Saturday, December 19, 2015

We rounded a corner and I looked through the mud splattered windshield. I squinted my eyes to peer through the haze and my heart sank. Seconds before, I had been sure that it couldn't get worse than the foot deep, rain filled potholes we had navigated. But what lay in front of us made the previous trek look like a walk in the park. In the middle of the road, a car stuck fast. Thick mud sucked the sedan down, covering the wheels.  A little further down, another vehicle, stripped down to the frame after it met the same fate. During the dry season the mud hardened and the car was stuck fast. Hundreds of people navigated the banks of the river that used to be a road. Islands of mud weaved through the waters, evidence of tire tracks threatened to push them back down. I would hardly call it a road. Yet our truck had food that needed to go to an orphanage. And I had asked to visit.

I looked to Pascal's face, he looked to Mara. I lowered my sunglasses and glanced into the rearview mirror, sure he would be scanning behind to flip a u-turn. Instead, I saw the grit and determination that made Mara Mara. His jaw set, not even a whisker of his handlebar mustache twitching. His hands tightened on the wheel and he stepped on the gas. 

The next half hour was a bit like Mr. Toad's Wild Ride. Without seat belts, we flew back and forth across the back seat, gripping to what we could and gasping as the truck hurled to and fro, splashing through the rainwater.  He spun the truck around one last time and started backing up into a fruit stand. I was sure this man had lost his mind. He rolled down the window, stuck an arm out and started hollering. The owners of the stand scrambled to move their bowls of produce and caterpillars. He continued spinning the wheel, easing between the gas and the clutch. Behind that stand was an alley with only a few feet to spare on either side. To the left, a wall, to the right a sewer ditch. I knew better than to think this would deter Mara, and I sheepishly asked Pascal how much further we had to go. "Oh, maybe a half a mile." 

I don't think Mara understood much English, but I don't think he needed words to translate my incredulity at the situation. He weaved back and forth using nothing but his side mirrors for that last half mile, stomped on the brake, flipped the key, and grinned. We had arrived. 

I think that's how Mara rolled in life. Every day was an adventure and he would find a way to get to where he needed to go. Nothing seemed to faze him. He would drive us to the orphanage or to a store. He would take us to all the different offices and wait patiently until we were done. He would make parking spots and magically find you in the chaos. 

One morning I had an appointment at the immigration office. By this point I had come to understand African time. But they were late picking me up, really late. I called Pascal and he told me they had some trouble. The keys to the truck had been hidden by one of the foster kids. I also knew Pascal well enough by this time to know the difference in his laughter. There's the chuckle, when he finds something outright amusing. There's the belly laugh, when he tells the story of going to Six Flags in America. Then there's the "haha" laugh when he's trying to lighten a situation. This was the last kind. The keys were nowhere to be found and I was waiting. 

A short while later there was a honk at the gate and Jephté and I ran out to hop in the truck. I asked where they had found the keys. They hadn't. Mara had managed to start the truck with a paper clip! He knew how important this meeting was to me and he found a way to get me there. 

Another day we visited the orphanage, after driving backward down that same narrow alley. During our hour long visit, someone had decided to dig a hold in the middle of the road. In fact, it was a lot of someones. The hole was already deep and the dirt was piled up high to the side. What was once a tricky stretch to navigate was now straight up impassable. I'm pretty sure I started laughing. This had to be a joke. I was looking for Ashton Kutcher, or at least his Congolese twin with a video camera. But Mara hollered again and people cleared out of the way. We scaled the soft pile of dirt, the truck tipping precariously into the wall as the wheels skidded and spun through the narrow passage. In a few minutes we were bouncing down the road again. 

In a way, my experiences with Mara at the wheel summarized my time in Congo. Tumultuous, seemingly out of control, but exhilarating and faith building all at the same time. He was a man of few words, but I learned he had a family. He drove for Pascal to care for his own family, but it was clear he was part of Pascal's family as well. He was persistent and trustworthy, creative and calm. I admired him, we all did. 

This morning I learned that Mara passed away. From TB. You know that little skin test you have to get everytime you start a new job? The one that always come back negative and you wonder why you even have to do it because you live in America? Tuberculosis. A disease that is both preventable and treatable. 

Today, on the other side of the world, a family of children will wake up fatherless. Not just statistics, but people that are connected to me. To my family. Mara played with my Jephté. He patted him on the head as if he was his own son. The day we got our exit letter he cheered, he honked his horn triumphantly as we rolled into the hotel compound. He celebrated with us. 

Today, I mourn for him. With his family. With my friends. And I long for the day when death is more. When disease is defeated. When justice and peace reign. When all things will be made new. 

