5.13.2016

He Called Me His Own


I wrote this up around two years ago and it's been on a merry go round of events since then; portioned out and put back together, accepted and rejected, first here and then there. I've finally caught on that its rightful place is here, which, now that I'm putting the finishing touches on, seems painfully obvious. Anyway, this is my story. Well, a part of it. A part that many are probably not comfortably familiar with because its not one I tend to make well known. When an idea relentleessy pursues you at every corner though, what can you do but throw up hands in obedience and offer it in trembling faith, right? 

So I hold it out to you, the fathers and the daughters (your relationship is so important), the adopters and adoptees, the stepparents and stepchildren, the lost, the hurting, the hopeful. Everyone really. May the true facts that everyone, everyone, can have hope, that heros do exist, and that the goodness of God will always be more powerful than the darkest evil be like a tear in gloomy skies that offers one of those glimipses of the star studded glory beyond it.




The incessant buzzing of my cellphone cuts through melodious strains of Gershwin and supper prep, finally catching my attention. Setting my knife aside momentarily, I prop the phone awkwardly between shoulder and ear.
"Hello?"
"Hello, Santa Maria Police Department. Is Carissa at home? We have a warrant out for her arrest."
"Um, you must be mistaking me for my Dad because, I mean, his humor is absolutely criminal."
His belly-busting laugh nearly bursts my speaker as I grinningly switch ears and resume chopping vegetables.
"How are ya, Dad?"
"Oh I'm not too bad, sweetheart, how are you?"...

The joke always changes from call to call - the police department, the telephone company, the bank. They're all kind of dumb but also endearingly his in such a way that sends a glad surge of warming humor into the iciest of hearts. And lives, mine in particular. Come to think of it, I suppose that's what he's been doing for me in general from our beginning.

________


He found us at a low point, my Dad. I was just a tiny bundle then, fairly new and wholly fatherless. My mom was on her feet but still reeling from both my arrival and finding herself faced with the lonely duo of just us - my biological Dad being stuck in a terribly nasty rut of life at the time. I don't know the specifics of how exactly things started out; something about old flames, mutual friends, and diaper runs, I think. What I do know is that he bounded into our lives with his expansive enthusiasm, more than filling the space of love and stability vacant to us.

Over the months that followed, he won the cautiously approving eye of family while baby-proofing my great grands home and hopping into my playpen when I was left to my own devices. And whether witnessing my firsts or sneaking forbidden sweets, he found a way to cradle my heart like his own. "I'm still not wholly sure who he was more in love with when he married me," my mom will still laughingly recall, but that statement is always backed by a warm grin in his direction that I pretend to ignore. He sweetened life in surprising and quiet ways while mom and I tried to pick up and jam together the broken pieces of our life. And when the time was right and our horizon streaked crimson with lonely surrender, he offered us a new life altogether.

My first word was Daddy and it was with eyes fixed expectantly on him.

________


The pan sizzles with the contents of my chopping board as I gently slide it all in.

"So how are the babies?"
"Oh, mischievous and curious as usual. Plucking my latest blooms in the yard for doll soup and then reciting scripture at me in the very next moment. So, good, I suppose."
"Ahh sounds like you're getting dished your own medicine."

We both chuckle over this - I in recalling the events of the day and he in memories. I admit I've always marvelled a bit, from the first night of sleep deprivation to the aforementioned doll soup, that Dad willingly took it all on. At times, parenthood seems such a dauntingly uncharted territory for the ones who expectantly step into it, yet he Louis and Clark'ed it for someone who wasn't even biologically his.

________


I definitely had a troublemaking streak growing up. I tended to be the one who tickled siblings during family devotions, forcing loud guffaws and feigning ignorance. Often enough I could be found proposing terribly exciting experiments like spraying unassuming solicitors through cracks in a fence with a garden hose. I'm pretty sure I once talked one of my brothers into stuffing rocks into his ears, and then humbly denied any collaboration when he started pushing them up his nose as well. But for all my trouble making and attention seeking tactics perfected over the years, I don't remember much irritation or discouragement from my Dad.

