Because how we talk about adoption matters… (even if we’re using the bible)

Christians love to talk about adoption. And, more often than not, this is what’s going through my mind most of the time when they speak.

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 The reason? We tend to equate adoption with salvation.

Let’s back up a little bit. Romans 8 and Galatians 4 both speak about our adoption as sons & daughters. There is beautiful truth in that we have been grafted into the family of God not because of some biological right, but purely by the grace of God bestowed on us through no action of our own. This is absolutely true. But it is not the full picture.

Here’s why: When we take the language of scripture and then apply it to modern adoption as if it’s a 1:1 correlation, we make adoption always pure, always saving, and always good news.

The first problem with this? It turns the adoptive parent into a Savior who rescues the broken child. I can’t tell you how many people have thanked us for “taking in our poor children.” It turns my stomach every time.

And that’s reason enough to re-think things…but I’d like to talk about something even deeper. As the mother of two beautiful children brought to us through adoption I can tell you this with confidence: Adoption is not good news.

Before you protest let me explain myself.

You cannot have adoption without loss. So from the beginning adoption is a sign that something has gone terribly wrong. God did not create families to break. But when they placed my 10 day old J in my arms that’s just what happened, a family was broken. When we left the hospital with my E, we left a family broken behind us.

Adoption begins in loss. It’s bad news from the beginning. There’s no way around it.

When the paperwork is finished and the adoption becomes final it doesn’t end the brokenness. Sure, that child and I belong to each other forever, just as if I had given birth to them. And there is beauty in that. And there is grace in that.

But they leave a family behind them (for whom that day brings great sadness), and they bring their loss and their brokenness with them to join it up with mine. You see when families are broken, when trauma takes root in a child’s soul (whether they are a newborn or 13 years old), the court date isn’t enough to undo it.

Adoption begins in loss, and it lives in a constant tension of brokenness and wholeness, pain and redemption, completeness and fractured-ness. Adoption is not good news.

Except that it is.

Before you think I’m crazy, I’ll explain.

When Jesus was born into this world all of creation groaned for his arrival. Why? Because our God had not created a world in order to break it. But when sin entered the world, that’s exactly what happened. Which means from that moment, creation has been longing for its redemption. In Romans 8, we see that all of creation groans for the Savior. When that Savior arrives, the physical creation rejoices. And beauty came to dwell.

Here’s where the tears usually come for me: Everyone was expecting that the arrival of the Messiah would completely erase all that had been broken. It would hit the reset button and begin it all afresh. It would erase sadness, sin, and death.

Except that’s not how it happened. Jesus, instead, showed up as the light in the midst of the greatest darkness. He didn’t take away all the pain, he entered into it. And that’s an important part of the redemption. Any God could just hit a reset button. Our God, chose to enter the chaos and the pain, so that he could heal us, redeem us, restore us.

This, this light in the midst of brokenness, but still brokenness because it hasn’t been completely fixed yet, thing…this is where I think we find the deepest meaning of adoption.

A few Christmases ago I bought this wooden sign that simply says Peace. I got it on sale at Target, so it was hardly an intentional purchase.

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Every year I bring it out and it’s a lovely addition to our holiday décor. But this year, when I pulled the word out it meant something different. This year we are living right smack in the middle of one of our children’s brokenness. The details of that struggle aren’t for public consumption, of course, but the reality of living in a small apartment with a kid who struggles…well it means that the last few months we’ve lived in sort of a constant state of chaos. The kind of chaos that results from deep feelings that can’t even be articulated. The kind of chaos that results from anxiety and internal pressure. The kind of chaos that makes you question all the things.

As we have lived in the chaos and in the constant fight, I have yearned and longed for peace. Not a peace that erases, but a peace that enters right smack in the middle of the mess and begins to spread light. Because I know that’s what my child needs: to be walked with towards healing.

Advent is the promise of wholeness even while we are broken. Advent is the anticipation of the savior of the world even as we’re crying.

Adoption is good news not because it re-writes and erases history but because it announces redemption in the midst of it. Not in a white-savior-I’m-going-to-make-everything-okay way, but in a “you’re broken, I’m broken…let’s look to Jesus and find his wholeness together” sort of way.

Our children’s stories are complicated. They are full of birth families who loved them, who wanted the best for them. But they are forged out of brokenness that made those families unable to care for them.

