Category Archives: Being Sam

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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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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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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Hope

cross1Today is Easter.  I’m celebrating the resurrection of Jesus Christ, believing that it actually happened and that it changes everything.  I’m also aware that sometimes it feels more like that Saturday, when every human being thought Jesus was dead, and nothing seemed certain.  It’s a strange mix for this glorious day.

Last year, Easter was exuberant and joyful, loud even, as my family rejoiced that a baby we thought had been lost was very much alive.  This year, a child I love is facing loss he hasn’t even imagined yet, and I’m desperately hoping for years of resurrection for his heart and mind.  This morning, I took B.C., my foster son, to be with part of his biological family for Easter.  He’ll have a great time, and we’ll have a great time later at one of my family’s celebrations.  Then we’ll come home and probably deal with what seems like the confusing transition between families for him.  Tomorrow we’ll head back into our normal routine of school and work, bath time and reading stories, and every strategy known to boy for avoiding brushing one’s teeth.

Even as we do our normal daily things, slow movement is happening with B.C.’s “case.”  Given the system, it could all turn out very differently than it appears now, but at least for now it looks like B.C. will end up with a new home with loving, safe, fun, stable family members, several hundred miles from here.  I already love his family members — if we were neighbors, I think we’d be great friends.  And yet…there’s always this “and yet”…I know that for B.C. to grow to be a part of that family, he will have to endure the shock of knowing he’s not going back to his old home.  In addition to that, he won’t be staying in this home, where he has seemed to come to feel safe and secure.  There will have to be these losses.  Death — of what he knows and thinks and experiences every day — will precede resurrection.

The hopeful part of all of this is that I believe, that I know, that death always does precede resurrection.  To wish away the loss for B.C. would be to wish away the coming good of life with two loving parents, and siblings, and dogs, plus an ongoing connection with his extended family, and…maybe…someday…the opportunity for healing reconnection with his biological parents.  The anguished part recoils from seeing someone I love so much suffer so much.  I’ve only been a parent for 6 months tomorrow, but this week I’ve wondered, how did Mary stand there and watch her Son hang there and suffer and die?  How did God the Father watch His Son hang there and suffer and die?  There is a dread of the loss that’s coming that completely takes my breath away.  Most days it feels like Saturday more than Easter Sunday.

And yet…there’s a deeper “and  yet”…what Saturday felt like to Mary, and John, and Peter, and all the rest, what “Saturday” feels like to me and what it will feel like to B.C., perhaps what it feels like to you if this is a somber Easter — all of that is the middle of the story.  There are glimpses of a better end, of a glorious resurrection.  Jesus said He would rise on the third day.  Today, when I took B.C. to his family, one I’d never met hugged me, kissed my cheek, and said, “Thank you for taking care of my nephew.”  He’s the dad of the one who may be B.C.’s second father.  There is a sense of promise to the whole thing, and it takes my breath away just as much as the dread, if I pay attention to the reasons to hope.  I don’t always choose rightly, but today I choose the promise.  Amen.

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Filed under Being Sam, Family, Foster parenting, Jesus, Struggle

A Heart Cut in Two

Foil covered heartI’ve been away from here for a while, for many reasons, one of which is that I became a foster parent four months ago. B.C. (not his real initials) came to live here on October 1st last year. He was four then and he’s five now. There is much to write about those four months, and about every day of this strange journey of foster parenting. Tonight, though, I keep thinking about B.C.’s heart — his red-foil-covered chocolate Valentine heart.

Last week, B.C. received an early Valentine’s Day gift that was supposed to hold seven small Nestle Crunch hearts. Much to his delight, it held eight! He announced that I should have the eighth heart, and stuck to his guns even when I reminded him I have a “new food plan” that means I won’t eat that chocolate heart for three weeks. I figured his enthusiasm would fade as that heart sat on the counter for a few days.

Last night, B.C. suddenly asked, “Can I give that chocolate to my mom?”

“Sure you can,” I said.

“I want to unwrap it, cut the chocolate in half, and then put the wrapper back on so you can have half and my Mommy can have half.” After a short encouragement to go ahead and give his mom the chocolate, he said, “I want you to have half because you’re so nice to me,” with a little quiver in his voice.

