without fear: peace in the unknowing

I’m in the lobby of the dentist’s office during back-to-back cleanings and exams for all six kids, reading Pilgrim at Tinker Creek while Aerosmith chants “Dream On” from the speaker in the ceiling. Four appointments down, two to go — and Vin brings me coffee from Kaladis and baked goods from Starbucks to help get me through the last hour. I guess he could’ve gotten them both from the same place…but we had a gift card to use, and friends don’t let friends drink Starbucks.

So far, we’ve scored one cavity and one referral to an oral surgeon. I’m fighting a little fear over that last point but counting my blessings that we’ve made it over two and a half years without any major medical issues. Most of the families we know who have adopted more than one kiddo from the same place as ours have already dealt with at least one major surgery, and I’d almost think we lucked out if it weren’t for the attachment issues that provided enough heartbreaking material to write a small book out of. We’re not sure what we’re dealing with aside from facial swelling, a biopsy, adult teeth overlapping somewhere near Andrey’s sinuses, and words like possible cyst and extraction…but we’re certain it has something to do with those first years of starving and neglect, when there just weren’t enough nutrients to build bone structure to properly fit future adult teeth.

In the speaker overhead, Queen is singing about this crazy little thing called love…and the irony isn’t lost on me, though I grew up on Dwight Yoakum and prefer his version.

without fear: peace in the unknowing

When we get home, we’ll call the surgeon’s office. Make an appointment for a consultation. Briefly explain attachment issues to a whole new team of professionals in attempt to avoid regression. Brace ourselves for whatever comes next.

But for now, I’m reading about the anxiety of unknowing: When will this end? When will it get better? What happens next? And I notice the irony here, too:

I wonder how long it would take you to notice the regular recurrence of the seasons if you were the first man on earth. What would it be like to live in open-ended time broken only by days and nights? ….how long would you have to live on earth before you could feel with any assurance that any one particular long period of cold would, in fact, end?

“While the earth remaineth, seedtime and harvest, and cold and heat, and summer and winter, and day and night shall not cease”: God makes this guarantee very early in Genesis to a people whose fears on this point had perhaps not been completely allayed.

– Annie Dillard, Pilgrim at Tinker Creek

And while the last two kids get their teeth cleaned, I read more about trees and water and fear and assurance, munching on a croissant in the lobby while trying not to make a mess. It’s probably the worst possible thing to attempt this with; the bark of the pastry has flaked all over me, the chair, and the floor. It would be more efficient to just rip the thing wide open and fling crumbs everywhere, since that’s what it looks like I’ve done anyway.

Two pastries and a latte later – because my cleaning isn’t for another few weeks – we’re done, and home, and off the phone. We have an appointment to meet the surgeon next week.

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And we wait, wonder, and pray. It’s what we do when we don’t know. Maybe it won’t be so bad. Maybe it’s nothing after all. Maybe it will be awesome. Maybe God is up to something. And of course, He’s always up to something, but sometimes I cringe because He can be such a troublemaker.

I am beside you to bless and help you. Waver not in your prayers. They shall be heard. All power is Mine. Say that to yourself often and steadily.

Say it until your heart sings with the Joy of the safety and power it means to you.

Say it until the very force of the utterance drives back, and puts to nought, all the evils against you.

God Calling, edited by A.J. Russell

We fight off the what-ifs for the meeting, the doctor, the prognosis, the plan. We pray against fallout and fear, the emotions ripped right open and scattering a mess everywhere.

And a week later we know a little more about what we’re facing. Not much more, but some specifics — like an adult tooth growing way the heck up under Andrey’s eye and another that looks to be encased in a cyst– and putting the medical stuff aside, it’s really the trust issues I’m most concerned with. Can we trust this team to handle our son and our family? Can we trust Andrey’s ability to handle this? Will Andrey learn to trust us more through this?

Can we trust God to know what He’s doing here?

