Wednesday, June 14, 2017

The Sad

I walked into his classroom on Monday and saw my little boy sitting by himself reading a book. I could see the dried tracks of tears on his face. I could feel, almost physically emanating from him, his sadness. He (all 60 pounds of him) wanted to be carried out to the car. My boy, my bundle of energy who lives life like it's a competition to get anywhere first, who usually sprints to the car, his beautiful head on my shoulders, slumped in defeat.

On the drive home, I asked him how he was feeling.

"Mama, I so sad." 
"Why, buddy?"
"They took the pictures off the wall. School is ending. I don't want school to end." 

While so many kids around the country are literally bouncing in their seats with anticipation of this Friday or who have already celebrated that last day all the way home in the last few weeks, there are kids like my son. 

Kids for whom school, its regularity, its comforts, its amazing teachers, its friends for the raging extrovert, is everything. Some kids have tough home lives and summer is a long, terrifying unknown. Some, like my son, have a diagnosis that means that any kind of change in his routine causes him actual neurological distress. 

All he could do on Monday was cry. And all I could do was hold him, help him understand that camp is coming next week and try to remember that it's ok. 

I am not a failure as a mom because my boy would rather be at school. It's taken me awhile to be alright with that fact that I am "at home" with my kids but that I have a 3 year-old in school five mornings a week. To know that I am not abdicating responsibility. To be comfortable in the knowledge that I am actually doing the absolute best I can to give him what he needs in all his challenges and gifts. 

On Tuesday he came home sad again. And I knew that we needed to go to his happy place. 

So, after nap, we skipped swim practice and went to Target. Yes, Target is my 3 year-old's happy place. He picked out end of year gifts for his teachers. (And those who know him well will be unsurprised to learn that he chose to give them new water bottles.) We headed to Kid-to-Kid next because he had outgrown yet another pair of shoes and really wanted some new red sneakers. That kid scored some red and white Jordans for 8 bucks. He wore them out of the store, charged home, colored his teachers some pictures and wrote them notes. His smile was back. 

All these rituals. The gifts, the notes...even the buying of new shoes for the summer. They were comforting to him. Things he could do, even at 3, to process saying goodbye. To think about what the summer will hold for him.

And that next morning when he went to school? That child sprinted in wearing his new kicks, hugged the administrators on the way and tackled his teachers with his gifts. 

And they know him so well. 

"Look at your new shoes! Those are amazing! Did you find those at Kid-to-Kid?"
"I did, I did!" 

When I left, there was a little less sadness. A little less clinging. A little less panic. 

Will the next few weeks be hard around here? 

Yep. 

It's ok, though. We are ready.

We are armed with our social story full of pictures of his camp. We have our visual calendar we will do every morning and night. We have our theri-putty and our trampoline. We have our "sensory diet" and our "no drama discipline" to meet him where he is each morning. 

Most of all, we have hugs. Tears are ok. Saying goodbye is hard. I want him to know that it's ok to be sad. That it's fine for him as a boy and one day as a man to FEEL. To be unashamedly who he is in all his chaotic and beautiful and emotional glory.

Wednesday, June 7, 2017

One Year Away

I can remember pretty vividly a few things about our first year of marriage.

One, when we would meet anyone married more than 5 years, we automatically assumed they had arrived at some kind of marriage wisdom pinnacle.

Two, we had literally no idea what we were doing or who we were as a couple. We just knew we wanted to figure it out together.
June 7, 2003, Right after the ceremony

Three, we spent a lot of time in silence because we didn't yet know how to fight.

And now?

Now we are one year away from celebrating 15 years together in marriage. 15 years, 4 houses, 3 interstate moves, 3 children and countless hours of making the choice, again and again, to say "I will."

I think back on those young people. On how much we didn't know. How we didn't know that he would go back to school and we'd move three times as a result. How we didn't know that we would deal with miscarriage and infertility and come out stronger, by God's grace. How we didn't know we would have to go through the agony of finding a church and a new community (supremely challenging for a couple of introverts) more times that we would like. How we didn't know we would have to learn multiple ways of being parents because of the unique challenges and joys of being an adoptive family. How we didn't know that those hours in silence that first year when we didn't know how to deal with conflict would turn into a faint memory. How we didn't know that it was possible to love someone more 14 years later than we did that wedding day full of love and joy and celebration with all those we held dear.

But we know now.

Marriage isn't easy. It's not all rainbows and unicorns and skipping through meadows of wildflowers. It's not just "Hey, let's have some kids and share our love and grow happily old together." At least not for everyone.

It's a choice. Every single day. To look at one another, say "yes" again, and invite God to help us love that person more than we are capable of on our own.

One of the things I will never forget from our ceremony was the moment our pastor said this:

"You won't wake up every day and look at each other and think "this person is such a blessing to me". You will have to make a decision every day to love."


Our First Dance
We talk about what he said all the time. We remind ourselves that it's not about how we feel in the mornings, but the promise we've made to each other. And that promise usurps everything else. How our kids are feeling and what they need. Whatever else is going on, WE come first in this family. Our marriage has to function for our family to thrive. This reality, I am increasingly learning, is a countercultural way to look at marriage in a very kid-centric America.

So what do I think on this 14th anniversary?

I think that though it is continually about making a choice, I do love this man more than I did on that day 14 years ago. That I have married this incredibly generous person who embodies sacrificial love to me and to our boys. I am reminded every day of his goodness and his light. When I walk downstairs every morning and see him on the back deck, starting his day in prayer, I pause. I can trust him because I know that he is trusting God for what he needs to love me well.

That, my friends, is a miracle. Especially from a recovering marriage skeptic.

I think we don't have any particular wisdom, we just have experience. 14 years and multiple moves and 3 children worth of experience. And that means something. We aren't the same people we were on that rainy day in June. We are so much better.
At UR, June 7, 2003

So, to my love, happiest of anniversaries. 14 years down, hopefully many more to come. Hopefully we will stay put for awhile in this new home, this new town. Hopefully that will give us a much-needed chance to breathe and set down roots and continue to figure out who we are together.

