Thursday, March 19, 2015

Choosing to love

When Scott and I were just friends, there were parts of that friendship that were inconsistent to say the least.  (Our love story is another blog or book or something :)  One day I knew where I stood, I knew we were friends and thought he cared about me and that was fine.  But the next day, it was as if I was invisible or annoying and certainly not anyone he seemed to get real excited about seeing.  The back and forth drove me crazy.  After years of friendship, I figured out it wasn't me.  I remember the day standing in his kitchen when I told him I had had it!  "Pick a mood", I said!  "Your inconsistency is driving me to drink!  Pick a mood and land and I'll let you know if I want to be friends with that guy!"

Fortunately, "that guy" handled my honesty well that day.  He understood what I was trying to tell him and for the most part, years of friendship and now years of marriage later, he tries to pick consistency.  He's still not really a cartwheel kind of guy but I know where he stands.  Especially on how he feels about me.

I've always been a believer in your ability to choose your mood.  And maybe not totally choosing your feelings as your circumstance may just be plain sad or angering or crappy.  But I can choose the mood I wear in those feelings and how I act in that state.

So when we were waiting for what felt like a decade to get our Peruvian kids, it gave people loads of time to ask questions.  Some were okay but many left me with a raised eyebrow, not exactly sure what to say.  Like do you really think you can love kids you didn't birth like you love your own? Well.... you're talking to a step-mom (I never use that term unless I absolutely need to draw our family tree for someone) who married into a kid I didn't birth at the age of 25.  I sure hope I can love a kid I didn't birth! 

And isn't that what marriage is...don't we choose to love someone when we stand in a frilly dress and say I do?  Someone that, let's be honest, we don't know all that much about living with and doing happily ever after with.  Even later, don't we choose to love on hard days or when real life is happening and you just didn't even have time to be all sappy and starry eyed?  If you're going to say you wake up every day feeling like you're married to Matthew McConaughey and you gallop through tall grass and lilies like a scene out of Twilight together, you're either lying or you've been married for 30 seconds. Some days, the feelings just aren't there.  

Of course I could do that with kids.  In order to choose Scott, I also chose Logan.  So then when God said go get these 5 siblings, I think I loved them immediately.  Because God began to build something incredible in me that I can't explain.  Being real though, was it as if someone handed me an infant straight from my body and wrapped their naked self up and handed them to me?  Maybe not.  And I didn't connect with each of the 5 kids exactly the same way on the same time line.  I would say 2 years later there are still ebbs and flows to the connection with all 8 of my kids.  Biological or not.  It's part of my humanness trying to learn to love like God.

I think if more moms were honest and felt safe, adoptive or not, I think they might say so too. I've had friends say that they didn't feel all warm and fuzzy when their newborn was handed to them and they thought there must be something wrong with them!  I thought I was supposed to feel a bond like I've never felt before and be able to read my baby's soul!  Adoptive moms often struggle with connecting differently with their first adoption because being a mom after waiting is filled with "romance' and wonderment!  But sometimes the next adoption creates a resentment that they didn't expect and can seem scary.

Why don't more moms talk about that though?  Why don't we circle around each other and say hey, you're normal.  Or hey, I think you're really struggling, let's talk.  Part of it is I think we have a unrealistic, glorified version of love.  Like the way movies do with sex...I think instagram and facebook do that with motherhood sometimes.  Everyone else seems so happy and they're floating around on clouds like June Cleaver.  

Love isn't a feeling that falls on you and never leaves.  It's actions that require attention daily.  It's steps towards knowing someone and showing them value, sometimes in ways that are completely foreign to us.  It's learning sports we never cared a lick about.  It's allowing haircuts and clothing styles that are not our preference.  Even bigger, it's showing love and value, even when we don't feel like it!  When we're tired.  Or hurt by that particular kid.  Or when the feelings for that child may not have ever been there...trusting that if we act in patience and kindness and gentleness...that the feelings will follow.  

I used to think that was the least romantic thing I'd ever heard of.  I didn't want someone to have to think so hard to love me.  I wanted them to be so overcome by my amazingness that they couldn't help but fall into the deep pit of Lauren-love.  Ha.  It makes me laugh now!  But that was the movie-esque romance in my mind.  Over time, I learned that one of the most powerful things was for someone to choose to love me.  For someone to know me and still love me.  Whoa.   Was that possible?  So when Scott said to me "You're my pick" and got on a knee with a ring, that was romantic and surreal.  But ultimately, that's only a tiny glimpse of the gravity of how God loves me. The God of the Universe that knows my intricacies, my insecurities, my inadequacies, my sins and flaws loves me.  Holy moly, the power in that!  And that power lives in me!  

