It came in like a wrecking ball…

Okay, that’s a bad title. I’ll admit to that. But there is something tender I’ve been processing for a while. And, well, I may just be brave enough to write about it. Or, you know, I may not. We’ll have to see.

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Brandon and I parent two amazing children. There is not a single day that I am not thankful that I get to be a part of their story. That I get to be the one to hold them and love them and encourage them and direct them. That I get to build never-ending Lego creations and pillow forts. That I get to kiss boo boos and talk about being kind to each other. I love being their mom. So much that it frequently makes me cry.

But, there is also not a day that goes by that I am not acutely aware of the pain with which their story began. Because I was not their first mother. I am their complete mother, but I am not the only and I am not the first. (And I would appreciate no one arguing with me on this point. I don’t tolerate disparaging words about birthparents).

Lately I’ve been having a recurring nightmare that one or both of my kids are taken from me. And it has nothing to do with the “dangers” of the city. No, I feel way safer in a city than I feel out in the middle of the country (just ask Brandon). 

And to an extent it is a normal fear for any parent. Except our family was not formed in the “normal” way. If the world was not a broken place, my children would not have needed my home. Therefore, their pain is the reason I am their mother. And more than 5 years in, I can’t even write that sentence without tears.

IMG_5269Now, for our beautiful, spunky, brave daughter we have pictures and stories and actual real people who made a brave decision for her good. We have evidence of love in the midst of the brokenness. We have people she will meet and talk to and hear from one day. And her story begins with pain but it gets to redemption a whole lot quicker. But the pain. The pain is still there. Don’t think for a moment that it’s gone away. She and her birth family feel this pain.

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But let me tell you about my J. My sweet, amazing, beautiful boy. His pain is different than Eliza’s. And his pain sometimes bursts forth with quiet intensity that knocks us off our feet.

Our sweet boy left a whole network of friends back in Arkansas. Friends he loved. Friends he would boss around (let’s just be honest about that). And friends that loved him just as much as he loved them. Jamie didn’t lack confidence. He had it in abundance. He made friends out of strangers everywhere we went. He loved deeply and fully. He couldn’t get enough of people. He had a quiet confidence.

And then we changed his whole world. And, guess what? He loved it. Because if you know my son, you know that he LOVES adventure. And this adventure came with more time with mom & dad, and with airplanes and subways and buses…all the things he loves best.

But one day on the playground (the one right by our house) another kid was quite mean to Jamie. And that combined with the total life change was the spark for trauma to come crashing in. Since that day, something has changed in my boy. What was once confidence is now hesitancy. What was once peace is now anxiety. What was once a plethora of friends is now a mom, dad, and little sister.

Now don’t get me wrong, J is still creative and adventure seeking. He is still brave and willing to try new things. But now he does not approach other kids to become their friend. He does not leave his sister’s side at the playground. He meets his world with anxiety.

Photo Jun 16, 2 18 24 PMAnd on more than one occasion I have rocked my baby boy to sleep while he wept. And this is not my J. Except that it is. My beautiful boy has pain so deep that even his own mother forgets that it’s there. Until it comes in and wrecks us all.

You see, for a child who is formed with pain and trauma…this is how they handle their world. Our job as his parents is to teach him how to handle feelings that are too big to express. Feelings and emotions that 5 year olds just shouldn’t have. And, friends, don’t get me wrong. I know that a lot of this is just the nature of change. I know that boys are emotional. But I also know that this is something deeper. Because our journey together started with pain: My pain, their pain, their birth family’s pain. And there is far too much evidence that shows how this sort of pain totally devastates a child.

And, can I just be honest for a second? Society doesn’t make it easy for adoptive parents. Seriously. Society sometimes makes this all WAY harder than it needs to be. I mean, don’t get me wrong, for the most part, I like society. We get along. But I’m becoming weary of the way our family is so openly questioned.  Whether in Arkansas or New York City (or everywhere in between), we are viewed with a little more skepticism. Our motives are suspect. Our methods are scrutinized (down to the type of music we play for our children). We are watched.  And don’t even get me started on the comments. Well meaning or not, everyone has an opinion about our family and for whatever reason they feel free to share it. Many are positive. Many are intentionally not and they are said loudly enough for us to hear and to field disapproval. Because of our family’s makeup, we bear the weight of a lot of agendas. And sometimes it feels like too much.

So what do I do? I weep with my strong boy. I weep that he will have to answer more difficult questions than many of his peers. I weep because he won’t even have to question his identity on his own…society will do that for him. He will have to account for decisions beyond his control. And I feel his anger and his frustration. I share it with him. Because that’s my job.

And I trust that this too shall pass? Why? Because we’re facing it. And it’s messy and hard and difficult, but we’re handling it.