I wouldn't want to do it with anyone else.

Tuesday, May 30, 2017

Just Jump

Remember when you were a kid and you didn't care whether or not the pool was cold? And you just saw that sparkling water, revved up and jumped in without a second thought?

Yeah. Neither do I.

What I do remember is my mom, grandmother, aunt, dad...anyone, really, over the age of 20, telling me it was cold and not to rush them getting in the pool. Not to get them wet before they were ready. And I get it. Because cold water feels like Satan now that I am an adult.

There have been some videos and articles circulating lately, encouraging women to just stop caring and put on their bathing suits and have fun, for goodness sake. To stop worrying about what they look like and just BE.

And I think those are great. I have friends who struggle deeply with body image. Who hate bathing suit season. Who would threaten your life if you aimed a camera in their direction at the pool. (I am not naming names NOR am I saying this did or did not happen to me just yesterday.)

But I don't really know what that feels like during this phase of life, to be honest. I don't mind putting on a suit if it's high cut enough at the top. My main worry is a wardrobe malfunction that would leave people emotionally scarred. Not all bathing suits were created to parent spirited toddlers, for the love.

What I do struggle with is this: old lady grumpiness.

You know what I want? To sit on the side of the pool, dry, rather than freezing my patootie off in a frigid pool. To read a book for a whole hour straight with the sun beating down while I sip an iced coffee or chat with my friends. I want to RELAX.

I also want to be a good mom.

And it's clear that relaxation and toddlers are not possible at the same time, particularly around water hazards. Or, really, when they are awake.

So.

I woke up Monday morning and I knew we were heading back to the pool in a few hours. I knew my boys were going to want to spend 2 hours straight jumping in, climbing out and doing it all over again because it is exactly what they had done the two days before. I knew it was possible they would ask me to get in that water and not just be content with my pseudo-exercise role of bicep-curling them in a squat position out of the pool so they could jump back in to dad. They had asked me before and I had said no. I wasn't ready for that cold pool.

This time, though, I decided that, if asked, I would just jump.

I wouldn't stick my toe in first. I wouldn't creep, in infinitesimally painful increments, with a look of horror on my face, down the stairs.

I would just say yes. Just jump.

So, after about 20 minutes of bicep curling my two year old, my three year old looked me dead in the eye.

Jumping with Nate
"Mama, will you jump in with me?"
"Yes, bug, I will."
"Really??!!!! Let's do it together, Mama!"

Friends. I wish I could have captured that grin on film.  That toothy, thrilled, exhilarated, water-already-dripping-from-his-face grin. (My neighbor stealthily did manage to capture us jumping together without me knowing it, how cool is that?!)

Was that water cold? YEP.

Was it worth it? YEP.

That grin is going to carry me through every cloudy day when I want to stay on the side. Through every moment when I am carrying a grudge for how he has acted and don't WANT to go in the pool with him in retribution. That grin was pure magic.

I know I will fail to always follow through on this, but my summer goal is to "just jump". Just say yes when my boys ask me to do something that I might not WANT to do but that I know will be good for US.

To not, this summer, be a grumpy old lady.

Saturday, May 27, 2017

The Village

Today was opening day for our neighborhood pool.

I watched as my oldest laughed and jumped and swam and raced with all these amazing young people that he didn't know a year ago.

I chatted and laughed with kind and funny people, women and men I know call neighbors and friends. I walked around the outside of the pool with a friend so she could get her "steps" in and, at the same time, spy on her teenage kids. (Shh.)

They helped me laugh off the fact that earlier in the day, within just one short hour of the summer officially starting, I had to wrestle a screaming, kicking toddler and three bags on the long walk of shame from the kiddie pool to the parking lot. One hour was all it took for us to bless the neighborhood with our very special (and ear-splitting) brand of chaos.

Last year I would have left the pool, lonely and dejected and embarrassed, vowing never to come back again. (And then my husband would have eventually talked me into trying again.)

But here's the difference this summer.

This summer I know we are surrounded by people who have been there. Who know us. Who aren't secretly judging us in their heads and saying things behind their hands like "that kid just needs a good spanking, look how he acts in public!" Who remember (and share about) their own times racing from the pool to the car with their own unhinged toddlers in their arms.

Friends.

This time last year I was struggling hard with the reality of moving back to Richmond.  Fearful, really, that we would make the same poor choices we made last time around. That we would overschedule our lives. Hide the true realities of our days. That the painful way we left it last time around would follow us right back and set up shop shop in our home as an unescapable anxiety.

But it hasn't. God is so good.

Yes, we had a slow start last summer.  A lonely first two months here. Tears before bed. Isolation in our chaos. There are few things harder than watching your normally joyful child struggle deeply with sadness and know that you have been the cause.

But then school happened. Neighbors came outside. We took a risk and skipped right past the painful small talk and just got to know each other. No hiding. Our kids became friends. My oldest found some besties. My younger ones found some teenagers to hero worship, boys who actually knock on the door and ask to play with our toddlers. Friends who drop everything when you call and say "we need you to come grab the boys" as your younger one is having  a seizure. Who clean your house and watch your kids and fill your fridge so you can keep going when you come home from the hospital.

I found friends to pray with, who see our boys as beautiful and precious and children created in the image of God who I know will fight with every ounce of their being alongside of us to make our schools and neighborhoods and churches better and safer places in which to raise our black sons.

We have found something so, so precious here.

This time last year I wrote this:

"Most of all, I hope as I continue to untangle and forgive myself and move forward, that we can start
fresh as a family. 10 years later. 2 more pets. 2 more children. 2 more sets of goodbyes under our belts. We have changed and so has RVA.

Ready or not, here we come."

I can honestly say that one year later, I feel like we've been able to do this. To start fresh. To be who we are in this place, in all our chaotic, loud glory. There ain't no hiding it, anyway. We've found that most amazing of things: a real community of friends who treats us like family even when our kids are losing it, when we haven't showered, when the stress is too much. Who helps us get back up after a tough day. Who lets us love on their kids like our own.

Who helps us to laugh at what life throws at us and keep going.

