Sixteen years ago, I went on my first overseas missions trip. Montego Bay, Jamaica, baby. I signed up because I had FOMO before FOMO was even a thing. Every one of my friends was going on the trip, and I was not about to miss out on the fun. Little did I know that God would use that very trip- and my iffy motives for signing up- to wreck my teenage self for the nations. For the marginalized. For him.
(Please note how serious we were about laying rebar and spreading the love of Jesus. I even went to the trouble of purchasing a black and white disposable camera for the dramatic effect of our tireless efforts. We were clearly HARD AT WORK, you guys. #allforthemission)
Flash forward a few years to 2004 when I first stepped foot on African soil. This time, I signed up because, hello, KENYA. I was also a college student who was sick and tired of the status quo. I loved Jesus, craved adventure, and longed to step outside of my privileged college experience and put feet to the faith of which I spoke. Once again, wrecked.
Shortly thereafter, I graduated and promptly (read: one week later) started grad school and bought a house and got hitched. (Go big or go home.) Had babies. Launched into a new career. In other words, LIFE HAPPENED. And, aside from a few crucial trips to Congo, I haven’t made it back overseas since.
Well, actually. Actually, I have a dozen reasons why now shouldn’t be the time. Because, money. And the holidays. And jobs. And can my kids even survive without me for ten days? I DO NOT EVEN KNOW.
(A tiny sidenote for all of you high schoolers and college students out there. Want some unsolicited advice from Aunt Catherine? Go overseas NOW. Get involved in God’s mission around the globe NOW. Take a gap year or a summer or a few years after college and GO. I know, I KNOW, life seems so crazy right now. It feels like it’s a rat race out there to score the best internships and summer jobs and whateverelsethereis, but lean in close while I fill you in on a little secret: LIFE JUST GETS CRAZIER, PEOPLE. Take full advantage of these years before you get married, before you have kids, before you are knee-deep in a career, and consider going now. You’re welcome. XOXO, A “Wise” and Increasingly-Wrinkled Thirty-Something-Year-Old)
Y’all. I’m a master of conjuring up lengthy lists of “what if?”s. I can think up seemingly legit (and sometimes really lame) excuses with the best of them. These days, there just seems to be a limitless tally of details to work out and unknowns to think through before saying “yes” to, really, anything. And a trip overseas? It’s felt so complicated. Almost paralyzing. And still, I felt a quiet voice saying, “Catherine, it’s time.”
I am learning that the white-knuckled grip I have on MY plans and MY life and mymymy doesn’t exactly resemble the type of surrender to which we’re called. And that following Jesus looks a lot like, oh you know, following Jesus period. Putting our “yes” on the table PERIOD. End of story.
So often, I wait for the unknowns to be made known and the details to be perfectly ironed out before I make good on my promise of “yes, I’ll follow.” Over the years, I’ve watched others come and go. And sometimes go and stay. I’ve cheered them on and sent some checks and lifted them in prayer and silently thought, “Well, it’s good thing they’re going. Because it sure doesn’t make sense for ME to go. Not right now. Not with kids. God, I know you’re faithful, and I know you’re good, but just not right now, mkay?”
And then. This trip. Gracious. Medical missions in West Africa with a group of medical professionals from our church.
Partnering with local medical providers who work with clinics where neither medical care nor the gospel message would otherwise be available.
Providing clinical guidance and support to those working tirelessly in these rural clinics.
Devising an EMS-like system to transport the sickest of patients.
Laying the framework for converting a small clinic into a larger referral hospital.
In a country where infant and maternal mortality is astonishingly high and the desperate need for the gospel even higher. Over the New Year’s holiday, people. I mean, I’ve spent some quality time in the African bush before. But never have I ever celebrated New Year’s in the bush.
And, despite all of the uncrossed t’s and undotted i’s, I’m really, ridiculously pumped.
Want more details? Interested in supporting this trip? Send me a message, leave a comment, shoot an email, or send off some smoke signals. There are some pretty stinkin exciting things happening in West Africa, and I’d love for some of you guys to be in on the excitement!
It. Is. Time. Let’s do this.
Well, friends. This week marks the beginning of a whole new era in the life of the Allisons. Six and a half hours a day, five days a week, my kids are out of this little nest from which I type. They’re all in school, leaving their mother to wallow in this now-oh-so-very-quiet nest.
