With the sorority sisters gone for the holiday, we emerged into the beautiful house.
It was 1991 and we had three children ages 4, 2, and seven months. Believe it or not, we were house parents in a sorority at Cornell University in Ithaca, New York. Graduate school had motivated us to drive across the country with a toddler just a few years before. I took a pregnancy test somewhere around Illinois and life as a soon-to-be family of four began.
Money was painfully scarce. It’s humbling to admit, but I used to pray that someone would invite us over for dinner after church so we could eat something really good. Then something amazing opened up to us.
I wish I was one of those people who dreamed of loved ones in heaven. It’s only happened a couple of times since we lost Kalkidan. This was one of those times.
Our family was gathered around a table. I was sitting at one end and the table was long with so many of us together. We were talking and laughing when Kalkidan ran into the room.
Shouts went up, “She’s here! She’s here! Kalkidan is here!”
She ran to me, crawled into my lap, and rested her head against my chest. I kissed her forehead, my cheek brushing against her curls.
For a moment I felt warmth and joy, then I felt myself begin to surface from sleep, and I realized it was a dream. I tried to hold on to it, to sink more deeply into the dream and let it flow on, but it was gone.
I wanted to reach for Russ, rest my head on his chest, borrow some of his courage, but I also didn’t want to wake him when his alarm would do it soon enough.
I drifted back to sleep.
I woke again in the morning with a deep sense of sadness.
Today (10/29) is Kalkidan’s birthday.
This should be her senior year of high school and she should be walking next to Claire at their graduation next spring.
But even as I type the words “should” I sense that’s not quite what I mean. This all should be true, but only if I can have my own way. The fact is, I don’t get my own way, I can only walk in God’s way.
His plans are better, even when I don’t understand. I bend my knee to him– I trust him.
But that surrender is not easy; sometimes I have to fight for it. I’m reminded of a story in the gospel of John. Many of Jesus’s disciples had turned away and he asked the twelve if they were going to leave too. Peter answered, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life, and we have believed, and have come to know, you are the holy one of God.”
I see no other way than to trust Jesus, the holy one of God. I can’t imagine living through a tragedy like this without him. But that doesn’t change the reality that grief is hard.
C.S. Lewis wrote,
No one ever told me that grief felt so much like fear.
Grief is an animal I can’t control.
Sometimes it’s powerful and overwhelming; I feel crushed under its weight. Other times it’s a small wave of sadness that almost feels right and good because it means I haven’t forgotten.
The first two years after we lost Kalkidan, I was overcome by a feeling of fear. Or maybe it was a sense of confusion, like it just couldn’t be possible. To be honest, I still feel that way some days. But there was fear and a sense that the world was no longer safe.
C.S. Lewis goes on to say,
I am not afraid, but the sensation is like being afraid. The same fluttering in the stomach, the same restlessness, the yawning. I keep on swallowing.
At other times it feels like being mildly drunk, or concussed. There is a sort of invisible blanket between the world and me. I find it hard to take in what anyone says. Or perhaps, hard to want to take it in.
That invisible blanket was very real in the early years – I was different after the accident. Nearly five years later, I know I will never be the person I was before losing Kalkidan. There is no getting back to the way it was before, or who I was before. I’m forever changed.
And that feels right to me.
Some of my children have gotten tattoos as symbols of how they have been changed and what God has done. One tattoo says, “it is well” the other “Bless the Lord, O my soul.” I don’t have a tattoo, but I’m marked by changes in who I am and how I relate to the world.
Of all the things that weigh on me, I don’t want Kalkidan to be forgotten. Her life shaped mine in so many life-changing ways. Her life may have touched you too.
Today we are remembering Kalkidan. Thank you for letting me share her with you. #rememberingkalkidan
If you have lost someone you love, I’m very sorry you are walking through this too. I send you my love.
Kids need simple tools for managing their schedules. They often become very anxious when they don’t know what’s coming next. This is magnified in kids with early trauma.
I’ve been using this low-tech, back-to-basics tool for many years. It’s so simple, I’m almost embarrassed to share it, but it just might be useful to you!
Although I made this short video last January, the beginning of the school year is the perfect time to try this.
Also, don’t miss the opportunity to join me in The Hope Circle where we recognize the hard and celebrate the beauty of adoption. It’s the perfect place to renew your hopeful, courageous heart and become the mom you’re meant to be.
Doors to this membership site close September 14, 2019, and space is limited.
Way back in 2008, I was drowning. Our first three adopted children had been home for 18 months and the needs were far beyond my capacity to meet.
I was scared, sad, and feeling alone.
Our agency had a private group where parents communicated. I’d been following the story of one mom who was sharing the really hard things they were going through. Even though I didn’t say it in the group, I felt like I understood.
