Benediction

BCI sat in the drab airport, swiveling my head from side to side, checking my phone for texts every 30 seconds or so, trying to breathe deeply and relax. I wanted to see him first. We had had months apart, and then a 2-day visit that stirred all our grief. Then, two weeks of mostly silence as far as he knew; for me, two weeks of desperate advocating with those who, humanly speaking, held his future in their hands. Finally, there I sat, and then stood, and then sat again, looking for him.

I saw him a moment before he saw me, before his cousin pointed in my direction. Whatever happened in that moment is lost, because the next moment he saw me, and he ran to me. There was my boy. His backpack was bigger than he was, bouncing all over the place as he ran across that cold tile, past those lines of people coming and going, and wrapped his arms around me as I knelt to hold him tight. Have I ever been so certain or so scared as at that moment? Who was I, that a sad, scared boy would run to me for safety? What would it mean, to take my new son back home forever? What about the baggage that was bigger than he was? What about my own? I needed a benediction, an utterance, a blessing, something to help me get my bearings in this new life.

I needed the joy and ache of the last time Papa called me by my name. We were walking through his yard, talking about the weather, the lake, the plants, and those blasted tumors on his right arm about which “they” weren’t doing enough, he said. He was dying. We all knew it, and we had told him. He faced it bravely when he grasped it, and then the dementia took that knowledge away, a strange and twisted gift for his last days. All of that ached as I stepped ahead for a moment, looking down at the grass, for some odd reason noting the spongey feel of it under my foot. Papa wanted to tell me something, but my back was to him. Then he said it: “Leanne.” I wish I had a picture of my face at that moment. Papa had called me by my name. I think I must have been about 5 years old as I turned toward him. He hadn’t called me by my name in a long time. He knew who we all were that summer, but often fell into frustration referring to anyone who wasn’t present, sighing and saying, “Your mother…” and pausing for us to fill in the blank of that person’s name. But in that moment, he didn’t just know who I was. He knew my name, and he spoke in the voice I had heard since before I was born. In that moment he was the man who taught me how to fish, the one who really believed I could be an astronaut. He was the one who lent me money when it grieved me to ask, somehow in a way that reminded me who I was again – someone he believed in, someone he loved and protected, someone worth loving and protecting. There would come a time in the following months when I cried out to God, “I don’t know how to live in a world with no Papa in it!” But in this moment, a kind and strong man called my name with gentleness, and somehow that was enough. Even in the moment, my heart lifted up with joy and I thought, “Oh, a benediction!”

That uttering of my name held 40 years of loving and being loved. I didn’t expect it just then, but it washed over me and lifted me up when I was exhausted and spent – and it came from a dying man. It was like another time of grieving, 14 years earlier. Papa’s wife, my Nana, had died. Somehow God had put it in my heart to speak at her funeral. I spoke about her chicken soup, and other less pleasant remedies she used to take care of us. I spoke about how she knew us, each of us, in ways that were uncanny and sometimes annoying. I watched their faces as I spoke, and I knew that Someone much larger and more gracious than I was speaking. I saw the wonder, and felt it, as we laughed in the middle of our loss. And then it was time to sit down. I said, “Amen,” and walked down the steps to the front pew. I barely knew what had happened, and had just started to wonder at it, when my brother put his arm around me. “That was the best speech I ever heard in my life.” My brother said that. Did I know, until that moment, how much I wanted him to think well of me? Did I know, until that moment, how much he loved me? I don’t think I did. He spoke the benediction to my eulogy, though I was the only one who heard it.

I don’t know what benediction may or may not have been spoken in the dreary airport that day last October. I’m not sure if what I’m about to write actually happened, or if I whispered it in my head. Somehow, the girl Papa called, “Leanne,” the woman Travis held at Nana’s funeral, took the hand of a little boy in an airport, and said, “C’mon, let’s go home.” Amen.

