Today. Love.

This afternoon Devan and I attended the funeral mass of a young man, 18 years old, killed in a road accident just a few days ago. This young man, a friend of our son’s, lived one street over and as a middle school student would spend time playing basketball in our driveway or skateboarding up and down our street. While out walking our dog Tuesday, this young man drove by; he stopped, waved, and said, “How are you, Mrs. Veatch?” In less than 9 hours, that young man would be dead.

Jack accompanied us to the funeral, a sense of dread showing on his face. Right before we left to drive to the church, he said, “I don’t think I do funerals well” and I sensed how uncomfortable he was to be attending a service for a friend whose life was cut short at 18. Jack has encountered few deaths in his almost 17 years, especially of anyone he knew personally, especially of an age-peer. Death is for the old, the sick, those who have lived their lives; as Henry Melville said, “Youth is immortal; tis the elderly only grow old.” But those of us who have lived longer know differently.

During the service I watched Jack out of the corner of my eye; stoic, unsmiling, holding back tears; and as I watched him I felt conflicted. Part of me longed to pick him up, that big man-child, and hold him close to provide comfort. I longed for him to be 6 or 7 or 9, young enough so I could physically manage his whereabouts and his choices, defending him from the world and its dangers. Another part of me wanted to just shake him and scream, “Please don’t be stupid. Don’t put yourself in harm’s way. Can’t you see what can happen?” But of course, I did neither. Instead I sat and listened and prayed for the mother and father seated in the front of the church, watching as they experienced a pain like no other.
I also found myself thinking of another funeral, one that took place over 40 years ago. My own brother Jimmy, then not much older than the one whose service I was attending today, was also killed in a car accident late one night. My own brother whose birthday was this very day, October 2nd. If his life had not ended on that dark road, today we would be celebrating his 64th year. But he is not 64 – I cannot even imagine – and he will instead be always frozen in youth. So many times I’ve heard my father say what he wouldn’t give to go fishing with Jimmy just one more time. One more meal together. One more talk. One more chance to Love.

I don’t want to read anything into the fact that on today, my brother’s birthday, I would find myself at a memorial service for another . . . but I would be amiss if I did not pause and consider the mystery of it all. Life. Death. Youth. Age. At 18 many think they are invincible. At 64 and beyond most realize they are not. How do I convince my own son that life is not a given, that at any moment an accident or an illness could change everything? That the harsh words he sometimes chooses could be the last words he speaks? I cannot. He, like each of us, must come to that realization himself and no shaking, screaming or controlling on my part can make that decision for him or for anyone. What I can do, however, is Love.

At the end of the day . . . at the end of our lives . . . Love is really all there is. God’s Love for us. Our Love for God and others. Love. Love that holds back piercing and wounding words, replacing them with thoughtful listening and care. Love that sees beyond differences and instead embraces them. Love that lets go of control and demands and, instead, creates healthy boundaries. And, as I was reminded today, Love that reaches out with each and every breath as if it was its last.

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Keeping It Simple

FullSizeRenderMy middle son has set out on his own and fled to a faraway land. Okay he didn’t quite go it alone and faraway land is probably a stretch. He had accomplices; the family packed his plastic tubs and stack-able bed side table and box of extra-long dorm sheets and a year’s supply of granola bars (the ones in the green box – oatmeal – crunchy – his favorite) into a rented mini-van (Younger brother, “No one cool arrives at college in a mini-van.”) and set out.  Faraway land?  I’ll admit that while Mississippi probably doesn’t sound that foreign to many, when you drop off your son and it takes you almost 13 hours to drive home (in an uncool mini van), well, that qualifies as faraway land in my book, and that faraway land is now home to my precious son  . . .  and now? Now I am grieving.

Don’t get me wrong; I am thrilled for Nathan. His choice of colleges came down to three. One choice was at our doorstep, another in an even more foreign land – Kansas – and the one he chose, Delta State University, in Cleveland, Mississippi. From the moment we first heard of Delta State (shout out to Kathy Batenhorst, Rotary President extraordinaire), it clicked. After touring the campus with his dad in the spring, Nathan returned home excited and committed. Nathan’s choice has been confirmed on so many levels; the university’s president (President LaForge personally responded to a letter I wrote – another story for another time), the Director of the Aviation Department, and the alumni have all reassured that Delta is a special place indeed. My grieving has nothing to do with Nathan’s next step or even that he is so faraway. My grieving is absolutely self-centered.

My middle son, the one who can fill a room with his ever-present smile, is taking that next step. Yes, he will return for visits and will probably live at home a few more summers and I will cook all of his favorite foods and it will “seem” as if everything is normal but in reality, everything has shifted and there is no going back. If he puts off doing laundry until he runs out of clean boxers, well, he owns that now. (The boys have done their own laundry for years but of course I always came through in a crisis.) If he over-sleeps and misses a class, well, he’ll set the alarm the next time. And slowly but surely his need for me, for mom, will evolve, and it is for that shift and change I grieve.

For years we nurture and parent and support. We vicariously participate in their victories (when Nathan ran fast, I felt as though I was keeping pace) and we internally partake in their losses. Nathan will always be my dear, sweet, funny son–the one who always asks, “How was your day mom?” and wrote me silly cards and brought lunch to my office to surprise me–and our close bond is not suddenly dissolved by his venture to college; however, to not admit that our relationship has been affected would be folly. His college years will most likely include incidents that he’ll never divulge or at least not divulge until he’s 30-something and has kids of his own. He’ll develop friendships with others whom I’ll know only by name. He’ll succeed on his own and I have absolutely no doubt that he is ready. Me? It’s taking me a bit longer to accept this new reality but I’ll get there, and a recent conversation with Nathan is one of the reasons why.

