Black Hair — Different but the Same

Black Hair — Different but the Same

My husband makes fun of me because the first time I ever stepped foot into a barber shop was earlier this year with our host child, Rell. He chuckled while looking at me endearingly, but what he was really saying in the nicest way possible was that I grew up in a little Asian bubble and that I was not cultured. While I beg to disagree on the bubble, he was right that it was in fact my first time in a barber shop, and it was not just any barber shop–it was a black barber shop. We had to make sure of it.

Rell is half black, and his biological father’s exact words when guiding us to pick the right barber was, “Make sure the people cutting his hair look like him. We don’t have the same hair like you.”

We knew exactly what he meant.

So we made a few phone calls, got on yelp, and found some places that seemed to fit the bill. The next day we went in, and Rell got a very nice, clean shape up. It looked great! Before he even got down from the swivel chair, I was texting pictures to his father to get the thumbs up.

Thankfully, dad was very pleased–phew. Hair, I know, is really important to his father.

But as the months have passed, Rell has seen that in our family, I am the one who cuts everyone’s hair in our home. Nothing fancy, but I can get the job done. And whenever it has been haircut day, I could see Rell watching from the corner of his eye as everyone else in the family got their turn in my makeshift barber chair and got their hair cut with my amateur set of Bed, Bath, & Beyond clippers.

I knew right away that he wanted to be part of this as well. He can care less about his hair and even less about how well I can cut it, but he does desperately want anything and everything that says he is part of our family too.

The reason I never offered to cut his hair though was because I was too afraid of messing up. From the beginning, this was one of the first things everyone talked to us about (his hair), and all I was told, really, was to diligently rub in this olive oil lotion after bath times and then comb it real good with this special brush, both of which were one of our first purchases when he came.

This ritual has now worked its way into our daily bedtime routine, and I thoroughly love doing it–I run my fingers through his textured, soft, curly locks, marveling at how God made us all so different and beautiful in our own way.

I love his hair.

Cutting it, however, has always been an entirely different story. Oh no… I dared not try… it felt completely foreign.

But his eyes. Goodness gracious, his eyes. Big, round, and you can see them glistening a mile away. Every time I got out my hair cutting kit and everyone got lined up, there he would be looking so sad in the corner of the room with his eyes crying out, “how about me!” For a while, however, he never said a word, but the other night, he finally had it in him to say something out loud.

As I tied my apron around my back and called over the first child to be cut, he bravely walked over to me and asked me in his husky little, high pitched, 4-year old voice, “Why every time me go to the barber shop and not you do it. Every time. Me want you cut my hair, umma. I don want to go to the barber shop anymore.”

Goodness. What could I say to that?

Well I could have probably explained to him very nicely that his hair is a little different, and that umma doesn’t know how to cut his hair. Except in my gut, I knew this was a really big deal, something that would speak volumes to him today and tomorrow and everyday as he looks at his “different” hair. It was also an opportunity, an open door, for me to draw him closer to us and to close in on the distance that has been growing between us lately.

It has been almost nine months since he came to us and since he is only four, that is almost a fourth of his life. He came to us like a baby and now he is this big boy who has not only learned to ride a 2-wheeler, use the potty, write the ABCs, and maintain a conversation, but he now also thinks very deeply with higher order feelings.

He asks lots of questions, knows when things are not fair, and everyday, I feel like he realizes a little more how different he is from the rest of us.

For example, he sees how Korean relatives come over and don’t interact with him the same as the others because of the language barrier. Although, he can now speak almost just as much Korean as my other kids. He sees how the others go to Korean school, and he doesn’t because Korean school is on the weekends and many weekends he is visiting with his parents… otherwise we would put him in too. He sees how strangers pause and look at our family, especially him, whenever we go out. He then sees them ask us questions about who he is to us and where he came from.

Through his 4-year old eyes, he sees and sees and sees and knows that he is different… and this one night, he was asking me with the same concerning look: can I please just get a haircut… can I please just belong like everyone else.

So yes, I said yes. Of course I did. I gave him a haircut.

I took a deep breath, rolled up my sleeves, youtubed a couple videos, turned on the clippers, and slowly began trimming my way around his perfectly shaped little head. I even had him pray aloud that God would help Umma not to mess up his hair.

At first, it was hard. I could see how the texture of his hair really did make a difference and it responded differently to every touch of the blade. The fading was particularly unforgiving, and I had to have just the right pressure and angle to get it right. But as I persisted, I got into a rhythm and found it wasn’t really all that different like I thought. I just had to work slowly section by section and be a little more delicate with each touch.

