I headed out for a run this morning as the kids’ bus pulled away…I do this a lot, pop in the earbuds and hit the road straight from the bus stop. I often imagine that the other mom’s think I’m a bit nuts, and I imagine the conversation about why I run, which usually starts with people saying “I hate running!”
I used to hate running too…after 2 years of doing it regularly though, it’s become a habit, a compulsion, like brushing my teeth, and I feel strange if I don’t do it. Most days I do not feel like running. If I went just by feeling I would probably not go at all. But my gut tells me to get out there and do it, because I know how easy it is for habits to fall away. If I stop today, tomorrow it is easier to not go, and the next day easier still, until suddenly I’m not doing it at all. In 2 years some weeks I only go maybe twice, but I have managed to not lose the habit and there is definitely that fear that if I stop, I won’t pick it back up again.
I decided to really commit to running after I found out I had polycystic kidney disease. I found this out the same month I got pregnant with Xavier. I remember clearly sitting on the floor of the playroom, talking to my friend Sandra, and totally freaking out. I made the mistake of “Too Much Scary Information on the Internet” and was envisioning myself hauling around 40 pounds worth of cyst-filled kidneys, wearing a floral muumuu as I was wheeled into dialysis, having huge cankles and lying on the couch watching soaps all day as I waited to get a transplant. (See Lisa Simpson imagining life married to Ralph Wiggam…”Mama’s watchin’ her stories!” Shudder.) My first doctor made me cry as he did nothing to dispel those scary thoughts (the fact that I’d just had a baby like, a week before, probably had nothing to do with the crying.). I decided eventually though, that since I couldn’t get rid of PKD, that I might as well work to make the rest of my body as healthy as possible, in the hopes of forestalling my kidneys conking out on me as long as possible. One of the major side effects of PKD is high blood pressure, which obviously increases your chance of heart disease and stroke. Running seemed like the easiest, cheapest way to try and get healthier and more in shape.
Fast forward 7 years and I have just run my first half marathon (!). I’m finally seeing a nephrologist, who, after listening to my history and my dad’s (He’s the one who passed it on to me), tells me that I have the “slow moving” form of PKD…basically if I had the fast moving one I’d likely already be on dialysis and a transplant list. My dad is 67 and in spite of a not-always healthy lifestyle, still not on dialysis. Dr. Nasir told me “You probably have the healthiest kidneys of anyone in my practice!” Woo hoo! Best of the worst, baby, right?
So as I was going through all of this in my head this morning, I found myself saying “Thank you God, that I have the slow-moving form of this disease.” Maybe even “Thanks for this disease”??? Because it has certainly brought about some good things, like all this crazy running, and taught me something along the lines of, say, “I can do hard things”, perhaps??
What a bizarre thing to be thankful for.
And yet what a great mindset to find myself in. (It’s rare…gotta grab it while I can.)
I wonder what weird thing you can find in your life to be thankful for today???
She sat slumped over her dinner, staring into the depths of the soup, stirring listlessly. The fact that something was wrong was incredibly obvious.
“I don’t want to go to dance…”
This was Julia tonight at dinner. She had ballet in about an hour from that time, and it was quite clear she wasn’t pumped about going. She’s been doing dance for about 5 years now, and while sometimes she says “I don’t feel like going!” that’s mostly because she’s involved in playing or something, but this was different.
I asked her why she didn’t want to go. She has a new teacher this year…she said “He’s really…strict.” I probed a bit, wondering what she meant. Is he mean? Unkind to her and the other girls? Basically, it came out that he pushes them to do their best, trying to get the best out of them. And a lot of the other girls in her class are on the dance team and are much further advanced than she is. She said she felt embarrassed when he had to come correct her pose or posture.
Ah. Here you go. Friends, with the advent of middle school, we are starting to move beyond the warm, fuzzy encouragement of the elementary school years, where everything you do is cute and great and brilliant. Now we have teachers, coaches, (parents!) who are pushing you a bit, making you stretch (literally and figuratively!), trying to get you to move beyond yourself and improve.
I don’t know if you read Momastery at all (which you should, everyone should) but one of Glennon’s mottoes is “We can do hard things!” This applies to big things like say, caring for a child with special needs, fighting cancer, fighting addiction. But hard things also include say, having a dance teacher who pushes you and expects more of you. Working things out with a friend. Struggling with math. Hard things, all around. Hard things, big and small.
