Origins

This week’s theme from the devotional I’m using for Lent is Origins. One day led me to Psalm 139.

For you formed my inward parts; you knitted me together in my mother’s womb…My frame was not hidden from you when I was being made in secret, intricately woven in the depths of the earth. Your eyes saw my unformed substance; in your book were written, every one of them, the days that were formed for me, when as yet there was none of them.

As a kid, I was uncomfortable with these verses. As an adoptee, I didn’t want to think too long and hard about being formed in a stranger’s womb, and whatever else it took for me to get to my parents on the other side of the world, as a 6 month old. I have always lacked curiosity and was very content with knowing basics about my biological, pre-adoption story. I was (and am) very satisfied with my family, and even after visiting the orphanage and South Korea at 11-years-old, I did not wrestle with many questions.

Now, as an adult and a mother, I have questions. I’m looking at documents as though for the first time. And now, I am getting better at appreciating the incredible weight of the psalmist’s words in my story, as well as all the stories of my 4 adopted siblings.

Being known and recognized, planned for, and remembered, are about the most wonderful gifts to ever receive. Psalm 139 is all those things. The triune Parent has given all of those things to each of us. 

I do not know how much I will know in this life about my origins. But with every question, and every piece of an answer, I remain thankful. I am very thankful for the blessing and assurance that I knew as a very young child. For while I didn’t know what to do with phrases in these verses then, I knew I was watched out for. I knew I was cherished, by heaven and earth. For me, it feels like the inmost parts, the intricate weaving, the secret creating, was extended far beyond birth, because there is much we do not know. I find these verses and the creative story of scripture comforting even as I consider what I wish I knew. Even as I discuss new questions with my parents and the Lord.

Many have unconventional journeys to their families. They have gaps of life that are unaccounted for, either because of trauma, illness, depression, abandonment, displacement…so many things. Jesus also was convoluted. His birth was plain scandal. His attachment to his parents, complicated. He suffered lonesomeness. We know very little about some very formative years. I like that. I like that his identity, character, mission, and impact not only did not require these things to be explained completely…They in fact are stronger for them.

As people of the cross, we bear witness to the lonely places people find themselves in; we are compelled to be a friend for a time. I’m hungry to know and recognize the outskirts when they have not been planned for, or remembered, and they may honestly not even know themselves anymore. Part of this yearning for tethers, for being bound and close to someone else, is what motivated our baby book for our temporary daughter. I wanted to show her that yes, though strangers, we were there and her first tooth, her first crawl, and her cries are remembered. I hope that someday she finds her story in the psalms too.

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He sets the lonely in families (68:6). He searches out our paths (139:3). From our mother’s womb, he has been our God (22:10).

 

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To my daughter // 9

A letter to my daughter for a time:

Today I am reminded of you. I remember the day you were torn from our home. Though you slept through the night, you were awake for much of that one. First for examination and a soothing bottle. As I fed you in front of a sympathetic police officer, I prayed and cried while your foster dad was interrogated by a very misguided lady. Then, after you had been placed back to bed and the officers had reassured us that there would be no removal or further problems, after over an hour later, you had to wake again. This time, because of that lady’s immovable choice. This time, for a final diaper change, a final hug and grasp. You were so disoriented as we placed you in that wonky car seat.

Why am I reminded of you today? Because now my son, my youngest, is the same age as you were then. 10 days shy of 9 months—that’s when your peace was disturbed and our protection was interrupted and we lost you, despite our best efforts. Now we will be with him longer than we had you.

Every day our youngest has been with us has been a gift, just like every day with you. He looks at me for reassurance when someone else holds him, just like you did. He crawls fast towards us, after venturing away for a brave minute, just like you did. That morning, we had a garage sale, and for an hour, I took you with me to a meeting and prayer time. Like him, you went with me just about everywhere. You were distractingly happy and playful, going back and forth from me to new items in the room. His glee at movement, at us, at life, are on par with yours. And today, he will go to bed and not wake up in foreign places, away from everything he’s known. Life will continue as it should. As it should have.

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I’m also mindful of you today for another reason. I’m tender towards the young girls in my world who are growing up in a world that elected our next president, adamant that you deserve better. Young girls like your aunt-for-a-time, who is feeling defeat like a true, new agent of change, destined to make a difference for a long time. I know that you’re not my daughter, but you are the closest thing I’ve had to one, and I often think what it would be like to have a daughter in these times. You have always had many women who loved you and sought to meet your needs; I may be the one you’re never told about. But it doesn’t make me less true. Now, I want to tell you in a motherly way some truth: you, as a female, are worthy of respect, leadership, and choice, though many things will suggest otherwise.

