Tuesday, December 6, 2016

Real Nativity

It seems that, whenever I have a baby, I get to thinking more about Mary's vital role in the Christmas story. And, okay, so it's not like I had a baby, in the literal sense of the word but, in the past, I have birthed a child. So, I've long been a serious critic of the traditional nativity scene.

I love them. I have many. They are among my most cherished Christmas decorations. But they are ridiculous.

Chosen One straight up just gave birth to a baby in a cave. Or a barn. Or a stable. In any case, it was NOT a hospital bed with doctors and nurses all around. It was not her home with her mother and trusted women of the village.

I'm going to go out on a limb here and say that there was probably a considerable amount of animal feces. There was straw--hopefully some of it was still clean. There was blood and, after the baby, came the rest, the part that horrifies the husbands in the delivery room because, they were totally expecting that baby but, they maybe weren't so knowledgeable about the afterbirth.

I'd like to think that someone wiser in the ways of labor and delivery came along to help Joseph out but the Bible doesn't mention her. Had there been a midwife or a villager, she would have been the first to lay eyes on the Savior and I think she would have warranted a Biblical mention. So I feel like it was maybe just Joe. I've heard of husbands delivering babies in cars or hallways and even the most stoic of them seem a little rattled.

So in a room of animal waste and blood and guts, a baby came into the world. My baby came into the world in a sterile hospital environment. I had every benefit of modern medicine and it still took me approximately thirty seconds of gingerly lowering myself into a sitting position just to perch on the end of a bed. I was certainly not kneeling on any floors, sitting on my feet. Yet, this is always how Mary is depicted. Crouched on her heels like giving birth took nothing out of her.

Yes. We're told that she placed him in a manger because there was no room in the inn. But I don't know any mothers who just put their baby in a bassinet and leave them there all night long. Certainly the manger contained him for a time but I'm willing to bet good money that Mary did a considerable amount of holding him. I think she also laid in a pile of hay--the cleanest Joseph could scoop into a heap. I suspect she looked tired, perhaps swollen, her tunic all in disarray and her head covering askew or, maybe even, folded beneath her for a pillow.

Joseph was, no doubt, overwhelmed. Exhausted. Concerned for his wife's well being and anxious about what the future held. Perhaps it was he who sat on his heels, staring at the baby while Mary slept, watching the rise and fall of his tiny chest.

I have no doubt that the shepherds found Mary and Joseph and the babe lying in the manger just as the Bible reports. I just think Mary looked haggard and was, at best, propped up in the corner of the stable. I think Joseph was welcoming but disheveled from his recent hands on experience with childbirth. I think the animals were slightly agitated, their home overtaken by first a screaming woman and then a crying baby.

I want to add a nativity to my collection, one in which Mary is lying down. Joseph is sitting beside her. The baby is sleeping. He is not glowing nor is he wearing a crown. The shepherds are there but the wise men are still two years away.

This, perhaps, is Christmas.

Frozen statues in the cold
Washed in moonlight, blue and gold
Mary's babe in plastic hay
Quiet wonder on her face
Mary you look so serene
Far too pretty, much to clean
We might think we know you well
But what stories would you tell?
Of all the dirt and dust and shame
Every burning labor pain

And as I turn to walk away
I hear you say
I am real
Don't turn me into memory or myth
Let me be real
And I'll show you what it means to love like this
To be real
-Nichole Nordeman

Saturday, December 3, 2016

Half a Year

Dear Will,

You're half a year old today. That seems utterly and totally impossible. Six months. This shouldn't seem insane to me because, after all, I have a ten year old who was JUST BORN LIKE YESTERDAY. But this growing up thing is something a mama never gets used to. It's the strangest thing, being a mother. One lives in a constant state of wishing it was yesterday and wishing it was tomorrow.

Yesterday you were smaller. You fit more easily into the crook of my arm. You slept more, snuggled more, stayed put. Tomorrow you will be bigger. You will learn to crawl and walk and do long division. I'm always hoping for more milestones achieved and mourning the time passed.

You're so grown up now. You roll both directions, occasionally sit unassisted without toppling into a heap, babble incessantly, laugh at everything, smile at everyone. Today, for the very first time, you saw me, standing several feet away while another mommy held you and your lower lip folded into a frown and you whimpered as if to say, "That's my mom. The lady over there. I'd like her, please." On the one hand, I could do without that annoying stranger danger thing. On the other hand, my heart was happy that you like me. You really like me.
You're the cutest thing with a larger than life personality. It's becoming slightly less chill than when you were tinier. You have a voice. You've found it and you enjoy shrieking at the top of your lungs any time we put you down. It's like you think you're the king around here.

Oh, who are we kidding, the way we cater to your every whim would suggest that you are, at the very least, a prince.

Every morning, you snuggle into my arms for your bottle, your soft curls brushing my cheek, and I can't help but catch my breath for a moment and thank God for you. Because you are amazing. Sometimes, if there's time, you fall back asleep, there in the crook of my arm, and I listen to you breathe, your sweet milk breath, an exhaling of life and joy and contentment.

Your cappuccino skin, chocolate eyes, and wild curls are a constant reminder of your perfect blend of mother and father, of brother and brother. Although, speaking of those curls, your hair is having an identity crisis. It's patchy curls on top which fade into a giant bald spot which trickles down into a mullet. You're like Crusty the Clown, an old man, and a redneck all at the same time. It's ridiculous and completely adorable in a hot mess kind of way.

You think solid food is just divine and you'll eat anything. Seriously, at six months old, your list of consumed foods is quite impressive including but certainly not limited to, green beans, peas, squash, carrots, corn, potatoes, yams, peaches, pears, apples, bananas, blueberries, beets, cranberries, oatmeal, noodles, beef, and a few tastes of pumpkin pie. I'm thankful for this love of food as it finally has you on the fast track to Chub City. (And by that I mean that you might finally get out of the 2nd percentile for weight. Who knows? We'll find out on Monday.)

I'm really glad that you stopped screaming like a banshee every time we put you in the car. You still have your moments, especially when it's dark, but it is so much better. My ears thank you. So do my nerves. It might have something to do with how much you like music and the fact that it's almost always playing when we're driving all around town. I feel like I hunkered down at home more with your brothers because I had nowhere I really had to be. But you, buddy, you're just along for all the rides. It's an almost constant go go go lifestyle and you're handling it like a pro.

I love you so much.

I can't believe there was a time when you weren't here, when I didn't know you. I could never have imagined the way you would change me and make me better.

Thank you for being you. Perfect. Amazing. Exactly what I didn't know I needed.


Saturday, November 26, 2016

Orphan Thanksgiving

I love being with my family. I hate being away from them on holidays. Or birthdays. Or family game night. But, it is what it is.

We're almost never alone on Thanksgiving. Either we travel or someone comes to see us. We've been here for 9 years and I can count on a couple of fingers the number of times it's just been our family. This year, no one was able to come visit us and we didn't make plans to be away. Weeks and weeks and weeks ago, Garrett asked me who was coming for Thanksgiving this year. When I told him we'd be alone, he loudly declared, "Thanksgiving is for a lot of family getting together. I HATE when it's just us."

