The Rose Among Thorns

This week in class, we studied the texts regarding life events, or the “bands” of the life cycle, including marriage and funeral texts.

As the bride approaches the chupah, the groom should take a step or two forward in greeting. She then circles the groom, according to the custom, and the chazzan sings:

“Blessed is he who has come! He Who understands the speech of the rose among the thorns, the love of a bride, who is the joy of the beloved ones – may He bless the groom and bride.”

“The rose among the thorns”, it says.

It is an “allusion to the Jewish bride and wife who scrupulously observes the laws of family purity” (Midrash commentary, p. 203 of the Artscroll Siddur).

It is also very emphatically the Jewish bride, with Israel (the rose) compared to the nations (the thorns being the Gentiles) (see also Shir Hashirim 2:2).

There is something sacred and divine about being a wife.

More specifically, there is something sacred and divine about being a covenant-keeper wife.

And, a wife who is a mother.

Being both a covenant-keeper wife and a covenant-keeper mother is absolutely the hardest thing I have ever done.

I don’t know that I am very good at it just yet.

I keep trying to blame my patriarch for the blessing, and keep telling him how this is all his fault.

He keeps telling me it has to do with premortality, and being chosen, and making good choices, and being ordained long ago.

I try to hold on to that, and try to grasp it, and try to sink it in enough to ponder, but I never feel very wise and noble and good when I am in the middle of ducking spit-out baby food while winterizing the pool in between laundry loads and house cleaning while sorting through much needed donated clothes to find what will work for which children of mine and other foster parents I know.

It doesn’t feel good when we are in hour six of screaming babies after an early morning with the boy following a late night with the girl.

It has been a rough weekend.

We had our first court hearing where the parents went for adjudication and are requesting a jury trial instead of pleading guilty and getting a treatment plan. This means that, theoretically, if the jury rules in their favor, then we would hand over that child that day, just like that, even though a week ago we thought we might be adopting. There are a million details we can’t share right now, but it was a long and painful day, and we were shocked.

Not only were we shocked, but that was Halloween, and we had to paint on parent-smiles and go trick or treating, especially since I wrote down the wrong time for trunk-or-treat and we missed that at church.

All I wanted to do was curl up and cry, wondering why we are choosing heartbreak on purpose, especially when there are no grief points left for this year, but instead it was time to smile and be full of energy and get the kids excited about their very first Halloween.

Friday was almost as good as Thursday was hard, being a very challenging day at work, but really good and enjoyable and productive. That feels good when I feel like my work life has taken a hit while balancing family and kids and the last two years of grief.

So much grief.

Our last due date from the third miscarriage is coming up, and somehow it feels harder than the others. I think because it was our last chance one, and it was the one we made it all the way to the three month mark and were supposed to be safe. Grief is brutal, and now we may lose another kiddo that isn’t ours.

Except we signed up for that.

Why did we do that on purpose?

Friday night was fun because we got to visit 12, and it was so good to see her doing so well and feeling happy and thriving in her world. I am glad for her, and proud of her. She was (is) amazing.

Today the baby was not happy at all, all day long. It was awful. It was so hard! I checked her molars cutting through, and kept her changed, and kept her fed (except for the food she spit out all over me), and checked her nutrition meds, and held her, and even carried her around while I cleaned mirrors and bathroom sinks and counters and dusted the house and everything. I tried so hard, from extra attention to giving her some down time, and nothing worked. It was miserable.

Maybe this is so I won’t miss you too much when you are gone, I thought.

Or maybe you know. Can you tell? Do you know we are afraid we might lose you?

I tried really hard all day not to act afraid.

I know, though, that she is as fierce and strong-willed as I ever was, and that if we do keep her then I fully got what I deserved, and me and mom will be even-steven on the restitution thing.

Maybe that’s why we will get to keep you.

Unless we don’t get to keep you.

Really, I don’t know anything.

And I can’t think about it.

I know that the girl has blossomed since her siblings were moved to different places, and that it has been an amazing thing to watch. She is coming into her own, having permission to breathe and run free and play and create like never before, and she is thriving. She likes being the oldest, and we are almost becoming friends. Almost. She wants hugs and kisses and cuddles now, and calls me mom on accident sometimes, but always corrects herself. Her family is super tight, and she “will only always have one mom”.

I cringed during a phone visit when she said, “Families are supposed to be forever families, and our family is not even together. We need some good choices around here.”


It is court season again here, with another court date for one next week, and the third one has court the week after that.

Everything changes at court, in a matter of minutes.

Or nothing changes, and time ticks slowly by.