I want to tell you, my daughter for only a time, that no matter what our culture, our courts, our elections say about women, we are made in the likeness of God, and resemble the Diety in unique and powerful ways. I want to tell you that no matter what popular vote happens, no matter what Donald Trumps and Brock Turners occur, that you are encumbered and covered with love, intelligence, power, volition and beauty, and these burdens behoove each of us to reject the narratives that would normalize misogyny and downplay our accomplishments. They implore us to insist on our God-given place at the table—every freaking table. It will be a fight and it will not be fair. Today I wish we had a better historic landmark to offer you—you at the age of 3. Our culture’s dirty laundry and resistance to change is out for all the world to see, and slaps the face of all of us women who know that sense of being better-qualified, under-appreciated, under-compensated, harder-working, less-safe, less-credible or defeated—lest we forget.

Dear sweet girl, do not forget this: you, as a woman, are equal in worth and standing in the eyes of God. I pray that the truth of who you are will echo more loudly than our misogynistic culture lies of who you should be. I am dedicated to raising sons who affirm these things about you, and your sisters, your mothers and your daughters. I am raising sons with daughters in mind. It is an upward battle; as young as they are, they are already absorbing the skewed gender slurs that mitigate our value. I am writing you, in this somewhat imaginary scenario, partly because I miss you and I still grieve you, but more so because I truly pray for your empowerment as a woman and especially as a woman of color. And on this day, the day after a set-back in this realm of things, you’re first on my list to cheer onward.

You were my daughter for a time and you are the symbol of our daughters—those girls we love, and make space for, and teach and parent, whether for an hour or 9 months. You are a face to those girls we would give anything for, that they would have the freedom and empowerment to be all they are created and capable of being, without fear and apology. I’m sorry it will take so much grit.

I write to you, from my grief and disappointment today, in hopes that tomorrow your stories, and those of your peers, would have the bearing and validation they deserve. I was blessed to be a part of your story for a time…until the very last minute. I continue to be inspired by you and love you.

Love,
a mother and woman
(proud to be both)

The fastest and slowest year.

The destination has become cloudy and the way there so long.

It’s been over 3 years that we have been actively pursuing adoption. It has been a year since the vulnerability of the children and foster parents in the system became all too clear. Unsuspecting, unprotected, and undone, we went into shock in the wee hours of June 15, 2014 and she was taken to strange places in an unsafe carseat, never to be returned and never to be told goodbye properly.

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Among many of the lies we were told last June 14th, it was said that we could resolve the “problem” in the next week. Sunday was torture. Offices closed. Ryan nosedived. Monday was hopeful. There were things to do–people to pursue. Weeks turned into months and still no answers and no baby for the bottles in our drawer, no body for the pile of folded clothes on the couch. No explanations for the destruction of evidence that would release Ryan from the nightmare, no communication from the force that negligently and shamefully put our family and our foster daughter in danger. It took several months before the county decided “Inconclusive,” due to the reputable nature of the supposed reporting party mixed with the refusal of said person to ever comment or validate claims and the lack of evidence on 6 different visitations to find something wrong with our house, parenting and children. Don’t worry, we were told–some foster parents have 20 inconclusives in their files and were still caring for children. We did not find this comforting, but quite alarming. And it didn’t make this 1 right, and it didn’t guarantee our continued involvement in this system.

Sure enough, a month later, our license was revoked–unheard of for 1 inconclusive indictment. We contested; we asked for the review meeting. More letters, more references, more certified mail. A meeting was finally scheduled. Almost 4 months later, they changed their decision to hold us, with the caveat of an extra class for Ryan. 3 more months. Now we’re in line for another home study as all the ones during the investigation were for a different purpose. And time keeps marching on.

June 14th sticks out in my mind because it was unjust and the end of much naivety. And aside from all that it was the death of our care for a girl we loved. It started baby girl on the most traumatic month or more of her life. It began a series of exhausting initiatives that ultimately did not free us from two lying people with major baggage. There is no grave, and it was a slow death, but its severity still stings.

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Protest Paint

Protest Pie

Protest Pie

By today, I would have thought we would know more about our destination, this journey, this way that started so long ago, with the best intentions and tenderest of hopes. We still wait.

Another thing happened June 14th of last year.

