Stone of Help

As I mentioned in my most recent post, the last several months have been hard ones at our house. We’ve been under a fairly high amount of stress, and as a result, none of us has been our best selves as of late. No, that’s putting it too mildly. We’ve all been impatient with one another, unloving and prone to anger. Thankfully, the source of all that strife is in the rearview mirror (aside from a few little odds and ends that we’ll be dealing with for a few more months, but they’re totally manageable).

Now, we have a “mess” to clean up. We have to go back over the last year or so and really take a hard look at ourselves, both as individuals and as a family. To that end, I decided some time ago that we needed to have a kind of “reset,” something involving a spiritual application and a project we would all do together, something that we could point to and say, “This is when we made a decision to do, be, and live better.”

The idea for exactly what that something would be hit me when a co-worker shared Ephesians 4:2 from The Living Bible: “Be humble and gentle. Be patient with each other, making allowance for each other’s faults because of your love.” If that ain’t a great verse for a family on the mend, I don’t know what is!

We did a pretty deep dive into the first sixteen verses of the chapter:

I therefore, a prisoner for the Lord, urge you to walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which you have been called, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. There is one body and one Spirit—just as you were called to the one hope that belongs to your call— one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all. But grace was given to each one of us according to the measure of Christ’s gift. Therefore it says, “When he ascended on high he led a host of captives, and he gave gifts to men.” (In saying, “He ascended,” what does it mean but that he had also descended into the lower regions, the earth? He who descended is the one who also ascended far above all the heavens, that he might fill all things.) And he gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the shepherds and teachers, to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ, so that we may no longer be children, tossed to and fro by the waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by human cunning, by craftiness in deceitful schemes. Rather, speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ, from whom the whole body, joined and held together by every joint with which it is equipped, when each part is working properly, makes the body grow so that it builds itself up in love.

We talked about growing in Christlikeness. We talked about the importance of love first. We talked about unity and how to get and maintain it, as well as why it is important in a family and in the body of Christ. And the way we maintain that unity is through four things (all mentioned in verse two): humility, gentleness, patience, and love. So that’s what we chose to focus on for our project.

First, I bought some supplies on Amazon—acrylic paint, paint pens, a sealant, and a bag of large basalt stones for painting. (You can enlarge any photo by clicking on it.)

I figured it would be a good idea to paint the rocks with the base coat before the event, so that’s what I did. Two coats of white acrylic paint were plenty to prepare our “canvasses.”

We sat down with the paint pens and some scratch paper. I told everyone to come up with a design that would help them remember what the word meant (per our discussion).

After about thirty minutes, we sealed them, and they were ready to display alongside a print of the verse I hired someone on Etsy to design. We chose to put everything in the foyer of our house because it’s a space we all walk through multiple times a day. We have to pass it often, and that keeps it on our minds. It’s a way to practice the commandment found in Deuteronomy 6:4-9: “Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might. And these words that I command you today shall be on your heart. You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise. You shall bind them as a sign on your hand, and they shall be as frontlets between your eyes. You shall write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates.”

The act of putting it on a wall also gave us a chance to discuss exactly what an Ebenezer or “stone of help” is (1 Samuel 7 and Joshua 4). We explained to the kids how Israel used them to memorialize what God had done for them, to keep from forgetting his kindness and deliverance. And that’s precisely what God did for our family—he protected us (both from the world and ourselves) and delivered us in our time of greatest need. Amen.

Here are close ups of the rocks we painted. (If you’re wondering, I’m “be gentle.”)

But I Thought…

Since I became a foster-to-adopt parent in 2015, I’ve learned a lot about assumptions. Just like our boys, my husband and I are white. We’re both just shy of 40, the perfect age to have two kids under the age of eleven. Because of these two facts, many people assume they’re our biological children.

Oftentimes, that is a blessing. We don’t have to tell people their story or make our sons feel awkward or different if we don’t have to. Other times, it has been a hindrance. People assume our youngest is acting out because he’s willful or because we’re lax when it comes to discipline. But the truth is that he is coming to us from a hard place and is still working through the trauma that sent him on the long journey to our front door.

People assume things about adoptive parents, too. This is why I shouldn’t have been confused when a woman I had dinner with recently said, “Well, after you’ve been through the pain of infertility, your children must be such a blessing.” She finished the statement with a knowing wink and a pat on my hand that set her bracelets to jangling. “The Lord certainly heard your prayers, didn’t he?”

