HAD I NOT BEEN WHITE

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

Had I not been white, there would've been no citation, there would've been no traffic stop, there would've been no second glance. Save the unruly tendrils of wavy brown hair that escaped from the knot on the top of my head, we would've been clear. Instead, those loose strands danced in the whipping wind of the cracked windows. Through the slightly tinted windows, my silhouette was not a familiar one on those streets.

We weren't really doing anything different than anyone else on the street that day. Our truck was burdened with bags of rice and beans. But so was everyone else's. A man sat in the bed to warn off would-be thieves, but that duty fell upon nearly everyone carrying goods. And at the end of the day, we were just taking a few weeks worth of food to an orphanage full of malnourished children that no one cared about.

But the fact remained, I was different. And I stood out. The road, if I may be so bold to call it that, was really a stretch of empty dust, lined with vendors' stalls and makeshift shacks on either side. The rains of the wet season had ripped down the opening leaving rifts and craters upon its face. Even though it was a main thoroughfare, it was more of a maze. You hoped to pick a set of tire tracks to follow that would lead to an outlet. Our path entered an intersection. Three policemen stood in the center, looking important in their crisp, clean uniforms. They cradled their enormous guns with a tender embrace though their faces reflected no trace of kindness or affection. As their eyes landed on our approaching vehicle, I felt my body tense. Closing my eyes in a desperate prayer, I hoped that I was wrong, that they hadn't seen me. I tried to convince myself that I was over reacting. But I wasn't. I heard the police yelling at us. The driver pressed on, unyielding to their requests as we had done nothing wrong. Finally we came to a stop as all three men craned their heads inside the window to get a better view of the passengers. They asked for papers, but barely looked at them. They argued with my friend in a tangled mess of French and Lingala. The whole time, their eyes flickered toward mine as I attempted to hold their gaze, to call their bluff. I failed and they seemed to revel in the fortune of snaring a white woman on these streets.

My dad sat next to me. We looked at each other and knew this whole order was because of us. Eventually, the chief inserted himself into the passenger seat and directed our driver down a side street, and then a small alley. He ordered the driver and my friend, Papa P, into what appeared to be a police station. In her broken English, Papa P's wife told me they had been arrested. We waited in the truck for what felt like hours.

I'm not going to lie, I was scared. Quite possibly more terrified than I had ever been in my life. I had started the morning just trying to do something good, trying to help some hungry kids, and wanting to experience the neighborhood where my little boy had spent the first 15 months of his life. I had been before, and it had been dangerous. But I wanted to see it again. I had to imprint every detail, every scent, every sound that I could to be able to recount it to my little boy again someday. Sitting in the truck, all those memories and images flashed before me.

I always knew I was the lucky one, the privileged one. But now it was undeniably obvious that I didn't belong on these streets. In those moments, I didn't just know it. I felt it. I felt it in the pit of my stomach, churning and spinning. I felt it the palms of my hands, sweating profusely. Muscles up and down my back contracted, vessels constricted. All the while, I hadn't done anything wrong.

After what was likely more like 20 minutes, Papa P emerged from the police station and climbed back in the truck. As he recounted the story, the beads of sweat on his brow betrayed his carefree laughter. He told us how the policeman had fined him $200 for having too many things in his car. He would have none of it and finally talked him down to $50. We backed out of the alley, swung around a corner and continued our trek along a less trafficked road toward the orphanage.

I don't tell this story to draw parallels between corrupt police or crime in our country. I simply share this experience to help you imagine what its like to live without privilege, even for a brief time. I do believe there are people in this country who do not share the privileges you enjoy. Ultimately, I had a passport to whisk me back to the other side of the globe. But in that moment? In that moment it all meant nothing. In that moment I was only human- stripped of everything that kept me safe and secure.

Its time to recognize that we are not all covered by the same privilege. Its time to extend the cloak of human equality and inherent value to all mankind. It starts by listening to the voices and stories different from our own. It grows as we allow empathy to take root within us. And until the day when all things are made new, we groan and pray for justice.

