Nesting

An Adoptive Mom’s Perspective on New Motherhood

Hey first-time momma. I see that sparkle in your eyes—the intoxicating cocktail of anticipation, trepidation and celebration as you post and post and POST pictures of every tiny step leading to your little one’s arrival. You and daddy can’t hide your new-parent pride as you share the details of your journey toward the day you will meet your joy-boy face-to-face.

Cute new clothes neatly folded in his dresser. A closet filled with shoes and shirts and matching pants five sizes too big just because you know he will grow before your very eyes and you don’t want him to lack for one. single. thing. Matching bedding and wall art and family photos all perfectly placed to make him feel right at home in his bright new world.

Grandmas and grandpas and aunties and uncles and everybody who loves your family hold their collective breath as they wait and pray for arrival day. Each time you enter his room to straighten a not-really-crooked picture or fluff an already-fluffy pillow you feel like a kindergartener at Christmas, sneaking downstairs to peek at presents under the tree over and over until the magical morning finally dawns.

I see you standing in the nursery doorway, that wistful smile on your face as you dream of the day he will sleep in his very own bed and you will tuck him in and kiss his forehead and say goodnight prayers. Your joy cannot be contained, even when people tell you parenting is not for the fainthearted or the faithless, but for the bold and the fearless. Even when they tell you not to wear your beating heart on your sleeve, but to protect it with the shield of common sense and a tiny dose of pessimism so you won’t be disappointed if everything doesn’t go as planned because, “There are birth defects and complications, you know and you must be prepared for these things.” That’s what the naysayers say, but you don’t hear them. You can’t hear them because your love-filled heart is beating too loudly to hear anything else.

You have felt the hand of God Himself move within your being as circumstances beyond your control or imagination came together to create this miraculous addition to your family. Your own faith increases day by day as you watch your Creator answer the deep desires of your heart. You will never take lightly your responsibility and calling to be a mother. You know too much of the inside story to ever believe, even for a millisecond, this wasn’t your path to follow.

You will do your utmost to model Jesus and to love and serve your family well. Sometimes you will fail. In the aftermath of those failures, you will kick yourself harder than you would ever kick anyone else in similar circumstances. Some days you will feel the very world on your shoulders as you carefully weigh out decisions you must make in order to keep peace and safety within your family. You will ache on the inside and smile on the outside as you watch your child learn to crawl and toddle and then walk away from you into a world filled with dangerous people and places you would never wish them to know. Your heart will sing a new song the first time you hear the word “Mom” and know it’s meant for you.  And you will turn your head away as tears burn your eyes when the sweet mouth that used to say, “I love you” forms the h-word as a bedroom door shuts right. in. your. face.

You will bow your head. You will touch that closed door and you will pray. You will wonder whether or not to knock or to walk away. And whatever you decide to do will be the wrong decision because that’s what happens a decade or so down the road when his nursery has morphed into a mini man-cave and you are no longer welcome with your hugs and care and goodnight prayers.

I know you can’t believe it now, as you wait and wait and wait for all that you’ve waited for. And I don’t want you to believe it. I pray something different for you. Something more like your dreams and less like your fears. My wish for you, sweet momma, is only roses on Mother’s Day and no thorns on any other day. You might look at me and silently say, “How do you know how I feel? What do you know about being a mom? You never carried a life for nine whole months, sticking out round in front of you for all the world to see. You can’t really know, can you?”

And I suppose I will never know the answers to your questions except to see myself reflected in your eyes as I witness your waiting and anticipating and creating the most perfect little nest you can afford to create. As I listen to your conversations and your self-revelations through each stage of your process as a first-time parent-to-be, I feel like I’m talking to the me I once knew before my nest became full of flying feathers and flapping wings, too quickly returning to empty and quiet and almost tidy.

Maybe my “babies” were already fifteen when they first arrived, but that didn’t matter to me. I’d waited a lifetime for their wide-eyed laughter and softhearted banter that made our house feel more like home. My heart grew as full as your nine-month belly as I rocked one and hugged the other before tucking them in each night. After their breathing grew heavy and steady, I’d whisper a prayer from their doorway, always dreading the day they’d fly away and be grown and gone out of sight.

All the plans and the clothes and the room decorations became Goodwill donations and memories and printed photos on my fridge reminding me how quickly things on earth can change. Yes, I see you first-time-momma. I know you. Once I even was you, cuz you know what? It doesn’t really matter how you slice it, how it happens, or how old your babies are when they land in your nest—when God puts that huge mama love in your heart, there is nothing and nobody who can change it or take it away.

You have a big adventure ahead—lots of twists and turns in life’s highway. Hold on. Chin up. Knees bent. Heart steady. You got this. And just remember, dear girl—all that stuff you feel deep, deep inside about your little one…your heavenly Father feels about YOU. When the going gets tough, let Him love you. Let Him hold you. Let Him keep all His promises until you are fully grown in Him. He will fight the forces that fight against your family and He will save your children. That’s God’s promise. He’s got a place prepared for you like nothing you can imagine. He will bring you and your children and your children’s children all the way home. Forever. Amen.

Do not let your hearts be troubled. You believe in God; believe also in me. My Father’s house has many rooms; if that were not so, would I have told you that I am going there to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with me that you also may be where I am. John 14:1-3 NIV

A Bouquet of Empathy for Those Who Grieve on Mother’s Day

Happy Mother’s Day to all you non-bio mamas out there. I see you. I feel you. I am you.

2015 Five years ago on Mother’s Day I mourned yet another negative pregnancy test and celebrated the completion of my first book.

2016 Four years ago on Mother’s Day I mourned the distance between Florida and Ukraine and celebrated the fact that very soon I would be a MOM!

2017 Three years ago on Mother’s Day I mourned the quick passing of time as my “Boys of Summer” grew up before my eyes, and I celebrated the cards and chocolate and flowers they gave me on my first Mother’s Day as somebody’s mother.

2018 Two years ago on Mother’s Day I mourned the loss of my joy and innocence as an adoptive mom and celebrated the truth that my sons were safe and healthy and had a better life they might have had if My Honey and I had not become their adoptive parents.

2019 One year ago on Mother’s Day I mourned the fact that my sons still call me by my first name and I celebrated the miracle that they would soon graduate from American high school. I was incredibly proud of them both.

2020 Today on Mother’s Day I mourn the missed opportunities to keep my mouth shut and love without expectations and celebrate the fact that I will soon be a grandma—in spirit, if not by name.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

“Today would have been my mother’s birthday.” My Honey said the words softly.

“How old would she be?”

“Eighty-nine.”

No wonder he’s been quiet all day. Loss affects everyone differently, but it affects everyone. Even those who love those who have lost a loved one. Read that again. Yes, even us—the ones who are here, waiting…praying for their grief to go away. Sometimes it never does.

I’ve watched this thing called grief eat holes in the souls of people I love. Death is a caustic thing. Especially the death of a mother. Especially the death of the dreams of mothers.

When we live with or love someone who is trying to figure out how to grieve their loss, we risk getting shredded by the shrapnel of their anguish. It’s easy to make it all about us when our loved one’s pain and anger erupts from their personal volcano. Disappointment and sorrow flow like lava, sometimes swallowing entire households until no one can move or breathe anymore. I’ve survived this lava-flow more than once in my lifetime.

Unresolved grief destroyed my first marriage. I thought cocaine was the culprit, but that was just the numbing agent. Unresolved grief fueled his need to numb. I blamed the drug. I should have blamed the pain.

