It was fitting that I was cooking with a fair amount of bacon grease when the call came. Grandpa Pruitt, Bobby, had passed on to the next life. Suffering no more, he was gone. And like that, as my dad said, the oldest generation was departed, leaving behind deep roots and so many branches in this family of faith.
I remember as a little girl, wrapping presents with Grandpa in our guest room in a split level house in Oregon. They had come for Christmas again, and we were busy downstairs, just me and him, somewhere between the DOS computer and patchwork quilt. He used the scissors with a constant up and down motion, snipping each 4 inch segment of the wrapping paper at its appointed time. I showed him what I liked to do: hold those scissors at a steady angle and ZIIPPP, that new line was slightly curled in the wake of my linear efficiency. “Well, I’ll be,” he beamed, sputtering something about the thought of ME (who he commonly referred to as “ugly”) being able to teach HIM something. He wasn’t one for pretending so I believed that I had introduced this technique.
It’s hard to explain a man who called his young granddaughter ugly without once causing her to question how much he loved her and thought otherwise. He was the Zeke Braverman of the family, with less Berkeley and more suspenders. He got away with too many things, and was my first teacher in the well-meaning, if not downright inappropriate, insult. He wasn’t too proud to tear up when noticing the significance of a moment, or laugh that high, vacuum-sounding pleasure at his own mistake.
Proverbs 13:20 Become wise by walking with the wise; hang out with fools and watch you life fall to pieces.
I give thanks for this man, this legend of the river and woods, of missions and letter writing, romance and brusque ways both. For the life he and Grandma built. Thank you, God, for the son they raised in my father. For this undying legacy my siblings and I are swept up in. Thank you that he is no longer lonesome, no longer limited. Be with us, the crowds of Pruitts and beyond, grieving this loss, the passed generation of scaffolding, stability and faith, which not one of us has ever lived without. Our ankle twists in the hole left behind the removed pillar. Our eyes squint at the absent shade. Their hands, their hearts, their foibles, all so big. All such a gift.
He found mansions of glory here, on this earth—in his garden and around the fire, on the water, in the kitchen and beside his bride. His eyes twinkled with endless delight at innumerable grandbabies, the piano, a pie, a bad joke, and always, always, at the sight of any of his six children. But now, the mansions of glory, and endless delight that do not end are his—the ones needing no repair, that do not age and move away. All his senses restored, reunited with Grandma, with his youngest daughter, with so many of his friends who went before him. I don’t think that Rush Limbaugh is turned on in every room up there, but who could hear it over Grandpa’s storytelling anyway. The hymns have taken over, the berries are ripe, the river glass.
I love you Grandpa and miss you already. Thank you for loving this life, and us, so well.
I went to high school in East Africa. Nairobi in fact. Sometimes I forget this. Sometimes it’s like a dream. Because, in many ways, it was.
While in said high school, I had the opportunity to fly back to the US and attend a youth leadership conference in Washington, D.C. It was one of those programs made to look very prestigious, bringing young leaders from near and far. Eager to build college admittance resumes, we were attending our first overpriced conference, strategically and suggestively set in the nation’s capital. We dressed up in professional garb as though we were not sixteen years old, wore lanyards, and stayed in a college dorm. Not a parent in sight. I was very fortunate to go, with people sponsoring my trip and registration. The theme for the week? Medical Ethics.
Never once did I consider a medical profession, mind you. But nonetheless, that was the option that fit best with ticket fares and summer travels and so why not. There I was surrounded by high school students who had set their pubescent sights on med school, or at least their parents had. I was headed towards an English Department somewhere, glad to have finished my high school (and lifetime) science credits with Environmental Studies.
The Thai food in D.C. was incredible. But one other thing was especially impacting (…other than the Korean guys who were interested in me, yes me, the nerdy girl in the permanent friend zone back at home in Kenya…). We all watched a movie one night, as a part of this Medical Ethics Conference: Wit, starring Emma Thompson. I was moved deeply by the film, but very soon after couldn’t quite describe why. It was obscure and no one had seen it apparently, except that select group of lanyard-clad young leaders, that I knew of. Its title stayed with me all these years and I finally watched it again yesterday, a mere 15 years later.
