An Immigration Story

So, if you aren’t living under a rock in the United States, you have probably heard headlines about immigrants recently.  They’re being detained.  A wall.  Kids separated from parents. Criminals. Gang members. Whatever.  It’s all over the news.

Today, I want to put a human face on just one immigration story.

Now, I realize that, like all of my experiences, I get to come at my story from a perspective of white privilege.  I have always “looked” American.  My native language is English, so, aside from learning new lingo and saying (and spelling) words funny, I did not have the same barriers to society that so many others do.

I came to the United States, to a town outside of Atlanta, GA, when I was 7.  I was old enough to know that the changes were huge, and to notice them, but not old enough to have figured out that America wasn’t a borough in New York City.  (Geography is still not my strong point, although I will study it with my seventh grader as we homeschool this year.)

I remember sitting in immigration offices.  I remember the very specific photos we needed for our resident alien cards (something like 64% of your ear had to be showing, along with both eyes and other incredibly challenging poses to create when you’re seven and fidgety).  I remember starting school in a new country and being overwhelmed when I didn’t know the lunch procedures, the right language to accuse someone of cutting me in line, the right way to pronounce yogurt… again, small stuff, but I was a tiny white girl with enormous buck teeth… nobody saw me as threatening in any way.

So, fast forward a few years. My parents both naturalized as US citizens when I was in high school.  This was an arduous process.  It involved a number of letters scheduling meetings in a big city about an hour away, scheduled at 6am, with no number to reschedule if you weren’t available, and arriving on time meant also standing outside with everyone else who had received the letter to wait for the office to actually open at 9am.  This was just what one did to become an American.  It involved studying for an exam about American history that I am certain that most of the people I know could not pass.  It also involved sending checks—usually for $500—that would be deposited but never logged, with no recourse for the sender, so my parents probably had to send those checks multiple times.  I’m pretty sure at least one check was sent on my behalf, although that process did not go anywhere.  Anyway, at some point both of my parents got a piece of paper with their photos stapled to it (no lie, it is not even laminated) declaring them naturalized citizens.

Fast forward a few more years—I was 19 and newly married.  I realized I needed to update my green card to show my married name (and also because I was supposed to have done it when I turned 18, but jobs, boys, and college made that seem like a non-priority).  I filled out the paperwork, brought originals of all of my documentation—marriage license, birth certificate, passport, driver’s license, student ID, electric bill… pretty much everything I had that I could use to prove I was me.  I got to the office, filled out all of the forms, and waited. When it was my turn, I chatted with the woman looking over my information.  I must have mentioned offhand that both of my parents naturalized.  She took my green card and went to another office.  I didn’t think anything of it.  She came back a few minutes later and said that she could not give me a green card.

I started to worry.

She said she couldn’t give me a new green card because I was already a citizen!  Apparently, I had become a citizen when my parents both naturalized before I turned 18.  Of course, they did not tell us that, and also did not think it was necessary to refund the money we paid to attempt to naturalize me.  So, I told her that that was super, but could I please have my green card back?

She said she couldn’t give it to me.  Since I was a citizen, she had destroyed it already (the picture was truly terrible, but I wouldn’t have minded keeping the card to let my kids know that I actually did used to be an alien).  But, I argued, what would I do if someone questioned my citizenship? Would I be allowed back in the States?  I had no proof that I was allowed to be here.  Would she sign a piece of paper saying that I was a citizen?

She told me that she could not give me anything to prove that I was a citizen, and that I’d have to apply for the $500 piece of non-laminated paper that says I’m a citizen.  Or, I could go the ‘poor-man’s’ route and get a US Passport.  Now, to do that, I had to send the originals of my parents’ naturalization certificates along with originals of my birth certificate and marriage license (and maybe more).  As a newly married college student, I went the poor man’s route, but the entire time that I was waiting for my passport there were two huge stressors:

  1. What if someone stopped me for some reason and I could not prove that I was legally allowed to be here? Would I be deported?
  2. What if the passport office lost all of the originals of all of the documents that prove that I exist at all? Along with my parents’ proof that they are legal citizens?

The ending was fine for me—I got my passport, my parents got their documents back, and only when I had my passport stolen have I had to go through the stress and process again.

But again, I’m unlikely to be stopped and asked.  I’m white.  I’m a woman.  I don’t have an accent, I don’t demonstrate religious leanings that people fear.  Probably the scariest thing about me is the number of children that appear to call me mom, and frankly, sometimes that scares me too.

But what about the people who are legally allowed to be here and are being stopped by border patrol and cannot produce evidence for a perfectly legitimate reason (like the INS agents destroying their green cards because they are actually already citizens)?