So where do we go from here? I’m hoping to write a blog post very soon with a lot more practical advice and do’s / do not’s for people. But, in the meantime, here are my two pieces of advice for two different groups of people who didn’t ask….

  • Fellow parents of kids from hard places: Stop what you’re doing and grieve with your child. Seriously, hold them and cry with them. Listen to them. Even a 5 year old can tell you what they need (which is why I’m about to stop this blog posting and play Legos). And, reach out to your surrounding community. Emotional breakdowns don’t come up naturally in conversation, so it can become isolating when it happens. Don’t let it be. Text those who get it, text those who may not “get it” but love you best. I waited too long to do this but when I finally did, a flood of encouragement came in. And while they didn’t offer practical “fix it right now” solutions (those don’t exist anyway), and while many of them may not have understood, they made me feel less crazy and gave me permission to just cry it out and then to take the next right step.
  • Those watching from the outside (i.e. friends or family of those with adopted kids): Listen to the concerns being offered. And just let them be concerns. I can’t tell you how many times well meaning members of my community have tried to explain away my concern by downplaying it…it leads to more isolation, not encouragement. The times people listen, and simply allow me to be worried. Those are the times I leave encouraged. Also, unless you are a very good friend or family member…it’s probably best not to comment. I have never ended a day wishing I’d had more comments from strangers about the makeup of my family. When in doubt, just smile and move on.

And, so, I have full confidence that this story ends well. Because it has already been so good! So today and tomorrow we will take one step forward and rejoice in the small things. We will make cookies. We will stare right back at those people who stare at us and we will speak with boldness (and kindness!) to those who question us. And, above all, we will give grace to all because we all have missteps. We will continue to laugh about the fact that our skin is so beautifully different. We will talk seriously about how Jamie will have to behave differently than some of his friends (not just because of his color but also because of mine).

And we will continue to enjoy our family. We will build forts, visit museums, try new foods, make new friends, and continue to explore this beautiful city we have the privilege of living in.

Because what’s the answer to the brokenness? It isn’t ignoring it. It’s choosing joy in the midst of it. It’s choosing mercy right in the mess. And that’s where Jesus is, friends. Right there in the midst of the mess.

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Our new home

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The view outside our living room window. It’s my favorite.

Well friends, it’s been a month…One full month we have lived in New York City. A month full of subways and parks and long walks and Central Park and church visits and meeting new friends. It’s been full of new noises and quiet feet in the apartment and learning that NYC is extremely (I mean, EXTREMELY) hot in the summer.  It’s been a month already full with all the foods (Dominican, Thai, Chinese, Malaysian, Dim Sum, Indian, pizza, hot dogs, BAGELS).

And it’s been full of new things for each of us.

For me that means learning to be at home full time with the kids again. Fighting those feelings of insignificance, trying not to nag about the little things, AND being content in things being less than perfect. I’ve learned the joys of groceries delivered and sending your clothes out to be washed and folded and brought back. Also, it means reading more…because social media does weird things to your brain AND to your heart and I really need to lay off. 

For J and E…well they’re learning to walk with quiet feet and to be aware of their surroundings. And that screaming in public is never a good idea. J has already become a subway and street walking expert. E…well, she’s very content in her stroller and we’re happy to keep her there a little while longer. The kids have learned that every park either has a sand pit or splash pad (or both!) and that they can share their toys with all the other kids. And the best day is when someone brings water balloons to share with everyone else. And, if you walk your bike to the park, you have to walk it back…even if you’re throwing a giant tantrum at the time.

Brandon has figured out the transit system and has jumped in to a new job with a new organization. Oh, and he’s also secured another book contract. Because, why not write another book or two in the midst of a big family transition.

So what’s the verdict? We kind of love it here. We’re enjoying the noise. We’re LOVING the parks. We can’t get enough of Central Park. We’ve found a school for J that seems ideal for him. We’ve met neighbors in our building that have kids the same age. We’ve visited a lot of great churches who are doing tremendous ministry in and around the city.

We even have a new family hand shake developed by J and taught to all of us. AND it turns out I actually can rock a hat.

And there you have it. The O’Brien 4 are happy and thriving and tired and all the things. We’re eager to make friends and find our church. We love who Brandon works with. And we love walking and exploring.

So what’s next? More family Central Park visits, more subway rides, more adventures, exploring the great areas around the city…and continuing to fall in love with this grand place.

Here are a few shots for your enjoyment.

…Because it must be time for a big life change…

I have this habit of not blogging until there is some big family announcement to make. And, well, today is no exception.

It’s big and it’s exciting and is beautiful and it’s scary…and it’s, well, all the things.

But most of all, it is fulfillment of our deepest hearts desires. It is an invitation to step out of our comfort zone and to do something big and bold and important. It is an opportunity to do something we have been called to.

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On June 1, Brandon will begin a new job as Director of Content and Distribution for Redeemer City to City based in New York City. You can find out more about the organization here.

