Confessions of a Lent Failure

I stink at Lent.

In my defense, I came late to it. I’m from a Southern Baptist background (that’s “Southern” with a capital “S”) and didn’t even know what Lent was all about until a few years ago. Mostly Lent, to me, meant self-deprivation – you know, somebody is always giving something up for Lent.

Now I belong to a church where Lent is actually a thing. We are encouraged to use the 40 days leading up to Easter to prepare our hearts for the celebration of the death and resurrection of Christ. It’s a beautiful idea but I fail in the execution. Part of my problem is that I am a poor planner. Let me rephrase that: I’m actually a pretty good planner with terrible follow-through. I believe that makes me what is commonly known as a procrastinator.

Also, basically it’s 40 days of waiting. I’m terrible at waiting. And 40 days is a long time, am I right?

But then comes Holy Week.

Something happens to my heart during Holy Week.

I’m once again overwhelmed with emotion at the perfectly choreographed series of events that culminated in the resurrection of Christ.

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It’s like (as with so many other things) I suddenly look up and realize – it’s almost here. It’s coming and if I don’t wake up I’m going to miss out, and my heart starts beating a little faster.

Palm Sunday rolls around and I read about how they shouted “Hosanna” and laid down palm branches for His donkey to walk on, and I think He knows. He knows that all these happy faces who are greeting Him like the King He truly is, they’re going to turn on Him in just a few days. How can you enjoy the accolades when you know they will become jeers in mere days?

I think about the disciples and how confused they must have been at Jesus’ words. He’d said all along that He had to go away and prepare a place for them, but even with the miracles they’d seen, they couldn’t know what was coming.

The players in this drama couldn’t have imagined that they would be witnessing the greatest sacrifice and then the greatest miracle the world has ever known, and it was all for them. And me. And you. And all of mankind.

I think about His mother Mary, because I’m a mother and I cannot so much as even think about the idea of watching my own child die that way, for I have no doubt that she saw Christ as her much-loved son as well as her Saviour.

Each day of Holy Week weighs heavy on my heart from the gravity of my sin. My sin that led Him to that cross.

The last supper.

The betrayal of Judas.

Peter’s denial.

The travesty of a trial.

The beatings.

The march to Calvary.

The mockery.

The darkness.

The agony.

And in the midst of the agony, mercy for the man hanging beside Him.

And for the ones persecuting Him: Father forgive them..

And mercy for me.

That Good Friday seemed to be anything but good.

Love drove Christ straight to that cross and love kept Him there.

(And now I get to write my two favorite words in the whole world…)

But God…

But God had a master plan, and it was not for His Son to stay in the grave.

Three days later He came back, just like He said He would.

(I wonder sometimes how I would have responded to Jesus in those days. I have the advantage of history and seeing Him proven faithful over and over, but those who walked with Him had to take Him at His word.)

God doesn’t leave us dead in our sin either. Easter is a reminder of the way I was once dead inside but given new life in Christ.

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I think maybe I save up all my Lent meditation for Holy Week because now it seems like I can’t stop thinking about Jesus’ death and resurrection.

Better late than never, I suppose.

(If you’ve managed to read my ramblings to this point, thank you for your patience.)

How about you? Do you do anything special to prepare for Easter?

Good Mom, Bad Mom

I bought a level at the home improvement store last week. It’s not fancy but the perfectionist inside me is clapping her hands with glee because finally perfection is within reach, at least when it comes to hanging pictures. I love knowing that I have a tool to let me know just how close I am to the ideal. If I’m little off in my placement, the little bubble inside the level will show me, and I can adjust accordingly.

levelToo bad there’s not a tool like that for parenting.

Raising children is a figure-it-out-as-you-go adventure. Read all the books you want but not much can prepare you for the actual moment they place an actual real live baby in your actual arms. There is no one-size-fits-all approach to parenting, which is a cruel trick, because just when you think you’ve figured out your first child, the second one comes along and whatever you did with the first one doesn’t work for the second one. And don’t even get me started on the third one and the ones that might come after.

I’ve been a mother for over a quarter century now. It has stretched me in more ways than I can count, and I’m not just talking about the stretch marks of a body that has adjusted to carry a new life inside.

I’ve been a working mother and a stay at home mother as well as a work at home mother. (By the way, they’re all hard and it’s high time we stopped trying to shout each other down about whose way is right. But that’s another blog post entirely.)

