Tuesday, July 8, 2014

That One Time My Friend Went AWOL

Maybe you’ve had a friend who disappeared. A slow fade right before your eyes. She used to like shopping and talking on the phone, random texting conversations and bizarre, awkward humor. She laughed (and talked) too much and too loud, told dramatic stories, and frequently asked for help with wardrobe malfunctions. She had big dreams, a soft heart, and liked to discuss all the things all the time.

 Then she embarked on a journey of hard things. Not impossibly hard. Not unheard of hard. And not completely unexpectedly hard. But hard none the less. And you said you wanted to help out with the hard things, in any way you could. And she smiled relieved. You did what you could. Gave some time, some money, some food, some prayers, some books, some motivation, and some advice. You cheered her when she ran strong, and grimaced when you saw her trip and start limping again. “You’ll get used to it soon” you said, and you willed her muscles to grow and her endurance to build. The days kept tallying. You had had your own stuff to do, sometimes hard as well. You didn’t always know what to expect. The friendship wasn’t easy like Sunday morning anymore. (Can all the churchgoing mothers of young children stop and have a moment of silence for that phrase?) Anyway, It was more of a Monday morning feel. Then you realized she was going out of view. Did she take a hard fall? Sit down for a breather? Try a new course? For whatever reason, her presence was no longer on your side of the track. Maybe you’ve had a friend like that. Maybe you haven’t. Maybe you’re the missing friend. 

I know the girl who went off the radar. I don’t know exactly why, what changed, or what will bring her back. Partly by initiative, partly by life’s mysterious unfolding, hard things happened in her division. 

Many people do many different hard things. Sometimes by choice. Sometimes by calling. Sometimes by design only the Creator knows. People approach the hard things differently, weirdly at times. Sometimes as grounds for bragging rights: “I broke my femur 3 times.” “I birthed 7 babies without a drop of pain meds.” “I worked 80 hours on 6 hours of sleep.” “I survived 3 divorces.” “I punched cancer in the face.” “I left home at 18 and never looked back.” “I killed a snake with my bare hands. And then I ate it.”  Some people thrive on a challenge, rising to meet any obstacle with fight and gusto. Some people master the craft of mask- making, and avert their eyes from any pain the hard things bring, putting on their happy face like nothing ever happened. The girl I know doesn’t get tough and roar and flex her biceps at hard things. I see her bite her lip, then her hands get clammy and her heart pounds. She doesn’t want an easy, squishy life. In fact she craves to be a warrior woman and do hard and mighty and world-changing things. To have a fierce face and a stomach of steel.  But then she gets a taste of hard things, shivers, and wishes she’d ordered up a big slice of the American Dream instead. 

  Some people break under the weight of hard things, and then all the ugly (that exists in all flesh) pours out and addiction or mental illness or suicide happens. Why some people get easy things and some get hard things, and why we even have a grading scale for hard anyways, and why a thing breaks one person but makes another stronger, and which is most authentic, the strength or the weakness, could all be mused over for hours. I like to tell the girl I know when she’s hating on herself for her weakness, and acting like self-loathing will somehow punish herself back into obedience, that maybe the breaking isn’t always the worst case scenario or a sign of failure like we’ve been told, but rather part of the purpose in the hard things even being allowed past God’s hands and into our lives in the first place. It’s quite a stretch for the independent, American made mind, but maybe not such a stretch from the Upside-down Kingdom where strength is made perfect in weakness and the Excellency of God’s power is displayed in jars of clay? 

But as I said about the girl, her division got pretty shook up.  She had children with deep needs and no quick fixes, a marriage that was worn thin, depression and physical ailments that seemed to have a mind of their own, and never-ending needs to be met that filled all the moments and brought volume to every corner of silence. And she lost herself.  Oh A few traces remained; she still laughed when her best people cracked some wit, and occasionally busted out some timely sarcasm herself. She still daydreamed of traveling the world and owning a maximum number of pets. But her social, relational self vanished. 

All the good energy, compassion, patience, and personality ran dry. And while such character fatigue had effect on all relationships, her friendships became the most tattered. When a person can’t quite remember who they are, or what they like, or how to formulate coherent sentences, being friendly becomes a problem. 

