Dec 092014
 

Originally published in 2009 & excerpted from the New York Times Bestseller Carry On, Warrior.

lwlong

2007 was a tough year for the Meltons. Chase and Tish were 4 and 1, and Craig and I spent our days and evenings on the phone, interweb, and each others’ nerves trying to realize our adoption dream. We were trying to adopt internationally and each time we got close, the dreaded background check would come, and agency after agency would reject us because . . . well, by now you know I choose to describe my past as festive.

Side note- in the past decade- I have been diagnosed with addictive personality, incompetent cervix, and suspicious blood.  So negative. I think words are important, so I have made some minor semantics adjustments. I now describe myself to doctors as having an “excited” personality, “laid-back cervix” and “creative” blood. Additionally- I am not “depressed,” I am extra- feely. And I am not “anxious” I am just PAYING ATTENTION. There are things, REAL THINGS TO BE CONCERNED ABOUT, PEOPLE. And it is not “paranoia” if everyone is ACTUALLY AFTER YOU. And on and on like this. 

Anyway, I laugh now, but I wasn’t laughing back in 2007. I cried myself to sleep lots of nights, while Craig squeezed me tight and prayed that God would either open an adoption door or take away the desperation in my heart. Then I’d wake up early and start the whole obsessive process over. During one interview, as the social worker asked us questions about the past and we answered them honestly, we could actually hear her voice becoming more distant and cold. When we got off the phone I said “I don’t think she’s going to give us a baby, do you?” Craig responded by admitting that he wanted to stop doing interviews altogether because he was afraid they’d decide to take away the two kids we already had.

In August of 2007, we found some hope at an agency that facilitated adoptions from Guatemala. The social worker told us that they would find a way to bring a baby home to us, from their orphanage where toddlers and babies were abandoned because their parents couldn’t feed them. They sent us packets and pictures of the orphanage and the orphans and I fell in love. Hard.

While our paperwork was being processed, I spent my days mentally planning and preparing and daydreaming. I knew our baby would be a little girl, and I knew her name would be Maria. I have no idea where this information originated, so I assumed it was from God. I never told anyone that I knew she would be Maria, because people can only be expected to take so much. But I knew it. There was a country song out at the time called “My Maria” and I would drive around, belting out the lyrics and fantasizing about how Craig, Chase, Tish, Maria, and I would dance to “My Maria” in front of our family and friends at Maria’s coming home party. I am quite sure I planned my outfit. These daydreams are probably why I get lost almost every single time I get in my car. I never really had an explanation for that frustrating phenomenon until this moment.

At the end of September, we got a phone call from the agency. Craig took the call and then he told me gently that the agency had decided we were too much of a risk. The door to Guatemala was officially closed. I sat on the couch and cried and cried, because how can you feel something so certainly and then turn around and accept that it wasn’t meant to be? I remember hearing Chase walk in while I was crying and asking Craig “Why?” and Craig said, “She’s just sad, honey. Mommy’s just sad.”

Two months passed and I pulled myself together reasonably enough. You can read about what happened during those two months here. It was a magical and painful time.

Christmas morning came, and after the flurry of excitement and gifts everybody got tired, as people do on Christmas morning. We all rested into the day. Bubba fell asleep on the couch, and Sister and Tisha slid into the kitchen to start breakfast for the kids. I sat on the couch and congratulated myself for pulling off another Christmas. Craig snuggled next to me on the couch and handed me one last gift that he had hidden away. I smiled and opened it, and when all of the paper was removed: this is what I saw in my lap.

My Maria

I mean, he made this. With stickers. STICKERS.

After we found out we wouldn’t be allowed to bring a baby home from Guatemala, Craig called the agency and asked if he could “sponsor” a child there, in honor of me and of our dream. The woman at the orphanage said they had just the little girl for us. Her name was Maria, she said. She sent Craig pictures of Maria and her orphanage home, and Craig put them together in a scrapbook for me. So on Christmas morning, I’d have something to hold.