WHITE PRIVILEGE

Friday, December 5, 2014

In 2005 I took a job teaching middle school in Washington, DC. I was 24 years young and naive. I waltzed in thinking I would make a difference for my students, having no idea of how I would be the one destroyed and remade. I muscled the door open to a classroom very, very few white students in this country will ever face. The windows were busted out, pigeons flapped wildly, splattering excrement over the floors, and rats scattered back to their nests. Curse words were sprawled across the walls and the pipes from a broken sink jutted out menacingly. Fast food wrappers from the previous school year were jammed into the file cabinets. Beyond that, a measly pile of outdated textbooks were stacked in a corner. 
99% of my students that year were black. I was one of three white staff members in the entire building. I’m pretty sure every parent thought I was ridiculous- they would know, they watched dozens of young white teachers run for the hills after a day at this school. The students challenged my perceived authority constantly, and thought I was completely crazy for trying to make them learn the scientific method let alone words like hypothesis and photosynthesis. And they weren’t afraid to tell me so. I went in early to plan lessons and stayed late reworking my strategies to find anything that might connect with them. They were constantly poised for a fight, ready to sling back insult for criticism. They were only children, but they had been conditioned from a early age to survive. They came from rough neighborhoods where drugs and violence were dictators. Poverty was an unrelenting force. I had no context to even imagine what their lives were like. 
A month into the year, I broke. I remember having a conversation with my instructional coach. I told her I felt defeated, more often like a zookeeper than a teacher. My students only wanted to play, they didn’t care about learning. She put me in my place faster than I could blink and reprimanded me for even making a reference to my students as if they were animals. She reminded me that the historical influence of such comments was not so far off as I might have believed, even though I didn’t mean any offense. This just revealed more failure in my attempt at understanding my students. By the end of the day I couldn’t hold back the tears. Halfway through 8th period, I threw my photos, books, and dry erase markers into a box and left my classroom. As I slammed the door behind me, I heard the thing I’d been waiting for since September… Silence. 
After a tear fest with my husband that night, I realized I had to go back to work. Without my job, we couldn’t pay rent or buy groceries. We had no choice. I had to go back to that place. I went in early and sunk down into my chair, bewildered and overwhelmed. That’s when I saw the notes on my desk. A note from Jade, with a school photo. A note that said everyone in the world had given up on her, asking me to stay. Notes from Keith and Dedan. Notes from Marcus and Robert of Grenada. A note from Brittany and Darryl. I closed my eyes and saw their faces. Their smiles. The twinkle in their eyes. 
The thing I realized that morning was that even though I could walk away, they couldn’t. They had nowhere else to go. I knew that to make it work until June, something would have to be different. And so I began to work on building relationships with the kids. Relationships that were not built on grades or textbooks. Not based on report cards or negative phone calls home. I just started to talk to them. Sometimes it meant forgoing a lesson to pursue a rabbit trail. Sometimes in meant inviting kids to eat their lunches in my room where there was a space heater to huddle around. Sometimes it meant coming in to Saturday school with a smile on my face rather than the groaning clawing at my insides. It meant learning how to make a graph based on sports stats and competetive sprints outside rather than scientific minutiae. It meant taking the most bad ass bully of a girl to Disney on Ice and watching her eyes light up at the thought of a world where everything ends happily every after. It meant eating at the waffle house at midnight after I took the kids to see “Stomp” in Baltimore with one of the parents. It meant ordering carry out for class parties and eating fried chicken with hot sauce. It meant praising my students at conferences and focusing on their successes. It meant decorating the hallway and going totally crazy when everyone passed an exam. It meant giving do-overs and second chances. 
Did I hold my students to standards of learning and growing? Absolutely. Was I successful with all my students? No. And their faces still haunt me. But I can guarantee that the progress we made together was dependent on two things. Mutual respect and relationship. Without these, we were at each other’s throats, accusing and fighting. 
I could go on and on with stories that my white friends would think are crazy. These stories reveal our white privilege. Problems that I’ve never comprehended because my white genes shielded me from them. Circumstances I never faced because my family’s middle class income landed me in a comfortable suburb, despite the fact that my parents were nothing more than mediocre high school grads. (They are amazing, loving people, but for the sake of this post, its worth noting that their education did not land them in the social class we enjoyed) My friends, white privilege is a very real thing. But it is elusive and slippery. Those who possess it are often blind to it. Or at least down play its significance. 
I can’t help but think that the only way we are going to see a society of equality and peace is when we are willing to set aside our white privilege to see the world through black eyes. To acknowledge that something in our justice system is terribly awry. People who work together to better their neighborhood don’t shoot each other. People who know one another’s names don’t choke one another. To all my white friends, I’m asking you to just stop and consider what it means to enjoy white privilege. The fact that one of my sons gets band aids from the doctor that blend into his pale skin while the other walks out looking spotted. The fact that my skin tone is labeled “Normal” by Johnson & Johnson while my son’s is labeled “Dark.” The fact that more often than not, the people around you look very similarly to you. Stop accusing and justifying. Our society needs reconciliation and it begins with us listening and showing empathy. 
On the last day of school I received a compliment, though I'm not sure that's what it was meant to be. One of my students said, "You know, Miz D, you's a'ight fer a white lady." As I sat in that classroom the tears flooded my eyes once again. To this day, it is the best compliment I've ever received. I changed, not on my own accord, but because relationships formed that forced me to look outside of myself. Relationships that made me uncomfortable. Relationships that only came when I admitted how little I really understood.

TEN

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

On Saturday night we crashed a wedding- there was a happy couple celebrating in the same spot where we made our vows ten years ago. We walked down the aisle and around the property. We sat on a bench, watching the dancing and the guests. It was magical. Ok, I should probably be a little more honest, I watched through one eye as the other was swollen shut with pink eye. I imagined the dress and the hair and the make up when I was actually wearing the only clean pair of jeans I could find, thanking my lucky stars that it was dark enough to hide the frizzy mess of hair piled on top of my head, and doused in perfume to mask the baby vomit that was surely caked up somewhere after three days of Sam's virus. Mike sauntered along with me, limping a bit from a recovering ACL injury, brushing off the fatigue that comes with giving your life to medicine, and bobbing his head to the tuba of the mariachi band. We were a sight- luckily the open bar had been going long enough that no one seemed to notice our arrival.

