Moving Forward: An Adoptive Mom Reflects On Her Empty Nest

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My phone says 2:24 a.m. I woke up hungry two hours ago. Quietly devoured half the cantaloupe I bought at the farmer’s market yesterday. Read a bunch of my old blog posts. Cried the ugly cry. Now I have a hangover. A cantaloupe and vulnerability hangover. Why did I write all of that stuff for the world to see?

I’ve been meaning to come back here for years. Yes, I did show up a couple of times in the past 24 months— four, to be exact.

“What happened?” A well-meaning reader recently asked. “Why did you stop writing? It must have been something significant.”

I couldn’t answer at the time. I didn’t have the courage to say the words. But I’ve been thinking about it lately. Why can’t I write for my own blog? Why do I avoid it like nine-year-old boys avoid toothbrushes? Why is this so hard?

It’s hard because I feel embarrassed. Because I feel raw. Because I wore my heart on the outside of me for years and one day it broke and I didn’t want anyone to see that part. So I hid. That’s the truth of it.

But it’s not like I hid on purpose. I didn’t say to myself, “I’m just going to leave my readers hanging. I’m not going to write anymore.” No. It wasn’t like that. It was more like, “Today I am going to breathe. I am going to try to get out of bed. Try to brush my hair and put on clothes and look like the girl My Honey married a decade ago.” Those things took effort. So much effort some days I couldn’t do much else.

I experienced something similar once before. Months of going through motions I have no recollection of. Years of grieving the death of a dream. Grieving so hard I nearly lost myself in the ocean of silent sorrow. I came around, but the grief haunted relentlessly if I was still or quiet for any length of time. Because of that, what happened more recently felt familiar. But familiarity was no comfort. My breaking point came out of nowhere. I don’t remember exactly when. There was no one event that could be called “the catalyst.” I just noticed blood one day. Dried blood and fresh blood oozing from the heart that used to beat so beautifully on my sleeve. I felt protective of it. I couldn’t take any more risks with an organ so raw. It needed time to heal, restore, renew. I didn’t dare write one word. Not one.

After all I’d shared about myself, My Honey, and our precious “Boys of Summer,” I didn’t want anyone to know how hard it really was to become a family. I didn’t want readers who fell in love with my boys when they were sweet and kind and fun and loved me, to see them in any other light.

Oh, there were hints in blogs along the way. The few I posted between 2017 and 2019 were a glimpse into a world where none of us felt comfortable, a world where My Honey and I often sat in our car in the driveway after our Monday Date Night, dreading to go inside the house. Sometimes we didn’t. Sometimes we turned around and drove to the park. We sat on a hard green bench talking about what went so terribly wrong and fighting one another with our words because we couldn’t agree on how to fix it. We felt held hostage by the strangers in our home who looked like the boys we loved and rescued, but who acted like people who hated our guts and only wanted to escape the life we created just for them.

I know it’s crazy, but I felt ashamed that we weren’t doing a good job as parents. (If we were, our kids would love and respect us and follow the rules we live by, right?) If you parent teens, I know you are laughing right now. Even if you birthed them, they don’t always like you or choose to live the way you feel is best. I KNOW this in my head. But after everything everyone did for us, to help us adopt our boys and have a spacious home in which to “live, laugh, love” as the words above our mantle said, I felt ashamed and afraid to let the world see how badly we were failing at “living, laughing, and loving.” I couldn’t see past the pain of the present to give anyone hope in our future as a family. I didn’t want to disappoint, but I couldn’t control the outcome. I couldn’t control anything. My dream world crumbled and I was left with an empty nest, a broken spirit and a marriage in need of repair. Parenting is not for the faint of heart.

Deep grieving that finally led to breakthrough began last August. I remember the season well. My Honey was called to preach in a new district. Circumstances forced us to move from the house God gave us when we adopted our boys. Each room had been packed and emptied. Everyone gone. I stayed behind to paint.

Agreeable Gray. I will forever remember the color of Sherwin Williams’ most popular neutral. Day after day I trimmed and rolled my way through our hollow home. Each room holding stories and memories, joy and pain and secrets only families know. Each room a museum in my mind. I knew where every piece of furniture should be, every picture, every book and knick-knack and treasure. But it was all gone. There was only my ladder, my brush and roller and the tray of gray paint I dragged along the floor on an old sheet.

