Saturday, October 25, 2014

Back From Captivity--4 Months of No Words

"'For I know the plans I have for you,' declares the Lord, 'plans to give you hope and a future.  Then you will call upon me and come and pray to me, and I will listen to you.  You will seek me with all your heart.  I will be found by you,' declares the LORD, 'and will bring you back from captivity.'" ~ Jeremiah 29:11-14a 

Oh, friends, where do I even begin.  My blog posts are typically long and this will be no different.  I pray, however, you will wade through the length with me because I believe you will find a story worth reading here if you do.  You may have noticed I took a hiatus from blogging on here about Nora and our life on the home-front since the end of June.  To be honest, I had no words to express what I was going through...what my family was going through.  Many times I tried to come to this space to write but left just as dumbfounded as I came.  I still don't exactly have words for all of it because I honestly don't even know all the complexities of what all we just went through, but I will do my best to leave a handful of words here today after 4 months of no writing.

My heart behind this post is so much sincerely on the cheering sidelines of the person who finds themselves, for whatever reason, in a period of "captivity".  A period of time along your journey when nothing seems to be going well, when you find yourself worn out, fed up, out of control, unhappy, alone, confused, in the dark and just down-right a big ole' mess.  A period of time when no matter how much you long--and I mean lllooonnnggg--to move past it or out of it or through it or beyond it, your feet are trapped in an amount of quicksand you can not escape no matter how hard you try on your own.  You are held captive in a place you never thought you would be and yet, here you are, unable to budge.  If you find yourself in that place today, friend, please know I get you deeply.  So, so deeply.  I get you, friend, because for the most part of the past year I was you.  Even yesterday morning I would have said truthfully I WAS you.  Yesterday.  I was you.  Yesterday.  But then God.  That little line of Truth literally changed my status of a person "in captivity" to a person "back from captivity" in a few hours of private praying with a God big enough to change my heart.  Let me tell you the story and perhaps give some hope to the hurting souls today who are still, bless them, in their own places of captivity.

As I said before, I really don't even know where to start exactly.  There are so many angles, so many directions, so many different aspects of this story that it is hard for me to grasp it all in the form of a blog post.  Somehow, as Nora came home almost a year ago (November 14, 2013), I began a slow decent downward into a pit of ugly living--a place of captivity.  What was supposed to be the joyous homecoming of our beautiful daughter we had been waiting for 2 years and 4 months for really became the beginning of my nightmare.  I wish I could pen different words there, but that was truly what it was.  It has been almost an entire year of living in a pit of captivity.  Before Nora came home I was in such a wonderful place--exercising fairly regularly, eating healthy, doing daily time with the Lord, enjoying the activities I was involved in, at peace with so many things that once dragged me down, and so in love with the abundant life God was giving me.  I felt confident, strong, joyful, expectant, and deeply connected to what the Lord was speaking to my heart of hearts daily.  I remember thinking, in a humble way, not a prideful way, that I was so thankful Nora would be coming home to a mom who had her act together instead of the mom I had been known to be in the past.  A mom who was not always so confident, hopeful, or in tune with all God was doing.  I believed to the core of my being Nora was going to be loved well by me...or so I thought.

Instead of loving Nora well, however, I have struggled to believe I loved her at all.  I knew deep, deep, deep down under a lot of confusing feelings and thoughts there was a love for her because I had been experiencing it for the past few years of our adoption journey to get her home, but now that she was here in front of me I just couldn't find it.  At the beginning I remember blogging that she fit right into our family as if she had always lived here.  To some degree that was true--we didn't skip a beat in our parenting just because she was with us now.  The kids welcomed her into their lives without any hesitation.  We tried to help her bond to us as her new parents the best we could but also kept on living life as we knew it too.  We didn't necessarily feel like there was this "honeymoon phase" when we brought her home because she was a "true toddler" from the get-go with us.  Perhaps that's why it felt so normal--there was no glamourous gazing into each others' eyes and falling in love with each other.  There were simply diaper changes and tantrums and food on the floor and naps and playing with toys and looks that could kill coming from Nora.  To myself, at first glance, this was all normal and we were going to be just fine as a new family of six.

