Tuesday, November 18, 2014

The Color of Heaven


I find the easiest way to learn about people is to listen to what they have to say. Everyone has something to say. It's just that sometimes, they stop talking out loud once they feel no one's listening.

When I go to Haiti {I've been three times now}, I find myself sitting quietly a lot. Just sitting. Sooner or later a kid or two will show up. Then another. And another.

Usually it's the boys.

Mostly they talk about silly things. Teasing each other about their hair and who is going to "grow it tall." Laughing about who was outwitted on the soccer field. They're all boy; hitting and nudging and pushing and bumping into each other.

But other times they grow silent. Quiet. Like they're thinking so hard about things but aren't sure how to talk about it. Like saying it out loud will somehow cause them to lose their train of thought.

And so we sit. Not saying anything at all. Side by side.

And then there are the times when they're full of questions. They want answers. They need answers. They're impatient and anxious, sometimes teetering on the edge of angry - but even they can't put into words why. It's just a feeling they have and they're trying their hardest to understand it.


"Bridget," he demands. As if my name is an order. He's looking at me hard. Eyes angry and defiant but he doesn't know why. He snaps his chin up; his way of telling me he's boss, daring me to look away.

"Your child die."

"Yes, my daughter died."  It's their favorite topic. Maybe because they all seem to know death in one form or another. They challenge me on it. Constantly.

He squints his eyes at me. "She in heaven?" 

All the boys turn to look at me now.

"Yes. She's in heaven. She believed in God and loved Jesus very much so when she died she got to go to Heaven."

He considers this. I keep my eyes on him. The boys look back and forth between us; they feel a battle approaching.

He looks away first. Off into the distance. He starts chewing on the inside of his lip. Contemplating something. 

I wonder what this beautiful child has experienced in his short life. I wonder what circumstances he lived through that brought him here, at this orphanage, in this village. 

He is so beautiful. So precious. So hard. 

He has a rock he's been fingering. Around and around I watch the rock as he flips it over and over. Suddenly, he throws it to the ground, snaps his head at me, eyes squinted in what looks like anger but is probably just confusion. 

"Bridget! When I die? I go to heaven, too? Then I turn white like you?!" 

He spits the words out. 

"What?" 

"Why I go to heaven and turn white like you?" He's mad. Angry. Scared.

It dawns on me: he has heard the stories. Stories of God and heaven. Stories about how, if you just believe, you will live eternally in heaven. How you will be made whole and perfect.

And he thinks, incorrectly, that this perfection comes in the color of white skin.  

"Oh, honey, no! You think that everyone in heaven is white?"

He nods his head yes.

"How do you know I won't go to heaven and turn dark like you?"

Some of the boys laugh. A slow smile comes to his face. But it's not enough. He wants more. I pray I can help him understand.

"Here's what I think," I start while leaning toward him. "I don't think God has a favorite color. That's why he made so many people with so many different colors. He made people with skin dark like the night because he thinks the night is beautiful. And he made people with skin light brown like the earth because he is so proud of His earth. And he made people with skin light like mine because the light makes him happy. And he made people with skin and hair as white as snow because he loves everything pure.

I think that in heaven we will see all our different skin colors and just know that each person is as beautiful and perfect as God sees us as. When we are in heaven I will have my white skin and you will have your beautiful dark skin - but we won't care. We will only be happy to see each other's hearts."

He turns again, looking out into the distance. And he sits quiet for a long, long time. 

All the boys do. 

No one moves or says anything as the sky starts shutting down for the day. 

I lean my head back and close my eyes, enjoying the last few moments of the day's sun. 

"Bridget," he speaks slow and quiet. "That heaven sounds real good."

Eyes still closed, I smile. Yes, I think to myself. Heaven sounds really good indeed. 




Sunday, November 9, 2014

One More for the Road

I have a friend who struggles with drinking. Not the consumption part; but, rather with the stopping part. Now, to be fair, it's not an every day occurrence. They are able to hold down a really nice job, they own their own home and are actually quite respected in the community amongst their peers. It's just those times when they start drinking - they can't seem to stop.

