Tuesday, October 13, 2015

Aftermath: A Letter To My Girls

Dear darling daughters,

I've been meaning to write you this letter for a few months now. I could give you a list of excuses why I haven't, but if I'm honest, I just haven't been able to find the courage to sit down and write to you. I have not felt strong enough to reflect let alone remember the very thing that has torn my heart in half: leaving you. 

It's been three months since I kissed your foreheads goodnight for the last time. In those three months I have become well aquatinted with grief. The kind that paralyzes you to complete numbness and occasionally shatters you to the heaviest, most overcoming sobs of tears you've ever cried. But these sudden waves of grief have come over me in the most gentle and quiet of ways.

When I hear a pretty song. 

When I see a ballerina dance with unrestrained grace and elegance.

When I feel the fresh fall air breathe tender wind across my face. 

When I read words so unmistakably and flawlessly strung beside each other.

When I see the purity and freedom of a child at play.

That is art. Those are masterpieces. That is beauty.

And those things remind me of you. Because to me, that is exactly what you are. 

You are wonder and awe. So complex yet so simple. You've seen some of the darkest evils of this world and held onto innocence. That alone puts my jaw on the floor.

You are a breathtaking story. One of resilience and redemption and forgiveness. A masterpiece are your few years on this earth already.  

You are stunning beauty. Your bruises and scars have made you the rarest and most breath taking beauties I've ever seen. I cannot find grand enough words for it. 

Nothing short of holy was our time spent under the same roof. We wrestled with trust. We confronted fear. We learned a new rhythm. We cracked. We put pieces back together. We let love and family birth new meaning in our lives. We watched God restore what we thought we had already lost. 

I cannot begin to describe the life changing experience that occurred within loving you as a child of mine. I frustrate myself in trying to do so. Instead, I have slowly come to terms with the fact that our little sliver of time together will remain an untouched, inexplainable, purely sacred piece of my life and heart. I will never be the same. I will never walk the same way. You have ruined me in the best way anyone ever could. And even though my heart is broken, I'm okay with that. Maybe even thankful. 

I miss you terribly. I love you endlessly. 

I'm always on your team.

Natty Mummy 

Thursday, July 30, 2015

What I Know About Trust

November 19, 2014 was my first day as a mom. The day I took the first group of 5 girls home from the government orphanage was a day that I had long prepared for. Two months to the date of being in India and I was driving to the orphanage to pick them up and take them to our home. Prior to this day, I had made frequent visits to the orphanage and did the best I could to get to know the girls while we waited for the government to approve paperwork for their transfer to SCH. Still, with everything they had been through trust did not come naturally or easily for them.

I will never forget that day: watching the five of them come running down the hall with everything they owned filled in their small backpacks and the look of excitement and wonder on their faces. Initially, they looked at me with assurance knowing that they were about to come home and live with me. As I took care of logistics with the orphanage staff, I would look over and see them talking happily to each other and giggling while they waited for me.

Finally, it came time to leave. Time for them to leave the only place they had ever known, the only form of security they have ever felt and faces they knew to be familiar.  I didn’t realize the severity of the moment until I reached my hand out to the littlest one in the group- five year old Jayla. With my arm stretched out and my hand ready to grasp hers, I immediately saw a real sense of fear come over her. She looked right at me, eyes wider than I’ve ever seen them, while she calculated what this moment entailed of her: trust. I did everything in my power to ease her fear and convince her with everything but my words that I was a safe person. I knelt down to her eye level and held by hand out again. A few seconds later, I suddenly saw that little hand of hers place itself into mine. With bravery and courage like I have never seen out of such a small person, we walked out of there together without looking behind us. She still has never looked back. To this day, I couldn’t give you a story about Jayla that describes who she is as well as that one.

