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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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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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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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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Rest

I failed.

God loves me.

I’m free.

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Three Easter Wonders

God, Author of the greatest surprise ever in the resurrection of Jesus, has surprised, delighted, humbled, and reassured me in this Holy Week.  It’s been a week of wonders, big and small.  Here are three…

I spent some time this week with a person who is celebrating her first Easter as a follower of Christ.  Do you remember what that was like, when you realized for the first time that it’s really true, that Jesus really died for you, and really came out of that tomb on Easter?  I needed to be reminded this week.  All through Lent, I’ve turned over a blog post in my mind called, “Cynicism and Contempt:  Lenten Twins.”  A nice, cheery post, don’t you think?  Throughout Lent I’ve seen my tendency toward those two pits.  I’ve also grieved and been angry, perhaps like the disciples were on Friday night and Saturday of that first Easter weekend.  Seeing the joy and wonder on this new believer’s face was like watching Mary’s face when she realized Jesus was alive.  The new believer even said something like, “I don’t ever want to take this for granted, to not be excited about it like I am now.”  Yes, Lord, me neither.  Thank You for the wonder of a first Easter.

This next one will seem kind of weird, but you’ll just have to trust me that it’s true.  For several days over the past week, I believed that someone I love had died.  My heart was crushed.  I wept, I yelled at God in frustration and despair, and I walked around with an aching heart.  Then, on Tuesday, I found out that the one I love is ALIVE!  I fell to my knees and wept again, tears of gratitude and remorse and joy.  It took a few minutes for my stunned heart and mind to realize, “Hey, this is EASTER!”  What seemed like despair transformed in a moment to exquisite, even exuberant joy.  It was all I could do not to run out to the lawn by my office and shout, “YES!  (My loved one) is ALIVE!”  Easter, indeed.

Finally, this morning I was looking online to find a sunrise service to attend.  I was startled to see one being offered by a funeral home.  Then I found another offered in a cemetery.  Once again, it took a few moments, but then I thought, “Well, of course!”  I’m still turning that over in my heart.  The first Easter was in a graveyard/garden, so why not celebrate it there in 2012?  Death giving way to life, the power and love of a great and good God, sunrise dispelling darkness – the wonder of it all is just stunning.  Oh, yes…it’s Easter…it’s all really true.  Hallelujah – He is risen, indeed!  Amen.

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