In Memory of Peter

When I was four or five years old my family was living in Northern Haiti on the OMS missionary compound. Our maid, who lived in the neighboring village, told my mom about a newborn baby in her village whose mother had just died of AIDS. The grandmother was caring for the baby now, but it was not doing well. My mom went into the village and found the baby: tiny, severely dehydrated and dying, the grandmother trying to keep him alive with sugared tea water. My mom brought the baby home. We had a nurse who lived on the compound. She tried to start an IV but the baby was too dehydrated. She instructed my mom to give the baby a dropperful of rehydration fluid every five minutes. My mom worked around the clock with the help of a volunteer missionary who was staying at our house. On the third day, exhausted, my mom asked the nurse if she could take a night shift with the baby. That night, under the nurse’s care, the baby opened his eyes, smiled, lifted his arms and then died. They had a funeral, people from the village came and this death ended up being the birth of my parents’ relationships and ministry in this village. 

I don’t really remember all of that. I had to ask my mom to get those details. 

What I remember is a blue blanket. A little dark head peeking through. I remember my mom made a baby bed in the living room out of a dresser drawer. I remember having to be quiet. And I remember the delight of having a baby in the house. The hope. Could this be my new baby brother? Do we get to keep him?

And then I remember the solemn conversation. Standing next to my big brother as the adults shared some important news. No images of the adults, no memory of their words, just information that was imparted. The baby had died. 

Peter had died. 

No one had bothered to name him, so our family named him Peter. 

It’s a wispy memory. A memory of What If. What if he had lived? What if my parents had decided to adopt him? What if I could have had a baby brother? 

I remember as a bit older child, moving to a different place, telling the new kids I met that I used to have a baby brother, but he died. 

As I was sitting here thinking about all this, it brought to mind another Peter who died. I had an early miscarriage in between my 9th and 10th child. I have no idea if the baby was a boy or a girl, but my heart said, this was a boy, and his name was Peter Elisha. Another wispy memory. What If? What if he had lived? A thought I shy away from. If he had lived, we would not have our last little boy who has brought so much joy to our lives. What ifs are too convoluted, confusing. A rabbit trail not worth pursuing. 

But, it is good to remember for a moment. Peter. Both Peters. You were loved for the few moments we knew you. 

No Victory

I feel like I have just come out on the other side of a large battle. And I’m exhausted and frazzled, relieved. But not quite rejoicing. 

We went to court today concerning our foster daughter. After three and a half hours of waiting, the actual court appearance was short and to the point. As guardians do you support this petition or will you contest? We contest. Ok. We will set a date for a trial. Here’s the information you need to know to move forward. 

The only words I spoke were, We contest. But, man, the inner battles I had to have in order to say that. 

I had to willingly cause someone else pain by saying those words. I had to say, no, I’m not going to go along in the name of peace, I’m going to fight this. I had to go against someone else’s wishes and opinions and say, No, even though you are telling me I am wrong, I still believe my perspective is right and I will fight for that perspective. I had to willingly take an action that guarantees that I am now hated by a group of people whom I’ve always gotten along with. I had to step out in faith and say, I am not crazy, the reasons I disagree are valid and are worth fighting for. 

About six weeks of mental agony all wrapped up into a little phrase. We contest. 

And while saying those words was an inner victory for me, there is also grief. In juvenile court there are no winners. My victory means someone else’s pain. And I am helpless to alleviate that pain in any way. Families torn apart by their own dysfunction, passed on to them by the previous generation’s dysfunction…there are no victors. Just a lot of hurt people trying to figure out the best way to move forward. 

I hate it. 

And so I am in that weird place where I feel certain I did the right thing. But the right thing hurt someone else and so there is no victory. Just peace, mixed with sadness. 

Grief, Joy, Christmas

It’s Christmas Eve and I find myself wavering back and forth between joy and happiness and guilt and worry. 

In other words, I am fully human. Even though I somehow think I will get superpowers when holidays come around and I will cease to have stress and grief and daily troubles. After all, it’s Christmas! Right? 

