On adoption, vulnerability, and how our children lead us home

KimVBfam

It wasn’t because my son wasn’t all I thought he would be. He was cuter than the pictures, he was sweet and soft and innocent and bewildered. He was everything.

It was me. It was my heart and its hardness that surprised me. I was closed off somehow, unable to open my heart up and love the way I wanted to.

But here’s the truth that I learned over the next year: As their parents, we show our children the way to vulnerability. When their hearts are wounded deep from broken connections to birth parents, birth culture, orphanage nannies or foster parents, they’re caught deep in their own fortresses, built up so quickly in their short lives to guard against another heart-deep wound. And as their adoptive parents, we don’t come storming in to destroy those protections. We open our hearts and bleed for them.

 

I am so honored to be sharing a guest post over at Carissa Woodwyk’s space today. I met her two years ago at the Christian Alliance for Orphans Summit, and knew her voice was one I was waiting for. She’s an adoptee, and a therapist, and she speaks with such truth and grace about the adoptee experience. She’s hosting a guest post series on her blog for National Adoption Month, and my story is there today.

Click here to keep reading…

For the adoptive mama at the start

 
You are amazing.
I’ve done it myself, but every time I see an adoption announcement, another family jumping into these uncertain waters of adoption, I’m still astounded.

Know this: You are braver than you know.

You might feel exhilarated, you might be giddy, you might feel more ready for this than you have felt about anything. You might feel overwhelmed. You might be terrified.

You might have nagging doubts at the edges of your mind, little questions about your family dynamic, how life might get turned upside-down, what this might do to you, what this might do to your marriage.

Know this, too: You have a cloud of witnesses who have gone before you. Nothing that you are feeling is foreign to adoptive mamas everywhere.

And we are here for you.

At some point in this adoption, it is very likely that things will go sideways. You’ll have an unexpected delay, a government official won’t show up, you’ll wait and wait to get picked and wonder if it’ll ever happen, you won’t know whether it’s best to go on or start over, your heart might feel like it wasn’t made for this.

But just wait. Wait and see.

I always thought the miracle of adoption was bringing the child home, redemption, hope, putting the lonely in families.

But now I know there are a hundred little miracles along the way.

When you open your heart to adoption, when you follow God’s lead wherever he might want to take you, you’re saying “yes” to a whole lot more than just a new child.

You’re saying yes to surrender.
Yes to sacrifice.
Yes to unspeakable joy.
Yes to hope against all odds.
Yes to healing — in your heart and in your child’s.
Yes to opening your eyes.
Yes to a love the depths of which you haven’t known before.

You are braver than you know.

You join those who have gone before you in saying, yes, God. Yes. Whatever it means, yes.

The thing about the bowl of cereal

It’s not the cereal. It’s not hunger, really, unless we’re talking about the non-physical kind.

It’s not even the compulsion, though I do wonder about that.

My on-again, off-again habit of a bowl (or two) of cereal before sleep, when everyone else is already in bed, when the day’s responsibilities are not done but put to bed, at least, when all is quiet and it’s just me and no one can see me or judge me or count how many nights in a row this is now? It’s not really about the cereal, the habit, the hunger or non-hunger. It could be a little about the carbs’ quick-hit brain rush, but really really really?

It’s about feeding something.

 

It’s a deep belief of scarcity. That I’m not enough, that I have to fill something up and in and all the way, that somehow if I numb it, if I stuff it, if I just feel one more bite going into my mouth, I will finally feel complete.

And then after that second bowl and I’m alone again, I’m emptier. Because it doesn’t really feed what needs feeding. And it doesn’t matter that no one saw me and no one knows. I was there to judge me, and believe me, I’m harsh enough.

How can a mother get the nourishment she really needs?

When will I stop looking outside myself for validation, for job well done, for I’m sorry, for I’m here, I’m here, I’m here?

When will I wake up and go to bed believing I’m enough? That I’m worthy?

