April 25, 2020

Hosea had always scared me.

Hosea is that man whose calling as a prophet was to marry an unfaithful woman, so he could demonstrate to people what God was feeling. It always seemed unnecessary and cruel to ask this man to suffer so much. It scared me because if God called Hosea to a life of such humiliation and suffering, surely the same fate lay ahead for me if I followed Him wholeheartedly. Of course there’s a lot more to the story, but I never was really able to get past Hosea’s pain and see the bigger picture.

Recently I started thinking about Hosea a lot. When I looked at my life, it seemed as though I had been putting out a lot of love and not getting very much returned. I wondered if perhaps I was already living a Hosea type of life filled with more than my fair share of rejection and humiliation and hadn’t really noticed it. So I braced myself for a painful lesson and settled in to reread the biblical book I so often avoided.

And what I found was a piece of God I had never understood before. A piece of Him you can only understand if you have suffered in the particular way Hosea suffered. Which I guess is why God wove this harrowing story for Hosea to live. God needed–or maybe He just desired–for a man to tell us how it felt to love us. Hopefully you haven’t felt the acute pain of loving someone who didn’t or couldn’t love you back. Or the choking, suffocating feeling of love that cannot be expressed or appreciated. But for those of us who have, we understand a part of God that we can tell you about.

Many years ago God called me to become Rahul’s mom. He was 7 and he had been traumatized, and I was re-traumatizing him by pulling him out of the only life he knew to move him across the earth and become Family with me. I knew we would spend our lives battling his demons and I understood that he might always be angry with me for taking him away from his home. I knew that he might always be broken and that I could potentially spend my whole life trying to mend a heart that could never heal.

The journey with Rahul these last 12 years has been harrowing. Rahul has battled his demons valiantly and worked harder on growing and healing than anyone I’ve ever seen before. He has looked his traumas straight in the eyes over and over and fought with all his strength to overcome every obstacle that has threatened to undo him. As for me, I’ve lost money, friends, sleep, sanity, and health. I have been bruised and bloodied, crushed and broken. It feels like Rahul and I are army buddies. We continue to fight the good fight together and we love each other a lot.

But one thing that has been difficult for me is that Rahul has a disorder that makes him very resistant to attaching to people. Attachment is a foreign language he has had to learn. I have had to teach him how to need me. How to reach out for me when he’s hurting. How to ask for help when he’s stuck. And still, even after 12 years and all these battles later, he can only open his heart so much, he can only trust so much, he can only feel safe loving so much. Rahul fills me with joy and delight, but I am also filled with longing. I long for him to love spending time with me as much I love spending time with him. I long for him to feel whole and complete because of my love the same way I feel whole and complete because of his. Rahul and I were laughing just today about how ironic it is that while we are sheltering in place at home together during this pandemic, he is the only person who is allowed to touch me. I long for a hug–from anyone! And the one person who is allowed to hug me is my boy who prefers to wrap himself up in a blanket cocoon as far away from me as possible. Rahul is very kind to me. He does nice things for me that are really special: sometimes he brushes my hair at night while we talk, sometimes he rubs my feet at the end of a hard day, once he sang me a lullaby and held me while I cried about my car breaking down. I have taught him to do these things. He has trusted me enough to allow me to teach him. These moments are pure gold to me. But I long for more. As I read Hosea’s words about God’s longing for His children to come near to Him and love him with the same ferocity that He loved them, I realized that I knew exactly what that felt like.

It was I who taught Ephraim to walk, taking them by the arms; but they did not realize it was I who healed them. I led them with cords of human kindness, with ties of love; I lifted the yoke from their neck and bent down to feed them.” Hosea 11:3-4


Unrequited romantic love is the worst pain. I have known it intimately. It is humiliating and demoralizing to fall in love with someone who does not love you. It is exhausting to hold your heart open for a man who does not want it, not because you have chosen to torture yourself, but because God has marched you up to the top of a mountain and shown you the most exquisite vista, the most amazing man you have ever known. Then He has left you there with no seeming plan to carry you to that vista, so you wait and watch and wonder if you should go back down the mountain or if you even can! You wonder if God has forgotton you there on the mountain. Or maybe He’s mad at you and has plans to throw you off the mountain to humiliate you. And the vista is always in view, growing brighter and more attractive with each encounter you have with him. You decide, finally, that God has brought you up this mountain and you’re going to trust Him to get you off of it. You decide to not be consumed with worry or despair, but to trust Him. To wait faithfully for the vista He has led you to. And you decide to believe that one day your love with be returned and you can love the man you love. Freely and safely pouring out your heart to him.

