respite

Life in the Tension

Sometimes I like to imagine what my kids will remember me teaching them throughout their childhood. What will stick? Will they remember all the "I love you's?" Will the "you're so brave's" and "tell me about your day's" be the words that become fastened to their memory? Or will something else overshadow the sweet and encouraging sentiments? One thing I frequently tell them that they find less favorable (but I am certain they will remember me saying) is "that is not a real problem." Let's run this down so we are all clear on what a real problem is in our house.

Scenario 1: You are four years old and you have no food to eat. At all. Ever.

Correct, that's a real problem. 

Scenario 2: You are four years old and you do not like "beet taste." 

Not even close to a real problem. (Also, beets are delicious.)  

Scenario 3: You must spend a half a day walking to a source of (questionably) drinkable water. 

Yes, this. This is a real problem. 

Scenario 4: Your food touches.  

No. Having your hot, nutritious food touch other bits of hot, nutritious food? That is - comically - not a real problem. 

You can see how they might remember me saying this. Because it is said frequently. And trust me, we are a big 'feelings' house. We talk about our feelings, we validate each others feelings, we use lots of expressive feeling words. There is no shutting down how they might feel about beets. This is a safe space to feel strong dislike for "beet taste." While I strive to always hear and even affirm their feelings, I don't pretend for a second that this is a real problem. 

I was discussing this with my friend Megan the other day. (Some of you might remember her from previous #AdamsActs posts about the heartbreaking loss of one of their sweet little twin girls, Zoey.) Megan and I were discussing our very low threshold for problems-that-aren't-really-problems. I think that low threshold is directly correlated with experiencing great and tragic loss. It changes you. It changes your perspective on what suffering is. It changes your capacity to tolerate complaints about that which is not a real problem. 

When facing challenges of various kinds, the leaders at our church will often use this phrase, "This is a tension to manage, not a problem to solve." Ugh... I love this, and oh how I wish that this concept would go ahead and just embed itself in my memory already! There are some challenges in my life that I have viewed as problems I desperately need to solve. Or avoid. Or feel sorry for myself about. These "problems" are not really problems to solve, they are simple tensions to manage. 

Instead of graciously managing the tensions, I have tried to control the tensions. I have tried solving the tensions. I have attempted to escape or avoid or blame the tensions. Shoot, I'd punch the tensions in the face if I could. Yet, nothing changes... the tension remains.

I recently shifted my definition of a problem to something more like this: a problem is only a problem if there is an actionable step one can take to work toward a solution. If no actionable step can be taken, there can be a lot of tension. That tension needs to be managed in a healthy way.

Parenting a child with a pretty severe behavioral disorder can feel a heck of a lot like a life-consuming problem. Except for one thing... there is no actionable step that I can possibly take to work toward a solution.

I must live in the tension. 

I can pray in the tension. I can cry in the tension. I can seek wise counsel in the tension. I can adjust my attitude about the tension. But I cannot solve it. I must accept it. 

The focus then is not on how to "solve" my son's disorder, but on how I can remain emotionally, physically and spiritually healthy enough to manage the tension that surfaces in light of my son's disorder.   

You may be wondering, "Who cares? What's the difference?" But the difference is everything. It's the difference between overwhelming shame that I cannot heal my child, and accepting him where he's at in his process. It's the difference between feeling exhausted and infuriated by the sheer volume of time spent supervising every little move, and recognizing our family's need for respite in order to prevent that fury and exhaustion. 

The difference is the understanding that I cannot play the Holy Spirit in my child's life. In the tension, I can only manage my own reactions, my own health, my relationships. But in the tension, I can know that I did not cause my child to have Reactive Attachment Disorder any more than I can cause my child's aversion to the glorious taste of a perfectly roasted sugarbeet. 

I did not cause either of these phenomena, and I cannot "cure" them either. I can only manage myself in the tension. 

It's hard to suffer well. And the greatest suffering occurs when there is no actionable step to take, because we cannot solve our way out of our pain. We cannot bring back the child that died. Or the parent who left. We cannot heal the primal wound that is left within the child who is separated from his first mother. 

