Wednesday, April 24, 2013

For the Lord and Not For Men

"Whatever you do, do it enthusiastically,
as something done for the Lord and not for men, 
knowing that you will receive the reward of an inheritance from the Lord.

You serve the Lord Christ." (Colossians 3:23-24)



And this is enough.  

My Mama reached down frantically to pull me out of a pool when I was 3 years old.  I had fallen in accidentally and flailed my arms and filled my lungs with water to bursting.  But she saved me and turned me over and shook the water clear out.  Air rushed with it.  Mamas are like that.  And she found me again nearly 4 decades later, struggling for air, flailing my arms, forgetting who I was created to be and drowning, having failed too many times.  She reached in, pulled me out, shook the notions clear out and wrapped me in the never-failing prayers that only a Mama can offer on behalf of her cubs.  The suffocating water trickled out and fresh air found its way in, and a good night's sleep ushered in this reality: YOU SERVE THE LORD CHRIST.  The freedom spread down to my toes...this amazingly light and refreshing reality that somehow had slipped from my grasp.

Whatever I do, do it enthusiastically, as something done for the Lord and not for men. 

And this really IS enough.  

Sunday, April 14, 2013

Parenting Wounded Children

There's a fine line to walk when advocating for orphans.  Yes, I want more families to step forward for these children.  Yes, I want the eyes of many, many Christians to be opened to realize their role in orphan ministry.  Yes, am beyond excited to see yet another child make it into the "My Forever Family Found Me" club.  It's all good.   

But there is also a reality we cannot forget even for one moment...  These children are wounded...  

It has been 3 years and 8 months since Grace became our daughter.  We've made leaps and bounds of progress.  She went from a withdrawn, grieving child to a full-of-life, glowing princess.  The change has been obvious.  And here's where it can get slippery for me.  I can almost forget that she experienced more pain in her first 3 years of life than most of us experience in a lifetime.  I can nearly forget that she was in 3 homes before ours.  I can really almost forget about her past as we press forward together into our future.

But I shouldn't forget.  I mustn't forget.  

It is a part of her gorgeous thick hair and her cute toes.  It's not what we focus on every day, but it IS part of her.  The fact remains that she was wounded, and the scars (even if they get ever so hard to see) are still there.

Two days ago, we went on a wonderful day trip on a train.  It was really the perfect little family outing, and we all had a good time.  While on the train ride back, Grace climbed onto my lap and burrowed herself under 2 jackets and pressed in tightly against me.  I knew the train whistle was very loud (especially for a child with sensory issues), but something in me told me there was something more to it.  Women's intuition...Mama's gut instinct...whatever you want to call it, it kicked in.  

That night when we were tucking her in bed for the night, she began to whimper, and silent tears began to flow.  We asked what was wrong, but she wouldn't speak.  I pulled her back out of bed and walked her to a quiet room where it was just the two of us.  I asked her what was wrong, and she began to use hand gestures and short words.  She waved her hand bye-bye, said "Good girl," imitated that she was kissing someone...and then she hugged me for dear life.  I asked her what was wrong, and she replayed the same scene.  

Then I remembered.  The last time she was on a train was when she was 18 months old, when her foster family placed her in the arms of a social worker, kissed her goodbye and sent her away to the orphanage.  I wondered if that was the scene she was reliving.  And she was verbalizing for the first time what she had experienced that day.

I took out her photo albums that her foster family made for her, and I opened to the pages with the train scene.  Grace has seen those books a million times and has never had an emotional reaction to if she's just looking at an interesting book with her as a main character.  But this time, she took the book, brought it close to her face and pointed to herself at the train station.  "Cry."  And the tears flowed down her cheeks, silently again.  

And it hit me like a ton of bricks.  This child's memory was triggered that day by the sound of the train whistle, the feel of going somewhere far away on that train.  She loved that train ride and had a good day, and yet it triggered a fear in her...a raw, deep-in-the-gut pain that resurfaced.  A moment for Mama to offer love in the face of grief.  A moment for Daddy to hug her and reassure her that we're still here.  And a moment for me to remember again: I am parenting a wounded child.  

It's so very easy to romanticize orphan ministry.  We see a photo of a child who needs a host family or a forever family or a foster family.  And our heart strings are pulled at their very photo.  We envision giving them their first hug and seeing them open their first Christmas gift.  And this is all good.  We MUST be willing to open our hearts up for these children.  And yet, we cannot go into it blindly, with rose-tinted glasses and visions of every-day-will-be Christmas.  

Hosting a child may mean a long summer spent sacrificing time and energy to a child who seems to have a never-ending capacity to drain need our every moment's attention.  Fostering a child may mean correcting behavior we find unbelievable in a child we just met yesterday.  Adopting a child may mean going back again and again to put salve on old scars that sometimes reopen.

And so we did Friday night.  When we understood Grace's memory that had resurfaced, we felt we were back at square one.  It had been years since we had been back there, but it felt vaguely familiar.  We talked her through it and looked at the photos from the train day.  We have told her this story before, but this time, we filled in the holes and added in the new information she had just shared with us about the goodbye that day.  "There's your foster mom holding you.  She is crying.  There is you, and you are crying.  And there is the lady who took you to the orphanage on the train.  Your foster mom waved bye-bye, and she said, 'Be a good girl,' and she kissed you goodbye.  You loved her, and she loved you.  And the orphanage loved you, and they found your forever family.  We loved you very much and went to Taiwan to adopt you into our family.  And here we are, and we still love you very very much and always will.  We will always be your family." 

Reassuring her.  Again.  Telling her her life story.  Again.  Brushing up against old scars that sometimes still sting.  

It's a work-in-progress.  It's not cut and dry and let's-just-forget-the-past-and-move-on.  Sometimes we have to get dirty and all messed up in the lost memories that somehow find their way into the brain's front screen.  Sometimes the past is what we have to gently, slowly peel back, put words to the chaotic memories, apply some more love salve and another bandaid...and then get back up and walk forward together.

We do this, because Jesus does the very same thing for us.  He binds up our wounds, sometimes the same wounds many times.  And He walks forward with us again and again.

Grace spent Friday night in our room with us, because she simply could not face the night alone in her bed, even though she's been sleeping alone in her bed for 2 years.  The memories were too fresh and too painful.  She snuggled up against me in the dark, and I sang the little song I used to sing to her when we first adopted her.  I hadn't thought of that song in years, but God must have brought it into my mind just when I needed to reach for it.  Amazing how He knows...everything.  As I sang, a fear raced quickly through my mind: NO!! I do not want to be at square one again!!  We had come so far in adoption healing process.  We were all thriving, and now to find myself back at the starting gate (or so it felt) was a bit discouraging.  But, as soon as the fear came, God met it and flowed peace over me.  He reminded me that it was just a moment in time...a passing moment...and I was simply to be Jesus to our daughter...His child.  It's not about me and how I can heal her.  It's about Him and His grace and His healing and His new life He gives each of us every time we need it.  And we do all need it. 

These children NEED us to step forward to care for them.  But we must see them without our rose-colored lens, without the romantic idea of saving them from harm....but with real eyes that see the gaping wounds and the challenges ahead...and still step forward because it's what Jesus would do.  If we step with rosy eyesight, we do it in our own strength and based on false hopes.  If we step with reality in focus, we know the only way we can do it is with His strength in our weakness...and THAT is what these children need.