Broken/filled/whole

Around here we talk a lot about being broken.

There’s a crack in everything. That’s how the light gets in.
-Leonard Cohen

Exploring the beauty in brokenness is the theme of my book. I feel like it’s a miracle that God ever uses me as the mess I am. Just a couple days ago I recalled the lyric to a song about asking God to break my heart.

It’s what I see in me. Brokenness in need of redemption. I value honesty and truth and struggle, no matter how messy.

But the mess is where I’ve stayed. I see cracks everywhere, missing how those make me whole. Missing how if I wasn’t broken open, I couldn’t be filled up. Forgetting that brokenness isn’t the whole story.

* * *

It’s all around us:
The seed that breaks open to become what it’s meant to be
The egg that cracks apart just as new life is about to emerge
The cutting away that makes a tree stronger

In brokenness, we can find the beginnings of life.

It’s not a place to arrive or a destination to seek. It’s just the other side of the exploration of brokenness.

* * *

This year, my One Word resolution has been worthy.

This word has both chased me down relentlessly and remained just out of my reach.

Believing I’m worthy of love, worthy of happiness, worthy of a beautiful life — this requires that I explore the other side of broken. Deeply knowing my worth means I must look at how the cracks make me whole. How opening my heart up is not just waiting to be broken, but waiting to be filled.

Kintsugi

* * *

So, it’s true that I can’t be whole unless I am broken first. But I’ve been afraid of being whole. I’m not sure I’m worthy of it.

But ultimately, that doesn’t matter. Whether or not I believe I’m worthy or deserving or enough, wholeness is there anyway. Love is there anyway. I’m filled up anyway, and it pours into my broken bits and the healthy parts, too.

All I have to do is open my hands — eyes — heart and receive it.

The gift of a knock-down, drag-out fight with God

I’m gonna take you back to my state of mind back in May, just before we heard of our Ugandan court date and imminent travel to get Josie. At the time this happened, I knew that if we didn’t hear of a court date in the next week or so, we would be waiting until fall. It was now or wait 5 more months.

I was desperate. Broken. Angry. I was deep in the pit of my trust issues with God, scared out of my mind that because I wanted this so much, He wouldn’t give it to me. And then I finally arrived at my breaking point.

 

There was this situation that I wanted to control. This particular one has to do with adoption, but I’m an equal-opportunity controller, really. I do this in all arenas of my life. Adoption just has a special way of turning me inside out.

That could be a spiritual development advertisement of sorts: “Think you have your control issues all sorted out? Try adoption!” (maniacal laughter)

 

It was just after I got unwelcome news about our second adoption — information that just confirmed that this one was beyond my reach.

It was my move. Would I acknowledge my disappointment and then let go, trust, surrender? Or, would I tighten my grip, consider the craziest alternatives and use all my spare energy to try influencing that which I have no influence over?

If you don’t know the answer, you don’t know me very well.

I’m so grateful that God does, because he could probably see what was about to happen.

 

I could see it, too. I’ve lived through this pattern so many times I know the beginning, middle and end. But so far, there is no skipping around. Although I can see it all, I still have to walk through it.

First, I death-grip and crank on a steering wheel that’s not even attached to the vehicle I’m in. This is irrational, and so are my thoughts about how to control the uncontrollable: If I can just use all my mental energy to will reality into existence, it should happen. If I don’t acknowledge that what’s happening will happen, I can somehow prevent it.

These are the mornings I wake up with a jaw-ache because I’ve been clenching my teeth so hard all night.

The mid-point comes when I simply notice how frantic I feel. How out of control, how desperate. How I’m taking deep breaths every 10 minutes because my heart is racing, chasing after the un-gettable.

From here, I can see the end: The acceptance, the surrender. I remember how good it feels to get there. But I’m not ready to go there yet. I still want what I want and I’m not letting it go.

Let go, let go, let go, the Counselor whispers to me.

No, I say. I can’t. I dig in my heels.

 

road

And then sometimes it comes down to this: A solo drive, 90 minutes to myself, and I immediately switch off the radio because my head and heart are loud enough, and I have some words to share with God.

