An Advent Lament

Cold has fallen.
Winter’s chill has all but
erased our memories of
rising sap,
budding blossoms,
long, warm, lively days.
We look for the resurrection of the dead.

Hearts bear
dark shadows, achy edges
of loss, grief for those who should have
loved us
but didn’t,
couldn’t.
We look for the resurrection of the dead.

Joints won’t bend.
Muscles won’t stretch.
Legs won’t walk.
Bones won’t grow.
We look for the resurrection of the dead.

Hands and feet
and mouths
whole bodies
rebel against the intentions
of our heart and
ignore the direction of our minds.
We look for the resurrection of the dead.

Ears deaf
to the voices of
wife and children,
coworkers and friends,
music,
and the first date at the next table.
We look for the resurrection of the dead.

Cancer invades,
multiplies, consumes,
refuses to die.
We look for the resurrection of the dead.

A tiny infant daughter,
A lively teenage son
remain
forever young in earth’s dark womb.
We look for the resurrection of the dead.

Millions displaced from kin and home.
Innocents bought and sold.
Violence screaming terror on every side.
We look for the resurrection of the dead.

We look for the resurrection of the dead.
We look for the resurrection of the dead.
We look for the resurrection of the dead.
We look for the resurrection of the dead.
We look for the resurrection of the dead.
We look for the resurrection of the dead.
We look for the resurrection of the dead.

Lord, Jesus Christ,
God from God, Light from Light,
true God from true God,
Who came
down from heaven,
We look for the resurrection of the dead.

Eternally begotten
Son of God,
conceived by the Holy Spirit and
born of the virgin Mary,
We look for the resurrection of the dead.

You who were
crucified,
dead, and
buried,
We look for the resurrection of the dead.

Risen One,
Come.
Come again in glory.
Come to us.
Emmanuel, Come.
We look for You.


Decisions, Decisions, Decisions

This is our seventh year living, working, and schooling in South Korea. When we signed up for this gig (in a whirlwind!) we hoped that we could stay 4 years. At that time our boys were 9, 6, and 6.  Our family was in need of stability and cocooning.

While we have benefited from extraordinary opportunities living abroad, we have also experienced some significant challenges.  Before moving to South Korea, we had never heard the term “Third Culture Kid,” and had no idea about the pervasive effects living abroad has on kids’ worldview.  Of course, with the Ward Seven, that is only one of the layers.  

So, as we have approached our contract decision this year, we have been considering things like these (in random, wake-me-up-at-night order)

  • accessibility, mobility, and adaptive sports
  • men’s volleyball
  • counseling
  • occupational and speech therapies
  • academic support
  • racial identity
  • drivers license (he turns 16 in 2 months!)
  • college preparation
  • a yard with dirt and grass and a garden
  • a dog (really?)
  • a cat
  • friends
  • extended family
  • pastoral ministry
  • stability
  • spiritual development
  • financial freedom
  • community support
  • time with our kids
  • medical care
  • the refugee crisis (and how we can help)
  • organic farming
  • world peace

Is it better (for him, for us) to go back to the US now and establish a home with Zachariah before he heads off to college?  Will his transition be easier if he transitions to US life while living with us? Or is it better for him to remain situated for as long as possible, graduate with his friends, play his beloved volleyball, and make one whopping transition all at once?  (Let’s not even think about MY transition in 2.5 years!  UGH!)

Would the targeted professional support of experts offer benefits more potent than the time, energy, stability and consistency of our less-than-expert family and community support?

How long will it take for us to transition to a new country (though the US is “home” to me and Chris, it is hardly so for our boys)?  Would middle school or high school be a better time for the twins to adjust?

Is it fair to continue to live in a less-than-wheelchair-friendly environment?  What priority does this question have in our decision?

Are we still contributing to our community and school in meaningful ways?  Is it time to move on and make space for others?

Well, you get the idea.  It’s a complicated decision.  

I took to Ephesians (CEB):

I pray that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, will give you a spirit of wisdom and revelation that makes God known to you. I pray that the eyes of your heart will have enough light to see what is the hope of God’s call, what is the richness of God’s glorious inheritance among believers, and what is the overwhelming greatness of God’s power that is working among us believers” (1:17-19).

Yes!  We need wisdom!  Yes!  God, reveal your call–No!–your very self to us!  Empower us!

