We have thoroughly enjoyed experiencing the holidays through Rebeka’s wide eyes. There are so many “trappings” to an American Christmas, and we figured if she’s only going to do it once, we’d go all the way. She was invited to go caroling with some fifth grade girls. We loaded up on a trailer, sat on hay bales, and sang our guts out as we rode through the neighborhood, spreading holiday cheer.


Last weekend we went to the Nutcracker, complete with the super fancy sparkly purple dress we bought for the special occasion. We even got backstage passes, such a treat.

We got to sit in Clara's sleigh!

We got to sit in Clara’s sleigh!

We decorated a gingerbread house, and Rebeka perfected the art of icing icicles.


She and Alayna made this paper chain one night while Alayna was babysitting. They take a ring off each day, counting down to Christmas.


Then there were the Christmas cards she helped me sort, the letters she folded, and the stamps she stuck.


Are you tired yet? Not done. There were cousins to meet, presents to buy, Christmas lights to admire, trees to decorate, songs to sing . . . and all of these things are wonderful. They are fun and exciting, but as they accumulate they can become exhausting. We all know that “most wonderful time of the year” feeling can’t be maintained from the day after Thanksgiving to December 25th. Maybe it’s realized in the midst of stress, as we try to make everything match whatever picture we have in our heads of the perfect Christmas.

This year especially, I have been reminded how impossible the picture perfect Christmas is. There was the horrible school shooting in Connecticut. And we have friends who are going through the season with a great big hole in their family, each ornament or tradition a reminder of who is missing forever. We get word our thirty-four year old friend, a mother with three small children, had a stroke and as I type this she fights for her life. A friend’s father goes strangely and unexplainably catatonic. They are snowballing this year, these bits of bad news marking the “most wonderful time of the year” with the reality that this world is, indeed, broken. It’s real. It isn’t some picture on a card.

A new tradition our family has taken up this year is the weekly unveiling of Rebeka’s foot. I’ve written about it in previous blog posts. This week was especially exciting. We’d been building up to Tuesday evening ever since the week before, when Rebeka’s doctor said we could take BOTH casts off, give her legs and feet a good bath, and finally see for ourselves how that beautiful foot looks after it’s healed a bit from her surgery. We talked about it like it was Christmas morning, so excited, counting down the days. We took pictures of the casts before we took them off, awesome works of graffiti art.


And then the time came, and we started unwrapping the casts, and Rebeka started to cry. It hurt. A lot. First just a tear trickling down the cheek, a clenched jaw, but soon full-blown wails as Alayna rubbed her back and the boys held her hand and watched wide-eyed, and I fretted, and Clay bravely and very gently continued to unwrap her tender foot. “We can wait,” we told her, hoping she’d agree. We didn’t want to keep hurting her. Let a cast tech do it Wednesday morning. Let her doctor. But she wanted to keep going. We took lots of breaks, we blinked back tears as she cried, and finally we got that thing off.

She was very careful with her left leg once it was bare. We could hardly brush it with our fingers without her jumping. She was able to let it float in the tub, but wouldn’t let her heel touch the bottom. We all knew the next morning was coming, including Rebeka. She’d get a new cast on, and it was going to hurt. We waited forever to see the doctor, and he did what he had to do. She wailed. Screamed. This hurt was beyond her or me or Clay, and all we could do was hold her. I was trembling when it was all over, and so was she.

When something hurts Rebeka, she says it’s ouchie. A mosquito bite can be ouchie, and taking off the cast, and putting one on again, was very ouchie. With limited vocabulary, this is the word she’s chosen to describe pain. This season is “ouchie” for so many. And this season is comfort and joy and tradition for so many. This season can be both. But this season is also about gifts, the giving and the receiving.

There is a sweet friend who has loved on Rebeka ever since she got here. This woman lost her eight-year-old daughter last spring, and she’s told me that being with Rebeka has been part of the healing process. She spends time with Rebeka, and she gives her things. Things that belonged to her daughter. A book, an adorable stuffed pig, a winter hat and mittens, and a tiny little snow globe ornament. There is joy in the giving, and healing. I don’t mean to trivialize pain and loss and suffering, but there is always a gift. A new day, the sun rises, we breathe in, we breathe out, each breath a gift. And on a morning, amidst the pain and suffering that every woman endures during childbirth, a baby was born. A gift. Joy and pain, and a promise that someday we’ll experience perfection. Until then, there will be scars, but we have reason to smile.


