Friday, January 30, 2009

Vespera

I've had quite a few thoughts about what I'd post today...this last post until we return from the Embassy. Millions of little blog fragments have floated in and out of my scattered brain in the last 24 hours. I guess what I most want to say, though, is this...

We are so grateful for this beautiful young woman, this Vespera, this daughter of ours. Her "real" name means "freedom." And that is what we are trying to obtain for her...freedom. I think that there are many ways to serve God on this planet, and many of them do not require education or some vast skill set. But some of them do. And I believe that Vespera's freedom will mean that she has access to the education and the tools to become what God intends for her to be in this life. And I believe as surely as the sun rises each morning that God has an incredible plan for this girl...this woman...our daughter. Why else would she have come to us on the last whispers of our evening prayers, our Vespera? For, "Vespera" is the Latin word for "evening prayer." And she was the answer.

I have learned much, as perhaps all parents do, since the day she joined our family. Perhaps one of the most valuable lessons has been to honestly be present with my children each day, to pay attention, and to open my heart and my emotions to each moment. I sometimes mourn for the days I didn't know Vespera, the moments I missed from her childhood, not just to protect her from the suffering she has known but also to have witnessed her first smiles, watched her hair grow long, and held her chubby baby hands. And so I pay that much more attention now...to Vespera and to Mane. And I "treasure up all those things and ponder them in my heart," just as Mary did with the baby Jesus.

And there was a day last winter when I sent Mango off with Vespera on a swift trip to the Emergency Room in the middle of the night, and I paced the floors and prayed, wondering if her time with us was over so soon. I knew then, as I had known already, and as I know still more deeply now, that love for this woman child pulses like blood in my veins, and I would be left faint with a hole in my heart without her. I begged and pleaded with God. And she came home in the wee morning hours, sick and exhausted, but alive.

So, I walk in gratitude each day, thankful for joy and pain, laughter and longing, and even for the thick anxiety that fills my stomach because it means my daughter is here. She is alive. I have her with me today. And I will be grateful for each moment that I can know her and be her mother. Even if she isn't granted a visa and we all move to Mexico. Even if nothing goes as planned and we have to rearrange our whole lives. I would do this for her...for Mane...for Mango. For these precious people, nothing is too much to ask.

I think that's how God feels about us, too...
that nothing is too much to ask.
So, tonight and each night, until we return...
we will pray for freedom for our little evening prayer.

Thank you to all of you whose hearts go with us and who will be waiting for our return.

Peace.

Monday, January 26, 2009

More on Communal Living

I wanted to type out the direct quote that I mentioned in my last post. The author of Little House on a Small Planet is Shay Salomon. She says in the introduction, "How is it that we have a housing crisis? Maybe a homing crisis, or a sharing crisis, but this isn't a housing crisis."

It seems to me that some very understandable things happened to precipitate this sharing crisis, and now we're a nation of lonely people needing to find a way back to communing with other human beings. Salomon suggests, from her research, that Americans first began building large houses and spreading out into the sprawl of the suburbs as a symbol of having achieved money and freedom. People thought this is what they always wanted...to be middle class, free, and independent...because they had previously been crowded, poor, and squelched. Large, single-family homes symbolize, in many ways, the "American Dream." They are all about being a self-made human, having accomplished something from nothing. It's still true in many places in the world that the only people with large houses have inherited wealth. In America, it's possible to start out your life with nothing and end your life with a mansion.

The trouble is that having more stuff and more space doesn't really make people happy. Not having to worry constantly about money does make a difference, but once ends are meeting, it seems that having more doesn't really make people happier. In fact, having more seems to create a desire for even more. I can't help but think of people who reminisce fondly of their poor college days, and, although they have more (materially & monetarily) now, they are less happy. It seems, at least in part, that people miss the freedom they had when they had less money. Once you're tied to a hefty mortgage, you have less freedom, more responsibility.

Salomon says, "Many of us know someone who has suffered the consequences of an inflated mortgage, an overwhelming construction project, or a house simply too large to keep clean. Will our dream home always be a celebration of excess, and a drain on our lives?"

I'm not trying to decry the abominations of home ownership. We own a home, too. I'm just trying to think it through. And I'm thinking of what might be different in our culture if people felt like they could share houses, rather than everyone buying their own.

In her book, Salomon discusses how the people who have very small houses often owe less or nothing on their homes, which frees them to work less, spend more time at home, and spend more time with family, friends, and community. This looks a lot more like the American dream of my generation. We're a generation of people trying to work from home, be the primary caregivers for our own children, and have more time to spend socializing with friends.