So today, as I watched my son with eyes glowing and smile so wide, and as I sat next to these amazing new friends, I felt overwhelmed. With gratefulness, with hope and with joy.

And with the knowledge that this village has been a part of my healing in ways I never could have expected.


Monday, April 24, 2017

The Longest Walk

I have a growing list of activities that it seems increasingly likely I may possibly accomplish.

  • Composing a concerto in my head.
  • Memorizing, in chronological order, every president of the United States.
  • Learning to rap "Ice, Ice Baby" backwards. 
  • Counting the number of times I have said the phrase "listening ears" since my children were born.
  • Identifying the current number of gray hairs I have.
  • Visualizing a map of Africa and successfully remembering the name of each country and where it is located.

These are just a few of many.

When (and why?) would I possibly accomplish these seemingly useless activities, you wonder, when I am parenting two toddlers at the same time?

The answer is easy: During the time it takes for my youngest child to walk up the stairs.

Let me paint you a little picture of how this goes each time.

(1) We approach the gate. Young one insists on opening the gate but is not developmentally capable of opening said gate. Conflict ensues. Mama opens the gate.

(2) Child takes one step up.

(3) Child takes one step down, opens gate, closes gate, insists on opening gate again. Cannot accomplish this aim. Conflict ensues. Mama opens the gate. Conversation about how we will only go UP from now on.

(4) Child takes one step up and spots a speck of dirt. Child picks up speck of dirt, hands it to mama and looks for more. This can last up to 3 minutes until stair is fully cleaned and mama is reminded of how dirty the step actually is.

(5) Child takes one more step up.

(6) Child gets distracted and asks mama to name every single person in every picture on the opposing wall.

(7) Mama complies because she is desperate for youngest child to be inspired to talk.

(8) Child takes one more step up.

(9) Child teeters on the brink of falling backwards down the stairs but screams in rage if mama attempts to keep him from plummeting to his death.

(10) Child recovers. Mama promises not to touch him.

(11) Child takes one more step up.

(12) Child takes another step up. (Mama tries to pretend she is not exceedingly delighted in this so that child might take another step up because HE WANTS TO.)

(13) Child proceeds to clean this step with same vigor as earlier step. Mama's pockets are now full of crumbs, dirt and leaves because, no, it is NEVER possible for her to vacuum the stairs. Ever.

(14) Child takes another step up and stops to take a break.

(15) Mama breathes in and out. Walking anywhere slowly is not her strong suit.

(16) Mama encourages resting child to make a big push to finish going up the stairs and begins to sing song she has composed to help little bottoms get moving when they are dawdling.

(17) Child responds gleefully to song and dances up the stairs, almost falling backwards again but scaring himself enough that he lets mama help this time.

(18) Mama keeps adding activities to her long list of what she might accomplish within the confines of her brain during stair-climbing episodes.

(19) Child reaches the top of the stairs and immediately turns around to go down the stairs.

(20) Mama attempts to explain that we are going to stay upstairs for at least 3 minutes so she can feel like there was an adequate reason for going up the stairs in the first place. Child isn't buying it. Conflict ensues. Reconciliation occurs. We stay upstairs and accomplish ONE THING and then come back down.

Five minutes later, start over.

Now let me make something clear.

I am happy my child can finally maneuver the stairs. This is another step on the long track that leads towards physical independence. Soon he will only fall up or down the stairs as often as I do. I look forward to that.

But for now? When every trip up the stairs goes so painstakingly slow that I am confident at some point we will forget whether we were going up or down?

I've got that list that keeps my mind busy.

'Cause mama can only stare at an adorable little backside for so long without losing her mind.

Tuesday, March 21, 2017

Voice - Part 2

Last week I wrote Voice- Part 1 to share a pivotal point in my own understanding of the importance of using our voices. This is my follow-up.


"I can remember heading south on a road trip with my family and seeing, for the first time, "colored" water fountains. I was so confused."

"I don't think I've ever heard a sermon on race. I don't think I've even heard the word used at church."

"I was raised in the colorblind generation - if we don't talk about it, it will go away. I don't know how to teach my kids differently."

I glance around my living room at faces ranging from 30 to 65. Women raised in the south and the northeast and midwest. Catholic, United Methodist, Presbyterian, Assemblies of God, Baptist. Some with grown children and grandchildren, some with very young ones, some newly married, some divorced.

All asking questions. All talking, sharing their stories. All believing that racism is real, that our country and our churches are deeply divided and broken and all wanting to see change.

And also, all white. But we'll get back to that.

Just this past fall, I began to feel an itch. The election was ramping up, tempers were running high. I had been having more and more conversations with white parents who didn't know where to start in educating their children about race. And more and more conversations with black friends who were absolutely exhausted with the current state of affairs.

I took a risk and posted on Facebook asking if anyone local might want to get together to talk about it all.

I thought maybe I would get a private message from one or two people interested, but I got a crowd.

You never really know who is reading your posts, do you?

In the meantime, a good friend and I began talking about what it would look like to host these conversations together as God was moving similarly in her life. To invite both our sets of friends and see what happened. To pray and dream and hope together for what God might do.

So we set a date. I invited those interested. And most of them came. We talked, we laughed, we mourned, we prayed.

We agreed to do it again. Regularly.

And friends, it's been awesome. To be real, to talk about race and racism without wondering if the person to whom you're speaking is going to jump down your throat or tell you it's not real. To have a safe space to air frustrations. To be able to ask and answer questions. To share resources. I am coming to love these women.

But yes, we are an all white group right now. We've acknowledged it to one another. We know that it isn't ideal. And we know that we can only meet for so long and grow so much without that needing to change. We NEED the voices of our sisters of color. We need their lived experiences, their anger, their hurt, their hope, their honesty. We need to look us in the face and TELL US. And we need to be able to listen and really hear.

And we've invited some of our friends of color to come. Knowing that they might be too tired for this. Knowing that they don't know this group. And, therefore, not necessarily expecting them to feel that we are a safe enough space for them.

One of these women, a newer friend of mine, had the boldness to be honest when she said she wouldn't be joining us. And with her permission, I'm sharing her response.