Mara - Jephté - Olivier


Wednesday, November 18, 2015

I remember a timid little boy walking into my second period math class. He would shuffle his feet slowly, head bowed down as he slunk across the room into a chair. He would pull out his homework, always done, always correct, always on time. His defeated voice would answer my questions, but seldom offered ideas up to the class. He suffered from the chronic pain of Crohn's disease, you could see the grimace etched into the lines on his face. He often missed school as a result, but he never complained.

In all honesty, I'm not sure who would have listened if he had complained. I don't think his classmates realized the severity of his condition. I don't think most of them even recognized his existence. He was an outsider.

As a teacher, these are the kids that break your heart. You want so badly to help them find a friend, but at the end of the day, you're not a magician. I would move his seat around, give him opportunities to shine, check in with him when he was sick- but that was all I could do.

A few months ago I received an email from a colleague with a link to an article. Immediately I recognized the face. Ali. Hair just the same, but the jaw of a man replaced the chin of the soft boy I knew. His eyes still mysterious, like there are stories and secrets behind them. Waiting to be told, waiting for someone to listen. Waiting for someone to validate his existence and tell him that he belongs.

As my eyes wandered past the photo to the headlines, my heart sank.


ISIS. The little boy from my class. In federal prison.

He created a twitter handle to encourage his 4,000 followers to donate anonymously to ISIS via bitcoin. He even got into a twitter war with the state department account, Think Again Turn Away. He aided a friend in traveling to Syria to fight for ISIS. Those are just the things they knew to charge him with.

While all that is shocking, his response gripped me.

"For the first time I was not only being taken seriously about a very important and weighty [topic], but was actually being asked for guidance," Amin wrote. "I became lost and caught up in something that takes the greatest and most profound teachings of Islam and turns them into justifications for violence and death."

He was disillusioned. He didn't belong. ISIS gave him a place to belong.

I had another student that same year. Different period, similar complexion. His family immigrated from the same region of the world. And I saw his face in the news recently as well. 

Dagim. As a sixth grader, he wasn't too different from Ali. But as the years passed, he found his way. He found a place to belong and a country that embraced him. A country that gave him opportunity and freedom to grow and flourish. To express his ideas and explore his potential.

I could write many more paragraphs about friends and students who came to this country as immigrants and refugees. A student that founded a free medical clinic to support fellow Egyptian refugees. An Iranian friend became a doctor. Ethiopian families who have shown me undying gratitude for educating their children, and the children working their tails off to make the sacrifice of their parents worth it. Latina mamas who have made me tamales for supporting their children when they've surpassed the level of education their parents received.  Vietnamese families, Pakistani families, Afghan families. Families from war torn Africa. Students who have gone to college and earned degrees. Students who have given back to their communities out of gratitude for all they have been given.

As I've followed the news and scrolled through facebook the past few days, I've been overwhelmed by the response of my fellow Americans toward the Syrian refugees. I still don't know how to put it all into words. I wonder if people have forgotten how this country was founded, by a bunch of people seeking freedom from oppression. I wonder how Christians have forgotten the Christmas story, a middle eastern family seeking shelter and relief. I wonder if we remember that FDR declined to accept Jewish refugees during WWII. That Hitler warned he would exterminate them but we said no, we don't want them. It is inconvenient to us. It is too expensive. I wonder if people would actually speak their Facebook comments out loud? If they would say we have enough homeless people to worry about as they drive past the guy on the corner holding a cardboard sign. If they would actually give their $5 to a relief organization instead of buying a coffee. 

God have mercy if these refugees can't find respite in America. 


Sunday, October 25, 2015

Today I took Moses with me to the store. He's three, so as long as he's not throwing a tantrum he's pretty adorable. We walked in the door and jetted for the produce section. He spotted the banana display and exclaimed, "Oh! Look! Bananas! I LOOOOOOVE Bananas!" The produce guy chuckled and a few of the other customers smiled at his enthusiasm. We continued our trek up and down the aisles, he kept the entertainment lively. When we passed the cheese, he grabbed for a package that had cows on the front. "Oh, I NEED this for pweee-school. I LOVE cheese AND cows, MOOOOO!"

Again, he's three. He's getting taller by the day, but I can still stuff him into the seat on the shopping cart. He goes where I go and hollers at me whenever I walk more than five feet away. We might not look like we belong together, but a quick listen to our interactions will confirm that we are indeed a family.

We had checked everything off our list and headed toward the cashiers. (Added for context- we were in the middle of the wine section in a Trader Joe's, there was no candy in sight) An older white man was blocking the aisle so we maneuvered the cart to squeeze by. He looked at us for a minute and then said, "Hi little boy, I bet I know what you like to eat!" I imagined he would say apples, as Moses was working on a giant honey crisp we had picked up at the beginning of our trip. Or perhaps yogurt, as Moses was just explaining to me that while he LOVES stwaaaaberry yogurt SO MUCH! he can wait until we get home to use a spoon. Instead, the man quipped up, "Chocolate! Ha ha ha!"

