I love the rain. When I was a very little girl I used to go out on our sunporch and lie on an old couch when it would rain. I would lie there all by myself and look out the windows at the muted sky and listen to the sound of the rain hitting the leaves on all the trees surrounding our house and on the roof and windows of our sunporch. It made me feel safe and surrounded by God.

As a teenager, I would sit at my bedroom window when it rained and look out over the farmland that stretched out past our house and breathe in the scent of rain on the fields–an earthy, sweet, mineral aroma that would fill me with calm and peace.

When I moved to NYC for college I loved it so much I stayed through the summers every year. And I quickly learned that summer storms in NYC are something to behold! They sweep in dramatically, darkening the sky with eggplant colored clouds and dump billions of giant raindrops all over the city. I always think God is trying to scrub the streets clean. People run for cover (because umbrellas are useless) and stand under awnings and scaffoldings forever, waiting for the rain to pass. One summer I got a job as the receptionist for a production company in Soho. And one day when I went out for lunch, a summer storm rolled in. I laughed at all the people hiding from the rain, and they rolled their eyes at me as I marched around the streets, turning my face up to the sky to get the maximum amount of wet. When I went back to work I had to sit at my desk dripping and shivering in the air conditioning, clutching a mug of hot water for warmth for the rest of the day while everyone who came in the office felt sorry for me for “getting caught” in the rain. Only after the 4th or 5th time that happened did they realize I was deliberately getting drenched. I got a stern talking to by my boss and *tried* not to do it again.

Spring rains are beautiful too. Light and misty, they soften and quiet the atmosphere. My apartment is on the ground floor of my building and has big windows that look out on a little garden. One of my favorite memories from Rahul’s early days with me was a string of rainy Saturdays we spent playing games sitting on the couch. The rain fell softly outside, hitting the leaves surrounding our building and I remember feeling really nourished. Like the rain was nourishing the ground and everything growing out if it, I felt like God was nourishing me with this amazing child, who was normally so frenetic, now sitting calmly with me playing games, listening to the rain.

It’s Spring now, and lately Rahul and I have been having these deep late-night talks about God. He is so wise and his life experiences have been so different than mine that his perspective on difficult and mysterious spiritual topics is really illuminating. He has answered a lot of the questions for himself that most people spend their whole lives wondering about and won’t flinch or hesitate if you ask him why God allows painful things to happen to us, or why some people seem to have an easier life than others. These are topics he has wrestled with in his own faith journey and has resolved with confidence. We sit together at night, often while he is giving me a foot rub or I am giving him a facial. (You have your Family Movie Nights, we have Family Spa Nights–don’t judge!) And I ask him my deep questions.

“Why is my friend, who has experienced heartbreaking and devastating loss, one of the most cheerful and grateful people I’ve ever met?” “Because when you hit the bottom of the well you can either choose to stay there and live in grief and darkness for the rest of your life or you can look up and choose to live your life grateful for every day. It’s God’s way of showing that He is in charge–by taking something devastating and transforming it into something life-affirming and hopeful.”

“Why does Jesus teach us that we only we need a mustard seed of faith to move a mountain?” “Because God already did all the work for us to be close to Him and He wanted to make it easy for us to have faith that our prayers are powerful. It’s an illustration that reminds us how little we need to do.”

Lately it feels like the battle of my life to just believe that God will give me what I’m asking for in prayer. Rahul reminded me how “easy” faith can be. Just by looking at the man he is now affirms my faith. I’ve seen him change so dramatically over the years in lots of ways, including his faith in God. He did not believe that God existed for most of his childhood. I never tried to force my beliefs on him, but by being around me all the time he did absorb a little bit of my faith. Mostly he argued with me about it. But sometimes he attempted to imitate what he saw in me. When I was sharing with him my struggle to believe that God would answer my prayer he reminded me of an experience that he had when he was little that I had forgotten about.

We were driving to Brooklyn for some neuro-psych testing he was having done and it was a long drive. It was raining and I told him one of my favorite stories in the Bible about rain. Elijah was a prophet in Israel during a particularly Godless time. He prayed earnestly that it would stop raining and lo and behold, it stopped raining and there was a drought. Then after a few years he prayed again and the heavens opened up, it rained and the drought was over. There were various reasons Elijah did this, but one was to teach us that the prayer of a righteous man is powerful and effective. Rahul loved the idea that a man could control the rain and he quietly tried it out as we were driving. He would silently pray that it would rain and moments later I’d be turning on the windshield wipers. Then he’d pray it would stop and off they would go. Over and over he did this until we arrived in Brooklyn and he announced to me that he had just controlled the rain all the way there! This experience was formative for his faith as he began to understand that God hears us when we pray and loves to answer even our weird rain-based requests if it will help us believe in Him. When he reminded me of it the other day it really moved me. Here was Rahul’s mustard seed of faith that moved his mountain of doubt and anger and disbelief and created this super-deep, spiritual, faithful man.

It’s supposed to rain the rest of the week, and I’m going to try to let every raindrop that hits me on the head remind me how easy faith can be.

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Rahul running his heart out in the rain

 

Signs of Spring

March 23, 2018

When I was a child, my mother would send me outside at the end of winter to look for signs of spring. She would give me a notebook and a pencil and I’d roam around our property looking for any hint that there was a new season on its way, then report back to her. I grew up outside of Buffalo, so winters were especially harsh. I can remember when I was about 5 years old we had a season of blizzards so intense that schools were closed for weeks and we measured the snowfall against our swing set in the backyard until the snow nearly covered it. Maybe it was that year that my mom first had the idea to get me looking for spring.

Inevitably, the first signs I always noticed were the purple crocuses that would pop up while the last of snow was still on the ground. They grew around my favorite tree–the one that held our tire swing, another wooden swing and our tree house. Of course, it might snow a few more times after they popped up, but they always seemed to persist. And they always came back the next year.

The thing I most enjoyed about early spring were the streams all around our house that would fill with melted snow and bubble with clear, fresh water. I can remember spending hours dragging sticks through the streams, just watching the water flow. Behind our house was a large field and behind that were the woods. There was a waterfall deep in the woods that ran down to a big stream that then ran off into all the little streams I would play in. Every Easter afternoon our family would hike all the way back through the woods to that waterfall, climb up to the top, then march around our neighbor’s property as if we owned it.

