Tuesday, December 1, 2015

When You Can't See in Front of You

There is no comfort and peace like climbing into your own bed after a few days away and a long day of traveling. And so, I fell into my cozy bed Saturday night, content to be home and grateful for memories of an unbelievable Thanksgiving trip to New York City. All was well in my world.

Until beeps suddenly sounded as our power went out. The house was suddenly eerily quiet and completely dark. So very dark. The pitch black that happens rarely in this electronic, digital age where devices glow all night long as they charge.

It was startling. And then scary. Our daughter woke up and was afraid. I could hear her, but it was so completely dark that I couldn't sense where she was. I cautioned her to stay away from where I stood near the top of our staircase. Or so I thought I was.

Our entire street was having a power outage. A fear gripped me suddenly, causing me to nearly panic. I do LEAN toward the dramatic, so my mind whirled to that doomsday television show where the power worldwide went out and anarchy reigned. Had I really just returned from flying under a worldwide travel alert, walking through a heavily guarded city with SWAT teams strategically placed, only to have something happen at home?

So basically, my heart rate went wild as I contemplated all sorts of terrorist attack theories and end of the world scenarios.

All because of the dark.

The black of dark with no sign of light. That hides any sign of life. And suffocates hope with a fear that grips you.

It's where so many are stuck today. In the terrifying pitch black. The dark days of the soul where life is turned upside down and nothing but fear and despair reside. 

The dark and bleak and horrific day of burying a treasured son, as a high school friend endured yesterday. The loss so overwhelming that your heart wanders if it will ever feel joy again. The blackness of grief enveloping you in its tight and gruesome hold.

The frustrations and agony of hard times and struggles and mental health battles. Chronic pain that plagues you day after day. Or deep wounds suffered at the hands of another calloused person. Wrestling matches for clarity when demons of mental illness taunt you relentlessly.  

We see the darkness. We see the dimness and dark circles around the eyes of those who struggle. The homeless on the street, holding a cardboard sign. The panicked eyes of the refugees, fleeing their war torn home, packed into rubber boats, with nothing but the clothes on their back. The cries and anguish of those who mourn the atrocities of hate filled extremists.

If we look closely enough, we will gain the discernment to note the oppressive darkness that those we know are battling, carefully hidden behind their plastic smiles. 

There is no hopelessness worse than the darkness that pervades struggling souls, crowding out any hope or joy or peace. It wreaks havoc, creating chaos and fear and an oppressive sadness.

And yet, there is good news. There is a tiny pinprick of light that will become a floodlight if we look for it, if we seek it, if we can keep crawling toward it. It is at the very forefront of what this season is all about.

The people walking in darkness have seen a great light; on those living in the land of the shadow of death a light has dawned.
Isaiah 9:2

Advent begins. When we celebrate the most glorious and miraculous act of God's faithfulness. When we eagerly anticipate the what might be, as we languish in the what is now.

For 400 years, God's chosen people lived in darkness. They lived with the certainly dwindling hope of the prophecies. As God was silent. The quiet shouting out louder than any spark of promise for something new and better that would change it all. 

We all live in these in-between places. Where we think we know what God might have for us. When we dare to entertain the possibilities. And we believe its on its way. 

But then.


And darkness. Not just places where we have to squint our eyes to discern shapes. But a black darkness that grants us no insight, not even a shadow of where we are or where we might go. Just the blackness engulfing us. Suffocating our dreams. And killing our anticipation for change.

Although we cannot see our hand in front of us in these dark times, in those dark days of in-between, hold steadfast to this truth.

God sees. And the darkness is not dark to him. It is bright as the sun. Because he sees. When we cannot see him through the black and the fog and the despair, he can certainly see us. Though we may stand in the questioning and the anguish of what feels like hundreds of years of waiting for the rescue, it is indeed on its way.

Just as Isaiah said it would be. 

That is what Advent is all about.

That God in his heaven dared to break through the filth and muck and fragility of mankind to send his son Jesus. Emmanuel. God with us. To change all that had been and all that happened and all that caused fear into a glorious hope everlasting.

A hope that endures. A hope that is an anchor to our soul.

