this is how I love you

It has been one of those weeks, or two with my almost 7-year-old son.  I’m not sure what it is – start of school, sudden warm weather (we’ve had a mild summer for Missouri until recently), allergies, hyperactivity….not sure.  There has been moments this past week or so that I’ve thought, “What am I going to do with him?!?!”  

I’ve been disappointed with some of his choices, concerned about some of his actions, and prayed for the Lord’s continual healing and protection of his life.  I realize as a parent that this is probably the most loving thing I can do for him.  I also recognize that I’m not alone in my concerns.  Many parents, if not all, digest their children’s actions and choices on a daily basis.

A few days ago while riding in the car, my son started singing a song on the radio. The faint, slightly off-key voice of my young boy caught my attention.  It did more than cause me to pause a while and listen.  His small voice stirred my heart a bit.  It was during this time that I became overwhelmed by the power of love.

Love forgives the past.  Love moves us away from disappointments.  Love enters our hearts, and seeps out of every pore in our bodies.  

I am overwhelmed by just how much I love him, my daughter, and my littlest one.  I may not ever be able to “fix” all of the struggles they have.  I’m not even sure if I should anyway.  I may not understand fully what it is like to live life walking in their skins.

I know I will never be able to completely fill the blank spaces in their histories, or write their stories in a way that will bring total comfort, but….I love them.  Even in my disappointments, moments of utter frustration, and moments of joy, the one thing that doesn’t change is my heart’s commitment to who they are, and who the Lord has ordained me to be in their lives.

As I continued driving and listening to his sweet little voice stumbling over words he didn’t know, I felt the Lord saying to me,

“Caroline, this is how I have heard you through the years.  I’ve heard your imperfect voice.  This is how I see you.  I’ve seen your choices.  This is what I feel for you, and all of my beloved children.  I’ve rejoiced for you, and cried with you.  This is how I love you, and always will.”

In those times when we disappoint, or we make bad choices, or maybe we reach that place of throwing our hands up and giving in, His Love – the most significant, unexplained, miraculous, life-changing, hope-sustaining, and compassionate love – has not changed, nor will it.

Through all of life’s challenges and changes, times of peace and times of war, mountain-tops and valleys, trials and talents, and sounds and silences, His love remains.  His love is the one true constant, never-changing presence of our histories.  It is the unchanging backbone of our present, and it is the eternal, life-preserver for our future.

Deuteronomy 7:9 
9 Know therefore that the LORD your God is God; he is the faithful God, keeping his covenant of love to a thousand generations of those who love him and keep his commands.

Awesome….thank you, Father.

Compassion

“I miss you, Mr. Bruce.  I wish you were still my therapist.”  

The words above are ones I heard today from my office.  I got up, walked down the hall, and found a chubby, 10-year-old boy looking up at my husband.  My husband is not a therapist, but a child welfare case worker, and we work at the same agency.  This boy had been on his case load for several years until he was recently transferred to another worker who could focus more on his adoptive recruitment.

The minute the boy walked away, tears started to well up in my eyes.  I could barely keep them in.  This boy, the one who missed my husband, is the same boy who my husband worried about, had on his mind long after work hours ended, and had a hard time letting him go to another worker.

This boy has no one, but case workers.  He has no birth family to connect to anymore.  He only has the people in his life who are professionally charged for caring for him.

His small, vulnerable hands reached out to staff members today.  He introduced himself, shook our hands, and used his little hands to make pictures for each of us. He needed this activity to fill his day until he met his new foster mom.  He seemed fine, and had some boundary issues, but overall, he appeared to be a sweet and resilient little guy.

As the day went on, I thought about the boy, what has happened in his life, what might or might not happen, how innocent he is in so many ways, and how empathy tends to rip out one’s heart.  I’ve been confronted with empathy and compassion several times this week.  Just a few days ago, I posted this quote on a friend’s Facebook wall:

“Compassion asks us to go where it hurts, to enter into the places of pain, to share in brokenness, fear, confusion, and anguish. Compassion challenges us to cry out with those in misery, to mourn with those who are lonely, to weep with those in tears. Compassion requires us to be weak with the weak, vulnerable with the vulnerable, and powerless with the powerless. Compassion means full immersion in the condition of being human.” ~ Henri Nouwen

My friend, whom I’ve known since junior high, is part of a group of citizens who are organizing meals for the homeless in our community.  During a recent lunch conversation, our thoughts turned to the idea of how helping others loses its “doing good for others feeling” and becomes an experience that causes full immersion into the trauma, poor choices, dysfunction, and despair of others.  I think my friend has hit “that wall”….that painful, raw wall of human experience.

