A Season of Healing

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AUTUMN

Sipping pumpkin spiced latté, hearing tires on wet pavement, and on the other side of the glass, the turning, turning, turning of another year.  “Half a century,” my 14 year-old loves to remind me.  Stepping into the Autumn of my life, I face a choice.

Seven years ago, the “Gotcha” year, began a new family.  Such high hopes, a new beginning, failed to live up to expectations and on followed heartache, disappointment, depression, bitterness and pain to deep to bare.

Like the rustle of the leaves outside my window, your whisper comes, not mocking, just, “I told you so”.  I smile, remembering the doubt, in my mind’s eye peering back over the narrow, winding road that has led to  the crossroads I stood before only this summer past.

LAST SUMMER

MY - WIN_20140515_174345Summer last bloomed pink in my front yard, and hope grew as You, O Holy One, whispered your promise of healing, of new life.  My heart heard Your whisper through Ruth’s story, and you kept me from the turning back of despair; the turning toward redemption.  Caleb reminded me to face my own giants, leaning on Your strength to walk in his whole-hearted faith.  In all things, over and over again, You breathed healing into my heart, O Lord.  Hope, Hope, turned in my soul.

WINTER

MY - WIN_20140206_082451  Yet, another winter, the dying of hope, again.  The snow falls and my heart freezes, crystallizes  and saps my strength.  Still the whispers, getting louder now to drown out the cacophony of anger that is rising all around me, I hear, hear, Your voice, “Healing, Healing!” And I wait, with half-hearted faith.

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SPRING/SUMMER AGAIN

Spring, summer, hope rises again and the seasons speak of turning, dying, hoping, new life, and my frozen heart begins to thaw.  And I remember the only choice there is: the road I really chose last summer.  Following You towards whatever this healing looks like, with my whole heart, trusting in You to heal my family in whatever way You choose.

valley forge butterfly

 

 

A Life on Display

“So, how many kids do you have?” the conversation starts with standard mom small talk.

Shrieks of delight and shouting emanate from the glass doors separating the café and the ice rink, and I shiver before answering, “I have six—“

Incredulous, “Six, wow, that’s amazing. How old are they?”

I had been going to ask her about her family, but this was the way typical conversations started when my soon-to-be friend realizes how many kids I have, “My oldest is 16, and I have two thirteen year-old girls, two eleven year-old boys and an eight year-old.”

I can already anticipate her next statement, “Wow, you have two sets of twins! You’re amazing!”

“No, on both counts,” I chuckle, “I don’t have any twins, nor am I amazing. Six years ago, my family of five adopted three kids from Ethiopia and we lovingly call our two thirteen and eleven year-olds the chocolate and vanilla twins.”

Again, the typical response, “Wow, I could never do that, you are amazing!”

I ponder just how much I should share with this new acquaintance, but decide that telling her that I am unable to do this job without the Lord’s constant help would require giving too much personal information that doesn’t seem appropriate to this casual conversation. So instead I just smile, thinking that perhaps when we get to know each other better, I’ll share the difficulties of raising these children for the glory of God within the context of a blended family.

I usually don’t share these challenges of blending a family of biological and adopted children, because so often we are not given as much grace as others when it comes to the ways we raise and discipline our children. For most outsiders, it is easier to imagine the losses that our adopted children have experienced before they became part of our family than those of our biological children. Most people don’t even think about the losses our biological children have faced and judge them more harshly when they are acting out in similar ways to our adopted children. Both sets of our children, and each in their own individual ways, have suffered loss and are trying to discover the ‘new normal’ of their lives.

Due to our differing skin colors, it often feels as though we are on display for anyone to question or comment on. Most people offer unjustified praise, and some give judgment because our discipline seems harsher for our adopted children than our biological children, never taking into consideration that different children require different discipline. Sometimes people judge us in ways most people would not feel comfortable judging other families, but because of our visibility, we have to just accept from time to time if we are to live the transparent lives God has called us to.

My thoughts thus occupied as we continued to chat, I hear Casting Crowns’ song Does Anybody Hear Her over the speaker system and the words are like a little nudge from the Holy Spirit. I decide to take the plunge. I need to be transparent, even if it leads to judgment, perhaps speaking to some difficulty in her life.

“You know, I hear that comment a lot, about how amazing and how cool it is that we adopted and kept these three siblings together. In complete honesty, it is neither.”