Wit still touched my soul, the first taste nostalgia, the rest merited profundity about the human condition, life and death. I had forgotten the strong elements of poetry, language and academia which would have been intriguing that week, way back when. I had forgotten the nurse, who always cared and rubbed lotion on the hands of the lonely patient. I had forgotten the pretentious rigor of the researchers and attending doctor. I had forgotten the main character’s journey towards both death and kindness, by way of suffering.
Wit likely watered my love for writing and studying poetry and Donne. It probably loosened some fears of the hospital, 7 years before I would work in one for a summer, and it probably planted a seed about bedside manner that made rubbing lotion on a dying woman’s back when she asked not that strange, but rather, a privilege. It tickled my appetite for academics, words, and the deep respect for women who become experts. It still speaks today to the value and pain of suffering and the great equalizing force of health and illness and endings.
Endings, health, ethics, and maintaining people’s humanity are themes that weigh on my mind these days. Also, always the thoughts and feelings about identity, my work, my worth, my gender…how I am changing and how I am not. These mazes are human and however difficult they are, whatever conflicts they may rise, and cloudiness they waft…they show life. The awareness of my own fragility, mortality even, however upsetting, is also an indicator light that my heart is beating and compassion is still kicking.
And maybe 15 years later, something will make sense. Or maybe along the way there will be a connection that leads you to give thanks, or a theme you recognize as directive, definitive, and distinctively tender. A theme God’s been showing you, patiently, relentlessly. We are alive, and yes, we are struggling, but the long game is still afoot. Our kindness, our attention to people’s humanity, our memory—these are of utmost importance now and our hurt may be the best indicator that these things are indeed on the rise. I must remind myself: the illness isn’t the story. It is the filter. Refining. Focusing.
Continue, sister and brother: forward.
“I need me some home.” -Johnnyswim
There are days that by 6pm, starting a load of laundry seems far too hard.
When the thought of next week, tomorrow, next year, carries too much work to bring that rush of Looking-Forward-To-life I think it will.
This infancy, this 3rd one from my own hormones and womb, has left me fighting demons of anxiety. Most common when I am quite literally feeding this little doughboy does the sense of alarm and despair threaten emptiness. It has improved over time, and has become less surprising, but still, Tired is nearer, No More is always within arm’s reach…and in the crevices of a cheerful, cuddly live teddy bear’s light and joy, there’s the bone tired drought and knots that appear from no where.
This afternoon, I battled a weed as big as me. It comes back every couple of months and I glare at it and I put in a request for a chainsaw (yes, this weed has a trunk) and a male’s upper arm strength and I wring my hands and maybe yell a few times. I let it take over the planter, filling my vision of the patio. And it can feel overwhelming.
Today I cut off all the parts of the weed and its spawn that I could. I made a heap of something that used to be feeding, growing, and absorbing energy, and will now shrivel and die. I didn’t solve anything but I don’t feel defeated when I look outside for the moment. Now it’s not the only thing I see when I look out the window.
In my refined, oldest child, perfectionist, Good-Christian, missionary kid/adult mentality, it’s really easy to think that going without is a virtue in and of itself–that somehow faith and being good and blessed has landed me in a stressful, tired place and that’s the way it is meant to be. That the weed is a thing of glory or a test or some crap theology like that and I just have to figure out how to BE HAPPY, doggonit.
And then I listen to a song. Then I spend 10 minutes of quiet with Galatians. Then I plant something or encounter a safe friend on the street or am spontaneously embraced or helped by one of my sons. And I remember Home.
Not a home I can find on a map, like many third-culture-kids and millennials nowadays. Not just my family of origin that shared so much with me. Not just a feeling of humanness and connectedness, or freedom and contentment that worldly beauty and comfort can aid. The Home that beckons us forward, that makes us bow our head in thanks. That disentangles our mind and our heart–our death grip–out and off of the lies of anxiety and shoulds and going without for no reason at all.
The Good News that’s kept my attention in the darkest does not proclaim that God wants me to carry a strained look around all the livelong day. He doesn’t send us things like illness, MediCal sagas, computer glitches that freeze our savings, and random phone calls asking if we can take a child (“We hope we can help soon…”) the very day we’re worried that that dream is dying. Yes, He’s grieved by asinine global and national developments and He is deeply involved in the loss and otherness and margins that invoke pain. But He isn’t behind every closed door and every upsetting curve ball. He isn’t preaching the Gospel of Muscle Through and The End.
