The Lens of Forgiveness

I often speak of life as viewing it through a lens. Because, we do. Sometimes, our lenses are clouded up with despair. Other times, they are full of bright light and joy. For me, the lenses to which we view trauma and relationships can get quite complicated. However, life can change when we view it through the lens of forgiveness.

Forgiveness is something that I’ve always thought I understood. I’ve never been one to carry grudges.  Truth be told, I never really had to face the hardship of truly forgiving someone until I had to come to terms with the grim reality that my illness, which resulted in my hysterectomy, was caused by infection left in my body accidentally by the doctor who performed an appendectomy on me when I was just 2-years-old.  I had carried the notion for over twenty years that it was a medical mistake, but did not get that confirmation until approximately three to four years ago.

I was told by the doctor who performed my hysterectomy that somehow, during my appendectomy, a pocket of the infection was missed, encapsulated itself, and became something similar to a fluid-filled sac.  The bacterium inside the sac was very opportunistic, anaerobic and in the same family as botulism.  

Even though this type of bacterium is commonly known about today, in 1983, I was the second known case of a person having it in the United States.  It protected itself and thrived for many years in my body until, for whatever reason, the sac ruptured.  Perhaps it ruptured because of the heavy weight of something I had carried a week prior on my right hip after exploring my uncle’s farm.  Perhaps not; guess I will never really know for sure.

The summer before my illness, I was healthy, dancing competitively, and gearing up for my 6th grade year.  I did not know that a time-bomb was ticking away in my body.  The doctor who performed my appendectomy nine years earlier never knew either.  He still may not know.

He may not know about how close I came to dying during that fateful time in September of 1983.  He may not know about the spiritual, emotional, financial, and physical toll it took on my parents.  He may not know that my body was never the same again; and, neither was I.  He will never understand what it is like to be the only girl around who never got her first period.  He may not ever know how confused I was during my teenage years, how tormented I felt about what happened, and how I believed I would never find a man who would love me….just me….without the promise of children.

The doctor who performed my appendectomy may never know how the foot-long scar on my belly stared back at me in the mirror, how I regretted that scar, how I wished it away, and how I didn’t want it to show my vulnerability.  He does not know that I never saw myself as a mother, or that I waited until I was almost thirty to get married.  

He never sat next to me while driving away from baby showers with painful tears.  He never had to explain over and over again to medical professionals why I had a hysterectomy at a young age, or pretend to understand pregnancy during conversations.  He didn’t have to hear all of the unwarranted words of wisdom given to me from others regarding my barrenness.

The doctor may not know about the heavy blanket of sorrow I wrapped around myself while weeping in my bed, alone, and away from the world.  He may never know how close I came to fully turning away from the Heavenly Father I believed in as a young child.  He will never hear the prayers I cried to my God for some answers; for just one chance to be a mother.

No, he will never know these things…but…he will also never know how I don’t blame him for what happened.  I don’t harbor ill feelings.  I don’t wish to go back in time and correct his oversight.  There is no need to lash out. I won’t say his name. There is no desire to grieve over my barrenness that was caused by the work of his hands.  I’ve grieved enough.

I have forgiven him.  I know in my heart that he would have never intentionally left this bacteria in my system and that he did the best he could with a very ill toddler whose appendix had ruptured.  Who I am not to forgive him?  Who am I to look at this and think anything different from how I feel?  It was a mistake; pure and simple.

Truthfully speaking, if the mistake had not happened, I would have grown into adolescence and adulthood, never comprehending the beauty that comes out of struggles. Joy comes when being encountered with the revelation of the Lord’s penmanship in life.  Would I have ever sought to become a foster parent, experienced the humbling path of loving another mother’s child, or discovered faith while declaring my children’s names to the Lord in prayer for their safety and for His will to be done? I’m not sure.

I don’t know if I would have ever grasped the full measure of just how vulnerable I am without the presence of a Living God in my life.  If I had not experienced the darkness of the valley I’ve walked through, I’m not sure that I would be able to completely comprehend that forgiveness doesn’t come from my own ability.  It comes from the grace and forgiveness that was first given to me.  I don’t blame the doctor who left the life-changing infection in my body.  I have no feelings for him that would cause one to question if I am capable of forgiving someone.

No, I don’t blame the doctor, I forgive him.  If I would have clung onto the knowledge of this mistake and allowed it to blur my vision, I don’t know how my story would be written.  My life story that I view through the lens of forgiveness is one of pain, but also of promise.

Forgiveness is cleansing.  It leaps, dances, and embraces.  It grabs a hold of one’s heart, tears out the pain, and flies off with it.  Forgiveness wipes off the lens that life is viewed through, and it retells the story of life without the aftertaste of bitterness left behind in life’s tragedies.