And every time I came around to the front of his head and caught eyes with his, there he sat smiling at me, beaming with joy.He was so happy.

When I was done, I gave him a big kiss and passed him on to my husband to be bathed, thanking God I did not butcher his hair. Then there I was left in my kitchen with nothing but hair that had fallen to the floor all around me–some curly, some straight, some thick, some thin, all different. Slowly, I began to sweep it all up until it was all gathered into one pile. Then I smiled, because once it was all brought close together, I couldn’t even tell the difference from one strand of hair to the other. It was all just hair.

And that is how I have come to see Rell in relation to us. Standing alone, he may seem very different from the rest of us. Different hair, different skin, just different. But as we have gotten closer and closer over this past year, I have seen how we are really not that different after all and share so many of the same qualities as well. Although he will always have his God-designed differences, just like all of us do and awesomely so, we are also so much the same. We are people. We need unconditional acceptance and love and validation. We need time to play, time to mourn, time to celebrate, time to laugh, time to cry. We also need family.

These days, I look at Rell and while acknowledging and celebrating his unique background, traits, and culture, I love that he is also one of us and we are like him as well.

We are different, but not as different as we think. I love Rell, I love his hair, I love our differences, I love our similarities, I love our coming together. We are family.   

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Can You Hear Them? 

Can You Hear Them? 

I will never forget the first cry of an “orphan” that I heard. 

It was four years ago, just a month or two after my daughter was born, on a cool autumn night. The leaves had just changed colors and it was everything pumpkin from oatmeal to lattes to yummy pies. I was having major cabin fever after my recovery from birth, so my husband and I decided to go out to a movie for the first time in ages. My parents gladly agreed to watch the baby because she was such an easy and happy newborn. I was so happy to be out I even agreed to get popcorn and two different candies to make a good trail mix (my husband’s favorite), and this was our way of splurging. 

It was nice.   

We, however, only got into about an hour of the movie before I saw my phone lighting up in my bag on my lap. At first I ignored it, but it kept going off every minute or so, so I finally checked to see that it was my parents calling me. Quietly, I excused myself to answer the call, and as soon as I did, all I could hear was my daughter wailing in the background. I could hardly hear the words my mom was trying to say, but I gathered enough to know that we should go home immediately. 

Driving home, I wondered what it could possibly be. This was very unlike my daughter who was usually always content. Once we parked in front of the house and got out of the car, I could hear her cries from outside the house, piercing through the still night. Then as soon as I opened the front door and rushed in, I saw my mother frantically trying to soothe the screaming baby in her arms. We were told she had been crying non-stop for hours since we left and nothing seemed to work. Yet just as my mother passed her to me, like a switch, my daughter calmed down and stopped crying immediately. 

In awe, my mother looked up at me and said, “Oh my goodness… she just wanted her mommy…” 

That’s when it hit me for the first time. Right there as I stood in the middle of my living room floor holding my sweaty baby close in my arms, this thought rang in my spirit: what about the orphans.

Orphans, I thought? I knew I had always had a “heart for orphans,” or so I thought, but it never really meant more than that I knew they were there, and I felt really badly for them whenever the topic came up.  

But starting from this moment, something changed. Still holding my daughter, and with my family surrounding me, I looked up at everyone and whispered what I heard.

 “What about the orphans?”

Quiet, blank stares.

So I said it again. “What happens to the orphans? What happens when they cry and they ‘just want their mommy.’ What happens to them… ” 

My mind spun, and I could not sleep that night. All I could hear were cries–not my daughters–but cries of orphans that came from nowhere yet somewhere out there. 

Lying there with my eyes opened and staring up at the ceiling, I helplessly listened and tears streamed down to drench my pillow. I wondered how many were out there and felt so overwhelmed by the magnitude of the need. This went on for months, and although sometimes I wondered if I was making this all up in my head, the cries always continued. Some nights, I would even break down and cry aloud myself as if all I could do was echo and call back to a world I knew that was full of these children crying to no avail. 

That was four years ago, and so began our family’s journey into orphan care. Through a process, I knew God was calling us to respond and care for these orphans. No doubt there were many questions and concerns along the way, but it was no matter. The cries continued, and I knew I really had to do something this time.

But what I didn’t know was that the cry I heard that night four years ago was also more than just the cries of all the orphans out there. It was really just the cry of one.

It was one precious boy who was born around that time four years ago, in the same week as my daughter, but in a completely different home going through devastation and destruction. It was him who was crying out for help many of those nights that I heard and who was going to need a home four years later, just when things got really bad in his home and just when our home was finally ready, signed, and approved to host a child. 

