My Adoption Truths

Adoption is a way of life for me….I have just figured this out. Rescuing plants from Lowe’s that are headed to the perennial grave, animals who are a bit on the unlovable side, older children, elderly orphans, villages in Haiti and “stuff” no one else wants.  My heart gravitates toward all of them and I have no idea why. We are not “cat people” or “dog people” for that matter, although we seem to be accumulating more and more of them and do love them. What we are is “adoption people.”   It is not a self-righteous, martyred quality (I hope)…it is just in me because God put it there. Sometimes I try to ignore it but He always draw me back.

Several weeks ago, my friend, Kim, saw this Facebook post.

IMG_3539  IMG_3541

 

 

IMG_3540

She knew she could not keep him long term because she was preparing to move and had several cats already, but she adopted him, kept him a few weeks so he could adjust, and started to look for a forever family. As soon as I saw the post, my heart wanted him. Really wanted him. I was drawn to his eyes that seemed to be saying, “I need a place to belong.”

Kim had made amazing progress with him at her house and I had no real cat skills to draw from but I knew I could  love him. We set up a time for her to bring him over. He did great until she left. Immediately, he went into hiding and stayed there, without eating or drinking for several days. As I crawled around on the floor for many hours, I was sad for Ollie and for my home’s layers of dust and crumbs. No judging.

 

 

 

IMG_3535

 

While he hid hour after hour, I immediately went into rescue mode, brokenhearted with what I saw in his eyes- fear, insecurity, and hurt. I could hear him saying…..

*Are you safe?

*Will you love me?

*When will you give me away?

So I went out to buy anything and everything that would fix him and make him happy…..treats, wet food, toys- things I don’t buy my other pets unless there is a REALLY good BOGO and coupon. I was going to have him blended into the Ellis family in no time. In the meantime, I was acting a little freaky and those around me were starting to notice. Why was I so upset over this cat?? I mean cats are a part of the family but I was taking it a bit too far. Then it hit me- I was reliving the entire adoption process of our son, moment by moment. Our son was 13 years old and had been in a children’s home for 7 years when we adopted him. Everyday his eyes asked the same questions:

*Are you safe?

*Will you love me?

*When will you give me away?

About a week after we got our new cat, Ollie (named after Oliver Twist) I went out of town for a few days. Day two I get a text from my husband that they cannot find Ollie. What? How did we lose the cat?? He was nowhere to be found. Kim came over and scoured the house, finding him in a cabinet that had been shut accidentally.

IMG_3538

Guilt set in. We were not good cat parents- we lost him and shut him in a cabinet. Good grief. I had not controlled all things possible to give him a good beginning with us….the same way I could not keep our son from feeling hurt at his new school or by his new brothers. It was my job to be the protector and both times I was falling into exhaustion from trying to give them the best of us. Failure.

We have another cat named Brady who has been smothered with love since birth. Because of the nurture given to him, he is the most peaceful cat ever.  I longed to see Ollie be this content! I decided all I could do was wait and see. In the same way, I wanted our adopted son to feel as secure as my birth children. Again, I had to wait and see.

DSC_1098 DSC_1102DSC_1111BRADY

After I returned from my trip, Ollie started to hide in our bedroom and each night we would pull him out of the closet and practice what I called “attachment therapy.” My husband and I would hold him, pet him, scratch his belly and try to show him that we were safe. It started out lasting about 30 seconds before he darted off. After a week, it was about 3 minutes.  Each day got a little bit longer. Our son let us in a little more every day too. He started to call us Mom and Dad after a few months, changed his first name solely because he wanted to have a “new start”, and wanted my nephew’s name for his middle name. Letting us in a little bit at a time. The hardest part was waiting. Not pushing. Letting the heart feel loved and connected and knowing I could not make it happen.

IMG_3343 IMG_3347 IMG_3348 IMG_3355 IMG_3537 IMG_3402

 

 

 

I have learned a lot from my son and my cat. A lot of behavior comes from past hurts. I am one to take everything personally but adoption has helped me not focus on how I feel but how it must be terrifying to be in a new place with strange faces and rules we can’t follow because we don’t even know what rules are. Ollie has a clipped ear which I assumed meant he was in a cat fight. What do I know?

