The Lenhart Family

Monday, October 31, 2011

When He Made Her: Update On Ashlyn

The last several weeks all our time, energy, and focus has been on our precious 13 year old daughter Ashlyn. With you have a big family like ours... usually we feel the constant struggle of making sure each of our 6 children gets individualized and equal, one on one, parent to child time. But our sweet Ashlyn has been fighting an unseen battle and has been consuming our hearts and minds (if not time as well).

About 3 weeks ago, she came down with a high fever, rash, and severe generalized pain. After numerous doctor's appointments, routine tests, and medications (from antibiotics to steroids) nothing seemed to bring any relief. After weeks of feeling miserable, losing over 8 pounds, watching all the 80's movies she could stand with Momma, with a fever of 103.6 and a painful rash covering the majority of her body, we finally hit an all point low last Thursday night and took her to the ER. She was admitted and we have set up camp (literally wallpapering with my little pony coloring pages and "Teen Bop" posters) on the pediatric floor (first at Baptist, now at OU children's). After being inpatient for 7 days, we finally have some answers. She is having an auto immune crisis and has been diagnosed with Systemic Juvenile Idiopathic Arthritis (JIA or JRA). Seeing your child in pain is the most helpless feeling in the world. Combine that with my husband's minor outpatient knee scope a few weeks ago, and the fact I am still recovery from a major back surgery that I had less than a month ago, and we have a recipe for a month straight from the gates of Hades. I have had a pity party or two as I crave my "normal" life back but I know that I know that I know that God works ALL things out for the good of those who love Him and are called according to His purposes. And I know that I know that I know that God is ever so faithful to my family, has proved that over and over, and will again.

Once my very favorite verses in difficult seasons is found in Psalm 56:8 "You keep track of all my sorrows.You have collected all my tears in your bottle. You have recorded each one in your book." The comforting thing about God is He never misses a tear that falls and never wastes our pain. We have cried tears of fear as we watched her get very sick, very quick, and had very little answers at the time. Yesterday we cried tears of relief as we finally knew what was causing her illness and knew the enemy we were fighting. About this time yesterday I went into the bathroom and cried tears into a hospital towel (and yes He collected those too) to muffle the sound from my daughter. But I'm done trying to be strong for her.... I give up, I'm not strong enough, but we are being renewed and sustained by He who is STRONG ENOUGH for the both of us!! And her strength combined with His is an unstoppable force.

Yesterday she began initial treatment of steroids, anti- inflammatory medications, and a medication called methotrexate (its a chemo drug that has intense side effects like hair loss but Ashlyn's dosage will be so small that her treatment's side effects aren't that extreme). Today we starting a new intense treatment called pulsing steroids (basically increasing her dosage from about 10 mg to about 10,000 mg). Please pray that she tolerates it well and it will be the breakthrough we need to get her feeling better!We are praying that she may be well enough to go home by this weekend and then return to school in about 2 weeks.

But as I am looking at the baby girl in bed the next to me, who I have seen cry out in pain more times than I can count the last several days, I know that she is the toughest of the tough.

As I have been on the verge of tears several times today, God is speaking truth into my soul and reminding me what I already know about this little girl who I adore more than anything I have ever adored in my life. I know that God has numbered the hairs on her beautiful little head and He knows what exactly she is up against

("And the very hairs on your head are all numbered. So don't be afraid; you are more valuable to God than a whole flock of sparrows" ~ Luke 12:7)

God has reminded me today that despite her aching body and our questions about what is going inside of her, HE KNOWS HER INTIMATELY because he created her. Just as Psalm 139 reminds me... "For you created my inmost being; you knit me together in my mother’s womb.I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made; your works are wonderful, I know that full well. My frame was not hidden from you when I was made in the secret place, when I was woven together in the depths of the earth. Your eyes saw my unformed body; all the days ordained for me were written in your book before one of them came to be."

I wasn't there when He made her (well technically I was but we won't go into that) but here are some of the things I marvel about the creation of this precious girl in the bed next to me:

1. Her Compassion: This has been evident for as long as I can remember...I daily catch glimpses of her compassion but here are some of the big examples that stand out.

*One day when she was about 3 or 4 years old, I remember walking into the family room where she had been watching TV and her little face blotchy from crying hysterically. When I questioned what was wrong, she pointed to the TV where she had been watching a St. Jude's telethon. Her heart broke for the sick children she saw. She insisted we do something to help and wanted to send some of her toys to "help them feel better". For years later whenever someone asked her what she wanted to be be when she grew up, without any hesitation, the answer was always an adamant "I am going to be a doctor at St. Jude and make all those kids better!"