In short, Brandon will get to be a part of training and equipping pastors to plant churches all over the world in very secular, hard to reach places. And, of course, there’s so much more to it than that. But, that’s easier to explain in person!

For the 11 years that Brandon and I have been married, we have dreamed about planting a church in this type of place. So with this move, we get to not only help with this mission around the world, but we are eager to join a church plant in New York City. And we will get to be a part of a big vision that started with Tim Keller and has reached cities around the world.

And, friends, I can’t even tell you how our hearts are bursting with this news. We know that nothing will be perfect with this transition, and that there will be good and not-so-good days ahead of us. But the calling and vision of City to City has been worked in our hearts and we just can’t wait to be a part of it.

And all that would be enough to make us go. But this move also hits something a little deeper for me.

One of my deepest hearts desires has been for my children to have a piece of what I grew up with in Singapore. And, while, I am always encouraging those around me to ask for big things from God and to trust him to fulfill them…I could never bring myself to ask about this one. I had decided that it was something that I could sacrifice. It was something that I pushed down and out of the way. I grieved it, but rarely acknowledged it.

And then Brandon began to talk with Mark Reynolds at City to City about this position… and I began to see this dream come to life. I began to see flesh on those bones. I began to see before me that God was fulfilling something he had whispered to my heart a long time ago.

And what better way for a dream to be fulfilled, then with a job that seems tailor made for my husband and his calling, gifts, and abilities. And with an organization whose calling has been worked in our hearts and minds.

So, here we go. There are a lot of things in front us as we prepare for this transition. We are selling our house, our cars and most of our stuff. And we are looking at schools and neighborhoods. But, we are also preparing to leave this place.

We have been trusted with much in our time in Conway. There is never a perfect time to leave, of course, but we increasingly sense God’s provision in transitioning these places that we love to new leadership. And, of course, we are committed to doing everything in our power to help these places not skip a beat. But we are also confidant God will take care of OBU at New Life Church, of NLC School of Ministry, and of Pediatrics Plus Developmental Preschool. We love these places. We have been honored by their trust in us as leaders. And we are confidant is the legacy they will continue to build.

And, well, I guess it’s it. Let me close by saying that we covet your prayers. We ask for your patience as we balance a lot of things in the next few months (and therefore do a poor job as friends). And we hope to spend time with many before we leave.

Let the adventure begin!

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But am I enough?

 

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The past few months I have gone to sleep exhausted. It’s been one of those seasons. Every night I’ve been woken up 2-3 times. Sometimes for my baby just needing a quick pat. But, more often than not from my almost 4 yr old having night mares.

He’s scared and calls my name. I go and pat him and sing to him and pray for him. Then I get back in bed in a heap of exhaustion. And eventually, at about 5 a.m. he ends up in bed with me. I swore I’d never be that mom. But, when your child is terrified, you do what comforts them.

And, in the end, when you’re waking up every 2 hours, you do what allows you to sleep.

So, the past few months I have gone to sleep exhausted.

That is, when I’ve been able to go to sleep.

But I haven’t been able to fall asleep. Despite my exhaustion, my mind and my body are conspiring against me, and sleep does not come. I lay there for 2 hours awake. Thinking, imagining, praying…

(Disclaimer: Before anyone offers any medical advice, there are valid, medical reasons I can’t fall asleep. My doctor knows. We’re working on it. 😉 )

In these painfully quiet, frustrating, and exhausting moments a question circles my mind.

Can I do this? Am I really enough? 

Jamie has needed me more lately. He’s needed more attention. He’s needed more affection. He’s needed more time. He’s needed more discipline. More boundaries. More snuggles. More eye contact. More mercy. More compassion.

He’s needed more me. 

And I fail continuously. I fail to see the need behind the tantrum. I fail to see the desire for connection behind the disobedience. I fail to hand out mercy as much as I hand out consequences.

I fail. And, as I lay in bed for a few hours every night, tears fill my eyes and I wonder if I have the strength. If I can be all that he needs.

Am I really enough? 

Until last night.

Last night, I got in bed. I laid awake. I cried. I got discouraged.

And then I heard another voice. A voice that had been missing. A voice that I desperately needed.

A voice that has felt distant, separate, far away.  

A still, small voice that simple said:

I see you. 

And as I got up early with my alarm, earlier than my tired body wanted, it echoed.

I see you. 

As I sat under a blanket and drank my coffee…

I see you. 

As I read my Bible (we’re in Leviticus these days)

I see you. 

And, as I heard the pitter patter of little feet come down the hallway…

I see you. 

Friends, I don’t have some grand treatise this morning on motherhood. No advice for those who are in similarly exhausting seasons. No grand theologies to carry us through.

Just this simple truth: Our God sees us. He knows us. He’s with us. He’s in the messy. He’s in the complicated. He’s with the sleep deprived and the well rest. The encouraged and discouraged. He’s there in the mundane and the knock your socks off.

