I think I believe in this miracle-working God who makes everything sad come untrue and sets the captives free and works it all for good, but then life intersects. Sometimes it’s all more mud than it is glory.
People get cancer…and instead of being healed and fighting the disease back to remission, they die and leave behind their children to pick up the pieces.
Cars crash…and there isn’t the angel that visits the scene to pull out the body before it is crushed.
Marriages crumble…and sometimes they don’t have this wonderful redemption story. Sometimes they just end.
People are hungry…and sometimes no one comes to give them food. Sometimes they just die of starvation.
Children are brought into this world…and sometimes they aren’t protected by the people who are supposed to protect them. Sometimes those people hurt them instead.
People work all of their life, as hard as they can…and sometimes they never, ever get ahead. Sometimes they end in as much poverty as they started.
Children are adopted…and sometimes it doesn’t end happily ever after. Sometimes the adoptive home is worse than the first family they had to leave behind, and they are ripped yet again from another family only to spend years in foster care and age out of the system with no family at all.
Sometimes things don’t end up the way we want them to. Sometimes things don’t end the way we think God should make it end. Sometimes He just doesn’t intervene. I don’t know why. I can’t explain that. I know I love Him. I trust Him in spite of it. My eyes are on You, Jesus, but boy, do I have some questions…
Sunday, October 26, 2014
I think I believe in this miracle-working God who makes everything sad come untrue and sets the captives free and works it all for good, but then life intersects. Sometimes it’s all more mud than it is glory.
Saturday, October 18, 2014
These past two weeks have given me another silver hair. I have pulled my single silver strand with dedication for a couple years now, last night being no exception, but then this morning, I looked in the mirror to see another shiny metallic glint in my part line. My first showed up during the trauma of our foster care journey with our two youngest permanents. I suppose this one could be attributed to a gift from the upcoming finalization of the littlest’s adoption, but I tend to think it’s from the stress of the past couple months. Wading with your children through their deep stuff all the while battling some deep stuff of your own will age you quicker than anything.
I realized some heavy truths this week. Mostly that my angst and grief over my child’s difficulties are largely just all selfish feelings about me. I feel like I’ve failed. I feel like if I were better at my job and my life that we would not have these problems. I feel like I’ve done all the wrong things. I’m afraid people will think I’m a bad parent. I’m afraid that I am a bad parent.
Really, though? My son’s story is not all about me. It’s his story. I get to walk alongside him through it, and I hope that I help more than I do harm, but in the end, it’s his story. Only his.
I am not his savior.
I am not his rescuer.
I am not the person who will make all things right in his life.
I love him.
I protect him.
I advocate for him.
I teach him.
I pray for him.
I am on his side.
From now on, when I look in the mirror and I see that second silvery thread, I will remember I am his mama. And that’s the end of it. I do everything that a mama should do. The outcome? It’s just not up to me. Even if he never heals in the way I hope and imagine, it’s not about ME. This isn’t about what I do or don’t do, how I feel about it all. This is my son’s story, and the redemption and restoration and rebuilding that I work for in his little life is really just up to One who loves him more than I ever could.
So that hair up there? It’s just a little reminder of who I am NOT. I think I’ll call it the Hair of Humility.
(That I will continue to pull out whenever it appears. So I’m vain. Some things can’t be helped.)
Saturday, October 4, 2014
Earlier this week, I spend a full hour googling cabins and spas and small inns, dreaming of a quiet retreat, somewhere to recharge and rest for just a bit. I’m sure part of it was the relentless heat of summer’s end, part of it also the relentless demand of a large family. Even in this heat, the leaves have been falling, but instead of that being the joyfully anticipated harbinger of my favorite season, this year it’s feeling just a little bit like death and fear.
