Saturday, September 30, 2017

the loneliest year

I promised myself I would not be one of those people who write blogs in midst of adoption and then abandon their blogs when their children join their families, leaving their readers to wonder how everything is going with their new children.

But here I am. And I am sorry. But now I understand why parents abandon the blogs when their kids come home.

We have been trying to figure this whole thing out. We have been SO BUSY. Sometimes, we (I) have been so overwhelmed. Please allow me to lay forth for you what our 2016 entailed, why I call it the loneliest year, and why I wasn't on the blog to write about it (even though I probably needed to be here getting my thoughts and feelings sorted out through writing).


Obviously, you know that Clementine came home January 1, 2016 (technically, she began her trip home December 31, 2015, just as we'd been praying for all year long. God is so faithful and detailed; you can read about that here.)

So on January 1, 2016 we had four kids four-and-under in our family, along with a teenager who needed a family to love and support him.

We had a preschooler who was attending school for a few hours every other day. We had a 4-month old who still needed me to feed her at least every 3 hours and who loved to snuggle all of the other hours in the day. The teenager attended school 40 minutes from our house, and one of us drove him to school every morning and picked him up after basketball games late at night. Our 3-year-old got lost in the mix for a while as we tried to rearrange our life and our expectations.

All the while, Clementine tried to figure out what her life had become and what was going to happen next. She couldn't understand our language, and because she clung to Brad I spent many mornings saying, "Daddy i sousou, lisusu." (sp?) ("Daddy will be back again.") She cried and cried the first few weeks, and I often wanted to but didn't have the energy, nor did I let myself feel ALL OF THE THINGS right then because it was all too much and it wouldn't have helped anyway.

Our four-year-old, who was the most easygoing, outgoing and happy kid ever--particularly when playing with Legos or with friends--cried at preschool for the first time one day shortly after Clementine came home. He cried due to frustration over not being able to build well with Legos, his favorite toy. His teachers noticed he was not himself, and who could be with so many changes at home? His tears were obviously not just about Legos. We were all having trouble with such substantial changes.

We had an army of people around us to support us, bring meals, lift us up in prayer, babysit our kids, help us with the Lingala language, provide advice based on first-hand experience, and to allow us to vent and process together. I am SO THANKFUL for them and cannot imagine what it would have been like without them. They were immensely helpful, and they saw us in some pretty wide-eyed moments. In fact, when family friends brought us a meal and stayed to hang out a bit, I spent the entire time apologizing to them that they were forced to see us in such a chaotic and distressed state. If ever people looked like deer in headlights, it was us in the first few months after Clementine came home. (But our friends were so wonderful to act like we were normal and to continue supporting us.)

That said, we were the only ones living in the day-to-day, new-normal, crazy-mornings, exhausted-evenings, redeeming-the-past and making-it-new phase of life, and it was difficult to see how anyone could understand what it was like or how hard it was at times. (Please don't hear me throwing myself a pity party...I often had to renew my mind with Truth to remind myself that there is nothing new under the sun, that others have worked through trauma and managed multiple kids well, that "Lotzes do hard things" [as we tell our kids] and no matter how hard and long the days seemed I was never doing them alone, despite my sorry attempts sometimes to do so.)

At the same time, storms of change were beginning to brew in other aspects of our world.

Our friend who had been battling very aggressive breast cancer for a short but agonizing year--who had prayed for Clementine to come home as much as or more than she prayed for her own healing--lost her hard-fought battle with the disease. We were able to visit her--with our answered prayer, Clementine, in our arms--in the hospital one last time, and as I was feeling guilty and angry that God answered our prayers and for our family and not our prayers for her health, she praised Jesus for answering her prayers and smiled her bright brave smile of joy for us that our family was finally together. She gloated over the life and health and miracle of Clementine while we internally lamented the loss of her life. I don't believe will never meet a more amazing, encouraging, faith-filled and humble woman than Missy in all of our lives. Brad went to be with her family as she took her last breath a few days later, and I spent many bleary-eyed days asking the question with no answer on this side of glory: Why her? Why us?

Our church home was beginning to change, not in a bad way but in a way that is inevitable for a church of its size and demographic. My husband had just joined the staff of our church as a discipleship minister (from a coaching and teaching background and as someone who thought his next step was educational administration, no less), and the contemporary service we were serving was experiencing exponential growth that would not be sustainable much longer. We were essentially a church within a church.

