Friday, August 4, 2017

Because We Are His (or ALL THESE BOYS!)

You will no longer be called “Forsaken”…
But you will be named my Delight…
For the Lord delights in you.
-Isaiah 62:4-5

Two years ago when I was seven months pregnant with our youngest, Michael, I wrote a post (more like a rant) entitled, Comments to Mothers of All Boys.  I shared about the bizarre, sometimes hurtful, and always unsolicited opinions I received from the individuals I encountered upon their discovery that I was pregnant with yet another boy.  Surely I had been hoping for a girl, right?!  Were we trying for a girl?  Would we try again after this baby was born and maybe next time get that coveted girl?  And on and on it went.  And these comments were made in front of my sons!

One dear friend and reader, who is older and wiser than I, suggested coming up with a simple song to sing to the boys— a way to speak God’s truth over them and to show them how special they are to us.  And that we wouldn’t have picked any other children for our family!

I am neither a composer nor a lyricist, but I took the plunge knowing how profound truths can be cemented in young brains through a simple song.  Here is what I came up with to the tune of “Three Blind Mice”:

“All These Boys”

All these boys,
All these boys.
I love them,
I love them.
God picked each one for me,
I’m so happy, can’t you see?
With all these boys,
All these boys.

Yep, that’s it, my one and only song I’ve ever written.  And it is the boys’ favorite song.  They absolutely light up when they hear it.  Why?  Because they know they are cherished when I sing it to them.  And why are they cherished?  Because they belong to me.  Not because I prefer boys.  Not because they’re perfect.  But simply because they are mine.  God entrusted these precious lives to Meade and me.

What does this mean for each one of us?  Just as I take great delight in John’s belly laugh, Daniel explaining his latest, highly detailed drawing (of some type of vehicle of course), Andrew tucking his arms in when we fold him into a big hug, or watching Michael wave goodbye and blow kisses, I am beginning to understand what it means, and the difference it could make in my life, to truly grasp the love our Father has for us. 

Honestly, even as I type that last sentence, I feel like a hypocrite.  I rarely grasp how much God loves me. (As an aside, I really don’t want y’all to come away from this thinking I’m the perfect mom.  I wrote one song.  I fail every single day.  I feel like the worst mom much of the time.  I crave alone time.  Hours fly by as my sons’ eyes are glued to the TV.  Just want to keep it real!)  Anyway, I struggle to allow the truth of God’s relentless love to permeate my life and outlook.  I know I am not alone in this struggle or with the lies our enemy feeds us. 

Christ’s love can feel intangible, too good to be true, unmerited, or lofty.  But I get a little glimpse with my boys and how much I cherish them, despite my shortcomings.  I think we need to shift our perspective of God’s sacred, consuming, and pursuing love.  It is not just an elevated version of how we care for ourselves, nor is it even close to our feeble attempts to “give ourselves grace,” as a good friend may urge.  God doesn’t love as we do; He is not harsh as we are harsh with others and ourselves.  His love isn’t based on our intentions, attitude, or achievements.  And yet, we do get a glimpse with our earthly relationships and the love that swells.  Nevertheless, God’s love goes so very far beyond that.

Undoubtedly, it is difficult to grasp.  Fortunately, the Lord’s love isn’t based on our finite understanding.  It is there regardless.  He loves us simple because we are His.  He calls you His Delight, His Beloved, a pearl of great price. He gives us His name, His covering.  He rejoices over us.  His steadfast mercies never fail; His love endures forever.  As far as the East is from the West, so far has He removed our missteps and failures from us.  Even when we cannot grasp it, and, despite the fact that we see in a mirror dimly, His love remains.

The Lord, your God, is in your midst,
the Mighty Warrior who saves;

he will take great delight in you,

he will renew you in his love;
he will rejoice over you with singing.
-Zephaniah 3:17

A few closing remarks:

I am very secure in my boy mom status these days.  I love it (good thing I was a tomboy as a child).  I am no longer caught off guard by the comments about my band of brothers, and now I typically cut people off at the pass when they ask how many children I have.  I smile and chuckle as I say, “I have 4 children and they’re all boys!  It is wild, and we love it!”  If I think they are up for it (or for added shock value), I may even tell them I have 5.  :)

I am beyond grateful for the older, wiser friend who encouraged me to come up with that simple song.  I would strongly encourage you all to invest in intergenerational relationships.  What a gift we have if we only take advantage of the people God has placed all around us!   If you don’t know anyone, I’m sure you can find a mentoring program at your church or just ask someone there to grab a cup of coffee.

