This short list of names say something about how some people respond when life is most definitely not fair.
They see something beyond the right now.
Does faith emerge because of tragedy? Or in spite of?
To have faith is to “hope for things which are not seen, which are true” (see Book of Mormon, Alma 32:21 and Hebrews 11:1). Each day you act upon things you hope for, even before you see the end result. This is similar to faith.
“faith is believing what you know, and knowing what you believe.”
Ugo Betti, a writer and POW wrote:
“To believe in God is to know that all the rules will be fair, and there will be wonderful surprises.”
It keeps me going.
I invite people of all different faiths, beliefs, ages, and walks of life to share their own Sunday Meditations in the form of short stories, thoughts, quotes, and inspiration. If interested, send me an email at amym (at) proctornet (dot) com. Thank you! And if you never want to miss a post, well then you best subscribe RIGHT HERE.
In 10 days I will be running with Marathon Glenn. Finally. It’s been the longest, coldest, and darkest four months of winter running. Ever.
We are wicked excited. We say “wicked” a lot in New Hampshuh’.
Wicked takes Excited to a whole new level, don’t you think?
This is where we can look back and remember the cold winter mornings.
Oh how fondly I remember this day. When the running program said “Run 15 miles.” But the roads apparently ignored the memo and were covered with ice and snow. Um, hello?? I showed up and this is what you’re giving me to work with??
The most oft-asked question: “Why did we decide to train during the coldest part of the year?” When we had to wear two layers – long johns and running tights – and were still cold the entire run.
This was always the answer: It will be worth it in April!
I wasn’t always so sure, like that time I came home and cried, when my hands hurt so much I thought they would have to be amputated.
Or that time last weekend when my poor little baby toe swelled up to the size of an orange and I was performing emergency surgery at 2:45 in the morning, cursing those things called BLISTERS.
There were chapped lips, black toenails, lost toenails, less sleep, less writing time, unidentifiable aches and pains, weird dietary changes.
When our conversations consisted of chafing, fuel, VO2 max, pit stops, shoes, wicking socks, and whether the altitude change will kill me or not.
There were other conversations too, ones that only happen out there on the road; conversations of family, children, grief, God, turning another year older, and whether or not we should go gray naturally. A firm no has been decided 🙂
These are the moments that bond women together for life.
There were days when the only time we could fit in a run was before the sun was up.
We had to wear fluorescent running vests so we wouldn’t be mistaken for deer, so cars driving in the dark could see us. We had to wear hats, mittens, face masks. We often had to wear head lamps to even see the road, and then it became so cold and slippery, that the run had to wait for the sun.
Why do we look so happy in this picture? Oh yeah…it was…fun.
I’ve said it before: I couldn’t have done it without the buddies.
Yes, there were times we questioned our sanity.
And because it was winter, sometimes the run had to be done on the dreaded treadmill, a psychological weapon which I have already spoken about and won’t go into until next December. Oh spring, I love you!
Now, two roads diverge in a barren wood…we will part ways and each run our own race.
Headed west. In 10 days I will run at the base of the mighty Rockies.
Running buddy will go east and run in the famed Boston which, after last year’s tragedy, is going to be the greatest marathon the city has ever seen, with the fastest qualifying times ever recorded. Where American runner and Boston runner, Shalane Flanagan, will seek redemption. She wants to win it bad. For all of us.
We’re all looking to prove something to ourselves, that all the training over four long winter months was worth it. It’s a funny thing, this hard thing. You can run your guts out, throw up at the finish line, and say, “that was awesome.”
Now, as the weather is finally starting to warm, as the mountains of snow are mere hills, when we are in the best shape of our lives, and all the training that can be done, is done…I can look back fondly at how hard it was to get from there to here.
Anyone can run. But it won’t always come easy. And that’s what makes it so great.
Recently I was running on the treadmill. Hating every second of it. Listening to an Able James podcast (they rock). Because podcasts and One Direction’s “Story of My Life” is the only way I get through such misery. (how embarrassing.)
Able was interviewing Mark, a Navy Seal and the author of the Seal Fit blog. His tagline? FORGING MENTAL TOUGHNESS.
The Seal was talking about physical challenges – which I was obviously having on that treadmill.
“Take yourself to the challenge,” he said. “If you don’t, the challenge will come to you. It always does. And you won’t be ready for it.”
The challenge will WRECK the unprepared.
So I puffed and huffed, knowing that the treadmill was really about mental toughness. I took myself to the challenge. It nearly wrecked me.
But not quite.
I stepped off, one step closer to 26 miles at the base of the great Rocky Mountains. I can only hope that because I’m prepared, I won’t be wrecked.
By the way, I don’t believe that “taking yourself to the challenge” applies only to physical feats. Your challenge will be different than mine. It could be-
Killing a Spider
Emptying a Mouse Trap (um. me.)
Keeping Mouth Shut
Oh, the list goes on and on.
Which leads me to lent.
Do you celebrate? I thought it was a Catholic holiday, but actually, it’s a Christian tradition that many different religions practice. I know this because I Googled, “Lent for Dummies.”
The thought of lent has been on my mind for days. I’m especially interested in the idea of a holy period that leads up to Easter.
In the Christian tradition, after the great party of Mardi Gras, where everyone sins and has their riotous fun, there is to be 40 days of prayer, repentance, almsgiving, and periods of fasting.
Darn it, I already missed the Mardi Gras thing.
Lent’s significance is supposed to be heightened during the Holy Week leading up to Easter, marking the life, death, and resurrection of Christ.