And the answer is yes. Yes, and yes, and yes, and amen.

…that we, being delivered from the hand of our enemies,
might serve him without fear,
in holiness and righteousness before him all our days.

– Luke 1:74-75

At home, Andrey is sighing and grunting and stomping over his chore, as though he carries the weight of the whole world on his small shoulders over his responsibility to sweep the living room.

You are not carrying the weight of the world, I want to tell him.

I must carry the weight of the world, his behavior says. This is the default attitude of someone who has learned the world is not to be trusted.

You’re not in charge of all of this. Often, I do tell him this.

But I must be in charge of everything. If I mind everyone else’s business, I won’t have to deal with my own.

We adults have these same conversations with God all the time. Our healing and maturity are indicated by having them less and less often.

…because of the tender mercy of our God,
whereby the sunrise shall visit us from on high
to give light to those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death,
to guide our feet into the way of peace.

– Luke 1:78-79

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We have a CT scan scheduled next week. After that, the surgeon talked about a procedure with a four-to-five day recovery, and then maybe a surgery to extract up to three adult teeth if they can’t be saved. Long term, he mentioned words like non-cosmetic orthodontics, extensive restructuring, root canal.

But short term, we pray. We’re learning to practice a stubborn trust, because God is always up to something.

grace is the shelter

The wind, this wind. It shakes the house and bows the trees. Ground is blown bare and small snowdrifts press against the edge of the house. The windows creak and the vent above the stove rattles, and the wind whistles between trees and across our chimney tops.

grace is the shelter: where we go when the wind blows

 

We try to be ready for power outages. We keep the laptops charged and the teapot full, and I’ve learned to use the threat of an outage to motivate the kids to clean up better before bedtime because no one wants to trip over toys or skid across books lying on the floor in the dark. In other states, these winds are recognized as hurricane force and mentioned on national news; here, schools are open and it’s business as usual — you just hang on to your car door as you open it to make sure it’s not ripped off the vehicle entirely. And you might want to drive a little slower on the highway, too, so you can get a good look at the semi truck that was blown on its side with its wheels in the air.

The wind keeps on for days and nights, and it’s 75 miles an hour outside with flying debris and a wind chill of about minus fifteen. But inside, everything is still. Six kids, all asleep. Half as many cats, also asleep. The computer hums, the teapot ticks as it’s heating, and between gusts there’s a perfect calm.

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In the morning we check for fallen trees and there aren’t any, though branches are everywhere like so much littered confetti. A couple of plastic grocery bags have flown in and attached themselves like windsocks to our trees, and across the street it looks like our neighbor has gained a shiny new trash can from probably three houses over.

We’re getting together with friends in the evening, and if they weren’t close friends — you know, the kind who are allowed to look for stuff in your fridge even though you didn’t even clean it before they came over — I might squirm a little and apologize for the mess outside. Not that the weather is my fault, but it just looks so ugly out there. Even though I have no control over it, and their yard has seen the same wind and is probably in the same shape, it’s not the first impression I’d want to make to anyone who’s never been here before.

But I don’t need to apologize, and they wouldn’t expect it. We have seen each other’s messes before. Marriage, special needs, dirty laundry, parenting kids unborn through adolescent. These are friends who are family, and we can let go of insecurities about the messes we can’t control outside, and just focus on the messes we can control inside — vacuuming, cleaning toilets, washing the dishes. Well, the dishes, I dunno…that might be asking too much.

There’s a turkey in the oven and stuffing on the counter, a green bean casserole in progress and pie crust to be made. It’s Thanksgiving at the end of winter; it’s February and we’re still thankful.

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Whipped cream is melting into late morning coffee and sweet potatoes are peeled and ready to boil. We send one kid to throw out compost and send another kid to timeout for throwing a temper tantrum. I make a note to ask my friend about different therapists and pick her brain about various issues we’re both facing. Because sometimes we can’t control the messes inside the house, either.

