“My Wrinkled Shirt”
An honest personal reflection of parenting in hard places.
I am getting ready for the day and pull my favorite well worn and wrinkled shirt out of the closet. Instead of putting it on as usual, I set it aside so that the iron that is warming up nearby may do it’s work. Now, the wrinkly shirt is able to be laid down and examined, I can see exactly where the wrinkles lie. For so long the wrinkly messed up shirt was worn day and night because there was no time left to iron it out or to change into more fitting attire. It wasn’t that I wanted to wear a wrinkled shirt or that I was ignorant of the wrinkles. I wasn’t ignorant even my disheveled appearance; but it really was the only thing I had time or energy to wear. So day in and day out, on went the wrinkled shirt.
As I think about this past year, there is so much that comes to mind…I feel so thankful to come to a place where there is the possibility and the potential for rest and for forward motion to occur in my life. Even so, there is still a little bit of hesitation and definitely even confusion and uncertainty at times.
Even admitting this brings tears of guilt and shame. I have always been pretty self-confident so this is a newer and uncomfortable feeling. We knew from the moment we first met our kiddos 5 years ago that we were meant to be a family. We felt so torn when that was taken from us. Children we had grown to love were reunited with their family. That’s the way foster care is supposed to work, right? It was truly a mix of emotions, feeling proud and hopeful for them, yet also feeling each of their absences as a great loss. We didn’t realize the turmoil and challenges our loves would have to go through as well as what we would experience with them get to the point of being a family again.
I praise God that I have not experienced the depths of depression or anxiety, but over this past year I have realized my own weaknesses and struggles. I am coming to terms that my body and my mind have been affected and shaped in many ways by the experience of caring for foster kiddos over that past 6 years. My heart races still, in certain situations. I find it much more difficult to focus on tasks and to sit still enough to read. I find myself struggling with unstructured time. This never used to be a problem for me. Occasionally someone will be talking to me and I find my mind completely elsewhere. I hate this as I have always been a good listener and someone that wants to be present for people. Sometimes it is difficult to sit quietly to pray. Not that my faith has wavered, it hasn’t. I still pray and talk to my Savior throughout the day, finding it easiest in unexpected moments or when I am outside in nature going for a run. But those quiet moments, which I crave and which I am blessed now to have on occasion, are a challenge. Even now as I sit, my thoughts are racing and it is a little difficult to attend to each one as they slip by.
It is stressful living with those that carry the stress and burden of their traumatic experiences. Let me repeat that. It is a great challenge to live with children that have been affected by trauma. It has affected me. And that’s OK. It is OK. I am healing and growing. I am learning and yet I still struggle at times. When children or others around me are feeling out of control, my body does as well. Even though I am safe, my body feels threatened and my heart/mind insecure as I struggle to know how to respond and help my children find peace and calm in their raging minds and bodies. I too am searching for that same calm. Do I struggle with connecting with them at times, especially in the heightened state of anxiety/anger? Yes I do. But I am here. I am their mom (even if the adoption isn’t final quite yet). And I will be here tomorrow. And the next day. And the next… Yet sometimes presence and commitment seems to fall short doesn’t it? We bring what we have, until the Lord gives us more, equips us more.
Am I always calm?…no. Do I worry about my children and the choices they make?…how their behavior will affect their future, their ability to make friends, succeed in school? …yes, too much…I wonder if they are they too damaged by the chaos life has handed them and the wounds inflicted by others. Perhaps some wounds unintentionally done by myself as I failed to respond adequately out of ignorance, fear or lack of preparation to their deep needs and hurts. I have these fears, yet I know the One who heals. I know the One who has healed and is still working on me. So while I know that there is definitely so much hope, still I worry.
So here I am… looking at my wrinkled shirt, pulling out the iron, asking the Lord where to start first. Where should the heat of the iron first lay down and press out the creases of this wrinkly mess of a shirt?
Should it first go to the sleeves that are wrinkled from dwelling in fear. Fear of the future. Fear I will never be enough for them. Of course I am not enough; only God Immanuel will ever be enough. I fear they may never heal. The fear is real that I will never feel like myself again. Fear of the judgments of others prevents me from engaging in the community at times or evokes a false confidence. It is unfair really to place the burden of this on my children. It is not their fault if others judge me as a parent because of their behavior. If only they knew….if only everyone looking on took a minute to think that their story may be a little more complicated; that maybe their behavior isn’t because they are spoiled or mean or have been parented poorly. Some will say they “just need a good spanking”. Really, I am the worst judge of all, second guessing and punishing myself for my own imperfect responses or lack of patience. Lord, let the warmth of your love slowly unfold these wrinkles of fear.
Then I notice some strange wrinkles along the sides, When I see these wrinkles negative thoughts flood my mind. Why isn’t everything more clear-cut God? Why can I not be more patient? I used to be so patient-what happened? Is this really supposed to be this difficult? Maybe we should have said no, then life would be so easy (or would it?) But…it was meant to be. It is hard…but it is good. It is so good. I am afraid it won’t some days…but I also know it will get better. Oh God, though it may take many repetitions, I need you to smooth away these ridges of guilt and shame. It is not my obligation nor your desire for me to carry this burden any longer. You have wiped away my guilt and shame. I am certainly far from perfect (after all a perfect person doesn’t wear the same wrinkled shirt day after day).
Some of the last places to be ironed out are the corners that are a little tattered and stubbornly set with wrinkles of anger. There is anger at the injustice to children, to those that have done them harm or hurt them in some way. Anger at the unfairness of life and how the decisions of others has affected and will continue to affect their biology for the rest of their lives. Anger and questioning why we had to be separated 4 years ago…that things may look differently if that wasn’t the case. Anger mostly though, at myself, for not being more patient, understanding, compassionate. For feeling empty when I should have more to give. Lord as you iron out the places of anger, may these strong emotions not cripple or get int the way of the good things you have in store. May the heat of the iron, pressing down bring motivation and even greater compassion for what is good and right. Let the anger at self and others be transformed into a healthy and practical drive to help, assist and to be an agent of change and reconciliation.
When I gently turn over the warm shirt to examine the bag I see some unexpected wrinkles there. I see that my need to control my world made its way onto this shirt in the form of some deeply set crevices. I see in myself a need to have control. So what do I do? I try to control the behavior of my children. Is this what they really need? Someone controlling them? What do we do when we feel someone is controlling us? We fight back, so this battle etched in my mind is being played out and the results are fractured relationships. This is connected to fear, but there seems to also be something deeper here. A need for control and a fear of losing it tightly bound together. Where to go from here? Lord, please take control. I don’t really want the iron to sink all the way down onto this place on my shirt, for that means letting go, relinquishing control, letting go of the ugly but familiar wrinkles. But when has God ever failed me before? His promises have not changed.
While the iron is pressing down, firmly but gently smoothing the edges and wrinkles out of the rest of the shirt, I wonder how long it will take to finish. I wonder how long the shirt will stay pressed and looking neat before it needs to be heated and pressed again. I also wonder why I didn’t buy a wrinkle free shirt. 🙂 The last time I have picked up an iron (covering eyes in embarrassment) was 10 years ago. I may not iron my clothes, but I think it’s time to let the Lord get to work on me.
“Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.” (NIV)
Hebrews 10:22 & 23
“…let us draw near to God with a sincere heart and with the full assurance that faith brings, having our hearts sprinkled to cleanse us from a guilty conscience and having our bodies washed with pure water. Let us hold unswervingly to the hope we profess, for he who promised is faithful.” (NIV)
1 John 4:18
“There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment. The one who fears is not made perfect in love”. (NIV)