Bracelets for Our Brothers
Help Us Bring Our Brothers Home
Build the Alter
Posted on May 18th, 2017

​When I first discovered and translated the message, I was in my office, on a small break near the end of the day between a class and a conference with a team of teachers and a parent.  I had to read it three or four times before I understood—not only because the translation wasn’t really clear, but because I was frozen in disbelief.  How could this be happening?  Then the hyperventilating started, followed by an uncontrollable stream of tears as my body became sticky and clammy from the distress. 
 
Maybe I misread it, I thought, as I reread the message for the 6th or 7th time—I lost count.  Maybe the translation is bad, I hoped, as I passed it on to a friend who could give me a more accurate reading than Google Translate.  I continued to put it through different translators, but all indicated the same general message.  My friend responded nearly immediately.  No, I wasn’t mistaken.  No, it wasn’t that inaccurate of a translation.  His words were clear.  His message was firm.  He thanked us for our time and generosity and for being good people, but it was made clear that this would be our final contact with one another.
 
After about 15 minutes of shock and denial, I looked at the clock—only ten minutes until the meeting.  How could I possibly sit in front of a parent and have a coherent, helpful conversation?  There was no way, I wasn’t strong enough.  I stumbled into my administrator’s office sweating profusely, eyes crazed and bloodshot from the tears, face red and puffy.  I probably frightened him; I usually have better control over my emotions.  This was a tragedy though, a real-life, actual tragedy that was playing out on a stage in my office with me as the protagonist.
 
Because I have a wonderful administrator who has seen a more honest and real side of me than probably anyone else I’ve ever worked with, I told him the truth.  I had to choke out the words while I gasped for breath and stability between each horrifying set of letters.  “The… the boys… they… aren’t coming.  They withdrew….  from the adoption.  It’s over. I just found out.  I just got the message.  I might need to take a personal moment instead of attend this conference, here is what I would say to the parent, can you say it for me?”
 
Just as shocked as I was, he graciously told me to take the time I needed.  I locked myself in the restroom and watched the minutes tick by on my phone.  I tried, in those minutes, to remind myself of why I work where I work and with whom I work.   Many of the children, including the one in question, have a past and/or present that is very much like the background my own children have.  I knew topics would come up in this meeting that would be difficult for me to hear and talk about. 
 
This child, while he struggles in so many areas, and has such a difficult life, blossoms when he makes music with me.  I see my own children when I look in his eyes, and, if we had room for one more in our home, I would help him find the permanency he lacks. 
I knew this meeting would have a lot of negativity to it.  His poor grades (to spite his natural brilliancy), behavior problems, and lack of concentration would be the bulk of the conversation, but all stem from instability.  I am blessed to see a different side of this child, as I often have the opportunity to when working with children in an artistic setting.  I am frequently a teacher who can offer some shred of hope to a meeting like this, the teacher the parents thank later on for being the first teacher who has ever had anything nice to say about their child.  I am fortunate to be able to break away from the desk, chair, paper, pencil, and written work.  It is with great honor and privilege that I get to see beauty, through art, in some of life's most hideous moments.  
 
I stopped crying.  I opened the stall.  I feverishly tried to make myself not look panicked and weak, but I still looked awful.  I had to go, though.  So, I walked into the conference about 7 minutes late, drawing even more negative attention to myself as I sat down at the far end of the long conference table.  I can’t even imagine what other people thought about me during that conference.  All I can tell you, though, is that I was able to listen to some really hard truths that hit very close to home, and I decided to stick it out, and I am so glad I did. 
 
I was fortunate enough to form a relationship with this family that day that I didn’t have before.  I stayed after school for a long period of time just talking one on one with the family member representing the child that day.  Again, I can’t imagine what she must have thought of me as I stumbled into the meeting, flung myself into a chair, hair a mess, mascara stains around my fire-red eyes.  But, I’m so glad I stuck it out.  I think we blessed each other that day.  She may never know that.
 
The rest of that Wednesday evening was a blur.  I honestly have blocked most of it out.  I know I re-read his message several times.  It was polite, gracious, but very final.  He also made sure he blocked us from contacting him in any way.  In the same paragraph where he thanked me for caring for his sisters so well, for being such a good person, for coming back for him, he also told me he could never view me as his “real” mother, that he understood the difference between a biological mother and an adoptive mother, and that it would be a disgrace and betrayal to his biological family to take a new family name and call another person “mother”.
 
Devastated.  Then, the rage: Ok, fine, don’t call me “mom”, I get it, I never asked you to, you chose to!  You asked ME on the trip if you could call me that!   You continued to call me that in messages for days after we left Bulgaria.  Don’t take a new name!  I don’t care!  I never forced that on you! You chose that, too!  And, while I understand loyalty to a biological family and differences across cultures and genders, where has the loyalty to YOU been all these years? 
 
