DINGUS!

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At first I wasn’t a fan, but it’s starting to grow on me. This pet name, long used by Anderson boys, and immediately shared with Spanish-speaking brothers. It may in fact be the first new English word learned in the context of family. And repeated often.

What does it mean? I ask. Big brothers shrug their shoulders. Different things.

I take note. Nils is a dingus when he pushes Jimmy into the pool. Dad is dingus when he misses a serve in Spike Ball. Luke is dingus when he loses to Felipe in chess. And it’s not quite clear who is the dingus when Dad drives Jimmy back to school to get the math papers already at home in the backpack. The other day the word was used in the kitchen while I made dinner. I suspected for a moment the endearing term was being used on me. But no. They were quick to reassure. “Mom never Dingus.” Good.

But there’s more to it than that.

Earlier this week – it was the first day of school – Luke surprised us with a visit. He took the train from the U and called me for a ride. The boys didn’t know. They were just getting home from basketball, and Luke walked into the kitchen. Words are not enough to paint this picture. Jimmy saw his big brother walk through the door and leaped into his arms. “DINGUS!! I love you, Dingus!”

Tears, then and now. Who knew such an annoying word could hold such meaning?

It’s all about context. So many things are. Perspective. I find myself weighing words and actions of teenaged boys and asking often. What’s the context that shapes the meaning? And more often than not I understand. Offense is deferred. I can live with annoyance when I understand the heart.

Guardian

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My thoughts today are less story, more theology, but with practical application. I’m looking at my own core beliefs in a new light, through a slightly different lens, and I’m asking – what does it mean?

This is what I believe. The apostle Paul described the law as a guardian. The law guarded the hearts and lives of the people of God – but only for a time. In time the Holy Spirit took the place of the law, and became the Guardian instead.

Ideally, what works for our heavenly Father, works for earthly parents, too. We raise our children with this in mind. When kids are young, the law is guardian. Mom and Dad are the law. They make the rules, and set the boundaries. They offer rewards, and establish consequences. Life this way brings security to the hearts of little ones.

But as Christian children grow, they are introduced to a new guardian. The Spirit of Jesus, residing within. Little by little parents step back, and trust this Guardian to do His job. It’s a beautiful transfer, and a benefit to all. Kids celebrate the freedom brought by the Spirit – and parents do, too.

This theology has worked well in my home, with my boys. Over the years I’ve watched the Spirit increase, and me decrease. Boys becoming men need less of me, and more of Him. I let go and I trust, and it works.

Now here I am with two adopted teenaged sons. And I ask – where do they fit? What is needed? The security of the law, or the freedom of the Spirit? Or both?

Of course, both. But this is not easy. It’s not easy to be parents, jumping in in the middle, not sure how hearts are wired, not sure how much to trust. And it’s not easy to be teens, hearts wired for freedom, still needing the security of law. This may be our biggest challenge. It’s the thing I pray about most, and ask others to pray, too.

God has been faithful. Incredibly so. Since the beginning, every detail has demonstrated his goodness. Every chapter of this story has been a reminder. You can trust Me. And I do. I trust him to lead me – and to lead them – to the Guardian of all of our hearts.

School

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They’re off. Just moments ago, Kyle and I stood at the front door, waving adios to three boys, heading for school. It’s the beginning of a new semester for Nils, and the beginning of a new adventure for Felipe and Jimmy. This morning they’re all a little nervous, and so are we.

I didn’t take a picture. Too much explaining and complaining to cross that line. I’ll carry the memory instead. Felipe in his freshly ironed, button-up shirt; Jimmy in a hand-me-down t-shirt sporting an appliqué of an electric guitar. Skinny jeans brought from Colombia. Both in new sweatshirts unzipped, no coats. Nils comfortable in a favorite sweatshirt, too – but with a coat. Go figure. Apparently the jump from 90’s to 30’s hasn’t been a problem.

We spent last night and this morning reviewing schedules and plans. I typed out every day of the week, every class and room number. Hoping they won’t get terribly lost. We tried to explain “no backpacks in classrooms” – a school rule no one understands, especially Spanish-speaking boys. We’ll see how it goes. And no earphones. Except in English class. Lunch will be homemade today, hot lunch tomorrow. Meet Dad at the gym at the end of the day. And most important of all, a rule from Nils. Jimmy absolutely cannot wear his swimsuit to school. Today or ever.

Last minute Jimmy decided Nils should drive to school, and not Mom. And I agreed. It will be better to have your tenth-grade brother walk with you from your locker on the first floor to choir on the third floor, rather than Mom. You can do it, Jimmy. We spent two hours on Friday, when no one was around, walking the halls, finding lockers and classrooms. And wasn’t it kind of Mrs. Budish to assign lockers for all three boys in the same hall?

Oh, and there’s this. It’s Homecoming week. Try translating that. A week of talent shows and games and alumni, and oh, by the way – kids will dress in crazy clothing every day this week. You can too, if you’d like. Good news, Nils. Jimmy could wear his swimsuit and no one would know.

