Thursday, March 31, 2016

Thursday's Thoughts: Sometimes We Have to Lose to Win

It is the last day of March, and it is my daughter's birthday.

She is fourteen. We have shared 7 birthdays together. She spent 3 birthdays in an orphanage and 4 birthdays with her foster family in China. 

7 without.

7 with. 

She lost a lot to become ours. 

I am never more aware of that than I am on the day of her birth. 

I think it could be a sad story, this one that she has to tell. It could be about losing and about mourning and about knowing that you have a biological family somewhere in the world that you have not met and, maybe, never will. It could also be a happy story. One about being found and being loved and settling into a family that will last forever.  

But, it's her story to share. At fourteen, she may not be quite sure how she wants it told. 

And, while it is true that the books of our lives are now intricately connected, that ours and hers has become simply and beautifully ours, there is still the prologue, the set-up, the beginning that came before our beginning. The time when we were only six, and she was only one. 

This is the first glimpse we had of our daughter:

And, the first glimpse she had of her siblings. 

We sent the picture to China along with a few others. We sent her a book and we sent her a cake, and she celebrated her 7th birthday with her China family, eating cake and being told that someday soon she would leave everything she loved to be with another family. 

An incomprehensible thing for a child who'd started life here:

to have to lose everything to gain something else. It is not surprising that she didn't want to come. 

Today, I mentioned that this was her seventh birthday with our family. She had now had the same numbers of birthdays with us that she had had without. The discussion meandered along as it usually does, and I mentioned her first official birthday cake. The one we'd sent. I asked if she remembered telling her China mom that she didn't want to come to America. 

She laughed. Just like she always does when I mention it. 

Of course she remembers. Just like she remembers that she thought I'd be skinny and blond with fancy clothes and lots of money. 

Yeah. That's not quite the person who went to China to get her!

"You lost out on that one, kid," I said, laughing.

She grabbed my hand, and she looked into my eyes.

"You know what, Mom?" she said. "Sometimes we have to lose to win." 

Today is the last day of March.

It's my daughter's fourteenth birthday, and she thinks she won when she met me. 

I think we both did. 

Happy birthday, Cheeky girl! I would lose a million times over if it meant getting to be your mom!

Saturday, March 19, 2016

Saturday Secrets: Sometimes Love Wins

My son bought me lunch yesterday. 

This is the third time in two months that I’ve picked him up from work and been handed a Subway sandwich and a cold drink.  He always remembers the straw, and he always hands me the bag with just a hint of bashfulness and pride written on his face.

I always take his offering, and I eat every bite and drink every sip. Whether I am hungry or not. Whether my lupus has made me sick again or not. I eat that sandwich, and I drink that drink, and I thank him sincerely for the gift because, really, his thoughtfulness means the world to me.

Because, that sandwich? It’s a symbol of how far we’ve come and how much we’ve learned. It is a symbol of love that persists even as it is challenged and changed. It is a statement, and it says -Sometimes, love wins.

Seth was a darling baby and an adorable little boy. Everyone who met him loved him.  He had (and has) the greatest smile, the cutest dimples, the bluest eyes.

The  strongest will.

We fought epic battles, the two of us.

He threw screaming tantrums over simple requests (Like – Please, pick up your toys). He slammed doors. Kicked walls. Threw toys with so much passion they dented walls. I constantly felt as if I were in a war I was destined to lose.  I was that mother. You know the one – standing in the grocery store, her kid lying on the floor, screaming his head off.

Things were so bad that my kids’ pediatrician – after seeing Seth throw a raging tantrum in her office – asked if I wanted a referral to a behavioral psychologist. 

He was four.

I was tired.

I’d been in the midst of this battle since the day he’d kicked me in Target because I’d refused to give him a toy. I’d said, “If you kick me again, I’m going to take off your shoes (the ones he loved, the ones he always insisted on wearing).” 

He looked me square in the eye, pulled off a shoe and tossed it as far as  his ten-month old arms could manage.

Ten months old.

Wrap you minds around that.

I couldn’t, and I’d lived it.

So, by the time the pediatrician suggested a behavioral psychologist, I was tired. I’d been loving this kid and battling this kid for three years. There seemed to be no end in sight.  I would lie awake at night, imagining my little boy as a grown man with a raging temper and a desperate need to be in control. It terrified me.  How would it feel to have a fourteen or fifteen or sixteen-year-old kid screaming and slamming doors and punching walls and throwing things?

I wanted a quick fix, an easy answer. I wanted all the seeds I'd planted to sprout into a child who could love and be loved. 

Instead, I had a raging, shrieking, shouting child who, at the ripe old age of 4, might need a psychologist. 

I looked at my son, the one with the red hair and the cute smile and the bluest-of-blue eyes, and I could see that he was absolutely in control of himself. He never hurt anyone. He didn't hit, bite, spit, kick (not since that day in Target). He didn’t have a mental illness. He didn’t have a disorder that was causing the problem. He was choosing to tantrum. He was choosing very deliberately to scream.  He wanted what he wanted. He wanted it now. Come hell or high water, he planned to get it.

