Opportunity for Mercy

The little life we were overseeing is gone.

Hard to write. Which is why I didn’t. I haven’t known how.

Sigh.

It’s never a straight run, life, is it? I think we are all geared to expect basic ups and downs. The categorizable. This one didn’t fit any of those. Maybe because it was so un-categorizable is the reason I found it so insanely difficult.

Nevaeh came to us by divine ‘accident’, and she left, it felt, by divine disaster.

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I came home with four kids in the back of the van one day to find two strange people at our door waiting for me. From Children’s Aid Society. Never a good sign when you don’t get a date for coffee first.

There had been an “anonymous” accusation against us.

Anything you can imagine will do. Because the accusation was not the point, it was who, I worked out, had made it.

Let’s sigh together.

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Apparently, people who go into fostering the normal way (we didn’t) are told right from the beginning to expect accusations. Because that’s the only power western-world, dependant poor really have – words. In this world, previous abuses within systems supposed to provide care mean that any word hinting of misconduct is taken absolutely seriously. As it should be. However I wonder if it doesn’t give the wrong type of power into the hands of people who have nothing to lose, and everything to gain if they abuse it?

But I digress. I believe I was stalling at describing how terrible the battle that ensued. Between Tim and I. Between CAS and us. Between us and others who were distressed at our decision.

The backstory: my very giving husband had worked with a man who spent a long time in prison at the hands of similar, baseless, and yet powerful words. In similar circumstances.

Our poor and accusing – yet lovely friend – had lived with us. (Here) She knows us inside and out. We loved her. Thought she loved us. And yet …. There was no reason – now – for us to expect she would stop with these words.

We – painfully, and, after battle – agreed we had to protect our home.

We had to let the lovely, intelligent, belligerent, sassy and sweet child we were holding, go. Not into the hands of her Mum, but someone else who we hope will become her Mum. Forever.

The weeks are a blur. It was like a death. We raged, mourned, felt fear, sadness and betrayal. All the key elements of a fabulous novel. Except, non-fiction, and non-fabulous.

IMG_9525Amongst the mess of those weeks was also a suspected heart-attack for a family member; a scoliosis diagnosis for Jesse (no words!); business threats for Tim and ….. and. It felt like running through a constricting tunnel and full force into a fury of molten drama.

It’s better now. We talk about Nevaeh every single day. Pray every day for her Mum, so hurt and so hurting. Last week I said to Jesse I was a bit scared I might see her shopping. He said “Why are you scared?”

“Because I don’t know what I’d say.”

“Why couldn’t you just say ‘Hi! How are you doing?” he asked sincerely.

I love our Jesse. But I want to give her more than that. I want to be able to honestly give her love and mercy.

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I have worked in the developing world and to some degree, with the Canadian version of the poor. And I would say this: it’s easy to “love the poor” when they are not living in your lounge-room.

My experience would direct me to conclude that to love the poor, you need to be able to NOT really know the poor. Jesus would say that real love, the only kind that counts, is when the poor are fully known, and loved anyway.

Which is what he does with me. I am fully known. And fully loved anyway. 

That’s mercy in all its unbelievable, astounding ASTOUNDING beauty and I hope some day I have opportunity to give it as good as Jesus Christ gives it to me every single day.

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Not Living the Lie

So we are fostering this two year old.

I want to be specific: she’s got blond hair, dark eyes, and when she smiles, her eyes crinkle up and she glows out a mouthful of beautiful white teeth. She calls me “Mimmie” and when she is sweet, I’m breathless.

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And yet there’s this: some days, I have gone into our room and sobbed, because when she yelled “no!” and “stop!” at me for the six-zillionth time, and all my attempts to discipline and corrale have failed and the unbelievable screaming has continued, damning me, damning me!, it crossed my mind that I don’t like her. Like, really really want-to-poke-her-eyes-out-with-a-fork don’t like her.

Some days I resent this little life so much because she has let me see the fact of how sinful I really am with unavoidable clarity.

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It’s not a great picture. I try very hard to sketch out something else. I have this dashing husband who works hard and provides for us so well; three kids who are sweet, kind little human beings; we are part of a terrific church. I get my roots done, mow the lawn, try to make school lunches that don’t come from a package. I am trying to live, in my insignificant little sphere, a life directed by the Way of Love.

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Some days I can look around and be content with the progression of things. Tell myself I am Doing OK. Everyone is still alive. Missing no limbs.

