Thursday, January 21, 2010

The Gift of Grace

Grace's birthday this week has been bittersweet for me. I'm guessing that this may be something I face / deal with for a while. It is terribly difficult for me to be happy on her birthday, when she has NO clue that this day is different from any other day in her life. So, yes my sweet, wonderful daughter turned 3 on Tuesday but because she is significantly mentally disabled she doesn't understand that. Grace has been evaluated to be Mentally Retarded (a medical term I hate but understand the need for, so we say MR in our house) and she has the mind and mental capabilities of a 6 to 9 month old baby. To be totally truthful, I spent much of the day crying.

In an effort to restore my humor and hopefulness, I have decided to post a portion of a talk I was honored to give in December. I was asked to be the speaker at our churches Christmas Tea, which ran for 3 nights and we had close to 700 women attend. I was so humbled that our church felt I had a story to share that could possibly reach women and my prayer was that God would use me to speak to them. I have had so much positive feedback from this experience that I am so thankful that I decided to do it.

My talk was called 'The Gift of Grace', sort of a play on words because I talked about our daughter Grace being a gift as well as the biblical grace that God offers all of us. For those of you who don't know the beginning of the story, Grace was referred to us as a completely healthy baby girl. It was when our adoption was complete (for the other Guatemalan adoptive mamas, it was after PGN signed off on our case) that we learned there was something significant wrong with her. We decided to proceed with her adoption and bring her home not knowing what this meant we would face. But, I want to be clear, we did not set out to adopt a special needs child and really would have said no to her adoption had we known up front what we faced.

1. The gift of COMPASSION. I have always had compassion for others, have always been touched by others suffering. But now, I am more aware of how the smallest, simplest act of reaching out towards another brings the most relief. On the days that I was at my lowest, I remember begging God to send me someone or something to sustain me. And on those days I would get a phone call or an email from someone 'just checking in'.

Grace is also teaching our boys compassion. They are living it and don't even realize they are being taught a life lesson that is shaping them into the men they will become. Our boys, at 5 and 3, have had to live with constant therapies and medical appointments to the point that they think it is normal to have these things in their life. They look children with disabilities in the eye and they talk to them, seeing beyond their disabilities. Grace goes to horseback therapy once a week to help with her walking and I normally have to take her brothers with me. Well Luke, my 3 year old, loves people all people and he has taken to one of the other girls receiving therapy. Every time he sees her he yells her name and goes up to hug her - now this little girl is probably 10 or 12, she can't walk without help, she shakes and jerks her body and she doesn't talk. But Luke doesn't see that. When we leave he yells 'Bye friend'.

2. The gift of JOY. Grace is truly a blessing to be around. She brings smiles to the faces of complete strangers because she is so happy. Every accomplishment, no matter how small, is joyfully celebrated. Now, Joy and Happiness are completely different things. We are not happy about Grace's situation at all. But we can find Joy in the fact that she is right where she belongs, in our family. An example of the joy that Grace brings to people can be found right here at Willowdale. Each week I have people come up to me saying things like, 'I got to be with Grace today in Promiseland and she played the xlyophone' Or 'she ate a goldfish'. Also, Grace may be the only 2 year old to receive a standing ovation when she walked out of Promiseland on her own 2 weeks ago.

3. The gift of UNCONDITIONAL LOVE. I love all three of my kids, I hope equally. But my love for Grace is an unselfish love. Not based on what she does or says or how she acts - because she doesn't have the ability to do or say or act for herself. She is completely dependent on me and my husband for everything and it is our pleasure to take care of her. This reminds me of God's unconditional love for us. We are broken and human and yet, God loves us with an unselfish love. God's love for us is not dependent on what we can do for Him because He is God and really what could we do for Him or give Him that He doesn't already have.

4. The gift of PEACE. Grace will be 3 in January and she still has no diagnosis and therefore no prognosis. I wake up every day praying and hoping that today is the day she will talk or feed herself or function normally. And I go to bed thanking God that tomorrow will be the day. But throughout it all, I am thankful that it does not depend on me. God's word says that he knew us before the foundations of the earth. That means that Grace's life and challenges are not a surprise to God. That she will accomplish whatever she is supposed to accomplish based on God's timing.

5. The gift of LAUGHTER. I remember the first time I heard Grace laugh. She had been home about 6 months and had just turned one. We had gone through months and months of testing and had been able to rule out that her brain was dead or dying, we found out that she wasn't blind, or deaf but still we had no reason for her delays. It was a truly difficult time to remain positive. And one night Grace was laying on the floor, because she didn't have the strength to sit up on her own for very long, and my husband began to tickle her and play with her. All of the sudden, she started laughing. I remember freezing and just staring at them. I said something really intelligent like 'is she laughing' and then starting crying! It was so beautiful to hear her laugh. It is amazing how hearing her laugh made everything seem okay.

