Ready or not

Before a recent soccer game, I overheard a conversation between two of my 6-year old son’s teammates.

 

“Where have you been?” a little boy asked his tardy teammate as she walked up to the group. “The game is starting.”

 

“I was eating some hard candy so I would be ready,” she answered.

 

Though I had a difficult time connecting the hard candy to any pregame regimen, her response was apparently satisfying for her friends so the game began.

 

I feel like the two words I say most frequently around my house (other than GOOD NIGHT and LOVE YOU and GREAT JOB, of course…I’m not a monster) are GET READY. There may be some nuances to the phrase like: “Why aren’t you ready?” and “Not until you’re all the way ready.” and “Is that enough time for you to get ready?”

 

So what am I getting them ready for, anyway?

 

As in any job, it’s helpful to take a moment and evaluate how I’m doing as a parent, and this end-of-the-schoolyear time seems like a perfect opportunity. As a part of my self-assessment, I’ll ask the question: Are they ready for what’s next?

 

My twin daughters just finished their freshman year in high school (which is weird because I pretty much just graduated from high school myself, right?). When I see what’s just around the corner—dating, college, jobs—I’m excited for them but also anxious to walk through it with them and tell them every step of the way where to set their feet next. I want to hold their hands like I did that first day of kindergarten, a daughter on either side, Barbie backpacks and monogrammed lunchboxes and new back-to-school clothes.

 

But I know that’s not reasonable or healthy or appropriate (or allowed by high school administrators). I know that at some point I have to let go and hope that they are prepared to make the right choices to be safe and sound. And I have to be okay with the fact that I can’t protect them from everything. (Yuck.) I pray that they are ready.

 

My nearly 7th grade son is teetering at the edge of his teen years. He’s been marching uphill to this next chapter where there’s more freedom and more responsibility. Less hovering by me and more expected of him. I worry about what he’s exposed to and who he spends time with. I pray that the values we have underlined over and over in our family play book will stand out to him when the time is right. I pray that he is ready.

 

My youngest, our baby from Congo, will go to kindergarten in August. He hasn’t been away from one of us, someone who lives in his house, for more than a few hours at a time, and I wonder if he’s ready to fly the coop. Is he ready to go to school 5 days a week for 10 months?

 

He still struggles with his English—his color words, letters, numbers. We’re trying to remind him how to ask for what he needs. He’s holding on to a handful of words from his birth language: bango means them, mingi means lots, biso means us. We tell him to pick another word. We tell him this will help others understand him. I pray that he is ready.

 

As parents we make so many deposits in our kid’s integrity account, hoping it will add up to an exceptional character with strong convictions and valuable common sense. But, regardless, we eventually have to let go. We have to adapt to the idea that there’s never enough time for preparation.

 

So after I’ve prayed that they are ready, my next prayer is for myself. I pray that I am ready to change my 2 most frequently used words from GET READY to GO TIME.

Baby book

Sometimes it takes the holidays to learn something you already know. Maybe it’s your dislike of Brussels sprouts that annually reveals itself at Thanksgiving dinner, the only time you eat them. Or it might be your aversion to all things spooky, a fact you only notice around Halloween. Perhaps your proclivity for procrastinating is especially highlighted around Christmas, an introspective epiphany you receive as you’re frantically running through the mall on Christmas Eve in order to finish off your holiday shopping.

And then there are those realizations offered to you by others from their various perspectives. For instance, when relatives who don’t live in town see your children, the talk invariably turns to how much they have grown. Unscientific, back-to-back measurements are taken to compare uncles and nephews, cousins and other cousins, grandmothers and granddaughters. Baby faced toddlers are replaced with lanky teenagers and tricycle-riders are replaced with driver’s license holders in what feels like just a handful of Christmases. Time seems to speed up when it is only seen in sequential Christmas card photos.

As parents, we don’t always see these incremental alterations in our children. They change but it’s hard for us to see the difference, that is, until they put on a pair of pants that are suddenly two inches too short. A-ha! You’ve grown!

