Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Ample Opportunity

This morning I overslept! I awakened to voices chanting, " March! March! leeft...leeft...March!" Salome' stomped resolutely down the hall followed by three willing toddlers in striped pajamas. Was she a prison guard or the ousted nanny before Maria's arrival in the Von Trapp family? Regardless of the title, Salome' reveled in her leadership position. Following well is an underdeveloped skill so far, in this young, rascally clan. I stepped in line with the little parade down the stairs to the kitchen and found the remnants of buttered rolls, jalapeno cheese sticks and frozen raspberries; of course she had fed them first! My grandmother's advice to my mom in her early years of marriage was, "Serve food first, everything [everyone] else follows!"

Friday evening was no exception to this timeless wisdom. Elias' original plans for an after-banquet-party consisted of a small group of friends, however, upon arrival, I realized our Pied Piper had not denied a single person invitation; the pile of shoes at the door and the chorus of animated voices, indicated a healthy houseful of teenagers! Elias hosted with ease and generosity, he played improvisational pieces on the piano and sang. He was acutely aware of the necessity to draw out some and pull in others, for all to know they were welcome and valued.
Our sweet Magdalene helped me to prepare the party, but slipped into cozy pajamas and disappeared just before the door handle turned at the arrival of the first guest. She secluded herself in her soft blue bedroom where she wrapped many of the Christmas gifts she had purchased with me, as my holiday personal shopper earlier that day. With joy she organizes and dances her way through our busy life, which lightens my load immensely. To my sadness, I had not had eyes to see her desire to join the party. I must sometimes look beyond Magdalene's compassion, to the quietness of her own needs. She may not even express them to herself. I must remember to watch and listen, even when the setting in which we are feels transparent, she may not be.
On the eve of Elias' party, Malachi served by laying out a separate, elaborate spread of “party food”(mostly the sweetest kind) in the master bathroom! He set up chairs, blankets and for entertainment, the “I Love Lucy” DVDs for him, Salome’ and me. He is profoundly gifted in the art of bedtime extension, and he states his thoughts loudly in action. Thus his plan of hiding like little mice upstairs, gave us our own special celebration without invading the teenagers. Salome’ politely relayed her thankfulness to her brother for including her, but could not resist flitting away several times to admire the pretty dresses the girls wore and to try on the gorgeous shoes left at the door! She also voiced her motherly concern over the loudness of the guests, in fear that they may awaken her babies!
"True service is never convenient," this is my girlfriend Jodi's saying, she repeated this often in our early years of motherhood. The ample opportunities to serve each other start at the top of our household with Dennis. The last word I received at 4:30 am this morning from him and Elias, who were on hour 16 of their unexpected layover in Copenhagen, was, "I am so thankful you and the little ones don't have to experience this!" Dennis and Elias will join Gabe in Norway for Christmas, but these hours of waiting with countless other weary travelers, brings out Dennis' compassion towards us and others, not frustration. I look forward to the stories I'll hear of wonder and purpose in the rerouting of the journey. God is good to allow us the privilege to serve, it is the fuel for today and the joy with which we anticipate this coming new year.
"March! March! leeft...leeft...

Thursday, November 25, 2010

His Sword

A sleepy Malachi curled up by the fire at 8 am Friday morning. Why on earth I had arranged such an early dental appointment for the best sleeper in the house baffled me. Our prompt 8:30 am arrival revealed the strange truth that though I'd been reminded three times, the 10:30 am appointment had stuck in my mind incorrectly!
"Home? or coffee, groceries and the bookstore?" I announced to my cheerful companion, as his fervent nod answered the obvious.
The tantalizing aroma of ginger, cinnamon and chai invited us into the warm, energized atmosphere of a nearby coffee shop. We settled down into a nook sharing the only chair available. Malachi munched gingerbread and I enjoyed a steaming latte, a sweet contrast to the original plan of dental work.
En route to the grocery store we noticed a stranger carrying a cardboard sign. The chance to offer a bit of sidewalk hospitality entered our unexpected free hours and we welcomed it. With our own groceries tucked away, we placed our extra special bag containing hot chili, fresh bread, juice, oatmeal cookies, chocolate and mints ("You know Mommy, he probably has no time to brush his teeth", voiced Malachi, particularly aware of dental hygiene this morning!) in the passenger seat.
Our errand was suddenly interrupted by another sign-carrying person, this time not a stranger. J was headed for the opposite corner and I've met her many times. I know what she likes and I know what she grieves. She is broken and broken people often speak in fragmented truth, for the source from which they draw is usually fueled by wounds never allowed to heal. Where human love was scarce with J, I believe hurts were plentiful and perhaps, still are. Her words must be sorted and as I listen, I must retain the good, releasing the not-so-good. I choose to recognize her through eyes of love and compassion, speaking value into her spirit, while I offer what I can. Only God can fuel us to listen in this way, His way. J has been away for many weeks and I'd been worried, I believed the chili was meant for her. Incidentally, this is the first time I had introduced my younger children to a homeless person. Since my interactions with J have been many, and we were in an open area, I allowed Malachi to meet her. He was polite yet confused that the stranger across the way would possibly remain hungry.
So off again we went. This time we grabbed fast food, with dessert and coffee to be our offering for the original recipient. Malachi sat in the car as I approached the stranger only 10 feet away. His face was radiant and kind, different from any homeless friend I've ever met. His thankfulness for the meal overflowed and I almost felt embarrassed by it. He spoke of his love for Jesus and though his life was not as he'd planned, his opportunities were wide to share his source of joy and proclaim that this life is short, while eternity awaited; joy forever, no more tears, no more struggle. His earnestness moved me for he spoke not in zealous words of an eccentric revivalist, his were quiet thoughts spoken from a life of surrender, without a single word of complaint or fear. Just before leaving, I asked him if he needed anything. His immediate response was, "A NIV Study Bible, someone took mine and though I have a King James, I just miss the other."
Yes, amazingly, our plan to fulfill his request was already in place. So it was no surprise when there was not only the exact Bible he had requested (at a regular bookstore), but pens, highlighters, the breath mints and a lovely cover into which everything fit.
We drove back to the spot, parked and hand in hand, Malachi and I ran up to the corner. I placed the covered Bible into the hands of Mr. P. "What's this?" he asked bewildered. "Your Bible of course", I voiced, excited at the quick outcome of our errand. Mr. P gripped the Bible to his chest and began to sob, "I've got my sword back!" he whispered, as I hugged this amazing man. He shook Malachi's hand and told him it was the best gift he'd received all year. "Who are you?", he asked. "Malachi and Grace, and we'll see you again!" I called, as we hurried to our next appointment!

