Tuesday, July 16, 2013

confessions: so this is real life

There are just some things NOBODY TELLS YOU ABOUT when it comes to parenthood.

I mean, let's get real. Everybody knows you're going to have some sleepless nights. Everybody knows that babies have poopy diapers and that's kind of gross. Everybody knows not to hold a baby above their face or else they'll get puked on. [And yet, some people do it anyway. The kind of people that are idiots?]

Here's something NOBODY TELLS YOU ABOUT. That sometimes, you'll go to a restaurant that has one of those ball pits that you have to take your shoes off for. Your kids will probably have their shoes off by the time you get into the restaurant even if you're nowhere near the ball pit. If you survive the E. Coli and your kids do too, then inevitably they'll need to put their shoes on before you go home. And because your five-year-old of course picked THE MOST COMPLICATED SHOES ON THE PLANET, just getting them back on her feet is like trying to get out of a straightjacket, except in reverse.

So you squat down and use both your hands to try to help her with the shoes. I specifically mention both your hands because you had been using both your hands to hold your baby who can't do anything on her own except smile and poop, and sometimes both at once which means she probably has a very good future as a multi-tasker. So where is your baby at this point? Remember you're squatting? Well, you have said baby compressed between your knee and your collarbone. Right as she's about to LOSE HER MIND squawking because really, that's not very comfortable for anyone as evidenced by the fact we never see anybody positioned like this at their leisure, your five-year-old FREAKS OUT because you've just apparently amputated her pinky toe while trying to get on a shoe you've cursed under your breath about 872 times in 3 minutes. Who even knows where the three-year-old is at this point. She might be eating off some stranger's plate. Or digging in their purse.

Feel enlightened, friends. Who else is gonna fill you in on the real facts of life? I've got your back. I've got your back like it's a towel I need to wipe up some graham cracker puke with.

In closing, I should mention that sometimes my kid licks the Walmart cart and that's worse than a ball pit.

Tuesday, July 9, 2013

why you are where you are [part 2]

[I'm not afraid of getting a little vulnerable and messy. So here's a story about a very real, very important, very crucial chapter in our lives.]

Seven years ago, my sister - I'll call her Palindrome - said she had to go to Africa.

She was holding a magazine with a notice about mission trips to orphanages in Liberia. And this was what she was meant to do.

My parents have always been into equipping their kids and encouraging them to TAKETHEPLUNGE.

"You want to dye your hair blue? Sure. I like blue. It's a good color."

"You have a life dream of being a soapmaker, you say? Let's get started." [and that life-dream lasted all of 1 day.]

"You want to go to Africa? Go for it."
but wait -

"For TWO YEARS? Um, no."

So she went for two weeks instead and she met this girl, this girl who changed our lives. 

 D - and that's her alias here in the River, because even though her name is really Deborah I have always, always called her D and so nothing else fits here on this blog - was 14. She and Palindrome bonded instantly. On one of Palindrome's phone calls home, my mother talked briefly to D and loved her from the moment she heard her voice.
And, long story short: my parents tried to adopt D and there were obstacles from the very beginning. I stood in our community and asked for prayers - I have a sister in Liberia - and she needs to come home.

But it all fell through, and D went to another family, and our family's collective heart was broken and so very, very sad because this didn't seem like the way it was supposed to be. But a call is a call and sometimes life just doesn't look like what you thought it might. My parents were still willing to do what they always do, and that's welcoming children, even if it's different from who they thought it was going to be. So then they got these pictures:

And, longer story even shorter, my now-youngest two siblings came home.

They were home for all of 6 months when my parents got another call. It was from D's adoptive family. They were on the verge of disruption. That's adoption-speak for "Things REALLY AREN'T WORKING OUT and our family is being destroyed and if you don't take her, she's going back." 

[Disruption in adoption isn't a casual thing. It's a really big deal and my heart truly goes out to anybody who finds their family in this position, this place of seeing only darkness all day, every day. If that's you and you're reading this? You are not alone.]

So they got a call asking if they could take D. And smack in the middle of their own adoption-adjustment, they said yes, and she came. I was so angry the day she came. Not because she was here, but because of how she was dropped off. Her adoptive father laughed and joked in my parents' driveway and then formally signed over legal guardianship over pizza, smiling the whole time. Hearts are such fragile things, and you don't just hand over a hurting, angry one in a business transaction over a piece of dessert pizza.

