Tag Archives: death

The Problem With Trusting God

Standard

20130916_trustinggod

I’m an ordained elder.  For 13 years I was a pastor.  And if you test my spiritual gifts, one of them will be faith.  So it might surprise you to learn that trusting God is something I struggle with.

Perhaps the seeds of this struggle were planted when I was 11 and my father died from brain cancer.  I grew up going to church and when my father was diagnosed with cancer it was unreal.  Everyone I knew was praying for him to recover.  Yet, despite all the prayers and Bible verses that were quoted, my family watched him slip away from us.  I struggled, I grieved, but somehow my faith remained intact.

Then, the summer after my junior year in college I went on my first mission trip.  I went with an amazing group called YIM that did a fantastic job preparing us for the world beyond our borders.  During that summer I was confronted with the reality of the third world.  I learned about people who lived on less than a dollar a day.  I learned of people who were literally starving to death.  I heard the stories of those who were sick and dying from illnesses that could be prevented by a simple mosquito net or treated with drugs that were readily available to all Americans.

As an American Christian I had always been taught that God provides for his children.  I had memorized verses about God knowing exactly what we need and promising to care for us.  I had studied the passages about not worrying about what we would eat or drink.  I shook my head in agreement when I heard someone say “God always provides, right on time,” or “God didn’t bring you this far to leave you now.”  I accepted these things as truth.

But how could I look in the face of brave Christian brothers and sisters who were facing death and recite those familiar platitudes?  How could I say “don’t worry” to the mother who had no food to feed her children?  Or tell the young man dying for lack of basic medicines, “trust God, he will provide.”?  Suddenly, it wasn’t so easy to “just trust God.”

If God’s children were dying of hunger or sick and suffering in third world countries, what did that mean for me and my struggles?  Surely it wasn’t as easy as just “trusting God to provide.”  I’m not saying that I don’t believe God provides.  Or that I don’t believe God is good, loving, and cares about us and our problems.  I just believe that the way God works is more complicated than easy platitudes allow for.

Over the years I have found myself in many difficult circumstances which have tested my ability to hold onto my faith and trust God.  I have cried with friends who have lost loved ones.  I have faced incredibly difficult challenges in the ministry.  I have struggled as my son fights to overcome the trauma he experienced before he entered foster care.  I have faced extreme financial hardships.  And I have faced the loss of my daughter.  Life has not always been easy, and often I find myself struggling with the question of how to trust God in the midst of suffering.

Ultimately, I believe that God provides through us—the church.  When someone is praying for food to feed their children, clean water, or medicine for their loved one in a third world country, we as a church are designed to be the answer to that prayer.  When a mother admits she can’t buy milk, a man is homeless and eating from a trash can, a refugee is seeking shelter, or a friend asks us to pray for them, we are created to help. It’s not enough to tell those who are struggling to rely on God, or not to worry.  We are called to be the hands and feet of Jesus.

So the next time you’re tempted to tell someone to “just trust God,” consider whether or not God may be trusting you to be the answer to their prayer.

Toto, I Don’t Think We’re in Kansas Anymore!

Standard
Toto, I Don’t Think We’re in Kansas Anymore!

Have you ever woken up and no longer recognized the life you were living?  I mentioned in my last post that there were lots of changes in my life.  Some changes have been amazing and exciting, others are incredibly frightening and have left me feeling lost and unsure.  As a result, my entire life has been turned upside down and though I’ve wanted to blog about it, I’ve been a bit unsure about how much to reveal.  I’m still not sure about that.  So this is a beginning of a conversation I hope to continue one day.  I hope you will have patience with me as a struggle through this.

My trip down the rabbit hole began last December.  Life was pretty good.  I was working at a church I loved, with people I respected.  Little Man and I were progressing well, moving toward adoption, and enjoying our first Christmas season together.  I was expecting Baby Amaia to arrive in a few short months, and had been stocking up on the most adorable baby clothes and tiny little diapers.

