Wednesday, May 9, 2018

A letter to my son's birth mom on mother's day

Dear sister, 

I have started this post almost 100 times only to write one sentence and click the x out box. 

But this time I will push through the tears. 
I will push through the hurt. 
I will push through the pain. 
I will lean into grace. 

I have a huge packet of paper regarding you and your teen motherhood filed away in my closet somewhere. 
I have read the packet at least 50 times, each time finding out something new about you. 
I have read about the three year, gut-wrenching process that led to the termination of your parental rights to your son.  
Oh, what an ugly picture is painted of you in those documents. 

I have found you on social media. I have seen your picture. I know what you look like. Oh, how I see him in you. 

But really, I don’t know you. 

I don’t know what your voice sounds like or what kind of music you listen to. 
I don’t know what kind of car you drive or if you have any hobbies. 
I don’t know what you do in your spare time or if you have a favorite sports team. 
I don’t know your favorite color or what holidays you celebrate. 
I don’t know which season you like best or what your goals in life are. 
I don’t know if you have any pets or how close you are with your family. 

 I don’t know these basic things about you, but we are more intimately and deeply connected than two woman can be. 

Our son has a contagious laugh and a killer smile. I imagine he gets those traits from you. 
He has a bleeding heart for the world around him and has more compassion than I have ever known a five year old to have. I bet he gets that from you too. 
He has a stubborn streak and an intense curiosity about how the world works those and those qualities probably comes from you as well. 
And while I see both my husband and I mirrored in our son so perfectly, I also see you. 

I’ve been thinking about you a lot this week as Mother’s Day approaches. 
Last year, I celebrated my first mother’s day as our sweet son was my foster son. It felt a little surreal as I was somehow a mother, but not. Alex had only been with us for 2 months and I was still getting to know him.
This year, mother’s day feels different knowing that there are legal state documents identifying him as my son. It feels different in the sense that we have a trust and a bond that only exists between a son and his mother. It feels different in the sense that he feels secure and I know him on an intimate and intricate level. It feels different in the sense that he really is mine. 
But I am not na├»ve. I know he’s yours too. 

I won’t lie. When Alex first came to us, I had hatred for you. 
How could you do this to him? 
How could anyone do what you have done? 
Did you even care for him at all? 

As I walked through counseling appointment after counseling appointment, story after story, emotional trigger after emotional trigger—the implications of trauma saturated our son’s (and our) life. 
Every night terror, every tantrum, every bit of defiance, every aggressive act, every ridiculous fear—I blamed you for. 
I was so mad at you. I had no heart for you. 

But the beauty of God’s grace is that it how the power to permeate and change our hearts. And oh how I am glad He has changed mine. 

On the day of Alex’s adoption, I cried. I cried a lot. 
I cried out of joy and happiness. 
I cried because of how compelling the redemptive grace of Jesus is. 
But I also cried out of heartache and pain. 
I cried for you. 
My heart was convicted. 

It was if all this time I had made myself out to be a saint and you a sinner. 
Oh, how far from the truth that is. 

My sister, there is nothing fundamentally different about you and me. 
We are both sinners in need of grace. 

I hate the idea that because you failed, I somehow won. 
I hate that your greatest loss has become my greatest joy. 
I hate the irony. 

If I could talk to you, I would tell you that he loves sports and hot wheels. 
I would tell you that he has learned his letters and before long, he will be reading. 
I would tell you that he loves to dance and brings laughter and love into any room. 
I would tell you that he is ticklish behind the knees and he asks to sing jingle bells every night before bed no matter the season. 
I would tell you that he wants to be a police man when he grows up and that he could live off of peanut butter and bananas. 
I would tell you that he conquered his fear of water and his favorite place to be is the lake. 
I would tell you that his best friend is our dog and that he gets overly excited about drinking Gatorade. 
I would tell you that he loves his baby foster brother in a deep and powerful way and he goes out of his way to help others. 
I would tell you that he loves to color pictures and play board games. 
I would tell you that he loves to snuggle and with mommy and daddy and he prays openly every night. 
I would tell you that he is affectionate, kind, sweet, and caring. 
I would tell you that he has come so far in one short year of being in our family. 
I would tell you that is loved not only with your whole heart, but with mine as well. 
I would tell you how incredibly grateful I am to be his mommy and how unbelievably humbled I am to receive the gift of your son, but also a capacity to love beyond anything I knew existed. 
There are no words for the gratitude I have for you, it sounds shallow to me even as I write.  
My thankfulness is a living, breathing, moving work of the Holy Spirit. 

