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, 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.