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Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Finally Home!

Today around 2:30 pm, came the most joyous of phone calls ever made. The adoption supervisor at our agency called us to ask if we would be interested in a sibling group of three: two boys (age 5, and 2) and a baby girl age 1. Never in my wildest dreams did I expect this call, this perfect call. John and I were together because he was so sweetly helping me move boxes from a storage facility for work. We put the caseworker on speaker phone so we could both hear about the kids, just an hour away from us in foster care. When she told us about the babies, I jokingly asked, "Can I pick them up today?" Jane replied, "Actually, I was going to ask you if you would pick them up today."

Words cannot describe the feeling of driving to meet our new kids. I couldn't imagine what they would look like, and that didn't matter. I just couldn't wait to meet them, and hold them, and tell them, "you are safe." The caseworker was parked behind a Cracker Barrel restaurant and joyfully handed the baby over to me when we pulled into the parking lot. Elizabeth held out her little hands to me and laid her head on my shoulder. "They're exhausted," The caseworker told us, "They've been through so much." The boys looked up with round, big brown eyes, probably wondering who we are following a string of broken placements in their short lives.

There are today a flood of emotions I cannot explain. I rocked a baby girl tonight in my arms- a baby I never expected would find her way to me. We put the boys to bed and settled in for the first of many nights together. Thank you, God.

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

If I could just see where I'm going

Sunday morning God had a nice little lesson for me to learn at church. Surprisingly, it didn't come through the sermon, the music, the Bible study class before worship, or even through the word of anyone trying to encourage me. It was just before the sermon, when our pastors offer "a time with the children and yayas." YAYAS are "youth and young adults." I still think of myself as a young adult, but I refrain from thumping down the aisle and plopping down on the carpeted stage area amongst the kiddos in our little congregation. But since our church kids are mostly pre-teen and teen age, Mitchell and Samuel are often the youngest kids up front during this time. Dr. George asked for a volunteer, and naturally the uninhibited Mitchell was the first to raise his hand. The other "yayas" just rolled their eyes and pretended to be bored out of their minds. Dr. George blindfolded Mitchell and asked him to follow his directions (his voice) as they walked down the center aisle together. Mitchell leaned in closely and listened for Dr. George to lead him down the aisle. At the back of our little sanctuary, Mitchell was allowed to remove his blindfold. Sensing his "turn" was over, Mitchell galloped back to his spot on the floor by the pulpit, while Dr. George gave another child a turn with the activity. After finishing with the second volunteer, George asked the kids to share about what it was like to blindly follow his voice down the center aisle. In his nonsensical way, Mitchell blurted out what would be the most important statement of the morning church service for me:
"It seemed like it took forever to get back there because I couldn't see where I was going!"
Bam! Right between the eyes, that was for me. I'm having such a hard time with this part of my journey. This waiting . . . this constant wondering . . . this aching, longing, desperately painful, seemingly stretched-out, ridiculous wait for children to call my own. Looking at profiles, asking questions, waiting for a returned phone call or email, waking up at night wondering who is caring for my children right now and how much longer will it be until they are with me and our family. It just seems like it's taking forever.
I hear and recognize the voice of God calling me forward on this journey. Sometimes I just want to rip off the blindfold and shout: "Where are you taking me? And why is it taking so long??????!!!!!!"

Today I picked up a rental car because earlier this week, someone accidentally hit me in front of the high school. Samuel was with me during the accident. He was quick to point out that because Georgia's plans had changed at the very last minute, we were there in front of the high school at a different time than originally planned. She had to stay after school for a last-minute makeup test in French class, and a meeting for the cross-country team. This required a slight deviation in our plans, and ended up with our sitting in front of the high school for over an hour and a half (thirty minutes stuck in the car because the other driver had pinned me in on the driver's side and the other side was in the oncoming lane.) While we waited for the police and wrecker, Samuel and Georgia talked about how hot it was outside, how thirsty and hungry they were, and how long it was taking the police to arrive. It's hard to believe this was all somehow part of God's plan for our day. But I realized as I was driving along today, that God never has a "plan B." His plans are perfect. That's what the Bible says anyway. See-
 II Samuel 22:31 “As for God, his way is perfect:
                       The LORD’s word is flawless;
                        he shields all who take refuge in him." 