God didn't call us to the warm and fuzzy club.  Thank Him for that because I would be kicked out!  But He said He is love.  And that love was demonstrated when He laid His life down for us.  Laid His life down.  Action.  Putting yourself out there and loving when it isn't reciprocated.  Actively living out selflessness.  I think as we take steps to choose love, (which is like choosing God), he takes step towards us and changes us.  That's how the feelings change.  Even better, that's how deep seated ugly things about me change.  


Monday, March 9, 2015

What's the Struggle?

At a recent function with other adoptive/foster parents, I got a question...."What has been your biggest struggle?"  Sounds loaded.  Like today?  Last year?  From the beginning of our adoption journey?  In some ways, I think which one?  But on the other hand, I think, are there any worth mentioning? Things are good and status quo most of the time.

We of course have some normal struggles with having a lot of kids.  Is everyone getting enough attention?  Are we missing any major needs?  Whoops, I took a kid to a soccer game he didn't even have!  
And even bigger, more stereotypical things, like lying, and hiding food under the pillow.  And those are noteworthy of course.  But they make logical sense when a child has lived in an institution of any kind and built habits and doubts (like will I get to eat again soon?) that my brain can wrap itself around.
And my kids have had struggles.  Learning a language in a hurry so they can be successful at school.  One kid literally had to re-learn to walk.  Another got thrown into college a little sooner than he was comfortable with.  And the adjustment of my kids who were already living here can't be discounted either.  I could write legitimate posts on these things.  And maybe should so that we paint a very raw, real picture of this life.

But for me personally, not speaking for my kids which I can't adequately do anyway...for me the biggest struggle has been a huge surprise.  It's as if as while God was writing this incredible story for us, for me, that I could never have imagined, Satan was getting equally incredible ideas on how to kick me in the pants. 
And not that the enemy left me alone before.  I've felt warfare and temptation like others.  But I have always been so grateful that overall, I listened to God more than I listened to the lies.  I have always felt fortunate and humbled that God would choose to lower Himself to speak to me and hear me.  And even love me.  
But these new ways Satan was trying to wreck me were hard for me to recognize.  They came in waves of self doubt and feelings of failure that were so sly and wrapped in a way that I thought they must be truth.  They crept in the most unguarded moments and deceived themselves as advice that I needed to heed.  Failures that needed to be on my grade card and signed off by those that loved me.  I believed them. 
I believed that I was the wrong mom for this job.  I believed that I was failing.  I believed that I had been arrogant to think that I could handle this story.  And the pressure was too great.  I was ruining these little people God had entrusted to me.
I actually wrote an honest post over a year ago that was so sore I never posted it.  It's been sitting as a draft for that long.  I'm not sure why now.  Because fortunately, I muddled through that season.  And chose to kick the enemy off my front porch.  I chose to remember what God had said over the years of adoption process.  And even before. 

But this last weekend when the question was posed, I couldn't help but think....this has still been one of the biggest struggles to date.   Today,  I might call it the biggest fight instead.  The thing that I have to protect against.  The thing that I have to have armor for.  Not just because it knocks me down and makes me unproductive for God.  Because that's important.  But it also makes me a completely different mom than I want to be.  It makes me insecure in a way that misrepresents how I feel about my kids.   Because these feelings about myself get masked in impatience, grouchiness, tiredness and a lack of joy.  It's really a misrepresentation of how I feel about me but it comes across as an attack on them.  So I have to guard against the take down and fight instead for joy and truth and celebration of all that God has done and is doing.

Recently, I got the incredible privilege of God using something I spoke to students, to begin to change something inside one of my own kids.  It humbled me to tears to think that God could use anyone but he used me.  That couldn't have happened if I was wallowing in my self doubt and pitiful self.  I wouldn't have heard from God and been confident enough to say exactly what He told me to say if I was worrying about whether or not God really spoke to me or if anyone cared to hear it.  I wouldn't have fought off the warfare I faced even that day!  What a gift we would have missed!  I'll have to tell that whole story when I get permission some day to put it in writing. 
For now, know this, women and moms.  You're right, you're not enough.  You're not perfect and you will never be.  But God is.  And He knew exactly what He was doing when He put the lives in your home that He did.  He knows you.  Like nobody knows you.  And picked you out to be that woman and that wife and that mom.  And he picks well!  Cut yourself some slack.  Breathe.  Laugh at your mistakes.   Sing some Justin Bieber, Never Say Never loud in the car with the windows down.  Be silly.  Choose joy.  Because your God is enough and is writing a beautiful story for you and through you.

