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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Confessions from the Backyard

Our backyard is not something I’m proud of. The carefully laid sod we bought and planted our first year here died long ago under the drought and our incompetency–the neglect of both the sky and human attention. The still-loved trampoline has a bad case of sagging-net and has bright yellow duck tape on pieces, betraying its years in the sun. Our mandarin orange tree is so confused, with 3 stages of oranges on it and a slew of ants. The tortoise has some pigeon poo on her shell.

It is a great space but what was once nicely cleaned up and orderly and growing is pretty dusty and rustic and lackluster.

I know the feeling.

14 months since leaving vocational ministry. 17 months since losing a baby and, eventually, a battle. 14 seizures in our youngest son since she was taken. Over 3 1/2 years since we started becoming foster-to-adopt parents. 4 inches of paperwork from our time with her and fighting on her behalf. 2 inches of paperwork from medical bills. A lot of goodbyes. A lot of misunderstandings.

Nearly all the things have been unconventional and unplanned. By God’s grace and love, good friends, the propeller of children to care for every.moment.of.the.day, and the tyranny of time, we have bid some farewells, and had times of healing and moving forward.

6 months pregnant. 4 months seizure-free. 2 months into a new career for Ryan; 3 middle school grades representing a bounty of love, promise, investment, heartache, and heart. 10 months into a new job for me; 4 grants awarded. 1 new Christ-centered, socially-active, egalitarian, small-budget, multi-ethnic church body. 2 beautiful sons growing in character and becoming friends, teammates and co-rascals. There is still so much goodness in our little space.

Still, it has not left us unscathed. All of “It” so near and yet so far back. There are days when we have been ungrateful–where we have not felt like we had enough, could keep going, had things to give, and had received our fair share. Yes, there have been days we have felt downright bratty and mad–“Why won’t anything work out?” “Would it be too much to ask for a break?” And these attitudes, and the survival mode of many months, have left us dry. Left us acknowledging our need for a rekindled devotion to God and service–in our heart of hearts.

Because while the pace keeps going, the extroverts keep showing up, the kids keep growing– things can become hollow, less grounded, more default, more rote, quite smoothly.

“I know your works. You have the reputation of being alive, but you are dead. Wake up, and strengthen what remains and is about to die, for I have not found your works complete in the sight of my God. Remember, then, what you received and heard. Keep it, and repent.” Rev. 3:1b-3b

The hollowing is not all wrapped up in grief and injustice. It is not all excused by stress and weariness. It is not all because of inadequacies in our personalities or maturity or marriage or parenting or planning (though all those things possibly exist). Things have really sucked at times despite the best of these things and while God has been near, and we have been helped and supported by Him, our devotion has suffered. Our discipline has lagged. There is discouragement in our prayers. Our faith is still recalibrating. What is left may be true and good; it is solid to grow from, attach to, and offer back. But there is wreckage. The many hard realities of life the last couple of years have not always driven us to Him, but within, or our coping devices, or our hard work, chatter and human autopilots.

“I say this for your own benefit, not to lay any restraint upon you, but to promote good order and to secure your undivided devotion to the Lord.” 1 Cor. 7:35

As the former missionaries, the church goers, the natural leaders, the open house, the whatevers and whoevers we’re tempted to allow others to think of us as, we are fallen, and though stronger in small ways, weaker in many others. We do not know how to wait patiently on the Lord for adoption and how to conduct ourselves in this system and this brokenness. We do not know how long to wait for MediCal back payments on bills after months of fighting and resubmitting. We do not know how cautious to be about epilepsy and we’re not good at being gracious with our local pharmacy. We do not know what it’s going to be like to have a newborn again, in the middle of the school year, with a teacher/administrator and 1st grader in the mix this time.

We do know we need to spend more time in ancient Truth and stillness. In rereading scripture, in rekindling devotion, and investing in the deeper conversations and friendships. We do know that we are not alone, and all is not lost–far from it. We are part of a Kingdom that cannot be shaken–i.e. purposes and a love that both demand and return much despite any of the “It” we face. We know that good is lasting, that love is final, and there is grace enough for us and our mess.

The rains are coming; the land is waiting in all its non-glory. The grass might grow back…and perhaps we with it.

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.

Protest Paint

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.

