Tuesday, February 18, 2014

The Sparrow. My Story of Matthew 10:29-31

When I bought valentines for my kids to share on Vday this year, the thought flickered across my mind that I should pick up an extra box. So I did. And then I patted myself on the back for preemptively dealing with the inevitable fallout when the last child to choose is stuck with the last box and therefore hates it, not because anything is wrong with it, but just because he/she didn't get to CHOOSE it.

I didn't really think about what to do with the leftover box, assuming, I suppose, that I'd just pass it along to a neighbor, or bring the Vday treats inside the box to share at the office.

So I was surprised when, the moment that I actually thought about it, a clear and distinct feeling came that I should give it to one of my daughter's teachers, for someone in the class who wouldn't be prepared with valentines that day.

I didn't pay much attention, and when I did remember, I'd wonder if I should just hand it to the first teacher I saw. And every time I'd have the clear feeling that it needed to be THAT teacher, in that classroom, in that grade.

I finally remembered on Valentine's Day itself. I grabbed the box and ran into the classroom when I dropped my kids off. The teacher was surprised, and looked doubtful. "Are you sure you want to leave it with me," she asked. "I'm pretty sure that all of my kids are ready for Valentine's Day." I told her to share the treats with the class if they weren't needed.

Later that day I got an email from the teacher. "How did you know?" she wrote. "One of the boys didn't have any valentines to hand out, and he was so sad. I gave him the box you dropped off and it made his day. He was so excited to not only have valentines, but to have such AWESOME ones."

Here's the thing that keeps getting me: I didn't know. His teacher didn't know. The other kids didn't know. Quite possibly, the kid himself didn't even know, because kids are kind of clueless like that, and don't always think about things like asking parents to get valentines for them.

But Somebody did.

Somebody cared enough about one little boy in one little school in one little town, to nudge one distracted and tired mom to grab an extra box of valentines, and point her feet in the direction they needed to go, and then open one teacher's eyes to see where the need was, so it could be filled.

It's not even a very big deal. In the big, grand scheme of things, not having valentines to pass out in fifth grade hardly rates as a reason for divine intervention.

That's how God works, though. If it matters to us, it matters to Him. He moves heaven and earth, moves overworked teachers and moms in minivans, to see us happy.

YOU matter. YOU are the child of Heavenly Parents, and your happiness is their sole aim. You are loved, even down to the details of your daily life. There is nothing too small or too silly; too big or too scary, that it can't be wrapped up in their love.

I promise. You are that important.

And worth so much more than sparrows.

Tuesday, February 04, 2014

Just One More

Just in case you haven't heard the hollering at our house....

We're adding one more. 

We're bringing home a new brother from China, yes, BUT we're also bringing home a new sister as well. Can you hear the heavens singing? 

I'm not even sure how to tell the story, in part because it's still being written. I'm still having a hard time wrapping my mind around all the crazy things that led up to this decision, and the miracle that we actually got approval to bring home a second baby. I won't lie--I'm freaking out a little bit when I think about TWO new little ones running around my house. One was scary; two is flat out terrifying. 

Oh, but we are so excited! This feels so right for our family. It's such a neat thing to watch things fall apart and then fall back together, perfectly and just-rightly. It's such a privilege to see God at work, up close and personal. 

The adoption process is brutal. I'd forgotten how rough it can be, and this most recent one so far trumps the others in sheer amount of work and emotional energy. At least every other day I find myself thinking that I can't do this again. And maybe I won't. That's okay, if I'm done after these two. 

The thing that has kept me pushing through is knowing that, however rough it is for me, it's so much worse to live life without a family. However unbearable the incredibly invasive process feels to me, it's so much worse to grow up without a family to hug you and play with you and be there for you and remember your birthday, and have a place to go at Christmas. 

