Monday, December 15, 2014

Choosing to Remember

The first Sunday of Advent turned out much the way I thought it would. Wonderful time at church with our community, a hurried lunch and cooking soup for our evening out and then a fantastic time making wreaths. My son made a new friend his age, I had a great time chatting with some recently made friends, the food was delicious and the celebration meaningful.

Then I hit Monday morning. I opened my computer while it was still dark and sipped my coffee while I read that morning devotional. I thought about the challenge issued to our community on Sunday morning- a challenge to breathe in Hope and breathe out Fear. And to try to do it constantly this week. I thought about all the articles on Ferguson I have open in my browser, all the pain I've been reading about and thinking about, the protests, the mess, the anger, the injustice. I thought about how my life right now is not in a tangible period of waiting or suffering. And I wondered how to truly dig into Advent when things feel good and right. Why should I invite the idea of suffering into my mornings when all is well?

My pastor never urged us to breathe out suffering, incidentally. None of the devotionals or articles encouraging us to step back from the harried season and think are encouraging us to avoid suffering.

I spent 6 advents waiting. 5 of those advents I felt significant suffering- the loss of Amara, the continual defeat of infertility, the loneliness of living in a place with few friends. But the bottom line was suffering and waiting were real to me. They were tangible. The act of digging in to the deep part of Advent was not actually that difficult. It was the hope and joy of Christmas that seemed elusive. 

During this season when joy feels present, when hope is easy for me, I have to remember that for a lot of people, the opposite is true. They are where I was last year, quite possibly walking in much worse places than I myself have treaded. To avoid this, to run from suffering, to only choose to remember the Light, is to forget what Advent truly means. It is to deny that there is real hurt, real pain being experienced by my fellow man. And that during Advent (and really during the rest of the year), part of the following of Christ means entering into the darkness of the world around me, empathizing, listening, grieving and, yes, still hoping. 

One of my favorite advent posts I have read this season came shortly after the Ferguson decision. Christina Cleveland writes:

"We do the Light a disservice when we underestimate the darkness... Advent is an invitation to plunge into the deep, dark waters of our worst world, knowing that when we re-surface for air we will encounter the hopeful, hovering Spirit of God. For when we dive into the depths of our worst world, we reach a critical point at which our chocolate and pageants no longer satiate our longing for hope – and we are liberated by this realization. Indeed, the light of true hope is found in the midst of darkness." 

So while it would be easy for me to find satisfaction in the chocolate and pageants and Christmas "spirit" that swirl loudly around me, the harder work of keeping my eyes open, of staying awake to the quieter pain is worth it. Even reading back through my own feelings in past years and remembering the sadness, the yearning, the pain, the never-ending wait is powerful. While I didn't enjoy those emotions at the time, I choose to remind myself. I choose not to skip straight to the joy. I choose to remember. 

Matt Jenson, in his post in the Biola Advent Project writes that "in Advent, not only do we anticipate remembering; we also remember to anticipate, to yearn for the day when Christ comes again."

Indeed, we are waiting and hoping in a Christ we know has already come. And at the same time, we anticipate another coming, another fulfillment, an end to the darkness. An end to injustice and fear and pain and miscarriage and unfulfilled longings. 

The hardest thing for me is to know the suffering and the darkness and not fear it. To know that while I am in a period of fulfilled longings right now, I do not know what pain lies ahead. To train myself to breathe in hope in the mornings and breathe out the fear of the unknown. To continue to learn how to wait on the Lord and the day of His coming, one day at a time, even when my earthly waiting is temporarily stilled and joyfully fulfilled. 

That is the work of advent for me this year. The choice to remember, the choice to see, to feel the darkness in the world even as I rejoice in the beauty of the gifts I've been given. And the choice to continue in hope, to invite the Light to shine into a broken, hurting, yearning world. 

Thursday, December 4, 2014

What I Wish I Didn't Have To Tell You

My Darling Boy,

It's your first birthday this week. We made it! That first year is so hard, kid. Sleepless nights, feedings round the clock, no personal space or time for your mama, older brother adjusting, dog in panic mode again with a little one around. It's been good and hard. The way that first year should be.

