I am not the mother I thought I would be.

I wanted to become a mother for 38 years before I actually became one. Really, when I was five years old my mother would tell me bedtime stories about “My Little Girl” and these stories were full of adventures I would have parenting my own daughter some day. I began babysitting and working in the church nursery when I was 11 years old, and it was my primary source of income (well, you know, besides my parents) until I was 15 and started working at McDonald’s and Kmart! Even then, I babysat often into my college years and beyond. I really enjoyed children and was sure I would be a good mother someday. Twenty-plus years of single adulthood gave me many opportunities to observe the parenting of others and determine just how I would do it if I ever had the chance.  I somewhat unwittingly/somewhat intentionally developed an unscripted philosophy of parenting. I think it went something like this:

I would be always loving. I would be patient. Becoming a parent later than most would surely make me a more mature, sensible parent who knew something about life and children. (I majored in Family Studies/Human Development in college, after all!) As a committed Christian, I would take my children to church and teach them Bible Stories and have daily family devotional times. I would discipline my children consistently and lovingly and they would behave in public and in private because of the awesome parenting they were receiving. As a life-long  book lover I would share classic children’s books with my children and we would read together daily, the children tucked sweetly next to me on the couch hanging on my every word, listening intently and developing their own love for reading. I would feed my children healthy foods – no sugar until they were five or six. I would make their baby food by grinding up our table food – just as my mother did for my little brother when we lived in East Africa (and had no grocery store – kinda forgot about that little detail). I would breast-feed until they were at least 12 months of age. This would build the strongest immune system and give them a good foundation nutritionally. I would home school my children because as their parent I would know their learning styles best and this would allow us to spend more time together in their important early learning years. I would love my children equally and treat them equally and discipline them the same way so they could never cry “favoritism!” I would carefully choose their toys so they would be adequately stimulated but not over-stimulated. We would not have crazy, battery-operated toys that made noise simply for the sake of making noise. My children would not have light-up shoes or velcro closures; they would learn to tie like everyone must. My children would not use pacifiers – they would learn to self soothe early on. My children would learn to sleep on their own in their own rooms and we would not co-sleep.

Let me tell you what sleep deprivation does for parenting philosophies – it changes them.

Let me tell you what special needs do for parenting philosophies – they change them.

Let me tell you what reality does for parenting philosophies – obliteration? I’ll be gracious – moderation, at least.

The no-pacifier rule went out the window after a week or so of being a round-the-clock human pacifier. New babies need to suck, and our new baby especially had weak mouth muscles that needed to be exercised. For the sake of our sleep and our sanity, our baby used a pacifier.

Breast feeding went out the window after seven weeks of trying our very best to feed our baby only breast milk. Pumping round-the-clock, watching other people feed my baby while I sat hooked up to a machine, was not a great breast-feeding scenario. Our baby struggled to eat more than a little at a time. We dribbled hard-earned breast milk into his mouth with a pipette early on. The emotional strain was incredible. Getting up at night to pump and to feed, especially since he couldn’t take more than a couple of ounces at a time, was really wearing. Someone finally convinced me that baby formula was not rat poison, and feeding my baby was more important than holding to a philosophy that proved to be detrimental to the family unit.

No battery operated toys? The first toy I bought for my baby, before he was born, was a battery operated music cube. It was played with for years. Within a few months, we were advised by an occupational therapist that our baby needed more stimulation and some appropriate toys were suggested, which we bought. We found out about hand-me-downs in a big way as many friends passed along toys and clothes their young children had outgrown. We soon had more toys than we knew what to do with. Soon enough we learned our child loved music and musical instruments – all of which made lots of noise! Happy noise, as it turned out.

Our child grew, and his needs became apparent. Our days became filled with appointments – therapy for this and that, routine check-ups, neurological exams. We were very busy, and very tired. No co-sleeping? When our son was around three years old, I calculated I had had roughly twelve full nights of sleep since his birth. This was not sustainable. He seemed to have some difficulty with body temperature regulation, and muscles tight with the spasticity of cerebral palsy would sometimes relax best when he could feel my body snuggled next to him. Sometimes it was best for us to sleep for a while next to each other.

I did try to make some baby food. I really didn’t have time to make baby food. Gerber was going to have to do. My kids loved, and still love, what we came to call “squeezie packs”. One day a grocery store check out clerk told me he would share with me an article he had read about how awful they were to feed to our children. Another time going through airport security our “squeezie packs” tested postive for TNT. I am not joking. We removed them from the children’s diet, but on occasion, they still will have a “squeezie pack” – organic, of course.

Consistent and loving discipline? Not always. One method of discipline seemed to work for one child, but had no effect on the other child. The same “infraction” might be treated harshly on one occasion and receive nary a glance on another occasion. Life, exhaustion, stress levels – oh, how I wish they didn’t impact my consistency and expressions of affection, but it turns out they do.

Treating them equally? Yeah, right. Turns out people, even little people, are different, and need to be treated differently. Do we hear “that’s not fair?!” Oh, yes, we do. And it is true. Fairness is not a goal here anymore. It can’t be. Is it fair that one child can walk and the other can’t? Is it fair that one child can hear well and the other can’t? Is it fair that one method of discipline works well for one child and a different method of discipline works well for the other child?  No, the trite phrase “Life isn’t fair” is true on a profound level. The opposite of fairness isn’t abuse, it is diversity. At school my children have IEP’s – Individualized Education Plans – because their needs are different from those of typically developing children and the law requires that they be educated in a way that works for them. At home, they have ILP’s – individualized life plans – informal, unwritten and developed on the fly at times, but necessary because the natural laws of life require it.

Home schooling? I tried. It didn’t work for us for many reasons –  some attributable to me, some to them, some to our complex reality.

Patience? I have learned I have a smaller and smaller vat of patience as time goes on. I currently have about a half-cup measure of patience daily, and it is often completely gone by 9:30 a.m.

No velcro shoes? HAHAHAHAHA! See comment above about patience. At least one of them being able to put on their own shoes extends my half-cup just another few minutes. And I’m still not crazy about the light up shoes, but when they were the only available shoes (that weren’t going to break the bank) that fit over the braces, we bought them. That’s life, folks.

Family devotional times? Well, I would still like to see that happen, but so far our children are getting much of their spiritual instruction from day to day experiences that lead to discussion about God’s love for us, his peace when we are afraid, his trustworthiness when things seem unsure, his comfort when we are sad, his strength when we are weak, his forgiveness when we sin. This isn’t a theoretical spirituality, it is a reality. I am encouraged when I hear them ask God for his help when they are trying to do something hard, or find something they have misplaced. They have heard us verbalize our need for God’s help at these times and they are learning of His dependability in real life. I am grateful for this, even if we don’t have a formal time of family worship. Speaking of worship – how about when my children just want a playlist of worship music on YouTube and play and sing along (loudly and out of tune)? That’s real worship. That’s joyful worship! That makes my heart sing.

So, I am not the mother I thought I would be. I am a more real, more honest, more ugly, more beautiful, and especially more blessed mother than I ever expected to be. I am ashamed of myself at times. I am amazed at myself at times. I am tired almost all the time. I appreciate rest in a way I could never have imagined before motherhood. I am stretched mentally and emotionally and physically beyond what I can bear. I am learning more about God’s grace and sustaining power available to me, an impatient, frustrated, irritated and harried mother, who wants to be more of a channel of His patience, grace, understanding and forbearance. Motherhood has exposed me as the incapable, needy, demanding person that I can be, but also as one learning to ask God and my children for forgiveness and grace and understanding. It’s a better balance than my uninformed parenting philosophy offered.

But, more than anything, I am more blessed than I ever knew I could be. I laugh more – turns out kids are hilarious. My heart gets all big and I feel the sides of my face stretching with the huge smile of pride as I watch my beautiful daughter stand with her preschool class and receive her certificate and sing all the songs they learned this year and pick her nose and her wedgie. It’s real life. Something a scripted philosophy doesn’t really accommodate. I have this incredible joy that bubbles over when my precious little family does something together, or when the kids are playing nicely together, or I hang up a piece of their sweet, imperfect art work. My life isn’t orderly. My house isn’t clean. Some days I’m not clean either. But I’m living the dream – the dream of real motherhood, with real issues, real mess, real blessing and real joy. I’m glad I’m not the mother I thought I would be.