D met her match in my parents. They are strong people, but tender people, and they are wise and humble and have a vision into heart-problems that is unmatched in anyone I've ever met. They rarely address what seems to be the issue but pray to see the root of it because usually the root of the real problem doesn't look anything like what's actually coming to the surface. But in working with the root, the whole plant is changed, and my parents know it. They're not perfect, and no parent is, but every imperfection is laid at the foot of the Cross. They live the gospel. In my parents D found a boxing ring of love, squaring off never as her adversary but as her ally and sometimes you need to ram yourself up against a boundary to find out how tough it is and if you're actually loved. My dad, probably quoting somebody else, likes to say that children ask 2 questions in all of their actions - "Do you love me?" and "Who's in charge?" and that those questions should always, always be answered, "Yes," and "I am." D found those questions answered in my parents and their thoughts were that they already had some grey hair, and what's a little bit more?

Conflicts and resolution were meted out on the orangey-brown couch in their living room. For the first of those conflicts - and there were many-, D sat with her face covered, all but her eyes, with couch pillows. Sometimes a couch pillow is all you can grab as a shield to protect you from the rejection you anticipate. That rejection didn't come, and never did, and with each conflict the couch pillow didn't come as far up on her face, and eventually she just held a pillow in her lap. My mother spent months working and walking and talking D through her anger, her hurt, her pain from her past and met each of those moments with bravery because my mom just doesn't back down from too much and she knows how to love hard and scrape away ugly layers. When I think about hurting, wounded people, sometimes I think they need a tough-nut who knows that healing doesn't come from just being pitied and sometimes real love is tough love and we're going to walk this dark road together until we find what's worth finding. Because that's what real compassion does that simple pity fails to do. My mom didn't pity D; she loved her...and they walked that dark road.

D found healing in my parents' home. And one day she found Jesus. My dad had the greatest privilege he could ask for - getting to baptize her.

And then there was a week almost 9 months into it when 3 people in our family all heard the same thing: It's time for her to go back. And my parents knew that the hard thing and the right thing were the same thing - and sat on their orangey-brown couch and she just sat there with the couch pillow in her lap this time, eyes brimming up and nodding.

So she went back. Her adoptive family kept in touch, because frankly, they were a little scared of her return. But they reported she was a changed girl. She was different. The change was authentic and undeniable. Their family was at peace. And I remember my mother showing some weakness to me and saying I just don't understand what that was all about and why it had to be that way. 

My mother claims I said something very brilliant to her at that point. It sounds vaguely familiar but at the same time I think, Wow, I said that? That's pretty good stuff. and I half-don't-believe it was actually me who said it. Anyway, I apparently said something like, Mom, if God is the master crafter we don't get to pick how he uses us. We don't get to pick what kind of handtool we get to be. Mom and Dad weren't her parents, but they were the handtool being used to reconcile her to the people who were.

D stayed in touch, and she came to Palindrome's wedding a year and a half ago, and there she met Lightning AND THAT'S NOT AN ALIAS, THAT'S ACTUALLY HIS NAME. Whoa-dang, right? Anyway, D and Lightning were both from the same orphanage in Liberia and all of our adoptive families are kind of in the same circle and so Lightning's family was at Palindrome's wedding too - and so he and D somehow managed to reconnect there.

Well, one thing led to another and Lightning and D got married last weekend. Her Liberian father managed to fly in to the States to be there for her. My own dad had an aisle seat as she walked by him between her adoptive and biological fathers and I don't think I've ever cried so much at any wedding as I did at hers.

 The officiant told their stories - of their adoptions and of  how they met, and now how they're here, and of their salvation and when he got to that part in D's story he said soberly, "Deborah, you said you had a rough patch for awhile and that's when you went to live with this family, and that's where you met Jesus and were baptized."

What's a story's resolution without the conflict in the first place, anyway? What's being found without knowing what it meant to be lost? So of course that was part of her wedding story. Of course that's what it was all about, and why it had to be that way, because there wasn't another way for it to be.

