Saturday, November 29, 2014

Let Us March On

“I don’t want to talk about it.” The eyes that I have known since birth fill with water, and she turns away from me. I see her glance at my son, her darling grandchild, as she retreats to the kitchen. 

God of our weary years

But for some reason, I have to talk. There are others....She knows this. Still I go on through the list: the twelve year old boy, shot dead because of a toy gun; the young woman, shot dead after a car crash; the young man, shot dead because of loud music...

God of our silent tears

My mother shakes her head; her light brown hair catches the sun as she whispers the words, “How will he be safe?” Johnny is eating cereal and slurping his milk. He cannot hear the fear in her trembling voice. My son, with coffee colored skin and eyes so deep and dark I could stare into them forever. 

Thou who hast brought us thus far on our way

I cannot see what is next. What will happen in the years to come. I remember the words of a white acquaintance when Johnny joined our family. “Oh, I just love brown babies. They are so cute.” And I wanted to scream. Because they grow into black teenagers, and once they are no longer cute babies, some of them get shot.

Thou who hast by thy might led us into thy light

People warned us over and over again when we moved to Zambia, “Oh, please be safe. Oh, please take care of yourselves. It is dangerous over there.” I look at Johnny and I wonder. How do I keep him safe? Will it ever be safe for him in my country of origin? 

Keep us forever in thy path we pray

My mother has rocked him and sung to him and loved him since the day he joined our family. In her eyes, I see my love for him reflected. I know that his life beats in her heart. I know her suffering when she hears of black boys shot.

Lest our feet stray from the places our God where we met thee

And then I think of Michael Brown’s mother, and Trayvon Martin’s mother, and all the mothers whose worries have been realized, whose fears have broken through into horrifying reality, who don’t have to speculate; instead, they must say good-bye with weeping and wailing.

Lest our heart drunk with the wine of the world we forget thee

To be the mother of a boy with brown skin. My words fail me here. And so, I have been listening to these words, over and over, performed by the Boys Choir of Harlem... 

Lift every voice and sing
Till earth and heaven ring,
Ring with the harmonies of Liberty...

Facing the rising sun of our new day begun
Let us march on till victory is won.

Yes, please. Please, dear God. Let us march on til victory is won.

Monday, November 10, 2014

Frankie's birthday

Today is Frankie's 9th birthday, which means I have been a mother for nine years. I clearly remember that first night after he was born. It was an overflow evening in the hospital, so we were sharing a room with another family. Two newborn babies, four parents, one hospital room = lots of crying and zero sleep. At one point, as I was lying awake, still in enormous pain from the birth, Frankie was screaming, the other baby was screaming, and Joel was somehow asleep on the couch. I grabbed my pillow and with all the strength I could muster, heaved it towards Joel, in a desperate attempt to wake him up. I missed. And so I lay there, now pillowless, trying to reach a screaming baby in the dreary, drugged stupor of someone who has been a mother for seven hours.

In the days that came, I found that my exhaustion and overwhelming feelings of incompetence were only matched by the intensity of my wonder and love. Figuring out the puzzle of a brand new human being was an amazing task, and when I felt that tiny person sleeping on my chest, I breathed in awe and gratitude. At the same time, whenever the baby monitor began to sputter the little noises that indicated that Frankie was ready to eat, yet again, my awe often turned into despair, and my gratitude fell towards desperation. I needed sleep. I needed time. I needed to not be a 24 hour feeding machine.

Nine years later, I cannot believe the person that Frankie has become, and I feel far more awe and wonder than I did in those early days. He is kind - so very kind - always willing to help and love and care for others. He is so generous that I worry, as he gives away his favorite possessions without hesitation. He is polite and thoughtful and insightful and easy to talk to. Conversations with Frankie make me think, and he often challenges me to be a better person, through his observations and concerns. I am astounded by the opportunity to be his mother, by the blessing of knowing this child.

It is still true that there are hard days; days when I worry that he is so sensitive that he will be hurt in a world that is not always so kind. There are times when he is so hard on himself that I want to require him to misbehave, so that he can learn self-forgiveness. I want Frankie to love Frankie as much as I do, and that is hard for him. The intensity of my love for him has only grown and this brings the agony of hurting with him whenever he feels pain.

There are ways that this reminds me of life in Zambia. The awe and beauty of being in a place full of faithful, generous, loving human beings. The wonder of being welcomed into a community, despite my difference. The honor of walking with friends through tremendous pain and incredible challenges. The privilege of working with colleagues as they transform communities and share the love of God in powerful ways. It is a deep joy and an amazing opportunity.

At the same time, there is the anguish that comes from love, from vulnerability. The struggle of wanting change, and knowing that it will be too slow. The fury of seeing injustice and abuse and poverty and hunger, and not having the power to stop it. The heartache of violence and suffering that emerges when we dig deep in our walk with one another.

Whether or not we are parents, I think this is our reality when we choose to love deeply. We have the blessing of awe and wonder. We have the blessing of joy and relationship. But we also have vulnerability and struggle. We also have wounded hearts and painful realities. It is not easy.

Frankie's ninth birthday reminds me that it is worth it. That first night, those first weeks, were excruciating. And I didn't even mention the labor...I was tired. I was in pain. I was overwhelmed. And I would do it over and over and over and over again, to have this amazing child that I am so honored to parent. It is worth it to love, to make yourself vulnerable, to experience pain, to allow for suffering, and to recognize that love will win. It will win in his life, it will win in my life, it will win in this world.

I am so grateful for all the ways that Frankie reminds me that love is always worth the risk, always worth the pain, always worth the vulnerability....Happy birthday, my darling boy. Thanks for all you teach me!