Friday, July 30, 2010
For a few minutes today I thought I wanted to be a toddler: long afternoon naps in a dark room with soothing music to drown out big-kid bickering; soft cotton clothes with giant felt flowers; meals that appear magically at regular intervals; bubble baths; and a big box of blocks that still smell of pine. Then I remembered that toddlerhood also means sitting in your poopoo and spending at least 51% of your time red-face-mad and rolling around on the floor in total frustration. Every coin has a backside.
Rock that diaper on your head, Baby. But please do not put the toothbrush back where you found it, under the tennis shoes lined up by the front door. Turns out that is not cool.
Wednesday, July 28, 2010
The uber-firstborn-almost-Kindergartner smacked her forehead in frustration. “Oh man, I am just always forgetting as soon as I remember!” Me too, I thought. I start walking down the hall, in focused pursuit of something that escapes my mind between the coat closet and the bathroom. I hunt for the cordless phone, only to find, when it is found, that I have forgotten whom I wanted to call. I leave the door of the washing machine open; with things I intend to line dry molding in a wet and abandoned heap. In matters of home, I can be paralyzed by distraction and forgetfulness.
Like Sis, my memory keeps forgetting, and not just the ice cream melting through the grocery bag, abandoned on the countertop by other pressing matters. I find myself is a season of rich blessing. My life and my heart are full to bursting. Sometimes I mistake that fullness for heartburn but even in the frenzied moments, I can see that I stand in the middle of beautiful and wonderful things. But in this season of plenty there is real danger- danger of forgetting that God himself has made provision for everything from the Mac ‘n Cheese to the roof to my very breath. And when I forget, the spaces in my heart and mind reserved for the praise of God are quickly filled with the septic flow of pride and self, churning and emitting gases that cloud my vision and leave me coughing. I fear the admonition of Moses:
When you have eaten and are satisfied, praise the LORD your God for the good land he has given you. Be careful that you do not forget the LORD your God, failing to observe his commands, his laws and his decrees that I am giving you this day. Otherwise, when you eat and are satisfied, when you build fine houses and settle down, and when your herds and flocks grow large and your silver and gold increase and all you have is multiplied, then your heart will become proud and you will forget the LORD your God, who brought you out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery. (Duet. 8:10-14)
And so I praise, publicly raising my hands to tell what God has done, making sure it is clear to my listener and myself, that although these things are my responsibility, only God himself has placed them in my hands and only God himself can make them grow.
Monday, July 26, 2010
We were driving home from a friend’s house, when Mister spoke up. I turned down the music.
“Remember the picture when Sis was born? She was so messy.”
“That’s right, son. She was so messy when she was first born. And so were you. I know I wasn’t there but it was just the same, I can promise you that.”
Silence confirmed the end of the conversation. I turned the music back up and we kept driving.
The next day I was bathing Mister and looking into the striking almonds of his eyes. I told him that I was so glad I get to be his mom. Without hesitation he asked me plainly, “Did you know someone in my special book had two moms?” I told him that was interesting and asked who he was talking about. He was not really clear, but I did not want to miss the opportunity to talk at a time that felt safe to him. I asked if we could look at his book together so he could explain to me what he was trying to say.
So, fresh and soapy from the tub, he crawled onto my lap and opened the book.
“Not this page. Not this page,” he said casually as he gentle picked up the corners. “This page,” he said, stopping at the picture of his mom and dad with his birthmother. “Did you know I grew in her tummy? And when I came out I was so messy.”
“That is right, sweet Son. You did grow in her tummy and she loved you.”
“But do I have a belly button?”
“Yes, son. Your belly button is right here,” I said giving it a playful poke.
“But nobody cut it. How did it get cut?”
“Baby, the neighbor lady probably cut it, but you had an umbilical cord same as your sister and it attached you to your mother when you were in her tummy. It was the same for you as it is for all babies.”