In our house we always celebrate Easter, but it often creeps up on me. I sometimes fear that all my children will remember about Easter are addictive, sugary, pink marshmellow bunnies.
But the spirit of lent is something I’m familiar with.
In the Mormon religion, each first Sunday of the month is designated as “Fast Sunday.” This is a time of prayer, scripture, and going without food and water for 24 hours (as health and circumstance permits.) It’s voluntary and, for a society that really likes food – It’s hard.
A hard, hungry day where my stomach growls like that giant plant in Little Shop of Horrors…FEED ME SEYMOUR, FEED ME!!! (Yes, I’m a spoiled American.)
I find it most interesting that it is during these hard, hungry days, that clarity often comes, prayers are answered, and yes, miracles occur.
Why, I wonder, must we suffer to come closer to the divine? All I know, is that as we descend, we are somehow lifted. It just works.
This year the calendar says that lent began on Ash Wednesday, March 5th and will end forty days later on Thursday, April 17th. I know this because The Idiot’s Guide to Lent told me.
April 17th is also the day I fly to Salt Lake City to run. Hmmm.
Typically my Catholic friends give up something for forty days, like chocolate or sugar or coffee.
I found this information delightful as I’ve been giving up something every single month for my experiment of A Year of Living Without. I’ll be living lent for 365 days! Perhaps I have some Catholic in me.
In observance of a holy period around the world, I decided that 40 days of a little more holy would be good for our family.
Which led me to the forsythia bush. Yesterday afternoon I tromped through a couple feet of snow, and whacked at the snow-covered forsythia. At this moment, the bush is nothing but sticks. But I gathered the forsythia sicks and stuck them in a vase by the kitchen window.
If spring won’t come to us – we will take those sticks to the challenge! Every morning, no longer in fear of subzero temps, the buds will open ever so slightly. is it safe to come out yet?
Forsythias can be forced to bloom when brought inside this way.
The forsythia reminds me of Easter. Of Life. Of Resurrection. We will watch the blooming yellow and be reminded that spring might actually come to New Hampshire! even while the earth is still cold and dark.
I like the idea of lent because it makes us uncomfortable. It pushes us to do something a little bit hard.
Perhaps like the forsythia, we can force ourselves to be a little more holy. Maybe it’s in our mothering. Perhaps it’s at work. Perhaps it’s completely personal. A little more quiet in a world that won’t stop talking, peaceful in an unpeaceful world. We can be centered in a place of chaos. We can find God in a Guatemalan dump.
Can I find holy, make holy in a home filled with frenzy, stair sliding, nerf guns, and barf? I’m gonna try, darn it.
Ideas I’m digging:
Sarah. 40 bags in 40 days, going from room to room purging house of unneeded STUFF. Oh yes, I like.
At church a few weeks ago my friend Amy stood at the pulpit. The sermon that day was kind of a free for all. Where I go to church, every first Sunday of the month is called “Fast Sunday.” Members are invited to fast and pray for 24 hours (or whatever they can do) and on Sunday, may come to the pulpit and speak; preferably about their faith and belief.
But in this type of format, you never know what you’re going to get.
In all honesty, sometimes I cringe or brace myself. Sometimes, I’m ashamed to admit, I want to laugh. But of course, I don’t. If I did, I would recall standing at the pulpit myself, suddenly forgetting that great spiritual epiphany I had only moments before, wondering if my chicken-raising analogy makes any sense in a chapel? Most of the time though, you don’t want to laugh or cringe. You listen to humble testimonies from people who are just trying to understand God and their purpose in life.
Sometimes a man will get up wearing shorts and a hoodie. Other times it’s a professional in a suit and tie or a young mother with a baby clinging to her. Sometimes it’s a dad with baby spit-up on his shoulder or a shy teenager or an African with a deep, riveting accent, or a boy with Down Syndrome or a six-year-old who says they love their family. All are welcome to stand.
When Amy spoke, love enveloped the room. Her sincerity made us snap to attention and stop sneaking the goldfish crackers in tupperware containers. She said, “I’m so thankful for this church.” She said she had felt God’s love. She called us her family and then turned, and invited her brother to speak.
He shuffled forward, uncomfortable at the podium. His head was shaved. He had made an effort in a white untucked dress shirt. His speech was simple and without vain repetitions. He was emotional as he spoke about wanting to get away from religion as a teenager. He did “every bad thing” he could think of. He got tattoos to anger his mom. There was drugs, sex, violence, and thievery and prison. He had a child he couldn’t care for. But he came back because he needed us. And it was suddenly very apparent that we needed him too.
Basically, he taught: God is good and I’m pretty bad, and without him I can’t do a whole lot. People, I really need your help.
Basically he spoke for every one of us sitting in the pews. This was the year, he said, that he was going to start trying. I began to cry. I looked down at my nice wool skirt, at my black boots and clean shirt. I’d actually done my hair. I must have looked awfully put together that morning. But underneath it all, I’m saying the same thing: God is pretty good, and I’m pretty bad, and without him I can’t do a whole lot. Help me.
Churches aren’t for perfect people. They are hospitals for the sick and afflicted. Together, Ephesians says, “no more strangers or foreigners” but fellow citizens – brothers and sisters. Trying to become whole again.
The meeting ended an hour and ten minutes later, just as it always does. There was a prepared song and a prayer. We were then invited to go to Sunday school with a teacher prepared to teach. We sat in a chapel that required a building permit. Where contractors, with specific instructions from church officials, organized and laid carpet and put in pews, chairs, and a grand organ.
I have heard, on countless occasions, the evils of organized religion. But those are always the extreme examples. I don’t think we hear enough about the good.