My sentiments exactly, kid.

And that's when my idea of Orphan Thanksgiving was born. If we were going to be all alone, we were going to make the best of it. I invited two families from our church. One family is here from Ukraine and the other moves a lot and has no family in town. About a week ago, another couple, who'd heard about my plans for Orphan Thanksgiving asked if they might be able to come over.

Of course!

The more the merrier!

I asked each family to bring a dessert and a Thanksgiving staple. I handed out a list of what would be on the menu. I told everyone that if there was something they always had, if it just wouldn't be Thanksgiving without it, to please, by all means, bring it.

There would be six kids so I decided to do a table for them. I bought a tablecloth (tablepaper?) that they could color.


The adult table took some work because my house was not made for entertaining. Seriously, I don't get it. Utah homes are built for Mormons. Mormons have big families. This house was not made for entertaining big families. It makes no sense. After reconfiguring our furniture 32 times, borrowing a table and chairs from the church, and buying some blue tablecloths (tableplastic?) from Dollar Tree, we were finally ready.



On Thursday, we woke up, turned on the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade, debated the merit of the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade, and got to work. About the parade. I generally find it boring but I love all the musical numbers from Broadway shows and all the aerial shots of NYC give me chills. My husband would rather be watching football. My boys told me when I turned on the parade that they hated it. But then they were squealing like school girls over the giant Pikachu balloon. Garrett helped me in the kitchen while Matthew yelled, "MOM! GARRETT! COME SEE THE GIANT POWER RANGER!" or, "WHOA! YOU SHOULD SEE THIS PIRATE SHIP!" Troy cleaned floors.

I cooked this guy...


and yams and green bean casserole and gravy. I made a Cool Whip Fruit Salad which my family just refers to as Pink Salad. I opened cranberries and olives and pickles. We set out drinks and we waited for the stuffing, potatoes, rolls and pies to arrive with their people.


At 1:30 our guests began showing up. One of them brought us this!!!

We ate at 2:00. It was delicious. It was a feast to behold. We stuffed ourselves and talked and laughed and before we knew it, it was after 6:00. The kids were all getting along--although loudly. The adults were having a fantastic time. Everyone seemed to enjoy themselves and everyone left around 7:00 pm. 

It turns out that family is fantastic but orphans are pretty great too.

Wednesday, November 16, 2016

Return of the King

My pastor is a wise sort of fellow. Don't tell him. It'll go to his head. In and of itself that would be no problem. But there is the little fact that I also happen to live with him.

He writes a monthly article for a church newsletter. I'm hijacking his musings and posting them here without permission. I don't really need permission. I always have the option to just kiss him and make up. Here are his words:

Instead, they were longing for a better country—a heavenly one. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God, for he has prepared a city for them.                                               Hebrews 11:16

I don’t know if you heard but there was an election recently.  You might have missed it.  It was really hard to find any information on TV.  So few people were sharing their opinions on social media that it is easy to understand if it escaped your notice.

The truth, of course, is that unless you were living under a rock or just emerged from a year-long coma, you are well aware of the election that just transpired.  There were widely varied responses: shock, euphoria, anger, despair, ambivalence. 

Let me say this.  It is no secret that our nation is deeply divided and much variance exists, even within the body of Christ. So how do we respond?  What words do I have to say to all of us as we move forward?

First, let me break my longstanding pattern of not endorsing a party or political candidate.  I would like to tell you where my allegiance lies.  I am a monarchist.*

That’s right.  I’m done with democracy as the ideal, I long for a return of the King.  My advocacy, my hope, and allegiance is to Jesus Christ.

I’m not saying this as a cop-out or an attempt to be tongue –in-cheek.  I am reminded that it is God who raises nations and brings princes to naught.  Any success that our nation enjoys is not the result of our own gifting or cleverness but is a demonstration of God’s mercy toward us.  I realize that God smiles upon obedience but I also know that this principle extends to all peoples. I realize that God’s salvation plan is not based upon nation building but is to be the spread of the Gospel all across the globe.

I have come to learn that I am an American best when I am not an American first.  When I remember that I am an ambassador and a stranger in a foreign land, I realize it is my job to represent Christ, His love and His character.  I am called to live at peace, if it is possible, and to conduct myself in a respectable manner while I wait for Christ’s return.

So how should we respond?  What do we do until Christ’s comes back?

Do not despair if an election does not go your way.  Likewise, do not rejoice overmuch when your candidate wins.   Human beings will let us down.  Even the political parties that you have the greatest affinity with will disappoint you and break their promises.  Remember that God is in control.  He still holds this world securely in His hands.

Be a good citizen.  We are called to live at peace, if it is possible, and to conduct ourselves in a law abiding and respectable manner.

Exercise your right to vote.  It is a great privilege to be a part of our own governance. 

Pray for those in authority.  Scripture states, “I urge, then, first of all, that petitions, prayers, intercession and thanksgiving be made for all people—for kings and all those in authority, that we may live peaceful and quiet lives in all godliness and holiness. This is good, and pleases God our Savior.” 1 Timothy 2:1-3. 
Remember that God used pagan kings like Cyrus to accomplish His work.  He humbled rulers like Nebuchadnezzar to reveal His power and greatness.  And those words written to Timothy were written during the reign of one of the most notorious Emperors of Rome: Nero.

Finally, share the Gospel of Jesus Christ.  Remember why we are here.  North America could disappear like Atlantis under the waves of the Ocean but even if this happened, our calling would not change.  We are here to share Christ.  To live as His witnesses.

Like you, I enjoy living in a land of freedom, of opportunity, where I can raise my family in peace.  I will do what I can to preserve such blessings. But I need to remember that this is not my home.  I need to remember that elections and edicts do not determine the ultimate course of human events.  It is God Almighty, my King, who holds that power.

Then I praised the Most High; I honored and glorified him who lives forever.

His dominion is an eternal dominion; His kingdom endures from generation to generation. All the peoples of the earth are regarded as nothing. He does as he pleases with the powers of heaven and the peoples of the earth. No one can hold back his hand or say to him: “What have you done?”
                                                                                                                                                Daniel 4:34-35

*When I read the Bible, I am sadly reminded that the majority is often wrong.  From Babel to Kadesh Barnea, the majority of persons, time and again, walks in a manner contrary to God.  I, however, will side with the King, regardless which direction the crowd goes.

Wednesday, November 9, 2016

I Will Hope for a Better Tomorrow

I'm an Independent. I'm moderately conservative. Out of high school, I considered myself moderately liberal. I registered Democrat. Most of my views haven't changed. The line has. Out of college, I realized that I didn't want to be identified as a Democrat OR a Republican. I've been an Independent ever since I changed my last name in 2003. I cannot vote in the primaries. If I could have, I would not have picked the candidates that were chosen.

Every day, when I drive my children to school, we repeat the same two things. They tell me that they will be men of honesty, integrity, and kindness. Then they tell me that they will do their best to practice the Fruit of the Spirit which is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. They fail every day because they are still small and because they are human. But I am striving to teach them by example.

