I recently revisited a book I first picked up in high school. It is funny how two decades and a boatload of life experiences can alter a piece of literature. The words on the page may remain static and unchanging, but the interpretation and affect of those words are as varied as the hands that pick it up to read it.
The book I am reading is called, “A Child Called IT,” by Dave Pelzer. I don’t remember which friend first recommended it, but I remember the first time I read it. I was enthralled and horrified, as well as a bit skeptical. Surely, there is a sprinkling of fiction in this author’s recounting of a childhood riddled with the most horrific of abuse, I thought to myself. Surely it wasn’t as bad as he recounts on paper. I thought there must have been some level of sensationalism added to sell the book. I couldn’t fathom the idea that a mother would hurt a child…so horrifically…so intentionally.
Last Saturday, while spending the day in Wooster with my mother for Mother’s Day, we stopped in her local bookstore and I saw this same book sitting on the shelf. I picked it up and found myself adding it to my pile of books to purchase. I felt compelled to revisit the story again. I began reading it two days later and devoured it in a day.
I still find the story of abuse horrifying, but far more believable than I did at age 17. What’s more, I found myself reading the account through new eyes. Not only did I believe its truth, but I found myself paralleling the story of young David with the stories of my boys and their own journey through neglect and abuse on their road to safety. As the author spoke the thoughts, worries, and reasons for his behaviors through the mindset of a little boy in survival mode, I felt like I was listening into the thoughts of my own adopted sons, who while now in a safe and secure home, still live with a survival mindset and struggle with survival behaviors.
When we chose to adopt our lives were changed forever. There is not one aspect of our lives that has remain the same. God has used this journey to mold all of us into beings far different than who we were five years ago. It has been the hardest journey of our lives but by far the most affecting. God has expanded our hearts, revealed our flaws, given us a depth of character and capacity for compassion that can only come from Him and His work.
I have learned so many life lessons along the way. Too many to count…too many to name. But one of the greatest lessons I have learned about myself is how naïve I was about the reality of life for so many, and how easy it is to judge the path of those who chose differently than us because of life circumstances far darker than any I’ve ever had to navigate.
When I was little and we would hear the story of another’s struggle or burden or misguided choice, my mother would wisely pull us away from the path of judgement and lead us towards the path of compassion with a single phrase:
“There but for the grace of God, go I.”
Oh, the power in that simple phrase.
It is a humbling reminder that all that I am, all that I have, all that I have accomplished, is because of God’s good grace.
Who is to say how my life would have played out had I been dealt a different set of cards.
I recognize that a huge part of my blessings come from having been blessed with a good mother and father…healthy parents, who learned from generations of good, healthy, capable, loving parents before them. I used to take this blessing for granted. A loving mother was all I have ever known and I assumed all were blessed in the same way. My perception changed when we began reading the files of children in foster care and we got a small peek into what reality looks like for millions of children. It humbled me and made me realize that all that I am, and all that is good in my life, is not because of anything I did or didn’t do. I didn’t make the right choice because I am awesome. I was able to make healthy life choices because it had been modeled for me my loving parents, grandparents, aunts and uncles.
We are currently fully immersed in the TBRI world of Karyn Purvis, as we relearn how to parent children from hard places. Our journey began a little over a month ago with the Empowered to Connect conference we attended. Oh, how it has changed our world, and our perception of our boys and their stories. It has made me realize the great, intrinsic value the relationship between mother and child has on every aspect of a child, from their brain chemistry, to their relationships with others, to how they perceive their world. What it takes to grow a healthy human being begins with the simplest ritual of holding a baby when it cries and meeting a baby’s most basic needs. The result of that not occurring as it should is horrific and heart breaking and life affecting for that child and everyone that attempts to attach to them. I am better understanding the great, divine role of mothers in God’s plan and how a disruption in God’s plan causes chaos and destruction. I also now better understand that a mother’s inability to meet these most basic needs in her child is usually a result of a history of unhealthy relationships perpetuating over time. A “bad” mother isn’t made, she is taught.