Here’s the thing. My husband and I didn’t struggle to conceive, give up, and “settle for” adoption. On the contrary, I’m likely as fertile as the Nile during flood season. We chose not to have biological children for reasons both personal and medical, but when God started leading us to adopt a sibling group here in Georgia, we obeyed.

When I revealed this fact, she sat in stunned silence for a moment, trying to process the information.

Yes, I wanted to say, neither of us fancied children. Yes, when we did choose to adopt, we never considered an infant. Yes, we wanted more than one. Yes, we chose a child with special needs. And no, we’re not crazy people with a martyr complex.

As Christians, we assume we know what adoption is all about. For instance, we know that God executes justice for the fatherless (Deut. 10:18) and that pure and undefiled religion requires the care of widows and orphans (James 1:27), but when it comes to carrying out that high and holy calling, obedience doesn’t always come easily.

It certainly didn’t for us. We dragged our feet at several points in the process, scared out of our minds by an adoption horror story or alarming statistics. But God was patient with us, and despite our fumbling, halting steps, he led us to where we find ourselves today.

And our adoption story—like most folks’—isn’t chock full of Hallmark Channel movie moments. There are tearful, emotional days that end with my husband and I talking in the dark, admitting to one another what big, fat failures we are. But there are also ones filled with small miracles and mercies—good behavior at school, a successful afternoon speech therapy session, a peaceful family dinner. We treasure each one of those days because they mean we’re making progress. Still, more often than not, parenthood has left us singing “Life In Wartime” by the Talking Heads: “This ain’t no party. This ain’t no disco. This ain’t no fooling around.”

We assumed we knew what we were getting into. We were wrong. Oh brother, were we wrong.

Adoption has been both harder than we ever expected and more rewarding than we anticipated. Just as he was when we started this whole crazy mess, God has been with us every step of the way. And for some reason, I can’t help but assume he’s been enjoying himself immensely.

Raising Super Men In the Age of Wonder Woman

Like millions of other fans, I happily plunked down $13 to launch Wonder Woman into blockbuster status on its opening weekend. In fact, I was so excited that I purchased dress-up kits for my gal pal, Amy, and me. Yes, as 40-somethings, we attended a film resplendent in plastic tiaras and gauntlets. Come at us, bro.

But what do to with the things after the movie? They’re not display worthy, and while I felt fun and totally awesome in them at the theater, I don’t think I could wear them to jaunt about town. But I do have two kids, a daring duo of boys who love any and everything to do with superheroes. One has a DC themed bedroom and can’t get enough of The Flash or Superman. The other is surrounded by all things Marvel and loves Captain America and Spiderman. We have figures. Costumes. Web shooters. Shields that shoot projectiles. Marvel Tsum Tsums. Superhero pillows and Legos. The list goes on and on, and as a mother who loves all things comics, I am thrilled to be able to share all my nerdy knowledge with the kiddos.

When we got home from the theater, I asked the kids if they wanted the gauntlets, tiara, and Wonder Woman badge, fully expecting them to say, “No thanks. That’s girl stuff.” But get this…they fought over it!

“The crown shoots a laser!” my youngest shrieked.

“I bet these things can stop Thor’s hammer,” the oldest said, clumsily buckling them on his skinny wrists. They have plans to share the WW logo, wearing it on their capes.

It warmed me down to the cockles of my cold, stone libertarian heart to see this. They don’t see Wonder Woman as a “female super hero” on a team, but as “a superhero” like the male ones they so admire. Like their daddy (who was as excited to see the movie as I), they see women as strong, beautiful, fierce, independent—different than males certainly, but equal to them in every way. And this has come with very little coaching on our part.

Over the two years we’ve had them in our home, there’s been a discussion every time someone used the phrase, “You hit/run/swing/pitch/play/act like a girl!” in a derogatory way, and the incidences are now down to near zilch. They’ve learned to hold the doors open for ladies and to end their addresses to women with the words “ma’am” or “miss.” My husband has certainly led the charge. As the head of our household and alpha male extraordinaire, he bears most of the responsibility for “training them up in the way they should go.” It’s been wonderful to see him explaining how powerful the Scarlet Witch is or pointing out how Princess Allura is just as integral to the success of Voltron: Legendary Defender as Pidge, Hunk, Lance, Keith, or Takashi. (Spoiler Alert: Pidge is a girl in this version, too, which is a nice bonus!)