Over several months of prayer and seeking wisdom, church leaders graciously and lovingly made the decision to move our church from within the bigger church to a different location altogether in order to reach more people. My husband became a co-pastor of that church plant (Hill City), and from that decision sprang more work--more nights away from my husband due to numerous planning meetings and such--but also more fruit than I could have ever imagined.

I was not thrilled with the decision to leave the comforts of relationships at our home church to do something new, to plant a church, to go out on a limb and trust that God would sustain us, would provide for four tiny Lotzes and fill the gaps where relationships would inevitably change due to proximity. I was not thrilled to make another change for our kids. We were building strong relationships where we were, and several amazing women at that church were encouraging me and helping me be a better wife and mom. And I knew that a new church would change those relationships because of the need to pour into people in our own church and their need to pour into their own church. I also knew this would be another big adjustment for our kids, and while we've always been a "roll with it" sort of family, I wasn't sure our kids were mature enough to roll with this on top of everything else. But it happened, and I chose to go with it despite my fears and sadness.

Along with that decision came planning meetings at dawn, strategic meetings at dusk, lunch meetings, trips to churches in Texas to learn from others, and video conferences with other pastors around the country. These were necessary things to gather wisdom and create a strong foundation for our church, but these things all meant that Brad was gone A LOT. Brad was still the discipleship minister at our current church while planning for the church plant, which meant he was essentially working two jobs. And we still had 2 brand new babies in our household, 2 other kids who (I can only assume) felt somewhat forgotten, a teenager who needed to be around a man, and one me--an exhausted and limited human with no idea how to make this new normal function like a family.

I tried to go to meetings, tried to do something that could help with the church planting part of life. But my productive time was limited. Tiny Oaklee needed to nurse on a schedule. She needed to have diapers changed. She needed regular sleep. Clementine was still dealing with trauma and needed to be nurtured and loved by me, personally, nearly every minute. I had to earn my keep with her in order to earn her trust, and boy did she make me earn it. She continues to do so. I had to figure out how to do her hair (thank God for the teenager who was living in our house and said, "Um, her hair looks pretty dry. You need to condition it." We wouldn't have known!) Our days were full of meltdowns and misunderstandings and she would often be inconsolable for HOURS out of the day, and I totally and completely incapable of handling it all or meeting her needs with so many other needs to meet.

Our boys were still preschoolers who needed to be reassured that the big additions and changes in our family and world still left plenty of room for them. They still had faults and needs and desires and emotions to maneuver with delicacy but also with firmness due to our limited time and energy (and out love for them).

So we would go to gatherings with friends, to church events, to meetings together as a family, but I would often have to leave early due to any of the multiple needs listed above.

And it was lonely. Leaving parties early because of a newborn mess, dealing with trauma-torn kids, figuring out how to best love a teenager who wasn't technically "ours" but still living in our house and in need of direction and wisdom, or feeling that most people didn't understand the hurt in Clementine's cries or the level of sleep deprivation we were experiencing due to navigating such big changes left a lonely sort of pit in the deepest parts of my soul.

At the same time, we were also initiating a new series of fundraising musical events in Springfield called City Sessions. (Inspired by City Sessions Bentonville and promoting and supporting vulnerable people in DR Congo and in Zimbabwe through Help One Now.) This, too, required hours of planning, meetings, driving to Bentonville (which was inspiring because we met a host of amazing people there who we now call friends), babysitters (my family is THE BEST), and stressing over whether or not we would fail in this endeavor.

Added to all of the new experiences of our family, we also continued to have the day-to-day sorts of issues of any other family. Not to mention what I call "Single Mom Sundays."

When you're a pastor's wife, you're on your own on Sunday mornings. You come to church alone, except for the kids you've bathed, brushed, fed, clothed and possibly carried or pulled to the car with you. You drop kids of in classes, (then you ponder whether or not you should just run away to Target by yourself to spend money you don't really have), you go to the service by yourself, sit by yourself or with some other mother who makes sarcastic comments about motherhood that the two of you can appreciate (I see you Betsy H.).

