November 2013


There are three I’m raising. Three born from body and blood, and so far they’ve survived near misses and falls from trees and clumsy parenting. One leaving and two almost done, and it’s a giving of another kind of birth, really.

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Birthing babies was easy compared to birthing men.

Birthing babies was nine months of wonder and nausea and anticipation and heartburn and ten or so hours of horrible followed by the most beautiful gifts imaginable. Three times. Glory.

And then the years of raising, and it’s another kind of giving birth. It’s a longer labour and a different kind of pushing, but it’s a birthing, still.

I remember, carrying my last baby, my surprise baby, and thinking this is it. This is the last time I will do this baby-growing thing. And as much as I was sick and as hard as it was to move by the end and as much as I was looking forward to the relief of our separation, a part of me wished for it to last longer. To keep him safe, inside, just a few more weeks.

I’m a perfect mommy when my baby is still inside me.

But the long stretch of parenting – mistake-making, loving through anger and hurt, praying, laughing, sacrificing, teaching, crying, waiting, holding, healing, trusting, changing, blessing, forgiving – this is the long, long labour of motherhood, and it’s a birth-giving that never ends.

And as much as there is a looking-forward-to of freedom, of the relief of our separation, a part of me wishes it would last longer.

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He mostly manages on his own. He makes his bed and tidies his room when he’s asked and helps with the dishes after supper. He mostly fits in as best he can. As best a ten-year-old in a new house can figure out.

I’m making up his bed, trying to tidy his room a little while he’s away at school, because once in a while it needs a little help. So I’m making up his bed, and I pick up his pillow to straighten the case and I see the treasure he’s hidden there beneath it. The smooth, polished heart-shaped rock his mom had given him when he visited her last.

I have one, and I gave one to him, she’d told me as we chatted while her son gathered his things. And I’d offered a how nice and we’d smiled at each other and talked a bit more, and then I loaded up her boy and drove away.

I struggle to write words adequately representative of this thing called fostering. It’s a crazy, vulnerable, complicated thing and it is not effortlessly composed into paragraphs. Because it’s not about look how wonderful I am or look how broken she is. I’ve met her and I like her and she loves her son. And then there’s the whole there but for the grace of God thing, you know?

Practically, fostering is a job. It’s taking care of a child whose parents can’t. It’s arranging visits and managing school and correcting behaviours.

But then you add a heart or two, and it’s so much more.

This boy is in my heart already. He’s wriggled his way in there, in spite of the tantrums and the lying and the taking things that don’t belong to you. I’m already so proud of how far he’s come. I have hope for his future. I pray for him.

I love him.

Even though I know he’d take Real Mom over Foster Mom any day of the week. Even though I know the heart he treasures most he shares with her. Even though I might never hear I love you, back.

This morning, while I was making up his bed, I saw his heart, tucked safe under his pillow where he can touch it in the night. She’s with him, in the best way she can be, and that makes me both happy and sad.

Bless the children, today and always, whose mom’s hearts are treasures tucked under pillows.

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You know that, right?

Because, if I was any good at it (life? parenting? everything?) I wouldn’t make so many mistakes.

Like getting a few kilometres down the highway on my way to Monday’s Remembrance Day service, only to have the vehicle begin her I’m-almost-out-of-fuel convulsions, requiring me to turn around and hiccup my way home on fumes and prayer.

Like forgetting my sister’s birthday, that time she was visiting me for a few days, and only remembering after she’d left.

Like losing the pre-bought Christmas presents – because I’m so organized (heavy sarcasm) and bought them early and hid them somewhere really good – only to find them the next May while I was spring cleaning.

Like booking three events on the same weekend and forgetting about them all.

Like inviting company to come for dinner and forgetting to turn on the oven.

Like losing my temper with my children or my husband or the teller at the bank.

Like not getting the laundry done, requiring my son to go commando to church. (Not that he minded, but I was sure people would find out our dark laundry secret.)

Like going months without really reading scripture or praying. And doubting. And faking.

Lately I’ve had some you’re so wonderful comments because of what I write in this little space, day after day. And, to be honest, I’ve had some negative ones, too. Some, you think you’re so great but I know you’re really not that special kinds of insinuations, and some you’re wrong, wrong, wrong emails, and some quit being so this or that messages.

That’s how it goes when you write stuff and put it on the internet and people read it.

Truth is, I y’am who I y’am (thanks for that, Popeye) and for the most part, I’ve learned to be content.

We are all different, and we love and share and rage and cry and create, each in our own ways. Cooking, painting, writing, parenting. There’s art in it all.

You are wonderful. Really, you are. You do some things well and some not so well, and you have a bunch of stuff you think you should be better at, and maybe you wish your legs were longer or you nose was shorter or your hair was thicker.

Maybe you think you’re not a good friend or a good mom or a good Christian. Maybe you think everyone else does it better. Maybe you’re in a sad place or a bad place or a hard place or maybe your place is pretty darn good right now.

I don’t know your place, but I do know your journey. Because we’re all on one, and the truth is, no place is permanent. Life is movement. It’s entering and being and leaving, always, over and over. Until you’re dead.

So the next time I write about my awesome kids or my wonderful husband or my beautiful life… know that sometimes – lots of times – it isn’t.

Grace.

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Has someone been feeding the dog? Lyndon asks, coming inside after doing morning chores.

Ummmm, Carter is supposed to. Why?

His food dish is always full. Whoever is feeding him is giving him way too much.

