Tuesday, February 24, 2015

It’s okay to not be okay. (Part 2)

I’ve been thinking a lot about this blog, and where I was (emotionally) when I wrote it, and what God has been revealing to me since. I know it was kind of a long, rambly blog (I actually hesitated to post it!) - but now that it’s out there, I don’t actually think I’m quite done with this concept yet. Because when I talk to people who have been through (or are going through) real pain, this subject keeps coming up. They keep telling me that they wish people would stop spouting Christian cliches and just grieve with them.

In my blog I shared this -
I think somewhere along the way, we Christians began to think that comforting someone equals encouraging them. But friends... sometimes you can't fix it. Sometimes, you can't make someone feel better. Sometimes, comfort just looks like "weeping with those who weep." (Romans 12:15) It's a hard lesson to learn (and one I struggle with too) but I think it's an important one.  
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Can we talk about that a little more?

It seems like the go to response for Christians these days sounds like this…

“Count it all joy!”
“We should be joyful in times of suffering!"
“God allowed this to happen for a reason… someday you’ll understand!”
“Maybe God was protecting you from something!”
“God is totally going to use this someday.”
“God will redeem this!”
“He works all things for His good!”

… and so on, and so forth. It’s as if we can’t allow people to feel anything bad. We’ve got to try to fix it - or at least explain it - immediately! (And yes, I’m guilty too.)

I think we, as Christians, have gotten uncomfortable with grief. I think we’ve forgotten that it’s our job to comfort people with the comfort Jesus Christ has given us (2 Cor 1:4), and to mourn with those who mourn, and weep with those who weep (Rom 12:15). I think we’ve gotten into a terrible habit of putting pretty words on top of a hurting heart - like sticking a bandaid over a gaping wound.

A gaping wound that’s still bleeding… and seriously - the bandaid’s just not going to cut it.

I think we’ve forgotten how to step into someone else’s hurt and acknowledge it, instead of just trying to fix it.

I think about all the horrific places I’ve been, and the heartbreaking things I’ve seen and done and can’t explain…

...holding the hand of a woman dying of AIDS in Africa that I could not help at all…. holding the hand of a dying leper in India whose pain I couldn’t stop… holding the hand of a trafficked woman who has spent the last 17 years of her life in a brothel…. holding babies in slums that will likely die of a preventable illness, or be trafficked or abused or both… visiting a 15 year old friend in the hospital just months before she died of leukemia… grieving with a widow who lost her husband less than 2 years into marriage…. holding a newborn baby girl who will never meet her daddy….

I have been in enough slums and brothels and hospitals and funeral homes to know that this is a sick, sad, and broken world. Can we stop pretending like we’re okay with it? Can we acknowledge all the terrible injustice all around us, and let ourselves feel the grief and frustration and anger - righteous anger - that Jesus felt a time or two?

Maybe one of the things that keeps hurting people out of our churches, is the facade we put on. Maybe they can’t identify with us because we’re pretending that everything is okay because we have “the hope of Christ."

Can I tell you something? Everything is not okay!

Yes - I know that the hope I have in Christ is a real thing. Yes, I have experienced the kind of peace that passes understanding. I have felt those awe-inspiring moments where God ministered to me in the most tangible ways - and I was able to stand on a dark day when I should’ve crumbled. I have felt unexplainable joy and strength on a day when there should have only been tears and utter hopelessness.

But I have also felt crippling darkness, and grief that seems to swallow you whole. I have felt bitterness and rage and frustration and confusion. I have felt an ache in my heart that I feared would never go away.

And in all of those cases… on the days when grief was crippling and the days when peace was tangible - I believe God was present. I believe He was holding me. And I don’t believe there was anything wrong with me on those especially dark days either.

I just believe we live in a broken, hurting world. Can we recognize that please? And can we stop pretending that God is some sadistic giant playing games with us like we’re little pawns? I don’t actually think God is responsible for all these horrific things that happen. I don’t see His hand on them. That’s not my God. (So, let’s not give him all the credit for the bad stuff…ok?)