“I will be like the dew to Isreal; he will blossom like a lily…His splendor will be like an olive tree, his fragrance like a cedar of Lebanon…He will blossom like a vine, and his fame will be like the wine from Lebanon…I will answer him and care for him. I will heal [his] waywardness and love him freely.” Hosea 14:5-8; 4


Living through this pandemic in NYC has been painful in many ways. Friends have been sick, others have lost loved ones. One of my best friends lost both her parents to the virus on Easter weekend. She had given birth to her daughter just two weeks before they died. The pain my friend is feeling is unmeasurable. It is unknowable. It is unendurable. All I want to do is go to her and hug her. I want to sit at her side and hold her hand and let her cry into my hair. I want to be in the same space with her and breathe the same air as her so we can mourn together. But all I can do is bake her bread and hang it on her doorknob, trusting that God will make that bread taste like a hug from me.

“Wait for your God always.” Hosea 12:6

“In You the fatherless find compassion.” Hosea 14:3


Last night I went for a walk in the middle of the night. I wrapped a scarf around my face even though I knew I would not encounter anyone else in my neighborhood that I would need to social distance from. I walked and cried and prayed, as I often do. And as I passed my son’s former elementary school I stopped in my tracks. There, staring straight at me, were hundreds of daffodils. There was just enough light from the moon and the streetlights to make them out. They were facing me and I felt overcome. Spring had come and was shouting at me and I couldn’t acknowledge it. I couldn’t appreciate all the beautiful flowers and colors and smells because I have been holding my breath for weeks. I have been wrapped up and closed up and bottled up emotionally, and as I stood there staring at these flowers that had been holding themselves open all day, all week, probably, just waiting for someone to notice them and appreciate the generosity of their beauty. I just said outloud “Oh dear. Oh dear. Oh dear. Oh dear. Oh dear.” My heart broke for them because I know how they feel.

“My heart is changed within me; all my compassion is aroused. For I am God , and not man–the Holy One among you. I will not come in wrath. They will follow the Lord;

He will roar like a lion.

When He roars his children will come trembling from the west…like birds…I will settle them in their homes, declares the Lord.”  Hosea 11:8-11

So I stand on my mountain and I spread my arms open wide. I turn slowly as I search the entire horizon for those that I love. I can’t see them, but I can feel them. I know they are near. I draw in breath and fill my weary lungs with air. And I release the sound that will make them come running. It will make them know that I love them and that they are free to love me back. It is the sound that contains all my compassion, all my humiliation, all my desperation, all my love.




September 15, 2019

Jesus taught that even if we have a very small amount of genuine faith, we can move mountains from Here to There. We can even tell a mountain to throw itself into the sea and it will! I take Jesus at his word and believe he meant this literally. He wanted us to understand that we have access to the power that created the universe. That whatever we want, whatever we ask for in prayer, if we believe and do not doubt, will be given to us. That faith is a gift from God because we are special to Him. That our desires and our needs are important to Him. That He wants us to reach out to Him and ask Him for what we want. That in fact, He created our hearts and planted desires in them in order that we might see how much He loves us when those desires are answered.

God created those mountains Jesus talked about. He created them and He planted them exactly where He wanted them to be. And for my part, I don’t have any desire to rearrange the mountains. They seem good right where they are! The mountains I’d like to move are the mountains of bills sitting on my desk. The mountains of chores that pile up in my home on a daily basis. The mountains of projects that have already passed their deadlines.

And to be honest, lately there are mountains sitting on my shoulders that are crushing me. The Mountain of Loss. The Mountain of Parenting Failure. The Mountain of Heartbreak. The Mountain of Financial Strain. The Mountain of Constantly Struggling Because I Never Have Enough. Never enough money. Never enough time. Never enough sleep. Never enough joy.

Single parenting is lonely business. When my son struggles, I bear that pain alone. It’s always up to me to find solutions for his problems, stay ahead of his challenges, protect him, fight for him. I have lots of helpers, but I also have a son with lots of special needs and there is no one who cares for him the way I do. So I carry around his pains, his losses, his trauma, his struggles the way any parent does, but I do it alone. Like only single parents can understand.

