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Adoption Disruption: The Down-and-Dirty ~ by Nikki Esqivel

This post has been fighting to get out of me for some time now. I have attempted to squash it with a million “what ifs”  and  finally came to grips with the fact that my “what ifs” were really attempts to get myself off the hook and pretend that adoption has been perfect for us in all it’s forms.  It hasn’t. And it hasn’t been perfect for all of our children either, primarily our 12 year old, Lemuel.

The circumstances of Lemuel’s birth are his own private history and out of respect for him, I will only share what is absolutely vital to the understanding of how he became a “disrupted adoption story.”  Lemuel was born to a poor and physically ill mother who passed away just a month after surrendering him. Lemuel’s birthmother was malnourished. She did not “break” him, she did the best she could but he was born at a disadvantage to his well-nourished, deeply-wanted age mates. A crack appears . . .

Lemuel waited in an Asian orphanage for 7 years for a family to call his own.  He was in a wonderful, Christian orphanage run by a family which I respect immensely. They did not “break” our son.  They fed, clothed and trained him but they are not a nuclear family.  They will be the first to tell you that every child needs a Mommy and Daddy of their own and a “regular family” to develop to the highest potential. The crack widens a little as he waits . . .

Finally, after 7 long years, Lemuel was placed for adoption with one of his biological brothers. That placement lasted all of two weeks before the first family recognized they were not prepared for the challenges that these two children were presenting. They disrupted the placement and Lemuel and his brother were put into two separate foster-to-adopt homes for their own benefits.  This first family did not “break” our son, either but the crack in him develops branches . . .

Lemuel’s new foster-to-adopt family took him in with, undoubtedly, the purest of intentions. They wanted to help a child who needed them.  In the safety of their home, Lemuel began to express his deep sadness and anger at all of the circumstances in his life that he could never control.  This expression came out as violence. The family had their own biological child to protect. Lemuel was too risky to keep. He needed more than they could safely offer so it was time for him to move on. The crack in the soul of our son becomes a wide crevasse and ugly things ooze out . . .

Lemuel is placed in a psychiatric hospital and put on a patch delivering continuous medication. He is 8 years old.  This medication keeps the tantrums at bay and puts a bandaid on a gaping, mortal wound.  When his sadness breaks through, he is given pills in addition to the patch.  He is labeled.  He is alone in a foreign country with no family, no siblings and nobody to truly fight for him.  The foundation of this little boy shatters into a million pieces and he says he doesn’t want to live anymore. He is a broken pile of shards . . .

We learn about Lemuel through our adoption agency and we agree to go to the psyche hospital and meet him.

We take our three children along because we want them to understand as much as possible about this new child who may or may not be joining our family.  We meet Lemuel in  a large cafeteria at a psyche hospital. The room smells like old pizza and white milk.  He is a tiny figure at the end of a long table sitting with an agency social worker.  We approach him and HE IS TERRIFIED.  His eyes dart to each of our faces and then around the room. His eyes never stop moving. He wants to be anywhere but here, bracing for another probable rejection by people who mean nothing to him and yet symbolize everything.  We try to play a board game with him but he makes a mistake, gets angry and quits. His lips are so chapped that a circle of scabs surrounds them. He has been habitually biting and licking his lips for weeks out of sheer anxiety. We try to joke with him but he does not understand.  He gets up abruptly and leaves the room in the middle of an attempt to engage him.  None of us even knows if he is allowed to do this. The agency social worker goes to check while my husband and I wordlessly communicate “this kid is a mess”.  And he was.

We leave the hospital for a nearby restaurant to talk and pray as a family.  We are distraught by what we have seen but aware that we are WAY out of our league.  We could have buckled up in our car and driven away without even looking in the rear view mirror. Part of me wanted to. The other part of me wanted to take Lemuel home with us that very day. We asked the Lord to show us what to do.  We called our agency on the way home from the psyche hospital and told them we wanted to bring Lemuel home.  We did.  When we picked him up a few days later, he was neither happy nor sad. Just resigned. He had never had his opinion count before so he did not offer one about this new family coming to claim him.  He would simply learn to spell his new last name and move on with life.   He tried to.  He couldn’t.  He was not a good enough actor to camouflage his true feelings. He cried a lot. He disobeyed most of the time. His attitude was terrible. He didn’t like our food, our music, our ideas or any of us.  He was determined to reject us first or force us to reject him and shorten his time between placement and the big “heave ho.”   He made us miserable.  We could not take him places without having to face him whining, griping. complaining or busting out with an inappropriate comment or question – and he could not whisper. He still can’t.  He lied incessantly and made nonsense statements.  He overate and had nightmares constantly.  Our lives changed drastically over the course of the next few months.  Our older children began to resent him. Our younger child did not want to play with him because he cheated and always had to win.  In privacy, we questioned our decision to bring this child home.

We felt what his previous families had felt. That we had made a mistake and doomed ourselves to parenting this most difficult child. We cried. We read books. We considered disruption a hundred times and each time, one or the other of us would say “no”.  We came to the stark realization that when handed a body bag with a broken person inside, we expected him to “rise up and walk” just by virtue of living under our blessed roof.

We somehow fancied our mere presence sufficient to heal this child.  We thought it would be easy. We were critical of all who had gone before us. Until we were humbled.  Until we couldn’t fix him either.

Fast forward 5 years. Lemuel is still in our family. He has been in counseling and residential treatment since joining our crew. We have made many mistakes in our parenting of him. We have held the bar so high that he could never jump over it and then been furious when he didn’t.  We have failed. But we have also succeeded.

We promised him that this family would be his last stop. And it is.  Not because we are so tolerant or so perfect and certainly not because he has been “cured” of all his issues.  This is Lemuel’s last stop because he is our child and we love him.  We are learning to accept him “as is”.   We don’t have the kind of  glue that mends a broken child but we have a Heavenly Father who makes all things new and He is teaching us bit by bit and day by day that He is sovereign.   Lemuel has improved GREATLY over the last 5 years but, guess what.

So have we.  We have learned the meaning of “blessing in disguise” and we are working on figuring out other mysteries like “unconditional love” and “adjusting expectations”.  Lemuel is fine. He is exactly who he is supposed to be at this time in his life.

Despite the painful blows life has dealt him, he continues to find joy in the smallest of things.  He loves sports, video games, other people, making friends and eating Filipino food.  He laughs too long and too loud at the silliest of TV shows and adores his little brother who has Down Syndrome.

Lemuel is a walking miracle . . . beauty from ashes.

I do not believe I could have survived what he has.  Many could not.  Most would not be able to do it and retain any hope in the future.  Lemuel has many hopes and big plans – he wants to play football for his school, drive a car when he’s 16, join the  military and he says he’ll never get married because he’ll probably die in a war and he doesn’t want his wife to be sad.   (A little morbid but quite thoughtful, too).

I am not haughty enough to believe this child was put through all this hell just to teach our family valuable lessons, but he has.  I know the reason for Lemuel’s life, just like the reason for all of our lives: we exist for the sole purpose of glorifying God.   Lord Jesus, be glorified in the journey and make us something beautiful for You.  Amen!

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