All these opportunities and chances that were given, no one, not a single person has said YES to you except ME.  I made bracelets with my daughters, your sisters, until my fingers bled.  I worked days and days on no more ethan four hours of sleep so we could get those bracelets out before people opened gifts and stockings on Christmas morning.  I have had to put my pride aside and ask for money, something I never thought I’d do.  I’ve fallen asleep over lengthy adoption paperwork, my hands unable to sign another document, my eyes unable to decode another legal word.  How can this be happening?
 
Fine.  Don’t come.  Stay in the orphanage and rot.  Leave there and have no education, no future, and try to find your biological family.  See how that works out for you.  I tried.  I fought for you in every way I could.  I stalked you for months and waited for your file to be with a reputable agency and NGO.  I plowed through adoption paperwork, red tape, and jumped the hoops at break-neck speed.  I said YES when everyone else said NO.  I have poured my life into bringing you home, to reuniting a part of your family, to righting a wrong I didn’t create but still feel responsible for.  I listened so hard to what God was telling me to do, how could this possibly be happening?  How could I have misheard Him?
 
We didn’t tell the girls.  Faking it in front of them for a couple of days to see what would happen and waiting for our NGO to run emergency interference on this was hard.  Meanwhile, no contact, and no apparent change in feeling from you.  Your mind was made up, and you were probably going to make sure your younger brother stayed behind with you.  The contact with him ceased as well.  Every time my phone had a notification, I prayed it was you.  I prayed you would change your mind, or that I would just wake up and it would all just be some horrible nightmare.  But, the days dragged on and things stayed the same.
 
We told the girls on Friday night after a dinner out and before our trip to Carowinds the next day, strategically planned to lessen the blow.  They were furious with you.  By the time we told them, we knew why you did what you did.  We knew your birth mother found out about our visit and contacted you.  First contact she’d made in years, but she got in your head and threatened you.  She told you that you’d be a disgrace, and that you were dishonoring your family.  She told you what to tell me.  And you did.  I know this to be true not only because of information we received from abroad, but because my oldest daughter said the same thing happened when we came for her.  She almost said no to our family, too, for the same reason.
 
We waited anxiously for news the following Monday from our NGO.  Late Monday afternoon and email, finally.  A Skype session was proposed for Wednesday at 6am.  We would try to talk through this with mediation from our translator.  The days between Monday and Wednesday became an “if this, then that” game between Neil and myself.  What will we do if this happens or that happens, when are we done, when do we throw in the towel, when do we say we tried but failed?
 
I confided in a trusted friend.  She reminded me of the story of Abraham and Isaac.  Abraham is asked by God to do something utterly absurd, and contradictory to the very nature of God’s will.  The very death of Isaac would be a complete contradiction to God’s promises.  The passage in Genesis is one that is controversial for many, and I can understand why.  Not only is it controversial and difficult to stomach that God would ask someone to offer his son as a sacrifice, it is also unclear exactly how to interpret the story.
 
After this conversation and my vague recollection of the story, I became enthralled with it.  I read perspectives from modern Christian scholars, multiple versions of the Word, and perspectives from Old Testament and Jewish scholars.  All of the interpretations made my head swim.   I also, in the midst of this process, recalled that one of my favorite composers, Stravinsky, set this Hebrew text to music, and that, this piece along with, was he or wasn’t he an anti-Semite, became and continues to be controversial among both music theorists and musicologists.  Two of my favorite musicologists, in fact, go toe-to-toe over this piece, and whether it was “bought and paid for”.  So, the obsession extended for me.
 
Back to the actual text, though. What was God really doing here?  How could he ask this of Abraham?  And, God’s own promises were dependent upon Isaac’s life.  Was he testing Abraham—some say yes, some say no he was already tested.  Some say the entire story reads out of context, and that Abraham understood metaphorically what was going on the whole time, that a lamb would be provided, and the whole thing is just one big misinterpretation of the Hebrew language.  Then there is big debate on whether Abraham actually “passed the test” because he listened to a messenger who gave him permission to stop just before he was going to sacrifice his son.  All kinds of disagreements over this text—fascinating.  Who knows the truth-only God…
 
But we do know that Abraham and Isaac make the long journey together, and Abraham does build an alter for a sacrifice.  Ultimately a message is delivered to Abraham that he clearly “FEARS” God and does not have to sacrifice his own son. There may be disagreements about the reasoning, the faith, the testing, the interpretation—whatever.  Most Christians choose to interpret this text as a pinacle example of doing God’s Will no matter what, listening, obeying, following His command.  While some might say this is a rather romanticized interpretation of the text, it is undeniably motivational, and absolutely applicable to the situation I found myself in.
 
