Friday, May 21, 2010

The Happiest Place on Earth

Back we go to the Happiest Place on Earth...


The card my mother-in-law sent me for Mother’s Day was a Hallmark slam-dunk. And she added some generous words of her own. The whole thing reminded me of a favorable story that was published about my family when I was a kid. My mom would often read paragraphs from the glowing portrait, close the magazine and sigh, “Someday I want to meet these people.”

My mother-in-law is gracious in nature, but it also helps that she lives two states away. We always have fifteen hours notice when grandpa and grandma are coming, which is enough time, for even the lowliest among us, to wash the kitchen floor and the children. I kept the card and put it on the mantle, hoping to grow into it someday. And I thanked her the next time we talked.

“That was a really nice card you sent me. I don’t think many daughter-in-laws get treated that well.”
“I don’t really think of you as a daughter-in-law,” she answered.

I have played that part of the conversation over in my mind, embarrassed every time that I pitched my gratitude low and away. But embarrassed or not, her response was beautiful. And it makes me want to do right by the clan into which I have been bound by holy matrimony.

In the book of Ruth, much deserved credit goes to Ruth and her stunning, famous speech: “Where you go I will go, and where you stay I will stay. Your people will be my people and your God my God. Where you die I will die, and there I will be buried. May the Lord deal with me, be it ever so severely, if anything but death separates you and me.” Naomi, the mother-in-law, who changes her name to reflect her loss and deep sadness usually gets chastised for sulking. She may have changed her own name, but what she calls Ruth is consistent throughout: daughter. Powerful words. Words that inspire.

This evening as I was riding the bike, full of eagerness to grow into a better version of myself, I prayed in earnest about our upcoming family vacation. I literally prayed that God would give my mouth two weeks off; that I would be just hands and feet for fourteen days, mutely and selflessly looking out for the needs of others. I prayed and prayed. And pedaled and pedaled. Literally pictured myself peeling potatoes in sackcloth with a placid grin. With four minutes to go, I shifted into a harder gear for the yellow jersey finish, demonstrating a final burst of sweaty faith. The chain jumped right over the largest ring and tangled itself with purpose, sucking up underneath the crank arm. A short but potent bad word slipped from my lips. Twice. Nobody heard me, but as I wiped my grimy, greasy fingers on my shorts, my shoulders slumped. “I give up,” I said. And unofficially began the trip, humbled, if not without words.

“My dear brothers, take note of this: Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry . . .” James 1:19

Thursday, May 20, 2010

The Bunkhouse

All three of our kids sleep in the same room. Mister had his own room in the original design. But the original design did not have a baby sister in it, and that major addendum has been cause for a few significant adjustments.

When I found out I was unexpectedly pregnant I shook my head. The first few shakes were filler shakes while I lined up the real issues in my mind that warranted a tense and ill-placed laugh. Mostly I was just so glad that this unexpected baby had waited long enough for us to be matched with the adopted son we had been praying and dreaming about. But then there were all the issues of timing. Would our paperwork pass through the court system in time for us to bring him home before the long Ethiopian New Years holiday, the one where paperwork and babies get jammed up for months? Those would be telling months for the secret we had not planned on keeping. Then there was the issue of traveling in a malarial zone. I was informed that if I was bit, I would survive but wee bitty baby would not likely be as lucky. “Well,” I said, to my passport-less international travel partner, “If you want in this family you better hope we don’t get bit because I am not choosing one of my babies over another, so I guess you just have to come along.” And I told God, as I drenched myself in repellent, that the rest was up to him, as if he did not know.

Once Mister was home safe and perfect and adjusting well, I invested my worries in his upcoming transition to ‘middle-child’. As I would rock and sing to him my heart would break over the thought of him having to share my lap. I could bring myself to tears thinking of having to divide this special time with someone else. What made this emotionally asinine was the fact that he was not an only child. He was already sharing his mama with the three-foot bully whose shadow he gladly wore like a jacket. But I worried anyway.

Then she was born. Nine pounds of greedy love wrapped tightly in the generic hospital blankets that receive all babies born there. Hours later, Mister walked right into the hospital room, found a seat on the couch and held out his hands. We handed him his baby and he held her carefully and sweetly for the better part of an hour. I had woefully underestimated both the soul of my son and the hand of God in my life.