In the flush of victory of a successful beginning to the school year, we are watching our son deal with demons that we haven’t seen exhibit themselves in years. Learning how to love him well has been a constant struggle, and if I’m to tell the truth here, it’s been more failure than success on my part. I’m not telling those of you who are parents anything that you don’t know, but there is no greater piercing than watching your children suffer, particularly the kind of soul-crushing suffering that makes your heart break wide open. If you’re the mama of a child who has come from a hard place, you also know that when most people, even your friends or family, want to tell you that the behaviors are normal, that things are to be expected, you know there is just a level that is deeper for your child. Yes, the behaviors often look typical. It’s usually the reasoning behind them and the depth of it that is different. That’s the muck we’re wading through right now, even while we celebrate the enormous victories our sweet boy is experiencing at school, at church, and at home. He has worked so hard to come this far, but it is a definite reminder that the pit is just as deep as it has always been even if we don’t go there as much or stay there as long.
I get him in a way that I’ve never before. I’m struggling with some deep stuff too. The underlying fear that fuels a lot of my emotions has come out in my actions more than I’d prefer. You’d think as an adult, I’d have a better handle on that, but this fall, I’ve been daily confronted with my own weaknesses. For instance, I’ve felt better than I’ve had in more than 2 years for the bulk of this summer, but suddenly my hair is coming out in giant handfuls and my palpitations are keeping me up at night again. I think it’s just stress, but there’s always that undercurrent of fear that I’ve enjoyed as much good health as I’m going to ever have again. We’re also beginning one of the biggest life changes our family has ever experienced, and I’m gripped by the uncertainty that surrounds it. I’m overcome by my own resistance – there’s never been anything that I’ve wanted to do less. Yet I know it’s right, and I know it’s God. So I can’t say no, and I’m just honestly a little ticked off regarding the whole thing.
I spent a lot of time this week bemoaning my son’s attempts to run away (a new tactic he’s been trying of late). But really. Do I have the right? Isn’t that what I’m longing for at heart too? To run away? The hours I spend daydreaming about escaping my life for a time, the hotels and places and pretties that I pin while I long for a vacation where I can forget about my trouble…is that so different from my seven-year-old just taking off down the street?
Just as I follow him down the road through the neighborhood while he walks off his anger so he realizes there’s no place he can run to that we won’t follow him, that there’s nowhere too far that we won’t love him back home…that’s what my Jesus is gently, gently saying to me too.
If I take the wings of the morning and dwell in the uttermost parts of the sea,
even there your hand shall lead me, and your right hand shall hold me.
I will never leave you nor forsake you.
Any of you want to run away and escape too? Is it just that time of year? What I do know is that this is the time, right here, right now, where we need to be brave - my sweet boy. me, and maybe you too. Walking forward into the unknown, where our feet may fail, trusting that we walk in a living hope that will never fade or perish, that will not put us to shame. Trusting that we follow Love who already made a way for us. Leaning on the One who is for us, not against us. Strong and courageous, I am stepping forward into the deep. Not without fear, certainly; I am still crazy afraid, but I’m headed to where I have no choice but to let it all go in surrender.
Isn’t that what true bravery is? Doing the thing you’re scared to in spite of the risk?
Jesus, make us brave.
Thursday, September 25, 2014
Tuesday evening, as a simple act to end a simple night of prayer in the church basement, with the twinkle lights illuminating, I dipped a piece of bread in the cup and ate it. Together with my sisters and friends, in spirit with women all over the world, we celebrated what some call the Eucharist, some the Lord’s Supper, others Communion, and at this point in my life, what I just call it the Table -a place where we all come broken, all unworthy, yet all made whole and worthy by the very act that we are remembering.
Every morning, the very first thing I do is unscrew a lid, take out two tiny pills, one yellow, one pink, and begin my day with an act of humility. The same humility and surrender that brought me to the Table this past Tuesday evening. Every night, the very last thing before I get into bed, I again unscrew that lid, take out a tiny pill, white this time, and place it in my mouth. The tang of medicinal coating feels much like the tang of the juice soaked bread I place in my mouth every time I take communion with my community.
It’s one of those incomprehensible mysteries, this sacrament that we take together. The Catholics believe the bread and the wine literally become Jesus’ flesh and blood when we take it. The skeptic in me recoils and rolls her eyes at that description, but even I have to admit that something supernatural takes place during those holy moments. We take into our bodies that very things that are representative of Jesus’ death and sacrifice. The broken bread His broken body. The wine red like His blood. The very thing that brought death now, somehow, miraculously, brings us life.
