Before the Birthday Candles

I lit a candle tonight and reflected on the fact that we get to celebrate my son’s first birthday soon.

We get to celebrate the laughter, the giggles, the mischief and snuggles that is fully him.

We get to reflect on the joy of the last 6 months of being his parents. The joy in seeing him sit up, cut teeth, crawl, walk and speak his first basic words to us.

Before we celebrate the sweetness of adoption though, the bitter part of the grief of adoption has shown itself.

I told him his basic adoption story again this evening – he has heard it before.  It is his story after all, as much we are a part of it and he is a part of ours.

His story, the details of which are his to hold onto or tell as he grows.

Tonight on reflecting on our beautiful son and how awe inspiring it is to see him growing before our eyes, I was reminded of the fact that he is going to have things to deal with that we can’t pretend he isn’t.

I was reminded that  for 9 months, he grew under his birth mom’s heart – and as much as people say that adoption is when a baby grows in your heart instead of your womb, this baby grew under a heart in another’s womb and that is a part of his story.

It is a part of her story and now it is a part of our story too.

A friend recently reminded me that the Psalmist speaks in Psalm 139 of being knit together in a mother’s womb and not being hidden from the start.  She reminded me that my son was known from the start as much as we didn’t know him from the start.  I was reminded this evening that as much as adoption was always part of how I planned to grow my family one day, of the conversations my guy and I had prior to marriage that, this plan brings with it a story of loss for two others – but that they are known too.

Tonight I want to make sure that he knows that we will stand next to him in responding to the things that are going to be his to deal with as he matures into manhood.

More than that, before we think about candles on cakes, tonight I lit a candle and want to honour a birthmother, who a year ago was preparing for labour and to relinquish (the details of this are hers and his) the baby who became our son.

I want to honour her simply for being his other mother.  We don’t know her and she doesn’t know us and yet our life stories are intertwined.

So before the candles celebrating a year of life are lit, there is another life I want to honour tonight and have no idea how do that.

Other than to pray.

To hold the space with my son and to say to this other mother that you are a part of our story always.

In a respectful way.

In a way which honours a decision you made.

In a way which honours our son.

In a way that honours the unknown between us and yet shares a life.

Tonight I simply want to honour you.

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In anticipation

The Big Wait.  The Paper Pregnant with no deadline.  No timeline.  Just hope.  Lots of it.

Hope and an awareness that in the background to our story unfolding, others are happening.

One with social workers, acting on our behalf to make sure that our profile is out there for prospective matches.

One with social workers wanting to see children permanently placed with the right families for them.

Reams of paperwork we completed on file being accessed as is needed to confirm and explore possibilities.

A child, whose story we don’t know yet, having to cope with hard goodbyes and temporary hellos until we have the privilege of parenting him.

A birth mom, who may or may not still be around this child – I have no idea of her story but she is an important part of ours, not just as the birth mom of our small but as our family grows in the years ahead.

Our community.

Our community anticipating with us, praying with us, holding open hearts and dreams with us.

Our community blessing us with practical gifts.

Blessing us with a celebration and gathering of family and friends to welcome us to first time parenthood together with a shower and a braai  – my guy is an important part of this all.

Our community getting frustrated for us in the wait – more than us most days!

Our community embracing our process and while not seeing my belly grow, are making space anyway in our worlds for our future child.

Us.

Us talking about the things we are excited about and the things we are nervous about.

Us dreaming what we would like the new rhythm  in our family to be like.

Us talking about working mom, part time working mom or full time mommy space for a season.

Us talking to our families and friends about our feelings in this process.

Us accompanied by my sister in law to an adoption conference (in which she became an us as she pressed in to aspects of adoption)

Me.

Me waking up and thinking about what and how to arrange the second room.

Me reflecting on the professional things my brain knows and needing to work these through with a professional of my own in anticipation.

Me remembering the fear & grief of losing pregnancies and knowing that this is a definite thing.

Me recognising that I am not going to have all the answers and get this right every time and that showing up consistently to try and figure things out is what matters.

Ultimately God.

Walking this journey is teaching me more about faith – we hope for things that we do not yet see to quote Hebrews 11:1.   It’s confidence of what is coming. It’s assurance of what I don’t see. It’s the conviction of knowing this and preparing to do the things that need doing.

In anticipation.

