Forgiveness: Layla’s Story Re-written

This story starts with a virus and ends with forgiveness.

{And it is told with her permission.}

It is unbelievable, but the largest culprit for my daughter’s mental health decline was a little virus called Cytomegalovirus (CMV). My best guess is that she contracted it while her worn out little 8 year old body was busy fighting repeated strep and tonsillitis infections. Evidently, it sat in her system and waged war on her body and brain for the last 5-6 years. We spent all this time searching for therapy, medications, genetics…anything to explain why a seemingly healthy child could slide into a mental health decline so severe, so unpredictable, so out of control that it destroyed much of her life. The answer was deceptively simple yet so difficult to find. Because no one was looking for it.

One of the complications of CMV is that if it sits in your body long enough, it can cause encephalitis or brain inflammation. We took her to a special clinic after too many doctors were unable to help her. Her brain scan was lit up like fireworks, nothing but red. After 3 rounds of tests including about 40 vials of blood, we discovered CMV. Brain inflammation can look like severe depression, delusional thoughts, and psychotic episodes, and it feels like out of control schizophrenia. She had every psychiatric symptom known to man. She had no control over her thoughts or moods, how she perceived the world, and how she destroyed the friends and the relationships she had. This is how she suffered for years.

We immediately put her on an anti-viral medication and immune support supplements. For a week, she vacillated between psychotic episodes and totally happy go lucky, sweet Layla. Then, on a Wednesday, after all these years, all of the worst symptoms she has ever experienced just completely vanished. We haven’t seen them since that Wednesday. We have our beautiful, sweet, loving child back. But it’s like she has been living on Mars for 6 years and has suddenly transported back to earth — the world she knew is in shambles.

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As I said before, her relationships have suffered. Her family has suffered. Many of her childhood friends are gone. And the one person she held closest to her has distanced himself completely – her little brother, Eddie. When they were small, they were the best of friends and had the sweetest relationship I have ever seen. Epilepsy and CMV destroyed all the good.

This did not go unnoticed by their mother, of course. It was Easter morning, Eddie and I were driving to church when I brought it up to him. “You seem like you are bitter and angry toward your sister. Are you having a hard time getting along with her?” He sat there very quiet. So I continued, “It seems to me that you are having a difficult time forgiving her for all the times she has hurt you. That is a very hard thing to do. But you need to realize, even if you thought she was doing it on purpose…she really wasn’t. Remember when you had seizures and it made you do all kinds of weird stuff you didn’t have any control over?” He nods his head yes. “Well, it is the same with Layla. Her brain had so much inflammation, like it was running a fever. It put words in her mouth, ideas in her head, and made her do things that she would NEVER do if her brain was healthy. She didn’t know what she was doing.”

So we talked about how hanging on to his anger will hurt her but more importantly, it will turn into bitterness inside him. And bitterness will make him nasty. We talked about how to forgive her, how to let it go. When we are unforgiving, it is like we have chained stinking, rotting garbage to ourselves.

“But I don’t know how…” he says.

It’s Easter, for crying out loud, so I ask him: what did Jesus do on the cross and what happened on the 3rd day? What was it for? Ultimately, forgiveness of our imperfections so we can have a loving relationship with a perfect God. If God can forgive Eddie, Layla and Mom of everything, then we need to forgive Layla for the things she didn’t know she was doing. Once, a pastor of ours said that when we can’t do it on our own, we need to ask God and borrow some of his forgiveness. So we can look at Layla and let go of the parts that hurt, so we don’t hang on to it like rotten garbage and we don’t hold it against her.

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After church that day, we sat down together as a family. Eddie wrote down what he couldn’t say out loud to his sister, “I am having hard time letting go being angry at you. Forgive me.” It never occurred to me that he would think to ask her for forgiveness, but I think he was right in doing so. Their relationship is still restoring itself, and it will take time but the hardest part is over. And my guess is that he will have to go through the process of forgiving more than a few times in the coming months and years. He will have to choose forgiveness and fight against bitterness.

