The Blessing of Big Feelings

This girl – she feels everything BIG. That presents us with some significant challenges. She and I and Matt have spent years trying out and cultivating strategies to walk through them well. But also? We’ve held onto the hope that those big feelings were going to translate into big empathy and into big triumphs, and we’ve cast a vision for that as we’ve talked with her about how God made her and how she is wired.

And sometimes we see glimpses – or even more than glimpses – of that hope shining through.

This morning, her three younger siblings were experiencing some conflict, and Madeleine CaiQun was left in tears. She and Miranda disappeared upstairs, and when they came down, Madeleine CaiQun came to me for some hugs and comfort, and Miranda went into the living room to talk with the littles.

Miranda came to me a few minutes later, “Mom, MeiMei told me about how she was feeling when we were upstairs in the luminescence room. The luminescence room is kind of like club house we made on the bottom bunk in our room where we can talk about feelings. We were petting the cats up there for a few minutes. And when we came downstairs, I talked to FangFang and Atticus. They didn’t want MeiMei to play with them, because their building wasn’t big enough, so I helped them make it bigger, and they said she could play now.”

And a bit later, as our all-three-year-old-boy child was attempting to destroy all the buildings, she took the initiative to create a “scrapyard” for him, full of creations for him to knock down.

Kindness, empathy, initiative, problem-solving, creativity, peace-making, and helpfulness – all things I hope and pray for as I parent my kids, as we walk through squabble after squabble, as we talk about how we can work as a team to solve problem after problem. It’s so encouraging to me as a mother to have these moments in which I see glimpses of the fruit of that. We’ll keep pressing on, working together to grow, and hoping for more and more of these moments.

Book to be Released Next Week: Confessions of an Adoptive Parent

When I posted this photo on Instagram and Facebook, a number of my friends who are foster or adoptive parents (or preparing to be either of those!) commented that they were interested in what the book was all about.

I heard both Mike and Kristin Berry speak back in October at the Refresh Chicago 2017 Conference and was encouraged by their words and by the conference in general, so when they announced that this book was coming out this year, I was honored to be invited to be part of its launch team (Disclaimer: I received a free copy of the book and the pre-order bonus materials in exchange for my participation in the launch team.) 

The book has a very similar feel to the Refresh Conference – one of its primary aims is to make sure that foster and adoptive parents understand that they are not alone. Mike tells a number of stories from his own experience as a foster and adoptive parent (while still keeping many details of his children’s stories private), which help to communicate that no matter what a family is experiencing, their struggles are not unique. The Berry family has parented children who behaved in unsafe ways with other children, who became pregnant earlier than planned, who have had to be placed in residential treatment facilities for periods of time, whose experiences of trauma directly play into their behavior, and who are not always respectful, kind, mature individuals. No matter what struggle an adoptive or foster parent is walking through, this book will offer reassurance that they are not the only ones.

It’s also very readable – I carried it with me and read it all over the place 🙂

reading while waiting for Miranda’s swim meet to start!

Some of what I found most helpful from the book were the reminders to press on. Berry writes, “So now we have a choice. We can shake our fists at the heavens and say, ‘This wasn’t part of the deal,’ or we can choose to move forward, love our children through the trials, work to understand trauma, and live to the best of our ability in this new normal” (p. 76-77). Probably all of us parents have had moments of wondering whether this life was really what we signed up for, but I appreciated the encouragement to persevere through the hard times. Berry says, “I’ve found that when I stop dwelling on what I wish would have been, and accept what actually is, I find hope quicker” (p. 77).

Reminding us all that there is hope, no matter what, is another of the main points of this book. Part of that is practical encouragement – Berry tells multiple stories of kids and young adults who were making bad choices but whose paths eventually changed, and he offers the reminder that we are all in process, saying, “I didn’t come from a traumatic situation the way some of my kids did, but I still had to journey to where I am today. Twenty years ago I wasn’t able to do what I do today” (p. 187). And another part of this reminder that hope exists is spiritual. Berry writes, “That’s where I find hope – not in the wreckage of this journey, but in the fact that Jesus has willingly entered into our darkest moments and fights with us and for us in the middle of it” (p. 123). And he says, “You and I need to trust the God who created the universe and gave us life, confident that He holds our broken kids in His mighty hands” (p. 188).

