Activation of the Extraction Code

He activated the “Extraction Code” and then realized he didn’t want to.

It was 8:54 pm on a Saturday night. Super Tall Guy was at a friend’s house where he enjoys countless hours of Minecraft, more junk food than his body needs, and stays up later than I would ever allow. But it’s a friend and he needs friends.

He has spent the night with this friend numerous times and always seems to like it, but this night he texted and asked me to come pick him up. He didn’t want me to tell his friend why. He didn’t want me to tell his friend’s mother why. He didn’t want to tell me why.

And I commenced the extraction.

Popped over to my neighbor’s house and asked their thirteen-year-old son to come sit in my house with my younger two and my nephew (who was planning to spend the night, but that didn’t work out either, which is another story for another day).

Texted my son over the course of five minutes to confirm the pick-up as his last message seemed unsure. Never heard back.

Texted the mother and “explained” a family emergency.

Jumped in the car.

Drove 5 minutes down the road.

Texted that I was in the driveway.

Super Tall Guy got in….and broke into tears. There had been a scuffle. He had been kicked (not sure if on purpose or accident) but what he really wanted was just to talk to me. He had decided to give his friend another chance….but there I was.

We drove off; him sobbing and me explaining the extraction system. At any moment, at any time, I would be there. No matter what. No questions asked. But if you activate the system – the system goes into play. There’s not a thing in the world that’s going to stop a mom from going to rescue her baby. Ever.

But I sit and wonder this weekend, who’s activating the system for the thousands of people stranded in airports or stranded overseas with fear and terror? Who’s running to the aid of immigrants and refugees? Thousands of people have arisen to protest the ban. Hundreds of lawyers working hard to overturn the discrimination against people based on their country of origin and their religion.

I sit and explain to my sons the extent of my love for them. It passes all my understanding. It is a very imperfect reflection of the perfect love of the Creator of the Universe. And it is the Lord who calls His people to love the homeless, the orphan, the refugee, the least of these in this world. Just as I love and protect my sons, I am called to love and protect the vulnerable.

May we all join the fight to carry out the extraction code which has just been activated by those in need.

 

 

 

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Love matters.

I don’t remember how old I was, six or seven perhaps, young enough to still be holding my mother’s hand as we crossed a street in northern Thailand. A small group of blind men crossed opposite us and I looked up at my mother and said, “Look, Mom, three blind mice.”  To this day, I cannot remember what she said in response. I don’t remember her face when she looked down upon me. But I do remember the intense emotion of disappointment and shame I felt with her response. Forty years later, as a woman who has grown so much since then, I am embarrassed to share this story, but I do so for one reason. It was a defining moment in my life. The moment that my mother taught me that under no circumstance, absolutely no circumstance at all, will you ever mock, demean, or disrespect another human being. Each and every person is created in the image of God and therefore shall be treated with utmost respect as if looking upon the face of Jesus himself. Forty years and counting, I try to hold to that teaching.

Sure, I get annoyed at people. Sure, I am snippy and rude sometimes (especially when driving). Sure, I have a temper that flares, particularly at the boys (just ask Super Tall Guy this morning). And I have made some very egregious mistakes in relationships. I am sorry for that. I realize that even as an adult I am still developing; still learning self-control and wisdom; still learning to take another’s perspective; still learning to be a better person. Still learning how to love my neighbor.

The key thing is that I’m learning because it matters to me. Love matters. loveRespect matters. I want to be better. I want to do better. Which means that I will also expect that out of others and I will stand in the gap whenever there is injustice and maltreatment of the innocent. And, I will expect my boys to be learning about love and kindness as well. I don’t expect them to be perfect. I know they will experiment with rudeness and meanness. I know they will tease others. I know they will say hurtful things without realizing it as well. But I expect them to reflect on those moments and learn from them with my guidance. I expect them to gradually get better. I expect them to learn the power they have in the choice of their words and actions. I expect them to value love. I expect them to respect others. I expect them to be a light into their world, to walk as a child of God. And I expect myself to model that for them and do the hard work of teaching them.

I’m not sure I have the power to change my sons’ perspectives in an instant as my mother  did so clearly years ago. And I know that I have not always lived up to her expectations nor emulated her Christ-like behavior and neither will my boys. But I know that we will keep on trying each and every day to make this world a better place. To stand in the gap. To be a light into the world. To be faithful and courageous.

Love matters.

Choose love.