Then the tornado hit.  Three weeks before Christmas I lost my job.  The job that I loved and was so passionate about.  And although I was beginning to struggle with the 60-80 hour work weeks I was putting in as a single mom, the news caught me completely off-guard.  There is a lot about that situation that I would like to share.  There’s a lot that I feel needs to be heard and understood.  But when you work in the church, things are complicated.  A whole-other-universe kind of complicated.  I was heartbroken, and angry, and insanely stressed.  Because apart from every other thing I was feeling, I was a single mom without a job, and when you work in pastoral ministry you can’t just find another job in town.  Continuing to work in my field would mean moving, probably out of state.  And moving would mean giving up my son and soon-to-be-born daughter, who were still in the foster care system.  And that was not an option.  So I went into full-on panic mode.

I applied for close to a thousand jobs.  I only got three interviews and no job offers.  Then on January 29 I got a call that taught me fear.  Baby Amaia’s bio mother was going into labor almost three weeks early and they had discovered multiple problems with the baby.  They didn’t expect her to survive the delivery.  As the foster parent I had no legal rights, and no way of knowing what was going on.  I waited and prayed all night.  Sometime the next day I learned she had survived the birth.  For two weeks I waited each day for news, hoping for miracles.  I was able to go see her in the NICU and was blown away by how tiny she was.  She was hooked up to dozens of monitors and IV tubes.  Then on February 12 I received the phone call that changed our lives.  Baby Amaia would only live a few more hours.  They had decided to take her off life support and she would not survive.  I rushed to the hospital and held my sweet girl for the first and last time, as I watched the life ebb from her body.  There are no words for the pain I felt that day, the pain that still haunts me.  I miss her every day.

After months of looking for jobs I decided to become a substitute teacher until I could find full-time work.  Subbing in an inner city school district was an eye-opening experience.  I have worked professionally with kids for 13 years but I had never experienced anything like that.  The challenges were incredible.  After a few weeks I was hired to stay at one elementary school where I rotated between all types of classrooms, from pre-k through 6th, from standard, to special needs, to emotionally disturbed.  The students pushed me to new levels of frustration and I came home with more than one injury.  But they also broke my heart and made me fall in love with them.

In March an unexpected blessing came.  Little Man’s biological mother suddenly and unexpectedly signed over her parental rights, naming me as the adoptive parent.  This cleared the path for us to begin moving forward with his adoption.  It’s a humbling experience sitting in the courtroom as a parent signs away their parental rights to make way for you to become the mother of their child.  To sit and listen as the judge asks “Are you sure?” in a hundred different ways.  At the end of the day I was free to adopt my Little Man and his case was officially transferred to the adoption department.

Then began months of waiting, bureaucracy, and frustration.  It seemed like everything was moving at a snail’s pace.  In the meantime I began to explore the possibility of moving back to Illinois to be near my family.  Being a single mom is hard without any family around.  With no family in New York I was at a bit of a disadvantage.  I’d always had a great network of friends and church members who served as my support system, but when I lost my job I lost about 95% of those people.  I had not only lost my job, I had lost my church and most of my friends.  Since I’d been exploring the possibility of going back to school and getting a second masters in teaching, school counseling, or speech therapy, having family around would be really nice.  Now that I was looking at adoption, moving to be closer to family was a possibility.

Finally, just a few short weeks ago, we finalized our adoption!  After 588 days in foster care, Little Man became part of his Forever Family!  I can now officially introduce you to Austin!

IMG_0289 IMG_0050 IMG_0056pf IMG_0084pf2bw IMG_0206sun IMG_0295 IMG_0329

After a year and a half, I can finally show you my adorable Little Man’s face!  Officially becoming a family is definitely the highlight of my year, and the best thing that has ever happened to me.  It makes all the struggles and pain of the past year worthwhile.  I am so blessed to call him mine, and so thankful God brought him into my life.

