Saturday, June 15, 2019

When the Trenches are too Deep...

When the Trenches are too Deep…

It’s been a long time since I’ve updated this blog. I’m not someone that openly shares about the hard places, the emotional lows, or the outright anger that I feel in such open forums. I’m good on the one to one conversations. I don’t feel that I hold back in those situations, maybe sometimes too honest?? But when it comes to social media, I’d rather make people laugh and groan at parenting generalities instead of sharing those really raw places.

I write this is I’m flying back from Colorado. Without my son. I mostly felt the need to write this simply to explain why Kanoa won’t be present in pictures and social media posts to avoid any awkward questions and having to repeat myself.

It’s been four and a half very long years since we brought Kanoa home from a Ukrainian orphanage. What we knew about his history that day I stepped out of the orphanage with him was extremely limited. And I can’t say I know much more today. Kanoa wouldn’t talk about that time. He has shared a few stories, but none were kind and they’re scattered enough that you have to do some loose interpretations. No matter what, he’s a child of trauma. By the age of five years old, he had learned survival skills that were completely unhealthy and destructive. We walked in with open hearts and were completely unprepared.

I detailed a bit about the shock we experienced in a blog post soon after he came home. I tried not to sugar coat it too much, but I glossed over so many hardships. We quickly realized we were outside our parenting capabilities and sought help which brought about the diagnosis of RAD (Reactive Attachment Disorder). I feel like this is such a great quote describing RAD:

Attachment Disorder is defined as the condition in which individuals have difficulty forming lasting relationships. They often show nearly a complete lack of ability to be genuinely affectionate with others. They typically fail to develop a conscience and do not learn to trust. They do not allow people to be in control of them due to this trust issue. This damage is done by being abused or physically or emotionally separated from one primary caregiver during the first 3 years of life. If a child is not attached – does not form a loving bond with the mother – he does not develop an attachment to the rest of mankind. The unattached child literally does not have a stake in humanity” (Magid & McKelvey 1988).”

If you’d like to learn more about Reactive Attachment Disorder or what the symptoms are, a great place to start is

RAD honestly encompasses every adoptive family’s worst nightmare. I want to pause right here though and be very clear, no matter what trauma Kanoa (and children like him) have been through and have subsequently caused makes them no less worthy of a family. Of being chosen. Of being shown love. He may not be able to understand it or receive it at this time, but that does not mean he shouldn’t be given the opportunity.

Through the last four and half years we have absolutely struggled. It has taken its toll on our marriage, on our other children, on decisions we make on a day to day basis. We have sought help and guidance, educated ourselves on best responses and practices, and structured Kanoa’s world in the best way we knew how. In some ways, we’ve succeeded and, in others, he’s no different than the rabid child we brought home over four years ago.

Kanoa has taken both Paki and I to the breaking point over and over. By God’s grace, Paki and I usually are able to trade off on who is able to be the steady, sensible person while the other is just DONE and needs to walk away. At our lowest points, we had discussed disrupting the adoption… the dirty word in the adoption world. Just bringing it up in certain circles will bring about shame, ridicule, and rebuke.  But walk a mile in my shoes and tell me how my family should live. Tell me how much chaos, rage, defiance, destruction, and abuse your family can take before you need to make hard decisions. And so I wrote into a private group asking for guidance, options, recommendations and advice.

I learned about a program in Colorado that helps children like my Kanoa. A program that does intensive therapy, full mental health assessments, therapeutic parenting, and a full range of other services that just aren’t available where we are at. It’s been a long road just getting Kanoa into the program and it currently is a diagnostic placement for the summer. If he does well and they think he will succeed, they will keep him for the full program of 6-9 months.