We now laugh all the time with Grace. In fact, she will sometimes just start laughing for no reason. But it is usually in response to something her brothers are doing. Right now, her favorite thing is to watch them act like 2 of the 3 stooges. They run around our living room, bump into each other and fall down or hit themselves on the head and she just laughs. It is so fun to see her laugh and enjoy life because for the first year we lovingly called her lump of Grace.

6. The gift of PURPOSE. I can now look back on who I was in my early 30's, when I was searching for something more and finally answer 'isn't there more'. The answer is yes. I worked for 15 years in all areas of the Health Care Industry, so I would know how to navigate in the system. I don't think it is an accident that I had a career that completely prepared me for the 'work' I would face once Grace was home with us. God has shown me my purpose in life. God has prepared me for my purpose in life. All of my life experiences have groomed me for such a time as this and my purpose is raising Grace and her brothers. I have been shaped by my life experiences and strengthened by my faith in God, so that I can raise a significantly special needs child with HOPE.

7. The gift of HOPE. Our future is both uncertain and filled with promise. We know that God is in control of our lives and our future and that His hand is on our family. We look optimistically toward whatever He brings into our family. Grace's recent accomplishment of learning to walk has fired up our whole family. Our son John, who is 5, tells everyone that Grace's walking is a miracle. And that all you have to do is ask God for things when you pray and you get them - we may need to work on his theology a little bit but the HOPE that is found in that statement is a great lesson. One of the bible verses that I cling to is; Jeremiah 29:11 'For I know the plans I have for you," declares the LORD, "plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.' And we believe that Grace has a great future in front of her.

As you can see, despite her limitations we have received many 'gifts of Grace' from our daughter. Of course, at this time of year I can't help but be reminded of another child who came with gifts for us. God sent His son, Jesus, to us that we may 'have life and have it to the fullest'. That is a promise full of hope and of love.

When I look at the relationship between God and us and see an incredible parallel to my family. God is an adoptive Father, in Ephesians 1, the bible states that God accepts us into his family through Jesus - knowing full well that what we bring to the table. He knows our history, strengths, doubts, fears, issues and hopes. And still he adopts us, He accepts us. This is amazing to me, because as I've already shared, if we had known what we faced with our daughter Grace we would not have accepted her referral and adopted a significantly special needs child. Yet God knows all about us and still adopts us into His family anyway. He knows that we will need Him more than He needs us. He knows that we will struggle, that we will make poor decisions, that we will fall back onto our old ways, we will have a hard time letting go of old habits and we will feel overwhelmed by our circumstances. He even knows that some of us will walk away from Him at certain times in our lives. But knowing all that, our Father still promises to walk with us, guiding and protecting us. Have we done anything to deserve this adoption? The answer of course is NO. And that is the true meaning of the gift of Grace. Biblical Grace is the unmerited favor and blessing given to us by God. That is the gift of Grace that we all can receive.

There, I feel much better. How about you?


Gardenia said...

Anne, that was beautiful. So insightful. you really have an understanding of what life is all about. that it is supposed to have meaning, purpose, joy, times of trial, lessons, unconditional love, forgiveness, hope. God is blessing you through this. and Grace is very blessed to be in the family for which God has perfectlychosen her. thanks for sharing.

Donna said...

YES - I feel much better! How can one not be uplifted and feel closer to God and His purpose for all of us after reading your "speech."

You are one amazing Momma and DAUGHTER (of God) to understand and see things so clearly when you could be focusing on so many other flip side, negative anaylsis. I know you have tough days and I'm always amazed and inspired by how you work your way up and through them.

You're whole family is so beautiful to me - your boys are just precious and they are going to become phenominal young men.

As always, I continue to pray for Grace and for new milestones and for her never-give-up Mom and for all of you. I just love you all to pieces!

Sarah said...

Anne... Grace is a blessing. Not only to you but to all of us who have never met her. Thank you for sharing your heart and your baby. Love you so much!

God is using you (and all 3 of your "boys") through Grace in ways you never thought. Love watching you discover the GRACE he has planned.


PS... love your blog background... that is the one I used too.

Kim & Dave said...

Yes.....I do feel better, This morning, I have been reminded of all that matters-& mostly, I have been pointed back to my Saviour. Thank-you so much for sharing your story!

Lund7 said...

What a beutifully well-written tribute to Grace! God gives us our special children to make a difference and to change us. She is a blessing to all who know her, I'm sure!!

Hannah said...

Your speech was beautiful. I love how Grace has not only filled your hearts with love but is changing you life.

I love what you said about your little boy and his friend. Wouldn't it be wonderful if we all had the eyes and heart of a child?

vaneblu said...

what a beautiful post!
God has a way to work in our lifes and when sometimes things dont go as planned you can bet HE has a plan for you!

Pattie said...

You are an amazing woman, not only in your parenting but in your ability to make meaning of God's gifts and sharing thoughts with so many. The picture of Grace and her mommy could be the cover of a book!