I do remember watching from behind window curtains while he had a serious chat with a six year old neighbor boy who had attempted to kiss me one too many times. I remember him piling us in the back of his latest VW project and hauling off at top speed to lavish us with multicolored Mexican pastries. I remember the annual father's day camping trips and the extra bag of marshmallows he would break out to snowball us and every other child in near proximity with. I remember his honest opinions over the the colored bands on my braces and the last time he tried to buy me shoes - the green vans with pink frogs that horrified me so. I remember the way his shoulders collapsed a bit but his head stayed high when I waved a last goodbye from the boarding gate to a plane bound for southeast Asia. I remember him sitting off to the side of my little speaking gigs, head cocked slightly and expressionless thoughts playing at the corners of his lips as I nervously spouted words from my notes. I remember the proud grin that wrinkled into his eyes when I showed him a small stack of college acceptance letters and attempted long speeches on the benefits of sponsoring my education. . . .

In particular, though, I remember this pivotal moment a few weeks before my tenth birthday. Sitting in traffic, our van brimming with uncertainty as Mom weakly waved a hand at our questions about what Multiple Sclerosis was. Dad, grimly clutching the steering wheel and trying to hide the tears that unbiddingly trickled down sun hardened cheeks.

It was the first time I remember ever seeing him cry.

________


I slap a lid over our simmering supper, barely remembering to lower the heat before kissing a few owies and attending to a potty run or two. Dad chats patiently on the other side of the line, interjecting humorous sarcasm and monologuing about this and that as the evening business unfolds. I'm silently appreciative of his understanding as I finally turn to the table with a handful of napkins and a carefully balanced stack of dishes.

"So how are you feeling these days?"
"Oh you know, tired. My powerchair is at the shop again."
"What'd you do this time, run it over the railroad ties or across a field?"
"Fell in a ditch. The Fire department got me out."
"They always do. Pretty sure you're their only consistent source of excitement."
"I do what I can. Hey, if I can ever interest you in buying my MS, I'll sell it to you at a good price."
"I'm afraid I'll have to pass this time."
"Mmm, yeah, I figured."

There's a momentary pause before he launches into an account of an encounter with a friend the previous day. I listen quietly as my fingers deftly fold and pat napkins into neat rectangles. I've never pitied Dad for his disease. On the contrary, over time it made him stronger and wiser in my eyes. But I won't deny that having family dynamics drastically change and watching him struggle through the inevitable deterioration of his body once haunted us with heavy chords of brokenness beyond repair.

________


Those first few years after the diagnosis were hard, really hard. I'm not sure anyone, ourselves included, quite comprehended the war that raged in our home over that time, but it was fierce as it was painful. And as pain is apt to do, it swept change over us so quickly that we hardly knew ourselves after just a few years of its strange work. I watched the progression from the sidelines as time marched on - canes, walkers, wheelchairs, memories. The man who gave me so much was deteriorating before my eyes and much of our roots seemed to be fading right along with him. A long healed scar in my heart began throbbing, subtly at first but steadily as time passed. Throbs so overtaking they filled my ears and pounded down through my vision, screeching the cruelly slow emptying of that Dad sized space yet again. Throbs so demanding that it took all the sickeningly sweet selfishness and deceit I could muster to ignore the surrender required of me.

But God.

Just writing those two words sends tingles of hope down my spine again. The very same victorious hope that allowed Dad to win to some degree. He didn't beat MS, of course, but MS certainly didn't beat him. For while I went off in a busy nose dive of blinding self centered bitterness, stabbing his and mom's hearts over and over when they needed it the least, they stayed clinging to the solid rock that is Christ and found wholeness in the midst of brokenness. All the grace my parents had claimed to believe prior to the disease suddenly glimmered through more tangibly against our black backdrop, pushing me to a place of being unable to deny its existence anymore than I could the nose in my face. And dad? That precious, endearing man still found ways to cradle my heart like his own through it all until I finally reached up from my lowest point and clung for dear life next to him.

_______


"Well Dad, I'm off. Supper is on the table and I'll hear some howling if I don't call everyone in soon."
"Me too. It was good talking to you, sweetheart."
"You too Dad, call anytime."

I pause, losing a precious few seconds to thought.

"Dad?"
"Yeah?"
"Thanks."
"Always."

I set the phone gently on the table and stare off into clumps of jasmine vines in the yard, my heart thumping quiet thanksgivings into the stillness of the moment. There's a sweet assurance in being someone's - someone's wife, someone's mother, someone's friend, someone's daughter. But to be left in a lonely heap feeling something like trash and still have someone come along and see you, draw you into their heart, and call you their own? It's unthinkable in all the most wonderful ways.

And it's my story. The one I'm given to whisper into drowsy little ears during bedtime snuggles, that I can pour into willing hearts over the ever present pot of tea on my table, that I'm plucking from my heart and sending off in a breath of hope - you are someone's. The eternal Father's heart beats out rhythms of love for you. He'll draw you through the wind storm of life and cradle your heart. He'll call you His own.

