Saturday, November 17, 2018

The Ugly Side of Me

I slammed my fist on the table and shouted words from my mouth as quickly as they entered my mind. My hands shook with anger and I stomped out of the room feeling justified in my reaction, considering her offense. 

“Out of the abundance of the heart, the mouth speaks.”

Anger. That is what I found to be abundant in that moment of unrestraint. 

Truth be told, this was nearly five years in but that was not the first time this had happened. I remember vividly those early days feeling out of control of my emotions. So full of anger and frustration that I could hardly see straight. And while time has certainly taught me self-control, there are still moments when my humanity gets the best of me. And in turn, her.

The reality is we were unprepared when we boldly chose adoption. We were naive and innocent and oh so sincere. But also very keenly unaware of the trials that lay before us. 

I wrote once not long after bringing in our adopted daughter about the ugly side of adoption. We found ourselves in the turbulent waves of bringing in a child from a traumatic background. We were all alone in the middle of the Amazon with no communication and certainly no training in regards to caring for children with special emotional and psychological needs. 

It was trial by fire. And we were being consumed. 

But in as much as we were made aware of hersinful nature, ours came glaring back with even greater force as the days progressed.

For every action, there seemed to be an unequal and more forceful reaction on my part. 

The more I came face to face with my own depravity, the more fearful I became. I could feel it when it would creep up, stealthily threatening to overtake me, and often succeeding. 

Fear of the future. Fear of what she would do next. Fear of my own reactions.

In the same way I was never told of the hardships of adoption, no one told me this part either. No one told me that adoption would reveal in me my greatest need: to be changed by Christ. 

I guess on some level I figured I had already been changed. After all, I had spent days crying, praying, begging for God to make her our own. I wept thinking of what she was experiencing on the days leading up to her arrival at our door with that tiny backpack full of ill-fitting and stained clothing, her only earthly possessions at the time. Was this compassion not evidence of a change only Christ can bring?

We wanted to rescue her from that life of pain and suffering. A noble desire. 

I didn’t know that I also needed to be rescued from my self.

 “I can’t even look at her,” I said through tears sitting in the office of the counselor. We had just unexpectedly moved
back to the States and I had, in desperation, searched and found a counselor who specialized in cultural reintegration and family conflict. “When she walks in the room, my whole body tenses up. And I hate myself for it.”

For two and a half years she had bore my last name and yet there I was, sitting on a couch still battling my self. 

She listened. She didn’t judge me like I was judging myself. Instead she said three simple words: 

“You are human.”

It gave me pause. 

No, it wasn’t an excuse to continue down the path of bitterness on which I found myself. It wasn’t meant to let me off easy or defend my off-kilter actions.

It was actually a proclamation of hope, an offer to forgive myself and start over.  It was a call to surrender my self-given title of “savior” and realize that I was trying to play a role that didn’t belong to me. 

I needed to let the true Savior take that role instead.

From that point there began to be slow progress. There were deep conversations and tears together and we began to learn one another. 

And then the next cycle would hit and I would find us spinning out of control again. 

Deep breath. Forgive. Repeat. Sometimes this feels like a second by second routine.

Honestly, I didn’t know this part of me existed before she was mine. I was the one pinning the cutesy adoption quotes on Pinterest and daydreaming about a muli-ethnic family. But as painful a realization as it is, I am forever grateful that it has been revealed to me. Otherwise, how could it ever change?

Let one thing be clear, I have not “arrived”. The battle rages on in my flesh and the trials come in waves that threaten to overwhelm me regularly. I still have to ask forgiveness and I still have to forgive myself. 

But there is freedom in the release of control. There is freedom when I realize that her future does not depend on me doing it “right”. I cannot control the outcome of her life, her choices, her actions, nor was I called to do so.

I can do one thing and that is this: I can love her well. 

I can teach her truth and consequence. I can forgive. I can listen. I can instruct. I can try my hardest to understand, though I’ll never fully be able to do that. I can take deep breaths and seek wisdom from God and the community He has given me, even though it is far from where I am physically. I can take care of my own mental, physical, emotional, and spiritual self. 

