What to do when you can’t measure up to the Proverbs 31 woman

Proverbs 31 womanOften a writer’s job is to tell the uncomfortable truth, and my uncomfortable truth is that our oldest son ran away to live with his biological family. He has been gone since October.

I had always known I wanted to adopt, to welcome an older child into our family and make room on the couch and in our hearts. I had also always known that it wouldn’t be easy to win that child’s trust or to help him feel secure.

But what I didn’t know was the toll a relationship like that could take on my confidence.

How it could make me question my mothering.

How I could doubt my worth.

How I could cringe at the thought of the Proverbs 31 woman, the spiritual ideal.

Her children arise and call her blessed, the passage says. Her husband also, and he praises her.

Mine didn’t call me blessed. Mine didn’t even want to live with me. That’s an uncomfortable truth.

Finding true love

finding true love
finding true love
finding true loveI read their words once, and then again.

The first woman was responding to an article online about adopting children who are still healing from trauma. She was worn out from trying to keep a little one safe, trying to patiently enforce boundaries.

She worried that she didn’t feel the warmth and lightness of love toward this child. Only duty. Only the humdrum motions of mothering.

Then – and this is the important part – in the next comment, a woman responded and said love is in the humdrum. Love is in the acts of service. Love is in the welcoming, the protecting and in the freely giving of yourself.

It seems we’ve fallen for the feeling of love. We are most comfortable with the butterflies and rainbows, the hearts with our initials scratched inside.

Without realizing it, we’ve put our confidence in an emotion that ebbs and flows. We’ve boarded a boat, and each time a wave comes, we doubt ourselves and the seriousness of our love.

But when see love as an action, as an expression of God, it serves as an anchor that steadies us. Even when the waves and the arguments and the hurt feelings come, love is still present in the scrubbing of the toilet, the punching of the time clock and in the tender holding of the hand.

Love is there when the rainbow fades and the paint gets scratched, when the hurting child acts out and you listen and hold tight.

Love is there.

Those people who come to weddings and adoption ceremonies and birthing rooms and tell you that all you need is love? They are right.

You need the action of love. The patience. The kindness. The humility. The showing up day after day after day.

That kind of priceless love is what you need for a strong friendship, or marriage or family. That kind of love will hold when you are bone-tired and broken. It will hold when you are afraid and so far away from your comfort zone that you worry you’ll never find your way back.

It will hold. And it is all you – and any of us – need.

The importance of a kind word

The importance of a kind word

IMG_8448When Jessie first came to live with us, I was scared that I would go to register him for sports or school and people would ask me questions that I didn’t know the answer to. I wanted us to blend in with the other families so I actually practiced over and over again.

He was born in 1998. At Tulsa Regional Hospital. Like Benjamin, he weighed right around 8 pounds. He’s crazy about apples but hates apple cider.

It wasn’t that I was ashamed of adoption or of his past. It’s just that I didn’t know how much of his story he wanted to share – or whom he wanted to share it with. I figured those were his decisions, when he was ready.
Even now, years later, I find myself tongue-tied. That’s why I didn’t say more when Mr. Wickham gave Jessie a dollar for entertaining and exercising his golden retriever.

“He’s a really good kid,” Mr. Wickham said, tipping his head toward Jessie. “And he’s great with Abby,” he added, just as Jessie tossed Abby’s toy for another round of fetch.

“He is great,” I told Mr. Wickham, “It’s nice to come out to the farm and watch him relax. He can be noisy and run around,” I said, trailing off because I wasn’t sure how much to say.

While Jessie played with Abby, I picked tomatoes and kale and flowers. Other families came and went, all of us part of the Wickham Farms CSA. I could hear Jessie laughing across the field.

For Mr. Wickham, the compliment was a small thing. A kindness that came naturally.

But for Jessie and I, it was an acknowledgment of the good inside. A respite from lectures about missing homework assignments and running in the house. A moment where he was just an average kid, not one who has nightmares and more emotional baggage than people four times his age.

Just an instant where someone saw Jessie as Jessie – joyful and playful.

We all need that, regardless of age. Regardless of background. We know we need the people in our lives to stand with us and for us. But occasionally, it sure is nice to have people who aren’t as close to us offer a kind word, too.

We can all do that for one another. We can notice the good. And we can make a world of difference.

Gather friends and get great gifts!

ImageI am really hoping to generate some excitement around our Facebook chat with Jeff Manion, author of Satisfied: Discovering Contentment in a World of Consumption.

And what generates more excitement than a party?!

