Silence the Ignorant Talk

I was going to jump into the red cup fiasco. I started a post last week after first becoming aware of the (non) issue when someone on Facebook shared this article from AllenBWest.com entitled, SHOCK: Starbucks accused of ‘Christian Cleansing’ after latest move… The move, of course, going with plain red cups this year in lieu of festive ornament, star, or snowflake laden cups as in years past for the holiday season.

Oh, good gravy. My eyes rolled back in my head before I even read it. It quoted an earlier article by many conservative Christians’ favorite news source, Breitbart, which quoted a British politician, and two people from far right Christian publications in Great Britain, all of which denounced the move as politically correct and anti-Christian.

The comments were outraged and predictable with people calling for boycotts or telling baristas their name is “Merry Christmas” to get it back on the cup.

rainbowcupBut very quickly, reason prevailed as more and more and more people spoke out on social media about how ridiculous the whole thing really is and how many other things actually matter. You would be hard pressed to find one Christian who is actually upset about Starbucks having plain red cups, at this point.

This week, the tide turned the other way and now I’m seeing an interesting twist in which I moan, “Oh, good gravy,” again.

I see many people speculating, as they are only seeing folks denouncing red cup boycotts, that the whole thing was started by the media to make all of us Christians look bad. Groan. Why? Why must there always be someone out to get us? Where does that fear come from?

Here’s the thing. Red cup outrage was started by the media, but not by that media. It was started by the right-wing media designed to give us a boogey man to loathe and fear which is the primary agenda of Fox News, Breitbart, Western Journalism, etc. They do it because it works. It keeps us coming back which keeps their click counts and ratings up and makes them lots and lots of money.

But for the Christian, it’s dangerous. It alters our perception of the world. It changes the way we view our neighbors. It distracts us. It will consume us.

In the middle of the red cup mess, my teen daughter came home from a weekend away. She recounted her experiences and she gripped me with this story.

Mom, I met this boy, *Caleb. We had to take him home after everyone left the bonfire. His mom is in the hospital because she had a heart attack. He tried to play it off like it’s not a big deal. It’s not her first one. She has breast cancer, too. His little siblings are staying with other relatives but he’s old enough to stay alone, so he is. I don’t know what’s going to happen to him. His dad isn’t around. She gets out of the hospital tomorrow and a cousin is going to take him to pick her up. We prayed for him before he got out of the car, but there was nothing else I could do.

(*Not his real name.)

Suddenly, red cups and conservative media didn’t matter. Teen boys caring for dying mothers, feeling and being all alone changes one’s perspective.

For too long, we’ve been lulled into thinking that standing up for righteousness means demanding the right to pray after a football game or organizing protests to keep the Nativity on the courthouse lawn. We’ve been duped into believing that righteous anger gives us license to get mad at people who disagree with us. We’ve somehow given the Constitution of the United States equal weight with the Bible and gotten America confused with the Kingdom of God.

Voting, carrying signs, expressing anger and disgust, slapping on bumper stickers, spouting our opinions…of course we default to those things to prove our “righteousness.” They’re easy.

Learning to lay down our lives for someone else? Living as a servant to all, not just those in our circle? Loving, valuing, caring for our neighbors as we do our selves? Not so easy.

Standing up for righteousness requires me to stop being selfish and to put someone else’s needs above my own. It means looking around for teens whose families are in crisis. It could mean I need to rake a neighbor’s lawn, take a meal, visit the elderly, provide childcare for a few hours, run to the store, phone a friend, send a card, pray with a stranger, sponsor a child, serve meals at the shelter, take sandwiches to the homeless, etc, no matter that my life is crazy busy right now and it’s the holidays and I am broke and I have a million reasons why this is a bad time.

It may mean I do something even more radical like adopt another child, donate a kidney, clean out my savings for someone else’s adoption, move to the inner city, allow a pregnant teen to sleep on my couch, or whatever else He’s put on my heart to do.

Standing up for righteousness is walking in love. It’s living with an open heart to love the needy, open eyes to see the needs, and open hands to fill them.

Frankly, it’s so easy to write these things, so easy to intend them. But really, in the hustle and bustle and stress of life, it is stinkin’ hard to walk it out. I don’t know if it’s my ADD that distracts me so much or if everyone has wonderful intentions on which they rarely follow-through, but I can tell you that the first list is really difficult for me. The second is a little more palatable for some reason. I guess because I am a visionary and prone to moments of grandeur, I am more likely to donate a kidney than rake somebody’s lawn. BIG I can do. (I’m great in a crisis. Daily irritants send me running for Valium. Go figure.)

But we can’t just do big things for people and call it love. Often the initial act of the big thing isn’t really love at all. It gets the most attention and glory, but doesn’t require nearly the sacrifice as the fall-out. One or two big things over the course of our lives don’t get us out of the daily sacrificing of love, I’m sorry to report. One and done is not in God’s vocabulary.

What does all of this have to do with red cups?

I Peter 2:15 says, “For it is God’s will that by doing good you should silence the ignorant talk of foolish people.” No matter where the ignorant talk originates, all we need to do…is good. Be a light in the darkness. Love your neighbor. Let your graciousness be known to everyone. Be quick to listen, slow to speak, and slow to become angry. Do nothing out of selfish ambition; instead, value others above yourself.

Silence the ignorant talk by doing good. There is grace for that.

(Oh, and just today, Breitbart is still calling this a “war on Christmas”. If you believe there is such a thing, I highly recommend this post and handy flow chart for your reference.)

