Fostering

Last Friday as I was getting breakfast I was listening to the radio.  They were playing the Friday StoryCorps segment.  It was dedicated to Father's Day and the idea that being a father is much more than biology.  The segment highlighted a couple who were foster parents.  They described how they felt after the first child they fostered had to be returned to his parent.  At first it was devastating to them. However, they learned something in the process.  One of the dads stated,  "I think in some ways, having to love someone and then give them up makes you less demanding of other people, just generally speaking. I think the other thing is being a foster parent made me want to be a foster parent even more. It’s hard to lose kids, that’s for sure. But I can do this, and I can help them." 

The idea of loving someone and having to give him/her up really resonated with me. Isn't that we are told?  "If you love something set it free.  If it comes back, it's yours.  If it doesn't, it never was."  That expression can be thought to describe fatalism: if the fates determine a relationship is to be, it will be.  Or, one can decided that relationships are all about free will.  A true relationship is one that allows the other freedom.  

In some ways, this dad seemed to imply that this ideology is only for the case of foster or "temporary" relationships.  But can it also be true for those whom we love and lose to physical death or emotional distance? Is it true that if we love them we should also be willing to give them up?  

I surmise that this dad recognizes that we have to enter into any relationship knowing that there is a risk involved.  It may be painful, it may even be devastating but it is so worth it. 

I liked his observation that the process of letting go helps us to be less demanding of people. I don't think that means that we are less involved or committed to our relationships rather we are more thoughtful. We know that there are risks to love and that we cannot hold any relationship too tightly.  We need to hold them as if we were holding a precious Faberge egg: each is beautiful and unique but also fragile and vulnerable to pressure. We have to cradle the egg carefully because even our own handling may cause it to break. Sometimes our own demands and expectations of a relationship can be crushing. When we are less demanding we intentionally provide cushion space in those relationships.  We can allow it to thrive. 

What about you?  How are your relationships?  Are you too demanding? Expecting too much than humanly possible from another?  How can you provide cushion space in your relationships?  Does that mean giving time, trust, or permission to others? Allowing them the space to be whom they need to be?  Is it allowing those we love to fail?  Or risking that we might lose them? 

In some sense we are all fostering relationships.  We are all foster parents. 

Sorrow and Love

Once again our church community is mourning the loss of a beloved member.  Once again a parent has lost a young adult child.  Once again we are coming to grips with sorrow and love.

It seems wrong that a child dies before his/her parents.  It is the wrong order of life and death. Unfortunately it is a place that we have visited a fair amount of times with dear friends and with extended family.  It is a place which begs me to scream and wail at God, how can you allow this to happen?

A couple of weekends ago was the family visitation and a memorial service.  It was beautiful: so peaceful, so compassionate, so life affirming.   There are not enough nor adequate words to describe the young man who died.  He was an original with a capital "O".  Someone who squeezed every ounce of life out of his twenty-eight years on earth. He was one of the most self-assured, comfortable-in-his-own-skin, approachable, lovable, accepting individuals.  He inspired people to be the best version of themselves because he inspired people to be the version that God sees.  

As with all deaths, I think we tend to focus on our own death- what could people say about me, would anyone come?- but we also think of our loved ones- what would I do without him, how can I go on without her?

In the particular case of this death it was so sudden. There was no disease, no accident, no indication that anything was amiss.  He was here living life and then he was not.  There wasn't time to have any bargaining with God as if we can ever bargain for lives.

As a mom I know that I would respond to God, Lord, take me instead.  I would most certainly be willing to give up my life for someone else.  But would I be willing to give up someone else? Am I willing to lose someone I love to death?   I don't know how much I would be willing to give up our boys or my husband if there ever was a choice.

Yet, that is what God did.  He gave up His son, sent Him to earth, allowed Him to be separated from His heavenly father for a time in order to have Him rescue all of us for all eternity.  Because of the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, there would never be separation from our Heavenly Father again.

And so God sometimes asks us to be willing and perhaps to actually, give up things, people and relationships in order to get us in a place where we may never be separated from Him or our loved ones again.  I think of how God asks us to be like Abraham and to be willing to sacrifice that which is the most meaningful to us (in his case, his son Isaac). God was more concerned with Abraham's obedience than the sacrifice. 

Do I trust God with all that I have, with all of my life and with all that I love?  Can I entrust my future to Him even if it might bring me temporary but great sorrow?  I pray that no one ever has to endure what our friends and loved ones have. But I also pray that I may come to a place that I can say, "thy will be done" whatever that might be. 

