Latkes and Applesauce

We used the leftover potatoes from the family gathering the other day to make latkes for Hanukkah, and we had just enough applesauce to go around.

The children were as delighted with this as they are a holiday that includes playing with fire every night!

Celebrating Hanukkah is not a Mormon faith thing, obviously, because it is a Jewish holiday. But after so much time in Israel, and such study of Hebrew, and the friends we have made in study and in worship, it is part of our identity and culture to acknowledge. It is a story of a miracle, and the return to the temple, both of which are important pieces of our faith and worth emphasizing.

There is a dark side to miracles, though, which is usually the struggle that leads up to the miracle. Whether it’s years in exile before the celebrated return, or a bloody battle before the victory, or the diligent work through mundane tasks to harvest much needed provision.

These are themes familiar to our family, after the hard years we have endured.

I do not mean to complain, as every family endures hard things. But I do share and write about the particular hard things that have been our hard things because those are the lessons and miracles of which I can testify.

And this season, with Hanukkah and Christmas – and even autumn’s Diwali with all of its lights – is the season for celebrating miracles.

Ultimately, these miracles are the victory of light over darkness, good over evil, knowledge over ignorance, and hope over despair.

That’s what we learn from miracles, and why the struggle before a miracle is necessary, whether that is confusion before understanding, wandering before settling, or even grieving before resurrection or reunion.

Regardless of our circumstance, and even though we have moved a ridiculous amount of times in the last few years, I love that our family has wandered like Abraham or like Moses. This can be our story. We went into exile to gather ourselves, and we wandered in circles as we became a family. Then, after having found each other, we returned here to our home base to rest as promised.

And it was good.

And now, as we set out again for what we hope is a final stop, we are starting out as a family solidified and strengthened. We are not being chased away by ghosts this time, and there are no new kids in our group anymore. We are one, just a family, as we are.

Our tiniest miracle continues as Kyrie is still with us as Christmas approaches and we thought she wouldn’t be. Daring to hope, we see her gaining strength (and weight) and becoming a little person instead of a baby. The gtube has saved her life, and her clear lungs mean that every bit of oxygen we can get into her really actually means something. She sings and dances, and runs and plays, and laughs and even screams for the first time.

She is so normal.

We will take every day that feels like that, even with syringes that pump in her organic feeding formula and even with the oxygen tubes that lay around our house now like forgotten toys.

Those of you who bought fan club t-shirts, by the way, should be getting them soon. They are being printed today and shipping tomorrow! How fun is that?

That’s not all the news we got early this morning.

After waiting two and a half years, the full report on Kyrie’s genetic testing has come back and was emailed to us.

Her results were normal, which gives us hope regarding some of the additional struggles they were afraid she might face in the future.

It is good to get good news for a change!

What a feeling to have burdens lifted, for loads to be lightened, to find out there are some hard things that just won’t be required for you (or her) to endure after so many other hard things.

This is a relief. It is good news. It doesn’t take everything else away, but it means that we don’t have to worry about the extra things they said were possible – she’s not going to lose her sight from this, or have juvenile arthritis, or other related things from other syndromes that sometimes have some of her symptoms. This is good news, a mercy given to a child who endures enough already.

But it included other news, too, which confirmed what we already assumed: cell damage and structural issues and something else I don’t even understand all indicate that in Kyrie’s case, her medical problems are indeed caused by alcohol and polysubstance abuse while in utero.

We knew that already.

But now it’s on paper.

On paper in a way she will have to face and process as she gets older.

On paper the very same day her (and Anber’s) biological mother is being transferred from prison back to the local jail for court, to get out years early because of overcrowding.

It stirs up an emotional response in me that I confess is not pretty or tender, but feels more like a storm I am afraid of because of the flashing bolts and roaring thunder. There are not even words on that stupid feeling wheel for how this makes me feel.