I love painting. Love the system, the challenges, the transformation—as fresh, clean color covers all the smudges and stains of daily life. I started in one of the boys’ rooms. Just a smallish cube with a closet. It should not have been hard. But it was. Excruciating to be exact. I was alone with all the memories made within those walls. Thankful to be alone as sorrow surfaced and escaped in noisy wails.

 I painted over each memory. Neutralized them all with Agreeable Gray. How many times had I quietly entered this room late at night to pray mama prayers over the sleeping teen on the bed in the corner? How many times had I carefully cleaned up the aftermath of his rage? I’ll never forget the night this room looked like a war zone with broken glass, bloody footprints and an explosion of belongings that took days to repair and reorganize.

As my paint roller glides over the walls, my brain replays the reels of footage stored somewhere inside. Where did things go wrong, Lord? How did we go from back scratches and prayers, laughter and “I love you’s” to satanic symbols and silence and a closed door that couldn’t prevent hatred from seeping underneath and permeating our entire household?

My brain hurts with the memories of those days and nights that blur together in a cocktail of absolute emotional chaos. I shift gears. Try to refocus. Try to find the “happy memories” file. It feels so thin compared to the others. But they are there. The bike rides, camping trips and our Friday “Family Christian Movie Nights.” The happy chatter of Ukrainian voices playing board games or unwrapping Christmas presents. The sparkling eyes when speaking of a certain girl who is now my precious daughter-in-law and the mother of our two beautiful grandbabies.

It all went too fast, Lord. I couldn’t find my feet as a mom before they were gone. Now I’m “Ouma” to a toddler with a contagious smile and a strawberry-haired girl with blue, blue eyes. Help me to get it right. To love them all well. To live in what is “now” and learn from what was “then.”

I dragged my ladder from room to room. Conversations seeped from the walls. My mind heard them all as I rolled gallon after gallon of Agreeable Gray.

  • In our home school room—the standoff between me and two newly landed foreigners about the importance of enunciating correctly so their English could be understood by the locals. “But I’m Ukrainian. I will always speak like a Ukrainian. You can’t make me speak like an American!”
  • In the kitchen—Boy: “If I drop this glass on the floor and break it, will you ever be able to fix it?”

Me: “Not really.”

Boy: “Exactly. And that is why saying ‘sorry’ doesn’t work. It doesn’t fix anything. Those are just words.”

  • In My Honey’s office—My Honey to two bright-eyed boys: “I’m giving you these i-phones, but you need to know how dangerous they are. They can be used for good, and they can be used for bad. It’s my job to protect you from the bad as much as I can. So, these phones come with rules. With a contract that you will need to sign if you agree to the rules…”
  • In the living room—Me with a pounding heart to a boy and a girl lying on the sofa with a blanket over them: “Please sit up. Put your hands above the blanket. I’m not trying to be awkward, but this is not appropriate.”

Boy in response, “This is why we go to our friends’ houses instead of inviting them here. You make everything awkward with your stupid “rules.” ‘No girls in the bedroom. No blankets. No this. No that.”

  • In the master bedroom—My Honey in an angry whisper from his side of our queen sized bed: “I don’t know how much more stress I can take. Something has to change or I am going to end up in the hospital. (He did. Cardiac ablation.)
  • In our bathroom—Me to God, “Do something! My family is falling apart and I can’t fix it!”

By the time I reached the final bedroom with my last gallon of paint, I’d exhausted my tears. I could only smile to myself as I erased a misspelled song title “Young, Dum and Broke” from the wall behind the spot where my tall boy’s bed used to be. He moved out the year before we did, when I was away on a speaking engagement. Went to spend the night with a friend and never came home. He took nothing with him. I left his room as he left it, always hoping he’d move back again. He never did. It was the last room I packed. The closet jammed full of clothes, shoes of several sizes, RC cars, tools and art supplies in a jumbled floor-to-ceiling mess. I saved a tote with his yearbook, sketchpads, photo albums and a few things I thought he might want someday. Everything else went to the curb.

As Agreeable Gray covered his attempt to chalk a wall portrait of the girl who broke his heart in high school, I prayed for him. Too grown for his own good. Flown too soon. Doing his thing in this hostile world. God, show my boy how much You love him. Pierce that independent façade and heal his heart. Let him know he always has a home and two parents who love him very, very much.

