Sunday, November 29, 2009

Too Many Bones

This summer I was captivated by a story of reconciliation projects in Rwanda.  Fifteen years after the genocide where a million people were killed by their neighbors in a hundred days, a woman rides on the back of a bicycle pedaled by the man who slay her father and brothers.  They travel together facilitating forgiveness.  They ask both murderer and victim, in the name of Christ, to do the difficult work of letting go, of putting down the burden of what cannot be undone.

My heart was moved as I attempted in vain to understand both the horror of the genocide and the miracle of mercy.  I thought, as all mothers think, of my own children.  I thought of their precious lives and shuddered at the stories of what these mothers, on the other side of the globe, had lost; what had been forcibly taken from them and what they had witnessed.  My heart squeezed tightly in my chest and the tears came. 

As an act of solidarity with these other mothers I committed to selling their baskets through the Rwanda Basket Company.  Selling their handmade works of art in the States means that these other mothers can earn a fair wage and feed their children.  Reconciliation is the work of God, but I could do this small thing.  And so the baskets began arriving with the afternoon mail.  I sorted and delivered them to those who had placed orders without giving much thought to how, if at all, this little project was affecting my children.  Of course they hover when baskets arrive and go with me to drop them off and understand that silence is required when I talk on the phone for business (as opposed to when I talk to Grandma and they are free to pull on my pants with endless requests for cheese).  

But yesterday I took Sarah with me to a basket party.  I knew a playmate would be there and she gladly agreed to a grown-up event and some car time alone with mom.  At these gatherings, I show a short video.  It briefly reviews the reality of the genocide with a few difficult photos.  I watched Sarah as she watched the video.  She nibbled her fourth cookie and judging by the lack of expression on her face I assumed she did not understand what she was looking at or what was being discussed.  As soon as we were back in the car she spoke.  “I want to travel to every country but Rwanda,” she said.  So she had been listening. 

“Why don’t you want to go to Rwanda, Sarah?” I asked, praying for the words to assuage fear, engender respect, and explain what had happened in a way that is appropriate for a four year old.

“There are too many bones.” She replied.  “I’ll trip.”

Her words stabbed and I whispered a prayer for those brave other mothers, walking towards God and wholeness, crossing a valley full of bones.  

Thursday, November 19, 2009

The Blankie

            This morning my son headed for the car with his blankie in tow.  I am forever having to check pockets and administer lie-detector tests to make sure my little darlings are not taking contraband to preschool under the disguise of “sharing items”. 

            “Moses, that is your blankie.  Your blankie is for naptime, not school.”

            “No, Mama, I am bringing it for sharing.”

Hmmm.  Heard that one before.

“Ok, buddy, but it stays in your backpack until sharing time.  Do you understand?”

“But I will snuggle it in the car.”

Score: Moses, 2.  Mom, 0.

            In support of the preschool teachers, I try to ask questions about a sharing item’s significance, helping my kiddos clarify why they have chosen a particular item to share.  This also functions as a good litmus test for a sharing item’s worth.  It has successfully ruled out everything from Barbie to Halloween candy.  However, Sarah has become skilled in argumentation and anticipating the rebuttal.  “This teeny, tiny scrap of paper is significant to me, Mom, because…” or “It is really important for me to share this necklace you don’t let me wear to school because…” 

            So as we drove, Moses snuggling with that soft, embossed, powder blue square edged in satin.  I asked him what about his special blankie he was planning to share.  I reminded him that I brought that blanket to him when we first met in Ethiopia.  I told him about how I would spread it across my chest and he would bury his head as I fed him Cheerios and sang quietly in his ear.  Those first memories of our time together are bittersweet.  He was so scared.  He had looked frantic, shoved into my arms as we loaded a bus to travel across town to the Embassy.  He did not know me.  But he had no choice but to come along.  And so he snuggled.  And ate.  And listened.  And eventually slept, his brain overwhelmed by stress.  In the retelling today, I only shared that we had snuggled and sang and ate Cheerios. 