I'm not sure what actually went down in the next few seconds, but it felt like someone hit the slow motion button. I think my eyes narrowed and my jaw dropped. I was at a complete loss for words, imagining that I must have misheard. I wanted to say something but the man was still just chuckling to himself. I spun around to put as much distance as possible between my son and this stranger, and that was the end.

Now, I can think of a thousand things to say to him. But its too late and it might have been better to keep my mouth shut anyways. The fact of the matter is that my son experienced racism today. As a three year old. As a cute little innocent child in the grocery store with his white mother there to remove him from danger. I am terrified to think what he will experience as a 17 year old boy or 25 year old man. The thing with racism today is that it can be so subtle. It's in a joke and a flippant comment. And what scares me even more is that people don't always realize they're being racist, they think they're just striking up a conversation and being funny. They think they're just telling a joke. That its harmless. Not thinking that telling a kid he has dark skin because he eats chocolate could mean that his skin could be white if he didn't eat chocolate. And if his skin was white, he would look more like his parents and his life might be a little easier. And that means that being white might actually be better than being black...

One of the many replies that has come into my mind since this episode is, "Wow, sir, its amazing your skin is so white considering you so full of shit." (Again, probably better my brain went into shock mode.) But even as I consider saying this out loud, I'm struck by how this statement could be received. As a white woman, I could probably say it, be scoffed at and continue on my way. If a black mother said it to that white man, I wonder how it would have unfolded. I wonder if they would've said she was "just running her mouth and should've known better" like they have about Sandra Bland and Eric Garner. If my 19 year old, 6 foot 3, dark skinned Moses had said it, what would have happened? Would the store manager have defended him or called the cops? And if the later, then what? If my 18 year old white son had said it, would there have been consequences. I would venture to say that Sam and I could get away with it. That's white privilege.

I know I've thrown the terms racism and white privilege out before, but never with a direct connection to our family. This is not abstract or something the media blew out of proportion. I'm sharing this experience today to put a name to it. And to encourage you, as a friend, to be aware of racial tension around you. Be an ally to people of color.  Even if its in the grocery store and someone says something totally ridiculous or flat out racist, call them on it. If you see people being treated differently for no reason, say something about it. Think about these issues. Talk about them with your friends and your children. That's how we start to bring equality and unity into our communities.

Later this afternoon, Moses and I were in the kitchen cooking together. He was stirring the bowl as I dumped ingredients in. I asked, "Hey, Mosey? Do you think we go together?" He giggled and said, "Yes! Mama!" (he may not know he word "duh," but was definitely channeling it) I looked at him, "Why? Why do you think so?" He looked a little confused, looked up at the ceiling, then exclaimed, "Because we're a team!" He dropped the whisk into the bowl and threw his arms around my neck. "We're a team, mama!" We are a team, no stupid comment or ignorant stranger can take that. And I'm pretty sure its time for humanity to start getting on the same team.


Thursday, October 1, 2015

It's quite a strange thing to live at a hotel. Had I planned to stay in Kinshasa for three months, it would've been quite a treat. My floors mopped everyday, my bed made, my kitchen cleaned. But instead of enjoying these luxuries, I felt really useless.

I wanted to explain to Carlos that I could make my own bed and sleep in the same sheets for more than a day.  Tomas didn't need to wash and iron my bedding every morning. If Joseph would show me where the broom was, I could clean up the corn flakes Jephté dumped on the floor. Sure, I couldn't handle the cockroaches and would run outside squealing to Samba and Patrick to come kill the <insert mental image of me flapping my arms like i'm an insect>. To which they would nod "yes madame," smirk, come into my room and gently lift the little creatures up into the palms of their hands to release back into the wild. (I suspect they did this knowing the bugs would find their way back into the room, thus providing endless hours of entertainment of me freaking out)

I wanted to tell them that at home, I clean my own house. I do laundry. I cook real meals. I clean my dishes and take out my trash. I drive myself around, in my own car. I even pump my own gas. There were a lot of things I wanted to tell the staff at the hotel, people I wanted to call my friends, but I don't think that word is quite right. Even if we had shared the same language, I don't think it all would've translated.

What they saw was only a part of me. This woman who kept telling them she was definitely, maybe going home tomorrow, but who never actually left. A woman whose brow was furrowed more often than not and who couldn't quite relax. The madame who came and went all day long, but never seemed to go anywhere. The woman who sometimes paid the Pablo driver to take her to Shoprite, just because she knew he would put American music on in the car. Somehow lil Wayne and Bob Marley made her feel a little less homesick. Ultimately, I was a woman who made it possible for them to stay employed.

