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our babies' mothers

the crib - which Noah willingly assembles as needed for a flat fee of five dollars

I've been quiet here lately.  We spent this past weekend switching around our girls' bedrooms and getting ready for "the baby."  We moved the two older girls together and set up Miss P in the room she'll share with "the baby." All the girls are happy in their new arrangements, and we now have an assembled crib ready for "the baby."  And the rooms are now known as the "big girls" room and the "little girls" room.

It's a bit surreal to wait for a foster placement.  There is a strange mix of anticipation and excitement - combined with the knowledge that you are really anticipating someone else's world falling apart.  With the two babies we've had with us before, I was able to form a relationship with their birthmothers over the months that we worked together.  In both cases, I will never forget my first meetings with them (they call it the "ice breaker meeting", but it should really be called the "figure out a way to connect and reassure this grieving mother in the span of ten minutes that you really will do everything in your power to help her succeed as a mom and that you will protect and love her baby with everything in you" meeting) when they were fighting back tears, clearly terrified and heartbroken, and having no choice but to let their little one leave with a stranger.  In both cases, they were caught up in circumstances that were much, much bigger than themselves.  So knowing that someone's world is moving toward that moment where someone steps in and takes their baby from them is a sad weight.  We've all had those moments, haven't we?  Where it feels like the entire world shifts under us and we aren't sure how we can continue.  I may not ever reach a place where someone takes my child from me, but I can still remember those terrifying, world-shifting moments and imagine what this baby's mother is experiencing.

In a sense, I feel like we have a unique advantage in being able to approach a relationship with our foster babies' mothers - we aren't seeking adoption, we aren't "hoping" they fail, we aren't holding out for termination of their parental rights, we aren't waiting for the other shoe to drop.  We can freely hope and pray that they receive the help they need, that they succeed in their treatment plans, that they seek out support and community, that they are able to decide and participate in whatever future is best for their baby.

In general, I spend time with these moms twice a week when I bring the babies for their visits - time we are able to spend communicating about their child.  Over time, as we begin to trust each other, it becomes a team effort and we even begin to build a sense of being on the "same side."  I really look forward to that aspect of this next placement.  I've enjoyed getting to know our babies' mothers.  I think of them often.  As I wait for our placement call, I also wait to meet this baby's mother and wonder about the ways I can reach out to her during what will likely always be one of her life's most terrifying and world-shifting times - I pray that we can build a sense together of being on the same side.


it takes a village...to foster a baby


it takes a village...to foster a baby

Hello!  I haven't been here in a while. We've been enjoying our kids and making some decisions - and - deep breath...

We have gone back on the call list for an infant foster placement.  And, get ready, because in just a few paragraphs, we're asking for help.

Being four placements into our foster care journey, we have begun to understand what kind of support we need in order to bring another baby to our home.  At the end of our last baby's placement with us, seven months ago, we (our whole family) had reached a tipping point.  To say that we were all feeling pulled, stretched, and wrung out would be an understatement.

We knew that we weren't done with foster care (especially since we had our then-five-year-old foster daughter already in our home for the long term).  But we were nearly ready to give away the the crib, the high chair, the baby bath - and all of the other baby items that are filling space in the basement.  Yet we both felt like we might not be done with them - as tired as we were and as frayed around the edges as our family was feeling, we didn't feel like we had the green light from above to get rid of all the baby things.

I've reflected and prayed since last spring (when I was able to meet with the president of Project 127 for a personal "building a support team" session) over what our family would need to have in place in order to care for babies in our home again.  And here is what I realized we need.

We need help.

While the work of fostering a baby falls mainly on mom, there are a lot of external factors that impact everyone. Our children become part of the team caring for this little one.  They give a lot, and it requires a lot of them.

It usually means adding in two parent visits a week (which becomes a significant added relationship all on its own), caseworker visits, court dates, administrative review dates, doctor appointments, WIC appointments - this is on top of our already significant appointment load that comes with having one other foster child and several children with medical needs. It's not unheard of, when we have a baby with us, to have eight appointments among our kids in one week.  And, of course, there are all of the other normal duties that come with a baby - the biggest one being those middle of the night feedings.  I admit those were a lot easier when I was in my twenties.  So with the added load on mom's plate, everyone else's plates shift as well.  Our kids need to contribute more and learn to give extra grace all around.  And Greg's job responsibilities and long workdays don't lighten just because there is a baby in the house.

