each season the hardest, each season the same

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each season feels like the hardest one. i remember when hazel was brand new, and how utterly in over my head i felt. the learning curve was so steep. i was grieving the loss of independence, freedom to use my time as i pleased, space to be alone with myself. and i had no idea what i was doing, so no action was simple or natural. the weight of concern and worry, with all the accompanying advice-seeking and google-searches, was exhausting. leaving the house felt like the most impossible thing. how was i supposed to plan an outing between all the naps and feedings (which were, in here case, LONG)?

this season now, and those early days with hazel feel so far away. i sometimes think that if i could go back and re-live them, it would feel easy compared to now. i would handle it like a pro, i would be so much more laid back. maybe that would be the case, if i could carry the knowledge/tricks/confidence i’ve gained in the three following years with me and apply them there, too. but that’s not how it works, is it? of course not.

Father breaks us in easy, giving us one challenge at a time, taking us deeper and deeper into responsibility and commitment. if He were to throw us right into it, we would surely drown. Or so it seems to me.

looking back even further than new motherhood, to the days when i was a young adult and single, how simple that all looks from where I now stand. bills were few and simple, taxes straightforward, freedom to use and structure my own time was enormous, i could accomplish things in a fraction of the time it now takes with small children in tow, all my decisions were my own to make (no need to seek consensus with a husband), and my parents would still help me out financially. i could have gotten up and gone to do anything with such comparative ease (travel, move, adventure). but at the time it didn’t feel so easy! there was also loneliness and longing for a mate, worry about not having enough money even for the few bills that i did have, and the downward-spiraling thoughts that often filled up all those solitary and unstructured hours. there weren’t children to anchor me, to make me get up in the morning and do the next thing that needed doing, and being single was like facing the world alone, not knowing when or if that aloneness would ever end. and though i didn’t have kids underfoot to sabotage my cleaning and cooking and errand running, i also was still learning how to cook and clean and run errands, which sometimes made me feel so young and inexperienced.

as scripture says, “each day has enough trouble of it’s own.” that’s meant to remind us not to worry also about the future, but i see it working retroactively, too: yesterday had enough of its own worries, too. there will always — in every life season — be heavy concerns, and loads to bear that feel too heavy at times. there will be moments of overwhelm. and, in each life season there will be provision. there will be enough of the internal resources, the support of community, and material needs. there will be enough of these things, coming forward as they are needed, because across all of these life seasons the one constant thing is the Father to whom we’ve entrusted ourselves.

so TODAY, when the challenges of a feisty, cooped-up 3 year-old and a 21-month-old who’s stumbling into his terrible 2s while teething his molars, combined with my achey, cumbersome, pregnant body on a gray day, with to-do lists a mile long and a house that feels impossibly messy but cannot be tended to because the children’s needs are so unrelenting and my body in such a state… today when cooking yet another meal and doing yet another load of laundry feel absolutely unrewarding and mundane… today when I feel so isolated from the comfort of close female friendships because the urgency of daily life squeezes out most of the opportunities to connect… today when our list of financial responsibilities is longer and more complicated than i could have imagined or navigated when i was 24, and when the upkeep of a house and the oversight of a nonprofit and the managing of my own business keep our minds racing into the night…. today when the challenges of being a wife with all the mutual submission, vulnerability practice, and intimacy to keep up feel like harder work that the romance movies ever would have led me to believe… TODAY there will be enough. TODAY my Father is with me, leading me gently because I am with child (Isaiah 40:11), providing for my every need out of his glorious riches (Phil 4:19).

and so for you, friend. whether you are in your early 20s, living with friends and trying to discern the trajectory of your life while avoiding being turned out on the street, or whether you are a new mother absolutely drowning in the enormity of that identity redefinition and the weight of a newborn’s constant need, or whether you are in your mid-life, about to see your youngest child off to college and suddenly there is a giant gaping hole that invites you to redetermine how you will spend the rest of your days… in all these seasons, He is sufficient, He is present, He is neither shocked nor dismayed at how things are going, and He waits to show you mercy.

in memorium :: kevin

kevin, a few years ago when i first met him.

kevin, a few years ago when i first met him.

when i met kevin, he was dapper: clean-shaven, well-manicured, proudly and uniquely dressed, and sauntering confidently around the neighborhood. he loved to talk. and he never hid anything. i remember sitting with him in the boiler room yard one day as he told me about his father’s abandonment, his intense love for his mother, the abuses he had suffered, the homosexuality he owned, the disease he contracted, and the alcoholism he struggled with. i can write this here because if you met him, he would tell you all of it, too.

so here we are, a church. and the church has been many things to men like Kevin, but warm and embracing has not typically been one of them, sadly. yet with us he somehow found a sense of safety and belonging. he knew we loved him, no matter what.

