Wednesday, February 16, 2011

My 8th Sixteen Year Old

(I have no idea why my pictures are grainy. Use your imagination to make them clearer. And if you're my older son, and you're reading this...Help! I just noticed I also have some kind of weird borders around a few pictures. What, I'm supposed to write, then do my own tech support, too?! Ridiculous.)

Sixteen is definitely an age that causes rejoicing. Although it makes me a little sad.

When I met Alex he was a small, brown, absolutely adorable, stuttering, speech impeded, extremely shy, bad-boy - brought to a McDonalds Play Place by his foster mom, to have a visit with his four brothers and their two foster moms. When the boys had been abandoned on Christmas Eve, it had been impossible to find a place to take the 5 of them, so they were split up - and it just became easier on everyone, except them, to keep them separated.

Pictured above: seven kids, ages 2-8, and four older ones (the life savers!), ages 12-18. Bad picture, great kids.

I've never hidden my boys' story from them. Some of them are old enough to remember a few details anyway.
A couple of them prefer the made-up version they use to block out the memories.

Their story is sad. They all have plenty of excuses to give their therapist for any future dysfunction, but thanks to a God of mercy,  they also have a story of saving grace and sovereignty that would make a marvelous men's retreat testimony one day.

Alex, a big-eyed, smiley 3 year old, was put into foster care because of neglect and abandonment. Alex, a shy, insecure 4 year old was taken out of foster care because of abuse. And Alex, an angry, adorable, scared-to-love 5 year old was adopted into our home because of love, faith, temporary (or not) insanity, and a big dose of over-confidence on our part. 

We didn't change any of the boys' first names since it seemed like they had plenty of new things to get used to already. Not only did they now have two, older, pale-faced parents; they also had four new sisters and two more brothers. They were now part of a chaotic family of 13.  They were now homeschooled, slept in a room with 3 sets of bunkbeds, and were gawked at like a circus act when we went ....anywhere!  

I never blamed anyone for staring. One time we parked in front of a mirrored window and I was able to see what others saw as we filed out of the van.  Children ages, 2,2,4,5,7,8,8,12,13,15,18 (mostly dressed alike...which did not help our case for normalcy....) exiting a large green van and lining up with buddies. I had to LOL. A long, hard LOL (although,it would have been longer and harder had it not been MY family...)

From that point on I knew we would always be a walking infomercial. Either husbands would look at us, nudge their wives, and whisper, "Have you taken your pill today?!"...Or they would see a glimpse of Jesus Loves the Little Children.

 We gave them each a new middle name, one with a vision and some character attached to it. A name they could live up to. Alex became Alexander Elliot - named after the martyred missionary Jim Elliot.

Some of my 16 year old man-boy's struggles have gone by the wayside. He miraculously no longer stutters. Apparently, that was an emotional response to something. Maybe he started stuttering when he lived in a car with his 4 brothers and parents. Or maybe it started the day the police officers took the five sickly, malnourished boys from their crack house.  Or perhaps it was when he was burned with a cigarette by his older foster "brother".

I'd love to tell you that with lots of love and consistency and prayer and discipline, I can see his name sake rising within him.

But I'm not sure yet.

 He still has fits of anger when he's caught stealing food (Maybe some kids never get over that feeling that the next meal is not a given...), or when the medicine he takes for his OCD, ADD, and Tourettes makes him unable to sleep so he gets up and turns the computer on - and gets caught. Because he's a horrible liar. Praise God.

When he's particularly mad, he folds himself into a little ball and gets as far under his covers as he can, trying to make himself invisible. I can tell he's hiding from something; us, the world,  himself. 

The same boy is A-M-A-Z-I-N-G in a thousand and one ways.   

Alex writes wonderful (and frequent) notes of apology. He totally knows what he's done wrong, right down to the wrong thinking that caused it. And he writes non-apology, just cuz notes, too. 

When your child is adopted, notes like this mean more :)
He is the first one to give a gift, and the last one to ask for one. He rubs my back. He kisses me goodnight. He's not embarrassed to sit close to me at church or ask for my opinion in front of his friends. He prays that his Dad would make enough money "so he could keep some for himself instead of spending it all on us and groceries." Spoken like a true, sensitive teenager.

He runs like the wind, winning cross-country races with perfect form, although no one has ever taught him how to do it.  He excels at soccer, tennis, swimming, skateboarding - anything athletic. When he takes his shirt off he looks like a muscle man (sorry, girls, no pictures.)

He's smart - doing algebra, dissecting crayfish in his biology class, studying latin and logic and reading through the classics in his homeschool co-op. I wonder what the neurologist, the one who told us Alex would probably never read, would think about that. Someday maybe Alex will drive me down there to ask him :)

Oh, and Alex should be getting his Eagle Scout rank in the next few months. And his Dad and I will stand beside him, proud and amazed, probably crying - and taking very little credit, knowing that God obviously has a plan for this guy, and our job is to persevere (a big job, I humbly add...) and watch it unfold.  And try to keep him out of jail. That would be good, too.

Happy Birthday, Alex.  I love you, son.


Jonesey said...

Well, that was so sweet I am crying. What a great story of God's faithfulness and his kindness to adopt us.

Thanks for the encouragement tonight!

Kahlua Keeping Koala said...

Oh, Debbie. Thank you.


Nancy said...

Happy Birthday, Alex!
What an amazing story God has given to him and to his family!
I think you should give "tissue warnings" before you post things like this. ;)

Laura said...

Beautiful story. We adopted our precious son from foster care, too! I am new to your blog, but I love and appreciate your heart for these children.

Jason and Gretchen said...

Thank you for this glimpse into who Alex is. Happy Birthday, Alex. I do not know your family personally, but I have followed your blog for awhile now and I appreciate your heart for adoption. You are an inspiration!

Betty said...

I love when God writes a life story. And to think it's still in the beginning chapters. Praise God for Alex and for all that He has done and will continue to do in your son's life. May Alex grow in Him and confess YOU as blessed!

Laura said...


Julia said...

Precious. Precious child, precious story. Precious, gracious, amazing God. Thanks be to Him!

Dayna said...

Debbie, there are many things to love about you, but your willingness to live without a veil is a big one. Thank you so much for sharing Alex's story. This blessed my heart today. Your children stole my heart when I first met them -- I only regret that we can't live close enough to spend time together. Happy Birthday, Alex! Praise God for His mercy and provision!

sally said...

Well, you can just mop me up off the floor. So Sweet. Happy Birthday to Alex!

gwupdike said...

Debbie, I read your blog frequently(at least whenever you post!) I love your heart and is refreshing to hear another adopting mother speak what my heart feels....I feel very privileged to say I knew you back when.Debbie Updike

Becky said...

Praise the Lord for you, and Alex!! I love that kid so much!! Please give him a hug from one of his biggest fans! He has such a quiet strength, and those soulful eyes speak from a world of 16 year old history and feeling! I love you, Deb - YOU'RE AWESOME!!!

Anonymous said...

What a beautiful love story. Thanks for the encouragement & for sharing! I was blessed. Karina Nissley

Kara said...

Brite sent me your way after reading some of the posts on our blog...I love reading this story and your family's heart for adoption is beautiful to me.