The Anxious Canary

I am a wife, a mother, a sister, a friend, a special needs advocate, an occupational therapist, a writer, a champion for orphans, and most importantly, a follower of Christ.

And I am mentally ill. 

There is shame accompanying those words and that should not be. As a community we say we need to destigmatize mental illness in this country. The world needs to understand millions of us live with these diseases and we are not mass shooters or serial killers. We are not weak or pathetic, although we feel like it very often. We are simply broken individuals just like you, trying to find what works, how best to live with the hand we’re dealt.

canary_bird_ii_by_taleb83Being a canary is lonely and terrifying. It’s isolating, too. The first time I heard the comparison of those with mental illness to canaries from Glennon Doyle Melton in this post, I felt almost weak in the knees.

Because yes, I’ve got these conditions—anxiety, depression, addiction—and they almost killed me. But they are also my superpowers. I’m the canary in the mine and you need my sensitivity because I can smell toxins in the air that you can’t smell, see trouble you don’t see and sense danger you don’t feel. My sensitivity could save us all. And so instead of letting me fall silent and die — why don’t we work together to clear some of this poison from the air?Why the World Needs the Mentally Different

I also felt empowered. Finally, someone who expresses purpose for my crazy. And on good days, I can be thankful for my sensitivity and recognize that the creativity that pours from these fingers and the passion that oozes out my core is interconnected to the anxiety that often sends my heart racing.

But there are days like today. Many days like today.

All I feel are the nerve endings tingling in my fingers. My thoughts bounce from one thing to another, like my brain can’t find a safe place to land. I woke up with my head literally buzzing (and, yes, I do know what the word literally means and am using it appropriately) like a cell phone was vibrating inside my ear. I am snappy with the children and their incessant questions and general neediness is almost more than I can take.

And the tears. I feel like fifty percent of my communication is accompanied by tears and I am on the verge of them the rest of the time.

It is so much more than simple unhappiness or stress. It is a constant fight with my amygdala to overrule the fight or flight hormones that it insists on flooding into my bloodstream for no apparent reason. It is spending way too much of my concentration and emotional energy to slow my heart rate and regulate my breathing.

It is fighting to keep myself physically present downstairs with the rest of the family until I just can’t any longer and I escape to my room, to my bed, where the waves of failure wash over me as the depression that so often accompanies anxiety takes a deeper hold.

The children wander in throughout the day, wanting me to settle disputes, read a story, offer a snuggle, or tie a shoe and I willingly comply, grateful they don’t shut me out as I do them. But it’s painfully little I am able to give on a day like this and my inadequacies flash in neon above my head. The fact that they don’t question where to find me or why I’m there is most telling of all.

I manage to pull it together on work days, although I’ve ducked into a bathroom on more frequent occasions and my red-rimmed eyes are a telltale sign to my coworkers that all is not well. (As if the increase in swear words weren’t enough to tip them off.) I pray and practice my breathing on the very short commute home, but still retreat to my room most days after brief greetings with the family. Work and retreat. Work and retreat. Repeat.

This is the reduction of life generalized anxiety disorder causes, the toll of mental illness.

The fear and darkness affect all of us. It should not be normal for children to find their mother in her bed in the middle of the day. It’s that realization alone which propelled me to make the call to my doctor for medication. I’d been looking at my condition myopically. I could struggle through. I could deal with the sleepless nights. I could figure out better ways to cope.

But my family shouldn’t have to cope.

It will be weeks before we know if it will lift the fog and slow the fear, but just filling the prescription gave this anxious canary a glimmer of hope.

And that is grace.

I am mentally ill. 

Destigmatization can only happen one voice at a time. I’m shaking off the shame and raising my voice. Will you add yours? (#shameless)

I am pretty sure there is grace for that.

Parenting Success?

The nurse checked the car seat to make sure she fit safely inside, handed us our discharge papers, and wished us well. Just like that, we were on our own as first-time parents. I panicked a little. “Shouldn’t we have to take a test or something,” I asked my husband. “We don’t know what we’re doing. How do they know we’ll do right by her? How can we possibly have enough knowledge to parent someone else? Are we ready for this?”

MickairportThat was almost nineteen years ago. Today, I watched that baby fly the nest as she boarded a plane bound for the Pacific Northwest. I felt the very same way I did then. Shouldn’t she have to take a test or something? How do we know we did right by her? How could we possibly have had enough knowledge to parent someone else? Is she ready for this?

She is. In spite of us, she is.

I’ve been reflecting on parenting in general a lot in the months leading up to this as we still have seven more children to launch. In some ways, I feel like I know less now than I did all those years ago leaving the hospital with the very first one.

Parenting is humbling. These gifts we’re entrusted with for a season are simply immature people with their own wills, ideas, personalities, and preferences. There is no formula or right way to shape them into perfect grown up versions of our dreams for them. No parenting book gets it right for every child or every family.

As much as we want to cling to the right way to parent, there is no such thing. What works for one heart, fails miserably for another. And as much as we like to plan, and prepare, and control, this is one area that all the research in the world pales to trial and error, and even that fades next to relationship.

We need to redefine our vision for success in parenting.  Everyone assumes if your children turn out okay, you’ve done your job well. On the flip side, there is a lot of judgment for parents whose children take a dark turn. We need to understand how little control we really have in the outcome of our children’s lives.