Slowly, however, we started to see that Nora is not exactly like our other children.  She has a BIG personality.  She is loud, outgoing, cheerleadingly happy, all out cryer, and hyper, hyper, hyper.  Our other kids...not so much.  As my counselor pointed out, almost everything Nora does in a reaction to something is going to be out of anxiety or attachment issues.  True.  Very true.  Our other kids...not so much.  We tried to parent her the way we knew how--the way we parented our other children--and we found out with much exasperation that nothing was working.  Her tantrums were getting worse instead of better, her death glares were getting more frequent instead of subsiding, and her demands for attention were taking a toll on us.  Especially me.  Probably because I was at home with her every day, all day and because Nora's personality and my personality are about as opposite as they can get in some ways.  I found myself struggling to see her as a blessing to our family but also knew deep down inside that God chose her for us and us for her so I piled a lot of guilt onto myself for not doing a better job at parenting her and loving her.  I didn't know how to handle this new little addition to our home that I thought I would know how to parent because, well, because I had raised 3 other kids and they were turning out pretty good so why was I struggling so hard with this one.

The best way I know to describe how I felt is this...when you are dating a person and are figuring out if you want to spend the rest of your life with them, you spend a lot of time together, learn things about each other, talk, do activities together, and figure out if you can live with the good AND the annoying parts of each other.  You do all of this BEFORE you commit to the covenant of marriage and if, for whatever reason, you find any of those things consistently getting in the way of your desire to be with them forever, you eventually decide to end the relationship and seek the same things in another person until you find the right one.  With adoption, the process is backwards.  You sign up to bring a child home permanently (like the marriage covenant), you are then matched to your child (find a person you want to date), and then you bring them home and learn who they are (actual dating).  It is only after they are permanently in your home that you learn their personality, their good qualities and their annoying habits and then, even though part of you is still wondering why God thought this child would "work" in your family instead of one whom "fit" more with your family's personalities and habits, you are expected to automatically love them as deeply as you loved your spouse when you walked down the aisle with them.  The reality, friends, is each person involved--me, Nora, Micah, our kids, our families--have still needed the time of getting used to each other before a love like that of "forever commitment" could come.

For me, finding that level of love for Nora has been HARD, HARD, HARD.  Excruciatingly hard.  So hard, in fact, that I have spent the better part of a year in a pit of captivity unable to get past the fact that the love I thought I would have for Nora just wasn't there and I didn't know why or how to ever find it.  What made my captivity such a living hell was that out of my brokenness, I was unable to offer anything good to those around me.  My husband suffered from an emotional, stressed, lost, crying herself to sleep at night wife.  My bio kids saw shades of their mom they had never experienced before in their entire young lives.  Nora more directly suffered from my anger, rage, and mood swings.  My friends suffered from the loss of an encouraging friend who cared for them.  My ministry in this world suffered from a person who felt she had nothing to offer that was good because she was so much a mess herself.  I suffered from the lies I was too weak to not believe.  All of this began taking a massive toll on me.

Physically, I was out of control.  I would scream and throw my own tantrums of rage like I was outside of my own body.  Seriously, I would get done with one of my many attacks of rage throughout the day and think, "What on earth just happened?  Why did I even do that?  What is wrong with me?"  It brought me to a place where I honestly began wondering if I was losing my mind.  And that is not a joke.  I would cry for hours at my loss of being able to even understand my own self.  It was the pit of hell and I feared for all those who were in my daily reach because I never knew when or if the "crazy Angie" was going to appear.  I have a new understanding of the concepts of "Jekell and Hyde"...wanting to be good and do good, but yet feeling so evil inside and unfortunately seeing some of that ugly, evil person inside do things you never in your life thought was within you to do.  It was a nightmare that I was not waking up from day in and day out for months and months and months.

