Friday, December 12, 2014

Peace on earth

Sometimes the change in mood is a shock. 

He went to bed last night happy, at peace, content.

He woke up quiet, unresponsive, almost sullen.  It's been worse - way, way worse - but worse often starts like this.

So the inner conversation starts up.

Is it a delayed reaction to his favorite hockey team's loss last night (again!)?  Is it nerves about his basketball game today?  Maybe a dream?  a memory?  a worry?  Some trigger of some unknown SOMETHING?  I feel as lost as he does. Stay calm.  He doesn't know how to get out of these things by himself.  Don't make it worse.  

He came to the couch when it was time for school.  That was good, at least. Yesterday, he had huge plans. He told me was going to read the last three stories today, and finish the reading book.  But now?  He clearly wasn't going to be reading aloud anything.

I prayed briefly, then explained a few new words that would be in the story.  No response.

OK, then.

I offered a change, that we could do math.  Less talking, I figured.  A shrug.  A slight shake of the head.

I dared to ask.  "You OK?  I love you.  We can talk about it."


"You read," he muttered.

Think fast.  Talk calmly.  Show kindness.  

I reached for the stack of Christmas books that were our December literature selections.  What to choose?  I grabbed a favorite of mine, a collection of "Little House" Christmas stories.  The older kids loved these books.  Niko has no relationship with them, though.  At least, I know he's seen the TV show.

I read while he sat, silent, slumped to the side, head propped on one fist.  Barely listening.  I paraphrased hard sections, skipped some so it wouldn't be so long, and prayed as I read.

I finished.  I asked nothing of him.  He had nothing to give right then, he just needed to receive.

"We can finish the project," I suggested.  He loves Thursday afternoon art projects.  Yesterday, we did a salt dough map of Lake Superior, to go with our reading of "Paddle to the Sea," a geography book by Holling C. Hollings.

He walked quietly into the kitchen.  I knew I had seconds to get the paint bottle open, to have the last couple of things ready.  He gives up quickly.

He sat down and began to paint.  Blue, blue, blue - all the waves of the largest lake in the world.  Therapy.  Maybe.  He kept at it, absorbed in it.

The kitchen was so very quiet.

Christmas music.  But what kind?  All the music that brings us joy, that prompts our memories, has no meaning to him.  From carols to Charlie Brown to ho ho ho, it's all pretty much the same. 

It came to me.

Steven Curtis Chapman!  Niko likes his music.  He says his name like it's all one - Stevencurtischapman, and he knows that man gave money to help us bring Niko home.  Show Hope - the name fits. 

I put on the album.  It starts with SCC's daughter Shaoey, a former orphan, reading the Christmas story from the Scriptures.  Niko looked up, startled at the little girl voice, then returned to his painting. Ex-orphan, speaking to ex-orphan. The enormity of it startles me, too.

Usually I do the craft with him, but this time it was his map.  What to do to be alongside him, without interfering?  I found a chalkboard sign, wrote Merry Christmas on it.  I  filled a clementine with some cloves. The smell brought no memories to him, but my own heart was pleased by it.

We had made a little model of the canoe that is called "Paddle to the Sea."  Niko started mixing colors for it.  He worked and worked, silently, and found just the right color.

In the background, Steven Curtis was singing. The song was familiar to me, one of my favorite  Christmas carols.  And God was reminding me that He is here, in the quiet kitchen, in Niko's silence, and that He is healing.

"Then in despair, I bowed my head.
There is no peace on earth, I said,
For hate is strong and mocks the song
Of Peace on earth, good will to men.

I heard the bells on Christmas day...

Then pealed the bells  more loud and deep:
God is not dead, nor does He sleep -
The wrong shall fail, the right prevail,
With peace on earth, Goodwill to men."

The painting was finished.  I praised his careful work, his color mixing. "The blue should be lighter,"  he said. "Next time," I tried to reassure.

Morning session was over.  He dribbled a basketball up in the bedroom, the sound reverberating over the house.  There's that game this afternoon, maybe that's it.  Whatever it is, Lord, heal his heart.  Bring peace.  Peace on earth, peace in this house, peace in his heart.

You are, after all, safe to trust. 

Praise Notes

Just praise.  That's all. 

We got to hear our daughter play at her college's student midday.  She's a freshman, and so it was her first time.

When God leads, when He provides, when He showers His love, it's so important to stop and praise. 

So safe to trust...

Tuesday, December 9, 2014


The young woman hurried into the store, out of the rain.  She looked rushed, but happy, as she carried a very large box, covered with a trash bag.  

"I called earlier?"

We chatted for a few minutes, as I got all the instructions.  The box was gift-wrapped, all but the unsealed top.  Extra wrapping paper was inside, along with the envelope.  And in the envelope was the secret news.  Our job was to fill the box with balloons, blue if the sonogram technician's report was for a boy, pink if it was for a girl.  No one knew what the baby would be, other than the technician.  The young woman would be back in an hour to pick up the box, so everything would be ready for her friend's "gender reveal" party.