And here come the emotions of it all… the week leading up to this trip, we were on a family vacation in Maui. What that looks like for us is Kanoa sleeping in the room with Paki and I because we can’t trust him in with the other children. From the time he wakes up (ridiculously early), you have to keep one eye open because he will try to sneak out to either mess with the other kids or get into things that aren’t his. The change in routine also throws him off so defiant, disrespectful behaviors escalate. I posted beautiful, blissful pictures on social media, but if anyone noticed, the only pictures of Kanoa were the ones in group pictures. He missed out on most of the fun events because he was constantly messing with someone, willfully disobeying us at every turn, or being plain unsafe. He was kept in our line of sight the entire time. The return home, I had to hold his hand through the airport instead of my three year old’s because he was refusing to comply with the most basic requests. All that to say, by the end of our Maui vacation I was so deep into my anger that I wanted to scream how happy I was that he was leaving… but he didn’t know yet.

The day after we returned from Maui, I packed, gathered final paperwork, and printed out family pictures for Kanoa. We broke the news to him at dinner that we were leaving two hours later. Paki did an amazing job explaining about family and how no matter where you go, you’re always part of the family. Kanoa seemed excited, but at the airport said he didn’t want to go because he’d miss his siblings.

Upon arrival in Denver, I got the rental car and we drove directly to the program offices. They spent four hours with me asking detailed questions, learning more about Kanoa, and then meeting him. I was blown away with their thoroughness, their desire to help, and their overall positive outlook for Kanoa’s future. I don’t expect a miracle cure, I don’t expect a perfect kid, but I’m grateful for people that understand, that are giving our family a break, and are willing to step into the trenches with us.

The kicker of it all… Kanoa asked to call his siblings before I left so he could say good-bye. He never asked to call or talk to Paki and as he left me, he had a big smile on his face. After four and a half years, I don’t know that Kanoa feels much of a bond to us at all and that makes me sad. Yes, we’re “familiar” and he knows what to expect, but I’m not convinced that he has been attached to us at all. So I drove away. I left my son with people he had just met hours before. And I’m broken. Are we causing him more trauma by leaving him like his biological mother did? How will his absence impact us? Will we find a new normal and not want the chaos back?? These are just some of the truly raw questions that are bouncing around, taunting me.

I starting reading some of my devotionals (I’m only 34 days behind in my “Read the Bible in a Year” devotional! Haha.) and God is so generous and kind. The first two I read spoke about His forgiveness. The Greek word also means to liberate. Jesus came to liberate us because He loves us. I know Jesus loves Kanoa more than I ever can and He loves him perfectly.  I honestly have struggled to pray for Kanoa. I’ve been so angry and hurt, so worn down and exhausted by the constant psychological battles, frustrated by smallest request being met with outbursts, raging, or defiance. I want to use this time that Kanoa is gone to pray for him. To give him back over to God who knows him, who created him, and who designed our family for him. “God doesn’t call us to be comfortable”- I’ve said I’m going to make this into a board and put it up in our house for me to see daily. An easy life won’t challenge us to stretch and grow. I don’t know what God’s plan is for us, for Kanoa, for our family. We are not the same family as before he came home in January 2015, but we are still simply broken sinners in need of Christ.

So if you’ve read to the end of this long update, please keep Kanoa in your prayers. This is going to be a very difficult but necessary road for him. We are grateful for all the prayers and words of encouragement we’ve received over the years. We will now try to enjoy this time of respite and help heal the rest of our family.

Tuesday, February 28, 2017

No Rose Colored Glasses Here

It’s pretty funny how God works in our lives. Paki and I were joking around the other day that the moment we start to settle into a routine or get “comfortable”, God steps in to rock our world. Comfortable is not where God wants us to be. What do we mean by that? Well, we just passed the 2 year mark of having Kanoa home with us and feel like we’ve turned a corner in the behavior challenges. That doesn’t mean we don’t have regressions (there was an amazing display of tantrums and destruction just this weekend), but it’s no longer a daily/hourly event and, for that, we rejoice!

