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.

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In Honor of a Great Man

For those of you who have been following my blog, you know that my grandfather, Boyce Dale Lindley, fought a long battle with Alzheimer’s Disease. At 5:42 AM on Wednesday, August 5th, that fight finally drew to a close, and he went to be with the Lord.

Screen Shot 2015-08-11 at 6.00.12 PMI am beyond heartbroken for myself and my family, but I am thrilled for him. I know he stood in front of God’s throne and heard those words we all long for: “Well done, good and faithful servant. You have been faithful over a little; I will set you over much. Enter into the joy of your master.” The things we perceive through a glass darkly are clear to him now. Every mystery has been solved. Every tear has been wiped away by Jesus himself, and there is nothing left but joy eternal.

To me, there was no finer man on this earth. Patient, hardworking, loving, kind, giving, and gentle—he set the standard to which I hold all people. And it is likely none will ever measure up.

If you knew him and would like to sign his memorial page, you may do so here. Also, we are asking that in lieu of flowers, people would consider giving to the missionary fund at his church. Specifics can be found by visiting the link above.

I will be one of three people speaking at his memorial service this Sunday, and I wanted to share my thoughts with you here as well. It is my hope that they will give you some idea of the kind of wonderful man he was.

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Writing a eulogy is no small task. How do you even begin to explain how much a person meant to you or how his presence in your life changed everything for the better? As a writer who believes in the power of narrative, I thought it best to begin with short stories, snapshots that would give you all a sense of the man Boyce Lindley was.

I began recalling memories, scrambling to write them down, and then discarding them almost as rapidly as they came. One was too flippant. Another was a family joke that would take too long to explain. A few were much too sad for a “homegoing” like this one. There were moments I remembered vividly, but when I held them up to the light of others’ recollections, I realized I had embellished mine a bit—decorated it with prose-y flourishes that filled in the gaps and made it more satisfying.

But just because it’s satisfying doesn’t make it true. And if there is anything I hope to do for my grandfather today it is to speak truly of him because he deserves nothing less.

There are people I’ve lost after long battles with cancer—my great uncle James, my young friend Trevor Alexander, a bright and promising student named Catie Carter—and remember them well. For each, there are bright, concentrated moments, as golden and gilt as the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel. But for all their brilliance, they are but a scant handful of memories. Bright drops of color on the canvas of my life.

But for my grandfather there are no standout moments, no highlight reel I can play, no bullet list to quickly go through to explain why he means so much to me. At first, this realization caused me no small amount of panic. What kind of granddaughter was I if I couldn’t remember my precious grandfather down to the most meticulous of details? And there was grief too, wedged between my ribs, thick and immovable, because I believed I had somehow lost something in my negligence. That somehow all the years of knowing Boyce Dale Lindley had been rubbed away and faded by time, never to be returned to me.11855673_10153577670751789_6362311139780261916_n

But then I thought about my grandfather and the kind of man he was. He was rarely front and center in our family. That was a task he left to my grandmother, his two bright and vivacious daughters, and his three gregarious grandchildren. No, he was happiest watching others, sitting or working quietly on the periphery—helping when and wherever he was needed. Always there, always in the moment, in a supporting role. You would always find him out front sweeping the sidewalk, whistling to himself, washing dishes in the kitchen, or taking out the endless bags of trash our family seems to create every time we’re together. Thankless but necessary jobs—ones that he happily completed for decades.

There was but one exception to this rule.

At the gaming table, he was a king. He was also our scorekeeper, arch nemesis, and teacher extraordinaire. He was never one to turn down a hand of dominoes or hearts, beloved games in our family. In fact, he played them both like a Vegas-level professional—with remarkable skill and style. No matter how many steps ahead you thought, he had already gone as step or two further. He was man who had no college degree to his name but could manage to complete complicated math problems in his head and remember years worth of sales figures on the spot. As I was fond of saying regarding his talent with the bones, “Papaw could make off a dead dog.” And though he beat you consistently, you couldn’t find it in yourself to get upset—because on those rare occasions the victory was yours, he’d celebrate like it was his own.