Thursday, October 28, 2010


Thursday's crisp morning air reminded us of sweaters, cider and pumpkins. Fall is upon us, yet I am reluctant to release the warm bright days.

Salome' and I sat on the front porch, side by side enjoying a quiet moment. To our delight a bright orange and black butterfly flitted softly into our view. She stayed longer than we expected, but was gone in a breath.

Butterflies move us. Who, in seeing a prickly caterpillar meandering about, is not careful to avoid crushing it, aware that someday it will miraculously transform. Fragile, soft bodies relinquish themselves to the quiet darkness of cocoons, trusting that in time they will emerge again, changed and free to fly. As planned, after ages of patience, the loveliest of creatures emerges; the symbol of resurrection. Life is orderly, seasons pass the baton in perfect time, and so we must wait for Spring, then to our thankful, longing hearts, come butterflies again.

This beautiful butterfly we met today reminds me of a precious child we know.
Her name is Kayla. The joy of her smile, the depth of her poetry, the brightness of her artwork and the bravery of her spirit, are beautiful. She is the kind of person who brings out the best in those she loves, or even in those she barely knows, like me. When I look at the sparkle in her eyes from this past year's Christmas card I see that which I long for, a joy in the moment and the satisfaction with that which we are given in life. I believe she is saying to us," hold life loosely and hold those you love closely."

I am unsure to where Thursday's butterfly disappeared, but I know where Kayla is. On May 4, 2010, Kayla, whose physical heart was too weak to continue beating in the cocoon of her earthly body, stopped, but her spiritual heart beats on- strong, vibrant and in-tune with the Creator of her precious life. And so she is the one transformed, waiting now for us, in the beautiful Spring of Eternity, in the presence of the God she loves.


When I get a feeling,
it's just an ordinary feeling.

But when I'm with you
it starts to change.

It changes into hope and care,
And joy and love.

I believe in you.

You are the great one.
The Holy One.
You can save us all.

by Kayla Gucciardo

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

All I Need

My hos-ta plants endured a difficult summer. Now, in the fall, thanks to the feasting of the slugs, they are dwarfed. I could sugar coat my gardening methods and say, "They have a lace-like look!", or, "Well at least they still have a few blooms!" The reality is, I hid the slug-bate from my little ones so well that I've never found it. The hiding of it followed Zion's pouring of a huge pile of slug-bate granules on the couch! He was delighted with himself, "A Tower!" he cried. I grabbed him in one arm, the bate in the other and read the label, "Safe for pets and wild animals." Whew, well there you go, it is safe for toddlers! So, though the slugs and snails happily dine where ever they please, they will never dare step foot on that couch!

It isn't necessarily a worry that Zion will eat uneatable things, it is the question of just what he will do with them. Helpful as ever just the other evening he fed the dogs. They were each given a cup of food, minus one piece which Zion stuck in his ear for later.

Emmaus is also extremely helpful. He is quick to grab whatever he needs, then conscientiously closes the baby-safety lock behind him, just in case any wayward toddler may appear!

I know the odd mix of encouraging ability, holding tightly to sanity and keeping everyone alive, sometimes pushes me precariously close to the edge of my limits. Supposedly, I am naturally a patient person. However, relying on my own abilities to handle extremes with patience can be an unsafe-safety-net. If I am too self reliant or place expectations on myself or my crew that are unrealistic, I set us all up for failure. Our gifts balance our flaws. It is the way we are made. The beauty of failure and inability, lends weight to our humility, which gives gravity to our earthbound lives and keeps us seeking the God we need.