Many of our friends parent children who were forged by abuse they received at the hands of the people originally intended to love them best.

Adoption always begins in loss. Advent always begins in brokenness.

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But, by the grace of God, we can join with creation and groan for the redemption that only Christ can give.

None. of. this. is. normal.

Brandon has begun to travel more often for work. And the kids and I have developed a sort of rhythm through it all. They miss their daddy deeply, but they navigate his absence beautifully. Eliza (when she notices he’s actually gone…she’s a mama’s girl through and through) gives me lots of hugs and will randomly say “I miss daddy.” Jamie will shed some tears throughout daddy’s absence, but he takes great pride in being my helper and partner while Brandon’s gone.

But our favorite thing: while daddy is out of town, J knows he gets to sleep in our bed. Each and every night I will sneak into the kid’s room, get him out of his bed and put him in mine. He disappears under the heavy weight of our comforter and makes his way over to snuggle with me throughout the night. I love it. He wont be little forever, these moments are sweet.

[Now, before you feel bad for Eliza, we are not neglecting her. From her birth, Eliza has always been terrible at sleeping with another person in sight or close enough to touch. When she sleeps with me in a hotel room, she flips and turns the whole night and wakes up to talk to me throughout. It’s best for her (and us!) that she stay in her bed.

 And, somehow, sweet baby girl has yet to notice that Jamie sleeps in my room. Sure, he sleeps on the top bunk and she’s not tall enough to see that he’s gone, but she’s a smart girl and he’s terrible at keeping secrets…I just expected her to figure it all out by now. So I’ll enjoy it while it lasts. ]

As I was saying, usually our routine goes pretty smoothly. But, every now and then it feels like everything crumbles.

Take this morning for instance: After not falling asleep until after midnight, I woke up with a bad dream at 5:15 a.m. Before I could go back to sleep, Eliza came into the room wide awake. So, I snuck out of the room with her (so she didn’t notice Jamie) and settled her on the couch. My alarm usually goes off at 5:30 so I can start making lunches, become a person, etc. So I made coffee a little bit early and began my day.

At 5:50 a.m. Jamie came out, bleary eyed and upset because he also had had a bad dream.

IMG_3408By 6:15 a.m. we found ourselves here. Two kids playing with Legos, wide awake. I clung to my coffee and read my Bible and they played kindly. E had already gotten herself dressed for the day. At 6:15 in the morning.

I feel like it’s important to pause here and make sure you know something: we don’t leave till 8 a.m. to walk the 3 blocks to school. J doesn’t usually wake up till after 7. Eliza is usually up around 6 or 6:15. Neither kid is dressed till 7:30 or later. None of this was normal.

I usually don’t handle these types of mornings well. I’m not what you would call a morning person, so there’s a reason I wake up before my entire family. It’s good for all of us that mama has an entire cup of coffee before parenting (or being a wife to) anyone.

But to my surprise, peace was rich in our apartment. I was patient. They were kind. We took time to listen to each other. Everyone ate a good breakfast. We made it to school on time. By 8:30 I had picked up the apartment, made my bed, and settled down to work. I even have a little makeup on (preparation for a Zoom call later).

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Nothing. about. this. is. normal.

As I fight through the overwhelming exhaustion behind my eyes, it occurs to me that perhaps I shouldn’t be so surprised by any of this.

I have been praying fiercely for peace lately. There has been a whole lot of difficult in our house as we shepherd the sweet soul of our oldest. He’s grappling with big things, and we’re in the thick of it with him. Exhaustion is our constant companion, grief is rich, chaos sometimes seems unavoidable, peace can seem so distant.

This morning? A tired mama, tired kids, traveling daddy, early wake-ups…and, yet, peace, answered prayer.

I don’t know that I have a point to all of this yet, except to say: sometimes I am so surprised when God answers my prayer that it takes me a while to even notice. This time is no different. Overwhelming exhaustion and all, I am deeply thankful for a faithful God even in the midst of my own faithlessness.

Now that for next cup of coffee.

My name is Amy and I’ve never been pregnant

The moment completely caught me off guard. I was sitting in a room full of 50 or so moms in a Manhattan church classroom.

I had known these women for only a few months and had already enjoyed getting to know them each. They came from different areas in the United States and abroad. They had different stories. But we were all united in the fact that here we were…moms of young kids doing our best to raise those littles in New York City.