Y’all, I love my kids something crazy. But I also really, really enjoy quiet sometimes. And school. And teachers. And quiet.
So, the stats.
We have a third(!) grader(!) who was VERY ready to get back into the swing of schedules and predictability and learning. Last week, he told me that this past summer was the best yet. When asked to elaborate, he said, “Well, vacation was good but not TOO long. And we went to the library a lot. And I really, really loved that calendar you made me.” The kid may look like his father…
We have a first grader who was not quiiite as stoked to return to the classroom but who, fortunately, can easily be lured into the school building with the promise of rectangular pizzas and corn dog nuggets from the school cafeteria.
And we have a kindergartener! Elizabeth went to one full day of school last week for her staggered entry day. And today, she’ll be with her full class for her first day of for-real kindergarten. She’s equal parts excited and nervous and is armed with her much-loved locket. And her equally-adored (and adoring) big sister who (hopefully) walked her into her classroom this morning.
It’s a big year. A school-year that has been long-anticipated and prayed over. Things always seem to be shifting and changing around here. This year is certainly no exception, and I’m pretty pumped to see what God has in store for us.
But for today? Today, I’m pretty sure that His plans (or, ahem, my plans) involve sitting and resting and drinking an extra celebratory cup of coffee. In silence. Blessed, glorious silence. That is, until the clock strikes 3:45. Then, all bets are off.
The other day, I had a moment. This particular “moment” actually may have lasted a few hours- perhaps a day or two- but whatever. We’re mincing words here. The general theme of my freakout sesh: OMG AM I SCREWING MY KIDS UP FOREVER?
Now, my friends. This question has been a long-standing theme in my eight and half year tenure as mother. In fact, this question taunted me even before my first child took his first breath:
“The guy at the gym actually told me I shouldn’t be stairstepping while pregnant! OMG AM I SCREWING MY KID UP FOREVER?”
“I just chugged a fully-caffeinated latte like nobody’s business, and now my unborn child is surely maimed for life. OMG AM I SCREWING MY KID UP FOREVER?”
Once he was born and that warm, snuggly, always-crying-never-sleeping bundle of joy was in my arms, the doubts just grew louder as I navigated the typical quandaries of young motherhood. Breast or bottle? Work or stay home? Cry-it-out or pick-him-up? Everyone had an opinion. I was overwhelmed. And all I could gather was that I was probably wrong and that OMG I WAS SCREWING MY KID UP FOREVER.
Flash forward a few years, a couple more kids, and a whole heckofalot parental second guessing, and you’ll arrive at my most recent freakout moment: our school choice.
A bit of background. I live in a county with an insane number of school choices. Private and charter and magnet and homeschooling and year-round and modified-year-round. And then. Then there’s the standard, run-of-the-mill, traditional neighborhood public school, where we happen to send our kids. (OMG. Am I screwing my kids up forever?)
Another crucial piece of info: we absolutely love our kids’ school. The teachers, the administration, the families, the culture. It’s been a great fit for us, and I am very, VERY grateful. And yet, there was that fateful night recently in which I lost my ever-loving mind.
“What are we even doing? So-and-so is learning a dozen languages in first grade! They’re probably learning rocket science while our kids are just learning normal things like reading and math! Normal! My snowflakes are going to be normal! And the test scores!! Maybe we should be looking more at test scores!! Because COLLEGE! Don’t we want our kids to go to college one day? Also, scholarships and jobs! They need those too! And we’re ruining their chances by sending them to a just-average school. Oh my gosh they’re going to be NORMAL, and WE ARE TOTALLY SCREWING THEM UP FOREVER.”
Here’s the thing. We live in a day and time in which everybody’s business and opinions and perfectly-filtered-lives are constantly in front of our eyeballs, and that can make things… tricky at times. But you know what I’ve found? That maybe the so-called Mommy Wars are actually settling down a bit. That I’m not surrounded by an angry mob of judgey-pants moms after all. That the judgement is typically coming from within my own messy heart.
