with a list of “calm down activities” before bed or if he gets too wild. We have done many laps around our house walking as a crab, bunny or bear. I ask him how his engine is running and have tried weighted blankets and sensory retreats. For his hitting behavior we’ve done short term rewards and a star on a chart that is now prominently displayed on our therapy bulletin board. We are supposed to be weaving his “sensory diet” into each aspect of our daily schedule. This is overwhelming, until you realize that almost anything can be a sensory activity. It has even helped me overcome a grumpy attitude about their messes. They’re wallowing in the backyard mud after a rainstorm? Deep pressure activity! Spinning and crashing into me? Cerebellar activation! Blowing through the straw until the milk bubbles onto the table? I read somewhere that pursed lip breathing is calming….Well, somewhere between the therapy and behavioral modifications and some old fashioned parenting advice, the Jade has started to improve. More in control. More on task. Fewer tantrums. He had a great fall semester in preschool, despite the concerns expressed in my previous post. We still pray and work, but we are hopeful that he will overcome.
7. I discovered I may not be in someone’s life for the reason I thought. There’s a girl I’ve been helping for awhile- I’ll call her Elaina. She’s in her 20s but never learned to drive, because she grew up in an abusive family, and fled before she had a chance to learn. We worked with the same ministry for awhile, and I clearly felt God leading me to teach her to drive. It was hard to practice more than 1 hour a week because of my other responsibilities, and she got better but not great. We woke up at 5 in the morning and waited at the DMV time after time, but she always failed her driving tests. “Needs more practice”, they would say. I admit I was frustrated- it seemed like all this work was getting us nowhere. Was I a bad teacher? Was I really meant to do this? Sometimes she was really withdrawn or even irritable, and I didn’t feel like we were connecting on a personal level. But I kept coming back to the feeling that I was supposed to do this, and the task wasn’t done. So we continued to hit the road, and in time the door of her heart swung open. We began to talk about life, hurts, fears, addictions, the temptation to quit and the call of God to keep going. I watched her almost run back to her abusive family, watched her life and future hang by a thread. But she was sustained. I was only one person that God brought into her life, and probably the least important. She has a church family and a few true friends who fill in for the family she lost. Somewhere around the fifth driving test I realized that I was in her life for a lot bigger reason than a driver’s license. She needed one more person who wouldn’t give up on her, who wouldn’t disappear as so many had. In return I gained a friend from hard places. I learned a lot about sexual and emotional trauma and what it does to a person. It turns their whole world into an ugly and dangerous place. It makes them want to escape, or to grasp for control if only within their own body. But I also saw the place of courage, the way that God will come alongside and help someone if they throw themselves on him and refuse to give up. Elaina made a lot of bad decisions as she tried to cope with her trauma, but somewhere in there she found a true faith that God is for her. She’s listening more, relying less on other ways of coping. It appears that God is beginning to remove the roadblocks that caused so much frustration, but she admits now were there for a reason. She just found a job in her field after looking for half a year, and I’m hopeful that our 6th attempt with the DMV will bring success.
8.I read some really good books, partly thanks to my book club. My top 3 were:”The Girl in the Picture” by Denise Chong, “The Insanity of God” by Nik Ripken, and “The Heavenly Man” by Yun/Hattaway. This post is already too long, so I won’t elaborate.
9.I experienced the love of God in a new way, especially around the time of my 38th birthday (see “The Bitter Seed”)
10. We helped our friends begin their adoption of a Chinese boy with a heart condition, and had several heart to heart adoption conversations with other couples who are now in process.
11. We got a reassuring medical report on Nick. Shortly after adopting him, we learned that he was exposed in utero to a chronic life shortening infection. While his early tests were somewhat hopeful, we had to wait 18 months to learn that he was not infected. We knew that he was the baby God had for us, and that He would have carried us down that road if we had to walk it. Still, my stomach turned in knots when I got that phone call, and what relief and joy we had over the gracious news that he had been spared.
12. My job, working for a residency, at a university clinic, nursing home, urgent care and mentoring residents. Medicine is never boring, ever expanding in knowledge, and it can always be done better. I appreciate the times I was able to help physically or emotionally, and I especially enjoyed the residents, and the things we shared about life and medicine.
13. Being a mom of a 2 and 4 year old- such an exhausting and heartwarming stage. This year The Jade went from toddler to little boy. His cute mispronunciations have morphed into intelligent paragraphs. Sometimes he sounds like he’s 4 going on 14. Nick has found his vocabulary as well, and we’re beginning to see the foreshadowing of an affectionate, stubborn and sensitive nature. He also amazes us daily with his raw strength and destructive power. There is nothing more fulfilling and challenging than caring for and shaping an eternal soul in his most vulnerable and formative state.
14. I’m thankful for all the things that didn’t happen. Seriously, I have one friend whose husband faced cancer this year, and a cousin who did the same. Friends had children diagnosed with terminal illnesses or experiment with drugs. Other husbands cheated or became alcoholics. Crippling depression and anxiety took others. People everywhere are hurting and dealing with big stuff. And of course, so have we. Maybe we didn’t add a new family member, take an international trip, or move forward with our China plans. But we also didn’t lose loved ones, suffer a major illness or other big crisis. Thank God for a blessed but pretty boring year.