We were introduced a thousand years ago (or perhaps less) when I, too, was still in my let's get dressed up and dance until closing time stage. I loved dancing. And I didn't need to drink in order to do it. Although I did. Fruity drinks. Southern and Cokes. The random shot encouraged by a friend with a camera: Let's all do one! Hold on - let's get the bartender to take our picture! Because bartenders love doing that.

Eventually, I moved past that stage. I met a guy. Fell in love. Wanted to settle down and start a real family (not the single mom thing I had been doing).

I wanted to get married and spend future summers at our cabin up north so I traded drinking for researching properties for sale online.

I wanted a nice home so I crossed off bar money on my budget and renamed it bathroom remodel.

I had a baby so I traded late Saturday nights for early morning Sunday school.

I envisioned what I wanted and, well, quite frankly, going to the bars drinking every weekend wasn't going to get me there. I said good bye to that stage in my life without ever really giving it much thought. For me, it was a natural next step in my maturing life. That's not to say I didn't order a fruity drink when out for dinner with friends, or enjoy a glass or two of wine out on the boat or during book club. It just wasn't part of my weekly habits anymore.

And I found I didn't miss that scene.

I didn't miss the drunk grabby guys or the girls full of drama, crying over the bathroom sink because of something their drunk crappy friend said. I didn't miss the bus load of girls in their too tall heels and too short dresses screaming their way through the bar with their giant inflatable props. And I certainly didn't miss the I got so hammered last night I puked all over the living room floor stories.

But all of that still is very important to my friend - although they'll tell you it isn't.

I can see through the you never want to go out anymore and life is too short to not enjoy it and you used to be fun, what happened? What happened was, if we go out now I become the mother. Because the truth is, when we go out my drinking is at a slow idle and their's is full throttle. I spend our time together counting drinks because I want to strategically leave before their drunk alter ego shows up. I worry constantly about how guilty I would feel if at the end of the night their story stops at swerved over the center line and hit a mother of four.

I can see through my friend at their truth: that when they start they just can't stop. That they're constantly explaining to me how three drinks to them is like one to a normal person (as if, somehow, alcohol doesn't enter their bloodstream). That I've never once seen them not finish a drink, or two, even after they said they were done and going home. That somehow, in the justification of their mind, because they were able to drive home wasted and not get a DUI, it means they have some sort of super power that allows them to "handle" their alcohol. That, in all honesty, I enjoy them sober way more than who they become after they cross that line of no return. That the sweet, sensitive, caring person I know suddenly erupts into this paranoid, screw everybody, I hate you jerk that no one wants to be around. That in all my years of knowing this person, they've never been able to go more than 3 or 4 months without getting completely, ridiculously, irresponsibly drunk. I can see through all their excuses and explanations and narratives and see one thing: even though they're not the dirty, homeless, missing teeth drunk of the movies, they have a problem with alcohol.

I no longer see the need to get buzzed to the point getting in a vehicle and driving is a dangerous and costly idea. I no longer see the need to get so drunk at a Thanksgiving celebration they have to ask their over 60-year old father to drive them back home. I no longer see the need to believe flimsy excuses of hidden bottles of alcohol that roll out from under the seat of their vehicle. I no longer feel the need to sit through another rant about how they have no money and life isn't fair because they work so hard when I know they easily just spent another $80 on booze. And I no longer see the need to feel like I'm the one that has somehow lost in life because I've moved into a different stage and I feel good about that.

And yet....

I can't help but feel so sad. Discouraged. Disappointed.

This is someone I had shared so many good laughs with. Pictures of our past life together are full of smiles and hugs and, well, yes, drinks. But they're also full of hopes and expectations and dreams and wants and plans - things that we both deserve to see brought into fruition. And I can't help but notice their drinking hasn't helped them realize any of the dreams they talked about so long ago.

I wonder, where did their spark go? When did that fire for life die out and get replaced with just one more and I didn't plan to get drunk; it just happened? What causes a person to trade the dreams they had for their life for all the lies they have to tell to cover up the fact last night was just another night of bad decisions that didn't allow them to make it home?

