Category Archives: Struggle

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

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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The Air I Breathe, Part II

When I ended the first post about my scuba certification experience, I meant what I said about scuba being good therapy for control freaks.  The depth of my vain attempts to control things and people beyond me showed up in my response to the whole process, and in the anxiety stirred in my heart when those attempts failed.  This post, originally planned to follow that first one by just a few days, was to tell the rest of the scuba story and explore those issues of control and anxiety some more.  In the meantime, though, sorrow and grief invaded the life of a friend, and all words seemed petty and inadequate.  Control was shown, again, to be an illusion, indeed.

Since April, one friend’s cancer recurred and another’s brain tumor was diagnosed.  One friend lost her step-mother; another, her son.  A treasured friend moved across the country.  Another friend’s mother suffered a massive heart attack.  A client lost a spouse.  A former client died.  And, a baby I love seemed set to be born many weeks too soon.  What is there to do, and how is one to be, in the face of this broken world, with all its pain and loss?  Perhaps just breathe in, breathe out, and do the next thing, trusting the One who supplies the air and everything else the ones I love and I need.

The second try at the pool part of my scuba training went much better than the first.  Many people had empathized with my anxiety from the first try, and some who were already divers gave me very helpful suggestions for both getting to the bottom of the pool and passing the underwater, hold-your-breath swim test.  In the end, I passed and moved on to the open water dive section of certification.  Two things stick out from that second day in the pool.

The first occurred, oddly enough, in the shallow end, where I’d had no trouble before.  One of the skills we practiced as a group was taking off our buoyancy compensators (BC’s) and then putting them back on, while continuing to breathe through our regulators.  As soon as I took off my BC, I began to tip over, as though I was lying down on my side on the bottom of the pool.  With no conscious thought, I began to thrash around wildly, trying to keep upright and get back to putting on my BC.  When conscious thought did kick in, it was, “I bet I look like a dying roach from above!”  That was funny, but I was too scared to laugh in my regulator, so I just continued to flail around and struggle until I strapped the BC on and settled back down on my knees on the bottom of the poo.  As I watched the others practice the skill, I realized that the best  thing would have been to fall on over to my side, and then calmly push myself off the bottom and go about finishing the skill.  All that flailing was a waste of energy, and just got in the way of what I was there to do, besides making me look like I’d encountered a big can of Raid.

One thing I’d dreaded about the return to the pool was the underwater swim test.  We had to swim 50 feet underwater without coming up for air.  I’d failed the last time, too spent from all the panic and struggle, and out of shape into the bargain.   This time I had two plans.  I had realized that part of the lesson of the failure was in being reminded of my dependence on God for everything.  So, I planned to sing these lyrics in my head as I swam:

This is the air I breathe.
This is the air I breathe.
Your Holy Presence,
Living in me.     (from Breathe, by Marie Barnett)

My second strategy was to think of Travis and Jessica, my brother and sister-in-law, who were my chief scuba encouragers and the ones so excited for me to dive with whale sharks when I visited them.  So, with each stroke toward 50 feet, I could think each of their names and distract myself from my lack of oxygen.

As it turned out, I sang the song in my head and pushed off into the 50 feet, only to find myself floating to the surface less than halfway through.  I thought, “You’ve got to be kidding me,” dove back down, and kicked hard to the wall — all strategies out the window.  That’s probably where most of my strategies belong.

I felt exhilarated and relieved to have passed the pool section.  Thinking back on that day, I continue to see that I often struggle against the wrong things, and that all my planning and strategizing is most often beside the point.  Learning to relax, trust the One is is in control, and just do the next thing doesn’t come any more naturally to me than breathing underwater.  Jesus calls me to those things, though, in calling me to Himself.  He really is the air I breathe.  Amen.

To be continued…

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The Air I Breathe, Part I

A month ago today, I showed up at a scuba shop, picked up my gear, and headed with the rest of my class to a community pool.  We had spent the previous day in the classroom, learning about pressure and nitrogen, jellyfish stings and buoyancy.  The time had come to try out what we learned, though hopefully not the jellyfish stings.  At first, things went fairly well with me.  Along with my group I knelt in the shallow end, practicing breathing underwater while taking my mask off and putting it back on, switching to my back-up air supply, and other basic and safety-related skills.  Though mildly uncomfortable, it didn’t occur to me that I couldn’t figure it out and learn to dive.

Then, we moved to the deep end of the pool.  We floated on the surface until everyone was ready, and then our instructor told us to go ahead and let the air out of our buoyancy compensators (bc’s) so we would sink to the bottom.  That’s when the trouble started.  I heard the gurgling of air and water as I breathed through the regulator on the surface, and somewhere my brain must have shouted, “You’re drowning!” because I started to panic.  Even when I finally got under the water, and it appeared to the instructor that I was doing fine, there was a wild fear inside me and I couldn’t get it to go away.  I wanted to cough, feared I’d inhale water, feared that in my panic I’d do something crazy, and so I kicked to the surface.

The instructors were very kind and patient.  One stayed on the surface with me as I grabbed the edge of the pool, gasping for breath.  I told him I felt like there was water in my mask.  He reminded me that I had practiced breathing underwater with no mask in the shallow end.  I told him I was embarrassed (in truth, ashamed) and he said there were all kinds of things I could do at work, without even thinking, with which other people would struggle.  Even in my post-panic state I thought that was funny and ironic, since I commonly wade into people’s anxiety with them, reminding them of the truth and affirming them when they feel embarrassed or ashamed.

After calming down for a while, I tried again two or three times to get to the bottom of the pool and stay there.  I never could get my ears to equalize the pressure, though, and each time kicked back to the surface.  I chalked it up then to sinus congestion leading to the pressure and pain in my ears, but looking back I’m certain every part of me was rigid and fighting with every other part of me; if I’d been able to relax, my ears and I would have been just fine.  I ended up disappointed and spent from all that effort to control my anxiety, myself, what the instructor and my classmates thought of me, and the laws of physics.  Pretty ambitious, pretty silly, and pretty much what I do in non-scuba life much of the time!  That was followed by being the last to complete the swimming test and then failing to swim 50 feet underwater without taking a breath.  I went home that day exhausted, sunburned, and humbled.  The latter was a tough mercy:  a very good thing that really hurt.  It’s one thing to say that trying and failing is good, or that being stripped of false and unhealthy ways of living reveals more of who God means me to be.  It’s another thing to really live in those truths, in the water or out.  I began to learn that day that scuba diving is pretty good therapy for a control freak!  Stay tuned for the rest of the story.

To be continued…

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