I haven’t felt so brave lately. I have very quickly found myself in a season of deep heartbreak and loss, wondering who I am and what my purpose is now that I no longer have the word “mummy” attached to my name. I have come back to what has felt normal to me for so many years only for it to feel displacing and overwhelming. I have encountered the new reality that who I was a year ago and who I am now are no longer the same. I have felt frustrated that the life I left behind in Seattle doesn’t seem to fit me as well as it used to. I have realized that when your life changes for the better, sometimes it feels more painful than it does joyous.

      In my moments of uncertainty, when I am standing in the middle of one giant unknown place, I know the outstretched arm of Jesus is towards me. When I have felt tangled in doubt and confusion, I have seen His hand beckon itself to mine. When the sudden waves of grief overwhelm me with surging impact, I have heard His still, small voice ask, “Do you trust me?”
      When nothing makes sense and the fog in the distance is still thick and full, I try and remember the courage of my five year old in taking my hand on that day in November. 

And then I ask God to give me the same courage to take His.  

Thursday, June 25, 2015

When Seasons Change

Do you remember that feeling you used to get as a kid when you had to go to the doctor for a shot? You watch as the nurse prepares the needle and those little knots begin to form in your stomach. Inevitably, you know what’s coming and you know it’s going to hurt. Taking a deep breath, you brace yourself for the pain.

In two weeks, I will pack my bags and I will get in a taxi and I will drive away from the place I have called home for the last ten months. I will drive away from what ten months ago was just an empty building. I will drive away from nine little girls who made me a mother for the first time. I will drive away from a life we built together on nothing but faith, trust and hope. The girls and I will come to the end of our journey together as a family and we will say goodbye to this sweet season God gave us with each other.  

A very hard thing lies before us.

I have those same knots in my stomach I did when I was a kid at the doctor’s office. Every day, I step a little bit closer to what I know will be inevitable heartbreak, surging pain and a very deep sense of loss. The anxiety that floods my heart every day when I realize that my moments with my kids are now becoming fewer and fewer has overwhelmed me. How do you prepare for what you know will be the hardest thing you ever have to do? How do you enjoy the moments you still have left without thinking about how they will soon only be memories? How do I finish with no regret? I know that there will always be more that I could have done, more I could have said, more kisses and hugs I could have given. I also know that nothing in my own power could ever be enough for them.

I’m learning the hardest part of the battle: letting go. I will have to feel the lightness in my palms when you realize your hands are empty. And in between letting go and feeling my hands fill again, it may feel like I’m standing in a desert. A loss before the next chapter starts; that’s where grief happens.

I’m scared. I’m scared of tearing the band-aid off. I’m scared to go back to life as a normal 23 year-old, going out with her friends on a Friday night instead of tucking nine little girls into bed. I’m scared of not hearing squeaky little voices yell, “Natty Mummy!” at me anymore. I’m scared of the loneliness I will feel when I go home, of feeling forever torn between two lives. I’m scared of how much it will hurt to miss them. I’m scared to move on without them.

People told me I was brave for moving here to do this. But I think my bravest moment will be to leave this behind and come home with faith that God still has more for me. Hope that the best is still yet to come.

The good thing about getting a shot is that once it’s over, it works from the inside out to make you well. The medicine works to protect, restore, and heal you. At the end of it all, you’re better for that shot. You’re stronger. You’re ready to stand back up again.

The pain was worth it.

Wednesday, May 27, 2015

On Staying Soft

On Saturday night, I got the news that the government would be coming for an inspection of SCH very soon. The requirement that needed to be made for this inspection would be that all of our children with chronic illness need to be grouped together in the same home. What came along with that meant Eloise would need to go back to Ongole where she first was transferred to us and Penny would need to move to another home because they are the only ones in our home without chronic illness. It also meant I would be receiving two new little one year old babies with HIV. In a matter of seconds, I realized that our family and home would abruptly change very quickly. I felt all control slip away from me. I went numb because I knew what this would mean for me and the girls. It would break our hearts to lose two members of our family and replace them with two new ones just like that. I turned my feelings off and I went into business mode, running around trying to prepare our home for the arrival of two new babies. 

