Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Holy Week Lament: Haley Ballast (Woman, behold, your son!)

The Suffering Servant, Jesus,  gave us a litany of last words; we refer to them as the Seven Last Words of Christ.  These deathbed words form a framework for the stories of lament we share here this Holy Week.

I count it a high privilege to know -- at least in small part -- the mourning stories of the dear ones who will share here for seven days.  Their lives walk the path between celebration, yes, but also suffering -- illness, relational disillusionment, anxiety, joblessness, death of loved ones, death of dearly-held dreams.  Their stories have helped form me in my understanding of suffering and I believe they could also encourage you too.  

I'm grateful to introduce you to a friend whom I've never met in real life, and still we've managed to journey together through  motherhood and ministry for at least three or four years now.  Actually, it was Haley Ballast's lament story that first got me thinking about framing this series around the Seven Last Words of Christ.  Her recognition of the grief in motherhood -- and not only the daily sort of dying to self, but the dying to experience that comes with mothering by adoption -- has given me a richer understanding of Jesus' dying words to his friend John and his mother Mary:  Behold your son.  Behold your mother.

meeting Zeke for the first time

I was not the first woman to mother my son. Not the first to kiss him goodnight, or comfort him when he cried, or carry him on a hip. I didn't see his first steps, hear his first word, or celebrate his first birthday. By the time I met Zeke, he could kick a soccer ball, drink from a cup, and throw a right wicked tantrum. I had missed a lot.

None of this came as a surprise to me, of course. These small losses are par for the parenting course in international adoption, and they pale in comparison to the much heavier losses sustained by my sweet little boy before he reached his second birthday.

Insignificant as they may be against the backdrop of my son's experiences, these missed milestones are part of my story. They have woven a thread a grief into the fabric of my mothering, one that shows itself at turns, often with the power to unravel me at the seams.

When my daughter was born in January, I held her close and it was different this time. My first two newborns were every bit as precious, but my heart was as yet unseasoned and I didn't know what I didn't know. Waves of overwhelming love for this tiny pink person washed over me and I cried: I missed this. These days of warm weight on your chest and the smell of breastfed baby, of tucked-up legs and fuzzy cheeks, they sink down deep into mother hearts and become the strength we need in the whiny witching hours before Daddy gets home, the pity-parties because everyone else's mom lets them watch that show, and (I can only assume) the nights of missed curfews and eye-rolls and dented fenders.

What happens when you tap into that tank and its empty? What happens when you find yourself squaring off with an angry toddler trying to cash a massive emotional check from an account with far too few deposits in its balance history? These moments have been peppered throughout Zeke's time in our family, and they have been moments of deep grief for me as a parent. Grief for all that my son lost before he came to us. Grief that my gut reactions to his angry behavior are often selfish and lacking compassion. Grief, and even shame, that I should have to work so hard on something that I feel should come naturally (namely, motherly love and affection). And grief that even after two years in our family, my son is still waiting for the other shoe to drop, still keeping a lookout for the next upheaval, still guarding his heart.

Sometimes we take turns grieving, him falling to bits over the wrong kind of breakfast cereal, me crying through our bedtime prayers. Often though, we are in the trenches together. He won't hug me when I pick him up at preschool and I am not gentle when I put on his jacket. If he is testing me, I'm failing, and we both cry on the way home. It's not because he hurt my feelings, though that does sting for a moment. It's because he has to be so smart in all the saddest ways -- a baby learning that people leave, that everything can change at any minute. Learning how not to need anyone, how to keep a distance, how to prove we've all failed him, even if it's only in the small things, like jackets after preschool.

By faith I believe that these hard realities are the fertile fields where God is at work, that these bitter truths will somehow bear sweet fruit in the end. But we are not at the end: we are in the thick of it. What do we do in the thick of it? We grieve, and we let our grief become lament. In grief we can be alone, but in lament we are never alone, because lament places our particular pain within God's greater story. So here we are, my son and I. We get home, and I say a prayer through shuddery breaths, remember Jesus leaving the ninety-nine to go after the one. I get us both a tissue, letting Zeke wipe my eyes because he likes to have a job. We have lost, but we are loved. We are together, and when it is hard to be together because of all we have lost, we lament, and we are not alone.

What mourning stories have formed your life and 
grown your faith in the mercy-giving Jesus?  
 Tell us about it in the  comments below.  
If you've written your own post, share the link.

Haley lives with her husband Jon and their four children (3 boys ages 7, 5, and 3 and a baby girl born January 2013) in the Pacific Northwest. She blogged here about the adoption process and Zeke's first year home, and now writes bits of poetry on her phone while nursing and breaking up fights over Star Wars figurines.

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