Austin’s adoption day was August 26.  I had decided it was best to move to Illinois, and we had been making plans prior to the adoption.  So a mere two days after the adoption we loaded up a truck full of stuff and the next day we pulled out of town.  We’ve been in Illinois for a few weeks now and everything has been a huge adjustment.  I’ve been living in large cities since I left home at 17.  Now I’ve moved to a small town where everyone knows everything about each other.  I’m coming to terms with the fact that there are no stand-alone Starbucks (although, thank God, there is one in a grocery store), big shopping areas, or fun attractions.  I’m also starting my job search all over again, this time in a small town with far less opportunities.  I’m renting a house for the first time and purchasing appliances, dealing with spiders and cockroaches, and discovering the [insert sarcasm] joys of living in a home that’s over a 100 years old.  I’m struggling with a school district that has been very frustrating to get registered with and just decreased Austin’s services significantly–from 10 times a week in a 5 hour program to 4 times a week in a 2 1/2 hour program.  And on top of all that I’m trying to unpack, make new friends, cook without a stove (going on 2 weeks now), acclimate Austin, and try not to freak out about how I’m going to survive until I find a job.

This is my life now, and I’m definitely not in Kansas anymore.  So much of the past year has been overwhelmingly heartbreaking.  It has challenged my faith and left me in an emotional blackhole.  And yet, there are glimpses of beauty and hope.  Becoming a forever family is the best thing in my life.  Even painful things, like losing my job, have taught me to trust God and allowed me to see the beauty in spending time as a family–which was something we seriously lacked when I worked in the church.  I don’t know where this yellow brick road will lead me.  I have no idea what my life will be like five years from now–what I will be doing as my next career, where we’ll be living (because houses with cockroaches and zero storage space are not my cup of tea), or how far Austin will have progressed on his journey.  But I have hope.  The wonders of Oz await!

I Chose Loss

Standard

I chose loss. I volunteered for it. Signed up and waited for my turn. I chose loss; but I never thought it would feel like this.

Four days ago I lost my daughter. My beautiful baby girl, who had only ever known life in a NICU incubator. Four days ago I held her in my arms as she lay dying, trying to choke back the sobs as I whispered my love to her. It was the first time she had been cuddled to my side. Four days ago I lost the sweet child I’d been planning and preparing for during the past eight months. And I walked into an empty home filled with baby things I had hoped to fill with loving memories.

I kissed my baby goodbye and walked out of the small, dark room they use for these things, trying to hold it together long enough to get to my car. Long enough to get out before I completely lost it. But I couldn’t make it. Walking through the NICU halls I could see all these other beautiful smiling babies—success stories who had once fought for their lives in this same place. And I lost it, right there in front of the elevators, as I ran to find a bathroom where my sobs choked me until they turned out my breakfast. And I lost it again in the elevator. And the car. And pulling into my garage with its stores of baby goods. And when I finally climbed into bed and pulled the comforter over my head in a useless attempt to shut out the world.

I’ve lived in hiding for the past four days. Barely leaving my front door, other than a trip to the ER when the grief translated itself into physical illness. Today I had to get out. Not for me, but my sweet three-year-old son who doesn’t understand any of this. For my rambunctious love who has been trapped inside our small home for days as the wind chill dropped to -40 outside.   It seems a fitting temperature for death. But not for little boys. So we bundled up and drove to the mall playground. I didn’t want to go. I knew what would happen. But I chose this, and so I held his small hands as he jumped and played. And then the inevitable—we rounded the giant tree to find an adorable little baby girl sitting in her mother’s lap. I couldn’t breathe at first. I needed to look away, but that sweet little boy’s voice kept telling me “Over here, Mommy” as he ran right towards her. I tried to turn my back on them, to hold my son’s hand while looking in another direction. I kept catching glimpses of her mother—looking bored as she held this sweet baby in one hand and texted with the other. I wanted to run up to her and scream, “Don’t take this for granted! Pay attention for all of us who can no longer hold our babies!” But this would only make me look like a mad woman—reveal all the cracks that are breaking into my carefully held together mask.