I’m done now. Done with living in those memories. Done beating myself up for whatever I did that seemed so wrong to them at the time. Done hiding from the world because my family wasn’t perfect. And done blogging about it all. I’m sure there will be a book one day. In the meantime, I’m choosing to live in the present. Enjoy my grandbabies. Love on my scattered family as best I can and in whatever ways I’m permitted. And allow Jesus to continue healing me as I refocus on ministry.

You will still be able to find me here. And on my @samedressdifferentday Facebook page. And hopefully soon on YouTube, if I can ever get that vlog thing figured out. Thank you, dear readers, friends and supporters of our family for these past 6 years. Thank you for your financial contributions toward our adoption. Thank you for your prayers. We could NOT have done this without you. And believe it or not, My Honey and I have both said we’d do it all again. Perhaps differently. Perhaps with fewer expectations (for them and us), and much more grace and flexibility. But we would do it. Because it’s what Jesus called us all to do. Love the unlovable. Do good to those who use us. Care for the orphans and widows. Somehow in the doing of that, we become more like Him and less like this self-centered world. And that’s what I want more than anything—to be like Jesus. Don’t you?

Dear God…

“The oncologist…” She pauses. The words nearly strangle her as she speaks quietly into her phone. I glance sideways at the woman hunched over her cart in front of the Easter dishtowel display at TJ Maxx. She starts again. “The oncologist sounds hopeful,” she stammers.

“Cashier open on register seven,” the loudspeaker booms, drowning the woman’s next words. I’ve passed her now. It’s my turn to pay. She’s my age. My brain registers that thought as I reach for my wallet. I smile at the cashier, although my facemask hides my mouth. Her eyes don’t smile back. I’m a bad person. I’ve already been reprimanded by another sales associate for trying on the blue jeans I’m purchasing in front of a mirror at the end of an aisle in the middle of the store. This pandemic has made dressing rooms a thing of the past. What’s a girl to do?

As I pay for my jeans I wonder if the brown-haired woman on her phone is the one with cancer. Or if it’s a parent or child she’s talking about. As I take my bag and receipt, I turn to see if she’s still there. She is. Cart full of spring knick-knacks made in China, oblivious to the shoppers going around her on their way to pay.

Dear God, give her strength.

I check my phone before starting the car. There’s a text from a friend who has Covid-19. She lives alone. These past two weeks have been really difficult for her, but she’s managed to stay out of the hospital. I ask if there’s anything she needs.

Dear God, restore my friend’s health.

As I pull into my driveway my phone rings. It’s another friend whose life is falling apart. I sit for nearly an hour, listening to her rant and cry and process the pain of domestic violence and divorce and the beginnings of a custody battle that should be a no-brainer but isn’t.

Dear God, if justice is Yours, please let justice be done!

I walk into my home. Lights are low. Doors are closed. My mother’s voice comes through the wall from the guest room where she and my stepfather are staying for a few weeks until the weather thaws up North. I can tell she’s talking to her one living aunt. They are discussing my grandfather’s funeral service. The one that took place last Tuesday. The one Mom and I couldn’t attend. Who wants to put their 71-year-old mother on a plane during a global health crisis? Who wants to watch their father’s/grandfather’s funeral on FaceTime when they really want to be in Arkansas with the rest of the family as he is lowered into the ground next to Grandma?

Dear God, comfort the brokenhearted.

Today a girl with black curls turned nineteen. I was almost her mama once. She’s beautiful and kind and soft spoken and hardworking and moving into an apartment with her sister this week. I wonder if her birth mom is still alive. I wonder if she remembers the baby she brought into this world on the 12th of February, 2002.

Dear God, set the captives free.

There’s a song I like by worship artist Brooke Fraser. One line says, “Break my heart for what breaks Yours.” I sing it like a prayer tonight. My heart aches with God’s—for the woman at TJ Maxx, for my friend with Covid, for the single mom trying to figure out whether to pay her rent or pay her attorney, for my mother who said goodbye to her father on FaceTime for the last time a couple of weeks ago, for all the birth moms, step moms, foster moms and adoptive moms who have loved and lost and hurt in ways only a mother can.

I cannot understand the pain of this world. I cannot carry it. But Jesus can. He came to give us a hope and a future without heartache, death and disease. He has not forgotten us. Hold on, dear friend. Hold on.