Because the other night when I was doubting all of our parenting choices- when comparison got the best of me and my pride clouded out my view of God’s faithfulness- I was the one at fault. It was my sin at play. My eyes darting around, taking notes on everyone else’s lives. My silent declaration of “God, not thy will but MINE be done. Or maybe those people over there… their wills look pretty great too.”
So, before we demonize social media for adding fuel to the Mommy Wars fire and point blaming fingers at everyone else, maybe we should stop to check our own selves first. Because I can talk a big talk, but you know the truth? Many days, I seek man’s praise more than God’s. And, more than I desire God’s will, I want to measure up. My KIDS to measure up. I try to match the omniscience of our all-knowing God by researching and analyzing every decision until I can pat myself on the back and declare, “Mama knows best.” I compare, doubt, second-guess, and fret. Oh, I fret. And I walk around with a white-knuckled grip on my kids’ lives, completely sold on the lie that the buck stops here. That my kids’ futures lie in MY hands. That my excellent decisions will yield perfect children. That it all comes down to me.
Say what you want about the Mommy Wars. But all that right there? That seems like a much more legit battle to be fought. Because until I can see our God for who He is and put myself back in the right position (read: NOT ON HIS THRONE), the Mommy War that is dangerously waging in my own heart will never cease.
So, for today at least, my battle cry looks a lot more like a prayer of surrender:
Hey God, this parenting thing is crazy hard. In a world with so many voices and platforms and Instagram accounts, I pray that your voice would be the loudest. Your Word the truest. Your faithfulness my anchor.
Although I spin my wheels and bust my butt to know-all and be-all things for my kids, I acknowledge that all sovereignty, knowledge, and power actually rests in you alone. Forgive me for trying to steal your glory by exalting myself up as Sustainer of All Things rather than pointing my kids to You, Lord. Because the truth is- apart from you, I am not enough. My power is insufficient. And my wisdom is faulty at best.
But you have given us your infallible Word and your guiding Spirit. You have promised that your love is everlasting and your grace sufficient. So, when my eyes start darting around as they tend to do, comparing notes with every other parent out there, may they ultimately rest on your goodness and sufficiency. May your truth guide me.
And in those moments when I cry out in desperation, “Oh, my God! Am I screwing my kids up forever?,” may your love and mercy wash over me as I am reminded once again that I have never had that kind of power over my kids’ lives anyway.
And thank you, God, for that.
Elizabeth had spent weeks studying the hotel’s website. Daily, she’d pore over stock pictures of the mediocre-to-most hotel breakfast. “So you’re saying I get to eat ALL THE BACON I WANT?” she’d confirm again and again, completely mesmerized by the notion. She rehearsed the details and the plans. Shopping. Food. Pool. Friends. Food. Nails. Food.
Over the past few years, The Kindergarten Trip has become quite the beloved tradition in our home. This all came about when Matt took a cue from our church’s phenomenal counseling pastor, Brad Hambrick, who had started a similar tradition with his sons. His purpose? “Defining special occasions and major lessons with a memorable trip.”
We loved this idea of celebrating specific rites of passage with concentrated one-on-one time with our kids. Sure, we were in it for the fun. In Elizabeth’s case, we would shop! Swim! Eat all of the Hampton Inn bacon her little gut could handle! (Oh my gosh.) But we also desperately want to grab ahold of these golden opportunities to speak truth into our kids’ lives at pivotal moments. To press pause on the crazy at home and to carve out the space and time to invest in relationship. To insert ourselves, as parents, into some of the biggest transitions in their lives and to create positive memories surrounding these moments.
I know this might sound really Pollyannaish to some, but it really comes down to this- we just want our kids to know to the core of their being that they are loved in a no-matter-what kind of way. Because they WILL screw up. They’re going to run into tough situations in school. There will be hard questions and big conversations and bad days. And we want them to know that our house- imperfect though it may be- is a place of grace and mercy and truth. We want our kids to know that they can run to us with all of their everything. And when they do, we’re going to point them right back to the One who loves perfectly. Because, while I am known to roll my eyes and grit my teeth in frustration, His patience never runs dry. His grace is perfect. And his strength is limitless.
I want to teach them to run to us so that, ultimately, they learn to sprint to Him.
I want to surprise them with grace and to love ’em big and, then, to look in their eyes and say, “You know what? There’s a love that’s even greater!”