"As an early thirties, stay-at-home mom (to six), wife (to one), ministry leader, friend, etc., I often find that in some spaces there is one distinguishing characteristic that sometimes trumps them all: black woman. I have found that in many spaces that say they are places of safety and for honest dialogue, my race and gender don’t give me the chance to be completely honest and true to how I feel. Sometimes my presence in majority white spaces is solicited to be the “representative”, “token of diversity”,“spokesperson”. My face is valued so long as I hide my story behind its blackness.

My struggle is always that I don't want to posture myself in a way that comes across as entitled to be angry and forcing others, especially my white friends, to see my point of view. Having attended a predominantly white church for the last three years, I've found that there's an unseen line that must not be crossed when it comes to race. I've felt either I'm supposed to be the spokesperson for the whole black race or everyone's "one black friend" but when there need to be conversations, I must not speak lest I come across as "angry black woman." - Cassandra A.

Hear her. Listen. Especially if you are a white woman in the Christian church. Listen, friends.

How do her words make you feel?

Her words break my heart. Because I know they are true. I know I have been a perpetrator. And I know that without repentance, listening and intentional change, our churches will never be safe spaces. They will always feel like this.

And here's the other thing: I couldn't assure her about our group. I know our intentions are good and safe...but I know that impact weighs much more heavily than intentions and until we could be together a little more regularly, I wouldn't truly know how safe we really are. What our impact might be. Whether microagressions might happen. Whether she'd need to code switch to be comfortable. All the things I'm sure weigh on her mind but are usually absent from us as white women.

I hope with a deep yearning that our group will grow in racial diversity. But I also know that for that to happen a friend will need to take a huge risk.

I hope my new friend might come some day, I really do. But I don't blame her for not coming now. I am grateful for her honesty. And I respect her choice.

In the meantime, we are going to keep talking and meeting and praying. We are going to ask the Lord to transform our own hearts. To show us the places where we have failed and send his Spirit to help us do better. To enable us to speak life and truth. To be change in our churches and schools and neighborhoods and circles of friends.

This is, after all, not just about talking over coffee. This is about learning to find our voices and refusing to stay silent.

And you know what else? This is not about politics, friends. This is at the very heart of the gospel, a gospel where God himself reconciles us to him and breaks down the walls of division in our lives and our communities.

Maybe you think sitting around and talking about this and praying together with intention to act doesn't accomplish anything?

I disagree.

If something changes in just one of us, if even one church becomes a safer place, if one less white kid is raised as a racist...well, then, we'll have done something. And because I believe in a God who is exceedingly more passionate about all this than I can ever be, I also believe He is showing up and wants to do big things.

I will leave you with one last sentence from my friend to all of us to ponder:

"My dear sisters, please hear my heart. When you are tempted to ask, “Why is it always about race?” or “Can’t we just get past this?” please remember that your black friends don’t have the choice for it not to be about race. As much as we would like to move forward, we hit roadblocks time and time again when we turn on the news, when we scroll through social media, when we think we can have honest dialogue in predominantly white places, especially in our communities of faith. We want to think that the next time will be different, we want to be hopeful that our seat at the table will be one of welcoming and an opportunity for transparency. Just please know that for every step of progress that gives glimmers of hope we see our country, our friends, our church family regress decades in the past.

Please know, dear sisters and friends, we are hopeful and we will not quit, but we are tired. We need allies to shoulder our burdens, to weep when we weep, to speak when we have no words or when we have been silenced. We need you and in this journey of solidarity, you will learn that you need us too."

Amen, may it be so.

Wednesday, March 15, 2017

Voice - Part 1

I remember the first day I truly began to hear.

A dear, patient friend of mine looked me in the eye and said "You look in the mirror and see a woman. I look in the mirror and see a black woman."

We had been friends for awhile. I had been asking questions, trying to listen, but, when you've grown up with one perspective on life, an entirely middle class white perspective, opening yourself to another is no easy feat. It takes work, intentionality...and it takes willing to be wrong, to repent and to try again. And again. And again.

No one likes feeling wrong. No one likes seeing the truly ugly parts of oneself revealed. The biases, the failures. It hurts. No one likes admitting a whole society could possibly be so off track. No one.

Her words stopped me in my tracks. She knew that all her interactions during her day would be colored by the truth in that mirror. That though we were sisters, our experiences were vastly different. Could I understand sexism? Sure. Could I understand, truly feel the pain of, racism? No. Not a chance. And there was no way I could understand the particular ways in which racism and sexism collide for a black woman.

It hurt. It made me sad. And angry. And helpless. And it would have been easy that day, in my privilege, to defend myself. To shed white tears and plead for comfort and absolution. Or tell her she was imagining things. Or choose to step off the journey because I have that choice, unlike my friends of color. I can walk away if it gets too hard.

But you know what? Hurt is worth it, my friends. Not if we just stay there, no. Tears, prolonged and self-pitying, are ineffectual. But tears of true lament? Tears that cause us to say enough is enough and then seek to change? Those God can use.

To lament the history of our country. To grieve the lives lost through enslavement and genocide and white supremacy. To weep for those ostracized from the church. To mourn the brokenness of our justice system. To look at ourselves as individuals, root out our own biases, and replace them with a passion for justice rooted in God's good news.

That is the work of a disciple.

And friends, let me make something clear, I have not arrived. No one has. I know more than I did 10 years ago. God willing, I will know more tomorrow than I do today. Because I am making the choice to stay in it.

Some days, I truly wish I were still ignorant. It was way more comfortable.

Being comfortable, though, is not really part of the call to follow God.

And that same friend, during a difficult discussion said one other thing that is always, always in the back of my mind.

I was angry because I felt it unfair that her voice didn't carry as much weight as mine in convincing white people of racism. I was raging. I was guilt-ridden. I didn't want to believe in injustice.

She looked me in the eye and said "Use your voice. Use it. And maybe someday your voice won't be more powerful than mine anymore."

Dang.