I have been heard by those I have privately talked to through this time that I don't know how anyone ever goes through an adoption without their belief in God.  Through all of this nightmare, I have still kept a tight hold on my faith and I truly believe if I would have not done that, I would have been lost for good right now.  Despite the anger, the feeling of being completely out of control, and completely at a loss on why all of this was happening or how to get back to "normal", I knew deep, deep in my heart that God would use even THIS for good.  That is His promise, friends, and too many times in my past I questioned that and it robbed me of so much.  He can work ALL things together for the good of those who love Him (Rom. 8:28).  I knew that Truth and in the darkness, in the pit, in the captivity, I held on to that like my life depended on it.  In my utter loss for words or comprehension on why on earth God was allowing me to live in this pit, hope remained.  I can not type these words without tears streaming down my face--I CLUNG to hope like it was my only remaining breath.  CLUNG to it, friends.  The hope that one day this nightmare would end.  That one day I would love Nora like everyone else seemed to be doing except me.  That one day I would gain control over my actions again.  That one day I would smile and laugh and be joyful again for more than a fleeting moment of time.  That one day I would feel free and not defeated as a mom.  That one day I would go to sleep and wake up refreshed instead of going to bed crying and waking up scared at what will happen that day.  That one day the God I had obeyed when He asked us to adopt a child from Haiti would open my eyes to how He saw her fitting beautifully into our family even though she seemed so different to me now.  That one day even all of this ugly, ugly mess would be redeemed by His grace, His mercy, and His love.  Truly, if I didn't have my faith that God had all this possible for my future, I would have given up.  My hope in His promises saved me.

Are any of you there?  Are any of you in a place where you are ready--SO ready--to give it all up?  Ready to call it quits because you just have nothing left to give?  You have tried it all--meds for the hormone imbalance you have now been diagnosed with, professional counseling, praying privately, talking things out with friends, getting a break away from the house or your "problems" for a while, doing things you enjoy with the hopes of release, more meds when the others didn't seem to make much of the difference you were counting on, more counseling because you still don't have any answers to the millions of questions swirling in your head, more praying--corporately now in hopes that someone else's prayers will "work" since yours don't seem to be cutting it.  Seriously, are you in the place where you feel as though you have tried it all and nothing is working?  This.  This is the place I was at too...this is the place I was at yesterday morning.  This is the place I was at yesterday lunch.  This is the place I was at until about 2 p.m. yesterday.  And then the miraculous happened.

The miraculous comes, friends, when we least expect it, but so desperately need it.  You see, the things I mentioned above...the meds, the counseling, the praying, the talking, the escaping...they each were helping in their own ways but none of it was cutting through to the root of what was still holding me captive.  Yesterday, after the third time of trying to get Nora to stop crying in her bed and just go to sleep, while playing a game of Jenga with Quinn, something miraculous happened in my heart.  The compassion I was lacking, but had been praying for God to give me for Nora was birthed.  It was not a moment with angels and bright lights.  It was a moment of real, human existence while playing a game with one child and wishing my other one would go to sleep.  While hearing her continue the tears I found myself thinking, "Oh, Nora, just go to sleep, Honey.  I feel sad that you are crying in there alone instead of sleeping peacefully.  I should go in there again and help her."  To a mom in a healthy place, these thoughts seem completely normal, but to a mom in a pit, these words are so incredibly foreign.  To the mom in the pit, the last thing you want to do is go towards the crying child who you have tried to comfort or even reason with three times already.  To the mom in the pit, running the other direction is the only thought you have in your head so hearing myself have a desire to go TOWARDS Nora was profoundly miraculous.

I hesitated only long enough to see the end of the game I was playing with Quinn and then obeyed this compassionate desire to go into Nora's room once again.  I looked at her and rubbed her face and told her over and over and over "You're okay, Nora.  You're okay.  You're okay."  As I spoke these words over her, she calmed down and had a look of assured peace about her.  When I stopped, the tears began again so I continued to say it again..."You're okay, Nora.  You're okay.  I love you, Nora.  I love you.  You are okay."  I was shocked at the words leaving my mouth.  I have never dealt with this type of situation with so much compassion or love before.  Those type of words have unfortunately never left my mouth towards her when nothing else seemed to be settling her down.  I left her room again with her still whining about having to go to sleep (yes, she's still a normal toddler) and collapsed in my chair with my journal, writing out my prayers once again to a God I so desperately needed to hear the same words from.  I needed to hear "You're okay, Angie.  You're okay.  I love you, Angie.  You're okay."