I wander through purposeless days–throwing away baby shower checklists and registry cards, opening letters that were sent while she was still with us, hiding baby toys in a now forbidden closet. I try to focus on my sweet little boy and hold things together so he can experience some sense of normalcy. And I wait. I wait to find out the funeral arrangements, to learn if she will be buried or cremated, to find out if I will be allowed some small memento from her brief life. Just like I waited sleepless nights to find out if she made it through delivery and her first night, waited to meet her for the first time, waited to be allowed in the NICU.

I wait because this was my choice. My sweet girl is not my biological daughter. And although I have anxiously awaited and prepared her arrival for the past 8 months, I have no legal rights to her—to see her in the hospital, to make the choice to end life support, or to plan her funeral.

I am a foster mom, and I chose this.

I chose to love children who were not my own. Children to whom I have no legal rights. Children whose futures lay in others’ hands. Children I could not love any more had I been their biological mother.

I met my son when he was two and a half—all questioning eyes and nervous giggles, as he tried to stow away toys and hide behind curtains. Over the past 11 months we have learned together what love and trust and family mean. I may have to get permission to take him out of the county or change his hairstyle, but he is my son. And we are moving towards adoption.

The precious little baby I lost was my son’s half-sister. From the time that the biological mom knew she was pregnant, I knew she would be my daughter. Nothing is ever certain in foster care, but according to the case worker, there was a 99.9% chance she would be placed in foster care. And because they strive to keep siblings together, as long as I wanted her, this beautiful girl would become a part of our family.

And I did want her. I knew from the time they told me that my son was on the track for adoption that one day I would want to adopt a little sister for him. Most people doubted my choice. I’m single and my son is overcoming a truckload of special needs as a result of his trauma. People questioned whether or not I could parent two kids. They asked if it was wise for me to take on more “work.” They wondered if it was in the best interest of my son to live with his sister. They doubted that the baby would be safe with a special needs kid in the home.

Once the time came for her birth, we realized the severity of her health problems and were told that she probably wouldn’t survive the delivery. A therapist told me it was better this way. And then she did survive delivery . . . and the first night . . . and the first week . . . and I finally confided to a neighbor what was going on. She told me to leave the baby at the hospital. That she wasn’t worth all the work and I had my hands full already. The doctors felt she’d never survive, that it wasn’t worth using extreme measures on a hopeless case. And since I wasn’t even the foster mother yet, I got to hear the news without any of the obligatory “we’re sorry” or caring bedside manner.

They meant well. They just didn’t understand that she was already my daughter. So I continued to fight for her and pray for her and stay awake nights hoping for a miracle. One week turned into two weeks. And just when I thought things might be more hopeful, I got a call from the caseworker—they expected her to die in the next few hours. I’d only seen her once, I’d never held her, and I had no rights to go visit her; but my baby was about to die. The sweet little girl I had loved and prayed for and stocked a nursery for only had a few precious hours left.

I lost my daughter. The sadness is unimaginable, and every day my thoughts are filled with her and the future that we were robbed of. I remember all the plans I had for our family, and it’s sometimes more than I can bear.

But I remind myself that I chose loss. I chose to be a parent whose child could be torn away from them at any moment. I am a part of a system where kids are moved on to different foster homes, placed with family members, returned to parents, and then come back into the system again. I am a parent in a system that asks me to love each child with every part of me—just as if they were my own—and then be willing to lose them. That’s what I signed up for. That’s what I wanted. And though I never imagined one of those children would be lost this way, I knew there was every possibility that my heart would be broken. This is what I chose.

