Tuesday, December 15, 2015

Just another day?

One of the greatest joys of parenting is joining our kids in all the excitement surrounding their birthday.  The anticipation that builds before frantically ripping the wrapping paper off their gifts.  The opportunity to stuff some cake and ice cream down while staying up past bedtime.  Our kids love their birthdays and we love them too.

Today my daughter turned 7 years old, which is hard for me to believe in a thousand different ways.  But December 15th is not just another day marked on the Middleton Family calendar to celebrate.  

It's extra special. 
Not because of memories we have of the moment the doctor handed our beautiful daughter into our loving arms.  It isn't special because we are filled with joy as we remember bringing her home from the hospital or letting her older siblings hold her just a few hours after her birth.  It isn't special because we can't believe how those first couple years of her life flew by as we smiled and watched her learn to sit up, crawl and then walk.  Not because we laugh at all those sleepless nights of trying to get her feeding and sleeping schedule down while we listened attentively to a monitor in case she made the slightest sound.
As a matter of fact, it's extra special because we missed all those things.  Those and a million more during those first couple of years of her precious life.  We missed December 15th, 2008 when she took her first breath.  Her first scream.  Her first tears.  Her first smile and laugh.  Oh what I would give to have been there to see her.   I'd trade just about anything to have held her in those moments as she broke into this cold world.  But we were here and she was there.  
Of course it saddens us to think of the time we didn't have with our newborn daughter, but we still celebrate.  Not just because it's her birthday.  We all have one of those.  No, we celebrate because of all the miracles that occurred on that day.  A woman in China chose life.  A family in America chose adoption.  And an all knowing and wise God chose to make us a family.
So here's to birthdays.  The ones we missed and the ones to come.

December 15th will never again be just another day. 
I love you Ry.  Now let's eat some more cake.

Sunday, November 24, 2013

Why are my kids so unlucky?

When people hear the story of our family's multiple adoptions they often come to two completely inaccurate assumptions:

1) Y'all are such good people to adopt these kids.
2) Your kids are so lucky.

The first misconception is easy to debunk.  We are NOT good people.  We are no more holy and no less sinful than the other folks that we brush shoulders with and pass on the street during the course of our day to day routines.  What makes us different has nothing to do with our morality or "goodness." It's simply that we were made aware of something that many others have yet to discover: the world is literally overflowing with orphans....and we can do something about it.

But the second assumption has to be correct, right?  Our kids are lucky.  The youngest 50% of our brood were abandoned as infants and spent the first two years of their lives as institutionalized children fighting for attention in a Chinese orphanage.  No possessions.  No family.  No name.  They were burdened with special needs and inadequate medical care and a lack of needed therapies.  Now they have been scooped up and brought to the land o' plenty, the good 'ol US of A.  They have parents and siblings that love them.  They have their own bed, their own stuff...even their own name.  Now they see some of the best surgeons and therapists around.  It's easy to see how as an outsider looking in, you could conclude these kids are LUCKY!

And in a moment of complete transparency...it's even tough for me as an adoptive father to not let this erroneous thought creep into the cracks of my brain on tough days.  When my daughter loses control and lashes out over a seemingly insignificant event and can't channel her anger and frustration I have caught myself thinking, "She better count her blessings, she's one lucky kid." 

But the truth is that the last word I would use to describe my two adopted kids is lucky. Why? Because they aren't.  Yes they are blessed, just like you and me.  But lucky? No.  They were discarded.  Unwanted and abandoned.  Without a doubt their tiny lungs screamed as they were laid down and their respective birth families walked away.  Usually, when a baby cries, their parents respond.  But this time, no mother came running to retrieve them.  No dad came swooping in to rock his baby back to sleep.  They cried and no one came.  We have reason to believe that both of our adopted children were not abandoned by their birth families without a sense of grief and remorse, but the truth remains that the men and women that brought these babies into the world walked away and didn't come back for them.  That's something that sticks with you as you grow.  It's not something that you forget or outgrow because these cool Americans came to "save" you and have given you fun toys and opportunities to succeed on the other side of the globe.  

Eventually someone did hear their cries. Assigned names and housed in orphanages, they fell into a routine and thus, started the next portion of their lives as orphans. This was their new normal. All they knew was being a Chinese orphan.  As hard as it may be for us to understand, they became comfortable in that role.  But then their luck turned.  There was a family that wanted them and wanted to call them their own.  So these nearly two-year-old children were pulled from everything they knew, everything that was comfortable, and whisked to America.  Everything changed. Certainly they grieved during this period of transition.  They left all they knew behind and, for the second time in their short lives, the world flipped upside down.

My soon to be five year old daughter loves to look at pictures from China and examine the photos and broken bits of information we have from before she was officially ours.  It's a completely normal and human thing to do.  We all want to know where we came from.  We want to know our story.  We want to be counted among the lucky ones.  She notices the countless videos we have from the early days of our two oldest kids and asks, "Where are my videos?"  You can almost see the wheels in her tiny little head turning and computing....what happened to me?  