How I Meet Sunday

In the latest parts of a day, and the earliest parts of the next, sometimes my thoughts catch up with me.

In the inky-bluest shadows of the never-dark Los Angeles night, I am alone and the scattered thoughts and pounding heart have free roam before the listening ear of a loving Father and a learning, wandering soul.

Tonight many noises accompany my rising.

The constant whirl of the freeway beside us. The helicopters’ relentless search overhead. The speakers from the other side of the street, sometimes sending a blur of words, sometimes of tones, that remind me of the mosque by our house in Nairobi–the one we used to take the littles to while Mom and Dad walked laps or I jogged for basketball. I remember a navy blue stroller with yellow and green. I almost forgot about that.

Tonight I sit in a room that I can still smell her in sometimes and I lay all the things before a Greatness I believe is there and before and beyond and with. Life has been like the helicopters; relentlessly searching out the plans I had, the places I thought were secure, and I am naked and poor, wretched and blind, before the glare. It has been another long week and I swear we are not crisis-centered people. The four of us have been sicker than we ever have been and we are all thinner and more humbled by our fragility and need for others as a result. The reality of Ryan’s work has hit hard, and we keep finding our youngest having had seizures and the diagnosis and solutions aren’t keeping pace. Yes, there are many thoughts catching up to me.

Since she unwillingly left, it has been long enough to conceive and carry and then hold a new child, home. But we are still waiting to know what was conceived on that night other than loss. We are still looking for a heartbeat of something new and breathing to help give the grief a gloss–not a cover, but a seal. I have not posted more lately about todays as though yesterdays but I have written a story that must wait to be told, to fill in some gaps. I don’t have the story I would like because still there are no conclusions. I pray for her and I ask, what do you want Lord? What does love call us to here? What do we need to surrender?

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My mind shifts to those outside of this empty room with the new paint. The friend who has spent the past week in the hospital, while my family was emptying our guts sick at home, having every part of his gut examined and tested, praying for life and a break from the pain. The family that surrounds him that are the type of people you don’t want anything or anyone to hurt or hold back because they help all those around them hurt less and move forward. Some ruling out has been offered but peace is slippery in the waiting room. And I am transported to this time last year, when our loved one was spending her last weeks on earth with her loved ones, next door. So much has changed since then; there has been much grace but still, the losses are heavy. I pray for the unknowns of the one family of saints, their strength and their care and I pray for the knowns, the finality, that still dawns on the other family of saints–and their strength and their care. 

I consider the hearts of my sons. One is needing me more instead of less–and everything I may have guessed about parenting before is brought into question by fuzzy layers of side-effects, grief, epilepsy, and a 3-year-old personality I don’t completely understand. Each day is a mystery and we are waiting for our own answers for him. One has been so strong through so much, so steady and predictable. But I see his strength growing in some directions that will pen him in, that will close off options that are fully his in a life of grace. And I want to help him avoid the wrecking ball of the future–the decontruction I know because I do it, with Help, over and over. And I pray for grace. For strength, for tenderness, for loving hearts. For rescue from the barrage on his mind and protection in the war over his heart.

The accounts of a visit to Iraq and About sections on adventurers and non-profit starters and writers from afar move me in between apple juice and bed changing and squabbles over Legos. I wonder at those women, and my nearness of heart to them but my seemingly infinite distance of proximity. Have I changed? Did I miss something, do something wrong? Should I be doing something else? These seem like indulgent thoughts this night of shadowy watercolors. No, maybe, I don’t know– I know that I thought I was mightier at some point than I am. I can admit that I thought I would be in charge of more things by now while I’m in fact finding out I’m in charge of fewer than ever. And so I pray. Tired, quiet, with all the night noises my chorus, I pray. You are mightier than the worst nightmare and the biggest success. These questions are too daunting. Show your mighty acts, your justice rivers, your mercy storms. Reassure my frenetic heart as the myths dissolve away. Be close to the warriors in these conflicts; those who are able to start and renew out there.

And I pray for the other women in my life. Who feel alone. Who are vulnerable to attack. Who are restless and bored and strong and exhausted all at the same time. Who are yearning for answers and needing a searchlight to show a new route.

And this continues. I wake and I wake to the storms and this is how I meet Sunday–feeble, frustrated and befriended. By not just a god, but a Shepherd. Not just a counselor, but a Maker.