So how can we know if we’re doing it right? It’s not by measuring ourselves against other mothers because that’s just a sure way to feel inadequate (if we’re looking at the amazingly put-together Mom in the car line) or smug (if we’re looking at the Mom in Target with a toddler having a full-blown tantrum in the aisle). Neither is going to end well.

It’s not by asking our friends because let’s face it: friends (good ones, anyway) see the best in you and will loudly congratulate you for feeding your kids whole-grain Eggos for breakfast instead of donuts, while forgetting all about the time you forgot to pick up little Susie at preschool because you were getting your hair done. They’re biased, as they should be.

It’s not even by measuring our kids’ behavior because even the most well-intentioned parent sometimes has a child who goes off the rails. And sometimes otherwise “good” kids make bad choices that lead to “good” parents feeling bad about themselves. Not that I’d know anything about that myself. (Just kidding. If I knew how to do it right I wouldn’t be writing this blog post. I’d be writing a how-to book and counting my millions.)

You could wait until your children are grown up and ask them what they think. This is especially helpful if they have children of their own because somehow, raising their own little blessings provides perspective you just can’t find anywhere else.

The truth is we are all doing the best we can at this parenting gig. No one’s perfect. No one approach works for all kids. Some moms stay home, some  work, some work at home in between parenting kids. Some kids need strict discipline and some fare just fine with loose boundaries.

The “right way” doesn’t exist.

There’s no magic formula for parenting. We’re all scientists in the lab of real life conducting our own on-going experiments with wildly different results.

But I did come up with a short quiz to let you sort of take your Momming temperature and see how you’re doing.

Here’s the first question: do you love your children? I don’t mean do you like them. Even the best mother will admit (if she’s honest) that there are occasionally times she doesn’t like one or more of her children, or more accurately, her children’s behavior. But overall, do you feel love toward the kids themselves?

If you answered “yes”, the second part is this: do your children know that they know that they know they are loved? Do you tell them? Do you show them? Do you love them in their love language? Do you love them enough to do the hard things, the things they might not like? Do you blow kisses at your middle schooler when you drop her off at school, totally negating any cool factor she’s managed to accumulate? Maybe that last one is just me.

If you can answer “yes”, I’d say you’re doing a fine job.

Now, of course there’s more to parenting than just loving your kids but the truth is most of those other things will flow out of that all-encompassing, throw-yourself-in-front-of-a-train, indescribable-but-yet-I’m-trying kind of love. When you act from that place of love, your kids are going to know it, even if they can’t put words to it. Even if they can’t understand why you do what you do. Even if they throw mean words back at you and appear to reject it. (if you relate to that I’m going to go out on a limb and guess you have a teenager)

If you’re loving your kids and showing it to them with words and actions, you’re doing it right, Mom.

Remember this on the days when nothing goes the way it should.

When you burn the toast and set off the smoke detectors twice in one 10 minute time period.(True story)

When the kids go to bed without a bath for the third night in a row.

When everyone has cereal for dinner because you forget to plan ahead.

When you’ve lost your temper and raised your voice. Again.

When you have to dig the gym uniform out of the dirty laundry because you forgot to wash it.

When you plop your littles in front of the TV so you can finish reading the last chapter.

When you lock yourself in the bathroom for fifteen minutes because it’s the only place you can be alone.

Because Mom love means that the bad days won’t happen every day, that many more days will be marked by hugs and sweet words and time spent making memories.

And because your kids might not tell you, I will: you’re doing a great job, Mom. Keep it up.

 

10 Years Later: What I’ve Learned About Adoption

It’s been 10 years since we were handed our new daughter in the meeting room of a hotel in Guiyang, China.

Ten years since we wrapped arms and hearts around her and promised to never, ever let go.

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The moment our family of four became five.

That moment was the culmination of years of preparation, none of which actually prepared us for the job of parenting a child born to other parents in a foreign country.

We went into it for all the best reasons and wanting only to love her just as we already loved our biological children, and we do – fully and unconditionally. She is our daughter in every sense but genetic.

But that day was not just the end of the wait. It was our beginning as a new family and a bold step into the unknown.

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Notice the look in her eye. I should have realized what we were dealing with right then and there.

A lot of well intentioned people told us some hard things before our adoption but in my usual way I chose to focus on the positives and pretty much ignore the negatives, because we were going to do it all the right way. No room for the bad stuff in our adoption!

