The Storyteller

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I am a storyteller.  As long as I can remember I’ve loved to tell the joke much more than to hear it.  I revel in the moment when a good tale begins and I know it’s going to end with laughter.  It may not come across in my writing, but I’m funny.  Really funny.  It’s one of my favorite things about me.  If I was on Deal or No Deal and instead of the million dollars, my suitcase held a fantastic sense of humor, I’d hold out to the end no matter what the banker offered me.

I won’t deny spending countless hours mentally crafting the perfect Facebook post to make people laugh.  Time well spent.

And I don’t just end with the jokes.  I am constantly writing stories, letters, dreams, all inside my head.  Living in the moment is often hard for me because I spend a lot of time crafting dreams and tales of the future.  Endless dates have been spent drawing out future places to travel and live.  I read adoption blogs like it is my own life changing right there on the computer screen.  I become way too invested in TV.  I still think about Hurley, Jack, Charlie, Sawyer, Freckles, and the rest.  It’s been 5 years friends.  I have a zombie apocalypse plan.  There is nothing I love better than a great story.

This obsession with a great story is what made me fall even deeper in love with God.  When I first fell for Jesus I spent all my time reading the new testament, thinking there was little of relevance in the old.  And then I turned back my bible to page one and discovered the most extraordinary, deeply complex, beautiful story of love and redemption that I’ve ever read.  Let me tell ya, that God, he’s a storyteller.

Yet on Jan. 2nd my child almost died.  It was two weeks before we knew if she would even make it and even then, we were unsure if she would recover to any extent that resembled my little girl.  Did my faith waiver?  Not really.  I still belived that God was all good, all love.  But I can not tell you how many times the words I could have written a better story than you ran through my mind.  Maybe that doesn’t sound like a big deal to you, but for me, it had a heavy impact.

Because that question wasn’t really about my faith wavering, it was about my hope.  I was losing it….and fast.

During that time someone posted this on Facebook: “I understand that Christians have hope in the fact that there is life after this one, but how do we find hope in the middle of our struggles right now?”

I wrestled with this question for days, intertwined with my thoughts that I was a better story teller than God.  What would I say to someone who asked me How can you have hope in Jesus when this has happened to your child?  When he is allowing this nightmare to continue?  When you are begging from the deepest recesses of your soul for Him to give you a miracle and He is silent?  

To know you have hope and to be able to understand why are two very different things.  I needed an answer, if only for myself, because I knew I would love Jesus regardless, but I wasn’t sure where myhope in today was going to come from.  It was wafer thin.

During this time I couldn’t pick up my Bible.  It made me feel too vulnerable in a time when I needed strength.  However the best thing about reading scripture is that in times when you can’t pick that book up, so much of it remains inside of you.  I could hear the word of God in my heart.

My favorite verse is Micah 6:8.  And what does the Lord require of you?  To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God.  I love it for so many reasons and God has led me in the direction of finding justice and mercy for those around me.  It is my life’s mission. Humility however, can be a hell of a thing to get a handle on.  Especially when your daughter is on a vent and you are busy screaming I COULD HAVE WRITTEN A BETTER STORY!

As I struggled, God placed that scripture on my heart.  But I didn’t know it was from him, since I have that verse hanging on my wall and it’s my next tattoo.  Yet I was only focusing on the mercy and justice part.  Jon and I’s New Year’s Resolution was to get our foster care license.  Come on God, I was thinking.  Why would you take us away from doing something so good?  Mercy and Justice.  Way easier than humility.

My thoughts moved to the idea of walking humbly with God and I realized that claiming to be a better story teller was a far cry from humility.  It’s arrogance.  And selfishness.  And such a lie.

I was sitting in a moment of the greatest story ever written – the story of humanity – and I hated it.  But here’s the thing.  I’m not the main character in the story.  God is.  And that’s actually what I’ve always loved about his story – he weaves a tapestry full of color and uniqueness that is all about love and allows me to be a part of it.

This revelation did not bring me great joy to be sitting through such a horrible thing.  I am still greatly disappointed and hurt by God allowing this situation.  But it did give me back my hope.

I have hope because the greatest story teller ever is doing something huge and original and magical with my crappy chapter.  That is beautiful.  Overwhelming.  Why he would include me, or any of us, is beyond my understanding.  But He does.  He wants to.  I will never understand the full impact that today, this moment, or my life has on the story of humanity until Jesus can tell me that himself.  Somehow that doesn’t really matter.  Because after reading God’s story of love and knowing that a love story is the ONLY story he would ever write, I can have hope that today will matter in the long run.  Today will bring about mercy and justice to someone, somewhere.  Today matters in the story of humanity.

