Thursday, January 26, 2012

smack dab in the middle

she's a girl who makes snowflakes and then hangs them from her mama's bedroom ceiling, for no other reason than,  just because.  a girl who, while babysitting her little sister, got out scissors and paper and made beautiful snowflakes at the kitchen counter. a girl who then dragged the snowflakes, the step ladder, and the little sister upstairs so she could hang them from my (vaulted) ceiling and surprise me. this is my sarah. 

sarah is my middle child -- she is my smack dab in the middle girl.  she has both a brother and sister on either end of her--older and younger bookends.   i try to tell her it is a special place.  there aren't many kids who can boast this kind of brother-sister combination.  it just isn't all that common these days. 

i tell her she is the center point of perfect balance -- she rolls her almost teenage eyes at me and snorts.  i tell her she is the middle of the seesaw --- the balance, the bridge, the glue, the gap.  i remind her the middle is the best part, like an oreo or creamsicle or a canoli.  she is the halftime show, the intermission, the center court queen.  but i am not sure i have got this 11 year old girl quite convinced.  she has her own ideas about the birth order she was handed --the family placement she was put in. she says things to me like, "it's tough being in the middle -- you can get lost."  recently she was questioning her bedtime.  she couldn't understand why we put her to bed at the same time as the little ones.  she said she  thought we should "round up" and include her with the older kids when it came to things like bedtime and allowance.  she is smart, this daughter of mine.

my middle girl was born a mystery.  we knew the sex of the others before their arrival.  but she was the only one of the five we wished to keep a surprise.  i find that funny now.  actually, i find it absolutely perfect.  there is enough about this girl which still remains a mystery. 
i don't think she is at all a classic middle child.  i've read the descriptions and i can't say she fits smoothly into the categories. she is not a girl who easily fits into categories in general.  and i like that about her.  

but she certainly is a young lady who seems to always be in the middle of something.  doesn't much matter what the scenario, but my sarah has a spoon in the pot. she is a stirrer.  she has an opinion. an observation.  a comment. a question. she can't help herself.  she is in the thick of things --- sometimes a mediator and sometimes a meddler, but most always in the middle. 

let me just say though, there is absolutely nothing middle of the road about this girl.  she is an all in kind of kid.  she was the toddler who woke early each morning with a list of things rattling out of her as she came down the stairs. before a bite of breakfast was taken she was spouting outlandish ideas, fabulous schemes and devilish dreams for her day.  she'd string them together like a strand of colorful beads and this mama could hardly keep up -- make purple playdough, picnics and pinatas and ponies and homemade pizza!  she never hesitated to ask.  and she still doesn't.  there is no thought too big, no thing too large.  why not? is the phrase belonging to her. she owns it.  i can't say i've always embraced those words tumbling out of her.  why not?  she has asked over and over and over.  the parenting books told me, "because mommy said so" should be enough.  but, i can tell you, it never was for this one.  it still isn't.  she loves answers.  real ones. truthful ones. she doesn't settle for quick fixes or pat replies. the truth is, she just flat out doesn't settle.  but if she did, i probably wouldn't have snowflakes hanging from my bedroom ceiling this winter.
this hasn't always been kind to our mother-daughter relationship.  we butt heads on occasion.  two headstrong women we already are -- and she just barely into double digits.  but i know God will use this special wiring.  i am certain He will.  she is strong. she is determined.  we need more women and men who are willing to ask "why not?"  "why can't we?" "why wouldn't we?"  i mean right now, that kind of questioning isn't always easy to parent.  right now, she needs to learn and accept the boundaries and answers in our home.  that is her job as an obedient child.  her persistence and strength challenge me.  but as her mother i am doing my best to look down the road.  rick likes to say, "channel this girl for good." she's got that extra special spark...and it is a tricky business with a kid like this.  we have had to learn to discipline and shepherd her heart without extinguishing the spark of her spirit.  

maybe you have a child like this. my mother sure did -- me!  i can remember one summer at family bible camp my mom was done with me.  i mean it. d o n e.  we were sitting on a small hill having one of those tired mother and  touchy teenage daughter talks.  we had been having a hard few months, (perhaps a hard year) and she said, "jody, i hope someday you have a daughter just like you. you'll understand then."  i don't think she meant that in the most positive light.  i wasn't always easy.  i really wasn't.  all the things i just shared about my middle girl, well, i was  a lot like that too.  and i am pretty sure i wasn't half so sweet.  i don't fault my mom for that comment one bit.  it sounds like something i would say today.  and i understand it now.  i really do understand it, not perfectly, but better.

parenting our kids isn't easy.  first born. last born. middle born.  makes no difference--they all come with something.  each one special.  i have learned -- no, truthfully,  i am learning -- as the mother of five kids, i have five very different kids.  each one unique.  each one bringing something different to the dinner table.  each one needing something different from me. i know this best when i tuck them in at night.  they each have their own routine.  their own special words and worries.  sarah wants the most from me -- she knows there are four other siblings waiting, but, come nighttime, and she needs to connect with me.  she needs to know she is in the middle of my heart.   my middle girl is a reminder of the girl i was growing up -- the girl who was always restless for more, the girl who questioned everything, the girl who hated to settle.  the girl who was sometimes difficult for no apparent reason.  that girl, well, she's a mama now. and she's still a lot like this.  what's more,  as her own mother predicted, she has a daughter a lot like her.  a girl who hangs snowflakes from her mama's ceiling...just because.