My worldview is not seen in the Republican Party or the Democratic one. I can't find it in the Green Party or in the Libertarian one. My worldview comes from the person of Christ Jesus. If He did it or said it, I want to try to emulate it. I fail every day because I am not perfect. But I am striving to show people the love of Christ by example.

I have voted for President five times. I've voted for the Democratic nominee. I've voted for the Republican nominee. I've voted for someone who is not the nominee of either major party. Not one time has the candidate I've chosen represented everything that I should be about. Because I have never written in Jesus.

One day.

One day, He will reign supreme.

Until then, I am for kindness. I am for integrity. I am for honesty. I am for compassion. I am for love. I am for listening. I am for respect. I am for forgiveness.

I have a lifelong friend who would probably identify herself as pretty liberal. She was a Bernie supporter. Over the course of this election, we have lamented our major party options and briefly discussed third party candidates. Today, she posted this on social media and it is with her permission that I post it.

I didn't want either candidate to win. I was prepared with 100% certainty that when the winner was announced, I would not be happy to hear it.

I figured it would be a close race, but Hillary would take it. Never could I have dreamed Donald Trump would sweep the votes across our entire country. Is it that people hate Hillary so much that they reluctantly voted Trump? No, that's not what I'm gathering from all the cheers of his supporters. He didn't just get "lesser of two evil" votes...he got eager, hopeful, adoring, excited votes.

It's not his win that breaks my heart; I was prepared for the possibility. The heartbreak is in watching those who truly celebrate this man's victory. -Jayni

I had had a discussion with my husband the night before the election. I told him that I just didn't understand any evangelical wholeheartedly backing either major party candidate. I responded to my dear friend's message.

As an evangelical Christian, I told Troy two nights ago, "I understand Christians making their choice, either way, come what may. Because there are only two viable candidates. And, obviously, I respect the third party vote. But I do not understand how anyone can call themselves a believer and give either of these candidates anything but a reluctant vote. They do not represent what we stand for or the people we should be. To back them and eagerly support them is appalling to me." In case you, or anyone else, wondered what THIS evangelical's position is. Although I do completely agree with praying for whomever is in office and doing my best to coexist.

I didn't want these choices. I had no part in the two of them making it through the primaries. I didn't want to wake up to President Clinton or President Trump. Still, like my liberal friend, I knew it would be one of them. Come this morning, one of them was going to be the President elect--barring some unforeseen miracle. I am not celebrating this new President. I believe the psalm that says, "Do not put your trust in princes, in human beings, who cannot save. When their spirit departs, they return to the ground; on that very day their plans come to nothing. Blessed are those whose help is the God of Jacob, whose hope is in the Lord their God." Psalm 146:3-5

I hope that my friends, family members, and acquaintances can see Jesus in me. If they don't know to look for Him, I hope they can see something that resembles kindness, integrity, honesty, and compassion. They will not see a woman who is happy about this outcome, but neither would she have been if the electoral map had been shaded entirely blue.

I'm just a girl who, come what may, is going to try to live out her faith on a daily basis. I will pray for our leadership just as I have done for every other President since I've been able to vote.

I will hope and pray for a better tomorrow.

Saturday, October 29, 2016

2+1+K = 4

"Bash. Um," I always say to a new group of kids before I take roll. "Mrs. Bash. Um." It doesn't really matter. I'll get any number of new names assigned to me throughout the day. Teacher. Bashel. Bash. Bashman. The list goes on. Then, if I'm at my boys school, I will tell them that I have a fourth grader and second grader there. Now, of course, I also share that I have a baby at home. Because kindergartners and girls of every age will inevitably squeal and, seemingly, instantly like me once they know I have a baby. On Wednesday, a bright little kindergartner exclaimed, "So you have two kids here at school and one kid at home so you have THREE KIDS?" He waited expectantly, as though he wanted me to affirm his addition.

Great math, five-year-old.

He's too young to understand algebra. He doesn't know that 2 + 1 + = 4. It's always a strange sort of thing whether it's a kindergartner or a woman in a store who stops me to say, "So you have the three boys?" It's the very worst when a well meaning person says, "Time for your girl now."

There's an awkward pause every time as I struggle to figure out what to say. Usually, I just say, "Yes." Or, in the case of the people who tell me it's time for my girl, I smile and reply, "Well, I'm happy with what God has given me."

Yesterday though, the little boy in kindergarten got a longer pause and, as sometimes happens, I felt the tug not to erase my daughter from the equation. "I have three kids with me and one in heaven." I don't know if I'm allowed to mention heaven in public school but it's as much a part of my reality as breathing so there you have it.

Another boy instantly joined in the conversation. I don't know his story. Maybe he's lost someone close to him, maybe he was just curious, but that little guy wanted to know. "Oh. That is sad," he said. "Your kid went to heaven?"

"Yes," I replied.

"A boy or a girl kid?"

"A girl," I answered.

He lowered his voice and asked, "What was her name?"


And at that, he seemed content to move on.

I've thought a lot about grief in these past 21 months. My heart had never broken like that before and I needed to know that it was the worst grief anyone could ever feel--because I could not imagine anything worse. Except my head knew that it could be worse--that one day, it would be worse. And so I walked a precarious tightrope of emotions, upset with everyone who said they knew how I felt and upset with myself for embracing, so intensely, a grief I have sometimes felt wasn't mine to experience.

She had never really been mine.

Only the dream of her belonged to me. How can the loss of a dream hurt so completely and how can I think, every day, of that little dream and what she would have become?

I struggle to find answers. I continue to peel away the layers of the feelings, to understand more and more as the pain becomes less and less. I mourn the loss of the dream. And I mourn for Kate. For her life, unlived. 

The stillborn are handled in one of two ways. They are buried or cremated for the purpose of memorializing them or the hospital disposes of them. We could have stayed in Utah. The baby would have been disposed of according to hospital protocol. We would have grieved our dream and, one day, moved on. That would have been it. 

We didn't stay. We went to her. We held her. We gave her a name on a stone and a piece of grass that belongs to her. We made her ours. She was our dream but she was reality. Her unlived life mattered. I think that is why I grieve so tremendously a little girl I never knew. Because if not her mother, then who? 

I know that if she had been born alive at 32 weeks gestation, instead of still, I would have rushed to her side and sat in the NICU until she was healthy enough to go home. I would have loved her and cared for her and rejoiced with her and cried with her and raised her as best as I know how. She was born still and I was not afforded the opportunity to do any of those things. What I was given was the great privilege to rush to her side and grieve for her.

Now, I have the privilege of thinking about her every day, wishing I could visit her grave every day, and struggling with how I answer the question of how many children I have. Because I have four. And I really miss one of them.

Tuesday, October 25, 2016

Don't Quit Your Daydream

Don't Quit Your Daydream. Those are the words on a shirt that my mom brought me on her recent visit. 

I was pondering the sentence and how much I liked it and how my mom knows how to shop for me and then I thought, "What even is my daydream anymore?" And while I'm not 100% certain, what I know is that it has always been to create something that lasts. To maybe, someday, write something worth reading or direct something worth watching or sing something worth listening to. I used to want that to happen on a grand scale, to see my name plastered up on some sign in flashing neon lights. Now, to not have my children cringe when I sing a note is daydream enough for me, I suppose.  
It's interesting, the way I have allowed other people to influence how I feel about my own art. It's true that constructive criticism should be embraced. I would certainly hate to be one of those delusional people on American Idol who fancy themselves a brilliant singer when they actually just sound like a wounded cat who is also in heat. But, my overwhelming desire to be liked and to be appreciated has been a huge detriment to my promotion in any medium in which I may otherwise have had a small measure of success.

