This last weekend, Trent and I were finally able to attend a conference for adoptive (and foster) parents, and we went TOGETHER! It was the Refresh Conference at Overlake Christian Church outside of Seattle, and it was amazing! No wonder they are calling it the "Called to Love for Couples." OK, I'm the only one calling it that, but it's catchy, right? ;) The quality of the conference (especially considering the price) was mind-boggling. Great teaching, great worship, awesome food and lots of great little details that made you feel really loved on. I highly recommend it to any PNW families. It was fantastic to be learning, worshipping and connecting as a couple. Of course I was still totally Social Sally (Amy, Sarah and I had a C2L table and we were networking and selling merchandise as well, so I was wearing my ministry hat too), but Trent hung with me and had a great attitude.
We did go our separate ways a few times, and one of those times was during a breakout session where I had the honor of being on a panel of adoptive and foster moms. No idea how I was thrown in the mix, but it was a major highlight of the weekend because of the women I met on the panel. We connected quickly and deeply. It helped that we were up in front of a large room pouring out our hearts, our vulnerabilities and our weaknesses. "Hi! Nice to meet you. Let's talk about the ugliest parts of our journey, 'kay?! SO FUN!" Also, I was sitting next to LISA QUALLS, who is someone I admire and respect so very much, who has a very widely read blog (www.onethankfulmom.com), and is pretty well-known in the adoption community. I had never met her before and was pretty excited. It was hilarious for us to share our stories back to back. Jen: "I have three kids, one of them is adopted and it is, like, SO HARD, you guys." Lisa: "I have twelve kids, four of them are adopted, two of them have severe attachment issues, and I homeschool." Ha! But she was the epitome of grace and never makes anyone or their stories feel "less than." We were each asked to share about a specific aspect of our journey, and I shared a little about my struggles with what I call the secret side of attachment--the parents' attachment to the adopted child(ren). I felt like I rambled a bit and didn't mention things I had planned to, and also cried a bit, but that's a real shocker for those who know me. Or have ever sat next to me in worship. Or had a conversation with me. ANYWAY, afterwards I had some great conversations with women who were in the session. One told me "When you started talking, I thought 'Is someone really going to talk about this out loud?' I thought I was the only one." Praise God. It was a confirmation that honesty and vulnerability amongst adoptive parents is so needed.
I wanted to share a little gem that I took away from the conference. The aforementioned very cool Lisa Qualls spoke in a main session about Nehemiah, a man in the Old Testament. Nehemiah had a pretty great job and comfortable life (OK, he was the cup bearer, so his job was great as long as no one decided to poison the king.) But God broke Nehemiah's heart for the long-destroyed city of Jerusalem. He asked Nehemiah to leave his cushy life and go into the rubble and the brokenness of Jerusalem and rebuild it. But get this---God asked him to rebuild a wall that was damaged before Nehemiah's time. If you are not getting the analogy to parenting an adopted or foster child, then you are not paying attention. As Nehemiah led his people in the rebuilding, they came under attack by outside forces who did not want the wall rebuilt. But Nehemiah had been given this task by the Lord, his heart longed for the wall and the city to be rebuilt, and he was not going to give up or surrender. So he took half of his workers and posted them as guards, and the other half were to keep working on the wall. The guards were on the lowest and highest places of the wall, protecting the workers and running interference if they were attacked. They worked together toward the same goal.
Before the weekend, the sweet new friend who put the mom panel together emailed an encouragement to us and how we might minister to the women in our session. She said that she kept getting an image that "we are the watchmen on the tower, just like Nehemiah's men. We are doing spiritual battle for these women as God is helping to restore their ruins and the rubble in their children's lives. We are standing on their walls, battling for and with them. Through our vulnerability and willingness to take off our masks, God will be using our testimony to minister, heal and restore these women." She also mentioned that in Isaiah 58:12, God talks about how "We will become repairer of broken walls, restorer of streets with dwelling......"
I loved that these two women were both drawn to the story of Nehemiah. And I connected deeply with it, because I have been on both work teams. I have been in the midst of the rubble, fumbling my way through with rocks that are way too heavy, being attacked by an Enemy telling me I can't do it and reminding me of the enormous importance of the task at which I was failing. During those times, I've had co-laborers who were not carrying the same heavy weights, but they were interceding for me. They supported me, protected me, looked out for me--they were running interference for me when I was too weak to fight for myself. But even though I don't think my challenges are long gone, I'm definitely resonating more with the watchmen today. I've been to two different adoption retreats in the last month, and met parents who have multiple adopted or foster children. They are in deep with precious lives who are so very broken. And it is heartbreaking, life-sucking, exhausting work. I feel very confident that God is not calling us to add to our family right now, and sometimes I can start to feel a little guilty about that. (Especially when I'm hanging with the "families of 8 or more" crowd.) Is our family's emotional health balancing out so that we can take on a new challenge?
But this passage in Nehemiah reminds me that we can't all be in the trenches at the same time. Those of us who have served a time down there--and heaven knows we will probably be down in them again--have a unique perspective and ability to minister to those still digging through it. When we have reached a less hectic, less dark, less chaotic season, it is our PRIVILEGE to be the watchmen over our beloved co-laborers. I especially feel that way about the amazing women I've met through Called to Love, but also about so many of my mama friends--adoptive and not. Praise God that He knows we cannot all be down in the rubble and ruin at once. Our hearts have been broken for what breaks His, and we strive to rebuild lives that are precious to the Father. May we all become repairers of broken walls, partnering together in the name of the only One who truly can bring beauty from the ashes.