While we were pleading for her to stay, being lied to and about, and packing a bag, a dear friend was finding hope. Her life in many ways had been smashed to smithereens by a person in whom she had trusted and with whom her life and identity were intertwined. She had been betrayed and left, and was in the fresh, fragile season of gathering her self back up under God’s grace. Unexpectedly, June 14th became a significant day for her too; she saw her offender. And, because there was a miracle and her heart was strong, she had compassion. That night, she told me months later, she experienced and extended God’s mercy and love in new ways and in the tumult of faith confronting real life, she forgave. She had a powerful initiation into a freedom and new chapter that began with seeing a broken person who had hurt her deeply with God’s eyes. It was liberating and necessary–she didn’t begin the day ready for that, and she didn’t orchestrate the destination; along the way, hope and new life took hold, and she was rescued. Easter happened again, and disorientation began to be designed into reorientation.

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Her account of June 14th is also mine and mine is hers; they are both true. Juxtaposed on this anniversary is a cross of suffering and a lily of resurrection. I am so thankful for the gift of her memory–for that story that informs my own and helps us keep moving in the grief and confusion. That reminds me that we need each other, at our weakest and best, and that the goals and plans are simply kickstarts to us moving at all. Along the way, Grace is there. Along the way, we hurt and we laugh. Along the way, we see things we were not looking for, and perhaps would have never, ever, asked for. And along the way, we find we were not, and are not, alone.

Forward, onward, all of us, all that has been, together. Immanuel.

1 night, 1 4-inch binder, 1 gentleman and 87 days // 8

It has almost been 8 months since our eyes were changed permanently. When three strangers entered our home, after I had returned from a rare girls night out. We had watched The Fault in Our Stars. It was a late balmy night, unsuspecting and innocent. Almost 8 months since two strangers formed one opinion while the other came with her own established. 8 months since a child was taken and this clawing journey began.

Last night we received a uniformed visitor.

It was one of the strangers from June who has now been at our doorstep 5 times. He does not seem like a stranger any more. He, like she, also walked through our home, examined our children, spoke to each of us separately, and is in a profession of protection, service, and risk. He is a police officer.

His and his partner’s role that night was largely to protect the social worker should things go badly in this then-unknown home. They were not to weigh in on her decisions or process that night. He adhered to his role that night but has since allowed it to become much more.

This police officer and his partner expressed concern, disbelief and regret immediately after she left with the baby. He came by the next day to give us his card and offer help. He came by a few months later to check in after receiving a message at their office from us. He came by last night with a copy of an e-mail he had sent in response to a request for information from DCFS. It seemed that someone, somewhere, had received one of our many letters formally complaining of the conduct we experienced that night. Without him, we would have never known it, as USPS recipient receipts and personal requests for confirmation of our letters have not been returned.

Almost 8 months ago we found an unlikely friend, one of about three we have encountered in the dozens of people we’ve communicated with–in the Department and in the force–since that night. We have a 4-inch binder documenting all of our correspondence and the reports and visits that have occurred since we brought baby girl home to this day. We have been waiting 87 days to learn if the Department will correct its decision to put our home on hold, closed to children to need it, closing our hearts to this dream. Despite the state’s decision to re-license us, we may not be allowed to support the county family welfare system again. We don’t know if the long debate in the upper ranks is encouraging or alarming given the past 8 months.  We don’t know all that she endured since leaving and how she has developed and healed now. We don’t know if anything will come of this officer’s report that collaborates our own and if anyone is looking at both the social worker under question and our home approval at the same desk, though one certainly determined the other.

Much has happened in the past 8 months to change our understanding of law enforcement and power in our city. We have encountered many officers and read many news stories that have robbed us of prior confidence and a feeling of safety and justice. On a personal scale and on a grand scale, grave wrongs have occurred due to the negligence of officers and their organizations.

However, there is a foil to these accounts that we had the chance to encounter last night–someone we are happy to see at our doorstep and who has come to our aid in one way he can. He has seen this story and vouched for us, and this is no small thing. He is a leader and a gentleman and we are grateful–whatever the effect of his letter, whatever the decision is about the social worker or our own foster home status–we are grateful that he became involved. That he did not brush off the discomfort and offense to his integrity that started that night. That he did not let fear or the next call, the next task, the next drama, to sweep away his attention to the last. That he maintained his values and truth in a complicated situation just because it was the right thing to do. We are incredibly grateful for this hero in this story and for the contradiction he bravely offers to so much of our experience.

I am thankful that today I will add one more page to that binder that is truthful. That today I can write a personal and positive account of an officer in our city. That today I can know that there is one outside person added to our corner since we found out we needed a corner.

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May light find a way.

There Is A Lady // 7

There is a lady whom I do not know.  I do not know what ails her, and where she is from.  I do not know if she has borne children, hates children, loves children or knows any children. I do not know her but I will never forget her name.