The Lord sees us through the lens of forgiveness. Surely, we can see each other through it as well.

Forgiveness is a mightily freeing thing.

Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you. -Ephesians 4:32

Friends, Is there someone you need to forgive?  Are you at a place where you feel stuck in past transgressions?  Go to the Lord in prayer. Ask Him to help you forgive.  Unleash what is pulling at you. Let it fly away, and forgive.  May God bless you.

 

 

Featured Post – Inspire a Fire website!

Recently, I wrote a submission to the Inspire a Fire website editor in hopes of it being accepted for publication.  I want to share my story in many ways in hopes of inspiring people who are struggling with infertility, and also to bring glory to God.  My submission was accepted, and you can read it by going to the website: http://www.inspireafire.com or by clicking on this link:  My heartbreak, His expression

Thanks to all who read and I hope you feel inspired today!

Blessings!

Caroline

Each Time I Speak

Today I had the privilege of speaking to a class of social work students at a Christian university about foster parenting, adoption, and infertility.  I always enjoy these opportunities to share of the great calling that is foster parenting, and to give a glimpse of my own personal testimony.  It seems each time I speak, I walk away learning a bit more about myself, and about the Lord.

It was a small class, and I really do not know what each of them want to do with their education or who their target population of clients will be.  I don’t know what any of their own life stories involve, but I was thankful to see a group of young persons seeking to learn more about society and the social issues that we face.  I also recognize that they are going to learn more once they actually graduate and dive into the field, than myself, or any professor could ever teach them.

With that being said, I do believe in the power of story-telling, and not just fictional stories.  Human stories are powerful and often help the listener navigate their worlds vicariously through the stories of someone else.  Today, after speaking about the basic facts of foster parenting, and sharing some examples of both heart-break and joy, I was asked to share my personal journey.

I’ve been a guest speaker several times and have told my story of infertility and adoption multiple times.  Each time I start though, I struggle just a bit with how to begin it.  Often, I pause, take a deep breath, then start something like this….

I need to start from the beginning in order for you to understand the full story…

I begin the tale of my journey by explaining that my medical problems started to happen at the age of two years, but that no one ever suspected what would happen at the age of eleven.  I tell of being in the hospital for nearly a week in the dying process before the life-saving decision was made to perform exploratory surgery.  I talk about my hysterectomy, and at times, I catch myself off-guard about how open I am now in talking about it.

After I “break the ice” a bit with my medical history  I meander my way through the steps taken to become licensed as a foster parent up until the moment I first laid eyes on the precious baby we were charged with taking care of.  I tell of the lows (and there were many), the highs, the revelations, the humbling moments, and ultimately, the gift of adoption.  I speak of the relationship built with my son’s birth mother, and the moments where all I could do was kneel in prayer for the child I deeply loved.

I go on to talk about how our son declared we would get a baby sister about 10 days or so before we even became aware of her.  I talk about how her “case” was vastly different from my son’s, and how our children are strong-willed, ornery, and deeply loved.  The Lord’s declaration to me that my journey was never really about me in the first place is something I always share.  It is the most important piece of my story, and something that will always stand out to me as being one of the most incredible gifts through all of this.

On the drive home following my speaking engagement, I was at a place of peace and contentment with life.  I feel this way every time I am able to share my story.  I see how the Lord put all the refining and deeply painful moments together with those “mountain-top” moments in life.  I also think about the adolescent girl and young adult that I once was who barely whispered a word about what happened.  I remember that my hysterectomy was something I hid from others, was deeply ashamed of, and that caused great internal turmoil in my life.  I recall the images of myself avoiding baby departments, struggling through baby showers, and coiling up in a fetal position while weeping my way through the pain of infertility.

I am so thankful for opportunities to share my story with others.  I know others learn from my professional and personal experience.  I believe that a small dose of understanding is learned, and that some may walk away feeling moved to get involved in foster care.  I also feel that I am able to speak for those still struggling through infertility, and to share that there is always hope and goodness that happens in life even when that doesn’t seem possible.

For me though, each time I speak it out loud, I am reaffirmed of His presence throughout my life, His marking of the path that led me to my children, and His ability now to use me in ways I never imagined.

Thank you, Lord, for bringing me to a place where my story reflects Your glory.  I feel You around me Father.  I feel You working on me, and sculpting my life in ways that remind me of who You are.  I also know that You are not through with me yet, and for that, I am excited to see what You have in store.

 

New Year’s Road

Taken with my iphone as I rode my bike in a 150 mile ride.