I desperately want you to know that he is safe. 
He is healthy. 
He is happy. 
I know it is not the life you hoped for of imagined for him. This I know. 
But I promise you I am doing the very best I can to be the best mommy for him. 
I am doing everything I can to provide him the best opportunities for success and happiness. 
But most importantly, I am doing everything I can to pour God’s love into his heart. 
After all, my love for him is an overflow of God’s love for me. 

My sister, I promise to honor your memory every chance I get. 
Our son has asked about you. He has mentioned you. He remembers you. 
And while the memories he has carried with him are not the best, I know there are happy ones too. 

As he gets older I know he will ask more about you. 
And when he does I will tell him what a courageous woman you are. I will tell him that you love him deeply. 
One day, when our sweet boy is old enough, I hope to find you. 
I hope to share a cup of coffee with you and enjoy the company of our son together. 

But until then, know that I am praying for you. 
My sister, I know there is not a day that goes by that you don’t think of him. Or a day that goes by that I don't think of you. 

You and I will always be connected. 
You are the mother that carried him and gave him life and I am the mother that has been blessed with the unimaginable gift of being called “mommy.”

My hatred towards you has turned to a deeper love for you than you will ever know. 
And that is a miracle of Christ himself. 

So this mother’s day when my family gathers together and shares laughter, love, and food—I’ll be thinking of you. 
And as you wonder about your son this mother’s day, may you feel secure and at rest. 

There is not a woman in this world I want to meet more than you. 
But until the time is right, I hope God whispers in your ear that your son is safe, he is loved, and my family is immensely blessed because of you. 
I pray this mother’s day that some of the grief and darkness that has certainly overwhelmed your life simply floats away and makes room for peace and grace to sink in. 
You are forgiven.
You are loved. 
You are cherished. 
You are a daughter of the king. 
You are not forgotten. 

From the very bottom of my heart, Happy Mother’s Day to you, my sister and my son’s first mommy. 

With all my love. 

Wednesday, January 17, 2018

Abounding grace

We laid there for a long time that night.
My sweet 5-year-old son and me.
It had been a day. As parents, we have all had them. Days when we let the stresses of our job and the worries of our own anxious hearts couple with our child’s frustration and misbehavior. It never makes for a good combination.
It had been a day of tears and tantrums, poor choices and frustration, selfishness and defiance, and the inevitable consequences that followed.
We laid there together on his bed that night, equally tired, equally exhausted, and both emotionally drained.
There were things I wish I had done differently and things my son wishes he had differently. Yet there we were, curled together, both in desperate need of grace.

I tried to leave his room that night, only to be stopped by his sweet, tired voice, “mommy, please stay and cuddle and talk for a while.”
He didn’t have to ask me twice.
I laid there, holding this small little person in my arms—with tears streaming down—knowing that all these recent moments of discipline were forming and cultivating my son’s soul and character forever.
We talked about making smarter choices and made plans for a better tomorrow.
We talked about tools we could use to handle similar situations in the future.
We practiced.
We rehearsed.
We navigated consequences.
And we prayed.

I believe in respect and good manners.
I believe in holiness and high standards.
I believe in telling the truth and sharing.
I believe that discipline my child is evidence of how much I love him.
I love him enough to tell him no.
I love him enough to train him.
I love him enough to equip him.
I love him enough to call him to something higher.
I love him enough to explain to him the “why” behind the expectations I have for him.
You see, I don’t want my child to do what I say just ‘because I said so.’ (While I have told him this before and I am sure I will do it again).
I want him to understand goodness and joy and the abundant life found in Christ, not just because I told him about it, but because he has tasted it himself and seen that it is good.
I don’t want simple obedience, void of thought, just to please me.
I want him to be a person of compassion, joy, grace, integrity, righteousness, and love, not because his mommy said so, but because he has experienced the fullness of a life soaked in Christ and hungers and thirsts for it day after day.

I know that throughout his lifetime, I will take on many roles as his mommy. But these days I feel most like a protector. I have been entrusted with an irreplaceable gift and I must handle his heart with grace and care.