Unresolved grief came across the ocean on a plane from Ukraine nearly four years ago. Some baggage cannot be easily left behind. I didn’t see it when we picked up our luggage from carousel number three in Jacksonville International Airport. I missed it as our friends and neighbors and church family waved flags and balloons and hugged the four of us until we couldn’t breathe. It eluded me as I cooked and shopped and tried to teach two foreign teenagers how to read and write well in English.

Somehow, my joy of finally becoming a “mother” blinded me to the fact that my gain was their loss. While I longed for them to embrace me and call me mom, their hearts were holding on to the women who birthed them and gave them their DNA. I didn’t understand. I felt the resistance, the rejection, the full-blown hatred at times. But it wasn’t about me. Those were just the numbing agents. I blamed my precious boys. I should have blamed the pain.

On My sweet Honey’s deceased mother’s birthday, he withdrew. Then he snapped at me and withdrew again. Then he apologized. My head was spinning. My heart was hurt. Later he reminded me he was remembering his mother on her birthday, six years past her passing.

My Honey is a grown man. A Christian. A pastor, even. But he snapped like a Texas turtle when I got in his way on a day when grief reared her ugly raw head. I blamed My Honey for snapping. I should have blamed the pain.

If a mature adult can snap at someone they deeply love on a day when their heart is aching, imagine what an adopted teenager can do when all they have known and longed for is destroyed and replaced. They never asked for the circumstances that set them up for adoption. They didn’t dream their birth moms would disappear from their lives forever. Or be replaced by a woman whose love feels foreign or threatening to their fading memories of the person they miss more than anything in the world.

If I’ve learned any lesson in these five years between fertility testing and watching my teeny tiny window of nesting motherhood disappear in the rearview of reality, it’s this: Don’t expect anything for yourself from anyone who is grieving. I will say it again. For anyone out there who is trying to be a mom to someone who did not come from your own womb: Crucify your expectations of what it will be like to be an adoptive mother, stepmother, foster mother or any other kind of mother. You. Have. No. Idea. I know I certainly didn’t.

I knew what I wanted. I knew what I needed. I knew what I was going to do and how I was going to make this happy little life for all of us. And I KNEW how much I loved my boys. But they didn’t. And they couldn’t. And nearly five years later, they still can’t. And you know what? It’s okay.

Because I know I did my very best with what I had.

Could I have been more trauma-informed? Yes. Could I have been less afraid of bad things happening and less protective of the darling boys I loved so much? Yes. Could I have had thicker skin and a better sense of humor when things got tense and words got cruel? Yes. But, could I have loved them or wanted life’s very best for them one ounce more than I did or do? No. They might not know that yet, but I do. God does. And one day, maybe they will, too. I hope so. I pray so. I believe so.

Whatever your mama-story, dear reader ~ I am praying for you today. I understand some of those feelings that make Mother’s Day difficult for moms like us. Maybe you can give your son or daughter the gift of helping them remember or honor their birth mom in some way today. And maybe you can set yourself and your family free from the trappings of expectation. Whether or not you receive anything with Hallmark written on the back, you ARE an amazing mom. You ARE doing your best. You ARE doing unto Christ whatever your do for His precious kids. And He will remember you when He comes again to take us all home to a place where there will be no more sorrow, no more pain, and no more death.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Regardless of the symptoms of their children’s grief and pain, or the choices their children make, with God’s power and presence in them, “Mothers are patient, mothers are kind. They do not envy, They do not boast, they are not proud. They do not dishonor others, they are not self-seeking, they are not easily angered, they keep no record of wrongs. Mothers do not delight in evil but rejoice with the truth. They always protect, always trust, always hope, always persevere. A mother’s love never fails.”

1 Corinthians 13:4-8 (Adapted from the NIV)

Photo Credit: Sarah Alfield – Thank you for capturing this sweet memory of My Honey and his mother.

Two Sisters Talk About Suicide

Today is the last day of National Suicide Prevention Week in the United States of America. September 8-14, 2019.

It’s been quite a week. The stench of death still stings strong in the nostrils of anyone who has read or watched the aftermath of Hurricane Dorian.

On Monday, Pastor Jarrid Wilson kills himself. As a pastor’s wife, I ache for his widow, Juli. Can’t imagine what she is going through—what she will go through as the shock wears off and our world continues swirling though hers stopped cold.

And then there is Wednesday. “9-11” Nearly every post on Facebook is a meme with some image or story reminding Americans of the day their world stopped turning in 2001. My friend Stan changes his profile picture, as he does each 9-11, to the haunting “Falling Man” image. My stomach tightens and I throw up in my mouth a little when I re-see that image— slim young man, head-first-off-a-Twin-Tower, one knee bent, back straight, arms to his sides.

I weep. I don’t know what I feel. Every year it’s the same. The Falling Man is so graceful. So…desperate? Bold? I don’t know. I can’t explain it. I always wonder if it’s suicide or self-preservation-that-ends-in-death. And does it even matter what I wonder? I just look at his image and I ache for him, too. For his family. For the nation that still has PTSD because of what happened that day in New York City. WE WILL NEVER FORGET.

Oh, and  Friday. Friday my sister posts on her Instagram @Winter_Can_Wait. That’s nothing unusual. She’s a fab photographer and often posts thought-provoking quotes from famous folks and well-edited images. But, Friday… Friday is different. Friday Winter_Can_Wait makes herself vulnerable.  The V-word. Brené Brown would be So. Stinkin’. Proud. I am—and I’m not even a V-word Queen like Brené.

Sis and I text back and forth. She has a vulnerability hangover before she even imbibes in the head-reeling, cold-sweating, heart-racing, home-grown-ale called “Sharing Your Suicide Story.” I encourage her via text message:

Sister! What a piece of writing! Wow!

I remember that.

Couldn’t get to you fast enough.

I’m so thankful you survived.

Please tell me you posted that.

She answers:

I have not posted it…

…I have never talked about this

or told anyone in all these years.

Me

It is good to get it out.

Good to talk about it.

It was a horrible time.

Excellent writing.

I will post it on my blog.

I will share and share it!

Sis:

Really?

Would it help someone?

Me:

It’s powerful.

It’s vulnerable.

Strong.

It gives hope.

It NEEDS to be shared.

Sis:

Okay.

Me:

Do you want to talk about that experience?

What was the catalyst for you to give up?

Sis:

Talk?

No.

Feelings of rejection.

Abandonment.

Black Hole…

Me:

I’m so very, very sorry.

And I sucked as a sister

during those years.

I’m sorry.

Very sorry.

I loved you.

So much.

But I was too far away.

Sis:

No, don’t be sorry.

It has all made me who I am

and has led me to my purpose.

Our pain leads us to our purpose.

(Hours later)

Me:

Have you posted yet?

Sis:

Having second and fifth thoughts about sharing it.

Me:

Post your poem.

Sis:

Ugh.

Me:

Sister!

Sis:

Makes me feel nauseated.

So many judgers and haters!

I know. I know.

I am being Jonah –

running from what God has called me to do.

Me:

You can do it!

That was 30 years ago.

But wow…

The raw pain.

The fresh writing.

The healing that comes

from releasing all of that.

Sis:

It’s a real struggle.

One can easily be in a black hole.

Me:

I know.

I wrote a whole book about it, remember?

Sis:

I feel sick.

Are u sure?

5-4-3-2-1

Ugh!

Me:

You.

Are.

A.

Gifted.

Writer.

Sis:

Here goes.

I am posting.

Me:

You okay?

Sis:

Huge release.

I might be

hyperventilating.

Me:

Breathe.

Slowly.

It’s okay.

It’s going to be okay.

God is bigger than the pain of our past.