My Courier of Good News is not the grim reaper of deprivation.
He’s the Home. Christ before me, Christ behind me. Christ beside me, Christ beneath me. Christ above me, Christ within me. The constant. The meaning, the refuge. Home.
Today, once again, I did nothing to actually end the battle with the nightmare weed, but I made it seem less big. So now I can focus on the plants I do want to grow–the choosing, the watering, the tending, out from under the lying shade of a bully weed. Today, I still do not have control over when and for how long I will experience anxiety and my chest muscles contracting and all the other blasted adulting that makes laundry too hard by 6pm. But I can rebel by doing the small things that help me be centered. I can partake in the things that whisper of Home—of being home-free, abundant, graceful and calm. I can avail my self to that which spites the weeds of this life, stripping them until they are only one part of the picture. I can lay claim to Home.
It was the best of times, it was the worst of times.
And by times, I mean, all the times since April 26, 2009.
There’s nothing like a child to magnify your vices and hang-ups, melt your heart so its more human, and muster a prayer-life filled with long pauses and questions. There’s nothing like the delight of how funny they are, how clever they are…how much wonder they bring to all the mundane they’ve brought. There’s nothing like painstakingly raising a strong-willed child to give you the holy opportunity to reframe things in grace that were once set in judgment, or remember things in gratefulness that still support you today.
Dante Kamau was a miracle. Strong in the womb, and stronger still on the outside, he has had us from the moment we knew we were having him.
In times of big change and big crisis, he has been remarkably, as his name implies, steadfast. Though a man of routine armed with a killer memory, he can somehow adapt to change and walk in confidence through the things we thought could rattle him—that rattled us. He is an excellent traveler and sleeper, having spent time in D.C., the Midwest, the Northwest, Amsterdam and Kenya in his first 2 years of life. He is brave and has faced many an adventure, head on, the past 7 years, giving us so much joy and new delight. He has done much for our arm muscles, and not much for our backs.
In the times of small upsets and tough social nuances, the tenderness and fragility of still being a young child, with too-big emotions, in a too-big body, with too many thoughts, all create a windstorm of fury and collapsing and we are caught off guard, new to this creature, all over again. He wears his heart on his sleeve and there is nothing discreet, like, ever. His straightforward manner of talking can seem rude and his analytical questions can make me want to hide. In a battle of an NF parent and an SF child, I just can’t sometimes, and he just can’t sometimes, and so we pat each other’s J’s and do our best. Sometimes his best response is “I don’t really want to talk.” and again, new, fretting like first-time parents of a newborn—how to maneuver with this miracle son.
He’s the one to first show us what it’s like to physically hurt for your kid and how wonderful it is to read for the first time and how you learn to read them better than you read yourself. What it’s like to hold yourself back from a violent urge to protect, interfere, speak for, defend, and, in general, smother, your offspring FOR THEIR OWN GOOD I’M SURE. He’s the one to first push every single button and make us feel insecure or embarrassed or loveydovey or playful from the tips of our toes. He’s the one to show me the tangible process of differentiating and letting go, slowly, barely, but surely, of your kid. He’s the one to show us the power of sin passed on through generations and to cause us to take more seriously our own repentance and rely more heavily on God’s grace. He’s the one to lead me to that desperate prayer at night, Lord save this kid from us. From my own blindspots, insensitivities, oversensitivies, and poverty.
We have never been here before, sweet Dante, wherever we are with you now. You are our first, and we feel like kids, and we love you so much it hurts. As you begin a new year, grow another foot, and take another step away from us, may your heart grow bigger, your identity in Love and Grace and Jesus surer, and your sharp mind stronger. You are His and you are ours, and we are so, so blessed by you.
** Childbirth is an amazing situation I’ve found myself in 3 times. With each son, I’ve written out my account of their birth and shared it with sincere disclaimers. Like the first two, this is long, personal and likely boring to the vast majority of people. It is not important to our friendship. It does not encapsulate the theme of this blog. Consider yourself excused, or warned, whichever strikes your fancy. **
// There Is A Time for Everything //
Our trusted doctor, who seems like a friend that we’ve never managed to have over for dinner in 7 years (Ryan says I have too many friends…), showed slight concern about how big he was. The baby that is. The third baby I was blessed to grow; the third son to rock my world of order and organization, predictability and pretty.