That’s the goal. And if a one night trip a few hours down the road to Charlotte gets me one step closer to accomplishing this, then we’re on the right track. Because this parenting thing is a marathon. And sometimes we’re just lucky enough to get “really spot on” (Elizabeth’s words, not mine) hotel bacon along the way.
I love summer. I do. The lazier mornings. The looser schedules. Hair that’s turned straight-up crunchy from chlorine. That elusive moment the cry of “I’m booooored” succumbs to creativity and unplugged play.
The other day, I found all three kids outside creating some wobbly structure out of discarded toilet paper rolls. Those moments are pure magic.
Unfortunately, summer also seems to bring out the crazy in me. I mean. I guess fall can bring the crazy out in me in equal measure. As can, oh I don’t know, winter and spring. But SUMMER. I feel all of the pressure to do all of the things. Right now. Really well.
Gotta make those memories! Gotta be a “fun mom”! But just don’t go creating a generation of self-absorbed, all-about-them kids!
Lazy days at the pool! But, oh wait! Don’t forget the chore charts and workbooks pages!
Rest! No, play!
Go! No, stay!
Let ’em be bored! No, give them enriching experiences!
Parenting is hard work, y’all.
And if these intrusive thoughts are not enough to get me all flustered, the steady stream of kid questions and musings stand ready to DO ME IN.
For example. Last week, the kids were watching Planet Earth. Naturally, I was feeling pretty good about my mothering because, while some children were frittering away their hours with Pokemon, mine were learning biology. Ecology. Lots of ologies.
Then, it came. “Mom. What’s SPERM?” she yelled. “Sperm, mom, the SPEEEERRRM. What is that?”
Ohmygosh. So much for education; give me Disney Junior. GIVE ME POKEMON.
Later that day, we found ourselves at the North Carolina Museum of Art. Again, I’m feeling pretty smug at this point, patting myself on the bat for having children who could tiptoe around priceless pieces of art without wreaking complete havoc. Children who were interested enough in the artwork to carefully sound out the descriptions of each painting. (Children who now know that “sperm help make babies.” Because we’re very well-rounded around here.)
We wandered through gallery after gallery. We saw mummies. Ancient artifacts. But there was one burning question of the morning that Mary Grace just needed answered.
“Mom. Mommmm. What’s a…” and she pointed at the word in question. “Virgin,” I whispered. No, mom. Let me read it! And she sounded it out. Carefully. Slowly. Loudly. “Vvvviiiirrrginnn. What’s a VIRGIN?”
Y’all. Art galleries are quiet. Art galleries do not generally seem accustomed to young children. Art galleries can hear everything. So, you can imagine that my daughter’s newfound interest in the immaculate conception felt particularly… deafening.
I’m telling you. Summer is exhausting.
So, we’re on the homestretch. T-29 days to be exact (but who’s counting?) 29 days of fun/games/amusement/excitement. 29 more days of unstructured, lock-’em-outside-until-dinnertime play. 29 more days of crunchy pool hair and popsicle-stained mouths. 29 more days of “mommommommommom” on repeat all the day long. 29 more days ’till my countertops are overrun with backpacks and homework and papers to sign and date and return.
We’ve got this, moms of summer. Let’s finish strong.
Though, if I’m completely honest, yesterday’s question du jour (“How do babies get in mommies’ tummies anyway?”) made me a tiny bit doubtful that I can swing another 29 days of Q&A.
“Well, Mary Grace,” Matt said, “God just puts them there.”
“Ew. That’s SO GROSS,” she yelled.
Summer. It’s winding down. So, may these final days and weeks be filled with equal measures of fun and rest. May the hard days be punctuated with easy, early bedtimes. May the easy days linger on as you enjoy the small things. And may you have the good fortune of evading questions that you’re JUST NOT READY TO ANSWER thankyouverymuch.
It was their bedtime, and I was beyond ready.
Tensions had been running high that day. Attitudes were hot, patience was waning, and apologies were being doled out (read: forced out) by the hour, half hour, minute.
We were done. I was on the verge of crossing the day’s finish line. And all that separated me from the couch were a few goodnight kisses and prayers.