Other days, well, see aforementioned room-sobbing. Full disclosure: it has happened more than once.

(Ok, so the period at the end of the previous sentence was a typo. Should have read: more than once …. this week.)

The reality is, I can let you see my life as a lie. When the truth is, none of us are getting it all right all the time, and when we fail, it’s the failures of our hearts that most fill us with shock and horror. Which is why we don’t want each other to see it. “This is not what I thought I was!

And yet. Maybe zeroing in on our hearts is the wrong prey in the crosshairs.

When my Mum asked if I really love Nevaeh like my own yet, I stopped, taken aback. It dawned on me it’s not my feelings I should be focusing on.

My heart is deceitful. I am not meant to “listen” to it, I am meant to “guard against it”.

What I need to set my eyes on is my resolve: I WILL love this life completely. I am willing to love her absolutely. If the willingness is there and I work towards it with deliberation, I have seen over and over again God can deal with something as lousy as a heart.

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It’s all for Jesus anyway. It’s for this: “And if anyone gives even a cup of cold water to one of these little ones because he is my disciple, I tell you the truth, he will certainly not lose his reward.” (Mathew 10:42)

And it’s for this: “Be imitators of God … and live a life of love just as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us.” (Ephesians 5:2)

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We didn’t go seeking this little life to love. It well and truly came to us. We should have been seeking it, because it turns out God is kind of partial to the poor and needy. But we weren’t. We are just trying to obey now God has dropped the opportunity to serve Him into our laps.

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Not living the lie with you means I confess: it’s hard, and some days I hate it, want my old life back.

My trouble is I unconsciously wanted to pick how I would serve God. His will but my way. I wanted to pick the level of sacrifice. Wanted to have the appearance of cross, without actually any of the nails. The ridiculousness is that it’s a two year old that has reduced me to tears, shown me my ugly, selfish heart, and has me crying “Uncle”!

You know I faced down E.coli in our son, right? The two year old has been right up there in difficulty ratings.

Sticky fact.

And you know what? This is what I want everyone trying to do a right-but-hard thing to know: That’s Ok. The actions we choose will trump our feelings.

I choose to love this child. I choose it today and tomorrow and for every day after that God gives us with her. Short time or long time. I choose to kiss her and read her stories and hug her and dance with her and I choose to love her.

One day, this little cross is going to be my crown. One day, this little one I am trying to love will also be one I long for. Because that’s what love does. There is always enough to go around, and if we hold it high above all else, loving in our actions when our hearts want to scratch it out, it will grow and bear fruit.

Because love is not a poem. And my life is not a feeling.

It’s an act of will lived out every single day. So I am going to love when she tells me no, and I am not going to pretend to you it’s easy.

But will my Love Muscle grow because I have worked (it) out daily?

You better believe it.

And will she know she is loved?

ABSOLUTELY.

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Happy

A few weeks ago Jesse was asked to be part of the Children’s Hospital Radio-A-Thon. To tell his story. The very idea of it made me laugh – Jesse? Speaking out loud and at some length so everyone could hear him? I’m not sure he needs words like I do. He’s a man of few words in every way. Instead, he speaks through his ready arms – loving, through his generous laughs, frequent and free; through his almost constant smile, and a readiness to please you.

Such language doesn’t translate on radio.

To survive the Radio-A-Thon, we practised a little story he could offer – “I don’t really remember being sick, because I was too young. What I do know is that I have my Dad’s kidney now, and it works great!”

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They took pictures of Jesse on the day – including the big blob of Blizzard on his shirt – leftover from his face.

On the big day, we did this several times, on several different radio stations, with reasonable success. Me filling in the gaps. Then one host asked Jesse a question off the cuff. “How would you describe yourself today, Jesse?” he said.

I paused, a touch panicked. Didn’t know whether to jump in and save Jesse with my own words, nudge him with my elbow, or shoot the guy a warning look.

Instead, Jesse more than handled himself. He looked right at the guy, gave him a smile, and said “I’m Happy”.

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Happy.

I was so lost for words I could have cried. That’s exactly how I would describe Jesse. (Though I would use 25,000 words to do it.) He is. And he can articulate it.

What a gift. To be happy. To know it.

Watching Jesse, I think anyone, anywhere can see he’s happy.

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When Jesse eats his food, he’s smiling and it’s all over his face.When he plays on the trampoline, he’s laughing. When he rides his bike, he gets bugs in his teeth because he smiles the whole time. When I have to wake him up first thing in the morning, his first response is a smile. His second is to snake his arm around my neck and pull me close.

