Sunday, October 24, 2010


Amber asked us recently to tell the story of an answered prayer.  You can read her story and 6 others here.  I'm late, but I figured I'd tell my story anyway.

A couple years ago I came across a piece of notebook paper on which I had written a prayer for our sons who are now 30 and almost 32 years old.  I believe I wrote out the scripture prayer when they were about 9-13 years old.

"Best of friends, worst of enemies" flew off my tongue many times when Kyle and Sam were young boys as my answer to people who would ask about how they got along with each other.   They played great together for hours every day, but when they disagreed, they could, with amazing speed, employ shoves and punches to make their point.   One of them, in particular, never considered an argument won when the other one said, "I give up - you win".  The argument is not  over until the one giving up declares full acknowledgement that the victor's argument was TRUE and RIGHT!

My husband, David, has often told how a dispute during a family game of Rack-0 quickly became a boxing match, with the two boys "standing toe to toe, slugging each other".  In addition to a multitude of baseball games and practice sessions at home, our family played a lot of basketball on the front driveway and many games involved bodies slamming into bushes, or the garage wall or to the concrete driveway as a result of self-control gone awol - "FOUL!"  I often feared we would be making a trip to the hospital emergency room.   

When David tried to reassure me that our sons' highly competitive personalities would help them succeed in our very competitive society, I pleaded for him to structure  family games so our sons had to work together on the same team, instead of against each other.  I feared broken hearts more than I feared broken bones.  As the boys got older, I worried that the frequent conflict "resolved" in such physical fashion would result in unforgiveness that lodged in our sons' souls,  destroying their friendship, and infecting all of their relationships with bitterness.

So, at some point during their late elementary and middle school years I began to pray that kindness, compassion,  and forgiveness would reign in their relationship.  I took a passage from Ephesians 4, along with some other passages and prayed that they would use their tongues to encourage and build one another up, that they would get rid of bitterness, rage, anger, brawling, and slander, and that they would be "kind and compassionate, forgiving one another, just as in Christ, God forgave them."  I prayed that God would give them a great love and appreciation for each other.  For a season, I prayed that prayer every day.

Gradually that prayer got replaced by others, and one day when they were in high school, I came across that old "scripture prayer" in my handwriting, with blanks to insert my sons names, tucked away in a journal or book.  I didn't remember exactly WHEN that prayer had been answered...I knew only that our sons seemed to fully enjoy and prefer each other's company, respect each other's wisdom, and root for one another's success.  Somehow, miraculously, they had been able to forgive the many offenses against each other.  They played together on the same high school baseball team, and ended up, eventually at the same college for a year, playing baseball together there also.

Their friendship deepened far beyond the simple thoughts I had when I began praying.  I know they have a friend in their brother that many men long for, and one of my greatest joys is watching them together, whether playing with the children, discussing issues and ideas, or engaging in the raucous humor for which they are known.

A week ago, I tagged along on a brief car trip peppered with laughs and practical jokes, as the two of them drove to the start location of "The Hilly Hundred" - a group bike ride over a course that wound its way for a hundred hilly miles.  They took off together in the early morning light and pedaled back into the parking lot, hours later, still together, still talking and making jokes.  It was a great day.

Monday, October 18, 2010

To Be Understood

holy experience

On this "Multitude Monday" I give thanks to God for the "simple" gift of being understood in basic, everyday conversation with those around me.

My granddaughter is deaf.  Which wouldn't be as huge a hinderance to our communication with each other if she had been born into our family.  She would likely have had otherwise good health and a lively intelligence as do our three grandsons - an inheritance that comes "naturally" to children born to dedicated, nurturing parents with the circumstances, resources and will to provide superior nutrition for body, mind and spirit.  Her deafness wouldn't be as huge a hinderance to our communication if she had entered our family as an infant, because our daughter-in-law and son would have taught her symbol and language from the knowledge of her deafness.

