It took me a really long time to get the courage to write this post. I’ve been staring at my empty computer screen for hours. You see, the relationship I have with my children today, (especially with my daughter), is incomparable to the bleak beginning we shared. Our days together are filled with lots of precious hugs, kisses and giggles. To begin, our daughter’s name, Jelena, means “sun ray” to which she has truly lived up to, and her birth-given name means “joyous”. She is the living embodiment of sunshine and spreads irresistible joy everywhere we go. Knowing how much she has grown and bonded with us, I absolutely dreaded having to recall our painful beginning, even for memory sake.
Those first few weeks, well, to be honest— they absolutely broke me.
I suppose that’s how it should be. I see now that my foundation with both children only confirmed to me how much I needed to fully rely on Jesus to get through the hours. It taught me to trust God in the most doubtful moments.
Try as I might, I cannot fully put into words why my daughter’s initial rejection hurt me so much.
After all, I spent hours reading up on how to parent trauma-induced children and felt I was well prepared for it all. Yet, the extent of her rejection triggered something in me nonetheless. It’s as if my entire life started off with a snowball effect, long before she even came into the picture. When I met her, this snowball had grown into such an enormous size that a crash was inescapable.
You see, the years of infertility, no matter how much I trusted God through it—planted a seed of unworthiness and inadequacy in my heart.
A seed that made its way into the deepest part of me, telling me that maybe somehow I was unworthy of God’s blessings, his favor.
Somehow I believed the lie that I was perhaps incapable of being a good mother, convinced that is why God had not given me a child. At first I even thought that maybe she could sense it and that and is why she was rejecting me.
Each morning I would wake up and fight the dread that would come over me as I made the daily walk to the orphanage.
Hoping and praying that the day would be different and yet being hit with the realization that no, not yet.
The harder I tried, the more she would pull away from me.
She would willingly go to others, was not afraid of strangers and yet refused to have anything to do with me. She would run to the opposite side of the orphanage, and just stand there glaring at me like I was an enemy. Each time, the behavior would come on so suddenly I was never sure of what I was possibly doing wrong. It’s as if somehow in her eyes I committed a wrong I could not erase. Taking her out of the orphanage to new and scary places for the legal process only intensified her fear of me. It took about 3 weeks of sitting daily within her reach, playing with her, or (if I was ignored), playing with other children around her. Slowly but surely she started responding to my pursuit. Eventually she stopped running away from me but would still not act excited when I showed up.
Those days were long, exhausting and emotionally draining.
I came to see her at the orphanage twice a day and could never predict how she would react to seeing me.
Each time she rejected me the pain cut deeper.
Doubt that I should be there, pursuing this child who clearly was so unhappy with me, came over me almost daily, sometimes hourly.
I would pray and God erased my fears, giving me strength to push past myself and see her for who she was: a scared, terribly hurt little girl, desperately in need of a mother’s love.
It’s a dance I did with God every day. I would cry out, lose my track of direction due to doubt and He would reassure me and send me out to her again. Many moments were spent holding her when she allowed it—praying for God to help her overcome the pain and fear wounds of abandonment left in her heart.
Looking at this in retrospect, now that the pain has subsided and some of the wounds in Jelena’s heart have healed, I can see a glimpse of what Jesus was doing. Not only did He allow and provide me the opportunity (however unwanted at the time) to deal with my own insecurities in His love for me—He also helped me grieve failures that were scattered around other areas of my life.
These failures were rooted and deeply intertwined with pride and unfaithfulness. It was very hard to distinguish and unravel it all within my heart.
I lacked the belief that God was enough in each and every situation despite the circumstances and people around me.
Somehow in my obsession of pursuing my calling in life, what I failed to see with every experience—every opportunity just a hair out of reach—was the humility God was trying to teach me. I made ministry about me. Somewhere along the way ministry itself became about me trying to please God, proving to Him that I was worthy of His love.
Unknowingly, I was rejecting His pursuit of my heart. By placing such an importance of service into my life, the place of Jesus was taken out of ministry and replaced with ‘me’ and what ‘I’ can offer people, ignoring the truth that the greatest of sacrifice has already been done.
God, being ever so gracious, has allowed me to realize these things through my daughter’s initial rejection of my pursuit. I began to see a reflection of myself in Jelena. The questions I so often wished she could answer for me, I could hear Him softly saying to me…
“Daughter, why are you so afraid of letting me love you? Why do you run from me?”
Through this, my soul found Jesus in a way that before her would have seemed impossible. Through her and everything we went through together, the cracks in my heart that would have slowly destroyed my faith over time with perfectionism, have not only healed, but made room for the fullness of true love to grow.
As I close my eyes and think back to those memories, I see God’s fingerprints all over it, even over the darkest of days.
In the midst of her hesitation and reluctance we both received healing so desperately needed. Through my prayers the Holy Spirit would speak to her scarred and battered heart that it was okay to trust me, and through her lack of trust I was able to see how Jesus has wanted to love me since the day I said yes to Him. All along, He has wanted me just as I am, yet I couldn’t believe it.
Her healing seemingly obvious for all to see, and mine, so deeply hidden within my heart, began when I least expected it. It started as we learned to take one step at a time towards each other in a crowded orphanage, in a faraway country with lush greenery and red dirt roads.