My husband is on his way to Ethiopia. <——— Those words scare me.
When we flew home from Africa 19 months ago, we knew that we would eventually go back. We didn’t know exactly when and we didn’t know exactly who would be making the trip, but we knew we had not seen the last of the beautiful country that had been the birthplace of our children.
Now here we are, 19 months later, and my husband is returning to Ethiopia. This trip is needed for many reasons. On the surface, Scott is going back to do some on-site work at the hospital that he remotely supports as an IT consultant. He needs to take some supplies and spend some hands-on time working on their computer system.
Scott will also be taking suitcases full of donations to Bring Love In. We believe in the work that this ministry is doing in Ethiopia – striving to create forever families from the orphans and widows who have none.
But honestly, the reason that Scott is heading back to Ethiopia is that we made a promise.
We made a promise to our children that we would not forget their homeland.
We promised our children that we would not forget their culture.
And we promised our children that we would not forget their parents.
Although I have not shared many details, I have shared the fact that my children have a mother and a father living on the other side of the world. And, no matter the circumstances, my children miss their parents. They feel the separation achingly. They love them desperately. And this is as it should be.
And so, Scott is going to Ethiopia with the goal of locating the parents whose children we now raise. He is at this very moment flying over the oceans that bridge our children’s present and their past. We want to find their parents and we want them to know that somewhere miles from home, in a world that they might not understand, in a way that they might not comprehend, their children are loved by another mother and father. We are taking photo albums filled with snapshots of their children’s new life. We are taking notes and drawings from the sons and daughters they have not seen in almost 2 years. And we are taking them love that cannot be contained by continents or borders.
As our family prepares for this trip, emotions are being stirred. I imagine my children’s hearts as deep wells. When the water is clean, it pours out of them as love and obedience and laughter and growth. However, at the bottom of the well lies layers and layers of dirty sediment. Maybe it is a layer of trauma, or a layer containing a painful memory, or the many layers that hold the loss of their parents. These layers of sediment can lie at the bottom of the well, undisturbed, for hours or days at a time. But inevitably something stirs up the well. That dirty mess is suddenly swimming in the water of their souls. And it can’t help but pour out in their behavior.
And so as Scott flies off to the other side of the world, my world here at home is being rocked. And I am scared about shouldering this trauma alone.<——-That’s just the plain truth.
Every step we have taken as a family, every bond we have created, every sweet moment we have shared…these are all being tested. The frailness of our new relationship – that relationship wherein these little people call me mother – it is being pounded and bullied and pressured. And, while I know that we will withstand the storm, here in the midst of the waves, it just doesn’t feel very fun.
Over the past year, Leah has slowly, painstakingly, achingly allowed me in. Little bits of me at a time. She has accepted and loved me to the best of her ability. But for the past month, as we have prepared for this trip, as she assembles the photographs and the messages that she wants to send to her mother – her other mother, her first mother – as she relives her past and is reminded of all that she has lost, she is again living in the pain that she knows can exist in a mother-daughter relationship. She suddenly remembers how to guard her heart. She rebuilds the wall between us because that feels so much safer. And she pushes me away in a million different ways.
But do you want to know the stinkiest part of the whole situation?
That’s right. Because while my daughter’s stinky behavior is somewhat understandable, mine is a bit more troubling. I am supposed to be the adult. I am supposed to have my stinky behavior under control, aren’t I? And yet, I am struggling to respond with love.
This morning, while we were getting ready for the day and the children were swarming the kitchen for breakfast and my youngest needed help with his tennis shoes and we had to leave in 20 minutes but I was still in my pajamas, this is what transpired….
We were playing a family game of hangman (just to add a bit of flavor to the chaos) and when it was my turn to guess, I did not guess the right answer. Then, it was my husband’s turn and, being the super smart man that he is….he came up with the correct word M-A-L-A-R-I-A. (What? You don’t use tropical diseases in your family guessing games? You should try it sometime.)
And Leah says, “See. I told you so. Moms and daughters just aren’t very close. But Dads and daughters always love each other.”
And I went into my bathroom and cried.
Yes I did. I was crying in my bathroom over a stupid game of hangman.
Oh, I know. I wasn’t really crying about the game. I was crying about the overall feelings of rejection that I have been dealing with. I was crying for my struggle to give grace when all I wanted to do was react with anger. I was crying because I am tired of accepting her rejection and responding with unconditional love. I was crying because when the human heart feels rejected over and over and over again, it has a hard time forgiving and loving.
Wait a minute. Did you hear that?
When the human heart feels rejected over and over again, it has a hard time forgiving and loving.
And now I am talking about Leah.
You see, I have been dealing with her rejection for only the past year.
She has been dealing with rejection for her entire life.
And so I know that I need to set the example here. I need to demonstrate the kind of love that I hope she can one day reciprocate.
But our relationship is so multi-faceted. It has nuances and innuendos and complex intricacies that I haven’t yet figured out. This mother-daughter bond is new to me, too. It does not have the weight of years of shared experiences to support it when the times get tough.
And right now, the times are tough.
I only have one constant. One thing to rely on to fill in the cracks, to shore up the outer banks, to be the cornerstone of this new family.
Because my love just ain’t cutting it, people.
I need His love to fill me up. I need His love to pour out of me. I need His love to be the love I offer my children when I am not feeling the love of my own.
Will you pray this for me? It is the prayer I utter every morning before I open my eyes. It is the prayer I whisper every evening when I am at the end of myself….
“Please, God, fill me up with your love for my children. Give me your unnatural, never-ending, unconditional, overflowing love.”
Because, even though I am not sure of much, I am sure of this….God loves my children more than I can even begin to comprehend. And God promises that HIS grace abounds in the deepest waters. HIS sovereign hand will be my guide when my feet may fail and fear surrounds me.
WHERE FEET MAY FAIL
You call me out upon the waters
The great unknown where feet may fail
And there I find You in the mystery
In oceans deep my faith will stand
I will call upon Your Name
And keep my eyes above the waves
When oceans rise
My soul will rest in Your embrace
For I am Yours and You are mine
Your grace abounds in deepest waters
Your sovereign hand will be my guide
Where feet may fail and fear surrounds me
You’ve never failed and You won’t start now
Spirit lead me where my trust is without borders
Let me walk upon the waters
Wherever You would call me
Take me deeper than my feet could ever wander
And my faith will be made stronger
In the presence of my Savior
May my trust be without borders. May my faith be made stronger. Because this life I am living – right here, right now, surrounded by these precious little people – this is where you have called me, Lord. This is my mission field. This is my life. This is my family. And I wouldn’t have it any other way.