DSC_1592

It actually means he was feral and they took him in, neutered him, and put him back on the streets. The clipped ear is a way to identify that he had been fixed. His ear was indicative of the life he had lived before he was turned in to the shelter the final time…. just surviving. Survival is a way of life for anyone who does not have a place to call home. Insecurities are rampant and questions are never ending- will I ever be loved as a part of a family? Will someone come get me or do I stay here on the market until something bad happens? I don’t know for sure but I think this is what it feels like to not be wanted and I think that would be horrible. Look in the eyes of someone without a family and I think you will see the emptiness that I have seen. If you dare to look, your heart will break and hopefully it will lead to compassion.

In the past few days, Ollie has decided that we are HIS family. He jumps on the bed, purrs incessantly and loves his belly rubbed as long as you will sit there with him. Today he sat and let me take his picture. It was a victory day for me. Maybe not a big one for Ollie but today I felt his love. The same with my son….as he has gone off to the Army and  found his way in this world, he has looked back and told us he loves and appreciates us. Blessings abound.

The process is grueling but the payoff is priceless. I am a proud momma of a once-feral cat and a once-orphaned boy and my heart overflows with pride for who they have become and what they are yet to do.DSC_1616

DSC_1560

 

DSC_1609 DSC_1583

For the Love of Baseball

DSC_0230

Growing up, I knew nothing about baseball. I was an athlete but a ball, bat, and glove were not in my bag. My husband, who had tried most sports as a child and teen, never learned “two out rally” and “drop third strike.” Then when our third child was 11 years old, his best friend’s father had pancreatic cancer and our son wanted to play baseball  to spend more time with his friend and his dad. So that is where baseball became an Ellis tradition.  We spent a year sitting alongside the most humble, loving gentleman (who had been a great ball player himself) as we watched our sons play baseball- his son had played for years and our son was just starting. One season our boys were on different teams and Bobby would walk across the complex to see our son bat, adorned with a chemo bag after a long day of treatment. He showed my son integrity, sportsmanship, and commitment to a sport our son was slowly falling in love with. Suddenly we found ourselves at Tigers’ spring training games and I was trying to desperately to keep up with the rules, while Bobby coached me from the sidelines so I could say something that made sense to my boys after the game…..like “good pick on second.” By the end of that year, Bobby passed away and and left us with memories that were both precious and difficult. Baseball was never the same to us but our son kept playing and our youngest son began to play.

0567091583007

0549150337007-20547788229007

Every season we have prayed that our boys would be on teams that were sportsmanlike and showed integrity. We never asked God for a winning team…..just one that would teach them the life lessons they needed to learn. We knew our children were not destined for the MLB and we never wanted them to feel any pressure to play in high school or college because we knew that their decisions were theirs alone. Playing to please us was never going to be a part of their journey. We had our childhoods to play sports and now it was their turn. They could choose sports, music, etc. but they had to choose academics first because that is what would matter in the end.

So after 4 years and 12 seasons total for both boys combined (my third oldest son has since stopped playing baseball), I reflect back on what I have learned through this sport.  I cannot pitch a ball or catch a pop fly but I have watched from the sides for many games and it has taught me a lot about life.

 

DSC_0232DSC_0233

I have seen behavior from coaches and parents that I wish to forget. Yelling, tantrums, disrespect to umpires, and pure childlike behavior that I would never tolerate from my children, yet they have been exposed to it on the field from people who they should see as examples and authority figures. My heart grieves for these parents and their children because  it is clearly a symptom of a bigger problem.

When our worlds become so small that Little League baseball begins to define us, we have big issues. BIG.

It is a game.

They are children.

They were not born for us to live through them nor are they here to make us look good.

They are on earth to fulfill what God has for them. I have been at games where my children shine and have been at ones where they failed to play well.  I loved them the same on both days because sports do not define them. It is just a hobby and one they enjoy. The day they stop loving it will be the very last day they swing a bat or wear a glove. It is just that simple. We expect our children to give their best whatever they are doing, but that does not always mean great pitching, hitting, and catching. We are okay with that.  Life is bigger than a baseball and tomorrow is a new day.

I have the greatest respect for parents and coaches who are getting it right…..encouraging the player who strikes out every time at bat, apologizing to the player who he sent and gets out at third,  and is also honest when the team needs to improve- and all done with the kids knowing that their coach is FOR THEM noDSC_0224 matter what. I don’t want a coach that allows laziness and sloppy baseball, but I do want a coach who acts like an adult and who leads children by example of character and integrity. I thank God that this season we have been blessed with a coach of outstanding morality and loving kindness. He taught my son the value of honesty and respect. We need people like that around our children…..ones who embody Christlikeness and  basic human dignity.