If I understand anything about the Gospel it’s that Christ’s love is so overwhelming, pure, whole, and all-consuming that it brings about the most abundant life we could ever dream.

Even in our unfaithfulness, God is faithful.
Even in our hatred, God is love.
Even in our wandering, God pursues.
Even in our doubt, God is constant.
Even in our irritability, God is patient.
Even in our cruelty, God is kind.
Even in our anger, God forgives.
Even when we fall down, God picks us back up again.
We were made by love, through love, and for love.

Throughout my life, my parents have given me a clear understanding of God’s unconditional love by how they have loved me. I am a grown woman with a family of my own, but I am still flourishing because of the safety, strength, rest, and guidance of my parents’ unconditional love for me. The image of God as a parent makes perfect sense to me because of my parent’s love for me. I pray that my child (and children to come) will always know how much God loves them because of how I love them.

I have memories of breaking my parents’ heart a few times. Yet the memories that stick out are what if felt like to still be held, loved, and welcomed in spite of my mistakes. I remember what it felt like to find rest in simply knowing I was home. Sure, I had messed up. Sure, there were consequences and loving discipline. But I never once questioned where I was wanted and where I belonged. I pray this to be true for my children as well. 

I welcomed the discipline of my parents because I trusted their heart for me.
We obey God, not out of fear, but out of love.

Parenting has become this incredible experience in which I encounter God in a deeper way than I have ever known.
Parenting makes me vulnerable. 
I need my son to know I am human, that I make mistakes.
I need him to know that I will fail him—there will probably be one day that I will break his heart.
And I want him to see me for who I am.
His parent.
His mommy.
An imperfect human.

And so that night I laid there with my son.
Overwhelmed and tired.
With no words left to be said.
God's grace poured over both of us. 
And together we found rest in God’s abounding love.

We wouldn't let this day beat us up. For his mercies are new every morning. 

And to me, that picture is the gospel, redemption and restoration, one holy, sacred moment at a time.

May God keep teaching me how to love the precious gift of my son with everything I have. And may my sweet boy know and experience the abounding grace God pours out every moment he is in my arms. 

Wednesday, August 23, 2017

A Letter to my Son on Adoption Day.

Dear Son,

I’ve called you by that cherished name, “son,” many times, but today is different.

Today, there is no feeling that you’re ‘sort of my but really’ ours as there has been since February.
Today, you are not my foster son.
 I don’t love you ‘like you are my own.’ You ARE now and forevermore my own.
Today and for the rest of your days, you are completely, wholly, and forever my son. 

You came to us on that blissful Tuesday afternoon in February and I can’t seem to hold back my tears as I reflect on that day.
That was the day I literally felt my heart walk outside my chest.

They dropped you off at our house  before we had a chance to fall in love with you.

But my how the falling in love has happened! You have burst through our world with high-energy, love, compassion, grace, and strength. You are the most amazing child in the entire world and I don’t deserve to be your mommy.

You’re funny, smart, and your laugh is infectious.
You are obsessed with cars, could watch Paw Patrol all day, would take a 5 hour bath daily if we let you, and have the most sensitive heart I have ever known.
While there have been some extremely challenging days over the course of the past six months, each day has been filled with beauty and grace and I cannot imagine our family without you in it.

From the very first phone call we received regarding you, I have worried about you. You see, I know about all of the big and hurtful things in this world that can cause you pain. And I have worried.
I’ve also been scared that I wouldn’t be enough for you.
Yet, God is continually showing me that You are HIS first.

My child, you are so brave.
Much braver than me, your mommy.
You have been through more hard things in your four years of life than most people encounter in a lifetime.
There are days that I worry about your future. My heart often aches when I think about you growing up. Because right now you are little and telling you I love you eases your pain. But one day I know you will grow up and one day you will truly comprehend the weight of what has happened to you and I’m afraid for you. 

I’m afraid you’ll feel rejected.
I’m afraid you’ll feel worthless.
I’m afraid you’ll question your belonging not only our family, but this world.

Yet, I know you are a fighter.
You are an overcomer.
Your daddy and I could not be more proud to call you ours.

Son, we fought to have you.
And we will ALWAYS fight for you.

You are so wanted, so loved, and cherished more than you will ever know.