I have been studying them lately. Storing up in my heart the manifestations of love and bonding between the children, which I am charged to facilitate but really have no power over. And now that Peanut is mobile and primitively communicative the moments are even sweeter. Especially between brother and his baby. She feeds and delights his soul in ways that I never could and stares into his bed, making pterodactyl noises after naptime, thinking she can rouse him from the crumpled pile of boy-shaped blankets. “Brother is not in there,” I tell her as I lift her from her crib. So she wiggles out of my arms and waddle-stomps off to find him. I steal a kiss as she goes, though I know it was not intended for me.

Tonight they three went to bed at the same time, which is unusual. So, the baby stood at the rail of her crib, with her cubby arms crossed and supporting her chin, forcing her ample cheeks to scrunch around her nose. And the kids on the bunks faced her as she held court, puckering her lips and blowing kisses. “Ear ou go. Nie-nie. Ear ou go. Bye-bye.” And I watched his face. And the light in his eyes. And I prayed with my whole body that these three live long and in each other’s company.

“Save your people and bless your inheritance; be their shepherd and carry them forever.” Psalm 28:9

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Jesus for Breakfast

It is sunny today. I managed to swing my legs out of bed and into my tennis shoes and snuck out the door leaving the baby and her dad playing kissy face in an otherwise sleeping house. Birds were chirping. All was bright blue and green. I started shuffling down the trail and thanked God for the chance to give him the firstfruits of the day. But talk of firstfruits made me think of breakfast and I spent the next two miles dreaming about what I would like to eat when I got home. It was not an exercise in reality as our fridge is in need of re-supply, faithfully cooling not much more than two dozen eggs, a block of cheese and a gallon of milk.

And since I am prone to sacrilege, I starting wondering what breakfast food best represent Christ himself. Is he Cheerios with skim milk? Clear brand recognition. A favorite with the kids. Sensibly healthy. Approved by the National Heart Association. Or maybe he is granola with yogurt. Lots of interesting little fibrous twigs, nuts and berries sprinkled over spoonfuls of the good kind of bacteria. I was secretly hoping he could be a ham and egg bagel with cheese. It’s hard to make a case for Christ as white bread and cholesterol. But the psalmists did describe God as hearty and satisfying. Then there is the whole category of super foods. Avocados: good fats and omega-everything to keep the gears of my mind oiled and moving and ward off belly fat.

In the end, I could not decide. But I do know that God asks for our firstfruits, not because his fridge is empty but because it is good for us. Like breakfast. When we meet him early and bring our best we are rewarded with loaves and fishes that magically last the whole day. With leftovers.

“Bring the best of the firstfruits of your soil to the house of the Lord your God.” Exodus 34:26

Tuesday, May 18, 2010


A new road is being cut through rolling farmland at the edge of town. We have been watching the progress at 25 mph. But today there were two giant excavators near the road and so we parked and sat down on the curb to watch. All were mesmerized by the size and power of the yellow beasts with monster claws, systematically digging, arrogantly erasing the place of the tall grasses, scoop by scoop. Dump trucks lined up to accept the earth and transport it on eight wheels somewhere else. There was a process, which became clear to us bystanders in retrospect. Teamwork, movement, and smoke.

Since we only drive by periodically, it seemed like the yellow giants had cut away the hill with great speed. And in the context of time and the years, maybe centuries, that it took to build that hill out of glacial silt and traveling dust, the progress was indeed shocking. But as I sat and watched one thing became clear. Even though the machines were Herculean and complicated, they still moved the dirt one scoop at a time. Even giant excavators are bound, like the rest of us, to the physical realities of matter, time and space. There is no short cut for moving a hill a mile. Christ understood this as he was saying goodbye to the twelve and explaining their need for the Holy Spirit. He told them that all he had to give would bend and crush them. That time and the Counselor were needed. That it would take a lifetime to learn what he was ready and willing to teach.

And so I asked for patience. For myself. With my children. And set myself down again, squarely in the middle of the process.

“I have more to say to you, more than you can now bear.” John 16:12

Monday, May 17, 2010

Bubble Gum

Mister loves gum. Really loves it; asks for a new piece every time we get in the car, which means he could has five to ten pieces a day if I let him. A year or so ago, while he was staring out the window of the van, watching the telephone poles that connect us to the next town and Wal-Mart, he announced, “The world is whole full of bubble gum. I wish it rained bubble gum.” I could just picture him in his bubble gum heaven, catching what fell from the sky in his little hands and blowing bubbles as perfectly rounded as the back of his head.

