How Could She? An Adoptive Mom’s Question to Birth Mother

At turns, I am furious with her and stomp my hate around kitchen cabinets. How could she? How could she not care more about satisfying the cries of her babies than satisfying the next hit? How could she float in and out of reality for so long she didn’t notice they were gone or know, according to courts, she was no longer their mother?

I sit through the waves of another meltdown and curse a woman I’ve never met for the trauma that will now shadow my sons for the rest of their lives, because she could not be safety and softness. How could she?

I trace the shape of my sons’ eyes, entire worlds in tiny faces, and tumble into the galaxies of glistening black within. They are such beautiful eyes. Are they hers?

My husband dreamt of these eyes. Two sets of round orbs draped in curtains of lashes. After almost two years into foster placements but no adoptees, I cupped his dream next to my longing heart and stroked it as precious and hopeful as downy feathers on a baby canary. It was a promise we would adopt. Not just a promise, but details of who it would be.

Adoptamos dos hermanos Latinos. El sueño dijo que era la verdad.

I look at my two sons and give thanks for those eyes once only seen in my husband’s dream. They look at me expectantly and I wonder if she has given them her eyes and a chance to live. My anger melts and turns to compassion.

I wonder what horrors of poverty and domestic violence and temporal escapes through substances she has endured. I wonder if she herself was just a child trying to survive. I know no facts about her life so I give her a story. Maybe the story is fiction, but the themes of generational poverty and hardship are common enough. The point is to allow empathy into my frustration.

I see her at five in her first classroom hungrily eyeing lunchboxes the other children bring. I see her at twelve being told not to tell by the “uncle” who holds his gaze a little too long. I see her at seventeen on a swing set gripping a forty and an entire lifetime of confusing anger and abuse for love.

My brittle heart shatters and I think: How could she? How could she endure it all? How could she bear the knowledge she would always be their birth mom, but never be their mother?

It isn’t fair. Life wasn’t fair to her. Yet, it still isn’t fair to her babies I now call sons.

They should have had someone tuck their newborn heads into that just right pocket between chin and chest. They should have had someone sing softly while they nursed and cheer when they took their first step. They should have had someone giggle on the grass while teaching them to play.

They should have had a parent tell them “no” in kindness for their developmental benefit. They should have had a bath day and bedtime and structured safety.

They should have had a mother. Instead, they had a gap where they collected monsters in the dark.

How a heart can hold both tender empathy and ember of anger, I do not know. But that is the deep purple glow thrumming in mine. I am furious and I am tender. I am all nerves aflame toward birth mom.

I look again into the eyes of my sons, these answered prayers and answered promises.

One question loops repetitive: How could she?

Book Time: Creative Christian Non-Fiction RoundUp

If you’ve seen me around, most likely you’ve seen me carrying a book. Night time is for Netflix when my brain checks out, but it’s in the margins of our daylight when I chisel away books in rotation, just a few minutes at a time.

Here are four of my favorite newly released in the genre of “Christian creative non-fiction” and we will forgive them for being sidled with such a cringe-y genre name (even though, indeed, it is the genre I mostly write and am drawn to read).

BEGIN AGAIN by Leeana Tankersley

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First, let me start by saying Leeana has been my cheerleader for years now around writing and has offered her wisdom about the craft and encouragement about my words and even let me borrow her platform years before last night when I sat on the couch despairing to my husband (yet again) about how distant writing goals feel to me in this season.

Leeana’s work has always been a belly breath for women to pause and remember who we are. In Begin Again, Leeana is more vulnerable than ever before about the interior landscape, wordsmiths relatable vignettes about parenting and motherhood and womanhood, and offers accessible insight into the ways we are known and held by God’s love, even here. Always, we are given practical ways to be gentle with ourself in the renewal of starting over again.

Leeana is soulful and her work invites us to live soulfully as well. She offers us a way of untangling our striving from our known center.

“To begin again, then, is not to buy into this system with its try-harder, do-better, get-it-together culture. To begin again is to realize you are actually living in a completely different system altogether. Already. You have been jumping through one unnecessary hoop after another and it’s possible to just stop. Stand still. Be still and know, deep down – further down in a place inside you that hardly has words – that you are part of a different system.” (pg 119)

 

THE VERY WORST MISSIONARY – A MEMOIR OR WHATEVER by Jamie Wright

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If you’re scared of words, this is not the book for you. But if you’ve lived some gritty, boots on the ground version of the gospel, or if you’ve spent any time calling foul on how we do evangelical missions, or have ever wondered what that try-too-hard-for-love period of your life was all about, then Jamie is your girl.

