Archive for the ‘ family ’ Category

An Evening Reflection on Turmoil


We are making our way in New York City this week. After seeing, walking, exploring, as much as three young boys can handle, we seek quiet in a small Brooklyn apartment. Well, quiet is relative. There were snatches of it this morning, as I read that even though I’d walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I could dare to fear no evil.

This afternoon, though, my boys can’t stop rough housing, hurting each other, and making a game of crushing fallen cereal pieces all over the living room floor. I slam down my Chaim Potok novel, storm in to call my boys hellions and demand they clean up the war zone. Oldest son thinks I need to know that the fallen cereal did make the floor look like a minefield.

Clearly. A reason. To ruin. Someone else’s. Apartment.

I ban the electronic devices, cursing them as “lazy games,” and set the boys to work making dinner. They do well. One chops onions, another tomatoes. They stir the lentils, measure out rice.

And on the cleared minefield, we eat.



Food is thrown across the floor, eventually. And again, we work toward restoration. (And again, and again. How many things were spilled today.)

But my partner in this marriage comes home and takes the boys out to play, and what do I do with this unexpected time of peace, of genuine quiet? How much longer it lingers than I expected.


In my hour, I receive word of war zones half a world away. Of children beheaded. Of the advance of ISIS, and attacks between Israel and Gaza. Prayer has never been so urgent. Mind you, it’s not perfect here in Brooklyn—my lover and I startled awake to gunshots the other night. “Maybe it really wasn’t,” he said sleepily. But we both knew it was. We slept anyway, as though the tragedies of the day don’t touch us clear through.

I wonder how it is that peace is restored after the mines are strewn in our fields, after brother-anger flashes through my little boys’ eyes. I don’t have answers to these things—no tidy packages to pull together why the real consternation of my little day doesn’t keep us up at night. We still circle around dinner together, and we say grace, for that’s what it is.

But there are gaps sometimes, like this one, when the whispers come: how do Iraqi Christian mamas fear no evil?


On Worth

What is the worth then
of rain glinting silver
when it falls, or boys
split out with laughter?
We banter on the word
weird, while the huddle
of science texts, glowing
invitational, stuns me as
deep as our planet’s
gravitational stability.
.                If I study lips
lined with chocolate
cake, or sobs that rock
the souls of the oaks,
have I saved a child
from the plague—have I?

after Father’s Day, 2014

You say there’s a bottle calf
you rescued—skinny—
from the fields. I think how
you must like to go there
twice a day to be needed
by someone so young.

I told you about the blowing
and fallen limbs, and you said
the crops were okay after hail.

And the boys are okay, too.
You wanted to know.

Our voices sound like
they belong together—we speak
through our noses,
in the family way. I wonder
what you sound like
when you’re not with me.
I’ve never known you without me.

But I know
when I am without you,
I sound different.
I built a compost bin
because of all you were to me,
but you’ve never had use
for anything quite like that.

After we say the usual goodbye,
you say, Love you.
It’s something new you
must have learned
away from me. So I try it—
Love you, too—
before I hang up the phone.

A Morning’s Work

I will have branches snatch at my hat this morning,
my muscles twisting tight to keep lumber balanced on a two-wheeled dolly.
I will wheel it back to the almost-clearing where the boys can build
a something. To play hard after such a cold lull
is to let the springtime breathe way down deep into my blood.
We’ll play hard enough to need some waterproof boots, the
kind that can withstand the spray of the hose after we
make a morning of tramping through the underbrush.

Lessons Learned in a Benedictine Monastery

In the quietness of Conception Abbey, I think God tends to work on people.  He did on me anyway.  After my usual daily duties were removed, there wasn’t much to be done besides seeking the face of God and worshiping.  I went away for rest and retreat, and found the abundance of God as He fashions me from broken to whole.  I believe He laughs with delight as He sees what He’s making of me.

I wrote page upon page during my two days away, so I know more can be said than what I’ll offer here today.  But for today, a summary of highlights:

1) One word: Jesus.  Or shall we say one Word?  He is everywhere — in the words of the chants, in pictures, on the faces of the people around me, in the space out by the lake.

2) The rituals of daily worship — five times to sing psalms together with the monks — mark the day for its true purpose.  Each of the three meals comes after a worship service, after the True Bread has been savored.

3) This evangelical has made unfair assumptions about Catholics.

4) Part of the Rule of St. Benedict is hospitality: “All guests who present themselves are to be welcomed as Christ.”  Being valued in such a manner of heart-hospitality really makes me want to go home and love my children as the precious little people they are — people with feelings — rather than dismissing them, ordering them about, or speaking in a clipped tone to them.

5) Monks are humans too.  Forgive one and gain a brother.

6) When Jesus has done it all, there is no to-do left, no lingering need for my particular achievements.  There is only the dance of the redeemed — Go and tell the Good News!   We enter the daily only to dance out His love.