Ten years ago I had a lot of ideas about love and marriage. Some of them were wonderful and wholesome- learned from watching my lovesick parents over the years. Some of them were lofty and grand- my college roommate had a stash of rom coms we would watch whenever the grim outlook of dating at a christian college sunk in. Some of my ideas were stubborn and rigid, some were hopeful and joyful, but mostly, they tried to synthesize a whole lot of input into a formula. A formula that I thought would make us happy and spit out a wonderful life. As we sat together under those same pine branches and twinkling lights this weekend, we laughed and lingered over how the years unfolded. Some of the most fun, most heart wrenching, most fulfilling, most devastating, most amazing years two people might find together. There are decisions and days and weeks I wish I could erase- hurts, miscommunications, selfishness, and self inflicted wounds that threatened our vows. But there are moments of complete grace that leave me in awe- forgiveness, commitment, reconciliation, sacrifice. There is still no dishwasher or house, no dog or evenly spaced children, but there is a deep love that eludes any formula. I am blessed. 

ANNIVERSARY ADVENTURES

Wednesday, September 3, 2014

I surprised the Mike with a trip to NYC for our ten year anniversary. I thought I'd share our adventures as I did quite a bit of research to avoid tourist traps and make the time memorable. I present the "90,000 Fitbit Step Weekend Travel Guide to NYC." I organized all the adventures into envelopes that were opened throughout the day.



Friday 

We arrived at JFK at 11pm. Pricelined a hotel in Chelsea, it was totally decent. Upon arrival at our hotel, we ventured out and filled our growling stomachs with $1/slice pizza. (it tastes about as bad as it sounds, but who cares when its the middle of the night in New York?)

Saturday

I recommend conspiring with your husband's best bud to plan a surprise meeting on a random street near the hotel. The surprise was mutual for my girl Kells. They took the Bolt bus down from Boston to spend the weekend with us. We headed out to DONUT PLANT at 220 W 23rd. The Tres Leche donut took the cake, though I doubt you'd go wrong with any choice. We sipped our lattes and headed for the subway toward City Hall to open our first envelope. We took a break on the steps of an old building to enjoy our donuts and take in the city.


Our first adventure was to walk the Brooklyn Bridge over to DUMBO. When the path splits on the other side of the bridge, veer left toward DUMBO and wander around until you reach the water. Spectacular views of Manhattan await. 

We headed over to 19 Fulton St to grab pizza at JULIANA'S. Call in a pick-up order to avoid the crowds, especially when there's a magnificent park just a few steps away. We waited 15 minutes for our delicious Margherita pizza. Grab a scoop at the BROOKLYN ICE CREAM FACTORY to continue your stroll through Brooklyn. We popped into THE POWERHOUSE ARENA. A-Mazing selection of children's books. Seriously, I could write a whole blog post, I'll stop. Just do yourself a favor and go.


Hop on the EAST RIVER FERRY to N. Williamsburg. It's probably faster and cheaper to take the subway, but floating up the river and under the bridge beats the tunnels by a long shot. One way tickets are $6 on the weekend. You can buy the tickets from a little kiosk near the Brooklyn Ice Cream Factory.


Williamsburg... We could've wandered for days. 
The boys celebrated the first day of Oktoberfest at RAADGAST HALL & BIERGARTEN. My preggo friend and I wandered up and down Bedford Avenue window shopping. Our faves were PINK OLIVE and CATBIRD.  We stopped at TEA BAR for Earl Gray Lavender Iced Tea and enjoyed it on a bench outside. Delish. After a few hours, we met up with the boys in the back garden of EL ALMACEN. The South American vibe was just what we wanted for a slow evening with friends. A bottle of malbec, avocado fries, steaks served on tree stumps, and tres leche cake made for fantastic dining.





After dinner, we hopped back on the subway to the West Village. Walking off the massive caloric ACE HOTEL in the Flatiron District. While I would've loved to stay at the hotel, it was out of our budget. Crashing the bar seemed like a reasonable substitute. Lest you think I morphed into some super hip kid on this trip, I should admit that I ordered cucumber and lime tonic. (as in water) It was a refreshing end to our busy day. 

Sunday

While we had intended to hit the city early, sleep got the better of us all and we didn't roll out of bed until 9 am. We headed out through Chelsea toward the HIGHLINE HOTEL. (Again, this place was amazing if its in your budget!) They have several outdoor patios and indoor seating areas to enjoy coffee from Intelligentsia.  We sipped our coffee and drank in the fresh morning air.





With some fuel for the day, we headed down the road to CHELSEA MARKET. Like the Ferry Building in SF or Eastern Market in DC, there is more food than you can possibly consume. We let our eyes do the feasting, sampled flavored salts, and headed back out to the street. We landed at THE PARK for brunch and enjoyed the garden patio. The food was good, nothing particularly special. But the location under the high line set us up for our next adventure.



We wandered up the HIGHLINE through the newly opened segment. An old railroad track converted into an above ground park, makes the trek uptown pleasant and unique.


From there, we hopped on the subway and headed uptown to Central Park. We walked straight into the middle of the People's Climate March but eventually made our way through into the magical park.   
Wandering through the maze of paths and forests, we emerged outside the MET. While I would love to peruse the museum someday, our time was ticking away so we made a less than suggested donation for an entrance ticket and headed toward the back of the museum. Winding through the exhibits lands you at the elevator to the roof. We ascended the five stories to the rooftop cafe. The view spans across the park to the downtown skyline. Our weather was a little hazy, but I expect on a cool summer evening it would be a great place to relax. As our friends' bus was scheduled to depart, we head back to the hotel to see them off.