Why is it that we need to hear positive affirmation approximately 11,225 times before we'll believe it but one person saying one negative thing about us is enough to do us in?

In high school, I had two different theatre classes. I knew I wanted to continue in the theatre and I worked as hard in those two classes as anyone. I listened intently to the notes and I fixed it. I paid attention to everything, as desperate for improvement as I was for air.

At the end of the year, one teacher went around the room saying positive things about everyone's growth as an actor. The bell rang just as she got to me and she put her hand on my head and hurriedly said that I was a nice girl. Literally, everyone before me had been given these glowing reviews of their performances. From the stars of the shows down to the chorus members. Nice is nice, I guess, but it wasn't exactly on point. I was 17, vulnerable, and a complete perfectionist. In that moment, nice sounded a lot like, "I can't think of a bloomin' thing to say about you."

I would never tell anyone that I wanted to continue doing theatre because I was so afraid of rejection. Just before graduation I confessed to the other teacher that "when I grew up" I wanted to be an actress. She looked at me, cocked her head slightly to one side and said, matter of factly, "Lori, you already are." That was half a lifetime ago and I can still remember what the rooms looked like and how both sentences made me feel. One spoke life. The other tore away confidence. One made me question whether I'd had any impact at all while the other ran through my mind whenever I needed a confidence boost during my four years as a theatre major.

In college, I had many professors who praised my creative writing. I loved to write and any creative writing assignment felt a lot more like fun and a lot less like work. Once though, JUST ONCE, I had a professor, who did not teach writing, tell me that I needed to find my own voice and stop trying to copy my friend's writing style. Now, it should be noted that my friend is an infinitely better writer than I am. She's published and phenomenal. But my voice had remained consistent from high school throughout college. It wasn't changing because my friend was an amazing writer anymore than it changed when I read Hemingway, Tolstoy, or the Saturday morning funnies. Always the sponge and never the duck, I allowed that one comment to bother me for far too long, to shake my confidence, to make me wonder if maybe I just shouldn't write at all.

On the other hand, I had a lit professor approach me one day. Earlier in the week, I had been asked to read some of my poetry at a literature luncheon. On this particular day, I had just performed a Laban Crisis Piece as part of a grant application for the Theatre department. The poems were raw--the result of what had been both a painful and joyful year. The crisis piece had also left me feeling bare and exposed. This professor was highly respected by myself and, seemingly, every human being on campus. He came up to me, placed a hand on my shoulder and said, "Thank you. I just love the way you express yourself through your art." He referenced my poetry and my performance and told me that they were a great blessing to him. I have clung to that one compliment for fifteen years.

Because, after all, aren't we all just striving to be seen? In those moments, high school drama teacher and college lit professor had seen me and validated my experience and my dream.

The truth of the matter is that I'm never going to win at any of these arts forms. But it's taken me a long time to realize that it was never about winning in the first place. My daydream is to create. It isn't to be the very best--not anymore, anyway. If I can sing a song and hit the notes, it doesn't matter that I'll never be a recording artist or win a Tony. If I can write a story, it doesn't matter that it won't be published. If I can bring something to life on stage, it doesn't matter that it isn't on Broadway. Or Off-Broadway. Or even Off-Off-Off-Broadway.

I want to make art. I want to encourage in my children--and those I have any influence over--a desire to create and to express who they are, so that we can really see them. I want to encourage their dreams, not discourage them. They may not be the next Picasso, Sondheim, or Shakespeare.

But then again, they might be. A kind word or a harsh one may well be remembered for decades. Both may be relied upon to make or break the artist.

Encourage. Create.

And don't quit your daydream.

Thursday, October 13, 2016

Are You a Starfish?

We have a finalization date! Our family is set to appear before a judge on December 21st. Just in time for Christmas. Now, I'm going to be honest with you. I started crying when I read the email. Not because, "Hooray for finalization!" (although, yes, of course, HOORAY!) but because we're eligible to finalize as early as December 6th. 

I emailed the lawyer's office and basically said, "Um. Any chance we could do this sooner? Any chance we could get ourselves put on a waiting list? Cuz I'm going to straight up invent things to worry about between now and then and we need to get this thing signed, sealed and delivered, yo." Except it sounded more professional than that. And it ended with the bit about the waiting list. Because I don't want the lawyer's office to fire me as a mother because of my neurosis. 

I received a response explaining that this judge splits her time between the Park City courts and the Salt Lake City courts and the absolute soonest we can get in is the 21st.

So I followed up my first email with, "Any chance we could get in with a different judge, yo?" (Minus the yo. And, again, more professional.)

Not unless there's a big, giant reason we can't wait until the 21st and, then, we'd need to file a petition to switch judges, etc. First, that sounded like a massive pain and I saw dollar signs floating by. And, second, there is no big, giant reason we can't hold our horses and wait until four days before Christmas. Except that MAMA IS BAT POO NUTS, Y'ALL AND SHE SERIOUSLY INVENTS TERRIBLE SCENARIOS IN HER HEAD.

Fourteen months of contested adoption in 2009 and 2010 will do that to a girl.

So I'm going to hold my metaphorical horses and hunker down and wait for the snow and the cold and December 21st to come so that we can FINALIZE THE HECK OUT OF THIS THING.

Adoption is not for the faint of heart.

Seriously. I have had people tell me how lucky I am that I didn't actually have to give birth to two of my children. Um. Girlfriend would NOT be saying that if she had any idea what the adoption process is like. I am basically sure that the anxiety and the waiting and the home studies and the incredible financial strain have taken a decade off my life. Child birth? I did that too. It took a day and cost me $300 dollars. The end.

We have to submit an Affidavit of Fees to the judge. Our lawyer's office needed me to submit a list of what we spent. I'm so INCREDIBLY grateful to all the people who donated to our adoption and lightened the load for us. But our grand total (IF no additional fees are incurred between now and December for some reason)(Read: Any number of the terrible scenarios I've invented in my head) is $30,037. (That does include our one time listing fee with our Adoption Facilitator that we paid back when we were waiting for Kate.) Hear me when I tell you that that is a pretty inexpensive adoption.

You cannot adopt overseas for that. You cannot adopt from an agency for that. People, there are children in orphanages all over the world waiting to be loved. There are babies being born and put into the foster care system. There are children growing up in foster care (AND YOU CAN ADOPT THEM FOR CONSIDERABLY LESS THAN 30K). We need to figure out a way to make this affordable for people. We need adoption reform. I honestly don't know how or what that looks like. But I know it needs to happen if we are going to live out the command to care for orphans.

What I do know, though, is that this is DOABLE for so many people if they would just allow themselves to be vulnerable, to open themselves up to the waiting and the anxiety and give all that over to the Lord.

