Wednesday, September 30, 2015

This moment. This one right here. I can't even describe it. Two years ago today.

There is nothing in the world like it. In a split second everything changes. The photos you've plastered on the walls of your home and poured over in your prayers come to life. A little voice rises up, and eyes blink back at you. Skin melts upon contact, lighting up nerves you never knew you had. Ones that lead straight to your heart and tear ducts. An embrace can never last long enough, smell and touch fade away as this unlikely bond is cemented into existence. 

Its a moment that can't be undone. 

As quickly as it begins, time interrupts. The interactions come- revolt, confusion, tears, resignation. Its just the beginning, but its your beginning. The one you've been waiting for. And the one he needs to start making sense from the sea of chaos that has ruled the beginning of his life. 

The only problem is that he is not quite convinced that he needs this new beginning. After a while the tears subside, maybe because he's starting to feel safe with you or maybe he's just lost the strength to cry. Either way, you begin to find your rhythm.

Along the way, I recall having a really difficult conversation with someone close to me. Asked how I could ever love a child who wasn't really "mine," I froze. I didn't have an answer, wasn't sure what it meant for a child to be "mine", but was convinced that none of it wouldn't matter. A few years later, on the day I met Jephté, that belief was confirmed. I could not possibly love this child any more. 

But that's not to say that this journey has been easy. Because there have been days that have felt impossible. Many of them, quite honestly. And these are only the days from my perspective. Had his little fifteen month old self had the capacity, I'm sure there would be scores of stories to share about the challenge of adjusting to life with me! I'm sure, with time, these stories will still come. 

I remember one evening in particular. Mike had just left Kinshasa, Jephté and I were on our own. The hotel we were staying in was a long, narrow building of connected suites. Though the doors were closed and locked, there was this sliver underneath, sitting right above the hard tile floor. It was hardly enough to let a cockroach scurry under, but it was plenty sufficient for sound waves to carry from one room to the next. The day before, my neighbor had been a fellow adoptive mom with a two year old son. We were well suited as neighbors, but that morning she had left and a professional business woman had moved in. She was nice enough but didn't seem too keen on children. She was Congolese, her English was quite good as she greeted me on the porch that afternoon. There was no denying she thought me crazy, utterly confused why I would trek across the globe to adopt a child. 

I quieted Jephté that evening, especially aware of my neighbor's presence and wanting to prove that I  had things under control. We followed our routine of dinner- which he didn't like, bath time- which he mostly hated, a shea butter massage- which he was intrigued by, and bed time snuggles- which were foreign and strange. He had fussed and fidgeted, unwilling to fall asleep. When he finally did, his head was at the foot of the bed, his limbs sprawled haphazardly taking up the entire middle section. I dared not move him and found sliver of mattreess to wedge myself onto. Partway through the night, I felt him wriggling around. But the closer I got to him, the more he pushed me away. I laid there in the dark, feeling so helpless. Suddenly, I felt his weight shift and heard a sickening thud. He had rolled out of bed and smacked his face on that hard tile floor. It was well after midnight, the compound was still and silent. Well, silent save the blood curdling screams coming from my son. The more I held him, the more he pushed me away. Knowing that the shrieks were echoing under the door, into my neighbor's room, I slipped out the front door, into the night. Tears streamed down my face, I wondered if I had made a mistake trying to make this child my son. 

The dawn hours lingered on, raindrops fell from the sky, and i walked circles up and down the driveway trying to quiet my broken little boy. Something passed between us. I had stayed with him through the night, through the pain. It was a small gesture, but it gave him another reason to trust me. And in the light of day, the truth came back- despite my fears in the dark, the morning reminded me that we had become family. Through my exhaustion and frustration, I was more devoted to this child than ever before. It was a fierce storm, but we had survived despite the bruised and bloodied face, rain plastered pajamas, complete lack of sleep and irritated neighbors.

I guess that's what I want to remember tonight on this anniversary. Even when it feels like the storm might overcome us, it will only take us to the edge where we find resolve and forge our bond all the more. Nalingi yo mon fils, Jephté. 


Friday, September 18, 2015

Two little boys call me mama. At age three and two and a half, you would think I've had my fill of little boy antics. But there are some gaps. I've never been a mother to a nine month old, or a ten month old, or an eleven month old. I've never celebrated a first birthday or cheered for first steps. I missed both of their first haircuts and first Christmases. 

When Moses reached all those milestones, some orphanage workers took them in, if they were even noticed in the chaos. When Samuel met them, I was on the other side of the globe trying to bring his brother home through a maze of adoption bureaucracy. My husband, family, and friends stood in my place. I took in those timeless moments over bad skype connections and photo streams in a lonely hotel room.
So there’s this little empty spot, a space where I wonder what it’s like to see your baby walk for the first time. To buy him a pair of shoes, not because they’re cute, but because he actually needs them. To make him a birthday cake and let him smash it with his fists. To watch the moment he changes from an infant to a boy with the snip of scissors. To watch his delight at the wrapping paper, unconcerned with the gift as his eyes twinkle like the Christmas lights.

At the beginning of this year, two little pink lines gave me the hope that I would have a chance to experience those things I had missed. September 14th was the due date, a chance to start again and take in all those moments so sacred to motherhood. But it was a chance that ran out of time when her heart stopped beating. We named the baby Charis, trusting that God would give us the grace we so desperately needed. We had done this twice already, we had found grace before, but naming her allowed us to embrace it yet again.

