Wednesday, January 11, 2012

A Year Without A Mom

One year ago today, my mom went home to be with the Lord.  I remember the morning of her passing very clearly.  I was in the midst of my morning rush trying to get the kids fed, dressed, their teeth and hair brushed, etc.  Just our normal hectic daily routine.  The weather forecasters were calling for snow and I was feeling uneasy about when I would be able to get up to visit mom.  On good traffic days, she was only a three hour drive from our home, but having to pass directly through three major cities to reach her meant a lot of uncertainty and unpredictability with the commute, even on good weather days.  My mind was racing about how to handle the week.  The doctors and nurses told us to 'get prepared' and mom's increasing fragile state let us know she would soon be leaving us.  In the middle of my morning rush, God slowed me down long enough for me to close myself into one of the little's bedrooms and pick up the phone.  Though she could no longer respond, her eyes let us know she understood.  I called her home and my dad placed the phone up to mom's ear so I could talk to her.  I told her snow was in the forecast and although I was planning to make the trip up after the kids were out of preschool for the day, I wasn't sure what that would look like.  I felt God urging me to say more, so I went to to tell mom that it was OK for her to let go, to go home to be with God, that although we loved her very much and would miss her, that we would see her again one day.  I promised that we would make sure dad was OK and that we all would take care of each other.  While I have no idea if this is even possible, I asked her to 'meet' me when my time comes and that she be one of the first people to greet and welcome me home.  (In the year leading up to mom's passing, she talked on several occasions about people off into the distance waving flags and banners and cheering for her.  I took that to be her celestial homecoming committee and asked her to be part of mine, when the time comes, if possible.)  In hindsight, I was extremely blessed that morning to be able to say goodbye to my mom while she was still conscious.  

Not two hours later, when I called back to check on her, my dad walked into her room and after a few seconds of silence just kept repeating, "Oh, no.  Oh, no!"  Mom had slipped into unconsciousness and, although still breathing, was longer with us.  My head was spinning as I looked at the clock.  If I wanted to beat traffic, needed to be on the road no later than noon.  It was already 1:30, the kids were in preschool that day, and it had started to snow.  I called my husband at work and thankfully he just happened to be in the office and was able to come home.  I started throwing things into an overnight bag and went to pick the kids up from school.  Standing in the parking lot, dazed and confused, I ran into a friend and told her what was happening.  In my state of confusion, I asked her if she thought I should go.  The answer to this may seem obvious now, but my head my spinning out of control.  She assured me the right thing to do was to get on the road, so after bringing the kids home and waiting for what seemed like eternity for my husband to arrive home, I hit the road.  He was slightly offended that I did not ask for everyone to come, but in that moment, I wanted silence, time to pray, and hopefully a few final moments with mom before she left us.

One of life's little miracles occurred that day.  Driving in mid-afternoon normally would have meant that I hit parts of rush hour in three to four cities.  I believe there is only one other place in the country that has worse traffic than here.  However, on that day people must have left work early due to the weather forecast.  Finally hitting the road at 3:00, I breezed through the entire drive.  Crying, praying, praising God, listening to music, and preparing my heart for our final earthly goodbye.  As I approached my exit off the highway, I called my sister to see if I should bring food.  This probably seemed like an absurd request to her, but I think it was my attempt to try to normalize the visit, although this visit would be anything but normal.  There would be no more playing Yahtzee, no more laughing together over funny days past, no more drinking caramel la-TAYS (she loved to over-emphasize the second syllable of latte for some reason), no more life-as-we-know-it with mom.  Off the exit ramp and a few quick turns before pulling into the drive.  Walking into her bedroom and seeing mom in the most fragile of human conditions, breathing mechanically, and eyes half-closed, it seemed as if she was saying, "Finally, everyone is here.  Now I can go."  I truly believe that mom was waiting for all of us to be together so that we could say goodbye as a family.  We gathered around her, exchanged some small talk and banter to try to lighten the mood, said our goodbyes, massaged her head, and prayed over her.  I imagined Jesus' hand reaching down, taking hers, and away they went.    Not one hour after I arrived, mom took her final breath, on a gorgeous, bright, snow-covered evening, and was carried into eternity where we will one day meet again.  

