Wednesday, April 27, 2016

Blessings Both Ways

As a sales rep, I call on physicians' offices throughout the southern half of Utah.  Having been in the same territory for the last seven years or so, most of the staff in most of the offices know at least a little about our family.  When I walk in, I will often be greeted with, "How are the kids?" or "How is the family?"  Once in awhile someone will ask specifically about Sophi.  Something about seeing her picture or video really resonates with people.  If there's a new staff member in the office, I get a variety of introductions:  "This guy has like 87 kids!"  or "You have to hear about his family!" or perhaps my favorite, "This is Jeremy.  He adopts."  And I guess that's a fair characterization of me.  Or rather us.  We adopt.  And to express how it really feels:  "We adopt!"  

As people learn about our family, one of the most common statements they will make is: "those children you've adopted are so blessed!"  My response to that is, "The blessings go both ways."  And how true that is.  Certainly it has been a blessing for our adopted children to come to a loving home.  They have been given spiritual, educational and recreational opportunities that would never have come their way had they stayed in the orphanage.  They have been blessed with the opportunity to live in the United States of America, the most accommodating place for people with disabilities in the history of the world.  Yet the blessings they have brought to us as parents and to each other as siblings are even more profound and powerful.

I was talking with a friend today who has a brother with muscular dystrophy.  As he is aging, the disease is progressing, and his capabilities continue to diminish.  He walks with difficulty and with a cane.  He tires quickly.  Stairs and other obstacles can be very difficult and may require assistance.  And yet the love and closeness this woman has with her brother was very evident in her words and demeanor as she spoke about him.  She said that her siblings were extraordinarily close, and that she believes a large reason for that is because of how much they love and sacrifice for their brother with disabilities.

I see that so strongly with our kids.  It is so sweet to see Parker focus on Sophi.  He loves her hugs and she loves to give them.  He pays attention to her and helps when she needs it.  Conner and Graci are particularly attentive to Elli.  They will often go out of their way to talk to her, hug her, try to make her feel a part of the family.  Xander is amazing with Sophi and Lexi.  Every school morning I drop the three of them off and watch as he puts Sophi's backpack on her back, hands Lexi her cane and leads her into school.  Cali helps Conner access things on the computer and will sometimes help Lexi and Sophi clean up their room.  Taylor lets Sophi wrestle him and surrenders to her clearly superior skills.  He lifts Cali's wheelchair into and out of our van on a regular basis and even lifts Cali herself when necessary.  Jesi is often like a little mother to Lexi and Sophi, helping them do their hair, pick out their outfits and get ready for adventures. And Sophi and Lexi brighten all of our lives on pretty much a constant basis.  Their sweetness and love of life lifts all of us.

These are just a few examples among so many.  Watching our kids patiently pitch in when one of their special-needs siblings needs help is an incredibly rewarding thing for us as parents.  There are the typical teenage moans and groans and sibling spats, but overall, working together as a family has provided our kids tremendous opportunities to grow and learn compassion, service and other important life skills.  And without a doubt, these wonderful kids have helped remove (or at least smooth out) some of my rough edges.  Christi was pretty much perfect from the get go, but I entered marriage with some serious deficiencies.  I still have a long way to go, but I am truly grateful for the lessons I continue to learn from my kids.  Some of those are subtle and observational.  Others, many others, come in the form of pretty direct suggestions.  Jessica:  "Dad, you're being a little bit stiff."  Taylor:  "Dad, you're being too hard on so and so."  And many other coaching tips that continue to help me progress as a father.

So the blessings definitely go both ways.  Or really, all ways.  It's a non-stop, crazy, roller-coaster of a life we have, but we sure do love it!