That there is no place on earth, no pit too deep, no sorrow too overwhelming, no struggle too difficult, for God to enter in and be the light than chases away all darkness.

You may go about your business today, as the shepherds did back then. Tending to their flocks in the dark of the night. But then. It happened. And the wonder of this angel's announcement still throws out a life line to all those drowning in darkness.

And there were shepherds living out in the fields nearby, keeping watch over their flocks at night. An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. But the angel said to them, "Do not be afraid. I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all people. Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is Christ the Lord!"
Luke 2:8-11
Although you may be going about your life, in the night and the dark and the desperation, there is a GLORY that breaks through and the fear it causes is a reverent, hope-filled fear. A glorious reckoning to see that we are but man and we have a God who still shows up in our dark nights.  

This is the good news of Advent.

There is a light. 

In every dark place. In every struggle. In every wound. In every fear. In every pain. In every circumstance.

Christmas tells us that he is the light to pierce through every darkness. He is the God who shines into our weariness and gives us reason to rejoice. Because God came near. To crush the head of the serpent who dared to strike his heel. 

A baby. Wrapped in swaddling clothes and lying in a manger.

With one mission. One purpose.

To save the souls of mankind. To pay the price. To cover the debt. To enter even the darkest place because the tomb of death couldn't hold him.

And the star at the top of the tree reminds us. 

That God pierces the long nights of our lives with the unbelievable hope of a Savior who promises that all that we endure in this life, we never do so alone. And no situation, no matter how bleak, can ever blot out the Light of the World.


When we can look back to a people who waited for 400 years for the promise to come true. Generation after generation. They clung to the hope of their God whose word is always true and whose promise is always sure.

It didn't look like they thought it would. In fact, many of them missed it. Because he was not a conquering warrior, but a humble baby born in the lowliest of places. 

And his death would turn the noonday sun to a darkness like the night.

But his resurrection broke through with a brilliance that lights the darkest corners of our lives, offering a glimpse of hope. A truth that the Light has come.

And in him, there is no darkness. 

Tuesday, November 17, 2015

In Her Words: Surviving Sexual Assault

I am so honored today to have this precious friend as a guest blogger on my blog, telling HER story in HER words. I want to let you know my perspective of her story. I've known this friend for years, and I've known her to be a loving, thoughtful, caring and kind friend, wife and mother. About eighteen months ago, she reached out and asked me to pray for her as she stood on a stage in front of thousands of college kids to tell her story. Before that, I had no idea of the pain she had endured. She has a powerful story of dark days, deep pain and God's healing. Now, she is in a season of redemption where she is using her story and telling it in order to speak into the lives of other victims. She is the real deal. These words of encouragement are not platitudes. They are truths hard fought to come to fruition in her life. We all have powerful stories. I'm privileged that my blog can be a platform to allow her to tell hers. My prayer is that it will bring light to a dark subject and bring healing to other victims and those who love them.

I should start this post off by telling you a little bit about me and my story so you’ll know where I’m coming from as I write this.  I am currently a 38 year old wife and mom.  When I am not doing all kinds of wifey and mommy things, I talk to groups about sexual assault—about prevention and recovery.  I do not have any kind of college degree that would qualify me to talk about this topic, but I lived through sexual assault as a 20 year old college junior.

I grew up in a very stable, very conservative Christian home, the oldest of 3 kids.  I usually describe my parents as Ward and June Cleaver (ya know, of Beaver fame).  I was a high achiever and very typical first child—perfectionist, type A, anal retentive, tightly wound.  Pick your adjective and I pretty much fit all of them heading into college.  I professed a belief in Jesus Christ from childhood, but my faith was pretty shallow and rules bound—I follow the rules and God will just bless my socks off, right?!  I chose to go to a Christian University in the south—in the same city where I grew up.

My freshman year, I joined a sorority.  They were known as fun girls but not nearly the worst on campus—about half rule breakers and half wholesome Christian types.  I was on a merit-based scholarship, so while I definitely joined in some of their fun, I pretty much still colored in the lines.  I was doing really well in school, appropriately balancing school and social life, and had just been voted Vice President of my sorority in January.  I had a long term on again, off again boyfriend who had taken off to Europe for a semester abroad, so I had more freedom that spring semester than I felt I had up until that point in college. 

