Sunday, December 22, 2013

Prayers in the Darkness

Christmas is only 3 days away. It's only 7:30 but I've been awake for hours. The sky is slowly lightening as snow falls heavily. Many inches down and many to come. The silent house was all my own for awhile but now my son and husband stir on the floors above. The dog has finally left his bed and come to join me on the couch, curled up against my legs. I sip coffee and soak in an uncharacteristic slowness to the morning.

Christmas is only 3 days away. People talk about the hustle and bustle and the stress of the stores. I finished my shopping months ago and vowed not to go near the malls in December. Christmas cards were done by Thanksgiving and wrapped presents have been ready for weeks. Each night since December 1st our family has gathered around our Jesse Tree. We have read stories of faith and hope and waiting as we inch towards that important morning that is almost here. We don't talk of Santa or elves, except as they show up in an occasional Christmas movie. We talk of light and love and Jesus around here. I'm not a scrooge- I love this time of year. But he asked when he was three and we told him the truth. Our Christmas is still full of lights and sparkle and cookies and joy. But it's mostly chock full of the life-filling message of grace and incarnation and invitation. And it's magical.

Christmas is only 3 days away and I am joyful. This was a season I dreaded. I wondered again how it would feel to have empty arms, to continue to wait on a dream we've been dreaming for five years. But somehow the admitting of the difficulty, of the dread, brought a new depth to this season for me. I have felt guilty in the past for struggling at Christmas. Not this year. This year I was honest with myself and God. And, oh has he met me. I have dug into Advent like never before and felt surrounded by God's joy and hope.

Yesterday morning I took a long walk. There had been an ice storm on Friday and the trees were particularly beautiful encased in ice, drooping, shimmering. I meandered through the park on a trail I couldn't really see anymore for the snow cover. And I was reminded again that even in the most desolate landscape, there is life. Squirrels chased each other under a pine tree. Red berries hung from bushes and I couldn't help but wonder which animal would seek them out for sustenance as they stood out against the glare of white in the landscape. Soccer goals stand half-buried in snow, just two short months ago supporting raucous games of soccer at recess and after school. You can almost feel them waiting for spring and mud and screams of delight. I know that underneath the snow and leaf litter, a microscopic world scurries on with life, enriching the soil, working tirelessly even in the darkness to sustain the beauty of the plant life that will burst forth in a few months.

God is like that. Sometimes the work is going on in the darkness- and it's not that it's so small we can't see it, it's that it's so big we can't understand it. And sometimes, sometimes he wakes us up before the sun rises and puts this great urge to sit, to pray, to ponder in the darkness. To be reminded that the darkness is not a punishment or a forsaking. It's a part of the cycle of life, necessary and purposeful.

Christmas is only 3 days away. And with it comes the reminder that into any darkness, light penetrates. Joy infuses. Hope overcomes. God is with us, that great message of Christmas, is true and overwhelming.

Christmas is only 3 days away and I am ready and waiting.

Monday, December 9, 2013

How to Love Your Waiting Friends

When I was a child, I remember certain winter mornings. I woke up with a hope, a wondering. Did it snow? Maybe there was a glow from behind the blinds or a certain smell in the air and I leapt out of bed, yanking the cord and praying, yearning to behold a sea of white glare. Some days it came true, other days the sun tricked me with its brightness. Winter was one long wait- for the next snowstorm, the next snowball fight, the next Nintendo marathon with the neighbors in place of school. And it was a fun wait. Eventually it turned into a mushy wait for spring but with that came new joys- soccer would soon start up again, the wearing of shorts, the leafing of the trees, that first afternoon when the sun feels warm again. Waiting is easier when you know the certainty of the outcome. Every year, winter happened. Every year, spring arrived.

For those of us waiting on an adoption or a pregnancy, though, the waiting is uncertain. Nothing is guaranteed. We might never match with a birth family, people undergoing fertility treatments may never conceive. It's a time of hope and waiting- but it's oh so different. People who haven't experienced this type of wait have a hard time understanding. And so many of them want to offer words of encouragement or specific opinions on the "how." Humbly, though, I submit that there are only a few simple things you can do to love us well through this process. I also humbly submit that not all those waiting will agree with these points. We are all different.

WAIT WITH US. QUIETLY. What does this look like? Well, there's no particular process. Think to yourself, "What posture might I have if I were waiting on something that I wanted more than anything else in the world and had no control over getting?" How would you feel? What would you want said to you and what questions would drive you mad? Say the former, avoid the latter and just hang out with us. And don't abandon us when the wait turns us grumpy or mean. We don't mean to be a jerk- gently tell us, let us apologize and stick with us.

DON'T USE THE PHRASE "HAVE YOU THOUGHT ABOUT...?" I know you are well meaning. When our wait goes on, you hurt for us, you want to solve it, you want to see our children come home to us. But we HAVE thought about it. Almost all of it. Most of the fertility options. Most of the adoption options. We've prayed, we've researched, we've been through invasive procedures, we've filled out mountains of paperwork and been asked probing questions. We've thought about it. And when you ask if we've considered a different type of adoption two years into our wait, you just demoralize us. You tempt us to regret a choice we most likely painstakingly made. You make us wonder what we have done wrong to continue to wait.

STOP ASKING IF WE HAVE ANY NEWS. I recognize that this may not be true for everyone but after you've been waiting for something for five years you can rest assured that when it happens, you will shout it from the rooftops. Asking me every time I see you if I've had any news just drives home the point that no, I haven't. No news. Nothing happening. And when I've had a good week of not thinking about it too much, it may derail that because my thoughts immediately will go back to the "why" of all this waiting. So, please, I know you love us and you want to know what's going on. But don't ask me if we've had news. Just ask me how I'm doing- if I have news, believe me, that will be a part of how I'm doing.  And on another point, if we do have news there could be situations (involving birth parents or keeping a pregnancy quiet at first) in which we can't yet share it which just puts us in the awkward position of whether or not to lie to you, our friends. We don't want to have to do that.