It’s the organized that gets things done. Years ago we were asked to leave church and go fix broken piping at a member’s farm because if it didn’t happen right then, the family was going to lose everything. Men and women literally rolled up their sleeves and with tractors and shovels, went to work and began to dig. They saved the farm.
Last October, on a beautiful Saturday morning, a service project was organized for the youth of my church. We met at a military base, joined by over a hundred other youth from other churches. We loaded, sorted, and bagged more than 6000 presents for Toys for Tots. The Lieutenant in charge was jubilant, said he’d never seen it done so quickly. The gratitude on his face, and the imagined ones of the children who would open those presents made the hours spent (and football game missed), well worth it.
We had a pretty good time, too.
In November I stacked wood with youth, men, women, and missionaries for a widow. Someone organized that effort – and brought the donuts, too. My children go to scouts, youth groups, and church dances – organized by someone who’s a really good DJ. Wholesome? Heck yeah.
Last fall I joined the women of my church to move our dear 87-year-old Anna from her comfortable home in the woods, into a small apartment, close to the veteran’s nursing home so she could be closer to her husband, Harry, who sometimes doesn’t recognize his wife, who sometimes says things he was incapable of saying before Alzheimer’s took his brain hostage.
Anne fretted about how she would pack up a home full of memories, momentos, and heirlooms. Organized and efficient women packed up the house, cleaned, and drove everything over to her new apartment. We unpacked the boxes, set up the kitchen.
The organized, efficient (and strong!) men arrived with the heavy furniture. They set up Anna’s bed, hauled in the sofas, and when it was finally all done asked, “Can we do anything else for you?”
That’s how it goes, every single time. We aren’t building a religion here, we’re building people.
When my Aunt Margaret died, the congregation volunteered to make all the food and feed a hundred people they had never met. Even though Margaret rarely went to church. Then they quietly cleaned up.
It’s not just the Mormons doing all the serving and organizing.
I read in Time Magazine about Rick Warren and the MILLIONS of orphans he and his organized force has placed in loving homes instead of in orphanages.
Catholic charities raise hundreds of millions of dollars a year.
When Hurricane Sandy hit, the Baptist Soup Kitchens showed up. Volunteers for Mormon Helping Hands swooped in, organized by local units to pick up nasty, moldy house parts. One man told my brother-in-law, “You know, you guys really know how to mobilize.”
More organized success? Read of Jeff Goins experience. Sponsor a child in need here.
My mother encouraged me to attend my friends’ youth groups. I learned Baptist songs at “sparks” and listened to evangelical preachers preach at microphones on stage with guitars, drums, and over-sized jumbo screens. I took their sacrament, but didn’t like drinking out of the same cup as everyone else 🙂 My husband went to Jewish summer camp. My niece goes to an organized preschool run by a Christian religion not of her faith.
What makes these religions successful? Yes, it is the pull toward heaven, toward something bigger and greater than ourselves. But it’s also because it’s organized. One person can do a lot. But when a committed group comes together? Watch out.
I’m often jealous of people who get to travel to Guatemala and Africa on service missions, as if that effort is more worthy because it’s exotic and foreign. But last month I joined a local group called, “Wish List.” I receive almost-daily emails from a woman I’ve never met, who lives in another town, and is a member of a different religion. I don’t care which one. She’s the dispatcher. In a few short months, small children have snow boots, mothers have coats, fathers have dress shirts and pants, and two brothers can go to school with proper winter wear. It’s really cold here. And the teasing was even more unbearable than being cold. An organized force made that happen.
The feeling of dropping off a coat for a kindergartener who has no coat? Better than a Visa commercial.
There are moments where weak, imperfect, and ill people commit horrible acts in the name of God and organized religion. But we all know – it isn’t right or true.
A week ago, the same Amy who spoke spontaneously up at the pulpit just weeks earlier, died very unexpectedly. Once again, her people came. They brought food to the house, called and expressed sympathy. Cards were sent and delivered. The funeral was packed, organized for free, the bishop counseled and spoke for no pay. The women ran the kitchen as well as any restaurant. Men and women did the dishes, picked up the chairs, swept floors, and cried with Amy’s mother, stepfather, and family. And we continue to go on with the business of trying to understand, to comfort those who stand in need of comfort, to mourn with those who mourn.
My story is not unusual. I’m just one of millions who practice a religion of my choosing. When I googled, “are religious people happier?” because gee, if we’re not, what’s the point? there were hundreds of articles that came up, including this Washington Post article by Sally Quinn. She says Yes. With stats. Why? Because it gives our life meaning. Because it connects us to other people socially. But if you are part of an organized religion, you probably already knew that.
And perhaps we crave organized religion because we want to feel like we can do and be, “I can do all things through Christ who gives me strength.”
When I can’t be bothered? It reminds me of Scrooge, “It’s not my business,” he says when asked to contribute money to the poor. “It’s enough for a man to understand his own business, and not to interfere with other people’s. Mine occupies me constantly.” Yeah, I get that.
Organized religion has made me sacrifice comforts and pushed me out of my comfort zone. It has asked for tithes and offerings. It’s never made me popular. It’s asked for my Sundays. It’s asked, on countless occasions for me to serve someone else when it’s terribly inconvenient. And I’ll never say it wasn’t worth it.
Humanity? It is our business. Best done when organized.
What’s worse than organized religion? I’d say it’s one that’s disorganized.
If you’ve had a bad experiences with organized religion, I’m sorry. We churchy people aren’t perfect. May I make a suggestion? Try again. You could always come with me 🙂 You’re at least guaranteed food. You’ll eat the best casseroles of your life. And Jello? fuggedaboutit.