One of the reasons that it took me three+ years to get on board the adoption plan this time around was because I wasn't convinced that adopting as a single mom was a great plan. I thought a two-parent family would be better for the child, and I wasn't sure that I, as a single mom, wanted to take on even more--especially when I know so intimately how hard it can sometimes be. God was patient with me and led me along until my heart was ready. Ultimately, two truths convinced me. One, I was busy whining about how I wasn't sure I could handle another child and I wasn't sure this was the right time for me/us, and this wasn't the way that I'd prefer to do it....and the whole time I was whining there were millions of orphans sitting in cribs who never even got asked if they could handle being alone, or whether this was the right time to be orphaned, or whether this was the way they'd prefer to live their lives. Two, I realized that they didn't need a great and perfect plan, with a great and perfect family. They just needed a family. Even a goofy, crazy one like mine. Even a single-mom family like mine, with loud, obnoxious siblings, and a tired, too-often-frazzled momma. We aren't perfect; I'm not perfect. But we're enough. 

I'm hoping to travel this summer to bring them home. Right now my paperwork is working its way through the final steps in Washington DC, then on to China. It's been a long and exhausting process. I keep reminding myself that the real work begins once they get home. Being part of a family when you've never known what "family" means can be scary and overwhelming and really, really hard. I have no illusions that this is going to be easy. But some of the best things in my life are also the hardest things. At our house, "hard" isn't a reason to avoid good things with eternal consequences. We grit our teeth and say lots of prayers and just keep plugging away. There are some advantages to being a stubborn little #$%&.  

Your prayers would be greatly appreciated. For me, as I work my butt off to make this happen financially.  For the kids in my home right now, who are working out realities like new bedroom arrangements and how to keep little ones out of their legos, and can't understand why adoption is such a long & seemingly endless process. For my kiddos who are waiting on the other side of the globe, who are about to go through an unbelievable life change, that likely won't seem like a good thing at first, from their perspective. Please pray for us. 

Also, soak in that loads of cuteness picture at the top. Am I the luckiest momma or what? I CANNOT WAIT to smooch those cheeks, and make my little boy chuckle (because seeing it in video is just not enough, not even close). 

God's plan is a beautiful thing. We are so blessed to be part of it.

Sunday, December 22, 2013

40 Acts of Service

I've been very bad about blogging our 40 acts of service in honor of my 40th birthday. I haven't been as bad about actually doing them, though.

During the past three months we've hauled bags of food to the food pantry, shoveled snow for neighbors, donated money to help other families adopt, and babysat for friends, to name a few.

I'm giving up right now on recapping all of them here, though we did indeed finish our list.

My focus is the takeaway from this little project.

Sometimes I think that I am one of the most obtuse people on the planet. So many of my friends seem to have a knack for noticing the needs of those around them, and finding ways to help. Me, I'm the clueless one on the sidelines who stands and watches, and thinks of opening the door for you after you've already struggled through with four kids and ten bags. This whole charity thing is just not hard wired into my brain and heart.

It's something that I pray for, and work at, and try to do better. And that's been the best thing about our 40 acts of service. For the past three months my mind has been focused on ways to serve people, and I've felt myself actually becoming the compassionate, kind person I want to be.

The 40 acts themselves were wonderful. I'm almost more excited about the smaller kindnesses that popped up because my mind and heart were in charity mode.

The miracle was that for the past three months I've actually noticed. The woman clearing six inches of snow off her car in hose and heels. The mother with more crying children than lap space. The woman with her arms loaded up between buildings. The elderly gentleman who needed a listening ear. This 40 acts project we took on finally succeeded in breaking down some walls of self-absorption around my heart so my eyes could see more clearly.

That is a gift. That is an answered prayer. That is my favorite thing about this experience.

The challenge now is to keep those walls down. I want to keep seeing with these new eyes of charity.

Monday, November 18, 2013

It's All a Matter of Perspective

Grace: "What is the definition of 'obsolete?'" 
Me: "Um, old and doesn't really work anymore." 
Grace: "You mean, like, Grandma Sherry?"
Me: "Oh, BURN." 
Grace: "WHAT?!?! I meant, that she's retired and doesn't have to go to work like you do. What did YOU think I meant?" 


Mia: "Mom, what's this picture?" 
Me: "That's when I was in college." 
Mia: "WHAT?? I didn't know they had fridges when you were in college!"

