I have two hours alone in my house, something that seldom happens in my life. It is hard to even allow myself to feel that gleeful giddiness right now, as my heart is laden with layer upon layer of emotions bubbling up from the depths of brokenness.
Don't get me wrong, it is all so necessary, so powerful, so good...and so very painful. At times, it seems endless, as if we will never reach the bottom of the pit. Then I remind myself that I, too, am a work in progress, a product of every event, interaction, and relationship. We are all crushed and reborn on a daily basis, and as Josh recently pointed out in his own words, everyone has "luggage" to carry around, it is just different for each person.
I think you get to this age with your kids, and you allow yourself the illusion that you have worked through the hard stuff, and it should all get easier. While that may very well be the case for some, we seem to be revisiting issues at a much deeper level, processing and working with a wellspring that feels somehow quite fresh. As a matter of fact, at times this feels like it is harder than ever.
I want to write in more detail, I want to share so others can perhaps know that they are not alone in their journey with their children, but for some reason, I just can't. I can't seem to get it right, can't seem to convey what it feels like to hold your almost-adult-sized child whose body is wracked with pain as the sobs burst forth. Two children this week have cried out in great anguish, "It's so unfair! It's just not fair!" as they examined what never was, or what may never be. We have one admitting that every single morning in life they awaken with anxiety clutching their heart that somehow their entire family has disappeared or will do so, and they will be left alone. Another whose heart aches to have photos of themselves as a baby or a toddler, who yearns to hear stories of what they were like when they were little...and who wonders if either birth parent has even given them a second thought. The pain is as tangible as if they had been injured physically. Yet another child is coming to grips with his future that will never, ever look like anyone else's, and trying very hard not to give up and give in. The grief washes over him anew as this reality becomes more and more internalized, as dreams of what might have been possible must be released and he stands in the void of what could have been and what will likely be.
And there I am, on the periphery, wishing with all my heart that there was something I could do to ease the suffering, knowing there isn't a darn thing I can really do but pull them close, whisper softly into their ear that I am here for them, that I understand, and that I see the unfairness of it all, too. I offer with each one to be the one to carry it when the load grows too heavy, I ask them to symbolically hand it over to me to give their souls a much needed rest, and then to let me help carry it when they are ready to pick it back up. I brainstorm with them, suggesting strategies for how best to deal with the facts that can never be erased. My tears mingle with theirs, as we rock back and forth in silence, each grateful that if it has to hurt this bad, at least we are not alone with it.
I know there are some who say they could never love a child that is not of their blood. All I can think of is that my love for each of them runs so deep I can't even imagine it being different from a biological child, and that I would even have them ripped from my arms and lose them if I thought it were ever possible to turn back the hands of time and have their life story change to be one filled with light and love from the moment of their birth.
I can't fix it for any of them, and that will be the single most frustrating piece of knowledge of my entire life.
Luckily, I don't need to. Even in these most poignantly difficult times, the Spirit swoops in and hovers around us all, comforting through others, providing opportunities at critical moments, and refreshing our souls when it feels like it is all too much.
For me, that Spirit often comes in the very form of the suffering before me. On the camp run to Colorado Springs this weekend, we gathered around a table at a restaurant and with two boys simultaneously working desperately to choke back overwhelming emotions, Angela turns to me and asks, "So mom, how do you do it? How do you manage to handle all of this from every one of us and still be OK yourself?" Matt threw in other questions, and we discussed how faith helps us, how leaning on one another is so important, how honesty and revealing our heart aches is an absolute must so that none of us sink into a place too murky to bear. I pointed out the courage it takes to show your pain in front of others, and how that was the healthiest way to deal with it rather than stuffing or ignoring those feelings. I also pointed out that crying in front of others is permission giving to those who also feel weighed down and need to release it all. I never imagined a table at Applebee's to be an alter, where in quiet conversation we each, in our own way, thanked God for the presence of the others in that booth and placed our sorrow and grief before the only entity that can ever really offer the soul-deep solace we all needed in that very moment. One of our more concrete family sayings has grown to become "Hard isn't bad, hard is just hard." Laying out our burdens before one another and before God helps us feel less alone, and we can be pointed toward the recognition that we can truly make it through the hard stuff, and we will likely come out stronger and better for it. Hard isn't bad, hard is just hard.
God is with us. God is with us. God is with us. Throughout it all, God is with us.
And there was joy...oh, there is always so much richness and joy throughout it all!
I watched as we dropped off each of the kids but Josh, and not a teen would part ways without every single one of them warmly embracing one another as well as their mom. "I love you's" were boldly spoken aloud in front of others with absolutely no reticence.
And there was joy.
I witnessed them embracing another in love, as our teenage friend Billy was dropped off at the airport, and all wanted to accompany him to security while I circled the airport.
And there was joy.
I saw Kenny as he admitted through sobs as well as laughter that he had totally given up on his life, but that being a camp counselor had served to be a "mirror moment", and he now saw that some sort of meaningful life was indeed possible for him...and the seed of a couple of realistic dreams began to emerge. I have my son back, thanks to the intervention of others, the young man who will grab hold for all it is worth was lost to me for a short season. Hearing him weep almost inconsolably as he tried to speak saying, "I have hope now, I have hope...I can do something that matters and impact lives." was a lightning bolt moment I was privileged to be present for. We cried together over what will never be, and we dared speak of what might eventually be. New life, optimism for the first time in a year or more.
And there was joy.
I saw Angela be able to enter fully into being a high school kid as she anticipated camp, and let other concerns about straddling adulthood and childhood slip away for just awhile. Giddy as she put her hair in curlers the night before, and packed...and repacked...and repacked her bags. Old life prior to adoption faded and the present was something to anticipate, and will no doubt change her.
And there was joy.
I sat beside my 13 year old son, and for five hours straight we talked on the drive home. No radio, no uncomfortable silences, just meaningful conversation about things that matter. As each mile passed, his smile returned, his heart felt lighter, and his strategic plan for working through anxiety began to take shape. About twenty minutes from home, he surprised me with one of the sweetest things I have ever been told as a mom.
"You know when we drove over to the Middle School Fall Retreat this last fall?" he asked.
"When I was getting out of the car to get my stuff, I almost didn't want to stay." he responded.
"Why? Were you nervous about being alone there at your hard time of the year?" I asked.
"No, I was just thinking to myself that I had spent five hours talking with the coolest person in my life, and I could have happily driven five more hours and kept talking with you. It wasn't about me being afraid or nervous, it was because I enjoy my time with you so much, and you always make me think about things as deep as it happens at camp. I just realized then, like I feel right now, that I am really lucky to have you in my life." he said.
And there was joy.
Hard isn't bad, hard is just hard.
And, thankfully, there will also always be joy.