Thursday, February 14, 2013
Love Is . . .
Sometimes verses from the Bible are so overly familiar that their words are often taken for granted. 1 Corinthians 13:4-7 is one of those, especially at Valentines Day. Yet as I was rereading those verses, I couldn't help but see them anew with having an adopted child with adjustment issues.
"Love suffers long and is kind; love does not envy; love does not parade itself, is not puffed up; does not behave rudely, does not seek its own, is not provoked, thinks no evil, does not rejoice in iniquity, but rejoices in the truth; bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things."
"Love suffers long and is kind" People quote this verse without really taking into account what it means. I know it can be extremely difficult to love someone as they fight you, quite literally, and are rejecting your love even as you're offering it. As we are midway in our fourth week having Cava with us, he is still coming to terms with the fact that we will continue to love him even when he tells us he doesn't love us. During our first session with the therapist last Saturday, I told her about how when Cava told me, "No love you!" and I replied, "That's fine. I still love you," how shocked Cava was. The therapist, who's Russian, replied, "That's because where we are from, if a child behaves improperly, particularly if they show strong negative emotion, they are punished for it by being withheld affection. Cava is unused to someone responding as you did."
To be "long suffering" is to be "enduring patiently wrongs or difficulties." The wrongs that our family endures are those Cava has gone through long before we met him. He spent 8 years in the orphanage system (first the baby house then the orphanage and, lastly, the boarding school). Cava has no memories of his mother and never met his father. He has been through numerous caregivers. So he has no sense of stability, family, or a love that helps nurture him and help him to make sense of a world that is frightening to him. Because of this, he has a hard time understanding what it means to be loved and be in a family. Therefore, he is shocked when we are kind and loving to him when he gets angry. Still, we continue to respond to him in this manner and he is beginning to change. An example is when he and I were playing and he accidentally kicked me. His response was a swift, "Sorry Papa." I smiled and told him, "That's okay. It was an accident. But thank you for apologizing. I love you, Cava." "I love you, Papa," he smiled.
One thing we learned from the therapist is that Cava needs to be able to express his anger but that we need to set limitations so that he can learn to control himself, which is something he's never learned. So when he looks as if he's about to hit, we tell him, "People are not for hitting, but you can hit this pillow." I did this when he started hitting our walls and I picked up his Lightning McQueen pillow and said, "Cava, we don't hit walls, but you can hit your pillow." He looked at his pillow and then at me as if to say, "Are you crazy? I'm not hitting my Lightning McQueen pillow!" But he stopped.
When the therapist asked Cava if he bit Danelle and scratched me, Cava denied that he did. She repeated her question but only after prefacing it with, "Cava, you won't get in trouble with me," did he admit that he had. She asked him why he did these things and he replied, with his face down, that he didn't mean to. Now the therapist explained to us that the word Cava used meant that he did do the actions but that his intent was not one of hatred towards us. He was simply frustrated and angry and lashed out. So we are working on setting limits with Cava and teaching him other avenues to vent himself. But this will take time and require a great deal of patience.
As I've written numerous times before, I'm a dictionary nerd who loves to look up the meaning of words. So it should come as no surprise that I looked up patience in the dictionary to see what ol' Webster had to say. It read: the quality of being patient, as the bearing of provocation, annoyance, misfortune, or pain, without complaint, loss of temper, irritation, or the like.
How many of us can lay claim to truly being patient? Especially with our children. It seems like it's the hardest with family.
Often times because they are the ones who know exactly the right buttons to push in us.
Yet in many translations of the Bible, 1 Corinthians 13:4 starts, "Love is patient." Right off the bat, we are hit square in the eyes with what is oftentimes the hardest thing for us to be.
In learning to be more patient with Cava, I am also learning to do the same with my wife and with Benjamin. Like Cava, I am going through the process of adjusting myself to him being a part of our family. This means that I can't just react but I have to step back, pray, and then deal with him. Even when Cava does not act like the child I want him to act like, I still pray that God can help me be the parent that Cava needs me to be.
Now our oldest son, Benjamin, has always been a loving and affectionate child. He has no problem holding our hands or giving us hugs and kisses in public. When Cava came home as his brother, Benjamin immediately wanted to show the same love to Cava that he does to us. The difference is, Cava rebuffs him. It's hard for Benjamin and no matter how we explain to him that Cava has grown up in an orphanage where he has always had to vie for attention and, because of this, views Benjamin as competition. Cava is used to having to perform or fight to get a caregiver, who has to take care of numerous children, to notice him. Like us, Benjamin is having to show Cava love even when Cava doesn't always want to return it. Slowly, Cava will see that our love is constant and steady and that we will not leave or abandon him.
Before we adopted Cava, we would pray that God would give us the right child for our family. When it comes to adoption, it's not about finding the "perfect" child for there are none. It's about finding the child God has chosen for you. For those adopting or considering adoption, you have to ask yourself:
1. Are you willing to accept a child who may or may not accept you immediately?
2. Can you love a child that may take years to understand and return that love?
3. Are you willing to have things broken (both objects around the house and, at times, your heart)?
There were things in Cava's medical records that were either withheld from us or we were not made aware of until after we adopted him. Would knowing that information have changed our minds about adopting him? Both of us believe that God picked Cava for our family and that he is ours.
If there's one thing these verses teach us it's that love is not easy nor simple. Love requires brokenness and sacrifice. These verses from 1 Corinthians aren't about our love but about God's love towards us that we are to strive to emulate in our own lives towards others.
Now, as any parent can tell you, your kids will keep you humble. One day, before we adopted Cava, Benjamin was telling me all about how he was going to parent his kids when he grew up. When I asked him, "What do you know about parenting?" he replied, "I learned from the best." Before I could get all puffed up and say, "Thanks, buddy," he added, "I've watched 'The Andy Griffith Show.' He was really great with Opie."
Just as our kids aren't always the kids we want them to be, we also have to face the fact that we aren't always the parents they need us to be. Many a time I've had to humble myself and tell both Benjamin and Cava that I was sorry and to ask their forgiveness for something I did wrong. Now Benjamin is used to this, having lived with me for 12 years, but for Cava, this is something completely alien to him: adults telling him they were sorry. The first time I did it, he just kind of looked at me, baffled. But it's important for him to understand that his Mama and Papa get things wrong sometimes and need to tell him that they're sorry. Lead by example.
God went to great lengths to come find me and to bring me into His family. He did not count the cost. How can I not be willing to do the same? Adoption is just one small way of my sharing the generosity of His love to another who so desperately needs it.
None of this is an easy kind of love. It is a deliberate love that chooses to love someone not based on their worthiness but simply on our wanting to love them. This is how I love Cava and Benjamin. I love them because they are mine. With both, I love them not for the expectations (such as career choices) I have for their lives (although I do pray that God guides them in their choices) but for all the possibilities that lie within them. It is a love that builds up and encourages them.
Our love for our children, no matter how strong, is an imperfect love. While Danelle's and my love can help Cava, only God's love can truly change Cava. While we strive to mirror God's love to both of our sons, the best thing we can do is point them to Christ. Unlike our love, God's love is eternal and is unconditional. It is His love that the beginning of verse 8 in 1 Corinthians 13:8 is referring to when it states that, "Love never fails." And that, more than anything, is what not only Cava but all of us need.