Pipe Cleaners, Cake & Fireflies

Today we celebrate Motherhood. And my day was full, over-flowing with all that is good and beautiful in my life. I even saw a REAL silver lining, brilliantly framing a dark cloud in the evening sky tonight. And every so often, throughout today’s entirety, my phone would chime with another text from another friend or family member sending their love and blessings. So, let me share with you each of my children’s Mother’s Day world. I needed this day. It was good.

Sue – We spent the morning with her birthmother, grandmother, and aunt. We parked in front of an old house that we discovered was only a 5 minute drive from our own home. I had no idea when we moved cities 2 years ago, that we managed to move into an old home only 5 minutes from her birth family! We sat on her grandmother’s couch (draped in a white sheet) in a living room with decor that hadn’t changed since before I was born. I was sitting in a time capsule. Sue reached her chubby paws into the tupperware bowls containing all the potato chips her little heart could desire. She was so happy to see her Joo-Jee (as she calls her birthmother) and “Gam-mah.” She played, she stuffed her mouth with potato chips, and sat near Joo-Jee as she took her brief cigarette breaks in the backyard while Eddie accompanied them. When they came back into the house, Sue just climbed up into an old chair in front of the window, sunlight bouncing off her golden curls, and looked around at us all like a well-contented cat. She watched from her perch all the people who love her well and either gave her life or nurtured her into a healthy, precocious toddler who can talk, walk and JUMP. As I buckled her into her carseat, Sue exclaimed “A goo’ day, Mama! A goo’ day!!” I could see it in the contented look of peace in her blue eyes and the joy in showing off her new hopping skills. It was a “goo'” morning.

Layla – We arrived later that afternoon at my mother and father in law’s home. Layla had been staying there since her over night stint at the hospital this past week. She was excited to see me and ran to hug me and hand over a tiny book she made me that told me all the reasons she loves me. And the day before, she had baked and decorated a cake that she was so excited to unveil for me. She brought it out, expectancy beaming from her face as she presented the most beautiful home-made cake I have seen in quite a while. It had a sage green layer of frosting smothered in luxurious, soft pink roses. It was almost too beautiful to eat, but I did – all three decadent layers. All evening, she would find me and hug me, squeeze me, just touch to me. It was like a continuous apology for the grief we have been through of late. She had put so much of herself into creating and choosing gifts for me. And for today, all was well with us. Today.

Eddie -Eddie had me all to himself this weekend and much of today. He loved every minute, and we even enjoyed a little mother-son date to the movies late last night. Much later than little boys should be out on a Saturday night. And all the while, “Mom, I can’t WAIT to give you the present I made. I just can’t wait!” He forgot to give it to me this morning before seeing Sue’s birth family. He forgot when we visited his grandparents. All on account of epilepsy of course. But tonight, just before he went to bed, Eddie dug it out and handed it over: Kleenex-pipe cleaner flowers stuffed into an old applesauce jar covered in dried up glue. Some of these pipe cleaners are the green sparkly kind. I mean – THIS. IS. AWESOME! All I could do was to yell in giddy excitement because what else is there to do when someone hands you kleenex, pipe cleaners and up-cycled glass jars? He was so proud of his creation. And you better believe it is supposed to go right next to birth mom & birth dad’s commemorative Fanta Bottle. Yes, indeed.

Days like today, the real silver lining clouds, the beautiful people in my life who hold me a little tighter and share the hug a little longer, text me a little more often, authentic-one-of-a-kind-creations by my children, sharing motherhood with a birthmother, phone calls from my brother, the inappropriate jokes my good friends tell that they KNOW will make me throw my head back and laugh out loud, extra kisses from my husband who looked at me from across the room a little longer today and then told me how beautiful he thinks I am – these are the fireflies that are lighting up the darkness that has overtaken this season of my life. I know it isn’t forever and they all know it, too. But they are doing what they can, when they can, to light up my world until the break of a brighter dawn. I am thankful for each firefly in my life.

I was spoiled rotten today. And I am so thankful for it. I looked over at my sister in law tonight and sighed jokingly, “I wish it were Mother’s Day, every day.” To which she quickly replied, “Yeah, but then the world would fall apart.” Yes, it would. So tomorrow, I will go back to it refreshed and try again to hold the world together for my beautiful, loving, thoughtful, goofy, in-process, healing children.

 

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.

The music in my bones

seasons of frustration
take their toll within a
shell-shocked phantom limb
i can’t win and neither can i lose
just running circles round
things i’d rather choose
so tired of wondering
can’t wait to stop the waiting

sometimes, these prayers bounce right back
and the logic makes no sense
has my heart really missed the mark
did I color the wrong lens?
desert sand cracks my skin
and hangs my soul to dry
living water trickles slow
but great floods fill the sky

some things most dear to me
slipped through my fingers long ago
old mistakes are traded for
the music in my bones
oh, I let the song in my soul fly
but an ache traps the melody,
it vanishes in smoke

 

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In response to the Daily Post Prompt “Music

In the last several years, I have had to put many of my personal interests and talents on hold as my time is given over to caring for 3 children with special needs. But the flip side is that I am a classically trained vocalist and I can easily catch a brief but genuine escape when I sing, losing myself to the melody. And when the song ends, its back to the daily grind and some of the ache of today returns. So sometimes, I just try to keep singing through the day – If it is socially acceptable. And sometimes when it isn’t.

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.