Wednesday, December 31, 2014

The Resolutions that Matter

I have a love/hate relationship with New Year's. 

On the one hand, getting sloshed and insluting your wife or driving drunk and wrapping your car around a tree just doesn't seem like the right way to celebrate anything in life. I also have a hard time with the comments that stem along the line of we made it through this year! because what about the ones that didn't make it through the year? In my admittedly oversensitive heart you just called a bunch of my loved ones failures and they are nothing of the sort. They simply didn't have the choice to finish off the calendar year here on earth. And that hurts. Thanks for the reminder.

But on the other hand, I love a makeover. There is something incredibly empowering  about washing over the old color of a wall with a new one, symbolizing a new start, a fresh start, a chance to finally get it right.

Resolution suggestions abound the interwebs: lose 10 pounds, stop smoking, drink more water, save $10,000 and finally take that trip to Fiji. They all seem so.... selfish

How does it improve the world if you vacation in Fiji? Yes, yes, I know... you'll be better rested and relaxed and therefore more pleasant to the populous at large. I get it. I really do. But, well, I want more.

I want to make resolutions that matter.

I want to spend less on frivolous things (like soda and pens) so I can sponsor children that otherwise won't have access to safe drinking water or an education. I go out to dinner and it's an easy $30 -- if I eat out just one time less each month I can sponsor another child. So maybe you stop smoking and use the money you would normally spend on cigarettes to sponsor a child of your own.   {you can go to to do just that} 

I want to travel internationally - by going to Haiti on more mission trips and encourage others to go, too. I know people who have served in Honduras and Costa Rica and Moldova... and they keep going back. They need to go back. Their heart calls them to it. So, maybe you save Fiji for another year. Why not consider a short term mission trip? You could always stay on for another few days or a week to view things as a tourist. 

I want to save more so I can give more. Clipping coupons and Kids Eat Free deals are great... but  they're even better when it means the free meal is being shared with a foster child. Have you considered fostering? Have you considered a program similar called Safe Families? Save $25 extra out of each paycheck and use it to buy supplies for your local homeless shelter. Take those buy one get one free foods and donate them to your local food bank. 

I want to lose weight - but the weight I really want to lose is the heaviness of a materialistic life that tries to convince me I'm not successful unless I am surrounded by the $78 frying pan and the $65 shower curtain. Instead I want to live simply so I have the means to provide more for others. I want to pack food for the hungry and deliver Meals on Wheels and mentor a single mother who has somehow bought into the lies that all she knows how to do is make mistakes. I want to lose the weight of the world and pack on the pounds of love needed to serve God's people of the world.

I want to make resolutions that matter.

Because if I don't make it through 2015, I want to at least be known as someone who tried to make a difference with the time she had.

Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Climbing the Highest Mountain

For my 40th birthday, my friends threw me the most epic surprise party ever. I usually pride myself on having this sixth sense that those around me are keeping things from me, but not this time. I was honestly 100% taken by surprise. It was the best party anyone could ever throw for me. 

But what's perfect for me doesn't mean it's perfect for anyone else. Discussing it, my friend Ginger explained she would absolutely hate being the center of attention like that. She preferred something small and low key, more intimate with less fanfare. And that's exactly how her 40th went. It was absolutely perfect for her. Perfect location, perfect size, perfect fun.

My friend Kim turns 40 next. You'll remember Kim as being referred to as My Rock. When the police officer looked down at me, hand on my shoulder, and asked, "who is your rock?" I answered, "Kim. My friend Kim." And we called her. She was at work but she answered. "Avery's dead," I sobbed into the phone. "I'll be right there." And she was. How she got to my house in the 27 seconds that seemed to pass I'll never understand. But she was there.

And she drove me to the hospital.

And called the others.

And she grabbed my shoulders and looked straight into my eyes and said, "you are going to put one foot in front of the other in a way you've never done before" when I weeped what am I going to do? I don't know what to do. And I trusted her. 

And she helped find funeral clothes for my son because I didn't know what I was doing and she made sure there were black pants for me to wear because I didn't have any.

And she did whatever she did to make sure the 600 people who attended Avery's funeral were fed, asking her employer for donations and working with the church ladies she had never met before.

And she told me, "I don't care if you cry the whole way, but you need to get out of this house so I'm taking you to Galena." And she did.

