To the Lady at the Grocery Store Who Didn’t Judge Me

Dear Lady,

You saw me struggling in the parking lot. In the rain. With frizzy hair and donning a very unattractive outfit, two small kids in tow.

Minutes before I encountered you, I was trying to keep my composure as my 3-year-old’s world fell apart because I told him he couldn’t get a balloon. We don’t always get what we want, right? And although it’s tempting to placate a tantrum by giving in, I stood my ground at the risk of public embarrassment, knowing it was better for his character in the long run, albeit hurtful to my pride in the here and now.

So I was carrying said child (who weighs 40 pounds might I add) on my hip, while he was crying loudly and squirming, as the baby sat in the cart. (This was only shortly after a few strangers complimented my darling, well-behaved kids. My, how the tide turns quickly…) I awkwardly and embarrassingly tried to push the cart to the self-checkout line one-handed. Buying my four items seemed to take an hour. And then I still needed to go to the regular checkout line afterwards because no one knew how to help me buy stamps at the self-checkout. As we were leaving the store, my mobile child was lured to the evil machine that dispenses bouncy balls, and it took quite an effort to convince him to walk away from it.

As we traversed through the parking lot (did I mention it was raining?), we finally arrived at our vehicle, only to discover that my oldest had inconspicuously placed a stuffed animal toy ball thing at the bottom of the cart, and I quote, “Because my other toy balls at home are lonely.” Stifling my frustration, I attempted to hoist him into the cart so that we could go back into the store to return the stolen item.

And then an angel appeared. Strangely enough, the angel looked a lot like you. You were with your son, beginning to load groceries into your car that was parked next to mine.

You noticed me and asked if you could help me push the cart while I put the kids into the car.

“Have you ever had a day like this?” I said to you with a look of defeat. And you responded with an emphatically compassionate, “Yes.”

I explained that I was actually on my way back into the store to return the furry contraband. So you offered to take the toy into the store for me.

I gave a sincere “Thank you,” but I really wanted to wrap you in a hug. You were a stranger. You could have judged my parenting on account of my wiggly, emotional child. You could have quietly put your groceries into your car, pretending not to notice me. But instead, you offered compassion. To me, a total stranger.

You touched my heart today. And you taught me a valuable lesson: When there’s an opportunity to offer compassion instead of judgment, do it.

I hope to be like you when I grow up.

3 things that have surprised me about adoption (so far)

{The above picture is of our family’s hands, minus Caleb because he was having a toddler moment and didn’t want to participate in the mushy gushy. Oh well.}

November is National Adoption Month. It’s also Banana Pudding Lovers Month, No Shave November, Aviation History Month, and a whole host of other notable observations.

And while I do enjoy bananas, beards, and the miracle of flight, none of those things come anywhere close to the deep well of love that I have in my heart for adoption.

So in the spirit of November and adoption, I thought I’d share a few things that have surprised me (so far) about this beautiful, emotional, holy way to build a family.

1 . I Love You All The Same
Many adoptive parents wonder if they’ll be able to love their adopted child with the same love as a biological child. We wondered what it would be like for us once we met our little babe. Would there be an immediate connection? Or would it be a process? But since the beginning, it’s always felt…normal. We can testify that the love of a parent doesn’t distinguish based on DNA. A parent’s love is non-discriminatory, all-inclusive, forever and ever, amen. (Only good ol’ country music fans will catch that last reference.) We’ve even had a couple of family members share, with great vulnerability, that they were nervous about loving our adopted child with the same love as our biological children. But through smiles and tears, they confessed that there has never been a difference. Not even for a moment.

2 . My Love For Birth Mom
Let me grab a tissue real quick. Because it’s hard for me to talk about our child’s birth mom without getting emotional. I knew I would be grateful to her. But I never expected such a deep, deep love for her. In many ways, she is a part of our family. To put it too simply, if it weren’t for her, we wouldn’t have our third child.

From the moment we heard about her, met her, and said goodbye to her, there was within my heart a new space that opened up. Her life has not been easy. But even in the midst of the hard stuff, she chose to put her baby’s needs above her own, giving the child of her womb the opportunity for a life that she felt she couldn’t provide right now. The courage, the sacrificial love, the selflessness, the strength that it takes to make a decision like that is beyond commendable. We pray for her. We speak of her with dignity and honor at all times. We love her so much.

