Friday, January 29, 2016

all the pretty pictures

I have received so many personal messages regarding my uber-honest post last week about Clementine's homecoming. People have blown us away with support, encouragement, and love despite our haggard outward appearances and inner-turned-outer turmoil, and we could not be more thankful for "our people."

Similarly, we received tons of messages before and after that post that said, "I know how hard this is. We survived, and here's how..." We were particularly grateful for a message that said, "Forget everything you read in those adoption books and just get through this right now." We were also incredibly happy for the Lingala translations, comfort foods, hair care products, probiotics, chocolate, and food and laundry services. (Clothes laundered by my mom will forever smell better than the ones I cleaned on my own.)

I need to tell you something now, particularly if you are adopting and you felt your heart sink while reading my last post. There is hope. It is beautiful hope, a shining light that sometimes only glimmers periodically in the distance and sometimes shines so brightly it nearly hurts your eyes.

Her laugh. It has been lighting up the rooms in our house and darkest corners of our hearts where we were once so weary.

After that first week--a week full of tears and exhaustion and angst and mourning and doubt from all parties involved--that laugh showed up a little more each day, replacing the deep cries of mourning from before.

Brad had to go back to work, in part because he needed to lose his shadow for a few hours at a time and in part because he is seriously SO BUSY with church planting and discipleship, not to mention a new nonprofit endeavor we've jumped into in the last two months. (More on this soon.)

Since he is a pastor, his first day back to work was a Sunday. I mentally prepared myself for the worst day of my entire life. I had noise-canceling headphones on standby, with plenty of peanut butter and bananas (Clementine's favorite foods) in the cabinet and a few bottles in the fridge for Oaklee to have a chance at fending for herself, to a certain extent. I had movies ready for the boys. I had an army of praying people backing me up and pleading for a hopeful first day at home with Clementine and without Brad.

It went so much more smoothly than I expected. Yes, there was crying, but it didn't last long. She cried when she woke up and he wasn't there, and she cried a few hours later because she didn't know when he would be home, but she did not cry all day as I had expected. I held her or stood by her when she didn't want to be held by me. She cried in fear and anger and sadness. But we all survived, and we all grew stronger in our relationships because of it. (She ate nearly all day long, but at least she wasn't crying when she was eating. [I can almost guaranty she has gained at least 10 pounds since coming home.])

That first day without Brad, she fell asleep leaning on the boys. She laughed and played. She ate well.

We WON the first day and Brad was winning at work.

The next day, she cried less often and for shorter durations, and we even made a trip to Panera where she devoured all of the whipped cream on top of my Frozen Mocha.

See this picture? Unlike some pictures I had taken before that were bookended by crying and angst, this one tells the whole happy story of this moment. No tears before. No crying after. This was real life.


And the next day, she didn't even cry when she woke up and he wasn't there. She got better, more grafted into our family, every day since that first one.

If, during her first week here, you would have told me we would be so far along in our relationship in the second week, I never would have believed you. She rarely acknowledged me in that first week when Brad was home, unless it was to benefit from my duties as Banana Girl, Peanut Butter Girl, Juice Girl, Lotion Girl, or Toothpaste Girl.

It was nothing short of miraculous (we are no strangers to miracles these days). In just a few days, she had accepted the fact that Brad wouldn't be home all the time. I feel compelled to admit that she and the boys are still not happy about that fact, but there are no crazy fits over the fact that he isn't home every hour.

I should also tell you that this has been the absolute craziest time in our family life ever, as we have regular "family-of-6-or-7 duties," along with church planting meetings, regular church meetings, a family Christmas in January, a 15-year-old in the basement who must be dropped off and picked up from his school that is literally 40 minutes away, and the nonprofit's premier event all happening within a few week's time. All of the craziness amounts to Brad being gone A LOT, and that is without the originally scheduled trip to Austin, Texas, to meet with leaders at Brandon and Jen Hatmaker's church, Austin New Church. (He decided to reschedule the trip, based on advice that Clementine and I would be fine without him, but his absence might elongate her adjustment troubles. We did not need that, folks.)

And still, we have come so far in such a short amount of time.

However, she still wouldn't let me cuddle her to sleep. She cried some. She said, "Daddy?" plenty. She threw some fits. (She acted like a two-year-old...how dare her!)

But it went much more smoothly than I could have ever imagined. And now we have some pretty pictures that don't feel like a lie.

This is when she literally cried herself to sleep. It's not exactly pretty, as I can still see the tears on her cheeks and the dirt in my dirty hair, as I had not showered in who-knows-how-long. But I think it's beautiful in a messy sort of way.


And yesterday, for the first time, she fell asleep in my arms. without crying. (ALL OF THE PRAISE HANDS!!)

Sadly, she woke up mad that she had let down her guard, I think, and threw a fit that lasted nearly two hours. I stayed close while she flailed and cried and stomped her feet to get a banana that she knew she could have said "please" for, but in the end she said "please" and allowed me to give it to her, then seemed infinitely happier after discovering I wouldn't leave in the midst of her egregious behavior. She was delightfully happy and asked for everything by saying "please" from there on out. I am no expert in the "fit-throwing coping mechanisms" department, but we got through it and I think our relationship is now stronger than ever.

We know we still have plenty of hurdles to jump and hills to climb ahead, and we will inevitably experience some setbacks, but we feel like we have already hiked the tallest peaks and come out on top.

So here are all the pretty pictures. The ones that don't feel like a lie. The ones that were bookended by smiles and laughs and true joy.

(Um, hello bedhead. I don't even know...)
This ended with her asleep on her brothers.
Two peas in a pod, and it's frightening sometimes. Their quiet moments require a check-in.
Her first night without braids. I don't really want to talk about
how long it took to get them out, but she was a champion while we worked.
She LOVED the snow. Odd, because she shakes like a leaf
when she gets out of the bathtub in our warm house. 
All that glitters is gold in her eyes.

 

Guys, she didn't know how hard we had fought for her, how many tears we had cried over her, how often we lost sleep while pouring out our prayers to God for her. She didn't know how we craved the monthly pictures we received from our agency. She didn't know we have loved her for over two-and-a-half years while she grew up in a foster home and we waited for her to join us in her forever home.

So she didn't know that she was supposed to love us and trust us upon arrival, as we had blindly and ignorantly convinced ourselves she should.

But she will know. She was so loved and wanted all that time.

She IS so loved and wanted.