It terrifies me to raise you in this world that we live in. And while my love for you sees no color and no difference, the world certainly does.

My prayer for you is that you always know your true identity. I desperately pray that you always feel as though your feet have a place to land.
I pray that you always know where you belong not only in our family, but more importantly, in the Kingdom of God.
The greatest desire of my heart is for you to place your identity in Christ Jesus.

Alex, walk in your sonship and in your inheritance of Christ, the one who has saved you.

My son, live as you truly are.
Live loved.
Live anointed.
Live cherished.
Live set apart.
And live fee.

As you walk in your true identity as a son of Christ Jesus, may others see this love and join in God’s forever family too.

Alex, I pray you continue to be brave.
When others question your sonship, when they question where you belong, I fervently pray that you hold fast to the Truth.

When Satan causes you to doubt that you are loved and wanted, I pray that you’ll lean in close to the heart of your Father—our sweet Heavenly Daddy. Listen only to what he says about you. His voice is the only one that matters. 

My son you are more that I could have ever dreamed and you are loved more than you will ever know!

I’ve thought about your adoption day many times and I’ve always thought there should be some sort of vow ceremony, similar to a wedding ceremony.

After all, adoption is a conscious choice to take another person into your life—a person with character traits and qualities that do not match our own. Adoption is a choice to take in a person with flaws, insecurities, and all—similar to a marriage.
So, sweet Alex, here are my vows to you:

I promise to love and protect you—even if its form yourself.
I promise to provide you with everything you need, yet I also promise that you will not receive everything you want.
I promise to care for you.
I promise to provide you with food, shelter, and clothing.
I promise to provide you with the best medical care we can afford.
I promise that you will be held to high expectations for behavior and character.
I promise that the journey will not be easy or smooth.
Yet, I promise that the road will have plenty of love and laughter.
I promise to share with you the things I love, such as running, reading, playing games, education, and enjoying nature.
I promise to share with you the things I can’t live without—your father, out extended family, our church family, and the love of Christ Jesus.
I promise to always be on your team—to sit in the corner cheering.
Today, I make a vow to you that I will try every day to be the best parent that I can be for you.
I promise that I will be there when you feel rejected.
I promise to lift you up in your pain.
I promise to sit with you and rub your back during your sleepless nights.
I promise to jump up and down in excitement during your joyfully won victories.
Even in hardship and hurt, and hard-fought battles lost, I will still be your mommy.
I promise to be present both physically and emotionally to you and to give you as many hugs as you need, plus quite a few extra.
I promise to always be there to listen to you.
I promise to never go to bed angry with you and I promise to always work it out.
I promise to love you with every fiber of my being.
I know there will be ups and downs in our relationship.
But I want you do know that I am here for better or for worse.
In good times and in bad.
In sickness and in health.
I will be there.
I will never leave you.

I will love you fiercely all of the days of my life, Alexander James Willis.

With all my love,


Thursday, April 27, 2017

Thank goodness He is enough.

It was a Thursday morning at 9:57 AM.
I remember sitting there.
Staring at my class of 20 pre-kindergarten students.
My head began spinning.
My heart started beating at the speed of light.
I felt like I was about to throw up.
Tears were on their way down.

“What’s wrong, Mrs. Willis? Are you okay?”

My husband had just texted me that he was on the phone with a foster care placement coordinator from our adoption agency, only one short week after we had gotten the call that we were officially licensed.

There was a four year old boy.
His name was Alex.

“Yes, boys and girls, I am okay. I might have found my son.”

All Colton really got out of the first phone call was that Alex had some extreme behavioral issues, loved cars, and was cognitively advanced for his age.

A few minutes later (which just happened to be my lunch break, hallelujah!), the emailed us a 39 page packet, which we both skimmed as quickly as we could while on the phone with each other for a few short minutes.

By some miracle, without any hesitation, we both said yes.

Yes, let’s dive in. Let’s love this child with reckless abandon.

The next several hours were torture as we experienced the roller coaster that comes with choosing to foster to adopt.
11:35 AM: ‘Yes, he’s yours.’
12:40 PM: ‘Actually you’re not licensed to handle a child of severe behavior. Never mind. He’s not yours.’
1:32 PM: ‘We want you to be his parents though, so let us see what we can do.’
4:20 PM: ‘We won’t be able to talk to the person that can give us approval to let you guys have him until tomorrow. You’ll have to wait until the morning.’
5:35 PM: ‘We took care of it. He’s yours. He’s coming Tuesday at 1 PM.’
With that final phone call, I sat there. Shaking. Terrified. Uncertain. Scared. Sobbing. Excited. Overjoyed.