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I didn’t spend time with him sporadically, as I did with my beloved great uncle James, or know him for only a few short months, which was the case with Trevor and Catie. Boyce Lindley was there in the hospital when I was born. He swam with my brother and me for hours on end, long after he was waterlogged and ready to get out. He was a part of Sunday dinners, fish fries, church picnics, and cookouts. He was there for the big moments—recitals and holidays and graduations, family reunions, trips to Disney World, and days at the beach—and for all the run-of-the-mill days in between. For 30+ years, this man was an ever-present and influential participant in my life. That’s not the kind of exposure that leaves behind a few bright blobs. No, it’s the kind that saturates everything it touches.

Boyce Lindley is in my DNA yes, but that’s just simple genealogy. What matters more is what he did in this life. That has sticking power. And it’s tucked deeply into the marrow and bone of me.

I am patient because I never once saw him lose his temper. I give of my finances and time because he showed me how important it was to do so. When I am kind, the person on the receiving end has Boyce Lindley to thank for it. I know what it means to be a Christ follower because I watched him do it without fail for 37 years.

Each moment with him was like a drip of bright blue that fell into the clear pool of my heart, gradually turning it from sky to cornflower, cobalt to navy. That’s why I have no standout memories that feature him alone in the starring role. Simply put, there is no dividing line between us, no moment where he ends and I begin. I am thoroughly infused with him—each member of my family and every person who ever had the privilege to know him is too. And in that way, he will live on in and through and even beyond us. So yes, today we’re all blue, but not only with sadness. And that’s a very good thing.

Heart of Stone, Heart of Flesh

There are times when “God did it” is the only answer that makes sense.

Last Thursday, Wayne and I attended a “Family Meet Up” event in Atlanta. In essence, it was an adoption fair where representatives and case workers from all the regions in Georgia came together with information and flyers about kids who were available for adoption in their areas. The goal? To match prospective adopters like us with adoptees in need.

I expected the event to be interesting but perhaps not overly busy, but every time I’ve gone to a foster care adoption event, I’ve been pleasantly surprised to find the place is full of interested families and single parents. Well, as per usual, this place was packed to capacity, and folks were asking questions, giving and taking names, and making connections like crazy. It was overwhelming to say the least.

Wayne and I visited each booth, each of which had a different theme. Some were simple and cute: a cowboy themed “Adoption Round Up” and another called “Matchup Madness” that was, you guessed it, all about basketball. My two favorites were a Lego themed one called “Build a Strong Family” and a Peter Pan one called “From Neverland to Foreverland.”

Well, we finally got to the Frozen themed booth (“Some People Are Worth Waiting For”), and something interesting happened. No, it didn’t make me like Frozen—that isn’t even a possibility. They had several sibling groups, so we started asking questions of the case worker in charge of finding them permanent homes. We were discussing a brother and sister, and then she dropped a bomb.

In the brochure, it stated that the boy had a “medical condition.” It turns out that condition is cystic fibrosis.

The entire time we’ve been looking to adopt, one thing Wayne and I have agreed on is that we cannot adopt a child with special needs. Our reason? We just don’t have the bandwidth. We both work outside the home and have only a handful of relatives nearby, all of whom are several hours away.

My reaction to this news should have been an audible gasp, a cluck of the tongue, a “Poor baby,” and a subtle return of the flyer to the table. Thanks, but no thanks.

But none of that happened. Instead, I said, “Tell me more. How did they come into care?”

I didn’t back away. And almost a week—and a few hours of research into CF later—I still haven’t stopped thinking about that boy and his little sister. And though everything in me is saying, What are you doing!? This is too much for you to handle. Get real.You’re not strong enough…loving enough…faithful enough…patient enough…spiritual enough, I still can’t quite let go of it.

A few months ago, my CEO preached on the moment in Joshua 4 when Israel crossed the Jordan on dry land and erected twelve memorial stones to remind them of God’s miracle. At the end, he invited each of us to come to the front and select a stone of our own from the pile in front of him. We were supposed to use it either to mark something God had done for us or something we were praying for him to do.

I drew this….

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I keep telling God I’d like a little boy and a little girl, ages eight and six respectively.

Guess what the brother and sister we talked to that case worker about are? Yep, eight and six.

Maybe it’s just a coincidence. Or maybe that’s the reason CF hasn’t scared me off yet. I keep thinking about how hard those kids’ lives have been, especially his. Not only does he live each and every day wondering who is going to feed him, shelter him, and take him to school. He also has to wonder if he’ll get his breathing treatment and if someone will help him clear the mucus from his lungs. He has to wonder if anyone will take him to the doctor when he’s sick and get him the many medications he needs. If someone will hold him when the coughing just won’t stop and will love him as their child even though they will be asked to attend his funeral one day.