AVOID CLICHES. Seriously. Telling me to "never give up" or that you "know it will happen for us soon" or "God is in control" doesn't do anything but remind me that humans feel a need to have a solution to everything. If we decide to give up, that's our business. And, to be honest, it might not even be giving up, just a quiet recognition that one dream is not viable and moving on to a new one. Making me feel badly for considering a new dream doesn't help. And you know what else? You don't know whether or not it will happen for us and certainly not soon. We don't "deserve" this, we haven't earned the right to have this particular happiness. And telling me constantly that God is in control just makes me want to ask him the "why not us" question again. And that brings me nothing but hurt and bitterness and self-pity. So, again, just hang out, just talk to us like there are other things going on than our waiting. And if we do need to vent about it? Just listen. No cliche will make the waiting easier.

PRAY FOR US. A lot of you wonderful people tell me how often you pray and hope for us. Thank you. That really is something you can do. You can talk to God  for us because sometimes we are too exhausted to keep asking for ourselves. Knowing there is a faithful group of people who love us, who want good for us and who dream of this coming true really does bring us joy and reminds us how very much we are loved by God. That, after all, is what we need most.

Monday, December 2, 2013

Press Repeat

This morning my son and I walked to school. He skipped around, swinging his lunch box, dodging half-frozen puddles in his boots and talking to me about life, love and first-grade happiness. I love these walks. Five minutes of calm in our morning- lunch is packed, clothes on, shoes tied, coats zipped (sometimes)...the frenzy of the getting ready gives way to the quiet of the journey. I would love to say that we talk about a vast array of topics, delving deep into culture and dreams. In reality, we talk about snow. Every morning. It goes something like this.

J: Mom, do you think it will snow today?
Me: Maybe. Not too much, I think.
J: But it will snow more than North Carolina, right?
Me: Yes, it will definitely snow more than in North Carolina.
J: Taller than me?
Me: Yes, buddy, taller than you. Though not in one storm. Total, you know, over the whole winter.
J: Wow. Are you sure?
Me: Yes, bud, totally sure. It ALWAYS snows more in Wisconsin than in North Carolina. I promise.
J: (satisfied smile and stare at the sky willing it to snow immediately)

I should probably clarify that we have been having this conversation ever since the second day of school. The first day, rightly, was preoccupied with the whole "we just moved here and I don't know anyone and do you think I will make friends and have fun" conversation that inevitably precedes the first day in any new community. But day two? Snow. Day three? Snow. Day 50? Yup, you got it. Snow.

Most days I quietly chuckle as I answer him, loving his raw enthusiasm and his need to KNOW that it is going to happen. Not just to hope, but to trust he will be getting the snow storms of which he has only dreamed. Some days I get annoyed. Any parent can tell you that a sweet question is nice the first ten times but after the 1000th? Well, it can take work to keep the frustration out of your voice when you've already answered a question 999 times. Sometimes I wish could record my answers and press repeat for him.

But today was different. I didn't chuckle. I didn't feel frustrated. I felt struck. Here was this innocent little boy. This person who I love more than I could've ever imagined. This amazing boy who loves snow and wants it to happen as soon and as often as possible. In fact, his only request when we were moving was that we would move somewhere with a better winter. Wisconsin has been happy to oblige. It's actually snowing again as I type this and I am watching all the Christmas lights twinkle through the flakes. Just beautiful.

Today was different because I finally realized that he asks the same question every day because he cannot believe that the answer he has been given is real. It seems too good to be true given his prior experience with frustrated hopes and thwarted snowstorms that turned into "rain events". Is there anything worse than hearing that phrase on the news when you were supposed to wake up to a winter wonderland? And so he continues to ask and I suspect that until we are all finally sick of the snow in April, the trend will continue. Until he has experienced the winter he wants, he won't believe it. Even then, I imagine that next September will bring a renewed conversation. We forget so easily, even the good.

Today was different because I suddenly have this vision in my head. God and I are taking a walk, as we often do. And he is listening to me prattle on about something or other in that patient way that he does. And I ask him a question. And if I watch his face carefully, I see that tension between amusement, frustration and love. Because he has given me the answer 999 times but I need to ask again. I cannot help myself. What he offers to me is too unbelievable, too good, too patient, too real to be truly comprehensible. And so I have to ask again. How can this God love me? How can I be forgiven? How in the world did God become flesh so that I could know Him better? How is it possible that someone so huge can walk so closely beside me in my suffering? How? Why? Who is he, really? When my experience in life often makes me feel cynical or frustrated or angry because of the hate and suffering and racism and bullying and infertility and lost dreams and all the other things that shout our brokenness from the rooftops, it's hard for me to truly believe in the Good, the Beautiful, the God who is himself Love. The God who doesn't just record his answers and press repeat but delights to engage with me for the 1000th time.

So I keep asking. I look up and I hope. And because he has answered the same way 999 times, when he answers again I believe it. At least for a day. And a day is enough.

My son and I will walk to school tomorrow on snow-covered streets and ponder that great question about "whether or not it will snow today" and he will believe me again that he will get the winter he wants. So, too, I will wake up tomorrow and ask my same questions of God and ponder anew the unrelenting grace and generosity of a God who Loves me more than I can possibly understand.