living with both

by Kristi Van Dyk

I'm learning, as I continue to grow in my role as a wife and mother, that my worldview has been radically altered. This past year has been a flood of incredible triumphs intermingling into an ocean of bitter hardships. 

This reality was painfully real on Mother's Day, for me. I had looked forward to Mother's Day, my first as a mom of four. But when I woke up something felt different. Instead of looking at the smiling mothers that surrounded me, I saw the foster moms at church with fresh eyes. I recalled the stories of infertility that I have prayed over this past year. I thought of a mom I love separated from half of her kids while overseas with her other half. I remembered the precious souls we said goodbye to this year - and prayed over those mothers whose hearts were aching. I couldn't sit and sink in to my "treats" in the same way because I am now living "in the both/and" (as my sweet friend calls it).  

I live in a world of joy. It's full, it's rich. Sometimes the joy is deeper and richer than ever I could have imagined (probably for all it has overcome). But alongside that joy is the constant reminder that I live in a deeply broken world. I see the pain, the trauma and the grief in a more real way than I ever have in my privileged life.

So this past Mother's Day, the weight of the brokenness strained my heart. The little Asian face of my fourth child, with its lopsided grin (still more brokenness), stared up at me, a constant reminder ... My heart broke for his birth mother and for the aches this will cause him throughout his life. My heart ached for this fractured relationship. Mother's Day served as another reminder (as if we don't have a lot of those right now) that while I mother him presently, there were mothers before me. I broke for them. I broke to the point that it seemed silly to celebrate ... My celebration is in the lives in front of me - my celebration is in the daily opportunity that I have been given, in this fragile world, to mother anyone at all, let alone four precious little lives.  

If it were just me - just me affected by this living in the both/and,  I think I could grin and bear it. After all, I answered the call; Steve and I made the choice to chase after the brokenness. We should feel the consequences. But it doesn't just affect us. 

The world of our children has also been radically changed. 

I feel like I stumbled upon this reality as I was compiling Benjamin's birthday book. There were pages of joy - he had a fun filled summer with waves and sand and sun. He had late night glow parties and evening events where all he ate was bacon and all he drank was Mt. Dew. He had carefree days on the playground and family events and birthday parties. He started a few new sports. He traveled to China for 17 days and experienced a new culture in a way few people ever could.

But ... then I saw the evidence of his two worlds ... 

Amidst those same pages, my 7 year old buried an "uncle," he walked faithfully beside a friend who lost his Dad. My son waited as his parents saved money (and stopped buying things he was used to having) in order to bring home a little boy he had never met. When he finally met that little boy, he dealt with the range of emotions from hyperactivity, grief, fear, shock, love, acceptance, bewilderment, taboo subjects, and so many emotions in between. 

Day in and day out I watch my all of my kids experience the weight of both of these worlds. They are happy and they experience joy - but nearly every joyful experience is a reminder of the sting of grief. On his birthday morning, Ben asked about one of his favorite pictures - it's a horribly unflattering photo of me ... in the triage room ... at Bronson Hospital. I'm sunburned from coaching the Varsity Girls at the Conference Meet (they won that year, by the way), I'm 38 weeks pregnant, and I am swollen EVERYWHERE and massive (for real, massive). My husband decides to take a photo - he said, "It'll be your last one pregnant -"  and I made a horrible face. Ben loves that photo. It reminds him of our connection. That photo anchors him to a beginning, anchors him to his mommy. 

As Ben enjoyed that photo - Joshua looked on. The kids explained to him what the photo was and Joshua giggled. He then pointed at the photo, pointed to me and said, "I was in there too!" He said it with such confidence. He said it with such joy. I didn't need my interpreters to tell me what was said. I watched something die a little in the eyes of my older son. With tears, he knelt before his brother. "No, little brother. You came from inside a different Mommy. You came from inside her belly, not this one. We don't know her, but she grew you!"

Joshua didn't understand. They were brothers. They did everything together. 

And together, my boys and I, we sat in those two worlds. Ben and I realizing the things that brought us deep joy were now going to cause us some grief. We hurt alongside our hurting little man. 

I realized then, it won't be just Mother's Day, or birthdays. It will be Father's Days, and forever family days, and timeline preparations for preschool, and graduations, and big medical procedures, and any success or accomplishment, even ordinary days when well meaning people say, "Where are you from?"

As committed as we are to being Joshua's forever family, we are that committed to learning how to live amidst the beauty as it intermingles with so.very.much.hard.