This past year was one full of discovery for me.  Through blogging, I have been reminded that everyone truly has a story to tell.  We are all story-tellers in our own ways.  Art, in its purest form, also speaks volumes of insight and revelations about the world we are living in.  Some speak through poetic ramblings and short-stories.  For others, the lens of a camera captures images that their eyes first took notice of.  Each photograph tells a story.  Writing really has become my therapeutic release, my story-teller, my window to the world, my humbling remembrance of how blessed I am, and an extension of the yearning to live out my faith in Christ.

I continue to learn that  parenting is an art form.  Like most artists, parents don’t just figure it out with one stroke of a brush.  Mistakes are made, and often, we are our own worst critics,  Parenting is also something that love and passion is poured into.  I have yet to meet an artist who is not passionate about his or her masterpieces.  Children are the masterpiece that we are always working on, and for that, I am grateful for “do-overs”, grace, and the simplistic forgiveness of children.

Throughout this year,I have been made keenly aware of the tightrope we all walk when it comes to protecting children in our own backyards, and around the world.  Not to sound cliché, but they really are our greatest resource for the future.  Through this blog, I have been able to express my deepest desires for my children, and for others as well.  I have also been able to connect to the child I once was.

I began this road of writing because I felt I had a story to tell.  I felt I needed to speak of infertility.  I knew there were others out there suffering from the sadness that comes when the desire for children is not fulfilled.  I also felt that my story of barrenness includes the incredible journey that is adoptive parenting.  I may stray from time to time from the topic of infertility with the posts I write, but it is never too far from my thoughts and my heart.  I am deeply compassionate about others who continue to search for answers, and who live daily with the unfulfilled longing for children.  I hope my words will encourage each of them to believe in joyful beginnings and happy endings.

I am not sure what the Lord has in store for the road I will walk in 2013.  Will I be inspired to venture into other areas of writing?  Will there be heartbreak and heart-joy in this next year?  Will some doors open while others shut?  There is no way to tell what is destined to happen, but my faith in the Script-Writer of our lives is greater than the unknowns of the future.

May this New Year’s Road lead you all to delightful discoveries, faith-building experiences, and life-affirming moments that bless your sojourn in the world.

The Love of A Family

Here’s another amazing story of the blessing that is adoption!

Johnovan, TJ, Valery, Addelyn, Arianna, and Deandre

This is the story of TJ and Valery, along with their children Arianna, age 9, Johnovan, age 8, Addelyn, age 6, and Deandre, age 6.  Their family has been enlarged and enhanced by adoption out of the foster care system.

TJ and Valery had 2 biological children when they decided to consider adoption.  Both pregnancies were extremely difficult. Valery was on bed rest for 22 week for their first daughter, then 6 weeks for their second daughter.  Their third pregnancy sadly ended in miscarriage.  It was during this difficult time that they realized their longing for more children.

They decided to pursue international adoption and did a tremendous amount of research   They kept hitting road block after road block and felt that perhaps their path needed to change.  After coming across websites about foster care and adoption, they chose to sign up for fostering classes.  Within a month, they were well on their way to becoming a licensed foster home.

Shortly after being licensed, Valery learned of 2 boys possibly in need of an adoptive home.  Valery was able to speak to the foster-mother of the boys and decided to become their primary respite provider.  Respite is a service that foster families do for each other – like babysitting.  The family provided respite for several months and enjoyed getting to know the boys.

In July of 2011, TJ and Valery were invited to attend an adoption staffing for the boys.  There were 2 other families that were interviewed as well.  Adoption staffings are part of the selection process through the foster care system.  A staffing is a formal interview with potential adoptive homes and the team members who have been involved with the case from the beginning.  Two days passed until they got the phone call they had been waiting for.  TJ and Valery were selected as the adoptive family for the boys!

The family finalized their adoption in June of 2012!  The boys now have a family to call their own and a place to grow their wings.  This is what all children deserve.  The family did not stop at adoption though as they continue to provide foster care to children with higher level of needs; such as emotional and behavioral issues.  Even before being matched with Johnovan and Deandre, they provided foster care and helped reunify children with their birth parents.

Growing up, Valery had the goal of eventually being a foster/adoptive parent.  She had friends in the foster care system and hoped one day that she too would provide a home to children in need.  TJ was a little more slow to warm up to the idea.  However, with the wonderful support of their extended family, their decision to become foster/adoptive parents was one that they do not regret.

The biggest joy they get out of parenting their children is watching them achieve milestones in their lives.  One of the boys struggled immensely in reading and had fairly severe behavior problems at school.  Through the efforts of Valery advocating for his needst, he is doing very well and has made tremendous strides.  She believes that love, attention, security, and “good ole’ fashion” mothering have played parts in his success.