Having lived as naive and cynical missionaries ourselves, with big and unpopular thoughts about it, I have been drawn to Jamie’s blog for years and wasn’t going to pass by this book. It is both snarky and tender and self-aware and desires restoration for us all. She comes at missions. Weird Christians. Systems that are false and hurtful and our responsibility to change them.

Yes this book was both hilariously irreverent and cuttingly honest truth telling, but the thing I appreciated most about this book was the call to answer to ourselves daily about how we are living in a way that promotes or makes a mockery of “act justly, love mercy, walk humbly” which happens to be tattooed on Jamie’s arm.

“If I look in the bathroom mirror and I’m wearing a T-shirt that was made by slave labor over the words “Act Justly,” I have to answer to that. When I catch my reflection in a store window as I’m actively trying to avoid making eye contact with a mentally ill homeless guy who’s waving to catch the attention of the chick with “Love Mercy” written on her arm, I have to answer for that. When I see myself through the eyes of my family, friends, and neighbors, looking more like a powder keg full of outrage, impatience, and irritability, angry enough to punch puppies, I have to answer to the words “Walk Humbly” printed clearly across my very own bicep.” (pg215,216)

Everybody Always by Bob Goff

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I mean, Bob Goff is just the guy you want to get into some good-fun-trouble with and listen to his life stories while doing it. He has the gift of going off-script with people and we get a glimpse into his mind and heart behind those actions within the chapters of Everybody Always.

This book is full of life stories that make you feel like you are on the Goff back porch crying and guffawing and crying from guffawing. Knowing the way he spends it all in relationships and moments with lots of whimsy & without reservation can only inspire the rest of us to live freely reminding others of their own value and love.

It is hard to imagine people just live this open and thoughtfully and courageously and light-hearted, but I’m so glad they do and Bob is one of them and writes about it for the rest of us to share in the stories and go make our own.

Also, I’m waiting for the day I have an accidental run-in with Bob Goff in town. It’s gonna be a scene.

“When we draw a circle around the whole world like grace did and say everybody is in, God’s love gives us bigger identities than we used to have. With our newer, bigger identities, we can draw even bigger arcs around people’s lives. We start to see that our time here isn’t meant to be spent forming opinions about the people we meet. It’s an opportunity to draw the kind of circles around them that grace has drawn around us, until everybody is on the inside.” (pg 113)

This Is My Body by Hannah Shanks

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When I walked home from a liberation theology class in college sobbing because I was ashamed and angry I couldn’t convince my presentation partners the unspoken assignment was to present on the feminine aspects of God as Mother, I was waiting for this book.

When I held my third baby near and was in awe of how strong our mothering bodies are, and somehow still betrayed by how alien I felt in this (seemingly less capable, lesser) version of a body, I was waiting for this book.

Hannah lays out historical imagery of God as mother to the church, shares her own story of pregnancy and birth to highlight concepts of God’s love and grace, and encourages us in our own storytelling as women with physical bodies that hold past and future truths of the communal church within us. Plus, there’s a small group guide in the back. Grab your people and explore these deep waters together.

My copy looks like party from all the post-it tabs flagging powerful passages. In one of my favorites, Hannah dismantles mother-as-martyrhood by suggesting a motherhood of corpus – being with in presence and attention and celebration.

“Rather than a constant call to die, what if being shaped like Jesus means answering a ceaseless call to live a life of remembrance? What if, as an echo of that call, we expect to experience abiding joy and radical self-acceptance in motherhood as opposed to only self-sacrifice? What if when we attend to all the implications of Jesus offering his whole life for us, we hear more than a body breaking?…This is my body, no more and no less. This is what I am made of – my skin, guts, and bones. This is what bears children; this is what breaks for them. The visceral tissue gives way in order for new life to appear. This is the body I have been given, and I offer it without apology or reservation. It is sufficient.” 

Which one of these have you read? Which one do you want to read? What also released in April/May from this genre with the bad name and best content that should have my attention?

Dear Daughter, So The Bullies Came Today

Hey there, Big Sis.

I want you to know I see you trying to navigate fourth grade and I see how much emotional energy it requires. I see how you give to this family. I see how the storyline isn’t focused on you very often and how graciously you allow space for that. I see how you are an old soul trapped in a child’s body and suffer fools constantly. I see you.

I see the attentiveness you give your four younger siblings. (Thanks for slipping Little Sister’s library book into her backpack today, by the way. TK library day is not on my radar.) You’re always so observant of others to meet their needs. Perhaps that’s why it stings a little sharper when peers cannot reciprocate.

