On Grace

Adoption is not for the faint of heart.

You experience great highs and great lows.  Your emotions are never settled.  You hold back your hope because you know the outcome is not in your control.  You don’t fully grieve the little losses along the way because you know something amazing is just around the corner.

You operate in some gray area where the divine and dust of earth meet: where God moves and you work, where God is working and you are following.

We do a lot of praying, which on a good day doesn’t always give me answers but brings me peace. On  bad days?  I leave with lots of angst that overshadow any answers I might have got.

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My parents raised me right and good.  Loved. Responsible. Religious with a touch of defiance. Balanced.

I was 19 and stood on the side porch.  Woman to burgeoning woman we stood, Momma and me.   Her words were respectful but fierce.  My words hurtful, based in false strength. Her ultimatum laid.

The time had come to get my head out of my ass.  Till a year ago I had been a good kid.  I pushed boundaries but I knew where the lines were, accepted my consequences when I went too far, knew right from wrong, was trustworthy and honest.  I still can’t tell you exactly why started down the path I did.  I was smart.  Graduated top of my class.  Had learned to speak another language.

I  knew better, always knew better. What I was doing was wrong. I was playing with fire and I was gonna get burned.  I didn’t admit it, but I knew it.

Because my parents raised me right.

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Shattered glass catches the sunlight, glints fluorescent green.  The color almost makes it seem other-worldly like visitors from another galaxy crashed here and didn’t pick up all the evidence they were here.

But I know it’s not the remains of an UFO, just shattered glass from an accident.  My friend’s son to be exact.  A young driver but not really his fault. Just one of those hills, one of those places.  A car comes up out of a hill a little too fast. A driver doesn’t react quick enough.  Looks up a little too late.  You turn and if you had only been just a little faster there’d be no leftover glass.  But thank God you didn’t turn a little too slow.  There’d be no ….

Well, you know.

And now the glass mocks me.   Silently screaming, echoing down the road after I turn: nothing guaranteed.

Nothing.

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We want it though, don’t we?  The guarantee.  The secured outcome.  Especially when it comes to our children.

And we know, even if we forget and have to be reminded literally in a crash course, that we can’t control nature, accidents, and freak things. Our kid could get cancer. We could breath our last before we finish reading this sentence.

So maybe that is why we cling to other things.  Like whether they finish high school, get into college, have sex before marriage, do drugs, drive drunk, or tell lies.  We work so hard to make sure they turn out the right way and when a child doesn’t we look to the parent as the obvious explanation.

But is it?

Are we just deceiving ourselves?

People who never smoked a cigarette, never lived with someone who did, still get lung cancer and die. And people with 40+ year habits live to see their grandchildren give birth.

Maybe the writer of Ecclesiastes is right: life is nothing more than blowing in the wind.

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I’ve spent most of my adult life working with kids. With adults who never got over what happened to them – or didn’t happen- as kids.  I’m convinced the power of life rests in my words and in my hands.  What I choose to say or not say, how I choose to touch or not touch, will leave my child scarred, scary or skilled.

Watch a child grow into a man who beats his wife or who respect there and you can probably trace the reason for that right back to their childhood.  Of course, sometimes, it’s not what we expect.

The little boy who watched one man after another use his mother to wipe up their unmet needs may be the one who cherishes his wife beyond measure.  And grown men who really do know better have made their mothers cry at the way they treat have treated their wives.

Yet science and research back it up.  There may not be cause and effect but there is correlation.  You control more than you know.

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Train up a child and when he is old he will not depart from it.  We claim it like it’s a contract.  Valid in all cases and circumstances.  We forget it’s a proverb.  This makes it an observation of how things seems to go not how they always go.  It’s not a promise.  God is not beholden to it. It’s about you and what you do. It’s about what your child does.

And doesn’t the theology get screwed if we claim it like a guarantee.  For us free-willers doesn’t it remove my child’s free will, remove the need of a Savior and make me God?  If I just do the right thing I can make my child be saved, make him turn out okay?  For us election-leaners, if God has chosen already then of what affect is your training anyway?  Sure obedience but that’s about you to God; this makes it determinism and makes you God.

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She was 46 that night.

I went to work and she walked across the gravel parking lot from the parsonage to the church.  She took her bible and laid it on the altar, opened to that verse.  She put the picture frame with me in it on the altar.  Then she laid down next to that altar and staked her claim. Like Moses did when he reminded God of his promises to Israel and what it would like to the other nations if he abandoned them now, Momma reminded God of what he had men write down.

She laid there all night.  She told God, in no uncertain terms, she’d done her part.  She’d done all that she could, imperfect as it was, she had been a good mother and done right by me. By him.  Now it was his turn.  He had to come through.

He did.

I am the product of her prayer.  I am the product of a promise believed.  I am an example of a proverb, an observation about life.  I have no other explanation for how I am alive, physically and otherwise.