Each meeting started the same: after a time of fellowship, we would all sit down and answer some sort of ice breaker question.

“Since all of us have been pregnant, why don’t you each give me your best pregnancy advice,” one of our group leaders (newly pregnant) said.

All of us have been pregnant?

And before I had much time to think of it, tears rushed to my eyes. As discreetly as possible, I looked at my phone with urgency and then left the room as if I had a phone call. Nobody thought anything of it.

It was more than 11 years ago that I had found out getting pregnant might be difficult. And for so long I yearned, I longed, I obsessed over that biological child.

But now, I had two beautiful children at home and had begun to rejoice and delight in the way God had written our story. If you’ve read anything I’ve written over the past few years, you know that I have experienced God’s incredible healing deeply in the midst of my brokenness.

And here I was crying over that infertility that I hadn’t given thought to in years.

But this time it wasn’t that I was crying over the lack of a biological child. I wasn’t weeping the same tears I had many years before.

No, these tears were new. But their source has been my constant companion: Barrenness. 

Barrenness.

This morning I was reading Psalm 113 and I saw something I’d never noticed before

He settles the barren woman in her home as a happy mother of children. Praise the Lord. (Psalm 113:9)

I have become a mom in a very different kind of way. A way that runs straight into the brokenness of our world and embraces the redemption inside of it. A way that walks the tight rope of that brokenness almost every day.

A way that strangers around me have felt free to question. A way that not all of our family members have understood.

A way that has created a very different sort of woman than I was 12 years ago.

A way that, yes, sometimes makes me feel odd and misunderstood when surrounded by more “normal” moms.

And a way that asks me to embrace my brokenness instead of denying it and allow it to be used for the good of others. And, if I’m honest, that sometimes stings.

I cried that day not for the biological child I cannot have. No, I cried that day because I didn’t want to be defined by my barrenness. I wanted to exist outside of it. But, I’m beginning to think God is asking me to instead embrace it. Live in it.

When I walked back into the room that day, I chose not to share what I had just experienced. And I think that was a mistake. Over the last year this group has become a significant source of encouragement for me. Many of them have become dear friends. I should have trusted them then but the truth is, I didn’t want their pity.

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But if I had it to do all over again, I’m thinking I should have stayed in my seat, and when it came to my turn (tears and all) simply said, “I’m Amy and I’ve never been pregnant. And I’m beginning to understand that maybe it’s a gift.”

God’s healing of our hearts began to happen long before we became parents. And it continues to teach me.

My body is broken. But my God is good.

The one where I tell you I’m writing a book

Goodness, gracious friends I’ve got some news.

Brandon and I have signed a contract with Intervarsity Press to co-author our first book together. The topic? Adoption.

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That’s right, my editor / writer husband has just accepted perhaps the most challenging job of his career…writing a book with his wife.

We began working on the proposal and figuring out what a book by us about adoption would look like this past spring. Over one particularly long dinner Brandon and I began to flesh out this project and we had that moment of “we’ve got to write this.”

But we still had to walk the process. It had to pass through multiple committees and receive multiple stamps of approval. Even though Brandon has worked with this particular press on several projects, this was no guaranteed deal. We received helpful critique and concerns along the way.

And ultimately they decided to offer us the deal. We put those signed contracts in the mail today.

And it was all business along the way until we got the offer. Then I froze. I’m talking, sat in a chair and stared at the contract for an hour froze (good thing my kids were watching a movie).

Brandon will have his 6th book in print. I will author my first book. And while I am aware that I am totally riding on his coat-tails, I’m also kind of okay with it. And I’m honored because IVP wanted both of us. My husband, the published-brilliant-known author, AND me, the small-time blogger and mom. We get to write this book together.

IMG_7441Now, Brandon and I are the parents of two young adopted children and we are NOT adoption / parenting experts. This is not the book where we tell you how to do it all. Neither is this the book where we share the nitty-gritty details of our children’s stories. No, those stories are their own and we don’t have a right to blast them to the world. There are lots of other stories bound up in ours, and we don’t want to put dear dear people on display.

No, our hope is that this will be a book about adoption that draws in all the people. Because we believe the adoption narrative has something to teach us all. We have been changed as the parents of our two little people and we want you to be changed, too.

And we realize that in doing this we are stepping right into the fray. If we do this book right we will make a few people uncomfortable and we will probably draw criticism. And, believe me when I tell you, I am terrified. But in the we’ve-got-to-do-this-anyway sort of way.