Last week Nathan and I took a last-minute day trip to see my daddy. During a phone conversation a few days prior, my dad simply said, “You tell my Nathan to be careful out there in Mississippi,” and there was something in that comment that made me know Nathan needed to see his Papa face-to-face. So I took a day off of work and Nathan cancelled his beach plans and we drove 4 hours one way to deliver Cracker Barrel chicken and dumplings to Papa and Grandma. We ate in the Florida room (what many call the den), plates on our laps, and chatted then defrosted their freezer. Nathan gave Papa a virtual tour of his dorm via a laptop and then we hugged and turned right around to drive home. It was a good visit.

On the drive back Nathan started talking about life goals and how to know for sure and what if he misses something; he verbalized the conversation we all have with ourselves at one time or another.  “What-if-I-choose-the-wrong-major/job/wife/husband” conversation. The big one – the “what-is-God’s-will-for-my-life?” talk. When I was Nathan’s age I had been taught that there was one will- one job, one place, one spouse, one whatever – and if, God forbid, I made the wrong choice on even the tiniest of issues, then my future was doomed or would at least be a duller version of what could have been. (I see this same thought process being applied to our political process and belief system, a list of dos-and-don’ts that can be checked off to ensure one is good to go. If not, well, you’re wrong.)  The simplicity of scripture seems to have been twisted in order to fit our own choices or belief systems, a check-list of good or bad behaviors or beliefs.

My own thoughts on scripture have become far simpler as I age. In one’s zeal to get it right one may miss the simplicity right in front of one’s face.

I shared with Nathan the words of Micah 6:8:

He has shown you oh man what is good

And what does the Lord require of you

But to do justice

And to love mercy and

To walk humbly with your God.

That’s what I want for Nathan, period. It’s what I want for all of my sons and my daughter-in-law and grandchildren that may someday bless my life. What better words than these as my son transitions into life away from home. Regardless of the career he will choose to pursue – whether that career leads to a huge salary or meager means – is Nathan a man who will do justice? Does he have a true concern for peace with a genuine respect for people? Does he embrace mercy as a strength, not a weakness, in the way in which he forgives those who wrong him? Finally, does he walk humbly? Our culture has embraced arrogance as a virtue and strength, the exact opposite of the example of Jesus embodies.

Do justice.

Love mercy.

Walk humbly.

 

Nathan listened and said, “Why have we made it all so complicated?” I ask my self the same question on a daily basis.

God’s will for Nathan . . . and for me? It’s really quite simple.

 

 

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A Girl Named Mary

Nineteen years ago today we were living in Nairobi and I was 4 months pregnant with twin girls. Due to it being my third pregnancy, and the fact that I was carrying twins, I looked and felt “very pregnant”. As I recently reread my journal from that time I was reminded that the twins were quite active and that I felt healthy and hesitantly happy, still surprised to find myself half-way through a pregnancy that had never been expected.

Little did I know on April 19, 1997, just across town in Eastleigh’s Jamaa Maternity Hospital, a young girl was in labor and before day’s end would give birth to a healthy baby, a boy she would name Nathan . . . little did I know that the next 8 months would be some of the most devastating, and joyous, of our lives.

Information on Nathan’s birth mother is limited. According to his birth certificate her name was Mary Nyarual. New Life Home, the extraordinary group that gained custody of Nathan when he was less than 24 hours old, have records describing Mary as a healthy 13-year-old living with her mother and five siblings in Kibera, an impoverished area in the center of the city comprised of overcrowded alleyways and mishmash structures that lean into and grow out of each other. Records note that she and a family member voluntarily signed Nathan over to New Life Home a few weeks before his birth. Nothing is known about Nathan’s birth father and I have chosen not to speculate.

The following is a fictional account of the day Nathan was born, one in which I’ve taken many literary liberties. It is my feeble attempt to honor her, this person whom I’ve never met and yet whose life is so intricately entwined with my own. I’m sure I have not even come close to describing Mary’s life or hardships as I have no idea what she faced but I had to try. Adopting a baby from Kenya—from anywhere—is not heroic or noble; it’s simply the way some of us become parents. No, the hero in this story is Mary Nyarual, a girl undoubtedly scared and fearful and sad. I can think of no better heroine than this girl, this woman, this mother of my son, and today I honor her.
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The rain-filled trenches overflowed the path; the mud oozed up between her toes, her rubber sandals doing little to protect her rough feet. The slippery path coupled with her ungainly body made the simple task of walking to buy morning bread difficult at best, and she felt weary even though the day had barely started, night’s darkness just now being replaced with gray light.

Of late her sleep had been restless; all night she shifted and turned, attempting to find a position that allowed her body to rest in-spite of its bulky state. Sharing such a small space with her mama and siblings left little room for physical comfort and the hard-packed mud floor rarely rewarded one with deep sleep. She went to bed tired and rose weary, especially in the last few days.

Thinking back, she recalled that her monthly bleeding had barely started when it stopped; her youth and naïveté prevented her from asking why. It wasn’t until her school uniform, thin and worn after being handed down from her older sister, began to tighten around her midsection that she wondered at her body’s changes. Her mother’s keen eye noticed as well and was the first to say to Mary, “You are carrying a baby.”