We waited until the woman drove off before my co-workers and I pulled back the black plastic to open the box.  

I reached in for the envelope, as we all looked expectantly at each other.  Inside the envelope we saw it:  the slip of colored paper to indicate what the baby would be.

We cheered.  

And in my heart, I marveled.  We didn't know the customer. We didn't know anyone in the family. We didn't know the mother, or anything about her - how old she was, whether this baby was her first, if she was married, or would she be able to care for the child.  We were just strangers, celebrating life.  And we would have reacted the same, had the little rectangle of color been pink or blue.  

And I got to thinking.  There was a gender reveal in the Bible, predicted in the ancient books of the Old Testament in several places.  First of all, there was what theologians call the Protoevangelium - the "first Gospel", back in Genesis 3:15 - when the earth was still new, the curse was pronounced, and Adam and Eve were still reeling from what they had done.   There were several others who spoke of the One to come:  David, Zechariah, Micah.  There was the prophecy of Isaiah, about a miraculous conception, and a God who stays with us. 

Centuries later, when the time got close - that "fullness" of time, such a great word to describe an imminent birth - several more were in on the secret.  Mary got the news from a busy angel, who six months before had delivered news to a woman long past her prime.  A warrior angel - telling women the most precious of announcements. Was it Gabriel again, who appeared in a dream to Joseph, letting him in on the greatest event of human history?  The angel of the Lord isn't named, but either way, that was quite a dream. 

And then, when the journey to Bethlehem was complete and the manger was occupied, hosts of angels filled the sky with praise, and a star emerged to light the long way to wise men in a distant land.

It was the news that couldn't be kept - shouldn't be kept - and can't be kept even now.  

Unto us - a Son.

Jesus.  A Savior. 


And so we celebrate - new life, new hope, a baby boy, and more - way more. God is with us....

Friday, December 5, 2014

He has made me glad

Our son Niko (12 years old, with us for a turbulent 3 years, adopted from an orphanage in West Africa) has just been homeschooled since September. His prior schooling in a small nearby Christian school provided some help, but in the end it was mostly a break for our family to have him gone those hours. His teachers were very kind and caring, but understandably unable to deal with Niko's vast issues in a classroom setting.

When things changed abruptly on the first day of school this fall, Niko asked us to homeschool him. That was such a shock, and an answer to prayer. I had just completed 24 years of homeschooling our other three children, with our younger daughter's high school graduation in June.  I had always hoped to homeschool Niko, but I had given up that dream in the early weeks after his arrival.  He barely came to terms with me as his mother; my being his teacher was unimaginable.  So to have him quietly asking me to teach him was something I never dreamed. The sudden need to homeschool him was daunting - and exciting. 

Niko lagged far behind his classmates in school. To be fair, it was not a level playing field. English is Niko's third language after Lingala and French (fourth, if you count a complex hand-gesture code that he had), and his limited understanding impacted everything he did. Beyond that, his horrific time at the orphanage has shaped him in ways I may never fully grasp.

Reading has improved during these three months homeschooling. When he is cooperative, he begins to grasp more phonics and sight words, and he realizes that homeschooling is working for him. But he has a constant battle with his past, and with reconciling it with his present.

Yesterday, he was to read aloud "The Gingerbread Boy" from a reading primer.  I had the lesson planned, and I was looking forward to seeing Niko's progress. 

The morning started, really, the night before - when he was very, very angry at the world, and specifically at me. (The current trigger is hockey, and the frequent losses of his favorite NHL team. But the anger comes from deeper wounds, and hockey is just where it has parked for the moment.) It was ugly, and I kept praying that God would allow me to remember the Scripture, "A soft answer turneth away wrath." I kept reminding myself to listen to the pain, not the hateful words. But I went to bed with a heavy heart - again.

The morning was no better. I prayed to see God's new mercies, and to trust that He would help. 10:00 came - Niko's time to start with me, but he walked past, ready to go outside to play basketball. "Time for our school, Niko." He lashed out again: more anger, more ugliness. I tried to talk to him, but I couldn't reason with him at all. He knew, though, that if there was no school, there would be no watching the hockey game that night. He said he didn't care, that he didn't care about a whole litany of things.  Consequences don't seem to matter to him in moments like that, and I am completely at a loss.

I felt my familiar defeat, that sense that things are not better, that they will stay like this, that there is little hope.  I fought the desire to argue with him, knowing things would just escalate.  Once again, I just didn't know what to do.  All I knew was that I needed some peace. 

I decided to do some housework, to go through the motions of something methodical, so I could think - and offer some praise to God. While I was folding laundry, the only song that came to mind was "He has made me glad," so I sang that quietly to myself. But I have to admit, I wasn't feeling too terribly glad.