We had a good chat. I told her that as she gets older, people are going to start expecting more of her, to start pushing her to do better. That this is a part of life. After all, I said, you don’t always want to be the same dancer you were at 10 years old right? You don’t want to just stay the same? I talked about how, unfortunately, life is hard…there are a lot of hard, hard things ahead of her…big and small. But you know what? I told her? You can do hard things! Because she is brave and smart and beautiful and talented. I talked about how I don’t really like training for a half marathon. It’s HARD! Running for 12 miles is not very fun. But I love how I feel when I’m done, and I love the fact that I get to run a half marathon with my good friend in a couple weeks, and how good and proud we will feel to have finished it. I told her that hard doesn’t mean bad. That many times…most times…hard things have good results. Of course I made sure he wasn’t being mean to her or any of the other girls, abusive or inappropriate in anyway. No, she said. He just is “strict” she said. (Read: Not Miss Jen from last year!!) I told her that it is his job to make her a better dancer. He is a dance teacher. If he just let her stay the same forever and ever, then he wasn’t doing a very good job. And that I’m sorry it’s hard, but not to quit, not to give up, to just keep going and push through it and see where she ends up.
In the end she went to dance. She came out and I asked how it went. “Good!” she said. “I didn’t need any corrections from him tonight.” Which is great, I said, but I also told her you can learn from your mistakes and that getting corrected, while maybe embarrassing, isn’t necessarily bad. (Again: He’s doing his job if he’s correcting you!) And then she said “You know he’s actually kind of funny. He makes a lot of jokes during class and is actually nice.”
I know sometimes it seems like we live in a time where everyone gets a trophy and parents pitch a fit if their kid isn’t picked for something, or if they think a coach or teacher is being too hard on their kid. My first instinct was to be a bit concerned “Is this guy being mean to my girl???” and I confess I even looked at the dance schedule to see if there was another class of the same level with a different teacher. There wasn’t. But I patiently weeded out the whole story, found out the true issue (Julia wants things to be easy–wow, she’s a human like the rest of us!!) But friends, we have to remember…life is hard. There are hard things ahead for our kids. And while we don’t want to throw them to the wolves too soon, we’re not doing our jobs if we don’t let them do hard things. Experience challenges. Push themselves. How will they deal with that surly high school science teacher, or that nasty college professor who hates their writing, or the demanding boss or the difficult friend if we don’t teach them that they can do hard things, and that doing hard things can be rewarding??
Sometimes I look at that girl and see a little girl who needs to be pampered and coddled and have the way smoothed out for her. And my gut oftentimes is to do just that, to smooth the way for her. But she is a warrior…all our kids are warriors and strong and they have great things within them! I want to continue to help her dig out those great things and become the strong, capable woman she was made to be. A woman who can do hard things.
Between the flooding in Colorado and the shooting in DC today, I’m just waiting to hear it.
“What is the world coming to??” “Things are so much worse now than ever before!” “We’re near the end times, things can’t get much worse!”
And then of course the blaming will start.
“It’s the gays fault!”
“It’s this permissive culture!”
“It’s the disintegration of the family! The women who dare to pursue careers and the men who are failing to fulfill their God-given roles as head of the family!”
or the blanket, covers-everything:
“It’s Obama’s fault!”
Listen. The world is not any worse or better today than it was 50 or 100 or 1000 years ago. There are bad, terrible things that happen. There are and always have been natural disasters. There are and always have been evil, horrible people doing evil, horrible things. This is nothing new and it’s not going to change.
There are beautiful, wonderful things that are happening. Every minute of every day. There is beauty being created in so many arenas. There are people doing loving, beautiful things for one another. There is love and joy and hope. And you know what?? These things will always happen too. And ultimately, I believe, these things will WIN over the dark and horrible things.
Don’t believe me?? Go to http://www.momastery.com. Read some of those posts. Beautiful things. Find some new music in the genre you appreciate. Give it a listen. Head to your nearest art museum and check out some exhibits. Take a walk in the woods, by the lake, on the beach. Read a new book, read an old favorite, read some ee cummings. There is beauty and love and goodness out there if you choose to pay attention to the right things.
If you want the end of the world to be just around the corner, well, there’s plenty you can focus on to make that seem like reality. But if you want to see love at work, it is there and it’s not really that hard to find.