It was his cry I heard in my heart that autumn night, and he was our first placement who is now in our home today. God allowed me to hear his cries to awaken me that night to not only the orphan crisis as a whole, but to hear and respond to the cries of the one the Lord knew we specifically could and would help. 

This one who was once out of sight and out of mind, is now family to us. 

Now, that one has a name that rolls off my tongue just as smoothly as does the names of my other three children. This one enjoys fruits and vegetables so much that it is almost always the first thing eaten on his plate. This one sleeps so deeply through the night, I can hear his breathing from the door the moment he falls asleep, and you can be sure that the second the sun comes up, he will begin to rub his eyes before making his way down to my room with the rest of the kids. 

This one is so real that I can’t believe he was once just a far off cry or possibly a figment of my imagination. Because now, I can’t imagine life without him.  

This one, he needs a home right now, and there is no greater joy or privilege to have him in our home for however long he needs. 

But he is just one


There are more…many, many more. 

And until their cries become real and loud to us, we will not be able to respond. 

In honor of Orphan Awareness Month coming up in November, let us pray, let us listen, and let us be moved to action. I assure you, the cries are real, and the honor will be yours to care for one, if not more, of these children in one way or another. 

Can you hear them? 

Waiting For Birth 

Waiting For Birth 

This past weekend, I attended another birth as a doula, and once again, it was nothing short of the most amazing experience of my life. I always knew I loved being at births, but I now finally realized a little better why.

When I arrived at the hospital on Friday evening to join the laboring, soon-to-be mommy and her husband, it was already around 9pm, an hour before my bedtime. I warmly greeted them both, then rubbing away any sleepiness that may tempt me, I quietly began unpacking my bags in the corner of the room. I got out my massage oil, a warm compress, and some other comfort tools that have come to be my go-to items.

Then gently, I knelt beside mom, who was closing her eyes and slowly rocking back and forth while breathing deeply through her contractions in the dimly lit room. The only thing that could be heard was the soft music playing from her bedside and her soft, rhythmic moans and groans. On the outside, she looked like she was in perfect peace, but I knew this took great effort to remain calm through the intense waves taking over her body.

As the contractions grew in intensity and strength, the clock on the wall tick-tocked faithfully with us through the night. I massaged soothing oils into her body from head to toe, I spooned ice chips into her dry mouth, I gave her sweet honey for nourishment, and I gently wiped away drips of sweat with a cool wash cloth across her brow. Anytime she needed to change position, I was there to offer my hands, my arms, my body to support her. Sometimes I sang softly to her, and all throughout, I was praying for her. I gave her my all.

It is no wonder the word ‘doula’ comes from the Greek word meaning female servant. Together, we labored hard and after hours of tremendous work, we saw the sun come up together. Then we labored some more.

It wasn’t until noon the next day when the sun was high up in the sky and blazing warm and bright for its first day of autumn that it suddenly became time to push. Although no one could say when exactly this time would come, just like that, it was time.

By this point, I felt just as invested in this birth as the mother, and I, too, had great anticipation to see this baby. I had also been in her shoes three times before with my own births, and I could just imagine what she was feeling.

Suddenly, the time had come to see and behold the birth, the baby she had been waiting and hoping for all this time.

You see, when this mother found out she was pregnant nine months before this moment, she was thrilled. She took multiple pregnancy tests–maybe 3 or 4 or 10–just to be sure. And even though they all said positive, there was still some level of doubt.

Could it really be true?

But then she saw her belly growing, and she couldn’t believe it! The first visible sign of her baby. She knew she would probably be getting stretch marks soon, but that didn’t even matter because she was going to have a baby. Then other signs came popping up. She felt strange things like cravings, nausea, hormonal imbalances, and little kicks to her rib cage.

Soon, her whole life began to revolve around this child she had not yet met, but only knew from all these signs of life within her.

There was no doubt, really. Of course this baby was real, and one day soon, the baby would be here, outside, and in her arms.

Yet as much as she thought she now knew and believed that this baby was there and coming, it was still only in part. She could not possibly fathom what it would really feel like to finally SEE and know and behold this baby in the flesh.

That is, until this very moment–the moment of truth.

She was now in position, and holding breath after breath, she began to push with all her might. And for awhile, nothing seemed to have changed much. Baby was still inside, and all you could see was still the great effort on the mother’s part.

But then suddenly, it happened. The once unthinkable, the once unbelievable, the thing once merely an object of hope… began to appear.

Baby.

We saw a glimpse of her hair, and it was all we needed to explode. That is when everyone in the room came alive. Whether moments ago weary or ever in doubt, we were all now jolted into amazement and belief. And though mom had hardly anything left within her, this glimpse was all she needed to gather herself the strength to push once more through the sweat now mixed with tears. 

