The Light Inside

“Daddy,” she whispered in her soft sweet voice as she was drifting off to sleep. “Today these boys on the playground were pointing and laughing at my lucky fin.”

“I’m so sorry, Lyddie. How did that make you feel?” I asked.

“Sad.”

It happened today, and it happened Monday when a girl said her hand was “weird.”

That bright light inside her dims a little bit each time. I want to make it stop. I want that light to instead get brighter and brighter.

So, Mandy and I have been toying with the idea of producing a video to help parents teach their kids how to respond kindly and respectfully to other kids with visible differences like ours.

That’s all I have to say about it for now. In the meantime, please tell your kids to be kind to those who don’t look like them.

Bryson

The Pre-K Congratulation

Oh, sweet girl. You were suddenly stricken with a 102 temperature. When I told you that you were indeed sick, you immediately burst into tears.

“But it is my congratulation (graduation) tomorrow!” you wailed, tears streaming down your face. “Cake…present!” was all I could make out between the sobs.

I was stricken with this same virus, as was your brother and baba this week and in all of that craziness, I thought your congratulation was next week, not tomorrow.

And in some way, you willed yourself better. We decided one hour before your congratulation that you were indeed well enough and fever free long enough to go.

And when they lined you up outside that sanctuary for your congratulation, your daddy could see you waiting outside. “They are lining her up,” he whispered.

We waited each excruciating moment to delight in your presence. Those two minutes seemed like thirty waiting to see your smiling face walk down that aisle in your perfect pink dress and cowboy boots.

You picked the outfit, and we compromised on the pigtails. I wanted pigtails, knowing that my days with those sweetly positioned tails are fading.

As you came through the doors, I heard your daddy say, “She is looking for us.” When you found us in the sea of proud parents, your face immediately communicated delight. Those are my people, it said. Your eyes widened and your wave was so big, as if you were there solely to find us. But we were there to celebrate you.

You. Sweet girl from Yongfeng, Jiangxi, China. In three years, you have come so incredibly far.

You told the crowd that you wanted to be a cowgirl when you grow up.

After the congratulation, you asked me with concern, “Am I growing up?”

“You are!” we said.

That answer seemed to trouble you. Just as much as I long to keep you in pig tails, you long to forever be our little girl. We both seem to recognize the days of pigtails and childhood are fleeting.

“But when I grow up, will I still be your baby? Will you still be my family?”

With a firmness in our voices, we assured you, “You will always be our baby and we will always be your family.” We assured ourselves too.

 

 

Part of Our Family

For the past 14 years, I have shared my bed with a little love named Nemo. Each night, he would lay at my feet. I have been told that I would pet him with my feet all night long. 

Once Lydia came along, she joined me in our bed, wedged between her baba and me. Just like her mama, she would pet him with her feet all night long in her sleep. Just like her mama, it became her comfort, her nightly ritual. Most little girls sleep with a blankie or a favorite doll. Not Lydia. Nemo was her comfort. There was a lot of time when she did not like us, but she always loved him. It was him that made our house feel like a place she might want to stay. So protective of food when we first adopted, she was delighted to share each Cheerio with her Nemo. With Nemo, it was different.

We often joked that Nemo had more lives than a cat. His chart at the vet’s office was thicker than most textbooks. ITP. Cushing’s disease. Allergies. Benign tumors. Arthritis. Deaf. Cataracts. Kidney disease. We all knew that this day would come. For the past two years, Lydia would tell people about her favorite dog and say, “Nemo will die in a few days.” A few days or two years. We were all trying to brace ourselves for his exit.

Bryson and I often say he held around just for us. He was with us during the honeymoon years. He provided comfort when I broke my neck. He sat at my feet while I graded 25,000 student papers and sat in my lap as I wrote a dissertation. He sat by Bryson’s side when he started his own business. He was with us when friends exited our lives. He was the loyal one, they weren’t. He licked all of the tears with infertility diagnoses. We needed his comfort so much during the last three years, and he just kept giving and giving and giving and we kept taking and taking and taking.

I often told people he was my Xanax. His fur was an immediate comfort. His paws felt like sand paper and smelled the perfect scent of fritos. His breath was terrible – you could smell him coming and going. But he so loved to give kisses. Lydia says his scent is what she misses most. She said he helped her calm down.

He gave and gave. We took and took.

In the couple of weeks before his death, I think we knew. Lydia suddenly remembered feeding him Cheerios when she first joined our family and asked if I would please buy her some more. I did. And every morning before school, she would sit in front of him and feed him Cheerios one by one. She was saying goodbye the same way she said hello, nice to meet you, here’s a Cheerio.

