Saturday, July 28, 2012

Life Lessons From Barkley

I've figured out that God sent Barkley to me as an answer to my prayers.  I know, how is a dog an answer to prayer?  When I started on this adoption journey, I  prayed and prayed and prayed that God would prepare my heart so that I could be the best mom I could possibly be for my daughter (and later for my baby boy).  When I first started out, I thought I would be getting a *perfect* baby.  I am so thankful that the Lord changed my heart and opened my vision to who he had in store for me!  As I've said before, M. had a traumatic past and with that, there are some things that I have no idea how they may manifest themselves later.  My constant prayer is that God will give me wisdom, patience, and understanding as we navigate her new world together.  I've read all kinds of books on parenting children with traumatic pasts, children who grieve, and children who have attachment disorders.  Adoption is a wonderful thing but it is also bittersweet because it is founded in loss.  So even if she didn't have the experiences she had, she is still experiencing the loss of her birth family.

About 2 weeks ago, God brought Barkley into my life.  As you know, Barkley spent his life up to the point of his rescue on a chain that was staked in the ground.  He had about a 15 foot radius that was his comfort zone.  Over the last 2 weeks I've seen how hard he's tried when I ask him to move outside of his safety zone.  Sometimes he has great success and sometimes there's no progress and he absolutely refuses.  But every single time there is always high stress, panting, drooling, darting eyes, and a wrinkled forehead from worry.

When I first met Barkley on his chain, he wouldn't even come to me.  His tailnub was wagging but it was too scary to approach me.  It took about 20 minutes and some assistance for him to finally let me pet him.  Now, he can't get enough hugs and kisses!  This was a huge step forward.

This week he finally made it down into the basement.  It took 30 minutes of me moving his legs, one at a time, and supporting his body down the stairs.  The basement is a happy place for my other dogs because that's where they get fed!  When I say, "Ready?" Simon runs to the basement door, jumps to the first landing (over 5 steps) and then runs excitedly down the rest of the stairs.  The other two act somewhat the same, minus the flying leap.  Up until 2 days ago, when the other dogs ran happily into the basement, Barkley would just stand at the top, waiting and drooling, trying to figure out what was going on down there.  But he couldn't bring himself to take those steps outside his safety zone and find out for himself.  Once we made it to the bottom and he saw it wasn't anything scary, he goes up and down those steps now with no problem.  You would never know that it was such an anxiety producing event.

Last weekend, I had some friends come and pick me up for a ball game.  They came in to meet Barkley and do you know what he did?  He ran away and hid.  It was too scary for him to meet new people.  He's familiar with me and my family but anyone outside of that freaked him out.  I coaxed him over to me so they could pet him.  I know it was scary for him but he is learning that it's O.K. to let people give him attention.  If you are familiar with the Boxer breed at all, you know that they LOVE, LOVE, LOVE people!!  So to see Barkley missing out on this part of what is bred into him, is just sad.  He shows me that excitement when I come home, but I can't wait until it's natural for him to spread his Boxer love to anyone who comes into my house.

Every day, there is a new experience that shows me that it's 2 steps forward and 3 steps back.   We are still making progress but there isn't a timeline and some days are really great and other days aren't so great.  It can be easy to forget that he still has a long way to go because in his safety zone, he acts completely normal.

When I think about sweet, precious M and all that is coming her way, I get this feeling that I don't know how to explain.  It's sad but in a weird way.  This little girl has been in an orphanage since she was about 2.5 years old.  Her ENTIRE world is about to be completely changed, and in a way, taken out from under her.  I know and everyone else knows that being in a family is WAY better than growing up in an orphanage, but HOW SCARY is it going to be for her??  I look different, sound different, dress differently, and act different from the women who've cared for her so far.  I probably smell different too.  In her first two weeks of life out of her safety zone (the orphanage) she is going to experience so many new things that I'm sure will be completely overwhelming.  Simple things to us like wearing shoes, car rides, sleeping in a bed, are all going to be new experiences to her.  She will also tackle bigger things like airplane rides (A LOT!) and dogs who are almost her size.  Even the basic things that we aren't in tune with so much like the difference in weather, food, smells, noise, etc.  I'm sure she will be on sensory overload.  We don't speak the same language so I can't even explain to her the things that are going to happen before they do.  Yes, she's getting her family book and she will be familiar with my picture but still, I am a stranger to her and she is leaving everything familiar.

Barkley has been a great life lesson in preparing me for M.s' adjustment away from her safety zone.  There may be days when she makes great progress.  There may be days when for whatever reasons, she regresses.  There may be days when she reaches her limit in that moment and it's O.K.  It's a reminder that things won't go as planned and a reminder that I don't have to stick to a plan.

When I think of her new life here, I am filled with hope.  There have been two verses that always seem to come up when I pray for her and her adjustment.

The first one is from 2 Corinthians 5:17-
"Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come!"

I love the hope we have in Jesus.  M has a new life coming her way and I know that God has an amazing plan for her life.

The other verse is from Joel 2:25-
"The LORD says, 'I will give you back what you lost.'"

I can't even put into words HOW MUCH I wish I could have found M sooner and that we could have been able to spend her early childhood together.  I am trusting that God will redeem her and our relationship as mother and daughter, and by doing so, will give back what we have lost- both separately and together.

Probably the biggest lesson Barkley has made clear to me is that when M and I do finally meet, even though she may be happy to see me, I'm sure she will be somewhat scared.  It may take 10, 15, 30 or 45 minutes for her to let me touch her.  And I, I will be praying for supernatural strength to keep myself from hugging and kissing her to pieces!!!  


  1. Kristen, this is a great post! It is so true. I am sure your animals are your babies just like how I feel. Your little girls life will be uprooted but God will be walking beside her holding her hand! Also, I emailed you a few days ago from, so when you check it is me and not spam!!!

  2. This is beautiful. I love how you're being prepared through an unexpected, unplanned source! You will have so much more understanding to offer your daughter after working through fears and issues with Barkley. What an awesome chapter in your story!

  3. What a great connection - our Father truly does give us all we need - he is an amazing provider - is all aspects. I love how he's preparing you - certain to be an awesome mom!

  4. I was thinking when you got Barkley, that you would learn sooooo much about caring for a child who has experienced trauma. You are going to be such a great mom for M.!!

  5. Kristen, Loved your post. God gives us nothing we cannot handle. You have been chosen to be Miss M's mother because he knows that you can do it! You have so much love within you for your little girl. I was telling about you to my mom and she remarked what a big wonderful heart you have been given by God, and how you are doing His will. I'm so proud of you, and glad to know you. In a way, it is good that you are preparing yourself for the worst, and I pray that you will be pleasantly surprised by the strides she make in your loving care. Hugs. Barkley coming to you was no coincidence... it was perfectly timed! xxxx

  6. Just recognizing that there may be issues when M comes home is half the battle in understanding them. I think Barkley is doing a fine job of training you too!


  7. Hi Kristen,
    I so enjoy reading about Barkley and the progress he has made. It is very true that "parenting" him will help when you bring home your daughter. Be aware that in some children, the reaction to having their lives changed can come out as anger rather than fear. I need to keep reminding myself that my daughter's anger is rooted in fear every day to be the mother that she needs me to be.

    Carole - mom to Nina from New Delhi, home at 3.5, now 5