Friday, August 24, 2012

Voices In Her Head

I have found that one of most amazing blessings of adopting older children is their ability to communicate past experiences...that is, once we find the correct key that unlocks their trust door.  

Finding that key can be a bit tricky, but I have found success by simply making myself available...physically, spiritually, emotionally, and my children.  This doesn't have to consume twenty-four hours a day (sometimes a mere fifteen minutes of dedicated energy does the trick) but rather just needs to present itself in an authentic way to the child.  My children need to know I am for real.  That my love and role of mother is for real.  I need to assure and reassure them that I will be a rock in their lives, regardless of circumstances.  That even though I am far from perfect and filled with parental flaws, they can count of me to be there for have their back...and to always advocate for their best interests.  Once they start to feel secure, the trust door begins to open and the things revealed are both horrific and healing.  

Sporty and Big Sister have been given such a special gift.  Both children are able to communicate not only the circumstances surrounding their past, but also paint a vivid picture of their emotions connected to those experiences.  Both children are incredibly empathetic and able to tune into the emotions of those around them, including me, their mom.  Sometimes, the conditions of our home and everyone's temperament at a given much are just so, and my children let their guards down and want to discuss anything and everything.  Last night was one of those special occasions with Big Sister.  

In my grief post, I talked about one of the various faces grief can wear.  There are more layers to grief than layers in an onion, but digging in and reaching back to pivotal crisis moments have helped open up discussion in our home.  Big Sister has told me a number of times that sometimes when she goes to sleep at night, a "big, bad, scary man appears in her doorway".  She mimes a bear-like figure with a scary face to show me what he looks like.  I knew that sleeping in a new and quiet bedroom would initially be scary, as she was accustomed to many other people sleeping in close vicinity, so we talked about ways to deal with the "scary man" image and I reassured her that he was not real.  We talked about the power of prayer, the evil one, and the fact that she is always able to come down the hall and into my bedroom, should she ever be scared.  

Last night, she added a few key details to her story and now, praise God, I have a more complete picture of the scary man.  This image represented a very real person to her and as such shows up only when she was feeling sad, insecure, and alone.  He represented a person who had done a lot of damage, a lot of tearing down, who wrecked her trust, and who proved to be a person capable of harm.  Big Sister went on to tell me some incredibly sad stories and even let me know what the scary man was telling her to do when he appeared.  She trusted me enough to tell me what was going on...even if just in her imagination.  Though she risked humiliation or her past experiences have taught her.  She trusted me!    And I hope I responded in a way that moves us forward.  Toward healing built upon trust.  When I speak about how adoption is all about God, this was one of those moments so much bigger than myself.  So much bigger than psychology or counseling, not that professional help isn't a valuable tool, it certainly is.  God is just so much bigger and I promise you, shows up in ways you could never plan.  Anyway, I told Big Sister that the scary man is not welcome in this house and should he appear, she is allowed to scream, "Get out of here!!!" at the top of her lungs for all I care.  Heck, I will scream it with her if that seems to be of any help.  We can even shoot him with our homemade marshmallow guns if that lightens the mood.  We talked about the things scary man was telling her.  I was able to reassure he that this is a house where although not perfect, no one will ever physically harm another.  Harm, whether physical or emotional, is not part of God's desire or plan for any relationship.  

We grieve forward.  

What was truly amazing to me was learning about the special people God put in her path during her time at the orphanage.  That, I learned, is where she learned how to pray.  Where a very special woman took the time to teach her the power of prayer and the good desires God has for his children.  Big Sister told me that whenever she prays, the scary man goes away.  As she said those words, I was reminded of the words my own my mother said to me when I used to get scared.  Almost identical teaching moments.  I was able to pass along some of my mother's wisdom for praying away these sorts of situations and both Big Sister and I seemed to be at peace.  And, as our Living God may have it, it was a very special an orphanage...who taught my mom how to pray.  While I would never believe that God wants any harm to fall on any of his children, I was reminded once again of Romans 8:28 that says, "And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose."  

As I am continually reminded, there are many voices speaking to our children.  (There are many voices speaking to all of us, to be sure!)  Voices from the past, voices from the present, voices from heaven, and voices from the evil one.  Good voices, bad voices, voices that build up, and voices that tear down.  Big Sister has even beautifully articulated what this sounds like to her, and I am so thankful for this gift.  She told me last night that when she is happy, when she allows herself to be vulnerable and trust, a voice in her head says, "No. Be sad. Be sad. Be sad. Don't be happy."  Another voice, possibly mimicking the fight or flight response her body is producing with all of this newness tells her repeatedly, "E-tee-opia, go!  E-tee-opia, go!  Must go...E-tee-opia."  And yet, the still voice of God presents itself in the smile that is starting to come easy.  The voice that allows her to let her guards down at all.  The voice that tells her to trust me, her mother.  It presents itself in those moments, when although I can't put my finger on exactly what is different, I know things are, in fact, different.  