Deuteronomy 30:19
...I have set before you, life and death, blessings and curses.  Now choose life, so that you and your children may live, and that you may love the Lord your God, listen to His voice, and hold fast to Him..

Hold fast.  Hang on.  But only let Him whisper while you ride. 

Sunday, December 28, 2014

This kid

This kid.  This kid wrecks me.  This kid turned 17 this week.  17.  And I could kiss him like he's 4!  But I refrain.  Cause he's 17.  This kid makes me cry more than anyone on the planet.  He's not mean. :)  His story makes me cry.  I sat at a wrestling match a month ago and thought "Moms can't cry in wrestling.  If there's no crying in baseball, there's really no crying in wrestling!"  Self talk.  I wanted to cry because to think, this is my kid who I had to help walk 2 years ago.  I had to pep talk the night before his sophomore year because the walking was going to kill him.  I drove to physical therapy 3 days a week.  Which by the way I wouldn't trade for anything.  Because it showed him I loved him. And I would fight for him.  But that kid was wrestling!  And he's good at it!  Because that kid is healed.  So I fight back the tears.
Just like the day he came home from JV soccer tryouts in August.  And he had to run 2 miles.  My kid who had never played organized soccer before because he physically couldn't.  Was trying out and running 2 miles.  He sat in my van and told me how he did it.  He would see a guy a few people ahead of him and say 'Okay, I've got to get ahead of him'.  And he would so then he'd pick a new guy. He didn't win. But he wasn't last either.  And it doesn't matter.  THAT is perseverance.  THAT is motivation.  THAT is long suffering.  This kid kicks my rear.  He is the epitome of a fighter.  And I am so lucky I get to be his mom!  



Thursday, December 26, 2013

2013

One year ago, a few days before Christmas, I was mustering up the strength to Skype home to my mom and Logan, and tell them we weren't coming home for Christmas.  We were stuck in Peru bringing home our 5 newest additions and I was weary and heartbroken.  I couldn't explain the stress the weeks had brought or articulate the strange tug and pull it had done on my faith.  Weary is the best word to explain it.  And I so badly needed Logan and my mom not to break down.  
They didn't, I did.  And we did Christmas, Scott and I, the 5 Peruvians and Laney while Scott and our families waited on Christmas til we got home.  We ate Kraft macaroni and cheese in a hotel breakfast area, Paneton (a Peruvian sweet bread), and whatever else we could throw together to get by.  
A year later, I can hardly believe we are those same people!  We have lived together for a year Saturday.  We brought them home to a 3 bedroom, 2 bathroom house and lived as 9 there for a couple months.  We started school, got acclimated at church, moved in February, started sports teams....and that's not even counting that I was working when we got back and Scott has been doing 2 jobs.  Whew!  This year has been crazy!  We have people who think we don't have any fun.  That we welcomed complete chaos into our lives and they don't understand why.  What's funny though, and maybe it's because I am demented now, is that I look back at this year so differently.  I look at my husband as less stressed and a better example of a man to our kids than before.  And I didn't even think he needed improvement! I look at our life as peaceful and fairly organized.  It doesn't sound like complete chaos and as long as I write things down, I am not complete chaos.  I see our Peruvians as well adjusted and a part of our family that seems like it has always been there.  And I see God as the greatest writer of stories because I could have never dreamt this up!
I'm a realist too.  I've seen the areas that Scott and I have had to improve on as parents.  I've seen how dependent I am on God to know how to parent these individual kids.  I've seen a deeper glimpse into the pain that my kids brought with them and have tried to learn how to help them through that.  We've seen that a year isn't a magical marker where all the healing that is needed takes place and we can go forward without it.  
BUT, that's all part of redemption.  Making me new new.  Making Scott and I new.  Making my kids new.  Jesus-newness is the only way this story works.  And one year does mark that we survived.  It marks a Christmas where we were all in the same house, an incredible house for us.  It marks Gerson's birthday today at home!  It marks change and the incredible comfort that time has brought to our family of 9.  Our family of 9 for a few more months anyway! Ha!  We like to keep things interesting.
If you're wondering about the redemption pieces or just struggling with the faith stuff, I encourage you to go back and read some like "Watching Gerson Heal" or "New Life".  Or even the posts from when we were in Peru a year ago.  I think our story will encourage you if nothing else.  And it makes me believe again, things I've forgotten or ignored.  Because only God could write the Sterlings Crazy Story.

