Friday, October 26, 2012

Bring on the ringworm

I was wearing a dress that was tooshort by Kenyan standards, but our walk was unexpected and it’s just too hotsometimes to dress conservatively when you aren't planning to leave the house. They called out to us andasked me in Swahili if I knew how to farm. It was a joke, obviously. Theylaughed, assuming I didn’t understand what they said; and because I don’t lovebeing the object of jokes unless I can join in the laughter, I took off my redleather ballet flats, waded through the freshly plowed field and picked upthe hoe. They held my baby as I swung with all my might and dug up fresh groundwhile we all laughed together at my skills (or lack thereof).

Caleb was wearing one of the shirtshe “came with.” I am not sure of it’s original color, but by now it holdsstains of every hue and the neck is stretched out so that one of his shoulderslays bare. I had meant to get rid of that shirt, but it somehow remained in hiswardrobe of bright, fresh blues and greens and reds. He greeted them with akindness that made time stand still for a moment as I looked on with pride.They were dirty. Their two children sat under the shade of a tree nearby. Thelittlest cried when I approached, as if I was dressed in a frightening costumeinstead of just the white skin I was born with.

I talked with the ladies who wereworking to feed their children while Caleb sat down in the pile of dirt rightbetween Kevin and Mateo, our new friends. I eventually sat down with him, afterthe laughs from all of the “mzungus are lazy jokes” had ceased. I had missedthis. I watched him gently run his fingers over Kevin’s head, covered in whitespots from a fungal infection that is pretty rampant among kids here in Kenya. Partof me wanted to pull his hand away because bringing an easily-spread fungusinto our house didn’t sound like a great idea. Not today. Instead I let hishand remain and felt an undeniable confirmation from the Holy Spirit that thisis good.

I suddenly found myself in someways wishing that Caleb’s pants had holes in them just like Kevin’s and hisface had a stream of thick, gunky snot like Mateo’s. I wished for a moment thathe smelled like soil and mold and old urine instead of Johnson’s Lavender babylotion and my perfume this fancy stuff called Febreeze.  I wanted to take off his shoes andremove the socks (that I had just previously replaced when he spilled porridgeon his others) so that he would be more of the same as these other two boys. Idon’t know that that is what the Lord would want, but I do know that He doesn’twant us covered in gold while our neighbors roll around in the mud. There ismiddle ground, there has to be.

One thing I pray for (without theexact words, oftentimes) is that my children will always run their fingers overfungus-covered heads, even when they know the risk. I pray that we pick up andcuddle babies who are soaked and soiled and stinking from no diaper with thesame ease we pick up the babies who are dressed neatly in a matching BabyGapensemble. I pray that we kiss our HIV+ brothers and sisters as long and hardand mushily as we kiss any of the others. I pray that we can forever squeezethrough the small entry and into the darkly lit, scrap-metal houses that areteeming with bugs to visit friends in the slums. I pray that when those mamasand their kids come over for chai later today after their long day of work, wetreat them as if they are queens and princes, because they are. And I pray thatit slowly becomes less forced or painstakingly intentional and more natural,like breathing. 

Yes, the freshly cleaned floorswill have red footprints when they enter and more when they leave and yes, someof their soil, sweat, susu (sorry, had to keep with the s’s…susu = peepee inSwahili) scent might linger on our couch for a couple of days and yes,sometimes we might even pick up some pretty nasty illnesses, but I need that.Caleb needs that. I think I will be prouder of my kids getting ringworm from ourfriends in the slums than I will be of my kids making honor roll.

 So then you are no longer strangersand aliens, but you are fellow citizenswith the saints and members of the household of God, built on the foundation ofthe apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus himself being the cornerstone, in whomthe whole structure, being joined together, grows into a holy temple in theLord. In him you also are being built together into a dwelling place for God by theSpirit.” ~Ephesians 2:19-22

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

on loving HARD

I have been in this position before… it is not altogether new and uncharted territory for me. Being entrusted with a child for an unknown (but always sure to seem “too short”) amount of time, asked to love them with all I have (by the Lover Himself), filled with unequivocal joy during the loving, but then left with a deep, open wound (on top of other wounds that are still healing) when the subject of the loving is no longer present in my day-to-day. The loving never stops; the ability to love in flesh, unhindered, is just removed in some way and man, does it sting. To this day, they are still "orphans" as defined by the world. They still lack a mother.