She started choosing to fly solo or stay home, though she wasn’t a natural born loner.  Being in a group left her all self-conscious and edgy. Her parenting regime looked different than the rest of her graceful mommy friends.  Different because of the needs of her daughters, but many days dysfunctional was a more accurate familial description, and she wondered if it showed. Always an advocate for authentic, real life exposure, she tried to answer questions and converse honestly.  But when she opened her mouth, an avalanche ensued and she wished she could be a commercial for a newfangled mouth guard that protected not only teeth but also electrocuted vocal chords after maximum number of words per minute was reached. At least getting paid for such embarrassment would ease the pain a little.

She found her life stuck in a frightful catch-22. When the texts or calls that she received were centered on earnest questions of her current emotional well-being, she couldn’t blame them. After all, depression could make her a guessing game even to herself so it could not be expected that her people would always keep up. She might very well be found in the trenches with one child’s challenging behavior, still in bed from a late night waiting up on farmer man, or overwhelmed and stuck inside her own head. Still the inquiries on her mental health, valid as they were, left her feeling like the old gray mare that ain’t what she used to be.

 She began to feel less and less like a desired companion for life’s enjoyment, and more like a charity case that must be tended to. When she would invite friends into her mess, whether literally into the laundry strewn house with a crying child or two and sink full of dirty dishes, or by a conversation stating that she was having a rotten day, she’d often end up uncomfortably confused. She may have needed help. Or companionship. But she didn’t need fixed (trust me, if it could be humanly done, she would’ve had herself in tip top shape 28 “new daily routine” plans,  4 self-help books, and 3 easy steps ago). Sometimes, though she knew the intent was good, coming in and doing her housework or sending texts filled with verses or clich├ęs left her feeling more wounded than soothed. The verses, though true, were on the wall. And in her Bibles. And journal. And notecards. If you had a story to tell of how a verse came alive and helped you know Jesus better and be more activated to love, she’d eagerly listen. But sometimes when it was just the words alone, she felt like they were talking at her.

Showing herself friendly is harder than ever now too. There’s little she can offer. Her children, because of both their and her limitations, demand most all of her. She cannot easily cook a surprise dinner, help with a project, or go on a big Ikea expenditure. And sometimes even an outing to the park seems hardly worth the effort. To only receive and never give is less blessing and more weight.

Really, her state can be summed up like a listless, teething infant. Who doesn’t want to be held but you dare not lay her down. Who’s tired but can’t sleep. Everything hurts but she doesn’t know where. By all means please help, but don’t try to fix her.  And for crying out loud, just lighten up and have fun with her already! 

So this is the conundrum of the girl I know. It’s a puzzling story, really. Not like the stories I’d prefer to tell. Ones with a clear purpose. That enlighten, educate, encourage, or at least produce laughter. But hers doesn’t have a happy ending, wrapped up with a neat, spiritually applicable bow. It’s an ongoing tale of struggle. Of disappointments and hurt feelings. Of saddness over letting down and being let down. Of seeking to release the hurt, offering forgiveness, and desperately hoping for grace and forgiveness to be held out to her. She’s grasping for acceptance of her current reality. One of sheer exhaustion and heartache over what used to be and what she wishes could be and what just isn’t right now. That even with sincere efforts there is still a lack of breathing life and energy back into one another.  

 She’s owning her AWOL status and giving her story a little more freedom, in hopes of receiving understanding as she reins her friendship involvement back even further. Perhaps she’ll get her wits about her shortly and be on track with a fresh outpouring of love and inspiration, ready to run hard again. But for today, she’s only focusing on the next right thing, on the smallest scale. 

Do you have a story like hers? Has life brought you hard things that caused you to lose yourself and/or your friends in the mean time? I invite you to share your story; the lessons, hurts, hopes, and insights you gained from your journey. It’s healing when we set our stories free, and so encouraging when we can learn from others and find comfort that we aren’t alone.