Spring is nice. But I can’t say that I love one season more than another. I feel like each one has its beauty and each one brings with it echoes and anniversaries of wonderful and also painful memories. So I don’t usually look forward to spring any more than the other seasons. And this year in particular, I have been resistant to its charms. Winter has been especially wonderful, and I haven’t wanted to see it end. It has been a season of calm and renewal and hope and beauty, and I wish all of that would continue. I fear that with spring’s arrival winter’s joys will disappear.

But despite the nor’easter we got hit with this week, spring has officially arrived and there’s nothing I can do to stop it! And I’m already beginning to fall prey to its charms. The light is so clear and bright! There is a smell of freshness in the air. There is a feeling of coming to life all around me, like nature is quivering with excitement and about to burst open.

And I have to wonder. Maybe all the peace and calm I experienced over the winter was simply preparation to a great blooming that is coming in spring! In a few days I know I will start seeing the bright green of new buds on the trees. The ground will thaw and soak up all the melting snow. We will shed our heavy coats and our socks (always the first to go for New Yorkers–we love to show off a good pedicure) and hopefully a few pounds. Many of us will start sneezing and itching and losing our voices. (I’ve been taking allergy medicine for weeks already.) The baby birds and squirrels and skunks and (please God, NO!) mice will emerge as the world springs to life all around me. And then the flowering trees will burst to fullness and hang heavy with colorful, fragrant blossoms.

And maybe then I will join them, and all the peace and joy I’ve cultivated over the winter will blossom into fullness and blessings and happiness…

I don’t know. But I’m already looking for the signs.

 

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Purple crocuses at my parents’ house

 

 

 

Dear Rahul, my beautiful 17 year old boy,

I see you standing on the verge of entering that amazing world of romance and dating and heartbreak and true love.

And I want to offer you some advice. Some insights to arm you against disappointment and some guidance to get you on your way.

I sometimes think I am really under qualified to teach you about this, since I never married. But you often remind me that I can tell you what its like on the other side of the relationship–the woman’s side. And conveniently, you like girls. And I’m a girl. So there’s that. And believe it or not, I’ve actually had lots of experiences with love that should help you out.

So here are my words of wisdom.

  1. Don’t kiss a lot of frogs, but do date a lot of princesses. Some people think  that you have to endure lots of sucky dates with disappointing potential love interests in order to find that true “princess” who is a million times better than anyone else. I don’t agree. I think when you approach dating as a way to build friendships and encourage each girl you spend time with, you will more easily see your way to finding a true companion. You are spiritual and God-centered. Date girls who are likewise. You will connect with them on a deep spiritual level, and even it you are not attracted to one another, you will have made each other’s lives richer for having spent time together.
  2. Notice how they make you feel about yourself. You will probably be interested in many women over the next few years. You will think they’re sweet and cute and beautiful and they will occupy your thoughts and you’ll feel like you’re going crazy. That is how it is to fall in love. But before you’re in too deep, take note of how you feel about yourself when you’re with her. Not how you feel–how you feel about yourself. If she doesn’t make you feel like you can be a better man, that you are capable of so much more because she believes in you, that you are the most wonderful, strong, gorgeous man when she is looking at you, she is not for you. Period. It’s the easiest litmus test, and if you can’t see it clearly, I guarantee the people around you will see it. Ask them. Women have the power to build up or tear down a man with their words, and if she is playing games or manipulating you it will be obvious by how you feel about yourself.
  3. Notice if they seem to want to change you. If she doesn’t love you for who you are right now, she doesn’t really love you. Some people really love a project, and they fall in love with the idea of you instead of the actual you. And you’ll be able to tell, because she will always be a little bit dissatisfied with your clothes, or your choices, or your timing, or the flavor of gum you chew (true story…). And even if you try to change these things she will find something else to pick at.
  4. Don’t forget the “friend” in girlfriend. I know I tell you this all the time, but its true. If you want a girlfriend (which you often say you do) the best way you can prepare for that is to be a really great friend. Nurture all your relationships, and really try to be the best friend you can be to all your buddies, classmates and long-time pals. Because all the romantic gestures in the world won’t mean anything if you don’t know how to be really great friends with your girlfriend.
  5. Speaking of romantic gestures, make them sincere. Now, this could be just me, but I think most women prefer small, spontaneous, romantic moments more than grand fanfares. When I look back over my life and think of the most romantic, meaningful moments, the ones that stand out are so sweet and small they are almost hard to describe. For instance, once I was talking to this man that I loved and the wind blew my hair in my face and it stuck to my lipgloss. And he just reached up and gently pulled my hair free, all the while giving me this look…The world stopped. These are the moments we love.
  6. Give gifts that show her that you know her. A woman who loves you will be so encouraged by any gift you give her, but you really want to show her that you understand her. This is very important to women–we want to know that you see us. For some reason, there was a period in my life when every guy that was interested in me gave me a teddy bear. I remember one day, opening up my closet and looking at this whole shelf of teddy bears and thinking, “Who is out there telling men that I like teddy bears?” You know me. Do I seem like I would like teddy bears? No. And it’s not that I didn’t appreciate the fact that these amazing men were going to the trouble of buying me a sweet gift, it’s that the gift just made me realize how much they didn’t know me. And that can be discouraging. It’s not hard to find out what a woman likes. Just ask her!
  7. Chase her… When you find a woman who you are really crazy about, let her know. And we like action, not just words. Send her a letter, get to know her friends, surprise her at her job or her class, write her a card, send her encouraging texts just to tell her she’s special and you’re thinking about her. There was this boy I loved many years ago, who would run down the street after me in the winter, having forgotten his coat, just to walk me to the train. Still, when I wonder if someone loves me, I think, “But would he chase me down the street just to walk with me for a few more minutes?” If the answer is no, I realize it’s not love.
  8. …but don’t stalk her. Not everyone you fall in love with will love you back, I’m very sorry to say. And if you are getting a firm “no” from her, that she is not interested in you, you need to let it go. Of course there’s always the chance that she might come around, but that will be more likely to happen if you can move on and give her some space. It is a really horrible feeling to be the object of someone’s obsession. It is not flattering. It’s guilt-inducing at best, and terrifying at its worst. For instance, when you’ve already told a co-worker repeatedly that you are not interested in him and he proceeds to fill your locker with flowers and buy you candy and gives you a painting–of yourself–that he painted…this is cause for great alarm and fear, not for a change of heart. And every moment you spend on a woman who does not and will not love you, is a moment you are taking away from the one who will.
  9. Don’t be afraid of a mess. Because love is really, really messy. You will be floating on air one moment, and curled up in a ball on the floor the next, only to be followed by more elation, then another crushing blow. I think falling in love feels like floating on a small raft in the ocean. It’s a thrilling ride, as the waves pull you out to sea, and you sometimes feel like you are about to be sucked under the water, then just at the right moment, you find complete tranquility and calm and bliss. There are so many highs and lows–life and emotion are heightened unlike anything else. You will feel completely powerless over it and terrified of it. And you will also feel like you can’t live without it. You will be walking down the street by yourself and suddenly burst out laughing when you think of something funny she said. And certain songs will make you weep with the exquisite pain of your heart opening up to her. You will be confused and seriously wonder if you are going crazy. Your knees will buckle when you think about holding her in your arms. You will think of her when you’re brushing your teeth and when you’re taking a test and when you’re riding in the car and you will eventually say (accidentally) out loud, “Get out of my head, woman!” You will feel like she is tying you up in knots and also that she can help you become anything you want to be. You will feel strong and confident and happy.

