Despite the thorough training, despite the literature, despite conversations and articles and my own good sense, I’ll admit–now–that I went into all this expecting a fairytale:

D would arrive to be hosted by us and we would love her instantly. There would be bumps, sure, but they would be soft and brief, like those wide, low speed bumps in some neighborhoods which feel like a pleasant heart flutter as you ease over them.

Yes, I expected pleasant heart flutters… little snatches of unrest tucked into crevices between large, generous pockets of lovely bliss.

… Even I am rolling my eyes at all of this. I pride myself on walking around with eyes wide open. “Listen,” I’ll tell my friends, my voice raised a little, “I know what’s going down here. I am ready. BRING IT.”

But this isn’t another tale of God laughing at my sillies or whatnot. It’s not even an admission that I got it all wrong and was blindsided. Really, hosting D has just been a mottled surprise.

Because I love her, but not like my own children, and I don’t mean that in the less/more kind of way. I mean that I loved her as soon as she giggled at my dorky pantomiming, loved her in the way that you do when you recognize the goodness in a person, their immense worth in God’s eyes. This kid has stressed me out badly enough to drive me up to my room where I eased the door shut ever so slowly, crawled onto my bed, and pulled the pillow down tight around my ears so I could forget for a moment how much of a grown-up I am and how scary this thing that we’re doing has been.

It is scary.  Our not-so-pleasant challenges have been the kind that send my heart racing with frustration, my face flushing with anger, my mind reeling and grasping wildly for some scrap of wisdom to guide me.

My prayers have been wordless. I sit quietly, staring off into the horizon while I idle at an intersection, trusting somehow that as I do, everything burning in my heart is wafting up to Him. He knows. If there’s anything I’ve been sure of during all this, it’s that He knows and cares and responds.

I know this because yesterday, on the heels of a glorious morning, she was hurling her truths at me like fastballs, push-push-pushing with eye rolls and muttering under her breath in her language, the translation coming out garbled but clear nonetheless: “I can take care of myself. I don’t need anyone to protect me. Leave me alone.”

I crouched beside her and asked her why she was treating me this way. She looked at me hard for a long minute, daring me to lob another question at her, and then she turned to look out of her window. Game over. I’d been escorted from the field.

But today she stopped midway through pre-packing her duffel bag with me, pausing as she folded a shirt to look at me once more but this time with vulnerability.  She let go of the shirt, extended her arms; tilted to one side, then the other.  “Airplane…” she said quietly. I nodded.  We went back to packing.

Yes, sweet, fiery girl, I know all about that: Wanting to go but yearning to stay and all the confusion that stings and holds the two together.

I’m sharing all this because I haven’t figured out what God was up to with this experience. I doubt I’ll really understand it all for a long time.  I’ll watch, spirit trembling, as she moves forward through the airport security line on Friday. If I know her at all after five weeks, she’ll be joking with her friends, gabbing excitedly. When there’s a lull, that’s when she’ll let herself retreat for a moment… maybe she’ll sneak a look at me.

I have no idea how I’ll feel when that look happens. I have no idea how I’ll feel when she disappears, orange shirt cloaked beneath the bright backpack that mirrors her personality so well.  But, feelings in themselves have proven so unreliable lately.

I’ll know as I walk back to my car, holding my keys too tight in my hand, that I love this kid and will think of her every day. I know that just because this was the hardest thing I’ve ever done doesn’t mean we chose wrong. I know that I understand a bit better now what actual love is, because only the truest love–stoked inside me by the One who embodies it, who’s told us that it never fails (IT NEVER FAILS)–only that truest love could have been what laid the pillow aside those half dozen times, carrying me downstairs to the side of a child who refused my requests but snuggled closer nonetheless, her hand falling–totally by chance, of course–into mine.

******
If you are curious about hosting and the wonderful organization we’ve worked with this summer, you can read more about New Horizons For Children here.

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::: Giveaway is now closed!
Congratulations, Tabitha, you won the two tickets to the show this weekend! :::

In the past 5 years, I’ve:

Birthed
3 children (out of 5!) (My husband got me medals for it, literally.  Remind me to tell you the story sometime.)
Breast-fed for 38 months. (One of my favorite parts of mothering, actually.)
Learned to like tomatoes and cucumbers. (Veggie platters and salsas of the world, I’m coming for you!)
Lived overseas, which greatly influenced–among many other things–the above item.  (Baku friends, you know what I mean.)
Kept up with blogging even after angsty seasons of “Why am I writing online anyway?” (I’m so grateful I have this written account to show my kids someday.)
Taught myself to sew, freezer-stencil, and how to write a decent amount of HTML code to build my own site (the one you’re looking at is from scratch!)
Made an entire Thanksgiving meal on my own. (Well, except for the gravy.  These hands just can’t produce edible gravy, friends.)
Built friendships even though moving all the time makes it hard (but reaching out has always proved worth it).
Auditioned and made the cast for a live show! (#barfyexcited!)

