Healing in Shared Suffering

Healing in 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. They were 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 with a perpetual aching of abandonment. Not knowing why this happened or where he belongs or even who to trust, it was difficult for him to move forward.

But he had no choice.

By then, he was a grown man and about to become a father to not just one but to three sons. There was no time, really, to heal those deep inner wounds. So rather, the hurt was simply pushed to the side, numbed up, and suppressed.

That is, until he came face to face with a new little boy in our home. My father-in-law was, at first, very opposed to the idea of us having foster kids or adopted kids or any of the like. He was sure we could not treat or love them the same as our own children, just as he has always felt was the case for himself growing up.

I remember his exact words and how he challenged us:

“You’re not going to love him the same! When they all get sick, who are you going to pick up? Who are you going to love?? You already have your own kids!”

My heart broke as I felt the devastating pain of his past come rising up for the first time in years. Still, it wasn’t long before he gave us his blessing to follow our calling to care for these children. He quickly retorted almost as if countering his own opposition, “If we don’t do it, who will?? We’re Christians, right?? We gotta do it.”

I love my father-in-law.

Then when Rell (our very first placement) came a few days after our paperwork went through, my father-in-law was undone. He looked at this poor little boy as if looking at himself and immediately broke into tears, reliving his own pain. I remember the first night we sat down to dinner, he had to excuse himself and then remained in his room for several hours thinking about God knows what.

From then on, it has been a rollercoaster ride. I could tell there were days it was difficult for my father-in-law to love this boy. There were days he only wanted to care for his own grandchildren and no one else. There were days he didn’t want to have him here, not wanting to deal with his own baggage that kept being triggered, let alone the boy’s baggage that was constantly on display in his disruptive behavior.

This behavior that comes with kids with traumatic backgrounds has tried us all, me especially. It was easy to sympathize with him in the beginning and give him all the patience in the world, but after a while, I became tired.

I became tired of allowing what should be 30 second minor ordeals turn into 30 minute counseling sessions. I became tired of seeing his destructive rage over the smallest little incidents that any normal child should be able to easily brush off. I became tired of having to talk him off the ledge of deep remorse 50 times a day. I became tired of noncompliance, tired of petty fits, tired of his pain, tired of extending grace…

Many nights, I had to crawl into my prayer closet and beg on my knees for more love and grace for this boy. God knows he desperately needs it, and the last thing I wanted was to add to his brokenness. Yet in my very human nature, I found it painfully difficult at times to will myself to connect and to understand on a deeper level just what he was going through.

But thank God for my father-in-law. Because he understands.

Without having to exchange a single word, they have an understanding of each other that no one else in our family has. They have a common history of suffering that, although it is certainly tragic, it is also strangely beautiful when shared and understood. It also makes for the perfect formula for healing.

This past week, our family went on a week long beach trip. It was the first time Rell would play in the ocean and he was super excited. Unfortunately, the very first time he stepped foot into the water, a huge wave crashed over him and he came up gasping for air, only to swallow huge gulps of salty ocean water. He was, once again, traumatized, as he tasted the cup of salty water handed to him in this life.

After that, any time I or anyone else tried to convince him to come back into the water, he screamed and shook in fear. Eventually, we all tired of asking him and just let him play in the sand while everyone else enjoyed splashing through the waves.

I could see, however, the longing in his eyes to join us and play. If it weren’t for his great fear, he would rip through the waves himself and be right there with the rest of us. But there was no helping him. He wouldn’t let us.

Then my father-in-law came. He joined us for the last few days of our time on the beach, and wouldn’t you know it that my father-in-law knew just what it took to bring Rell back into the water. He knew the great patience he needed, the exact words to say, the perfect amount of support and encouragement to provide, and even just the right way to hold his hand. Before I even knew what happened, I looked up to see Rell jumping and splashing in the water with a huge smile on his face and letting out uncontrollable laughter.

I was amazed. It was absolutely beautiful.

What we saw take place there–the victory, the bursting and revival of life–was a result of their special relationship, not only because of the shared suffering they both experienced, but more than that, because of the healing they are both individually discovering as well.

Over the days, weeks, and months that have passed with Rell in our home, there has been a miraculous transformation in my father-in-law. Through all the ups and downs, above all, this has been a time for him to be restored from the hurt of carrying that orphan spirit.

At the very same time, it has given him the opportunity to extend that steady grace to this boy who is now going through the very same thing. What better person can do this than one who has had to go through these things before? More than the rest of us, my father-in-law has the ability to empathize, to understand, to feel, and to be there right in the middle of this boy’s valley of pain and to help walk him out. 