Here’s what I’m thinking:

  • 10 of you invite a few friends to your house, your place of worship or your favorite coffee shop on Tuesday, March 25.
  • You visit. Talk about the book. Maybe have some snacks.
  • Then, at 6:30 p.m. EST, you log on to the Simply Faithful Facebook page and ask the author any questions you have about the book or about living a life of contentment.

IMG_6118As a little bonus for hosting, you’ll get a few freebies to use as door prizes… and friends? I love all the gifts. (You’ll get modern stationery from LouLouBlue; a fabric wallet from Treasured Word that helps you memorize scripture; a beautiful gift from Lavished Grace, where the proceeds go toward funding adoption; and newly released CDs from The Adams Group.)

So, what do you say? Can we count you in?

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Or, if you are in the Rochester area and would like to meet-up with people, I’ll be at Alpha and Omega Parable Christian Store, 1601 Penfield Road in Penfield, starting around 6:15 p.m. The owners of that store have also generously offered to provide some door prizes.

And for those of you who need to be home that evening, we welcome you online, too.

Looking forward to chatting with you all!

Day 4: Welcoming children and offering the gift of family

Tricia Goyer

Tricia Goyer

When I first interviewed bestselling author Tricia Goyer to talk about her Amish novels she had just finalized the adoption of her two youngest children. So when I decided to focus on welcoming during Advent, I knew I wanted Tricia to share her story. I’m thrilled that she agreed, and I think all of you — those who want to adopt and those who want to support foster and adoptive families — will be blessed by her words.

Tricia…

Every Christmas is special, but I have to admit I’m especially looking forward to this upcoming one. You see this year we added two new children to our family, 6-year-old Bella and 3-year-old Casey. We adopted them from the foster car system, and it’s been a year of hardship and joy, a year of seeing broken hearts start to heal, and a year of firsts. A first out-of-state trip, a first movie theater experience, first birthdays as Goyers, and now our first Christmas together.

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Last Christmas my heart had been prayerful as I consider our growing family. You see we’d just finished all the paperwork and our home study, and I knew that the Department of Social Services could all us any day with a child. They called with children … two of them on January 7. Children who’d lived in numerous homes over the last few years. Children with struggles. Children who’d been hurt. Children who needed a mother and a father.

John and I were willing to open our home, because we longed to give ourselves to children, knowing that the gift we offered them was a godly home. A home that exalted God and parents who strove to serve Him and to glorify Him with their lives.

Over the past few months we’ve taught our children table manners and we’ve trained them to listen and to {most of the time} obey. We’ve proven through our actions that we will provide the food and clothes they need. We’ve proven ourselves as we’ve shown them unconditional love.

Did we do this just to show them what a happy home was like? Yes, we wanted that for them, but even more we wanted them to understand the ultimate gift given on Christmas. We have taught our children to trust us, so that some day they will trust Jesus. We want them to see our walk and become curious about His plan for their lives. We want them to start asking questions and to listen as we share about God’s Son, our Savior.

As we gather around the Christmas tree, the story of Christ’s  unconditional love and sacrifice is something our children will hopefully understand because we’ve lived it out throughout the year.

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Maybe God has put adoption on your heart. If so don’t let fears and worries keep you from following God’s call. But even if you aren’t called to adopt consider blessing a family this Christmas who is. Offer your support and your prayers. Help them give the greatest gift to a child or two next Christmas—the gift of family—and the gift of the Good News of Jesus, offered up with joyful hearts.

And on Christmas morning if you hear extra excited squeals, you’ll know it’s coming from our part of the world—from new Goyer children.

Tricia Goyer is the author of 40 books, including the Big Sky and Seven Brides for Seven Bachelors Amish series. She has won ACFW’s Carol Award twice, and is a Christy Award and Gold Medallion award finalist. Tricia and her husband, John, live in Little Rock, Arkansas. They have six children. You can find out more about Tricia at www.triciagoyer.com or www.notquiteamishliving.com. She’s also hosting a Facebook chat starting at 8 p.m. EST Dec. 4 to talk about hearing God in the simple things. You’ll find details here.

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What my husband's depression means for the rest of us

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Can I tell you something about living with someone with depression? Can you draw your chair closer so I can whisper?

When one family member battles depression it becomes a battle for everyone else, too.

My husband isn’t cranky or blue. He isn’t even a glass-half-empty guy. But he does have bad days where dishes don’t get done and laundry doesn’t get put away. Where it’s hard to pull himself out of bed. Where he fusses and starts a fight before we see his family for the holidays. Where he just doesn’t have the energy for the fun day we had planned.