 

Now Layla has to learn to forgive herself for the things she had no control over. And for the things she did have control over. She has to learn to receive forgiveness from the people around her who love her, who cannot and will not hold these things against her. Once she is able to grab ahold of it with both hands will she truly heal inside her heart. Forgiveness is a gift. And with this gift, she can rebuild her life. She can be the friend, the daughter, the sister, the young woman God created her to be. This road began with a virus, but it ends with forgiveness. The riches she has to glean from this experience are yet to be uncovered. There is power in her story if she can hold on tightly to forgiveness and faith – it can work for the good (Romans 8:28). Our stories can always be re-written like it says in Isaiah 61:3 ~

…for Layla, who has grieved in Zion—
to bestow on her a crown of beauty
    instead of ashes,
the oil of joy
    instead of mourning,pexels-photo-235615.jpeg
and a garment of praise
    instead of a spirit of despair.
Layla will be called an oak of righteousness,
    a planting of the Lord
    for the display of his splendor.                                                                                                            

 

 

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A Steady Kind of Hope

They say if you are sea sick, to look out toward the horizon. Or perhaps, focus your gaze out at one stationary spot as your boat bobs atop the waves. That is great advice for someone who only suffers a little upset stomach. But if you are truly SICK from the motion of the ocean, you are in the fetal position in the bottom of the boat, eyes glued shut in misery, just surviving from moment to moment. I know the difference only because while whale watching a few years back, I was the person who still had the wherewithal to look out at that horizon while my son, Eddie, was rendered immobile in the bottom of the boat when epilepsy still racked his brain and vestibular system.

 

They say to “trust the Lord” and to put your “hope in the Lord” when life tosses you around in a similar way. But what is usually meant when kind people say these things is “Trust in miracles, pray for healing, believe that God will make it better.” Some of us know all too well that when you are in the bottom of the boat, these are false hopes.

Over the last 10 years, my view has changed about the idea of HOPE. Because children have epilepsy and are never cured. People get cancer, receive excellent medical treatment, they are prayed over diligently and still, they die. Families are torn apart by mental illness despite their best efforts and most heartfelt pleas to God. Does this make God cruel and heartless when it seems like he doesn’t hear or answer our prayers? I don’t believe so. I believe that He is good, even if life’s circumstances aren’t. He never changes. There are so many things I don’t understand about the mess of chronic illness in the lives of people.

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But one thing I do know: God is more concerned about healing our hearts than he is about healing our bodies. Too often, well meaning people want to hope and pray away sickness and never understand that there is something to be gained in  knowing God and his heart for us both in sickness and in health. Since we have grown accustomed to engineering our prayers around avoiding suffering or struggle, there are things about him and there are things about ourselves that we never learn.

I let myself stay stuck in the bottom of the boat for a long time. There have been wonderful times when the waves died down a bit, and my husband and I could breathe and look out again at a clear horizon. But inevitably, storms churn up and we find ourselves holding onto each other for dear life. I know that numb feeling of hopelessness, dead ends. A parent who watches their children suffer over the course of years with little reprieve, is clinging to primal prayers. At times, that was all I had. That andfistfuls of anger when I was constantly let down. But while parents do everything in their power to help their child from a medical standpoint, there are no guarantees and most often the miracle prayed for never come. When you are in the thick of it, you just have to keep your head down and get through the day, get to the next appointment, soothe the child, make dinner, etc.

 

When you live with chronic illness in your family, you can’t afford to hang your hope on getting better. Most often, very little in your circumstances will change. Sometimes they do and bless that wonderful day, but you can’t live inside that hope, or what I now consider hope as “Wishful Thinking.” No, that will not do at all. You have to live and cope within your current reality. I made the mistake of hanging my hopes on every new doctor, therapy, medication only to be grossly disappointed – a feeling akin to being kicked in the stomach. You become a yoyo with your hopes set so low and set upon transient things. You are the person stuck in the fetal position in the bottom of the boat, faith and emotions tossed around on careless waves. Would I change what I did to help my children? Absolutely not – But I would have done it with a major paradigm shift.