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Remind Me Why I’m Doing This?

Rebeka is doing great. Intermittent Advil now, no getting up in the middle of the night because of leg pain. We stand her up and encourage her to put weight on her left foot. That leg is all about rehabilitation, all done with surgeries! On to the right leg, which is in a long leg cast and will be manipulated weekly until late January/early February when we’re ready for another round of surgery. So we get a little holiday respite, hooray!

Last weekend a good friend came to show Rebeka and I how to knit. Some sweet friends had already shown Rebeka the basics, and she seemed to grasp the concept just fine when her knitting tutors were by her side, but she never asked to knit much after they left. I wanted to encourage her. This could be a trade she could take home with her. There are no knitters in Bugesera, not that I know of. It could be a way for her to make a living someday, or make money for her family now, or a gift to her community. So why didn’t she ever pick up those knitting needles? I think she wanted a little company.

I am not a crafty person. Words are my medium, not needles, thread, glue, scissors, paper or paint. And yet ever since I watched the knitters in Noble Hall while attending residencies in Vermont at VCFA, I’ve wanted to learn. Just think of the multi-tasking possibilities! Now I had another reason to learn. I could help Rebeka. We could knit side by side in solidarity. So my friend came. We took before and after pictures. This is how we felt when we were learning.

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But this is how we felt after a couple hours of careful attention from our faithful instructor and friend, who picked up our dropped stitches and showed us again, and again, and again how to get started and keep going.

photo 1

There is a part of me that loves this new skill, and there is a part of me that hates it. The part of me that loves rules, do this and this and this and then it will all turn out just fine, loves knitting. But the problem is, I like to do things fast, I’m not very careful. I drop stitches. And I don’t really understand what’s happening, I’m just following rules. I don’t understand how the stitches are being made, so this is what happens.

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I’m sorry Leslie!!!

I’d like to say that we’d found something where Rebeka and I are on equal footing, but Rebeka is actually better than me. She is careful. She is slow. This is mostly because of her hands, with middle fingers that stay in her palms and arms that don’t lift of their own accord, she must figure it out, and it takes a while. At the Texas Book Festival I listened to a panel where Gary Schmidt, author of the new and fantastic book What Came From the Stars, said that he writes on a manual typewriter to slow himself down. No computer. Oh my.

 Slowing down is good, I know I need it, and Rebeka slows me down big time. No longer do I race out of the car, down the aisles at the grocery store, and blaze past the Buddy Buck machine to my car to tear out of that parking lot and into another. Rebeka and I know the stores with the good carts (Target and HEB=comfy seat for Rebeka that accommodate two casts, Costco=hoist into the basket and sit amongst the frozen foods). I make myself wait for her to twist the top off that toothpaste tube every morning and night because she deserves at least a little bit of control in this world where she controls so little. She “helps” with dinner and laundry and leaf-raking.


And it takes longer. Sometimes a lot longer. Sometimes things just don’t happen at all. But it’s what I needed. There are afternoons, waiting rooms, or quiet evenings when I sit down next to Rebeka and we pick up our needles, side by side, and knit a row or two. I don’t have my computer in my lap, I’m not checking off my list. I lament the stitch that slides off my shiny blue needle and Rebeka patiently sets her knitting down to take a look at what happened. Most likely I was going too fast.

Rebeka intuitively understands how the stitches are being made, and sometimes she can fix my mistake. And it isn’t really about learning a trade anymore, a way to make money someday back home. It’s about a quiet, slow moment in time when a little girl slowed me down for a while. It’s about learning how to make something from nothing, and taking the time to do it. It’s about stepping out of my comfort zone of working with words and trying something new.

There are many things we’ve been able to give Rebeka. A home, hugs, books, English, medicine, knitting tutors, education . . . but I think she gives us more. Long after Rebeka goes home again, I will treasure this raggedy old washcloth I’m knitting. I will look at the holes and the lumps and the messed up edges and I will remember patient fingers who find a way and I will remember why.


Picture by Merissa De Falcis (see at Merissa De Falcis Photography on Facebook)

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Tidings of Comfort and Joy

We’ve done a lot since our last blog post, including two cast changes, Thanksgiving, and a quick trip to San Antonio. Rebeka was a little drowsy on “preparation day,” so while we pressed crust into pie pans and stirred up the sweet potatoes she drowsed in the middle of the kitchen island, taking up residence like the princess she is (but claims she isn’t). We had her all set with a pillow and a big towel to keep warm.

