No one's laughing at God

I originally wrote this piece for WORLDMag.com on January 14, 2010, right after the earthquake that devastated Haiti, and it seems appropriate for this point in time as well.

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We discovered Regina Spektor in December during one of Amazon’s $5 CD deals. I was listening to her album Far one night as background music when the song “Laughing With” came on. Something about the song captured me instantly. I had to stop working and give it my full attention. I found the video on YouTube and watched it over and over. It made me cry.

Speaking of crying, I started hearing about the devastation in Haiti sometime late Tuesday night or early Wednesday morning (I had a daughter with a stomach virus and we were up all night long as she continued to wake and heave—Haiti could wait, I thought). In my lack-of-sleep state Wednesday morning, we slugged our way through the school day with the youngest recovering on the couch, but I kept hearing more about Haiti.

Finally, I couldn’t put it off any longer—I searched online to find out what had happened. My 11-year-old was standing near me when she heard me say, “Oh, my God,” in an audible, non-blasphemous, serious question to the Lord. Tears stung my eyes as I began reading. Concern in her voice, she wondered what I was finding out. I started reading out loud. She had tears in her eyes, too.

We feel so helpless. What can we do? We can pray. We can give. We can distance ourselves from Pat Robertson (we were never that close anyway). And we can listen to Regina—after all, sometimes it takes a skeptic to convey truth in a more honest way than on airways “safe for the whole family”:

No one laughs at God in a hospital
No one laughs at God in a war

No one’s laughing at God when they’re starving

or freezing or so very poor

One thing’s for sure: No one’s laughing at God in Haiti right now.

And despite what some wrongly presume, God’s not laughing either.

Pray for Oklahoma

#PrayForOklahomaAs I’m sitting here right now, the sky goes gray without warning and the thunder is a shock to the very depth of my core today. Just like yesterday. Only yesterday we had an idea it was coming and it was bringing something very disturbing with it. I left the house shortly after putting the boys down for a nap, as Craig was working from home yesterday, and the sky was picnic-in-the-park perfect and I chalked the tornado hype up to another over-prediction by Oklahoma weathermen. We get a lot of warnings in these parts.

After I left my appointment, the difference in the sky was drastic and my biggest fear was hail, but as I flipped on the radio, I soon found there was much worse to be worried about. I had a 20 minute drive home and I called Craig from the van to say, “I may not make it home today. If the tornado doesn’t get me, one of these idiot drivers will. So…tell the kids I love them and I love you too.” Perhaps a thoughtless joke, but one that shows I really had no idea what our area was in for in the next 45 minutes.

I was never in the path of real danger. I was in the path of a lot of idiot drivers, but that doesn’t bother me today nearly as much as it did yesterday.

I came home. I pulled into the garage. We made sure we knew were the bike helmets were. We turned on the live news coverage. Actually, that was already on, so I just walked over to where everyone else was watching it. And for the rest of the evening, we watched in horror as hundreds of Oklahoma lives were permanently altered by one short afternoon.

We don’t live in Moore. Moore is just south of Oklahoma City and we live on the north side of OKC. Our actual house was closer to the tornado that hit the Edmond area on Sunday than the one that hit Moore yesterday. But we know a lot of people who live in Moore and…we know a lot of people who lived in Moore.

I get a little weird in these kinds of situations. I don’t want to claim a sorry that isn’t mine to grieve. I did not lose my house. I did not lose my family. I do not know anybody who died. A couple of families from our school did lose their homes yesterday, but they still have their families. We have everything to be grateful for. And so I pretty much just watched without much emotion yesterday.

And then I drove Katie and Millie to play practice and after I dropped them off I turned the radio back on. And I heard about the 7 children from Plaza Towers Elementary. And I started crying. Until that moment I had only known about the destruction. I hadn’t heard of the death yet.

MapYou see point A? That’s the location where my kids go to school on T/Th/F. Point B is where the 7 children drowned yesterday after being trapped by debris. Yesterday was a homeschool day, so we were huddled up in our house, but… BUT.

And that’s what I’m struggling with. Everywhere I go I hear people, some strangers, some not, talk about where they “almost were” or how they knew someone who lived “this close” to the path or they had “just been to that location the day before” or they “were supposed to be right there but their plans changed” and I can’t decide if everyone is just trying to piece this together in a way that really brings home how close this really was to all of us or if everyone is feeling guilty that we were spared while so many others were not.

And yet, this is our tragedy. One in which we can grieve with those who grieve and mourn with those who mourn and help those who need helping.