And before we all knew it, this baby, a REAL. LIFE. BABY… came out and was ACTUALLY in the room with us.  

BABY

This baby whom we saw and knew only in part through the listening of heartbeats, the sonograms, and all the other signs was finally now fully before us. And more than anything imaginable, this baby was absolutely beautiful, bursting with life, and perfect! Better than perfect, in fact. 

There is nothing like a newborn baby taking its first breath of air, letting out its first unique and sweet cry into the universe, and beginning the first few seconds of its new life. You feel like the world and the heavens actually pause for a moment along with everyone else in the room to simply marvel at the sight. 

Then I had a thought. This is how our Savior also came into this world! But how much more anticipation and fulfillment came with the sight of His birth? I can only imagine the thrill of Mary, Joseph, the wise men, and the shepherd after they finally saw the boy Jesus who was promised to them.

And now we only have to wait for His return.

And in the same way, this is how I imagine waiting for Jesus’ second coming along with the manifestation of the fullness of heaven on earth.

We see some of it now. We may even feel like we see a lot of it now. We see great signs of Jesus all around us, and we KNOW and BELIEVE both Him and His words are real.

But it is all still largely only in part.

Only when He returns will we understand, and see, and know Him in full, and how glorious will that day be!

Even now, He is sooooo good to us, and we think we know Him pretty good already. Can you imagine the FULLNESS? Face to face, no more tears, no more pain, but only pure and unadulterated love and glory in His magnificent and beautiful and perfect presence.

For those who have been seeing evidences of Jesus now. For those who have been waiting, rocking back and forth on your knees in prayer, groaning with longing for the time to come and for this pain stricken world to pass. Jesus is coming again. The promise will be birthed. And it is going to be nothing short of THE MOST AMAZING MOMENT IN ALL OF CREATION.

I can’t wait to be thrust into that completeness of joy in knowing, breathing, beholding the FULLNESS of Jesus and heaven.

For those who wonder how or why I can love being a doula, now you know. And for this reason, I always leave births a bit spent but as wide-eyed and in awe as ever. I love being a doula and waiting on a birth.

We know that the whole creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time. Not only so, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for our adoption to sonship, the redemption of our bodies. For in this hope we were saved. But hope that is seen is no hope at all. Who hopes for what they already have? But if we hope for what we do not yet have, we wait for it patiently.

Romans 8:22-25

 

 