Home

Lord, you have been our dwelling place throughout all generations.” Psalm 90:1

I was given a chalkboard calendar at the beginning of this year. Each month has a blank chalkboard page which I have filled with some quote or chalk drawing that has been relevant for us. As we were preparing to move, yet again, in August, my husband said, “You need to put Psalm 90 verse 1 on the calendar.” I was too busy packing to do the calendar page for August, but I scrawled the verse over the days we would be driving from Winston-Salem to our new home in the greater St. Louis area.

We had been talking about the frequent moves we’ve experienced the entire six years of our marriage – the readjustment to a new area, new roads, new stores, new schools, new doctors and therapists, new church, new friends.  The unsettledness that results from this disruption of barely begun relationships is difficult. Yet, each time we have sensed God’s leading to make the move, and have been careful to seek out the guidance and counsel of trusted friends. When we moved to Winston-Salem in December of 2014 we thought it was for the long term. Were we really doing this again? A familiar location was no longer something that brought security because we didn’t seem to be staying in one place long enough to get to that degree of familiarity.

“Lord, YOU have been our dwelling place….”

Looking back we could see God’s hand in each move, and how he has been bringing healing and grace and trust through our experience in each place. He was bringing us out of a place of  bondage into a place of freedom.  (Psalm 18:16, 19 “He reached down from on high and took hold of me; he drew me out of deep waters. He brought me out into a spacious place; he rescued me because he delighted in me.”) We were learning, through our experience in each place he took us, more of His love and the freedom in which He wants us to live. The “spacious place” was not so much a dot on a map as it was the openness of God’s arms of mercy and wholeness. HE was becoming our home.

We weren’t interested in becoming vagrants, uncertain wanderers, restless nomads. Home mattered to us, matters still, and the building to which our little family returns each night is important to us. Security for our children is a concern to us. But we were coming to learn that God himself is greater security than the walls of a house, and our dependence on him and our belief in his guidance and greater purposes allowed us to venture out once again, seeing Him as our resting place and our family unit as the strong tower for our little ones.

I was reminded of a song that meant a lot to David and me as we walked some of the difficult days and months before our marriage and again as we prepared to adopt a little abandoned girl from a Chinese orphanage. It is a promise rooted in Zephaniah 3:20 where God speaks of the restoration of the remnant of Israel that he will bring to pass.

“Though you are homeless, though you’re alone, I will be your Home.
Whatever’s the matter, whatever’s been done; I will be your Home.

I will be your Home. I will be your Home.
In this fearful, fallen place, I will be your Home.

When time reaches fullness, when I move My hand, I will bring you Home.
Home to your own place in a beautiful land; I will bring you Home.

I will bring you Home. I will bring you Home.
From this fearful, fallen place, I will bring you Home.
I will bring you Home.”

Sometime not long after our arrival in St. Louis I put the verse on our calendar page for September. God was once again showing his grace, so quickly upon our arrival. The previous move had been really difficult and we felt very alone for months, struggling to find a church family that was right for our unique little clan. Finally we did – at a church called HOPE. Here we found our new church home in less than two weeks, and the orchestration of God’s leading was unmistakable and encouraging as he brought us to a church called GRACE. David had done the house hunting for us in his first weeks here in late June, and I did not see the house until we arrived in mid-August, but by the end of the first day it felt like home. We were quickly embraced by our neighbors who reached out with God’s love to serve us and help us. That within days we had people to whom we could turn when we were in need was amazing and such a comfort. More recently when it became clear that homeschooling was not the right choice for us for now, we learned that we had landed in an amazing school district, and the people there who have been caring for my little kindergartner have been wonderful and made his transition a joyful breeze. We have learned more about resting in the Almighty One as our security and our Hope, and we are also now seeing his Grace to us as we find this new place to be pleasant and comfortable and a home for our little family.

As is often the case, my blog posts rumble around in my head for months before I am able to find the time to write them. Here it is, December, and our Christmas decorations are up. We are enjoying the lights on our tree and were happy to finally hang lights on our house for the first time since we got married. It is a lovely, beautiful time of year; a time of anticipation and reflection. I’ve been thinking of Jesus – how he left his home and came to earth, a place that would never be “home” to him – how he condescended to live among us to become our only Hope – how he is the light of the world that points the way for us to live in the spacious arms of God’s Grace. Our true Home.

This entry was posted on December 12, 2016. 1 Comment

A Mother’s Day Tale

One Sunday afternoon in the Fall of 2010, David and I had lunch with a friend after church. We had been married less than two months and I was just a few weeks pregnant with our first child. As we left our friend’s apartment and walked to our car in the parking lot across the street we heard someone call out to us. “Can you help me?!” she cried out. She came over to us and began to ask us for a ride to the bus station several miles away. We were headed for home, several miles in the opposite direction. We looked at each other over the roof of the car and with eye contact and some general shrugs between the two of us agreed to help her. We wanted to be kind, to be the hands and feet of Jesus where we could, to not put our own agenda (Sunday afternoon nap!) ahead of serving someone in need.

David told her we would take her, the young woman got into the back seat, and we started driving. We asked her some questions – learned her name (I’ll call her Mindy) and began to learn her story, or at least the version of it she chose to tell. At times she cried, as she explained that she was leaving her four children at her mother’s house and was taking the bus to her sister’s home in another state. It was tearing her up to leave them, but she wasn’t able to stay there any longer. She said she was trying to lead a better life and her mother’s alcoholism was negatively affecting her, and she couldn’t take her children because her mother had custody. She proclaimed faith in Jesus and commented that she had seen that David had his Bible in his hand as we were walking from our friend’s apartment. We were somewhat skeptical, but wanted to help her if we could. We spoke of grace, forgiveness, hope and help for women struggling to leave difficult situations. When we got to the bus station, we prayed for her, sought to encourage her, told her we did not feel it would be best for us to help her financially, and I wrote my phone number down for her. She left and we doubted we would ever hear from her again.

I was surprised when she called several days later. Her sister was on the phone as well, and I learned that her sister was indeed a follower of Christ. I asked what kind of help she wanted from me, prepared to make it abundantly clear that financial help was not on the table. She said she just needed to find a church. Could I help her find a church? And so began a months long journey of trying to help Mindy and her children. She had a little girl about 2 years of age, and wanted to connect with other mothers of young children. I had recently visited a church nearby and had read in the bulletin about a Story-and-Sing-A-Long time for toddlers that was being held weekly. I tried to find out a little about it, and made arrangements to take Mindy and her youngest child. It was a little awkward, as I was only in the very earliest stage of my pregnancy and didn’t have my own children attending, but I explained that Mindy was trying to meet some other moms, and the three of us were welcomed lovingly.  This group was led by a sweet young mother, Jennifer, and as we got to know each other a little bit she invited me to attend a Bible Study that she was part of.  David and I also began to pick Mindy up to go to church with us and sometimes one of her older daughters would come along as well.  She seemed to benefit from this connection, and never asked for money. Occasionally I would take her to appointments for financial aid for her children, to to the doctor.

Over time we learned that she was struggling with drug addition and to leave prostitution, a battle she rode the waves of over and over. We tried to connect her with ministries that might help her, but nothing ever took. During the winter, she called one day during a snow storm – crying and remorseful but also obviously hung over – could I come pick her up? She was at a friend’s house where she had been able to access plenty of cocaine. There were two feet of snow in my driveway, and I was six months pregnant – no, I was not going to be able to come and get her right then. The consequences of her addiction were terrible, and the truth about her life, her four children, not having custody, and the desire to both use and stop using was so, so sad. One day in the early Spring her sister called me – Mindy was drunk. Could I go get her. I did and took her to my home, which I shared with my mother. Mindy was a mess. I recall there was vomiting, hysteria, hallucination, and an attempt to escape across the icy back deck and snow and ice covered yard. She was putting my mother in danger, and my baby as well. I told her I would need to call the police if she did not come inside and begin to cooperate. Eventually she did, and she passed out on the couch. Things were not going well for her, and before long she took off, once again leaving her devastated children and family for the pull of a life that she both hated and loved. Later I learned she was in jail in another state.