“I ask [the Father] that Christ will live in your hearts through faith. As a result of having strong roots in love, I ask that you’ll have the power to grasp love’s width and length, height and depth, together with all believers. I ask that you’ll know the love of Christ that is beyond knowledge so that you will be filled entirely with the fullness of God” (3:17-19).

The call is love.  The fullness of God is love.  The power of God is to love.

And while I might wish for God to serve me in some future-revealing way, like a personal, omniscient crystal ball, I find that instead God comes as companion, guardian, and friend.  Created in the image of God we have been gifted with the capacity to imagine, consider, and decide.  For me, there have been times when God has come with a clear invitation to a particular path.  But not this time. This time: freedom to choose.  So rather than following God’s direction, we are trusting God’s character: incarnate love.  Our mysterious future is secure because our loving God is already there.

So we have come to a decision: two more years at GSIS if they will have us.  We will anticipate KAIAC sports, the Reading Challenge, Science Knights, VASE trips, chapels, the 2018 Paralympics (and Olympics), completion of middle school, high school graduation . . . with this community.  We go forth in persistent hope of Emmanuel: God with us.

Calling out for Grace

It has been a long time since I have posted.  Today, I find myself needing to take to the pen . . . or to the computer.

I am always evaluating the kinds of things I want to say in a blog–whether others will care to read it, or whether it should be spoken publicly.  It is the second concern that has kept me from writing more often.

Our process toward adoption and our visit in Colombia were documentable for lots of reasons–mostly because the waiting and the subsequent newness were so adventuresome and exciting.  But when the “firsts” wear off, and day-to-day life settles in, much of what could be said is not really the kind of thing you ought to post for the wide world to view.  The truth is, parenting is hard.  Parenting kiddos with past hurts is hard.  Parenting children with difference and disabilities is hard.

Today, I would like it to be easier.  I would like to not have to be the one to advocate all the time for the special needs of my boys.  The burden of knowing when to speak and when to hold my tongue is tremendous.  I feel caught between wanting my children to fit in and wanting to be sure their unique needs are met.

When others fail at acknowledging their needs or helping in appropriate ways, my protective response often reveals itself as frustration or anger.  I don’t want it to be that way.

justice + mercy + humility

I want to hold these three together.  To be of value, they must come together.

It takes grace upon grace to live in this world with other people.  Today, I need an extra dose offered to me, so I will offer it to others.  I think that is part of what it means to “offer our bodies as living sacrifices.”  Lord, “give us this day our daily bread.”  I need grace-bread, enough for today.

Shadow Sides: Grieving a Not-Yet-Adopted Child

In the past few days I have interacted with two families who have had adoptions unravel. It is heartbreaking. Crushing. Devastating. No matter the reasons or the outcome, it is grief upon grief.

All day long I have been typing and editing and thinking about this shadow side of adoption. I want to say some things well and right, but I’m just going to get it said.

It is such a risk to be an adoptive parent.  We put our heart out there and hope beyond hope that it returns full.  We trust strangers with our life story and the intimate details of our financial and medical records.  We send copies of our fingerprints to the FBI and the local police department.  We track down crime records (or proof they don’t exist) from every state where we have ever lived.  We pay the fees.  We ask friends for reference letters.  We gather vaccination records for our pets.  And when the child is not in our arms 12 months later, we do it all again to “update” the information.

This will all be worth it, we are convinced, when our longing heart is matched with the otherwise-orphaned child who will become our always-and-forever son or daughter.

Yes, we know that we have no control over the prenatal care of the children we long to adopt.  No, we don’t have any guarantees that the reports we have received are full and complete.   Yes, we are afraid of the trauma that our kids may have experienced before their lives in our family.  But, no, that will not deter us from following our heart and pursuing our child with our whole being.  Yes, of course we have done our homework, checked references, and sought legitimate adoption services. Yet, at the end of the day, we have to stake our trust in the “experts” who walk with us on the journey.  We have to rely on the commitment of birth parents who are broken-hearted and confused.

But sometimes the system fails.  People break our trust.  Birth mothers change their mind.  Agencies cannot control foreign governments.  Corruption wins the round.

Tonight, my heart is aching for several couples who have loved and lost.  These moms and dads have welcomed their children into their hearts.  They have named them, decorated rooms for them, and imagined them in the cutest clothes they could find.  They have received showers of blessing and support from their friends and family.  And still their arms are empty.  And the doors have closed.  And their hearts are broken.  It is real, true grief.

