It has now been a little over 4 months since Bart and our 3 older kiddos have gone back to the normal routines of school, leaving Esther and me at home during the workday. To say this time at home with her has been a blessing would be an understatement. I often can’t quite find the words to describe the treasure trove of joy we have unpacked in our time at home together. In almost every conceivable way, this short season has been a delightful surprise. I say that it has been a surprise because we honestly prepared ourselves for the worst- fully anticipating this transition to be one of the most challenging seasons of our *almost* 15 years of marriage.
Cocooning is a term that I didn’t know much about until we began the required training process for our adoption. If you are new to this term like I was, cocooning is considered to be a time of very intensive care for an adoptive family and the newly adopted child. Towards the final leg of our adoption journey before traveling, resources on cocooning were everywhere we turned. There is a large spectrum of experienced opinions on exactly how it should look, but we were hard pressed to find anyone who said it was unnecessary.
Basically, when a child has been thus far raised in a non-familial environment (like an orphanage type institution) they may or may not have had all of their basic needs met on a regular basis. Furthermore, their needs were unlikely met by the same caring adult on a consistent basis. Many orphans also learn manipulation or performance tactics to get their needs met out of pure necessity (ie the child with the best manners or prettiest smile or engaging personality gets the most attention or the most food).
In light of these deep insecurities that develop alongside survival, adoptive parents have learned the long term value in cocooning their new beloved child. The goal is typically to keep the new child’s world very small, predictable, and simple during the time of transition. Another priority of focus would be that only the parents would meet the basic care needs of the child like feeding, bathing, bathroom needs, and affection so the child begins to understand who is the trusted individual to meet their needs. Interactions outside the immediate family are recommended to be kept at a minimum.
The great hope is that during the time of cocooning, a deep sense of security and attachment will form between the adopted child and new parents. Every adopted parent longs for their child to look to them to get their needs met and that the child would rest in knowing the parents will come through to care for everything they need, without fear. When a child grows up with a deep sense of attachment to his or her parents, there is a strong correlation with that child actually thriving throughout life.
Back in the fall, after we were matched with Esther and were making preparations to travel to China and bring her home, we knew I would need to stay home with her for as long as possible. Bart & I agreed that we wanted to do everything we could to make her transition into our family as smooth as possible, create a stress free environment for attachment to happen naturally, and to have the calendar space to meet the unknown medical needs we knew she would be facing. Thankfully, I was granted a leave of absence for the remainder of the school year to make that happen: essentially 8 months of single mindedness. Back in December I traded my wide and shallow net at school for a smaller but deeper net to cast on the homefront. For a highly relational extrovert like me, the calendar space allotted to cocooning was a bit daunting.
So here I am now, well past the halfway mark of my (unpaid) “sabbatical” with summer break about to begin. I find myself swimming in a sea of mixed emotions at this time. I feel sad that these days have slipped by so quickly and that this beautiful season at home with Esther is about to conclude. But I also feel an astonishingly deep sense of gratitude for what I’ve been given. It is true that I can’t stop time from moving forward and out of these slower rhythms, but I also don’t have to guard myself from calling it what it has been to me and to our family: a gift of rest and renewal for our spirits to be revived. Each day has been a gift of slow dripping joy.
I distinctly remember January 7 of this year. It was the beginning of the first full week of school that I would be home and not at school like the rest of my family. It was a strange feeling to know that for the next semester, every weekday from 8am to 3pm, it was going to be a quiet house with just the two of us. I felt I needed to quickly set some goals for this time or one of two things were bound to happen: 1- I would lose my sense of purpose, drifting into laziness or wasteful entertainment, and isolating myself into a lonely hole of existence. OR 2- I would seek to find a false sense of purpose in accomplishing tasks, making long to-do lists each day, stuffing my days and weeks with the hum of activity, and thinking that staying busy would fulfill me. Two extremes, neither one healthy.
And so, instead of resigning myself to the extremes, I turned to God in prayer. “Lord, what are your plans for this year? What do you have for me, for Esther, for my family? What do you want me to focus my heart and my energy into? How can I be a wise steward of this wide open space that is in front of me? How can I filter what I give my “yes” and my “no” to in ways that please you above all? Give me wisdom, discernment, and the courage to walk by faith into Your vision for me rather than succumbing to my own selfish goals or the expectations of others. Help me to be led by You.”