Just the other day I was mentally recalling a story about our last vacation as a family before mom got sick.  We were in Florida, visiting Disney World and the other parks.  Apparently, the glass windows and doors at our condominium were cleaner than any windows in my house because one morning as mom sat on the couch watching, I walked right into one.  Full speed.  I thought the sliding glass door was open and was attempting to walk onto the deck.  However, starting with my face, then hands, and down to my knee, I smacked clear into the door.  Mom about peed herself, and for the next year or so, she made it a point to ask me, "What were you thinking?  Didn't you see the door?"  Anyway, not long after I recalled this story the other day, my sister messaged me asking if I remembered 'the time I walked into the door' in Florida.  It made me smile because I believe it was God's way of letting us know mom still has her sense of humor and still finds it hysterical that I walked into a plain-as-day door.  It would also be mom's wish that we do not cry over things past, but get on with life because we are not dead yet.  Mom had a great ease in which she lived her life; a love of simplicity, friends, and family.  She loved to laugh.  So, today and always, when I am tempted to cry, I will cry joyful tears remembering mom's lightheartedness, good nature, and authentic spirit. Until we see each other again, and until all things are made complete, I will do my best to live a life that honors the way mom raised me and values the things she showed me were important, through the way she lived and the way she gracefully died.  Father, please give mom and big hug today and let her know how much we love and miss her and look forward to being together again, with you, in a place where all is made whole and tears are no longer.  

Revelation 21:4  
"He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.”

Thursday, January 5, 2012

Mercy, I Have A 12-Year-Old!

Where has the time gone?  I simply cannot believe it has been almost one year since arriving home with Sporty and Sassy.  In some ways, this past year has flown by...yes, some days felt more like years and others were so painful I was certain I could not go on, but by and large, the year passed so quickly I have not yet come up for air.  Over the past few years, as I have asked God to prune, shape, and mold me as he desires, he has been super cool and genuinely loving by simply not disclosing things that I was not prepared to handle until the timing was perfect.  If anyone would have told me even two years ago that I would be parenting an adolescent in the year 2012, I most certainly would not have believed you and most likely would have spit whatever beverage may have been in my mouth clear across the room.  Me?  Parenting a child born in the  year 2000?  Ha!  In many ways I felt more like a twelve-year-old than a person being prepared to parent one.  I remember those awkward years between childhood and adolescence, but honestly had not given much thought to parenting that stage so soon.  After all, two years ago we were just beginning our parenthood journey with a feisty three-year-old and a cuddly one-year-old.  Potty training and ABC's were on the agenda, not puberty and pimples.  Of course, God's plans for our lives rarely resemble those we have made for ourselves and little did I know, he was working an agenda far greater than any I could have dreamed up.  

In the year 2000, I was busy acting a fool.  Capital F-O-O-L!  I was a Lieutenant in the Army stationed in Bavaria, Germany.  I frequently overslept for work.  Disclosure: I have never been a morning person and in spite of the Army's claim to do more before 5 a.m. than most people do all day, that statistic most certainly did not include yours truly.  I spent my weekends at countless nightspots around Germany and when work allowed, at various others countries within commuting distance.  Whether on the train to various locations in Germany, the bus to France or Italy, or on a plane to England or Ireland, the thought of settling down and getting married made me break out in hives.  After all, I was only 21 years old and fresh out of college.  I would never have imagined in my wildest dreams that while I was on a bus ride returning from Italy, my son's birthmother was about to deliver my son.  (I was attending the Pope's Christmas Mass at the Vatican that year.)  While she would not live to see her son's first tooth, hear his first word, or watch him take his first step, God was already at work and stirring my heart for the oppressed, forgotten and ultimately for our future children.  

While I cannot explain the reasons, I have always had a heart for Africa. Beginning with those horrible commercials in the 80's and continuing through present day, I feel physical, tangible pain for a continent mostly neglected by the rest of the world.  It has always broken my heart to look around and see our abundance and excessive consumption in the developed world and how so much of what we acquire is done at the expense of the marginalized.  

It was new year 2000.  The developed world was worried about the Y2K computer glitch and how that may affect their bank accounts and other luxuries.  Halfway around the world, a child was born into extremely undesirable circumstances.  His birth father had already passed on.  A few months after his birth, his mother also passes on.  There are no luxuries and most of the time not even necessities.  His grandmother raises him and raises him well.  His character today is a reflection of her love for him.  She passed on.  I sipped my wine or over priced coffee, worried about frivolous matters, took vacations with little or no thought, purchased many things that were far from necessities.  He had no running water.  I drank bottled water.  He took nothing for granted.  I took most for granted.  He was honored to attend school and did his very best to learn and master the subject matter.  I felt entitled to an education.  Are you seeing the trend?  Could a loving and just God really be OK with some of his children living in the lap of luxury while others are disposed of like the midweek garbage?  I have learned the answer to this questions is a scream-it-from-the-mountaintops: NO!  Maybe that is why so few of us in the developed world feel a genuine sense of purpose in our lives.  Perhaps we are chasing the wrong dreams, writing up self-serving goals and plans, and not truly loving our neighbors as ourselves.  And guess what?  Some of "those are not our problems" people and and places have the one thing we are trying to purchase here in the developed world: joy!  Have you met our son?  He is filled with joy from head to toe.  Filled with humility, honesty, generosity, sincerity, and joy.  A child who lost every person who loved and and raised him until he was eleven years of age.  A child who witnessed disease, death, and poverty.  A child, born into an area of the world so often dismissed.  A child of God.  A child of joy.  A child, who unknowingly is giving me the best present for his birthday.  The gift of himself and everything he represents to God and to the world.  

