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Friday, December 21, 2012

Stockings, revisited

One for each child born thus far ...


Some days, what it takes to bring you around to counting your blessings is realizing how far you've come.

This morning, I woke up a touch peevish. (O.k.-- full disclosure: I woke up irritated and grumpy and completely unimpressed with the fact that I am still pregnant.) I came downstairs to a puppy whining to be let out her kennel to go potty, a teenage daughter nearly in tears with pain from yesterday's orthodontic appointment, a husband trying desperately to figure out how to juggle a hot iron and a breakfast casserole at the same time, and stinking low blood sugar. None of this was a recipe for A Very Good Morning, and it sure wasn't looking up in the A Very Good Day Overall department, either. By the time I managed a cup of (mostly cold) tea, the entire brood was downstairs sharing this not-to-stellar morning together. Loudly.

I freely admit it-- there are moments when the large family thing is mildly controlled chaos. Where you look around and ask yourself what on earth you were thinking, even considering parenting a kid ready for Driver's Ed and another who pretends to be an elephant half the time-- not to mention the many others who fall in between. Moments where you ask yourself why on earth you have kids in the same developmental stages, or why you ever thought that a three bedroom house could handle the amount of living that a Momma, Daddy, passel of kids, and 2 dogs dish out. 

These are the crazy-making moments. And while they are few and far between, they are there, and they are real. Anyone who tells you otherwise is lying--and I say that with love. Mostly.

In those moments of realizing just how insane it really is to live this life, I almost always find that God drags my attention back to the big picture with some irrefutable proof of his desire to do me good, not harm. This morning was no exception. Just as I felt myself starting to go Grinch, just as the noise, noise, noise, noise started to make my shoes just a little too tight, I saw them.

The stockings.

You see, years ago, I pined over stockings. Arms aching, I posted about how blessed I was to have six stockings on our mantle: one each for Mr. Blandings, myself, Jo, Atticus, Logan, and our beloved German Shepherd. But still, I wanted more. My heart was heavy with unanswered loss and open-ended anticipation. I was ending yet another year with a heavy desire for more, and no real answer as to how or when that more would turn into yes.

As we close out 2012, I turn my eyes not to my mantle (the stockings are now too numerous to fit there) but instead to the space just above our well-loved piano. Seven stockings hang there now, just one more than before. But ... 

The first is for Bee, who has never spent a Christmas with us, and whose absence haunts our hearts, but whose love is never far from our minds.

The second is for Jo, who has blossomed into a fine young woman and whose Christmas mornings under our roof now feel so very, very numbered.

The third is for Atticus, a nearly unrecognizable ManCub, who is growing far too fast.

The fourth is for Logan, still, thankfully, a silly, joyous boy intent on living life to its fullest.

The fifth is for Oliver, our much-anticipated more baby, who I never take for granted.

The sixth is for Manolin, the little guy I never saw coming, but who filled a space in our family clearly empty for so long.

The seventh is for Seven, the cup overflowing blessing baby girl.

And next year ... another stocking. Another baby. Another blessing.

No room for stockings for Momma and Daddy. Definitely no stockings for dogs to round out the numbers.

Seven children, seven souls, seven people in whom to delight.

I'll take that over silence any day.

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Nesting

Things are looking more promising.



Officially off bed rest, I now find myself in the irksome limbo of "Haven't you had that baby yet?" 

The simple answer is no, I have not had that baby. Yet.

But I take great comfort in the fact that I will. Soon, even.

Sometime in the next few weeks, I will find myself grinding through the terrible, wonderful work that is labor, and will spend a few last minutes in questioning awe, waiting to meet the new soul the Lord has entrusted to us. And then he or she will finally emerge, and I will stare in fascination at this person and wonder how it is that I have managed to live 38 years on this earth without knowing this face.

This is the amazing truth of being witness to a miracle: when all is said and done, you can't remember life before it, and life after its advent will never, ever be the same.


Saturday, December 1, 2012

Six

Oli, age 6


The worst thing about bed rest is the stuff you narrowly get to be a part of. Participating-- on a limited, slightly removed-- basis from life is somehow more maddening than not bearing witness at all, I think. From the couch, I tell Logan how many potatoes need to be scrubbed and added to the crockpot. From the couch, I remind Seven that it is time to potty. From the couch, I walk Jo through a recipe she's never tackled. I am here. My voice is within reach, I am present and accounted for, and yet ...

I have not rocked my baby girl, felt her head nuzzle into my neck, and sung her bedtime songs in nearly two weeks. I did not bake this year's first batch of holiday shortbread-- that honor went to Jo, who did a masterful job. I did not run up to help Atticus with his math conundrum. I am not washing up the baby diapers and getting them ready for our next sweet blessing.

And I did not put Oli to bed last night, or peek in on him as he lay sleeping, or hang his birthday streamers, or set up the display of birthday gifts. Others stepped in to fill those roles, and for that I am grateful, but also sad. Because, you see, my little man turned six today ... and I feel like only half a Momma right now.

It's probably (most likely) hormones. Or the inevitable "Another baby! How will I do it all?" feelings that sweep over me as I inch towards the moment when our family adds another soul to its circle. Or maybe it's the swirl of complicated emotions that we adoptive Mommas so often feel as we contemplate the rich road of brokenness, grace, and redemption that is simply unavoidable on the days which celebrate births we did not endure, yet somehow became our own. 

At any rate, Oliver is six years old--and while I had a bit more involvement in the marking of the day than I had during his actual birth, I feel so wistful, such longing for more that I can barely look into his shockingly blue eyes without tearing up. He has had a fabulous day, one that truly couldn't have been any happier had we dropped him part and parcel into a candy store. He is delighted that this day is about him, and that finally, finally it is his birthday. He cannot tell you how old he is (we're working on that) but he does know the birthday song, and is quite delighted that everyone puts up lights on their houses just for him. Truly, the Lord placed this boy's birthday exactly at the right time of year.

So happy birthday, precious Oli. May this year bring you much joy, growth, happiness, and delight. And may you never forget that, even though your Momma has seasons of frailty, the Lord who created you never does.

Sunday, November 25, 2012

Bed Wrest

The new view from here.



I stepped into last week with the expectations of things going pretty much according to our new norms. There were two nonstress tests (NSTs) scheduled. A maternal/fetal medicine consult. An ultrasound to check amniotic fluid levels. My weekly progesterone injection. A day of Lego Robotics for the big boys. A possible outing to visit our local children's museum. Oh-- and a holiday.

Less than twenty-four hours into the start of the week, it was very clear that my plans were not God's.

At my NST on Monday, the machines picked up fabulous fetal movement and heart rates. The baby looked great, the nurses told me. But there was one little problem. In twenty minutes of charting, I had five decent, sizable contractions. 

Oops.

A quick check of the amniotic fluid Baby is swimming in found it lower than the week before, but still within the realm of ".... yeah, we'll just keep an eye on that."

From there, it was off to Triage.

And that was where my plans for the week-- for the next three weeks, actually-- were completely derailed. 

Too much dilation, too much effacement, and too many doses of heavy meds designed to stall pre-term labor followed. I feel blessed that I only spent one night in the hospital, and am now sitting on my own couch, baby still safely inside, wiggling and kicking and reminding me every moment that the goal is one more day, one more day.