Imagine Mary’s continual surprises as the mother of Jesus. Her wonder at her son’s milestone moments must have given her whiplash. If mothers had made baby scrapbooks back in those days, Mary would have wanted to include the following high points: Her pregnancy was revealed by a visiting angel. His birth was announced by an angel chorus and attended by a pack of awestruck shepherds. She was given a baby shower by a group of exotic world-travelers who brought her the items every new mother needs—gold, frankincense, and myrrh.

Forty days after Jesus’ birth, once Mary was considered clean enough to enter the temple area, Jesus’ parents were given another surprise to add to the ever growing list. There they met Simeon and Anna, holy and righteous prophets who had been anxiously waiting for news of the Messiah. When I read their story in Luke 2, I want to hug Anna and throttle Simeon. Anna “began praising God. She talked about the child to everyone who had been waiting expectantly for God to rescue Jerusalem.” She sounds like a proud grandma or aunt. No doubt Mary would have wanted a photograph of Anna tenderly cradling Jesus for the baby book.

Simeon, on the other hand, tells Mary that Jesus “is destined to cause many in Israel to fall, and many others to rise. He has been sent as a sign from God, but many will oppose him. As a result, the deepest thoughts of many hearts will be revealed. And a sword will pierce your very soul.” Vague news of soul-piercing swords is not exactly what a mother of a 1-month old wants to hear.

There was so much to come for the earthly parents of the Son of God. Maybe it was a blessing that Simeon hinted at a little of the heartache. It’s frustrating that apart from His preteen temple meeting with the priests and the catchall verse about Jesus growing up healthy, strong, and wise in Nazareth, we know so little of Jesus’ childhood. So in place of actual information I’ll assume that He outgrew tunics, coats, and sandals at an alarming rate. I’ll guess that Mary covertly watched him from doorways as he played with friends and siblings, trying to convince herself that He was ever a tiny baby.

Or maybe she had a moment with her growing son like I did recently with my youngest. My son stood, feet flat on the floor, and reached his hands up to my face, one hand on each cheek. He said, “Look, Mama. I can do this now. Me big.” No more tippy toes. Just another page for the baby book.

Getting to know you

It’s been enlightening to experience so many Western Culture firsts with a brand new American. We are celebrating the 7-month anniversary of our African-born son’s arrival to the US. His language skills are improving everyday…just in time for the holidays.

For instance, explaining trick-or-treating to a five-year old the morning of his initiation into the holiday (the kids at his preschool were about to go to the church staff offices in costume to beg for candy) went a little something like this:

Me: I’m packing your Captain America costume so you can put it on at school today.

Ezra: Why I bring this to class?

Me: You and your friends are going to walk around church to see the people who work there and ask for candy.

Ezra: Why they give me candy?

Me: Because you will have on a costume and say, “trick-or-treat”.

Ezra: Why I say this?

Me: Because it’s almost Halloween and that’s what people say when it’s Halloween.

Ezra: Why…

Me: (interrupting) Hey, you wear a costume and you get candy. Just go with it.

Now that every store has their Christmas decorations up, I have started explaining Christmas traditions. When I say them out loud, these traditions sound a little absurd. “So when it’s Christmas, we’ll put a tree in the living room. We’ll add lights and a bunch of other things hanging off the branches. You see that box with those four long socks I got in the mail the other day? Well, those are called stockings and I’m going to hang those, too, but not on the tree, over the fireplace. No. They’re not for your feet. They’re to hold toys and candy.” I’m not even going to attempt Santa Claus, and you can forget about any Elf on a Shelf.

Beyond explaining the holidays and other pertinent facts about us, we’ve had to learn new things about our little fella, too. Like, his sneeze. It’s an explosion of sound and fury, and it comes ashore with no warning. The first time my husband and daughters heard him sneeze we were at a funeral visitation for a family member. People gathered in hushed circles all over the church. Upon returning from the restroom with Ezra, I walked towards them where they were sitting in a pew. Right at the front of the church, he paused and let out a thunderous sneeze. The looks on his family’s faces were priceless. There were learning a new aspect of our boy, another piece of what makes him Ezra.

During the past 7 months, we’ve had several “mis-ezra-standings” that needed clearing up. When he saw a picture of me very pregnant with our now 11-year old son Knox, Ezra pointed to my belly with a questioning expression. “That’s Knox,” I said. “Mama, you mean,” he scolded. “Why am I mean?” I asked. “You (gulp sound) Knox-y. You mean. You no eat him!” Oh terrific, I thought, now I will explain The Birds and The Bees using the 50 simplest words I can think of. It’s like Dr. Seuss wrote a book about “Your Ever Changing Body”.