The kitchen is already filling with smells of Daddy cooking delectable eats in anticipation of the big day. It is perhaps our best Thanksgiving tradition: The men cook.
This year I’m dreaming of the heaps of food at the dinner table, but I’m also watching the news, thinking of the refugee.
We who live in America, amongst such wealth, have much to be thankful for. It is hard to watch the news and see Syrian refugees looking for a place to call home. It is hard to see the faces of the mothers in the Philippines, holding small children, who didn’t get evacuated. Typhoon Haiyan survivors hang their laundry to dry in their destroyed villages.
I thought of the refugee when we made our Thankful Tree this weekend.
Every year our tree is a little different, but I think this one is my favorite. I ran outside in the frigid cold (sadly, the weather has turned. boo) to find the perfect branch. I found one that had snapped off a tree during a storm. It wasn’t perfect but suited our family just perfectly.
We cut perfect imperfect leaves and wrote out blessings. We burned our fingers on the glue gun, yelped, laughed, and read our blessings out loud. Some of us felt chipper, others not so much. It is a simple tradition, and one of my favorite parts of the season. We looked back on Thanksgivings past. Some of our family members are not with us on earth any longer; it makes every holiday a little more bittersweet, a little more meaningful.
I wonder who wrote that one? I hope your running is going strong! I’m so thankful to have legs.
Thankful for home.
Duct tape. Truly thankful.
My brother-in-law, Seth, is a Vietnamese refugee. I wrote his story, A Boy of Two Lands
for the November/December issue of LDS Living. Ann got the cover, darn it 🙂 When Seth was born, the Vietnam war was raging. I was born in 1975, the year that Saigon fell. The U.S. pulled out of Vietnam, taking thousands of refugees with them. Thousands more tried to flee the country, often throwing themselves and that or their children at the mercy of the South China Sea. Communists took over the country. Children were indoctrinated and taken as child soldiers. Each of Seth’s seven uncles were thrown into concentration camps for a time. Seth’s mother, Tai, was afraid for her only son. She knew the only way for Seth to have a better life was to escape. It is estimated that 800,000 Vietnamese made it to refugee camps. The world would come to know them as Boat People. Thousands made it to land, but it is estimated that thousands more never made it across.
Knowing the risks – sharks, cheap canoes not made for oceans, weather, pirates, murder, trauma – Tai put her only child, her precious 8-year-old son on a small canoe in the middle of the night. Seth remembers her last words: “Chung ta se gap lai,” or “We will see each other again.” Seth was born during the lucky year of the pig. He was “the lucky one,” so surely he would make it. Seth and his Uncle, Binh, set off into the cold ocean water. Twice, Thai pirates invaded. With knives in their mouths, they stole everything except the engine. But Seth and Binh made it to a refugee camp in Malaysia. There they waited. Who would take a small refugee boy from Vietnam? “We would go anywhere,” Seth said. “To any place taking refugees.” America answered. There was a family living in Boston. My in-laws had two small boys of their own, but felt like they should do something for their brothers in sisters languishing in refugee camps. They were a young couple with hardly any material possessions, but they had food and roof over their heads, and that’s what the refugees needed. Heather, my mother-in-law, said it truly was a world-wide disaster. Fisherman couldn’t fish in the South China Sea without bringing up bodies. Fate shone on the lucky one. Seth’s name “seemed to leap off the page” of the huge bound book of refugees so long it could have been the book of life. This was the boy they were supposed to have. Heather sent a telegram to Seth and Binh: “Do not worry anymore. Stop. You have a home in the United States. Stop. We are waiting for you. Stop.” She then began to fast and pray. Seth arrived in Boston, Massachusetts in 1981. One of his new brothers was my husband. The stories they tell of growing up are both gut-splitting hysterical and poignant. My husband can do a Vietnamese accent like no other. Many years later, Seth saw his first mother again as she lay dying in a hospital bed in Vietnam. The story is quite remarkable, the details too long to write here…you’ll have to read the article 🙂 But I’m really hoping it becomes available on-line soon! If you walk into many a nail salon, the employees will likely be Vietnamese. I have asked some of these women about their experiences. As they wash, buff, and paint my toenails, they tell me sparse details. Many include small canoes on cold ocean water. And so, on this Thanksgiving, I have been thinking of the refugees. On Saturday I heard a man speak about hospitality. And suddenly I remembered how easy it is to help a human being: Give someone a place at your table. Hospitality and Hospital have the same Latin root: “Healing.” How easy it is to never get face to face with our brothers and sisters. In the computer age, we can work from home, sit behind computers, hit buttons to open the garage door – we have to go out of our way to interact with people! We may not be able to travel the world or lead a relief effort. We may not even be able to serve in a soup kitchen. But we can be hospitable. We can offer a piece of bread, a table, a chair. We can offer a place at our table. We often hold back from inviting others because we think we are “lacking.” Is our house too small? To the lonely it’s a palace. Is our house too messy? To the displaced it’s called home. Is the meal too simple? To those who eat alone, it’s filet mignon. To break bread with someone is so simple. Yet it can be a holy experience. In Luke, Jesus appeared to two disciples walking down the road to Emmaus. Their eyes did not recognize Jesus for a long time. It wasn’t until they broke bread together that they recognized him. We will all have our walks to Emmaus. Listen. Pay attention to someone who needs you. We never know who we’ll be hosting for dinner. Many Thanksgivings have been in our home. It is an awesome experience. When families gather, the feeling of love is so strong. So is the chaos. And it’s beautiful. Strangers become friends. Family becomes closer.We have different personalities, different skin colors, eye shapes, mothers, and fathers. We come from different lands, different walks of life, religions, and experiences. But no matter who it is, when we sit down across the table from one another, when we break bread, we become a family. “Now therefore ye are no more strangers and foreigner, but fellowcitizens with the saints, and of the household of God;” –Ephesians 2:19 And to me, that is the beauty of a meal. That is the great beauty of the Thanksgiving. Happy Thanksgiving, dear friends. May you have a blessed day!