There is a lady whom I welcomed into my home at 11pm, to whom we showed our sleeping, healthy children, to whom we each spoke with for more than thirty minutes in the middle of the night. She knows where we live. She wore all the right badges, representing the Emergency Response night crew. She appeared calm and open. She was not too interested in the baby. She said things were good, no problems.

And then she left the house, spoke with someone on the phone, came back inside, and said, “So we will remove the child.”

Multiple children were sleeping here that night, believing it to be home. Multiple children had cleared her and the LAPD’s inspection, and had been put back to sleep. Multiple children were under our care, constantly under the scrutiny of families, professionals, and potential adversaries every week with no questions raised. But it was her call that night, and one was removed while the others slept–all three would never understand fully what had happened.

Because, as we know now, the real didn’t matter and the pretend made the decisions.

She became a different person. She would not read the allegations. We could barely understand her English and read her handwriting. She asked me why I had packed food for the baby. She refused to reply to my and an officer’s questions about the illegally installed carseat. She told Ryan he was understating. She kept promising it was temporary. She blatantly lied in her paperwork.

Five months later, through about 10 phone calls, 3 forms, and 2 visits to the courthouse, we acquired a redacted copy of the final investigation report and the emergency response report from the night of the removal. Through this, we learned more of her skewed perspective. Her report was rich in speculation and bias, and she recommended that we each be required to enroll in random drug testing. Three months later, she would be called by the final investigation office, which was tasked with the decision of reopening our home to other children, and she would stand by her memories and unique account, adding that she remembered being concerned that I was in danger of being domestically abused. Number one, thanks for acting on that concern and number two, if we ever play Memory, you’re on my team.

There is a lady who caused immense damage in about two and a half hours. And that is the end of our stories overlapping. No grievance we submit, no testimony we give, nothing short of suing the Department (and winning), would remotely have the ability to remove or edit her paperwork and testimony from our file. She changed us forever and then was gone. She is one of the last people I would recommend letting into your home.

There is a lady who never knew us because before she even entered, she had decided who we were.

Because Our Therapist Cried // 6

It was a startling and somehow calming thing to see our therapist cry when he heard about our past year.

We had made the appointment with him after a long hiatus, knowing that we would be facing some big life decisions and wanting a trusted, third, outside party to help us, the not-marriage-experts, maneuver the new waters. Little did we know when we set up the date that we would soon be thrown into a battle that would mean losing her in the least ideal way, losing trust in two powerful systems in our city, and losing our energy for the initial discernment process that had led us to this new round of counseling.

At this particular meeting, we were about a month and a half into the new reality. Since we had seen him, we had lost a dear friend suddenly, our organization had gone through major shifts, we had lost another dear friend after a long battle, we had completed the foster licensing process, become a family of five, participated extensively with reunification services, and lost our first placement after over 8 months in the middle of the night due to an abuse allegation that was never substantiated by anyone or anything but that we would never be able to overthrow. Yes, it was like a bad run-on sentence.

We had never seen him cry before.

Appropriately enough, we felt like crazy people sitting there in the therapist’s office. The stories and accounts of the last two months, as abbreviated and clear as we tried to make them, were just too fantastic, too ridiculous to assume the listener’s full belief. And yet the stories, as is the case for many people, were all we had; they were all we ever had, even beyond that point in time. His tears suggested that he might just believe us, even if he didn’t understand all the details, and we were surprised and quieted when over and over, other people believed us too…just like he did.

Looking back, I think that even our official accuser believed us more than his original informant. I think that the majority of the folks in the department who wrote up neutral, shrug-of-the-shoulders-type reports about us believed us. I think that there were only a few people whose judgment and wounds and defensiveness about God-knows-what were for whatever reason allowed to drive everything into the shit hole we found ourselves in. Paranoia, fear, and vindictive constructs carry much farther than the majority of the reporting people’s well-wishes, friendly asides, and personal opinions. This came in to play again and again when professionals from top to bottom would tell us that something went very wrong but they could do absolutely nothing to help right it. That old saying, “the only thing necessary for evil to triumph is for good men to do nothing” (Burke) became a lot less inspiring and a lot more painful.

As the months rolled by and we continued to fight for the truth at every opportunity, the battle never died out. We thought many times, this week, the outcome of this event, this correspondence, will determine if there’s a way through or if the door is shut completely on truth or if we are completely done with this. And None of the Above would happen. There would always be some unbelievable (usually bad) development, a way to challenge, a person to write, or a returned piece of mail…something. It was an incredibly drawn out journey of disappointment. And so the stories continued.