Every day brings more discoveries. There are times when I don’t feel up to the challenge of explaining why ice cream is cold or why leaves change color. And If I don’t express my answers carefully, I’ll invariably get the question: “Mama, why you mad?” I’ll tell him I’m not mad, just ready for a break from talking for a few minutes. This little boy has learned to read expressions and tones so quickly. He works hard to gather information from conversations (both verbal and non-verbal) so he can make inferences to better understand his family and their crazy American ways. We are getting to know the essence of him a little better with each passing moment.

Even though I’m looking forward to things being easier, smoother, not so fraught with confusion, I will miss the intentionality of learning each other. Like the excitement of a first date, there is something special about falling in love with someone whose path you know you were meant to cross. Something special about learning their likes and dislikes and what makes them smile and that funny way they sneeze.

Fast Pass

During the week of Fall Break, my family and I went to the place where dreams come true: Orlando, Florida. We spent five days at Walt Disney World and 2 days (give or take) at Universal Studios. (Thanks to Hurricane Matthew, or at least the threat of Hurricane Matthew, we spent 24 hours hunkered down in our hotel on Friday. Then we rose early Saturday morning to squeeze in a few more hours at the park before our flight out of town.)

This trip was just one more way to Americanize our African-born son. He saw ordinary people lined up to get signatures of other ordinary people dressed up as famous movie characters. He saw able-bodied 8-year olds being pushed in strollers. And with the Disney meal plan, he got a dessert with every meal. Fame, food, and easy living, brother, that’s what we’re all about!

For our 5-year old, the most maddening part of the trip was the lines. He loved the rides and the shows and the general atmosphere, but those lines! The planners of the parks usually try to make the lines tolerable. They often add fans, interactive games, and television screens. Sometimes, they even make the lines snake around cool set pieces, preparing you for the ride you will eventually board. But a 45-minute wait is still a 45-minute wait and to a 5-year old it might as well be a month.

This is especially true when said 5-year old needs to go to the bathroom. Like, hypothetically-speaking, when he tells you that he needs to pee after you have spent half an hour waiting to make a daring escape with Harry Potter through a series of goblin-guarded bank vaults but he doesn’t tell you he needs to go until you are almost there so you tell him to hold it which he does until just after the ride is over and now he is standing in the middle of a scale replica of Hogsmeade village with wet britches and no extra clothes so his mom goes in to a shop and buys the only pants available—a pair of Harry Potter pajamas—which he will wear the rest of the day sans underwear.

There are times when you are given the opportunity to get permission to move to the front of the line. At Disney World this is called a Fast Pass. It is an ingenious way to teach kids about the “haves” and “have-nots”. When you have a Fast Pass, you practically jog down the short line to step in front of the suckers who are suffering from heat stroke as they wait to climb on the ride. When you don’t have a Fast Pass, you see those arrogant jerks looking fresh as a daisy and walking right on the ride without even stopping for a minute and you try not to hate them. Voila: Empathy education. (Beware: The Fast Pass mentality can really get in your head. I found myself wanting to get a Fast Pass for the bathroom and the restaurant lunch lines.)

Waiting in lines at an amusement park is a lot like life. You spend most of your time doing the mundane and boring—emptying the dishwasher and folding towels—waiting and dreaming and counting down the minutes until the precious, magical seconds will finally arrive. It’s not unusual to work for hours for a meal that will last 15 minutes or plan and prepare for days for a 2-hour birthday party. This is how life often feels, mostly cloudy with sporadic rainbows.

What if we take at least a few of those mundane moments and make them a different brand of magical and precious? What if we turn off our cell phones and tell our kids a story or play rock-paper-scissors with them instead? What if magical moments can occur in places outside of Orlando like the grocery store or the front porch? They don’t have to be documented. They don’t have to be planned. They don’t have to cost more than the price of your time and attention. Don’t Fast Pass the commonplace. They may be the ride you didn’t know you’re waiting for.

disney

A few things I’ve learned about parenting…

Being a parent is really hard, so much harder than I thought it would be when I played “house” with my baby dolls growing up. Dilemmas involving my kids arise nearly every day that call for some major, on-my-knees prayer time: when to step in and when to let them fail, grades and friends, time management and basic courtesy, boundaries and responsibilities, actions and reactions. It is not for the faint of heart.

