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The Look of Love

Nissa’s column “Let Us Sow Love” appears monthly in The Catholic Free Press. This column appeared on September 1, 2017. 

Corn Poppy | ©Nissa Gadbois, all rights reserved

 

The first time I saw our son and daughter is something I will never forget.  Everyone remembers that day.  The look in your child’s eyes, their sweet heavy warmth in your arms, the smell of their newborn head, the soft perfection of tiny fingers and toes.  You are instantly, deeply in love.

The first time I saw my son and daughter there was a combination of anticipation and fear in their eyes.  They would not be touched nor receive physical affection from me.  They stank of a kind of filth I had never experienced with any of my other children in their dirtiest states.  They were covered in scars and scabs, one of them had hands resembling someone four times his age.  I was instantly, deeply repelled.

Every part of me wanted to turn around and go back to my comfortable life in America.  To my ‘own’ beautiful children.  I wanted to forget about this place halfway around the world and the extreme poverty – material, spiritual, emotional.  I wanted to unsee, unsmell, unfeel.  But God had already marked me indelibly.  These were the ones he sent us to love.  These were the ones he sent us to rescue.  There was no escape.

I left Bulgaria numb.  I felt nothing.  I had no feeling of belonging, no affection.  Just nothing.  I wanted Him to choose someone else for us.  Someone easier to love.  I had no desire to go back.  I was like Jonah in my desire to just walk away.

But we did go back.  And were met with an epic storm for which we were wholly unprepared.  One child violently acting out against me any time we were alone in a room, turning on the charm when others returned.  I begged to be delivered from it.  For ten days my heart pounded and ached, unable to breathe.  For ten days I sobbed bitterly that I couldn’t be what she needed me to be.  We went back and forth about what we should do and ultimately stayed the course.  My husband reminded me that God had brought us this far; and that love wasn’t merely affection.  It was doing the right thing, whatever the cost.

When we arrived home, we watched vigilantly throughout the days and nights in case the storm raged against our other children.  Then the storm began to collapse inward, to consume her, and she completely shut down.  And there she remained, terrified.  Only Jesus can calm that sea.  But she doesn’t know him.  Not yet.  Daily we teach her, suffering the emotional buffets alongside her, trying to shield her from further harm.  Patiently.  Wearily.

While her past with all its conflicts and confusion, all of its pain, assaults her heart and mind, we remain with her.  The backlash cutting into us, tearing at us, our strength ebbing, on our knees.

Love doesn’t always look like moony-faced affection.  Sometimes love looks tired and broken.  Sometimes love looks angry or frustrated.  Love is not just how we feel about someone else, it is, in its highest form, willing the good of another without counting the cost.  It is dying to oneself, letting go of the need for reciprocity.  It sometimes looks – and feels – an awful lot like being stripped naked, arms wide, pierced hand and foot and side, vulnerable, spat on and insulted, thorns pressed deeply into the head, breathless.  And when it feels like that, you’re loving as He loved.

Cooking with Mama

©Nissa Gadbois | All rights reserved

Last week, Geo and I gathered about 5 pounds of crabapples from one of our trees and made some crabapple jam.  I love this time of year.  There is so much to remind us of God’s bounty, so much to be thankful for.   How blessed we are to be able to feed ourselves from our own land, from foods that grow wild all around us.

Besides food, we are surrounded by medicines.  The youngest five went down with a cold virus just three days after their older brother had surgery to repair a shattered knee.  I was able to make a strong medicinal tea from elderberries we harvested from around the barn.  I’m happy to say that they are all feeling better.

William, our 16 year old, is recovering beautifully from his surgery, too.  Thanks be to God.

And that crabapple jam?  It was delicious spread on our homemade sourdough bread. 