And  she's answered my hard questions, the ones no one really wants to go back to: "did I say anything in the car on the way to the hospital? Did we talk on the way home? How did that person know Avery died? I remember coffee, but I don't know how it got there..."

And she's not afraid to say Avery's name. She talks about her and remembers things that happened with her and she has her picture on their family fridge. 

And, yes, she's turning 40.

When she talked about her 40th she explained that she wanted to spend it alone. Climbing a mountain. (This is where I tell you that she's climbed Mt. Kilimanjaro. Like for real. In real life. And I pant walking up the stairs from my basement.) She didn't know how it would happen: she's got two kids, and a husband and would it be fair to leave them and where would the money come from and she would need to train for it - because you don't just get out of bed and announce today I think I'll climb a mountain and off you go. There were supplies needed and airplane tickets and details to be hammered out, but, yes, spending her 40th climbing a mountain is exactly what she wanted!

I just don't think she expected what her particular mountain would look like.

Six months ago, Kim's mom was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. 

Kim's mountain doesn't look like the one she had pictured in her mind. Instead, its ragged edges consist of chemo treatments and daily injections. Blisters formed not on heels from walking miles, but on bended knees praying for miracles. Exhaustion from trying to maintain a semblance of normalcy for the sake of her young children while organizing doctor appointments and prescription drugs. 

The higher the climb the harder it is to breathe; the air too thin around the mama who gave birth to her as she lay ever weakening in her bed. Waiting, I suppose, for God to come take her home. How does one breathe deep enough while waiting for death? 

My Rock is climbing the most unrelenting mountain of her life. We have talked, Kim and I, about death and dying. About losing people we love. We have asked the question is it better to know death is slowly but steadily approaching? Or is it better to be completely taken surprise by it? 

We haven't come up with an answer. Both options suck.

Any minute now my sweet friend will say goodbye to her mother in a way that no one should ever have to. And I will continue to pray her way through. It's funny; you'd think since I have experience with this sort of thing I'd know what to say, but I don't. I just know that grief is the highest form of love a person can feel for another. We don't grieve people we don't know or we don't like. So grieving means loving and loving is good. But grieving is hard. And it doesn't go away. Even after you come down the other side of the mountain. I suppose there's some mountain climbing analogy I could insert here - I remember Kim telling me all sorts of stories about how bodies have to reacclimate on the descent... that people are often surprised by how easy the climb up was compared to how difficult the coming back down is. They underestimate the return to normalcy.

I hate that two years ago Kim was standing beside my daughter's grave and soon it will be her mom's. I hate that my sweet friend has to know anything about cancer and what it does to a treasured love. I hate that her precious daughter, the one who drew me beautiful pictures of Avery as an angel and who currently wears Avery's shoes to school has to feel a loss even closer to her sensitive heart. I hate that sorrow and pain has come knocking on their door when they deserve joy and sunshine and laughter and fun and long, lazy days with family and friends. I hate that after all she did for me during these past two years of my personal hell, she was ushered into her own. 

You know that surprise party my friends threw me for my 40th? It was at Kim's house. If only I could find a way to give her a better mountain.

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Light for Lilly

This picture has been printed in various community newspapers in the past two years. It shows my precious daughter, Avery - second from the right - smiling with her sweet friends at a sleepover at Katie's house.

Too soon after this picture was taken, Avery passed away as the result of a car accident.

Too soon after Avery died, another little girl in this photo was called home to be with Jesus.

You guys. My heart.

Lilly, the precocious young lady on the far right on this photo with her arm around Avery, was full of so much life it is impossible to think she would ever leave this earth.

She cracked jokes and asked bold questions. She laughed out loud and made me shake my head at how insanely wise she was about things you wouldn't think a kid her age would be. She never made any excuses for herself and taught me a great many things about being bold. She played football with the boys. She played hard. She played good. She played real good.

And just like that. Gone. The most audacious child I have ever met is gone.

No warning. No explanation. Just - suddenly not here.

And her Mama was wailing. Wailing in her grief. Wailing in her missing. Wailing in her without.

And it dawned on me that I know her pit. I know that darkness.

I know the struggle to breathe and the way it suddenly hits you like a bat to the heart: how can this child just be gone? 

You guys. This story hits too close to home.

Not just to me... but to our entire community.

Extra psychologists and counselors are called in. Again.