We continued to look at the book together slowly and I watched his beautiful face as important inquiries bubbled up from his open heart. And I thanked God for this amazing son, his tender questions, and the ways he continues to bravely make sense of his world. And I thanked God, also, for the little bits and pieces that fill the emptiness left by starting over as a toddler, the small and powerful truths that cover, like vernix, new and delicate skin.
Sunday, July 25, 2010
Today in church my husband was following along and taking notes until I tapped him on the arm and gave him the look that means, ‘Put your arm around me because the children are all downstairs and you can think about God and snuggle me at the same time. I guarantee he approves.’ Since his writing hand was wrapped around my shoulder when it was time to fill in the blank on point #2 he passed me paper and pen and gave me the look that says, ‘Fill in the blanks on my worksheet, because I was dutifully taking notes until my wife gave me the look.’ Point #2 read: Jesus offers _______ and __________. I filled it in with ‘money’ and ‘stuff I really want’. It was supposed to read, ‘Jesus offers freedom and restoration’, but that was not the answer I was hoping for.
This year my husband and I read The Hole in Our Gospel, by Richard Sterns and Crazy Love, by Francis Chan. The two texts served as a venerable one-two punch of biblical insight, leaving me a little dizzy with prolonged ringing in the ears. Both authors, supported by lots of evidence from the Old and New Testament spoke boldly about the bondage of our love of things and the beautiful opportunities that await the brave few who shed the insulation of material accumulation in pursuit of higher things, namely service to Christ’s beloved poor. I cried and cried as I read, knowing that it would be difficult to walk away from the very voice of God brought near by these two witnesses. So we prayed and made a few changes.
But instead of feeling content with less, I find myself consumed with consumption. Like Peanut on Spaghetti night, I want more: more of everything pretty and shiny; more of things that smell new; more of everything that makes me sick. And my husband confessed the same just yesterday. We wander around thinking of all the ways we want to spend the money we don’t have. None of this is honoring to God, but it is honest and I also think it is interesting. I hope it goes away, but it just might not. I live in a world that tells me I deserve to have everything I desire. It is my capitalist birthright. That siren sings loudly and right under the window. But the beauty of her voice belies her melody. More of this world won’t satisfy, as artists and thinkers, both ancient and modern, religious and secular have tried to warn. So I am left to choose and re-choose with each breath and each stroll through Wal-Mart whom I will serve. I still hope to put some distance between my vain heart and the image of myself sold to me on the newsstand, but I think it is fair to assume and ready myself for the uneasy reality that choosing to be a stranger in this world will indeed make me strange and rub raw the points of contact between me and the temporal world in which I am ever grateful to live.
And, even though I am a vain and spoiled child, I can still see that what Jesus offers is what I really need; and not only what I need, but also what brings life and the freedom and restoration the pastor was preaching about this morning.
“No one can serve two masters. Either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and espies the other. You cannot serve both God and Money.” Matthew 6:24
Saturday, July 24, 2010
Peanut can now reach doorknobs. For months I watched her reach and stretch on tiptoe, chubby fingers tickling the air below the brassy knob. Then one day I could not find her in the house, because she had gone into the ‘chokie’ room (where the big kids keep Legos and tiny doll house pieces) and closed the door. While I hunted and called for her, she quietly sat behind the closed door, enjoying the sweet taste of solitude and power. Her height has finally caught up with her insatiable spirit of adventure and nothing is out of bounds. So I find her hiding in the empty tub, or standing on the rocking chair she has scooted up to the closet, or eating the bits of story she has torn from familiar books. And she always remembers to close the door behind her, making space between her mischief and her mama.
This morning I read the words of Christ in Revelation to the church in Philadelphia. He could have told them anything, but what he said was this: “See, I have placed before you an open door that no one can shut.” He goes on to say that he recognized that they are tired, but praises them for keeping his word and for not being ashamed of their God. An open door is a beautiful thing. It lets in light and allows passage from this place to that. A closed door tells a different story, one of loss, darkness and likely misbehavior. The sound of a closing door pricks the ears of mothers everywhere. It means there will be haircuts or spontaneous murals or both. So when Christ says he has propped the door open permanently for me, my heart sings. Oh, that I would walk through it.