Tuesday, June 25, 2013


I’ve had words bouncing around in my head for a few weeks now. Today is a great day to let them out. Today is an important day for us. Today I reminisce, celebrate, reflect, and relive what I consider to be about the third most impacting, life-changing, emotionally charged day of my life. June 25th marks the day we got THE CALL. Over 2 years after embarking on the adoption journey, and nearly 19 months of having our paperwork submitted to Ethiopia, referral day finally arrived. My memories are so incredibly vivid. The June sunshine in my blinds, the quiet afternoon in my living room with hardly a sound but the air conditioner, I can remember it all like yesterday. The America World name on my caller ID. The heart racing, stomach doing flip flops, so shaky I could hardly talk coherently feelings. The words “we have some very exciting news for your family”. The waiting for her to connect Dave to the 3 way call, while I sat on the floor crying and laughing and trying to breathe and looking like this. 

The wide eyes when I heard “we have an unusual referral for you, a nearly 5 year old girl, and her baby sister who’s only 3 months old”. This was only the start of a season of high emotion and life changing experiences, but something about this day was just exceptional. It was sheer, ecstatic delight. The long, aimless wait was over. This was real. It was REALLY happening! And the wait equaling two gestation periods resulted in TWO girls! 
And without further adue, I {re}introduce to you, Cypress Arsema and Sami (Samrawit) Skye Lahman.

And now:

So here we are today. Reliving the excitement. Still amazed at the privilege we were given a year ago today. The days between last June 25th and today have been harder than anything I’ve walked before. Life as I knew it had indeed forever changed, and in such good ways. But it didn’t negate the difficulty of the change, the grief I felt for the life Dave and I had enjoyed for six years prior that had been permanently altered. The responsibility was heavier than I could have imagined. Learning the dance of parenting two children whose lives were so drastically changed as well, who had not know the rhythm of a complete family, was an exercise of great pain before much of the beauty was exposed. 

But in the hardest of days, when I’ve wondered what in the world I was doing, when I felt of all women most incapable of being a good mother to the two beauties in my care, when I wondered if we had honestly bitten off more than we could ever chew, I would reflect on this day. I would go back to the call, to the photos, to the unbelievable odds that this was the referral placed in our hands. Back to the first meeting, to the knowing, deep within both Dave and I’s hearts when we first laid eyes on them, that they belonged, that they were as much a part of our hearts as if they had came from us. And even in the dark moments when I didn’t think I would survive one more day and I was just so scared we would be nothing but an unraveled mess of a family, I drew strength from this memory. No negative emotion I was experiencing could negate the vivid reminder that God did indeed do a great work in bringing us all together. 

Two little girls broken from grief and loss and in need someone to meet their needs and wipe their tears and have tickle fights and call them daughters. Two adults, broken because who of us aren’t? In need of someone to draw us outside of our comfort zones and selfish bubbles, someone to open our eyes to the reality that we are nothing NOTHING without the goodness of Jesus, someone to fill our house with wild laughter and fingerprints, someone to make our hearts so warm they nearly melt, someone to awaken us to love like we’ve never felt. And so we are four. Meeting needs we may not even know existed. Watching redemption and transformation unfold, and at the same time finding ourselves being transformed. 

Although this is written in a reflective tone, we have by no means arrived. I still second guess myself every day. I wonder if the adoption community would disown me and Karyn Purvis would shake her pretty head if they saw inside my house, the impatience, the missed opportunities, the angry words, the unfair expectations. I feel like a 3 year old on a Barbie tricycle that suddenly got dropped in the middle of the Tour de France. A tadpole swimming with the great whites. In over my head and painfully aware that I am bumbling at every turn and severely lacking in the training, discipline, and maturity that is needed for such a greatly important role. It’s not just a gold medal at stake; it is the hearts of my children. 

HOWEVER, we are having good moments by the bucket-fulls, and bad moments by the teaspoon-fulls. Hope is outweighing despair. I have found myself laughing, tickling, giggling, kissing, cuddling, applauding, and smiling more the past month than I have since last fall. Love is on the move in this house. The transformations all around are beautiful to behold. 

Here’s to one year of Motherhood. 