While I was downstairs yesterday, Mister hit up Daddy for ‘da tind dat isn’t spicy, da pink one, da one dat tastes duud.’ Before I rounded the stairs I could hear the smacking. Like a herd of cattle in a spring meadow. Chewing with force and conviction and open mouths.

“Hey guys, remember, if I see or hear your gum I take it,” I reminded, in the interest of both manners and sanity.
Sis looked at me, and said, with saliva easing from the corner of her mouth, “Dad says that right after you got married you told him to stop smacking his gum.”
“Did you say that?” I asked my husband.
“How else would they know?” he smirked.
“Mister thinks Dad should get to do whatever he wants,” Sis added helpfully.

I rolled my eyes. It was a sugar-free mutiny, approved by nine out of ten dentists. I knew I could not win. I would have to patiently wait for Monday morning and the end to weekend power sharing with Dad. Monday morning would be gum free. Monday morning Dad would stroll out the door and pass Mean Mommy on her way in. Drab cleaning clothes. Stern face. Worn hands and sensible shoes.

The rest of the day I kept seeing a vision of my husband on Day Two of marriage. Fresh faced and hopeful. Ready for adventure. And I began to make a mental list of all the things he did not know he signed up for. Not because I was dishonest or misrepresented myself while we were dating, but because the process of building a life together kicks up dust. And how could I have known I was allergic?

And I thought of the passage from Philippians that was read at our wedding and has been worn and oiled by subsequent re-reads. It lays a foundation for beautiful relationships built on humility, sacrifice and the example of Christ. Who, I am sure, was not a gum smacker. I can almost guarantee it.

“Each of you should look not only to your own interests, but also to the interests of others.” Philippians 2:4

Sunday, May 16, 2010


This is the summer Sis will learn to ride her bike. Maybe. The training wheels are off. It is time. But since she began walking she has spent most of her moving moments looking to the right or the left. This has brought her into bruisable contact with trashcans, poles and sharp, spackled corners in more than a handful of states. And to ride a bike, you must look forward. Concentrate. Point your nose in the direction you want to move and smash the pedals like you mean it. In her training wheel days Sis saw much of the periphery. Gravel and ditches. To ride she will need to find a point on the horizon and focus.

I recently read that farmers of old would employ such a strategy when in the field. In order to till and plant straight rows they would choose a tree or building in their line of sight before starting the engine, never looking behind to check their progress. Because looking behind makes for crooked rows and crooked rows, especially visible with a bird’s eye view, are difficult to harvest.

So it is for farmers and the rest of us. The tree of life, tall and majestic offers shade on the horizon. And Christ himself is seated there, in shady repose, waiting patiently. And when I keep my eyes up and my shoulders squarely facing my Maker, the furrows I prepare for seed are straight and long and promising.

“Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith . . . “ Hebrews 12:2

Friday, May 14, 2010

Our Father

It was six o’clock in the morning. My husband and I were drinking coffee in our pajamas and watching the early-riser baby roam, climb and waddle around the room with her hands behind her back like the old Albanian men in worn jackets who took laps around the wilted park in Korcha summers before. Between sips he turned to me and said, “This baby delights me.” In his words I saw a space open where the pendulum had passed, and before it could change course and return the way it came I darted upstairs, leaving him to revel alone in the magic of fatherhood before sunrise. Time alone is hard to come by. I set my coffee cup down, rubbed my eyes and began to write.

But with the days I have frequently returned to his comment and the light in his eyes when he made it. And the unspoken vows to his children that rise from his very center. Yes, he would stop traffic or a speeding bullet for one of these. Walk across coals, nails, or desert miles. He would also go each day to his job and work with character and diligence, even when he does not feel like it. Even when it is sunny and he has a shiny bicycle at home. He loves them. To him, these three are delightful.

I just began reading With Christ in the School of Prayer by Andrew Murray. He reminds that in Christ’s modeled prayer for his disciples he scandalously taught them to call great and mighty God their very own father. “Our Father, who art in heaven.” No one before had dared walk into the Holy of Holies to sit on the lap of Papa. Yet these, with Christ as mediator between God and man, were free to trade elaborate ceremony and a cord around the ankles for a space at the dinner table. With Dad. And so Murray says, “the knowledge of God’s Father-love is the first and simplest, but also the last and highest lesson in the school of prayer.”

