(Fair warning: Strong feelings evoke strong language, especially when I’m in tiger mom mode, which I am currently. If you’d like to chat with me about it, feel free to come over and I will catch your hair on fire with a single flick of my tiger-mom eyes while you scold me.)
I’m not sure when I’m going to let you read this. Some people have some pretty strong feelings about cursing but, in my household, it was not uncommon for us to get in the car and yell all the expletives we could think of after a bad day at school.
Sometimes, everyday words just aren’t enough, you know? Sometimes, you just need a word that feels a little stronger.
(That statement might come back to haunt me…or you might be a liberated kid who knows he can say bad words but chooses not too.
For the record, I am fine with either.)
In my last post, I talked about how we were surprised at all the small moments, big things that happen without fanfare or warning. Some of them were sweet, some of them were sad.
We’d be playing our 79th straight game of Gator Golf and you would stop and say something about your past or we would be driving in the car and you would tell us one fact about your family. Just one. Then you’d look at us.
I knew it was a secret test. A test with just one question.
Can you handle my shit?
Sure, there are loaded sub-questions like, “Will you get mad at me if I talk about my past?” or, “Is it okay to be sad around you?” But those all fall under one crap umbrella. The sub-text of your question is “I’m tired of carrying this gross, ugly, terrible burden all by myself.”
You see, this vision of literally taking on someone else’s burden, of transferring a sack of crap from someone else’s back to mine, has been pretty firmly lodged in my brain as something that Jesus did and, as such, something that followers of Jesus should also do. I am just now figuring out what that means. I am just now figuring out what it means to be truly empathetic, not just sympathetic.
I knew in my head that, when we adopted, we would be taking on some of the burden of crap that you’ve been carrying, that our job as parents would be to help you unload some of the crap that you have shouldered for far too long by yourself. I knew intellectually that was what needed to happen.
But today, maybe for the first time since I met you, I’m acutely feeling the truth of it down in the deepest parts of my being.
I don’t mean that if you’re angry, I’ll be angry too. I mean, maybe that will be part of it, since I have plenty of feelings to share.
No, this burden-sharing goes deeper than that. I mean that I am putting myself in your shoes, that I am inserting myself into your story, and I’m committing myself to have the same conversations over and over and over again for the rest of your life until you can get some healing. It’s understanding that the scars you bear from carrying your burden can heal, but they might always hurt. And I will always be here to carry your burdens again.
You see, I don’t want this adoption to be a clinical carrying of your burden, where I hear you and let you express yourself and the second you fall asleep, your burdens are forgotten and I’m eating bon-bons on the couch.
You are too young and fragile to be carrying all of these burdens alone (in fact, all of us are too young and fragile to shoulder our burdens alone). You are my son and it is my job to be down in the depths with you, down in the shit and the mud and the anger and the sorrow and the ugliness, while we look for ways to climb out of it together.
And guess what?
It sucks. For me to feel your anxiety, your anger, your sorrow, it is not fun. This is not the “fun” adoption that you hear about in rainbow farts and marshmallow unicorn adoption stories. It is terrifying to be inserted into the middle of your tumultuous story.
And all I can think about is how much more strongly you must feel those things, since you’ve been carrying them on your own for so long. More anxiety, more anger, more sorrow. Complete and utter terror.
I don’t want you to have to walk that road alone anymore. Not one second longer than you have to.
You are my son. I didn’t adopt you just because you are fun or cute or charming. I didn’t adopt you with the expectation that you would be perfect or that I could just wear plastic gloves when handling your shit and then take them off and still be okay.
I adopted you because I chose to love you to the depths of the earth and back, to the very core of my being, and if that means that I have to spend the rest of my life handling the shitty burden that life has handed to you, then I will, because you are my son and you deserve no less. Our lives have become inextricably entangled and, even though today I am feeling the meaning of the word ‘sorrow’, I know that sitting in the depths with you and taking on your burdens will give me a deep, soul-satisfying joy that very few know. True sorrow. True joy. Totally worth it.
Your story is my story. Your sorrow is my sorrow. Your pain is my pain. Your shit is my shit.
We can handle it.