Whoops! Stuck... at the Mud Volcanoes in Gobustan, Azerbaijan.

Looking over this list makes me feel silly for all the times I’ve wallowed temporarily in feelings of inadequacy.  I’m proud of the ways, both small and large, that I’ve grown as a woman; proud that I am still the girl most of my friends back in my California hometown remember but different in aspects that have proved important to how my life has unfolded and developed.

Perspective: It makes a big difference!  Something I really love about Listen To Your Mother is the avenue it provides for men and women to share their unique perspective on the role of mothers.  I believe in the power of stories: In what everyone’s stories can teach us about empathy, each other, and how we can love one another better.  I am thrilled to be able to share a sliver of my own perspective on motherhood this Saturday evening, April 26th, from the stage of The Harry and Jeanette Weinberg Auditorium in Baltimore, alongside a cast of incredibly talented and passionate women.

If you’re in the Baltimore area this weekend, I’d be tickled to see your face in the audience, and just to make it a tiny bit easier for you to make that happen, our producers are giving away two freeeeeee tickets here on my blog!  Want to enter?  Leave a comment! (You’d make my day if you shared something you’ve grown in during the past 5 years!)  (You can even gift the tickets to friends or family in the area if you win!)

**Giveaway closes on Wednesday at midnight!  Please make sure you include an e-mail address where I can reach you in the comment entry information (it won’t show after you’ve posted the comment).

 

Listen To Your Mother-Baltimore ::  Cast & Producer Bios :: Ticket information here!

 

Quick Takes: The Cinquain Edition.

by Lenae on April 4, 2014

(1) On Orphan Hosting:
Their eyes
Smiling, hopeful
I wonder where they could
find a place to settle, finally
at home.*

(2) After my second son’s 6th birthday yesterday:
Birthdays
wreck me in a
hushed way. Life turns over
and over, they remind me with
bright eyes.

(3) Because it wouldn’t be an outing without it:
“I peed,”
Daughter tells me.
Of course, 10 miles from home
“Oh man, I really peed,” she says.
*Head smack*

(4) On being “done”:
Neither
breastfeeding or
expecting a baby:
In the mirror, I ponder her
She’s… new.

(5) Speaking of the baby:
In the
morning, he runs
into my arms, little,
dimpled hands wrapping ’round my neck
“Mama!”

(6) He’s my rugged heart:
Freckles
and random jokes:
He is laughter, my life
Always he makes me smile, keeps me
afloat.

(7) And as for the other pieces of my heart:
Their plans
for the weekend
include Lego-building
and adventures in the backyard–
Childhood!

Linking up at Conversion Diary!

Constant Surprises: Reaching Out.

by Lenae on March 20, 2014

Nothing has surprised me more since reaching adulthood than my passion as a mother.  I wasn’t one of those girls who daydreamed about being a parent someday, and it shocked me when quietly, overnight almost, I woke as a young newlywed with this small, beautiful dream to have a baby.  I was in the midst of what I’d previously believed to be my greatest goal: pursuing a successful military career.  And while my Air Force service is something of great pride for me to this day, it is these littles littering my house with their toys and laughter that keep me most occupied and inspired.

2009.

Really, the surprises just keep coming… I’ve come to expect it as part of the process.  Hours-long hiccup episodes, a 4-year-old who believes truly with every inch of his heroic heart that he IS Captain America, a sweet and sassy daughter after a string of adventurous boys… They surprise us with their antics, their complex, unique personalities, and of course, as most every parent will testify, how they challenge us to continually grow as individuals.

2012.

The largest twin surprise to date?  How absolutely freaking hard it is to be a parent, and how extraordinarily rewarding it is at the same time.

Throughout it all, we’ve shocked ourselves and many who know us as we keep venturing further out: More babies and moves across the world and back again.  Certainly as a 20-year-old, freshly married Airman First Class, I never imagined that within the next decade I’d birth five children, much less live in a country I’d never heard of until Ben came across the assignment listing.  Yet our military life seems to mirror in many ways the broader journey God has us on, at least for now: of constant movement, of times of rest sprinkled throughout times of challenge, like that muscle-burning hike after a languid nap beneath a shaded tree.

