Raising Little People

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This might be one of my favorite spots in Central Park. And those two little people are for sure the best.

It was a year ago this weekend that Brandon and I visited New York City for the first time. It may come as a surprise that neither of us had been here before, and here we found ourselves not only here, but we were actually exploring whether we could LIVE here. Only a few people knew the reason for our trip, so under the cover of “celebrating our anniversary” a little bit early, we came.

These two pictures were taken before our first visit (on the airplane) and after we’d been here a few months later. 

And what began as an exploratory vacation, turned into a full day of meetings for Brandon and dinner with Brandon’s potential boss that night. We fell in love that weekend and began to walk forward knowing that God was moving us to NYC. And it was totally out of our wildest dreams. We’d dreamed of cities, sure. But never this one. And we knew that God had placed a longing in our hearts for the next thing, but this job carried so much weight and importance and we were a little bit bewildered that Brandon might have the opportunity to use his gifts and abilities this way.

And now here we are one year later. We are in our sixth month. We’ve had dinner with those friends a few times since. We’ve made new ones. Our son has started school. Our daughter has started ballet and become an NYC parks / playground expert. Brandon has flourished in his new job, and I’m (once again) figuring out this whole full-time-stay-at-home-mom thing.

Photo Sep 08, 8 08 25 AMPeople have asked us what it’s like for J and E in our new home. Yesterday on our way home from picking J up from school, E brought them each a matchbox car. And they rolled those cars on every building and fence that we passed. A three block walk to the subway which normally takes 10 minutes took us 25. Because they were moving at their own pace. And as they passed each person they received sweet smiles and more than a few chuckles. A few people played along with their game. They made it onto the subway where people went out of their way to make sure they could sit together with me. And they continued to talk and laugh.

IMG_6726Earlier that day Eliza played in a sandbox with a friend (while I had some much needed adult conversation that friend’s mom) and she negotiated sand toys with a few other kids in the box, too. (There are sandboxes everywhere in NYC and everybody comes with the expectation that toys will be shared). Parents sat on the side and taught our little people how to ask politely and share what they had with those around them. We laughed as they snatched toys away. Kids are kids everywhere. But in a large city they have to learn to be citizens from a young age.

 

Raising little kids in the city has it’s challenges. But every time a person offers to carry my stroller or heavy load up the stairs (9/10 a person of color…but that’s a conversation for another day), and every time the vendors on the street smile and talk to and laugh at Eliza…I am so thankful for where we live. I’m thankful for the way I am forced to teach my children that quiet voices and quiet feet are not only a good idea in general, but they help us show kindness to our neighbors. That our plans have to be flexible as we move from point A to point B. And that you can do more than you think (like stand for 25 minutes on the subway when there are no seats to be had). I love that my children have already learned how to balance their bodies when the subway comes to a stop (without holding on) and that they naturally reach for my hand when getting on or off.

I love the sympathetic smiles and even pats I get when my sweet littlest person is throwing a fit. And I love the proud nods J gets when he pushes his way through a crowd to get off the train (saying a very loud but very polite “Excuse me” the whole way).

Now don’t get me wrong, I don’t love being corrected on my parenting in public (yeah, that’s happened a few times). I don’t always love the lack of privacy when my kids desperately need a private “let’s get it together” conversation. And somedays are downright exhausting as I teach my sensory sensitive daughter to navigate a city that overwhelms those senses on the regular.

But this city has a way of sneaking into your heart. And the charm of our city and our neighborhood specifically does my heart good.

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Today is a quiet day with Eliza. Jamie has sports after school, so we wont pick him up till late. So we’ve watched a movie and now she’s quietly playing trains. I’m going to make us both some lunch soon and then play with my baby in her room for a little before rest time.

And then I’m going to read and be lazy because allergies are kicking my tail and after a the food poisoning I had earlier in the week, I’m exhausted and definitely need a little bit of a rest.

Tomorrow we will go explore a new spot with J and E and we will do most of our parenting in front of 1000 of our closest friends. 😉 And it will be frustrating at times but we’re also learning to laugh at ourselves and take it for what it is.

And we will come home exhausted and put our kids to bed early (most likely) and watch a movie and eat something terrible for us. And it will be lovely.

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When the story finds you

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Fort Tryon park is incredibly beautiful. 