This Christmas I have all my children home, the first time in three years. My heart is full. Our house is cheerful, we were able to get presents for everyone, we have everything we need and a little extra. We’ve had a great advent season of daily bible readings with the kids. We’ve had great church services helping us bring our focus on Jesus. It has been a good Christmas season. 

And then, at the same time, a friend of mine unexpectedly died a couple days ago. Another friend of mine is in the process of losing her mom to cancer. Another friend just lost a famly member unexpectedly. So much grief. So much heaviness. 

Kind of like the first Christmas. 

Mary, pregnant and unmarried, having to deal with all the presumptions people are making of her. Joseph with a new wife, but in name only, watching her carry someone else’s child, not the way he was planning on starting his marriage. A trip to Bethlehem because of the whims of a conquering nation. Bad timing, Mary is about to give birth. Then, they get to Bethlehem, the baby is definitely coming, right now. No place to stay. No warm welcome. No comfortable place to settle in. Birth. Mary’s first. First labor, not knowing what to expect. Not knowing if you will survive the process. And then the baby is here. But no proud grandparents to announce the news to friends and family. No friends and family. 

But then a bunch of shepherds come running in. Telling stories about angels and heavenly hosts. And I’m sure Mary and Joseph remembered vividly their own encounters with angels. And there is of course this brand new baby filling their hearts with joy as only a new baby can. 

Grief and Joy. Suffering and Hope. Christmas.

We are in good company. 

This season I pray that we can have peace. That we can accept our grief but give ourselves permission to have joy as well. That we can have happiness and not feel guilty for feeling sad at the same time. 

In the end, we cling to the hope that All is Well. 

“All is well all is well

Lift up your voices and sing

Born is now Emmanuel

Born is our Lord and Savior”

Michael W. Smith

Emmanuel, God is with Us. We go through our trials here on earth, but we are no longer alone. We have hope for a future with Jesus where every tear will be wiped away. No more sorrow. No more grief. 

Until that time comes, we move forward. Tears in our eyes. A smile on our face. Grief, Joy. Christmas. 

May you all have a Merry Christmas filled with joy and may you have peace to feel all the emotions that face you this season.

Fat Fridays: Fighting Stress

Emotional eating has always been a thing for me. It’s a source of comfort for every imaginable problem. Since I started this journey, about six weeks ago, I noticed that after the first couple weeks, food stopped having such a strong hold on me. I haven’t been tempted to grab something every time my mood swings. I think a big part of it is that I am losing weight, and I have a definite goal that I want to achieve this year, and that goal has been front and center in my mind. No, I don’t want to just eat whatever, whenever. I wouldn’t reach my goal if I do that!

This week has been a bit of a test. On Wednesday I received word that my father’s cousin had died, (someone I had made a connection with online and who often commented on my posts and engaged in conversation with me), and then that same evening I received word that a dear lady from our church (who had long been a source of encouragement to me) had also died, of covid. 

I admit, my first reaction was that I just wanted to binge eat. Forget this diet. I’m just going to make a bunch of food and eat it. Maybe I will feel better. But, by the grace of God, I walked past the fridge and went in my room and cried instead. Which is actually what I needed to do, instead of trying to stuff the emotions down with food. 

The next day I was pretty out of it. We’ve had a lot of death in our neighborhood due to gun violence and everything just seemed to be crushing me down. My trainer asked how things were going, and I mentioned briefly what was going on. She suggested that I use exercise as therapy, and later that day I went outside for a long brisk walk in the sunshine. It helped. 

In the past, I have always had this mentality that I can’t start a diet until my life calms down. Like, adding a diet and exercise to an already stressed out life would just send me over the brink. But this year I am realizing that the exercise and diet are actually tools to help deal with the stress. Bingeing on donuts does not help you deal with stress. Knowing that you are eating healthy DOES make you feel better though. Like, the world is falling apart, but at least I am taking care of my body! 