Lastly, ALL human life has value, regardless of gender or ability.  Why?  Because we are His.

Monday, May 22, 2017

On Feeling Special... and Normal

My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?
    Why are you so far from saving me,
    so far from my cries of anguish?
My God, I cry out by day, but you do not answer,
    by night, but I find no rest.
-Psalm 22:1-2

I am a special needs mom.  I am a normal mom.  I am neither.  I am both.
From left to right: Daniel (almost 6), Andrew (3), Michael (1), and John (8)
Thursday evening was one of those times.  Caught in the middle of my two worlds.  This isn’t an exception; I feel this way most of the time.  However, I don’t always share about it, because it’s just our life, our “normal.”  Because I don’t want to sound like a broken record to close friends.  And because I don’t want to complain or drag people down.  Sometimes, it’s even because I don’t want to sound like a brag-a-saurus discussing all I managed to accomplish in One. Single. Day. 

It’s what we do, how we live, how we get by, how we try so hard to thrive rather than merely survive (hmmm… did you catch that?). 

Everyone has his routines, her norms, individual triumphs and sorrows.  The times you think, “Look at me!  I’ve got this under control.  I am equipped for my life, and, quite frankly, I’m rocking this!” Or, our favorite thing Meade and I say to each other and then laugh because we say it so often is, “It’s really coming together!” 

But then there are the other moments, which if you’re anything like me, can come mere minutes after the previous thoughts and remarks: I cannot deal with my life. I am barely getting by, drained from the mere sentiment of “doing the best we can.”  I know the teachers in carpool must think I’m the world’s biggest mess, basically in my PJs with no makeup at morning drop off (correction: there is makeup sometimes, but it’s yesterday’s mascara remnants), same status at preschool pick up around lunch time, and then yes, again, at afternoon pick up. Outdated (by over two decades!) scrunchy still in my hair but hiding behind a big smile and sunglasses by this point.     

It is rare to find someone who "gets it"— speaking the language we speak and occupying a similar life space.  And when I do find one of these rare friends, it is a true gift and an instant connection.  I was returning an email to one such friend (7 months later, because you know how you wait for that miraculous chunk of time that never comes until you just sit down and do it), and as I relayed my experience from Thursday evening, I thought I would share it here and, in that, share more of myself with you.  Because many of you have asked for more; you tell me that you resonate with the real stuff, the nitty gritty.  That you want to be let in, and that we are more alike than not alike.  This post (and hopefully this blog in general) is my attempt to create space in our conversations, and more importantly in our faith experiences, to be real.  

Thursday night, our sweet John was in full-on meltdown mode.  Screaming tears, pouted lip, wailing— my 8 year old broken down, more than he already is.  My heart broken down, more than it already is.  Shattered really.  Not because he is so sad, but because I do not know why.  And I am his mom, and I can’t figure it out.  I cannot fix it.  I can’t even comfort him in these moments.  What kind of mom does that make me?  And our helper is witnessing the whole thing, adding insult to injury as my insecurity creeps in.  What does she think of me?   The old tricks don’t always work… singing to him, playing one of his favorite songs on my phone, giving him a bath, providing a favorite toy, removing him from the chaos and noise that are my other three boys, changing a wet diaper, trying to get him to take some of his bottle, or experiencing the fresh air outside. 

I want to scream.  I don’t know what is wrong, what my son wants, or what he needs!!  I can’t fix it.  I can’t fix him.  I know in God’s economy John doesn’t need fixing, but it can certainly feel that way. Much of the time, I want to fix him. I want to make his life easier.  I want to make my life easier, too.  Is this selfish?  Am I missing the big picture?  Maybe.  I sure beat myself up about having these thoughts.  But there is no hiding that life can be difficult for him and for our family.  