But instead, she entered our family as a child alone, an "unaccompanied minor" from the streets of Kolkata (Calcutta) India.  Some women who lived with their children on the streets knew our son and our daughter-in-law as people who cared about them and their children's well-being, people who would care about the child wandering the streets alone, and who would - because they were Americans and of course wealthy beyond imagination - find the little girl and do something.

Our son and his wife did search for the girl and find her.  She was obviously deaf and obviously alone.   She climbed onto my daughter-in-law's lap and fell asleep - a harbinger of other troubles which neither they nor we had knowledge to see.  They took her to some trusted others where they knew she would be safe and eventually oversaw her placement into one, then another orphanage, while they talked and prayed and decided to seek adoption to bring her into their family.  If the adoption went through she would be their second child.  Their first child, a delightful, well-loved son, who would bring the hope and reality of laughter into their lives after the darkness of Kolkata, was already in the womb, growing in darkness.

This "unaccompanied minor" came into our lives 14 months after the birth of the healthy and charming firstborn son, and with her came much chaos and anger and heartbreak.  Within six months we all became too familiar with the hope-strangling enormity of attempting to parent a child with reactive attachment disorder (RAD).  Terms like "childhood trauma", "deprivation", and "safety" filled our conversations and this child's new parents, who had already spent an inheritance to bring her into their family, faced mounting financial drain and emotional bankruptcy as they faced one problem after another, rising to the surface like bubbles in carbonated water that is being continually poured out - a seemingly unending litany of problems which forced major adjustments to our concept of "normal family life".

Perhaps one of the most frustrating aspects of trying to nurture and train and help heal this emotionally traumatized child was the challenge her deafness added to the mix.  We often did not know, could not tell, through much of the next three years of intensive home and professional intervention and therapy, whether her refusal to follow simple instructions, communicated through ASL, pictures, repeated demonstrations and acting out, emerged as a symptom of her psychological emotional disorder or because of her complete poverty of symbolic language.

The RAD specialists available to our son and his wife through appointment, book, and internet spoke only of experience with hearing children, with children who possessed language, children who could at least name everyday objects and understand simple instructions, even if they could not voice with words the great wounding within them, and many of the suggested therapeutic strategies required that the child have ability to hear and understand common language.

This child's adoptive mother and father had invested much time, the year before her arrival, in college level ASL (American sign language) classes and attending local ASL conversation and story-telling events, holding to a thread of a hope that money and instruction they had sent for the purpose of sign language instruction for the girl resulted in lessons.  That had not happened, and though this new daughter started public school in a program for the deaf within two weeks of her arrival, the task of teaching her rudimentary language largely fell to our daughter-in-law and son, both consummate and excellent teachers, and for a season of home-schooling, necessary to address the most pressing aspects of her reactive attachment disorder, they were her only teachers.

Little by little, as I listened to my son and daughter-in-law share what they learned from their classes, specialists and books about language development in the deaf person, and as I watched, the unending frustration of getting her to understand ANYTHING we attempted to communicate to her, her utter BANKRUPTCY OF SYMBOL gradually seeped into my comprehension.  Her poverty in this regard stunned me then and continues to stun me whenever I ponder it.

I have lived my entire life filled with the richness of words and language and symbol.  I love to read and write.  I had had multiple arguments with my husband and at least one conference with our son's teacher over the proper use of words.  Language and the ability to communicate has been so much a birthright in my thinking, that even working alongside and attending classes and worship events with deaf people in our area did not prepare me for my granddaughter's poverty, because the people I saw engaged in lively hand-conversation with one another, their communication punctuated with loud grunts and stage-quality facial expression, obviously understood one another, and the ASL I saw as songs and sermons were translated for the deaf often impressed me with the richness of the visual symbol.

But this "unaccompanied minor" who changed everything when she entered our lives was poor beyond measure in the acquisition of language.  She had come so late in her development to this family to whom language and symbol mattered so much and her emotional wounding stole the remaining "developmentally fruitful" years before puberty.