Monday, January 23, 2012

a street with no name

i grew up on a street with no name. this bothered my poetic sense as a child. i had friends living pleasantly on mulberry lane and ivy hill road, but i grew up on east 171st street in a dark brown duplex. even that number seemed too large. perhaps had it been 3rd avenue or 2nd street it may have felt slightly more acceptable in my silly-girl dreams. a tad more poetic at least.  perhaps.  

i love names, not numbers. this was clear by middle school math. numbers and i had little in common. since those years in my brown duplex i have lived on streets with more picturesque names such as lakeview lane and sunset drive.  currently, we reside on buttercup trace.  buttercup was almost a deal breaker for my husband though. rick is a big man with a big voice. hearing him audibly lay claim to 815 buttercup trace has brought a touch of amusement to just a few individuals, not least of all, his wife.

my parents in front of the house -
yes! we had a paper route.
but back to the duplex on our number-named street. my grandparents lived downstairs and my family of six lived in close quarters upstairs.  eight of us sharing one roof, one driveway, one back door.  i found this arrangement of too many kids and too few bathrooms failing a bit in my often imagined perfect-family-fairytale.   most of my friends visited their grandmothers for sunday pot roast and potatoes and then promptly returned to their single family dwellings. but this wasn’t our case. i grew up with what felt at times a second 
on the back steps of east 171st street 
set of parents breathing beneath my floor boards. as a young teen one set seemed plenty. there were moments of frustration. i remember my grandfather waiting up for me. i can still see him standing under the bug-zapping bulb of our front porch watching me cross the street from kathy tramte’s house. it was okay when I was 7 and afraid of the menacing shrubs shadowing our front path. but at 14, when my first boyfriend walked me home from his ballgame, i can assure you i felt entirely different about grandpa’s observant perch on the front porch.

growing up, it was grandpa who walked out of the house and into the rowdy street’s kick-the-can game or hide-and-go-seek fun. he came to check on us. always. i could count on it. all of the neighborhood kids could. he knew their names and he knew their parents and there was something in this knowing. when front porch sleepover parties formed it was grandpa’s flashlight which swept over our ghost stories and our girl-giggles and our bags of doritos. it was his strong voice through the dark asking if we were okay and reminding us to be careful. as a child i heard only the overprotective and ever-watching worry in his words . i didn’t understand it and i didn’t always appreciate it. i wished often to be less protected. less watched. less known.

that was long ago. the house on a nameless street bears the most vivid memories of my childhood but it seems a different life as i now raise my own brood on buttercup. one warm evening recently i sat on my back deck and felt the taste of summer’s coming. i sat in filtered twilight gazing out at the acre of woods behind my brick home on its cul-de-sac-ed street. and the summer memories of childhood’s season seeped out of my mother veins. i was startled at my nostalgia for that brown duplex and the barefooted gang of reckless kids running rampant on 171st.  i found myself missing the grandparents living only a floor below … longing for a grandfather who knew every kid on the block. i was sad for how close they were and yet how far i had kept them in my most childish years.  how could i so carelessly take for granted a grandfather who loved me enough to come out for a thousand street crossings and a hundred neighborhood games? he was there watching. he was there listening. he was there loving.
my grandparents 50th wedding anniversary

my grandfather died the year i went off to college. but to this day, almost 25 years later, it is easy for me to see his tall frame bent over a pot of hardy marigolds on our small square of patio. he tended these plants with careful passion. summer nights this big boned man stood in the yard watering our tiny patch of city grass. i wondered why as a child. i just assumed he was once again planting himself near our teen-girl whisperings. watching. listening. spying. but now i know.  i, too, stand in my yard. i stand in my sprawling sprinkler-privileged yard and water thirsty spots on our georgia lawn. the steady streams of water in summer night-dusk ease the day’s tension and try-ings out of my mother-heavy shoulders. i breathe. i sigh with the day’s quiet closing.  i replenish my own brittle soul in the pulsing flow. and i watch and i listen and i spy. sometimes children happen across my evening quenching. and sometimes it is the white starflowers in their smoky glow. and sometimes it is the birds settling into their evening perch. but i feel close to my grandfather at this time. i only wish for the chance to tell him.

my street may have been lacking in poetry, but i should have listened more to the music of my grandparents. my, church organist, grandmother would practice each evening a floor below and my grandfather a lover of hymns would sing in his great big baritone. what a picture they created for that little-big girl. a beautiful picture i couldn’t name and i most certainly took for granted. but today in my mid-life when i am most in need of music’s comfort it is my grandfather’s voice i hear…singing, “Jesus, Jesus, Jesus there’s just something about that name. Master, Savior, Jesus…like the fragrance after a rain. Jesus, Jesus, Jesus, let the heavens and earth proclaim…kings and kingdoms will all pass away, but there’s something about that name.”

my high school graduation
and i know. i know that growing up on a street with no name and in a house with, what seemed, too many adults was somehow good.  how often God gives us things we resent and rebuke and even rebel against…but how often these are the very things which protect us and shape us and the very things to which we return. effortlessly. eagerly. quietly. these might be the things which sweep over us in our independence and the things which check on us in our self-proclaimed freedom…but they are the very things which are able to comfort and quiet us in our later felt restlessness. and whether they happen on perfectly named streets or not, they are ours.  my gratitude comes a little late. gone are those summer-porch evenings in ohio. but even in its tardiness, i feel the quench of something remembered. the glimpse of something beautiful. the whisper of something well named.

