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.

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The fastest and slowest year.

The destination has become cloudy and the way there so long.

It’s been over 3 years that we have been actively pursuing adoption. It has been a year since the vulnerability of the children and foster parents in the system became all too clear. Unsuspecting, unprotected, and undone, we went into shock in the wee hours of June 15, 2014 and she was taken to strange places in an unsafe carseat, never to be returned and never to be told goodbye properly.

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Among many of the lies we were told last June 14th, it was said that we could resolve the “problem” in the next week. Sunday was torture. Offices closed. Ryan nosedived. Monday was hopeful. There were things to do–people to pursue. Weeks turned into months and still no answers and no baby for the bottles in our drawer, no body for the pile of folded clothes on the couch. No explanations for the destruction of evidence that would release Ryan from the nightmare, no communication from the force that negligently and shamefully put our family and our foster daughter in danger. It took several months before the county decided “Inconclusive,” due to the reputable nature of the supposed reporting party mixed with the refusal of said person to ever comment or validate claims and the lack of evidence on 6 different visitations to find something wrong with our house, parenting and children. Don’t worry, we were told–some foster parents have 20 inconclusives in their files and were still caring for children. We did not find this comforting, but quite alarming. And it didn’t make this 1 right, and it didn’t guarantee our continued involvement in this system.

Sure enough, a month later, our license was revoked–unheard of for 1 inconclusive indictment. We contested; we asked for the review meeting. More letters, more references, more certified mail. A meeting was finally scheduled. Almost 4 months later, they changed their decision to hold us, with the caveat of an extra class for Ryan. 3 more months. Now we’re in line for another home study as all the ones during the investigation were for a different purpose. And time keeps marching on.

June 14th sticks out in my mind because it was unjust and the end of much naivety. And aside from all that it was the death of our care for a girl we loved. It started baby girl on the most traumatic month or more of her life. It began a series of exhausting initiatives that ultimately did not free us from two lying people with major baggage. There is no grave, and it was a slow death, but its severity still stings.

Protest Paint

Protest Paint

Protest Pie

Protest Pie

By today, I would have thought we would know more about our destination, this journey, this way that started so long ago, with the best intentions and tenderest of hopes. We still wait.

Another thing happened June 14th of last year.

While we were pleading for her to stay, being lied to and about, and packing a bag, a dear friend was finding hope. Her life in many ways had been smashed to smithereens by a person in whom she had trusted and with whom her life and identity were intertwined. She had been betrayed and left, and was in the fresh, fragile season of gathering her self back up under God’s grace. Unexpectedly, June 14th became a significant day for her too; she saw her offender. And, because there was a miracle and her heart was strong, she had compassion. That night, she told me months later, she experienced and extended God’s mercy and love in new ways and in the tumult of faith confronting real life, she forgave. She had a powerful initiation into a freedom and new chapter that began with seeing a broken person who had hurt her deeply with God’s eyes. It was liberating and necessary–she didn’t begin the day ready for that, and she didn’t orchestrate the destination; along the way, hope and new life took hold, and she was rescued. Easter happened again, and disorientation began to be designed into reorientation.

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Her account of June 14th is also mine and mine is hers; they are both true. Juxtaposed on this anniversary is a cross of suffering and a lily of resurrection. I am so thankful for the gift of her memory–for that story that informs my own and helps us keep moving in the grief and confusion. That reminds me that we need each other, at our weakest and best, and that the goals and plans are simply kickstarts to us moving at all. Along the way, Grace is there. Along the way, we hurt and we laugh. Along the way, we see things we were not looking for, and perhaps would have never, ever, asked for. And along the way, we find we were not, and are not, alone.

Forward, onward, all of us, all that has been, together. Immanuel.

There Is A Lady // 7

There is a lady whom I do not know.  I do not know what ails her, and where she is from.  I do not know if she has borne children, hates children, loves children or knows any children. I do not know her but I will never forget her name.

There is a lady whom I welcomed into my home at 11pm, to whom we showed our sleeping, healthy children, to whom we each spoke with for more than thirty minutes in the middle of the night. She knows where we live. She wore all the right badges, representing the Emergency Response night crew. She appeared calm and open. She was not too interested in the baby. She said things were good, no problems.

And then she left the house, spoke with someone on the phone, came back inside, and said, “So we will remove the child.”

Multiple children were sleeping here that night, believing it to be home. Multiple children had cleared her and the LAPD’s inspection, and had been put back to sleep. Multiple children were under our care, constantly under the scrutiny of families, professionals, and potential adversaries every week with no questions raised. But it was her call that night, and one was removed while the others slept–all three would never understand fully what had happened.

Because, as we know now, the real didn’t matter and the pretend made the decisions.

