“I don’t deserve him.”

Just 10 days ago, I said these words, watching my youngest son pedal away on his red bike, thick brown arms looped through his favorite safety green backpack.

Three months prior, I said words that in no way resembled the above. Just returning from vacation, enduring a very long car ride home, my tired body, mind, and heart just wanted to rest. But something deceitful happened, and I blew it. “No,” I yelled so long and loud that my throat was raw. All the emotion of disappointment, anger, confusion, grieving, and even questioning of God’s leading into the world of adoption came spewing out of my mouth, directly in the face of my adopted son.

I cried over it for two whole days. Forty-eight hours isn’t long, but that’s how long I cried. Nearly 90 days would pass before I emerged from the storm I unleashed in my home.

It’s a delicate tightrope, more like a single thread, adoptive parents walk some days. I find myself waking, praying, and preparing time for a child who needs to feel the love and care of a family; a child who needs it, but pushes it away. Except for the times he doesn’t. I’m never sure of anything. This new normal has never become my new normal. It’s a battle to love and keep loving someone who has learned to play a sympathy card with great expertise, who relies on survival skills to survive in a home where it’s not needed, but he can’t let go.

Letting go would mean turning an intricate lock of a very heavy door. Just fitting the key in precisely so that it could be turned with great force is what is necessary to let go of the years of grief, of waking up to strangers as your indifferent caregivers, in a city (not your village) with frightening sounds and lots of children speaking different tribal languages that all want the same gender specific clothes you do and the first bowl of food to eat. Survival kicks in quickly and is a tortuous skill to release.

And, while I’ve wondered if God was really speaking to me, if I was truly listening while roadblocks in the adoption process were cleared for me to go to this boy and have him call me “Mama,” I know deep down, past my heart, that special pit of the stomach that wakes up when he’s hurt or treated differently, when he comes to me asking painful questions about his story, I know I obeyed my Lord.

There is no way to describe the ten-story roller coaster ride I’m on 365 days of the year. And then, there’s this picture my husband just sent me. A photo from five years ago. A very small six-year-old, who only just called me “Mama” for a few months, on his way to school, with a green-striped shirt and a backpack two sizes too big. He’s walking with another little boy, his mother and I walk behind. He’s looking over his shoulder at me and I at him. And he’s smiling. He displays confidence, yet I know it’s mixed with anxiety and fear, but already, he’s looking back at me. And I see, he’s letting go, a little.

Years have passed and the letting go still comes and goes. We follow a pretty typical pattern of a few good months and then a really bad one. If you’ve ever read the blog of an adoptive mom that lets it all go and wondered if she’s made it all up, she hasn’t. It’s real, but the bigger picture, the best story to tell looks a lot like that picture my husband just sent me. Because sometimes the hopefulness in my boy’s heart needs to be unearthed a little. Because he desperately needs me to reassure him every day he’s smart and remind him English is his third language. Because he needs confidence that we’ll all be together tonight. Because on a lot of days he’s still a confused little boy who doesn’t understand why this happened to him. Because being brave doesn’t mean he isn’t scared. It just means he needs a big smile from his mom with eyes that look into him and constantly remind him, “You are mine. You are loved. You can let go. You are mine. You are loved. You can let go.”

Even in the midst of the “worst of me” moment three months ago, I saw the need for my own letting go. Writing heals me, but for this, I couldn’t scratch one letter on paper. The pain was so deep, my heart went silent. It had to go silent since my emotions were so high and shattered so instantly. I hardly spoke. I cried. Not far from the most profound Holy Week I’ve begun to observe, I couldn’t utter one syllable to a God who felt so far from me. But the Holy Spirit persisted. He gently turned me back through the wise words of a trusted friend and a little water trickled through the dike I had built to hold back angry tears.

And, I’m letting go. Of irrational adult hurt feelings from a child who pushed me away for so long. Of crumpled up false pride in my abilities to mother a child not born of me and do it perfectly. Of expecting God to shield me from my weakness and frailty and not let me feel pain. Of jealousy over his grief for the family he lost. Honesty can feel cold and hard even while being cradled.

The August sun is hot today. The air is thick with promised storms to come, and I retreat indoors for the comfort of cool air not afforded to those of my son’s homeland. And, I see my son at the kitchen counter. His heart works hard to keep up with the demands, and the things he doesn’t understand at school. But now, he sits quietly, earbuds in, pencil in hand, and he’s drawing a dog from a kid’s YouTube video on his school issued iPad. Briefly, I consider how different his life would be if we had not gone to him.

I’m not a savior, just a mom. My love for my son will not heal him, and I’m letting go of that, too. There is only One who can bring about the full healing I pray for daily. In my three months of silence, I was reminded my Father is trustworthy, he sees me, and he grieves with me. He is the comforter of the brokenhearted, and his strong hand is dependable and sure. This is not the same bandage I can offer my son. It was a rock hard cast God wrapped ‘round my spirit until the time was completed, and I was ready to let him help me.

Moving on from here, it is what sustains: He’s got me in his grip, even while I’m letting go.

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