From my corner seat I scanned the elegant dining room, backlit with mid-morning Florida sunshine. Round tables draped in white cloths filled the small space as fifty or more well-heeled professional women quietly networked before the meeting officially began. “Would you like to me to introduce you to some of the ladies?” a member of the Clay Women’s Empowerment Council asked after introducing herself. “You’re awfully quiet over here in the corner.” “Yes. Thank you. I like to get my head on straight before speaking at an event like this,” I answered, leaving my notes on the table and trailing her around the room until we found ourselves in the lunch buffet line.
Those mashed potatoes look divine. Hmmm. That’s a new way to cut carrots. I’ll have to try that at home. Lord, let me turn away from these delicate desserts. I’m so nervous I could eat the whole tray.
I was playing hooky from my second grade classroom on a Thursday morning. An invitation to share my memoir, Same Dress, Different Day, at the Women’s Empowerment Council had been too irresistible to pass up. As I returned to my corner table and the room began to fill, I battled anxiety and the butterflies that always cartwheel through my insides before I share my heart with an audience.
This isn’t my usual “churchy” crowd. These are professional women. VyStar women. St. Vincent’s Healthcare reps. Chamber of Commerce people. What if some aren’t even believers? Perhaps my message has too much Jesus and not enough empowerment. Maybe I need to tone it down. Maybe it’s too long. Maybe I’m not yet ready for this…
My negative inner monologue was paused by a question from a friendly woman across the table. I smiled. Introduced myself. Asked someone to pass the bread. And the butter. And the salt.
Then came the innocent question that would normally bring every cartwheeling butterfly to an instant halt and turn those divine mashed potatoes into lead that would weigh heavy in my gut for hours. Maybe days.
“Do you have children?”
Do I have children? For two decades (at least), I’ve avoided that question like the plague. Only you can’t really avoid the plague. It just descends upon you, infects you and debilitates you. You can’t hide under starchy white tablecloths. You can’t conveniently disappear into the ladies room. And you can’t avoid the gaze of the person across the table who is simply interested in getting to know you a little better. I know. I’ve tried.
For a moment, the butterflies paused. The warm mashed potatoes froze. And my tear ducts threatened to malfunction. Then I found my voice.
“Yes. Yes, I do. Two boys. Two fifteen-year-old boys.”
Yes to the one question whose answer has always been “No,” followed by an awkward silence or some half-hearted attempt at humor as I struggle to rearrange my emotional baggage so nothing from the inside is revealed on the outside.
In all honesty, my tongue was reaching for the “No,” but my heart blurted the “Yes.” My words surprised me, but I took it in stride. Within seconds the ladies around my table had heard my tale of the parenthood rollercoaster Honey and I rode this summer as we hosted two orphaned Ukrainian teens who stole our hearts, emptied our bank accounts, and inspired us to pursue international adoption. Before I knew it, I was doing what I’ve observed other mothers do for years – gushing about my kids to complete strangers.
By the time I was introduced as a keynote speaker, the butterflies had disappeared and I was ready to share my message of hope with the women who sat before me. My thoughts were anchored around a quote from Heather Kopp’s memoir, Sober Mercies that says, “People bond more deeply over shared brokenness than they do over shared beliefs.” As I searched the faces of my audience, I saw myself in their reflections – a woman with her game face on, but a woman hungry for honesty and authenticity. A woman in need of hope.
I don’t know what those women’s dreams are. But they connected with my story. I read that truth in their eyes as I spoke. They grasped the hope my testimony offers – hope that there is a God in heaven who longs to redeem the dreams we thought were lost. My final words brought them gently to their feet:
“We can release every person who has ever wounded us to God – moving forward in confidence and with compassion for those trapped in the bondage of addiction. We can choose forgiveness each today, despite the choices of our loved ones. We can find joy in our journey and hope for our future. We can believe in a God who redeems the dreams we thought were lost.”
They applauded. They asked me to sign some books. Some of them quietly thanked me for my message and shared their own struggles of living with a loved one’s addiction.
On the way home afterward, I prayed.
Thank you, God, for taking the mess of my life and transforming it into a message of hope for other women who feel trapped in the cycle of a loved one’s addiction. Thank You for stamping redemption on today, not only with the empowering opportunity to tell my story, but through the opportunity to speak of something that is NOT as though it IS! Thank You for teaching me to walk by faith and not by sight. I choose to trust that You will bring my boys home. That You will provide the funds. That You will hold their hearts and keep our connection strong until the final stamp is on those adoption papers and we walk out of that Ukrainian courtroom as a family. Thank You, God, that I am a mom.
“As it is written in the Scriptures: “I am making you a father of many nations.” This is true before God. Abraham believed in God—the God who gives life to the dead and decides that things will happen that have not yet happened.
There was no hope that Abraham would have children. But Abraham believed God and continued hoping. And that is why he became the father of many nations. As God told him, “Your descendants will also be too many to count.” Romans 4:17-18 International Children’s Bible
P.S. Do you have an upcoming event that needs a guest speaker with an inspirational message? Contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org. Let’s make a date!
If you’d like to help bring our boys home, click here: By faith, I am a mom!