The biggest challenge of their experience so far has been understanding and parenting children with behavioral issues that are directly tied to the chaotic home environment and/or abuse and neglect the children have experienced.  They have learned that progress may be slow, but at least it is progress!  Plus, a sense of humor is key to enjoying each other’s diversity and the unique factors that make up their family.  TJ and Valery urge others to consider taking in older youth who are in the foster care system.  They love babies, but have found that older children add so much to a family, and need stability in their lives.

Foster care and adoption has taught them to be more open-minded about people and to empathize a little more with parents whose children are throwing tantrums.  Valery knows now that one’s experience as a child may shape his or her approach to parenting as an adult, and one really never knows what someone else has been through in life.

TJ and Valery believe they are like most families.  They are busy running the kids back and forth for their extracurricular activities, and breaking up fights between siblings.  They have those parenting moments of praising each other for tasks well done, and getting on to each other for tasks undone.  They look different and come from different pasts, but they are family.

In Valery’s words, “We’ve got our ups and downs and sometimes the downs feel really down, but then something wonderful happens and the love of our family pulls us all back together again.”

Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.  -1 Corinthians 13:7

Writing My Story

A few years ago I felt the urge to write.  It seemed as though the Lord was telling me to write my story down; although, I had no clue how to start the process.  The last writing class I took was in 1992 or so when I was in college.  My friend knew my desire, or perhaps the Lord’s calling on my heart, to start writing so she bought me some journals.  I carried them everywhere and would write down different thoughts or words that sparked my memories or pertained to my history.  I even used my iPhone to record thoughts that came to me when writing was not possible.  Gotta love technology!

I had no idea as to where this project was going or if there was really anything important to say.  The fact is that everyone has a story.  All of us have a uniquely designed existence that is of no greater matter or significance than the other.  We are all significant in the eyes of the Lord.  I personally feel that the most inspiring stories are those told from people who come from the most humble situations.

As I started writing, it felt as though my heart and my mind were pricked.  Suddenly, there was this release of all of the captive moments, long forgotten thoughts, and stifled persuasions that I had carried around for nearly my entire life; or at least, my life after age eleven.  Words were pouring out of me that brought me to tears.

Soon, I turned to my computer to start writing.  I craved it.  Early mornings and late evenings were often accompanied by the patter of my fingertips on the keyboard as I delved into my solitary world of infertility.  I had to reach out to others during this time for feedback, their memories of my story, and just plain old support.  However, for the most part, it was me, my computer, my memories, and the Lord’s prodding.

I finished the manuscript within a few months.  Once I started writing, I could not stop until I got it all out.  I grieved for the child I was who became so ill.  I fretted for the teenager who, despite seeming and acting like every other teen girl, held within her dark glimpses of despair.  I felt the anger of a young woman in her twenties who was torn between wondering if her future career would be her “baby” or if she was ever going to have a baby to call her own.  I celebrated the woman who ran to the Lord after years of ignoring Him.  Lastly, I shed tears of joy for the foster-mother whose life was impacted for the better by the humbling refinement that is foster care and adoption.

I still have the manuscript on my computer.  I do not know where it is going or what it is supposed to be.  That is okay though.  There is great cleansing in writing one’s life story even if no one reads it.  Writing my story down has brought about a desire to continue to bring to life the words my heart feels but often my lips cannot form.  Writing my story has also revealed the incredible essence of survival, faith, mercy, grace, and hope.

I would like to share an excerpt from it if you don’t mind.  I have already inserted a few lines  from the manuscript from time to time into previous blog posts.  Even though this is just a glimpse, I welcome any comments.  I may share more as I feel the need…

I do not remember much about the week I was in the hospital prior to the doctors discovering what was ravaging my body.  My memories are more like flashing images from a movie.  I do however remember waking up at one point with my dad and a doctor looking over me.  My dad simply and courageously stated “You can always make love, but you will never be able to have children.”  Or, did he say that?  I remember hearing it, but not sure if it was said to me or about me.  Nevertheless, in my hazy mind, I tried to comprehend what he was saying.  Make love?  What does that mean?  I had not even kissed a boy yet.  Have children? It really had not crossed my mind much.  But, I heard him loud and clear.  I knew something big had happened.  This event that occurred forever changed who I was and the path my life would take.  There was not a choice – it was either my life or my organs.  Oh, the agony my parents were feeling.  What irony really…the organs with which life begins had nearly destroyed mine.  I was eleven years old, I had never had a period, and now I was forever infertile.  I had just been thrust in to the world of infertility.  Trapped in a little girl’s body was a pre-menopausal woman.