You try to make conversation and connect with the people of your church while also acknowledging that you need to get your kids from their classroom soon, before their teachers go crazy. You gather your flock and attempt more conversations with your eyes darting here and there to locate kids and make sure they're not being ridiculous and then chasing at least two kids around the lobby area of your church while fearing that others are judging and staring awkwardly because you are a pastor's wife and your should have your junk together. You long to connect with friends for a few moments at church, but you simply cannot manage because you are on your own with a constant mess to deal with. So you just gather your kids and head to your car while trying to keep kids from dying in the parking lot. Then you go home or, if you are brave, out to lunch by yourself with your four small friends while your husband has meetings or meets with newcomers or navigates a sticky situation that one of the church members has found himself in. Obviously, you would be there with him, joining him in ministry if you were able but the kids make that virtually impossible (except in very rare cases), so of course you feel guilty for not doing more in ministry while also realizing that you are serving your family in this season and his work is eternally significant for hundreds of other people, so a few inconveniences are nothing when compared to that.

And you'd better believe that with all of this happening the alone time with my husband was non-existent. We likely had 6 meaningful conversations in all of 2016, and it's hard to converse with meaning with 4-5 kids in the minivan. We were in quite a season of life. (Which is something we acknowledged often, because the fact that it was just a season was an encouragement to our weary souls.)

Um, we also added 3 cows to our crew and Brad became an MSU football chaplain in the Fall 2016, which means that he and a co-chaplain lead chapels and travel with the team for games, as well as meeting with several players and coaches for the important task of discipleship and leadership developmentu. This has been a great opportunity for Brad to influence young men--which he is incredibly talented in and passionate about--and I wouldn't change a thing about his involvement with the team because of the amazing ways God is moving there, but it does take him away from our family even more often than he was before.)

Oh, and I got a job that was meant to be part-time but has nearly turned full-time work-from-home. It's a blessing and a curse because it helps fill the gaps of living on a pastor's salary with 6 mouths to feed, but it also takes a lot of time away from my kids and tends to stress me out at times.

As I mentioned, we have such AMAZING friends and family. We have no idea what we would have done if not for the help of so many amazing people around us. They were there for us, they supported us and prayed for us in the very best ways a village ever could. They hung around, even when all aspects of our crazy were showing. My parents watched kids for hours and hours so we could continue to function and get all of the above done.

But due to the circumstances of 2016 and the speed at which we were all moving, along with the difficult days at home (coupled with the outward cuteness and big pleading, smiling brown eyes that everyone else experienced outside of our home), the loneliness was inevitable and found its dwelling place deep within my soul.

I don't loneliness is inherently bad. For me, it was a time of processing, praying, relying on strength and grace that only a loving Father who knows every detail of my life and saw all of the meltdowns I was managing and all of the insanity we were experiencing could provide. It often wasn't pretty. It revealed a lot of my selfishness. It continues to do so. But ultimately it was good for me.

I'm not certain why I felt the need to write about the loneliest year at this point in my life. I guess I needed to do it for three reasons:

1--Because I still feel that loneliness at times. Life with four kids is nuts. Church life is nuts, with Brad gone A LOT for various ministry activities. (He makes time for our family in other spaces...I am amazed at how hard he works for his family, friends, and church. It's unbelievable, really.) But being a mom is lonely sometimes (AMIRIGHT?!). I'm not able to just pick up and go meet friends (nor are my friends able to do that at this point, either). I don't get out much, and when I am my eyes are still darting to and fro to check on kids. We still experience meltdowns and I'm trying not to beat myself up for not being able to manage and facilitate healing hearts better. I still feel like people don't fully understand the hurts that Clementine has experienced and how those hurts affect the rest of us. So there's still a tinge of loneliness every now and then. But, again, I don't think that's bad. It just is.

2--Because I need to thank our friends and family for sticking with us through the crazy. They're still here. They still invite us--the 6 of us--to their houses and onto their boats and on their vacations. They're insane and awesome like that. And I'm so thankful for their prayers and support and GRACE.

3--Writing helps me process it all. I've known 2016 was lonely for a while now, but I didn't realize how lonely it was until I started writing about it. No wonder it was lonely. It was rapid-fire, no time to talk, hands dirty, child-driven chaos. But it was good.

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