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12 December 2018

2 years

Everyone experiences grief differently, not a right way or a wrong way, but differently. I suppose we all have ideas of what grief should look like, or will look like, but the truth is, we don't know how we will respond until it happens.

Two years ago on this day, my first grandson died. We lived our worst nightmare that first month. The first year continued to be hard, all the firsts without Harper- Christmas and birthdays and Mother's Day and vacations. But I guess that maybe I thought after that first year it would get easier.

I didn't anticipate that, really, it doesn't get easier. Not really. There will always and forever be a hole in our family. Last month, I sent Advent calendars to my grands, and I had to rip up a card, and then an envelope, when without even thinking, I wrote Harper's name on both. I do that all the time when naming my grands. I never really know what to say when asked how many grandkids I have. I have four, but not everyone knows how to respond when you mention, "but my oldest died." This year, my second grandson turned the same age of his brother, and all of the sudden I realized, "He's going to start doing things that Harper never did..." And such begins a different season of grief.

On this day, I'm a little bit short of breath, remembering my guy. But I want to make sure, I do not grieve as those without hope.  In response to a grieving mother, John Piper wrote about honoring God even in our sorrow, that "at every moment of the lengthening grief, we turn to him, not away from him. And therefore, the length of it is a way of showing him to be ever present, enduringly sufficient."
This I know to be true. 

I think that perhaps, most of all, we want to believe that the loss of our dear one was not in vain. Harper died of a heart condition that was not discovered. But his death gave opportunity for all the kids of the family to be checked for the same abnormality. And so, although we mourn, we were also comforted when Harper's younger cousin was found to have the same heart condition, and had it corrected by surgery. In a strange way, our loss perhaps saved a little one and for that, we rejoice.

But more than anything else, I trust the sovereign God, and respond with the saints of old who when asked "What is thy only comfort in life and in death?" respond, 
"That I, with body and soul, both in life and in death, am not my own, but belong to my faithful Savior Jesus Christ, who with His precious blood has fully satisfied for all my sins, and redeemed me from all the power of the devil; and so preserves me, that without the will of my Father in heaven not a hair can fall from my head; yea, that all things must work together for my salvation. Wherefore, by His Holy Spirit, He also assures me of eternal life, and makes me heartily willing and ready henceforth to live unto Him."
Even still, miss you much, Harper buddy.
 

04 December 2018

"Hey! Unto you a child is born!"

“The Herdmans were absolutely the worst kids in the history of the world. They lied and stole and smoked cigars (even the girls) and talked dirty and hit little kids and cussed their teachers and took the name of the Lord in vain and set fire to Fred Shoemaker’s old broken-down toolhouse.”
Barbara Robinson, The Best Christmas Pageant Ever

No one with the name Herdman will be found in our Mexican neighborhood, but I'm pretty sure that we know their primos. I'm pretty sure that Herdman cousins show up to our community outreach activities every week. I mean, there was Monday night...

There were the big boys, the teens, who come to practice guitar and hang out and then play soccer and torment be with the rest of us. They roam in a pack, rarely still, never quiet. In the two hours they were with us, they managed to crush one ping-pong ball, accidentally pound my teammate in the face with a soccer ball, escape and return, again and again, and again, to bible class, and marginally participate in art class. One boy, who we always think should know better, finished the evening by de-pants-ing (is that a word for anyone except those who work with boys?) another one of their crowd,  and then the whole herd found themselves kicked out dismissed early. 

There were the littles, the under 5 crowd, who come in full of smiles and hugs, who need the sticky candy and hot Cheeto residue washed off their hands before they touch anyone or anything. They take a try at ping-pong and manage to hit the ball everywhere but on the table. They work puzzles on the floor and force grooves that don't fit together and sling the giant pieces across the room when they don't match. One girl tries to build a tower and yells in frustration when the boy plays Godzilla, stomping through the block city and destroying her skyscraper in progress. They color Christmas tree pages in bright primary colors, branches of orange and yellow and red, and look up at us and ask, "Isn't it beautiful? Isn't it pretty? Do you like it?" Yes, yes we do, you little Picasso Modernists.

There were the girls. There is the one who has been with us since the beginning, who as she walks through the gate looks at me and shouts, "WHY? Kristy! Why did you cut your hair?!," obviously not impressed with my new do. There is the young teen who comes in with a hood over her head and when greeted offers a hug and a shy smile but who obviously is hurting. She won't talk; she won't answer why. She nods at a "headache?" but we're pretty sure that wasn't it. She won't stay seated in class to save her life. She leaves the room, multiple times, silently asking us to find her. And then when class is over and she finally has permission to leave, she comes back. There's the elementary student who comes in late and when everyone else has left, tells my teammate that she hates school, that the teacher doesn't like her, that the kids don't like her, that it's not worth it to go.