It is a wall that I ran smack into when I first started working in the field of child welfare.  I was going to change the world.  I was going to find families for the kids who just needed to be loved.  I was going to make a difference.  To say I saw my role through rose-colored glasses is an understatement.  The first week or two were wonderful.  I was warmly welcomed by other staff members, and was slowly being introduced to foster families, and I was starting to get some “cases”.  By cases, I mean children.  

Then, I opened up my first file of documentation about the history of the children I was assigned to find families for.  There before me were the stories of gut-wrenching abuse at the hands of adults charged with caring for these little ones.  Within the stories were layers of neglect, past trauma, dysfunctional family systems, and lots and lots of despair.

The stories of child abuse were no longer stories.  They were images of innocence ripped away.  I wanted to pretend that what I was reading was not that bad….but….how could I?  How could I gloss over horrific sexual abuse, or babies being found laying in cribs among animal waste?  How can I ever forget the picture of a 4-year-old, blue-eyed beauty with staples in her head from the physical abuse suffered at the hands of her mother’s paramour?

I hit the wall.  My vision of the community I thought I lived in changed.  I entered the underbelly of what is really going on behind lots of doors, dark alleys, and drug-fueled minds.

I remember weeping at night about what I witnessed through the pages of life stories unfolding in front of me.  I had bad dreams…nightmares really.  I know I was going through what is typical in the helping relationship field.  Others before me had already hit the wall, and had successfully built their own resilient walls to shield them from the pains and problems of their clients.

The wall is necessary to get through the day, but it does not make us less compassionate.  Compassion forces us to go to places we would never choose to go on our own.  It kicks us in the gut, compels us to move, and pushes us to keep on “keeping on”.  There is a difference between a “do-gooders”, and compassionate people who seeks to make differences in their worlds.  Doing good does just that….it does good, but compassion does so much more.

Compassion reveals the gut-wrenching human existence that is part of life on Earth.  As a Christian, I believe that compassion leads us to the place where Jesus exists.  It puts us in the most broken of painful places.  It causes us to see others with fullness, not just splinters.

It is the place where Jesus calls us to be.

I’ve thought a lot about the little boy who looked up to my husband today.  I’ve thought about his future.  I’ve wondered how it is possible for him to even dream beyond tomorrow without the safety of yesterdays.  I’ve shed tears for him.  I’ve felt pain and worry for him.

If compassion can lead us to feel all of this, then surely, it can lead us to imagine the depth of how the Lord sees us.  Though broken in my vision of this little boy, and the others I’ve met along the way, I know that my human vision is nothing compared to the vision that the Lord must have for these children, and others in our world who have fallen on the downside of society.

Compassion calls us to wake up each day with the desire to grasp a glimpse of the lives of others.  It breaks our hearts, and stirs our determination.  Most of all though, it begs us to live a life walking in the full measure of the mercy we have been given, and to reach to others in ways that they see Him living in us.

Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience. Colossians 3:12 

The Road Less Traveled

roadI went for a run the other night, and found myself alone on the path.  I thought, “This isn’t the first time I’ve been on a road alone.”  Growing up with what happened to me, I always felt I was walking down a different path in life.  I was a sojourner discovering a new world all to myself.  No one could relate. No one could understand.  No one could comfort. The chains of barrenness bound me to relive my regrets, my insecurities, and my unfulfilled desires over and over again.

I was on the road less traveled.

It was hard, really hard, to fully understand and accept that I would never have children through birth.  I hid my insecurities through a big smile, an adventurous spirit, busy life, and a confident persona.  Yet, beneath that chameleon-like suit, was a girl blindly walking through a tunnel without a light.

I felt forsaken by the Lord.  I had to navigate the road before fully understanding the terrain.  I had heard that the greatest of all gifts are children, and yet, there I was childless, damaged, and forgotten.  The Lord felt thousands of miles away…

Here I am now thirty years after my surgery, and infertility is spoken about, but not often understood.  Sometimes, I get overwhelmed by how many women, and men, struggle with similar gut-wrenching tugs on their hearts, minds, and spirits.  If only I had a “mentor” growing up, or someone who would have shared with me that barrenness would stay with me for life.  It would get harder the older I got, and it would try to siphon the joy from grand moments in life.  If only, I had someone to walk with me down the road less traveled.

My advice to anyone going through similar issues is quite simple: listen to your heart, cry when you need to, don’t let others negotiate your infertility for you, and never give up hope.