I started my own business almost a decade ago, and it has been my family’s only source of income since day one. So when my business struggles, we struggle. There have been times when I couldn’t afford milk. Or tampons. Or toilet paper. There have been times when I appealed and groveled and begged for debt relief or payment plans or reduced rates in ways so humiliating, only someone who has done the same can understand. There is an exhaustion and a shame in struggling financially that I wouldn’t wish on my worst enemy. I love my work and I love my customers. But I am a one woman operation. Renee Smith Hair Design. It’s all me. I bear the entire weight of my business on my own.

My heart has been so broken and crushed lately that I don’t think it will ever completely recover. It will always carry around the disappointment and embarrassment of unrequited love and the grief of loss. My dog has died. He was my best friend. The most constant companion of my last 16 years. He cared for me when no one else did and he comforted me when no one else could. I will always have a Baby Fish Mouth sized hole in my heart.

So. The idea that Jesus tells me that I have the power to move all of these mountains is amazing to me! Of course, I realize that no matter how it feels, I am not bearing the weight of all these mountains alone. God is with me. He fights my battles. He comforts me in despair. He has a beautiful plan for my life that includes joy and restoration and comfort. He doesn’t want me to suffer and He doesn’t want me to feel overburdened. What He wants me to do is to move these mountains from Here to There. He wants me to tell them to throw themselves into the sea! He wants me to move them off of my shoulders and into His hands.

And that is what I will do.


“Truly I tell you, if anyone says to this mountain, ‘Go, throw yourself into the sea,’ and does not doubt in their heart but believes that what they say will happen, it will be done for them.”  Mark 11:23


Baby Fish Mouth and his person, 2011


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Big Hug

August 13, 2019

Last night, for the third night in a row, I dreamt that an ex-boyfriend came to me and comforted me. Each night it has been a different one and I don’t have that many, so at this rate I’ll be done with these visitations by the end of the week. LOL. But this morning I got to wondering if there’s a message in these dreams. Maybe I need a big hug and my subconscious rolodex is sending me people who have been kind and loving to me in the past. It’s been a very emotional summer and I do think I might need some comforting.

Many chapters in my life are closing and it’s getting harder and harder to resist being swept away with waves of sadness. There’s a lot of happiness too, because of course as these chapters are closing, new ones are beginning! But this summer is about the transition and these chapters have meant the world to me.

Rahul graduated from high school, which was what started all this chapter closing. But also there are relationships that are ending; my trusty steed of a car is on it’s last leg (Please make it through one more season, Sally!); and my very best friend in the world, Baby Fish Mouth, is in his last days. I’m hoping he will continue to be comfortable and happy a little while longer, but his beautiful, long life is definitely coming to an end. I get to thinking about these things and I’m overwhelmed with emotion. I keep crying and talking and praying, but there’s still tons more sadness in this ridiculous heart of mine.

God has given me the most helpful gift, though, to help me in this transition. He has given me the most amazing friends. Collectively, they are my strength in weakness. And individually, each one gives me something special that I need. There’s the one who knows all of Rahul’s secrets and struggles and advises me in a way only a Licensed Clinical Social Worker who also accompanied me to India to get Rahul and can read my mind and finish all my sentences can. There’s the couple that sits with me as I pour out my heart and literally refer to a list as I detail all the problems and challenges in my life. There’s the friend that always picks up the phone to talk and pray with me. Like, almost daily. I don’t even know what her outgoing voicemail message sounds like! There’s the friend who before she moved to a different time zone, called me every Wednesday morning at 6am to pray. For years. There were times I would wait up all night with the phone in my hand because of the terrible things that were happening with Rahul that I needed to pray with her about. Now we have marathon catch-up phone calls every couple months where we talk and pray for hours and hours. It’s food to my soul. There’s the friend who is my partner in crime, always down to do fun things together: the ballet, rooftop bars, Broadway shows…it’s always a blast. But she also prays for me and mine more fiercely and specifically and faithfully than anyone. There’s the friend who makes me laugh harder than I have in a really long time with his texts full of ridiculous memes and gifs and who somehow finds something good about my heart even when I’m being rude and sarcastic. And another of my friends hands me a gift almost every time I see her! She heard me say I love tea and gave me a tea set; she saw I love journalling and hands me a new journal every time I turn around. I could go on and on, because God has blessed me incredibly. These people love me so much. I’m surrounded and protected by their love.

So you don’t need to visit me anymore, ex-boyfriends! Thanks, I’m good. I mean, anybody who wants to give me a hug, I will not turn you away. LOL. I’m doing my best to keep my head above the waves. But I need my friends right now to help me have the strength to move forward. And in them I’ve got everything I need to make it to the next chapter.


