Sunday, January 31, 2010


When I am at home I wear bright pink Crocks. They are comfy and a constant reminder of my hip fashion sense. As a bonus, my kids like to run through the house looking to see where I absent-mindedly left them last. It’s like Easter everyday here. Pink plastic and children crying because someone else found the prize.

Today Mister walked into the kitchen, where I was up to my elbows in the day’s dishes. “This floor is dirty. I will sweep it. I am going to get my Frocks.” Apparently floors cannot be cleaned without the proper footwear. He was dead serious. He returned, his cute toes tucked into camo knock-offs, and began to push the piles of food and paper scraps around in well-meaning, but ineffective circles until his arms, held over his head to grip the broom handle in the same spot I do, must have finally gone numb. He went to rest his arms. Immediately, Sis, who had been watching his progress like a hawk, dove for the broom. “No! No, Sis, you cannot sweep!” Mister cried. I bristled, and readied my speech about our family’s sharing policy. “No, Sis. You cannot sweep! You don’t have Frocks!” It could have been a sneaky ploy to avoid ‘the policy’, but Mister is usually straight forward, and I think he considered his to be a righteous anger.

There are less innocuous stories to tell of my children’s imitations of me. Just a few days ago I heard Mister asking Sis if she wanted to play a game. “I can’t do that right now, Mister.” She said with a balance of importance and irritation. “Do you see how many things I am working on right now? That sounds fun, but I am very, very busy.” That one gets a PG for sad reality and parental neglect. Suffice to say, these replays come in all ratings.

A few weeks ago, driving with music that feeds my soul cranked for the duel purpose of filling my brain and drowning out the constant barrage of ‘Hey, Moms’ coming from the back, I felt compelled to lift my hands in prayer. I would have closed my eyes too if we hadn’t have been going sixty. Something in the rear-view mirror made me look. Two little hands, one attached to each of my preschoolers were raised in copycat. I think I was asking the Lord to calm my temper. They may have been doing the same. But more likely they were just trying out another one of my kooky behaviors. If only I was more like my Heavenly Father. Then I could sleep soundly at night, knowing these shoes, the ones my children seem intent on growing into, will serve them well on the road ahead.

“Be imitators of God, therefore, as dearly loved children . . .” Ephesians 5:1a

Friday, January 29, 2010

Looking for Home

An early evening errand put us at the bottom of the hill shortly after the workday whistle blew. We waited to enter traffic, watching the constant stream of headlights move towards the setting sun as if it was a homing beacon. Stern and weary faces were barely visible, weak sunlight reflecting off the windshields. Mister broke the silence, “Everyone is trying to find their home, Mom.”

“Yes, Son, that is God’s truth.” I answered, chewing on his profound words.
He spoke what his heart knows already, joining centuries of poets and philosophers, who have described human need and human pain in the struggle to be known, safe and finally at rest. Finding home is an important thread in the story of our family. The embedded truth, that we are only visitors here, is the spiritual foundation on which we construct our communal life; walls, windows and roofing providing temporary shelter while we learn to love and serve each other with the days we have been given between here and glory.

Every car trip since his great discovery has been seasoned with a repeat of the conversation. He looks seriously out the window and wills the other drivers to subconsciously share their feelings with him. And then he reminds me that they are searching. Crammed into the Jetta with matching pony tails; smoking alone, with the windows up in the rusted sedan; wearing traditional dress from another country, weighted down by the uphill climb, grocery bags straining in clenched fists; back to the wind at the bus stop, stiff with cold and waiting. All looking for home.

Today at lunch, we discussed again the delay in our beginning together. “I grew in your tummy,” he offered in casual conversation. I gently reminded him that he did not, and asked if he remembered the name of the woman whose tummy he did grow in. We said her name. We got her picture down again and gave her a kiss. This time his brow wasn’t furrowed. I asked if he wanted to keep her picture in his room, so he could look at her and kiss her anytime he liked. “Yes,” he said. “Put it down low, where I can reach it.” I promised I would.