“See, I have placed before you an open door that no one can shut.” Revelations 3:8
Friday, July 23, 2010
Grammy was reading a book about fire safety, huddled under a blanket with the big kids. At the prompting of the text she stopped and looked at Mister.
“Do you know your phone number, Mister?” She asked.
“Yep.” He responded assuredly, looking her in the eye.
“Well, what is it?”
“Same as Sis,” he answered with confidence, sure of the accuracy of his answer.
I have thought long about the beauty of his answer and it’s spiritual implications. This summer I was invited by a friend to a 10-week, intensive bible study. It has stretched my understanding of God and shown up in the laundry, dishes and park dates with friends. But it has also helped me to see how little I really see- how little I will probably ever see this side of heaven. There is much that is unknown and like Mister, I want to stake my claim on something other than my own understanding. Granted, the five-year-old big sister has little in common with God Almighty, and he really does need to learn his phone number, but I was grateful nonetheless for the laugh and the lesson.
Acknowledging the mystery of atonement by no means excludes me from struggling with and against real theology, but as I study and pray I want to be ever mindful that God is God and I am not, and at the end of each day and at the dissatisfying end of temporal answers there is Truth that I am unable to comprehend, even when I feel the weight of it in my bones. I agree with I Timothy 3:16: “Beyond all question, the mystery of godliness is great: he appeared in a body, was vindicated by the Spirit, was seen by angels, was preached among the nations, was believed on in the world, was taken up in glory.” And so I say with A. W. Tozer, “I am looking for the fellow who will say, ‘I don’t know, but oh Lord God, Thou knowest.’ There’s someone who is spiritually wise.”
“Oh, Lord God, Thou knowest.” Ezekiel 37:3
Monday, July 19, 2010
I unzipped the bag of laundry made dirty by eight days of camping. It smelled of damp fog, sand, smoke and sunscreen, the well-balanced aroma of time spent at the mouth of God’s great ocean. The days leading up to the trip were tearful and heavy with my son’s deepening understanding of the losses of adoption. My husband and I held him while he cried. He looked so small. But then we headed to the beach, and the beautiful thing about the ocean is that it is big- big enough to remind us that we are all indeed small. In the same way that we cannot say for sure where the blue of the water and the blue of the sky really meet or count the grains of sand that peacefully sift between our fingers, the ocean speaks in rhythmic waves of the breadth and breath of God. It was the perfect place for a lost boy and his mama.
I watched him run with abandon and a wide grin through the shallow water away from me with all the confidence of a soul at rest in the arms of his Father, which is where, of course, we were. When we were waiting to adopt Mister I found a quote that spoke to me and just today fell out of its hiding place in Leviticus. Madam Jeanne Guyon says, “If knowing the answers to life’s questions is absolutely necessary to you, then forget about the journey. You will never make it, for this is a journey of unknowables- of unanswered questions, enigmas, incomprehensibles and most of all, things unfair.” And I was reminded of a preacher once who questioned the value of questioning God. He suggested, and I think he may have been right, that we would find the answers to our ‘Why’ questions wholly unsatisfying. In the same way that the pain of an injury is not relieved in the least by the surgeons explanation of anatomy and physiology, our hurts can not be soothed by explanation, but rather by the tender, and often silent, hand of God.
So I watched, with deep, deep satisfaction, as he ran and smiled and splashed. And I was thankful.
“Oh, the depth of the riches of the wisdom of God!
How unsearchable his judgments, his paths beyond tracing out!
Who has known the mind of the Lord? Or who has ever been his counselor?
Who has ever given to God, that God should repay him?
For from him and through him and to him are all things.
To him be the glory forever! Amen.”
