Set in stone – MY stairway

It took 36 hours, 4 flights, a week in a city I had never heard of just months ago, and a long bus-ride into the countryside, heading toward a small village in Southern India to find my stairway. And it had been carved out of stone into the hillside around 1,000 years ago. For me. For any local worshipper, or any wandering pilgrim. On this bus-ride, outside the chaos of the jungle-city of Bangalore, I finally had time to reflect how far I had come. Not just the miles, but my own personal journey.

The countryside was rolling by my window seat as our bus carried us (we were a pack of university students studying Social Justice) outside of Bangalore to Hassan. It finally occurred to me that I had made it to India…and had survived the first week. No, more than that — I had conquered my fears and was soaking up all that Bangalore was becoming to me. I knocked the door right off its hinges and came charging through. For the first time, I was truly proud of myself. But in many ways, I was also terrified of what it all meant: going back to college, traveling to India, and leaving my little girl, Layla behind. I was not afraid of doing any of those things but I was terrified of going against the grain or having my mothering skills and personal judgment questioned. “Don’t you know that there is poverty in India?” and “Your poor husband, how is he going to take care of Layla all by himself?” or, my personal favorite: “What a nice vacation from Layla!” Despite all of that nonsense, I found freedom within myself on my journey to India.

And now to MY stairway.

The students I had traveled with filed out of our bus and we were instructed to remove our shoes and wash our feet.IMG_3931 After we unloaded our belongings, armed with our cameras and clean feet, we approached the rock staircase carefully carved into the side of the daunting land-rise before us. And we climbed and climbed and climbed. Local worshippers passed us, we stood aside as 4 men carried an old woman down the steep stairway after she had done with her rituals atop in the stone-carved temple above. I turned around and looked at the ancient mosque atop the hillside opposite our perch. I was in awe. My mind and my soul were silenced as my feet plodded left-right, up the hill.

I reached the top, inhaled the haunting elixir on the quiet breeze of old moldy stones, incense, and a little marijuana. I was free. I realized I had left all the fear and uncertainty down at the bottom and I knew I had conquered it all – travel preparations, the stairs, breaking the mould, living the life I was meant to. From there, my journey had begun. I would not live as I was expected to by the world, the culture, the family, the community around me. No, I would live with my husband the life we were called to. I would take these lessons I had learned on my way to this place, and everywhere after with me. I would write them on the hearts of my children. I would live a life that is separate and undefiled by the world around me – something holy and fully committed. My family would serve the underprivileged women and children in our community the best way we could. Providing safety and support.

And I am trying to, 10 years later, imperfectly and with a 1,000 miles of other stairways into other unknown realms. I often feel like a foreigner in my own community. Maybe it doesn’t matter. Because I am still there in the Southern Indian countryside, still learning here at home in my community, finding my lessons, conquering stairways into places my neighbors tend not to go. And if I am not, then I have forgotten what India became to me and I have lost my way.
Stairway

An Infinite Curve

IMG_3927
Near Hassan  in Southern India atop a 1,000 year old temple. In this moment 10 years ago, I set an intention for my life: grateful I am still in its arc.

ride an infinite curve

grace acquired in treacherous storms

chiseled fragments fly

  on sweet swirling breezes

that bend but never break

my repose in fast stillness

Curve

In Healing Hands

I have been silent for a few weeks now, waiting. I have watched some things in my world continue to spin out of control and I simply have tried to patiently look for my lesson. What is it I am supposed to learn in this difficult time? I know there is always some truth or some insight I must get to, but the path is winding and sometimes, I am looking in the wrong direction.

We have struggled for a very long while now with Layla’s mental illnesses. I have looked on as she has torn her own life to shreds. She has annihilated her friendships at school and daily wallows in her grief, rage, mental and emotional instability. Over the last few weeks, we finally called in crisis family preservation counsellors for services in our home. With medications, and intensive therapy, I was hoping we could make some breakthroughs. Trained professionals come in to our home, she complies, calms down, comes out of the locked bathroom, stops screaming but she won’t do it for me. And today it all became very clear what I had been missing.