Kids are suddenly made aware that it's not just our old grandmas and grandpas and the great uncle you have never met that die - it's your friend, the kid who sits next to you in Math class, the girl at the bus stop. Again.

I don't know why this happened but, yes, I still have faith in my God. Faith that He is good always. Faith that he will redeem all things and he will use this in the most magnificent, glorious way ever. Even when my heart feels like it's in a million pieces and I want to rage out and scream at God, "seriously?! From the same group of friends? What is wrong with you that you think this is a good idea?!" (Don't worry; my God knows I wrestle hard.)

I don't expect an answer right now. Or in the next couple days. But I know there is one. And I trust Him.

Friends, a whole family has been plunged into sudden darkness. We need to shine our light. We need to keep shining because there will be a moment between the tears that a small sliver of light will sneak through and give hope. If we don't shine, they won't see it.

Don't over think things: send the card. Drop off toilet paper. Deodorant. Dish soap. I don't care if you don't know the family. They don't care. Trust me when I say grieving Mamas aren't going to even remember who was around them... they just remember someone was. And people holding you up always feels better.

Don't forget Lilly's siblings. They're grieving, too. Many times, it's the kids that get overlooked. Not because their grief isn't real and huge and hard; it's just that Mama grief usually gets top billing. And it's just not fair to the kids.

Be sensitive. I know you're craving to know what happened - it's natural. (I think we do that so we can fake ourselves into thinking we'll be safe. I don't drive on the highway so I won't crash. I don't smoke so I won't get cancer. I don't go hunting so I'll never have to worry about a random bullet.) But, friends, please, please, PLEASE stop publicly posting, "how'd she die?" on Facebook pages. There is (1) a private message option you could use and (2) something called decorum. A simple "thinking of the family" or even just typing "so sad" sounds a whole lot better than "what happened?" That just makes you sound nosey. And insensitive. No grieving family needs that. Not know. They want messages that give them hope - not remind them that the crappiest thing in the world just happened to them and you're antsy to know the details.

Be kind. To everyone. Lilly was audacious! I just cannot think of another, better word to describe her. She was genuinely incredible. I think of all the light she herself spread in our world and cannot imagine that light ever being extinguished. I just know that YOU can spread light in her honor. Think of how awesome it would be if everyone who knew that spunky smile or was touched by this story decided to start shining their light a little brighter? Man, how this world would light up! #lightforLilly  Do it. Make this world a better place with your smile and genuine kindness. That's what she did.

And on a practical level, if you can, financially support this family. They'll never ask for it. Not in a hundred years. So, we'll ask for them.

Funerals are expensive. Did you know there's an extra charge for digging during the "frozen" months? Headstones. Funeral luncheons. Not to mention the hospital charges. The grief counseling the members of this family will need. They'll want to print every picture ever taken. There's a charge for that, too. No one budgets and saves for this. So, maybe you have an extra $20 you were going to spend this week at the movies. Rent one from RedBox instead and donate $19. You can do that here: GoFundMe: Lilly Perry

And pray. Lilly believed in God. Her family does. She's probably tossing the pigskin around with Jesus now. Or maybe she's just walking alongside him asking all the hard questions that she always wanted answers to. Whatever she's doing, I know she's there. And she'd want us all to pray for her Mama and her siblings. She'd want us to pray for all her friends who are grieving all over again. (Two deaths in two years is going to leave lasting effects on way too many children.) So pray. If nothing else, pray.

Sunday, November 30, 2014

Not Through My Eyes

This afternoon I was driving through town and caught a glimpse of the sun in the sky. It's cold here in Wisconsin. Snow has fallen, but the sun came out, temperatures warmed and snow turned to water. The sky had been hazy. Foggy, almost. But there, in the middle of the sky, was the most perfect circle of light.

The sphere was so bright. The edges clean and crisp. Like someone had literally drawn a perfect circle and shaded it bright.

I pulled off to the side of the road to take a photo of it. I grabbed my phone, took off my sunglasses, and exited the car to find the perfect shot.

Except the sun circle was gone. Vanished.

In it's place was a bright haze of light among the fog and clouds but nothing like the amazing, perfectly shaped sphere in the sky.

Disappointed, I hopped back in my car. Pulled on my sunglasses and took one last glance out my window before putting the car in drive.

