Child, Look at Me Now!

My children don’t like to look at me when I’m angry with them. It could be for good reason. Maybe the way my hair stands on end or my lips form that thin angry line freaks them out. Or maybe it’s how my dimples disappear and my voice goes all deep and parental.

Whatever it is, they bury their faces – in their arms, a pillow, my leg, and they refuse to look up.

“Look at me,” I’ll say, trying to keep my voice gentle. “Look at me, babe.”

A quick glance, then they dodge their head again.

“Come on, look me in the eyes.”

Another quick glance to turn away.

I take a deep breath, make my voice as soft as I can and say, “Honey, do you know why I want you to look at me?”

They know the routine. We’ve done this script a hundred times. Usually, though, it still takes a a little while for them to answer.

“Why do I want you to look at me?” I ask.

Depending on the child, they dodge it in their own way.

“I don’t know.”

“I know, but I still don’t want to.”

“Because you’re mean.”

Sigh.

I wait. I look. I ask God to give them eyes to see. Eventually they raise their eyes to mine. Some with a grimace, some with worry, some with the start of a smile they just can’t fight.

“What do you see?”

A grumble, a murmur, a slight smile. “Love, Mom. I see love.”

Then I start my mama lecture they could probably quote themselves. “That’s exactly right. I’m angry with you right now, but I want you to look me in the eyes because you have to see the love. I love you. I will never stop loving you. There is nothing you can say or do to make me stop loving you. I’m angry now, but I love you even as I’m angry. Do you get that? Do you know it?”

They know to respond or I’ll spend another good 20 minutes on it. “Yes, Mom, I get it.”

They want to stay mad. They fight to be angry. But the love softens them, softens me.

Right now I sit at a table on a personal retreat, taking some time with Jesus. I journaled this morning, read and came up with four things I really want to do better (the list is much longer, but I had to start somewhere) – as I was really diving in, I felt a whisper to my heart.

“Look at me.”

I sat still for just a moment and then went right back to fixing myself.

‘Look at me, Elsa.”

I looked. I sat. I wrote about his love. I cried. He loves me. He really loves me. When I sit in it, really sit in it, it softens me, melts me, changes me – fixes me.

And not just me.

He loves you. He really loves you. Look at him. Look now. Not just a quick glance to bury your head in your arm, in your life, in your busyness, in your fixing. Really look – and you’ll see it.

Love.

Look, friend. Look now.

Psalm 121:1 I lift my eyes to the hills from where my help comes…

Psalm 3:3 But you, O LORD, are a shield around me; you are my glory, and the lifter of my head.

Psalm 36:5 Your love, LORD, reaches to the heavens, your faithfulness to the skies.

A week ago, Wilna and I had a rough spot. Intense words. Power struggle. We took it upstairs to the bedroom. I was so angry, my hands were shaking. She was too. I sat her on the bed. I had to do something or there was no way I was going to handle it well. “Wait here, I need to talk to Jesus before I talk to you.” I said it sharply. I went to the closet. Took ten deep breaths. Could barely get out a prayer. “Jesus, help. I need you. Speak through me. Give me words. Help me.”

Ten more deep breaths and I went back to the bedroom. I laid down beside her and started our routine. “Look at me, Wilna. Look at me, babe.”

A quick glance, then away.

“Look at me right now.” Another glance. “What do you see, babe?”

“I don’t know.” Sullen. Angry.

“Look again.”

She looked, then buried her head into the pillow. “What did you see?”

Tears. “Jesus.”

My breath caught. Tears came to my own eyes. Could it be?

I can count a million parenting moments I looked nothing like him… this, this is what I long for all the time.

Oh God, may it be so. May I look to you, may we all look to you – so that even when we’re angry, even when life falls apart, even when we feel like we are going to lose it… may we look at you, feel your love, sit in your love, hold fast to you – so when others look, they see love. Even more, that they see you. 

Amen.

 

 

Oh, and friends, I will continue introducing the kiddos over the next few posts. I had to interrupt that process to share this one. I’ve introduced Wilna, Samantha, Lovence, Cassandra, and Laurentz – three more to go!

