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.

Advertisements

How I Meet Sunday

In the latest parts of a day, and the earliest parts of the next, sometimes my thoughts catch up with me.

In the inky-bluest shadows of the never-dark Los Angeles night, I am alone and the scattered thoughts and pounding heart have free roam before the listening ear of a loving Father and a learning, wandering soul.

Tonight many noises accompany my rising.

The constant whirl of the freeway beside us. The helicopters’ relentless search overhead. The speakers from the other side of the street, sometimes sending a blur of words, sometimes of tones, that remind me of the mosque by our house in Nairobi–the one we used to take the littles to while Mom and Dad walked laps or I jogged for basketball. I remember a navy blue stroller with yellow and green. I almost forgot about that.

Tonight I sit in a room that I can still smell her in sometimes and I lay all the things before a Greatness I believe is there and before and beyond and with. Life has been like the helicopters; relentlessly searching out the plans I had, the places I thought were secure, and I am naked and poor, wretched and blind, before the glare. It has been another long week and I swear we are not crisis-centered people. The four of us have been sicker than we ever have been and we are all thinner and more humbled by our fragility and need for others as a result. The reality of Ryan’s work has hit hard, and we keep finding our youngest having had seizures and the diagnosis and solutions aren’t keeping pace. Yes, there are many thoughts catching up to me.

Since she unwillingly left, it has been long enough to conceive and carry and then hold a new child, home. But we are still waiting to know what was conceived on that night other than loss. We are still looking for a heartbeat of something new and breathing to help give the grief a gloss–not a cover, but a seal. I have not posted more lately about todays as though yesterdays but I have written a story that must wait to be told, to fill in some gaps. I don’t have the story I would like because still there are no conclusions. I pray for her and I ask, what do you want Lord? What does love call us to here? What do we need to surrender?

photo 1 photo 2

My mind shifts to those outside of this empty room with the new paint. The friend who has spent the past week in the hospital, while my family was emptying our guts sick at home, having every part of his gut examined and tested, praying for life and a break from the pain. The family that surrounds him that are the type of people you don’t want anything or anyone to hurt or hold back because they help all those around them hurt less and move forward. Some ruling out has been offered but peace is slippery in the waiting room. And I am transported to this time last year, when our loved one was spending her last weeks on earth with her loved ones, next door. So much has changed since then; there has been much grace but still, the losses are heavy. I pray for the unknowns of the one family of saints, their strength and their care and I pray for the knowns, the finality, that still dawns on the other family of saints–and their strength and their care. 

I consider the hearts of my sons. One is needing me more instead of less–and everything I may have guessed about parenting before is brought into question by fuzzy layers of side-effects, grief, epilepsy, and a 3-year-old personality I don’t completely understand. Each day is a mystery and we are waiting for our own answers for him. One has been so strong through so much, so steady and predictable. But I see his strength growing in some directions that will pen him in, that will close off options that are fully his in a life of grace. And I want to help him avoid the wrecking ball of the future–the decontruction I know because I do it, with Help, over and over. And I pray for grace. For strength, for tenderness, for loving hearts. For rescue from the barrage on his mind and protection in the war over his heart.

The accounts of a visit to Iraq and About sections on adventurers and non-profit starters and writers from afar move me in between apple juice and bed changing and squabbles over Legos. I wonder at those women, and my nearness of heart to them but my seemingly infinite distance of proximity. Have I changed? Did I miss something, do something wrong? Should I be doing something else? These seem like indulgent thoughts this night of shadowy watercolors. No, maybe, I don’t know– I know that I thought I was mightier at some point than I am. I can admit that I thought I would be in charge of more things by now while I’m in fact finding out I’m in charge of fewer than ever. And so I pray. Tired, quiet, with all the night noises my chorus, I pray. You are mightier than the worst nightmare and the biggest success. These questions are too daunting. Show your mighty acts, your justice rivers, your mercy storms. Reassure my frenetic heart as the myths dissolve away. Be close to the warriors in these conflicts; those who are able to start and renew out there.

And I pray for the other women in my life. Who feel alone. Who are vulnerable to attack. Who are restless and bored and strong and exhausted all at the same time. Who are yearning for answers and needing a searchlight to show a new route.

And this continues. I wake and I wake to the storms and this is how I meet Sunday–feeble, frustrated and befriended. By not just a god, but a Shepherd. Not just a counselor, but a Maker.

And this is acceptable.

I find that for someone who does not have journals of conversations with God but piles of lists and academic notes, it can be difficult to pray. It is difficult to pray when the last year has held so many unanswered questions and hopes, you half expect visible debris to fall from the ceiling when you do. It’s difficult for me to pray, alone, unless my heart and mind have so much going on that their caffeine of need overpowers my endless fatigue and distractions.