Melanie and I grew up together in Omaha, Nebraska. Melanie is the youngest daughter in a family of five children. Her mother, Leslie, a child’s advocate and foster mother, remains one of my biggest heroes. I spent many hours with the Bartlett family; slumber parties, youth activities, swimming, dancing. I pierced my ear in their basement; you know, the usual. Melanie is the girl with a big heart, an infectious laugh, and indomitable spirit. Growing up, the Bartlett family always seemed to have a baby in the house. There were five naturally-born children, but they fostered newborns, becoming the bridge between birth mom and adoptive family. It was this example that paved the way for Melanie’s story and her path to motherhood. Melanie writes:
Since I was little, the only thing I ever wanted to be was a mom. Most of my youth leaders were young, married moms. So I thought that’s what would happen to me. I’d go to college, get married, be a stay-at-home mom. Anything else is un-Mormon, right? So when I graduated college and years went by, I thought there was something wrong with me. I referred back to my patriarchal blessing (a patriarchal blessing is a special and individualized blessing given within the LDS/Mormon faith) and pondered on how strangely worded the family part was. The Lord would provide a way for me to have a family. Like it wasn’t going to be the ‘typical’ way. And then we got the call for Nevaeh. From the beginning of this journey, I’ve always had the end goal of adoption. But in Nebraska, the goal is always reunification with birth family. So this is a tough road to become a parent.
Who is Nevaeh?
In December of 2007, my mom and I received a call from the state saying they had a little girl at Children’s hospital that needed a foster home. We were not a licensed foster home through Nebraska, but LDS family services was licensed. So they did a quick walk through of the house and we went up to meet Nevaeh. It was pretty much unheard of for the state to place a baby in a foster home not licensed through them. But, as I would come to learn, this one phone call set me on the path to adoption.
Nevaeh, heaven backwards, was born 3 1/2 months premature and only weighed 2 lbs 3 oz at birth. When I met her, she was almost 4 months old and was just over 7 lbs. She had a tracheostomy, and my mom and I had to learn all that went along with her care before we could bring her home. We had her in our home for two months. It was nerve-wracking to be responsible for a child with a compromised airway, and not a whole lot of sleeping went on in that time. But she became mine in that time, and I decided to try and adopt her. Her parents were teens and had all they could handle trying to stay out of jail. They would never have been able to care for her.
But, after 2 months, LDS family services was wondering when Nevaeh would be available for one of their famies to adopt. I don’t know if there was miscommunication or no communication on this point between the state and LDS f.s. But some frustration ensued and LDS f.s. told the state they were not going to use their foster home if adoption by one of their awaiting families was not the end goal. So after two months, and much to my dismay, Nevaeh was removed and taken to live at The Ambassador, a nursing home with a pediatric floor for very sick kids. We were devastated, and made the decision to start taking the classes through the state to become licensed foster parents, and get Nevaeh back.
We were still permitted to go see her whenever we wanted, which was all the time. 7 months after she left our home, we were done with the classes and awaiting the home study. On a Friday night, September 26, 2008, we received a phone call that
Nevaeh had pulled her trach out, and the nurses hadn’t gotten to her in time.We rushed to Children’s hospital, but Neveah died early the next morning, just 17 days after her first birthday. It was awful. Devastating. And we were numb for a week as we planned and carried out her funeral, all the while working with her birth family.
And then, my mom and I just looked at each other and said, this can’t have all been for nothing. So, I prayed and went to my patriarchal blessing, which promised The Lord would provide a way for me to have a family. I went to the Bishop and explained what I wanted to do. And he gave me his blessing. I was going to get the foster care license and foster to adopt.
Antonio was born healthy. At two months of age, he was severely shaken and beaten by his birth father-broken leg, skull fractures, retinal hemorrhages. He has some mid-brain and brain stem intact.
But basically, the majority of both hemispheres are dead. He’ll never walk, speak words, or eat normally. The pediatrician says he won’t live to be 60. Other than that, they really can’t say. But we will take every minute we can get.
Brooklynn was a little delayed developmentally. But with early intervention, she’s all caught up.
Antonio gets a sister
The court system is a mess. I had Brooklynn’s older sister for 14 months. Then we had a hearing to determine whether she would go to live with her very marginal dad who had been sporadic in his involvement with her. The judge, against the recommendations of the child’s guardian at litem (arguablythe most impartial person involved) placed her with her dad. I’ve had children in my home placed back with their parents, only to see them in a violent 10 o’clock news story. And the process of adoption is slow. Antonio was available for adoption 8 full months before the adoption was final. It’s frustrating and painstakingly slow. There’s also a term caseworkers use called ‘adequate enough.’ It’s how they measure if a child can return home. Is the home adequate enough. Low standards, especially when talking about children.
What is the hardest part of motherhood?
Not being able to be with them all the time. It’s hard to have to rely on others to help. And with Antonio, it’s difficult to deal with a system that is meant for healthy children. I have to fight for everything-proper health care and adequate therapy and my right to keep him out of a school where the the risk to his health outweighs any benefit he might get…Now that I see how hard you have to fight for everything for special needs kids, I have a new found respect.