In The Best Christmas Pageant Ever, the Herdman kids learn the Christmas story and help the rest of the community to see it with brand new eyes. I think we are much the same. In this neighborhood, Christmas isn't about Santa, though in bright lights he is flying high over the carnecería next door. Only a few of these kids will have a tree in their house. They aren't making lists and checking them twice. In the book, Imogene Herdman plays Mary in the church play, and burps baby Jesus because, “That’s the whole point of Jesus — that he didn’t come down on a cloud like something out of “Amazing Comics,’ but that he was born and lived … a real person.”  The Christmas story doesn't change these messy stories, doesn't change our chaotic evening at the community center, at least not today. But it does change eternity. Jesus was born and lived, a real person!, and he also died for us and lives again for us- that's the hope that is our consolation and our assurance and the motivation that propels us forward, even on the most challenging of days.  The Herdman kid who plays the Angel of the Lord in the play yells out, “Hey! Unto you a child is born" and his sister responds with "Shazaaaam!" 
So do we. 

02 December 2018

DPP 1- It's not yet time

(December Photo Project day 1)

The first of December seems like a good day to decorate for Christmas. I pull out the box of last year's decorations from the bottom shelf. I take the tree off the top of the refrigerator, its home for the last 11 months, and dust it off. I remove the string of lights from my headboard. The Pumpkin Vanilla candle and orange plaid runner and "Give Thanks" sign move to the back of the wardrobe. Evergreen moves in. Well, plastic evergreen; truly, ever green.

I spread out the festive red runner and slide  together the balsa reindeer. I wind the lights around the branches of the little tree. I hang the tiny bulbs with care. I set out the miniature tin nativity scene. I even hang up a few red and green prints over the couch. I turn on the star lights that have been dangling since last year. It all takes about 5 minutes. It looks like we are ready.

But today is but the first day of December. It's not yet time. Advent reminds us of the waiting. John writes at the beginning of his gospel, "The Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth... For from his fullness we have all received, grace upon grace."  (John 1:14, 16 ESV) And I believe those truths with all my heart. But I am prone to distraction, prone to forget. My prayer this Advent season is to look again, to remember and to experience that fullness, to recognize that grace upon grace.

(also- this is my ninth year to participate in the December Photo Project, a picture a day until Christmas! Join the fun?)

25 September 2018

264/365

My grandpa kept his earthworms in a tin bucket in a dark corner of the garage. My sister and I, we would dig just a little bit beneath the surface and they would start to show themselves, wiggly in the musty peat. He was the first fisherman I knew, my grandpa. He would sit patiently on the banks of New Mexico lakes or wave his fly rod in a slow and rhythmic wave in the middle of cold mountain streams. But as much as he loved his granddaughters, he didn't have much tolerance for us fishing with him. We chattered way too much. We churned up the waters and wasted bait and asked for lunch when breakfast was hardly over. I haven't been fishing in years.

Even so, when the conversation with our neighborhood boys turned to fishing not too long ago, I was all in. "What do you use for bait?" asked Mario. "Sometimes we grab cockroaches and use them." Eek. OK, well maybe I was mostly in. Without doubt, this would be an new adventure for all of us. 

The boys meet us on Friday afternoon, eagerly early, and load up in the van, ready to go. My teammates scrounge up all the rods they have between them and buy the cheapest fish at the grocery for bait. We ladies supply the people food. We load a cooler of water in the back of the van. Seven boys and 6 adults, ready to roll.

We head north out of the neighborhood. Remember, north from our location pretty much takes you directly to the the US/Mexico border, directly to the river. 
"Derecho." our 15 year old guide directs us.
"Derecho."
"Derecho."
"Derecho."
Following the road, straight ahead, straight ahead, straight ahead, we pass a family on the side, walking home from school. Bright green and shrubby growth lines the steep bank of the Rio Bravo (Americans know it as the Rio Grande, but we are on the Mexican side so...). The United States lies just a good stone's throw to the right. Farther down the unpaved dirt road, we pass a brick factory, rectangle mud blocks drying under the hot border sun. We drive past all kinds of abandoned shacks and run-down houses and some inhabited ones, too. Who knew people live all the way out here? Finally, the van dips and curves and comes to a stop in an open field when we absolutely can drive no farther. 

A tethered horse lifts his head as if to check us out, but quickly gets back to grazing. Over the course of the afternoon, we also meet a family of pigs, wallowing and snorting in the mud at the edge of the river. A couple of cows wander by. A herd of goats trot through on their way home at the end of the day. 