            “Let’s do that again!”  He said.

And there is was before me again.  God incarnate.  Making sweet memory out of pain and loss.  Recovering what only He can recover.  Mending what only He can mend.  Walking my sweet, brave son through the valley while he was sleeping.  And bringing significance to the vestiges of our daily life.

“O Israel, put your hope in the Lord, for with the Lord is unfailing love and with him is full redemption.”  Psalm 130: 7            

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Baby Doll

The city that I grew up in had an undisputedly amazing toy store.  It might as well have been a hundred stories high and just as wide.  To walk in the front door was to be transported.  Kites hung from the ceiling.  Color and the smell of imagination and plastic overwhelmed.  And in the back there was a glass room filled with dolls which held captive the hopes and dreams of elementary school girls across town.  As days ticked slowly towards my birthday, my mom took me to look at the dolls.  We both knew why we were there, although I don’t think either of us spoke of it.  I poured over the frilly-dressed choices, tasting the excitement I expected on the big day.  I would open the signature shiny red box to find the doll of my dreams.  I chose carefully, as if all of life hung on this one moment, which of course it did.  All I remember of the doll I chose was that she had soft skin and I eagerly anticipated snuggling her close in my bed and whispering all my secrets. 

My birthday did bring the shiny red box.  But inside there was a different doll.  Her head, arms and legs were made of hard plastic.  She didn’t seem very squeezable or interested in secrets.  I was heart-broken and I think I said so.  Now as a parent I wonder at the details of story.  Had I chosen a very expensive doll?  Was it out-of-stock?  Maybe.  Or maybe when my mom and dad returned to make the purchase they decided on one that was better.  My parents have a history of giving amazing gifts, half of which don’t really seem that cool in the moment.  Growing up most of the things they chose weren’t highlighted in Saturday morning commercials.  They weren’t on the Christmas lists of my friends.  They didn’t come with batteries.

I named the doll Sarah and took her out to the playhouse so we could get acquainted.  Turned out she could keep a secret and was just the right size for wearing my own baby clothes.  She was a faithful friend in childhood, waited out my adolescence and took seriously her job as night sentry in the doll-sized rocker my parents hauled up to celebrate the birth of our firstborn.  Just the other day I saw my second daughter chewing happily on baby doll Sarah’s plastic face, and I smiled.  It is good that I don’t always get what I want.  It is good that my heavenly father knows what I need.

“Keep on asking, and you will receive what you ask for.  Keep on seeking, and you will find.  Keep on knocking, and the door will be opened to you.  For everyone who asks, receives.  Everyone who seeks, finds.  And to everyone who knocks, the door will be opened.  You parents- if your children ask for a loaf of bread, do you give them a snake?  Or course not!  So if you sinful people know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your heavenly Father give good gifts to those who ask him.”  Matthew 7:7-11

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Adoption Awareness Month

In honor of November being Adoption Awareness Month I offer the 'birth story' of the little man who brought the blessing of adoption to our home and changed my world forever:

The Day You Were Born

In the earthen quiet of the tokule

God looked down in anticipation


His beautiful creation


Knit together

Every hair known

Every day ordained



The quiet broken

By the sound of effort

And then a cry


As air filled your lungs

For the first time

And heaven cheered

Trumpets and dancing


Thanks and praises

For fingers


Dignified chin raised to the sky

Beautiful son of Sidama


Heavenly Father


Then furrows His brow

Knowing you will journey so young

Knowing He made you ready

Gave you the gifts you would need

Strong spirit

  Sensitive heart

    Keen mind

And set a guard over your life


First father sees your spirit

Names you Asregidew

First mother

A quiet gasp of love



Snuggles you close

To sleep your first sleep

The day you were born

Across the stars

A tugging in my heart

For a child

A spiritual seed


And growing

A course set


Towards each other

Through the brokenness of this world

To a birth of love

A second chance

A fusing of hearts

An introduction of souls

A grafting of the tree

By the master gardener

The healing touch

Of the great physician


Thanks and praises

For a son.