Walk on, Laurentz (our beautiful boy)

It was his smile that did me in.

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From the moment I met him, I was captured. Beautiful eyes, warm smile, toddling steps.

I laughed out loud when he toddled through the hallways of the orphanage, giggling and squealing. I cried when he fell asleep on my lap during the orphanage devotions – arms and legs splayed wide. Even though it was four and a half years ago, I remember that night with crystal clarity. I set my hand on his little chest and prayed over his life – asking God to meet him, protect him, make him into the man he was meant to be.

We nearly lost Laurentz several times – when his mom changed her mind, when illness almost took him, when he was taken from the orphanage and our adoption process halted.

We talked of holding him with open hands – trusting that whatever happened, God had him – but the truth was our hearts were already woven together. When bad news came, the pain was deep. Holding on lightly wasn’t really an option. We were all in, no matter what lie ahead.

He was our son.

Today, Laurentz is home. He’s been home for six months. He is our strong, brave boy with big muscles – as we tell him and he is quick to affirm. He is our superhero in a six year old body. An artist, he draws people with a head and legs, no torso. He has drawn our family a hundred times. “This is you, Mommy, and this is Daddy…” he’ll draw some of his brothers and sisters and even throw in Kenya, our golden retriever puppy.

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He loves his family.

And he loves horses. He is our Haitian cowboy who wears a cowboy hat and spins a lasso to catch his pretend baby calf. We’ve never seen a calf being roped, but that hasn’t stopped him. He knows what he wants to do.

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We signed him up for therapeutic horseback riding and he loves his horse – Thor. He sits straight and tall, walks the course and talks to his horse. “Whoa!” “Walk on, Thor.”

Because as he was taught, when a young cowboy wants to get his horse to go, he says, “Walk on…”

Laurentz has had a rough go of things. His early years were far from stable. He’s lost more than most and love was elusive. He knew hunger and fear. He knew loneliness and pain. I can’t fix those things, but I can wrap my arms around him today. I can hold him fast and cuddle him close. I can give him a thousand kisses and then give him a thousand more. I can tuck him in at night and pray for him through the day. I can feed him yummy food and throw in ice cream with sprinkles on movie night. I can play catch with him and cheer him on. The other night, we tossed a baseball back and forth. “Good catch, Laurentz!” I said. One time, he caught it and I didn’t say anything. “You have to say ‘Good catch’ every time, Mommy,” he said as he tossed it to me. I caught it. “Good catch, Mommy!”

So we did it. Back and forth. “Good catch, Son!” “Good catch, Mom!” Over and over and over again.

I don’t know what the future holds for Laurentz. What highs and lows and in-betweens lie ahead for him. But my prayer is that he will be like his strong horse, Thor. That he will heed the voice of his master, that he’ll hold his head high, that he’ll whoa when he needs to whoa, and walk on when it’s time to go. It’s the same thing I want for all my kids. The same thing I want for me. That under my master’s strong and loving hand, I would walk on, that they would walk on trusting the master’s lead – with joy, hope, life, love, laughter, expectation – to whatever lies ahead.

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Photo credit: Oma

So walk on, Laurentz.

Walk on, Savannah, Wilna and Lovence.

Walk on Sean, Jessica, Cassie and Sam.

Walk on me. 

Walk on you.

Let’s do this. Let’s trust the master’s lead and walk on….

 

 

This is my series on introducing the kiddos. To see the others, visit these posts: Wilna, Sam, Lovence and Cassie. More to come!

My blonde-headed stepchild (Cassandra Mae)

Step is stupid.

And I’m not even allowed to say stupid in our house.

Yet it’s true. Stepchild, stepmom, step whatever. I hear that word and I get flashes of Cinderella and the 27 remake movies where the horrible stepmom (usually ugly to boot) is a cruel task master who robs her stepdaughter of love by forcing her to work tirelessly during the big ball/prom/dance/sports gig – depending, of course, on which remake you watch.

Red-headed stepchild – another phrase of endearment from the culture. I looked it up just now. Definition: a person who is neglected, unwanted or mistreated.