After giving birth to two large-craniumed, 9 pound, 14 ouncers already I was surprised by the doctor’s mention of size and needing to interfere at all with nature’s timing. He wasn’t one to over-plan, or worry, and just how big could this kid be?… I mean, in comparison to the others. I didn’t ask too many questions, biding my time, mulling over the options. Week by week, we measured, I grew, we talked in incrementally more detail about breaking water, a date, not being precious about letting him come late. I tracked but I wasn’t sold. I prayed that the conversations would be less relevant and my birth plan more. We waited.
On February 10th, a check-up revealed that my body had started showing signs of preparing for labor 2 weeks early. My mom wasn’t arriving for another 4 days. My doctor-friend said to be a couch potato, and wait until my mom came. Meanwhile I held an appointment at the hospital for the 19th, at 6am, to break my water, and maybe have “a whiff” of Pitocin should the baby wait that long to come, the start of the 40th week. I mostly obeyed doctor’s orders except for, well, still being a mom, and a compulsive night of mopping our laminate floors; I have completely reasonable priorities.
Every night we thought we might meet our son. Our son who we were hoping for, then didn’t expect after months, then learned of the week we were due to finish recertifying for fostering. Our son who was so big and so strong, I felt him move clearly and repeatedly in the first trimester. Our son whose name we couldn’t decide for months, with agonizing discussions, transporting us back to our last naming process—whom we had finally come to peace with as Lucas, light-giver. Related to the Luke who penned the Gospel, and Acts, which has driven our adult life. Luke, a doctor and healer—the detailed writer. Lucas, a sure light to our family we didn’t fully anticipate but so treasured once we knew of his joining.
The nights went on. Mom arrived. The hospital check-in I thought was irrelevant a week ago neared and I kept praying, kept walking, kept waking up in the night to listen to my body—am I in labor? Or was that just a wishful interpretation of a normal ache? Strangers wished me well as though we were at the threshold of the hospital. I received a couple pointing amused gestures, which I’ve come to expect. People asked about twins. It’s all very glamorous and flattering, my last trimesters. This one I was even bigger. Only a few shirts finished the race with me. I was tired of all the comments. My stomach felt so cumbersome. I was ready. But I didn’t want to check-in and evict the kid at 6am on Friday.
In the meantime a family crisis arose up north. It was good to be with my mom while news broke, though hard for her to be far. As we waited for new life, we all grieved what had happened and where it could lead together. I watched the dissonance of a mother’s love again, something I had watched all my life and had felt now as a mother too—the responsibility, the disappointment, the anguish, and the fierce protectiveness, the love, the physical response to your child’s pain. We recalled a different but a related experience—in which we were unprotected, we were sick, and our story was convoluted and complicated and we felt so vulnerable and at the mercy. A mistake had been made and it was serious, wrong, and upsetting, but not, we believe, worthy of a too-serious, life-derailing sentencing. The flippancy of people’s judgments, of the difference between 17 and 18, of minimum sentencing laws, of racist comments and prejudice, of the struggle for identity and the significance of what is not reported—all of it became personal in new ways, and we ached and held our breath and took it a day, an hour, at a time. And still are, though the first harrowing ones are over.
After this, after our brother and uncle and son was back in his own bed, and Grandpa had had one or two good night’s sleep, Lucas came. At 2am on February 19th, I knew I was in labor. We woke up the doctor, the Sho Sho, the neighbor for a sleepover with the boys, my friend who would come witness his arrival—and by 3 we were walking into the emergency entrance.
I am a quiet sufferer. I’m not one to yell, or sweat, and Ryan blames this for the nursing staff’s lack of urgency in getting us into a room and checking my labor progress. I said I was an 8 on the pain scale but maybe I should have said 9? In any case, by the time they checked, I was an 8 in more ways than one and I was starting to really, truly regret the whole birth scenario again. It was like the last four years of recovering mentally from Asher’s birth was enveloped in a wormhole and the exhaustion and fear found me again, quickly, and there was no where to hide. CRAP.
