identity theft

Sometimes I am ok with taking their own time. Some days I can celebrate process and journey. I have a sense of grace that reminds me of goodness and growth and God’s kindness even through suffering. Other days, I’m distracted and impatient. I’m frustrated that I still have so many questions. So many things I don’t understand. So many things that I should be over by now. But then I realize.

Maybe it isn’t surprising I’ve had a hard time figuring out who I am, who I’m meant to be, who I can be. Because of things like this–>When my dad remarried, he and my stepmom had a son together. They gave him the name that I would have had if I’d been a boy. And get this. He was born on my birthday. The poor kid actually stole my birthday. What are the chances? I’ve told people that strange story over the years and no ever seems to know what to say except ‘wow…weird.’ I have always hoped someone would help me figure out what it means.

But what it feels like is simple and clear. I was replaced–edged out–erased. It felt like I became nothing. Forgotten. A girl.

I remember going to visit my dad once. I was in the 4th or 5th grade. I wasn’t invited often even though for most of my childhood he lived fifteen minutes away. But on this day, I was there for some reason. I think my mamaw (that’s east Texan for grandmother) might have been in town. Dad wasn’t there when I got there. He was hunting or fishing with friends. I remember a lot of people around when he arrived.

I was excited. I couldn’t wait for him to notice me–I thought he’d be so happy and surprised since he wasn’t expecting me. He was distracted by showing the fish or deer or whatever it was and was talking happily to everyone there. Everyone except me. As the moments passed it became clear he was ignoring me. He was embarrassed I was there or something.

I was crushed.

Finally, a friend of his named Chris whose sandy blond hair was stylishly 1980-something short said, ‘Barry, aren’t you going to say hello to your daughter?!’ You’d think that would have made my humiliation even greater but it didn’t. I was so grateful to her. She saw me. And she made him see me.

As a kid, a lot of times I tried to disappear. It seemed like that was what I was supposed to do. It seemed safer to blend in.

But sometimes, I’d take a chance. I worked so hard to get my dad (and others) to notice me. To be proud of me. To like me. To find something worthwhile in me. Writing this made me realize I’ve bragged more to my dad than any person I’ve ever known.

Dad, my favorite color is the same as yours. Dad, I’m a good Christian. Dad, I’m a good student. Dad, I like books and music like your wife does. Dad, I’m graduating with honors. Dad, I’m getting a pool. Dad, I’m a good cook. Dad, I travel like you. Dad, my house burned down. Dad, I wrote a book.

And the answer is the same as it has always been. Silence.

And I get it. (In theory at least). This is my experience. His couldn’t have been easy, either. I’m sure he had his own hurts and confusion and conundrums. Maybe he felt shut out of my life. Maybe he thought it was best to let me connect with my new family.

And I didn’t make it easy for him. I was annoying and bratty and way too eager to talk about me, me, me whenever we were together. And when I was older, I started to vaguely say ‘yeah, let’s get together.’ But then I wouldn’t call. Just like him. But my word is my own. I could have called. I wish I had.

At first, he was young and probably didn’t know what to do. And when he wasn’t young any longer, the patterns were established. Inertia is a powerful thing. And it’s not his fault. Many things have conspired to make me believe all kinds of terrible things about me besides this.

But it happened and it matters and it’s the story I’m telling today.

The darkness has tried so very hard to make me disappear. To make me be quiet. To make me afraid and alone and ashamed. I guess that’s what I was supposed to get out of the whole half-brother-with-my-birthday-and-almost-name scenario. And the dad who didn’t want to be part of my life. But it hasn’t taken, somehow. The light keeps calling me. It keeps telling me my name.

And you know what’s great? I’ve always loved my name. I like the sound of it. I like the way it’s spelled. Most of all, I love what it means. It’s earth in Latin. Ground, soil, womb of life. I know we’re supposed to get a new name in heaven and I have to admit I’ve always been a little sad about that.

Some how, against all odds, I know who I am. I know I belong to the Light. I know (I can’t deny that I know) that the Center and Origin of all things calls me by my name. And loves me. And likes who I am. Even as he is making me new. Even now.

“But as many as received him, to them he gave the right to become children of God, even to those who believe in his name, who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God.” (John 1:12-13)

If this story sounds like your story, you should listen to this song by sleeping at last.

littleterra

The Daughter I Haven’t Met

We would have received our referral for Camilla on this date in 2011. We still miss her, love her, and wish things could have been different. Lament is as important as laughter so I’m remembering her and acknowledging loss and sadness today.

terra firma

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too late and too soon

Three years ago I became a mother again.  At long last, we got the referral letter for our Chinese adoption.  That meant it was finally time for us to be matched with a child who needed a family.  We’d been waiting five long years for this email.  But it came too late.