"Hear my prayer, O LORD, and give ear to my cry; do not be silent at my tears; for I am a stranger with You, A sojourner like all my fathers. Psalm 39:12

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

String Cheese

We like the brand of string cheese with riddles on the wrapper. The obscene amount of string cheese consumed in our household means we have read many, many riddles. Some are clever, but whether or not the joke is worth repeating, the ritual always makes me laugh. Sis has some grasp of the humor in a pun, Mister however, just enjoys the experience. It goes something like this:
“Mom, will you read this joke?”
“Sure. What kind of room has no windows and no door?”
“Tomato!” Mister yells with confidence and enthusiasm.
The answer is ‘mushroom’. Tomatoes and mushrooms: both vegetables as far as he knows, equally funny and equally valid as an answer.
“Let’s see,” I say, peeling back the wrapper as if we haven’t read this same joke three times this week. “Mushroom!” I announce. They both laugh.
“Now read the one about the tomato!” Mister pleads.
“Mo, there is no joke about a tomato. The answer is mushroom.”
“But tell the tomato joke.” He repeats. I scoop him up for a kiss, hoping to distract him since this conversation has a predictable and unsatisfying outcome.
Then this week we did something crazy. We branched out to Colby-Jack sticks. No jokes. But he was not to be deterred.
“Mom, can you read this joke?”
“This kind of cheese doesn’t have jokes, Buddy.” I reply.
“Ya it does!” He argues. “Read it . . . please, Mom.” He points to the fine print.
“Not for individual sale.” I say flatly.
“A microwave!” He answers, his head thrown back in laughter.
He bounces down the hallway, flapping his arms and shaking his head, clearly proud of himself.

Life with preschoolers is a daily reminder that there is much to enjoy here on earth, even if you misunderstand. Nineteen years of going to school and the humorless duties of adulthood have trained me to be frustrated and intimidated by things I can’t comprehend. Mastery or nothing at all is the motto of my inflexible brain. And I think of God. It is both my responsibility and my pleasure to get to know my Heavenly Father better with the passing days. My faith must rest on sound theology. But it also good for me to remember that I have more to learn and that not everything can be understood this side of heaven. But at the end of the day I am in the protective shadow of someone who loves me, knows best, has a sense of humor, even when the nuances are lost on me.

“Who has known the mind of the Lord? Or who has been his counselor?” Romans 11:34

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Eggs for Breakfast

We had eggs for breakfast on Saturday. Scrambled with cheddar and grape tomatoes. Sautéed mushroom and onions on the side. Decaf, rolls and freezer jam made by a friend. I was enjoying seconds and thinking things couldn’t get any better when Mister made an announcement that warmed my heart, buoyed my resolve and validated my meager efforts. “Hey, I have a picture in my special book of this food!” He announced excitedly.

It is true. His first morning home started early, inspired by jet lag and the newness of his surroundings. He explored every room, turning everything he touched into a ball or a car. I watched him in satisfaction, marveling at the ‘real boy’ running around, the eye lashes and elbows of the seemingly imaginary child whose wrinkled photo I had carried around in my pocket for so long. Then we scrambled eggs. He ate four. And dunked his toast in my coffee, snatching it out of my hand with expert quickness and a boldness I hadn’t seen in him before. Buna is a significant part of Ethiopian culture, so why wouldn’t he want an early morning sip, I mused.

I don’t think he remembers that morning, and he doesn’t have to. We have a photo of the event and it has its own spot in his special book. Lately talk about his special book has been hard and focused on the more painful parts of the story. But like every story, his is full of beauty, wonder, pain, laughter, and the mundane. Like eggs for breakfast. He already knows he is unique. But connecting Saturday with his adoption story told me that he is also getting the message that his story is normal and full of the everyday. The jagged pieces of the mosaic butted up against ones with softer edges. And that is important to me.

Monday, January 25, 2010

T. G. I. M.

Mondays. They show up with predictable regularity. This Monday morning was a rough go for my preschoolers and me. It was as if they forgot how to dress themselves, brush their teeth or follow directions over the weekend. I was gruff and they were tearful. Refrains about lateness echoed back, bounced around and were eventually absorbed by the walls, weekend earwax built up in their cute little ears as a protection against my voice. It is true that they were in their pajamas until noon on Saturday, watching Mary Poppins with Dad and drinking hot chocolate. And they did both make it downstairs, sleepy eyed, with blankies in tow for prolonged snuggles on Sunday morning. But weekends just aren’t that long, leaving me wondering why the gears grind and move so painstakingly slow every time we start up a new week?

We did eventually make it to school with shiny teeth and combed hair. I am pretty certain everyone was wearing underpants. We were first to arrive, so I know my children aren’t the only ones who fall victim to Mondayness. Home again, Peanut pulled her blanket over her face for a mid-morning snooze and I padded down to the basement to ride the bike. An hour later, sweat dripping off my nose onto the pages of my book, a surprising little praise escaped my lips, “Thank you, Lord, for this day.” And I giggled. Thank God It’s Monday. Ha! But why not? Mondays bring fresh new chances to do the things we always do with renewed vision. All work has dignity and Monday faithfully shows up with what we need to become dignified. Namely another opportunity to be. And learn. And grow. Share. And become.