A baby? Her mother’s probing queries and her own disturbing memories soon answered the many questions. A baby? She was a school girl, a bright girl according to her teacher, even though helping her mother care for younger brothers and sisters meant she was not always able to attend. When sKibera_Primary_School_28.10.11.WEBhe could slip away she enjoyed doing sums and reading words; it made her aware of the world beyond Kibera. Before long, however, her threadbare uniform revealed her condition, and the headmistress made it clear Mary must stay home.

 

Her first visit to Jamaa Maternity Home, a mission hospital operated by the Sisters of Our Lady Charity, was terrifying. Terrifying in that no one ever visited a hospital unless one was dying; was she dying? Terrifying to accept that there was a baby growing inside of her and she was yet so young. Terrifying to realize she had no way of caring for a baby; no job, no husband, nothing. It was, oddly enough, comforting as well. It was there she met Sister Purity, a gentle woman who smiled and reassured her with quiet words. Mary returned to the hospital whenever possible; Sister Purity provided vitamins and weighed her and held her hand and murmured, “You are doing well.”

On the last visit the talk had turned to the baby’s nearing delivery; it would only be a month or so. Had they considered the care of the baby? Did they have the means to feed another mouth? Mary’s mother opened her hands and lamented the lack of room, the lack of food, the lack of money, but what choice did they have? What could be done?

Sister Purity spoke of a place that cared for babies, a place that welcomed sick babies and poor babies and abandoned babies. A place that turned no baby away. Mary’s mother looked doubtful. Why would strangers do such a thing? Sister Purity said they believed it was God’s Will. The more the sister talked, the more Mary sensed felt relief. Perhaps this baby would be better off if raised in a place with food and medicine and hope. Perhaps she could return to school. Perhaps.

Mary shook her rambling thoughts away; she needed to find bread and return to her family. As she turned the corner, a stab of pain shot up her legs and into her belly, a pain so sharp as to cause her breathe to jump from her mouth. Balancing herself, she stood frozen as the pain passed and she was able to once again head towards the kiosk. A few minutes passed, perhaps more, when another pain seemed to wrap around her entire body. Was this what Sister Purity had spoken of? Was this her time?

Forgetting the bread, she headed back towards the family’s lean-to, quickening her pace as much as possible in-spite of the mud and intermittent pain. Several times she had to stop to catch her breath but she quickly recovered and soon found herself home.

“Mama? I think it is time.”

Later Mary would recall bits and pieces . . . the bumpy ride in a crowded matatu, the hours of pain and screaming, Sister Purity’s calming voice encouraging her to push and breathe and try. She distinctly remembers the feeling of release when the baby, a boy, finally forced himself into the world, announcing his arrival with small cries.

She looked at him once; a strong boy with strong features. Mary felt urges unknown until this moment . . . urges to protect . . . urges to guard . . . urges to mother. The urges, however, were overshadowed by the decision that had been made. Kissing the baby on his forehead, she called to Sister Purity and gently lifted him away from her and towards the sister’s outstretched arms.

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If you’d like to know more about the work of New Life Home visit http://www.newlifehometrust.org/

“In 1641 in France, the congregation of the Sisters of Our lady of Charity was founded with a specific call to care for marginalized, exploited or sexually and socially abused young girls and women.” To know more about this organization visit http://www.edelvaletrust.org/our-projects/jamaa-mission-hospital/our-story/

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It’s Spring!

It’s Spring. The bright, lemon-yellow necklace I wore to church today prompted several to remark on how “springy” it looked. After church I headed to Southern Horticulture; mulch was calling my name; and a man unbeknownst to me approached with the words, “That yellow necklace is so springy and happy.” I reminded him that it was, after all, the first day of Spring, and he seemed happier just knowing that winter was officially over. (Non-Florida readers, I realize that the first day of Spring in the Sunshine State borders on oxymoronic . . . but humor me. Over the past two months I was forced to wear a heavy sweater on multiple occasions.) Spring.

Spring

It’s Spring.

It’s Spring. Today’s Palm Sunday reading included the description of Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane, praying for Grace to endure what He would face the coming days. His followers, nervous and fearful, were obviously on edge. In fact, when a Roman soldier approached Jesus in order to arrest Him, one of Jesus’ crew whipped out his sword and lopped off the offender’s ear. (Are you kidding me?) But thankfully Jesus stepped in with, “Oh please. Stop. Put your sword away.” Jesus then went one step further and reattached the soldier’s ear. He reconciled the situation. Spring. A time of reconciliation and hope, especially if you’re the one getting your ear slashed . . . or your opinion criticized  . . . or your status ridiculed. Spring.

It’s Spring and I can feel it; can’t you? I don’t know why it was so noticeable but today was filled with signs of new life. From my yellow, almost tacky, accessory to the smiles on the face of fellow compost buyers, one could just sense that Winter was over and new life was taking over. Spring.

It’s Spring. Devan and Nathan hit the road yesterday, another University review in their sites. New beginnings. Senioritis. Nathan forging ahead to new adventures and life experiences and life; his life. The temptation to be sad at his moving on is overwhelmed by the joy in his journey. New life in so many ways. Spring.

