Two weeks ago, I attended a retreat for adoptive moms in Atlanta, Georgia. Erica and I drove down together and made a long weekend of it, and it was an incredibly uplifting, encouraging time for me. It felt wonderful just to "get away" from it all for a few days: I wasn't running frantically around notarizing documents, or filling out paperwork, or scheduling calls with pediatricians, or booking airline tickets to Ethiopia, or packing donations, or doing school. Instead, I got to enjoy some much-needed time away with my little sis, relax alongside a beautiful lake, commune with 450 other Christian adoptive mamas who understand my heart, and just breathe deeply in God's presence. He met me there in a huge, healing way, and I felt my spirit soaking Him in like parched ground soaks in the rain.
My heart was heavy as we left for Atlanta on Thursday. Our little S's birthmom (A) had her court-date on the following day, March 23rd. Ethiopia is 7 hours ahead of us, so I knew that by the time we woke up on Friday morning, she would probably have finished her appointment, finalizing her part in the relinquishment of her son. She would have gone to Hannah's Hope to visit her precious boy, spend some time with him, and try to find some way to say good-bye. I just ached for her. When our case-manager called Friday afternoon to let me know that everything had gone well in court, I once again felt that bittersweet mix of relief and sorrow. Adoption is a beautiful thing, and it is a reflection of God's redemptive love for us, but it only exists because of the great brokenness of this world. Situations can only be "redeemed" if there has been great pain and tragedy first. The only reason that I get to rejoice over another son is that the woman who loved him first had to make the impossible choice to trust strangers from another continent with his future or watch him starve to death.
What amazes me about my Father is that He KNEW the timing of this retreat would be perfect. We had signed up months before, having no idea that we would have our referral by the time I journeyed south. We didn't know that the first day of the conference would coincide with A's court date, but God knew it all. He knew the pain that I would be feeling, and He knew exactly how I could be restored. Through His love to me throughout the entire weekend, He encouraged me that He also knows A. He knows exactly where she is, what she is feeling, and how to reach her. He loves her, He loves me, He loves our mutual son...so much more than we ever could, and I can rest in that love, knowing that He will handle the hard parts for all of us.
So, now that you know my frame of reference heading into the weekend, I'll share a bit more about the retreat itself! It was held at the beautiful Legacy Lodge on Lake Lanier, and the setting was truly lovely.
On Friday evening, once we had registered, we had the opportunity to sign up for a "Date with God" on Saturday. The description was something like, "Allow God to speak to you through Creative Quiet Time", and the Created for Care staff was touting it as one of the best experiences of the weekend. Erica and I signed up for the 12:00 slot, but I honestly wasn't expecting to get much out of it. I'm very comfortable with the concept of God speaking to me...He does all the time in so many ways...but I wasn't at all convinced that I was going to supernaturally "hear" from Him in a little room crowded with other women while I tried to paint a picture or sculpt something from Play-Doh. During the main session on Saturday morning, we heard from Carissa Woodwyk, an adult Korean adoptee, and she had shared her beautiful, painful story of being adopted at 5 months old and how that has impacted and affected her life. She didn't avoid the hard stuff in her conversation with us: growing up in a family where she was constantly made to feel "different" and not quite good enough, how she spent years "sabotaging" her relationships by not showing up fully, how important an adoptee's story is to them...ALL of it, even the hard parts, and how God redeemed her heart by finally showing her, "I created you...not those two people in Korea. You are amazing, and worthwhile, and beautiful BECAUSE you were created in MY image." Carissa said that what the adopted child most wants to know from his new family is, "Will you rescue my heart from what it just went through?" I walked away from the session changed and grieved and troubled. It was all good for me to hear, but it was also hard. I couldn't help but to think about S. His story is so sad. How has it affected him already, and how long will it take to heal his broken heart? I went into my "Date with God" feeling emotionally emptied out and asking Him in my heart if I was going to be completely overwhelmed by this adoption.