We’ve got four generations of pie-makers here!

The next morning she was more alert and ready to put together the spices for the apple pie. Alayna proudly chopped a whole lot of sweet potatoes, and I am happy to say she can now assemble a sweet potato casserole all on her own!

The last few weeks I’ve been feeling a little funky, even with the excitement of Thanksgiving and putting up the Christmas decorations. I think part of it has been the fact that Rebeka has been in more pain. The recovery room and seeing her hurting is no fun. And because of the pain we’ve been getting up during the night for meds and going out less. More cooped up in the house with movies or Uno for distraction. Blech. That’s how I felt last night. Today would be another procedure. The possibility of staying overnight at Dell, depending on how the nerve block and cutting of the tendon went. This morning, Rebeka was all smiles, even though she knew she was going in for another OR visit, complete with yucky-tasting medicine and waking up in recovery with pain. When I woke her up this morning she grabbed Georgie by the hand as she sat up in bed. She was ready. If she could be that chipper, surely I could follow suit, but my funk was hard to shake.

As we waited in a small room for her doctor to finish with his previous procedure, Rebeka wheeled herself out of the room, teasing us that she was not coming back. Dell has a whole fleet of ride-on toys in the hall, so Clay set her on one and pushed her for a few circuits around the halls. Big grin. Giggles. And almost immediate mastery of her car’s small turning radius and the ability to avoid obstacles. Then it was time for the “yucky medicine,” otherwise known as Verced. She almost gags it tastes so nasty, but we’ve discovered it’s good to be drowsy before they wheel her back. It isn’t nearly as scary that way. A few swishes from the sink in the bathroom to wash out the taste, and she was good to go. While she went back to the OR, Clay and I snagged our usual spot in the waiting area and I went to get our coffees and breakfast tacos. Only they were out of breakfast tacos. Grrr. I knew there were parents out there with kids much sicker than Rebeka, and problems much bigger than ours, and I should snap out of it, but funks don’t listen to reason. They just settle in.

When we got the call that Rebeka’s procedure was done, we gathered up and headed back to hear from her doctor and then find her in recovery. The first thing I noticed as we walked into the large recovery room, lined with beds on each side just like in the Madeline books, was her SHOE. That’s right, a shoe.

It’s funny sometimes the things that kick a funk away. The glimpse of that black shoe on her left leg cast, Velcro stretched across to hold it on, lifted my spirits and sent them humming at full throttle. Progress! This was all really working. There’s a light at the end of our tunnel. Her vitals looked great, too. Her blood pressure the last couple weeks as she’s come out of anesthesia has started at 140 over 100-ish, so this week’s good numbers, coupled with a relaxed face and the ability to focus on the movie in her lap, made the recovery room a breeze. The nerve block her doctor gave in her right leg, before he cut the tendon, had something to do with it, too.

We may have already decked our halls, and I may have shown Rebeka Santa at the mall and let her ride the little train, but Santa and trains and decorated trees don’t make a holiday. A heart filled with comfort and joy and the promise of things to come does. I never would have guessed that a little black Velcro shoe held the key to lifting me out of a funk and catapulting me into December with a smile on my face and peace in my heart.

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Oh My Gosh!

Along her journey to learning English Rebeka has picked up some great phrases. “Oh my gosh” is one of them. “Goodness gracious” is another. And the other day in an Uno game, when I played two draw two cards in a row and then laid a draw four on top of that, she said, “thanks for nothing.” That’s a Clay-ism.

She is speaking more and more these days. “Meredith take me outside upstairs,” and “I don’t have yellow shirt” and “May I have water please?” After a little more than three months here, I think this is pretty darn amazing. One of the ways I know she’s feeling pain from a cast change is that she goes silent. Now that she has English words, this is a sure sign that it’s time for more Advil and some ice.

She handled last week’s cast change well, after the initial freak-out in recovery. Talk about oh my gosh. “Oh my gosh there is no nerve block on my left leg this time and it hurts, hurt, HURTS!!” Our sweet nurse administered pain-killers, including morphine. After drugs and some “Georgie” (Curious George) that played on the laptop in her lap, she calmed down, and we went home that same day. Note to self: always bring headphones. They did a great job of blocking out other kid’s “oh my gosh” moments as they woke up all around us. The recovery room had four or five other kids waking up from their surgeries. Their reactions ranged from sweet, loopy smiles to screaming and vomiting. Oh my gosh. Thank goodness for curtains and headphones.