It’s Spring. Our sandy Vilano Beach soil called my name and I responded with compost, mulch, clay pots and loving kindness. Mexican Petunias. Sea Grass. Dune Daisies. Ferns. Zinnia seeds from my dear Patty and zinnia seeds from a Vermont fall. Flowers-that-look-pretty-but-I don’t-remember-their-names. Sweating and loving every stinky droplet. Dirt under my nails. Spring.

It’s Spring. My first day on the beach with chair and book and sweet tea, rewarding myself after said yard work. The air, a bit cool, teased with hints of summer when the sun peeked out from the clouds and kissed my skin. The book seemed more interesting; the waves more inviting; the tea a bit sweeter. Spring.

It’s Spring. A dear friend came to mind so I texted her.

     “Hi.”

     “How are you doing?”

“Thinking of you.”

“Excited for changes coming your way.”

She didn’t text back; she called. For forty-four minutes we talked and laughed and cried and shared our hearts. It was so good to hear her voice, hints of St. George Island and Panhandle in every syllable. She’ll retire soon. She’s falling in love with her remarkable husband all over again. She’ll have more time for her amazing grandchildren, angel-children all. She’s entering another stage, just like a butterfly. Spring.

It’s Spring. A series of text messages with other dear ones, friends since forever, making me laugh with irreverent anecdotes, Beatle’s lyrics and hope. Spring.

It’s Spring. Jack is coming home for Easter and I am as giddy as can be. More than giddy. How I love this man-child whose name is Jack and Ngari and Austin and Veatch . . . how I’ve missed him . . . how proud I am of his willingness to look in the mirror and embrace who he is and what he’s becoming . . . how I cannot wait to have him within arm’s reach. Spring.

It’s Spring . . . and I am not alone in my wonder and joy. Mark Twain felt it as well.

           “It’s spring fever. That is what the name of it is. And when you’ve got it, you want—oh, you don’t quite know what it is you do want, but it just fairly             makes your heart ache, you want it so!” 

Yes, it’s Spring and I want it so.

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Banyan House – A Review

I recently wrote an internet review on Banyan House, the organization helping our family refocus and rebuild. Unless you personally scan the internet for information on adolescent treatment facilities (something in which I’ve recently become very engaged), you probably won’t stumble upon my words so I am reposting to hopefully reach someone who may need this information. Please pass along to anyone you may know who is searching for a solid and reliable solution to the disease of addiction in their teenage son.

For more information on Family First, the Banyan House, and the men and women who work there, visit:

Banyan House Extended Care for Adolescent Males

Family First

Banyan House

Banyan House – Palm Beach Gardens

 

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For over two years my husband and I tried “everything we could” to address our son’s erratic and increasingly angry behavior brought about through substance abuse and emotional need. We truly believed his growing desire to be “disconnected” from our family and the havoc his choices brought to our household could be “fixed” . . . if we withdrew privileges or rewarded good choices . . . if we took him to a therapist for “his problem” . . . if we tough loved him through the legal process. Unfortunately nothing changed; in fact, the situation grew more volatile. 

With the support of family and friends we made the difficult decision to intervene by placing our 15-year-old son Jack in a well-regarded 60+ day primary care facility. During this initial treatment Jack thrived and we were encouraged as our entire family began to participate in his process. As the day of his discharge approached, however, our encouragement was replaced with anxiety. We realized and accepted that a next-step transition was crucial to our son’s continued sobriety and well-being. For our family that next-step transition would be the Banyan House Extended Care for Adolescent Males.


James McManus and his staff at Banyan House is now walking our family through this journey, supporting Jack in a safe and caring environment in which to continue his hard work while encouraging us to do our own hard work at home. Rather than an interruption of Jack’s teen years, Banyan provides one-on-one and group therapy as well as quality academic opportunities and engaging, meaningful activities. They see Jack – our son – as a whole person, not just a client.
The highly qualified staff that work with Jack are never too busy to take our calls and answer our endless questions. The weekly phone sessions assist us in reestablishing communication with Jack as the counselors help us regain trust and dialogue. The counselors also call us separately, gently pushing us to see our own need to grow as parents and people. The site itself, a beautifully maintained facility that feels like a home, is open and welcoming.


As parents, admitting that our son needed help beyond what we could offer at home was a harsh and painful reality. Working together with Banyan House; working to support Jack as well as ourselves;  is slowly but surely replacing that harshness and pain with healing and hope.

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November 5th

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       Twenty-five years and the paths meet.

November 5th  is a date that always gives me pause and forces me to reflect on the “what ifs” of life; this year the day will be more significant than usual. Our first son, Don Isaac, lost too soon on November 5, 1990, would have celebrated his 25th birthday today. Our youngest son, Jack, will make a different journey on the same date, arriving in Palm Beach Gardens from Montana today, the first day of the next step in his own journey. A coincidence? I think not. When Jack’s counselor called to inform us that he would be transitioning on this specific date it made me stop. Life is filled with twists and turns that leave us wondering and growing and learning, and the timing of this lesson is no different. On this November 5th, as I contemplate my son that was and my son that is, I am more aware than ever of the plans we make and the plans that come to be.

What to share concerning Jack’s journey? I wrestle with that question. Friends and family members who know me best know that I am transparent to a fault; I bare my soul easily, at times more than I should. Yet if stories are to make a difference – if it is true that God comforts us in all of our troubles so that we can comfort others (II Corinthians 1:4) – then stories need to be told. This is a chapter in mine.