I can’t wait. You deserve to live life to the full and to be loved completely. You will be amazing. And I will be proud.

Love, Mom

 

Attached

March 8, 2018

I recently shared this story with my church and while I was preparing it, got a lot of great feedback and editing from Rahul. Basically, we wrote it together…

 

When I adopted my son Rahul, 10 years ago, he was 7 1/2 and living in an orphanage in India. Imagine how strange it was for him to suddenly be in a family! I had to help him to trust me and bond with me and I worked hard to create ways for him to attach to me.

One of the first things I noticed was that when I would try to pick him up to carry him, he didn’t know how to be held. His arms and legs just hung limp. He didn’t ever learn how to mold his body around an adult because he hadn’t been carried around when he was young. I couldn’t overwhelm him with bear hugs and snuggling–for a child who had rarely been touched, that would be too much. So I created games to help him get used to physical closeness. He loved to play Hide and Seek and our ritual was that he would always find his way to “home base”, then I would run over to him, swing him around and tickle him. It was always so great to hear him laugh the way a kid should be laughing. We would play that game for hours and hours. We would have pillow fights and I would swing him back and forth like he was a bell and when he wanted to look at something on the computer I would sit him on my lap, so we could look together.

I also created attachment through food. In an orphanage you don’t get to choose when or what you eat, so Rahul didn’t understand the feeling of hunger. I would put food all over the house so he never would need to panic that he couldn’t eat. And when it came time for meals, I would always prepare his food, and even if we were at someone else’s house, I would serve it to him, so he would learn that he could rely on me to take care of his needs.

One of my favorite moments from our first few days together was when we were at the airport in India, killing time while we waited for our flight to NYC. My Dad and my best friend were with us and when we adults saw a candy counter we walked over to buy some snacks. I turned to Rahul and asked him what he wanted. He looked at me like he had never been asked what he wanted before. Then he pointed to a pack of gum. Then he asked if he could have two! It was the best feeling to be able to give this child something he wanted and to see the look on his face when he got it! It is one of the joys of parenting to give your children gifts. In our early days, I would take him shopping a lot because I hadn’t bought him many clothes or toys before he came. And as we ran around the store he would point to things and I would just throw them in the cart! I wanted to let him know that I thought he was special and that he was worthy of receiving gifts and getting what he wanted. And that being in a family is good, happy thing.

When we would walk anywhere together I noticed that he hadn’t learned to walk with other people as a group. He had no sense that we were a unit and that to stay safe, he would need to walk in step with me and keep an eye on where I was leading him. So my Dad made up a game for him where he would point to a car parked further down the road and have Rahul run  to that car and wait for us. He would get so excited to run ahead and he would always wait, so that led to lots of other games where he and I would run up different sets of stairs and wait at the top for each other, or he would run through the circular driveways (on the sidewalk) all over our neighborhood and wait for me at the end. Mostly, I would just talk with him as we walked, so he had to keep his eye on me and stay within earshot.

Bedtime was hard. You can imagine how lonely and scary bedtime might be in an orphanage, and this is often a really tricky time of day for kids who have spent time in one. So we created lots of rituals around bedtime that made it fun and safe. My favorite one was our reading ritual. I would make him a snack and go sit on the couch and start reading while he was still bouncing around the house. After a chapter or two I would have him come sit on the couch with me. And he still had so much excess energy that he would sit and kick his arms and legs and roll all over the place for a few more chapters. Then I would sit closer to him and put my hand on his head or his foot or his shoulder, and I would slow my reading down while he started to settle down. And eventually he would fall asleep and I would carry him up to his loft bed. There were many nights that I would be reading for 4 hours or more!

These experiences taught me so much about how God loves me. We are all God’s adopted children!We don’t always know how to take in what He is trying to do for us. He is my parent, and whether I know it or not, He’ll always be trying to love me more than I could ever love Him.

Like I had to be careful to not overwhelm Rahul, God is careful not to overwhelm or overload us. He has given me friends to help me carry my load and He uses our relationships with each other to express His love for us.

Like I had to teach Rahul how to rely on me to provide for him, God quenches my thirst and nourishes me with His word.

Like I love to give Rahul gifts, I’m learning that God loves to give me good gifts. And He gives them just because he loves me and wants me to be happy being a part of His family!

Like I taught Rahul to walk with me, God has provided a way, through Jesus, to talk to Him directly, so He and I can walk together wherever I go.

My savior has stooped down to make me great2, He longs to gather me in His arms3, He makes me lie down in green pastures.4

Isaiah 40:11 says, “He tends his flock like a shepherd: He gathers the lambs in his arms and carries them close to his heart; he gently leads those that have young.”

Being Rahul’s mom has taught me that is who my Father is.