We rolled though their prayer requests as we do… friends who are overseas… friends who are planting churches… invisible ailments on little five year old appendages… and, this day, I happened to mention a few little ones at our church who are sick. Really sick. Desperately-in-need-of-prayers sick. They prayed, I prayed, and as usual, bedtime was signaled with our collective “amen.”
Except not quite. As I hurriedly tucked each girl in, eyes on the long-awaited prize (Netflix + pajamas + couch), I heard Mary Grace’s raspy little voice ask, “I don’t get it. Doesn’t it make God sad that these kid are sick? Doesn’t God want these babies to be healed? If He can do anything- if He can heal people and make people see again and make dead people alive again- why doesn’t He just DO it?”
I exhaled deeply as I prepared to offer up the best answer I knew to give in that moment. Because, little did she know, her weary mama had been busy firing off variations of those very questions herself.
“God, I know your Word says that you, Lord, are our refuge. Our shield. That we have no reason to fear because you will send your angels- your ANGELS- to guard us. But, God, what about Castile and Sterling? Dallas and Orlando? Where were you then?”
“God, I know you are a God of justice, but what about Nice? Istanbul? Munich? I’m just having a hard time with this, Lord.”
“God, I know you are El Roi- the God who sees- but things are feeling pretty pretty bleak down here. If you really saw all of this mess, wouldn’t you… do something?”
I’m pretty grateful that we have a God who can handle our laments and questions. A God who GETS that we’re finite humans and who isn’t dumbfounded by our doubts. Because, the truth is, I find myself wavering between numbness and despair these days. It’s just headline after headline, hashtag after hashtag… rinse, repeat.
But then, I hear the whispers. “Catherine, I do see. I do care. And I have never, not once, left my throne. So, don’t despair, and do not grow numb. Look to me.”
And I do. I look to Him. And as I approach His throne with all of my brokenness and questions, I feel the gradual untethering of my heart to the things of this world and an ever-growing homesickness for eternity. For our future reality in which death and pain and crying exists no longer. When peace is restored, justice reigns once more, and we worship together as one tribe, one nation, one people. And slowly but surely, future hope starts peeking through the ominous clouds of the here and now.
The reality is, this world’s brokenness spares no one. We see it in our families, marriages, churches, jobs, newspaper headlines. Brokenness everywhere. But in it all, I keep returning to the truth that, while our present reality may seem bleak and our situation desperate, there has never been a moment in history outside of His sovereign reach. Never will be.
Friends, these days have been impossibly tough for so many of you. And I certainly do not have all of the answers. Heck, I don’t even have MANY of the answers. But there are a few things I know for absolute sure:
I KNOW that our laments do not fall upon deaf ears. Our cries of “enough, Lord!” are heard by a God who loves us, quite literally, to death.
I also know that, just as the beauty of this world only pales in comparison to the glory that awaits us, the harsh realities this broken world- the injustice, sickness, pain, terror, and death- will soon exist no more.
So, may we resist giving up, shutting down, and growing numb by the hard things of this life. May we engage in the hard. Wrestle with the pain. Confess our doubts. Ask God the brutally honest questions.
May our weeping usher us into a greater urgency to see His kingdom come.
May we not get so bogged down and beaten up by the darkness that we’re rendered ineffective witnesses to the one true and inextinguishable light.
This world we live in- it’s beautiful. And it’s ruthless. A broken and glorious mess that teaches us every single day that Jesus is better.
Better than “making America great again.”
Better than guaranteed safety and security in these days of targeted shootings and ISIS.
Better than reassuring MRI results.
Better than very best this life has to offer. Better than life itself. He’s better. I’m convinced of it.
And the untethering continues. Unleashing my heart from that which does not last, all to bound it tight around that the One who does. The One who is better. Our Hope.
Just this morning, I was scrolling through my phone’s photo library when I was struck by a particularly alarming trend: sunrise pictures. Of my children. ON VACATION.
So. Many. Sunrise. Pics.
Hi, my name is Catherine. And I mother children who do not sleep. Sleepless children who also happen to live and breathe the timeless adage, “Go hard or go home.”
And they. went. hard. Per usual.
Flying off docks like crazy people.
Kayaking. Skiing. Tubing.
In the rare moments we were not in the water, we were doing other very crucial things. Crucial things like paying visits to the neighbors’ pigs. As you can clearly see, I do it all for the kids.