For reasons I am only beginning to understand, it was clear that with us was not the best place for this precious girl to be.  She would have been somewhere between 6 months and a year old.  She would have been small for her age after spending her first months in an orphanage and she’d have had dark, almond shaped eyes and shiny black hair cropped short.  We would have scurried home from the airport where I’d read the email to wait for our adoption agency to send more about her.  On the…

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Guess What Didn’t Lead to a Perfect Life?

My wonderful daughter Torey wrote a guest post continuing the dialogue about modesty and sexuality. She is one smart woman and I’d be glad to be a part of her life even if we weren’t related. Check it out::

My life isn’t perfect because I didn’t have sex before marriage. Seems like a straightforward statement. One that most of us would proclaim we believe. However, many of us who grew up in evangelical churches might find ourselves counting purity before marriage as the only key to success. As look around to my peers, mentors, and the church as whole, I find this message running rampant through Christian culture and ideology. The fact that we don’t seem to recognize it is even more disconcerting. As someone who has experienced the pain that comes out of operating under this ideology, I owe it to myself and to you to dispel it.

Recently, my mom wrote an amazing piece on modern-day modesty in the Christian church and in it she discussed my experiences in a 21st century church youth group {Aw, thanks, Torey. Here’s that essay if you want to check it out.}. She described a culture and message that idealized sexual purity and “covering up” the parts of us only meant for our spouse. After consistently hearing this message, it became part of my theology without me realizing. My actions and daily thoughts began to form around this perceived truth. With my rebellious tendency towards rules I perceive as arbitrary (don’t get me started on the tax code), I started to toe the line instead of letting my actions being informed by the spirit of what Jesus wanted when he commanded us to be pure.  Even though I spent my high school career in a uniform, I rolled up my pleated khaki skirt as soon as I got to school to make it shorter. And even though I never had sex, I went farther with high school boyfriends than I wish.  That is my sin and mine alone. However, I’ve wondered if part of that rebellion was against the model Christian church’s culture which idealized purity.

As I went to college and met the man who is now my husband, I wanted to do things differently. Although we weren’t perfect, we waited. I remember thinking how much better off we would have it than friends who hadn’t waited to have sex or who had gotten closer to the line than we had.  We would enter our wedding night as God intended, and were therefore destined for marital bliss.

Those of you who are married know just how wrong I was. After the honeymoon, Craig and I had to face the harsh reality that our lives and our marriage we not perfect simply because of something we withheld from each other before it started. Don’t get me wrong–sex is awesome. It’s fulfilling and exciting.  But it isn’t even close to the majority of what our marriage is based on.

Marriage is more than a list of do’s and don’ts. It requires a deep understanding of what the other’s needs are and fulfilling them to the best of your ability. Even though we have only been married for a year, I love Craig more every day. The sweet times we spend together in the evenings talking about our days over a glass of wine (or beer for my man) are the best part.  He consistently amazes me by the way he demonstrates Christ’s love in the way he serves me whether it be turning on Gilmore Girls for me to help me get through my most hated time of day (morning) or leaving me a sweet note in my purse. To me, those little acts of service and love are what have made our marriage great. I love Jesus more because of my marriage to him.  Craig is my partner and best friend and I am abundantly blessed.

Despite that I have been surprised by how normal life after marriage is. Don’t get me wrong, I love it and thus far, besides knowing Jesus, it is the best part of my life. My point is that the troubles and trials of the world do not go away because you enter marriage sexually pure. Jobs still sometimes suck, relationships are still hard, and money’s still tight.

I guess I’m saying all this to remind you that sexual purity and modesty cannot save or sanctify you. Only Jesus can. His grace is sufficient to cover a multitude of sins. He wants the best for you and remaining pure IS God’s best for you. It protects you from a world of hurt and pain that you weren’t meant to experience. Sex within a committed marital relationship is unparalleled.  But for those of you that struggle with purity or modesty, know that you aren’t alone. And that your sin isn’t worse than any other. You are not doomed to a failed marriage if you have made sexual mistakes before. Marriage and your walk with God are dependent on much more than what you have or have not done in the past. Fall into his abundant grace—knowing that it alone can save you. Speaking from experience, that is the most freeing feeling. I’ll say it again. My life isn’t perfect because I didn’t have sex before marriage.