During the reception, I found D to grab a picture with her. She flung her arms around me and the hug was sweet. She has always been my sister and I've always referred to her as such. But as I held my hand out to Lightning, I didn't know what to say. Here, in her "real" family's front yard, I didn't know how to name our relationship. So, of course, I naturally fumbled.

"Hi. Congratulations. I'm so happy for you guys. I'm Corrie. I'm - well, I'm..."

D cut me off. "She's part of my story."

I turned to D. "Thank you - for what you included in the ceremony - about Mom and Dad..."

Her eyes glistened and a grin split across her face. "It's because of her that I am who I am. She's the reason I'm here today." 

I hate the 'why' questions, actually. Why did this happen, why didn't this happen, why did it shake out this way...as if there was really another Plan or a choose-your-own-ending. It was always the Plan. This. was. always. the. Plan. It was always going to be like this. 

But I burrow my face into the peace of knowing, gloriously, that because Palindrome went to Africa and met this girl that another family adopted her at the price of our pain. And because she didn't come to our family, my parents went through with adoption anyway and brought home two others who we wouldn't trade for the world. And because our names were on the table with D's adoption, her family knew who they could call when things weren't shaking out. And because she came here for that short time, she came back for Palindrome's wedding and met Lightning. My family's home was her rehab, her in-between, the place she found Jesus and healing and became a new person.

It's not the story we would have written, but it's not a story in which I would change a single detail. We're just hand-tools, after all. We don't get to pick what kind we get to be.

Monday, July 8, 2013

why you are where you are [part 1]

 [old journal-stuff coming full circle in my life these days. names changed.]

I wake up on Mother's Day thinking about fruit, and outside the sky waters seeds I don't even see.

I gaze out the kitchen window and marvel at the daylilies springing up in our backyard, bursts of defiant orange against a grey, drizzly backdrop. What will bloom today? I marveled too at the spirea, the honeysuckle, the poppies, the kanzan cherry tree all pink and frothy, the irises, the azalea, the lilacs...all wondrous and all planted decades and decades before we got here, the labor of someone's hands or even just a seed on the wind that multiplied in the soil.  Every day is like Christmas - what will open up today? I wouldn't have guessed all those wonderful blooming surprises were in hiding when we first laid a curious foot out here in November. Sometimes you plant and sometimes you reap. Sometimes you're just the in-between. This hundred-year-old farmhouse, it's seen some days and a lot of change over time and tiny sprouts grow into thriving, full bushes and trees. This farmhouse, it's patient and I could learn a few lessons.

The rain continues and I'm thankful. The seeds and the farmers who tend them, they need this rain. But my mind wanders and I feel a melancholy deep down. Fruit, fruit...did I do any good? Could I have invested any more? Could I have given more, in any moment? Two years of working so hard to build a friendship and now goodbye and did it really do any good? Do I really believe what I've always said about my little community, that we're good about reaching out and loving on people and sometimes we're a stepping stone and sometimes we're a rehab and am I really okay with being that in-between, that place of planting and watering and maybe never seeing the fruit of what God's growing from this?
My mind jolts back to December. And that lady said on a visit back home, that lady who was a student here when I was two years old and she and her husband were loved on and welcomed and cherished, she said - I want to thank you. Because back then, we just were lost. And all you did was love us. You didn't try to change us -- you just loved us and helped us with our baby. And on our last Sunday here so many years ago, I stood and prayed that God would help me love people like you loved me. And now I stand here and tell you that all of my adult children walk with the Lord and love other people because you loved us and showed us how.

Those people who loved them, they couldn't have known what seeds they were planting or how it would affect future generations. They just loved who was in front of them and saw that even Paul said, 'I planted the seed, Apollos watered it, but God made it grow,' and they were happy in their own skin of being seed planters because they knew God's Word does not return void. Sure, it's the reapers who may see the seats filled and baptisms every week but sometimes that's not your thing because it can't be your thing and in a transient town, all you can do is embrace the person who's here for just a little bit and it's the person who comes back after twenty five years who tells you what a difference it made in her life that keeps you making that difference. Seed planters have to understand that it takes depth and darkness and death in the soil before anything is made from it, and that there's never a field white for the harvest without someone first planting seeds in the dark and in the depth.