In other news, I woke up early this morning and took my fasting blood sugar and it was 96!! I haven’t had a reading below 100 in years. That also made me feel better. 

So, my takeaway for this week is diet and exercise aren’t causing me stress, they’re fighting stress. 

Please Pray

It’s late Monday night. The younger children are asleep, the older ones are quiet in their rooms. Throughout the evening I’ve been hearing random gunshots in our neighborhood. After hearing five different shots, I called it into the police. They said they would send someone to check things out. But, the gunshots have continued through the evening. 

My highschoolers have been put on RED this week, doing virtual school instead of in-person school. Except, this time, it’s not for weather or covid, but because of a death. This past Friday, a sixteen year old boy was leaving our highschool and was struck by a stray bullet shot very close to the school. He did not survive. 

One of my daughter’s teachers sent out a schedule for tomorrow and it is basically going to be grief counseling all day long. 

Very recently my own daughter was walking home from school and had someone firing off a gun half a block behind her. And I’m crying in relief. It wasn’t my daughter that got hit by a stray bullet. And I’m angry. WHY ON EARTH are our kids having to deal with bullets on their way home from school!! And I wonder how on earth to make it stop. And I think about the anger and gut wrenching grief of this young man’s family.  And I think about all the kids showing up to their online classes tomorrow, angry, mourning, scared it might be them the next time. 

I am so angry. And I am weeping at the pain of losing a child so young. 

And I want to know how on earth our family can be an agent of help in this community. It seems so impossible. The problems too big. Our influence too small. 

My husband and I were driving in the countryside yesterday. We have always longed to live in the country. We talk about farms and cabins in the woods. We toss around ideas of how we could make it happen. 

Yesterday, as we drove through the beautiful scenery, my husband asked, again, Why aren’t we living out here?? 

I didn’t answer right away, because we’ve had this conversation over and over again. But finally I spoke up. 

Cause God put us in the city and for some reason he seems to want us to stay there. 

Oh yeah. That’s why. We actually feel like God had a plan when we moved here. And we haven’t felt like it’s time to move on yet. 

But, on days like today, nights like tonight, I feel a bit of despair. 

Please pray for our high school as the kids come together for the first time tomorrow. Pray for safety for our children. Pray the family of this young man. And pray for change to come. 

Will You Mourn With Me?

Emotions. Emotions are a difficult thing. In fact, sometimes they are an overwhelming and scary thing. When we are shaking with rage, shivering with fear, gasping with sorrow, all we want is to be calm. We want the storm to be over. We want to be safely on the other side. In those moments of intensity, emotions are the enemy that we must squash as quickly as possible. 

 

We say words like, it’s ok, it’s going to be alright, just calm down now, settle down… As the person who seeks to comfort, we seem to be allies with the notion that emotions are bad and must be disposed of as soon as possible. 

 

And so, from a young age, we start pushing those emotions down. No, I need to stop crying. I need to calm down. I need to get over this. I need to distract myself. Just don’t think about it. I’ll be over this soon. 

 

And right now, as I try to help one of the kids in my care process some real genuine pain and loss and confusion and anger, I find myself assuring him that these emotions are ok. It’s ok to be angry. You have permission to feel all these things. And I wonder, how do I teach myself this as well? How do I model this behavior when I still haven’t figured it out? 

 

I run from intense emotions. Flee. Stuff it down. Take deep breaths, blow it away. How do I undo all these habits and patterns that have shaped my life? How do I just sit and mourn? How do I allow myself to feel the anger that I have every right to? How do I just permit the sadness to wash over me? 

 

Emotions are scary. 

 

I wonder why? 

 

I think about this child in my care and wonder, what is best for him? His emotions are so overwhelming that he is struggling to function. And if I’m being completely honest, I would just like his emotions to go away. They are really messy. They are really hard to deal with. They make life complicated. 

 

In the old days, when people died, people would gather, have a time of public mourning, weeping, remembering. They would change their clothes to reflect their grief. 