Advent Week Three into Four: Fighting for Joy

 

adventChristmas is always my favorite time of year. I think I just like lights…on trees, on bushes, on houses, on boys’ bunkbeds. They seem to emanate a feeling of peace and comfort. But the end of this year has been pretty bumpy and it’s been hard to capture any peace.  It could be the endless roll of medical visits for my three boys (two fractures, bead in the ear, strep throat, medication checks, flu shots) or the endless saga of behavioral crises that my sister’s boys are wrestling with as the year comes to a close.

It could be the pervasive sense of sadness that settled in in early November when less than half of the voters still triumphed. It’s impossible to see any Joy in the one who is to be our new leader, yet who is so far from a Christian role model that I want to shield my sons from all news until this crisis is over.

It could be the deluge of photos showing the reality of hundreds of thousands of innocent people dying in Syria. It could be the feeling of powerlessness as a hurricane wipes out lives and livelihood for thousands in Haiti.

It could be the unpredictability of violence in the neighborhood, the financial drain of a house still sitting on the market, the uncertainty of funding at my current employment.

It could be a lot of little irritants throughout a day. It could be all-consuming disgust and annoyance. It could be boys who squabble, or whistle in the car, or throw remotes in frustration, or roll around on a kitchen floor to trip over when trying to make dinner. It could be the slow slow slow plodding march every….single….night to shift three little brains from alertness to dream state. It could be any of a hundred of weights in a single moment.

But it could also be moments of Peace. (Nah, that’s only when they’re asleep). It could be moments of Love in the notes Mr. Ornery writes to say he’s sorry. It could be elfmoments of Joy in watching Super Tall Guy in his first performance playing the saxophone. It could be moments of Hope in the excitement of The Little Guy waiting for Christmas (and expectantly looking for the elf that the babysitter likes to hide).

 

It could be all these moments if the focus is in the right place. For there is only One from whom Peace passes all understanding, Love surpasses knowledge, Hope yields eternal life, and Joy fills the soul. Only one.

May we all seek and find that Joy, Peace, Hope and Love this moment, this day, this year and into the next.

Merry Christmas to All!tree

 

 

We need to create more Grateful Moments!

The bus was late. I was stressed. We were going to be late for the first gymnastics class. I parked the car across from the bus stop and waited. After they tumbled off, I hustled the boys over to the car and yelled, “Jump in! Get buckled!” As the bus was trying to make its busu-turn and I was clearly blocking its progress, I moved the car forward to the other side of the street. Super Tall Guy yelled out, “Mr. Ornery’s not in the car” (well, he used the middle kid’s real name, to be truthful). I stopped immediately, opened the car door and looked back about 20 feet behind me. My vision of Mr. Ornery in his bright orange shirt was blocked by an unknown car who had stopped right in front of him and the driver had jumped out to videotape or photograph my moment of stupidity.

And that’s what it was. A moment. Maybe 20 seconds. A moment when a hurried mother made a mistake. But thanks to the stranger, a police officer showed up at my door at 9:00 o’clock that night to interrupt bed-time routine and inform me of my stupidity. Fortunately, it was one of those awkward “warnings” about a “chaotic bus pick up?” and I agreed with him that yes, I was wrong. It was a lapse of judgement. But no one was hurt and I had not gone anywhere. My boys were safe and they were not traumatized. We had talked about the situation. All was fine.

Except my heart. My heart was sad that in this world, my first thought was – great! Some stranger is videotaping me and I’ll either “go viral” on social media or have a police citation.

My question is – why didn’t the stranger instead think to help. Maybe instead of blocking my view of my son, she might have taken my son’s hand and walked him to my car. We all would have said thank you and moved on with the day. It could have been a “grateful” moment.

Just five days before this, on the second day of school, a little 7-year-old got off the school bus with my boys. There was no parent waiting for him. I walked him to his house and we knocked on the door. No answer. Knocked on windows. Nothing. I called the management office of the community and they called the parents and tracked them down. I waited with this little boy for 10 minutes until his parents arrived. They thought he had gotten on the bus to day care rather than the bus home. It was a mistake.  A moment. I did not call and report the parents to the police. I helped.

Oh how I wish we could all be more helpful.

This week an elderly patient sat in my office. She wasn’t sure she wanted to return in two weeks to get her blood pressure rechecked because transportation was too difficult for her. And she didn’t have any one around to help her. She looked at me with eyes of sadness. “People tend to disappear once you get older or have a cane,” she lamented. “Nobody wants to help anyone anymore. Nobody cares anymore in this world. Everyone is just worried about their own self.”

A generalization yes, but also a reminder to me.

Let’s be more kind.

Let’s be more helpful.

Let’s think about what others might be going through and what we might do to help.

Let’s be a good neighbor and a loving friend.