We are grieving forward, rising from the ashes. 
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Friday, August 10, 2012

Righteous Sinners

Something has really been irking me.  It's the same something that has irked me during political  campaigns for years.  It is the same something that irks me when evil pits us against one another, divides our human race, and even (sometimes even more so) divides those of us who are supposed to be united in Christ.  It is the something that irks me when I see hate and slander thrown around on social media, because let's face it, it is easier to throw up a nasty post, most of the time not even an original thought but just "shared" hate, than it is to actually do something helpful and healing with our energy.  

That same energy used to cause divisions and break people down could instead be used to unite and build up.  Energy is a limited resource.  How do you choose to use it?  

Why choose hate, when it feels so much better for the giver and receiver to choose love.  Even when you disagree.  Even when you hold differing political beliefs.  Even when you practice different faiths.  Even when you are absolutely certain you are right.  Let me ask you this...and this is something I ask myself a lot when I feel self-righteousness creeping in...what good will it do you, the other person, or humanity to be right?  I have found that usually it is better to be humble and quiet than it is is to be loud and right.  After all, what does it mean to be right anyway?  

Personally, I don't want to be right.  I do, however, want to be righteous.  In wanting to be righteous, there is one big problem.  A huge blockage, in fact.  On my own, I cannot and will not ever be righteous. Never ever ever ever.  Impossible.  It does not matter how many children we adopt, how many widows or orphans we sponsor, how many Bible studies we attend, how many church and community events we have volunteered for, or how many causes we support.  Does not matter.  On my own, I can never be righteous.  

One of the basic themes of the Christian faith is that we are all sinners.  Every last one of us.  Now, I know there are many of you who probably do not like that word: sinner.  To be honest, I was trying to think of a way to write this post without using it, but I would miss the mark if I tried.  I think many of us don't like the word sinner because too many religious institutions and/or religious leaders have used it to point a finger in somebody else's face, individually a person or a group of people, and call out their sins.  The word, unfortunately, has been used to shame other people.  To make other people feel not worthy and perhaps, to try to make themselves feel better.  To religious leaders who do this, who take a holier than thou approach, I would have to say, "Look. In. The. Mirror."  Just because we sin differently, does not change the fact that we are all sinners.  That is, we have have things in our life that create distance from God.  Some estimates point to over 600 'sins' listed in the Bible.  I can guarantee you, we all wear something on the list.  Arrogance?  Vain babbling?  Lust?  Fear?  Unforgiving?  Not loving your enemy?  

Which brings me to Jesus.  The entire point of my Christian faith.  We live in a very broken, very hurt, fallen world.  Things are not as they were meant to be because of our separation from God.  Jesus, through putting on flesh, walking among us, teaching us how to love another, and ultimately sacrificing his life so that we my gain life eternal, was the fix for our sin.  The ultimate fix.  He did what we cannot or will ever be able to do on our own.  

One the key themes of the Protestant Reformation in the 16th Century (when Martin Luther and others sought to break away from the Roman Catholic Church) is that we are justified (or made right) by grace through faith.  Simply put, there is no action or deed good enough to make us righteous in our fallen world.  Conversely, there is no action or deed bad enough that could separate us from Christ's love.  When we receive Christ we become, simultaneously, sinners and righteous.  Simul justus et peccator.  My seminary professor gave an excellent illustration of this concept by having a student come to the front of the room.  First, the student stood there simply clothed in the shirt and pants he was wearing.  Then, she handed him a coat.  As he put on the coat, she explained that the coat stands for Christ's righteousness.  The righteousness remains outside of the believer.  Underneath the coat, we are all sinners.  However, when we wear Christ, his righteousness covers us.  Simul justus et peccator.  Both sinner and saint.  Not one or the other, yet simultaneously both.  

If we are all sinners, which at least the Christians among us will agree, then there should be no need to point fingers at someone else.  There should be no need to pretend you and I are not sinners.  There should be no need to pretend that my or your sin are less than the sins of others.  There should be no need, or for that matter time, for angry words, hate talk, finger pointing, chicken-sandwich-line-to-make-a-point-waiting, or self-righteous attitudes and behaviors.  Our job as Christians, when dealing with and relating to other people, as Jesus told us, was to love others the way he loved us.  That's it.  In my opinion, if we truly want others to experience the joy and peace that comes with an indwelling of the holy spirit, we need to seriously reexamine our strategies and tactics.  

