Once Brock and the adoption papers arrived, we attempted to settle into a new normal. I was on maternity leave, Dylan had began working as an apprentice carpenter, Tapanga had a few months of kindergarten left, and both Justice and Brock were home with me. Having a baby was definitely an adjustment for everyone, but surprisingly it was more challenging for Dylan and I than it was for the girls. Brock did not sleep well at first. At all. In addition, Dylan and I already had trouble with punctuality so exhaustion, and needs of a newborn, increased our tendency for tardiness. It would be fair to say we were a little overwhelmed for quite some time. Dylan and I were frequently frustrated, tired, and did not have much of a social life beyond our families. Please do not be mistaken, there was joy in these times as well; we were getting to know Brock, and making wonderful memories with all three of our kids. There was joy, but there were challenges as well. While Dylan and I did not realize it then, I think one thing we were truly needing was Jesus. Oh, and socialization beyond our families, we were quite lacking in that area as well. Kindergarten pick-up was often one of the few outlets we had for visiting other adults. While waiting for the kindergarteners to finish up, many of the moms and dads milling about would engage in small talk.
One mom, Beth, would frequently say to me, “We need to have you over for supper sometime!” Beth was the daughter of Hugh and Sally’s friends’, so we had been acquainted with her for years. In addition, Beth’s husband Brad had been in Judo with Dylan years before, so he and Dylan knew each other as well. Whenever Beth would suggest supper I would say, “Oh, ya, sure that could be fun,” not at all expecting it to happen. Persistently Beth would mention supper to whichever of us was doing the drop-off and we would give the same type of response. Neither Dylan nor I was quite sure why Beth and Brad would want to hang out with us. They were so nice and, in our minds, we were not good enough to hang out with them. I mean, we still yelled at our kids too much. They looked like they had it together, and we felt like we did not. Adding to our conviction that we were not the type of people they would want to spend time with, they were Christian and we were not. Even if we did go over for supper would they, like so many other Christians we had met before, put pressure on us to come to faith in Jesus? I certainly was not up for being pressured by another well-meaning Christian. Or, to our embarrassment and theirs, would they assume we had faith simply because his parents did? How awkward would it be if they started talking about “Christian stuff” while we just sat there with no clue what to say? Suuuper awkward! Surely they would not want to hang out with us if they knew us better, and even if we did have supper together, it would probably be a one-time thing.
One day Beth apparently tired of saying “some day we should”, and so she pretty well demanded that we set a specific date for a dinner. Pretty well demanded? That is perhaps too subtle. A summary of the conversation would probably be: which date works for you guys for supper, what is your phone number, this is happening. So the date was set, and when it came we were so nervous. Brad and Beth were nice and laid back, and we still could not see what we could possibly offer them in friendship. Dylan and I loved each other, our kids, and our families, but in a very real sense we were broken and lost. We needed Jesus more than we knew; more than I was ready to consider. So, here we were hanging out with these nice people, enjoying some delicious bar-b-qed kielbasa burgers, all the while wondering when the push would come. When would the mysterious (to us) messiah enter the conversation?
Well, the push never came. Not once did either of them mention their faith, or ask us about ours. Beth and Brad had the pure motive of wanting to get to know us and our kids. The kindness, acceptance, and fun atmosphere of their home was so refreshing. Although Dylan and I had family to spend time with, we had very few friends, and no close friends with kids. Whether we realized it or not, our little family needed this friendship. The evening flew by as our kids raced about with Brad and Beth’s kids, all of us connecting so quickly and naturally. Ours was a meant-to-be type friendship. Our oldest daughters were the same age and in French Immersion together, our middle children were the same age, and although our youngest sons were about 18 months apart, their youngest was kind and gentle with our youngest. When I say we connected, I mean we all connected.