Over the course of the month of January, I got up for my time alone with God and prayed similar words each day. Little by little, I gained a puzzle piece here and a puzzle piece there. By the end of the month, without realizing it had been happening, I could see a faint vision of His answer to that prayer and it looked like distinct pillars holding up a life built on the Rock. It was an outline of the dream and vision I didn’t even how to long for: a life made worthy of His calling, a life of fulfilling that calling, and a life lived to His glory.
“To this end we always pray for you, that our God may make you worthy of his calling and may fulfill every resolve for good and every work of faith by his power, so that the name of our Lord Jesus may be glorified in you…”2 Thessalonians 1:11-12
I’m a big fan of worship music, especially playing it in the mornings to set the tone as we get ready for our day and drive to school. One memory I will always treasure of this time is the spontaneous dance parties Esther and I would have in my kitchen after dropping the kids at school. It would never fail that a really good song would be playing on my Pandora station and the delight of that song would carry us from the car straight to twirling in the kitchen before morning chores started. One particular morning, a song was playing called “This is Where I Belong”. As I sang these lyrics over Esther in my arms and we swayed all over the floors, I knew these words were for my soul too.
This is where I belong, Held by the arms of love
Love, don’t let me go, don’t let go
This is where I belong, Held by the arms of love“This is Where I Belong” by: Housefires (feat. Pat Barrett)
Oh, Love, don’t let me go, don’t let go
As I choked back my tears, I saw myself as a mirror image of Esther. We were BOTH equally in need of this cocooning time that was ahead. It was easy to see this period of time as a necessary part of the adoption process to meet HER needs. What I hadn’t considered was that, even as a fairly well-adjusted adult, my soul needed to be cocooned too. For reasons I was too busy to see before, I needed this time to reconnect to the Father….to relearn how to fully trust Him to meet all of my needs, without fear or worry.
As a stereotypical “3” on the Enneagram, an achiever sometimes of the worst kind, I can be so guilty of building my identity and security in accomplishing goals of any variety. If I’m successfully making progress towards a goal, I tend to feel good about myself; but if I go through a period where I’m not feeling progress, I am notably more down on myself and the world around me. This performance mentality might set us up to gain praise from the world we live in, but is ultimately an unhealthy foundation in which to build your identity. Without being kept in check, your life is nothing more than an endless series of sprints towards the next external achievement that you think will quench your thirst.
In so many ways, Esther and I both needed to learn that we are both loved with an everlasting, scandalous love. The kind of love we both needed to receive and come to know- her from us and myself from my Heavenly Father- is not dependent on our performance or achievements. Praise God, she no longer needs to fall prey to thinking that she needs to “act cute” in order to gain affection. We love her unconditionally and will do everything in our power to do what is best for her, forever. At the same time, as a reborn child of God, I must be set free from thinking that my good deeds of service and spiritual disciplines will gain the approval and affection of my Father in Heaven. He set His affection on me, not because of anything I did or would ever do, but simply because of who I am in Christ.
But it takes time and space for our souls to know and believe those truths. Cocooning requires time and space because old habits and trains of thought don’t go down without a fight. In fact, most of us are so busy holding our world together with our to-do lists that we are completely unaware of what habits of thinking rule our daily lives. We’ve never seized the opportunity to actually think about who/what we believe about God and who/what that means for our identity. The pattern of renewing a mind toward a new identity, attachment to healthy love, and to the freedom to enjoy that love is a process….a slow and steady process.
I wonder if that’s why God commanded a Sabbath rest on the seventh day for His people. They were no longer slaves and they needed rhythmic reminders to retrain their souls of their new identity. They needed to be reminded that their God was going to provide for them, not because of their performance or their work ethic or their “slaying of goals”. He was going to provide for them because He keeps His promises and to prove it, He provided for their needs even when they were resting from their work.
I can relate also to the Apostle Paul who went to the Arabian Desert after his conversion and before he started fruitful ministry as an apostle of Jesus Christ. I wonder if Paul, who had lived by the letter of the law with such a deeply rooted works-minded faith, needed that time and space away from the norm so his identity could be reshaped as a child of God?