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Filed under Adoption, Being Sam, Family, Struggle

A Long and Winding Road

My friend, Linda, has written a beautiful and tender book:

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Release Date: July 1st, 2014

from Anaiah Press

Add it on Goodreads

Buy Links: B&N | Kobo | iTunes | Amazon | GooglePlay

Review:

When I received my copy of Linda Brendle’s new book, A Long and Winding Road: A Caregiver’s Tale of Life, Love, and Chaos, I rejoiced, and I hesitated. I knew it would be good. I read Linda’s blog all the time, and she has been a friend and encourager to me since 2006, the year before the 7-week road trip chronicled in her book.

So why the hesitation? It was because I knew this story would be so much more than a travelogue. It would be both balm and challenge. There would be tears, maybe sobs, along the way. It would engage my heart in ways that would be painful, yet healing. I would laugh out loud…and then sigh. All those things were true. Linda has gently and skillfully told the story of her life and the ones she loves, and along the way she has written for every weary and uncertain heart that comes across her words.

This book will, perhaps, appeal first to caregivers, who walk alongside aging parents or family members with special needs, battling exhaustion and second-guessing themselves. If that’s you or someone you love, please let me tell you: Linda gets it. Early in the book you’ll find a few italicized sentences that echo the hearts of every caregiver I’ve ever met. Buy the book for those sentences alone, and then go on the journey with Linda and her family. I think you will remember the beginnings of your own journey, and the love that helps you put one foot in front of the other on the darkest and brightest of days.

Here’s the thing, though: this book is for everyone. I would recommend it if you are:

  • Married
  • Single
  • Divorced
  • A parent of an adult child
  • An adult child
  • Codependent
  • Wondering what “codependent” means
  • Someone who struggles with mental illness
  • Someone who loves someone who struggles with mental illness
  • Someone who knows your way around gray and black tanks, and 30- and 50- amp hookups.
  • Struggling to make sense of how the way you grew up keeps affecting you today

Yep, pretty much everybody.

My favorite thing about this book is the way Linda is both honest and honoring with her parents’ and other loved ones’ stories. She writes about real people: flawed and wonderful, broken and delightful, foolish and wise, weak and powerful, and she does it in a way that is winsome and tender. This is not a book of cliches or blame or too-easy spiritualizing. It’s a book by a woman who has experienced the wonder of knowing and being known, loving and being loved, no matter what that looks, feels, or even smells like.

My hope for you is that you don’t hesitate, but that you pull up a chair under the awning and savor every moment. May God bless you as you do.

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Synopsis:

Sometimes reality really bites. Alzheimer’s has wrapped Mom’s brain into knots, vascular dementia has attacked Dad, and, instead of carefree retirees, we have become caregivers. Regardless, dreams die hard, and we somehow stumbled into the purchase of a forty-foot motor home. That’s when all four of us set out on this seven-week trek across sixteen U.S. states. Now, Dad stopped-up the toilet again, Mom wet her last pair of clean jeans, and David just announced that he was hungry. My head is beginning to pound, and I know this isn’t going to be the easygoing retirement we’d imagined for ourselves.

Linda Brendle takes you on a roller-coaster ride of emotional and spiritual challenges that many families are facing right now. Co-dependency, mental breakdowns, and finding love after divorce are just a few of the issues weaved into this journey of caregiving. Whether you’re looking for an inspirational story to help teach you how to “let go and let God,” considering becoming the caregiver for one of your own parents, or are just looking for an entertaining travel book, this story is sure to strike a tender nerve.

About the Author:

Head Shot 1 (editor's favorite) photo credit--ConstanceAshley.com

After 15 years as a family caregiver, Linda began writing to encourage, inspire and amuse other caregivers. She loves to travel and since retiring has traveled mostly by motorcycle and RV. She and her husband live in a small East Texas town where she gardens, writes and attends church.

Author Links:

Author Website | Twitter | Facebook | Goodreads

 

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Good-Bye to My Second Daddy

I was a mess in college. I was away from home for the first time, reeling from my parents’ divorce, and very new to my faith in Christ. My first roommate’s family gave me a home and family away from home. Adoption_certificateI probably needed to know I was “officially accepted” more in those few years than in any time since.