Healing comes when we share.

When we tell our story,

When we are heard,

When we help others heal.

Sis:

This is huge.

This is the biggest thing I’ve ever shared.

It’s Suicide Prevention Week.

People are already seeing my post!

Me:

It’s out there.

Let the healing begin…

Sis:

It’s there.

Forever.

I am flapping.

And then the likes and comments begin:

“This is the most powerful and reality-based image and words. Oh my…stopped in my tracks by you…”

“Huge courage…I better understand the “light” you strive to shine

…if this helps but one person this share will be priceless.”

And now today, 213 likes and 57 comments later:

“…Your post from yesterday kept going through my head.

I’m a big fan of losing the stigma of psychic illness,

was so proud of you to reach out and show your vulnerable true self.

I was truly touched, again,

thanks so much for sharing and showing that you, I, we are not alone.”

I’m proud of my sister. Proud of God’s power to pull us out of black holes. Proud of the way the Holy Spirit works with our wounded, abused, neglected, abandoned, tender, vulnerable hearts.

I watched a TED Talk https://youtu.be/PY9DcIMGxMs about how the opposite of addiction is connection. The enemy of our souls works endlessly to isolate us, to disconnect us—from God, from one another. Once the wounded are separated from the pack, we are easy prey for all kinds of soul-destroying activities and substances, and the evil spirits that latch onto the vulnerable, including the haunting spirit of suicide.

Kris Vallaton says this in his latest blog post, How to Overcome a Spirit of Suicide. https://krisvallotton.com/fight-suicidal-thoughts/


“I’d like to propose that it is not in your nature to want to destroy your life and the very thought of it comes from the devil. Self-preservation is built into every creature God created! It is not your nature to want to destroy yourself!”

We were created to live forever. With sin came death. But with the death of Jesus Christ came life! Say this aloud, and put your name right in there.

“For God so loved_____________that He gave His one and only Son. If I believe in Him, I will not perish, but I will have eternal life.” John 3:16

That’s God’s promise. It was His promise for every hurricane victim, for Jarrid Wilson, for the Falling Man, for my Sis as a teenager, and for you and me today. Live loved, my friend. LIVE! You are so LOVED!

@Winter_Can_Wait (Age 16)

I was 16
The winter snow was still on the ground
in patches. Slushy. Muddy.
Everything was darkness.
I couldn’t climb out, I couldn’t see out, I couldn’t feel, I couldn’t see anything… nothing.

Cold and numb I opened the bottle.
I choked down a handful…
“How many did you take? How many?!!!”
They screamed. They whispered. The harsh tone scolded. Was it worry or disdain?
Questions, accusations, nothing even mattered. Nothing.
“We have to pump her stomach.”
Shivering, shaking, vomiting.
So cold. So dark.
“I don’t want to be here.
I don’t want to be anywhere.
Nobody wants me. Nobody sees me. Invisible.
I am nobody. I mean nothing.”

“You can’t go back to your school now.”
“Where’s your mother?” Where is your closest family member?” “Do you have a parent here? In the states?” ((Does anyone want you?)) Do you have a number we can call?”

The sirens.
The lights.
Head pounding.
White sheets. Vomiting.

“Here’s another one.”
Clip board. White coats.
Bright lights.
So cold. Shivering. Shaking
“Attempted suicide. Pills”

Questions. More and more questions.
Doctors. Therapists. Nurses.
24 hour supervision.
No possessions. Nothing sharp.
Not even a pen…

It gets better.
You do matter.
Someone cares.
Someone sees you.
Someone hears you.
You are not alone.
There is light even when
You can’t see it.
It’s inside of you.
Believe it.
Stay here. You are
Wanted. You are welcome.
You are enough. I will never
Judge you. You are safe.
Talk to someone.

My name means something.
My story matters.
I survived.
I am here.
Tell me about my trauma.

@Winter_Can_Wait
#nationalsuicidepreventionmonth
#nationalsuicidepreventionweek
#suicideprevention

Ain’t No Grave

Today I leaned on the shovel that spooned Ukrainian soil over the mound covering what remains of the woman who birthed the boy I call my son. Maybe you need to know that another mama knows how it feels to love a child who did not come from your body and who is unable to love you fully until their buried grief has been resurrected and faced and painted with the hope of heaven.

Looking at him now—standing at the edge of manhood, at the edge of her grave, I feel ashamed. Only today, as I witness four siblings reunite after eight years of separation, do I understand even a sliver of my son’s heartache.

Thoughts collide with long-held emotion as I stand in summer evening sunlight on the edge of a rural cemetery near the village he remembers from childhood. How could I have asked him to allow me to love him as a mother loves her son when all the while he was grieving the loss of this mother who lies under the earth?

I observe love between him and his little sister. She was only six when they said goodbye. They cling to one another as the gravekeeper sets their carefully chosen cast iron fence in concrete-filled holes, shoveling excess earth onto the top of the mound that marks their mother’s resting place.

My Honey stood still when we arrived here, silently watching three brothers and a sister almost frantically rip weeds from the unidentified, unkempt heap on the graveyard’s edge. I read empathy in his eyes and see jaw muscles clench and release as he holds emotions in check. Honey understands what I cannot fathom. He still recalls standing at the edge of his beloved father’s grave when he was only four. A parent’s death is common grief ground he shares with our motherless sons.

I don’t know if I can even find words to describe my thoughts and feelings as I watch four children, separated by death, time, an orphanage and an ocean work together to honor their mother by creating a beautiful memorial in this place. I long to wrap my arms around each of them and just hold them as a mother does. But I only just met the younger two today. They don’t know me. I can’t speak their language. Maybe they see me as the reason their beloved brother lives so far away. I argue with myself and try to catch the eye of the eldest. He stands apart, arms crossed, eyes down. I know him a little. We have a connection, but I don’t have the courage to cross the invisible barrier that keeps his sorrow from spilling onto his cheeks. Instead, I place my hand on My Honey’s shoulder. He stands strong, in his “God’s Plan” t-shirt and his hope of resurrection morning.

Our son is just on the other side of My Honey, arms around his sister, head bowed, face soft. I cannot make eye contact. I am torn between wanting to move toward him and respecting the space he always seems to need from me.

What is my role here? Who am I and why does my heart feel as if it will burst open and bleed out onto this fertile ground? What IS your plan, God? Because I cannot fathom the suffering these children have experienced— and why? For what purpose is all this pain?

Please heal my son’s heart. Relieve him of the guilt he has carried for these six years since his mother’s death. Guilt that gnaws at him because of his childish words, spoken in anger and never made right. Please help him to forgive himself for allowing time to make it too late to say, “I didn’t meant it. Please forgive me.” Give him the hope of heaven and the courage to walk with You until the day this grave bursts open and his mom comes forth in all her beauty. May each of her children choose You, God. May they place their hope in You. What else do we have, if we don’t have this?

For a moment, little sister stands alone.  I move next to her, sensing her openness for a mama hug. She feels small in my arms. We exhale together and share the common language of tears. She receives the unspoken love and compassion seeping through my skin as my arms cradle her for a long little while.

My Honey finds his voice and asks if we can hold a short graveside service. The young people agree. We listen to these words of hope from 1 Thessalonians 4:16-17 (NIV):

“For the Lord himself will come down from heaven, with a loud command, with the voice of the archangel and with the trumpet call of God, and the dead in Christ will rise first. After that, we who are still alive and are left will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. And so we will be with the Lord forever.”