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We have this hope as an anchor for the soul, firm and secure (Hebrews 6:19)….

….this God who is an anchor for the soul, He is that stationary object on the horizon…He alone is hope. It took years to fully realize that when I used to say my “hope is in the Lord,” I really had a bunch of wishful and hoped-for contingencies attached to that phrase. My focus became healing my kids instead of knowing God. But here, in this place, I can peek out of the boat (while I white-knuckle it’s splintery side). I can’t be a good parent, nurturing brain-sick children while hanging my hopes and prayers on nothing more that wishful thinking. I don’t have a choice if I want to be strong and resolute for their sake. I can stand firm even as the world around me crumbles. Maybe when my faith is perfected, I will stand up in the boat, get out and walk on the water toward that setting sun. For now, to be a solid parental force, loving my children through extreme circumstances, my focus has to be that Unwavering Presence on my Great Horizon, simply remembering daily:

“He will go before you and will level the mountains; He will break down gates of bronze and cut through bars of iron. He will give you hidden treasures, riches stored in secret places, so that you may know that He is the LORD, the God of Israel, who summons you by name.” (Isaiah 45:2-3)

 

 

 

Mothering Epilepsy – An Isaiah 58 moment

October 2013 – The good days feel as though you are reliving the best day of your life all over again. And the gratitude is so strong and the love so deep, they dwarf the shadowy fear riding your back on the hard days. There is so much that is uncertain with epilepsy. I fumble each day trying to figure out this ride. Or, how to walk in it with grace and genuine acceptance.

You never know when seizures will hit, how bad they will be, or how long your little boy will be down for the count. It is our dear friends’ wedding day. Everyone in my family plays a role in the beautiful ceremony except for me. Two hours before the guests arrive to witness the sacred event, Eddie is clobbered with a seizure. Acquaintances watch as my son’s head lurches, his arms convulse and his neck stiffens. But that isn’t the scariest part. It is the look — the desperate, wild VACANCY in his eyes. And we watch as these electrical mis-firings in his brain steal my happy vivacious son away for the afternoon. He lingers in a partially catatonic state for 2 hours. His brain exhausted in every sense of the word.

He will never remember how I walked with him around the beautiful acreage of this quaint ranch in Tucson. He won’t know how the poor photographer couldn’t get MY joyous, smily son to just smile for the camera. Or how I crushed him to my chest, trying to coax his mind and body back into the land of the living. He won’t remember that I rocked him as he made whimpering noises, soft and so terrifyingly primal. Or how I quietly begged him to please wake up and give us a smile. I have rarely felt so helpless in my life as in these moments.

But suddenly, just minutes before the ceremony begins, Eddie wakes up! And he is ready to GO and he plows down the aisle when it is his turn, set on his mission to announce that the beautiful bride is coming. Hooray! And my relief is a cascade – We haven’t let our dear friends down on their special day.

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Looking up from the dance floor

Eddie sits in my lap as the ceremony continues. I look down at him and I see all the smiles I had begged for while he was gone beaming from his exuberant face. I think of Buddy the Elf and how he can’t stop smiling because smiling is his favorite! And all these goofy grins are meant only for me. He is happy to see me again. Like I am some long lost friend he hasn’t seen in years. It is a bittersweet feeling to have him looking at me like that, when I was here trying to bring him back all along. And he doesn’t remember. And somewhere in the ceremony, the singer begins a song I know well and have sung often:

There is nothing worth more / That will ever come close / Nothing can compare / You’re our Living Hope / Your Presence / I’ve tasted and seen / Of the sweetest of loves / Where my heart becomes free / And my shame is undone / Your presence Lord

