Faithful Care

 

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I was once young, but now I’m old.
Not once have I found a lover of God forsaken by him,
nor have any of their children gone hungry.

Instead, I’ve found the godly ones
to be the generous ones who give freely to others.
Their children are blessed and become a blessing.

If you truly want to dwell forever in God’s presence,
forsake evil and do what is right in his eyes.
 
The Lord loves it when he sees us walking in his justice.
He will never desert his devoted lovers;
they will be kept forever in his faithful care.

(Psalm 37: 25 – 28 TPT)

Who’s Fault Is It?

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It’s four o’clock in the morning and I am trying to console two terrified children. They want their mother. I am a stranger, and this is not their home. They came to the door in the middle of the night with a sleepy-looking social worker accompanied by a very big policeman in a squad car that looked just like the one that took their mommy away.

I know nothing about these children. Their ages, their health needs, their favourite foods, and their familiar comfort items are a mystery. I don’t even know the youngest boy’s name. He is either too young, too delayed, or too frightened to speak.

His pants are wet. Is he toilet-trained or do I need to find a toddler diaper? His sister screams and hits me when I try to take his soiled clothes off to clean him and put on a borrowed pair of dry pyjamas. She is sobbing so hard her entire body shakes.

I try to be kind and gentle. I speak softly and move slowly, but no matter what I do it is wrong, because I am the wrong person. I am not Mommy. They shouldn’t be here. They are traumatized.

By five a.m. they are exhausted enough to fall asleep. Their bodies jerk with sobs even in their sleep. I put them in the same bed for mutual reassurance and give them a piece of bread to hold because I have learned that in the absence of their own blankie or teddy bear, food is the next best comfort item. This whole thing is a game of “the next best.”

The other children in our foster home will start to wake soon. No use trying to go to bed now. I start to play the senseless game I have played before – the game of who’s fault is it?

I know if the media told this story they would cast me in the role of horrible foster-mother who only does this for money, treats the children with indifference, imposes my values, and makes two kids sleep in one small bed. They would use the situation to back which ever political faction they were supporting or philosophical ideal they were trying to fly in the continuing saga of Us and Them.

I am angry with their mother for making choices that foists her pain onto little kids, but I also wonder what injustices might have led to her desperate actions and put her in prison.

Where is their father? Is he also incarcerated? Does he have a substance abuse problem as well? Shouldn’t he be caring for his own kids in an emergency? What kind of father abandons his little ones?

Some people would blame the social worker for bringing them here or the government for not providing a receiving home with paid staff and enough private bedrooms for all the kids who need placement within an hour in an isolated northern town.

Was it the fault of the police officers who took the mother away and separated the children from her?

Was it the fault of the judge for imposing the law? How many times had she been in his courtroom before she used up all her chances? Was it the fault of the lawmakers who placed no responsibility on the men who treated her as a commodity or the pimp who terrorized her or the drug dealers whose wares kept her placated or the local gangs with their warlord-wanna-be leaders who ran more than we cared to know about?

Could I blame a bullying school system with teachers like the one who prophesied failure for one of my foster kids because of his race? Did they fail to teach the children’s mother how to succeed?

Were her parents there for her when she was a terrified three-year old or were they victims of someone who was raised in a residential school back in the old country himself? Were their parents and grandparents victims of aggressors and fraudulent schemes to grab their resources and break up families?

I want to know where on the chain to pin the blame because there are two helpless little victims here in my home and somebody besides them needs to pay. I want justice!

Eventually, as usual, I realize that we are all victims of someone else’s pain. Without hope, without someone who can break the chain of sin (and yes, let’s call it what it is) consequences of living out of the order God intended us to live in, a life of caring for each other based on love, not selfish gain, play on. The best we can do is assign blame and choose the victim who will carry the weight of all of this.

We are all victims of a victim of a victim going back to the first people who chose to believe the father of lies when he asked, “Did God really say…?” The whole thing plays out like a Rube Goldberg device with one thing knocking over another and doesn’t stop until it lands on the lowest, least powerful members of society.