I will be honest with you. I've always got a "plan B." That's because my ways are NOT perfect. My plan "A" life was not working out the way I wanted it to go. So I tried to move to my Plan "B" and I soon discovered that plan was also imperfect because it was mine.
But now I sit here thinking that all along, God's plan for my life was and is perfect. I should have submitted myself to His will all along, rather than fighting him with my own will and desires for my life. As hard as it is to accept, this waiting, this seemingly obnoxious period of being "matched" with a group of kids who need parents, is, just like my sudden change of colleges, my bad first marriage, my divorce, my infertility, my struggles with step-motherhood . . .  all part of His perfect plan for my life.
                     Isaiah 55:9 “As the heavens are higher than the earth,
                                  so are my ways higher than your ways
                                      and my thoughts than your thoughts. 

 I'm going to try to remember this.

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

The Ache

My lovely friend Dea from church gave me a wonderful little devotional book at the beginning of the year. It was written by Sarah Young, and it's called Jesus Calling. I love this little book, and it's never far from me in the morning. Turns out, it was exactly what I needed. Isn't that amazing? That God would care so much about the little (seemingly insignificant) details of my life that He would orchestrate the events so that Dea would give me this book, that was written by someone I've never met, but that it would touch me in such a profound way . . .

My faith has been challenged in new ways since I left full-time ministry. Yes, I do miss my comfy job at Hebron. It was easy . . . maybe too easy sometimes, after being there in that same spot for fourteen years. Don't get me wrong, the hour-long commute for the past three years was not easy, but the job was . . . comfortable. I knew how to do it. I was able to avoid conflict and navigate my way through big and small events. There weren't as many challenges as just ordinary bumps along the way.

Leaving all I had known in Gwinnett/Barrow counties and relocating completely to Lumpkin has been interesting and DIFFERENT in so many ways. I am now a part of a completely different kind of church, with a different style of worship (same Jesus), and lots of new people with different experiences and different ideas. And everywhere I turn, I am blessed to find God's people all working toward the same goals. I work for a nonprofit but not a ministry, I work with people of all different backgrounds and practices. I face challenges that are new and  . . . did I already say it? Different. 

But it doesn't really matter where you go, or what you are doing, you always have to take YOU with you. I mean, here I am, doing something completely different than ever before, with new hours, new responsibilities, new experiences, new perspective . . . and I've got the same old me, the same old temptations, the same old habits, the same old quirks. (Don't ask John, he will tell you that my addiction to Golden Girls reruns makes me weird. This is a "quirk") . . .

And the same old me is still facing the same old daily battle. It's this: One in seven women are/will be affected by infertility. I am the one in seven. I am her. I don't like being her. I would rather not be her.

So it comes as no surprise that while reading Jesus Calling two days ago, after a night filled with bad dreams and some sadness, God spoke to me very clearly through this little book. This book is a daily reader, written in first-person as if God is speaking directly to you. It's basically just scripture, so you don't have to face the age-old questions about if God would really say this . . . because honey, he already did. Of course, the author does take a little liberty (we all do) and in patching together this verse of scripture to that one, she does add a phrase here or there. Monday's reading encouraged me to face up to my biggest faith obstacle . . . and even give it a "nickname" - introducing it to God, and allowing him to handle it. Wow, I've never considered this nickname business before. It seemed a little . . . unconventional? I can tell you my biggest faith obstacle but giving it a nickname? Well, that sounds a little silly . . . a little lighthearted . . . a little like I don't feel. My faith obstacle is hard to sum up in five hundred words or less. My faith obstacle seems so big. How could I give it a nickname and introduce it to Jesus like it was this annoying kid who lives next door to you and is always there asking nosy questions about what you are cooking for dinner?

So I thought about this for awhile. I read over the daily reading again. I got still. I got quiet. I paused just long enough for the nickname to enter my mind. The ache.
The ache is the name of my biggest obstacle. It's not JUST the infertility. It's not JUST the two babies I lost from my own body, and the one I lost in a failed adoption. It's not JUST the feeling of raising other people's kids but not being called MOTHER. It's not JUST being the one out of seven. It's not JUST having to tell people over and over again why I don't have any babies of my own . . . and never really understanding why. Why was I picked? Why was I the one in seven? What did I do?
The Ache is the only name that I can use to really explain it. It's a deep longing, a deep hurt, a deep and abiding sadness that never really goes away. It's a tender spot that aches when you touch it. The ache does ease off sometimes. Sometimes the ache gives me purpose. Sometimes the ache gives me energy to help someone else. Sometimes the ache gives me compassion, or empathy. Sometimes the ache helps me identify with people that I never would have had a friendship with before. And sometimes, like a few days ago . . . I hate the ache with all my heart.
So I named it. I  named my biggest faith obstacle and I introduced it to Jesus.
And he said: “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” (that is really in the Bible, too.)