So turn off the TV, close down the news tab on your browser and focus on something else. Pray for those who are hurting, in need, victims of the ugly, and then choose to immerse yourself in the light.
Change the channel. Literally and figuratively. Don’t fall into the trap of moaning and groaning and wringing your hands and finding someone, something to blame. Do something different. Do something better.
“Why blame the dark for being dark? It is far more helpful to ask why the light isn’t as bright as it could be.” (Rob Bell, “Velvet Elvis”)
I sat with the laptop on my bed, scrolling through all the pictures. This one loves stuffed animals and hopes to visit the zoo. This boy wants to go into construction as his career. This girl loves music and wants to learn to play the guitar. Kid after kid after kid…it took every ounce of will power to not break down crying, because I was afraid if I started, I wouldn’t be able to stop.
I was looking at the list of children posted by New Horizons for Children, an organization that hooks up families in America with kids in Latvia, Ukraine, and China to host them for 4-6 weeks around Christmastime and in the summer. Many of these kids are available for adoption, some are not due to age or other reasons. In the other room my kids were finishing breakfast and getting ready for school, and I was sitting on the bed trying to hold it together as I looked at all these faces…50? 100? who are hoping to be “chosen” for hosting and maybe adoption. It was breaking my heart this morning.
I also recently read “To The End of June” by Cris Beam…it’s an examination of the foster care system in the US, as well as a discussion of the adoption of older kids. Wow, was that a hard read. You would think that something as basic as the welfare of children would be cut and dry, black and white, but, like so many things in life…it involves actual people, real, living people, and so a blanket solution is foolish and impossible, and yet we continue to try and provide some sort of across-the-board “policy” to try and solve the problems of abused, neglected, orphaned kids.
I found out about New Horizons because two of my dear friends have hosted and are in the process of adopting an older child from Ukraine. (I’ll post links to their stories at the end.) They are very passionate about adoption and caring for orphans. They are an inspiration to me, as well as the many other friends I have who’ve adopted. It seems like an amazing and difficult journey, with a roller-coaster of ups and downs and unexpected twists. It definitely doesn’t seem to be for the faint of heart. I’m pretty sure anyone who has entered into fostering/adopting would tell you the same thing. There’s a lot of heartbreak along with the joy. And while I don’t know if I feel our family is “called” to adopt, I could definitely see us hosting and the more I think about it, the more seriously I’m considering it.
Now, NHFC is a Christian organization, so I’m going to take a second to speak to the Christians in the audience…and, in spite of my many questions and confusions, Christianity is the faith I identify with, so this is where I am coming from as well. Now, I’m certainly no Biblical scholar, and I have many questions about the Bible myself, but what seems clear to me is the mandate throughout to care for the vulnerable among us, the fragile, the orphans and widows. It’s not just suggested as a nice idea. It’s commanded of us. I think most of us take that “command” as a friendly suggestion and not very seriously. Christians make a lot of the abortion issue, citing that as God’s command to care for the “least of these,” the vulnerable among us. I’m not going to get into that discussion here, but I want to remind people that, if somehow abortion were to be abolished, there would be a LOT MORE ORPHANS. I think some Christians want to think if they vote pro-life, financially support pro-life initiatives, maybe picket an abortion clinic or two, that they’re good. They’ve done their part. But what about the actual children?? The ones that do get born, that are abandoned, abused, neglected?? There are actual, living, breathing, named children, MILLIONS OF THEM, who need love. Care. Support. Friendship. That doesn’t mean that if abortion is on your heart that you should ignore it, BUT. We also need to walk the walk and put our money where our mouths are…if we truly care about the “least among us” then that means we need to care for the orphans.
These kids aren’t asking for iPads or expensive sports camps or fancy gadgets or $100 Nikes (not that they wouldn’t like those, I suppose, they are kids…). They want someone to take them fishing. To do movie night with a family, sitting on the couch eating popcorn. To bake with you. To teach them to swim or do woodworking. They want to be a part of the love of a family. Really. Really. COME ON. If we can’t do this, if we can’t do this then, honestly, what the heck good are we????? There are kids who want to be in a family with young kids. Kids who need to be the only child. Kids who want to be with other teens their age. In short, there are kids that could fit in with ANY of us. With ALL of us. For 5 weeks. To be a part of a family’s love. And if it leads to a forever situation, well, God love ’em.