There is noise, constant motion and enough to eat. And although I am deeply grateful these still make it hard to peel back the carnal layers and see the spiritual realities that run like rivers under the ground. It is difficult to sit still and ponder the ludicrous gift of my adoption by faith into the family. It is difficult to picture my Heavenly Father, waking early to drink coffee and smile over my toddlings and the mud pies I make with young and naive hands.

“This, then, is how you should pray: Our Father in heaven . . .” Matthew 6:9

Cheat Sheet

I woke up Monday morning and looked at my planner. Sister had her well-child check-up scheduled for 11:00 that day. Sudden shame and dread gripped me by the back of the neck. I had chills and flashbacks of last years well-child where my daughter was asked to answer questions about her address, phone number and fire escape plan. She had just smiled blankly and shrugged her shoulders shyly and all eyes had turned on me. I took a sudden interest in my shoes. I left with a long ‘to-do list’ of skills and data bits to teach my daughter. The list was subsequently stamped to death, covered in stickers and ingested by the baby. So we were forced to cram a year’s worth of learning into Monday’s space between breakfast and the waiting room.

I used a singsong voice and cheerleader enthusiasm to hide my panic. “I have an idea! Let’s learn our address this morning! What a fun thing to know!” A few minutes in, Sis decided to write things down. She returned with a small pad and a crayon and dutifully recorded all the important facts of her life.

Armed with string cheese and blankies we waited for the doctor to see us. She finally arrived, checked hearing, vision and reflexes. “O.k., Sis, I have a few questions for you,” she said, gripping her clipboard with a sinister smile.

“Mom, hand me my pad of paper!” Sis said loudly, sensing the urgency and seriousness of the situation.

“What is your address?” The doctor asked.

“I live at 5 – 5 – 5 – 5 S-O A-N-D S-O L-A-N-E” she answered with great concentration and the pad of paper nearly touching her nose.
“O.k.” the doctor replied slightly caught off guard. “What would you do in an emergency?”

“That’s easy,” Sis replied casually. “Call 911.” Everyone with a little brother and a library card knows that. “Do you know what, Doctor? We just got a trampoline!”
An icy wind blew through the room, sweeping out all sound and friendliness. I started lining up the crayons on the seat next to me.

“Do you know the rules of the trampoline?” the doctor asked.
Sis looked at me and shook her head indiscriminately. The doctor answered her own question. “The first rule is ‘one child at a time’.” The eyeballs in my daughter’s head darted sharp left to assess my response. Sis nodded and pinched her lips together to hold in her thoughts and I could see her eyelids flexing to restrain visions of her and her brother jumping away together in their pajamas earlier that morning. I, of course, was studying my cuticles.

In all the excitement questions about flossing and fire safety were forgotten. The nurse returned with five shots and three stickers, and we finally left, leaving behind broken crayons and the confiscated Good Mommy badge.

They brush their teeth. Eat vegetables. Play outside. Is it really that important that they know where they live? And how to call home? Perhaps it is. Because sooner or later we all get lost. And need the help of a stranger to find our way. And in order for that stranger to help us, they would have to know where it is we want to go. In fact, we would have to know where it is we want to go. And to whom we belong. And the numbers, in order, which we would need to enter to hear the voice of home on the other line.

“All these people were still living by faith when they died. They did not receive the things promised; they only saw them and welcomed them from a distance. And they admitted that they were aliens and strangers on earth . . . Instead they were longing for a better country – a heavenly one. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God, for he has prepared a city for them.” Hebrews 11:13-16

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Green Pastures

Sis informed, “I think my trick is better on the trampoline.”
“What is your trick?” I asked, since it was clear she was going to tell me anyway.
“I jump up as high as I can and then land on my bottom. I just tried it on the carpet and it hurt my bottom for ten minutes.”

She was right. It is important where you land. And I should not try feats and wonders unless I am properly arranged over the right surface. I just finished reading The God of All Comfort, by Hannah Whitall Smith. Buoyed by her call to take God at his word and live like it is true, which indeed I do believe, I reread Psalm 23. It reminded that the Good Shepard leads me in green pastures. And I lifted my hands in agreement, thanking him for the spring green and budding promises all around me. For the breeze that is cooled as it gently blows over new grasses. And I lifted my hands in agreement at the truth of quiet waters. Refreshing and life giving. And I asked that He would grant me the fortitude to stay mentally seated all day long in this place of grace and nourishment.