So, we swam. We whispered sweet nothings into the ears of giant swine. We painted. We read.
As we were packing up to leave, Mary Grace said, through tears, “I just don’t like the feeling I get when I have to leave a place I really love.”
I nodded. Agreed with her. And we ended up staying an extra day.
Because, the way I see it- if you’re gonna go hard and wake up for seven sunrises, you might as well go even harder and stay for one more.
In the words of the great Celine Dion, it’s all coming back, it’s all coming back to me now.
Why does summer feel so wondrous and yet so… challenging… in the same moment? Why do I feel a constant tension in work versus play? Relaxation versus GoGoGoing?
Because, oh yeah, KIDS. Three kids with three completely different personalities and three wildly varied levels of energy.
We’ve got this:
and we’ve got this:
Fun! And excitement!
And, ladies and gents, dazed and confused and exhausted.
As I said, wondrous + challenging.
But we do the best we can. We live and learn. We rest.
And we go. And go. And we go.
Celine, you are spot on. There are moments of gold. And there are flashes of light.
But then there are those things we’d never do again (but then they’d always seemed right)…
It’s all coming back, it’s all coming back to me now….
This past weekend, we hit the road for Baltimore for a much-anticipated, long-overdue visit with sweet friends from our old small group. I am under the firm conviction that we all need people with whom we can pick up exactly where we left off, no matter the distance or time lapsed since the last visit. They are those kind of people. And it was lovely.
They are lovely. Their city is lovely. Our five collective kids were rockstars as they skipped naps/snacks/bathroom breaks while their oblivious parents caught up on life. Lovely.
The trip back home, however. Well. Suffice it to say that this suburbanite right here isn’t accustomed to DC traffic. Raleigh traffic is obnoxious, but DC traffic makes me want to straight-up sin. And massive trucks overturning DIRECTLY IN FRONT OF US on Interstate 85 just, I don’t know, makes me want to run for the hills of Amish country.
That actually happened yesterday, BTW. A giant truck just toppled over, mere feet away from us. While we watched. And gasped. No big deal.
Now. This would be a good time to confess that witnessing a medical emergency out in everyday life is one of my biggest fears. Being the lone medical professional on the scene of a major accident scares the junk out of me. I’m all about saving lives in the predictable and safe confines of clinics and hospitals, but performing CPR mid-bite at Chipotle? A small bit more frightening. I’m not sure what this says about me aside from the fact that it’s a darn good thing I’m not an EMT. Or firefighter. Or ER nurse. Or SO MANY OTHER THINGS.
Anyway, the truck flipped. We stopped. And, I ran. Actually I ran AFTER pausing and asking Matt some semi-rhetorical questions that went something like, “Uh, I should go, right? I mean. I’m a nurse. And there’s a wrong-side-up truck. And I probably should go help.” However, before I could even get to the truck, I was met by another faster-than-me responder who assured me that the driver was fine. Within seconds, he had been pulled from the wreckage and was miraculously okay.
It was stunning, really. Stunning that he was unharmed, yes. But you know what was just as beautiful? Watching dozens of commuters and road-trippers drop everything to help one stranger. Seeing people rush to the wreckage.
Some ran with Bibles and prayed. Others ran with armloads of blankets and snacks. Still others ran empty-handed as if to say, “I don’t have much to offer except myself.”
A whole swarm of road-weary travelers willing to do what it took to help another fellow traveler.
I just can’t shake this image because isn’t this exactly how we, as the church, should be characterized?
When we see wreckage, are we rushing to it? Or are we more apt to hide behind words like, “I’ll pray about it”? When we cross paths with the hurting or the oppressed, do we spend more time talking about, journaling about, reading about our personal “calling” in life? Or do we just sprint to the scene? Are we more interested in serving others on our terms? Are we waiting for a nice, controlled environment? Or are we people who are ready and willing to drop our flippin’ burrito at a moment’s notice so that we can be His hands and His feet. To be His body.
Church, there’s wreckage all around us. It’s everywhere. And, sure, there’s a time and place for praying about it and seeking counsel and considering our callings. Absolutely. But sometimes, we simply need to get a move on. We need to rush to the scene and sprint to the hurting. Some of us should be running with our Bibles and our prayers. Some of us should be running with arms overflowing with food and blankets. And, y’all, some of us should just start running empty-handed. Because sometimes the words, “I love you, and I’m here,” are the best balm of all.
