life at three. a letter from his mama.

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September 25, 2013

Dear Zane,

Happiness and love to our boy – our tough and tender three-year-old! It’s a day to celebrate, a day to remember fondly upon, a day filled with wild life and excessive joy as you literally jump out of two and march triumphantly into three. Oh, how you’ve made our hearts enlarge and soften as we’ve watched you grab onto everything around you with peaceful intent and calm curiosity. We’ve loved watching you play and laugh, process and figure out, soak in and execute. With each new experience your world bursts with possibility and excitement.

Since you follow the first born, your eyes and ears and body were plunged into a routine that’s been mostly patterned for her. Yet, as we’ve navigated her path, we’ve also attempted to help you create your own path, your own rhythm, inviting out your personality and style and passions. We’ve wanted you to be uniquely you, and the things that set you apart from her shine. She’s introduced you to a pink and purple princess world, along with her colored-haired ponies and mermaid tails. You’ve introduced her to a world of objects and wheels that move fast and furious, on the ground and in the clouds. You watch her. You imitate her. You giggle with her. You compete against her. She antagonizes you, and in the same breath, applauds you. There’s something that fascinates her, us, about you. Maybe it’s the way you move about with ease and comfort, maybe it’s your growing independent spirit, maybe it’s the strength of your masculine soul. Whatever it is, we’re intrigued by both your differences and similarities. We watch, we participate, we manage, we rally. Mostly, though, we delight in how you complement one another and enjoy one another and need one another. Pals, provokers, teammates.

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You’ve got this way of grabbing our hearts (and ears) the moment your mouth opens with that high-pitched, soft, sweet (until you get mad) voice. Your wavy brown hair, your deep, brown eyes that smile, your love for blankie and puppy and “baby,” your tender heart and courageous leaps, your giggle and scream and soft, little hands – they naturally draw us in with ease. Oh, how we marvel at the precise and spectacular ways God made you and how he is maturing the little spirit inside of you. We stand in awe that he chose to give you to us, and at the same time, acknowledge that he made you for him. We can’t wait to see how you will continue to express his very nature as you keep moving and defining and expressing who he’s created you to be.

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You’ve transitioned from diapers…to more diapers. The potty chair is entertainment and exercise and duty. Your crib is still your bed, which most nights, we’re grateful for the ways those wooden bars keep you confined . You’ve gained opinions about clothes and shoes, and what tastes good, and what shows are worthy of your eyes and time. The Maxwell sugar gene assuredly has been passed on to your DNA, which means candy and chocolate and cake and ice cream are not options, but rather necessities. Your preferences are clearly stated and loudly retorted when denied. Let’s just say, for as easy-going as you are, you know how to use your voice.

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Our trips and excursions this past year brought wonder and thrill as you journeyed your way into water parks and splash pads and beaches and parades and restaurants and play lands and barnyards and museums and parks and carnivals and boats and swimming pools and hotels and cottage trips and fairs and train rides. There’s no question that you were made for fun and adventure. There’s no question about what excites you and fires you up and invites out your brave spirit.

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So as you jet into this next year, eyes wide open, we pray God’s protection and love and grace and truth over you. We continue to ask for discernment for what it means to nurture your sweet soul, and what it looks like to invite your voice and heart and mind to the table, in our family, in this world. We, without hesitation, believe in you – your strength, your tenderness, your goodness – but even more, how when God looks upon you, his eyes smile too.

With much love and adoration,

Your Mama

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behind the eyes.

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my eyes.

NOTE: This is a post in response to the Facebook conversation about the pictures so many places use in the adoption/foster care/orphan care communities. My prayer is that I will be a voice – an adoptee voice – who is cheering you on.

Oh, those eyes, in those pictures, of those babies…those deep, mysterious eyes. There’s something that gets stirred in us when we look at them, into them. Maybe our hearts feel moved by their tenderness and vulnerability and innocence. Maybe we sense their longing to feel loved, known, maybe even seen.

Those pictures, of children, alone, do something to us, for us.