Monday, October 14, 2013

Watching Gerson Heal

Up to this point, I've been careful about the information I give regarding Gerson.  At least about some things.  I never wanted to make a spectacle of him.  Or draw attention to pieces that really didn't make up Gerson to us.
But I got permission to share this great story!  Here's some background info first:  When we met Gerson, we learned that he had been suffering with some unidentified physical issues since he was a small kid.  He said he had no pain, but he often walked with struggle, especially late in the day.  When we arrived in Peru, it was actually worse than we thought.  In old blog entries, we talk about Scott carrying him when we were there.  Doctors in Peru had tested for many things and had decided that it was psychological.  When we first saw him, we knew that wasn't the case.  As the day would go on, his muscles would get tighter and tighter.  If he touched his back, you would feel him shaking from the fatigue in his flexed muscles from shoulder to toe.
We saw muscle, nerve, and cerebral palsy specialists of all kinds when we got back in the U.S.  He had a perfectly "normal" MRI of both brain and spine.  We did physical therapy up to 3 times a week.  We were wearing him out with little to no progress and still no valid diagnosis.  I even started to wonder if trauma had been the cause and not something physical.  And really, Gerson had resolved to this being his life.  We were just trying to see if there were avenues to make things easier for the day to day.
I've watched the 15 year old be crushed that he can't play soccer.  Laugh about falling at school.  But cry when he stresses about starting a new semester and having to be so different, once again, and not understanding why.
Last week though, we got sent to the geneticist for the first time.  Honestly, I thought it was just a silly formality and was doing it only because Children Mercy said so.  We had even received the genetics blood work and knew it was normal before we went.  Waste of time, I thought.  But this appointment was different!  The Dr. had read his file extensively before we got there.  Then, she did something no other Doctor had completely done.  She listened.  She pieced together things from his file with things that I said we had observed in the year we've been together.  And she had a diagnosis!  It was surreal.  She walked in, introduced herself, and said "I believe he has dopa responsive dystonia".  Basically, she believed his brain wasn't making enough dopamine to send the proper messages to his muscles and it explained his symptoms.  The onset of this is usually around 6 years old, you have more energy and muscle control in the mornings and struggle late in the day, untreated it causes stunted growth....I could go on and on.  It described Gerson!  And no one had ever mentioned this before.
I left in a whirlwind, not wanting to do the cartwheel that seemed to want to come, for fear that she could be wrong and Gerson would be so disappointed.  But we filled the synthetic dopamine prescription that night and he started the next day.  And I kid you not, there was a difference when he came home after school that day!  After only 1 pill!  When I realized he knew it too and could control his hands and feet differently, I practically tackled him on a bean bag crying!  It was a miracle!  A kid, whose muscles have been essentially frozen for 10 years, is walking flat footed.  His neck and face are so much more relaxed, he almost looks like a different kid.  We watched him try on shoes for Homecoming, standing on one foot, and not holding onto anything.  In the evening!  I wish I could convey how huge this is!  We're a week into medicine and Gerson is talking about what professional sports he might play!  We saw the geneticist again today and even she is floored at the progress.  She had documented that he had clubbed feet and his toes crossed over each other, but no more!
We're still working out dosage and Gerson has to take it a bit slow to teach his muscles how to do things they haven't done before.  But we have truly witnessed a miracle in our house!  God has been so good to Gerson.  He could have written his story differently and that would have been okay.  But He didn't!  We are so grateful!
(Gerson-15 in the blue, Jhonny-17 in the purple)

Sunday, September 1, 2013

What's New-The Craziness has Returned!