Sunday evening, we embarked on the Adirondack, an 1890's style schooner for a sunset sailing trip to the Statue of Liberty. Seriously worth the ticket price of $64. For two hours, sailed down the river to take in the magnificent views of Lady Liberty, Ellis Island, Governor's Island, and the Manhattan skyline. Our trip happened to coincide with a fireworks celebration near the Brooklyn Bridge. Our captain kept us out late to enjoy the spectacular show.





After dinner, we trekked back uptown to EATALY. We sat at the bar to feast on the end of summer ravioli seasoned with lemon and pistachio. After browsing through the endless market, we settled on a scoop of gelato and made our way back through the city streets to the hotel. 

Monday

Once again our plan to hit the town running was foiled by our tired bodies and sleepy eyes. Even the doctor didn't roll out of bed til 8 am!?! We packed up and dropped our bags downstairs with the concierge. The itinerary was full of all the things my husband loves... good coffee, good style, and good cookies. We headed off through the endless food carts of MADISON SQUARE PARK and picked up Chocolate Babka from BREADS BAKERY.  Luckily, we tucked it away to savor with a cup of coffee. Had we tasted it on the spot, I'm pretty sure we would've bought a whole loaf. We continued to walk downtown through NYU and Washington Square Park as Fall arrived. The morning was perfectly crisp and the leaves began to flutter off the trees. I. Love. Fall. We ended at Stumptown in Greenwich Village and sat out on the street to enjoy our treats. 

 



I solicited the help of STYLE GIRLFRIEND Megan Collins in drumming up a shopping list of must visit menswear shops. If you know Mike, the reformed surf t-shirt, flip flop wearer, you know that this is exactly how he wanted to spend his last afternoon in the city. We visited Carlson Street Clothiers, Saturdays, and Unis. He picked up a pullover and added mental notes to his wish list. (He committed to not buying any clothes for year as an act of discipline... I told him to break the rule once for our anniversary!) We continued through SoHo and stopped for a crepe for lunch. Finally, we ventured back uptown for one last walk through the park. (I had originally planned to rent bicycles but we ran out of time.) We ended our afternoon at Levain Bakery to devour fresh cookies. The most amazingly fresh, fluffy, fudgy cookies ever. 


THE END

would love to hear comment of your favorite spots in NYC 





HOPE

Tuesday, September 2, 2014

Three years ago we placed the tiny form our first child into a small box. I copied the words of Psalm 139 onto a scroll and tucked it inside. Clinging to the hope that the psalmist was right, that God knows even when I do not, I said goodbye. We drove to the top of a mountain, opened the book of common prayer to the find the words that escaped us, and buried the child we would never know.

Making our way back down the mountain, we drank a strange cocktail of defeat and hope. Defeat, in that everything we had wished and hoped for was gone, God had not answered our prayer to give life to the child we so longed for. After years of trusting that we might become parents, the child that had finally answered that prayer was gone. Yet in the same moment, hope arrived. It saved us from desperation, allowing us to experience the pain while clinging to something immovable. Visiting us in the tears, comforting us in the silence, resting with us in the emptiness.

Two years later hope revisited when we heard Samuel's heartbeat for the first time, strong and steady. Unexpected and seemingly impossible, his very existence still baffles me.

With the first photo of Jephte's face, the hope surged yet again. It was a frequent visitor in the swells and changing tides of the journey to bring him home. When I returned from Congo without him last December, that hope came to dwell with us in the wait. In the moments when his future was uncertain, it was our constant companion.

Although parts of our story have been difficult and challenging, the truth is that each of us have or will find ourselves in impossible situations. I do not believe God orchestrates death, pain, and brokenness- I do believe that he offers us hope in spite of them. And though I have left Congo and my baby boys are home safe, that hope is so deeply seated in my soul, it changes everything.

If you've read anything I've written, you know that being in Congo is a weighty thing. I don't know how to better describe it. Congo gets into your blood and takes up residence. The images invade your mind, the sounds squeeze into the quiet spaces, the smells occasionally waft past as you walk down the street... the stifling heat in our playroom where the congolese paintings hang, the glass coke bottles mike bought for a backyard bbq, the display of plantains at the store... I can't ignore it. And I don't want to.

Though my boys are in my arms, the glass that sits before me is muddled. There is this angst and tension constantly playing in my heart and mind. Knowing what I know about the realities of life in Congo and knowing what I know about the hope that God gives- its complicated and hard to describe. Like it or not, its a taste I've acquired that will not leave me be. I can't face one without the other.  I think the only thing that's left is to drink it down, the good with the bad, the beautiful with the ugly, the redeemed with the broken.