 

Leaving Rahul’s orphanage together, hand and hand…

 

 

  1. Ephesians 1:5
  2. Psalm 18:35
  3. Mathew 23:37
  4. Psalm 23:2

Inside

February 28, 2018

10 years ago I was waiting for the call that would tell me it was time to book a flight to India and bring home my son.  I was homeless, having recently sold my apartment in Washington Heights, but not yet able to close on my new one in Riverdale.  So my dog and I surfed couches for a few weeks, while all my belongings sat in storage. I had spent just over a year on the process to adopt Rahul–paperwork and bureaucratic tedium I’ve tried to forget. Panicked phone calls, angry county clerks, hundreds of dollars spent at FedEx, checklists of documents, folders of papers, lost fingerprints, invasive questions I had to answer (“Why are you single?”), scores of documents I had to triple notarize…

My new apartment was proving to be difficult to close on and I had weeks of work to do in it before it would be comfortable for Rahul. So I was very anxious to get the keys in my hands. All year I had somehow been able to handle the extra work the adoption process threw my way, but the challenges and obstacles became more insane as the time drew near to go get Rahul.

I flooded my apartment, for example. The apartment I would soon be selling. And in doing so I also damaged all four apartments below me. That was fun.

Then there was the day my friend Paul died. He was leaving behind one of my closest friends and their 3 children–it was a huge loss. And after attending to his family I got a call from my dad that my mom, who had just had knee-replacement surgery, now had a dangerous blood clot in her lung. I was in her hospital room the next morning when she woke up and as the first doctor of the day mumbled his prognosis to her, both of my phones started ringing off the hook. I asked Doogie Houser to translate his speech (and to please enunciate) and once I felt assured that my mom was stable I set off in search of a quiet corridor to attend to my phone calls. It was my adoption counselor who had been urgently trying to reach me, and when I listened to her messages my heart dropped to the floor.  There was a problem with the adoption and she needed to speak to me immediately. I sat in shock, imagining what was assuredly the end of my adoption of Rahul. I called out a desperate prayer to God to comfort me in my horror, to be with me in the loneliness of this situation–alone in a bleak hospital corridor, my mother hanging in the balance between health and ruin, my friend left alone to raise her children, my world in chaos. I held my breath as I called her back, bracing for impact. Of course, I needn’t have panicked. It was only a manner of some additional paperwork, however urgent, that could be easily remedied.

My tooth broke and after the fifth time my dentist yanked off the replacement in disgust I started having panic attacks.

I found a buyer for my apartment, only to have his mortgage rejected because my building didn’t carry enough insurance.

I should have been able to close on my new apartment, but the seller’s lawyer misfiled some paperwork, delaying the process by months.

And so on and so on.

So here I was, in February 2008, in Longbranch, NJ, at my best friend’s parents’ house, completely broken. I was spending the weekend there in hopes that sometime within the next week I would finally be able to get into my new apartment. In total despair, I had stopped eating and had gotten to the point where I could barely get out of bed. I was a mess, stuck in the crazy limbo between Singleness and Motherhood and couldn’t settle down. For me, when life is chaos or my mind is restless, I need to walk; it helps me move through my emotions and clear my head. So since I was on the Jersey Shore I decided to go for a walk by the ocean. I took my music and my earbuds and as I hit the boardwalk a song came on that I had heard before, but had never really listened to. Inside by Sting.

As it began, I stopped in my tracks. The sound completely expressed the maddening chaotic whirlwind going on inside my head, and the lyrics completely expressed the excruciating process of opening myself up to love this other little human so completely. I realized that God was breaking me down completely so He could rebuild me as a Mother. Like a phoenix from the ashes or a clay vessel smashed and refashioned. I was feeling the complete destruction of Love.

Inside, the doors are sealed to love, inside, my heart is sleeping.

That was the story of my life. A childhood spent hiding my emotions deep inside, an adulthood spent falling in love over and over again, only to have my heart broken each time. I had gotten to the point where I was so depressed and shut down that I needed help. I found a therapist and had been devoting myself to sifting through all the broken parts of myself and learning how to feel again. In fact, that process led me to adoption.

Inside, my head’s a box of stars I never dared to open. Inside, the wounded hide their scars…

Outside, the rain keeps falling. Outside, the drums are calling. Outside, the flood won’t wait. Outside, they’re hammering down the gate.

The struggle between Inside and Outside, the struggle to give myself over to Love and all of the destruction it would cause was very real to me.

Love is the child of an endless war. Love is an open wound still raw. Love is a shameless banner unfurled. Love’s an explosion. Love is a fire at the end of the world.

People often want to know why I chose to adopt a child, and the answer can really be boiled down to feeling called to love a child who otherwise would not have a future. I felt incredibly blessed–spoiled even–and it was beginning to feel selfish holding all of my blessings for myself. I wanted to connect with someone and change their life, and I was willing to give up everything to do it.

On that day at the Jersey Shore I didn’t know all that I would be called to give up and endure to be Rahul’s Mother, but I was feeling the weight of change and sacrifice in my body and I was beginning to understand that loving another person the way I would love Rahul can be raw and shameless and explosive.

Love is an angry scar, a violation, a mutilation, capitulation, love is annihilation.

I walked back and forth on the boardwalk for what seemed like hours, listening to that song over and over. And I’ve listened to it over and over for 10 years, because it reminds me of the great cost of Love. And the great reward of giving yourself over to it.

I climb this tower inside my head, a spiral stair above my bed. I dream the stairs don’t ask me why.

I throw myself into the sky…

 

 

Me and Rahul on the same beach on the Jersey Shore, a few months after my walk with Sting.

 

 

 

 

 

He Was Such a Good Sport

September 25, 2017

One day, several years ago, I opened the door to my apartment and there, perched on the top of my ladder-back dining chair was a bird. He was very still, just staring at me. Neither my cat nor my dog had attacked him or eaten him, and in fact they seemed very calm, as through this little guy was a natural part of our menagerie. My immediate thought was that someone must have broken into our apartment or smashed a window, enabling him to fly in. I felt like I was in a dream as I quietly walked around my apartment inspecting the windows. They were all in tact, closed and locked. The cat and dog followed me around the apartment as I tried to solve the puzzle. I have an air conditioning vent in the wall with tiny slats in it and I concluded that is how he must have gotten in. I was struck with an unusual blend of feelings: wonder, awe, compassion, fear. I searched for a meaning to this encounter. Did this bird have a message? Was it a sign? I felt he had come expressly to visit me. I set about releasing him from the confines of our apartment by climbing up on the window sill to open the top of the window for him. I spoke to him and pointed to the window and he flew right out, leaving me bewildered and ecstatic.