He also makes sure to point out the women in the Bible. Sure, we talk about David and Goliath, Jonah and the Whale, the skeletons in the Valley of Dry Bones—all the kinds of things boys love—but they also know the stories of Rahab, Shiphrah and Puah, Deborah, Esther, and Mary. They’re aware of the valuable contributions these ladies have made to the kingdom, how God uses women as well as men to accomplish his purposes on this earth. And I can’t help but think that this equal “screen time” is helping frame their worldview the right way. We hope it will help them become wise men of valor who esteem and honor their future wives and all the other women they come into contact with. 

The ship of progress turns by slight degrees, and hopefully by the time our two little nuggets are out there in the world, they won’t be happily shocked to see a movie directed by a woman with a female in the lead role. It’ll be a matter of course.
We can’t let them see the movie just yet as they’re still a bit too wee for it, but in another year or two, we’ll show them all the stories we love. And I firmly believe they’ll be as stoked to watch Wonder Woman in action as I was.

 

 

Blue On Red: The Women of “The Handmaid’s Tale”

“Ye know not what ye ask. Are ye able to drink of the cup that I shall drink of, and to be baptized with the baptism that I am baptized with?” — Matthew 20:22 (KJV)

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We’re now four episodes into Hulu’s marvelous adaptation The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood, and the show is hitting me hard in ways both expected and surprising. For instance, I had no doubt that systematic, institutionally-endorsed rape would be disturbing on a whole host of levels, but I’m actually seeing the sinister aspects of Scrabble, macaroons, and Latin primers.

There is much to explore in this show, but one thing I’ve found particularly compelling is the interplay between two groups of “legitimate” women in Gilead’s hierarchy: the Wives and the Handmaids. The Wives are taking quite a bit of heat from viewers (and rightly so). One author calls them the true “gender traitors”; another says they are “cruelly complacent.” And it is impossible to deny either of those descriptions when several of the scenes involve Serena Joy clutching cruelly onto Offred’s wrists during “the ceremony.”

Breathe. Hold. Push.
But the scene that throws this relationship into sharpest relief happens in episode two, “Birth Day.” I’ll give you a brief run down. In one room of a palatial estate, the Wives sit around Naomi, the Wife of Ofwarren’s Commander. She is in labor, but hers is of the faux variety.

Dressed in an elegant white nightgown, she reclines against a nest of pristine pillows on ivory carpet, sunshine streaming through the windows. A harp plays soothing music in the background. The Wives, in their standard blue attire, encourage her through her false pains—the only experience of childbirth she can ever have since she is sterile—all the while drinking tea from prim china cups, feasting on nibbles, and quietly repeating the word “breathe.”

The rhythmic chanting is also going on upstairs, but the words “hold” and “exhale” are added to the mix. Here, the handmaid Ofwarren (A.K.A. Janine), assisted by several of the dismal brown Aunts and a passel of red-clad Handmaids, is doing the real teeth-gritting work of birth—complete with the screaming, panting, and valor it requires.

Offred, via voiceover, sums it up perfectly: “There’s a smell coming from that room, something primal. It’s the smell of dens, of inhabited caves. It’s the smell of the plaid blanket on the bed where the cat gave birth before she was spayed. It’s the smell of genesis.”

Despite the vast number of people in the room, we recognize the moment for what it is. And that makes it one of the most “normal” scenes in the show…until, well, things get very weird and very Gileadean again.

When the time comes to push, the Wife is brought in to experience the moment of birth. She sits behind Ofwarren in a birthing chair—an echo of the ceremony that made this baby possible in the first place—and mimes the moment until the child is born. There’s an instant of respectful silence until Aunt Lydia pronounces the baby to be a healthy girl.

All the women celebrate, and for a fleeting second, there’s harmony. Then the cord is cut and the girl is wrapped up in a clean blanket, but rather than be handed back to the woman who carried her and brought her into the world, she is given to Naomi who has settled into her “rightful place”—the bed Ofwarren previously occupied. As far as the Wives and Aunts are concerned, Naomi has always been there. The birth mother doesn’t exist.

As they coo and carry on over the little miracle, the Handmaids are left to look on from a distance and care for Ofwarren who sobs into her hands. In a moment of solidarity (that also bears a striking resemblance to another, less lovely group scene in the first episode), they wrap arms around the poor woman to comfort her.