While all of this was going on, in the months of the fall and winter, I had begun attending the Bible study that Jennifer had invited me to. Several of the other mothers who took their children to the Story Time that I had attended with Mindy also went to the Bible study. It became a time I really looked forward to and began to develop friendships with these other young or new mothers. It was during the time that the church we had been a part of for many years had disbanded and David and I were finding ourselves somewhat lost as we were trying to find a new way, a new church, new connections. Our church had been very isolated, very legalistic, very cult-like and very, very critical of anyone in our community who attended a different church. It was a situation God had graciously delivered us from, but in the early months we didn’t know how to “be” in a different way. One of the women in the group had formerly attended that church with us, and had been treated wrongly when she took her children and left. She could have been hostile, resentful, utterly rejecting of me, but she was not. In December, I was invited to a dinner with these other women. It was a really lovely evening, and when I got home I sat on the couch next to David and cried. These were women I had participated in judging, being critical of their choices to attend different churches, had been isolated from, and I hadn’t even known them! They were beautiful. Full of grace. Extending friendship and love to me. I was so thankful and so blessed and so humbled that they included someone like me – someone from “that” church. It ministered to my heart in a deep way.

Jennifer gave birth to her second child, a little girl, in the winter. Another woman, Joanna, had a little boy about seven months old. Two other women were expecting their second babies within a month of my due date. They were a wonderful source of information and encouragement as we approached the end of my pregnancy and things with Mindy fell apart. It was so interesting to me how God had used Mindy to lead me to these precious ladies, these dear friends.

In early April we learned of our baby’s brain hemorrhage and prepared for Daniel to arrive on the scene early. A few of these ladies threw a surprise baby shower for me and were so sweet and kind in uplifting us and our precious wounded baby in prayer. Daniel was born and they rejoiced with us and delighted over him and continued to pray. Daniel was small, and had feeding struggles from the beginning. There had been some mix-ups in the hospital and I had not been advised well on getting breast-feeding going. He had lost more than 10% of his birth weight before we went home, but we were starting to make progress, so they let us go. When we went to change his diaper the first time, we were shocked to see that the clamp from his umbilical cord had not been removed before we left the hospital. We called and were told to bring him back the next day for it to be removed. It was a divinely appointed mistake, as the next day he was still not eating well and a particular lactation consultant was on duty who spent a long time with us and made arrangements to come see us at home in the coming days. We were told we had to put him on formula, as he was not getting enough milk from me and the weight loss had to stop. We were feeding him with little pipettes, dribbling milk into his mouth. We took the advice and gave him some formula. He was so tiny, and his skin hung on his little legs with no fat padding. We had no other choice. What followed was a most miserable night as he screamed and wailed and pulled up his little legs and contorted in tummy pain. It was awful, and we were done with the formula. I was pumping around the clock and we were just not able to give him enough. We were told, if this has not turned around by 5 p.m., you HAVE to give him more formula. I was desperate and crying. What could I do?

I called Jennifer, and I called Joanna. Neither answered her phone.  “Can you help me?!” I cried into their voice-mails. I tearfully explained in my phone messages that I wondered if they had any extra breast milk in their freezer that they might be able to share with me. That Daniel desperately needed to eat, but things weren’t going well. Even today I weep with gratitude as I remember Joanna calling me back within minutes, and being at my house within an hour with milk for Daniel. Shortly after,  Jennifer did the same. Joanna’s baby was a bit older than Jennifer’s and it turned out that Daniel tolerated Jennifer’s milk better than Joanna’s as the content was more suitable to a younger baby. Together, Jennifer and I fed little Daniel for a couple of weeks. Jennifer pumped at her house, I pumped at mine, and a variety of people gave Daniel pipettes and, eventually,  bottles of our milk. The weight loss turned around, and Daniel was no longer in immediate danger. So, here it is,  Mother’s Day, and these were the circumstances approaching my first Mother’s Day. It was a frightening time, but it was a time of deep, deep blessing for me. I love Jennifer and Joanna, and even though we no longer live near one another, I will never, ever forget what they did for me and for my baby. And it was Mindy that brought us together – a struggling, lost, hurting mother of four who could not mother her own children, brought me to Jennifer and Joanna and the other mothers in that group. And their selfless love and generosity blessed me around the time of my first Mother’s Day in a way that I can hardly describe.

Happy, Blessed Mother’s Day to you, Jennifer Frost and Joanna Spotts. I love you both!

Full and Broken, Part Two

I think part of the reason this concept of Full and Broken came to the front of my mind last year related to the changes our family had undergone. We had moved to Winston-Salem just before Christmas in 2014. After six weeks of helping us, my mom had gone home at the end of January. David had begun his new job and was going in to an office daily instead of working at home. We hadn’t found a church yet. Daniel’s adjustment to his new school was rocky at best, and I didn’t know anyone. I was feeling the stress of our situation acutely and struggling to help both of my children get the services and into the therapies they needed. I often felt the pain of my children’s needs and limitations, but was also experiencing the regular joy of their sweet and silly personalities and just the joy of the very existence of our family. I started thinking of this concept a lot, and I began to consider situations where I know other people who are balancing the joys and great pains of life.

I thought of my friend Beth who lived with such abandon, loving her husband and her son fully, laughing hard and often – and who died last summer after a year long fight against cancer. Her husband and son were left behind with utter brokenness of grief yet full of wonderful memories of dear Beth (which do little to relieve the brokenness, at least for now.)

I thought of my friend Dianne who bravely and openly shared on CaringBridge a few years ago as her precious and only son walked through the valley of the shadow of teenage cancer and death. (In fact, it was four years ago last week that Tyler died, and Dianne wrote on Tyler’s website beautifully and instructively about living with her grief. It is worth reading at www.liveliketyler.com.) Her brokenness cannot be denied as anniversaries pass and she courageously shares the pain. But a while back I watched a video with gleeful tears as she opened a birthday gift of a positive pregnancy test announcing she would be a grandmother and I have loved seeing her FaceBook posts about her adorable new little grandson who is cute as a button and hitting his milestones in spite of Down Syndrome. I’m so thrilled for the joy in her life, but I know she carries deep brokenness with her every day.

In September I met Emily Colson (www.emilycolson.com) who has a grown son with autism who drains and challenges her, but who also encourages her with his own joy and enthusiasm. She has written a book about Max (Dancing with Max) and shared a video of Max at church dancing as only Max does while the congregation sang “I can do all things!” Max was singing “I can do all things, three things, a million things!” and his joy was contagious. We have taken up Max’s chant, and often when the phrase “all things” enters our conversation, we call out “three things, a million things!” and we think of Emily and Max on their journey. Emily lives with their struggles and but also with their joys.

Last fall we attended a Sunday School class at our new church on the Compassionate Life, which included much about sharing the griefs of others and being able to share your own. It was often led by a couple of physicians, one an oncologist who shared about caring for people as a doctor when the prognosis is very poor. One week we stepped in a little bit late and one woman was reading from the front a portion of a book she has written about her experience giving birth to a daughter with Down Syndrome who only lived for five months. Two rows in front of me sat a couple who have three children with a progressive metabolic disorder that could take their lives before they reach adulthood. Behind us sat a couple who lost their teenage son to cancer about three years ago. Next to them was a man who lost his wife of many years last Christmas after pancreatic cancer quickly took her life. I was overwhelmed by the pain and brokenness represented in that room and just began to quietly weep. I knew my grief was different, as my dear children are still living, but I felt a kinship with these suffering saints who bear the pain of these losses daily. I know that in very significant ways this is a club I don’t belong to. My children live, breathe, make me laugh and delight me all the time. That joy is lost for these other friends in the daily experience of their lives, and precious memories are met with painful silence and the absence of their dear ones.

When Daniel was around two he attended a summer music therapy class with two other little guys, Pierce and Noah. All three boys have cerebral palsy, but Pierce and Noah were micro-preemies and their families have traveled a terrifying and painful journey as their boys struggled for their very lives in the months after their too-early births. Even in this situation I know my grief is slightly different since Daniel had a much less traumatic start, but I think of their families as most similar to ours in terms of the daily struggles with our little boys. Pierce’s mom recently wrote a blog post that so directly addresses the grief of a parent of a child with special needs. Please read it here. Lindsay is so right – part of the different sort of brokenness that I feel is the repeated nature of the hurt and how it creeps in right in the midst of the most mundane things, like saying “no” to playing on the playground because it is so physically difficult to help my son even marginally enjoy the equipment. And on the days when I feel strong enough to say “yes” I then experience the pangs of other children asking innocently and so directly, “Why can’t he walk?” or perhaps worse, Daniel pre-empting this question by speaking first – “I can’t walk. I have cerebral palsy.” I don’t resent the questions and I want to explain as well as I can so others can understand and see Daniel as another little boy who likes to play, but the need for the interaction is painful and repeatedly breaks my heart.

