The Face of God

After we got home from Ukraine, I was really great about waking up for my pious obedience of morning prayer.  4:30am was the time because, with this early rising group, what other quiet time is there to pray?  And then the days went on… and I was so exhausted.  My body stopped waking me up.  I started turning off my alarms in my sleep every morning without even realizing it.  When I was actually awake at 4:30 I couldn’t bring myself to leave the bed.  On the rare chance that I did crawl out of bed, I would be summoned back again by our two year old who got clingy and decided he needed me from 4:45 to 6:00am every morning or he couldn’t sleep.  I gave up.

I haven’t said my morning prayers for almost two months now.  And that isn’t the only thing that has slipped… my patience, my energy, my willingness to serve my family… it’s all been fleeting lately, like grasping at straws.  The guilt, the overwhelming amount of work to do that can’t possibly be done, the endless toil of meal after meal and corralling four small children, the physically draining reality of two new children and one already on the way, the ongoing march of doctor’s appointments and therapy and paperwork, the children who are in emotional upheaval and who are all coping differently… it’s enough to make me want to run away in the worst moments.

Yesterday was a bad day.  Today is better, but yesterday I hid in my room for the majority of the evening.  I just couldn’t anymore.  While in hiding I decided to look up post-adoption depression, my symptoms are classic… and not at all mild.  Post-partum depression is a very widely accepted and discussed emotional issue for new mothers.  But post-adoption depression?  It’s taboo, we’re not supposed to talk about it.  We just spent the last year convincing governments and social workers and immigration services and courtrooms and orphanage directors and grant organizations and to everyone else that we will be really great parents for these children.

Then we get home, and reality sets in… we aren’t the picture-perfect parents we set ourselves up to be.  We promised to always provide this and to never resort to that, that we had access to this and that they would get that.  And perhaps we live up to that some of the time or even most of the time… but I doubt any of us truly emerge as the immaculate vision of love and joy and peace and kindness that we tried to explain to everyone and their third cousin that we could be.  And yes… I could be all that… technically.  But I’m not.  I have bad moments and I have bad days and I have had so many unexpected problems come up that my children still don’t have all their therapists and equipment  and resources in place.  Guilt.

Guilt.

Guilt.

Guilt.

Post adoption depression is real folks, and some days (like yesterday) our family is just caught in the thick of it.  This morning I woke up to a much more emotionally stable Dalas.  A Dalas who wanted to love on her kids and clean the house and get ready for our new arrival and start thinking about Christmas.  I like that Dalas.  She’s much easier to get along with.  And, as is typical, while on the upswing from my three days of deepening sadness, I determined to make it stop.  How can I prevent that from happening again?  Where do I start?  And then I remembered those prayers… the ones I’m not doing.

Praying is always infinitely more difficult in the midst of a depression, and it has been particularly hard for me to muster up the energy for it as of late.  “Of course.”  I thought to myself “I’m not praying so no wonder I’m struggling to love my children or want to care for them.  Of course I have no desire to serve them… if I would only pray more God would give me the strength and the patience and the love and joy I’m missing.”  So another thing to feel guilty about, just add it to the “I don’t do _______ well enough,” running tally in my head.

But then I sat down to read a book written by a lady for whom adoption was a catalyst of faith.  I would highly recommend it to any adoptive mamas out there.  Anyway, she was in the Holy Land and started helping at a particular monestary that was also a “school” (more like a shelter) for Palestinian girls whose families were abusive or unsafe.  One nun was in charge of the care for all eleven girls… in every sense but by law, she was their mother.

The author questioned her about this and the following conversation ensued:

“Yes, but is this really good for you?  Don’t you think raising children takes you away from the monastic path?”
“It took me a while to figure this one out.  But I got it eventually.  Nuns keep their eyes on God all the time, essentially living with God on earth, right?”
“Yes…”
“But I have to keep my eyes on the children all the time, right?”
“Yes…”
“And for a long time I thought I was just looking at children.  But then I got it: By keeping my eyes on the children, I am keeping my eyes on God.  I am living with the truest icons of the Lord Himself.”