Baby Fish Mouth


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Rare sighting of Single Mom recently out for a drink with some other single parents

A single mom of noble character who can find? She is worth more than she will ever understand or be acknowledged for.

Her child has full confidence in her and lacks nothing of value. She brings him good, not harm, all the days of her life.

She works with eager hands every single day. She started her own business so she could spend more time with her son, while making enough money to keep food on the table and a roof over their heads. She cooks every meal for her son, because she can’t afford take-out, and even though she’s not so fond of cooking, she does love the feeling of taking care of his basic needs. She shops regularly at way more stores than she ever thought would be necessary to find the best deals on toilet paper, milk and Indian spices. Sometimes she stands in front of organic produce wrestling over whether to buy more expensive tomatoes because they don’t have pesticides on them. Almost always she says a prayer that the pesticides will not harm her child and the earth will be saved by richer people then her. And she buys the cheap, toxic tomatoes.

She gets up while it is still dark. Every day. She walks the dog, feeds the cat, gets herself ready for the day, wakes up her son, feeds him and starts working before most people’s alarm clocks have even gone off. She lives by the motto “Sleep is overrated”, much to the chagrin of her friends, who scratch their heads and wonder how much longer she’s really going to be able to live on five hours sleep per night.

She sets about her busy workday, eager to see her clients, who trust her and care about her. She prays every morning to love her customers and asks that God will imbue her with skill and heart so they will be made happy through her. She sets about her work vigorously, parallel parking her car in tiny spaces that no one else would dare atempt, carrying her bags of supplies up to fifth floor walk-up apartments, greeting babies, dogs, cats, gerbils, housekeepers, nannies, husbands and wives with an open heart and a desire to serve. She laughs with her clients, she cries with them, sometimes stopping them mid-story to give them a hug or a kleenex. She longs to connect with each of them in a meaningful way, desiring to be more than a hairdresser, but a friend. A trusted confidant. A refuge. Her arms are super strong from blowdrying hair all day. No, really. They look awesome.

When she walks in her own door at the end of each workday, she is greeted by a mischeivous, needy cat; an elderly dog with a beautiful spirit; and a (usually) cheerful child. Her lamp will not be going out for, like, 8 more hours because she has to cook dinner, clean the house, do the laundry, feed the pets, walk the dog, pay the bills, follow up with her clients, set up appointments for the rest of the week and drive her son to various activities. She has amazing friends, and although she has very little time and energy to take care of them after all her other responsibilities, she really tries to talk them often and do special things for them that let them know she loves them. And after all, sleep is overrated.

When it snows, she gets boots for her kid, little booties for her dog (so he doesn’t hurt his paws walking on the snow and salt) and an awesome variety of coats, boots, scarves and gloves for herself so she can feel stylish even when bundled up to shovel her car out of the snow.

She makes coverings for her parents’ bed! She really does! She quilts them blankets, hand-sewing every stitch with love.

She is clothed with strength and dignity. And also really cute skinny jeans from H&M and  awesome shoes from DSW. Yes, these are discounts stores and these adorable clothes don’t last much more than one season, but she feels awesome trotting around town in clothes that express on the outside what she feels on the inside. And of course her hair is killer. I mean, hello. She’s a hairdresser. That would be a travesty.

She can laugh at the days to come. OK, yes, she is facing an empty nest situation, but come on. She has noble character! She’s got so many plans it would make your head spin. Just. You. Watch. Act 1 may be coming to an end, but you’re not going to believe Act 2. Seriously.

She speaks with wisdom and faithful instruction is on her tongue. Almost every night her son sits with her and unloads his feelings from the day. Sometimes she’s folding laundry when this happens, sometimes she’s giving him a facial, sometimes he’s brushing her hair. He often sighs deeply in between topics to signal to her that he is done talking about this and is now moving on to that. She listens attentively and tries to only speak when she has something helpful to say, which let’s face it, is most of the time. Sometimes she wishes there were cameras in her house broadcasting her amazing insights and repsonses so other people could truly appreciate her cleverness, patience and love for her son.

She watches over the affairs of her household and does not eat the bread of idleness. She does really love bread, but not that kind.

Beauty is fleeting, but when she looks at herself in the mirror at the end of the day she notes that she is pretty sure she looks better at her age than she did when she was 25. She was never a beauty, but there’s something about her health and joy and gratitude and mischievousness that seems to catch people’s eye, because there have been lots of times lately when people have stopped her to tell her how lovely or stylish or luminous or even beautiful she looks, which is super weird, since people used to go out of their way to tell her how ugly and awkward and unattractive she was. Go figure.