Let’s create more grateful moments.

Love matters.

Recommitting to the Boys

It was one of those deep, cathartic cries for a few minutes last Friday night. One of those crashing moments that emanates from serious exhaustion and feeling completely overwhelmed. A moment sparked by a sappy movie and fueled by a very late hour of the night. When I glanced up at the canvas painting on the wall of the three boys at the beach, I thought, “What in the world am I doing? What am I doing parenting three young boys? Sitting here in this temporary home trying to figure out the next step? How did I get here? Why am I doing this?”

Earlier in the week a colleague said, “I remember meeting you five years ago. You had a little baby on one hip, a little toddler tugging at your other leg, and a larger boy clinging on you. I thought to myself, I don’t know how she’s doing it.” I confessed that there were many times in those years that I didn’t know how I was doing it and sometimes I still don’t.

And there have been many times that I’ve confessed to another mom of boys, “I don’t know how to do this. It’s overwhelming to be responsible for these boys. I don’t think I can be a good mom to them.” Her reply, “It was not a mistake. God picked you to be their Mom.”

And yet, I have those moments of doubt about making the right decisions in life and wondering where to go next. Everybody does. It would be a lie to say that my life is roses all the time. To say that there are not moments when I doubt the decision to adopt three kids on my own. I don’t think I’d be much of a parent to them if I wasn’t consciously thinking of them often.

There certainly are many moments when I sit exhausted on the couch and envision what my still single friends are doing in their tidy little houses. I know they haven’t picked up a thousand Legos over the course of the day, or wiped feces off the wall, or sat locked in a battle of wills over the spelling homework paper. Sometimes it seems that the grass is greener over there (or doesn’t have to be tended to as much!).

It’s not that I think about reversing the decision, it’s that I get overwhelmed with the responsibility. My brain is constantly worried about how they are doing. Are they behaving in school? When’s the next IEP meeting? Have I gotten all their appointments scheduled? How am I going to afford braces? Is Super Tall Guy’s med working well? Are they playing nicely with the neighbors? Is this normal brotherly aggression or is it overboard? Why did they decide to microwave the oatmeal and the spoon? When will I have to sign the next “behavioral slip” for school? Does he need to be evaluated or is he just normal boy?

So the other night, I wiped away the tears and tucked myself in bed, pulling out (and dusting off) the boys’ “letter journals.” I used to journal when I was in my teens and then into college. In med school, I “journaled” by writing a letter to my grandmother every single week for four years about my medical img_9950training and then into residency as well until she passed away. Now I blog to share the crazy journey of parenting in a wider community. And every once in a while, and definitely not as often as I’d like, I also “journal” to my boys as short letters to them in small lined books.

It’s a lot like taking photographs of your kids. The first one, Super Tall Guy, has an entry every few months for his first few years of life. There are so many fun stories and sentiments that document his days and adventures. Middle child has much fewer and The Little Guy’s book, well, you can imagine, has very few pages full of ink.

As parenting stress crashes upon me, it helps to re-center by reconnecting. It’s an important exercise for me  It forces me to think about each boy individually. To think about what they have been doing lately and who they are becoming. I think about their personalities and their gifts. It helps me to reconnect with each of them and recommit to them, reminding me of my love for them and my commitment to parent them in the best way I can. And it’s an opportunity for me to lift them up in prayers of thanksgiving and protection.

paint-wpI tell the boys every day, “I love you – forever, for always, and no matter what.” I finish their “journal letters” each time with the same words. Sometimes I need to remind myself that in the hard times, in the times when my love for them is hidden under painted fingers, soiled laundry, broken doors, angry words, noise and chaos, that this love is a commitment. Forever, for always and no matter what. That’s what it means to be their parent. And the honor and joy of being part of their lives is all I really need (well, that and coffee and chocolate pretty much does it!).

My Three Little Hearts

Mr. Ornery comes by his nickname very respectfully. He earns it almost every day. You might even call him Mr. Mischievous. Mr. Where Did You Say the Line was Drawn? Mr. Rascall. He drives me absolutely nuts. He’s gorgeous with tight brown ringlets. His lower lip is slightly fuller than his upper and curls into a delicious smile. His body is toned and athletic. He giggles when you tickle him.

And he talks back. He loves to throw rocks. He barrels down hillsides on a flimsy plastic Big Wheeler. He jumps the speed bump on his Razor scooter. He is a daredevil. He attacks life and attacks it hard.