I woke up on the fourteenth of September thinking that it should’ve been a joyful day, the sorrow revisited. I longed for what was lost. But I also found peace, I was carrying new life. A life that had a perfect and strong heartbeat. A life that would join us early next spring. God had delivered his grace to us.

To even write the next few sentences of the story seems unreal. Like somehow I just needed to startle myself awake for September 15th and everything would still be fine. But I couldn’t. My body was very much trapped, fighting against nature, desperately clinging to the child I didn’t want to give back to its maker. I lost. This baby slipped away from me and the emptiness settled in.

Lying on the floor I wanted to scream out, “Why? Why couldn’t I keep this one? Why do you keep taking them from me?” But then there was another voice, quiet and gentle. “Haven’t I met you in this before? Haven’t I been enough? Haven’t I given you good gifts?”

I won’t pretend that the second voice drowns out the first. But it is the second voice that gives me hope. The one that helps me believe we will flourish again. It’s the voice that lets me rejoice with friends when their babies enter the world. It’s the voice that compels me to keep loving my husband, knowing that this tragedy might strike again. It’s the voice that encourages me to share the experience, knowing that someone might need to hear Him a little more clearly because this particular emptiness can feel so isolating. It’s the voice reminding me that sometimes brokenness and heartbreak is part of the gift.

A reminder that these lives entrusted to me are not just a compilation of experiences to marvel at. Maybe in missing those sacred moments, I received gifts I didn’t expect. Maybe in the disappointment, I’ve learned to relinquish control. Maybe in the mourning, I’ve experienced the comfort of His presence. Maybe in the separation, I’ve learned how to pray for my boys with fervency. Maybe in the sorrow, I’ve discovered empathy. Maybe I’m learning gratitude in a way I didn’t understand before. Maybe God is drawing me closer to his heart, like I’ve prayed for my whole life. Maybe he’s taking me deeper than my feet would ever wander, because I’ve asked Him to. Maybe the tears wash the scales from my eyes so I can see Him more clearly.

I’ve come to the conclusion that the gift is much more complex than I dare to admit. And I think that’s good, because it means my God is big enough to hold all this pain and disappointment and still give love and comfort in ways so far beyond my comprehension. He sees what I don’t. He loves all six of my children more than I ever could. And He draws me, inviting me to experience intersections of Heaven and Earth in the most profound ways. He gives me grace to hold the tension between the joy and the disappointment, the hope and the pain, the already and the not yet. Sometimes I get to experience those special firsts in motherhood, but sometimes the sacred moments are the ones that show up in every day life. The ones I notice because I've learned how to fight for them through the storms and search them out in the quiet. 

So when that first voice thunders, "why? why? why?" my soul is anchored in what I've learned from the second voice, His voice. The voice reminding me to hold fast to the hope that one day all of my children and I will meet in the most sacred of moments, gathered together in the presence of our God.


Wednesday, September 2, 2015

I wrote this to a former student. She's suffered a devastating injury keeping her from the thing she loves most- soccer. Her potential ride through college and life giving passion. I know for most people reading this blog, soccer isn't a defining quality of life. But there might be something else. A failure. A disappointment. And I think the message is the same to each of us. We are the sum of our parts. Even fifteen years out of high school, I sometimes still need these words.

  *   *   *

You are not defined by one thing.
You may feel controlled at this moment,
but I think that power is subjective.
I know your ACL teases and taunts you.
Mocking you with the dawn of each day.
It floods you with doubt and disappointment.
Questioning what might have been,
instead rendering you immobile and frozen.
It feels that more than your leg that is frozen.
But it will thaw, if you let it.
The damaged muscle that laughs at your hopes and dreams-
well, its really only a muscle.
You may beat is back into submission.
But you also might not.
Sometimes life is strange like that.
Sometimes the things we were so sure of
unexpectedly fail us,
leaving a big empty space for something new.
I don't know what your new is.
I don't know if its still soccer, but with a new trick or maneuver,
easing on one muscle group to find strength in another.
I don't know if your days on the field are done.
But what I do know is that you are a sum of your parts,
not defined by one skill in your vast arsenal.
You are a student, curious and determined.
Always pushing ahead, forging your way,
drinking your success down like a cup of cold water after a hard practice.
You are a friend. Loyal and kind. Generous and compassionate.
A teammate in the truest sense of the word,
celebrating with the victors, grieving with the brokenhearted,
embracing life alongside those you call friend.
You are a sister, a strong and worthy role model.
You encourage and love and set the course for those following behind you.
You are a daughter, beloved and cherished.
not because of your skills, but because of who you are.
You embody each of these qualities fully,
yet not one of them defines your fully.
As the years pass, so many more roles will be added to this list.
And with each season some will dominate and some will fade.
But none of them will ever go away completely.
My hope for you is that this season will reveal a new inner strength
one you never know you possessed.
A fire that doesn't just get you back on the field,
but one that gets you through life.
Through graduations and college exams.
Through heartbreak and disappointment.
A fire that makes you even more empathetic toward others,
a fire that stirs you to find your place in the world.
A place where you can grow and flourish.
Where you can touch the lives of others with your contagious spirit.
Where you can do good and bring hope.
Where your name will also be your message to the world,
Nayeli, Zapotec for I love you.
You are strong, you are formidable.
Give yourself grace.
Give yourself space to grieve your loss.
But let it make you stronger.
You are more.

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