“Really, what do you mean?”

“Well, we expected that adopting these children would be hard in the beginning, but that after a short adjustment, God would make our lives easier than others we’d known who had adopted. He’d asked us to do this after all, so He couldn’t have meant for us to suffer, right? Well He didn’t make it easier, things got harder and harder,” I paused to let that sink in, continuing, “Sometimes God uses difficult
situations to draw us closer to Him.”

“Do you really believe that?” as her eyes become moist.

“Yes, wholeheartedly! You see…” and as I shared with her, this stranger, of God’s redemption and love for us, I realized that this was exactly what He had called me to: I am to live a life on display so that others may see Him living in me, especially through my struggles.

The Lawyer’s Wings

Tuesday

Sarcasm drips from her lips, her stare like ice, “I never said that, Mom.”

“I don’t remember your exact words, but you did allow me to believe that your father said it was ok for you to go with your friends instead of staying home Thursday night when our friends come over.”

“I never said that.”

More ice.

“Well, we did discuss this last night and you let me believe–”

“I never said that.”

I give up. The 13 year old lawyer sitting across from me is denying the conversation we’d had the previous night. And had I not thought to ask my husband about it, she’d have gone out with her friends instead of being part of family night, which is exactly what she wanted.

Wednesday

“Could you please take off your shoes and leave them in the mudroom on the shoe shelf?”

“My feet are cold.”

“Ah, so you didn’t forget, but decided that your way is better than mine, is that correct?”

Icy stare.

“Why can’t I keep my shoes on?”

“Get your slippers. You do have some, don’t you?

No response.

“Because, this is not the first time I’ve asked you to take off your shoes and not track dirt into the house.”

She removes her shoes and sets them by the door.

Inwardly fuming now, “Could you please put the shoes on the shoe shelf in the mud room?” I manage to say mostly in a calm voice.

She mumbles incomprehensibly, and I ignore it, because, well, it is just easier that way.

***

Adopted six years ago, recently diagnosed with Reactive Attachment Disorder, my daughter struggles with her ability to love and feel loved, to compromise and accept responsibility, to be honest, or even find anything to be happy about.

Having endured six years of screaming tantrums have left me with PTSD and anxiety attacks. From my perspective, this child is hopeless. Having a fruitful relationship with her seems impossible. I can’t imagine ever seeing her able to hold a job, because she doesn’t have the ability to compromise and accept responsibility for her mistakes. I can’t imagine her ever marrying or having children of her own because she doesn’t know how to love another human being (since she was abandoned by those who were supposed to love her when she was young). I can’t imagine her ever being happy, because she just never is no matter how hard we work to help her be so.

Thursday

“Since you decided to keep your shoes on this morning, made a conscious decision that your way was better than my way, I need you to sweep floor.”

She doesn’t completely balk.

I continue, in lecture mode, “I want you to understand something. Is it a really big deal that you wore your shoes in the house? No, in the big picture, this is not important. But your obedience is, because in three years you want to be able to get a driver’s license, right?”

We’ve talked about this before.

“Well, that is a big responsibility. And in order for me to be able to trust you, I need to know that you will obey me in all of the little things.”

In full blown lecture mode now, I have her attention, so I continue, “If you want me to be able to give you the keys to my car, then I have to know you are going to obey your father, me and the law. I cannot let you take our car, unless you learn the lesson of obedience now and show me you can be responsible.”

She begins to sweep the floor and comes back to me later, a little smile on her face, “I’m finished, mom.” And that is enough.

***

And so, since giving up is not really an option, God keeps whispering healing into my heart. I can’t see the road ahead, but He promises that in the end we will see healing. So instead of succumbing to hopelessness, I decide to accept His offer to trust in Him alone, and I watch her set down her broom and take flight.

I don’t know how it will happen and can’t possibly imagine how she will turn out, but in giving up my own striving I am letting the Lord take over. And, I can’t wait to see where her flight will take her.

Turning, Turning with Every Season

As the leaves swirl down in my back yard, I have noticed that some of the trees in my yard are awash in color: yellows, reds, yellows.  And yet some are still green.  They are all in a different state of preparing to lose their leaves to sleep for the winter.  I love fall, the colors, the foods, the cooler breezes and the start of another school year with all of the busyness that brings.