It’s been so easy to see the obvious transformation in Esther as she has had the time and space to receive and give love in the cocoon of our home. Without expectations and hurried activities, she has grown more and more secure, more and more confident, and more and more tender to our love. Words couldn’t possibly capture the gratitude I feel over the moments we have shared simply due to my availability and accessibility to her. When she spontaneously leans toward me and says, “Momma, hold you (me),” I can stop whatever I’m doing and scoop her up for hugs and kisses. The “with-ness” in the ordinary is exactly where the transformation happens. Brick by brick, we hope to continue to lay a foundation of identity where she securely knows she is loved because of who she is, not because of what she does.
Slowly, but surely, I have felt a mirror reflection of that same transformation in my own soul. In a way, during this season, my Father took away most of the regular expectations of man and the activities that I used to stake my confidence and identity in- my daily list of external progress, the way I proved my worth to the world. That old sense of striving has died a slow death; but a more secure, confident, and courageously vulnerable soul is beginning to slowly emerge. In the solitude of having nothing else to hang my identity on, I have found His love to be more than enough. Somehow when I know I am deeply loved in Christ, without strings attached, I become more free to give even more of my true self to the world around me too.
When I taught first grade, springtime meant it was time to get out the butterfly kit. Over the course of those weeks, our class watched a transformation happen. The caterpillars would emerge from the eggs and just focus on eating for the first couple of weeks. Then, as if on a timer, the caterpillar would begin forming its cocoon, a chrysalis. For at least another week, we would watch the habitat each day and nothing notable was happening. Only by experience do we know of the beautiful metamorphosis that is happening in that solitary time and space, hidden from the world. In due time, the students would watch as movement started to happen. Somehow, in someway, that caterpillar had radically changed into something with beautifully painted wings. Crawling around to find food was no longer necessary. This butterfly was meant to fly, meant to display a new kind of beauty, and designed to almost effortlessly move about in the air to fulfill its purpose.
The more I have reflected on it, the more I see that we have a lot in common with the caterpillars of the world. How silly we would think the caterpillar if it never stopped moving about, searching for more food, so it could form its cocoon! And if we were to argue with that caterpillar, we might try to tell her that it’s ok to stop her labors for a time- she doesn’t need to fear. Inside of the solitude of that cocoon, your Maker is there to meet you. He sees a design that no one out here can imagine and He wants to form it in you as you attach more deeply to Him. And when the time is right, you won’t even believe how He has changed you from the inside-out! Your life will never be the same in more ways than you can fathom. BUT- if you’re unwilling to go into that cocoon, you (and the world) will never know the beauty of who you really are.
Most people do not have the ability to take a sort of forced sabbatical like I have had. But most of us do have somewhat regular pockets of time that we could re-purpose as a mini sabbatical or Sabbath rest to reconnect to our Savior in a way that renews and revives our spirits. We are all designed by our Creator to function best after a time of recalibration from the inside-out, a rechartering of the path ahead. This kind of soul renewal doesn’t often happen in the contexts that we often think it will: on a family vacation or after an evening of Netflix binging or a day of decluttering the house. As scary as it is, it happens most effectively when no one is around but you and God. Solitude. The Vine and the Branch.
It’s all about intention and focus. If we don’t focus our gaze on God and His holiness, we could be spending our gift of rest and renewal like the prodigal son spent His Father’s inheritance in foolish ways. Instead, we must resist the urge to continue on our old patterns and use the pockets we can seize to learn what it really means to be a child of God- the privilege, the joy, and the calling of that position. The end result will be a child who serves their Father earnestly, sacrificially, joyfully, and with affection. Slaves and robots can’t produce that kind of beauty and that heartfelt labor of love.
Over the next several weeks, I plan to dive a little deeper into my own understanding of each of those pillars I have discovered back in January and have tried to stand on during this “sabbatical”. Hopefully, in the journey to revisit those pillars, the latter half of 2019 might be filled with even more wisdom, peace, and joy than the first half- something my heart is deeply hoping for.
If you would like to join me as I explore those puzzle pieces, I invite you to subscribe by listing your name and email. I promise not to send you a bunch of email forwards- just a direct drop of my next series of reflections.
Also, if you are local, I invite you to join us for our women’s community summer Bible study. We’re only meeting *3 times* in June & July, but are hoping to build in some accountability and rhthyms of renewing our minds in God’s Word throughout the summer. This might be the best way to welcome pockets of Sabbath rest into your life!