Along this journey we became different people. It was the brand of pain and wondering and futile fighting that leaves you grappling with a new self and a new orientation for a long time; it would take a long time to get acquainted with Who Are We Now in the wake of this tale. What meaning could be gained, what stones could now be turned, what scars were incurred as a result of withstanding (surviving?), this mysterious suffering.

She was never far from our minds even when the battle went beyond any hope of her return, however temporary the return would be. In the middle of all the paperwork for truth, I worked on her baby book so I could send it on a hopeful journey to its rightful owner: her. I remember writing on one page about how her biological mother loved her, shown first by carrying her and giving birth to her—something my own mom has told me about mine. Childbirth is so messy, so violent and private and so terribly long, no matter how short it is. The process can literally and figuratively scar you for life. The product is unknown and scary—a new person who will definitely not meet everyone’s expectations, a stranger who will now rule your life.

Eventually, I found the strength to look at this injustice through a lens of re-birth—of change and new and now what. I had to crawl back to that looking glass many many times as the aftershocks of the ordeal continued throughout our family.

I think this crawling was possible because our therapist cried.

Because people believed us, in our own circles and beyond. People believed the accounts of injustice, the ludicrous pain and the asinine journey. When we felt crazy and we wished we were making it all up, they knew we were not. They bore witness to it, they knew we were wronged, that she was wronged, and that it was not the end of the story. Resurrection people waited for what would come next and we were allowed not only our stories but our slow, changing rebirth.

There must not be a better way to suffer.

Thank you.

Gulping for Helium // 5

Nearly three months after we lost her, that Beauty who keeps on living with all of our pennies of love and nickels of wellness we deposited in her being bank, I was awakened around 5 by the early bedside presence of the now-once-again-youngest member of the family—our two-year-old son.

My mind drug itself out of sleepy oblivion barely connecting the words at first, “Baby [name], she not here…Where is she?…[Name.]…Baby [name] gone…I miss [name]….Where she go?” They were innocent, sweet and like it had happened yesterday.

It was a torrent that eventually pounded me awake. Calmly, aching inside, still lying down, I tried to answer.

“Yes, she’s gone. Yes, she left.”
“She’s with another family, Sweetie. She’s okay.”
“I miss her too. I don’t know where she is, Honey, but she’s not here. It’s okay, sweet boy.”

These things are actually not okay, and I could think of better ways to wake up. For both of us.

But here he was, in his own way, with his own freshly hatched words, asking those deep, deep questions, showing the hole he still feels. Three months later, it was so pressing he was up before dawn to ask, ask and ask.

A week later, her bedroom door was closed as it was hot with the afternoon sun. And maybe there were other reasons. As I prepared the boys for bed that night, he suddenly ran to that door and started pounding on it, yelling “OPEN IT! OPEN IT!” He was not angry or sad…just urgent. I did. And I watched as he ran, ran to the side of the still-up, still-pink crib. Up on his toes, he grabbed the bars and looked in.
“Nope, she not here.”
Yes, it is still the case, son. I know it is hard. I know it is still hard. She is not here.

Eleven months prior, he accepted her without hesitation. He held her, fed her, talked to her and checked on her. Throughout the earlier months of adjusting to going back down to a family of four, he had already talked about her some. He has said he missed her, and pointed to items she used to use and say they were hers. We repeatedly tried to make it a safe subject to talk about—things she would do, babies in the store that sounded like her, questions about what happened. Our oldest one day suddenly shouted, “It smells like [Name]! I don’t like that smell!” We repeatedly tried to reassure them and watch out for signs of fear that one day they would wake up and another person would be gone, or that they would leave.

Before the wake-up call, we had had a goodbye and blessing service, in which about thirty of us saw pictures of her, recalled the collective memories our community held treasured in her absence, and prayed for her family, the truth-tellers in the system and, of course, Sweet Girl. Together, we also let balloons fly into the night …filled with our silenced questions and our written blessings, a microcell of the love and loss of the sending crowd. A bright scene against a dark sky.

Perhaps that service stirred up his words. Perhaps he had dreams that night of her. Perhaps, like me, the pain just hit him at different times.

Ever since the farewell service, I have wished for helium balloons on hand for those moments. For the times when the choky cries came again, the injustice weighted our heads anew, and the questions hung heavy and humid. I wished we had helium balloons on hand just to watch something light and floaty and going upwards. To send again our prayers and blessings—the only things we could still offer—the only things left after the grieving and sending.

I wished I had helium balloons in my back pocket to offer the other weighted I saw…the broken relationships, the oldest prayers and the defeated outcasts. The unanswerable questions of a two-year-old at 5 in the morning. Little reminders to heaven, little wonders for our clouded eyes.