One evening, I was in a particularly foul mood. Nothing had happened, which meant I would be spending another weekend in Congo. I was walking around with J, pacing the grounds like we did. The boss man had gone home for the day and a few of the staff were hanging out. They called out to their little friend who returned a big smile for their attention. "Ahhhhh! Jeffffff-tay!" they cried. These men were fathers too. They spent their lives at the hotel, rising with the sun to take four different busses across the city to work. They stayed until it was dark, only departing when the guests had no need of their services. They would take turns sleeping at the gate, come mosquitos or pouring rain. All this to send their children to school and put food on the table.

Yet on this particular evening, they were indulging in some local concoction that left them very happy and relaxed. When I saw one of them stuff a small baggie into a pocket, I stiffened. I turned away and dragged J back into our room. I felt angry. I didn't understand how they could give up so much of their lives and then waste what little disposable income they did have on that garbage.

I felt resentment rising up. These people I had come to trust and admire weren't quite so one dimensional as I had made them in my head. They had their reasons- reasons I had no context to even attempt to understand. Though the voice in my head was judgement, "how dare he? doesn't he understand? how selfish!" I had to let it go.

These people spent more time with me and my son than they did with their own families every day. My son received their hugs and playful tosses in the air, while their sons were frozen images on their phone screens. Photos taken on one of the two days they got off each month. These people made decisions I will never have to make because of my privileged circumstances.

I wonder how often we do that. We only see part of a person, we only understand the face that they show us in our limited interactions. And yet we judge. We think we understand so we impart and dominate. We think the way we do things is superior, so we diminish the value of the other. Ultimately, we end up widening the chasm between the humans we most want to connect with. Those who share our moments and inhabit our space.

Sometimes we need to dwell on moments like the last one I treasured with the staff from the hotel. The day Mara honked the horn on the truck two times and Samba swung the gate open. He peered deep into my eyes through cracked window, he knew I had been to DGM again. A smile broke across my face and he cheered. Pascal stuck his arm out of the window and gave a thumbs up. Carlos jumped up and down, Pablo gave a fist pump and started dancing. Patrick grinned and I'm pretty sure Jacques teared up, though he would never admit it. Coco Xavier bounced up and down like only a happy grandfather can do. Even Joseph smiled and Tomas came running across the yard. "Jephté! You are American now!!!" Kerén started singing, all the work ceased and celebration erupted. Our victory had become theirs. In the same way my sorrow had become theirs the day I had left without Jephté five months prior. The day Carlos gave me a hug, the day Samba shook his head with misty eyes. The day Pablo gave me his words in English, "I am sorry, Madame. So sorry." The day Vanessa let her tears spill as she said good bye to my baby.

Life is too short to miss out on these moments. Sometimes we just need to simmer down and let the guy who's high take care of the cockroach before we give ourselves a aneurysm trying to smash it with a broom. Sometimes we just need to be human together.

*but seriously, the cockroaches. eeeek!

** to clarify, i believe there are moral and ethical issues that we must fight for,  
but i think there are a whole lot more silly things we need to let go of. 


Wednesday, September 30, 2015

This moment. This one right here. I can't even describe it. Two years ago today.

There is nothing in the world like it. In a split second everything changes. The photos you've plastered on the walls of your home and poured over in your prayers come to life. A little voice rises up, and eyes blink back at you. Skin melts upon contact, lighting up nerves you never knew you had. Ones that lead straight to your heart and tear ducts. An embrace can never last long enough, smell and touch fade away as this unlikely bond is cemented into existence. 

Its a moment that can't be undone. 

As quickly as it begins, time interrupts. The interactions come- revolt, confusion, tears, resignation. Its just the beginning, but its your beginning. The one you've been waiting for. And the one he needs to start making sense from the sea of chaos that has ruled the beginning of his life. 

The only problem is that he is not quite convinced that he needs this new beginning. After a while the tears subside, maybe because he's starting to feel safe with you or maybe he's just lost the strength to cry. Either way, you begin to find your rhythm.

Along the way, I recall having a really difficult conversation with someone close to me. Asked how I could ever love a child who wasn't really "mine," I froze. I didn't have an answer, wasn't sure what it meant for a child to be "mine", but was convinced that none of it wouldn't matter. A few years later, on the day I met Jephté, that belief was confirmed. I could not possibly love this child any more. 

But that's not to say that this journey has been easy. Because there have been days that have felt impossible. Many of them, quite honestly. And these are only the days from my perspective. Had his little fifteen month old self had the capacity, I'm sure there would be scores of stories to share about the challenge of adjusting to life with me! I'm sure, with time, these stories will still come. 

