I'm at the Unfailing Love retreat for foster and adoptive moms this week. It's in Hoover, Alabama at a beautiful resort. We have a Visiting Orphans table setup which is a great opportunity to get to meet other moms when they stop by the table. I love coming to events like these to get to connect with other momma's who share the same heart and many of the same struggles. Hearing the teaching and stories from others is just a good reminder of the things we know but so often can forget in the busyness of day to day life. Things about trauma and attachment and how different parenting kids from hard places is from parenting biological kids.
For me, I'm sitting here reflecting on the past 2 years. Oct 28 will be our 2 year gotcha day. 2 years ago that day, I walked into the care center and left with a little 3 year old boy who developmentally more resembled a 1 and a half or 2 year old. A little boy who didn't speak English and didn't know what was going on. Surely he had to have been terrified. He hid it well and even seemed to want to go with me. Even that first time I met him on that mission trip in 2011, he seemed like he would have been fine to leave with me. But it's hard to say what he was really feeling or wanting because he had surely developed all sorts of defense mechanisms as he did the first several years of his life in survival mode. The nannies told me he was ornery. I think he very likely may have figured out that he who is the cries the loudest or throws the biggest fit - gets attention. It might not have been good attention. But I'm pretty sure it probably got him attention nonetheless. When I came and picked him up that day, he snuggled into my arms like he belonged there. I saw a little boy who so desperately wanted someone to belong to and feel safe with. When I would try to put him down - he would get angry. Who could blame him? I would be angry too after all that sweet boy had been through in his first years of life. Living in an orphanage, even the very best ones, is not an ideal place for a child. It's amazing how much a child can grow and thrive in family. I look back at those early days and how he responded to things, how he didn't want me to do anything for him - he wanted all control and wanted to do everything - opening doors, pushing buttons, washing dishes, putting his own toothpaste on, turning on and off the tv. Anything big and small - he wanted to do it and if I tried to - he was not happy. I very vividly remember him throwing himself onto the floor in a huge fit one time when I turned off the DVD player. I kind of thought this was just his personality. He liked to be in charge and in control. But also knew a lot of it could be adoption related. It sure was. Just under 2 years later and he asks me to help him get dressed and has no problem with me washing the dishes or making dinner or getting something out of the cupboard for him. He sometimes likes to help with laundry but he's also fine with me doing it while he plays in the other room now. He didn't even know how to play when he first came home. He wanted nothing to do with other kids or playdates. He just wanted to do grown up things and he wanted to be as close to me as possible... at all times. Oh so much has changed. We've come so far. Both of us.
His trauma he came with ended up triggering my trauma that I didn't even know was there. That first year was hard. But oh how God used it to get me to a place of great healing and how I've seen Mihretu settle in so much more since I've turned a corner in my own healing. It's truly amazing. There were so many things I was reacting to out of my own junk. My reactions are very different now. And I started noticing the differences in Mihretu pretty much right away as I walked through my junk in counseling earlier this year. So much progress has been made and I haven't been trying to make it happen. When I loosened up and stopped being so intense about everything and feeling like so much was riding on every single moment - wow - our whole household dynamic shifted. We had more fun. We enjoyed each other more. Joy returned. I told my counselor on our last day together that I didn't truly know how depressed and joy-less I was until joy returned. Then I was like "Wow! What a difference". You have to fill out a self assessment the first day and again the last day. You circle a number 1-10 to rank things like your level of anxiety, anger, depression, etc. On the last day as I was circling things on a whole different level - I could look back and see that even my numbers in the beginning didn't fully reflect how bad I had felt. I had just gotten used to it so I just circled like 4's and 5's. On that last day, when I was on the other side of joy - I asked if I could change some of those starting numbers in certain categories because looking back in comparison to how great I was feeling now - I think I was more like a 1 or 2 in some of those things only didn't realize it until I was out of it. That first year, I was going through the motions. Getting up every day and doing life the best I could manage but I really wasn't thriving. And although Mihretu was definitely thriving more than he had been in an orphanage - he wasn't thriving as much as he could have been. I was not reacting well to him. I was not feeling compassionate and kind in his meltdowns or controlling ways - I wasn't even really thinking about where he had come from or how much trauma