A Little Perspective

My friend Cathy once told me a story about her mom. Cathy was in high school and had saved up money to buy her first Coach purse (It was 1988 so this was as big as her hair was). After only a short time, Cathy lost her purse and was inconsolable. She cried and complained and whined for days. Her mother lent a sympathetic ear, but after a few days of Cathy’s complaints, she was done.

“Oh for crying out loud Cathy! Get over it. It was just a purse.”

Cathy was taken aback. And although her mother’s words may have hurt a little, they gave her something she didn’t have: perspective. It was just a purse. And suddenly, instead of being utterly depressed, she was a little embarrassed by her actions.

I’m not sure why Cathy ever told me that story or why it stuck with me, but it popped into my head again this morning as I was trying to parent.

My daughter Faye has spina bifida and her life is a struggle sometimes. I’m constantly torn between lending a sympathetic ear and giving her a dose of perspective. Two days ago Faye had a minor surgery on her knee. For my husband and I, this was like having her wisdom teeth pulled. We’ve clocked in well over 20 surgeries in her 11 years of life, and some of them were doozies. This time we were in at 8 and out by 4 with no pain and only a leg brace she has to wear for 13 days to keep her leg straight. Couldn’t be easier.

But not to Faye.

This morning when I made her go back to school there were so many tears over the leg brace. The leg brace people. She wears braces of a different sort EVERY DAY. She walks with a walker. Why would she care if she had on a soft cast? She was concerned that kids would make fun of her.

So what did I do? I choose perspective. There wasn’t an ounce of sympathy. “No one at school has ever made fun of you! They aren’t going to start now!”

I even told her to stop the crying – as if that ever works. Nor is it very nice.

It was a rough morning.

I walked Faye to her classroom and helped her get settled in her desk. The window was cracked and we could hear all the kids playing outside. The smell of spring drifted in. No one else was there. She was just sitting alone at her desk. It was time for me to go, but I paused. I could not have painted a sadder picture.

“Are you ok? Are you still feeling sad?”

“If I tell you I’m still sad, will you take me home?” She looks away and I see her chin quiver a little.

“No honey, I’m sorry.”

“Then what difference does it make how I feel?”

With that she put her head down on her desk and I ran to the car and cried.

Did I do the right thing? I don’t know. She needs me to be tough with her, to help her find the independence that comes naturally to others, but I just wanted to swoop her up and take her home with me.

Choosing between sympathy and perspective is so hard as a parent.

When you have a kid that struggles with homework every night, when do you empathize and when do you tell them to buck up?

My sister has a gifted daughter that struggles with being a perfectionist. I mean it’s a struggle. She loses sleep and is only in the 4th grade. How do you add perspective to that?

My son is extremely sensitive. Where do I draw the line between acknowledging his feelings were hurt and telling him he needs to grow some thicker skin?

No way are we going to get it right all the time.

When my daughter was younger and would whine about something she didn’t have, I would always bring up my missions trips or talk about how much the rest of the world doesn’t have. One time before I could even begin my usual response she clenched her teeth and said “So help me, if you tell me about the kids in the third world countries one more time I will have a breakdown. I don’t live in a third world country mom. I live here. Can you just listen to how that makes me feel?”

Fair enough Emily – that day I needed to hand out a little less perspective.

There are really no answers to any of these questions. We just need to plug along as parents and keep doing the best that we can do.

I guess we’ll know if we succeeded when they are adults. They will have felt loved, but have stories to tell their friends about the time their parent taught them perspective.

Cathy found her purse by the way. All that crying for nothing.

She has also grown up into a woman who loves people more than things and would not spend weeks crying over a lost purse anymore.

Her mom probably doesn’t even remember that story – but it just goes to show that sometimes we can get it just right.

Pssst….can I tell you a secret?

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“And when at last you find someone to whom you feel you can pour out your soul, you stop in shock at the words you utter— they are so rusty, so ugly, so meaningless and feeble from being kept in the small cramped dark inside you so long.”
-Sylvia Plath

I passed by you in the aisle at Target yesterday. I was doing the usual, checking off my list, faking a conversation with my daughter, writing a blog in my head, moving quickly between the cans of black beans and the boxes of mac and cheese. We hadn’t seen each other in a while. I asked about your family, your work. “It’s all going great,” you replied. You asked me about my family, my kids, and then, well, you got an earful, didn’t you?

As I laid it all out, right there under the big red bull’s-eye, the look of shock and awe on your face almost made me laugh inside. I’m sorry, I forget that “How’s everyone doing?” is a rhetorical question.

I forget that I’m supposed to keep secrets.

There was a time when I expelled a lot of energy trying to make it look all pretty on the outside. I don’t have time for that anymore. Now my energy goes to being at peace with who I am and part of that is allowing myself to speak, to say what it is really like inside 8864 Regents Road. It ain’t always pretty folks.

