Category Archives: Family

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

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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Filed under Family, Jesus, Struggle

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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34 Years!

As I write this, my mom is arriving at her last day of work as a school media specialist.  For a little over 34 years, she has helped children learn to love reading, teachers to be creative in using all the media available to them to teach, and whole schools to be richer parts of their communities.

One of my earliest memories is from when I was three years old.  It was my mom’s first year as a media specialist.  After she came home from school one day, we sat on the floor with a shoe box she had covered in paper and with a hole cut out of the top.  Inside the box were small objects whose names all started with the same letter.  The game was that I would reach into the box, pick up an object, and try to figure out what it was just by touch.  It was a fun way to learn letters, sounds, and words.  The thing about the memory is, I distinctly remember knowing that I was learning and thinking the three-year-old equivalent of, “This is SO cool!”  I think that moment set the stage for every bit of school, reading, learning, and teaching I ever experienced.  I didn’t understand until my first year of teaching what a sacrifice of time and energy it was for my mom to sit with me on the floor after a full school day, delighting in me and in helping me learn.  When I did understand that, it made the memory all the more precious.

My mom has been doing that same thing, in all kinds of ways, over and over and over again, for thousands of people, for more than three decades.  She took two of my brothers to school with her each day for years, pouring her life into theirs as well.  Along the way, and I think without very many words to the effect, we learned that choosing work one enjoys, which makes a difference, makes all the difference.  It sure has for my mom.

So, today, congratulations and thank you to Theresa Hewitt…Mommy…Memaw…Grandma.  Small words, deeply felt, for a very important life so far.  God bless every single second of your retirement!  Amen.

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My Brother’s Wedding Ring

My brother and sister-in-law got married just less than a year-and-a-half ago.  It was a perfect day.  We were at the beach, the weather was spectacular, my sister-in-law looked beautiful in her wedding gown, and my brother was exceedingly handsome in his dress blues.  Maybe best of all, our families and friends rejoiced that a long-awaited day had come.  There was no drama, everyone had a fantastic time, and each of the ring-bearers had four legs.

What could better?  It was, surely, a perfect day.

I cried pretty much through the whole ceremony.  Perfect days don’t come along very often, and I was rejoicing right along with everyone else.  And among all the perfect moments, there was one that took my breath away.  After they had exchanged rings, Travis and Jessica walked a few steps to a table prepared for a sand ceremony.  Jessica took a vase of orange sand, and Travis took one with blue sand, and they poured them together into one vase, symbolizing the way their lives were now inseparable.  It was a lovely part of the ceremony, and the pastor talked about Travis traveling to the sands of Iraq and Jessica staying here, until they would meet on the sands of Okinawa after his deployment. 

Right in the middle of that, I focused in on my brother’s hand and saw his wedding ring for the first time.  Wow.  I wasn’t prepared for the jolt of that.  My brother was a husband.  The one I helped dress up as the Incredible Hulk and Luke Skywalker for Halloween, the one who burned his hand on the oven door, the one who raced his friend Ethan to each continent, the one who became my grown-up friend when we were roommates – my brother – was a husband!  It was strange and wonderful and all caught up in seeing his ring.

When we were growing up, our dad, our grandfathers, and one of our uncles never wore a wedding band.  They worked with machines that might use a ring to rip their fingers off, so it was best not to wear one.  I guess because of that, I didn’t pay much attention to wedding rings.  In the difficult years after our parents’ divorce, I didn’t want to pay much attention to wedding rings.  Somehow all of that is caught up, and healed, in seeing my brother’s wedding ring, too.  It was no small thing to get married.  It is no small thing to build a marriage that blends the best of their families and gently sets aside the other parts.  I’m so thankful he’s chosen to wear his ring.

At Christmas time, someone posted a picture of my brother on Facebook.  There was the ring again!  Every time I see it I remember that moment on the beach, during the wedding.  I remember how much I love my sister-in-law.  I remember how very proud I am of the man my brother is and of the commitments he’s made.  At least on the inside, I smile and shake my head at the wonder of this life.  All of that from a tiny piece of gold!  I hope I never get over it.

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