Friends, every time I have wanted to back down from a debate on Facebook, every time I have witnessed a racist event and wanted to keep my mouth shut, every time I have wanted to avoid the truth, I have heard her voice in my head.

Use your voice. Use it.

It's a privilege to stay quiet. And so I speak.

What about you?

Tuesday, February 21, 2017

Dear Skeptics

Dear Skeptics of all things allergic and sensitive,

I get it. I really do. I once was you. Irritated that I had to pack a nut-free snack and lunch. Feeling like the whole movement is one big overreaction. How in the world could this many kids have so many food-related issues?

And then.

Then, our family was subjected to 1.5 years of nonstop screaming, meltdowns, constant diarrhea and, generally, the most challenging behavior I have ever witnessed firsthand in a child. Behavior that affected every corner of our family, our marriage and our life.

We eliminated dairy. And nuts. And preservatives, dyes and sugars.

We had behavioral evaluations done. We read books. We scoured the internet. We asked friends for wisdom. We cried and despaired of ever seeing change.

Ultimately, we had him tested for leaky gut and food sensitivities and allergies.

The result? On top of what we'd already taken out, we nixed gluten, coconut, lettuce, tomatoes, lemons, oranges, apricots, cucumbers, celery, corn, grapes and eggs.

And yes, if you are wondering if it's hard to create food for a ravenous food-loving child with none of the above ingredients, you would be right. It is of great irony to me that my child who loves food the most and eats more food than even I can consume has the most restrictive diet.

People questioned the severity of it. Food sensitivities are controversial, they said. Get more opinions. It's probably just his personality and he'll be fine when he's no longer a toddler.

They might be right.

BUT.

We were willing to try anything to see change. To come up for air from what felt like an impossible lifestyle.

A month into the drastic diet change, after weeks of even more intense behavior as these foods left his body, things shifted. He was calmer. His meltdowns were shorter. His happy lasted longer. His speech dramatically improved. He started to learn strategies to self-calm. His bowel movements radically improved. His trigger wasn't as quick.

And our family began to take a deep breath. Maybe, just maybe, we could have good days. Days that didn't find me with earplugs in and tears running down my face by the time my husband got home. Days where my youngest child wasn't in physical danger from his older brother's rage. Days where my oldest son wanted to spend time with his brother.

And we did. We had lots of them.

But here's the thing.

People don't always get the food insensitivity thing. Or the allergy thing. We have school and parties and Sunday School at church. When we get flyers home saying "Superbowl party with fun snacks!" I cringe. Maybe we'll skip that church day. He won't be able to eat one thing on that table. And he will feel, as always, left out. Or, knowing him, he'll covertly sneak some of it and we'll have a big setback.  Birthday party invitations are basically unwelcome. People offer to bring us dinner? Sure, but here's a list of 1000 things you can't cook for us, so have fun. (And add in the soy allergy for my youngest and it's really a big party around here.) Seriously. Soy is in everything.

Two weeks ago, there was a new teacher in my son's Sunday School classroom. He wears a tag every week that says "Allergies! Only give food from his bag!" This teacher didn't read the tag. She didn't look for his snacks. She handed him microwave popcorn slathered in butter. (And, probably preservatives, let's be honest.) She gave him goldfish crackers. (Gluten, dairy, corn and sugar.) And that child was happy. Man.

And then she noticed the tag. And panicked.

The nursery director came to find us. Is he going to be sick? Is he going to be ok? We're so sorry.

Yes, we sighed. He won't need to go to the hospital. He's not anaphylactic. BUT.

Since that day, 9 days ago, our life has been on pause. Our child went from happy and his version of calm to completely unhinged within 12 hours of consuming that food. And it hasn't let up.

Meltdowns, violence, screaming, defiance. And every corner of our life revolves around trying to keep him regulated. Again.

8 months of hard work undone by a 5 minute snack.

So, please.

If someone tells you not to give a kid something, please listen. My son doesn't have a medical reaction. Many kids do. Many kids can actually end up hospitalized or dead if exposed to something. We are grateful he isn't one.

Believe me, we are not trying to make your lives more difficult. Everything we do, every decision we make in our lives revolves around making sure we have access to the right foods. Road trips, parties, church. We leave with lunches and snacks packed everywhere we go. There is no safe restaurant. The decision to put him on this diet affects all of us every day.

But you know who is hit the hardest?

My 3 year old. Who cannot have ice cream and cookies. Who can't go to chick-fil-a or to birthday parties or enjoy the same snack as his buddies at church. Who constantly asks for food he cannot have and has to deal with disappointment.

When you don't listen and don't take it seriously, he is the one hurt the most. As difficult as the last 8 days have been for us, I can only imagine what his little body must feel like to be reacting like this.

So, dear skeptics, please believe us. Believe us when we tell you our kids can't have sugar or eggs or gluten. Don't quote an article that says the gluten thing is overblown or tell me I should have given him nuts at 6 months old. It's not helpful and it doesn't change the fact that these things affect him much more than they do most other children we know.

We don't know why. But we know they do. That should be enough.

Sincerely,

Recovering Skeptic Whose Son Needs You to Trust Her

Tuesday, February 14, 2017

All You Need Is Love?

It's Valentine's Day.

And just like last year and the year before and well, pretty much every year that I can remember, I couldn't actually care less. That's not because I don't have an amazing husband and a lot of love in my life. It's just because I've come to believe that a lot of little, wonderful moments of doing life together goes a lot further for me than a fancy dinner and chocolates. Not that a fancy dinner and chocolates aren't welcome - but at this stage of life, we take dates when we can get them. And we've already got a fun one planned for Friday that has nothing to do with the holiday.

Valentine's Day is a day when we are meant to celebrate love by buying little trinkets and spiderman valentines and saying "I love you." (Which means that I, as a parent, spend time buying, filling out and making sure said little gifts get sent to the right places so my children can still participate in a holiday I don't care a whit about. I'm not yet so cruel as to force on them my own level of grumpiness about it.)

Like Christmas and Easter, we have learned to express love through gift-giving in our culture. And like with those holidays, sometimes the gifts are meaningful and other times they are just "stuff." Some people love the holiday and the exchanges and others would gladly skip it since it leaves them feeling empty or disappointed.