On April 19, 1997, I joined a good friend and her parents at a local Mexican food restaurant to celebrate her 21st birthday.  I was still just 20 and while I had done my share of underage drinking, that night I was to be the designated driver so I didn’t have anything to drink prior to the one drink I would have at the party.  My roommate and I finished with the official activities and went to a party held at the house of some good friends.

At this point, I’m going to skip to the punch line because I realize that other victims of sexual assault might be reading this and there are all sorts of things that act as triggers to women who have lived through a sexual assault.  That night, I was raped by a male friend.  We had been friends since freshman year. We had both gone abroad through our university’s summer study program the previous summer, and we shared a major.  We were actually study partners that semester as we had a couple of the same classes. 

God is gracious in that I do not remember a lot of the details.  I ended up accepting a drink from him that night, and the police believe it was drugged with Rohypnol—the date rape drug.  Mercifully, whether as a side effect of the Rohypnol or as a result of Post Traumatic Stress, my memory of the actual assault is not very vivid.  I remember lots of detail leading up to the assault but almost nothing of the assault itself. 

SO, when Heather at Clinging To The Vine asked me to write this, she asked what I would say to other victims. But I’d also like to address people in general about how to help if you find yourself in a situation where this has happened to a friend.  If you have a friend that this happens to, then your job, whether you want it or not, is to immediately be the voice of logic.  My roommate handled the situation about as perfectly as someone could.  She did NOT insist I go to the hospital, though she did continue to suggest it throughout that day.  She filled in where my logic just was not functioning. My primary concern at the time was honestly making sure no one ever found out about this and wondering if he had some weird disease.  When you have been a victim of this kind of assault, there really is not much logic in play. 

I felt CRAZY guilt—I should never have been at a party with underage drinking. I should never have taken a drink. I should have listened to the stories I’d heard through the grapevine about how aggressive this male friend was.  What if I did or said something to him that indicated I was interested in that?  And probably the scariest thought—what if I’m pregnant or what if he had some kind of disease? That evening, my roommate’s logic finally prevailed and she drove me to the emergency room.

As a friend of the victim, your job longer term is to be present without being pushy.  The other great thing my roommate did was she let me proceed at my own pace in dealing with this.  She never pushed me to talk about it but she never avoided talking about it with me. 

Before my rape, I was very extroverted.   Now, I am very much an introvert.  Many times, when there is a death of someone, you might struggle with what to do or what to say to the loved ones.  I have heard those who have experienced a loss say that it is most important to acknowledge the death and to not pretend that life is the same as prior to the death.  I would say it is the exact same advice with someone who has experienced a sexual assault.  The victim is not and cannot be the same person they were before. But I have also learned that God can use even that awful event for good in their life and the lives of others.  It is important as friends and family members to be present and realistic about the event and the subsequent changes.  It is equally important for you to be a reminder—either by your presence or with your actual words—that there can be good and happy times in that person’s future. 

My main goal in writing this post is to talk directly to other victims of assault.  My story ended well.  The district attorney was not optimistic about our odds at trial.  The reality was, my delay in going to the hospital left very little physical or blood evidence.  The likelihood that my rapist had used a drug that induced at least partial amnesia meant that my memory would not be a powerful tool.  So, eventually, my father opted to call my assailant on the phone and threaten him.  He basically said the guy should steer clear of any contact with me or anyone else I was close to and if he did not, we would be pressing charges and he could expect to spend the rest of his life on a sex offender registry after he was assaulted himself in jail.  My rapist chose to leave school the next day and did not return to finish his degree until after I had graduated.  All that to say, I had the luxury of recovering without having to worry about seeing him around and I did not have to go through the trauma of a trial where the defense would likely have attacked my choices that night.

The first thing I would say to victims is, you need to get professional help dealing with this.  Whether your assault happened 2 weeks ago or 20+years ago, you need counseling if you have not had it.  I firmly believe the only reason I am a fully functioning adult in all areas of my life is because I had very supportive friends and family who all encouraged me to seek professional help.  The bottom line is there is not a person alive that you are friends with that can bear the weight of the sadness that has come to you in this circumstance—not a roommate, not a boyfriend or husband, or even a good female friend or sister—and you certainly cannot do it on your own.  They can help you shoulder the pain but ultimately you are going to have to seek outside help. 

