A cool air has settled over Lancaster County this week. The kind of weather that begs you to do yard work on a Saturday and end the day with a fire, bundled up in blankets. So, that's what we did.
"You know Levi, when you sit around the campfire, you have to have deep conversations," I teased our now-seven-year-old son. The three of us (Herb, Levi, and I) ate hot dogs and cookie dough, and the feelings of joy, contentment, and love were as thick as the smoke from the fire.
Here we sat, in our new back yard, discussing Herb's new position at work and the upcoming school year in a community that we love, listening to the hum of the white noise on the baby monitor, telling us our new baby was sleeping soundly.
Somehow we ended up down a rabbit trail, trying to remember if the year Herb was hospitalized for a week with an unknown fever, shortly followed by a terrible run in with shingles, was before or after his friend tragically died, and whether or not we had been introduced to any "potential birth moms" yet. Was that the same year he started seminary or was it the year of the disastrous and life-changing extended family situation? We didn't even mention when we were financially strapped and underwater on a house we couldn't afford in a location an hour away from work and church, that led to two moves and less than ideal housing situations.
We reveled at the gravity of each of the situations, now in our rear view mirror. Chuckling because of the non-chalant way which we talked about each of these moments. Each individually frustrating or devestating, and together compiled for over half a decade of struggle.
"It was a really hard few years, wasn't it" I asked. "Being Levi's mom has been the best time of my life, but outside of parenthood, there have been so many challenges."
And then, like a ton of bricks, the irony of it all hit me, causing me to gasp. From 2010 to 2016 it was one thing after another - 6 years of trials.
"You know, Herb, the last year has been pretty great." I know I've written about that before, but it all dawned on me in a new way. The seventh year of Levi's little life was a milestone year for our family - growth, renewal, freedom, forgiveness, restoration - in nearly every way possible.
"It's almost like this was our Year of Jubilee!"
Herb, always the cynic, laughed, but said, "I wouldn't read too much in to it - I don't think it's prophetic."
Prophetic? No. Ironic? Sure.
However, it gave me pause. In an instant, my brain and heart finally caught up to reality.
There was battle after battle after battle. Some battles were victorious and some left carnage that I hope to never experience again. And the final battle - the one that asked the very vulnerable and hopeful adoptive/foster momma to sit in a NICU, advocating for and loving unconditionally a little guy who may or may not become her forever-baby - took every ounce of strength I had gained from all that had not killed me before. That final mental battle was so so so incredibly difficult, that when it came to an end a month ago, and we knew that Baby J was staying with us forever, I still couldn't let go of my brokenness. I still walked around like this wounded and weary survivor.
Sound the trumpets, shred the paper, let the nurses kiss the sailors in the street, it's time for the Ticker Tape Parade. I am so ready to celebrate. We survived, but more importantly, in the times when we didn't thrive, we never walked alone. Every mile mattered, and nothing was for waste.
I hesitated to share this little joke about our "Year of Jubilee," because it's not a promise that if you trust God all your wildest dreams will come true...that's only if you vote for Pedro. But I want to stand beside people in their battles, Rosie the Riveter style. Let's role up our sleeves and do the hard work of trusting God, even when hope seems lost. Let's ask each other for help and encouragement. Let's embrace the beauty that comes when we realize joy and grief can coexist.
Here's the number one thing struggles have taught me - when it all falls apart, I can still have peace and joy. Why? Because my ultimate joy is not in this world - as this song says, "What a relief it is to know that in Christ, my joy is complete." The hard times have pressed me in to that truth and made me that much more grateful for anything good that was happening in life, and hopefully, that much more empathetic to those who hurt.
Finally, please send tissues, because now that I'm mentally here, my eyes won't stop celebrating.