over the next few years we watched him get painfully thin, fall into despondent depression as his mother neared the end of her life and he couldn’t imagine going on without her. he stopped taking his life-sustaining medications, and he stopped eating. he stopped bathing and taking care of himself at all. he developed sores at the corners of his mouth, a glazed over look in his eyes, and a unique odor. in this season, to continue to offer loving touches and nearness were hard for me.

and then, he nearly died. or rather, he DID die. but on that hospital bed, having been declared dead, he saw Jesus. Jesus didn’t say anything, just met his eye and pointed the way back. and then Kevin wasn’t dead anymore. i cannot explain this.

but when Kevin came back, he gave His life to Jesus. he decided he wanted to live the second half of his life differently than the first half. he got healthy again. he started to have hope. he did so much hard work as he bravely and intentionally chose to forgive the many people who had abused and wronged him through his life, getting lighter all the time. he chose to be kind to his housemate, whom he had traditionally been rather mean to. he surrendered his entire heart to Jesus to be shepherded, including his sexuality, because when he asked God what He wanted Him to handover, that was was the answer he heard. there was fruit in keeping with repentance, as the scriptures say. and then Kevin asked if we would baptize him, which we did, on a Wednesday evening in the boiler room yard. it was a holy moment.

about to be baptized. october 2014.

about to be baptized. october 2014.

"kevin, you are the Father's son, and He is pleased with you!"

“kevin, you are the Father’s son, and He is pleased with you!”

exactly one week later, at the age of 42, he had a stroke. and that stroke, with all it’s complications, took his life before the day was through.

there were many tears running down the faces of our Love Feast family, who had heard word on the street throughout the day that Kevin was dying, and then came to our gathering to find that he had passed already. all those tears bear testimony to how he impacted us.

i wasn’t able to get to the hospital in time to say goodbye to him. but if i had, i wanted to tell him in a conspiratorial whisper, “this time, Kevin, you don’t have to turn around and leave when you see Jesus. you get to STAY.” holy smokes, how lucky he is.

but how he will be missed. i was looking forward to seeing him grow up and mature as a Christian, into the fullness of the man he was made to be. i was looking forward to more years bearing witness to his rambling and gut-honest story-telling prayers.

his funeral is this saturday, and Jordan will conduct the ceremony. next wednesday at Love Feast we’ll have a little memorial for him, too.

in memorium :: derek lee, gentle giant

derek helps prepare the food cart to serve love feast

derek helps prepare the food cart to serve love feast

on the street he was also known as Skillet (he loved to cook and feed people, and everyone knew it) or Green Mile (he sorta resembled the main character in the movie by the same name, at least in size, and in gentleness).

as i write this post, he is close to breathing his last breaths, as he will be disconnected from life support any minute now. it was only last week that he was walking among us, his oxygen tank trailing reluctantly behind him, but his face still full of life and humor. he was always the first one to jump at the chance for the open mic, and he had a few numbers that he performed regularly at our weekly LoveFeasts, while all the crowd clapped their hands and grooved along. He was proud of his big, deep voice, and i loved to hear it. i can hear it still.

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yesterday in the early morning hours he suffered a stroke. but it was worse than just that. there was also systemic infection, blood clot in brain, and internal bleeding with unknown source. when i went to the hospital to see him, his gentle giant body was perfectly still, tangled up in an impossible number of wires and tubes and machines. every once and a while his eyes would open, but it wasn’t clear how much he was registering. i sat with his fiance and made her eat some dinner i’d fetched from the cafeteria. in that uniquely self-conscious way that accompanies speaking to someone who is not cognizant, i went to his side, laid my hand on his large black one, and talked to him about the days when he lived in the boiler room and cooked so many terribly greasy things in the deep frier, then turned around and teased me for cooking so much “healthy stuff” when it was my own turn behind the stove. i told him how much i liked hearing him sing at Love Feast. i told him that i’ve actually come to like bacon grease a lot recently, and could he believe that? i blamed it on the pregnancy, the pregnancy that he so boldly and unapologetically inquired about before i was really even telling anyone the news. he wasn’t the king of subtly.🙂

before i went, i prayed with him and his fiance, through tears i did not expect, both mine and hers. they came when i told him how loved he was, what a valuable member of our family and our church he had become, and how hard it was to see him suffering. i wanted to pray for God to grant him new life on the other side of this, to bring him through singing and dancing once more (he is only about 50 years old, afterall), but in my bones, i knew he would be leaving us. so i prayed mostly for a release of the shalom and presence of Christ in that room, and over Derek’s body. and in my own heart, i pleaded that even now, in this late hour of altered consciousness, that Holy Spirit would show Derek how to believe in Christ for his salvation. because i’m sorry to say this — almost ashamed — but after 6 years of knowing this man, i have never directly asked him where he stood with Jesus. and suddenly, this mattered so very much, but was too late to discuss. God, have mercy.