We create a circle that spans the grave, spans the language barrier, spans the ocean that will soon separate us once more. Holding hands, we bow our heads. My Honey prays for hearts to heal, for hope to live, and for love to remain for always. I look up from the prayer and smile at my boy-turned-man who will have two mamas in heaven. And I understand his heart as never before.

When we love a child from hard places, it’s easy to ignore or forget the pain that fuels their rage and rejection. It’s easy to make it all about us and to resort to all kinds of human techniques that simply cannot work on trauma-triggered brains. What I know is this: Healing happens in tiny increments over time in safe, loving environments. The best thing we can do as parents is to be safe, loving people. If we have unhealed wounding and our own trauma triggers, they WILL become fuel for a fire that can destroy our families. We must work our own recovery program with Jesus and day by day be the strong, loving people only He can make us be. Only then can we offer a life ring to kids who are drowning in their own pain.

*Image Credit: Julia Starikova

Tribute to Teachers and Staff at the End of the School Year

Several times since my long-term sub job in third grade turned into a full-time position in 2014, my husband has asked me, “I wonder why God keeps sending you back to that tiny, rural school? It’s a different little world out there.”

It’s a world far from our community where some of my sons’ peers received new sports cars as graduation gifts this past weekend and the entire bill for a prom date’s makeup, hair, nails, shoes and dress exceeds some of the annual tax returns in this neck of the woods. Very often, our kids come to school from homes where food is scarce and shoes are tight. In their lives, squirrels and road kill ducks have been known to supplement student diets when the money runs out before the month ends.

Our students are exposed to lifestyles and substances we may have only seen in the movies. In the theater, we can’t taste the metal/chemical smell of  homemade meth as it creeps under the large crack between the mobile home floor and the bedroom door that separates a sleeping child from the nightly party on the patio. In the theater, we can’t feel the burn of secondhand marijuana smoke in the back of our throats as we tell our mamas about our day at school. In the theater, we can turn our eyes away from the screen when a man we wanted to trust does unspeakable things that would crush the soul of any adult, let alone a vulnerable child. We can walk out of the theater and drive home to our comfortable beds and full refrigerators. But our students? They can’t walk out of their lives.

You know what they can do? They can wake up every morning, (many of them do this on their own, while caregivers continue to sleep) get dressed and wait for the bus to school. School, where they are met with warm smiles, cheery “Good mornings!” and free breakfast to start their day.

I used to do breakfast duty. I saw them – hair unbrushed, shoes untied, eyes tired or scared or sad. You know who I’m talking about. The ones who consistently forget their backpacks, their homework, their field trip permission slips. The ones who act out because it’s easier than speaking out about the pain in their past or the fear in their present. The LOUD ones. The quiet ones. The ones who smell like B.O. or worse. The ones whose fingernails are black under the rims. The ones who lie. The ones who take things that don’t belong to them. The ones who want seconds and thirds when the food is free. You know who I’m talking about. These are the kids who keep coming, day after day. The ones who are NEVER absent, the ones who are the reasons we take mental health days and keep that bottle of Barefoot in the back of the cupboard – just in case.

I often share anecdotes from work with my family. We laugh together around the dinner table about things my students have said or done. Like the time I gave a science test and the question was, “Name something that can be a solid, a liquid, or a gas.” A first grader wrote, “A skunk” for the answer. Curious, I called him up to my desk, asking for an explanation. The answer I was looking for was, “Water.” But Dillon defended his answer, declaring, “A skunk IS solid, but it’s blood and stuff is liquid and what it sprays out it’s butt is a gas!” I gave him credit.

And then there was the student who told me his family bought their Christmas tree at the Dollar Genital store. And the one who daily pledged allegiance to the flag of the United Steaks of America (That was when I lived in the heart of Texas cattle country and so it kind of made sense – everyone in Texas pledges allegiance to their steaks).

The “funny” stories from our little school kinda made me want to cry more than laugh. Like the day I was discussing something about magnets with my kindergarteners and one of them said, “Yeah, I know about magnets. Those are the little white things that live in the bottom of our garbage cans.”

But, what really got me was the first grade literacy lesson where we were learning about the QU  digraph. The students had to read several words that begin with qu – quiet, quick, quit, quack. After trying to figure out “quack” – rather than understand that quack is the sound a duck makes, three students had a discussion among themselves about the meaning of “quack.”

One said, “Oh! Quack! That’s the reason my dad went to jail.” Another chimed in, “You, know – quack. It’s what you smoke, only it’s not like cigarettes.” And the third nodded his head in agreement, adding, “Isn’t that illegal?”

I just sat there, tears brimming around the edges of my eyes. I was so sorry my six year old students heard the word quack – a word most toddlers learn from cardboard picture books on their mama’s lap as they point to ducks and ducklings, and instead had visions of incarcerated fathers and police officers and stuff you smoke that’s not cigarettes.

Unfortunately I knew about quack, too. I couldn’t share with my students that I understood the pain and fear of watching someone you love choose drugs over family and jail time over home time because of that illegal stuff you smoke that’s not at all like cigarettes. I ache for these kids because I once lost a nearly 13 year marriage to a man I chose to love through his addiction to cocaine and then crack. I watched him go through rehab and relapse and then receive a 12 year prison sentence. I had to walk away when he chose the drug over the life we had made together. I know about “quack.”

And I know about being a teacher who sometimes comes to school with a heavy heart because the issues at home are so bad that school seems like the safest place on earth. I will never forget the hell I lived as the schoolteacher wife of a drug-dealer with a warrant out for his arrest. And I know how it feels to be the mom of teenagers who attend a high school filled with students fighting similar demons.

And I, like so many of you, no matter what is happening at home (whether it’s an unfaithful or inattentive or nonexistent spouse, kids in rebellion, physical or mental health issues, financial issues, depression, you-name-it, cuz life on planet earth is hard sometimes)… WE  put on our big girl panties and our emotional spanx and our waterproof mascara every day and come to school and smile and hug and greet and love on kids whose worlds are chaos at home. Kids whose safe place is school, where we are the most consistent thing in their worlds. Where they can spend years of their lives on campus with the SAME teachers and administrators and coaches and cafeteria workers and whomever else is brave enough to keep coming back, year after year after year. A place where the music teacher or the kind custodian is the only sane, sober, constant male in their lives when parents and step parents come and go through the revolving door of their childhoods and continue to disappoint.

School, glorious school! Where love is unconditional, manners are modeled, forgiveness is extended, and grace, like lunch, is free!

One of my favorite speakers, a man named Jesus once said these words. They are recorded in the book of Matthew, Chapter 25 (The paraphrase is mine).

“When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, he will sit on his glorious throne. All the school districts will be gathered before him, and he will separate the teachers one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. He will put the sheep on his right and the goats on his left.

“Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and shoes and maybe a winter jacket, and you clothed me, I was sick or maybe just needed that one on one attention I receive in the nurse’s clinic and you wrote me a pass, I was in the prison of my topsy-turvy world and you came to visit me.’

“Then the teachers will answer him, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? When did we see you sick or find out one of your parents was in prison and go to visit you?’

“The King will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these kindergarten, elementary, middle school or high school students of mine, you did for me.’

May I, like Jesus, say to all educators ending another school year, “Well done, good and faithful teachers, well done!”

         Blessings

This is YOUR ministry

and mine,

Touching each little life

one at a time.

In life’s grand scheme,

it may seem

almost insignificant

to hold a hand,

or lend an ear.

But these are moments

quite well spent.

Consistent

loving discipline

may not be received at home.

But their futures

will shine brighter

from the love

that you have shown.

The personal

interest given:

a gentle word,

a friendly smile –

may on this earth

appear to go unnoticed,

but in heaven,

it’s all worthwhile.