My 15-year-old son is an addict. The details of his addiction are his to tell as he chooses but the aftermath of his choices and the effect those choices had, and are having, on our family is a story for now. This chapter has been building for some time. For the past several years Jack has slowly retreated; we noticed in little ways. A bad attitude, a lost interest, or a silent response; all were often dismissed as adolescence or growing pains. As the behaviors became more marked we sought the help of clergy, counselors, and coaches. We turned to law enforcement and loved ones. Encouraged (too much so?)  by small glimpses of hope we would move forward only to be disappointed when Jack’s choices were inconsistent and defiant.  As parents we fluctuated between loving our son with kindness and loving him with toughness. I personally struggled with guilt over the times I failed as a mom. At other times I boiled with resentment when I allowed Jack to drive me to anger and harsh words.

We punished. We rewarded. We wept.  We prayed.

One day we finally admitted that Jack’s desire to use was stronger than any gift we could give or any punishment we could withhold. Our family, including Jack, was slowly being strangled by the horror of his addiction. On that day, and on every day since, we acknowledged that our son needed help beyond our home. Deciding to intervene in the way we did was one of the hardest decisions we’ve ever made but choosing to look the other way would have been so much harder. On the day of intervention, the healing began.

The journey has been anything but easy. The healing has come at a cost, emotionally and financially. Sending Jack away was a bit like ripping off flesh – it wasn’t the way life was supposed to happen and his absence created a void. Our family has had to work towards reconciliation. We’ve learned first hand that quality intervention is costly; the need for affordable mental health and addiction care in this country is a crisis that must be addressed. We stand in amazed gratefulness for the privilege of adequate health insurance as well as the generosity of others. We’ve also had to reevaluate priorities,  giving up things we thought we could never live without. Turns out, we can.

Jack’s time in primary care has resulted in a young man who admits he has an addiction that he cannot handle on his own. The time has forced him to face his fears and his demons, coming to realize that it is okay to ask for help. He has grown and matured and learned to laugh again. Sharing this as a family has allowed opportunity for growth as we admit to the world that life is rarely as perfect as Facebook makes it seem. And most importantly, this time has given us reason to hope.

So now the journey continues.  November 5th and Jack is beginning the next phase at a transitional home in south Florida. There, with five other young men aged 15-18, he will continue to learn how to live day-by-day without drugs. He will restart 10th grade with a handful of exceptional teachers, educators trained in helping young lives rebuild; teachers who will remind him that he is smart and capable and of worth. He will work towards coming home, and we count the days until that homecoming is a reality.

And me? I reflect on what was and what is. What if our son Don Isaac had not died on this day 25 years ago? What if our daughters Maggie and Jennie had not died in 1997? How would our family be different? Would different be better? If we knew then what we know now would we have altered our decisions? Grace guards us from knowing the answers to so many of the unknowns. But there is one question we can answer with confidence. Did God design that we be the parents to accompany Jack through this time? A thousand times yes. He is our son.

Soon after adopting Nathan in 1998 (Jack would follow in 2000) Sam, an inquisitive 7-year-old at the time, asked:

     “Mom, if my brother and sisters hadn’t died would we have adopted Nathan?”

As I stumbled over trying to explain to him the mystery of the unknown he interjected:

     “Well, I do sometimes wonder about my other brother and sisters, but I’d never ever give up Nathan.”

In all of his young wisdom Sam was able to make sense of the mystery. We may not know what would have been but we do know what is. Jack is our son, today, tomorrow and beyond. And today, November 5th , I embrace it all.

 

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What Gets Us There

Preface – Today while sitting in the Denver airport I started people watching, imagining all the stories contained in the vast terminal. Lovers saying goodbye . . . soldiers being deployed . . . families heading off on vacation . . . men and women, weary from yet another work-related trip. I then began to think of our own family flights and the airplanes that have delivered us to places and events . . . and finally, I began pondering this trip today. I share these recollections more for myself than anything – to remember – but I also share to remind us all that this life is a journey filled with twists and turns, joy and grief. We need to tell our stories so when others are journeying we will be able to provide the same comfort and support that God has given us. (II Corinthians 1:4)

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Airports hold a dear place in my heart. Incredibly happy events, exceptionally sad farewells, and unremarkable normal connections have taken place in airports worldwide. Airports are a portal for one to travel with ease and comfort (at least in some places); they provide a front row seat to humans of all sorts; and flights, especially when notable, result in memories that remain.

I remember my first plane ride clearly. I was in 8th (9th?) grade and for Christmas my parents gave me and my sister tickets to Indiana to see our cousin Patty who’d recently wed a Hoosier. Of course we were not allowed to fly unaccompanied; Aunt Virginia and Granny Roberts were coming along as well. I was excited; Granny Roberts was scared to death! Sitting straight up, seat fully upright, her black patent-leather pocketbook – her “church” bag – never left her white-clutched fingers the entire flight. Declining all offerings of food or drink,  she spent the entire flight praying that Jesus would keep us safe and sound or take us painlessly to Glory.

There were scary rides in small planes – Gary, an FSU friend, piloted us to Miami for the 1981 Orange Bowl. He had a pilot’s license (barely) and too much bravado so our Sarasota-Miami flight was memorable, as was the one-point loss to Oklahoma. Still stings. Then there was the loss of a landing wheel in 1985 as my friend Marvin set down his Piper on a bumpy Bahamian grass runway, missing tall pines by a hair. He laughed loudly, I got sick, and another plane memory was born.

