A Sweet Valentine’s Day Project

I’m always looking for fun opportunities to connect with and encourage my kiddos. I’d read recently about a practice some parents have had of making a heart for each kiddo for each day of February and writing on each heart something that they love and appreciate about that child.

I love that idea – except that my kids would absolutely want to keep those hearts. But they are young and do a horrible job of storing and preserving mementos. Within weeks, if not days, I’d be walking down the hallway, stepping on crumpled up hearts saying things like, “Miranda Grace, I love your strength and intensity. They sometimes make life challenging for you, but they are going to serve you well in life, and I appreciate all the work you have put in over the last couple years in learning how to use them well” or, “Madeleine CaiQun, I love your ability to focus on what is important. You have a gift for seeing the big picture and reminding us all about what we should truly prioritize.” And I am in a stage of life in which de-cluttering is a priority. With 4 small children (and 2 sentimental adults),¬†stuff just tends to multiply here, and I’m on a mission to counteract that as much as is possible.

And so I ordered us a collection of notebooks. There were enough for each of us, even Matt and me, to have one. I labelled them and wrote introductory notes on the first page of each about how we are a family – our love is not contingent, but we can still love and appreciate various characteristics of each other, and it’s good to recognize those and encourage each other with sharing about what we see. And then we got to work on filling them!

I have to laugh about the way in which we as a family completed this project. I had grand plans at the beginning – 30 pages per book, so I’d write something in each person’s book each night and also have each child write in 1-2 books per night, and Matt would write when he could, and we’d get it done. We started off pretty strong, the big girls and me doing a good number of entries on the first night. And then we fell off track and ended up needing to spend a lot of time the last couple days finishing up everything – and in fact I realized on February 13 that one child had not written in either of two siblings’ books, so I saved some pages for her to do on the 14th, but otherwise Matt and I stayed up and finished up all of the books late on the night of the 13th – except mine ūüėČ That’s the life of a mom! Matt will work with the kids to finish it up soon, but his and the kids are all done now. The big girls have been reading theirs, and I’m hoping that these will be encouraging touchstones for them in the years to come. Everyone needs to hear about ways they are loved and appreciated.

Even incomplete, my book is already such an encouragement to me. In fact, I was teary after just the first entry. Madeleine CaiQun was the first to write in my book, and this was what she wrote:

“Mommy, I love you because you love me. Love, MeiMei”

Ah!! My day was made. It continues to be made every time I look at that page. She knows I love her. She rests in that. And that is what, for her, defines our relationship. I’m so thankful.

It took some time. It took some effort. But my kiddos won’t be little forever, and I won’t have the chance to pour into them in the same way forever. I want to take advantage of any opportunities we have to build a sense of love and respect and appreciation within our family. For me, these moments of connection and encouragement are oh so worth it. I’m glad we added this project to our agenda for the month.

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Someone in a China adoption Facebook group to which I belong posted a link to an article this past weekend that started quite a discussion. The article itself – entitled, “A Different Kind of Love: Does a mother love a child she has adopted in the same way she might love a birth child? And why is it such a taboo to ask?” – is old, but I still believe¬†a response is appropriate. Most importantly, I want my own adopted daughter to be absolutely certain of my thoughts and feelings on the matter. And beyond that, adoptive families do receive questions (or sometimes statements) along the lines of the topics the article addresses, people wondering if they could ever love an adopted child as much as they would love a child biologically related to them, and I’d like to address that issue.

For those of you who want the short answer, I’m going to state it unequivocally here:¬†I love all of my children immeasurably and uniquely but equally – none of my children are loved more than any other.¬†Each one is beyond precious to me, loved with the entirety of my heart and being.

It’s true that there are differences in¬†parenting biological children and adopted children, but the same could be said of boys and girls or babies born in summer and babies born in winter. The same is true of children with different personalities. As a parent, my job is not to have a mechanical set of procedures in place to be followed in exactly the same manner for each child. My job is to be thoughtful and discerning, studying each of my children, looking for their strengths and weaknesses, walking with each one through life and loving and guiding them in whatever ways they need.

