We have been a family of 5 for 7.5 months now, which is amazing to me – it genuinely feels to me like Elliott has always been a part of our family, and it surprises me that this has only been our family such a short time.
And I have to say that that statement – that it feels like E has always been a part of our family – is one that brings me a tremendous amount of joy because it has absolutely not always been true.
Our time in China was hard for me – panic attacks, deep fear of what the future of our family looked like, struggling to remind myself that this was a journey that we undertook knowing that God was calling us to trust in him but realizing how very much I craved my own comfort. I talked briefly last week with another mom who also struggled in country and who said, “I lost my mind in that hotel room in Zhengzhou,” and was amazed because that was so very precisely how I felt. I lost my mind, it was brutally hard with moments of hope, and life did not instantly feel normal once we got home. If anything I felt the burden of our whole family’s emotional needs more acutely once home and, again, just wanted comfort and ease and kind of wished our tiny interloper would go away. (Which, honestly, was rather how I felt when our bio kids were newborns.) Please don’t feel that I confess that flippantly, though. It was hard – I felt a burden to ease the transition for everyone else when I was deeply questioning everything about myself. I remember one day a few weeks home, standing in the kitchen with the kids, all four of us crying for mutually exclusive reasons, and just thinking, ‘I am not enough.’ I am not enough for this situation or this family and what on earth have we done. I am not generous enough, loving enough, strong enough, I can’t meet everyone’s emotional and physical needs even in this one moment, I want to be a mom who can get her kids to adulthood whole and I just … can’t.
God in his goodness, though, intervened around that time with some voices of wisdom. Our pastor preached a sermon in early January containing the comment, “I am not enough, but He who is in me is more than enough,” and it utterly blew my mind. (Mind blowing extrapolated: God is the one who will be responsible for getting my kids to adulthood whole-ish and hopefully loving Him – I absolutely need to do my part, but the end result does not lie on my shoulders. I need to love and guide them, to show my own weakness, and to point them to our redeeming God. I am not enough to do the job God has given to me, but I’m not supposed to be.)
I realized, too, that I needed to spend some time with a counselor to work through that losing-my-mind stuff, and went to our church’s Biblical counseling center starting around 6 weeks home. Moment of honesty: I am frugal, and it is free. I went into it feeling a little judgey because all of my educational background is in the realm of licensed counseling and I figured Biblical counseling is a bunch of platitudes with no substance. I was totally wrong. (And let me give the caveat to the following that my counselor and I discussed my own biological predisposition to anxiety in seasons of life change, and that I don’t think praying harder or reading my Bible more will make me suddenly process life change without that anxiety. We live in a fallen world and have very imperfect bodies and brain chemistries.) Through the course of our conversations I was astonished at the freedom I felt when she reminded me of the Philippians 4 passage – you know, “Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” (Confession: I have totally rolled my eyes at that one: sure sure Paul, easy for you to say.) We talked about how that passage isn’t just a mindless dictate (don’t be anxious) but really a guide (don’t just sit in your anxieties, but thank God, pray your requests to Him, and he promises peace). God is offering His peace in place of anxiety, and that is a beautiful thing. We talked about how when you are genuinely worshiping God, your mind is not half on your own thing and half on God, but genuine worship consumes you and points you fully toward God and away from the swamp of your own brain.
In the months since those conversations, I’ve been trying to take moments of anxiety, identify the lie that I am believing in that fear and replace it with worshiping God in his truth. I love praying through the Scriptures, but let me be perfectly honest that when I am feeling anxiety, I don’t typically have the time or mental space to calmly sit in a sunny window with harp music playing and page through my Bible looking for the perfect passage that encapsulates the truth of God’s character. Shocking, but true. So I have been working on memorizing passages of the Bible that talk specifically about who God is – about his goodness, his compassion, that He is a mighty warrior, that He is able to keep us from stumbling – in hopes that with those truths being cemented into my brain, I can turn to those in hard moments and worship God for things that are absolutely true.
I remember in a China adoption Facebook group reading another family’s post at 1 month home, and they said that their new child felt like she had always been a part of their family – I am pretty sure I smirked at my computer as I thought, “You’re lying, there is just no way.” But by somewhere in the 2-3 month home zone, I realized that the things that annoyed me about our sweet Elliott were the same things that annoyed me about our bio kids (I am a terrible person, clearly, because I took that as a good sign), and by now at 7 months home – my gosh, yes, he absolutely feels like he has always been a part of us. Don’t let the Lego Movie’s theme song “Everything is Awesome” wash over you just yet, though, because I need to point out that parenting a newly adopted toddler is absolutely different from parenting a neurotypical bio kid – my expectations of him are different, my signs of success are different, and our daily life is different than it was with my bios at his age. I think when I say that things are going well and that Elliott is a great kid (true and true), people assume good = typical/normal, and that’s just not true. But good is good, and I see so much growth and love in everyone in our family, and I am thankful to God for this journey.