On the flip side, we've also found that a baby adds so much to our family as well.  For some of our kids, academics and behavior and medical issues are a daily struggle that can leave them feeling "different" or "less than" - but they clearly shine in caring for babies.  And, quite honestly, it can give them a break from being the youngest, or the neediest, or the noisiest (and so on) - allowing them to give to someone littler and needier and noisier than they are.




So as we let our agency and counties know that we are open, we are praying for a couple of very specific things to resource our family for this step.  We have learned in recent years that to parent our kids well, particularly as a "large-ish" adoptive and foster family, we need to be very intentional about planning and providing for pockets of individual time with each of our children and in seeking out ways they can be supported by relationships outside of our family as well.  We have to do this on the front end - not when we find ourselves in the middle of crisis mode.

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So here it is - the help part.

For our family to foster well - we really, really (really) need:

A couple, family, or individual for each of our other kids who will commit to that kid specifically - to pray for them, to reach out to them, to spend time with them, to mentor them - on a regular basis, maybe twice a month or so (this would include the driving - with a baby's schedule and five other kids, it's often hard for me to get kids to and from places).

and we would also really love to have:

A couple, family, or individual who lives relatively close to us (I'm talking within 10 miles - it could be further if you're able to drive to us) who is willing to go through the foster licensing process to become our reliable respite provider - right now, a respite provider would take our foster children (this would be 6-year-old Miss P and our foster baby) one to two days/nights a month to provide us some focused time with our other children and a night or two of catch-up rest for Greg and me.  We usually schedule respite days on weekends (usually a Friday afternoon through Sunday afternoon).  It costs about $125 per person to get licensed through our agency (for a couple, both parents need to be licensed) and takes about three months.  It also involves training classes, background checks, physicals, a home study, and ongoing annual training requirements to maintain your license.  It's also a great way to "try out" whether foster care might be a fit for you!  We can talk you and walk you through it!

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Those are the two big needs - needs we know God can meet.  We have seen time and time again that God always resources His call.  Always.  We know He is able to do immeasurably more than we can ask or imagine!

So, if you think He might be inviting you to be a part of our foster family's village - you know where to find us!

** and we do also need, if anyone nearby has them lying around and not being used, a snap-and-go stroller (the kind you can set an infant car seat into) and a baby swing.


* i miss this very busy little bee.


i'm ok with that

i'm ok with that


A few nights ago, I had my ten-year-old son in the car, just him and me.  And he was mad.  Really, really mad.  He is often mad.  And, often, it's at me.

This particular evening, it had started because he was convinced that his younger sister was faking when she left school early that day with a fever (there's the lack of empathy piece that we see as a result of trauma).  As we moved forward in our conversation, it was clear that there was a big lava lake of anger bubbling around under this surface issue of a sibling who got to leave school early. And because I had the time, and it was just the two of us, I dove in.  I told him we had as much time as it took, that I really wanted to understand what he was feeling, and that I could wait.  He wanted so badly to shut down and close me out.  But I persisted.

And here is where we got - a really mad (and not wanting to admit it, really sad) boy holding his head in his hands, turning his body away from me, and yelling things like, "You never understand!  For over five years, you never understand!  I don't care!  I can't even tell you!  I'm not telling you!"  And I said, "You know what I think?  I think you are so, so mad that I am your mom.  Is that it?"

And he started sobbing and nodding his head yes.

Yes.

He is so, so mad that I am his mom.

At one time, it might have felt like a punch in the gut.  But for me, six years in, it was a flash of "Now we are getting somewhere!"

And in that moment, while he wouldn't let me touch him or comfort him, I was able to tell him:

"I am ok with that.  I am ok that you are so mad that I am your mom.  I would be too.  If I were you, I think I would be so, so, so mad that I had to get a different mom.  I would hate it.  I would want to be with my first mom.  So it doesn't hurt my feelings that you feel that way.  I still love you, and I don't love you one little bit less.  And I am going to stick with you no matter what.  And you know what?  I think that's what your first mom would want.  I think she would want to know that her boy had a mom, and she would want to know that this new mom was going to stick with her boy and love him no matter what.  So I'm ok with that.  I can take it.  You can be mad that I am your mom."

Truly.  Bring on the mad!  I want to grapple through the mad.  The real mad.  Not the thirty-seven other little mads a day that are bubbling up out of the big mad.  Let's acknowledge that the real mad, the big mad is there.  I promise I can take it.

