Leo is 12

This is only the second birthday we’ve known you.  And those years without a mom and dad they took their toll.  I don’t share much of your journey here but its been a longer one in some ways than any of us expected, and a more miraculous one too.

And now you’re 12.  Old enough to sit in the front seat of the car, which you did with great joy, flashing me that trademark smile. The grin so big it almost breaks your face, and makes the bones at your temples stand out in sheer relief.

That’s the smile that makes people fall in love with you so quickly. You know how to lead a room, how to take charge of any moment, how to walk right up, say hello, and find your place.

At home we process the anger and the hurt, the feelings of rejection and betrayal that are common to all children but sit deeper in those who have already borne so much. And when I do not have answers and when my hugs are not enough, and when I cannot stop what must find a way to express itself . . . .then I have learned to simply hold my ground.  To stay present and to be an anchor of love.  I have learned that love doesn’t need to look like what I thought.  That attachment is not a race; it can be a long wander through many desert places with occasional oases.  There is no destination, really, only the journey, for all of us.  And you have taught me that, as no one else ever has, or perhaps ever could.

But at 12 you are extraordinary.  A scientist if I ever met one.  Your curious questions and whys test my knowledge and my patience.  And those questions are exactly the ones everyone should know to ask but so few do. “Why does the fog come in the morning and disappear after a few minutes?  Is that when the water goes back into the clouds?”  We struggle through your learning of language for you are a talker and a verbal processor. You long to express yourself well right now.  You have so much to say and so much to ask.  You learn English at a marvelous speed, and read and write so quickly that 18 months home you are already writing in paragraphs.

You go through phases of intense passion and purpose.  Acrobatics; when you walk endlessly on your hands everywhere we go.  Paper airplanes; when hundreds of flying aircraft littered our floors for weeks and paper disappeared faster than we could buy it. Rubik’s Cubes which continues to be your obsession to this day; you can solve the 2×2, 3×3, and 4×4 along with assorted other shapes and sizes and you long for more.  You love to sing everywhere you go.  You pick your way through piano and ask to learn drums. You listen to musicals over and over.

At twelve you are small but fierce.  Angry but joyful. Deceitful but determined to be trustworthy.  You are an ever-changing being. I cannot hold much to be true about you other than you are my son and you will not be the same more than a few days in a row. But I’ve committed to this ride with you, so now, at 12, on the cusp of adolescence, I hold on tight.

Happy birthday, my son.

on blooming outside the church

The large patch of bearded irises just beyond our wrought iron fence waves in the spring morning wind.  A single large purple flower beckons me to come and visit the tribe.

So many irises; so few flowers.  A visiting friend asks me about them and I mention that we didn’t plant them, they were just here when we moved in.  We don’t do anything with them. They barely bloom.

“Too crowded,” she said.  They won’t bloom if they crowd.  You’ll have to dig in and separate them, find them new homes and they’ll begin blooming again.  They’ll be beautiful, she said.

It’s like a revelation – that crowding can stop our bloom.  The interwoven roots of community  wrap around each other in a symbiosis and we always see that as beauty and strength.  The redwoods hold each other up, you know.  But did we ever know that too many of us too close can hinder our beauty?  And isn’t it this beauty that bears the seeds with which we propagate the earth with love and hope and wisdom?

Here in wild meadow, away from others, I begin to bloom again. I have no one to compare myself to.  No way to know if my purple flower is showier or better than the others.  I am here for myself and the wild grasses and the weeds.  Blooming, seeding, waiting.

And in my absence I have made the other flowers stronger too.

The irises spoke to me and told me their story and I found in it my story too.  We left our home church months ago and are not looking for another but we have not left our faith. Here in the wild meadow I am at home and at peace.  God is here too.  For now, this is home. 

 

 

my unhappy unknown

I still believe in love.

As hopeless and hokey and hippie as that might make me.

I love you, my many dear friends, who are excited and hopeful about America’s future as our new president takes office tomorrow.

And I love you, the many, who are afraid.

I even have love in my heart for that strange man, the almost-POTUS.  After all, he too is made in God’s image.  He too was once a little boy.  He too gets afraid. He too is human.