and now today. my husband is sitting with him and his gathered friends and his family who had to make the hard, hard call that no one ever wants to have to make: to pull the plug. and he will be gone before this afternoon has ended. which means that i will never get those gentle hugs or kindly teasing from that giant brother again.

but he will be finished — for i am casting my vote on my Papa’s love and mercy — finished with chronic sickness, with the temptation and ensnarement of addictions, and with the hardships of poverty.

me and derek at a love feast in 2009

me and derek at a love feast in 2009

it’s august…

dinner-time-4… and so, we try to practice sabbath in one, giant, concentrated chunk. sabbath is rest. sabbath is letting go of striving and choosing to trust instead. sabbath is humility. it says, “this world doesn’t go ’round because of my effort but by the grace of an all-sufficient and generous Father. therefore, the world can afford to live without me for a minute.” 

that’s why it’s a spiritual discipline. and like all disciplines, it therefore has to be fought for. 

already, i can tell we are really going to have to fight for it this year. 

because the financial situation of the boiler room is skimpy skimpy skimpy. because friends are hurting and need to be cared for. because we have two small children. because we both really love our work. 

it’s only day 2, but i’ll tell you, i’m not doing a very good job yet. it will take some practice. and a little adrenaline detox. 

this coming week i have photo sessions and meetings with potential clients and partners. tim has meetings with potential donors and supporters. the work won’t cease this year, but we’ll do our best to keep it within bounds. 

i have Psalm 23’s first first written on our chalkboard wall, 

The Lord is my shepherd; I will want for nothing.

that’s the mantra and the meditation i’m carrying around in my pocket.

meanwhile, i am praising God for His foresight in having me “accidentally” pay for our entire week-long vacation rental in advance, so that we cannot decide to skip that unplugged week in a meadow by a crystal clear lake in northern Michigan. we would surely have cut it out as an unnecessary luxury in the face of financial worry if there weren’t a non-refundable fee. come on, august 17!! 

she was never here

[note : i drafted this weeks ago, but am just now sharing it here]

her tiny self occupied our house, consumed most of our time, and devoured my emotional energy for 10 days.

this morning i dropped her off at the meeting point, where she would be reunited with her mama, whom she has not seen in seven years. before i had even parked, she was unbuckling her seatbelt, opening the van door, and spilling out into the parking lot without a look back. before i had a chance to get out of the car, she had been swept up in her mama’s arms, her mama’s tears falling into her hair, a smile spread across her face.

hazel, our other foster daughter, and i stood awkwardly by, smiling at the joy that was theirs. she didn’t acknowledge us, would not have said goodbye had we not initiated it.

somehow, this is not surprising. because though she was here for 10 days, she was never actually here. she came in with the entirety of her being focused solely and relentlessly on one goal: to get into her mama’s arms. daily, multiple times a day, she asked the same questions over and over, arguing the answers, begging and pestering, insisting and demanding that we accomplish this goal for her immediately. along the way, she also demanded other things, like mcdonald’s take-out and new clothes and trips to the beach, but she relished none of it. the moment distraction ceased, she returned to her relentless pursuit of getting what she wanted. now.

all of us — my family, her caseworker, her teachers, and even her friend and foster-sister in our home — functioned as tools. there was no affection, no appreciation. we were her assistants, employed to do her bidding. her foster sister was sent to deliver her demands to us, and to get things for her when she was laying in bed on the phone with her mama for hours each day. i was the access point to the telephone, and the gatekeeper for how many times a night she could talk to her caseworker or mother. her caseworker was a machine expected to churn out results at her bidding. she had no concept of the reality that each of us had responsibilities and priorities outside of her comfort or immediate gratification, or that perhaps she was using and abusing us.

she’s only 10 years old, and so i’ve wondered if i’m expecting too much of her, more than her maturity can afford. is this developmentally normal? or normal for kids in a situation like hers? yet, the other kids i’ve met or fostered in this program have not been like this. they have moved in, cozied up, laughed and enjoyed the liminal space they found themselves in. they have not attempted to manage or control things too large for them to carry, things outside their control.

i’m not proud of how i responded to her in the middle of the messiness that she carried. i am not patting myself on the back for how well i loved her, particularly because i saw my heart, and how resentful and angry it was even when i had a smile falsely plastered to my face. i used an impatient tone, often. i avoided her. i mumbled about her under my breath. these are not the things loving foster mothers do. i still can’t quite grasp just how such a tiny and harmless girl could shake me so deeply! it’s a bit unnerving.