So, when I'm feeling assaulted by the thirty-seven little mads, let me remember the real mad.  Let me be forgiving, gracious, compassionate, slow to anger, abounding in love.  Let me stick with him through the big mad.

. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 


"They became arrogant and stiff-necked, and they did not obey your commands. 
They refused to listen...they became stiff-necked in their rebellion...
But you are a forgiving God, gracious and compassionate, 
slow to anger and abounding in love. 
Therefore, you did not desert them. 
(Nehemiah 9:16-17)


will this impact my children?

will this impact my children?




One of the questions many parents ask when they begin to consider adoption for their family is "what impact will it have on our children?"

When a family already has children in the home, presumably biological children, and begin to pursue adoption, they tend to get some routine guidelines from adoption workers.  They hear things like don't disrupt birth order; adopt only children younger than those already in the home.  Don't "twin" one of your children by adopting a child of the same age.  Don't adopt a child less than a year after giving birth to a child or within a year of a previous child's adoption.  Consider carefully how many children you can parent with medical needs.

I used to disagree with those guidelines. That was back when I still was operating in some sort of "love is all you need" mentality, and I thought these were arbitrary limits on who families could love. And now, while I realize that there are many, many individual successful stories where these guidelines haven't been followed in individual families' circumstances, I think they are very wise guidelines in general and should be followed as much as possible.

Adoption does impact your biological children.  We can talk about the many, many positive impacts (and there are many).  But, the truth is, it is hard in many ways.  Initially in our family, the overarching impact we saw was in Noah, who was just five years old when Jaso came home.  His world had teetered when I was stuck in Liberia for six weeks for Jaso's adoption.  We saw the ramifications of that for many, many months afterward.  Our little boy, who had always been sensitive to being separated from us was suddenly separated by an ocean and thought that maybe I had died.  Then, I was home but spending many days and nights at the hospital with Jaso.  In that first year, I probably would have said that was the only impact we were seeing on our biological children.

But looking back at our adoptions from six and seven years down the road, I can begin to make out the shape now of some of the harder impacts those first few years had on our older kids.  Some of them are surprising - things that no adoption worker ever brought to our attention as possibilities, yet they are very significant in our family.

First, we thought that by not disrupting birth order, adopting kids younger than our biological children, we would be avoiding the stresses of a child losing their "place" in our family.  What we know now, is that our oldest daughter very much lost her "place" when we added our second daughter, even though Jaso was nearly four years younger.  Not only was there a new daughter in the family, she was also young, adorable, medically fragile, and different - and so she got tons of attention and sympathy everywhere we went.  I remember standing at a checkout line in those early months with my two girls while the cashier went on and on about how cute Jaso was, and I reflexively put my arms around both girls and said something like "yes - they are both so beautiful!"  Mia was remarkably beautiful.  But she didn't stand out like the small, African girl with the big brown eyes in the middle of the peach family. Mia still carries the displacement of that time.  It will always be a part of her story. It doesn't mean that her story took a wrong turn. Because if there is one thing I am learning, it is that suffering is important and useful. But I still get a lump in my throat when I think of the shift that happened in Mia's small world when I left early on the morning of her eighth birthday for Liberia.

We also didn't "twin" our children.  There are 14 months between Noah and Jaso, and there are 15 months between Jaso and Avi.  But we still somehow ended up with some odd version of triplets.  There are times when these three are a lovely, well-oiled unit, complementing each others' strengths.  And there are others times when they. are. not.  And those times are heightened by the fact that the three of them have drastically different abilities and disabilities, strengths and weaknesses.  This was a challenge I didn't anticipate, and I realize that because we kept to the "rule" of not adopting children of the same age, I falsely expected that this dynamic of competitiveness, vying for position, and squabbles over control wouldn't happen in our home.  Trust me, it does.

Another impact we've discovered, one that no pre-adoption rule prepared us for, is that by adopting children with special needs (and you know that I believe all children in need of adoption or foster care will have special needs by virtue of the trauma they have experienced), our other children would develop special needs of their own.  Living with a sibling who has frequent and challenging behaviors stemming from his trauma background; a child who was hospitalized multiple times in their first year home, taking mom away with her; children who inevitably require huge amounts of mom's time as we try to take on the intense level of parenting required for kids from trauma backgrounds - these all trigger trauma and need in our first children.  Sometimes the very things that will bring one child forward set another child back.  A sort of secondary trauma takes hold in our home at times.  Trauma is a heavy word.  But our children took on a role of living with chronic illness, multiple hospitalizations, and intense behaviors mimicking mental illness - each of which would be considered a childhood trauma on their own.  It takes a toll.  Again, I trust that God is writing our children's stories - each one of them - and I trust that He will redeem the suffering that they have encountered through our family's story of adoption.  But I don't deny the fact that there is a level of suffering there because we chose adoption.