So on this Monday morning, like every school day of this new year, I am picking my granddaughter up to take her to school.  No longer a literal "unaccompanied minor" she is still a stranger and an alien when we attempt to communicate - I with my six weeks of "ASL for seniors" instruction interrupted by three years of "signing silence" between us ( to encourage the establishment of proper bonding of this child with her new parents) and she with her hasty signing embellished with much grunting, pointing and facial expressions but very little grasp of words that are not symbols of things that can be pointed to or actions that can be demonstrated, very little grasp of sentence structure or tense or story telling order.

Last year, I picked her up from school each afternoon, and required her to sit in the back seat - a therapy guideline prescribed at that time for her to feel safe and protected.  She usually grunted and gestured with a stream of "signs" tossed into the mix...newly learned words tossed indiscriminately into a list of words that meant something to her....her standard signing of past endlessly repeated events "me-go-fly, dog-my-baby" tossed in with the name-signs of her teacher, therapist, or classmate with no regard for coherency of subject or timeframe to help me understand.  I, newly released from the linguistic prison that the constraints of therapeutic process had imposed upon me as grandparent, attempted to revive the tiny remnant of ASL in my brain and understand her.

This year my granddaughter sits in the front seat, her vocabulary has steadily increased, and she feels she has things, sentences, stories! to tell me.  But my proficiency in ASL has not increased enough to keep pace with what she is trying to communicate to me, and several ASL "mis-speaks" and mis-understandings are making it obvious to me that our inability to effectively communicate is now my responsibility as much, if not more than hers, and frustrating to her as well as me.

This morning she repeatedly pointed to the outside "bus entrance" to the doors next to her special education unit, circling her fist next to her jaw in a sign I did not recognize.  I signed "No. Before, I tell you we not go that way (pointing), we go that way (pointing to the front entrance - the much longer, prescribed entrance route)".  Frustrated, she repeated her signs with more vehemence and volume and threw in a "clothes" and a "my" sign among others I did not recognize.  I thought she was telling me that her clothes were over there, and when I signed "your clothes there?" twice to confirm that guess, she signed "yes", gave me a puzzled look, then resigned, followed me to the entrance.

We snaked our way through crowded hallways to her classroom door where I asked one of the aides if my granddaughter had left some of her clothes there.  When I asked if she knew any sign language she brought the new interpreter over to me.  During my parking lot interchange with my granddaughter I'd forgotten the upcoming personnel change.   "Are you Sue?" I asked, pulling from my usually inaccurate name files of casual mentions and newly introduced people.

"Susan", she answered.

"How do you sign your name?"

She answered with fist circling at her jaw....and recognition slowly dawned within me of my granddaughter's "S" hand circling at her jaw was meant to signify a female whose name began with "S".  My granddaughter had either spotted the interpreter entering the building or had anticipated seeing her, and her "clothes-my" sign had perhaps referred to the clothes of the interpreter or was an ASL sign or partial sign for "interpreter" (I struggle to retain for later repetition and translation a fast stream of signs I do not understand).

So, in my halting sign, with gestures and facial expressions to fill in for my lack, I tell my granddaughter I understand what she was trying to tell me.

Her entire body smiles.

On this Multitude Monday, I give thanks to God for the gift of being understood.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

His Ways

I've been thinking about Amber's recent writing invitation for just shy of two weeks now, trying to figure out what I would write about what God was up to in this season of my life.  For much of my adult life, I would have had a ready answer, so certain was I of my intimate realtionship with Him, of listening to His voice and recognizing His fingerprints.

I remember pondering this verse for months from one of my many favorite, oft-prayed psalms:

"He made known his ways to Moses, his deeds to the people of Israel:" (Psalm 103:7)

What follows that phrase is a brief listing of some of the personality traits, or characteristics of God's interactions with humans.  Though for many years I had read "ways" and "deeds" as a simple literary repetition for emphasis, at that time I began to focus on the difference between knowing God's "deeds" and knowing God's "ways" - his habitual ways of acting.  It seemed to me then that seeing or recognizing God's deeds was a first and necessary step to knowing his ways, but that knowing his ways- his likely ways of acting, his inclinations, his motives- was an indication of intimate relationship and that was what I wanted - and what I thought I had.  I spent a lot of time reading, studying and praying the Bible, journaling the movements of my heart and tracking His footprints in the lives of others.