It is a place where sorrow and love flow mingled down.  It is a place that we visited over that weekend.  It is a place where through our tears we can still see the Glory of God through community, care and love of one another.  And it is a place, strangely enough of hope. 

One of my favorite hymns is "When I Survey the Wondrous Cross".   It came immediately to my mind when I first heard the news of the death. 

When I survey the wondrous cross
On which the Prince of glory died,
My richest gain I count but loss,
And pour contempt on all my pride.

Forbid it, Lord, that I should boast,
Save in the death of Christ my God!
All the vain things that charm me most,
I sacrifice them to His blood.

See from His head, His hands, His feet,
Sorrow and love flow mingled down!
Did e’er such love and sorrow meet,
Or thorns compose so rich a crown?

Were the whole realm of nature mine,
That were a present far too small;
Love so amazing, so divine,
Demands my soul, my life, my all.

The African Doctor

African Doctor Movie.jpeg

The other night my husband and I watched a movie, The African Doctor.   It is a 2016 French film about a newly graduated Congolese doctor who becomes the doctor for a small conservative village in France.  Seyolo Zantoko struggles with his family to integrate into a small rural village and ends up being considered as one of the most respected doctors in the area.  It is a heart-warming "true" story.

What I liked was the idea that community begins when Dr. Zantoko and some villagers take the risk to get to know one another.  In this case, the doctor joins the men in learning to play darts at the local pub.  

Makes me think about getting to know the strangers in my midst.  Do I take the risk in getting to know them?  Do I sacrifice time with those I already know in order to greet and meet those whom I don't?  Should I? 

I think there is a responsibility in community to take that risk; whether that is a group with which I am involved, my neighbors in community or in the larger world.  Of course there are times when we do need to "honker down home" and regroup with people who already know us.  We need the stability of established relationships to get through a patch of tough time. But to permanently settle into little isolated segments does nothing to promote understanding, connection and peace in the world.

I know that I have talked a lot about this topic on these blog postings.  But it seems every where I turn I see disconnect- people not only disagreeing but violently so.  Communities, cross the globe are closing in ranks and hiding behind a curtain of nationalism and isolationism.  

Yet, I also see glimmers of people reaching out to one another and in doing so are forming broader communities.  Perhaps it is due to a common enemy that is drawing dissimilar people together.  But I would hope that it is because love always trumps hate. Love takes risks. Love takes time.  Love is the only hope for society to continue.  

It makes my day better knowing that I have connected to someone- whether that is a smile, kind word or long chat.  Hopefully it is reciprocated-  that "someone's" day has improved too in knowing that there has been a connection.  It is looking for commonalities rather than differences.  In The African Doctor, it was the common cause of the children and their activities that finally cemented the relationship between the Zantoko family and the village.

What about you?  Do have any time this holiday weekend to connect to someone else?  A long distant relative or friend?  A stranger in the store?  Have you seen any movies  or read any books lately where these theme of connection have occurred?  What were the titles?  What spoke to you in these stories? Were there any truths to be gleaned? 

Instead of letting things happen around you, what steps can you take to keep the means of connection open? What activities can you find that might connect you with people you wouldn't normally associate? 

How would you respond if you were plunked down into a community where you didn't know anyone?  How would you connect?  Perhaps it is time that we all think of others in that way. 

 

WE ARE All .... HERE

This past week I spent the day in New York with our one son. We had a fun day poking around in consignment shops, bookstores and areas in the city where we hadn't spent much time before. Walking down one of the streets there was a large sign affixed to a church wall.  It read "We are Orlando." 

The sign made me think of a story I had recently read about Master Sgt. Roddie Edmonds. Master Sgt. Edmonds was a non-commissioned officer in the US Army during WWII.   He and his men were in the Battle of the Bulge and were taken prisoners.  At one of the Stalags, the prisoners were told that the Jewish POWs were to fall out to be counted.  When the time came, all 1,275  prisoners stood together in formation.  As the highest ranking officer in the camp, Master Sgt. Edmonds was the one in front.  The commandant was furious. He came over to Edmonds and yelled at him, "You can't all be Jews."  Edmonds looked at him and said, "We are all Jews here."  The commandant took his gun, pointed at Edmonds' head and demanded that Edmonds tell him who were the Jews or he would shoot Edmonds.  Edmonds replied, "According to the Geneva Convention, we are only required to give our name, rank and serial number.  If you shoot me, you will have to shoot all of us and when we win this war, you will be tried for war crimes." (Read more about his story)

His son knew his father had a harrowing war experience but never knew the entire story.  It was only after his dad's death, going through old diaries that he started putting the pieces together. He discovered his dad's name referenced in a New York Times article about Richard Nixon trying to buy an apartment in New York after he had resigned and left office.  The article spoke of Lester Tanner, a lifelong Democrat who in hearing about Nixon's predicament, sold him his Manhattan townhouse.  Even though Mr. Tanner did not share Nixon's political beliefs, Tanner believed that a person should not be blackballed like that.  