The next day, we walked over Eloise and a Penny to rescue home (our main home here at SCH). It took everything in me to look at the whole situation like "what just needed to be done". But I did and every now and then when I felt my feelings creep back in, I pushed them out and turned the light off in my heart. I walked away that evening to the sound of my 4 year old screaming louder than I have ever heard her scream as she watched us walk away from her. I left my baby in the arms of a stranger and chose to accept that they would not even begin to love her the way I do. And I didn't shed a tear. I didn't feel a thing. 

For me, who is naturally a sensitive soul, a deep feeler and a definite cryer, I was surprised (and a little bit disturbed) by the way I became numb so fast. I have seen some real crap here and felt some of the deepest pain I have ever felt by living in this country and being apart of this work. And over time, I have felt myself go into "shutting down" mode more because I'm just tired of seeing it. I'm tired of feeling it. I'm sick of knowing that so much of what happens here is out of my control and I have to just sit back and watch it. I have trained myself to turn my feelings off when I know I just need to be strong and get through it. So often, I have seen my humanity sit across the room and stare at me...reminding me that I can only be so vulnerable until the walls will naturally start to build after I realize how badly I've been hurt. 

Loving these children has been the most heart breaking thing I have ever experienced. Building this home from scratch has been one of the most frustrating things I've ever done. I have seen four children come and go through my house in 8 months. I have watched our family dynamic go from black to white. And just when I think we've settled in and we've truly become a family, the rug gets pulled out from under us and we have to start over. 

I have seen the way this life has attempted to harden me. I have noticed the way it has tried to rob me of the very things that brought me out here in the first place- compassion, sensitivity, empathy. In some of the worst moments, I have feared that the hardening of my heart has actually taken place.

Nothing has scared me more. 

The hardest thing I will ever do is to choose to stay soft. It will not be to have a child ripped away from me- it will be to grieve, weep and mourn over it. The bravest thing I will ever do is fight to keep the door open in my heart, willing to take more punches, even when its already mangled and broken. 

Eventually, I let the tears come. Like a rushing river, I felt my grief bring me back to life. Tear the walls back down. Set me free. 

Courage isn't about being strong. 

Monday, May 11, 2015

On Receiving

This evening. The Indian summer sun setting. My kids, all nine of them, playing. Dancing. Laughing. Fully enveloped in the carefree of childhood. I sit on the sidelines and watch. For a moment, I let myself get caught up with the blissful perfection of the scene in front of me. I take a snapshot and tuck it away into my mental memory box. 

Most moments don't seem as perfect as this one. Most moments I don't feel the way I do like I did tonight. And especially lately, I haven't felt like I've been able to stop and breathe in the simple moments with my children the way I would like to. I have felt burnt out, weak and exhausted in every sense of the word. My honeymoon with India is long over and I have started to notice the way living here has taken its toll. Spiritually and emotionally, I have felt drained beyond my limits. I have struggled to see clearly through what seems like a tornado of dust in my eyes. In summation, it's just been hard. 

This last week, I think my body finally caught up to everything else in me that already felt totally spent and I got really sick. I didn't have much of a fight in me to begin with and after a few days of feeling pretty awful, I was about to check myself into a hospital. Just before I did that though, the group of women who have been volunteering in my home came to pray for me. And you know what? God healed me. He made my physical body well again and He restored my health right then and there. But something more important happened than that. He led me to a place of surrender. He invited me to lay down some things that were never intended for me to carry. He led me beside still waters and He said to me, "I care". And in that, true healing and deliverance was made complete in me. 

