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.

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.

 

 

It came in like a wrecking ball…

Okay, that’s a bad title. I’ll admit to that. But there is something tender I’ve been processing for a while. And, well, I may just be brave enough to write about it. Or, you know, I may not. We’ll have to see.

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Brandon and I parent two amazing children. There is not a single day that I am not thankful that I get to be a part of their story. That I get to be the one to hold them and love them and encourage them and direct them. That I get to build never-ending Lego creations and pillow forts. That I get to kiss boo boos and talk about being kind to each other. I love being their mom. So much that it frequently makes me cry.

But, there is also not a day that goes by that I am not acutely aware of the pain with which their story began. Because I was not their first mother. I am their complete mother, but I am not the only and I am not the first. (And I would appreciate no one arguing with me on this point. I don’t tolerate disparaging words about birthparents).

Lately I’ve been having a recurring nightmare that one or both of my kids are taken from me. And it has nothing to do with the “dangers” of the city. No, I feel way safer in a city than I feel out in the middle of the country (just ask Brandon). 

And to an extent it is a normal fear for any parent. Except our family was not formed in the “normal” way. If the world was not a broken place, my children would not have needed my home. Therefore, their pain is the reason I am their mother. And more than 5 years in, I can’t even write that sentence without tears.

IMG_5269Now, for our beautiful, spunky, brave daughter we have pictures and stories and actual real people who made a brave decision for her good. We have evidence of love in the midst of the brokenness. We have people she will meet and talk to and hear from one day. And her story begins with pain but it gets to redemption a whole lot quicker. But the pain. The pain is still there. Don’t think for a moment that it’s gone away. She and her birth family feel this pain.

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But let me tell you about my J. My sweet, amazing, beautiful boy. His pain is different than Eliza’s. And his pain sometimes bursts forth with quiet intensity that knocks us off our feet.

Our sweet boy left a whole network of friends back in Arkansas. Friends he loved. Friends he would boss around (let’s just be honest about that). And friends that loved him just as much as he loved them. Jamie didn’t lack confidence. He had it in abundance. He made friends out of strangers everywhere we went. He loved deeply and fully. He couldn’t get enough of people. He had a quiet confidence.

And then we changed his whole world. And, guess what? He loved it. Because if you know my son, you know that he LOVES adventure. And this adventure came with more time with mom & dad, and with airplanes and subways and buses…all the things he loves best.

But one day on the playground (the one right by our house) another kid was quite mean to Jamie. And that combined with the total life change was the spark for trauma to come crashing in. Since that day, something has changed in my boy. What was once confidence is now hesitancy. What was once peace is now anxiety. What was once a plethora of friends is now a mom, dad, and little sister.

Now don’t get me wrong, J is still creative and adventure seeking. He is still brave and willing to try new things. But now he does not approach other kids to become their friend. He does not leave his sister’s side at the playground. He meets his world with anxiety.

Photo Jun 16, 2 18 24 PMAnd on more than one occasion I have rocked my baby boy to sleep while he wept. And this is not my J. Except that it is. My beautiful boy has pain so deep that even his own mother forgets that it’s there. Until it comes in and wrecks us all.

You see, for a child who is formed with pain and trauma…this is how they handle their world. Our job as his parents is to teach him how to handle feelings that are too big to express. Feelings and emotions that 5 year olds just shouldn’t have. And, friends, don’t get me wrong. I know that a lot of this is just the nature of change. I know that boys are emotional. But I also know that this is something deeper. Because our journey together started with pain: My pain, their pain, their birth family’s pain. And there is far too much evidence that shows how this sort of pain totally devastates a child.

And, can I just be honest for a second? Society doesn’t make it easy for adoptive parents. Seriously. Society sometimes makes this all WAY harder than it needs to be. I mean, don’t get me wrong, for the most part, I like society. We get along. But I’m becoming weary of the way our family is so openly questioned.  Whether in Arkansas or New York City (or everywhere in between), we are viewed with a little more skepticism. Our motives are suspect. Our methods are scrutinized (down to the type of music we play for our children). We are watched.  And don’t even get me started on the comments. Well meaning or not, everyone has an opinion about our family and for whatever reason they feel free to share it. Many are positive. Many are intentionally not and they are said loudly enough for us to hear and to field disapproval. Because of our family’s makeup, we bear the weight of a lot of agendas. And sometimes it feels like too much.

So what do I do? I weep with my strong boy. I weep that he will have to answer more difficult questions than many of his peers. I weep because he won’t even have to question his identity on his own…society will do that for him. He will have to account for decisions beyond his control. And I feel his anger and his frustration. I share it with him. Because that’s my job.