IMG_0344So here we go.

And I have a request: if you are an adoptive family or birth family would you get in touch with us? We will have some questions for you.

And If you are an adult adoptee (or you know an adult adoptee) can you please please PLEASE please contact us? We feel like your voice isn’t heard enough, we want you to be a part of this project.

Friends, this is a heart project for us. It’s close and we want to handle it with care. We want to inspire and challenge and encourage. We want to give voice to the voiceless and we want to correct some misperceptions.

But, mostly, we want to let you in on what God has done in and through our family make-up. Because it’s good. It’s really really good.

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Because living with an apostrophe can be tricky…

IMG_8982I love a good laugh.

Almost 9 years ago Brandon and I sat in the office of our reproductive endocrinologist to have the first in a series of awkward conversations about our respective reproductive systems. My husband (God bless him) made more than a few quiet comments under his breath that had me laughing under mine.

Because when words like “sperm, uterus, fallopian tubes, etc” are thrown around in front of a giant model of the female reproductive system, jokes really take the edge of.

And Brandon’s ability to find humor in the midst of the less than humorous has always been one of my favorite things about him.

Our journey to adopting our J and E held within it some of the most painful moments of our lives but ultimately led us to deep-in-your-belly kind of laughter. And laughter for us has become a sort of sacred exercise.

Right now there are lots of things happening in our country that aren’t funny. A human rights crisis on our borders has Brandon and me talking seriously about how to be a voice for the voiceless. A young black boy being wrongfully arrested by police simply because of the color of his skin has us crying as we picture our own beautiful boy. Reading a children’s book about Jackie Robinson forced us to engage in conversations at bedtime with our 6 year old (once again) about the tragic history of our country that at one point didn’t allow people that look like him to do something as simple as play baseball.

All of these things bring a different type of heartache. All of them require courage and conviction. Many of them have us in tears. Some of them produce an angry determination to effect change.

Brandon and I attend a church in our neighborhood that is beautifully diverse. Yesterday we prayed over the atrocities happening across our country. With courage and conviction we asked for justice and we prayed for peace and wisdom. We grieved for the families being torn apart, and for the young men and women losing their lives to senseless violence. We heard a sermon about how fighting for diversity (and justice) is a fulfillment of Acts 15. And at the end of all this we sang Good Good Father in Spanish and in English and I found myself with tears in my eyes over the incredible goodness that our God brings.

But you know what else we did? We laughed. We laughed over how some of our members salsa through worship. We laughed over a prank one of our pastors pulled on the other at a recent retreat. We laughed over silly things our children did. We laughed over the mundane. We laughed because that’s what friends do. And because joy in the face of heartache is our special privilege as Christians.

We hope to teach our children many, many things but chief among them we want J and E to laugh. To laugh with joy at the thrill of their life’s adventure. To laugh with humility as they try (and perhaps fail at) new things. To laugh with kindness as they embrace the people around them in the fullness of their uniqueness. To laugh with wisdom (i.e. at the right time) but deep in their belly.

Because laughter heals. A life of true, deep in your belly, laughter produces life.

 

(Simply) Laugh is more than just a blog title. Ultimately, it’s a way of life for us. Wont you join us?

It’s not the way I thought it would be…

…Because sometimes you find yourself living a life that you never imagined.

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This past Friday, I had a rare moment alone to get some errands done. As I walked by myself to the grocery store (coat zipped up, hands in pockets, scarf on, head down), I caught a glimpse of myself in a store window and saw a different woman than I used to be.

Not different in a fundamental sense but different in reality. Different in life.

I’ve been working on a project lately that isn’t ready to share. And I’ve been practicing the discipline of writing, and I’ve been learning the art of deciphering what words are ready for the public and what words are reserved for later. (and I’ve been perhaps putting my editor-husband to his ultimate test…editing his wife’s writing.)

And I keep catching a glimpse of myself in the mirror. A glimpse of a woman with brown hair and no makeup.

A glimpse of a woman prepared for all the city will bring, zig-zagging among pedestrians.

A glimpse of a woman weary and impatient from a day of public transportation with littles.

A glimpse of a woman who is trying her hardest to find the next thing.

A glimpse of a woman with a messy living room and pile of recycling.

A glimpse of a woman who is broken and cracked, but beautiful and whole.