All the more, I see yet another reason why our good God sent His Son to be with us on this earth. Jesus made himself nothing and subject to all the pain we could ever experience so that He may hand-in-hand be with us in our struggles, our fears, our disappointments, our pain, and then, walk us victoriously into newness of life. His suffering was for us, and through it, we can find strength and life through any circumstance we find ourselves in or whatever waves come crashing our way. Just like Rell and my father-in-law, we can take comfort in knowing our God knows exactly what we go through and will never tire of extending His deepest, most heart-felt, transformative, and healing grace. 

He knows, He’s been there before, and He will be our help.  

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

 

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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

 

 

From the Belly, From the Heart

From the Belly, From the Heart

Birth videos have become popular in my household since I’ve become a doula and childbirth instructor. I show them in my classes as an educational tool and am always looking for new ones for my students. I often get sucked into watching birth after birth because I find them all so amazing. Therefore, my kids have also gotten accustomed to seeing them as well. My daughter especially LOVES watching babies being born, and whenever it is her day to pick what to watch on TV, her answer is always, “the baby and mommy one!” She would choose a baby’s birth over Dora any day.

Ever since I decided to let her have a peek at her first birth film, I believe she saw it then, and still sees it now, the same way as I do–it is the most beautiful thing on earth.

I’m glad birth doesn’t scare her like it commonly does for so many women and people in general. Call her naive, but I hope she never fears what could be the most amazing moment of her life–the day she gives birth to a child of her own. She’s funny and often says, “Umma, I can’t waittttttt. I’m waiting for a REALLY long time. It’s taking TOO long. I really want to be a mommy, and I want to be in YOUR class!”

This is life as a doula’s daughter.

Anyways, last week all the kids woke up from their naps, and it was their 30 minute screen time. It was also Kindle’s turn to pick, so of course, baby movie it was. The three boys were there as well, so we all sat cuddling on our couch watching a family birth their first child.

I think part of the reason my kids like watching these films so much is because they know I’ve gone through the same process with each of them. They ask me questions about their individual births and are fascinated that they were once in my belly as well. This particular afternoon, Kindle turned to me and said, “Mommy, I was in your belly too in the beginning! And so was Micah and Moses. But not Rell. He was not in your belly.”

Silence.

Rell looked back at me and thought quietly about what Kindle had just said. He looked sad. Because, well, it was true. Rell did not come from my belly. In fact, he’s not even adopted, so it has been a bit of a sensitive topic using certain terminology such as “family” and “brother” and “sister.” It’s tricky because we want to be clear and truthful that he has a family of his own trying to get him back home, but we also don’t want him to feel like an outsider in our home. We want him to feel like family, and since he’s been with us for months now, it often feels that way to all of us. But I also know there are times he doesn’t feel like he completely belongs.

This was one of those times, and I hated that.

Instantly, all those months of connecting and forming secure attachments and trust between us seemed to crack and divide with that one mountain of a statement. Just like that, I could tell he felt worlds apart.

I couldn’t stand for that, though, because in my book, he was part of the family and had a place in our home just as much as anyone else. I had to say something to bring him back, so quickly, I said the first thing that came to mind.

“That’s true. Rell was not in my belly. God only put Micah, Kindle, and Moses in my belly… but God did put Rell in my heart, and Rell was in my heart for years before he came to our home.”

Silence again.

I hoped they wouldn’t ask for the biology behind what I had just said, so before they could shoot out all the questions that were probably going through their little smarty pants brains, I grabbed them all for a big family hug, just long enough to catch the smile on Rell’s face, and ended the conversation with, “Snacks anyone?!”

Quite frankly, however, this is something that has been on my mind for a while now. As much as I hate to admit this, as a parent who plans to adopt one day, one of the number one things that crosses my mind is about how much a non-biological child can really feel part of the family and how much that family can really love them like their own. I know others must wonder about this as well.

Do we really love him like our own? Can we even do that?

What I’ve finally come to understand is that the answer is yes. Yes, we can love another child JUST like our own; we can give them this love that is fierce, protective, kind, patient, enduring, hopeful, trusting, and unfailing, all because I have come to accept one thing–and that is that this love I give is also completely full of flaws and mistakes.

Strangely, it is this last point that gives me the most comfort and confidence in loving another child just like my own. 

