In today’s post, Shannon shares her experiences from the Refresh Conference, held last weekend in Redmond, WA.
Sometimes it’s just too much.
To protect my darlings’ stories and to prevent the dam from releasing all my tears, sometimes it’s all just too much for words.
That’s why I’m so thankful for my people. People like you, who know enough bits and pieces of our daily fight for joy in the midst of the broken pieces of lives that together make up our family. People like you, whose eyes I catch across the church hall and who offer dear encouragement in a glance. People like you, who read my words and encourage me with comments and messages to sustain me along this path.
(Someday – though maybe not soon – we’ll be able to actually converse with words and not just glances, and I’ll get better about replying to emails.)
Last weekend, I traveled across the country to be with my people at a gathering of other foster and adoptive parents who share my heartbeat. There, I know someone else has held children as they’ve cried for a parent who disease stole from them, wiped sand and chalk from around the mouth of a little one who still forgets that she doesn’t need to fill her tummy with those things because food is readily available here, filled out medical forms that ask for histories we just don’t know, and surprised strangers by answering cries of “Mommy!” from a child who looks nothing like us.
As we shared our stories, the theme “me too” was repeated again and again. We even had paddles with those words. As speakers shared their own experiences through the conference, the rest of us held up our signs as a show of belonging.
I had the honor of being one of those speakers, leading a session on parenting kids with HIV and other stigmatized conditions and sharing as part of a panel on transitioning from traditional to therapeutic parenting, both to packed rooms of parents eager to connect with one another.
Me too. You are not alone. We get it. I’ve been there too.
Together, we met God in the midst of the hard and real moments.
For I will satisfy the weary soul, and every languishing soul I will replenish. (Jeremiah 31:25)
Events like this don’t happen every week, though. The next Refresh Conference will be March 2017. Created For Care, a similar retreat I’ve attended for moms on the East Coast, happens each February and March. It’s a long year between events like these, though, and many of us can’t even make it every year. How can we find our “me too” communities right where we are?
- Churches, learn enough to be able to empathize with us. Here’s a series of posts that will give you a head start.
- Friends, show up and keep showing up. Our lives are messy. We know that. You know that. As a result, we’re often really bad at friendship. We need friends, but sometimes we suck at being friends. Please, don’t give up on us.
- Fellow foster and adoptive parents, be brave. We like to think of bravery as a heroic act, but that’s not what I’m talking about. I’m talking about the ordinary bravery of letting others know what we need. We can’t find our “me too” communities unless someone is willing to speak up and share their truth first. For the sake of our kids, we don’t want to carelessly broadcast all our family details for public consumption, but find a few safe people who have shown up enough to earn the right to hear your story. Then be that person whose ordinary bravery in sharing what you need gives others the permission to say “me too.” Those are your people. (They might not relate to all of your specifics, but the pain and struggle and commitment and exhaustion and love woven into what you have to say? They can relate to that, even if they don’t share your same experiences with fostering or adopting.)
I love my people, and I’m praying you’ll find yours. God never meant for us to do everything on our own. We’re created for community, and finding yours is worth the risk of being brave with your stories.
Someone else is waiting to respond “me too” to you, I guarantee.
In addition to serving as a Key Ministry Church Consultant, Shannon Dingle is a co-founder of the Access Ministry at Providence Baptist Church in Raleigh, NC.
Check out Shannon Dingle’s blog series on adoption, disability and the church. In the series, Shannon looked at the four different kinds of special needs in adoptive and foster families and shared five ways churches can love their adoptive and foster families. Shannon’s series is a must-read for any church considering adoption or foster care initiatives. Shannon’s series is available here.