Those children entered my life years ago. I can’t forget them. Not everyone can make room in their homes for needy children. I burned out, physically and emotionally. I couldn’t do it anymore. I couldn’t keep pushing my bio kids’ needs aside to try to clean up another mess. I was becoming alternately callous and shrill. The need is endless and I had a responsibility to my own first.

I felt like a failure, but it was exhausting. I didn’t like what I was becoming. I was in danger of turning into the stereotypical foster-mother who avoids attachment. I quit because empathizing with the children’s pain began to trigger my own pain. I quit to go get healing.

Jesus was there for me. He still heals hearts. He has the power to break every chain. He can break the cycle.

Yes, I see the reports of children separated from their parents on the border between Mexico and the USA. Yes, I hear the children’s cries and yes, I hear condemnation of Christians who supposedly don’t care. I have been reluctant to jump into the discussion because I have been on both sides of the line.

I have worked to re-unite families and I have defended the law and hidden victims of crime from their parents. I have shared my space and given everything I could and I’ve had to set boundaries to protect my family’s needs as well.

I believe that except for Jesus’ life-transforming power, there is no solution that does not make another human the consequence-bearer at the end of this chain, because this entire mess (and it is an unendurable mess) is the consequence of the sins of many people for a long time.

Who is to blame? We all are.

There are no white hats in this scenario – only varying degrees of grey hats. We have all sinned and fall short of receiving everything God provided for us to be who he created us to be. We can try to alleviate suffering, but we can’t go back and deal with the root causes. Without divine intervention we can only offer the next best thing, and, when we fail to transform hearts with well-meaning charity and political power, lower our standards and offer the next best thing… and the next… and the next…

Our best hope, our only hope, is to let go of each other’s throats, raise our empty hands to God, and cry, “Help!”

 

Hands-off Parenting

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“If knowing answers to life’s questions is absolutely necessary to you, then forget the journey. You will never make it, for this is a journey of unknowables – of unanswered questions, enigmas, incomprehensibles, and, most of all, things unfair.”

– Jeanne Marie Bouvier de la Motte Guyon

I often hear God speak to me through reading fictional stories in books and watching films in a way that methodical Bible study can’t. It’s helpful to have developed the fine art of bone-spitting because sometimes the precious morsel that nourishes me is buried in distraction.

As I lay in bed, too sore after surgery to sleep anymore last night, I watched a British movie, Housewife, 49. The film tells the story of a woman whose role as an attentive mother was no longer required. The problem was that her sons had grown up and she was learning the art of hands-off parenting just as World War II was breaking out over their heads where they lived near the shipyards in England. She suffered from severe anxiety.

Her story is one of gradually rejecting the defining edges of the box others put her in. She discovered, under duress, she was capable of more than she knew. The crisis came when her beloved son, who up until that point served in a relatively safe post close to home, wanted to volunteer for a much riskier assignment.

It’s one thing to learn to trust God to guide your own life through unforeseen twists and turns in the road. It’s another to take your hands off your children and let them take risks when you have first-hand experience of seeing the negative consequences of  decisions made by friends and family over the years. You have read a lot more news stories and bailed out a lot more people from wrecks along the way. It’s so hard not to try to convince your adult children to play it safe.

In the film our heroine (for she was truly that) discovered that much of the frustration in her life had been because of her husband’s need to keep her shut up in the house like Peter the Pumpkin-eater tried to keep his in a pumpkin shell. He finally confessed it was his fear for her safety that motivated his actions. But it was those actions that increased her anxiety and feelings of meaninglessness.

She realized she could not impose her fear on her son, even if the consequence was his death on the battlefield. She let him go.

I’ve had to make those letting go decisions with my own kids. More than anything in the world I wanted to be a mother. I enjoyed being a mother. At one point you could say I was a professional mother, filling in and taking foster children into our home until their mothers could care for them again. But there was always a time to let go – and it was always before the road ahead was smooth and predictable.