We have been conditioned to fear people who are different.  Sometimes those people give us legitimate reason to fear them (9/11, I’m lookin’ at you!), but we conveniently ignore all the times that people who look like us also give us reason to be scared (most serial killers in the US).  But when we lean into that fear, we forget that there are actual people involved.  Regardless of whether the President of the United States thinks that they are “animals”, they are not.  These are real people.  And we should treat them the way we would want to be treated.   Immigration

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Today I Will Pray With You

Today, I will pray with you.

Even though you are small, even though you can’t talk, even though you won’t understand, today, we will pray.

A year ago, I brought you into my home.  You were only two weeks old.

A year ago, I already loved you.

But someone else did too.  Or, I hope someone else did too.  And I hope that she misses you.  And I hope that she is able to get to a place in life where she can be whole.

Selfishly, I hope that you are mine forever, but my mama heart also hurts for her mama heart.  I don’t know what she’s doing right now.  I don’t know why.  I just know that she couldn’t keep you then.

Some people celebrate “gotcha day”.  Maybe one day we will too, if you want to–if we have you–when you are older.  But right now, the day we brought you here was the day you lost your first parents.  You are in a place now where you are loved and taken care of, and you don’t remember anything else.  But there is heartbreak in your story, and I’m not sure that celebrating is the appropriate response.

So, today I will light a candle.  I will hold your chubby little hands, and you will pull up to standing and nuzzle your face into my shoulder and grab my cheeks.  And I will pray.  I’ll pray for you, that as you grow you will always know love and security.  I will pray for us, as we hold you with open arms, desperate to keep you, and willing to let go.  I will pray for her, that she will find her way, and find her way back to you.  I will pray for God’s will to be done, because He knows where your story goes, and His way is good.

Even though you are small, you are so very loved.

Today, I will pray with you.20180605_104019

Foster Parenting, Part 1

You know how sometimes you have an idea, and once you think it you can’t unthink it?  And it just sort of percolates in the back of your brain, just hanging out?

We’ve had an idea for years that has come and gone in intensity, leading up until now, when we have been actively pursuing it in the hopes of making it reality.

Here’s how it started…

Back in 2003, Kullervo went to Basic Training with the Army.  It was the first time in our long (ha!) two years of marriage that we’d been apart.  At all.  Ten weeks apart, then a weekend together, then another five weeks.  It was tough.

When it was over, we wanted a baby (nothing says, ‘Let’s make a baby!’ like three months apart, right?  Right?).  But I was only 21, we were still in school, and babies seemed like things grown ups did.  So we got a cat.

Fast forward a couple of months, and it turned out that a cat is no substitute for a baby (they’re way easier, but what did I know back then?  I was a baby myself!).  So we decided to heck with good reasoning and judgment.  We were going to have a baby!  So we removed the goalie and waited.

And waited.

I tracked my temperature and did all the good old wives’ tales to assist.

And we waited.

And we gave up.  We were young, we shouldn’t have problems with baby-making.  But we did.  And after months of waiting, I figured I just couldn’t get pregnant.  So we figured we’d wait a few years (like, until graduation, maybe?) and then adopt.  No big deal.  Kullervo’s sister is adopted.  My favorite cousin is adopted.

Really.  I know so many women who struggle with infertility and go through invasive treatments and put so much heart and soul into all of the agony and really and truly suffer as a result.  But that wasn’t me.  I had the occasional pang when I’d see a pregnant woman, and I got sad every month when I wasn’t pregnant, but that was the extent of it.

*Aside: my heart breaks for those women for whom the infertility struggle impacts so deeply.  I in no way want to minimize the very real pain that goes along with it; just for me, it was not something I struggled with at that time.

And 18 months later, at the least convenient time, I got pregnant with Oliver.  And then Hazel.  And then we decided we would adopt.  The bee was in our bonnets; we were sure adoption was in our future.  But then we were pregnant again, twice more!

But the adoption story has always been in the back of my mind.  So, after Fitz was born, in the middle-of-the-night feedings, I was reading books about adoption and trying to plan for it.

When we decided to get serious about looking into adoption, Kullervo and I both used the Google, and while our opposite-personality search terms were different, we both came across similar things that made us rethink adoption for us, and moved us in another direction.

Then those Planned Parenthood videos came out.  Remember those?  While Kullervo and I felt like we had very different beliefs about women’s rights in our country (as in, stay up all night debating and falling asleep in tears), we both felt like what was happening with abortions in Planned Parenthood was a call to action.  Or, rather, I said that if a person does not believe abortions should be legal, that person has a responsibility to help care for the children that are born.