Do you know the way you notice details and anticipate needs is a gift?

Last night you shared the names they are calling you at school. Whispered breaths just beneath the teacher’s ear. Mocking comments in a passing line. Fellow fourth graders weaponizing “smart” and slinging as an insult to cut you down.

Even as I imagined slapping nine-year-olds, even as we gave statistics for why and when girls stop speaking up during class, even as we validated the raw hurt of your feelings, you offered such empathy and insight.

But I hope you know you never have to justify your mistreatment because another person is threatened by your intellect.

Let me tell you a secret, my love. They will come for you for being “too smart” and they will come for “not smart enough” and they will come for you for “wrong jeans” and they will come for having the “right jeans”. There is no escape. No matter what, the critics will come.

While this is not a new road of hurtful words to navigate, I am still heartbroken I do not get to fix it for you. I cannot shadow you. I cannot be there to intervene. We do our best to teach and tend to you at home then have to stand back and watch you enter your own arena.

Honestly, I’m not concerned how you respond. Ignore them. Confront them. Roll your classic eye roll. Punch them in the throat.

Whatever you do, just remember they do not have a say in your worth. Do not question your giftings. You have been hand-crafted and ingeniously created by the Designer of the Milky Way.

Smarts happens to be your gifting. Your brain is lightning. Your gifts are your superpower. Use them! Give them! Never be ashamed of them. That is the award. Not the hundred percent math tests or standing for school-wide writing accolades. Those are periphery.

The gift is living within the flow of who you are and not apologizing for it and not diminishing. In your young-heartedness, you already do this without holding back. Do not let their names and mean whispers teach you to withdraw. Do not shy away from being fully who you are. I watch you live and could weep with how you are teaching me to do the same.

Of course, you know our family does not care one lick if you are the smartest kid in class or if you come home with post-tests covered in red marks.

We care that you are the one sitting next to the new girl from Saudi Arabia being a friend in a new country.

We care that you follow through with your responsibilities to lead recess games with the kindergarteners even after your peers bail.

We care that you carry your sister’s lunch box every morning to lighten her load and listen to your brother’s stories under the oak tree every afternoon.

God, sweet girl you are strong. Do you know that? Shine on, my fiercely smart, fiercely kind girl. You, my preteen daughter, are fire and magic and all that is the best of us and you better believe I will hitch my wagon of hope for the future to you every dang time.

Response To World Amok? Let The Soul Self Steer.

I want the real things of life. I want to sprint toward the shimmering edges, where the veil between the sacred there and the holy here meet.

Can I not just lose myself in the tasks of daily life with littles? Can I not just placate my hungry soul with the purchase of an Anthropologie candle? No. I have tried that already.

I wonder if anyone else is dishing up applesauce and wiping down highchairs thinking these thinks or feeling these feels. Aren’t we all just trying to make it through the day and find that one skillet dinner the whole family will enjoy? We are.

And also . . .

There is the undercurrent of our lives. That true self. That soul self deep inside gently asking to emerge.

I am discontented to not let that self steer the family wagon. What wild inconvenience. What wonderful trajectory.

But when the whole world feels like it serves only platters of anger or numbness on menu, how do we navigate? When all we consume during the day is the dissonance of people and media and worry and genuine rage and fear, what do we do for those of us who acutely feel it all? How are we a bridge without being stepped on? How do we proceed with both our day to day and our big picture?

If you’re anything like me, you probably need to return to nature and playfulness and time with your people to recenter yourself. You probably need moments to remember what you truly believe inside.

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We pile backpacks by the door with abandon and speed away from usual after school routine for the beach. I need the spaciousness of sea and sky. I need to feel the sting of the cold water on my shins and sliding sand on my toes. I need grounding.

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I come to hear laughter gurgle out of my kids. The sound of healing.

I come to disconnect myself from the dissonance on my screen.

I come to connect my daily task self with my silly self with my introspective self. I am all these personas at once.

I come to drink in the beauty of nature, sloppy greedy gulps as the antidote of an empathetic person living in a world on fire. I take in the beauty and exhale yes. I wait at the water long enough for the warm autumn winds to dry my hair and long enough to craft a creed.

Yes, I still believe people are good inside.

Yes, I still believe people want opportunities to express generosity to others.

Yes, I still believe we get to be hope for others.