Well now.

Three of my children are stepchildren. I am their stepmom. And they are anything but neglected, unwanted or mistreated (most days).

I’m crazy about them.

In this series of blogs, I’ve been writing about my kids. They are some of the main characters in this big, beautiful story I get to live. I’ve written about Wilna, Lovence and Samantha. Today I get to write about Cassandra, my blonde-headed stepchild.

Cassandra: her name means “Shining upon man” “Helper of mankind.”

How fitting.

Cassie is fiercely loyal, strong and beautiful. She fights for the people she loves and will sweep in to save the day with her bright captivating smile. She’s an adventurer, a sports lover and a passionate soul. She came to visit us for almost a full summer last year and then moved to Colorado for a short window a few months later. She helped with the kids during the critical transition time and made a lasting joyful impression on them.

Cassie is now back in Ohio, having being wooed by the boys in her life – her handsome boyfriend, Miles, and her adorable nephew (our grandson), baby Lucca.

How can we compete? We didn’t stand a chance – even though we look pretty stinkin’ cute in our tank tops and onesies too.

I love Cassandra. She’s a fighter and feels deeply. She hasn’t had it easy, but she hasn’t turned bitter. Divorce is horrific and all our adult kids paid the price.

I hate that.

But it’s part of our story.

One afternoon when Cassie was visiting, we were tossing the football back and forth out front. She threw a perfect spiral and I’m nearly certain I threw one right back. I looked across at this beautiful young woman with the bright smile and love flooded my heart. No, I didn’t carry her in my belly or watch her take her first steps. I didn’t even get to be there for the wild teen years, bad hair days and sports accomplishments – but I delight in who she is today. I feel strong warm motherly affection for her. I ache for the pain she has walked through and long for only good to come. I dream big dreams for her future and believe in her with fierce abandon. My prayers come from a mother’s heart and I wish only the best for her. I miss her when she’s not around. She is family. She is a joy. She is a daughter of my heart.

No step required.

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I love you, Cassandra Mae!

Lovence – special needs, special boy (unexpected, unbelievable, beautiful).

For a boy who doesn’t speak, he sure says a lot.

And he surprises me. All the time.

Lovence was rescued from a mountain village in May, 2012. He was four years old and fourteen pounds. He couldn’t walk or talk, he gorged himself on food only to throw it all up. He was never expected to survive…

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And yet he did.

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When the orphanage director asked if we would consider adopting him, I was scared. I’m an older parent. I’m limited on energy. I’m selfish. Could I take on a boy with such severe special needs? Did I have it in me?

I prayed. I wondered. Brian prayed. We talked. We asked.

We went to visit and held him in our arms.

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We were still scared, still uncertain. But our hearts were opened to a beautiful boy with an amazing heart.

I’m embarrassed when I think back to my questions. I feel so grateful today. So honored. So blessed. He is an incredible boy with a heart of gold. For a child who was neglected and abused, his heart is full of love. For a boy who suffered so deeply, he loves so easily. He is strong, kind, loving and brave.

He has surprised us with his capacity. Within six months he feeds himself, makes a great cup of coffee, uses some sign language, and has gained boatloads of confidence. He is fully potty trained after eight long years (thanks to my hubby’s persistent love and care in that area). He runs and climbs and tumbles and jumps. His hearty belly laugh gets us all going – it’s wild with abandon and full of joy.

He is our miracle boy and I can’t believe we get to raise him.

When Lovence first came home, his history of heartache would leak out at night. For the first five months, he would cry nearly every evening when we put him in bed. We’d cuddle next to him and wipe the tears from his cheeks. We’d pray and talk and hold him fast. One evening I took him to bed and curled up next to him. I expected tears, but when I looked over – glimmering in the dark were his bright beautiful teeth. He was smiling. He leaned in close and put his head on my shoulder.

Oh, how I love you son.

Lovence sits with us every Sunday at church. He’ll hold our hands and lean against us. Last Sunday, he held his arms up to me and I lifted him up. He smiled his beautiful smile and as the music played he lifted his face skyward.