Troy and I (because of complicated clergy tax laws) do not qualify for the Adoption Tax Credit. BUT MOST PEOPLE DO. The adoption tax credit, for 2016, is $13,460. To be clear, a tax credit is an amount that is subtracted from the adopting parents' tax liability. So BOOM, that would take our adoption down to $16,577! (If, of course, we were fortunate enough to be able to benefit from it.) Many insurance plans offer adoption indemnity benefits if the adopting family has maternity coverage at the time of placement. In Utah, this can be up to $4,000. That would take our total down to $12,577. That is still A LOT of money. I get that. But it is so much less than $30,000. And with adoption fundraising and grants, one might successfully alleviate a great deal of that. 

I'm saying all of that because I have heard SO MANY people say that they can't afford to adopt without really looking in to it. I've heard others say that the process is too daunting. I will be the first to say that IT NEEDS TO BE CHEAPER and IT NEEDS TO BE EASIER. But it CAN BE DONE. 

I'm just really passionate about adoption. And I feel a lot like the boy in the starfish proverb. You know, the one where the boy is throwing starfish back into the ocean and there are just so many that he can't really make a dent. So many of them will die there on the shore. And the man tells him that he can't make much of a difference. The boy stoops down, collects a starfish, and hurls it into the sea. "It made a difference to that one."

It makes a difference when we adopt. It may change the life of a child but it definitely changes us. But beyond that, my point to this starfish story is that by talking about adoption, by explaining the ups and downs but, ultimately, the absolute joy I have found in this process, I hope that I might influence even one person to consider this for their family. There might be thousands who read my drivel and can't adopt. (Convicted felons come to mind.) But if I can throw just one of you into the ocean, to plant a seed that may blossom into a decision to one day adopt, that will be worth it to me. 

Is the Lord tugging on your heart? Is He whispering to open your home to a child in need? Are you one of the ones who is ready to take ten years off her life for the VERY BEST OF REASONS? I'd love nothing more than to talk to you about adoption. And, listen, I'm just going to be sitting around for the next two months waiting for December 21st. SO YOU CAN TOTALLY HELP ME PASS THE TIME BY TALKING TO ME ABOUT THIS.

Email me. familyfishbowl@hotmail.com

And if you have no interest in adoption whatsoever, you can pray for us...that everything between now and December 21 is smooth sailing and that I stop concocting crazy horror stories in my demented little head.

Monday, October 10, 2016

Ethnic Ambiguity

My little, tiny guy--the one who is in the 1% for length and the 2% for weight (but he started off the charts teeny so we're not worried)--is biracial. His mama is white and his dad is black. Knowing this, I always assumed that Will would be darker than he is. Oh, sure, he could get darker but all the ways I know of predicting his future tones point to him being pretty fair. I knew he'd never be as dark as Matthew whose parents are both black, but I assumed he'd look, well, blacker. I hoped he'd be darker. Being a mixed kid growing up in a white home will probably have Will identifying more with his white roots in the first place. I don't want him to blend right in and not look black because I want him to embrace all of his heritage, to celebrate everything that makes him who he is. When his straight black hair grew into soft brown curls, I rejoiced. When he got just a little darker than when he was born, I celebrated.

Troy and I have laughed over a scene from Parks and Recreation where Rashida Jones's character, Ann, is referred to as being ethnically ambiguous. Rashida, in real life, is black, Welsh, and Ashkenazi Jewish and totally one of the most beautiful people on the planet. No. Really.

On the show, I don't believe that her ethnicity is discussed. At least, not beyond her being referred to as ambiguous. It's true that Jones could probably pass for Latina, Middle Eastern, black and white, or a handful of various ethnicities. And I wonder if that will be Will.

When Matthew was born and in the seven subsequent years since, everyone asked if he was adopted. No one asks me if Will is adopted. That makes me sad. Not because I enjoy answering everyone all the time. Not because I like questions such as, "Where did he come from?" and, "What happened to his parents?" But, because I want to embrace all of who he is and that includes his birth family. I don't want people to see our family out and about and just assume that Will is white as can be. I want him to BE white AND black. Because he is.

On Saturday, I took the boys to sell popcorn for cub scouts. Will went with us and did his best to help with the sales. Here's how he looked.

At one point, my friend, Morgan, was holding Will. From across the parking lot, a black lady came walking briskly. "Does he have red hair?" she asked. "Is he a red head?" She came right up to him. Morgan and I, slightly confused by her enthusiasm, glanced at each other. 

Morgan answered, "Uh...no." She ran her fingers through his hair. 

"Oh! He looked like a redhead from across the parking lot. Can I hold him?" this caught me off guard because I had literally known this woman for two seconds. 

Morgan said, "You'll have to ask mom." She pointed at me.

"Oh, YOU'RE his mom," she said and turned to me. "Where's his dad?" I must have looked confused because she followed that question up quickly with, "He's mixed. Dad is black, right?" Listen, I could have thrown my arms around this stranger right then and there.

I wanted to yell, "YES! HE IS! THANK YOU FOR NOTICING! THANK YOU FOR KNOWING. YOU HAVE JUST MADE MY DAY!" But I did not do that because, at this point I had known this woman for approximately fifteen seconds and I have boundaries. Instead I kind of stammered, "Oh. Yes, actually. We're adopting him but, yes, his dad is black and his mom is white."

"I knew it!" she said. "Look at those curls." She proceeded to tell me that her sister had placed a baby for adoption. She thanked me for stepping in and adopting him and while I appreciate the sentiment, especially coming from the aunt of a child who was placed, I always want to tell people that the pleasure and the joy is entirely mine and that, really, my kids should have some kind of trophy or medallion for putting up with me.

Matthew walked up and so I put my hand on his head and said that he was mine too. Then Garrett interjected, "So am I!" 

"This is your real son. I can tell," she said. And because she was being so nice and friendly and was probably just commenting on the fact that Garrett is my twin separated by 25 years, I simply said with a smile, "This one is biological and these two are adopted." I left out the part about how all three of them are quite real. None of them need to be plugged in at night in order to achieve the lifelike ability to move and breathe and soil a diaper. My excitement over her knowing that my kid is biracial outweighed my desire to work, in that moment, on changing the terminology and verbage surrounding adoption.

Here's a close up of Will with my parents last week. He's black and white and teeny tiny and full of life and joy and energy. He melts my heart to a pile of mush. He may be a little ethnically ambiguous but, apparently, the trained eye will rush across a parking lot to squeal over my mixed kid.

Friday, October 7, 2016

It Is Well

It's been a whirlwind few weeks. I just logged in to my blog and was kind of floored that it's been so long since I've posted. But, in the meantime, we've had a couple of special things happen in our family. Both sets of parents came in to town and spent time with us last week. They were here to visit and celebrate Will's dedication to the Lord and Troy's ordination.

Troy has basically had all the paperwork to become ordained since forever but just never called together the council and had it officially done. A few Thursdays ago he defended his theological positions before a council of peers. It was a grueling three hours of discussing, clarifying, and arguing his positions. In the end, they unreservedly recommended him for ordination. Also, I felt dumb. Because the words my husband was using were SO above my intellect. I mean, it might be similar to when I'm talking about Broadway to him but, I really kinda doubt it.