If I’m honest, there’s a lot of life right now that has me questioning whether I am enough. It’s not just motherhood. And I need this truth more than ever.

The Lord your God is in your midst,
    a mighty one who will save;
he will rejoice over you with gladness;
    he will quiet you by his love;
he will exult over you with loud singing.

Zephaniah 3:17 

He sees us.

(And He also gave us coffee. 😉

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A pair of basic brown flip flops.

Today, dear friends, I suffered a loss. One month ago, we brought home a new dog from the shelter. She’s awesome, her name is Romy and we love her.

Before you worry, she’s still alive.

But, today she chewed up my favorite pair of flip flops. Obliterated them, rendered them useless. After 8 years of wearing this more than any other shoe in my closet, they’re gone. I’ll be honest, I was definitely bummed and a little sad. The struggle is real.

Now, while most of you may not understand the depth of my grief over this beautiful pair of basic brown flip flops, I’ve got someone in my corner. Jamie, our 3 yr old, really felt where I was coming from. He hugged me, patted me on the back, and talked about how sorry he was that my shoe was gone. He was sad. Truly sad.

And this got me thinking. I think we could learn a lot from Jamie’s response. Not about shoes, mind you. I mean, it’s a pair of shoes. And, if I’m honest I loved them so much because they were cheap AND lasted 8 years. But they will be replaced. They’re no big deal.

So, if not about shoes, then what?

What I loved about Jamie’s response is that he was sad purely and completely because I was sad. He has no attachment to the shoes. (If he had his way, I would wear my bright red heals every day.) No, this wasn’t about the shoe for him.

This was about his mama. His main love.

When someone around us is grieving, we often try to first put ourselves in their shoes, in order to muster up a reason to grieve. Or, we offer commentary on the validity of their grief. Or advice to avoid it in the future.

Whatever we do, why isn’t our first response to just feel sad. Why? Because someone we love is sad. End of story. Who cares about the reason? Who cares if we understand?

In the end, isn’t this what the grieving among us really want? They just want you to come alongside, admit that this sucks, and allow them to cry. Will there be time for advice? Sure (though not as soon as we often think). Space for empathy? Absolutely. Room for commentary? Well, probably not.

But the first thing that needs to happen is grieving with those who grieve. Mourning with those who mourn.

And our preschoolers among us, can probably show us exactly how this works.

Our Birthday Boy and the Woman that changed everything

Yesterday our Jamie turned 1. Amazing.

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Our friend Katie made us all shirts with our ages. Mine has a ? with “not a chance” written across. Brandon’s idea.

What has struck me again and again is that a year ago at this time we didn’t even know he existed. Sure, we had faith that God would bring us our child. But we didn’t know when they would be born or what they would look like.

We didn’t know it would be our Jamie.

And as we have celebrated our son, another person has been consistently and constantly on my mind…his birthmom. A woman I will never know but who has changed our lives most profoundly. A woman whose bravery astounds me, whose courage humbles me and whose love for our (her’s and my) son is so inspiring. And I don’t even know what she looks like. I don’t even know her name.

Here’s what I do “officially” know: On March 3 an African American woman brought a newborn baby to a Safe Haven in Chicago. He had been born the day before at home. She handed him to an authority and said she couldn’t give him the care he needs.

I believe she wanted to make sure he was safe. I believe she wanted to make sure he would be alright. I know that she loved our son.

Today has been a day full of tears as I have wondered what she might be experiencing. As we have faced March 2 and 3 with the utmost joy at our Jamie, she has come crashing into what was perhaps the most difficult day of her life.

As we have decorated cupcakes and celebrated with friends, I imagine she has grieved mostly in solitude. It’s very possible that most of the people in her life do not even know what this date means to her.

When we began to tell people the story of Jamie’s birth (find it here), we got a mixture of responses and I was surprised at how many people responded with anger towards this woman. There were people who wanted to blame her or who felt that her actions showed how little she cared for Jamie.

I believe they’re wrong. I believe she cared for this little boy very much, for so many reasons. She carried him to term and gave birth to him safely. She didn’t leave him on a doorstep but gave him to a trusted authority figure. From the time that he was born he was calm and snuggly. He didn’t appear to show any signs of trauma or stress. He was totally healthy. He had no drug or alcohol exposure. Whatever her reasons may have been, I believe she was trying to make the best decision for a baby she deeply cared for.

One of my prayers today has been for this woman’s heart. I have prayed that she might feel peace. That, somehow, God would assure her that her son is safe. He’s happy and healthy. He has two parents who love him deeply. He is surrounded by family and a community that are madly in love with him. He is thriving. I want her to know it all turned out okay. She did a good thing.

And we are so thankful. Truly, incredibly thankful.