This morning dew drops clung to a huge spider-web fastened across the deck. I could see the powerful threads holding together the intricate pattern, one end to another, perfectly planned, an exquisite filter. If I open my eyes to God's presence in my life, I can see him this way, as my strong shield and filter. Just a moment with him and my balance is restored. On this side of heaven my flaws will often appear to be my hindrance. But they are a gift, as are many difficult things in my life that keep me steadily relying on the perfect provider of all I need.

Thursday, October 7, 2010

Sunbeams and Such

Ezra followed a sunbeam down the stairs and into the entryway. With palms wide open and arms stretched as high as her tiptoes would allow her to reach; she jumped, raced, danced and giggled, oblivious to anything in the world but her sunbeam. They both seemed to laugh at the camera I aimed toward them, nothing would detract or suspend this beautiful moment of delight. And all too quickly, as often our best moments do, the sunbeam left her. But our sweet Ezzie, after a moment of searching the shadowed floor, radiantly looked into my face, glad for the joyful time of soaking in the light.

Two nights later Zion awakened in tears. In his sleepy, husky voice he asked me to come find him, as if he felt lost. I scooped him up and brought him to Gabe's empty room. We lay on the bed, side by side, faces reflecting the light of the moon shining through the window. Under the glow of moonlight, Zion peacefully slipped back into sleep.

Daily, our children invite us to see life through their eyes. Ezra's joy and Zion's comfort came in following and resting in the light. They remind me, it is God's light shining into the dark places of my life that changes everything.

Thursday, September 9, 2010

learning to walk

Outstretched hands, teetering on unsteady feet, and so comes the first step...then another or perhaps a stumble, but soon the baby learns to walk. And in a blink, the baby is 19 and all that has been poured into his life comes to fruition. The first of so many good-byes in this precious role of parenting is heart wrenching.

Gabriel has now begun school in Norway, the same school to which I went 25 years ago. He is ready, armed with Truth, full of hope, excitement and a vigor for life. Dennis cared well for our seven other children while I accompanied Gabe on his journey. My last glimpse of our oldest boy was at dawn as he stood in the doorway of his dorm with tea light and Bible in hand. He kindly thanked Dennis and me for everything and told me he loves us. This set off my tears that flowed for twelve of the 24 hours it took me to get home! I blubbered through airline security in Norway, forgetting a sharp wine bottle opener in my purse! The security gal took one look at me and let me through! The man seated beside me on one of the flights shifted uncomfortably, perhaps he wondered if I were having a nervous breakdown. I tried to explain why I wept, which left him dumbfounded and likely questioning my mental health. How does one explain a broken heart over the joys in life? It reminds me of something George MacDonald wrote about love, "life would not be worth saving except for the tears."

Loving well requires every ounce of our being given in unconditional abandonment of ourselves, our time and all else we value. Loving children is a roller-coaster of teachable opportunities through which we can speak life into rough situations, where obedience replaces rebellion, truth overpowers lies, and love overcomes selfishness. Yet at times we see little fruit for our labor. Strength and encouragement often come through God alone, but we must trust in delayed gratification just as every humble, toiling gardener. There is no way to see the deep, healthy roots unless we dig for them and risk their destruction. 'The days are long, but the years are short.' And every moment is a gift.

I came home to my sweet family feeling sad and weary, yet with the first hug of welcome-home Salome' asked, "Didn't you bawl your eyes out cuz you missed us so much?" Yes, I did...and I will, for every last one of these precious babes entrusted to us. But for now I roll up my sleeves and am thankful for each hand to hold, willing to walk each day we are given, letting go when we must.

Tuesday, August 3, 2010


A man we know sells books; beautiful, old, leather-bound books. Each one is unique, inviting the curious to enter into an adventure. It is evident that these books were created by quality craftsmanship, designed to last longer than a lifetime. But none of these books is written in English, for they were purchased in foreign lands.

One day I asked the bookseller, "Who buys these books?"
"Everyone!" replied the merchant, "I sell thousands of them!"
"How odd," I responded, "who can read them?"
"Read them!" he repeated, almost indignant, "These are decorator books, I sell them for looks, their stories are insignificant."

I was stunned. Rich, eloquent thoughts, poured out from the passionate hearts of writers were sealed in tombs of leather and paper. Their outer shell became their prison. Their wisdom gathered dust, silently aging, in unfulfilled purpose.

The Author of Life has created each of us far deeper, more vibrant and exciting than any book. We are written in His language of love, gifted and able to choose for ourselves the life we will lead.

Are we bound by self, closed tight, set apart from the fellowship we desire by our inability to communicate or fear of being misunderstood. Have we lost our purpose? Have we given others the authority to value only the way we appear on the outside? We are created to be beautiful examples of the Author's workmanship, yet perhaps we've imprisoned ourselves in some way in which we've lost sense of our value and gifting.

