(Not a ) Mom

Today’s guest post comes to us from my longstanding, dear friend Cathy. Cathy and my husband were in graduate school together, which means we had a lot of deep, late night conversations that twenty somethings have. During one of those late night conversations Cathy became the very first person that “came out” to me as being a lesbian. My husband and I loved Cathy before that conversation, loved her even more during it for sharing her soul, and many years later love her still. So it was with great joy a few years back we learned that Cathy was joining her life with her beloved. We were so happy that she had finally found love and that even happier that she was inheriting a family! Since Cathy is one of the most thoughtful people I know, I had no doubt that she be a great mom to her new step-children. I am grateful today to share her words with you.

mosaic of motherhood

I’m a mom. I’m also not a mom. The truth and fullness of both of those statements sometimes overwhelms me. I’ve never been pregnant. Never birthed a child. I’m not even legally, formally responsible for anyone other than myself. And yet, there are four young adults in the world who I parent, to whom I’m attached, and to whom I’m committed.

Here’s how I became a mom: When my partner and I began dating I knew she had kids. We had actually been good friends throughout high school and college but lost touch after I moved away from our hometown. One of the last things I heard from her was that she and her then partner were fostering a sibling group of four children.

By the time we reconnected almost ten years later, she had adopted the kids. She had also split from her ex. Although the attraction between us was immediate, I had serious misgivings about becoming involved with her. These kids had already been through so much and their needs were still great. What did I have to offer? Further, as a child of divorce and bad step-parenting myself, I was extremely hesitant to take them on the roller coaster of imposing myself as a new family member. Further still, at the time, the kids ranged in age from 9 to 16. I’d be entering their lives at a developmental phase that is notoriously tough even for the best and most conventional families. Needless to say, I was terrified of messing up.

Mixed with the hesitation and doubt, though, was a sense of calling. It’s not enough to say I followed my heart into this family. I also had a deep sense of purpose and conviction that I had gifts to bring to their table, that I belonged with them, and that my puzzle piece fit with theirs. I believed we could put together a beautifully complex picture. Thankfully, they welcomed me in.

That was almost seven years ago. Since then we’ve had some wonderful times together. There have been many meaningful conversations around the dinner table, nights curled up on the couch together for a movie, and fantastic family vacations. We’ve celebrated great successes of each child and watched them rise higher than even they expected. Last Christmas Eve, we witnessed the birth of a beautiful granddaughter who has us all smitten.

Best of all, I say “I love you” to them and they say it back.

(not a) mom

There have also been some truly rough moments. At times, remnants of the trauma they experienced before going into foster care rears its head. We face it together, sometimes with the help of a therapist, sometimes on our own. Or the common symptoms of teenage-hood (and emerging adulthood for the two oldest) cause a struggle. Sometimes my own inexperience and frustration mucks things up and I ask for a do over.

More than anything, definitely more than the “great” times, it’s the hard passages that have turned me into a parent and which irrevocably tie me to these kids. They let me in and because of that even in the toughest moments I choose to stand by them. For kids who’ve already experienced so much change, I’m committed to being a constant. I will always choose them, love them, and act in their best interest. Sometimes I cheer, sometimes I soothe, sometimes I coach, other times I yell. All the time I keep hoping for and willing them each toward their best selves and their best lives.

And yet…

I see my place in their lives. Even as I stand and cheer I know that I am not the one they want most. As for being a mom, I come in third or fourth place for them at best. Once you add in other family members, romantic interests, and close friends I may be even further down the list. That’s the journey every parent is on, isn’t it? You rejoice in the time when you are the center of your child’s universe, but eventually they grow up and choose new family—conventional or otherwise. Your role as a parent, while no less significant, becomes at least a tiny bit less primary.

Here’s how I’m not a mom: I didn’t get that phase of being primary. I won’t ever get it. There are moments when I mourn that fact with the same deep longing of every woman who wants children and doesn’t yet have them. I won’t get to be anyone’s first teacher. I won’t get to shape the life experience of anyone from when they were fresh from the womb. I won’t get to see my reflection in the being of another whether physical or behavioral.

And yet…those experiences, although significant, aren’t primary for me either. They are not what drew me to be a part of this family.

I am cheering for my kids and even though I’m not first, I have a front row seat.

I’m still standing constant, still loving them in the tough times as well as in the best.

And because of that, even though I’m not a mom, I’m a mom.

And They Came Two by Two

This month I am excited to share a variety of motherhood stories from a diverse and wonderful group of women. Each day we will read a guest post sharing a particular mother’s story will all its glory and struggle. Over the course of the month we will see how these women’s stories weave together. Are there common threads? Which threads will be unique? Together they will come together to make a beautiful mosaic of motherhood. 

mosaic of motherhood

The story we begin with is my own.

And my motherhood story starts with infertility. The lack of motherhood. For years my husband and I tried desperately to get pregnant, to no avail. Mother’s Day after Mother’s Day would come and seemingly every other woman was being honored for their motherhood except me. I was deeply sad, confused, and ashamed of my failure to be fertile.