Our daughter will spend the next year with Serve Seattle, an urban missions institute, working in the inner city and training for urban missions. We are very proud of her. The temptation is great to receive the congratulatory pats on the back from our fellow parents, to revel a bit in a job well done. We are so happy for her and the choices she’s made, but we are under no illusion that our stellar parenting is the impetus for it all.

Because we know better. Based on our parenting alone, it could’ve gone either way. She could’ve just as easily gotten in with the wrong crowd and be heading in a very different direction. Because she has a free will, her choices have so very little to do with us.

We’ve all seen it. Siblings all raised by the same godly parents, but one is “the black sheep”. They loved him well and were faithful to point him to Jesus, but there he is. He’s spoken of in hushed tones by those outside the family. Other parents shake their heads and wonder what his did wrong.

Maybe nothing. Probably everything.

We all have. If we’re honest, we’d recognize and realize that we all do everything wrong. We all make all kinds of terrible mistakes in this parenting gig. We take the wrong approach. We’re harsh when we should give grace. We let things slide when we should take a stand. We’re quick to lecture when we should listen. We’re often selfish and lazy.

No one does it right all the time. Most of the time, we don’t even know what right is.

Parenting success is not evidenced by the people our kids become. Our success in parenting is based on our obedience to love our kids and point them to Jesus. It is not based on what they choose to do with Him. That is a choice only they can make. We can neither glory in their achievements nor wallow in shame over their failures.

Those parents whose adult children are on the wrong track didn’t screw up any more or less than the rest of us.  We all do it terribly wrong and remarkably right. I read recently that if you worry about being a good parent, you probably are.

Moving forward with our kids still in the nest, we’ll continue to love them, to point them to Jesus at every opportunity, to pray for wisdom constantly, to screw up frequently, to apologize often, and to afford them grace to do the same.

Because we want what’s best for them, we hope they choose to follow Jesus passionately and to love others selflessly. We want them to be responsible and productive members of society. But if that is not the course they decide to follow, it will not make us failures as parents. We are successful every time we choose obedience in showing them love and Jesus.

Anything else, regardless the outcome, and there is grace for that.

Dear Square Pegs

I received emails and comments after this post telling me I’m not alone, many from people who have not yet found their way back into the church because of the wounds they’ve received at her hand.

Square-Peg-Round-HoleSo many of us simply do not fit the success mold for the stereotypical church member. We are proverbial square pegs trying to fit into round holes. We ask too many questions, we don’t fail quietly, we can’t keep the mask in place. We doubt, a lot. We examine what we’re fed under different lights. We look to see if it holds weight under changing circumstances or if it measures up against what was served last week or even last year.

Platitudes and christianese answers leave us cold. Tradition without depth and meaning, but just because that’s the way it’s always been, drives us to drink. Clean edges and tidy boxes are our undoing.

We recognize that the gospel is a scandalous miracle. We appreciate that humanity is messy and complicated. We know that if it looks too neat, it’s probably a lie.

We tried legalism and failed. It appeals to many, so, so many, because of its cut and dried nature. It’s something for the accepted masses to cling to in the uncertainty of life.

Do this, and this will happen.

And, maybe we failed at the first part, do this, because of lack of attention span and organizational skills, or because of laziness, or life. Time and time again, we couldn’t quite measure up to the expectations.

Or maybe, this didn’t happen, the second part didn’t materialize and we were blamed. Maybe not overtly, but the suspicion was there. Life knocked the wind out of us through death or disaster or disease or disability and everything changed. Our fellow church goers initially stood with us and believed with us for our circumstances to line back up with normal. When they didn’t, we felt a shift, a distancing. Maybe we didn’t realize it at the time, but our lives challenged the certainty of rule-based theology. Our continued struggles in the face of pat answers, plucky verses, and rules that should’ve protected us from such tragedies, were too confrontational for many.

If you see yourself or your story in these words, fellow square peg, I have good news for you. Even though you have felt the outcast, the prodigal, the barely tolerated, the misunderstood, you are precious in the view of the only One who matters. The church, in their leadership models and hierarchies, may never get you, may never seek to understand. But when Jesus walked this earth, you are exactly who He pursued.

To the consternation of the regular churched, He went after folks like us. We are His people. “I’ve come to call sinners, not those who think they are already good enough.” (Matthew 9:13 NLT) The one thing we know for certain, you and I, is that we are not already good enough.

We have seen who we are. We have glimpsed depravity and we know what is within us. We know of what we’re capable. When people see others and say with pitying eyes and noses high in the air, “There, but for the grace of God, go I,” we look at the same scene with wonder. “Really? Because that has been me…that is me.”

We relate to the broken, the downcast, the hurting because we are them. They are us. We are the woman at the well, amazed He would speak to us. We are the loathsome tax collector, hiding in a tree to watch Him walk by. We are the unclean woman, squeezing through the crowd reaching out just to touch His clothes.

And Jesus sees us and knows us. He looks for us with longing, pushing past those who think they’re already good enough to find square pegs like us.

Maybe you’ve never heard anyone say it. Let me be the first. You are exactly who, you are exactly what, you are exactly right in who you are in Him. You are not too loud; you are not too vulnerable; you are not too full of doubt; you are not too much of a failure.

You are not TOO……anything.

square_peg_in_a_round_hole_by_wolfepawYou are what He wants. You are valued and loved and chosen. And, in spite of the pious, false humility, that oozed out of the pores of those who rejected you, dear square peg, you are the right shape for the job He’s asking you to do. You fit perfectly in His vision for His church, for His body of believers.