I lay into Him.

Not in surrender, not in exhaustion. It’s adrenaline. I come out swinging.

Why do I have to do this? I demand. Why ask me to do this if I’m so terrible at it? What’s the point? And another thing…

For a long time, he just sits there, absorbing the blows. He knew all these questions were inside. When I take a breath in between questions, I feel his compassion — and maybe even his pleasure? — that I was finally coming out with it. That I was saying it all out loud. Loudly. Finally.

 

When I started wearying from the crying and the questions, He caught me. He held me. And then, He started telling me stories. He asked me to remember. He called to mind where I’ve been and where He’s brought me. And He did it so lovingly and it knocked the fight right out of me.

When I finally asked Why do I have to carry this burden?  He whispered it then.

Because, my sweet girl, you asked me for it.

He brings a long-forgotten song to my memory, and along with it the feeling, the desperate promise I’d made. How I had sung, with tears streaming down my face, before we even started down this road:

Heal my heart and make me clean
Open up my eyes to the things unseen
Show me how to love like you have loved me
Break my heart for what breaks yours
Everything I am for Your kingdom’s cause

As I walk from earth into eternity

And that’s when I finally surrender. When I see that he’s carried me and will carry me.

The promises come flooding into my mind then.

I will give you the strength you need.
I will carry you.
I won’t leave you alone in this.
I love you and I love Josie and no matter what happens, that won’t change.

He stayed with me while I took the same worn road I take every time — all the way to the end of myself. And there, He showers grace, mercy, rest, compassion, love, love, love.

And I can finally rest.

It’s more than being outnumbered: On teaching character and grace

The jig’s up.

Being the mother of four kids, I can no longer slip things under their little radars. There’s nothing I do that escapes four pairs of eyes and ears, and they let me know. Every. Time.

4kids

Like the candy drawer — they know where it is. Or when I eat something outside the predetermined snack or meal time. Or when I’m impatient with another driver. Or when I say we’ll have dessert tomorrow night and then we don’t.

Teaching them how to be decent human beings full of love and integrity is a double-edged sword, isn’t it?

Because you only know you’ve succeeded when they start calling you out, and you know they’re right.

If you spend any time with kids, you know how their questions can be. Are you thinking curious, bright and full of wonder?

Oh right. Yes, well, that too.

But also: Incessant.

“Mom, what are we having for dinner tonight?”
“Mom, what are we doing today?”
“Mom, can I have gum/dessert/candy/a snack/a playdate/screen time/a nap (just kidding)?”

In the car on the way home from the pool recently, one of them asked about dinner. I told them my plan (and I really hate planning dinner, so it was a miracle I had one), and immediately two of them started whining about it.

I did a quick inhale through my nose to calm down. (It didn’t work.) I had three thoughts during that inhale: First of all, I’m making this food to keep you ALIVE because I LOVE YOU. Second, there are plenty of kids with not enough to eat. Third, STOP WHINING.

And it was the sun and the effort of the day and the fact that they’d whined every day about dinner for four days and maybe also my own hunger for lunch, but I started yelling.

“I do NOT want to hear ANY MORE COMPLAINING about what we’re having for DINNER, OKAY?!”

“Well, maybe you could stop YELLING AT US,” one of them replied. (calling me out #1)

“I’M YELLING BECAUSE I’M MAD!” (+ for using my words. – for well, yelling.)

3-year-old then starts singing a preschool TV program song softly to me: “When you feel so mad, and you want to roar, take a deep breath… and count to four. Mommy, you can count too!”

Everyone busts up laughing. I smile and soften, too.

God trusts me to teach them integrity and build their character, yes. And then he lets me do it imperfectly so that I can also teach them about grace.

And the only way I can teach them that? Is by giving it to myself first.

Have a story to share of when God taught you a thing or two through your kids? Share it with me in the comments.

Finding (Be)longing

I wrote this post in Uganda. We’re home now, but I think I’ll always be finding my way in this tension. What does it look like for you? Let me know in the comments.