I am fairly reluctant to write a “Parenting How-To” for anyone to read, partly because I am sometimes a failure at this job and I don’t want anyone to accuse me of thinking I have all the answers. There are times when I lose my cool. There are times when I prioritize in a wacky, mixed-up way. I have done and said things I have regretted, all while wearing my “Mom Hat” (assuming there’s a hat for everything we’re expected to be and do).

But just like any job, parents have days when they rock at their stuff and days when they should’ve stayed in bed. My kids are not perfect by any stretch of the imagination but—as of right now as I type this—they haven’t stolen any cars and they don’t kick stray dogs. Keeping those parenting credentials in mind, allow me to lay out a few of the things I’ve learned about parenting.

Don’t give young children too many choices. They will begin to suspect that they are the boss of the family which should actually be your job. While we’re on the subject, while they are allowed limited input, don’t let your kids tell you what to do. You don’t have to be ugly about it. It’s just the cold, hard truth. I am not above saying the following to my kids: “You’re not the boss of me.” In fact, I said it earlier today when one particular little fella said I shouldn’t go past the bank before we met up with some friends. “I am the driver. I am the adult. I am the boss.” (Repeat this to yourself several times a day if you have a preschooler…or a teenager.)

Tell them stories about you. When our girls were small, they used to say, “Mommy and Daddy, tell us a story of when you got hurt.” (I’m not sure why these painful stories were their favorites but sports enthusiasts and accident-prone people have a lot of these in their memory bank, ready to be withdrawn.) Our kids now know stories about things that happened to me and my sisters growing up. They know about family trips my husband took with his sister and parents when he was little. They could tell you about the time my husband fell on a toothpick and it was embedded in his side and he had to go to the doctor to get it removed. These stories become a part of their legacy and inheritance (and a cautionary tale about toothpicks).

Answer their questions. When your 3-year old asks where babies come from, don’t blow her off, waiting for the perfect opportunity to explain the miracle of life with age-appropriate charts and graphics. Give her a basic answer to her question, such as: “They grow inside their mommies.” See if this satisfies the question. That may be all she needs but if she asks more questions, then answer those, too. You don’t have to feel comfortable explaining “The Birds and the Bees” to all kids, just yours.

Ask them questions. For the past nine years, I’ve had elementary-aged kids to walk to school. (I’ll get to start all over again with a kindergartener next year!) This was the perfect time to ask them questions. “How was school?” and “Fine” can only get you so far. Over a period of time, you’ll be able to get more specific as you build on prior conversations.

There’s lots more that I could say about parenting: Don’t hold grudges. Have reasonable (yet high) expectations. Read books to them. Apologize when you mess up. Try not to embarrass them. Get to know their friends. Be a good example of kindness and generosity. Among these, the best advice I could give anyone is this:

Tell them you love them and act like you like them.

Our little sponge

Though our African-born son has been in America for only two months, we’re often surprised by the speed he acquires new words and information. He has a few favorite English phrases, such as: “Mom, I hungry,” that he uses regularly, correctly, and usually early in the morning.

He has even learned nuances to our language, like the difference in tone and inflection of the phrase “Come on.” He’ll say it when he wants us to follow him and he’ll also use the same phrase with a certain degree of disgust and frustration when I kick or throw a ball in a way he deems inadequate. (He also says, “My fault” if his throw is a bit off and “Your fault” is he doesn’t catch something I throw—even if it’s a perfectly good throw, by the way.)

We are trying to teach him to be polite when he asks for and receives things. He has “thank you” down and “you’re welcome.” He’s had a harder time remembering to say “please.” He started off saying, “Mama, lipa!” when he wanted a piece of bread. Now we remind him to phrase it as a request instead of a demand. “Say: ‘Mama, may I have some lipa, please?’” we tell him. Now the conversation goes something like this:

Ezra: Mama, lipa!

Me: Try again.

Ezra: Say, please…

Me: Close enough.