We experience “oh my gosh” moments all the time with Rebeka. Like the day I left Rebeka and Kate to face paint while I ran a quick errand. Clay was right outside, and Kate could run out and get him if they needed him. They looked perfectly innocent.

Then I came home, and “oh my gosh.”

When Rebeka first came here, she did very little imaginative play. She liked to dress the dolls and bears we drug out of the attic, but no role-playing. She didn’t make them talk to each other or pretend to feed the baby. It was as if she didn’t know how, and that made the fiction writer in me so very sad. This past week, we plopped ourselves in the “middle room” where most of the dolls and stuffed animals live, and lo and behold, they all had a tea party. She gave sailor bear little sips and made sure purple-tail-horse had some bites of cake.

One morning we looked on our back deck to see hundreds and hundreds of feathers. A hawk likes to chase pigeons into our window. They slam hard, scare the “oh my gosh” out of us, then drop to the ground where they are a tasty hawk snack. This time we weren’t around for the slam, but we witnessed the aftermath of the snack. That hawk wasn’t very tidy.

Rebeka led us in a rousing chorus of “oh my gosh!”

Then there were the fireworks we saw on Saturday night, being shot off the bluff across from our lake house. Probably some sort of F1 fanfare. And then the “oh my gosh” at Christmas decorations going up all around the house. A personal favorite: the Santa who swings his hips to Jingle Bell Rock. Or the discovery of forgotten remote control cars from a Christmas past. The batteries still work, and with their light up tires and ability to flip themselves over and keep on rolling, they are definitely an “oh my gosh.”

But maybe my favorite oh my gosh happened this morning, and it came from my own lips. Rebeka is not one for public displays of affection. Kisses and hugs must be stolen. But this morning, when Alayna picked her up from the breakfast table to go upstairs and get ready for church, Rebeka flung her arms around Alayna’s neck. A real, honest to goodness, unsolicited hug.

Oh my gosh. That’s all I can say, blink, blink. Oh. My. Gosh.

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The Old Ball and Chain

I hope everyone saw my Facebook reports on Rebeka’s successful surgery and hospital stay. We ended up only staying one night in the hospital and left Wednesday afternoon with our five bags and Rebeka’s new ball and chain.

This complicated conglomeration of tubing and equipment was Rebeka’s nerve block, and we were very grateful for it. It administered a constant drip of pain-killer to deaden her left leg, and it lasted through Thursday afternoon. Yes, it was cumbersome. It leaked and we had to figure out a way to stop changing clothes every few hours. And it was a little “unnerving” (ha, ha) to think about removing the catheter when the medicine ran out. But without that little nerve block, Rebeka would have been in a heap of pain and so we were grateful.

I pulled out the tube Friday morning. The doctor had promised it would be “no big deal” and “it wouldn’t hurt” but I was skeptical. Rebeka wanted to watch when the time came. Oh dear. I gave it a little tug. She didn’t make a sound, but she watched intently. Another little tug and sure enough, that little booger slid right out. No tears. Just an intense curiosity, and a bandaid to catch the little bit of medicine still leaking out.

There are a lot of things I never thought I’d do in my life. Pulling out a catheter is one of them. And caring for a ten-year-old Rwandan girl for nine months or so while she had surgeries on her club feet is another. Yet here I am, and thank the Lord, I am not alone. I am so very thankful for my family, and for all the people who prayed, brought meals, balloons, flowers, visited, and cheered every few hours as I sent out reports from the hospital. It takes a village to heal this child, our family could not do it on our own.

There are friends who have crates of paint and stacks of canvases and invite Rebeka over to paint pictures. There are friends who spend their day at the hospital, or send little angel statues back to recovery.

Rebeka learned how to paint a horse, starting with three ovals. She’s been sketching horses ever since. This is her first painting. The flowers were specially chosen by a five-year-old who just knew Rebeka would love them. And the angel is from a friend who’s probably thought more about Heaven this year than ever before-she knows there are angels watching over us all.

Friends who cook and friends who hug and give kisses and friends who teach and friends who take Rebeka for walks or little adventures and friends who bring balloons and flowers and friends who just come and sit and paint nails together.