We are the folks He had in mind all along. Not the pious, not the pretentious, not the round, accepted masses of those who think themselves already good enough. Just the simple, screwed up, authentic few who can change the world.

Please know, square pegs, there is grace for us.

I Want To Be Used Minimally

For years it was a thing we in the evangelical church prayed over each other, or was that just in my church circles? As a young person, it was confidently pronounced over me as if prophetically. In Bible college, it was the unspoken goal.

To be used mightily. 

I’m pretty sure the intent was to allow God to move through us powerfully. Or, we were going to move in Him visibly. Or, operate under His power, or…something.

christianese1Christianese is tricky because if you grow up using the vernacular it’s difficult to actually define it when pressed. I’m not sure what “being used mightily” is supposed to mean. I only know what I imagined it would mean for me.

I had visions of grandeur. God was going to use me in a big way. I was to command a large stage. Lives were going to be transformed. Hearts were going to be changed. I was going to love large and lavishly and publicly.

Mostly, it meant I would be known. 

Can I just be painfully real for a second, here? There is a part of me that still craves some of that recognition. I don’t know if it’s the taking stock of middle age or the availability of everyone else’s success right in front of our faces at all times, but sometimes I think I’m not doing enough to get myself out there.

We just finished a series at our megachurch called Pursuing Awesome. I admit to getting a little caught up in the hype of setting goals, learning from failure, and working hard to go after what we want. The slick video that introduced each segment flashed images of people doing amazing things like climbing mountains, conquering waves, and winning championships. Each point was punctuated with a real life example of greatness like Ray Kroc of McDonald’s fame.

I walked out each week convinced of things I should do differently.

I should figure out how to set my blog up to automatically post to Twitter several times a day. I should work to get more “likes” to my blogger page on Facebook and post there regularly. I should re-post articles I’ve already written for those who’ve missed them and encourage others to share them in hopes of a wider audience. These shoulds have been proven to increase success in blogging and even lead to paid authorship.

After all, success is what we’re here for, right? We can’t settle for mediocrity. I can’t live an average life. I want to be used mightily! 

Until I realized what I was hearing sounded less like a service and more like a seminar. The examples of “Awesome” seemed very much like the American Dream – financial success! publishing a book! job promotion! – and so very less like the Awesome I think Jesus would have us pursue – taking up our cross, dying to self, serving the least of these.

I was brought up short.

How many times in my lifelong desire to be used mightily or my Pursuit of Awesome have I overlooked an opportunity to be used, well, minimally? To love on a smaller scale, without recognition? To speak a word of hope and encouragement where only one could hear? To provide a hand behind the scenes?

I don’t want to be used mightily, anymore. I don’t want to Pursue American Awesome.

I want to be used minimally. I want to be content with the unknown American average, while pursuing simple obedience to God.

I want my eye on the only prize that actually matters. I want to be focused on eternity.

I do all this for the sake of the Good News in order to share what it offers. Don’t you realize that everyone who runs in a race runs to win, but only one runner gets the prize? Run like them, so that you can win. Everyone who enters an athletic contest goes into strict training. They do it to win a temporary crown, but we do it to win one that will be permanent. I Cor. 9:23-25

I want to be one who sees and responds to imago Dei in everyone, never losing sight of anyone’s humanity based on their color, behavior, ability, beliefs, age, finances, health, sexuality, gender, or attitude. I want to speak love, first. I want it to ooze out my pores.

In the middle of my anxiety and my brokenness, I want to continue to speak out against injustice done to some of them, no matter if the majority refuse to hear or even cause me pain in the process. I want to be a truth teller.

I want to be the friend that shows up with the grocery store bouquet and the listening ear, who wakes in the wee hours and slides on her knees to intercede, who bakes a casserole when there are no words, and who laughs until she snorts knowing you need that, too.

I want to be the encourager who says, “Oh, honey, you’re doing great! Mine was a hellion at that age. At least he’s wearing shoes!” to the struggling young mom in the grocery store while I help her load her bags.

I want to let my nursing home residents greet me with big hugs and wet kisses, not because they’ll remember, but because, for a brief moment, it will bring them joy to do so.

I want to give until it hurts (and not just tickles a bit) to those adopting, those serving in children’s homes, those working for 20150208_155036family unification, and those providing temporary shelter because that is what I say I’m about and, for crying out loud, it’s written on my arm!

I want to deny my own selfishness and do the normal loving of my big family, too. I want to review spelling words with the kid with an intellectual disability who thinks “p-o-o-p” is the funniest answer every time, and put down my phone to watch yet another cat video with my animal lover, and ooh and ah over the thousandth masterpiece today from the four-year-old. I want to clean up craptastrophes with a sense of humor and less foul language and really engage with my ten-year-old about whatever it is he talks about. (Clearly, I have this category sewn up.)

I want to be the neighbor who shows up with cookies to welcome you when you first move in, who brings the chainsaw waves as her husband goes over with the chainsaw when you have a downed tree, who embraces the neighbor kids even though they throw the rocks out of my flowerbed.

I want to love lavishly and boldly, even while privately, not because I should, but because I can’t help myself. He loved me, first.

It doesn’t have to be mighty to be holy; it doesn’t have to be Awesome to be ordained.

Sometimes all I need to do is just show up and actually act on my good intentions. I have to put down my phone and engage. I have to get off the couch and be present. It will never make it into a slick video. No one may ever acknowledge the effort, but it so counts. It matters. My “success”, our success as followers of Christ is only measured in our obedience to Him.