You’ve poured

out yourselves

day after day,

giving Clay Hill’s kids

your best.

You’ve made such a difference,

And because of you,

Their lives,

And mine,

have been blessed!

—Juliet Van Heerden

The Imperfect Mother A Mother’s Day Reflection

You scream, “Oh sorry, I forgot …You are PERFECT!!

You NEVER do anything wrong!!!”

The foot stomps. The door slams. Then…

“Why don’t you give me a 20 minute speech about it?!!”

 

Perfect?

I am not perfect.

I know I am far from perfect.

Loathing my mistakes, my failures.

Fearing the worst—that somehow I am not good enough,

that I am never enough, that I have scarred you…

left you with a mother wound.

 

Perfection

Is an enemy to the soul,

UNATTAINABLE.

I just don’t want you to be broken…

So I strive to fix everything,

EVERYONE.

I strive to find all the things,

organize all the schedules,

balance all the meals.

And know where the wallet is,

the keys, the insurance card,

the soccer cleats, the hairbrush

the school form, the shirt you wanted

to wear but is buried under all the

other clothes on your closet floor.

 

I am not perfect.

I just don’t want you to be broken…

So I try to fix your broken brain (we lost count of the TBI’s),

your broken hand, your broken immune system (you became allergic to the world),

your broken heart (you learned not everyone has your same heart—

friends aren’t always true and life is not fair).

IMG_2379

I try to be a mom, a friend, a sounding board, a cheerleader, a coach,

a doctor, a nurse, a counselor, a teacher, a guide, a chef, a Merry Maid,

chauffeur, a punching bag, a good listener… I strive to be whole, to be all,

even on my worst days…even on my broken days.

 

I set schedules, make lists, prepare the meals and dose out the vitamins,

the hugs, the structure, the goodnight prayers…

I tell you that your vitamins will help you feel better,

that brushing your teeth will prevent cavities, that getting more sleep will help your anxiety….

I tell you to eat yourbroccoli, your carrots, your peas… because I want you to be healthy.

“Not too much sugar!!”

“Milk is bad for your skin!”

“You don’t do well with gluten!”

“I AM JUST TRYING TO HELP YOU!!!!”

“Why won’t you let me help you? Love you?”

 

I strive to fix it.

I never want you to be broken.

I remind you, nag you, give you speeches about wet towels on the floor,

toothpaste splattered sinks, not walking the dog, getting off your phone… your phone…

“Oh my word—JUST GET OFF YOUR PHONE!!”

 

Perfect?

I am not perfect.

I get tired.

I get weak.

I get sick.

I get frustrated.

I get impatient.

I get resentful.

I yell.

I DON’T GET OFF MY PHONE!

I am broken.

I am imperfect.

 

I don’t want you to be like me—BROKEN.

So I strive to make you hear me!

I try to tell you how to be different,

to take care of yourself,

to love yourself,

to always BE yourself,

to please—get some sleep!

 

But you don’t hear me!

You watch me. You observe me.

What do you see?

Am I teaching you how to be broken?

Broken just like me?

Perfect?

I am not perfect.

                             —Ami Novak

Dear Precious Readers,

I will soon write again. I feel the words seeping back into my soul. It’s been a hard season. In the meantime, may I introduce you to the author of this transparent piece of poetry?

Ami is my sister. She is also a:
Wellness Warrior -at Make A Healthy Change      Trauma Healing Advocate
Healthy Foodie
Non-Toxic Living Champion
Wife of almost 18 years
Mother of 2 teenagers
Chihuahua Dog mom
Website: https://pws.shaklee.com/ami-novak
Facebook: @shakleewithAmiNovak

Instagram: @Make_A_Healthy_Change

image1     

(Ami is also an amazing iphoneographer                    & gets photo credits for the images in this post.)

The Ache of Being Replaced

I’m breaking my resolution not to look as I scroll through nearly a year of posts on his Facebook page, searching for some snippet of evidence that I exist in his world. I don’t. Except as the unseen photographer in many early photos, or the unacknowledged planner of celebrations and events. He wears the clothes I carefully chose and the Timberlines I gave him for Christmas. But he smiles and hugs another mother and thanks her for his gifts.

I pause on a post with the words, “Happy Birthday Mom. I love you.” I see my son in the photos, hugging and making silly selfies with a mother who isn’t me.

I’ve been replaced.

My throat tightens. I hand my friend’s ipad back. She reaches out to brush wayward bangs away from my brimming eyes. “You are still his mom,” she almost whispers. “No matter what you see there.”

I tell her what happened last week in Target.

“No! No! Don’t stand up!” English with a Ukrainian accent—a voice achingly familiar, yet hauntingly foreign. I am squatting, thumbing through six-dollar greeting cards as a red Target shopping cart slowly passes. The little girl attempting to stand in the cart doesn’t recognize me. I last saw her eight months ago when her mother and I took our kids to the beach together. The teenager pushing the cart doesn’t notice me as he speaks to the child in a serious tone.

Holding my breath, I wait for them to pass before standing. I taste the bile of bitterness as my throat tightens. Breathing and blinking hard I step into the aisle to watch my son trail after his friend’s mom as she shops with her family.

“But, He’s NOT her family!” my soul screams. Tears and snot run down my face as they disappear in the checkout line.

I’ve seen him four times in the months since he moved out. With each encounter I long to wrap my arms around his thin frame, long to say, “Come home. We miss you. We love you. This is where you belong.” Of course, I would never do that. My adopted son’s invisible wall is thicker and higher than Trump’s could ever be.

Putting the card back on the shelf, I wipe my face on the sleeve of my grey hoodie. For several long minutes I stand there, Jerry-Springer-worthy thoughts flickering through my head. I know it’s not right, but I want to blame the other mother.

It’s dark in my car and I’m invisible to the world as I wail on my way home.

God help me. Why does this ache so bad?

“I know it hurts,” my friend says as she takes my hands. “Let’s take that pain to the Father.” As she prays, I am comforted by the unseen One who knows my whole story—He who knows this is not the first time I’ve been replaced. Not the first time I’ve lost a child I love to another family. Not the first time I’ve cyber stalked someone’s Facebook for a glimpse of a kid I thought was mine. No, this is not the first time I’ve rewritten my entire life to accommodate someone in need of a mother or opened my soul to a stranger’s offspring. I’ve been down this old road before.

And that, my child, is the reason for all this pain.

The Father whispers love to my heart as I grapple with the same cyclone of emotions that whirled through my life more than seventeen years ago when the baby girl I was adopting was permanently placed with a friend instead of me.

I repeat the words of my grief coach, a professional I’ve been working with since November.  “This situation with your son has triggered the trauma of your previous loss. You are experiencing compounded grief.”

“My head knows the truth,” I explain to my friend who still holds my hands, “but my heart sometimes forgets. These stories are similar, but not the same. My baby didn’t reject me. She was a victim of circumstances beyond her control. My son is not a baby. He is a young man. He has the power to choose the path of his life. He is not mine. He belongs to God.

My Honey and I are here to love him and to pray for him and to model the unconditional love of his heavenly Father. We are his legal parents. We are the reason he is a citizen of the United States of America. Whether or not he chooses to have a relationship with us, or to acknowledge that we are the people who stood before a foreign judge and promised to be his forever family is irrelevant. Even if we are completely edited out of his life on social media or otherwise, the facts are the facts. It’s just this ache of being rejected and replaced that devours my joy.”

My friend is kind. She listens to my heart. She shares her own experience of being a foster mother to many children – some who were able to reciprocate her love, some who could not. I leave her home with a renewed sense of hope. I have forgotten what hope feels like.