Salomon interviewed hundreds of people with small houses and found that most had better family relationships in their small space, though this seems contrary to popular American psychology. And people talked about "finding space in their head" and in the outdoors, rather than needing literal household space. I'm running out of time to write today, but I want to come back to this idea...the idea that relationships can be better and people can find other ways to "make" space.

I'm going to stop here today, though. I could keep going, but I'm out of time, and I want to keep putting thoughts out there as I think through them.

Please, please, if you're up for a discussion, post your comments, and let's talk!

Saturday, January 24, 2009

Communal Living

I have about 15 minutes to write my thoughts as fast I can tonight while Mango is on his way home. I've been reading a book (see my sidebar) called Little House on a Small Planet. My reading frenzy on the subject of communal living began with a conversation I had with Vespera a few weeks back about continuing to live communally even after she gets married someday. We've experienced plenty of culture exchange since Vespera became our daughter and a few small cultural challenges. This is the first one that really threw me. And then I had to ask myself why? Why does this throw me? Haven't I been talking for years about how people were meant to live communally? Haven't I been speaking on the loneliness of mothers, the challenges we face in a society where we are isolated as parents on a daily basis because we all live in our separate little homes? Haven't I complained plenty about the suburbs and suburban sprawl and talked about the virtues of high density housing? Yep, that was me. I've talked about all those things. What is it that makes us think we cannot begin those things with our own families? Why does communal living typically imply a group of friends rather than families?

So, I've taken it upon myself to begin some reading. I want to really explore the cultural assumption in America that adult children must leave home to be grown-up, that in order for healthy differentiation to happen, people must have their own house. And I want to think about why we Americans seem to think we need so much space. Why do we have to have so much privacy and so many belongings?

Little House on a Small Planet begins by addressing some of these issues, first, from an environmental standpoint. Did you know that houses these days are no less energy efficient now than they were in the 1950's? Obviously, there's plenty of new energy-saving technologies, but the increase in the size of houses negates the improvements in energy efficiency. Did you also know that if we Americans went back to homes that provided about 350 square feet per person, we currently have enough housing in America for our entire population DOUBLED? Did you know that in 2000 there were 45 vacant housing units per every person sleeping in homeless shelters? The author points out that we don't have a housing problem. We have a sharing problem.

Hmmm.

So, we have totally welcomed the possibility of communal living/multigenerational housing with Vespera and her future family. (Yes, we really plan ahead!) Now, I'm off to read about why people don't typically do this any more.

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Finals

Despite the rough afternoon, yesterday ended with sweetness and peace, and we all trundled ourselves off to bed around midnight, feeling relaxed and loved. Mango has his voice back, Vespera is feeling better, Mane has slept well for 2 nights in a row, and I am no longer overcome with anxiety...though I still apparently have a low grade fever.

It feels like finals week when we all just have to push through to the end. We have to give the last ounces of energy to be sure we've dotted all our "i"s and crossed all our "t"s in order to make the grade and be done. I remember during finals week in college the way that everyone's physical health seemed to decompensate, and mental health teetered on the brink. Even the computers seemed to have had enough - crashing and coming down with viruses. As horrible as it sounds, if I can think of this trip to the Embassy as finals week in college, I think I can stave off the tides of anxiety...or at least hold my breath and let the waves roll over me rather than drowning. It's just something we have to get through.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Honestly, I feel...

Anxious. Very Anxious. Almost incapacitated. I'm sitting here waiting for the Rescue Remedy to kick in. In a few short weeks this will all be over. ...and then who will I be? What will it be like to be me without the huge knot of worry about immigration hanging over my head? What will it be like to be our family? What kind of new dance are we going to have to learn once our stomachs are no longer tied in knots?

Vespera has been suffering migraines...not helped, I'm sure, by her new braces. I've had a fever for 4 straight days. Mango has lost his voice. Mane can't sleep at night.

This is where a life of total faith begins.

Again.

I thought I knew what faith was before. But it appears that...

"Faith is being sure of what you hope for and certain of what you cannot see." Hebrews 11:1

And I don't really think that verse has anything to do with desired outcomes or being sure of the things we really want. It's being sure of the final outcome. In the end justice, mingled with grace and mercy will surely triumph.

But I still really want MY desired outcome. I want what I am hoping for. Desperately.

Sunday, January 18, 2009

Henna

So, I learned to do henna this last week...