This summer we’ll be welcoming a pair of sisters from Eastern Europe into our home through a 5-week, Christian-based orphan hosting program called New Horizons For Children.  We initially heard of it when a good friend and her family hosted a sweet girl over the Christmas holiday last year.  Their story seems so much bigger than anything we can imagine for ourselves: an achingly gorgeous tale of, yes, a God-given surprise and gift.  The experience changes the host family as much as it provides a rare opportunity for these children to visit a new country and blossom in the the environment of a loving family.  Just as our own parenting experience keeps proving to us, we have heard from our friends and others who have walked this road that these kids will shake you up in the very best way… just another surprise inevitably behind the door when you reach out with trembling, unsure hands and pray to love as God would have you.  Even with a full house, even with full schedules, we believe we have more room in our hearts to show these sisters the comforting warmth of a stable family that loves them as they are, just as our Father in heaven loves us.

2014.

New Horizons is a hosting–not an adoption–program, though many families (or others who meet the children while they’re being hosted) go on to adopt afterward.  Our focus for now is to prepare our hearts and home for these girls and love them well while they’re here… remaining open to however He leads during and after our time together.  I’ll update soon with more information, but in the meantime, we’d deeply appreciate your prayers as we look ahead to this summer.

You can find out more about New Horizons For Children here.

 

Just across the way there was a large conference room.  Outside its entrance was taped a sign: “National Audubon Society meeting.”  My brain felt fine but my heart was racing wildly as I shifted my weight from foot to foot, absent-mindedly crumpling the papers in my hands.  In my distraction, I couldn’t remember quite what the Audubon Society is: …Is their business birds?  Animals?  Who cared?  Maybe I’d fold up this little speech and tuck it into my purse, hide it under my wallet and chapsticks.  I’d saunter into the National Something-Or-Other Society instead of the audition I’d signed up for.   Maybe there would be snacks!  All would be well and safe and maybe my hands would stop sweating.

This was the conundrum I found myself in a few weeks ago at a library in Baltimore.  The thread tying me to Listen To Your Mother begins with Adventures in Babywearing, a blog by Stephanie Precourt that I’ve been following since my own early days of blogging.  I remember her excitement and passion for the production, described on LTYM’s website as “a national series of original live readings” on the topic of motherhood.  Initially, I thought, Stephanie is a lot cooler than I even imagined!  And then, after the fact, I whispered quietly to myself, I don’t know if I could ever do something like that, even in a smallish, local setting.

Dreaming big can be hard to translate into actual, tangible actions.  Compare it to that complete freak-out at the door of the airplane when you realize you’re about jump into the air with only a parachute and some insanely cheerful instructor to save you.  Or that moment when you’re dilated to 7 cm and suddenly, the sciatic pain and perpetually full bladder of yesterday suddenly seem a lot–A LOT–more desirable than pushing a human being out of your body.

Azerbaijan was a fantastic idea until we were winding through its dark streets on the night we arrived.  All my exotic musings of it disappeared in flourishy, Disney-like swirls of smoke as the truth settled in: We’ve moved our family of 6 across the planet to a place most of our friends and family had never heard of and OH MY GOODNESS, WE NEED TO GO BACK HOME to the place of convenient stores and familiar everything and very few unknowns.

National Audubon Society, anyone?

But we made it.  The Disney smoke reliably swept away the early anxiety and we even double-downed on the comfort we came to feel as residents of Baku: We grew to love Azerbaijan and its people.

In the days before the LTYM audition, I was confiding in a friend about my nerves.  “I mean, I’m just not a brave person…” I typed into the chat box.  Oh, how swiftly the dots of an incoming response started flying!

“You mean, ‘not brave’ as in you didn’t just finish a 2-year tour overseas with five kids?” she wondered.

Right, right — that.  In the aftermath it doesn’t seem as brave; at some point my heart swelled big enough for the place that it completely engulfed any doubts.  Anything but affection is hard to imagine.  Yet if the proof is indeed in the translation–dreams to action–then the simple fact that I filled out that audition form screams volumes about new Lenae as opposed to old Lenae.

That isn’t to say I’m ready to go skydiving tomorrow.  I guess I just grew up a bit in Baku.  The fear of a nightmare unfolding gave way to a golden-drenched string of opportunities to love, learn, and solidify the inner confidence that mind-boggling risks are often what carry you to where God wants you to be.  And oftentimes, that thrashing journey from Point A to Point B demands sharing.

Thankfully I only had a few moments to contemplate snack-diving the National Audubon meeting.  The audition itself was a brief blur, nursed along by the wide smiles of Taya and the rest of the panel screening the pieces.

I refreshed the e-mail twice with the announcement that I’d made the cast for the Listen To Your Mother/Baltimore show.  Then I casually told my husband.  Then I screamed.  Then I jumped up and down.  #barfyexcited, I described to my fellow castmates a few days later (might as well let them know ahead of our first rehearsal what they’ll be dealing with, right?)

Barfy-excited, indeed — I made it!  …And I guess, I am brave.

*
You can find out more about
Listen To Your Mother and information on ticket sales here.