It is because I know that in loving even my own children from my womb, I have made countless mistakes. In moments of stress or fatigue or frustration, I have succumbed to the the lies of the enemy and/or the weight of my sin and have had shameful moments of unthinkable and regretful thoughts like wishing I was childless. I have had to battle with forgiving myself as a failed mother over and over again for disappointing my children. Above all, I have had to get back up and continue on in my weakness, but more importantly, in HIS perfect love and strength, time and time again. This is the only kind of love I carry, and it is one for all.

Therefore, I don’t have to preoccupy myself with the question of whether or not I can love another child with the same kind of love I give to my children. With either child, I will have times that I feel like I cannot do it and that my love is not enough, but I will never let those momentary struggles prevent me from the surpassing riches of being their mother; and they will all get the same unrefined kind of love I offer that is perfected only in Christ.

His love is perfect and greater and beyond any borders of race, biology, grievances, shortcomings, and/or mistakes. Christ has loved us all deeply the same and calls us to do so to one another as well, whether it is my bio kid, adopted kid, or the kid next door.

It is all through Him. We get to love all our children the same, and it starts not in our wombs and not even really in our hearts, but we have all been born out of the love of God. His family reigns above all.

Thank you God for leading us on this journey that you call us to be on and for providing for us in every way that we lack. We are honored to see the miracle of perfect love in our home be made manifest through Your love as we welcome in those who are far and those who are near. 

“But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far away have been brought near by the blood of Christ. For he himself is our peace, who has made the two groups one and has destroyed the barrier, the dividing wall of hostility…He came and preached peace to you who were far away and peace to those who were near. For through him we both have access to the Father by one Spirit. Consequently, you are no longer foreigners and strangers, but fellow citizens with God’s people and also members of his household.”
Ephesians 2:13-22

 

Letting People Come and Go

Letting People Come and Go

I find that change takes a big toll on me whether I know it or not, especially with goodbyes. Even when I mentally know it is a for-the-better kind of goodbye, internally, I can get all out of sorts. Such has been the case as we have been transitioning little Rell out of our home. In a few weeks, he will be reunited with his family, and while I KNOW that him going back to his family is best, even as I sit here and write about it, I can feel little alarms going off inside that are crying out to hold on as tight as I can—the war between my mind and heart is real and rumbles constantly regarding his soon departure.

I didn’t know it would be so hard for me to let go. I also didn’t know it would be so hard for my kids to let go as well. 

I started telling my oldest son a couple weeks ago that Rell would be going back to his home. At first, he didn’t say much and only asked a few questions.

“Will we see him again? Is he leaving forever?”

 “Well, I hope we can still see him from time to time. But yes, he will be living with his family forever.” Then after a long pause and with the most convincing smile I could manage, “Isn’t that great?!” 

Seeing my unexpected enthusiasm, he searched my eyes to look for the traces of sadness and hurt he suspected were there. How did he know? Maybe it’s because he is the child who grew in my womb just inches away from my beating heart, and he knows it too well. Whether beating or bleeding, he knows it, and in this moment, it was bleeding.

 Nonetheless, because I was determined to only be happy about this situation, he let it go and accepted my pretense while forcing a smile of his own. He said he was happy because he could play with all his toys again and have his bed back. “Hooray,” he said under his breath. 

But then a week went by, and it didn’t take long for me to see there was a war going on inside of my son as well. At first, I noticed little things like a little more bickering between the two. Soon bickering turned to insult which turned to what felt like a fierce cold war. And it was entirely one-sided coming from my son’s end. What was going on? For months, I saw no such hostility from any of my children toward Rell, but now it was all coming out full force.

Then I realized—my son is trying to disconnect. He knows his “brother” is leaving, and it’s hard for him too. 

Because each of us in our own unique ways has been going through this same process and acting in ways we don’t mean to act. While on the outside, we all wildly celebrate the victory for Rell’s family, we also grieve the loss of a child we have come to accept as part of our own and don’t know what to do with ourselves. Will he even remember us?? And all the while, our hearts have been alerted to defend themselves at all costs and to detach from this one we’ve all come to deeply love. 

I, for one, found myself feeling jealous, insecure, sad, unsure, and scared. Sure, I praised God for the good news, but I was also jealous of his family who would get to enjoy seeing the rest of his life, insecure that he’d forget all about us, sad that I may not have done my best for him, unsure what life would be like when he’s gone, and scared I would never be able to open myself up to another child again. What’s worse was that all of this quickly translated into irritability, impatience, and an overall grouchiness that I could not shake off. I wished I could return the boy without a second thought, like a robot, but that was obviously not possible—I was so human it hurt. 