I sat on the couch and cried until I couldn’t see. Bubba woke up and became alarmed. Everyone stared. I didn’t care. I have never in my life felt the presence of God more strongly than I did at that moment, sitting on the couch, with that scrapbook in my lap and my husband beside me. I actually felt God saying, “I was watching, and I was speaking. You were right, there is a Maria for you. Here she is.”

Since I couldn’t speak, I left my family and walked into my bedroom, found my journal and brought it back to the family room. I opened it to page after page where I’d doodled “Maria Melton” like a lovesick teenager. Craig was shocked, and he cried with me.

We fell more deeply in love with Maria during the next year. We sent her gifts and letters that Tisha translated into Spanish for us. We told her that God loved her very much and so did we and we explained that we prayed for her and for her friends every night. We asked Chase’s birthday party guests to donate money instead of gifts and we sent the money to Maria so that she could throw a birthday party for herself that year. The orphanage told us that the money went so far that Maria was able to invite another orphanage to her party too, and that they all played with piñatas and balloons for the first time in their lives. All I have to do to make myself cry, to this day, is to say to myself, “I hope she felt special that day.”

We got a letter last year announcing that Maria had finally been adopted by a family in the states. The odds had been against her. The previous year we had been told that the likelihood that Maria would find a forever home were slim to none.

But we know that with God, nothing is impossible.

 

Originally published in 2009 & excerpted from the New York Times Bestseller Carry On, Warrior.



Carry On, Warrior
Author of the New York Times Bestselling Memoir CARRY ON, WARRIOR
Join the Momastery community on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram & Pinterest


Dec 072014
 

You guys, my beloved pastor Ron Patterson is so insanely beautiful and wise. He ALWAYS is but his message last Sunday about love and hate and humility and building bridges just TORE me up . After he finished I stood up in my pew and clapped and cheered and WOOT WOOTED and pumped my fists and well, my church is not that kind of church. And so Craig said: SIT DOWN, HONEY. HONEY. Sit down. So then I stayed standing even longer than I WOULD have because Craig is not the boss of me and nobody puts baby in a corner and submitting to your spouse  is not really something we focus on much in the UCC.

In related news, I REALLY FEEL LIKE PEOPLE SHOULD STAND UP AND CLAP MORE IN GENERAL. Like, just as they go throughout their day.  But we can talk about that more another time. Without further ado, meet Pastor Ron!

My Pastor Ron

First off, things are tough out there in this world of ours. There is real evil—it exists, you can see it operating in some of the crazy behavior we hear about that makes reasonable people afraid for the future.  Women and girls are kidnapped, aid workers and reporters are killed and religious ideas, taken to their extreme, are cited as justification and as a motivation to build the momentum of hate.   

Young people who do not feel they have any investment in the future are being seduced by the promise of glory or the belief that violence is the way to solve their personal problems and make a meaningful difference with their lives. They are being taught that violence is the best way to claim and express their religious political identity or to salve the wounds they believe have been caused by others.    

And it would be easy just to stand here and offer smug words of condemnation or to wring my hands about how God-awful those poor deluded fools over there are behaving, wishing that they would sit down over a cup of coffee with me sometime soon so I could enlighten them with my wisdom and straighten out their thinking about truth, beauty and the American way. 

And it would also be easy just to suggest that our military be given a free hand to bomb those with whom we happen to disagree into the stone age or to meet their violence with greater violence or to force those evil people into a different way of looking at the world more in tune with our ideas of how the world should be.

And yes, let me say it—sometimes force is necessary, sometimes sacrifice needs to be made for the sake of defense and yes, we need to speak out—all of us for the sake of the truth as we see it…..but the way of Jesus is a different way—it is not the way of us against them—or we have the truth and you don’t have it and you need to get some of our truth or God doesn’t love you.  

