Monday, April 21, 2014

Secure Your Mask First

I'm not sure how your adoption story played out. Mine didn't go according to plan. At all.

Of course, it was my plan and I had no idea what I was doing. I think that may have played a part.

One expectation that never made it past our first hello was that I thought she was going to be thankful.

That's hard even to type. I expected her to walk in the door, look around and feel gratitude. It made sense to me at the time. It might even seem to make a little sense now. After all, wasn't I taking her out of a horrible situation? Wouldn't she be glad to have a family? Doesn't she see all the trouble I went to to prepare for her?

Doesn't it sound like those are things she should be thankful for? It did to me.

But it didn't to Hannah. Or Ashley. Or Amy.

Thankfulness was not making the top of their "ways to respond" list. And the first time around it made me a little mad.

I felt like I had given up a lot to bring Hannah home. I had devoted much of my time, money and resources to this new life journey. I was prepared to give her whatever she needed.

She was prepared to take whatever she wanted.

I didn't understand. I was giving, she was taking. Shouldn't there be some gratitude in that transaction? It made sense in my head.

But that was not what I was seeing played out in our daily lives.

Instead, everything I offered was critiqued and criticized by this tiny nine-year-old. Everything.

It was the wrong color, style, size, location, quantity, insert your own adjective here. Nothing was ever great or wonderful or even good enough.

It made me want to stop giving. For a while I may have. Not one of my best moments.

What could I do? I didn't want her to grow up a complainer. The Bible tells us, "In everything give thanks" (1 Thes 5:18).  She wasn't giving thanks.

But neither was I.

Why does it always end up being me?

I thought Hannah would view her new life with me in true storybook fashion. There were bedtime stories, special trips for ice cream, hours at the park, and a tremendous amount of pink.

Why wasn't she happier?

Because no matter what I did, my reality was not matching up to her dreams.

Funny thing is, her reality was not matching up to my dreams.

We were both disillusioned. Her dream family would have allowed her to have whatever she wanted, watch whatever she wanted, go to bed whenever she wanted and would not have expected to her do anything she didn't want to do.

If you know me in real life you probably just laughed a little while reading that last sentence.

That's not exactly how I am.

Hannah was disappointed and it's hard to be thankful when all you feel is disappointment.

But Hannah wasn't alone. I was in the disappointment boat with her.

My dreams were crashing and burning around me too. Where was the little girl that I had formed in my mind? The one who was thankful and attentive and happy to have a family?

She didn't show up.

Within a few weeks, I was fed up. Hannah was demanding and selfish and downright mean.

I wouldn't have admitted it at the time, but I looked the same.

She wasn't thankful because I didn't live up to her dream. I wasn't thankful because she didn't live up to mine.

We were stuck until I decided to listen to what I had been teaching. The truth was I wanted her to be thankful even if everything wasn't matching up to her expectations. That's what I wanted her to do.

But what about me? Was I being thankful in all things?

No. I wasn't. Nothing was going to change until my actions were keeping up with my words. I was preaching thankfulness while living disappointment. It was hard to turn the tide.

I started being thankful for every little thing I could find. It was tough in the beginning. I was counting blessings through clenched teeth.

I'm pretty sure that's not what He meant.

He was faithful anyway. God took my meager attempts and turned the tide for me. Over time thankfulness became less of a chore and more of a way of life.

So how did I curb her complaining? By taking care of my own complaining problem first. It's like the safety instructions on an airplane, secure your mask first before assisting another.

She needed my help to be thankful. I needed to be thankful first so she could see it in action.

This parenting thing is a lot of work.

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