Adoption

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.

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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Homily Fourth Sunday in Ordinary Time

Image result for bulgaria city buildings

Sofia, Bulgaria (shutterstock.com)

As you may or may not know, Nissa and I adopted two children from Bulgaria about a year ago.  As part of the adoption process, we visited with the children in Bulgaria two different times.  The first was in a very small village in the far distant region of the country.  And the second was in the capital city Sofia.  We got an opportunity to see much of the country.

Bulgaria is a former republic of the Soviet Union, who recently became an independent nation.  No matter where we were, the country looked like pictures you’ve probably seen, all the buildings are the same color, the same architecture.  Almost all are what we would consider run down, walls cracked, plaster and paint falling off.  Inside, they were not any better.  Even the national museums were obviously in disrepair.  The roads were terrible, torn up and patched together.

By our standards, Bulgaria is a third world country.  The thing that really stood out was within that environment of poverty, everyone was wearing designer clothes, everyone sported their own smart phone, everyone drove expensive cars. 

And there we were, traveling 5000 miles to rescue two children abandoned in an orphanage, minimally cared for, while everyone around them was more concerned with pretending to be wealthy than loving their neighbor.

Everyone was focused on the wrong thing.

And that is exactly what today’s Scripture readings are trying to save us from.  We must stop and reflect on what God is telling us!

The first reading is from the Prophet Zephaniah telling us how to follow the Lord:  do no wrong and tell no lies!  What a wonderful world this would be if everyone lived that way! 

Even when we fail, we need to keep striving to live that way.  The challenge of course is that our present world no longer knows what is good and what is wrong.  The world does not know truth from lies. 

We are surrounded on every side with values that are so different from the values given to us by Jesus that we can become confused.  Far too often, whatever the present cultures wants to call good is accepted as good and whatever it wants to call bad is accepted as bad. 

Yet, we who follow the Lord Jesus, have the Word of God to form us and to guide us into all truth.

The second reading is from a Letter from St Paul to the Corinthians.  This letter reminds us that if we actually do choose to follow the Word of God and to follow Jesus as our Savior, we will be considered fools.  And this is still true for us today. 

But we are told in this reading:  “God chose the foolish of the world to shame the wise.”  It is our foolishness in following Jesus that can actually bring light to the world and perhaps even draw the world back to God. 

The early Christians knew that to live in Christ was to fight against the values of their world.  The early Christians even knew that they might have to die to proclaim the truth given to us in Christ Jesus.

Today, we like to be comfortable and to be well off.  There is nothing wrong with that by itself, but when we are willing to water down the Word of God in order to maintain a comfortable life style, then we must recognize that we are betraying Jesus as our Lord. 

We must be able to stand up for the truth of the teachings of Scripture and of our Catholic Church.  When we find ourselves compromising because we don’t want to bother others, then we are guilty of passing on the lies of our current culture.

Today’s Gospel reading gives us what is called the Beatitudes.  These are the all important teachings of Jesus that tell us how to follow the Lord:  poor in spirit, mourning, meek, hungering and thirsting for righteousness, merciful, clean of heart, peacemakers, persecuted for the sake of righteousness, insulted for Christ, persecuted for Christ, and evil spoken about us because of Christ.  This is a pretty strong list of characteristics for us!

The implication today is that we must give our whole being to God.  We must follow Jesus with all of our strength.  When we fail, we must get up and start again.  Compromising with anything less than Jesus simply means following the world and its values and not following our Lord.

Today we are invited us to renew our commitment to the follow the Lord.  We should walk in His ways and accept all the suffering that may bring us.  That way we can walk in His kingdom but now and forever.

Some content from Homily by Abbott Philip OSB

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Happiness

Happiness is not a matter of intensity but of balance, order, rhythm and harmony. – Thomas Merton

©Nissa GadboisA maple wood bowl filled with sweet fern and acorns.
 
 

I used to believe that happiness was a matter of intensity.  I craved stimulation of all the senses, all the time.  I needed to feel life in order to be sure I was alive.

Over the last year, I’ve had more stimulation of the senses than I could ever have dreamed.  We all have.  That constant onslaught makes you tender and sore.  It makes you crave quietude.  And it often makes happiness feel elusive.  We forgot how to be happy in the storm that is trauma.  Trauma is evil.  Trauma steals all good things.  It is hell.

And then Brian and I had a talk at a restaurant dinner table recently… 

We were working through strategies for bringing back an abundance of peace and joy, hope and love into our home.  I think we both started out thinking that we had to plan an elaborate distraction – a weekend away in a totally new environment with new adventures.  But in the end, it was the small things that we decided would make the most difference – order and rhythm would restore balance and harmony. 

The gentle, orderly rhythm that is provided by our prayer life and homeschool studies, the flow of the liturgical seasons, the joy of marking holidays and holy days with simple, joyful celebrations.  That is what heals the soul, what brings happiness back to the hearth, what dispels darkness.

Pieces of Our Hearts

Today is one year.  One year since we walked into that orphanage in a tiny Bulgarian village and our world changed forever.

For many families, the day that they arrive at the orphanage (or foster home) to pick up their child(ren) is a happy day to be celebrated every year.  But when you adopt an older child – a much older child – it’s a day that is bittersweet to commemorate.  It is the day on which they are rescued.  It is the beginning of a new life, a second chance.  It is a full ride to the School of Love.

But it costs them everything. 

It is the day on which they’ve lost all that they know.  Everything.  It is devastating.  They have lost their language and culture, they’ve lost all of their friends, they’ve lost familiar surroundings, and any adult they had come to trust.  They’ve lost the possibility of being reunited with their birth family.  No matter what we are to our children, how much we love them, how hard we try to keep language and culture alive, we are not replacements for those people and things they’ve lost.  They are being saved from a life they (please, God) will never truly understand.  But they won’t know that until they are grown, until they are themselves parents.  Perhaps they will never fully appreciate what they have lost and gained.

It takes a great measure of bravery for these kids to keep their heads up and move on into a new life about which they know nothing.  It takes enormous strength to leave behind little pieces of their hearts and give the rest to someone new.  Some kids, particularly much older ones, can never give the rest of their hearts to their new families.  They cling desperately to the remains.  They don’t know that this act of preservation isn’t saving them at all.  They slowly die inside.  Only they can choose whether to love or not.  Some never choose love.
 ©Nissa Gadbois

©Nissa Gadbois

And us? 
We left pieces of our hearts behind in Bulgaria, too.  One child in particular became very special to us throughout the process of adopting Nick and Olivia.  We left the orphanage that day knowing that we might never meet again this side of Heaven.  And we loved each other well.  We smiled and we laughed, we hugged and we kissed.  We held hands.  And we wept.  We sobbed as we tore pieces of our hearts off and handed them to each other.  And it remains one of the most enduring and precious memories I have. 

©Nissa Gadbois
This day is a day to be treasured always for so many reasons. 

For the work that God has done through us.
For the children we rescued.
For the love they’ve brought into our lives.
For their resilience, and their bravery.
For the strength we have gained through the difficulties.
For the wisdom and courage to follow our hearts.
For the desire to keep on helping those left behind.
For a daughter who is ever present in our hearts, if not in our arms.

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