“This is the day that the Lord has made. I will be glad and rejoice in it.” Psalm 118:24

Sunday, January 24, 2010


After a few bites, Sis turned to me and said, “Mom, I just keep thinking you should open a restaurant.” I thanked her for her encouragement and surveyed my culinary genius. We were having left over hamburgers, broccoli with cheese, Fritos and grapes. “You really should,” she continued. “You could put this on the menu.”
Some days you lose, but some days you win it big. And Fritos are always a game changer.

Friday, January 22, 2010

Talking About Her

I feel a deep connection to my son’s birth mother. I met her. Looked her in the eye as she told me of her dreams for our son. I find her face, her voice, her story working itself regularly into my thoughts and writing. There is a beautiful photo of us together in my son’s adoption book. But I only, just yesterday, told him her name.
While we were waiting for Mister, I read books about attachment, international adoption, transracial families. I intended to be prepared. I understood the importance of telling my son his story without shame or censorship. Of engendering respect for his first family as well as the place of his birth. I was committed. Then I got lost for a year and a half in the endless moments of meeting his physical needs and the momentum of his love and familiarity with us.
I had intended to talk of his two families from the first day and model pride and ease in communicating about the fabric of our family. Then he was thrust upon my chest at our first meeting, scared and tearful and all the words I had for him were pressed into one simple Amharic assurance of our love, whispered repeatedly in his ear as he relaxed into the sleep brought on by panic and fear. English was his third language. He had experienced so much loss. I couldn’t find the words to communicate about two mommies in a way that felt safe and wouldn’t add to his confusion. So we talked about Ethiopia, and Sister Tirhas and the special blanket we brought him when we picked him up.
I knew I had lost my way the other day when Mister sat contentedly sharing his special book with a guest. Looking at the pictures, he told her, “I was so scared. I was so sad. Then my mom and dad came to pick me up.” That is the first layer of the story, clearly recorded in pictures. But underneath is the beautiful story of his mother. The one that changed my life forever. She was heart-broken and brave. She had loved him completely and loved him well until she was no longer able, forced by factors outside her control to choose for her child what she thought was best. The adoption book I have been reading lately talks about explaining that the birth parents weren’t ready to be mommies and daddies. They didn’t have the tools to parent. And although I respect the bravery and love in each birth mother’s decision the language didn’t work. This was not a teenage pregnancy or a delivery room handoff. She loved him and fed him and sang to him for years. I can see in his very being the roots of her strong love. And so I am a speechless. I cannot find the words to explain how these things happened. And I am frustrated that what I feel in my heart for this woman isn’t finding its way into preschool vocabulary.
I knew I had waited too long already when an opportunity presented itself yesterday. I was in his room after nap and we were looking at the colors on the Ethiopian flag that hangs in his room. Really the conversation was about cupcakes that we had recently frosted to look like the flag for Ethiopian Christmas. “Can you find Ethiopia on the map? I asked. He did.
“I was born there. In a tokule!” He announced, eyebrows raised and properly proud of this fact I had taught him.
I folded him in my arms in the dusky afternoon shadows; his cheeks toasty from napping, took a breath and made a lame attempt.
“That’s true. Do you remember that you didn’t grow in my tummy?”
“Yes I did.”
“No . . . you didn’t, but you did grow in a tummy. Do you want to know the name of the special person whose tummy you grew in?”
He just looked at me. I told him her name. He repeated it.
“She’s bad.” He said. My heart broke.
“No, Mister,” I said, my chest tight, the few words I had tangled in my mouth. “She is not bad. She is very special to our family. Do you want to see her picture?” I asked.
He shook his head no. Then yes. We got out his special book and snuggled on the couch. The big kids and I each took turns kissing her picture then headed downstairs where Sis and Mister had earlier begun an elaborate imaginary camping trip, which of course involved every toy we own. He played and I observed from the sidelines, replaying the scene upstairs, and asked God to help me get this right. So that our son can grow to “be strong in the broken places,” as Hemingway said. And also to honor a brave and beautiful woman, who is, whether we speak of her or not, silently present with us at the table.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

A New One

Dr. Martin Luther King was the topic of lunch discussion again today with my preschoolers. Yesterday we had listened to his “I Have A Dream” speech and I had told them that Dr. King was one of my heroes. I told them that he loved Jesus. I explained that he stood up for what was right and encouraged other people to do the same, even when it was dangerous and unpopular. I told them that some people hadn’t treated others fairly and that they were angry with Dr. King. I did not mention that he was assassinated.

During today’s discussion, I decided to tell them that someone killed Dr. King because he was fighting for what was right. They just looked at me. Then Sis spoke.

“But is there a new one?”

“New what,” I asked.

“A new one telling people about what is right.”