We all—all the Lovers—have pain that wakes us up at times. They are close on the palette. And we all need to rest our eyes, and catch a ride, on something with a better view. If we are lucky, we can float on another’s non-chalance.

The same two-year-old who started one day off so poignantly and ended one night with such disappointment, also afforded me that helium distraction in the midst of mourning. An easy laugh, with jokes more than he had words, and a blur of activity, hugging and hurry, he had a floaty personality. Lightly, unpredictably, he moved and lifted the spirits of us all and, even with those questions inside, gifted a different, upward view.

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A New Camp // 4

Throughout the process of finding monsters and getting our eyes stabbed out, we found a microscope suddenly turned on us. Sure we had traversed through the months of classes and interviews to be certified in the first place, but this was different. This attention was due to an accusation. We were guilty until proven innocent and the bad guys, and others could easily capitalize on the situation, to the detriment of our foster daughter.

Under the lens of Are-You-Good-Enough-Still and Non-Abusive, we quickly ran out of defensiveness. We had always been open, extroverted people; the only difference was that we were open, extroverted, defeated people who could not seem to give anyone enough information. We found ourselves in the middle of an asinine scenario that seemed limitless in its sequential absurdity. Every measure of safety and clarity that we attempted to achieve throughout the investigation was eventually shredded. And with them our hopes, short of utter miracle, of having or even seeing her again.

It became insulting to have a parade of people through our door, observing our loss, finding no concerns to justify the loss, giving their personal vote of favor and yet assert no corrective measures to the allegation and ensuing removal of previously-not-traumatized baby girl. It was hard to have surprises around every corner—to pursue truth and realize that after diligently pursuing each avenue, there was no place for it.

In this instance we could not dispense justice.

In this instance God was not making a way for us to be saved in the way we wanted to be saved.

These were scary things to realize and drove us to new places in our mind, heart, and faith. Somewhere, amidst the intense sorrow and disappointment, a germ of redemption began. Sometimes unwelcomed, definitely unnatural. Somewhere in the mess laid a costly compassion for the defeated.

I hear the disgust when people speak of those who are presently beggars or addicts, or practicing a way of life that is bothersome. I have marveled as one observing a foreign and terrible land the crimes against “society” that mental illness mixed with despair have led people to commit. I see the quick posts on Facebook that perpetuate the otherness of the Other, saying that people get what they deserve, or should go to hell based on a singular headline of their life.

This whole tragedy pushed us one step closer to all of those “other” hell-bent people—one step closer to the suffering and those who know injustice and grief best. I believe Jesus is in their camp.

The dawn of justice never came in our night with the monsters. So I felt the allure of an addiction, if only one was easily accessible. I sensed the breath of insanity or crazy-making narcism as I sunk into the pain. My mediocre sense of safety in the world and its systems, and my sense of an ability to stir up justice both nosedived steeply. It seemed that the only reasonable thing to do was to avoid life, and couched in that very real urge to escape was a whisper of gentleness—a motivation to bestow grace on those who had found ways to avoid life using methods that formerly seemed distasteful or far off.

I could see the people who are in a cycle of dependency or chronic complaining in new light. I could consider with more warmth the people who have become lost in their anger, the people who have endured so much grief that causing other people grief seems like a perfect way to dispense justice. I recognized anew the people who feel the world owes them a great deal. I thought of the mothers who have had children kidnapped, who never had any inkling of assurance that their child is well. I thought of the mothers who lost children to death, who could not defend them from the illness or accident that befell the human being to whom they were most connected. I thought about the mothers who lost or surrendered their children to other families or to abortion, because of their own bondage to addiction, entrapment in a certain life and a lack of resources and resiliency to recover.

All of these folks, all of the mothers, have suffered a great deal. Their story can be traced back to a time that they were not characterized as the loser of life or by a loss itself. There was a time when they were not the ones you avoided eye-contact with.

We grew closer to this tribe through our harrowing Night. We grew closer to the laments and insistence, misery and humility of Job’s story. And just as in his speeches Job began to represent more suffering than he himself had experienced—just as he began to speak with and for the Other and has since been a hero of the margins, we too can pray new prayers and cry new notes because of the lows we know now. We can pray at night for the parents who are going to bed without their children. For the children who are unprotected. For the homes with a hole in the middle of them. For the lost and wandering who have suffered irreversible injustice. We can see these people better for our loss.

Even though it insulted our hearts and every human instinct we developed as parents, the pain gave way to new humanity. It birthed something other than itself, which is another way of saying redemption found a way. It was the start of a trajectory of suffering. A meaning through sorrow. A connection after rejection.

