Kristi Thompson

{Hitting Repeat} The Muddle in the Middle

I have a confession to make. And, I apologize in advance to all my reading and writing friends who thought you knew me and will now be forced to rethink whether to admit that you’ve ever once asked me for editing advice.

When I read, I sometimes jump ahead to the end.

I know. I said I was sorry. I can’t help it. It’s a sickness.

I don’t read much. A page or two at most. Just enough to make sure that the characters I’ve grown to know and love survive to the end. If they all get killed off, why waste the emotional energy to keep reading through all the turmoil? I just want to know that the good guy wins and the bad guy gets his. Once I’ve got that sorted out, then I can settle in and enjoy the ride.

So, that may explain why just now, stuck as we are in the no-there-is-still-no-news-yes-I-know-it-has-been-a-long-time MIDDLE of this adoption process I have been contemplating taking something just a wee bit stronger than Tylenol PM to get me through the night. Can a sister get a hook up? Seriously.

I so desperately want to skip ahead to the end of the story. I want to know that we will survive this journey. I want to know that Pacman* will survive this journey. My heart is literally breaking for this little boy. Abandoned. Vulnerable. Desperately needing to belong, to be loved. How long must he wait? He needs a family. We need a little boy. Seems a relatively easy plot line, right?

In novel writing, middles are notoriously difficult. They must link the call to adventure in the beginning to the resolution at the end. Middles contain all those tests and trials that are meant to build character. I love reading a good middle – the more suspense the better. (So long as I know it all turns out okay at the end.) I’m always encouraging my writing students to add more difficulties, more problems, more tension. In story, conflict equals excitement. In real life, not so much fun.

Not only are we stuck in the middle, we are stuck in a SLOW middle. I’d be getting bored if it weren’t so desperately heartbreaking. Just when I think I can’t slog through another day of waiting, guess what? Another day of waiting. “Pace of story too slow.” “Needs some action.” I was hoping for a hi-lo adventure. Instead I fear we’ve landed in a Victorian epic. A long, drawn out treatise with lots of sighs and a fair amount of whining (mine).

The middle is hard. Hard, hard, tear-my-hair-out hard.

But I will believe – even when I’m crying and whining and asking “are we there YET?” and “how much longer?” – that God has this story well in hand. He’s the author. He knows this struggle through the middle, and he’s right here with us. He knows about the bureaucratic red tape and the unanswered emails and the months-long delays. And what’s more, He’s right there in the middle with Pacman. In the quiet loneliness of nighttime at the orphanage, He is there. When Pacman watches others meet their forever families while he is left behind, God is there. When Pacman wonders if he will ever again be loved or belong, God is there. “I will never leave you nor forsake you.”

Yes, God knows our middle, but even better, God knows how it resolves. He’s even given us a sneak peek at the end – “Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted” (Matt 5:4); “I will not leave you as orphans, I will come to you” (John 14:18); “He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away” (Rev. 21:4).

The middle is hard. The end is joy-filled. The middle is slow. The end is perfectly timed. The middle is filled with turmoil. The end is redeemed.

* Not his real name. Although it is catchy.

 ________________________________________

Kristi Thompson

Kristi Thompson lives, laughs, counsels, and writes (www.collierbooks.com) in Louisville, KY, with her husband, Trent, and their daughter Sam. After three year of working for Child Protective Services, six years of serving on short-term mission trips to Mexico and a job lay-off scare, they felt led to add a little boy from Lesotho to the family. Follow the journey at Praying Him Home.

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Stories

Paul has been delving deeper into his life story as of late. Partly because I finally got it together enough to transfer his story from “out of my mouth” (his phrase for the paperless storytelling that sometimes happens in those dark and dreamy moments before sleep) and onto the printed page. And while I love “out of my mouth” stories, there is something solid and substantial about holding a story, with its heft and crackle and smells of ink, firmly in one’s hand.

We are a people of story. We need stories to learn, to grow, to make sense of the world around us. Stories connect us to our past, give us roots, a sense of place and permanency, fill us with resolve to spread our wings and seek new adventure. Stories give us hope.