I was taken aback. The loss of Dr. King’s eloquent voice and his gift for galvanizing a movement was obvious, even to a four year old so many decades after the end of his beautiful life. While I staggered she caught me with her left-hook.
“Is it mostly just boys who do this?”

I quickly assured her that women speak up for truth as often as men. That her voice is as powerful and significant as that of her brother. Then I cleared the dishes, dumbstruck by the clarity of youth.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

The Witch

When I picked Sis up from Sunday School the teacher was smirking. She then proceeded with the details of the day’s lesson. She informed me that they had discussed the widow’s mite, talking about how God valued her gift more highly than the larger gift of the rich man because she gave out of her poverty. At the end of story time, the teacher quizzed the children.
“Boys and girls, who gave more?”
Sis called out, “The witch! The witch!”
“Oh no, Sis,” The teacher gently but firmly corrected, a little disappointed at the disruption and her total disconnect. “She had lost her husband and was poor and still brought what little money she had to God. She wasn’t a witch.” Then she continued, “O.K., boys and girls, let’s try again. Who gave more to God that day.
“The witch! The wwwwwitchhhhhhh!!” Sis stood her ground.
There was awkward silence as teacher and helpers looked at each other.
“The witch man. He gave more money.”
“Ah, yes, Sis. Now I understand. The rich man. Yes, he did give more, but God was not impressed.”
The teacher and I giggled at the door. Then the kids headed up to see if by some loaves-and-fishes miracle donuts remained from the earlier intermission. I shook my head. Turns out it is not just important what you say, but how you say it.

“The words of a man’s mouth are deep waters…” Proverbs 18:4a

Monday, January 18, 2010

Potty Mouth

Peanut did the unthinkable. While happily bathing in the kitchen sink under Dad’s watchful eye, she snuck out a little poopie. Then took a taste. Sadly her screams weren’t reflective of the horror of exploration-gone-wrong. She was mad because Jason had fished the little treasure out of her mouth and scooped her out of the contaminated tub. I ran in to offer back up. After we had washed out her mouth, I took the towel-wrapped baby and sat on the couch to get my bearings and decide which grandma to call first. Pleased to be naked and on mama’s lap, she lovingly dug her nails into my cheeks to draw me close for sweet baby kisses. Except they weren’t sweet at all. They smelled like the diapers that go straight to the outdoor trash. It was gross. As long as it remains an isolated incident, and with a few days separation from the event, I may just decide it was funny.
What isn’t funny is the frequency with which I (although I surely should know better) do the same. I eat massive quantities of Sour Patch Kids, and then grouse around with a raw mouth and a stomachache. I eat leftover helpings of yesterday’s worries for breakfast and then seem surprised when unhealthy talk comes out of my mouth. I am like the little baby in dirty bath water, mad at my Heavenly Father for taking from me the things that make me sick. And like that baby, the kisses I offer are genuine but smell like the trouble I’ve gotten myself into.
Garbage in. Garbage out. There is indeed nothing new under the sun.

“Out of the overflow of the heart, the mouth speaks.” Luke 6:45

Sunday, January 17, 2010

Praying III

Some years ago the pastor at our church shared the famous story of a sculpture of Christ that had been damaged during World War II. After discussing how to restore the statue, it was decided that the hands, missing after a bombing raid, would be replaced with the inscription, “Christ has no hands but ours.” I think of this often as I wrestle with seemingly competing ideas of a sovereign and powerful God and each person’s role to play in the Great Story. Is it really true? Has the body of Christ no hands besides those like the ones outstretched before me? These ones here, fallible and prone to folly? I often hear talk of angels among us, but wonder if we sometimes placate fear of obligation with fuzzy hopes for otherworldly intervention.
I find myself repeating this well-known phrase sometimes as a prayer. As I go about by daily business, grumbling with ingratitude and cursing the inconveniences that arise, every once in a while I hear a still, small whisper reminding me of this story and the powerful image of a sculpture I have never seen. The children in my care were put there so that I might minister to them with hands that make meals, change diapers, and administer Band-Aids the way Jesus would have done it. The intimacy of marriage, both beautiful and raw, affords my best opportunity to do God’s work. When I choose those things that are right for my husband I am the human touch of his Heavenly Father. In each of the lives that I bump up against I have opportunity. Opportunity to use my body and my time in ways that bring tangible warmth to spiritual reality. Opportunities to live a whole gospel, where words match deeds. Opportunities I often forfeit, because I am tired, preoccupied with personal gain or distracted by the noise of life.
So what of Haiti? I cannot comprehend the suffering. But I do know that physical need requires physical touch. And so I pray. For needs to be met. Arms to pull bodies from the rubble. Backs to carry water. Hands to stroke the hair of the child waiting for medical care. Dollars, squeezed from my pocket, and sent with whispered prayers that short distance to my neighbor in need.