I am not alone, but as an old gospel song goes, “You must walk this lonesome valley, you’ve got to walk it by yourself. No one else can walk it for you, you’ve got to walk it by yourself.” Many, if not most, people carry some burden of grief, some measure of brokenness, but even in a room full of people who are hurting, each person has their own personal journey. We need to be understood, long to be known, and as compassionate people we reach out to carry one another’s burdens, but even as we do, we know the brokenness in our own life and experience. There is really only one place where we can be fully known, fully understood and fully accepted and that is in the heart and arms of God. He is real. He reaches for us, even before we reach for Him, but as we do, we find in Him a depth of love and joy and pain and brokenheartedness that reflects our own. Amazingly this is true for every person’s situation. He is a God who sees, a God who knows, a God who feels, and a God who understands. He is also a God who heals and a God who carries when healing is still far off. There is no other place to go – no support group, no church, no counselor (though I recommend all of those, for we do surely need one another on this journey!) – where our own unique pain and brokenness can be met and known. There is comfort there, even as waves repeatedly crash over our souls and we go again and again with fresh pain, fresh reminders of loss, fresh brokenness. Friends tire of hearing the same stories, counselors try to help you move past the trauma (which is useful and necessary in time), support group members come and go, but God never tires of receiving his precious children in his arms and hearing their sadness and their joys and offering His supernatural understanding and comfort.

Sometimes it doesn’t seem like enough, and like the frightened little child during a nighttime storm, encouraged by his mother that God loves and cares for him, we respond, “That’s all well and good, but I need someone with skin on!” From time to time I am comforted and encouraged by a friend who listens and really does their best to understand. Often I just long for that understanding and listening ear. Instead of letting that longing turn to loneliness or resentment, I need to remind myself to go to my heavenly Father who has outstretched arms and a fully understanding heart. This is the place of peace. This is the place where fullness and brokenness reside together without seeming like the other doesn’t belong.

 

Full and Broken

I have been considering this post for a long time. For the last year it has been at times on the back burner of my mind, but often front and center. It is something I’ve talked about with others and thought about in many circumstances. My thinking about it has evolved through the year and I’m glad I haven’t had time to actually write it until now. I doubt I can do it justice.

Full. Broken. Two concepts that don’t seem to go together. If something is full, it is not broken. If something is broken, it cannot be full. A broken glass cannot be full of milk. A broken leg cannot be full of strength. A broken boat can be full of water, but then it is not able to fulfill its intended purpose.  A full gallon of milk hasn’t been dropped in the driveway. A full tank of gas hasn’t been drawn upon yet to fuel a car. Anything full is assumed to not be broken. But what about a heart? A full heart is not thought to be broken, though a broken heart can be full of pain. But it doesn’t seem right to say one has both a full heart and a broken heart. Typically when we think of a full heart we think of a satisfied heart – a heart beating with fullness of life, fullness of joy, fullness of satisfaction. How can one have a full heart and a broken heart at the same time?

I have experienced this often over the last few years and I have felt alone in it. To explain, I need to share some of my own story.

From the time I was five years old I wanted to be a mother. When my mother would tuck me into bed at night I would say, “Tell me a story about my little girl!” and she would make up a little story on the spot about sometime in the future when I would be the mommy and I would have a little girl. In my young adulthood I was pursuing four M’s – marriage, motherhood, master’s degree and ministry. Through the sovereignty of God, and through the ungodly control of another, I was not able to move forward on any of these fronts. After years of struggle and prayer, God moved His hand and at the age of 42 I became engaged to be married. My husband-to-be and I talked about children. We thought two biological and two adopted children would be just right, but did not know if this would be possible due to my age. We were thrilled when we became pregnant just a few weeks after our wedding. The circumstances were challenging and our support system of many years had fallen away suddenly and painfully. By the time of our wedding this had been unfolding for a few months and we were exhausted. Two weeks after the confirmation of my pregnancy, I was diagnosed with mononucleosis and the first trimester passed by while I mostly rested on the couch.

We often woke up in the middle of the night and talked and cried about the circumstances we were in – feeling cast out at a time of such great joy for us was difficult to process. We sought a new church family and were lovingly welcomed and embraced by God’s people in another town. We reached the midpoint of the pregnancy and the gender of our baby was determined. With a name secretly on our hearts (separately from one another) for many years, we were not surprised when we learned we were expecting a boy. I struggled during the middle of the pregnancy with genetic counseling that suggested the high probability that our son may have Down Syndrome. We wouldn’t know until he was born, but we took some comfort that if the chances were 1 in 32 of Down Syndrome, then the chances were still 31 in 32 of that not being the case. Just a few weeks before the end of the pregnancy a brain hemorrhage was detected. The pediatric neurologist was optimistic and an early c-section delivery was planned. We were awed when we realized that the birth date was going to be exactly one year from the date we had shared with our then-church family that we were engaged to be married and there had been corporate prayer that God would bless us with a child.

Daniel was delivered at 1:31 p.m. the day after Easter. It was glorious and joyful and scary. He was whisked away after I had a moment to touch and kiss his cheek. Daddy went with him, as did his two grandmothers. I waited alone for the spinal anesthesia to wear off, trying to shake my legs and stay alert and make it happen as quickly as possible. My mother came to be with me shortly before I was taken to be with Daniel and she told me he was really cute. Finally I had thawed out enough to be discharged from recovery and was taken up to the Transitional Nursery where Daniel had undergone an ultrasound of his brain and was hooked up to a number of monitors. He looked great and it was determined he did not need to go to the NICU. He would be able to “room in” with me.

Over the next two days we gazed at him, took turns holding him, shared him with visitors, and just basked in this delightful joy of being blessed with this beautiful, beautiful baby. I will never forget the third day when I finally made it to the shower and there, with the water pouring down all around me, I wept and sobbed from a place in my heart that I had never been. The profound joy and gratitude were deeper and stronger than anything I had felt before and I just sobbed over and over my thanks to my God for this treasure, this living, beautiful, wonderful, precious baby boy. The long wait was infinitely worth it. My heart was full. So, so full.

In the weeks after his birth as we adjusted at home we found things difficult. We did not know how or if Daniel had been affected by the brain bleed, but we were unknowingly already dealing with some of the impact of what would be diagnosed eight months later as cerebral palsy. Regardless of the challenges, we were head over heals in love with our little boy. He was such a delight and once he started responding to us and his personality began to emerge we were repeatedly bathed in the great joy of having him in our lives and being a little family, the three of us.

He is now almost five and I can honestly say that great joy has never subsided. Multiple times every week we talk about what a joy he is to us (and now also his adopted Chinese sister, Hannah), We really delight in the children God has given us. They are so funny, so fun, so sweet. My heart is FULL.

Daniel’s cerebral palsy has been and continues to be a huge challenge for us. His difficulties touch so many areas of his life/our lives and we are regularly overwhelmed with the decisions that we need to make in regard to his needs, various treatment choices, and the ways he requires our help each day. He has made progress, but that progress is so slow. Achieving his milestones has been stretched out so much farther than we ever expected when the optimistic neurologist sent us home from the hospital after Daniel’s brain hemorrhage had been discovered. Daniel first crawled the week of his second birthday. He still needed help sitting up alone for quite some time after that. He still cannot walk or stand alone. He struggles to turn himself over in his bed at night and can’t have covers over him because he gets tangled in them and can’t extricate himself. Daniel has been working at climbing up the stairs for a long time and this evening David timed him – one and a half minutes. Each step is a laborious challenge as he hitches his legs up and scrapes his face across the stair above. How long does it take your five-year old to climb the stairs? It takes my three-year old about 5 seconds if she’s motivated. These things are hard. Very often Dave and I speak to each other about the brokenness in our hearts at the struggles Daniel has. Daniel talks about going outside and running around – which to him means crawling in the grass in circles as fast as he can. It breaks my heart. He can’t ride a regular tricycle. He’s having trouble learning letters and numbers. He has behavior issues that are borne of his frustrations and fears. These things break my heart and have broken it over and over for the better part of five years.

How is it, I kept asking myself, that I am FULL and BROKEN? I am acutely aware of each of these emotions SO OFTEN. The fullness of joy I have at the gift of this precious boy is not diminished by the brokenness I feel over his disabilities, but the brokenness is not relieved by the fullness of joy either. How can this be? At times it is just too much emotion! How does one balance these extremes?