And then I got it.  By keeping my eyes on the children, I am keeping my eyes on God.  All this time I was looking for God in the quiet, lonely hours of the morning.  I was praying without my little icons!  It was not my inability to find prayer time that was making my job as a mother difficult… it was, in fact, my lack of desire for God, my pulling away from Him that was pulling me away from my children.  The last place anyone wants to be while drowning in a pool of guilt and depression is before the Face of God.  I could have been saying lots of prayers… sleepy or not, clingy toddler or not, in quiet morning hours or not.  The truth was I just didn’t want to.

And when the time came for the children to be awake and for me to start the next marathon of watching four rambunctious children for the next 12-14 hours I didn’t want to do that either… not because it was particularly difficult or frustrating or trying and not even because it was exhausting.  I didn’t want to do it because in seeing their little faces hour after hour, minute after minute, I was looking into the Face of God.  And His was the last one I really wanted to see.  Serving them would have meant serving Him, and in my prideful, unrepentant state I loathed the very idea of it.

I thought that my lack of prayers was causing a lapse in my ability to love my children, but that was actually not the case at all.  My inability to love my children was rooted in nothing more than my resolution to avoid God.  It wasn’t the cooking or cleaning or correcting that I loathed… but interacting with His Image over and over all day long that was infuriating me.  What a humbling and freeing realization.

These children were not the chains holding me back from a simple, prayerful life… they were my ticket to it.  They were not the burden creating such darkness and despondency in my soul… they were the mirror warning me of my error and they are the balm that God will use to heal it, if only I am willing.  A pious and holy life is right before me, complete with all the bells and whistles of nighttime vigils, caring for the sick, fasting, feeding the hungry and living daily in the presence of sometimes no one other than God and His icons.  He is here for me every hour of every day literally, to love and to hold and to enjoy… what a blessed life.

Dear Lord, Who has given me every good and precious gift for the benefit of my salvation, when I begin to struggle with the weight of my duties, with the all-consuming cares of raising my young children – remind me that this is the work you have given me to do.  That in this work I will find You, which means I will also find peace and rest.  When the weakness of this earthly frame begins to balk at the exhaustion, whisper gently that such discomfort is the respite of my soul.  Help me to see your Glorious Image in the faces of my children, to treat them with humility and love.  Let me approach this task with great fear and trembling, a tangible reminder that ignoring my children is ignoring you, being harsh with them is dealing just as real a blow to my Savior as if I were a soldier at your Passion.  May I nevermore be so bold in my sin.  Grant me the grace to love You.  Amen.

God is Gracious… Hope

I promised all of you that when we met our matching grant (which we did!!) I would tell you the story of our daughter’s new name.  To preface, I believe that God whispers to us the names of our children… if we are listening.  If you give your child absolutely nothing else his whole life, but you give him a name, you can point him to Christ.

If his name is connected to the Lord, then whenever he hears it, it will point him heavenward.  Names are not just meant to sound cute or beautiful, but they have meanings and they tell us stories.  They provide us an intimate connection with those who bear them, evidenced by how excited so many of you are to hear the new name of the little girl you have loved so long!

I never could have guessed what either of our new children’s names would be before we came to adopt them.  Their names were literally given to us at the time God had planned, through His Church and His gracious promptings.  So… with no further delay… we are quite pleased to announce to you the name of our oldest daughter…

Zhanna Hope

Zhanna is pronounced (Zjuh-ah-nuh).  We will call her Hope for short.  Now for her story.  When I first learned what our daughter’s birth name was (months ago actually) I didn’t like it much.  I was pretty certain that we would change it, until we heard her birth family’s story.  (P.S. – Yes we did know what her name would be by the time we wrote that post if you want to have a bit of an “I see what you did there…” moment.)  Knowing that her name was given her by a loving mother and father who lost their dear child, I was much more reluctant to take away the one remaining legacy they had given her – her name.

We also learned while we were here that Hope was indeed baptized, and that we will be able to get confirmation of that.  Taking away a child’s birth name is one thing, but the name they were baptized with?  That is something else entirely.  Knowing she would not need to be baptized once we get her home, and also knowing her family history, sealed it for me.  Her name would stay.