I’ve ruined gravy the last four times I’ve made it — too thin, boiled too long, not enough cornstarch in the world to redeem it — and our friends arrive right at that crucial juncture of constant stirring and watching for the first bubbles. I pass the task to a child with explicit instructions to only let it boil for one minute and then turn off the heat, and then run to greet friends at the door. I get halfway there and realize that child is right behind me — I stop, turn both of us around, and remind him of his task. For the love of gravy, watch this, stir it, and don’t let it boil for more than a minute. I’ll be right back andyouneedtostayhere. Double-back again to run to the door, hug, welcome, make a pile of jackets in the corner, laugh, go back to the kitchen.

And that kid has pawned off the gravy (sans instructions) to Vince, who is stirring away at what has obviously been boiling hard for a little less than three minutes and is destined to remain the consistency of half-and-half. So help me.

The house is full and a dozen kids will crowd around our table, but before we even got that far our friends asked me about the book I saved for them — that little book that is supposed to be about adoption and boundaries but is actually mostly about grace and shelter; the little book that was birthed here and grew through its childhood and adolescence and is now a big kid, not quite grown up yet but still launching off into the world of Amazon and reviews and grown-up real-bookishness (but yes, still a free PDF download here for you readers).

And these friends whom we’ve shared messes with, who have been in the trenches far longer than we have, who showed us grace when we didn’t even know we needed it — these friends, we saved the first copy for them. And if I had been thinking correctly during the formatting stage (but wasn’t, because, oh, the morning sickness), there would have been a dedication page, and it would have said what I scribbled to them on the inside cover:

To Cody and Sara: You have long been our heroes.

And I would have added: And to Larry and Sharon, who were wise and crazy enough to introduce such humble troublemakers to us.

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And now it is days later. The wind has subsided and the leftovers are pretty much gone. We have a new box of books that are shipping out all over the country in the next week. The ground outside is still a mess, and there are still messes inside, too, and I’m not just talking about the dishes…but it makes all the difference to know we are not alone. These kids, those issues, that grief, the big decision. The house shakes and the ground is blown bare, and we can still throw the door wide open. In all those storms, you are not alone. We shelter each other with grace.

out of the blue

out of the blue: finding joy when the season is a struggle

In case you missed the news in the video on Facebook or in the newsletter, we have an announcement. Coming soon, summer of 2015, a new baby at Copperlight Wood. And if you ask us, “Hey, haven’t you guys figured out what causes that yet?” we will probably give you any one of the following answers:

1. Yes…haven’t you?

2. Yes, and we like it.

3. Yes — lots of…well, paperwork (high five to fellow adoptive families!).

big sister

We’re excited, but the days so far have been a lot like this one:

Fold the next shirt, try not to throw up. Match a pair of socks, try not to throw up. Stay away from the kitchen (or the catbox, or the boys’ bedroom) and try not to throw up.

These days, I subsist mostly on crackers and peanut butter and ask the big kids to make lunch for everyone else while I fight queasiness on the other side of the house. They do a pretty good job. Only two food groups? Close enough.

And yes, we’re thrilled about this new life, and yes, these days will pass and joy will come, but to be honest…everything turns dull shades of grey and blue while morning sickness tries to drain the color out of life for the weeks that it lasts. I walk around in a haze of nausea, not enthusiastic about Thanksgiving, not helpful with cooking, not inspired about Christmas decorating, and not even excited about our first scheduled date out of the house in two and a half years.

It’s just, bleh. Blue. And it’s not me, it’s the morning sickness talking.

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And maybe it’s not morning sickness for you, but the bleh happens to many of us out of the blue – or at a certain time of the month – and we are just not who we normally are. The color is gone, our caffeinated superpowers have abandoned us, and we could not summon appropriate enthusiasm if someone were to lay a platter of chocolate and roses in front of us and declare that we’ll never pay a mortgage again. Life for a little while has lost it’s zing. And I know I’m not alone in this…I suspect it also happens to thousands of devoted Downton Abbey fans at the end of every season. Mm-hmm. You know who you are.