The most important one,” answered Jesus, “is this: ‘Hear, O Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is one. Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’ The second is this: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no commandment greater than these.” Mark 12: 29-31

We love God with all of who we are, first.

And then, we love those around us with the same love we have for ourselves. In the same way we desire only the best for ourselves, we must want the best for them. As everything in us rises up to defend ourselves, we must rise to defend them. Just as we would fight to the death to preserve our own lives, we must be willing to fight for theirs. In the same way we seek comfort and solace in the face of heartache, we must reach out and offer it to them. As we want people to react kindly to us when we are not our best, we must extend grace to them.

Whatever privilege, rights, comforts, and benefits we cling to, we must insist that those around us can access them, as well.

We love them as we love ourselves.

Loving like that may be minimal and way less sexy than Awesome, but it’s right, and good, and true, and well, commanded. (I contend that Pursuing Obedience is a whole lot harder than Pursuing Awesome, but that’s a post for another day.) This is who I want to be – one used minimally for the sake of Jesus. Mightily and Awesome aren’t even on my radar.

And I have tons of grace for that.

When Little Outgrows Big

EonKJI worry about the day she outgrows him. They are best friends now, two peas in a pod, attached at the hip. She pines for him during his long school days and waits eagerly for the bus at the end of the day. He is always delighted to see her. She understands his limited speech and doesn’t mind that he calls her only “J” and not fully “KJ” as is her given nickname.KJ&Eoncornhole

He is big brother by only 21 1/2 months, but they help each other, she by zipping his jackets and other fine motor tasks and he by flipping light switches or door locks out of her reach. I’ve noticed other ways she’s starting to help, though. Turning on his show because he can’t yet master the complicated remote is one. Taking the lead in what games they will play is the more concerning other.KJ&Eoncow

As she has passed him in speech, fine motor skills, and tech savvy, she will pass him in maturity, as well.

And I worry. Will she still adore her big brother? Will her face still light when she sees him? When her friends replace him as a confidante, will he be heartbroken?

KJ&EonblocksWhat happens when she is given more freedom than he as her maturity exceeds his? How will I soothe that injustice for my boy and still allow room for my girl to find her wings?

I try not to let myself go there. The anxiety wraps it’s tendrils around my heart like a vile weed. I need to cut it off, to pull up the roots, and enjoy the now. For now, it is a love fest, a tight bond, an amazing friendship.

It is enough. There will be grace for later when later comes. 

KJ&Eonpicnictable

A Full Heart

BochairThis guy turns six-years-old today. My heart can hardly stand it. He’s been ours nearly as long as he wasn’t and I still well up to think about what that means. The magnitude of adoption leaves me breathless even as the mundane of it makes me shake my head. How can something so life changing, so utterly profound, be in reality, so completely ordinary?

As always, I remember with prayer his birth mama. May she be well today and know he’s loved.

I remember with huge smiles and much love and gratitude his foster mama today, too. I’ll never forget her showing us pictures of his third birthday. BobootsA picture of a cake flashed on the screen. Puzzled, I looked at Shawn, “Is that cake shaped like a shoe?” Clearly, I did not yet know my boy. But she did. And cared enough to make him a cake shaped like the one thing he loves best in all the world. I have no words.

He has overcome so much and continues to amaze and bless us each and every day. His new fabulousness is calling Shawn from the other room with, “Dad? Daaaaad!” And my personal favorite response to each request with, “Okay,” even as he fails to actually comply with said request.

BobusHe loves kindergarten and is thrilled to don his backpack and trot out to the bus every morning. He returns every afternoon with a huge smile. I think he was actually offended when we let him play hooky last week and took him to the state fair with the rest of the family. He would’ve much preferred to go to school.

We finally found the right meds for sleeping and he is thriving with a full night’s sleep (as are his parents). He has not had any recurrence of ear issues since February. Probably due to both of those, he no longer has negative behaviors that plagued him for so long, either. My arms are bruise-free, and the house has been mostly free from flying objects for quite awhile. BomouthHe’s still a little guy, but a recent growth spurt has him now wearing size 4T and looking quite the little boy versus the toddler he seemed for so long.

His therapists confide that he’s their favorite which shouldn’t shock me, but knowing the lengths we came to get here, really does surprise and delight me. BoarmThe boy who once avoided all interaction, who averted eyes from contact, who ignored all attempts at connection is now charming strangers with his sweet smile and knuckle bumps and it’s amazing.

I share our story in hopes that it might encourage someone out there to realize that maybe adoption is not the giant, terrifying leap you once thought. Maybe it’s just a conscious choice toward an incredible, yet ordinary life.

And maybe, without you, a child doesn’t have a prayer of experiencing a life like that. 

plattquote

Go Forth, Guinea Pig

Every mama blogger faces the disappointing times when she has so much material, but alas, it’s all related to her teens and tweens and she must shelve her desires for the greater good. (The greater good being the hope to one day meet her grandchildren.)

MicksittingMy oldest is now an adult, a high school graduate. Our relationship, often tumultuous, has given me some material over the years that I have dutifully shelved. I am beyond certain that she also has tons of material to share with her therapist should she ever take me up my offer to employ one to aid in her recovery from life in this, her childhood home.

We call her the guinea pig child. Let’s face it. It’s not like she came with a manual or anything and clearly we’d never done any parenting before, although before she came on the scene we did fashion ourselves parenting experts as most childless couples are wont to do. But really, we did not know what we were doing. Parenting was a grand experiment and she was the unfortunate guinea pig.