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Saving Batman

Someone asked me the other day why I was adopting another little one.

That's a big question, with lots of big answers. But I think I can summarize.

Last week Eric had a friend over to play. Between the Legos, movies, and candy, they perused comic books and discussed subjects near and dear to little boys' hearts. Like Batman.

"Do you know something really, really sad about Batman," Eric queried.

"Um, I guess," replied his friend.

"Did you know that his mom and dad were killed? They got shot, right in front of him. When he was just a little kid."

Unintelligible grunt from friend.

"So, he has no parents. And he grew up without a family. Isn't that totally the worst thing you can imagine?"

Another unintelligible grunt from friend.

My kids are a big part of the reason that I'm going for one more. They have been pushing for this for years. There has never been any doubt in their minds that there is another child out there meant to come home to us. They are exceptionally kind and compassionate kiddos, it's true. But I think it's more than that.

They get it. When they hear stories of kids growing up in orphanages and kids without families, there is an element of "there but for the grace of God go I" for my kids. They don't take it for granted.

Eric loves to sneak into his room when no one notices and come out wearing a superhero mask and cape. He'll race around the front room and refuse to answer to "Eric."

"I'm ChinaMan! How did ChinaMan get into the house? No one knows!"

I'm doing this again because I know the joy that one little masked crusader brings to a home.

I can't save the estimated four million orphans in the world. But I can make sure that one more little superhero doesn't have to find out how sad it is to grow up without a family.

Saving the world one Batman at a time.

Kindness Thing 5, For Real This Time

Kindness Thing No. 5 was Mia's brainchild.

We bought a package of mints. Mia wrote a note:

Dear mail carier, thank you for brngingus our mail evry day.

We put it in the mailbox with the note peeking out. It took four days before the letter carrier took it. I think he didn't read the note the first three days. Either that, or curious neighbor children went home smelling like peppermint.

Wednesday, October 09, 2013

Kindness Thing 5 (Almost)

One of the things on our Kindness list was to go out to eat and pay for another family's dinner.

This was more of a challenge than we expected, as the restaurant was nearly deserted. By the time we picked a group of diners to treat, it didn't seem that dinner would be appreciated, but perhaps buying dessert would.

We called the waitress over to ask if we could buy dessert for the next table. She bustled over with a twinkle in her eye. Before we could ask our question she informed us that WE were being treated to dessert!

You can bet there were some happy kids at our table.

So, we still have to do number five. But, on the plus side, isn't it so wonderful to see how kindness comes back to you?

People are just good.

Tuesday, October 08, 2013

Kindness Things 3 & 4

As noted earlier, the kids and I are carrying out 40 acts of kindness in anticipation of my 40th birthday coming up--and I'm chronicling them here (since I'm too lazy to keep a separate record).

No. 3

We wrote thank you notes to teachers who we love. It was sweet to see my kids' sincere appreciation for the little things their teachers do. It spurred me to do the same. I hunted down the address for one of my old professors, now retired, and wrote a note thanking him for being such a positive influence in my life.

Gratitude just feels so good.

No. 4

I have been hesitant to post this one. It seems kind of private and sacred to our family. But I also can't imagine leaving it off the list.

Last week I got a really awful text from someone our family loves very much, telling me that her newborn son had only lived a few hours from birth. Instead of coming home with her new baby, she and her husband were planning a funeral and trying to figure out how to tell their little daughter that her baby brother wouldn't be coming home.

My kids LOVE babies. Head-over-heels-obsess over them. My kids love R and her family. They have enjoyed loving on her first baby since birth, and have adored watching her grow from newborn to toddler to big girl. When I broke the news to the kids the car went absolutely silent. Then Mia said, "That is the worst thing you've ever told us." I agree, baby girl. It sucks.

My kids also have very big hearts. In the eight minutes it took to get home they had unanimously decided to forfeit our family pizza money and send it to R & her family to help in whatever way it could, with medical bills, funeral costs, or even just grabbing pizza themselves on a night they were too tired, too busy, or too sad to think about dinner.