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I watch the ocean move and am reminded this is the way of our lives. There is what can be seen on the surface, choppy wave or calm current, then there are entire realms still becoming known below. Like the ocean, we can hold the tension of both. We can attend to the daily tasks and tend to the deeper ponderings within. We can live among the clashes and still have peace inside.

When I forget, I come back to the water as physical reminder. So often I retreat into my head and my heart – which is good and needed – more and more I am finding I need to birth that inward life into physical expressions. Do you have a process for your processing?

I leave you with a poem I have tucked into my pocket lately. It is wisdom poetry from Sue Monk Kidd. I hope you will find as much treasure in it as I have.

To be fully human, fully myself,

To accept all that I am, all that you envision,

This is my prayer.

Walk with me out to the rim of life,

Beyond security.

Take me to the exquisite edge of courage

And release me to become.

Roadtripping to Reclaim Our Skin

 

A myth has been following me in the way Mother Universe and Auntie Time will place a theme repeatedly before us until curiosity can’t turn away. It is the myth of the Seal Skin – a mythical creature from the sea trades her seal skin for a life on land, becomes a mother then makes hard choices and goes on a journey to reclaim her seal skin as passage to return to her origins and share that part of her with her child. Now, if that’s not a direct translation to motherhood, I’m not sure what is.

Over the past few years, I’ve been on a search for my own misplaced seal skins.

This summer, my oldest three and I drove from San Diego to Yellowstone and back. The unexpected happiness was discovering previously lost seal skins all along the way. Over two-thousand miles of KidzBop, Chexmix, loose expectations, and national parks, and each mile a reclamation of parts of me that have been missing or dormant.

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Here’s what I know:

This earth is so, so beautiful. Take notice. Let it overwhelm you. Then use it up. 

The land. The sky. The people. Do you ever get overwhelmed at the sheer beauty of it all and whoosh an exhale when you didn’t even realize you had been holding your breath? The canyons and clouds are poetry just be being and I receive it in awe. But as a favorite current theologian of mine, Butler Bass, says, awe in itself is not the point of spirituality. “Awe is the gateway to compassion.” I love that.

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The gift really is the journey, not the destination as annoyingly trite as that truth sounds. 

I love not knowing exactly what the day holds. I love having a destination point, but filling in the details as we go. I love unexpected finds along the way and being surprised by the joy of it all. Road trips birth free-form  filling a day in a way the structured routine of our daily life simply cannot.

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Making decisions on the fly…seal skin.

Honestly? Making authoritative decisions without checking in with another person at all…seal skin.

Taking detours to explore new experiences…seal skin.

Saying yes to the fun of hotel swims before breakfast and unlimited fruit snacks…seal skin.

Curiosity. Playfulness. Seal skin. Space for introspection and perspective. Seal skin.

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So the trick is translating all the life-giving forms back into our everyday life. I don’t have all the answers yet. But I have been given the gift of remembering what it is like to reclaim parts of me that have been gone and for that I will maintain gratitude and renewed fervor to be wholly me to my family and not fade into a role, because what they don’t need is a generic mommy/wife figure. What they need is a wholly, vibrant ME swimming in my seal skin and showing them the mystical lands available to experience themselves.

 

I’m going to continue on this journey. I’m going to try.

Have you misplaced your seal skin?  I hope you, too, will search to reclaim it and use it to dive into the deep beyond.

 

 

What Dreams Reveal

I stand in a meadow at dusk.

The last light of day sweeps waist deep wild grasses in shimmer-shadows of purple and silver.

My twenty-two year old self stands facing me. She smiles her freckle smile.

Twenty-two year old self looks at me and giggles; practically bounces in her silence. I stare and remember; I used to be bouncy. Yes, I decide. I can be playful again.

We embrace.

I look into her eyes long enough to notice the speckle-sparkle brown within. Fewer creases mirror back.

Then, with tenderness, I give her permission to go. She recedes into the grove near the meadow’s edge and I continue toward to mountain.

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Maybe you don’t believe in the power of dreams.

I do.

I believe dreams can act as a gateway between our subconscious, our soul, and our awakening.

I believe dreams can be a visual guide or a warning or an affirmation.

I believe dreams – no matter the content- invite a curiosity to explore what new or deeper truths there are for us to learn about ourself, our Creator.

If, like me, you have been a vivid dreamer since childhood, I believe God can use the subconscious let-down of our mind in sleep to connect and progress our spiritual development as an adult.

Find this a little whack-a-doodle? To that I say yes. It’s a certain kind of mystical magic that happens when the ancient stardust compounded into the very cells of our being meets the luminal liminal space between our awake and unawake selves under the stars.

