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

 

 

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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.