The photos of the children below are likewise complicated- nearly all their mothers died when they were born. They were resigned to an orphanage with the hope that the formula donated by charities would sustain their fragile lives. Later, once they were strong and healthy, they were reunited with their fathers or extended family members. The fact that life prevailed is no small miracle. They live in a place where the mother will die in 13 of 1000 deliveries and 1 in 7 children will die from malnutrition and/or disease before their 5th birthday. The infant, under age 5, and maternal mortality rates are staggering. (source)

Through the lens of those despairing statistics, you would expect photos of empty eyes and resignation. That's not what you see though. You see children who are no longer called orphan, but son and daughter, niece and nephew, granddaughter and grandson. You see joy, anticipation, determination, and resolve. I'm asking you to embrace this tension with me today. To embrace these lives where brokenness and hope intersect. For $15/month we can pay the school fees to educate a child. Children who want to go to school. Young men and women who will lead their families and villages. Young people who are the next generation of leaders and visionaries. They don't need us to save them, but our willingness to bolster their hope is no small thing. Please visit REEDS OF HOPE or contact me to learn more about how you can help.

Konkwa Kabura
Alazo Luhule
Mukanya Mubalana

Balyahamwabo Bahoya

WHOM GOD SETS FREE

Thursday, July 31, 2014

Two years ago I posted about a baby boy that would be joining our family. He was named Jephté, meaning "whom God sets free"in French. At the time, it seemed fitting but we wanted to give him an American name as well. Miles was at the top of our list and so it was decided. We introduced him to you all as Miles. What we didn't realize was just how significant the Congolese name he had acquired at the orphanage would come to be.

What began as an adoption estimated to take 12 months turned into a heart wrenching ordeal that was drawn out over 30. Hellos and goodbyes laced with empty promises and apathetic officials on both sides caused us to wonder if our son would ever be released to come home.

By late spring, I made plans to go back to visit Jephté. His birthday was approaching in June and his visa needed renewing.

In the middle of May there was a glimmer of hope. The Congolese officials decided to release exit letters for some 60 children. Surely, our son would be included. The announcement was made that families would be notified via email. I madly refreshed my inbox for two days straight- no new messages from the embassy. I discovered several of my friends who were also waiting on letters had been overlooked.

It was yet another insult to add to the festering injury of separation. Why we were denied letters is still unclear. Hundreds of legally adopted children continue to wait as I write.

I finally arrived in Kinshasa, hopes low, but not crushed. Over the course of a few weeks, the ambassador advocated on behalf of Jephté, a politically connected friend spoke with the director, a new friend I met in the airport met with the officials on our behalf, a lawyer presented our case yet again, and our faithful friend and agency rep continued to jump through the hoops of submitting documents and arranging meetings.

For over a week, we were promised the letter. As the days wore on, my hope once again began to fade. Finally, on Friday night I got a text from Pascal to book my ticket. I would have my letter in the morning.

On Saturday morning, Jephté and I went to the DGM to meet the secretary. He reviewed the file, pulled out the signed letter and relinquished it to me. It may as well have been a winning lotto jackpot powerball scratcher mega ticket! (clearly, I know nothing about the lotto... though in DRC you can play the lotto for a greencard to the US!) We floated back to the hotel where the staff was anxiously waiting. I gave a thumbs up out the window of the truck and the cheering began. There was dancing and singing and chanting, there were tears and hugs. What seemed impossible had finally happened.

Mike called me and told me he had had a strong impression about Jephté's name. We knew his Congolese name would remain his middle name, but Miles had never really quite stuck on him. Over the crackled phone I heard Mike say "Moses, it means Who God Sets Free."

That evening we walked across the tarmac to the jet waiting to whisk us away. While it seems I should've bolted to the front of the line, I lingered. I stood at the base of the steps, drinking in the warm night air, praising God, and mourning the fact that we were leaving his first home. I held him close, promising to bring him back again. "Nalingi Yo Moses," I whispered, "I love you Moses Jephté." We boarded the plane, crossed the globe, and landed in San Francisco on Father's Day.


WE LIVED

Thursday, July 31, 2014

At the end of December, I knew my time with Jephté was ending. I had done everything I possibly could, but the circumstances were tearing us apart. I fought and I cried as he looked on in confusion and terror at the reality of being left alone.

The morning of my flight, I opened my puffy eyes to find him tangled up in the sheets next to me. We were trapped by a mosquito net in a moment I will never forget. As he began to rustle, I snatched my phone to catch a video. His eyelids fluttered softly, not yet resigned to the dawn of a new day. I called out to him, "psssst!" Big brown eyes locked with mine and a smile spread across his face. "Mama," he whispered, "mama, mama!" He lunged across the bed, knocking my phone to the floor, smothering me in his slobbery kisses.

I must've watched that video a hundred times before it was accidentally deleted. It was one of the few things I could touch and see to remind myself that our time together was real, that it wasn't an illusion. That he knew who I was and what it meant to be loved.

I hoped and prayed that some impression of our time together would remain, despite my absence. As the months dragged on, I began to wonder if we would be given the gift of time together again. Even as I boarded my flight in May, I knew there was no guarantee he would be granted the freedom to join our family. We hoped and we prayed, but our hearts were tempered with the overwhelming brokenness we had experienced in Kinshasa.

When I met Jephté again, he looked at me as if I were a stranger. He screamed and he fought against me. I took him back to the same hotel, to the same bed, under the same mosquito net and waited for my boy to return. And he did. The same eyelashes fluttered, the same brown eyes met my gaze, the same smile melted my heart with the morning light. And it has everyday since we've been home.