Most of us love observing kids – the energy, the wonder, the belief that the world is a good, safe, wild and thrilling place to live. It makes us smile watching life unfold right before our eyes. Yet, as parents, we know how hard life with these lives can be – the sleepless nights and tantrums, the self-centeredness and neediness, the emotional dis-regulation and limited cognitive maturity. You get what I mean. I often wonder if we would’ve known all the challenges and heartache that came with parenting, would we have still willingly stepped into it? There’s a lack of experiential understanding for new parents that feels protective and good. When we hold our newborn and look into his/her eyes, what we see is beauty and possibility. What we anticipate is joy and shared love. In that moment, we don’t want to know or feel or see, or maybe even believe, that there will be struggle or heartache or distance.

But, there is…there is both joy and sorrow. One doesn’t come without the other.

So, when those pictures are flashed before you, us, what do you see? Is it just joy? For you? For them? Is it just sorrow? For you? For them? What do those eyes – that neediness and vulnerability – stir in you?

You see…them.

You want to respond…to them.

But isn’t the call to “take care of” the orphan just as much about them as it is about you? About what God can do through you for them AND what God can do through them for you? About what God is doing in and through and among us all?

So, why are the pictures we see always just them? Just the children? Alone?

I get what those pictures do for us. I guess my question is, “What do those pictures do for them? To them? To those sweet, loveable children? What is the intent of showing us a picture of a child? Sad and alone? Without caregivers? What messages are the organizations and billboards and websites and fundraisers sending us? Sending them? Is there something, someone, missing? Are we mis-using, mis-interpreting their brokenness? Their need? To get more people to adopt or save or rescue? It feels like the marketing strategy could easily become about the “action” instead of the “transformation,” at least initially.

NOTE: I am NOT implying that this is any person’s or organization’s or ministry’s intent or conscious decision when they promote or market or distribute. I’m asking us to think about what unintentional message(s) might be sent with these real-life, real-people pictures.

We know there is a need, a massive need for loving, protective, safe homes. There’s no question about that. We know there are thousands of families who have chosen to be one of those homes. I’m grateful for that. I celebrate that. But, I also know that thousands of families who have brought one of those pictures home are also struggling with how best to nurture and calm and mentor what’s behind those eyes. So much responsibility and courage and consistency and love comes with “rescuing” one of those babies in one of those pictures. And, being one of those babies myself, I know how much comes with bringing one of those babies home. And there’s something inside of me that wants to make sure that all of you who are looking at those pictures are ready to embrace what comes with those eyes, behind those eyes. Not because I think I or any adopted person’s voice can protect you from the hard, but at least help prepare you to know that there is hard, and that your babies are going to need ALL of you to show up and enter into those hard places with them, not just into the hard places you had to walk through to get them.

So, when you look into the beautiful and stunning eyes in those pictures, would you be willing to ask yourself the question, “What would those eyes tell me if they had a voice, about what they really need beyond a safe home and family?”

My desire – OK, my plea – is that you (we), the church, would see the “need” and potential joy and shared love in those pictures AND see the brokenness, but not mis-use or exploit the brokenness. Because that’s the moment this orphan and foster care movement could miss Jesus in his call to “care for the orphan.” And I know, NONE of us want to miss out on that! Jesus is the one who came to rescue and save. Maybe our invitation, then, is to focus on what it means to “take care of,” one another, as we look into each other’s eyes.

But, like I said above, if I would’ve known all that came with my parenting role, maybe I would’ve never stepped into it. But then, I would’ve missed out on what my children are teaching me about God and how through the really, really hard, God is healing me, saving me, from myself. And, I wouldn’t trade that for anything. OK, well, maybe some days. Ha!

You’ve heard me say it before, but let me say it again. When you step into this calling, may you listen…closely. May you respond…with humility and grace and an openness to allowing your child’s story to change your story as you step into God’s story. And as you find more of him, may you find more of one another…together.

Maybe, in those pictures, what sucks us in is actually holiness – the heart of Jesus himself – in those eyes, and perhaps, maybe what those eyes see in us. Huh. Maybe that’s an idea for a marketing strategy.

Let’s keep this conversation going. Let’s keep listening to one another and learning from one another. Let’s keep asking God what “caring for the orphan” means, personally and collectively. Let’s keep believing that God has offered us the opportunity to bring more of his kingdom, here, to earth.

Thank you, for your decision to adopt. It is a gift. And, grateful for the places and people who are embracing and sharing the “whole” story. May you sense God’s presence in powerful and surprising ways as you continue to believe in the good of what lies behind the eyes of his children.