Colourblind vs Colour Competence

As a result of conversations I have had since publishing this I want to contextualise the following.  We are in a racially diverse, adoption is common as are cross cultural, transracial families community.  These questions and thoughts aren’t because we are isolated, they are in fact provoked in part because of my exposure to different kinds of normal. The race incident referenced below happened less than 7 years ago in a city which is said to be one of South Africa’s most cosmopolitan ciities.  This is important context I have realised and recognise that it doesn’t mean you will agree with all my stances below or see value in them.  Thank you for reading anyway!

We are on an adoption journey and are preparing to parent a future black man in South Africa. This is some of my processing and I am by no means claiming to have all the answers – however, I am wrestling and wanting to know how we do this well.
I have realised that anytime someone mentions race, there is a HIGH risk of people thinking ‘political’, ‘liberal’ and a whole lot of other not always positive words.
Being colour competent isn’t a political statement. It’s a skill needed in today’s world.

Colour competency is a term I saw mentioned recently in an adoption group. It was in response to a mom of colour asking people to be mindful of the implications of race for their children.

Conversations with friends of colour, reading well researched (sadly all US based) books and observing what I see in my day to day work space are things that have informed some of my thinking. I speak as a white person who grew up in an English/ Afrikaans mixed home – but none of that overtly impacted my social interactions. I WANT to learn from my friends of colour and from people who have grown up in transracial homes, adopted transracial homes how to better navigate these spaces.

A (black) friend recently said to me that she wishes we would use other words- so cross cultural rather than transracial families. I hear her. I concur –but I just wish we would actually more actively engage and talk about this in any form so that the things that for many of my same race peers don’t seem necessary can be understood well and that some of my different race peers can actually engage and tell their stories too and be heard.

I have heard it said by a few of my (white) friends who are parenting (black/ mixed race children) that they are colour blind. Their child is just their child and they don’t think about this. I have struggled with this as our racial features are a part of who we are. Our stories of origin include our culture and race of origin.

A friend from the long ago past grew up as a black man in a white home – on reflecting parts of his story a (white) friend expressed that he wished that there had been a way in adulthood for this friend who has sadly passed away to not have had to have such boxed/ split realities. Until we explore more colour/ race/ cultural competent ways of engaging with each other I am not sure how we are going to get this right going forward.

My child will be my child. I want the best for him. I want him to be the best version of himself. I want him to know that we embrace him, not just for who he is, but for the fullness of who he is- which includes the culture and race group that he comes from. I ALSO want to know how to help him build racial self-esteem – which is a part of his sense of self – and to equip him to deal with the challenges that will face him as sadly the world still does see in colour and race and not always as a celebration of difference.

Recently I have had a few conversations (with white friends and family) where children were said to not see colour – in direct contrast to sitting in a class room 3 months ago where a (black) child was told he couldn’t use the “skin”colour crayon because he was a black man – this child was 9 years old and while he didn’t know necessarily what the meaning of that was to his friend, his immediate response was:
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Let your Kingdom come

This morning as we met together in a building, I was reminded again of the fact that this was simply a gathering of people.
It wasn’t church. We the people together were the church. We were a gathering of people wrestling with life and our own responses to it. Whether life meant struggles or celebrations in our families, in our communities or in our country… I looked up and around and saw people whose families are facing challenges, whose communities are being fractured by Xenophobia and different generations of people with different understandings of what makes national transformation important.

I reflected on the weeks that had passed and on the dialogues, in person and over social media and thought about the following points. I don’t have answers to them all. I do know that I was challenged to sit with them some more. In the day. In the week. In interactions.

What does it mean to be in what looks hopeless & yet still have a God of Hope in it?

What does it mean to live surrounded by fear or frustration or hurt and anger & yet know what & who perfect love is which casts out all fear AND then CHOOSE to respond from this space?

What does it mean to feel powerless & yet still have an all powerful God?

What does this mean in terms of our identity & action as people of God?

What does this mean in terms of what we declare? How we heal & seek to be part of seeing others healed?

What does this mean in terms of how we respond to the deep hurt & anger that we cant always connect to, yet there is collective voices expressing this?

What does it mean for us witnessing xenophobia?Afrophobia? Transformation?

I am sitting with this. I want to be a part of hope, of life, of seeing redemption.
I want to be a part of seeing people matter
I want what I believe and what I do and who I am to be aligned & not different boxes that I tick off – which means I need to make sure that my words, my thoughts and my actions are lining up.

Maybe this week some of this answers will become clearer.

