Sunday, January 19, 2014
Reflections on the Year
It was a year ago today that Cava arrived in the United States.
When I look back on the narrative thread of our past year, the word that immediately pops into my mind is "grace."
After the initial excitement and jubilation of adopting a child has worn off, reality sets in. Those first months were exhausting and overwhelming. There were times when we wondered: What have we done? What were we thinking?
Everything was upset and unsettled in the wake of Cava's arrival. Calm was replaced by chaos. Sometimes it felt like we were living with a ticking time-bomb that we were just waiting for it to explode. At the time, it was hard to fathom that even, at the worst of it, that this was all God's plan and would be to His glory. Yes, those months were a time of frustrations and doubts. What we held on to was the firm belief that God had called us to adopt, had called us to adopt from Ukraine, and that God had called us to adopt this child.
In a culture that seeks only instant gratification, adoption breaks from that, as there are no instant solutions or quick fixes. It is hard, hard work.
Cava had suffered from eight years of damage: heart break, abandonment, loneliness, fear, isolation and self dependence. This did not magically go away because we welcomed him into our home. He had spent eight years never hearing that he was good, or smart or loved. Is it any wonder then that he was angry?
Add to that the fact that Cava had been pulled out of his country, his culture, and every thing he had known.
Gone were his clothes, which had to be left at the boarding school, and replaced with all new clothes. Gone were the familiar sounds of his language.
Gone were the familiar smells of foods he had eaten daily.
Gone were his friends.
Gone was everything he had grown up in and now he was plunked down into a new country, with a new language, with a new family that had new rules that he was going to have to navigate. He was overwhelmed. Talk about sensory overload. And in the midst of all this, he was still carrying that well of hurt, anger, loss, and pain.
So he pushed back and he tested us - big time! For months, Cava really did believe that he would go back to Ukraine and leave us, that we weren't permanent. He even told us that the people at the boarding school made him come here.
It was a shock to him that, when he expressed negative emotions or made really bad choices, that we still loved him. And we constantly showed him love and told him he was loved. This was hard for a boy who had grown up feeling unwanted and unlovable to accept.
I cannot imagine having to go eight years before I ever heard these words or was ever held. Yet we had to see past all the actions to the reasons. Why was he behaving the way he was? This is not easy to do when he is throwing a tantrum or breaking something or hitting one of us. Things were broken, including, at times, our hearts.
But we prayed and we prayed and we prayed. Prayed for Cava. Prayed for us. Prayed that we would be the parents Cava needed.
And we had an awesome network of friends who came together to support us in so many ways. People like Marty and Angela Bradshaw and Kip and Beverly Kelly who came to our home and prayed with us and for us. They were truly a blessing and a source of encouragement when we really needed it.
I cannot imagine what those early months would have been like without Jack and Yulia Helm. They were among our biggest supporters during the adoption process and were the biggest help after Cava came home. Yulia and her mother, Valentina, came to our house repeatedly at the drop of the hat during those extremely difficult times to speak with Cava. They were truly answers to prayers and we continue to thank God daily for their friendship, although, to be honest, we consider them to be more like family.
Cava was underdeveloped not only physically (At only 40 pounds we could see not only his ribs but also his backbones when we first got him and he took his shirt off. He literally looked like he had just come out of a POW camp), but also mentally and emotionally. He didn't know how to express emotions because no one had ever let him. (To give you a perspective on how small Cava was, here's a photo of him with Benjamin and I back in the boarding school in Ukraine).
Yet we had to help him find a sense of security and significance. The first part hasn't been easy since he still has nightmares about being beaten up. Over Christmas break, Cava told us his ear hurt. When Danelle took him to the doctor, the doctor said that not only did Cava have an ear infection, he had a blister, which was the worst kind of ear infection one could have because they are so painful. Most kids double over in pain and can't stop crying when they have them. Yet Cava had said nothing. When I asked him why he hadn't told us sooner, he confided in me that whenever a child got sick in the orphanage, the child got in trouble. I had to reassure Cava that he wouldn't punish him, but that we would take him to the doctor to get well and not hurt anymore. "We love you and don't want you to be in pain."
Even harder is giving him a sense of significance of who he is. If his own biological parents didn't want him and for eight years no one else seemed to either, then who was he and of what value did he have?
It is taking the time and reassuring him again and again that he is special, that he is smart, that he is good, and that he does have worth. We also do this by letting him choose things sometimes: what we eat for a meal, taking him to pick out the color that he wanted us to paint his room, letting him pick out his own clothes to wear that day (even if that means he is wearing sweat pants, a heavy sweatshirt, dark socks, and flip flops in summer as they can be changed when he realizes how hot he is), or driving into Charlotte to get the brown Kasha that he loved to eat in Ukraine.
We weren't alone in making Cava feel special and accepted. Not only did our family embrace Cava, so, too, did our church. They welcomed him in and loved him, whether it was his first Sunday school teachers, the Philbecks, or "Mrs. Cristy," who Cava runs to see and give one of his great big, Cava hugs to. They were instrumental in helping us show him the love of Christ. This was not easy, either, as Cava did not want to have anything to do with God when he first got here. For the longest time, he didn't want to pray with us. We never pressured him to pray, but we explained why we prayed (an example being that we thanked God for giving him to us). Then, one night, he said he wanted to pray, too. Both Danelle and I found ourselves in tears as he did. When I ask Cava, "Does God love you?"
He instantly replies, "Yes."
"How do you know that?"
"Because He made me and brought me here."
"And how does God show you His love?"
"Through you and Mommy and Benjamin," he started and his list encompassed not only our family, but "Mr. Jack," "Mrs. Yulia," "Mrs. Cristy" . . . Along with ours, it is their love that is showing Cava that God really does love him.
Having this kind of love and acceptance is new to Cava. When I asked him when did he first hear that God loved him, Cava answered, "When I came here."
For eight years, he never heard God loved him or that he was a child of God. More than our love, God's love is what will truly transform Cava.
When Cava first got here, his eyes were dead and lifeless, as one can see in this picture he took of himself.
It was as if he was a hollowed out shell and, in many ways, he was. He needed love to be poured into him so that light and life could grow, bloom, and flourish.
"Why do I love you?" I will ask Cava.
"Because I'm special," he replies having heard me tell him this so many times that he is.
He needed to experience joy and know that he also brought joy to us. And he has with that big, infectious smile of his. Whenever I see him smiling, I can't help but smile back. Though the only thing bigger than his smile is his laugh.
His victories, no matter how small, feel twice as good. Since the beginning of the school year, he has desperately wanted to get a "100" and, last week, he finally did. Here is the photo of him pulling the test out of his book-bag to show me. This is a picture of pure, proud happiness. Just looking at it makes me tear up with joy because I know of what it's taken to get here.
What we've learned with Cava is that even the smallest of victories feel twice as good because we know of the effort, love, prayer, and patience it has taken all of us to get there. We don't take for granted those good behavior stickers that he gets at school if he's had a good day nor do I take for granted waiting in the car line to pick him up at the end of the school day instead of having to get him during the school day because he'd gotten into trouble again. It hasn't been easy, but it has been rewarding.
It has taken grace on all of our parts. God's grace to us, us extending grace to Cava when he messes up, Cava extending grace to us when we mess up, and us extending grace to ourselves as we struggle with parenting an adopted child.
Cava has come so very far in this short year and he has so much further to go, but we know that he will get there.
Reflecting back on the year, it is easy to now see that none of it was random or unplanned. God's hand has been on this adoption from the moment we said "Yes" to His stirring on all of our hearts to adopt. He has used this adoption to show all of us just how much love really can transform someone, including ourselves.