A few contractions passed and I was a 10. For pain and dilation. Thankfully, doctor-friend arrived just in time. “Push whenever you feel like it. Push through the pain.” The damned shaking had started and I hated the thought of holding onto my legs with my shaking, floppy arms. Seriously, I have to use upper and lower body muscles? But I remembered to curl forward, instead of the leaning away approach I had accidentally with Asher—an unconscious and feeble attempt to get far, far away from my own body. Something about opening my pelvis…lying down…sit-ups…and then…when I was really scared about not getting through it he said, “Okay, one more contraction—push through one more and you’ll meet your baby.” That’s what I needed. With the support of Ryan, my mom, and Tammy, praying and cheering me on, I could face one more contraction’s worth of pushing to get this thing out of my body. Yes, our baby, that’s it.
At 4:10am, Lucas Tyndale was on my chest. The doctor immediately commented on his size, another difference in his reaction to this baby versus the others. He suspected he would be the biggest and he was right. Lucas was a dark, handsome, 10 pounds and 5.6 ounces, and he came at the perfect time. No breaking my water, no whiff necessary; cancel my 6am appointment—we’re already headed to post-partum. I was so thankful and relieved. Thanks, God and thanks, Lucas. Impeccable timing.
Post-birth is such a nuisance without an epidural when a new baby’s on your chest; it isn’t fun and games just because the watermelon is out. As per my request, the doctor showed us the placenta and amniotic sac. Our inner biology nerds (well, for my mom, hers is very apparent as a nurse and bio teacher…) were satiated as we saw a magic piece of a baby’s internal world and growth. Wonders.
With each of his older brothers, we checked in to the hospital at 6am, after a good night’s sleep. Checking in at 3am was quite different. Birth announcement texts were sent to sleeping people. By 7am, Ryan was toast. Our first visitor came bearing coffee. Already, the cloudy perception of time and day and night had started…and I suspect it won’t be over any time soon.
Lucas is a rudy, beautiful kid with a set of lungs. He’s battling some newborn ailments right now that are keeping mom busy online and during her feeding breaks. He needs sun time, naked time, open shirt time and various ointments. It’s quite the regimen he has me on! Just in case we parents start feeling too secure or relaxed about starting over again. My body is steadily recovering and remembering nursing and changing yet again. In two days, it was suddenly without 19 pounds and I literally heard groaning and strange sounds coming from within (organ resettling??)–what a brutal and beautiful thing, this body we women bear.
In the midst of it all, I am trying to soak it up. Soak up the sweet smell of his newborn breath and skin, the soft cushiony hair and head and those heart-warming newborn stretches and reflexes—oh those faces! As Asher noticed, he’s squishy all over, and we are all pretty pleased around here.
Everything isn’t sorted out and easy yet. Sho Sho had to leave two days later and Ryan is in high demand at work. The boys keep going to bed late and I’m pretty sure the floors need to be mopped. Juxtaposed with Lucas’ newborn innocence and mystery is the reality of what my family is walking through and the daunting task of raising boys. And yet, it is a sweet reminder too of love and connection and the steady marathon of parenting. My love for my brother, the first baby in my life, is no less poignant now than it was when I was changing his diapers when I was 13. My confidence in his gifts and future is not less than before; I’m sure of his long game and God’s relentless grace upon him.
As I am forced to sit and nurse, watching the mess grow in my house, as I wait for sunning to happen and skin to heal and the night to become day, I must remember there is time for the other things. We must be patient because this time, won’t be again and we can only do and solve so much. For better or for worse, it is all fleeting. More than anything, I’m thankful and I’m watching. I’m praying and waiting, so glad that I have this story to tell of Lucas’ timely arrival and the light he is already bringing to all of us.
Yesterday, on National Daughter’s Day, we found out we were having our third son.
Today, is our first foster daughter’s 2nd birthday. It’s hard to believe that almost 2 years ago, we began our journey with that precious girl, and she still touches us each day. 9 months of being her family, then a terrible goodbye, with the remainder of the time passed defending ourselves and compiling notes and documents to try and love another needful child. Next week, we are finally getting a visit from a social worker—to re-tour our house, to re-establish our guidelines, and to, hopefully, finish the traumatic chapter of losing her in a wrongful way. So that one day, we are ready again.