When we were recently at church camp, I took him to the bathroom while everyone was meeting in the large assembly room. There was no one in the boys’ restroom, so I told him he could go in alone and I would stand outside the door and wait for him. He gestured for me to go with him, but I explained that I am a girl and can’t go in the boys’ bathroom and if he wants me to go with him he’ll have to go to the girls’ bathroom with me which is okay because he is small and my son. After that lengthy explanation, complete with pointing to the boy and girl pictures outside the bathroom doors, he paused a beat and said, “Say please?”

Seeing that one of the five other members of his family are always with him, we’re constantly wondering where he picks up the things he says and does. For instance, he was wrestling with our older son recently and suddenly stepped back, punched his right fist into his open left hand, and bowed low like he was about to begin a Taekwondo match. Where did that come from?

Anyone in the throes of parenting young children can attest to the heavy responsibility of teaching our children right from wrong and everything in between. I’ve known this for years but I’ve felt it more acutely this go-around. When our other children first joined our family they were newborns, unable to see past their fingertips and enthusiastically sucking on their toes each time they re-discovered them. In other words, not fully rational beings.

This time our little sponge comes to us as a clever 5-year old. He’s soaking up everything so quickly and hungrily and spouting it back out just as quickly. I worry if he’s watching too much TV or not looking at books enough. Should I make him practice writing his name more? What about those preschool activity books we got him? I worry about making sure we give him every advantage so that he can be successful as a person.

But when I stop the frantic worrying in my mind and take a breath, I tell myself that we will not do this perfectly but we will do a few things right. We will begin and end each day with “I love you.” We will look directly into the faces of the people we speak to. We will smile more than we frown. We will hold hands when we cross streets. We will pray together every day and list the things we’re grateful for.

When Ezra prays at night, we prompt him by saying, “thank you for…” so that he can fill in the blank. He says the name of everyone in his family, his bed, the car, all his favorite foods. One night he also said the “avion (airplane) to America.” Yes, baby, we are thankful for that airplane, too.

Gorilla Parenting

During the Thanksgiving holiday weekend, my family and I visited the Knoxville Zoo. On Saturday, my kids were lounging all over my in-laws’ living room furniture like there was a gas leak in the house, full of turkey and a bit grouchy, but they perked up when their grandmother mentioned there were two baby gorillas recently born at the zoo. I mean, who can turn down a chance to see baby gorillas?

 

In my experience with zoos, there are many times when the animal doesn’t live up to the hype: the bear just lies there like a rug or the monkeys are quiet and standoffish. This visit exceeded my expectations.

 

When we reached the glass enclosure for the gorillas, both mom gorillas cradled their babies. One mother-baby duo sat in a hammock, suspended from the ceiling high in the air. The other pair sat inside a long tunnel, also hanging from the ceiling.

 

The baby in the hammock peeked over the edge several times, tiny fingers then precious face peering meekly at us. Each time the baby looked like he would climb out of the hammock, the mother would pull him back in, safely nestled on her stomach.

 

When she finally decided to climb down, the baby wrapped his arms and legs around her arm to ride along. Now on the floor, the baby picked up a stick. The mother took it and placed it back on the floor. When a male gorilla got close to them, the mother gorilla picked up the baby and moved a safe distance away.

 

Everything the mother gorilla did for her baby seemed intentional but it was done so slowly, like she was moving through water. The expression on her face was one of complete confidence. I expected her at any minute to look at me and say, “Kids…am I right?” without any exasperation, only commiseration and acceptance.

 

As I watched in awe of her maternal skills, I thought that if that mother gorilla was on Facebook (which I don’t think she is), her pictures would be of elaborately decorated birthday cakes and links to her homeschool blog and posts about her kids’ achievements, like their innate ability to memorize Scriptures while simultaneously feeding the homeless and solving complex math problems.

 

I wondered if the other gorilla mom, the one who had barely moved from her hanging tunnel while we stood watching, felt inferior to this super mom. Did she constantly compare herself and her baby to them?

 

But then I saw the reason momma gorilla had climbed down from her comfy hammock. She needed to pee. She turned her back to all of us at the window, and let loose a stream of urine while her baby played with a plastic bowl nearby. She was not a superhuman (or super-ape) after all. She did her best to make decisions for her baby to keep him healthy and safe, but there comes a time when every mom has to take care of a few things for herself.