Monday, November 9, 2009


Miss Patti, our childcare provider and friend, taught Sarah a song, which has become precious to our family:

                        You are special to me.

                        You are special to me.

                        I can’t even tell you how much I love you.

                        You are special to me.

                        You are special to me.

                        I am so glad you are my kid.

When Moses was first adopted, we would spend long stretches of time in the rocking chair.  I would sing and he would snuggle against my chest, tugging at the collar on my shirt until enough skin was exposed for him to rest his face.  I would sing my favorites: The Lord is My Shepard; Amazing Grace; Just a Closer Walk With Thee; Children of the Heavenly Father; and the little tune we had learned from Patti.  It was a deeply important time for both of us.  He was internally processing deep loss and learning to trust.  I was holding him close, by the grace of God filling the empty space carved by adoption in both of our souls, with love.  We rocked before nap.  We rocked before bed.  We rocked whenever we needed to. 

            After awhile Moses allowed Jason to rock him as well and they developed their own repertoire of songs.  Many nights I would go in after an hour to find father and son asleep in the chair.  Warmth and time and song afforded sacred space for bonding. 

            The big kids and I like to tell secrets.  We take turns whispering in each other’s ear.  Sarah has lately been whispering silly things to her brother like, “I am made out of buttons.”  They both start laughing, as if the joke were actually new, and then it is my turn.  Moses will lean in and tell me in his sweet voice, “I’m special to you.  I’m special to you.”  Those aren’t the words to the song, but I don’t correct him. 

            His choice of words is a glimpse, for me, into the relationship with my Heavenly Father for which I was made.  He found me.  Rocked me.  Sang to me of his love while my souls healed. And, like any good parent, doesn’t mind when the song of my heart is a testimony of His love.  The most important thing is not that I love him.  What is important is that he first loved me. 

“This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent this Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins.”  1 John 4:10

Friday, November 6, 2009

Stitches II

            There may not have ever been a soul more fiercely loyal to his family than the one that lives in the body of my young son.  As I stuttered and sputtered trying to get my family out the door and to the emergency room where Sarah would become the lucky winner of six stitches Moses stood frozen in his underpants, keeping watch over his big sis.  She was lying on the floor in the kitchen holding ice to her chin and forceful directives to, “Go and find some pants, Young Man” could not move him from her side.  Finally I got the pants myself and had to carry him, kicking, to the van. 

            “Sarah’s hurt.  Sarah’s hurt.”

“I know, buddy.  We are trying to take her to the doctor and you need to get on my team.  Seriously, buckle your belt.  I will be right back.” 

In the waiting room he kept watch, letting me know every time an ice cube fell to the floor.  And when Jason came to retrieve Moses and the baby with dried noodles hanging from her hair, Moses wouldn’t move. 

“I don’t want to go.  I don’t want to go, Dad.  I stay with Sarah.”  He pleaded, the full weight of his thirty pounds pulling against Jason’s grip. 

“Moses, she is going to be fine.  It isn’t a big deal.  Sarah is o.k.” We promised in unison.

Jason finally had to pick him up and we could hear him crying as he moved down the hall. 

I often wonder at the making of this sensitive soul.  Is his genuine empathy and tender comfort born of his deep understanding of loss?  Was he gifted from birth to carry in his heart the burdens of other’s weight?  He can’t answer that at three-years old, but regardless of how he came to this place, what he shows us of his spirit is beautiful.  It is a strong cord wrapped tightly around the perimeter of our family that reminds us of what, and more importantly who, matters. 

Later in the evening, I was discussing with Jason that it was time for Sarah to ice her chin.  Moses was listening to us.

“Can I snuggle Sarah?  She’s hurt.” He said.

And so he brought her tattered blankie and they each took half of the recliner.  She set her chin upon a bag of frozen blueberries.

            “I will read to you, Sarah.” He said.