I found myself in a place of complete vulnerability before the Lord.  He knows better than anyone else that I struggle with feeling respected and valued in the eyes of others (including His).  He knew in that pit of captivity I was stuck in for the past year, I was constantly being bombarded with the lies that I was not worthy of value and respect.  The lies that I will never gain Nora's respect no matter what I do or not do to try to earn it because I was always screwing it up again.  The lies that my value is based solely on my productivity and performance and not on who God has made me to be.  The lie that because I was acting like a crazy mad woman and couldn't even figure myself out, that I was not valued and certainly not worthy of respect from anyone around me.  God knew in that moment, around 2 o'clock on a random Friday afternoon, that I needed to use the very words to Nora that I needed to hear from Him--"You're okay."  And, that by using those words, I would have brought myself to Him in a way that was ready to let go of other things I didn't even know I was holding onto.

Out of that moment, I found myself praying for God to strengthen my depth of compassion for Nora.  I knew in my heart of hearts that was the key missing ingredient to get me out of this pit.  I lacked compassion for the daughter God gave me.  There are so many reasons I could give on how that compassion got lost or stolen or blocked from me, but they are not that important anymore.  What was important in that moment was that I desired to have built back up what had been taken from me.  In that prayer I believe God spoke to me by saying "If you want to build up compassion for Nora, Angie, then you need to build up Nora herself.  Start saying, thinking, and believing positive, True, and uplifting things about her.  Start now.  Write down the positives and say them out-loud.  When you are done doing that with Nora, do it for yourself.  Nora is not the only one lacking compassion from you.  You are lacking compassion from yourself too."  So, with tears streaming, I began writing out a list of positive things about Nora and then about myself.  With each one written and then spoken, I believe a stronghold was being torn down in front of my eyes.  I was being lifted out of a pit, taken out of chains that had bound me for a year, and was seeing Nora in a light that I had not seen before.  I was seeing her in her Truth, in her beauty, and it was miraculous.

I spoke out prayers of thankfulness in the middle of my living room while Nora slept and Quinn played with a neighbor.  I spoke out claims of Victory over myself because of Jesus's death and resurrection over the evil of this world.  I spoke out Truths that this house will serve the Lord and those who live in it will not be tools or pawns of Satan any longer.  I prayed for God's angels to come and protect and serve and minister to our hearts as I was sure they will still be reeling from the pain of this past year and needing healing deeply.  I prayed for God to continue to grow this new-found love and compassion I had for Nora.  I prayed for it to not be taken away from me ever again.  I told Satan he had no authority here anymore and that I would no longer be living in the place he had held me captive.  I prayed broken, humbled, blessed, and covered in love and grace and peace.  It was beautiful and freeing.  My last part of my prayer went something like this, "God, I know what is ahead will probably still be hard to get through.  I know it will probably be hard to think and view Nora consistently in this new light, but I'm going to do it no matter how hard it is."  That is when God said one more thing to my spirit, "No, Angie.  Do not assume this will still be hard.  My daughter, your life for the past year has been nothing but hard.  Do you not remember that when I come, I change things.  When I come, Angie, I do not allow things to remain the same--I come and make all things NEW!  My promise, if you choose to have enough faith to believe it, is that what lies ahead will not be hard at will be will be easy!  Your love and compassion for Nora will come easily--naturally--how I have always meant for it to come.  You do not have to fear anything about the future of your relationship with Nora.  Because you were willing to surrender your thoughts and words about her, I am taking them away from you, nailing them to my cross, and giving you new thoughts and new words that will only bring life for both of you.  I will take on the burden of the hard stuff and you will experience 'easy' for the first time in your life with her home.  I hope, Angie, you will dare to have the faith to believe it will be easy."

My response to those words was three-fold.  1) Tears, tears, tears of the relief that I felt when the word "easy" was spoken in my spirit.  Oh, how desperately I needed "easy"  2) Smiles and praises to a God who is faithful in meeting with me and changing me always more and more into His character and 3) A heart restored and full of faith that will believe in God making this easy for me.