Its just that I feel as if I have spent my whole life looking for someone to look up to.

Perhaps this is the story of those whose trust was broken hard.

We just never quite get well.

If all I wanted was to be happy.  I could wrap myself in this privileged life I call home.  And just pursue beauty.

Now that sounds peaceful.  No one fights over that.

Let me just put up some more dictionary pages on my walls and fill a few more hoops with African kikois and plant another succulent and spray paint some more gold.

And I will do that. I’ll order seeds this weekend because new things grow.  Because flowers make life better.  I’ll order from eco-friendly companies run by small business owners who propagate heirloom seeds.  And on every level this will make me feel a little better.

I’ll tend to my winter garden that needs cutting back and cleaning up.  I’ll even house hunt for that elusive bigger place our family needs.

But the truth is.  While I cocoon in my beauty bubble.  Injustice will continue.  The voiceless still need a voice.  The depth of darkness in the church continues to harm the children.  While I care for myself and my own, a whole world festers.  If you have not seen children hungry each day maybe you cannot know.  If you do not hold a motherless child, maybe you can be distant.

But this is my unhappy unknown.  How do I make peace with a world like this?

And who will search with me for these answers?

Because the pat ones aren’t good enough.

To be a Jesus lover and to not accept many of the messages of the church.  Well, it’s a little like being in the wilderness waiting for the promised land.  You want to just go in but home is so elusive.

I want to imperfectly love the imperfect.  Because that’s all any of us can ever do, right? But there’s that line, that sticky line.  That while I imperfectly love the imperfect – I must somehow still note that which crosses from our universal humanity, into something worse.  Something that must be stood up to.

I cannot stand by while harm is perpetrated.

And yet that is so often been asked of me: by my family, by the church, and now by our country.

Do not ask it of me friends.

Please, do not ask it of me too.

 

 

 

 

Voting for life – another perspective.

I am pro-life and I’m voting for Hillary.

My news feed is full of Christians declaring that regardless of their feelings about Trump’s sometimes immature or unwise words, they are voting for him because he is pro-life and will appoint conservative justices to the Supreme Court.  Multiple Christian leaders have come out with strong statements that this is one of the pivotal points in our nation’s history. That the President we choose now will set the tone for our nation’s moral future.  And that we should choose Trump – the moral choice for life.

I disagree.

I disagree for many reasons.  But perhaps most importantly to you, I disagree that a vote for Trump is a vote for life.  Stick with me here.

Let’s say that Trump wins.  Let’s say that Trump really is unabashedly pro-life.  Let’s say that he immediately replaces Justice Scalia with a pro-life justice. In this theoretical situation, the composition of the Supreme Court would now be four liberals, four conservatives, and one swing vote.  Now let’s say another liberal justice dies or retires and another pro-life justice is appointed by Trump.  I think I’ve now set up your perfect storm for the pro-life movement.  Am I right? This is why you’re voting for Trump, right?

Okay, now what.

Now Texas, or another conservative State, knowing the composition of the Supreme Court, will challenge the abortion restrictions.  The case will make it’s way up to the Supreme Court.  The court will have to rule seriously and considerately on the issue, whatever the specifics. If all goes well for the pro-life team, new federal restrictions on abortion could be allowed to dictate states’ actions, or the federal government could be told to stay out of individual state’s choice to restrict their abortions by law.  Meanwhile bills funding planned parenthood (not for abortions as they already may not, by law, be federally funded for abortions) could be passed in Congress and a pro-life Trump could veto those bills.  Theoretically Trump could take executive action that could in some way restrict abortions, although I can’t think of what that would be.  This is the best case scenario: some chipping way at Roe v Wade, some changes to how conservative states regulate abortions, some executive actions making abortions harder to access.

In other words, even best case scenario, not that much.

Our President, no matter how pro-life, isn’t going to significantly change our nation’s abortion story.  New laws may be passed, old ones may be changed, Roe v Wade may be chipped away at . . . but it will take much more than a pro-life President to stop abortions in America.