We walked into a room with various "stations" set up around the perimeter. There were 70 or so women in the room...it was pretty obvious to me that there was no way that I would miraculously feel God's presence in a personal way in such a crowded space. I sat down at the foot of a wooden cross with Bibles spread in front of it...at least in the absence of anything else, I could read the Word for awhile. The woman in charge explained the different stations and spoke about the whole premise of our Date: she compared it to a date with your husband, setting aside time to just be with the One you love...to soak in His love...to ask Him for direction and let everything else fade away. I was listening with half an ear and a complete conviction that this wasn't going to be meaningful to me when suddenly it happened. As she prayed, I quite literally FELT the presence of Jesus in that room. I know that I am going to sound so flaky to some people for even saying this, but the hair on my neck stood up, I had goosebumps from head to toe, and I KNEW that He was right beside me. I honestly felt His arms around me, and I don't mean that figuratively. Tears that came out of nowhere were running down my face and dripping from my chin, and I don't think that I have EVER felt so LOVED. Two weeks later, I am crying as I type this. The prayer finished and the room became quiet, except for soft music playing and occasional sniffles. I held the Bible to my chest, closed my eyes, and just breathed in His presence and peace. I really didn't even have to say anything to Him...He knew it all. He understood exactly how I was feeling and what my worries were. He knew that I was feeling overwhelmed by S's story and how it might affect his life over the upcoming years. As my spirit calmed, I opened the Word, and this is what He spoke to me: "I am guiding you in wisdom, and I am leading you to do what is right. Nothing will hold you back. YOU WILL NOT BE OVERWHELMED. Be careful about what you think...your thoughts run your life. Keep your eyes focused on what is right. Keep looking straight ahead to what is good."
After meditating on His truth for a time, I moved to another station where I was to ask Him what it meant to abide in Him and then draw a picture of what He showed me. The Lord generally speaks to me in words, not in pictures, and I was a little skeptical, but as I closed my eyes in prayer, I saw a very clear image. It was a tree standing beside a beautiful river, and the words of an old song from Bible school were filling my head, "You will be like a tree, planted by the waters. You shall NOT be moved." I sketched out my strong tree with a joyful heart. "But blessed is the man who trusts in the Lord, whose confidence in in Him. He will be like a tree planted by the water that sends out its roots by the stream. It does not fear when heat comes; its leaves are always green. It has no worries in a year of drought and never fails to bear fruit." Jeremiah 17:8
Next I moved to the "Wailing Wall" a corner of the room filled with prayer requests scrawled out on post-it notes. I wrote out my own prayer for little S and added it to the wall, and then spent some time bringing the desperate heart-cries of several other women before the throne. It felt so good to intercede for others, and to know that my Jesus was hearing every prayer...
As the hour drew to a close, I felt restored, excited for the future, and so in awe of the love of my Bridegroom for me. One of the songs that had played during my "Date with God" says it so well:
"What can I do for You?
What can I bring to You?
What kind of song would You like me to sing?
'Cause I'll dance a dance for You,
Pour out my love to You,
What can I do for You, Beautiful King?
'Cause I can't thank You enough.
No, I can't thank You enough.
All of the words that I find...and I can't thank You enough.
No matter how I try...I can't thank You enough.
Then I hear You sing to me...saying,
"You don't have to do a thing.
Just simply be with Me, and let those things go,
'Cause they can wait another minute.
Wait...this moment is too sweet.
Will you please stay here with Me,
and love on Me a little longer?
I'd like to be with you a little longer...
I'd love to be with you a little longer...
I'm so in love with you!"
Think about that for a second...the Creator of the universe is in love with me and with you! He will go to any length to be with us. He laid down His life for our sake, He took our punishment, and He is eagerly looking forward to the day when He claims us as His bride. Doesn't it just take your breath away? As you remember His death and celebrate His resurrection this weekend, let His love fill your soul and light your path. He is more than able to bear any burdens that you may be experiencing, and He delights in you.