3 . The Most Popular Question and Comment
I was as prepared as I could be for a whole host of questions. Generally, they come from a place of loving curiosity from friends and family and even strangers. The various questions can be a wonderful opportunity to share about the beauty of adoption and to educate people on the process, to some degree. Many of the questions we’ve received have been fairly predictable and easy to answer. Others have left me dumbfounded, shocked, floundering to give an answer wrapped in grace and truth, being honest while also not feeling obligated to share personal information. But mostly, I’ve been surprised at the most popular question and comment that people have had for our family…

Most popular question: How old is your baby’s mom?
My answer: I’m 31.

Most popular comment: You look great for just having a baby!
My answer: Thank you!

Has your family adopted? What are some of the things that have surprised you?

Mulligan, Please?

Sometimes I wish I could take a mulligan as a parent.

There are days that just plain stink. And this particular aroma doesn’t come from the pungent diapers waiting to be taken outside to the trash can. It comes from within the depths of my heart. Manufactured by my very own sin.

A few weeks back I was failing at every turn. Over-reacting about trivial things. Frustrated. Lacking grace. Impatient. Grouchy. All in all, a real peach to be around. Not a great candidate for “Mom Of The Year”. I was counting down the hours until bedtime so that I could take off my parenting hat for a much-needed reprieve.

As we neared the end of Caleb’s bedtime routine, we were cuddling on his floor in the dark (It’s weird, I know…especially since there’s a plush rocking chair within arms reach). We prayed through our normal list of people. We sang our usual song. Then Caleb rolled over to face me, his squishy toddler face just inches away, and he said, “Mommy,  you’re a good mommy.” He rotated 180 degrees to face Preston’s silhouette and said tenderly, “Daddy, you’re a good daddy.”

I wiped up my heart, which had immediately melted into a puddle on the floor, and began to soak in the grace of God, which he had extended to me, in that moment, through my oldest child. The gospel was shining brightly in Caleb’s dark room.

On a day that I felt quite unlovable, God loved me still. In the midst of my failures and short-comings, he pulled me close and reminded me of what is true:

“But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” (Romans 5:8)

It’s when I was at my worst that Jesus hung on the cross for me. And even now, on my yucky days, he continues to lavish me with this great and unfathomable love.

How amazing. God’s grace is always greater than my sin. It covers me completely.

But where sin abounded, grace abounded much more…” (Romans 5:21)

Instead of condemnation for my failures that day, he lovingly convicted me by his Spirit and gave me grace to keep going, to take my mulligan.

The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases;
    his mercies never come to an end;
they are new every morning;
    great is your faithfulness.
(Lamentations 3:22-23)

And that’s how it goes. Just when I think things can’t get any worse on some days, Jesus overwhelms me with his grace. Sometimes he speaks through donkeys. But in my life, it’s generally through a two-year-old boy named Caleb.

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My stick-loving, dinosaur-holding, intertube-wearing, leftover-smoothie-on-his-forehead, grace-giving boy.

 

Parenting Win: Kid Quote Book

Every parent in the history of forever (hyperbolic-ally speaking) has said to write down the things that your kids say because you will forget. Science has proven that parents’ memories function worse after having children than they did before children. Actually, I just made that up. But the proof is in the pudding. Whatever that means.

So I figured, what the heck? I’ll buy a spiral bound journal on clearance and make it my officially unofficial Caleb quote book.

This might be one of the best parenting decisions that I have ever made.

Some of the entries are funny:
Mommy: I like your imagination. You have creative ideas.
Caleb: I’m going poop in my imagination.

Some of them make my heart melt into a puddle on the floor:
I tucked Caleb in and shut the door on my way out of his room. He cried for a few minutes (which is unusual) so I went back to check on him and he said, “I wanted to tell you that I love you.”

Some of them make me realize he’s “getting it”:
Mommy: Good morning buddy! What did you dream about last night?
Caleb: Jesus!
Mommy: What did he do?
Caleb: Save us!