As I’ve reflected on the changing of the leaves, I think of the verses in Ecclesiastes reminding me that “There is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under the heavens.”  (Ecclesiastes 3:1)  This year, after a very difficult spring and then moving from one nearby town to another, fall seems to be a time when I find myself turning, turning, turning, feeling somewhat like I am blowing in the breeze like those leaves falling in my yard.  The difference is that as I look at my life, the descent is slow at first, but turns into a whirlwind as I reach the ground.  Instead of landing in my own backyard and its expected comforts, I am in the strange land of Oz wondering how I ever got there.

Yet, I know.  God has planned this season of my life, before I was even born or any of the circumstances that I now turn around to find myself in: one moment dealing with yet another tantrum from either of our 13 or 8 year-old daughters; the next minute turning to the deception of our son; another getting kids to soccer, Lego League or an open house at their new schools (we went to five this year); IEP meetings; meetings with social workers and ESOL teachers; trying to soothe the anxieties of a teenager; helping siblings find resolution of yet the fiftieth conflict this week; and so many more situations all in the space of just a few hours.  Turn, turn, turn, until I’ve forgotten the direction I am supposed to go.

Yet, where is that?  For me, according to my plan, that was to have a normal, easy life without so many bumps in the road.  Or maybe even a lot of bumps, but definitely without the constant motion and emotional stress that is my life.  If I focus on what my life was supposed to be, I get confused, bitter, angry and unable to cope with the every moment needs that surround me on a daily basis.  Last week was one of those weeks.  I just couldn’t remember that this season is only that, a season that has a purpose, one planned long ago for me to live through and into, in victory.

Quite often the whirlwind carries me to places I don’t want to go or can’t figure out, but the only thing I do know is that wherever I find myself, God promises to go there with me and walk every moment of every day or season keeping me on the path set out for me.

Last night my oldest daughter, as I was running around like crazy, from the grocery store to trying to make a meal for a sick friend, preparing our own dinner and dealing with two tantrums, reminded me, “Mom, Jesus planned this.”  I told her to keep reminding me of this when she sees me a little stressed, so she kept whispering it to me with every sigh she heard me utter: “Jesus planned this, Mom,” and I could breathe again, walk a little straighter, and slower and with a smile on my face.

Blessings and Bubbles

Moving is such a stressful time, right?  And I am good at it: in the past 22 years Mark and I have moved 9 times!  We lived in our first home almost four years, but after that we averaged only 1.5 years in each place.

For the first 8 moves, the moving company sent packers and movers who came and boxed up all of our belongings.  We would schedule three days prior to our move-out date when  the packers would arrive and pack all of our belongings for two days and the final day the movers would load all of our possessions onto a very large moving truck for transport across the country (in one case it was across the Atlantic Ocean).

Now, since Mark has retired from the military, for the first time, we are moving ourselves.  Thankfully it is only across town and we are blessed to have an army of helpers coming this weekend to help us transport our lives to our new home.

Knowing that this time I would have to box everything up myself, I started the process months ago.  Slowly we’ve boxed up everything that isn’t attached to the house and this week is the final week to get everything completed.  Mark is in the midst of a very busy time, finishing up his “A” exams to complete the coursework phase of his PHD program.  This could be a very stressful time, but I’ve made list after list and stayed fairly organized so that today, just a few days from this move-out date, I feel ready.

So, driving to pick up my children from VBS (our older teens get to help and love this) today, I was reflecting on that fact, I felt at peace.  And then I saw a bubble followed by more bubbles float in front of my windshield.  I looked in my rearview mirror, expecting to see a child being pushed in a stroller blowing bubbles on the sidewalk, what I actually saw was the Salvation Army truck’s passenger blowing bubbles out of his window and they were floating.  I could see a big, happy grin on his face, and somehow because it was an adult blowing the bubbles, I felt joy bubbling up inside of me, too.  What a blessing: bubbles on a hot, sparkling day!

One year ago, a friend recommended the book 1,000 Gifts, by Ann Voskamp, to me.  What a life changing book that was for me to read (I highly recommend it if you haven’t already read it, along with her blog at www.aholyexperience.com).  As I watched those bubbles floating by, I thought about my journal and how I could write down my 1170th blessing for the year when I got home.  And that I should share it with you.

Counting my blessings like Ann suggests has opened my eyes to see not only the big gifts to thank God for, but also to see the small joys in everyday circumstances that my busyness might otherwise make me miss.  What amazing thing did you see today?  Share your blessings with someone!

