Celebrating Mother's Day was always a peaceful and joy-filled experience as I grew up in a loving, Christian, two-parent home. I remember working diligently on the obligatory homemade gift projects we were given as schoolchildren in order to present something to my mom that would conjure a smile, thanks and a hug. Mother's Day served as an annual reminder to say "thank you." To be honest, I never thought deeply about the annual celebration until later into my adulthood.
I have since come to discover there can be a lot of pain, heartache and grief associated with this particular holiday. Ignorance is bliss, right?
I had grown up dreaming less about being a mom and more about one day being a wife. I clung to passages of Scripture like Proverbs 3:5-6 that provided instruction to trust God in all things. I just believed that in His time I would be married with the traditional two-and-a-half children, white picket fence and a dog. Since those were the examples I saw around me, it seemed like the natural progression of life.
By age 27, I met my best friend, Tony, and began the journey of marriage. During those first couple of years, we weren't necessarily trying to get pregnant, but we weren't avoiding it. Meanwhile, it seemed like everyone around us started getting pregnant.
The awkwardness of being married with no children began to creep in. Well-meaning people would summon a smile and say, "We are praying for you" or comment at a baby shower, "You're next!"
I knew God was sovereign over the womb, but I wondered what was going on. Was there something wrong with me?
When God began to open our eyes to the fatherless, it was our theology, not our biology, that led us toward international adoption. Seeing in the Scripture that God describes Himself as the Father of the fatherless and calls His people to care for orphans compelled us to ask what we could do for the fatherless.
Two years after initially wrestling with that idea, we found ourselves in a cold, smelly orphanage in the middle of Ukraine.
Our four Ukrainian-born children shuffled into the small office hand-in-hand, cautious and curious. I sometimes try to imagine what must have been going through their minds. Who were these two watery-eyed people smiling at them and asking to become their new mommy and daddy? All I can say is that it was both bizarre and beautiful.
God was working fiercely in my heart. How can a little person made in the image of God, yet not of your flesh and blood, become your son or daughter? This scenario was not what I had in my mind earlier in life. His ways are not our ways; His thoughts are higher.
Six weeks later we came home as a family. Fifteen months after that, we brought our youngest child home from Ethiopia.
"Welcome to the club of motherhood!" others said.
While I appreciated the sentiment, I sensed a prompting in my spirit to caution against assuming a new identity. The reality was, my identity changed at age 12 when, by God's saving grace, my eyes were opened to the incredible collision of justice and mercy at the cross of Christ. It was then that I was no longer a child of wrath and I became a child of God—an adopted daughter. So, this new status of motherhood was simply a new role to steward, albeit a weighty one.
"He gives the barren woman a home, making her the joyous mother of children. Praise the Lord!" Psalm 113:9 (ESV) states.
Parenting children from broken pasts can have moments of great joy as well as moments of great heartache. Watching fits of rage dwindle over time and transition to healthier coping behaviors is amazing. The kicking, screaming and clawing slowly transformed into the ability to, through their tears, talk through the issue at hand.
I witnessed giggles and awed faces at the beach as they dipped their toes in the water and watched waves crash for the first time. I heard exclamations like, "This is the best day of my life," as we fought crowds at Disney World. These moments have filled my heart with incredible joy.
But there are times of great setbacks, challenges and questionings. It breaks my heart to hear these same children say, "What kind of mom just gives her child away!" or "It bothers me when people keep asking if I'm adopted. Why do they want to know?"
Amid defiant, disrespectful and dishonoring behavior, hearing my child scream, "You have no idea what it is like to grow up in an orphanage!" or "You are not my real mother!" has wounded me deeply. It's tempting to build up walls of protection around my heart.
Sometimes moments of grief come out of nowhere; sometimes my heart feels as if it will burst under the weight of it all. It is a regular fight to rein in my emotions.
Sometimes I even forget we became a family through adoption because I often feel our children were always ours—but they weren't. They all came from broken pasts filled with abuse, neglect, death and abandonment.
Oh, the ebb and flow of joy and sorrow.
It is God's grace that has enabled me to say with great joy and peace that He kept me from being able to have babies so that I could be mom to each of my children. I am so thankful. I would not trade that for the world.
Yet, I praise the Lord that my identity is not found in being a mother, but in being a daughter of the King. That truth gives me hope in the midst of heartache, courage in the midst of trial and thankfulness for the good gifts that come from His hand.
This Mother's Day, may we remember those who grieve—those moms in the midst of difficult adoptions, those who battle infertility, stepmoms, and those who have lost a child or mother. May we think of them, pray for them and encourage them to find joy in the Lord.
Kimberly Merida is a musician and justice advocate who writes at shownmercy.blogspot.com. She and her husband, Tony, pastor of Imago Dei Church in Raleigh, N.C., and a faculty member at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary, are the parents of five adopted children. This article first appeared at the Biblical Recorder (www.brnow.org), newsjournal of the Baptist State Convention of North Carolina.