What is your other full-time job?
I work as a juvenile probation officer.
My mom watches and cares for my dad (he had a stroke a couple of years ago that has left him incapacitated). As far as I’m concerned, she’s a saint and her mansion in heaven is the biggest. A lot of people called me selfish to ‘do this to my mom.’ But, as she’ll tell you, there’s not really much joy in caring for my dad. It’s work and unrewarding. But having the two kids around has blessed her life and helped her focus.
The biggest hurdle for me in this has been how members of the church sometimes don’t understand…Yes, ideally every child deserves to be raised by a mother and father in faith. But it’s just not reality for every child to have that opportunity. And I’m not asking everyone to do this. This is how God designed for my family to be. And I couldn’t be more thrilled to be Antonio and Brooklynn’s mommy.
What can we do?
The biggest thing is having common sense about kids in the system. Many of them are shuffled around way too much, and birth families are given way too many chances to change. I’m for reconciliation up to a point. But if you have children that you’ve lost custody of, and subsequent children are born with drugs in their systems, done! You should not be allowed the opportunity to raise that child. You’ve given up the right, as far as I’m concerned. I can be harsh, I know. But I speak from experience with a system that proclaims to honor the best interests of children, but act in the complete opposite.
As far as what people can do, just becoming aware of situations like this and of the laws in their states. I did have an attorney approach me about helping him write legislation for stronger sentencing in child abuse cases. (Antonio’s dad only received 15-20years, which in Nebraska amounts to 7.5-10). Not nearly enough for the damage done.
What is the best part of motherhood?
They make everything else go away. They give me an opportunity to serve and teach. They are pure joy.
Thank you, Melanie. I look at these pictures, and am so thankful for women like you. It reminds me that We Can Do Hard Things With Great Love. And be all the better for it. It also reminds me that every mother’s journey is different, and when the “typical” doesn’t happen the way we think it should, there is always a way to make a difference in the life of a child.
Monday night and Tuesday I spent too many hours writing the story I didn’t want to write. I called my running peeps who had thankfully gotten out of Boston, feeling terrible I could even be thankful. I called, emailed, texted, apologized, ran fingers through my hair, then sat and typed.
It was a rare moment when I felt sorry for the media. I had to tell a story, but felt repulsed by sensationalism. But you don’t want to be flat. You have to find the angle. You report facts. Be careful with emotion. Avoid stereotypes and cliches. Writing with a deadline gets my adrenaline going, but then, when the article was submitted, I sat staring glumly at the screen.
It wasn’t the story I wanted to write at all.
I wanted to write about the Shalane (fourth!) and Kara (sixth!) and running buddies and goals and pace. I wanted to track the three 80-year-old men!
Forgive me, dear mother, for using this vulgar expression. But I was really pissed off.
I didn’t want to write about the human spirit overcoming tragedy. Not this story again, I can’t do this story. I’m so TIRED of this story. I wanted to write about the human spirit conquering Heartbreak Hill, but not this heartbreak.
There is a fatigue that begins to feel…hopeless.
Something happened to me in late November.
First, you should know, I am a sign-seeker. Actually, I like to think of it as a sign-see-er. Not like a seer that sees the past and future, but a see-er, who sees “things” and believes them to be signs. I see them everywhere. They are not superstitions like ladders and broken mirrors.
They are rarely the same things.
Except for shooting stars. Those always mean luck.
For instance, I remain convinced to this day that when I was riding my bike in college and saw the big white sign that said, “Now accepting Fall Applications,” it was a sign. Because I about fell off my bike when I saw it. I saw it and KNEW I was supposed to live there.
There were only a few spots left – one for me and one for my sister. And it just so happened that that is how I met my beloved dear husband. So you see, I blame it on the sign. The big white sign that was a “sign.”
In November I was so sad. I was sad for our world. So many sad things were happening all around us. I was sad for my friend who was about to lose her dad. Sad because we’d just been to a funeral for a dear friend. Sad because of a family diagnosis. Sad because another dear friend was given a diagnosis that I can still barely stand to think about.
And when I’m terribly sad, I have to run. I put Paige in the stroller and we were off. To get anywhere from my house you have to go UP. There is one road that goes straight down, but to get home I have to climb back UP. I was furious about this too; couldn’t anything just be a little easier?
So up we went. The night before there had been a great storm. The air was still wet though the sun was shining. Wind had knocked down tree branches, and leaves littered the road. I had to maneuver the stroller around fallen trunks that hadn’t been cleared yet. And all of a sudden we came upon a bird nest. Next to the bird’s nest there was a small, baby bird lying dead in the road. It hadn’t even had a chance. And that was it. I was done. The good life was over, there wasn’t anything more. Where, I wondered, do baby birds go in a storm? Paige didn’t know either. I was close to losing it right there on the road. And then, all of a sudden, words came to my mind.
But even the very hairs of your head are all numbered…even the sparrow that falls to the ground…yet not one of them will fall to the ground without your Father knowing it…my thoughtsarenot your thoughts, neitherareyour ways my ways.
And I thought: It’s a sign. The words are from Luke 12, words I have read many times, but never hearing them like I was hearing them on that road. I walked home, I didn’t run. But I didn’t lose it either. These are the words I would need. Because Newtown was coming. And Boston would come. And there will be more that tries to break us. This is what the words meant to me: We Matter. Even the sparrows that fall. Every last one.
“If you’re trying to defeat the human spirit, marathoners are the wrong group to target.”