I set down my bible, got off the stationary bike and took my smile and new attitude upstairs. Like a kid just learning to ride without training wheels, for a few tenuous moments if looked like I might wobble right off the road. But by grace and necessity the teetering lessened. I balanced and pointed my chin the direction I wanted to go. And the day was great. And God was true to his word. He gave my children gracious spirits and kind words. He gave Mama the same. We ate our daily bread and it was enough.

“The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not be in want. He makes me lie down in green pastures, he leads me beside quiet waters, he restores my soul.” Psalm 23:1-2

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Night Out

For Sister’s birthday we gave her the choice between a party at the park or date night with mom and dad. It went like this: “Sister, I was thinking about your birthday [eyebrows raise] and you can choose between a party with friends at the park [smile spreading from the corners] or we can get a babysitter for brother and baby and you can go to a fancy restaurant with mom and dad by yourself [eyeballs popping out, convulsions]. She literally fell of the couch, righted herself and starting jumping up and down. “Dinner! Dinner! Dinner!”
“Are you sure, because we are only going to do one thing? So you have to really think about your choices."
“Dinner! Dinner! Dinner!” Hopping in circle. “I’ll go choose my clothes.”
“We still have eight days until your birthday.”

For the next eight days, friends and strangers alike were subjected to details of the birthday plan. “For my birthday I am going with my mom and dad to a fancy restaurant that serves Mac ‘n Cheese. And my brother has to stay home with the babysitter.”

I was sure Mister would cry and stand at the window with his wounded look when it was time for us to go, but instead he hurried us out the door with his standard farewell, “Don’t let the bears kill you. Kick the bears like this . . . one, two, three, kick!” I don’t know where or how he came up with this valediction, but he consistently uses it when Dad leaves for work and at bedtime.
“I love you, Mom. You are special to me. Don’t let the bears kill you.”
“I love you too, Mister. I am proud to be your mama. Good night.”
“Kill the bears!”
“Sleep well.”

The evening of the big event was overcast. We drove east, away from the setting sun. Sister sat in the backseat beaming with diamond-studded sunglasses. When we were seated she wiggled and shook in her chair with excitement. The lemonade she ordered came in a wine glass, and she used both hands to hold it and carefully drink, though still trembling with fanciness and attention and the promise of high-class Mac ‘n Cheese. It was precious time.

For her birthday my husband had suggested we give her a charm bracelet that we could add to each year. I purchased one that came with a silver box, on which we engraved her initials. And we chose a flat silver heart as the first charm and engraved the word ‘treasure’. We explained to Sister, as she turned the glittering band on her wrist, the significance of our choice. We reminded that she is our treasure and that the bible also speaks clearly about treasure. In Proverbs it likens wisdom to treasure and admonishes all to seek after it with focus and might. In Matthew it reminds that where our treasure is, there also will be our passion and attention, the lesson being that with treasure, we should choose wisely lest we give our heart and years to things that quickly tarnish.

After dinner we walked to our favorite coffee shop for dessert. With hands free of other kids, we swung Sister down the sidewalk, her sequined shoes flying out in the lead. “This could have been us,” my husband said, referring to our temporary one-child status.
“I know. That would have been so sad. And lonely,” I responded.
“It doesn’t feel lonely to me!” Sister added, high in the air with her arms pulling against their sockets.

After hot chocolate and biscotti we headed home by way of an indoor playground where she could work some of the sugar and adrenaline out of her small frame. She piled her jewels into my palm, unwrapped her scarf and scrambled up the slide. And I watched her. She is a contradiction. So grown-up. So wise for her age. But in so many ways a baby. In need of some individualized attention. And a little something special just for her.