And this is acceptable.

I find that for someone who does not have journals of conversations with God but piles of lists and academic notes, it can be difficult to pray. It is difficult to pray when the last year has held so many unanswered questions and hopes, you half expect visible debris to fall from the ceiling when you do. It’s difficult for me to pray, alone, unless my heart and mind have so much going on that their caffeine of need overpowers my endless fatigue and distractions.

Tonight, last week, I could not do anything about anything. But this new week, I’m starting with what I can. And it’s all I can more often than not. It’s not my favorite, and it’s not much to write about, but I learned more of true might tonight in my weak state–in the mess of all the pieces that fell out of my head and spilled from my heart, and scattered all across this space of loss, turned holy.

In the winging of this waiting, in the haze of this night, I can only invite Help and rest until morning.

Publicly Mistaken for the Arrival of a Stranger – My Story

“I do not understand. Where are you from?”

He was a scuba instructor and we were in a pool, about 90 degrees cool, on the east coast of Africa. His English was heavily accented in that clipped Kenyan cadence I never mastered. I was maybe 15. There were no other Asian tourists that I can recall but then again, I was technically a resident. And though I was racially Asian, I was ethnically white, with an increasingly amount of ethnic space under construction. Thus his confusion. He thought he knew me, and the words “adopted” “Nairobi” and “American” did not compute without further explanation. I thought I knew myself too, but that, I would learn, would never be the whole story.

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I am adopted from South Korea. I was raised by and primarily absorbed the white suburban middle class culture of the Pacific Northwest. At age 11, I went to South Korea and the Philippines and I felt more at home in the Philippines. Soon after, we were headed overseas as missionaries, in a state of constant travel and transition until landing in Nairobi at age 13. I attended an international school there, the 2nd largest nationality there being South Korean. My white parents adopted my three youngest siblings, who are racially black but ethnically a blend of the international sub-cultures they lived in and white suburban middle class. For university I returned to the States but a region I’d never spent time in before: Southern California. I attended a school that was committed to promoting multi-ethnic awareness and was proud of its diversity in a crowd of Christian colleges typically monocultural. I struggled as a Third Culture Kid (TCK) reacclimatizing to the United States after formative years away.

Out of college I began living and working in the diverse urban center of Los Angeles that reminded me in many ways of Nairobi. I married a white man whose family has lived in the same white suburb for generations. I also attended a seminary that forced me to continue to interact with and study from people with different racial, ethnic, cultural and theological backgrounds, by text and in person. We became certified to foster and adopt through the county and took cross-racial and cross-cultural parenting classes. I am watching my younger siblings make the tough transition across the ocean that I did, in the opposite direction, still not matching their surroundings, racially or ethnically. I daily interact with people who have had completely different experiences than me, partly due to their familial culture, their economic and geographical history, and partly due to their race. I love my city and my family and I am a career student of the stories therein.

These are the bullet points to a lifelong continuing journey of learning about race and reconciliation.

I am no expert. I don’t hold any keys or any exclusive rights to this conversation; quite the opposite. I happen to like writing and talking. I make a lot of mistakes.

From walking through sewered pathways in the Kibera Slum of Nairobi to reading Gustavo Gutierrez’s On Job to finding my heart ashamed as I realized deep, unfounded fear of another race in college to seeing the Gospel in new ways in the housing projects of Los Angeles, I am convinced that despite all my blindspots and all my mistakes, I will continue to learn from and talk about people with different levels of privilege than me. I am dead set on keeping in touch with the margins in this issue because I believe that Jesus is there and when I insist that the strangers to my life are strangers, I miss truth. I accept an under-developed level of compassion and understanding that will hurt my community, my siblings, the Church, and my own children. There is ample opportunity for this story-exchange and learning in today’s world; in tomorrow’s, it will not be optional.

It is my privilege that this is a choice. That I could choose to go through life without talking to people who are not white and not of the model minority race with which people secondarily attach me. It is a privilege that I grew up seeing leaders, authority figures, illustrated Jesus and the disciples, and heroes portrayed as the race I primarily identified with (though not the gender). Constant translation of pervasive icons and messages was unnecessary to me as a child because I so strongly accepted my white ethnic identity; my ethnic identity was normative and dominant so I did not have to be actively aware of my race or ethnicity. For others, translation and accommodations and making room for the stranger, the other story, the social norms that don’t correlate with your own identity and experience, are constant. That is called being a minority. And I tend to think that those who have been cognizant of their race and racial relations all their life have more to teach me about the subject than I them.