The boy asked us tonight – for the first time – for the first time in almost five months – where his other parents are. That’s what he calls them: “my other mom and my other dad”. He calls me “mama” and calls Nathan “daddy”, and refers to the biological parents as “my other mom and dad”. He asked me so directly, and with such a serious face, that I did not know what to do but just tell him.

He listened intently to what I shared, and then said, “Thanks. I just wanted to know.”

It made me cry, cold tears whisked away in the night wind as I parked in the middle of the road to scoot into stake conference quick as I could with three kids in tow since we are not allowed to have babysitters.

He asked right as we parked, so we were almost late going in.

We already had waited because we had to finish the girl’s phone visit.

He doesn’t get phone visits, so when it makes him sad, we always call Nathan.

But Nathan was inside, saving us seats, and so just like that, the question came out of his mouth.

So I answered him, briefly and simply, but truthfully.

He asked if he would ever get to see them again.

I don’t think so, sweetie.

I sat there, in the front seat, trying to see him in the rearview mirror as I parked the car.

It was the deepest silence I have felt since those weeks between my cochlear implant surgery and actually getting my processors activated.

I opened the backseat door to help him out of his carseat, and looked into his giant eyes. He reached up with tiny arms and hugged me tight and said, “Thanks, Mama. I just wanted to know.”

I let the wind blow away my tears while they clamored out of the car and I got the baby and all their five million bags. So much stuff to carry around for kids! I never even used a purse before them!

We made it just in time, barely, but the kids running from their trauma, all juiced up on trauma-drama, cortisol shooting through their brains from the girl’s phone visit and the boy’s deep questions, so that instead of their very worked-hard-on reverent entrance, they both bounded inside running and jumping and skipping all the way down front! I couldn’t catch them! When I caught up to them, I made them go back and do it again with arms folded and walking down the aisle to our seat.

He said, “Oh yeah, mom. I forgot. Sure, mom, I have my reverent pants on.”

Oh, how he makes me laugh!

It was a hard week, getting his test results and all the information (and fights with) the special education people, setting up IEP’s, and therapies, and facing what is future reality within the framework of his mortality and all the things he has been through, and determined to push the limits and boundaries of possibility to the best of my ability by using every resource I can find as a mother to help him.

I am falling in love with you, kid.

That’s okay, mama. You teach me to make good choices, mama. I am a good choice, mama. You can choose me, mama. Because I choose you.

I dare to hope we really have a choice.

We did win one battle, only because we followed the rules, I think. But because we were patient, and because we were respectful of dad’s wishes, and because we shared pictures of his experiences trying to keep all that hair pulled back, we finally got approved and permission to cut his hair.

We didn’t waste any time. We took him to cut it that night.

He loves it!

I look like a boy, mama! I will be your good boy, mama!

That’s what he promised before needing to be carried out of stake conference halfway through.

So close, buddy. He almost made it! He was so tired! It was so past his bedtime, but we were asked to be there, and got permission for the kids since we cannot have babysitters. After it was over, he walked back with Nathan and tugged on my arm and said, “Mom! I am making good choices! My reverent pants are back on! So maybe I should get some halloween candy, don’t you think, mom?”

He’s a mess.

His hair is a mess, still, needing time to settle down and find how it wants to lay and get another trim to really be his new haircut. But the length is gone, and we are seeing what the curls are going to do (or not), and he is very proud of his boy haircut.

Me: You have a boy haircut like daddy!
Boy: I want a boy haircut like daddy! But I don’t want to write like daddy. I cannot even write. I want to be a garbage man!
Me: A garbage man?
Boy: Yes! I saw them come! The garbage truck man! And they lifted high our trash! And it was the most amazing thing! It was awesome, mom! I want to be the garbage man!
Nathan: (Boy), if you work very hard at school, then you might grow up to be the garbage man.
Boy: Okay, daddy!

This is our life now, this one here to stay (allegedly), one going any minute (or not), one waiting on a jury trial to see who gets to raise her.

Because of the special issues boy has, we have already told DHS that if he is staying, we will not get another boy older than him. He is too impressionable without understanding consequences. He looks up to anyone willing to teach him anything, even if it is not something good for him or safe, but he doesn’t know how to tell the difference yet.

If the baby stays long term, we may set another limit there because we are so concerned about reactive attachment and having to work really hard on that already. It terrifies me for when she is older, but also am so proud of her for how far she has come. Tonight at stake conference I took her with me to change her during a “song break” while the girl had to go to the bathroom. The baby walked around while we waited, and even looked at some people, even if she didn’t let anyone hold her or get close. That’s so huge for her! When she first came, if anyone else even looked at her, she literally ran away, collapsed on the floor in a corner, and curled up in a ball like a hedgehog.

What has to happen to do that to a child?