God is the Author, our lives bear the imprint of His love and purpose, and are created for eternity. He has given us each a unique story to tell. The joy, peace, faith and hope which flow from His hand shapes our storyline to end well no matter the struggles. We are to trust Him and be surrendered pages to His word in our lives.

Saturday, July 24, 2010

Beloved Faces

Emmaus is trilingual. He is fluent in Amharic, English and Zion. Yesterday, he and his little brother chatted away nap time (to my dismay) on subjects of which I understand precious little. The nuance of Zion's speech is a bit like Pig Latin: always drop the first letter; discard one or two in the middle, and in the end add something, like a giggle, a grunt, a hug or a punch.

My own words and actions can sometimes come back to haunt me. Malachi knows I love caramel, in all forms, as I have expressed to him. On Tuesday of last week, he made scrambled eggs for me and everyone else in the house under 8! Six large plates containing wet, jiggly mounds of pale yellow, filled the table. (There is a cow and a flock of chickens somewhere we should thank.) The kitchen was in shambles, but all was in order on the table. I obediently delved into my plate to discover an odd sweet taste mixed into my eggs. Malachi beamed, "Did you get it Mom? I hid a very special treat in your lunch!" The taste of the hidden caramel had permeated every ounce of my eggs! I dutifully downed the mound to the last bite, glad to be gifted in the skill of eating anything. Since my thoughtful little chef watched my every bite, there was no other choice.

Not long ago Salome' sat on a little chair pulled up to the coffee table. On this pretend desk she placed books, discarded envelopes and junk mail, pens, a purse and her prized possession, a broken cell phone. In the midst of a rather stern conversation with her dolly, the cell phone rang (in her pretend world), as she answered her voice changed completely. She was no longer a cross Mommy. No, she instantly became joyful, using a voice as sweet as honey! She had entered the false world on the other side of technology.

I am thankful and often humbled by the me my children see. There is nothing hidden in word or action from their keen eyes. Their discernments and interpretations are true. If I dare to believe I am the best mother I can be, I must die to the self I think I am and embrace the refining fire of who I want to become! As I see humor in each day, a little laughter reminds me of the replenishing fuel of God's grace and mercy. It is my job to be honest and transparent in the midst of my joys and trials, in language and action, to the beloved faces I see daily and the ones technology hides from my view.

Friday, July 2, 2010

Right Perspective

The time is 12:23 am and I am breathing deeply as this day finally ends. My desire for a week or so has been to finish a blog I'd written called Perspective. This writing time is food for my soul, so I felt happy to spend a few moments to rewrite. In the midst of reshaping a few phrases, I hit an obscure command that should be labeled “black hole” and now, my Perspective is lost.

Perhaps my weighty analogies of “rain-soaked day” and “sunlight filtered through delicate branches” spoke less convincingly of my subject than my computer-illiterate action of cleaning the slate. My own perspective can easily be lost by a difficult morning with my littlest team-members. Day before yesterday, Emmaus, who not long ago told me, “Mommy needs to obey Emmaus!” (isn't his English excellent?) offered me an unopened silver nail polish bottle. I was thrilled that he'd come to me without opening the container first. He was immediately followed by Zion, who also held a nail polish container in his hand, this one, a candy-apple red. The brush, however, hung precariously from his teeth! Only weeks before he had highlighted the tips of Ezra's hair with hot pink! [And no, I have no idea why the toddlers find nail polish everywhere!]

I certainly find ample opportunity to “look at the bright side” when disaster seems to lurk around every giggling corner! Yesterday, at the pediatrician's office, I kept losing a child or two, to the brilliant distracting escapades of the third. I now feel I know the entire reception staff far better than expected. “And how does this copier work?” Zion was certainly wondering. The office goldfish, I am thankful to report, remains alive, though perhaps in a state of shock. Such excursions leave me weary and wondering at my own capabilities. I know that love covers a multitude of my inabilities. So when, in the sweet moment of my question, “Who is beautiful?” they all cry out, “I AM!” I realize we will make it!

And, in the odder moments when I forget the power of my influence, Salome' reminds me. I made a strange comment on some fluffy shoes at the shoe store. I thought they should be “worn by someone drinking a martini!” Salome' didn't miss a beat, she pulled on a pair of teal boots and announced, with an aire of sophistication, “These boots make me feel like I should be drinking hot cocoa!” On another day, her comment was this, “Why are you so beautiful Mommy? It must be because God made you!”

So I leave you with the right perspective tonight. You are beautiful, because God makes only beautiful people! Just ask Salome', resident expert on shoes, people and perspective.

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Our Umbrella

Umbrellas live short, exciting lives in our household, but are rarely used for rainy day outings. We spin them, use them for boats or dance routines and cross them in elegant sword fights. But mostly they are Malachi's instant shelter. An invitation to dine with Malachi, often consists of a blanket, crackers, cheese, olives, apples and juice somewhere under an umbrella - currently, a cheetah patterned one, with a fantastic wooden curved handle. Recently, I found him sitting under its gentle canopy for shade, amidst a lovely row of pansies growing in the cracks of the paving stones. We sat together to admire the turned up faces of each unique flower. When two are lying chin to ground under the shade of one umbrella, the amazing tiny world of under-foot- dwellers takes center stage. Little industrious insects crawl about, others alight and then disappear, oblivious to our presence. On closer view, not only had pansies bloomed in the stone crevices, but also blue Jack Frost and a robust strawberry vine. In the centimeter wide space between pavers a whole living world thrives together, softening and beautifying each sharp edge and tight space. They are the joyful example of living in community.