Of course though. It’s not all roses and hugs and sunshine. I know. There’s a huge “what if”, a huge fear factor. I know, I worked years ago in a facility with kids who’d been removed from their families for any number of reasons. There was plenty of hurt and ugliness to go around. What if they don’t listen to me? What if they are destructive? What if they just sit there and are unresponsive? What if I don’t feel anything for this kid? What if they hurt my (biological) children? These are all very real, very legitimate questions. That need to be pondered and thought over and carefully considered. We’re talking humans, messy, broken humans on all sides. There’s never any perfect situation, ever. Even with the family we already have. This is probably the biggest reason why I have not yet acted on my desire to host (that and I actually should probably talk to Bill about this more than just in passing.).
Have you ever seen “Rise of the Guardians”? I recommend it highly. I absolutely love that movie. It makes me cry every time. Go watch it. I love the idea that there are Guardians of the world’s children, guarding their hopes, dreams, memories, keeping the Boogeyman, the dark, despair and hopelessness at bay. Of course I know that Santa, the Easter Bunny, etc. aren’t really out there, (although I adore the image of Santa as a huge, knife-wielding Russian guy with tattoos) fighting for wonder, joy, and beauty. But guess what? That’s our job!! WE can be, we are, we should be, the Guardians of all these things, for our children and the children of the world. As adults, we need to rise up and be the light-bringers, the dream-weavers, the memory-keepers for our kids. And here’s the awesome part, is that this is something we can really do!! We can actually do this! One child at a time, we can do this!! We may not be able to stop the war in Syria or stop abortion or fix the school system or make the government work the way we want to, but we can be Guardians of the good things, the beautiful things, the hopeful things, for children. As a Christian, I believe this is what God calls us to do, this is what loving people in the name of Jesus is doing.
SO. I hope this hasn’t made you feel guilty, I hope this has made you feel EMPOWERED. My friend Katja’s organization Touch the Nations has the motto “Do not withhold good from those who deserve it when it is within your power to act.” Well, people, it is within ALL of our power to act. Have you felt a tug to adopt or host or foster a kid? NHFC is NOT the only gig going, it’s just one I’ve been pointed to. There are kids, millions of kids, across the US and the world who need people to be guardians in their lives. Not just actual “parental guardians” but guardians of the light in their hearts. Maybe you need to take that leap and start foster parenting classes. Maybe you should sign up and take a look at the hosting list with New Horizons. Maybe you’re already in the adoption process and feeling discouraged. Keep on friend! You are a GUARDIAN. Like Glennon at Momastery says, “We can do hard things!” And these things are hard. Hard, hard HARD. She also says “We belong to each other” and I totally believe that. And if you don’t feel called to host/foster/adopt? Maybe you have a friend who is considering adoption or going through adoption and she/he just needs some encouragement. Maybe they need financial support. There are ways you can give to help people who are trying to fund their adoptions, and even help pay for the hosting program. My friend Jen is raising funds through Amazon…if you click this link www.playtennishanover.com/amazon every time you shop at Amazon, 7% of your purchase goes towards their adoption costs, how easy/awesome is that??? If Christianity is not your faith, find another organization out there that can point you towards something that speaks to your heart. We can do something about this, do you hear me??? THIS IS SOMETHING WE CAN ACTUALLY DO SOMETHING ABOUT!!! We just have to act, in whatever direction your heart is telling you to go.
I’m going to stop now, because this has gotten long. There was one girl though, on the New Horizons list. An older girl, they talked about her struggle with self-esteem, with seeing herself as beautiful. I think they suggested she be the only child in the family. But you know, you know what happens to these girls who don’t grow up experiencing the love of family, love in general, in the right way. Who feel lost and unworthy. If you pay any attention to what happens out there in the world, you know. She may get to America someday. But it won’t be in the arms of a family. Can’t we do something for her, for the millions like her??? Can’t we be Guardians for them???
Check out these websites for more info:
Look for this book too:
*Note: This is not meant to be an exhaustive dissertation on adoption/foster care/orphans etc. This is just me speaking from the heart and trying to motivate us to do better by the children in our lives and in the world. If it makes even ONE of you take a step in that direction, then I guess God’s used me for today. That’s all I’m trying to do.