God, Grief and Group Projects

There are times when it seems inconceivable to believe in a God and those are the same times I’ve found it impossible to breathe without faith. Each breath requires a prayer. Each prayer a resistance to turning stone cold.

The air tight apologetics I was raised in, that tried to make story irrelevant, emotions sap credibility, and choice an insult, are a vapor. It is only the story, only the feelings, only the choice to believe in these moments when we cannot get warm. And what good is faith if not for these moments? Where proofs and data were intended to bulwark (bully?) faith into being, the test of life, of exposure to suffering, of engagement with my internal world and the true external world–those pulled me into immersion in this faith river. Those were in fact the currents that keep me and hold me, when all else has failed, and me right along with.

I’ve been asking God, Parent and Creator, I Am that I Am, “Isn’t it too much?” The attacks, the weaponry, the assault, the epidemic of lies, on the airwaves and on my street–it just. never. stops. More so, isn’t it too much, what my friend has had to bear? And that friend, and this friend, and that family member, and that country, and that people? How, God–how are people supposed to pray, to give, when they are rampaged by suffering, betrayal or disappointment–by inconsolable grief to every cell of their being? How can you expect us to believe in You under the weight of this breaking?

Is there a way to find you God, to find Love, real, not through the threshold of pain?

Is there a way to edit Gethsemane and Golgotha and keep the empty grave?

Before I knew real pain and injustice, my sturdy and safe faith was clear and confident. It’s not to say lacking in value, nor deny it a piece of the puzzle, but it was as skinny as a pre-teen with an early growth spurt–all bones and corners and a little anemic.

It’s just not that straightforward anymore. And it’s also not such a lightweight.

In the moments of highest exposure, greatest pain, and deepest grief, we are naked before God. The garden story, to me, is not only about guilt and shame but perhaps more about grief and isolation. When tragedy falls hard, there is no where to hide and we want layers and holding and concealment. Oh to have the weight of something covering, of absorbing the racking sobs, of comforting the abandoned child within.

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Impossible is the new story, and the only way we make it into the next moment is thinking, hoping–believing?–that impossible is not the end of the story. Faith is setting our eyes outside of our raw chaos–daring to think that the people who we find next to us may be of some help–that the lineage we come from, the story we’ve been ingrafted into, will repeat. The story of suffering into love. Of grieving into wholeness.

I walk with tender and vulnerable people. I am a tender and vulnerable person. Not one person whom I really know is whole. I used to see people as whole; I used to expect people to have it together. To generally be doing well. I saw them as independently successful or overall autonomous. Now, the wholeness is only done in groups. When our broken pieces, our faith, and our love for each other melt into a whole, the sum greater than the parts–the impossible becoming possible, a minute at a time. When the holes of self become seen and embraced, when the grief is given over to, and we split the bill of life, when the victory is relief lighting all pairs of eyes–this is wholeness as it was meant. This is shalom that will stay.

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And somehow, tomorrow happens in this way. Somehow the crying takes pauses. The shameful parts don’t seem so paralyzing. The death doesn’t define the life. The suffering breaks into love. And our resources are multiplied. Our generosity renews itself. Our faith is linked and sacred anew. It turns out we were made for this. It turns out everyone is doing better when we’ve all shown we’re doing a hell of a lot worse.

This will only make sense to you who have carried your stomachs in your throats for days, who also soak your steering wheel with the occasional cry fest. You’re not alone, you who audaciously prayed despite the circumstances that merit calcification of the heart. If you are searching for covering, if the cries are muffled, I hope you will ask for help. Reach and grab someone before the mask is clad, before the thoughts take over and spiral you into isolation. Include another soul into your hole-ness, and find yourself more whole than you thought. Let someone be more of who they were made to be by including them in your grief. Pray a breath prayer as a radical ellipsis into the future. Give something out of the bankruptcy and find your own anxiety and impossible a little farther away. Be undone and in turn done in by the connection and comfort of others, God incarnate.

I don’t know if God is known resiliently without deep acquaintance with suffering, but I know for us it’s been the best introduction. Regrettably, and redemptively, so.