Last weekend we celebrated Gabriel and his graduating class. Teachers, classmates, neighbors, friends and family joined in fellowship on Saturday evening while three dear musician friends filled the house with music. We were an ecclectic group gathered side by side in the like minded purpose of celebration and launching, each fulfilling our own niche in close community. The blessing of God's intentional relationships has covered this short season like an umbrella. I must remember the intent of raising my children is to release them. As seeds scatter, so must they; strong and vibrant, ready to inhabit their own new world of possibilty and purpose.

Monday, May 24, 2010

Bringing Out the Best

Zion is the type of guy who can walk around with a pebble in his shoe and not notice. This morning at 6 am he exuberantly downed two tangerines, half a glass of orange juice (while the other half spilled down his pajama shirt), and a sugar cube dunked in my tea. A dribble of tea mingled nicely with the orange juice stain as he climbed onto my lap, tightly holding his monster truck with both hands, content and quiet for a split second. A loud noise from outside caught his attention, he plowed straight through the block box and onto the little table to peer out the window. With furrowed brow, he said in his deepest toddler tone, "[S]cawy,cawy twuck!" For all his toughness, spiders and loud noises terrify him. On the other hand Emmaus fears neither of those things, but a spot on his clothes, wet sleeves or dirty feet are completely unacceptable. His new term is, "Aszolutely not!", which seems to apply to everything!
On Thursday afternoon during a brief pause in his tricycle riding, Emmaus suddenly became chauffeur to Zion. With a determined grip, Zion held firmly to the back of the trike while Emmaus cycled faster and faster to rid himself of his brother-baggage. As the speed increased Zion laughed wildly, finally winning over his brother's mood and the two brought out the best in eachother.
Yesterday, the happy twosome became a threesome. I ran upstairs from the back deck to grab the ever-sustaining cup of coffee. In my brief absence, all three toddlers scaled the glass table and shrieked with laughter as they tossed fistfuls of popcorn to the ever-waiting audience of open mouthed labs.
Ezra seems to bring out the best in most people. She loves to serve and in fact one day, she carefully squashed a spider with a plastic bag after seeing Zion's worried expression. Last night at Mags' violin recital, Ezzie was the only one allowed to come as ambassador for the toddlers. When Magdalene began to play, Ezra stood on my lap and silently reached out her hand in a gesture of solidarity to her sister.

Raising these three, or for that matter eight, is a challenge and a joy, but my mountain is finding the time and energy each one requires individually. I'll never forget the words of my sweet girlfriend, Jodi, "It is not how many children you have, but what you do with them that matters!" So my daily hike is making time for each one, setting up boundaries for the family and myself. This is what I do and if any outside activity takes away from this one job for which I am accountable, it must go! The life I lead "between my ears" as another girlfriend, Anne Ortlund, said, must contain right thinking, right actions, must be swept clean daily of wrong thoughts and must be filled with good things. Prayer is the tool for this!
Good friends who treasure our thoughts are the safety net for catching us when we stumble. We all need people who challenge and bring out the best in us, who will not be shaken by the difficulties of life. The sweet fellowship that comes about from reaching our goals together strengthens us daily to plow through the toughest of times.

Sunday, May 9, 2010


Have you ever smelled a camelia? The fragrance is soft and almost unnoticeable unless you hold the blossom up close and breathe in deeply.

One afternoon, when I was four and a half, my mother was late coming home. I sat on the curb for a while, waiting. The world felt very big and scary in those few moments so I ran next door and slipped under the camelia hedge. Our neighbor, Uncle Gene, had pruned his beloved plants in such a way that they had formed a tunnel. Under this dark, quiet canopy of flowers I felt safe. The wide blooms hung heavily, generously blanketing my hiding place in a subtle fragrance. Childhood comforts remain strong.

We have thirty-six camelia plants along our neighbor's fence now. Last week all but three of them bloomed. The vibrant red, pink and blush-white flowers covered each bush in a lush extravagance. The branches eventually began to bend, barely able to hold the weight of their beauty. As each blossom fell to the ground it was at its loveliest. For a few days the sharp, gravel strewn pavement became a soft carpet of vibrant petals.

As I sat on the swinging bench with all three of our littlest ones sharing sips of tea, I thought of those bending camelia branches and how God designed them to hold the weight with seeming effortlessness. They remind me of the beautiful people who spend their lives selflessly for others. One woman who came to mind is Joy. She was to spend the evening with us, sharing tea and encouragement. But tragedy struck Joy's life yesterday; she lost her 27 year-old son.