but i’m looking at the spiritual parallels here. i’m looking at all the times that i have refused to be present in the here-and-now reality of a life season, or a moment. instead of setting my attention on the gifts accessible right now, i have been so consumed with things future, things too heavy for me to carry, mysteries i cannot comprehend, that i have been unable to seize current joy. how many times have i used others only as a means to an end, rather than allowing my heart to be open to them for all that they are, and for how i  might bless them, even as i wait to see how my own story will end.

in other ways, the positive spiritual lesson this little girl teaches me is about looking forward with passion and hopeful expectation for the day when my own Reunion will occur. That brilliant day when i’ll see my Jesus’ face for the first time.

24 hours in

24 hours into this foster parenting gig, i want to make note of some beautiful things:

like…

  • the way that V (age 15) searched me so intently with her wide, dark eyes, as if she was searching my spirit, trying to ascertain if i was safe, good. based on the way that she now looks just as intently into my eyes, but with a smile creasing her face, i conclude that she has decided i’m okay.
  • the chalk art of fancy ladies and hearts that appear, get erased, and drawn again on the chalkboard wall by J (age 7).
  • the fact that all six of us held hands in a long line as we walked from the mini van to the mexican restaurant the first night.
  • hazel puking all over the high chair, table, and floor at the mexican restaurant. J and V taking it all in stride.
  • seeing J play, so happily and so naturally making herself at home. she’s playing pretend, keeping so busy at it, as if it’s her job, which of course it is.
  • V with Gus, and how quieted he is in her arms.
  • J’s delight over el gato (the cat).
  • roasting marshmallows over the fire in the wood stove tonight, laughing when they went up in flames. J and V had never done this common american thing before.
  • the wholesome busy-ness of a day spent tending to the needs of four children, and especially feeding them.
  • Hazel trying to chatter away in friendly hospitality to J and V, not understanding that they cannot understand her. Hazel says to them, “you make funny words!”
  • J’s enthusiastic and sincere “thank you!” upon being told she would get to make her own pizza for dinner tonight.
  • the constant use of translation apps on my iPhone, and how humbling it is to be so utterly UN-proficient at something (speaking in Spanish).
  • chopping vegetables in the kitchen with V, asking her which ones she likes, and seeing her taste her first olive and twist her mouth with distaste at its flavor.
  • the blessedness of a quiet afternoon when my own littles were asleep and J and V sat cuddled on the couch watching a Disney movie in Spanish on YouTube, while i read my new magazine and sipped on tea.

feeling glad to be doing this work, happy for the ways it is already expanding us as a family, hoping and praying that Father will minister to their hearts in this home He’s given us to share.

 

why i chose this : following Jesus

i chose when i was 2, which i always thought must be impossible, like maybe my mom forced me into it. but i can tell you now, as a mother who prays nearly every day for Jesus to reveal himself to her kids in ways that they can understand and know Him… He does that. Jesus reveals himself to babes, and they begin to “get” it, which is mystery and grace and altogether wonderful.

but this is beside the point.

i chose to follow Jesus as a teenager and in college because my mind was satisfied enough, stimulated even, and my heart yearned for his good news to be true. he was a moral compass, a comforting truth, an assurance that when the suffering of this life ended, there would be release in heaven.

but i chose to follow him in earnest when, in my mid-twenties, he delivered me from the pit (the kingdom of heaven starts here in this lifetime). he snatched me right out of the mire and healed my heart, and he did it with so much personal attention, so many small signs and wonders that only i would understand. he revealed himself to me and allowed me to really feel and know his love deep in my bones. he gave me relationship with Holy Spirit in a way i never knew was possible, he taught me how to really pray and then showed me how he answers. he showed me how to sink into my confident sonship with Papa, and he let me learn and hear his voice. and through all of this  he became beautiful to me, and potent, and wise, and tender, and absolutely worthy of my devotion. that testimony is a longer one, and if you really want to read it, you can read it if you want to PM me to ask for it.

and then i vowed my life to him. the same day that i married tim, tim and i also said some vows to God. we said we’d be true to him, that we’d be kind to others, and that we’d go wherever he told us to go with the gospel. i wear a ring on my wedding finger that symbolizes that vow. and divorce is not an option.

so now, you see, even though there may be seasons when things are dry between us, or when i’m unhappy with him, or when i want very much to avoid him… we’re still married. and i know that he is still alive and active and as good as he’s ever been. so i still choose to follow Jesus. and i hope that i always will.

everything else in this series about why i chose this or that or the other thing really hangs on this first thing: that i chose (choose) to follow Jesus.