Monday, November 16, 2009

Tonight's Walk - Courtesy of a Bird Named Ollie.

I know, I know. "Walk" has been in the title of a high percentage of my posts lately. But really, isn't that what we all do? I'm not talking about the physical process of putting one foot in front of the other. I'm talking about living. About breathing. About seeking Him and wanting to know Him.

The focus tonight is thanksgiving. Not necessarily exuberant, can't-keep-it-inside thanksgiving. Tonight, it's more of a peaceful, moved-nearly-to-tears, amazed kind of thanksgiving. The sort that results in whispered, heartfelt hallelujahs.

God doesn't always answer our prayers the way we think He will. And when He gives us what we need - really need - it doesn't always look how we expect it to.

Several weeks ago, something came to mind as I was praying one evening. That thing? The knowledge that there was a woman, and her husband, and three kids, whom I had never actually met. And this family was (and still is) within four hours of us. After having been half way around the world. And early next year, there will once again be an entire ocean between us and them. But for now... for now, they are within reach. They are glorifying God here. Serving Him and seeking His face. And soon, they will be "back on the missions field" glorifying God, serving Him and seeking His face.

It rose up in me, with far more certainty and even a sense of urgency, that we needed to meet them. I can't really explain it, and I don't know if they had any of that urgency.

The time we spent with them seemed, in many ways, very ordinary. We hugged (something I thought wouldn't happen outside of heaven). We talked. Laughed. Shared a meal. It was a little awkward, for about fifteen minutes. And then? It was comfortable.

And it was like salve for my heart.

As I have mentioned so many times over the past year, there are some battles being waged. In me, personally. In our marriage (we are not battling each other - we are battling side by side). Physical, mental, emotional. Spiritual.

One thing I have struggled with a lot more than I let on, is the loss of every pregnancy we have had. No child of ours has lived more than twelve weeks after conception (or fourteen weeks of pregnancy). There aren't any tiny shoes in our home. No baby monitor. No barriers on the stairs. We don't have to be home for nap time, and we don't own a car seat.

Our little girl, Anna, would be turning three next month if she were still here on earth. Sometimes I feel guilty for missing her. I feel like my arms have no right to ache, like my heart has no reason to be heavy. So many have lost so much more than I. And yet... maybe it is okay.

This family that we met on Saturday... they know. We haven't shared every detail, but they have the general picture. They know that we have five children. That they are all in heaven. Most people we know are aware of this. It's obvious that they haven't forgotten. The carefully redirected conversations, the guilty looks, the whispered apologies make it painfully clear.

This weekend, it was the words of a small girl that touched my heart. Derek and I were talking with her parents, and she was happily being near the way that children of that age often times do. There was a break in conversation. She put her elbows on my knees and looked up at me. And she asked a question. A simple, innocent question that I have never before been asked.

"What are your kids' names?"

I looked at her, a little confused. I thought maybe she didn't know. I gently explained that we didn't have any kids yet. Her answer touched something deep inside, and I know that my words here can't explain it.

"No. I don't mean kids here. I mean your five kids in heaven. What are their names?"

I had to blink back tears - the first time I have even come close to crying in I don't know how long. I wonder if anyone else heard my voice crack when I answered.

"We only know one little girl's name. Her name is Anna. Annaliah."

"What about the other four?"

As she looked up at me, I was torn between wanting to cry, and wanting to shout for joy. I wasn't sure how to explain it so that a preschooler could understand.

"Well... we don't know their names yet. We'll have to wait until we get to heaven to find out."

I wondered if this would confuse her. Or if she would have more questions. I didn't know if it would be okay for me to answer them if she asked - it's the sort of thing that may be best explained by parents. But no explanation was needed.

In the way that it seems only children can, she accepted that answer and moved on. There was no struggle to believe, no analyzing, no surprise. To her, there was nothing strange about it.

And she's right, you know. There isn't anything difficult to grasp about the fact that our children are in heaven. It is sad that we don't know them, but there is nothing sad about where they are. It isn't shocking, it isn't scary.