Just like the book of Job seems far too long, our battle and defeat carried on a long time. Of course the grief sustained much farther. My chest may never lose the weight of a missing baby. But inside, my heart has somehow grown through the tearing and this I must hold on to for tomorrow.

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A Mother is Born // 3

It turns out that I am more of a mother than I thought I was.

As a woman, somersaulting through various life stages in the early 20s range was not a pretty picture. It’s made me dizzy, kinda angsty, and very mindful that I was never ever cut out for gymnastics. I wanted to raise my children so so well and be good at being married so so badly but sometimes I had trouble identifying as either of those things at all. (Confessions…)

Having a baby, with all the 1-8 months of sleep-training, cry-learning, food-trying, carseat-loading, schedule-building, wellness-checking, milestone-marking…and then NOT, enlivened parts of my motherliness that I just hadn’t realized were there. Mostly through internal alarms and pain, but still. Before the removal, I never realized how much my reflexes and sensations and experience of the day were wrapped up in keeping three little bodies happy, loved and protected. I mean, I knew I was downright busy because Relentless Childish Children and it took every.ounce.of.energy somedays but the lingering loss, the waves of listlessness and the physical upset that abruptly being down one child caused announced to me over and over of the transformation that had occurred in all of my systems because of be(com)ing a mom.

Before the eye-stabbing, I knew foster care was like a reverse pregnancy. A violent, unnatural, soul-wrenching process of loving with no control and losing after all the labor. The stretch marks, the hidden story, the missing person and the bleeding. I knew there would be filling to empty, a caving in and giving out. I knew that differentiation had to happen before it normally does, before any mother and any child should have to grow apart. But there was a plan and we would help her be fully re-born to her permanent family.

In the weeks following the eye-stabbing, I had ovarian cramps. I would hear her crying, and I felt early pregnancy signs. I cannot explain these things except through motherhood. For a time, for all intensive purposes, I was her mom and then I couldn’t be and it effected my body, mind and spirit. We were as in-tune with her as with either of our other children, and then we couldn’t be. We were her whole world and she was a main part of ours, and then it just.couldn’t.be.

In the days after the removal, Ryan nose-dived. He could not stop thinking and he had never felt so deeply. He gained a little equilibrium a few days later as the fight for justice was on with the start of the work week. My descent was more subtle, more timid and agonizing. One moment I was writing a heady, professional letter (because any show of heart is a forfeit of credibility), the next I was sobbing uncontrollably in her bedroom. One moment I was playing cars with the boys like she was upstairs napping, the next I was gulping air with all my concentration, trying to slow my breathing.

And we were all newborn before it—the crisis, confusion, and conflict.

As the days passed, the torture of non-business-day weekends cycled again, and we were horrified by the delays and opposition we suddenly faced, we had plenty of time to examine our intentions and hearts. In our own quiet corners and in front of the many people who questioned us for the Department. (At last count, we were evaluated 6 times in person, with follow-up calls and e-mails to boot. It became boring though my nausea never let up.) It was in those painful moments of searching and reflecting that I first realized I was really a mom. Not in the Home Administration or Behavioral Management fields of the word, but in the all-in, gut-wrenching, search-me-o-God-and-know-my-heart kinda way.

No one in the Department or in the courtroom would consider that we were really worried about her; that we really, truly, did not interfere with reunification and were not intending to by asking for the privilege of being her home once again. No one wanted to hear any sort of sentiment about attachment, stability or love in this case. Before or after the investigation ended. No one wanted to hear that I was a mom, that she thought I was her mom, and that was the best thing for her until a new family was decided for good.

As we sat in waiting rooms, our living room, and courtrooms, knowing there was no room for our sensibilities and parenthood and we were the bad guys, I found some footing in knowing one thing for sure. We truly did and wanted what was best for her, beyond all selfish motives, beyond reason and beyond safety, and for that, I had been a good mom. It didn’t matter if anyone every believed us. It didn’t even matter if she was ever was told. It was true. And when everything else seemed up for debate and up for grabs, and I found that I could not incite justice, I had one crumb of peace that she had been loved in a selfless way for a long, long time before we lost her. She had brought it out of us. I could know that we had been damn good parents.

She taught us so much about being a mom and a dad. Her coming to our family forced the parenthood issue so many nights and days—were we in it for us, or for her? The worst summer ever clarified: we are so For Her it hurts. She may never know it but embedded in her life, in those warm, trusting eyes and that healthy, nimble body, is the love of two parents she grew and developed and left better than they were. We fought for her from the moment we met her, and that is what parents do.

