Beading Our Best

These are Mary’s new beads, which I braided in only an hour and a half.

It’s a new record for me.  Usually it takes me closer to four hours.  Even for bigger braids like these, it normally takes me between two and three hours.  So I am getting better than when I first started learning three years ago!  Can you believe we have had this girl for three years?

Her braids are still not perfect, but it is tighter than what I could do in the past, and I know now how to weave around her cochlear implant magnets on her head, and her hair itself is healthier than when she came to us.  Her beads aren’t exactly the most awesome design, but they are the design she picked out for herself.  All in all, I could that as progress for both of us, as we learn together.

While I was braiding her hair, I was thinking how it feels so much like life.  We think something is too foreign to us, so we don’t try.  Or we think something is too hard, so we give up.  Or our mistakes are too public, so we cover ourselves with shame instead of holding our heads high.

But it seems like the only thing that really does is betray ourselves.

We have received such encouragement and positive feedback for the TED talk draft, and we are so grateful.  It’s terrifying.  But the most meaningful comments have come from biological parents whose children have been adopted through DHS, and adults who were themselves fostered and adopted and had to navigate those hard waters.  Their stories and their encouragement means so much as we keep trying, even though we don’t always get it right.

We do make lots of mistakes.  Sometimes our most well-intentioned plans for a tender day still turn into a shouting for everyone to quiet down.  I know, right?  How is my own shouting going to help?  But we are better, and we have many – not all, but many – days now without any screaming at all.

Or sometimes there are things we cannot help, like the time we didn’t get the message about a bio-grandmother’s funeral.  That was important.  We had planned to be there.  We had planned to donate for other people to be able to be there.  But Kyrie got sick, their plans happened last minute, and when it was all said and done, we didn’t get the message about the funeral day and time until the evening after it happened.  I will never forgive myself for not being more vigilant that day, because being there meant everything.  It’s not about being forgiven by the family, or them letting it go and loving us anyway.  It’s about missing an opportunity to show them that we love them for real, and not being able to get that moment back.

Other times it’s bigger than that, these kinds of circumstances you can’t control and aren’t anyone’s fault, but damaging none the less.  Immediately to my mind comes the example of me getting life-flighted with Kyrie just a few short weeks after Kirk and Barrett moved in with us.  That wasn’t anyone’s fault, and we did our best to stay connected, and no one ever blamed us (to our faces!), but that was the last thing those little boys needed, and it took an extra long time to heal from that.

Some of them are even more neutral, but still get marked as a stressor (because your mom is a therapist, so she knows better).  Like when we had to move to Tulsa so Kyrie could be closer to the hospital and for me to be close to the family while I did the chaplaincy residency.  Kyrie needed that to be safe, and there were many days I would not have seen the children at all if we hadn’t lived so close.  It was the right thing for us as a family.  But it was still a move, which still therapeutically counts as a change in placement, which for children adopted from foster care is pretty much the last thing they needed.

But it was the best we could do.

Like moving back to our yellow house once Kyrie was released from the hospital on palliative care.  In some ways it would have been better to move back to Bartlesville then, but Owasso was closer to more job opportunities for me and kept Kyrie closer to the hospital – which ended up saving us when she got her g-tube.  And there was no reason to stay in our tiny house by the river, all crowded in there together.  It was the right thing for our family.

Now we have to decide, probably by the end of the year, if we are staying in the yellow house, or letting it go so that we have better funds for caring for Kyrie and getting a nearby place (same ward) with a little extra room (even outside) for these children who are suddenly turning into tweenagers.  It’s a big decision, even if the children just think it is the latest adventure in the series of treasured unfortunate events that has been our life together.  I moved so much when I was growing up, so I don’t know if I am overly sensitive to it or desensitized to what normal is or isn’t.

And I do not at all mean to complain about any single day Kyrie is alive.  We are so grateful for every miracle, and do not take a single day for granted.  We love the nurses and doctors who care for her, who have fought for her, and who believe in her.  She is changing the world, that little one, one snarky smile at a time.

But she is also one expensive little baby, and we need a better plan in place as we meet the requirements of mortality even while moving forward in faith.

Especially as she continues to exceed expectations.

But never will we blame her for it, because while it may be the circumstances in which we find ourselves, that is a very different thing than causing them.

I also refuse to be afraid.

Because when you ask for miracles, you first have to act in faith as if you are expecting miracles.

I also know that every little shift – whether us trying harder, or learning new skills, or moving to meet the needs of our family – every little pathway opened up to us is given to us by God, even provided for us.  I know what it is to live the life of Job, and I know what it means to understand that opposition against us is not condemnation but the proving grounds of covenants.

And I trust Him, as my Father and as my God, even when the winds surround us and seem to take everything away, whirling around us so loudly that I cannot even hear my own prayers because they are only tears.

Like when my sweet babies, who have been through so much, have only two weeks of counseling left because the state wants to delete it.

Mary’s hair is like that, you see, a hot mess out of control if it isn’t cared for and moisturized and kept combed through.  But giving up doesn’t make it better. That just tangles it worse, and makes it all matted until it has to be cut off.

Know what helps?  Dealing with it.  Combing it out.  Oiling it up.  Braiding tighter, smoothing down, sliding those beads on and securing the ends so they stay a while.

It’s like praying, even when everything seems impossible.

And reading your scriptures, even when you think you are tired.

And going to the temple, even when you don’t even know how to pull that off.

And doing your best as a family, even when none of you are even close to perfect.

Because together you are whole.

Because those babies are angels, I tell you, and we are honored to have their special little spirits in our home, where ever home is.

That’s what we think, so that’s what we do, because that’s who we are.

And when you can do that, buckling down spiritually just like putting in some really good braids, even if it isn’t as good as the fancy lady at the black beauty shop, it at least keeps everything safe, and healthy, and strong – with enough shiny beads to make a nine year old girl smile.


About Emily

I am a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints since 2009. I serve as a Chaplain, and work as a counselor. I got bilateral cochlear implants in 2010, but will always love sign language. I choose books over television, and organics over processed. Nothing is as close to flying as ballroom dancing - except maybe running, when in the solo mood. I would rather be outside than anywhere else, especially at the river riding my bike or kayaking. PhD in Marriage and Family Therapy, and currently doing a post-doc in Jewish Studies and an MDiv in Pastoral Counseling. The best thing about Emily World is that it's always an adventure, even if (not so) grammatically precise. The only thing better than writing is being married to a writer. Nathan Christensen and I were married in the Oklahoma City temple on 13 October 2012, and have since fostered more than eighty-five children. We have adopted the six who stayed, and are totally and completely and helplessly in love with our family. Nathan writes musical theater, including "Broadcast" (a musical history of the radio) and an adaption of Lois Lowry's "The Giver". He served his mission in South Korea, has taught song-writing in New York City public schools, and worked as a theater critic for a Tucson newspaper. This is not an official Web site of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.