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A List

In honor of mother’s day, and on this side of motherhood, I have a few things to pass on to my friends who are still in the trenches:

  1. Be a parent, not a best bud. Your kid will have plenty of friends (especially once you teach her how to be a friend). Parenting isn’t a popularity contest and that’s a good thing because you’d lose.
  2. Don’t be afraid to show him what he should say yes to and what he should say no to. We have more freedom of choice at this point in history than ever before. Choice is truly a wonderful thing but it can quickly become dangerous or overwhelming without boundaries. That’s where you come in. Don’t be afraid to tell him in age appropriate ways what’s off limits for them and why. But choose your battles.
  3. Balance the boundaries with lots of freedom. Embrace creativity and whimsy and the occasional touch of chaos.
  4. Admit when you make a mistake. (You will. Often.) Show them how to apologize. Model humility and teachability. Show her that she doesn’t have to be perfect.
  5. Teach modesty both in the sense of dressing in ways that demonstrate self-respect and in the sense of humility (see above).
  6. Teach them to celebrate and embrace their masculinity or femininity and their own unique worth. The world (and, sadly, often the church, too) wants them to be ashamed of their bodies.
  7. Let your home be the place where the kids hang out as much as possible. As tired as you’ll sometimes be, don’t use other kid’s parents as free babysitting.
  8. Laugh with them. Make funny faces in the bathroom mirror. Play in the mud and the rain. Dance. Make a mess. Be silly.
  9. Teach them—boys and girls—how to sew a hem and a button; how to make at least one meal other than breakfast; how to say ‘please’ and ‘thank you’ (and why); how to do their own laundry; and how to change a tire.
  10. Don’t lose yourself. It might seem like love at the time to pour every bit of your energy and time into your kids but it isn’t. Show your kids how to live a life well. If you’re married, date your husband. Practice self-care. Be who you are meant to be, the person you’ll continue to be once the kids are grown and gone. You’re modeling how to be a whole and holy human for them and that’s love.
  11. Never forget that what you’re doing matters. You aren’t creating a human being–that was done for you. But you and everyone else who loves your kid are making an environment that makes it possible for that amazing human being to become what she or he was meant to be. And that’s something worth spending your life on.

 

Mother-Daughter Fredericksburg Trip

Mother-Daughter Fredericksburg Trip (September 2012)

 

The Daughter I Haven’t Met

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too late and too soon

Three years ago I became a mother again.  At long last, we got the referral letter for our Chinese adoption.  That meant it was finally time for us to be matched with a child who needed a family.  We’d been waiting five long years for this email.  But it came too late.

For reasons I am only beginning to understand, it was clear that with us was not the best place for this precious girl to be.  She would have been somewhere between 6 months and a year old.  She would have been small for her age after spending her first months in an orphanage and she’d have had dark, almond shaped eyes and shiny black hair cropped short.  We would have scurried home from the airport where I’d read the email to wait for our adoption agency to send more about her.  On the drive home, we’d have called our families and posted a barely coherent announcement followed by many exclamation points. We would have devoured grainy photographs and eagerly read reports of her development and health when we got there. And then, six weeks later, we would have gone to China to bring her home.  It would have been early September by then.

As it was, none of these things happened.  I read the email and quickly put my phone away, the loss and regret a solid thing in my chest.  I didn’t tell a soul for days.  I couldn’t make myself form the words. Our family and friends, for the most part, had stopped asking questions.  They must have known by now that too many things were broken and falling apart for us to bring a child into our family.  Some of them had probably forgotten we ever planned to adopt.

But we didn’t forget.  She had a name.  A few actually.  Originally, we were going to call her Camille Rose.  Then, one day during a walk, I was inspired to go with an original inclination and name her Camilla after one of my favorite characters from That Hideous Strength.  Either way, we’d call her Milly or Cam when she was young.  We planned to keep her Chinese name as well as one more connection point to her history.  We’d seek as many of those as we could for her.

My mother gave me an ornate box for adoption keepsakes for Christmas the year we told everyone we were planning to adopt.  I filled it with a journal, a picture book, and other treasures.  Torey and I bought her first outfit together—a dark denim top adorned with silky roses that came with matching bloomers.  An intricately carved teak cabinet in her room was filled with books, clothes, bedding (both for a crib and a ‘big girl’ bed), and gifts from her sister, aunt Lauren, and several friends.  Her walls were painted pale green.  I bought her a monogrammed teddy bear Christmas stocking that matched ours. Friends gave me a necklace engraved with her name.  I’d read a whole shelf of books about attachment and adoption and planned on reading many more.  My wonderful older daughter spent her entire senior year in high school researching and writing a thesis about international adoption that she dedicated to her sister.  In the midst of all these preparations, the wait for Chinese adoptions which had been about eighteen months become two years and longer and longer and longer and…

myth and reality

Still, she was real.  She was prayed for and loved.  I remember one Christmas, as all my extended family sat in my living room after roasting marshmallows, suddenly being struck with the idea that someone was missing.  I scanned the room and counted bodies.  Had someone stepped out to make a call or take a walk or go to the bathroom?  Finally, I realized I was looking for her—things were incomplete without little Camilla with us.  Another time I dreamed I saw a figure dressed in red coming down the dim hallway toward our bedroom.  It didn’t feel like a dream.  Camilla couldn’t sleep or had had a bad dream or needed a drink of water.  I turned to lift her up and hold her.  But, of course, she wasn’t there.