Mr. Tanner had served in the Army with Master Sgt. Edmonds and had witnessed Edmonds' bravery. Because of it, Mr. Tanner said that he decided that for the rest of his life he would always do the right thing. 

In the wake of the horrible tragedies of Baton Rouge, Orlando, Nice, Dallas (the list seems to go on and on) I wonder if we can remember that we are all humans here. By the grace of God go all of us. At any one moment, a certain group can be singled out. Isn't that what those who are intent on doing harm want to do? Cull the group? Pick on the most vulnerable?  Force each other to turn on one another? 

We need to stand shoulder to shoulder against the forces of evil, prejudice, and hate.  We need to decide to do the right thing and not allow this divisiveness to wedge and split our society.  We need to be wiling to speak out when injustice occurs. We need to be willing to work together with those with whom we disagree. We need to be willing to listen to one another. We need to have the courage to say to those who are intent on harm, this is the wrong way to go about getting your point across. We need to have the mindset of Master Sgt, Edmonds that we are all one here. 

I have never been in a life or death situation where my beliefs have been called into question.  I pray that if I ever did I would do the right thing.  But every day I do have the choice whether I will treat the person who doesn't look, speak or think like I do, with respect, dignity and love. 

What about you?  What choices do you have to make? 

"The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing". ~Edmund Burke

 

Fear Factor

Have you felt a change in the air?  I don't mean the actual climate but a feeling of "something wicked this way comes."  It is a clawing pervasiveness like the Dementors from the Harry Potter books.  It is an atmosphere that sucks the life out everyone it touches.  It is the cold touch of fear.

It seems lately that everyone I meet is succumbing to fear.  It is one the underlying characteristics beneath our country's policies and political race.  It pervades the local politics and news.  It is in the comments of neighbors, friends and family.  It is paralyzing our common sense and decency.  

Just recently there was a local county jurisdiction that decreed its school children would not be allowed to have any classroom trips to Baltimore due to the riots from last April.  They are worried about the safety of the children and decided it would be best to avoid that potential by staying in their low crime homes.  To me that is unbelievable that seemingly rational adults can be so afraid of some very remote danger that they are denying the children access to historical and cultural events. 

The tragic irony is that this same county enclave just had an awful reality check: deranged and dangerous people are all around us, even in our idyllic settings.  Two days ago, there was a fatal shooting of two officers from the sheriff's department.  The officers were responding to a call about a suspicious gentleman sitting in a local eatery. According to witnesses, the officer asked the gentleman how his day was going and the gentleman responded with a shot to the officer's head.  Absolutely horrible.  Prior to this incident, this county sheriff's department had lost in the line of duty only five deputies, the first in 1899.  Three of those five happened in the last six years. 

Even though I do not agree with this county's isolation-protects-us-from-harm policy, I would never wish something like this to happen. Life is rough and tough. Humans can treat others terribly.  Yet I still believe that we, humans, can do better.  That we can turn the tide to this fearful climate.

Fear creates isolation.  Isolation creates lies and untruths.  Lies and untruths create hate.  Hate creates all types of deranged behavior.   

"Perfect love casts out all fear."  Can that ever be achieved?  What does that look like?  I think for a start it is loving our neighbors as ourselves. It is in knowing our neighbors and not isolating ourselves from community.  

 I think we need to take a reality check about our own lives.  To humbly realize that there by the grace of God go I.   It is only a thin thread that separates us from those who do that which we find abhorrent.  I think when we are open to our own potential then we are open to compassion and empathy towards others. 

I think as a community and as a nation we need to guard ourselves from this atmosphere of fear.  When we hear our neighbors, friends and family speak in fear to ask, what is their specific fear? To help them identify it and to ask if that is likely to happen? When we hear derogative or hateful comments to ask,  is it true? 

Sadly, some tragedies will happen.  My heart aches for those families.  Yet I would hope that if I were the one who suffered tragedy that I would, at some point,  not let fear and hatred take over my life.  That I would not succumb to the Dementor's kiss. For when we let fear take over we no longer are living life. 

What about you?  Have you noticed a change in the climate?  What, if anything, are you doing about it?