There is evidence of many of you on my facebook posts, or plastered like friendly graffiti on Rebeka’s cast.

We’re in two short leg casts for this week, a lot easier to maneuver!

And it is all these friends coming together that make the caring for Rebeka a blessing. The work is shared, the hard parts are spread out amongst us all like butter on warm toast, and it never really feels like a ball and chain. This forty-three pounder that rests on our hip. Not a burden but a blessing. Like that ball and chain that had the potential to be cumbersome, but offered the blessing of pain relief, the coming of Rebeka has meant a little more hassle getting around, but the blessings of perspective and the ability to let go of the hold we think we have on our days. It is freeing.

This next month will be a little more challenging than the previous three. Rebeka will go under anesthesia every Tuesday so her doctor can continue to manipulate her left foot. This will be a painful process due to the surgery, hence the need for anesthesia and visits to the O.R. Her doctor will also continue moving her right foot. We anticipate a long leg cast in the next few weeks, and possibly a small “mini-surgery” before the big surgery, sometime in January. Whatever lies in the future, we can handle it.

With Georgie by her side, she can talk on the world.

For now, we take things one day at a time. It’s a good strategy. For pulling out catheters, waiting to hear from an agent, or facing another surgery.  We won’t worry. When I think of a perfect picture of non-worry, there’s one dog that comes to mind. May there be a nap in a sunny spot in your future . . .

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A Thousand Words

If a picture is worth a thousand words, this post is filled with thousands of them. There have been many moments this past week, some big and some small, some expected and some not, but I thought instead of writing about it, I’d just show you.

It was freezing the day she rode Roxy. A friend gave Rebeka a hat and some mittens, and another gave her some warm boot liners she could pull over her cast. She sat tall in the saddle and seemed perfectly at ease. Thank you Gayle for warm things, and Bridget, Abby and Emily for sharing Roxy with us.


When Rebeka first got here, she was really afraid of the dogs, and they were kind of afraid of her. Because she doesn’t have a lot of upper arm control, she sometimes whacked them when she really just meant to pet them. But they’re both figuring things out, and coming upon the three of them, stretched out in front of the fire, made me smile.


Everyone hunkers down in their own spot to work. I sense that Rebeka loves when our family is all together, even if nobody is paying particular attention to her. She just finds something to do, this time it was a rubbery skeleton that she made dance


I left Rebeka with Clay and the boys and when I came back, they had come up with this great game to help Rebeka with addition. You slide five beans, where they land are the points you get, and Rebeka added everyone’s score each time.


Alayna got these when she took Rebeka out on a small shopping excursion. Shopping for Rebeka has brought her great joy, and we’re all happy for the cool nights so we can wear our warm pajama pants.


She loves to make us laugh, whether it’s making a silly face over my shoulder to whoever is behind me as I carry her, or hiding under Alayna’s bed at night, waiting to scare somebody.


We went to the same pumpkin patch we’ve gone to every year since the kids were little. I have pics of Alayna when she was two months old, dressed as a pumpkin, propped up in the Tarrytown United Methodist pumpkin patch.


Rebeka went traditional, Alayna went silly, Nate went cool (ever heard of “gangnum style”?) and Benji used the contours of his pumpkin to add character. I think his looks like an old man.


Things got a little silly. This is the face Alayna’s pumpkin is imitating, she did a pretty good job!


Pippi, Minnie Mouse, and two boys in morph suits.

And one more thing, but I won’t include the video here since I know it might embarrass Rebeka. I’ll just tell you about it. We were cleaning up the dinner dishes, and playing some loud music (Bill Withers, dub step, a little of everything) and Rebeka is just hanging out on the wood floor watching us shake our booties and wash dishes, and all of a sudden she says, “I’m dancing!” We look over and she’s laying on her side, bending her body forward and back which is making her spin a little bit.

Of course everybody had to try the new Rebeka dance. Again, I won’t post it here. Let’s just say our wood floor was very clean after we were done. And my heart was very full. It was a good week, and I am grateful as we get closer and closer to surgery and a new phase of mobility and pain, to be storing up for the times ahead like a squirrel with his acorns. I am grateful for my phone and how easy it is to snap a quick pic. If a picture is worth a thousand words, my phone holds quite a tome.