Between 1608 and 1638, Protestants and Catholics fought the Thirty Years War because they both believed that the other side did not know the truth about Jesus.  Eight million people died because the spiritual ancestors of those beautiful people across the street at St. Williams disagreed with our spiritual ancestors and they all decided—both Catholics and Protestants, that the way of Jesus justified killing one another to make their way the only way.  Do you suppose that made Jesus happy?

In the year 1,000 an army of Western Christians sacked Constantinople, the capital city of the Eastern Christians because one side used leavened bread in communion and the other side used unleavened bread.  Thousands dead because of yeast or the lack there of, in the communion bread.  Do you suppose that is what Jesus had in mind when he said:  “This is my body broken for you…..”

I do not pretend to understand the terribly deep hate that some of our Muslim sisters and brothers have for one another or for Christians.  I do not pretend to understand the hate that motivated Christians to lead the Crusades.  What is there about religion –  theirs and ours and others that turns love into hate and hope into fear?  I know there is a deep history of mistrust and fear between Sunni and Shia Muslims and there is a legacy of tribal mistrust and hatred and ideas about vengeance that I do not understand – but I do know my own religious history, I know the nastier, violent parts of the Bible. And I know our own history as a people even here in the United States. The history of slavery and the way we treated the people who were living here when we moved in, and the blood bath that was the Civil War…….   

Let me suggest just a few ideas for you to think about.  Buried right there in the middle of our Bible lesson for today and layered over and surrounded by all the scary stuff about violence and the end of the world—sort of like those news reports some of us sit and listen to all day—is a little word from Jesus that is a big word about life.  Like a flower planted in the desert, Jesus says—heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away.

In the beginning was the Word and the Word was God and the word was power and the word was the way that leads to life. What is the Word? Jesus is the Word. Jesus is the way and the way he laid out (Love) and the words he spoke (Love) will endure, not the hate, not the hopelessness, not the fear. 

Do you believe that?  That’s the promise that comes each year at Christmas. Love.  That’s what born in the manger and all that “Silent Night, Holy Night” candle glow, peace on earth stuff—that’s what it’s about. That’s the message, that’s the promise. Jesus. Love.

Question:  Is that promise strong enough to confront the hate?  Is that promise a truth by which you and I can live?          

The way of hate is not just out there or over there in some other country or among people with whom we happen to disagree.  Hate may manifest itself in the behavior of the followers of any religion. And hate is tricky- the sneakiest trick the devil plays is to get you and me to hate the haters and thereby wallow in the mud that has made this world miserable from day one. 

If becoming a bigot myself is my best answer to the bigotry of another, then hate wins.  If enhancing my own intolerance is my considered intellectual defense to the intolerance of another, then hate wins. If manifesting my racism is my solution to the racism of another, then hate wins.  If even suggesting for a moment that because I love God, others don’t or that they are somehow less than the beautiful creations of God’s love, then hate wins. And if I am so sure that my way of worship is the only way to worship or to pray, then hate surely wins and wins big time. 

Do you remember that little story Jesus told about seeing the speck in our neighbor’s eye while failing to see the log in our own?  There’s an awful lot of that going around and I’m sorry to say that some days under the influence of the harsh reality of this good earth, I fall into that mistake myself.

I can’t fix the Middle East.  I can’t sort out the complexities that drive people to deny the humanity of other people.  All I can do is get my heart and my head and my hands around the words Jesus said would never pass away. 

I can love my neighbor. I can honor the image of God that I bear.  I can love the power of love—which is another word for all I believe about God.   If I only believe in a God who is some distant being out there, way far away, then I can get away with all sorts of nasty behavior toward the person next door, but I don’t see it that way. 

God is my neighbor.  You are my neighbor.  The person who disagrees with me is my neighbor.   Even the person who hates and behaves terribly is my neighbor and despite the fact that I have trouble saying it and often more trouble believing it, even that unloving, misbehaving, hate manifesting so and so who is attempting to tear the world apart, that person is my neighbor and they bear the very image of God. 