Practically:
There are a WHOLE lot of amazing practical things happening in communities from IAMAFRICA which can be found on facebook which is a great practical resource for people wanting to know how to be involved in the Xenophobic relief and helping say NO! to the Freedom Mantle movement which is dealing with how do we develp a vision & leadership in South Africa that allows for South Africa to really be about a place for all and what does it mean to be a part of the change.

Justice vs Selfishness

Is SOCIAL JUSTICE in some ways THE STRUGGLE AGAINST SELFISHNESS?

I recently had the privilege of attending a conference with various leaders seeking change in the area of poverty, inequality & unemployment. At this conference were leaders who had been involved in the struggle against apartheid as well as young leaders whose voices are loud in the current struggles that our country faces as a whole – by whole I mean people of all groups and (racial) backgrounds.
There were many reflections on things that worked, ideals that were and weren’t achieved and stories told of the political struggle that ensued to bring SA into a democracy. Rev Frank Chikane said the following which has sat with me and I have no concrete answers to this – other than we need to find this path through restitution and peace: ‘In the build up to 1994 the country was taken across a bridge in such a way that bought the country to a new place without destroying it; however the economic system wasn’t taken across the bridge’.

I sat listening to people speaking about their experience of growing up poor, of the struggle to escape an economic system that is responsible for much of the structural violence and neglect many people still suffer under and realised that this was the bigger narrative against which the smaller, personal narrative needs to unfold. As a South African who is white how do I find my space in the midst of this when I see what are emotional, angry and ‘you can’t possibly understand the other’ type responses on social media and news comments?

How do i listen to what needs to be said, but still ask or challenge or engage people to find an alternate way to that of bitterness driven responses? This morning I again saw a person of colour being allowed to respond to an emotional statement (which is allowed too) and yet when a ‘white’ person affirmed the initial response and asked the questions which I too wanted to ask was immediately shot down. It made me think that while we talk a big talk about creating a land of equal opportunity that in the midst of that we need to find ways of seeing each other – and that means looking beyond our own assumptions and stereotypes –regardless of who they are about.

Sivuyile Kotela said ‘that we need to find a way of talking about poverty and it’s link to race without being racist; that the church has a responsibility to talk about poverty differently to those who do so for political reasons and that as much as don’t want to talk about race often, in the context of poverty it’s a needed discussion’. This might not be radical enough for some of my more left wing friends. It might infuriate some of my more right wing friends that the race word has once more been used.

So in this context how does this broader narrative and story that is currently unfolding as a nation impact my personal narrative around justice? I have had FOMO watching friends engage in dialogues around this until I felt convicted that actually, justice needs to be about the way we live our lives – and yes the dialogues matter, but what matters too is actioning the things that we see and hear.

How do I acknowledge and what do I do re: my white privilege? No – that doesn’t mean I have a trust fund, it simply means that inherently if I listen to some of my best friends (who happen to have grown up differently based on their skin) tell stories of their childhood, do I acknowledge & respond to the wrongs or simply nod and move on?

Justice in my day to day life is about how I:
– Engage my community
– Engage my neighbours
– Engage those employed by me: whether at work or at home. Do I respect and value the person & her work, helping in my home enough to pay her a generous and living wage or do I worry that this will impact my disposable income too adversely?
– What do I do with disposable income and time?
– What do my friendship circles look like? Do I intentionally befriend people whose stories differ to my own so that there are bridges being built or do I surround myself with people who are like me and allow to not have to think/ talk or be the other?
– Is my faith & it’s actions private or is there a social aspect to it in terms of how I live it out?

I don’t have answers for all of the above – but when I start to ponder them the selfishness of aspects of my world are bought to light and it brings me back to consider where I need to shift again.

Despite the challenges….

It’s been a while since I posted anything – not for lack of writing – but rather because processes have a way of “being covered in manure” sometimes before they makes sense. Seeds grow and germinate well in rich soil – the smell of manure at different times of the year from neighbours garden’s always reminds me of this (unless I get too focused on the manure and forget about the long term process at work). The reminder of Jesus’s words in John 12: 24 is seen around us all the time: Seeds need to die to become fruitful and more than just a single seed.
Things that seem to be sprouting at the moment include the possibility of life looking very different. Include the possibility of being excited about new beginnings. Include the possibility of new habits/ neural pathways and ways of being.

