Broken Pieces

Several weeks ago, in a rare moment of un-interrupted conversation, my husband asked me to rate my stress level.

I started to laugh.

“Seriously,” he said, “on a scale of 1 to 10, what is your stress level every day? 4? 5? 6?”

I started to cry.

Because I couldn’t stop him until he reached the number 8.

I have always been an optimist. I naturally see the good in things. I focus on the silver lining.

But, recently, the silver lining (the bonding, the laughter, the slow forward progress, the hugs and cuddles) has been an all-too-fragile exterior on a very tumultuous thunder-storm.

Here’s the thing – I love my kids. Every one of them. I am thankful for them. Every one. I am blessed to be entrusted with the job of mothering them.


It. Is. Hard.

So hard.

And I think, almost as a survival mechanism, I focus on the good as much as possible and run from the bad.

It is a sort of fight or flight mentality. Do I have the strength to wade into the middle of the battle and fight my enemy head-on? Sometimes. Yes, sometimes I do. But, most often, it is easier to flee. To put a band-aid on the problem and move on to something easier.

And I don’t think this is bad or wrong. It simply is. It is survival. It is how we are making our way through all the pain hurt crap in our children’s past. There is no easy way through. There is no way to go around. We just have to wade right through the middle of the whole stinking mess.

The pictures I post of my smiling family – they are real. There are a lot of smiles. I am not trying to lie to you all. I am just choosing to focus on the good.

You don’t really want to see the pictures of the scowl, the rolling eyes, the crying, the tantrums, the slammed doors, the hitting, the nasty words that cut like arrows, the angry faces twisted up with venom – do you? I don’t really enjoy that part, either.

You know, in my head, I realize that none of these emotions are my fault. I realize that my children are expressing things that they can’t even begin to understand.

But, in my heart, I feel it.

When they say – “I want to go back to Ethiopia.” – I feel that.

When they say – “I wish I had never been born.” – I feel it.

When they say – “We are not a real family.” – Yep, the hurt, I feel it.

When they say – “You don’t love me.” – It hurts my heart. I feel it.

When they say – “I have never been happy. Not one time ever. I am not happy in Ethiopia. I am not happy in America. I wish I could die.” – It doesn’t matter what I know in my head to be true, my heart bleeds a little every time.

And when I hear these things – when I am on the receiving end of the anger that stems from hurts that I did not cause, when I have dealt with the same issue for the 100th time, when I have to remind them again and again that they are not allowed to treat a mother like that – it is hard to be gracious. It is hard to respond with forgiveness. My inner being rears up in self-righteous indignation. My heart of hearts cries out. My soul is anguished.

But on the outside, I am supposed to personify love. To flow full of grace. To prove myself worthy of their trust. To earn the attachment and bonding that come so naturally to a birth-mother and her infant.

And so, yes, my stress level was about an 8.

Not because of the laundry and the dishes and the schoolwork and the toilet scrubbing (although that certainly doesn’t help the situation), but because of the emotional toll of raising children from hurt places.


The last couple of weeks have been better. I would put my stress level at about a 5. Much improved!

There are several contributing factors to this.

*Created For Care Conference. You just will never understand what this conference did for me. It was exactly what I needed, exactly when I needed it. This conference alone lowered my stress level by 2 points!

*Leah got the solo for the Easter choir. I know! So exciting! And, what exactly does this have to do with my stress level? Well, when your anger and misbehavior stems from such a place of un-worthiness – when you feel inside as though you are un-lovable and good-for-nothing – all it takes is a little something to prove that maybe you have something valuable inside of you. And maybe, if you have something valuable inside of you, you can give a little love to others.

*Giving myself the gift of grace. Guess what? I am not perfect! In fact, I am really far away from perfect. I know this. My husband knows this. My children know this. And yet, I seem to expect my parenting to be perfect. And I beat myself up when it is not. So I decided instead of aiming for perfect, I am going to aim for passing. Are my children alive? Check. Are they clothed (at least in public places)? Check. Do I love them? Check. Do they feel and hear and see my love for them at least once every day? Check. Anything above that (reading, writing, hair combing, matching shoes and gender-appropriate underwear are included in this category) is icing on the cake!

We are not the perfect family. Every single person in this family is broken. We are all broken in different ways. No one is broken better or worse than any other. But, when you put all these broken pieces together, it sure does make a beautiful picture.







8 thoughts on “Broken Pieces

  1. Susan

    If it makes you feel any better, Jayden says all of those things, except the moving back to Ethiopia part, he also adds I want to kill myself, and he is my first born biological son. Talk about feeling like you’ve done something wrong in the raising children department. But yes, every night when I look at him sleeping, I remember the good, and pray for the bad. Love you my friend, Susan

  2. Tracy

    Ahhh..Natalie, I hear your heart and I KNOW what you are saying. I’ve been there many times and yesterday picked up the phone to get some professional help for us and our children from hard places. Grace to you in this journey 🙂 Tracy

  3. Nicole Huber

    So proud of you Natalie! You are a gift to your family and an angel from God! No one is perfect, it is very difficult as a mother to take that expectation off of yourself and we tend to beat ourselves up for the things we didn’t do right or how we thought the “picture” should look like and we end up missing out on just living! This is hard because we like schedules and routine and when it goes weary it is hard to get it back on track and we focus more on that than just the grace in the moment. I am so guilty of that. Working on it to and I just have my 2 and 2 step-sons. You are encouraging because you are honest and continually love! Praying for you and all mom’s out there that can relate to this! Coming from hardship is something, unfortunately, we can’t erase but can help with love and grace! Love you sweetie!

  4. Valerie

    Tears, and gratefulness, for a mother who looks like my Heavenly Father. How often has He heard, “You don’t love me,” “You’re not my Father,” “I want to go back to my old life”? Natalie, not every heart could endure, but His does, and He’s asked your heart to look like His. What a sacred trust. God, strengthen my sister. Love her in palpable ways as never before, and because I know her heart is crying it out, I’ll say it: love her kids in palpable ways as never before, too.

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