She is grateful when she finally goes to bed in the middle of the night that she is super exhausted so she doesn’t have the energy to think too much about who she wishes was in bed with her. Just when she entertains that thought a bit too long, her dog rests his head on her feet and her cat sits on her face.

Her child arises and calls her blessed. So does everyone who knows her. Even though she has no money, no husband, no fame, no great success, people can see that she is blessed.

Honor her. She might be invisible to you, but notice her. She doesn’t need much attention, but she does feel like God is doing so many great things in her life that she doesn’t want you to miss out. She definitely doesn’t want praise, but a hug every once in a while might be nice. Or maybe you could take her out for a drink. She’s really appreciate that.


The Bible contains this famous poem about “A Wife of Noble Character”…

A wife of noble character who can find?
She is worth far more than rubies.
Her husband has full confidence in her
and lacks nothing of value.
She brings him good, not harm,
all the days of her life.
She selects wool and flax
and works with eager hands.
She is like the merchant ships,
bringing her food from afar.
She gets up while it is still night;
she provides food for her family
and portions for her female servants.
She considers a field and buys it;
out of her earnings she plants a vineyard.
She sets about her work vigorously;
her arms are strong for her tasks.
She sees that her trading is profitable,
and her lamp does not go out at night.
In her hand she holds the distaff
and grasps the spindle with her fingers.

She opens her arms to the poor
and extends her hands to the needy.
When it snows, she has no fear for her household;
for all of them are clothed in scarlet.
She makes coverings for her bed;
she is clothed in fine linen and purple.
Her husband is respected at the city gate,
where he takes his seat among the elders of the land.
She makes linen garments and sells them,
and supplies the merchants with sashes.
She is clothed with strength and dignity;
she can laugh at the days to come.
She speaks with wisdom,
and faithful instruction is on her tongue.
She watches over the affairs of her household
and does not eat the bread of idleness.
Her children arise and call her blessed;
her husband also, and he praises her:
“Many women do noble things,
but you surpass them all.”
Charm is deceptive, and beauty is fleeting;
but a woman who fears the Lord is to be praised.
Honor her for all that her hands have done,
and let her works bring her praise at the city gate.

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July 3rd, 2018 I woke with a start. In that moment right before I woke up I had a vision. And it startled me so much that I sat straight up in bed with my eyes wide open. The vision was one image: God showed me a screen, like a smartphone with a message on it that looked like a text. It said, “Help is on the way.”

As I sat there in bed, relief and gratitude washed over me. God saw me. He saw my struggle and He was sending me help. Relief was on its way and His message gave me the strength to hold on.

I have been walking with God for a few decades now, and over the years He has spoken to me in lots of different ways. My relationship with Him is very noisy; we talk to each other a lot! But until that day a year ago I had never heard Him so clearly.

June 2018 was a really hard month. Bad news, heartbreak, but worst of all, confusion. All year I had been hearing God’s voice so clearly, directing me and encouraging me to open up. To be faithful. To trust Him. To hope. I would often be praying, asking Him questions and walking, and I would stop in my tracks when I heard His answer. It felt like lots of lightbulbs going off in my head, in my heart. Anxiety would settle immediately and I could breathe easy again, because God had comforted me and shown me what to do. I followed His direction and sought His guidance in everything.

But in June I suddenly couldn’t hear Him anymore. I would pray and ask Him why He was being so silent.  I would cry and ask Him to please let me hear Him again. He did send me comfort and communication, indirectly. Friends rushed to my side, music gave me a way to express my feelings, scriptures gave me life and direction. But even with all of that I was still confused and couldn’t understand what was happening or why.

So on July 3rd, when He told me, “Help is on the way” I couldn’t wait to see what would happen next. I told my friends about His message and we all wondered what it would be. And the very next day, help began to arrive. God brought the most incredible people into my life all summer long. They brought excitement and romance and encouragement with them. They made me feel more special than I have ever felt and showed me that living life with an open heart didn’t only mean that it would be sure to be broken. It also meant that other open, worthy hearts would be drawn to me. God knew exactly what I needed and He provided healing and comfort and joy in ways I never would have expected. And as the summer drew to a close I found my footing again. I heard God speaking to me again.

One friend, the one who had given me the most strength through his encouragement, sat down with me at the end of the summer. He thanked me for something God had shown him through my friendship. And through tears I told him about the vision I had received. And I thanked him for being the promised help that I had desperately needed.