The boys string their rods, bait their hooks, and wait. I'm pretty sure that my grandpa would have banned several of them, they way a couple splash and shout. Although the boys tried earnestly, they didn't catch one fish on this afternoon. One boy did hook two turtles, releasing each to scurry back into the water in a hurry. Several times, lines got snagged and caught on river debris and had to be cut and set free. Eventually, one boy went back to his fishing tool of choice, an old empty brown beer bottle wrapped with line, a spark plug tied on for a weight. 

And then, after a longer time than we expected, we caught the attention of the US Border Patrol. We figure we are being watched, and finally spot a camera on a tall pole set back from the river's edge. We see one vehicle and then another pull up on the bank across the water. We watch them as, through binoculars, they watch us. We amuse ourselves, wondering what they might make of this crew, a few gringo and Mexican adults sitting in the sand, a few Mexican boys fishing. I mourn that we live in a place where goofy boys can't go fishing and swim in the river without being watched by officials on the other side.

We scarf down tortas, crusty rolls dusted with flour and stuffed with beans and ham and cheese and avocado, while continually waving away the ever increasing number of flies. The boys start the afternoon mostly dry, but eventually succumb to the heat and to the call of the cool water. They dive and splash until we call it a day and pile back in the van for the return trip home. 

Really, I'm still the impatient and restless girl that my grandpa hesitated to take along on his fishing trips. Nonetheless, just as I knew with absolutely certainty from my grandpa, I abide in the deep love of my heavenly Father. I'm trusting Jesus. I remember back at the beginning of his earthly ministry, we are told about a time that Jesus met some young men fishing. Scripture tells us, 
Jesus said to them, “Come with me. I’ll make a new kind of fisherman out of you. I’ll show you how to catch men and women instead of perch and bass.” They didn’t ask questions, but simply dropped their nets and followed." (Matt 4:18-20, The Message)
We're praying that he's making new fishermen out of these boys, too.



17 September 2018

254/365

They come through our gate nearly every time the community center opens, a sister and brother with slight builds and dark hair and big brown eyes. You know when they arrive. They tend to be loud and proud. The little guy's pitch is higher than the Muppet Elmo. I confess, sometimes we ask him to repeat himself just so we can listen to him and then smile. Sometimes the middle brother comes along with them too, or one of several cousins, a couple of whom have names so similar that only a single vowel makes them different.

We started to know them and learn bits of their story about a year ago. Their dad died, probably the victim of a lifetime of hard circumstance compounded by poor choices. Sometimes it seems as we grieve his loss more than the kids do, these kids who have known loss after loss and keep on living life very matter of factly. They live in a small house a couple of blocks over from us, though their address has changed at least a couple times since we've known them. We're never quite sure what family members will be in their home when we walk them back in the evenings. Right now, they are all in school and seem to enjoy it. But, we are all too aware that could change on any given day.

These kids, they have few secrets. We're pretty sure that they say whatever crosses their mind. During Vacation Bible School, the cooking activities thrilled the youngest boy. He took a bite of his fruit tart and exclaimed, "¡Es deliciOSO!" The pendulum swung dramatically by the end of that same week, when he sobbed, nearly inconsolable, over a misplaced and then lost bottle of bubbles. The oldest, her expressions leave nothing hidden. Broad hand motions nearly always accompany her words, almost like a miniature conductor directing her own private orchestra. On this day during art class, obviously unimpressed by the origami project that is not going well at all, she singsongs cheerfully, "Aburrida, aburrida, estoy muy aburrida..." ("Bored, bored, I am very bored..."). I roll my eyes and laugh knowingly, and yet try to salvage the activity before the poorly folded boats shipwreck completely.

But at the end of that same class, this same very distracted girl grabs a piece of the square paper and the black sharpie pen we are using to make eyes on folded fish. Out of the corner of my own eye, I see her scribbling. I figure at least she's managing to entertain herself for the last few minutes instead of distracting the others. After a minute, she hollers my name and holds out the now folded paper. I take it and open it, and find the sweet note pictured above.
"Thank you for being so nice to me I love you much Kristin"
(note- in your mind, be sure to say "Kris-teeeen," with so much eeeee that you don't really hear the n...)
What?! A thank you note?! I really appreciate that unexpected token. I look my young friend in the eye and thank her and give her a hug.

But then her brother, seeing what just happened, he wants to write something too. The oldest of the two grabs my note and starts scratching out his own, copying his sister's words the same, one by one except for changing the name at the end to include one of my teammates. The youngest brother, he's in first grade and though he sings out the vowels with zeal, he's not really up to writing a full letter on his own, not quite yet. Determined not to be left out, he instructs me to write out his words. He dictates,
Te quiero mucho. ¡Doy gracias! (He said that part Very Enthusiastically so I added the exclamation points.) Kim Ashley (his intended recipients)
"I love you so much. I am thankful! Kim Ashley"
He grabs the work almost before I dot the final "i" and shoves it at my friend and runs out of the room, already late to the next class.