During our three months together last fall, we lived. We swam, we ran, we read, we learned, we sang, we watched Thomas, we ate tortillas, and we savored chocolate. We experienced pain and we were showered with grace. I don't want to forget that.  Those days were a gift- in the crucible of uncertainty and heartache they forged a bond that I can't quite describe to you. He remembered, when it seemed impossible, those memories lived on. The joy born out of those days lodged itself deep in his soul, nothing can undo or take that away.

WHAT I WOULD'VE ASKED FOR

Saturday, May 31, 2014

"God will only give us what we would've asked for if we knew everything he knows."

I recently came across this quote by the author Tim Keller. It wouldn't be fair for me to keep writing without telling you that I pounded the "close" button on my kindle reader app after finishing the sentence. I like to think that statement is true, but while I'm living in a moment of impossible heartache if feels anything but true.  

I would never ask for a child to be orphaned. I would never ask for a child to be named my son, but isolated from our family. I would never ask to deal with the political drama of an exit letter. I would never ask for my son to be allowed to bond and attach to me so I could walk out on him. I would never ask for him to be diagnosed with treatable medical conditions knowing the procedures and drugs would be withheld. I would never ask for him to be plagued with fear and confusion. Yet, this is exactly where I find myself tonight. Wondering what perspective I could possibly find that would demand these requests. 

But maybe that's just it. Maybe those requests are too much for my soul to bear, so God doesn't ask me to make them. Instead, he allows them to happen knowing that they will work together for good. That sounds so absurd. As I sit here in the dark, soft wind rustling the trees, lively music from a car stereo drifting through the night air, I wonder if I'm delusional. 

And just like that, the ring of the bell, requesting entry into the compound, I'm brought back to reality. The reality that I do not know what comes next through the gate. In that moment of hesitation, my sanity returns as someone familiar makes an appearance. It's Patrick. (say pat-rique in a lovely french accent) The man who tends to this property as if it were his own child. He plans the gardens and cares for the flowers. He trims the lawns and reorders misplaced rocks. When I first arrived in October, I was perplexed to find him hunched over in the corner of the property every day. For a week straight, he would pluck apart tufts of grass creating tiny new plants. When he gathered enough, he would bunch them together and plant perfectly aligned little rows. He would water them and check on them without fail. Today, nearly eight months later, there is a thick patch of lush grass spilling over the retaining wall, no sign of such humble, belabored beginnings. 

Today is one of those days spent wondering why I'm still sitting in the corner plucking lifeless tufts of grass. Wondering how anything could possibly change by sowing one more row in a tired bed of weary soil. But because I've seen life come to Patrick's seemingly futile endeavor, I cling to hope. Because a car just pulled up with friends who received their promised letter, I cling to hope. Because I am not alone in this journey, I cling to hope. Because Jephté smiles, I cling to hope. 

For even if I spend the rest of my life hoping, I am choosing to trust that it is what God is giving to me because it is what I would've asked for if I could see the whole garden, the whole story, the grand scheme. If these requests are so outrageous, I can only imagine that all He knows and sees is so far beyond my comprehension and imagination, they are absolutely necessary to take me to where He wants me to go. This truth does not make this journey easy, but it does make it bearable.  

DID YOU BELIEVE YOUR FEARS

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

If you starting reading back in the fall, you remember how many times I posted something to the effect of "there is no update" or "what I told you was going to happen just didn't" or definitely maybe I'll have another update in "ten more days, maybe." As we sat at the dinner table tonight, I looked into my husbands eyes and said, "You know we've been living in this for over eight months?" Like really living in it, every morning waking with the hope that this might be the day we get to be a whole family, every evening falling asleep imagining that day might come tomorrow. These last eight months have been laced with fear, with apprehension, with uncertainty, with joy, with hope, and with peace. I know it seems nonsensical, but its the truth. These emotions have been held in tension, challenging us to the core.

After waiting patiently more than six months for our son's promised exit letter, we requested that you join us this past week in asking our government to increase their involvement. We were not disappointed when we found hundreds of friends rise to meet the challenge. You signed an online petition, you signed letters and mailed them to us, you even spent your lunch break calling our senators and representatives. Last week was a whirlwind, and it felt productive to finally do something. The fight pent up for half a year came like a flood, but that week is over. Our objectives were met, Washington knows about our plight and the congressional letter collected over 150 signatures. It will be sent to the president and prime minister asking for resolution to cases like ours in the next few days.

This week has begun in confusion and mayhem. The delegation that the State Department sponsored to assuage the fears regarding the reported mistreatment of adopted children has been cancelled. The reasons are unclear, but it has been suggested that the same immigration department unwilling to issue our exit letter did not allow the delegation to exit the country. Regardless of the reason, the delegation meetings are not happening and we return to the standstill between governments. Once again the children are caught in the middle.

I don't pretend to understand the complexities of diplomacy or politics that have landed us here, I only know that this is about much more than the children. The absurdity of the situation is now obvious to all, it cannot be pinned on an upcoming delegation or progress being made toward a resolution. Things have come to a halt, an impasse until further notice.