Whew. It’s a little crazy. Kyle and I are affectionately calling them our teenaged toddlers. The other night we bundled them up for the tubing hill, wrangling them into snowpants and gloves. “No snowpants. Jeans.” Not an option. We finally settled on a thick pair of sweatpants, but after the first run the string slipped out of Jimmy’s pants and the pants slipped down to knees, and seriously I’m not making this up. Swim trunks underneath. I hurried him back to the Jeep for the snowpants we’d stowed away just in case.

Yesterday we tried ice-fishing. More wrangling into boots and coats. Thirty minutes on the ice, and of course, no fish, and they were cold. But they’d like to try again. Felipe suggested using chicken for bait, like they do in Colombia, and he wondered if we could catch sharks.

We’re having fun, most days. But we’re tired.

Language

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One doesn’t fully comprehend the impact of the Babel punishment until living under its influence. And we are. Fully.

Yesterday we had our first real conundrum. It seemed like a bigger deal initially than it does now, looking back. In hindsight it’s almost funny. The boys had their first school visit, and Nils was supposed to provide a ride home. But at the end of the day no one knew the plan, and each boy made his own way, Jimmy walking in a sweatshirt through snowy streets all the way home. He made it, but he was mad. All three boys were mad, each blaming the other for the confusion.

And I’m sure it’s only the tip of the iceberg. School will start in earnest next week, and our need for communication will grow considerably. A host of details and two Spanish-speaking boys lost in a sea of English. Why wouldn’t there be miscommunication? Not to mention they’re teenaged boys, and when has communication ever been easy with that particular group? Yikes.

God’s solution to Babel was Pentecost, and I think we’ll be needing a little Holy Spirit intervention of our own in the days ahead. Maybe God will unleash my tongue to flow effortlessly with words in Spanish. Or maybe he’ll unleash my spirit to intuitively understand the unspoken. Either way, I’ll be leaning hard into my Helper.

It’s been true since our very first days together. Hard situations are best met with scripture and prayer. Even the boys would agree. When Dad reads the Bible and prays, everyone feels better. The Spirit’s music, in either language, brings peace to every soul.

And this is what we speak, not in words taught us by human wisdom but in words taught by the Spirit, explaining spiritual realities with Spirit-taught words. 1 Corinthians 2:13

Thankful

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Lately I keep thinking about all the reasons I have to be thankful. I need to write them down, so I don’t forget.

I’m thankful for the timing of our trip to Colombia. The more I think about it, the more I’m convinced. It was a gift and a miracle. At first we hoped to travel in summer, so all five of us could go. We worked it out so Luke could stay longer, to help us with our Spanish. Instead we traveled over Christmas – the only time other than summer all of us could go. And Luke with an extra semester of college Spanish under his belt.

I’m thankful for seventeen days in Colombia. The perfect amount of time. Long enough to sample and savor the customs and culture of our new boys. But not too long. Any longer might have cemented bad habits typical to teenaged boys. Any longer and we might have gone broke buying food at restaurants. It’s good to be home to normal routines and structure.

I’m thankful for my laundry room just off the kitchen. No more hiking sixteen blocks to the Lava Sport. My washer and dryer have been running non-stop since Friday.

I’m thankful for Felipe’s beautiful Spanish music. This is an answer to my prayers. It was honestly one of the things that concerned me most. I’ve been spoiled all these years with the music in my home, and I wondered how I’d respond to unfamiliar noise, grating on my nerves. I prayed specifically, asking God to work it out, and he did. Thank you.

I’m thankful for two new boys who know their Bibles. Two boys who love the Church. Amazing, how God has laid the foundation, years in advance, and these values of ours are their values, too.

I’m thankful for friends and family. Every day since we’ve been back, the welcomes have been sweet. I’m sure the boys are a bit overwhelmed. So many faces, and so many greetings. But everywhere they go they’re hugged by people who have waited months for their arrival. They’re loved by people who have prayed for this day.

I’m thankful for my husband. He’s an amazing dad. He always has been, but this proves the point. His love for all five of his boys is genuine and untiring. He enjoys them. Enjoys hanging out with them. Playing Spike Ball and soccer, FIFA on the X-box, and basketball with Nils. Turning his workshop into an art studio for Felipe. Coaching Jimmy through leg stretches so his knees won’t hurt. “Come on, Dad. Let’s play.”

I’m thankful to be a mom. I’m thankful for simple ways I can serve my boys. Cooking, cleaning, and laundry. Tasks I once resented have become ways to show my love. It’s the answer to my question. What is my place in this family of boys? I don’t play X-box. I can’t shoot baskets. But I can care and provide and I can make a house a home. And it feels good. It feels right.

And I’m grateful.

