Why I love my birthday…

I feel a little bit like a 2nd grader writing that title.

But, being born in December I have always had a stressful relationship with my birthday. I’ve even played with the idea of moving it 6 months so that I get presents twice a year, but that idea was a non starter.

I’ve spent my fair share of birthdays at Christmas parties, or taking final exams. I’ve gotten more than a few birthday/Christmas presents over the years. Combine these things with a childhood spent caring WAY too much what other people thought of me, and an obsession with being “cool” and it meant that most birthdays were a mix of both excitement…and disappointment.

For example…one year, my mom used those trick candles on my cake that you blow out and they re-light. I’m sure she thought they’d be funny…but they caused me so much anxiety that in a moment of panic I ended up spitting on my cake just to get them out. I was like 9 or 10 but I still remember that feeling…it felt like everyone was laughing at me for being so dumb that I couldn’t put them out…but also being mortified because I had ruined the cake for everyone.

While childhood birthdays were stressful, adult birthdays were a full on anxiety inducer. Suddenly I was far from home and no one was obligated to celebrate me on my special day. Should I tell people my birthday was coming? Would people plan something for me or should I? Did the people I called friends even love me enough to take time during finals week to acknowledge my birth? Would anyone buy me presents?

There was this one year my sweet cousin drove to campus to spend my birthday with me and make me feel special….which it totally did…and it was good she came up, because she ended up having to take me to the hospital where I would spend the next week fighting off a double kidney infection.

So yeah, the birthday and me have had a bit of a love hate relationship…and honestly while I don’t mind at all getting older…I had come to dread my birthdays a bit.

And then one year things changed.

On December 13th 2013 Ian and I sat in a courtroom and listened as Andrew’s dying mother surrendered her parental rights, making the way for us to adopt him. She was so sick at this point she couldn’t make it to the courthouse and she had to call in to make her statement. We listened over the speakerphone as she shared why she was making the choice, and why she had chosen us.

Less than a month later she had left this earth to be with her Savior.

I remember sitting in that courtroom…my mind swimming with thoughts of sadness and gratitude and an overwhelming sense that this woman was giving me not just my greatest birthday present ever…but the thing her heart treasured the most.

It was beautifully awful and the most painfully joyous thing to experience. To be trusted this much…with something so precious…but to know that loss was the thing paving the way for me to receive this gift.

4 years later we were sitting in the middle of the week that rocked our world. It had been a few days since we had found out about the pregnant young lady that wanted to know if we might adopt her baby, and we hadn’t shared anything with Andrew yet because we didn’t want to get him excited until we knew for sure. Then we got the text “I’m due the 17th.

4 days away

So last year on my birthday we told Andrew he might be a big brother…in 4 days. We spent the day getting fingerprints and background checks and filling out paperwork. We walked around Target staring at bottles and car seats and diapers unable to make any sort of decision we were so overwhelmed. We went to dinner with friends…most of which had no idea what was happening…and had quite, secret conversations with those that did.

Last year’s birthday was another jumble of emotions; excitement, joy, fear, uncertainty, grief. It was a day where I found myself deeply aware of the incredible calling placed on my life…to be mom, in the absence of mom.

This year, my birthday feels different. I’m not worried about how we’re going to celebrate, or who will show up. I don’t care about the gifts or the cake. I have just found myself reflecting on this life, on this family I’ve been given, on the children I’ve been entrusted with.

Before, I loved my birthday because of gifts and parties and things being all about me…but now I love my birthday because it’s this reminder that in an instant life can change. Grief can turn to joy, fear to peace, and loss to overwhelming blessing.

This year has been hard, and it’s easy to remember that, to remember the hard. But looking towards my birthday this year has brought me so much joy as I remember two of the greatest gifts I have ever received.

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This Christmas

It’s December! The cold has arrived…kind of…snow has fallen…a little…Christmas lights are going up all over the neighborhood, the shopping has begun, the Christmas worship rehearsals have begun…goodbye lazy Sunday afternoons as a family…and the plans for Christmas Day have begun.

So far, this holiday season has been the hardest on my boy. I don’t know if it’s because it will be just the three of us this Christmas…no big trips to London or grandparents visiting…or if it’s because he’s getting older and emotionally processing the losses he’s experienced differently…or if it’s simply because with time he’s finally allowing himself to remember and to miss those he’s lost.

All I know is that my boy misses mom #2.

She LOVED Christmas! She loved decorating, went all out with décor and throw pillows and lights all over the house.

I am just not that person.

Don’t get me wrong, I love Christmas, I’m just not a major decorator. I have some simple decorations I put around the house…and then forget about and leave out the whole year…sometimes we put some lights around outside…but I don’t have throw pillows and garlands don’t hang gracefully from my ceiling.

Andrew misses that. He misses the decorations and the garlands and Christmas throw blankets…because they remind him of his mom and his Grandma…and they are who he really misses. He wishes he could have just one more Christmas with them. One more Christmas full of tradition and routine…because his Christmases now are anything but routine and we have weird traditions…

As mom #3 I find myself in this awkward place of being fully mom…but also not…sometimes I find myself wondering what mom #2 would have done…if she would have been better at handling a situation…and this Christmas I have found myself wondering if I should be better at decorating to fill that spot in his hurting heart.

I want to help his hurts, to fix his pains…but these are hurts that can not be fixed, they can heal but they will forever leave scars, they will forever be tender spots in his heart…even if our house turns into Santa’s workshop it will still hurt…it may even make it hurt worse, because it would be me pretending to be her

So instead I bought him a tree for his bedroom…I set it up for him so that when he came home from school it was there and ready to be decorated…because I wanted him to know I love him and I wanted his heart to find comfort, and I thought that instead of me pretending if it was him finding joy in decorating his space it might be healing…he loved it!

But then…

I get all ugly on him because he wants lights to hang all over his room, and he wants to use lights I had planned for decorating the porch…yeah right like that will happen…and he asks if he can get some of those $3 wired lights from the dollar spot at Target and I suddenly transform from loving mom to selfish beast…I grinched outwhy would I buy more lights when we have a box downstairs that work perfectly fine you just don’t like the color and you’ll just have to use what’s there…he leaves to go back upstairs and “make do” with what we have.

He doesn’t give me attitude or get yucky back at me, he just says ok and walks away…but I can see the disappointment on his face.

And that’s when the quite, peaceful, and loving voice inside me starts to talk to me…why did you do that? Isn’t it the most important thing that he knows you care, that you see his pain and that you are a place of comfort? Are your things and plans really more important to you than bringing his heart joy? Just spend the $9 to make his heart glad!

So, we went and got him lights and now it looks like Christmas exploded inside of his room!

As mom #3 I recognize how easy it would have been for this child to take the stance that he already has a mom…two in fact…and to lock me out of his heart.

I am so grateful for my boy who has a heart open to all three of his moms. He calls us all mom…he says things like my mom before this, or my birth mom, or this mom so casually it both blesses and breaks my heart…he loves us all for different reasons and in different ways, but he loves us all as his moms…and the weight of this is not lost on me…even when I have grinchy moments!

“A child born to another woman calls me mommy. The magnitude of that tragedy & depth of that privilege are not lost on me.”
-Joy Landers