And I worry about him. We drove home the other night from Super Tall Guy’s baseball game and reviewed the preceding couple hours in which I had to curb Mr. Ornery’s behaviors several times. We got to the topic of misbehaving so much that other people, complete strangers, start to tell you to stop doing whatever you’re doing. I start down the thread of if you’re not listening to your Mom, then other people will step in. Super Tall Guy brings up that eventually “the police will come and take you to jail.”

Of all three of my boys, the middle one, Mr. Ornery, carries that highest risk. And it pains me.

After they crashed from their “I’m so tired, I’m obnoxious” highs into snoring slumbers, I sat down to catch up a little on the last season of Scandal. That was probably not a good idea as the episode was about a teenager shot by police. A brown body in the streets guarded fiercely by a grieving father. And the love of this father and all that the father had done to protect his son touched my soul…. and yet there he was…gone. I wept.

When they are born, you carry them and cuddle them. You meet their every need and you think this little bundle is perfection. You think about how this angel will grow and live and change the world someday. You delight in the dreams and the potential. You burst with pride and inexplicable love. You don’t realize at that moment that one day they will throw rocks at the neighbor’s lawn chairs just for fun.zoo

You can’t imagine them turning to drugs or alcohol and dropping out of college to go to rehab. You can’t even imagine them locked behind bars. You never dream of them dead.

When your heart and your soul are walking around in some other little being, you fear the decisions they might make, and you weep.

Each and every day, I say to these boys: My job is to love you and protect you. And every decision I make, whether you like it or not, is based on those two principals. Always and forever and no matter what, I will love and protect.

My three little hearts

Come closer

Stay nearer

Listen and learn

My little men.

Your Mama loves you so

Be good to my heart.

 

Ten reasons why foster parenting is so hard

  1. You just have no idea when your phone is going to ring and a caseworker is going to ask if you’d like to take on a kid. Sometimes you’re just waiting and waiting eagerly. Sometimes you’re crossing your fingers saying “I’ve got three right now, I’m feeling a bit busy, thank you, but….” And sometimes they ask if you can pick up a kid within 15 minutes!
  1. You just have no idea how long a kid is going to stay with you. It might be three days for a “shelter hearing” when a relative or someone else is found to take the foster child, or it might be 6 months and 2 days, or 18 months and 9 days, or at least 18 years and the rest of the kids’ life once you’ve adopted the child.
  1. You just have no idea when they are going to schedule a “visit” for the child to see his or her biological parent and once the child goes off in a stranger’s car, when the child will return to you. If the parent shows up for the visit, it might be a couple hours. If the parent doesn’t show, it might be just a round-trip in a car. You just have no idea how truly irksome this is to have little control over your schedule.
  1. You just have no idea whether to get rid of some of the 3T boy clothes you still have in boxes or whether you should keep them just in case another kid comes along. Do you take the carseats out of the car or shove them in the trunk?
  1. You just have no idea how much paperwork you’re going to have each time the caseworker stops by for a visit. And when one agency decides to stop their foster care services and you have to switch to another agency, you have another thousand and five pages to complete, and clearances to run, and home inspections to prepare for.
  1. You just have no idea how each child is going to respond to arriving in your house. You can’t predict if they’ll cuddle right in or scream for hours. You don’t know if they’ll throw punches at the wall or help with the dishes. You don’t know if the other children are going to be thrilled with a new “friend” or wish that they were gone. The uncertainty is huge because everyone is reacting to a major unexpected change.
  1. You just have no idea how painful it is to have a child leave your house with only a few hours notice and realizing that you likely will never see that child again in your life, despite being the one and only parent the child has had in the past 10 months. The empty space hurts.
  1. You just have no idea how protective you can become of a child, caring for them the best you can and wanting so badly to advocate for their well-being.
  1. You just have no idea how frustrating it is to not really have a voice for a child. You provide the 24-hour a day love and care but have no influence over the bigger picture. You wash and feed the child, watch them grow, encourage their development, treat the fevers, but no one wants to hear your point of view.
  1. You just have no idea how quickly your heart is going to fall in love with the child in your home as you rock them to sleep and kiss their scrapes and bumps. You tell yourself that you’re keeping a distance, that you’re not really attached, that this is just “foster love,” but your heart never listens to that anyway.

You just have no idea how your love and your hugs and your home can make all the difference in a child’s life, comforting them in a moment of chaos and giving them layers and layers of love to buffer them through life’s future troubles. They may stay with you. They may return home. They may more on. But your touch is always written upon their life.foster

You just have no idea how wonderful it can be to be a foster parent.

Think about it.

Some kid somewhere out there needs you to be brave enough, strong enough, creative enough to say, “I just have no idea….and you know what? That’s okay.”