My daughter moved to a Caribbean Island to take a teaching position. I still have a photo of her the day she left smiling in anticipation of “awesome year in the sun.”

It was not awesome. She was in two seriously life-threatening-sized hurricanes in the first month. Her job was not as advertised, everything she owned was stolen from a storage facility at home, including tax information and personal diaries. She nearly died of sudden hemorrhage and experienced emergency major surgery in a tiny six-bed hospital that did not provide linens or food or fly swatters. That’s where she was told she had a condition that meant she would be unable to have children. The man she loved told her he was marrying someone else. She became homeless because of greedy developers, and one day, while out jogging, was chased by a pack of wild dogs with evil intent.

I had a lot of questions about why God didn’t give my precious girl an awesome year in the sun. I was reluctant to do any letting go for some time after that.

A few years later she went through a really tough time. Nurses brought her into a room in the ICU to say goodbye to her husband who lay dying from flesh-eating disease. I was with her at the time and was amazed at her faith and ability to praise God in the worst  circumstances.

He didn’t die. He was miraculously healed and now they and their three miraculously conceived children are on another adventure. People asked how she had such faith and she pointed back to her time on the island, particularly the moment when she faced the wild dogs knowing she was defenseless and there was no one around.

She heard a voice that said, “Stop!” She obeyed, stopped running, turned and faced the dogs. Instead of lunging at her throat they dropped their heads, whined, and disappeared into the undergrowth. She met the God who is her keeper on a hot dusty road that day.

Parenting adult children means taking our hands off so God can put his hands on. God has no grandchildren. They need to know for themselves that he is their God, and not merely the God of their parents. They need to know he will take them farther along the road than we have gone.

It’s been a struggle. Hands-off doesn’t mean heart-off. If my kids or grandkids need me I am willing to drop everything and go. I pray constantly, but I am still learning that prayer for family means standing in the gap without standing in the way.

God is God and I am not. He is much more capable of loving them than I am.

When they became parents, our kids all invited us back into their lives. They’ve included us in business and creative partnerships and encourage us to be active influencers in their children’s lives. They are all competent experts in their own fields and we frequently consult them. I love them very much and am proud of all of them – and their spouses. If we were not related it would still be an honour to know them. God is good.

Our daughter and her husband wrote about his miraculous recovery. It includes chapters by one of the attending physicians who verifies the medical aspects of the story and their bishop who gives insight into the spiritual implications of the events. Details, photos and videos here: While He Lay Dying

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Crossing the River

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Tough day. My husband’s younger brother succumbed to lung disease yesterday. The news was so hopeful a little while ago, but he suddenly went downhill. The doctors said they found previously undetected small cell lung cancer that left him too weak to fight an acute illness. His family and friends surrounded him and wept as his heartbeat faded.

I am thankful for our 11-year old grandson who reminded us that even in this there is hope.

Today we try to work on funeral plans with his wife. We can’t speak Spanish and she can’t speak English. Bob was always the translator.

Today we try to comfort his mother, who seems even more frail with the shock and we live in a conversation on replay.

Today we try to gather up legal loose ends and financial unknowns. We step on each others toes in our efforts to step in to the empty spaces.

Today we wince as individual ways of handling grief clang against each other.

Today we can still be glad, as our grandson pointed out, that we have a close family that cares. They immediately gathered from across the country when they heard the news.

Today we can be glad, as our grandson pointed out, that we know Jesus, and that Uncle Bob knew about his grace.

“You know, when you think about it, this is really a happy day for Uncle Bob,” our grandson said in the ICU waiting room. “Today is the day when he will see how wonderful heaven is and get to be with Jesus.”

There is hope.

 

And then one day, I’ll cross that river.

I’ll fight life’s final war with pain.

And then as death gives way to victory,

I’ll see the lights of glory and I’ll know He lives.