Homeward Bound

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Today we had our final appointment at the US Embassy, and tomorrow we are homeward bound. It has gone fast. Much faster than expected. And although there is much to love about Colombia, I’m glad to be going home.

Two boys wait for us in Minnesota. These past ten days we’ve been apart, and I’m eager to be seven again. If only for the weekend. Luke will return to the university on Monday, but at least we’ll all be in the same country, the same state.

We’re ready, I think, to make the transition. Ready as we’ll ever be. Jimmy’s been working non-stop on English. This social boy knows what he’ll need to survive. Too much silence would be torture. He needs to talk. Felipe, not so much. He’s more content with silence, less inclined toward language. We might have to prod, but he’ll get there. He’s brighter than bright, and he’ll learn.

Yesterday father and son took a Taxi to Felipe’s favorite store. Rubik’s Cube. He conquers these puzzles in record time, and craves the next challenge. The boy is a genius with strategy and numbers. We look forward to seeing what he does with his gifts.

Grant is holding down the fort at home, and it’s rumored he’s doing a great job. Grammy stopped by earlier this week with dinner, and later she sent me an email. The house is clean to perfection, she said. My first-born is ready for a home of his own. Soon. Too soon.

Once home, we’ll be planning a wedding. Grant sent a text with pictures of suits for the guys. There’s a sale this weekend, and he’d like to take his new brothers shopping. They don’t even know they’ll be groomsmen. Grant still needs to ask. The wedding party will be a team of brothers. Four of Grant’s, and one of his bride’s.

Boy Mom indeed. The mom of five. Crazy. And it is, sometimes. I had one hard day this week. One day when my attitude tanked. I was teary and tired, and I wasn’t sure why. But Kyle understood, and he helped me to see. He said, there’s been a lot of male bonding going on, and it’s good. But hard, when you’re not a guy.

That’s it. I can smile, thinking about it now. They bond through competing and wrestling. Trash talk in two languages. Favorite family phrases, unique to boys. And I am one of them, but not. I’ll need to trust God to show me the way.

Tonight for supper we eat arepas from a vendor, and leftovers from the frig. It’s our last chance at both. We’ll pack our bags before we sleep, ready for an early morning flight.

Buenas noches, Colombia. Gracias.

Farewell.

Escape

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Just now I escaped our apartment to find a quiet refuge where I can think. It’s Sunday afternoon, and we recently returned from a long walk to a Bogota flea market. We’re back at “home” resting. But resting for boys means TV, and there are TVs in two languages competing within a few feet of each other in our small space. American football on one, and Spanish cartoons on the other. This, honestly, has been my biggest struggle these last two weeks. I do not like TV. I don’t care for it at home, where watching is sporadic, and the TV is downstairs, and I don’t have to watch. But here living in close quarters, with too much free time, this pastime is making me crazy.

I ask God for patience. I understand the circumstances. It isn’t forever. I hope.

I shouldn’t complain. Yesterday there was no TV. There were no appointments, and no long lines. Yesterday we escaped for an entire day to the mountains, and it was glorious. My favorite kind of day.

Unfortunately there were only three of us – Felipe, Luke and me. Kyle stayed back with Jimmy, who is taking his turn at a stomach bug. The sickness hit first thing in the morning, just before we were to leave. Kyle had work he could do, so he stayed. The rest of us met up with Jorge Rico, our driver and guide for the day.

For the three of us the day was perfect. Perfect weather, and a perfect plan. Our guide was an expert. Part humanitarian, part naturalist, Jorge made sure we savored and saw his Colombia. Our journey took us through the mountains to a coffee plantation. The planation was beautiful, and worth the drive, but for Jorge it was just an excuse. An excuse to get us out of the city, and into the country he loves.

Our route included several intentional stops. First a roadside restaurant where we sampled cheese-filled arepas and fresh squeezed orange juice. Yum. Later, a trip to a local market, where we followed Jorge through a sea of produce, two floors deep. We watched as our guide stopped and talked to the vendors, filling his bags with fruits and vegetables. Before long we realized this was not just weekend shopping. This was a compassionate venture for a man with a big heart. We followed his lead, filling our own bags with Felipe’s favorite fruits.

The best part of the day for me was the drive. Even this was strategic. Jorge chose two routes for our journey. The trip out to the planation was scenic, but the way home was exquisite. And our guide made sure we experienced the difference.

On our way out the mountain path was lined with a single species of trees. Eucalyptus, imported from Australia. These foreign trees had taken over parts of the mountain, killing the native varieties. Although they were green and pretty, the Eucalyptus-covered mountains did not hold a candle to our way back home.

The return trip was paradise. Tropical trees of every variety lined mountain walls, heights and jungle combined. I’ve never seen such a combination. Luke tried to take pictures, but it was impossible to capture. Too much beauty to describe.

It was evening when we returned to the city. The traffic was thick and the boys were tired. I watched as the view returned to concrete and commotion. I closed my eyes and remembered, and I cherished my day away.