Maybe it's completely Pollyanna of me, but I want to see everyone on this planet realize their dreams. I don't believe there's a person on this planet that doesn't have a passion or a gift or an interest that tugs at their heartstrings. I wish, somehow, every single person stayed sober enough to feel those heartstrings and know how happy their souls would be if they would follow where their heart is pulling them.

I wish my friend could fight for their dreams and not for just another drunken Saturday night.

Ellie Goulding: Guns and Horses


****


If you believe you may have a problem with alcohol, please, please know that you are worth getting help. Your dreams are worth it. Confide in a friend. Your doctor. A family member you trust. Seek out a counselor or find your closest Alcoholics Anonymous location.

For more information on the differences and warning signs of Social Drinkers, Problem Drinkers and High Functioning Alcoholics, (because most people who struggle with alcohol are not laying in a ditch), follow this link: The High Functioning Alcoholic

Thursday, November 6, 2014

Starting the Walk

I haven't written in a while because I haven't known how. Let me be honest, Year 2 is harder than Year 1. It means I'm starting Year 3 and, well, I don't really look forward to another year without.

On the first anniversary of Avery's death we released balloons. Hundreds of balloons. 




And it was good!

This year, I wanted to do something not so public. So, I went to Haiti and celebrated life with my sponsor son.



And it was good!

And then I came home and my world was thrown upside down - and it was awful. And then came that slow realization that it had been upside down the entire time; I had simply been trying to force it upright for the past seven years. 

And my soul was exhausted. 

And my heart wouldn't hurt anymore.

And even disappointment didn't affect me. 

I sat in a daze for a good long while before realizing I could sit and stare at walls until I could scream in hurt before staring at walls again until the end of my days... but that wouldn't change a thing. You can't force things to fit where they don't. A square peg simply can't fit in an oval soul.

I could sit in hurt or move forward in hurt. 
The choice was entirely up to me.

And so, after much feeling sorry for myself, I started thinking - really thinking - about what I want out of life.

I want to be a mom. I love kids and I want lots of them. Maybe I adopt. Maybe I will be one of those 45-year old women who gives birth to triplets. Maybe I follow in Avery's footsteps and work in an orphanage in some third world country. Maybe I go back to school to become a teacher. Maybe I teach writing to teens! I don't know what it looks like exactly, but I know God gave me a mother's heart and a mama's love for a reason. Kids need to be part of my life in a big way.

I want to continue Avery's legacy. Keeping on that path of loving kids, I want to realize the dream of building The Avery House - a transitional home for girls in Haiti who have aged out of the orphanage but still have school to finish up. I need to raise a LOT of money. It's not impossible - it's just hard. I can do hard.

I want to write a book. Specifically, I want to write Avery's story. Because even though I shared a lot on this blog, it still doesn't tell the whole story and the whole story is beautiful and amazing and too incredible to not share with the world.


After I identified those things I quickly realized I didn't just want to do them but rather actually feel called to do them. I realized these were all things I've been anxious to do for the past couple years and I had to face some hard truths as to why none of these were happening and what I needed to do to start walking in their direction. So...


I got a new job! It's only part time - and I really do need something full time, but it's a start. And, well, to tell you the truth, by the time I pay daycare for Brody, I'm bringing home about $4.00 an hour. That's awesome. But the thing is - I've done it before and I can do it again. I got pregnant with my oldest when I was 20 and making $6.75 an hour. I ate generic egg noodles and generic soup every day for 2 years. I went without so she could go with. Mama's sacrifice for their babies. I know how to go without.

I got a new house! Okay. Not really. It's an old house. Really, really old. And small. Really, really small. And I'm not technically living in it yet because I need to find an electrician. And a plumber. And then I need to be able to pay for them. So, it'll be awhile (possibly years) before I can actually realize my dream of living in a dilapidated 465-square foot converted garage. But, hey, micro-housing is all the rage and this house boasts a 7'x4' kitchen. And think of everything I can accomplish if I live below my means?! (Assuming, I'll get to a point where I actually have a means.)