On Sunday, we dedicated Will to the Lord and Troy's was officially ordained. It was a really special day for us. It was great to have our parents there to be a part of it.

Troy's parents left on Monday and mine left yesterday morning. Then, today, we had Will's post placement visit for our home study. I think things went well and we should be able to get a court date for sometime in December.

We have many concerns and so many people, places, and things that we are praying for. At this moment though, within the walls of our own home, it is well. Our family is full of hope and joy. And, when Will bursts out into a hearty baby laugh, we can't help but join in.

Saturday, September 24, 2016

Pure & Genuine

I'm gonna get hate mail on this one. I've been thinking about it for a long time and so I'm just going to throw it out there. But first, disclaimers.

1. I am in no way, shape, or form comparing my children to animals.

2. I fully support the adoption of shelter animals.

3. I fully support having biological children.

Now, don't go forgetting those disclaimers.

So here it is. If I see one more Facebook post talking about how wrong it is to own a dog that was purchased from a breeder or a cat that came from a pet store or a goldfish some kid won at a carnival, I'm going to straight up lose my mind. If I read one more article about the evils of buying a pure bred while mixed breeds die at the humane society, I'm going to scream. If I read another tweet about how I'm contributing to animal cruelty by not being a part of the solution, I will delete all social media and live as a hermit in a cave in the Uintas. Okay, I won't do that. I have limits on my follow through.

It is completely fine that you adopted a shelter dog. I actually love that you did that. Chances are he's a great dog and he brings joy to your family and you love him a lot. Tell me on Facebook that he is your most loyal friend. Sweet! I don't judge you for that. You made a choice that worked for your family. Well done. Post inspirational stories of rescue cats. Write whatever else you want that shows shelters and animal adoption in a positive light. I hope that it will encourage someone to consider that option in the future.

Just don't present it as the only way. Don't turn pet owners into villains if they didn't adopt from a shelter.

I spent a lot of hundreds of dollars on the two pure bred golden retrievers I've personally owned. I bought them both from "backyard breeders" and they've been amazing dogs. Okay. In the interest of full disclosure, the first one ate our couch and the second one is a little bit nuts but neither of them have consumed any of our children so we consider it a win. But I've seen countless memes like this one come through on my feed...

I don't care for the sake of myself or the sake of my dog. She can't read and I'm growing a thicker skin by the minute. I bought a dog that was bred and a shelter dog died. That's really sad. Someday, maybe I'll buy a shelter dog. Or three. I really have no idea.

The reason I care so passionately about this, the reason I want to scream every time someone lectures me on the crime of buying a pure bred, is because, shelter dog or not, they are still...dogs. Or cats. They are animals. Animals are wonderful and lovely and bring us such joy. I can't imagine living life without them and I have sobbed mightily on more than one occasion when my own pet reaches the end of his life. But they really, truly are...animals.

God made them, yes. But they are not made in the image of God.

You know what is made in the image of God? Humans.

Genesis 1:27 "So God created mankind in His own image, in the image of God He created them; male and female He created them." 

I've had people ask me point blank, right to my face, if I considered a shelter dog before I bought my golden retriever. You know what I didn't say? "Did you consider adopting from the foster care system or from a ministry to birth mothers or from China or Nepal or Guatemala before you had your biological children?"

You see, when someone gets up on a pedestal about where an animal came from, all I think about are my children. All I think about is adoption reform and kids aging out of the system and people not giving money to adoption grants.

Apples and oranges? Obviously. My kids aren't dogs. The 17 year old who is about to be thrown out of the foster system isn't a cat. And, OF COURSE, I realize that not everyone can or should adopt children. My point is not that everyone needs to think long and hard about having biological children. Certainly not. Have biological children. Of course, have them! My point is not that we can't worry about shelter animals or that I don't care when a shelter animal is killed...

Once upon a time we became the inadvertent caretakers of some sick, stray kittens. I told Troy to take them to the humane society and NOT TO BRING THEM HOME UNDER ANY CIRCUMSTANCE WHATSOEVER. He did as I said. I received a call from him later that day. "Since they are sick, they will euthanize them. What should I do?" Obviously those kittens came home and we nursed them back to health and then they found loving families. We've spent hours catching feral cats and taking them to spay and release clinics. We've owned two cats (HA! As if anyone ever owns a cat.) that were both homeless before we adopted them.  It breaks my heart when an animal is killed. 

My point is that we really ought to be valuing human life above all else. We ought to put our money, our mouths, and our memes where the Lord would put His. And, as He wrote through the hand of his own brother, James...

The orphan might be the foster child whose parents cannot break their drug addiction. She might be the baby who was left on the steps of the church in Haiti. He might be the child whose mama chose adoption because she, herself, aged out of foster care and wrestles with her own demons. She might be the newborn who tested positive for methadone. But regardless of what this looks like today, the truth rings clear. Pure religion...means caring for orphans. This doesn't always mean that you bring a child into your home through adoption or foster care. Sometimes it means helping someone to adopt. I am eternally grateful to the many people who contributed financially to our adoption stories. Thank you for caring for orphans. Sometimes it means writing Congress and imploring them to discuss adoption reform. Sometimes it means sponsoring a child overseas or moving abroad to work in an orphanage or donating to a ministry that cares for children.

I care about shelter animals but have chosen a purebred puppy in the way that you might care about the orphan but have chosen only biological children. I care about shelter animals, but I think about a couple of articles I read about a lack of foster families in Oregon. Children were staying the night in hotel rooms and spending their days in the DCFS office, waiting to find out where they'd go next. In a state that is known for its campaigns to hug trees and save spotted owls, one would hope that there might also be a value on hugging children and protecting them and caring for them. (I'm not trying to specifically throw stones at Oregon. Our lack of "orphan" care is a global problem.) I care about shelter animals, but I think about Shane, a man who aged out of the foster care system and is still haunted by the feelings that he wasn't good enough to have a family. I think about how some families adopt children and shelter animals and some families have biological children and purebred puppies and some families do some combination of the two and no one is evil because of their personal choices.

But as for me, when you say the word adoption, I do not think first of the animals. When you use your passion for shelter animals as a shaming device, I do not hear your cry for the dog or the cat, for the orphaned hamster or the rescued parakeet. Instead, I think first of all the children. I think of the words of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ who said, "Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they?" (Matthew 6:26)

Tuesday, September 20, 2016

Pure Joy (And Einstein Hair)

Let me tell you about what a joy our third son is to our family. We pretty much can't stop staring at him. I mean, the spitting up ALL over his shirt JUST as we're walking out the door to go to school/work/church is getting old but, otherwise...

Listen, he is WAY cuter in real life which, I know, is saying something awfully magnificent because he is super cute in his pictures IF I DO SAY SO MYSELF. But the thing about pictures is that he is obsessed with staring down the camera like it is the most intriguing contraption he has ever seen. So you have to really catch him off guard. Which, well, he's three months old so it probably IS the most intriguing contraption he's ever seen.

The dude smiles with his whole body, usually while squirming in excitement. We're a little worried about him actually starting to move because, man, the man is nonstop. He's gonna get up and go and be in to EVERYTHING.