Who knows? Maybe one day I will make friends with the ache.

Thanks, Dea.

Sunday, March 4, 2012

Companions on Earth and Heaven

Well, it's been awhile since I wrote anything. I'm super excited that now THREE (3), yes THREE people have asked me "when are you going to update your blog?" Now, that makes me feel special!

All kidding aside, it's been an extraordinary couple of months. In many ways, it has been difficult, but also amazing. Some of the difficulty has come through learning a new job (I changed positions at Rainbow) and through losing my Grandaddy six months after losing my other Grandaddy. That was very hard for us. It's also been challenging because we are still in this slower-than-molasses-moving uphill-during-freezing temperatures journey toward adoption. And it has also been difficult because we had to put our sweet dog Jack down. This time last year, we had just lost John's dad, and then we lost our big great Dane, Hercules. Later in the year, we had the breakdown of the adoption of Canaan, and then we lost my Grandaddy D. in July. So far, this year, we have had more loss in JUST TWO MONTHS than we did in twelve months last year. We said goodbye to some old friends and neighbors of my grandparents, and have been touched by the deaths of many others who were gone far too soon.

I've been reflecting on all of these things, also during this season of change in my own life- related mainly to my work at Rainbow and my infertility journey. When we lost my Granddaddy Guillebeau in January, I had the honor of speaking at his funeral service/ worship celebration. The emphasis of my speech was on the concept of Gratitude because I am truly grateful to have been his granddaughter and to have known him and be touched by his legacy and his faith in the Lord. I think the hardest part of the funeral process is putting the body of a person in the ground. It has always been really difficult for me, because although I know that the person is not there anymore, and the body is empty - it's still hard for me to see the body of that person I loved so deeply being lowered into the ground. And that night as it rained, it was hard to think of his body being there in the cemetery and rain falling onto his grave. I really still don't like to think of that. I guess it's one of those things you have to put out of your mind. I like to think of him when he was alive- so big to me when I was little- such a strong, capable, larger-than-life person. A man who fought cancer for twenty years, who served in the military, and who worked in a homeless shelter until about a year ago when he started getting too sick and weak to do it anymore. And the other thing about him is that he was hopelessly devoted to my grandmother, Jean. Rarely in a person's lifetime will they encounter two people more committed and more deeply in love. They were, in every sense of the word, true companions. They did everything together. So it was not only hard to see him go, although he is way better for it- but it was also hard to see my grandmother without him. He was her partner, her confidant, her chaffeur, her ministry partner, her one true love and companion on earth.

When John and I were dating, I heard that cheesy eighties love song, "True Companion" and I fell into a puddle of tears and snot. Although it is corny to the extreme, and evokes images of thirteen year-olds "couple skating" while sporting stirrup pants and too-high hairdos, it is true. There is nothing in the world- this wacky, crooked, sometimes beautiful world- quite like having your one true companion.

When we put Jack (our beagle terrier) down about three weeks ago, it was really rough. Jack was fifteen years old. The kids did not know life without him. He was another constant companion. He was always there for the kids, always happy to go on a hike in the woods, always good for putting your cold toes in his fluffy fur. He was always so loyal. He never minded if Mitchell pulled out clumps of his white chest fur while watching cartoons in the living room floor (guess that's an autistic thing?) And when it was time to let him go, it was nearly unbearable for all of us. He had collapsed that morning, and while John was getting dressed, I gathered him into my arms and wrapped him in a fleece blanket. For the next two hours, I rocked him in the rocking chair and told him what a good dog he was, what a good and loyal companion he was to us all. John brought the kids into our bedroom to say goodbye while I rocked their beloved pet. They kissed him, petted him, cried, and told him they loved him. John and I watched with broken hearts, unable to change to course of nature, unable to change the forces of life and death here on earth. Two hours later when the vet's office opened, we all marched in with our heads hung low, the kids following me as I carried our furry little bundle. Two ladies sat on benches waiting with their dogs and each turned and wept into their pet's fur when they saw our funeral parade coming through. The vets led us into a small room where we said our final goodbyes and Jack breathed his last breath.