As the music and the lyrics poured over me, my loving and happy son wouldn’t take his smile off me. I was encased in such innocent, devoted love rising up from him and flowing down from above. Scripture says in the Old Testament that God inhabits our praise and literally hovers over our corporate worship. That imagery has stuck with me. and I sensed it in this moment. I whispered the words and felt them in my bones. My “why’s?” were silenced while I sat overwhelmed in Living Hope. We haven’t been forgotten. It is probably the most tender moment of my entire motherhood, borne out of desperation. Long after the song ended, my sweet boy continued to smile into my face. As though he was telling me that he heard my pleas while he had been away. The ceremony ended, dinner plates filled, and dancing began. And with that, we lost him again. We made our way to the Emergency Room with too many violent seizures increasing in frequency that day. Our joy-filled moment had ended.

But now I see.

I must simply mother him the best I can. I will try not to complain or glorify the inevitable suffering this brings to him and to us. I am chosen to love him and speak on his behalf. To mother him in place of the woman who no longer can. I am going to keep trying as hard as I can. And love more than I really know how. I would never have chosen this and I still ache for it to just go away. Even so, I choose to live by Isaiah 58 and tattoo it to my body so I never forget my end of this covenant that took place in my heart at someone else’s wedding:

If you do away with the yoke of oppression, with the pointing finger and malicious talk, and if you spend yourselves in behalf of the hungry and satisfy the needs of the oppressed, then your light will rise in the darkness, and your night will become like the noonday. The Lord will guide you always; he will satisfy your needs in a sun-scorched land and will strengthen your frame. You will be like a well-watered garden, like a spring whose waters never fail. V. 10-12

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I had Isaiah 58 forever inscribed into my arm during the Fall of 2013 to remind me of what God has taught me in the midst of mothering epilepsy

 After some very dark and uncertain years,  challenging my faith as I white-knuckled the promises of Isaiah 58…Eddie has been seizure free for over 2 years and he no longer has the epilepsy diagnosis. Miracles do happen.

Shifting shadows in the sun

 

I was sitting (staring blankly) after an ordeal sending my daughter to the hospital this past week, with the possibility of inpatient treatment for her uncontrolled mental illness. I was drained and slightly catatonic trying to readjust to life in the warmth of my comfortable home. I spent 24 hours seeing the world under fluorescent lights and walking through sterile halls – Sleeping under the survey of watchful cameras and strangers I will never see again. Hopefully. The luster of my hardwood floors repeatedly caught my eye as the tree outside our window cast furtive and fleeting shadows of the leaves playing in the wind. The shadow moving against the light continued to grab my lost attention and drew me to look up toward the sharp light cascading in.

Shadows move in traveling light
Undetected at their leisure
They cast a stagnant pose

But as the shadows shift
in the halted noonday sun
The eyes tease tricks
While the wind plays fast
An unheard tune
for the phantom leaves to dance

their contrasting ruckus
crisscrosses my floor
Returning my gaze to the Light

Mental illness casts a shadow over our family’s everyday life. As it shifts in its unpredictability, I find that the uncertain way it teases and wobbles our equilibrium continually brings me back into a place where I look and strain toward the one place that I can find peace, in Christ alone. And as I outwardly sit in silence, my heart and mind are screaming out to Him. I remembered in my waking moments earlier that morning, before I opened my eyes, I was crying out from the deepest parts of me, “Please. Please make a way.” But these things you won’t see as I sit on the couch, watching the shadows play on my floor. And you won’t see it when I smile at you and hug you “hello.” These are the shadows inside, but I hope somehow, light still shines out of me next time I see you. Today, I laughed out loud willy nilly, so its glimmer must still be there.

After the ordeal ended, and we checked out of the hospital, we made a new plan to try to help her heal. And try to help us heal.  It doesn’t include a hospital, but intensive therapies and medicine changes in my home. With an entire support team intruding upon the eco-system of my house. If it wasn’t before, it’s about to get REAL up in here. More shadows lay ahead, but in that, I keep close to the Light. Straining harder so I don’t miss the mark. I need the light when I am standing in shadows. And shadow is what helps us bring light to a piece of art. This heartache? It must be a work of art. But it doesn’t feel very beautiful from this side of it.