Really, the class this day was something of a fail- I struggled with the origami and the kids struggled with the origami and there was not one bell, not one whistle, to make this day memorable or especially note-worthy. Even so, these kids must see something worthwhile in their time with us, enough to leave us with handwritten reminders. I think about resilience, about the grace that allows these young ones living in the midst of what some would consider chaos and hardship to still understand and express love. I think about how much grace we've been shown in our own lives, despite our impatience and all manner of sin, and I'm humbled. I think today maybe the teacher became the student.

11 September 2018

251/365

Simple Saturday gratitude-

"Then you will know that I am the Lord.
    Those who trust in me will never be put to shame.” (Isaiah 49:23 NLT)

"...the real display of faith is when we trust God's character even when we don't understand his responses or timing." (Carolyn McCulley)

Hot mug, quiet desk.
Comfort apple cinnamon oatmeal.

The satisfaction of a steaming bucket and clean floors.

An entire day with no where to be.

Blue skies and puffy clouds and the bright rays of sun.

“As she read, at peace with the world and happy as only a little girl could be with a fine book and a little bowl of candy, and all alone in the house, the leaf shadows shifted and the afternoon passed. ” (Betty Smith, A Tree Grows in Brooklyn)

An afternoon on the couch and college football on the screen 
(even in a loss...).

Date night.

Making a dent in a pint.




08 September 2018

248/365

We set out, cards in hand, to give out invitations. We're beginning an outreach specifically for girls in our neighborhood, those from 12 to 18 years old. Our hope is to gather weekly and share an activity and some purposeful conversation and some food and some fun and maybe even some transparency, one with another. It's a new thing.

It takes only a few steps to remember that we are not in American suburbia. We comment cheerfully that the street is finally dry. After all, just a week or so ago, green waters lapped the sidewalks, the deep where two streets intersect. A product of bad drainage and a pump project gone bad, the pond had been a fixture since the beginning of the year. Now finally, all that remained is dusty dry mud tracks, petrified dune bumpers on the edges of the road.

As we pass by, my landlord calls us over cheerfully. Chickens peck around his driveway and a couple of dogs and cats lounge lazy in the heat. His birthday is coming up and preparations for the annual celebration have begun. His family is slaughtering a pig to be roasted, and he invites us up the driveway to see. We congratulate him on another year, but cheerfully decline a closer look at tomorrow's dinner.

We turn the corner and see flashing lights at the end of the street, probably an ambulance. We're not the only ones wondering what is happening- lots of neighbors have come out to gaze and guess. We talk to some boys we haven't seen in a while, and exchange the traditional handshake fist bump, reminding them of our weekly community center activities. We greet the parents of one of our girls and leave an invitation. We see her eyes in her dad and her smile on her mom and her face in miniature in her as her little sister peeks up at us.

We go to a corner store, the workplace of a mom of one of our girls. The store owner and my teammate exchange compliments on each other's clothing and we laugh. We learn our girl has moved, and backtrack in search of her. We find her at home a couple of blocks away, in a house without glass in the windows, one some might think abandoned. She greets us with a smile and hurries to change her clothes and put on shoes and join our merry band. We cross the street to meet a neighbor and extend an invitation to two more girls.

The search continues. We walk down streets and look for girls along the way. We give invitations to two girls on their way out of the house. We step into a nearby papelería, lotería cards and wrapping paper hanging from the walls. We crowd through the doorway and lean across a glass-topped case, and leave another invitation with the mom behind the counter.  

We stop at the house of another friend, and find her grandma sitting out front. A family member opens the gate for us and extends a hand and a hello. We greet grandma with a handshake and a kiss on the cheek and ask about her grandkids. She promises to give our invitation to her teen.

We walk towards our young friend's house again. "I like going with you all," she tells us. "Everyone smiles and is nice to you." We laugh, because really it is true. We have no concerns as we walk up and down our streets amongst our neighbors. And yet, I also sigh, because I know that if she weren't with us, the situation would be much different. We have seen how some men look at these girls. All of our kids know stories about violence. We have heard from them threats of robbery and of kidnapping.

We know that our God has been here from the beginning of time, and He is yet bringing light into darkness in this very place.
Be alert, be present. I’m about to do something brand-new.    It’s bursting out! Don’t you see it? (Isaiah 43:19)
Yes, yes we do.