“For where your treasure is, there your heart will also be.” Matthew 6:21

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Bee Bo

Peanut loves to find her belly button. We ask her if she has a Bee Bo and she immediately doubles over, craning her neck and pulling up her shirt to fish around for the prize. Usually this dance lands her on her head, but with a great view of the treasured remnant of her first connection to life and nutrition. And when she finds it she giggles in a way that is at once both startled and satisfied with so monumental a discovery. I love every part of this ritual and naturally ask about her Bee Bo a dozen times a day.
I love that she loves her body, that is brings her great satisfaction and delight with every new skill it can perform. I love that she is driven to use it. That her bones and muscles must run and climb. See and do. Taste. Touch. Smell. Taste again. I watch her toddling around the yard, chubby legs bulging around the top of her socks and dimples at the elbows. I pray that she will grow taller and stronger but not outgrow her appreciation for the intricate detail and amazing abilities of the temporal covering her Heavenly Father designed for her.
I have a bump of sorts on my cheek, which has occupied the attention of the scientific son. Really I just need to admit it is a mole, but a mole on the face conjures up visions of pointy noses and black hats, and I am hesitant to admit or draw attention to such similarities. One night, after careful inspection Mister asked, “What do you have on your face, Mom?”
“It is just a bump. It doesn’t hurt.” I answered.
“Yup,” he agreed. “That is just the way God made you.”
I have turned his words over in my mind on many early mornings, while squinting at my creased and baggy-eyed early morning face reflected in the bathroom mirror. His frank acceptance of the design and his respect for the Great Designer is beautiful and right. I am fearfully and wonderfully made. Even when I don’t feel like it.
Unlike Peanut, my Bee Bo doesn’t get out much, but is still a great reminder of my humanity. And the fact that even my physical body was built around necessary connections. Was built with careful blueprints by capable hands and intended for good works and appropriate wonder.

“For you created my inmost being; you knit me together in my mother’s womb. I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made; your works are wonderful, I know that full well.” Psalm 139:13-14

Monday, May 10, 2010


For our Birth Mother, the day after Mother's Day:

It was rainy season, so she walked an hour to meet us, slippers sinking into the mud to suck and slap with each careful step. She was wearing ceremonial white, hiding a jaw set to absorb loss under a gauzy shawl. For fifteen minutes we would share a table and a few words. Words of respect and promise exchanged for dreams and aspirations filtered through a translator. Damn it, I thought. I think we are the same age, opened our eyes to this earth the same day but in different worlds. Mine opened to hold a pen and a hand as I crossed the street to school. Hers opened to receive the ageless tools of farming and a baby before her fifteenth birthday. And now our hands meet in an embrace that will transfer the sacred word ‘Mother’ from one breast to another. Damn it, I thought.

I think of her everyday, and dream of our next meeting, after the rainy season. Where she brings the older children who defied Malaria and I bring the younger ones who came by plane. In my mind I beg her to endure like the land. To move with speed and outrun the hyena. To stand with the strength of the high stone mountains. To put motion and stillness together in the dance that will ward off the statistics of life expectancy and the harsh realities of coffee beans and chat grown without water in agonizing years of drought. Please. Please. We need to meet again. To exchange at least once more the words of hope and dreams come true. To stand together under a hot and blinding sun and watch, as mothers do, our children playing, flashing their teeth and flexing their muscles.

"But those who hope in the Lord will renew their strength. They will soar on wings like eagles; they will run and not grow weary, they will walk and not be faint." Isaiah 40:31

Sunday, May 9, 2010

The Dress

My Junior year of high school I was dating John. He was nice and played the guitar. We went to the same church. His parents owned a coffee shop. And he was a Senior. So that meant back-to-back formal events for which I would need dresses. The situation caused some stress and friction since I spent what would be my minimum wage earning hours at rowing practice and had no cash. I was calling friends and trying to squeeze into shiny and silky things not intended for my body type. And because I was a myopic teen, this was all a very big deal.

With two weeks to go I had resigned myself to strapless purple and an evening of self-conscious torture. Then I came home from practice one evening to find a dress bag on the back of my bedroom door. Inside was a black, tank-style dress. Beautiful. Made for me. Something I could really walk around in.

My mom had gone to Macy’s and bought a dress. That I had never seen. That fit just right. That told me she understood. And cared. And thought my feelings and my fragile sense of self were important. I came running out to model the snappy little number, lifting my arms to made room for the heart busting against my ribs. Everyone agreed it was lovely, even the harmonica teacher who was our dinner guest on Tuesdays.

When I think of the good gifts of God and the way He lavishes them with personal flare I think of that dress. And my mom. And I smile.

“Every good and perfect gift is from above . . .” James 1:17

Mother's Day

Sister likes to make people feel appreciated. She especially likes to make me feel appreciated when she seeing storm clouds coming quickly across my forehead. And so she will say, “You are the best mom I ever had.” She is sincere and I accept the blue ribbon, even if I am the only contestant.

She also asks if I am going to be her mom for her whole life. Sometimes the question feels backhanded. It really is just a matter of timing. Sometimes she asks while being disciplined. Sometimes she asks after I have said no to mid-afternoon candy. But once she asked while we were snuggling and watching the sun set over the ocean. And one other time she asked as I was bandaging her knee. If I answer yes, and I always answer yes, then she follows up with the second standard question, “Will I be your daughter for my whole life?” And I answer yes. And smile as I think of what her whole life may contain.