There are things that I keep close to my heart indeed, but the fact that my teenager struggles with mental illness is not one of them. I refuse to keep that a secret, because there is a difference between secrecy and privacy. I’m not laying out all the dirty details of her private life, but secrets imply shame. And I will not be ashamed of mental illness.

I may have dreams that I keep inside only for me, but the fact that adoption is hard is something I won’t hide. There is no shame in struggling to be a parent, in waking up sometimes knowing you made huge mistakes the day before, or admitting to yourself that you do not have this figured out.

There are moments of intimacy and private jokes that I only wish to share with my husband, but I will not pretend that having a child undergo major surgeries once or twice a year, doesn’t exhaust me and leave me crippled in a pile of tears. Beware, if you run into me at the end of that week I’ll say, “Much better, but wow did cry myself to sleep last night.”

I no longer want to keep my words in the small cramped dark inside. Words have power. Words are freeing.

So if you pass me next week at church, or at Target, or while picking up the kids from school, and you simply want to hear Fine! after the phrase, How are you doing?, it’s ok to just keep walking. Or maybe just smile and say Hi. Because if you open the door, I might just tell you a secret.

We live in a world of lonely people. It’s a fact. Humanity needs to connect more. And I want to be real. I want to share, and listen, and go through life with other people, even if only for a brief moment. Let’s not sit around waiting for soul mates. That might just take forever.

And when I make eye contact with you – let it out my friend. I love secrets. I won’t tell. I won’t judge. I may have no idea what it feels like to be you or go through what you are, but I just might be able to relate. In all the highs and all the lows. I think it’s worth the risk.

remember the miracles….

This weekend in church our pastor was discussing what to do when doubts about God sneak into our mind and thoughts.  His advice was twofold: Remember the miracles and Be the miracle.

This advice came at such a pinnacle time for me (a miracle in itself that Jesus had a pastor write a sermon just for me).  Last week was a hard one for me.  I am currently homeschooling 3 of my children and I was having one tested at the public school for learning difficulties.  Testing was over on Friday and when we scheduled a date for discussion, I was sad.  I’m no rookie folks.  This would not be my first IEP meeting and I think they stink like a bag of wet cats.

I spent the next day worrying about her.  Should I home school again?  Send her to public school?  Go back to the Christian school?  Maybe we should move to get in a different district?  Wait, if we did move, would she ever find friends again?  Oh man, will she ever get a date for prom?  And if she does, how will she be able to wear those high healed shoes that she loves so much with her AFOs on?  And do college dorms have handicap accessible dorm rooms?  Wait, if I don’t figure out the only right answer to the school question then she’ll never go to college and her future will be doomed, all because I made the wrong decision.  ARGGGGGG!  ….what will ever become of her?!

Holy batman is that lady crazy.

And then Pastor Harlow reminded me to REMEMBER THE MIRACLES.

And I am a woman who not only believes that Jesus is still in the business of miracles, but he’s been handing them out to me for years now.  And I’m going to write them down.  Now.  Because Jesus has actually saved the lives of these children that I keep worrying about.

When my youngest son was born, he had an apgar of 2.  He was smurf blue and not breathing.  Unknown to myself and my doctors, my placenta was breaking apart.  I went in thinking it was labor, but it was only severe cramping (from the placenta) and the doctor decided to just induce labor.  I had an epidural, and after about 8 hours, it no longer worked.  The nurse had forgotten to refill the IV bag.  Hmmm….. When I could feel the labor I realized I needed to push, but I wasn’t even dilated to 10 yet.  The doctor just shrugged and said, “Well, I guess we’re having a baby.”

Will’s life was saved that day.  No one but God alone knew my placenta was breaking apart and that my son was essentially suffocating in my womb.  The doctor told me that evening that had we waited even 12 more hours, my son would have been stillborn.

Someone came from the house of Jairus.  ” Your daughter is dead,” he (told Jairus).  “Don’t bother the teacher anymore.”  Hearing this Jesus, said to Jairus, “Don’t be afraid; just believe, and she will be healed.”    When he arrived at the house of Jairus…..all the people were wailing and mourning for her.  “Stop wailing,” Jesus said.  “She is not dead but asleep.”  They laughed at him, knowing that she was dead.  But he took her by the hand and said, “My child, get up!” Luke 8

Last August our son Mesfin came down with transverse myelitis, an autoimmune disorder that left him paralyzed from the neck down within 12 hours of symptoms.  Doctors said that it looked grim.  People do recover from transverse myelitis, but it takes years and is usually not 100%.  At nine p.m. they started steroids, the only treatment available, and said, “We will monitor the paralysis of his diaphragm throughout the night, and let’s just hope he can still breath on his own by morning.”

He brushed his own teeth at 9 am.  At 2 in the afternoon, he walked again.  Today, he is simply himself.