“Can a woman forget her nursing child,
And not have compassion on the son of her womb?
Surely they may forget,
Yet I will not forget you.
See, I have inscribed you on the palms of My hands; …”

Isaiah 49:15-16

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.

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“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.

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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.

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

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.)

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)

He Is God Through It All

Dear Friends:

I know I’ve been quiet lately. I tried to write. Wanted to write. Promised myself I would write. But a month passed, and I didn’t (at least not for public eyes). As I expressed in my March 6 post, “Unnamed River,” I’m grieving a loss. A strange mixture of emotions runs through my veins, constricting my throat if my thoughts linger too long in one place. So, I’ve kept myself busy, busy, busy with everything…everything but writing.

As I celebrate my first Mother’s Day as the mother of teenagers who aren’t yet mine, and lay to rest my dream of being a biological mommy, I’ve been extra sensitive to grieving hearts all around me. The image you see above, I shot with my iphone through the windshield of my van as I witnessed the raw grief of a young mother kneeling in the fresh soil of her baby girl’s grave.

The story you will read below, I heard from the lips of a dear friend who feels betrayed by her mother’s death and wondered aloud, “Who is left to daily call my name in prayer? Our great prayer matriarch has passed.”

Whatever YOUR heart holds this Mother’s Day, whether it be joy or sorrow, promise or pain, there is ONE who holds you through it all. May you, like Bridget, discover the gift of Jesus and the hope of heaven.

Hopeful Mothers’ Day.

Juliet

“For the LORD will comfort __________________(place your name right here),

He will comfort all her waste places;

He will make her wilderness like Eden,

And her desert like the garden of the LORD;

Joy and gladness will be found in it,

Thanksgiving and the voice of melody.”