NEVER.GIVE.UP.

I didn’t walk down this road to keep my experience to myself.  Now, as a parent, I certainly don’t want to silence the songs my heart sings about grace, forgiveness, and the gift of children.  Looking back on my journey, I get a sense that it all led to this time in my life where I can speak out loud the twisted thoughts, confusing notions, and painful longings of my youth.

IMG_1517So, here I am.  I’m still walking the road that was carved out during that fateful time in September of 1983.  The difference now is that I’m no longer walking the road less traveled by myself.

I’m sharing it with a host of others who are walking alongside me.  I’m walking side-by-side with my husband who could have chosen a different path.  I’m celebrating it with family members whose lives and love have grown tremendously since the kids entered our lives.  I’m being carried by the strength of the Lord, and, I’m skipping down it holding the hands of my children.

I’m on the road less traveled, but I am no longer alone.

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Dear Teacher I Barely Know

Dear Teacher I Barely Know,

I dropped my first grader off in your room yesterday.  Truth be told, I didn’t want to leave the room.  I wanted to sit with him, introduce him to some kids he didn’t know, and help him understand that first grade is different from Kindergarten.

I wanted to help him unpack his belongings, check his backpack again, remind him about his lunch, and stay with him.  I wanted to be with him on the playground during recess.  I wanted to stand up for him if I needed to, explain to the other kids how amazing he is, and fill them in on how he doesn’t worry too much about what others think about his interests, or lack there of.  I wanted to shout at the top of my lungs, “I LOVE THIS BOY!”

Dear Teacher I Barely Know, please help me understand how he learns.  Help me understand his struggles, his successes, and his potential.  In return, I’ll give you insight into his world.  I’ll share his talents, his interests, and his needs.  We need each other.  We have a lot to teach each other, but even more to learn from each other.

I need to hear from you about his time at school.  I want you to hear from me that my first grader is complicated, amazing, impulsive, creative, misunderstood at times, and deeply cherished.  I want you to know how much he has colored my world with every shade of love possible.  I need you to know that I would do anything for him, including holding him accountable for his actions.

I want you to see my son for who he is…all of him…not just the blonde-haired boy sitting in the front row of your classroom.  Do you know that there is no place he’d rather be than on the lake with his Papa?  Do you know that he really isn’t into sports, but excels at gymnastics?  Are you aware that he’d rather dig up worms, and watch fishing shows than sit in front of a video game?  Do you know that he draws pictures for me just about everyday?

Do you know that he has already cried, and described his day at school as being “hard”?  Do you know that his three best buddies from Kindergarten moved to another school this year?  Are you aware that he doesn’t have a lot of friends outside of school, except the girl down the street, and few at the lake who visit when he sees his Papa?  Do you know that he asked me the day before school started to remind him again of the kids who might play with him?

Do you know how much that breaks a mother’s heart?  Are you aware that I leave a piece of my heart at the door each time I drop him off at school?

Dear Teacher I Barely Know, I don’t expect you to invite the Lord into your classroom, but I have.  I’ve asked Him to wrap each child with arms of protection.  I’ve prayed that He would be in the midst of your interactions, your lessons, and your set of challenges.  I’ve asked Him to show kindness, gentleness, and love through the actions of others.  I’ve prayed for you, other students, and my son.

Dear Teacher I Barely Know, you have a tough job.  I don’t envy you, and I certainly don’t know if I could spend my days like you do.  I want you to know that I don’t expect you to treat my son better than any other child.  I know how deeply each child is loved by his or her parents.  I know other parents must wonder how their children are at school.  I’m sure other parents worry about friendships, peer pressure, bullying, and loneliness.  Surely other parents pray for their children, and desire more than anything that their children will learn, grow, and pursue happiness.

I trust you.  I know you must love children.  I know you have years of experience with kids just like my son, but I do not.  I’m still learning how to be a parent.  I’m learning that my kids’ needs change with each year, and that life doesn’t get easier as they grow up.  I’m still making mistakes, needing do-overs, and learning not to sweat the small stuff.

Dear Teacher I Barely Know, we share something very special in common.  We are teachers, models, and disciplinarians to the same child.  We are both set out to understand, shape, and encourage the same child.  We may barely know each other, but are now connected through this wonderful boy.   I’m here for you.  I support you.  I will back you up when you need it, but I will also defend my son when he needs it.

Dear Teacher I Barely Know, welcome to my world.  Welcome to my son.

