Monday, September 29, 2014

Perspective II

I'm writing this from the waiting room of the Providence Sacred Heart Medical Center & Children's Hospital, while we wait for Gia Pearl to be done with her MRI. Gia is one of the bravest people I have ever known, but no matter how child focused a hospital is, they are still stressful, scary places to be, especially for a little one that is undergoing many life changes and transitions. Gia the Brave.

I recently wrote about perspective after we went out to dinner and met one of the most friendly and helpful food service workers we have seen in a long time. I'm getting another dose of perspective today. Let me tell you something, nothing will give you a sense of how ephemeral and fleeting life can be, like visiting a hospital with your child. Here you are surrounded by some of the brightest, most compassionate, skilled medical professionals around, but you also see the abundance of people with medical needs. Some are more severe than others, but all are needs. All are stark realities of the imperfect, broken world we live in.

In case you didn't know, little Miss Gia was born with Spina Bifida and had surgery at just 4 months old. Amy and I both knew this when we chose to adopt her into our family. Although this amazing little girl is doing very well, we are taking every opportunity to get her the medical care she needs, and hopefully also get a better picture of how her body has adapted over all these years. Gia inspires us every day.

While waiting for Gia to be done with her MRI, I'm doing some work, but also reflecting on how short life is, and how important it is to always remember, and invest in what matters the most: Faith and Family. Yeah I still get unnecessarily stressed out about the most tedious things such as traffic, work, aches/pains, and my job. I still get selfish and take things for granted from time to time. But each and every day I'm being reminded to not let those things impact me as much. It isn't worth spending the time being anxious, stressed, and over-worked for temporary things.

I am now in the waiting room for the follow up neurologist appointment with Amy and Gia, after we had some lunch, and I'm still reflecting on my experience this morning. As Gia came out of her anesthetic, she did not shed one tear. As her nurse took off all the monitors, tubes, and IV, I thought for sure this little girl would start to cry. Instead, in her scratchy little voice she said "Thank you" to the nurse. My heart swelled and I was once again inspired by this 8 year old miracle.

Today is another opportunity to see perspective in what we do. It is not always easy, but then most things fruitful and worthwhile usually aren't.


Sunday, September 28, 2014

Perspective


We have had quite a 3+ month span in the Miller house since returning from China with Gia Pearl. We've worked as hard as we can to establish and nurture a Godly and healthy attachment with our new little girl. Like any family, this has come with ups, downs, challenges, successes, laughter, and tears. But we have been beyond blessed during each and every step of this journey. Things have happened in our family that have caused us to be even more grateful for one another, and to also not take for granted the loved ones in our immediate and extended family.

Despite all the reminders that God gives us of all the things we can be thankful for, and despite all the opportunities that we enjoy, we don't always show that gratitude in our daily actions. We take one another for granted, lose patience with one another, and don't show love when we don't feel like it. We complain about our jobs, traffic, construction, mattresses that make us uncomfortable, coffee that isn't just right, or just the busy-ness that seems to inevitably take over day after day.

This last Friday was the first time in a long time we haven't been traveling, out of town, or at a doctor appointment. We decided to make an impromptu trip to CDA to do some needed shopping and maybe go out to eat, as a family. Speaking of taking things for granted, how amazing is it that a little brave girl, a few months ago, in China, could not go 100 feet in a car, without getting severe car sickness, can now sit in the back seat with her sisters and smile, laugh, point out things she has English words for, without a hint of sickness. And what is even more amazing is that she is not taking any Dramamine whatsoever.

But I digress. Speaking of our attitudes, I have a rotten one when it comes to Costco trips. Something about a super crowded warehouse of people buying things in super-sized quantities, not only stresses me out, but makes me bitter and angry, especially when I see people being impatient and inconsiderate. But this night was different. The girls were super helpful and cooperative, and I think I made it throughout the entire shopping excursion without even a hint of stress or impatience. What happened next was something that impacted me greatly.