Side note: I remember when my first daughter was born and I inwardly resolved to be the first perfect mother raising the first perfect child. That turned out just about the way you imagine it might have, which is to say disastrous. When my second daughter was born I set out to be the best mother I could for her, but I’d given up (temporarily, it seems) on perfection.

Oh yes. We knew all about taking it slowly, things like not immediately stripping off the clothing she wore to dress her in the pretty things we brought for her. We knew to follow her lead and not expect her to behave like our other two daughters did at the same age. We recognized that developmentally she might be delayed and we were prepared for that. We knew that we might not feel a connection to this tiny stranger right away, that adoption is similar to an arranged marriage, where the commitment might come before the love develops.

All those things were useful, but it still wasn’t enough.

And so it’s been 10 years of love, lessons, and learning for us. Here are some things I’ve learned.

1. Adoption involves loss. Always. Maybe not for you, but always for your child. You can sugarcoat it all you want and imagine a happily ever after to rival any fairy tale. You can love her with all your heart (and hopefully you will, if not at first at least eventually) but you can never make up for the loss of her birth parents, so don’t waste your time trying. Your child may not be able to put words to the feelings but if you’re paying attention you will see signs of grief, whether in outright tears, or anger, or a quiet sadness. And just when you think the clouds have passed, you may still see storms pop up every now and then. There has been a loss and the sooner you acknowledge and accept the elephant in the room, the better for all concerned.

2. Not knowing is not ideal. I used to think that one reason we chose China is because the possibility of having our adoption disrupted by the birth parents was next to none. I liked the feeling of security. But that security comes at a cost. The same laws that mean my daughter’s birth parents can’t come forward to claim her also mean that we will never know anything about them. Were they smart? Athletic? Fiery-tempered? Which parent gave her that cute nose? Which shares her smile? We’ll never know. The sparse details we have are hardly enough to satisfy her curiosity when she comes asking questions, and I’m deeply sorry about that. I wish I knew more so I could tell her more.

3. Love doesn’t conquer all, but it’s a great start. I think I believed that once we held our daughter she would suddenly feel secure, and she would latch onto us and never look back. (cue the violins and send out the rainbows and unicorns) Attachment disorder is a thing, people. Our daughter loves us and she is attached, but there’s still some push/pull going on sometimes that is painful for all concerned.

4. You can’t force a child to love her heritage. We have tried to lead her there and she just won’t go. For the first few years we celebrated Chinese holidays, joined a Chinese cultural group, took Mandarin classes, and incorporated Chinese art in our home decor. I bought Chinese cookbooks with the idea that I would learn to cook some authentic foods that we would all enjoy together. Once she got old enough to ask that we skip the Chinese New Year celebration we chose to respect her wishes. At this point she seems totally uninterested. The only Chinese dish she likes is rice – not the fried variety but the white kind that can’t even properly be considered “Chinese”. Occasionally we mention that it’s the time of year for a particular Chinese celebration, only to be met with a shrug. I still hope that one day she will be interested in her heritage but right now she considers herself strictly American.

5. Sometimes different does not equal special. When I reminded my daughter this morning that today marks 10 years since we met for the first time, her reaction could only be termed “underwhelming” if not downright hostile. She’d just rather not discuss it. It could be that she doesn’t like being reminded that she joined the family in a way different from her sisters. Being different in that way apparently doesn’t make her feel special. In fact it’s just the opposite. I’m guessing she feels like she stands out but not in a good way. On a similar note, she doesn’t like to see pictures of herself as a baby and she can’t or won’t articulate exactly why. I suspect it has to do with being reminded of how she came to be one of us. I love the process of adoption and am terribly sentimental about those days, but then again I’m on the other side of things.

6. Her story is her story. When her questions come (and they do) I try to answer them as best I can but I do my best to refrain from discussing personal details with other people. But you say, here you are writing about it for all the world to read. Yes I am, but in general terms. We don’t have many details about her history but what we do have is hers, which is why you won’t read it here unless she gives me permission to write about it.

I used to think that raising an adopted child was just like raising a biological child except for the way they joined the family. Uh, no. There are so many nuances to the dynamics of adoption that don’t apply to your other kids. And not all adopted children behave the same way. It’s all pretty confusing, isn’t it? We’re learning as we go. Ten years from now I might have a totally different outlook.

But then there are the days when I forget that she looks different from me. That it surprises me when strangers do a double take, as they sometimes do.

It reminds me of the old joke about the adoptive Mom who says, “One of my children is adopted but I forget which one.”

So yeah, love may not conquer all.

But it sure is a good place to start.

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