During our time in Papua New Guinea planes were one of the only means of getting to remote areas. The Highlands of PNG were often inaccessible by road so if my teaching work required me to visit families in far-flung parts, a small 2-seater Cessna was the only option. I remember one flight – I was heading to spend time with the Tomlinson family to relieve Mama Tomlinson a bit as she taught her daughters in the village. Our Swiss Wycliffe pilot assured me that the thick gray fog (so thick that you literally could not see one inch ahead) was “nothing” and that the “small bumps” (think head hitting top of cockpit) were “nothing”. He ate a tuna fish sandwich, I got sick (Are you seeing a pattern here?), and we arrived in one piece. After our wedding in the Highlands of PNG, Devan and I were flown to our Rabaul-honeymoon in a small prop plane festooned with balloons and streamers. The pilot assured us the decorations were placed so as not to get sucked into anything vital.plane

Living internationally for 17+ years allowed flying to become routine, probably more for our sons than for us. All three of our boys thought nothing of boarding planes on a regular basis for long haul flights between Kenya and the U.S., interspersed with stop over flights or short hops to places like Cairo, Mombasa, Johannesburg, Istanbul, the Masai Mara, Amsterdam, London, Kampala, Addis Ababa . . . the cities and the airlines (Kenya Airway, British Airways, KLM/Royal Dutch Air, Ethiopian Air, South African airways . . .) rolled off their tongues like a geography study session. International airlines still tend to treat air travel as a luxury, often including cloth napkins, cutlery, and other amenities even in economy/coach class, the only class we ever flew. After returning to the U.S. in 2006, our flying days lessened but I do recall one trip the family flew domestically. While boarding, one of the boys said, “Geez. They don’t have individual television screens?” We knew we weren’t in Kenya anymore.

Planes allow us to “get away from it all” and to enjoy reunions with family and friends. Planes deliver us to tragic times; our first son, Don Issac, died while I was being transported by a small bush plane from our Ukarumpa Center to a government hospital in Port Moresby, 200 miles away. My daddy and mom cried every time they put their grand-boys (and their baby girl) on a plane during our time in Kenya. Planes, and the airports that house them, truly represent the gamut of human experience.

And now my family is flying from all different places on a flight of hope. On September 3rd a plane flew our youngest son—Jack— to Montana. There were many reasons for this – none which need to be shared here – but the most important purpose was to provide Jack devoted time to consider his life and his choices. Putting Jack on that flight was THE hardest parenting decision we’ve ever made; days have been filled with tears, sleeplessness and prayer. But days have been equally filled with smiles, rest, and encouragement. We have entrusted Jack to the One who loves far greater and deeper than any parent ever could and now, this very day, we take another plane to the place where we will continue this  journey called family. Parents and brothers flying to spend a week with our son, flying with hope of reconciliation. Today’s flight may well be the most important one we’ve ever taken.

 

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The Road Taken . . . or Not

Preface:  Sixteen years ago today in a small Kenyan court room, Nathan Lane Mogaka added Veatch to his already illustrious name.  This year’s anniversary would have slipped by if not for a spontaneous moment of looking through his baby book just last night. And that spontaneous moment led to these thoughts.

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In the 1998 movie Sliding Doors, a London woman’s love life and career both hinge, unknown to her, on whether she catches a train or doesn’t. The remainder of the movie allows the viewer to see the outcomes of both in parallel universes; Helen’s life based on making the train, Helen’s life if she did not. It is one of my favorite movies and one that I have been known to re-watch on many a rainy Saturday afternoon. Each of Helen’s choices resulted in far different realities and I sometimes wonder if that is how it really works? Can we truly miss life-changing situations by a missed train, a set of lost keys, an unplanned encounter? Is absolutely everything preordained (shout out to my Calvinist friends) or does life readjust as we make different choices?

This notion that a simple this-or-that can be anything but simple is a fascinating idea. Literature is filled with examples. I first read the allegory The Lady, or The Tiger?, written in 1884 by Frank R. Stockton, while sitting in 11th grade English. Even now, 39 years on, I can recall the angst caused by Mr. Stockton’s closing question:

And so I leave it with all of you: Which came out of the opened door – the lady, or the tiger?

      Robert Frost examines the same “agony of choice” in his classic The Road not Taken:

Two roads diverged in a yellow wood,

And sorry I could not travel both

And be one traveler . . .

Frost gives the reader the benefit of knowing his choice in the poem’s last line, a line so oft quoted that it borders on cliché’:

Two roads diverged in a wood, and I—

I took the one less traveled by,

And that has made all the difference.

That line is made much of by risk-takers—go your own way, don’t follow the pack—and yet there also remains a question, a wondering, about the road Frost ignored. The fact that he chose to title the poem The Road Not Taken rather than The Road Less Traveled By leads me to consider that Frost, too, pondered his own choice over the years. What if he’d taken that road he did not? Which road? Which door? They are questions for the ages.

Last night at dinner we were discussing, again, the speed at which Nathan’s senior year seems to be passing. (Too quickly.) At some point during the meal I felt the need to retrieve Nathan’s baby book and take a walk down memory lane. As we sat at the table eating quiche and nathan2
laughing at the photos of baby Nathan, the scrap book fell open to a random page.