Peace in the Disharmony

As I scrubbed the kitchen counter, I listened to the disharmony coming from upstairs.  This time it was not words they were carelessly shooting at one another like arrows meant to silence or to wound, but music.

Artist playing the flute and Compassion playing trombone wait while Engineer warms up his saxophone. Their younger brother, Soccer, plays the French horn.  They are practicing the piece Shoo Fly together.  The high notes squeak and the low notes are out of tune, but on and on they play.   For once, the disharmony sings joy into my soul.

God called our family to adopt Soccer, and his two sisters Filly and Giggles over five years ago.  There have been far too many days since then filled with screaming tantrums, anger and a cacophony of sounds as we have tried to meld two families into one.  Our adopted children have suffered the loss of their birth parents, their culture and their homeland (Ethiopia).  Our biological children have lost their “place” in the family; been judged (because they are Christians raised in a middle class home) by well-meaning family members for the same behaviors that their adopted siblings receive pity for; and developed angry, coping behaviors themselves.  The normal sounds of children’s laughter, sibling rivalry, and cries of pain from a bumped knee soon turned into the screaming rage which began to fill our home as we tried to help each of our six children heal.

Our two adopted daughters have been diagnosed with Reactive Attachment Disorder.  My mind turns to a day when I was driving home from a therapy appointment one afternoon and Filly began to hit the back of my seat and her screams and accusations were hurled at me so violently that I had to pull over and call my husband for help so that we could drive home in the falling snow.  The following day disrespect oozed from her lips as she told me how I’d ruined her life.  The angry words, “I hate you,” still echo in my soul.   This afternoon, these scenes keep playing over and over in my mind until I am sinking, sinking, sinking into the darkness.

And then the song; I hear it begin to swell.  It’s just Shoo fly, but I tell the evil thoughts to “shoo” and leave me alone; the words and the screaming in my mind slowly fade away.   As their piece ends, the darkness dissipates and a new song, Blessed be the Name of the Lord, rises up in my heart so that now I can go back to my work, singing.

All Things?

“And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him.”                                                              Romans 8:28a

All things?  Do I really believe that, especially after this?  Yes, it says so in the Word of God, so it is true; I believe but need help in my unbelief!

Our beloved daughter, Filly, thought it would be a good idea to paint a basketball court on our driveway.  She and her brother, Soccer, found a can of spray paint and while he told her he didn’t think it was a good idea, she did it anyway.  So, she’s scrubbed and scrubbed and become frustrated that it won’t come off, huffing off to her room in a stream of anger and a tantrum that lasted about ten days.

When this child chooses rage instead of repentance, over and over for many years, I struggle to see that good can ever come from choosing to love.  In my frustration, I found myself raging at God; not understanding his love; not willing to wait for him to “work all things together for good,” which seems impossible to imagine; not able to understand how this could even be a part of his plan: to have her raging at me when she has chosen to do something wrong.

So, she and I are the same in that we must make some choices to take our thoughts captive to His word.  In her frustration, she is allowing her actions to show a lack of repentance that she may not really mean.  She will eventually get over her mad, and the damage she has done will be cleaned up, both off the driveway and from the hearts of those of us she has hurt.  I have chosen to change my heart and even when it doesn’t look “good,” to stand on His Truth, knowing that His Word is trustworthy.  Because I know that God is good, and that because of this I can trust him, yes in all things.

What is Love, Really?

Is it a warm greeting in the morning, an affirming touch or word, a heart connection? Is it saying yes sometimes and no others?  Is it listening, really hearing and trying to help?  What is love, really?  Is it reaching out to see the beautiful in someone and showing them this part of themselves?  Is it holding back criticism and trying only to give loving affirmation?

Is it sometimes walking the hard road with a child and having to exhort, teach and train and keep doing this over and over again?  Is it saying hard things, with love, even when you know they will hurt and make your teenager angry?

What if you do all of these things, both the obvious manifestations of love and the more challenging ones, but are rejected time and time again?  Do you stop loving, stop walking the hard road of loving while continually having to hear “I hate you” and “You never…”  Do you quit because you see this child lovingly relating to others while only relating to you with disrespect and anger?

Do you sink into thinking of yourself as a failure because you sometimes make mistakes with this child and don’t always act in love when you should?  Or do you try to remember that most days, you do get it right even though the results may be the same as on the days that you don’t?  Or do you try to forgive yourself, and your child, and move on to live another day of conflict and hope for a little glimmer of love to lift you up just a bit?  And do you ask God to forgive you for your failures, your faults, your lack of forgiveness for the moment?

