When you have a new baby, every new thing they do is rejoiced, recorded and retold. “Oh look, the baby blew bubbles with her lips” or “listen to his cute cry”. One might even retell a poop story. Just hang around new parents for a short period of time and you will hear the pride and excitement over their new baby.
Lately, I have received several messages from moms and dads who are struggling. They are looking around, and their child’s firsts are not comparative. They have a child that is born with special needs and they are consumed by doctor appointments, evaluations and diagnoses. They hear the words “baby milestones,” and they can literally see the miles it will take for their child to reach what seems natural and easy for others. Their child is going to have to work to reach that developmental stage and the reality is that they may never reach it. And damn, it hurts. It hurts to see your child as they lag further behind and the miles stretch to infinity. You’re looking and your friend’s child is running and jumping and you pray for the day your child can pull to stand. Posts of children receiving awards at school and you are hoping that your child will actually learn to read. You are scared to death of the future, like punched in the gut scared. Like worried in the middle of the night scared, because you love this child so much. And as parents we want to see our children achieve and be successful. We have dreams and goals and those have been shattered around us as we navigate a new reality.
I remember when we adopted Joel and we were trying to get a baseline for his needs. He has vision and hearing impairment and has a cranio-facial disfigurement. I’m saying this to tell you that he acts and looks different. And to give you insight, Joel knows this and likes to “act special”. We were once at an appointment and the physician was trying to explain to me how neurologically impaired Joel was. I am disagreeing and Joel chooses this time to jump into a crouching lion stance on his chair and flap his arms. Yes, he started flapping and making weird noises. The physician is asking me if he “recognizes me as his mother and does he recognize family members”. I am just dying inside because Joel talks and plays normally at home and he does not flap or squawk. And here, he is flapping and squawking like some weird bird out of Jurassic World. And how am I convincing this doctor that he is fine and speaks at home. The physician has now determined to prove to me how impaired my son is and gets right up into his space and asks him to point at the dog in the picture she was holding. This of course encouraged him to play up his game and he assumed some weird Karate Kid stance and I am just mortified. Well, that day I left the physician’s office crying. I was convinced that Joel was going to be 39 years old and still live in my basement. He would have elaborate cities built for his Hot Wheels trucks and come up for Nutella sandwiches with the crusts cut off at mealtime. My 39-year-old son would be Boo Radley (Google that) and I would be his dear old mother in a house dress doing his laundry. I sat in my car crying over my son and thought about how we would have to move because we don’t have a basement and I hate cleaning Nutella off of everything, and I don’t think a house dress would look good on me.
Now, did I have an epiphany and life-turning moment that day? Nope! I started to fight and scratch for every person to see the value in my son. I needed the world to see what I did. And guess what? They don’t. Yep, the whole world still sees my son as different and different is not always easily accepted. However, here’s where the change occurred: I started to accept the difference. Joel is different and it’s beautiful! Spend a day with the child and he is brilliant. He has a wicked sense of humor and he loves me deeply. Yes, my sweet little man loves me fiercely and believes in me. How could I not do the same?
And so here is where I’m brutally honest and tell you that my whole life I struggled with being performance-driven. I worked hard to please and earn love and respect. Above all, I valued achievement and awards. As an athlete, I was an overachiever and found much of my significance in performance. Every award and accolade was met with the desire to achieve more and greater. My junior year in college this crippled me with an eating disorder. My need for control and achievement spiraled into hurting myself. I became so physically weak as I drove my body to try and achieve more, while eating less. My caloric intake was so minimal and I was slowly killing myself while working out with my college team. This severely limited my ability to perform on the volleyball court. I hit bottom and it was by God’s grace that he pulled me out of this serious issue. However, this desire and need to perform and achieve did not end there. It filtered into my parenting as I wanted my children to be successful in sports, academics and life. I wanted the best teachers, teams, and opportunities. And then… God slowly started opening my eyes. He used our children to slowly teach me. A daughter born with a serious heart condition, foster children with serious medical issues, and slowly I learned what to value. And since God sees lessons to completion, he slammed home truth when I went to an orphanage in Bulgaria and I held “the least of these”. I held tiny, broken children. My first trip was absolutely life changing. You can read about it here. I returned home exhausted, overwhelmed and absolutely lost in what difference I could make. And that’s exactly when God can step in and use someone.
