Mirror, Mirror: How Our Children Reflect Our Spiritual Condition

One of the aspects of becoming a parent that no book prepared us for was the way our children are a living mirror to us of how we must look to God (except that God is patient and loving, and we are, well...). I was prepared for the kids to come with all manner of bad habits and lack of manners, but when you're living with it - day in and day out - the frustration mounts as you repeat over and over again, "Say thank you, stop whining, don't hit your sibling, how many times to I have to remind you to flush the toilet..."

Very early on in this journey, Peter and I were talking about ideas to put an end to the whining, and during our conversation I found myself saying to him, "Ugh. This is so hard! I don't want to do this anymore!" {Insert pregnant pause} And then we both glanced at each other before I said, "You know, for as much as we hate whining by our kids, you and I sure do a lot of it!" Mirror, mirror. Reflections of ourselves.

This spring, after one particularly good section of time (when everyone had been given new things, everyone was happy, no one was fighting, and Peter and I kept pinching ourselves to see if it was real), three of our children informed us that they wanted to go back to their birth country. One wanted to go back now. One wanted to go back with a sibling. And one wanted to go back - but only after all the fun events that were coming up over the next year took place. The point was, by the time the third child said, "I want to go back... can we go back to..." I was ready to throttle them all.

I wanted to shout at them, "WHY?! You ungrateful little twirps!! There's no one back there who cares about you or loves you like we do! You had no freedom, no opportunities, no actual friends. You didn't have an amazing extended family or Church family like you do here. What in the WORLD do you have to go back to that's better than what you have now?!" Now, bonus point for mom, I held my tongue, nodded my head, informed them - calmly - that when they were 18 they were welcome to go wherever they could afford to travel, and continued to drive them to their various schools and activities (with a marvelous attitude, of course!).

Later in the day I was venting to Peter via text message, and God proceeded to give me an out-of-body experience. I read what I was writing, I thought about what I was saying and how the kids were responding so poorly to grace and generosity and love, and I began to chuckle. You see, I've lost count of how many times over the last few months I have said to God (and to Peter), "I just want my old life back.Mirror, mirror. Egypt was so much better. 

This journey of obedience has given me more understanding of those stubborn Israelites. Almost five years ago, God began to answer my prayers to be led out of the spiritual desert and do something with my life that would make an eternal difference; but during that time, I have whined (see above), complained, and longed for the easy life - the one that I had been praying would end. When God brought us all the way to the end of the official adoption process and real life with 5 kids began, my wails of frustration and fear switched to whiny statements about how much better it was before, and how I wanted to go back to the way it was, and regularly saying, "I want my old life back."

Last month, God stopped me in my tracks. God used three children who were not grateful for what they had been given, and expressed a desire to go back to what - by all human standards - was a sad, dysfunctional life, with no hope for the future. In their wistful pleas to return to their former life (a.k.a. Egypt), I saw myself - rejecting what God has given me, ungrateful for the opportunity to rely completely on Him and grow in my faith. For much of my forward journey, I've been casting one eye backwards, longing for the life I left - despite the fact that I am much more God-reliant now (something I wouldn't trade for anything).

People ask me if there's anything about being a parent that I enjoy, and I can definitely say that yes, there is, but it might not be what you would expect. I'm grateful for my role as a parent because I see myself reflected in my kids, coming face-to-face with my own struggles and sin on a daily basis. I'm thankful as a parent to be feeling the regular pull of the Holy Spirit to change, open and honest in my mistakes so the kids can see changes in me, and  eventually desire to hand their own life over to God. Mirror, mirror: may my mirror cleanly reflect the God who brought me on this journey.


The Adopted Mother's Day

I've been dreading this coming Sunday (Mother's Day in the United States) ever since we first decided to adopt. 

Every year, our pastor always talks about how Mother's Day can be a bitter-sweet day for everyone. Some people (like me) were blessed with incredible, Godly moms who trained us up, loved us unconditionally, and still stand like pillars in our lives. Others dealt with abusive moms, absent moms, sick moms, emotionally unstable moms, unsaved moms - making Mother's Day a day that they do not look forward to because it's hard to honor the women who gave birth to them.