And the children they dreamed of holding and tucking-in at night are somewhere else in the world, with other people.  And these heartbroken parents worry about what is happening with that sweet one they have committed to protect and have truly loved–even if they have not met them.

Tonight, I am holding these dear parents in my heart.  Here is my prayer for you.

Beloved Jesus,
who welcomed the little children,
who was loved by an adoptive father,

We need to trust deeply in your loving care.
Give us confidence
that in the places
where we cannot attend
to the children of our heart
you are present. You are near.
You are protecting and loving.

With the arms that stretched
your love around the whole world,
hold them
together
with us.
We do not want to let go.

We have hopes and dreams for them.
We have plans for adventures and snuggles.
Enable us to cling
to you.

Heal our broken hearts
but not too quickly.
Ease the ache that threatens to undo us,
though the agony connects us with our
love.

Protect them from all that threatens.
Care for their every need.
Meet their deepest desires.

Protect us too,
that we may be open
to risk love
again
and again
and again.

Amen

We don’t really do “dull moments.”

Tonight it was our eldest.  While hobbling, protecting an injured knee from volleyball practice this afternoon, he tripped and sprained his ankle on the other leg.  Thankfully (or woefully, perhaps, if you are the victim) we were at a staff potluck and plenty of our family-away-from-home were available with all of their various expertise and muscles to help us navigate the way home to recovery.  We now have heat and cold alternating leg to leg.  It’s a good thing we have that Jake and the Neverland Pirates boo-boo pack (that Papi scoffed at in Target this summer).

When I am not serving as a crutch (literally), I am doing my best to create and maintain patterns and structures to keep all my little (and not-so-little) ducklings in rows.  I’m not sure we have yet had a day when everyone had their morning snack and their uniform order and their picture-in-the-yearbook permission slip and their library books and swimming suits and PE shoes and rubber-band-loom and water bottle and happy heart with them at school.  And one of the “joys” of working at our kids’ school is that we are readily available for notification of the things we have mistaken or forgotten.  Hmmm.

An actual, real, heart-warming joy of working at my boys’ school was in full form just the other day.  Not long after having lunch with José, I came down the stairs from my office and met Pedro coming out of his classroom getting his shoes on to go to library or PE or somewhere.  We shared smiles and hugs and took the edge off a long day in a new, English-full world.  As I went out the front door, I glanced over the balcony to the playground.  I heard “Lori Ward!” before I saw my sweet Jeffer looking up from a project with his peers.  I blew him a kiss as dramatically as I could and received exactly the response I was hoping for:  he waved it off aggressively with his arm, turned up his noes, and hollered at me to stop it–all with his one-of-a-kind, ignite-my-heart Jeffer smile. A few steps later I smiled at my own reflection in the window of Jeison’s classroom, hoping he was looking my direction, then I nearly floated on joy as I went on my way to whatever mundane meeting I was headed to.  It will have to be something pretty amazing to entice me away from this life, I thought to myself.  It is an incredibly good life.

Speaking of incredible things, I have been meaning to let you in on some great news we received last week.  My Littlest had an MRI on his back a couple weeks ago–checking on an exterior mark that could have been a significant interior trouble.  But, it’s not!  It’s only skin deep.  Another worry evaporated.  Then, yesterday, Chris came home with two (blue) South Korean Green Cards.  Voila!  Just that easy.  I’ll not go into it here, but truly, you must believe me when I tell you that there really were a gazillion opportunities for us to have immigration issues . . . and we have had none (unless you count the itty-bitty issue of the long wait at the ticket counter at PDX, but who would count that?).  Unbelievable.  Truly.

So, “dull” is not our pathway, but blessed and full and graced and joyous certainly are.  By Christ’s amazing provisions and mercy, WE ARE DOING THIS. Thanks be to God!

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Real Life

The Littles have begun to put their feet into the water of school this week.  We began yesterday with a 2-hour trial for each.  I have been (dare I admit it) losing sleep imagining the best ways to organize our mornings.  Obsessive.  The plan for today was a bit lighter since José and I would not be heading to school at the same time but would be heading to the eye doctor instead.  The morning was all planned and everything was in order. 

Rain was the first to interrupt my tightly choreographed plans.  This meant the exploration of new umbrellas and a not-so-quick van ride across the street (It’s hard to stay dry in the wheelchair in the rain, but it takes about as long to load the van as it does to walk.  UGH).  