And there it was again!

It was my sunglasses that allowed me to see (forgive me, but this is the only way I can describe it) through the clouds and to the glorious sun that was hidden behind the fog and haze. With my own eyes it just looked like any old sun shining behind clouds. But with a little help, I was able to catch a glimpse of something spectacular. Something I would normally miss.

When I look at Avery's death with my own eyes all I see is grey fog and haze. Through my own eyes, the haze convinces me that losing my daughter is awful and horrible and tragic.

Yet, when God slips his Heavenly Sunglasses over my eyes, I can see past that grief to something so perfect. So beautiful. So bright. When I look at Avery's death through the lens of Christ I can see things I wouldn't normally be able to see.

I can see how Avery is doing exactly what she wanted to do: tell people about Jesus, lead people to Christ. And she is doing this in such amazingly huge ways that I never could have imagined. But God did.

I will not be able to see completely; my earthly eyes are not made for such things. But I trust my God. I know that His way is good and right and just. So, until I am reunited with my sweet daughter in heaven, I will continue to trust and be thankful for the glimpses I get.

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. 


"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.

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Life Jackets

"The life jacket won't make you swim," I tried to explain. "You'll still need to do the work; it just keeps you from sinking."

She wanted to swim so badly. She felt it was time to move from the shallow kiddie pool over to the big kid pool. But she was afraid because she didn't know how to swim.

We borrowed a life jacket and strapped her in. The second the belt snapped in place she squealed, "now I can swim!"

Oh, buddy, I thought. If only it were that easy.

Avery and her life jacket

Maybe life is like swimming and faith is like the life jacket. 

Let's say you've got to swim across this huge span of water. You can't even see the other side and, while the waters appear calm and quite pleasant right now, you've heard stories of dark and stormy seas. Of waves that swell so big they threaten to swallow you whole. Of the torment the waters put on a body, making every muscle ache and lungs plead leaving you crying and completely broken, begging to just give up and give in to what attacks you.

But you've also heard stories of the gentleness and softness of the water. Like silk gently trailing across the flesh and the sun warms your face and the birds above you sing and you can lay your head back and soak in the goodness, smiling as it feeds your soul, overflowing with a love that you can't even put into words.

And you can't even see the other shore. So you know that when it is good you'll want it to last forever; but when your body is failing you'll want some relief.

And that's where the life jacket comes in. 

God's love wrapped tight around you, secured with his goodness and mercy and grace. His promises keeping you afloat. He provides the eternal life jacket for your soul. 

But you still have to do the work.

Because you can't just enter the waters wearing His life jacket and expect to suddenly get to the other side. 

You have to move your muscles. One arm, then the other. Kicking your legs, propelling you forward. Yes, you have the assurance of your life jacket - but that life jacket can't do the hard work for you.  

As we travel through the earth-waters of our life, knowing God's arms are wrapped tightly around us, God is telling us to kick! Move your arms!  He is the swim coach of our lives and the buoyancy that allows our head to keep popping up for air, allowing us to breathe in His greatness at that exact moment we felt we would fail.

And just as you must keep swimming through the torrential rains and work extra hard to swim through the waves that swell taller than we ever imagined, so God reminds us that when our earth-waters threaten to pull us down, suck us in, finish us off - it is then that we must try harder, faster, stronger! 

Because God is many things. He is love and light and goodness and compassion. He forgives and redeems and blesses and showers us with grace. But He won't do the work for us. He wants to see us do for ourselves. We need to do it for ourselves. 

A little bigger and a bit more confidence.

I watched as my daughter struggled. I watched as she became discouraged because she couldn't figure out how to move herself forward. I watched as her eyes narrowed in frustration as other kids swam quickly past her. I watched as she cried and complained when another jumped in next to her, causing a wave to splash into her face. I watched as she gagged and spit out water from her mouth.

Several times she looked at me, calling out for help. And I would answer, "You can do it, buddy. I know you can. I'm right here."

And, you know what? She did do it. 
She blew it out of the park.

Avery on the South Central Swim Team

Saturday, August 23, 2014

The Spiral

"Buddy!" I ran over to Brody, just 4 years old, and scooped him up into my arms. "Why are you crying?"

I swear, He was just fine. I had just walked by, glanced at him happily pushing his train around the wooden track not more than five minutes ago. Suddenly he's sitting up, staring off into space, tears streaming down his little-boy cheeks.