Wow, June!  Sorry to the three people who read!  I can't believe it's been June since I last wrote.  But I guess it makes sense.  June was summer and summer was bliss! The 2 older boys were in an in-depth language immersion class at Avila all summer.  And me and the 4 littles got to play, do swim lessons, go to library, and just chill while they were gone.  We had a handful of birthdays, got to take the girls to a Taylor Swift concert, and just thoroughly enjoyed each other! People kept asking me if I was ready for school and the structure of life to begin again.  Um....no.  Because with school and structure means immunizations and dentist appointments and soccer, oh lots of soccer.  And a very full planner and living in fear that I'm going to take the wrong kid to the wrong place on the wrong day.
All that to say, a fun season has begun!  And it really is fun!  I have a Varsity soccer player, a youth competitive player, one that wants into gymnastics, and homework coming out of our ears!  I am clearly not smarter than a fourth grader and some days homework is more stressful for me than it is for them!  We have a couple of weeks under our belt, though, and we are finding our groove.  Homework doesn't make me want to yell (most days), soccer schedule is pretty down, and my planner is my best friend!

Summer recap:  The 2 older boys did really well with Avila.  I could hear a big difference in their English and am so grateful for ALL that Avila has done for us!
My four littles loved swim lessons; in fact, Betsi took a second section and the coach was begging her to do a swim team.  She definitely found something she is great at!  In addition to many other things!
Logan enjoyed a summer free of school and went on a mission trip, a vacation, and camp with our youth from church!  It was a good break before a tough semester for her now!

Now, we have a college sophomore, high school senior, high school sophomore, a 7th grader, 6th grader, 4th grader and preschooler!  2 days a week, I have ZERO children at home for 4 1/2 hours! May not sound like a lot but the things you can do without a 3 year old are endless!
This fall, I am looking forward to much: showing the kids the changing leaves in Missouri, getting family pictures done, doing Halloween together (especially my 3 and 10 year old) and even Thanksgiving!  I'm trying not to jump too far ahead into the holidays but I am just so excited!  I can't believe we are approaching Thanksgiving...a year from when we left for Peru.  Wow, time is seriously flying!  I'm also anxious to decorate our new house for Christmas.  But in the meantime, I am going to enjoy the regular things of life.  And I'll try to blog about the real life things.  I so badly want more people to be inspired to adopt or foster older children and I want to be honest about our experience.  Hopefully, those writings are to come! 



Saturday, June 8, 2013

Teaching Your Kids to Follow Jesus

This week, I was in the car with 2 of my kids and for some reason, we were talking about Laney's eyes.  Laney has incredibly dark eyes for her fair skin.  Like darker than some of my Peruvians' eyes.  And the kids are intrigued.  I was explaining to them that the only person in our family I know of with eyes as dark as Laney's was my grandma.  My Grandma Dolores had black eyes that were so pretty and could practically read your soul.  I told them how badly I wished they had known her and how much she would have loved them.  She was one of my favorite people on this planet.  She was strong and opinionated.  She would doubt your decisions until you could show her you had good solid facts and discernment.  Which forced me to be confident in my decisions before I would tell her.  But most importantly, she loved Jesus and knew His Word.  Before she died, letters and cards flooded their living room from people she had influenced...at the bank where she worked, at church, in Sunday School.  Everyone who knew her knew she was a follower of Christ.  And some of the last words on her lips were Scripture.  Encouragement to us grandkids.  Words telling us she wasn't scared.

As I talked, my 2 boys could feel how much I loved her and could see how passionately she loved God.  My oldest blurted out "Man, I want to know God like that......but I can't".  What?  I always wonder if there's a misunderstanding with an accent or something.  Can or Cannot?  The younger one chimed in as if he knew exactly what Jhonny was thinking.  "Can't".  
He went on to explain that He doesn't think He can know God like that.  Aside from the fact that he sees the Bible as boring (which is a common opinion among young people....and maybe old), when he reads it his days following are terrible!  Hmmmmm, that my son is called spiritual warfare.  So there we sat in the car trying to Spanglish hash out spiritual warfare and how there is a fight for their hearts.  A fight to keep them from being productive for God.  A fight to keep them lazy, or arrogant, or prideful, or self doubting.  Whatever it is to keep your feet in cement.
I'm not entirely sure they understood everything we talked about.  Could be the language.  Could be the teenager-ness.  But I will say they didn't move a muscle.  We sat in the car, even once it hit the garage.  And it has kept me thinking for days.
How do you teach your kids to follow hard after God?  I know a lot of the answers.  You model it.  You take them to church where they're presented with good theology and fellowship.  But is there a need for balance?  Is it possible to cram it too far down their throats?  Is my life demonstrating a real follower of Christ?  Or a church-goer American Christian without fruit or passion?  And how will I know before they're 35?  Not sure I know how to answer all these questions.  But today I'm keenly aware of my need to figure it out!