God deserves an Oscar

God deserves an Oscar!  The way He scripts, produces, and directs our lives  is better than just about any Hollywood version of the latest headline or novel.  He has written us with great richness.  His works are emotive.  His set (the world) is extraordinary, and his story-lines are filled with drama, passion, love, and loss.

I love the thought that adoption is a predestination set out by God Almighty.  It is truly awe-inspiring to know that while I was still being formed in the womb, He had already written the script of my life and my children were written into it.  Talk about having a purpose and a design!  It is almost unfathomable to think about it.  Yes, sad and tragic things had to happen in all of our lives so that we would be together, but God knew what He was doing.  The fact is that we all are together and that is good enough for my soul.

I am filled with wonder every time I think about my children and their lives.  How are their lives going to affect others?  Will they adopt or foster children?  Will they trudge through uncharted territories to reach the “unreachable”?  I hope so.  If their mission field is here at home or in a far-off corner of the world, I pray they grow up with the knowledge that God has designed them with a passion and the whole word in their runway.

For the most part, this aspect of my life – the medical/barren part – has always been something I’ve kept to myself. I’m learning though that the more I speak about it, the more I write about it, and the more I share it with others; the more God reveals to me…not just about myself but more importantly about Him. I used to wonder what my purpose was.  Why in the world would He allow me to lose the ability to have babies?  I don’t think that anymore.  I know now that my story – better yet – His story written for my life, is exactly what it is supposed to be.  My children are proof that God’s plan is perfect, His will intentional, and His mercy never-failing.  My God has truly blessed me through all of the suffering.

Letter to my Lord

If I wrote a letter to my Lord, how would I start it? What would I say? Thank you for being there…or thank you for all of the good things that have happened through the years.  I could never fully convey the magnitude of what I am truly grateful for.  He deserves more than simplistic validations of what I appreciate.

It is not just the good things that I should be thankful for, anyway. The hard stuff – those moments that have torn me into pieces – also deserve their place in gratefulness to God. It would be a false statement for me to say I’m totally 100% grateful all of the time for being barren. Certainly, this has brought me a tremendous amount of strife. However, I sincerely appreciate the journey of it.

One might expect me to say that the best part of the journey is the adoption of my children. Well…they certainly are incredible, that’s for sure. However, for me, the best part of it has been the revelation of all the small moments, twists, turns, ups, downs, and in-betweens that helped to write the story.

Often, it is far easier to look backwards and say “I get it” than to look forward in faith. I don’t really think I could appreciate the road it took to become a mother if I had known in advance that there would be a little boy with blonde hair and a fantastic amount of charm, and a girl with bright blue eyes and blend of sugar and spice (mostly spice) who would enter my life. The road was full of painful ruts, sudden curves, and sadness as thick as tar, but still, it was the road that led to my children.

My sojourn into the world of infertility seemed so long; yet, not really. When looking back all those years ago after my surgery, I truly thought I would forever be stuck in the darkness of being barren. I know now that all those thoughts and years are just “blips” on the radar screen compared to the brilliance of the ride I’m experiencing as a parent.

I have found and continue to find great peace when realizing what all occurred to get me to this part of my life.  From the moment I woke up in the hospital bed following surgery, to the recognition as an eleven year old that I was different than my peers, to the angst as a teen wondering if true love would ever find me, to the despair of nearly convincing myself that I would never be a parent, to the longing of wanting a “normal” mommy-hood, to being captured and redeemed by God’s grace, to signing our application to become foster parents, to the nervous drive to pick up the baby boy who needed us as his foster family, to the humbling conversations with his birth mother, to leaning my head on the steering wheel following court hearings exhausted from the unknowns, to the dripping of my tears onto the court room table at our son’s adoption hearing, to jumping in heart first again by saying yes to accepting our foster daughter, to staying up night after night with a newborn, to the day she was deemed eligible for adoption, to picking out her adoption dress, to explaining the best we can to our children that they are adopted, to each moment with them….the list goes on and on.  I suspect it will until my eyes gaze on Him.

Perhaps the letter to my Lord is not really one I would write at all.  Perhaps it is my life, or better yet, how I choose to live and recognize the spaces where all I was clinging on to was His mercy, His love, and His promise.  God filled in the story line.  He flushed out the details and colored the canvas.  Living a grace-giving, mercy-showing, Christ-seeking, and love-leading kind of life would speak more than a thousand words anyway.

Yes…

my life, the letter,

my heart, the message,

and His hands, the ink.