"Buddy! What's wrong?" I rocked him back and forth, carefully pushing aside tears with my fingers. "Oh, honey, please tell me what happened!"

My eyes started an inventory, scanning his little body for hints of pinched fingers or maybe an errant bug bite. Something, anything, to make this sudden silent stream of tears make sense.

"I can't remember Avery very well anymore" he whispered, lower lip jutted out in the saddest pout I'd ever seen. "I know I should be happy because people can still tell me about her, but I just want to remember her for me." 



This was big.

And I got it. I really, really got what he was trying to say.

Time is passing. And with each passing day she gets a little further away.

Where before it was like I couldn't see a thing without seeing her face first, her beautiful smile - like I had to blink her memory away in order to pour the coffee in the cup because I couldn't see past her beautiful face that my mind always saw -- now, I can see the cup. And the coffee. That's not to say her sweet face isn't always there, it's just, well fading. Kind of like when you put a clipart image on your document and it's super bold and bright, but then you turn on the Watermark option. She's becoming a Watermark.

And I think it's like that. I think it has to be like that. Because if your grief doesn't Watermark you can't get anything else done. If your grief stays bold and bright you're always going to spill the coffee whenever you try to pour it, and pretty soon you're going to stop trying to pour it all together. So, your grief has to fade. It has to lessen. It has to become the Watermark so you can keep living.

But Watermarks aren't clean and crisp and clearly defined. They're hazy. They're light. Because their place is in the background. And while that's good for the "keeping living" part, it's kind of bad for the "remembering" part.

And Brody's sister is becoming a Watermark to him.

It's harder on him, I think, because what person really remembers what they did when they were three? Or two? And so he'll have the memories we tell him. He knows in his heart he misses his big sister, but he's struggling with remembering what exactly he shared with his big sister.

He has one terrific memory that makes me smile and laugh: "remember when me and Avery played hide and seek and I couldn't find her but then she was in the bathtub?!" He laughs so hard at this. Laughs just as hard as the afternoon it happened.

I remember it so clearly. Avery would hide, Brody would find her, and then he'd hide in the exact same spot he just found her in. We tried in vain to get him to hide in other places but he never would. Avery was such a good sport and would pretend she had no clue whatsoever where he might be located. She was so good that way.

Anyway, so one day Avery hid in the bathtub. Brody looked in all the usual places but couldn't find her. Just as he was getting frustrated and thinking about giving up, I said (loud enough for Avery to hear), "maybe if you're really quiet, you'll be able to hear her...."  I was expecting a sneeze or a cough. Maybe a loud sigh. Instead, she crowed like a rooster. Loudly. "COCK A DOODLE DOOOOOOOO!"

I about died laughing. But that was her. She was just ---- neat. Like, you just wanted to be with her because she was funny and witty and a good sport. And she crowed like a rooster during hide and seek.

A couple more crows and Brody found her. Both of them laughing so hard they could barely stand it. He couldn't get over the fact she hid in the bathtub. The bathtub! To this very day we all crow in public places in order to find each other. (Think clothing stores where little boys might wander.... yep, you'll hear a rooster.)

But even that memory I wonder if it's truly his or if it's just one of those that we've repeated so many times it's become his. Know what I mean? But then I think it doesn't matter. It doesn't matter if he remembers first hand or if he remembers second hand, just that he feels like he knows a little bit about his sister that loved him so much.

As timing would have it, I had an appointment and needed to drop him off at my mom's. We showed up, me with a flushed face and red rimmed eyes, choking back tears as Brody, with his head down mumbled, "you ask." 

I took a deep breath and explained to my mom that Brody was feeling sad because he couldn't really remember Avery and that he wanted her to tell him what she could remember about his sister.

"Well," my mom said. "She liked to climb that tree."

"What tree?"

"That one, right there in the front. She'd climb up and sit on that tree limb."

"What else?"

I smiled and turned quietly to go.

We're the keeper of our own memories, sure. But we're also the keeper of his.

As I drove away I started thinking about Avery. About how she talked with a lisp and loved to play dress up. How she loved to eat lettuce and called it salad. "Can I have salad on my burger?" About how she spent the summer before she turned three (or maybe it was four) wearing her bright pink moon boots every day; even to church with her cute little sundresses. I thought about how her art teacher told me that the morning of the day she died someone had spilled paint and she stopped and helped clean it up and I thought, Brody needs to know this.