 

If only we had such rituals in place to deal with other forms of grief. 

 

When I miscarried the first time, I think I would have taken great comfort to put on black clothing for a period of time. To cover my face with a black veil. To have a monument that I could visit and cover with flowers. 

 

We need these visual rituals. No. Some of the things we are mourning and grieving aren’t physical deaths. Maybe it’s a separation, maybe it is a dissolving of something that was good. Maybe it’s simply loss of innocence. 

 

I think it  would help to put on mourning clothes, pour ashes over my head, tear my clothing, hire a group of professional mourners. It would signal to the world, I am in pain. I need time to deal with this. I’m not ok. I need you to be sad with me. I need you to join me in this pain instead of trying to pull me out of it. I need you to be angry with me over an injustice served, over a wounding that was given. 

 

What we need is to be able to sit and stay with our hardest emotions, and have people come and join us. 

 

And all of this reflection tells me what I must do to help this child. I must be angry with him. I must be sad with him. I must join him. And maybe, maybe we will heal together. 

 

Tears in Honor of You

It’s Tuesday evening. Time to write my blog for Wednesday. All afternoon I’ve been wondering what to write about. My mind circles around the thought and then instantly turns to something else. I think I’m going to read a bit more of my book. I think I’m going to practice piano a bit. I think I’m going to wash the dishes. And of course, the children are a constant presence of distraction, look at this mom, watch me mom, Mom he hit me, Mom I’m hungry. I allow myself to be distracted all day. And then, this evening I think, I need to go write my blog. And the thought comes to me, in order to write a blog, you have to think about something. Ah yes. There is the problem. I don’t want to think. Thinking is painful right now. A very good friend of mine’s grandbaby died this weekend. She was just a baby. A sweet wonderful baby. I didn’t know her, but I had heard all about her from her proud grandparents. I’d seen the occasional pictures scattered across Facebook. And I still feel paralyzed by the thought that such a loss has touched people that I know and love.

I don’t want to think because every time I let my mind focus on something, it comes back to this pain. Feeling pain and mourning are not things that I am good at. I am a missionary kid. I spent my entire childhood moving from one extreme place to another. Studies have been done on missionary kids and it seems to be a universal experience that we all struggle with mourning. We uproot so many times, have so many goodbyes to say to all that is familiar, and we rarely take the time to properly mourn all that we have lost. Mourning is painful. I think we naturally try to avoid pain. I know that for myself, my coping mechanism is to suppress it. Ignore it, push the thoughts down until they stop resurfacing. Drown it. Except that the pain doesn’t go away, it just lingers below the surface, waiting for a chance to reappear. And then it shows up in strange, unexpected places. Like the time I had my first miscarriage.

It happened while we were out of town, camping in another state. I was staying at a campsite in our camper with our children while my husband was working nearby, 14-16 hour days, working on a construction project. It was a couple weeks long project and the kids and I had gone with my husband so we wouldn’t be separated for so long. I was in a campground trying to take care of six children on my own and I miscarried. It was early on in the pregnancy. There wasn’t anything I could do. And I didn’t have time to mourn. I cried a little, but I was in shock and overwhelmed and trying to put a brave face on for my kids and my husband. And then, a month later, we were back home in Tennessee and I was sitting in church, the service had just ended and something snapped and I started sobbing. For a long time. And I am so relieved that this particular grief rose to the surface so I could properly mourn.

My friend who lost her grandbaby, she is special to me because many years ago she started me on a long journey of healing. I don’t know how to describe her relationship to me except as a co-therapist. We listen to each other. We provide a safe place for each other and other women as we dig down and resurface these stories that haven’t been properly mourned. And it seems that the only way I can honor my friend and her grief is to not let myself run away from the pain, as peripheral to my life as it is. To let myself feel it, mourn alongside her. Not suppress, let myself be sad. Give myself permission to grieve.

So, My dear friend, this is how I honor you and your ministry, your family, your devastating loss. I will allow myself to grieve with you.