I got  to talk about Haiti! And Avery! I spoke last night at a youth group. I'm telling you right now, nothing feels better than talking about Avery and how her love for Christ and her love for Haiti has transformed my heart. And as I was showing picture after picture of how people live in Haiti, I kept hearing this voice in my head whispering these people live with so little and look at how happy they are! Twelve people would live in a house smaller than the converted garage you're headed to - and it still wouldn't be stable or weatherproof. Bridget, you have it so good! You are so incredibly blessed!

The truth is, I AM incredibly blessed. Things don't always work out the way you want them to. Relationships fail. Children die. Jobs are hard to come by. And people disappoint. But that doesn't mean the blessings aren't there. Sometimes we just have to start looking at things from a different angle in order to find them.

I remember when Avery told me she was going to have one hundred kids. I told her that was impossible. Then I met Amber, the missionary who truly was the mother 100 children looked up to. I had only looked at it from my singular perspective. I never considered a different view.

It's like that movie Under the Tuscan Sun, where the main character dreams of having a new romantic relationship, a wedding and a family -- and all of these things do happen to her, just not in any of the ways, times or places she had imagined.

And so, my new journey begins. All I can do is take a deep breath, pick up my bags, and start walking.



"Unthinkably good things can happen...even late in the game."



Tuesday, September 30, 2014

In His Hands

"These scary spiders are going to go away now."

He had been 'scaring' me with these silly plastic toy spiders for most of the day. He being my just turned 5-year old son. I often wonder if he would be so focused on my attention if his sister was still alive. It hits me like that: not just how my life was suddenly thrust into the spotlight of unknowns, but how his was, too.

We all know days pass, decisions are made or not made, choices turn us this direction or that. Our lives are a constant stream of unknowns. What if I hadn't dated that person? What if I would have stood up for myself? What if I would have applied for that job? What if I would have moved like I dreamed I was going to?

But these types of unknowns are the shadows of our lives. The ones that stay in the background, stepping forward only when called.

Whereas, the what if my child was still alive? unknowns stand bold and tall, center stage, with the spotlight shined on them morning, noon and night. There is no intermission. Actors may come and go, action continues around it, but that bright unknown never, not even for just a second, leaves the stage.

As time goes by, you learn to turn your eyes, focus on the action next to it... but it's still standing there. You still see it in your peripheral.

Would she have the same friends? 
What skills in gymnastics would she have obtained? 
Would she think her little brother was annoying or would she still be mothering him? 
What kind of student would she be?
What would she look like without her braces?
Would she still write handwritten letters to Ashley?

I snapped back to the here-and-now present moment and watched my son slink away on hands and knees, slowly pushing the plastic spiders in front of him.

"No!" I yelled out, feigning over-dramatized fear and terror. "They can't go away!"

He stopped, looking up at me with the strangest look of confusion on his face. "Why?"

"Well, because if they go away we can't see them and we won't know where they are!"

He cocked his head to the side, considering my words. "Yes, you will. Because they will still be in my hand."

He smiled up at me, his precious little boy face filled with absolute assurance. And off he crawled, spiders in hand.

It's amazing how many times God speaks to me through the voice of an innocent child. Because in that instant, watching this little boy disappear around the corner and down the hall I realized something. Something huge: even if I don't have the details.... even if I never see what the path looks like, or what is seen along the way - what is said or heard or felt - even if I can't see for myself and I can't touch for myself - I know where Avery is.... she's still in God's hands.

How can I not be comforted knowing that she's safe in His hands?



He uncovers mysteries hidden in darkness; 
he brings light to the deepest gloom.
Job 12:22 

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

A Letter to my Psychology Teacher

Dear Mr. Love,

I often thought about how nice that would be to walk into a therapist's office and sit down with someone named "Love." It's a word that evokes gentleness, caring and kindness; all the things you were to me in school. Except I was a very angsty teen and you wouldn't have known I thought all that.