Can we remember that there are more than just powers of “good” at work here? Can we remember all the scripture that talks about suffering and all of creation groaning and remember that we aren’t supposed to be completely at peace here? Can we remember that this is a battle and that we are in the midst of a war between good and EVIL? Can we remember that the devil is prowling around like a roaring lion?

We don’t have to be defeated or live as those who have no hope - but can we just be REAL? I know those truths are messy and scary and uncomfortable - but they are REAL. And the scripture that references them is just as important as the ones that tell us to choose JOY. There is a season for everything… and not every season has to be joyful. There is a time to weep, remember?

A very wise friend of mine (Laura Jacobs) shared this with me after reading my last post:

Ecclesiastes 3 says there is a time [a season] for every single feeling… Weeping, dancing, mourning, laughing… all of it is in there. We as Westerners really suck at knowing what Season it is. When it’s summer we complain about the heat and when it’s winter we complain about the cold. God’s been teaching myself and a LOT of people I know about just being in the season that you’re in… accepting it, feeling all of it, before moving on to the next season. So feel all of it when you need to feel it… you have BIBLE permission to be in all of your emotions as they come.

I was so encouraged hearing that TRUTH - that we have Bible permission to embrace the season we are in. Sometimes - it’s Spring, and our hearts are blooming with new HOPE. Sometimes it’s Summer - when everything is lush and green. But sometimes… it’s winter. And everything feels cold and dark. And that’s okay!!! You don’t have to pretend it’s Summer if your heart feels frozen. You have permission to be exactly where you are - and you can trust that God WILL use that season. Sometimes, things have to “winter”… they have to go dormant before new life appears. Some of the most beautiful flowers come from bulbs that have to spend the winter buried beneath frozen ground before they’ll bloom. "There is a season for everything under the heavens." (Ecc 3:1) It’s not supposed to be summer all the time!

Someday - we will see His glory. Someday, every tear will be wiped away. Someday, we will experience REAL peace and joy and freedom in a way we never have before. But until that happens - can we recognize that the world we’re in now is broken, and sometimes that is the only explanation for our pain? And can we grieve it - really grieve it - together, so we don’t feel so alone?

I am reminded of the scripture "Jesus wept." (John 11:35)  I've always wondered why He wept when He knew He was going to raise Lazarus from the dead. (As a matter of fact - he'd already told his disciples (John 11:11) and Martha (John 11:23) he was going to do it!)  So the more I think about this story the more I wonder... what if his reason for weeping was simply to show empathy to Mary & Martha?

John 11: 33 says that Jesus saw Mary and her friends weeping, and "he was deeply moved [..] and troubled." And then in verse 35 we read, "Jesus wept." So is that why he wept? Because they were weeping? Because they were grieving? Because it troubled him to see people he loved in pain? Maybe they weren't tears of sadness, but tears of empathy! What an example for us! Sometimes weeping with someone is the most loving thing we can do.


*Here’s a little bonus material for you, also sent by my wise friend Laura. It’s Brene Brown’s teaching on empathy, and this little video says SO much. If you’re trying to figure out how to “get in the boat” (or in this case, in the pit) and love someone through a rough time, or if you're trying to figure out what not to do when someone you love is struggling, this will give you some great perspective. 

Tuesday, February 10, 2015

3 years...

Three years ago today we announced we were adopting with bright eyes and hopeful hearts. Three years ago, we imagined that by February 2015 we would have our little girl home and in our arms, or at the least, be holding a photo of her sweet face by now - just waiting for the call to bring her home.

Three years have passed but we are not yet a family of 3 - not even close. It has been an uphill battle to say the least. Three years of working and fighting to make our dream of adoption a reality.  36 months of praying for our little girl. 1,096 days of hoping to hold her in our arms.

It is so hard not to have her home today - but we will not give up. She is worth every day... every month... every year that we have to fight for her. She is worth every prayer we've prayed and every tear I've shed missing her. I don't know how long this chapter of our story will be... but whether it's 70 pages or 700 - I know how it ends. It ends with us bringing Kate Jackson home from Thailand, and tucking her into the bedroom down the hall. (The bedroom where I sit and cry and pray on hard days.) This chapter of waiting and hoping ends with a little girl with big brown eyes and brown sugar skin calling me mama. And I will hold on to that vision until I can feel the weight of her in my arms.

