If you missed the first part of this post yesterday, just click here to read it first.
God arranged it so that I got to be at the center on the day that Nana left her bed. And she never went back. This miracle (the first of many) felt huge to me, but I had NO IDEA what God had in store.
That day was the beginning of a friendship that I will treasure forever. We had Steph and Nana (who was now sometimes called Naomi) over for lunch and met them at the pool. We even took them to church with us sometimes. The months rolled on and Stephanie continued to wait for the adoption paperwork to go through. Nana began to make rapid progress in her new life with her new Mama. She began to make noises that sounded like words and she began to show signs that she clearly understood things that Stephanie was saying to her in English. Stephanie became really good at seeing the needs of Nana and finding creative ways to meet them. She sought out the expertise of an occupational therapist in Niamey and others via the internet. We began to marvel at the things that were happing inside Nana’s body.
Here are some details that Stephanie posted in June 2014 (reported with permission):
Let’s talk about neck/core strength for a second.
In December 2013: When we laid her on her tummy, she had to work really hard to lift her head to turn it to the other side. She frequently would collapse and face-plant into the mat, because she just couldn’t hold it up anymore.
Now (June 2014): She can push up to her elbows for a fair amount of time and hold her head with control. When she gets tired, she’s able to lay her head down gently. In the pool this weekend, she held her head up comfortably in any position for a couple of hours before she started showing signs of fatigue!
Before: When we’d sit her up (after a period of wrestling and bending each limb with no small difficulty), her trunk would be limp and her head would loll to one side and flop forward after only a few seconds.
Now (June 2014): She is quite capable of holding her body rigidly upright with reasonably good posture, and holding her head erect for long periods of time. Only when she’s fatigued does her head drop, and then it’s slow and gently, not spastic loss of control. She never needs a head support in the stroller now, because even when she rests her head on the side, her body and head don’t crumple forward. And the only thing preventing her from sitting supported by her arms reliably is her lack of awareness that her arms balance her.
In December 2013: most of her major joints were nearly frozen stiff, along with the muscles and tendons that held the joint straight. Her hips were the worst off. She could only be bent to sit with great difficulty and her knees were in a permanent frogged position.
Now (June 2014): she has full range of motion in nearly every part of her body, with the exception of her hamstrings. She bends at the waist easily, except when REALLY excited (when her whole body still stiffens from habit). She sleeps on her side now, with her knees bent, resting TOGETHER comfortably.
When we first met her: she didn’t even seem to understand or respond to Zarma, the native language the nannies at the orphanage spoke among themselves and to the kids, despite being at the orphanage two and a half years. She rarely vocalized except laughing, and if she did, it was mostly vowel sounds deep in her throat.
Now: she understands and responds to almost all day to day English about what we’re doing. She uses 5-10 signs to describe what she wants as well as the actions of dogs and people around her. Not only does she babble a wide variety of sounds with much more open tone, but she uses several spoken words including “hi”, “dog”, and “juice”. Before: she was TERRIFIED of dogs, and would cling to me for dear life, recoil in fear, and often cry uncontrollably.
Now: she falls asleep with a giant dog on the floor at the foot of her bed, reaches out to him with a hand or foot when he walks by, and talks about “og-gog” (especially about his nose) whenever he’s in sight. She still startles and picks her feet up when we come around a corner and he’s there or if he’ll walk directly up to her and smell her, but most of the time she’s at ease with him around.
Miracles after developmental miracles are unfolding before us – some fast and others gradually. We still have a LONG way to go, and there are times when I get frustrated when she’s too tired to perform the simplest tasks. Or discouraged that she’s not gaining weight more easily. But when I stop to survey how far we’ve come, I can’t think of a single system that isn’t being transformed. And in light of that big black hole she USED* to have in her brain? Well… that’s pretty great!
Months went by and the summer got closer. We were leaving for the U.S. and Dave and one night Dave and I got the bright idea to ask Stephanie and Naomi to live in our house while we were gone. “Why hadn’t we thought of that sooner?” we asked ourselves. We live in a house with extra beds, and Steph had been staying in guest houses and hotels for many months. So, they moved in and we left for the U.S. joking with her that “she better be gone by the time we got back.” You see Steph and her husband have 2 other (biological) kids that had been in the U.S. living with their dad and their grandma for about six months at that point. They were all ready to be united and start life together as a family of five. And we really wanted to see that happen for them. While we visited family and friends in the U.S., Stephanie and her husband decided that their kids should seize the opportunity that summer vacation provided and fly the kiddos to Niger to get to know their sister.
I will never forget the first morning after we arrived back in Niger. The plane had gotten in during the middle of the night when Steph and her kids were asleep. Early the next morning we woke up with jet lag to two darling little blondies playing on their tablets in the corner of the living room. I introduced myself to these beautiful, wide eyed, and seemingly timid children and they scurried back into their room to find their mom.
Life was fun and interesting in our house from August to December of 2014. We found a special blessing and a special grace lived with us, and our two families, as we all ate around the table each night and drove to church together on Sundays. The kids became fiercely loyal and loving with each other. Sam and Steph’s son have decided that they will be roommates in College. So many details about that time and knowing our friends in such an intimate way will always fill our memories of it with gratefulness. We would have never chosen to live with nine kids and three adults for months, but we knew it was what God had clearly asked of us. Stephanie ushered in a deep presence of the Holy Spirit and ministered to me in worship in a new and awesome way.
And then we began to see more Naomi miracles. She began to sit up on her own. She began to say more words. She began to communicate and clearly insist on things she liked and didn’t like. She began to have a voice and learn how to make it known. The beauty of that was spellbinding. I will never forget the day that Naomi crawled to me. She was in the living room having tummy time with her Mama and I was in the kitchen. She started to feel super motivated to move and I laid down on my belly in front of the oven and began to cheer her on. And she did it. Every day I just couldn’t believe the miracles I was seeing. Even more surreal was the fact that I was seeing it all take place in my own home. The fact that God allowed me to be so involved is a treasure that I will NEVER quite be able to put into words, but I know that Jesus and I will talk about it in heaven. His love is so sweet. He gives more than we could ever ask or imagine.