I think of our new foster son, and I am pretty sure he is the overly generous soul, and I say so.

Later in the day, Lyndon asks him. Simple question. No hostility.

Have you been feeding the dog?

Yes.

How much have you been giving him?

Head duck, foot shuffle, ponder the answer… A little bit?

Look up, check adult body language to determine if this is the right answer.

More foot shuffle… A lot?

It’s like this with him. A general air of uncertainty. Saying what seems to be the right answer, or the answer that will be acceptable, or that answer that will keep him out of danger.

Maybe you’d be the same if you had lived the full ten years of your life with constant change and were used to being in trouble a lot and life was full of going here and there and you didn’t understand why you couldn’t stay with your mom who keeps telling you she is going to get better and bring you home and who knows where you might wake up tomorrow.

I think my answer to a lot of life’s questions, if I were ten and all, would be the same.

A little bit a lot.

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One boy, stretching tall and skinny in the kitchen after a breakfast of leftovers. The pizza I’d thought we’d have for lunch, but oh well. The youngest headed downstairs to get to the shower first, before his brothers. The oldest still rubbing sleep out of his eyes, a large, bearded version of the firstborn babe he was. The new son bundled and backpacked and bussed away to school. Husband on his way to work, instructions for the boys lingering in the air after he closes the door. Check the water every hour. Make sure the trough heater is submerged.

It’s a cold November day out there.

The first week of the month is almost spent, and every day I read thanksgiving being poured out all over the internet. Thankfulness for amazing husbands or wives and wonderful children and the blessings of these or those things or people in our lives. It’s good, this month of thankful.

I’m thankful, too, for all that makes life sweet.

I’m mindful, though, of those for whom life is very hard. Those for whom a month, thirty whole days, of finding thankful is a challenge. Those for whom the admonitions to take joy in all things grow guilt rather than grace.

This is what I think. I think that sometimes life is wonderful and sometimes life is hard. And it’s not fair or equal or just. There is no balance, not really, and I don’t know why that is. I don’t know why some people seem to have more than their fair share of troubles and heartache and others seem to be especially blessed. I don’t know why some make it and others don’t. I do know it’s not always about trying harder or working longer or being more talented.

I don’t get all preachy very often, here, but when it’s hard, when I don’t understand, I go to Jesus. Because I believe this man lived – that God came from glory to be here on earth with us – had sweet times and very hard times, and this is what scripture tells me to do with that:

Keep your eyes on Jesus, our leader and instructor. He was willing to die a shameful death on the cross because of the joy he knew would be his afterwards; and now he sits in the place of honour by the throne of God. (Hebrews 12:2)

This man did not dance his way through suffering, he suffered his way through suffering. He endured. His joy was not in the immediate, but in the future.

I’m not a preacher, not even close. I don’t know all the doctrine or all the definitions and I hate being asked to take stands on things that people have decided are religious issues. Here’s my catechism. If you are gay, I offer love. If you are in jail, I offer love. If you have aborted or stolen or lied or had sex before you got married or told a dirty joke or took the last piece of pie – I offer love.

If you are suffering in the midst of this month of thankful, I offer love.

Not mine, you understand, but his.

It’s not about religion, not for me.┬áIt’s about breathing him in, and breathing him out. And the breathing in and out of him, always, is love.

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That time we had a poodle, our sweet Bella, she ruined our front door. We couldn’t train her out of scratching at the door to be let into the house, and as a result the weather strip around the door was completely shredded. Lyndon, jack-of-all trades, fixed it once or twice, but eventually gave up and vowed he’d not fix it ever again.

He’s a man of his word.

Here’s the problem. The gap between the door and the door frame, tiny though it is, lets in the cold. And a few days ago, it got cold. Several degrees below zero celsius cold, and a strong wind to boot, and as high as I turn the dial on the thermostat, that creeping cold sneaks through the bad-poodle crack.

There’s a grown up boy sleeping on my couch these days. He’s between finishing one session of school and beginning the new thing, and in the meantime he’s sleeping on my couch and eating all the apples out of the fruit bowl. He’s handy with a hammer (do you need a hammer to fix a door?) and today he’s assigned the job of restoration.

Restoration. Fixing the gap so the cold air will stay out, and the inside will stay warm.

My heart could use a little of that, too.

It’s a small bit of wisdom, but there you go.

I’m washing my kitchen floor, down on hands and knees, submitting to the chore. Posture of prayer, I think. I think it, but in a bitter kind of way. I wash away a sticky mess of something spilled, syrup from the early pancakes, maybe? I scrub off dirt and a squashed bug and some dried oatmeal, and another spot that might be blood, and the job gets under my skin and into my heart.

I begin, annoyed. How does it all get so dirty, so fast? Do we live in a barn? Why do I bother, it’ll just be a mess again tomorrow. And no one will notice, anyway.

Moving across the floor, rag and bucket and growing ache in my back, and all the dirty bits of our lives are enhanced, like viewing the bottom of a swamp through a microscope. The cruddy globs of hair and dust, stuck to the bottoms of the table and chair legs, and the toast crumbs in the corners. The splashes of kitchen spit on the baseboard, unseen from the lofty height of my normal two-legged position.

I make the humble pilgrimage around the kitchen floor, bent to the task, and it’s a cleansing prayer. A journey of renewal, from bitterness to thankfulness.

For who has such a clean floor as this, in such a sweet kitchen, full of such precious people, on such a bit of glory land, as I?

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