As the years passed, she started to feel like a myth.  Even then we didn’t give up.  Kyle wanted to father a daughter who had been abandoned but now had a family who loved her and a place to call home forever.  I wanted to be a mother who would pour love and grace and a passion for life into a child who only needed a chance.  I couldn’t wait to see who she was meant to be begin to unfold.

But with excruciating inevitability, she slipped away from us.  A couple of years after we received our official “Log in Date” from the Chinese government, all hell broke loose in our lives.  And kept breaking.  For years.  I hoped against hope that everything was going to work out.  This little girl had been a part of our family; a part of me since 2006.  It felt like the world’s longest and most agonizing pregnancy.

I have truly loved seeing my friends bringing their children home from China, Haiti, and various African countries. And it was one of my best days when my godson arrived home from Memphis, Tennessee with his parents. But all these things have also been a reminder that my daughter isn’t with us. That there is a hole in my heart.

Through betrayals, a death threat, a house fire, and various other calamities, our lives continued to be upended in ways we didn’t understand and couldn’t have predicted.  We were ravaged—God allowed nearly everything we’d poured our lived into to be destroyed or taken away.  We are only now beginning to pick up the pieces and understand what we are to do in this new chapter.

giving her back

By the time I received the email that would have been our first step to finally bring her home, it was clear we weren’t in a place to be the best parents for a girl who needed extra love and care.  We were still too devastated ourselves.  So God asked us all—and asked me in particular—to give her back to him.  He somehow gave me the strength to say, “she’s not mine; she’s yours” and mean it.  I think it’s the hardest thing I’ve ever done.  It doesn’t seem good or right or fair.  But more than I want to mother another daughter, I want her to have a family that is ready to love her abundantly well.

I still miss her although the shocks of pain are less frequent now.  And I know that it is for the best—her best—that she is with another family.  I pray she is strong and well and surrounded by siblings and pets and all the love she can handle.  I pray her new family has the wisdom to help her through the hard days and walk with her when she feels the indescribable lack that comes with being separated from her biological family.  That they’ll laugh with her and cry with her and do everything they can to help her grow into a strong and whole woman.  I hope they’ll cut the crusts off her sandwiches, make sure she doesn’t have too much TV or computer time, that they’ll be patient when she is a grumpy teenager.  I pray they’ll drive her to the middle school dance and take her out for ice cream after.  I hope they’ll help her set up her college dorm room and be ready whenever it’s time to meet the man she thinks she might love. I pray they’ll love her until they are old and gray and surrounded by her kids.

And me?  I will never forget her. I will pray for her and the many girls like her when God brings her to mind. I will keep on loving my precious Torey and continue to be a spiritual mother to others as God leads me. And someday in a new world, I’ll turn around and find her standing there.  We’ll hug like we’re family and start catching up on a lifetime apart.

 

A Rose Is A Rose

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I love that issues of modesty and shame and sexuality have been stirred up for discussion recently. It’s well deserved attention. But I’ve been surprised by the passionate–and sometimes disturbingly defensive–responses to these articles.

All the talk of selfies and bathing suits and hem lines (and even darker recurring question of whether things like date rape is maybe really the victim’s fault) made me wonder how my daughter felt about her experience growing up as a southern church-going woman who’d spent most of her teens wearing a private school uniform.

An abuse survivor myself, I spent a lot of time and prayer making sure Torey was safe and protected as she grew up. We talked about sexuality from an early age and how it was best expressed within a committed relationship. We talked about modesty. A lot.

During her early teen years, this conversation often got hung up (get it?) on one or two items that were in style but that her dad and I weren’t comfortable with her wearing. Of course, all the other girls’ moms let them wear it, whatever ‘it’ was. The denim micro mini was my absolute nemesis. I simply couldn’t convince my sweet daughter that a wardrobe malfunction was a near certainty in that thing.