Some, like me, just don't care.

People like to toss around the phrase "all you need is love." I don't know if the phrase predates the famous song or if the song introduced the now-famous phrase. But I read it and hear it all the time.

It never sits well.

I've had a lot of love in my life. I grew up in a stable family. I married into a family that has made it clear they love me. I got married almost 14 years ago and love my husband more today than on the day we said "I do." I have three boys who express their love for me in countless ways. I have friends who speak truth and make me laugh.

Love is beautiful.

But, at least in earthly form, it's not everything.

In adoption circles, you hear about it a lot. "Those kids just need love and once they are in a "stable" family, they will be fine." Yes, they obviously need love just like every kid out there needs love. They are human. But they need a lot more. For my kids, they need me to be the kind of person who recognizes the importance of their culture, the reality of racism and the challenges of a multiracial family. Who takes research and listening and humility seriously and is willing to risk failure. They need me to care about their hair and learn how to do it correctly. They need me to speak well and often of their birthparents so that they feel the freedom to explore their own history when they are older. They need to be able to tell me they love their skin color and ask why mine is different without me panicking and shutting down the conversation. They need us to make choices so that they are in schools and churches and neighborhoods where they are not the only black children and so that there are authorities in their lives who look like them. They need us to recognize there is trauma in adoption - that even though we brought them home as infants, there is loss in their life, loss that love can seep into but not obliterate. That the identity questions with which they will struggle as black adopted children with white parents are no small thing.

I truly wish all we needed was "love". That I could fill up my heart with all the feelings and emotions and joys that are associated with it and be whole. But the way love is sold to us is so often lacking. It is shallow. It is impatient. It is all about what we get out of it and rarely about what we are meant to give in its name. God's love is the opposite. It is bigger and stronger and more sacrificial than anything we've ever seen. And it calls us to love in response. Not in small and frivolous ways, not just in words, but in action, in hope, in sacrifice.

So, yes, today my husband might come home with flowers because it is Valentine's Day. He will give me a kiss and ask how the day was and my little ones will giggle. He'll scoop them up and hold them close and kiss their curls and hug my oldest. He loves them and those actions are still powerful and good.

But I'm grateful that love is so much more than what we settle for so much of the time. That it is, in the immortal words of the old school DC Talk song, "a verb." It's action and sacrifice and challenge and choices, its sometimes choosing someone else's good over our own, all rolled into relationship and held together by God.

Let's celebrate that today. And tomorrow. And every day that we are fortunate enough to have people are in our lives. Let's do it in real and honest and challenging and beautiful ways.

Because if we could really see and live love in all its depth, poured out in service to those around us, the way it was taught to us by a sacrificial God who loves us more than we could ever ask or imagine, maybe the world really would be a better place.

Maybe that kind of love really would be all we need.

Monday, February 13, 2017

Fall Down Tree

Every Sunday morning our family unceremoniously and rather chaotically piles into our minivan to head to church. Snacks packed (because when you have kids with allergies and sensitivities, sunday school goldfish could derail your whole week), lunches packed (because, let's be honest, with three growing boys, it's a long time from breakfast through church and Sunday School and that fifteen minute ride home is much more peaceful with mouths chomping) and a sense of having accomplished the impossible, getting all five of us out the door by 8 am, permeates the atmosphere.

No matter how we enter that car, I know now that something is about to change for our family. We are about to encounter "Fall Down Tree."

Just after we started coming to this church, we came across it. A huge tree, roots upended, laying right by the side of the road in someone's front yard. Somehow, this tree has become the focal point of our ride. It is cause for speculation, pontification and flat-out aesthetic awe.

How did it fall? Why don't the people who live there clean it up? How old might it be? Can we knock on their door and ask to play with it?

All these questions and more are answered in serious and silly fashion. (Maybe Joshie bonked it with his bike! Maybe Nate pushed it over with his strong arms! Maybe God blew on it and, poof, it fell over!)

But however it has happened, the conversation always ends with a chant. My youngest laughing and pumping his arms in the air as the middle and oldest chant "Fall down tree! Fall down tree! Fall down tree!" Dissolving in giggles at the end, we often enter church with lighter hearts and goofier outlooks.

Friends, this is a powerful thing.

You see, Sunday mornings have traditionally been calamitous. Screaming, crying, multiple changes of clothes, arguments. Usually this has culminated in two very exhausted parents who spend the greater part of the church service trying to remember why we even attempted to come to church in the first place. Too exhausted and defeated to even attempt to open our souls to what God may have for us that morning. Just grateful on some level that childcare is provided, we  would fight to stay awake during the sermon and then trudge back home again.

But now we have "Fall Down Tree." This strange and unexpected beacon of distraction and hope. No matter what mood everyone is in when we enter that car, as we turn that bend and "Fall Down Tree" comes into view, there is a shift in that minivan.

And entering church in its aftermath is a whole different world. Laughter has helped us shake off any early morning tomfoolery. Chanting has helped us loosen up our rigid need (ok, MY rigid need) to be early for church and the ensuing stress when someone has caused us to be late. Again. The camaraderie of three boys rejoicing together, united in spirit for even 5 minutes, gives everyone the chance to take a deep breath. To enter church with thanksgiving. To walk in with a posture that invites rest and redemption and joy.

Some day I am certain that that family will clean up the tree. We will turn the bend and as the chanting begins to rev up, the car will fall silent. There will be disappointment and mourning and the end to what is, at least for now, a tradition. Possibly we will pull some deep lesson out of its disappearance.

For now, though, I am relying on "Fall Down Tree." Because right now it is a tangible, beautiful reminder that any day can be reset. Any hard moment can suddenly turn into one of laughter and joy and lasting family memories. That giggles and silliness can be powerful preparation for inviting God to do His work of healing in our souls.

I know that one day, a long time from now when this tree is a distant memory, we will look back and tell the boys about it, about this tree that brought hope and life back into Sundays for our family.

Maybe God did blow it over for us, after all.