We know nothing about how she is doing and growing, what was done with her baby book and the loving notes everyone sent, how her family is and if she is down to 1 nap a day. We are painfully aware of the anonymity of being foster parents, combined with the unique distinction of being guilty till proven innocent should someone say something against you. We feel like veterans but really have only loved one absent child.
It’s hard to explain why we know that 3 carseats fit across our car bench, or why I know that 3 kids is really tough, or why there are boxes of girl things and a pink lamp in our home. It’s hard to accept that a social worker can come in here, 15 months later, and try and ask our kids about it all, again, still.
A lot of people, including myself, thought that conceiving a daughter may help us and encourage us as we continue entrusting Sweet Girl to her permanent family, continue putting to rest the wrongs that were done, and continue with the future of our family. So many thoughts and emotions came flying in after finding out we were having a son. Relief to know. Thankfulness for his healthy limbs and heartbeat. Surprise over the verdict. Wonder over if we would ever have a daughter to raise. Wonder over how he will be different from his very distinct older brothers. Fear that he would be the same size as his brothers.
For now, we will keep the boxes of girl clothes, the unused hair ribbons, the fabric bought for curtains. They will still be marked with only her memory and the hope and mystery of what could be. We will figure out what to do with the lace curtains, and if 3 boys can share a little room, and, eventually, assuming we are re-certified in this lifetime, we will know when to open our doors and hearts to another miracle of a daughter. We will joyfully assess the boy onesies and dust off the old craigslist infant swing. A baby boy is coming, and, like everything, he will be a surprise and a grace to us.
He is so loved already and our arms have been ready for a long time.
It has been such a long pause, and so much has happened and not happened.
Tonight I’d like to speak to something that has happened: a major job and career change for Ryan–an unexpected grace.
At first I was incredulous and then was doubtful it would work out, but, lo and behold, he is going to be a social studies teacher and administrator, grades 6-8, at my old stomping grounds, Los Angeles Christian School. This time we are not missionaries, but we remain dedicated, just as clear about our desire to be here, in this neighborhood, with this community, and he is thrilled. To him, this is a long-term decision. He wants to take classes himself, and recalls wondering why he didn’t major in History in college, taking the seemingly safer Business route instead. Life is funny.
The last job was helpful. It gave him confidence. It made him appreciate things he had before. It afforded him the opportunity to offer friends jobs, who still continue with the company. It made us miss him and him us and it made him grow in the art of saying no… Ultimately, he had to say no. It was a big, big job and he did it well, but there was no end in sight to the rigorous demands and it was not what he had agreed to–so less than a year later, he was applying to all kinds of places, closer to home, closer to his heart, and we ended up very close indeed.
This afternoon the family spent a few hours in his disheveled classroom, sorting through posters, wrestling with staplers, and (the youngest amongst us…) playing with clay and computer games. Down the hall was where our time with World Impact and this urban context first began, 10 years ago when I volunteered as a creative writing teacher as a senior at Azusa Pacific. Next door was my Language Arts class–I wondered today if I’d ever return. The timelines of his classroom do not catch my eye like the materials next door, even though I deeply respect and admire the students of the subject. We want this school to thrive, and more importantly, the students in it. He’s excited for the opportunity to encourage that.
A while back I read this:
Listen to me, you who pursue righteousness and who seek the Lord; Look to the rock from which you were cut and to the quarry from which you were hewn; look to Abraham, your father, and to Sarah, who gave you birth. When I called him he was but one and I blessed him and made him many. The Lord will surely comfort Zion and will look with compassion on all her ruins; he will make her deserts like Eden, her wastelands like the garden of the Lord. Joy and gladness will be found in her, thanksgiving and the sound of singing.*
What a wonderful thing to know the rock from which you were cut. To know the grander story that yours springs from, no matter how convoluted and shadowed, how inequitably privileged or under-resourced, no matter how unknown the next step is—the direction from which you hail, the people to which you most belong. The great privilege of teaching Social Studies in a Christian middle school is to offer this footing, this framework, to the developing story of 11-14 year olds. Look to the rock from which you were cut, you who are unsure, you who are lonely, or grappling for someone’s approval. Look to your way, way back family — and know you have been blessed and included.