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It makes the regular roller coaster of life have even more highs and lows, more tight curves where you feel slammed against the side of the coaster. And sometimes it makes it hard to catch your breath.

We show up late to events and appointments. We miss church. We limit the number of activities through the week – just to give us more margin, a chance to catch up if we need it.

It’s hard on all of us, but we’re all on this ride together. Brian is doing what he can. He’s learning more about the illness, getting treatment and changing years of habits. And the rest of us?

We love him.

We love him in his brokenness just as he loves us in our brokenness.

Dealing with depression or cancer or diabetes is tough but that’s what love is made for. It wasn’t meant to sell greeting cards, it was meant to greet us in our time of greatest need.

When my daddy was dying of heart failure in a hospital room, Brian drove 1,200 miles to be with me and we had only been dating three weeks. And when we took foster parent classes and they told us all the behavioral challenges we might expect, I asked Brian if he was sure he wanted to do this because I had been the one pushing for adoption. His answer: God tells us to take care of the widows and the orphans, and he doesn’t say to do it only if it’s easy.

Is your chair still close?

This battle that we’re fighting? It’s OK. Love wins.

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Can I tell you something about adoption?

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Photo courtesy of Lisa Ruth Photography

A couple of weeks ago I told the story of my son’s adoption through my column in the Rochester (NY) Democrat and Chronicle. I’ve told it here on my blog before, where it’s safer. Where there aren’t as many readers. Where I can control the comments.

But now, it’s out there. A sampling of what he went through before he came to live with us. A past that I don’t like to talk about but that he needed to share.

He’s taller now and seems less haunted. Braver. More sure of himself. Happier.

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I like that, and I’m adjusting to this new reality, the one where he releases his story and is set free himself.

I should have known it would come to this, that I would again be learning from him. It has been happening all along — for the two years we fought to adopt him and certainly the five years since. That’s why I always cringe when people tell me how lucky Jessie is, how they are glad he is with us. Because the truth? The truth is that we are the lucky ones and we’re happy we have each other.

That’s one of the things I wish people understood about adoption. You shouldn’t go into it expecting to change the world, but you should expect it to change your world.

I hope we’re helping Jessie grow into a wonderful man, but he’ll make his own choices as he grows. I can’t guarantee that he’ll have a fine life now that he’s part of our family. I can guarantee you that he has improved our family, though. We love differently. We make more of an effort to build trust, to learn about each other. We’ve stretched and adapted. We’ve patched each other up — and we’re stronger now, more secure.

And can I tell you something else about adoption?

He’s really my son. I am his real mom.

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If the newspaper ever writes about him because he has won the Nobel Prize or because he is being sent to prison, he is my son. Not my adopted son. My son.

I mean it, either way, because that’s what real family is like. And that’s what we are. A real family.

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Day 6: The day my son shares his story of hope

“You love to sketch,” I told him as he plopped down on the couch. “You should do a journal page for me.”

What would I put on it?

“Well, what does hope mean to you?”

It means you never give up, no matter how bad things get.

“That’s perfect. You should write that on there. It’ll give people a place to start journaling. But you should draw something, too — something that makes you think of hope.”

He comes back to the living room what seems like only 15 minutes later.

Here you go, Mom. This character’s name is Yoshina or sometimes he’s called Ageha. He fights to help people who can’t help themselves because someone saved him when he was little.

That’s when I fight to hold back tears. That’s when I ask if I can share a little bit of his story.

You can tell whatever you want, Mom. Maybe it could help somebody else.

And so I begin.

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Jessie’s 2-inch thick adoption file

For the first five years of Jessie’s life, he lived with his biological parents and his half-sister. He has great memories of playing at parks and baking cookies, and he has memories of hiding in the bathroom until the police came to separate his fighting parents. He remembers his mom liking something that was milky white but that he was never allowed to touch and a rainy night when she could barely keep the car on the road.

Then, there was the time they left him and his slightly older sister in the toy aisle at Wal-Mart for several hours while they went to get drugs – and the times that the kids spent the night at the crack house. Times when his parents were home but unavailable, not quite functioning. Times when lunch was a tub of margarine. Times when homework went unchecked.

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This is how his life started and that’s why at 14 he struggles to print legibly, why he always asks when dinner will be ready, why he looks a little lost, a little pained when I talk of trust, of lasting family ties.

Already he’s had more than one lifetime of loss. Already he knows too much of complicated relationships, of shaky love.