I can love her as Christ loves me. 

There is space for you, too. If you find yourself overwhelmed by the weight of caring for a child from hard circumstances and you are discovering that it brings out the ugly in you, let me tell you something: you are human.

You are not called to be God. You cannot change your child.

Repeat after me: I am not called to change my child. 

You can’t. I can’t. But God can and it is completely up to Him when and how He does that. 

You are called to parent your child as though you are doing it for Him.

You are called to love your child well. 

And it is quite possible the hardest thing you will ever have to do.  

So I hope we let the fire refine us and not destroy us. I hope we don’t resent the process but rather learn to lean in. I hope we learn to let go of our selfish ambition, our egos, our pride. 

And most of all I hope we learn to love well. 

At the very end, may there be a beauty revealed that we could never stake claim to. 

Because only God Himself could create beauty from ashes.

Tuesday, November 6, 2018

When Light Breaks Through

“Ugh. Firnsdhip. (Yes. Apparently that is how you type friendship after an EXHAUSTING week of preparing mentally for a conversation with a friend that you just don’t see eye to eye with. But you want to. But you just can’t.) 

I’ve been prepping all day to say it well. To cover it with grace and mercy. But in that moment it comes out all raw and uneven and not at all like I wanted. 

And now I feel emotionally like one might feel physically after a marathon.

And still nothing is resolved. It’s all hard and messy and hard to explain. And then those raw emotions, unfiltered, come out in a way that shadows over the truth.” 

That was a journal entry after a conversation gone awry a few months ago as I sat slumped over my computer, exhausted. 

Sadly it was only downhill from there. In fact, the whole thing spiraled out of control leading to the unresolved and somewhat confusing end to a friendship. 

And I suppose the enemy was pleased since his goal is destruction and death.

I learned a lot about myself and about God’s character in the weeks leading up to that and the weeks following. But the loss was still very real.  

So, as I sat on the cool concrete floor next to a dear friend last week while she was wrestling with the aftermath of a broken relationship, I determined to do one thing and to do it well: listen. I wanted to hear her story and what she felt. Right or wrong, I was there to hear and understand. By God's grace this story would end differently.

I was privy to the other side of the story from our mutual friend with whom she had the conflict. Now I wanted to see her angle. Where was the light not getting into the confusing shadows of her experience? Where had this whole thing gone wrong?

Because every story has multiple angles, not just two sides.

The more she talked and the harder I listened, the more I understood.

Turns out it was the same trio at play here that had wound its way into my situation a few months prior. 

Miscommunication. Misunderstanding. Assumptions. 

The ultimate trifecta to destroy all things relationship. 

As she shared, I prayed and asked for wisdom. When the time came, I gently nudged her towards truth and asked permission to share her side with our mutual friend, the other side of the conflict. 

“No,” she said. “Don’t tell her. It will only be more confusing. It’s over now. Everything is fine.”

Ah. There it was. The lie. The ultimate lie was that if the truth came out then there would be confusion. That it should just be swept under the rug and everyone would move on just fine.

But the truth sets us free (John 8.32). Truth makes a way for forgiveness and that is when light breaks in and dispels the darkness. It is in the silence that the confusion takes root, where the truth is buried, and the darkness prevails. 

I assured her I would not tell her story. Instead we would sit down, the three of us, and we would create a space to hear and be heard. Only then could freedom be found and relationship be restored. She agreed to this and I assured her I would be back. 

The next morning, as the Amazon sun peeked through the cotton clouds that promised rain for the afternoon, I walked back to her house with the other friend. I prayed for wisdom and healing as we walked into her home. 

We found her fiddling with the stereo system, trying to get a station to come in clearly, to no avail. She welcomed us in, though not making eye contact as we settled in on the sofas. With one friend directly across from me and her by my side, I took a deep breath. 

There was part of me that held on to the faith that understanding was possible. That when we sit down, face to face, with pure and humble hearts, there can in fact be restoration. Maybe it will take time take. Maybe it will hurt. But it can happen. 

