Uneven Fields

photo credit: PhillipJackson via photopin cc

photo credit: PhillipJackson via photopin cc

The middle one told me about recess one day, how they play soccer between a few trees and on uneven ground. Kids are good like that, making fields in the midst of a mess. A stadium from a few sticks and woodchips.

They run their little hearts out from start to finish, sucking the marrow out of each precious second of a too-short recess in a too-long day.

He also told me about the teams. They’re unfair. You see, kids–even young ones–have leaders and followers. And this particular group of leaders (like playgrounds the world over, I’m sure) divide the teams. Into unfair ones, mostly. The talented kids band together. The lesser ones form a team by default.

We’ve dealt with this issue all year with the older boy and football at recess. They do the same thing even as they get older, wiser. They do not divide into what is reasonable or fair. The strong clasp hands with the strong. The weaker ones feel happy just to be included. Our older boy deals with this from the perspective of the disadvantaged team. They always lose. Always. There’s no chance for a different outcome.

With the middle boy, it’s a different story. He’s on the stacked team. The leaders put him there. When I talked to him about it, how it wasn’t a fairly matched game, he agreed. “But they don’t listen to me, Mom.”

I shook my head and struggled. There are some playground lessons you have to let them figure out on their own. But there are others, othersthat seem to scream with a lesson. Grab this moment, it yells, and teach.

Just because they won’t listen, I said, does not mean that it’s right. He nodded.

And then I lowered my voice to a whisper and he leaned in close. I told him about teams and imbalance and how the brother he looks up to in so many ways, faces that stacked team EVERY DAY. From the wrong side. And it feels terrible.

His eyes, wide. They were already open to something not feeling right. But they were opened to the humanity of it in the form of his brother. At that moment, I think he realized recess was filled not just with random kids but with brothers and sisters as well.

He looked at me. I looked at him. But I was stumped. I honestly don’t know how you can fix this, I said. This teacher–his mama–was out of answers.

With confidence, he looked at me. The boy, the student said, “Well, I can always just play for the other team.”

It was at that moment in my kitchen, amidst crumbs on the table and laundry piled high, that I felt pure awe. The boy. In front of me. Acting like Jesus.

Sacrifice. Service. In the form of a simple soccer game on an uneven field.

I hadn’t even thought about that, I exclaimed. That’s brilliant! You could play for the other team–give them a chance. Be a champion. Make waves!

He shrugged his shoulders as if it were no big thing, sacrificing a sure win for the sake of these kids. I grinned at him and told him it was a darn big thing.

A darn big thing.

So he came home the next day–lots to say about plenty. He finally got around to talking about the game and I waited, anxious, to hear about whether he had made waves.

He had.

They were incredulous that he would want to switch teams. We’ll win so easily if you stay, they had cried. He shrugged his shoulders–it’s not fair, he had said. And that’s that.

He played goalie for the other team and he blocked that goal with his whole heart.

What happened, what happened? I begged. Oh, please, God, let this story end well.

“We tied.”

You tied! You helped them tie the game?!

“We didn’t win but at least we tied.” Something that has never happened. Ever.

We shared high fives and I told him I was proud. The boy did something great, in a long lifetime of choices between doing the right thing and doing the easy, feel-good thing.

It was only a simple game of soccer, yes. But it was a sacrifice left on an uneven altar that God honors.

Swim, Baby, Swim

photo credit: Vegas ER via photopin cc

photo credit: Vegas ER via photopin cc

I vividly recall hiding behind the trees where Bigs couldn’t see me.  Only he wasn’t Bigs at the time. He was Smalls and I was holding Smaller in my arms. We were both attempting to reach a milestone. He was trying to learn to swim (or otherwise known as “Mom forcing the equivalent of waterboarding on her unsuspecting toddler”) and I was clumsily attempting to step back. No one felt good in this situation (except the baby in my arms who thought it was extremely exciting to be hiding in the bushes). I occasionally caught glimpses of the boy, hysterical, and anyone within a mile and a half could’ve heard him sobbing. My heart was doing cannonballs and jackknives into my stomach, only without the satisfying splash–just the free fall.

I remember it taking every ounce of my being to keep from swooping in and carrying him home.  I visualized a gang of invisible mommy warriors, holding my arms as if I were about to start a fight in an alleyway. Cool off, sister, I imagined them saying. So I stepped back, determined to beat down the tears that were wreaking havoc in my throat, and watched as my son battled one of his biggest fears. He couldn’t swim. And not only could he not swim but he feared it as I fear dancing in public or stepping on worms in the rain. I mean, fear with a capital F.

The water was as much the stormy Aegean to this boy as it was a balmy 90 degree private pool.  The beautiful surroundings meant nothing to him other than it was a place where he had no control, no choice and no mother to protect him.  As my child dipped underwater with his teacher time and time again, I could only pray that he would quickly make it through what I knew was one of the hardest things he’d had to tackle in his short life.  Who knew swimming lessons would be so hard? For both of us.