            When the wounds are still fresh, I promise to never walk this road again. I will give my heart to no other transient visitors, only those who are sure to linger long enough to make the loving “worth it.” Carol. Pinky. Mercy. Obama. David. Abigail. I said “yes, God” to doing life forever with each and every one of them. Lots of times my “yes’s” were delayed or spoken through quivering lips, but they were all spoken aloud by His grace. 

            Sometimes I think that’s all He wants (our yes’s) and maybe that’s love, but when I’m hurting, it feels like a trick. Trick us into saying yes to hard things and then You’re not even going to follow through? My finite mind looks for someone to blame and He is the only one in the picture who is big enough to carry it.  I feel like the joke is on me sometimes. The Deceiver loves when I give these thoughts the time of day—He loves for me to doubt that God is working for my good--to think He is working for everybody else’s, at the expense of my own. 

Sometimes I feel like that. Could I simply be a sacrifice for someone else’s good? At first I’m indignant, but gradually that idea starts to sound good to my “leave it all on the field” personality. I can get on board with that. Let me die and let others live, somehow. But oh geez, that is not Jesus… He wants (and works hard for) MY good as much as He wants (and works hard for) the orphan’s good. And it’s all grace.

            This time is different from all in the past because this time I know what I am getting into. I know (and pray, in a weird conflict-of-interests kind of way) that Caleb and all the other babies who come through these doors, lay in my bed, and poop on my hands, will be removed from my life after a year or two—they will be entrusted to a new family who signs up to love them forever. Forever, forever. The thing is, I will do it. Happily! I want to do it. If Jesus said I could keep Caleb forever, I would without a doubt. What an honor. But He hasn’t said that yet, so I am asked to keep on loving and trusting He knows what He is doing here.

            I’m sure I’ve posted it before because it is probably the most solid, necessary-for-life wisdom I cling to, outside of straight Scripture. I need to read it almost every day to be reminded that I want this.

“There is no safe investment. To love at all is to be vulnerable. Love anything, and your heart will certainly be wrung and possibly be broken. If you want to make sure of keeping it intact, you must give your heart to no one, not even an animal…We shall draw nearer to God, not by trying to avoid the sufferings inherent in all loves, but by accepting them and offering them to Him; throwing away all defensive armour. If our hearts need to be broken, and if He chooses this as a way in which they should break, so be it.”~CS Lewis in the Four Loves

            I feel myself already, 10 short days in to loving Caleb, wanting to pull away to lessen the pain of giving him up someday. Loving him for 1-2 years and then passing him off to someone else, when I gladly say “yes” to forever, is sure to be painful. I could wrap my heart in a casket by remaining at arms-length with Caleb and all of the other babies who enter Neema House. That is exactly what I’d prescribe for myself if this was about me and what I'd consider my "best interest". I can even twist it in my mind and believe that the babies will attach better to their future mom or dad if we don’t let them attach to any of us—if we simply care for their physical needs and pass them around incessantly, letting them wait longer to find someone who has time to let them sleep on their chest or look into their eyes for more than a passing glance or learn the ridges in their hand.  That would be easier.

            But Jesus is and always will be so faithful it hurts. I tell Him why I want to give away less than all and He draws me in closer. He sweetly promises He will never run out, so I don’t need to be storing any away in case His well of goodness runs dry. He gives the love that is poured out and He reminds in the sweetest of ways to not let pebbles of self-defense block the raging-river flow of Love that He refills for this very purpose. He is the very SOURCE of the river and when we build up dams in our own strength, they are destroying us as much as they are starving the dry riverbed that is thirsting for nourishment.

            I don’t like talking about myself so much, especially the ugly stuff, but I just want to encourage and proclaim that God gives what we need. If you don’t believe that, try Him. People who aren’t doing it say that foster care is too hard. It would be hard on the family and hard on the child and hard hard hard. I would never ever try to convince someone it’s not, even in my small and different experience with it in Kenya. But what is so wrong with hard? Hard is close to the heart of Jesus. Hard is out of your own power and strength, completely empty save that of whatever Jesus gives. Hard is constant contact with your Savior because if He doesn’t come through, you’re literally done for.

            My point is it’s more than okay to get on board with trembling knees. Do we really trust Him? Not to carry us through once we’re in the muck, but to say “yes” to jumping in, whether the water is murky or not. I just pray for all of us that we fear being disobedient to His commands more than we fear affording a college education (what I hear so often in regards to not adopting), or future tears cried into a pillow (I'd love to skip that step by detaching myself from kids who will not be mine forever), or giving our hearts to people who can’t give their heart back to us (hmm, reminds me of Jesus a bit :)) or having absolutely no idea what we’re doing 23.9 hours of the day (welcome to my life).