Lord, I’m sorry. I pray aloud in the quiet of my car. My entire ministry is based on hope. Sowing hope in hearts wounded by addiction. That’s my tagline. “God redeems the dreams we thought were lost” is the theme of my book, but I forgot to allow it to be the theme of my life. Forgive me for wallowing in the pain of being replaced. Forgive me for making unholy alliances with the spirits of rejection and depression and anger and fear and envy. I’m sorry for allowing the ache in my heart for the son who is gone to overshadow the joy of the beautiful relationship My Honey and I are building with the son who stays.

As I drive and pray I am reminded of the truth that my Jesus understands. He left his place as heaven’s Beloved to take my place on the cross. He promised that I am His forever. His path of pain as God in human flesh included rejection, abandonment, abuse, betrayal and the sacrifice of so many comforts in order for Him to be the Sacrifice who comforts many. He is the Lamb that was slain and the Good Shepherd who leaves the 99 and goes after the one. His heart understands my heart when I yearn for the one who is not in my fold. Jesus loves the 99, but He risked everything for the one who lost his way home.

Do you trust ME? He whispers softly in my mind.

I trust You, Lord.

I’ve got this. I’ve got him. I’ve got you. I’ve got the two waiting for you at home. Go home. Love the ones who stayed. “…be content with such things as you have. For He Himself has said, “I will never leave you nor forsake you” (Hebrews 13:5 NKJV).

Have you been replaced?
Need grief coaching?
https://comfortfortheday.com/

Emmanuel? You Still Here?

Behold, a virgin shall be with child, and shall bring forth a son, and they shall call his name Emmanuel, which being interpreted is, God with us. Matthew 1:23 KJV

Are You still here? Are you STILL with us? With me? The questions seep from my soul as I sit silently on Christmas Eve in my striped fuzzy socks staring at the paper maché crèche on my Nannie’s sideboard. Lauren Daigle sings one of my favorite hymns of the season, her voice too big for the speaker in my iphone. Written more than 1200 years ago in Latin, sung for the first time in a monastery and performed by everyone from Andrea Bocceli to Trisha Yearwood, this song’s history is as deep and rich as Lauren’s voice.

The hymn begins as a prayer, a heart cry from a people in distress, a people enslaved, a people desperate for a Savior. I place myself in the center of the story:

As the children of Israel bear the burden of slavery in a land not their own, they cry out to God from the depths of their hearts. They know they do not belong in Egypt or even in Goshen. They know they are set apart, special…chosen – with a purposed history and an eternal future. But year after year, when things do not appear to go as planned, when life with their captors becomes more and more difficult, yet more and more familiar, some of them begin to wonder if anyone hears the stifled soul cries that only God can hear.

As Israelite mothers, like their mothers and grandmothers before them rock tiny brown babies with tired arms and worn-out expectations, they sing lullabies that do what lullabies do: bring comfort, peace and rest into little hearts until little bodies and perhaps even all those within the sound of the singer’s voice relax and rest in the arms of hope. Listen for a moment as Israel’s mothers sing:

O come, O come, Emmanuel,
And ransom captive Israel
That mourns in lonely exile here
Until the Son of God appear.

And listen as somewhere in the back of the house a father’s strong voice echoes expectancy as he sings of the promise his forefathers died believing in:

Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel
Shall come to thee, O Israel!

This song of hope is carried on sound waves across galaxies and into the very throne room of the one and only I AM – Emmanuel. He is moved to move and the time has come to redeem these children of Israel. God begins to sing His own redemption song. It carries on the wind across miles and miles of desert wilderness until His voice is heard by a runaway murderer who responds by laying down his shoes and his pride and his self-conscious fears and picking up his staff and his faith in the ONE who is faithful to forgive his past sins and use his transformed life to stand bold in the face of Pharaoh and march a multitude of Israel’s grown kids across a dried-up river bed and into the Promised Land.

Remember the story from Exodus, Chapter 3?

Now Moses was keeping the flock of his father-in-law, Jethro, the priest of Midian, and he led his flock to the west side of the wilderness and came to Horeb, the mountain of God. And the angel of the Lord appeared to him in a flame of fire out of the midst of a bush. He looked, and behold, the bush was burning, yet it was not consumed. And Moses said, “I will turn aside to see this great sight, why the bush is not burned.” When the Lord saw that he turned aside to see, God called to him out of the bush, “Moses, Moses!” And he said, “Here I am.” Then he said, “Do not come near; take your sandals off your feet, for the place on which you are standing is holy ground.” And he said, “I am the God of your father, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob.” And Moses hid his face, for he was afraid to look at God.

Then the Lord said, “I have surely seen the affliction of my people who are in Egypt and have heard their cry because of their taskmasters. I know their sufferings, and I have come down to deliver them out of the hand of the Egyptians and to bring them up out of that land to a good and broad land, a land flowing with milk and honey… (Exodus 3:3-8 ESV)

As they settled down in makeshift tents those first few nights away from the familiar flesh pots of Egypt, and the Pillar of Cloud that had descended to surround and protect them from their enemies turned into a Pillar of Fire, I wonder if the Israelites truly recognized how close they were to their Creator-God and just how much He longed to dwell with them. I wonder if they looked out at the glow of that unquenchable FIRE which housed a BEING who had no beginning and will have no end and felt a fire burn within them ~ an irresistible desire to know the One who longs to be known? I wonder if they felt the rumblings of God on the move as He set the stage for Emmanuel to one day dwell among men in a garment of flesh and not fire?

In the New Testament book of Matthew, chapter 1, we can read how many Generations it was from Father Abraham to Joseph, the father of Jesus Christ. Some of the names I recognize: Abraham, Isaac, Jacob…Boaz and Ruth, Obed, Jesse, David and Solomon – and some are not quite so familiar: Jeconiah, Zadok, and Abiud. Whether we know much about them or not, each person in that lineage was instrumental in bringing the Son of God one generation closer to becoming the Son of Man. In verse 16, we come to Joseph the husband of Mary, of whom was born Jesus, who is called Christ.

Joseph, like Moses, was a man— a workingman with a carpentry business and a good reputation. A man who perhaps had experienced the pain of heartache and loss that left him a single dad with sons whose damaged characters were less than kind. A man whose love was pledged and whose heart belonged to a sweet young girl named Mary. A man of integrity whom the King James Version of the book of Matthew calls “righteous” in verse 19: Here is how the story goes:

Matthew 1:18-19 Amplified Bible, Classic Edition (AMPC)

18 Now the birth of Jesus Christ took place under these circumstances: When His mother Mary had been promised in marriage to Joseph, before they came together, she was found to be pregnant [through the power] of the Holy Spirit.

19 And her [promised] husband Joseph, being a just and upright man and not willing to expose her publicly and to shame and disgrace her, decided to repudiate and dismiss (divorce) her quietly and secretly.

If Joseph’s thought patterns were anything like mine, when he first heard the news of Mary’s pregnancy, he may have gone from excited anticipation of a fresh start with a new wife to “Oh no! How can this be happening to me? After all I’ve suffered, after all I’ve already lost… at this stage in my life? Didn’t I do my due diligence? Wasn’t I careful and cautious and wise in my choosing of this girl to give my promise and my heart and my future life to? Am I a mockery in this town, being gossiped about behind my back?”

Did Joseph search his soul and cry out to God in the night, saying, “How could You let this happen to me? Haven’t I been faithful? After all I’ve done to serve You and to serve this community, is this how You reward me? Now what will I do?