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Maybe Happens

One thing that I have not shared much about is a very good and important thing that happened over the summer. Last summer had some real downers but those don’t subtract from our joy, and rejoicing, over a new victory.
Our second born had a rough time for a few years. A major accident at our church, febrile seizures, and getting very sick in Guatemala. When we returned home and began fostering, he embraced her fully as a toddler would, and his febrile seizures continued but thankfully he was not often running a fever. 9 months after her arrival, in the aftershocks of her sudden removal, some of his first sentences were heart wrenching. While we were fighting that battle, Asher began having many more seizures. Maybe stress and the emotional trauma of losing a baby like that did something, maybe it’s just coincidence. It was a very hard period. These were not just febrile seizures like they had thought and the medical bills started piling up.
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There are many things we don’t know about epilepsy, and that doctors and scientists don’t know. It is a scary diagnosis. Asher began treatment, and despite changing jobs and insurance twice, and becoming part of medical, was able to see the same pediatric neurologist his whole life. Because of the Affordable Care Act, we were able to have continuation of care and not be penalized for his epilepsy. I tried going to the first neurologist we were referred to on one of our new plans at the time. It was a truly terrible experience and I could not imagine working with them to sort out appointments, let alone solutions, as we found ourselves on this path.
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The first medication didn’t slow down the seizures. We gave it a good run but we saw the negative side effects and didn’t notice much relief. It was hard because he couldn’t tell us how it made him feel, and if he sensed anything different before or after his episodes. We slowly began a different medication–one which introducing too quickly to patients could end in fatality. Doctors said after more testing and overnights that they didn’t think he would outgrow epilepsy. I briefed babysitters and teachers and sunday school. I tried not to think about IEPs one day, or driving, or camp, or anything restricted on this bright eyed wonder.
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He did well on the new medication and we could breathe once we reached a therapeutic dose with no rash outbreak. We were still dealing with collections, payments, and billing reductions but we were not documenting seizures. Eventually the grip on the phone when separated loosened. The spans of playing out of eyesight lengthened. The months between UCLA neurology visits and that $14 parking garage grew. He was pro at taking his pills. We were pro at fighting, I mean working, with the local pharmacy to help them keep their inventory up and refills regular.
As Asher’s Kindergarten graduation plans were taking shape, and no ambulance was ever called, we had another checkup. It was a slow breakthrough. With epilepsy they call seizures emerging under medication “breakthrough,” which is the opposite of any headway a parent wants to make. I was shocked to hear of a real breakthrough: the dr thought we could try titrating down, off the medication, to test the epilepsy. Maybe he was outgrowing it. Maybe it was different than they had thought. It had been over a year. No delays. No jumps in dosage. Maybe the prayers, the hopes, barely spoken aloud for fear it would ruin our ability to walk the prescribed, long road ahead, were coming true.
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On my birthday, Asher took his last, now tiny dose of epilepsy medication. And there have been no breakthrough seizures during the months of transitioning off. His moods and energy seem to have panned out, from however the drugs affected his system, combined with the excited exhaustion of starting 1st grade. We don’t wonder if something is seizure, drug, or age/misbehavior/mood related now. It’s just C, a 5-year-old boy, learning. We are thrilled at his progress and health, for him, for us, and for the pharmacy on the corner. I don’t know when we can say he does not have epilepsy, when it will be far enough away that a glazed look doesn’t cause my 2nd take, but each day is closer to then.
To be sure, it has been a rough year on almost all accounts. Homes, literal and figurative, are burning down all around us. But this is quite the foil. We are so proud of this boy and his love and tenacity and incredibly excited that this is yet another new normal. This victory, this praise, deserves our tears, applause, and thanksgiving and I’m so glad to be able to share this today, in the midst of all the todayness that weighs heavy. We’ve learned so many lessons by his side. From the waiting, to the hurting, to the forgiving and the grieving, to the advocacy, to the pain of children’s hospitals, in which so many have stayed for far more time. We’ve learned to take things by the day, that anesthesiologists have their own groups, and nothing is for granted. We’ve seen how limited we are as parents, and how scary pre-existing conditions and medical bills can really, really be. And we’ve been encouraged to keep places of hope in our lives that defy reason, that may be hibernating, for an unexpected spring. Who knows, maybe your birthday is coming. Maybe the breakthrough is slow. Maybe because this maybe came true.
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I Failed to Achieve Citizenship