Because what if something happens to me? Where will the details of his sister go?

That night I went home and grabbed a spiral. On the very top of the first page I wrote ALL ABOUT YOUR SISTER. And I've been filling in memories as they pop up. And they do. Usually after something someone will mention or a song on the radio.

She loved Adele's song Set Fire to the Rain.

She ate sushi for the first time at a Demi Lavato concert at Ravinia a couple months before she died. She spit it out. 

She once got strep throat the day after eating Pop Rocks; she insisted the candy made her sick and would tell people she was allergic to it. 

She wanted - begged - us to move above a Sandwich Shop so she could work in the restaurant. I think the show Wizards of Waverly Place had a huge impact on this dream of hers. When The Latimer House (an old historic home that had operated as a restaurant with living space above it) was placed For Sale, she relentlessly pleaded that I purchase the property. She would spend her free time planning menu items. 

And so it goes. Some days lots of things are added. Some days go by where nothing is written down. But it's my way of saying to this broken little boy, "it's okay that you can't remember it all; I will help you."

Monday, July 28, 2014

The Love is Worth the Grief

In passing, someone said something to me about grieving for a child you lost has to be so hard. I get what they were stumbling to say (trust me, even though I'm going through it, I never have the right words and always end up sounding so, well, off). But the truth is, grieving for a child you lost is the easiest thing in the world.

I took no special training. No special classes. Shoot, even when I was about to give birth there were Lamaze classes. But there were no your child is going to die unexpectedly so we'd like you to learn how to breath through the grief pains tutorials.

No, grieving the death of someone you love comes very, very easy.

It's the grieving while attempting to appear normal that is very, very hard.

There is a spot in the back of my neck at the base of my skull  that has been in a constant, thick knot for over a year and a half. It's a tumor of grief. But I'll just pass it off as I must've slept wrong.

There are days I would rather sleep for 115 hours straight than face the day. I'll tell you I think I'm getting a sinus infection.

But I can't have a sinus infection every day so you'll probably see me at Walmart picking up the bread and the paper towels like a normal person when inside my heart is on the verge of crashing into an oblivion of sorrow.

Songs on the radio will tear me to shreds - and if I'm alone I'll cry. But if I'm with someone you'll notice I take a big gulp of air and then say something incredibly random and probably way too loud to drown out whatever lyrics are tugging at my heart strings.

No, grief comes very easy. It's the appearing normal while you're grieving that is difficult.

I wouldn't wish grief on my worst enemy and while I feel like I've felt enough sorrow it ought come with some lifetime supply of Kleenex.... I chose to walk straight back into the face of grief. And I'll choose it again and again and again.

Because grief isn't possible without a whole lot of love.

When I went to Haiti this second time, I knew in my heart it would be harder than the first. Some inkling in the pit of my stomach said this ain't gonna be easy. And yet you couldn't have stopped me from hopping on that plane. I needed to come back to see this boy:

March 2014
He has my heart. I love all the children at the orphanage. My days and nights are filled with the memory of their faces. Of their words, their laughter, their singing. Of their hugs and hard questions. My prayers are longer than they have ever been as I ask God's protection over each and every one of these precious lives. I pray that Noramy continues expressing himself through art and that Ricardo continues to use his gift of singing. I pray that Vita can take that fiery spirit God has instilled in her to be a leader among the other girls. I pray that Jerry can feel the depth of God's love during those times when he is feeling alone and sad.
I love each and every one of these children. Children whose past I do not know. Whose families I will never meet. Whose names I can barely pronounce. I love them all with an unconditional love that I cannot explain but just know that by the grace of God I can feel it.
But this boy. This boy has my whole heart.
July 2014

One evening I found myself sitting with Riquelme and 6 other boys ranging from the ages of 12 - 16. We were talking about many absolutely inconsequential and superficial things. They find it incredibly funny that I cannot pronounce names and words properly in Creole. So there was a lot of laughter.

Then someone asked if I had any children.

"Yes. I had three children ---" I started to explain.

"But one died, right?!"