I have thought of this strange encounter several times this week, because my cat died. And the overwhelming sorrow I have felt at his loss has stunned me. I have been so profoundly changed because of relationships with my animals and I am only beginning to realize the role they have played in my life.

After 9/11, I began to long for a dog. That day was life-changing for everyone and I noticed that many of my friends reached towards marriage or having children in the aftermath. I think we all were reaching out for a tangible connection to this world. Career ambitions began to take a back seat to building relationships and creating families. As for me, I wanted a dog.

It took me about two years before my life was arranged to accommodate a pet, but I brought my dog Baby Fish Mouth home in August of 2003. I was immediately changed. Where I had once been insensitive and unfeeling, I was suddenly expressive and compassionate. My heart just melted and I began to see the world around me in a new way. A few years later I adopted my son and of course that change was even more profound. Becoming a mom changed me. Like a phoenix, I was destroyed and reborn as a Mother. And I loved it so much that I wanted to “mother” everyone. Jesus once ended a passionate sermon with, “O Jerusalem…how often I have loved to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings…” That is how I felt about everyone I saw. I longed to adopt more children and fantasized about having a large family of ten.

Then about two years after I brought Rahul home, my apartment became infested with mice. I battled them with every weapon I could think of, but to no avail. (I guess I didn’t have much compassion for them!)  I thought about borrowing a friend’s cat–a tactic that has brought great success at mouse elimination in the past. (I’ve heard that the scent of a cat in a home can keep mice away). Then I was struck by a new idea: I needed my own cat! I had never had much affinity for cats, but suddenly I wanted one badly. I wanted one who would keep the mice out of my home, who would be a playmate for Rahul and a companion for my dog. I wanted another creature to nurture and to love. Within days, Rahul and I set out for the ASPCA.

I was concerned about Rahul’s reaction to being in basically an orphanage for animals (since he spent some time in an orphanage himself) and tried to prepare him for the experience.  I didn’t want him to fall in love with every cat we saw, only to have to let it go. When we arrived we had to fill out reams of paperwork and I answered their questions as carefully as I could in order to streamline our process. However, the volunteer assigned to show us the cats didn’t read any of what I wrote and ended up showing us literally every adult cat in the whole joint. Rahul fell in love over and over and after being rejected as a match for every cat,  Rahul was in tears and we stormed out. On our way out the door, as I was hurling insults at their procedures they said, “Why don’t you try the kitten room?” Well, it was too late to try again that day, but I came back by myself the next day and introduced myself to every kitten they had. The volunteer and I opened each cage, one at a time, and if the kitten hissed or cowered, I knew it wouldn’t be a good fit. There were a few that allowed the volunteer to pick them up, but they wouldn’t let me hold them. Then there was a beautiful 5 month old black cat that had only recently arrived at the ASPCA. Well, he just bounded out of the cage when we opened it. We both exclaimed that here was a cat that should do well around a child and a dog! I picked him up and he purred, so I knew there was just one final test. I grabbed a toy that looked like a mouse and threw it on the ground. The cat bounded out of my arms and chased it around the room. Sold! I took him home that day.

Rahul named him Sport, and I always thought that was such a fitting name because he was such a good sport. I have never seen another mouse in my home since the day he arrived. He got along with Baby Fish Mouth and was never any trouble. I spent a few nights up with him when he first arrived, training him to sleep at night rather than bounding around the house. And after those first few nights of cuddling with him and coaxing him to snuggle with me we developed a close bond and he would find his way to my bed every night to snuggle up in an elbow or knee crevice. He was very independent and never needed too much from us. He scratched up some furniture and hissed at Rahul about once a day, but he brought us a lot of joy and comfort.

Then this past Spring he got sick. At first I thought he had a virus or food poisoning because he couldn’t hold any food down and he would hide in corners of closets. Once when I found him in my bedroom closet, he turned his face to the light and it was covered in mucus. His eyes and nose had been running and he had vomit on his chin. My heart just broke. When I took him to the vet he too thought it was a virus, so gave him some treatments and he seemed to get better. But soon enough he was sick again. More vet visits revealed kidney disease, but the treatments that should have alleviated his symptoms never really worked. Over the months that he was ill, Sport and I grew even closer. He became more still, more affectionate, more responsive to my voice and my attention. I spent the summer grieving with several friends through very difficult circumstances. The death of a parent, the death of a child, surgery, a custody battle. There were several days when every client I saw would cry over a loss or a struggle. My toilet broke. My stove broke. My father collapsed and had heart problems that led to him receiving a pacemaker. And all the while my cat was fading away. I sunk into depression and the drone of pain that lay beneath all the other pains emanated  from not being able to heal my cat. He lost weight until he was half his normal size. He would alternately become ravenously hungry then lose his appetite. By the end of the summer my vet concluded that he had intestinal cancer. I knew by that point that he was going to die, so it wasn’t a shock. We changed tactics with treatment and just flooded his body with aggressive medicines in an attempt to improve his quality of life for whatever time he had left. I learned to administer subcutaneous fluids and liquid medicines. My days became timed around all the treatments he needed, and he improved. I knew it was temporary, but I was so grateful that his last few weeks were comfortable.

I came home on the afternoon of my birthday and when I saw Sport I knew he was at the end. He hadn’t eaten in a few days and had begun to lose the ability to walk. He was curled up on a bed I had made him at the back of my closet and wasn’t very responsive. So I made myself a bed next to him and snuggled in for a few hours. When I reached my hand over to pet his head, he turned over and rested his head on my hand and reached out his paw to rest on my arm. He knew I was going to be with him on this journey. Later that night I picked him up and put him on my bed and lay next to him, keeping vigil through the night as he faded away.  He moved around a little throughout the night and in the morning he was still breathing so I lay face to face with him for a while. Then with the last of his strength, he flipped himself over so his whole body, from the tip of his head to the end of his tail was pressed up against me. My tears fell on his head while I whispered my goodbyes to him and soon he was gone.