Love those kids of mine. They are keepers, the whole lot of them.

Wednesday, October 02, 2013

Working with What You've Got

Mia has a lovely doll named Sophia Merida, and true to her maternal little heart, Mia plays with her, talks to her, takes her places, makes clothes for her, sings to her, and generally considers Sophia to be her very own child. 

In an unfortunate accident, Sophia recently lost a leg. 

When Mia showed me the problem and I determined that replacing the leg was extremely unlikely, I began thinking about how soon we could get Mia a new doll. Christmas? Should I make her a deal that if she saved half the money I'd kick in half? Should I just buy a new doll right now, since I know how much Mia enjoys playing with her precious Sophia? 

I tentatively posed the question of whether we should start looking for a new doll. 

Mia made angry eyes at me. 

"It's just a LEG, mom," she retorted. "Sophia is still Sophia; just without one of her legs now." 

She left my room, darting backward glances as if daring me to even try taking Sophia out of her arms. From her room I could hear her reassuring Sophia that she would never, ever give her up. 

When I called the kids for dinner, all four of them came running in the kitchen with great enthusiasm. 

"Look, mom! Eric solved the problem! Eric found a way to help Sophia since her leg is gone!" 

As you can see, Eric created a Lego-wheelchair so that Sophia will barely notice the absence of her leg. All four children are extremely proud of their innovative solution; Grace: "now we don't even have to save our money for a real wheelchair!" 

Gulp. I was thinking saving money for a new doll; they were planning how to save for a real wheelchair. 

People just aren't replaceable. Even doll people. And everyone has value, even if they look less than perfect to ignorant outsiders like me. Even doll everyones. 

What would the world look like if we all saw people through Mia's eyes? Lucky me, to be so close. 

Monday, September 30, 2013

To the Rescue

Yesterday our Sunday School lesson focused on the experiences of some early Mormon pioneers, specifically, the Willie & Martin handcart companies. When the Mormons were migrating to the Great Salt Lake Valley, there was a point where handcarts were used instead of the usual oxen, horses, and mules. Handcarts could be produced at a much lower cost, were lighter and faster to transport, and helped facilitate the journey for thousands of Latter-Day Saints.

Many companies of handcart saints made the trip uneventfully.

Then the Willie & Martin companies came along and a series of mistakes, poor timing, and accidents set in motion catastrophic events (see more here:  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mormon_handcart_pioneers#1856:_Willie_and_Martin_handcart_companies"
Early snows came and hundreds of saints were stranded across Wyoming, unprepared for the weather and extremely low on supplies. A  few church members returning from a scouting trip came across the struggling, dying saints and rushed to bring word to Salt Lake City of the desperate straits. Upon hearing of conditions, Mormon church president Brigham Young dismissed a general church conference scheduled for the next day, saying that the only text and the core of their religion was to get their brothers and sisters home.

Those early settlers in the Salt Lake valley had only been there for a couple of years. The previous summer had been one of drought, and people were ill-prepared to survive the winter, let alone receive hundreds of starving, destitute immigrants. Yet they brought out their own reserves of food, gave up their own horses and wagons, packed up blankets from their own bed, and then sent husbands, sons, and brothers out to rescue their fellow saints.

To say that it was not an easy rescue is to dramatically understate the case. Conditions were so severe that many of the rescuers died from complications of exposure, as they battled blizzards and blinding wind, and crossed freezing rivers over and over again, carrying weakened pioneers on their backs.

Before reaching the safety of Salt Lake City, more than two hundred people died, most of them on the frozen plains of Wyoming. While the suffering was extreme, so was the heroism, and that compassion, bravery, and unselfish love for fellow man is what we remember and venerate of the Willie & Martin handcart companies.

As we reviewed the stories that came from these experiences, one thought jammed itself in my brain and won't let go.

For many years after--and continuing through to today, really--folks hotly debated who was at fault for the suffering and death that came to these unfortunate companies. Many people were deeply critical of church leadership, at every level, for allowing so many errors to be made. Some or all of that criticism may be merited; I don't know. Determining blame isn't the point of this post.

