You know friends that will always remain one particular season or age to you, that’s how I feel about Kristen. In my mind’s eye she’s still nineteen years old and sitting in her dorm room of the Chi Omega house, because that’s when I saw her so often. But I also know differently. Kristen is presently a mother refined by God, and that deserves to be celebrated.
Kristen and her husband, Joel, whom I also knew in college, live in Indiana with their children Elsie and Simeon. I remember hearing the story of how Joel and Kristen met in 7th grade at a retreat, and they both came home telling their mothers that they were certain they were going to marry the other person. How amazing! Kristen can even remember tangible ways that Joel would love her even when they were so young, like walking her to her chair at church so she wouldn’t have to walk alone past girls who weren’t particularly kind to her. What fourteen year old boy does that? After college Kristen and Joel married, lived in Alabama for about twelve years, and just recently moved back home. Kristen was an accountant, but now stays at home with Simeon and Elsie. They are also anticipating the arrival of another little one in August.
How do you plan to celebrate Mother’s Day?
Every year for Mother’s Day, my side of the family goes to lunch together. It is such a special time to love my own mother, and to see my sister-in-laws and sister as we’ve become mothers too. The last few years, in all honesty, have been such an emotional roller coaster on Mother’s Day though. I’ll never forget, a few years ago when we were longing for children, when my amazing mother-in-law gave me a pair of earrings and a card for Mother’s Day that said how she prayed that soon my arms would be tired and heavy and my laundry basket full. Last year was bittersweet as I was so thankful to be a mother to Simeon, yet mourning the fact that Elsie wasn’t home yet when we thought she would be. So, this Mother’s Day, I truly cannot wait to walk through those doors for lunch, holding the hands of my two children and carrying a baby in my belly.
What is unique about your motherhood journey?
Thinking back to early in our marriage when mothering was simply an idea, I can still feel how confident I was that our plan would work. Joel and I, before we were even married, knew we wanted to adopt. We were completely open to having biological children as well. So when we started trying for our family we filled out adoption paperwork as well. We prayed both for our adoption and for those lines on a pregnancy test simultaneously. In my human mind, I had it all figured out. I said everything was in God’s timing; but in reality I figured we would adopt, have kids biologically, and therefore have the large family we dreamed of and everything would be as I always wanted. Although I was a Christian, my walk with the Lord was not strong, and my life was my own to live. Our reasons for desiring to adopt were Biblical. I didn’t know though that six years later God would use adoption in ways that were painful and stretching and so wonderful. We started by trying to adopt from Ethiopia, and we were excited, bright eyed, and hopeful. As we waited, we took foster care classes so that we could provide respite to families who were in full time foster care. A year later we found out about a woman who was pregnant in our own state, that desired to make an adoption plan and wanted us to be this child’s parents. We still had not conceived, nor had we gotten close on the Ethiopia list, and so we prayed and said “yes!” We got to know this birth mother over the next months as well. In September 2014, this sweet, wonderful miracle of a little girl was born. We named her after one of our parents. Joel and I were given a room at the hospital to care for her, and brought her home with us. We were oh so in love, as any new parents are. Days later, sitting on the couch, we received the call that the birth mother had changed her mind. Our worlds collapsed and shattered. That evening, we asked if we could be the ones that carried her back to her birth mother. I wrote this that night, “We dropped off our little girl tonight about an hour ago. We grieved all day but had a lot of great memories. We gave her her first bath, took pictures in her shark robe, gave her presents to open someday, wrote in her Bible and wrote her letters. We sent all her things with her for the birth mom. We were able to speak truth over her, the birth mom, and her family about our absolute need for a Savior and that our ultimate desire is for her to know Christ and love him. That was what we cared about more than anything else. We shared that it is more than religion and absolutely worth it. Thank you all for praying. We feel utterly totally broken. But we know God is in absolute control and that’s where we are at.” Even now, it’s difficult to go back to the moment of that phone call. There are some things that God helps graciously block out, because they are too painful. What I learned over those next months of grief was that God remained faithful. My screaming, crying, broken heart, confusion, and so forth couldn’t stop His love for me. And, although it was clear that God had brought us to her, He also was the one who took her from us. Now, years later, God has sewn up our hearts, yet they are tender to the touch. And that is still good. We love that little girl and her family in a deeper way than we could ever have imagined. This world is not our home, and we may never understand it here, but what we do know is that the Lord knows every detail of that little girl’s life. That He loves her more than we do. What hope that brings! After she was taken from our home we were shaken to find out, weeks later, that I was pregnant. What? This was not the baby I wanted- the baby I wanted was just taken from me. Friends, it isn’t pretty, but that’s how I felt. I was so angry, so upset, and also terrified that my heart wasn’t excited about the life inside of me the way it should be. How could I be so ungrateful? I saw my sin and my anger in ways that appalled me. But the Lord was gracious because He let us sit in that sorrow and confusion, and He was faithful to bring us friends and family who brought meals, spoke truth, and sat as tears puddled on the ground day and night. Then slowly, ever so slowly, joy and excitement grew in