As I celebrated Mother’s Day this year my heart was in a different place. It meant something different this year. It meant something more. It was less about my role as a mother and more about reflecting on how blessed I have been to learn from the best. I come from a long line of women who have been loved and nurtured and as result have loved and nurtured me. This is a gift I don’t know that I fully acknowledged before. Toby comes from a long line of women who were loved and nurtured, and thus were capable of loving and nurturing him. The result is being able to raise healthy, happy, stable, loved children. And we can take no credit for their goodness, for who knows who we would be and what our life would look like had we been dealt different cards.
“There but for the Grace of God, go I.”
I also find myself remembering the women who gave birth to my adopted sons. I am grateful for their gift of life to two of the most important people in my life. Women who parented the only way they knew how. My connection with them is complicated and wrought with mixed emotions. I hate the hurt they inflicted on my boys, and I hate the hurt that they must have endured to make the choices they did.
“There but for the Grace of God, go I”
Mother’s Day is a hard holiday in my home. My boys struggle through that day dedicated to the celebration of the role of mothers and all the emotional baggage and great feelings of loss that brings it with it, but that said, this was the healthiest and happiest Mother’s Day we have had in the last 4 years, due in part to the TBRI principles we are applying and a lot of upfront prevention we invested in the day.
To begin we went into the holiday with a new approach. I began by putting myself in a good place emotionally. Past Mother’s Days have been hard. Ozzie struggles with such anger and feelings of hurt towards his biological mother that Mother’s Day has been a day full of sabotage and hurts directed at me. Prior to the Empowered to Connect conference I struggled with understanding the complex, over-the-top emotions that drive his behaviors on special holidays, and as a result didn’t approach the day with the level of compassion I should have.
I have learned better and now can do better.
This year I hedged my bets for having a more loving and compassionate response to his sabotage efforts by celebrating Mother’s Day on Saturday with my own Mom. I drove out to Ohio to spend the day, one-on-one, with my own mommy and by doing so filled her love tank and had mine filled in return. We shopped, had a fun lunch, and celebrated motherhood together.
And in doing so was able to return home Saturday night filled with love and peaceful acceptance for however Sunday would play out. I met my own emotional needs so that I could better meet Ozzie’s emotional needs.
While I was gone, the big kids and Toby hedged their bets too. They wanted me to have a special day, but knew all too well how most holidays play out in our home, so they were proactive and invested a huge amount of love and time into surprising me Saturday night with a beautiful yard.
While I was gone they went shopping at Home Depot, bought mulch and flowers, and mowed, trimmed, weeded, and planted their love into my heart. They spoke to me in my love language of service, and made me feel so loved and valued for Mother’s Day.
I am so grateful for my kids and their big hearts!
The scope of Gracie’s love acts spread even further when she took Tyler shopping for ingredients for my Mother’s Day dinner. She had the lovely idea of buying a dozen roses and then letting Tyler hand them out, a rose at a time, while they grocery shopped, to mothers with children.
I felt like this was a gift to me too, as she (with her own sacrifice of time and money) taught the valuable lesson of “love of service to Tyler” and showed him that the greatest joy in life comes from giving to others.
We were also proactive this year in choosing to not attend church for Mother’s Day, but worship at home. I knew Ozzie was unstable with all the emotions connected to Mother’s Day and I recognized that the kindest, healthiest way to help him through the day would be to hibernate at home, away from the Mother’s Day talks and lessons about loving mothers and gratitude for mothers, all which tear new wounds into an already fragile soul. I knew we needed to just lock the doors, and connect as a family, without external stimuli, so that is what we did.
And the love of God permeated our home.
The kids gave me their gifts of love and heartfelt, homemade cards, and we just hugged, loved, and prayed our way through the most difficult day of the year.
That day we felt the strengthening love of God as we celebrated mothers…The birth mothers that bore them, the foster mothers who raised them, and this mother who tries daily to live worthy of calling them her forever sons.
God is here.
God is healing.
God is Good!