No man can know where he is going unless he knows exactly where he has been and exactly how he arrived at his present place. – Maya Angelou

Children from hard places especially need story, need to tell and retell story in part to answer the big questions that comprise their past: Who am I? What happened to me? Is what happened to me my fault? What will happen to me now?

These life stories can be difficult because they contain such sadness and tragedy and loss. There are unanswered questions – unanswerable questions. Paul’s story, which is his own private story and only his to tell when he is ready, contains many such questions. There are huge gaps about which we know nothing. It’s a many-piece puzzle with no picture reference and no way of knowing how many pieces might be missing. It’s easy to want to fill in the gaps with wishful, loving platitudes “Your first mother and father loved you so much that…” or with what-might-have-beens or with outright untruths. But this is something we cannot do. We cannot lie or platitude or wish away those hard gaps.

I naturally use story in my counseling work (where it is sometimes called narrative therapy or metaphor therapy, which you really only need to know if you’re preparing for the board exam). My office is stuffed with folktales and fables and “Tell a Story” games and personal narratives littered on scraps of paper, complete with childish illustrations.

Sometimes I get calls or emails from teachers whose students have written such a story with a bit more…darkness…than they are used to seeing. One student with a hard, hard past, after months of games and metaphors and play both in my office and in family therapy, finally penned his story to paper. Penned it for a class essay project, which after reading the teacher quickly escorted to me.

The student entered my office warily, and when he saw the story on the table his eyes blazed and his arms crossed.

“You’re not in trouble,” I said. (They never are in trouble with the “upstairs Mrs. Thompson.” That role is completely out of my giftedness. They may have to engage in some natural consequences or “energy renewers” when they are with me, and I have been known to encourage students whose poor choices left havoc in their wake to get busy cleaning up said havoc, but never “in trouble”.)

He didn’t look convinced. “This is Powerful.” I looked him in the eye, placed my hand on the story. “Powerful.”

“It is?” He seemed to consider this. He knew full well that the story he’d written wasn’t “good” or “neat” or “lovely”, knew it wasn’t written with the only goal an A at the end, knew the language contained therein wasn’t much tolerated at this private Christian school. But powerful? Yes.

We sat at the table and read the story and acknowledged its pain and considered it in the objective sunlight streaming from my brilliant window and both knew something had changed, something had healed.

“It isn’t finished,” he said finally, with that twinkle in his eye I’d learned to recognize.

“No,” I agreed. “It isn’t finished.”

And he went on to write more of his story, and he is still writing, and now the stories reach beyond himself to others, to my own little guy, from healing his own hurt to understanding and empathizing with the hurt of those who’ve walked a similar path.

And so we help Paul tell his story with those same goals of understanding, healing, growing, with those same goals of hope. Patty Cogen, in Parenting Your Internationally Adopted Child, recommends using the wording Big Change in the child’s life story to note those life altering losses and transitions surrounding first family, caregivers, orphanages, adoption, moves. So much out of their control. So many Big Changes.

Paul has questions. “But how did you know to find me MIS?” he asked one evening after pouring over the pictures of one such Big Change, the day we met, May 7, 2012.

So many thoughts whirled through my head. How had we known how to find him? How had our little family connected with this one particular little boy half a world away? International adoption laws and adoption agencies and missionaries and matching meetings that seem on the surface so random yet are anything but. “We prayed for a little boy and God used our adoption agency to help us find you,” I finally answered.

He considered this. “But how did God even talk?” he wondered. Then, brightening. “I know! In you’s heart.”

In my heart. Absolutely in my heart. That is where his story and my story connect, where his part one ends and part two begins, the day his name flashed across my email, the day I saw his pictures, the day I read what little I know of the first part of his story – joyfully and fiercely in my heart.