 

So where does this leave me and my family? Thankful for umpires on the field doing the very best they can, league officials who sacrifice their time to come to games and monitor them so that there is back up for parents and coaches who are not getting it right, and coaches who want their teams to see baseball as part of a bigger picture of life- one that will shape them and make them men of their generation by learning to win well, lose well, and be an integral part of a team.

It also leaves me with a heart that hurts for those who have lost themselves and sold their souls to a bat, glove, and a ball. Life is so much bigger, richer, and more precious than anything we do as recreation.DSC_0221Nothing is more important than community and relationships and acting foolish destroys all of that. At the end of our lives, we will want to have loved people well, not wish we had won more baseball games.

I am a proud mom of a boy who spends waking hours perfecting his curve ball and hitting my wiffle ball pitches that are less than stellar. I am a proud mom of a team that lost their game well last night with all the sportsmanship that I could have asked for.

DSC_0237_2

DSC_0223_2

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Baseball is the all- American sport…..do you think we can get back to the game it was created to be? In the end, we would drive away from the fields knowing we had lived well and loved others. If that became the way of life, our kids would flourish and community would be built on the field and on the sidelines.

 

DSC_0226

Recklessly Redeeming Love

photo (4)

The book Redeeming Love has been peeking out at me from my bookshelf for about a month. I have no idea why because there are layers of books on that small shelf and honestly, books cover every surface in our bedroom.  Why that one? I ignored it until this morning and then after a big cup of java, I reluctantly picked it up. Why my hesitation?  Just one of those times when comfort was more valuable to me than wisdom that stretches me. Please  tell me I am not the only one who struggles here?!?!!  The plot of the book mirrors the biblical story of Hosea and Gomer- a story about a dedicated and selfless kind of love.

In the book,  the character who represents the biblical Gomer is Angel, who was “sold into prostitution as a child and survives by keeping her hatred alive…then she meets Michael Hosea….a man who seeks God in everything. Slowly, day by day, he defies Angel’s every bitter expectation, until despite her resistance, her frozen heart begins to thaw.”

This is the part of the story where it sounds like the neat, clean, predictable plot where Angel turns from her wild ways and embraces monogamy and godly living. Unfortunately, that is not the story.  It goes on, “But with her unexpected softening comes overwhelming feelings of unworthiness and fear. And so Angel runs. Back to the darkness…..” Big bummer. Not what I was hoping for!

In the book of Hosea in the Bible, Hosea, a godly man, is called by God to marry a prostitute, Gomer. They have children and eventually Gomer leaves him to pursue a reckless life of promiscuity.

Hosea 3:1 says, “Then God ordered me, “Start all over: Love your wife again,
    your wife who’s in bed with her latest boyfriend, your
        cheating wife.
Love her the way I, God, love the Israelite people,
    even as they flirt and party with every god that takes their fancy.”

Hosea then obeys God’s call to bring Gomer back home and tend to her needs with loving forgiveness. At this part of the story….my mind says, “HOLD UP! Bring her back? Huh? Ain’t nobody have time or energy for all that!” OK, so there is a peek into my crazy head.  Sorry you had to witness it. I know God spoke to Hosea but GEEZ!

Hosea is obedient even when it seems like an unfathomable assignment. I am sure he did not have a crowd around him, encouraging him to marry a prostitute and then go find her and bring her back home when she strays. I bet there were times when he felt alone and confused.

Here is what I have learned through this story. Obeying God is really hard sometimes. Loving the broken. Entering into the lives of others…….HARD. Sometimes what we are called to do sounds absurd to everyone else and we second guess what we are doing and look for a way out. I can imagine that Hosea felt like that- looking for any kind of a loophole to get out of marrying a prostitute…..but he did not let his feelings lead him. He just follows through on what he knows he is supposed to do. We ask ourselves, “How could THAT honor God?” Hosea does not know the big picture at the time but He still walks it out with grace and obedience.

I have friends who love amazingly well. They are the ones reaching out to the lost and the broken Gomers and the Gomers often run when people get too close. Why?  Because the change is too much. Pursuing God is too intimate and they feel their issues make them unworthy of God’s love. Hearts  are broken like Hosea’s was when Gomer left. I think about Hosea taking on the responsibility of raising the children while Gomer is gone and wondering what in the world he has done. Second guessing. Regret. Questioning. Maybe Hosea did none of these but I would have. I do it in my own life.

