As a preface, my son and I spoke and prayed over my sharing of this story. It is precious and beautiful and sensitive - meant to be kept in this space. It is not easy to share - not because of the content itself, but because it's just so sacred. I almost didn't write this at all, but kept feeling that all too familiar nudge. With his permission, here is a narration of myself and my beautiful son, and the God who names us both.
The first child I cared for called me manda, and later, sis. This child wasn't my child at all, but is my brother. When we were young and our stories were without tether and wild, we spent most of our time together. I made meals when they were forgotten and kept him from the hardest parts of home. Later in life, when I was married and belly-round with my first baby, my brother came to live with us again. I became what we jokingly call a 'sister-mom', to a pre-teen. And then I became a mom for real.
Somewhere in-between a brother and three babies, the Lord put adoption on our hearts as clear as anything else. We knew it would be local. We knew not much else except the beating of our hearts in the direction of another child. With little doubt, and maybe a little more fear, we plunged into the journey of adopting a child from foster care.
You can read more about how one child became three, but the story that rushes in my heart right now is about what it means to be mom. And what it means to be named, at all.
For the first year that my sons lived with us, they called me Amanda and my husband Josh. I'll admit to wondering if it would always be that split - three girls who name me Mommy, and three boys who name me Amanda. In the middle of that same year our church found itself without a pastor, and suddenly my job title became blurry to the work I was doing. It was any and all hats, and while I loved that work, I found myself wondering...what am I called to here? What is my role? What do our people need me to be? Who am I?
As our adoption of the boys drew nearer, we unexpectedly welcomed another foster daughter into our home. Would she be ours for a season? Would I ever hear her say my name, and if so, would it be Mama or Amanda? Who would I be, to her?
Several month have since then passed, and we now are in the home we built on the farm. It's been a time of settling and learning what slow rhythms look like. For me, it's been a long and steady season of figuring out who I am. For our family it has been grounding and securing. Rooting and establishing. I find myself looking around the table at the faces of our family. The evidence of love is so visible I can feel it vibrating in our laughter. I can see it in the creases of our cheeks. I can feel it settle, contented, on the evening hush when all are asleep under this roof.
On a day before Thanksgiving, my oldest son stood in the kitchen with me. He does this, often. Finds the spaces that I occupy and fills them with is presence. His tall, lanky frame drapes on a stool or leans against a counter in only the way a teenage boy can.
Holidays can be hard because sentimentality brings us back to places that aren't what they once were. I asked him, in our third holiday season together, how he felt about the upcoming time with family. Did it feel different than last year? Overwhelming? Easier than before? Did our family feel like family?
Easily, he expressed enthusiasm for the time together and for his newfound love of pumpkin pie (which he previously would not even look at). He said family felt like family, and that two year's time had somehow passed so quickly and yet also it felt like so much more.
Then I asked him about us. About myself and Josh. How do you feel as our son? How are we doing as parents? It seemed an important to ask, and he seemed to want and need to answer.
"Dad's good," He laughed, shaking his head at one of the countless goofy things that only a dad like Josh can do. "He feels like my dad, you know?"
I smiled at this, placing a glass in the dishwasher. It's what my heart adores to hear. This unexpected son and his tender affection for his Dad, my husband. I relished my own thoughts of their antics together before I took a breath, and clicked my brain forward. Forward to a question I hesitated a little to ask.
When I glanced up to grab another dish and met his eyes, he was waiting for the question he knew was coming. I said, "I know you love me. You can tell me whatever you need to say."
He paused, "You feel like my mom. You are Mom." Another long pause. "It's just...I mean, you're just not my mom mom, you know?"
These moments: the ones where the very breath you're breathing vanishes and the whole world becomes as small as you and the snow you're watching fall outside window. The times when you can see all of yourself and feel the ripples of your thousand stories in one heart beat, knowing there's a boy beside you who trusts your strength and needs you to be bigger than your name.
And somehow, I do know what he means.
"Yeah, I get that, honey." I reply, meaning it. "I can't imagine what that's like for you." And then, "I'm really lucky to be one of your moms, though."
He snaps out of sober, and becomes a gangling teen again. His smile is my whole heart and he hugs me before jogging out of the room to some boyhood busy thing. I am not hurt by him and he has done nothing wrong. The ache comes from the unexpectedness of the reality of our fractured world.
There are more stories than I have time or permission to share, in which I've been stripped of a name, denied a title, mis-labeled, removed from the table, name called, and sometimes forgotten about all together. I have stood in places where certainty is anything but secure. I have had people question my every decision and tell me, kindly and not so, what I should and should not do. I've been Mom, but not Mom.
When I stand on the porch in the silence of trees, I fold my arms and stare back at the unseen wind, and I hear with my heart the voice of my God. Like a thread, I can see it, crimson and humming and constant. Stitching life and truth through each story.
You are my daughter. You are my beloved. You are named: mine.
When the masses have said we can't, it has been God who has asked, who will you listen to? And now, He asks, who names you?
Oh how beautiful it is to know that when we are stripped of every thing, our making still remains unchanged. He knows who you are. And so do you.
Can you feel it, without title? Can you hold it, when nothing whispers to you except the wind?
How many times have you felt unseen? Lonely? Forgotten? Undervalued or unnamed? I believe the prompting on my heart to share this story is as a tangible reminder: there is only one who can tell you exactly who you are. I do not need to be called mom to be mom. I don't need to be called anything to be love. This applies to so many things. Yet, we desire it, don't we? To be told who we are and that we have value and worth.
In order to know who you are, you must grow familiar with the voice and heart of the one who formed you. This might mean quieting yourself to the naysayers, to the outside voices, or to even yourself. I know the ungentle things I tell myself often couldn't be further from the truth.
If you have a moment, even right now, can you take a deep breath, close your eyes, and repeat for one minute or more - I am beloved. I am beloved. I am beloved. A minute of love can change everything. And you are deeply, completely, loved.