Now that’s the theory- so  how do we put it into practice?  I don’t think it works long distance for most of us. I don’t think it works when you or I wring our hands lamenting how awful things are. So here’s what we do: Turn off the news channel! Leave your echo chamber! Find someone who disagrees with you and take him or her to lunch.  Make friends with someone who follows a different faith.  Read a good book and learn something new about another religion.  Practice your own faith so that it shows. 

 Recognize that if everyone you know agrees with you, you are probably living in the same far country where the Prodigal child squandered his inheritance—remember that story?  If your mind is made up and you know what you know and don’t want to know more, then at least consider that you might have closed the door to the possibility that the Holy Spirit of the living God might move through you to make this world a better place.  

So…Change your mind!  Love someone.  Give something.  Plant a tree. Light a candle.  Hold on to hope.   That is the way that leads to life!  And more people on that journey are exactly what this hurting world needs. 

Amen. 

 

(ALL MANNER OF CHEERING  AND WOOT WOOTING AND FIST PUMPING AND ALL THE THINGS!!!! Honey, sit down. I will not.)

 



Carry On, Warrior
Author of the New York Times Bestselling Memoir CARRY ON, WARRIOR
Join the Momastery community on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram & Pinterest


Dec 042014
 

Friends, I really need you to read this long essay all the way through. If you do- and you follow directions -– you will walk away with a 1:350 chance to win a brand new Jeep Wrangler Sahara on December 23rd. Strange, but true. Like me! Read on.

If you’ve read Carry On, Warrior- You already know Gena. Of all of the kind people I’ve been blessed to know – Gena is the kindest.

Gena and Zach

That Harry Connick Jr. guy is Gena’s husband, Zach. Gena and Zach met when we were all at JMU together. At their wedding, the DJ introduced them as “ZENA AND GACK.” Zach is an orthodontist. When I imagine Zach as a child, I picture him like that little elf on Rudolph who only wanted to work on teeth. When Zach reads this, he’ll likely send me an email explaining that he was nothing like that elf. I will respond by explaining that he is not the boss of my imagination. My list of favorite boys goes like this: Craig, Chase, Bobby, Bubba, John, Zach. The thing you need to know about Zach is this: If Zach says three sentences, one will be about how proud he is of Gena and how much he loves her. If Gena speaks three sentences, one will be about how good Zach is and how proud she is of him. The love and respect they have for each other is my second favorite thing about them.

My first favorite thing about them is that they are generous. If I had to choose one word for them, it’d be generous. They are generous with their time and home and talents and lives. The way they love and take care of each other is exactly the way they love and take of their world. You will find that this is often true of marriages.

Two weeks ago I got this email from Gena:

G, There is a little boy from Zach’s practice and he’s really sick and his family is a bunch of warriors and they are fighting so hard but they need our help. Zach is doing what he can. Can you help?

The thing is that I have a strict rule: I never use this platform or the non-profit to help friends. This rule hurts sometimes, but I’ve learned that it’s what’s required to keep Momastery, Together Rising, and my friendships pure. However, the other thing is that there just isn’t a rule on Earth I wouldn’t break for Zena and Gach. So I called right away and said: Tell me everything.

Here’s everything.

Meet Mathias.

MatthaisMathias is a 13 year-old boy living in Northern Virginia, my old stomping grounds. Here is how his mama describes him: Mathias’s name means “gift of God” — he truly is a gift. He is the bravest, kindest person I know. His love & care for others and his appreciation for everything in life is remarkable. He is wise beyond his years. He is my inspiration. I have always said that, “when I grow up, I want to be like Mathias.”  He is gentle, honest & well known for his beautiful smile. He is a wonderful brother to Troy & a great friend to so many.” 