And, I planned to make sure that he knew he couldn’t get it.  Not always, because sometimes life is unfair. Sometimes, we have to do what we don't want to. 

Sometimes? We have to give love even when we're not getting it. 

I declined the referral, and I went home with my still angry four-year-old.

For a while after that, we continued to dance our dance. Me setting boundaries. Seth pushing them. Me saying no. Seth protesting. On and on it went until I was absolutely sure that I couldn’t do another day of tantrum-listening,  consequence-giving, time-out enforcing. And then, of course, I would do another day and another, because I loved him.

I loved him with the kind of love that couldn’t give up. I loved him with the kind of love that was endlessly hopeful.

Sometimes that kind of love disappoints. Sometimes it is used up and tossed away and we are left with empty hands and hollow hearts and a bone-deep weariness that we think we’ll never recover from.

Sometimes, though, it triumphs. Ever so slowly,  what we plant sprouts and blossoms and grows into something astoundingly beautiful; what is difficult is transformed into something easy and sweet and lovely.

Because, sometimes - just like in the books I write - love wins. 

And, sometimes, the one we have loved through extraordinarily tough times buys us a sandwich and a soda and hands it to us with a bashful smile and hint of pride and lot of love. 

Thanks, Sweetie. You have grown into exactly the kind man I hoped you would be! 

Bear with each other and forgive one another if any of you has a grievance against someone. Forgive as the Lord forgave you. And over all these virtues put on love, which binds them all together in perfect unity. Col. 3:13-14

Saturday, March 05, 2016

Saturday Secrets: But.... What If You Can?

Sometimes pictures lie.

Take this one for example:

I posted it on FB about a week ago. I look so happy in it, and why wouldn't I be? There is my book. Right on the shelf next to all those wonderful authors that I've been reading for years. I was happy in the picture, and I look really healthy with that nice pink glow on my cheeks.

But, sometimes pictures lie.

The fact is, I felt like crap when my son snapped the photo. The glow? Lupus rash.

I've had two really bad weeks.

I spent about ten of the past fourteen days mentally saying, "I can't do this, God. I can't."

I'd lie in bed watching the early morning light crawling across the bedroom ceiling, and I'd just want to cry, because I couldn't do it.

I couldn't:

Get out of bed.
Get dressed.
Engage with my family.
Drive this kid here and that kid there and get those kids ready for this weird and time-consuming transition into adulthood.
Home school.
Answer emails.

Repeat it all the next day.

I couldn't, and I knew it, and I'd lie there and just watch the day dawning and feel the time ticking away.

Then that voice, the one that always tells me the truth, would say, "You can't do it, but you will."

So, I'd sit and then stand and then go about my day, the words chanting quietly in the back of mind, "I can't. I can't. I can't. I can't." That other voice saying, "But, you will."

And, now, here I am. It is Saturday, and it is my youngest son's eighteenth birthday. I shopped for his gifts and baked his double-layer red velvet cake. I got up early this morning and hugged him hard and told him how much I loved him.

And, I realized that I'm through the worst of my lupus flare,and I feel a little better. Maybe, just maybe, I can do today.

I'm not telling you this because I want you to feel sorry for me. I have a great life that I live with joy. Some weeks are just harder than others.

I'm not writing it so you can say, "Wow! She has this chronic illness and she still manages to do x,y,z." Trust me, there are a whole lot of people going through worse and doing more.

I'm laying it all out for you because maybe you're lying in your bed staring at the ceiling. Maybe you're watching dust motes dancing in the air, counting your heartbeats and thinking, "I can't."

Maybe, you're sitting in your car, waiting for the next kid to come out of the next activity, and you're saying, "God, I can't. I can't do this."

Maybe you're driving to work or running the track or sitting in a chair with everything you built crumbling around you, all the things you hoped for and worked for and longed for slipping through your fingers, and maybe you're saying, "I can't do this. I can't."

And, maybe you want to quit, because your body hurts, and your hands don't work, and your brain is mush and your relationships are difficult and it just all suddenly seems so very hard.

And you just can't.

But, what if you can?

What if you do?

What if you write the story of your life on the pages of your pain and disappointment and struggles? What if you reach the end of your time here on earth and, instead of a pretty little book of wonderful things, you have a giant tome filled with the  insurmountable odds that you have overcome? What if there is heartbreak and fear and failure and struggle written into every line?

Will your story be less beautiful?

Or will it be more so?

So, today....

Today, you can't. But, you will, because you are you - powerful and strong and capable even in your weakest most vulnerable moments.

If you doubt that, let me be the voice of truth, the one that will whisper in your ear as you drag yourself up and get on with it - You can't, but you will. You will.

Whatever I have, wherever I am, I can make it through anything in the One who makes me who I am. Philippians 4:13