One weekend when Russ was out of town, everything fell apart and I needed to talk to someone – but I didn’t know who.
Nobody could possibly understand.
Then I thought of this young mom in the group. We were complete strangers, and she was more than a decade younger than me, but I knew her name.
And I knew she wouldn’t be surprised by anything I shared or what I was feeling.
I felt a little crazy, but I posted a message in the group asking if I could talk to her and she replied with her phone number.
So I called. I think I managed to say, “Hi, this is Lisa,” and then I began to cry.
That call launched a friendship that is still precious to me. We’ve walked through so much together, lots of hard, but also lots of everyday life. We talk about kids, recipes, marriage, Jesus, and school options.
We both adopted once more after that call, so we supported each other through the ups and downs of the process and then bringing a new child home.
Two summers ago on our family road trip, we got together at her family’s homestead. It was so much fun to see our kids play together, eat together, and have fun. We even snuck away for a walk – just the two of us and her baby.
Friends, we need each other.
Since then I’ve found so many dear friends in the adoption world. Their lives may be entirely different in many ways, but as adoptive and foster moms, we understand each other.
I could share so many pictures and stories but this post would get far too long.
For years I’ve said I wish we could gather around my table with coffee to talk, share our lives, pray, laugh, and maybe cry a little. The fact that we’re spread all around the world makes that difficult.
So,I’ve created the next best thing, a sweet place where we can gather, a place that recognizes the hard of adoption and foster care while also celebrating the beauty.
The Hope Circle
I’ve created a membership community where you can renew your hopeful, courageous heart and become the mom you’re meant to be.
If you’re weary, discouraged, or feeling alone, this group is for you. I offer hope rooted in Jesus, mentorship, and real-life strategies. Best of all, we do this in community with other adoptive and foster moms.
I love this group so much. It’s the very first thing I check when I turn on my computer in the morning. In my own way, I’m having coffee with my friends.
In order to keep the group connected and maintain a safe space, Ionly open the group from time totime and there are a limited number of spaces available.
The group will be open to new members Sept. 1-14 and then will close again for an undetermined length of time.
I spent many hours putting together a page with lots of good information about the group, so I won’t repeat it all here. But please take a look. If you have any questions, email me and I will answer ([email protected]). This group is my top priority.
That call I made all those years ago, the one where I couldn’t talk because I was crying so much, it taught me something. We cannot do this alone. We need moms in the adoption world walking with us, friends who won’t say things like, “Oh, that’s just boy stuff,” or “All teens are like that.”
While many foster and adoptive parents love their kids and are working SO hard to be great parents, the feelings of “liking” can slip away in the face of fatigue and continual challenges.
Last spring I taught a breakout on this topic at a large adoption and foster care conference. The room was packed; parents could see they were not alone in this struggle.
The good news is, there are reasons rooted in brain science for these feelings. You’re not a bad parent, so breathe a big sigh of relief.
In the breakout, I taught about Blocked Trust: what it is, how it happens, and why it matters. Blocked Trust results in changes in our brains making it hard to keep caring and feeling connected with our kids. This is called Blocked Care. Lastly, I taught about ways to overcome these challenges and renew our compassion for our children.
After the conference, Melissa and I brainstormed ways we could share this information through The Adoption Connection to really help parents overcome the challenges and renew their compassion. We worked hard to create new resources and I have good news.
In 3 days, understand why your child pushes you away, why you’re not a bad mom because you’re losing patience, and shed the feelings of shame and guilt. There is hope, and you can regain that compassion!
If you want to learn more and continue taking concrete steps toward rebuilding compassion, you’ll have the opportunity to join our intensive, From Apathy to Empathy: How to Regain Compassion for Your Child and Yourself. More on that later – but I have to say, it’s going to be good.
For now, I encourage you to sign up for this simple FREE Compassion Challenge to begin reshaping the hope you have for your relationship with your children.
If you have a friend who needs encouragement, please share this with her. We want to give hope to as many moms as possible.
Russ and I are with some of our kids on Whidbey Island at our favorite place in the world. Most of the older kids arrive this weekend. This is our final summer at the lovely home we’ve enjoyed for ten years.
I’m trying very hard to focus on gratitude for this beautiful home shared with us by our lovely host, but I find tears are often close. This was a gift given to us during the hardest decade of our lives and I’ll always be grateful. I’m going to miss it terribly.
It’s hard to imagine anything this good ever happening again. But God’s plans are so amazing; I’m trusting He’ll lead us into this new season of gathering as a family.
Does your family have a special gathering place? Do you camp? Rent a home? Gather at a family member’s house? I’m wide open to new ideas. Leave a comment for me!