I’m not always good at writing down specific dates to remember and celebrate so when Nathan’s scrap book randomly fell to this specific page it gave us pause. September 22, 1999, the day Nathan Lane Mogaka became a “real” Veatch. He’d been the son of our hearts since we brought him home in 1997, but now the stroke of an elderly judge’s pen established his place in our family as legal and permanent. We all laughed at the timing, and then I, true-to-form, cried. Cried at the reminder of all we’d been given. Cried over how we found Nathan and he found us. What if we hadn’t visited New Life Home that day with our friend Linda? What if Nathan had not been sitting outside in that baby seat, allowing us to see him first and realize we had eyes for no other? What if 16 years ago today Mister Kenyan judge had said no? Perhaps Nathan, and two years later Jack, were two of our ‘roads less traveled’—two of our best decisions ever.

Which road? Which door? Neither?

There are times we wait. Regardless of which, decisions, both large and small, are made throughout life, and very recently our family has been forced to ask incredibly difficult questions. Those questions led to a decision that has confused and hurt one of our dearest, and he doesn’t fully understand our choices. These choices have affected, and will continue to affect, our entire family in deep ways, and they were not made lightly; they’ve been bathed in prayer, counsel, and thought. They came at great cost, both emotional and financial, and there have been nights of sleeplessness and wondering. But in the end we picked a door, we chose a path, not haphazardly but with thought and tears and shaky courage. We are at peace with the decision and look with anticipation at the outcome, praying that our choice was best for all concerned.

Which road? Which door? Wait? Over the course of life, we will all say yes, or no, to each and then live with the outcome of those decisions. At that point—at this point—I rest and I hope and I love. For me those are the wisest choices of all.

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Nathan’s jovial side as news of his official “Veatchness” reaches his ears. 9/22/99

 

 

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Waiting at the Bus Stop

school-busLast week while walking in my neighborhood I observed an annual back-to-school ritual; waiting at the bus stop. Only 6:45 a.m., the sun was scarcely peaking over the dunes that line A1A and the sky promised a beautiful clear day. With the first bell for our local middle school ringing at 7:20, a before-sunrise pickup was not unusual.

Even from a distance I could surmise a few things about the young scholar. He was nervous, really nervous. Every noise prompted him to anxiously peer up and down the street. Most likely a 6th grader, his growth spurt had not yet kicked in, his large backpack still seemed to envelope his small back, and his movements were that of a former 5th grader who, no longer the school top dog, realized he was once again at the bottom of the social food chain. The most telling portion of the scene, however, was the perceived detachment the boy had placed between himself and his mother’s car.

As I neared I could hear what turned out to be a one-sided conversation.

Mom, leaning out the open car window:  “I know you’re going to do great.”

Boy: silence

Mom: “Remember that I put money in your lunch account.”

Boy: silence

His head was completely turned away, his body language stating the obvious. The young man wanted her to go away, far away. He did not want to make small talk and he certainly did not want his mom sitting there when the yellow behemoth drew near. The mom’s voice held a hint of desperation leading me to believe it was only the strongest measure of self-control that kept her from jumping out of the car to hug him one last time. He was her baby, all grown up (at least in his mind) and headed to middle school; he was her baby, all grown up (at least in his mind) and longing for independence. It was only the strongest measure of self-control that kept me from running up to her to let her know she would be okay.

I thought about that young man throughout the day, wondering how he was doing, if he found his classes okay, if he had friends to sit with at lunch. I thought about that mom as well and how that early morning scene was a reflection of my own current situation.

My youngest son is in 10th grade, a 15 year old in a man’s body. No, I do not wait for him at the bus stop; he rides to school with his brother or a friend. He also makes his own breakfast (his choice, not mine) and longs to be independent in every sense of the word. I am that mom, sitting alone in the car, trying to start conversations with a person who more often than not turns his head away. Just like the young boy looking with impatience for the bus to arrive, my son is impatiently looking for the arrival of adulthood, freedom, liberation. I try to warn him that it’s not everything it’s cracked up to be, this adult thing – that it is hard work – but my counsels are more often than not rejected as hovering and interfering. There are also times when he is on the verge of talking, of sharing a secret, but rather than listening without judgment, my inclination is to interrupt to point out the foolishness of his ways. He hurts my feelings; I hurt his. And so it goes.

And just when I think it can’t get any worse, just when I tell myself that I’m a failure and that he’s out of reach, a breath of grace appears. That gentle wind comes during a dear friend’s wedding celebration, my son laughing loudly as he and I dance across the floor together. It drifts softly from another mom who calls to tell me that my son is a great kid who always has such good manners when visiting their home. It comes in the form of a prayer, a text message from Texas saying, “God put your son on my heart during chapel this morning. I prayed. God is acting on your behalf.” It comes from his beautiful smile that I catch across a room. The messages are filled with hope and that hope rolls over me like a wave.

Thinking back to the bus stop, I want to fast-forward to day’s end and imagine that young boy coming home at the end of his first day of middle school. I want him to burst through the door and tell his mother every single detail about every single class. Realistically she was probably lucky to get a grunt or an “it was okay” as answers to her queries but I want to tell her to sit still and listen. Even when her son is silent I want to tell that mom to hold on and wait for the breeze. I want her to look for hope in the smallest of details even when the distance between seems to grow wider. I want to remind her to love. I want her to listen to my words and believe, because perhaps while reminding her, I will choose to believe them myself.

My risk-taking, independence-chasing, gorgeous-smiling son.

My risk-taking, independence-chasing, gorgeous-smiling son.