 

Because, in the end, we’re all just imperfect humans (or in her case, gorilla) doing the best we can with what we know and until we know better or differently. Comparing our parenting only creates distance when what we need most is the closeness of community.

Roller Coaster Ridin’

You inhale deeply as you approach the wooden archway. A voice from the speaker above you and to your right is midway through its recording: “…so ride at your own risk. Only you know your limitations.”

You pull the corners of your mouth into a forced smile at the child who stands beside you. She has asked you to join her on this journey. It would be pure cowardice to retreat.

Together, you weave through the maze of metal fencing to find your place in line. The bars are painted a dark red. Shallow scratches and deep gashes in the paint show the original steely gray underneath. You rest your palms against the horizontal bars at your waist, but pull them back as you consider all of the sticky, sweaty hands that have blazed this trail before you, pioneers in tank tops and athletic shorts.

You glance at your child who stands shoulder-to-shoulder with you. You notice that you are eye level now. When did she get so tall or when did you shrink? She leans her back against the bar behind her, looking carefree and relaxed. A clattering sound rumbles over your heads, followed seconds later by deafening screams, and then both sounds are gone in a rush of air.

You shuffle forward a few feet. Conversations circle around you. Small children whine about the wait. Mothers remind them to be patient. A girl braids her friend’s hair into a long, tight rope. You turn away when you see a young couple embrace—too much affection in such a confined space.

Finally, you see the loading area. You watch people—brave souls just like you—as they board the cars. You fight the urge to salute them and their bravery. The affectionate couple from before is seated and both look nervous.

“I’m a little scared,” your child says quietly. You fake enthusiasm and confidence. You tell her, “Ah, come on. It’ll be fun. I promise.”

The cars return with their windswept occupants, smiling broadly. You wonder if their smiles are from joy or relief or both. Either way, you are encouraged that they returned without injury.

Your child slides into the car and you follow her. You attempt to steady trembling hands as you buckle the thick seat belt and pull down the padded bar. The bored, teen-aged park employee walks past each pair and tugs at their restraints. Internally, you question the extent of the training that allows him to operate this giant death trap.

It’s too late to turn back now. The cars rumble away slowly, teasing you with their nonchalant speed. You know this is a trick. You know this ride is designed to rattle your fillings and challenge your bladder.

The car climbs the steep hill with a repetition of clicks. At the top of the hill, you have only the briefest moment to assess the situation. In that moment, you calculate the risks and search your memory bank for any relevant news stories of crashes and negligent park staff. Then, you fall. The rapid descent lifts you ever so slightly from your seat. Your heart races and your stomach drops.

You chance a look at your child next to you—her eyes shut tight and her hands thrown into the air. She smiles. You scream. You find that you are grabbing her arm, involuntarily. The fear you felt before for your safety has been transferred to fear for hers.

When the ride is jerked to an abrupt end, you step out of the car and onto the platform with shaky legs. “That was fun!” your child says, as she bounces up and down with the release of pent-up energy. “Wanna do it again?”

“Let’s let your dad have a turn to ride it with you,” you say, feigning maternal selflessness.

The endless recording continues as you exit the archway: “Only you know your limitations.” You chuckle at the thought of fully knowing something as fluid as your limitations.

You follow your child, watching her long legs manage a smooth, assertive stride and you wonder, “Did I just ride a roller coaster or watch my daughter walk through the doors of her school for her first day of 8th grade?”

Multitasking

I saw a sight as elusive and rare as an albino chipmunk today…a man multi-tasking. He was smoking a cigarette and texting on his cell phone while riding his bike on a busy street in the rain. Not recommended but impressive nonetheless.

 

It’s a proven fact that women are better at multi-tasking than men. Searching for evidence reveals test after test with women coming out ahead. Most of these tests involve a combination of activities, like completing simple arithmetic problems while answering the telephone and formulating a plan to find lost keys. In other words, a typical after-school afternoon.

 

Are women better at multi-tasking because their lifestyles require it so they improve out of necessity or do they allow their lifestyles to include multi-tasking because they are naturally capable of it? Nature or nurture? Either way, it’s amazing to witness an expert in her field.