I love moments like tonight where I really get to see what God has done. Like an artist displays his proudest piece of artwork so The Lord shows off His greatest, most glorious creation when I get to watch my children happily play in the evening sunlight. All of a sudden, I am overcome with awe as I stand back to look at the picture God is painting in the lives of my girls and I. I can hardly comprehend how far He has taken these kids in such a short amount of time. I sit and remember November 19, 2014 when I took home such fragile, fearful, shattered and broken little girls and then I look at the life and joy that now sparkles out of their eyes. I wonder how my traumatized children possess such pure faith and trust so shortly after the darkest days of their lives. For a second, I find myself trying to take the credit for this. And then I remember how far He has taken me, too, since that day. How much He has changed me, shaped me, stretched me, molded me, broken me and then so gently put me back together through the lives of nine socially outcasted little girls crashing into mine. And I know that what I'm looking at is nothing but a picture, a masterpiece, of His astounding grace.

God knew that I would need them just as much as they need me.

I am learning how to let my children love me with their perfect innocence and deep compassion. I am learning how to lay on the couch with them all afternoon and just enjoy the remarkable little people they are. I am learning how to put the check list away and fully soak in the miraculous relationships that have been birthed between these nine souls and mine. I am learning how to see moments with my girls as if God were letting me peek into a small slice of heaven.

Mostly, I'm learning how to open up a gift that has been sitting there, waiting for me all along. So far, it is well beyond anything I could have ever dreamed up would be inside. 

Saturday, April 18, 2015

Dear Penny: A Letter to my Littlest

Dear Penny, 

I remember the very first time I laid eyes on you. October 4, 2014. This was the day I met the nine little girls that I had come to India for. It was an overwhelming day and my heart was full to the brim with joy over meeting the girls I would soon become "natty mummy" to. Right before it came time for me to leave, I popped my head in your room across from theirs. There you were, laying on your side with your hand behind your head like a little model. You had the most perfect grin on your face and were completely content amidst the chaos surrounding you. Right then, I didn't see anyone else in the room but you. You captured me immediately. Little did I know then that I came to India for you too...my surprise baby. 

So often, I will walk into our living room and see you sitting on the couch so content and happy while all your sisters run crazy around you. When I used to come see you at the government orphanage, the moment you could hear my steps approaching you, your whole body would swell with joy and excitement. You were so happy that someone was coming to see you, to make eye contact with you, to touch you. I could hardly believe my eyes when I saw the amount of joy you contained amidst such a dull, dark place. Still, I'm amazed when I look over and see you happily sitting alone, smiling and giggling to yourself while you watch your sisters play around you. 

Most two year olds your age are throwing tantrums over not getting the color lollipop they want or having to get in their car seat. The only time you ever cry is because you just really want your dinner. You do your "happy dance" when you see your food or milk coming. You give me the sweetest, most gentle smile and place your small hand over mine when I put you in your crib every night. You snuggle your little head into my shoulder whenever you want to take a rest. You are happy just being held all day and don't hold it against your sisters when they may be just a little too rough with you. I can take you absolutely anywhere because you will be happy and content just to look around while your strapped to me. I describe you as the perfect child, the easiest baby because that's pretty much what you are. At least to me you are. 

But you are not special because you are easy or content with anything. You are special because you possess a joy that is supernatural. The joy you carry is one of the most pure things I've ever witnessed with my own two eyes. Your joy comes from a place of secured peace inside of you, as if you are deeply anchored in the truth that you know to Whom you belong to and to Whom you are unconditionally loved by. So often, you have brought me to tears from simply watching you live with such grace and such unshaken peace. I know that those moments make me cry because you are showing me Jesus, beaming pure and shining bright out of your little spirit.

You have reminded me why I got a degree in special education. I've always said that the people in the world who seem "broken" by society display the character of Christ most beautifully. For me, God has always used people with disabilities to show me who He is, to show me more of His heart and bring me closer to see the radiance in His face. 

When I have felt bullied by darkness, burdened over my head with the messiness of this life and blinded to the good that is still left in this world, you have shown me back to the place where God dwells. You have pulled me closer into His chest so that I can hear his heart beat. You have lifted part of the veil on His face so that I can see the fire in His eyes burning for His people. 