This is partly because we don’t have a national consensus against abortion in the way that we do against murder and rape. As my husband says, any law that is going to work must have overwhelming public support, at least in theory. Take the speed limit.  Many people speed a little, but most of us still believe the speed limit law as a good guideline for how to live.  We agree with it, at least in theory.  So we might speed a little but the speed limit works as a guide to keep us all safe.

In contrast, our nation feels more uneasy about restricting women’s current rights than they do about saying that an unborn baby’s life is equivalent to any other human’s. We don’t treat miscarriages the way we do a SIDS death at 3 months old.   As a nation, we haven’t come to terms with where life starts or how equal unborn life is.

But whether we are for or against abortion, we can be united on this: even if we think women should have the right to choose an abortion, we all still wish they never had to happen.  We wish that no woman was ever faced with an unwanted pregnancy.  We wish that no woman had to go through the hormone rise and fall that comes with pregnancy and abortion, we wish that no woman had to experience the pain, the bleeding . . . all of it. All of us, pro-life and pro-choice are for fewer abortions.

So how can we drive down abortions?  Not primarily by electing a pro-life candidate.  We do it by addressing the needs of children for safety, stability, and education because the children of today are the men and women making choices tomorrow.   We do it by providing care for those in crisis.  By loving our minorities, our disabled, our youth and our immigrants. We look at the most vulnerable and we help find solutions to their most pressing problems. In order to be pro-life we must be pro-people.  We must take action to support people so they will have choices.  Legislating the option of abortion away will not change much if these unwanted children are being born to mothers and family systems that are unable or unwilling to love and support them into physical and emotional health.

In this election, I will believe some of us will put salve on our conscience by voting pro-life but we will not be actually impacting those whose very lives we say we fight for.

This seems to me the opposite of Jesus’ approach.  He ruled not by law, but by grace. Not through appealing to morality, but by meeting felt needs with his provision and abundance. Yes, the law matters, but it does not bring us life.

I’m voting for Hillary because I believe that the systems that will reduce abortions are the systems that support people, especially the most vulnerable people in our nation.  BECAUSE I’m pro-life, not in spite of it.

Just another perspective.

 

 

 

the tender warrior

You’ve only grown a foot or more in the last year.

Shrugged out of the preteen angst that you’ve worn for longer than I enjoyed it.

Stepped into a new tenderness, a new strength, a new depth.

Become a young man.

Somewhere in this thirteenth year.

You’ve reached deep into my heart and made me love more than I’ve loved before.

And become a man I’m proud of.

One who thinks deeply, who loves well, who’s not afraid to be sad, or angry, or heartbroken.

Who honors women and gazes adoringly at dogs, cats, babies and the elderly.

You’re becoming a man I’d be proud to trust a woman to.

A man who’d father with excellence and heart.  Who’d show kindness to the most broken, to the least deserving.

You help break the judgment off my heart, my mind, my life.

And I’m learning to trust your process.

To allow you to be a child, while shepherding you into manhood.

I’m learning that though you are bigger than ever, inside you aren’t ready to grow up quite yet.

You’re teaching me, slowly, to listen.  To seek to understand.

You are not afraid to rebuke me, to  hold my feet to the fire, to tell me when I am dishonest or unkind.

And I am thankful.

Thank you for being a truth teller with the most loving of hearts.

Thank you, Quinn, for being you.

Happy 14th, my son.

I am the luckiest of women, to be your mom.

 

Nimble*

A few years ago it was pancakes-as-big-as-your-face-Saturdays.  Now it’s noodle-soup-Sundays.  And just like we did with the pancakes, we go all out with the noodle soup.  Bok choy, chicken, green onions, cilantro, asian-style fried onions, hoisin and garlic chili sauces, rice noodles.  The works.  And Daddy cooks.  Every Sunday.  At least until we choose something else.

This is the thing with our traditions.  We have them . . . they just keep changing.  And the part of me that is always fighting to establish safety, security, and FAMILY, feels weird about that.