It’s very easy to hate the Wives here. After all, they’ve done none of the sweating, bleeding, or suffering. They’ve sacrificed nothing for this moment—only swooped in to capture the prize that makes it all worth it. Yes, they are part of the evil system that made this all possible. Yes, they are cruel and capricious and oppressive. Yes, they are preying on those weaker than they. But—and hear me out here—they are victims too in a way. Like the Handmaids, they endure the ceremony designed by men. They live within the tight confines of the caste system. They feel fear, loss, and shame.

In the hierarchy, they have greater power. Yet when it comes to childbirth—the great pinnacle of achievement for women in this dictatorship—they are powerless. They can do nothing to make themselves (or their husbands) fertile. For that reason and others, theirs is a hollow existence, and all they can do is watch and yearn and covet. Say what you will, but that’s a lousy place to be.

What’s Yours Is Mine
Unlike the women of Gilead, I never needed to give birth. I likely never will. I am, however, a mother of two young boys my husband and I adopted from the foster care system. I didn’t go through the months of pain and suffering it took to bring them into being. The State gave them to me.

It must be acknowledged that my sons’ birth mother made poor choices. She didn’t see to their welfare and, at times, even put them in danger. Despite multiple opportunities to change, she did not. She has yet to do so. And yet…

Once the adoption was finalized, we applied for updated birth certificates, ones that show their new names. When they arrived, our lawyer advised me to check over everything and make sure all the spellings were correct and the dates accurate. That’s when I saw something that left me dumbfounded. In the section labeled “mother,” my name was written. My birthdate. My address at the time of the delivery. My state of birth.

All evidence of their biological mother is gone.

Her name and information is buried in court records and electronic details, but as far as this piece of legally binding paperwork is concerned, she’s a ghost.

At each stage of the adoption process, I never lost sight of her. I always reminded myself that my good days—ones where the legal system did its job and brought the kids one step closer to being ours forever—were likely her worst.

I didn’t “steal” her children as Naomi and the Wives did, but some tiny part of me understands their joy. I have children to love and care for, to raise and celebrate. Their base hits in little league are mine. Their science fair wins and good report cards. I’m the one they run to now saying “Mama!” with their little arms outstretched. And while I relish every moment of it, a piece of me knows it came with a price.

So no, I can’t fully hate the Wives though they are petty, heartless creatures. In some ways, I even pity them. Their children and mine became ours as a result of a broken world, one filled with hate, heartache, and sin. But thankfully, a better day is coming—not in the form of a bloody coup, but in the One, the pioneer of our salvation who drank the cup of suffering and died to bring many adopted sons and daughters to glory.

 

 

Cutting It Close

Tell me if this sounds familiar….

One kid has a toy. The other kid wants that toy. Kid two whines and complains incessantly, trying to get what he wants. Kid one protests and tells kid two to leave him alone. Drama escalates. You get dragged into it. People scream. Nothing is resolved. Everyone is stressed, and the toy that started the brouhaha has been forgotten in the fracas that ensued.

My husband and I used to try to be diplomatic in such moments. We attempted to get them to share, to take turns, to negotiate and find a solution to the problem themselves. Sometimes, that worked, but there are days when no amount of talking it out, no amount of stone cold logic will solve the problem. On those days, I institute what I’ve come to call the “Occam’s Razor approach to parenting.”

Never heard of it? Let’s start with a little history.

The principle was created by William of Ockham, a Franciscan friar who lived in the 14th century. A philosopher and theologian, he wrote about logic, epistemology, natural philosophy, political philosophy, metaphysics, and ethics. Though he wrote a great deal and taught at the University of Oxford, he is best known for his principle called Occam’s razor. Basically, it states that “entities should not be multiplied unnecessarily.” Some Latin versions read like this:

Pluralitas non est ponenda sine neccesitate.
Frustra fit per plura quod potest fieri per pauciora.
Entia non sunt multiplicanda praeter necessitatem.

In other words, all things being equal, the simplest solution is best.

keep-calm-and-use-occam-s-razorNow this applies in different ways in the sciences, technology, and philosophy. But it’s application to parenting is simple. Take the case I mentioned above. Rather than waste time fighting or trying to reason with children, I choose the simplest solution. In this case, taking the toy away from both kids. Problem solved!

Kid doesn’t like food? Don’t serve it to him. (We often place a bowl of plain oatmeal in front of the offender on this one. Helped cut down on kvetching pretty quick.)