Is it too much to want to communicate with my son?      

Yes, yes, I know… he communicates.  With his smile, with his sweet high fives, with his laughter, with his squeals of delight, with his “happy dance” he does on the floor while rocking back and forth on his back, and, yes, even with his communication device at times (which can be the devil, but that’s another story).  I do not take one iota for granted.

But at the same time, he cannot communicate.  Again, we find our special and normal intertwined.  Both, yet neither.  We have a major barrier with a non-verbal child, and I don’t know whether to beat my fists or crawl in a hole.  I long to talk to my son, back and forth, spontaneously, easily— like I do with my other children.  I want to know what he is thinking, not merely what he is limited to telling me with the pre-set choices on his communication device… all the while, leaving me guessing if he is even accurately selecting from this complicated, albeit amazing, device.  
John's left hand that he frequently bites when he is frustrated and cannot communicate.
I want more.  I want to talk about the lights on the truck that passed by on the highway, what hurt his feelings at school, what he thinks of his new glasses, how he wants to celebrate his birthday.  I want to hear him tattle on his brothers, say the prayer at our dinner table, beg to stay up a little later to read one more story, or tell me he is tired of the same organic, gluten-free, dairy-free, soy-free, pureed food he has been eating for 8 years.  I want to hear him say my name, hear him say, “I love you too, Mommy.” I want to know what’s really inside his wonderful mind. What is in his heart, the significant and the mundane. 

Thursday night, I felt paralyzed.  Both stuck in this moment where I, his mother of over 8 years, felt completely ill-equipped, not knowing how to make him feel better.  And I also felt angry.  Angry at my friends.  Angry they don’t get it.  Angry that they typically see “happy John,” the Christmas card John you all see.  That they don’t know about these moments of despair, for him and for his parents, in which we cannot communicate with our son.  I even videoed part of this meltdown (the screenshot above was taken from this), just in case I want to show one of these hypothetical friends some day, to not feel so alone.  To have witnesses to these very real moments in which we can’t fix the hurt with a cookie and cup of milk.  To make them see that the hardest times are not merely in the future for us (such as the much anticipated teenage years).  It is happening now.  My mind then travels to how much effort going to church requires (and why most special needs families I know do not go) or how my mind literally started racing yesterday morning when new service times were announced and the thought of arriving thirty minutes earlier feels impossible... feels personal... feels like we are not seen.  

Once some of the irrational dissipates, I know that I am not angry with my actual, real-life friends.  And I am not angry at our church— it is filled with grace!  And there are later service options even if the same people won't be there, and we will figure it out.  I am angry at the isolation, at the pain.  I am still learning (aren't we all?) how to navigate this tension between abundant life and overwhelming loss.  Nevertheless, my mind wants to anchor these feelings somewhere, on someone. And really, the one who bears the brunt of my day-to-day lament is God.  But oftentimes, it can feel easier and safer to place my disappointment on the “people out there,” on faceless and nameless “friends.”  

I am scared of unleashing it on my Lord. 

However, we must remember that lament is a biblical discipline, a biblical invitation.  This may seem foreign to those of us who feel the pressure, even from other people of faith, to jump immediately from lemons to lemonade.  And yet we find powerful and poignant lament in the Psalms, in Job of course, in Lamentations, and yes, from the lips of Jesus himself.  As I heard recently on a podcast, we miss out on opportunities to commune with God when we hide our pain and do not engage Him in our sorrow. 

You may be neither a “special needs mom” nor a “normal mom” like I am.  However, I imagine you probably experience that bizarre combination of both “special” and “normal” in striking similarity.  That you have your own hard road to walk.  A road that, also like mine, is full of joy and blessings but is simultaneously complicated and nuanced, like that darn communication device. We can hold gratitude and disappointment together; this is our human experience and an expression of true faith. 

