“You are such a good mommy,” she whispered in her sweet little voice as her head melted into my shoulder and her fingers delicately twirled my hair. I could feel in that split second, her guard was completely down, her back was not stiff, she felt my love for her, and was brave enough to tell me she could. Oh, I had prayed for this moment and secretly wondered if it would ever happen. This one moment, that happened just for a few seconds and then passed, might seem like a typical mommy and daughter moment for so many, but for us, it was a modern day miracle. Our relationship as mother and daughter was born out of loss, and this is something I have become so aware of this past year. A year’s worth of intentionality, patience, pursuit of my little girl’s heart, cocooning, career sacrifices, co-sleeping, prayers pleading with my Father, worry, therapy sessions, and attachment parenting manifested in this breakthrough moment. Because of the struggle and the pursuit, this moment was all the more precious.
“Lydia Grace,” I said. “Do you know what mommy’s favorite thing is in ALL of the world?”
“Mommy’s favorite ting in all da world is loving Lydia!” she responded. She really knows I love her, I thought.
If you just read my opening about this precious moment with Lydia, you wouldn’t have the complete picture. That day still contained really hard, messy, broken moments where I saw the impact of trauma, abandonment, and spending important developmental years in an orphanage. You wouldn’t know about the months when my daughter wouldn’t let me look at her, touch her, comfort her, feed her, change her diaper, or cuddle her. (And honestly, can you blame her? I was a stranger to her). Some well-meaning people told me to cherish these days “because they are the best moments of your entire life.” The pursuit of my daughter’s heart has been the most challenging season in my life, and one that the Lord has used for so much good for both of us. Those first few months home though weren’t the best moments of my life, they were the hardest, loneliest and most painful, and even still, are an important part of our family’s story and the precious things the Lord is doing in all of our lives.
I have learned that in the past year, when we welcome a little one into our family who has trauma in their history, we must enter into it with them and just be present in that hard space. Sometimes, that space can be scary. Sometimes, that space can be lonely and heavy. Sometimes, we see emotions in our child that we have not given ourselves permission to feel before. Sometimes, we don’t know what happened, but we clearly see markers on the heart that something did. And in those moments as a mommy, I invite Jesus to please sit with us, to be present. Jesus, please be near to us.
It is in those heavy moments when I feel most alone that I know Jesus is right there with us. I know My Jesus is most present in pain. He sits with us in our hurt and disappointment and loss — and none of my emotions or hurts scare Him. None of her hurts or emotions scare Him. I don’t think He rushes us in our pain. His love is patient. And what a model that is for me as Lydia’s mommy – to be present and near to my daughter in those painful, disappointing, and scary moments. I get to enter into her world as best I can, and what a sacred space that is.
But sometimes in my humanness, my expectations discourage me. My daughter doesn’t disappoint me. My expectations are the root of the problem. At a recent conference, Beth Guckenberger reminded the attendees “Expectations are premeditated resentments.” I read nearly every attachment book I could before we adopted Lydia, but I still didn’t get it until I was in it. I imagine it would be like someone researching about what it is like to run a marathon, and then actually running one. Sometimes, what we expect doesn’t match with reality. I expected that after a few months of cocooning, we would resume life. No, we definitely needed to cocoon longer. I expected indiscriminate affection to last just a few months, but my expectations were wrong. I didn’t expect that we would still need to work on attachment and have firm boundaries about my daughter receiving physical affection from our families. But, yes, we still need to.
And, if I am really honest, I expected God to speed things up and to perform miracles right now or yesterday, actually. Everyone says, “Attachment isn’t a sprint, it is a marathon.” I knew this saying, but now I really know it deep in my gut. I expected more progress sooner. I expected it to hurt less. I know our family expected us to relax our boundaries sooner, and even if they did not mean to, added pressure when they communicated the expectation that they just wanted the typical relationship with their granddaughter or niece or cousin or so on and so on. And suddenly, because I knew others’ expectations weren’t fulfilled, I felt pressure to sprint. Why aren’t you sprinting? You should be going faster, I imagined they were thinking. I could feel that disappointment though.
I began to feel like something was wrong with me, with us. My daughter isn’t the problem, my expectations are. I bet my daughter felt that my expectations weren’t being met too, and that makes me so sad. She doesn’t need to carry that burden or feel that pressure. And maybe Lydia, Bryson and I aren’t the problem, but others’ expectations need to change too, no matter how hard it is to grieve the loss of the imagined. Lydia needs me to extend grace to her. Lydia needs me to extend patience and unconditional love (or love without conditions). My husband and I need the same from others too. After all, marathons are the hardest and most painful, not at the beginning but later on in the run. Here we are later in our marathon, we have traveled miles, but sometimes, it is hard and we need patience, grace, and encouragement. Lydia needs for me to be patient, full of grace, and encouraging.