Still, you can't be the mother of a large brood  and not find bed rest somewhat limiting. I can knit to my heart's content-- and have quickly learned how to do so on my left side. I can address Christmas cards, fold laundry, edit our nonprofit's newsletter, read countless stories, play tea party, cuddle with the puppy. But I can't make dinner, bathe little bodies, help find a lost necklace, wipe dirty bottoms, put away groceries, make snacks.

I've been forcibly wrest from many--most-- of the duties that normally fall into the "mom" category.

Everyone here is stepping up beautifully. We had a gorgeous spread at Thanksgiving, thanks to Mr. Blandings and Jo. Mr. Blandings has taken on coordinating with friends for meals and running the ship in every other way. What I can see of the house is neat and tidy, thanks in no small part to Logan, who has taken it upon himself to be the clean-up crew. Jo made the traditional holiday kick-off shortbread yesterday, and it smelled heavenly. And Atticus has learned more about laundry in the past four days than I think I knew when I went off to college.

We've had no attitudes, no bickering, no rolling eyes. Just cooperation and a general spirit of "Let's get this done, guys" that is pretty typical for my crew. The difference this time is that it's not just casual helping. This is a real season of real need. This is, "Look, I need you to basically be a grown-up right now. I need you to put what you want aside and do the hard stuff. Can I count on you?" And the answer, the one that I always hoped I'd hear when the chips were down, has been a resounding "I'm part of this family. I'm all in."

Our goal at this point is to keep Baby Blandings inside until December 10. In some moments-- like when I think of all the Christmas sewing I'm not doing, or how heartbreaking it's going to be to miss out on the trip to the tree farm-- it seems so very far away. In other moments-- like when I count down the days until we wake up on Christmas morning-- it seems frighteningly close. There are newborn diapers to wash up, a cradle to ready, a car seat to wipe down, meals to freeze.

And here I am. On my left side, watching the fire in the fireplace, listening to the puppy snore, counting stitches as I knit, waiting for the family to return from church.

In any case, this is where I find myself. Still grateful that God has this. Very grateful that I am not on a constant magnesium sulfate drip (oral meds are much, much easier to stomach!) or, far worse, spending my days in a NICU ward. Biding my time. Waiting. Feeling grateful for the blessing of the people around me. And anticipating good things to come.

Friday, November 9, 2012

The view from here

Belly, anyone?



I am roughly 32 weeks into the physical journey towards this baby. While I can't say that I've embraced this pregnancy with the same awe-struck enthusiasm that I felt with Seven, I have still found things to relish. Late-night wiggles. Listening to the reassuring thwip-thwip-thwip of the heartbeat on the doctor's doppler. Watching my abdomen grow and fill with new life. The joy that each of the children has had in preparing to meet this new little person. Lounging in bed with my beloved and giggling with each other over how this baby likes to poke and kick him squarely in the kidneys. The amazement that, once again, I get to be the vessel that brings a new person into this world.

Sadly, the balance has tipped slowly towards more negative than positive. About a month ago, I was diagnosed with gestational diabetes. While that certainly hasn't been the worst thing to ever happen-- and doesn't even register on the "tragedy scale"-- it's been a hump of feeling yucky, balancing meals for a family and myself, and learning that sometimes, medication is the only way to go (which is hard for a natural-loving Momma like me). Just as I settled in to a place of peace in riding out the last few weeks before we meet this wee one with a couple of bottles of pills and a glucose monitor at my side, I got the less-than-encouraging news that my blood pressure is a tad too high, the amniotic fluid is a tad too low, and by the way, we really need to keep a closer eye on this baby. Twice a week, to be exact. And you should have childcare lined up for an emergency delivery on those days. Just in case.

Normally, I'd put up a bit of a fight here. I'm a huge advocate for myself in the area of health care. I know my body. I know how it performs. I know how I feel. And frankly, I am not reckless. I don't take risks on a whim. Those things that the establishment does see as risky behavior on my behalf (no IV during labor, no drops in my baby's eyes post-birth, passing on the hospital-recommended vaccinations before discharge, etc.) are born from calculated, careful education on both my behalf and Mr. Blandings'. There are some hills I am willing to die on, medically speaking. 

This time, though, I have peace.

Absolute, stunning peace. 

Really--considering that 24 hours ago I was sitting in on my second maternal/fetal specialist consult in three weeks, I'm doing fine. My labor and delivery might look nothing like what I have experienced in the past. I am becoming a greater and greater candidate for a c-section. My baby will need to have his or her blood sugar tested frequently during what will probably be a slightly extended stay. I may be whisked off to deliver with no warning after one of my twice-weekly non-stress tests and fluid checks. 

And I feel pretty good about it all.

Call me crazy, but my motto this entire pregnancy-- from the shocking realization of its existence to the less-than-stellar health record I am currently enjoying-- has been "God's got this." And if you've read my past few posts since coming back to the bloggy world, you know that I wrestled with this stance mightily this summer. 

But this ... this feels like God's hand. It feels like God's comfort. And it most certainly feels like God's careful working out of His plan.

So God has this. He has me. He most certainly has this baby. So the view from here-- clouded though it is by specialists and appointments and tests-- is pretty darn beautiful, after all.

Saturday, November 3, 2012

The road to Philly, pt. 1

Oli enjoying a summer outing.


Asking God for clarity, I have learned, is nearly as dangerous as asking him for patience. Unless you are really, truly, ready to have yourself smacked upside the head with it, well ... don't go there.

Mr. Blandings and I have been asking-- no, begging-- the Lord for a vision for Oli unclouded by our hopes, our dreams, our shortcomings, our thoughts. Lord, just give us clarity. Who is this little man? What do YOU want for him? What are we to do, as his parents, to lead him to where you want him to go?

Yes, we pray these things for all of our kids. But with Oliver, I'll be honest, the path has seem more muddled and less sure than I'd like to admit. What does one teach a little boy just weeks away from his 6th birthday who cannot remember his sibling's names? How does one handle an elementary-aged child who regresses from even the simplest of acts (like remembering how to stab food with a fork) with seemingly no warning? And what on earth do you dream of for your child when so many of the "norms" seem unattainable on the worst of days?

While some seasons of parenting Oli have found us with our eyes set firmly on the positives ("Look! He's using the potty!" "Did you hear that? He said a sentence with four words!"), this past summer was a low spot that left us grasping for straws and leaning heavily on the fact that while we felt completely and utterly unprepared for the job at hand, we knew beyond a shadow of a doubt that God had no such doubts about us and was fully expecting that, with His help, we would find a way to be the parents our special little man needs.

Some days, our prayers for clarity were quiet, hushed whispers as we watched beautiful scenes of blossoming unfold in Oli's life. Other days, they were agonizing cries as we fought hard to maintain patience and perseverance. But always, they were there. We ran like jackrabbits many days, pursuing new tests, specialists, therapists ... anyone who might give us insight into where God wanted us to be. And those days, we felt like we were doing something. Like we might just find the magic pill after all. Like God was going to show up in a white jacket and hand us the answer in the form of a prescription.

And then came the day that God answered. 