I remember one evening in particular. Mike had just left Kinshasa, Jephté and I were on our own. The hotel we were staying in was a long, narrow building of connected suites. Though the doors were closed and locked, there was this sliver underneath, sitting right above the hard tile floor. It was hardly enough to let a cockroach scurry under, but it was plenty sufficient for sound waves to carry from one room to the next. The day before, my neighbor had been a fellow adoptive mom with a two year old son. We were well suited as neighbors, but that morning she had left and a professional business woman had moved in. She was nice enough but didn't seem too keen on children. She was Congolese, her English was quite good as she greeted me on the porch that afternoon. There was no denying she thought me crazy, utterly confused why I would trek across the globe to adopt a child. 

I quieted Jephté that evening, especially aware of my neighbor's presence and wanting to prove that I  had things under control. We followed our routine of dinner- which he didn't like, bath time- which he mostly hated, a shea butter massage- which he was intrigued by, and bed time snuggles- which were foreign and strange. He had fussed and fidgeted, unwilling to fall asleep. When he finally did, his head was at the foot of the bed, his limbs sprawled haphazardly taking up the entire middle section. I dared not move him and found sliver of mattreess to wedge myself onto. Partway through the night, I felt him wriggling around. But the closer I got to him, the more he pushed me away. I laid there in the dark, feeling so helpless. Suddenly, I felt his weight shift and heard a sickening thud. He had rolled out of bed and smacked his face on that hard tile floor. It was well after midnight, the compound was still and silent. Well, silent save the blood curdling screams coming from my son. The more I held him, the more he pushed me away. Knowing that the shrieks were echoing under the door, into my neighbor's room, I slipped out the front door, into the night. Tears streamed down my face, I wondered if I had made a mistake trying to make this child my son. 

The dawn hours lingered on, raindrops fell from the sky, and i walked circles up and down the driveway trying to quiet my broken little boy. Something passed between us. I had stayed with him through the night, through the pain. It was a small gesture, but it gave him another reason to trust me. And in the light of day, the truth came back- despite my fears in the dark, the morning reminded me that we had become family. Through my exhaustion and frustration, I was more devoted to this child than ever before. It was a fierce storm, but we had survived despite the bruised and bloodied face, rain plastered pajamas, complete lack of sleep and irritated neighbors.

I guess that's what I want to remember tonight on this anniversary. Even when it feels like the storm might overcome us, it will only take us to the edge where we find resolve and forge our bond all the more. Nalingi yo mon fils, Jephté. 


Friday, September 18, 2015

Two little boys call me mama. At age three and two and a half, you would think I've had my fill of little boy antics. But there are some gaps. I've never been a mother to a nine month old, or a ten month old, or an eleven month old. I've never celebrated a first birthday or cheered for first steps. I missed both of their first haircuts and first Christmases. 

When Moses reached all those milestones, some orphanage workers took them in, if they were even noticed in the chaos. When Samuel met them, I was on the other side of the globe trying to bring his brother home through a maze of adoption bureaucracy. My husband, family, and friends stood in my place. I took in those timeless moments over bad skype connections and photo streams in a lonely hotel room.
So there’s this little empty spot, a space where I wonder what it’s like to see your baby walk for the first time. To buy him a pair of shoes, not because they’re cute, but because he actually needs them. To make him a birthday cake and let him smash it with his fists. To watch the moment he changes from an infant to a boy with the snip of scissors. To watch his delight at the wrapping paper, unconcerned with the gift as his eyes twinkle like the Christmas lights.

At the beginning of this year, two little pink lines gave me the hope that I would have a chance to experience those things I had missed. September 14th was the due date, a chance to start again and take in all those moments so sacred to motherhood. But it was a chance that ran out of time when her heart stopped beating. We named the baby Charis, trusting that God would give us the grace we so desperately needed. We had done this twice already, we had found grace before, but naming her allowed us to embrace it yet again.

I woke up on the fourteenth of September thinking that it should’ve been a joyful day, the sorrow revisited. I longed for what was lost. But I also found peace, I was carrying new life. A life that had a perfect and strong heartbeat. A life that would join us early next spring. God had delivered his grace to us.

To even write the next few sentences of the story seems unreal. Like somehow I just needed to startle myself awake for September 15th and everything would still be fine. But I couldn’t. My body was very much trapped, fighting against nature, desperately clinging to the child I didn’t want to give back to its maker. I lost. This baby slipped away from me and the emptiness settled in.

Lying on the floor I wanted to scream out, “Why? Why couldn’t I keep this one? Why do you keep taking them from me?” But then there was another voice, quiet and gentle. “Haven’t I met you in this before? Haven’t I been enough? Haven’t I given you good gifts?”