And so I continue to circle back to the topic of suffering.  James tells us that we should count it joy when we encounter trials.  Somehow, I find this easier to think of in regard to myself.  I can understand intellectually, and I can see experientially that God uses suffering in my life to shape me (so, so slowly) into someone more like Him.  But I admit that I still find this very hard to understand in regard to my children.  The bottom line is that my children sometimes suffer because we chose a path of adoption.  Intellectually, I understand.  Experientially, I see beautiful things.  But I still carry the sadness of knowing we opened a door to hardship in the lives of our kids.  I am actively trying to accept and welcome suffering in my own life; but deep down, I wish I didn't have to welcome it into my children's lives too.  I wish that we as parents could somehow shoulder all of it so that they could be unaffected.

But I can't.  I can only acknowledge with them that they have suffered.  I can only pray with them that they will learn to welcome suffering.  I can only ask for the right words to say and the grace to live in a way that shows them that when they are in the midst of suffering, they may pray for resolution or release from the circumstances, but if resolution or release don't come, God is allowing a suffering that will accomplish something in them - something that He values.  He has chosen to weave their stories together with His love for the orphan - not only for the orphan but for them.  I can only pray that they will see and truly understand that He has not forgotten them.


trauma? what does that mean?

trauma? what does that mean?



two of our kids - in the months before they came home to us.


I talk a lot here about trauma.  And when many people hear that word, they think of post-traumatic-stress-disorder, and they wonder "isn't she going a bit overboard? her kids aren't war veterans. they didn't witness a murder. they didn't grow up in a meth lab."  And that's true.

But they lived under repeated and extended traumatic events in their first three to five years (actually for the majority of their first three to five years).  Both of my older adopted children came home to us when they were four years old.  One of them was in at least four caregiver situations (that we know of - three of them were institutions) before the age of three - and the last one he was at was basically an orphanage for dying children when he arrived - he spent two years there.  He also has extensive scarring - and we have no idea what caused it.  Another of my children spent multiple years of her life in a hospital clinic crib of metal bars - in a place where children are only taken to a hospital if they are on the verge of dying - enduring painful medical procedures with limited resources, malnutrition, and separation from consistent caregivers - all of this before entering orphanage care where she was kept with the very sick babies, some of whom died while she was there living with them.

And researchers have found over the past 10 to 20 years that the impact of these situations on early childhood brain development have long-term, far-reaching effects on brain development and function.

This is why many of the diagnoses that kids like mine end up with (PTSD, ADHD, RAD, anxiety, oppositional defiant disorder, conduct disorder, bi-polar disorder) are simply attempts to catalogue what is really the brain's response to living with repeated and extended traumatic events (death of birth parents, abandonment, malnutrition, neglect, abuse, domestic violence, institutionalization) during early childhood.  During the time when explosive brain development is supposed to be taking place, our children's brains are instead developing under constant neurochemical baths in stress hormones (think cortisol and adrenaline) - and in many cases, their brains are actually developing in-utero in this chemical bath because of the stress their birth mother is living under - their brain development is often impacted before they are even born.

As a result of living with repeated and ongoing traumatic situations during early childhood, their neurochemical system often loses the ability to shut off stress hormones.  Their brains become patterned to jump into a fear response in any and all situations - even the safe ones - and it takes an inappropriately extended amount of time for that fear response to shut off.  Under brain imaging, their brains actually look different than a typical child's brain.  Their brains spend most of their time in the fight, flight, or freeze mode that originates in the brain stem and is designed to keep us alive - interrupting and stunting normal brain development in the higher, more complex regions of the brain.  Their brains are so busy giving all resource to keeping them alive that they are not developing the neuro-pathways that support emotional regulation, empathy, attention, flexibility, attuned communication, memory, and many other "higher level" brain functions - all of those things that make up a healthy, high-functioning, cooperative member of a family or community.