And her calm acceptance washed over me like cool water on a hot day.

Thank you, Lord, for Emma. Thank you for her child-like faith. Help me Lord, to never lose sight of Who you are, and what you have done for me. And thank you that good-bye here on earth doesn't have to mean good-bye forever.

When I parked our truck in front of the house they are staying in right now, I had a moment of doubt. Okay, truthfully, I had several moments of doubt. What if we were in for an evening of awkward silences, broken by stilted conversations and sideways glances? What if I had misinterpreted the written words we'd exchanged, and the family I had grown to love existed only in my mind?

Those doubts persisted for about ten seconds after the door opened. I'll be honest here - I am not big on hugs. They don't come naturally for me, and I never hug people I've just met. In fact, there are people I care about very much, people I would do anything for, whom I have never once hugged.

So to put it mildly, I was shocked by my compulsion to hug this woman. I didn't know what to do with myself. Should I hug her? And if I did, how would I initiate it? Should I ask first? Should I squeeze, or just lightly drape my arms across her shoulders? What if it totally creeped her out? What if my armpits or breath smelled? What if I accidentally stepped on her feet? Seriously. I hugged my Pastor probably fifty times before I finally managed one time not to step on his toes, so it is not just an irrational fear. I seem to have a talent for toe-smashing. As for the armpits and breath, we made a pit-stop half way to their house. My dad and my Kelly took us out for pizza, and then we did a little go-cart racing. Making those fears not entirely irrational, either.

Fortunately, she didn't wait for me to make up my mind. If she had, I would probably still be standing there staring at her. Instead, she put words to my thoughts, and actions to my... well, thoughts. (That last statement didn't come together as eloquently as I had hoped).

"I feel like I should hug you."

And, at least for me, that is when it quit feeling awkward. Sure, we spent a while trying to "get the feel of things." But it wasn't an uncomfortable adjustment.

I don't remember the last person I met who was so warm, so open. I doubt I had the same impact on her. But rather than focus on that, I am going to thank God for the blessing.

I thank you, Lord, for Spring. Thank you for her openness. Thank you for using her to show Your love. Thank you for allowing our paths to cross.

Do you ever struggle with who you are? I don't mean forgetting your name, or not knowing who you are. I mean knowing who you are, and accepting that. Maybe you don't. But I sure do. I seem to have a real talent for convincing myself that I should be... different than I am. I often ask myself if I am responding to things the way I should. Am I smiling at the right time? Have I been silent to long, or do they think I talk too much? What about my hands - should I hold them still or is this one of those times when I can fidget?

More importantly... is who I am okay? Does it even matter?

Something happened on Saturday. As we talked, relaxed, ate... he watched. And listened. Every word seemed to register. Unfair as it is, I was watching his face for judgment. We arrived a little after three. We pulled away from their home almost eight hours later. And in all that time, I never did figure out what his judgment was.

The only thing I saw was interest. He and his wife wanted to get to know us. Not so they could judge, not so they could criticize, and not even so they could help us change. I kept thinking to myself, "these people just really love... people." And something occurred to me.

I need to love people that same way. God doesn't love us for what we do, and His opinion of us isn't based on the music we listen to or the color of our shoes. He loves us. And He has commanded us to love one another.

Father, thank you for loving us. For sending your Son. It is a sacrifice I can't fathom. Thank you for loving us that much, flawed and broken as we are. And thank you for Tim. Thank you for using him. Help me to show that kind of interest in the people I meet. Help me to remember that you love people, not the things that people do.

When I was little, my Gramma used to love making things for me. Breakfast (which she often brought upstairs and gave to me in bed). Snacks after school. Hot fudge sundaes, extra dumplings in the soup, green eggs and ham. Quilts for my bed, clothes for my dolls. Forts made of blankets. There wasn't much Gramma couldn't make.

I don't like to admit this, but I really was an ungrateful child. I don't remember thanking her for what she did. I do remember criticizing her. She would beam as she gave me whatever it was that she had made.