I try not to give parenting advice unless I’m asked. But to all the parents out there, this is so worth it. Whether your child is a toddler or a teen. It’s such a treasure. So simple to do. It requires paper and a pencil. (Or an iPhone or tablet if that’s the way you roll.) Unless it’s not your thing, then that’s okay. There are lots of wonderful, meaningful ways to document special moments from your child’s growing years.

But this has definitely been a winner in our house.

What creative ways does your family document stuff to remember it years down the road?

Left Behind: The Grief of a Young Sibling

{Note: We are not experts in this area. This is our story – our only experience to draw from. I believe that the death of a sibling is a unique and devastating event for each family. The cause of death affects grief. The birth order affects grief (was the child the firstborn, youngest, etc). The age of the child that died affects grief (was it a miscarriage, still birth, infant death, young child, etc). The age and personalities of the siblings that are left behind affects grief. There are so many factors that influence the grief journey for siblings. There’s no formula or method to navigate the journey. But these are some of the things that our family has found to be helpful in our particular situation up to this point. So I humbly share them with you. And I welcome your insights and experiences too.}

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The three of us were enjoying our nightly family cuddle time a few days ago, when Caleb quietly asked, “Mommy, may I snuggle on your chest like baby Evelyn?”

My heart swelled with love for my precious little boy. My firstborn. The very one who brought me into this beautifully chaotic and holy world of motherdom. I pulled him close to fulfill his tender request.  But even as he saturated my arms with his stout toddler frame, I felt an undeniable emptiness too. My daughter’s absence became acute in the darkness of his room, echoing loudly in the wake of his sweet question. Only three of us were there instead of four.

Helping Caleb grieve the death of his little sister has not been easy. We’ve tried to be somewhat proactive on our end, while also taking his cues to talk about her when she’s on his mind.

Since he’s only two years old, life is very concrete. He doesn’t talk about Evelyn all the time because she’s not here with us. For all he knows, it’s normal for a sibling to live in a special hospital and never come home. From time to time he asks about her when we’re driving in the car or playing at home. Our typical response is, “Baby Evelyn’s body stopped working. Now she lives in heaven with Jesus. She’s not sick anymore.” That’s basically it. It varies a little depending on the situation. But as he gets older and his mind begins to understand the complexities of sickness and death and heaven, we’ll share more.

But for now, these are some of the things we do for our toddler to keep it concrete and simple:

  1. Have a prepared response that the child can remember (like what I mentioned above).
  2. Read an age-appropriate children’s book about heaven that helps spark short discussions.
  3. I made a Shutterfly book especially for Caleb. It’s all about Evelyn and him. Pictures, words, memories, and a simple story line. It’ll be a precious keepsake for him as he grows older. But in this present moment, it’s a helpful tool to keep her memory alive and talk about her when she comes up.
  4. Watch a video of our family that was taken the day before she died. It’s a treasure to us. It captures some of the few moments that the four of us were together during her 20 days. Caleb loves to watch it over and over and over.
  5. We have pictures of Evelyn in our home. There’s one on the fridge. There are a few included in gallery displays on our walls. It’s not over-the-top. But it’s enough to show that she’s a part of our family and always will be.

I’ve heard of other families baking birthday cakes on the child’s birthday. Or letting balloons go on their birthday/death date. It seems that there are a lot of thoughtful ways to grieve and heal and hope and remember. I’m sure the conversations and tributes will change for us over time.

I’ve tried to be careful that I never force Caleb to talk about his sister. He has never shed a tear over her death. And that’s okay. Some day he probably will. As I see it now, God’s mercy abounds in Caleb’s life because when he thinks about Evelyn, it only brings him joy. He giggles and squirms when he sees her pictures and videos. He’s filled with uncontainable delight at the thought of his baby sister.

But as a general rule of thumb, if I can’t remember the last time we talked about her together (maybe it’s been a few weeks), I might bring it up gently – put the feelers out, if you will. For example, I’ll suggest reading his Caleb & Evelyn book before nap time. If he’s interested, great. If not, that’s okay too. We move on.