When Sister was born we let her sleep on her tummy, which was a serious social taboo and earned me an earful and a note in my file at the pediatrician. But it was the only way she would sleep. And we could see, although we were new, that she had the strength to roll over and lift her head should she find herself face-down in trouble. But I worried anyway. And cried as I imagined the darkest outcomes of our flagrant parenting. And so I prayed as I put her to sleep every night that God would hold her until the morning. After months of interpreting the nocturnal silence from across the hall, blinders fell off and I saw the panorama. God was God, not just of Sister’s sleeping hours, but of all the days ordained for her. So instead of praying for one safe night’s rest, I began to pray for her long and fruitful life. And imagined the baby in my arms, toothless again at ninety. And was able to set her down in her crib without fear.

Motherhood for me has been more Picasso than Seurat. Seasons of Dali with days of North Dakota through the eyes of Andrew Wyeth. But there has also been joy. And richness. And peace. And glimpses of God.

Images of babies with their mamas are beautiful, captivating artists across the centuries. There is sometime right and whole and eternal about them. Perhaps because they collapse the great cosmic relationship of God and man to what it was intended to be: a family portrait. Not just of a Heavenly Father with his children, but a full picture of God, as he described himself, embodying what is good about a mother’s love for her children.

And so today I find myself grateful. For my children. For our birthmother, who made this family possible. For a good and gracious God who has promised to carry my children through all their days. And for his daily tendings, by which my feeble heart is strengthened for this sacred duty.

“As a mother comforts her child, so I will comfort you. And you will be comforted over Jerusalem.” Isaiah 66:13

Friday, May 7, 2010

Not Your Mama's Haircut

Today Mister got his first official barbershop haircut. Between early attempts to connect with college student makeshift barbers and today, his curly locks had been subjected to the unskilled hand of his mother. And I am ashamed to admit that Wal-Mart clippers and a folding stool had been our practice for over a year and a half.

Even before Mister came home I had been making preparations for his hair. I was reading up, polling students and soaking in the responsibility and opportunity afforded me by meeting my Black child’s hair care needs. Then the well-studied adoption concept became a real little boy in a photo. Then that real little boy came home and was terrified of strangers and new places. And was so compellingly cute that I single-handedly decided that the #1 all over and some lotion would suffice. The first time I sat Mister down on the folding-stool-step-ladder my husband gently reminded me that I was steering off course. “You are not going to be that White lady.”

“What?” I said, acting like I wasn’t the one who had read him searing memoirs of African-American children who had been subjected to the loving ignorance of well-meaning White parents.
“Tony says you don’t line-up babies. Mister was so scared anyway. I think I can do this.”
He shook his head in disappointment.

I recently learned (by way of a gracious friend and the business card she slipped in my pocket) of a potential barber in the area. So I steeled myself against the tear-rimmed puppy dog eyes of my stranger-phobic son. I cushioned the bad news with promises of treats from the bakery across the street, but not even chocolate chips could change his mind. “I don’t want to. I don’t want to. I don’t want a haircut.” I promised to hold his hand. I promised it wouldn’t hurt. I promised to buy him a pony.

When it was his turn he climbed reluctantly into the chair and commenced to pout. He held still, with a furrowed brow and tense shoulders, reaching for my hand from under the apron. My secret plan was to watch and learn and replicate at home. The barber patiently explained his methods and process, but five minutes into the experience I knew I was unworthy of his informal apprenticeship. Not only was he skilled, but he had more tools. He kept changing clippers and deftly moving around my son’s head. So I stopped watching and turned my attention to the waiting area where Sister was pushing the stroller in tight circles, Peanut smiling and intermittently tasting the warm string cheese which had assumed the shape of her palm.

I decided that some things are for learning and some things are better left to the experts in the growing village of people who bless our family. Ten dollars means my son gets properly cut. “Wait ‘till Dad sees me,” Mister said in the car. “He is going to be so proud.” Of you and me both, little man.

Tuesday, May 4, 2010


This afternoon Sis and Mister asked me to help them unearth the checkerboard from the pile of treasures in the closet. We found the board sans checkers but they were not to be deterred. I pretended not to notice as they hunted through the playroom looking for suitable substitutes. In the end wooden pizza toppings with Velcro bottoms faced off with dollar store variety safari animals. Pepperoni was no match for the king of the jungle and in the end the ferocious beasts ate all the toppings. Everyone seems to have a good time.