I read loads of books and did my best to implement the advice of the expert dujour. Unfortunately, I’m a fast reader and there are a lot of books. Poor kid probably thought she had whiplash from how quickly I changed the rules and my parenting style in those early years. I relaxed as more kids came along. Probably too much.

It can’t have been easy for the child who is a typical first born, type A, organized temperament to be raised by a creative, spontaneous, hippy mom like me. She picked up my slack, a lot. I can’t remember at what age she started taking the lead when we were out in public, but I remember admonishing many times over the years, “Stop leading when you don’t even know where we’re going.” I knew early that she would never be a follower. All we could do was pray without ceasing that she would be a follower of Christ and learn to be a servant leader of others. As the oldest of many, the leader (aka, bossy) part came easy. The servant part required much training over the years.

Until she has her own guinea pig child, she’ll never fully know how much we prayed for her or agonized over every decision related to her growth and development. From schooling choices, to television viewing habits, to diet, to the appropriateness of church youth group (Yes, really. Parents of first borns can be really uptight!).

And, although she was very vocal in her displeasure of many of our parenting choices, I never really knew where she stood in matters of faith or deep things of the heart. While we play, and joke, and tease, and shop, ours is not a relationship of midnight soul baring. Unlike her free-spirited, always wordy mother, this one holds things close to the vest.

knowbyloveAnd so I watched her life.  In her teen years, a picture began to emerge and I began to hope that maybe she’d blossom in spite of us.

Asked what she wanted for her sixteenth birthday and she was very specific. She wanted to get a group of friends together to complete sixteen random acts of kindness she had already written out. And so we went downtown and passed out gloves and sandwiches to the homeless, distributed cups of hot coffee to parking lot attendants, dropped off previously collected donations to the food bank, gave candy to workers waiting at the bus stops, and so much more. It was amazing, exhilarating, and totally outside my comfort zone. Once again, my child was leading me.

When we first brought Bo home from Serbia, Michaela was sixteen. Just two years shy of graduating, we all knew she wouldn’t be living in our home much longer. It would be nice if she cultivated a relationship with her new brother, but she really didn’t have to. He came to us a tough nut to crack, full of behaviors, and difficult to love. He painted with poop at every opportunity, threw food at the dinner table, broke everything he could, and pinched, hit, and kicked.

She dove right in. It wasn’t long before they shared a special bond and she became one of his trusted few.Mick&Bo

So, even though we’ve not talked about this for hours on end, it’s no surprise to me that she has chosen to serve as her life’s work. Specifically, that she is taking a gap year before attending college and leaving instead for a year in Seattle, WA. She will be working with Serve Seattle, a ministry of Urban Missions Institute, which trains young people through hands on internships, Bible study, and coursework for urban ministry. It is a boots on the ground experience and, we believe, will well prepare her for the ministry she feels called to do.

While she will serve in all areas of urban ministry, she has chosen to specifically focus her attention on homelessness, human trafficking, and prison ministry.

Like all missionaries, even those in training must raise their own support. She has been selling off all she owns, and working hard all summer, and still she is coming up short. If you are willing to invest in the future, not just for our girl, but for our world, please give directly to Serve Seattle (tax deductible) here. Be sure and find her name, Michaela Lakes, by clicking the “I would like to support” box so it will fund her training specifically. Or, you can give directly to her gofundme account here.

I look at all the social justice arenas that break my heart for which I feel powerless to make real change, and I am filled with hope. There are young people like my girl with drive, passion,  strength, and smarts who are willing to be led only by the One who matters into the heart of it all to make a difference. Change will be made through them.

mickmeMostly, I am filled with humility and gratitude that He took all our mistakes and failures, covered them with grace and mercy and allowed our daughter to find Him in spite of us. Her presence will be keenly missed in our home. My heart, quite frankly, will be ripped in two when she gets on that plane. But, as true with the last eighteen years, I know with certainty, there is grace for that.

Freaking Out and Doing Nothing

It shouldn’t be this hard. I’m ranting now and emotional and frustrated. This is not the time for rational thought and yet, I know that what I’m thinking is truth.

It shouldn’t be this hard! 

Educating our kids should not be so blasted difficult. I wrote a post here about our struggles to get Eon fully included in first grade this school year. I wrote about observing the first grade teacher’s classroom and talking to her about inclusion and peer modeling. She was totally on board with including Eon and had gone out of her way already to establish relationship with him so he’d feel ready to be in her class. His kindergarten teacher who was so perfect for him last year spoke very highly of her. We were ready.

Until the automated email I received right before dinner this evening, one week before the start of school, telling me Eon would be in a different teacher’s class. I hastily sent an email to the principal asking her if it was a mistake. Nope. Mrs. Fabulous had changed grades. Eon would indeed be in the other teacher’s class.

This new teacher is known to us already. She substituted for a few months during his regular teacher’s maternity leave last year. Eon loved her. She had zero expectations for him and basically treated him like a mascot. The work assigned to him was crap. The work he did in her class was crap. He got gold stars all the time for behavior and she raved about how wonderful he is. But she expected nothing but cuteness from him. He was happy to oblige.

He is not there for cute.

I feel like I worked my butt off last year to get the optimal plan in place for my boy. It was going to be a great year. One email and it is up in smoke!

So now what?!? There are other teachers at that grade level, of course, but I don’t know the first thing about them. Do we stick with the nice, inexperienced (overwhelmed), ableist teacher who may be willing to learn, or do we insist on changing and risk ending up with a teacher who is resistive to inclusion, making the year miserable for all of us?