And we can pray.

We must pray.

And we cry. With and for and because. We cry.

We went to a picnic yesterday.

Lincoln Liquefied Gas TrainWe were on a list that got an open invitation to attend a “foster family appreciation picnic” at someone’s ranch in Chandler, OK yesterday. It was for families like ours as well as families who work in foster care in some capacity. The email promised a “cook out, horse-back riding, fishing, hay rides, face-painting and just a great afternoon in the wonderful outdoors.” Craig was out of town this weekend and I’m generally always on the hunt for things to do with a large group of kids that fits the following categories: fun, free (or cheap), and takes a lot of time. This one seemed to fit all three, so off we went.

Kiddie TrainThese kinds of events are usually hit or miss – they are either going to be awesome or lame, super crowded or barely attended. We had no idea which way this one was going to go until we got there and when we finally did get there (it was about a 45 minute drive from home) we made a snap judgement based on a quick first impression and I had to rally the 9yo-and-over troops to just hang in there with us for a little bit and to try to see this from a 3-and-4-year-old’s perspective and try to make the best of it. Fortunately for me I didn’t have to convince them too much. All of the girls seemed to have their intuitive switch flipped on yesterday and they quickly figured out that this wasn’t your average rodeo.

Wagon RidesThey embraced it for what it was and off they went: Kiddie Train? Check! Wagon Rides? Check! Horseback riding? Check! Fishing? Check!

Sweet SiblingsAnd once we’d made up our minds that we were going to enjoy this, we did. We’d brought a friend along with us (because what’s another kid when you already have 6?) and there were 8 of us altogether. I told the crew I was comfortable with them splitting up and heading off on their own so long as they had a buddy with them. Maddie reached for A4. Chloe claimed R3. Katie and Anna paired up and that left me with my favorite 9yo. No arguing, no complaining about the pairs, just a family doing what a family does. It was beautiful.

Horse RidingSo why, then, did I almost break down crying on multiple separate occasions while we were there? What went wrong? I’m still trying to pinpoint exactly what it is we all ended up experiencing while we were here, but there was a profound display of the brokenness of our world that someone was making an effort to redeem for one short afternoon, but the irony of the situation was that all of us were there because of some really hard stories, really tough situations, really bad choices made by someone on behalf of someone else. And for a couple of hours we could each forget our own situations, but we were staring square in the face at everyone else’s.

Horse RidingI think my first round of almost-tears came and I started to name what caused them when Millie casually mentioned that we’ve been doing a lot of fun stuff since the boys came. There’s an element of truth in what she said – we never would have come to this picnic had we not been involved in foster care, but I’m not really sure what else she was thinking of at that moment other than some other things we’ve done lately that we would have done anyway whether the boys were living with us or not. But I wanted to focus in on what she was thinking – that it was because of the boys that we were doing fun things and I agreed with her that we had done a few extra fun things because they were part of our lives now. But I asked her to look around at all the kids and families and stories. I said that there is a sadness in that because what most of these kids really need is to be consistently involved in normal family life – to live in a home where they are expected to do their homework, expected to put away their clothes, expected to participate in the family dialogue, expected to love and be loved. And that a lot of these kids didn’t have that. But they did have a series of fun events and I’m not sure what that means for them. We were quiet for a while.

3yo gazingWhile I was at the corral watching some of my crew ride horses and some of them wait their turn, I entered into a conversation with a grandmother who currently has custody of several of her grandchildren. And she told me her story. And I affirmed her for being present in these kids’ lives. And she talked about her own kids and how they weren’t fit to be parents and how she vowed to do everything she could to make sure she kept the kids away from their parents until they got their lives straightened out. And I held back tears.

Brotherly LoveAnd as I was in line for a hot dog and some chips, a little girl, maybe 6, initiated a conversation with me. “This is my 3rd year to come to this picnic!” And I exclaimed on her behalf about how fun that was and how we were rookies as this was our first year and there was a pang in my heart because, Lord? She’s been coming for 3 years? And how many picnics’ worth of foster care will our little guys start measuring time by? And I almost cried again.

Going fishingAnd then there was the fishing – boy, do these boys love to fish. And I don’t. So it was awesome that there were some folks there at the ready, complete with poles and a worm buffet, to be there with those kids. And they did so with such grace, such patience. As one guy was helping us untangle a cord, he casually muttered, “Fishing is just an exercise in controlled frustration,” and I laughed and said, “Sounds an awful lot like parenting, no?” And he laughed, and we kept at the line a little bit longer.