Improvisation. An easy task for the agile and imaginative mind of a preschooler. Child’s play, really. But also a worthy weapon to wield in the daily humdrum of adulthood. I have oft clutched tightly to my breast the biblical command to shrug off the incessant tapping of the formidable foe, Worry, looking to the birds of the air and the lilies of the field that do not toil or spin. I remember that it says that Solomon in all his glory was not dressed as these. That my Heavenly Father knows what I need and has provided for both necessity and beauty in the bounty of his blessings.

The preschoolers remind that one of my provisions is the ability to work with what I have. To look for the blessings where I absent-mindedly left them under rocks or sweaty gym clothes. To bring in the ones that have been damaged by rain and set them to dry under a thick stack of books. To look again in the closet. To mend and make amends.

The baby has been carefully and patiently pulling the stuffing from a significant rip in the leather of my favorite chair. Some of it she eats and the rest she leaves in a pile on the floor as evidence that I am a neglectful mother without the skill or means to repair a family heirloom. So, with visions of tigers, lions, mushrooms and cheese, I wrapper the worn corner in painter’s tape until later. Probably much later. But I am unwilling to part with the baby. Or the chair, which falls somewhere on the continuum between need and want, but well within the boundaries of grace and invention.

“Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or what you will wear. Is not life more important that food, and the body more important than clothes?” Matthew 6:25

Monday, May 3, 2010

Walk, Don't Run

There are certain occasions when it is inappropriate to run. There are also times that it just isn’t humanly possible. In both instances, we get where we need to go by walking.

In her almost five years, Sarah spent only a month or two walking. Once she learned to run she has been moving from place to place at break-neck speed. Literally. We, and anyone who has had her in their care, have cautioned, cajoled, reminded and reprimanded, but still she runs. And as leader of the pack, she has her brother running too. This has gotten them in trouble with the law on a few occasions.

On her second birthday, a special family friend gave Sarah a roller suitcase with which to transport her library books. So as was our weekly routine, the big kids would drag their respective suitcases into the library, conspicuously unzip them and loudly whisper to me as they slipped armloads of books down the book drop. Then Sarah would grab the handle and run to the children’s area, suitcase flapping open behind her. “Walk, Sarah. Walk!” I hissed, ironically running to catch her and slow her pace. It was the same thing every week. Then one day, as she was busily unloading her suitcase full of literary treasures onto the check-out counter, a tall shadow fell over her and a hand rested on her wee shoulder.

“Little girl, you need to walk in the library,” the six-foot librarian reminded in slow baritone.

She burst into tears and choked out an insincere ‘thank you’ at the will of her mother. She was desperately embarrassed. It made me think of my own early years as one of the many children tripping out of the classroom at recess bell, arms stick straight in an attempt to fool teachers into thinking we were walking. Kids run. They are compelled by the abilities of their young bodies and the enthusiasm for what awaits at the end of the trail. Admonitions about ice and gravel and gravity are not always heeded.

But years add weight. The pixie dust flakes off and our ability to fly is compromised. And we find that, sometimes, walking is all we can commit to. A few days ago I only half-joking commented to my husband that I was calling in sick, which we both know is a luxury unknown to stay-at-home moms. I wasn’t up to the task. And so I walked through that day. No extras. No dazzle. I was only able to offer my children meals, hugs and help with their toothbrushes.

There is a great deal of walking that happens on this planet. For most people it is the only mode of transportation. Many spend the majority of their waking hours walking distances to bring water to their families. Our birth mother walked an hour to meet us, since it was rainy season and the roads were impassable. I know the story of at least one woman from rural Ethiopia who spent seven years, mostly walking, on her journey to medical care in the capital city. Recently I spent a few days teaching inside a maximum-security prison in California. During their brief hours outside, men walked the track looking up, a square of sky framed by concrete walls and concertina.

Some days we are able to run, gifted with youth or inspiration. But on most days we walk and when we wait upon the Lord, we do not faint. One foot obediently in front of the other, slowly but surely getting where we need to go. Even when we are moving in circles.

“But those who hope in the Lord will renew their strength. They will soar on wings like eagles; they will run and not grow weary, the will walk and not be faint” Isaiah 40:31