As I pray and weep for my friend I know that there are three camelia bushes standing in full bloom outside our front door. It is almost 2 am. I cannot see the late bloomers or smell their fragance, I just know they are there. This is their time to bloom. Their presence and purpose are comfort to me.

Joy is an extravagant gift. She bends her life for the Lord's purposes. Our precious Zion, Emmaus and Ezra are ours through her selfless adoption work. But Joy's life is not her own, she has given it to Jesus Christ. He is her Savior, the quiet canopy of comfort in this sorrowful, gravel-strewn world. He is her blanket of love and hope. The promise of everlasting life is in Him. Yesterday, was Joy's son's day, his day to enter Eternity. Joy remains here, for a time, as do we.

Let us hold our loved ones close, breathe in deeply and spend our lives well.

Monday, April 19, 2010

Broken Rings

Our two grandfather clocks used to chime, not simultaneously however, they were never as precise as some might prefer clocks to be. No, they rang in answer or anticipation of the other, not for the benefit of the observer. Each clock offered a unique ring, intertwined as if they played separate parts of the same song. They were a consistent, predictable presence in our house but, they need work now and stand solitary in separate rooms. Like many broken things, they can be fixed, but I have to be willing to take on the difficult task of doing so.

On Wednesday, Zion broke a large, blue, glass bowl. It was too heavy for him to carry alone, yet he was determined. When the bowl hit the floor it produced a strange ringing sound, then splintered into hundreds of jagged shards. The bowl was more fragile than it appeared and of no great value, unlike the clocks which were crafted by a master to last for centuries over a hundred years ago .

For many years my wedding ring was a simple, thin gold band. It had no great value in itself, but four tiny prongs held an exquisite cashmere sapphire. Three times, the weak prongs failed and the stone was lost then later found. Finally, I tucked the ring away, fearing I'd otherwise lose it forever.

The year was 1999. Our healthy marriage of nine years had come to resemble my ring. The exquisite parts kept vanishing from sight and the rest felt weak and broken. I began to fear loss of our marriage as well. We were living in Memphis. Dennis worked 120 grueling hours a week between six hospitals in his cardiothoracic surgery fellowship. He was emotionally and physically exhausted. He came home empty and angry and I mirrored his emptiness. Magdalene was our youngest then and I remember kneeling on the floor weeping as she would lay her head in my lap with her big blue eyes searching my own, pleading, "Mommy, please stop crying."

I was done. I did not recognize this angry man or his sorrowful wife. I wanted to be free of the stress; the strife of our burdened marriage was far too heavy for me to carry alone. We were like the clocks, separate and broken with no song between us. I asked the Lord for my freedom, but He answered me with a question, "Do you remember your promise?" Unconditional love is just that, love without conditions. The incredible man I married, who'd always loved me so well had changed. Did that change my commitment to him and our marriage? Before God and everyone we'd promised to love, honor, and cherish each other in sickness and in health... as long as we both should live. I wrestled with my promise, which had never been tested. I was failing miserably.

During this time I met two beautiful new friends, Rochelle was the older and Jeanene, the younger. They barely knew Dennis, but they loved and respected him. Dennis gave me permission to share our struggles with them and they spoke life, hope and truth into my heart. They listened to my allegations but answered with words to encourage me to hold the course. They never spoke ill of him and helped me continue to love the man who seemed so lost to me.

During that time, Dennis rarely requested anything extra of me. Yet one evening, he asked me to take my broken ring to a jeweler. I reluctantly did so the following day. I knew that the cost of repair was far too great for our tight budget. I prayed for God's help and provision. The next morning the jeweler called. My ring had disappeared. I thanked him, believing my prayer had been answered. Bob Richardson, the jeweler, was amazed at my yielding response and quickly explained that the beautiful stone was preserved, the setting alone had vanished. We were directed to meet him in the shop and Dennis, miraculously, had a pause in his schedule. Mr Richardson placed four stunning settings before us. We expressed our thankfulness, but said that we could not accept any of the rings to replace the lost, simple gold band. He replied, "No matter the value, you entrusted us with your wedding ring, we lost that which was precious to you. Therefore it will be restored." The new setting was made of platinum with two half carrot diamonds on either side. The value was far more than that of the original. Mr. Richardson restored the gem to the new setting and gave us the ring.

It is wonderful to see how the restored is often more beautiful than the original. One evening at 10:30 pm Rochelle and her husband Jim came to counsel us. I felt relieved that justice would be served. Dennis would finally understand how poorly he had treated me. I had done nothing wrong and had endured so much. Jim's first question came to me, how long is your list of grievances against your husband? How many hurts have you stored away in a deep place of unforgiveness? Does Dennis know what he has done? To my horror I realized I'd allowed my heart to collect only my husband's flaws. There was no grace, no mercy and very little love. There was no room for good, only evil. I held every ugly thing as a triumph and had therefore forged my own rings of captivity to my own misery and Dennis'. Jim asked me to name a few offenses for which I felt Dennis had not been appropriately repentant. I had to release him from each offense, but the shock of my own guilt broke open the darkness in my heart and restoration began that very night.