I read this verse in Thessalonians 1 and it struck me that real happiness – love – is obvious to anyone watching. Real love gives itself to lots of others, and everyone knows it. The writer says “We loved you so much that we were delighted to share with you not only the gospel of God but our lives as well.”

Delighted. Shared our lives. I’d truly like to be delighted all the time to share myself with you, but this girl jealously guards some solitude. Jesse really is delighted to share himself with you.

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Jesse turned this week. Ten. Seriously. I know.

Instead of camping with a bunch of fabulous women and their kids, trailing 8 other boys on bikes, fishing rods in their backpacks and five bucks in their pockets for worms and/or candy … Jesse spent it in hospital, with me.

He complained of a sore back and was up at night crying with it. He never cries. My good friends who know reminded me Jesse never lies. So I packed Jess up and we spent 2 days in Emerg before finally figuring out that what he had was pneumonia – no cough, no other outward symptoms except this sore back, short breathing and a fever.

Because I have friends in my life who give themselves like family – they don’t ask “what can I do to help?”, they just turn up and they tell you what they are going to do to help you – I didn’t have to drag the three girls with me. Jen took them all.

And you know what? When he didn’t get his birthday party and he didn’t get his cake and he didn’t even get any presents, Jesse wasn’t upset. We watched a movie heads deep together over the iPad. We played cards. We ate tacos. And he slept sideways in our bed three nights in a row.

Jesse was happy. Because instead of sharing some of his life with some other kids camping, he was delighted to share some special moments just with me.

When I saw it like he saw it, I could be happy too.

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When old people talk about the war

When old people talk about the war, I used to go “yep, yep, yep …”, nod my head politely and go on with my quiet thoughts of “is this all you can talk about?”.

Now we have been in a war, of sorts, I know better. I know the war is just about the greatest horror and epiphany both in a life, and every experience is forever after marked Pre or Post. It’s the years that people will reminisce about most when they get doddery. Or close to doddery. Or let’s just call it even at “over 40”.

Because I know these things, I listen willingly to old soldiers all the time. I almost hunt for them actually. Call me a Sympathy Sniper. I found one in the meat aisle at the grocery store today. He told me how his wife died four years ago just as they were about to leave on their trip of a lifetime. And because I know how marked he is by that battle, I asked how she died. And he gratefully (because old soldiers need to talk about the war) told me.

If this wasn’t Canada, I would have hugged him at the end, but that would be too forward. Which Canadians most definitely are not.

So I thanked him for sharing with me about his lovely wife, told him I hoped he’d still make that trip one day, thanked him for the price-match tip on lean ground beef, waved, and wished him the very best with all my heart.

I just know I kinda like talking about the war too. And I like to think it’s because I gained something from it. Not a medal of honour, but a knowledge of myself. Of others. Of how this life works. How low I can go in my personal record of Public Display of Emotion levels. How joy can be found in the darkness; treasures beyond fathoming because of it.

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Our little battle turned victorious FIVE YEARS ago tomorrow. June 10th, 2010. Jesse got Tim’s kidney. Five years tomorrow. I can’t believe it. I’m so grateful. So very thankful and content. Of course, this could all change. Right? Jesse’s Dad’s kidney is operating stirringly at 70%. It’s not 100%. But it’s also not 13%. Which is where we have been in the past.

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I just am truly grateful for now. Grateful, as I think about the war, (almost doddery and over 40), for all the people who fought beside us. Grateful. Thankful to my Jesus, who lives. Who speaks loud so I hear. Who has healed me in places I couldn’t even begin to know how to heal myself. Who shows me what love looks like lived out. I want to live like that so badly.

…. And then I want to strangle a two year old. Am so furious I wonder if I’ve popped a vein. My lofty moments come crashing down to earth so rapidly!

In the morning though, when the house is still quiet and the birds have only just started singing, I’m singing too. A heart bursting with thankfulness and praise. For a story that’s not over, but a God who have proven to me that he can be trusted with the whole of it, all the bits I cannot see.

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Five + Two – One = Heartbreak

I want to write and write and get it out somehow – work out why my heart finds this so hard when it’s not really happening to me. I’m only watching.

For the last year, we have been a family of 7. We had two sweet visitors in our attic who needed a soft place to land. One baby. One young Mum.