Lord Christ,
You have no body on earth but ours,
No hands but ours,
No feet but ours.
Ours are the eyes through which your compassion
Must look out on the world.
Ours are the feet by which you may still
Go about doing good.
Ours are the hands with which
You bless people now.
Bless our minds and bodies,
That we may be a blessing to others.

St. Teresa of Avila

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Praying II

I love to look at the pictures on the walls. This is true in my own home as well as the homes of friends, or even strangers for that matter. The pictures that make it into frames are special. They have meaning. Some are professional, so the lighting is just right and everyone is clean and shiny. Others catch the magic of the day, offering sensory detail. I just put some new pictures up last weekend and find myself stopping and staring, arms full of this or that, as I absorb the details of the little faces I have left causing mischief upstairs. This one shows the bright blue of her eyes. That one makes his chestnut skin glow. He was so content and happy inside the combine wheel. She stomps along the beach, swinging her arms, oblivious to the world. The baby grins at Grandma.

I don’t think I will ever replace the photo on my desk. It is of my son, beaming as he sits on the lap of a guard at the children’s home where we met him. His perfect little fingers are clutching a ball and he is looking right at the camera. The guard is also smiling, looking off in the distance, aware both of the beautiful child on his lap and his duty to defend. It captures for me all of what is good about God. He holds us close, but not tightly and is big enough to protect and love.

And so I pray: Let me see them as you see them. God formed my children in their respective wombs, designed them with good purposes in mind. When he looks at them, he sees their best self, the one he intended them to be. Not because he is far off or unaware of the things we all do to cheapen the gifts we have been given. He knows. But when he looks he sees the precious souls inside the little bodies and is mindful of the big dreams he has for each one. Their faces brighten, they stand taller, warmed by the steady gaze of a heart that loves them as they are. And those are the eyes I want to see through. Those are the eyes I want to use to see my husband. And the college student who doesn’t make eye contact at the grocery store. And the kid who hits my kid at school. Those are the eyes I want to see with. In each moment. Everyday.

“But the Lord said to Samuel, ‘Do not consider his appearance or his height…The Lord does not look at the things man looks at. Man looks at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart.’” I Samuel 16:7

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

On The Run

When the weather is reasonable on Mondays the baby and I like to run while the big kids are at preschool. The bike trail offers straight, flat, marked miles and enough quiet for me to shed my pretense and talk to God while my body is otherwise occupied shuffling along, pushing the stroller. I have done that particular run enough to have noticed a pattern.
Mile one is all cobwebs. My body is stiff with cold and unuse, neck tense from the grand drama that is leaving the house in the morning. My mind is preoccupied with list, chores, and unfulfilled ambitions overlaid with a thin fog of guilt as I replay bits and pieces of the morning. Mile one is basically a loss, except that it is the unavoidable prelude to mile two.
Mile two finds my body and my mind settling in. Mile two usually sees some earnest but distracted attempts at prayer. Turns out I need a little more time and fresh air before I will be ready to really focus. So I shake my shoulders and sing along to whatever the iPod offers, throwing sharp elbows at ghosts from the home front who intend to interrupt the few minutes I have alone.
By mile three my body has warmed up. My stride stretches slightly. I look for the turn around. I let everything, including my pace, relax in anticipation of the midway point. At the end of mile three I will be facing home which has great psychological effects.
Miles four and five are the good stuff. My body is finally numb enough and my mind moves to the fore. I find that I am ready to talk and listen to God. And the matters that need to be discussed break the dam, flowing fast, washing me in goose bumps and knotting my stomach with appropriate urgency. With a clear mind and home on the horizon I am able to go deep.
The last mile usually burns. And I think about quitting. Or at least slowing to catch my breath. But home is ahead and I just want to be done. So I speed up. My stomach turns and I break the distance into counts of twenty. So it is with life. The good stuff is embedded. We have to go the distance. There is no way to skip ahead, or finish early. And so we run.