Our marriage, which appeared to be as fragile as the shattered bowl, was abundantly restored by the end of our two years of fellowship. The timelessness of God's promises of hope and joy following forgiveness are real. We cannot understood the power of His presence between us without the pain of our struggles. My ring is our daily reminder of restoration and the power of unconditional love. God is the most powerful, predictable, presence in our marriage, the Master and restorer of all precious things.

Saturday, April 10, 2010

Words to Speak

Wednesday afternoon Zion gathered up the three ceramic garden frogs and took them for a spin. It was a short ride, as Zion has not yet mastered the pedals of his trike.

"Fwogs!" he kept repeating to himself, glad to be in good company.

Another name Zion particularly enjoys saying is Magdalene's nickname, "Mags", only it comes out quite clearly "Mike". Combine that with Salome's "Dave" instead of Gabe and we have two new family members to whom I don't remember giving birth or adopting!

As our little ones learn to speak, their language is their own. I am often delighted, other times disheartened and sometimes rather stunned at the things they choose to say, once they have words to speak. It is a daily decision to speak words of life to equip their minds and fill their tanks as their language develops. Saying sentences like "You are always...!" or "You never...!"is damaging and it seldom produces good fruit. We choose to say, "Sometimes you..." or "Sometimes you don't..." This opens an arena in which we can work through difficult habits, attitudes or past struggles with the underlying belief of success. We want our children to know who they are in words of value and how they can change by hearing encouragement. Comments such as, "You are acting unkindly. You are not an unkind boy, do not act that way!" or "You are acting in a lazy manner. You are not lazy, do not act that way!" give boundaries not condemnation. Being lazy and acting lazy are different. If I know I can change the way I act, I'll try. If you tell me I am something terrible I may bear that weight my whole life. If I know you see something good in me, I can see it too.

Mean-teasing (words used to hurt) is as destructive as deceit, it produces wounds that fester. These words are unacceptable and must be called so! We all need to know we are gifted and flawed, so that we have an healthy self awareness. Mean- teasing disrupts this balance. Thinking too lowly of ourselves is as bad as thinking too highly. It is a lesson I learned from our friends, Jim and Rochelle, about myself and I strive to communicate this to our children. If they do something poorly, we say,"That is not your thing! But you do this other thing very well!".

Before words, groundwork is laid by action. We teach our babies to ask forgiveness early by taking their hand and running it softly across our cheeks. "I forgive you," is given voice with eyes to eyes and a nod. Giving and asking for forgiveness fuels freedom, without it, we are lost. Acting lovingly doesn't have to be word based. Emmaus voiced his language of belonging by covering his sleeping brother with a blanket the other day and getting an extra eggcup to share his chocolate chips with Ezra. Dressing the boys alike produces words from others. They ask, "Are they brothers? Twins?" Instead of, "Are they yours? Which one is..." We speak joyfully about adoption, but our face to the world must first say we belong together!

We have no rules for topics in this house. There is freedom to question, voice frustration, be angry and disagree. It is not what you say, but how you say it that invites others in or closes the door. Little ones learn early, which environments are safe for thoughts to become words. They need space and time to express themselves. And just like the rest of us, their thoughts are to be respected. As each child is in process, so are Dennis and I. Open communication helps us understand each other. So when Emmaus says, "Hold you!" with arms outstretched, we know exactly what he means.

Incidentally, two of the" fwogs" wintered under the California Lilacs. The third rested heavily amidst a few stoic yellow tulips. When Zion picked up the last one, we found a tiny, pinched colorless flower under it. By Monday this same tulip stood almost straight in vibrant magenta. It is a strong example to me of the weight we hold or the freedom we wield with words.

Thursday, April 8, 2010

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Today we made cake.
Emmaus and Zion made sure to share licks with the labs, Pax and Hope.
Ezzie dined in style in her new-old vintage dress (thanks Naomi!)
On cake-filled, sunny afternoons or tearful, rainy ones, every child deserves a home.
I enjoy sharing the adventures of ours with you.
Some interesting thoughts in a Christianity Today editorial on orphans and adoption posted this afternoon.
Several strongly debated issues involving international adoptions are addressed.
Good thoughts if you are interested.
Blessings friends!

Friday, April 2, 2010


Salome' examined my face with perhaps a centimeter of space between our noses.
"What are those holes!" she wondered.
"Special places for tears," I answered.
Her face lit up, "God is magic!", then after a moment she said,
"And he gives us big teeth after we give up the little ones!"

Last night we gathered to celebrate the Passover meal.
As Pastor Paul explained that we were to dip the bitter herbs in the salt water to symbolize the bitter tears of the Jewish people under slavery, I thought of Salome's birth mother.

Our initial meeting with our pregnant, stunning young birth mother felt awkward at first. She was accompanied by her vivacious mother and our wise social worker, Carol.
This sweet birth mother's affectionate, joyful countenance soon softened the atmosphere and we felt a peace between us. Her resolve was strong, encouraged by her mother who knew hardship and had walked the difficult road of single parenting.