After some time, my husband I decided to give up on conception. We began exploring the path of adoption, which ended with us pursuing an international adoption though China. We filled out paperwork, were interviewed, filled out more paperwork, were fingerprinted. On an on it went. Until one day we were finished. We mailed our giant package off to China and settled in for a year’s wait until we would be matched with our daughter. We were officially “paper pregnant.”

Needless to say we were thrilled to have finished this big hurdle. We celebrated in style.

And then a month later I found out I was four weeks pregnant.

To say we were shocked would be an understatement. I don’t remember being happy as much as in awe. The first thing we agreed upon after realizing we actually were pregnant (i.e. three EPTs later) was that we would go through with the adoption. This child out in the world somewhere had already made her home in our heart. I had no idea how we would manage to be pregnant twice in two different ways. I would have laughed if I wasn’t scared to death.

And then this verse began popping up in my life,

“With God All Things Are Possible.”

I saw it on bumper stickers, balloons, note cards. I took it as a sign to just settle in and hang on.

Which was good, for the road was about to get bumpy. For in addition to being mostly infertile, I also have a uterine deformity that can lead to pregnancy complications. The day we found out we were having a boy, we also found out my cervix was weakening and that my pregnancy was in danger. I was put on moderate bed rest until further notice.

I pretty much prayed and cried my way through the rest of the pregnancy. Meanwhile my husband began assembling TWO cribs, buying TWO car seats, and making all the other preparations for what could potentially be biologically unrelated twins. It was a race to the finish to see which kid would come first. Would I go into early labor? Would we get our referral and travel orders sooner than expected? Would my husband be in China when the baby was born? How old would our daughter be when she came home?

All these questions made my head hurt so bad I gave up on answering them. I clearly was not in control of any of this. God, the babies and, oh yeah, China were in charge. I began to surrender myself to whatever would be. Good practice for motherhood as it turns out.

In the end my son was born first (on time) and then five weeks later my husband traveled to China to bring home a year-old little girl.

they came two by two

The big sister/little brother duo were immediately a hit with each other and everyone we knew. We had pink and blue everything given to us by the truckload. We were written up our small town’s local paper. People would stop us at the grocery store to admire and ask questions.

Everyone was delighted.

Everyone except me.

I was exhausted and completely overwhelmed.

We thought we had made great plans for childcare and how we would balance work with caring for the kids. My husband would serve as a part-time minister at his church. I would continue my full-time, full benefits job serving my own church. It looked great on paper before there were any living beings involved.

But then I had an infant son who only wanted me and my milk all the time.

And then there was the toddling daughter who still seemed to have no idea who I was since I was always busy either working or caring for her infant brother.

As that first year went on things just got worse. Our childcare provider had a change in situation that prevented her from watching our children anymore. We could find no replacement. My husband was getting angry and resentful that he couldn’t get any work done. And I was decompensating. My weekly bout of stomach pain that kept me up in the night (like I wasn’t already sleep deprived) was now painful enough to send me to the ER regularly.  After a multitude of tests it was found I had acid reflux as a result of a hiatal hernia my son had given me as a parting pregnancy gift combined with a large amount of STRESS.

I so much wanted to do it all.

I had worked for years to get my ministry degree and had fought hard for a chance to do ministry in an area where many people still considered that a man’s job.

But I just couldn’t do it anymore. I didn’t even want to. I just wanted to care for my son, bond with my daughter, and SLEEP.

The day I told my husband I was quitting my job he didn’t argue with me. He knew I was sinking. So I turned in my request for family leave and we packed up and moved to a cheaper house nearer our family and better job opportunities for my husband.

I grieved a lot those first years for the career to which I was pretty sure I would never return.

motherhood stories two by two

But then I also had this: Oodles of time with two of the most precious beings I could never have imagined.

I went back to that promise, “All Things Are Possible With God.”

At first I wondered if the promise was true, then why was I struggling so much to work and care for my kids?

Was it my fault for not being good enough, not strong enough?

Over time I’ve come to other conclusions.

I was possible for me to be a minister and for me to be a mom twice over. Both undertakings which were against the odds.

However, it was not a great a idea for me personally to do those two things at the same time.

The greater miracle was that I was able to lay aside my ambition and rest into mothering these two gifts.

Not that quitting work would be everyone’s miracle. That is not everyone’s path or even everyone’s possibility.

But it was the miracle for me. That God would make it possible for me to lay down the identity I had gotten so attached to in order to “just be a mom.”

And in “just being a mom” and loving on my two beloved ones to find an even deeper identity. One of “just being a child of God” and realizing how loved I am not for leading or serving, but for just existing in this world.

I still struggle sometimes with the “what am I worth if I am not working” question.

But then I look at my kids and how beautiful they are and know that I have worth. And not just because I am their mom. But because they are the mirrors that finally allowed me to see myself for who I was all along.

Baptism Stories

I was baptized when I was 12 years old at the Methodist church in which I grew up. It was a part of our yearly confirmation ceremony and was on the whole a very lovely day. The confirmands themselves helped lead the Palm Sunday service.  When my pastor laid his water cupped hand upon my head, I felt the love of the whole church washing down over me. It was easy to take my vows of membership after that.  Why wouldn’t I want to join this group of people who had cradled me since I was a small child?