We must simply learn to live, and accept, and love, in the tension.

So, when my five little ones are all grown and they reflect back upon their childhood, I hope that what they remember most is all the expressions of love, encouragement and adoration. Yet, I don't mind if they also remember me clarifying the difference between a real problem - real suffering - and something that is simply a tension to manage. Not only do I hope they remember hearing me speak these truths into their life, but I hope they remember me living, and loving, in the tensions... and teaching them to someday do the same. 

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Jay, age four, confronting his greatest fear, a beet.  

The Time I Went B-A-N-A-N-A-S

Yesterday was a bad day. A really, really bad day. I basically failed at life yesterday.

My sister-in-law, Carlie, recently sent me a song that has become my anthem. I have this song on repeat for much of the day, and I'm telling you that if you watch this video, and watch it all the way to the end, you're gonna straight up pray that sinner's prayer. Okay, maybe you won't, but that is the impact that Miss Tasha Cobbs has on me when she's singing this song. This song, it is my anthem.

Plus, my voice sounds a lot like hers.

I can not overstate how this has become my battle cry. "I am empty before you, fill me up God." 

I don't know how it is possible to feel so empty, and also so full of my own self. I am empty, and yet, I am stuffed. I am stuffed with selfishness, with fear, with stress, with rage, with pride, with self-loathing, with a desire for control, and more than anything else, I am stuffed with a desire for relief. I am stuffed sick of my self, and at the very same time I feel completely empty. So, I listen to this song on repeat and I let Ol' Tasha usher Jesus into my empty places, and I let him sweetly pour me out, all of that junk that is in me, I beg him to let it spill out so that He alone can fill me up. 

I know that this sounds ridiculous if you have never encountered Jesus as a living leader and active forgiver. But, for me... this song is like being in a spiritual spin class. Where the instructor is leading me into an excercise that I lack the motivation and discipline and know-how to do on my own. Listening to this song has been a spiritual excercise, and the incredible voice on that woman is walking me through the process of opening up inside, and letting a holy fire burn out whatever is left in me, so that I can be an empty vessel that God, in his mercy, can fill to overflowing.

Yesterday was a bad day. Yesterday, I was empty. And I am realizing now that "empty" just means that I am actually full - of all the wrong things. So, yesterday I was stuffed. And I lost it. I absolutely lost my mind. I have a new respect for the phrase " go bananas" because I truly and completely went bananas. Ironically, about 14 bananas were actually involved in this particular incident. I won't go into the whole mess of the thing, but let's just say that lives were saved by the fact that bananas are a soft fruit. If we were talking pineapples, I'd be in jail right now.

It wasn't pretty y'all. My entire dining room was a battle scene, the evidence of our struggle was everywhere. The floor, the table, most of the chairs, the walls, all of it, was caked with smashed banana, and my heart was caked with shame. And while I was on my knees, face down, sobbing in the literal and figurative mess of my life, I heard Tasha Cobbs still playing on my phone. It was at 3:56 into the video and in the song she is begging God to fill her up. 

Fill me up, God

Fill me up, God

Fill me up, God

Thirty times in that section of the song, the phrase, my anthem, is repeated.  

"Somebody ask him," she sings, "I need a fresh annointing... Somebody ask him, fill me again. I need more of you. I've been running on empty. I need you to fill me again. We cry out for more. More of your spirit is what we need. More of your annointing, more of your glory, fill me up. That's what I really want, that's what I really need. I'm so tired of me, I need more of you. I gotta have more of you. "

A couple weeks ago, I was the key-note speaker for a weekend retreat. Next week I go to Michigan for two speaking events, and when I get back home, I have even more events lined up, or maybe not after I publish this post. Either way, I am not selling out arenas or anything, none of these events are necessaily huge or impressive. But, I stand before people and I tell them about my life, I tell them about the wisdom in the Bible, the truths of scripture, but ultimately... I only ever say one thing, that Jesus is the bringer of hope and redemption. That is my only message.