4.12.2016

Of Broken Realities and Hope

Had I lived in an ideal world today, the morning would have begun not so much with the call of the alarm as the call of just-waking sunbeams peering sleepily through wooden blinds, the confidence of good and beautiful things within the day pulling me from between warm covers. As it is, I don't live in this ideal world. I live with both feet firmly rooted in reality where alarms pierce through a haze of just-entered sleep and usually aren't obeyed until thirty or so minutes post summons.

Breakfast in an ideal world would have been slightly elaborate and gently decorative, with children waking to its call and cheerfully sitting to their share. Coffee would have been hot and enjoyed in good company. In reality, breakfast was a quickly scavenged tidbit of toast and berries before one child lost all stomach contents on the couch, another began wailing for a nap, and Will again abandoned hope of an early work day. Coffee went cold during clean up.

Ideally, the day from then on would have been peaceful and yet productive with stacks of books devoured, floating ideas for writing pinned down squarely, chores accomplished with a flourish of grace, and children happily at play in a yard blossoming with all the robust breath of spring. But really, the day... oh the day. The day was a jerk and go affair of chores here, quick read aloud there, teaching moment somewhere between, patience lost not long before, children wailing over being told to play outdoors awhile, spankings, hugs, soaked clothes, unfinished laundry, laughter, wonder, despair, etc. etc. All this with at least one little soul tucked under an arm and another at heel and my heart only able to throw up one sentence prayers of "have mercy," "did you see that?" and "thank you." Mostly the first one.



I could put in a lot more elaborate detail to that ideal world I sometimes find my mind wandering too, but even its bare bones are pretty appealing. But as I type and think my way through it, I'm realizing it's missing an incredibly necessary aspect: Hope.

Hope for the greater, the better, the more perfect that is only found in the presence of a holy and good God. For in an ideal world there is much to be thankful for and content with but very little to prompt one to be so. There is every bit of need for Savior broken for our sake as in reality, but very little brokeness to press one toward Him. I'm reminded of something I read that someone quoted in very broken circumstances:

In every visit, every meeting I attend, every appointment I keep, I have been anticipated. The risen Christ got there ahead of me. The risen Christ is in that room already. What is he doing? What is he saying? What is going on?. . . I have taken to quoting before every visit or meeting: ‘He is risen. . . he is going before you to 1020 Emmorton Road; there you will see him as he told you.’ Later in the day it will be: ‘He is risen . . . he is going before you to St. John’s hospital; there you will see him, as he told you.’ When I arrive and enter the room, I am not so much wondering what I am going to do or say that will be pastoral as I am alert and observant for what the risen Christ has been doing that is making a gospel story out of this life. [...]

I prefer the broken reality with the risen Lord filling its shack-like appearence with an overwhelming light of victory. I prefer the gospel living and breathing in the grace-drenched and mercy-dependent aspects of the constantly outstretched arms of my girls, cold coffees, whisps of conversation and prayer with Will, and laundry mountains. I prefer hope.

3.25.2016

Standing Firm in Gutsy Guilt


I don't always have the chance to get up and read a chapter or so of scripture before the morning quiet is broken and day descends with full force, but this morning I did. Slipping from between the warm bodies of toddler and baby, I tiptoed to the kitchen to put the kettle on, for what's an early morning without a quiet cup of tea to enjoy within its comfortable confines? Opening the blinds of a window that would allow the morning light to thoroughly bathe me but not touch the sleepers, I opened my bible to 2 Corinthians.

It was an unassuming chapter, or unassuming to one who has any sort of past in church going: Paul, defending himself and revealing a bit about his "thorn in the flesh."
Because of the surpassing greatness of the revelations, for this reason, to keep me from exalting myself, there was given me a thorn in the flesh, a messenger of Satan to torment me - to keep me from exalting myself! Conerning this I implored he Lord three times that it might leave me. And He has said to me, "My grace is sufficient for you, my power is perfected in weakness." Most gladly, therefore, I will rather boasr in my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may dwell in me.  [12:7-9]
It was the hastily scribbled note in blue beside this passage that sparked a more wakeful attention.
 And you will stand in righteousness that is not your own and do the work He has given you to do. So let us learn the secret of gutsy guilt from the steadfastness of sinful saints who were not paralyzed by their own imperfections. [Gloria Furman]

It was like one of those cheesy lightbulb moments. This is it. This is the excuse I use for things that I'm just not sure about or seem too hard. Things I ought to do, am made to not just do but also be. Because, somehow, I believe my imperfections and general unsuperhero-like qualities stand as a gigantic road block.

