The 9 Months Home / 9 Months Pregnant Perspective

“Where there are no oxen, the manger is clean.” – Proverbs 14:4

Nine months home, and we’re still trying to make sense of it all – attempting to figure out our new normal and all the change that these months have brought. Life is radically redefined. And most days, that Proverb feels like it was written specifically about our messy manger. Adoption is not for those who want their families to remain neat and tidy. It’s more about sacrificing your home, your finances, your health, your family, and your have-it-all-together image to wage war for the healing of one child.

Getting through some moments takes hard-core survival skills. Yet when we look back, we see progress – movement, be it teeny steps, toward health and wholeness and just life like a regular kid. How about a timeline and photo dump, then keep on reading for the heavy stuff.

Months 0-2: Malachi is in America. Five and a half years old and fresh out of the orphanage. He knows absolutely no English, and we’re using visual schedules to trudge through the day. He’s monkey crawling around the house and eating like one too. He’s got parasites, a potentially life-threatening bowel blockage, 7 cavities, an unexplained rash on his abdomen, and a mom-diagnosed anxiety disorder. He’s terrified of Mia the dog. We’re visiting the doctor every other day trying to triage all of the orphanage health problems plus get a grip on spina bifida – his permanently disabling birth defect. Maddox and Malachi are screaming at each other constantly, and we’re using hula hoops to confine them and survive play time. Do not, under any circumstance, leave the hula hoop, little ones. Malachi learns his English letters and sounds. He eats only pasta and rice. In a moment of subsequent joy and utter panic, we find out I am pregnant.

Months 3- 5: We now have braces, a walker, a wheelchair, a nightly enema routine, an occupational therapist, and a physical therapist who outlaws crawling around like a monkey. We start making him use his walker 100% of the time. Malachi has two surgeries and a major post-operation meltdown in the middle of Orlando’s Ronald McDonald House. I’m alone with him, 12 weeks pregnant, and bear hugging him to keep him from harming himself or me. In other news, Mitch leaves his job, we sell our house in Clearwater, begin to plant Redeemer City Church, move in with my parents, and start building a house in Tampa. The transition causes Malachi fear and more anxiety and temporarily wrecks progress. He starts a half-day program in school, and does remarkably well (minus the spitting in a kid’s face episode). English is improving. He’s blending sounds and reading three-letter words. He’s learning the Kuhn family way of rewards and consequences. He now likes pizza, cheese steaks, carrots, milk, ice cream, and peanut butter sandwiches.

Months 6 – 9: Malachi celebrates his 6th birthday. He learns to ride a bike with training wheels and special pedals. An occupational therapist helps us teach him to self-regulate. We start to see him cope with anxiety a little better, and we begin constantly throwing out scripts like “stay in the green.” We learn all kinds of occupational therapy tricks that help us manage behavior and stay half-way sane. He becomes responsible for time management and his own “tasks.” Most days he manages to do his super-long bathroom routines 75% independently. Maddox and Malachi find a more stable and typical brotherly love-hate relationship. They share a room at Gigi and Papouli’s house and decide they’d prefer not to have their own rooms in the new house. (Not gonna happen. It was designed with 4 bedrooms for parental peace. You two shall be separated.) They can play independently together for up to an hour of busting ghosts and saving the world from villains. Malachi rocks it counting by tens in his end-of-the-year school program. He begins using forearm crutches instead of his wheeled walker, and we only pull out the wheelchair for long distances. He is almost fluent in English and learning to swim. He has begun guitar lessons, and he eats whatever we eat.

Looking back at progress is beautiful, but surviving the individual days is unsightly. The moments where we choose frustration instead of compassion are too many. We never know the right answers, and we struggle to offer enough nurture with the structure. We trudge through night terrors and wounds that we pray God will someday heal. We’re just limping along asking God to make up for the 50 million ways we’re sure we’re doing it wrong.

Each day is a battle with our own broken flesh. This child has forced us to look at our own sinful, ugly hearts and wrestle with idols we never before knew were inside. Any winning moments where we choose true empathy instead of selfish annoyance come from something outside of ourselves – a supernatural grace. Adoption has wrecked us…. albeit wrecked us afresh. For now, we see and savor the amazing grace that is showered from above. Just enough grace for each day. And tomorrow morning, His mercies will be new again. At some point you realize, this might never get easier and that’s ok. For this is our privilege and calling.

We said yes to this life in what we now realize was a moment of God-given naivety. Thank you Jesus that when we saw a photo of that 4-year-old boy in September 2014, we were innocent enough to think we had the guts and gusto to parent a child who came from a really hard place – to face daily enemas and catheterization and physical therapy and surgeries and trauma and neglect. Because we now know full well, we didn’t and we don’t.

We read all of the adoption books. But none of them said that he’d be absent-minded and unintentionally destructive. We couldn’t foresee that he’d be tense and hyper in even the most relaxing family moments.  No one told us the wheels of his walker would destroy the baseboards and run over our toes, and his braces would scrape the car. We didn’t daydream about what incontinence would actually entail. We didn’t envision skipping our anniversary because after 8 months home he still wasn’t ready to be left with anyone else. I’m thankful for ignorance, lest we would have given the wrong answer when we heard the call – and God forbid, rejected His invitation to an entirely new normal.

We thought this story was going to be about assimilating a child from a broken past into a comfortable, stable home. We were wrong. Our two worlds had to be forged together. And our home, which I think had been comfortable and stable, was shattered under the weight of the brokenness it welcomed. We plucked him from his life and forced him to change. But he has done the same to us. Adoption changed his life, but it changed ours more. It has transformed us – not with the pretty and picturesque but with heavy burdens and difficult truths. This little boy has pulled back the curtain of our hearts and exposed what most of us willfully and successfully hide – that we’re all broken and messed up. We’ve got lots of junk filling our deceitfully wicked hearts. And as heroic and humanitarian as we want to appear, we just really really need a whole lot of Jesus to get through every hour. In most ways, adoption has wrecked our lives. We’re just now wise enough to recognize it has been wrecked for the better.