This pattern of living in the brain stem's fight/flight/freeze responses continues, in many cases, for years after they reach the safety of a stable, loving, adoptive family.  Think of the stories you hear about personality changes and loss of abilities that result from a traumatic brain injury - they can be completely life-altering.  That's what we're talking about (in fact, one of our daughter's diagnoses is actually often seen as a result of traumatic brain injury); except this isn't an injury to an already developed brain - this is actual hijacking of brain development.

It's daunting. It's overwhelming. In one of our kids, it mostly presents as "bad" behavior, defiance, conflict-seeking, lots of missed social cues, and relational struggles.  In another, it shows up primarily in disordered cognitive function, learning, and language.  But we see it every. single. day.  And it becomes a central part of a family's systems - a lot of energy goes into figuring out how to live in a way that allows for healing and that allows for day-to-day functioning for everyone involved.  Family life becomes brain therapy.

So the bottom line is that this is what I'm talking about when I talk about trauma.  And I didn't really know any of it when we first became adoptive parents.  I had no idea.  And never did I think that it would be so front-and-center seven years later.

But it is.  And there's lots more to say on the subject.  Thankfully, there is a lot of hope to be shared as well.  So, more coming on a another day...


making provision


making provision

God has given me several gifts recently to help me along in my feeble attempts to parent our children well.  One of those has been a book study with a group of foster and adoption moms, led by the wonderful therapist who works with our family on attachment and trauma issues related to adoption and loss.  The group is a gift because it is one of the places (and God has been so good to give me several - He clearly sees I need all the help I can possibly get!) where I can be blunt and honest and clear about how. very. hard. this. all. is. some. days.

Recently, in our group the subject was Disarming Defiance (one of the tools that kids from hard places use to protect themselves from the deep fear that they carry with them is Defiance - and it is a huge button-pusher for me.  I hate, hate, hate it).  One of the tools for Disarming Defiance that we talked about was "making provision" for our kids.  It's the idea of anticipating our children's needs and paving a way for them ahead of time when possible.

In our house, it can be as simple as sending one child out to the car thirty seconds before everyone else (because if I don't, that child will somehow seek control and will instigate conflict with a sibling or three for every single one of the seventeen steps between the front door and the van - and heaven help us all if I forgot to remind them that they have assigned seats in there).

Or it might be remembering not to attempt conversation with a child in the morning before I have gauged whether they slept through the night or if they are exhausted because they woke several times (a side effect of anxiety) and before they have gotten some behavioral meds on board (yes, behavioral meds, they have saved our family).

It could be respecting the one child who can't handle a regular hug.  But, in the right moment, he can accept a bear squeeze from behind or deep pressure on his arms.

It could be sitting in church with a dysregulated and anxious three-year-old and doing joint compressions for her because it will settle her for even just a minute or two.

It can be scores of tiny interventions each day that will make relational interactions a bit smoother for a child who struggles so much in family relationships, removing some of the obstacles and struggles for that child that might otherwise trigger fear and then defiance or many of the other broken tools that child has relied on to feel safe.  It's giving small opportunities, instead, for them to feel safe through our provision, giving small opportunities to have successful interactions, however tiny they might be, with siblings and parents rather than failure piled on top of failure.

The thing is, when I think of it as "making provision," I can do it with a happy heart.  But when I think of it as "why do I have to orchestrate every single little thing around here?" my heart is most definitely not happy.  It is a hard knot of resentment.  And it is not easy to attach to a mom who is carrying a hard knot of resentment.  I know this to be true because I live it too many days.

For me, the secret to "making provision" instead of "nursing resentment" is seeing the ways that provision is being made for me so that I am ready to make provision for my children.  Lately, this provision has come in times of respite from this heavy work of parenting hurt kids, it has involved noticing and being thankful for individual pockets of time with my children and husband, it has meant waking up to the ways that God makes provision for me.

Because He does.  He makes provision for me.  When I am defiant, when I don't want to connect to Him, when I am anxious and full of fear, when I seek out a million tiny ways to wrestle for control - all the very same things that make it so hard to connect with a hurt child - I am using the same broken tools my child does and holding myself distant from my parent, my Father.  He anticipates my deep, gaping need before I ever notice it myself.  The Lord is gracious and compassionate (he is not carrying a hard knot of resentment toward me) - and in His grace and compassion, He lends me the strength to make provision for my children by showing me the provision He is making for me.


not easy

not easy

(re-posting this today from 2012)


our lovely girl, today the recipient of two brand new diagnoses


As an adoptive mom of children with special needs (both behavioral and medical), there are a few frequent misperceptions and questions that never fail to elevate my heartrate and trigger an internal heated monologue.