The same thing happens to me each time I take my medicine. It’s a battle to surrender to my body in this way. I hate that I have to take daily medication. It’s a reminder, day after day after day, that I am broken. I can’t handle things all on my own the way I would prefer. I can never again live without taking these pills. I need help to do things that other people do without thinking. It is something completely outside myself that I am forced to depend on to function.
The humility I feel when I open and close my day with submission to these facts is the same humility I feel when I submit to the soul brokenness that I remember each time I commemorate Jesus’ sacrifice. I can’t control and handle everything on my own. I need Him in ways that I’d sometimes rather not admit. It is something completely outside myself that I am forced to depend on to function.
When I come weary to my medicine case, I remember the energy I will have because it causes my body to function differently. When I come bitter and wounded to those pills, I remember that these medicines bring healing and wholeness in a way that my flesh cannot bring on its own. I submit to the things that remind me of my own mortality and lack of control over my life because they bring life to my physical body.
When I come weary to the Table, I remember that I am carried there by the people of God. I remember that Jesus is the only one who can teach me real rest, who can teach me to walk in grace. When I come bitter and wounded to the table, I remember we are all in this together. I remember that we are all broken in the same way, and it’s only through Jesus’ sacrifice that we are made whole. I remember that this very thing which reminds me of death is the thing that brings life to my soul.
The medicine works life in my body. The bread and the wine work life in my body.
“For we have this treasure in jars of clay to show that the surpassing power belongs to God and not to us. We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not driven to despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed; always carrying in the body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be manifested in our bodies. For we who live are always being given over to death for Jesus’ sake, so that the life of Jesus also may be manifested in our mortal flesh. So death is at work in us, but life is at work in you.”
2 Corinthians 4:7-12
Daily, I come. Daily, I surrender.
photo credit: khrawlings via photopin cc
Thursday, September 18, 2014
(photo: Twitter user @The_Blackness48)
Saturday night, Wendell and I walked through Over-the-Rhine, a traditionally rough, recently trendy neighborhood in Cincinnati. We put in our reservations at the fancy tapas restaurant owned by nationally recognized chef. We went through the over-pried locally manufactured goods store, lingered over the handmade wallets, and then we decided to take a walk down the crowded street while we waited. Any building that wasn’t already remodeled was under construction. Fancy lofts, expensive condos – Get in now while it’s cheaper…except cheaper means hundreds of dollars more a month than what these apartments used to cost. We passed modern fashion, pricey handbags, bouffant men’s hairstyles and all sipping cocktails on high stools.
Until two blocks down. There, the color changed. Literally.
The street was no longer glitzy, the people no longer white. A man lay in the middle of the sidewalk, a two-year-old nearly pedaled his big-wheel right into the street before his seven-year-old brother stopped him. The chairs were plastic, the drinks came in cans. I don’t think I have ever walked down a street with greater contrast than this one neighborhood. I love urban renewal as much as anyone, but my experience in the big cities close to us is that it too often looks like gentrification instead of true community transformation. This is part of the problem with race relations in our country.
I haven’t talked a lot about Ferguson with those around me. My feelings are mostly too raw. My heart is broken by this nation we live in. I’ve wanted to say things. So many things. I just don’t have the world experience to say them from my own personal authority, and after awhile, it becomes weary just quoting the knowledge I’ve attained from others.
I think I’ve mentioned before, briefly, the profound experience I had when reading The New Jim Crow by Michelle Alexander last year. I don’t often find myself convicted by ills committed by society at large or by our government as if they were my own sins, but the research and educational path I took while reading that book wrecked me in a way I didn’t expect. Things I thought were true all of my life were challenged deeply. The enormity of the task I have to rear a brown-skinned girl in a world where white privilege remains mostly unacknowledged and unchanged has brought me to my knees in humility. The unwitting complicity in these broken systems brought an unanticipated measure of guilt and repentance.
There were many who wrote about Ferguson in ways that I could never begin to put to the paper. There are others who are living this in ways that I probably never will. Their words bear far more weight than mine, so their words are the ones I’ll share here. I know most will think this is a story whose time has passed. I just can’t stop thinking about it, and I hope that none of us stop thinking about it. May we leave this world, this nation, our communities a little better than when we got here, and may I be part of that legacy.