The other part of me doubted after what I have experienced. We humans are messy. 

“Jesus, lead us.”

I began the conversation by reminding us all that we were there to hear. To listen and understand. “Quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to anger...” James tells us. A lesson hard learned.

As the discussion progressed, I saw it happening. Slowly but surely (and with some nudging still), the truth began to surface as the stories began to collide. 

This was understood one way, when it was intended that way. 

This was communicated that way, but it actually meant this. 

This was assumed based off of one thing, but that was never true to begin with. 

Light breaking through to reveal the truth that had been buried. 

As the light grew brighter, the darkness fled. It all culminated in tears, hugs, apologies, and forgiveness. There was finally understanding to a situation that had lasted well over a month now. One that had threatened to ruin a friendship of many years and one that very well would have if there had not been space to listen, humility to receive. 

I felt humbled and honored to have been witness to this moment of restoration. It took a lot of self-control, in fact, for me not to fist pump the air and shout, “See! I KNEW it! I knew that it could happen. It wasn’t just in my mind. Relationships CAN be made whole again!” Because how many times has the opposite been true? I’ve seen it in my extended family. I’ve witnessed it in my own relationships and in those of close friends.

Miscommunication. Misunderstanding. Assumptions. 

A heaviness that weighs us down. 

Oh, but God is faithful. He makes a path to restoration and it is never too late. This was proof.

I took the opportunity to read 1 Corinthians 13. 4-8 aloud. It is written across the walls of Grace House where these ladies spend their days and it has echoed in my mind ever since my own conflict a few months back. 

We need frequent reminders as we humans are forgetful. 

I read it slowly, letting it seep into our hearts.

“Love is patient, love is kind.
Love does not envy,
is not boastful, is not conceited, 
does not act improperly, 
is not selfish, is not provoked,

and does not keep a record of wrongs.....”

That last line. I get hung up there. “Does not keep a record of wrongs.” As I am reading this list of love’s attributes, this one stands out to me. How often do we say with our mouths we forgive someone, but our hearts say otherwise when we keep record? 

Praise God, He keeps no record!

And that was where this friend was struggling. She couldn’t understand the forgiveness and the love that she was feeling in that moment, the very things that were causing the tears to flow. She had never experienced it and she could not believe it was true. 

But it is true. Love lets it go, but even more than that, keeps no record. There is not a storage room full of dusty old books where all of our “wrongs committed” are written down to be used against us at a later date. It is as though it never happened. 

“Love finds no joy in unrighteousness 
but rejoices in truth. 
It bears ALL things, 
believes ALL things, 
hopes ALL things, 
endures ALL things. 
Love never ends.” 

The day before this conversation took place, we had gathered together with other friends at The Donut Company, something our jungle family does every Sunday evening, to re-center and re-focus. To hear from Jesus. Richard had shared John 13.35 with us all:

“By this all people will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another.” 

Love for one another.

That’s the distinguishing characteristic. Love as defined by 1 Corinthians 13. That is what sets us apart in this world. It is so simple. We make it so complicated, don't we?

It’s a love that forgives and remembers no more.  A love that endures all things. A love that is pure and patient and kind and it never, ever ends. 

It is a love that I observed shine brightly that day in that tiny home with the tin roof. 

This definition of love is my prayer for myself, my children, my husband, my family, my friends, my enemies, and total strangers who I meet in the day to day. It’s something I fail at regularly. I am often the one asking forgiveness, the one needing love extended. 

How thankful I am that God is Perfect Love (1 John 4.7-8). 

When we walked back from her house that day, it was as though a weight had been lifted from everyone’s shoulders. Restoration will do that. When a part of the Body is healed after an injury, the whole Body feels and experiences the joy of it. 

As it should. 

Pray for our jungle family. For understanding and ears to hear when conflicts arise, as they will. For endurance through the many trials that come. 

And for our love for one another to always prevail so that the world around us will know we are in fact His disciples. 
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