And today as I look back over the past year, and over my whole life, and recall all the ways God has spoken to me I am filled with gratitude. And I am perking up my ears to hear What’s Next.

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Why Things Happen

July 1, 2019


That’s the top math award in his hand. And that’s the look of being exasperated at me in his eyes:)

You could look at my son’s life and say he has terrible luck. You could spend lifetimes trying to wrap your mind around why his young life was filled with trauma. You could shake your fist at God for allowing this innocent child to suffer abuse, abandonment, neglect, ridicule, desolation, hunger, disease and shame with no adult in his life to protect him or love him. You could really get stuck. Questioning. Blaming. Doubting.

When Rahul began to develop a faith in God as a young teenager, he reached an impasse when he started to think about why all these terrible things happened to him. He and I would talk about it, and I advised him to search out the answer to that question on his own. I could tell him my conviction about it, but I knew he had to have his own rock solid belief in God’s Providence and Love if he was going to have a genuine faith. I could guide him, but I couldn’t give him the answer. There is an answer, I told him, and you will  find it. But you are going to have to find it for yourself. I can’t give you mine. His Bible teacher, Marc, provided him with lots of food for thought from the scriptures and also introduced him to several adults he knew who had also suffered trauma as children and had made peace with God and found genuine faith. They generously shared their stories with him and Rahul guards their identities and testimonies to this day. He also talked to other kids his age who were wrestling with similar questions and together they would puzzle out what they were thinking and support each other.

Finally, Rahul reached conclusions and convictions about this question and others that didn’t just satisfy him, they gave him life. He is passionate about asking these questions and discussing them and they are the cornerstone of his faith in God. He understands things about life and pain that most seasoned Christians don’t fully grasp. Feel free to ask him about it, he loves discussing these topics.

But while he understands the long range Providence of God more deeply than most, sometimes he loses sight of the short range reason for Why Things Happen.

He was recently accepted to City College (yay!), but for a whole bunch of reasons, he won’t be admitted to their Grove School of Engineering until he completes a math class at the college this summer. It’s a long story and really not that interesting. But it’s one of those things that can feel tedious at best, maddening at worst. Wondering, Why Me? Why did other students get admitted without having to take this course? Why do I have to take it when I have already taken it–and also higher level math courses–in high school and received accolades and awards for my performances in these classes? What did I do to deserve this?

Why Do I Have Such Bad Luck?

This is what Rahul was asking me the other day. I stopped what I was doing and looked him in the eye and told him the following:

I can understand why you are feeling disappointed and discouraged, but you need to stop thinking about your life as though everything that happens to you is either based on your merit or your luck. That. Is. Not. Why. Things. Happen. People may think they do, people may say they do, but they don’t. You have an amazing brain. You know that, your teachers know that, your college will soon know that. You don’t have to feel like a failure because you got put in this class. It was not meant to be a message to you that you are undeserving or that you have to prove anything. You are God’s Man. If you can believe that you will be saved from so much unnecessary pain. The reason things happen is because He needs you to be exactly where He puts you. Take this class, for instance. I don’t know why you’re there, but there is a reason that you can’t see yet. Maybe you will meet your wife there! Or the professor teaching it may become your mentor! Or another student in the class may need a friend who has experienced the things that you have! Or the homeless person riding the subway with you may need the lunch you buy them! Do you see? You have to expand your thinking. There is a reason, you just can’t get stuck feeling punished or discouraged or frustrated because then you’ll miss it. 

He seemed to understand, as much as he can for now. It’s one of those lessons that doesn’t really make sense until you see it played out. But I feel it’s important that he not get stuck.

This morning, as he was leaving for what is essentially his first day of college he asked me to pray for him. He was feeling too nervous and emotional to do it himself. Of course I’ll pray for you, Honey, I said.

And as he walked out the door,

I will pray that you meet your wife in this class!


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Bound to Succeed

May 9, 2019

The first words, in any language, that I heard Rahul say were “Batman, Superman, Spiderman”. When he was 7 1/2 years old we met for the first time, although I had been preparing to adopt him for 9 months. We met at his orphanage, and he was brought into a reception area where I was waiting for him. We sat together for a few minutes looking at each other, then I pulled out my laptop and we looked at photos together. The first one I showed him was of my niece and nephew dressed up for Halloween as Batman and Supergirl. Rahul looked at them in wonder and quietly whispered, “Batman, Superman, Spiderman”.

