Like the Lotus flower: When you find yourself standing in a field of sewage…

7 time zones in 3 weeks, sleep deprivation, transition, anger, loss, the roller coaster of grief: I’ve written about it all before, but as a refresher on context, that’s exactly where I was when my feet hit Cambodian soil for the first time in June 2016.  I’ve mentioned before that I was an emotional hurricane, but somehow that phrase still seems to fall short when I try to explain where I was at mentally, physically, emotionally, and spiritually when I boarded my plane leaving Denver last June. I’d considered backing out of the trip last minute. I tried to keep my little hurricane heart in Colorado, but the Lord scooted me onto a plane, despite my best intentions.

I was so broken and exhausted by my own inner turmoil leaving for my month abroad last year that I slept the entire 20 hours worth of flights from Denver to Siem Reap and a good 10 to 12 hours worth of layovers in between. When we finally made it to our hotel in Cambodia, I slept for another 7 hours. For those of you that are as bad at math as I am, that’s roughly 40/48 hours unconscious to the world. Like I said, not exactly the healthiest I’ve ever been…

Our first few days (weeks?) in Southeast Asia, my head was reeling.

The traffic. The pollution. The incessant noise– both in the streets and in the hotel rooms that I shared with my students. I was trapped in my own bitter inner monologue with the Lord and whenever I managed to get outside of my own brain for a moment, I flipped into sensory overload and wanted nothing more than to climb deep inside myself to find silence. But the deep inner silence I was so used to finding with the Lord was no where to be found.

Restlessness became my constant companion and the things that I usually did to process emotional upheavel (ie. running and writing) were next to impossible given the insane schedule (or lack there of…) I was keeping with my youth group kids. With my ability to find quiet refuge inside myself gone, time with the Lord was my only hope at peace and quiet. But to be honest? I saw Him as the cause of so much of my pain, and as such, running to Him didn’t have the appeal it usually did.

As I wrestled with/ against God/ myself while traveling throughout Cambodia last summer, the combination of the magnificent sights and temples, the brokenness and poverty in the country, and the whirlwind adventure of it all, overwhelmed me. As did the smell of durian and fish that wafted through the oppressive 100º heat/ 80% humidity combo everywhere we went. (Woof. I hope to God I’ll get the memory of that smell out of my mind someday…) I saw the Lord do glorious things and met kindred spirits on the other side of the earth that summer, but oh was I on sensory overload 25/7.

One of my most vivid memories of that season is simply of me laying in bed one night texting my best friend back in the States saying something to the tune of:

“I love it here, but my heart hurts and my head is spinning and I feel like my nerves are on the outside of my body. Everything, everyone I interact with touches them.  I’m tired and I feel raw.”

~~~

By the grace of God, my return to Cambodia this summer felt different, even though so many of my life’s circumstances and the questions I was asking the Lord before and during the trip were similar.

After a year of wrestling with the Lord and allowing Him to do some major surgery on my heart, mind, and body, I finally felt like my nerves were safely tucked back where they belonged– protected by layers of well fought for muscle.

On this year’s trip the sting of loss was still present as our team spent the 6 month anniversary of the plane crash that took our loved ones Home on Cambodian soil. Just like last year (and any youth missions trip, really) there were still many tears shed and many late night heart-to-hearts had. Many of the students I led were returning team members; although thankfully they’ve matured a bit and no one made me suffer through a rousing rendition of “99 Bottles of Root Beer on the Wall” this year… Praise Ye the Lord.

86762780-D4B1-495E-9F64-9D5449290062.JPGThe Cambodian traffic structure (or significant lack there of) still blew my mind this year as I watched motos with boxes stacked 5-high zip in and out of traffic, evading trucks with live chickens hanging upside down from the sides of their beds headed to market. The smell of durian still permeated the night markets’ air, and I watched yet again as one of my teenage boys teased a live crocodile with his GoPro. (Boys will be boys and I’m sure I’ll have more grey hair because of them.)

Each of these familiarities were gifts in their own quirky ways as I returned to the country that had captured my heart so deeply last summer. And yet, the Lord brought about His deepest mercy this summer to me in an unfamiliar and unexpected way.

Everyday and everywhere we drove in Cambodia there were Lotus flowers growing in the muddy ditches and fields on the sides of the roads. I realize it’s a weird thing to say, but the Lotus is my second favorite flower and somehow the Lord used it to speak tremendous grace over my mildly-reeling heart this June.

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Photo credit: Evan Wardell 

The Lotus is a flower marked by resiliency and its ability to grow into something breathtakingly beautiful out of some of the most murky, disgusting water on earth. Once the flower emerges from the darkness and begins to bloom, it does so slowly, opening one petal at a time until the entire flower is open to the world.

I love these flowers so much that I had a little chalkboard in my classroom last year that read, “Just like the Lotus flower…” as a reminder to my students and myself to be patient throughout the process of growth and the opening of themselves that would happen within my classroom walls.

After hearing me talk about that chalkboard and “Oooo” and “Ahhhh” over the flowers all trip long, I walked out of a rest station to find my youth group students in a swampy field snapping pictures of the giant flowers growing out back for me. As I walked out to meet them, my Chacos began to sink into the mud and I noticed a particular smell. I turned to say something to my co-leader and caught sight of pipes running from the back of the building where the restrooms were into the swampy field we were all standing in.

A field of sewage.

I was standing in a literal field of crap, watching my students take photos of the most beautiful flowers I’d ever seen in my life. (If that juxtaposition isn’t some kind of metaphor for what the Lord is doing in my life in this season, I don’t know what is…)

I instantly doubled over laughing and asked the kids if they wanted me to give them the bad news now or wait a minute until we weren’t standing in the water anymore. They chose ignorance and I began to usher them to our bus as I laughed to myself.

As we were walking out of the field, one of my boys leaned over to me and said,

“I know we were just standing in poop water. But getting a picture of those flowers for you was worth it. I think Jesus told me that you needed that picture.”

Ohhh my heart. Those were some of the weirdest, yet most sincere and sugary-sweet words I’ve ever heard come out of a 15-year-old boy’s mouth.

I don’t know if this year’s early rainy season was the impetus for the mass blossoming of the Lotus flowers, or whether those pink and white beauties were there all along last June and I was just too blinded by my own raw nerves, emotions, and exhaustion to see them. I tried to get an answer but I never stumbled across a botanist who spoke English in my time in Cambodia, and let’s just say that my Khmai is below-sub-par at best.

Either way, I know the Lotus flowers were God’s grace to me this summer– a tangible reminder that just as my students and I are able to testify to the undying Goodness and Faithfulness of God in the midst of a season of great heartache and loss, that that same God is growing good things in and around all of us through all of that “crap” too.

“For I [am learning to] consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us. For the creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the sons of God.”

(Romans 8:18-19)

Adoption changes everything

“You must be so strong.”

“Adoption is the most selfless thing you could have done, you know, given the circumstances.”

“I can’t even imagine how hard that had to have been, even though they weren’t your biological kids.”

People say these words when they hear our story– the story of how we gave up lost …whatever happened with my godkids four years.

I don’t tell the story often because if you look at my life today, you probably wouldn’t guess that things used to be entirely different.

I also don’t tell our story often because unlike the people who try to console me, I simply don’t have words.

As a writer it’s frustrating when you can’t come up with flowery words for something you want to describe in detail, or when you can’t even think of a metaphor for the situation when you want to be more discrete.

There is no way I could ever describe the way my stomach churns every time I wonder if I made the right decision, testifying that my babies were better off in a home full of strangers than with the people they grew up calling their family.

There is no way I could explain the splintered feeling I get deep in my being whenever someone tosses a “you’re so strong” my way in regards to the adoption, and all I want to do is scream,NO, I’M NOT!! I’m a freaking mess over here. I just want my kids back.”

There are no words that even get close to expressing the feeling I experienced four years ago when I handed our case worker the brown paper bag containing Mary Ray’s 6th birthday presents– presents that she likely unwrapped in a family visitation room while she sat, confused and terrified, with her 2 year old little brother waiting to be placed in a foster home, just hours after the judge ruled that they would not be returning to the home they knew.

There is no synonym for brokenness or pain like that. 

I don’t have words that accurately describe the way that pain grips my heart when I think about someone else tucking my sweet Mary Ray into bed at night, let alone tonight, on the eve of her 10th birthday.

As I sit here and ruminate on the “selfless” aspect of adoption, all that crosses my mind is how selfish I really am– How desperately I want to know what my babies’ lives look like today, no matter the cost…

On days like today, the only words that come to mind, come in the form of questions:

Did they get goodnight kisses? Did their new mommy or daddy read them a bedtime story? Are they eating their vegetables? Does someone sing to them from the front seat of the car on the way home from school?

Do they know how desperately I long to read them stories from the Bible each night? Do they know their worth? Do they love Jesus? Do they know that Jesus loves them? Do they know that I love them?!

Do they even remember me?

Does Mary Ray remember the Build-A-Bear that was in that brown bag four years ago? Has she ever looked at its tag and read my phone number, wondering whose it was and why it was there?

I don’t know… And I may never know on this side of Heaven.

All that I do know, all that I cling to within this situation– this never ending battle with my selfish and broken momma heart– is Jesus.

Over the last four years of birthdays and Christmases, first and last days of school, and all the ordinary days in between, Jesus has been teaching me what adoption really is.

Yes, adoption involves pain because for there to be a need for adoption, there has to be a lack of something else– a lack of someone to be there to take care of you.

But adoption is so much more than the pain. Adoption is a display of Supreme Love because adoption was created by God Himself.

“For all who are led by the Spirit of God are sons of God. For you did not receive the spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received the Spirit of adoption as sons, by whom we cry, “Abba! Father!” The Holy Spirit himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, then heirs—heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ, provided we suffer with him in order that we may also be glorified with him. For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us.” (Romans 8:14-19)

God understands the pain of those learning how to come to terms with earthly adoption; He gave up His Son, that we might have perfect union with Himself. He understands what it is to turn His face from His Son, for His good and the good of all man kind.

As my students make fun of me for saying, “Jesus knows, child.”

For we do not have a high priest who is unable to empathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are—yet he did not sin. Let us then approach God’s throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need. (Hebrews 4:15-16)

And just like I struggle to find words to tell the story of the two little humans who shaped me the most, there aren’t words for the type of beauty or grace that is found at the throne of God. There simply aren’t…

So while my heart grieves and I kneel before the throne, begging for my babies to know that they are loved by me if by no one else on earth, He has brought me to a new place this year. A place where I can cry out just one simple prayer:

“Lord, this year on her birthday, let my sweet baby girl know that she has been adopted by the most beautiful and glorious Father in the universe. For every ounce of my love for my babies fails in comparison to the ocean that is Yours.”

sweet

Happy 10th birthday sweet girl. I la-la-la-love you, no matter how many miles there are between us.