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

the last thing i expected

"we'll call you with the results," jennifer said, picking up her clipboard and opening the door. she waited patiently for me to grab my bag and coat from the chair.  and then she was gone and i was left standing in the wake of her words. "we'll call you with the results."  that wasn't the phrase i had expected to hear last thursday.  not at all.  i walked out of dr. barber's office kind of shaking as those six words continued to rattle around within me.  caught in the busy elevator, i watched two women laughing together and found myself completely irritated.  how could they be laughing? couldn't they see i was standing there barely breathing?  by the time i moved from crowded elevator to quiet car i was officially a woman all worked up.  and as i sat in the parking garage, i clutched my steering wheel and wanted to scream, "are you kidding me?"  there was a nice little old couple getting out of their car right next to mine and so my sense of decorum, thankfully, kicked in and i refrained from making a scene.  but i have to tell you, i sat there an awful long time before starting my car and heading home.
last thursday was my 6 month checkup with my breast surgeon, dr. barber.  i had completely forgotten about the appointment until i got a reminder phone call earlier in the week.  clearly i had kind of put my cancer up on a shelf.  one of those shelves way up high.  i even wondered to myself, "why in the world am i even going to this appointment? i'm doing so well.  what’s the point?” i certainly had other things to be doing on a thursday morning.  traffic was bad.  i was late.  late enough that while sitting in the midst of the downtown morning mess, i considered calling, canceling and instead doing some shopping in the city.  ha! you must think, now here's a woman who takes her cancer seriously. but really, this was just my breast surgeon.  his work was done.  for obvious reasons i still need to be seeing my oncologist and plastic surgeon.  but this guy, dr. barber, well, he removed what needed to be removed and (at least in my mind) we were all set. somehow, in my muddled way, i was thinking this man's work is done here.  but not so fast jody...
so in came dr. barber, and i could tell he was on the same wave length as me:  let's get in and out of here.  he had been out of town last week and his waiting room was full of patients.  i was supposed to be the easy one of the morning.  quick hello, quick check and back out the door i would go.  except that's not what happened.  while examining me dr. barber found a hard mass again in my left breast.  i could tell he was a little thrown off.  in came the assistant and out came the ultrasound machine and up went my blood pressure.  we would need to look closer and my heart began to beat faster.  what in the world? hello, God, are you there? what the heck is going on here? dr. barber kept assuring me, "i'm sure this is just scar tissue jody," and he'd pat my arm in hopes of a little comfort.  except when you are at this stage in the game, that pat on the arm isn't all that comforting. unfortunately, the ultrasound could show nothing conclusively and so we were on to the next step. all of a sudden there was nothing quick and easy about this appointment, instead we were flying downhill fast and the brakes weren’t working.  dr. barber explained he'd have to do a needle biopsy. and we were going to do it right here and right now.  he could see the mass and it was right up on the implant (um, yeah...just a little worrisome -- needle and implant -- not exactly an ideal combination!)  he kept apologizing as if this was his fault.  i think he was just as thrown off as i was.  well sort of.  this man, this renowned surgeon, well, he sees everything...he sees it all in his office.  but i never saw this coming.  that was the hardest part of the morning -- i just wasn't in any way prepared for this turn of events.  i am not sure i even thought it possible. 
i had to wait for a good 30 minutes in that examining room for his schedule to clear enough for my little procedure.  that was just enough time to get really nervous.  really upset.  really worried. by the time dr. barber and jennifer came back into the room i was a wreck.  and remember, that needle and implant issue? i would have to be very still.  i can tell you friends, it wasn't all that great a day.  somehow finding out that i had to go through another biopsy after having a double mastectomy just didn't compute.  i wanted to explain to someone...anyone...this just wasn't fair.  at least, it didn't make sense.  i had gone to this appointment alone.  rick was in big meetings and my loyal friend (and medical assistant), meritt, was in china.  (she's adopting two little girls at the moment - good excuse.)  i could have asked another friend to go with me, but in my mind i was going to breeze in and breeze out.  i had no plans for anything more.  certainly no plans for an out of the blue biopsy.  but that's what i was handed.  fair or not.  logical or not.  like it or not, it was time to lay back on the table and be still.
be still.  oh that phrase. that phrase. that phrase.  it absolutely haunts me at times.  i can't ever seem to escape it and i know this is because i am so very bad at being still.   there are a few messages i get from God consistently, but "be still" would be at the very top of that list.  "be still and know that i am God." (psalm 46:10).  He has told me.  He tells me.  He seems to always be telling me.  and here i was on a breezy, busy thursday morning, and my doctor was leaning over me and whispering these very same words God is always wanting me to hear, “be still jody.  it’s important for you to be still.” i looked at his needle (for just a very quick second, mind you) and i thought of the implant and i have to tell you i was quite the obedient patient.
after my little meltdown moment in the car though, i thought about what dr. barber had said about being still.  because all i really wanted to do at that point was go and be busy.  do something.  anything.  find some activity to get my mind off of that biopsy.  i had a whole weekend ahead of me full with waiting.  but as i began to calm, the rest of the verse came to me.  it isn’t just be still.  it is “be still and KNOW that I am God.”  and that second part was what i clung to this past weekend.  knowing God is God. regardless of results.  and even though i did a horrible job of being still over the weekend, (i seriously holed up in our storage room for 8 hours on monday and organized every bit of our seasonal/hand-me-down/random clothing - stress does have it’s organizational perks!) i did keep reminding myself of that entire verse,  "and know that I am God."  and that's what i held to tightly.   knowing God is God.  case closed.  He is in control.  end of story. there is nothing which will come at me which He hasn't first held in His own hands.  He is not God on occasion.  He is not God when He feels like it.  He is not God when i want Him to be.  He is not God only in the good stuff.  He is God all the time.  always and forever.  nothing changes that.  not good results and not bad results.
the doctor was right.  the results came back earlier today (tuesday morning) and the biopsy showed the mass to be only scar tissue.  i've never been so thankful to hear about scarring. my friend, karen, just wrote me and said, “who would ever have thought scar tissue could be so beautiful?”  and she’s right.  that is exactly how i feel tonight. i’m just so thankful for my beautiful-ugly scar tissue.  and all day long i have kept coming back to that be still and know verse.  i keep asking myself, but would i still want to be reminded that God is God even if the results were bad. if the test had come back malignant would God still be God? even harder to ask, would He still be good?  i have to tell you, my answer is yes.  yes, because that is the only thing about all of this which gives me hope.   He knows.  as another friend wrote to me tonight on facebook, “i will not live one day less or one day longer than what God has already ordained.”  somehow i feel like God wants me “to be still and know”  so that i can know he will still be God.  no matter what.
a couple of years ago, right before we were given the file on bella in fact, we went away to a neat place called serenbe.  it is a little retreat here in georgia and the kids and i surprised rick with a father’s day weekend away.  while walking in the woods, i came across a bench and in front of the bench was a  plaque which read:
be still and know that I am God.   
be still and know that I am.
be still and know.
be still. 
see, i told you, God is really working on me with this message.  finding these words in the middle of a walk in the woods....well, that was just too uncanny!  i sat down on the bench and was like, “okay God, i hear you. i hear you.  i hear you.”  but i had no idea how much i would still need to be listening.  and sitting on that bench i couldn’t have possibly dreamt up what He would give me to teach me. i had no idea that within just a few weeks we'd be pursuing a little girl on the other side of the ocean and within just a couple of years i'd be diagnosed with cancer.  of course i photographed the bench and those words in dirt.  and i have thought of them often. i've also thought about the way God delivers His messages.  sometimes we get them on lovely walks in the evening woods with our family and sometimes we get them on harsh examining tables in a doctor's office all alone.  i’m pretty sure i still don’t completely get it.  but i am listening.  a little closer.  a little better.  leaning in a little harder.  and these past few worrisome days --- they are probably also a part of my listening and my learning.  part of my lesson on being still and knowing Him. 
maybe you are like me.  maybe, you too, have to sometimes be forced to lay back on a table with a needle close by before you can truly hear the words “be still.”  i’d really like to think i’m improving in my listening skills -- that i can get God’s message without all this mess...but it doesn’t change anything does it?  God is God. i knew that 8 months ago when i received bad news and i know it again tonight with some good news.  but good or bad, what really counts and what really matters is that He knows.  