In Heaven

photo (95)We made the sad decision to put our dog, Speedy, down today.  After watching him deteriorate for the past few months, we knew it was time.  His hair was falling out, his skin was en-flamed, his legs shook, and he whimpered at night in an effort to get comfortable.  Speedy was 15 & 1/2 years old, and the last of what I call our “fur baby family before we had a human family”.

I could write so much about what I have learned through loving my dogs and cats. Dogs are especially unique in their love for their human companions, and I believe that they are a special kind of gift to this world.  They keep our secrets, comfort our sadness, and protect us with vicious loyalty.  If only we could treat each other the way our dogs do, perhaps there would be less gossip, less grief, and less victimization in the world.

This morning, I gathered our children and explained to them that when they returned home this evening, Speedy would no longer be living with us, and that we felt it was time for him to be put down so that he would not suffer anymore.  Both paused for a moment, and then spoke some wise words to me:

“Speedy will be in Heaven with Cleo and Baby Kitty now.”

“His skin will get better, and his hair will grow back.”

“God will take care of Speedy.”

After listening to them process their impending loss, I realized that their words brought great comfort to me.  It was a difficult day, but the vision of Heaven that the kids put in my mind infused my thoughts.

In Heaven, there will be great joy, and the grandest of reunions.  In Heaven, sickness and frailness, and all of the things that make us physically and emotionally ill, will be gone.  In Heaven, we will rejoice with our Heavenly Father.

Today was one of remembrance of the sweet little puppy that bounced his way into our lives.  It was one of commemoration about the many years he greeted us at the door, slept next to my feet, and gave us moments of laughter.  I was also reminded that the years may seem long, but time with each other, truly is short.

It was also a day of a grand envisioning of what Heaven will be like, and of the blessed assurance of Eternal life.

Thank you, Lord, for gifting me with Your wisdom and promises through the soft-spoken words of my children.

Dear Infertility (Part 3)

Dear infertility,

I ran into you the other day.  You’ve changed.  I hardly recognize you anymore. I’m sure you could say the same thing about me.

Do you remember the first time we met?  I was young and sick.  I was vulnerable, and innocent in so many ways.  I didn’t understand you at all, and you did nothing to help me understand you.  Instead, you covered me like tar.  I tried to shake you off, but you stuck.  Even worse, as I grew up, you became harder to remove from my skin, my thoughts, and my heart.

You stalked me.  You ridiculed me, and you made me believe false things about myself, and about my future.  I was forced to wear you like some uncomfortable skin.  Everywhere I looked, I saw you.  I could not look at a child, and not think of you.  I heard you hissing painful reminders to me, and I felt you pound on my heart each time I tried to picture myself as a mother.

Oh, you met me where I was at alright.  You confronted me in each vulnerable moment of my life.  You chose to mix me up.  You twisted my thoughts, and tore at me.  You even tried to make me believe that I was half the female my friends were. You made me question my design, my worth, and my purpose.  You did your very best to take me down….didn’t you?

Infertility…you are not bigger than you think you are.  You have claimed power in so many people’s lives, but, you are only powerful when preying on people’s weaknesses and insecurities.

Infertility…you are despicable. 

Can I tell you something?  I felt you tremble a little when I was confronted with the love and the hope of Christ.  My Father met me where I was at, but unlike you, He wrapped a blanket of hope, forgiveness, and shelter for the future.  My regrets slid off of my skin when I encountered Him.

One day, I will stand before my Father in Heaven, and you will not be standing there next to me.  You will not be my sidekick, my story, or my painful moment of life.  You will be gone…gone…gone!  

I used to think that when I got to Heaven, I would ask about you.  I wanted to have a deep discussion about why you came at me like you did.  I do not need this conversation anymore.  I have my answer….I HAVE MY ANSWER.  My answer is a blue-eyed, Tomboy who loves her daddy, a blonde-haired charmer who is always one step ahead of me, and a little brown-eyed babe who loves to cuddle.

My answer is the redemption I found in the unstoppable, unfailing love of Christ, and in the unfolding chapters that have been written for my life.  You did not write my future out.  You did not dictate how my life would go, even though you thought you would. You were wrong.  You were so very wrong.

Dear infertility, I ran into you the other day.  You look different from what you used to look like.  I hardly recognize you anymore, and you feel so different now.  You are lighter…barely even noticeable.  You seem so small and weak compared to how you used to be.

Funny thing is….I must look different too….I must feel different to you.

Truth is….I AM different from the person I used to be, and, praise God for that.

2 Corinthians 5:17-Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: The old has gone, the new is here!

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