Of course I began to think of God who himself is all joy, all love, all perfection and yet whose heart is broken by the needs and limitations of his children. The Bible tells us that God weeps. He sees and values our tears and pains. Scripture speaks of God bottling up our tears, they are so precious to him. He knows and shares our pains and our joys. There is comfort in this, but it doesn’t diminish the depth and intensity of my feelings. Maybe all it does is help me understand that as a person made in the image of God I have sensitivity of feeling reflecting that of my Maker.

This is obviously going to need to be a two or three part-er … Stay tuned for Part Two!

 

Our Easter Service

We regularly attend Hope Presbyterian Church, but today we went to Harris Den Eclectic Community Service. Three on antibiotics, one recovering from surgery and one fighting a cough, we just weren’t able to make it to the Easter service. However, Easter is important to us, and we really want our kids to learn about the real meaning of Easter. They are at the age where they experience the cultural trappings of Easter – candy, baskets, egg hunts, etc. – but they also are able to start understanding that it is about Jesus and that he rose from the dead and the reason he was dead in the first place was because he took the fall for our sins. So, though we are all unshowered (except for Grammie) and half of us are still in our jammies, I was determined that we were going to have something of an Easter service.

It wasn’t too different from when we attend a service at Hope – our childrens’ distractions, interruptions, needed corrections were just like always! We sang a lot, there was a message, more singing at the end.

We sang along with a YouTube video of “Christ Arose” and I tried to animatedly explain for them what it means – Jesus laid in the grave, waiting for the coming day and he arose! The guards were at the tomb, foolishly thinking they could keep anything from happening, but they couldn’t! He arose!

We sang “Christ the Lord is Risen Today” and the kids pounded on the drums and guitar so loudly we could hardly follow the tune.

Hannah then briefly fought for the “Humpty Dumpty” video advertised on the YouTube screen, but we prevailed and moved on to sing Steven Curtis Chapman’s version of Holy, Holy, Holy and they even sang along a bit. Hurray! (Side note: we sang this last night as we were putting the kids to bed, and afterward Hannah wanted to sing it again. “Sing Hold Me, Hold Me, Hold Me!” she insisted. So sweet – and not so far from the truth after all, is it?)

Then Daniel wanted to give the children’s message. He took one of their play microphones, asked for a book (handy Hancock Fabric’s flyer fit in well here), and then began his message: “I am now going to give the children’s message. The children may be dismissed for Children’s Worship.” Okay, needs a little work on the three points, but he isn’t even five yet, so we’ll let it pass. His message from the other day about  “Once upon a time there was a little puppy …” was thankfully forgotten this morning.

David had been looking for some videos that would present the Biblical Easter account at the children’s level, and now it was time for those – “sermon time”.   “Don’t laugh at this,” he warned me and I wondered what we were in for. A Lego video began and my left eyebrow began a rapid ascent. Quickly my skepticism was dispelled and what followed was a very well done Lego presentation of the account of the Last Supper, the Betrayal, the Crucifixion and the Resurrection. Very good – worth a look if you want to find it on YouTube. The kids were attentive, and I could tell they were actually getting the point because Daniel got scared at the part about the crucifixion. Often we stop a video when he gets scared, but today I wanted him to see it (it wasn’t gory or inappropriate for his age) and I thought it was good that he had some fear about it. If he comprehended the story and had no varying emotions there could be no impact, though I know we are far from full understanding. The second video was actually a series of four brief animated clips from the CEV Children’s Bible – Jesus Life, Ministry, Crucifixion and Resurrection – in an Australian accent. They were somewhat attentive and made me thankful that at Hope they really do go out for Children’s Ministry time. We were clearly pushing the limits of their attention span.

They mostly fought about wanting to use a computer and type through the rest of the service, which consisted of “Special Music” – watching YouTube video “My Redeemer Lives” by Mullen and then singing “I will Rise” (Chris Tomlin) and “Because He Lives/Amen” (Matt Maher). Those last two were more for David’s and my benefit and we sang heartily, when we weren’t correcting the kids.

A couple of other YouTube favorites –  “This is Amazing Grace” (Phil Wickham) and “We Believe” (Newsboys) captured attention as the Postlude.

Then there was the usual squabbling after the service. Yep, pretty much like every Sunday!

ER: The Experience

Earlier this week we had an extended experience in the Emergency Room and I feel compelled to write about it, more to purge it from my psyche than anything else.

Last week I had a laparoscopic procedure and have been recovering fairly well at home but the other evening felt like I was getting warm and discovered I had a slight fever. Hannah and David have been a little sick since I returned home and I figured maybe I had caught what they have. But, I thought I better run it by my surgeon, just in case I was developing a little infection from the surgery. I would definitely want to nip that in the bud if it were the case. I texted him, and he called immediately. He asked me a series of questions, didn’t like a couple of my answers and felt it was extremely important that I go to an emergency room immediately to be assessed. Dave and I got the kids semi-in bed – thank goodness for Grammie who could stay with them while we spent the evening at the ER. We left to their screams of protest and hoped they would settle quickly. (They did.)

We arrived at the ER around 8 p.m. It looked pretty busy – but it was only Tuesday night – how bad could it be? We live in Winston-Salem – not Chicago, not New York, not Los Angeles (Code Black, anyone?), not even Charlotte. It isn’t that big a city – but it seemed like there were a lot of people sitting around. We were shuttled through Triage within 15 minutes and sent over to the main waiting area. Surely these were “extra family members” waiting for people who were already back in the ER, Dave suggested hopefully. We sat down – I looked through the catalogs I had brought and tossed them over on an end table – after tearing off our address. You can’t be too careful these days, you know. I pulled out my Kindle and started reading. I was actually reading a John Grisham novel! I haven’t read a whole book in a long, long time. Convalescing has it’s perks! Maybe this wasn’t so bad. After about 45 minutes or so someone called my name. See! This wasn’t going to be so bad. He led us to a desk and proceeded to register us in the computer – for billing purposes. Thank you, he said. Go on back to the waiting room.

Oh. Okay.

We went back. Our original seats were available, but had been slightly drafty, so I asked David if we could move a few seats over. We did. Some newcomers had arrived. They were very large and the odor in our section of the waiting room was becoming a bit … earthy. We waited. We played each other in some games on our cell phones. I read on my Kindle. It was around then I began to notice that the cross-section of humanity represented in that room was not a group I typically hang out with. I was a little uncomfortable. But, I’m a Christian – I can be patient and tolerant, right? I can be mature about this. After an hour or so my name was called again. “I’m taking you to Fast Track,” the man said. “Follow me.” We did. Fast track, eh? That sounded good! That must be where they take people who aren’t that sick and won’t take much time. We were put in our Fast Track room and about a half-hour later a Physician’s Assistant came in. He explained that Fast Track was sort of a second level of Triage where someone could take a look at us, order blood work and urine cultures and then by the time we got to the REAL ER, those results would be back and the doctor could handle things a bit more directly. He pushed on my tummy. It hurt and he didn’t like that it hurt as much as it did. Hmm. He’d want them to order a CT once we were back in the real ER. Another guy came in to draw my blood. With a thyroid condition I’ve had my blood drawn fairly often over the years and it rarely hurts. This guy did NOT have a minimal pain approach to needle sticks. Wow! Worst blood draw in years. Owie. Okay, that’s over – back to the waiting room.