But I also choose love. I choose hope. I choose to believe she is in a place where her tiny little body is no longer filled with pain. I choose to believe that God will bring healing to our family. I choose to believe that this pain, and loneliness, and suffocating sadness won’t last forever. And I choose to carry her heart in my heart forever. I chose loss, yes. But more importantly, I am choosing love.

photo amaia

Living Without

Standard

we’d been living without
hope
faded away like the mists that cloaked Eden’s garden
that day paradise evaporated, we buried hope
hid it in the darkest cave
in the pursuit of survival

and then he entered our wilderness
journeyed with us through our desert
and we began to dig
to retrieve that forgotten treasure
hope tiptoed into our vision
began to color our world
and then, like a cheating fox
it snuck into our souls

that dark Friday
they nailed up a man
but we knew it was our hope
hanging on that cross beam
we wept as despair crawled back into our souls
and we took it down
and buried hope that day
convinced we’d never have the courage to retrieve it again
we locked it up
walked away

until we heard it creeping up behind us
wrapping its warm arms around us
filling every place of fear and emptiness inside us
and we were lost
in the mystery of it all
how hope climbed out of that grave
and relentlessly stalked us down
captivated us with the sense that it would never leave again
never again hide in the ground

Metamorphosis

Standard

two dimpled knees bend unsteadily
while the space between her small body and the dirty sand decreases
her hand reaches out and tentatively brushes the strand of pale hair away from her face
it moves to the pile of pebbles at her left
unsteadily it closes the tiny fingers around a shiny stone
cautiously she balances her weight as she sends the smooth gray object into the vast expanse of water
concentric circles form in the clear pool
fascinated, her perfect hands clap in delight
and in another world:
a beautiful lady gracefully brings her hands to this same pool
their delicate fingers forming a perfect  cup
as her neck slowly bends to accommodate her sleep-swollen lips
they earnestly find the sweet water
and somehow the clear substance fulfills a deep need
slowly the corners of her beautiful mouth rise forming a smile
and in another world:
two figures are running across the land
finding the way to this  same pond by following the drumbeats of their hearts
and while socks and hastily tied shoes come off, the tinkling of soft laughter vibrates through the valley
and the mother and child splash their feet in the cool water and  raise their confident voices to heaven
in resounding thanks
and in another world:
a black-clad girl makes her way to the pond
her bruised feet climb the rocks above the pool
and as she sits on the hard mass of granite she clutches a black urn which is absorbing the tears that fall from her face
and as she reaches her hand into the jar and sets the ashes free on the water,
she sings the song her mother taught her
the song her mother sang when her two dimpled knees bent unsteadily

 

A poem for lost fathers: Raising My Voice

Standard

Today the world is short one more amazing father, husband, friend, and follower of Christ.  Brett Cannon was an incredible man and it’s so tragic to see his life ended too soon.  Tonight my prayers go out to his wife and children.  They carry a heavy weight.  This poem was originally written for another amazing father, husband, friend, and disciple–Raja Nweiser; whose story reminded me so much of losing my own father.  Today this poem is dedicated to Brett’s family, and to all of those who are grieving a father ripped away to soon.  I’m raising my voice for you.

(Note: baba is the Arabic word for daddy.)

Raising My Voice

I’ve been here before –
nearly twenty years ago
I stood beside the wooden box which held a man
who had only seen forty-one winter chills
only forty-one spring thaws
only known a few years in his children’s lives
I stood looking down at his strangely tinted face,
held his cold fingers with my warm ones
my mind unable to comprehend what this meant
we stood in a line—from toddler to eleven year old
and said goodbye to our “baba.”

I’ve been here before –
but with someone else
this time the movie plays through my mind,
a continuous loop
of you laughing and smiling
joking as we climbed to Herod’s palace
telling me of your beautiful girls as we drove through the desert
narrating stories as we wandered through the siiq to Petra’s great Treasury
encouraging me  as we hiked up to the Monastary—
(never letting me give up despite all my protests
without you I would never have known the view from that mountain’s peak)
caring for every detail when I fell like a clumsy child
and each memory that washes over me brings a fresh wave of sorrow.