When Ryan first went to our local Costco with me, he left with a stark realization of his white-ness. Did it define who he was? No. Did it explain all of his behaviors, mistakes, idiosyncrasies and worldview thenceforth? No. But the fact that he had never been in a public place in the United States and been forced to think about being the only person of his racial background spoke to his racial privilege. This isn’t an indictment; this is a fact.

I speak and learn about race not as a victim or as an intrinsically conflicted adult TCK with adoption issues (both of which I’ve been accused of). I speak and learn about race as someone who has enjoyed a great deal of privilege and knows it. I do not feel guilty about that; I feel more informed about that than I used to be. That’s all. I wish more people would learn about this with me, correct me and listen to my limited stories. I wish that more of my brothers and sisters in Christ would be vulnerable and humble online and in person, sharing their stories, their questions, their fears, and listening in this arena.

I sincerely apologize to those that I have rubbed the wrong way in this journey for the things I have said and tones I have used that have inadvertently excused you from the conversation. I am truly sorry for the part I’ve played in separating us from connecting and engaging with this topic to the degree that your response has to do with me. I am not going to stop talking about race and listening to and highlighting the voices of the underprivileged, but I am hoping to do it better. I am new to this topic; for those who have not been racially or ethnically privileged, they do not have that luxury.

In international communities, it is normal to acknowledge race and nationality and celebrate the differences. It’s not the basis from which to understand people but it is a useful description that is not taboo. Current events in our nation continue to raise the issue of race relations, which are incredibly relevant and important to my family and local community. Yet this has struck a good/bad false choice in people that jars my heart deeply. I had forgotten, after many years in an international community, the academy and now in international Los Angeles, that debating racial issues could be an abrasive topic from the outset in circles where the very subject of race is politely avoided (out of often good intentions). I recognize that in bringing up solidarity with the race-based experiences of other races, I have threatened a white solidarity unspoken norm at times. As a result, I have been rejected from circles to which I used to belong. I can see my own past and current tendency with what has been termed “white fragility” in avoiding acknowledging any privilege or dominant influence my ethnic category has had on society as a whole. I almost daily recognize knee-jerk reactions against these hard, awkward conversations and situations in an attempt to make myself feel more comfortable and innocent. I get these postures. But I want to move away from them. And if this is a constant source of alarm and offense to you, perhaps we should unfriend and step apart for a time; I deeply hope to reconvene later.

At the end of my life, I hope that I was able to be a public learner–which is to say, a public, apologetic, messer-upper. I’ve said before that part of my purpose in this blog is to write part-way–to disclose weak and deconstructed parts of my journey in order to normalize and invite the secret struggles of others. Part of my purpose as a parent and older sibling is to show them why Jesus matters in every context and to model being brave and broken. This matter of race and reconciliation is of utmost importance to me and, I believe, central to an understanding of the Christian faith. For this reason, I’m willing to have awkward and fruitless conversations and go there. I’m okay with being publicly embarrassed and discredited along the way. I’ve accepted that I’ve made mistakes and I’m going to make more and I know that the people I need most in life are going to still track with and love me through those blunders.

I yearn for companions on this journey. Would you let me know if you are on this path too? I know that you are strong enough and there is courage in numbers. I love the black women who reached out to people with different hair and capitalized upon racial curiosity. I love that now that I live south of Koreatown, I am learning about my own hair for the first time! There is such freedom in talking about our differences, from hair to how we define respect. All I am saying is that I am listening to new accounts and it is changing my own to be more truthful. It is opening wider places of understanding and humility and while it is hard and frustrating, it resonates in my soul as right and He is near.

This is my story with this collective story of our country called race and ethnicity. This is why I care and why I keep talking about it. May our lifelong pursuit of wholeness (shalom) bring us ever closer to each other and our Creator.

Matthew 25:38-39
“And when did we see You a stranger, and invite You in, or naked, and clothe You? When did we see You sick, or in prison, and come to You? ’ The King will answer and say to them, ‘Truly I say to you, to the extent that you did it to one of these brothers of Mine, even the least of them, you did it to Me.”

