An Uncomfortable Cleaning

As I rummaged through the dresser one-handed, I quickly realized that all the 24 month clothing I had prepared for Mark’s arrival were simply not going to work. Nothing inside that dresser was going to fit on his tiny body.

That’s when I recalled that the shirt I had just peeled off him in the bathroom. It was the same shirt I had sent down for him several years ago. It was size 6 months. Having been told over and over again that he was growing well and getting quite large, I had already given away the bulk of the smaller clothing I had. Fortunately, though, I had kept just one tiny outfit on the off-chance that it would be needed. Recalling this, I opened the bottom drawer, grabbed it and headed downstairs.

“What can I do to help?” Jason said rushing over, clearly wanting to help alleviate the load I was currently bearing, both emotionally and physically.

“Could you spread out that towel on the counter and go grab Nate’s soap? I forgot it while I was upstairs,” I said, trying to at the same time to surmise how in the world I was going to approach this new situation with a child I didn’t know.

“What you be doing, Momma?” Nate inquired running up to see what his new brother and I were up to. “Mark be okay? Where be his clothes?”

“Oh, Mark’s just dirty from all that time on the airplanes,” I explained. “It’s time to get him clean.”

Eager to get this whole bathing business over with, I once again attempted to set Mark down. Like a fearful, wounded animal, he began letting out a meager cry while reaching out for me.

“Mark, Mommy’s got to wash you. I’ll be as quick as I can,” I said as reassuringly as I could. This was uncomfortable for me. But it was clearly terrifying for him.

It wasn’t long before Jason returned with a plethora of bath products in hand.

“I didn’t know what you wanted, so I brought it all,” he said a bit breathless.

“Thanks,” I said as I unpacked his arms. “You and Nate might want to go upstairs. He’s probably going to cry…”

“Just holler if you need anything,” Jason said, eager to escape the inevitable soundtrack that was to follow.

I was right. The next fifteen minutes were filled with screams. Despite my best efforts to coo and calm him, Mark wailed as if I were pulling out his fingernails. I imagine that emotionally that’s probably exactly what it felt like. A complete stranger had just stripped him naked and was scrubbing him clean. Sure, he was finally and forever home. Granted, Jason and I would do all we could to take the very best care of him. But Mark didn’t know that. At the time, being cleaned and cared for was an uncomfortable and scary process. It meant Mark had to be vulnerable.

And sometimes the same is true for us, too.

We have to allow ourselves to be vulnerable enough to drag it all out into the light of day, so that God can transform and make us new. We have to trust that God has our very best interests at heart, even when in the moment it may not entirely—or even remotely—feel good. We have to accept that sometimes the cleaning process isn’t comfortable one, but certainly no less important.

And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose.
Romans 8:28 (ESV)

A Powerful Presence

The other day, I glanced down at Mark at just the right time. As he revealed a big ol’ toothy grin, I noticed a small growth peeking out from the top of his jaw.

Fast forward 2 weeks, and that once tiny bump had doubled in size and Mark and I found ourselves waiting in an exam room for an ENT specialist to take a look. I assumed that he’d push and prod and maybe even take a needle biopsy. That’s honestly all I expected. But that’s not what happened.

“I strongly suggest that it come out today,” he said. “How do you think he’d handle it?”

“What would be involved?” I asked. “Mark’s had Novocaine before and a few dental procedures. He did just fine with those…”

“Any laughing gas?” the doctor countered.

I correctly assumed that that question implied a bit more would be involved.

“No, Mark doesn’t do very well with that. Leaves him feeling sick,” I said. “Would you mind if I talk through the entire procedure?”

“Sure,” the doctor responded. “I don’t mind.”

“Then,” I said with a smile as I glanced over at Mark, “I think we can do it.”

The room quickly became a flurry of activity. The nurse came in with forms for me to sign. The doctor left to prepare for the procedure. What looked like a large flood light was wheeled in along with a tray of mysterious looking tools and equipment.

“Mark,” I said as I rested my hand on his knee. “Do you know that bump in your mouth? The doctor wants to take it out now…”

“Will it hurt?”

“Do I ever lie?”

Whenever I have to walk Mark through a painful or upsetting situation, I always remind him that he can trust me unequivocally. Without trust to hold on to, there’s no anchor, no stability for him to cling to during the scary uncertainty.

“No,” he replied as he looked down at his lap. I could see his jaw clenching up in recognition of what was to come. Unfortunately, we’d both been here before.

“Look at me. I want I eyes,” I began, allowing my voice to become louder in order to rise above the cling and clatter of metal instruments all around us. “You know I never lie. It will hurt for a few seconds, but then it will be over. All you have to do is listen to my words and obey them. Just listen. Do you want to squeeze my hand?”