And how the hell should I know?!? I’ve already been through this once over this very same flipping school year!!!

—————————— I wrote the above over a week ago. I chose to publish it because it shows how quickly well-crafted, hard-won plans can go out the window for our kids with special needs. I didn’t sleep well that night.

Life with special needs is consistent in it’s inconsistency. Whether it’s an educational turn of events or the return of a medical issue once thought conquered, this journey is rarely stable. I laughably find myself waiting for “things to settle down” sometimes forgetting how unlikely that is to even occur, let alone remain.

The trick is to roll with the punches, to be flexible, to have grace in the moment, to not freak out. Clearly, I have that mastered. Sigh. I feel like I used to be more flexible than I am now. Maybe there are only so many punches you can take? Maybe after you get so bruised you just fall down with the lightest of hits.

I admit it’s the other extreme at times, too. Maybe there’s only so much polite sparring you are willing to do before you just go for the sucker punch to end it. (Or maybe, I should actually watch boxing once in awhile before I put these metaphors in my posts?)

Whatever. My point is, I’m not handling the ups and downs well and I know why. I could blame it on lack of support. I tend to isolate myself when I feel stressed which is pretty much all the time, so I haven’t been reaching out to my local tribe of friends. Recently, I lost a great group of supportive online friends with my views shared in this post, in a mutual parting of ways. Support that used to be just a few key strokes away is suddenly not an option.

I could blame it on my terrible self care. My diet is atrocious. This afternoon, while perusing the menu at Panera, I briefly wondered, “When is the last time I ate a vegetable?” I couldn’t remember, so I ordered a salad I didn’t eat. My sweet husband installed a weight bench with equipment down the hall so I could conveniently work out without excuse. It makes a great table for folding clothes. I’ve had a gift card for a massage in my top drawer for months, but I’m filled with anxiety just thinking about making the appointment. I’m a mess.

I could blame the busyness that life with a big family brings or the lousy Indiana weather this summer or the fact that I can’t slow down the racing clock no matter how hard I try. But the truth is, none of these is the actual problem.

I don’t run to my Savior in the storm. I try to walk on the water alone, to battle the waves on my own strength, until soon my head slips beneath. I was never meant to face this life that is beyond me, alone.

Yes, I am the vine; you are the branches. Those who remain in me, and I in them, will produce much fruit. For apart from me you can do nothing. John 15:5

Nothing. Nothing productive, nothing of value, nothing helpful. I waste so much time apart from Him. I do nothing.

——————————— After emailing back and forth, our principal called me Friday morning. I had shared with her last year my thoughts on the substitute teacher. Before I could say anything, she assured me that she’d spoken to her specifically about Eon. “I’m not sure I used the word ‘mascot’ but I think I probably did because it did a good job conveying how you felt he was treated.” She convinced me that the teacher, while inexperienced, is very talented and willing to learn. Together, she was sure we could turn her ableist mindset around.

In the end, we decided to stick with the inexperienced teacher who really likes him, hoping we can train her to teach him. When I told Eon who his teacher will be, he pumped his fist and exclaimed, “YES!” He may be a lazy kid, but he’s smart.

She has since communicated with me several times and is very enthusiastic and on board with our approach for him. He has loved the first few days of school. If I can remember where to turn when things go awry, I think it will be a good year.

Abortion and The Myth of the Unwanted Child

Abortion. The topic immediately polarizes. Hackles are raised and you, as a reader, are waiting to be either irritated or relieved by what I’ll say next. Am I on your side or am I wrong? Because in this politicized, highly sound-bitten world, sides are what we’re left with in discussing individual lives and impossible choices.

It shouldn’t be.

I’m very open about being a follower of Christ. I have personally been on the receiving end of eight positive pregnancy tests and given birth seven times. It should surprise no one that if I had to choose a side it would be pro-life.

And yet, I almost cringe at that moniker, so filled with loaded political baggage I am loathe to embrace. Author Rachel Held Evans wrote a post a few years ago on this topic. While I disagreed with some of what she wrote, it resonated strongly with me because of all I did agree with that had been previously unwritten. I get frustrated when the pro-life side seems only interested in banning abortions and actively seeks to undermine programs that would likely stem demand, for example free contraceptives, low cost healthcare, non-abstinence based sex education, subsidized childcare, etc.

But, I digress.

I want to address a pro-choice slogan that I hear bandied about that no one seems to dispel, on either side. That of “every child a wanted child.” The pro-choice side likes to insist that if a child is not wanted at conception, he is going to end up a statistic of abuse. The pro-life answer to this is “adoption” as if that’s always a happy ending all tied up in a bow and not a potential minefield fraught with complication, loss, and heartache all its own.

Abortion is in the news again and I keep reading comments that it’s better for women to abort than for these kids to grow up abused. Never mind the logic that death is preferable to abuse which must surely rankle abuse survivors, I want to know why we just accept that thinking.

Why are we all so quick to accept that women who are very unhappy to find the line turn pink on the pregnancy test will, of course, become unfit mothers should they carry to term?

Because that’s crap. 

Yes, children are abused. Miserable, sometimes sick and twisted, sometimes just overwhelmed and unsupported, parents abuse children all the time. It is heart wrenching.

But conversely, women are devastated by positive pregnancy tests all the time, and for various reasons, continue to term and simply become mothers. No negative statistics, no fanfare, no CPS investigations…just moms.