I find that people like to talk about adoption. Especially when I am open about my own. Whatever culture, class, and countryman I find myself interacting with, there is a natural curiosity, sympathy, and sometimes endearing confusion about adoption.

People are sympathetic to adoption, to put it mildly. Churches have adoption campaigns, so much so that children in need of homes are miscalled “orphans” to really pull the heartstrings. People donate to adoptions. We ourselves are still struggling to adopt, now over 3 years since our first placement was pulled and we’ve fought for another, and almost 5 years since we first started the process. We really believe in adoption–from the top notch celebrity to the Christian icon to the farm with no TV, adoption is pretty popular, and for good reason.

The growth in awareness and advocacy is great, don’t get me wrong. Fewer things in this life demonstrate our theology and our connectedness moreso than adoption. At the same time, I find it interesting that the innocence of children, and the presumed virtue of the adoptive parents, are almost always givens. The positive perception is pretty resilient in this arena.

What about when the adoptive parents are really evil and negligent? What about the mistakes biological family make to get those kids there? What about the dead ends that led children to be in a terrible, expensive and inefficient system—I mean, is it really worth it? What about the adoptees that turn against their parents, develop mental health problems, commit felonies? Are they still worth the campaign? Still deserve a loving home, social belonging, their pieced-together childhood, their citizenship?

Citizenship. Adoption is one process that takes forever, has a million variances, and does not bring guarantees. Children are at the mercy of a system and their caregivers, whether they be social workers, adoptive parents, biological family, or judges. Kind of like all children. Everywhere. Kind of like Dreamers.

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I’m adopted from Korea. I landed in MONTANA, a state which only recently crossed the 1 million population mark, a day short of being 6 months old. I have to say, I didn’t have many choices at that point. And I was pretty helpless. There are a lot of adoptees from Korea. Turns out the citizenship of at least 18,000 supposedly adopted Korean kids in the US is kind of fuzzy. Maybe a felony, maybe a mental break, would land these adoptees back in Seoul. At that point, they may learn that they are actually not adopted, but were supposed to have been, and not a US citizen. They have no language, documentation there, means, or family. Their education is irrelevant. Well, that doesn’t seem right. Because their parents didn’t finish some paperwork? Because something got lost? Because outstanding needs, disadvantages, neglect, desperation, limited resources, and lack of basic necessities…who knows what…from their childhood, they are deported?

If I started being a real deviant or simply did anything that suddenly revealed that my citizenship was not completed as a child, I would really expect you all to be upset if I was deported to my birth country. And I think you likely would be.

I don’t fully grasp the tenacity it takes to enter our country in violation of the shitty legal process, saying goodbye to everyone and everything KNOWN for MAYBE. I’m not even going there tonight. I’m speechless at the idea of doing that with child. I’m saying, why are we so willing to adopt and sympathize with some kids with messy or unknown pasts, but not others. Or why can we sympathize with even the adults who were “adopted” and then screwed up and find themselves deported to what might as well be Timbuktu, but we have a political stance and unbending heart against people who are similarly undocumented but un-similarly innocent of any felonies?

We, our country, have adopted DREAMers. On average DACA recipients arrived as 6-year-olds. They have raised their hands in our classrooms, sung in our Christmas pageants, babysat our children, carried our groceries, designed our products, paid their taxes, lectured at universities and have done everything our “own” children have done (unless your child has committed a felony), without, by the way, access to many safety nets citizens enjoy. Not that it matters, but they’re not deviants. They don’t deserve threats, a price tag, deportation or even DACA. They deserve so much more. They deserve permanence, not only of family but country. Kind of like your son, and your daughter. Kind of like me, and kind of like you.