It was a gorgeous day, but one that had most certainly not found me at my best as Oli's mom. We had driven to Seattle Children's for yet another appointment, fighting hellacious traffic at an hour when both of us wanted nothing more than to be on the couch reading Curious George books. Oli responded to the stress by kicking me firmly in the forearm as I struggled to get him into his carseat, and then offering me his newest defense mechanism when things are not going his way: "I don't like you!" (I have never had another of my children say this to me, and it cuts me to the quick every time.) Mr. Blandings, at home with the rest of the crew, called me no fewer than three times on the drive to tell me that Seven had flooded her training pants, Atticus had lost his Teaching Textbooks math disk, and Mani seemed to have a fever.

And this was the day God chose to give me clarity?

After the long drive, I found myself shaking the hand of the endocrinologist. After his latest round of neurodevelopmental assessment, Oli had been referred through the matrix of medical offerings at Children's. Audiology for his hearing. Cardiology to double check the valve that had once been wonky. Hematology for more tests than you can shake a stick at. Radiology for diagnostic scans. And endocrinology to perhaps figure out why, once and for all, he is the size of a very small 3 year-old even at almost 6.

The endocrinologist met us in an exam room, a huge file at her side and a computer screen full of graphs regarding my son in her face. She clicked a few times, scrolled, then finally made eye contact.

"So, we met as a board to discuss Oliver's file."

"Oh," was all I could say. A board. Interesting.

"And we've looked at his thyroid testing, and his cognitive scores, and his iron levels, and the bone scans. All the testing you've been doing the past few months."

"Uh-huh."

"And, we, well-- we can't help you. There's just nothing here that indicates anything at all that we can do. Medically, I mean."

As if on cue, Oli crawled into my lap from his spot beside me on the narrow little bench we shared. His feathery weight in my arms kept my head from spinning, but only so much. 

Because there it was, in plain black and white. In angering, full disclosure, I finally had the truth spelled out for me: There is nothing they can do. 

Nothing.

Nothing.

Nothing.

I expected a great many answers from God, but this was not one of them. If Oli had lead in his blood, had low iron, had a genetic something that we could point to and say, "There's the issue," then I would have been relieved. If someone, somewhere would finally (finally!) use a big red marker and scrawl "FASD" on his file, I would feel vindicated.

Instead, I got nothing.

But sometimes, nothing is exactly the clarity you need.

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

I'll be the one to say it: some people SHOULDN'T adopt

Mani rides a pony
If you've read this blog for any length of time, you know that I am a big proponent of adoption. I believe every child deserves a family. I believe that God calls people to open their hearts, their homes, and their families to children who have been orphaned. I believe that the term orphan is nowhere near as cut and dry as we think-- meaning, some children are orphans even when their biological parents still walk this earth. 

Most of all, I believe that it is God's desire for us to enter into the complicated, life changing relationships that adoption brings to bear. Because really, if you want to know the heart of God, try explaining to a four year-old that it doesn't matter at all whose tummy he grew in ... he's just as much a part of your being as the little one he feels kicking under your ribs this very minute.

Adoption has done amazing things in my family. I have seen my husband open his heart wider and wider and wider still. I have watched Jo grow into a young lady who has no fear or awkwardness around people with physical or mental disabilities, but instead a deep, abiding compassion for those people who so many others can't even make eye contact with. I have had Logan approach me and ask why it is so that so many children wait for homes around the world. "Don't people know they're there?" I have felt a warm glow when hearing Atticus plan out his own future family. "I don't know how many kids I'll have. But I know we'll adopt and have biological kids." I have had to explain time and again to Seven that no, she is not adopted and that yes, that's an o.k. thing, too.

And, of course, I have had the honor of raising, loving, knowing children who share no biological link with me at all, but still call me Momma. Without adoption, there would be no Bee telling me about her science exams, no Oli chasing the new puppy, no Mani asking endlessly if I will read him "just one more" book.

Adoption is a good thing. It is a worthy cause. It is a gift from God.

And yet ... I still fall into the camp that cannot believe that adoption is for every individual or family.

The truth is, I cringe when I see the phrases tossed out: "If every Christian adopted just one child, there'd be no more orphans on the entire continent of Africa!" "Adoption is so affordable, everyone can do it!" "Adoption saves a life ... YOURS!"

Adoption is complicated. It is messy. It is painful and hurtful and beautiful and awful and terrifying and blissful. Adoption is so many things, all wrapped up in an amazing bundle of emotions and spiritual growth. But one thing that adoption is not is easy.

Now, please don't take this as a negative ad for adoption. Please don't think that I'm saying that only the toughest of the tough need to apply. And definitely don't think that I'm advocating for only those people with a stomach for self-abuse should sign on. What I'm saying is that people who walk into adoption should do so with eyes not only wide open, but with hearts prepared to take whatever comes.

Adoption, people ... it's not about you. Truly. It's not about your new child, your new baby, your growing family. If you think it is, you've got it dead wrong. Adoption is about your new child. It's about your new baby. It's about your growing family. It's about people with faces and pasts and futures and problems and dreams. You are only a player in the story. Just one in a cast of hundreds, really. It's not about you.

But so many (too many) Christians I meet who are adopting don't seem quite ready to grapple with this reality. They have given birth to a dream child, waiting for them on another continent or in some corner of their hometown. They know what pattern quilt this child will adore, how his or her personality will fit into their family, what sports he or she will want to play. They already know that this dream child will be gracious, and kind, and will never question why God chose to place him or her in the category of "adopted kid" because their adoptive family will just be so fabulous, so unique, so perfect for them, that it will all be crystal clear. This child will not have a difficult time attaching, will love American cuisine, will take to English as easily as a fish to water, and will forget all about the first (or second, or third, or fourth) mothers who came before. This child will not hoard food, curse when angry, have developmental delays, set things on fire. This child will, in short, be perfect and unscathed, despite having walked through hell to get to the comfort of that middle class lifestyle he or she now enjoys.

Put that way, you can see the recipe for disaster. But no one thinks that way in real life, right? No one is in that much denial. Think so? Think again.

I'm going to say it as gently as possible, so that I don't scare off every single hopeful adoptive parent who might ever stumble upon this post: That parent you'll never be? The one surrendering their child because the dream has turned into a nightmare? Listen to her. Learn from her. Because while nothing can every truly prepare you for every twist and turn you might possible encounter, sometimes just hearing the horror stories can open your eyes that much wider and bring you to a place where you're at least willing to look at the dark side before you commit.

Some people just shouldn't adopt. If you are already overwhelmed with the number of children in your family, your home situation (marriage, job, difficult child), your circumstances ... you shouldn't adopt. If you think that an adopted child is going to fill a still aching void in your life left by infertility or loss, you shouldn't adopt. If you have never picked up a book on attachment, you shouldn't adopt. If you think that children--even infants-- who have suffered loss will not be affected by their past, you shouldn't adopt. If you are uncomfortable welcoming--even just verbally-- another mummy and daddy into your world, you shouldn't adopt. If you are adopting to "save a child," "do the right thing," or"be a good Christian," you shouldn't adopt.