After delivering not-too-wet brothers and Papi to school, José and I made a quick jaunt through the Starbucks drive-through to use my BOGO coupon for the new French Vanilla Lattes.  We swung back around by the school to deliver the free one to Chris who had not yet made it to his desk.  Apparently the cleaners did not get to the bathroom in the PreK room last night.  I guess they don’t know that little boys have bad aim.   Chris waited in the room while the teacher took care of business.  

The next bump in our road was rush hour traffic.  This alone would have caused us to be late, but there was a domino effect.  After an hour in the car, all the apples José had been munching mixed with the stop-and-go motion of the car and . . . KABOOM!  Poor José erupted all over the front of himself.  It’s been a while since I’ve had not-so-communicative littles in my car on a regular basis.  I made a rookie mistake of not having a spare set of clothes (and a mop!) in the car.  Thankfully, the small package of tissues and wet wipes made it in this morning.  (Note to self: load paper towels, a trash bag, more bottled water, a small blanket, extra snacks, extra clothes, and the kitchen sink in the back of the van in case of emergency).  We were stuck.  

I’m not sure what other more polished, dignified moms would do.  Me?  I’ve got five boys and a full-time job on it’s way.  My sweet, darling boy was not actually ill, just carsick.  Was I going to give up this time and appointment and long car ride for the sake of a little vomit?  Um.  NO!  While my foot alternatingly worked the gas peddle and brakes, and my fingers worked the windshield wipers and blinker, my brain organized a best-we-can-manage plan for dealing with the mess and getting to the ophthalmologist.  I could use the wipes to . . . let’s not go into details.  I had wipes, tissues, a bottle of water, and an empty Starbucks cup.  I did not have dry clothes, a towel or a blanket.  I did the best I could.  I took off his wet shirt for more effective treatment, but once it was off he was not letting it back on (who could blame him).  

At the expense of my pride and dignity, please indulge yourself in the mental picture of my-foreigner-self with my shirtless little person in his stroller cruising through a crowded Korean hospital.  Translate the thoughts of those onlooking ajumas (older Korean women) as they whispered together at the sight of us.  Imagine our reality navigating a half-a-dozen-or-more eye-evaluation stations with the challenges of Korean and English and Spanish.  Listen to the screaming fit of one willful 4-year-old who was having a hard morning.  Then, whisper a word of thanksgiving for the sweet young soul assigned to accompany us on her very first day of volunteering at the hospital.  The dear girl was stiff with nerves and had to endure an hour-and-a-half in close nasal proximity to our ripening selves.  When we were finished, I wished for her fully-clothed patients in her next service.  I think we relieved some of her stress with a laugh.  

Real life is messy.  And sometimes stinky.  The good news is that José does not need to wear glasses and Pedro had a good more-than-half day at PreK.  Clothes will get washed, work will get done and sanity will be found . . . somehow . . . someday.  In the meantime, we’re happily giving ourselves to “ordinary” life as SEVEN.  #blessed #wearedoingthis #evenintherain

Feeling Thankful

If you have been following our journey at all, you know that time and again we have encountered grace where we once felt worry.  Today was another such encounter.  I have been dreading medical care in Korea for the Littles (even more than I was dreading PDX security!).  I have not had stellar experiences here, and the thought of it has been significantly stressful.  But, as it turns out, I don’t have a choice in this matter.  We live here.   Yesterday I reluctantly called to make appointments at the only place I feel remotely comfortable with.  I was wanting to get an appointment with the pediatrician that my friends have been raving about.  She’s out until December.  I scheduled with a family doctor.  Blindly.  

We arrived this afternoon to find a very welcoming female doctor who spoke excellent English and was quite accommodating.  She did not flinch at our crazy adoption story.  She was receptive to our concerns.  She demonstrated understanding that we live complicated lives that don’t need to revolve around visiting the doctor every third day.  It was a HUGE victory for us. (Sadly, our sweet Pedro has an ear infection and Nachito had to get a booster shot.)  I do not have to stress out about going to the doctor anymore (except, of course, for having to park our big van in the teeny-tiny parking lots).  I am so thankful.

I’m also thankful for

  • my José’s relentless kisses and zurbers and tender hands
  • my Pedro’s sweet singing and guitar playing between rounds with the broom and dustpan
  • my Jeffer’s laugh and eagerness to love
  • my Jeison’s deep longing for all things to be turned right-side-up
  • my Zachariah’s lively adolescences and budding manhood
  • my hubby’s constant devotion and support; he is truly my life-partner.

My life is so full.  I’m blessed beyond measure.  Thanks be to God.