Saturday, January 14, 2012

a glimpse of how God works

don't you just love how God works?  so this morning i got to skype with my friend meritt (she's in china at the moment adopting two girls).  there we were,  just two friends chatting.  she in her pjs (ready for bed) me in my pjs (just waking up). i had my coffee cup in hand and was perched on a stool at my kitchen counter, like she and i have sat there together 100 times.  it was just the two of us with our technology.  well, i guess her husband, mike, was close by, but he was being well behaved for once (i.e, quiet) all was well.   we were catching up on all the news there in china and back here at home when she said, "hey, by the way,  i met someone here who knows you."  did i mention meritt is in china?  "really?" i was surprised. "yes, we had dinner last night with her and her husband."

let me back up a bit...
so this lovely woman who has been following along on my blog wrote me awhile back.  they had been also pursuing a special needs adoption in china and had been finally matched with a little girl last may.  they were feeling quite overwhelmed in the decision of it all.  this little girl also had some very complex heart issues like bella.  my new blog-friend, amy, shared a bit of her story with me and was asking for encouragement.  this step felt huge for them.  unbelievably huge and incredibly scary.  i was so overwhelmed with her story and her bravery -- because these things DO require just a little courage -- i wrote her back immediately.  by a strange turn of events, the post showed up back on my own blog (june 6th - "mama's mooncake" can read what i wrote, but click on the title and it will direct you to amy's blog as well --- go ahead, look for it and read!).  i was so tickled with her story and moved by her honesty, instead of erasing the accidental post, i left it there thinking to myself, "you never just never know who might read this and be touched."

i am not really sure what i want from my blog.  honestly, i'm conflicted at times on the things i choose to post.  too much? too little?  too what?  not quite certain, i just kind of go with my heart on it all.  but i can say with confidence, i very much want my writing to encourage others to consider adoption.  i don't mean inspire -- that assumes too much. but i do mean encourage.  sometimes we just need a little push when we're ready to jump.  sometimes we need a big old shove.  i know we did.  i know rick did. i certainly did.  i would love to chronicle someday all the little pushes and big shoves we received in the days leading up to us saying YES! it's an amazing story -- one that only God could think up and one that only God could weave together.

anyway, this sweet woman, who wrote me months ago -- well, yep, you guessed it...she and her husband were the ones at the dinner table with the sims last night in china.  and between these two couples from georgia, sat three little girls:  mary henley, maggie and qwinn!  i mean can't you just see it?  how can any of us not get teary-eyed over that image.  maybe because i know a little bit about both of these stories and the fears and the hardships and the worries and the work and the wonder involved.  maybe that is why i can't hear this kind of stuff without feeling overwhelmed with God's sovereignty and grace and goodness.  i hadn't caught up with amy in awhile and had no idea she was traveling at the exact same time as mike and meritt.  but there they all are.  two families with big lives back here in georgia...and even bigger hearts opening up to their new daughters in china.  it is truly amazing. (and, it goes without saying,  i am truly j e a l o u s).