Thursday, February 9, 2017

Keeping Pace

My feet pounded the same rhythm as hers did while the exhilarating background of 80's music pumped through my earbuds. There was some kind of power in that matching of strides, some kind of challenge that was more effective than any goal I could have set. Matched strides, eyes forward, strangers next to each other, moving in the same directionless direction.

Before I knew it, two miles down. Sweat pouring down my smiling face, breaths coming fast and deep. A body that had been benched for over a month due to injury and illness suddenly full of energy, moving fast, free of pain. Movement has always been a key part of how I do life. It's absence had caused no small amount of emotional chaos.

Minutes after finishing our run, we smile at each other, gulping water.

"I was about to stop running when you jumped on," she said, "and then suddenly there was something really helpful in your pace that kept me going."

"You really pushed me and I appreciate it. I haven't been able to run in a long time. I would have stopped sooner if you weren't still going." I replied. We shared brief stories of why we had been gone from the Y and why we were back. And thanked each other for the shared challenge of our morning run.

No competition, no needing to prove ourselves. Just 20 minutes in a day that reminded us both of why we need those pace-keepers in our lives. People with similar goals, moving in the same direction, helping us push past our own limits. In running, in parenting, in faith, in marriage, in all of life.

May we treasure our pace-keepers, both the temporary gifts and those who are more permanent fixtures in our lives, and keep on keeping on.

Monday, February 6, 2017

How Facebook Became God

Click. Read. Like. Scroll. Comment. Repeat.

Simple actions with great power. Power to encourage, power to wound, power given and power taken.

And power, when wielded loosely and unwittingly, can be a terrible thing.

Two weeks ago, I had a frank moment of revelation that life couldn't continue on as it was. I felt exhausted, angry, frustrated and powerless. And I felt it all the time.

I was addicted to clicking on my browser, to watching Facebook load, to seeing the number of notifications pop up in the right corner. To knowing there were things to read, videos to watch, photographs to see, stands to take.

Addicted to the god on my screen.

You see, we can make god a lot of things. It can be the thing we care about the most in our lives, like making money or our families or our belongings. It can be the ideas or opinions we hold dearest, like politics or religion or our philosophy of parenting. It can be what we spend all our time and energy working towards or thinking about, like money, career, even happiness. It can be what we depend on the most for affirmation and identity. And it can be to whom or what we relinquish all our power.

Facebook, my friends, can be a dangerous place. Because on Facebook, all of those possibilities, all of those things we look for in or assign to our god can be found.

And when we give it too much time, we give it exponentially more power. The power to make us feel (though elusively and vaguely) connected. To feel good, to feel right about something and surround ourselves with only people who agree. We give it the power to affirm our identity or to plummet us to a point of despair. We give it the power to control our emotions, our thoughts, even the direction our day might take. We give it the power to keep us mired in what's on screen instead of what surrounds us.

This affects the very core of who we are, who we were created to be.

As a Christian, I believe I am created in the image of God. Made beautiful in his sight, brought into relationship with Him through the life, death and resurrection of His son Jesus and invited into abundant life through His Spirit. A life that is submitted ultimately to the power of God but that lives in the power that He then gives me, power to deal with all that life has, fighting with joy, hope and the knowledge that I am never alone.

When Facebook is god, this all changes. I see the ugly in myself and others more acutely. I feel the pull and destruction of comparison, rather than the deep challenge and joy of honest encouragement in real relationships. I am blown here and there all day long by anger and frustration and petty humor and confusion and the need to be affirmed by "likes" and comments. And it doesn't end when I shut the screen. It translates into real life in quicker cynicism, deeper sadness, chronic distractedness, shorter attention spans and fewer true relationships.

That, my friends, is not abundant life. It is the life of someone who has paid homage to the wrong god.

I have been off of Facebook for a little over a week now. At that point of revelation I knew I had to stop. That all the rage and chaos I was feeling inside was a result of a bad decision I was making over and over and over again in the vain hope of feeling less lonely, more connected, more aware and informed. Every time I opened my computer I was looking for something I really could not possibly find there.

Purpose. Life. Joy. Friendship.

Those first few days I felt lost, almost adrift. Like something had died or been taken away from me. As a stay at home parent, sometimes Facebook was my only means of communicating with other human adults during the day and I missed it. I longed for that feeling of being with people, even though that feeling of connectedness was just an illusion.

Sometimes we are so used to the poor version of something that we will cling to it believing it is full of riches.

I knew, though, from truly worshiping my first love, the God of the Universe, that those were not really riches. So I waited.

And soon things changed. I knew this was a moment straight from God. A gift in the midst of a chaotic season of life to take stock. To pray. To make some decisions. To invite some close friends into prayer and dreaming and hoping for what life can be.

When there was a calm moment of a child playing independently, I cleaned up the kitchen or sat for a moment and prayed for him, instead of quickly trying to get online.

When there was a child waking up from a nap, I didn't feel annoyed or interrupted because I had to shut my computer in the middle of completing a thought on a political post.

When the house was quiet, I pulled out my guitar or my journal or a book. I walked outside and dug in the dirt. Or wrote a letter.

I smiled more.

I made it to the gym and didn't wonder the whole time if there were things I was "missing" in being offline.

I initiated more dance parties around the house.

I spent more time with actual adult human beings.

I said yes to some really, really good things, both in my personal daily rhythms and in my community.

I complained less.

I hoped more.

I began to long for time with Jesus in a way I hadn't in awhile.

And in all of it, I stood up straighter. I felt less burdened, less distracted, more tuned in to what was immediately around me.

Was life perfect? Of course not. It can't be. I had a stomach bug, a toddler was working on molars, life in all its noise and grit went on. But it went on with my head held a little higher. With my hope fastened more surely on God, not Facebook.

Getting off Facebook wasn't a cure-all. It was one step, one big step for me, in saying no to a major, destructive distraction so that I could say yes to the many more beautiful opportunities I was no longer seeing.

And let me make something clear. I don't think it is Facebook's fault. I chose to be on it all the time. I kept turning to it again and again even as I felt myself changing. I gave it the power it held over me.