I hesitate to even call them Dreamers sometimes because it is a false distinction. They are we, and there is no dream among us in this beautiful, complicated country without them.

Finish the paperwork, America. Don’t end DACA. Leave it until it’s replaced with a pathway to citizenship. Adoption doesn’t come in two-year increments and isn’t subject to a presidential vendetta. I recognize I didn’t have anything to do with my privilege of citizenship. Did you?

 

*custom art ordered from doodlebubbledesigns.

Start Small

It has been a summer, and it is barely even summer.

I cannot talk about all that has happened here, but I have felt the wrongful use of power from within the ekklesia–the adopted family of faith, the light-holders, the called. This is a special grief.

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When I was young, my family experienced a profound betrayal. At the heart-wrenching news of a sibling’s diagnosis, the inherited virus that struck fear in the hearts of the most educated and powerful at the time, a church responded as though they were not heirs to a different Kingdom, as though their inheritance did not set them apart to love and courage.

New to the mission field and missionary kid identity, a hemisphere away from the congregation, my heart was still in those stateside walls. I had grown up there. I had stenciled its bathrooms. I had flipped those worship song overheads. And my faith and discipleship had flourished within that loving community. I didn’t have many friends in Kenya yet. We were sent but had not completely left perhaps. On the ground, but maybe a little in the air.

When as a family we were in the throws of the grief of the surprise diagnosis, I was incredibly unsuspecting that loved ones could respond in any way except empathy, sadness, and love. I didn’t know the word stigma yet, and I wasn’t versed in the rationale behind HIPAA. So when that home church board, which had shown Jesus to me in so many ways, rejected my sibling, and questioned our new livelihood and partnership, I grappled. The silence of others was an injurious as the words blasted out. (My parents tried to shield me from much of this, but they also taught me how to use e-mail and read, so…) Grief upon grief. One parent eventually flew back to the States in an effort to find reconciliation, with the help of a mediator. I remember the other parent crying in their bedroom, when the water tank decided to leak through the roof, alone in a foreign country with 5 kids, spotty electricity and that hovering sense of abandonment. Water pouring down the walls, and my own sense of belonging and home pouring out with it. It was disorienting, and though we did not speak of it much or share about it then, it was defining.

That experience forced my faith to differentiate from a place, or an outcome. And it showed me that the most mature, the most devoted, by word, may be the youngest in deed. Everyone has work to do. And fear is a convincing hurricane pulling up the tallest trees.

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A few months ago, I was working with some colleagues to address some sensitive and serious matters. I heard the words “stay small,” during one time of prayer. As an advocate, a first-born, a leader, and achiever, we can all be confident that these words did not come from my head. The words helped me with patience, and to work within the given system, to wait behind leaders, and watch. And the words help me today as I am forced to continue waiting and watching from this place of betrayal and grief, as I see false narratives and am left alone to check my own attitude and actions in this Church.

I find comfort in the smallness, the humility, of the passion of Christ. The disorder he endured and the abandonment central to our Good News disarms my expectations while hosting my pain. I compare alluring human success, the touting of statistics, name recognition and acquisition of comfort, with his rhythm of ministry, his walk of suffering, and I don’t see much connection. I know from his life that collecting successes and platforms was not the aim; the power and the transformation he preached was in the visit to the prisoner, quiet and inconvenient, the feeding of the individual, unknown and undocumented. His stories are small, like the vulnerability of confronting and empowering a woman, in the heat of the day, at a pivotal moment. His record was one of investment into real relationships. Proximity to the pain was central. His acquisition of status did not overlap a hair with this world’s. His smallness and humility was our very victory and salvation.

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I can no sooner slow the growth of my children as I can solve my current problem or convince people to do the right, small thing. So I am left to start small, to stay small, with my self. Am I one that employs language of reconciliation and love but do not meet at the table with the complicated friend? Do I outwardly suggest all means of generosity and inclusion, but side step relationships when they smack of sacrifice? Do I stay at his feet, do I quiet the demons, enough to be draw near to the God of the margins, the Lord of kings? Do I build equity and justice in the small ways, in the daily steps?