Shared Suffering

Shared Suffering
My father-in-law found out he was adopted when he was 26, newly married, and weeks away from welcoming the birth of his first child, my husband. His family was never going to tell him, but the secret accidentally came out one day in the middle of a family dispute. Since then, it has been a long road of trauma full of a million unanswered questions that have battered and left him bruised.
But what could he do? He didn’t know how to process the pain he felt or make sense of a life he suddenly felt he didn’t belong in. So he tucked it all away. He continued with his life as usual, began his own family, and tried to forget about his past. Already a grown man with many responsibilities and a million other burdens to worry about, there was no time, really, to understand… or to heal this area of his life.
Then one day, my husband and I felt the calling to welcome children in need into our home, and because we live with my in-laws, we had to make sure they were on board with this too. This was something he was not prepared for. In fact, he strongly opposed it when we first brought up our desire to foster or adopt and became very heated. He never imagined that we, his children, would ever have a child in our home like this, and he was not prepared to reopen those old wounds. He also questioned our ability to love these children especially when we already had three kids of our own.
“When they all get sick, who are you going to love? Who are you going to take care of??You won’t love him the same!”
The words cut through us all because we knew he was still hurting and that he never got over the years of feeling unloved and abandoned. Yet because my father-in-law is a tender man, it only took him less than a day to come around. That same night, he came over to me and my husband and said, “We gotta do it. We’re Christians right? If we don’t do it, who will?”
I love my father-in-law.
So with his blessing, we started the process. Before we knew it, we got a call for our first placement and within a few days, this little boy was standing in our home. It was a very emotional time for us all, but there was no doubt that my father-in-law, who was never known to shed a tear, was by far the most emotional of us all.
Over 30 years after his moment of realizing his tragic loss as a child, he stood face-to-face with Rell, a little boy who carried very similar scars he had. At first, he didn’t know what to make of it, but he couldn’t even get through the first meal before tears began streaming down his face and he had to excuse himself to his room where he spent the rest of the evening. No one knew what he went through in that room, but what we do know is that from that day on, we have seen healing and freedom slowly take place in my father-in-law’s heart as he has had to walk hand in hand with Rell on his own journey of healing as well. Together, they have overcome mountains of tragedy and pain.
And for Rell, there was nobody more qualified and suitable to help him on his journey than my father-in-law. Because when no one else understands, my father-in-law does. To be honest, there have been very difficult moments. Moments when I am tired of dealing with his tantrums and behavioral outbursts that I don’t normally see in other children. Moments when I am tired of waiting for him to come out of his blank stares because he doesn’t know how to respond “rightly” when I ask him to do something. Moments when I just wished he didn’t need me to hold his hand every moment of the day and wished he could go about his day with security and confidence. I became tired of being patient, tired of being kind, tired of extending grace.
But when I and everyone else tires, my father-in-law comes in quietly and ever so gently, and with kindness deep in his eyes, offers this little boy a hand to take that next step. They both know how hard that step can be, but together, they can do it and they have done it together everyday.
We are so proud of them.
The other week, our family went on vacation to the beach and Rell was so excited. It was his first time going in the ocean, and when we got there, he ran straight in with everyone else. Unfortunately, the same second he ran in was exactly when a huge wave came and smashed down on top of him, leaving him gasping for air and choking in the salty sea water.
After that, he didn’t go in again. 
Traumatized, he stayed as far back as possible and wanted me right beside him as he played quietly in the sand. Periodically, he would look up and see everyone else splashing in the waves, but nothing could convince him to go back in. Anytime I did try to get him to try, he would immediately shake his head no, and the one time he did get up to walk with me closer to the water, he ended up shaking and screaming at the top of his lungs until I carried him back to our towels.
Eventually, we all gave up and just let him be. That is, until my father-in-law drove up for the weekend to join us, and wouldn’t you know it that he was just who Rell needed to overcome his fear. I watched in fascination as the two held hands and slowly but steadily walked to the water’s edge. I knew Rell must have been trembling, but from behind, he looked peaceful and confident. Then slowly, the two began to touch the water with their toes, then with their fingertips, and soon enough, they were knee high in the water.
I couldn’t believe it. Before long, Rell was wailing in laughter as he kicked and punched through the wild waves that continued to crash onto his body over and over again. It was the most beautiful picture as I saw my father-in-law come alive from his past pain and use the most difficult time of his life to help another person in the same shoes.
And all the more I realized why Jesus had to come. Because in His life here on earth, He, too, experienced the same trials we each face and He is more than able to understand and to extend grace for each of us in whatever stage of life we are in. He does not tire of our situations and our unique trials, but He knows. He cares deeply for us and can help us take each next step. And with Him, we can overcome.
“For we do not have a high priest who is unable to empathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are—yet he did not sin. Let us then approach God’s throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need.”
Hebrews 4:15-16

Be Brave and Be Kind

Be Brave and Be Kind

Dear Readers,

Someone once told me, “be brave and be kind,” and I have loved this saying ever since.

A beautiful way to live, I thought, that’s what I want to be. 

That is also the very thing I had to keep repeating to myself as I struggled to finish up this book that I have been working on for the last couple years. Because it wasn’t easy.

It was, in fact, one of the hardest things I have ever done. The hardest part, however, was not scrambling to find time to write in the midst of mothering 3 babies, or painstakingly trying to pinpoint the right word out of the hundreds of thousands out there, or even maintaining the persistence to push through every phase of this grueling and seemingly endless process (although all of those were very real challenges as well).

No, the hardest part of this whole journey of writing a book was finding the courage to put myself out there. Although thousands of authors do this everyday, I felt like a tiny fish in a big pond trying to muster up the courage to dive off the deep end, timidly asking if I could perhaps, pretty please, take a small seat in the back and join this big league of published authors.

It was quite intimidating.

But when I say it was hard putting myself out there, I don’t mean just putting myself out there to be scrutinized as a writer, but I also mean putting all my business out there as well… because that is exactly what this book does.

I first entertained the thought of writing this book almost 10 years ago in 2008 after an intense season the Lord brought me through that involved taking off my makeup, and that is when the title of the book was born–No Makeup.

I excitedly pulled up a new Word doc and began typing away this story about lust, sin, and repentance, and when I was done, I had all of about one single-spaced page written before me. 

There was then a seven year pause before the Lord reminded me of the story I once started and called me to bring it to completion.

But this time, I was hardly excited. It was more in obedience with fear and trembling I began to tell my story because in those seven years, much more had surfaced and transpired in my life, things I could hardly confess to the Lord, let alone the rest of the world.