One is "Can you tell me what we should be worried about when we adopt a child with insert diagnosis here?  What's the hardest part?"

Another is "These poor kids - they only have insert diagnosis here.  That's so easy, people!"

One more is "We chose to adopt a healthy baby/toddler because we just don't have the resources that a child with special needs will require."

I know that I speak from a place of bias.  I firmly believe that waiting children with medical and special needs should be the very first children that families are choosing for adoption. 

But...

I can tell you that it is a rare thing when I meet a post-institutionalized, post-trauma child who does not have significant cognitive or behavioral challenges resulting from their life experiences.  And I can tell you that the majority of parents I talk to who are parenting adopted children with medical needs will tell you that the day-to-day impact of their medical needs is far overshadowed by the impact of their life experience on their day-to-day behavioral and cognitive functioning. 

Both of our adopted children and some of our foster children came home to us with medical diagnoses.  I researched each diagnosis endlessly and felt that we had a good handle on their medical care, their prognosis, the impact of their diagnoses on their quality of life, potential risks and side effects of their treatment - and on and on.  What we didn't know then is that they would gather numerous more unrelated diagnoses over the next several years that are a direct result of their early life traumas.

We have children in our family with HIV and another child who has had hospital procedures under full anesthesia over seventy times now and who can't eat without medical intervention.  And, still, the weight of those medical diagnoses is far less than the weight of living with the effects of trauma and neglect.

Trauma impacts developing brains in significant ways.  And you will witness its impact day-in and day-out in your home when you bring home a child who has experienced trauma - and any child in need of adoption or foster care has experienced trauma and is still experiencing it when they enter your home.  And, you will encounter it when you adopt a "healthy" child.  Anyone who tells you that adoption is easy and that love is all you need is, I am sorry to say, wrong.

Adoption is hard work, it is self-sacrificing, it is life-altering, and it is not to be undertaken lightly. 

We should not avoid hard work or self-sacrifice - we should seek to have our lives altered and our focus shifted away from our selves.  And for many of us, God will use adoption in our lives to accomplish these things.  It's profound and beautiful, and it is a gift. 

But it is not easy.

We do a huge disservice to adoptable children and to the families who are making them their own when we "sell" adoption as if it were easy.  When we minimize the impact of a child's history of neglect, trauma, abandonment, and loss - we minimize and disregard their story and we falsely elevate ourselves as their rescuers.

Let us be honest with these children's stories and with their needs.

God rescues; and He redeems neglect, trauma, abandonment, and loss.  But let us not pretend that it is not sometimes hard and wearying work being in the middle of His rescue and redemption.

Please - consider adoption.  Please - tell your friends to consider adoption.  Please - use your voice to bring attention to forgotten children waiting for families.  But please don't say it is easy.  And please don't make the mistake of thinking that knowing a child's medical diagnosis, or lack thereof, will give you a clear picture of what their special needs will be when they are home.  It won't. 


the needy beast

the needy beast

Donald Miller called it "the needy beast of a thing that lives in my chest."  I called it "our wretched, tangled, inward self."  Paul, in Romans, calls it "our old self."  It's the part of myself that I try to bring to the foot of the cross - but then scurry away with, holding on tightly, all too often.

It's the part of myself that I didn't really look at or acknowledge much until God brought hurt children into our family.  I remember thinking when we were newly married (18 short years ago!) that I now understood how selfish I really was - and now marriage was the gift that was going to release my from my self.  Then, we had children, and our two tiny people showed me how silly I had been - now I was learning to truly lay down my self.  Then, we adopted, and I thought choosing to become mom to children with medical needs was the point where I would leave self firmly behind.  Then, we started fostering, and I thought loving children while they were waiting for permanency could knock off those last vestiges of the needy beast of a thing living in my chest.

But it is still there.  And there are times when parenting hurt children has made it louder, more insistent, and more entrenched than ever before.  When I'm tired, depleted, worn down - and facing a child who is afraid to be loved, who doesn't truly understand what a family is or how it works, who actively fights against having a mom - that needy beast sits up and whispers in my ear all of the reasons I should feel sorry for myself.

It is why I wake up most mornings, trying before my eyes are open to let these be the first words in my head "I need you, Jesus. I need you."  Because I know that there is no earthly way that I can lay my wretched, tangled, inward self down long enough to love my kids well for even a few short moments without Him.