 

We’re riding on a boda-boda (motorcycle taxi) together, the three of us. My oldest girl and my youngest, me sandwiched in between, trying not to think about how much faith I’m putting in the baby carrier strapped to my back.

And I’ve been here before. It’s the same, and it’s different.

Uganda’s red dirt covers everything — and every inch of us — by the end of the day, red swirls going down the drain after baths and showers, but it never really washes off. It sticks to my shoe soles months and years after coming back home. And it lives in me now, a living, breathing thing, a relationship, a prayer.

I am back here again, where I have wanted to be for months, and I’m fighting the weariness that’s creeping in.

It’s only been over two weeks and our tickets are booked back for an optimistic five.

It’s just that I miss him. I miss them, those boys. We video chat but it’s impossible to have a conversation. I ask Nathan about a work meeting and I can see the worry in his face. I want to help. I’m so far away.

I couldn’t help if I was near, either, but at least I could be near.

Anniversary

But this is what we do. We are family here and we are family there and this is a season.

When I was here adopting Benja two years ago, I felt a desperation that maybe we would never get home ever again. It nearly crushed me. Three and a half weeks and I thought I would break completely.

This time I’m thankful for that memory, grateful to know that this red dirt road has a beginning but it also has an end. That our time here will have a story arc, that we will experience delays but also progress, that waiting well has more to do with being present, right here and now, than it does with where we’d like to be.

I’m learning, in brief glimpses and short-lived contentment, that longing for home and pouring myself into this moment can coexist. I can be here while I long for home. I can be present while I long for our family to be whole. Be. Long. Together. (The bigger struggle for me is the former. I’m great at longing. But being here, present now — wherever and whatever that means? That’s been a painful lesson, too.)

For so long, I’ve run away from tension, from struggle. I wanted clarity. Certainty, even. But somehow, there is life and truth found in the tension. I forget this all the time, but then I’m thankful when I can see it.

It’s never comfortable. I’m not ever going to “settle in” to the tension, or get so used to the struggle that I can’t feel it anymore.

But maybe I’m starting to prefer it. Maybe I’m starting to see that if there’s no tension, there’s no life. Certainly there can’t be any growth.

I breathe into it,
feel myself in this moment,
imagine myself at home,
and I am both/neither —

and I tell myself
it’s ok,
it’s ok,
it’s ok.

 

Our warrior girl

It’s been quiet around here. Many of you know already why.

Between the days spent in preparation, travel, bonding and adjustment, I’ve barely had time to complete a thought, much less a blog post.

To get you caught up: We adopted a little girl recently. I spent six weeks with her and my oldest in Uganda; we returned home just over two weeks ago.

Her name is Josephine, and she is a beautiful warrior.

IMG_3206

She comes from a warrior tribe in northern Uganda, and I can see her beginnings in her. She fought to survive amidst drought and not enough food for her first 18 months. She gives and receives love like her life depends on it (and she reminds me that mine does, too). She is built for power but is softened by the daintiest mannerisms I’ve ever seen.

IMG_3103

Josephine means “God will increase.” Her middle name is Anirwoth, which means “There is only one God.”

Josie is named after her Auntie Josephine, one of the strongest women I’ve ever met. She is the oldest and only surviving sibling of seven. She has eight children of her own, and has taken in seven more from siblings who have passed away. She crushes rock by hand in a quarry all day. On Saturdays, she gets up early to make huge pots of porridge for a kids outreach program in the slum where she lives.

Oh, the things Auntie Josephine could teach me. Has taught me.

IMG_3465

And we are delighted to have her namesake home with us.

Josie has taken her place as youngest with such ease and knowing that I can only delight in it. She knows how to charm her oldest brother, play with her sister and (let’s be honest) hold her own with Benja.

All my prayers for God to prepare our hearts and hers for each other? I see the answer every day, and it is good.

Screen Shot 2013-08-07 at 6.36.43 AM

And maybe it’s in the way that she loves me, or my extremely low expectations based on our first adoption, but there’s no struggle for love, for bonding, for a supernatural knowing. I’m letting love and trust grow slowly, like they’re meant to. I’m giving space to myself and to Josie, grace to figure each other out in time.