I, too, was disconnecting. 

But once I realized what was happening and that poor Rell was getting the brunt of my selfish defenses, I stopped myself. One day after seeing how cold I had been, I held him close and told him, “I’m so sorry. I’m not mad at you… I promise. But I’m going to miss you a lot.” He didn’t know why I was apologizing, but being the compassionate boy he is, he gently responded, “I miss you too momma…love you,” and hugged me tight before running off to play. 
He has no idea, really, what is going on inside me, but without knowing it, he is also teaching me a great deal about saying goodbye.   

For the last five+ months, Rell has taken in another whole family into his heart and has traveled back and forth between us and his biological family every few weeks. In the times he has been at our home, he has FULLY been with us and has given us his all, loving us and allowing us to love him in return. He calls us umma and appa (mom and dad in Korean) and knows he has a place in our arms anytime he wants. Yet at the same time, it was always evident how much he still loved his family back at home whom he said goodbye to for the week. By the way he always talked about them,  we knew for certain they were always in his heart even when with us.

What was surprising, however, was that whenever he went back to his family for a weekend visit, he would cheerfully say goodbye to us and go back to his family, only to do the same thing to there. He would love being with them so much, but we were also always told that he talked about us constantly with such endearment. They said they could tell he loved us so much, just like family. 

The fact was, whether here or there, his heart had grown big enough to hold us all.

And that is what I learned we could do as well.

Now that the time is nearing for Rell to go home permanently, I have desperately been trying to wrap my mind around this concept of goodbye. Except now, I no longer mourn a loss, but I take great comfort in this supernatural God-given ability I have witnessed in Rell for our hearts to expand and forever carry the people who come into our lives, no matter where they may go. I can cheerfully say goodbye, just as he always has, and bless him or anyone else on their journey onward, knowing we will not be left with a void but with a special place in our hearts permanently filled with the memories and blessings that were brought through their very real presence in our lives. And there are so many. 

So with gladness, I have learned to say goodbye. Goodbye to this little boy, goodbye to many who have left us before, and goodbye to the many who will come hereafter. It has been our greatest joy to have had Rell and so many other amazing people come and go in our lives, and I can now say that it was all well worth it and that I also hope it never stops. Our family will open our hearts wide and welcome in anyone as family every time—sometimes for a day and sometimes for a month but always for a lifetime.

I bless you and your family Rell. I will never forget you, and I thank you for all the memories and lessons you have taught me. Umma loves you so much and there will always be a place for you in our hearts and in our home. Please be well. Kisses and hugs.

Shattered at Home

Shattered at Home

Sometimes, I can be nice, compassionate, patient, and kind. I’d like to think that these are the words that describe me best, but really, this is just what most people see on the outside.

It’s easy to be nice when people are watching, but how about at home?

Sure, I can be nice at home, too. We have plenty of good times. I’ve even been caring for another kid, so how bad could I be. But home is also where my flesh–my temper, my bouts of rage, my impatience, and selfishness–all the ugly stuff comes out as well. At the flip of a switch, I can snap. My words of love and grace can turn to knives, and I can be downright mean and hostile. Just push my buttons the right way and you’ll see.

Maybe it’s because I’m most comfortable at home. Or maybe it’s because I’m around ones who I know will love me no matter how terrible I act. Or maybe, it’s because one of Satan’s greatest desire is to destroy the home–the very place we are to build a family that reflects the greater family of God–and he is attacking us whenever he can, especially in our weakness.

Last week, my son and our Safe Families son were kicking around a ball in the kitchen. I have told them repeatedly before that all the balls should stay in the basement or outside. Before I could even give them a warning, however, one of them kicked the ball a little too high and it went crashing into a mason jar sitting on the counter.

I winced at the sound of the shattering glass on our tile floor. And I was done.

They weren’t trying to disobey me. Really, they were just having fun. But of course, this also happened to be my last straw. 

Prior to this moment of “fun,” 3 out of the 4 kids had been sick for over a week, the baby was screaming in pain from an ear and eye infection combo, everyone was grumpy and constantly bickering or crying at the top of their lungs, someone had pooped on the floor, and another peed in bed. I was also sick myself. To make matters worse, the one car we shared was in the shop and while it was over 90 degrees outside, our AC was not working. Now, I had to clean a kitchen full of tiny shards of glass that had slid all over the floor into every nook and cranny… with a crying baby on my hip.   

