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