Some of you are thinking it sounds crazy. That something so silly could not hold so much power.

But let's not kid ourselves...whether it is Facebook or career or romance or any number of things or ideas or people, we all have that innate tendency to look to something or someone to define us, to fulfill us. We search for it in small ways or in big ways, but we are always looking. And the way I see it, life is one long journey in figuring out how to keep my eyes fixed on God, not on the things of this world. One never-ending decision to wake up and choose peace, choose joy, choose hope and love.

To choose God.

And any time I start to choose something else first, all of me suffers. I learned it 30 years ago as a young Christian and again a hundred times since.

Each time it sticks a little longer and grows a little deeper, by the grace of God.

So, I am taking it one sweet, slower, facebook-free, God-seeking moment at a time right now. And loving it.

Monday, January 30, 2017

Texting the Ridiculous

We all have them. Or we should.

Those friends to whom we can text something totally ridiculous out of the blue, right in the middle of our most chaotic moments, and know we are heard and understood.

For me, I know those friends are likely laughing at me or with me. They are writing something equally ridiculous right back. They are sending dumb pictures of stupid injuries or of a child drinking from a puddle in the street or of another failed meal prep. They are texting while they reheat their cup of coffee for the seventh time. Sometimes they are texting about how they just cried, too. Or about how they miss working outside the home. Or how, just for one minute, they'd love to pee without someone watching.

In it together.

Ideally, these friends would be right in the room and we could do this face-to-face. But that's not reality. Some of them live right around the corner, others across the country. Some I've known for decades and others for months.

But they are there. Here. In it.

I am not a techie person. But, in a way, during this season of being home, a choice I never thought I'd make and one with which I struggle daily, these texts have saved my life.

In the moments when I feel the most alone, the most likely to lose heart, I can say a prayer, press a few buttons and have a friend saying "God has got this, take a deep breath, laugh at yourself, order a pizza, tomorrow's a new day." I can take heart knowing that I am just one of so many mamas in the trenches.

And I cannot express how grateful I am.

Grateful that these are people in my life who get it. Grateful that they don't reply with cliches or tell me I'm complaining. (Unless they really SHOULD tell me I'm complaining and to suck it up for goodness sake. Because I need that sometimes, too.) Grateful for honest, simple interactions that ground me during a phase where my children's needs keep me isolated a lot of the day, especially during the winter with my cold-hating babies.

I know one day we probably won't text as often. And the texts won't include pictures of my infant attempting to drink from the toilet. Maybe we'll live closer and talk over a glass of wine while our kids are old enough to play without needing minute-to-minute intervention.

I don't know.

For now, I'm glad for the few, the crazy, the text-buddies. You know who you are. Love you.

Friday, January 20, 2017

The Harder Choice

I woke up this morning with a sinking feeling. It's here. The day many Americans have been dreading or fearing or attempting to ignore. The day many others have been waiting for with joyful anticipation. And the day many people truly don't know how to react to.

I wanted to post things. To say why I was angry. To say why I was sad. To weigh in on the cabinet choices. To, yet again, make clear that I did not, could not, vote for Trump. And that on this, the day of his inauguration, I was grieving.

But my distrust and dislike of him is no secret. So I held off.

I was up before the boys. In the dark, drinking coffee, listening to my heart thump rapidly and then begin to slow down in peace. And I was reminded.

I am first and foremost a Christian. A believer in Jesus. A follower of God-become-man who walked the earth during a time of tremendous oppression, division and racial strife. Who taught his followers to pray for their enemies, to show love to those who persecute them. And who also made it clear that talking the talk isn't enough. That justice will prevail. And that all people are made in the image of God. I'm not sure our now-current President understands those things. I truly hope he will come to.

So, before I chose to say anything, before I chose to do anything, I invited my son to pray with me. He balked at first.

Josh: "Why should we pray for him? He is so unkind, Mom. I'm worried about how he will treat people."
Me: "That is exactly WHY we need to pray for him. If we believe that God is good, that God is love, that God is powerful and loves ALL people...then we have to pray that a man that now has so much power, also has the ability to change and use that power for good."

In the end, my son didn't really have words and I don't believe in forcing my kids to pray. He asked me to do it. We prayed for Trump, we prayed for the Obamas. And I sent him on his way to school like I always do: "Find the good, be the good. I love you."

I spent the morning with friends drinking coffee and talking about life and dancing with Jayce. I didn't watch the inauguration live. I chose to watch it later, with my two little ones asleep.

And friends, I am not going to lie. It was hard to watch. It was painful to listen to all the nationalist rhetoric. It was frustrating to watch a billionaire with questionable business practices blame Washington for stealing all their wealth and sending all their jobs overseas. I, for one, am not teaching my children "Americans first." I am teaching them to love their neighbor as themselves. And as a Christian who loves Jesus and what he taught, I cringed when he said that God would protect America. Why? Why in the world are we so arrogant to believe we have the protection of God?

I do not know what the next four years hold. I prayed for Obama. I will pray for Trump. It doesn't mean I have to like him or sit idly by when I don't agree with him. It doesn't mean I have to support dangerous cabinet picks. I don't and I won't.

Praying for him today was the harder choice. It would have been much easier to mock him, much easier to be angry or to wallow in fear for what's coming for us and the world.

So, each morning I am going to have to ask God to help me make the harder choice. To pray first. Because I so badly want to act first. I so badly want to say exactly what I am thinking but if there is one thing I know right now it's that my emotions cannot be trusted. And, more than that, I know my kids are watching and listening. I don't want my legacy to them to be rash action and angry words. I want them to learn what it means to love God, pray first and then act boldly and justly and with mercy, whatever the situation.

So today and tomorrow and next week, I will pray for him.

For our divided nation.

For my friends who are hurting and afraid and angry.

For my friends who are rejoicing.

For much of the world that is fearful of what this all means on the global stage.

For all of us; humans created in the image of God. Not just Americans. All of us.

And I will continue to speak up in love. And to act. And to hope.

May God give me the grace to do so. And forgiveness when I fail.