I don’t know, honestly. I keep waiting for something to shift in me, but I might just have to live as if for a while, until my habits can give meaning to my internal truth.

I eat well because I’m worth it, not because I have to shed these extra pounds. I run and practice yoga because they feed something else in me, they make me feel good and strong, and not because I hate my body and need to punish it. I drink water because it doesn’t make my stomach hurt like cereal does, and I’m worth feeling good.

Say it again, all together now: I’m enough. Now and 10 minutes from now. At this weight and other weights. At this job and not at this job. Being a mother and taking a break. I am enough, no matter.

*

For more scarcity and abundance inspiration, I highly recommend my friend Abby Norman’s Scarcity Hunter email newsletters. Check out her blog and contact her for more info.

 

On inspiration overload: My time at Festival of Faith and Writing 2014

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The first day pulls you in.

 

The opening plenary, amazing. You see friends from Twitter and have the strange experience of mentally fitting their face to their avatar. It’s too hard to choose breakout session options, and when you peruse live tweets you always feel like you picked the wrong one. But no matter. Tomorrow’s a full day of sessions and speakers and options. And although it’ll take you another month to listen to all you want to, you silently pray thanks for session recording.

 

Throughout the conference you feel a thousand emotions a minute. Inspired by one author’s words, weighed down by the next, both lifted up and cast into despair several times just that morning. Those writers you admire so much give their gift and you can’t help but feel dim next to their glow. You see the overabundance of talent and gifting and all the words being sent out into the world, and you wonder if your small voice matters at all. You suspect it’s already all been said.

 

Then, Anne Lamott gives you permission to be yourself just by virtue of being so genuinely herself. But seriously, the woman tells us she’s trying to love her body, then stands up and shakes her back fat for us. It’s so bizarre and yet, you’re not sure you’ve ever seen anything more brave and beautiful. And though you know of her success, you’ve read her and you know how widely she’s read and how beloved she is, but she doesn’t let jealousy or despair dominate. She tells you to write, she asks you please to write, to create, to do what you were made to do, and you believe her. She sounds like God herself, full of grace and love for your angst and small gifts.

 

By the third day, maybe you’ve already cried a few times. There’s only so much time, so Festival organizers have to pack the schedule full. I’m sure they turn away many worthy session options, even. But the truth of it is — there’s no margin. You want desperately to take a break, but more desperately don’t want to miss this next session on writing and justice, or the one after that on voice or memoir or poetry. I mean, it’s Luci Shaw. How could you skip that? You find a bench in the sunshine to just sit, and a new friend finds you, and it’s wonderful and important and when will you next get this chance?, but then you’re rushing off again. You’ve underestimated your need for downtime, especially in a creative and inspiring space like this.

 

You keep thinking ahead to the last plenary session, okay, partly because you want it to end even though you really really don’t. But most of all you know you’ll need the true words you know will be spoken on jealousy and art. Because have you stopped comparing yourself since you arrived? Have you been able to stop just for one minute and recognize how your unique calling fits, really sings here among all these voices, and you can stop looking around now? Maybe that’s why you’re so exhausted.

 

So when Rachel Held Evans says “We serve at the pleasure of a generous master. There’s plenty of work to do,” and then repeats it again and again, keeps singing it over us, like a psalm, like a lullaby, like a benediction, you can finally exhale. You can see how patient God is with you in your smallness, in your ignorance. You can see how he delights in you and gently tells you to knock it off already. Because comparison and jealousy will always cloud the real work He’s calling you to.

 

And to quote Annie Lamott (and her friend Pammy), honey, you don’t have that kind of time.

 

When your body remembers: Adoption and grief

I’m not sure if it’s the smell in the air, the feeling after the holidays or the letdown of post-Christmas that makes it hit me every January.

But every January, without fail, a weight settles in.

I wrestle with it for days, even a week or two, and then it finally dawns on me: Oh. My dad. He died January 25.