As Sam and I settled into our bedtime routine tonight, I pulled a pair of pajamas out of the drawer that were meant for Miles but now fit his younger brother. I tossed the stray stuffed animals into the empty crib that has become storage, it will never hold my son because he is no longer a baby but a boy. We snuggled into the rocker, the one that is big enough for a mama and two boys to finish the night with a story. And in that moment of longing and sadness, I found comfort.

We opened the Jesus Storybook Bible and begin to read. As the story goes, the disciples are being tossed about in a small fishing boat on the raging sea one night while Jesus is napping. I love the way the storyteller summarizes Jesus' response upon waking, "Did you forget who I AM? Did you believe your fears, instead of me?"

As this process seems to continue spiraling out of control, the temptation is to believe Jesus has fallen asleep. That God doesn't see what is happening, for surely if He did, He would intervene. To be quite honest, I'm tired of waiting and feeling let down every time hope dares to raise its elusive head. But then I'm reminded that my fears, though they are real, are not stronger than my God. When I look back at His provision,  I find the strength to trust that He will continue to be I AM, the God who always has been, is, and forever will be. The God who works in impossible situations. The God who redeems things that are broken and destroyed. The God who infuses grace and mercy where they are undeserved. The God who promises restoration and hope to those who trust in Him.

So even if there is no delegation, and even if the letters don't work, and even if the silence across the sea persists, we are not without hope. Just as the glory of Easter is preceded by the darkness of Good Friday, so this night will not last forever. Would you pray with us that God would bring His justice to this world. To our families, to our children, to our friends, to our fellow man. This is not the way its supposed to be. I've always known this, but to be trapped in it? Not as an observer, but as a participant in the uncertainty, my heart gripped with each new development? The fears are loud, they are strong, they are convincing, but I will not forget. Not today, not tomorrow. Though the storm may rage, we will not forget.




HOLD FAST

Wednesday, April 2, 2014

Tonight I miss you. I just do. I miss the way your hair scratches my cheek when you demand to be swung up into my arms. I miss your slobbery kisses and your bear hugs. I miss the way you hold my hand when we walked circles around the compound. I miss the way your bright eyes pop open with the morning light. I miss watching you jump up and spin around and around whenever music fills the air. I miss cursing the mosquitos and smashing the cockroaches with you. I miss the warm sun and cool relief of the pool.

A few weeks ago your foster family sent me a video of you. It was a video of you skyping with me. So even though we were in a moment together, I got to see if again from a different perspective. There were things I saw through this lens that I didn't see before. Through the poor connection and static I missed the times you called me mommy. I couldn't see how intent you were in reaching for me through the screen. I didn't know your babbling and singing was directed at me.

These days I feel you've likely forgotten me. I'm another face to add to your collection of temporary mamas. But this video was a reminder that my perspective does not see everything. There is more than I know or can conceive. And I'm reminded that this isn't just the story of your adoption. Its the story of our lives. Like Orual in Till We Have Faces by C.S. Lewis, what we see may deceive us. But someday, someday my son, we will see the story without veils. And for that day I long.

Today after our Skype conversation your foster papa called me back and exclaimed, "Holly, the most amazing thing just happened! After you hung up Jephté ran over to the photo of his daddy and started yelling and pointing papa! papa! papa!"

You have not forgotten my son, and we have not forgotten you. Not even for a minute, not even for a second, not even for a breath. We are coming. Hold Fast.

video

GIVE IT UP

Sunday, March 23, 2014

It's Lent. That time of year you give something up with the purpose of drawing nearer to God. In the past it's been chocolate or coffee, media or shopping... This year feels different. It is not physical comfort that is distracting me from God. It is something more subtle. All those weeks in Congo tilled the soil of my soul- for good things to be planted, but also for a stray seed of bitterness.

I watched people take their kids home, I watched them leave together. I heard stories of them walking through the security gates and flying off into freedom. I saw their Facebook photos pop up into my feed, little African faces frolicking in the snow and visiting the dentist. Families that came into the country after me, families that got visas after my son. Families that made special connections to powerful people that I didn't make. And to be honest, people who got letters for no rhyme or reason when we didn't.

These thoughts, these images, this knowledge water the seeds of bitterness that were planted as I boarded that jet alone. As I sat in the quiet, drifting in and out of sleep I fully expected to awake to the soft velcro of Jephte's fresh haircut rubbing against my cheek. But it never happened. Instead, I pushed into the developed world of America feeling lost and numb.

I've settled back into normalcy, whatever that is. But there's this empty space, an unexpected gasp every few moments where I forget to breathe and the world stands still. In those moments, Jephté's absence overwhelms me and bitterness grasps at my heart. Thoughts that I would be a better mother than some of the others who were able to bring their kids home. Thoughts that I can give Jephté a better home, a better life, better opportunities, a better family. Thoughts that I complained less or endured well or sacrificed so much… The list goes on, its ugly and embarrassing. Even as I write, I have to catch myself. So I guess that's what I'm giving up for Lent. I don't think God wants us to give something up to make us suffer. I think He wants us to give something up so that we can draw closer to Him and become more like him. This year I'm not just giving something up, I'm giving it away. Dozens of times each day, I'm snatching up my ugly and misplaced thoughts and hurtling them at God. I'm uprooting the seedlings of resentment, tossing them into His hands. I cannot allow my soul to cultivate these seeds, and so I'm asking God to take them from me.

