Note: This post is addressed to our Evergreen Baptist SGV Church family in particular, but I hope that it gives some insights to anyone who knows us. Who knows? We might end up visiting YOU someday soon!
Note #2: I revised this post after reading some comments from other readers. It's basically the same but I did add a point #5. If you haven't read it, I hope you'll do so.
It was rather weird walking through our church campus last Sunday. I don't know how to explain it, but it was. There seemed to be the kind of shyness that comes when you're meeting someone new. I wrote this post to hopefully help us navigate through this new season. If this looks too long for you, read point #5. That is my most important thought.
Even if you will never meet us, I hope this will give you some insight when it comes to walking alongside new adoptive parents or parents with special needs. These thoughts are mine, so I want to say I'm not speaking for everyone in general. The best thing you can do is to courageously ask what is the best way to help or interact with their child. It's better than avoiding the topic, or worse yet, avoiding the child.
Here are my thoughts for Anah:
- Don't be afraid to talk to us. Some thoughtful friends have told us that they have kept back because they don't want to overwhelm us. I can see that. But I'm sure that it won't be like that forever. Once the newness wears off, I hope that if you don't get a chance to introduce yourselves in the first few weeks, that you'll do so when the "lines" are shorter!
- Don't be afraid to talk to Anah. She doesn't bite. We are teaching her to wave and say "hi!" Just get down to her level and say "hi!" I can't guarantee she will respond, but we are teaching her how to greet others. Feel free to talk to her like you would any other kid. Don't let the fact that she doesn't understand English keep you from talking with her. You don't need to speak Mandarin! Tone of voice counts more than your words. There are guarantees on how she'd respond, and blank looks are common, even with us. (But you'd look that way too if some stranger came up to you and started speaking a different language!) However, our goal is to help her to learn the conventions of language. You can help in the process. In time, she will understand. In the meantime, just talk naturally.
- Be forewarned that if she takes a liking to you, she may want you to pick her up. You can tell this because she holds her arms up to you, like a toddler does when he wants to be picked up. This is her way of letting you know that she is comfortable with you and likes you. She may stick her face close to yours or hold your head by the sides. We think she needs glasses and cannot see very well, so she needs everything up close. However, if you feel uncomfortable, don't feel bad about putting her down. It won't hurt her feelings. Instead, I hope you take her interest in you as a compliment. (And don't feel bad if she doesn't. It's not a sign that she doesn't like you!)
- If you'd like your children to meet Anah, you may want to talk to them in advance. If they want to introduce themselves, you can share with them what I shared in point 2 above. You may wish to warn them that she may not respond, but to not let that discourage them. My prayer is that our children will learn to see beyond the physical to the commonalities they share. I hope and dream of seeing Anah and the kids at our church playing together without any hesitation or fear. She is a child. She may not act her age, but she is a little girl who loves to play Ring Around the Rosy, blow bubbles, and laugh. With all my heart, I pray that the kids in our church family will learn to see her and not her disability.
- Repeat points #1-4 regularly. Make it a habit to greet her. Keep at this, over and over and over. Once is not enough. This point is mainly for you, my brothers and sisters in Christ. If we truly are going to do this as a church family, then we need to spend the time getting to know her. How are we going to help her grow if she is marginalized and forgotten? Of all these points, I hope you hear the pleading in my voice for this one. Once the newness wears off, will it be business as usual? Or will you be willing to let her into your heart and life?
If you feel uncomfortable, I hope you will not let that stop you. Take a step of faith. You may be pleasantly surprised. I know I was and still am. To be honest, this is the first day since we received Anah almost 4 weeks ago that I have felt like she was my daughter and not a visitor or guest. It takes time, but if you are willing to take the step and reach out, I am confident that you will be blessed. I know we are.