About a year ago, I sought out additional training in a therapeutic parenting technique. While at the training, a therapist who was also attending the session sat down next to me. At some point, she could discern that I was sad, that I expected something different. “Hmmm…” she said, “it is kind of like you got on an airplane and thought you were headed for Hawaii. I mean…you have always wanted to go to Hawaii. You fantasized what it would be like, feel like, smell like, and look like. Your friends are all in Hawaii. But when you landed, the captain told you that you actually landed in Boca Raton, Florida. It is okay to acknowledge your disappointment that you aren’t in Hawaii. But soon, if you adjust your expectations, you will see all of the wonderful things about being in Boca Raton and you will cherish Boca Raton for what it is.” And even though I resisted her comparison last year, there is a lot of truth to it. My family might not ever get to Hawaii, and that is okay. Boca Raton is precious.
Before I adjusted my expectations, I couldn’t see the miracles the Lord was performing in my family, I only saw my disappointment. I have noticed that once I started to adjust my expectations, I could see some of the miracles and the blossoming that was happening in my home.
That first time Lydia held eye contact for three seconds. MIRACLE.
That first time she reached her sweet arms out for me to hold her and said, “Hold you.” MIRACLE.
That time she used words instead of hurts to express her frustration and grief. MIRACLE.
That time we rocked in the rocking chair together. MIRACLE.
That first time she cuddled me on the couch. MIRACLE.
That time she said, “I love you,” and really meant it. MIRACLE.
That time she trusted me enough to say, “Mommy help. Dat toy scares me.” MIRACLE.
That first time she let me soothe her hurts. MIRACLE.
The first time we went to the post office and she didn’t reach out to the stranger and call her “mommy.” MIRACLE.
Even last night, when my daughter told our new pet, “This is a safe house. We always have food here.” And this afternoon she said to our new pet, “My mommy’s arms are always safe.” MIRACLE.
Yes, oh my goodness yes, we still have really hard moments and sometimes broken days. We are still running a marathon. Yes. But, my goodness, we have glimpses of what He is doing too, and it is breathtakingly beautiful. It is slow. Sometimes, it hurts. It is one step forward and two steps back, but it is ours and it is beautiful and we are present in the race. My God doesn’t write fairy tales. Adoption is not a fairy tale. But my God writes stories of Hope in a messed up and broken world that is full of pain, trauma, and suffering. He is present in our pain, He is patient in our grief, and He invites us to love in the same way.
In the book, Kisses from Katie, Katie reminds us “…What the Bible does not mention, but what must be true is that, years later, Lazarus still died. The people Jesus healed were inevitably sick again at some point in their lives. The people Jesus fed miraculously were hungry again a few days later. More important than the very obvious might and power shown by Jesus’ miracles is His love. He loved these people enough to do everything in His power to ‘make it better.’ He entered into their suffering and loved them right there.”
1 Corinthians 13 The Message (MSG)
The Way of Love
If I speak with human eloquence and angelic ecstasy but don’t love, I’m nothing but the creaking of a rusty gate.
2 If I speak God’s Word with power, revealing all his mysteries and making everything plain as day, and if I have faith that says to a mountain, “Jump,” and it jumps, but I don’t love, I’m nothing.
3-7 If I give everything I own to the poor and even go to the stake to be burned as a martyr, but I don’t love, I’ve gotten nowhere. So, no matter what I say, what I believe, and what I do, I’m bankrupt without love.
Love never gives up.
Love cares more for others than for self.
Love doesn’t want what it doesn’t have.
Love doesn’t strut,
Doesn’t have a swelled head,
Doesn’t force itself on others,
Isn’t always “me first,”
Doesn’t fly off the handle,
Doesn’t keep score of the sins of others,
Doesn’t revel when others grovel,
Takes pleasure in the flowering of truth,
Puts up with anything,
Trusts God always,
Always looks for the best,
Never looks back,
But keeps going to the end.
8-10 Love never dies. Inspired speech will be over some day; praying in tongues will end; understanding will reach its limit. We know only a portion of the truth, and what we say about God is always incomplete. But when the Complete arrives, our incompletes will be canceled.
11 When I was an infant at my mother’s breast, I gurgled and cooed like any infant. When I grew up, I left those infant ways for good.
12 We don’t yet see things clearly. We’re squinting in a fog, peering through a mist. But it won’t be long before the weather clears and the sun shines bright! We’ll see it all then, see it all as clearly as God sees us, knowing him directly just as he knows us!
13 But for right now, until that completeness, we have three things to do to lead us toward that consummation: Trust steadily in God, hope unswervingly, love extravagantly. And the best of the three is love.