I went into MAJOR denial after the rape.  I finished out the semester—taking my final exam sitting next to my rapist, before he had left our college.  I went on to a successful summer internship in Washington DC and then I started having panic attacks.  If you have been raped and you have not gotten professional help, you are NOT living the full life you could be living.  Your life may be pretty and decorated with all sorts of fancy distractions, but if you have not dealt with this professionally, then deep down something is missing and broken and demands attention to fix it.   I promise you are missing out on having your rape transition to become a mere footnote in your story instead of the main attraction.  If your assault is left unaddressed, you are probably completely unable to see the ways in which it has determined the course of your life.    

At the time of my assault and in the immediate aftermath, I honestly could not imagine a time when that one event did not shape everything about my life and who I am.  I am now a living testimony that this really does not have to be a big part of your story IF you deal with it now—through counseling and time.  I spent HOURS dealing with how bad it hurt and sitting with the discomfort of it all.  It was not easy or fun, but it was totally necessary.  I eliminated those people who were uncomfortable dealing with the reality of what happened to me.  I got angry with God—seriously angry.  I asked God the hard questions and then waited for those answers.  I said earlier that no human being can deal with your sadness and anger over your assault, but God actually can.  That is what I learned.

I serve a good God.  He was good before my rape; He was good during my rape; and He is good and faithful afterwards.  My heart was not the only one broken on the night of April 19, 1997—God’s broke too.  However, there is no heart-break that I suffer that God cannot redeem IF I ALLOW HIM TO! 

The story of Joseph in the Bible is one where a rather na├»ve young kid, Joseph, boasts and says all kinds of arrogant stuff to his brothers.  He is then sold into slavery where he follows all the rules, yet is still put in jail because someone lied about him.  So he goes from treasured son, to slave, to prisoner—and all the while, God is there, good, moving in the middle of all Joseph’s mess.  Eventually, Joseph becomes Pharaoh’s second in command and saves the entire nations of Egypt and Israel from starvation.  When Joseph reveals himself to his brothers who have come to beg for food, he says (in Genesis 50:20), “You intended to harm me, but God intended it all for good.  He brought me to this position so I could save the lives of many people.” 

Prior to my rape, I don’t think I had ever noticed that the translation of this story said, “He (God) brought me to this position.”  Here’s my takeaway—God put Joseph in that specific position, but God did not just whoosh him there—Joseph had a LONG and PAINFUL road to get to the position God ultimately intended him to have.  God did not want me to suffer, He did not want me to be raped, but He allowed it to bring me into a position where I could help others.  I am uniquely qualified to speak about this topic. 

Satan would like nothing more than to have your rape alter or distort your ability to commune with God.  He would like nothing more than to derail God’s good plan for your life through this one event.  If you will allow God, He can take an event that Satan meant to enslave you, and redeem it into a beautiful part of your story. 

I cannot tell you why God allowed this in your life, I can only answer that for myself.  My answer is in all honesty, at the time of my attack, I looked great on the outside, but my inner life was not great.  I was walking pretty far from the Faith I had been raised with.  My “serious” boyfriend was a jerk—someone who would not have been in it for the long haul.  God allowed this, and in my own life it resulted in the end of that unhealthy relationship and it led to better friendships with the girls that stuck with me through the messy aftermath. 

The outcome God intends from your story will be different than the outcome from my story.  Your confidence should rest in the fact that we do serve a faithful God.  We serve a God that can redeem this and one who can bring purpose from this pain and one who can buy back that destruction. 

In the book of Joel, God is talking to Israel about something bad that’s happened to them—an army of locusts has destroyed everything.  The Israelites are in a position where they are uncertain if there is any ability to have a decent future.  In modern day terms, their world had come crashing down—they have been laid bare.  God says to them in Joel 2:25—“The LORD says, ‘I will give you back what you lost to the swarming locusts.’”  He goes on to say in verse 26, “Once again you will have all the food you want and you will praise the LORD your God, who does these miracles for you.” 