none of this is about me, however.  but i am feeling a little giddy this morning that God allowed me a small glimpse into how He works.   how He calls people for a time such as this.  how He calls people for a need such as this.  how He calls people for children such as these.  how He calls ordinary, average, everyday, normal people.  there are over 165 million orphans in our world today.  children like bella and mary henley and maggie and qwinn.  oh friends, the need is so great, it is staggering to think about.  but what i want to reflect in my writing and my sharing of these other stories, is that the blessing is even greater.  it is greater than we can possibly imagine.  i don't mean everything is perfect or easy.  good heavens no!  read a little bit about maggie's tearful leaving of her a little bit about bella's life saving surgery at 18months alone in a a little bit about the freezing cold orphanage mary henley was living in...look at the pictures of where these girls were abandoned as tiny babies...these are not easy things.   i won't ever write that all of this is easy, but it is good.  so good.  so very good.  not just for these girls who get to come home to warm beds and big brothers and sweet sisters and bowls of oatmeal and christmas mornings and bedtime stories... but it is good for us -- the families who wait for them and then welcome them home.  it is amazing for us, in fact.  i often have people stop me and ask about bella.  (my family will tell you i ALWAYS stop and talk to these people). they want to know her story.  and when i quickly tell them even the littlest bit about her, their reaction is always the same:  "oh, what a fortunate little girl.  oh, what a lucky little girl.  oh, what a blessed little girl!"  that's what i hear, time and time again, and without fail, my response is always, "yes, but we are even more blessed.  we are the lucky ones.  we are the fortunate ones."  sometimes it seems a pat kind of answer, but i only have to watch bella being tickled by a big brother and hear her uncontrollable laughter.  i only have to walk into her room at night and watch the even breathing of her body and the heavy lashes of her closed eyes.  i only have to feel her tiny arms tight around my neck to know we are blessed abundantly with the gift of this girl.

one other thing...this friend, amy, also wrote me several times to encourage me in my cancer battle.  she was praying for me all the way through.  her own mother battled cancer... and she could relate.  and well, most of you know, meritt was my right hand woman throughout this journey.  she attended every doctor's visit and was with me every step of the ugly way. i had an appointment this past week, and i believe it was the very first one she was not along for.  (i think she has a good excuse). anyway, i find that kind of cool too...these women, this journey, that journey, china, blogposts and precious girls... how do we ever doubt the Master Creator, the Weaver Designer, the Ordainer of Days, the Alpha and Omega...the one who loved and pursued and adopted us.

so, i've asked my friends and readers to pray for the sims family as they bring home their girls. i love that so many of you are following along in their unbelievably cool journey.  and now, let me add another precious family...amy, anthony and their daughter qwinn.  qwinn's adoption was in the same room as bella's.  you'll maybe recognize the wall behind them. seems hard to believe we stood there only 18 months ago with our little girl.  

if you do happen to get to amy's blog "mama's mooncake" ... you'll find this prayer in the upper right hand corner.  i think it kind of sums up what this is really all about. 

I know that you are growing our hearts so that we will have a love for this baby, that is from you. One that exceeds the boundaries of the womb. The kind of love that put Christ on the cross....the kind that sent Him to die, so that you could adopt me. Thank you for this love. Amen

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

pedaling together

we flew off the boardwalk traveling toward the world's edge.  traveling fast.  traveling free.  traveling at no less than the speed of light.  or at least at the speed of two tandem bicycles and a single bike with a baby seat.  it seemed faster than five children and their out of shape mother should go.  but the winter sky was wide open and the water was wide wonderful and it was all there before us:  a new morning on a new beach.  new things to discover.  and the six of us were soon breathless; dripping in laughter, pedaling hard, pedaling together. 

down the beach we went -- sun on our faces and the breeze at our  backs.  so much early energy burning off our sun-warmed heads.  we went and we went. miles away, it seemed, and still we pedaled.   there were things to see and stops to make.  horseshoe crabs and sea-battered clams and blue crab claws scattered.  we stopped and started bicycles at least a million times.  our bikes cutting crystal into blue as we careened down the shoreline.  sand flying, surf spraying, and me calling my mother things.  “stay to the right” and “watch where you’re going!” we were pushed on by something more than our furious pedaling.  is there anything quite like exploring with eager children? "these are the very moments of motherhood," i thought to myself.  and i laughed as beach walkers quickly parted allowing my four bike wobbly children plenty of room. bella and i trailed behind on our more sedate baby-seated bike, throwing out smiles and, when necessary, “i’m sorrys” to the same pedestrians we passed.
another stop.  another something to pick from the sand and bring to my basket.  “mom, look at this shell, i can just imagine a pearl in it.”  and she could.  i could too.  today was a day to imagine pearls.  today was a pearl.  today, under this wild blue above, we held treasure in our hands.  