Tuesday, January 13, 2009

The Journey Begins

Our number one concern about our travels to Mexico has been finding a safe place to stay. Generally I'm not one to worry about safety, but, let's face it, staying in a hotel in Mexico is decidedly less appealing than staying in a hotel in the States, unless you're in a resort town, which we most certainly will not be.

Fortunately for us, my parents were missionaries in Mexico for 9 years, and later they were missionaries at a Hispanic church in Utah. They have some connections. We were hoping to find people who could help us figure out where to stay or who might even offer their homes or their churches for us to sleep. So, my dad did some calling, and a pastor he knows recommended that they call a church in Texas that is affiliated with this pastor's church. So, my dad put in a call for us. It turns out that the church has a missionary couple in the town in Mexico where we'll be. The couple runs a school AND the school has a dormitory where we can stay!! Not only that, but the missionary couple said they would meet us on the U.S. side of the border and be our tour guides through the town and to the school.

We are totally just falling all over ourselves in excitement about this. First, it means we won't be staying in a hotel. Second, we won't be sleeping on some family's living room floor either. While this would be safer than a hotel, staying at someone's home is an inconvenience to the family and an extra stress for us. AND we won't be staying in a church, which would have us concerned about being alone and targets for robbery and vandalism. We could not imagine a better situation than staying in a Christian school dorm. God heard our prayers.

The journey begins.

Monday, January 12, 2009

A trip to the Embassy

After talking it over with Mango, we decided that it would be ok to write about Vespera's immigration situation here, although it is politically sensitive. I need the writing outlet and was planning to write here or in a paper journal. I enjoy writing here because I know that my friends read, and it gives everyone the chance to see where we're really at.

So, we finally have an appointment at the Consulate/Embassy in Mexico for Vespera to obtain an immigrant visa. Most people raise their eyebrows at that. No, she is not automatically allowed in the U.S. because we adopted her...just because she is our daughter, part of family, and deeply loved here. Although she's been in the States since she was 2 years old, she has no legal documentation for crossing the border. So, two years after her adoption we were allowed to apply for her immigrant visa, and, now, almost another year later, she has been granted an interview at the Embassy in Mexico. Yes, we have to go to Mexico. And, no, the "powers that be" do not have to allow her back in to the States. Although we're confident that her visa will not be denied, it can technically still be denied. So, in fact, the United States government can tell us that our daughter cannot live with us in the United States.

What I have said to Vespera over and over again since her adoption is that we will not leave her anywhere. She has been abandoned enough times in her life to be afraid that we might. I think it's probably only in the last year that she's really begun to know in her heart that we would never leave her. We will not walk away. And we will fight for her, for her life, for her future, for ability to live in the States and be free.

So, although, we're not making a "plan B" in case the visa is denied, one thing is certain. We won't leave her. This is ultimately what I suppose it means to "be Jesus" to our children. "...the LORD your God goes with you; he will never leave you nor forsake you." (Deuteronomy 3:16) We go with her, and we will not forsake her.

I keep a whiteboard on the fridge keeping everyone posted on the happenings for the week. I was writing out the new week yesterday while Vespera & Novio sat in the kitchen sharing a banana. Novio started counting the days until we leave. I saw that look of anxiety cross his face, and I directed him to a scripture I posted over the sink just yesterday afternoon.

********************************************
Ok, hang on...I need to post a side note. I am not typically the type of person who posts Bible verses. I have always thought of it as sort of kitchy and often insincere. I am teaching my childbirth class, though, about how the repetition of affirmations can help move beliefs from our brain to our bodies, and I'm coming to realize that there are some truths that I desperately need to move from my brain box out into my body and the rest of my life. I need to physically feel the truth in order to dispose of the fear and anxiety. So, as corny as I feel about it, I'm tacking Bible verses on my wall. I need to go back to the elementary school of faith and memorize the facts. God even commanded the people of Israel to do this with the things they really needed to remember...
"These commandments that I give you today
are to be upon your hearts.
Impress them on your children.
Talk about them when you sit at home
and when you walk along the road,
when you lie down and when you get up.
Tie them as symbols on your hands
and bind them on your foreheads.
Write them on the doorframes of your houses
and on your gates." (Deuteronomy 6:6-9)

**********************************************

Ok, so Novio walked over to the sink and began reading...

But now, this is what the LORD says—
"Fear not, for I have redeemed you;
I have summoned you by name;
you are mine.

When you pass through the waters,
I will be with you;
and when you pass through the rivers,
they will not sweep over you.
When you walk through the fire,
you will not be burned;
the flames will not set you ablaze.