We decided to go to Wendy's for dinner. It is one of our favorite "fast food" places because it is relatively inexpensive, fast, and we all like the menu. Who doesn't like burgers, fries, and Frosties!? Anyway, we go to order and I immediately notice the gentleman, (we'll call him Brian for this story) that is working the counter is different. He's exceptionally polite, courteous, and extremely good at his job. This in itself is rare these days. It seems like you can't go anywhere without running into people who obviously just don't like their job. Brian helps us with utmost patience, as we coordinate the orders of 3 little girls, and two adults, changing our mind throughout the entire process. Brian not only tallies our order quickly, but he also tells us we saved 4 bucks on some promotion we didn't even know about. He then communicates our order to his co-workers and assembles our dinner in a short time. He must have said enjoy your meal 3 times and even came out to clean tables and check on us while we were eating.

While we enjoyed our family time, I observed Brian showing the same awesome attitude and courtesies to the next few families and groups that came in after us. It was refreshing. It was a really good reminder for me, and Amy and I shared my observation with her. I said, I want to tell him how much I appreciate his kindness. So I go up to order Frosties for me and my girls and I reach into my wallet and pull out a modest tip and fold it neatly. Of course,  Brian is helping someone else with utmost kindness again. I finally get to order and upon getting 5 frosties in expedient fashion, I say to Brian, "I want you to know that you are one of the kindest, most courteous, friendly service person I have encountered in months, and I really appreciate it. I know you probably aren't supposed to take tips, but I'm not giving you a choice. I want you to have this tip just because." It felt good to let someone know how much they had impacted me.

This is where it gets even better. Brian, with a smile on his face says "Thank you very much. I've worked 6 years at a call center and here, which is my 2nd job, so I have to have good customer service." I followed up with more thank-yous and went back to my girls. As we left, Brian gave a heartfelt "have a great night," as we walked out the door. It was at that moment that it hit me. All my petty frustrations, stress, and hardships, were merely my choice. This guy is working 2 jobs, and both are what I would consider stressful and even somewhat undesirable, yet here he was impacting and inspiring me, and my wife, on a Friday night impromptu family dinner.

I learned a lesson Friday, and I think we all can take a lesson from Brian at Wendy's. We have much to be thankful for, and most of the time, our attitude is how we choose to act towards others. If we would just take a little more time to show kindness to others, it would go a long way. Thank you Brian.

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

This is good...right?

On this, our 3-month anniversary with Gia, let's talk attachment.

In the adoption arena, sometimes attachment becomes the "A" word. Some adoptive parents kind of don't want to talk about attachment so as not to "jinx" the process.

You see, attachment is the BIG unknown in adoption. Yes, there might be undiagnosed or unknown medical or special needs; yes, there may be unknown issues regarding birth parents or orphanage care.

But, by far, the question "will this child attach to us?" (or its inverse: will I attach with this child?) is the single most important issue in adoption.

Sometimes, attachment is EASY. And praise the Lord for those times. Other times, not so much. It can take weeks, months, even years for attachments to form between adopted child and adoptive parents.

So...we've been home, Gia and I, all.summer.long. Cocooning. Bonding. ATTACHING. In fact, at times, I've felt like I was going stir crazy, needing to get out of the house and have some adult time. Alone. With no kids. Just to get a coffee. Or groceries. Or, scandalous thought, to go shopping for new clothes.



But I know that staying with Gia has been the best thing for her, hands down. So I persevered.

Simon and I are both educators. His contract is different than mine, so he went back to work 3 weeks ago. Gia was a little confused, but I was still with her, and baba came back at the end of every day, so all was right with the world.

Little did she know what was looming on her horizon--mama going back to work.

That day came yesterday. We tried to warn her, prepare her, get her excited for her auntie to come stay with her. Because to many adopted kids, a change in the routine is cause for disaster. So, we tried our best to prepare her.

I felt a little guilty for actually LOOKING FORWARD to going back to work. Time away from the kids. Adult conversations. Professional duties.

A chance to NOT have to be emotionally "ON" for Gia 24/7. (Let me tell you...having to be emotionally ON for any one person for an extended period of time is EXHAUSTING!)

So, with much trepidation, and a slight sense of relief, I kissed the Gs goodbye and waved to them as I drove off yesterday.

Not long after I got to school, I received the first text: Gia meltdown #1.
Another text came later: doing okay.
I'm thinking "whew. It's not going so badly!"