Paul goes on in Romans 6, after talking about the death of our old self, to say that we have been set free from sin and have become slaves to righteousness.  We are all slaves to something.  Something has mastery over us.  It can be that needy beast of self, or we can beg Him for the grace to let that beast be crucified with Christ (over and over and over again).  It hurts and it's ugly.  And I am too often content to sit with that needy thing and let it whisper to me how unfair it all is.  Until I am once again sad and sorry enough to drag my shriveled, pitiful, anemic soul back to the foot of His cross, His mercy, His righteousness.  And He lets me - He is gracious (I tell my kids that means He is kind to us even when we don't deserve it) and compassionate (I tell them that means He is full of love).  He is slow to get angry and quick to love.  So He lets me.

They don't put this in the adoption brochures, people.  That loving hurt children will shine a light into the shadows of our darkest self.  But God has told us plainly - we have been crucified with Christ and are being made new - in my case, time and time again.


confession

confession

Confession.  I had to write about the whole sweet spot thing because the life God has called me to is not my sweet spot.  I find nothing easy about parenting children from hard places.  It takes every ounce of faith and obedience within me to lay aside my self day after day after day.  There are many moments, many hours, many days that I hate it.  And even more moments, hours, and days when I miserably fail.  Though I have never had the thought looking backward that I would change any of it, I have tantrumed far more than I would like to admit over what it costs me, what it costs my husband, what it costs our children.

When Paul says "Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am chief," I know exactly what he means.

I am sad for a Christianity that seeks out comfort and calls it blessing. The Jesus I follow asks me to do really hard things. His yoke is easy, and His burden is light.  But His cross is so, so heavy.  And there are so many days when I don't want to carry it.  And some days when I set it down because I have had enough.  I'm too small.  It's just too hard.  It's too heavy.  And it hurts too much.

But I love Jesus.  And I want to love those He loves.  And I want Him to change me into someone who is more like Him.  And I know that in my profound and infinite weakness, His strength is blindingly clear.  I want to understand that more.

I want to understand how my failures and my complete lack of ability for the job He has given me somehow provide an avenue for His strength and mercy to be made evident.

Following Jesus costs us.  It costs us our comfort, it costs us our insulation, it costs us our safety, it costs us the delusions we hold about who we are.  It costs us our self - our wretched, tangled, inward self.  And somehow in the upside-down reality of His kingdom, we gain our life.  From losing it.  And our light and momentary troubles (the ones that are so heavy that I just don't want to pick them up many days), achieve for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all!

So, we wake up to another day.  And we ask Jesus to help us pick up our cross again.  And we hope for some moments of connection with His other children, carrying their own heavy crosses - maybe on a different road, maybe with a few more or a few less sweet moments along the way.  But still following Him - right into suffering.  Because He is so good and so worthy, and He calls us to suffer with Him - so we will.

the cross is no sweet spot

the cross is no sweet spot

Something has been sitting heavy in my mind over the past several days.  It's the idea that if we are serving God within our giftings, it won't feel like work.  It's the idea of serving in our "sweet spot."  And it seems to be a pretty common idea in twenty-first century, western Christianity.  And it really gets me rattled.  And quite honestly, angry.

And here is why.

I have to wonder if Paul was in his sweet spot when he was beaten, mobbed, and shipwrecked.  I have to wonder if Stephen was in his sweet spot when he was thrown to the ground and stones were hurled at him.  Was Peter in his sweet spot when he was crucified upside-down?  I have to wonder if our friends who have fostered over ten children now and continue to serve birth families after reunification happens - were they in their sweet spot when they were investigated for child abuse because of accusations from a child who had never known safety?  What about the moms I know who are regularly spit on, scratched, hit, and raged at by the children they have chosen to love - children who had already lost everything imaginable before they could even walk?

The cross is no sweet spot.  It is life and freedom and mercy and grace. But they have been given to us at a heavy, heavy cost - and we are called to join in, to share in Christ's sufferings and pick up our cross.  Daily. Picking up our cross and sharing in the sufferings of Jesus will indeed feel like work - it will leave us broken and bone tired, it will reveal our weaknesses in ways that we could never have anticipated, it will draw us into stories that are too painful to imagine, let alone live.  The cross is no sweet spot.

Our sweet spot lies ahead - it's not now.

So we fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before Him, endured the cross, despising its shame and is now seated at the right hand of the throne of God. Consider Him who endured such opposition from sinners, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart!

 

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