Today I’m grieving with that adopted family and saying good-bye to the man who became my second “Daddy.” I think the day I will remember most is the one in which I went to the bank to deal with a bounced check, and, in my distress about being broke, locked my keys in my car. It was freezing cold that day, at least to a Florida girl. This was before cell phones, so I slunk back into the bank and called Mr. Mizelle. He happened to be home — just about a mile away — and he came to rescue me in just a few minutes. I remember that I expected him to be exasperated, but as I told him about bouncing the check and then locking my keys in the car, I started to cry, and he just smiled and hugged me. Even in the moment, I realized that he really did love me, and that helped me be a little bit less of a mess.

Bill_MizelleI’ll remember him listening to talk radio and arguing over the Sunday talk shows. I’ll remember his ball cap and chewing tobacco and East Virginia way of talking. I’ll remember visiting his office in the Coliseum and learning more about peanuts than I knew there was to learn. I’ll remember the twinkle in his eye as he laughed with his family. And I’ll remember the day this good man offered “official acceptance” to a cold, scared, sad girl who needed a Daddy.

 

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Disrupted

DisruptedThis morning, a cardinal caught my eye as I stood looking into my backyard.  I had been standing there, sort of numb, vaguely grateful for the sunshine and green of the yard, when the red flash focused my attention. As I watched the cardinal, I noticed a robin, a blue jay, a woodpecker, two squirrels, two more male cardinals, and, finally, a female cardinal — perhaps the reason the three males started fighting over the same 100 square feet of yard. My numb gratitude had been mixed with a much-less-than-grateful lament: “WHY can’t this dog just GO???” I would have missed a lot if my gaze hadn’t been disrupted.

I’ve been thinking about that word, “disrupted,” for a couple weeks now. Not long ago a friend described my decision to adopt BC as agreeing for my life to be disrupted. This is a friend who “gets it,” not one who tosses around platitudes, so I was bemused by her choice of words. I could almost feel my head jerk back from it; I’m pretty sure I shook my head, “no,” as I re-read it. This change to my life, this boy literally brought to my door, isn’t a disruption. He is a gift. It’s true, I sleep a lot less and I struggle a lot more. Most days I find it preposterous that anyone is given a child to raise. Still, my son is like the flash of red this morning. My heart and mind notice new things now. His life holds truth and beauty that I would hate to have missed. His battles, so often poorly chosen, expose my own sin and brokenness. The moments when he lets himself trust and relax show me more about God’s perfect and faithful love — into which we both can trust and relax — than I’ve ever seen. My son does not complete my life. That is a burden no child is meant to bear. He is a gift, a flash of red across what I thought I knew of God and life. I love him. Amen.

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Forever Started in 2013

BC & meFor all its joy, bewilderment, love, anger, grief, laughter, wailing, mourning, exhaustion, jubilation, wonder, doubt, fear, questions, rage, surrender, and hope, 2013 was the year in which a little family was born. Forever took on a new and surprising shape as BC and I began to become son and mom.

How I pray 2014 will be a year of peace, as forever settles in our hearts.

For this child I prayed… 1 Samuel 1:27

Happy New Year to you and yours. May your New Year be one of peace, in which forever is settled and true. Amen.

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Anger, Longing, and Hope for Advent

AdventWeek1For a child will be born to us, a son will be given to us;
And the government will rest on His shoulders;
And His name will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God,
Eternal Father, Prince of Peace.
There will be no end to the increase of His government or of peace,
On the throne of David and over his kingdom,
To establish it and to uphold it with justice and righteousness
From then on and forevermore.
The zeal of the Lord of hosts will accomplish this.  Isaiah 9:6, NASB

This Advent, I’m living in the reality that a child has been born and then come to me, a son has been given to me. I nearly couldn’t read the passage above, about Jesus, as BC and I first lit our Advent wreath two Sundays ago. Unto us, a Son has been given, a Savior who is Christ the Lord. Unto me, a son has been given, a son with many wounds and much delight, all tied together in ways I can’t unravel.