In light of my experience, I believe that the best way to traverse this path is to pursue a completely honest, open relationship with God.  One in which we keep reaching out rather than withdrawing out of fear our emotions are inappropriate or our thoughts and doubts are not in keeping with what God wants for us.  Our enemy encourages this sentiment and loves nothing more than coaxing us to keep God at arm’s length, to put up boundary after boundary until we wind up not communicating with God at all.  Satan knows (but wants to prevent) what we don’t always understand about God.  That God can handle it all.  What’s more, He can use it all.  

God welcomes us in our lament, knowing that doubt, grief, and confusion over how life twists and turns are not the antithesis of faith but instead can be the rich soil in which authentic faith grows. And, yes, even triumphs. Lean into lament, lean into the special and normal about your life, and lean into your King. I may be simultaneously grateful and disappointed, feeling the hard things while loving our life.  I may be confused more than not.  In all these things, I hope to bring my story, the whole messy thing, to the One who matches my weakness with His strength and who always brings life from death.

I highly recommend Tim Keller’s book, Walking with God through Pain and Suffering, and will leave you with a quote I find incredibly helpful:

 “Through it all, Job never stopped praying. Yes, he complained, but he complained to God.  He doubted, but He doubted to God.  He screamed and yelled, but he did it in God’s presence. No matter how much in agony he was, he continued to address God. He kept seeking him. And in the end, God said Job triumphed.”

Gotta love the pictures that fit in the happy "Christmas card" category!!  :)
Our little Michael is getting so big: 20 months old!

Wednesday, December 7, 2016

Let's Get Real

“Now if we are children, then we are heirs – heirs of God and co-heirs with Christ, if indeed we share in His sufferings in order that we may also share in His glory.”
-Romans 8: 17

It is hard.  It just is.  That’s the reality and the road we walk.  It is also wonderful, and we feel incredibly blessed.  But I value honesty, believing we can all benefit by sharing in our weaknesses and trials, trusting God is strong in them.  Yes, I’ll say it again (mostly to myself): we can be weak.  Life can be hard.  God is strong in our weakness.  And that is okay. 

This is NO fault to my parents, but I grew up thinking if I admitted anything was hard or even just a little “off,” it was only okay as long as I immediately jumped to the positive.  Have lemons?  You better talk about how you’re making lemonade!  And you must throw a lesson in there from the Lord, highlight the situation with some Bible verses, and certainly proclaim how this cruddy thing is actually a good thing.  A “God thing” even.  Nothing can really be bad or truly be hard.  Tears, if they come, are wiped and we move forward in victory.  Because “if God is for us, who can be against us?!”  Sound familiar? 

I’m going to share a few instances that have been difficult for me recently, not out of a desire to complain (but if we are honest, we all want to at times!) but rather in hopes of giving you an intimate glimpse into at least one person’s story, our story— and telling you that you are not alone in your struggles and grief triggers.  After all, it’s the most wonderful trigger-loaded time of the year.

Instance 1)   We were at Daniel’s final baseball game a few weeks ago.  When someone saw all of our kids (we all made it to that game! Score!), he inqiured, “4 boys— any twins in there?!”  I’m sure this man wondered about my hesitation, the fact that I probably seemed a little tongue tied to a seemingly straightforward question.  I get this question a lot, mostly because John is always in a wheelchair or stroller of some sort, making him appear younger, and he is the same size as Daniel, our 5 year old.  And yes, they all look a lot alike. 

I KNOW these people don’t intend any harm by their comments, and I have certainly inserted my feet into my mouth more times than I’d like to admit!  But yes, it is a grief trigger nonetheless.  And it stings.  Because the answer is neither yes nor is it no.  Yes, there are twins among my children.  No, they are not represented in this current, earthly moment.  Yes, I carried and gave birth to beautiful, identical twin boys; I belong to that club!  I want some recognition!  But no, you cannot see it outwardly.  And you are just a sweet stranger and neither want nor need to hear my whole story while enjoying your hot dog at the ballpark!  Additionally, whereas I may have felt the need in the past, I don’t always feel the need or desire to go into the full history these days unless it is one of those special, God ordained moments.  Or I just share off the cuff and out of context about my twin pregnancy, delivery, or something like that. 