There is enough work to do in me to keep me thinking small and to extend far beyond the puffing chest or the raised fist. Giving helps the grief, and blessing out of brokenness is the only way to heal. So far Life keeps reminding me that it is in the pouring out and the breaking, the kneeling and washing that we meet, we share in, and enjoy, the holy. We echo him, and we find him, and that is all we ever could hope to do.

 

Corners

It’s hard to breathe sometimes, isn’t it?

 

I can name 4 major crises my small circle is facing right now. This morning, in the midst of doing something very inconsequential, scrubbing the neglected corners of my kitchen floor, I found myself on my knees, which is not very inconsequential.

I cannot do much for these loved ones. I can give strong hugs, I can suggest ideas from my finite mind, I can feel–oh, I can feel–their sorrow and grief. But I cannot abbreviate their grief, end the illness, free the captive, raise the lifeless or infuse identity.

As I bent low, making a difference in the dirt, I used a basin older than me. It was my grandmother’s. A woman who is going to welcome her daughter soon in the heavenlies. A woman of faith and gentleness, servanthood and humility, that I rarely resemble. As I considered the hours she spent scrubbing, the moments she must have used this bowl, the small, calloused hands I remember that gripped so many young children’s palms in her own and cleaned so many spills, I felt connected to a lineage of people who endured, who believed, who saw the best in people.

The prayers of my grandmother live on, much like this enamel basin. It helped me to pray on the floor this morning, for the sorrow and trauma my loved ones are suffering, for the milieu of danger and suspicion and blame in our nation, for the strength to wait and be loving.

I don’t know how God endures the grief He must feel over His lost and hurting people. Over our refusal to reach out, our rejection of His citizenship, and our constant evaluation of one other in self-defense when all He has done has been for our belonging and to grow our grace. I don’t know how He faced this earth and said He would stay with us Always.

God the Son bent low and washed feet. It didn’t end cancer. It didn’t fix the betrayer’s heart. It didn’t save them from martyrdom.

All that is wrapped up in Christ’s basin and kneeling eludes me but today this occurs to me: He is with us at the lowest and messiest. This is my God–the One who serves, weeps, and gave up His breath so that even when it is so hard, we breathe on and we have someone to pray to who knows this pain.

I don’t feel any obligation to remain poised in the midst of today’s hurt. But I must stay prayerful. I must stay knelt at a humble basin, facing the dirt, remembering that though the air is thin, this is not the end. We come from a tradition and a Lord who embraced those margins. We are not unfamiliar with the dark corners of life and fallenness. And we are not conquered or calloused under their persistence. I reach deep into the water of faith at these times, and stay low to listen and to love. It is all there is to do.

A Summer Solstice

I am an emotional wreck today. (Hush, those of you questioning that last word.) It’s relentlessly hot in Los Angeles and the heat scrambles all my emotional regulators and reason like eggs on a sidewalk. It just ain’t happenin over here. I would like to turn in my Adult card.

Sometimes the lack of my self-powered clarity and control allows a rush of Truth, over the rocks of desperation and face palms of discouragement. And in the midst of a mess, there’s a gift. Today, I remembered my name and was helped with worth. Even amidst the nonsensical noise that constantly, CONSTANTLY, fills my life with happiness and joy…

I urge you to walk in a manner worth of the calling to which you have been called…Eph 4:1

In an excerpt from For The Love, I read Jen Hatmakers’ litmus test for sound theological application after decades of her drinking the upper-class, homogenous white American Christianity Kool-aid that served her well with rights, wrongs and shoulds, but not always WELL. In essence, she’s landed on one helpful comparison to aid her escape: If it isn’t true for a poor single mom on Haiti, it isn’t true for me—theology is true for everyone. An interesting juxtaposition. I have some qualms but I see the point.