For every ounce of comfort I desire for us, the accused, I want tons more for her. For every moment of strength and resilience I enjoy or long for, I want years more for her. For every embrace and soothing presence we have been given and can offer as a result of this, I want oceans more for her. These hopes become prayers because there is nothing else to do with this flow of love she ripped open.

And that is how I know I’m a mother.

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The Most Pretending Matters // 2

It was like preparing to lose your hearing when a crowd of people rush at you and stab out your eyes.

The dream of adoption had flown long ago; we distantly hoped it would return another time. We knew it was not the end of this story and that we were the best she had for now and now was enough for all of us. We knew that our hearts and attention would follow whatever journey she was on and we would be there for her as long as we were allowed, until the last transitional visit, until the last court date and document served. We loved her to a painful degree; she taught us new depths of being parents. We knew we were not equipped for such a long building and deconstruction; we did not do things perfectly. But we were here, and we would try, and we would be okay. Just as long as she was.

Mentally there was a running document of notes about her behaviors, her preferences, her story and what they would need to know to become her full-time caregivers. I sorted and boxed too-small clothes and tiny little socks based on what she would need for a complete keepsake collection, what they would need to piece together the months they had missed and continue the story as seamlessly as possible. The impending goodbye added a sepia glow to our Every Day with her. We were protectors of her truth, and tried to face the future with courage.

The day it happened she attended a church planting meeting with me. Donned in a new bloomer one piece with scalloped trim and lacy edges, she showed off her crawling and meticulous fine motor skills around the meeting room. She would not go too far before returning happily to me for a snuggle, and then she was off again. She rested in the carrier on my chest to and from the meeting. I didn’t leave her with my willing, competent neighbors who had offered to watch her, though not knowing it would be our last day together.

Around the time I was admiring her joyful spirit and crawling antics, a mandated reporter had made a call about us. It was a call based on heresy, manipulation and perhaps politics and discrimination. It was not handled in a timely manner by the Department (of Child and Family Services) and became the night worker’s duty. After seeing a movie with a couple of girlfriends late that night, I found a harrowing message on my phone. I could barely understand the words but there was something about coming by, abuse, and police. I called the night worker back right away.

Unsuspecting of how wrong wrong could get, we swung our door open, having nothing to hide, believing the truth would prevail and this would be over soon. No one’s concerns were alarmed. No question was left unanswered. She said there were no red flags. The police assured us that removal was not on the horizon. But still the worker had different ideas. Promises of temporary, of return, of resolution were given. A sleepy girl peered at us with confusion from an unfamiliar, illegally installed carseat. The nightmare had begun.

We never dreamt that one man’s phoned-in report could have such a traumatic, irreversible effect on a child and a family when put into the right hands. It didn’t matter that the reporter never answered another phone call or message over the course of the month-long investigation. It didn’t matter that we too were mandated reporters, had 8 months of 2-4 visits with various people each week in which no one raised an eyebrow, and had around 20 households willingly write letters vouching for our home and 5-person family system. It didn’t matter that our other children were spoken to 6 times without one suggestive word or mark, that all our interviews and home visits that followed were clean, consistent, and convincing.

It also didn’t matter that there was no evidence at any point of the investigation to verify the allegation. It didn’t matter that the night worker did not understand her own paperwork and wrote the allegation in the interview notes, indicating that we verified the accusations on paper while assuring us verbally that it was just the spot to write the report that had sent her there. It didn’t matter that the women with whom we could not communicate clearly about turning the light on or off had the future of our family and for-now baby in her hands. All the real things didn’t matter while all the pretend things towered and overcame, like monsters.

We knew she wouldn’t sleep here forever, or really for long in terms of an entire childhood. But to that point, she had spent almost her entire life in these walls and in these arms. She had been sheltered from a great deal of confusion and upset because while plans came and went and proposals rose and fell, her life didn’t have to follow the tossing. Her life was stable; she could focus on toys and sleeping and what to do with Cheerios. We were happy, no, eager, to provide that buffer until permanency was reached. We had wanted the honor and responsibility of mitigating her losses in this busted up world and system.

And then the eye-stabbing came.

Then she truly experienced neglect and trauma. Middle of the night removal. Middle of the weekend institutional placement. Middle of late infancy attachment re-placement. Middle of transition at 3 week point, re-placement yet again. After leaving her thus-far home, she slept in 3 places. She was fed poorly in the first couple of days under the Department’s care, despite my sending food and bottles, which was despite the night worker’s discouragement. She was not allowed any transitional, monitored visits with us. She was spoken of and treated like a blank piece of paper because 8+ months of a 9 month non-verbal life was meaningless and unmoving to the decision-makers. It just didn’t matter.

Oh how we would have loved to lose our hearing.