[[ credit: Sarah Barrow ]]
Morning by Morning new mercies I see.
I have been so deeply convicted lately about my heart toward my children sometimes. Hold on if you're gonna go with me in this, because it's gonna get gritty and real. If you're a rainbows and unicorns kind of person, this isn't for you. You got this. Go watch Netflix.
I have a tendency, as I think many of us do, to put yesterday's junk on today's plate. We all do it, right? When the battery in your car died this morning, you close your eyes tightly and hope it starts up this time as you turn that key. When your child throws a fit about beans on their plate, you take a deep breath and gird your loins for battle, knowing the wrath you will face when you set that plate before your sweet little cupcake and his gaze meets the pile of legumes you've so insultingly offered him.
We all do it.
"She's my relative who always _________."
"That's the cashier who never __________."
"He's my neighbor who _______________."
"She's my kid that ___________________."
You fill in the blanks. It isn't necessarily a bad or wrong thing, expectations are real, but it CAN be.
I put my kids' yesterdays on their tomorrows. I do it big-time.
In the foster/adopt world we like to talk about "trauma." It's a real thing for these kids… and for us. These kids have memories and expectations, realities of the past that have taught them how to see the future, how to see big people, how to see men, how to see pets, how to feel about food or busy places, touches or smells, dark rooms and certain sounds. Their past experiences deeply affect every part of who they are in their little bodies and souls… but it doesn't have to forever. Part of our job as foster parents is to help re-write their expectations with them. With each thing we do in a good and right way, we are overwriting the trauma memories. It doesn't have to affect them forever.
It doesn't have to for us either, Parents.
For me, it plays out in different ways. But I'm noticing it most with Clover. She had a rough start in life. Really, really, rough. The first photo I ever took of her, and one I took a month later looked like two completely different people. Almost no real resemblance. She changed so much, but was still in a rough place. Her start in life wasn't fair. I tell my kids all the time that "fair isn't a thing," but that justice is. Her circumstances reeked of injustice. At first my heart felt all of the feelings that it should- tenderness, sorrow, compassion, empathy. But guys... with every scream it got harder.
For about 3m my world was full of just screams. Hours. Hours and hours of screaming for seemingly no reason. If one more well-meaning person in a soft and inquisitive tone asked me if I thought if she "could maybe have reflux?" I was gonna cut someone. [Sidenote- she didn't, and doesn't.]
We weren't sleeping much, we didn't have the sweet snuggles with every feeding, but a wrestling match that took 45 minutes just to get 2 ounces down. We had 4 others at the time who were little and loud and silly and naughty and needy and we were wiped. We had appointments and paperwork and visits and special formulas and therapies and more we were learning to navigate. We were in a hard place.
That hard place though, was also the beginning place. This is how we met. We met Clover in the midst of all of it. We met while she was miserable. We met while she was doing what babies do when they're miserable— scream. We were miserable too. Our beginning was- in full honesty- miserable. For all of us.
Now, things are different! PRAISE THE LORD. Very different. For 3m straight she screamed. Then… she didn't. We saw more and more moments where she was present. She was borderline happy. Almost actually content.
WE had trauma memories. Us, the adults. We did. We put her yesterdays on how we felt today. We were seeing her as she had been, not as she was today. When we looked at her, when we walked toward her crib to get her, when people asked what she was like, we drew on 3+ months of misery, not on how she was in that moment. She's almost 6m old now, and I am seeing the cute little baby that everyone else sees. But it's still a choice. We have to consciously choose to not feel yesterday's feelings today. We have to outgrow our own trauma memories and pour mercy and grace over the experiences attached to these little people in our lives.
Since I've noticed it so strongly in my current situation and my history with Clover, I've started to notice it in littler ways with all of my children.
When I choose to start fresh, to offer the newness of today to my kids, to let go of my expectations and enjoy them as they are, here, today, in each moment— how much more blessed my time with them really is!
How unfair life would feel (and sometimes does) if we weren't seen as we are, as we've grown and changed, but only as we were. I wouldn't have a single friend, y'all! They'd not want a darn thing to do with me because my list of mistakes and bad qualities stretches on and on.
It's not that I intentionally woke up and DECIDED to think "Ugh, today will be full of all of the crying and this bottle will be impossible to get down, and that other kiddo is going to break that rule again, and the really hard work I've done with this kid won't stick because nothing ever sticks, and where's my coffee…."
Nobody plans it, it just happens. Some folks are blessed with all of the happy, blissful, optimistic, rainbows and unicorns thoughts. Maybe that's you! If it is, stop and pray right now and thank the Lord because if there's one thing having 6 kids (really my first 2 drove this home for me) has taught me it's that we are hardwired to be who we are, and our nature is our nature from day one. We can do work, and we can have ups and downs. We can even have biological superpowers that block out the negative truths and make us see our past experiences in a dreamy haze [hello hormones!], or even our current experiences [cue the people who think their baby is the cutest and he totally looks like Gollum- you've met them]. Hormonal fogs aside, growth, change, whatever- for the most part- we are who we are. My inquisitive child has been inquisitive from day one. My content child has been content from day one. My dramatic child… my sensitive child… my gentle child… my stubborn child… my smart child… my kindhearted child…. my funny child… my athletic child…
You get the idea. We are who we are. Go ask your Granny, your Auntie, your Mama, your Mammy, (thanks, Macklemore) and they'll likely tell you they see qualities in you today that were still there just the same when you were bitty. If you're naturally positive and easy-going maybe this isn't an issue for you because of your God-given nature. Thank the Lord, man. Thank Him.
For the rest of us, we gotta choose it, and it's hard. It's hard work. But- it's like flexing a muscle. The more you do it, the easier it gets, and the more rewarding the experience becomes. Don't let your memories rule your heart or mind. CHOOSE today. Morning by morning, new mercies we see, and therefore- new mercies we can offer. We are given, so that we can extend. It's hard, still some days harder than others, but with each day that I choose to see my kids as they are, not as they were, I am more blessed by them, more in love with them, more proud and affectionate, more of all the good things.
And, if it's work for us, for our big, grown-up hearts, how much harder must it be for these little tiny people who learned their "yesterdays" so early? We are all battling together.
"No one is strutting through foster care; we're all limping in some way - certainly the kids, their families, case workers, the "system" and even (sometimes especially) us. At some point we come to the realization that it's not so much "us" helping "them" - it's just "us," together - all uniquely broken, wired for struggle and worthy of grace."
- Jason Johnson