i turned to look how far we had traveled in our speed of light and was surprised.  “we should head back,” i told the kids.  “oh mom, really? not yet. just a little bit further?”  but they turned their tandem bikes around and took off again back from where we came.  but back wasn’t quite so easy.  the wind was now in our faces,  leaning strong against us.  the sun in our eyes, not warming, but blinding.  and our legs, of course,  tired from pumping this far.  i could see the exhausted sway of their bikes.  hard pedaling, heavy breathing.  losing steam with every tire’s rotation.  how far we had come in such a short time. the laughter evaporated into the winter sky and the bickering began.  my four children on two tandem bicycles.  even from my distance behind, i could hear the sharper edge to their words now.  “pedal harder already, will you?”  and “you’re going to make us crash if you keep leaning. pedal!”   tandem bikes take cooperation. and sometimes it is hard to cooperate when circumstances shift. 

and isn't life an awful lot like a bike ride.  sometimes we fly down the shoreline with incredible speed and indescribable energy. nothing to stop us. the sun warm, the sky big and our hope great.  it is easy.  and it is easy to be delightful in the wonderful delight of it all.  but there are other times when we must turn.  go a different direction and that same wind which propelled us now pushes hard against us.  the bright sun blinding.  and these are the times when our pedaling really counts. when our efforts really matter. these are the times when we truly must work in tandem, work as a team.  

a winter beach.  
a wild bike ride.  
and a reminder to pedal.
to pedal fast.
to pedal hard. 
but mostly, to pedal together.  

Friday, January 6, 2012

empty and beautiful

it's quiet now. a part of me feels like -- finally.  and a part of me feels a little bit melancholy.  you know the feeling when the holiday comes and goes and the bustling house empties of all things bright and busy.  when it empties again of children draped across couches and countertops.  mine all started back to school this week. it wasn't without a little nudge out the door.  we prayed for joyful hearts as we walked back into the world of routine.  we prayed for a fresh start and renewed vigor. we prayed just to hear our alarm and remember our lunch boxes.

i walked yesterday in cool air.  no snow in atlanta this year and i almost wished there was. believe it or not, i kind of wished for the white crunch and the crisp cold of a northern january.  when we lived up in ohio,  i would walk our two big dogs, bailey and madison, through the white woods along the chagrin river and i remember the simple and stark loveliness of those afternoons.  the school bell would ring, signaling the day's end, and i'd leave lesson plans and papers behind on my desk, pick up the dogs, and head for my solitary path along a sleepy winter river.  the black trees emptied of leaves seemed charcoal sketched across a silver sky. black and white and clean.  except for my bounding and barking golden retrievers, everything still and quiet -- a snow covered blank canvas. in these empty afternoon woods i found almost an ethereal and pristine kind of beauty.

now my home, here in the south, stripped of the merry and bright looks unsettlingly spare this week.   furniture moved back into place and pine needles picked up.  candles taken from the windows and the holiday hoopla shoved back into boxes in basement storage.  i sat last night on the couch writing and felt completely uninspired with the absolute lack of christmas.  no white lights to warm the room, no pine to remind me.  i finally got up and added wood to the dying fire in need of something warm.  that helped a little and i thought, "i don't quite like it, but it's time."  time to empty things out and clean things up.  and this is good. it is not the good of Christmas, but it is it's own kind of good. there's a special beauty in paring down and putting away.  a fresh face like the stark black against clean white.

as much as i hate to see it all go, i know the time has come.  we have all grown a little weary of vacuuming pine needles each day and unplugging strands of lights every evening. this morning,  i light a single candle nearby in my kitchen and it will be enough.  warm clothes empty out of the dryer and i fold slowly while bella colors close by.  no other sound than the dishwasher's hum and her occasional comment. the chaos is remarkably gone.  i just have to get used to this new kind of quiet. this new kind of simple. this new kind of empty.

i am always amazed at how christmas seems to disappear from the aisles of target almost overnight.  gone are the must-have trinkets of december and in their place the allure of an organized life: boxes and bins and crates and containers.  they truly make these displays a work of art.  how can we resist the purchase of rubbermaid? nothing says happy new year like a well ordered life.  resolutions and recommitments.  life was messy before...but as january empties out and the clutter clears i have renewed hope for pulling it all together.  pantries and attics and basements and closets and cabinets...the sky is the limit.

standing in target, i stare at all these empty bins stacked on end caps and am reminded of empty pots.  empty vessels.  the rubbermaid is nowhere near as lovely as earthenware and fire-glazed ceramic,  but the picture is the same:  empty and waiting.  and i am reminded of how necessary it is to empty ourselves on occasion so that we can be filled with Him.  filled with something good, something better.  if we are crammed full of our own stuff, we leave so little room.  and isn't it Him and His light which truly fills?  which truly warms? there is something to be said for a time of emptying out.

when we empty out our stuff... our busy-ness... our bustle...our burdens...when we empty out our very selves, we become open.  space is created. margin is made.  simple beauty.  stark contrast.  emptied vessels waiting to be filled with something better, more beautiful.

"empty vessels may be filled; but vessels that are full already can receive
 no more. The man who knows his own emptiness
 can receive abundance of knowledge, and wisdom, and grace, from Christ;" 
~ charles spurgeon

and whether in the crunch of white snow, or the quiet of warm sand, or on the (almost) needle free carpets of our christmas-less homes, we can choose this time to walk emptied of us.  embrace the open beauty of something still and the quiet lovely of something clean.

and be filled.