I have personally known some very well-intentioned, good people who adopted under the wrong motivations. It is not pretty. In fact, it's so not pretty that one has to step back and ask the horrible question: Would this child have been better off remaining an orphan? I never thought I'd be at a place where I could even consider that as a possibility but there it is. Sometimes, it's just that ugly.

This is a very un-PC statement that goes against a huge movement currently taking place in the evangelical wing of the church right now. Record numbers of Christians are adopting and yes, by and large I am sure that this is a good thing. The stigma is gone, and the culture of ignorance is largely being stripped away. People who may not have even considered adoption before are now familiar with families who have been there, and done that, so a certain comfort exists. For this, I am glad. Truly. The world will be a richer place for it, and the lives of so many people are being blessed with an abundant, beautiful gift.

What I worry about are the people who jump on the bandwagon without counting the cost, or who go in with blinders on. These are the dangerous folks, and frankly, I haven't been impressed with the ability (or willingness) of agencies to screen them out. Christian agencies, especially, seem more concerned with simply making sure that prospective families line up with their statement of faith than of vetting the background and stability that a child will be moving in to. This terrifies me. I have seen the effects of this practice in day to day life, and it is every bit as heartbreaking as a child languishing in a children's home or bouncing from foster home to foster home.

Are we all called to help the widows and the orphans? I believe we are. For some very blessed people, that will look like a family portrait that is more of patchwork quilt a simple afghan. For others, it will look like donating to a missionary working with children or supporting an orphanage on a monthly basis. For others, it will be opening their home to latch-key kids after school and being the ear to listen and the mom with the cookies. For others, it could be collecting clothes to donate, or becoming foster parents, or volunteering, or buying Christmas gifts for kids whose parents are in prison. 

So yes, do something. Get involved. But please, weigh very carefully the full measure of whether or not adopting a child is the right thing for your family. Ask God to be more clear in His calling than He has been with any other message to you in your life. So much is riding on this one decision. Make it the right one.

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Sabbatical, part 2

Seven's second birthday

 Yesterday, I posted about the deafening roar of my struggle to come to terms with my grandfather's slow decline, and how it rocked some of the deepest places of my heart. I offered this personal glimpse into my soul by means of beginning to explain my long-term absence from this blog, which was once part of my daily existence.

But you knew there was more to it than that, right? You knew that it wasn't as simple as a woman grieving something lost but not yet gone. There had to be more. People's lives don't just go into tailspins based on one event, usually. Sometimes it happens, sure. But more often than not, there are a basketful of smaller things complicating that main event and leaving the swimmer treading water and looking for a lifeline.

In the post just prior to the one that left this blog hanging for months, I shared that we'd taken Seven in for a full workup to diagnose perhaps more fully the allergy issues that she was experiencing. Even I, the mother who'd somehow sense a frailty in this child from the very beginning, wasn't ready for the full weight of what the results held. Seven, it turns out, is allergic to pretty much the entire environment. No foods. Just trees--namely, those most commonly found in Western Washington. And mold. Yes, we got a lot of that, too. A long list of chemical sensitivities that, with a little research, were found to lurk in our foods, our clothing, our everything.

In short, sweet little Seven has her work cut out for her as she grows up, because memorizing such a long list of no-nos is going to take up a good bit of her time.

At first, we held ourselves on vigilant watch for anything that might be on the list. After a while, we realized that many things are, simply put, a losing battle. There is no way, for instance, to keep a toddler who is forbidden to play with plastic buckets, shovels, sieves, and watering cans to also forgo the amazing sticks that she sees on the ground all around her while she plays outside. I take that back--it may be possible, but it sure isn't fun. Indoors, things are much easier. But outside--where the kids spend pretty much their entire summer-- well, it was a season of choosing the lesser of two evils and living with the results.

We've acclimated now to our primarily plastic-free lifestyle. We still have stashes of the contraband here and there. The older boys have their Legos, of course-- stashed in the off-limits-to-little-people game room. And I just couldn't make Mani part with our massive collection of Rescue Heroes, even though I admit that, in my more educated state, I find myself shrinking away from putting any plastic anywhere for anyone. (Really, the stuff is that nasty. Research for yourself if you're curious.) It doesn't feel any more stressful to do things without plastic--or to keep Seven away from it-- than it did to do them with plastic, now. So in that regard, we've achieved new norm status.

Which is good. Because just as the allergy avalanche and the whirlpool of my grandfather's ill health took over my world, I discovered that I was pregnant.

No, really. 

Yes. Despite having felt firmly that Seven was a one-off blessing from the Lord, despite feeling amazingly satisfied with our crew as they stand, despite never even considering that I'd ever even buy another pregnancy test, let alone watch two lines form ...

Yep. Pregnant.

I immediately asked close friends for prayer and started on the regiment that had done such a fabulous job of keeping Seven inside. Unlike my pregnancy with Seven, where I was full of joy and energy and just about bursting at the seams with the awe of it all, this time around has been far more subdued. A large part of it is simply to overwhelming busy that seems to rule our days. Jo is in 10th grade now, and the stakes of educating a child who will be heading to college or career in a mere couple of years are much higher. Having a special needs 5 year-old, a curious, bouncing 4 year-old, and a spitfire of a 2 year-old doesn't make my days any less complicated. Then there's the fundraising for our mission to Nepal, the weekly doctor's visits for my shots ... Some days, it feels like a whirlwind ride that I endure more than enjoy.

But still, I am taking the time to stop and be still. This little one inside is not one to go unnoticed, which helps a ton. He or she spends the bulk of every day wiggling, kicking, and writhing to keep my attention. I suspect that in a few short weeks, when we meet this child, he or she will have eyes wide open, a wail like a banshee, and a personality that resists taking no for an answer. I also suspect that, as child number eight, those are pretty good skills to be equipped with.

All of this brings you almost up to speed on the events of the past few months. Almost. Next up: some promising options in treating Oli, or, Why Mary Grace Flew All the Way to Philly While Pregnant and Sick.

Monday, October 15, 2012

Sabbatical, part 1

The view from my grandparents' front porch


When I published my last post-- five months ago now-- I had no idea that so much time would pass before I felt comfortable coming back here and sharing.

I had no idea that I would wrestle with the notion of never coming back at all.

I had no inkling that five months of simply living could remold everything a person seemed to know and be.

So, where to begin?

Within days of publishing my last post, I was on an airplane to the place I will always call home-- my grandparents' house in Kentucky. I've shared here before that it was my Mamaw and Papaw, not my mother and father, who laid the foundations of all that is strong and true in my life. It was Mamaw who took me to church, taught me to match socks, sat me on the counter and gave me lessons on making cornbread, dumplings, and some pretty rockin' fried chicken (if I do say so myself), and taught me that there's nothing wrong with being a lady who isn't afraid to fight-- for the right things. It was Papaw who told me I could be anything, that I was too smart to act stupid, that I was worthy of immeasurable love, and that I would always, always be his princess.

Fourteen years ago, my grandfather suffered a major, catastrophic stroke from which he fought back with more bravery and grit than I can ever imagine mustering. Just as he reached a place of being "back to normal," he was felled yet again, this time by a massive heart attack. Months later, a series of mini-strokes followed. Then there was the Alzheimer's diagnosis. More heart attacks. Another stroke.