And this woman isn’t exactly who I imagined I’d be. And I don’t mean that in a bad way. Because the truth is, despite my deepest heart’s desire, I never even thought of living in a city like New York. I never could have dreamed how being married for 12 years and a mom for 6 years would have molded, shaped, changed, broken, and strengthened me. I never imagined having the confidence that this woman has to fight for her people and (on her bravest days) pursue her dreams.

And I never knew the courage and sacrifice it would take to slow down and lean in to the children God has graciously placed in my care. To choose the unexpected because it provides safety and security for my oldest.

To choose less productivity because it gives affection to my youngest.

To choose being their mom first over the pursuit of the many desires and passions and professional pursuits.

To choose to see my children fully in the brokenness of their stories but not wholly without the hope of their futures.

Being a woman who is driven, determined, opinionated, cautious, kind, and tender…this is how God created me.

Being an adoptive mom who is slow to talk, quick to listen, fully of mercy and compassion…a white mom who is taking awkward and uncomfortable steps to put my white-ness aside and enter into the brown world of my two loves…a wife who is the ultimate partner in the small things and the biggest things…this is how Christ is re-creating me.

Coming to terms with my brokenness, with the cracks in my appearance, with the lines and wrinkles on my face, with the different-than-expected-but-incredibly-beautiful-life that I get to lead…

Well, this is my journey. What’s yours?

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(very important side note: this post is in no way meant to communicate that moms must put aside their professional dreams for their children. I know and respect lots of moms who have thriving careers because that is exactly where they should be. This is just my personal journey towards different professional goals than I may have planned a few years ago.) 

When a stroller is a sacred symbol

So this week Eliza and I walked our very well loved, but still in excellent condition, Uppababy Vista over to a local ministry that serves families of young children in our neighborhood. I was glad to have helped a family in need but it honestly felt like a real loss.
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My bright yellow Vista has served us well as a family. Both our babies used the bassinet as their first bed. Walks with Jamie as an infant and later with both kids helped me keep my sanity in the haze of baby-hood. The roomy basket could hold bikes and scooters easily and I loved taking it grocery shopping or to the farmer’s market. I had researched WAY too much before settling on this stroller and we did our best to use it as much as possible.

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We moved it to NYC knowing that Eliza was close to outgrowing it. With it, the kids and I explored our neighborhood parks and streets. Jamie rode on the rumbleseat and it was, honestly, one of the few places Eliza felt safe when we were out. I pushed it with ease. It served us well.

Lest you think I’m being paid by Uppababy to promote their high quality strollers 😉 I should probably get to my point….

Our Uppababy has always been more than a stroller to me.

When we were waiting to adopt our first child, our caseworkers had been very intentional about encouraging us to wait to prepare for our baby. Don’t decorate a room…don’t buy all the clothes…don’t have a baby shower…just wait. Everything you need, they explained, you can get when you bring your baby home.

I had watched people close to us walk through the heartbreak of situations falling through. And when a decorated and fully stocked room remained empty, I knew that there was wisdom is not fully preparing. In the end, there is nothing certain about the adoption process, and nothing is a done deal until the judge says it is.

But the fact remained that I was an expecting mother. It’s not just the hormones of pregnancy that make a mama nest. Early on in our process, a fellow adoptive mama told me that one of the hard things about adoption is that you are potentially 9 months pregnant for a long time. Because any day your baby could come. Any day our world could change.

I needed some physical representation of God’s provision. I needed something to hold on to. So I bought a few outfits that were particularly meaningful to me and I kept them hanging in my closet as a symbol of God’s faithfulness to provide, even if I couldn’t see that provision yet. I wore a certain necklace almost everyday that a friend gave to me as a symbol of the faith we all had that God would provide.

We purchased a carseat with money from grandparents and when I found a great deal on our Vista, my parents graciously bought it. And I kept it in the corner of our guest room wrapped with a blanket that some very sweet girls had knitted for me. And over the almost two years that followed, it became a sacred spot in our home.

When people came to visit, I packed it away in the closet. But otherwise, I enjoyed looking at it when I walked past the room. I cried over it when situations fell through. I found myself staring at it when life was overwhelmingly hard. When darkness threatened to swallow me up, this was the physical manifestation of ultimate hope.