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The other day I had just the boys in the car and I saw some birds and I said, “Oh look, birds, fly, fly, fly birdies fly, birds fly,” and I hear Benji’s voice from the backseat saying, “Mom, I’m worried about you.” I guess that’s how I talk when Rebeka’s in the car, always feeding English into her ear.

In my defense, there’s so much to notice and point out in this great big world, so much to learn. There’s the glass-walled elevator at Barton Creek mall, the massive trash truck with giant mechanical arms that pick up trash cans, and the remote control fireplace (we have gas logs and a remote that turns them on). These are the obvious things I would expect a girl from a rural village in Rwanda to marvel at. And then, there are socks.

I guess I’ve always sort of taken socks for granted, but Rebeka loves them. I think partly because she never wore them back home. They wouldn’t have worked with the rigged-up sandals she wore.

Ever since the cast went on, these shoes have been stored under the bench near our cubbies, slowly getting buried. As cool as they are, I hope she never has to wear them again . . .

When she found a pair of socks we had bought her before she arrived, tucked in a drawer, you’d have thought she’d found treasure. She couldn’t wait to try them on (at the time she still had an uncasted leg). Now, she insists on putting them on the moment she gets out of her real-deal bath Tuesday night and keeping them on until she sees the doctor Wednesday morning and gets her next set of casts.

I think partly she likes how they feel, partly she likes how they look, and partly she likes how they hide her twisted feet. Whatever the reason, she’s in good company. Alayna has always been a big “sock” person. They rarely match, and they seem to multiply in the drawer.

So socks didn’t occur to me as something worthy of pointing out or noticing because they were, well, socks. But the horse thing, that didn’t occur to me because I’ve never really been much or a horse person. Guess what?

A friend of mine owns a couple of ponies and she offered to take us out and let us meet them. When I asked Rebeka if she was interested, she was all wide eyes and “yes, yes” and eyebrows up with the chin tilt, a typical way to say “yes” in Rwanda. My friend brought a saddle over and we slung it over the arm of the couch, and then over Clay. Rebeka loved it. My friend loaned us some plastic horses, a little tack kit, and with each little horsie thing, Rebeka’s enthusiasm has grown.

I love walking through my days with eyes wide open, looking for things to point out, whether “birdies” or “trash truck” or “horse!” It’s a delight to figure out what makes this particular girl tick. She’s a horse girl. She’s a sock girl. She’s a daisy-headband-wearing girl who surfs longboards down the driveway.

Check out the leg grafiti!

As a writer, I know these are the kinds of quirky details that make characters seem fully alive and real. In families, they are fodder for private jokes, and stories that are told year after year. They are the stuff of family folklore. The longer Rebeka is with us, the more we add to our little cache of discovered quirks. They are treasure, just as surely as socks, things we’ll pull out, dust off, and “remember when” for years to come.


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Just Another Day

Last night when we took off both of Rebeka’s casts, she took a long bath with a dissolving cupcake bath fizzy, and we painted her toes a pretty pink with a topcoat of glitter razzle-dazzle.

I forgot to take a picture while her casts were off.

I can’t imagine how good it must have felt for her to straighten her left leg, after having it bent at 90 degrees all week.  We did our weekly Tuesday night scrub in the tub on her legs, paying special attention between the toes, and then lotioned her up well. As we settled in to read a book before bed, Rebeka did a kick with the left leg that’s been casted at 90 all week. Then another one. These were impressive, nose to the knee kicks, and she didn’t stop there. She must have high-kicked fifty times while I read. It was a festive can-can bedtime affair.

This morning we saw the doctor, who is very pleased with the progress her left foot has made. The surgery date still stands on November 6th. There’s a big red circle around that date on our calendar, though Rebeka still isn’t entirely sure what “surgery” means. We’re using the word “big fix” and debating just how much to tell her so she’ll be prepared, but not unnecessarily worried. The doctor says to expect quite a bit of pain the first week or so, and we’re doing all we can to be ready. We’re practicing taking pills by swallowing sprinkles, then graduating to tic-tacs. Our goal is jelly-belly’s.

The people at Dell think of everything!

We also plan on taking a hospital tour the week before so it won’t be unfamiliar on the big day. Today, while checking out at Dell, I noticed this cute picture on the wall.

I imagine before her time here is through, Rebeka will be bringing a picture to hang on the Dell wall. I love how the child who drew this picture sounded out the word, hos-pi-doll. I yearn for the day when Rebeka is able to sound out words and brave enough to write how she thinks they’re spelled.