If you are still reading this, chances are you know exactly how impossible it feels to believe that God can bring good out of even this.  I really do vividly remember how very dark that road feels.  I am here to tell you that God will give you the strength to get through your dark days.  You will know the sufficiency of God to daily endure this pain of your world crashing down.  Regardless of how lonely and dark it is right now, you are not alone—He is there in the middle of this circumstance, ready to deal with all this mess!  It wasn’t until years after I graduated and years in counseling that I can look back and see all the ways God provided for me during that time.  He can do the same for you.

Wednesday, November 11, 2015

When You're So Over It

Last Monday night, I was absolutely bent into fetal position, in a cry beyond the ugly cry (what is that even called? The grotesque cry?), wetting my pillows with tears and bemoaning how my life was truly over while I shook the bed with sobs and my husband sat next to me. 

Then, my son walked into the room. He asked my husband delicately, "Um, is Mom okay?"

I couldn't decide if I was relieved or disappointed that I had been found out by my offspring in the midst of a particularly ugly melt down.

My long suffering saint of a husband explained to our son that I was hitting a wall hard with all sorts of heavy burdens and frustrations.

When my son began to pray over me and rub my back, I knew I was glad he'd found me in this particular state of despair. Initially, I was embarrassed and felt the Mommy guilt of Mommy fail that my teenager saw me in a very weak moment.

But, then, I saw it for what it was. An opportunity. For my husband to lead him in how to love on and encourage and sit with a weepy mess of a woman.

That lesson should serve him well someday with his future wife. Sweet girl whom I regularly pray for even now-- you're welcome. Glad I could help ensure that my son knows how to be a safety net. I will likely be offering such service again, as I am prone to these sorts of complete unravelings on occasion.

The next day, still knee deep in a funky funk and wading through cautiously, I decided I should pray. Barely able to articulate, I instead turned on the praise and worship music, asking God to speak to me.

In case you are in the midst of a similar state of unrest, this blog post is for you.

Here's what I've discovered. Here's the whispering that came to my muddled, frustrated, downcast mind.

Dear one, you're just in the middle of it. You think this is the end. You are struggling to move forward here. You are stuck in emotional quick sand.

But you're JUST in the middle. This isn't the end. This isn't even close to the God-appointed better days to come. Just imagine all sorts of wonderful that might come your way in this life! It's not even here yet. And beyond that-- beyond your wildest imagination of a "good life"-- there's an eternal one. There's a never ending happy ending where God will create a new heaven and a new earth and Jesus will reign and we will reign with him.

Life might FEEL like it's over. Things might FEEL as if they will never change, never improve, never move forward... but it's a big fat stinking lie from the pit of hell.

Because this is just the middle.

For everyone of you stuck in the middle. For everyone stuck in the middle of cancer treatments. Stuck in the middle of financial upheaval. Stuck in the middle of a job search. Stuck in the middle of infertility. Stuck in the middle of painful relationships. Stuck in the middle of health issues. Stuck in the middle of mental health issues. Stuck in the middle of the gross and frustrating and ugly and hard that life throws our way.

You may feel stuck. 

It may feel never ending.

But it's JUST the middle. 

There are better things ahead. 

There are better days coming. There is provision and grace and faithfulness from an Almighty God that can turn the tide. There is strength and a refuge from the storms raging right now. There is a Father who covers you with his wings, giving you refuge under his feathers. There is a Heavenly Father waiting for you to cry out, "Abba! Please help!" There is a Lord of Lords and a King of Kings who is weaving all these ugly threads of struggle into a tapestry far more beautiful than you can picture.

This is JUST the middle.

You've come a long way. And there's ground to gain yet. There's mountaintops to come. There's sunsets to make you marvel. Colorful paintings of his goodness to look forward to after the scorching noon heat of the days of trial. There's an exhilaration of the finish line after the agony of the hard race run. There's laughter and smiles and memories not yet experienced after the tears and sorrow. There's incredible hello's to new things after all the painful good-byes. 

This is JUST the middle.

And there is so much more GOOD to come which will be worth it.

Hang tight. Hold on. Stand firm. Don't waiver. Don't fear. Don't be discouraged.