Nearly a decade and a half later, the hits keep coming.

It's at this point that I want to pause and offer you a stark, lonely fact: my children have not seen my Papaw in ten years. And I feel no remorse for this.

Oh, yes ... I dream of what it would have been like for Papaw-- always a sucker for kids-- to know my brood. I can tell you that rather than being horrified at the size of my family, he would have been tickled pink. This man would have been our biggest cheerleader, goading us on and probably showing up for births and Gotcha' Days just so he could be the first one to get his hands on the latest model. He would have teased Atticus about his bookish ways, and gotten Logan into twice as much trouble as the boy manages on his own with his impulsive "let's just try it." He would have buddied up with Oli, taking him everywhere a four-wheeler can go on 50 acres of property. He would have taught Mani some of the worst behaviors ever, like spitting watermelon seeds at sleeping dogs and how to mash a tick between two boards just to see them go splat. And he would have spoiled Bee, Jo, and Seven to the point where their future husbands would have looked like mere cads no matter what they had to offer.

Because folks, once someone has woken you up in near darkness on a Tuesday morning, set you in the passenger seat of a pick up, taken you to an auction and told you to pick out any horse you want for your very own, well ... you're kind of ruined for this world.

But notice something in what I just said. "Would have." "Would have." "Would have." Because even though I long for those things, even though my grandfather is still very much in this world, he is not capable of any of them. He is, instead, a shadow of the man he once was. And the Lord has not yet chosen to call him home.

Here is where I admit to a touch of bitterness that I have yet to root out of my heart. Because Jesus, who can do anything, anything at all, chooses to neither release my grandfather-- and our family-- from the hell of this slow spiral and to welcome him to heaven, nor to heal him completely and give him back to us here on earth. And me-- simple, stupid me-- I cannot keep from asking to somehow understand why.

I flew in May to the one place on earth that always makes me happiest. I walked in the front door and took a deep breath and waited for that touch of tension that always sits in my shoulders to slough off. Instead, my eyes instantly settled onto the monolithic, ugly La-Z-Boy recliner that has held my beloved Papaw for the past ten years. Goodness, how I loathe that brown cord monstrosity. It was empty. His walker still stood dutifully by, his extra pair of thick wool socks still sat on the arm. But the chair was empty.

Papaw had suffered yet another stroke. This one dealt the final blow in my rock of a grandmother's ability to care for her husband at home: he was now incontinent.

And with that, not only was his last shred of dignity gone, but his ability to live out the rest of his days under the roof he himself had built was gone, too.

I visited with my Papaw instead in a lovely nursing facility. Truly, if you have to be confined to an institution for the end of your life, it was a beautiful place. More hotel than hospital, the staff was friendly, the food was good, and the activities offered were top notch. I sat in a tasteful, tan armchair that was the antithesis of Papaw's hulking La-Z-Boy and watched as he drifted from sleep to mania to disorientation. I listened to him curse like a sailor at invisible people, then berate a young nurse's aide for not being his sister, who had died in 1988. I held his hand as he sobbed and begged me to take him back home, to his beloved wife, to his own house, to the land he had worked nearly his whole life.

And I cried. I cried a lot. I cried for the fact that my girls never got their horses. I cried for knowing that if he knew the nasty names he had called me, he wouldn't be able to live with himself. I cried for a marriage that withstood fire and hell but was separated at the last gasp of "in sickness and in health." I cried because my grandfather never got to look at the beautiful crop of great-grandchildren who carry on his history and feel the pride and gratitude that are rightfully his. I cried for the loneliness of realizing that the end will come, and when it does, I will be relieved.

For the first time ever, the distance between my home and my home felt like a blessing when I returned. I was glad that my children were not mourning alongside me, but instead were rejoicing in my return. There was a space, a small breath, between the shiver I could not shake out of my soul and the warmth of so many arms forever drawing you in and pulling you into the future. I spent weeks (months?) poised between the past and the future, mourning what I had imagined life and death were and would be, and grappling with the fact that God's plans for me, while always good, sometimes, yes, hurt like hell.

This is me being raw and honest and vulnerable. You see, I never wanted to live on the edge of this continent. I never wanted my kids to have Northwest accents that stumble me as I help them along in their phonics lessons. I never wanted to leave behind churches on every corner, small towns built around a handful of families who know every intimate details of each others lives. I never wanted to stray so far from home that when I come back, people look at my hair and my clothes and my mannerisms and say, "Well, Mary Grace! I sure wouldn't have known ya."

And yet, here I am. The truth is, I am more comfortable now here than there. I can't deny it. And I look forward into a future in a developing nation and a season of raising children more accustomed to Hindu symbols than Coke signs in the grocery store and realize that while the past is killing me and the future is foreign, I am but a handmaiden of the Lord learning, yet again, this whole die to self message right here, in the painful present.

I have no doubt that when the time is right, God will take my Papaw. That stubborn old man may very well have been the reason that Luke 15:7 was written. A ne'er do well who resisted the Gospel and his wife's prayers long after most men would have simply given up just for the sake of peace, when my Papaw came to Christ, it was a real, profound movement in his soul that makes me more fully grasp the notion of "reborn." So I know where he's going. The only question, then, is "when?" No. That's not quite right. There is a second question, after all. That one, though, has more to do with me and less to do with Papaw. It's "Will I be ready to let God be God and accept everything that has happened, and who I am, and how this journey has impacted me?" 

Because if I can, I will know the answer to why it has all been such a long, winding road to the end. But if I can't, I'll be no better for the ride.

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

The value of a life





Up until yesterday, I had never, ever heard a woman--a mother-- state that she wished she had aborted a child to whom she had already given birth. I honestly thought I never would. What's the saying? "You never regret the kids you have, only the ones you didn't have." I guess I was naive enough to believe that the act of holding, kissing, soothing a child was enough to erase the doubts and plant a seed of love and yes, even gratitude. 


But I was wrong. There actually are people in this world for whom the act of being entrusted with a life -- no matter how small or fragile-- brings nothing but anger, hostility, and in the end, bitterness.


Driving to Seattle Children's Hospital yesterday morning, I heard a story on NPR about bills being considered in several states that would ban "wrongful birth" lawsuits. The upshot is that parents rely on testing --sometimes routine, sometimes extensive--to determine the health and well-being of their unborn baby. When that testing isn't offered, when the results aren't conclusive, or when the information somehow gets lost in translation, a select few parents have decided that the "negative outcome" (i.e., a baby with issues they weren't expecting) is worth suing over.


Clearly, all of this is wrapped in an untidy package with abortion laws. Because really, what people are saying here is that they want to know what might be wrong with their baby "so that, you know, we can, ummm .... well, we can decide if we can .... you know ... we can look at how it would impact our family and ... well, you know...."


Yeah, we know. But you wouldn't say it, right? Because even the most abortion-rights people I know have never looked me in the eye and said, "Oh, I'd want to know. Because I would abort that baby in an instant."


At the core, we're still PC about it, even if deep down, we suspect that learning about a baby with a catastrophic disability or an abbreviated life span would rock us to the core and bring us to the place where we'd ask ourselves: Can I do this?