I have thought of that bird who visited our apartment as I grieve for the loss of my dear Sport because I am realizing that I have had many strange and profound encounters with animals over the past few years. A praying mantis landed on my head in a hotel and allowed me to release it back into the wild. A baby skunk was waiting for me outside my door recently with a yogurt container stuck on his head that he allowed me remove (without spraying me) so he could go back to his home. And Sport allowed me to accompany him on his transition out of this world. It was one of the most profound things I have ever experienced. Animals are incredible beings. Many religions see animals at embodiments of their gods, spiritual guides, sacred. I have regarded my pets as angels, entering my life to comfort me, teach me and accompany me. I see the animals around me as reminders to tune into the world around me. Not to rush past God’s creation, but to see it, hear it, experience it fully. With openness of heart comes enormous joy, but also profound pain. It is easier to live with a closed heart, in numb observation of the world around us, but it is not better.

Thank you, kitty, for teaching me this. You were such a good Sport.

Something has shifted in me.

When I get angry or sad I become incredibly focused. I don’t see the world around me anymore, just the narrow path ahead of me. My mind swirls around and around plotting solution after solution for my problem. After Tuesday’s election my mind hasn’t stopped swirling. So much has been lost.

Some are saying, “Get over it! Your candidate lost, stop whining and move on.” I say, “Listen to me. See me. This is not about sour grapes. This is about my future, about my son’s future.”

Others say, “God is in control.” I say, “Yes, He is. Always. But that doesn’t mean that there won’t be hard times. That doesn’t mean that He is happy at my loss.”

I was about to start a new business. I have been planning this business for 12 years. It is now a bad investment. I have lost that.

I have had health insurance through Obamacare for myself and my son. We will lose that. I am self-employed with a business I have proudly built from the ground up, but is not the type of business valued by the people now overseeing our economy. So my health care costs will go back to $1,500 per month. Obamacare costs me $400 per month. It is far from perfect, but it was life-changing for me. We will not be able to afford health insurance. I have a chronic illness.

My son is brown. He is an immigrant. He is going to college in 3 years. We live in a very diverse neighborhood in a diverse city. He has not had to face racism. I will now only be considering colleges in diverse urban areas.

My friends are gay. And brown. And black. And immigrants. My heart is breaking for them and the insult that it is when you say “Make America Great Again.” “Make like it was when the only place those people had in it was under our feet and underground.”

I don’t need you to tell me to pull myself up by my bootstraps, because I already am. That is what I do. I don’t need you to quote bumper stickers to me. Give me some space and let me focus. Listen to me, if you want to, as I work out my issues. Debate with me if you disagree. Pray with me that I can lead my family safely into the future, and that my friends and loved ones will be seen and heard and elevated.

All I really want is to be like Jesus. And I know I don’t need health insurance or a new business to do that. I will follow Him no matter who leads our country and I am more than willing to walk through the valley of the shadow of death as I follow my Lord. But I’m disappointed and more than that, I’m disheartened. And what has shifted in me is that I want to share that with you.

Life of the Party

December 15, 2014

Today my friend Lorraine was laid to rest. Gone way too soon, she leaves behind 2 young children and a loving husband, as well as lots of heartbroken family and friends. She will not be forgotten–mostly because she is truly unforgettable! The life of every party, especially the ones thrown by her!

We first became friends about 20 years ago and some of my favorite memories of her revolve around adventures we masterminded together. Truly our greatest was a trip to my parents’ summer cottage on Lake Ontario (now their home) to celebrate the Forth of July. I remember excitedly concocting the plan together, breathlessly dividing the responsibilities. Lorraine volunteered to rent the car. I would invite some more friends and square it with my parents.

A few days before the trip Lorraine confessed to me that she hadn’t gotten around to renting the car. And since it was almost July 4th, there were none to be had. But just when we thought we’d have to cancel, she found a place to rent one and we were set.

There were 6 of us going on this whirlwind road trip and we were leaving after an evening church service from midtown Manhattan. We all brought our overnight bags and Lorraine brought the car. And, oh, what a car it was. It looked like it rolled off the line is 1978 and might have been driven by Starksy and Hutch. But it had enormous bucket seats so if fit all 6 of us and our stuff, so we were set.

Lorraine

The driving would take about 8 hours and we were leaving pretty late at night, so we switched drivers throughout the journey. My leg was the early morning shift. I would need to drive through Rochester, NY during morning rush hour. As we were approaching the city a car pulled up next to me and the driver honked at me, pointed to my car and kept going. Everyone else in the car was asleep, so I woke up my friend Kara (yes, the same one from my famous turkey episode) and had her look out the window at the car.  Neither of us could see anything wrong, so we assumed the guy was honking at us because we were a crazy car full of women!  A few minutes later there was a loud bang, the car shifted and we saw smoke emanating from the vicinity of the back tire.  I pulled over through 4 lanes of busy traffic as gracefully as I could and screamed at everyone to get out of the car before it exploded.  When we stumbled out and looked at the car, we realized the entire back tire was missing. It had exploded and disintegrated.

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I ran off to find a pay phone to call my parents and the girls searched the car for a safe tire. I reached my mom and she said she would contact my dad (already en route to work) and have him come help us. And the search for the spare tire not only revealed that there was no spare tire. It also uncovered a receipt for “one used tire” in the glove compartment. Hmm. I wonder which one that was.

While we were waiting for my dad, a state trooper stopped by to make sure we were ok and after hearing our story he wrote his name and badge number on our car rental receipt in case we needed proof that the tire exploded. Then my dad arrived, assessed the situation, went out and bought us a new tire, put the new tire on the car, took us all out to breakfast, then sent us on our way. (That Buzz!)

We were feeling pretty giddy by this point and since Kara had brought a cassette player (of course the radio in the car didn’t work) and a tape of West Side Story, we were having fun singing (screaming) along. Too much fun. Lights and sirens startled us out of our reverie and I realized I was going about a thousand miles an hour.