The painful delivery came, eight hours of labor and then the beautiful bundle.

Dennis and I waited two days as Carol cared for and counseled the young indecisive mother and grandmother. For all the plans, the vivid reality of her child's precious life made the decision almost impossible. She was free to change her mind.
Someone would go home without a baby.

I cried for hours. It is difficult to explain the bond between an adoptive mother, a birth mother and a baby. My tears were for all of us, there was joy and pain.

The 11th hour became just that. Close to midnight we received the paperwork, Salome' would be ours the next day. The cycle of fatherless households was broken. The slavery and chaos left by addiction would have no power over this precious baby.
Salome's birth mother and birth grandmother broke the generational chains and chose for Salome' the life they wanted and were unable to give her.

As we sat side by side with Salome' between us, her birth mother kissed every inch of her sweet baby. Finally the moment came. Carol gently asked Salome's birth mother to hand her to me...me, the woman she'd chosen to be her daughter's mother. Dennis and I were told to leave, while Carol and the family stayed back to hold the young woman whose tears poured out in a stream of rushing sorrow. I was blinded by my own tears as I held Salome' close to my chest. Dennis lead us out the door, neither of us could stop despite our desire to run back to alleviate the pain and anguish of loss.

She had done the most generous and selfless act that anyone could do; she had placed her beloved firstborn into our arms. Our hands and hearts would love and care for her Delight; would speak words of life about her selfless choice and communicate our love. One day they will meet again.

I can't help but think of God and his choice to give his precious first born to this world. He gave his son's life as a sacrifice for our sins. He gave him into the hands that would crucify not love and protect him, in order that they, we, might have hope and eternal life.

My greatest joy came because of another's sorrow.
It is good to have holes for tears.

Monday, March 29, 2010

Truth Muscles

Malachi stood before me flexing his muscles and asking, "Can you see my Truth muscles?" Moments before, he had dashed across the room to confess something naughty. His wrongful act tumbled out in jumbled words. Then after he breathed deeply, he explained that he'd had to race to get the truth out ahead of his excuse. I had said that the more he tells the truth, the stronger his truth-muscles would become.

I often say the children must not pause to reason with deceit. There will always be an appealing snare when discussions are held in the darkness of our own minds. Blurting out the truth is sometimes the only way to escape a lie. A lie is never better than the truth. Nothing we do is so bad that it cannot be repaired in the light of truth.

If I am to speak this to my children then the mirror of my life must reflect the same thing. Questions about Santa, where babies come from, will Daddy be safe in Iraq (years ago) and the like, often generate a pause in my answer. However, careful responses must never contain white-lies. There are no white-lies, a lie is a lie, and Salome' would show you by pointing to her arm pit, that lies are from the pit!

Speaking truth can be painful and in our household there are always consequences for wrongs done. The question is always the same, "What did you do?" It is not, "Why did you do it?" Once truth is established without lengthy explanation, just consequences are followed by asking for and giving forgiveness, and finally, we are given a "clean slate". The term, c
lean slate, came from our friends Jim and Rochelle, it means it is finished, all is well, and the offense will never be brought up again. If, in 5 minutes, the wrong doing is repeated, there is no reference to the prior act. To live with a clean slate is to hold no hurts against each other. It means we walk in freedom and transparency and forgiveness. Unforgiveness is a weight no one is intended to bear. To not forgive hurts the one who denies it as much as he to whom it is denied.

Our clean slate begins with living in Truth. It means I do not have freedom to hide things, but if truth is painful I must tell it gently. No truth should blast or leave the recipient in a bloody heap. And to believe humbly that any wrongful act done by you could equally be done by me is the beginning of healing. Truth stands alone. Almost-true is the drop of poison in a cup of water, or the last length of bridge across a chasm that was never laid.

My life must stand on the absolute of Truth. I cannot require of anyone what I am not willing to be myself. It is the daily surrender, the dashing and the flexing I do that allows me to tell Malachi, "Yes, I can definitely see those truth muscles!"

Sunday, March 28, 2010

A Blade

We have five beautiful children, from different biological backgrounds. Each of these miracles is the first of a new generation, grafted into our family tree through the sacrificial love of five individual birth mothers'.

Blades of grass stand as one sea of green, strong and resilient. Yet, hold one blade and you see the fragility; it is easily crushed.

It takes only one person to adopt a child, but there are a number of intercessors who support the process to help each fragile little one survive.

We recently read about an amazing organization which intentionally does this well, The Christian Alliance for Orphans. They asked me to post some information on an upcoming event called Summit VI to be held in Minneapolis, MN from April 29-30. Haiti's earthquake drew compassionate individuals to contemplate their role in caring for the orphans of the world. This was some of the inspiration behind Summit VI with "The objective: to inspire and equip Christians to “care for orphans in their distress” through adoption, foster care and global orphan care ministry rooted in the local church." For more information please go to "christianalliancefororphans.org". You will also see this and other important facts to include tax credit information for individual families who are contemplating adoption, but don't believe they have the resources to care for a infant or child, through the Christian Alliance for Orphans blog.