Thank you, God for sharing your simple truths of love with our family.  Thank you for sharing your children with us.  We are your humble servants (help us as needed with the humble part!), listening, and standing ready to be used how you desire.  

Melkam Lidet, Sporty!  We are blessed and honored to call you son!  

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Sunday, January 1, 2012

A Fan Of The Underdog

This past year has blessed our home in more ways than I can articulate.  My views on everything from the global marketplace, to justice and compassion, and even the very nature of Jesus Christ have been challenged and expanded.  It is no longer possible (praise God!) to turn a blind eye to how my decisions and consumer choices impact others and no longer possible to live (by simple inaction) as if somehow Jesus loves me more than his countless other children who suffer and die each day because good people are doing nothing.  He does not love me more.  He does not bless us with material abundance so we stockpile it for ourselves.  He does not bless us with education and knowledge so that we can sit on it.  He never did and never will.  He also does not love me more than 'that kid down the street' who has not had the best upbringing.  The kid, on the cusp of adolescence, who gets into trouble because no one is intentionally raising him up.  Who has been in one shape or form neglected by his parents and guardians.  Who falls into the vague and vast special needs category.  Who does not have the best social skills or coping skills through no fault of his own and therefore has been cut off from many of the neighborhood families and labeled as 'trouble'.

My heart has gone out to this boy for a few years.  He literally hops from house to house looking for something constructive to do with his time.  He is reaching out, arms wide open, looking for someone to scoop him up and claim him.  Someone to take him under their wing and teach him the way.  Without a guiding and nurturing presence, I fear what will become of him.  He has a mother, who also has special needs.  He has a grandmother, who feeds, clothes, and looks after him, but is not readily present in the hour-by-hour activities of the day.  He often finds refuge here and when not completely stressed out by our own family's daily circus act, I am glad to have him.  I have to admit though, I am a little worried.  I know he is not the 'best influence' on our son and I am worried that Sporty may pick up some of our friend's bad attitudes or behaviors.  However, the quiet voice inside of me is telling me exactly what I need to hear: "Do not cut him off.  Just monitor their interactions, guide him as you can, and for the love of Pete, PRAY from him."  

When I asked Sporty if our neighborhood friend was being mean to other children or treating them poorly, he looked up at me and said, "No, mom.  Other kids treat him poorly and make fun of him."  Simple insight and powerful truth.  Isn't that way it often works: the kids who are labeled as troublemakers, often, in one way or another, become that way because no one steps up to help them and instead exasperate their behaviors by name calling, segregating them, or worse.  Our family has to make a choice: do our best of be a positive influence on our friend and include his in play as appropriate, or join the quiet (and some may argue rational) movement against him and be part of of his demise.  

One of Sporty's super special and unique gifts is that other children are drawn to him.  Literally.  He can just be there, and his quiet and peaceful presence acts as open and welcoming arms to others.  I witnessed it in Ethiopia and witness it here in America.  Other adults have noticed and pointed out how there is 'something special' about our son.  It makes me smile, mostly because I know that his unique gift has blessed our family so very much.  Sporty is a fan of the underdog.  He is sensitive, compassionate, forgiving, and welcoming.  He wants to be friends with our neighbor and actively seeks out time to play with him and invite him in.  I could learn a good deal from him.  He doesn't let fear stop him from befriending the underdog.  He is sensitive and aware, so I am certain that he knows what others may say or think.  Certain.  He is empathetic and amazingly accurate at picking up on emotions.  He knows when I am happy, sad, stressed, or frustrated and also knows when others are including or excluding him.  Because he does not like to feel excluded, he includes others, even when it may not be the popular thing to do.  I admire that quality about him and do not want him to lose it.  Therefore, it is our job as parents to help him foster that inclusive attitude while still looking out for his best interests.  It will not be easy, but anything worthwhile and or of value rarely is.  Funny how that works.  

Father God, as we enter a fresh year, ripe with possibilities, I ask that you soften our hearts and open our eyes.  Somewhere along the way, most of us allow our hearts to harden to the underdog, either in our own neighborhood or halfway around the world.  Give us your eyes to see those around us as you see them.  Give us courage to act as you would desire.  Give us energy and perseverance to love the underdog.  As my son, at nearly twelve years of age, begins to wobble in those very precious moments between childhood innocence and adolescent unpredictability, I ask that you guide him and direct him and let your light continue to shine through him and around him.   Father, thank you for trusting us to parent your children and please continue to be with us each and every moment in this year ahead.  We love you!!  

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