            Lately I have been super encouraged by a family who is doing just that… They sign up for the “hard”, even as their wounds of past hards are still healing. They do it for Jesus and they believe He is enough—I know that because they’d be straight up drowning if they didn’t. I appreciate that they sought out the difficult in their own city and then went there… not on a bus once a month, they moved in and made it their home. I can’t speak for them, but I doubt they would tell anyone what they do is easy or painless. 

           I cannot say the same for myself either, but I know that sharing in Christ’s sufferings will forever be the greatest joy. So, we love on. We give it all and trust He will follow through. We let Him carry us through the inevitable joys right up into the point where it does hurt bad, and it’s there that we let Him hold us tighter than ever.


Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Letter to the babies

I jotted this down before I left for Kenya... before this life became real. Just thought I'd share it before formally introducing our first delight, Caleb Emmanuel. :)

Dear babies,
             Some of you have been born already and some of you are still in your mommy’s tummies and some of you are not even a thought yet, but what you all have in common is that you do not have the cognitive ability to read this. :) I am mostly writing it to remind myself that we’re in this together.

 You were each made dependent little creatures. When you first join us in the world, you can’t even hold your head up or scratch your own itches. You were created with a whole bunch of needs, but a whole lot of nothing in terms of abilities to meet these needs. Sure, you come with basic reflexes that will help you live and grow, but those don’t sustain, they just assist.  God doesn’t usually let you come out of your mom’s belly until your lungs and heart and brain work well, because those are pretty important in assisting as well. All things considered though, you need us. You need us for everything. You need us to hold you close and you need for our warm skin to touch yours and you need us to pick you up when you cry and you need us to clean up the stink you sit in until we change your diaper. You need us to clip your nails so you don’t scratch your face off and you need us to keep food in your bellies so you can see another day. You need us to tell you “no” when are getting close to danger and you need us to cover your head and ears when the wind blows cold. Above all though, you need us to help you learn how to be loved. Sometimes learning to be loved will be the hardest thing we do together.

 I’m sure some days (and many nights, if your reputation precedes you) I will hold your neediness against you, but that’s only because I’m just one big needy mess myself. Your neediness is your greatest attribute and I hate to break it to you, but you’re not going to grow out of it anytime soon (read: ever).  I shouldn’t apologize because it’s a real gift, but just wait until you start to learn how to use a spoon for the first time or how to put on your shoes. You will insist on doing it by yourself and we will certainly let you try, but we will also be there to switch your shoes back to the right feet, so you don’t fall on your face. You will learn SO much over time—even when you are old and grey, you’ll still be learning, but you will never lose your neediness. Don’t let anyone tell you that’s a bad thing either, cause it’s not.

 To be honest, neediness is something I have to pray for because I know how to put on my shoes by now and have become quite proficient at shoveling food into my mouth.  I am stubborn and independent to fault and if I had things my way in your situation, I would change my own diapers and prepare my own bottles and soothe myself to sleep and I wouldn’t even need someone like a Mom to help me. I fight hard for independence every single day. Something you will probably learn soon is that sometimes being needy hurts.  It’s difficult, but it’s oh so good because we have a big and GOOD Someone who delights in our neediness. He loves being all that we have--our everything.
We were never meant to function without Him in the first place. He is the giver of life! You help me remember that. I fall more in love with Him every day because of the way He cares about you… it is so much more than even the greatest mama and baba could ever offer. This God has YOUR very name engraved on the palm of His hand.  That’s love, baby. This same God is the One who knit you into your mama’s womb and the one who knows about each tiny curl on your fuzzy head. He’s been loving you with the deepest of loves since before you took your first breath. He knew you would be where you are today, in a situation that requires this unconventional love and I promise that He aches with you in your pain and loss. Isaiah 49 is the sweetest reminder that He knew this world has the kind of hurt and darkness that would require the reminder that EVEN IF we are thrown into a latrine by the mother who was created to carry and love us, God will receive us, always. He will never forsake you. Or me. We are His greatest possession. It’s the best news ever.
  Back to my neediness—don’t tell anyone, but I have no idea what I’m doing.  I’ve kind of gotten used to that by now, but I just wanted to warn you that we who are loving you are just as needy as you.  The God that never forsakes you is good to be the same strong tower for us, so we cling to Him and do our best to obey Him by loving you. Obeying Him is a joy when you love Him most, I pray you will know that personally soon. So don’t think we are doing you any favors—we are truly truly truly humbled by the opportunity. It seems too good to be true, but God works like that. More than anything, we want you to know Him. He likes that too, so He makes this “work” a joy. We are so blessed to love you!