It was now approaching 11 p.m. And we were starting to realize this could go on all night. But surely not. At least the blood work was behind us. We pulled out our chargers, found an outlet behind our chairs and started charging up our electronics. I glanced around again. I felt so out of place. There was a nice older couple waiting quietly. Nicely dressed. There was the woman with the weird colored dyed hair slumped in the wheelchair and her tattooed biker-dude partner trying to sleep in the chair next to her. There was an athletic looking black guy trying to sleep across corner chairs. Didn’t look very comfortable, but I was impressed by his flexibility and balance. Down the row from us were some very worn looking old women – maybe they weren’t really all that old but the hardness of life had not been kind to them. They hacked and spoke in gravelly voices that suggested much cigarette smoke had passed through their lungs in the last 50 years. There was the youngish woman sitting alone in the wheelchair. She was vocal and sort of silly – in the way that made me think she had probably had some drugs earlier, but not the kind distributed in the ER if you get my drift. She called out to the neat older couple, “Hey did you just come from church? (Giggle.) You look like you just came from church! What are you wearing?” She asks the man. “Are those tights?!” His wife quietly answers, “Those are stockings.”  The young woman turns her attention to others. I am disturbed by my feelings – what am I doing here with these people? I feel superior to them. My beliefs start causing a moral quandry in my head. I am pro-life. I believe in the inherent value of every human soul. I believe that God loves every person equally, for we are all his created children. I cannot be better than any one of these other people. I am dressed better than most of them – hmm, okay, maybe not – I’ve had these sweatpants since college, I think. But my slippers and fleece jacket are from L.L.Bean (course I’m a Mainer (pronounced Main-ah), before we left Maine half my wardrobe was from L.L.Bean ) and between David and me we have enough electronics in our possession to cover the rent for one of these people for the month. How do I make sense of this? In the eyes of God each person in the ER is precious. Why do I have so much more? God doesn’t love me more. I am not more special to him in terms of inherent worth. If I just say, “Well, I am very blessed” does that mean that some of these other people aren’t blessed? If I say “I have made better choices” then I somehow put myself above them again and consider my preferences superior. Do these other people have the life they want and I have the life I want so it’s all good? I don’t know. I’m not getting answers to my spiritual questions, so I just pray for forgiveness for a judgmental spirit and ask God to help me love and value these other people. I find it interesting that in the ER the playing field is pretty leveled – if you’re gushing blood or are brought in via ambulance you get seen first. Otherwise, whether you have a migraine, appendicitis, blurred vision from a possible brain tumor (or so your eye doctor might have said earlier), or you are just trying to be sure you don’t have a post-operative infection, you get treated when they get to you. And it might be a long time. But being old or young or wealthy or poor or well educated or a high school drop out it doesn’t matter – it’s first come first served here, Baby.

Midnight is approaching and we get a little comic relief as the two college students across the room describe for a friend on Skype what brought them to the ER this evening. The one has the dental impression of the other embedded in his scalp, and the other has one of his teeth in a cup of milk, since someone told him that was a good way to preserve it. Who knew? I make a mental note in case I ever get a tooth knocked out.

I try snoozing on David’s shoulder. We are both quite cold. David gets up to walk around a bit to try to warm up. I try the athletic black guy’s technique trying to use the corner chair to put my feet up and try to semi recline. It doesn’t work very well for me. Finally someone calls my name and Dave and I follow that person to the REAL ER. I feel special. I feel like I have finally been chosen! Somehow I have earned a spot over where everyone wants to be! Yay! I have made it! We settle in to curtained off area 7A, which will be our spot for who knows how long. Dave chooses to stand instead of sit in the folding metal chair reserved for him. It does have a padded seat and eventually he will sit there for a while. I feel bad for him and invite him to join me on the stretcher. It may be only one person wide (and I am seriously thankful for that rail to keep me from falling off), but I am sure we could somehow fit on there. At least he’d be able to recline for a little while. He shakes his head and declines my offer. What a realist, that one.

Finally around 2 a.m. someone tells me that they’ve ordered a CT scan with contrast, but I’m bordering on dehydration so I have to drink a cup of water. Someone comes to start an IV. Dang! Another bad stick-er! What’s with this night shift crew, anyway? Do all the skilled phlebotomists get the day shift? Four sticks in the same spot in the last week have made that arm a little sensitive anyway. (The other arm has oddly placed veins that are hard to get to.) Somewhere in there I fall asleep for about 45 minutes. Finally Dave decides he needs to go to the car to try to get warm and to try to sleep. We obviously aren’t going anywhere anytime soon. He leaves and I wait. I read. I listen to what is going on around me. I observe. I don’t like it. It feels like a prison ER. Doesn’t feel crisp, clean, pristine. Anything but. The curtains are stained. The floors are dirty. The equipment looks well used. Finally the lady who made me drink the water comes back and wheels me down the hall to CT. It is obviously busy – I heard the guy two beds down get diagnosed with appendicitis after his trip to the CT scanner. The lady next to me with the possible brain tumor is maybe in one of the CT rooms now. One room opens up and they wheel one person out and wheel me in. I am instructed that this is all going to be super easy and I just need to shift myself from my stretcher to the CT scanning table. Hmm – I’m like a turtle on its back and I do the “I’ve-got-four-incisions-in-my-tummy shuffle” over to the other bed. They tell me they are going to put the contrast agent in my IV and that I am going to feel warm and to tell them when I feel the warm sensation. Yup, I feel it – especially in my bladder which is extremely full and I think I am probably going to wet my pants. Ugh. I don’t like this feeling and I want to cry. I wish David hadn’t gone to the car. The technicians are very nice and the study is done very quickly. I am told to choose whether I want to scoot myself back over to the stretcher or stand up and transfer, but suddenly the water lady rushes in and says to get me over there quick. A trauma is coming in. Oh! I do my shuffle as fast as I can and the man wheels me out asking everyone he passes what kind of trauma is coming in. Most people ignore him, but one lady answers “GSW”. Hmm. GSW. I wonder what … oh! Gun Shot Wound! Things are getting interesting! Back I go to 7A, but on the way I notice a bunch of paramedics, stretchers, policemen and I am glad to get back behind my curtain.

There I stay. I try to snooze. I read. I hear screaming. Loud agonized screaming. Did the GSW die? Is this the screaming of losing a loved one? Or is this the screaming of someone in pain? Is someone angry? Suddenly I don’t feel safe and fear retaliation and really wish David were not off in the car. The screaming stops and I try to be patient. THREE HOURS LATER someone comes and tells me that my CT is fine and I can go home. I don’t have an infection.Finally someone comes to take out my IV, which I have seriously considered doing myself so I can just go.  I am dazed. I am exhausted. I head for the door and some lady catches me and says come over here to discharge please. Huh? I thought I just got discharged in there? Out here discharged is a fancy word for “Pay your $200 ER co-pay.” Ugh. I get outside and wait for David. He hasn’t slept well either. We drive home, both frustrated and exhausted. Over breakfast I tell him, “It’s gonna take a knife wound to the chest for me to ever go back to that ER.”

I am wrong. All it takes is a doctor calling on the phone saying, “A supervising radiologist read your CT scan this morning and found some abnormal lesions on your spleen. It may be nothing, but I need you to come back to the ER for an ultrasound.” I politely don’t tell him he must be out of his freaking mind to tell me to come back there. I ask what other options I might have. He tells me none that would produce a rapid answer to their questions. I call my doctor’s office and ask for a call back. Can she work some magic so that this can be done someplace else? No. She can’t. We drive back to the ER, grumpy and defensive. The doctor had told me that he would let the charge nurse know that I had been “recalled” and was just there for an ultrasound. We are prepared to storm in there and make it absolutely clear that under NO circumstances were we going to wait in that waiting room for another five hours before going for the ultrasound. Thankfully the doctor was true to his word and they were expecting us. We were taken right back to the real ER, this time to bed 7B. The ultrasound order has been placed. Someone should be coming shortly to take me for this quick test. After about an hour someone does come and says this will be very quick. I leave David with all of my stuff – purse, cell phone, Kindle, fleece – and tell him to get on the bed and sleep while I am gone. The very nice transport guy stops to get me a blanket from the warmer and I want to hug him. Off we go, and it is very far away. It probably took a good ten minutes to wheel me to wherever and on the way we passed many other transport type workers. It is apparently a special day, and they are being treated to a Chick-Fil-A lunch. That’s nice, I think. I’m sure they deserve it. He drops me off somewhere and after a little while someone comes to do the ultrasound. “This will be very quick,” she tells me, “since I am only looking at one organ.” Good, I think. We can soon be on our way home in time for David to go pick up Daniel at school at 12:30. She does the ultrasound and it is not quick. She scans and scans and scans. She goes to ask the radiologist if they have all they need. She comes back, cleans me up and gets me another warm blanket. That’s so nice and it feels really good. She takes me back to where the other guy dropped me off and signs a notebook. “Someone will be along shortly to take you back to the ER. Have a good day!” she says. I notice it is about 11:45. Dave will need to leave by 12:10 to get to the school in time to get Daniel. I wait until about 11:50. Transport staff come and go – they chat and discuss the Chick-Fil-A lunch. They joke. They occasionally move someone. One of them comes and sits right behind me. Finally I ask one of them if she is going back to the ER. She says no, but someone will be along soon. NO! I say, “My husband has to leave to go get my son and he has all of my stuff back at the ER. I need to get back to the ER!” She says she’ll check into it. She asks someone at the desk and comes back and tells me someone will be along soon. I’m on the list.