Going to pick up Israel was hard, hard, hard! We were jet-lagged and exhausted. We had over 53 pounds of donated medical equipment and supplies confiscated and we argued for 30 minutes in the airport to keep the supplies. Without stopping after arrival, we went to meet with a wonderful physical therapist in the area who had agreed to help at the orphanage the next day. Ann had worked with several disabled orphan children in the area and she was a blonde ball of fire. She doubted we would be able to get into the back of this orphanage with the children. Ann had tried many times to help these children and had been turned away. She said that we all needed to pray for the director to be gone the next day. So, we held hands in a tiny restaurant in Bulgaria and prayed that God would send the director away for the day. We asked for the opportunity to be with the sickest children who are hidden from public eyes. We prayed for a staff that was receptive to change.
We showed up bright and early and our prayers had been answered: the director had been called away for an emergency meeting at the ministry of justice. The staff had been directed to ask us to do some training on how to teach the older children in their preschool. I told them that I had come to go into the back with the sickest children. I had all my medical supplies to train their nursing staff. They reluctantly agreed after much prodding and we were able to spend an unprecedented 3 hours training them on how to care for wounds, how to re-position the children, and how to use the feeding tube supplies. I went into a numb state of automatic teaching. I struggled to compartmentalize what I was seeing because if I really looked I would break down right there. These children are locked into immobile positions because they have never been moved. They are covered with clean blankets, but they have horrible wounds and are unwashed. The building is immaculate, but the children are not. They are left hour after hour, day after day, in a silent glass-walled tomb. They are there to die, unloved and untouched. A section of children with no sound and no joy. This section where my son, Israel lived for four years. Quiet…except for the occasional moan…quiet.
I left the orphanage with a heavy heart and the hope that we had made some sort of difference, leaving behind so many children. It wasn’t much longer and we met the Collincotts and I held their precious, newly adopted son. Christopher is 5 years old and weighs 10 pounds. He is another result of lack of care within an orphanage and to hold his frail human body burdened my heart more. To see, touch, smell and feel these little ones is so absolutely indescribable.
Last week, a child that lived with our son, Israel, stepped from this earth into the arms of Jesus. Reed had lived the majority of his life om the “Section of Malformations”. He was adopted and brought home to live with his family in November. He had an untreated infection that had tunneled into his spine. There was nothing the doctors in the US could do medically to save him. Many of you have wept with the Thorntons as Reed succumbed to his infection. You have lamented to me about how this adoption turned out so sad and what a heartbreak for Doug and Jackie. But I urge you to step back and measure success through God. Doug and Jackie Thornton spent thousands of dollars, countless hours and an infinite number of tears on this child. God measures success by faithfulness and obedience to Him, regardless of personal cost or opposition. Reed’s adoption was the very picture of SUCCESS!
We have this misconception on how we should measure success. Success is not academia, monetary security, or athletics. Jesus was successful, but not by worldly standards. He did not own a home, land or a prestigious education. He was mocked, spit on and ridiculed by most. He died the worst death imaginable, but he was the redemption and salvation of all mankind.
So here I stand in such a place of freedom….realizing that God does not have a developmental milestones chart nor does he care if my children make honor roll. Success is defined by faithfulness and my job is to share Jesus with my children. My job is also to share with you the reality of the orphan crisis. I ask each of you to look at these pictures and these children. You have all rejoiced with us over the miracle of our son, Israel. The reality is that he probably would not have lasted another year. Medically he is being called a miracle. So many of you have helped bring him home. Let’s not stop with him. Mark is still waiting and he has an incredible family working hard to bring him home. Click here for Mark. And let’s not forget about Zayne: he needs a family. He has almost $1000 already raised. Click here to learn more about Zayne.
Let’s look at these beautiful pictures of success…. And tonight when you lay your head down, let’s pray about success. How can God use you?