By the time we got on the airplane to come home we had determined that Rahul could count to 100 in English, could say “Hi Mom, how are you?” (while giggling and holding a hand over his mouth) and knew the English words for most things in picture books. When he arrived in the US he hit the ground running learning English like crazy. He never got frustrated while trying to explain things, and luckily I knew enough Hindi to bridge a few gaps. A few days after he arrived, he began pointing to his feet and repeating a word in Hindi that I didn’t know: “chappel, chappel”. When he saw that I didn’t understand he said “Grandpop, chappel” and pointed again to his feet. When he saw that I still didn’t understand, he dragged me into our apartment and went digging through my closet until he found my flip-flops. Triumphantly he held them up and said, “chappel”! OH! You want flip-flops! Yes! Great idea! Let’s go! And we went to the store to buy flip-flops. He always had a way of explaining to me what he was trying to communicate. And when he didn’t know the English word for something he would ask. Then I would hear him repeat the word to himself over and over again in a whisper, just like he had said “Batman, Superman, Spiderman”. And he never had to ask for that word again.



When he started school in NYC he was really starting school for the first time. His orphanage had sent the children who were about to be adopted to school, but Rahul told me that most of the time the kids would be loaded up in a van, taken to the school, and when they would get there the teacher wasn’t there, so they would load back into the van and go back to the orphanage. My adoption agency hired a tutor to work with Rahul for a few months before I brought him home.  I met her in India and she cried when she met me. She really loved Rahul and was going to miss him. She was the one who had taught him all the English he knew.

After a year of schooling, although his vocabulary was very good,  Rahul still couldn’t read or write English at all. His teachers were beginning to get worried. They had him tested, and pulled in every resource they could think of, but when I requested in the Spring that he repeat 3rd grade with the same teacher, they were thrilled with that idea. He was definitely not ready to move on the 4th grade. So he got to go through 3rd grade one more time with Ms. Neuhaus.

But after another year, he was still really struggling. He was barely at a kindergarten reading level. He would get frustrated every day and put his head down or sit under his desk and the teachers had tried everything they could think if to help him. So one morning they sat me down and talked to me about taking him out of their school. They felt like they had tried everything and he wasn’t learning. So maybe he would do better in a private school. Or home schooled. I got the message: take him anywhere but here. But I knew that this school was the place he should be, I just had to get some more people to believe in him there.

So the next day I talked to the vice-principal about putting him in a Special Education class. It’s called a 12:1:1 class because there are only 12 students in the class, plus one teacher and one full-time para-professional. She loved the idea and took me to the class so I could see the students. She said they were a lovely group of children and I signed him up that day.

We had been seeing therapists and psychologists for Rahul’s depression, PTSD and attachment disorders with very little improvement to his mental health. At the same time as I signed him up for the Special Ed class I finally found an amazing psychiatrist who began working with us. She strongly suggested having Rahul receive a neuropsych evaluation and told me it would cost about $5000. I had no idea how I would pay for that until I had lunch with a friend who is a psychologist. She set me up with a non-profit organization that owed her a favor. They did the most amazing, thorough testing for free. From their study of Rahul we learned that he did not have a learning disability, but he performed as though he did because he had missed out on some fundamental building blocks of reading. They had a lot of practical directives and wrote a report that followed Rahul though the next five years of school, guiding his teachers to know how to help him learn.

Once Rahul settled into his 12:1:1 class, he started to ground himself in learning. He made strides, especially in math. And socially, it was really helpful for him to be around other students who struggled in similar ways to him. His teachers were excellent and his school continued to pull every resource available to support him, but he still could not read. In fifth grade, another 12:1:1 class, his teacher began to talk to me about his potential. He had become very strong in math, and he worked really hard, but he was still only at a 2nd grade reading level. He had been going to school for 3 1/2 years, but had barely progressed with reading. I knew from all the therapy work we had done that his mental and emotional issues were blocking him from learning in this area. And whenever his teachers would appeal to me to work with him at home on letters and sight words I flatly refused. I explained that although the Rahul they saw at school was very pulled together and focused, when he got home he would fall apart. Home was his safe space and I devoted most of my waking hours to helping him through the big emotions he needed to process. I explained to his teachers that I was already his Mom, his Dad and his Therapist. I could not also be his Teacher. He did not have space for me to be one more thing.