Falling Through Staircases and Other Things I’d Like to Avoid

Sometimes the fragility is so suffocating. So ending. For so long, it feels like I am living on the verge. Of change, of heartbreak, of rage, of tears, of breakthrough. Of it all. And I hate heights and edges. As I kid, I thought I was one misstep away from falling through those staircases with no backs. It may have been physically impossible but it made me focus on the next step so hard. Clutch the railing so hard. That kid is not too far away.

The cracks in my cool also make me more tender to the beautiful notes, to the moments — and there really may just only be moments — in a day with children that delight my mom heart. The cracks make me painfully aware of my need for a Savior and that can’t be all bad. The cracks make me so grateful and relieved by small things. Coffee. An open parking space. A friend’s dropping by.

My life is so small and I think so big. I am professionally poised while constantly compelled to reveal, unearth, and challenge. It is a strange, exhausting stretch. Do you know it?

My short walk with foster care has so far shown me that our grasp on reality is very, very weak. The hours of certification classes do not make sense of the process we are in now. The barrage of comments on our “daughter,” on how she looks like me, on our family of five, are bittersweet and strange nods to the mystery of family. The confident assessments of her visiting family, of how she is and what she likes and what I am thinking. The reports turned in to court by strangers describing a child’s situation they have never asked about. It all nods to the mysteries behind any appearance, any situation, what we see and think we know.

She hugs me so tight and that is real, but knowing that she could also never know about me is also real. Praying for her is one of the most real things we can do for her, because our feet are planted in Now and our vision is nearsighted, and yet, I cannot tell, I cannot perceive, what is real about it. What it is doing, what He is doing, what They will do, for her life, for mine. What is praying like this, for this, doing in me, the pray-er and what on earth is it doing in the heavenlies. I am the pray-er afraid of the gaps, afraid of falling through and falling small. The pray-er of brokenness and poise, of long-winded comments and wordless wants.

I am so here. I am so temporal and human and here. Heartbroken over the unknowns facing my children, clutching the railings for fear of falling through. Heartbroken over the recent losses in the Church–my extended family–and the lost ground of the Kingdom. Heartbroken over my own inadequacy and mistakes. And so I am heart-surrendered. Heart-surrendered to more–to more than I can see, to more than seems so real, to more than the graves of today. Heart-surrendered to more than here.

Whenever I think of here, I remember that sweet, divine line of poetry: “And here in the dust and dirt, O here // The lilies of His love appear!”

Maybe there is room on the verge to dangle my restless legs. To sit and rest from the climb. Somehow, with all the loose pieces of my heart and all the sensitivities in my soul, I still hope there are lilies to be gained. I am banking on that poet’s forecast. That even though I could be on the verge of insanity and even more grief, I could also be nearer to love, to grace, that I have not learned, not lived, before.

Not because I have transcendent powers of reflection or meaning-making, no. I have these suspicions because Jesus is known for coming to the edges and ledges; He is the relentless Shepherd of my story that goes to the verge and enters the graves and finds the ones. The alones. The heartbroken. The sinners elevated and isolated as special. The children with gaps in their past. The big-thinking unavoidably-regular moms climbing scary staircases. Only because there is the I AM, the YHWH, the God with us here, the Counselor, could this space–this fragile verge–be redeemed. Not the end, but the middle.

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Life on Trial

I have a real fear of inspiring people in all the wrong ways. Like the “what not to do” type of almost-cool/daring/yadahyadah Christian woman who tried a lot of things that did not go real well and therefore, inspiring people to not do x, y or z.

So there’s that.

One of those variables in the back of my lovely mind is foster care. Like, golly gee, in the midst of the advocating, the scheduling, the documenting, the crying, the monitoring of visits, the actual, you know, parenting, there’s this concern that someone in the crowd of witnesses is deciding if they will foster-to-adopt or not, and this uncontrolled mess of a scenario is screaming “NOT.” And, like the first-born, over-achieving child-in-a-big-body that I am, I would like to raise my hand and take responsibility for that. Somehow.

And then I think, maybe telling it like it is will only help people make a better decision, not necessarily a different one, than they were already going to make.

Or maybe not.