I don’t regret fighting for her modesty, but I wish I’d emphasized that it’s actually a good thing that she is a physical and sexual being more–that she didn’t need to be ashamed of her femininity. I wish I could go back to that American Eagle dressing room (with that ridiculous skirt). I’d tell her she’s original and special and doesn’t need to dress like a clone. Instead of being frustrated and in a hurry to leave, I’d take that thirteen year old face in my hands and remind her that I know she feels awkward and ugly and unlovable but that it’s not true–that she’s more amazing than she could possibly imagine. I wish we’d talked more over the years about how to carry herself, dress, and simply be in a way that celebrates who she is. Don’t get me wrong, we did discuss these things. But I see now not nearly enough.

Misguided 

What’s worse is that she was receiving messages I had no idea about. I’m not talking about photoshopped magazines with impossibly perfect bodies. That was covered. I showed her what Barbie’s ridiculous proportions would be in real life. I’m not even referring to the terrifyingly easy access to pornography introduced at increasingly young ages to both boys and girls. This is also deeply troubling but it wasn’t a taboo subject in our home.

No, the communication I’m talking about came from church youth groups, camps, and weekend retreats. If I’d known she was being told these things, I would have countered the messages. I would have confronted foolish and misguided youth leaders. But I simply didn’t know it was happening. And Torey, for her part, understandably assumed that if I was dropping her off at these gatherings, I both knew and approved of all the content.

The object lesson that best captures what I’m talking about is apparently a common one involving a rose. A perfect rose is held up to be observed and then passed around a circle. The kids are encouraged to touch the petals, feeling how soft they are and smelling their perfume. When it’s made the rounds, the leader holds up the now bruised and mangled flower and compares the damaged petals to a young woman who’s been with multiple partners. It’s apparently always focused on the females of the group because, as everyone knows, women are temptresses and men are helpless against their wiles, bearing no responsibility for their choices. Such nonsense is (I hope) never explicitly articulated but it is loudly implied when co-ed discussions of this nature are aimed at women only.

As absolutely infuriating as I find all this, I understand what they are trying to communicate. Sexually is tender and precious and a young woman’s (and young man’s) body should be set apart until they are ready for a relationship that works best when they have more maturity and life experience. I get it.

But the problem is that this isn’t the only message that comes through. It’s not even the loudest one. The first problem is that women are singled out for responsibility in an issue that, by definition, includes two people. And what if a young girl hears this and has already been intimate? What if, God forbid, it was non-consensual? The heartbreaking reality is that it’s nearly certain most groups will contain victims of sexual violence. As the mother of a daughter, I’m emphasizing women but here but recognize that men are also sadly vulnerable to such abuse.

Where is the space for grace or for restoration in this object lesson? Once a rose is damaged, it can’t be undone. Thankfully, our bodies and spirits and emotions are much more resilient. And what about mercy and forgiveness and second chances? Jesus allowed a former prostitute to anoint his feet with perfume and led those who were about to execute the woman caught in adultery to put down their stones. He actually has a lot to teach us about how to treat women–it’s no accident that he was the first rabbi known to accept female followers.

Made To Be Delightful

Modesty is really important. Clothing should leave something to the imagination and to make it possible to sit, stand, and move comfortably. It should communicate both self-respect and concern for others.

But the other message is just as crucial. A woman needs to feel free to embrace her own unique beauty and femininity. Her body is fearfully and wonderfully made and she should be encouraged to celebrate it rather than be shamed for having it. And the same is true for men–their bodies and sexuality aren’t gross or dirty, either. (Unless they are teenage boys who haven’t learned to care about hygiene. In which case, they should take a shower and use lots of deodorant immediately. Which has nothing to do with their sexuality but is a very needed public service announcement.)

That all being the case, a woman should dress in ways that make her feel good about herself. And while she shouldn’t share the most intimate parts of herself with any old person (in words, deeds, or attire), she also shouldn’t hide her light under a bushel. After all, a rose isn’t meant to be shoved into the back of a closet. It’s meant to be enjoyed and celebrated. It is made to be delightful.

And Torey? She’s living on her own now with a master’s degree, a husband, a job at a non-profit, and more friends than she can count. Miraculously, she made it through the dumb things people taught her and her parents’ many mistakes relatively unscathed. She is smart and funny and modest and beautiful inside and out. I couldn’t be prouder of her. And I love that she has a great sense of style. A girl after my own heart, she would never pass up a chance to visit Anthropologie’s sale room. She’s in good company–we come from a family of bright and classy women who are truly ladies.

I hope it’s clear to my wonderful daughter and all the other amazing women in my life that they can and should enjoy being in their own skin. I hope they know they are lovely and valuable and exactly who they were meant to be. And I hope you do, too.