 

Crabapple Jam
A gorgeous, rich spread for toast or biscuits.
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Ingredients
  1. 5 lb fresh organic crabapples
  2. 1 1/2 c. water
  3. 1/2 c. apple cider vinegar (with mother)
  4. 1 1/2 c. raw honey, agave nectar, or organic sugar
Instructions
  1. Place fruit, water, and vinegar in a large heavy-bottomed pot over medium high heat and bring to the boil. Reduce heat to medium and cook fruit until they burst, about 20 minutes. Run fruit through a food mill or sieve. Push pulp through the sieve and discard skins and seeds. Place pulp back into the pot and add honey. Heat gently until honey is completely dissolved and incorporated.
  2. Using a jelly funnel, fill clean, hot jelly jars, leaving 1/2 inch of head space. Process in a hot water bath for 10-15 minutes. Remove and cool.
Notes
  1. This recipe results in a very thick jam. If you were to add mulling spices, you would have a beautiful crabapple butter. The flavour is astringent. Consider serving with butter or cream cheese, or on a piece of shortbread. It would also be lovely served alongside a beautifully roasted pork loin.
At Home With the Gadbois Family http://gadboisfamily.com/
Crabapples ©Nissa Gadbois

To the First Mother of My Children, My Sister

©Nissa Gadbois

 

I don’t know why God chose me to carry your cross.  But I carry it willingly however heavy it is.  Some days it brings me to my knees.  But God has provided abundant graces and many helpers for those times. At those times we all carry your cross together.

You are never far from my mind, my sister.  Every day, I look into their deep brown eyes and wonder if those eyes came from you.  I wonder if your eyes show the same sadness and fear, if they’ve ever shown the same warmth of love that our son’s show when he looks at me.

He’s a miracle, you know.  He has come through God-only-knows-what and still he loves.  Still, he trusts.  He’s one of the bravest people I have ever met.  When he looks at me and says “I love you, Mama” I am shaken to my very core because I know that it has cost him everything to tell me so.  It should have been yours to hear.  And I treasure it all the more because of that. He’s so smart.  He works so hard in spite of the struggles he has.  He tries new things even though the starting terrifies him.  He drinks in every new experience like a much younger child. But he is also maturing into an amazing young man, a sweet and caring older brother to his new brothers and sisters.  He is tender and patient and kind.  He talks to me about growing up to help people, to rescue other kids like him.  I mourn for your loss, my sister.  You’re missing this.

Your daughter – our daughter – is buried deep inside herself.  She lives in a constant state of terror.  She’s safe here but she doesn’t understand that.  Her wounds will take a long, long time to heal.  And until they do, she can’t move forward.  She can’t learn, or mature, or love.  Not truly.  She doesn’t know that family is a safe place, that adults are trustworthy.  She doesn’t know that the world is a place full of love and joy.  Because of this, she may never be able to fall in love –with a worthy man, with God, with herself.  She may never experience for herself the love that mothers have for their children, that fierce, primal love.  You couldn’t have known what would happen to her.  I pray you didn’t know.  Or maybe the same thing happened to you and you couldn’t give these two children what they needed.  And if that is the case then I am so sorry for what happened to you.  I am so very sorry.  I wish someone had been there to rescue you, too.  Thank God someone rescued her.  By the grace of God, she will triumph.

I will carry this cross, your cross, now my cross.  I will care for the children you could not care for.  I will heal their bodies, and work to heal their broken spirits.  I will do this for you and for them.  I am blessed to be entrusted with this ministry.

These children link us together, you and me, dear sister.  We have never seen each other’s faces, never spoken a word to each other, never taken each other by the hand, but we are so very close. I wish you love.  I wish you all that is good. 

One day, when we have both finally laid down our crosses, I pray, we all will meet in Heaven.  On that day, I will embrace you, my sister, and I will introduce you to my children, your children, OUR children.  His children.  And we will see the fulfillment of His plan for all of us and how He has brought all things to good. 

 

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Life With Boys

A few weeks ago, during all of the end-of-Advent bustle, I caught this guy taking some time to stop and smell the lemon button fern.

©Nissa Gadbois

©Nissa Gadbois

Mama’s Helper

I love having little helpers in the kitchen.  For our family, food is love.  And teaching them how to prepare food is one way of teaching them to love others.  My older kids all have an appreciation for home-cooked meals, homemade breads and treats.  I feel very proud to be instilling this in them because I know they will share the gift with others for as long as they live – whether it is as a chef, or as a happy host at home.

©Nissa Gadbois

Here’s Georgie helping to knead the saffron dough for lussekatter on the afternoon before St. Lucia’s Day.

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