Last week a friend sent an e-mail to say that she was praying for me as she painted her house. I had tearfully told her the day before that I wanted to be ground into a fine powder and sucked into the heating vent. A little dramatic, perhaps, but a sentiment shared by many a tired soul, I am sure. She said that as she was praying and painting she noticed a long crack in the door that required repair. So she put down her brush and reached for the sandpaper and putty. If she were to paint over the damaged wood, it may have looked acceptable for a while, but eventually the paint would have bubbled and peeled, widening the circle of damage. There was a quick fix, but it would not have lasted long.
She said she spent more time on that two-inch square than on the rest of the door, wearing herself out getting it right. And she thought of me, at the end of my rope, and took seriously her gifting as Ezer, the biblical word for helper used to describe both God himself and Eve. So she prayed and prayed, standing in the gap for me when I was tired.
And I felt it. All day. And I was grateful.
I want to be someone who stands in the gap: for my husband; for my kids; for friends who I run into at the store and the ones who live in other time zones. I want to pray deeply and often, powerfully bending the ear of my Father. I want to be faithful in this because it pleases the heart of God, makes a difference in the lives of those I love and sets my heart at rest in the hard situations where I find myself powerless to do or say anything of use. I want to do unto others as has been done to me. Besides, most things in life are better with a buddy.
“I looked for a man among them who would build up the wall and stand before me in the gap on behalf of the land . . . .” Ezekiel 22:30
Friday, July 9, 2010
Last night I told my son a whopper. And I told him it again this morning. I am sure I will tell it to him tonight when I tuck him in to his bed. I told him I would be his mom forever and that he had nothing to fear. These are promises I do not have the power to keep. And so I beg the Lord, even as I write, to see the broken heart bleeding through the ribs of this little boy I love and let me live to be ninety-nine. Not because I am worthy or qualified, but because I am here and these are the arms he has known.
We came home from celebrating our anniversary last night to find Mister agitated and arguing with the babysitter, with whom he had been sharing his special book. He was showing her the first photo we had of him, wrinkled from its place in my pocket during the months between referral and travel. When he saw us he frowned and started sharing his frustration. “I do not have two moms. I just have one mom. She said I have two moms.” My husband thanked the sitter and I scooped Mister into a tight embrace to discuss what, to him, was more than a semantical disagreement. I have been trying for over a year to facilitate Mister’s understanding of adoption in ways that help him piece together his feelings and his place in our conspicuous family. Our conversations have been slow and sometimes he has simply met my attempts with confident argumentation, assuring me that he did grow in my tummy. But last night, as I rocked him and he looked at me, his face washed in confusion and fear, I knew he finally understood his loss and I watched the dark clouds of that loss roll across his brow, a near eclipse of the security he has felt in the almost two years he has been home. I could visibly see him thinking: if it happened once, it could happen again.
And so I looked him in the eye and told him I would be him mom forever. I told him that it is okay to be sad, but that he had nothing to fear. I pressed his head against my sternum and promised safety. And we rocked. Finally I asked, “Do you want to talk about this anymore?”
“No,” he said. “I just want you to sing me a song.”
“What song would you like?” I asked.
“The Lord Is My Shepard,” he answered.
That is the song that I sang to him first: as we rode the bus to the embassy; after the coffee ceremony at whose end I pried him from the arms of his favorite nanny; as we boarded our flight home. So, last night, as he was nearly drowning in the words I gave him to make sense of his hurt, we began again at our beginning.
This morning I had to wake him up and immediately he was sobbing. And he made it clear he would not be going to science camp, so after we dropped off sister, we went by daddy’s office for some chocolate and reassurance. My husband crawled into the back of the van and covered Mister in a long embrace, whispering in his ear. I pretended not to watch as our son cried and snuggled his daddy, letting the chocolate in his hand melt and run down his fingers.