I smiled. I suppose in any other setting the appropriate response at such a bold interruption would've been shock or repulsion. Maybe I should have been appalled at the audacity of such a remark. And yet, this is their world. People die. Siblings starve. Parents fall prey to AIDS. Friends don't have the money to purchase medications for treatable diseases. Children die.

"Yes!" I said, showing the young boy how proud I was that he had remembered my story from months before. Or perhaps my sponsor son had explained the situation during my absence. "Yes, one of my children died."

"When? When your child die?"

"About a year and a half ago. Not quite two years."

Another boy looked up at me, "how old your child when they die?"

"She was eleven."

"Oh." The boys looked around at each other, at the ground. That age hit a little too close to home, I suppose.

It was quiet long enough to make it feel awkward, but I've learned that the best way to learn from children is to just wait and they'll fill in the silence with what they want to say.

After a bit, one of the boys looked at me with a huge smile on his face: "You have three children but one die so you only have two! But then you get Riquelme and now you have three again!"

I laughed and threw my head back! "Yes! Yes! You are right! You are absolutely right!"

We talked then about sponsor parents and what that means. I am careful that I don't give the impression that I can adopt Riquelme. (The rules make it so it's not possible. Unless God moves mountains, it's simply not possible.) I learned that I am one of the good ones because I write letters. Some kids have multiple sponsor families but they never get letters.

Don't misunderstand me: financially supporting these children is an incredible, selfless calling that needs to be answered. And when answered, these children are blessed beyond measure. Just $35 a month allows these kids to have access to safe drinking water, food twice a day, an education, a safe place to sleep, running water to bathe in, and access to medical care. Financially supporting these children needs to happen.

But they long for connection. They long to feel chosen. Wanted. Loved.

Letters received are kept treasured. Amber (the American Missionary) told me that many children ask her to keep their letters safe with her. This way they will not be lost, stolen, ruined, ripped, etc. From time to time the children will come back and ask to simply hold their letter - even if they can't understand the words on the page. They will ask her to translate it again, and again - even though they learned it by heart two years ago.

I learned that packages are good. A small toy, deodorant, underwear, a book, crayons. But if they had a choice between a package with no letter and just a letter, every single one of the boys in front of me that evening told me they would want the letter.

Letters mean love. And I write letters. So that's how they know I love Riquelme.

I don't pretend to know anything about the life these kids are living. I don't have a college degree and I have no special training. I haven't gone to school to understand psychology of children or earned any letters after my name that declare I'm some sort of expert in the field of orphans.

I just know I know how to love. God calls us to love unconditionally. He calls us to show others who He is by loving others the way He loves us. And I am broken. I am racked with sin a mile long. I have shamed my parents and embarrassed my siblings. I am quick to anger and slow to forgive. I hurt by the hands of others but mostly I hurt others by my own hand. I forget to give thanks and I forget to count blessings. I am lazy and I am full of contempt. And yet, God still shows up day after day to love me. He has never missed an opportunity to whisper in my ear how much He loves me. He has never turned His back on me for someone better, cuter, smarter, nicer, more well behaved.

He simply loves me.

I can do that.

Of all the things God has asked me to do, I can love a bunch of hurting children.

But loving has it's risks. Especially when it comes time to say good bye. I loved Avery with all of my heart and it crippled me when I had to say good bye.

I know what I'm getting into by loving again. Especially loving children in another country.

And so to love these children means to open the door to grief. And for them to open up and risk loving back means they, too, will have to accept grief as part of the deal. Because we will always have to say good bye.

I will grieve my boy during the seconds, minutes, hours and days I cannot see him, talk to him, hug him, laugh with him. I will grieve each second I cannot look into his eyes and ask do you know how loved you are? I will grieve each day that passes that I cannot explain to him that the love I feel for him pales in comparison to the eternal love God showers him with and that God's love will never, ever go away.

It is so hard. Not the grieving. That part I've got down. No, it's the grieving while trying to appear normal that I struggle with.

So, I might be having coffee with you and will try to laugh along with your story but part of me will wonder if  he's happy today, or struggling with sadness or his own grief. I will worry that he is alone and I will pray that God sends the right person to hold him up. And then I will laugh at the appropriate time in your story because it seems I'm getting a bit better at this grieving gig.

And just like I count the days until I see my Heavenly daughter again, now I count the days until I see my Haitian boy again.

And I'll do it over and over and over again. Because the love is always worth the grief.