* After a unexpectedly being forced to say goodbye to a foster sister she loved as her own several years ago, she was heart broken so badly I wasn't sure God would ever bring healing to heart. Jake and I decided that we could not longer foster children and put her compassionate heart through that again. But shortly after the adoption of her Haitian brothers, we insisted that we resume fostering again. She said that they (the foster babies) were worth getting our hearts broken again. As I watch her now playing with our current 8 month old foster baby, in efforts to protect her heart I try to remind her that Baby Z is not ours. She knows in her head that we may likely end up in the same ugly place of goodbye but that is the thing about compassionate people.... we think with our hearts and not heads.

*Another example was when we decided to become full time missionaries to Haiti, it was a family decision (we didn't want to be one of those parents who dragged their children to the mission field). So we presented to them the idea and a realistic picture of what sacrifices this move would bring. We wanted them to pray about and really really consider it before committing. Within minutes, Ashlyn said "I don't need to think to about it. This is what God is calling us to do and people need us there. I'm going with or without you guys!" Our first trip there, my heart swelled with pride as I watched her play with children at the medical clinics where we were working. She quickly became Haitian children's favorite "blanc" on the block. She spent time working triage with me at the clinics and at night, we would debrief about some of the patients we had saw that day. I watched her cry as she realized they spent all day waiting to be seen by a doctor (many of them for the first time in their lives), cry over a newborn baby so dehydrated and malnourished she was on the verge of death, and cry over all she was seeing with her own eyes for the first time. Again all the talk about becoming a doctor to help sick children resurfaced but St. Jude would have to share her time with the children of Haiti.

* Another example was just last month, I had a date day with her and we went to see the movie "The Help". Because we are both "ugly criers" we made it to the van before we both burst out in tears (and literally cried the whole twenty minute ride home). Through her tears she verbalized her frustration over Christians acting not very Christlike (the movie was set in the 60's at the dawn of the civil rights movement in Mississippi, during the weekly bridge club that main character attends with several "christian" friends discussion centers around their belief that all homes should have separate bathroom facilities for the "colored" help). Somehow with the stellar education, Ashlyn has received she was naive to the civil rights movement and things like the KKK. Words seemed to fail me as I tried to explain that dark time in our nations history. So we just cried together. that conversation led to another one in which Ashlyn expressed how she couldn't imagine her life without her Haitian brothers and despite some blatant and some subtle prejudice and criticism we have received, she encouraged me that no matter what anyone though of our decision to adopt and foster, we would never regret our decision. She said "Mom you know how you and daddy are say/ pray that you are raising us kids not to survive the world but change it? Well don't worry, we are!" She also informed me in that conversation that despite the chaos and sacrifice our big family requires that she plans to have 11 kids (3 biological and 8 adopted or fostered). Once again my heart melted at her compassion and desire to change the world (I also kicked up my praying for her future husband/ baby daddy of my future 11 grandchildren).

I have been told that I am a compassionate person but my compassion pales in comparison to hers. I love that when He made her he added extra doses of compassion!!

2. Her Chattiness: When Ashlyn started talking, she went straight from one or two word sentences to entire paragraphs. I have been exhausted since the day she began talking. When she was in preschool, we had a 45 minute commute everyday from Norwich to Wichita... I have a vivid mental picture of her sitting in car seat, kicking her little legs back and forth, and chatting about everything from random questions to "why did those bad guys have to kill Jesus?" Question after question and sentence after sentence all day long, followed by the same phrase "right Momma, right?" Also at that same time, my dad would frequently take her and Drew from Wichita to Denver to visit my sister. Most kids would nap (especially in the boring stretch of western Kansas) but not our Ashlyn. She could chat the entire 12 hour drive.

(Somehow in the car we always have our most in depth and memorable conversations. That is why I love the verse in Deuteronomy that talks about talking about the Lord when you are on the road... "And you must commit yourselves wholeheartedly to these commands that I am giving you today. Repeat them again and again to your children. Talk about them when you are at home and when you are on the road, when you are going to bed and when you are getting up.")