I am witnessing what looks like a wounded, wild animal. Her behavior reeks of it. She is lashing out at everyone around her because she needs everyone to feel the pain she is in. If someone has wounded her (even if it is in her own head and they haven’t done a thing), they MUST pay the price and she won’t rest until she is sure they have been punished. It consumes her. She bites the hands that feed, nurture and try to care for her. Because she is broken. Wounded animals lash out when in pain or survival mode. But we are not animals, we have the capacity to rise above our circumstances. We can live up to a higher calling than mere survival.

I was so busy trying to help mend the physiological needs of her brain with medicine, and then her mental state with counseling… I forgot to stay on top of the condition of her heart – her spiritual needs. I have even neglected my own in this. I believe that the whole of the person is made up of the mind, the body and the spirit. If one of those areas of our humanity is off balance or in need of healing, it affects the others as well. I am by no means suggesting that if Layla just prays some more, that her mental health issues will subside – Far from it. But rather, faith is an anchor, a place to return when our minds and bodies are in turmoil. Like the drishte in yoga- that place we return to keep us centered.

We aren’t given illness so that God can heal the physical ailment (as so many tend to believe), we are often allowed physical illness to help mend our hearts. Sometimes our bodies are healed as well, but not always. I know that whatever I have endured in sickness or difficulty has ultimately drawn me closer to God and I have tasted His goodness, His endless mercy, matchless grace and radiating love in those times. I know that the same is true for Layla. She has this illness but it can lead her closer to the God who loves her, if she allows it to. As her parent, living by faith, it is my responsibility to help her find that Anchor. A place, a refuge that she can rely on even when she can’t trust her own mind. And these past months, I confess that I have neglected that crucial element. We get to a place where our very roots are exposed and we realize that we control nothing…we can either lash out in our helplessness or we can lay ourselves in God’s hands, which is exactly where He wants our hearts to let go.IMG_3903

She is lashing out because she cannot forgive. She screams because she can’t let go of her anger. She bathes, no, she marinates in her pain without any desire to heal. Sometimes we carry things that are far too heavy for us to bear. But before we realize, we get really comfortable white-knuckling that baggage and don’t know how to let go. So, tonight, we talked about letting it go. Giving it over to God, saying, “I can’t carry this, it is ruining me. Please help me?” And knowing, believing that when God says he listens to us, we have all of His attention. And he will help carry the burden. That doesn’t mean He takes it away. But He gives us a way to heal even if it remains. She may struggle with mental illness, but she can still take some responsibility in her healing. I asked her to just take one step toward her own healing and see where it takes her…

And I must do the same. I cannot carry this alone. I have been telling God for so long that “I can’t….” but I realized the other day, I actually CAN. I just don’t want to anymore. The good thing is, I don’t really have to – I forgot to look to my Anchor. I just kept staring at the problem. More pointedly, I kept looking at a wild animal gnashing her teeth and like all human beings who just can’t look away from the bizarre or broken, I focused on it far too long. And I was screwing up my own heart and head in the process. I had a really bad attitude and I knew it, too.

So, discipline. We have to change our focus and that takes changing some habits. Or introducing new ones. Every morning and every night for the next week, Layla and I have pledged to spend time reading from daily devotionals and the Bible and talking to God about whatever it is that is hurting and giving it back to Him. Renewing our minds, giving strength to our bones, mending our hearts, forgiving each other. Maybe in the next week, we will find that next step toward wholeness, healing in our Father’s hands.

Finding Solace in Grape Fanta

Every single spring, he grieves. For eight years running, Eddie feels the depths of his many losses that inevitably come when a life is disrupted by death, loss, and adoption.  Loss of family, loss of normality, loss of identity, loss of the familiar – smells, flavors, touches, the ocean, loss of a mother who carried him tied to her back, loss of extended family who share his nose, his eyes, his square chin. Loss.

The first spring he was with us, he would just cry and cry – his behavior constantly and uncharacteristically naughty or angry. Then I remembered reading in my adoption training literature on the cycles of grief. The body remembers even if the brain cannot. I got to thinking and dug up the tiny packet of information I had on his birth family. Mother’s Day was coming and my little boy was a mess. As I perused the little bit of information I had… I saw it: his birthmother had died the first week of May, just before Mother’s Day.  This was quite literally, nearly to the day, the anniversary of her sudden death. So the first few years in the United States, when he would start to behave like this, I would give him the words that only his body could remember: “Your body is sad because your birthmother died during this time a few years ago.”