Over the course of several months we had a couple more visits, but one in particular stands out in my mind. Remember how I said they never brought up their faith during that first visit? Well, they never brought up their faith, but eventually I did. December 6, 2011. I had grown from a steadfast atheist to an agnostic. In all honesty I was probably wanting to be convinced God’s existence because there was a stirring in me, questions I could not answer. As I reflected on our lives — on how the girls had entered our lives and the sequence and timing of the events of 2008-2009 — I had a deeply unsettled feeling. If there was no God, which I had steadfastly declared there was not, then how did everything work out the way it did? How did all of the events of that fateful year and a half go in a way that was so different, but better, than what I had wanted? So, with the stirrings of an unsettled spirit, I began to question Beth and Brad about their faith.
How can you believe in God when bad things happen all the time? If God loves us and wants us happy, why doesn’t He stop bad things from happening? Why is there so much hypocrisy in the church? What about evolution, I learned all about that in school and I cannot just throw reason and intellect out the window! No matter what I threw at them, Brad and Beth answered me with honesty and kindness. Sometimes the answer was “I don’t know”, or “I really don’t like that either, Christians shouldn’t do that”. No matter what I asked, they remained kind and open.
Eventually, I asked “How would I know if God is real when there is no proof?”
Beth answered, “Well, you could just invite Jesus into your heart and see if anything changes.”
We left the conversation at that. I did not offer my heart to Jesus, and I did not grill them any more on their faith. We visited a bit longer and then called it a night.
I cannot remember what day it was when I finally did what Beth suggested, but it was winter, sometime in February 2012 if I am remembering right. After dropping Tapanga off at school while driving down the front lane at the front of the school, I invited Jesus into my heart. Just a quiet little prayer in my head. Beth had told me, if He is real, you will see the evidence when you invite him into your heart.
I was skeptical. She was right.
Those who know me best cannot deny the impact my faith has had on my life. I have grown in patience, kindness, wisdom, confidence, and grace. That is not boasting in myself, it is boasting in His power to save, His power to transform lives. It is boasting in Him. While I still have my struggles, and I am far from perfect, I am so proud of where I am. I have learned to forgive so many people, most importantly myself. I can now look at my mistakes and cast out the self-loathing that tries to creep in and steal my joy, my value. I can now say with confidence, I am a good mom. I am a good person. I now also know that I was a good person before Jesus, He has just been helping me to mature and develop into the person He created me to be. I could not have written this story without my faith. Where I lack faith in myself, He believes in me. He encourages, me both in my spirit and through those around me, to step out of my comfort zone. To risk. To grow. To love more completely and unconditionally.
The most significant and valuable change to mine and Dylan’s lives since coming to faith has been in our relationships. We have been able to set health boundaries with our family, each other, and our close friends. Dylan and I have also grown in our ability to receive just correction and disregard unfair correction; and we have been able to communicate more openly, honestly, and lovingly with our parents. The way in which we view our friendship with Beth and Brad has also shifted. There is an absolute dichotomy between how Dylan and I once saw ourselves in comparison to Beth and Brad, and how we see ourselves now. While we still see Brad and Beth as wonderful people who have a lot to offer us in friendship, we can now see that we have something to offer them as well. We see our value, and our responsibility.
As iron sharpens iron, so one person sharpens another. Proverbs 27:17
While our relationships with those close to us have improved substantially, it is in our own home that there has been the most noticeable shift. The atmosphere and relational health of our home has changed so much that our “bad days” now are comparable to our “good days” before Jesus. While Dylan and I still fall short at times, the love and grace we have been able to show ourselves, each other, and our children brings me such peace and joy. We are not “there” yet, wherever “there” may be. Perfection? None of us will get there, not on this side of Heaven, but we are progressing. We are growing. As we steadily press on we learn more about the heart of God, and the hearts of those closest to us. God has shifted, is shifting still, our values. Performance and rules unfortunately still try and reign in our home, but they are steadily loosing their deadly grip. As we loosen our desperate grip on our lives and the lives of our children, as we let go of our need to control, we become more and more like Him. We value what He values. We love how He loves.
Or, at least that is where we are heading.