The Bible doesn’t tell us any of that about Joseph. It tells us that he wasn’t thinking of himself at all – He was thinking of Mary. He didn’t want to disgrace her or expose her sins on social media. He didn’t stay up all night, lighting up Facebook to see how many “likes” he could get for his justified position. He didn’t go down to the local bar to numb or gain some third-party sympathy. He didn’t adopt the “what’s good for the goose is good for the gander” mentality and thumb through his little black book, looking for a call girl to party with. No! None of those things. Instead, he quietly made a decision to protect Mary’s reputation and to guard her heart. Then he went to sleep, trusting his heavenly Father to sort out the situation. Perhaps his bedtime prayer was something similar to the second verse of this song as he sought wisdom from on high:

O come, Thou Wisdom from on high,
And order all things, far and nigh;
To us the path of knowledge show,
And cause us in her ways to go.

 Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel
Shall come to thee, O Israel!

Little did Joseph know of how close he was to heaven in his suffering that night and that nothing was as it appeared until an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream.

Have you been caught off guard by circumstances beyond your control? Surprised by the words or actions of someone you loved and trusted? Wounded by the world and unable to piece together the full story or make any sense of your situation?

I have. And I’ve gone to sleep so many nights, begging God to unravel the tangled threads of my story or to fix the other person or to shed some light on the seemingly dark path ahead. André and I have prayed that prayer through many long nights over the past couple of years:

O come, Thou Wisdom from on high…

Like Joseph – none of us may realize just how close we are to heaven, or just how close heaven is to us when we humble ourselves and lay down our fears to walk in faith. Let’s look at the rest of his story:

20 But as he was thinking this over, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream, saying, Joseph, descendant of David, do not be afraid to take Mary [as] your wife, for that which is conceived in her is of (from, out of) the Holy Spirit.

21 She will bear a Son, and you shall call His name Jesus [the Greek form of the Hebrew Joshua, which means Savior], for He will save His people from their sins [that is, prevent them from [a]failing and missing the true end and scope of life, which is God].

22 All this took place that it might be fulfilled which the Lord had spoken through the prophet,

23 Behold, the virgin shall become pregnant and give birth to a Son, and they shall call His name Emmanuel—which, when translated, means, God with us.

24 Then Joseph, being aroused from his sleep did as the angel of the Lord had commanded him: he took [her to his side as] his wife.

Was Joseph and Mary’s future a cakewalk? Hardly. But, they chose to believe the voice of the Lord, spoken through the angel, and to move forward in faith, not fear. They did get married. And they did become the parents of the Son of God, the Word who became flesh and dwelt among men. Imagine being co-parents with God the Father!

Sometimes the sin in this world causes families to fall apart. Children end up being parented by multiple people – birth parents, stepparents, foster parents, adoptive parents. Sometimes we feel less-than-adequate as we love on kids who suffer the effects of broken families, broken homes, broken souls. Sometimes the people with whom we co-parent have very different views or values or styles of relating – and we can easily get caught in the trap of feeling either inferior or superior to the other adult voices in our kids’ lives.

Imagine with me for a moment how Joseph and Mary must have felt as they birthed and held and fed and burped the baby whose Father is God? Imagine the emotion of a mother who knows her child is gifted in ways far beyond a special program in school. Imagine teaching a teen to sharpen a saw and remembering Almighty God saw you in your small Nazareth world and chose you to be the adoptive father to His precious son.

And we think our job as parents is difficult? What kind of pressure were Joseph and Mary tempted to place on themselves as they parented the Savior of the world? Oh, how great the joy, yet how deep the sorrow of Mary’s heart as she watched her son live out the fulfillment of His destiny all the way to the cross of Calvary.

Out of suffering comes the miraculous. Out of the wilderness comes the ability to listen. Out of the fire on a mountainside comes a voice that says, “Take off your shoes, for you are standing on holy ground.”

That holy fire on the mountain became a seed in the womb of a teenage girl. Can you imagine that process? Can you imagine the suffering that went into the re-creation of the I AM as this eternal being whose voice spoke the earth into existence shrunk into the size of something that fits inside a fallopian tube? The Creator became the created. Emmanuel is a miracle! The miracle of Jesus started in heaven, not in Bethlehem.

“His name is Emmanuel –  the God who is with us – who is made out of the same stuff we are and who is made out of the same stuff God is and who will not let either of us go.” Judi Harbin

Emmanuel came to Israel, not once, but twice – The first time, they were slaves in Egypt: unable to walk in freedom to live and to worship and to govern themselves according to the principles of heaven. They were surrounded by ungodly influences and they were losing their children to the ways of the Egyptians generation by generation.

The second time Emmanuel came to Israel, they were slaves to formalism and legalism and a religion that kept them in perpetual bondage. They had forgotten that God Is LOVE and that love longs for relationship. They had completely missed the essence of the One for whom they performed all of those rituals. In the end, they actually missed Jesus.

Friends – Emmanuel wants to come again to Israel. Not the Israel who was enslaved in Egypt. And not the Israel who became like an ingrown toenail, only living to follow laws and missing the heart of the Law Giver. But to today’s Israel – the Israelite hearts of you and me, hearts in bondage to sin in one way or another.

Emmanuel longs to come to those Israelite mamas among us who live in fear and cling to control. To those whose kids are scattered and whose hearts are shattered and who are hanging on to faith by a thread. He wants to bring his peace to those who love too much from broken hearts until nothing is left to give; to those whose gifts are stolen by grief and frozen by fear and who have lost their will to live. And to those who stopped praying because they feel like a playlist with only one song and worry about wearing out the Father. These are the ones….we are the ones for whom Emmanuel wants to come today.

“For Christ also suffered once for sins, the just for the unjust, that He might bring us to God, being put to death in the flesh but made alive by the Spirit” (1 Peter 3:18).

To all who suffer, let us be reminded of what Emmanuel, the Christ has done for us. We are not alone in our suffering. If we will allow Him, He will bring us to the heart of His Father. He will bind our wounds by binding us to His heart. Only He can heal us, turn the hearts of our loved ones and fill us with heaven’s peace today. In the stillness I can almost hear him whisper, “Yes, I’m still here.”

And I sing along with Ms. Daigle, “Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel shall come to thee, O Israel.” 

O come, Desire of the nations, bind
All peoples in one heart and mind;
Bid envy, strife, and quarrels cease;
Fill the whole world with heaven’s peace.

 Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel
Shall come to thee, O Israel

(Words translated in 1861 by John Mason Neale per Wikipedia)

Kissing The Scars

She turned 16 today. I thought I would be okay. And I was. Until she texted thirteen photos of her beautiful celebrating self. I run water in the tub so nobody will hear me wail.

It never dulls. That mama-ache for what never was. “She’s just lovely, Sis. I am sorry for all your pain.” I read my sister’s text through the tears. She knows my heart. She’s already heard me cry this week. A mother weeping for a wayward son. I love hard.

I bet you do, too. It’s in our DNA. We can’t forget our children. No matter how many birthdays come and go, the heart remembers. No matter how much we numb with busyness, or Starbucks or shopping or worse ~ we remember. They are engraved on our hearts. Scars that never heal.

Jesus tasted that ache. He understands.

 “Can a mother forget the baby at her breast

and have no compassion on the child she has borne?

Though she may forget, I will not forget you!

See, I have engraved you on the palms of my hands; …”

Isaiah 49:15-16 NIV

IMG_9592

None of my kids came from my womb. One of them was never even mine,  and the other two were already flapping their teenage wings to fly when they landed in our family. Motherhood is the most beautiful, haunting, aching experience I’ve never had. I’m a paper mom with a birth-mother soul.