And the thought of a child being asked to bear all that leaves me furious and brokenhearted at the same time. Me…the woman who never wanted kids and who, even after she said yes to adoption, added the caveat “but absolutely no kids with special needs.”

If that’s not a moment where you have to say,”God did it,” I don’t know what is.

I’ve been praying for God to change my heart, to break it for what breaks his, and to soften it in preparation for all the challenges Wayne and I are going to face. I’m essentially asking him to do what he promised in Ezekiel 36:26-27: “And I will give you a new heart, and a new spirit I will put within you. And I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh. And I will put my Spirit within you, and cause you to walk in my statutes and be careful to obey my rules.”

I’m starting to realize that, no, I will never be spiritual enough or strong enough. I will never be sufficient for the task to which I’ve been called. But I’m not supposed to be. However, Jesus is all that and more, and recognizing that has given me a peace about our adoption that I’ve not experienced in the many months we’ve been attending classes, filling out paperwork, and meeting with case workers.

I’ve come to understand that a heart of stone doesn’t protect me or keep me from getting hurt. It only prohibits me from feeling the emotions (both good and bad) that I need to experience to become who I am meant to be. God doesn’t give us a heart of flesh only to leave it exposed to the elements and susceptible to wounds. Quite the opposite is true. The apostle Paul tells us, “the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus” (Phil. 4:7).

I may not adopt this little boy and girl, but the sudden and inexplicable willingness to do so taught me a great deal about myself, God’s design, and how he does indeed purpose all things—even a headstrong, unwilling mom—for good.

The Sunshine State (A Guest Post Over At YouAreHereStories.com)

I was honored to have a piece published over at youareherestories.com today. If you haven’t checked out this site before, go! There is new writing posted almost daily from six staff writers plus lowly guests like myself. And every single article has to do with the topic of place in all its various forms and fashions.

 

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Florida has two seasons: summer and January. And flip flops can (and should) be worn during both.

Cradled between the Atlantic Ocean and its more laidback cousin, the Gulf of Mexico, it quietly putters along while the states above it tromp through seasons and mark time in the usual fashion. Like Peter Pan’s Neverland, Florida is a green, sun-soaked playground where April is indistinguishable from October and a staggering array of flowers blossom year-round between gumbo-limbo trees and cabbage palms.

To a nine-year-old child like me, born in the grubby northeast corner of Arkansas….

To read the rest, click here!

 

When There Are No Words

The world is filled with perfect words.

Sometimes, it’s because of the way they sound. Is there a better term to describe the sound mud makes under your boot that squelch? Could bacon do anything other than sizzle in the pan?

Other times, words possess a certain rightness because they’re the ideal way to express a mood or feeling. Take languish for instance, a word that means “to become weak; to droop or fade.” With all its long vowels, it slides slowly from the tongue and softens the mouth. Even the “g” in its center hangs like a fat cat’s belly, as if it barely has the strength to hold itself upright.

There are words like décolletage, anathema, palimpsest, and paronymous, all desirable for their rarity. There are also well-worn ones —friend, laugh, peace—that are threadbare from being frequently pulled from our linguistic back pockets. And like the Velveteen Rabbit, they are all the more loved for their familiarity.

Some words are so precise that they don’t have an equivalent in another language. French has retrouvailles, which means “the happiness of meeting again after a long time.” And German—a language known for plosive and guttural sounds—boasts backpfeifengesicht or “a face that cries out for a fist in it.”

English speakers know all to well that our mother tongue favors quantity over quality. So finding the perfect word means we must rummage through piles of synonyms to it suss out. Why, even a simple word like happy has more than fifty cousins—everything from cheerful and merry to ecstatic and jubilant. And like the crayons in a child’s color box, each one is a slightly different shade, a degree warmer or cooler, brighter or dimmer than those around it.

But there are also times when there is no perfect word, no combination of consonants and vowels can capture exactly we want to say.

My grandparents outside their home Arkansas in 1957.
My grandparents outside their home Arkansas in 1957.