But that’s our life.  I read a post from my bestie Amy yesterday and realized that she’s found a positive and affirming way to capture this lifestyle that happens to be the same as the one we’ve chosen. She used the word “nimble” to describe their family’s way of life – which means to move quickly, easily or lightly.

Our lives center around this. We bought a house, conscious that it would be easy to rent or resell, and every change we make to it we make from that same consciousness.  We’ve settled our kids into schools but we consider new placements for them each year, making sure they’re still in the best place for this time in their life. We took jobs but we reevaluate them several times a year, always ready to pivot into what suits God’s plans and our hearts better.  We don’t mind taking in new stuff but we’re always letting go of the old.  Two cross-continental moves have made me eager to live lightly.  I always want to be able to easily move/liquidate my house in a day.   We are expectant and eager. We are flexible and forward thinking.  We are nomads.  But not the kind who spend only a day or a week in one place. We’re the kind who stretch out our tent pegs and settled in for a few years. But we don’t lose the nomad heart-set.  We’ve settled ourselves lightly on this ground.  Breathing in it’s best for however long we are called to.  Ready to walk away when a new wind blows.

So this is a step forward for me today.  Owning the truth that we’re really not fickle or flaky. That our ever changing lives, homes, and directions aren’t a result of a lack of direction or a failure to stay focused.  Because I know the truth about us.  We’re committed to being nimble.

We’ve learned to eat sombe and g-nut sauce for Thanksgiving.  And this year we’ll invite a whole bunch of Chinese friends over and eat dumplings and duck. And in between we’ve eaten microwave hostess meals and traditional turkey and whatever else.  Because we’re nimble.  Because we choose adventure over routine, people over things, passion over practicality.

*This title was shamelessly stolen from Amy’s blog post by the same name on the same topic. See link in post.

fifteen years ago today

It was fifteen years ago today that David, and I woke up in a little town home in Northern Virginia. Our chubby little Naomi was almost eighteen months and pure joy.  We had moved into the furnished town home just a few nights before and on this glorious fall morning in Virginia, David headed off for his first day of a three month training.  His site was not far from the Pentagon.

Since I had no TV, radio  and no cell phone, it took a little while for the news to reach me.  David called from a restaurant where he and his new colleagues had holed up, watching TV. Training was cancelled. After I hung up, I used my desk top to pull up a few still pictures that were already reaching the internet.  I remember sitting with little Naomi as she played, her tiny self completely innocent and unaware.  My whole body a prayer,  we waited to see what would come next.  And the news kept getting worse.

Later that day David arrived home with a new friend, Karl, who had come from New York for the training, and whose hotel was right next to the Pentagon and thus inaccessible.  Karl slept on our rented couch after an evening filled with spurts of words and long heavy silences.  By the next day his hotel was open again and he slept there.  But it was the start of an unbreakable friendship.

We got through those three months, three months when so many suffered and when the future looked so uncertain.  It was in that little house that I first saw visions of children I felt called to adopt.  I spent many hours there searching the internet for pictures of little ones Haiti that might be our second and third children. Those three months were really long, but very good.  Me, at home in an unfamiliar neighborhood, without a car, and with a busy toddler.  Each day we took long walks and spent hours playing with sink water. We made up the best fun, waiting for our pile of junk mail each day and creating epic picture journals with the ad clippings.

Many years later, Karl and his family would become some of our steady supporters as we launched into a calling in the jungle of Africa.  We would eventually visit them and spend a night in their home outside of New York City.  Karl still has us on his Wednesday prayer list.

This year, Quinn’s freshman high school class will be the first to learn about 9/11 as a historical event, not one that they lived through. No one has to remind me of that. We returned to sunny San Diego in December and decided to have one more bio baby before pursuing adoption.  Quinn swam into our lives just a little while later, full of such joy and fun that he took our breath away.  Oblivious to the troubled world he had entered.  I remember how it felt precarious to bring a baby into the world at such a time.  I remember that love won anyway.