And you have done it all without even realizing it...without knowing what an incredible witness to Jesus you are to every single person you meet. There is no doubt that God takes great delight in your powerful little soul. I can't believe I get to witness it everyday. You are such a gift. 

Thank you for loving me so well. I love you back with all of my heart, baby. 

Natty Mummy 

Monday, March 9, 2015

Real Talk

Many of you have inquired what life looks like as a 23 year old, single mother of 9 children in India. Many of you have followed my journey via social media, have read my blogs and kept up with small updates I have posted about the girls and I. And it has been through those things that I have been able to open up a small window to anyone who wishes to get close to it and peer there eyes through. In many ways, it has provided a stable view point into our daily life. But in more ways than most, it has shown off the extravagant joy and deep beauty that we experience as a little family here in India. While none of that is false or staged, I believe it is often taken at face value by initial impression and therefore very often misunderstood. The reality is I am a broken person attempting to lead broken children into a place of healing. I have come to India with baggage and my children have come out of a very dark place and into my home with more baggage I have ever seen a child carry on their own. And together, that makes us one load of baggage that clears all the smarty carties in the airport out.

I say those things not because I want to be a Debbie downer and throw a wet towel on the immensely beautiful thing that our life is, but for the sake of perhaps building our window a little bit bigger for you to see more of our life for what it really is. This is the part where I share the things that aren't as inspiring as the pictures of my children joyfully laughing while we all embrace each other. 

This is the part where I share that sometimes I raise my voice at my kids in utter impatience. Sometimes, I don't enjoy my kids because sometimes all they know how to do is scream and crawl all over me like I am a McDonald's play place. Some days, I don't want to come out of my room and face a house full of Indians who don't speak my language and don't understand where I come from. Sometimes, I am so lonely that I don't know how I will possibly make it another day. Sometimes, I wanna cuss out the millionth auto rickshaw driver who rips me off just because I'm white. Sometimes, India makes me wanna rip my hair out because it's just so different. Sometimes, my kids are straight up brats. Sometimes my kids resort back to manipulation, ungratefulness and victimization because that's the only way they have known how to survive. Sometimes, all my kids do is push me away just so they can see if I will still love them. Sometimes, I see more hurt in their eyes than I do joy. Sometimes, they fall and scrape their knee and cry for hours because they are really crying about something much more painful than a bloody knee. Sometimes, when I really think about what my kids have been through, I just can't cope. Sometimes, I become numb because there is too much brokenness and hurt that surrounds me. Sometimes, I dream of another life that doesn't challenge me so much. Sometimes, I can't imagine any other life than this one. Sometimes, I look at my kids and think about how I'm the luckiest woman in the world to be called their mama for a time. Sometimes, I'm so angry at the reality that I won't get to call them mine forever. Sometimes, I get so upset over the fact that I won't be able to give them everything I want them to have. Sometimes, I am mad that I have to feel so torn between two worlds, and probably always will. Sometimes, I'm so selfish and I throw myself a pity party. Sometimes, I cry and I can't stop. Sometimes, I feel like I have nothing left to give. Sometimes, I have no one and nothing but God himself. Sometimes, I don't feel like I deserve to be these children's advocate, protector and foster mother. Sometimes, I can't see God here. Sometimes, all I can see is God shining through the faces of my children. Sometimes, I feel like God really really really loves me. Sometimes, I'm convinced with everything in my bones that He truly is enough. 

I think there is a lot of freedom in throwing all your cards on the table and just being honest with the way things really are. I also think there's a lot of beauty in seeing something for all that it is- good and bad, beautiful and ugly, put together and broken in pieces. If living in India has taught me anything, it's that the true beauty lies in the rawness and full exposure of something. Our life is truly beautiful because we aren't hiding anything from each other. My relationships with my children are truly life giving because we have already seen each other through so much and walked a very hard, meaningful journey together. God is shaping me into a woman more like himself because he's allowed me to be broken more...but this time, broken for the things that really matter.

For everything that is hard, there is a gift and for anything that is fully seen, there is freedom.