My grandfather has Alzheimer’s disease, and his mind has declined to the point that institutionalized care is necessary. Thankfully, I can use the term in the loosest sense of the word. Far from institutional, the place where he lives has fewer than thirty patients and is filled with the trappings of home—everything from vases full of fresh flowers to hand towels in the bathrooms. People volunteer to read to and play games with the residents. A hairdresser comes in once a week to give the men a quick trim and the ladies a wash and set. Home cooked meals and snacks are served at the same time each day in the communal dining area. I’ve stayed in hotels that didn’t boast such amenities.

But this isn’t a cozy bed and breakfast. It’s a place for people who will never improve, and like the Eagles say of their symbolic Hotel California, “You can check out any time you like, but you can never leave.” This was made clear to me when I realized the doors there required a code to get out as well as in. It’s a simple sequence: 2-0-1-5. The current year. Four digits visitors can’t forget but that their loved ones can barely remember. Because when memories are scattered like Pick-Up Stix across the kitchen floor, keeping track of time isn’t as simple as it once was.

Because I live several hours away from my grandfather, I was the only member of my family who had yet to visit him in this place, and that made me feel as if I was letting him down somehow, shirking my duties as a granddaughter because I had yet to take stock of his situation.

My grandfather was the manager of Wal-Mart #36 in Paragould, Arkansas. He was respected and beloved by his employees.
My grandfather was the manager of Wal-Mart #36 in Paragould, Arkansas. He was respected and beloved by his employees.

So I went with my mother, grandmother, husband, and kid cousin to sit with him for a few hours. We planned on enjoying the mild Florida weather in the large screened-in porch out back, to sit in the swings and talk of pleasanter times. But the instant we walked through the door, one of the patients saw my grandmother and cried, “Play! Please play!”

Unlike me, she visits daily, and part of her routine involves sitting down at the wheezy, grumbling piano to plunk out familiar tunes like “God Bless America” and “Yankee Doodle Dandy” in addition to the many hymns she can perform from memory. She nods and pats the poor woman’s spindly hands reassuringly.

As she plays, her cherry red acrylic fingernails clicking on the plastic keys like a woodpecker jabbing in search of a juicy beetle, many of the patients grow still and close their eyes. Some sing. For others, the verses and choruses vanished long ago, but the tune is still there, stubborn until the end. And so they hum.

My grandfather is one of the latter. And as my grandmother finishes the final verse of “He Hideth My Soul” and switches over to “The Old Rugged Cross,” I watch his trembling lips struggle to form the once familiar words….

“On a hill far away stood and old rugged cross, the emblem of suffering and shame…”

How many times has he sung this? I wondered. How many camp meetings, gospel sings, and Sunday services? And the words are just gone?

My grandfather, grandmother, mother, and aunt -- Father's Day 1991
My grandfather, grandmother, mother, and aunt — Father’s Day 1991

What was it I felt in that moment? It was both pity and something deeper. There was pride too, because Alzheimer’s hadn’t claimed every inch of him. Frustration. Rage. Confusion. Heartache certainly. And there was also love—a tenderness so fierce it could crush bone. They were all correct words in their way, but there wasn’t one that represented the sum total.

I could see it on my cousin’s face however. It was the mix of sadness, confusion, and grief that comes when you realize your life has been irrevocably changed—and not for the better.

I knew he saw the same expression on mine as we both sat fighting back tears, the kind that constrict your throat and make your eyes burn but never quite spill over. For that small mercy, you’re grateful. Because once you start sobbing, it will crack you wide open and release those emotions words don’t dare lay claim to. And despite the fact you are finally able to voice your hurt, you do so in a language only you can understand.

 

The Family -- Thanksgiving 2014
The Family — Thanksgiving 2014

 

Ho Ho Horrible?

It’s officially December, which means Christmas will be here before we know it. This year is our first in a house–a real home with a garage and trash day and lawn service–so we thought we’d celebrate Jesus’ birth in fine style with a real Christmas tree, which is something we’ve never had. It’s been up for two days, and the floor is covered in needles. But the house smells great (as does the cat’s head).