he had most of the time. I was just seeing him through my own selfish lens of "holy cow my life is different. I've lost all freedom. He's pushing all sorts of buttons that I didn't know I had. What is wrong with me? I'm a horrible mom" mode. And then the cycle of hating myself and thinking I was the worst mom and person on the planet started. And the enemy pounded me day and night with lies and replays in my mind of every wrong thing I had done that day and the words "you're gonna mess him up for life" "what is wrong with you? He's already got trauma and now YOU are causing him more" played over and over and over. If it wasn't for the safe place in some of my friends and the realization on my part that I needed to be honest with some people and tell them the truth of what was going on - I don't know how I would have gotten through that first year. And the crazy thing is - we weren't even dealing with some of the extreme circumstances that many adoptive families deal with. Mihretu was seemingly adjusting well and even thriving. And even in that - I felt guilty because I knew other families had far harder things to deal with and I felt horrible for feeling so horrible for thinking this was so hard. But the reality is, no matter what your situation is when you adopt - it's hard. If you're a first time momma, it's hard. If you're single, it's hard. If you're married, it's hard. If you've got other biological kids, it's hard. If you've adopted before, it's still hard. Adoption comes from loss and brokenness. It's hard. But God can make it beautiful. And He can even make all your junk that gets stirred up in you into something beautiful because He can get you to a place of brokenness where you realize more than ever how much you need him. And how much you cannot do this without Him. And He can bring you healing and He can use that healing you've walked through to help you understand your child's places of pain and brokenness so you can help them walk through it. God works ALL things together for the good of those who love Him. He's so amazing like that.
I'm sitting here at this adoption retreat feeling overwhelmed with thankfulness. Thankful that I'm on this side of joy. Thankful that unlike a year and a half ago when I went to an adoption conference much like this one - that this time I'm not feeling depressed and shame filled but rather feeling hopeful and thankful and filled with joy. Thank you Jesus for your restoring power. For us mommas and for our kiddos. I've never quite understood the love of Christ and His adoption of us so much as I do now that I'm an adoptive mom on this journey to restoration for my sweet son. The story is not over yet. I am sure we will walk through hard days and seasons. And I'm sure that I will continue to feel at times like I am ill equipped. But I am equally sure that God will be enough to carry us and equip me with everything I need for that day. I am not enough for my child. Only God is enough. And if I can point Mihretu to Christ - that is the most important part of my role as mom. To point my son to the one who never fails, never messes up and never forsakes us. Even in my mess ups now, I get to say I'm sorry and say "mommy messed up. But guess what? Jesus never does." How beautiful is that!
I am so thankful for this journey. So thankful for this child that is truly a joy and a blessing. I can't imagine a child more perfectly matched to me. The way he is wired. The things that he does and says. The way he loves to quote movie lines - my Kerr side of the family has always done this too. The way he finds heart shaped things in nature and points it out to me and notes how beautiful it is. I've noticed heart shaped things in nature for years. I have a collection of rocks and photos of water puddles and other things in nature that are heart shaped. I always felt like they were love notes to me from God. How beautiful and perfect that Mihretu notices these things too! How awesome that he is silly with a very similar sense of humor to me. That he likes to have things in order and will insist we pick up toys before bed because this room is "a disaster". While I've loosened up a ton in this area, especially since becoming a parent, I do still like a clean house. And apparently so does he. It's just neat how God puts families together. People sometimes say how lucky Mihretu is to have me for his mom. No, friends - I'm the lucky one. He's the most amazing kid on the face of the earth and I'm so glad that the fog of my own junk has lifted so that I can fully embrace and enjoy him for who God made him to be and enjoy every moment of being his mom.
God's love is unfailing. We all have junk but He won't leave us there. If you are reading this and you are walking out some hard days and your junk has been stirred up big time and you're stuck in the vicious cycle of beating yourself up - let me just encourage you that you are not alone. Reach out to some trusted people and let them in. Be real. Be honest. And reach out to a counselor in your area. I worked with Beth Murphy at Rock House Center in Nashville and she does skype appointments too. Don't ignore your junk. Get healing and work through the junk and you will be so very glad you did when you're walking in joy on the other side of it. Dear momma, hold on to Jesus. And don't let the enemy tell you that you can't do this. You can. And you don't have to do it alone. We're not meant to walk alone.