Thrive

Family Chapel

Last fall when Luke left for the U of M I prayed for him – that he would not just survive, but thrive. Every day since I’ve marveled at how thoroughly God has answered my request. Luke is thriving in a hundred ways, more than I could ask or imagine.

And now once again I bring this request before the throne. This time I pray for my family here at home. God, help us to more than just survive. Help us to thrive.

I’m sure it is normal for adoptive families to spend some time in survival mode. And we have. Each of us discovering our own ways to cope, eking out just enough fortitude to make it through the day. I will confess, there have been days when the last thought to cross my mind before falling asleep is this. We survived.

Survival mode is not sustainable forever. Some do it better than others. I think of Louis Zamperini of Unbroken fame. But I am not him. I knew it before, and I know it even better now. My fortitude is remarkably week. I am a survival mode wimp.

So it is good, very good, that just when all of us were getting to the end of our reserves, a breakthrough happened. Hints of thriving. Answered prayers.

Last night three boys slept together in one room. Nils, Felipe and Jimmy. And it may not sound like a big deal, but it was the miracle I needed. The breakthrough I’d been waiting for. We are becoming a family.

Three weeks ago we posed for family photos. Seven of us together, with our daughter-to-be behind the camera. And the photos turned out remarkably well, considering. Considering we were all still in survival mode. Not quite feeling like family just yet, but posing just the same. Creating a picture of what we hoped to be.

I framed the photos for our mantle, and they’re beautiful. They look like they belong. We look like we belong. Together. And those photos, like our lives, hold a promise of answered prayer.

Good Tears

Mike

Yesterday was Mike’s last day as high school pastor and we Anderson’s left behind a puddle of tears. Luke might have started it, weeping as he was from behind the drum cage. Nils took one look at Luke and it was all over for him at electric guitar. Grant led songs he chose especially for Mike, which might have been a mistake. He stood there leading and crying, and “I don’t know why I’m crying. I get to go with him!”

I’m pretty sure Felipe and Jimmy were puzzled by all the tears. They’re not even sure where Iowa is, but they did ask if there were snakes. It’s unclear what that has to do with it. But Jimmy looked around at his brothers, and Dad sitting next to him fighting back tears, and later Kyle said Jimmy might have shed a few of his own.

I was a faucet, from beginning to end. A week’s worth of emotion dripping off my chin, and truth be told I needed an excuse to cry. Too much change for a mom to process in a season, and there’s a good chance some of the change is hormonal, and wouldn’t that be the perfect storm. So I cried with the rest of them, and in the end we all agreed. It was good. Those tears were freeing somehow, like permission to move on.

In true Mike fashion he used his last five minutes to say something profound. Something I won’t forget. He took us back to when he was a kid, and the beginning of his own faith journey. I think it was something he heard at a camp, but maybe I’m making that part up. Anyway, Mike quoted a pastor from years ago whose words gave light to his path. It was a simple comparison of two verses, both from the same letter, both verse 21.

First, Philippians 2:21, which says this: For everyone looks out for their own interests, not those of Jesus Christ. 

And then back to 1:21. For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain. 

His childhood pastor asked Mike, and yesterday Mike asked us. Which will you be? How will you live?

And it was the question I needed to hear.

All week long I’ve been in funk, and I’ve asked myself why. But I’ve had a hunch it has to do with dying. Placing something on the altar, too precious for words, and leaving it there, and trusting. Surrender. Always, every spiritual threshold calls for surrender.

So all week I’ve pictured myself there at the altar, letting it go. Grieving, and mourning a loss. But anchoring myself in this hope – that the One taking my offering is also the one who brings dead things back to life.

Love

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A few days ago we celebrated Valentine’s Day, and something happened at the breakfast table that still makes me smile. I set the table with small packages for each of the guys, adding cards from Grammy and candy from Grandma. The boys enjoyed their treats, and then Felipe looked at my place at the table, puzzled, and said – “Mom. Your Valentine? Is laundry?”