Today is Sunday. During Lent, Sunday is considered a feast day- a day of reprieve from the fasting to remember that the story ends with the great victory of Easter. That one day fasting will end forever and we will live in an eternal state of celebration and feast with God. So while I'm not gorging on bitterness and anger, I am reflecting on the truth that someday bitterness and anger will disappear. This the story of Easter, these are the reasons Jesus went to the cross. The weight of my sin and bitterness is more than I can bear, but it is not too much for him. I know it sounds crazy to choose to believe that this is real, that its not just an installment of my parent's faith or a part of my culture or a coping mechanism for a ridiculous situation. But it is real. I can't quite explain how Jesus has walked this journey with us, but He has. I feel His sadness in this separation, I sense His anger at the injustice, I hear His call to respond to poverty and suffering, I see evidence of His presence all around me.

On Friday we were given an update by the US Embassy that we should not expect to bring our children home before September. One more vice- pressing, pushing, squeezing my heart as it threatens to explode. One more opportunity for bitterness to root itself. For anger to control, for envy to invade, for desperation to take up residence. Likewise, one more opportunity to offer to God what I cannot carry or control. And so I make that choice once again as this day comes to a close, Lord Jesus, remove this burden that I may be closer to You.



BETWEEN

Monday, February 24, 2014

Between here and there, between you and me, between now and forever, we are suspended. I am not good at waiting, more than not good, i am terrible. I want to know, want to see, want to have the answer. And if I don't have it, I want to find it. I want to find it now, forge the way, make a path. But I can't. All I can do is wait. I like to think that someday this in between will be a distant memory. That you'll forget this time. I hope you will, I think you will. I never will.

I've never felt so helpless. All I can do is make faces at you through a computer screen with a terrible internet connection. You're confused. You look beyond the screen to the door where I walked out. The door you've waited for me to come back through. I dream of that door, it haunts me. Framed by simple cinder blocks and covered with a colorful wax printed cloth. It flutters in the wind, both in reality and in my mind. Hinting at what is to come, teasing at what is beyond my grasp.

I don't know when I'm coming back for you. Just as the curtain of your front door flirts with the wind, so do the officials that could grant you leave. Your final exit letter is waiting on one signature. After months, years, of collected documents, notarizations, signatures, an act of adoption, an investigation, a passport, a visa, and a b letter, we need one piece of paper to let us past the guards at the airport. Sometimes I still can't believe that we've gotten this close to be thwarted one last time.

I still don't understand this story, but I trust that the thickening plot has made it a better story, a truer story. One that resonated. One that proves our love. Not for the world, but for you. To the ends of the earth and back I would go, a million times, again and again. That's how much we love you. Don't ever doubt that, not even for a minute.

CRUSTY

Monday, February 10, 2014

I've never written about food. But since I live in San Francisco, I suppose its about time. 

My heart feels crusty. I know it sounds weird. But it feels just like it sounds. A little stale, a little hard, becoming less of the inside and more of the outside. Its seeping in. The doubt, the pain, the frustration, the anger, the bitterness, and the jealousy.

The doubt that my baby will ever find his way into my arms again. The pain in his eyes when he hears my broken voice and sees my robotic face on the screen through an internet connection operating like short staccato notes in a flurry of melody. The frustration in knowing I am utterly powerless, something one can't possibly understand reading from American soil. The anger that evil and injustice and corruption prevail. The bitterness that other kids have come home for reasons less sensical than those holding my son captive. The jealousy that others have what I want. These emotions are real, they are raw. 

And while I would give most anything to strip them away, to don a knife and lop them off like I do to the crusts on Sam's peanut butter sandwiches- they are part of me in this moment. And if I were to remove them, I'd be removing part of myself. I'm not sure my emotions are bad, at least not entirely. What I choose to do with them is where I meet my struggle. 

The doubt has not won me over, it just mocks me. The pain is piercing, but we are not the only ones who feel it. The heart of the father gathers our pain into his and buoys it up, like a tiny life raft on a stormy sea. The frustration is appropriate, this is not the way its supposed to be. The anger is even a bit holy, I think. Jesus was angry when the leaders oppressed the weak and helpless. The bitterness rises in the back of my throat, and as often as I swallow, I push it away. I don't want to be bitter, but we are still at war with one another. The jealousy reminds me that my God is jealous. He desires what is his. My desire to bring my son home is only because this is where he belongs. 

Tonight I remind myself that crusty isn't always bad- like crostini topped with brie, a baguette dunked in soup, or toast topped with cinnamon. When appropriately balanced, crispy gives depth and intrigue, flavor and texture, all the good things a mature palette desires. So while I feel like a stale dinner roll at the moment, I trust that I'm actually becoming something much more. Maybe a rustic loaf. The kind you see in those pretty San Francisco magazines on a beautifully reclaimed wood table where friends gather to break bread. The kind that needs a good strong knife to break it open, but the kind that goes with fine wine and fancy cheese after a long day's work.    

In admitting all this, I think I'm helping the inside reclaim what its lost to the outside. Putting the crust to  bread ratio back in its place. Trusting the baker to pull me from the heat of the fire at just the right moment. 
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