About 45 minutes later, Niko came into the living room. "I'm ready for school - but I'm still mad." 

I prayed aloud to start our time, wondering how on earth this would work, and bracing myself for his bad mood. 

I got out the book and showed him where to read. He didn't take the book from me, he just stared ahead. 

"My brain is too mad to read." Fair enough, I thought. So I asked, "Should we do math?" He nodded, his face still very grim. I asked, in all seriousness, "Is your brain too mad for math?"

By God's wonderful grace, that struck him funny. He tried to stay serious, but he couldn't avoid smiling.  "I want to read."  So - he started in, but not until he asked me to 'sit closer, so I could help him.' (Thank You, God!)

With not much help, he read aloud the entire story. It was so comical to have him talk back to the story - to say things like "he should not do that" when the gingerbread boy ran away (what a moment it was to see this fairy tale, this morality tale, teach him a truth....especially when running away is something he's tried several times). He thought the story was interesting, and he was smiling as he read it.

Niko read all through the text: the gingerbread boy was running away from the old man, the old woman, the cat, the dog, the pig, the hen, and finally was approached by the fox. Niko told me, "It should have the...." and he gestured for the line with the period, the exclamation point, as he read with some real expression for the first time. I kept smiling, nodding, and praising every sentence.

And then he read, "You can NOT run away from the fox." His eyes widened as he read the next sentences. " 'I shall eat you.' And he did." 

How he laughed! "Mom!  The fox EAT him!"

Next thing you know, Niko was dribbling the basketball (he's the youngest, and I'm worn down, and yes, I let him do it in the living room), talking away about the story. 

"Mom, it should say 'To be continued'! Maybe he have a family to come to the fox." I just kept chuckling, "Niko, it's a COOKIE!" "Ohhhh! He is in the fox's tummy! He can't be continued!"

He kept dribbling, and talking on and on about this story. "He pass pig, dog, everybody. He did not think about the fox! Fox is very fast." He was so proud of himself. "Mom! I hear myself read faster - like a normal person!"

I pulled out a little whiteboard, and he was spelling some of the words for me, on his own: pig, dog, cat. He remembered and recited some of his favorite sentences, especially "I shall eat you." "Eat" is his favorite word in the world, he never takes eating for granted, from all his times when he went without food.

I kept showing delight (and relief, that this particular storm seemed to have ended), and telling him how well he read, and how well he is spelling. He talked to me as he dribbled - about the other school, how they were nice, but how I am really teaching him to read. 

And then he added, "Now I'm not mad now. All my mad is gone because of that story."

Thank You, God - and yes, an exclamation point should go there! The rest of the day went smoothly, including when we decorated giant gingerbread men (from a kit I got at Walmart. No, I didn't make a batch of gingerbread dough. Did I mention I'm worn down?) And the day was made even better when my husband arrived with a gift for Niko - a hockey stick for him to play indoor hockey at a local church once a week. 

It's truly counter-intuitive to parent this child, it's as though I have thrown out all I've ever done and relied upon. It can feel like I have entered some bizarre kind of opposite world. But what seems like rewarding bad behavior, I think, is really helping him out of a corner of anger he's backed himself into and can't get out of by himself. 

Niko proudly showed his 'art project' to my parents when they came for dinner. And last night - after a string of heartbreaking losses (truly, to Niko - he sulks and is angry for days over it, whether he's watched it or not), the New Jersey Devils won their game. Peace reigns, for now.

The best part, though, was him telling me again at night, "That was a good story, Mom."

Life with Niko means that we have not turned a corner, or that now everything will be OK.  But it does mean that God is with us, He hears our prayers, He is able - and He is safe to trust.  And next time - the next time that I know will come - I will remind myself once again of all of that. 

Wednesday, December 3, 2014

"God is safe to trust."

 It was my friend Ruth Greiner who used to say that. She has been in heaven for over eight years, I think of her often. She lived a life of faith in Jesus, and of trust in God, no matter life's circumstances.

 "God is safe to trust." I think of those words when I see my little granddaughter  - with us, lost to us, then with us again - look with wonder at a Christmas display near my parents' miracle home.

We never dreamed we would have her back - this time for good. We  never dreamed our family would grow in this way, that she would be joined by even more grandchildren.  We never dreamed we would still be forging our family, still seeking and trusting God for each day with our son from far away. We never dreamed our extended family would have a homestead again, after losing what was so precious to us.  And we never dreamed a church like we have now, with love and caring and God's clear hand.

So - God is safe to trust 

I think of those words when I consider all that has happened in my life since I last wrote a blog.  "Liberty and Lily" was a blog I loved, but I had to take it down for a time, due to some legal issues.  I hope to resurrect much of it in the near future.  

But for now, here is my new blog, with a new name:

Safe to trust.