Sure, I write and speak about my life. I talk about parenting a child with Reactive Attachment Disorder. I talk about being a multi-racial, adoptive family. I talk about racism. I talk about the violent end to my brother's life, and my response to his death (#AdamsActs) with you all. I share my family's personal experiences - my daughter's current health struggles, my mistakes and my struggles, about throwing down with bananas, cross-country road trips, general shenanigans, and all the in-between stuff. But, all of that sharing is just a pouring out. It's just an attempt to overflow what God is doing, has ALWAYS done, in my life.

I have nothing to say, I have nothing to write, that isn't about redemption.

People often tell me that I should write a book. There are even times where it feels like it could actually be a dream realized. But the question remains - what would my book be about? 

The answer is redemption. The answer can only ever be redemption.

Because I am empty, and yet I am stuffed. And I am the worst. And I lost my head and I went crazy and I let myself lose sight of who God made me to be. And so much banana was involved. And still, somehow, God still lets me speak to rooms full of people. God still lets me tell you my story. He lets me tell you his story.

Please don't tell me how amazing I am in response to this. Please. If there is ANY good thing in me, anything at all that is inspiring, or encouraging, or worthy of admiring in me then you must know, that is not me at all. I am on the floor covered in fruit. I am dry, and empty, and still sickly full of my self, my shame and my sin. But, still, he uses me. I am not amazing, I am broken and he redeems me for his purpose. And that is the miraculous power of the living God that I serve and rely on. Because if, even for a second, I take my eyes and my hope off of Him... I instantly become part of the broken mess. 

And every time I go to write, or speak to other people there is nothing I am more aware of than my own lack. My shortcomings, my limitations, my total and complete depravity are never far from my mind. The day I lose the awareness of my own need for redemption is the day I have no business writing or speaking to anyone again.

Yesterday was a bad day. A really, really bad day. All of us can relate to that. Anyone parenting a difficult child, or does life with somone who has mental health issues, may be able to relate to some degree. Those of you parenting a child with disordered attachment... you have a banana battle story of your own, I'm certain. And as I kneeled down, filthy and sobbing and ashamed, I begged God - out loud and in front of my empty, hurting child - to fill me up.

"Fill me up God, Fill me up God, Fill me up God"

I do not deserve to write or speak to so many people. I am not worthy to speak a single word about a Bible that I can so easily disregard in a moment of anger or exhaustion or emptiness. But,

That. Is. Redemption.

That in the unlikliest places, that at the unlikliest times, in the unlikliest people, God chooses to fill, to forgive, to heal and to sort it out for good. And as long as he continues to redeem me and fill me and give me another go, I will simply never shut up about it.

 

 

Travel Dance Video: Bestiemoon Take Deux

So, I have sat down multiple times to write about our amazing trip to France. If you don't know what I am talking about, let me get you up to speed. My friend Melissa is a world traveler. She has friends and connections all over the place, enough airline points to make you hate her just a little, (except you can't because she's so stinkin' generous with them), and she doesn't take no for an answer. So, she essentially manhandles me into taking epic vacations with her. It's a terrible friendship and this whole post is basically a cry for help. 

Okay, for realsies... the trip was fabulous.  The only reason I haven't written about it yet is because Melissa and I are going to tell the story together on video because I promise it will be so much better that way. We were in Paris for a few days, then popped over to Finland for a few days, then back to Paris, then to Provence (where my world changed and I got in touch with my roots in a major way) then back to Paris for the last few days. I ate croissants to celebrate the life and memory of my beautiful friend Karolin who commanded me to go to Paris and have fun. So we had the most fun.

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And, we danced. 

We danced all over Europe. Usually at inappropriate times. We danced with new friends and perfect strangers and our French and Finnish hosts. 

And we made a video of it. Because I secretly want us to host our own travel show and making an absurd travel dance video seemed as good a means to that end as any.

What you are about to experience is a bit of an early Christmas gift. So, Merry Christmas to all and to all a You're Welcome.

Love, Tom, Melissa and Lara