Day 4: Saturday, October 4, 2008
A Day with the Whittles
Brian and JoAnne Whittle are the directors of Shekinah Home. They founded the orphanage nearly 4 years ago as missionaries from the United States, and have served dozens of children there in Christ’s name. John-John was the second child at the home, so he has seen many children come and go, some with forever families. Brian has the children call him “grandpa”, and will remain a part of John’s life from a distance as he grows up. Also, when he’s in the US on furlow and can make it anywhere near Chicago, we plan to get together with them so that they can be a part of John’s life in person.
Brian and his family used to live at the orphanage and invest in the children full-time. Now, he works as a tentmaker a few hours away from the facility, as he trains his staff to carry on in the ministry without his constant presence there. Currently he spends every other weekend or so at Shekinah.
When Faith and I arrived at Shekinah, we were told we would be staying in the Whittles’ cottage. This is one of the 3 completed cottages in the compound where they stay when they visit. The accomodations were very nice for us, and ideal for spending quality bonding time with John.
Brian and his family visited Shekinah the weekend we were there, so we got to spend a significant amount of time with them. John and his youngest (adopted) daughter Angel are fast friends, so it was nice that they got to play together too. And of course John enjoyed being with grandma and grandpa one last time before departing for the US.
While John and Angel played, we got a chance to discuss John’s background with Brian and JoAnne. I was very interested to learn a number of things about John’s past and early life that we didn’t already know, including that a daily journal had been kept for John by the house parents at the orphanage for the first 6 weeks he was there. Brian promised to get that to us, which is exciting, because I think it’s something John will treasure as he gets older and wants to explore his past.
It was clear to me early on that Brian’s primary concern for the children in the orphanage was their spiritual development. He wants children placed in Christian families. The way he put it was, “Every family that comes through here has the money, the interest in adoption, and the ability to be parents – or they wouldn’t be here. The parents I want for my kids are the ones who, in addition to all that, can’t stop talking about Jesus.” As is my common tendency, I was immediately on guard against being judged as inadequately spiritual. This was also something I had to give up to God and let Him worry about. Besides, it’s not like there was anything left in the decision making process. Everyone had signed off. So, even if Brian had had concerns, it would not have halted the process at the point we were at. Fortunately, I feel like we hit it off really well. Brian was a bit of a story-teller, and JoAnne was a fairly quiet person. They were both very strong, and passionate in their unique ways about the kids and the home.
Brian was also excited to give us a tour of the property, and share their vision for where they’d like to see the orphanage go. It became obvious that they are in need of money, and to have more children adopted. Brian was also less than subtle about putting those needs out in front of us. In theory, Faith and I would love to adopt again from Shekinah in the future, but right now our primary concern is adjusting to John.
While the adults talked, John and Angel played together on the floor. It was nice to see him hanging out with someone his age. Eventually, though, both of them had to go down for their naps. We told JoAnne that Angel could have John’s bed, and that John could go down for his nap in ours. So, she retired with Angel, Brian left to take care of some business in the main building, and we went to our room to try to put John down for his nap.
We were not prepared.
John got in the room, we kissed him, and laid him down for his nap. Everything was going fine until I said “bye bye John-John”. At that, he jumped out of the bed onto the floor, cowered in the corner (tucked behind the bed where it was very hard to reach him and impossible to get down on the floor with him) and started crying. I say “crying”, but it was really more of a wailing – screaming mixed with crying. That boy has some lungs on him. We tried to reach him; he retracted, and we were afraid he’d go under the bed. So, we sat on the bed and spoke soothingly to him. I was a bit self-conscious about JoAnne’s being in the next room, feeling like we were already a little on trial and that this wasn’t what I wanted them to hear. Another thing to give to God.
We sat there for 15 or so minutes – John wailing and us trying to comfort him, until finally I felt like it was important that we hold him. So, I pulled him out from behind the bed, which took some force that I know he wasn’t happy with. That didn’t help. He screamed and kicked and balled like nothing I’ve ever seen. You could hear anger in his voice. He was *not* a happy child.
Everything we had read about adoption of older children told us that this was likely an attachment issue. The books all said that he could push us away because he didn’t trust us yet, and that at those times we should hold him close and reassure him that we do. So, we did. He cried and yelled and kicked for 45 minutes. A biological child we’d have just left in the bed and left the room, so he could cry himself to sleep. But that’s a huge no-no with an older adopted child, because it confirms his fears that you will leave if the going gets tough. So, we weathered it, and eventually he fell asleep.
Stress level was way way high.
JoAnne was sitting in the common area of the cottage reading when we came out of the room. Finally there was quiet. Angel had slept through the whole thing, and we were relieved that JoAnne met us with compassion not judgment. We explained our thinking to her and confirmed it, so we felt even better, and sat and visited for a while.
John woke up all smiles, ready for playtime. It was like nothing had ever happened. Who knew that Dr. Jeckal was Philippino and waiting to be adopted. But we were grateful for our return to grace as parents in the eyes of our child.
We wanted to do some laundry before we left Shekinah (which was to be the following day), so Brian and family drove us into town (Dingrass, about 5 minutes away) to pick up laundry detergent. They don’t have boxes or bottles of detergent there like we do in the States. Instead, it was P22 (about $0.47) for a three-pack of individual-load Tide packets, in powdered form. We’d probably only need one of these, but we got a bunch for the orphanage. Anything we could do to offset their overexerted budget was fine by us, especially when it came to such essentials and they came so cheap. I didn’t even spend $20 on the stuff, and we practically bought out the store’s entire inventory. Guess Tide isn’t the common everyday solution for laundry … or doing laundry isn’t common and everyday. One or the other.
Anyway, after the market, we drove to a very interesting old Spanish church in Dingras. Brian explained that, with the exception of a brief halt to services during the Japanese occupation during WWII, it had held continuous services for something like 450 years. Whoa! Now that’s cool. When you looked at this thing, it said, “I’m insanely old” too. We were told that the stone walls of the church are 6 ft thick, and the flying buttresses weren’t exactly fragile either. I’m thinking you could pretty much nuke Ilocos Norte, and that church would still be standing there. We went inside and looked around, and found that bats were living there and openly flying around. John didn’t go for that, but Faith was all over it – snapping one picture after another. Unfortunately, the dark cavernous insides of the church just ate the flash, so there aren’t many good pix. Here’s one though that turned out pretty amazing. Wish I had a picture of the outside of the building, but I didn’t even think of that until it was too late. Sorry. 😦
When we returned to the Shekinah compound, Faith and I presented the Whittles with the medical supplies and other gifts we had brought with us. We had vitamins, antibiotics, bandages, and the like. He was very appreciative, and I felt all good about myself until I started doing the math on just how many vitamins they need. The rest of the stuff would last them a while, but at close to 20 kids taking a vitamin per day, it doesn’t take long to chew through even Costco-sized bottles of Flintstones. Ugh.
Brian and JoAnne ate dinner with us, which was nice, and stayed late visiting. It was at this point that John and Angel decided to take apart one of the dressers in the cottage and play with it. I have myriad fun shots of this, but thought I’d share at least one…
While John played and the adults talked, the rain that started just as we were leaving the church earlier that afternoon continued. Whatever cold front brought it, I welcomed gladly, because temperatures dropped down into the low 70’s for the afternoon and overnight. It was glorious! And with the cool night air blowing through the windows, we kicked Brian and family out about 9:30PM, took John-John through his evening routine without incident, and hit the sack.
And there was evening and there was morning the forth day.