It’s easy to turn the funk into an excuse to pull back, isolate, and recoil. And there is room for that, sure — no one wants an audience hovering around when we’re absolutely miserable — but He gives room for growth and productivity within the struggle. It’s a grace-saturated opportunity: no added pressure, no increased burden, just the light yoke of learning boldness in affliction.

We can pursue the Kingdom quietly in spite of pain. The struggle is a season, not our identity.

Epaphras, who is one of you, a servant of Christ Jesus, greets you, always struggling on your behalf in his prayers, that you may stand mature and fully assured in all the will of God.

– Colossians 4:12

Epaphras, my fellow prisoner in Christ Jesus, sends greetings to you.

– Philemon 1:23

I’ve never paid much attention to this name before, but in the last several weeks of reading the New Testament the name Epaphras kept showing up, and I finally noticed. His name means “lovely.” The few scriptures we have that mention him revolve around this theme of both faithfulness and struggle.

The two go together. Anyone can be faithful when things are easy. But being steadfast in the struggle is what reveals faithfulness. And that is lovely.

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We always thank God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, when we pray for you, since we heard of your faith in Christ Jesus and of the love that you have for all the saints, because of the hope laid up for you in heaven. Of this you have heard before in the word of the truth, the gospel, which has come to you, as indeed in the whole world it is bearing fruit and increasing—as it also does among you, since the day you heard it and understood the grace of God in truth, just as you learned it from Epaphras our beloved fellow servant. He is a faithful minister of Christ on your behalf and has made known to us your love in the Spirit.

– Colossians 1:3-8

Through lunch, I’m sitting on the couch, sorting the kids laundry for them to put away later. The girls’ clothes go in a pile to my right, the boys’ clothes go on the other couch. I toss some over in a half-hearted fling – a shirt makes it, but the sock hits the floor. Close enough.

And so, from the day we heard, we have not ceased to pray for you, asking that you may be filled with the knowledge of his will in all spiritual wisdom and understanding, so as to walk in a manner worthy of the Lord, fully pleasing to him, bearing fruit in every good work and increasing in the knowledge of God.

– Colossians 1:9-10

Reagan has been coming up to me lately for lots of hugs – no real reason, just out of the blue, she’ll reach out and ask, “Hug, Mama?” like a wee toddler would. And one afternoon last week when I was nauseous and not wanting anyone near me, I hugged her anyway — which may make me sound like a terrible parent, but if you’ve ever been this close to throwing up at the same moment that a child with a history of aromatic breath wants to come near and squeeze your body, you’ll understand. But I let her, and she hugged me long, and for the first time ever, after being home with us for two and a half years, she said something else — all on her own, no prompting, out of the blue.

It was, “Ah yah you.” I love you, in Reagan’s toddler speak. I melted, but it put me on guard a little – there’s still this inner struggle of wanting to trust and enjoy it, but knowing from experience that often there’s a backlash coming after sweet behavior, the swing from hot back to cold, from clingy to repellent.

But there was no backlash, and she did it again today. And there was joy. Her struggle is not her identity, either.

May you be strengthened with all power, according to his glorious might, for all endurance and patience with joy, giving thanks to the Father, who has qualified you to share in the inheritance of the saints in light.

He has delivered us from the domain of darkness and transferred us to the kingdom of his beloved Son, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins.

– Colossians 1:11-14

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We ran errands, and bought maternity clothes, club soda, and a Christmas tree. We listened to Louis Armstrong sing about a Dixieland Santa Claus while driving home in the snow with the tree strapped to the top of the Stagecoach, and the haze was there, but color and loveliness were, too. And it wasn’t quite enthusiasm, but it was close enough.

grace note

Me: Stop bossing your brother.