And now abide faith, hope, love, these three;
but the greatest of these is love.
(1 Corinthians 13:13) 

To sponsor a child at Global Vision Citadelle Ministries,
or to donate directly to GVCM,
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Thursday, July 24, 2014

A Question for Mothers

It's a conversation no parent really looks forward to having. It can be awkward and uncomfortable and, as parents, we worry if we're giving too much information, or not enough, or if it's not being understood quite right. But as parents we're charged with the duty of seeing our young children through puberty and into adulthood. And so, we are required to talk about the things that might make us feel uncomfortable.
This week while I was in Haiti, I was given the task of teaching Human Health and Development to girls aged 12 and up. I prayed in earnest that what we would be discussing would be understood in such a way that these young women would come to understand how unbelievably beautiful and perfect and wonderful they have been made. I prayed that I was honoring their mothers while I acted as a stand-in. I prayed I would get it right.
We talked about pregnancies and HIV and AIDS. I answered questions that made me want to laugh out loud the information being so incredibly faulted. But I remained straight faced and explained that this is exactly why we were having these discussions: to learn truth. 

I wanted them to be okay with what was naturally happening to their bodies as they grew, but I also wanted them to whole heartedly understand that while their bodies might be old enough, emotionally they were not. Orphans having orphans is not a good thing.

And so we talked about purity. We talked about waiting. We talked about how God has ensured someone special in their lives and He's probably not going to send them to you when you're 14. And they had questions. Lots and lots of questions.
But it was one question that brought me to my knees. One question that had me wanting to wrap every single one of these amazing young ladies into my arms and hold them tight in my heart.

"Why do some mothers give their children away?"

The room grew quiet and the tittering-giggling girls looked down. The question everyone but no one wanted to ask finally spoken out loud. Broken hearts laid open in a room with a white woman who doesn't speak their language but who can feel the crying of their souls.
You see, not all of these orphans are orphaned through death. Many - most, perhaps, have been abandoned. Left to sleep and eat and learn inside the stone walls of this God home, while just through the gate a used-to-be mother and father and brothers and sisters talk and laugh and play without the one they left behind.
They do this because there is hope here. Here there is safe water to drink and two meals of rice and beans to eat daily. Here there is a safe place to sleep and sit and walk and a school that will teach everything they need to know. Here there is hope of a future, not just an immediate one, but of an eternal one as each child learns about God.
But none of that matters to the girl who just wants Mama arms wrapped tight around her. None of that matters to the girl who craves for Mama hands to braid her hair. None of that matters to the girl who dreams of words like "I am so proud of you" and "you are my everything" to be whispered in her ear by the Mama voice she strains to remember.

My answer? Incredibly inadequate.

"I don't know," I answered quietly, looking straight into her eyes, slowly drawing in a deep breath. "I know that every mom has her own reasons and it's difficult to understand what those are sometimes. It might be that they don't have enough food to feed all their children, or maybe they're sick, or maybe they just don't have the support they need to help raise a baby. But I do know it's a very, very hard decision for a mother to make."

I think about this question a lot while I am at the orphanage. I think about it throughout my trip home and I think about it while I wrap my arms around my little boy who has missed me for an entire week.

I think about all the fine families I know. The ones with the moms who volunteer at school and play board games after dinner. The ones with the moms who lay comforting their crying teenaged daughters after their first real heartbreak. And their second and third. And I think how strange it is that two beautiful children can be handed two incredibly opposite fates. One with a Mama and one who'd give anything to have a Mama.

It isn't until much later I remember Psalm 27:10 - "For my father and my mother have forsaken me, but the Lord will take me in." I want to rush back and tell them what I know to be true: that humans fail us over and over. That, yes, even our mothers will do things to hurt us - but God never will. That the arms of Christ are wrapped tight around them right now, even as they crave and plead and beg for the Mama arms they remember and dream of to come back and take them home.

Why do some mothers give their children away? This I do not know. But I do know that there are women just like the ones on our team who will travel all day long after leaving their own families just to come love on these girls. And they do that because these girls are worthy and beautiful and perfect. And these girls need to be told that in person.

** For more information about Global Vision Citadelle Ministries (the orphanage we stayed at), please visit their website and "like" them on Facebook.

** For more information about Children's World Impact (the group we travelled with), please visit their website and "like" them on Facebook.

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