Stroller 3And just like the usually-not-so-nice cat that God used to comfort me in the midst of our infertility, this stroller, this tool, this inanimate object, became sacred. After having looked at the stroller for more than a year, when I put Jamie in the bassinet that first night (and checked on him roughly 135 times), it felt as though it was more than a bed. I was wrapping my baby in the longings of my heart. I was placing him to rest, in the prayers of our family and friends, in the generosity of his grandparents. I was, ultimately, laying him on the altar that I had met and worshipped God at for more than a year.

And, of course, the stroller in and of itself, is simply a tool. I always knew, I couldn’t keep it forever. Honestly, I’m glad for the empty space in our apartment, and I can’t think of any better legacy than passing this symbol of God’s faithfulness onto a family in need. Because the Vista is a work horse and has lots of years of use ahead of it.

But, after more than 7 years with it, it feels strange without it.

 

 

The First Noel (thoughts from a lonely Christmas)

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This Christmas it will be just the four of us at home. No traveling, no family visiting. And while we (of course) will miss time with our extended family, we’re more than a little excited to have just the four of us. To form traditions and snuggle and stay in PJs all day. To explore our new city and to serve our neighbors. To make cinnamon rolls and start a new tradition of fish and chips for dinner.

Brandon and I will celebrate twelve years on December 31. And in that 12 years, we have only ever spent 1 Christmas Day with just us, in 2011.

On this particular year, Christmas was on a Sunday. Since we were sticking around, we volunteered to sing the special music at church. We chose The First Noel. And while it wasn’t particularly meaningful to us at the time, it became deeply meaningful to me in the 6 years since.

Why? Well let me back up a little bit.

This was the Christmas before Jamie was born. It had been 5 years since we had first started trying to have our first child. And we were spent. tired. defeated. As we approached that day, we were filled with great longing and sadness. We were exhausted emotionally and my body was exhausted physically.

And one might think (and they would have good reason) that this was the wrong year to choose a quiet Christmas with just the two of us. And it wasn’t our first choice. Brandon’s grandma had passed away earlier that fall and the expense of extra travel meant we didn’t really have the funds (or vacation time) for the Christmas visit. And, if we’re honest, we weren’t emotionally ready for what the Christmas would bring. We missed his grandma and we were grieving her. We were also grieving the four different adoption situations that had looked possible, only to fall through (at various places in the process). We were sad. If we we’re honest, we just couldn’t handle the questions and the pity and all the things.

So we stayed home. We had a quiet and lovely Christmas Eve with my brother and his wife. And then Christmas Day we made plans for it to be just the two of us.

And reflecting on this day, Brandon and I have realized something. This is where our hearts began to heal. On that lonely Christmas we found the hidden beauty of Advent. When you are longing and waiting for something that may or may not come anytime soon, it’s easy to lose hope. And we knew that we could either find God in the midst of where we were or we would crumble under the weight of it. We were too weak to make much of a choice at the time, instead God descended to us. He found us in our overwhelming exhaustion and weakness and He gave us his presence. He soothed our hearts and held our grief so tenderly. And suddenly we began to understand the magic and mystery of that Bethlehem night…The night when God’s people encountered the savior that they probably didn’t think was coming anymore.

He met us. He cradled us. He loved us. We didn’t know at the time, that Jamie was going to be born a few short months later. We didn’t know that God was preparing the answer to our prayers. We didn’t know that a woman sat miles away taking such good care of the baby in her belly. She didn’t know what her future held either. But she made the most selfless and loving choices. I imagine she was scared, but I also like to imagine that she held the same peace that God gave to us. That month of December none of us knew how the story would unfold.

And as I sit here 6 years later with tears in my eyes, now mom of two beautiful children, I just can’t help but thank God for that Christmas. For the tears. For the pain. For the longing and even for the loneliness. For God descending to us and covering us. For giving us a glimpse and a deeper understanding of his coming, of the beauty of the Incarnation…that the Savior of the World would come to the broken and the weak.

And so I leave you with the lyrics of that beautiful hymn.

The first Noel the angel did say 
was to certain poor shepherds in fields as they lay; 
in fields where they lay keeping their sheep, 
on a cold winter’s night that was so deep. 

Refrain:
Noel, Noel, Noel, Noel, 
born is the King of Israel. 

They looked up and saw a star 
shining in the east, beyond them far; 
and to the earth it gave great light, 
and so it continued both day and night.

 

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Raising Little People

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This might be one of my favorite spots in Central Park. And those two little people are for sure the best.