I got home at 3:30. Auntie breaks the news to me--4 meltdowns throughout the day. And not just sniffles. Sobs. For half an hour at a time. Sigh...

I felt like a HORRIBLE parent. I felt GUILT. I felt SHAME. How could I put my precious Gia through more trauma like this? She doesn't deserve it after all she's been through!!! (Bang head on wall. Or just go in bedroom and cry.)

Then, something interesting, dare I say amazing, happened. God gave me a different perspective. He said, "What if, instead of looking at this negatively, you think about it like this?"

I'm listening.

He said, "What if her meltdowns mean that she misses you.  Because she's ATTACHED to you. Because she LOVES you. Did you ever consider that?"

Honestly, no, I hadn't. But the more I thought about it, the more my spirits lifted. Never before was a mom so THANKFUL for her daughter's tears when she was away at work!!

Gia missed me! Because she's ATTACHING!

Now, we're not all the way there in this whole attachment thing. It takes a long time, like I mentioned above.
But it's a start.

This is good...right?

P.S. Only 2 meltdowns today, my second day back to work. Baby steps. :)


Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Why China?


I started this blog in China during our #journeytogia. I'm going to modify it here and there and finish it because I keep putting it off. There is so much going through my head the last few weeks, settling on something to write about has been a challenge. We have been getting all kinds of inquiries about our family since returning home, ranging from things like "how is her English," to "how is it going?" At some point I think we will blog specifically to the most frequently asked questions, but I thought I'd address a particular question that Amy and I get asked regularly, because I think this question sets the stage for a reflective post such as this. Aside from "Why adoption?" which is perhaps an entire separate post, or series of posts, which you could also glean from reading our previous blog posts and piecing things together.

"Why China?" is probably the question we get asked most frequently by family, friends, and loved ones. It can also be asked alternatively, such as "Why not adopt in America?" Though we are not offended by this question, and realize that some ask this merely out of curiosity and are interested to know how we came to that decision, I have to be honest and say that, at the same time, it can be a frustrating question for us. Our quick answer is almost always, "Why NOT China?" but there are plenty of reasons we made this decision 10 years ago.

For those who seek concrete, tangible answers, Amy and I saw adoption as an opportunity, NOT a consolation to our initial infertility challenges (for which we have never pursued or sought medical attention/treatment). Don't get us wrong, we have nothing against fertility treatments and medically aided solutions. We just knew it wasn't for us. Plain and simple. I remember Amy telling me about some things she had read about international adoption, so we simply prayed about it, and immediately, both of us knew we wanted to adopt internationally, more specifically, China. Again, for you tangible folks, Amy's sister Martha had also taught at an International School in China for a number of years, so we were already quite enamored and intrigued by Chinese culture. We also learned China had instituted a "One Child" policy in most parts of the country, so children, primarily girls, were being abandoned at an alarming rate. This tugged at our hearts, and from there we never turned back.

In 2004 we adopted Gracie Faye Aijin Miller.
The experience we had in China, while meeting Gracie was life changing. We learned much about a culture that is different than ours, but in many ways not all that different. We also learned more about the process of adoption itself, and the many ways it impacted us both as a family and spiritually. In many ways, China became a 2nd home country of sorts for us. Visiting Gracie Faye's "finding place" was an experience that would change us forever.
 Meeting a group of other adoptive families would impact us in ways we could not imagine. Fuling 5!
Connecting with a Chinese guide, Michael, showed us in many ways how much we could learn and appreciate the Chinese culture.

In 2011 we chose to adopt Gemma Lucille Sanhui Miller. You can read more about this in other blog posts from 3 year ago. What an experience this was as we were able to visit some historical places in addition to our adoption processes. Gracie was also able to accompany us and got to see things like the Forbidden City, The Great Wall, The Summer Palace, and much much more.
We didn't get to do as much sight seeing when we adopted Gracie in 2004 so this enhanced our appreciation for China even more. During this experience, I was moved by Gracie's bravery while welcoming a frightened 4 year old sister, and by Gemma's courage as she was taken from the only life she knew, by 3 strangers who looked nothing like what she had seen, and spoke words she couldn't understand. Our love and appreciation for China grew, just as our love for our daughters grew, and just as our family grew.