Adoption is a long journey.  Just like raising any child there are highs and lows, ups and downs.  Good days and bad.  I praise God that these two beautiful creations from Asia are mine. But the next time you may feel tempted to look at them (or any adopted child) and think, "Oh, how lucky....their lives could have been so painful," try to pause for a moment.  Reflect on the hurt, the pain, the confusion and anger that comes from the string of bad luck they have faced.  Then if you don't mind, we'd appreciate a quick prayer that their two very imperfect parents are constantly reminded of just how lucky we are to be their mom and dad.

"It's from the deepest wounds that beauty finds a place to bloom."

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

I Still Gotcha

Jude - 

I can so vividly recall walking through alleys and stepping over puddles on the half-paved backstreets of Guangzhou.  I was sweating, but that had more to do with anxious anticipation than the humid Chinese air.  We hustled into an ordinary looking building, jumped on an elevator and came around a corner.  There you were.  Beautiful. Smiling. Wobbly on your feet.  Playful. Perfect.  My son.

A year ago today you entered our world and life instantly changed forever.  Today we celebrate your "Gotcha Day" and I celebrate a year of being your Daddy.  I cannot thank you enough for the joy you have brought into our home over the past twelve months.  Your laugh, your expressive face, your incredibly lovable personality (and who can resist those dimples).  It is hard for me to believe that just a little more than 300 days ago we had never met.  I can not remember life before you and without question God matched us long before that day last March.  

I praise Him for grafting you so seamlessly into our family. I thank Him for the way you try to say my name.  For the way you get excited and squeal when I walk through the front door.  For the way you turned and gave me a kiss for no reason earlier tonight.  I praise Him for letting me be your Daddy.  Oh what an honor it is to get to be that person to Jude.  Simply put, my heart overflows with love for you and always will.

It's been an incredible year.  Can you even imagine what the future holds? I can't wait to see.


(Holding my son at his finding spot in Zhongshan, Guangdong) 

Thursday, November 1, 2012

What's in a name?

I recently had the opportunity to sit down for a somewhat formal interview with our church as part of preparations for Orphan Sunday (Nov 4, 2012).  I tend to talk about my kids, my family and adoption to just about every person I know...maybe even to the folks behind me in the check out line at Target.  Point is, I love talking about adoption and the impact it has had on me as a father, a husband and a follower of Christ.  But for the first time I was sitting in a sound proof room with what looked to be a pretty expensive microphone a few inches from my face, going on the record.  It was exciting.  It was emotional.

As the session began to wrap up I was asked a question I had been expecting:

"What exactly is the 'orphan crisis' that we hear you and others talk about?" 

Oh boy, I was so ready for this one.  Like a batter watching a fat pitch come right down the center of the plate, I could knock this one out of the park.  I had all the numbers to back me up.  150 million orphans.  500k foster kids waiting for adoption in the US.  Devastating statistics on crime, exploitation and human trafficking.  I knew they'd be blown away by the sheer numbers.

But when the words began to roll off my tongue, I barely mentioned the statistics.  Why pass up a chance to share just how HUGE of a problem this is?  Because I think that is the problem, it's so big that people feel helpless and lost.  What can one person possibly do? 

So instead of spouting off numbers, I told a story.  As I talked, the sound booth slowly transformed into an orphanage in Zhongshan City, China.  So vivid are the memories of my time in that orphanage that with little effort I can recall the looks, the smells, the feel of the place.  I remembered holding my newly adopted son and a Chinese care giver pointing to a crib and saying, "This is your son's bed."  There I stood clinging to Jude, orphan no more, in a hot and humid building in the middle of China.  Before me were rows of cribs, one after the other.  In one, a boy with his hands bound behind his back with strips of cloth, was wearing his mattress thin from his endless pacing.  Dozens of babies lying on their backs, motionless and staring blankly into a white ceiling.  A boy just a few cribs away from my son's previous resting spot, hitting his head against the block wall.  Oh how the Heavens rejoiced that Jude had a home.  He was no longer fatherless.  But when I stared across the room at these children I couldn't help but feel that God was asking me, "What about these?  What about my other sons and daughters?"  The burden for these children had never been more real that it was at that moment.  These aren't statistics after all.  They are His children.  They have names. 

One room of many.  600 children are 'assigned' to this orphanage. 98% have special needs.
The orphan crisis isn't about numbers. The crisis is about children.  It is about beautiful creations, designed by our Heavenly Father.  They have names.  They need moms.  They need dads.  They need Jesus.  As God’s people, as his church, we have to stop blindly singing worship songs about orphans from comfortable pews. We have to stop talking about these children and then quickly forget they exist. We have a responsibility to act. If we are serious about obeying the words of our Father, then we have to rush to the fatherless. If we don’t, who will?

So this Orphan Sunday let us not get bogged down in numbers.  Numbers don't tell the story.  Numbers can be cumbersome and overwhelming.  They can be cold and unemotional.  Instead, let us remember that each number has a name.  Maybe we can sponsor one.  Maybe we can visit one.  Maybe we can adopt one.  Maybe we can love one.

Maybe we can learn their names. 

My son, Judah.