But apparently, not everyone wrestles with life and its inherent value. Some people have it all figured out. And those with little more capacity than breath and involuntary motion, well ... they're not fit to consume resources--or tax my emotional ones. Because really, that's what it's all about, isn't it? What we can handle. What we can allow. What we can make room for in our already crowded lives.


The waiting area for the specialty clinics at Seattle Children's is a hive of activity. Children in wheelchairs, children in walkers, children with cochlear implants, children missing limbs, children unable to breathe without assistance, children unable to walk to happy to crawl from one area to the next, even if it means dragging a leg that refuses to cooperate. There are stunned mothers of newborns huddled in corners and drinking it all in while praying that the test they're about to sit through never, ever brings them back here again. There are old hands who seem to know everyone. There are moms who are so accustomed to the wails of an autistic child that they can soothe their son or daughter and still carry on a conversation. 


There, in our usual corner by the yellow door, Oliver and I examined the gears mounted on the wall and experimented with turning them left, then right, then left again. A few minutes into our wait, a mother pushed an oversized, bulky wheelchair into our corner. 


"Can we share the gears with you?" she asked with a sweet southern accent, and Oli and I scooted over a bit to make viewing room for the girl carefully tucked into the chair. Her hair was black and cut short to make it easier to clean certain ports in the back of her skull. Her chin was twisted into a permanent, slightly askew grin. And her eyes were a dazzling, bright shade of green.


Within moments, the mother and I were talking neurodevelopment, while Oli continued to spin gears faster, faster, faster. A few moments later, as we were bonding over the value of therapy that focuses on processing rather than mechanics, we heard a laugh. It was a sweet, melodious child's laugh--the kind that you imagine when you think of little girls and baskets full of puppies. It was coming from my new friend's daughter.


"Oh, she likes you, Oliver! You are making her happy!" the woman beamed.


Oli beamed right back. Oli knows "happy." He drew his forefingers to the corners of his mouth and made a huge, exaggerated grin. 


"He happy? Me? Me make him happy?" he asked. (Everyone is a "he" in Oli's world.)


"Yes! You're making her so happy!" I encouraged. 


Oli was delighted, and took this little girl's happiness on as his very own task. He threw himself into spinning gears, tickling her arm, and making daring pratfalls in the little enclosed space we four occupied. We moms kept talking. She shared about straining her back muscles lifting her sweet, immobile girl. About the fear that comes every time seizure meds have to be tinkered with. About how her younger kids decorated their big sister's wheelchair for her recent 10th birthday. I told her about Oli falling behind his younger brother, about his newfound skill of drawing lollipop people, about how there's so much that we just don't know.


When our beeper summoned us to our door, it was time to go. I thanked my friend for a beautiful chat, and encouraged Oli to tell his new friend goodbye. 


"I kiss him?" Oli asked. With permission, I hoisted him onto my hip so that he could place a very careful peck on one smooth, white cheek. The little girl laughed again, and so did Oli. 


As I got ready to walk away, I thanked God for reaching down. A warm peace had descended on me the moment that the woman and her daughter came to our little corner of the waiting area and had replaced the coldness I had felt listening to another woman, another mother of a profoundly disabled child, describe how she wished she had aborted her child before he had been born.


I don't know the pain of giving birth to a child whose life will be measured in medical procedures and pain. I don't know what it costs to stay up all night for weeks on end, to live in a hospital for months, to hear things like, "It's the best we can do." I don't imagine that it's easy, or comfortable, or that it is on par with the kind of minor difficulties I've seen in my life. All I have is right here in front of me--the path of a woman who blundered into special needs parenting by falling in love with a little boy who needed a Momma. But I can say this: even on the worst days, even on the days that bring me to my knees with frustration, even when I consider a future so full of uncertainty, I never wish that my son had never been born. I never think of him as too much, or too little. Instead, I think of the line Julia Roberts' character uses in one of my favorite movies, Steel Magnolias I would rather have thirty minutes of wonderful than a lifetime of nothing special. 


But that's just me.

Friday, May 11, 2012

Waiting for answers ...

The appointment went well. So much confirmation that I am not crazy, I nearly fell on my knees thanking God for the opportunity to talk to a knowledgeable person in this area. 


Making a birdfeeder
After an hour-long question-and-answer/counseling session, Seven was examined and got to donate a couple of vials of blood for the cause. Like the trooper she is, she didn't even whimper during the needle part, but instead snaked her free arm up to pat my cheek and locked eyes with Logan, who was cheering her on. She got a milkshake on the way home in honor of her bravery. (Note for anyone else with a plastic-sensitive kid: keep clean canning jars with holes punched in the lids and a supply of paper straws in your car, because NO ONE carries plastic-free serving stuff.)


So now we wait. We wait for a picture filled in with color where before there was only an outline. We're looking for "background" allergies, other sensitivities, anything that might be exacerbating this whole plastic issue. 


We wait for some feedback, too, on how we're doing keeping the toxins at bay in our little girl's life. All of this will, by the will of God, give me room to breathe a little more freely when I see Seven head for a slide (always plastic), receive an invite to play at someone else's house (Playskool! Little Tykes! Step One!), or find that one of the bigger boys has inadvertently handed the toddler a frisbee. Our hope is that by minimizing contact we can keep her overall exposure to reasonable levels (whatever those are) and not have to sweat it as much in uncontrolled situations.


That's the hope, at least. 


We'll see what the report card says. Maybe there's something else lurking there, combining with the plastics to hobble our little girl's immune system. Maybe it's something relatively easy (you have no idea what I'd give to have it be something like eggs or dairy). Maybe it's something that I don't even want to ponder; the allergist threw out cedar as a potential issue, and I nearly swooned. Do you have any idea how hard it would be to deal with an allergy to cedar in Western Washington?!?! 


Thank you so much for praying. 

Monday, May 7, 2012

Special



Tomorrow, I get to load Seven into the van and head to the office of someone who decided at some point to make a life out of the unusual. He's a specialist--an allergist who works only with very specific, very off-the-beaten-path sensitivities. Honestly, I feel blessed that he's so close and so accessible. For the hundredth time in our marriage, I am also so, so thankful that Mr. Blandings learned how to negotiate health care benefits as part of his employment package.


"I'm at a loss but, well, there's this one guy," the doctor said, "He sees people with the more uncommon allergies--metals, scents, chemicals, the stuff that is innocuous to the population at large. You could try him, but ..."


See, there's no 'but.' It's my daughter, it's scary, and you know, it's not about the money or the distance. 


Because yes, plenty of people have pooh-poohed this situation. Family members have been the worst, to be honest. I'm assuming that they just don't get it. Heck--I wouldn't get it if I hadn't seen it. But watching an angry, red flare spread across your daughter's lips and cheeks within minutes of her mouthing a wiffle ball will make you a believer. Having to explain to people that the scarlet welts on your toddler's neck are from leaning over on a plastic picnic bench will make you a believer. 


So we're heading to the specialist. Praying for good news, wise direction, and a toolbox of coping skills for navigating this big old scary plastic world. Pray for us, will you?