The thing that struck me is that in all the written records, we don't see the names of the rescuers among the names of the criticizers. Conversely, we don't see the names of the criticizers among the names of the rescuers.

I can't help but think there is something here worth noting.

Mother Theresa is credited with saying that if you judge people, you have no time to love them. I've been on the receiving end of that kind of love many, many times, because I happen to have a life filled with gracious and loving people. I've verified the truth of the statement over and over again, too, as I take fumbling steps to follow the example of these good people and step beyond judging into loving. It's a kind of miraculous thing, when loving takes root in your heart and the judging glasses just fall right off.

The rescuer-Saints could have rationalized, and they would have been completely, perfectly correct. "It's not our fault that they started so late in the season. That was just stupid!" "Our first responsibility is to care for ourselves. We can't jeopardize our own children to go save someone else's." "Um, everybody knows that you don't cross Wyoming in a handcart in October, and if you're dumb enough to try, you deserve what you get."

What a gift, what a blessing, that they looked beyond and just saw people hurting and in need of rescue.

The thing is, we all--and I mean ALL--do stupid things. We all put ourselves in danger. We all screw up royally. We all suffer from poor choices of others, and hurt from actions that are not our own. We all fall short of grace, and we all desperately need rescue.

In one of the most beautiful paradoxes of this human experience, we also all get to help rescue each other.

Or, we can stand on the sidelines and point out the mistakes. We can take cheap shots at the leaders. We can tell the struggling rescuers how they could do it better or why the rescue isn't worth it. We can step away in smug self-assurance that this rescue was undeserving of our effort.

Meanwhile, people are freezing to death in the cold hell of addiction, poverty, war, violence, disease, and hunger. Millions of children are languishing in orphanages or living on the streets. Just last week a little girl in my son's orphanage died while she waited for medical care that never came, and a family that never claimed her. Millions of people a continent away are dying of famine and disease, and it doesn't even make headlines in the U.S. because they don't look like us.

Just like for the handcart pioneers, these are issues of life and death, and our rescue efforts have long-term, even eternal, consequences.

We all make our own choices. I'm not advocating for renouncing our first world lifestyle and heading out to a life of humanitarian service abroad--though I love and honor those who are called to that work. I'm posing the question, to myself as much as to anyone else: am I criticizing or am I rescuing? Am I saying "this man hath brought upon himself his misery" or am I rushing to the aid of a fellow traveler?

What rescue means and looks like is different for every single one of us. Rescue means inviting widows living alone to have Sunday dinner with your family. Rescue means writing out a check, even if it's a very small one, to an organization that supports efforts you believe in. Rescue means smiling at the harried mom in the checkout counter and making silly faces at her screaming baby so he'll stare at you instead. Rescue means listening to a suffering friend on the phone when you really needed an early night. Rescue means acknowledging and bearing witness to the images of death and violence that flood the news, instead of shutting our eyes and hearts. Rescue means taking a moment to say a prayer for the victims. Rescue means gathering up food for the food bank, even if all you can spare is two cans. Rescue means refraining from making snide comments about lazy people on welfare because you don't know if the people who hear you might be struggling to stay off the streets, and desperately need to validated for their efforts to keep their family fed and housed in spite of repeated job losses and illness and cycles of poverty. Rescue means inviting the weird kid to sit next to you on the bus. Rescue means forgiving your friend for mean things she said on the playground when she was trying hard to look cool. Rescue means listening to your daughter read her book report aloud one-more-fricking-time-even-though-your-head-might-explode, because she's worried that her teacher won't understand it and needs to be assured that it makes sense.

Only God can direct where your rescue efforts are most needed. Once you know, though, nothing else matters. The lovely thing about Godly, passionate rescue is the criticizers on the sidelines become nothing. You can't hear the shouting voices of the naysayers when you are battling the fierce winds to reach a suffering soul.

Really, I suppose this post is an invitation. Come, join me in the trenches. We have so much work to do.