If I could ask just one thing of you on this issue, please read some (or all) of these links. It might take you a week or two or even three to read all of them, but please. Please do not let this time in your life go by without investigating this issue in our nation, in our churches, in our own lives:
Why We're Still Unwilling to Admit to Systemic Racism in America - Benjamin Corey
“I believe that part of the task for Jesus followers in this time, in this place, and within this culture, is to usher in a season of reconciliation for our country. It will be hard work, it will make you unpopular, and it will involve some costly choices. While I believe that there are thousands ready to live like Jesus lived and to carry on his message of empathy, inclusion, and reconciliation, we must first face the following fact:
We cannot begin addressing this problem until we’re willing to admit this problem exists.
May we, the people of Jesus, live in reality– even if it is a difficult reality that invites us to sacrificial change.”
America is Not For Black People - The Concourse
”To ascribe this entirely to contempt for black men is to miss an essential variable, though—a very real, American fear of them. They—we—are inexplicably seen as a millions-strong army of potential killers, capable and cold enough that any single one could be a threat to a trained police officer in a bulletproof vest. There are reasons why white gun's rights activists can walk into a Chipotle restaurant with assault rifles and be seen as gauche nuisances while unarmed black men are killed for reaching for their wallets or cell phones, or carrying children's toys. Guns aren't for black people, either.”
Ferguson and the Quest for Racial Justice - Russell Moore
”Ferguson reminds us that American society has a long way to go in healing old hatreds. Our churches are not outposts of American society. Our churches are to be colonies of the kingdom of God. Let’s not just announce what unity and reconciliation ought to look like. Let’s also show it.”
Racial Profiling, Thugology, and the Church - Efrem Smith
I was just in Oakland this past week and too many churches were closed, with signs stating that they are only open for Wednesday Bible Study and Sunday Morning Worship. This is unacceptable. The issues facing our cities calls for collaborative church strategies that put Christians on the streets until systems change and crime reduces significantly. Commuter Churches must become Community Churches again. The Church can indeed address both racial profiling and thug-ology.
Two Americas: Ferguson, Missouri Versus the Bundy Ranch, Nevada - The Daily Banter
You need to click through to see this article – it’s more a visual piece than something from which I can pull an effective quote.
Racial Bias, Police Brutality, and the Dangerous Act of Being Black - Kristen Howerton
Rather than a quote from this article, just go and look through all of the research Kristen links to in this article. It needs no commentary.
Would Black Transracially Adopted Males Rather Be White Right Now? - Angela Tucker
”Are white adoptive parents more inclined to reminisce, reflect and eulogize Robin Williams than they are to educate, advocate and act upon these current systemic tragedies that directly impact their family?”
This Is What We Mean When We Say It's About Race - Medium.com
”So when we say that this or any other issue is about race, part of what we’re asking is for you to go beyond the scope of your own experiences when choosing whether or not to validate another person’s perspective, because your experiences may not shed enough light on the problem. Just as fish don’t understand the concept of water until they’re out of it, white people don’t usually understand white privilege until they’re forced to confront its effects, usually by people of color who are sick of getting the short end of the privilege equation.”
A White Cop, A Black Kid, and A Crime - Jamie, the Very Worst Missionary
”As people of privilege (*ahem* you know who you are), we have a responsibility to ask WHY, and then listen intently to the answer. Our neighbors in Ferguson have been standing in the street with their hands in the air, because they're trying to tell us something about the balance of power and racial inequity in the U.S! Are we willing to hear them? Because maybe it's time to shut up and listen. Or maybe it's time to get up and act; to meet our friends in the street, clasp their hands, share in their tears, echo their outrage, and stand by their side until, statistically, a long and healthy future is equally as likely for every child.”
”I am convinced that the soul of the white church has yet to be ashamed. It is not ashamed of slavery- it only dismisses it. It is not ashamed of Jim Crow- it only claims credit for ending it. It is not ashamed of incarceration rates- it only excuses it. It is not ashamed of ghettos- it pretends to have nothing to do with them. It is not ashamed of segregation- only silently benefits from it. There is no shame for who America has been. I believe that until there is collective shame for who white America has been to people of color, white America will not choose to be something else. If it is fine with who it is, it will continue to do what's always done.”