Thursday, March 21, 2013

Happy First Birthday Sami Skye

Today we celebrate you. When we first laid eyes on your photo, our minds stunned at the thought of God giving us a tiny baby, you were indeed tiny. Too tiny. Now you make Mommy’s arms tired. Your pants and sleeves are always too short. We celebrate your crazy dancing, arms gesturing and hands fluttering as you sway. Your squeals of delight when you play with Ebby. Your great love for your baba and all things edible (and various inedible things as well), and your snooty face if the texture isn’t to your liking. Your endless eyebrow expressions. Your birdie profile.  Your adult size clapping, often in rhythm with the music. Your singing. Your love for being swaddled, and how you lay in your little cocoon and fake sleep for great lengths of time. Your attachment to your sheepie blanket. Your love for giving affection and your smacking kissy face anytime we come close to you. Your great desire to talk, saying or at least attempting many words (Baba, all done, hi, button, thank you, Bebby, Dada, Papaw, Ok…).  Your rapid crawling and excited breathing when you hear your bottle being made. Your four pearly whites. Your cuddles. Your cuteness that gets me every time. 


Today we thank God for the gift of you. Your smart, mischievous spunk is sure to bring lots of challenging moments, but also so many moments of laughter and delight.  You have no lack for personality or attitude, and opinion that I did not know was even possible for a baby to possess. God has been so faithful and kind to us in hearing our cries for comfort for your heart and strength for our hearts as we walked through so many hard, tear-filled days. I am so thankful for the great joy and delight we have found in each other recently as God gently works His redemption in each one of us and molds us into the family He has designed. 

Today we reflect with gratitude on  Momma Addey, the woman who brought you into the world. We honor her memory and give thanks for her gift.

Today I pray this for you, over this year, over your future: that God would give you a beautiful headdress instead of ashes, the oil of gladness instead of mourning, the garment of praise instead of a faint spirit; that you would be called an oak of righteousness, the planting of the LORD, that he may be glorified. {from Isaiah 61}

We love you Sami Skye, and look forward to many more birthdays celebrating you.

Friday, February 1, 2013

It's Winter but Spring is Coming

I had  such gleaming writing intentions for January. It was going to be my slow down-take a breather-read more-write more- month. I wanted to write a “3 month home”  update. I wanted to document all of the hilarious observations, statements, and imaginary adventures Cypress tell us of, and the crawling accomplishment, the waving, the eating food, the growth spurt, and other such milestones Sami has reached. I wanted to think out loud on paper about my vision and goals for the new year. To discuss my WORD of the year, a word that would encapsulate my focus and inspiration for 2013. 

But instead, we had almost as many Christmas gatherings this month as we did in December. And at each one I second-guessed myself constantly wondering if it was too much for the girls. We’d been home just long enough to start socializing and felt bad staying home, but not quite long enough to feel comfortable taking the girls to big events where they felt all eyes on them. So many loving, delighted family members anxious to meet these little beauties they had helped/funded/prayed home, to give a smile, a hug, an introduction, a welcome to the family. The girls would sometimes hide their faces in our shoulders in fear and other times act strangely crazy fearless. Either way we kept them very close, prayed constantly for the Lord to give us wisdom if we were over-doing it, and told Cypress repeatedly that if she felt at all scared, she could ask us to hold her and even ask us to take her home and we would do so without hesitation.

 All in all, Cypress loved it. She made so many new cousin friends, showed positive signs of attachment with letting us meet her needs and being appropriately shy, and behaved very well. Sami stayed in our arms the whole time which she thought was pretty awesome, and knowing that she wouldn’t be handed off, she actually became increasingly happier about looking at new faces and occasionally even gifting the new face with one of her prized smiles. She doesn’t give them out to just anyone, their quantity is limited, you know. I think we did the right thing, but I can’t tell you how exhausting and stressful it is for me to be so often second-guessing myself, analyzing situations, behaviors, facial expressions, etc. looking for any sign of a red flag, considering how best to respond. Knowing our family is sort of in the spot light right now, and feeling the tension of our actions being weighed by so many eyes, some in earnest support and desire to understand the girls’ needs, others in possible confusion or disapproval of our actions. 