We drive to the church building on this rainy Mother's Day and I sit behind her. I've seen the back of her head so many times and fought to really see her face and get to know her heart. This girl who had a way with silence that gave my way with words a run for its money and I've never worked so hard to get to know anybody in my life. Countless meetings at the park, only to sit in awkward silence. Sometimes drinks from Sonic would be in hand, like a peace offering for a scared little animal. Will you be my friend? And I'd get home and he would ask me: So, what'd you guys talk about? And I would shrug helplessly and say, Well...nothing. And he would ask me why I was bothering and I could never lay my finger on the answer why, only that I had to. And then sometimes in the middle of the night she would text, frantic, that she didn't know where her husband was and he should have been home hours ago. Or expressing deep, lifelong doubts about her own faith because of some bad theology she'd absorbed somewhere along the way and I'd try to pull some weeds. Those dark nights, seeds were planted then and sometimes that defined the depth of our friendship, if she knew she could wake me at 2 am with fears and doubts. Darkness of night, depth of conversation and by nature all those seeds would also have to die but I was believing on faith that something could come from it all and banking on a lot of hope that something actually might.

Church announcements ramble on. I bite my lip and the self-interrogation continues. What can I pack into the next 72 hours? What can I still invest? What still even matters, because has any of it mattered? The firing squad is interrupted by another woman, unrelated to my friend, standing up across the room. She says, I want to thank you. My daughter has been here off and on in the last couple of years and I want you to know how much it meant that you reached out to her and loved her and supported her. She was in a really bad place, and one day she came and heard about forgiveness and she was saved that day. And her life hasn't been the same. She moved recently, but she's getting married in September.
And she talked more about how this girl's very sick, very special-needs boy is still being fed through a feeding tube but how he's happier and functioning better now and how much the prayers and support meant to her daughter. And how her daughter felt like who would ever want to marry a single mom with two boys, one of which was so sick? And how all we did was reach out and love her and how that made a difference, and she just wanted to share that with us on Mother's Day because sometimes we don't get to see how things turn out or if any fruit comes from the seeds we plant and water.

The interrogation inside my mind is silenced. She had spoken to the whole room but it felt like it was aimed directly at me and it shot a piercing bullet more accurately than all the questions swirling around relentlessly since waking up. I blink a few times, fighting a rising gate of water. And then a man rises and says, "You know, this is Andy and Kayla's last Sunday here, and we need to send them off proper," and everyone gathers around because this is what we do and I'm asked to start the prayer. I try to swallow the lump down hard but it doesn't work and the rain that's been watering seeds all morning now moves inside. I don't usually close my eyes when I pray. I tend to fall asleep that way. So I glance around at those gathered around and I see those precious hearts who are so good at what they do, just quietly planting and watering and reaching out and loving deeply and helping with babies so a mom can finish her degree. And I realize it's hard work, this faithful job that doesn't fill the seats or see results in numbers but we get reminders that what we're doing matters, right when we need it.

I let a few tears slip, wipe my nose on my kid's shirt, and I pray. I ask that they be led to another community who will love them, encourage them, and challenge them. I ask that they will get connected in real relationships where they can give as well as receive. I ask for their steps to be guided so that wherever they go, somehow they are drawn closer to the heart of Jesus. And I quietly express my thanks, while others speak, that we've had the opportunity to be their in-between.

I don't hear the sermon. I sit in the nursery with some other moms on Mother's Day, playing with babies and my friend who is saying goodbye brings in her little boy who is eleven months old. He camps out on my lap the whole time, eating crackers and smiling at me. I squeeze him a few times and kiss the top of his head. I didn't need to hear the sermon. The message I needed was heard loud and clear. I take him back to his mama after the service ends.

Over lunch, I glance outside and the clouds are parting and moving on. The sun is breaking through, shining down on seeds planted and watered. Today was a watering day, an in-between day. But I see how this model works, this planting and watering and nurturing, and I text my friend because she hasn't moved yet, and I ask her if she wants to join us at a TBall game tomorrow night. I can embrace and give value to this in-between day. I wonder quietly to myself, What will bloom tomorrow? and have every confidence that something beautiful will spring up from these hidden seeds.