In the meantime, I don’t need to look ahead to some magical moment when it will all click together. That’s not what life looks like anyway.

Josie has joined our family in the thick of it, while we find our way through this life, while we learn to love well, and she has things to learn and things to teach the rest of us. This is family.

Welcome home, Josie girl. We’re so blessed to have you.

bath

When God doesn’t come quickly

You’re in Africa. You’ve been here more than four weeks. Four weeks, in a country that you love, in a place you couldn’t wait to get back to. You’re adopting. She’s gorgeous and sparkly and fun and will make a great baby of the family. You’re smitten (and no one is more surprised than you).

pool

Also, it’s been four weeks away from your boys and three weeks away from your husband. You’ve been waiting and waiting and waiting and yesterday, finally got the news: You can go home next week. You’ll celebrate homecoming right at the six-week mark.

Every friend and relative is cheering — but you’ve been stuck in this sadness for two days now. It’s not about having to leave. It’s about having to stay.

It’s about solo parenting and being sick of it and the new daughter being actually sick and crying all day with no husband, no friends and no family around to make the load lighter, to tell you it’s OK to turn on a movie or take a break or take a shower. It’s about her being inconsolable with you, and then giving hugs and snuggles and sparkly smiles to everyone else. And you know it’s part of her journey, part of finding her way to you as Mama at the end, but you have no backup here, no reminders, no compassion for the struggle it awakens in you.

It’s about finally going to get your exit date and instead of 3 days later, it’s 10.

It’s about God saying “Just wait and see what I’ll do,” and then you wait and wait and then, he doesn’t show.

Or you don’t see him the way you thought you would. Or you see others who got the miracle, the fast timing instead of delays, and you wonder if they stepped in and got the blessing and it passed over you.

And then you wonder if the “what I’ll do” is more delays, more expense, more time when you’re already homesick, and you can’t see why, not at all.

You consider that maybe it isn’t about you, maybe it’s a miracle you can’t see, and so you ask and pray for opened eyes, for a way to see what he has for you while you’re here, you pray the time won’t be wasted. And then you sit at the guest house all day and read books and watch TV episodes to pass the (never-ending, African) time. You go on outings just to buy some candy and real Coke just for something to do. You eat too much, your old vice following you here.

And you just don’t get it. Everything is fuzzy. The lessons that came so focused and complex on your last two trips to Africa are somewhere beyond your reach.

Because you’ve been there when God brings you all the way to Africa to change your heart, to tear down walls you didn’t know were holding you in, to teach you something you couldn’t have learned elsewhere. But this time, you’re trying to figure out why there’s less epiphany and more tedium, boredom, loneliness.

You beg him to show you what you’re supposed to be learning, but he’s quiet, even here, in a place he’s never been quiet with you before.

You consider that maybe his silence is showing you the way.

It’s easier to do for God than to just be. Than to just sit and know that he is God. Than to just accept your belovedness, even when you feel far away from him, even when you feel like he’s left you in Africa for no good reason.

Maybe you’ll never know why. It burns and there is no answer that you can see.

On your first trip to Africa, he brought you to the end of yourself and to the beginning of trust. And you consider that this is trust, too.

That trust looks like believing He is in the silence, too. That he can see the big picture when maybe you never will. That even if he hasn’t ordained this extra time (and who can know?), he will use it. For silence, for doing, for being, for anything.

And so: You get quiet. You look for the miracle you will see or not. You take lessons on being from the beautiful souls around you. You consider that if God can give you strength to love well tomorrow, that will be enough.

You wait.

When Africa breaks your heart

When I say I’m ready to come home, I am saying that I miss my boys, yes. I’m saying I long for regular routine and whole family and the easy acceptance of friends. But I’m also saying that I’ve grown tired of Africa.

Africa, oh, Africa.

It’s the place where you can hear lies as half-truths and second-, third-, and quadruple-guess your actions but they always end up being wrong and right at the same time with no neat division.

It’s the place that teaches me how conspicuous really feels, when my white skin is the target, the highlight, the hated/wanted thing. It’s the place I feel dirty in my whiteness, so obvious in a sea of beautiful shades of dark, black, brown.