Advent is a season for longing.  The candles we’ve lit so far have been for hope and for love. Though there is abundant and heart-rending love, I’ve struggled with the hope part of this season.  Maybe because I’m angry.  I’m angry to live in a world where a mother chose a violent man over her son. I’m angry that my son suffers wounds that affect every part of his life, and for some reason make school a nightmare. I’m angry at Christian cliches, thrown around ad nauseum — spare me the “he just needs…” and the, “you should just,” that end in syrupy sweetness. My boy has been broken by the sins of others, period. Don’t deny the awfulness of what he suffers in the name of making everything feel nice, neat, and tidy.  He’s been bounced around for five years and you expect him not to be defiant and angry? Two months is supposed to undo five years? Yep, I’m angry.

But…I don’t always get to the “but”…the anger is easier to deal with than the longing.  It’s easier, but it gets in the way of the hope. (And, really, the love, too.) I long for a world as it was meant to be — a world in which children are sheltered and delighted in, and in which hobbling adoptive moms don’t run out of energy and use anger as a spare supply.  Yep, I’ve been angry.  I’ve also been spent.  And humbled.  I gave up thinking I’d have a son a long time ago.  And now I have one. I long for the day when he looks back and sees amazing, startling grace redeeming his deep wounds. I hope for the moments when that brokenness is turned into something good, kind, and strong in him. I long to rest in the One who loves BC more than I do, who tends to his heart in ways far more helpful than what is so often my driven striving.

I hope for those things because to me a Son has been given. Hope and longing are painful and by their very nature require me to live in tension and the unknown. Jesus, the Son who has been given, brings comfort and joy into the tension and unknown. I believe Him, and I need help in my unbelief. I refuse to be comforted, and He comforts me anyway.  I’m cranky and unjoyful, and He surprises me again. His work in BC’s life and mine will most likely be as messy as the floor under His manger, as crazy as a baby Savior born in a food trough. In Him I will hope.

Amen.

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Baptist Lizards and Farting Sinks

BasiliskBC, my foster son, moved to his new home nine days ago. Those nine days have been filled with a disorienting swirl of mixed emotions. This morning I’m enjoying a welcome pause in the swirl as I remember two of my favorite, funny moments with that delightful boy.

BC loved to search our backyard for lizards, grasshoppers, caterpillars, and butterflies. A book about lizards became a mainstay at bedtime for several weeks. One day, as I weeded a flower bed, BC called out from the porch, “I see one of those big black lizards!!!”

“A skink?” I asked.

“A skink! He stinks!” There was a short pause. “Is he a reptile?”

“Yes, he’s a reptile.”

“Is he…a Baptist?” BC had attended a Southern Baptist church with me for about five months at this point, and he also attended a Baptist preschool. I couldn’t really tell from whence this reptile theology question came, so I hid my smile and said, “No, Baptists are people.”

There was a longer pause.

“Is he a basilisk?”

Oh, one of those lizards that walks on water! No, skinks are not basilisks.” BC went right on enjoying his lizard hunt, and I went back to weeding the flower bed, thinking all kinds of funny thoughts about the implications of lizards being Baptists…or Baptists being lizards.

Around the same time, the water filter at my kitchen sink was due for its annual tune-up. One of the side effects of this maintenance is that the gasses used to make the filter work seem to be affected by the rest of the plumbing in the house. For a few months, a pretty loud, high-pitched flatulent sound bursts forth from the sink from time to time. BC thought it was great when I answered his questioning look the first time he heard it by saying, “It’s the gasses in that filter in the sink. It’s like the sink is farting. Who ever heard of a farting sink?!”

A short time later, a similar sound burst forth from BC as he worked on a craft at the kitchen table. I said, “I don’t think that was the sink.” Having been absorbed in his work, BC apparently hadn’t noticed what his own body was doing. He did, however, file away the comment. That night, getting out of the bath, the same thing happened, but I didn’t hear it. He looked me in the eye, smiled, and said, “I don’t think that was the sink!”

I can still see the twinkle in his eye as he said it, and hear our laughter together over a new shared joke. I miss BC’s sense of wonder and sense of humor; both brought joyful and free laughter to our home. How I miss that delightful boy!

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