Child: I’m not bossing him, I’m telling him!

Oh, of course. So sorry.

grace note: pursuing harmony without preaching to the choir

We’re still working on teamwork, teaching our kids to encouragers instead of critics, and to get the plank out of their own eyes and mind their own business. It’s hard to model this as a mom because, well, I’m bossing them about not bossing each other. After almost fourteen years of parenthood, I’m still learning when to step back – to wait before interfering, intervening, stepping in, or advising, and just let them have at each other. Also known as “taking it outside.”

I mean, teaching them to problem-solve and work through conflict. Yeah, that’s it.

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It happens, though, when the Spirit takes over the rooms of our house, and we step into our calling. It’s dangerous. It gets crowded with growing pains. It might wreck any preconceived notion we ever had about what our lives might look like.

“Who said anything about safe? ‘Course he isn’t safe. But he’s good. He’s the King, I tell you.”

– C.S. Lewis, The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe

Sometimes the unexpected happens. Sometimes the unexpected is in the form of company. And sometimes we have a hard time getting along with each other.

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Frustration and bickering can bluster the day away, and criticism chills in hearts that should love each other. Maybe we just want to give the answer and fix things quickly. Or, maybe we want to be seen as someone who has all the answers, overflowing with unwanted advice and unsought council. Sometimes it’s out of fear or lack of control, but more often it’s from insecurity or pride, which are just different sides of the same coin. That person is doing things differently than I would do them. I would never do it that way. It must not be right. Since they are not doing things the way I would do them…they must need my input.

So if there is any encouragement in Christ, any comfort from love, any participation in the Spirit, any affection and sympathy, complete my joy by being of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind. Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others.

– Philippians 2:1-4

In nothing is the power of the dark lord more clearly shown than in the estrangement that divides all who still oppose him.

– J.R.R. Tolkien, The Fellowship of the Ring

One of the slimiest tricks of the enemy is getting us — kids and adults — to attack each other with discouragement, misunderstanding, ignorant judgment, or anger. He’s constantly on the lookout to divide and conquer God’s people so we will take each other out, and when we fall for it, we all lose.

Anytime someone asks what the greatest difference in our life is, my #1 answer is church. That is what we gave up in order to answer the call to adopt. It is also what I hear over and over again from families….church is what they miss the most. It is very sad that the one place/group of people that should be the greatest support and most welcoming place is the one we’re often isolated from the most.

– anonymous adoptive mom

A friend of mine wrote that, and they are hard words to read. So much is at stake.

We’re made to win this, though. As an adoptive family working through attachment issues, we’re learning to live this daily:

We look at our fellow men far too much from the standpoint of our own prejudices. They may be wrong, they may have their faults and foibles, they may call out all the meanest and most hateful in us. But they are not all wrong; they have their virtues, and when they excite our bad passions by their own, they may be as ashamed and sorry as we are irritated. And I think some of the best, most contrite, most useful of men and women, whose prayers prevail with God and bring down blessings into the homes in which they dwell, often possess unlovely traits that furnish them with their best discipline. The very fact that they are ashamed of themselves drives them to God; they feel safe in His presence. And while they lie in the very dust self-confusion at His feet, they are dear to Him and have power with Him.

– Elizabeth Prentiss, Stepping Heavenward

Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name.

– Philippians 2:5-9

We must be savvy…and be kind, not forgetting that we’re on the same side.

God, I’m praying tonight for protection over relationships — in families, in friendships, in work and ministry, that we would be so secure in Your love for us that we wouldn’t be insecure in our love for each other. We pray for an increase in unity, and conviction over divisiveness and friendly fire. Forgive us for being arrogant, insensitive, and critical. Help us to know how to support, how to ask, how to serve, how to encourage. 