Even when my conscious brain isn’t registering the reason, my body remembers. She remembers and she starts preparing for grief, for shock, for pain. It’s been 13 long years, and it still hasn’t faded. Every January, the familiar, bewildering weight. The depression. The fog.

And when I realize what it is at last, there’s nothing to do but to sit with it. I just have to let myself feel the loss again.

* * *

Three years and three days ago, we brought an African baby home to cold, dry, unfamiliar Minnesota. We brought him from Uganda — land of red dirt and stunning beauty; of honesty and pain and wonder and staggering contrasts. Of warmth and light. The only land he had ever known.

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In the jubilant homecoming airport scene, he was scream-laughing and making everyone smile so hard it hurt. His body was electric, shaking, excited, overstimulated, overtired. He was just 9 months old. It was a lot to take in.

Now we are three years later and I swear to you: His body remembers.

These last weeks have been full of heightened anxiety, of acting out, of impulsive action, of tantrums and neediness. There have been many more questions about “my ‘nother mommy” and of Uganda, of his beginnings and identity and story. We’ve looked at pictures of our days together there, of kicking in the bath basin, of walking around the guesthouse grounds, of his auntie. He looks at the pictures and tells me he was sad.

He’s only 3. This is the first year there have been enough words to explore the feelings, I think.

And I want to give it all to him, I want to fix it, I want to reach the hurt places and wrap them in love, love, love.

But I can’t touch all of it, because it doesn’t belong to me. I have to let him sit with it. I have to let him feel the ache of loss. It’s only after he feels it, explores it, gives it a name before we can get back to the ordinary business of gradual redemption.

Darkness shot through with light

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It’s Christmas morning. The gifts are open, the drum set assembled, the new riding toys getting broken in, the volume level in our home at a new level. Snow is gently falling on a fresh three inches from last night, and it looks like perfect sledding weather today.

We’re happy. And yet tears keep gathering at the corners of my eyes.

Is it because our family is complete, that Josie is home for her first Christmas?

Is it because I can still see my dad reading the Christmas story in his glasses and sweater, and even after nearly 13 years I miss him desperately?

Is it because I can see something align and click in my son when he’s playing his new drums, so the extra noise is more than worth it?

Is it because my kids all seem secure and content in our home, in our family, and they know they are loved?

Is it because family is beautiful and sacred, but also messy and exhausting?

Is it because of the reality of today, of Word made flesh, that Love had to find a way to get to me, that He gave up everything to come near?

Yes.

God wrapped himself in flesh, and it was holy and messy.

He broke through time and space and dimension to make a home in me, and that journey had to hurt.

It’s unending darkness and infinite light.

And now we live in the grief and fulfillment, the already/not yet, and it’s so beautiful it hurts and it hurts even though it’s beautiful.

The weary world, indeed. And yet, rejoicing.

Merry Christmas.

 

I could never

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I’m beginning to look more like me. // Coming into focus

 

It was late at night, and I was sitting in a brand-new friend’s kitchen in her one-bedroom apartment just down the hall from mine. We were in college, some of the only married students in the building, both writers, and we hit it off right away. She’s always been one of those friends. It’s easy to go deep, fast.

“No one close to me has ever died,” I say in a near-whisper, afraid God might hear and get some ideas. “I’m terrified of it happening. I could never handle something like that.”

“I know,” she said.

That winter, my dad died suddenly. He was 50 years old.

I don’t think God heard me and decided to test my theory. I start with that story to remind myself that whenever I think “I could never,” it may be true — but if God is near, I have all the strength I need.

I needed it then, and I have needed it since, and I need it now.

In her sympathy card to me, my friend recalled our conversation in her kitchen that night.

“We both said we couldn’t handle something like this,” she wrote. “But then it happens, and then we do.”

* * *

It happens, and then we do.

I could never have trouble attaching to my own child.

I could never be an at-home mom.

I could never go back to Uganda and adopt again.

And the latest: I could never homeschool.