This morning I started reading a book on changing habits. One question that was asked is “what do you do first thing in the morning?”. It was hard realisation, again, to acknowledge that my habit is to get up and GO! From sleep state to MAX energy in whatever it is – often driven by a sense of underlying urgency or anxiety. So I STOPPED and asked myself was this necessary?

Were the reasons that I was GOING at this pace still even there? NO. Actually not. Intentional decisions have been made to ensure that this is not the case. My days are more measured.
Each day this week I have had to rewire my brain to accept that this week, this term and the rest of this year is not going to look like the past 12 months did in terms of work pace. It’s a habit of busyness at full tilt that needed to be broken. It’s okay for days to be full, but not perpetually full and rushed.

Honouring this slow-down process has been challenging in different ways. It’s required mindfulness. It’s required recognising where I have been messing up: in choices I make, in the way that it has impacted my relationships as well as in the impact that it has had on me: my body and my emotions.

It has been challenging when we come back from a time away to discover that there are unexpected glitches resulting in a BIG financial stretch due to complications in my husband’s transition from an old work season to a new one.
It’s been challenging for this “I always have a plan person” to not be able to take control of this process and want to look for extra work as we seek to save to buy a home; to shake off all financial stress and to trust that this is maybe a part of the process too.

It has been inspiring and affirming of a prayer prayed together with my husband of Lord grow our faith! It has been incredible to see my husband remain solid in this. It has been affirming of the marriage relationship to see us talking about other stuff – not the mess that has happened. In the midst of this big rollercoaster ride, my husband is still dreaming about homes and the goals that we have for life together in the long term.

This is the process of change and fresh starts. I am not sure why I thought it would be totally stress free?! The challenge for me really is to learn to live well, intentionally, despite the challenges, not without them.

Salvation, independence and a deep grief….

Isaiah 30:15 “Your salvation requires you to turn back to me and stop your silly efforts to save yourselves.  Your strength will come from settling down in complete dependence on me – the very thing that you have been unwilling to do” (The Message) 

In the past I have loved this verse – in other versions it speaks of in “repentance and rest is salvation, in quietness and trust is strength”.  I loved the fact that it spoke of strength and salvation and quietness and trust until suddenly this scripture, as phrased by Eugene Petersen took on a new meaning for me.  This morning I read a devotional by Rob Stegmann which spoke of the fact that God was grieved by man’s wickedness  and his heart was filled with pain (Genesis 6:6).  (Rob’s writing can be read here : http://robstegmann.wordpress.com/2013/04/29/broken-heart)

Then I reflected back to Isaiah 30:15 and had to (painfully) acknowledge that my hard fought for independence, the pride I had in having managed my life thus far was actually an idol.  It was a silly effort to save me.  It was something that bought God’s heart pain and my refusal to acknowledge that actually, this was and is something that I am struggling to relinquish and give over to him, deepens that pain.   Especially in a season where I am being asked to rest in God and trust a process – a process that is filled with risk and feels totally out of control.   Despite this being confirmed over and over and over again by different people in different parts of the country, of my world, who have no connection to each other – I kept saying yes, BUT… resting is one thing – but aren’t we called to active rest. Aren’t I supposed to be looking at options, you know actively committing our days to God and pressing into things while we wait for him to open or shut doors?  Things don’t just happen.  God honours our intentions and our actions not sitting around reading all day – and my rent doesn’t get paid by my perception of resting.   Yes, if I look at the motives and my heart intentions, I am challenged.

Actively resting in God means that when I want to say:

“Yes, but practically what does that look like?” the answer is:

  • Whose story is this?  Yours or MINE?
  • Are you on MY team or am I on yours as a resource?
  • You trust me with your soul and its eternal being – and yet you can’t trust me with the here and now detail?

You have forgotten I AM THE PRIZE – your “practical what does that look like” means to remember that you practically see ME.  Not the need, not the unknown. Me.  Your independence separates you from me.  You can’t hear a voice you are not willing to listen to.  Seek me with ALL your heart and then you will find me.   When you come looking for me, and want it more than anything else, I will make sure you won’t be disappointed (Jer 29:13 – The Message).

I have caused God deep pain.  Me.  Alexa.  The woman seeking to take on injustice and find ways of helping people see that they matter.  I have caused God pain.   Yet in the midst of this Isaiah (30:18) states:

“BUT God’s not finished.  He’s waiting around to be gracious to you.  He’s gathering strength to show mercy to you.  God takes the time to do everything right.  Those who wait around for him are the lucky ones”