She’s making great progress with school, slowly but surely, day by day, and I’m trying to be patient. Sometimes it takes stepping back and looking from a distance to see how far she’s already come. The stack of letters she knows, and the stack of letters she doesn’t, is just about the same size now. But patience has never been my strong suit. Take Rebeka’s hair for instance. It seems to grow so achingly slow. I was shocked when I saw this picture, taken just a few weeks after she got here.

Today, I took this shot.

Not only has her hair grown a ton (okay, it FEELS like a ton to me!) she’s also gained some styling abilities. Notice how she styled her Barbie with the cute ponytails. It isn’t until I see pictures like this that I realize what big progress we’re making. Hair, foot movement, school work, they’re all measured by looking back, and comparing. It makes me wonder, though, about the things that aren’t so obvious. The days that seem perfectly ordinary, the routines that build upon themselves, until cumulatively, looking back, you see that they made a big difference after all.

How is the day-to-day living with Rebeka impacting us? When we came back from nine and a half months of traveling, people asked how we had changed. I didn’t have an answer. It’s only now, over four years later, that I’m really starting to see how that time affected each of us. So maybe that big day, going to the hospital, won’t be such a big deal after all. And maybe those moments on the rug, or reading a bedtime story while Rebeka can-can’s, will be the turning points after all. We can only see the few steps in front of us, so we step into our days with the expectation that some of them will be the big days, and we keep our eyes wide open.

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Chapter Two Hundred Seventy Six

Seventeen months ago Clay and I were convinced that we were being called to start the adoption process. That set in motion a variety of things. We added a second story to our house, gained another bedroom and got the boys out of Alayna’s bathroom. I brought the big box of board books down from the attic and dusted them off, and sat on the floor and read them all again, and remembered tiny fingers and smiled at the teeth marks on the corners.

I gathered verses to pray for a girl we had not yet met. For a mother we’d never meet. The decision to adopt also began a process in our hearts, as we opened up to the idea of our family looking very different. I was a little afraid, but I was mostly excited. As the months wore on, our anticipation heightened. We became impatient. Where was our girl? Those who have read earlier entries on this blog saw this anxiety. You watched with us as our number crept down ever so slowly, cheering each time it did.

When Natalie Green from Africa New Life came to us and asked if we’d be willing to care for Rebeka while she was in Texas, we hardly had to think twice. Of course! We were all set up for a little girl. We even had new sheets in the closet. Rebeka would help us pass the time, so we wouldn’t be so anxious about the adoption. She’d be a welcome distraction.

And then she came.

And she is so much more than a distraction. Meanwhile, while all this was going on, Clay and I, separately, began to feel less sure about the adoption. Once we talked and realized we were both feeling the same thing, we began to pray. We gave it time. We did not want to make a decision based on fear, or selfishness, but only on conviction. Was this no longer what we were being called to do? But why? As we waited, and listened, and watched, we have come to see that not only is Rebeka much more than a distraction, she is the girl. She is the girl we’ve been preparing for all this time.

This house would not have worked very well for our family and Rebeka without the big remodel we did, in anticipation of a baby. I can’t imagine the four kids trying to share that little bathroom. And guess who is loving those board books, and learning so much vocabulary from them? And guess who each one of those verses was meant for? The ones about “I know the plans I have for you” and “The Lord will protect you” and “for those who have set their hearts on pilgrimage” and “blessed are those whose strength is in you.”

Picture taken by Merissa DeFalcis

When we were first talking about adoption, I said there was no way I could foster to adopt, because I couldn’t bear attaching to a child and then having to let go if things didn’t work out. Guess what we’ll do this Spring? Guess who is getting attached anyway? With every intention of sending her home to her family with much joy, we are loving her while she is with us. It will be hard to say goodbye, but it will be right.

This past month, we knew it was time to make some decisions about the adoption, as our paperwork began to expire. We have decided to discontinue the adoption process for now. It feels right. Who knows what the future has in store for us? Maybe a baby, maybe not. All we know is that right now we’re right where we need to be, caring for Rebeka and loving her heartily. She has become part of our family for a while. She watched homecoming festivities wide-eyed.

She took her first 4 wheeler ride with Nate and didn’t flinch.