Thursday, September 4, 2014
For the past month, I’ve been arguing with God. As if I know best. I’ve been telling Him all the things that I need, that I want – telling Him what I do and don’t want to do, what I do and don’t want to be. I’ve told Him over and over how flawed I am, listed out all the ways I’ve been screwing this whole thing up. Lest you think that the God I speak to isn’t real – well, I can’t disprove your experience, but you can’t disprove mine either, and I’ve been experiencing God in a whole new way this month.
God often speaks to me through His Word. Sometimes in ways I don’t want to hear. Maybe it’s because I’m a writer myself. Maybe it’s because reading has always been my favorite subject. Maybe it’s because there is nothing in this world that makes my heart cry glory like a well-put phrase or a well-chosen word. God speaks in all kinds of ways to all kinds of people – through others, through the Holy Spirit in our own souls, through circumstances, through signs or miracles or what have you, but as for me, it’s always been the Word where God does the hardest work in my life.
The study that a friend and I have been doing on Hosea could not have come at a better time than right now. I’ve read Hosea 85 gazillion times due to my teenage infatuation with Redeeming Love by Francine Rivers, but it has never ever struck me like it has this particular time.
…so when I read Hosea 2:14 about God speaking tenderly to us in the desert, I am reminded that no matter my faults, no matter my sins, God does not treat me as I may deserve. He shows mercy. He showers grace. He speaks tenderly.
..when I read Hosea 2:23 where God says, “and I will say to Not My People, ‘You are my people’”, I am reminded that God has made me part of a People. Not an individual. I’m part of a group. I can’t do this all on my own. I can’t even process all the things on my own. I need my people. When I’m faithful to talk to my people, you know what? They are faithful to tell me hard truths and ask me difficult questions and help me figure my life out.
…when I read Hosea 4-6 about Israel’s sins and unrepentance, I can see that mirrored in my own life. My unfaithfulness to the One who always shows Himself faithful. My clinging to worthless idols instead of clinging to One who can truly give me what I need. My arguing and crying and whining about the things He’s asked me to do instead of just being obedient. All of that ugliness is just washed away in the waves of His mercy. It sinks in the depths of His grace.
God continues speaking even when I’m not expecting it. I was caught off guard when I found Him speaking rather sternly to me, even in the middle of a book I’ve read before, in the middle of a story that I thought didn’t apply to me:
“Perhaps this applies to you, too, good reader. God may be leading you away without a clear final destination yet….There is a horrid beauty in following God slightly blind. The victory later is sweeter, the prize more valuable than breath. Obviously, we are Americans; we like a plan, we like assurances. But the ways of faith exist so far outside of our tidy boundaries, it is a wonder we can ever receive its mysteries at all. As it was, we could only hold loosely to something we didn’t even understand, and that put us in a position of faith and terrible humility. We can wreck the spirit of a mission by prematurely focusing on the strategy. When the “how” eclipses the “why” too soon, we create a positional shift to defend and execute rather than listen and receive…”
Jen Hatmaker from Interrupted, revised and expanded
Umm. Listen and receive? I want a plan, thanks. Following God into the great unknown is so much more glamorous sounding than the panic that I find settling down in my life to stay for awhile. I don’t want to hold loosely. I want cling tightly. I want all the things to be in order and figured out and progressing along a certain trajectory. Even if that trajectory calls me to do really, really hard things, painful things, things that require more of me than I thought I could give – frankly, I still only want to do it if it’s the trajectory that I plan for. This unknown stuff? Shove it.
I’m in the middle of these hard, yet somehow still tender, truths, in the throes of wrestling with the One I love in spite of it all. Perhaps it’s time to lay down my arguments and my defenses. The minute I think I’m ready, I find myself taking up arms yet again. At odds with the One who calls me, yet steadily, if somewhat reluctantly, moving towards Him. Every time I think I have this whole ‘follow where He leads’ thing figured out, God calls me deeper still. Every time I think I’ve sacrificed enough, He calls me to lay down one more thing. Every time I think I’m can rest on my laurels and take some time off, He gently, yet firmly, prods me onward – reminding me yet again that this isn’t all about me. Further. So even though tonight, quite honestly, finds me fighting against the waves, I know if I let go, I can sink in the ocean of grace.