Boston is the race I am fascinated by. It is a race I’d love to run. It is a race I fear. But brother Glenn began calling and we started making a plan. And then I began shopping for running shoes.
On Saturday morning my one and only son, Nelson, played in a basketball game that kicked off a tournament. Single elimination. Have I ever mentioned how much I love sports? Well. My heart beats at a quicker pace when I watch any of my children play; we are connected out there against the competition. His basket is mine, her shot is my near-miss. Their victory validates me (a little too much) and their defeat makes me pull my hair. I take great pleasure (and way too much pride) in their athleticism, but also take it personally when they fall short. Yes, mama needs to get a grip. But all I can say is, sports are a great joy to me. I’m always pushing those sweet things to try sports I never played, to practice their soccer moves, and for heaven’s sake, hydrate.
Let us pause here a moment.
We thought we knew what Daddy did on Saturday until I received this picture from a person who shall remain in protective custody. Daddy says he’s coaching basketball when he’s gone to faraway places…but really…he’s playing Starsky and Hutch dress-up?
Let’s not go there today. It’s Sunday.
So. While driving Nelson to his basketball tournament on Saturday, we had a little pep talk about heart and soul. Of being aggressive and smart and yeah, be a good sport, too. He made his mama proud and played his heart out on the basketball court. His defense was at its best. His offense was at its peak. At 11-years-old, he lives for a basket; it can make or break his mood for hours after. Me? I want to win, but I get over it quickly. I’m finally maturing enough to see how FUN it is just to play. How FUN it is to turn without your knees hurting.
Saturday he dribbled, passed, and shot. Though none of his shots were going in, he was my hero; I saw the heart and soul.
His team was ahead and the clock was counting down and my Nellie had the ball, five, four…”Shoot the ball” the crowd cried. “Go, Nelson!” My hands clenched, I stopped breathing though my heart pounded. His team didn’t need him to score, but I prayed, please God, please let this shot go in for my Nellie…please…he neeeeeds this!
Three, two…He went up for the shot but was blocked. “Shoot the ball!” the crowd cried again. One.. He went right, dribble step, and let the ball fly while getting hit in the face. The ball soared through the air as the buzzer went off. And then it swished through the net for a 2-pointer.
I almost cried.
The shot didn’t win the game, but it won my son. Knees skinned, shins bruised, face clawed, he was exultant. And need you ask? So was I.
The team advanced to the next round, which was held the next day. And even though I was prepared, my heart sank a bit. The next day was Sunday. His whole team would advance to the championship games together. Without Nelson. Without me in the stands – and who wouldn’t be sad about that??
Picture taking, bonding, rough housing, high fives. Perhaps a few would ask, “Where’s Nelson? Oh yeah, it’s Sunday.” Some think it’s weird, some think it’s dumb, some even think it selfish to let a team down after practicing and competing together for three months and we can’t be there “just because it’s Sunday.”
I have wanted to write this post for a long time, but I always got stuck, worried about offending. Let me say, I’d be horrified to come across as self-righteous. That is not my intention, friends. I’m just going to explain my “Why.”
As a Christian I interpret “Thou shalt keep the Sabbath day holy” as a day that I should keep the Sabbath day holy. What does that mean to me? Sunday is a day we go to church as a family. We don’t watch the Disney Channel or play with friends (and that’s easy because none live on our road.) We don’t go to restaurants or out for ice-cream or to movie theaters because that would mean we are making someone else work. And it kills me sometimes, but it also means no basketball tournaments.
It also means I’ll never run the New York City Marathon even if I qualify or win the running lottery. I’ll never run the Covered Bridges Half-Marathon in Vermont – something I’m supposed to do as a New England runner. Marine Corps marathon? Nope. Dallas? Pittsburgh? Well, I’ve never wanted to go there anyway. It means a lot for the future, as so many thing are now being scheduled for Sunday.
Some “no’s” are harder than others, but in this case it’s easier to be all or nothing. If I run one race on Sunday, why not another? If we go to one birthday party, then why not the next? If anything, I’m trying to be consistent. I can’t be the hypocrite. I just want to do the right thing and not have my kids wonder what crazy mama is going to change her mind about next.
It’s not something I ever agonized over; it’s just something we always did. I suspected for a long time it was because my mother liked napping so much. And the Sabbath is the day of rest. Bingo! I get it now! If there is anything that is more appealing than sleep to a woman with children, well, I’d like to hear it. Sorry, honey. And anyway, if the Lord himself needed to rest on the seventh day, then why can’t I?
When I was a kid our church was located right next to the swimming pool we belonged too. We swam there everyday except on Sundays. On hot summer days my dad would drive past that beautiful blue pool, us kids shoved in the back seat of the olive green station wagon that never had air-conditioning and say wistfully, “Look at all those sinners having a terrible time.” Meanwhile my best friend would be canon-balling off the diving board and shrieking with glee. They sure looked like they were having a terrible time. We’d sulk and scowl and my dad would laugh his head off. I guess I’ve continued the tradition of torturing my children, too.
In college it occurred to me that I didn’t have to go to church. I didn’t have to keep anything holy! I could sleep. I could skip. I could hop on the back of that motorcycle and drive to Tennessee. Yee-haw, I miss those Idaho days! But the guilt complex was too much for me. And anyway, I like my naps, remember? These days, I rarely get a Sunday nap. I’m busy being mama or getting a lesson ready.
My ma or pa aren’t here to tell me not to go swimming on the Sabbath. My husband and I had to decide a long time ago what family life was going to look like on the Sabbath. And we had to think: Why? Why doest it matter at all?