Today she got cast #8 on her left foot and cast #2 on her right foot. I was struck by how gradual the process has been. How slowly her skin has stretched, to allow her toes to release. I see how we were like that. We were gradually stretched, with adoption paperwork and numbers on wait lists, and now here we are.

I want to thank everyone who sent us encouragement, prayed for us, and helped us in so many ways. You are a part of this story, too, and I hope this new chapter does not disappoint. I hope you marvel as much as we do at all the plot twists, the suspense, the unexpected turns. Only a master storyteller could weave such a tale, and we count it nothing but joy to be part of the tale.



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We’re Booked

And now, a riff on a little picture book I love, called What Can You Do With a Shoe? by Beatrice de Regniers, illustrated by Maurice Sendak.

What can you do, what can you do, what can you do with a looooong sock?

You can use it as a scarf

Or tie it on your head

You can use it as a belt

Or on a cast instead

Okay, so it’s a pretty lame tribute, but I couldn’t get the text of that book out of my head as I watched Rebeka clowning around with that long sock they always put under the cast. You can see that Rebeka got two casts today, and one of them goes alllll the way up her leg! Not only that, we also booked a tentative date for Rebeka’s first surgery, November 5th. Her doctor will operate on her left foot first, and then her right foot several weeks later.

I think this period we’ve been in, a new cast every week, has been preparing us for a much more difficult period. I am so glad we’ve taken it in baby steps. Long gone are the days of playing in the lake and watching Rebeka race on her own two feet all over the house. For six weeks now she’s been in casts and hasn’t walked. Now that she’s double-casted, Rebeka has a hard time even balancing at a sink to wash her hands. Bathing is a bigger challenge. And there are harder times to come. After surgery, she’ll go under anesthesia each week when she goes in to get casted (that’s right, she’ll go back into casts after surgery to complete the process of turning her foot.) Apparently the process is so painful, she’ll need the anesthesia. Tylenol won’t be enough (and the whole time she’s been with us, Rebeka has only asked for a pain reliever one time). Oh dear.

Part of me dreads what lies ahead. Even if it’s what she has to do to get better, it still sounds so hard. But I trust that I was prepared for what’s already come, and I’m in the process of being prepared for what lies ahead. I don’t think it’s a coincidence that in the past two months I’ve found myself reading or listening to three books that have been part of that preparing and adapting process. One of them, Wonder by RJ Palacio, is the story of a severely deformed boy who is put into public school for the first time in middle school.

What I’m realizing, reading it to Benji in little snatches at bedtime, is that the main character in the book has something in common with Rebeka. People stare at him all the time. I’ve watched people’s staring eyes in the store as I push Rebeka’s wheelchair. Watched her tuck her twisted right foot up under her cast to hide it. As I read this book, I gain a new perspective on what it might be like for Rebeka. Not necessarily a torment, but an ordeal that she’s dealt with her whole life. Sometimes with humor, sometimes with resignation. It’s not pleasant to be stared at, but it isn’t the end of the world, either.

Then there’s Out of My Mind by Sharon Draper.

I’m listening to this on audiobook. It’s the story of a severely handicapped girl who is wheelchair bound, and can’t talk. Though Rebeka is learning English more and more every day, she is often silent, for lack of a way to communicate. I feel for her as I listen to the main character’s frustrations with lack of language. I wonder what is going on in her head.

The third book that traipsed into my life was Left to Tell by Immaculee Ilibagiza and Steve Erwin.

This is Immaculee’s story of survival and redemption as she lived through the Rwanda genocide, but I found myself drawn to the passages in the very beginning of the book, when Immaculee described everyday life with her family before the genocide. I began to imagine Rebeka coming from a very similar family. I had a very sketchy idea of what life looked like for her day to day back home, what her family dynamics were. I found it comforting and gratifying to imagine Rebeka coming from a loving, dynamic, intelligent family like Immaculee’s. I felt more connected to Rebeka’s home, her people, and what makes her tick.

But no matter how many books and prayers and preparations, there are some things I could have never been prepared for. Being soundly and repeatedly beaten at Memory.

And war.

And how I would feel when I encounter scenes like this tickle-fest that occurs on a fairly regular basis as we gather around Rebeka’s bed to pray each night.

And her smile. There is no way I could have been prepared for how her smile makes me feel. So I trust that in the future, along with the hard things, there will be unexpected surprises that will carry us along and remind us that we are truly blessed to be along on this adventure.

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