Thursday, October 25, 2012

Same Love, Different Love

I think one of the biggest misgivings people have about adoption is wondering if they can love an adopted child as much as a biological child.

I've been asked it.

And I've answered it in various ways....depending on where we were on this journey.

I'm going to be honest here.

Back when we adopted Rylie, deep down, I might have answered in a way that showed my doubt. She was tough. And a lot of the time, I was faking it. And a lot of the time, I wasn't very good at faking it.

And I wondered.

Can I really love this kid? I mean, really love her like my others?

Without convincing myself? Without trying to convince other people?

And if I can....when? When will it happen?

Because it wasn't instantaneous. And I was completely unsure if she would ever really feel like my daughter.

It was hard to love a kid who gave you absolutely nothing in return. Who fought you every step of the way. It just was. And I'm only human, so I'll admit that.

With Jude, it was much more instantaneous. Because he was so darn lovable. And he made loving him easy.

Same as Jonah.

Same as Reagan.

Love at first sight.

Now back to Rylie....

Let me say...unequivocally....without question...I. LOVE. THIS. GIRL.

I love her as much as I love my other kids. I don't always get along with her as well. But I love her.



Just different.

She doesn't make me mushy with the warm fuzzies.

She is usually pushing my buttons in some way....and I sense she gets a great bit of joy out of that. ;)

But still, I love her.

I love her in a "I can't handle her dealing with any more injustice and tragedy in her life than she has already experienced" kind of way. In a vengeful kind of way. In a fighting kind of way.

Because her life hasn't been fair. And it's wounded her in a lot of ways.

But I venture to say that in the end, SHE will be the one I am the most proud of.

Because when I look at her on the playground at preschool.....playing by herself because the other kids can't understand her, I realize how brave she is. And I realize how much I admire her tenacity.

And I realize that it makes my heart physically hurt to see her experience that.

And I want to fix it and shelter her from it.

She's got a lot to overcome. She risks a lot of hurt and rejection coming her way in the future.

And I know that loving her doesn't change that.

But I hope it helps her get through it.

I hope it helps her realize her value.  Her worth.

I hope it shows others a glimpse of God's love for us....despite how utterly unlovable we sometimes are.

So....can you? Can you love an adopted child as much as a biological one?

Well, let's just say if you mess with her, I will mess. you. up.

And if that's not love, then I don't know what is.

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Camping! (A post of many pictures)

The schedule around here gets a little crazy most of the time.

Rush works his regular job, and off-duty.

I work around him....pretty much every weekend.

Which leaves not a whole lot to spare for quality family time.

So we took matters into our own hands and planned a little getaway.

We got the kids out of school early on Friday and kept them out on Monday, packed up 2 cars (yes, it takes 2 cars for us and all our stuff) and hit the road to the mountains.

It. Was. Heaven.

Truly....the Shenandoah valley is amazing in autumn. And we were lucky enough to be there at the peak of the leaf beauty.

It's like God is just showing off. And I'm not complaining.

We had a great time.

The kids rocked some hiking.

We froze in our tent.

A skunk came to visit...and lots of deer.

And now, my quest to rid all of our stuff of campfire smell continues!

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Jude's Surgery Recap

In the midst of craziness over the past month, I forgot to post about Jude's surgery.

On September 19, he had his "Chinese adopted boy" trifecta of surgeries....cleft palate repair, ear tubes, and circumcision. Let's just say I'm glad we're on the other side of it now.

I always feel bad for my kids before surgery. The poor things just have no idea what's about to happen to them, and it makes me feel slightly guilty. Look how happy he is. Happy and clueless. 

But, it had to be done. So we did.

Here's a glimpse of Jude's palate before. You can see straight up into his nasal passages. Poor guy.

He was a happy camper that morning...even though he couldn't eat.

We loved arriving and being met by Miss Lisa from church...even at 6am! She rocks! And Jude loves her. I think the feeling is mutual. :)

Jude was his typical charming self.....interacting and loving on all of the surgical team.

Then he got his goofy juice. Hilarious. He was a total rag doll.

The surgery lasted about 4 1/2 hours or so.

Our time in the hospital was great. I work with some great people! We are so thankful to live near such great doctors and have access to amazing care!

He was loaded up with drugs for a lot of his post-op time in the hospital and I think he stayed fairly comfortable, although we did have some pain issues here and there. He slept some, but was pretty restless.

He was able to eat a little....jello, applesauce, yogurt, ice cream.

Then, we went home.

He had a rough recovery.

Rylie was fine in about 2 days time after her palate repair. Tough girl.

Jude took more like 2 weeks. He was fussy, clingy, congested and all around miserable for that time frame. We were thrilled when we started to see little glimpses of our happy guy begin to reemerge.

He's pretty much back to himself now...other than pointing "down there" and saying "Uh-oh!" when I change his diaper. Let's hope his memory is short.

He's back in speech therapy now, and just had his first session post-op. He said "Mama!" I can't wait to see how his language develops. Hopefully, he will have an easier time than Rylie has had. She's still struggling. But that's another post for another day.

Oh...and I promise, he really does have more than 1 set of pj's.