And can I just take a minute to talk about his hair? It is out of control. There are mad curls up top, but with spaces on the side so he looks like a cross between Einstein and Bobo the Clown. But the back is all bald and/or straight, short hair. It's a sight to behold. But dang, those long curls on top. His father keeps insisting we need to cut them and I keep threatening him within an inch of his life. "TOUCH MY BABY'S CURLS AND YOU WILL MEET JESUS IN A PAINFUL AND UNTIMELY ACCIDENT." (Or something less murderous sounding.)

He's just the best. The wait was painful and long but he is worth it. His smiles that greet us when he goes from tears in his crib in the morning to sudden elation that we've come for him, he coos and squeals. His sweetness and light. It's hard to believe he'll turn into a terrible two year old and then a back talking teenager. If I could bottle up the joy he exudes 90% of the time, I would.

Instead, I just thank Jesus for bringing me this little man I didn't even know we all needed.

Tuesday, September 13, 2016

The Day the Hamster Disappeared

Once upon a time, two weeks ago to be precise, our ten-year-old used his birthday money to purchase a hamster. He'd been begging us for well over a year and the answer was always no. A resounding no. For starters, we have a cat. Hamsters escape. I didn't want the bloodied carcass of Garrett's beloved pet strewn about the room. But he begged and begged and it was his money and I caved. Then, I caved Troy.

We brought Frisby home.

And Garrett became the cutest hamster owner there ever was. He doesn't complain about cleaning her cage (yet). He gets her out in the morning and he gets her out after school. He remembers to put her in the ball to run around. He invites his friends over to play with her. He calls himself her dad.

Yesterday, he had her on the bathroom counter while he was getting ready. As she has demonstrated, in her short time with us, a keen ability not to care if she falls from certain heights, we asked him to never put her on the counter again. We just weren't sure that she wouldn't jump to her suicidal death.

This morning, Matthew brought her into the bathroom and put her on the floor. It was his fault but it wasn't intentional. He didn't know there was an inch gap between a board on the floor and the cabinets. He didn't know that this gap led to a dark space under the cabinets. He didn't know that at the back of this dark space was a hole that led straight into the secret passages of the skeleton of our home.

The hamster disappeared. 

Garrett came and reported her whereabouts. At that point, none of us knew the hole existed. I thought she'd eventually come out for food and was relatively unconcerned. He was asking us to take a sledgehammer to the wood. We were refusing. He started sobbing and begging to be allowed to stay home from school. Eventually, we were on the ground with flashlights and tools, trying to find her. It was then that we discovered the hole. I took the boys to school.

When I got home, Troy heard her scratching under our bathtub. It was then that we knew she had escaped the small cabinet space and was now free to roam about the edifice. We spent some time trying to figure out what to do. I decided, because I lean toward the dramatic, that she would die in the walls. My son would be distraught as we all had to smell her decomposing body for weeks. I tend to be every bit the unfeeling robot and, when Garrett asked if we could sledgehammer the wood, I'd replied, "For a 15 dollar hamster?" But, once I thought Troy had left for work, I sat in the middle of the floor and cried. He hadn't quite left and, when he found me, he asked, "Are you okay?"

"I like her!" I wailed. I didn't want her. I had hamsters as a kid. They were cute and fun AND SMELLY AND POOPY AND I DIDN'T WANT ANOTHER ONE! But this is a sweet lil hammy. And I expected her to live longer than two weeks. AND I hate when my babies are heartbroken. Girls, this is your warning. Hurt my baby and I will straight up cut you. (Or something more godly and less violent.)

Before we'd seen the hole, we had used this tool to try to locate/poke her. There's a tiny claw on the end, once we knew she was maybe lost forever, I decided to put some food in it and leave it suspended between bathroom and deep, dark, no man's land under the sink--in the event that she came back.

I continued to hear her pattering around under our tub. As the day progressed, I became convinced that she'd somehow gotten down and couldn't get up. She was stuck. She'd die there, just beneath our showering feet. 

I called my dad who gave me some ideas of how we might get to her. I called Troy and relayed the ideas. He had been thinking up some of his own and promised me he'd come home from work early to try to rescue her. I called my mom and whined about our terrible predicament. I prayed. 

I kept checking to see if I could still hear her in the tub. At one point, I pulled a broken piece of grout out of a crack next to the tub. Sticking a screw driver in, I pried. I was hoping to create a hole big enough to send food and water in. As soon as I started messing around at the corner, she ran to that place and furiously started scratching. She was just a few inches away, trying to get to me and there was nothing I could do for her.

"Frisby," I said. "Please, I know you're in there. People are asking where you've been. They say have courage and I'm trying to. I'm right out here for you. Just let me in." No. I didn't. I did not start singing Frozen songs to her. Although, in hindsight it seems as good an idea as any. I did say, "I know you're there. I'm trying to figure out how to get to you." And then I recorded her frantic scratching.


And then, the tub went silent.

I couldn't hear her anymore.

When Troy got home, I wasn't 100% convinced that she was still in there. So, with my head nestled up against the toilet, I pressed my ear to the side of the tub and listened long. Maybe I hear something? And then I heard it loud and clear, her desperate, familiar clawing. Troy had removed a light fixture from the room below, hoping to be able to find a way to her that didn't involve sawing a hole into our tub or moving a panel out of shower and going through the drywall. Apparently, his messing around beneath her sent her into a frenzy. He decided that approach wasn't going to work.

He removed the piece that I have come to know is referred to as a bathtub trip lever (a.k.a. the drain lever). That didn't pan out either. He decided to cut a small hole in the drywall in the hopes that she would see the light and come out. It would seem that his stud finder is still single for a reason because, despite using it ahead of time, he was met with a beam. Unless the hamster planned to chew her way through a thick piece of wood, that option was no longer viable. We now had a hole in the wall and a hamster on the loose. He put the trip lever back together.

He asked me what I thought was better, a hole in the side of the tub that we would have to plug up or removing a bunch of the shower wall and cutting through drywall. Oh gee, um, lemme think. NEITHER. "You have to make that call," I told him. At some point during the fiasco, I'd gone to retrieve the boys from school and we were now working on homework. "I'll just keep practicing spelling and you can decide what you think is best."

When we got to a stopping point, I went upstairs to see what he'd decided. He wasn't in our bathroom. "Troy? Where are you?" I called out. The boys' bathroom door slowly opened. He had a finger pressed to his lips. "She's in there," he whispered. 

Do you remember how I'd left a piece of food in the claw of the metal tool? Troy happened to walk past the boys' bathroom on his way to get his drill to demolish our tub when what should he see but that tool moving (seemingly) ALL BY ITSELF. We think his messing with the lever and cutting a hole in the wall freaked her out and she somehow managed to decide that she wasn't stuck after all and she was going to hightail it outta there right quick. 

This is one of those things that I like to call a modern day miracle. Troy was on his way to destroy our bathtub. He JUST SO HAPPENED to walk past the bathroom at the precise moment that she JUST SO HAPPENED to eat the pumpkin seed that I had stuck on his tool hours before. THANK YOU, LORD!