For many reasons, we pulled our 2nd grader out of our neighborhood public school a few weeks ago. In short: It wasn’t working, and he was struggling. We tried to avoid it — met with the teacher, talked to friends for advice, said, “Well whatever happens, we could never homeschool.” I was at capacity already with work, two toddlers at home, a household to manage. I mean, just the laundry alone.

I thought I could never.

But then it happened, and then I did.

* * *

I’m learning to make space in my nevers.

No matter how I see myself and my limitations, God sees who he created me to be. All my life, I’ll be discovering who that is.

And sometimes, the picture comes more into focus when I say, “I could never,” and God says, “With me, all things.”

Sweet homecoming

I just scrolled back on the blog and I can’t believe I haven’t shared this here yet. My brother made this little video for us after I arrived home with Josie this summer, nearly 4 months ago now. I love seeing our little family complete at last, and I can’t believe how much Josie has changed! Enjoy.

Welcome Josie from Adam and Jamie Sternke on Vimeo.

One Small Change – Guest post for Addie Zierman

 

When I was first starting out blogging for real, I found Addie Zierman. She was obviously an amazing writer. She had graduated from Northwestern College just down the road from Bethel, where I was at about the same time. She talked about being on fire for God when she was younger, just like I was, and how somehow that flame had left her scarred and jaded, just like it did me.

I knew we had to be best friends immediately.

And then the most amazing thing happened. She actually became one of my best friends. We live just two hours apart but we’re constantly complaining that we aren’t closer. We meet every couple of months for wine and dinner and at a recent get-together, I started crying even before we were seated. It’s THAT kind of friendship, and I’m so thankful for her.

And crazy proud of her like a bragging mama, because my girl has written the most AMAZING memoir, one of my favorites ever and I’m not exaggerating, it released a couple weeks ago and she got a starred review in Publisher’s Weekly and all kinds of praise and I know more is coming.

All this to say how excited and honored I am to be posting over at her blog today for her “One Small Change” series. Each post features a different voice, showing all of us that small can change the world.

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I’m writing about expanding our expectations for holidays so they’re more about others than about us. Here’s an excerpt:

I’m not saying you can’t put an iPad or those Frye boots on your Christmas list. I really don’t want to get pious or self-righteous or (God forbid) legalistic about doing good on special days.

I’m just saying: If at the end of every birthday or holiday you feel a little empty and don’t know why, try giving when you’re supposed to get — and then tell me if the cloud doesn’t dissipate a little.

For me, it’s about feeling the connection I was created for, about God asking me to care for his creation and his children. It’s about seeing beyond myself and looking for beauty in ashes. It’s about redemption, life, hope, love, love, love.

 

Head over to Addie’s blog to read the rest. And then also read everything she’s written. And then for SURE get her book. 

Nothing So Broken: What We Pass Down (For my son) {Guest post}

Mother and son

Today I have the honor of guest posting at Alison McLennan’s place. We’ve been connected for years through adoption, writing and blogging and she’s one of those rare kindred spirits I’ve never met in person. She inspires me from afar with her honesty, fierce love and broken beauty.

She’s featuring a series of posts lately that echo my heart, called “Nothing So Broken.” The idea is that nothing is so broken that God cannot redeem it. Corrie Ten Boom said, “There is no pit so deep that He is not deeper still.” Yes.

Here is an excerpt from my post at Alison’s blog today. Click over to read the rest.

 

I saw my own fear in your eyes just last night, love.

It was in the middle of one of your tantrums, the fits you’ve been throwing for months now. Just lately, they seem out of even your control. I’ve been trying to reach your heart, to let you know you’re loved, loved, loved.

It’s so easy to forget that’s what you’re asking for, really. That your constant pushing the boundaries, testing the rules and doing the very thing I’ve just forbid — these are just symptoms of something that’s settled deep in you. You don’t even know it’s there, can’t really name it, but I can. I’ve seen it before.

Because it lives in me.

 

Read the rest here.