Every bit of this "middle" will make sense someday. The plot twists and the conflict and the tragedies will turn into triumph and gain and glory.

This is JUST the middle.

This whisper has been rolling through my heart for the last 10 days, and I am encouraged. I am leaning into the promise of better things, better days, prayers answered. I am looking up instead of looking hard at my circumstances.

And today, God wrapped it all up with a glorious bow. Just to show off that he can. Just to show that he hears and he listens and he answers and he longs to reach in and lift up every single time we are stuck in the middle.

A shoot will come up from the stump of Jesse; from his roots a Branch will bear fruit.
Isaiah 11:1

Oh, listen in, everyone. Everyone. Everywhere. All ages. Every reader. Grab another reader and share this truth. Listen carefully. This is world changing, life changing and HISTORY changing. 

Listen in, because God's story is getting good. This is the most important news ever. The best news in ALL of history, for every last person.

I cannot overstate this.

In the first 10 chapters of Isaiah, God has been warning the prophet about all the discipline and punishment and destruction to come for the rebellious, stiff necked disobedient people. God called Isaiah to go and tell, and then he charges him to go and tell the worst sort of news ever to spread to all the Israelites. 

It's all doom and gloom and I'm sure Isaiah was WAY over it! 

But then, comes verse 1 of chapter 11.

And the horrible and painful middle of the story takes a major plot twist for the best.

Because God will bring a shoot from the stump of Jesse. And from the root of the stumps, it will become a branch that bears fruit.

That branch is Jesus. For all the middle-of-the-story people, the answer is coming and his name is Jesus. He is the mighty Savior that changed our destiny and our ending because of God's great love. 

Jesus shows up in the middle of our stories to pour out grace and forgiveness and love in abundance.

When we see STUMPS, God intends FRUIT.

When all is cut down and cut off and counted out -- God brings forth a shoot. God brings the tiniest hint of the new things that he is springing up in our lives and the rivers that will come to the wastelands and the streams that will come in our deserts (Isaiah 43:18-19). 

This tiny shoot will become a branch. And not just any boring branch, but a branch that will bear fruit.

Where you see a STUMP of prayers unanswered and hope deferred and trials and hardships, and you feel that all is counted out.

THERE, God intends and wills a tiny green shoot to sprout forth. And not just a little shoot, but a shoot that will become a branch that will bear fruit.

When we are in the thick of it, lean in to this verse of Isaiah 11:1. 

The shoots of new growth and new life are coming from our dead stumps. 

God was painting a picture for Isaiah of the Messiah and Savior that would be born from the lineage of David to the people who were exiled and held captive and left in a silent waiting room for hundreds of years before that tiny babe was born in Bethlehem.

God says you may see a stump, but there's a green shoot a-coming. 

May we surrender our stumps. May we believe in the fruit and cling to the branch with boldness and courage and confidence.  

Monday, November 9, 2015

An Adoption Social Worker's Reflections on World Adoption Day

I remember being a little girl and how I loved my baby dolls. I remember carrying them all around the house, particularly my favorite doll named Chrissy. Chrissy had long auburn hair that you could make shorter by pulling a string. She was not a little baby doll, but she was made to resemble a chubby little toddler. She had big blue eyes, and she was a constant companion. I remember dressing her in my actual baby clothes, like the little delicate pink dress with the smocking and lace trim, and I remember pretending she was for real and I was an actual Mommy. 

I can never recall a time when I didn’t want to be a Mommy. I assumed a day of marital bliss and actual babies in my arms who would need me and love me and listen to me and follow me and hug me and kiss me. 

I remember changing my major in college from entrepreneurship to social work. I remember feeling the call to help other people and do something giving and life-giving with my life, just as my father had done with his life. This decision quickly led to the goal of working in the field of adoption. 

I remember my first internship with an adoption agency. I remember meeting young teens and young women who suddenly found themselves facing motherhood long before they were anticipating it and ready for it. 

Such a juxtaposition to the eager, hurting potential adoptive parents with rooms waiting to become nurseries, arms waiting to be filled, and love waiting to be shared.

I remember that those adoptive mothers were once little girls whose arms were full of baby dolls and whose hearts were full of dreams and assumptions that they, too, would naturally morph into marriage and motherhood. 