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It wasn’t always easy; and we weren’t always the nicest house-parents in the world, but we truly tried to treat these two as we would our own daughters. With equal portions love and straight talking. There was probably a touch too much straight talking. So, OK, , some days it was more raised than just a ‘talk’. Our daughters would say a big Amen to that also. It’s called mothering and it’s messy at the best of times.

We fought to get to know one another with honesty; we fought to love; we fought our own small, petty hearts; we fought a history so unfair, with talons dug so blindingly deep, we did sometimes doubt the ending. But at the end of the day, you would find us happiest, and all together, slouched around the loungeroom floor, laughing, playing a rowdy game of cards, colouring in, reading a book out loud. A patchwork family, everybody bringing something precious to the table.

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Last week we went down to 6.

My heart feels battered by it. We truly lost someone. And by “lost”, I mean that it feels like we didn’t hold on hard enough, well enough. Like part of the mis-placing is because of me.

It’s not my story to tell, but watching it unfold has been excruciating because I realize secretly I held all these little scripts in my heart of how it would end. All of them glorious, varying in degrees, but glorious.

Maybe the story is not yet over. I want to say it loud though – I DID NOT WANT TO BE A SEED-PLANTER.

I wanted to be a Harvester.

It’s selfish, but I wanted what happened here to matter immediately, not later on. I wanted the love to be big enough to save now.

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It might yet. Perhaps a loss, a great and heavy fall is the thing that most makes us know we need a Rescuer! 

I have said many times the last few months that this unexpected family enlargement has been such a blessing to us. When God asks us to do something for him, the blessing goes both ways. To both the receiver and the giver. One small but significant gift has been the unexpected impact on our kids. They have made us feel both so proud and so shame-faced. When I was bursting with impatience and intolerance, Jesse would sweep in, his wonderful, loving self showing me the path – “Oh baby. Are you mad? Come to Jesse. I’ll help you.”

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In the last year, I have never once heard him speak badly about or meanly to either of these sweet young girls. (He’s not perfect – I wish I could say the same about his attitude to his two biological sisters!) I wish I could say the same of myself. All the Lord asked me to do was love, and at times that was the hardest thing in the world. I discovered that although I thought it was easy for me to love the poor in the developing world, or down the street, it takes a humility and selfless love that is beyond me – without God’s outpouring – to love the poor when they are living in your lounge room.

We are not born with compassion. We learn it. India learned it watching Jesse suffer and realizing she had something she could offer to help ease his pain – herself. And Molly has learned it being a big sister to Nevaeh. The other week she was in tears from one-too-many reprimands for carrying the baby when the baby roundly did not want to be carried. “But Mum, I just SO want to be a good big sister,” she sobbed. Her heart was welling with the burden of another, and it was beautiful to me. Evidence of the birth of compassion.

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So now we have one, but not the other. I have returned to nappies, bottles and the time-out step. And it’s desperately sad. The movie script ending is still being written. Perhaps there’s a few twists yet, but I am completely swept along in the emotion of the story. And this bit is raw.

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The worst part is the greatest of the wounds are not mine. I’m just watching. Our lovely friend did not need any more than she was already bearing. Pray for her. How she keeps standing without a bitter edge in her body astounds me.

But oh how I long for her freedom.

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Thankful for the Sharks

I am reading the book “Unbroken”. The story of Louie Zamperini from Olympic runner to life-raft castaway and POW in a Japanese labour camp.

I was at the stressfully visual bit where sharks are swimming around and around their life raft. That’s “sharks” plural. Gives me the Hee-Bee-Gee-Bees. Louie and two other men were the only survivors of their B-24 bomber crash that killed 9 others. All they had in this vast nothing ness of ocean were two woefully unequipped, very small life rafts.

So there they were, stranded, no help coming, one week turned into two weeks, then three, then four …. and the entire time, sharks circled their raft, biding their time. They would strafe the bottom of the raft, their fins tickling the men’s bodies above them. When they grew weary of waiting, there was a day where the sharks jumped up out of the water and threw themselves into the raft, trying to grab a man to take back down into the ocean with them.

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It took all three men to bat the sharks away with the oars to keep the raft afloat and their limbs intact. They fought all day. It was so heart-thumping that I read it aloud to the kids on a car trip. Yep. Because I like giving my kids nightmaresJesse was all over it, saying “read some more Mum, read some more!” Tim was squirming, not loving sharks or plane crashes or being hungry for 47 days.