(from Because He Lives by Bill and Gloria Gaither)

Toddling Toward Hope

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I love toddlers. Honestly, it may be my favourite age. Yes, I mean the tantrum-throwing, independent, illogical, ill-informed munchkins between walking and reasonable conversation age, the ones who cause their exhausted parents’ hearts to melt when they stand over their kid’s sleeping adorableness before they head out to clean up the day’s mess.

I love to watch them learn. They are voracious readers of everything and everyone. They crave knowledge and are driven to courageously expand their universe, but at the same time want to remain at the center of it.

As a baby a little girl learns that when she hollers Daddy or Mommy come to her. As a toddler she learns the hard lesson that when Mommy or Daddy call she is supposed to come to them.

It’s not an easy transition for anyone concerned. Toddlers are also discovering free will. Anyone who has tried knows you cannot make a toddler eat, sleep, sit still, keep their clothes on or pee where they are supposed to until they decide to do it themselves. You can cut down their options, you can try to pick them up (as they do the floppy noodle) before they dash for the road, but you can’t make them keep the water in the tub or kiss Auntie Bertha or stay out of the Tupperware drawer when company is coming if it is not on their agenda. They will let you know when they have lost patience with your interference.

But I love them. I love the mileage they get out of a few words. I love the excited laughter when they discover how to open, or flush, or unravel something all by themselves. I love the way they imitate older humans and want to be like them. I love them because they are headed somewhere and every day they change. I love them because they don’t stay toddlers.

It struck me the other day that as new believers in Christ we are like a baby who needs milk, shelter, warmth, affection and our heavenly Father obliges. He provides a baby with everything she needs. She calls; He comes. She knows how the system works.

Then one day he doesn’t come when she calls. He calls and holds out his hands for her to move toward him. After she chooses to toddle to his outstretched arms and she is rewarded with kisses and hugs he takes another step back – then another and another. He is becoming more distant. The next thing you know he is withholding her sippy cup until she sits in the chair nicely – wearing a bib that is not of her choice. What a shock!

The toddler Christian is accustomed to feeling that God is there to fulfill her agenda. Now it turns out he has an agenda of his own. Now there is this obedience issue to cope with. It’s a tough transition to make, and that is why many churches are filled with people who never grow beyond two or three years maturity level. It can be fun, but it can also be a wretchedly frustrating stage of growth because it means taking ourselves out of the center of the universe and putting God there.

The Bible says Jesus learned obedience. He grew in grace and in favour with God the Father and with people. When he laid down his Godhead privileges to experience everything we have he also learned as a human child that he had free will. As an adult he demonstrated that he was not doing the works he did because he was incapable of doing otherwise, but because he chose to. He listened to his Father’s plans. From his baptism, to his following the leading of Holy Spirit into the wilderness, to changing water into wine at his Father’s bidding – and definitely not his mother’s – to his battle with his free will in the Garden of Gethsemane he did nothing he did not choose to do. I believe he understands our struggle because he sweat drops of blood before he could say, “Not my will but Yours.” In the end laying down his life at the cross was his choice.

“No one takes it from me, but I lay it down of my own accord. I have authority to lay it down and authority to take it up again. This command I received from my Father.” (John 10:18)

I’ve heard it said that being part of the family of God means never being led into the wilderness (times away from his felt presence to discover and establish our identity as sons and daughters); it means never seeking God’s agenda but brazenly declaring our own want list; it means never being driven by frustration with our old habits to plumb the depths of his grace that changes us, but instead it presumes on our own definition of “grace” that enables stunted growth and self-centered living.

There is power and provision for a hope that does not disappoint, but this is not it. Of course God still loves to give good gifts to his children and to respond to them. Maturity means changing the way we think until we realize it’s not just about God answering us when and how we want him to; it’s also about us responding to him when he calls.

I love toddlers because unless something has gone horribly wrong, they are people in process. If we, as those growing up in faith, never get out of our strollers, demand ice cream for breakfast and holler every time events do not go according to our desired design and timetable, we will not be loved any less and our needs will still be met, but we will miss the joy of mature relationship with our Father God.

I love toddlers because they teach me to keep growing.

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