When loving people does not turn out the way I think it should, I start asking myself  these questions….1. Did I miss God on this one?  2. Why did I waste all that time on someone who did not appreciate it? 3. Why do I do this? I need to focus on ME more- others don’t appreciate my sacrifice.

BUT…..then the book of Hosea slaps me in the face and I stop and see that love has no bounds. I have never been asked to do something as hard as what God called Hosea to do. He was completely abandoned by Gomer and never stopped loving. Forgiving. Sacrificing.

Do you have someone who has walked away from you, God, and others and left casualties of hurt along the way? Or are you the one who has fled because letting God and others close is too scary and leaves you feeling vulnerable?

To the Hoseas…..keep fighting for what is good and right and holy. Stay in the trenches, even when you want to give up. Love recklessly without holding back. You are going to be hurt and misunderstood. Keep fighting.  We can cry together when it gets to be too much and rejoice when the prodigal comes home.

To the Gomers……we know it is hard. It hurts. Living life the way you know it is familiar and comfortable. No judgement here. God loves without holding back and you are HIS. When you want to come back, we are here for you. No questions asked. We are not perfect in the way we tried to love you. In fact, we probably fell way short of how we wanted to show Jesus to you…..but we were doing the best we knew how. God’s love is bigger than ours ever will be. Don’t disregard him because the way we love is imperfect. Come home to the Father. He is crazy about you.

 

The Messiness of Life

 

IMG_0947 - Copy

What do you do when life feels out of control and chaotic? When there are circumstances you cannot change and relationships you cannot fix? I clean my house and blame my family for everything. When I feel unglued, I try to control my circumstances so I tell everyone what they SHOULD be doing (usually irrational words follow) and I start scrubbing, mopping, and dusting like a maniac.  I am usually not a yeller or a neat freak, except when I feel I am losing control.  What is your “go to” behavior in those times?

Danielle Strickland spoke last week at a conference I attended and said, “We resist chaos and messiness in life and miss when God wants to come near.”  As we react out of our own coping mechanisms to make the chaos go away in our minds, we miss God completely. He becomes yet another entity we cannot control so we run the other way. Can anyone relate?  Danielle continued by saying, “The Spirit of God hovers over the chaos.” Ouch. It hurts because I know He does but in the moment I am too stubborn to stop, rest, and sit in the place of dependence on Him. I really, really want to but it is too hard- I want to deal with it myself…..and it never works.

This past week I have had some really difficult circumstances in relationships and I began to unravel, like a spool of yarn rolling across the floor. I found myself spiraling into self-doubt, self-loathing, and utter despair.  Ways I had related to others had been twisted and manipulated to the point where it was very hurtful. I wanted to defend myself but knew it would not help. I wanted to seek revenge but knew it was not right. I wanted to blackmail but knew it was repaying evil for evil. My mind was consumed with these thoughts and they were taking residence in my head every moment.

Then I was talking to my sweet friend on the phone and I said the words, “I must be willing to be misunderstood.” She replied, “YES!” God began to use my own words to get my attention. I wanted to be right and I wanted peace at any cost and I was not going to stop until it came, but because God is good He continued to bring me back to “I must be willing to be misunderstood.”  That is so hard! Fear, insecurity, and anxiety desperately want to creep in and I feel like sometimes I am strong enough to resist them and other times I let them invade and take hold.

I certainly did not react this time the way I had hoped I would….but I do know this- God grew me and hopefully next time there will be less manic cleaning and not so much yelling. We are all a mess and God wants to take the brokenness and restore and change us. But we must be willing to face our hard stuff head on and sit in the uncomfortable places and seek Him first. Not seek approval, acceptance, and order- but get on our knees and let Him be God. The good and holy God. No matter what. I am not there but I am on the path. I hope you are too.

Will you pray for me? I would love to pray for you as well. We need each others to point us to Jesus sometimes. When we are wallowing in self-pity or falling into the pit of despair, we need those people who are willing to go to those dark places with us and find Jesus- when we cannot seem to get there on our own.

Take heart, my friends…..God is still at work in us. He will continue to redeem and restore if we allow Him in to the messiness of our lives.  He wants to bring His order into our chaos if we will only let Him.