I am starting to lose it. The lady beside me really starts to lose it and the sound of her vomiting is pushing me over the edge. I struggle not to join her. It is now after Twelve and I know David has to leave any minute, but I have no way to contact him. I decide to take things into my own hands, hoping to stir up enough trouble that someone will take me back to the ER. I start wheeling the wheelchair myself. I make it past our holding area and hear a voice call out behind me, “Can I help you?” “Yes, please tell me how to get to the ER.” She tells me that I am not allowed to go there myself and I must wait for transport, and if I try to go any further myself she will call security. I consider this option – “Will they take me to the ER?” I ask. She tells me no. I do not try to keep going because truthfully, I have no idea where I am or which way I need to go to get towards the ER. I sit there and I start to cry. I feel like I am being held prisoner. I am kept from my husband. He is going to have to leave before I can get back to the ER. I don’t feel safe there and he will have to take my stuff with him and I will have no means of contacting him. I am wheeled back over toward the holding area and I beg to not be left next to the poor lady throwing up. The prison guard tells me that I will be next and someone will be along very soon. I am so mad at this point. I have been lied to for the last 45 minutes about someone going to be “right along”. I can’t do anything. I can’t go anywhere. I just start bawling and I can’t stop. Someone comes along who really is going to take me back to the ER and asks if I am okay. I bawl that no I am not and she tries to comfort me that they will make me feel better soon. All I can do is cry and wipe my nose on my previously warm blanket. She drops me off back at 7B and I see that David has left my purse on the stretcher wrapped in my jacket. It was a daring move as nothing felt safe at that point, but I was so glad it was there. I got myself up on the bed and grabbed my phone where I saw his texts about having to leave and to let him know when I had been reunited with my phone. I texted him and then just sat there on the bed and cried and cried like a baby. I was spent. Exhausted, scared, manipulated, lied to. I had to get out of there! Shortly the doctor who had called me to come back in that morning came in. He told me the ultrasound looked great. I have hemangiomas on my spleen and these are probably benign, but I should have another ultrasound in 3-6 months to be sure they aren’t progressing or getting really big. He tells me that  I can go and someone will come soon to give me my discharge papers. Someone does. She is very young and doesn’t seem to know much about medical terms or the documents she is giving me. She tells me to be sure to check in with my gerontologist and I catch my breath, about to laugh at her. My general practitioner does specialize in gerontology, but not all of her patients are elderly. I know it is just a mistake, but it seemed a hilarious insult to top everything off.

I stumbled out of the ER. I knew David wouldn’t be back for a good 45 minutes, but I could not stay there another minute. I started walking, heading toward sunshine. I didn’t know which direction I was going or where I could find a bench or something to sit on to wait for David. I was shuffling along, my abdomen sore from my surgery and my head a little woozy from fatigue. I realized I must look a sight – unshowered, old sweatpants, a long old hooded sweatshirt of David’s, my slippers. I kept looking over my shoulder afraid someone from the hospital would think I had escaped and try to get me back there. I got oriented and began shuffling down a street toward David’s former office building where I knew there was a gazebo outside where I would ask him to come meet me. Some professional folks came out to eat their lunch in the gazebo and I was afraid they would try to shoo off the riffraff – me. How strange this all was. I had gone from feeling like the superior one in the ER the night before to feeling like I was a homeless character hunkering in the gazebo hoping to not be kicked out by the professionals. What a miserable study in the human condition this had been. I had failed the test, whatever it was. I was weak, scared, lonely, hurting, so tired.

What really does separate us as people? One lost night of sleep, a challenging set of circumstances, a surgical procedure, a missed shower – and I felt as low as those I had been sizing up the evening before. I still don’t have answers. Maybe these sorts of questions are borne more out of pain medication than anything else but really – we are just weak, needy people, sitting and crying in our lostness and need. Our props often work to keep us up and looking good, but take a few of them away and it can crumble pretty fast. We’re coming up on Easter weekend. I don’t know if I am going to be strong enough to go to the church service, but I am weak enough to be thinking about how much I need Jesus and how grateful I am that he died for me and rose for me! Hallelujah! God loves me. I am just one person, but each person has inestimable worth because God made each of us, and I am special to him. I’ll move beyond this crazy experience, but I can be a little changed by it in a good way. I might see it all with clearer eyes when I’ve had more sleep and the drugs have cleared my system.

If you read this whole thing you should get a prize. You won’t, but you should.

This entry was posted on March 25, 2016. 1 Comment

Attachment and Pancakes

In adoption circles, attachment is a big word. It is an important word; a weighty word. Numerous books have been written on the topic, and as one prepares to adopt, one reads several of them. In some ways the concept of attachment is how the success of your adoption is measured. How, when, to what depth do you as a parent attach to your newly adopted child and he or she to you? Some of these children have been through so much and by the time they land in their forever family (a family they often had no part in choosing) the process of attachment is very difficult, rocky, painful, so very tender that the risk may be too great for some of these young ones, often older adoptees, and they resort to emotional and behavioral defenses they learned in their earlier years. Most people have heard stories of failed adoptions and some never dare to venture down the road of adoption for fear of never achieving attachment or suffering greatly at the hand and heart of a desperately hurting child. It is serious business.

My focus in this post is not on the very serious attachment challenges that some people face. Rather, it is on the range of “normal” that can still cause a great deal of mental consternation for parents who are exploring their own expectations (met or unmet) and trying to sort out behaviours and expressions on the part of their new child(ren) and wondering if everyone is doing “okay”.

This summer we attended a gathering of families who have adopted children from the same orphanage where our daughter spent her first sixteen months. It was a fun time. Seeing the development of the other children (ours were the youngest) and the dynamics of the other families was interesting and encouraging. One of the other mothers and I chatted for a while about how we are progressing in our relationships with our adopted children. From outward appearances things are looking pretty good. Our kids look healthy and happy. Our families appear to be functioning well. But as moms, we both have these niggling feelings that the attachment wasn’t all we had hoped or expected and we are having some personality conflicts with our little ones. We both have struggled with self-doubt and self-criticism. We each have other children with whom there are not any real attachment issues. It was an honest and open conversation – we could understand each others angst and efforts. There was no real resolution to the conversation. Neither of us had answers for the other, just encouragement to keep on keeping on.

I was still pondering the conversation the next morning as I mixed up a batch of pancakes for our family breakfast. Have you tried the Ultimate Pancake recipe on the back of the Bisquick box? It’s gooooood! Sometime in the last few years I decided to read the small print beneath the Classic Pancake recipe and one Saturday gave it a try. My husband complimented me on those “REALLY good pancakes!” and we pretty much never looked back. We’ve tried some variations – use a discount store mix but follow the Bisquick recipe. Nope. Try the Classic recipe, but mix in some banana and chocolate chips. Nope. Then a couple of months ago I remembered to bring the Bisquick on a weekend trip, but forgot the other ingredients, not to mention our electric skillet. Big Nope. But you know, each time we did some variation or another, we still ate all the pancakes. Maybe they weren’t the ULTIMATE, but they were still good. We still enjoyed our family pancake breakfast. My family members still had satisfied bellies.

And then it occurred to me. Those of us as parents in adoptive families may be setting an ULTIMATE standard of attachment for ourselves when Classic is really very acceptable. Bananas and chocolate chips in an average pancake mix? Still good. Still filling. Still provides a nice family breakfast on a Saturday morning. Our attachments may well be within an acceptable relationship range, far from a referral to human services; far, far from a failed adoption; but just not hitting the sweet spot that we all want. There is a lot of pressure on mothers today to provide their families all organic, no sugar, all natural everything from dried fruit to dish soap to dryer sheets. Guess what – we can do without the pressure. We are trying our best. We are loving our family members and wrestling with ourselves when we seem to have “lost that lovin’ feeling” or the feeling is slow to come as we are acclimating to a new family composition. There is a wide range of completely acceptable attachment experiences, but if we will not be satisfied except with the Ultimate recipe, we are just adding to the pressure we already face. Who needs that? If I expect the same feelings or experiences with my two children I am failing to 1) give grace to myself and my children and 2) account for the variation in personality, life experience, gender, daily ups and downs that routinely affect familial relationships. In fact, if I dare to discuss it with parents of multiple biological children, I may find that they report the same things. They are closer to child B than to child A, except in the Spring when child B’s allergies are bad and they are extra cranky. Or child C’s personality isn’t like anyone else in the family, and they march to the beat of their own drum and they feel somewhat detached from each other. It isn’t only an adoptive family matter.