When he declined, it was rapid. I wanted more time, but he was in terrible pain. And so we gave when we wanted to take even more. We gave him relief and said goodbye. I knew when he was too sick to raise his head up to comfort Lydia that he was in too much pain. The scent of Ammonia on his breath confirmed what I saw.

Lydia is a five year old and fifty year old in one body. She said, “Nemo will be made better in heaven, but my heart will be broken because I’m here without him.” I agree. She begged me to take photos of her with him saying goodbye. It’s like we were all trying to preserve him and all of his preciousness as much as possible. “I must make a book of these pictures,” she said. And it happened so fast, it’s like she needed pictures to believe it.

Since we said goodbye to Nemo, we all have reacted differently. Lydia wailed and then got angry. Barrett threw a tantrum and asked when Nemo would wake up. He is still asking and Barrett didn’t even like him. I’ve been melancholy – even yesterday – I found myself sad at an event I shouldn’t have been sad at. And poor Dory, the little dog who loves to play outside and chase squirrels has refused to go outside and chase squirrels. She just stares at his empty doggy bed.

And though sometimes humans remind us, “Stop. It was just a dog!” You are right, he was just a dog. Ask our daughter, and he was also part of our family. Not a human, but a companion. And though he was just a dog, he so modeled what good companionship, friendship, and comfort looks like. It didn’t matter why we were hurting, but he always knew when we were hurting, and he was present.

Tomorrow, we pick up his ashes. Lydia–who knows loss well–asked us to have a memorial for Nemo and to cook his favorite asparagus, ribeye steaks, and chocolate cake. Because if there was food, he was there, and we want him with us.

Nemo, thank you for loving our family.

 

 

 

 

 

Barrett’s Prayer

Thank you God. 

Thank you mama.

Thank you house. 

Thank you baba. 

Thank you…thank you…thank you (this is where he usually says “Wydia” for Lydia).

Thank you party.

Thank you Thomas Train. 

Thank you Poppy. 

Amen.

 

Holding Hands

This morning, they were cracking up because they went to hold hands and realized there were no fingers on that side. And in true Lucky Fin fashion, they adapted and held elbows, which only brought them closer together.

I’ve Been Keeping a Secret

Last week, the kids, Bryson and I loaded up the car and drove to Oklahoma City where I auditioned for Listen to Your Mother.

During the past year, I have struggled to find my voice or have the confidence to share. I know, it sounds absurd. I am a professor and writer, someone who communicates ideas for a living. But it has been a big struggle this year.

A sweet friend of mine emailed me and said, “I really think you should audition.” I retorted, “What would I share?” She told me I had so much to share. I am so thankful for her encouragement.

And I realized that one of the best ways to grow in my confidence and to find my voice again is to try things that scare me. I leaned in to the uncomfortable and took a risk by auditioning.

I am excited to share that I was selected for the 2017 Listen to Your Mother cast for the Oklahoma City show. The show is April 30 at 3 PM in Oklahoma City.

More details coming soon.

-Mandy

Three Years

At this exact moment, three years ago, Bryson and I met our daughter Yong Feng Qi aka Lydia.

Saying yes to being her mama has been my most meaningful yes. Hard but so good and transforming.

I just cannot even describe to you the joy it brings my heart to see her understand what it means to have a mama and a baba, family, a safe home, and security.

It wasn’t rainbows and unicorns. It was hard work. It was walking away from a successful career. It was dealing with our own garbage. It was putting up firm boundaries with others so she could grow and blossom.

She has.

And even if not, He is still good.

The Kitchen Counter

The week I found out that we had a zero percent chance of having a biological child, I had a dream where our Asian daughter sat on the kitchen counter. And here she is. There was lots of loss involved for each one of us, but thankful that we found each other and that our bond is what it is.

I Hated Valentine’s Day. She Changed That.

I’m not going to lie. I usually hate Valentine’s Day. Bryson and I have never celebrated it.

However, several days ago, I told him that I wanted to make the kids a candlelit dinner. I really wanted to demonstrate what loving pursuit and hospitality looks like. Lydia adores special meals and Valentine’s Day is her favorite because as she says, “it is all about love.” She is an old soul in a little body. 

It made me think why I have an aversion to this holiday, and why she loves it. So much of our culture wants instant gratification, it’s about me me me, consumerism, and often love is equated with feelings. Truth is, when I was very young, I dated an unkind person who overwhelmed me with gifts on Valentine’s Day. I always said to Bryson, “It is what we do all of the other days of the year that counts.”