But this blog is about telling the truth and being open about crisis and struggles and victories and feelings. It is about permitting the ands of life to breathe in recognition that the Shepherd is good and close and big and that He sees things fully. That dichotomies are almost always false choices and there is so much stinkin’ room in Grace for and.

There are about 10-100 articles right now that you can read about the beauty of fostering and the meaning and purpose and theology of opening your home and your heart to a scenario beyond your control for whatever amount of time you are given to nurture and protect that child. They are great and compelling and they are true.

And this is also true: some days, I am a wreck. An externally-composed, inwardly-spiraling wreck.

Here are a few thorns:

  • We feel that this baby is our child, our family, and she probably is not and there is nothing that we can do about either of those things.
  • I have been made to repeatedly feel like I was on trial while trying to protect her from being hurt by someone who actually is.
  • Being a foster parent includes all of the responsibility of being a parent to a child and an assistant to an array of social service professionals, with almost none of the power or choices of either role.
  • Usually, we are her only worldly advocates. And our communication is mistaken for asserting our personal will and for a desire for convenience. Which is actually laughable.
  • I am one of her birthparents’ only friends.
  • One of our time-sensitive financial forms is currently frozen because of being given invalid information and then not finding any help from the powers-that-be in correcting that information.
  • Our personal information was shared with others who should definitely not have received it period, let alone by mail.
  • She has had as many social workers as the months she has been in foster care.
  • We are expected to be highly-trained, capable parents coming into the game but on the field have to defend our spot and perspective in every scenario, in front of every walk-on, with no real back-up.
  • Left at home, she enjoys 2-3 good naps each day but she usually cannot have more than one because of her demanding schedule.
  • She, unlike thousands and thousands of children, has a line of people who want to care for and love her as long as (or as soon as) they possibly can.

Everyone knows that becoming involved in foster care or foster-to-adopt methods of family planning is risky and scary. In broad strokes, we knew it. We knew it would require more patience, more faith, more risk, than we could know. We knew that no matter what scenario we found ourselves in, that loss was part of the story. For the baby, for the birthparent(s), or for our family and our community.

What I didn’t know was all the specifics. (And I LOVE specifics.) All the ways that an originally straightforward case would unravel and unwind and extend and unwind me and extend me to the end of myself, over and over again. I couldn’t know some of the numb places, the silent places, and the yo-yoing of this lifestyle we were catapulted into. I also couldn’t know that peace could somehow touch me in the oddest, most awkward, and unsettling situations. I would have never thought we could do this. But this is something you don’t do until you have to. And even then, it’s through no strength or sometimes even willingness of your own.

I am traveling a mysterious marathon with no pace-setters and no mile markers and no medals. And I still don’t know the specifics I want to know.

Chances are, if you were not scared out of a desire to do foster care or foster-to-adopt by other information and the daunting approval process (“You want to examine my pen drawer?”), you won’t be deterred by our bouquet of and specifics–this and side dish to the beautiful entrée about love and meaning and tender moments. So here it is. In spite of that nagging fear of being the anti-inspirational writer, I share this part. This ashy, confusing and true part of a complicated blessing we treasure and walk through day by day.

Beauty and Ashes and Forward

There is so much of me that craves beauty.

It is almost a tangible deficiency somedays, when my smile is lagging, when my breaths are pulled taut, when my attention is scattered like my son’s die cast cars across the carpet. The endless ocean of die cast cars…

I cannot even begin to name that hunger when physical hunger often is missed while I am running between diapers, doctors, and dirty clothes. Without real effort, I cannot even begin to identify that what I really want is to see the Beauty Between. In all the crevices of Normal and Sub-par. The super in the natural. That is what I really need. But my senses get dull so easily.

And then I watch a short video about unexpected love and a pulling, exhausting attachment. Or I hear a song that reminds me of Pretty and of the sunshines I keep company with. I witness my oldest speaking to my youngest in a compassionate and tender tone, moments after I consider a day-long time-out. Or I suddenly miss a beautiful friend who passed away two short, long weeks ago. I think about her and the beauty of her generosity, her sassy style, her beautifully-crafted story of resilience and healing.

And these things strike a chord, a reverberating deep chord of the Sacred. Of the Beauty I miss, not because it is not around me but because I am slow and too fast and I think I need to be in the woods to have it. To participate.