Today, this was the plate on which I was served Truth. As for me and my house, well— not really sure about serving the Lord today, but we are sure sweaty and cranky and needy—how about that! Conveniently, the little existential doubts about how I’m living life and how we are leading our family follow on the heels of, like, feeling defeated by Legos. No big THANG.

(They are literally so small and annoying and PREVALENT.)

It is a luxury to fret about our calling and decisions, to have options to weigh–to wrestle with what to buy and how to spend your free time. None of that is helpful to me today. But this, the litmus test and the Haitian woman whom I’d like to know, helped lift the weight.

To live a life worthy of the calling to which I am called does not mean gain professional development, put myself out there more, be a better housekeeper or have the admiration of other women. It does not mean I have to be perfectly groomed or humored or supportive. It means to have character. To be devoted to Love. These things are not accessible to the advantaged alone but also our sister in Haiti. Also to me at my worst. Character over competency, production, and charisma. Oh good, but oh crap.

So I don’t need to feel lousy about my disorganized closet and how that person treated me or be embarrassed when I size up my life compared to someone else’s. And I don’t need to feel secure all of a sudden when someone asks for my opinion or my kid does something well. I sit squarely before one set of eyes, grasped by one set of scarred hands. I may pretend to earn that spot and I may pretend I am outside of His gaze but my name suggests otherwise. Danielle means God is my judge, as the Old Testament prophet said, and my life is valuable insofar as it remains in His economy. His equalizing, grace-filled, no-nonsense system of rescued worth.

So maybe you find yourself a little disenchanted today. A little less enthused with your job, your hats, your people, your Self, this early summer day. Maybe along the way of fighting the good fight, you’ve become a little scrambled too and feel a little sensitive also.

You and I are not the sum total of our accomplishments and image and poise. You and I and the lady in Haiti are called to not dissimilar things. I want to walk in a manner worthy of that other-worldly economy; I want to stay in the belonging of that Grace-Gospel. So the hot days rattle less. So I have more in common with my namesake than the right or the left, or the perfectionism that haunts me. Peace be the journey.

A Bedtime Story

This time it’s over a miniature stuffed zebra toy whose back lights up through a star-filled plastic plate, sending an array of changing-colored stars on nearby dark walls. It’s over a tiny thing that a minute ago was disregarded on the floor, but now, since it is in little brother’s hands, is The Most Treasured Toy of All Time.

The boys share a room because we want to force them to be friends and in each other’s space as much as possible. We figure at some point the ganging up on us for the delay of bedtime and the pre-sleep squabbles have to evolve to deep-rooted camaraderie and lifelong looking out for each other. (Please do not tell us if this did not turn out to be true for you, please and thank you.)

After 8pm, emotions are rampant here. (And let me tell you, they weren’t in short supply at sunrise.) We devolve throughout the day apparently; our meds have worn off. It ain’t pretty, folks. Tonight is no exception. Tears, so many tears, when I vetoed older brother’s demands for HIS toy to be returned to HIM because HE wants it and the enemy-he didn’t ask [for permission to pick up disregarded/treasured toy—a birthday gift from a friend—off of floor], hmph!

The 4-year-old is less calloused by life (I hate to brag…) and in his sincere yearning for older brother’s approval and eternal happiness, often appeases him. While Dante and I were in the throws of a heart to heart (read: low-toned battle), mini-zebra Hope Diamond appeared on his pillow. Asher was already back in his bed, covering his ears, for the tears from the next bed over are always accompanied with wailing, in good post-8pm fashion.

I’ll spare you the details but eventually, slowly, with many comments about being “the most grown up” and “making me sad” and “worst day ever,” we eventually talked about what the most brave and most loving thing to do could be. Dante’s tears and torment didn’t end with the return of the Crown Jewel. It stung that his brother was feeling bad, and that his brother was demonstrating one of our rules that hasn’t fully taken effect: People are more important than stuff. It made him cry more that Asher felt sad but that Asher was being praised, that now he had this mini-light-up-stuffed-animal-plastic-thing and he kind of did want it but now he kind of didn’t. He didn’t fully believe that Asher wasn’t somehow the enemy, and cried, “We never get along!”