Isaiah 51:3 NKJV

~~~

 He is God Through It All

 Anxiously I drive home to see Mom —to spend time with her, laughing, talking, or just sitting in silence. As I reflect on everything I want to share with her, places I’ve been, things I’ve seen and news of her great grandson (who has grown so much since she last saw him), my excitement grows. I contemplate this reunion, anticipating the memories to be made.

We arrive in town. “Where to?” my husband asks, just as he always does when we go home. To Mom’s house, of course! That’s my first thought. Reality makes me say, “to your father’s house.” We visit with the in-laws then drive to my sister’s home, where we’ll spend the weekend. The evening is fun, full of laughter, chatter, and joy as we watch our busy grandson just being himself.

Saturday wakes me to a quiet house for uninterrupted devotional time in the stillness of the morning. I talk with God about the strength, comfort and peace I need this weekend. I want to go to church, so afterwards I can see Mom. My heart dances as I once again remember our together times. When I’m in my hometown, I look forward Saturday afternoon family time at Mom’s house with my siblings and their families.

Finally, the time arrives when I can see her. Anticipation overwhelms me. But wait…this time is different. She is not at home, or at a sibling’s house, or in the hospital, as she has been so often lately. She is at church, but not seated on a pew. She’s… she’s in a box.

Is this a…casket? Why is she in a casket? No happy expression on her face. No joyous greeting on her lips. Instead, there she lays —lifeless. Then reality hits me. There will be no more laughter. No long, long talks. No more happy moments together. My mom is…dead.

I am breathless. Suffocating. Please someone take this bag off my head so I can breathe. Take this dagger out of my heart so the pain will stop. The weight on my chest feels so heavy, I wonder if I’ll survive. There is no way I can ever make it through this. I still grieve the loss of my father. Just eleven months ago I said goodbye to him. Surely I cannot be asked to grieve for my mother so soon. Lord, this can’t be real. You can’t possibly ask this of me….not now, not today.

This is reality. There is no way around it. No way to avoid it, or forget it. I am asked to face what seems impossible. My heart aches. My mind is confused. I am all at once sad and numb and angry and indifferent. How will I survive this? How?

The days to follow are filled with sadness and pain. Mornings are hard to face and evenings —lifeless and tear-filled. I feel as if someone has removed my oxygen supply and left me to breathe without it. Continuing with life seems impossible. In my mind I know I need to. I have to. But my heart isn’t sure if I want to. I don’t know how. Consumed by pain, I lose track of time, of life. Days turn into weeks, weeks into months. Sadness moves into pain, pain into anger; anger into hopelessness, hopelessness into…

No good can come from Mom’s death, I think.

Then I remember her LIFE:

  • the FAITH she had in GOD
  • the STRENGTH she drew from HIM
  • the PROMISES she held on to
  • the BELIEF that HE would see her through
  • the COMFORT she found in her RELATIONSHIP with HIM.

All these are things she taught me. Why can’t I find comfort in them?

I recall seeing mom at the dawn of each day and again in the evening hours —spending time in prayer and Bible study, surrendering to God, choosing to be in a relationship Him. I realize if I am to survive, I MUST do the same.

My mom gave me two important gifts. In life, she gave me the gift of Jesus Christ. She introduced me to Him, taught me from His Word and modeled leaning and depending on Him. In death, she gave me the peace of mind of knowing she is resting in Jesus. She knew Him as her Friend. This brings me comfort and hope that I, too can rest in Him and be reunited with her when Christ returns to take His people home.

~Weeks Later~

Am I over my mother’s death? Not in the least. I haven’t fully grieved. I still cry every night. I still long to talk with her, to see her. My heart still aches to the point of physical pain. Sometimes I forget the things she taught me because I allow the pain of loss to overwhelm me. There are other times when I realize something is added to my pain: the COMFORT of GOD’S PRESENCE. Sometimes I even allow Him to hug me. This closeness with God helps me survive the grieving process.

I look forward to spending eternity in heaven, with God and with my mom. I strive to walk in Mom’s footsteps by living a life of total surrender, love, and obedience. I meditate daily on His Word. I seek Him in prayer just like Mom taught me. I am not past the loss yet, but as I grieve, I daily choose to trust and serve the Lord.

If you are grieving a loss, I encourage you to make the choice to also trust and serve the Lord in the midst of your sorrow, disappointment, hurt and pain. In making that decision, you will find the comfort of a loving Savior, and the joy of serving Him. God promised in Hebrews 13:5, “I will never leave you nor forsake you.

In the words of Colton Dixon, “You Have Been My God Through All Of It.”

Growing through pain,

Bridget

bridget1

Bridget is a mother, grandmother and beloved educator. She serves faithfully as Head Elder of her church. She writes from Orange Park, Florida.

 

Coming Home

“What if he doesn’t want to come home?”

My Honey’s text, in response to our teen’s latest social media profile picture, inflicts heart palpitations as I sink into my car after school.

These are the words I’m too afraid to verbalize. The words I keep shoving to the back of my overanxious mind. The very words that threaten to melt what’s left of my mascara as I put my car in drive and back out of my parking space in the school lot. It’s after four. Most teachers have already gone. I sit at the edge of the county road, my blinker flashing, waiting for the wave of emotion to pass before I begin the forty-minute drive that connects my two worlds.County RoadSchool is my predictable world, where nothing and everything changes. Year in. Year out. The sweet little faces change. Routines remain. Sixty minutes of math. A planning period. Two hours of literacy activities. Lunch. Recess. Then Science, more writing, and a dismissal bell that sends us scrambling for the door. For eighteen years, I’ve lived and breathed variations of this familiar regimen.