One year, as I went through the same script during similar episodes, Eddie interrupted me, crying out in a strangled yell, “I just wish I could see Birthdad!! I miss him….” I was stunned, catching the knife piercing my chest. I forgot that he also might grieve for the living that he had left behind. And once I found my voice again, all I could say was that I wished he could see Birthdad, too. And together, we cried. After he had cried it out for a few minutes, he went on his way, tripping upstairs, excited and ready to play with his legos.

Then there was last year. Eddie came home one night and all I did was look at him and he burst into tears. Sobbing in a shout. So he raced downstairs to his room and I let him be for a few minutes. Layla chased after him. In a few minutes he came upstairs gasping for breath, and I told him we could go talk about it some more in a few minutes. He stood there quietly sniffling. But then raced downstairs again, and I am quite certain the whole neighborhood could hear his sorrow. Layla followed him. But before she turned to leave, she said, “Don’t worry, Mom, I will talk to him.”

After putting Baby Sue to bed, I quietly walked downstairs to see what was going on in his room. Eddie was still blubbering. That much I could hear all over the house. But as I rounded the corner, I saw the most beautiful thing I have seen in my oldest 2 children. Eddie was doubled over, hands on his knees, crying inconsolably as Layla, with her arms wrapped around his waist just held him with her cheek pressed into his back. It was like they were spooning while standing. She held him like that, patiently absorbing his pain. She looked up and mouthed “It’s ok, I’ve got this…” And I quietly let them be, tiptoeing back upstairs. In a while, I heard the two of them planning their next Lego fort together. As if nothing had happened.

But this year, he held onto his grief. For a month, he came home from school every day without saying much, keeping to himself. And whenever I asked what was bothering him, in a nasty attitude he would insist that NOTHING was wrong. But then tonight, his pain had built up to the point that as he stood in position on the soccer field at his training, it was as though he was paralyzed. He couldn’t move because the hurt was so intense. It almost seemed as though he was recovering from one of his seizures.

So, later at home, we pushed and pulled until he cried once again as we asked, “What is wrong? Why can’t you even move?” After crying uncontrollably for 15 minutes, he finally said it: “I miss my Birthdad!!! I miss all of them.” He claimed he was afraid we would be angry with him for missing his Birthdad. Never once have we ever been angry at him for missing his father. How could we? We have only ever grieved along side him. Every time. But as we talked through it, he remembered – we have always held his hand in the middle of it. Oh yeah.

But I had to remind him, he has to talk about it. The only way to move through grief and get on with his everyday life is to give the pain its proper voice. To get it out of his chest, he MUST speak it out of himself. Or it sits and festers and rots until he can hardly move. His birthfather would not want to see him standing around on a soccer field feeling sad. As a parent myself, I know his birthparents would want him to love them, miss them, but work through the pain and honor their memory with his incredible talents they gave him.

I tell him – his birthmother is always with him, watching him and he can do his best every day, making her proud and honoring her memory. Honoring the love I know she had for him. Because how else would his heart be so incredibly, over-flowingly enormous and loving unless the woman who held him close to her body each day in a sling as she sold her wares in the local market, who nursed him and taught him to walk, and sang to him in Kru during his most formative and vulnerable years, but was so incredibly poor that she could hardly feed him – loved him well. She clearly must have made up for the lack of solid food in intensive, loving, nurturing care for him. He may have been nearly starving, but he has never lacked love. Ever.

So Mother’s Day has become very bittersweet in our home. We grieve with Eddie over the terrific, life-altering loss of his birthmother in the weeks, even the whole month leading up to this National Holiday, and I do my best to honor her memory. I have an enormous responsibility to her, and we owe her so much for who she is to Eddie and how she loved him well. And Birthfather (also named Eddie) demonstrated a sacrificial love so deep, he gave Eddie a chance at having a family again. And once we talk it through, he holds his photograph of Birthdad tightly – the one of the two of them together for the last time, sharing a grape Fanta. Then Eddie carefully sets it back on our “birthparents shrine/table” filled with photos of our kiddos with the parents they had before we filled that role. And he looks at me smiling expectantly and asks, “After we get some grape Fanta tomorrow, can we put the empty bottle next to my picture with Birthdad?”

When you come over and see an empty grape Fanta bottle sitting on my living room table, you will know, I didn’t miss the glass recycle bin. This is how we grieve. This is how we honor people worth cherishing. This is how we restore happiness and health in the face of loss.