For me, my love for my children began even as I learned just tidbits of information about who they were. Those 20-week ultrasounds and the referral pictures and documents were oh-so-precious in those months during which we waited to meet our children.

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Miranda at her 20-week ultrasound; our first update photos on Madeleine CaiQun, received just after we submitted our Letter of Intent to adopt her; and Atticus at his 20-week ultrasound

We didn’t have much information, but we knew a little, and we treasured that which we knew and made plans to bond with each of our kiddos upon their arrival. And when they did arrive…whether at birth or at age 2…we were smitten with them. They were ours, and for that reason and that reason alone, we loved them wholeheartedly.

We also realized that we had zero control over who they were! Each was a person in their own right with distinct likes and dislikes and needs and wants, only a few of which we could have guessed prior to their arrival. We needed to pursue each child’s heart and be thoughtful and intentional as we sought to create a bond with each one. We spent hours taking walks on beautiful days with that late-spring baby held close in the Moby wrap.

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Our most recent baby, who needed to know I was nearby at night in order to sleep well, was kept close at night.¬†And¬†we employed a litany of strategies¬†designed specifically to foster attachment with the child whom we adopted after she’d spent 2 years living in an orphanage.

Honestly, our attachment dance with Madeleine CaiQun has been and continues to be a joy¬†– it has gone much more smoothly than we knew it might, and we know that others have much harder roads to walk. I don’t mean to belittle the very real struggles other families face in forming healthy relationships, whether with biological children or adopted children.¬†However, attachment is not the same as love. And even beyond that, the love we have for our children cannot be dependent upon them –¬†that’s not what love looks like.¬†Self-interest might look like that…but love doesn’t.

Love looks like a Savior who knew that we¬†would blow it, that we would turn away from the God of the universe and that we would fail at loving the people around us,¬†so He came to earth and did it all for us, in fact gave His very life for us. And then one of His closest friends tells us, “We love because He first loved us.” We are enabled to love by virtue of His love.

All of our children, biological and adopted, have moments in which they are disrespectful, unkind, and just plain hard to love. And yet, I am their mother. I don’t love them because they obey, I don’t love them because they make me look good, I don’t love them because they’re fun, and I certainly don’t love them because they came from my body.

I love them because¬†they’re my children – biological or adopted, they’re my children, and I love them to no end. And, God help me, if called to do so, I would give my life for each and every one of these precious souls, however they came to be part of our family.

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Happy Birthday, Miranda Grace!

Amazingly enough, last week my precious firstborn turned FIVE! It feels like just yesterday that she was born, and here we are at five, which seems like such a big age to me. I’ll probably continue to say that year after year, but five is definitely a milestone. She’s really “school age” now. She’s big enough to push her sister on a swing…

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…big enough to love¬†her baby brother with incredible passion…

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…and big enough to be into chapter books. We started reading Little House in the Big Woods on a road trip last month, and both girls are hooked on “the Laura books,” as they call them.

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Of course, in other ways, five is really not that big. It’s big enough to feel ALL OF THE FEELINGS but not big enough to know how to deal with them constructively. It’s big enough to ask good questions but not always big enough to understand the depth of the answers. We’re working our way through all of that, though, and I pray that what we’re seeing are more and more baby steps of faith. We’re having conversations about how unable all of us really are to live our lives as we should and how Jesus offers to substitute His righteousness for our sinfulness. We’re talking about what love and kindness and forgiveness really are. Matt and I are praying that our little Miranda will continue to grow, more and more, into a girl and eventually a woman who truly embodies her name – a lovely and admirable woman of grace.

And in the midst of the soul-shepherding moments, we’re having a lot of fun. From us, for her birthday, Miranda got an adorable little shirt¬†(a portion of whose proceeds go to an organization working with orphans in China) with lyrics from a song she loves…

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…and what is probably a lifetime supply of water beads, which she and Madeleine CaiQun very much enjoyed getting their hands into that afternoon!

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We made a cake…

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…and went out for ice cream (with my dad, who was able to be in town for a visit for the week surrounding Miranda’s birthday!).

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We’re just as in love with this little girl as we were on that sweet day five years ago when she was born ūüôā I continue to be humbled by the responsibility of being her mom, and I treasure the time I get to spend with her!