It’s the place God brings me close enough to hear him whisper, “Just wait and see what I’ll do.” It’s a continent packed with thin places. Sometimes it feels too close to God’s heart. Sometimes I feel tired.

* * *

Africa broke my heart today.

African Time grated and bound up today, instead of freed. My pushing met blocked path after closed door after pushback. I said, “let me at least do everything I can,” And God said, “Just wait and see what I’ll do.” The thought hit me in the heart.

“Just wait and see what you’ll do?” I said out loud in my empty room. “Will you do anything?”

Guess what evidence I saw today of His hand?

I was about to say nothing. But there were two things.

I’m still waiting to see what he will do about my prayers, about my pleadings, about my missing home.

But today, he gave me a message from a friend when I desperately needed one. And tonight, he gave me a warm shower. Where there have only been cold showers before, I took a good, warm shower where there shouldn’t have been one. I felt Him saying, “I know today was hard. This is for you.”

And suddenly, His love is everywhere.

* * *

I bought a necklace today — a silver Africa. I brought it back to my room, stared at it and just cried. I couldn’t even bear to put it on.

I touched the edges of the silver charm. It’s both smooth and sharp. Beautiful and dangerous. When you open up your heart here, Africa finds a way in, and then you feel beat up for the rest of your life.

* * *

I prayed, “help me see what you have for me today” and instead I stare at my phone, willing it to ring, and I understand why today was so hard.

If you ever want to see how much you control in your life, come to Africa. (God has me here for the third time. I can’t imagine why.)

* * *

He brings me back around, tonight, to the conversation we had a couple months back, the one where I begged Him to let me go to Africa now, not later. The one where I asked Him why I had to carry this burden. The one where I yelled and swore and woke up with a huge headache. The one where He spoke back, clear as day, like a conversation, reminding me of when I asked for this. Of when tears streamed down my face as I sang, “Break my heart for what breaks yours,” and I never felt a prayer so deep, and now He’s gone and done it.

It hurts more than I thought it would.

Raspberries in late June

I wonder how the raspberries are doing
back home.
Barely tamed animals, reedy stems
poke and spread and duck under black earth only to
re-emerge under, in between, through,
anywhere.
They make me tired, but
I admire tenacity and persistence when I see it.

Just like that,
June has happened while I’ve been away.
A month of breakfasts, morning snacks, laundry and The Rest —
The Rest that in the thick feels
like a heavy burden.
So much sighing and striving and reaching as I race to never keep up,
but today —
Today I long for The Rest like a long-distance lover.

It will be a day home, a week, less, more,
and the weight will be heavy again, I know.
Not even a month will go by and I’ll daydream about
returning to this place of red dirt and avocado,
boda-bodas and jackfruit,
dreams and visions,
passion and purpose,
brokenness and beauty.

But today, I am wondering about the raspberries —
You remember a lifetime ago, the cold spring and their late start —
and I want to know if they’re blooming,
if the bees have been by,
if the buds are beginning, those tight green packed specks that will
ripen and redden. Ready,
I’ll go explore through the thick, (new) baby on my back.
I’ll point out: sharp – bug – butterfly,  baby – flower – so pretty, baby – red

And then, I’ll finally pick my first raspberry of the summer.
Late, the both of us, to the party,
I’ll pull the tender, bursting-full fruit off the stem
( – yum, baby – )
still warm from the sun,
pop it into baby’s open mouth
and look up with a sigh to the east, toward Africa.

What can I give?

There’s an uncomfortable reality that I’ve had to get used to, coming to Uganda.

By way of explanation: Here, I’m a mzungu, meaning: white-skinned person (or alternative meaning: someone who runs around in circles).

Immediately upon seeing my skin color, an assumption (probably one of many) is made: I’m incredibly wealthy.

Which is true, of course. Compared with 90 percent of the world’s population, I’m really, really rich. If you’re reading this, you are, too.

There are a few different things that happen as a result.

First, I am charged more everywhere we go. I pay more at the market, I pay more for a taxi or boda ride, basically: If there is no price marked on the item you’re buying, rest assured: If you’re white, you’re paying more.