He still struggles to pull apart the slick pages of books, so I watched as Sarah helped him turn the pages and he ‘read’ with her filling in the gaps where her memorization exceeds his.  They sat there for an hour.  And I found them in the same spot this evening.


Finally, all of you should be of one mind.  Sympathize with each other.  Love each other as brothers and sisters.  Be tenderhearted, and keep a humble attitude.” 1 Peter 3:8


Sooner or later everyone splits his or her chin open.  Yesterday was Sarah’s turn.  The big kids and I were huddled around the highchair, as has become our custom, asking JoJo questions like, “Do you drive the school bus?” or “Do you like to walk on the roof?” to which she unfailingly replies with an enthusiastic “yayayayayayaya” and a two-tooth grin.  The big kids fall out laughing every time, the game appealing to their sensibility of the absurd as the highest form of humor.  Suddenly Sarah dug her face into the wood floor.  Sarah has a special relationship with gravity and it is as if she is intermittently victim of some deep gravitational surge that the rest of us are able to avoid.  More nights than not, we will be eating dinner and Sarah will suddenly be gone, an unseen earthquake moving her chair two feet to the left.  And before we even think to respond we will hear her under the table, “I’m o.k.  I’m o.k.”

This time she screamed.  I immediately pulled her close and lifted her face.  Huge drips of bright red blood formed a bizarre Halloween goatee.  She was Edvard Munch in hues of panicked pink.  I scrambled for some ice, got Moses some pants to cover his Buzz Lightyear buns, and scooped the baby (covered in her lunch) into the van.  The false sense of calm I was attempting to exude as we drove was punctuated by Sarah’s terrified refrain, “I don’t want stitches. I don’t want stitches.”  My sing-song reply of “Let’s just see.  We’ll just check it out” did little to change her mind.

After a wait in the lobby and a tag-team hand-off of Moses and JoJo to Dad, Sarah and I were left in a surgical room to wait.  We played ‘I spy’, sang songs, told the three knock-knock jokes we know a hundred times, but sooner or later it came back to, “I really don’t want stitches.”  I assured her that stitches really are great- that skin can’t come together by itself and needs stitches to hold it together while it heals.  I prudently and calmly explained the benefits without describing the scarred mess that would be the alternative to treatment.  There wasn’t any point having a talk with a frightened four-year-old about scar tissue or the importance her face will come to hold, or its power she will learn of, as she gets older. 

At one point the nurse brought in a covered tray that I assumed had the sterile tools that would be used to pull my daughter’s face back together.  I am sure the tray was covered to keep the tools clean, but served the dual purpose of keeping from sight the sharp and shiny instruments of help.  Eventually the doctor came in.  I held Sarah’s hand and choked out a weak rendition of ‘Five Green and Speckled Frogs’ while she screamed and he inserted a monstrous needle full of numbing agent right into the wound.  

It seemed like he was good at his job.  But more importantly, he knew ‘Baby Beluga’ and asked Sarah to join him as he stitched and led the chorus.  Her trembling, gaping chin poked out of the hole in the sterile cloth and together they sang.  He would wait for a pause to run the next loop through and there were just enough verses to get the job done.  I watched and let the tears come since she couldn’t see me.  I was witness to the work of the Great Physician, who met my worried child in her time of need with skill and song.  

As I carried her out to the car, we reviewed the event. 

“That wasn’t so bad was it?” I said, drawing from the tattered text of motherly one-liners. 

“No.  The stitches didn’t hurt at all,” she replied.  “The shot felt like an airplane crashing into my chin.  I didn’t like that.  But the stitches weren’t bad.”


But they would have hurt if that airplane hadn’t have crashed right into your wound, I thought.  And so I resolved to remember.  From where I usually stand there is no explanation for most of what happens here.  But from the sidelines I saw, momentarily, the workings of a good and gracious doctor, both to unflinchingly deliver what would become a salve and to sing and reassure while stitching.


“He heals the brokenhearted and bandages their wounds.”  Psalm 147:3