_________________________________

Kristi Thompson

Kristi and her husband of 19 years stay busy loving, laughing and chauffeuring their teenage daughter (biological) and kindergarten son (home six months from Lesotho) around their Kentucky home. Kristi works part-time as an elementary school counselor (and as such knows parenting advice is easier said than done and that all of parenting is an on-your-knees-with-God proposition) and part-time as a writing instructor with the Institute of Children’s Literature (as an excuse to read really great books before anyone else) and any-other-spare-minute (none) writing children’s books. Since she “thinks through her fingers” she shares their adoption journey as a coping mechanism on her personal blog.

Advent: Coming

Advent: 1) The arrival of a notable person, thing, or event. 2) Coming.

A time of preparation. Of waiting. Of anticipation.

For unto you a child is born. Unto you a son is given.

It is a precarious thing, this waiting. Two Christmases ago we waited. Waited on a Word from God that said yes, go, I am calling you to this, your family to this – home study, paperwork, adoption agency, financial leap, personal leap, Africa, a son. A time of preparation. We didn’t know who or when or how. Only the promise – For you have done marvelous things, things planned long ago (Isaiah 25:1).

Last Christmas we waited. Waited in the agony of labor and anticipation of coming. We knew his name. Bits of his story. Bits of his struggle. When would we go? When would he come? No news. Worrisome news. Hope and then disappointment. Not us. Not yet. Let us hold unswervingly to the hope we profess, for he who promised is faithful (Hebrews 10:23).

This Christmas we see the promise realized. A son is given. A family shifted and reknit. New colors, strands, personalities into a tapestry of hope and a future. Into forever. Joys and trials and blessings and struggles and perseverance and love. We see his face, hold his hands, delight in his smile. That which was promised. Not one word has failed of all the good things that the Lord your God has promised concerning you. All have come to pass for you; not one of them has failed (Joshua 23:14b).

And we light our candle and prepare for the Child and retell the stories of promises kept and hope renewed and futures reclaimed and families reknit. And we wait.

_______________________________

Kristi Thompson

Kristi and her husband of 19 years stay busy loving, laughing and chauffeuring their teenage daughter (biological) and kindergarten son (home six months from Lesotho) around their Kentucky home. Kristi works part-time as an elementary school counselor (and as such knows parenting advice is easier said than done and that all of parenting is an on-your-knees-with-God proposition) and part-time as a writing instructor with the Institute of Children’s Literature (as an excuse to read really great books before anyone else) and any-other-spare-minute (none) writing children’s books. Since she “thinks through her fingers” she shares their adoption journey as a coping mechanism on her personal blog.

When Wisdom Ends

The Bible has a lot to say about wisdom. A keyword search for “wisdom” produces 219 results. I’m a planner, and also a bit of a perfectionist, so the admonition in Luke 14:28-30 about estimating the cost BEFORE building has always struck a warning chord in me.

But, as Trent and I delve deeper into this adoption journey, I’m also confronted with the question: Where does wisdom end and faith versus fear begin? Because from a pragmatic viewpoint, international adoption doesn’t seem especially wise.

Sam is 13, a great kid, and, to be honest, parenting an only child has a lot of perks. Adding another child through international adoption will create some stress:

  1. Financially — adoption fees plus the cost of raising and schooling another child
  2. emotionally — attachment issues and parenting in general can wreak havok in families
  3. physically — twenty plus hours of travel time just to GET to Lesotho, plus the threat of illness and injury along the way

It’s no wonder well-meaning friends have asked, “Um, are you sure?”

So where’s the line between wisdom and faith versus fear? We confront this same question about our mission trip to Tijuana. This year, we promoted the mission trip to the Christian school where I work. Not a lot of takers, to be honest. What I got instead where a lot of rebukes. “Haven’t you heard that Mexico is NOT SAFE?” “It is irresponsible of you to promote a service trip to MEXICO! Are you foolish?” No matter that we’ve been to Tijuana five years running, are in regular contact with those who live every day in Tijuana, and our critics’ only knowledge of Mexico is what they’ve heard on the news (which happens to be focused on another part of the country completely).

Sometimes, we must step forward with action that seems to defy wisdom. Adoption. Mission trips. Service. Charitable giving. Heck, even venturing out in a thunderstorm to go to church. When wisdom ends, our only decision is whether we will venture forth in faith…or stay home in fear.