Get your bearings, young men and women, in history and heritage and build hope for the joy and gladness promised.
This is our scripture too; this is our history lesson. Over a year ago, he was applying for another job. He wanted to be in schools back then and a disturbed and powerful man was set on keeping him from being hired–a man I have not been able to write about because of the risk. We then were spun into a tornado of lies and grief, becoming acquainted in new ways with suffering and injustice. It did not really resolve; it has not yet resolved. But today, Ryan is in a school, working with kids in the city, affirmed and appreciated. It isn’t justice, but it is grace–that despite everything, he’s employed, at a school, doing something he loves, and our family is still intact.
Tonight, we may not have the homework, the class periods, and the teacher that used to substitute under the name “Mr. Razzle Dazzle”–but we have the rock, we bear the family promise. May we find our bearings in the quarries and deserts of our days, and feel the Lord’s compassion on the ruins.
It has almost been 8 months since our eyes were changed permanently. When three strangers entered our home, after I had returned from a rare girls night out. We had watched The Fault in Our Stars. It was a late balmy night, unsuspecting and innocent. Almost 8 months since two strangers formed one opinion while the other came with her own established. 8 months since a child was taken and this clawing journey began.
Last night we received a uniformed visitor.
It was one of the strangers from June who has now been at our doorstep 5 times. He does not seem like a stranger any more. He, like she, also walked through our home, examined our children, spoke to each of us separately, and is in a profession of protection, service, and risk. He is a police officer.
His and his partner’s role that night was largely to protect the social worker should things go badly in this then-unknown home. They were not to weigh in on her decisions or process that night. He adhered to his role that night but has since allowed it to become much more.
This police officer and his partner expressed concern, disbelief and regret immediately after she left with the baby. He came by the next day to give us his card and offer help. He came by a few months later to check in after receiving a message at their office from us. He came by last night with a copy of an e-mail he had sent in response to a request for information from DCFS. It seemed that someone, somewhere, had received one of our many letters formally complaining of the conduct we experienced that night. Without him, we would have never known it, as USPS recipient receipts and personal requests for confirmation of our letters have not been returned.
Almost 8 months ago we found an unlikely friend, one of about three we have encountered in the dozens of people we’ve communicated with–in the Department and in the force–since that night. We have a 4-inch binder documenting all of our correspondence and the reports and visits that have occurred since we brought baby girl home to this day. We have been waiting 87 days to learn if the Department will correct its decision to put our home on hold, closed to children to need it, closing our hearts to this dream. Despite the state’s decision to re-license us, we may not be allowed to support the county family welfare system again. We don’t know if the long debate in the upper ranks is encouraging or alarming given the past 8 months. We don’t know all that she endured since leaving and how she has developed and healed now. We don’t know if anything will come of this officer’s report that collaborates our own and if anyone is looking at both the social worker under question and our home approval at the same desk, though one certainly determined the other.
Much has happened in the past 8 months to change our understanding of law enforcement and power in our city. We have encountered many officers and read many news stories that have robbed us of prior confidence and a feeling of safety and justice. On a personal scale and on a grand scale, grave wrongs have occurred due to the negligence of officers and their organizations.
However, there is a foil to these accounts that we had the chance to encounter last night–someone we are happy to see at our doorstep and who has come to our aid in one way he can. He has seen this story and vouched for us, and this is no small thing. He is a leader and a gentleman and we are grateful–whatever the effect of his letter, whatever the decision is about the social worker or our own foster home status–we are grateful that he became involved. That he did not brush off the discomfort and offense to his integrity that started that night. That he did not let fear or the next call, the next task, the next drama, to sweep away his attention to the last. That he maintained his values and truth in a complicated situation just because it was the right thing to do. We are incredibly grateful for this hero in this story and for the contradiction he bravely offers to so much of our experience.
I am thankful that today I will add one more page to that binder that is truthful. That today I can write a personal and positive account of an officer in our city. That today I can know that there is one outside person added to our corner since we found out we needed a corner.
May light find a way.