Heaps of grace on each of us, to each other. The battle is won when we have each other’s back.

without ceasing button

This is day 28 of Without Ceasing: 31 Days of Relentless Prayer. Find the other posts here. To get new posts right in your inbox, subscribe here.

finishing well

It’s a really good thing you read yesterday’s post, because there might have been a remote (very remote) possibility that someone stumbling along this blog thought that a family with six kids, three cats, and special needs maintain a perfectly clean house and never spill coffee. And homeschool. And ride an exotic purple hippo to the grocery store every week.

(Which is just silly, because everyone knows we drive a Stagecoach. Really.)

finishing well: when we don't know what we've gotten ourselves into

But in case anyone still thinks this is a meticulously-run tight ship, let me share an example of how the boys’ room chore goes:

Me: “Did you clean under your bed?”

Boy: “Yes…well, I don’t remember. I think so.”

This is a sure sign that the actual answer is no.

We go check. A pile of miscellanea in the middle of the floor has already been retrieved, but I crouch down to peek into that dark underworld under the bed, and can clearly see that there is more in there still needing to be rescued.

I look back at the pile of stuff, and ask, “What are you going to do with all this?” Shirts, papers, books, a broken clothes hanger.

“I dunno where any of it goes, so I’m just gonna put it all in a baggie.” Aha. Clever. But…

“The shirts?”

“Well, I’ll hang those.”

I’m picking through, finding broken pens and dowel rods. Note to self: hide favorite pens, stop letting boys have dowel rods in their room.

“All this stuff isn’t going to fit in a baggie. You’re going to have to put it away in the right places.”

“I have extra baggies.”

Of course. Perfect solution. Note to self: stop giving baggies to Afton.

It took several attempts in fits and starts, one step at a time, but he finally put everything away in the right places. It’s supposed to be a weekly chore, but he’d been taking a bi-monthly approach to it, and the job was bigger than he expected.

Sometimes you know exactly what you’re getting into…but most of the time we don’t. The unexpected often happens: the cost is higher, the wait is longer, the deadline is shorter, or the assignment is messier.

He soon found that the thicket was closer and more tangled than it had appeared. There were no paths in the undergrowth, and they did not get on very fast. When they had struggled to the bottom of the bank, they found a stream running down from the hills behind in a deeply dug bed with steep slippery sides overhung with brambles. Most inconveniently it cut across the line they had chosen. They could not jump over it, nor indeed get across it at all without getting wed, scratched, and muddy. They halted, wondering what to do…

“Look!” he said, clutching Frodo by the arm. They all looked, and on the edge high above them they saw against the sky a horse standing. Beside it stooped a black figure.

They at once gave up any idea of going back.

– J.R.R. Tolkien, The Fellowship of the Ring

And it’s okay – we don’t have to know all the unexpected details. He knows. If He had told us, we might never have started in the first place — or quit halfway, just pigeonholing the unpleasant parts of the assignment into a baggie. But we weren’t designed to be quitters, or those who shrink back.

And in this matter I give my judgment: this benefits you, who a year ago started not only to do this work but also to desire to do it. So now finish doing it as well, so that your readiness in desiring it may be matched by your completing it out of what you have. For if the readiness is there, it is acceptable according to what a person has, not according to what he does not have.

– 2 Corinthians 8:10-12

God, I’m praying tonight for those who are in the middle of a daunting task – they have to learn something new, do something hard, face the unexpected and costly – and I’m asking You to increase their courage and determination despite not knowing what’s over the next hill. Show them a fresh vision of the greatness ahead so they will not be unnerved by the details in the way.

The Lord is at hand; do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.

– Philippians 4:5b-7

When we crouch down to peek at the underworld, we can clearly see that there is still more to be recovered. Your calling, my calling, is crucial to the rescue operation, and we were made to finish it well. No quitting, no shrinking back, no baggies.

without ceasing button

This is day 26 of Without Ceasing: 31 Days of Relentless Prayer. Find the other posts here. To get new posts right in your inbox, subscribe here.