 

 

 

Restored by a razor

Clean freshly shaven legs.  One imagines the very world can be conquered when the weight of a thousand tiny stubbles is lifted from our feminine lower limbs.  Energetic, we stride, smooth-legged into our worlds again.  Restored by a razor.  Only lotion can give us a further edge up on the world.  We are invincible.  We do not walk, we glide, we float. In the early morning light – post shower, suddenly we feel eager to fill planners and mark off to-do lists.  We pick up each extra dust bunny we pass as we stride the halls, readying young progeny for school.  We type quickly into our phones and computers, multi-tasking our way through breakfasts and the mundane packing of lunches.

On these mornings, our ideas are golden.  Our bodies tireless.

We do not shave our legs to meet the world’s standards of beauty.  It’s not meant to please our husbands or assorted other men in our lives.

No, we do it because the very act renders us goddesses.  Untouchable and inspired.

I save my shekels for laser hair removal.  Oh to feel that powerful each and every day.  Or would I?  Without the feeling of the slow build up of prickles, the darkening of small hairs across shins and ankles, perhaps I would not experience the effervescent magic of it’s removal.

I think I’ll take my chances.

And brave the laser.

 

 

And again, our little world swings

It’s just the normal orbiting of life, this slow swing into the school year.  You’d think we’d all be ready with the way it happens annually, but transition is always a little jarring, even the happy jolt of a new school year.
We have a second one in high school now, our bear of a freshman, Quinn, who is only 13 and has feet as big as his father’s and only a few inches to go to catch him in height.  Quinn is still the tender warrior, tough enough to withstand anything yet soft enough to love anyone.  He will thrive in high school, I am certain, as he takes on a full slate of honors without a second thought, and is friends with all the juniors already.  I hug him hard and let him go, my heart, out walking around in the cruel, wonderful world.
His sister, Naomi, has broken the way for him.  As first borns must do.  She enters her junior year strong.  Driving herself and her brother in to classes each day. Taking another full honors load and excited for it.  On track to study genetics in college.  Coaching junior cheerleaders.  Working as a supervisor in her part time job.   Most of all, more centered, more stable, after our world rocked last year with our family’s fourth child. We are so proud of how she has centered herself, how she has reached deep and found strength inside of herself, and found her way.
Meanwhile, our two littles will be back at the Mandarin Arts School, where they will both do shortened days, designed to give them extra time building connections with me and layering language learning in the way only mothers and children can do.   They are two brave fifth graders, re-entering American school, with all it’s cultural complexity.  I will let them go with my breath held after more meetings with teachers, administrators and support staff, all of whom know their needs and work hard to meet them. Praying all the way.  And they will shine.  We’re so grateful for the Asian school community around them. After all, it takes all of us, a village, to raise our children.

Details

I sit in the house-dim of a summer evening, waiting the moments out till it is not too early to start our bedtime routine.  In theory the littles bedtime is at 8.  In practice, this summer, it is usually 9.  On evenings like this, when I am tired, I wait a little longer than I think I can, to start the evening routine. I want them to go to bed early but not feel cheated.

Like most of mothering, it is an art, but science enters into it.

My new planner, sits, happy, on the counter, it’s golden polka dots and pretty script beckon.  I take a moment to grab my pencil, the one that was sharp yesterday, with it’s yellow eraser of a hat, and record the food I ate this evening.  I am doing my best to work on health.

There are contented sounds from the living room.  The crinkle and whoosh of lego play along with a soft chattering in Mandarin.  The two littles ones, immersed in their creative world.  The deep buzz of Quinn’s voice as he talks, via headphone, to a friend across town who is his partner in online warfare. The cats murmur to me, isn’t it almost their dinner time?

I check the dryer one more time for the day and fold the comforter I find inside into perfect right angles and lay it flat in the still-clean linen cabinet.  A comforting activity. The house is not clean but it is neat for now, and that neatness lets me feel ready to rest, ready to settle in for an episode of Gray’s Anatomy, a perusal of instagram or a slow deep fall into my latest library novel.

The air conditioner roars it’s quiet roar and I step back into the hallway where the coolness congregates.  I wipe my forehead and light a candle in the bathroom. The pure white of the new shower curtain with it’s scatter of golden confetti releases peace. I breath in deeply.

A life is found in it’s particulars.  These are mine, this evening.