He was worshipping. I have no doubt. 

And that made me think about heaven one day. Of course I hope he gets to speak and use words here, but if not, I will get to hear him in heaven. His body will be healed, the broken synapses in his mind will be fully restored. He’ll run up to me with a strong gait and wrap his arms around me. “I love you, Mom,” I imagine him saying.

And I’ll be a puddle. A heap on the heavenly floor. Just like right now as I think of it. Tears, sniffles, joy.

I had no idea that my special needs son would be one of the greatest gifts God would ever give me.

But he is.
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Wilna – the big of our littles

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She is brave, strong, fiercely passionate about almost everything. At 12 years old, she is part woman with grown up thoughts, ideas and feelings and part little girl who can get lost in dress up and loves a colorful band-aid on her boo-boos.

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I tell her often that God overdosed when he poured out her talents. He simply forgot to move on to the next person and gave her far more than her fair share. She smiles her dimpled grin and shakes her head when I tell her that, but it’s true. She’s athletic, beautiful, musical, artistic and her smile takes our breath away. She’s got a knack for fashion and does a better job of dressing me than I do.

She is our daughter and we are crazy about her.

She also has pain. Anger. Deep hurt from circumstances beyond her control. She misses her family and friends and the ache is deep. The stories she has shared deep into the night have left me sleepless with their intensity and heartbreak. How could one so little have suffered so much? She tells me with calm control, but the tears or anger come at other moments – when it’s safer to feel. Something that seems small will trigger the pain and I have to remind myself that behind the moment is so much more. I will hold her, wishing I could make it better, ease the pain, erase the memories.

And at the same time I know that it’s those things that have made her so strong and fierce and brave and beautiful.

So I pray over her and I hold her fast.

She is ours and we love her.

Twelve years old is a volatile age. Hormones raging, friendship challenges, emotions all over the map – and that’s without a history of heartbreak and loss.

And yet she manages it so beautifully, far better than I would have at her age. I’m proud of her, protective of her, prayerful for her future.

I want her to keep expressing emotion, keep crying, laughing, cuddling, processing. I want the emotion to come out as it is and I pray to keep it from going to dark, hard or bitter places. We pray that with her – that God would give her avenues to express herself and for the enemy to keep far away from those open wounds.

I can’t wait to see how God heals, restores, rebuilds. I can’t wait to see Wilna use her talents to shine Jesus into the hearts of others. I can’t wait to see her beautiful story unfold.

And I just pray God gives us just what we need to mama and papa her through it all.

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I watched you today.

 

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I watched you.

Sometimes with my heart in my throat, sometimes with tears in my eyes.

I wanted you to connect, to feel welcome, to make a friend. I wanted people to be nice to you and you to be nice to them. I watched. I watched you as you giggled nervously and then as your smile broadened the safer you felt. I watched as you high fived one of the girls, laughed out loud, inhaled a piece of pizza.

And I nearly started balling.

Right there at a bowling alley with hundreds of 5th and 6th graders.

I didn’t. And you can thank me later for the way I covered the tears in my eyes with a hearty sneeze and shrug.

Darn allergies.

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I delighted in you. In the moment. In the fact that you are our daughter and I get to be here, right now, with you.

I had the same feeling today when you performed in your first baton march. They called your name and pronounced our last name wrong, like they usually do. Our last name. OUR last name.

And you smiled brave and strong, lifted your knees high, gracefully navigating your 8 step routine.

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Tears came to my eyes again.

I wanted you to succeed, feel joy, be proud of yourself. I wanted it for you and with you.

And in these things, in all these things, you didn’t know. You were completely unaware of the intensity of my emotion.

Then my breath caught – if this is how I feel in all my incredibly frail brokenness – how much more does our God feel that way about me, about us? When we risk, when we connect, when we make a friend, be a friend. When we stretch ourselves, test ourselves, live big and brilliant.

I think we are completely unaware of how much he is in every moment – how deeply he feels, how much it matters to him, how he is for us and with us, all the time.

Oh my word. Sniff. Sniff.

Darn allergies.