As I continued sitting there, on the floor of our room, overwhelmed with feelings, I opened up an email with his picture and I almost lost it.

This would be my son.
Our son.
Yet, I knew nothing about him other than he was in some desperate need for affection, love, and grace.
Would I be enough?
Would we be enough?

Over the course of the next few days, we frantically cleaned the house, bought groceries filled with things that hopefully Alex would like, installed booster seats, bought sheets, decorated a little boy’s room, bought clothes for Alex, and experienced every emotion under the sun.

What were we getting ourselves into?
What would he be like?
Would we fall flat on our face throughout this journey?
Were we prepared?

That Tuesday at about one o clock, the foster care placement coordinator texted us that they were about fifteen minutes away. I began pacing as I stared out the front window.

Our life was about to change forever.

The moment that van door opened in our driveway was a holy moment.
A sacred moment.
A moment that doesn’t come again.

He was here. My son was home.

I stared out the window as I tried to capture small glimpses of the miracle God was entrusting us with. My heart flipped inside my chest as I saw his smile for the first time.
Nothing compares to watching him run from the van to the front door, begging the foster care coordinator to ring the doorbell.

We opened the door.
He walked in.
He told us his name was Alex and that he was four years old.
He was carrying a small toolbox filled with hot wheels and Paw Patrol cars.
Colton and I got down on our knees, eye-level with our son as he showed us each care in his box, telling us which ones were his favorites. It took everything I had within me not to start sobbing. 

It was both the best and the worst feeling in the world.  
He stood there—unable to fully grasp what had conspired over the past five days.
He didn’t ask for this.
He didn’t choose to come here.
Tragedy, abuse, brokenness, and addiction brought him to our doorstep.
The very people that he was supposed to be able to trust had wounded him.
And here he was.
At the doorstep of yet another home.
As awful of a feeling it was, it was a beautiful moment.
Because we know God is in the process of restoring and redeeming that which is broken, wounded, sick, and, abandoned, and hurt.
He might have arrived on our front porch with horror stories to tell, but love, hope, and healing welcomed him in.
That right there is the gospel. That’s the good news of Jesus Christ.

Alex’s curious eyes and body wandered through our house as he saw his forever home for the first time. He jumped up and down with excitement as Colton showed him an old remote control car we had found. Who knew an old broken toy could bring so much joy to one little heart?

I’ll never forget his beautiful eyes filled with wonder during our first interaction. We watched him play with bubbles outside, run around the house, and play cars as we signed a huge stack of papers from our adoption agency and the state. Within about 45 minutes, the caseworkers left.
It was just us and our son now.
Just us.
And him.
A family of two, now suddenly a family of three.

Would we really be enough for him?

I think with every step of faith, there’s always fear.
Some kind of doubt.
Some kind of insecurity.
I won’t be enough to make the leap of faith in the first place.
I won’t be enough to finish the journey.
I won’t be enough to land, standing on two feet when it’s all said and done..

Yet, there are things in our lives, risks we have to take—because we can’t stand not taking them. Even when we don’t feel like we are enough, we have to risk enough. Otherwise, we might die without ever fully having lived.

If I’ve learned anything over the past two months of having Alex in our home, it’s that our own feelings of inadequacy—the feelings that we aren’t enough—that allow us to see how ‘enough’ God is.
He power is made perfect in weakness.
It’s in our ability to never truly be enough that we see our perfect and desperate need for Christ.

And there Alex stood.
In our home.
In his new home.
In the snap of a finger, our world had forever changed.
There was a brand new bed in his room where he would eventually find rest.
There were little boy shoes and clothes hanging in his closet.
There were new toys and books—waiting just for him

There were new stories of hope to be written in all of our lives.

Would we be enough?

Over the course of the past two months, I have found that I am simply not enough. I’m not sure where I got this idea that adoption required perfection or that there was something I would be able to do that would prevent the grief and struggle of a life that had been invaded by Satan. Somehow I told myself that because I knew Alex was coming to use from a broken, unfair, and deeply wounded world that I owed it to him to be perfect, to be enough.