Last night a small group of us gathered as wounded healers and frumpy family. The countertop was covered in delicious foods and perspiring drinks. Small ones colored pages feverishly so the swishing of markers could be heard throughout our prayers. We sat and paused, aware of the gravity of time because the year has held graves, and we said farewell to 2014.
In some ways we have been so ready for this page turn in the calendar. Anything preceded by “new” seemed alluring after feeling so achy and old after this year. In other ways, as I prepared to listen to His voice and face the future with friends, it was scary to step into a new period. It could suggest more distance between us and the ones we lost because that was “last year.” It could suggest that more healing should have happened, more clarity gained, more stability achieved than what we boast from one moment to the next. It could suggest that those memories–those people, those dreams, are over or older, more than we want them to be. Even when a year held too much for us to handle, it was sobering to say goodbye.
We sat in a mess of blankets and papers, markers and children, and meditated as broken, distracted people on Isaiah 43. I didn’t know what to expect but that God loved us and He is enough. We could mishear Him, we could misread Him, we could miss Him…but His love supersedes all that. We are always banking on His correction and grace. Always.
Fear not, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by name, you are mine. When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and through the rivers, they shall not overwhelm you; when you walk through fire you shall not be burned, and the flame shall not consume you…You are precious in my eyes, and honored, and I love you.
There were many moments last year I could not see God. There were many prayers that hung silent, seemingly ignored, and when I could fold my hands and sit to listen, I often did not detect His voice. I made some decisions out of fear, feeling very unprotected. I woke up at night without feeling in my legs but overpowering feelings in my heart. I worried that we would lose our sons. I felt impatient with people’s foibles and God’s promises. I thought we had loved too foolishly, that maybe we would have been better to not hope, to not host, to not hold. I wanted to sleep it all away.
There were also uncommon gifts in the year. Gifts like a trip with other women to a beautiful place. Like being together with my parents and siblings twice. Gifts like a new job that paid the bills, friends who were stronger and more faithful than you even thought, handwritten cards in the mail with a gift card for dinner. Gifts like having the means somehow to visit many supporters of our missionary years and thank them in person, see their lives, and be in a reliable car together as family for a week.
As I look back, I know God loved me, and God loved us, through these gifts. As we became closer with some who were moving away, or bonded with new friends over deep grief, gifts of love emerged that will outlast the pain they were wrapped in. It doesn’t explain or negate the pain, but it still deserves its part in the picture. 2014 was a year of grief and gifts both.
When we passed through the waters, we didn’t know where He was exactly. I wanted Him to be draining them all away; I searched the waterline. But I see Him in the clapping Madison River memories of a trip at the least convenient time with the most sudden breaking in of beauty to my broken world. I often felt like we were drowning in rivers of goodbyes and the suffering current was breeding everywhere, but to our surprise our marriage was not overwhelmed, but rather reinforced. His covenant and whatever He wants to do in our vowed relationship withstood those violent rushes. In the fires of injustice and anger, I couldn’t see Him and they were not extinguished but rather seemed to run its course. Yet, new and old friends appeared beside us with fiery faith and insistent prayers that lessened the heat and kept suggesting yes, He is still God, and one day you will feel it again.
Isaiah 43 was originally written to a scattered people. Broken up spiritually and physically, uncertain and unpopular. In verse 5 they are assured again: Fear not, for I am with you; I will bring your offspring from the east, and from the west I will gather you.
Today, don’t you feel the scattering too? The mess of fallen confetti of misplaced hype and flaky hope?
Last night I was hooked by verse 5. I am still trying not to fear as I face a whole year of unknown, coming out of a year I didn’t really want to know. I am trying not to fear the system we are still dealing with, the hospital bills still coming, the theology still recovering and recalibrating. But the promise I heard loudest was I will gather you.
Whatever our family is supposed to look like, He will gather us. Whatever shape our spiritual community and church take on this spring, He will gather us. Whatever loose ends and scattered prayers we still utter for our loved ones and our conflicted world, He will gather them whole. Whatever broken pieces, sharp edges, and apathetic scraps have been left in the wake of 2014, He will gather together.
Behold, I am doing a new thing; now it springs forth, do you not perceive it?
You are precious in His eyes and He loves you. He will gather you from the wreckage and redeem the rivers and fires.