Our soon-to-be three little oxen make our manger a beautiful mess. But oh do we love them to the moon and back.

 

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Adoption is Not the Answer

International adoption will never solve the orphan crisis. It might be a good answer for a relative handful of children, but it’s not a realistic solution for a global dilemma. One beautiful adoption means an ugly tragedy happened first. A child was orphaned because of poverty or preventable disease or abandonment or some other atrocity. Children don’t want their birth parents to die so they can come to America, live in a two-story house in suburbia, attend private school, play on an iPad, and be a boyscout. Adoption happens for few. And those few represent the faces of millions more who are left alone.

The best scenario is for the birth parents to survive preventable disease or to have a financial situation that doesn’t force them to relinquish their children. The best scenario is not adoption.

Believers, both those who have and have not been called to adopt, must begin to ask ourselves what we can do to play a part in the solution. How can we begin to get at the root of the orphan crisis and keep families together? How can we play a role, be it very small, in alleviating poverty, improving education, and eliminating preventable disease?

Our family found that answer in Compassion International.

Ferahol

Ferahol

Enter Ferahol.

He’s the 4-year-old boy we’ve been sponsoring monthly and praying for daily. He lives with his mom and dad in Nazareth, Ethiopia and attends Misrak Wonji Kuriftu Student Center. We write Ferahol letters, and with the help of an adult and a translator, he writes us back! Turns out his favorite animal is a cow, and his favorite sport is soccer. So he and Maddox have two things in common.

Compassion International is a Christian organization working to break the cycle of poverty in countries like Ethiopia. The money we give really does go to Ferahol, helping him receive nutritious meals, educational opportunities, medical checkups, and most importantly, the gospel through the work of a local church.

For the skeptics out there who wonder if child sponsorship really works… A recent study published in the Journal of Political Economy found that sponsored children are more likely to graduate secondary school and college, have salaried employment, and be leaders in their communities.

What’s even cooler is that when we travel to Ethiopia to meet our next child, we can also have the opportunity to meet Ferahol. Compassion coordinates both personal and group visits to meet your sponsored child. We can’t wait to see first hand what a lot of love and little bit of money can do in Ferahol’s life.

If you’ve ever considered sponsoring a child through Compassion, you should totally take the plunge. It’s literally the cost of eating out one less time or getting one less mani/pedi per month, and it makes a huge, eternal impact.

Tell those rich in this world’s wealth to quit being so full of themselves and so obsessed with money, which is here today and gone tomorrow. Tell them to go after God, who piles on all the riches we could ever manage—to do good, to be rich in helping others, to be extravagantly generous. If they do that, they’ll build a treasury that will last, gaining life that is truly life.

1 Timothy 6:18-19

And some photos of the Oromio region of Ethiopia where Ferahol lives…

Oromio Region Oromio Region

Breaking the Mold

I’ve always valued uniqueness… places, ideas, clothing, people. But my appreciation for uniqueness isn’t all that unique, is it? Most people appreciate originality. But when it comes to family building, perhaps fewer people can appreciate styles that break the mold. International adoption is our current method of choice. And seeing that in 2012, it only happened around 8,000 times in the US, I like to think we’re breaking the norm. We’re challenging conventional notions about how families are created and defying social expectations as to how families should look. In less than two years (God-willing), we will welcome an Ethiopian baby boy or girl into our home in the same way we welcomed Maddox and in the same way we will welcome our next biological child who will be born out of the same belly Maddox was born out of. (No I’m not pregnant! Just referencing baby #3 who we’re hopeful is far in the future).

So why adoption? It’s a question we’ve been hearing a lot lately. After all, Maddox proved that the baby makers seem to be working properly. Crafting a response quick enough for the casually curious minds who seem somewhat eager to move on to the next subject has not been easy. The long version is much better.

There are probably a handful of answers to that question you’re expecting me to say, and they’re all true. We want to father the fatherless. We do not want to be aloof believers simply living out a Christian version of the American dream. We refuse to ignore the orphan crisis. However, for our family, adoption is less about the nobility of rescuing a child and more about the celebration of God’s miraculous rescue of us – two orphans who could do nothing deserving of entering God’s family. Our desire is that our family become a picture, as imperfect as it will be, of God’s beautiful display of grace toward two broken down sinners.

We don’t actually believe orphan care is a calling, but rather a command. God has so deepened and widened our understanding of the Gospel, leading us to conclude that adoption is at the very center of God’s purpose of the universe. Earthly adoption is a beautiful display of God’s grace.

So why international adoption? We wanted to impact a child who would have never been able to access nutrition, education, or medical care. We wanted to snatch a child out of a culture where they likely would have never been blessed to hear and receive the Gospel. Adoption from the American foster system is desperately needed, and God calls specific families to it (namely, my sister and brother-in-law). But God has led our hearts overseas. Not to mention, we are somewhat enamored with the idea of having a multicultural family. If God’s family is made of many tribes, nations, and tongues, let’s make this comparison picture accurate!

By my survey of the environment around me, adoption as a means of family building isn’t very common. And international adoption, even less so. But shouldn’t more people break the mold?

“Rescue the perishing; don’t hesitate to step in and help. If you say, “Hey, that’s none of my business,” [i.e. “that’s not for me”] will that get you off the hook? Someone is watching you closely, you know— Someone not impressed with weak excuses.”
~Proverbs 24:12 (The Message)