So here we are just over a month or so removed from our #journeytoGia in May/June of 2014 and once again, China captured our heart. You see, each time we have adopted, we have been blessed to see a different part of China, meet new people, traditions, foods, and ways of life. We have seen modern cities and rural farmland. We have flown in planes, ridden trains (of different styles), pedicabs, vans, chairlifts, and yes steel luge runs! Once again we have been blessed by the incredible network of adoptive families, many of which have become new friends. Our guides have been like family members to us, despite our very short window of being with them. Helen and Simon are like members of our family, in a very real way that only adoption can accomplish. Of course on this trip we were all captivated, moved, and impacted beyond words by the bravest 7/8 year old we have ever met, Gia Pearl ChunYu Miller. To watch her say goodbye to her best friend, Shi Shu Ping, was the most moving site we have EVER experienced. To this day she inspires us and reminds us of what really matters. She shows us courage, and vulnerability, things that impact us all.

So "Why China?" you ask... Because Martha, Gracie, Michael, the Doodys, the Rombolettis, the Freemans, the Hsias, Gemma, Miranda, Grace, Gayly, Rebecca, Gia, Shi Shu Ping, Helen, the Mountses, Simon, the Flythes, the Goodsons, many, many others, and most importantly, God's Plan. I'm particularly fond of an image that is vividly etched into my memory and heart. It is from a mural at Gracie's orphanage in Fuling City that reads "Love Has No Borders."
 So true.

Why NOT China?

Monday, July 14, 2014

The Unspoken "But..."

It's been 49 days since we met Gia for the very first time. 49 days. Much has happened in those 49 days. Things are going quite well, as far as international adoptions go.

The "good" days far outweigh the "bad" days.

But there are bad days.

I've shared about them on this blog. On Facebook. With family and friends.

We have an amazing support group of family, friends, and adoption communities. AMAZING.

But sometimes, when I share about the hard parts of adoption--Gia's adoption--I can hear the unspoken "but...."

"But, didn't you kind of sign up for this when you chose to adopt?"

Yes. And no.

YES, we signed up for this.

This finding our new normal.
This learning how to parent 3 girls instead of 2.
This sibling "jockeying" for position and learning their new roles in our family.
This figuring out how to buckle 3 car seats into the middle row.
This having to use a car roof rack, even on short trips.
This 1 lb. of hamburger just isn't enough to feed our family any more, especially if we want any leftovers.
And yes, even this CT scans and specialist referrals.

NO, we didn't sign up for this.

This trying to glue the million pieces of my daughter's broken heart back together.
This listening to my daughter cry inconsolable sobs of grief for all she left behind.
This feeling utterly helpless because I and she lack a common  language to offer explanation and comfort.
This trying to gain the trust of my daughter after whisking her away from the only life--world--she knew.

We didn't sign up for that.

"But still," you might think. "Didn't you know that all this could be a possibility?"

Well, sure. But we still didn't "sign up for it." Every family, child, adoption is different. There's no way to prepare for EVERYTHING.

It's like saying to the grieving widow, "Well, you knew when you got married that your husband might be the first to die. You signed up for it."

Or to the parents in the hospital, praying for healing for their sick child, "Well, you knew going into pregnancy that kids can get sick. You signed up for it."

At some level, we did sign up for it. ALL of it.

But, at another level, we didn't. This is a broken world. We did not sign up for the brokenness. We cannot control how that brokenness manifests itself day in and day out.

(Here's the wonderful, shout-it-from-the-rooftops BUT...)

But we do know the One who holds us in the palm of his hand. We DID sign up for His guidance. His healing. His comfort and encouragement.

And so, we soldier on. Our brave little Gia and our family of 5. We will do the best we can to comfort, protect, and support her as she first flounders, then walks, and finally runs her way through this new life of hers.

We trust the One who called us on this Journey to Gia in the first place.

And yes, after all, we DID sign up for this when we gave our hearts to Him.

A dear friend gave me this scripture to pray for and over Gia when she experiences grief:

"But for you who fear my name, the Sun of Righteousness will rise with healing in his wings. And you will go free, leaping with joy like calves let out to pasture."  Malachi 4:2

I LONG for the day when I see Gia leap for joy. She will get there. This I know.

