Wednesday, June 24, 2015

Dear Elias {A Birthday Post},

You may not remember that Sunday when you began sobbing in the back of the van on our way to church.

You hadn't yet turned five, but your imagination was huge and six months before you had created this family inside your head and you were convinced that it was with them that you truly belonged.

I had been sitting on the floor when you came up to me, your eyes all bright and your smile so wide and you said, 

Mama? I have another Mama! And I like her better! Than you!

I could only answer by asking what she had done that made her more lovable than the very woman who bore you, and your reply was sure and swift,

Because she gave me a brother.

So six months later on the drive to church across town, as your wailing grew louder and your tears began to pour down your face, I couldn't imagine what was causing such emotional pain in someone so small.

Words began to accompany the crying and I began to understand,

They died!! They died in a fire! Last night my family died!! They are all dead!

I would have laughed, except you were still lamenting as we walked into the building and as you were signed in and passed from my hand to theirs, I had to whisper to the woman leading you to class that this family grieved for actually never existed outside of the heart of a little boy who felt a deep void.

This year has been a hard one for you, I think. Your big eyes take in so much around you, and as brothers come to the doors of Madison House and you watch the way they interact, you are realizing in small ways that they have something that you don't have.

You came up to me today, this last day of being 5 years old and you put your face so close to mine and you whispered,

It would have been better to be a girl.

I didn't understand right away, and I put my nose next to yours and I told you all the really super cool things that come with being a boy, but that wasn't what you were trying to tell me. Instead, you broke through my list and said with a trembling lip,

But if I was a girl, I'd have someone to play with.

Because as much as your sisters will sit down and play cars with you, they don't understand the excitement that comes from the crashing and the racing and the chasing. Well...Liv may, but that's a whole other topic. 

You fall asleep to the sound of your older sisters whispering and giggling in the dark down the hall and there are secrets they share that shut you out. You're still trying to decipher what Zee is babbling at you through the slats in her crib, or why she is screaming incoherently at her blankie all crumpled up on the floor as she determinedly tries to swipe your favorite car and flush it down the toilet. I can almost hear the thoughts building in your head some days...the ones that whisper, a brother wouldn't do that.

Only, he probably would, but you don't know that. All you know is that you are a little brother in a sea of sisters and that's probably a pretty lonely feeling sometimes, no matter how much they love you (Whether they show it or not).

You have been given a daunting task, brave son of mine. One you may not even realize you have. With two older sisters who feel it's their place to be Mamas #2 and 3 after me, you could easily be bowled over by the motherly attention.

In a different church across town tonight, you sit in a row and you sing songs and eat snacks and probably wiggle around more than once. You slipped on your VBS shirt and as you bounded out the door, your sadness was quickly forgotten.

And as I sit here in a quiet house I am realizing that maybe I have been looking at this all wrong.

I reached into the fridge to grab the cream for my coffee as I remembered Paul.  You know the one? The one who started out as Saul? He never had a son. He never had a daughter either, but I think there was something in Paul's heart that longed to be a father to a son. And I truly believe that God knew that longing in Paul's heart and do you know what He did? He brought along Timothy. Timothy who was raised by his Gramma and Mama - two women who loved Jesus more than anything and wanted their little boy to know Him too. A little boy surrounded by Jesus-loving women, but I can't help but wonder if little Timothy didn't long for a Jesus-loving daddy as well.

Maybe it's not a daunting task that you've been given, Elias, but a very intentional void. First, that this void would turn your heart to your Perfect Big Brother - the One who died for you and is preparing a place for you with Him. He loves you Elias, and sometimes He uses what hurts us deeply to show us His tender love in ways that we would never understand without it.

But this longing for a brother? I think it's like Paul's longing for a son, and Timothy's longing for a daddy. I think it made their hearts more tender to the need in each other. I think it opened their eyes to the void that each man carried and they were able to recognize Christ's hand as the One who ultimately filled those empty places. And it makes me wonder, sweet son of mine who carries this want so close to the surface, I think if we kept giving this desire of yours to Jesus, you may be surprised to see how many brothers He brings into your life. So many more than I could ever give you.

Because really, with our track record, you'd probably get a few more sisters out of the deal if we left it up to your Daddy and I.

Six years ago this evening, I remember laying on the floor of our living room, realizing that I would hold you in my arms so very soon. I remember wondering what it would be like to hold a son and be a mama to a little boy. I had no idea, I had only known daughters. You came so quickly in those early morning hours but the moment you were placed against my chest, I knew we were going to do just fine. 

You were named after your Papa and your Daddy, both strong men who have loved Jesus so strongly...but now there is more to your name as I pray over your days - the reminder of a little boy who longed for a daddy who loved Jesus and the amazing God who joyfully filled that desire.

Elias Timothy Tony, may you come to know Jesus as the only One who can ever take the ache you feel and fully satisfy it in Himself, but may you also come to know the joy of sweet answered prayer as He grows your family beyond us and opens your eyes to the breadth of His family and HIs Blood that connects us all.  I can't wait to see your eyes light up as you realize.

