Monday, February 20, 2017

Kid Update: Jake

So, full confession time: this post is more of an amalgamation of updates.  Some belong to him, many belong to me.  I'm still adjusting to what is cool to share in teenager land.

The first has to start with me.

Because, let's face it, I never, ever, never in a million years expected to be parenting a teenager in this phase of life.  My people are little.  We're still on learning to read and watching Caillou, picky-eaters, potty training, sleeping through the night and diapers, for crying out loud.

Teenagers?  That's a bridge for another, far, far away time.

So when I say there are many ways in which I wasn't prepared, Casey wasn't prepared, and our family was so very not prepared to be doing what we're doing today, you can all hang with me on that one, right?

Understanding that this is the context in which I'm telling you this story, there are a few miraculous things we have to talk about first.

1. I was an 8th grade teacher who specialized in neurological development.  I like 8th graders {I'm weird, I know}.  So even without being in the teenager phase of life, I've spent a great deal of time learning how to best deal with all their quirks, oddities and am generally accustomed to how an 8th grader thinks, what he needs to grow and thrive, and how to fill gaps that might have been created under the influence of a stressful life circumstance.  In short, how to love these weird, odd little humans who are neither adults nor children.

2. I have a background in trauma.  Because, simply put, two kids walked into my school when I was 14 years old and shot it up on a rather infamous scale.  I spent my young life as a traumatized teenager.  All my friends were traumatized teenagers.  So when this 14 year old kid needed a place to go where his mental health issues wouldn't be a surprise and someone would be reasonably well-versed in how to help him... yeah, we had the tools to tackle that big task.  {Correction: we're in the process of slowly working through those issues, though, as is true with all trauma, they will never completely go away.}

3.  I began praying for a fifth child six months before we got the call about Jacob.  This is the one that gets me every time I think about it.  The one that, if I didn't already believe in a God of miracles, would convert me.  Casey and I had already planned out our family.  We'd agreed on four. We both had incredible peace about what a family of six would look like.  How we would handle things financially, in terms of time - everything.  All of a sudden, out of nowhere in October of 2015, I had this strange, nagging feeling that we should have five.  It was a stirring I didn't understand, didn't have the slightest clue what had started it or where it had come from.  Casey was adamant: there would be no fifth child.  We'd agreed on four children, and four was enough.  And, let's be honest, he's right!  But I couldn't let go of this calling I felt.  So in a moment of rare clarity, I turned it over to God.  I prayed a prayer that went like this: I have no idea where this came from, but if it is nothing more than my own selfish desire, please take it from me.  But if it's you, Lord, and your plan, then I trust you to work it out.  I don't know how you will accomplish it, but you'll have to get Casey on board and make it happen. 

I can vividly recall standing in the shower, hot water beating down upon me as tears poured down my face, sometime after we got home from our trip to Disneyland.  Having that exact conversation out loud in an empty bathroom for reasons I couldn't even comprehend myself.

The conviction didn't go away over the next few months, and by Christmas I had come to think that I must be praying for twins.  I mean, how else could we end up with five?

When the call came in at the end of April, I got on a plane to Washington without even a moment's hesitation.  Over the course of the next week, it became apparent very quickly that there would be no one else to step in.  I didn't have to clamor or fight; Casey and I were the first and last of the line to step in and raise this boy.  And it became obvious why I had been praying for a fifth child: God had been preparing us for this all along, even though we didn't know it yet.

We had the desire.  We had the tools. Our family was equipped to take on this big task. By some miracle, even our financial circumstance was prepared ahead of time, though it would cost us thousands upon thousands of dollars we hadn't anticipated spending in order to make it happen.

The fingerprints of divinity were all over this circumstance each and every step of the way.

Dietrich Bonhoeffer tells a wonderful story {which I am about to completely mis-quote, because I can't find the exact wording.  I wish I'd written it down when I read it!} in which he envisions Jesus, sitting on the throne, inspiring David with the very words to the Psalm that He would later repeat as He hung on the cross.  The point being, Jesus knew that He himself would one day need those words, and so He gave them to David to record a thousand years before He would utter them.

It's a beautiful image.

The King of all things knows what we need, and begins equipping us to play our part in His story long before we have the picture of what that story will include.  He is here with us in the shadowy places of our lives, in the midst of our challenges and burdens; present, watchful; guiding us in ways that we neither see nor comprehend in the moment.

But His guidance is unmistakable just the same.  And we can live a life of hope in the midst of our struggle, knowing He who we follow is in the business of redemption.

Jake's story, I believe, is one of redemption.

He started 9th grade this year. 

At a brand new school, where he knew no one.  In a state far away from all his childhood friends.

He joined the orchestra and plays the viola.

He got all dressed up and went to his first homecoming dance.

Stag.  Which is okay, if I'm really being honest, because not one of us in this house knows anything yet about teenagers and dating.  One step at a time!

He has taken a number of trips with us and had tons of new experiences, from Mesa Verde to the Denver zoo, museum, race car driving, mini-golfing, Vail, Breckenridge; we even drove out to Utah for Thanksgiving.  

It has been especially fun to watch him get to do some of those fun, family and tradition-oriented activities that he didn't often get to do the first time through.

He is learning about what it means to be a big brother, and how to function in a family environment.

Which is probably the most fun part of all.  It has been amazing to watch how easily this family has come together - both on his end and on ours.  He likes being part of a family, and the kids have so readily accepted him as one of their own.  {And that is NOT to say that he isn't also heartbroken that his own family isn't still in tact.  Clearly that would be his first choice.  While we're at it, that doesn't mean it has always been an easy process on anybody's part.  We've all had our struggles, but we've also come an incredibly long way, and it's soooooo cool to see.}

He turned 15 in November.  We  had a small family celebration without Casey, who sadly had booked a show way before Jake came to us.

Then to really celebrate, we went to Casa Bonita when Case was back in town.  It was so much fun!

He has taken an interest in magic, and enjoys doing card tricks.  He has also taken a small interest (a completely spontaneous, natural and not forced interest by the way) in reading!  He likes horror stories the best, and we've found him a good series of completely terrifying books that he's enjoying.  Right now, he's reading one of my all-time favorites: The Stand by Stephen King.

We had a great time celebrating our first Christmas, and the holidays were one of those potential obstacles I had worried about which turned out to be more easily conquered than I'd anticipated.

Jake did an amazing job during his first semester, and earned a 3.5 gpa - all A's and B's - despite the many hills he had to conquer.  He is working on making friends, gets great reports from all his teachers, and is being wise about the choices he makes in both actions and people.  It's truly amazing.

He is resilient, optimistic, helpful, kind and loving beyond anything anyone has the right to expect.  He tackles new challenges without flinching and recognizes that his future isn't determined by what has happened to him in the past.  There have been plenty of struggles - because anything less would be unhealthy after what he has been through - and he has been willing to courageously confront things that are painful, emotional and just plain hard.

We are so proud - so, so proud - of who he is and how far he has come, overcoming huge obstacles, in such a short space of time.

Choosing to be an instrument of love requires us to obey His word and His will, and to continually move forward, taking the next brave step out in faith - often even before we can see where the path leads.

But in my experience, it is those journeys that are the most rewarding.

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