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Assumptions



The woman was (understandably) impressed. After all, she'd seen Jo for years in the context of church life. She'd seen her navigate through some sticky peer relationships, meander through the most gangly season, and come out on the other side. And now, she'd just watched Jo gracefully make a potty run with a squirming, hopping Mani so that I could keep Oli in his happy place on my hip, swaying and humming, with his head covered to keep out the overly bright lights of the grocery store. 


"I so need to hire you!" she announced, patting her bulging abdomen, "I'm getting too big to chase my 2 year-old around for a diaper change, and I can barely lean over him on the floor to do it anyhow. Maybe you can come and help out a couple of days a week."


"Ummm ..." blushed Jo, "I don't change diapers."


"You don't?"


"I mean, I have. A couple of times. Maybe ... four times?" Jo looked to me for confirmation. I shrugged.


"How do you have all these little brothers and sisters and not know how to change diapers?" asked the incredulous woman.


It was Jo's turn to shrug. "My mom changes them."


My name is Mary Grace. I have seven kids. I have a teenage daughter at home and no, she doesn't change diapers.


Large family myth #1: BUSTED.


Jo doesn't change diapers. The handful of times that she has, it's been when a babysitter was here for the day or evening and needed a hand. 


Did you catch that? "A babysitter was here ..."


Large family myth #2: The older kids are always left in charge of the younger ones. BUSTED.


Every class of family (large, small, medium, homeschooling, adoptive, public schooling, dual-income, single-parent, you name it) has a stereotype. And yes, a lot of those stereotypes have roots in reality. I've never seen a family with two children employ the buddy system, for instance. But for every myth, for every stereotype-- well, there are always people who just don't fit the mold.


Like teen girls with five younger siblings who don't change diapers.


Scan the internet, and you'll unearth countless assumptions that are made about "people like me." According to the stereotype, I am a habitual collector of children who is at the beck and call of a semi-abusive husband. I can't think for myself, don't value education, and spend my days making sure that my children are robots who toe the party line while I bark commands at my older kids to keep the younger ones under control. My teen daughter is responsible for meals, laundry, and childcare and has no hope of ever going to college.


Well, either that, or I'm a tireless saint who croons nothing but Scripture as gentle reproof over my near-perfect offspring--when I'm not teaching my newborns how to read, that is. My strong, manly husband leads our steadfast and highly academic crew in nightly sing-alongs. Unless we're opening our home to the disenfranchised and poor of society or sponsoring the biannual Latin Quiz Bowl in our living room, that is.


In truth, I'm neither slug nor saint. I'm not under my husband's thumb so much as standing firmly by, doing my best to show him how grateful I am for the boundless love he pours out on me. And I'm certainly not raising robots ... unless you count the fact that Oli loves to dance like a robot. In that case: yes, I am raising a robot.


I bake my own bread, but I also buy a reasonable bit from the store. (I have to admit that I only buy the stuff that's whole grain and without hfcs, though. That probably drops my street cred.)


I don't use textbooks.


I do have family stickers on the back of my white 12-passenger van.


I can't imagine living by the "Managers of Their Homes" schedule.


My kids do AWANA.


It's a rare day when one of my olders gets a younger dressed.


Stereotypes often have their toes dipped in truth (we actually do sing together for family worship), but often the waters of reality run far deeper than we see on the surface. Not all large families are like the Duggars, the Bateses, the Whoever You Think is Amazing/Terribles. We all have our own motivations, our own convictions, our own paths. 


Just like every other family.


Just like yours.


So hey, let's make a deal. I promise not to assume that you think Disney movies are the devil's handiwork if you promise not to assume that I've read anything by the Pearls. How's that? :-)















Tuesday, May 1, 2012

30 Ways, #8

Savor the Sabbath




Every Day of Rest you wake up, have breakfast, shower, get dressed, head out the door.


You drive to church, greet friends, worship, learn, say goodbye to friends, then pile back into the vehicle just in time to cue the whines of the littlest people in your house: "I'm huuuuuuungry!"


Then it's run in the door, feed the people, scramble for naps, and ...


By the time the house is somewhat settled, you feel, well, less than rested.


You want to have a day of rest? Want to be a hero in your kids' eyes? Want to remember what Sabbath is supposed to mean?


Savor it.


The night before, ask your hubby if he's up for a park outing post-service. Depending on his personality, he may either look at you like you've grown a third eye, or shrug his shoulders and say, "Why not?" If he's game at all, put yourself into prep mode. Trust me. Do the legwork the night before, and you will enjoy this day like no other.


First, pick a spot. A park you all love? A hiking locale that you've always wanted to try out? A lake where you can lounge?


Then, pack a fuss-free lunch. Keep it simple; one dish that everyone can partake of is the easiest, in my opinion. I always opt for taco salad, because it's one of our faves and requires very little in the way of prep, toting, or serving. Some chopped lettuce in a bag, lidded bowls of seasoned black beans, diced tomatoes, corn, and shredded cheddar packed into a cooler alongside a massive bag of tortilla chips and some paper bowls and we're good to go. 


Next, police the church clothes. You want to be presentable in the fellowship hall but comfortable on the playing field. That can take some doing, so think ahead.


Finally, toss some wiffle balls & bats, soccer balls, or whatever your family's favorite group sports require into a pile.  If you're really good, you can even sneak the cooler & toys to the back of the van without anyone noticing and keep the surprise element intact up until the last moment. 


Trust me--this one is worth the night of planning. Your husband will thank you for the break from the typical rat race, your children will think you're amazing, and you'll have at least one "Life is beautiful" sigh in the course of the afternoon. Guaranteed.

Monday, April 30, 2012

Friends

The joke in Christian circles is that you shouldn't pray for patience unless you're good and ready to get quite a few chances to exercise that particular virtue. I can attest that this is often the case in my own life; I ask God to give me more of something, and He obliges. In spades, even. 

 Earlier this year I discovered another area you ought not pray about unless you're willing to undergo some upheaval: friendship. 

Having simply gotten to the point where the resource of time often feels at premium in my life, and where I no longer feel pressure to be anything other than who I am, I realized that I am probably more of an acquaintance than friend in the lives of several people with whom I had previously been close. You know what? It made me sad. I found myself thinking over years of memories, pining for intimacy, and mourning the loss of the comfort that long-standing friendships bring. 

I was caught off guard by the sharpness of the pain, and found myself praying something that I had never prayed before, "Lord, show me the value of real friendship. Show me how to authentically share my life. Show me who you have given me to walk with." 

And that, I guess, was mistake number one. Because folks, within 24 hours I found myself unwrapping an onion that is only now, I think, coming close to its core. 

 First, I saw that a woman who I had felt an instant kinship with in truth held some pretty different foundational views in terms of marriage and parenting, and that those just plain old weren't compatible with the stated policies of the family Blandings. I admit that I was disappointed, but I felt a huge sense of relief as time went by. After all--we are only casually involved, and keeping things on the casual level will be far easier than disentangling after a messy incident. 

Relief was also the word when a handful of peripheral ladies in my life suddenly began buzzing all the louder in directions I knew I wasn't meant to go. A couple were chatty Cathys who seem to spend their entire lives on the phone. A few engaged in gossip. A couple of others pushed for commitments after I expressly said no and even after I shared that my husband was not on board. Having just recently prayed for eyes to see, all of this felt like blessed confirmation. Not your people, God was saying.