For the foolishness of God is wiser than human wisdom, and the weakness of God is stronger than human strength.

1 Cor. 1:25

 ________________________________________

Kristi Thompson

Kristi Thompson lives, laughs, counsels, and writes (www.collierbooks.com) in Louisville, KY, with her husband, Trent, and their daughter Sam. After three year of working for Child Protective Services, six years of serving on short-term mission trips to Mexico and a job lay-off scare, they felt led to add a little boy from Lesotho to the family. Follow the journey at Praying Him Home.

The Muddle in the Middle

I have a confession to make. And, I apologize in advance to all my reading and writing friends who thought you knew me and will now be forced to rethink whether to admit that you’ve ever once asked me for editing advice.

When I read, I sometimes jump ahead to the end.

I know. I said I was sorry. I can’t help it. It’s a sickness.

I don’t read much. A page or two at most. Just enough to make sure that the characters I’ve grown to know and love survive to the end. If they all get killed off, why waste the emotional energy to keep reading through all the turmoil? I just want to know that the good guy wins and the bad guy gets his. Once I’ve got that sorted out, then I can settle in and enjoy the ride.

So, that may explain why just now, stuck as we are in the no-there-is-still-no-news-yes-I-know-it-has-been-a-long-time MIDDLE of this adoption process I have been contemplating taking something just a wee bit stronger than Tylenol PM to get me through the night. Can a sister get a hook up? Seriously.

I so desperately want to skip ahead to the end of the story. I want to know that we will survive this journey. I want to know that Pacman* will survive this journey. My heart is literally breaking for this little boy. Abandoned. Vulnerable. Desperately needing to belong, to be loved. How long must he wait? He needs a family. We need a little boy. Seems a relatively easy plot line, right?

In novel writing, middles are notoriously difficult. They must link the call to adventure in the beginning to the resolution at the end. Middles contain all those tests and trials that are meant to build character. I love reading a good middle – the more suspense the better. (So long as I know it all turns out okay at the end.) I’m always encouraging my writing students to add more difficulties, more problems, more tension. In story, conflict equals excitement. In real life, not so much fun.

Not only are we stuck in the middle, we are stuck in a SLOW middle. I’d be getting bored if it weren’t so desperately heartbreaking. Just when I think I can’t slog through another day of waiting, guess what? Another day of waiting. “Pace of story too slow.” “Needs some action.” I was hoping for a hi-lo adventure. Instead I fear we’ve landed in a Victorian epic. A long, drawn out treatise with lots of sighs and a fair amount of whining (mine).

The middle is hard. Hard, hard, tear-my-hair-out hard.

But I will believe – even when I’m crying and whining and asking “are we there YET?” and “how much longer?” – that God has this story well in hand. He’s the author. He knows this struggle through the middle, and he’s right here with us. He knows about the bureaucratic red tape and the unanswered emails and the months-long delays. And what’s more, He’s right there in the middle with Pacman. In the quiet loneliness of nighttime at the orphanage, He is there. When Pacman watches others meet their forever families while he is left behind, God is there. When Pacman wonders if he will ever again be loved or belong, God is there. “I will never leave you nor forsake you.”

Yes, God knows our middle, but even better, God knows how it resolves. He’s even given us a sneak peek at the end – “Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted” (Matt 5:4); “I will not leave you as orphans, I will come to you” (John 14:18); “He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away” (Rev. 21:4).

The middle is hard. The end is joy-filled. The middle is slow. The end is perfectly timed. The middle is filled with turmoil. The end is redeemed.

* Not his real name. Although it is catchy.

 ________________________________________

Kristi Thompson

Kristi Thompson lives, laughs, counsels, and writes (www.collierbooks.com) in Louisville, KY, with her husband, Trent, and their daughter Sam. After three year of working for Child Protective Services, six years of serving on short-term mission trips to Mexico and a job lay-off scare, they felt led to add a little boy from Lesotho to the family. Follow the journey at Praying Him Home.

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