 

A real exception to the female-only multi-taskers is Jesus. When you look at chapter five in the Book of Mark, we see Jesus at his busiest. He’s just removed a legion of demons from a crazed man who lived in the graveyard. The people are troubled by Jesus’ power so they urge him to leave.

 

He boards a boat to cross a lake. No sooner has he landed, than a man begging for Jesus to save his daughter approaches him. Jesus agrees to go with him, but he’s stopped suddenly by a distinct feeling. A bit of his power has left him. He looks around and sees a woman so desperate for healing she reaches for the cloak of this powerful man passing by. Jesus leans in to the trembling woman to tell her she’s free. Her faith has released her from the disease.

 

No time to waste, Jesus continues on to help the man and his dying daughter. The man’s friends come to tell him they are too late. But Jesus tells the grieving father, “Don’t be afraid. Just believe.”

 

Jesus leans in again but this time in a quiet room by the bedside of a dead girl. He takes her hand and tells her to get up, like it’s just another morning and time for her to start her day. The effect is immediate. The girl is up, walking and eating.

 

I love this series of stories. I love to think about Jesus, plopping down on some floor cushions at the end of this very long day. Stretching his sore shoulders, suddenly realizing he is hungry. He’s been busy tending to others’ needs and now he can rest. It’s a multi-tasker’s finest hour—that moment when your tasks are done.

Him

Since the beginning of this process, we’ve been told to be very careful when posting pictures of our African son. As this week has transpired, we’ve taken LOTS of photos and videos so it pains me not to be able to send them out to all of our friends and families who are praying so fervently for us. (If you run into us when we get back you’ll be lucky to escape a photo book or a slideshow on my phone. Consider yourself warned.) In lieu of a picture (which is worth 1,000 words, apparently), I give you my description of Ezra:

 

His eyelashes are the Eighth Wonder of the world (the Hanging Gardens of Babylon are nothing in comparison). They are thick and jet-black. They curl almost into a complete circle. I tried to get a good picture of them tonight while he cuddled with Brent and watched videos of himself from earlier today on the video camera. It was like trying to photograph the Grand Canyon—impossible to catch the grandeur on film.

 

His head is fairly flat on one side, probably a result of lying down too often as an infant. (Brent said this is common in babies everywhere and not to worry. Is there a flat-headed kids support group I can sign him up with when he gets home?) I love to rub his head. His hair is very short, almost like Brent’s whiskers if he skips a day of shaving.

 

He has beautiful, round ears that stick out just enough and squishy ear lobes.

 

His eyes are dark and expressive. Paired with his eyebrows, he can tell you he’s mad without saying a word (which is good because he doesn’t speak English).

 

He has a scar on his right cheek.

 

He’s missing his pinky-toe toenails.

 

He’s got a mouth-full of good-looking teeth. A few of them have some suspicious spots but overall they look great. I think he takes great pride in his teeth. He loves to brush them. He did it three times today. He always wants me to brush his tongue at the end. This is oddly comforting for me. It tells me that someone has been helping him with his dental hygiene. Yesterday he wanted to spit in the toilet. Today, after brushing his teeth and getting a big gulp of water in his mouth, he wanted to go outside, gargle, and spit in the parking lot.

 

Due to his distended belly—a symptom of undernourishment and fluid retention—he walks a little like George Jefferson from The Jeffersons. He has to thrust his elbows back a bit to compensate for the roundness up front and he kind of wobbles from side to side. He has a severe “outtie” belly button. Brent said it’s a hernia (have I mentioned how nice it is to travel with a pediatrician?). It looks like a pop-up thermometer in a well-done Butterball turkey. He has a tiny bottom and spindly arms and legs. At the start of the week, he moved like it was exhausting for him. After three days of proteins and vitamins and good rest, his energy has improved and his belly has already shrunk a bit. It boggles my mind and breaks my heart to think of what a lifetime of better care could do.

 

I know this isn’t as satisfying as a photograph, especially since it’s only about 500 words (maybe half a picture?), but I hope it fills out a few of the details for one little boy among the millions of children who need a family. He’s a unique, smart, surprising, and beautiful boy. We’re so proud to be his mama and papa.