Eventually, Dante wanted to give the treasure back to Asher. He wanted to give him permission to have it. But he didn’t want to talk to him. He wanted me to give Asher a message. I was alright with that. The titanic doesn’t turn quickly, and it was enough that he was whispering with me, to keep from disturbing Asher more from further emotional trauma, and that he wanted to do the most brave and most loving thing: hand over the toy willfully. I dutifully delivered the package and the message to a relieved little brother, and returned to Dante’s side.

“Mom,” he whispered, “Now I feel sad like Asher did. I still feel a little sad!”

It’s true. My heart beat hard. I know you do, Sweetie.

Doing the brave and loving thing can help us feel better, it can let us go to sleep, but it doesn’t leave us feeling void of sadness. It’s true, we can feel a little sad even after All the Things we could do, we’ve done. Because it is a good toy. Because we still feel shame about our part in the problem. We wanted something else, other than what happened. Because we can’t control the Other, and we can’t control the future. We can’t ensure that they’ll remember our goodness or even recognize it, that the next round will go our way, that God Himself will keep the tally according to our terms of justice, and we just feel a little sad. The emptiness of doing the right thing, or letting go when we should, or giving the benefit of the doubt when it isn’t merited. Yes, it’s all true.

It’s okay to still feel a little sad.

The journey to rest tonight was long and imperfect and messy. We achieved some semblance of peace… but it wasn’t complete. We found some way forward… but it wasn’t perfectly satisfying. And this is so grown up, little boy. This is the Already and the Not Yet, in our simple shared space, with our friend-emies, in our late night fragility. We hold on to the Not Yet part of the Story of Brave Love and do our best, with our sadness, with our brother… together.

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We are not so separate.

My son has started drawing me “kind of like a pumpkin” and considering how difficult it was to get the milk from the bottom of the grocery cart this morning and, eventually, stand up again, I think I’m embracing the image.

It’s that time. When, though you want to save it up knowing a sieve of sleep is coming in the form of a live baby, rest is slippery and complicated. (At what point do the pillows become more of a nuisance than a relief…) When all the things that need to be sorted or planned or written down seem too tiring, so instead you waste energy searching for the perfect, stupid […insert baby product here…] ad nauseam. When (in my limited experience) people begin pointing a little and laughing a little at your convex mid-section and you just hope, HOPE, that you’re not showing any midriff.

We wonder what he will look like and how each of his brothers will embrace and challenge and give in and resist his arrival. We pray for a similarly smooth birth, and hope for that same nurse that was at the other sons, the same room as them, because wouldn’t that be fun, and for new and different eyes to see a new soul, a new person who stands apart from our other frameworks.

I also pray my stomach skin doesn’t end up mid-thigh length by the time this is all said and done.

The physical expectancy we witness in ourselves, in a 1st grader, in a preschooler, and in our community, because of this little son, is so helpful for nurturing a faith-expectancy in the bigger, more abstract places in which we long for change. The growing, the nearing, of a baby’s life–of so much that is certain but so much mystery–echoes, no, foreshadows, the next chapters we long to read elsewhere. For that one person’s freedom and self-confidence. For that new job. For the courage to enter a church. For the resolution to an injustice that has steamrolled our security, our savings, or our very family. For peace in a wandering, distant mind. For wholeness in a bankrupt marriage. For a friendship that is like the mountain air.

May the pregnancies we see offer spiritual meaning to our day. May the new cries, the new mess, the new skin of a baby whisper to us, lead us, forward in our prayers and hope. May we find our future, our next step, in the daily occurrences and observations that seem commonplace. We all carry the longings; we all have the sleepless nights of needs and worries. May something as simple as an awkwardly large pregnant woman or a squawking newborn babe indicate the holy, the next, and the coming in our own lives for our stories are shared. We are not so separate.

