The good, the bad and the ugly.

Sometimes suffering comes crashing upon our personal lives despite our best maneuvers—perhaps a tragic accident or diagnosis, a betrayal or crime. But sometimes suffering touches us in the embrace of a friendship—through walking with a loved one who finds themselves in the throes of struggle.

It was natural to say yes when my neighbor asked me to read over some letters she had received. Though her English is excellent, the official documents were laden with terms difficult for me to decipher as a fluent speaker. This small invitation into Lily’s* life was the beginning of a long initiation process. I was soon researching the housing department and learning with her how to stand up against illegal hikes in rent. It is under her tutelage that I have learned about renter’s rights, power company corruption, the complexity of gaining citizenship, a vehicle towing racquet in cahoots with LAPD, and the impact of incarceration on our community. She is not a local politician or a professor of community development, urban culture, or theodicy, but perhaps she should be. Lily has taught me more than any textbook or class. And she has done so through allowing me to be her friend.

Lily has a small stature but immense presence. In her person, faith and bewilderment, celebration and grief, are fast companions. She has shown me how to walk with God in suffering, and she has generously opened a world to her friends through that posture. Lily’s life has included waves of undeserved suffering, the other not subsided before the next hits; interacting with suffering is not optional. With each wave, her authentic friendship with God has moved her theology further from steady explanations and resolutions to suffering, and my own with it. What I have lost in certainty, I’ve gained in empathy. Nerves newly exposed. As a witness and companion to Lily, I have felt the discomfort of losing touch with that worldview and the reassuring, privileged sense of order and justice in the world I once held. I have also felt the companionship suffering breeds. When we have gone through dark valleys, she is one of the first to listen. To cook. To cry. And I am bowled over all over again at the way love and friendship multiply themselves.

As aware as I have become of my privilege from trying to keep up with spiritual giants such as Lily, I continue to have impressive blindspots. I speak out of new knowledge and experiences too often, instead of letting them settle, and staying humble and contrite. I struggle to apply the things I’ve learned at Lily’s side to the little souls under my care.

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As a mother, I am daily challenged by the desire to nuance judgments and descriptions that seem inescapable in our binary climate. But parenting doesn’t wait for preparedness. I cringed when I first heard my oldest talk about bad guys, many years ago. It’s hard for me when they play cops and robbers. I pray, “God, please help relieve my heart from things I cannot carry, feelings you’re not asking me to feel. Grow in my children a sensitivity that is loving. Help me know…what is good to teach them.” 

How do you help a child, so honored in Scripture for their simplistic faith, refrain from oversimplifying people into good and bad? How do you decide what is innocent play and what needs to be reframed–in the name of loving playmates who have been terrorized by, guilty of, or in the middle of cops and robbers? How do I help this mess of boyhood mine to embrace suffering, to endure loss, as an invitation…when I barely remember myself? To have more time between hearing about something and knowing why it happened. How do I show them misfortune is so often the ultimate bridge between people, not a charge against them?

When things go sideways, from a toy breaking to a sickness, I watch their minds and hearts try to make sense. To sum up whys and dive into despair or push away with blame. I see the nature of Job’s friends in the Bible, of my own craving for judicial order and linear effects. This is a big job–to fight the goliath of distance from suffering as an adult, and also try to be alert to it as a parent. This is a calling.

Walking alongside Lily was initially a choice, indicating my privilege. But now I consider it a luxury in its own right. She’s shown me more of Jesus, and because I’m learning, just by being nearby, I have hope for my kids. That their privilege, their resources, and their choices will not keep them away from truth and complexity. I hope they have to unlearn less than me, and that extending friendship to suffering will be second nature.

We are all learning beside each other, in this big city, on this little street. Suffering lives nearby. But friendship and love are growing like weeds, thriving in its shadow. A child, with children, I’m lucky and humbled to reside right here.

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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.

“Look at this perfect house we made!”

I am officially, permanently, 29 today. (God bless that waiter who asked for my ID tonight.)

I have nothing particularly profound to say except many thank you’s and thanks, and thanks a whole lot. To my Shepherd, to my husband, to my family and friends. Such a good, good company I have walked through life with. Many parts are not acquainted with the others, but in my heart, you are all my Church, my companions, my neighbors and witnesses.

In the midst of this inspiring company, I am currently struggling to remain faithful while truthfully realizing a valley. But I have so many hills that have been covered and moments of green pastures and rods of comfort that even though I may cry frequently (though less now than a couple weeks ago), the valley is becoming less unfriendly and urgent to this soul.

The past year has included some amazing developments. Marriage counseling, One Thousand Gifts, growing in understanding of church planting, Guatemala, the adoption process, shared spirituality practices and finally reading Walk Two Moons come to mind. We truly don’t know what this next year will hold. Ryan is 30 now, after all.

Today was not an especially restful day but lazy birthdays are not really in the plans for several years. Until then, I must.teach.children.to.do.chores!!! I did sleep in till 7 and was showered with delicious kindnesses throughout the day, just in case my aging metabolism needed help slowing down. I read library books to my children. I raced cars, jumped on the trampoline, built bugs, and worked on fine motor skills. I skyped with my parents and youngest sibs. I ate with dear friends. I did some official, super-high-profile work.

I also had the chance to tell my story, that convoluted, unconventional story, to a social worker. I sat in a room for two hours with an adult, no children, and answered grown up questions about my life, from birth till now, and my extended family and my thoughts on adoption and… What a special opportunity. It really was a birthday gift.

Today, Ryan and I had separate interviews with DCFS. Suddenly, we are at the top of our social worker’s list and we see the finish line in the adoption approval process. Which means we are very close to when a random phone call could be a significant invitation to our third child’s life. We are very close to the waiting game. While I was testifying to God’s goodness in an office building and all the caring souls in my company, a few miles away my 4-year-old exclaimed suddenly at the lunch table to his dad, “Look at this perfect house we made!! — Look!” while taking in the kitchen, the living room, the walls, the windows, as if all for the first time.

I love that. I love that something that has been relatively the same, going without his notice, for 3+ years, is all of a sudden something to shout about and find a burst of joy in. As Ryan and I wander nonsensically around the house tonight, arms full of misplaced books, toys, outlet covers, and cleaning supplies, as we prepare for our final home study and interviews tomorrow, my mind keeps traveling back to Dante’s lunchtime wonder. Look! Look at this great set of cupboards in the bathroom. Just look at what a perfect bed this is. Look! There’s our front door!

Oh! To have wonder. To have it in the next decade of adulthood, well before everything is nostalgic and before the toy and diaper chaos is over. Before all the answers, before the healing, before the valley has been walked. Oh to see something that is dramatically the same and find something new. If that is not the Gospel, I don’t know what is.

It is such a perfect house. With its unpainted walls, dusty surfaces, loose papers and cruddy carpet. It is grand and excessive and a blessing. And has room for more. One more.

And even in the valley, this valley that has layers and depths that continue, there is room. There is room for something else.  When I see the old, crusty familiar and the tears well again, and I think I know what everything means and what the setting is, may wonder and thanksgiving surpass my poor 29-year-old vision. May I hear the word, “Look!” from a delighted Maker above and see the same, anew.

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