Does that mean we cannot have deeply held convictions or beliefs?  Of course not.  Does that we cannot support a political party or candidate?  No, it does not.  Does that mean we should keep silent when there is injustice in the world.  Absolutely not.  Does loving others mean that we have to agree with anything about them that we may not agree with?  No...keeping in mind that the other person does not need to agree with your disagreement about them either.  (See how that works?)  What it means to me is that if I dress myself every day in Christ's righteousness, then my thoughts and speech will be grace-filled.  My actions will be loving and instead of seeking to be right, I will seek to understand others.  Instead of trying to convince myself that my sin is less than your sin, I will overflow with the love and mercy that has been given to me (undeserved) in abundance.  Truth being told, while seemingly simple, this is difficult and not natural, because again in our fallen sin state, we are all tempted to want to be right or prove a point.  But where does that land us?  Divided, unhappy, unfulfilled, and certainly not working together to grow the kingdom.  

So, the next time I am tempted to point my finger in the direction of another......
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I will instead point my finger in the direction of the one who has credited his righteousness to me so that I may think and speak in ways that are pleasing in his sight.  I challenge you to do the same.   
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The following words spoken by John Wesley, have been resonating in my mind: "Though we cannot think alike, may we not love alike?  May we not be of one heart, though we are not of one opinion?  Without all doubt, we may.  Herein all the children of God may unite, notwithstanding these smaller differences."  I pray that we can all let those words sink in and then put them into practice.  I honestly see no other way forward.  

Thursday, August 2, 2012

One Month Home

Only God!

Only God can take a hesitant, unsure (albeit beautiful) smile such as this:
And turn it into this easy, big, and confident smile in one month's time:
Seriously, look at that huge grin!  I love it.  (What you cannot see in this picture...what caused her to grin from ear to ear...was the seeing my high school and college graduation photos at my parent's house.  No, I will not post those.  Ha!  (Friends, you may never realize how much some children value the opportunity and access to a good education!  Big Sister talks about school every day.  She is nervous, but oh so excited!)  It never ceases to amaze me how quickly healing and bonding can come, once we...the have's...respond to God's call to care for the have not's.  If you are feeling the tug, please do. not. be. scared!  Of course, it is far from easy...and some transitions are way more difficult than others, but man...we are no where near the place we landed one month ago.  Just looking at that big smile reassures me that me are making progress.

I cannot believe how much has been accomplished.  God is on the move, no doubt!  Here are some highlights from our first month home:
  • Learned to ride a bike.  Mastered riding a bike.  
  • Learned to swim.  Is confident enough in the water to venture into the deep end of the pool.
  • Her English is improving rapidly.  She reads and does schoolwork for a few hours each day.  Most nights, I have to turn off her bedroom light so that she stops reading and goes to sleep.
  • She is assimilating well into our family and culture. She picks up on social cues and responds accordingly.  Please and thank you and excuse me are spoken easily and with confidence.
  • We have had one tooth pulled, one cavity filled and sealed, and spaces put in to allow for braces to be put on.
  • We are caught up on all vaccines and are "paper ready" for school. We are registered to begin classes in the Fall.
  • We have completed Grades 1, 2, and 3 summer course work for math (and some English) and hope to complete Grade 4 in August.  
  • She has bonded with all members of our family and Sporty has taken her under his wing to include her in all neighborhood social activities.  
  • She has made American friends and Ethiopian-American friends.  She loves being social.
  • She is engaged in her Sunday School class and has attended VBS willingly and happily.  
  • She trusts me to comfort and reassure her.  She allows me to mother and nurture her.
  • She has a good relationship with her father.  
  • She is an amazing big sister to all of the Littles.  She is loving and kind and nurturing.
  • She jumps right in with household duties without being asked.
  • She has been a special gift to our family each and every day! 
In short, things are moving along quite nicely.  We have grief and a hurt past to contend with, but I feel God moving us all forward to bigger and better plans.  We have been so blessed by her presence in our home that it is nearly impossible for me to remember what life was like before she arrived.  

Father God, thank you for trusting us.  For trusting us in our imperfect selves to parent and love your children.  Even when we don't think we are up for the challenge, you are always there to comfort, reassure, and guide our steps.  I cannot imagine what life would be like had we not realized that our purpose in this life was never about us.  That our purpose was to serve you by loving others the way you loved us.  Please continue to provide all that we need to get through each day and help keep our eyes set on you and working toward your purpose on our lives.  We love you!  We trust you!  We thank you!  

Keep us keepin' on...we know it is all about you!

A father to the fatherless, a defender of widows, is God in his holy dwelling. 
-Psalm 68:5