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When you do it to the least of these . . .

semper-fi-arm-usmc-marine-corps-tatto_largeMatthew 25:35-45

35 For I was hungry, and you fed me. I was thirsty, and you gave me a drink. I was a stranger, and you invited me into your home.

36 I was naked, and you gave me clothing. I was sick, and you cared for me. I was in prison, and you visited me.’

37 “Then these righteous ones will reply, ‘Lord, when did we ever see you hungry and feed you? Or thirsty and give you something to drink?

38 Or a stranger and show you hospitality? Or naked and give you clothing?

39When did we ever see you sick or in prison and visit you?’

40 “And the King will say, ‘I tell you the truth, when you did it to one of the least of these my brothers and sisters, you were doing it to me!’

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Yesterday was a good day with my boys; great breakfast at Georgie’s Diner  followed by a trip to Orange Park Mall (nearest Tilly’s) for a long morning of tax-free shopping. Besides a ‘lively’ discussion with my 15yo on why an $89 watch does not constitute a back-to-school purchase, the time spent was fun and peaceful. But shopping is, in the end, just shopping and as we neared St. Augustine all I could think of was getting home, pouring a glass of iced-tea, collecting my current read and my chair, and strolling to the beach.

As we crossed the small bridge over the San Sebastian River, home almost in sight, Nathan said, “Mom, that man has blood pouring off of his hand.” The traffic was slow enough that I, too, could see that the man walking on the side of the road did indeed appear to be bleeding profusely. He appeared a bit disheveled, had a walking stick, and was stopping every few feet to look at his hand.

“Mom, we need to go back and help him.”

There are many things we’ve not done well as parents, but one thing we hope we’ve gotten right is raising our sons to know that “when you do it to the least of these” is an intentional act, not just a sweet sentiment. The words spoken by Jesus in Matthew 25 are not suggestions; they are specific examples of ways to serve others. And sometimes serving others, well, it’s just not convenient.

“Mom, really. He’s still bleeding.”

By this time we’d reached the CVS on the corner and I could see by the time I turned into the parking lot the bleeding stranger would only be a few minutes behind. But I could think of so many reasons not to stop and help this man. We had no idea who he was; he could be an escaped mass murderer or just a really weird homeless guy.  There were so many other people driving by; surely someone else would stop. He was bleeding and I had no bandages or medical supplies in the car. What if he had a disease? It was hot, as in “it-feels-like-110’” hot. And there was a glass of iced tea with my name on it just a few miles down the road.

For I was hungry, and you fed me. I was thirsty, and you gave me a drink. I was a stranger, and you invited me into your home. I was naked, and you gave me clothing. I was sick, and you cared for me. I was in prison, and you visited me.”

True confession: I did not want to stop. If it had not been for Nathan and Jack being in the car, I probably would have blown by the parking lot without a second thought. But Nathan and Jack were in the car and I could think of no reason good enough to justify ignoring this person in apparent need. So I turned the car around.

I pulled into a spot as the man neared the sidewalk, close enough to hear us.

“Sir, are you okay? Do you need help?” Nathan shouted as he approached the man.

I could now see his hand up close and it was obvious that the wound was serious. The man walked through the hedge and sat on the curb.

“Well, I’m feeling kind of weak but think I should walk to the hospital.”

Even in the heat the man’s skin appeared pale. More wounds on his feet and arms were apparent.

“I was resting by the rocks on the bridge when my walking stick fell out of my hand. When I bent down to pick it up I fell onto the sharp rocks. Damn stupid of me.”

While Nathan walked to the CVS to buy a bottle of cold water, a young woman in scrubs approached, carrying a medical bag. A nurse from Flagler, she was on her way home and had stopped at CVS to buy a few things. Speaking to the man with respect and gentleness, she told him her name and asked him his.  Donning surgical gloves she got straight to work, cleaning his wounds in order to assess their seriousness.

“You’re going to need several stitches and antibiotics. This is a severe gash.”

By this time we’d discovered that “Jonathan” was making his way back to his home in Alabama. His Semper Fidelis tattoo, now visible since the blood had been wiped away, seemed to support his story that he was a vet experiencing hard times. He never asked for money, but did ask if we would be willing to call 911, which the nurse confirmed was the right thing to do. Between the heat, the lack of water and the blood loss, he wasn’t in any shape to keep walking.

Nathan got him more water and a snack. He asked questions and listened with genuine interest as Jonathan answered. I placed the 911 call and the ambulance came momentarily.  Jack sat taking it all in then leaned over to me and said, “I don’t know how good I’ve got it.” The EMTs took over and we knew our part was done.

Jonathan said quietly, “Thanks for stoppin’. I was feelin’ pretty weak. Means the world that y’all took the time.”

As we drove home Jack spoke of the nurse.

“She was really nice to that man; she didn’t have to stop and help him. She talked to him like he was a normal guy.”

Nathan simply said, “That hardly took any time at all, did it?”

Me? I said nothing. If I had followed my desire I would have never stopped but headed straight home to that glass of iced tea.

Thankfully my sons have bigger hearts than me; their insistence prevailed and that paid off. Nathan and Jack were able to relate to “a normal guy” who was going through hard times. We watched a nurse use her skills to care for another. We saw mercy in action and were reminded once again that love does stuff. And, in the end, a good day turned out even better. I even got to drink my iced-tea.

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P.S. – Please note: We have had the safety talk with the boys and they know there are situations when one should not stop.

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