It wasn’t a typical Valentine’s Day, to be sure. Both Kyle and I were a bit weary from a long week of parenting, feeling like we’d been practicing more tough love than romance. Our creativity had been spent on survival, our money on groceries. We were working through issues with at least one grumpy teen, and Cupid was not on our radar.

But at the end of the day I could honestly say, it had been my best Valentine’s ever. I was in love.

I remember years ago receiving counsel about marriage and parenting. I can’t remember now if it was a friend, or a book, but the advice was this. Love your spouse most. The core love of family is husband and wife, and all other love flows out.

Good advice then, and now.

The challenges of these past weeks have made us one. More than ever. Truth be told, we’re a little desperate for each other.

That’s not to say we’re altogether desperate. In fact, there’s a lot of love flowing out. I watch my husband playing and loving on a houseful of boys and my heart swells. I see brothers bonding, more every day, and I thank God. My own affection for each of my sons is growing by the minute, and I know my prayers are being answered. Our new normal is rooted in love. I can breathe easy, knowing this.

Even Valentine’s Day ended better than expected. A friend invited all the boys to spend the evening watching slam dunks on TV, and we were free. An entire evening to ourselves. We considered joining the mobs dining out, but quickly rejected the idea in lieu of time alone. At home, together. Enjoying our love.

Food

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For the past several days it’s been obvious – the boys are missing a taste of home. They’ve been good eaters, overall. Preferring meats and fruits, eating vegetables when forced. Consistently turning down desserts, but never sodas. But just lately appetites have lagged, and hints have been dropped. American food is getting old.

I totally understand, but in reverse. Our stay in Colombia lasted seventeen days. At first the food was part of the adventure. Partway through the second week and I was craving familiar. And I remember this, too. The undeniable tie between comfort and food.

The differences are subtle. We ate pizza in Colombia, but it wasn’t as good as home. Jimmy and Felipe eat pizza in Minnesota, but it’s not the same. They’d rather not. And fruit is another dilemma altogether. Hands down fruit is better south of the equator than here in the frigid north. It might look like a peach or a plum, but our imported impostors don’t stand a chance.

So today was no school and four of us ate lunch at a Colombian restaurant found on the Internet. It hit the mark. For two of four. But it was the two who needed it most. Nils opted out and ate chicken nuggets and fries, which is Jimmy’s default when we eat American. Apparently kids’ meals are universal.

My satisfaction came from watching two new sons finding comfort in food. Everything Colombian. Even the sodas. And as they ate they remembered. Home. For a brief moment one boy was fighting tears, remembering. And Nils said, “This is good for them.” Yes.

They’ve been here for almost a month. Tomorrow. Four long weeks of unfamiliar. Everything new. Everything English. Snow and cold and gray. And February can make anyone restless. But today was good. It was just the right time for a taste of home.

Church

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The Church is the hope of the world. I’ve heard my son say this dozens of times. Grant, our firstborn, with the call of the Church on his life. And now this call is calling him away. Out of state. To Iowa. Des Moines.

Kyle says maybe we should find a little lake home, somewhere around Des Moines. A place to stay on weekends when we visit the kids and the church. We did an Internet search for real estate. How would you feel about a small farm with a tree? I suggested a nice hotel for now.

They’ll be leaving later this summer, after the wedding. Grant, and Kiana – who shares his dream. Finally I have a girl, and already he’s taking her away. It’s only Iowa, it could be worse. My head says – yes, I know. But my heart still aches, and for some reason this week I’ve been weepy thinking about it.

We’ve known for several months, but the news just became public a few weeks ago. Grant will be joining Mike – current high school pastor, mentor and friend to all of us. We’ll say good-bye to him, too, and his family. Jenny and the four kids – Jimmy, Emma, and twin baby boys.

These two men are young and full of passion. They love Jesus and they love the Church. The Hope of the World. Mike is brilliant and witty, and communicates the gospel better than any I’ve heard. Grant sings like an angel, according to one of the high school girls. His music is pure worship – that I’ll say for sure. The two will make a great team, and we can hardly wait to see what God has in store.