Church, may we we be characterized not as people who simply hang out in the safety of pews and Bible studies but as a people who sprint to the hurting and who rush to the wreckage. May we be people far more concerned about meeting the needs of others outside of the church walls than having our own felt-needs met within.
Let’s live as people who are sent. Let’s be the first responders. Because there are some things we need to pause and pray about, but I’m pretty sure that showing up and loving others don’t fall into that column.
Last night, I had the opportunity to speak for a few minutes at an orphan care meeting at church. Over 100 people had gathered together to talk about foster care, adoption, and orphan prevention. There were veteran adoptive parents who still shudder at the mention of the five little letters USCIS. There were foster parents who could rattle off the names of dozens of placements who have been in and out of their homes. There were wide-eyed couples completely overwhelmed at the whole shebang.
I have a crystal clear memory of sitting in a similar meeting at church years ago. We were in the very early stages of adopting, were convinced we knew exactly what we were doing, and were still rocking our rose-colored glasses. Because all we needed was love, baby!
My, how things change.
Instead. Last night, as we were just about to pull up to church, I said to Matt, “Man, I don’t know about this. This topic, it just feels really heavy and raw to me.”
Here’s the thing- adoption is beautiful and redemptive and is, hands down, one of the best decisions Matt and I have ever made. But it can also be crazy hard. And that was precisely the premise of my talk: Adoption is hard. Adoption is messy. And you need help.
In the short time I had last night, I threw out terms like poverty orphan. Family reunification. Orphan prevention. I discussed how we, as adoptive and foster parents, need a village and how that village better include a really stellar therapist.
Rainbows and unicorns, be gone. Catherine is in the house.
In all seriousness, I get that this message is weighty. Tossing ideas like this out to a room full of potential adoptive and foster parents may seem a bit unconventional. However, it’s so. very. necessary. Because, at the end of the day, orphan care is not about us. It’s not about us “getting a kid” or how we can be little orphan-saviors.
When we’re busy making these big decisions about agencies and countries and fundraising, you know what’s going on behind the scenes?
Loss and trauma.
Adoption is inherently rooted in this reality, and MAN have I seen it at play.
Last night, I shared that I had been chatting with Elizabeth and had asked her what she’d want people to know about adoption. Her response?
“It’s kinda hard sometimes. I don’t get to see my Congo family, and that’s hard. And I know my Congo family misses me, and that’s hard too. But it’s also kind of awesome. Because now I get two families that love me.”
You guys, she’s five. And yet she’s already acutely aware the intersection of loss and redemption. She gets that it’s messy.
But as I hear Elizabeth’s little voice pray for her Congo family, and as we email pictures and videos and cute-kid-anecdotes halfway across the world to her biggest Swahili-speaking fans, we see redemption and beauty creeping in.
As I try desperately hard to shed light on the dignity and respect these first families deserve.
As we all continue to learn dependence- dependence on the village God has given us and dependence on the Giver Himself.
As I’m able to share some of our story and our mistakes, wins, and experiences with others- as I’m able to point to God’s faithfulness and goodness in it all.
Tragedy meets redemption. Loss meets beauty. And we find ourselves in the middle of a big, tangled, beautiful mess.
Is adoption hard? Heck to the yes. Is there beauty in the mess? Absolutely.
So, potential adoptive parent, don’t let the stars in your eyes cloud your judgement and your ability to make sound, ethical decisions. For the love, don’t assume that “all you need is love” to make a hurting child whole again. Only God can fill that role. And good counseling can sure help a ton.
Similarly, don’t be paralyzed by the prospect of hard. Because the reality is that there are kids who desperately need families. And we, as the church, have been explicitly commanded to take care of orphans.
And teenage moms who have made the brave decision to parent. Who are struggling to make ends meet.
And first families who have made the equally-brave decision to place their child for adoption. And who just want to know that their little girl is okay.
Y’all, as I’ve said many times before, we can do hard things. We just can’t do them alone.
So, open your eyes. Wide. Wider still. Ask hard questions. Find your village. And practice these words:
“We don’t got this. We. Need. Help.”