I wanted to crawl up into a ball on my bed in fetal position or just walk out of the house and not look back, but those unfortunately were not real options.

So instead, I lost it. I went full force in my flesh. First, I directed it all to my oldest because he should understand, he should be more responsible, and he should be able to take the heat.

So in the meanest, loudest, and scariest voice I could manage to find, I tore him up with my rebuke. I could immediately see the remorse and fear in his eyes, but my fury could not so easily be appeased. So I kept going. And as out of control and reckless I was with each loveless word that came flying out of my mouth, I knew in the back of my mind that great damage was being done. Much more than the cup he had shattered onto the ground, I was shattering his spirit, wrangling it, and leaving it for dead. Then with nothing but anger in my eyes, I stared at the rest of them as they whimpered and tried to hide behind the one who had been attacked. Not an ounce of mercy seemed to survive the rampage. I could not disarm myself, and I think I even felt a shade of that dark color called hate. Whatever it was, it was not love and who knew that could be possible with your children. 

Not wanting to deal with any of it anymore, I demanded them all go downstairs while I huffed through an hour of picking up all the broken pieces. As I did, I trembled through my frustration because it all felt too much. It felt impossible to pick up every piece of broken glass and it felt impossible to live this life right. I thought of how hard this was and how I’m a terrible mom and how my children and especially this child who is not even my own should not be in this kind of home. I wished I didn’t have to deal with his behavior anymore, and in fact, I wished he would just be gone and return to his home, now, if that were possible. Then I thought, wow, I’m nothing but a fake and this is not what I signed up for. I actually thought I could do this? No, I can’t do this anymore.  I felt so defeated and done.

 I agreed with all the lies.

And I wondered what life would be like if I did really walk out. I wouldn’t have to care for anyone but myself. I could do whatever I wanted, go wherever I wanted, whenever I wanted. But then what?

But then I would’ve missed out on this.

After I finished cleaning up and gathered myself, I quietly walked to where all the little ones were now quietly playing. They looked nervous and weren’t sure what to expect from me, so without hesitation, I scooped them up just barely able to get my arms around all four kids. I felt so ashamed and humbled to have to confess that I was wrong to my children, but I knew I had to. I reminded myself, my job is not to be some perfect authority figure to them, but it is to love them and to show them we can’t… but that Jesus can.

Once I apologized, they also teared up in relief and leaned in to be held closer. They even wiped away my tears and whispered softly that they were sorry too. Even the newest addition, who I was now sure hated me and would never look at me the same again, whispered, “I love you, mommy.” Thank you, Jesus, I thought. Then together, we confessed our need for Jesus once more as a family and there was peace.

“This” is the joy that comes in the morning. “This” is the light of dawn after the night. “This” is resurrection, reconciliation, and restoration that comes when we are at the end of ourselves and finally dead to ourselves as well. “This” is Jesus being made strong in our weakness and doing for us what we can’t do on our own. And “this” is the house full of laughter, giggles, and cuddles I woke up to today. The little boy even kissed me on the nose and said, “you’re cute mommy.” 

And I told myself, I wouldn’t miss this for the world.

If I turn away from what is difficult and broken rather than turn into the hope of Jesus, I would miss out on ALL of THIS… the FULLNESS of life that only comes when you persevere while witnessing Jesus’ saving work in our lives and in our families.

God knows I can’t do this on my own. Sometimes He just has to make that a little more clearer through shattered glass. So I surrendered once more, and I was so glad that I did because I got to experience all “this” and more.

Of course this is just another snippet of the journey. There are battles everyday to come against the devil and my flesh. So I pray for God to uphold our families, our marriages, friendships, and any other relationships He has established along the way. Together, we can taste heaven. Don’t listen to the lies. Don’t agree with the enemy. Don’t for a second believe that your situation is not worth it.

Because I know that Satan hates what is happening in our home right now and he tries to shatter it. He hates that our household is one with Christ and he hates that we have dared to even invite another family into our literal house as well as our spiritual house of God. And although Satan’s attacks may be great and my flesh my fail, we press on and we press into the goodness of God. Then even more than Satan’s displeasure and the damage he can cause, I feel the exceeding pleasure of the Lord who loves us even in our weakness and also knows how to pick up shattered pieces and make us whole again.

Let us grow in love, even in our homes….especially in our homes.

“So I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh… the acts of the flesh are obvious: …hatred, discord, jealousy, fits of rage, selfish ambition, dissensions…. but the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.”  Galatians 5:13-23