Just over a month ago, a fellow adoptive mom shared a picture of a little boy she met in the same region that Kanoa is from. I saw his picture and, like most of the precious children I see through Reece’s Rainbow, I want more than anything for them to find a family. After our experience with the adoption process in 2014 (and subsequent challenges we have been walking through), I said NEVER AGAIN! Haha. And then I read what little Jeff said. “When is my turn to have a momma?” Oh, my heart just broke. A little boy that, through no fault of his own, is growing up in a government institution and desiring to have a family- to be loved and belong. So I prayed. And prayed. And finally got the courage to bring him up to Paki. Paki’s response, “I’m praying we are NOT the family for him.” Hahaha! We are a family that has FIVE KIDS- young kids. Our mini-van is full! Lord, are you sure? Well, as soon as I started the discussions, God started working. Little things started happening- a random letter in the mail from the booking agent we used for our flights last time. (We have NEVER heard from them in the 2 years since we’ve been back AND we’ve moved.) Some relatives Paki hasn’t seen in years pouring into him about the importance of loving on children. They had fostered/taken-in/provided respite for 287 children for various periods through their lifetime!

We’ve decided to step out in faith and are asking God to direct our path. We know the hardships, we know the cost, we know the ugliness that can come from kids growing up in a system not designed to nurture children- we are not naïve or disillusioned. But we also know the joy, spiritual growth, and love that can come from opening our hearts and home to “the least of these”.  (Matthew 25:40) As Paki said, God will direct our path, but we have to start walking. Please keep us in prayer- that we will have wisdom and favor through the paperwork process. That God will prepare our hearts and those of our other children to receive another sibling. (Kale’a is kinda bummed that she’s not getting a sister!) That the attacks of the enemy will not discourage us- it happened last adoption and we’ve already seen some things pop up! And most of all, that we will continuously seek God’s will.

Thank you for your love and support- please meet “Jeff”. (Jeff is an alias given for his profile on RR.) And yes, now we have to come up with another name starting with a "K"....

Thursday, June 2, 2016

There is HOPE

A year and 4 months. That’s how long we’ve been parents to a 6 year old boy who has been through so much in his short life. It’s been quite the adventure for us, our family, and most of all him.

It’s hard to write about what our new normal looks like. We have good days and bad days and sometimes some very bad days, but we’ve never doubted that God put this child in our family. That God has an amazing plan and purpose for this child’s life and He took us half way around the world to find him and bring him home.

One of the hardest things about adoption is the day to day minor challenges. Not often anything ground breaking, but the constant wearing on your mind, emotions, patience and energy. Some days it feels like there’s psychological warfare happening under our roof! When people look at our family and see Kanoa, they tell us what a great kid he is and what great parents we are. We smile wanly and say thank you, but in our hearts we know how we struggle DAILY to love this boy and feel like we fail in how to help him through all the baggage that he brought with him. Kanoa’s background, like most children growing up in orphanages or even in foster care, learn early on survival techniques that can often mystify those around them. Children that fail to attach to a parent (mostly a mother) before the age of three, often can be diagnosed with an attachment disorder. What does this mean? Bottom line, they seek out attention from anyone that will give it regardless of who it is, defiant behavior, wanting to have affection on their own terms, the need to control and have everything on their terms. I know some friends who would describe their own biological children as meeting some of the list above, but the huge difference is where is the behavior coming from. Traditional parenting techniques DO NOT work with these kids. Believe us, we’ve tried.

So what do you do? How do you help a child who manipulates and attempts to control everyone? (Yes, our 6 year old is a master manipulator and the worst part is, most people who meet him don’t even realize what he’s doing.) Love is not enough. You can’t love these children to a healthy, happy life.

Thankfully, a friend told us about Nancy Thomas and the work she has done with children like Kanoa. Talk about an amazing woman who has dedicated her life to helping parents and kids from all walks of life. We just got back from a family bonding camp in Decatur, IL that, for a week, walked us through everything from nutrition, sleep patterns, shifting their brain from the back portion where your flight/fight response is to the front of the brain where logic and reason reside, building trust, and how to react and deal with each behavior challenge. Real application on the specific situations we find ourselves in daily. And more than anything, we as parents were reassured that WE ARE NOT CRAZY. The things we were dealing with were not normal and, while there is still a long road ahead of us, THERE IS HOPE.