And anyway… we were all very much getting used to the sound of it by this point.  :)  Once I knew that this would always be a part of her identity I did what any mother would do… I looked up the meaning of it!  Well, if I wasn’t convinced before I was now.  Zhanna means “God is gracious.”  It was as if God was speaking directly to my heart, for indeed there is no more perfect, succinct way to describe our girl’s life than with these three words – God is gracious.

With that settled, all we needed was a middle name for her, which came right on time shortly thereafter.  My husband’s lovely, godly, beautiful mother sent us an email the very day we were making the monumental decision on whether or not we could accept sweet Hope’s referral.  Now, before I share with you the delightful ending, let me provide a bit of background story.

JannaMy sweet mother-in-law (and I assure you she was not alone or crazy!) never had peace about adding Hope to our adoption.  We had some very difficult conversations about it, and she prayed for months, but peace about this very needy and delayed child never came for her.  We prayed that she would find peace, and we hoped it would come.

On the eve of our decision, it was certainly not far from our minds that our parents, whom we are called to honor and obey, were not on board with us adopting this girl.  It took our peace about it and made us quite uncertain.  After meeting Juri we were already unsure if we would be able to meet his needs and her needs and the needs of the two children we already have.

As much as we loved this girl we had met, we needed to be sure.  We both felt 100% that she was ours after the visit that day.  But we were not fully at peace.  And then… we checked our email.  Jake’s mom had messaged us and told us that the night before she had been looking at our little girl’s picture for an hour and praying over it.  What she said next brought tears to my eyes and still does: “I found myself thinking, “Lord, you really are The God of Hope and somehow through the lives of these little ones, especially Jana, you are going to be demonstrating just that: “I am The God of HOPE.”

She wondered if we had thought of the name Hope for our girl.  We hadn’t, but it only took us all of ten seconds to agree that it was the perfect name for her.  God has knitted our family’s hearts together, after months of tears and prayer, in His wisdom He has mercifully given us all oneness of mind and spirit.  Not only was this name a reflection of our family’s wrestling with one another and becoming closer and stronger for it, but it is also a perfect reflection of God’s love in Hope’s life and in the life of all mankind.

I titled this post “God is Gracious… Hope” and that is the story I want to tell with our daughter’s name.  Ten years ago I began dreaming of giving a little girl a home who had none.  About the same time, Hope was conceived, and she has spent all this long time alone.  Unbeknownst to either of us, we were both waiting for the culmination of God’s gracious love, waiting separately yet also together.

There were so many delays in my ability to start the adoption process, so many snags, so many days that it seemed it would never come.  When I first saw Hope, there were so many times it seemed impossible that she would come home with us, so many detours and bumps in the road.  Yet through it all I dared to hope.  I dared to pray, to beg God to give me the desire of my heart.  For He has said that He will do this.  God is gracious… and so I dared to hope.

I cannot wait to witness and share with the world the beauty of Hope’s new life, her redemption, her new birth into our family.  And as I do I pray that most of all people would see through her story that God is gracious!  Not so we can hope for things on this Earth, for truly there will be so many who never come to their earthly homes… so many whose hurts will not cease in this life… so many for whom injustice will not be corrected.  And yet even in the midst of these realities… God is gracious, and we still dare to hope.

Our daughter’s story is a miracle unfolding, a beautiful story of redemption in which God has honored me to play a role.  But her amazing story is nothing more than a reflection, a foretaste of the greater and more glorious story being told – God’s redemption for all people, for the entire world.  For He has promised to return, and when He does all the hurts will be healed, all the injustice will be corrected, all death will be turned to life and everyone who calls on the Name of the Lord will be saved!  Because we know God is faithful and we know that He is gracious we can dare to have hope in this Truth!

To all mothers who are still waiting to bring their babies home… to the mothers who have lost their children by death or tragedy… to the mothers-at-heart who so desperately want children and have been given none… to all the sick and dying… to the depressed and anxious… to all the poor and downtrodden… to the addicted and lost… to all the broken and afraid… to all who hunger and thirst and yearn for more than what they can have in this life…

May our daughter’s story bring you one precious Truth.  God is gracious… Hope!

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