“ . . . and so let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us.” Hebrews 12:1

Monday, January 11, 2010

New Shoes

I am currently in negotiations with my new tennis shoes. They give me blisters and a few toes have gone numb on two out of three runs. But I bought the brand and size that have served me well these ten years since I went and had my soles read by the shoe man in the city. He had me take off the shoes. He watched me walk, then run. He inspected the wear of the tread and observed the spread of my toes, then told me which brand of shoes I would need to wear for the rest of my life. Incidentally, he chose the least attractive of all the brands. Just my luck to wear uncool sneaks for the remainder of my days. Fitting, really.
Anyhow, the problem with my new shoes is perplexing. And made complicated by the fact that the pair they replaced are in tennis shoe heaven in Sacramento. Even if I hadn’t left them behind, there would be no going back. The old pair was worn out, plain and simple. My knees had started to hurt, which is how I know it is time for replacements. But because we are on a budget I let Santa know mid-October what I was hoping to find under the tree and gingerly ran on sore knees. Which means my stride wasn’t natural. Which means I would usually come home with low back pain and tension between my shoulder blades. Which means that I started leaving my shoes in the closet and ate more donuts and drank more coffee to make up for the lack of endorphins. Turns out the right shoes make a big difference in how I live my life.
I am not the only person in my house for whom shoes have been a major roadblock to happiness. Sis has an extremely shallow reserve of tolerance for things that don’t fit right. Miss Patti compared her to the fabled princess and her famous pea.
“Except we call Sis the Princess and the Lentil,” Miss Patti informed me at pick up one day as we both watched her convulsing and hollering about a bunchie in her sock. Many tears have been shed in many doorways, as Sarah has had to wrestle with the shoe-related realities of life in a colder climate. As I dress the others I will hear her scolding her footwear.
“Shoe, you are not cooperating with me. You are making this day very difficult.” “Sock, you are not doing the right thing. You need a time out.”
“Snow boot, you are making this family late for school. Get on my team.”
But shoes are part of life for us, and there is just no getting around it.
As a gift to myself and with high hopes for smoother mornings I took the big kids to the shoe store the week before preschool started and told them they could choose any pair they liked. There were no parameters, but I was clear that whatever they chose they would wear for the year. It was really fun to watch them gravitate towards shoes that fit their personalities. They both made wise choices and monitored they shiny shoe boxes, waiting by the door, like eggs they expected to hatch any moment.
All this business about shoes has spawned reflection on what I have chosen to wear in my walk with God and what I have squeezed my feet into for the Long March of motherhood. Abraham Lincoln said, “Be sure to put your feet in the right place, then stand firm.” True enough. So I ask myself if I am wearing the right shoes. Have I laced them properly? Have I worn them enough to break them in and let my feet adjust? Or have I stuffed them in the closet prematurely? Are they the right size? Have I grown or worn out the old comfy favorites? Maybe I am ready for something new. New might mean a different size, color or model. But one thing is for sure. I know which brand I am supposed to wear. The man who knows all about shoes made that clear a long time ago.

“Stand firm then, with the belt of truth buckled around your waist, with the breastplate of righteousness in place, and with your feet fitted with the readiness that comes from the gospel of peace.” Ephesians 6:14-15

Saturday, January 9, 2010

Ethiopian Christmas

We have thus far failed even to make lame attempts to celebrate the culture of our son’s birth country. In my heart I know that love is not enough, and that I cannot excuse my apathy, citing busyness with meal prep, Band-Aids and kisses. In recognizing the customs of the place where our son was born we are deeply affirming him. And there is no substitute for what is communicated by passing on a few treasures from the place of his beginning. So this year we invited a few Ethiopian adoptive families over to informally celebrate Christmas as it falls on the Ethiopian calendar, on January 7th.
It was awesome. Other mamas made Doro Wat and injera. We contributed some American fare as well as popcorn and coffee. Mister was all grin when Jason handed him his decaf in a sippy cup. The house was loud with children and Ethiopian music.
This holiday was especially timely as earlier that week I had attempted to sit down with Mister and look through his adoption scrapbook. Initally, he eargerly agreed and snuggled into my lap with his blankie and fire dog. As we looked together at the second page of landscape photos from the state where he was born, he suddenly and forcefully laid his flat palm across the images, preventing me from turning the page. “I don’t want to look at ‘dis book. I don’t want to look at ‘dis today.”
“Why?” I asked, mentally preparing for his answer. It was slow and stuttered as it made its way from his heart to his head to his mouth.
“Betuz . . . betuz . . . betuz the insides are gross.” He answered.
It is true that I had included all the photos we had of him. I had made that conscious decision in an attempt to tell a true story and give him as much of his past as I could. So sprinkled among shots of a beautiful country, energetic children and our early days together are the photos taken for his referral, passport and visa. In these photos a tear-stained and frightened boy implores the camera to return him safely to his home. When we first looked at the book together Mister commented on these; “I was so scared. I was so sad.” I wasn’t sure that he was sharing memories, but rather sympathetically relating to snapshots of a former self. But since then he has deepened his bond with us and developed a more sophisticated understanding of time, space and his autonomy. This time he was unwilling to look, anticipating ownership of that sad faced boy. I didn’t press the issue but left the book out. The next day we did look through it, snuggling and hugging and trying to validate and normalize a hard part of our family’s story.
Ethiopian Christmas came at just the right time. He put on a special embroidered shirt, sang and danced with friends, showed off his special book to a favorite preschool teacher and helped in littering the floor with popcorn. And there were cupcakes situated to represent the national flag. And, when you are in preschool, cupcakes always make it better.