So when you see us and it looks like we’re “being hard” on our child by not letting him watch TV or we ask you not to hug him or he’s sitting off to the side looking sad, please just give US a hug, a word of encouragement, or say nothing. We’re helping a hurt child heal in a way that may not make sense to you, but if you really want to know more about it, you can check out some of the resources on or feel free to ask us. Just not in front of our kids. What we do ask for is prayer- that more than anything is what we love. So many people continue to lift us up and we know that God is answering those prayers. He is FAITHFUL.

Wednesday, May 6, 2015

What is our new "Normal"?

I can't believe it, but three months have passed since my mother-in-law, myself and one small Ukrainian landed on U.S. soil.  It was a crazy trip with 3 layovers and over 24 hours of travel, but we made it.  I was so grateful to have the help as traveling with a child who doesn't understand what is happening and it excited to maximize his new-found freedom is... challenging.  CPS was NOT waiting for us in Chicago (where we went through customs) much to my surprise based on the struggle it was to get Kanoa to put his seat belt on for landing, but we made it!

The reunion with Paki and the kids was awesome!  They had "met" Kanoa through Facetime throughout the 3 weeks we waited for Kanoa's passport in Kiev.  We walked through the door at Paki's grandmother's where everyone was waiting for us and he easily accepted a hug from his new daddy and siblings!  It was better than we expected and we were thrilled that this first hurdle was a win!

I was so grateful to be home and have the parenting support of Paki.  Those weeks in Ukraine trying to adjust with Kanoa were very hard and took a lot out of me.  I was angry, frustrated, resentful, and at the end of my rope. This is also part of the reason I have not said much up until this point.  I had/have a lot of things that I am working through. 

Celebrating Kale'a's belated birthday a week after we got home. Kitty Cat theme, if you couldn't tell. :)
As for Kanoa, he is doing great.  We've made huge progress with his behavior, emotional out-bursts, and language.  Once he gets going talking, it's hard to make him stop!  Having our next two children so close in age as him has helped tremendously.  He imitates their interactions and words, and they are helping him with his pronunciation.  While I was in Ukraine, I was able to observe a "session" with Kanoa and the orphanage psychologist with my interpreter.  The psychologist took him through some exercises and problem solving/identification scenarios.  At one point she said, "Maybe he will be better at sports."  I was irritated that she would say something like this in front of him.  Now that he's been home for 3 months, knows some of his letters and can count to 15 in English (he was unable to count to 5 in his native language without help and knew NO letters), I want to go back and yell at that woman that these children just need a chance to learn! 

First visit to the Aquarium
The things that Kanoa has learned and developed in just the last 3 months shows how much a child needs a family to fully develop to their potential.  I am amazed at the simple things in life we take for granted.  Things that Kanoa was not afforded or never given the opportunity to experience.  So as we continue to integrate Kanoa in our family and adjust to all the changes, we continue to be amazed at the plan the God designed in family and children.  We are relying daily on God's strength and pray for wisdom and creativity to meet each challenge. 
First time making s'mores, around a fire, on the beach. We had to cut him off after 2 s'mores!

Here are some things I have learned in the past 3 months:

1. Love is not instant and if we rely on our emotions for it, we will be disappointed.  Love is a choice.

2. If you think you're a good person, godly person, or generally on the up and up... adopt.  You will quickly see the true ugliness in your heart, and it will scare you.  I have never been so aware of my own sinfulness and need for a savior than in the last 3 months. 

3. Expectations are yours.  You are responsible for what you determine them to be and how you will react when they are or are not met.  Expectations need to change, often. 

4. Forgiveness brings redemption and redemption brings freedom.  In that freedom, we are able to love.

5. When to walk away and when the battle is worth fighting.  There has been much "dying on swords" in our house over the last 3 months.  We soon realized there are certain things that we just need to let go of and adjust that expectation to a spot further down the line.  This has not been easy.
6. Costco memberships are worth their weight in gold.  Kanoa can out eat Paki most days... I'm scared of the teenage years!

So please keep us in your prayers.  We have our good days and bad days, but for each step backwards, we can still clearly see God's hand reaching out to pull us through to that next step forward.  As a dear friend told me today, "As parents, we're not just raising our children to be 'good', we're shaping their hearts to follow God."