But knowing my little girl’s true adoration of this holiday, I wanted her to relish in it, and feel our adoration. I wanted her to feel pursued.

Her love for Valentine’s Day made me think about what love means to her.

There was a time when I did not know if she could love us back, and I had to be content with that, and keep pursuing anyways. As I was making chocolate covered strawberries tonight, I thought long and hard about those tear-filled prayers. I begged that she would know love and be able to love in return. Not for me. Not because of me. Because of life. Life is about connection. I didn’t want more hard for her.

For a minute, I thought “I wish I could tell that Mandy, ‘it’ll be okay.'” But then I realized, “Nope. I am glad I didn’t know. So much of our culture wants instant love, they want to know that they’ll be loved in return, they don’t want risk. I am so glad I learned a different kind of love. I am glad I didn’t know and pursued during hard, hard moments.”

Tonight, as we sat down for dinner, Lydia sighed and sincerely said, “Mommy and Daddy, I love happy endings.”

“You love happy endings?” I expected to hear about her new favorite movie, Moana.

“Yes, mommy. Every kid should have a kind family like my family. I am so glad I don’t live at the orphanage. I wanted a mommy and daddy, and now I have you. I love happy endings.”

And I stopped myself from explaining loss. I stopped myself from explaining that we are dysfunctional and that our story is no fairytale. I stopped myself from saying we did not rescue her, this time. I have said it before. I bit my lip this time and simply said, “I wish every kid could have a family too. You add joy to our family.” I do wish that.

We are not a perfect family. I am far from a perfect mom. Bryson is not a perfect dad. Sometimes, I am a connected parent, and sometimes a dysfunctional one.

But this Valentine’s Day, we celebrate a type of love that is not based on DNA, feelings, consumption, religion, gifts, instant gratification, skin color, geographic boundaries, or reciprocation. We celebrate a kind of love that has taken time, patience, risk, courage, commitment, and sacrifice.

We have learned so much from our little Valentine.

I am thankful for the way she has helped me embrace a holiday that I once detested. I am thankful for the ways she taught me to pursue hearts, especially her heart and little Barrett’s. And I realized that tonight’s dinner did not demonstrate what loving pursuit and hospitality looks like, but we demonstrated it–with plenty of mistakes–the past three years.

Oh my goodness Mandy, what love for these two little people.

 

She closed her eyes while we set the table. She had no idea what we were doing.

Bryson gave Lydia and Barrett roses. They both insisted that mommy receives the roses.

Lydia gave me her rose and her new slinky toy.

She was so happy. And Barrett was too. He declared, “I like baba. I like mama. I like Lydia.” And though physical affection weirds him out, little love kissed my hand.

1 Corinthians 13The Message (MSG)

The Way of Love

13 If I speak with human eloquence and angelic ecstasy but don’t love, I’m nothing but the creaking of a rusty gate.

If I speak God’s Word with power, revealing all his mysteries and making everything plain as day, and if I have faith that says to a mountain, “Jump,” and it jumps, but I don’t love, I’m nothing.

3-7 If I give everything I own to the poor and even go to the stake to be burned as a martyr, but I don’t love, I’ve gotten nowhere. So, no matter what I say, what I believe, and what I do, I’m bankrupt without love.

Love never gives up.
Love cares more for others than for self.
Love doesn’t want what it doesn’t have.
Love doesn’t strut,
Doesn’t have a swelled head,
Doesn’t force itself on others,
Isn’t always “me first,”
Doesn’t fly off the handle,
Doesn’t keep score of the sins of others,
Doesn’t revel when others grovel,
Takes pleasure in the flowering of truth,
Puts up with anything,
Trusts God always,
Always looks for the best,
Never looks back,
But keeps going to the end.

8-10 Love never dies. Inspired speech will be over some day; praying in tongues will end; understanding will reach its limit. We know only a portion of the truth, and what we say about God is always incomplete. But when the Complete arrives, our incompletes will be canceled.

11 When I was an infant at my mother’s breast, I gurgled and cooed like any infant. When I grew up, I left those infant ways for good.

12 We don’t yet see things clearly. We’re squinting in a fog, peering through a mist. But it won’t be long before the weather clears and the sun shines bright! We’ll see it all then, see it all as clearly as God sees us, knowing him directly just as he knows us!

13 But for right now, until that completeness, we have three things to do to lead us toward that consummation: Trust steadily in God, hope unswervingly, love extravagantly. And the best of the three is love.