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Response to daily prompt Shadow

 

My Hope – Above the Clouds

I have said before that I write to process my life – circumstances, my family’s needs, our heartbreaks, our victories, our joys, everything that swirls in my blender of a mind. I often don’t really know what I think or believe until I write it down.

So, today I share 2 poems, written almost exactly one year apart and over the same life circumstances. Namely, the health of my son who has epilepsy and Intellectual Disability diagnoses. Traversing the terrain of his world, armed with an extremely vulnerable brain leaves a parent lost and powerless. We spent 7 long years begging and pleading school districts to help us accommodate him and we whittled away thousands and thousands of dollars searching for diagnoses. I spent days and nights on my knees (sometimes literally and other times figuratively) humbly presenting my requests to God. The first diagnosis that came was “epilepsy” and trying to control the seizures was a long, arduous process that was difficult to walk through. Here was my response to years of heartache with no reprieve in August of 2014:

Storms & Silence

Anger beats red and
A Bitter taste chokes my roots
Clawing for some help
My hands are dirty and I am raw
Grime clings beneath nail-beds
And soot stains the heart-lines
Hope has fled with my youth,
Sorrowed and soiled.
I can’t help him.
From where will help come?
I have lost my breath.
From where will his help come?
The fight’s gone from my bones
Worn, with an ache in my knees
From begging far too long.
Worry lurks behind me and a fear that is real
Steals my sleep and chases away peace.

Arms wide open with white knuckled fists
I lean into backbreaking winds.
once they slowed, I fell face down with nothing to resist.
I am hoarse from calling out to You.
I need water, my well is dry.
I watch. Wait.
Prayers carried by the wind
And dashed against rocks I can’t see.

I watch.
Arms wide open with white knuckled fists
I clench my eyes shut and bite down hard.
Straining to hear.
But the silence ensues, piercing me
And Ravaging him
No shelter from storms that seek to destroy
This small life, significant to ME
my prayers, love and patience poured out on its behalf…
is crumbling to ruins before my eyes.
Too many can’ts, numberless don’ts.
Isolating us each morning.
Where are Your promises? Where are your new mercies?
Why.

The second poem I wrote a few months after receiving the second diagnosis of Intellectual Disability (formerly known as mental retardation). While the people in our lives grieved, I found solace in having everything I already knew – validated. Finally. And with that validation came the help of school districts and more specialists. The best part? I could give myself a break, and lower my expectations of him and require the world around him to do the same. It gave us all more room to breathe. It saved our family and here was my response to the help after long years of searching and waiting in desperation for a breakthrough (August 2015):

above the clouds

In all this, I found that God is still the same. Even when it seems as though He does not hear and we are alone, we are not. And if I am angry, He can handle it if I pour it out to him. I cannot strive in Hope for a better future or relief or changed circumstances. Those kinds of hopeful prayers will be dashed. Instead, I must make God Himself my hope. He is with me, He is with my son. He is for me, He is for my son. God is enough and He does sustain, if I keep my head up and looking above the clouds…even while they block the sun.

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.

Cuttin’ a rug in the shoe department

Oh, Sue.

We were told our brand new foster daughter would only stay for a few months and that minimal commitment seemed like something we could handle for a while. We didn’t want to get too attached so we just gave her cuddles and did the perfunctory tasks of caring for an infant. But its funny because one day, I looked into those bottomless blue eyes after changing her diaper and realized that I had accidentally fallen in love. I didn’t have a choice in the matter. Weeks of diaper changing turned into months, months melted into years. And now, she is becoming ours forever. Someday soon.