7) Step away to the quiet long enough and you may find your true place.  As for me, my heart loudly called me home to my family.

if you love adoption

You’ve heard the trite invitations, haven’t you?  Pleas to give a child a “forever family”?  Comparisons between us and God — how beautiful that we, like God, can take away a child’s status as orphan?

I agree.  It’s beautiful.  And God is love.  And God bless America.  And don’t do drugs.

God is love.  But to talk of the love without addressing how much that love cost God is to belittle the cross, to make a mockery of Christ.  And it is no use praising the beauty of adoption if I do not also talk about the excruciating pain of it.

Nearly two and a half years ago, our second son Ari joined our family through adoption.  We met him in Ethiopia, seeing face to face a boy we had only known through pictures.  There is a video of our first meeting.  Ari — fat and beautiful, back of head rubbed raw of hair, with trembling lip upon realizing he is in the arms of strangers.

Our early weeks at home kept me up at night, tapping out near-curses into my computer to unload the heavy burden of this new motherhood.  Biological motherhood — hormones and all — I had handled with comparative ease, but this eight-month-old fighting baby who, as I wrote, “sucks his bottle like booze” was tearing my world apart.  I had come into adoption feeling like a hero, and I was being dunked into the reality that love comes at great cost.  “There are things only a mother knows,” I wrote.  “Like how horrid a mother she is, and how much her baby despises her.”

I hid the hardest moments, not denying them, but assured that no one would understand.  Happy.  Healthy.  Friendly.  Those are the adjectives people reminded me described my baby.  I was irate that in spite of the list of attachment resources recommended, adoptive parents were not talking about the painful struggle of adoption.  Not every child may have a visible struggle in bonding with adoptive parents, but there is no adopted child who has not come from a hard place.  Even a child adopted at birth experiences separation from her mother as well as any negative emotion, trauma, or dietary insufficiency the birth mother may have experienced.  These things are written into the fabric of a child.

It was in the heavy, sobbing, heartbreaking moments in the bedroom with my boy Ari that I discovered my utter insufficiency.  Insufficiency to love.  Insufficiency to even properly walk through the rituals of healthy attachment.  In those hours upon hours, this truth: It is in my most grotesque insufficiency that I plumb the depths of the richest grace.

Today, I have a three-year-old named Ari.  He is still fighting and strong, and still beautiful.  He still has unexplainable fears, but he loves, hugs, laughs.  His eyes are alive.  He has healed and is healing.

Although grief is inseparable from adoption, I cannot escape the very real truth that, at its heart, it is the greatest beauty we may ever experience.  Through adoption, we become children of God Himself, however much we may writhe against His affection.  As this Lenten season draws nearer, may I never diminish the cost of my adoption: the Trinitarian God tore Himself apart to bring us into the family.

As it turns out, one of the greatest graces of being an adoptive parent is finding out that I am neither a hero nor a savior.  Those jobs are already sufficiently filled.

Additional resources and reading

Empowered to Connect: a site dedicated to helping adoptive and foster parents connect with their children

“It’s Hard to Say NO”: an important and candid post from my friend Kim, who inspired this post

mother love

The pull toward pain is irresistible. I am frantic to nourish; nights are restless to give my babies sleep.  I cannot shake the image of ducks — mothers who pluck feathers from their breasts to line their nests, to create security and wholeness for their young.  It’s not the leftover feathers that serve this purpose, Ann Voskamp reminds us, but those plucked fresh.  And it is a fresh, very present pain I feel as I hold my baby close.  I cannot resist the instincts to comfort cries, though I am worn so thin, and sleep bares its teeth to taunt me, asks me to worship it.  (Oh, sleep, you are useful, but you are not all-sufficient.  And you are not necessarily true rest.)
I’ve taken to calling God my Mother since the birth of Ray.  I needed strength then from someone who cherished me and totally understood birth.  And I do not think She minds, since it was in Her image that She created human beings — male and female (Genesis 1.27).  Actually, if you’d peek into my journals, you’d notice the Trinity according to Carrie is this: Abba, Jesus, and Spirit-Mother.  Spirit-Mother is who has been walking with me through my recent wanderings through the Bible.  You should see how deftly She cuts apart scripture and opens my mind and heart to its truth.
Spirit-Mother brings to mind passages such as Deuteronomy 32.11 (NLT):
Like an eagle that rouses her chicks
and hovers over her young,
so he spread his wings to take them up
and carried them safely on his pinions.
God reminds me that She understands mother-love.  It’s She who says, “Carrie, I love you.  No, no, you didn’t hear me.  I said, I love you.  There is nothing you can do that will ever make me stop loving you” (see Romans 8.38-39).   She knows the tearing pain of feathers plucked, for She will always feel it most deeply.  That God lets me in on a picture of Her love by allowing me to be a mother myself is an extravagantly rich gift.  I am humbled to hold it in my hands.
Can I rest in the pain of the daily struggles knowing they are producing a greater work?  Can I give in to the instinctual pulls when it’s only brokenness I see?  Curse them, and I miss the point: love.