From there, though, things got tougher. I had to appeal to a dear friend for an ear, which felt so uncomfortable at the time that I thought for sure I was going to throw up. She's normally more the sharer, and I'm more the mentor/listener. But I was having an authentic need to be heard, and felt like I needed to express that rather than do my usual of stuff-down-my-heart-and-wait-for-an-opening-a -few-days-or-weeks-later. Go figure: she wasn't offended at all. As a matter of fact, I've recently had to ask her if I had hurt her feelings on another occasion (Eeek! Potential confrontation moment!) and she apologized to me and assured me that all was well. ((sigh)) The beauty of being known! 

 I'd love to say that the rest of the journey has been just as rewarding, but I'd be lying. In equally swift fashion, the Lord hammered me with an out-of-the-blue dissolution of a long-standing, life-foundational relationship. You know--one of those friendships that stretches back before you were even aware that you had friends? Mr. Blandings had cautioned me about the nature of this relationship for years, but I was refused to believe his take on things. (I know, I know ...) The Lord made it impossible to deny. Still, cutting the ties was heart-wrenching, and looking into the future is awkward, to say the least. 

As I said, I'm still peeling the onion. But already, I have learned so much. Good friends, for example, rarely live their own lives through the lens of their children's. Good friends don't serve up guilt when you are unable to meet their expectations. Good friends never assume that you're trying to hurt them. And good friends? Well, they usually have a pretty ready supply of other good friends because people want to be around them.


May we all be blessed with a multitude of good friends!

Thursday, April 26, 2012

Missions: We're Doing it Wrong

Before I even get started with this rant, let me clearly state that I do not have all the answers. Chances are good that really, I don't have any of the answers ... at least none worth hammering out and installing as policy. (Praise the Lord, because the last thing the modern church needs is one more policy.) What I do have is a Bible, a love for the church of Jesus Christ, and a passion for spreading the gospel.


Which, as it turns out, doesn't get you very far in today's missions culture.


If I sound cynical, please know that I am praying against a hardened heart in this area. But frankly, it's getting more and more difficult to keep biting my tongue and moving forward. Since founding a religious nonprofit in 2005, my family has been actively working to bring the Good News into unreached areas. Areas where you can walk for hours, stumble upon a village, and be the very first person in the history of the world to say the name of Jesus Christ. That kind of "unreached areas." You'd think that the logistics of raising up leaders would be the hardest part, wouldn't you? Or maybe even traveling to such remote places? 


You'd be wrong. The hardest part about penetrating the 10/40 window is convincing your fellow Christians that the work is important enough to support in the first place.


Now, I am well aware that not everyone is called to the same passions of faith. I know and love people whose hearts are all for the inner city, urban areas of the US. I know and love people who are clearly called to the specific task of reaching out to those who have been hurt by the church. I know others who feel that it's all about their family serving through hospitality in their own communities, or who have some other specific, clearly God-led manner in which they are taking Christ into Jerusalem, Judea, Samaria, and the ends of the earth.


And that's o.k. That's good, and that's right, and that's part of how God wants to build His Kingdom. 


But somehow along the way, amidst the good work of Women's Teas and Vacation Bible School and Building Campaigns ... somehow, international missions got shoved into a corner, slapped with a label, and forgotten.


Oh, alright. Not totally forgotten. International missions are trotted out once a year on Missions Sunday, and again sometime during the AWANA season when a child needs a book signed. Oh, and there's the ubiquitous penny/book/backpack drive, and the shoeboxes. There's always the shoeboxes. You fill up a couple of those babies, and you're gold!


My point here is this: missions are a hard sell in today's church climate. Go ahead and tell me how much your church body allocates to the act of spreading the gospel into unreached places. How about for Bible translation? Tell me where your church focuses its efforts. How many missionaries are in the budget, and what percentage of the annual budget does that represent? Who's on your church's missions committee? How does the committee decide who to fund? 


Don't feel bad if you don't know the answers to these questions. I've learned that by and large, even the most die-hard, never-miss-a-Sunday Christians have no clue as to how they're being represented in the race (and yes, it is a race--ask me about Islam in Nepal if you want to be convinced of that) to bring the Word of God into unreached areas.


Did you catch that? "How they're being represented." Because folks, that's what it is. When a church supports a missionary, it is doing so on behalf of each and every member of that body. Just as a man wearing the uniform of the US Marines in Afghanistan stands in proxy of every citizen of the United States, every missionary that your church funds acts on your behalf as he or she or they labor to harvest for Christ.


Sobering, isn't it? 


But the fact is, we don't think of missions that way at all, do we? We drop our tithe or offering into the collection plate on Sunday, and we fail to truly grasp what that means. We may remember that Women's Bible Study is hiring paid childcare workers, and recognize that we're footing the bill. We may hear that the heating system needs an upgrade, and stick another $20 in the pot. We may even know that the crisis pregnancy center is getting a piece of the pie, and feel good for helping.


But rare is the family that knows that X cents of each dollar goes into reaching new believers on the other side of the world. Even more unusual is the family that can tell you that their church supports twenty missionary projects, meaning that each group gets half a cent of each dollar. 


This isn't a post about money. It's a post about priorities. In the six years that my family has been supporting nationals, training pastors, bringing supplies to believers, and supporting children, I have become disillusioned, I admit, when it comes to the value that Christians place on the Gospel. I could rail against the churches we have asked for support, the ones who tell us that they are cutting missions funding because they want to hire a second youth pastor. Or the ones who tell us that they are too small a congregation to give even $10 toward saving souls in other countries. Or the ones who hold our work up to a complicated series of "giving matrix" and score it, then decide that we don't meet with their standards.


As someone passionate about what they do, that's hard to swallow sometimes. Because when we ask for support, I don't picture the dollar signs in a wire transfer of funds--I picture the pile of vegetables that the kids in Nepal will get with their lentils. I picture the new believer being given a Bible in his own language. I picture the face of the woman who no longer feels she has to abandon her baby to appease the gods. I see these things, and the "no" hurts.


But the problem isn't the churches. They are simply listening to their congregants and reacting to the "needs" and "wants" that filter up. The problem is the Christians in the churches. But no, wait ... even that's not quite right. 


The problem really and truthfully is on the general abdication of missions into the realm of "professionals." Because folks, that's what it's become. I am shocked--shocked!-- at how many people really believe that you have to have a 4 year degree to save someone's soul in a place you need a passport to reach. I am utterly stunned at the number of people who really think that the church is better equipped to decide who is capable of spreading the Gospel, and where it should go, and how it should happen.


I'm pretty sure that this isn't what Jesus had in mind. I'm pretty sure that He was speaking familiarly, in love, to those whom He knew intimately, when He issued His Great Commission. I'm pretty sure that He didn't set up a committee, organize a barbecue, and write up a list of detailed interview questions, then ask for a furlough visit every two years. 


I'm pretty sure that He just wanted people to hear about what He did for them.


But hey ... what do I know? As I said, I'm just a woman with a Bible who has found freedom and meaning in the blood of Christ. I'm just part of a family that lives to serve Him wherever He calls. 


I'm probably wrong.