  "you will fill me with joy in your presence, with eternal pleasures at your right hand."  ~psalm 16:11

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

whoever welcomes one of these little ones...

january first and i sat in church, pretty much like i do every sunday.  but this morning,  the tears just kept coming.  it had something to do with all the talk of new and hope and beginnings.   and it had something to do with the fact that two of our very best friends, mike and meritt, had just boarded a plane heading for china. 

 talk about new and hope and beginnings... 

mike and meritt started their pursuit of maggie back in the late summer of 2010.  maggie was on the special needs list with a heart defect.  she had had surgery in china and was doing well, living in an orphanage in xi'an.  they fell in love with this little girl and as a family of five they began the lengthy adoption process.  the plan was to get her within a year.  the plan was getting only her.  but with some changes in china adoption, one year later,  they were presented with the chance to adopt a second special needs child.  

i remember meritt's phone call.  the deliberation.  the heart-wrenching discussion.  the what ifs.  "can we do this?"  she asked.  "is this the best thing? is it what God wants for us?"  it was big enough bringing home one little girl, but two? they prayed over the situation.  it wasn't so cut and dried.  if they pursued a second child, it would push back their travel to maggie.  maggie was turning 4 in october -- what mother doesn't want her little girl home for her birthday?  there would be no way the sims would be able to get maggie in time to celebrate.  and i have to tell you, the missed moments, the missed birthdays and christmases...well those add up in a mother's heart.  i remember so well when we were waiting for bella and we watched a christmas and then a birthday go by without her in our arms.  it seemed impossible, but i already loved this little girl half a world away. when you begin the process of pursuing a child across oceans and continents, patience takes on whole different meaning.  how could the sims delay their trip one extra minute more to bring home maggie?  but then there was this other little girl.  and her file sat with them on their their thoughts...all over their hearts.  

and somehow God whispered into mike and meritt words of encouragement.  words of hope.  words of His faithfulness.  you can do this!  maybe maggie wouldn't be home in time for birthday cake, but she'd come home with something much sweeter -- a sister from her homeland.  push back the travel a bit and bring home two little girls - amazing.   imagine, two little girls from china joining an already busy and half-raised family of five.  incredible, isn't it? perfect, wouldn't you say?  my joke with meritt is that when she told me about this new turn of events, i knew immediately they would be bringing home two girls.  as soon as she explained the possibility, i was completely on board.  "of course," i thought.  it seemed perfect to me. (is there anything more annoying then when the friend thinks she knows?).  the sims' children are a little older: marshall, a college senior and about to be married;  macey, a high school senior and about to head off to college; and matt, an 8th grader, getting ready to graduate and head into the busy years of high school.   what a perfect time to bring home a toddler (or two), right?  

and so enter mary henley.  a second little girl in a totally different province.  mary henley who also had a similar heart defect as maggie.   mary henley who also had her heart surgery in china.  and mary henley who also, very much, needed a mama and a daddy of her own.  the sims would push back travel and pursue two little girls.  maggie turned 4 last october and mary henley will be 4 this coming april.  two girls in two parts of china coming together to one family.  can i get an A-men!  is adoption not the coolest thing ever?  does God not have the most amazing ideas ever? 

as i write this today, our friends have finally landed in hefie and are just hours away from meeting their first daughter.  at 10 am january 4th, (their time - about 9pm our time tonight) they will welcome mary henley into their arms.  a few days later the three of them will leave hefie and travel to  xi'an to embrace their precious maggie.  it has only been 18 months since we traveled this same road to our bella.   there simply are no words to express the emotion of this experience.  i cannot imagine doing it once and then boarding a plane and doing it a few days later.  but that is exactly the story unfolding on the other side of the world this week.  

would you keep our friends in your prayers?  these days and weeks are huge.  traveling around a foreign country with two toddler girls.  girls speaking a different language.  girls who are leaving all they've ever known,  all that is familiar.  we know from experience the supernatural which can occur.  the quick bonding.  the amazing non-verbal communication.  the language of immediate love -- all of it pure and sweet Jesus.  but this family would covet your prayers as their arms and hearts expand and as they stretch wide the borders of possibility.   we've known meritt and mike and their children for a very long time, they will be incredible parents to these girls.  they will bring maggie and mary henley home to more than america though...they will bring them to a family, a home, a chance to hear about Jesus.  i write this today and the tears just flow for the 
beauty of it all.  to God be the glory.

thank you Lord for stirring in the hearts of this family.  thank you for the work you are about to do.  
"He took a little child and had him stand among them. Taking the child in his arms, he said to them, "Whoever welcomes one of these little ones in my name, welcomes me; and whoever welcomes me does not welcome me but the one who sent me." ~ Mark 9:36    this is the verse mike selected for the top of their blog.  and this is exactly it.   what a picture of God's tender love for children and His tender love for us.  

"we adopt not because we are rescuers, 
but because we, ourselves, have been rescued." 

follow the sims' story at:

Sunday, January 1, 2012

who holds your year?

 i woke up this morning thinking about last year.  not last night, but thinking about new year's eve a year ago.  we shared it with our friends, mike and meritt,  and then went home before midnight.  (tired toddler issues). the rest of the evening we played a board game, ate some junk food and watched a little tv.  normal new year's eve stuff. and, like millions of others around the world, when the ball dropped, we toasted the new year--kissed, hugged, hoped.

not one of us ever considered that we'd face something like cancer in just a few months of this toasting. i always take time to think about what the new year might hold, but not in the farthest reaching corners of my mind could i have guessed 2011 would bring with it such a dreaded diagnosis.  for some reason, my wiring is such, that i've never been tremendously anxious about the future.  i've always had a pretty positive outlook, a  pretty healthy perspective.  but within just a few months, that bright and shiny new year turned awfully dark. black, in fact. and i learned something big in 2011:  sometimes "the new" can be scary.  i had never imagined dealing with such a large medical crisis.  we were coasting along as a new family just fine.  bella had only been home a few months, it was her first christmas and her first new year.  it was an unbelievably beautiful time filled with happiness and health and hope.  we were just settling into the skin of our family of seven, just getting into our groove and so i toasted 2011 with great expectation, with great hope.   obviously, just expecting more of the same--more of a good thing. more love, more grace, more beauty. more.