And then there are women for whom Mother's Day is just another reminder of their inability to be a biological mom for various reasons (infertility, never married, multiple miscarriages), and this day pours salt in wounds. For sixteen years, I am pretty sure people looked at me as I sat in church on Mother's Day and felt pity for a situation that did not exist in our home. As I've shared before, I never had any desire to be a mother, so it has never been a negative or difficult day for me because we were kid-free by choice.

When we finally decided to walk in obedience to God's calling, I recall one of the first conversations we had, being about how much we were both going to hate the hoopla around Mother's/Father's day - especially our first of either. You see, it's hard to be excited about celebrating something you never wanted, and being the INTJs that we are, we don't fake it well. Ol' "poker face" here doesn't hide what I'm thinking, and when people express excitement about something that doesn't excite me, they usually get a half-smile and a non-committal, "uh huh...," which leaves them wondering what my problem is. Welcome to my life.

It's already started - the "Oh my goodness! Your FIRST Mother's Day!!" comments - and I have been stammering and stuttering in my responses, trying to be kind, but royally failing. And although I was expecting the knee-jerk reaction of, "Nooooo!!! Don't be excited about this for me! I haven't been looking forward to this all my life." what I wasn't expecting was how I feel defensive of our kids. The need to protect them from all Mother's Day hoopla has taken me by surprise. 

You see, from where I stand, I see five kids who have lived with us for eight months, a relatively short amount of time compared to the rest of their lives thus far. I see certain kids who didn't want to be adopted - by us, or anyone else - but who have come a long way towards having something that resembles a healthy adult/child relationship. I see a daughter who might very well call me "Carrie" for the rest of my life, and for whom the title of "mother" is reserved for the woman who gave birth to her. I see kids who call me "Mom" half the time, and "Carrie" the other half - the title of "mom" being what they call the newest caregiver in their short lives. And there have been many before me. It may feel like a betrayal of their former life, it may feel forced when everyone around them is making plans for their moms, it may hurt that when their lives have been uprooted and changed, it is the woman who did the uprooting who gets the spotlight. This year, Mother's Day may be a little bit uncomfortable for more than just me. 

Earlier this week, we attended a "May Day" school performance for our middle daughter. Towards the end of the evening, the 5th grade class did a song which included holding up framed baby pictures of themselves - inciting ohs and ahs from most of the audience. And while tissues were coming out all around me I sat there, with my husband holding the 4 year old on his lap, the 8 year old between us, the 6 year old to my right, and the 12 year old hundreds of miles away on a school trip, and thought, "Our kids could never do that, because those photos don't exist."

The earliest photos we have of them are grainy, scanned in images from their original adoption file, taken about a year before we met them. I don't know what my kids looked like as babies. We don't have a hallway of 1-year photos. I've only just framed their first school photos from the U.S. so that we have something to look at later. For almost 12 years of her life, there's a void of photographic history for our oldest daughter. When I get to the "family history" section on medical forms, I have to write, "None known." When I'm asked about allergies, the best answer I have is, "We haven't seen any reactions yet."  These are the things I think about at Mother's Day.

People often praise us for the step we took in adopting our five kids, but the fact is: we're not their saviors. Our job isn't to swoop in so that we can now celebrate two new holidays, it was to step in and follow the direction of our Savior, and to point these kids to Him as the most important Father they could ever meet. It's our responsibility and privilege to share our adoption stories as a son and daughter of the Almighty God, and to talk about it when we sit at home, and as we walk (or drive) along the road. My job for the moment is to show them the Love of Jesus, whether they call me "Mom," "Carrie," or (as happened one morning after I laid down the law when we were late for school), "Cruella DeVil".

Every day I am doing my best to mother these kids for Jesus, so if you see me on Sunday, please don't forget our kids. Rather than praising me for being obedient to God, show them that they are loved and wanted, not only by their adoptive parents, but by the Body of Christ. This is my Mother's Day wish.