Disclaimer: I’ve told you all how new I am to this adoption/foster care community. I’m learning, with you. I’m discovering what it means to love our children, with you. I’m learning to not only find, but be Jesus, with you. We need each other’s stories and voices and perspective in order to move towards oneness in responding to God’s call, his invitation, to bring shalom to his world. Let’s keep working out our humanity, our identity in Christ, together. I hope you’re up for that, because I am.

day one.

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She did it. She stepped into the world of academia. With flying colors. Four days down. Nine months to go.

We’ve been praying and preparing for this day…school shopping and conversations about friendship, what it would be like in the classroom, in the lunch room, at recess, on the bus. The focus has been on treating others with love and respect, especially the ones who look like they’re hurting or shy or being picked on, instead of focusing on all the potentially hard and scary stuff (at least for now). We’ve reminded her of how special she is, and then how special EVERYONE is, and that it’s her job, her opportunity, to treat them like Jesus would treat them. And, of course, we reviewed what to do if and when the butterflies should appear in her tummy (thank you, The Whole-Brain Child).

The night before, one more pep talk, then we tucked her and her stuffed bunny and blankie into bed. And one last word from her to me, “Mom – if I sleep in, it’s OK if you get me up so I don’t miss the bus.” We knew she was ready ’cause this girl NEVER sleeps in!

The sun rose, she arose. GAME ON. Clothes, teeth, hair, sparkly lotion, tiara, breakfast. The house was calm, yet laced with anticipation and excitement and adrenalin, for all.

Pictures galore. Princess back pack. Packed lunch. Ready.

To the corner of Hope Street we went…skipping, running, smiling. Her eyes on the 5th grade neighbor boy. His eyes on the big yellow school bus.

Without hesitation, her little feet strided right up to the bus, turning around for one last picture. A smile, a wave, an eager walk to the back of the bus. And then, the bus took off…with our little girl – our innocent, naive, sweet, sassy, independent, feisty, hilarious, realistic, energized, loveable, capable little girl – who in that moment had just become a school-ager.

And the heaviness in my chest came. I felt it. I noticed it.

Perhaps it was the feeling of relief that she actually made it through the morning without any kind of push back or fear or attitude. Perhaps it was that I knew she had just stepped into the real world, the dangerous world, the exciting world. Perhaps it was a healthy fear of what could happen to her, who could hurt her. Perhaps it was the realization that our world with her as we’ve known it was done, completed, history…and we now step into a different kind of world – harder in some ways, better in other ways – and totally foreign. Perhaps it was the Holy Spirit resting upon me because there was this sense of gratitude and satisfaction in knowing that these past five years, although done, have been good (so, so good) in the midst of how hard (so, so hard) it’s been, and that I made it – I made it, to school, with her. All the make-my-hair-gray and body-fall-apart years – the past five years – are done. We close the door on them, we say goodbye. And if God works this way, I feel as if when my eyes followed that bus forward, he was standing right there, right beside me, whispering, “She did it. You did it. We did it. Together. I gave to you, you gave to her, and she takes ALL of that with her. She’s gonna soar.”

We returned to the house, my husband left for work, my son played with his race cars, and I went and sat on our deck, with my coffee, alone.

And I just breathed. No meaningful or profound thoughts. I just breathed. And it was good. So, so good.

And then he and I played and went to the park and looked and listened for bears on a nature hike. I didn’t really do much that day. Perhaps my mind and body and spirit just needed to rest…and perhaps numb out. And so it did.

The bus returned. She wore a smile. I knew it had been a good day. She ran to me, we hugged. I said “Hi girl!” and she showed me a piece of gum some kid on the bus gave her, and then ran down the sidewalk, to the house, and got her bike. The “show” began for the neighbor boys and within minutes – BOOM! She fell. Sure enough, the sidewalk won. Her face lost. Intense crying began, neuropathways started to disrupt and re-route. All that good? Well, it fell apart.

Shoot.

Comfort, nurture, empathy. The crying stopped. We washed and treated and bandaged the wound. And then those words came out of her mouth, “Mom – I can’t go to school looking like this!” Oh, my heart! When did self-esteem and self-image show up at my house? A five year old just told me that she was concerned about what other people thought about her looks. My heart sank a bit, but we quickly came up with some responses she could say to people who might ask. She was a bit satisfied, but still concerned. I added that boys might think it’s cool because sometimes they look at scars and scrapes as having been brave. Hmmm…not sure if that was helpful, but that’s what came out.