This morning I was thinking back. Thinking about how the Church has shaped my son. How Jesus and music have grown side by side in the core of his being. I was thinking about Tom, the Middle School pastor who started a band just for Grant. We bought a fancy keyboard, bigger than him, and he’d carry it back and forth to church every Sunday. I cried when middle school was over, and wondered if Grant would ever have another chance to play his music.

It’s funny how Moms have to cry these things through. Just like now. And I should know by now the next season is always better by far than what I’m expecting. There’s always more gain than loss.

Mike likes to talk about the Church as a movement. Not a place, set in time. But something alive. Always growing, always gathering. Creating life and light wherever it goes.

Even in Iowa.

Expectations

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This morning in my quiet time my devotional thoughts focused on expectations. I read a story by a missionary, and what she said was exactly what I needed. Exactly what Kyle needed, too, and I shared the thoughts with him.

Last night we went to bed late, exhausted and worried. Both of us, all day, had been struggling with heavy hearts, anxious spirits. Neither of us really knowing why. We prayed before sleeping, not out of devotion, but desperation. We knew we’d need divine help to still hearts and minds for rest.

Between prayers I said, “This is what we expected, right?” It’s not a surprise, really. Nothing shocking about this stress.

We expected it to be hard. Blending brand new sons into a fully functioning family. Asking boys who have been around for literally a lifetime to make space for foreign brothers. Asking boys who have left everything to accept and love this new life. And us. Mom and Dad to five, with human limits. And what did we expect?

We expected language to be grueling, and it is. We expected homework to be frustrating, and it is. We expected one boy to love math, and the other to hate it. And they do. We expected teenaged attitudes. Check. Bulking at schedules, hard to wake up, hard to put to bed. All expected.

We expected one boy to be funny and one to be serious, and mostly they are. Except the funny boy gets sadder than we expected, and the serious boy is lighter. We expected older brothers to need their own space, but we miss them when they disappear. All of us are missing things we used to have, and we hope it’s not forever.

The missionary in the story said she expected all the struggles she faced on the field, and yet she struggled. And so do we. But she had one expectation that was more than met, and it was the one she needed most. God was faithful. More than expected.

Each time someone asks how we’re doing I give some version of this answer. It’s not easy, but God is in all the details. God is exceeding our expectations.

Clean

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It was our Operations Director at church who said just what I’d been thinking. We think by setting a high standard of cleanliness we’re leaving an example for others to follow. But really all we’re communicating is that someone will always clean up their mess. Bruce was washing dishes in the church kitchen when he made his statement.

Brother, I feel your pain.

Before we added two more boys to our family, I cleaned like a maniac. I wanted to show these boys – this is how we live. I thought, no language required. They’ll just follow my example. Right. On second thought, when has that ever worked before?

This evening I sent an entire package of chewing gum through the washing machine. My fault or theirs? Hard to say. All day long I pick up garbage. And socks. Dirty dishes. I know I should train them to do it themselves. And I’m trying. But some days it seems my nagging is harder on my nerves than theirs.

This is not just an issue for new boys. The long-term residents are no better. The list of reminders is always the same. No wet towels on beds and floors. No wet shoes in the kitchen. No trash in the laundry. No garbage on the couch.

I used to say ­– Your future wife is going to hate me. But even that one proves to be an empty threat. It seems the minute they’re old enough to move on they suddenly become clean freaks. Perfectionists. It’s not fair.

I’m complaining. I know. But it helps somehow.

It could be worse. I repeat this daily, and believe it with all my heart. At the end of the day I’ve got it easy. I have a schedule that allows extra time for cleaning. I have a husband who does more than his fair share. I have boys whose habits need refining, but whose hearts are eager to please.

I look around and it’s almost bedtime. The kitchen and bathrooms are clean for the moment. My home is quiet and cozy. My family is happy. What more could I want?