It has been a relief-less run lately. Asher’s 6th febrile seizure and his terrible rendition of the flu took me off guard. I couldn’t stop crying one night when his diaper and the day’s events took me back to Guatemala and a particularly desperate time of not knowing what to do about his health. I stared at the Maytag downstairs, telling myself he was okay, it was okay, and I tried to focus on the amazing thing of a washing machine and an extra sheet and ER this time around. Ryan and I are having tough discussions in an effort of discernment and dreams are scary to name and disappointments hurt and distractions demand. We have been thrown into a “child welfare” system and a process and scenario no amount of classes could foreshadow and we are helpless. It is all waiting and responsibility and confusion. Losing Lily has left a hole, even for me on the peripheral. I expect her to drop by and then my heart drops. And her children, no matter how many – and there are many – loving aunties and motherly neighbors they have, have lost their mom. Their motivator, their fan, their hero. And other children will talk and complain about their moms and be sent to school with Valentine’s Day doo-dads from their moms and will not have had to find the perfect size 6 girls dress for their mom’s memorial service. We can mother them but we cannot be their mother. His wife. Their rock.

Beauty, bullets to my ignored heart from the unexpected sources, in the midst of this cloud of welling and numbing, hits me hard and sudden. Fleeting, but reminding me of True and Noble and Praiseworthy and Excellent. And I am crying not because of fear, or even of grief, but just craving. Of recognition and longing.

The pilgriming is hard, isn’t it?

In these days, beauty reminds me that the promise is still coming. That nothing is wasted. That something in me is still alive and creative and wanting more is part of the journey forward. That now is all we have and nothing I am cleaning or fretting over is for keeps.

In these days, with disguised beauty and bulleted beauty and coming beauty, I am trying to remember to stop. To look. I am trying to believe that the heaviest things are not the truest things necessarily. That crying over a Chinese commercial isn’t just crying over a Chinese commercial. That pausing to peer at a die cast car with a four-year-old is worthwhile. That beauty knocks and sneaks in and beauty is even within this fidgeting, weary frame. Because this frame is part of Creation and humanity and there is good and beauty because He makes it so.

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The Show Will Go On

This week I thought we may need to take a day to be a family of four again. But we are still five. Gratefully, surprisingly, tiredly, five.

Another twist in the road of foster-to-adopt. Another plot twist that leads our imaginations with new anticipation and wondering.

Throughout the past three months, each day has come in rhythm. Each night there is sleep. Each day there is activity. And we chug along. At the same time, there are the outstanding questions and trailing prayers that backdrop any normalcy. Under the piles of girl laundry. Hanging in the sleepy rooms of children’s nighttime breathing. Between the rows of bottles and the crowded stretch of carseats taking up the width of the car. At times, though so entrenched in the Daily, I feel the tense waiting as though I am in an amphitheater, waiting for a show to start. The stage holds no clues to the plot; the passing of time is unmeasured and undefined. In a crowd, I watch. I fidget. I try not to write my own script.

Through all the waiting, there has been divine grace. Grace I never knew I would – I could – bear witness to and definitely could not muster. A growing compassion for the woman whose baby I hold. A friendly calm and feeling amidst an assortment of their family members I have met and spent time with. A forgiveness for unfair behavior. A peace that allows us – all five – to sleep at night and wake in the morning.

This past week has held much upheaval. Aside from our personal phone calls and turn of events, there have been attacks, bad news, injustice, and poor decisions in our surrounding community. In these times we know with painful poignancy that we are small. That our definition of safety is not what it used to be. That anger and despair could take us. That we have grown spiritual muscle for this walk in the desert but maybe not enough and it is time to reach out and it is time to feed our souls and minds with life-giving things because the rest is life-taking.

And that is not all bad.

When our life pushes our faith to become less invested in things going our way, going easy, our love for Him becomes more disinterested and less false.

And the weaker my attachment is to a comfortable, self-defined plot, the more I can appreciate and sit in spaces of ambiguity and waiting.

So I will be thankful for that. I will be thankful for one more day of rising as five. One more way Love is introducing me to Himself. One less limit I have placed on His character and plan.

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Psalm 6:3-6 – O Lord, how many are my foes!

