Friday, November 21, 2014

five things I want my kids to know about death

origin_8982962023We had an exhausting past weekend as we said goodbye to my great-aunt at 87 years old. Combine that with the fact that my husband was out of town for all of that weekend, and I’ve been running on empty for awhile. I thought I was doing ok until I got the text that Wendell was on his way home from the airport. The older two were watching TV, the next two down were asleep, I was putting the baby to sleep, and by the time he got home, I was pretty much out for the night. This doesn’t seem like that interesting of a story, but it was 7:30. Some of you hadn’t even eaten dinner yet. For a girl who struggles to go to sleep before midnight, it was a fairly significant event. I think my brain said, “hey. he’s almost here.” and then shut down. The end. So tired.

I’ve been thinking a lot about our past weekend and the previous few weeks during which we anticipated my aunt’s death. This was the sixth viewing/funeral we’ve been to this past year as a family, and the only one where there were several other children. Apparently it’s not too common to take your kids along to funerals or viewings. I think it’s so important for my kids’ upbringing to be exposed to death and mourning, so I compiled a short list of the things I want to teach my kids about death. I will be the first to admit, however, that my children have been fortunate in that we have not attended the funeral of a child or the funeral of someone who died from violence. Those things will bring up new questions and new problems, and let’s be frank, I don’t have the answers for those things. I can’t tell them why God allows children to die, why violence sometimes seems to win…but I can teach them about death as a part of life. These are everyday lessons I want them to learn.

1) Dying people are not scary.
I watched my four-year-old climb up right beside that hospital bed in the room where my aunt took her last breaths and take her hand like there was nothing to it. She started right in with a one-sided conversation, no fear at all. It was the sweetest little thing, made even more striking by the fact that they didn’t interact like that regularly. I never want my children to fear the elderly or the dying or the vulnerable. Don’t be scared. Just love them.

2) Death is not convenient.
With very rare exceptions, death cannot be predicted. So you change your plans. You skip practices, games, holiday dinners, working on your house, work, school, and even sometimes vacations. (Unless your ticket is non-refundable and the rest of your family can still go. But then you feel bad about it.) You show up. If you know the person who died, but not their family, you still show up. They want to see the people that loved their loved one. If you don’t know the person who died, but you do know their loved ones, you show up. That’s what makes us people. We share one another’s loads. We grieve with one another. Even when we don’t know what to say. We come and we give a hug and we cry together. If you can travel to the location, you do so. Don’t be scared. Just show up.

3) Death is a lot of work.
So you do it. If it’s not your loved one, you do the work. If you’re part of a church, then you move chairs and you set up tables and you ask what else needs to be prepared for the funeral. You make food for the after-funeral dinner, and even more importantly, you serve at the after-funeral dinner. You do this EVERY TIME you possibly can because someday it’s going to be your family member, and someone else will need to do it for you. If you’re not part of a church that does this kind of thing, then you make food for the family. Not just the immediate family, but the ones who don’t live in that house too. They all are tired and overextended with the purchasing of funeral clothes and time off work, and everyone could use a break. Make them dinner. Clean their house. Do something. Don’t be scared. Just step up.

4) Death is not scary.
This one was really brought home to me on the way home from my aunt’s viewing. The kids asked about the body which led to a conversation about embalming which led to burial which led to cremation which led to my older children deciding on their death and funeral wishes and wanting to know mine. It wasn’t icky. It wasn’t weird. It was just a conversation about the natural progression of life. People die. We grieve. We remember them, but we move forward. As they are exposed to death, it will only serve them to be better equipped when someone very close to them dies. I don’t want them to be paralyzed with fear when that inevitably occurs. Don’t be scared. Just keep on.

5) Death is not the end.
The last lesson is the most important one of all. The night we got the call that my aunt had finally passed, my Maggie said, “Do you know that Aunt Esther never learned to drive? When she was getting ready to learn, a pig ran across the road and the car, and then she was too scared to ever try. I bet right now she’s driving a golden car with wings.” Facts of that story are maybe not completely verified, but Maggie understood the point. Aunt Esther still lives. The minute she left this earth, she gets to be present with Jesus. Something deep within my kids’ souls knows this to be true. I’m not sure if it’s just my own indoctrination of our faith beliefs (possible, but I honestly can’t remember us talking about this aspect of death much) or if it’s just this innate part of us as humans that knows that there is more to us than just this earthly life. Eternity is planted in our hearts, and my kids know this to be true. Death is sad. Death is painful. But don’t be scared, sweet children: Love wins.

Wednesday, November 5, 2014

things I learned in the dark

Sweet M has been sick since Labor Day. Until the past week or so, she was up multiple times a night, every night. One of those awakenings would typically last anywhere from 2-4 hours. I think I’m handling it just fine, but then she sleeps through the night one night and I can’t. I’m not the kind of person who can get completely up and do productive things while battling insomnia, so I’ve been lying in bed, listening to a lot of Roseanne Cash, and learning some things in the dark of night.

origin_35466035061. While battling extreme embarrassment over my affinity towards the game, I just can’t quit you, Candy Crush.

2. I’m pretty sure I can now diagnose your diseases solely by looking at the location of pimples on your face. Thanks, face mapping.

3. Jesse Thorn’s voice is now more familiar to me than my husband’s, thanks to Judge John Hodgman and Bullseye.

4. Reluctantly and with enormous amounts of skepticism, I have done an inordinate amount of research on essential oils and their usages resulting in a hefty purchase of said oils this month. Two things: I think Young Living might also be the work of Satan so I used a different company, and also, I really don’t believe all the hype. We’ll see…..

5. JoJo Moyes has become a favorite. Me Without You was terrific, and the best I’ve read of hers so far. Eerily timely, given the Brittany Maynard news coverage. The Kindle is an insomniac’s best friend.

6. Virginia wine country vacations are expensive.

7. Maybe closer to home would be cheaper? Or maybe not. Hocking Hills has some crazy expensive cabins and inns, although you apparently can get a whole Scottish inn experience there. I bet that’s experiencing a significant growth in profits as a result of the whole Outlander situation.

8. In spite of my fear over the future, in spite of the pain-driven tears, in spite of the anxiety-fueled gulping breaths and heart palpitations, and even in spite of the myriad of frustrations and things unsaid between us at any given moment, lying beside my husband at night is the safest place I know.

(Full disclosure: I’m a verbal processor, and if my sweet husband is reading this right now, he is thinking with horror: “how could possibly be ANYTHING unsaid???”)



photo credit: Moe M via photopin cc

Sunday, October 26, 2014

when you doubt

DeathtoStock_NotStockI 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…

Saturday, October 18, 2014

the hair of humility

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.

origin_3718841972I 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

make me brave

IMG_9375Earlier 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.
Psalm 139:9-10

I will never leave you nor forsake you.
Joshua 1:5

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

my daily Eucharist

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.

origin_3383659848“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

remembering ferguson in over-the-rhine

(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 -
”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.”

Black Bodies White Souls - Austin Channing Brown
”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.”