Above all, my prayer for Caleb (and our other children who will never meet Evelyn this side of heaven), is that her life and death will cause them to trust God more deeply. I pray that they will see God’s goodness and mercy through her life. I pray that they will see the peace and hope that Christ brings in the darkest of circumstances. I pray that when they’re sad, they will run into the arms of Jesus, our Friend and Savior and Shepherd, who will quietly weep with them and comfort them with his love. I pray that they feel confident taking their doubts and questions and uncertainties to our Heavenly Father, who can lead them in his perfect truth.

One day we will all reach the absolute fulfillment of this promise: “Those who sow with tears will reap with songs of joy” (Psalm 126:5).

Until then, we will pray for the Holy Spirit to guide us as we help our children handle their grief in all of its stages and waves, and point them to the One who can truly bring them the comfort they need.

Prayer Sticks

 

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When Evelyn was alive, we prayed. Oh, how we prayed. It felt as if we prayed without ceasing, pleading with God to heal her because we know that he is able. And you know what? He did. He is faithful and full of mercy. The moment she set foot on eternity’s shore, she was whole and perfectly healed. Her first steps took her straight into the arms of Jesus. She bypassed the difficulties and pain of this world, and she entered into her forever heavenly home. I’m not sad for her. I’m just really sad for us because we’re left behind, waiting, until Jesus calls us home some day too.

An incredible amount of people were praying for our family during that dark time. Prayer meetings. Fasting. Individuals. Congregations. One of my favorite memories is from a friend that said her young daughter prayed for Evelyn every time she went to the bathroom. I loved that. Partly because it brought some comic relief to my heavy heart. But mostly because it was humbling to know that even the tiniest saints were covering our family in prayer.

God heard those prayers. We were strengthened. We were filled with hope. We were surrounded with peace. We were able to make painfully courageous decisions, only because the Lord himself was walking with us, showing us the way to go as we approached each new fork in the road.

And people continue to pray faithfully even now as we grieve and heal. We are so blessed by the sheer amount of people lifting us up to the Lord. Many of them we know, but many of them are strangers.

Since Evelyn’s death, we desire more than ever to be a source of prayer for other people because we were the recipients in such a powerful way when we so desperately needed it (and still do).

So we try, albeit imperfectly, to nurture an atmosphere of prayer in our family. Lately Caleb has been asking to pray for the crane that set trusses at our house a couple of weeks ago. Oh, and we also pray for Buzz Lightyear on a fairly regular basis. He does, after all, face copious amounts of peril in his space adventures, so somebody needs to be covering that brave little toy in prayer.

Ephesians 6:18-19 says, “With all prayer and petition pray at all times in the Spirit…”

I recently learned that the word for “at all times” is kairos, which refers to specific times, precise occasions, and particular events. General prayers are certainly okay too. But what a beautiful thing that we can present our specific, real, unedited requests to God. Things like trusses. Buzz Lightyear. A hurting heart. A loved one who needs healing. A relationship that needs mending. A bank account that needs money. A car that needs repaired.

And the amazing thing is that God hears our prayers. Psalm 18:6 says, “In my distress I called to the Lord; I cried to my God for help. From his temple he heard my voice; my cry came before him, into his ears.” Our prayers reach heaven. That’s amazing. And God cares. That’s even more amazing. Then he answers according to his perfect will. That’s just downright astounding.

So we started a tradition at mealtimes where we put a few sticks in a mason jar. Each stick has a picture of someone that we know who needs prayer. The first round we prayed for our pastors and the missionaries that we support. This second round we’re praying for some sweet children that we know who are facing serious sickness or injury. Caleb picks a stick and that’s who we pray for. (I cover the pictures in clear tape so that it’s more durable. Toddler hands are pretty sticky.)

It’s helpful because it’s concrete. He can see the person. He can hold the stick. His little two-year-old mind can better connect our prayers to the people we’re praying for as we lift them up to Jesus. (And let’s be honest. It’s helpful for me too because it’s a tangible reminder to slow down and be faithful in prayer.) For now, the sticks are just the scaffolding that will eventually be removed as the habit is built over time. That’s the goal anyway.

This morning Caleb said, “Mommy, let’s pray for all of our friends.” And he carefully set each of their pictures in front of him.

Then halfway through breakfast he realized that we forgot to pray for the crane…

What are some of the ways that you cultivate prayer in your family and life? I’d love to learn from you.