But I am everything but enough.
I am more tired that I have ever been in my life.
I have been more forgetful in the past two months than I have ever been before.
I’ve reacted towards my son in selfishness and anger.
I am far from being the perfect mother.
Being a mother has allowed me to see my imperfections in a much greater capacity than I ever have.

But, every morning, at 4:05 AM, before I go running, I meet my Heavenly Father on my knees.
And what God is showing me is that Alex doesn’t need a perfect family.
He needs a loving one.
A caring one.
A family that allows him to be himself without judgement or criticism.
He needs a place where he can kick, scream, and cry as we all try to navigate this life together.
He needs a place where grace is abounding and second chances are constant.
He needs a family that will enter into his story of grief as we wait on God to heal as only He can.
He needs a bed to lay in, snuggles, and lots of bedtime stories.
He needs a family to listen, affirm, and acknowledge him as a person.
He needs to be held through this storm and the next and the next.
He needs a family to be present. To be there. To show up.
He needs discipline, boundaries, and consistency.
He needs a place to be a kid instead of a victim or a survivor of trauma.
He needs a family to love him for everything that he is—imperfections and all.

We are not enough.
We are not Alex’s savior.
We are not his rescuers.

Adoption is not all about recue. While there is definitely a ‘rescue’ mentality associated with adoption, to simply save the child is not the call. The call of adoption is to share in the suffering. It’s to intentionally place myself and my family and my community in a place to suffer right alongside of Alex.

His suffering is now my suffering.
His story is now my story.
He joys are my joys.
His defeats are my defeats.
His pain is my pain.

What I’m learning is that adoption is not about me being good enough, Alex adjusting perfectly, or rescuing anyone from anything.

It’s about a choice of love.
Every day.
I adopt him every day.
Every day I decide to love him.
Every day I decide to make him mine.
Every day I show him that he is mine by actions of love, grace, mercy, and trust.

The truth of it all is this: we are not the rescuers.
We can’t rescue anybody.
All we can do is hold on to the One who can and does rescue: Jesus Christ.

The only way our family is what it is today is because our son had to lose a family first. And while things have gone smoother than anyone could have ever imagined, we have still stepped into a gut-wrenching story of trauma, abuse, and abandonment.
The only way all got to this point is through a door of loss, hurt, and pain.

I’ve learned that motherhood is not a call to be more or do more. It’s a call to come closer. It’s a call to show up. To be present. To live.

Alex often asks us to hold him and carry him.
As a young baby and child, he missed out on necessary affection.
When he cried out, his needs were not met.
When he wanted to be held, he was abandoned.
And while there’s nothing we can do that will ever make up for that loss, we can brokenly and beautifully embrace him.
I love to hold him.
To sit there with him.
To breathe him in.
And as I touch him and hold him, I know he holds his own fears.
His own past.
His own hurts.
His own losses.
And these are now my past, my hurts, and my losses.
I wish more than anything that I could take away all those fears, all those hurts, and all of those scars. But I’m learning I never can.

He has scars that I can never erase—all I can do is pour all the love I have into them.

I love the story of how Jesus left the 99 sheep for the 1.
I just can’t get over it.
God searched for me.
He fought for me.
He found me.
He sealed me with his blood.
He adopted me.
And he brought me home.
The only way I got into God’s family was through an incredibly painful, holy adoption.

You see, I’m learning that adoption is part of all of our stories.

As Alex grows up, the depths of my heart pray that he knows he is wanted.
He is valued.
He is adored.
He is cherished.
He is loved.
So very loved.

I might not get it all right. I might not be enough for my son, but I don’t want to be enough. Only Jesus can fill that void.

I want to be here.
I want to be all in.
I want to take Alex for everything that he is; to love him without condition.

I pray that one day Alex will be sent out whole, healed, and redeemed by the work of our Savior—simply because we chose to love Alex—both beautifully and imperfectly, not seeking anything in return.

God is enough for us all.
He can overcome Alex’s grief and hurt.
He can overshadow mine and Colton’s inadequacies as parents.
He alone can sweep our entire extended family in a beautiful story of hope, healing, redemption, and grace.

God is in these moments.
The beautifully imperfect moments.
He is here.
And He is enough.

And thank goodness I don’t have to be.