And yet, I’ve seen too much to believe that it is always true and that the same story will be true for my daughters no matter how well I do. Or that had it not been true it would have been her fault.

So for now, this is my prayer and my hope,

The Lord our God has secrets known to no one. We are not accountable for them, but we and our children are accountable forever for all that he has revealed to us, so that we may obey all the terms of these instructions.

I’ll let God be God.  I’ll be the parent.

I’ll let Grace confuse me and work itself and me (and my daughters) out.

Phases of Fathers

It was third grade.  Mrs. Harkey’s class.

I don’t remember the class so much as I remember her; she treated me with tenderness and subtlety.  It was my first year and my only year in her class.

It was a clear day.  Bright sun and I remember the color yellow.  I don’t know exactly why.  Maybe it was the bright sun, the color of Mrs. Harkey’s blouse or just the color of the construction paper we were using to make a Father’s Day card.

This is where I get confused.  It couldn’t have been Father’s Day.  What kid goes to school that far into June?  And even if  mad use of snow days had kept us there till then, I wouldn’t have been in Mrs. Harkey’s class.  I moved half way through the year to the other elementary school in town.

Yet, I know this day: bright and yellow and Mrs. Harkey and a card.  And angst.

Maybe it was for Thanksgiving, a card of thanks to someone special, like a dad.  Maybe the mention of such a person is what made the moment forever vivid, shrinking useless details like the day or time of year till they are but distractions in the story.

Whenever and whatever, I remember the silence.  I remember the world standing still.  The color yellow pulling in my focus as if somehow I could, by myself, figure out what to do now that Daddy was gone.

She told me it was okay.  Okay to make it for someone else.  My mother or how ’bout my grandfather.  So I did.  For Grandpa Gerling.  There was no doubt he was super special in my life and my sister’s.  And it was okay.

But it was never alright.

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This is how most my memories are before he came.  Blurred.  Grey shadows.  Splashes of light.

Mixed memories.  Some are mine.  Many I have used my sister’s memories and my mother’s tales to fill in the shadows and enhance the contours.  Other memories are mashables: one house’s memory mixed with another childhood adventure.

Only one memory stands out with precision.  The day Daddy died.

Each detail – the hill, the car, the legs stretched out underneath the car, bending down, my sister on the porch, her voice, the 70′s yellow colored phone, the back room, the ambulance, the tree we climbed in the front yard, the pasture and trees behind it, the white sheet covering Daddy on the stretcher, the green truck, ice cream – is all part of a beautiful mosaic painting.  Meticulous. Thought out.

A true memory: a photo captured in time forever in the mind.

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There were a few more years of angst when he came at first.  I don’t really remember what my feelings were about him.  Not sure a 9 year old thinks that hard.  I was just excited to have a big brother.

He was a good man.  Treated us well.  No, treated us good, like one of his own.

But he wasn’t really dad.

I felt awkward giving him a Father’s Day card.  I felt guilty not giving him one because I really did like am.  He made life better.

Over time I felt guilty acknowledging him, not for who he was to me, but for how I felt for him.  He was Dad.  He carried me up and down steps when I broke my ankle doing a cart-wheel in the neighbor’s front yard.  He picked me up from school when I got my period and went to the store and bought me my first pads.  He put flowers on my Daddy’s grave.  He gave me a pep talk at my piano recital when I screwed up my last song and, full of pre-teen emotion, stormed off.  I went back to the piano and got a standing ovation for having the kahunas to get back up there and keep going.  He adopted me and gave me his name and when I felt torn between two fathers and two names he suggested what he had always strove for in raising two girls who already had a father: not elimination but addition.  So for almost 13 years I had four names.  First. Middle. Daddy’s name.  His name.

The awkwardness was now in being happy with the father I had all the while knowing there was another man.  It felt like cheating.  It felt unfair to Daddy.  It was like living with a ghost who refused to go away.

A memory that would not die; a memory I could not let die.

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Peace eventually came, through anger and refusing to apologize for a situation not of my making or choosing.  Just life with no guarantees of happiness.  It came through a mother’s stories, told over and over, of who my father was, the kind of man he would have been.

He freed me to forget him and I did for months and even a year at a time.  And he gave me permission to mourn his passing when it hit and find comfort in my father’s arms.

He continued to be my father.

Loving me when I came to him.  Loving me when I did my own thing.

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Now she’s here.  His granddaughter.

And more often than I know what to do with, I am a 6 1/2 year-old girl again.

I mourn Daddy in ways I never did before.  In ways I could not before.

I miss Daddy now more than ever.

The wishing to know him is stronger than all the questions I endlessly asked my mother and sister.

The desire to have him here overtakes me just like it did when I sat in Mrs. Harkey’s class in third grade.

And beside it, is the fear that Zoe will not know the only father I have ever really known.  The thought paralyzes me. I don’t want another generation of shortened memories.

I mourn for what I lost the day Daddy died.

I mourn for what Zoe will lose the day my father dies.