I’ve been here before –
but this time I see things with my grown-up eyes
I see the world without you, and it seems empty somehow
where once stood a loving shepherd, now stands a grieving flock
where once was a respected mentor, now sit confused students
where once was the love of a father and husband, now is the heartbreak of a wife and her children
and my grown-up eyes weep
for the dreams you’ll never fulfill
the potential that lies unreached
the friend that I have lost
the wife whose love was torn away
the children whose baba will never again tuck them in at night

I’ve been here before –
and so I offer up my prayers
For all those who have lost their pastor, mentor, colleague, friend, loved one
For the days when you feel overwhelmed with sorrow
For the nights when sleep is chased away by memories
For the moments when grief chokes back your breath
I stand beside you
and I raise my voice
to the One whose comfort will carry us through

A Toast to Haggis, Bagpipes, and Burns Suppers

Standard

A couple of years ago I discovered a fascinating tradition known as a Burns Supper.  A Burns Supper is an extravagant dinner party to celebrate the life of Scottish poet Robert Burns, who is perhaps best known for penning the lyrics to the song “Auld Lang Syne.”   And so once a year, around the world (but especially in Scotland) there is celebrating, singing, toasting and poetry reading in honor of the late, great Burns. According to the source of all good and true knowledge—Wikipedia, “[Burns’ Suppers] may be formal or informal but they should always be entertaining. The only items which the informal suppers have in common are haggis, Scotch whisky and perhaps a poem or ten.”

Each supper follows an elaborate ritual which was started at the end of the 18th century, on the first anniversary of Burns’ death. The meal starts out with a welcome speech and then an old Scottish prayer (or “grace”), which so beautifully goes:

Some hae meat and canna eat,
And some wad eat that want it;
But we hae meat, and we can eat,
Sae let the Lord be thankit.

(Yeah, that there fancy language is what them Scotts call the Lallans Lowland Scotts Language.)

After the first course is served, then comes a procession to honor the main course—haggis, of course. Bagpipes are played, people stand and then the haggis is honored with the beloved poem—“Address to a Haggis” which so beautifully starts out:

Fair fa’ your honest, sonsie face,
Great chieftain o’ the puddin-race!

The guests eat their haggis, tatties and neeps (that’s potatoes and turnips to us non-Scottish folk) and then the toasts begin. There’s a toast to the monarch, a toast to Burns, a toast to the toaster, a toast to the “lassies” and a toast to the “laddies.” And then there’s the poetry.

The evening ends up with the guests laughing, teasing, sometimes even dancing at the memory of the great Burns. And all that got me thinking, when I leave this world, I think that’s how I’d like my friends to remember me. Minus the haggis, perhaps.  Because other than that “great chieftain o’ the pudding-race” thing, I think Burns and his friends got a pretty good thing going.

I mean, I’ve spent a lot of time counseling kids who have lost a loved one. And I’ve been in their shoes—I was eleven when my father died.  So I know how lost you can feel when someone disappears out of your life like that. It’s like there’s constantly an empty seat at the table that you’re waiting to be filled. And despite all that waiting, it stays empty. Worse yet, you don’t even talk about it. Forget white elephants in the room, we’ve got empty chairs here. And I’m not talking about nice, average-sized, wooden, dining room chairs. We’re talking those hunormous (yes, that’s right, I just used a completely made-up word back there), big-enough for Big Foot size rocking chairs you see at furniture factories in the Great Smokies.

And with all that empty chair space filling up your living room, there’s an awful lot of stuff to not talk about. So maybe those crazy haggis-loving Scotts aren’t so crazy after all. Maybe it’s time for us all to dust off those empty chairs and fill them with some par-tay. Maybe it’s really not that crazy to celebrate all those things we love and miss—whether it’s the greatness of their poetry or the wackiness of their taste in food. Perhaps that’s how we keep our heads above water when that giant chair threatens to take over. We set aside the days and the times, we get together with our friends who share this empty chair, and we laugh and cry, we eat and we share stories, and we remember. Because just maybe, that’s the only way to deal with hunormous, Big Foot size chairs. We remember.

So, here’s a toast to Robert Burns and to his haggis-loving, bagpipe-playing, Burns-Supper-attending friends. And here’s a toast to you. May you celebrate the lives who have left Big-Foot chairs in your life, and may that celebration light your path to a more complete story.

(This was originally published in 2008 on another blog.)