There were hidden secrets I held onto, but more than that, secrets that held onto me and kept me in bondage. Hidden behind my put-together exterior, I had been moving through life as if on “good-Christian” autopilot for so long, I honestly could not truly see the depth of the sin within me for which Christ had to die.

I could name the “nicer sins” which were obvious and common to everyone, but when I began to struggle with the “worser” ones that are hardly ever uttered, especially not in the church, I felt the need to hide. And because they’re never mentioned, they do indeed feel like they are, so to speak, worser.

And what happens in hiding? Lies enter the scene, your mind becomes a dark playground for demons to toy with, and you remain chained to the very acts that are destroying your life.

I saw for myself a glimpse of these very things taking place in my life as I faced the hidden vices that I had lived with for so long, even since my childhood, this dark thread that had managed to remain quietly within me and was now coming out and tearing me and my family apart.

There was no more hiding, ignoring, or being blind to this all consuming sin which was there all along but suddenly seemed to be unleashed and in control, causing me to witness a side of me that was terrifying. Because it wasn’t just the one or two major sins that came out, but rather, as I followed the thread of these sins to its roots, I not only faced the reality of my dark past and present state, but I was led to peer down my very soul that was Sin.

was sin. No better or worse than any known sinner in the world but possessing the very same devastating condition that was bent on destroying and dragging us all to hell.

This is the story I share. The absolute worst of me, which although I was cowardly ashamed of, I willed myself into submission and obedience to share in this story because in thinking of you, dear readers, I knew this was the very same Sin within each of you.

And reader, I wish you freedom.

The same freedom, absolute and pure, that comes only through Christ in wholehearted confession while inviting the Lord to search your hearts and unveil the vile Sin within you. Indeed, it wasn’t until I was brought to my knees in absolute knowledge of my sin and utter confession of my need for Christ that I began to receive true freedom.

Freedom, I found, involves–no, requires–confession. A scary thing to do.

But I did it before the Lord, and I do it again before you now because in remembering the call to be both brave and to be kind, I realize this is the kind of love God commands of me. Love that is kind and requires a brave heart to act despite my own fears and reservations. So in thinking of you, dear reader, I pushed myself on and gladly obeyed the Lord in sharing my wretched yet beautifully redeemed story with you.

I pray you not only see my life, but it causes you to see your own, and if you haven’t already, that you find complete freedom in the Lord. He is our only hope and He is absolutely bent on setting us all free. 

Yours Truly, 

Irene Kim 

So thankful for my family and friends who have encouraged me and celebrated with me in this one step of obedience.  For Your sake, Lord, I choose to love and to be kind and brave every day, and I pray this story is used for Your glory and that Your will be done in all our lives. 

No Makeup: Once Concealed Now Set Free
 

 

What Doesn’t Kill Him

What Doesn’t Kill Him

When a fetus is in the womb, it is safely held in a sea of water and protected from bacteria and other pathogens. However, the very second that water breaks and the infant begins to make its way out into the world, it must travel down a passage that is covered completely with microbiomes–various bacteria specifically prepared in the mother for that child to go through. Every baby’s microbiome is different and perfectly unique and tailored to that child. This bacteria completely covers the baby, gets into the eyes, ears, and nose, and is even swallowed.

Normally, this should hurt the newborn. After all, bacteria leads to disease and other harmful side-effects, even death. However, just as soon as the baby passes through this mucky birth canal, it is immediately placed warmly on the mother’s chest and offered its first meal at the breast.

The baby sucks and sucks by instinct, and if it doesn’t get it at first, he is still steadily taught, directed, and encouraged to feed at the breast because no alternative is better. Not even close. Then once the baby latches, liquid gold soon comes flowing into the baby’s body. At this time, baby is first introduced to this perfect milk that is full of immunities, complex sugars, and everything good to cover and complement the mess it just went through. It is the perfect match for that perfect bacteria that has been designed for the baby’s body, and together, they work to build up the baby’s system and its ability to fight off disease for the rest of its life.

The key is, however, that both are always needed–this life giving breast milk and the pathogenic bacteria. With either one missing, the baby will not properly be able to build up the strength it needs to live.

It amazes me that even from the moment of birth, this is the reality we are faced with–we experience and even need both the good and the bad.

Deep breath.

This week we were asked to petition for guardianship over Rell. There was a sudden turn of events, and his parents were deemed incapable of providing for any of their children. So, his three siblings (who had just been reunified at home) were immediately taken by the state. CPS and the police came knocking on their door, and just like that, they were swept away from their chance at staying together.

“Fortunately” for Rell, he was still with us (just a few weeks shy of being reunited with his family himself), and there was a plea on his behalf to be left out of the system and to be allowed to remain in our home. “Fortunately,” they agreed, but only under the condition that we would file legal guardianship over him. “Fortunately” for Rell.