If you have spent anytime with her daddy, it doesn't take long to see where the chattiness comes from. His profession is one that requires him to talk (and have a captive audience one day a week). Somehow I see her in a similar profession one day... one in which she is paid to talk to people all day.

Also like her dad, she can be loud and very outspoken about things she is passionate about and the injustices she sees in our world. Even at the tender age of 13, she models Proverbs 31:8-9 better than most adults I know. ("Speak up for those who cannot speak for themselves,for the rights of all who are destitute. Speak up and judge fairly; defend the rights of the poor and needy.")

Although it can be exhausting for an introvert like myself, I love that when He made her He made her chatty!! Her chattiness is the overflow of a heart that just loves people. God has used her chatty self to bear witness to others around her. She loves talking but she really LOVES TALKING ABOUT JESUS!!

3. Her Love for Children: She is a magnet. Children of all ages are drawn to Ashlyn and she her face literally glows when she is around kids. She can name each and every child/ infant that walks through the doors of CHCC. She eagerly jumps at every opportunity to help out in the children's ministry at church. Every Sunday morning, she wakes up to go to church with her Daddy at an ungodly hour just to help wherever she can even if it's just to help with her foster sister or babysit other children whose parents are on the worship team. She loves to babysit and usually tries to insist on providing it for free (or to raise money to go back to Haiti). I love that when He made her He created her in His image (Mark 10:13-14 and Genesis 1:27)

Although I was not there when He made her, the evidence that she is fearfully and wonderfully made is overwhelming. Compassionate like her Momma, chattiness like her daddy, and an unexplainable magnetic attraction for children like her Jesus. Despite all chronic illness, she is flawless.

My heart melts every time I hear her sweet voice call me "Momma" but I am confident that the very heart of God melts every time she calls Him "Savior God"!!!

Friday, October 21, 2011

After the airport.... That's what she said

These days I do not have time/energy to shower,let alone blog. Although I hate to post yet another "that's what she said" blog... I couldn't resist. Every single word of this resonates with my adoptive Momma's heart. This is the ugly truth that I have experienced "after the airport" of all three of our adoptions.... But now almost 2 years post adoption from the older boys and 5 years post adoption from Jimso, I can honestly tell you that what used to be daily meltdowns are now few and far between, that love really does cast out fear, and our God is healer! Just like new moms quickly forget their painful labor and delivery process as they hold their precious newborn. Adoptive parents wouldn't trade their transition pains for the precious new addition causing their beyond exhaustion moments. I hope the truth spoken by the hat lady in this post encourages you today wherever you might be... Whether in your bathroom crying smack dab in your own "after the airport" season or walking on sunshine. I pray you are surrounded by a community loving the crap out of you whereever this finds you today!!!

"I'm going to tell you something; a little confession, if you will. Some of you will pull your hair out and smear your faces with ashes and put all my books on eBay and quit believing in God, but I'm willing to take that risk:

I'm really, really glad all my kids are back in school.

There. I said it. The three children that I birthed and nursed and raised from scratch, and the two children we begged and cried and screeched for and fetched from Africa...all five of these kids are in school. And I am happy, so happy, happy, happy, happy, hip-hip-hooray Mary Poppins happy.

For my friends and readers who homeschool, I tip my hat and say to you, "Well done, good and faithful servants." And believe me, I have a couple of besties who paddle in that stream, and paddle it well. For some kids in some cities in some families in some districts, this is the very right thing. The end. Why people feel the need to make a fuss about how other parents decide to educate their children is beyond me. Let's live and let live, yall. For the love of Pete.

But I cannot educate my own children, people, unless I am OK with us all becoming homicidal.

Plus, we're in a nice little Bermuda triangle where our kids feed into fabulous schools with vested teachers that make me want to weep with gratitude. The language resources for my Amharic speakers is over the top, and I have a free pass to attend school each and every day, which I have exercised with zero restraint.

But this is not a post about homeschooling or public schooling. The reason I am happy my kids are in school is not because I lack the organization to educate five kids (which I do), it's not because I've chosen a career with a moderate workload (which I have), and it's not because I'm a little sloppy on details and my kids would likely graduate with a sixth-grade education (which they would).

It's because parenting right now is EXHAUSTING and the mental break is keeping me afloat.

On July 22nd we came down the escalator at the Austin airport with Remy. On August 21st we came down the same escalator with Ben. These were two of the happiest days of my life.

I am crying with joy. Remy is ready to sprint like FloJo from the screaming white people.