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The first time I witnessed a baptism outside my tradition I was in college.  I had gone to church with my Baptist boyfriend.  When I saw the white clad candidate be plunged under water, I gasped out loud.  Suddenly the verses about dying and being risen with Christ came to life in frightening fashion before my eyes. That day I learned becoming a new creation is as equally terrifying as it is wonderful.

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My own children were baptized by pouring.  We carried them forward together though they looked and reacted as different as different can be. My son was six months old, dressed in a handmade embroidered baptismal gown as white as his skin. He wailed as the pastor tipped him down and poured the chilly water over his head. He would much have preferred to continue nursing and cuddling in peace and quiet than be called by name and baptized in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost. We dried him off and I quieted him by snuggling him warm to my chest. My daughter on the other hand took it all in joyfully. She who was dressed in her glittering Chinese gown, all gold-covered red. She accepted the water and her new name, the one that made her a part of our family as well of the family of God that day. Then she waved her one-year-old hand at all the smiling faces when her Daddy walked her up and down the aisles, jingling her bracelet of bells in celebration coming and going. In the crying and in the laughing my husband and I were nothing but well-pleased to have our children be named and welcomed not only into our lives, but into our churches lives as well.

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The first Episcopalian baptism I witnessed was actually that of a family of girls.  Four of them all together in a row renounced evil and clung to Jesus that day. After the water was dried from their smiling faces, they were anointed with oil, sealed by God’s Spirit as God’s own daughters forever. Then each child was given a candle of light from the light of Christ to symbolize the light they were now called to share with the world. Except in their child-like excitement, the flame grew more than expected. One of the sisters leaned her candle too close to another. The child’s hair went from natural auburn red to burning with red and orange flames. Parishioners from the front rows jumped up to tamp out the girl’s flaming hair. I have heard it reported that the little girl’s memory from that day is that the Holy Spirit came down upon her with flames of fire and then the church came up and laid hands upon her as the Spirit fell down. And in many ways, that is exactly what happened. 

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As we celebrated Baptism of the Lord Sunday today, so many images came flooding through my mind:

images of welcome and adoption,

images of naming and being known,

images of being loved and delighted in even in the deep knowing,

images of being stripped of all that is not Christ and being filled with all that is light and love,

and being set on fire and called to go forth to bear that light and love with the world.

Do you have a favorite baptism story you would like to share? Or an image of what baptism means to you?

As always, feel free to share these stories with others.

 

A Choice We Make Every Day

Many years ago when we were starting the process of adopting our daughter from China, our social worker told us that adoption is a choice that you make every day.  She was so very right.  For many, many months we had to fill out forms, pass interviews, fill out more forms, get fingerprinted, and then put more completed forms in the mail.  Then there was the time we had to harass our senators to pressure the immigration agency to deal with the bottle neck that was preventing our daughter’s paperwork from clearing.  Yeah.  It was enough to make us want to bang our heads against the wall many a day.

But We Never Gave Up.

 Each day we kept getting out of bed and taking one more step

toward becoming the parents of our daughter.

Eighteen months and a surprising, but successful high-risk pregnancy later, my husband, newborn son, and I met our daughter.  One I came to know her, I realized having her in our life was worth every moment of difficulty and frustration.   I mean, just look at that face.

making the choice

However, it is not just adoptions that require us to keep making the choice for love or purpose or whatever it is that we are really choosing.  Just recently I got my advent devotional, Lighten the Darkness, published as an e-book on Amazon.  Now in the writing and publishing world, this was a very small project.  It only took me a year from start to finish.  That being said, there were many days when I just got bogged down in it all.  I would feel tired or apathetic and be tempted to just let the project fade away.  And then there were the days when I desperately wanted to finish, but got caught up in the mire of editing or copyright legalities and would just feel stuck.  Some days there was more crying and banging my head on the keyboard than writing or productivity.

But something inside me felt this project was important enough to wake up each day and keep moving forward with it.  I had to keep choosing to write, keep choosing to publish.  After 365 days of choosing, I met my first goal.

Now there are some things in life that are worth choosing, but don’t have a nice neat ending.  We choose to continue to be married to our love and then make choices each day that support this state instead of destroying it.  Or we choose each day to parent our child, even when they are on our nerves so badly that we are tempted to instead muster up enough cash to flee to Mexico.   We choose to get up and work another day at a job where we make a difference, even when no one notices how much we give.  All these are very “in the trench” endeavors.

This is on the whole hard, sweaty work that is often more than we ever bargained for.  Work that often involves more tear stains on the keyboard than the Kodak moments we had envisioned.  But still we keep choosing.  We choose love and purpose and life because in the end they are so worth it.

Sometimes we talk here about the need to let things go or say “no thank you.”  But today I wonder what is so important to you that it is worth getting up and choosing again every single day.  What are the things that bring you life and love and purpose?  Those things?  Hold on to them.  Don’t give up on them.  For somethings are worth the choosing.things worth choosing