My kids have stories I know nothing about. I wasn’t there when they learned to walk. Never heard them cry at night. Couldn’t comfort them when the pain was too much and the food too little. I don’t know when the nightmares started or how they got their scars.

It’s those scars that get me every time. Tonight when I enlarged baby girl’s birthday photos on my phone, I noticed a scar just under her right kneecap. I wonder what happened? I wish I had been there to kiss it all better.

That’s when my dam broke and the wailing just could not be drowned by the water flowing into our tub.

I’m jealous. Jealous of the mamma who got to love her and comfort her and watch her grow up for all these years. Jealous of the girlfriend I watched kiss my son’s scarred arm the other day just like I’ve longed to do forever, yet I’m always kept at arm’s length. Jealous of the ones to whom they say, “I love you” after a brief introduction and a few texts on a smartphone when I’ve prayed and waited for years to hear those words that never seem to come. Jealous of the mothers who get to actually be called mom instead of “hey” or “you” or “Juliet.” Yeah. I’m jealous.

I talked to God about it earlier today. I don’t want it to get out of hand. He told me He understands.

“For I am jealous for you with a godly jealousy…” 2 Corinthians 11:2

He wants the absolute best for His children. He longs to be called, “Father” and told that we love Him. He aches to kiss and heal our scars and be trusted with our deepest fears. Instead, we keep Him at arm’s length and numb our pain with food and porn and prescription drugs. He longs for the intimacy that brings healing and the relationship that will restore our joy and make every other relationship fall into place, but we chase after other lovers and push Him to the back burner or use Him to get what we want without ever taking time to thank Him for what we have.

This motherhood thing… It’s taught me a lot about God. I never knew how deep the Father’s love for us. Tonight I’m letting Him kiss my scars.

 

My Only Weapons

     Eight months is a long time. Ask any expectant mother. At 32 weeks, she’s nearly ready to give up. According to #lifehack author Paisley Hansen, your heart burns, your brain fogs— even breathing becomes difficult. Having never been pregnant, I wouldn’t know. Except that I know.

I know how it feels to want something with all your mamma heart. I know how it feels to anticipate that “something” and to wait expectantly as God grows desire into reality. I know how it feels to fall fervently in love with a small person (or two), and become willing to sacrifice the normalcy of the life you once had with your Honey for the crazy some call “life” when your family of two suddenly becomes a family of four.

   

 I also know how it feels to have your heart burn and your brain fog and your breathing become labored when all you have labored for feels lost and dead and ruined, and your dream gives birth to a truth you never anticipated and weren’t prepared for. (How does anyone prepare for parenthood?)

     

THAT, my friend, is the reality sandwiched between my last blog post and today. The eight months between then and now, like most pregnancies, have been full of dramatic change, painful revelation, and probing questions, sprinkled with an unhealthy dose of fear, doubt, and negative self-talk (What were we thinking? If only I had listened longer, loved harder, prayed more, complained less…)

   

 Some may say I’m over-the-top, overdramatic, oversensitive, or undereducated about teenagers and the difference between their normal drama and the real and lasting effects of childhood trauma. I’m learning. The struggle is real. It’s tough to untangle. As my teens might say, “It’s whatever.” It’s whatever you never read about, whatever the experts never told you, whatever you never knew you (or they) were capable of. It’s whatever.

     

For eight months I’ve struggled to reconcile my head and my heart. What the counselors and the books and the folks who’ve walked the rocky road of international adoption said made perfect sense – to my head. The breakdown came when my heart became enlarged and began to show up on my sleeve. The breakdown came when expectations came into play. No expectations = no disappointment, right? Didn’t I learn this long ago? I’ve been actively part of the recovery community for ten years. (So many recovery principles adapt themselves to living with and loving victims of trauma and/or abuse.)

   

 Substance abuse counselor Carole Bennett says this, “You need to be bold enough and strong enough to let the alcoholic/addict’s recovery unfold as it is meant to, not as you want it to. This is an important start in reining in your expectations, and in doing so you will be ahead of the curve. Your expectations should not be part of the alcoholic/addicts life as they have nothing to do with you and whether you are doing the “right thing” or not.”

     

What if the above quote read, “Parents of fostered or adopted children, you need to be bold enough and strong enough to let your child’s recovery/restoration/healing unfold as it is meant to, not as you want it to. This is an important start in reining in your expectations… Your expectations should not be part of your child’s life, as they have nothing to do with you and whether you, as a parent, are doing the “right thing” or not.”

   

 I want so badly to do the “right thing.” Maybe you do, too. Life with substance abusers or adopted teenagers, or victims of trauma or any combination thereof can leave one wondering what the right thing truly is. I can promise you this—the right thing isn’t always what you read in books or “connected parenting” blog posts. The right thing isn’t necessarily what other parents or teachers, coaches or counselors, or even well meaning pastors tell you. Please hear me out. I believe in research and connectedness and godly counsel. And I don’t know what my Honey and I would have done without all the human shoulders we’ve cried on this past year and a half. But the truth of the matter is we received enough confusing and conflicting advice to fill the Great Blue Hole . We tried so many things. We miserably failed at so many things.

 

“We are fighting!” I wept into my phone one evening in August. “Fighting for our marriage. Fighting for our family. Fighting for peace in our home. Fighting for the souls of our kids.”

“Love and prayer are your only weapons,” my friend quietly declared. “That’s it. That’s what you’ve got.” He punctuated his statement with scripture. 1 Corinthians 13:13 (NIV). A verse I know by heart, but perhaps not by experience.

“And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. 

But the greatest of these is love.”

Love? Prayer? Haven’t I been doing these things all along?  I asked the Lord later. Haven’t I loved and prayed and prayed and loved until I am absolutely exhausted with it all? 

 “You have done your human best,” my heart heard Him say. “Now allow Me to do My best. Stop trying to control everything. You can’t love enough or pray enough to fix what’s broken inside any person, not even yourself. But I can love that person through you. And the Holy Spirit within you can intercede on behalf of someone who is unable to even utter their own prayer. You can humbly choose to love on purpose and allow Me to do what only I can do.”

Three months later, I wrote in my journal: Thank you, God, for the counselor’s straight talk to me. I will do what he said. I will release my boys to You. I will trust You with them 100% and stop trying to control ANYTHING with them. Then I will be free to be the mom I want to be. The mom I’ve always dreamed of being. I know I cannot make them love or care about me. I know I cannot protect them from their own choices. I’ve been so disappointed. So hurt. So sad. It’s hard to move forward. Hard to find joy. Hard to love well. Please restore joy and peace and love and intimacy back into our home. Only You can do this. Only You, Jesus.

I‘ve never been a patient person. I want it ALL. I want it RIGHT NOW! This is not the way of Jesus. He patiently unravels our knotted souls, softens our hurt-hardened hearts and restores our damaged frontal lobes. The real question is, “Do we trust Him?” Do we trust Him with our deepest selves?  Do we trust Him with our most precious loved ones? Will we trample FEAR and REJECTION and swallow our PRIDE and allow Him to finish the good work He began in each of us?

I tried it. Not easy. No, not for a person whose default is fear-based control. But I tried it. And slowly, slowly some walls began to come down from around certain hearts in our home. Three nights ago someone called me into the kitchen after the lights were low. I held my breath as my son looked me in the eye and said, “Remember that rule about ‘don’t touch me?'”

“Yes. I’m very sorry I touched you on the shoulder when I said, ‘goodnight.'”

“You can forget about that rule.”

Yep. That’s what love and prayer does. That’s what God does. It only took eight months.