Insert audio of yelling and cheering. GAH, why was she so clingy?

One month later: Here comes my man and my boy. This pic makes me verclempt.

The 7 Hatmakers on the same continent. You've been warned, America.
After an arduous adoption journey, our kids were safe in our arms, tucked into their bunk beds their dad built with his own two hands, surrounded by the dearest, most sincere community we have ever known. God delivered them from poverty and abandonment back into a family, no longer alone in this big world; now wanted and loved and welcomed with great fervor.

The end.


Remy gave us about 12 hours of honeymooning until her terror burst onto the scene. Sometimes her fear is so palpable, it literally takes my breath away. New places: terror. New faces: total insecurity. Transitions: help us, Jesus. She has asked us every single day since July 22nd if she is going back to Ethiopia. Every. Single. Day. When I discovered cashews to be a winning legume for her impossible palate, I told her:

"Yay! Good job! Cashews are good for you and will help you grow big and strong!"
"Big? Ah-Rrrremy? Big? Cashews?"
She pushes them away and starts crying.
Once again, I am bewildered and befuddled.
"No! No Ah-Rrremy grow big! Me big, then go back to Ethiopia! No! Dis is no!"

When a child fears that cashews will once again leave her abandoned on this earth because she will grow out of the age we might still want to parent her, you are dealing with heartbreaking fragility.

Her fear comes out as 1.) defiance, 2.) terror, and 3.) catatonic disassociation, in that order. We've been spit on, kicked, disobeyed, refused, clung to, begged for, adored, ignored, and rejected. Triggers are unpredictable. Yesterday, we entered an hour-long Armageddon because she wouldn't put her bike up. This turned into defiance and disrespect, deal breakers as we establish safe boundaries. When at long last her angry, dark face relented, and she finally uttered in the smallest voice: "I'm sorry, Mommy. I'm sorry, Daddy," the damn broke and she cried for thirty minutes, telling us over and over that we don't love her and she is going back to Africa.

Meanwhile, Ben sidled up quietly next to me as Brandon held Remy's flailing legs, and asked in a whisper: "Mom? Forever?"

Is this family forever, even with this hysterical girl? Are you forever, even though she is draining the lifeblood out of you and Dad? Am I forever, once my junk starts coming out that I'm holding in? Are you forever for her? For me? Should I be worried that you'll only put up with this level of chaos for so long?

God love them.

We are parenting damaged, traumatized children; don't let the pictures fool you. We're in the weeds. Every minute is on; there is no off. We've arrived late, cancelled altogether, hunkered down in therapy mode, missed appointments, failed to answer hundreds of emails in a timely manner, left voicemails unlistened to, texts unread, we've restructured, regrouped, replanned, reorganized, we've punted and called audibles, we've left the bigs on their own, hoping they are functioning well on auto-pilot after a lifetime of healthy stability, and sometimes, we put "Tangled" on for the eleventh time and cry in the bathroom.

We are exhausted beyond measure.

I know what you're thinking: You asked for this. Yes we did. And we'd ask for it again, with full disclosure and foreknowledge. We would. We would say yes to adoption, to Ben, to Remy. We would do it all over again. We might do it all over again in the future.

That does not mean we are not exhausted.

I know what else you might be thinking: Are you trying to scare people away from adoption? Because this is pretty good propaganda for turning a blind eye to this mess. No I'm not. While adoption is clearly not the answer for the 170 million orphans on earth, it is one answer, and I'll go to the grave begging more people to open their homes and minds and hearts to abandoned children who are praying for a Mom and Dad and a God who might still see them.

But Brandon and I decided some time ago to go at this honestly, with truthful words and actual experiences that might encourage the weary heart or battle some of the fluffy, damaging semi-truths about adopting. Because let me tell you something: If you are intrigued by the idea of adoption, with the crescendoing storyine and happy airport pictures and the sigh-inducing family portrait with the different skin colors and the feely-feel good parts of the narrative, please find another way to see God's kingdom come.

You cannot just be into adoption to adopt; you have to be into parenting.

And it is hard, hard, intentional, laborious work. Children who have been abused, abandoned, neglected, given away, given up, and left alone are shaken so deeply, so intrinsically, they absolutely require parents who are willing to wholly invest in their healing; through the screaming, the fits, the anger, the shame, the entitlement, the bed-wetting, the spitting, the rejection, the bone-chilling fear. Parents who are willing to become the safe place, the Forever these children hope for but are too terrified to believe in just yet.