It’s a strange feeling to watch your child as they’re trying to hurdle one of life’s major milestones.  As you sit on the sidelines, your heart and your brain battle back and forth as to how you might react.  On one shoulder, your brain.  The proverbial smartypants.  This is the part of you that keeps you sane yet humble.  It convinces you that you’re doing the right thing by letting your child grow up and fight his own personal battles.  It’s also the part that makes you feel a little stupid for getting emotional at a swimming pool—face first in the bushes, no less.  On the other shoulder, your heart.  That old softie.  Equal parts raw nerves and fierce, mama bear instinct.  The heart is the one that wants to cry for the struggle your child’s going through while at the same time obliterating any animal/vegetable/mineral that makes him suffer.  A very confusing set of shoulders us mothers have.

The music of the swim instructor’s voice was like an undercurrent, slowly swirling around my boy. “I will keep you safe.  I will not let go of you.  Look at me and listen.  I will not let you go.”  While he struggled in the water, crying uncontrollably, he could not hear what she was saying.  He felt like he was sinking.  But she persevered, the music continued.  She finally broke through the fear and helped him understand the importance of listening to the one who was holding him safely in the palms of her hands.

Peter saw Jesus walking on the water.  “Jumping out of the boat, Peter walked on the water to Jesus. But when he looked down at the waves churning beneath his feet, he lost his nerve and started to sink. He cried, ‘Master, save me!’  Jesus didn’t hesitate.  He reached down and grabbed his hand.”  An amazing comfort in the midst of a storm. And He doesn’t even charge in half hour increments.

I recognized that Bigs and his major milestone struggles were only beginning.  Swimming was first.  Elementary school.  Riding the bus, riding a bike. Strengthening his gifts. Accepting his weaknesses.  Saying no.  Saying yes.  Finding his calling.  Finding his soul mate.  What about my own list?

I have my own swim lessons to take right about now. This writing, this soul-baring. The only reason I can pour my heart and soul into it is because He has poured His into me.  I may struggle but I know that I am in the grip of God.

Amazingly, once the boy hit lesson number three, he was swimming. It closely resembled my childhood dog, Murphy, sneaking a dip in the lake, but it was swimming nonetheless.  Instead of tears, pool water streaked his face. A huge step on the road of life’s many, many obstacles.  One milestone down, a million, four hundred to go. He was swimming, baby. I’d like to say that I am, too.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Leap On, Soul Sister

photo credit: Camdiluv ♥ via photopin cc

photo credit: Camdiluv ♥ via photopin cc

Very few people read my post last week about my boots. If blog posts were measured in terms of sound, this one would’ve registered off-the-charts crickets. And that’s ok. I wrote it because I had to. I felt an overwhelming sense that I had blown it when God asked me to do something. It was one of those experiences when you hope your failure encourages someone else so they don’t feel so alone. Or like a mess. Or at least that they don’t feel so alone in their mess.

I kind of bummed my way through last week. Nothing was wrong but I just felt heavy. I looked around, wondering if I was going to say “no” to God with other things–things that were more important than silly polka dot boots. Wondering what He was going to ask of me and how I might just panic again.

But nothing happened. As we went into another store that week, I told my mom (joking on the outside but serious as a heart attack on the inside) that I wondered what God was going to ask me to give away this time. I felt relief when she told me to come find her if I felt compelled to give away any other articles of clothing and she’d be there to back me up. So, off I went, and I was not beckoned to share anything. For that, I was grateful.

I also heard from my wonderful mother-in-law and a dear friend in Buffalo and a friend from church. A few good people shared their similar experiences–both failures in obedience and some successes. I felt lighter. We really are never alone on this journey, are we?

And on Sunday morning, I woke up to these words from one of my soul sisters:

I wanted to say that I read your post about the boots the other day. We sang a song at small group fellowship that made me think of you and your boots: (from Oh How He Loves Us“We are His portion and He is our prize, Drawn to redemption by the grace in His eyes, If His grace was an ocean, we’re all sinking. And Heaven meets earth like an unforeseen kiss, And my heart turns violently inside my chest, I don’t have time to maintain these regrets, When I think about the way He Loves us.” It just struck me how sometimes the lesson of opportunity lost is more powerful than the actual action. Anyway–I wanted to speak freedom and grace inside His love and care into you.

Oh, how much those words meant to me. A little more of the heaviness lifted.

I then looked back at the week, meditating on how much “nothing” had happened since the boot incident. I realized “nothing” was not an accurate description at all. My team met with our foster care partners for our church ministry and put dates on the calendar to begin the journey. My husband and I marked in our own personal calendars when we were going to train to become foster parents ourselves. We continued talks on expanding our family and how we both felt God calling us to parent more than just our three. Nothing? No, no. Everything.

In terms of taking leaps of faith, I did blow it with the boots. I’m probably going to do it a hundred times more. But I’m not going to blow it with caring for the fatherless. In fact, I’m already mid-leap and I’m not alone.

Amazingly, it doesn’t feel heavy or sad or scary. It feels glorious, like flying.