I held B.C. close and told him what a sweet, sweet boy he is.  The whole exchange took only moments.  This morning, he gave in to his desire to eat that chocolate once he knew he could buy his mom another Valentine.  Still, I keep going back to those moments last night. Is there a better picture of what this little boy must endure all the time? His heart is cut in half, or more likely in all kinds of pieces, without any smooth edges. I love him; my family and friends love him. And yet, as helpful as we hope that love is, it also adds to B.C.’s confusion, ambivalence, pain, and struggle. He likes living here and he aches to go home. I don’t know what to do except to ache with him.

Father, You know this little boy’s heart — every hurting, wounded piece, every delighted, singing-for-joy piece. Have mercy. Please protect and hold close and heal. Thy will be done. Oh, God, have mercy!

If you are one who prays, please pray for B.C. today.

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Bowed to the Ground

No one ever told me that grief felt so like fear.  –C.S. Lewis

Last May 13th, I rode to the hospital in an ambulance with my grandfather, frightened by how frail he had looked as they loaded him in the back, and wondering if it might be his last day with us.  It turned out to be what we knew as the beginning of a long end, and he passed away last August 13th after three grueling months of fighting and then about 30 seconds of letting go.

Exactly two weeks after Papa’s death, a precious friend got married and left for her new home a few states away.  She is one of those friends who knows all of me and my story and still loves me, and trusts me to love all of her and her story, too.  We walked alongside each other in ministry that was usually not easy.  We prayed and rejoiced as God brought her a husband after His own heart, a new family, and a new ministry.

But then, both my grandfather and my friend were gone.  Through the whole summer, I had known the losses were coming.  I had shaken my head at how the joy and sorrow of life are mixed and inseparable as Papa moved toward Heaven and my friend moved toward her marriage.  I had wept with my family in the moments surrounding Papa’s death.  I danced and laughed and cried with my friends as we celebrated at the wedding.  But then, they were both gone.

What happens to walking alongside, being Sam, when the ones I was walking alongside go where I can’t follow?  Maybe not surprisingly, I found some answers from Sam himself.  Along the way to Mordor, Frodo appears to have been killed.  Sam comes upon Frodo’s body, and is undone.

“Don’t leave me here alone!  It’s your Sam calling.  Don’t go where I can’t follow…

“Then anger surged over him, and he ran about his master’s body in a rage, stabbing the air, and smiting the stones, and shouting challenges…

“And then black despair came down on him, and Sam bowed to the ground, and drew his grey hood over his head, and night came into his heart, and he knew no more.”

When I first went back to read that passage, I was undone.  It so echoes what happened in my heart last summer and in these last six months.  Fear and panic:  I don’t know how to live in a world with no Papa in it.  I’ve never not been a granddaughter.  I say Papa is in Heaven.  Is it really true?  Is Heaven real?  Is Jesus?  Did I miss my friend’s heart before she left?  Can we really still be knit together across states?  Will we just drift apart?  I can’t do this ministry alone.   Anger, too:  Why did You make Papa suffer so long?  I asked You, others asked You, to shorten his suffering and You wouldn’t!  And despair and emptiness, a dark numbness, that made the fall months in some ways a disorienting fog.  Actually, I didn’t even realize how thick the fog was until it began to lift in January.  I found myself like Sam again:

“When at last the blackness passed, Sam looked up and shadows were about him; but for how many minutes or hours the world had gone dragging on he could not tell.  He was still in the same place, and still his master lay beside him dead.  The mountains had not crumbled nor the earth fallen into ruin.

“’What shall I do, what shall I do?’ he said.  ‘Did I come all this way with him for nothing?’”

There was the question piercing through the fog.  Did I come all this way with (them) for nothing?  Does loving God and people really mean anything?  Is it worth the long ache of grief?  What shall I do?

Today I find myself still in the same place, vaguely aware that the world has gone dragging on, no mountains crumbled or earth fallen away.  Tears have come with these questions, and with the answers a gentle Lord whispers.  “Yes, it means everything.  Yes, I’m real.  Yes, it’s worth it.  Keep being Sam.”

Amen.

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