Our children are younger, and we haven’t had all of the experiences that the Berry family has. However, we have had our own struggles as parents, and we do see the effects of trauma in our kids’ lives, and not everyone around us understands why we make the choices we do for our family. It’s encouraging to know that there are others out there who do understand this adoption parenting journey. And I appreciated the reminders to have hope and persevere in loving well, even in the midst of hard situations with our kiddos.

If you’re looking for some encouragement in these areas, I’d absolutely recommend the book! And if you pre-order in the next few days, there are some pretty extensive pre-order bonuses, which you can check out here!

pressing on through weariness

“And let us not grow weary of doing good, for in due season we will reap, if we do not give up. So then, as we have opportunity, let us do good to everyone, and especially to those who are of the household of faith” (Galatians 6:9-10). 

These past couple weeks have been wearying. There are the early mornings, the doctor appointments (and PT appointments and dentist appointments and on and on), and other physical demands of caring for 4 small children – and on top of that, seasonal allergies have arrived here in mid-Missouri. Beyond that, there is the emotional and spiritual exhaustion of parenting. I so often feel so inadequate to be the mother my children need.

And yet…I am the mother God has given them, and they are the children with which He has blessed me. I have no doubt that He is growing each of us through our interactions with each other.

A couple weeks ago, we watched the movie Inside Out again, and we’ve since had some good conversations about when Riley made the best choices, whether it was when anger was in control, or when she was feeling her other emotions, too. Most of the conversations have involved my teaching my kiddos, but one day, Miranda said to me, “Mom, you are letting anger control your choices right now.” And I was. And the intensity of my emotions dissipated immediately, and I apologized, and we moved on.

That’s a lot of what we do these days – moving on, putting one foot in front of the other, and pressing on. It’s all we can do really. In the harder moments, I’ve been thinking about the Bible verses, “Not only that, but we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us” (Romans 5:3-5). So much of parenting is true joy, but there is also the pain of seeing your children make bad choices, of leading them toward righteousness and seeing them turn away. Some days, I just feel done by 2:00. But done or not, we’ve got hours left before Matt arrives home, and I need to press on, and I hope that I am growing in my ability to endure well and growing in character. I hope that my children are, too, though it’s sometimes hard to see that in the small, day-to-day interactions. Yesterday afternoon one of my precious children told me angrily that she didn’t see why she had to clear her plate from the table after lunch – it was a waste of her time, and she didn’t used to have to do it herself. We talked about growth and building character. I’m not sure she believes it to be worth it at this point, but we’ll keep calling her to that standard.

There are many days on which I feel like my level of spiritual endurance is approximately equivalent to that of a six-year-old who resists at every turn the policy that she clear her things from the table after a meal. I want to grow, though. I want to have endurance, character, and hope. I want not to grow weary of doing good. I want to have hope that my children will grow to be kind, loving, and thoughtful human beings who follow the Lord. I want to trust that He is working in both them and me for good through these hard parenting times, and I want to do what He’s calling me to do as their mom.

And as God brings us to your mind in the coming days and weeks, please pray for us to that end.

on identity and hope

I’ve been thoughtful, these last few weeks about my identity and about the source of any hope that I have. Honestly, these recent days have been discouraging. Matt and I started winter break talking about everything we’d like to accomplish during these weeks in which he had no teaching obligations and I had no extra baby-watching obligations. At the top of the list for me were getting Atticus’s room more organized, cleaning out my closet, working some extra hours, finishing up thank you notes that I’d meant to write over the summer but never finished for people who helped us after Atticus was born (you know, a mere 13 months ago) , and maybe even reading some fun books or writing some blog posts.

And with about a week of winter break left, I’ve accomplished exactly zero of those things. Matt threw out his back the weekend after Christmas and was in excruciating pain for days afterwards. Just as he was beginning to be able to move around a bit, we were struck with the great plague of 2016 – Miranda woke up at 4:00 am on New Year’s Day with a stomach bug, which ran its course through all 5 of us before departing to the homes of some of our friends (sorry). Due, in part, to those unanticipated events, we’ve been far less productive than we’d hoped during these Christmas vacation weeks.

As a naturally task-oriented person, it’s so easy for me to fall into frustration and discouragement in this situation. I want to catch up on all of these items that perpetually occupy my “to do” list. And while I love my husband and children to no end…

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who could resist these cuties?

…I also like to feel like I exist as my own person, distinct from them and from my serving of them.