I fear God.  I have tried to do what He has asked, even when it seemed absurd, while everyone around me questioned what I was doing.  I have tried to be faithful and trust in His provision as we started this process with about $1000 in savings, but needing about $40,000.  God has reaffirmed our journey time, and time again.  I have, even during moments when I questioned my ability to take on two more children with many needs, tried with all my might to be an obedient servant.  Maybe I had proven to God that I feared him, that I listen, that I believe.  Maybe he was letting me off the hook.  Maybe our journey here was done, ended not by me, but by outside forces.  I didn’t have to continue to endure the emotional, physical, financial sacrifice anymore.  I passed the test. 
 
I became rather confident in this application of the Word to my life, and, as Wednesday approached, started to be rather ambivalent about the outcome of the Skype session.  If they showed and changed their minds, all right we move forward.  If not, I’m tapping out.  God said I could.  I figured I’d climbed the proverbial mountain and shown I was ready and willing, and God had given me permission to hang it up if it just got too hard—impossible, really.
 
My alarm disturbed me from a restless sleep at 5am on Wednesday morning.  I hurried to get dressed and do the tasks of the morning so we could all be dressed and waiting promptly at 6am for the Skype call.  6am came and went.  Our NGO was on the line and ready to help interpret, but there was no cooperation from the boys.  All right, I’m listening, God, I’m about to just let this all go.  6:11am a call comes.  While the computer processed the image from the other side of the world, my eyes raced to see who would be present on the other side.  Only one child, the younger child, was present.  I did a Grammy-award-worthy acting job pretending to be thrilled by his presence and his alone, but as Jesus taught, the sheppard goes after the lost sheep. 
 
Where was my other son?   After about 20 minutes into the Skype session, I started praying for God to please place it on his heart to join our session, to at least listen, to at least see that we showed up.  I asked God to soften his heart, to take down some of his hard-earned armor, and allow us a chance to see one another one final time. 
 
Then another image came into view on the screen—my oldest son.  He reluctantly sat down, but it was clear as soon as I saw his face and he saw mine, the tides had shifted.  The rest of the call was simultaneously horrible and beautiful, joyful and tragic, painful and therapeutic.  Unbeknownst to me, because I was so focused on the Skype session, prior to his appearance that morning, my oldest son wrote me a lengthy message asking for forgiveness, reconsideration, and stated his unwavering commitment to following through with the rest of the process.
 
On the way to work that morning, I heard clearly the words in my mind, “you haven’t built the alter yet.” 
 
When I got to work, I saw his message, time stamped 6:28am, while I was deep in prayer for him.
 
You see, I’d only climbed the mountain for these boys; I had not truly shown God my willingness to sacrifice for the good of another or to fulfill His command.  I had put a limit on my own suffering out of fear that God might not provide the strength necessary to continue to the journey without certainty of commitment.  I put a limit on my empathy in an effort to protect myself emotionally, not trusting that, if it is truly God’s Will, it WILL be done.
 
Day by day I building the alter, wondering if I will be blocked again or if birth mother will convince him through shaming that he is unworthy of another family, bound eternally to the one who did not provide for him.  She has rights to contact him whenever she wants, I do not.  I am not his mother.  I can’t be his mother until he tells a judge that he wants me to be.
 
I am on day 8 of building the alter, trusting that a strength greater than my own will help our whole family get through these uncertain and difficult times together.  So far, his commitment has not waivered, it has not waned, and it is stronger than ever.  Communication is initiated from him daily, and he has resumed calling me mom (a title I would never demand from him).  Tomorrow we Skype again, and, although I have nagging doubts that linger, I’m pretty sure I’ll see both of my sons tomorrow morning and that, very soon, they will legally become my sons.
 
Build the alter, friends. 
 
Then shout from the mountaintop the glory of God’s work in your life.  This was probably the hardest thing I’ve ever written.  It is laced with embarrassment, shame, guilt, and fear.  It is raw and honest.  Now you know the truth.  I am sharing this truth publicly, however, as a testament to my dedication to building this alter and to my everlasting faith that once that alter is built, a horrible sacrifice will not occur.  Instead, God’s beauty, promises, and blessings will be made clear to our family of six.  It will not be easy, but blessings often aren’t. 
 
I am strong enough to build this alter, because my God provides the strength, the tools, and the endurance to do it with faithful hands.
 
This artwork is a reproduction of a public domain work. :)


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