Some of the angst we feel as adoptive moms who haven’t had the hoped-for instant bonding is self-imposed pressure from expectations that were more about dreams than reality. More about believing that good isn’t good enough and tensions in the adjustment process are unhealthy or indicators that something is wrong. Now, I am no expert in attachment disorders, and I do not mean to indicate that significant attachment challenges are not serious. They are, and if that is the experience of an adoptive family, they should without apology seek help that is available. But for those of us who just have a lot of anxiety and self-doubt in the normal process of adjustment to a new family structure and getting to know and love the new little stranger(s) who now call you Mom and Dad, there is flexibility. It is hard to ride the waves of this adjustment process, but it is not unnatural or unexpected. It is normal and there is an acceptable range of normal. There is grace for yourself and your little ones. This is good. It’s okay.

 

Memorial Day

Yes, I know. You’re thinking, “She mixed those two up again.” But, no, this really is a post about Memorial Day. I’ve been trying to find time to write it for over three months now and finally I started telling myself this post HAD to be written by Labor Day. Now with about four hours left to make that happen, by gum, I’m writing it.

Memorial Day – the holiday when we reflect upon and give thanks for those who have paid the ultimate price in their defense of our nation. It is a poignant day and most of us are touched in some way if we take the time to consider the purpose of the holiday. Often that doesn’t happen. In our society currently it is usually a day for cook outs, games, family gatherings, and a much appreciated long weekend.

This past Memorial Day we had a really lovely weekend. Dave’s sister, Deborah, came from Tennessee for a visit. We had a really nice time and the kids loved their time with Auntie Deborah. We also had a special visit from dear friends who were in our travel group in China and we got our daughters from the same orphanage in a hotel conference room at essentially the same moment. It was precious to visit with them for a few hours and to see how the girls have grown and to share about our experiences over the last year since we returned to the States with new additions to our families.

On Memorial Day itself, Auntie Deborah needed to leave shortly after lunch to make her seven hour drive back home. We planned to have a picnic at a location that would be on her way and then she would start her drive. We decided to go to Pilot Mountain, a bit north of us on the highway Deborah would need to travel heading out of town. Being new to the area, we didn’t know that many other people would also be planning to go to Pilot Mountain on Memorial Day and we found ourselves in a long car line part way up the mountain. We weren’t going anywhere quickly, and we were all cognizant of the long drive Deborah had ahead of her. The kids were getting hungry and we needed to make a change to our plan. We decided to turn around and go back down the mountain and then continue up the highway a short distance (surely it would be a short distance) until we found a nice picnic spot. There had to be something just up the way a bit.

We drove for a while and finally decided we just needed to take the next exit and find some place to eat. Any place. You all know how children get when they are hungry, right? This was becoming a minor crisis. So, we drove on. Suddenly we came upon a cemetery next to a church. Once, years ago, we ended up having a picnic in a cemetery when the group we were in had to abort their original plan – also because the crowds at the planned destination left no parking area for our group. David and I looked at each other – were we really going to do this again?
We pulled into the parking lot of the church and noticed a large tree off in the midst of the cemetery casting lovely shade in an area large enough for a picnic blanket. It was really an idyllic spot! It was a hot day and the shade was keeping the area nice and cool. We spread our picnic blanket and divided up the food. It was messy and complicated, but we had fun!

We had hoped for the children to enjoy our last moments with Auntie Deborah, and little did we know how perfect this location would be.  Daniel had been asking all morning if there would be swings at the “park” and had been very disappointed when we turned away from Pilot Mountain with no swings in sight. The little church had a play area in the back yard and the children got to swing and climb and slide.  We were right next to a landing strip and several small airplanes landed while we were there eating. As we ate, we took note of the various headstones surrounding us. Some had similar last names, and you could read a little bit of family history from the information on the stones. Some represented children who had died very young. Others represented people who died serving their country in conflicts past. That’s when it hit me – this is Memorial Day! How amazing that we find ourselves in a cemetery having our little picnic and enjoying our family time! It was both funny and nostalgic. We really had such a lovely time that our messed up plan to go to Pilot Mountain now didn’t matter at all. We ended up divinely directed to a better plan – a relaxing and enjoyable plan. We wrapped up our picnic and Auntie Deborah headed on her way so she could get home before too late. We played with the children in the church’s play area, watched another plane or two land, and then got everyone back in the car to head home (and to dreamland for naps, we hoped!)

We pulled out of the church driveway and found we had to go a little in one direction before we could turn around – and guess what we saw! A parking area for large equipment. Oh my – Daniel was in his glory. I don’t know if he knew it wasn’t what we had planned for the day, but he was very excited at being able to see these big trucks and dozers and diggers up close. I was actually really thrilled with our changed plans. We had a nice time with Auntie Deborah, our tummies were full, and our children were enjoying themselves. What a special day. Even if it did take me three months to write the story. 

I’m not sure we’ll top that tomorrow for Labor Day, but I’ll let you know if we do.

This entry was posted on September 7, 2015. 1 Comment

When She Cries for Mommy in the Night

Like all children, Hannah sometimes wakes up in the night crying for Mommy or Daddy. She usually is comforted by a few minutes of holding and rocking and then goes back to sleep and is content the rest of the night. A few weeks ago, Hannah woke up crying, “Mommy! …  Mommy! …  Mommy!” I went in and picked her up and tried to settle her, but this time was different. She was sobbing, and just kept on calling for Mommy for quite a while as I rocked her and tried to comfort her. It was such a deep, soulful cry, and it occurred to me that it seemed she wasn’t crying for me, but for her biological mother. It seemed that she was weeping over her abandonment and her lost-ness as a tiny baby left behind by the one who had carried her for nine months, then held her and cared for her for a few days. I can’t say I fully understand this – but we know our brains record our memories and we are affected by things that happen in our earliest days and even during the time we are in utero. What more vulnerable time do we all experience than those very earliest of days when we can’t do anything at all and our survival and security is completely dependent on others? How long does it take to know the arms of one’s parents? I think of when Daniel was born and how much David and I held him and cuddled him and rocked him and cooed over him. What an environment of security and love. It doesn’t take long to feel safe in that, if you’ve just been expelled from your watery wonderland and you’re adjusting to all of this light and noise in your new world. If you’re held and loved for 48, or 72, or 96 hours, and then you are left alone and found by a stranger and taken to a police station and enrolled at the foundling’s home, don’t you notice that what you had for those first days is gone? Deep down in your heart of hearts, or the depths of your memory, don’t you grieve the loss? I think so. And I think Hannah was experiencing that grief that night a few weeks ago.

As I have rocked Hannah before bed in recent days, she has been so full of her emerging personality. She is a hoot. Her expressions, her chatter, the way she moves her body – she is quite a depth of mystery, and she is a complex little person. She is really beginning to impress and amaze me. She is so intelligent, so skillful and adept in her physical functioning, so very funny in her humor, so feminine in her choices of bows and clothes but so much like a bull in a china shop in her independence and determination. She is strong. She is cute and tiny. She is tricky and a tease. And she makes me wonder about her biological mother.

On Mother’s Day, as I was putting Hannah to bed, my thoughts went to this other woman on the other side of the world. I thought of all that she is missing, and how much delight she would take in knowing what Hannah is like. I wondered if she is sad, or relieved, or distracted. Then I started wondering about what she must be like! She must be beautiful, and strong, and graceful, and very smart. She must be strong willed and capable. I wondered if maybe she is a gymnast or a ballet dancer or something else really physical, because Hannah has an amazing body. Earlier today she was rolling around on a basketball, hips atop the ball, legs extended, hands on the floor moving herself around, and she was balancing! I was impressed.

Maybe this other woman is a chemist or an engineer – Hannah is so bright and has amazing problem solving skills. Her emerging language is pretty complex, not baby-ish.

It is so easy to wonder. And most likely we will never know who this woman is or what she is like. But we will know her off-spring, and by an amazing work of God we are deeply privileged to have little Hannah YaLing in our home and in our family. I am amazed by what God has given me in these two little children who cry out for Mommy in the night, and I leap out of bed and quickly go to them. Lately we have been having such a hard time – sick and stressed and at a loss as to how best to care for and provide for their needs. Our weakness is profound right now and our lack of wisdom is troubling at times. God has blessed us inexpressibly with these two dear ones and has challenged us to the breaking point as of late. We can only cast ourselves back upon Him and plead for His wisdom, and His forgiveness, and more of His amazing grace. And we drop into bed, having received only just enough for the day. He hears our soulful cries in the night, and somehow there is more strength and more grace the next day, even when it seems we are fully depleted.

This entry was posted on May 22, 2015. 1 Comment