My grandmother was kind enough to give us a box or three of ornaments to save us a little money, but we wanted the tree to have a few things on it that were uniquely us. My parents’ tree is covered in different items gathered over a lifetime spent celebrating together, and there’s a story behind almost every piece. Wayne and I began that tradition this year. Here’s what I picked…

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Yes, it’s a very traditional choice, I know. However, it didn’t seem fitting to have a tree without a Rudolph themed ornament on it. Also, it’s a tree decoration depicting something decorating a tree. It was too meta to pass up.

Wayne chose to go with something a little less traditional but very much him.

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Yep, that’s Animal (his favorite Muppet) wearing a Santa hat. It’s positively festive if I do say so myself.

There are also a few musical notes and instruments—mostly French horns due to the fact they’re ubiquitous at Christmas. Sadly, few people associate the trombone (or even the sackbut) with the holidays.

I look forward to building our collection of tree trimmings, but there are also things my parents have that I look forward to owning one day. None more than the lovely and gracious decoration we fondly call Ho Ho.

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My mother made this guy when she was in middle school. Originally, the thing was supposed to be a pillow, but she got fed up with it less than halfway through. Instead, it’s pinned to what looks to be a piece of cardboard. There are six large circles about the size of liter glass bottles, and I swear I can see the faint impression of 7UP in one of them. The “Ho Ho” is done skillfully in the best felt her craft basket could offer. (Who cares if it’s one “Ho” short!?) You will notice that he is a bit askew. That’s because she lost count several times and made a few extra loops without changing colors first. Also, she didn’t have any black yarn, so Santa’s boots and eyes are an electric shade of purple. When I was a kid, I imagined Ho Ho was phasing, like someone on Star Trek, or he was a ghost taking shape. (I think I was mostly concerned because the poor little guy doesn’t have any arms.)

It started as a joke of sorts really, putting Ho Ho out in the house. For years, it was set above the doorway separating the den from the living room at my grandparents’ house in Arkansas. But when we moved to Florida, Ho Ho was placed in the box with essential decorations like the manger scene and precious and irreplaceable homemade ornaments. It wasn’t even a question of where it deserved to be.

At first, I think we gleefully put it out in a place of prominence to give my mom some grief. But every year, we’d all cheer when it came out of the box. Someone was given the honor of placing him on a table or a shelf where everyone who came to our home could see him in all his glory. And it was a big deal to do it! The first time Wayne was asked to do the honors, his face lit up because he knew he was truly a member of the family. I think Elisha handled Elijah’s mantle less carefully. (Okay, that may be gilding the lily a bit, but you get the idea.)

One of the many things I love about Christmas is that we all celebrate it, but no two families do so in exactly the same way. Last year, I wrote about Chipmunk Day, which is something I’ve always thought was fairly unique to my clan. However, there are tons of other things we look forward to. Getting new pajamas, making my dad sing “Two Turtle Doves” because it irritates the snot out of him, watching Emmet Otter’s Jug Band Christmas, eating party pizzas, reading the Christmas story from Luke, playing hearts and dominoes, my grandparents sneaking into our rooms on Christmas morning to sing and wake us up—this is the stuff that a truly joyful yuletide is made of. Other families may do totally different things to celebrate, and I’m willing to bet they look forward to their traditions as much as we do ours. Whatever you love as a family, that’s Christmas.

It’s pretty safe to say that no one else in the entire world has a Ho Ho. And that’s what makes him perfect. Martha Stewart might not call him a “good thing,” but we sure do.

Do you have some Christmas traditions you’re looking forward to? Do you have a “Ho Ho” of your own that’s already in a place of honor at your house? I’d love to hear about your traditions. Tell me about them in the comments section below!

Merry Christmas!!!

I Sing Because…

There are rare moments when God blesses His children beyond measure, and what you’re going to read below is an example of just that. If you had told me two years ago that I would have been living in Atlanta and working full time for a magazine, I would have called you a dirty liar. However, after a long, dark period of strife that I’m not going to get into here, I’ve finally made it to a mountaintop. From where I now stand, I grasp the reasons for the spiritual valleys I’ve had to walk through. Like so many things in life, God has put them in their proper perspective.

The August issue of In Touch Magazine features two people who are very special to me–my grandparents, Boyce and Sybil Lindley. They are also going through a spiritual valley right now, one that they never expected to have to slog through. However, they aren’t walking through it alone. It was my pleasure and my honor to share their story with our readers this month, and I do hope what I wrote helps a couple or a family going through the same struggle they are.

 

 

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