She recovered. We recovered. We rested on the couch. All my questions about her day went on pause. The routine evening activities unfolded. The puffiness diminished. The first layer of scab began to emerge. Clothes laid out, back pack ready. Stories and kisses and hugs like we do, and then she slipped off, deep into her dream world.

And it was good.

And that was the day in the life of my Kindergartener.

**Our Smilebox video here.

one month. labor free.

It’s been one month of no work. I’ve absolutely loved it! Taking off the counselor hat has felt refreshing in glorious ways. But, I’ve also missed it. I’ve missed entering into life with my clients and speaking truth into their souls. And, I’ve wondered, how they’re doing, how their hearts are hurting and healing, and how God is moving in their lives. And then I found this…these sweet, blow-my-hair back “reviews” from some of my clients, sharing what that space has meant to and done for them. And I smile…SO big. Not because of what I have done or said, but because of what God has initiated and taught and revealed and whispered to them. I just got to be a part of it! Oh, my heart. What a gift to be a part of this…movement and healing and restoration, the mystery of how God works.

Read here. (Brings me to tears.)

So, what have I been doing?

I’ve been playing…with her. She’s loved it. I’ve loved it. We’ve gallivanted around our little town and the cities close by – laughing, exploring, enjoying, talking, watching, eating, learning, shopping, swimming, creating, holding hands. LOTS of hand holding. That’s been my favorite part. Why? Because for me, it makes all that we’ve experienced together not just about “doing,” but about “being”…together.

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We’ve shared a total of eight days all to ourselves. Lovely, isn’t it? It’s been almost three years since it’s been just the two of us. I’ve missed that and I know she has too. The places and moments and feelings – they’re seared into my memory, tucked away in a special and sacred place. And I hold them tightly, close to me. They’re a gift.

And tomorrow, she’ll step onto that bus, walk into school, right into the world. I’ll choose to let her go. I’ll choose to release her into a new space that will be a part of teaching her, shaping her, creating her. And that will be hard. So, so hard. I’ll choose to trust – a bus driver, a teacher, a system, a curriculum, and 20-some other 5-year-olds – to be her guides. Her world will expand. She’ll be exposed. Her eyes and ears and mind will be enlightened. She’ll practice using what’s inside her. She’ll find more of who she is. She’ll begin soaking in so much of what she needs to navigate through this world.

Without me.

And then I’ll choose to trust the One above who gave me these first 5+ years to be her first model and mentor and protector and advocate and safe place to push on and crumble with, that he is WITH her and that he SEES her and that he is ROOTING for her, and has been, and will be.

And then I’ll (try to) believe that the work he has done here in our home, between us, will be carried forward with her and through her, working itself out as it comes and is needed, maturing and strengthening in just the right doses and in just the right time.

My lands! I have A LOT of trusting to do!

But then, I might turn a little music on, a bit louder than usual, shake out some dance moves, because my days are going to be HUGELY different and quieter and a bit easier and there will be more time to work on the things that I’ve needed to set aside for five years. Oh! I cannot wait. Can I get a hallelujah!!!!

Oh, but there’s a little man who is about to turn three that’s still in my care. He’ll still be hanging out with me most of the week. I’ll play race cars with him until I have a low turbo murmur coming out of my ears, and experience a new kind of joy as I uncover more of his sweetness and energy and personality and masculine soul.

But, I’ll still be dancing. Maybe with him, maybe in my head.

So, as we celebrate this Labor Day – a day dedicated to the “social and economic achievements of American workers” and pay tribute to “the contributions workers have made to the strength, prosperity, and well-being of our country,” my tribute turns a little different direction. It’s a direction that points to the “contribution” of what I’ve had the opportunity to be a part of – the hard “heart work” that my clients have courageously accomplished in order to remove the obstacles in their lives that have perhaps been barriers to deepening their relationship with others, with God. And, towards those in my life and my family’s life who have, and will, so graciously contributed to and strengthened our well-being.

Thankful. Grateful.

Let’s welcome our final summer days, soaking in the remainder of the shining sun and bike rides and sandy beaches and green trees and fresh produce and deck nights with lights.

And then, let’s roll onward to what’s ahead.

But today…rest, relax, pay tribute to what matters most to you.