As if.

As if my imperfection was stronger than the great and shining perfection of God who appears and rocks and trees sing. Who speaks and storms and waters obey. Whose hand holds this universe and all the others out there. As if my black ink dot of a road block stood up to Him in His greatness. No, no it's funny, go ahead and laugh.


No matter what it is, brokeness is not an excuse. It will not be accepted on that day when lives are examined in leiu of the righteousness that makes all things possible.

Darn it Carissa, who knows how many days you're given so get up at the crack of dawn to read a verse or two, say yes to pancakes, spank and then hug those crazy haired cubs pouring ketchup on the floor as you make them, genuinely smile at your husband when he walks through the door and the household is rioting and dinner is burning. It's okay that being a wife and a mother and a writer are all equally a part of who you are. Love and serve and take delight and write like you're running out of time, because you are, and because you want to echo with Paul:
Therefore I am well content with weaknesses, with insults, with distresses, with persecutions, with difficultes, for Christ's sake; for when I am weak then I am strong. [12:10]

2.04.2016

Outnumbered




A flash of bright blue tulle from outside followed by a heavy thud against the back door. Backtracking to the window, I just manage to catch the billowing of a dilapidated princess dress at another heavy-armed toss of mud by the princess somewhere beneath. The yard, so recently fresh from rainfall, is now mud spattered beyond recognition, windows and door clearly objects of muddy target practice.

Rummaging sorts of noises back me a bit further to peer into the kitchen knowingly. Sure enough, there in the open fridge sits my little panda girl. One small hand clutches an unopened yogurt container tightly to her chest while she contentedly munches two slices of bread from the other, her sister's bright pink bike helmet making a slow descent over her eyes with every bite.

Opening my mouth to protest, I'm stopped mid finger lift by loud squawking from the bothered little bird in my arms. I can't tell of it's colic or just needing the comfort of mama in all the noise and transition from one world to another, but that spot in the crook of my arm seems to be her favorite lately, considering she hasn't left it much. Pacing continued, I lay old tracks through newly laid trails of mud and crumbs, shaking my head and chuckling at the difference of life in just two weeks' time.

I keep telling those who've asked that things are so good, so different, and so hard. And really it's true to the core. When Wren came I expected things to go as swimmingly as they had after Selah; how different could three kids be over two? I did come at the front end of a larger family in my favor too, after all. But good gracious did my pride get the best of me this time. I think it took four or five days for me to get more than an hour's sleep at a time post-labor, which was all too quickly followed by Will's having to get back to work and leaving us four girls' to the mercy of the Lord from breakfast to bedtime. I may have raised my voice a bit too much and locked myself in a room with chocolate a couple of times.

So there's that, the different and hard, but even with so much of the day feeling locked into those modes there's also this contentedness underlying it all. Yes, this is hard and different but it's also so good. Wren fills a space in our family always there for her and of course we all adore her. And while Alanna and Selah spend half the day bickering and stirring mischief in every corner of our home, there's still signs of growth, the lasting kind. And Will and I, well I miss our conversations not held over three small heads and waking up in the same general state of things, but I can see the sparkle in his eyes (beneath his overwhelm of being far outnumbered now) whispering all that I cling to deep in my heart: We're wrapping our arms around vessels of an immense outpouring of grace, we're seeing God's goodness here in the land of the living. Even in the mud and crumbs and wailing and glitter and thousands of baby dolls, how could it all be considered anything but good?

1.25.2016

Songbird



She joined us on a grey January morning, our Wren.

Early labor lasted so long that the ending of it all felt like a freight train had barreled right over us, but oh she was worth it. All the frustration and unknowing and waiting of earlier months melted as we watched her blue eyes blink uncertainly and look to the light beginning to seep through back windows. Maybe it was just me in the sweetness of relief, but it seemed a moment drenched in awe both for us and for her:  New life barely begun.

Then she turned to us, her steadfast gaze seeming to say "here I am" with such peace, as if not a care in the world could shake her quiet focus. I couldn't help but lean down to lay my cheek to hers, soaking up the heavenly song our unexpeted little songbird had brought on the swift wings of a new day. And in that first meeting, my tired cheek against her soft new one, the words of Psalm 40 gently pulsed familiarity between us:
"He put a new song in my mouth, a song of praise to our God;
Many will see and fear
and will trust in the Lord."