So, don’t judge me, but I pulled over wrong. I was in the left lane, so I pulled over to the left shoulder. And as the cop sauntered over to my driver’s side I’m sure he realized he had scored  big time. He looked us all over (very multicultural group in a very Huggy Bear car) then zeroed in on me. “How long have you been driving?” he asked.  “Well, we started last night at about 11pm from New York, so I guess about 7 or 8 hours…” “No“! he interrupted.  “In your LIFE! How many years have you been driving?!?” I didn’t know where he was going with this, so I began to babble. “Uhh…well I got my license when I was 16, but I moved to NYC when I was 17, so that’s a year.  Then I’ve been in the city for 6 years now and I rarely drive, mostly just when I–” “BECAUSE YOU PULLED OVER TO THE WRONG SIDE OF THE ROAD!” Whoops.

Anyway, we gave him our rental agreement and my license and when he saw the state trouper’s name and badge number he flipped out again.  So we had to tell him the whole story and I’m sure he thought we were all idiots, but I think by that point he had given up on the idea that we were involved in any type of criminal activity. Except speeding.  And pulling over wrong.

We got to my parents’ house and had a blast. The car proved even more fun when we discovered that it had a trick alarm that would erupt at any time of the night or day for no reason at all. We sure made a name for ourselves in my parents’ small town!

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Lorraine is still famous in my family for her incredible joie de vivre and enthusiasm for everything. She had to stop at EVERY garage sale…

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And take a picture with EVERYTHING…

Lorraine 3

 

Lorraine was an incredibly special person. She taught me how to make a table look pretty for a party and how to dress like a grown up. She lit up every room she entered.  She supported  her friends fiercely and loved very deeply. And although she never wanted to be the center of attention, she was always the life of the party.

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(If you’d like to donate to a fund for Lorraine’s children, click here: WESTERVELT CHILDREN’S FUND)

After Rahul had been home with me for several months I settled into a new job that allowed me to be closer to home and have a shorter workday.  I had already become accustomed to spending my every waking moment caring for his especially intense needs as he adjusted to life with me and began to heal from past trauma.  One night, my friend Tamika come to our apartment.  I knew life wasn’t going so well for her right then, but I was so engrossed in Rahul’s very exigent needs, that I hardly noticed what was going on with any of my friends.  I was thrilled that Tamika had come by, but we ended up spending our entire evening helping Rahul through a particularly harrowing crisis.  As Tamika left that night I thanked her from the bottom of my heart for caring for my child so lovingly and spending a night giving help when I knew she needed it just as much.  I watched her walk down the hall and felt a sinking feeling that I should be doing more to help her, but I didn’t know how.

A few days later I had a very unique and cherished opportunity to spend 2 hours by myself.  Rahul was asked to join an after school ESL program and I knew he would try it out at least once.  For even one session it would be worthwhile to get him some extra help and I’d get have a few hours to breathe.

I came home from work that day and sat down at my desk, staring at the huge pile of bills and papers I had been barely tending to.  My goal during these next 2 hours was going to be to get through to the bottom of the stack!  I opened my computer and before beginning my serious tasks I went to Facebook.  I really hated Facebook, because each time I scrolled through friends’ happy status updates about how their lives were so much easier and less oppressive than mine I wanted to throw the computer across the room! Facebook just made me feel bitter.  I spent several months ignoring it completely, but I had a friend I’d been trying to track down for years who had just found me on Facebook and I was thrilled to reconnect with her.  We were writing messages back and forth to one another, so I was in the habit at the time of checking into Facebook every day.

This particular day I looked for a message from my friend and finding none, scrolled down through my news feed.  A few messages down I saw Tamika’s status, which read, Goodbye.  My heart stopped.  What time had she written it? Hours ago!  Frantically, I scrolled down to the comments her other friends had written.  Did they know what she meant? No. There were several comments like, I didn’t know you were heading out of town! Where are you going? 

I knew what she meant.  Goodbye.  Forever.

Several years earlier I had been the first person Tamika had called when she woke up after an unsuccessful suicide attempt.  She was such a dear friend to me and I was terrified and heartbroken that she was so sad and lost.  She went into treatment and worked very hard at healing.  And she had been doing really well, until her mom passed away.

I had learned of her mom’s passing one summer night when I called Tamika to tell her about a show I had just seen.  After talking for a while, I asked her where she was.  On a plane, she said.  My mom died.  I was stunned.  After talking for a while I decided to try to get a flight down to Louisiana the next day, so I could support her.  But as soon as I woke up the next morning I got the life-changing news that my son had been found and I was going to be Rahul’s mom!  That news started me on a race to get a thesis paper’s worth of paperwork triple-notarized and sent to India so I wouldn’t lose him.  I sent flowers to Tamika instead.

As I stared at the word Goodbye on Facebook that fateful day I felt I might be the only person who knew what was happening.  I immediately called her and got her voice mail.  “Call me”, I said.  “I just read your Facebook message.”  I clicked on Tamika’s homepage and learned I wasn’t the only one who knew.  A friend of hers from Louisiana had written this message: HELP!!!!!!!!!!! TAMIKA HAS TAKEN PILLS AND IS TRYING TO KILL HERSELF AND I DON’T KNOW HER ADDRESS!!!!!!!!!!

I know her address!  A few weeks earlier I had ordered a few Christmas cards to send out and after addressing them to various family members I had one left.  I asked Rahul whom we should send it to and we decided on Tamika.  It would be her first Christmas without her mom and I thought it would cheer her up.  She had just moved, so I called her and got her new address.

As I started to write back to her Facebook friend, my phone rang.  It was Tamika.  Thank God she is alive.  I answered and although she was alive, she was not well.  She was slurring her words and not making any sense.  While I listened I picked up my other phone and dialed 911.  I was grateful to have a second phone — I had only bought it one day earlier.  I was able to keep her talking while I gave the 911 operator her address.  When she heard that I was sending help, she hung up on me.

My hands were shaking as I finished writing back to her Louisiana friend to say that I had Tamika’s address and had called the police.