Tonight she played peekaboo with Jennifer Perkins’ parents sitting on the pew behind us. That’s huge for her. To anyone else used to “normal” children, that might be nothing. To this little one, that is eons of progress. We have tried so hard, and I hope we have helped some, even if it is just enough that she knows she can get help when she needs it some day. If I ever needed help, I would definitely start with Jennifer Perkins’ parents.

Are we just naive to think we can make them better?

Are we making any kind of difference at all?

The baby is a daddy’s girl, and adores Nathan, and can get him to do almost anything for her. Nathan and the girl connect through their creativity, coming up with the most amazing stories and plays and puppet shows. He is teaching the boy to be a gentleman (allegedly), teaching him how to eat properly, how to walk people to the door, how to hold open doors for ladies, how to be helpful to me, and how to be gentle with the baby. Nathan is amazing.

Nathan and I had no problems being married. I mean to say, that in our marital relationship, we really were just sappy-happy. We had plenty of problems happening to us or around us, but we were in our cocoon and protected and quiet and smiley.

Having kids added enough chaos and stress that we have learned new things about ourselves and each other. It has been a refining process for our tempers and temperaments, the venue by which we could move from spoiled and selfish to living the law of consecration, and the structure by which we could move from couplehood to parenthood.

The kids are amazing. They are a mess, but they are amazing.

Tonight the boy had me laughing so hard that I couldn’t stop, and I laughed until tears poured out of my eyes.

It has been a long time since I laughed like that.

We were talking about the “W questions”: who, which, what, where, when, and why?

The girl had asked a question that was really a statement, so we were clarifying about how you know when something is a statement or a question.

I kept saying it to the boy, because I know it is going to take a lot of exposure and repetition to get the information into his head in a way that it clicks, but I really believe it is possible.

So since a new concept came up, I was pushing it. I kept telling him the “w question words”.

Finally, he repeated them back to me, and shouted, “Hey! Stop asking me all the questions! I don’t know any of the answers, mom! I don’t know, and I don’t care, pineapple and water!”

And I nearly spit out my dinner.

It was really, really funny, and we were all too tired after a late night at stake conference, and the more I tried to settle down, the funnier it got.

And then he laughed, too.

And then everybody else laughed.

And just like that, for a small moment, we were all happy again, and everything was okay, and nobody was thinking about trauma or grief or leaving or staying.

We just laughed.

And I looked across the dinner table at Nathan, and never loved him more.

And I looked back at the boy, and knew I loved him and couldn’t pretend anymore that I didn’t.

After prayers tonight, I made sure to give him an extra hug, and I thanked him for making me laugh.

He looked at me with those big eyes and said what Nathan tells him every day:

If you make a bad choice, life gets harder.
If you make a good choice, life gets happier.

It made me laugh, to hear him quote Nathan so seriously.

He looked at me with those big eyes again, and said “You are laughing, mama. You are happy, mama. You are happy because you make good choices. You make good choices, so you can be happy even when life is hard, mom. When you are laughing, it makes me happy, too, mama.”

And I tucked him into his bed, with a prayer still on my breath and another tear on my cheek.

And I knew that that life was cycling around again. I knew those two years of grief are finishing, and that my time is coming to live again. I knew that this boy is in my heart, and that Nathan was held for me for such a time as this, and that my parents were nearby.

I could feel them.

And I felt happy.

Maybe that’s the rose among thorns: love, the kind of love that is real no matter the thorns of life, no matter the weeds of the garden, or the unfair weather. Just love, real and strong and ever-growing and ever-nurturing. Just love, the kind that comforts and heals and grows beyond.

Just love.

I wouldn’t trade it for anything, even if it comes with thorns.

Posted in Marriage permalink

About Emily

I am a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints since 2009. I serve as a Chaplain, and work as a counselor. I got bilateral cochlear implants in 2010, but will always love sign language. I choose books over television, and organics over processed. Nothing is as close to flying as ballroom dancing - except maybe running, when in the solo mood. I would rather be outside than anywhere else, especially at the river riding my bike or kayaking. PhD in Marriage and Family Therapy, and currently doing a post-doc in Jewish Studies and an MDiv in Pastoral Counseling. The best thing about Emily World is that it's always an adventure, even if (not so) grammatically precise. The only thing better than writing is being married to a writer. Nathan Christensen and I were married in the Oklahoma City temple on 13 October 2012, and have since fostered more than eighty-five children. We have adopted the six who stayed, and are totally and completely and helplessly in love with our family. Nathan writes musical theater, including "Broadcast" (a musical history of the radio) and an adaption of Lois Lowry's "The Giver". He served his mission in South Korea, has taught song-writing in New York City public schools, and worked as a theater critic for a Tucson newspaper. This is not an official Web site of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

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