You turn 6 in the early morning hours while we are all still under sheets and the sun is just beginning to light the horizon. A Birthday Breakfast Cake will be waiting for you on the table and a car or two waiting to be unwrapped. And my heart will ache and grow just as  little bit more as your small years fade and your bigger years come near, but I will take delight in the son I was given and pray for so much joy to cover your days as you uncover more of Jesus in the dark and light of the seasons ahead.

I love you so, so very much.


Sunday, June 14, 2015

For When the Light Starts Fading

He sits all folded up around himself as he curls up on the grass in the middle of the open field in front of us.

He won't sit up or look up or even respond as different ones bend low beside him, trying to coax him out of himself and that protective wall already building around his small frame.

We are driving away from camp in an hour, and he doesn't want to leave.

We drive up into the mountains this past weekend with 90 other kids and 20 some adults and we get out of the inner city and the noise and the chaos and it's inevitable: When everything familiar is taken away, defenses come down and need comes rushing out.

There is no way to prepare for it, only to know it will come.

The many trips to the nurse's office with exaggerated injuries gives testament to this - it's not the bandage these small hearts need, it's the attention.

They need to know they are seen and heard.

That they matter.

This year, the net was flung wide, past the walls of Madison House and out into the community. The prayer was that many would come to hear and to know that Jesus loves them.

There are stories I can't even comprehend. I hear the words with my ears and I see the faces with my eyes and I can't connect it to reality. There are groups of children literally left to fend for themselves, some as young as 5 and 6 years old.

I look at Elias turning 6 in two weeks, exhausted and just needing his mama, curling up beside me on the chairs and falling asleep in the middle of music and yelling and laughter.  He doesn't even make it until bedtime before he's snoring and in his makeshift bed, he has an accident and he needs help to clean himself up. Tony and his cabin counselor walk him up to his bunk in the dark and I can't imagine him all alone trying to fend for himself.

But this is the reality around us.

Earlier, as the light starts fading, I strap Zee to my back, pass her a cookie and we start hiking up a well worn trail. I know where I am headed and why.

About half way, she starts kicking my sides, she's already yelling about the rushing water. It's a small stream, but to her it's a river and so we stand there together listening to the sound. It's about all I can do to hold it together as the words of that hymn start winding their way in my mind.

When peace like a river attendeth my way.
When sorrows like sea billows roll,
Whatever my lot, Thou hast taught me to say,
"It is well, it is well with my soul".

In the days leading up to this weekend filled with stories of rejection and unwanted children and fractured families, a little one in our church family died in a tragic accident. A little one who was very much wanted and desperately loved.

And there are no words. Juxtaposed against each other, there is no making sense, no comfort, no relief from the pain or the grief of any of it.

The suddenness of it takes me back to our own dark days of unwanted grieving and while my own little one yells about the water and pats my head, I place my feet back on the trail and start climbing up again; I know where I am going.

And it's not the real cross, His blood didn't stain the wood on this tree, but as I round the bend and it comes into view through the trees, I could kneel right there on the sharp rocks and not leave this place.

It's an instrument of such gruesome torture, and yet it pulls me near. 

This life at times feels like a torture of sorts - a never ending wheel of pain.

Is this why the Cross brings comfort?

I stood in the kitchen of Madison House this past week with one of our middle school boys. And there are words still on the wall from Christmas and he was standing there reading them while I was wiping down tables,

Hey, Kimberley! What does that mean? What does it mean that Wise Men still seek Him?

I stand next to him with a dirty rag in my hand and he asks me if people are still actually looking for Jesus, if they can actually find where He lives here in this world.

Zee is trying to slam a door somewhere as we talk about Jesus and what it means to seek after Him, as I feel inadequate with all of his big questions, but knowing that the wisest thing I can do is to point this boy who is more young man back to Christ. 

So this is what I do this weekend, when my heart is aching because of all of this pain, I go to the place that reminds me of all of our sin and pain Jesus took on.

There is a verse in 1 Peter that I have been praying over our own family this year,
He Himself bore our sins in His body on the tree,
 that we might die to sin and live to righteousness. 
By His wounds you have been healed.

I don't think the Cross makes sense of our suffering - there are situations and pain that go beyond words and that our minds will never be able to wrap around. But there is the pain that Jesus went through that brings healing and comfort to our own unbearable wounds, that takes the depth of our sin and utterly forgives it. That takes the ugliness of horror and somehow opens our eyes to His beauty in middle of the unthinkable.

Tony and I had to leave a little early from the camp to meet waiting parents and set up for our arriving kids, but as we were walking away I saw that small boy curled up still on the grass, still not wanting to go home. His situation still unchanged. But he wasn't alone. Sitting beside him was the tall frame of his counselor, leaning into the pain of the situation with him.

And I think back to the conversation in the kitchen this week, the voice of that young man asking me if people still look for Jesus where He lives today. And the truth becomes crystal clear as the dirt flies up behind our van - 

When our pain encounters the horrific beauty of the cross and our lives become His own, He lives in the very spaces we are. He comes near in all our situations because He is already here. Emmanuel isn't just for the beauty of Christmas, He is with us in everything we face as we sit with one another in sorrow and in joy.

The stars peeked out in the spaces between the tall trees last night, Zee lifting her finger to point at the outline of the Big Dipper dipping precariously in the wrong direction - light boldly shining, not allowing the darkness to take over...