There have been other times I have oversold myself. In seeking gainful employ I pictured the version of me I hoped I could grow into with the wisdom of years. At the altar of marriage I made promises, in earnest, that I knew only the grace of God could cover. But nothing has brought me to my knees like the fist of my son, clutched tightly to my shirt. And so I ask for the privilege to walk beside him for a long, long time.
“I love the Lord, for he heard my voice; he heard my cry for mercy.” Psalm 116:1
Sunday, July 4, 2010
I left the piles and lists and sat down with the big kids to snuggle and read while our baby tyrannosaurus was napping. Someone chose, No Matter What, by Emma Dodd, a sweet little story about an elephant and his mama. We own it because it was on a ‘good adoptive reads’ list somewhere and while we were waiting for our son I spent most of my anxiety at Amazon.com. The story is not about adoption, but it is about the unconditional love of parents for their children. Both illustrations and rhymed text are simple, exploring the different feelings any kid has throughout the day.
The page that says, “I love you when you are sad” shows the baby elephant on the far left, alone and blending in to the grey rain. After we had turned the page, Mister spoke up. “Turn back, I have to show you something.” We turned back and he explained, “Dat boy’s dad walks too fast. Dat is why his is sad and crying and by himself.” I looked again at the thick line of black pen that outlined the elephant and only vaguely distinguished him from the rain all around. I saw him through the eyes of my son and felt the things Mister knows rend my heart.
He understands getting left. He does not understand the pain of loss or the heavy emptiness in the lap of his first mother. He does not understand her choices, her sacrifice, or her love for him. He cannot. Not yet, maybe never. But he does understand rain and loved ones who get too far ahead.
When we met our son and realized that our very presence caused him tearful anxiety, we agreed that one parent would touch and hold him first, giving him time to get to know us and respecting his fear of us as strangers. The first night we were all together he slept between us in our bed. I woke at one point to feel him crawling onto my chest and patting my face. He sat on my lap on the plane and I carried him through the many airports by which we hop-scotched home. He would not touch or sit with daddy but if we got more than five feet away from my husband in a crowd, Mister would protest. So he clung to my neck and we traversed the crowds, willing my husband with his gaze to stay close. It was weeks before he let daddy rock him to sleep but even in those early moments Mister was fiercely loyal and empathetic, his heart a tender shoot.
And so I pray, as I have since before he came home, that God would grow roots deep down into his fertile soul. Roots that feed a beautiful tree, that may sway but always stands: in wind; in rain; growing good fruit in season; providing shade. I pray that he gets to know his Heavenly Father who will never leave him or forsake him, but walk tall, strong and able a half step ahead all his days.
“Do not be afraid or discouraged, for the LORD will personally go ahead of you. He will be with you; he will neither fail you nor abandon you." Deuteronomy 31:8
Thursday, July 1, 2010
Today Mister walked to and from our destination in his dragon costume. Before we were at the end of the street, Sis was complaining, “Mister, don’t spit on me!” He calmed reminded her that he was only breathing fire and showed her his claws.
A woman we met along the way bent down to meet him eye to eye. “My, you are a scary little dragon,” she cooed. He nodded, blinked and then started spinning in circles. “Ya, and you know what? You know what? You know that I am a dragon and sometimes when it is windy outside, when I look out the window and it is windy I put on my dragon jacket and, and, and,” he stopped spinning and looked her in the eye, “I go outside and I can fly. Yup.” Continuous nodding for emphasis.
I smiled the whole way home, mindful of the breeze at my back, gently lifting my soul off the ground. Tomorrow morning when I pray I am going to ask God for a dragon jacket: soft, padded fleece to keep me warm; hood with googly-eyes and huge nostrils so that I can see and smell danger; felt teeth and claws for nashing, which inevitably happens; and shiny green wings for flying.
“But those who wait upon God get fresh strength. They spread their wings and soar like eagles. They run and don't get tired. They walk and don't lag behind.” Isaiah 40:31 (Msg)