I am Jennifer who has many roles but my most favorite are wife to Cory, mother to Carter (10), Claire (7), William (4) and our newest addition, Grace (2). These four were always a “twinkle in our eyes” long before we ever walked down the aisle and began the process of becoming a family. To see and gaze upon the fruition of a thought, that became a good idea, that seemed like the right thing someday, that seemed like the right thing now, that was an act of obedience, that must happen now, that was in the end a decision of pure joy… is golden to behold.
We are closing in on almost nine months with our sweet Grace. Newly adopted from China on Election Day and my father’s birthday, which makes it very easy to remember for a mom who occasionally walks into a room with a purpose but forgets why she’s there. Nine months with her forever family, with whom she seems to fit right in. And we fit with her! She sort of looks like me (despite no Chinese ancestry that I am aware of!) and acts like her siblings, who often act like their Dad! It is as if she were made for us. It is more likely that we were made for her.
My oldest daughter asked me tonight if I thought that Grace knew that we were forever hers, her family that would never leave and always love her. I told her that I thought so, but that deep knowledge and all it’s implications takes time. It grows. There are behaviors currently that tell us that she knows that she has something to lose, and in those behaviors, she is trying to determine if we could be lost or taken or no longer exist. Or maybe that she could as well.
In the grand scheme of adoption, she is doing remarkably well. But two–year-olds are two-year-olds no matter what country they were born in. I have seen her two-year-old behaviors in my other children, it is just that hers are more “ramped up” and intense. Some of them come from a need to test and control and learn boundaries in the classic two-year-old way, and there are some that come from a deep deficit and void that is in process of being healed. That place that comes barreling out at times unexpected and with the fruits of rage and tantrums or frantic activity or inability to cope that is really just a place that needs rest. Not a nap kind of rest, but a Sabbath kind of rest that sighs deeply from a place of security and peace from a relationship that is right and solid and immovable.
Before we ever laid eyes on Grace, we practiced an environment in our home that might be more conducive to rest. We know how to rest and rest well but we are a highly social and extroverted family with a large extended family who branch well outside our genetic lines. Our dinner table conversations can range from the correct moves to Gangum Style (with demonstrations) all the way to eschatology and catechism. The conversations are expressive with multiple people participating (often at the same time to my demise) and are just plain loud. So, prior to Grace, we would hold “talking fasts” at the dinner table. My kind of fast really; eat as much as you want but no speaking. We thought this would help our new daughter when she arrived in our home. Much to our delight and surprise, she was and is a social gal, with big smiles and infectious laughter and a clever sense of humor. From the very beginning. What a gift to two scared adoptive parents when their new little girl was a cut up all through China. She could say cheese with the best of them and now, even in her much more attached stage, loves answering the door and welcoming guests, high fiving and giving kisses. This is who she is. Her file even suggested her warmth and cleverness long before we ever met her. It was my guess that she carried these traits in her orphanage and my guess was confirmed all the more when I met her multiple care givers who had changed over the months in her institution and their obvious adoration for her. Our girl smiles and laughs and is down right funny.
It was those first weeks home, six to be exact, when those personality traits began to get more transparent in only the way a parent can read between the lines of what is really underneath. Those first six weeks, Grace would not let me put her to bed. She would sleep relatively well after the first two weeks but the nighttime routine that I desperately was trying to establish looked like a battleground. She would not get in my lap or let me hold her at bedtime, but she would only sit long enough to drink her bottle rapid fire. She fought and kicked and screamed and cried and no amount of story time, milk, singing, praying or out right Broadway musical endeared her to me enough to be safe. Able to rest. When she would kick and scream so hard that it would hurt me, I would set her down on the floor where she would move her body in a complete 180 degrees from me so she did not have to see my face. No amount of my “wind up mommy” bedtime routine that offered itself every night, same time, same place, same routine like a seasoned Vegas performer would do it. Until one night, when sitting on the edge of my knees, she stopped screaming, looked at me and laughed – yes, laughed out loud as if to say, “Well, this was a dumb way to do things” and threw her whole body into my chest where she curled up all around me the way that infants do and she sighed. And rested. And every night since then, no matter what the day has looked like, she wraps her body up close to mine and I cradle her like my baby who she is and we sing and talk and pray and laugh. Tonight she created a new game where I pretend to sleep and she says “Mama!” with those awesome bi-labial sounds that cleft lip/palate mamas dream about and I wake up surprised and answer “Yes?” Hysterical laughter but laughter in the crook of my arm with eyes locked on mine. Rest.
That blessed night when my daughter finally settled into the rest that a parent can give a child, the Lord spoke clearly through my new adoptive mama fog of jet lag and insecurity and “What have we done?” and “What do we do now?” and He spoke the way He only can when you are at your end. He knew that I waited and hoped every night for her to rest with me. He knew how I longed for it as her mother but wouldn’t dream of forcing her to do so. And in that fog as I rejoiced in that milestone of rest, I heard Him speaking, “If you Jennifer, being evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, HOW MUCH MORE will your Father who is in heaven give what is good to those who ask Him!” I wanted desperately for Grace to feel safe with me. It was constant in my mind. I had never worked so hard for a child’s love before in my life. That is what made it even sweeter. And the added gift of hearing the Lord’s beckoning invitation of HOW MUCH MORE? That I am wired this way because He is and that He longs for me to quit trying to fix it and gain peace in my own distorted ways, but let Him be there instead. To find rest with my Father of all mercies and my God of all comfort. It broke my heart wide open that night to experience the gift of being the one who comforted. To be mother and to be safe. My weary heart found rest in a place that I thought I knew but really didn’t until Grace came along. How much does God wait in anticipation for me to breathe deeply and rest with Him. It is His joy. He waits for it.
This is my Grace. And we saw that smile in pictures taken miles and miles away. That joy is her and who she is.
This is also my Grace.
The place that sighs deeply and leans in and no longer needs to work but who chooses to relax and Sabbath rest with us. Security and peace because our relationship is growing and becoming. It has some foundations that are strong enough to carry rest.
The Lord replied, “My Presence will go with you and I will give you rest.” Canaan is actually called “the resting place the Lord your God is giving you.”
There are good days and not so good days in this process of healing, but Canaan is always there if we but chose to step in and rest.