Tonight, last week, I could not do anything about anything. But this new week, I’m starting with what I can. And it’s all I can more often than not. It’s not my favorite, and it’s not much to write about, but I learned more of true might tonight in my weak state–in the mess of all the pieces that fell out of my head and spilled from my heart, and scattered all across this space of loss, turned holy.

In the winging of this waiting, in the haze of this night, I can only invite Help and rest until morning.

1 night, 1 4-inch binder, 1 gentleman and 87 days // 8

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.

photo-2

May light find a way.

Because Our Therapist Cried // 6

It was a startling and somehow calming thing to see our therapist cry when he heard about our past year.

We had made the appointment with him after a long hiatus, knowing that we would be facing some big life decisions and wanting a trusted, third, outside party to help us, the not-marriage-experts, maneuver the new waters. Little did we know when we set up the date that we would soon be thrown into a battle that would mean losing her in the least ideal way, losing trust in two powerful systems in our city, and losing our energy for the initial discernment process that had led us to this new round of counseling.

At this particular meeting, we were about a month and a half into the new reality. Since we had seen him, we had lost a dear friend suddenly, our organization had gone through major shifts, we had lost another dear friend after a long battle, we had completed the foster licensing process, become a family of five, participated extensively with reunification services, and lost our first placement after over 8 months in the middle of the night due to an abuse allegation that was never substantiated by anyone or anything but that we would never be able to overthrow. Yes, it was like a bad run-on sentence.

We had never seen him cry before.

Appropriately enough, we felt like crazy people sitting there in the therapist’s office. The stories and accounts of the last two months, as abbreviated and clear as we tried to make them, were just too fantastic, too ridiculous to assume the listener’s full belief. And yet the stories, as is the case for many people, were all we had; they were all we ever had, even beyond that point in time. His tears suggested that he might just believe us, even if he didn’t understand all the details, and we were surprised and quieted when over and over, other people believed us too…just like he did.

Looking back, I think that even our official accuser believed us more than his original informant. I think that the majority of the folks in the department who wrote up neutral, shrug-of-the-shoulders-type reports about us believed us. I think that there were only a few people whose judgment and wounds and defensiveness about God-knows-what were for whatever reason allowed to drive everything into the shit hole we found ourselves in. Paranoia, fear, and vindictive constructs carry much farther than the majority of the reporting people’s well-wishes, friendly asides, and personal opinions. This came in to play again and again when professionals from top to bottom would tell us that something went very wrong but they could do absolutely nothing to help right it. That old saying, “the only thing necessary for evil to triumph is for good men to do nothing” (Burke) became a lot less inspiring and a lot more painful.

As the months rolled by and we continued to fight for the truth at every opportunity, the battle never died out. We thought many times, this week, the outcome of this event, this correspondence, will determine if there’s a way through or if the door is shut completely on truth or if we are completely done with this. And None of the Above would happen. There would always be some unbelievable (usually bad) development, a way to challenge, a person to write, or a returned piece of mail…something. It was an incredibly drawn out journey of disappointment. And so the stories continued.

Along this journey we became different people. It was the brand of pain and wondering and futile fighting that leaves you grappling with a new self and a new orientation for a long time; it would take a long time to get acquainted with Who Are We Now in the wake of this tale. What meaning could be gained, what stones could now be turned, what scars were incurred as a result of withstanding (surviving?), this mysterious suffering.

She was never far from our minds even when the battle went beyond any hope of her return, however temporary the return would be. In the middle of all the paperwork for truth, I worked on her baby book so I could send it on a hopeful journey to its rightful owner: her. I remember writing on one page about how her biological mother loved her, shown first by carrying her and giving birth to her—something my own mom has told me about mine. Childbirth is so messy, so violent and private and so terribly long, no matter how short it is. The process can literally and figuratively scar you for life. The product is unknown and scary—a new person who will definitely not meet everyone’s expectations, a stranger who will now rule your life.

Eventually, I found the strength to look at this injustice through a lens of re-birth—of change and new and now what. I had to crawl back to that looking glass many many times as the aftershocks of the ordeal continued throughout our family.

I think this crawling was possible because our therapist cried.

Because people believed us, in our own circles and beyond. People believed the accounts of injustice, the ludicrous pain and the asinine journey. When we felt crazy and we wished we were making it all up, they knew we were not. They bore witness to it, they knew we were wronged, that she was wronged, and that it was not the end of the story. Resurrection people waited for what would come next and we were allowed not only our stories but our slow, changing rebirth.

There must not be a better way to suffer.

Thank you.

Statio, Even Here

“Saul said, ‘Let us go down after the Philistines by night and plunder them until the morning light; let us not leave a man of them.’ And they said, ‘Do whatever seems good to you.’ But the priest said, ‘Let us draw near to God here.'” – 1 Samuel 14:36

IMG_3655

Here. Not after. Not if, then. But here. 