Since coming to us, every ounce of heartache we have endured with the medical issues of our other children, Sue has brought joy in full measure. Even in her late blooming development, when Sue couldn’t move her body much from lack of muscle tone, her facial muscles were in perfect order, smiling and bringing light back into our hearts. The days I wanted to give up, I found her in her crib after a nap, arms outstretched with her smile just as wide, saying, “Hold you, Mama!!” And she wrapped her arms around my neck while patting my back and lifted me out of despair. If she weren’t here, who would do that in the middle of a Tuesday afternoon?

She balances it all out. For each of us. A few weeks ago, we found ourselves fretting over some tough choices (we thankfully didn’t have to make) for Layla. As we sat on the couch, my husband turned on some electronica. I looked over to see Sue hastily lining up all her stuffed animals on the couch. Oh, how cute. And then she started to dance. I mean, she threw her arms in the air then dropped it like it’s hot – DANCING! On her way back up (after dropping’ it, of course) she shouted over the loud music in her most elated voice, “Elmo, I danthing, Elmo!! I danthing!!!!” She desperately needed him to know – this was her moment. And our woes were forgotten for a time. And don’t get me started on the fact that it wasn’t that long ago that she couldn’t even walk.

This girl is larger than life. And the stronger she gets, the more confidence she has. Thank goodness for all the therapies she has to help her there. So, her little shimmy in the living room went public a few days ago. My husband took her to the mall one evening because it was raining and it is a good spot to walk the toddler. She REALLY likes to walk. Maybe it is because it took her so long to learn. He didn’t get far because wouldn’t you know it, they were playing some sweet beat in the Nordstrom shoe department. Sue wasted no time at all letting herself go. And GO she did. Right between the MAC makeup counter and the shoe department near the entrance to the mall, she was busting’ a move again with all the gusto a two year old is capable of. And every time, she loses herself in to the beat – she can’t hold still. At first, people just walked by and smiled like they always do. Everyone thinks she is cute. But then, the longer she kept at it, dancing her heart out, the more people just stopped to watch. And then they were cheering her on, and before you knew it, she had a circle of people just standing there, not shopping…but watching her. And she ate it up. The more they watched her, the bigger the circle, the longer she danced. For 20 minutes. It wasn’t just us this time – she made a whole crowd in a department store smile and laugh. She started her own flash mob. Oh, the tips she could have collected had there been a hat next to her on the floor.

Of this I have no doubt: there is just something about this little girl. Most people are mesmerized by Sue. Her smile and (just slightly maniacal) laugh is simply infectious. People who don’t care for small children are taken by her. And they do anything they can to win her love and affection. They can’t help themselves. She has that “Why, of course you love me!!” aura about her. And so they do. Sometimes I look at her and I think to myself, “How in the world do WE have YOU in our lives? Why are we so lucky?”

It was Sue herself that somehow snapped her birthmother out of a 14 year long funk to try to put her life together. And she worked so hard and is still doing the best she can! Sue, who can make Layla smile on her most difficult day wading through mental illness. Any silly story of Sue can melt the tension between her birthmother and I in a heartbeat. And we can laugh together. It is Sue who has stolen her big brother, Eddie’s heart and she thinks he is her own wonderful playful pet who happily does her bidding. This may be a problem someday since she will have all the smarts and will bend his will to hers with her naughty schemes. Yes, she is very naughty and already very schemy. But I love her for it.

She has saved my sanity. Her light, her loving spirit, her lisp, the way she calls me “mama,” her wobbly dance gyrations, and her thumb-sucking ways have buoyed my soul through some dark tunnels. And I believe that there is so much more of this ahead and it isn’t just for me. People often tell me how lucky she is to have us as foster parents. I don’t know what to say to that. Because what SHE has given ME and what she has brought into our family is beyond the power of words. She is a gift, and God was incredibly generous to me. He knew how much I would need her in my life – because she makes me laugh. Laughter is truly the best medicine for any ache. And for all those who need a smile, especially her loving birthmother, I will gladly share her.

Watch out for random public dance parties. She is probably responsible.