but the truth is, when we stand on the precipice of a new year, we have no idea what is out ahead.  we hope for the best and we pray for our future, but there's really no way to know what the new year might bring.  perhaps that is not what you wanted to read today. it certainly isn't a message i long to listen to. but this morning i woke up and read through all the facebook posts and status updates written throughout the weekend. one after another, i read words declaring "2012 will be good, will be great, will be better!"  but what if it's not?   what if it comes and it brings something harder, hotter, heavier?  in 2011, i had a friend who lost his mother, a friend who lost her son, a friend who lost his job, a friend who lost his way, and a friend who lost her battle.  none of it expected.  none of it planned for.  none of it present, or seemingly possible, in their new year's toast just one year ago.  we don't want to think of the unthinkable -- certainly not on new year's eve or new year's day--at least i don't.  i'd much prefer to focus on the kissing and the hugging and the great hoping.

just yesterday morning, i wrote a piece about new hope.  and i believe every word i scratched out in that blog post.  i really am not attempting to contradict myself one bit between these two days, but i felt compelled when i woke again to write a little further, to travel a little look a little deeper into true hope.  not the cross your fingers kind of hope. not the close your eyes and click your heels kind of hope.  i guess that's what i've been reading in some of those facebook comments and it's what i've been hearing on the news or in the supermarket ...  "i sure do hope 2012 is better... i'm going to try harder, work longer, love stronger, play nicer, run faster, be kinder."  but is that really hope? and while resolutions are good and helpful and appropriate, they aren't everything.  we can make all the wonderful resolutions in the world and still wake up on a sunny april day and be told we have cancer.  

i guess what i'm writing about this morning, is that our hope really has to be in something more than a new year.  it has to be in something more than ourselves and our january resolutions.  i am always writing things down. and every new year, since i can remember, i've made a list of things to change, to work on, to improve, to address, to fix.  last year, as i scribbled down my thoughts in my pretty little leather journal, i had no idea a malignant tumor was growing violent in my breast.  had i known, it might have changed what i was writing.  it might have changed what i was thinking. it might have even changed how i was living.  i don't know. i didn't know.

2011 took a lot from me, no doubt it took a lot from me as a woman. but 2011 wasn't in charge.  2011 doesn't have the final say.  2011 is just a year.  and in God's hands it is nothing more than a drop in the bucket,  it is nothing more than an eyelash on eternity.   God who created minutes and months and years and all of time,  He is the holder of 2011 and 2012 and 2013.  and just because i got cancer, doesn't mean He let go for a minute.  it doesn't mean He set down the year and forgot about it or forgot about me.  not one bit.  He held and He continues to hold.  and that is what i am writing about this morning.  our hope can't be in just another new year.  in it, we're sure to fail and fall.  we need something more than just january. we need something more than the fresh flip of a calendar year.  

we walked through those horrific months of cancer and surgery because God was holding us.  it didn't have anything to do with me trying harder or being better or digging deeper,   it was about Him holding tight.  i had to surrender to the full knowledge of His hold.  not that it was easy, i'm a bit of a fighter and kind of an obstinate one at that.  many times through those months i wanted to rip myself from His arms and, like a small child, demand "let me do it!" i wanted the comfort of control.  and then He would patiently and tenderly whisper in my ear, "let go child, let go. I've got you." 

this morning in church our pastor posed a question.  what would happen if you prayed on this new year's day and asked God to do something so great in you and through you that it could only be attributed to God - that only He could be glorified?  just the thought of those words started my heart racing. seriously, i began to sweat in my seat.  because there's a part of me that knows when we pray that prayer it opens up all kinds of possibilities. it throws open the window to some pretty wild what ifs.   do we really mean it?  don't we want to pray that, but also include an addendum of our own suggestions.  like, "dear God, please do something so great in me and through me, but keep my kids safe and keep my health intact and keep my bank account full and keep my marriage thriving."  i don't know about you, but that is how i am tempted to pray -- to pray with conditions.

but then God gave me cancer.  there, i said it.  i know some of you don't believe that.  how can God, who is perfect and loving and good, give something like cancer? oh, i know how crazy that sounds.  but here's the deal:  my hope can only be in a God who has it ALL in control.  not just some of it.  not just the nice things, the sweet things, the pretty things...but ALL of it.  would i want to serve anyone less?  could i serve anything less?  think about it.

and so, today,  january first, i look ahead into another new year.  i know from experience, there could be some pretty hard times around this winter corner.  i know from 2011 this next year gives no guarantee of grief-free living.  but my true hope, my real hope,  is not in the happy highlights of these next 12 months.  my only hope is in the one who holds this year--all of it.  the good and the bad.

and though i don't know what the future holds, i do know who holds the future.

"may the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that by the power of the Holy Spirit you may abound in hope."  ~ romans 15:13

note:  2011 also brought a bit of surprise for mike and meritt sims (mentioned at the top of this post) today they left for china.  the sims are on their way to their new daughters maggie and mary henley.   they are adopting these two girls (exactly bella's age!) from two different provinces.  mike and meritt have a college senior, a high school senior and an 8th grader.  follow them at the THE SEVEN SIMS. amazing