our hearts for the life inside of me. We didn’t tell people we were pregnant until almost 18 weeks because I was so afraid of hearing people say, “See! Now you have a baby!” as if I shouldn’t be sad about losing our little girl. But people were so kind, and continued to honor her life while celebrating the one inside of me too. Then, two months before his due date, Simeon Arthur was born. We were so thankful that he was alive, but we had to wait five weeks for him to come home. We stayed in that NICU, up to 20 hours a day, holding him once we were allowed, trying to nurse in between nose tube feedings, and just watching him grow ounce by ounce. Our little Sim came home on Mother’s Day weekend, three years ago. This little child that had been in my womb, while I rode every emotion that exists, was now here and I couldn’t imagine our lives without him. He has the kindest and gentlest personality, and we call him “God’s kindest gift” because God used Simeon to bless us when we were in despair. And, he has continued to be a blessing. After his birth we continued to move closer “up the waiting list” in our Ethiopian adoption. However, we once again were presented with an unexpected challenge. We felt there were hard questions that needed to be asked that were not being answered in ways we felt were God honoring by our agency. And so, by the end of 2015, we were heavy hearted to have to walk away. We had been so sure of our adoption desire, but God continued to strip it from us and we were confused. In early 2016 we became connected with Mwana Villages in the Republic of Congo. Their mission statement is “Mwana Villages is a grass-roots ministry. We exist to serve the Littles, Bigs, and Mamas through practical and sustainable ways, creating long-term solutions with a goal toward preserving the family.” There was a little girl living at Mwana in need of adoption, and once again we said “yes” through prayer and walking forward in faith. In my mind, our sorrow was over, the wait was over! For reasons that eventually changed, we thought Elsie would be home in a matter of months. As those months dragged on, I became so angry with God. Thoughts like, “After everything we have been through! How could you do this to us!” and “You are not loving. You don’t care about our pain.” My heart knew my accusations were wrong, but once again our God reached out to me through His word, songs, books, and the love of friends and family that spoke truth. I was humbled to see that my heart was so angry- a sin that I thought I had tackled years before. God was ever reminding me that I needed him- not daily- but by the minute to survive. September 2017, we traveled to Congo along with the Archibald project ,who documented our time there. These past seven months with our daughter at home have also been different than we expected- and the Lord is using it to continue to show us where we need Him, where sin exists and needs to be rooted out, and where His love and faithfulness abound. We found out a few months ago that we are expecting another child due in August, and we are praying this little one does not come early.
What is something about motherhood that has made you strong in Christ?
Motherhood has taught me this: God is good, He is sovereign, and He is faithful for He cannot deny Himself (2 Tim. 2:13). After these past six years, I can boldly proclaim that I know the Lord is in charge of our family – not me. That each soul He entrusts us with- even for only a few days- was not created for our family alone. HE created that soul for HIS purposes, which will far exceed our little family. That our role as parents is to shepherd and guide, and then watch what their most loving Father does with their lives. That I started this journey with the idea of children being “mine” and “ours.” Now, I know that my hands must remain open, fingers uncurled, trusting that openness may lead to sorrow; but that everlasting joy will be ours because of our faithful God. We will never understand the mysteries this side of Heaven, but that is okay. We serve a God that does know the answers. And this isn’t our home, as Philippians 3:20 says, “But our Citizenship is in Heaven, and from it we await a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ.” Amen!
What is something that the Lord has taught you recently that you would like to share with others?
Grace. When we started in the adoption process, I wouldn’t say it out loud, but I was pretty proud that I had all the answers (feel my eye roll even as I type that sentence!). I was ready to tell anyone who would listen what you do and don’t say to people who are adopting. What they should and shouldn’t say to me after losing that sweet little girl. The right way and the wrong way to wait well. And then, God broke me- over and over- in ways that were painful and left me realizing that just because I may read the “right books” or have the “right words” if I don’t have HIM I am nothing. Often, I really don’t have anything except selfish motivation in me (Romans 7). BUT GOD, He still forgives. He sustains and is faithful. That knowledge has softened me. I no longer think I have all the answers. When I see someone in sorrow all I want to say is “I’m so sorry,” and then just cry with them. “Faith like a child” makes so much more sense to me now, and the more I understand the Gospel the more I am in COMPLETE AND UTTER AWE of it. I realize that I have been given so much grace and so much forgiveness, over and over, from the Lord. My anger towards Him these past six years is such that my own flesh thinks, “I can’t be forgiven for this.” But our God reminds me that, although my anger put Him on the cross, my anger was also forgiven there. And it reminds me once again, that I need to come daily to the foot of the Cross in thankfulness. I would encourage anyone reading this to spend time with the Lord. Know His Word. Memorize it. Meditate on it. Find someone to do that with you. Four years ago I started memorizing scripture with my brother, and God has been faithful to use it every step of these past years. Friends, the Lord has been so faithful to sustain, even through total sorrow. Now, when I look at Simeon and Elsie, and my heart is filled with love and joy, I am reminded that it is only the smallest resemblance- just an image- of the love and joy our Heavenly Father has towards us.