Like most parents, I've tried to treasure this year even as I've wondered what will come next. What will your personality be like? Which sports will you try and which instruments might you play? Will you like to read or prefer math or maybe both? Will you like to work with your hands or be a visual artist or dancer? Who will you be?

But son, in the wake of recent news, there are bigger questions I have right now.

How, in the name of God, will we as white parents teach you how to be a black man in this America? An America that claims to be post-racist but will target you as inferior from the get-go. An America with systems set up to make you seem suspicious, to assume failure, to promote fear of you. To hire people who will assume the worst of you because you might listen to hip-hop or wear a hoodie or walk alone in a neighborhood that is predominantly white or get behind the wheel of a car and dare to drive somewhere or play with a toy gun in public.

Who will not look at you as an image-bearer of God but a thug or a hoodlum or a troublemaker.

How, in the name of God, will we ever understand what you will feel like when these things happen? How will we help you understand? I may have been teased or underestimated or harassed as a woman. But you, my son, if things don't change, you will be in danger.

I remember the moment I realized how truly different raising you would be. I sat across a table from a Black friend at a coffee shop. She told me that she had to tell her teenage son not to drive too slowly. Not to wear a hoodie in the car. To always, always be as compliant as possible if pulled over. To keep his hands visible. To make no trouble. To be lessened, somehow. About how she worried when he was out. How she knew he would not be treated fairly. This was all before you came home, son. This was early in our process when we were trying to figure out if we could do this. Should we do this. Unfortunately, transracial adoption is not as simple as love. You will need more from us.

So, son, in the wake of continual news that has rendered me speechless and grieving, I promise you this. We will not stay silent. We will not whitewash your history. We will not pretend things are fine and good. We will not celebrate colorblindness. We will continue to teach your white brother about racism and the horrific history of our country in the hopes that he will be a voice for justice. Not just for you, but for all. We will teach you things we wish we didn't have to say. Oh sweet, innocent boy, I wish these were things we wouldn't have to say.

They shouldn't have to be.

Son, you are only one. You are still young. And because I believe in a God who wants justice more than any of us, I will also hope. Hope for deep change. Hope that this new wave of protests, that words uttered now and in the coming months will stir hearts, will unite believers and unbelievers alike to speak up for the oppressed, will ignite change in this country, will cause repentance and anger and grief. I will choose hope, even as I choose honesty. Even as I prepare for what I will say to you. Even as I try to explain Michael and Eric and Trayvon and Tamir to your brother.

Maybe by the time we start to talk about it change will be in the works. Honestly, I doubt it. But I have to hope - as a mother, as a daughter of God, as someone who cannot imagine that anyone will ever look on you with any feelings other than deep love. I have to choose hope.

So, darling boy, I ask in advance for grace. I will get it wrong. Dad will get it wrong. We can never truly understand. But son, we will ask for help along the way. We will apologize often. We will listen well to you and never discount your experiences. We will choose to live in communities who will talk about this and try to live it out, who will never separate the gospel from God's good work of justice. We will do our best to prepare you for what's ahead and we will stand beside you and behind you as you face it, knowing that God goes before us all and loves you more deeply than I can ever imagine.


Tuesday, December 2, 2014

All the Unknowns

Every two weeks, I faithfully take out my pathetic little camera phone and snap a shot of my littlest. I compose a short text with some updates and send it all along to his birthmother. In 10 1/2 months, I had gotten two replies. Two. That's 34 messages and only twice had they been acknowledged. Both times, his BM stressed how hard this is and how much she missed him, so I'm not sitting around feeling annoyed or bitter about her lack of reply. Simply put, I have no idea what she's going through and I don't begrudge her her silence.

Two text messages. Until his birthday this past weekend during during which we were surprised (and so very excited) to receive a birthday message for him and the first pictures we've ever received of his birth mother and half sister. Treasure, really, in the adoption world. We were so grateful and those pictures will go right in his life book. But you know what? I want so much more for him than 3 text messages and a few pictures.