Thursday, June 26, 2014

Grafting

GRAFTING: verb (used with object)
1.
to insert (a graft) into a tree or other plant; insert a scion of (one plant) into another plant.
2.
to cause (a plant) to reproduce through grafting.
3.
Surgery. to transplant (a portion of living tissue, as of skin or bone) as graft.
4.
to attach as if by grafting


Gia has been a Miller for 1 month. During that time, a lot of grafting has been going on. In the adoption world, you hear a lot about "grafting." I think several of the definitions above fit with the process we are experiencing right now.

I'm sure that poor Gia has felt as though her heart has been literally cut out of her body, such grief  has she felt. But I also believe, that just as a seed has to die in order to produce life, so it is with grafting one human life with another. Poor Gia has to mourn her former life, as though it has died. But in the mean time, God is doing a marvelous work creating new life within her and within our family.
 She might not even realize it yet. 

But we see it.

Like just this afternoon. Gracie and Gemma were with Simon at their Junior Golf Completion ceremony. I knew that they wouldn't be home for lunch, but Gia didn't. She and I were in the kitchen, and I was starting to prepare lunch. I look over and watch as Gia opens the fridge and gets out all three of their water bottles. She then puts them on the table according to where each of them sits, and she pops each one open, all ready for each G to take a sip. And (because it's a rainy day, and sometimes Simon and I allow the Gs to do this), she got out her iPad, found the My Little Pony movie they all like, started playing it, and set the iPad at the end of the table in a position so they all could watch it while they ate lunch.

This seemingly simple act spoke volumes to me and actually brought me to tears. 

See, she's already feeling like part of this family. She already feels comfortable enough to "pitch in" and help, even without being asked. She knows the meal routine well enough to take the initiative. And she cares enough about her sisters to show them the kindness of getting their water bottles and a movie ready for them.

She's being grafted. She's reproducing life after her old life. She's attaching (identifying) with our family, routines, and sisterhood.

Grafting.
It's a beautiful (albeit painful) thing.






Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Just Beneath the Surface

It was about a week ago that I sent out a prayer SOS via Facebook for our Gia. She was grieving inconsolably one night, and we just didn't know what to do for her. Poor baby!

We've had some great, relatively grief-free days ever since then. But I know that her grief is just beneath the surface, and I expect it to come out at almost any moment.

It's not that we expect Gia's grief to be over and done with in the blink of an eye. Quite the contrary. We know that her grief is a process that we--especially SHE--must go through.

But I will admit that I was not expecting her grief to surface the way it did this morning.

She awoke quite chipper, with that million dollar smile. She was "being silly" at breakfast (which we think is her way of showing us that she's getting more and more comfortable in our family), and she was eating like a champ.

We found an old plastic princess "cell phone" a few days ago, so this morning Simon put some new batteries in it. She was grinning from ear to ear when she saw it light up and heard the princesses saying "hello" to her.

Simon wanted to find the Chinese word for "phone," so he looked it up on Google translate. He played the sound byte that accompanied it, and a woman's voice came out of the phone, speaking what seemed a full sentence or two, instead of what we thought--the single word "telephone." Simon thought he got the translation in error, so he tried it again, and the same voice came through the phone saying the same thing. Gia looked a little confused.

We started gathering up the breakfast dishes, when I looked at Gia and all of a sudden she was crying.  Her beautiful smile was turned upside down in a tearful frown. "What's the matter?" I asked as I reached over to pull her close. Of course she could not answer me. But it dawned on Simon and me at the same time:

Hearing her native language through the phone had brought all her just-beneath-the-surface grief right up to (and overflowing) the surface.

We both felt so sad for her! Again, as her tears flowed down, and the sobs came in waves, we were reminded of how brave she is and what a hero she is to us.




P.S. Shortly after the grief episode mentioned above, Gia and I were watching cartoons. In an apparent attempt to "shake off" her sorrow, Gia proceeded to say every English word she knew as she recognized it on tv: flower, orange, green, one, two, three, four, etc. Oh, and the million dollar smile returned. :)