I remember the feeling at every single adoptive placement during my career in domestic adoption. Every time when a brave, courageous young woman cried long silent tears as they signed their relinquishment papers. I would sit, with notary stamp in hand, ready to bear witness to their heartbreaking and permanent and irrevocable relinquishment of parental rights. The legal documents included a page where they wrote, in their own words, why they felt making an adoption plan was in the best interest of the child they had conceived and carried and nurtured for nine months. The child they held, after delivery, looking with love and longing at the little face they knew they would not raise. 

I would sit, silently praying for composure, as I would remember.

I would remember my birth grandmother, beautiful and young and vibrant, who died from polio when my father was six. I would remember my birth great-aunt who then became the mother. I would remember that transfer of motherhood… that transaction forced by circumstances… every time I witnessed those more deliberate transfers of parenting.

I would sit, watching the brave birth mothers, feeling the cruelty of the fact that one mother’s loss would become another’s mother gain. These adoptions. These babies. Whose future was secured and birthed through the pain of intentionally choosing grief and heartache.

I would place my notary stamp and sign my name and date the documents and I would remember.

I would remember the anxious parents, just a few rooms away. Whose very dreams and future and hopes were tied up in the decision of someone unable to parent for various reasons, yet possessing a wisdom to make a plan for their child’s well-being. I would remember the parents who waited, with bated breath and great angst, with the full knowledge that the birth mother they had come to know and respect and love and admire was facing her greatest loss, from which would come their greatest reward.

I remember the words and encouragement and sometimes the hugs that I would offer to the birth mothers. I remember how my heart clenched every time, as the birth mothers would walk away, often still unsteady from the pain of child birth, with shoulders sagging under the weight of their emotions, and with a determination that put one foot in front of another.

I remember the feeling of great conflict, as I would then enter the room to inform the adoptive parents. 

It is done. This child is yours.

I remember standing in the placement room, with camera in hand, to capture the moment. To capture that moment, when frozen in time, one mother full of love and determination and reeling from loss would place her most precious of treasures into the arms of another mother—also full of love and determination and often guilt over the pain of the birth mother.

I remember all those moments of conflict.

I remember how the delicate newborn, with their angelic baby bath smells and balled up little fists, bore the burden of connection between two families. The ones so fresh and new and wonderful, who were wrapped in the love of two mothers, united by purpose and brought together by adoption.

Two mothers with an equal love for the very same child who was born from one mother’s womb and born into another’s mother’s heart.

I remember how self-conscious I felt, bearing witness to this most intimate of moments. When one mother says good-bye and another says hello.

I remember the tears shed by both parties, as they held tightly to one another, bound forever by the cherished little one that they could both claim as their own. 

I remember every one of those moments. I remember the awkwardness to find words. I remember how uncomfortable each person felt, full of sensitivity and concern for the other side of the equation. The adoptive families, full of joy and wonder and excitement, yet restraining themselves for the sake of the grief right in front of them.

I remember the grief of the birth parents, who found consolation in the joy that they knew was felt because of their selflessness.
I remember.

I remember bearing witness to this most strange and profound and sacred of moments when loss and grief and heartache and uncertainty morphed into joy and hope and dreams fulfilled.

I remember that this is the way of God.

I remember that this is a picture. That these moments and memories all point to another time.

When one side felt loss and grief and anguish and pain and heartache and rejection.

So that the other side could feel hope and joy and acceptance and belonging.

I remember these mothers. These birth mothers and these adoptive mothers.

And I remember that they all, every single one of them, point to a Father.

Who gave all that he had and who endured the greatest loss in order to achieve the richest gain.

When life is full of pain and suffering and longings unfulfilled, I must remember.

I must remember that the mysterious ways of the Father often includes the pain before it can include the reward.

I must remember that mourning leads to dancing. That ashes lead to beauty. That the moments when heaven most clearly touches earth are those intersections of loss and gain.

For surely they often come in tandem. Taunting each other in a great tension that feels like too much to bear.

I must remember well the lessons learned from adoption.

I must remember both sides.

I must remember that emptiness leads to being filled.

And giving all you have leads to the greatest gain you can imagine.