“Sliver and gold I do not have, but what I do have I give you.  In the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, walk.”  Taking him by the right hand, he helped him up, and instantly the man’s feet and ankles became strong.  He jumped to his feet and began to walk.  When all the people saw him…they were filled with wonder and amazement at what had happened to him. Acts 3

My oldest daughter has struggled with ADHD and depression for years.  Finally, about six months ago, a doctor came across the right medication for her.  Within weeks she felt different.  She said to me “Mom, I feel like I’ve lived my whole life in a dark hole I couldn’t get out of and now I can finally see a ladder.”

As Jesus was on his way, the crowds almost crushed him.  And a woman was there who had been subject to bleeding for twelve years, but no one could heal her.  She came up behind him and touched the edge of his cloak, and immediately her bleeding stopped.  He said to her, “Daughter, your faith has healed you.  Go in peace.” Luke 8

And then there’s Faye.  My daughter with spina bifida.  The miracles are too many to count, but it starts with a group of doctors telling us to have an abortion because she would be too paralyzed to breath on her own at birth.  We didn’t, she wasn’t.

When I told my husband of my worries that day, I said, “It feels like I just love them too much.”  And he said, “Honey, you don’t love them too much.  Love them like your pants are on fire.  Then realize that they are not yours.  Stop worrying about Faye.  He’s got it covered.  Remember, He’s the one who made the lame man walk.”

So I need to remember the miracles and in the words of David,

I saw the Lord always before me.  Because he is at my right hand, I will not be shaken.  Therefore my heart is glad and my tongue rejoices; my body also will rest in hope, because you will not abandon me to the realm of the dead, you will not let your holy one see decay.  You have made known to me the paths of life; you will fill me with joy in your presence.  Psalm 16

a work in progress

A wonderful, beautiful friend of mine posted on her Facebook account that her daughter had been selected for an amazing honor.  Her daughter was chosen as the Ace National All Star.

Photo: 2013 Ace National All Star!!!

Isn’t she beautiful?  Ace could not have picked a better person for this position.  I’ve had the honor of knowing this amazing girl, Ellie,  and her mother since she was just weeks old, and she is destined to bring hope and inspiration to many.

And you want to know how I felt when I read the post?  I was jealous.  I was sad.  I felt like a failure as a mom.

You see, Ellie has spina bifida just like my daughter does.  Ellie’s mom and I have been the dearest of friends since the nurses at Northwestern introduced us, and our daughters adore one another.  God handed me a true sister for this life, when he gave me her, and I could not get through the struggles of having a kid with special needs without her.  We have cried, laughed, prayed, drank over the past 8 years together and I love her so much.

But I wasn’t able to be happy for her daughter at that moment.

I was so sad.  I just sort of felt like Faye already has a list of things that she will do differently than other kids, and now here was something that she could have had, but didn’t.

I was so jealous.  I wanted to scream “Look at my kid.  She’s special too!”

And I kept thinking that although this honor would be a burden for me, and  I would not enjoy the responsibility of it at all, I couldn’t help but wonder if I wasn’t selling Faye short.  If I wasn’t her mom, would someone else have given her this chance that I couldn’t?

I will acknowledge that we were a week shy of going into the hospital for major surgery, and I do get a full on basket of crazy going before surgery, but it wasn’t just that.

It was, as my husband put it…

“ohhh, somebody has got a little bit a ugly on the inside right now.”

(it was said with a smile…..)

I am a work in progress.  Jesus still in the process of showing me my weaknesses and doing some transformation.  Sometimes, out of NO WHERE, this burst of ugly just rises up and overtakes.  I am flesh.  I am human.  I cannot always resisit, but I can continue to ask Jesus to change me.

These are the things I know, because He has shown me, in my heart, that they are true:

I was created to be Faye’s mom.  Faye was created to fulfill her own destiny, not another’s.

For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works,

which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.

Jealousy is a human emotion.  It happens when we are merely acting like, well, humans.

For you are still of the flesh. For while there is jealousy and strife among  you,

are you not of the flesh and behaving only in a human way?

Jesus can remove the ill-will inside me and allow the truth in my heart to be revealed.

Therefore if any man is in Christ, he is a new creature;

the old things passed away; behold, new things have come.

My heart knows truth, and I just need to listen.  Then I need to tell my brain…

Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind,

that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.

I actually am happy for Ellie.  Really. She deserves it. And that is what I need to think about.

Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right,

whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things.

My emotions were never really about my friends.  Ellie’s award just gave an opening for a few of my issues to rise on up to the surface.  Which is wonderful.  Because we can’t fix things that are hidden and denied.

I’m better.  I was reminded of so many truths in the past few weeks.

Now I just need to post them all on my wall for the next time I find myself filled with a little bit of ugly.  Because folks, I am after all, only human.