“No,” he said, clearly attempting to be brave. But his emotions and worry were clearly—and understandably—overwhelming him. A glance downward revealed that his fingernails had already dug deep grooves into his knees.

“Remember, do exactly as I say and listen to me,” I said. “Sit on your hands…”

As I saw the doctor preparing the needle, I continued.

“Now, close your eyes. We don’t want this bright light to hurt your eyes! It’s like the sun. You don’t want to stare right at it…”

The entire procedure only took about 10 minutes. But it was long enough for all the color to drain out of Mark’s face. I wasn’t used to seeing his warm, gingerbread-colored skin so cold and pale.

“You did great,” the doctor said glancing at me with a smile. But the truth was, Mark did great. And I couldn’t help but reflect on my own weakness, my own inability to maintain focus and simply obey.

God can and wants to be for us the same kind of powerful presence that I am often for Mark. We all wade our way through hardships and struggles, but we don’t have to wonder and worry because we’re not alone. All we need to do is listen to His words and obey.

When I am afraid, I put my trust in you.
Psalm 56:3 (ESV)

A Pocket of Crumbs

Honestly, it was getting a little frustrating. Every load of laundry was full of crumbs. And—for the life of me—I couldn’t figure out where in the world they were coming from.

But a little further digging revealed the source: pockets. This plague of never-ending crumbs was all coming from one place. This big ol’ nuisance was coming directly from Mark’s itty, bitty pockets.

I couldn’t and wouldn’t scold him. But I sure wanted to know why. Why was he stuffing food in his pockets instead of his mouth? So, I did the one thing I could. I started watching him even more carefully.

I watched Mark at every meal. I watched him when I offered him snacks. I watched him when he thought I wasn’t looking. And—sure enough—each and every time the same thing happened: a little food found its way to his mouth and some got quickly shoved in a pocket. Over and over this process went.

Even if Mark had been able to talk, I don’t think he would’ve been able to give me an answer as to why he was doing this. I think the root of this behavior went too deep, was too painful. And when I finally got to the heart of it myself, I began to feel complete and utter shame that I had wasted so much energy on frustration.

While only 2 and a half years old when he finally joined our family, Mark had already experienced profound abuse and neglect. I learned from his previous foster mom that Mark’s very first foster placement hadn’t been meeting his most basic needs. In fact, he was very rarely fed at all, likely only enough to keep him alive. Instead, that foster mother was using the money that was provided to care for Mark to care for her own biological children. This left a tiny infant Mark woefully underfed and malnourished.

Fortunately, though, after we found and accepted his referral for adoption, Mark was immediately placed in a new foster home. After over 5 months in the neglectful home, Mark was moved to the care of a new provider whom we would pay monthly fees to. To her credit, this new foster mom took phenomenal care of Mark from the age of nearly 6 months old all the way up to the time he was toddler, when he finally was able to come home to us.

But even this foster placement was in an impoverished country. Who knows how frequently food was available and provided for him. I’ll never forget the day I felt the sting of tears in my eyes as I poured animal-shaped graham crackers into bowls for both my young boys. It was at this exact moment that I realized the “why” behind all those pesky crumbs.

Nate, our biological son, gobbled them up without a second thought. He knew food would be reliably and predictably available at every meal and whenever he felt a rumble in his tummy. But little Mark, on the other hand, didn’t know that. He likely remembered all too well the burning of an empty stomach. He didn’t know food would be available later. He didn’t know his needs would be taken care of because he didn’t know us yet. Nate was just snacking. But Mark—even at only 2 and a half—was worried about surival.

Eventually, I stopped finding crumbs inside Mark’s pockets. Fortunately, it only took a few months for Mark to learn that he could depend upon us to provide for all his needs. But from time to time, I still like to remember those crumbs. They’re a reminder to me that trust takes time. Trust isn’t easily handed over. It’s earned. And the same is true for us in relationship to God.

Each and every time we reach for control, it’s paramount to saying we don’t fully trust God.

To counter this—to avoid grasping for control that’s not mine to take—I start stuffing crumbs of truth inside the corners of my heart and head. I collect and cling to Scripture verses that remind me of my purpose and place and of God’s promises. I remind myself stories of how God was faithful to care for others in the Bible, even in the midst of struggle and suffering. These “crumbs” provide me the extra security I need when I find my own faith wavering.

For whatever was written in former days was written for our instruction, that through endurance and through the encouragement of the Scriptures we might have hope.
Romans 15:4 (ESV)