And that’s when Jessica came into our lives. She was a client of mine and when I would cut her hair she would tell me about these difficult things she had been through in her life. And she also talked to me about her work. She was Bank Street educated Learning Specialist at one of the top private schools in NYC. Because of all the things she had shared with me, I trusted her and told her a lot about Rahul’s traumas and mental health. She immediately had an idea about how to help him learn to read and we worked out a barter agreement: haircuts for tutoring. Within 2 months of working with her, Rahul jumped from a “first semester 2nd grade” reading level to a “second semester 5th grade” level! He jumped 3 1/2 years in 2 months! Jessica is obviously brilliant and she also is very compassionate, and has remained a great friend and a trusted guide for all things having to do with Rahul’s brain.

Once he could read, Rahul was off to the races. When he graduated from 5th grade his teachers were nervous about how he would do in middle school. They supported my idea to bring him out of the “self-contained” classroom and into a new model his middle school was trying that integrated “special ed” students with “general ed” ones. A group of 15 special ed students would have a dedicated support teacher that would travel to all their classes together and co-teach the class with the general ed teacher. I thought this would be a perfect setting for Rahul, but his teachers were a little worried that he would be overwhelmed at the pace. When I went to the orientation at his new middle school I remember thinking that if Rahul could hold a 79 GPA that would be an amazing achievement. I don’t know where that number came from, but it became my goal for him.

Right off the bat in 6th grade he blew me away. His grades were much higher that the 79 average I had imagined, all in the high 90s! His teachers believed in him and were invested in him. This school was no joke. It’s run by a brilliant, dynamic principal, who has assembled a team of administrators and teachers there that you would never expect from a public school in the Bronx. In NYC public schools when a student has any type of special needs they are assigned an Individualized Education Plan (IEP) that dictates all the supports the student needs and it has to be reevaluated every year, with the parents and the teachers meeting together. In elementary school, these meetings started out being quite extensive, but after a few years it would just be me and one teacher signing papers in a hallway. There wasn’t much to discuss. When it came time for my first IEP meeting in middle school I walked into the room and couldn’t believe what I saw.

Crammed into a small office were every single one of Rahul’s teachers, several administrators and support staff. The woman in charge of the meeting exclaimed that she had never had so many people show up for an IEP meeting before! Then one by one, the teachers explained that they didn’t have any idea that Rahul had not been able to read until just recently or that he had only moved to the US a few years prior. They also were surprised to learn of the academic difficultly he had. One by one they told me how he was outperforming their honor students and they recommended that he switch to an all-honors curriculum. Every. Single. Subject. They explained how he was more mature than their other students and quick to grasp concepts. How he put extra effort into building relationships with them and understood their jokes when all the other students were oblivious. I couldn’t believe what I was hearing! My mouth hung open and my eyes widened as they each shared their vision with me of the amazing student was was and would become. They all spent part of their day in this meeting while they should have been teaching, but they felt it was that important that Rahul move into not just general education, but an honors level curriculum.

So he did. The next year and every year afterward he has excelled in all the honors classes he could take. By eighth grade he was declassified, meaning he no longer needed an IEP. It’s so rare that a student is declassified that several of his teachers attended this paper-signing event and we made it a little celebration. He remained at the same school throughout high school and he has been at the top of his class throughout. He slogged his way through 4 years of French, which was the one subject that always eluded him. And it pulled his GPA down a little, but he felt it was important to get all the way through the course. By the end, there were only 4 students in his class and he won the most improved student award. In Eleventh grade he won the top math prize in his grade and the second prize in Science. He has ended up with something like a 94 GPA. And this year, his senior year, he and another student were voted by their classmates as the students most “Bound to Succeed”. Rahul is not the valedictorian, not by a long shot. And he’s not the class president. And most of his classmates don’t know his story at all. But they obviously see something special in him. I think it’s a combination of his grit and perseverance and intellect and focus. One of his teachers told me earlier this year that Rahul thinks on a higher plane than everyone else. Almost every teacher I’ve met over the years tells me they wish they had a whole classroom of Rahuls. They love teaching him. I see how God has put amazing people in his life to teach him and help him overcome the huge hurdles life had dealt him. Without Jessica, without my friend who set up his free neuropsych evaluation, without his very special schools that made every special allowance for him and gave him, literally, everything I asked for, without the vision that so many people have had in his life, he would probably be an average student. A 79 GPA would be the best he could do. But he would never have realized the very great potential that lived inside of him.

So now as he heads off to college and the next phase of his life, I don’t see any other future for him than that his is bound to succeed.


Here are some other posts I’ve written about Rahul’s amazing journey through learning:

The Last First Day of School

Clone Me


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