This year, like all the ones before it, promises to be full. Full of the yin and yang of life- good and bad, chaos and quiet, smiles and tears. All of my personal choices and the broader effects of being a citizen in this fallen world are already known by God. There is strange and deep comfort in the shadow of the Almighty, but I also feel an urgency. Urgency to orient my life around real, desperate and daily prayer. God is big but I am not. I know I have His anointing. I know He calls me his own and that calling is sure. But I need His eyes and ears and strength for daily life. Just like I need breakfast. And sleep. Fresh air and sunshine.
So I have purposed to write down a few of the prayers I find myself going back to as a reminder to myself of those sweet and familiar conversations. Also, in writing, I hope to deepen my own understanding of the whispers that escape my lips. And pause to add story to prayer so that I will not forget that I have prayed. And that I have been answered. And helped. And fed.
Some years ago I was introduced to what is commonly called The Jesus Prayer. It is old, perhaps dating back to the fifth century. The version that I find myself coming back to is this: “Lord, Jesus Christ, have mercy on me.” It has a nice rhythm and I find myself praying this prayer when I run. There is something right about matching my footsteps with the cadence of an ancient plea. It feels like walking into a large room in a monastery. The walls are washed in white. Light streams in from windows. The floors are worn wood plank. The silence is thick with God. And without the distractions of the world I feel my smallness. And inside this prayer, my smallness doesn’t sting or rub, like it does out there. This smallness fits me in the palm of God’s great hand. I understand my need for Jesus and rest, truly rest, in that grace.
Sometimes this prayer catches in my throat as I replay recent scenes where I lacked mercy with my husband and children. Or where my thoughts towards others, which I would never be so bold too speak, carried no fragrance of God. But I push the little words out of my mouth anyway, and let the sunlight of Christ’s mercy bleach them of their power over me.
And when I have washed in these words and felt Christ’s redemption for myself, I sometimes pray this pray for others. Lord, Jesus Christ, have mercy on Jason. And in praying for my husband, I am steeled for battle at his side. I am ready to see what he sees. To see him as his Heavenly Father does. And to be an agent of good in his life. Lord, Jesus Christ, have mercy on Sis. This one stabs. Because she is like me. And often her esteem is wounded at my hand as I struggle to discipline and shepherd a heart like mine. And sometimes, before I have the good sense to stop myself, I pray: Lord, Jesus Christ, have mercy on my neighbor. This kind of mercy usually involves an invitation to my home, which means I have to either vacuum or swallow my pride, both of which are inevitably required. Or an offer to feed snack to someone else’s children when I really would rather do something significant like organize the back room.
Oh, that I would live inside this prayer and pray it more often. A loud buzzer just told me the laundry is done. And so I rise to empty and reload the washer with more of my family’s dirty things. And to pray for mercy and ascendance to a place where I can see that all of the laundry, clean and dirty, has been gifted to me by a gracious God.

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Sarah Loves Sunday School

For Sarah Sunday School is serious business. She puts us all to shame with her enthusiasm, counting down the days until the beloved Sabbath. If we mention that it is Sunday she scoots right out of her chair, leaving her breakfast to dress herself in Sunday best: pink floral sundress, striped tights, black leather boots and a winter jacket. After dressing she accessorizes, her bible hanging proudly from a jeweled arm, her blondie brown hair ablaze with sparkly clips overlaid by a mint green satin headband. One day she even tried to make it out of the house with my grandmother’s scarf on her head- the virgin Mary recently arriving from a fashionable fifties dinner party.
We literally have the following conversation at some point every day:
“Mom, there is someone who I love more than you.”
“Oh, really? Who could that be?”
“I’ll give you a clue. His name rhymes with Weezus.”
I’m a big fan of an honest, deep and daily walk with God, but I can’t shake the feeling that our habitual conversation about her unfailing commitment to Christ is really just another way she is staking her independence, marking off with pink sidewalk chalk the distance between us.
I know part of her is sincere. She is an honest little woman with a tender spirit. But I am pretty sure there is also a huge piece of her heart that awaits with romantic expectation the crafts planned and the promise of bubble gum for those who sit still and bring their bibles. And church has become a great tool with which to level the playing field between her and her parents. Jason fell victim to her impish fanaticism the other day. He was helping her with her Minnie Mouse pajamas the day after Christmas.
“Dad, what was your favorite Christmas present?”
“Hmmm,” he mused, working through the options. “I really like the North Face jacket Grammy and Papa got me.” He answered. “What about you, Sarah?”
She smiled broadly, smirked and pointed at the sky. Then giggled and walked away.