On the other side of those forty minutes lies home. Home, where My Honey writes sermons and newsletters and spends countless hours tending to the lost and wounded sheep of our small church flock. Home, where my still-packed suitcase and a box of unsold books from my weekend recovery seminar take up space on our living room floor. Home, where Honey finally dumped the leftover borscht that waited in the fridge for too many days to mention because I’m in denial about the fact that our soup-maker is back in a Ukrainian orphanage with no return date in sight.

I’ve struggled since our boys left seventeen days ago. Struggled to accept the fact that they are truly gone. Struggled to return to my normal routines. Struggled to trust that God will expedite the adoption paperwork so they can be home by springtime.

Honk! The driver of the car behind me forces me into the present. I pull onto the road and reach for the radio. I like it loud. “Earth has no sorrow that heaven can’t heal.” David Crowder repeats the phrase several times as my RAV4 hums down the highway.

I know it’s true, God. You can heal every sorrow. You’ve already healed so many of mine. I’ve seen You in action. I even preached about it last weekend to that audience in Houston. Why does my heart so easily forget what my head knows to be true?”

I turn down Crowder so I can better hear God.

What was it that You said to me this morning? From Psalm 91?

“He that dwelleth in the secret place of the most High shall abide under the shadow of the Almighty. I will say of the Lord, He is my refuge and my fortress: my God; in him will I trust” (verses 1-2).

How do I DWELL in Your secret place? I can’t seem to stay there. I come and go. I trust then I doubt. I allow fear to swallow me whole when circumstances seem overwhelming. I’ve been in this place before. I remember the hollowness of cynicism, the disquietude of dread.”

As I drive I recall my former life. The life I lived before I met My Honey. The life I lived as the wife of a chemically dependent Christian. I remember anxious hours of waiting for him to come home from binging. I spent days wondering if he ever would come home; worrying about whether he even wanted to come home.

It was during those hollow years that I learned to trust God; that I began seeking recovery for myself and my own addictions — addictions to enabling and rescuing and controlling. I remember the milestones I made with Jesus as He taught me to depend upon Him and to release my former spouse to the consequences of his own choices.

Why, God, are those old fear-based issues rearing their ugly heads in my present circumstance?”

God and I talk straight. He knows me. I just don’t know myself right now. I’m acting in out-of-character ways. At least, out of character for the new creation I have become since learning to walk in recovery. I want to know why.

Without thinking, I turn left onto the familiar road that will lead me home. Honey is waiting. We are going out for “Date Night.” I hope to have my heart settled before I reach him. It’s not fair that I brought baggage into our marriage. I didn’t want it to, but a little luggage still came along for the ride. Sometimes it pops right out into the open and surprises both of us (not in a good way). I don’t want that to happen tonight. I need to figure this out with God before I unleash my mixed-up emotions on my undeserving spouse.

“What am I afraid of?”

I wait. I pray. I remember.

I remember the sweet taste of motherhood after the endless ache of an empty womb. I remember preparing my home and heart for a baby girl — the hope, the joy, the weight of her tiny body in my arms. I remember the silence after she never came back. The empty crib. The unread bedtime stories. The blanket of darkness that enveloped my soul.

Is that what this is, God? Am I afraid they will not return?”

The same thing happened after they left last August. I fought the darkness with paperwork. Mountains of adoption paperwork that meant there was hope for our future as a family of four. We started a fundraising campaign. People donated. Doors opened. God gave us the green light. We asked the boys. They said, “Yes!” (Actually, they said “Of course! Are you crazy? We love you too much!”)

This winter visit was different. They are more grown up. More mature. How did they become wise to the ways of this world in just four short months? One has a girlfriend — the source of my angst. The reason for Honey’s text. The focus of my fear.Selfie CoupleMaybe he will love her more than he loves us. Maybe he will not want to come home. Maybe his hormones will override his good sense and our love and preparation and sacrifice will be in vain.” I verbalize my fears to The Father.

Maybe you just need to release him to Me. Maybe you need to trust Me in this situation. Maybe you need to stop trying to control this.” He shoots straight. It hurts.

When things feel out of my control, especially when it comes to matters of the heart, I tend to try to control something. Or someone. But, how do you control a teenager who is 5,620 miles away? How do you stop him from posting kissing selfies on social media? How do you convince him that dating anyone right now is not wise, because someone is going to get hurt when he comes to America for good? You can’t. You just have to release him to God. You have to trust that God is in control of this and that He will do everything He knows to do to work ALL things together for the good of those who love Him. For MY good. For My Honey. For our boys.

I choose to trust You with these boys.” I say the words aloud as I see the sign that names my street. “I am powerless over others.” I repeat part of Step 1 from my Co-Dependents Anonymous Handbook.