The day she died, right before she and my grandpa left, she offered to make me a snack. It was just the way that Gramma was. She made things for the people she loved. When I turned her down that day, she looked disappointed. The image of her face is burned in my memory. What I didn't understand is this: doing things, making things, for the people you love is a joy.

On Saturday, we were presented with lumpy, slightly odd-looking "treats." An eleven year old boy smiled at us as we were told that he made them. I took one, not really sure what to expect. And it was absolutely delicious.

Really, it was. I am not usually a fan of rice crispy treats. Or, I suppose I should say cheerio-life-unknown cereal treats. But these? These were really good. About half way through mine, I happened to look up at the boy who made them. He was watching us.

The look on his face was so easy to read. He had a treat in his own hand, but he wasn't eating it. He wasn't even paying attention to it. He was looking around the room, smiling as we all ate his creation.

After supper, he wore that same expression as we ate the brownies he had prepared. While we were loading dishes into the dishwasher, his mom shared a little bit more about the "desert extravaganza" that had been prepared for us. Yes, I am sure he probably had fun baking, but that wasn't his goal. His goal was to do something special.

Thank You for Nat. God, I don't know what You have in store for me, let alone this eleven year old boy. But I know this: the joy he derives from being a blessing has served as a reminder for me. A reminder that You are for me, and not against me. You want to bless me. It isn't a chore for You - it is something you want to do. I may not understand, but I am grateful.

I'm almost done with this post. I have one more person, one more blessing, to share with you.

This person stands less than three feet high. She has a round belly and an amazingly cute dimpled chin. Here eyes sparkle when she smiles, and her giggle is extremely cute. Her mom let us know that she was a shy little girl, and wouldn't be likely to let us pick her up or hold her.

And that was okay. I've been around enough toddlers to know that it isn't personal when pull away from new people. It's normal. Natural. Healthy. I heard, I understood, and I moved on.

Then her brother decided to show us what happens when you put Ivory soap in the microwave. If you haven't done this, I'd highly recommend it. But that's a different post, for a different day.

As her big brother and sister climbed on stools and counters to watch the results of the "experiment," this gift from God craned her neck, trying to get even a glimpse of what was happening. I remembered what her mom had said, but didn't want her to miss out. She looked up at me as I spoke.

"Can I pick you up, so you can see?"

She nodded. I picked her up, and she settled into my arms as we watched the soap. (Yes, I am deliberately neglecting to tell you what happens. And yes, I am doing so because I actually do want you to microwave a bar of Ivory soap.) Once the soap was removed from the microwave, I set her down so that she could play with the results. I watched the three kids enjoying themselves, and quietly thanked God for each one of them.

Then her brother decided to repeat the experiment.

I didn't even have a chance to ask permission to pick her up. Two tiny, soapy hands grabbed mine and tugged. As I picked her up, she smiled at me. And my heart melted. Figuratively, of course.

I breathed in the smell of her as I thanked God for the blessing that she is. And as tiny fingers absently played with my sweater, I closed my eyes. I opened them again when I felt her head against my chest. She was staring up at me, eyes wide and shining. She took a deep breath and relaxed against my chest.

We stayed that way for maybe five seconds. The moment seemed to pass almost before it started, and yet it seemed so long. I couldn't tell you what about this was so special. I only know that it was.

Lord, thank you for Katie. Thank you for giving her life. Thank you for giving her to Tim and Spring. She is a blessing from you, and they know it. I pray that you'd keep her safe as she grows. And thank You for that moment.

Okay. I am done, for tonight. I will leave you with one final bit of information.

You may have noticed that I said this post was "courtesy of a bird named Ollie." You see, three and a half years ago, I received an email. It started with these words: "Hi. I really need to talk to someone! I think I'm falling in love with this little bird and want to help him."

It ended with this paragraph: "Well, you may answer any or all or none of my questions. But any help you'd give would be much appreciated. I was so relieved to see an email, so I could talk to a real person. Oh, we are Americans living in Poland. Thanks in advance for your help."

You are welcome, Spring. But I should be the one thanking you.

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