“It was almost like they were suggesting it could ruin our family.”
It took a minute to register.
What my dear friend had been carefully advised against — adoption — was the life I was living.
My mind flashed to Hope practicing her ballet routine for a March performance, holes in her tights and a leotard stretched thin across her muscular frame, with graceful movements that sometimes make me catch my breath. And then Caleb, making dollhouse furniture in stealth for his sisters in the basement; he loves a good surprise.
I share their names here, now, because they aren’t statistics or a rescue mission or a cause. They’re my children. But in the context of a conversation had by a friend and another — about a hypothetical for her life — children like mine (once adopted) were positioned as potentially destructive.
Though pained by the implication, I sympathized with the one giving advice. No one wants to walk with a limp. Most of us just aren’t self-aware enough to say it: we don’t like feeling weak. We’ll claw our way out of any situation to avoid it.
No one wants to walk with a limp. Most of us just aren’t self-aware enough to say it: we don’t like feeling weak. We’ll claw our way out of any situation to avoid it.
If you walked into my kitchen at 5pm in the winter after we’d completed one of our adoptions you might have thought we were ruined. I surely did.
The sun would sink earlier every day, and one of my children would sink right with it. The “cause” changed daily: not enough food at dinner, too many piles to sweep, a sibling’s accidental elbow bump (all things that the rest of us have learned to weather), made this child wail. Night after night we fielded the sobs knowing it was probably easier for her to cry over spilt milk than to go into the crux of her pain, a loss that no five year-old should ever have to face.
So we held her when there were too many piles to sweep and I wondered if I’d ever know normal again.
My neighbor might have called that ruined. Gone were the days of cuddled read-alouds by the fire at dusk. At least for a while.
But after I tucked them in bed and in between her sobs and up the stairs and down, ushering children into jammies, I prayed a new kind of prayer. Prayer was no longer discipline, I was desperate. Tired and needy and confused. And weak. Really weak. There were no books to tell me what to expect from my child, with her particular history — her cocktail of losses and grief, who was wedged into our particular family. Even the best parenting strategies were not sufficient. I needed Him.
We were the kind of weak which many Christians spend their entire lives training themselves to not be.
Some might say we were ruined.
But something was happening on my insides that had started years before and is still working its way into me. I started to lean in to the weakness.
I started to like the benefits of seeing these layers of me unraveling at the feet of Jesus who never promised me a strength in my own self. I studied His expression towards me when I brought nothing but tears and questions to our conversation — the parts of His Word that reminded me that the brokenhearted weren’t just the ones we smugly label as “damaged” from within our cushioned lives, but the brokenhearted was me. I noticed how He treated the ones I would have judged — without a plan and needy — because now I was one of them.
What some may have called the end of us was stocked with more understanding of the gentle-handedness of God than any single one of my strongest days could have produced.
My children didn’t “ruin” me. I was ruined long before them. They were the circumstance He used to merely make this safely-hidden fact, obvious (to me): I am weak. Terribly weak.
I am no more ruined than I was when life ran on time and all the piles were swept and we knew what to expect out of each day. It’s just that I now can see it a little more clearly.
We think: “when I get there [to that elusively strong place] then I’ll rest, be satisfied, be confident, change the world, [fill in the blank].” We go to embarrassing lengths to claw our way out of any situation that makes us feel helpless and weak. We’ll do anything to feel strong again, even if that “strength” is a mere shadow. However, His invitation to us was and always will be: die (to this figment of strength you’ve created), and then we’ll really go for a ride together.
My children didn’t “ruin” me. I was ruined long before them. They merely made this safely-hidden fact, obvious (to me): I am weak. Terribly weak.
This cross I carry bears down on me and makes me sweat when I haven’t planned that I’d be sweating it out. It sucks the productivity out of me some days and I have splinters from it that feel permanently lodged. I get grumpy, under the weight of it.
Yet, it’s stunning, this best part of my story.
She pirouettes through the kitchen and he stores books under chairs and couches so he can read them in between chores and another paints us a picture of a boat for our bedroom that’s better than anything I’ve ever bought from a store. They belt out hymns in the shower and pray for me when I’m sick and cut fresh flowers for scattered vases in late March.
But, lest you think the answer is that “it all turned out ok”, even the best part of them is not what elicits the best parts of me.
These children of mine are ushering me into His chest, that place where I’ve crumbled and where He moves in power, I’m weepy and He’s full of surprises for me, I’m encumbered and He’s agile in my story. When my way feels thwarted, He lays out the red carpet.
The degree to which I allow myself to be weak is the degree to which I experience true, God-originated strength (crazy, wild strength).
We get “ruined” by whatever circumstance He is using at the moment to usher us into an awareness of our weakness and He, then, comes with a power that’s nearly unfamiliar because we’re so used to the fake replica.
I think I’ll unmask weak today.
[Making it Practical: “So what if I’m just plain mad?” you say, as one who is admittedly resenting their weakness — just like the rest of us who resent our weaknesses, at first pass. No one likes to die under a weighted cross. We’ll do anything to claw our way out.
Enter adoration. This little habit is making a substantive impact on how I see weakness and how I see Him in the middle of my hot mess. Our bodies don’t naturally lean, in weakness. We buck and kick and claw (or the more refined of us strategize and plan our way out). Adoration takes my fitful self and gives me language for who He really is, from His Word, and ever-so-slowly my insides rest from their fit and I begin to lean into a crazy-powerful strength that’s not mine, right there in the mess.
For Your Continued Pursuit: 2 Corinthians 12:8-10 | Matthew 16:24-25 | Psalm 33:16-22 | Psalm 147:10-11
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