My phone rang again and this time it was the police.  They were at Tamika’s door and she wasn’t answering so they were going to leave.  “NO!” I shouted!  I dialed Tamika again and she picked up.  Go open your door! I said to her.  “She’s there!” I said to the police on my other ear.  “I’m talking to her right now.”  A moment later I heard Tamika’s roommate (who had been sleeping and was awakened by the banging on the door) answer the door.  I heard the police questioning her and they rushed her into an ambulance.  I hung up both phones and took a deep breath.

I thought for a second and realized there was one more thing I could do.  I knew Tamika’s therapist, Tina.  That’s because she had been my therapist first and I had recommended her to Tamika.   In all the years I had known Tina she never once picked up the phone when I called her office.  That day when I dialed her number, she picked up the phone.  “Renee! So great to hear from you!  How are things going with your son!”  “Tina, Tamika is on her way to the hospital.  She took a bunch of pills this morning.  Do you know her psychiatrist? Could you find out what medication she is on?”  “Oh my God.” She said.  “Yes, I do know him and I will call him right now.  Thanks for letting me know.”

Ask I hung up with Tina my phone rang again and this time it was Tamika’s friend from Louisiana.  She was so relieved to get my message and she explained how she had called the NYPD earlier in the day, but because she didn’t know where Tamika lived they couldn’t do anything.  And then she had to pick up her son from kindergarten and had just had to leave that desperate message on Tamika’s Facebook page praying someone would see it.  I realized it was time for me to go pick up my son from school also.  But before I left I got one more call.  Tina called back to say she had gotten in touch with Tamika’s psychiatrist, they had tracked down which hospital she was admitted to and talked to the ER doctors at the hospital.  They had caught her in time and she would recover.  Hallelujah!  There was now nothing else I could do, so I went to pick up Rahul.

To make a long story short, Tamika received wonderful care and worked very hard to heal.  She is a new person today,  solid and happy.   I’m going to her wedding in May!

When I think back to all the stars that aligned that day. The timing of that one afterschool class Rahul took—literally the only 2 hours I had to myself for months.  The online reunion with the friend who gave me a reason to check my Facebook page.  The extra phone I had just bought.  The address I had just procured from Tamika.  The therapist I knew personally who answered the phone.  God put me in the right place at the right time, with the right tools and the right knowledge, to help to save my friend.

Serendipity.  Provident serendipity.

(And I don’t hate Facebook anymore.)

 

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Me and Tamika:)

*By the way, in case you are wondering, Tamika gave me her blessing to tell our story.

 

Recently, my son took his second snowboarding lesson.  My whole family went to a local ski resort for a day and my brother in law, niece and nephew went skiing, Rahul took his lesson, and my sister, parents and I “lounged” at the lodge. (In actuality, we fought off pushy ski families and attempted, unsuccessfully, to connect to the “free wifi” so we could get a little work done.)  When the day was nearly finished, Rahul’s class ended and he was allowed to try out his new skills on one of the hills.  The skiers in my family were anxious to join him and somehow, in the hustle and bustle of getting them all together in the same place, Rahul and my nephew darted off to the chairlift that led to the highest peak on the mountain.  Yes, my 13 year old “exactly 2 lessons” son and my 10 year old “competent skier, but not allowed to ski without his dad” nephew were on their way to the top of the mountain and there was nothing any of us could do about it.

My sister and I ran out into the snow towards the chairlift and they were gone. Up the mountain. No cell phone, no adult to guide them. On their own. We stood there staring up at this humungous mountain and realized there was absolutely nothing we could do but stand at the base of the mountain and wait for them to come down.

I’m not an anxious person. I don’t restrict Rahul much and I like for him to try new things and take risks. I’m more of a Free Range Parent than a Helicopter Mom. But I stood there absolutely frozen in panic, consumed by fear. We watched tiny specks move their way down the mountain, imagining every one of them to be our sons. We looked for anyone who seemed to be stuck or in distress, realizing there was nothing we could do about it even if it were our child. I watched the line of trees on either side of the trail, scanning for any person who came too close to them, praying constantly that God would bring my son down the mountain in one piece. We stood there shaking with cold and stiff with fear for what seemed like hours, until finally, my nephew emerged around the corner at the base. He was safe and in one piece and skied right over to us, unaware that our hearts had nearly stopped beating with terror for his safety. “Where is Rahul?” I asked. My nephew had lost him halfway down, but said he was managing OK when he last saw him. My sister sent him inside and, bless her heart, she stayed there with me, huddling together, waiting for Rahul. My brother-in-law, bless his heart, sped over to the final lift of the day on his skis, hoping to find Rahul on the way down and guide him to safety.

As the minutes dragged by I began to realize that what we were doing–waiting at the base of the mountain–was a metaphorical representation of what we all do as parents every day.  We send them up a mountain (or they dash up there all on their own) and then we wait for them at the base. I thought about how my job as Rahul’s mom is to prepare him the best I can for whatever challenges the mountain brings him. And it is also in my hands to wait for him as patiently and confidently as I can. I am meant to rejoice in his victories–the new skills and lessons he learns, and to support him when he falls.

I thought about powerlessness. About the mothers who wait for their sons and daughters when they disappear.  About my dear friend whose teenage son is recovering in a nearby burn unit from a horrible accident at school.  About Avonte Oquendo’s mom and Leiby Kletsky’s mom –2 NYC moms who didn’t receive their sons back alive.  I thought about a friend of mine who had recently told me about an entire weekend she and her husband spent tracking down lost photos of their daughter so she could have a special birthday celebration in school only to have the birthday girl stay home that day so as to stay out of the spotlight.  She said, “That’s so much of what parenting is, isn’t it?  Learning to let go of the plans you have for your children and embrace and support theirs.”

After an eternity, we learned that Rahul was safely in the lodge with my family.  He had taken a bit of a detour at the bottom of the mountain so he never passed us by.  He was triumphant at his victory (“I flipped over a bunch of times, but I only fell and couldn’t get up once!”).  It took me a few hours before I could calm down enough to share his triumph.

We’re going back to the mountain next weekend.  And Rahul will try the smaller hills.  And I will be waiting for him at the bottom.

 

“But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and had compassion for him; he ran to his son, threw his arms around him and kissed him.”  Luke 15:20

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Rahul and his friend at the base of the mountain.