Our pastor preached several Sundays back on surrendering our "stuff" to God.  They handed out white flags to everyone and as people surrendered whatever they needed to surrender, they waved their white flags and sang songs of praise to the Lord.  I sat quietly that Sunday with my white flag beside me.  I couldn't even pick it up.  How was I supposed to surrender what I didn't even know needed to be surrendered?  I was at a loss.  I brought my white flag home and decided when the Lord revealed to me what needed surrendered, I would then, and ONLY then, raise that flag.  It has sat for weeks untouched.  In that moment of surrender yesterday afternoon, I knew it was time to pull out the white flag.  I was surrendering my speech and my beliefs about Nora to the Lord and allowing Him to transform them and use them for the building up of compassion and goodness.  It feels so right and so wonderful to see that flag genuinely being waved in my hand.

And, as for Nora, when she woke up from her nap yesterday, she came out to a mom who was different than the mom who put her to bed.  I took her in her arms, sought forgiveness for the umpteen time, spoke Truth over her beautiful face, hugged her and kissed her and held her like I hadn't held her as of yet in our own home.  I told her of the changes God had done in my heart and that from now on I was going to be a mom that did not fight against her but for her.  That I was going to be a mom who valued her and respected her just like she would do to herself.  That I was going to be a mom who was thankful and blessed to have her presence be such an intimate part of my life.  I was going to be her mom like God had always intended and she would be my daughter as God had always intended and that together we were going to be okay.  Through tears we held each other, called each other princesses, and began the new life God's miraculous power had just made possible.  As I stared into her eyes, I found myself at a loss for all words except two.  Two words that had been long unspoken.  Two words that were deeply desired by me to say for the whole past year but, for whatever reason, had not been spoken.  Two words that I believe, in faith, will begin the easy future of our lives together.  I looked in her beautiful big eyes and said, "Nora, welcome home."  She may have been home for almost a year, but I was finally welcoming her here and it felt good and right and sacred.

Together, Nora and I looked up a Scripture God was bringing to my mind in that moment.  Whatever He is doing in my heart, friends, He ALWAYS confirms in a Scripture.  Not kidding.  Always.  This is the one for the miraculous happenings of our everyday Friday afternoon...

"'For I know the plans I have for you,' declares the Lord, 'plans to give you hope and a future.  Then you will call upon me and come and pray to me, and I will listen to you.  You will seek me with all your heart.  I will be found by you,' declares the LORD, 'and will bring you back from captivity.'" ~ Jeremiah 29:11-14a

When I finally brought ALL of my heart to Him and surrendered it freely and genuinely, He was found.  He was not only found, but He was my salvation--He saved me from the captive pit I have been trapped in and He gave me the promise of a hope and a future.  A bright future, I think, of a family of six precious souls making our way through this life together.  Imperfect, sinful, humble, needy, holy, blessed, and free souls who will continue to live a life of love and surrender together with a God who cares for us immensely.  I promise, friends, that same God is with you too.  Whether you are in the pit or out of it because I can testify that He has been with me in both places.  He has unique, individual, personal plans for you just as He has for me.  I pray that through your own surrender in prayer to the Lord, in your own undying hope, and in your own faith for the future, you will find what He wants to make new for you.  The freedom He has given in being "back from captivity" is making my heart full of awe in the One I serve and full of hope again that many others I know in their own pits will be back from captivity soon too.  To Him be the glory forever and ever, amen!

This photo has been a picture of my hope.  The hope that one day the two of us would smile and laugh together genuinely and effortlessly.  This moment was captured back in the thick of things this summer and I am looking forward to seeing the essence of that fleeting moment become something deep and often.  We are both beautiful, but especially when we are both experiencing joy.

**And, friends, just so you know...I woke up this morning and it wasn't all a dream.  I still find myself looking at Nora with an amount of love that did not exist yesterday morning.  God is so good!  For as long as I've felt I was living in a nightmare, may this "dream" continue to be a reality for the rest of my living days.