Can’t agree on what movie to watch? Don’t turn one on.

Fighting over Pokemon cards? Catch ’em all yourself!

One kid accuses the other of cheating at a board game? Pack it up.

Kid doesn’t listen to you because he’s looking at a tablet? Take it, and give it back only when you feel like it. Or, simper and better still, don’t buy a tablet at all.

As you can see, the applications are limitless.

I can hear your objections already. “That’s not fair,” you’re saying. “Why should kid one go without the toy? He didn’t start it!”

You’re correct. I am punishing kid one to an extent. However, if you parent more than one child, you know that they change roles constantly. There are days when kid one is the whiner, the beggar, the aggressor and kid two is the aggrieved party. (Only Mary and Joseph had a perfect kid that didn’t start anything.) If both kids know that something they want can be taken away because of dickering, both are less likely to start a fight. With us as the common enemy, the boys have a reason to put those negotiating skills to use, which is what we were trying to get them to do in the first place. This principle has cut the drama in our home down by at least half, and we’re all happier for it.

How about you all? Do you handle things a little differently when the kids start tearing each other’s throats out? Thinking about trying this method? I’d love to hear your feedback, so leave me a comment!

Sticker Shock

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At first glance, this magnet on the back of my car is nothing special. It’s hardly as cool as my “Team Oxford Comma” sticker or the logo of my beloved St. Louis Cardinals. Heck, even my Valdosta State University alumnae badge of honor is more unique.


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Like hundreds of other folks in the place a call home, it indicates that I have a curtain climber or two involved in an afterschool activity known as, you guessed it, “Kid Chess.”

Each Tuesday, our dastardly duo finishes their school day and heads for the cafeteria to learn about “the immortal game,” beloved by commonspun philosophers, kings, and titans of industry. For ninety minutes, they learn strategy and play a game or two with classmates on the same skill level as they. Some weeks, the boys sprint out, their faces flushed with the thrill of conquest. Other times, they more closely resemble Eeyore, the beloved sad sack of the Hundred Acre Woods because they’ve been beaten like a tied up goat. But I’m happy either way because they’re learning how to think critically, to be good sports, and to take risks.

But that’s not what makes that goofy blue knight sporting the Def Leppard do so special.

When we were going through the adoption process—filling out mountains of paperwork, taking IMPACT training classes, and meeting with advocates and case managers, every so often, I would think to myself, Do we REALLY want to do this? Are we sure that we’re sure about this life-changing choice?

Most times, the answer was yes. But there were days (more than I care to admit) when I backpedaled from the entire thing. Days when I heard adoption horror stories in the news or from the mouths of well-meaning friends. Days when I came home exhausted and realized just how difficult life could be for a working mother. Days when my selfishness overruled my willingness to obey.

I prayed for peace about what sometimes seemed like an altogether foolhardy endeavor. I asked for confirmation from God, some grand symbol like the ones he gave Moses in the wilderness or during Belshazzar’s feast. Heck, I decided I’d settle for a little dew on some fleece. But the Lord, as we all know, is not in the earthquake, fire, or whirlwind. It’s the still, small voice we should be listening for, the gentle question that comes to us from just outside the safety of our caves.

Days before our paperwork was approved, I was still wrestling with adoption and with all the worries and expectations that are part and parcel with becoming a new parent. But driving home from work one afternoon, I saw a car with one of those silly magnets on the back, and I found myself saying, It might be fun to raise a kid who plays chess.

Wham.

Just like that, I went from worrying about all sorts of things (most of which have not come to pass) to thinking, It might be nice.

And now—one year after children were placed in our home—that magnet is proudly on display on the back hatch of my filthy yellow car. Evidence that God is indeed at work in the details.

 

On the Radio (Whoa Oh)

Today, I had the pleasure of speaking to John Hall and Kathy Emmons on 101.5-WORD FM in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. Mr. Hall read my most recent article on her.meneutics, contacted me through this very blog, and asked if I’d be interested in sharing my story with their listeners. Who knew it was as simple as all that!?

For a person who makes a living behind the relative safety of a keyboard, a live radio session was more than a little daunting, but both hosts were wonderful. They asked some great questions, and I can’t thank them enough for letting me come on to tell folks about adoption—both the hard parts and the beautiful ones.

If you’d like to listen to the interview, please click the player below. (My segment starts around 1:17:44.)

 

 

 

 

And now I have this song stuck in my head.