I struggle with these questions, but have learned that in spite of all of my questions about love, if I just keep putting one foot in front of the other, forgetting what went behind, and loving with not just a greeting, a touch and sometimes a heart connection, but doing, doing, doing for this child that is a blessing from the Lord, even and especially when I don’t feel like it, then I am doing the will of my Father in heaven.

And someday I will be able to stand before Him and know that I have loved as He asked me to, whether or not my child even loves me back or understands my love.  For in the end, love is not just a feeling, and I am not asked to receive love, but to give it.  And so I do.

Compassion Lost

Tiny feet padding on searing hot cement and I shout, “Don’t run!” The lifeguard echoes my sentiment, “Ne cours pas!” Oblivious, he leaps for joy, for joy. Then, splash and I feel the spray, smell the chlorine. The lifeguard moseys over in his red speedo, watches him for a few minutes, scratches his head and mutters, “Encroyable!” He can’t believe it, “Incredible!” His little feet can’t even touch the bottom of the pool, but he swims enjoying the feel of the coolness against his skin, relief from the hot African sun. All joy, no fear.

We’ll call him, my little fish, Compassion, for this is who he is, but not his name. Compassion was only three that day and we’d been living in West Africa for less than a year. He learned to swim much more quickly and easily than his older siblings.

An amazing child, blond with blue eyes, he seems to “get” everything from sports to math: he has an above average intelligence, striking athletic ability, and is the best kind of friend to have. He is called Compassion because he intuitively understands the needs and failures of others, seemingly called to bring joy.

Today, we no longer live in West Africa, but in New York and he is 11. I sit watching him play lacrosse as the rain splashes on my windshield. He is chasing a lime green ball and scoops it up with his stick to toss it to his partner as they practice drills. The raindrops remind me of his tears splashing on the countertop just a few hours earlier; tears inflicted by pain at the hand of his brother. My mind reaches back to a day when Compassion’s kindergarten teacher tells me what a kind heart he has towards his brother, Soccer, adopted from Ethiopia.

The teacher related that every day at recess, Compassion would be playing soccer with his friends, and would see Soccer standing alone. Soccer didn’t find it as easy to fit in as his older brother did, so Compassion would make sure he was included in their game. Over and over throughout the last five years since we adopted Soccer, this type of scenario took place between the brothers.

Soccer has an amazing ability to make people smile with his infectious laughter.  He is fast and scrappy on the soccer field; happiest when running and blocking goals.  He is smart and does well in school but because he is adopted, lives with an insecurity in his heart that our love seems not enough to heal.

Feeling like he is living in the shadow of a golden child, Soccer is very jealous of his brother, never really feeling like a part of our family (though we try very hard to make him so). His jealousy has begun to show itself in the small, seemingly insignificant unkindnesses he showers on his brother Compassion. Built up over time, these words begin to dig into Compassion’s soul and they become like bricks laid one on top of the other, creating a wall, leaving Compassion and Soccer on opposite sides. Today, Soccer, with several well-placed words stacks the final brick and pushes the wall over on top of his brother.

And Compassion freezes; won’t tell me what is wrong. When he finally gets it out, two hours later, it doesn’t seem like a big deal. He seems unforgiving, but I know this was the final brick. As we talk I pray silently and I just listen to his hurt. With time, he forgives again.

And now, as I sit inside my car, rain just sprinkling, I reflect on the bricks that have built up walls in my own heart. After a long New York winter, the daffodils are beginning to poke up out of the ground. Rocks and pebbles have sunken into the once-frozen , now soggy ground. The signs of spring are all around me and my frozen heart feels like it is waking to new life again, too.

When we plunged into adopting three older children, we had no idea how hard integrating them into our family of five was going to be. We, like Compassion that day at the pool in West Africa, were full of joy knowing that this was God’s call on our lives. Now, we struggle with the walls that we are trying to pull down. It often seems that in any ordinary day, more bricks of hurt get placed on those walls than forgiveness can take down. But like with Compassion, all I can do is pray, listen to each of my six children, and help them remove their bricks one at a time.  God’s love will heal those holes in Soccer’s heart, bring compassion back to our lives and awaken my heart to new life, once again.