Guardianship. What does that mean? Basically it is the gray area right outside of adoption. We have rights and the freedom to make decisions for him and assume full responsibility over him, but we are not considered his parents. We treat him like family, but he is not really family.

I agreed right away because I love this boy, and I would do anything to keep him safe, but the title didn’t sit so well with me. I wished he could either FULLY be with us through adoption or FULLY be with his biological family. What is this sloppy in between that he has to live with?

Already there have been so many moments that have left him feeling utterly isolated in this situation, and I feel him wanting so badly to belong somewhere.

Sometimes he asks me, “Is mommy going to come get me?” Other times, it’s, “I want to live with my daddy foreva.” Still other times, he looks at me and says with a hopeful smile, “Umma, is you my mommy … foreva?”

He wants a FOREVER family, and who can blame him?

But nothing is certain in his world. I can’t promise him that he’ll be going home to his family because we don’t know if that’ll happen. We can’t tell him that he’ll be with us forever because we don’t know if that’ll be happening either. 

The more I thought about guardianship, the more I hated it for that reason. How is this in any way good for him? All of this, this messy dysfunction he was birthed into, feels way more hurtful than any child should ever have to go through and swallow.

But the other side of guardianship is this: we do get to have him for a time. We get to have him for today, tomorrow, and possibly for a month or even the next 14 years until he becomes an adult.

And for whatever amount of time we get to have him, we get to offer him something good–we can love him, care for him, but most importantly, teach him how to lean into God’s bosom and drink from the cup of His hands. There, he can taste the sweet love of Christ and be strengthened even in this difficult place. 

When he is scared, when he falls down, or when he has a nightmare as he often does, we don’t only comfort him ourselves. Rather, we IMMEDIATELY put him onto the heart of God because although we may not always be there for him, we know that God will. That is the one pure, good, and sure “forever” that we can offer and promise him.

In the middle of the night when he’s in tears and afraid, “Sing praise, Relly. Worship. Let’s sing loud and sing hard. Praise God and the fear will leave you. You’ve got to sing.”

When he’s struggling to ride a bike and he has fallen down for the 20th time, “Get back up Relly and ask God to make your legs strong. Ask God for strength to pump your legs. Pump harder! You got this! God is your strength! Say it! God is my strength! You can do it!”

With tears, I shout, declare, and even demand this 4 year-old boy learn these truths now because this is his milk after the muck. And there is no better alternative. 

Then just maybe, this unique combination of the terrible, messy hardship in his life along with the perfect love of God will create for him a life that is strengthened and able to sustain him. Maybe what doesn’t kill him really will make him stronger. And we don’t want to see him just make it… we want to see him soar, and sometimes we even see him soaring now. 

So although it is hard at times and we struggle to see the good in all this when we can’t understand, we trust that God knows what this little boy can handle, and we hope that this seemingly dark place is still all for his good.

For that reason, we can always rejoice and say, thank you, Lord. Even in this, we rejoice. 

If we are to really live, if we are to grow, and if we are to thrive, once we all inevitably experience each of our unique microbiomes of hardship, chaos, and pain that have been laid out for our lives, we must also IMMEDIATELY lean into the Father and drink of His sweet goodness. While our suffering in some form or another will always be there, so also will be the Lord and His goodness. He is so good. And in the end, God knows and wills and works to perfectly make it all turn out for our good.


“Rejoice with Jerusalem and be glad for her, all you who love her;
rejoice greatly with her, all you who mourn over her.
For you will nurse and be satisfied at her comforting breasts; you will drink deeply and delight in her overflowing abundance.”
For this is what the Lord says:
“I will extend peace to her like a river, and the wealth of nations like a flooding stream;
you will nurse and be carried on her arm and dandled on her knees.
As a mother comforts her child, so will I comfort you;
and you will be comforted over Jerusalem.”

Isaiah 66:10-13

Over and Above the Hill

Over and Above the Hill

Our family went to a wedding earlier this month, and it was the first one in a while where the kids were also invited. Naturally, they were all really excited and so was I, especially for the “dance party” we told them that would follow the ceremony. We have dance parties at our house all the time and about half of our life is a musical. It’s what keeps us sane. We all love to dance, and when it comes to weddings, my husband and I are usually the first and last ones on the dance floor.

This dance party, however, was on a whole nother level for all of us.