And I trust that this too shall pass? Why? Because we’re facing it. And it’s messy and hard and difficult, but we’re handling it.

So where do we go from here? I’m hoping to write a blog post very soon with a lot more practical advice and do’s / do not’s for people. But, in the meantime, here are my two pieces of advice for two different groups of people who didn’t ask….

  • Fellow parents of kids from hard places: Stop what you’re doing and grieve with your child. Seriously, hold them and cry with them. Listen to them. Even a 5 year old can tell you what they need (which is why I’m about to stop this blog posting and play Legos). And, reach out to your surrounding community. Emotional breakdowns don’t come up naturally in conversation, so it can become isolating when it happens. Don’t let it be. Text those who get it, text those who may not “get it” but love you best. I waited too long to do this but when I finally did, a flood of encouragement came in. And while they didn’t offer practical “fix it right now” solutions (those don’t exist anyway), and while many of them may not have understood, they made me feel less crazy and gave me permission to just cry it out and then to take the next right step.
  • Those watching from the outside (i.e. friends or family of those with adopted kids): Listen to the concerns being offered. And just let them be concerns. I can’t tell you how many times well meaning members of my community have tried to explain away my concern by downplaying it…it leads to more isolation, not encouragement. The times people listen, and simply allow me to be worried. Those are the times I leave encouraged. Also, unless you are a very good friend or family member…it’s probably best not to comment. I have never ended a day wishing I’d had more comments from strangers about the makeup of my family. When in doubt, just smile and move on.

And, so, I have full confidence that this story ends well. Because it has already been so good! So today and tomorrow we will take one step forward and rejoice in the small things. We will make cookies. We will stare right back at those people who stare at us and we will speak with boldness (and kindness!) to those who question us. And, above all, we will give grace to all because we all have missteps. We will continue to laugh about the fact that our skin is so beautifully different. We will talk seriously about how Jamie will have to behave differently than some of his friends (not just because of his color but also because of mine).

And we will continue to enjoy our family. We will build forts, visit museums, try new foods, make new friends, and continue to explore this beautiful city we have the privilege of living in.

Because what’s the answer to the brokenness? It isn’t ignoring it. It’s choosing joy in the midst of it. It’s choosing mercy right in the mess. And that’s where Jesus is, friends. Right there in the midst of the mess.

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Our new home

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The view outside our living room window. It’s my favorite.

Well friends, it’s been a month…One full month we have lived in New York City. A month full of subways and parks and long walks and Central Park and church visits and meeting new friends. It’s been full of new noises and quiet feet in the apartment and learning that NYC is extremely (I mean, EXTREMELY) hot in the summer.  It’s been a month already full with all the foods (Dominican, Thai, Chinese, Malaysian, Dim Sum, Indian, pizza, hot dogs, BAGELS).

And it’s been full of new things for each of us.

For me that means learning to be at home full time with the kids again. Fighting those feelings of insignificance, trying not to nag about the little things, AND being content in things being less than perfect. I’ve learned the joys of groceries delivered and sending your clothes out to be washed and folded and brought back. Also, it means reading more…because social media does weird things to your brain AND to your heart and I really need to lay off. 

For J and E…well they’re learning to walk with quiet feet and to be aware of their surroundings. And that screaming in public is never a good idea. J has already become a subway and street walking expert. E…well, she’s very content in her stroller and we’re happy to keep her there a little while longer. The kids have learned that every park either has a sand pit or splash pad (or both!) and that they can share their toys with all the other kids. And the best day is when someone brings water balloons to share with everyone else. And, if you walk your bike to the park, you have to walk it back…even if you’re throwing a giant tantrum at the time.

Brandon has figured out the transit system and has jumped in to a new job with a new organization. Oh, and he’s also secured another book contract. Because, why not write another book or two in the midst of a big family transition.

So what’s the verdict? We kind of love it here. We’re enjoying the noise. We’re LOVING the parks. We can’t get enough of Central Park. We’ve found a school for J that seems ideal for him. We’ve met neighbors in our building that have kids the same age. We’ve visited a lot of great churches who are doing tremendous ministry in and around the city.

We even have a new family hand shake developed by J and taught to all of us. AND it turns out I actually can rock a hat.

And there you have it. The O’Brien 4 are happy and thriving and tired and all the things. We’re eager to make friends and find our church. We love who Brandon works with. And we love walking and exploring.

So what’s next? More family Central Park visits, more subway rides, more adventures, exploring the great areas around the city…and continuing to fall in love with this grand place.

Here are a few shots for your enjoyment.

But am I enough?

 

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The past few months I have gone to sleep exhausted. It’s been one of those seasons. Every night I’ve been woken up 2-3 times. Sometimes for my baby just needing a quick pat. But, more often than not from my almost 4 yr old having night mares.