It was a year ago this weekend that Brandon and I visited New York City for the first time. It may come as a surprise that neither of us had been here before, and here we found ourselves not only here, but we were actually exploring whether we could LIVE here. Only a few people knew the reason for our trip, so under the cover of “celebrating our anniversary” a little bit early, we came.

These two pictures were taken before our first visit (on the airplane) and after we’d been here a few months later. 

And what began as an exploratory vacation, turned into a full day of meetings for Brandon and dinner with Brandon’s potential boss that night. We fell in love that weekend and began to walk forward knowing that God was moving us to NYC. And it was totally out of our wildest dreams. We’d dreamed of cities, sure. But never this one. And we knew that God had placed a longing in our hearts for the next thing, but this job carried so much weight and importance and we were a little bit bewildered that Brandon might have the opportunity to use his gifts and abilities this way.

And now here we are one year later. We are in our sixth month. We’ve had dinner with those friends a few times since. We’ve made new ones. Our son has started school. Our daughter has started ballet and become an NYC parks / playground expert. Brandon has flourished in his new job, and I’m (once again) figuring out this whole full-time-stay-at-home-mom thing.

Photo Sep 08, 8 08 25 AMPeople have asked us what it’s like for J and E in our new home. Yesterday on our way home from picking J up from school, E brought them each a matchbox car. And they rolled those cars on every building and fence that we passed. A three block walk to the subway which normally takes 10 minutes took us 25. Because they were moving at their own pace. And as they passed each person they received sweet smiles and more than a few chuckles. A few people played along with their game. They made it onto the subway where people went out of their way to make sure they could sit together with me. And they continued to talk and laugh.

IMG_6726Earlier that day Eliza played in a sandbox with a friend (while I had some much needed adult conversation that friend’s mom) and she negotiated sand toys with a few other kids in the box, too. (There are sandboxes everywhere in NYC and everybody comes with the expectation that toys will be shared). Parents sat on the side and taught our little people how to ask politely and share what they had with those around them. We laughed as they snatched toys away. Kids are kids everywhere. But in a large city they have to learn to be citizens from a young age.

 

Raising little kids in the city has it’s challenges. But every time a person offers to carry my stroller or heavy load up the stairs (9/10 a person of color…but that’s a conversation for another day), and every time the vendors on the street smile and talk to and laugh at Eliza…I am so thankful for where we live. I’m thankful for the way I am forced to teach my children that quiet voices and quiet feet are not only a good idea in general, but they help us show kindness to our neighbors. That our plans have to be flexible as we move from point A to point B. And that you can do more than you think (like stand for 25 minutes on the subway when there are no seats to be had). I love that my children have already learned how to balance their bodies when the subway comes to a stop (without holding on) and that they naturally reach for my hand when getting on or off.

I love the sympathetic smiles and even pats I get when my sweet littlest person is throwing a fit. And I love the proud nods J gets when he pushes his way through a crowd to get off the train (saying a very loud but very polite “Excuse me” the whole way).

Now don’t get me wrong, I don’t love being corrected on my parenting in public (yeah, that’s happened a few times). I don’t always love the lack of privacy when my kids desperately need a private “let’s get it together” conversation. And somedays are downright exhausting as I teach my sensory sensitive daughter to navigate a city that overwhelms those senses on the regular.

But this city has a way of sneaking into your heart. And the charm of our city and our neighborhood specifically does my heart good.

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Today is a quiet day with Eliza. Jamie has sports after school, so we wont pick him up till late. So we’ve watched a movie and now she’s quietly playing trains. I’m going to make us both some lunch soon and then play with my baby in her room for a little before rest time.

And then I’m going to read and be lazy because allergies are kicking my tail and after a the food poisoning I had earlier in the week, I’m exhausted and definitely need a little bit of a rest.

Tomorrow we will go explore a new spot with J and E and we will do most of our parenting in front of 1000 of our closest friends. 😉 And it will be frustrating at times but we’re also learning to laugh at ourselves and take it for what it is.

And we will come home exhausted and put our kids to bed early (most likely) and watch a movie and eat something terrible for us. And it will be lovely.

When the story finds you

File Oct 29, 2 37 01 PM

Fort Tryon park is incredibly beautiful. 

Today I got a few minutes to myself. So, I sat on a bench in Fort Tryon park with my daughter’s tulip pen and my son’s hedgehog notebook, and I took a stab at some things.