John had to go open his store, so it was up to Mitchell and I to dig the grave. We picked a nice spot for Jack next to his best friend, Hercules, and we started to dig. We dug for an hour, with Mitchell stopping every ten minutes to ask, "Is that deep enough?" Images of Chewy the guinea pig's return from the dead kept coming to mind, and each time I answered, "Keep digging . . ." We dug for what seemed like another full hour, and I noticed something interesting about grief. As Jack's lifeless body lay there in a cardboard box, we first cried while we dug, then we sniffed while we dug, then we talked about Jack and how special he was, and we dug, and we dug, and we dug. Our arms were tired, our hearts were tired, but we kept digging. And I noticed that as we dug this grave, we worked through some of our grief that morning. As I mentioned before, I think the burial is one of the hardest parts of a funeral but in light of what transpired in us, I think the digging into the ground is actually therapeutic, in a strange way. Maybe just the physical act of digging puts your body to work in a way that you can let out your pain and sadness.

All of this gets me thinking- sometimes about deep things.

But on a lighter note, I want to share about a new companion in our home. Just a few days after we lost our sweet little Jack, we noticed an immediate and alarming change in Porky's personality. She wouldn't get out of bed in the morning, and she slept on the couch all day. I took her for a ride in the car (usually her favorite thing) and she laid down in the backseat with her head down. It was so depressing, and yet not surprising. From the time John and I married, over three years ago, Porky had her doggy companions. She had Hercules and Jack for the first two years, and then for the last year, she had just Jack. And in the end of his life, I became Jack's nurse. I gave him his medicine every night, and he followed me and John and Porky into the bedroom at night where he slept right beside me. Porky was suddenly and naturally lonely, being here all day in the house by herself. So we looked at some dogs online, and thought we had decided to get a German Shepherd. John found one at the animal shelter here in town and on a Tuesday when we were both home, we took off to meet some dogs. We took the German Shepherd puppy out and also a boxer puppy, but both were extremely hyper- nipping at us and unable to walk on a leash. Putting them back in their pens, we saw a sweet, sad-looking black and white bird dog. He watched with big sad eyes as we put the wild puppies back into their cages. When we walked through again, I pointed him out to John. "I like that one," I told him. John agreed we should take him out and see what his personality was like.

Behind the animal cages was a fenced-in yard, where we walked this gentle dog with the black ears. He was as skinny as Skeletor, and he had small cuts and scabs all over his face, neck, ears and back. The vet tech told us he had likely never been indoors, was found beat up from a raccoon attack and eating out of the garbage. The animal control staff had cleaned his wounds, and had caught him up on vaccinations. They recorded that his demeanor was "friendly" in every appointment. We asked if we could return with Porky and let her meet him before we just charged home with him. The staff agreed and so we loaded Porky up at home and returned to the animal shelter. An inmate wearing a striped jumpsuit brought the dog outside on a leash. John walked him while I walked Porky, and they sniffed each other to make friends. After awhile, we traded leashes and I walked the new fellow. Then we tried the ultimate test- to see if Porky would allow this new friend into "her" car. Everything was peaceful, and we decided to take our new buddy "Otis" home to be part of our family.

Today John and I took the dogs hiking at DeSoto Falls, which is not far from our home. I love it here in the mountains, and one perk is all these beautiful places we get to visit on our days together. The kids all decided to stay home (they did a 3 mile hike with us last Sunday) so it was just me and John, and Porky and Otis - companions. We walked up the long trail toward the waterfalls, and enjoyed the fresh air and sunshine. Every few yards, Porky stopped to check out a fallen log, a mysterious plant, or a group of rocks. Otis made sure to sniff everything right after she did. He enjoyed the adventure, just happily bounding around with his long black ears. I thought a lot about life and loss while we were walking. There are dead, fallen trees around, crunchy dried leaves that didn't make it through the last hard freeze, and there is, underneath all the winter and decay, new life that is just beginning to edge its way to the surface. It's true- nothing is wasted in the woods. If something dies, it nurtures something else, makes way for something else, or becomes food for something else. I won't get too deep on this subject, just wanted to say I thought about all these things today. And then, while I was lost in my thoughts on life, death, resurrection, rebirth, and the like, we reached the top of the trail. Big yellow signs warned us not to go any farther because "People have DIED going beyond this point!" We obediently followed the signs and stayed on the safe observation platform to watch the waterfalls. I stared up to the top, to the glorious edge of the fall that juts out from the mountain and perfect, crystal clear water races downward. I tried to watch the water falling to the next level, then to the next level, and the third level, but the water was moving so fast my eyes couldn't keep up. The waterfalls here in Dahlonega are beautiful and awesome. But I can't help thinking that my Granddaddy (and my other Granddaddy, and my father in law, and our dogs for that matter) are enjoying scenery that I cannot comprehend. In a perfect, holy place with the most exquisite natural beauty, they live forever. They live forever in a place where no death or darkness or winter ever takes place. And they wait for their earthly companions to join them.