For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven: …a time to weep, and a time to laugh, a time to mourn and a time to dance… Ecclesiastes 3:1, 4
We needed a place to grieve, a place to gather and hold one another close as our hearts were breaking.
Our house had been bursting at the seams for years. In 2008 there were 13 of us in our four-bedroom home. I dreamed of building an addition, but it was too costly. Could an outdoor space expand our home – at least in good weather? Maybe a porch or a patio?
Then one snowy morning on a rural Idaho highway our lives changed forever.
We lost our 13-year-old daughter, Kalkidan, in a tragic car accident. We were in shock, injured, and devastated.
As we walked through grief, I knew I was different now. My priorities had changed. I could no longer race through my days dealing with urgent matters and living as if there would always be time for important things later.
There might not be a tomorrow.
More than anything, I wanted to gather with my family and hold them close. I wanted them to know how dear they were to me. These precious people are my most valuable treasures and I wanted my life and priorities to reflect that.
A few years earlier, my father had given me some money as a generous gift telling me to use it for anything I wanted. My sisters quickly decided how to use theirs; I waited and thought about it. Now it became clear. I wanted to build the long-considered patio where we could gather as a family, grieve, and someday, maybe even laugh again.
I could picture it in my mind; a simple concrete patio with chairs around a fire pit. Russ, however, pictured something entirely different – a patio of stone pavers complete with a curved wall, lighting, steps leading up from the driveway, and a cobblestone pathway winding to the front of the house.
He researched, drew designs, and dug up the backyard with the tractor. Russ loves hard, detailed work. Making something beautiful with his hands was one way he could grieve.
But as life would have it, time was short and progress was slow. Parenting our large family while recovering from the accident took everything we had.
Then our daughter got engaged and asked us to host the wedding in our yard.
I looked at our home and yard and knew the amount of work would be tremendous. But twenty years earlier we’d stood in the backyard with our realtor and I said, “You know, we could even have a wedding here someday.” This was our dream coming true.
We said “yes” to hosting the wedding and took a good look at what needed to be done.
Over the years of parenting our kids with lots of needs, we’d fallen behind on home and yard maintenance and it showed. Completing the patio catapulted to the top of our frighteningly long To-Do list.
As soon as the snow melted in April, work began. We spent long hours carrying heavy pavers one-by-one, placing them in alternating patterns on layers of perfectly leveled gravel and sand.
As the wedding day grew closer, Russ worked later each night. Most nights as I got ready for bed, I looked out our upstairs window to see Russ working under bright utility lights.
There were many times over the past four years when I was frustrated and even angry that this project had become so consuming. The process was tedious and took too much time and effort.
I had dreamed of a place for us to gather and grieve, but here we were four and a half years later still building the patio.
The wedding day came and just hours before family photos, the patio was finished. It took most of our family and a few incredibly sacrificial friends to complete it.
As I looked at this carefully crafted space, God opened my eyes to a beautiful truth.
My dream of a patio was birthed in sorrow. Now the first event to take place on it would be a wedding.
This is our God’s way. What we sow in tears, we reap in joy.
We’ve sown many tears of loss and grief in recent years. Now, after decades of prayer, our daughter was marrying a wonderful man.
We’re reaping so much joy.
God does not leave us in our sorrow forever. He gently leads us back to joy, even in the hard, dark, confusing times. He shines light into our darkness and illuminates the beauty.
On a beautiful July night, our daughter and her husband exchanged vows. Fields of wheat turning from green to gold served as a backdrop. Later that evening, after a delicious dinner, humorous toasts, and cake-cutting, the music started and we danced.
We danced for hours on the patio. And when the DJ packed his gear at the end of the night, our kids set up another sound system and the music kept going.
You turned my wailing into dancing; you removed my sackcloth and clothed me with joy, that my heart may sing your praises and not be silent. Lord my God, I will praise you forever. Ps. 30: 11-12
God turned our mourning into dancing. His love stuns me and fills me with gratitude.
Sorrow will rip your heart wide open leaving you gasping for air and desperately crying for help and relief. You may weep.
But the tears you sow today will grow into a rich harvest. One day death will be defeated forever and our joy will be complete.
Friend, if you’re grieving and your heart is broken, you can trust Him. This is not the end.
Those who sow with tears will reap with songs of joy. Ps. 126:5
The patio will always be a symbol of what God has done. The place where I thought I would grieve became the place where we rejoiced in the goodness of God and recalled answered prayers. It’s the place where we danced for hours celebrating two people joining their lives and becoming a family.
I believe we’ll see Kalkidan again and I imagine it may feel we’ve only been parted for a moment. Her vibrant spirit we loved on this earth will be even more colorful and brilliant in heaven.
And we’ll dance in the presence of our holy and loving God.