Matthias and brother

Mathias was diagnosed in July 2012. He actually didn’t have any visual signs of anything unusual on his leg other than pain, which we thought was soccer injury or growing pain… the were no bruises or no swelling, no rash or anything suspicious. In fact I asked for an X-ray and the doctor suggested that we ice it or heat it for a few weeks before we expose him to X-ray. I insisted and I am so glad that I did. It was cancer. Mathias began treatment and his leg was amputated. He got sicker, he lost his hair. Over the past 20 months, he has endured biopsies, port placement, 26 rounds of chemo, 3 major lung surgeries, amputation of his right leg, and completed 28 rounds of radiation. 

Mathias’s family fought and fought but now they have been told that the only thing to do is keep Mathias comfortable. They have decided to do a hell of a lot more than that. In addition to loving each other fiercely, completely and heroically, here is how Mathias and his family is spending the remainder of their time on Earth together: fighting for strangers.

This from Roya, Mathias’s mom:

Roya and MathiasDuring this journey we quickly learned about the shameful lack of funding for pediatric cancer and massive lack of awareness in our community. In December 2013 – when I went to DMV to get a new license plate for my car, I asked for a specialty plate with the gold ribbon (the Childhood Cancer Awareness Ribbon) on it. I was told that they have the pink ribbon for breast cancer and the yellow ribbon for the troops … but nothing gold! I thought: How can that be? Mathias was surprised and saddened by this.

He said: “The pink ribbon is out there and everyone knows what it stands for- we need the gold ribbon to become well known, too! We need people to know that kids get cancer too and that they can’t fight alone!” He knows this because of his long battle with cancer. If it wasn’t for the love & support of friends, family and strangers we couldn’t have kept up the fight for this long. Others have to know!

People kept asking Mathias- what can we do for you? What can we bring/give you guys? One day, when he was already very, very sick – Mathias decided that what he wanted was to make sure a gold ribbon license plate was created. So while we were busy taking care of Mathias and his treatments, a friend of ours – Jay Coakley – proceeded with the idea and helped us get this application process underway. It was a long, hard process- but it happened! Our bill passed! This bill will be called the Mathias Law, it will go to the general assembly in Richmond in January 2015 and when it passes it will go to the senate and then to the governor’s desk… and this will become a reality. Then DMV will create a sample plate and once we approve it, it will be in production & available to public all over Virginia.

Tag Greason from the Virginia House of Delegates came to our home personally to deliver the news to Mathias, to shake his hand, thank him and say: thank you for dreaming your dream for other children.

To dream our dream for others. What higher calling can there be? And a child shall lead them.

Mathias and Governor

Back to Zach. Dr. Casagrande to you. Dr Casagrande is Mathias’s odd toothy elf. I MEAN ORTHODONTIST.

Zach wrote this to me:

“Mathias has been a patient of mine since he was 9…three years before he was diagnosed. I can tell you he’s a special kid. Infectious smile, one of those eternally positive people (like Gena). Like anything else in life we all have our favorites…and Mathias is one of mine…Polite. Fun. Outgoing. Selfless. Smart. Witty. Athletic. Good kid. Just a really, really good kid.”

Baseball
Hug

Wheelchair

Zach felt ON FIRE about Mathias’s diagnosis. He felt angry at cancer and inspired by Mathias and filled to bursting with fear and sadness and hope. All these feelings mixed together added up to one thing: LOVE. And Zach knows that Love is a VERB. So he decided to DO something to love Mathias well. What though? WHAT?

You know how Beuchner said that: “Your calling is the place where your deepest gladness meets the world’s deepest need?”

Well- Besides his family and friends and teeth – Zach’s deepest gladness is CARS. Cars make Zach DEEPLY GLAD.

“Your calling is the place where your deepest gladness meets the world’s deepest need.”

illustration

And so Zach went out and bought a brand new White 2015 Jeep Wrangler Sahara. And he decided to raffle the Jeep off, with 50% of the proceeds going to Mathias’s medical bills and the other 50% going to Kyle’s Kamp. He decided to announce the winner at a Blood Drive that his office would host on December 23 in honor of Mathias. Because blood drives are Mathias’s other passion.