I remember the rest of the mantra as I turn into my driveway: “In this moment, I do not have to control anyone, including me. And If I feel uncomfortable with what another person is doing or not doing, I can remind myself that I am powerless over this person and I am powerless over my compulsion to act in inappropriate ways.”

Father, I release my desire to control the futures of these boys to You. You were their Father long before I desired to be their mother. You have held them through hell and grown them into good and kind young men. You have laid them heavy upon Honey’s heart. And mine. You are making provision to bring them home. I will dwell in Your secret place. I will say, “You are my refuge and my fortress: my God; in Him will I trust.”

I put my car in park, turn off the ignition and step out. Grabbing my lunch bag and purse, I shut the door in Fear’s face and walk down our sidewalk. I will not look back. I turn my key in the lock and open my heart to hope.

Honey, I’m home.”Toby Mac Worry and Faith

Making Soup, Making Family

Today I turned down a hug from a boy whose “hug tank” has run on empty for years.snorkel masked kid I wanted him to do some menial household task. He tried to manipulate his way out of work by offering his scrawny, outstretched arms in exchange for disregarding chores. I rejected the offer. Turned my back. Repeated my command. He rejected the work. Ignored the demand. Sat on the sofa like a lump of lead. Lose/lose.

Five days from now he will board a plane to Ukraine with an unknown return date. I will offer him my outstretched arms in exchange for the ache I will carry all the way home to Florida from the Atlanta International Airport if he refuses affection from me like he did from My Honey when they said goodbye last August.

I wasn’t there. It would have crushed me to see my sweet “Boys of Summer” morph into two dudes too cool for tenderness as they crossed that invisible line that keeps tears in check and converts sons back into orphans, family into strangers.

Last night as the other boy taught me how to make Ukrainian style borscht, I pondered the ingredients that make a family.vegetables Does it make us family when I begin munching a freshly peeled carrot and a kid grabs it from my hand to take a bite then returns it without batting an eye? Or when I leave the borscht lesson to pull a load of still-warm laundry from the dryer and find four people’s socks and underwear clinging unashamedly to one another? Maybe we became family when Honey fumbled into the boys’ shared bedroom for the umpteenth time to stop a wrestling match after midnight, or when he and I looked one another in the eye and said, “Are you sure you really want to do this?”

I don’t know when it happened or how it happened, but it happened. Like the sewing of a garment or the making of a stew, one thread, one stitch, one ingredient at a time, we are making a family.making borscht

It’s a recipe I haven’t used before, although some ingredients are familiar. Love, that’s the main one. It binds everything else together. No, we can’t have too much of that. When love is present, we’re no longer strangers. Love softens fear, smooths pride, soothes the burn of anger.

The next ingredient is trust. This one is hard to find, elusive, delicate. When added to the mix, trust strengthens each relationship. Without it, we have nothing but facades. I have experience with this ingredient. Or rather, I have experience with trying to make “family soup” without trust. Soup without trust is extremely unsatisfying. One will always remain hungry, not matter how much one eats. Been there. Done that. Nearly starved to death. Can’t leave out the trust.

Next comes faith: Faith in the Father who loves the fatherless. Faith in the One who put us in the stewpot together. Faith in the Son who died for the sins of our past so we can have an eternal future. Faith in Spirit who comforts us when we hurt, guides us when we falter, heals us when we break. Faith in angels who protect us when we cannot protect one another. Families without faith flounder. Gotta have faith.

Maybe what really makes us family is when we kneel together nightly, holding hands in a circle of prayer, prayer that brings down language barriers and unites our hearts in thanks to the God who brought us together. Perhaps prayer is the seasoning that gives flavor to a family, the spice that keeps our connection alive when we are out of sight and out of sync. Even if our boys open their eyes and make faces at each other. Even if they balk and tease and pretend to object. Even then. Because when I hear my name in their prayers, even if it’s the only word I understand, I am fed.

When I call their names in prayer – though they are on a plane or in an orphanage on a different continent, I know our Father will hold them close. He will hug them for me, even if they don’t do their chores. His love is unconditional. Unreserved. Unafraid. I can tap into that love for my boys, anytime. Anywhere. So can you. For your loved ones. No matter how far they’ve gone, how much they’ve messed up. No matter how many drugs they’ve done, babies they’ve aborted, lies they’ve told, or stuff they’ve pawned.

It’s hard to release our loved ones to Him. Tough to trust that He loves them more than we ever could. Painful to think that the threads that weave us into family can quickly come unraveled and make a tangled knot that only Jesus can repair; but He is the only one who can. So if you are in despair tonight, or going to bed with fear as a bedfellow, or are fighting shame because your kid’s addiction kept them from coming home for the holidays, make soup. Start with love. Add some trust that God is fully capable of working a miracle in the life of your loved one. Exercise your faith in His power to redeem the dreams for your family that you thought were lost. Pray. Without ceasing. And wait. God has promises for those of us who wait: “But they that wait upon the Lord shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings as eagles; they shall run, and not be weary; and they shall walk, and not faint” (Isaiah 40:31 KJV).

Happy New Year from my heart to yours! Enjoy your soup in 2016. I know I’m looking forward to mine.borscht