Why I don’t play.
1. Physical regeneration. I’m exhausted by Sunday. I need the Sabbath to get rested for the onslaught of the coming week. I give the world six of my days. Can’t I just give the Lord, one? “Come unto me, all ye heavy laden and I will give you rest.” I need that rest.
2. Spiritual growth. I don’t think you need to go to church to feel the Lord’s spirit, but it is a very rare Sunday that I wish I had stayed home after I go. I always leave with a better feeling than when I arrived. I need it. I crave it. I need to remember who I am and what my purpose in life is. A prayer, a scripture, a thought…it all helps me, especially when I’m surrounded by people who believe the same. Their spirits feed mine.
3. Obedience. The way I keep the Sabbath day holy is my personal interpretation of how I love God on that day. Heaven forbid that church becomes drive-through church, where I enter and leave unchanged. I can’t be a brat to my neighbor and completely unchrist-like the rest of the week. No, the Sabbath sets the stage for the rest of the week. The way I keep the Sabbath day holy is my outward manifestation of my inner commitment to God.
“Your neighbor’s vision is as true for him as your own vision is true for you.”
– Miguel de Unamuno.
And whatever your vision, I respect that. Each of us must decide what we stand for and then do that thing.
There are conflicts. Because we don’t have gas stations just around the corner, and because I don’t plan well, sometimes I have to fill the gas tank. I don’t like that. Sometimes my husband has to work on Sundays because he works at a boarding school and students need him. Sometimes he can’t go to church with us. When we lived on campus we went to church and then came home to be dorm parents to twelve teenage boys. It was our job. But it was still the Sabbath and the boys knew it. Some would ask who that picture of Jesus was and why we went to church. Once a student said to me, “I’ve heard of Moses – wasn’t he a really great actor?” I always thought that very funny. And a little sad, too.
A woman I recently interviewed is a printmaker named J.Ann Eldridge. Her light is strong. You can tell by the thoughtful way she speaks that she means to do live with purpose. She is not of my faith and I have no idea what she does on Sundays. One of her prints is entitled, “My Religion Has Something to Do With Compost.” The earth is her greatest passion and she takes care of it, recognizing its gift. I find that holy.
Once, when we were at church it was announced from the pulpit that a member of the congregation was having a water issue at their farm. It was a dire situation and they needed help immediately. The service was cancelled so we could go home and change and go to the farm with our shovels and trowels. I’ll never forget my dear friend telling me how much it meant for her, as she sat in the middle of her farm, worried that all was lost, to see her church friends show up with shovels, food, and ready to work. The farm was saved by brothers and sisters working side by side. That’s holy.
The Sabbath was meant for man, and not man for the Sabbath.
I have to admit, I had a moment of wavering yesterday. As I drove my son home, I thought of how badly I wanted to be at that game. How badly I wanted to see us win – surely we would! How badly I wanted to see my son dribble and pass and play in the championship. I looked over at my son and told him how awesome he was. I even sang him a little Alecia Key’s, “This Nellie’s on fiiirre!”
“Man, it stinks that the game in on Sunday,” I said, whacking the steering wheel.
“That’s why I played so hard,” he said. “Because I knew it was probably my last game.”
I wondered if it was unfair of me to make this decision for him. After all, I hadn’t even asked if he wanted to play. And he hadn’t asked either. He hadn’t begged or cried or said one word about it. And the game didn’t actually overlap with church. He could play in the game and we could watch him as a family. Then, as a family we could drive to church together.
“What do you think, buddy?” I asked. “Do you want to play?” What would I do if he said yes? I wondered. I think I would have to take him. Perhaps it could be just this one time and we wouldn’t do it again because it really wasn’t what felt right to us. But as I looked at him, I knew he had to make the decision for himself.
He shrugged. “Well, it just wouldn’t work,” he said. “It’s Sunday.” True that. Thank you, son, I thought. For helping me be strong. For saying no when mama almost wanted you to say yes. But not really.
Killer, how badly I wanted to go to that game.
As I recounted my son’s buzzer-boy-basket to his dad this morning I was animated and lively. “I probably care more than Nelson does!” I said, looking at the clock. It was one hour before game time. Nelson put his arm around my shoulder and said, “That’s probably true.”
So we didn’t go. In-between hair-combing and picking out the church dresses and gathering our Sunday stuff, I checked my phone anxiously as a friend sent texts of the play-by-play nail-biter. They lost by 8.
Would I do it any differently? Nah. We drank smoothies for breakfast, dressed for church, squabbled in the car, heard two of the best talks I’ve heard this year, and drove home together with less squabbling because we were all feeling the spirit a little better and a little louder. And then we had dinner, a short family night and played Pounce and ate Thin Mints for dessert. As a family. I guess it’s just the way we roll.
I often wonder, if I died tomorrow and found out everything I ever thought was true, wasn’t, would it have been worth it? Would I be mad I missed the tournament? I’ve decided not.
The Sabbath day has served me well and so I do with that as I will, and keep it the best I know how. How, I wonder, do you do it differently?
Here’s something I believe with all my heart: We are all brothers and sisters made in the image of the same God who loves us all. We are here to learn how to be happy, but we must all find out how to do that for ourselves. I’ve felt the power of God and his spirit. It is very real to me. My adherence to the Gospel of Jesus Christ might set me apart from the world, but it’s also the one thing that unites us all. I know I am a child of God and I also know that so is everyone else.
It was on the Sabbath day and at the feet of my mother and father that I truly learned that. I was also taught to honor God. In return, God would honor me. He hasn’t let me down yet.