Fishing AngelsAnd one of them took a smoke break and another rummaged a cooler for some sweet tea, though I’m certain he would have replaced that with a beer in a heartbeat if he could have, and I quietly declared them all saints for the day. They laughed and I said, “Maybe that’s the first time anyone referred to you that way, but the work you did here today is important and it matters.” And I thought to myself, “Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers,you did it to me.

We shared the pond with a handful of boys from a local boys’ home and we cheered with them when they caught fish and we listened to them as they dispensed advice on where the best spots were and we beamed with them as they bragged about how many they’d caught that day and for a moment we were family. But it was a fleeting moment and we will likely never see any of those boys again, nor do we even know their names. And I pondered again on how many of these events these boys have attended with strangers-as-family-for-a-moment, who loved well for 45 minutes, but then drove back home to their own quiet lives. And the tears sprang up again.

Picnic BusBecause these boys? They are precious. And sure, I only interacted with them for one short moment, but they were courteous and polite and funny and interesting and…heartbreaking. And I looked at my two guys and I looked back up at them and something in me broke. Because that scene you see above? It’s likely what lies in the future for our two if someone doesn’t step in and soon. And while I’m grateful for the group home these boys can go back to, thankful they aren’t sharing space under a bridge tonight, I wanted to just bring them all back to my house and say, “Be in my family. Let me love you like you deserve to be loved.”

But I couldn’t do that. And this time I actually cried.

Face PaintingBecause who is going to be the keeper of these boys’ memories? Who will they go back to to help them remember the time they got a dragon painted on their cheek and road a horse named Noah and got to help themselves to coolers of sodas?

Who will be the grandparents to their kids? Who will love them for the rest of their lives? Who will be present with them in all of their future joys and sorrows and experiences?

I can’t answer those questions and I don’t know if I will ever be able to. And it makes me cry.

Edible Solar System

Edible Solar System ProjectDid you know the solar system was actually created in a few hours and baked at 350? Millie has a school project due on Tuesday. We baked up the solar system this past Friday and today she’s decorating her heart out. Super fun.

State Piano

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They worked hard for it and today it showed. Proud of these three and another year of piano and persevering through an unusual student/teacher relationship to make it to this. Way to go, girls!

Spelling Bee

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Millie worked her tail off prepping for the 3rd grade spelling bee this year and I was bound and determined to go since I accidentally missed it last year and she won last year. I knew it was important to her that I go. In the end, she went out on an easy word that I know she knows and she knows she knows – the word was threw and she spelled throw. It was just a goofy mistake, but one that devastated her. I could see the disappointment well up in her eyes and color her cheeks and my heart just wanted to whisk her out of the room and save her from a future of disappointing spelling bees. When the round ended she walked over to the other side of the room and I…waited. Unsure if she needed to be alone or needed a shoulder. None of the other moms were there and none of the other kids seemed to be taking defeat personally. Nope, that’s a trait reserved for a special few…ahem.

Five minutes later, though, I scooted my way over to her and just popped my arm around her. I whispered to her that I knew she could spell threw and many other much more difficult words and this moment in time would pass and not mean much later. I told her I was proud of her for working so hard to prepare and that she was a spelling champ in my book. I then asked if I was embarrassing her by sitting there. She said no, so I just stayed put and together we watched the rest of the spelling bee.

Proof We’re Still Not Grown-Ups

Patio FurnitureWe’re having a cook-out tomorrow night for our weekly small group as this will be our last meeting together before we break for the summer. As such, we thought that maybe it’s time for us to become adults and get us some proper patio furniture. And by proper, I simply mean get some. I started on craigslist but have had nothing but terrible luck there – everything is either trashy or way overpriced. So this led me to Walmart, Sam’s Club, and Target tonight where everything was…either trashy or way overpriced.

We don’t need to pay to be trashy. I’ll just pull out one of our white folding tables and pop a tablecloth on it and call it a cook-out. We’ve done it before, it won’t kill us to do it again. And maybe the next time we get the hankering to be proper grown-ups, we’ll first rake up all the sheared dog hair in the backyard and, oh, maybe do our purchasing at the end of the summer when things have a better chance of being on sale…

Ready for Summer

Summer Swimming*Almost* makes you think it’s warm enough to get in, right? And so it is, but the water is still super cold. Hasn’t stopped the girls, though. They’ve been in four times since Craig set it all up over the weekend.

Somebody is ready for summer…