Slow down? Well the second half of January was a little quieter. That is, depending on how one uses the word quiet. Less plans? Yes. Less high volume in the house? No. If I had a webcam streaming live footage of this house, I am certain I would lose a large portion of my friends, and the remaining ones would kindly send notes recommending counselors, invite me to Bible studies, start prayer chains for us, or threaten me to get my act together lest they revoke the numerous reference letters they’ve written for us. It’s been brutal. Some days I’ve thought, maybe if I just put it all out there, every nitty gritty ugly detail, I would feel better and someone would show up on my doorstep with a latte and some solutions. Or a plane ticket to the Bahamas. Other days, I tell myself, “if you even let people know the half of your chaos you will end up with CPS at your door.” I’ve settled for middle ground. The short story is, Sami has spent more hours of the past month crying, screaming, moaning, whining, and yelling than I care to ever tally. And screaming babies are to my ears what aluminum cans are to a cat’s tail. (If you ‘ve never had brothers to demonstrate such horror, take my word for it, it’s a desperate situation. DESPERATE.). Added to such frazzled nerves are a constant winter headache that takes up residence in my sinuses, and the unwelcomed guest of winter depression who slinks into my house in December and hangs up his vile coat in my closet until forced out by March’s windy sunshine.

 It may sound a little humorous, but such an equation results in some pretty miserable days for all of us.  I am sorry to say there have been far too few moments of laughter and delight, and far too many moments of collective crying and yelling and plodding through days that all feel the same. I find myself doubting my sanity, doubting if I will survive the winter, doubting my ability to ever be a good mother, and doubting my own redemption as I take an up close, disturbing look at my own ugly selfish heart. Can God really love a woman who mothers with such a short fuse? That passes up adorable baby cuteness instead looking only at the frustration of such a demanding season? That throws temper tantrums to rival her own children? That prayed for 3 years for these beautiful littles to grace her home and now wonders at times what in the world she asked for?

 Then my daughter asks over her pizza at the lunch table, “Mom, why Jesus on da cross? I don’t know why Jesus sad on da cross!” And I say “Oh sweetie I know why, let me tell you!” And I tell her the gospel story, and she sits motionless, eyes welled with tears as she listens and tries so hard to grasp a concept even the greatest intellects wrestle. And I’m overwhelmed again. How can I ever point her to the Lover of her soul if I only choose to wallow in my own pain and failures instead of living out loud to her “my sin is so ugly, but my Jesus’s love is so much greater, His grace is so completely sufficient!” She resumes eating and routes the conversation to Jesus’s donkey, while I sit and ponder my own words. “He died for US. For all of our bad choices. Because He loves us. And now when God looks at us and sees our bad choices, He says ‘that’s ok, I forgive you, because you trust Jesus and Jesus died for that sin.’”

So there you have it. The volume is still on high. The writing has not happened, either because the chaos is too loud, my heart is too muddled, or I simply can’t muster the energy when the house is finally calm, and instead I sit and try to regroup before the next round begins. We’ve had some very hard days, and I am too easily distracted by the hard and miss out on the good. The good of Cypress’s delightful stage. Sometimes I fear I may sound as if I’m showing favoritism. It isn’t about loving one more, it’s simply an age preference. And Cypress is at what surely must be the best. Still little enough to need me, to like to cuddle, and even let me rock her to sleep on occasion. Yet big enough to express her feelings with words instead of crying, wipe her own bum, clean up her messes, say the most amusing things, entertain us with  her creative play, ask soul searching questions, and tell me at the most unexpected times, “Oh Mom you so cute! I love you Mom!” while she strokes my hair and smothers me with kisses.  And the little miss has some stellar moments amidst the yelling too. Like yesterday. As I walked through the house in a fog, I came into Sami’s line of vision (which usually results in immediate crying) and she looked up, raised her hand in a wave that resembled a Hitler salute and said “HA!” (her version of Hi). 

Stay tuned next week, I hope to share some updates/accomplishments/quotes. And maybe, if I’m inspired, my month overdue new year’s post. 

That’s all for today folks. We are still here. Looking for fingerprints of Jesus in our messy life.