I’ve been wondering lately if I have anything to say — anything unique to contribute to the blogosphere.

Over the last few years, my self-confidence has taken a beating. Four years ago, I arrived in our new home in Arkansas full of purpose, full of God’s goodness. I was tired and spent but happy. I had a beautiful 18 month old and a wonderful husband. We were greeted by family and community.

We were an hour from some of our dearest friends and we had a holy sense of where God had us.

And the four years we spent there were full of good things. We brought home our daughter, we bought our first house, Brandon launched a huge project. We had college students in our home, we hosted holidays and community group. Our children made sweet friends. Our son learned to ride his bike. We did valuable work. We had the best neighbors ever and made wonderful new friends.

But, dear friends, I was crumbling. I struggled to find my place. And in the midst of a PCOS diagnosis and a few different health issues — I watched myself slip away. I smiled and I made friends–but I couldn’t give my whole self. I taught and I mentored but I felt increasingly alone.

And all the while I lost weight and then I gained weight. My hair began to fall out, my pain increased. I cried (oh, how i cried!!). I cried because I was lonely, I cried because of pain. I cried when doctor’s couldn’t give me answers. I cried when the answers became a little too overwhelming. I cried when my hormones wouldn’t let me do anything else. I cried when I wasn’t invited. I cried when I felt overwhelmed.

I began to forget things. I felt like only a part of myself.

And I resented our home.

And as someone who processes by writing, I was in a hard place because I couldn’t write about it. I didn’t want to wound the people that I loved and I didn’t know how to talk about this all without it.

For many months I blamed that place for my unhappiness.

But while that context brought a lot of hard, it wasn’t to blame.

The last six months in NYC have brought breathing room. And I have begun to embrace the broken pieces of me. In Arkansas I had come face to face with my faults. I sunk into depression. But without a community around me to point me to help, I retreated into myself.

 

I saw my weaknesses daily. And I felt rejected because of them.

And while a lot of the hard was beyond my control ….I am coming to terms with my own responsibility.

I made it hard for friendships to form. I made it hard for my husband to love me. I made it hard for people to get to know the real me.

 

All that to say, here’s the punch line.

When we arrived in Arkansas I had begun to find my voice. And four years later, in losing myself, I am finding my message. And it’s one woven in brokenness. And it’s one that isn’t all for the public.

Some of it is for my husband. Some of it is for my kids and my dear friends and family. And some of it is for you, my dear readers. And I don’t really know where all the pieces live just quite yet. And I’m doing my darnedest not to jump ahead.

Because now I find myself in a city I never imagined but have already come to love… building community with a diverse and incredible group of people.

People who have already challenged and acknowledged my gifts and abilities. People who have stretched and challenged me. People who have asked me to minister in ways I haven’t been invited to in awhile.

I have already stepped out of my comfort zone.

And I’m happy. Not because I’ve found any magic bullet but because I came to the end of myself, I survived, and I am now walking forward in God’s grace towards whatever He has for me.

And I realize that none of that is really a punchline, and maybe that’s because there isn’t one…yet. Because maybe this is when the real adventure starts to get good. Maybe.

So, thanks for reading. You guys are swell. I realize I come to you with a lot of personal revelations and I appreciate your journeying through them with me. And for anyone wondering how the O’Brien 4 are managing…here are a few snapshots.

Oh, and for those who have prayed with me for J and have prayed for our family as a whole…goodness, gracious I am so thankful for you.

So enjoy.

 

Oh…one more very important thing. I would be remiss if I didn’t acknowledge a whole lot of people.

To the dear friends formed in Arkansas – I am so thankful for you. For fancy dinners and kid’s birthday parties and afternoons by the pool. 

To those girls who came into my home each week and invited me to speak and to love you and to mentor you – I am still incredibly honored and blessed by you. So very proud of the women you have blossomed into an the adventures you have gone on. You were a true lifeline.

To the women who wrestled and talked through Race and Reconciliation with me. I am still learning from each of you. Seriously. 

And to Pediatrics Plus. I wasn’t with you for long and sometimes I worry that I did more harm than good. But I am continually thankful for the opportunity you gave me to work and to use my gifts. To mess up and to fix it. To lead and to guide. You deepened my understanding of the value of a soul. And I am forever changed by the good work that you do.