You had the pleasure of enjoying me in your Psych 101 class. (Someone really should have given you a pay raise.) I questioned, well, everything. I peeled back layer upon layer and looked at things from every possible angle and forced you to put up with I-totally-understand-why sighs and eye rolls from pretty much every single kid in that classroom. Yet, you were always calm and patient and "up for the challenge" when dealing with me.

But if I was challenging in class I was downright difficult in homeroom. You must have drawn the short straw because you were stuck as my homeroom teacher for all four years of my angsty high school career. Or, maybe I wasn't difficult at all, if you consider the fact I physically attended homeroom maybe twice during my entire senior year. I just didn't see the need for it. It was held really early in the morning and I wasn't a morning person and none of those announcements actually pertained to me anyway and also I had a pretty big chip on my shoulder.

 Did I mention I was angsty?

I actually looked up the word angst. It means, "a feeling of deep anxiety or dread, typically an unfocused one about the human condition or the state of the world in general." I guess I didn't realize I was that concerned about the human condition. (Turns out I am; I just needed to figure out what to do about those feelings.)

One morning I actually showed up on time for homeroom and everyone looked at me like I was some new kid they had never seen before. My peers were annoyed by my pretentiousness - casually walking in as if I could come and go as I pleased; you treated me with a party. You genuinely were excited to see me. You even gave me a Hershey's Kiss. You announced how proud you were that I was there and you weren't being sarcastic or mean. You weren't trying to embarrass me... I felt like the prodigal son returning and could feel the jealousy (and possibly disgust) of my peers burn through the skin of my cheeks.

I didn't come to homeroom after that.

But I still went to class.

You assigned a paper, telling us it needed to be between 3 and 5 pages, typed. That was back in the day when computers were just working their way into schools. I had learned to type on a typewriter, worked my way up to a Word Processor and now I was on a computer. It was pretty cool. Twenty years after the fact I realize how incredible it was that I got to experience such a "sudden burst" of technology. We were the guinea pigs; the lab rats. We tested that stuff out. And that's kind of a big deal.

But back to the paper.

You told us it had to be 3-5 pages and the topic was exploring the differences between intrinsic and extrinsic motivation. I promptly forgot about the assignment. One day, twenty minutes before class I realized two things: I had a paper due and I had a free period.

I ran to the computer lab and typed furiously for twenty minutes. I made it to a page and a half. (That was with double spaces.)

Yet, you gave me an A.

Really? An A?

I often wondered if you were just presenting some form of extrinsic motivation (like you did the Hershey's Kiss) in an attempt to persuade me to apply myself, but you made several hand written notes in the margin. You liked my paper, even if I didn't follow the rules. You read it. Dissected it. Complimented and challenged it. You knew I understood the concept. And you knew I wrote well. At the time, that was the compliment I was really searching for; that I was a good writer. (If I were to be honest, it still is.)

I knew then that intrinsic motivation comes from within. That it's not something taught or contrived or convinced or begged out of a person. It just is.  And I knew that there are all sorts of extrinsic motivators: money, prestige, those coveted compliments. The promise of a bigger, better house; the desire to be known and recognized - all these other things outside of ourselves that compete with what we know is our truth within.

I kept that paper with it's bright red A and pathetic shortness.

In fact, I have it in one of those plastic protective covers, snapped safely in a binder that houses all the things I've written that I'm most proud of. It shares space with a poem I wrote in memory of my grandfather and a piece I slaved over paying homage to Ezra Pound. (Ezra would have hated me. I over use adjectives and I'm a big fan of the abstract.) But it's that class paper that kept haunting me year after year. I kept it... but couldn't quite figure out why.

Now I know.

See, I still had some learning to do. I intellectually understood the concepts... but I hadn't lived them.

When we studied the different motivators and had to write the paper and take the test, I learned something vitally important about life. About my life. Something I didn't really want to admit to knowing. That the truly happy people are the ones acting on their motivations from within.... and I wasn't acting on mine.

All that external stuff - the salaries and pay raises, the house in the hills, the shiny, expensive cars - they don't last. They don't matter much, really, because they're never enough. There's always a bigger salary and a shinier car and a more prestigious zip code. And just as soon as you thought you had arrived you realized you still had a long way to go. You can never grasp onto what keeps slipping through your fingers.