Already he speaks of hope as one who knows how badly it’s needed in this world – and already he understands its strength.

Don’t give up even when things are bad.

Jessie1Today’s journal page was designed by my oldest son, Jessie. He loves video games, drawing and reading — especially manga, which are Japanese comics. He plays a mean game of Monopoly and shares my love of office supplies. He’s handsome, has just the faintest touch of a mustache and jeans that always seem too short. He’s one of the most generous people I know, and I’d like him even if he wasn’t related to me. To download today’s journal page and write your own thoughts, please click here.

Here’s a glimpse…

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When joy seems lost at Christmas time

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Somewhere around the middle of November I start to brace myself. I love the holidays but they aren’t always kind to my family.

When I send our oldest son off to school, he offers a weary smile – a sure sign of another sleepless night spent with memories of birthdays and Christmases before his adoption.

Then, there’s the man I married who hasn’t heard from his biological father in more than 30 years. While perfect families flash smiles across the screens, he fights off the questioning and the wondering that’s always chasing him this time of year.

My job is usually to comfort them, to reassure them that they are loved and valued, and to keep the holidays normal for the two younger boys. I wrap presents and drape strings of pearls on the tree. I make hot chocolate and search for the best neighborhood light displays. I stay home and feather the nest.

I’ve gotten pretty good at it, so we look OK from the outside. But I’ve been angry inside. Troubled that the people I love have been hurt. Upset that some of their joy has been stolen. Burdened by the thought that Christmas doesn’t feel very welcoming to them.

So this year I’m reading the Christmas story differently. And in the process, we’re rewriting our own.

IMG_0638I’m elbowing in at the manger, knowing that Jesus welcomes everyone. The grieving. The sick. The financially strapped. The less-than-perfect and the far-from-perfect.

I’m sidling up beside Mary and Joseph who know what it’s like to have a family that’s different from everyone else’s and what it’s like to have your own plans changed.

I’m standing shoulder to shoulder with the shepherds who are desperately seeking light in the darkness, who have come in their dusty shoes for the promise of peace.

Oh, how I’d like to get that angel’s attention. I desperately want to be close enough to whisper: Please, continue to tell the good news. Light up the sky and invite people to come as they are to Christmas. Remind them that they aren’t alone in this crazy life and that there’s plenty of room – and love – here at the manger.

And I pray that the sacred, almost indescribable joy of Christmas comes to hearts both whole and broken this season. It’s meant as a gift for all.

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When they saw the star, they rejoiced with exceeding great joy.”

— Matthew 2:10

Getting a better laundry sorter — and a better handle on what my kids are teaching me

Photo courtesy of Lori Ostling

I really didn’t mean to cause a scene or to serve as a bad role model for my son. I was just tearing apart my laundry sorter – the kind with cheap metal bars and nylon bags for holding clothes – and doing it with a little gusto when I was “found out.”

For three years I’d been rolling that sucker around the laundry room, stopping once or twice each trip to re-insert one of the metal bars that always seemed to work its way out of the corner joint. That fateful night, I had to stop four times to fix the crazy thing – and I hadn’t even rolled it a few feet.

And I had had it.

I started pulling apart the metal bars and dropping them one by one on the cement floor. I was not being careful or quiet, and I called my laundry sorter a name I’m ashamed of.

Apparently this caused quite a racket because my husband came running down the stairs to check on me, and our oldest son was close on his heels. I growled at Jessie to go back upstairs because I wasn’t sure I was done calling my laundry sorter names.( I allowed my husband to stay because he served four years in the Navy, and I was confident he had heard far worse while out at sea.)

Photo courtesy of Joyce Schurr

Then, once all the pieces were on the floor and my husband and I had a good laugh at my expense, I called Jessie back to the basement to explain myself and to apologize. It’s a spiritual pattern that I’ve found myself repeating a lot in the last five years since Jessie came to live with us.

When we first started the adoption process, I thought God was allowing me to help Jessie. I didn’t know how much Jessie would help me.  I had all these great lessons that I wanted to teach him and characteristics that I wanted to model for him. What I found is that I’m terribly flawed – and that if you live with me, I can’t always hide my impatience or even my slowness to forgive.

I’ve tried for years to serve God, and he finally handed me a mirror with mousy brown hair and lanky arms. It’s not always a flattering picture, but it’s accurate and it keeps me honest.

Photo courtesy of Lori Ostling

Writer’s note: In my defense I was pregnant when I threw my little fit… and my husband did go out and buy a sturdier laundry sorter that has never come apart!