Instance 2)   The next incident happened at Bible study last week. We were discussing the questions and answers from the week’s homework among our small group.  One lady piped up and said that she used to teach special education and that they emphasized speaking, hearing and seeing everything they were teaching or learning.  I love that; ware sensory creatures and require specific sensory stimuli to learn!   She tied this in by sharing that she had to read and look over this one question again and again.  Another lady chimed in, saying with a laugh, “I think we are all ‘special ed’ when it comes to this!”  Pointing to the Bible on her lap, she said it again.   

Similar to the first instance, I know this lady meant no ill will, but once again, triggers ensue, chest palpitations even, and flight/fright/freeze kicks in.  And before I know it, the moment has passed and I have neither stood up for my son nor educated these kind albeit clueless folks on the reality of special education.  (Now you can add guilt over a missed opportunity to the equation!) 

The implication of these types of comments, which breaks my heart, is that we are all “special ed” when it comes to the Bible because we are slow to understand and absorb these truths— that we are somehow limited, lesser, thick skulled or dimwitted.  That we need “extra” help due to our struggles, just like the special education population.  But heaven forbid that we are “special ed” in any other area— just when it comes to faith and understanding God’s Word.  The reality is that special education is about learning differently, not about being less than. 

Instance 3)   On another family outing, this sweet old man was attempting to interact with all of our boys.  John and Michael, our youngest, were the in the double stroller together.  As this man tried engaging them both, he was not get a lot of feedback from John but instead elicited smiles and coos from baby Michael. John can be very smiley and outgoing, but oftentimes he withdraws when we are out in public, it’s loud, or he is in an unfamiliar environment.  It is just too much sensory input flooding his system.  This even happens at almost every family holiday gathering which about kills me, because I want all of my family members to know the John we know.  To see his vibrant spirit and sharp mind.  To hear his amazing laugh.  To see he understands despite his limitations.  Instead, he typically glazes over, stares off, and disconnects.  This was probably happening on this particular outing.  Anyway, this man, no lie, starts talking about Michael specifically, stating with a big smile on his face, “Now this one… this is the one I like.  I like this one.”  Dagger in my heart.  The man’s response and preference were based on what he was able to extract from my boys, what made him feel good, what benefited him. 

Did any of the people in the above encounters set out to be insensitive in their remarks?  No, I am certain they did not.  However, life does give us lemons.  And sometimes, it is just bitter.  There is no lemonade, or at least there isn’t any yet.  We cannot perceive how God is possibly for us in our circumstances.  Instead, there is anger at times.  And even judgment.  Our own harsh words in return.  Or withdrawal and self-pity. 

The root is sadness, shock, hurt, disappointment, PTSD, and grief’s complex triggers.  Pain is a universal reality.  And I firmly believe that sometimes we need to sit in that reality… that it really is the healthiest thing we can do.  And the most spiritual at that!  We need to share.  We need to be weak.  We need to seek God’s comfort.  We need to come alongside each other.  We desperately need to admit that life is a mess.  Admitting that God Himself suffered when He took on flesh and died on the cross.  That He meets us in the pain.  That He uses bad for good.  That bad is NOT good.  Bad is bad.  But He uses bad for good.  Every time.  Just as He did on the cross.  The greatest evil was transformed into our greatest good.  Into our only hope. 

So we will keep on.  2,000 years ago, God came into our world and submitted Himself to this broken and raw human experience.  He took on flesh because He is Emmanuel: God with us, God suffering with us, God passionate for us, God loving us.  You are seen in the pain.  He sees you.  

Thank God He doesn’t pursue, choose, like, or respond to us based on our charismatic initiative, merit, or positive response to Him.  In stark contrast, there is no hesitation on His lips as He looks at you, His beloved child, and proclaims, “YOU are the one I like.  You.  Simply because you are mine.  I came into this world for you.  I love you.  You are the one I like.

This song (click here) is adapted from Psalm 126; please listen and take these words to heart.

 “For many years, the people have forgotten, they’ve fallen asleep.  
Tonight your pain and longing roused them, helped them to begin to remember something they lost along the way.  
Look out there… see the faces of the men and women, aglow, alive.  
Your doubt-filled trust called them to life.” 
-Patched Together by Brennan Manning