Today I got a few minutes to myself. So, I sat on a bench in Fort Tryon park with my daughter’s tulip pen and my son’s hedgehog notebook, and I took a stab at some things.

I’ve been wondering lately if I have anything to say — anything unique to contribute to the blogosphere.

Over the last few years, my self-confidence has taken a beating. Four years ago, I arrived in our new home in Arkansas full of purpose, full of God’s goodness. I was tired and spent but happy. I had a beautiful 18 month old and a wonderful husband. We were greeted by family and community.

We were an hour from some of our dearest friends and we had a holy sense of where God had us.

And the four years we spent there were full of good things. We brought home our daughter, we bought our first house, Brandon launched a huge project. We had college students in our home, we hosted holidays and community group. Our children made sweet friends. Our son learned to ride his bike. We did valuable work. We had the best neighbors ever and made wonderful new friends.

But, dear friends, I was crumbling. I struggled to find my place. And in the midst of a PCOS diagnosis and a few different health issues — I watched myself slip away. I smiled and I made friends–but I couldn’t give my whole self. I taught and I mentored but I felt increasingly alone.

And all the while I lost weight and then I gained weight. My hair began to fall out, my pain increased. I cried (oh, how i cried!!). I cried because I was lonely, I cried because of pain. I cried when doctor’s couldn’t give me answers. I cried when the answers became a little too overwhelming. I cried when my hormones wouldn’t let me do anything else. I cried when I wasn’t invited. I cried when I felt overwhelmed.

I began to forget things. I felt like only a part of myself.

And I resented our home.

And as someone who processes by writing, I was in a hard place because I couldn’t write about it. I didn’t want to wound the people that I loved and I didn’t know how to talk about this all without it.

For many months I blamed that place for my unhappiness.

But while that context brought a lot of hard, it wasn’t to blame.

The last six months in NYC have brought breathing room. And I have begun to embrace the broken pieces of me. In Arkansas I had come face to face with my faults. I sunk into depression. But without a community around me to point me to help, I retreated into myself.

 

I saw my weaknesses daily. And I felt rejected because of them.

And while a lot of the hard was beyond my control ….I am coming to terms with my own responsibility.

I made it hard for friendships to form. I made it hard for my husband to love me. I made it hard for people to get to know the real me.

 

All that to say, here’s the punch line.

When we arrived in Arkansas I had begun to find my voice. And four years later, in losing myself, I am finding my message. And it’s one woven in brokenness. And it’s one that isn’t all for the public.

Some of it is for my husband. Some of it is for my kids and my dear friends and family. And some of it is for you, my dear readers. And I don’t really know where all the pieces live just quite yet. And I’m doing my darnedest not to jump ahead.

Because now I find myself in a city I never imagined but have already come to love… building community with a diverse and incredible group of people.

People who have already challenged and acknowledged my gifts and abilities. People who have stretched and challenged me. People who have asked me to minister in ways I haven’t been invited to in awhile.

I have already stepped out of my comfort zone.

And I’m happy. Not because I’ve found any magic bullet but because I came to the end of myself, I survived, and I am now walking forward in God’s grace towards whatever He has for me.

And I realize that none of that is really a punchline, and maybe that’s because there isn’t one…yet. Because maybe this is when the real adventure starts to get good. Maybe.

So, thanks for reading. You guys are swell. I realize I come to you with a lot of personal revelations and I appreciate your journeying through them with me. And for anyone wondering how the O’Brien 4 are managing…here are a few snapshots.

Oh, and for those who have prayed with me for J and have prayed for our family as a whole…goodness, gracious I am so thankful for you.

So enjoy.

 

Oh…one more very important thing. I would be remiss if I didn’t acknowledge a whole lot of people.

To the dear friends formed in Arkansas – I am so thankful for you. For fancy dinners and kid’s birthday parties and afternoons by the pool. 

To those girls who came into my home each week and invited me to speak and to love you and to mentor you – I am still incredibly honored and blessed by you. So very proud of the women you have blossomed into an the adventures you have gone on. You were a true lifeline.

To the women who wrestled and talked through Race and Reconciliation with me. I am still learning from each of you. Seriously. 

And to Pediatrics Plus. I wasn’t with you for long and sometimes I worry that I did more harm than good. But I am continually thankful for the opportunity you gave me to work and to use my gifts. To mess up and to fix it. To lead and to guide. You deepened my understanding of the value of a soul. And I am forever changed by the good work that you do.

  

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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