Now, to match my head with my heart. Press on.
“Let us know; let us press on to know the Lord;
his going out is sure as the dawn,
he will come to us as the showers,
as the spring rains that water the earth.”
[image: death to the stock photo]
Thursday, August 28, 2014
Last week, while the husband was taking the eldest deep-sea fishing for his 13th birthday, on a whim, I decided to re-do our bedroom.
For four consecutive mornings, I woke up in this room. With the perfect gray-green color on the walls, newly painted furniture that now actually matches, a gallery wall, a floor that’s picked up, and no crib in the room. It’s peaceful, and I woke up happy each day. There’s something that feels so grown up about it. I know that seems silly to say since I’ve been a grown up for quite a little while now, but I’ve also shared my room with various babies for the bulk of the past several years. There was something about waking up in my grown-up room that made me feel ready for the day. Like my entire life was set right. Like I was the one in charge here, after all. It was a lot, frankly, for one bedroom to live up to.
Then there was Tuesday morning, when I woke up in another room entirely. One that, yet again, had a crib in it.
Monday night, during our bedtime routine, I was giving one of the daughters the medicine she takes for sleeping. Sometime in between me giving it to her and trying to get her up to bed, the baby grabbed the bottle, somehow the lid came off, and she ate 5 or so of the pills. Within ten minutes we had searched the area for the pills, called poison control, and gotten on our way to the ER since poison control told me I needed to get her ‘checked out’. Once we got into the ER, the story was completely different. We were taken back immediately to a trauma room, and swarmed like it was a for-real emergency. Stomach pumped, antidotes given, xrays, blood, vomit, catheters…it was a tiny bit surprising for me given that the medicine she took was prescribed for a child, and poison control didn’t even say to call the squad. Due to the nature of this particular med, we were then admitted to PICU for monitoring for 24 hours. When dawn broke on the hospital room that next morning, little baby was traumatized from the ER shenanigans and still clearly under the influence from the medication overdose. Mama was exhausted, guilt-ridden from the event since it happened when I was RIGHT THERE! (how does this occur? I still can’t even tell you.), and fearful over investigation and reprisals since she’s not yet ours. We woke up at the mercy of the doctors and social workers who held our fate and our release in their hands. So much for my peaceful, grown-up, in control mornings.
After my dose of humility brought by the attending doctor interview, I got another with the hospital social worker. I was relieved when she assured me they had no concerns, that it was clearly accidental, that they would pass that along to the agency, but I knew we’d still have the agency to deal with. We’ve never had anything happen that was our fault during placements, so I had more than a little trepidation of what it all would mean. Sweet M’s caseworker told me not to worry – yeah right.
As much as my new room gives me some kind of illusion that I have it all together, at least in that small square footage, the truth is far different. I only have to look at the pictures of those two rooms I woke up in this week to see it. I screw up. Accidents happen. Just a second can change my life forever, and there’s nothing I can do after the fact to rectify it. There’s no punishment that equals the amount of harshness that mamas can pour on themselves when it comes to their children. This mistake was redeemed by quick medical intervention, but too many times we can’t fix our mistakes so quickly. Yet, as I was reading in Hosea today, there is no mistake for which God won’t grant mercy. Even in the wilderness, he drew the people who betrayed Him over and over back to Himself. He speaks tenderly to us in the face of our worst failures. (Hosea 2:14)
Maybe I can use that and speak some tenderness to myself as well? I’ve been pretty harsh with myself over the past couple days. Deservedly so. But maybe the time has come for me to be a little tender too. If God can speak tenderly to the people that forsook Him again and again and again, perhaps I can muster a little compassion for myself. Perhaps I can sit in mercy and grace. So today, when I do the interview with the county regarding this whole incident, when I get the verdict on the consequences, when I rehash this whole story for the umpteenth time, my instinct is to berate myself again. This time I’m going to try to let go of that. I’m going to try to treat myself with just a little grace.
Do you need some tenderness in your life this week too? Let’s lay down our shame and lift up our faces together.