I’ve had eight positive pregnancy tests. Three of those times, I was very unhappy with the results. (UpcycleDaddy and I really stink at birth control.) My very first pregnancy was a complete surprise. We’d been married two years and I had mono. When I returned to work an older co-worker of mine asked how I was feeling. I told her I was feeling better, but the nausea was getting worse. She looked me in the eye and informed me, “Mono doesn’t cause nausea.” Oh dear. Surprise!Mickbikini

We were married, sure, and I had a good job. I didn’t want a baby then, but we wanted to be parents eventually, So we figured it out. Even though I was deathly ill and lost weight. And we lived in a one-bedroom apartment and I thought you had to have way more space for a baby (you don’t.) Even if I had believed abortion was an option, I doubt I would’ve considered it. But, never one to suffer silently, I expressed displeasure about pregnancy in general and that pregnancy in particular at every turn. Once she arrived, however, I was crazy smitten. My co-workers, reluctant witnesses to my miserable pregnancy, later admitted to being shocked by my sudden maternal joy. She was delighted in, adored, spoiled, and never abused. She’s eighteen now and will soon leave home to be an urban missionary with ServeSeattle.

The second unfavorable positive happened when our second child was only seven-months-old. Looking back, I now realize I had post-partum depression, but nobody ever talked about it then. The babies were going to be only fifteen months apart. I was reeling. I was already in a fog from the depression, and this sent me into shock for weeks. The shock returned when I went for an appointment at eleven weeks to find no heartbeat. My doctor allowed me time to miscarry naturally and it was so much more painful physically and emotionally than I expected. The amount of tissue and blood loss were another surprise. The guilt was worse. My theology was a little screwy in those days and I thought somehow my displeasure at the pregnancy had killed my baby. I named him Spencer. If grief is an indicator, he was indeed loved, despite my initial misgivings.

Our third unfavorable positive is now my Keturah Joy. KJsunglassesShe’s four-and-a-half, a spitfire of goof, love, and sweetness. I wish I could give a glimpse of her to my then-self, the devastated mama of six, sobbing in the bathroom over that pink line. Forty-years-old, I had given everything I had to the care of our sixth child, Eon, who was only fourteen-months-old at the time of that test. He has Down syndrome and had turned my world upside down with his diagnosis. I had only gained weight since his birth, and with all his extra appointments and therapies, I’d had no time for exercise. I was in no physical shape to carry a child at my age. Plus, Eon probably wouldn’t be walking before the baby came. How could I handle carrying him, too?

What would this do to him? He needed so much from me. A baby would take too much of my time, attention, and energy away from him. And, frankly, what if this baby had special needs, too? I was forty. While I was less concerned with Down syndrome, other, more serious or even fatal conditions terrified me.

Then there were financial considerations. UpcycleDaddy had his own business and we were barely getting by. Our insurance policy with the extravagant deductible did not have maternity coverage. How in the world could we do this? Plus, logistically speaking, our small, three-bedroom house was already at capacity. We had three girls in one room and three boys in another.

Every new thought just brought on more tears. I was scared. Scratch that. I was terrified. When I get scared, I often get angry. So, I did. God got the full vent of that. Weirdly, I don’t remember UpcycleDaddy’s response to it all, but I’m sure he got an earful, too.

My point is, I could’ve been the poster child for a Planned Parenthood abortion. I had all the reasons and they were good ones. I had all the emotions to go with them. I did not want that baby.

But, I didn’t have an abortion, nor did I consider it at the time.

I went on to have a baby. Even though my doctor wanted to induce at thirty-nine weeks and I bawled and fought him because, “I’m not ready and I still have another week!” (because, even then, I was scared.) She was not a wanted child in the beginning and by current, accepted logic, she should not be wanted, still. But she is amazing and deeply loved, wanted, and adored.  EonKJShe and Eon are best friends and she has been the best thing for him. She has only known love. She has never been abused. She is delighted in, always.

I’m not here to talk about banning abortions or to say that because I had a happy ending they will all be happy, amen. I’m simply saying that a woman’s feelings about her pregnancy during her pregnancy are no indicator of what kind of mother she will be. To say otherwise, is undermining her strength, her integrity, her character, and her maternal fierceness. And it offends me as a woman, as a mother, to hear it bandied about as fact that if a child is not wanted during pregnancy it should be relinquished, one way or another, because we cannot trust its mother.

I call bullshit.

It’s okay, actually normal, to be scared, terrified even, when faced with a positive pregnancy test. The fear of the unknown is an equalizer among us. All of us have it. Every pregnancy is the great unknown, no matter how planned. There are things beyond our control. Wonderful, amazing, terrifying things. Some of them are called “children.” We cannot know in advance exactly what blessings or challenges each will bring to our lives. We can only know with certainty they will bring both.

Don’t let either crowd tell you that you are destined for failure because of your fear. You are not. You can rise above. You can let love win. You have strength they’ve never seen. You have depth, and creativity, and resourcefulness and you can do this! Let me be the one person to tell you that you have what it takes to do this mama gig. Just because your child didn’t start out a “wanted child,” does not mean you won’t adore him later.

I’ve written and rewritten and erased these thoughts countless times over the last four years. I’ve never gotten them just right. They’re not right, still. But, I’m hitting “publish” on this post because it needs to be said. I’m tired of the lies that undermine us and tell us we are weak. I’m tired of seeing fear prey on vulnerability and win.

Because fear is always harder than reality. Because love really does win. Because you are fierce. Because there is grace for that.