Then, many with whom you form a (however brief) connection — will ask you for money.

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It’s humbling. It’s uncomfortable. For me, it’s a huge shame trigger. How does one handle that situation with grace? I still don’t know. I hope I’m learning.

When someone goes for the ask with me, my defenses go up like a thick wall around my heart. I assume they only see me for what I can give them and my automatic response is to stop giving everything. Even my compassion. My respect. My love.

I have to say no, and I feel like a coward. A hoarder. I feel like they must think of me with bitterness, contempt. I respond by heaping more shame on myself and in defense, holding them in judgment.

It’s not a completely excellent way to build relationships.

Today, I fought against it with story.

Asking. And listening. And seeing the human being and the hard story behind the ask.

It was an honor.

Then I tried to repeat after her Luganda and learn a couple phrases. No matter what I tried to do with my tongue, I always got it wrong. Missed a consonant, wrong emphasis. Even when it sounded right to me, she would repeat it again, slowly. Where I can’t hear a difference, she can.

And I wish she knew how poor I am.

She is rich with language, knowing at least four. She is rich in faith, knowing deep what it is to need Jesus for tomorrow. For survival. She is rich in culture, knowing tribes, clans, languages, customs, ways of life.

I have never lived a day hungry, or without shelter, or without love. I do not know poverty, and I cannot judge her for asking.

Instead, I will ask of her. She is more than generous.

I will ask and receive the riches she possesses, and then find a way to pay it back in kind. Maybe some of my story, maybe more of my culture, such as it is. Compared to all she has, it feels paltry.

On waiting well

“He’s REALLY late,” she says to me, and I can hear my voice in hers. “Can you call him again?”

But this is Uganda, and This Is Africa, and I know what calling him again will do: Nothing.

“Sorry… but really, there’s nothing to do but wait,” I tell her, my first daughter so like me, looking into traffic for our driver, tapping her foot. My other daughter, my new gift, holds a different posture: already filthy from the day, she’s sitting in an actual dirt pile behind the safety of a gate in the parking ramp, scooping up little dirt piles with a tossed-aside bottle cap she found.

And I think we both could learn a lesson from her.

In our first adoption, everything about waiting was excruciating. Before we left for Africa, I tried to make something happen by reading more blog posts. While we were here, I obsessed about the next step, gobbled down stories from other families on the process just in case I could use a scrap of information for a magic ticket home.

No wonder the love wasn’t there; no wonder bonding was so difficult for me. Now I see that most of my energy was reserved for willing something into existence, forcing a signature to happen, staring someone down or pacing the guesthouse grounds or refusing to buy another pack of diapers until the last minute, sure that if I sent out the right signals, the universe would bend to my will.

This time? Well, let’s just say that it might take a lifetime of discipline to learn how to wait well.

It’s true, I’m not so frantic this time. I know what pushing for a result will get (if the passport isn’t ready, it just isn’t ready).

But still, I’m wishing this waiting time away somewhat.

I think of the family vacation that happened while I was gone, and the tooth my son will lose while I’m not there, and I see families around the campfire and it makes me want home, and how June is almost over and the summer is slipping away and I’m not even there for it…

and then I realize: but I’m here for it. How “here” am I though, when all I can think about is there, or when, or as soon as, or after that?

I want you to know I’m writing this out for me. I want you to know that I’m drifting toward distraction always, but I’m saying these things out loud here to remind myself to step away. To be here. To see my new daughter, to build lifetime bonds to Uganda in both my daughters, to try eating a grasshopper (yesterday!), to buy sugar cane and avocado and pineapple and bananas in the tiny produce stands that are everywhere, to walk the dirt roads until my toes are caked in it, to pray it never washes off my sandals. To turn off the internet and look into my new girl’s eyes. To pray that I could see the beauty God puts in my path today, and tomorrow, whether here or there.

As much as I long for home while I am here and I long for Uganda when I am home, let me sit in the dirt with my daughter now, when I have the chance. Let me feel the sun hot on my shoulders. Let me live and love where I find myself today.