But now....NOW what is God up to in my life?  What has He been working on in this questioning, doubting, grieving, pondering and longing season of life, so filled with noisy celebrations of life concurrent with drawn-out mournings of disappointment and loss?  My own questions have clamored for so much attention in this season that I've either been deaf to or highly suspicious of any questions God might be asking me.  What questions or challenges might He be throwing down for me on which I've yet to stubb my toe?  I do not know.

But I do know that I am still alive.  For this day, this moment, I have been given life and health, sustenance and safety, and the ability to choose what I believe to be true and how I will respond to people and events.   I have been given husband and sons and daughters-in-love and grandchildren to know, love and encourage; brothers, sisters, mothers and more to respect and love.  Though there have been heartaches aplenty in this season, moments of joy and laughter have sparkled through my days like the bright morning sun transforms the surface of the bay into a million sparkling diamonds.

I know I have learned valuable life habits and insights in this season of withrawal and winter that I did not learn in other, more green and "fruitful" seasons of life.

At certain moments in these past 6 years I have whispered to my soul, "I have become weary in well-doing" (Gal 6:9) and "I do not please God now because I am not sure He exists, I am not certain of what I do not see" (Hebrews 11:1, 6).

At quite a few moments in these past 6 years, my husband of almost 35 years has asked me, sometimes with fear and sometimes with teasing in his voice, the question I have asked myself "Sandy, are you a Christian now?"

My answer, both to him and myself, has been rooted far more in my experience of God's compassion, patience and covenant, then in my intellectual struggles or even in my desire to live love and truth:  "I do not think he has abandoned me, even though some days I doubt He exists."   My answer is rooted in my experience of the psalmist's words of His ways that follow the "ways and deeds" phrase in Psalm 103:

"The LORD is compassionate and gracious, slow to anger, abounding in love.
He will not always accuse, nor will he harbor his anger forever;
he does not treat us as our sins deserve or repay us according to our iniquities.
For as high as the heavens are above the earth, so great is his love for those who fear him...
As a father has compassion on his children, so the LORD has compassion on those who fear him;
for he knows how we are formed, he remembers that we are dust."

Monday, October 4, 2010

Gratitude Walk

holy experience

133.  I had a brief, unanticipated meeting with an old friend as I walked in the park Sunday morning.

134.  Though I smiled inwardly at this friend's ready assertion to me of personal attendance at a worship service earlier that morning and wondered if a smile might come to his face if he knew how few corporate worship services I'd taken part in these past few years

136.  I greatly appreciated his transparent admission of entertaining world view quandaries and theological struggles similar to some of mine

137.  and the few moments of empathic conversation.

138.  I returned to photographing the water lilies before hurrying home to dinner with my husband and son and his always lively family.

139.  The intentional "gratitude walk" with camera in hand, had succeeded, as it almost always does, in turning my thoughts to thankfulness to God for the beauty that surrounds me

140.  and for the gifts of a safe community in which to walk

141.  and the awe and inner relaxing and reordering of thoughts that awaits when I step outside.

141.  Thank you, God, for healthy grandsons and a morning at the park staging "zoo animals" for photos

142.  and for missing the small "no swimming" logo on a nearby sign even though I searched for it before allowing

143.  the boys to play in "the river" fountain for many fun-filled minutes

144.  feeling like a community trouble-maker when parents walked past refusing water access to their young'uns

145.  and for those boys' quick obedience to end the water play once I spotted the prohibition...sigh...the threat of litigation spoiling fun once again...

146.  for noisy, tiring, but happy family meals together

147.  where babies can get baths in the kitchen sink

148.  and attentive cousins can get a sink-side tutorial

149.  and hang together when the bath is done.

150.  For generous friends to lay-out and form and family to help pour the footer for the new family house on the old family lot

151.  for the blessing of grand-parenting

152.  and afternoons of working together

153.  while listening to the Rays CLINCH the American League East