Understandably so, at least for the kids, because they had never been to a wedding reception before. They are used to dancing in our bedrooms with natural sunlight and VBS music playing from my iPhone—not hip hop and rap blasting through loud speakers and neon lights shooting out from different directions while highlighting that one crazy guy protruding his buttocks and swinging it around everywhere. They were stunned and stood frozen in the middle of the dance floor for 95% of the time with that glazed over look and mouths hung open.

I, on the other hand, felt right in my element and got my dance on as usual. Feeling the rhythm of all the catchy songs, I got down and felt great. But it was only really great for all of about two songs. Then I felt myself slow down. One by one, my body parts entered this sloth-like slow-mo trance until I, too, stood completely still beside my children gazing outward at the whirlwind of people around us.

I felt old.

I looked at the younger ones around me and saw them swirling around as smooth as Jellow and with more and more energy with each new song that the DJ ripped from his sound board.

Goodness, I thought, even just a couple years ago I was one of them.  

But this week I turned 32. Honestly 30 and 31 felt no different from the years before, and I was actually excited for my 30s. Yet this year was different. Quite unexpectedly, I experienced many mixed emotions with getting another year older, even feelings of fear.

It started with some recent events that took me back to places of my past, places that were once life as I knew it. The windy back roads I used to speed down on the way to friends’ houses in high school. The house I grew up in as a child with the worn but sturdy basketball hoop cemented into our driveway. The cafe I studied at each day after school in the same corner where I mostly looked through Cosmopolitan magazines and people-watched the many who came by. Lastly, the university campus I once attended and knew as home but was now full of a fresh new student body, the 10th graduating class since my own graduation 10 years ago.

Has it really already been 10 years?

Driving through campus was nostalgic, and I could almost smell the scent of each building I passed—the iconic Mckeldin library in the middle of campus, the musty math building right around the corner, the cafeteria carrying the aroma of late night fried foods, and more.

At the mere sight of each of these places, memories came rushing back and each one felt so fresh and familiar yet strangely old like a rose that had been hung to dry—they were still there just how I left them, yet now, they were nothing more, really, than still memories, dried up and hanging in my mind. They have all become part of my past, a vast horizon I look back on and at most, perhaps feel some kind of distant connection.

All these things that once were so real in my life have passed, and just like that, there stood 32 years’ worth of memories from when my life first started.

Suddenly, I realized I was now middle age, teetering somewhere in the middle of the top of the hill in between my beginning and my end, and I had to pause in trying to come to terms with the idea that I will quickly one day be over the hill.

I wondered to myself, Am I now standing closer to the end of my life rather than to the beginning? Am I already on my way down?

This is when fear came into the picture. In thinking about this, I had fleeting yet very real moments where my heart beat a bit quicker, my breathing became shallow, and little drips of terror trickled down my back.

I thought, Soon, my body will begin to fail along with everything else, everything will slowly weaken, everything will shut down (just like on that dance floor), and I will be nothing. Just like every memory of my life and everything else in this world that has passed, I, too, will pass.   

Then my grandma’s nurse called me. She wanted me to translate while she checked on my grandma’s many medications and health conditions. After about 10 minutes of verifying everything, my grandma then cheerfully came onto the phone and rather than any complaints of her ailments, she told me about all the things she had won while playing bingo. She said she had prayed and pleaded with God to win so that she would have gifts for the kids. Then, because it was almost 4 pm which is her time to talk with God, she abruptly said she had to go and hung up before I could say goodbye.

Wow, I thought, she is really something else. She is out of this world.

That’s when I realized, That’s right, I AM NOT OF THIS WORLD EITHER.   

Immediately, I was jerked back up from that steep, dark hill I had been peering down with death at the end of it, and I told myself, I am NOT going down that hill.

No, I’m going where my grandma’s going—where she’s BEEN going. At the age of 87, she is more alive than anyone I know. In a way, I see more life in her than I do in my little kids, because with every year that has passed, she has grown more alive in her spirit. She holds onto nothing but Christ Himself and glories in everything that is a loss because, to her, that is gain. In her most frail moments, she clings to Jesus and worships Him for being her perfect strength in her weakness and gives thanks for being one step closer to seeing Him face to face. She welcomes the death of her body, whenever that may be, and is excited to be completely and wholly with her Savior. In this way, she rises above everything, even that wretched hill and its dead end pit that calls out to all of us.

She never went down that hill but has been rising from glory to glory and shines brighter today than when she first started.

Thank you grandma and thank you Jesus for paving the way that goes above and beyond the hill and into the heavenly realm, the way that overcomes this life and death, and the way that has saved us all and given us access to the Father in heaven. Because that’s where I’m going.

 

Do not love the world or anything in the world... The world and its desires pass away, but whoever does the will of God lives forever.” 1 John 2:15-17