I won’t pretend that the second voice drowns out the first. But it is the second voice that gives me hope. The one that helps me believe we will flourish again. It’s the voice that lets me rejoice with friends when their babies enter the world. It’s the voice that compels me to keep loving my husband, knowing that this tragedy might strike again. It’s the voice that encourages me to share the experience, knowing that someone might need to hear Him a little more clearly because this particular emptiness can feel so isolating. It’s the voice reminding me that sometimes brokenness and heartbreak is part of the gift.

A reminder that these lives entrusted to me are not just a compilation of experiences to marvel at. Maybe in missing those sacred moments, I received gifts I didn’t expect. Maybe in the disappointment, I’ve learned to relinquish control. Maybe in the mourning, I’ve experienced the comfort of His presence. Maybe in the separation, I’ve learned how to pray for my boys with fervency. Maybe in the sorrow, I’ve discovered empathy. Maybe I’m learning gratitude in a way I didn’t understand before. Maybe God is drawing me closer to his heart, like I’ve prayed for my whole life. Maybe he’s taking me deeper than my feet would ever wander, because I’ve asked Him to. Maybe the tears wash the scales from my eyes so I can see Him more clearly.

I’ve come to the conclusion that the gift is much more complex than I dare to admit. And I think that’s good, because it means my God is big enough to hold all this pain and disappointment and still give love and comfort in ways so far beyond my comprehension. He sees what I don’t. He loves all six of my children more than I ever could. And He draws me, inviting me to experience intersections of Heaven and Earth in the most profound ways. He gives me grace to hold the tension between the joy and the disappointment, the hope and the pain, the already and the not yet. Sometimes I get to experience those special firsts in motherhood, but sometimes the sacred moments are the ones that show up in every day life. The ones I notice because I've learned how to fight for them through the storms and search them out in the quiet. 

So when that first voice thunders, "why? why? why?" my soul is anchored in what I've learned from the second voice, His voice. The voice reminding me to hold fast to the hope that one day all of my children and I will meet in the most sacred of moments, gathered together in the presence of our God.


Wednesday, September 2, 2015

I wrote this to a former student. She's suffered a devastating injury keeping her from the thing she loves most- soccer. Her potential ride through college and life giving passion. I know for most people reading this blog, soccer isn't a defining quality of life. But there might be something else. A failure. A disappointment. And I think the message is the same to each of us. We are the sum of our parts. Even fifteen years out of high school, I sometimes still need these words.

  *   *   *

You are not defined by one thing.
You may feel controlled at this moment,
but I think that power is subjective.
I know your ACL teases and taunts you.
Mocking you with the dawn of each day.
It floods you with doubt and disappointment.
Questioning what might have been,
instead rendering you immobile and frozen.
It feels that more than your leg that is frozen.
But it will thaw, if you let it.
The damaged muscle that laughs at your hopes and dreams-
well, its really only a muscle.
You may beat is back into submission.
But you also might not.
Sometimes life is strange like that.
Sometimes the things we were so sure of
unexpectedly fail us,
leaving a big empty space for something new.
I don't know what your new is.
I don't know if its still soccer, but with a new trick or maneuver,
easing on one muscle group to find strength in another.
I don't know if your days on the field are done.
But what I do know is that you are a sum of your parts,
not defined by one skill in your vast arsenal.
You are a student, curious and determined.
Always pushing ahead, forging your way,
drinking your success down like a cup of cold water after a hard practice.
You are a friend. Loyal and kind. Generous and compassionate.
A teammate in the truest sense of the word,
celebrating with the victors, grieving with the brokenhearted,
embracing life alongside those you call friend.
You are a sister, a strong and worthy role model.
You encourage and love and set the course for those following behind you.
You are a daughter, beloved and cherished.
not because of your skills, but because of who you are.
You embody each of these qualities fully,
yet not one of them defines your fully.
As the years pass, so many more roles will be added to this list.
And with each season some will dominate and some will fade.
But none of them will ever go away completely.
My hope for you is that this season will reveal a new inner strength
one you never know you possessed.
A fire that doesn't just get you back on the field,
but one that gets you through life.
Through graduations and college exams.
Through heartbreak and disappointment.
A fire that makes you even more empathetic toward others,
a fire that stirs you to find your place in the world.
A place where you can grow and flourish.
Where you can touch the lives of others with your contagious spirit.
Where you can do good and bring hope.
Where your name will also be your message to the world,
Nayeli, Zapotec for I love you.
You are strong, you are formidable.
Give yourself grace.
Give yourself space to grieve your loss.
But let it make you stronger.
You are more.


Saturday, August 29, 2015

Its too hot inside, I'm sitting in the dark on the back patio. The wind rushes through the palms- rustling the fronds, stirring the night. When I close my eyes, Congo comes back to me. The same big sky above, dotted with the stars that look down from the heavens. The heavy summer air, humid and sweet. The crickets chirp, the air conditioners buzz, the occasional car zooms down a nearby avenue. A cold bottle of water, a tiny square of dark chocolate, the sweet scent of a flowering bloom. I imagine the fat raindrops falling on my face. I am sitting outside my hotel room in Kinshasa, drinking in the night.