She became a different person. She would not read the allegations. We could barely understand her English and read her handwriting. She asked me why I had packed food for the baby. She refused to reply to my and an officer’s questions about the illegally installed carseat. She told Ryan he was understating. She kept promising it was temporary. She blatantly lied in her paperwork.

Five months later, through about 10 phone calls, 3 forms, and 2 visits to the courthouse, we acquired a redacted copy of the final investigation report and the emergency response report from the night of the removal. Through this, we learned more of her skewed perspective. Her report was rich in speculation and bias, and she recommended that we each be required to enroll in random drug testing. Three months later, she would be called by the final investigation office, which was tasked with the decision of reopening our home to other children, and she would stand by her memories and unique account, adding that she remembered being concerned that I was in danger of being domestically abused. Number one, thanks for acting on that concern and number two, if we ever play Memory, you’re on my team.

There is a lady who caused immense damage in about two and a half hours. And that is the end of our stories overlapping. No grievance we submit, no testimony we give, nothing short of suing the Department (and winning), would remotely have the ability to remove or edit her paperwork and testimony from our file. She changed us forever and then was gone. She is one of the last people I would recommend letting into your home.

There is a lady who never knew us because before she even entered, she had decided who we were.

Small Bodies

A few weeks ago, I prayed with vivid feelings and memories fresh on my heart. It was a couple days after two loving parents had disagreed with weary bones and Spanish-filled minds over what needed to be done if Asher became worse. After weeks of diarrhea and antibiotics. After a night’s rest beside my youngest that began with tears. With Guatemalan daylight easing the upset of our disagreement and offering a new day with hope of better health for my son, I thought back to a hot afternoon of carrying children, walking a long way, through a foreign city. We had not known how to get home from church using the microbuses. I thought that by walking in the right direction we would be able to ask a bus and catch a ride eventually. Eventually never came and we just kept walking. Backs sore, arms wrinkled from the weight of our children, we arrived back home a long time later. Dusted with fumes, rosy with sun, disgruntled with the situation. The kids just had to hold on though and they were fine. When we finally arrived back, they were happy to be back “home,” and soon took peaceful naps. The walk had not been very impressive to them.

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I remembered that walk, and others similar to it when small bodies relied on big, as I tried to express our needs to our Father after acute points of concern for Asher. I found  us, the feeble caretakers, in the arms of the Caretaker, and was comforted by the image. Step by step, would you somehow carry us both and lead us in a good way…again? Like we do here with two, strapping helpless kids on narrow sidewalks. Coated with dust, inhaling fumes, maneuvering through crap and uneven steps and drunks and dogs. Our arms tired but we keep our voices upbeat — for them. We carry, we lead, we get home somehow. We are those heavy children, Father. Doing what we know, the good and the bad. Please–speak to us in the voice of “we are going to get there.” In your heart of lifting and love. Move us in the right direction with Your cadence of protection and perspective; of ‘look at those pretty mountains’ and ‘we are closer than before.’ We do not know the way. Would you fill us with your tone and tenor of tenderness and struggle-less? 

Now, back on home soil, I thank God for the distance from those difficult nights of uncertainty about Asher. He is getting better. I also pray the same prayer for Now. Now we are here with there still on our skin and I still know that all I can do is ride, is hold on to the Caretaker. The daily is not so strenuous here but there are wider things to look at now, like ministry, our team, our future. We are here with dmv reminders and warehouse membership and hot running water and sofas. Oh how we missed having a sofa to sit upon. We are here with plans to make and news to catch up on and old roles in need of new adjustments. We are here with preschool plans and adoption applications and cell phones and creamer.

This morning, I wonder-prayed, to say nothing about the crying. I wondered to God what He thinks of this time, and what is sustainable self-care for moms and what can we do now that we can’t other times and what do we do other times that we cannot do now. I felt the disorientation of this time. I thanked Him for the journey so far, for His strong arms that carried us through dark nights and some long days. I thank Him that only day by day can we make progress and process. I thank Him for those who help me remember that by modeling patience and grace.

While I want knowledge to gain confidence, He offers love. The mystery of the Gospel is a fear-ridding, grace-producing love that precedes knowledge, that precedes all the orientation and answers in the world. He asks that that be enough many times. That those arms of love and grace be confidence enough until it is safe to walk, until we have another brief period of sure footing. May we each enjoy the Caring One, who carries each one, as we have been and are now being.

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For this reason I kneel before the Father, 15 from whom every family in heaven and on earth derives its name. 16 I pray that out of his glorious riches he may strengthen you with power through his Spirit in your inner being, 17 so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith. And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, 18 may have power, together with all the Lord’s holy people, to grasp how wide and long and high and deepis the love of Christ, 19 and to know this love that surpasses knowledge—that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God.   – Eph. 3:14-19