Daily something arises in his little life and I wonder if it's just his unique personality or if one of his birth parents was like this. I don't have his biological grandparents to ask those fun questions- "Did his dad scream with delight like this as a baby? Did his mom blow kisses to the dog, too? Were either of them this mind-bogglingly large at this age?" I don't know who he looks like - the recent picture we received was more of an artsy profile shot. No idea whose toes he has or which expressions mirror which parent.

All the unknowns feel like a loss to us. I can only imagine what they will feel like to him when he realizes them.

One of the things I pray for daily is that his BM will change her mind about meeting us all. I have these fantasies of us sharing Thanksgiving dinner in 10 years or meeting up every few months to laugh and chat or, at the very least, when we likely need to leave Wisconsin in a year and a half, being willing to hang out at a coffee shop for a few, potentially awkward, minutes so she can meet him before we move very far away. Not to say that we wouldn't return for him to see her- we knew when we adopted here that we were also quite possibly making a lifelong commitment to Wisconsin.

But you know what I want to know? How long has his family been here? What is his sister like? She looks sassy and sweet in her picture, having struck this adorable little pose with her hand on her hip and this huge smile lighting up her face. How is his BM handling the loss of him TODAY? How can we support her and love her?

And possibly the hardest part of all of this is that we will truly never know his birth father. That door closed a long time ago. We may eventually get answers to the pieces of his life puzzle on his BM's side but the other side will always stay dark. There will always be more unknowns for him than for my other son. And having to tell him about that man? I don't look forward to the hurt and confusion it will cause when that day comes but he deserves to know his story.

Before we adopted, I remember a friend of mine with two internationally adopted children lamenting the fact that there will be whole pieces of their lives that don't include her. The first years of their lives in orphanages, their birth stories, the missing newborn pictures. When they first spoke or walk. There was a whole other life these kids had lived.

I cannot imagine how that feels.

Having our little guy come to us at 6 weeks old, we have gotten to experience a lot of the firsts. His brother and I watched him take his first steps exactly two weeks ago. I get to hear him call the dog "God" and I was there the first time he called for Mama from his crib. I've rocked him to sleep for almost 11 months now. I watched him learn to grab things and sit up and recognize us and crawl with passionate delight towards his dad when he gets home at night. He didn't have much going on in life before we met him- pretty much that newborn trifecta of eat, sleep and poop at his foster parents home. We did miss his birth, his coming home, his first smile - but he's rewarded us with about 10,000 since then so I guess we're ok. In the grand scheme of things, we didn't miss much.

I am grateful I'll be able to tell him anecdotes about him as a baby and fill in some of his story. But I also long for the ability to tell him more. To fill in hard gaps. To help him learn how to cleave to God when his human story cannot be enough for him and, to be honest, might be entirely too much to take in. To teach him ways to work through questions of identity and community that will be more confusing for him being raised by white parents.

There will always be unknowns. That's adoption. We welcomed the unexpected and the unanswerable into our lives when we signed all the papers.

We also welcomed deep joy in the midst of the all the questions. I am hoping that as we continue on this path, as he grows more and learns to talk and hears his story, that he will be able to fully mourn the losses and unknowns even as the Lord teaches him to fully delight in Him.

Advent is a season for pondering the suffering in our lives and in the world- and right now, we don't feel much of that. We are in a place characterized more by joy right now. It would be tempting to jump straight to Christmas. But I am no stranger to the idea that our joys are made sharper, more intense by the sorrows we've experienced- I did spend 6 advents and Christmases longing for this child, waiting in sorrow, mourning the loss of Amara. The sorrows our little guy has in store will be no easy thing to work through. We will cry alongside him when he's hurt, we will fight alongside and before him when he is treated unjustly, we will mourn alongside him when the pieces we have of his story only cause confusion.

May we continue to learn to both mourn and delight as the time of his understanding approaches so that he might, as much as possible, learn those things with parents who know them, too.