We were told last week by our adoption agency that we could expect to wait another 1.5 to 2 years to be matched, and another 6 months to 1 year after that to bring Kate home. That means it could be 2017 before our daughter is home with us. (Though we are praying for a miracle to bring her home sooner!) I can't even tell you how it felt to hear those words. I can't even wrap my mind around enduring 3 more Mother's Days and 2 more Christmases without our daughter. I can't imagine 3 more empty years without her. It was a dark day for me.... for us. It was all I could do not to fall apart.

... but that day, (after shedding many, many tears) I realized there is something steadfast* within me. My heart aches, but I trust the word God has given us. I know He has called us to adopt our daughter from Thailand, and I have seen Him confirm it in extraordinary ways. So I will not waver. Frustration may come, but I am resolute. Doubt and fear will not sway me. I will stand firm on His promise and fix my eyes on the vision He has given us for our family. One foot in front of the other for as many miles as it takes... we will continue to walk this journey to bring our daughter home. 


*For those of you who are regular readers - I feel the need to add a THANK YOU here for all your prayers. So many of you comment or message me often to let me know you're praying for us and our adoption - and that must be true... because I should have crumbled when we got this news. It was a dark day - but it could've been so much darker without your prayers holding us up. So thank you for covering us in your prayers - and please, please continue! We hope you'll join us in praying for a miracle - that this new timeline will be much shorter than what we've just been told. We know God is able to move mountains!

Wednesday, February 4, 2015

It's okay to not be okay.

"Every once in a while we gotta stop trying so hard to be loved and just BE LOVED."
- Glennon Melton

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I was sitting on my friend Stefanie's couch a few days ago chatting.... (okay... that's a lie. I wasn't so much chatting as I was crying and stuffing my face with cheese crackers and chocolate) when these words came tumbling out...

"I feel like a mess. I have so much hurt and sadness and frustration built up inside me because of our adoption, and it seems like anytime someone asks me about it, it all comes spilling out. I feel like I should be wearing a warning sign! I'm just awful! I'm afraid people won't want to be around me anymore! I'm so afraid I'm going to make people think I'm a terrible person... or a bad Christian... or scare someone away from adopting because of how challenging our experience is. But I just can't fake it and pretend like I'm okay, because this is SO hard. I love it when people ask about our adoption - because it lets me know our daughter isn't forgotten. It makes it feel real to me. But I wish I could just smile and say, "It's hard, please keep us in your prayers." Instead - I tell them how I REALLY feel. And then I get emotional. And then I regret it. And then I feel like I have to end everything negative I said with something hopeful and appropriate for a Christian to say in a really peppy voice.. like... "But I know she'll be so worth it! So we are just going to keep praying and trusting God!" And then they agree and spout something equally positive and hopeful and I don't feel any better than I did before they asked."

I don't think I knew I felt all of that until I said it. I went on to confess how I'd rambled incessantly about our adoption at a Baby Shower, and regretted it - but how I'd felt so awkward because it just made me miss my daughter SO much and I didn't know how else to relate to all the moms there. [*sidenote - Friends please don't think this means I don't want to come to your baby shower or kids birthday or be around your precious adorable little ones. I love them and you! I really, truly enjoy our time together! But please DO be understanding if I am a socially awkward mess at said event. It's just a season... I promise it will pass!] I brought up several awkward conversations and rehashed them with my patient friend - wishing I could go back and change them. I went through the guilt and how much I was REALLY struggling with this season even though I'm "supposed to" feel hopeful and peaceful and be able to trust God.

And then she told me to stop it.

This dear, sweet, precious friend - who has been such a godsend in this season - told me to stop apologizing. She told me to stop being afraid I was going to scare someone away from adopting. She told me to stop worrying about what other people think, and she told me to just FEEL what I need to feel right now. She told me it was okay. She told me that the people who judged me didn't matter - and that this was a season to let myself be loved.