This from Roya:

Mathias thought it would be great if people would go and donate blood in his honor or register with Be the Match and become a bone-marrow donor. So in the past two years we have hosted a few blood drives in our community and for his 13th Birthday on June 14th, instead of presents he asked people to come and register with Be The Match. So while we fight, we try to pay it forward and making a difference is all we can do, with the help of so many amazing supporters in our community.

I know. I cannot even BELIEVE this family’s goodness and beauty. LET US MAKE LIKE MATHIAS AND PAY HIS BEAUTY FORWARD. Love is a verb. Here’s what we can DO to make our love for Mathias and all children with cancer REAL. To make sure they FEEL it.

ZACH IS GOING TO RAFFLE THIS JEEP OFF ON DECEMBER 23rd. ONLY 350 TICKETS HAVE BEEN SOLD. WHICH MEANS THAT IF YOU BUY A TICKET TODAY – YOUR CHANCES TO WIN A BRAND NEW JEEP ARE 1:350. THOSE ARE SOME INSANE ODDS. YOUR CHANCES OF MAKING THE WORLD A BETTER PLACE ARE 100%. THAT’S A LOCK. If you feel moved by Mathias and his mama and Zach – please choose one or all of the following and BE LOVE!

  1. BUY A RAFFLE TICKET!!!
  2. If you live in the Northern Virginia area, go to the Mathias/ NVO blood drive by going to www.redcrossblood.org and use sponsor code: NV Orthodontics to schedule your donation in honor of Mathias.
  3. If you’re not in the Nova area, GO TO BE THE MATCH.
  4. Share the living bejesus out of this story. Best-case scenario is that we completely destroy our chances of winning this jeep.
  5. Go love on Mathias and his family over here.
  6. Check out KYLE’S KAMP- half of the raffle money will go there. Kyle’s Kamp has raised more than $1,200,000 for pediatric cancer research and care for Children’s National since 2012.
Here's Kyle from Kyle's Camp with the Jeep we could win!!

Here’s Kyle from Kyle’s Kamp with the Jeep we could win!!

One last thing:

This morning at 5:30 am, I was in Naples working on this essay and Gena was in Virginia sifting through pictures of Mathias to send me.  Then she got an email from Roya that tore her heart open again. Gena stopped what she was doing and sent me this one sentence:

G, I can’t stop crying.

Here is what I sent back.

Dearest Gena,

The word compassion….com = with, passion = to burn – to suffer – from love.  

And so real compassion is only present when you are suffering in love with another person. That is what you are feeling this morning. True, deep compassion. You are voluntarily suffering with Roya. It is hard and horrible – real compassionbut it is also the holiest thing available to us on this Earth, in this lifetime. It’s a gift from God. It IS God. And it’s Christmas, Gen. Christmas is about this: God so loved the world that God decided to come suffer with us. And so really, when you think about it- the only true way to celebrate Christmas is to suffer in love with someone else.

And so, Sister, this morning it might feel like we are just up early in the dark at our computers but really- we are entering into God’s work. We are entering into HARD LOVE. Blessed are those who mourn. Blessed are the poor in spirit. For theirs is the kingdom of God.

And so this morning – as we let our hearts break open for Mathias- we do so knowing that like the bone fractures Zach taught the kids about last week – our hearts will grow back stronger for having been broken. Those who let their hearts break again again and yet again have the strongest, most powerful hearts. Theirs is the Kingdom of God. Thank you, Gena – and please thank Zach, for inviting me into the Kingdom of God with Mathias.

I Love You So, Little G.

Love Wins.

Big G



Carry On, Warrior
Author of the New York Times Bestselling Memoir CARRY ON, WARRIOR
Join the Momastery community on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram & Pinterest


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