It's when your heart pulls with such a vengeance that you feel like you could fall out of your heels at a dinner party for what aches your soul, well, that there is the stuff that matters. That's the real life this is my purpose stuff that you can't order out of a catalog.That's the stuff that can't be bought over time or handed to you from your homeroom teacher. It can only come from within and if you ignore it - if you turn your back on where your soul aches to go... you're just left existing in this world with a sad soul.

Angst means, "a feeling of deep anxiety or dread, typically an unfocused one about the human condition or the state of the world in general." Did you catch that? An unfocused anxiety... 

And remember, not all anxiety is bad. Anxiety can actually be quite good for you. Anxiety can be used to fight toward our goal, focusing in a way that brings out our best performance. Psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi has been quoted as saying this about anxiety:

"The best moments usually occur when a person’s body or mind 
is stretched to its limits in a voluntary effort 
to accomplish something difficult and worthwhile."

See, to get to my best moments, I needed to start tuning in to what intrinsically motivates me. And a clue to what intrinsically motivated me was where my anxieties kept taking me. Helping people heal. Loving those who just yearn to feel loved. Giving someone strength through the written word.

I'm doing that now, Mr. Love. I'm being motivated not by the outside forces of the world, but by what God instilled in me over 40 years ago. A lot of people tell me they're proud of me, but there are a few that don't quite get it. They think following my heart string and going to where my soul aches is actually quite a foolish move. Selfish, even. It seems following your heart doesn't always come with a hefty paycheck attached. In today's world, we get ambushed into thinking it's all about the highest salary, the biggest house, the most exotic vacation. Sometimes I wonder how the human condition can be overlooked so easily. Why it is that we're so easily led away from what motivates us from within only to get sidetracked by external forces that, in the grand scheme of life won't make you a good person.

Every funeral we go to we're reminded of this. You never hear someone stand up to give a eulogy and say, "Frank was a good man. He had three cars valued at $22,000 each. He had a tidy nest egg and a home that we're going to be placing on the market for $300,000. Frank worked his way up at his company, acquiring 5 weeks of vacation at the time of his death. His investment broker is going to miss him."

No. We hear about what made Frank unique, different and loved. That he attended every single one of his granddaughter's ballet recitals. No one paid him to do that. He wanted to go because he loved his granddaughter and he loved the feeling he got when his precious sweet thing got up on that stage and twirled around believing she looked like Anna Pavlova but actually looked more like a turkey caught in a blender. It didn't matter. To Frank, she was the most beautiful ballerina on that stage and he wouldn't have missed it for the world. He didn't care if she was the best or worst one on that stage; he just knew he loved how his heart felt when he watched her.

We hear about how Frank took food to the hungry and volunteered at church. He didn't earn vacation days for doing that; he fed his soul.

We hear about how Frank came to the rescue of a couple stranded along a busy highway and how they ended up being life long friends and raising their kids together. He didn't do that because someone dangled a carrot in front of him, he did it because he saw someone in need and he felt it in his bones to pull over and help.

We all know by now that the things that make our lives great, the things that make our souls shine, are all the things we stumble trying to put into words. It's the part of our coursing blood that can't be seen through a microscope. It's the way our throat catches and lumps closed even though no one else's seem to. It's the way our eyes threaten to overflow at something seemingly inconsequential to the rest of the world but for some reason it suddenly means everything to just us.

It's the stuff God placed inside us when He created us, whispering into our soul-heart, "this is what will make you unique in all the world." Not even identical twins with perfectly matched DNA will have the same soul-heart.

And if we turn our backs on it... if we tune out our soul-voice and ignore the pulls on our heart strings, we're just existing in this world. Living with a sad soul.

I think I could write that paper now the way it deserves to be written.

You did a good job teaching me, Mr. Love. Thank you for that.

And thank you for the Hershey's Kiss. You made me feel really special that day. I just didn't know how to receive it.