I laid on the floor and stuck two of my fingers over the lip. She instantly nibbled first my middle finger and then my pointer. I grabbed a piece of food and held it up. Her tiny face emerged. Never have I been so thrilled to see the face of a tiny rodent staring at me. I held the food out and she tried to take it. I slowly pulled back. She placed one paw over the lip. I continued to pull slowly. Another paw. It was a tight squeeze for her and she flattened her body in pursuit of the food. Finally, she was top heavy enough to fall over the lip and onto the floor. I immediately scooped her up.

"Garrett," Troy called. "Can you come help me with something up here?"

He bounded up the stairs and, when he reached the bathroom, I held my hand out and gave him his hamster back.

We've only had her for two weeks and already the antics are outrageous. Tonight, Frisby, who Garrett sometimes affectionately refers to as Hammy Lammy Ding Dong, is happily trying to get out of her cage. Because, it would seem, she learned nothing from her day at large.

Monday, September 12, 2016

Looking Back on the Time We Traveled Internationally With a Seven-Year-Old and His Younger Brother

As was largely detailed here several years ago, we took our small children to Israel. We received overwhelming support from friends and family who thought it would be an incredible experience for our boys. Of course, there were also more than a few naysayers who thought we were absolutely OFF OUR METAPHORICAL ROCKERS.

"What if they won't eat anything?" Um...I don't think they will actually starve to death in a country with plenty of food.

"What if they are awful travelers?" They're great travelers so far so I think we'll be okay. If they're awful, I will eat my words and tell you that you were right all along and I shouldn't have wasted my money.

"What if you get shot or bombed?" You people are too dependent on your western news. And also, too driven by fear. I've been there. I was neither shot nor bombed.

"What if you spend that money and they don't remember?" Hmmmm...

We knew that was HIGHLY likely to happen. We also knew that God provided a way to take them when they were little. Given that, even though I'm not afraid of being bombed in Israel, I am aware of its frequent travel advisories, we decided to take them while we could.

It was one of the best decisions we ever made.

I knew before we left that we would make them Shutterfly books so that we could always remind them of their trip.

My friend is traveling internationally with her son soon and asked me for some tips for getting him adjusted to the time change as fast as possible. We messaged back and forth and I got so jealous of her trip to London and Italy and so nostalgic for our trip to Israel. After chatting with her, I went into their rooms and grabbed their Israel books down from their shelf.

I started flipping through Garrett's. He was seven when we flew him halfway around the world. We bought him a drawing pad and, at some point during our travels on the following day, we asked him to color a picture of his favorite thing from the previous day. We then took pictures of his drawings and included them in his Shutterfly album. Nearly three years later, I was looking back on these drawings and it hit me what a great idea that had been.

Now, while we did tons of things every day and there were many things every day that he loved (and sometimes he had a really hard time choosing), we have a glimpse into what really impacted our seven-year-old on his historical and biblical tour of Israel.

Our first day was spent alone with just our family. We arrived in Israel and spent the night right by the Mediterranean Sea. Garrett's favorite thing from the entire day was when his daddy threw him, repeatedly, into the sea. I sat on the shore, nursing a raging case of airsickness and the beginning of a sinus infection while three guys hit on me in Arabic.

On day two, Garrett drew a picture of him, his brother, and a women we'd just met who became a fast friend, standing in the ancient remains of Herod's Pool. Turns out they weren't really, actually, exactly supposed to get in it but it's his favorite memory from that day and no one threw us into an Israeli jail so I consider it a win.

Our third day was filled with sites. Among them, Tel Dan, which is stunning. People think of dirt and dust and heat when they think of Israel. That's there, but there is also water and trees and beautiful country. Garrett took off his shoes and waded through the streams and pools that come together to form the headwaters of the Jordan River. His picture, sketched with first grade hands, shows him standing next to a tree in the middle of a pool on our nature hike. The tree looks like a big person with blue hair. Just go with it.

One of the things we did on day four was visit a working replica of a Nazarene village. This kind of things was, is, and will probably always be right up Garrett's alley. I'm certain if he had any idea that places exist where people reenact the Civil War, I would have to move him to the battle field where he would set up permanent residence. He LOVED Nazareth Village.

Our fifth day was filled with archaeological sites and places with deep biblical history. I'd begged Troy to beg our tour guide to stop at Gan Hashlosha, a spring that they've turned into a type of natural water park. It's refreshing, beautiful and SO FUN. In the middle of a busy tour schedule, it was nice to take a dip. I'm so glad I pushed the issue and got it worked into our trip because it was my son's favorite thing that day. He didn't actually go fishing but there were fish so his picture shows some dude trying to catch them. Even though they were, like, the size of my toe.

Day six was also filled with sites. We took a boat ride across the Sea of Galilee. The captain and his crew tossed fishing nets into the sea, the crew and some of our group danced a traditional dance, and the ride was what my kid chose to draw. His little brother ate a bunch of fish eyes that day. I might have drawn that.

On day seven we did so many fun things. Garrett stood in a waterfall in En Gedi, floated in the Dead Sea, and rode in a cable car. But, he was also baptized in the Jordan River. And THAT was what made the biggest imprint on his mind. The picture kinda looks like a couple of praying mantises playing in a pond but is, in fact, his daddy submerging him in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.

Day eight was spent relaxing in Eilat. I was in the horrendous stages of my sinus infection and we just went to the beach for a few hours before I slept all afternoon and the boys played in the hotel pool. I think it was one of his most favorite days. The picture shows Troy and me on top of a short retaining wall. The beach was below and you can see the boys playing beneath us.

On day nine, the boys climbed a hill. I mean, they did WAY more than that but that's what Garrett drew a picture of. We'd gone all over and, eventually, ended up at the valley of Elah where David fought Goliath. Troy took the boys up a steep hill and they ended up having to kind of slide back down on their bums. Garrett got some scrapes and scratches, had a blast, and drew all about it.

On day ten, among other things, we visited the Garden Tomb. Likely not the actual site of Jesus's resurrection but beautiful, peaceful, and impressive, the Garden Tomb stood out in Garrett's mind above everything else from that day. That's a tree you see. Not a giant carrot guarding the tomb. He must have been going through a very Picasso-y tree phase.

Day eleven was filled with so many Jerusalem sites. We walked the Via Dolorosa, saw Gethsemane, went to the western wall and more. But Garrett was seven. And Garrett rode a camel. Not a hairy elephant, a camel. I mean, he rode a donkey, too, but, apparently, the camel made a bigger impression.

On our last day, we walked a third of a mile through an underground, water filled tunnel that may have been used as an escape route out of the walled city. It didn't matter what else we did that day. Walking through an underground tunnel was most impressive to a seven-year-old. And to his then 32 year old mother.

I'm so glad we did this trip with them and so glad we had Garrett draw pictures. They're hilarious and also so telling of the things that might stick permanently in his mind. If you get the opportunity to travel with kids, DO IT. Jet lag, interesting foreign foods, scrapes and cuts and one kid barfing on the tour bus and all, I wouldn't change it for the world. They both talk--always--of wanting to go back and of wanting to see the rest of the world.

I'm also glad that his carrot/blue hair person tree phase will forever be remembered in this photo album.