I’ve been wondering, lately, how do other moms stay themselves? Particularly other homeschooling moms, who are with their children 24/7 – what do they do? How do they take time away from their families as a blessing, enjoying it but equally enjoying their reentry into family time, taking care of the dishes that have piled up in the sink and the crumbs that have covered the floors during their few hours away, without complaint? What do they do that is their own, not about their husbands and children, and how do they do it while still caring for their husbands and children?

As I’ve contemplated these ideas, I’ve become convinced of a few things –

  1. My life doesn’t begin the instant I move outside of serving my family but exists in serving and loving my family. I can (and do!) find joy in building a train track on the living room floor, curling up on the couch and reading together, tickling my baby, and hanging out with Matt at the end of the day. That those moments constitute a large majority of my time is a blessing and fulfills the calling I believe God has on my life.
  2. In many cases, I can choose the lens through which I see my life and circumstances. I can accept with gratitude and thanksgiving whatever God sends my way, or I can spend my time wishing for something else and becoming increasingly discouraged.
  3. My sense of self and ultimate hope cannot be based in my checking tasks off my list, in meeting budget goals for the month, or any other earthly accomplishment. When Peter exhorts us to be prepared to give an answer to “anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you,” (1 Peter 3:15), he’s referring to nothing less than our trust in Christ. If I am binding my sense of self and hope to anything else, I am setting myself up for disappointment. Only if I center my life around God and being and doing what He has called me to can I live a life filled with true hope and joy.

Lord, please help me to live a life of gratitude, even if my hours are filled more with cleaning up vomit than with accomplishing tasks on my to do list!

the winter of our discontent?

Okay, so it’s not even winter yet. But it feels like it – at least in that we have already been hit with all sorts of winter-type illnesses. Over the last few weeks, pink eye, a double ear infection, colds, and two different stomach bugs have taken up residence in our home.

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Also, just as I was finishing the laundry created by the first stomach bug, our washer breathed its last, so we are currently without in-house laundry capability.

In the midst of those circumstances, it’s easy for me to settle into a season of discontent, winter or not. Elisabeth Elliot defines suffering here as, “having what you don’t want or wanting what you don’t have.” Under that definition, this is certainly a time of suffering in our family. I certainly don’t want to be holding my daughter’s hair back as she dry heaves over a bowl, nothing left in her little body to throw up. I’m not particularly interested in being awake for 3 hours in the middle of the night with a baby whose stuffy nose prevents him from sleeping, nursing, or experiencing the comfort his pacifier would bring.

As I settled into bed last night, I was reading Romans 5:3-5:

“Not only that, but we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us.”

My thoughts have continued to return there throughout the day today. It seems obvious that suffering produces endurance. As a mom, I have no real options. Whether I want to be awake at 3:00 a.m. or not, that’s the path set out for me, and there’s no choice but to walk in it – put one foot in front of the other, sing one more song, add one more load of laundry to the pile awaiting the delivery of our new washer later this week.

And endurance does seem likely to produce – or, at the very least, reveal – character. Forced to persevere in difficult circumstances, we can become bitter, or we can grow in our ability to endure, to press on, and to work through adversity.

I pondered throughout the day, though, how it would be that endurance would produce character and character produce hope. On the surface, hardship and suffering seem more likely to lead to discouragement than to hope. Bitterness is a distinct possibility. Verse 5 in this passage seems to be key – we can grow in hope, “because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us.” We can live in light of God’s love, in dependence on the Spirit in us.

Throughout trials, I can remind myself of the truths God speaks to us in Scripture. I can remember what Moses tells the Israelites as he bids them farewell – “Be strong and courageous. Do not fear or be in dread of them, for it is the Lord your God who goes with you. He will not leave you or forsake you” (Deuteronomy 31:6). God is with me and with my suffering children always, just as He was with the Israelites thousands of years ago. I can trust that “God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble,” and I need “not fear though the earth gives way” (Psalm 46:1). I can pray for His grace as I comfort my oldest in her misery, as I seek to coax my baby back to sleep, and at the end of the evening as I want nothing more than to relax on the couch but really need to lean in toward my middle child, who is seeking reassurance of my love and care for her in the form of the attention she’s been missing all day long as I’ve cared for her sick siblings.

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It’s not a given that suffering will produce endurance, character, and ultimately hope. But I pray that I will live – and suffer – in a way that makes it a reality in my life.