And then I cried some more.

It was the first time I realized what I really needed in this season. Validation.

You guys... validating someone's feelings goes such a long way.

I have felt every single emotion at some point during this adoption. Excitement. Anxiety. Hope. Fear. Joy. Anticipation. Anger. Frustration. Peace. Doubt. Sadness. Determination. Exhaustion.

Yes - we need your prayers to face this. We desperately need your prayers! And yes - sometimes I DO need a word of encouragement or a certain scripture. There are days that people send me a facebook message, or an email, or a text and it is exactly what I needed to hear! (And you guys, I am so, incredibly grateful you take the time to do that! It makes me feel so loved!) But some days, I know all that stuff, and it still doesn't change how I FEEL. Because I feel angry, and hurt, and frustrated, and sad. And more than a cheerleader yelling encouragement from the banks, I need someone to get in the boat with me and tell me it's OKAY to feel how I feel. And that those feelings don't make me less of a Christian, or less of a person.

Some days, I just need to feel like I have permission to be where I am, and to know that people will love me through it.

I think somewhere along the way, we Christians began to think that comforting someone equals encouraging them. But friends... sometimes you can't fix it. Sometimes, you can't make someone feel better. Sometimes, comfort just looks like "weeping with those who weep." (Romans 12:15) It's a hard lesson to learn (and one I struggle with too) but I think it's an important one.

The TRUTH is - God is in control. The TRUTH is - He has a plan, and He called us to this adoption, and He will see us through.

But the TRUTH is also, that I am a mother that has been waiting for a child for almost 3 years with no end in sight. I am a 31 year old woman who wants a house full of kids who doesn't even have the first one yet. I am a professional woman who feels like her life is on hold - because we have no idea how long this adoption will take to be completed (and it affects every single facet of our lives - including our work.) I am a wife who is tired of how the sadness and stress of adoption affects my marriage. I am a friend who is tired of how the sadness and stress of adoption affects my friendships. I am an intelligent, capable person who has dealt with incredible incompetence from a lot of people in our adoption journey. And I am a loving, dedicated mother-to-be who has been second guessed and picked apart by certain people (people who were supposed to be in our corner) in our adoption process. All of that will do a number on your heart.

The truth is, even though God is in control, we still live in a broken world where children grow up abandoned and alone. That's a travesty.

The truth is, we are a loving family - waiting to bring home a child in need of a loving family - and a whole lot of things are standing in our way. That's not just unfortunate - that's an injustice.

(There's a lot of injustice in the adoption world these days. *sigh)

And you know what? I serve a God who hates injustice... a God who is grieved by the plight of the orphan.

I shouldn't be okay with this! We have open hearts and an open home ready for a little girl who needs us, and we can't get to her. That's not okay. There is a child out there without parents to love her, protect her, and provide for her - and that's NOT okay. I have every right to be just as angry and upset about adoptions taking way too long - and children growing up institutionalized, as I do to be angry and upset about human trafficking, and poverty, and children dying from preventable diseases, and cancer, and suicide, and precious couples struggling with infertility. It's all injustice. So I'm not going to apologize for being upset about it anymore.

I still have hope in my heart, and I DO still trust God with this process, but there is no word of encouragement or bible verse that will take away the ache of not having my little girl home. And I'm realizing that's okay.

(Thanks Stef, for helping me realize that.)

Jesus felt all these emotions, and He lived a sinless life. He wept. He got angry. He even begged God to consider a different plan before He went to the cross. He never apologized for those feelings, because they weren't a sin. So I'm not going to either.

So for all of you who are struggling through the same situation - this is me, giving you permission to feel whatever you're feeling. And for those of you wondering how to love us through a difficult season (whether it's a lengthy adoption, infertility, cancer, a death in the family, etc) - just remember that while we do need your encouragement and your prayers and your bible verses - sometimes we just need you to hug us, grieve with us, and tell us, "This sucks. I hate this for you! This isn't fair. I'm SO sorry."

Climb in the boat with us every now and then. It helps us not feel so alone.