He’s scared and calls my name. I go and pat him and sing to him and pray for him. Then I get back in bed in a heap of exhaustion. And eventually, at about 5 a.m. he ends up in bed with me. I swore I’d never be that mom. But, when your child is terrified, you do what comforts them.

And, in the end, when you’re waking up every 2 hours, you do what allows you to sleep.

So, the past few months I have gone to sleep exhausted.

That is, when I’ve been able to go to sleep.

But I haven’t been able to fall asleep. Despite my exhaustion, my mind and my body are conspiring against me, and sleep does not come. I lay there for 2 hours awake. Thinking, imagining, praying…

(Disclaimer: Before anyone offers any medical advice, there are valid, medical reasons I can’t fall asleep. My doctor knows. We’re working on it. 😉 )

In these painfully quiet, frustrating, and exhausting moments a question circles my mind.

Can I do this? Am I really enough? 

Jamie has needed me more lately. He’s needed more attention. He’s needed more affection. He’s needed more time. He’s needed more discipline. More boundaries. More snuggles. More eye contact. More mercy. More compassion.

He’s needed more me. 

And I fail continuously. I fail to see the need behind the tantrum. I fail to see the desire for connection behind the disobedience. I fail to hand out mercy as much as I hand out consequences.

I fail. And, as I lay in bed for a few hours every night, tears fill my eyes and I wonder if I have the strength. If I can be all that he needs.

Am I really enough? 

Until last night.

Last night, I got in bed. I laid awake. I cried. I got discouraged.

And then I heard another voice. A voice that had been missing. A voice that I desperately needed.

A voice that has felt distant, separate, far away.  

A still, small voice that simple said:

I see you. 

And as I got up early with my alarm, earlier than my tired body wanted, it echoed.

I see you. 

As I sat under a blanket and drank my coffee…

I see you. 

As I read my Bible (we’re in Leviticus these days)

I see you. 

And, as I heard the pitter patter of little feet come down the hallway…

I see you. 

Friends, I don’t have some grand treatise this morning on motherhood. No advice for those who are in similarly exhausting seasons. No grand theologies to carry us through.

Just this simple truth: Our God sees us. He knows us. He’s with us. He’s in the messy. He’s in the complicated. He’s with the sleep deprived and the well rest. The encouraged and discouraged. He’s there in the mundane and the knock your socks off.

If I’m honest, there’s a lot of life right now that has me questioning whether I am enough. It’s not just motherhood. And I need this truth more than ever.

The Lord your God is in your midst,
    a mighty one who will save;
he will rejoice over you with gladness;
    he will quiet you by his love;
he will exult over you with loud singing.

Zephaniah 3:17 

He sees us.

(And He also gave us coffee. 😉

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A pair of basic brown flip flops.

Today, dear friends, I suffered a loss. One month ago, we brought home a new dog from the shelter. She’s awesome, her name is Romy and we love her.

Before you worry, she’s still alive.

But, today she chewed up my favorite pair of flip flops. Obliterated them, rendered them useless. After 8 years of wearing this more than any other shoe in my closet, they’re gone. I’ll be honest, I was definitely bummed and a little sad. The struggle is real.

Now, while most of you may not understand the depth of my grief over this beautiful pair of basic brown flip flops, I’ve got someone in my corner. Jamie, our 3 yr old, really felt where I was coming from. He hugged me, patted me on the back, and talked about how sorry he was that my shoe was gone. He was sad. Truly sad.

And this got me thinking. I think we could learn a lot from Jamie’s response. Not about shoes, mind you. I mean, it’s a pair of shoes. And, if I’m honest I loved them so much because they were cheap AND lasted 8 years. But they will be replaced. They’re no big deal.

So, if not about shoes, then what?

What I loved about Jamie’s response is that he was sad purely and completely because I was sad. He has no attachment to the shoes. (If he had his way, I would wear my bright red heals every day.) No, this wasn’t about the shoe for him.

This was about his mama. His main love.

When someone around us is grieving, we often try to first put ourselves in their shoes, in order to muster up a reason to grieve. Or, we offer commentary on the validity of their grief. Or advice to avoid it in the future.

Whatever we do, why isn’t our first response to just feel sad. Why? Because someone we love is sad. End of story. Who cares about the reason? Who cares if we understand?

In the end, isn’t this what the grieving among us really want? They just want you to come alongside, admit that this sucks, and allow them to cry. Will there be time for advice? Sure (though not as soon as we often think). Space for empathy? Absolutely. Room for commentary? Well, probably not.

But the first thing that needs to happen is grieving with those who grieve. Mourning with those who mourn.

And our preschoolers among us, can probably show us exactly how this works.