For I am the LORD, your God,
the Holy One of Israel, your Savior...(Isaiah 43:1-3)


When he finished, I said, "See, God is going to Mexico with us. It will be ok."

He replied, "Yes, but is God coming back?"

We all had a good laugh.

Yes, I hope so.

We are thankful for laughter. And for the deep love that surrounds us as we make our travel plans. And for those of you reading our story, sending your love and your prayers with us as we move through this time. Thank you.

Tuesday, January 06, 2009

Mango's Birthday

Dear Mango,

Happy Birthday, my dear beloved soul friend…my love…

I am so thankful for you every single day of this crazy, wild life. You are strong and steady, so passionate and compassionate. I love your intensity, your commitment to me, to our family, to God. I always know that I can rely on you to follow through with the callings we have together, even when it’s scary and more difficult than we could ever have imagined. You have reminded me day in and day out of the faithfulness of God…with your words and with your own faithfulness.

I wish that I could express to you the enormous love I hold in my heart for you. I’m learning, though, that to express that love is the work of a lifetime.

Thank you for being who you are,
For loving me,
For giving up time you need for other things to be with me,
For constantly telling me how much you appreciate me,
For teaching Mane to be helpful just by your example,
For helping to plan Christmas surprises and Christmas trips for our family,
For being willing to give up a comfortable life to live the life God has called us to,
For being patient with me,
For telling me your thoughts.
I am so proud of you…
I’m proud of you for learning the guitar, and it *is* soothing to hear you play,
I’m proud of you for finding all those snowboards on Craig’s list,
I’m proud of all you know about computers and music and history and life and theology,
I am proud of your ability to learn Spanish.
I love your eyes, your hands, your face, your lips, your warmth.

I am so glad you are here.

Happy Birthday!

All my love,
MidnightCafe

Sunday, January 04, 2009

Perfection

Nothing in life is perfect, right? Right. Yet, somehow, in all the imperfection, I'm finding myself in timeless moments of real, genuine happiness and contentment. This is, in my opinion, about as close to perfection as one can get in this life. To feel contentment. To know that God is navigating. To have a little family with a lot of love.

I still have these crazy bouts of anxiety, feeling my stomach tied in knots and my heart a heavy weight in my chest. I know what prolonged, chronic uncertainty does to the inside of a person. Ambiguity is not my friend.

But there are moments, perhaps all the more poignant for the ambiguity surrounding them, where this deep, beautiful refined gold comes through all the bleeding watercolors.

Christmas was like that this year. Novio spent much of Christmas with us. He & Vespera shuttled back and forth from our family to his, celebrating and becoming more deeply embedded in each other's lives and families. We went sledding/snowboarding all together on Christmas day, under a bright sun. Vespera laughed and held my hands trying to find her feet on her snowboard. Mane and I careened down the hill screaming on her sled. Mango and I pressed our cold lips together and smiled, beaming with love and happiness for our children and ourselves.

"Children" is quickly coming to refer to all three of them - Mane and Vespera and Novio. We took them all to Powder Ridge the Monday after Christmas to try out their new snowboards. Mane (with Mango's assistance) snowboarded several times down the hill and even learned how to stop! (The most important skill in snowboarding, I hear.) Vespera declared at the end of the day that she had "learned a whole lot." After all, she started the day have only been on a snowboard once before. Then she took an hour snowboard lesson, learned to use the rope tow, went up and down the beginner hill for several hours, rode the chair lift, and snowboarded a nice run down the "mountain." We all could have kept going all night if it hadn't been for our aching bodies after 5 hours or so.

Novio did one last run down the hill while Vespera & I watched. Well, she watched, and I watched her. More and more often I see the woman in her face. I see her honest love for Novio, an expression marked by almost two years of steadily building this relationship. She has worked hard. They have worked hard together. I was reminded of the beginning of an e.e. cummings poem...

my love is building a building
around you,
a frail slippery house,
a strong fragile house


I wrote that poem out for Mango in our anniversary book one year. I am reminded when I see Vespera & Novio of how true it is - strong and fragile. That's how it is when humans are in relationship with each other. And, oh how beautiful it is when you can finally see the building in the middle of all the work.

My heart feels all that pride and love and bittersweetness to see my daughter building her own building.

And to see Mane conquering her fears and learning to persevere. She is growing strong and courageous. I wonder who she will become? So many things are still just forming in her personality, her character. I want to be present for each moment, but I also look with excitement to the future. I love to see her grow and learn.

And I am so content. So happy. So full of joy. Not really perfection, but as close as it comes.