Louie had prayed a lot on that raft. There are no atheists in fox holes, as the saying goes. India wondered, along with me, why didn’t God just make the sharks go away?

Why didn’t He make the sharks go away?

It suddenly struck me that Louie needed those sharks. The sharks actually kept them alive.

Without the mental effort Louie devoted to working out how to defeat the sharks (eat them instead of waiting to be eaten), Louie and the other men would have lain there consumed with the mental helplessness of knowing they were lost, alone, starving and likely to die. Without the physical fight against their marine-enemy, these would have been left to fight themselves, their own hopeless, self-destructive thoughts.

They needed this enemy because this enemy kept them fighting, sharp, alive.

I have said to God many times in the past “Lord, take away this awful, awful enemy! He’s attacking my son! Take this illness away! It’s so horrifyingly frightening! I can’t bear it! Please, if you love me, take it away!”

And He didn’t. He was with me, He gave me strength and peace and even joy in the presence of my enemies, but He didn’t take those enemies away.

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He let me fight, He let me learn how to wield the sword of the Bible and prayer; He let me learn I was weak so I would lean on Him and get my strength from him. I don’t say it boastfully but to point to the truth: I became stronger with an enemy than I was without one. I learned a lot of humility, gained a little grace, and discovered treasures that can only be found in darkness. Others who love me watched, and can testify to it: the sharks made Kim a healthier, fitter, more mature, and more grace-filled person. While I hope I will never have to fight those sharks again, I am thankful for them.

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Whatever your circling sharks, lovely friend, I pray you can look beyond their horrifying jaws, plant your feet firmly, swing your arms high and start beating them back. God hasn’t abandoned you. He’s making you into a mighty warrior.

 

Merry Everything

Lovely friends, Happy New Year! And a merry Christmas, and I probably should get in early and add Valentine’s Day and a blessed Easter because I know I won’t get to those either.

I used to write letters to people I loved. Letters so long my Dad would sigh, and put it away until her knew he had more than half an hour to read it. Now I dream of writing even small cards, and telling people I care about that I really do – care. Instead, I have lazily let the pen-to-page go.

I can only hope, when I see you, when we meet for coffee, or connect over a few pixels on my phone and yours, that you know I love you and am grateful for those moments we share. I know they are only moments, and really, not enough. But I have so very many wonderful people in my life, and I am so very grateful for each one. I should have told you all this around Christmastime, but it makes it no less true that I tell you now. Months late. And that I hope your Christmas was filled to the brim with loving.

We had a few Christmases – filling, each of them. Two with a large group of friends and their kids; one with our Liz and another family we have chosen to be family; one on Christmas Day.

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Christmas Day was to be a strange mix of Tim’s parents, the Chinese Nation (as we jokingly refer to my in-laws wonderful ministry with Chinese students), a Moslem girl from Tunisia, a Canadian Indian medicinally dependant on fermented beverages and a gay couple from down the street. The mechanics of making that combination of people come together with Christmas joie de vivre seemed beyond me.

Christmas morning, after the sweet chaos of presents, I confessed to the Lord I wasn’t really feeling full of Christmas love and my heart was not really in making a huge meal for people I did not know and the pressure of being responsible for them all to have a good time when I wasn’t sure they would even be able to understand each other physically or metaphorically.

Let me just say Tim and I love having people over. We do it often and easily. I am 43, have lived in Canada for 16 years and have had my own little family going for 11 years now. And still waves of “missing my family” wash over me regularly. Especially at Christmas. They were all in the pool in Sydney, having eaten a large meal together, opened presents together, had the annual Christmas-present-paper-in-the-fan fight, and there I was, saying in a small voice, “sounds like fun.”

So I took a breath, said a prayer, and found there’s always enough love to give out when God is filling you first. There was a warm, enveloping beauty  at our Christmas table despite the half-cooked turkey and over-cooked ham.

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It fed my soul so unexpectedly.

Later, neighbours come over and we played board games until very late over popcorn and peanut brittle. I wouldn’t have traded it to be in the most spectacular location in the world. People are what fill me, and we have just so very many and enjoy them so much. Honestly, joy in unaccountable places.

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Please accept, very very belatedly, our love to you and your family, and our hope that we can gather, love in the room, either soon, or in heaven. Some of you I know I just need to be thankful we had the times we did. Others, it may be a few years until we meet again. But you are all in here, the ocean of my heart, and I am grateful for you.

Merry Everything.