A beautiful part of my life consists in observing and learning from people who are grappling with the priest’s suggestion.

I know and participate in the battles before them and around them. Some of the Philistines of today’s world–the pursuit and loss of personal dreams, the mindless endless urgent busyness, the politics and causes that can exhaust and infuriate. I hear the question “How will this be fixed?” with the vulnerable background of “God, if I or he or she is not convinced of your love and care, does it matter if You do?” I feel the pain of time passing and being caught up in a salty, teary wave of uncontrollable circumstances and innumerable wars to wage.

In all of this, I am craving the discipline – or the art – of statio. Always reminding me of the word “stay,” it is a culturally unnatural, humanly vital practice of pause. Call it margin, call it transition, it is waiting and learning. It is opening and wondering instead of solving and fighting. It is gestation and contractions.

In one of my favorite books, Wisdom Distilled From the Daily, Joan Chittister describes statio as making us “conscious of what we are about to do and… present to the God that is present to us. Statio is the desire to do consciously what I might otherwise do mechanically. Statio is the virtue of the Presence.”

One of my expectant friends is carefully exploring who she is apart from the typical identity scaffolding of career, ideology, family and even habits which being pregnant has separated her from. After all, the scaffolding is temporary. What a beautiful picture of statio. How better to prepare for raising a soul than attending to your own, peering into who you are as a child of God and nothing else, repositioning yourself before bearing down in labor. To be bare and comfortable before yourself and your God and, in time, your child. An amazing gift she holds and offers to her son. Something that many people go into unconsciously.

Others of my friends have been thoughtfully considering marriage and relationships–fear of, desire for, anger about, differentiation from. It reminds me of statio work that I did not do at the ideal times (before role changes versus after, especially before entering a covenant with Ryan). By His grace, I have been able to sort out some of my self even beside him, my sons, before Him, in the milieu of multiple hats but the rush of many things happening at once when I was 21 did not afford me this foreign notion of statio. Now, I watch with held breath my dear sisters who are facing battles of huge proportions as they name Goliath disappointments and David solutions. In the shadow of absent men, whether their relationship is a thief or they feel robbed of one at all, there are wars to wage. And plenty of people say, “Do whatever seems good to you.” But refraining from snatching those battles, listening to the priest, and staying, drawing near to the Lord here, here in the dust and ashes — that is their victory and that is why I am honored to be in their company. Statio gives meaning to here. It delays the war and heeds an invitation.

Women have to be so resilient. Such a clear, long sequence of events is laid before young girls in our society, without full disclosure of how those events conflict and compete and do not comply with our timeframes and effort and linear thinking. The Philistines are giant but slippery. As an achiever, an aggressor, I can be Saul. Ready to fight on through the night, make something happen, charge through resistance. I am a machine of agenda and now and Try. I know many women who are also reformers and conquerers. We are good at it and have been rewarded for it for so much of our lives. Success in school is a friend to the machines of agenda and now. I am not proud that in college people called me “the legend,” and as you might guess, it was not because I was a good example of pause. 

I am slow to see that the real fight, the first war, is not with the elusive Philistines. The wars women face at every turn have no clear start or end date, like the ones we learned in World History. They are wars of the heart, mind and soul. Of who we are and what gives us meaning and how do we contribute and how do we gain significance and is there a way to land on answers to these questions no matter where we are. They are wars that can be drawn out by the aging of our bodies, battles that become sharper when our experiences in this life differ and rub. These battlefields precede the perceived enemies and we know it at our heart. If we hurry, if we only have friends who say “do whatever seems good to you,” we miss it. We don’t accept our location. And stones are left unturned, redemption is left undiscovered and there is bloodshed.

After this verse, Saul did not battle the Philistines. He listened to the priest and a secret in the camp was revealed. His son Jonathan was ransomed, defended, and saved by his people and Saul was saved from a severe vow he had foolishly made earlier.  All that happened “here.” Before there. Now.

Earlier in the story named after him, Samuel addressed the people and reminded them of who God was–their Author, their Liberator, their King. And he says, “Now therefore, stand still that I may plead with you before the Lord…” (12:7). What a remarkable phrase. Stand still! Do statio! And it wasn’t just a command–at every step, Samuel was beside others. He was pleading with them. The priest said “Let us.” Statio is achieved through internal war and external help. Community that insists on consciously being here before there. I love that. Here can seem lonely. Here can be no where if you are with no one and who wouldn’t want to charge into a fight if here was scary and void.

Sisters, you have helped me find statio and see how ripe and how good here can be. Let’s stay. Let’s be in company together and redeem these surroundings, whatever they are, to know ourselves and know Him. Let’s pause with the Shepherd and find freedom in the openness of Here.