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Confessions from the Backyard

Our backyard is not something I’m proud of. The carefully laid sod we bought and planted our first year here died long ago under the drought and our incompetency–the neglect of both the sky and human attention. The still-loved trampoline has a bad case of sagging-net and has bright yellow duck tape on pieces, betraying its years in the sun. Our mandarin orange tree is so confused, with 3 stages of oranges on it and a slew of ants. The tortoise has some pigeon poo on her shell.

It is a great space but what was once nicely cleaned up and orderly and growing is pretty dusty and rustic and lackluster.

I know the feeling.

14 months since leaving vocational ministry. 17 months since losing a baby and, eventually, a battle. 14 seizures in our youngest son since she was taken. Over 3 1/2 years since we started becoming foster-to-adopt parents. 4 inches of paperwork from our time with her and fighting on her behalf. 2 inches of paperwork from medical bills. A lot of goodbyes. A lot of misunderstandings.

Nearly all the things have been unconventional and unplanned. By God’s grace and love, good friends, the propeller of children to care for every.moment.of.the.day, and the tyranny of time, we have bid some farewells, and had times of healing and moving forward.

6 months pregnant. 4 months seizure-free. 2 months into a new career for Ryan; 3 middle school grades representing a bounty of love, promise, investment, heartache, and heart. 10 months into a new job for me; 4 grants awarded. 1 new Christ-centered, socially-active, egalitarian, small-budget, multi-ethnic church body. 2 beautiful sons growing in character and becoming friends, teammates and co-rascals. There is still so much goodness in our little space.

Still, it has not left us unscathed. All of “It” so near and yet so far back. There are days when we have been ungrateful–where we have not felt like we had enough, could keep going, had things to give, and had received our fair share. Yes, there have been days we have felt downright bratty and mad–“Why won’t anything work out?” “Would it be too much to ask for a break?” And these attitudes, and the survival mode of many months, have left us dry. Left us acknowledging our need for a rekindled devotion to God and service–in our heart of hearts.

Because while the pace keeps going, the extroverts keep showing up, the kids keep growing– things can become hollow, less grounded, more default, more rote, quite smoothly.

“I know your works. You have the reputation of being alive, but you are dead. Wake up, and strengthen what remains and is about to die, for I have not found your works complete in the sight of my God. Remember, then, what you received and heard. Keep it, and repent.” Rev. 3:1b-3b

The hollowing is not all wrapped up in grief and injustice. It is not all excused by stress and weariness. It is not all because of inadequacies in our personalities or maturity or marriage or parenting or planning (though all those things possibly exist). Things have really sucked at times despite the best of these things and while God has been near, and we have been helped and supported by Him, our devotion has suffered. Our discipline has lagged. There is discouragement in our prayers. Our faith is still recalibrating. What is left may be true and good; it is solid to grow from, attach to, and offer back. But there is wreckage. The many hard realities of life the last couple of years have not always driven us to Him, but within, or our coping devices, or our hard work, chatter and human autopilots.

“I say this for your own benefit, not to lay any restraint upon you, but to promote good order and to secure your undivided devotion to the Lord.” 1 Cor. 7:35

As the former missionaries, the church goers, the natural leaders, the open house, the whatevers and whoevers we’re tempted to allow others to think of us as, we are fallen, and though stronger in small ways, weaker in many others. We do not know how to wait patiently on the Lord for adoption and how to conduct ourselves in this system and this brokenness. We do not know how long to wait for MediCal back payments on bills after months of fighting and resubmitting. We do not know how cautious to be about epilepsy and we’re not good at being gracious with our local pharmacy. We do not know what it’s going to be like to have a newborn again, in the middle of the school year, with a teacher/administrator and 1st grader in the mix this time.

We do know we need to spend more time in ancient Truth and stillness. In rereading scripture, in rekindling devotion, and investing in the deeper conversations and friendships. We do know that we are not alone, and all is not lost–far from it. We are part of a Kingdom that cannot be shaken–i.e. purposes and a love that both demand and return much despite any of the “It” we face. We know that good is lasting, that love is final, and there is grace enough for us and our mess.

The rains are coming; the land is waiting in all its non-glory. The grass might grow back…and perhaps we with it.

An ultrasound and a birthday

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.

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