All those evenings alone in the dark outside my hotel room did something to my soul, something i can't quite put into words. I never would've constructed that season, given the chance, but I would also never erase it, now that it has come to a close. I guess there's still some tension, I don't want to be that annoying person who only ever talks about that one time she lived in Africa. But I also can't ignore that there was something very simple and pure about those months void of productivity and accomplishment. Weeks of eating noodles out of a box and savoring cold glass bottles of coke. Weeks of the same simple routine, the labor of hand washing our clothes, the monotony of walking circles around the hotel out of sheer boredom. The nights scheming against cockroaches and mosquitos.

It was easy to appreciate little things. The luxury of a glass of wine or a package of tortillas. The complete lack of clocks and morning alarms. The ease of building friendships. Is it weird that some of my favorite people are scattered across the country? We spent a few weeks together, but forged this mysterious bond that is so much more than,  "well, she is my facebook friend, and we never actually see each other, but we ate raw onions dipped in hummus at Al-Darr's together and got sick off Hungry Lion together and visited this orphanage together and battled lice together and went to City Market together to walk around in the air conditioning together, and we ate fish eyeballs together at this Christmas potluck, oh! and..."

I'm wrestling to put all the pieces together- pieces from different puzzles that don't always seem to fit together. My western context, my African experiences, my Christian framework. It takes some elbow grease, it takes throwing some of the pieces out the window, it takes some tears and hard questions, but its not elusive. On nights like this, Congo still haunts me, calling me to remember. Reminding me to embrace my life a little more fully, a little more intentionally, and with a good dose of gratitude.


Monday, April 27, 2015

I've been thinking a lot about the upcoming Mother's day lately.

I think about the babies that should be in my arms, but never will be because of reasons beyond my understanding.

I think about the child that is in my arms, but was never really meant to be. The little boy who was born to a mother who would never love or care for him because of poverty and injustice and disease.

And I think about the little boy who was born to me. Things with him are just the way they were meant to be. Or so I think.

All these realities swirl around in my head and my heart, leaving me conflicted about this holiday we celebrate. Grateful, but frustrated and heartbroken all at the same time.

Last year I encountered women who were daily forced to decide whether their children most needed the love of a family or food in the tummies- because in Congo those things are sometimes mutually exclusive. Orphanages may be the best possible option for some kids in the midst of tragedy, but the reality is that there should be better options. And that's what we're trying to do at Reeds of Hope... give mothers access to better options.

We're partnering with our Congolese friends Paul and Micheline to help lift mothers out of poverty so that they can love and feed their children. So they can parent and educate them. So they don't have to make impossible decisions just to keep their kids alive.

Paul & Micheline will use our scholarship fund to invite vulnerable mothers into their sewing training program. For three months these women will learn a skill and prepare to launch a small business. At the end of the training, our hope is that these women will be able to provide a sustainable income and support their families.

If you'd like to learn more about how to support these mothers, please visit www.reedsofhope.or/mothers


Friday, February 27, 2015

The thirty mile stretch of road between my home and my family is magical. The highway hugs the coast, kissing the ocean as it winds along the shore. The waves break, filling the air with a salty mist. The sun extends its rays, sending gleams of light skipping across the gently rolling sea. The beauty is captivating. The expanse evokes a sense of freedom, my soul is loosed of restraint and burden. The grandeur never tires, again and again I wonder in awe.

I wonder at my insignificance and frailty next to such a display of untamable power. Why and how the God that created this looks upon me. Its easy to ask why me? when sorrow comes our way. But gazing out upon the endless horizon, I am left asking why me? to receive such provision and grace.

As I made the trek today, reminders of His goodness washed over me. Particularly, the fact that Moses was sitting in a carseat behind me clapping his hands and singing at the top of his lungs. I realize this might sound dramatic, but I assure you it is not. I don't have the words to capture what it means that this child is called a son and was granted permission to join our family nine months ago. Unless you've traveled to Kinshasa or been wrapped up in this horrific 18 month suspension of exit letters, it is nearly impossible to grasp the gravity of this reality. Hundreds of legally adopted children remain trapped in orphanages and foster homes. The government has told us they are working on a plan to allow children to go home, that has been their answer for 18 months now.

Today my soul is laid bare before my creator in wonder and awe. Forever grateful that my story is woven together with Moses Jephté. Undone by the freedom we've been granted to live together as a family. If you have been part of this journey at all, you bear witness to a miracle.