That woman-child, barely twenty when she was sent away to prison for what she did to my baby, has never served her real sentence. Her real consequences should be seeing this baby when she is purple, and then blue, and then grey. Her real consequence should be watching her struggle to breathe, choke on her food, and wipe away the tears that fall as she aspirates on her drink. Her real consequence should be sleepless nights week after week, month after month, again and again, in hospitals far away from home and all alone. Her real consequence should be watching that baby in a coma, pleading with her to wake up to a life of pain and struggle. Her real consequence should be two fingered chest compressions on a toddler the size of a doll, washing eight billion syringes a day, or shoving a tube down her baby’s nose and throat so as to keep her alive, even though that was one more thing blocking an already restricted airway. Her real consequence should be learning how to travel to a hospital a thousand miles away with a van full of medical equipment, getting strapped to gurneys on helicopters, or having to find a way to fly home again with an infant and six machines in your lap on the airplane. Her real consequence should be the exhaustion from suctioning every eight minutes 24/7 with no nursing help, the fear instilled from blaring heart monitors in the night, or the trauma inflicted from having ten minutes to keep your baby alive when it’s a forty-five minute drive to get there. Her real consequence should be having to plead and beg for one more dollar to get the next medical supply not covered at home but necessary to keep her alive, to work one more night shift to make up for the one spent in the hospital, or to research laws about trading medical supplies that home health won’t take back but you no longer need in hopes of finding the things you need more desperately than your own air because it’s the difference between life and death for your child. Her real consequence should be waking in the night because the Holy Ghost himself has warned that the child is not breathing, learning to trust that voice to tell you how to move or turn the baby so she can breathe or eat or gasp for air, learning to trust God for the provision and protection for that baby to live another day.

Those should be her consequences.

But they weren’t.

They were mine.

It’s so atonement-ish.

Because I chose to bring that baby home, promised to care for her, and have done my best to do right by her.

And so on the day that woman goes before a judge to plead for mercy and early release, her now almost three year old daughter runs to me to sing the Good Morning song and tell me she already went potty like a big girl.

And I will hold her, and kiss her, and hug her.

And then I will tell her about her other mother, where she grew in her tummy, her other mother who loves her so much and has spent every day missing her – which is maybe the hardest consequence of all, and one from which there will be no early release.

But it is a season of miracles.

And for lighting the world today, we are called to be merciful.

Even merciful to mothers who make mistakes.

Even merciful to ourselves.

How far can you go today to show mercy to someone else or to yourself?

What pain can you release for the cause of mercy, even when doing so doesn’t justify a wrong or erase natural consequences?

What hard place in your heart is being called to soften, what story needs reframing, what grudge needs letting go?

Who needs forgiving from something so awful they can’t undo, even while consequences haunt them far more than you ever could?

What small good can you do in the world, for someone who doesn’t even deserve it, for someone who maybe won’t even appreciate it, or for someone who needs a break in life when there has been no hope?

When Anber and Kyrie’s mother gets out of prison, I will take them to see her when it is time and they are ready.

It will be the hardest visit ever, not because she is worse than the other biological parents, but because the damage was most externally obvious. And because we have had this illusion of time where they were only mine. And because I am really comfortable with being really angry at what she has done to this child.

But that kind of anger is not of God, and justice is His to serve instead of mine.

And while there are days I know Kyrie would not be alive if we had not sacrificed so much to care for her, I also know she would not even be here if it were not for her mother.

And she is not my story so much as her mother is her story and Anber’s, and they need to write it themselves.

We have said it before: children are not happy meal toys to be possessed. They are living beings, with their own stories to write, and that woman is their mother.

It’s harder, too, because it is a starting over.

We met Kirk and Barrett’s mother at adoption, after the hard pieces of their story, during a new beginning for the boys. She and I have worked hard to learn to trust each other, as we offered visits and as she participated. It grew out relationship into the safe place it now feels, even in such painful circumstances, and it is starkly contrasted with Mary’s mother who deserves the same kind of mercy and love but hasn’t participated.

I don’t know what will happen when this woman will get released. I don’t know if she will participate. I don’t know if she will be safe for the girls. I don’t know if she understands how hard Kyrie’s life has been, or how she has struggled, or what a miracle it is that she is still with us.

I don’t know if it isn’t maybe true that Kyrie lasted this long just to see her mother again, and process that in her own way.

There’s purpose in all of it, I know that.

And I know that today is the day we are called to be merciful, so that is significant to me.

Difficult and unpleasant, but significant.

But that’s part of the journey, the uncomfortable part.

It’s part of adoption. It’s part of fostering. It’s part of being a family.


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.

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