Sunday, January 3, 2010

Never Too Late

Much like the alleged shuffle function of my iPod, my brain has been stuck lately on a single track. It is a sad song of regret for opportunities lost: opportunities to do right by my kids, to demonstrate healthy adult responses to everyday stressors and model the importance of remembering what is important. No matter how I pray and beseech the Lord for more patience and sufficient energies to get everyone fed, dressed and to the park, I find myself yelling at everyone to hurry, hurry, hurry so that we can make it to Wal-Mart before naptime.
Yesterday, en route home from the Post Office, where I stamped 70 Christmas cards that had become New Years letters, the big kids ran back and forth between my stamping station and the drop box, carrying fistfuls of greetings and feeling so proud of themselves for being so dang helpful. It had been a trying morning and the enthusiasm and cooperation of the Post Office event melted the icy crust of my grouchy heart. So, as I buckled everyone in, the first happy feelings of the day and the Starbucks card from Santa that had been weighing down my pocket propelled me to spontaneously offer that we celebrate a new start to the day with hot chocolate. There was much rejoicing.
And so I entered Starbucks with my three children, my good sense accidentally sent down the mail shoot and on its way to California with the holiday cards. I ordered drinks and Moses kept watch over our table, yelling repeatedly and with increasing volume, “I found us a ‘pot, Mom! I found us a duud, duud ‘pot, Mom!” I hadn’t even finished telling them how much I enjoyed celebrating our new start to the day before they wanted the lids off. Cups were tipping; fingers were covered in whip cream. Sarah chastised me for forgetting to ask for water. “This hurts my tummy. You were supposed to ask for water, Mom.” Moses and I tug-o-warred over assertions by him that he could get the lid back on by himself and threats from me as to what would happen if his adorable lip didn’t get tucked in on the spot. I fought to keep everything but a few bits of pumpkin loaf out of reach of the baby, who tossed those expensive bites on the floor for Sarah to step on as she wiggled in and out of her chair. I looked at my watch. It was only 10:30.
The distance between Starbucks and home was just long enough for Michael Franti to save the day again. We had been listening to an older album, one with a song about starting over. It is a song Sarah especially likes and she sang along as we drove. Somewhere near the top of the hill she yelled up to me, “Its never too late for me to lay my head down on your shoulder, Mom. Its never too late for me to come on home.”
I choked down my frustration, agreed to the truth of our musical friend and thanked the Lord for the reminder. If nothing else, they will hopefully learn grace. Grace to start over, for the third time, at 10:30 in the morning. Grace to know it is indeed never too late, that our Heavenly Father has the power to make each breath new, ensuring that there are indeed enough minutes to get this thing right. Grace they can observe as God soothes Mama, comforting her after she skins her knees again over the same rough sidewalk she insists on using to carry her children to and from each day.

Saturday, January 2, 2010

I Don't Like My Mom's Rules

My four-year-old daughter is testing me these days and, if I’m being honest, I’m not passing the class. It escalates quick, a full pot boiling over to burn a black ring on the stove as an outline. It goes south and I am left to use the scratchy side of the sponge and lots of vinegar and hot water, wearing myself out trying to clean up my mess.
I’m impatient. She back talks. I reprimand. Next thing you know I’m carrying her down the hall, her arms and legs flailing as she wrestles the demon I blessed her with before birth. My dad shakes his head and backs me up, although later he will tell me I am too heavy-handed. “I’m met this little girl before,” he says. “And I thought her mom was hard on her too.”
“Then what?” I ask. He doesn’t answer, maybe because we have a thirty-two year history of me plugging my ears or maybe because I really have to do this on my own. So I turn and walk away, my eyes filling with tears and my stomach filling with bile, acidic reminder that I am out of my league, above the tree line without a coat or compass.
I wake up each morning and ask for grace to steward the gifts I have been given. Like the parable of the talents, I am hoping for a good investment with multiplied returns. And I am mindful of the words spoken to the one who buried his gold in fear. “Away from me you wicked, lazy servant.” So they begin with breakfast and I with coffee and prayer. Cervantes says, “Time ripens all things. No man’s born wise.” But I seriously wonder if I have enough time to get this thing right.
Grandma steps in to soothe. “I don’t like my mom’s rules,” my daughter tells her. And the truth is I don’t like them either. But I also don’t like eggplant, which I have eaten on a few occasions because I have good manners, which I learned from my mother.