Many are rising against me;
many are saying of my soul,
there is no salvation for him in God.

But you, O Lord, are a shield about me,
my glory, and the lifter of my head.
I cried aloud to the Lord,
and he answered me from his holy hill.

I lay down and slept;

    I woke again, for the Lord sustained me.
I will not be afraid of many thousands of people
who have set themselves against me all around.

Psalm 4:8 – In peace I will both lie down and sleep;
for you alone, O Lord, make me dwell in safety.

Proverbs 3:1-6 – My son and daughter, do not forget my teaching,

    but let your heart keep my commandments,
for length of days and years of life
and peace they will add to you.

Let not steadfast love and faithfulness forsake you;
bind them around your neck;
write them on the tablet of your heart.
So you will find favor and good success
in the sight of God and man.

Trust in the Lord with all your heart,
and do not lean on your own understanding.
In all your ways acknowledge him,
and he will make straight your paths.

Hope

It is a chance for us all to be pregnant.

Man, woman, child. It is the time to be waiting and expectant. And maybe a little hormonal.

We join Mary and Joseph in the anticipation of a baby King. We reach back in time, and feel this present time, and hope for a coming time that is, at the very least, different. No amount of decorations can lift our hearts. No consumption of holiday drinks and sales can mend our souls. We are longing, we are waiting. It is Christmastime.

This year, I feel the burden of Mary’s role, of her being given a bewildering part to play in a salvific drama that largely does not include her.  From the time she heard that she carried a Savior, that Joseph could not claim Him as his son, that His name had been chosen for her, she must have sensed the awkwardness. She must have had an inkling that this road was not only an honor, it was a grief. Not just embarrassing, but bereaving.

She would face the humiliation and isolation. She would cry out in labor pains, and lose her figure. She would have all the worries and urges of a new mom. But from conception, this baby was not hers alone. He–the Messiah–was the Son of God. He would not call her house His home. He would differentiate from her before she was ready. He was born to die, rise, and ascend. She would lose Him and it started before she even had Him. She couldn’t know Him fully.

Yesterday, I held a sleeping baby girl while I hung up a 28-year-old ornament with my other arm. It is a piece of fabric, in a tiny quilter’s hoop, with printed words speaking of all the love a daughter brings to Christmas. It is dated 1985. It is a familiar ornament as I have hung it each year for as long as I can remember. Tears came to my eyes as I realized the predicament I was in, willingly, painfully. The sleeping baby in my arms is almost surely going to move and be someone else’s daughter. She was entrusted to us and while we had always hoped, we also always knew, that others may come forward with higher priority than we. This darling knows our smells, and we know her cries. She enlarges the hearts of my sons but they cannot understand that each week, I am holding my breath, wondering if this week, we will lose her. This is a unique and difficult beauty.

It struck me as I looked at her and looked at the tree through quiet tears, that 1985 was the first Christmas I had had with my parents. It was not my first Christmas, but it was the first Christmas with my family. Though I was over a year old that December, it was the first time they had their daughter during advent. They had waited. They had followed other paths that did not result in a firstborn child. They had been pregnant many times over, in a way, before that ornament could be hung.

I have no idea if we will spend her first Christmas with her, but I know that we are not her family, though our feelings betray us.

I am no Mary. I am not waiting for the Savior, nor growing Him inside my womb. I am not facing public scorn and have the benefit of the Lord’s Prayer, her son’s prayer, to guide me this pregnant season. 

But I can see her story in a new, heart-wrenching way this advent time, and that helps give meaning to this spot. I can appreciate not being able to lay claim in any conventional way to someone you are caring for with all your heart. I can appreciate, though cannot emulate, the faith she must have clung to, the wide picture that must have softened her suffering. She is a hero of heroes. She, in a messy, human, awe-inspiring way, is part of the reason we today can sing “Joy to the World” at the end of all of this.

I cannot hang a new ornament about a daughter this Christmas. But I have the comfort of an old one. I cannot call her mine or name her but I can show her the Christmas lights and begin advent with her lying on my chest. Even as she fills our arms for now, we continue to wait, to make room, to anticipate. I love her with urgency; we grieve even as we gain. We continue to be pregnant, arms linked with the rest of the Bride, once again–searching for the star, yearning for salvation. May hope steady us for peace.

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