In the Old Testament, there is this story... The Israelites are being pursued by a powerful enemy, the Philistines. At the moment when it seems there is no hope, God sends loud thunder, throwing the enemy army into a panic. The Israelites defeat their enemy, under no illusion of their own power. Samuel places a stone in memorial, naming it Ebenezer, saying, "Thus far, the Lord has helped us."

In my own life, I can point to specific events and experiences and claim, "Yes! The Lord has helped us." And because I know he has been faithful to help us so far, I trust that he will continue. To all my friends waiting in the uncertainty, know that you are not forgotten. For those of you who have been a part of our story and bear witness to the miracle of our son, would you join me in praying for those who wait? That one day very soon, we will stand with them wondering over God's help at their deliverance from what seems an impossible battle. That one day soon, my drives along the coast will be filled with praise not only for my little boy, but for all the children waiting to come home.


Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Last year I gave up bitterness and anger for Lent. Unconventional, I know. But they were the two things keeping me furthest from God. And they were rotting my soul. Steeping me in questions of doubt all the while keeping the goodness and grace of my God at a distance. The act of confessing the ugly truth and embracing a life free from their grip for 40 days changed me. The letting go brought life. 

This year I'm chosing to embrace grace. And not just grace in the English sense of the word we admit into our vocabulary on occasion. More specifically the kind of grace found in the prologue to the gospel of John. We are met with a beautifully poetic passage that reveals who Jesus really is. As it concludes, this verse captures me: 

For from his fullness we have all received, grace upon grace 

I read a commentary on this passage recently and was struck by the authors words: 

Grace is not merely an attribute of God. It is known when someone enjoys his goodness. It is the recipient who knows grace, not the theologian who has studied it. Thus in 1:16 John emphasizes our experience and reception of this grace as its chief merit. 

This grace flows from the fullness of God. The fullness of God. From the only one who is wholly and purely good in every possible sense of the word. The one who isn't defined by goodness but whose very existence defines goodness. The one whose loving kindness never ends. Whose mercies are new every morning. The one who will set all things right and restore the whole of creation. 

This grace is extended, its only condition is reception. When we receive it, we experience the fullness of God's goodness. Charis is the greek word to capture this reality. 

It sounds easy. As I read back I almost feel silly for attaching this luxury to lent. The truth though, is that I find it much easier not to receive this grace. Its easier to cling to the heart ache and the pain. To mourn for what is lost. I wonder that the ugliest things can be the hardest for me to shove off. 

I don't want to just say that I know God is good. I want to live as someone who enjoys His goodness,  come what may. Someone who fully receives charis.   


Wednesday, February 11, 2015

Today my baby is eight weeks old. The size of a kidney bean. A distinguishable head and body, little nubs starting to emerge for limbs. The tiny heart started beating at some point in the last few weeks, coursing life giving blood through the developing systems. How one argues that such a tiny form is not a person escapes me. Life is miraculous.

The problem is that I've been pregnant for nine weeks and a few days. The discrepancy in time means that our child is no longer with us. The tiny heart has run its course, sometime last week it just stopped. Which makes this the end. Another end. Another end that I can't quite reconcile into my framework of sense.

Three times now, I've done this. Stared at the screen. Willing the blip to appear, imagining the steady little flash of a beating heart into existence. But once again, it eludes me. And I'm left sitting alone in the silence. While I don't particularly enjoy being pregnant, there is no denying that it is an all encompassing experience. Even if you want to carry on with life as normal, the constant nausea or fatigue is bound to interrupt. Maybe thats what makes this so difficult- the sudden knowledge that what had been so very real and present is gone. It's gripping in the worst way possible.

So I turn to the one thing that is supposed to bring comfort. I sit with the psalmist wondering why? I tear through the 22nd psalm as my husband suggested. Several times, grasping for a commentary in disbelief that he might think i would find solace here. In my rush, i nearly missed what he saw. What he heard. What he knew. What he wanted me to find.

"My God, My God," the psalmist laments. He doesn't just say "God," he insert the possessive pronoun. My. Something does not become my own without intimacy. Without time together, experience, knowledge, trust. In the midst of tragedy, the psalmist knew who to direct his words to. He knew where to send his thoughts and his questions. As the days pass, perhaps I will continue to delve more into the rest of the psalm, but for now the first phrase is where I sit. "My God, my God."

I do not understand all that my God wills and allows. But I do know his faithfulness, in my heart, in my core, it is real. As I've done before, I will request again of my God, "Be not far from me." I will remember the miracle that Samuel's heart continued to beat past the 8th week. I will remember the miracle that Moses was delivered through the storm of impossible adoption bureaucracy.  Most of all, I will remember the miracle that God the Father gave up his son, willingly, for my redemption. He knows the pain of searing loss more than I, so I rest with Him. In the sadness, in the pain, his love is deep and vast. He is enough.
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