But "yet" is a powerful word in the context of faith, if we are indeed to believe in the unseen and hope for what has not materialized.

I followed a God into this story who heals and redeems, who restores wasted years and mends broken places. This God specializes in the Destroyed. I've seen it. I've been a part of it. I have His ancient Word that tells of it. I love a Jesus who made reconciliation his whole mission. My children will not remain broken. They are loved by too good a Savior. I will not remain exhausted and spent. I am loved by too merciful a Father.

So today, I'm writing for you who are somewhere "after the airport." The big moment is over and you are living in the aftermath when the collective grief or euphoria has passed. You lost a parent, a sibling, a friend, a child. The experience mobilized every single human being who loves you, and they rallied, gathered, carried you. And now it's three months later on a random Tuesday, and the sting has worn off for everyone else, and you are left in your sorrow.

I'm writing for those of you who had the oh-so-wanted baby after the cheers and showers and Facebook fervor, and now you're struggling with a depression so dark and deep, you are afraid to say it out loud. To you who moved across the country in obedience - you left your family, church, community, your jobs - and now the headline has passed and you are lonely and unanchored. For my friends who've brought their adopted children home and the media frenzy has died down, and you are holding a screaming toddler, a fragile kindergartener, an angry teen, trying to catch your breath and make it through the day without bawling while everyone else has gone back to their regularly scheduled programs...I'm with you today.

More importantly, God is with you today. He remains in the chaos long after it has lost its shine. When the delivered meals have stopped and the attention has waned, Jesus remains. He sticks with us long after it is convenient or interesting. If you feel alone today in your new normal, would you please receive this bit of beauty: this simple Scripture recited billions of times throughout the ages, perhaps without the poetry of David or precision of Paul, but with enough truth to sustain the weariest traveler:

"Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid or terrified because of them, for the Lord your God goes with you; He will never leave you nor forsake you" (Deut. 31:6).

He will never leave.

Never forsake.


For my readers who love someone living "after the airport," the big moment - be it a blessed high or a devastating low - is never the completion. The grief and struggle, the work and effort, the healing and restoring comes later. Will you call your friend who lost her mom to cancer five months ago? Will you check in on your friends who adopted this spring? Email your neighbor who took a big risk and moved or changed jobs or quit to stay home. For the love of Moses, do you have a friend who stepped out and started a church last year? Bring him a lasagna and do not be alarmed if he sobs into his french bread.

Trust me when I tell you that although we are all having hilarious moments like this:

And precious moments like this:

...we are still in the thick of hard, exhausting work, so if you ask me if these are the happiest days of my life (which a ton of you have), and my eyes kind of glaze over and I say through a tight-lipped smile like a robot, "Yes. Sure. Of course. This is my dream life"...I am lying. I am lying so you won't feel uncomfortable when I tell you, "Actually, I haven't had a shower in three days, I lost my temper with my uncontrollable daughter this morning and had to walk outside, I'm constantly cleaning up pee because uncircumcised tee-tee goes sideways onto walls, and sometimes when my two littles are asleep and we're downstairs with the original three kids who are so stable and healthy and easy, it creates a nostalgia so intense, I think I might perish. But enough about me. How are you?"

But that would be weird. So I say, "Yes. I am so happy."

If you are living "after the airport," how I wish I could transplant my community into your life; friends who have loved us so completely and exhaustively, I could weep just thinking about it. Maybe one of the most brilliant ways God "never leaves us" and "never forsakes us" is through the love of each other. Maybe He knew that receiving love from people with skin on is the most excellent way, so He gave us an entire set of Scriptures founded upon community and sacrificial love for one another. I guess He realized that if we obeyed, if we became more like His Son, then no one would ever want for mercy when their chips were down. No one. Good plan.

Oh let us be a community who loves each other well. Because someone is always struggling through the "after the airport" phase, when the chords of human kindness become a lifeline of salvation. Let us watch for the struggling members of our tribe, faking it through sarcasm or self-deprecation or a cheerfully false report. May we refuse to let someone get swallowed up in isolation, drowning in grief or difficulties that seem too heavy to let anyone else carry. Let's live this big, beautiful Life together, rescuing each other from the brink and exposing the unending compassion of our Jesus who called us to this high level of community; past the romantic beginnings, through the messy and mundane middles, and all the way to the depths.