I receive the imagery in this particular dream as divine gift and answered prayer to questions I have been asking about my own spiritual deconstruction and progression of faith.

She meets me in the meadow as a reminder that the joyfully alive, playful, most spontaneous parts of my personality are not lost. Dormant perhaps, but still accessible within.

The doctrine and world systems I held as a young adult were beneficial and necessary then, but now I can release them. Release her. I can walk on.

I have dismantled the faith of my college days. I have expanded. I will allow myself to do so. Even if – no- even though I don’t look the same, and both I and my community aren’t sure what to do with that yet. Change happened so gradually over the years. Tiny imperceivable shifts until the accumulative waves have moved me great distances.

Suddenly my church of fifteen years feels estranged.

Suddenly my spouse stares at me as if a stranger to relearn.

What do you do with an expansion of self when you discover the new self no longer fits into the same life?

Their discomfort is not a crisis of my faith I remind myself. Continue.

I fill my lungs with wind and allow myself to be carried forward.

I am changed. I don’t want to go back, but I don’t know the way forward yet.

I am used to moving surrounded by people. I am used to being understood. I am used to being articulate about my beliefs or maybe not needing to be when there is little difference to explain. This new revolution? You don’t know until you know.

I stand on a new ridge overlooking the landscape of my past. Wind whips wild and rejuvenating through me. More God Yes Breath surrounding. Eyes darting wildly in search of a travel companion.

I am alone, but not panicked.

Although millions of adults my age are also in process of dismantling and reconstructing not only their personal faith, but the institution of Christianity (in America especially) as a whole, I am still alone. Just as you are also alone in the unfolding. For the hero’s journey in any classic myth and ancient tale is a solitary revolution of leaving the known place toward the unknown.

Compiling the team of traveling companions for this uncertain road produces a jarring and janky jamble of podcast hosts, authors, and atheists who offer genuine expressions of love to me as I trust the unfolding. I find rest in new spaces and am awash in gratitude for these star guides and these anchorings.

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She waves from the meadow’s edge of my dream, but I don’t see. My gaze is set forward. I lift my face toward the breeze and inhale in thanks as I continue toward the unknown and the yet discovered.

Adjusting To Our Sons This Summer

The folksy, soulful timbre of Brandi Carlile fills this home most days. I soak in the blend of energy and calm as power toward my day parenting five kiddos who call me Mama. While my wanderlust waxes jealous looking at all your adventures in my social squares, we are finding our new rhythm housebound as we adjust to being a forever family of seven.

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I’m used to being a yes mom. A go-find-the-day’s-fun mom. The four year old asks out of habit and hopeful expectation what we’re going to do today. The olders blink as I spin arms wide to indicate an answer of this. This is what we’re doing today. Home. Being. Being together. Learning to belong together.

It seems like holy healing should blossom more extraordinary, more exquisite, more noticeable than the whole lot of nothing happening in our day to day this summer.

It seems like it should feel a little more kumbaya and a little less kitchen sink full of kid dishes.

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In actuality it is sibling squabbles and slammed doors.

It is a million snacks and a million more redos (for the kids; for myself) as we teach our two new boys the permanency of belonging.

It is pitchers of iced tea with lemon slices from the neighbor’s tree and icy bowls of banana swirl, and silly face selfie sessions to make those late afternoon hours finally move along until daddy gets home.

It is toddler tantrums followed by recovery cuddles and humbly asking for help and acutely feeling my limits.

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The ubiquity of the phrase “You Are Enough” is inescapable. I have never felt less than enough. My newest son climbs onto my lap and clings for dear life. I wonder where this child’s mom is and am swallowed again by the enormity of it.

Me. That’s me. I am the mom. His mom. Thank you, God.

Help.

Grace. Grace is enough. I am not. But grace is. I don’t have to perfect this. I can loosen my worry, loosen my fear, loosen my perfect expectations.

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I sing U2’s lyrics Grace over the boys as they nap – at least sing the same three lines I can remember. I sing and it’s meditation. I sing and it’s medicine.

Every day more furniture and toys are banished to the garage as I hush our home, scale back the things in my face in response to the overwhelming needs. Every day I think this is the day we can make it to the beach. Every day we victory lap simply making it to dinnertime.

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Parenting. Healing. Belonging. These are the long game. One sliced peach. One tantrum. One popsicle. One correction. One cuddle at a time.

I am overwhelmed by the children. Overwhelmed by the need. Overwhelmed by the grace that allows it all to be okay.