And we started praying about it and looking for adoption in the Bible.  And we began looking into adoption agencies.

Then we had another brain bug… what if we became foster parents instead?  Kullervo was initially very against it, and so was I.  Giving a child back to the parents who had had their parental rights taken away in the first place, if all goes well?  That’s tantamount to accepting a future heartbreak in your life at the get-go.  Best and worst case there is pain and suffering involved.  Could we do that?  We were pretty sure it would just be hard for us, hard for the kids, hard for everyone.  What a terrible idea.

But we couldn’t stop thinking about it.  The Bible says to take care of the least of these.  The Bible says to take care of the widows and the orphans, and this wasn’t exactly that, but it was close.  These children are hurting—physically, emotionally.  They have been through trauma, and then further affected by being removed from the home they knew.

Could we, who try really hard to make hospitality a priority, really say that loving these children would be too hard?

We couldn’t unthink it.  So we looked further.  Our county has informational meetings about foster parenting every couple of months, so we registered for the next one and hired a babysitter for the kids.

Could this be our future?  (Spoiler alert… it was!)

Holding It In

Have you ever had that feeling?  That feeling right after you read something poignant, something true, something you’ve been avoiding thinking about because thinking about it would hurt, and you don’t have time for that sort of emotional volatility because your kids are home and Octonauts only lasts 22 minutes and you’ve already spent two of them refilling your coffee and four of them reading whatever it was that set you off?  So instead of thinking too hard about it, you look away from whatever you were reading, stand up, and then have to double over because the ceiling just shrank on you, and you have to hold your insides in because they are in danger of somehow falling out?  But you definitely cannot cry, or weep, because every time you do your face gets all blotchy and lights up like a tattle tale, and the last thing you want to do is explain to your kids why you might be sad, because sad doesn’t begin to describe it and plus words are so hard.  So you angrily swipe away the renegade tear and curse at it for betraying all the things you are desperately working to keep inside, and didn’t that stupid, careless tear notice you were HOLDING YOUR INSIDES IN AND THAT TEARS ARE SUPPOSED TO LIVE INSIDE?!

Yeah, me neither.

A little more than year ago I sat down and wrote in my journal about sexual assault.  The about-to-be President of the United States had been exposed for admitting and being proud of the way that he treated women, and the nation’s response to it had left me awake at night reliving my own experiences with sexual assault.  There have been so many,  and I don’t remember how some of them ended.  And looking back on them now, re-reading what I wrote, I see how much I qualify my experiences.  I downplay them.  I take responsibility for other people’s actions.  Maybe that time didn’t count, because…  Technically, it wasn’t… I should have… It wasn’t as bad as…

Now, I never do this to other people.  When people have talked to me about what’s going on in their lives, I have never thought to say, ‘Well, that doesn’t really count,’ or, ‘That isn’t as bad as what this other person experienced.’  In fact, for other people, I am generally the champion of reminding people that just because someone else may have experienced something worse, more traumatic, more difficult does not mean that what they are going through is not worth talking about or having feelings about.

I am all in when it comes to giving others permission to have their feelings, talk about their bad days, and know that they are seen and believed and heard in their challenges.

And I do not allow myself the same grace.

So, recently, the social media #metoo posts about people’s experiences with sexual harassment, assault, or rape have brought me right back.  Added to that is a conscious decision of late to be more gentle with how I treat myself, and a paragraph in a book about forgiveness.  I’m a mess.  But I don’t have time to be a mess—Wednesdays are busy, y’all—so instead of pouring more coffee I find myself holding my insides in.  And I’m going to be okay with that.

Sixteen

It was a hectic morning.  Oliver had Cyclocross camp at 8:45, Hazel had to be picked up from a sleepover to go to dance camp at 10, baby Hawkeye had a doctor’s appointment at 10:30, Oliver had to be picked up at noon, and Hazel had to be picked up at 1, and taken straight to gymnastics practice.  (Yes, I have been informed that my life would be less hectic if my kids would just do less things.)  We were up late with the baby, and up again at 4am for another feeding. I usually do the middle of the night feeding, but last night Kullervo could tell I was ridiculously tired, so he fed the baby instead.

Kullervo and I both got up at 7 and did the usual divide and conquer of crazy mornings.  We managed to get everybody dressed and fed, the bike loaded in the van, the lunch packed for the one who needed it, water bottles filled, coffee poured, and out the door in time.  And we did it without fighting.

It wasn’t until I’d dropped Oliver off and a dear friend texted me to tell me happy anniversary that I realized.  Sixteen years.  I have been married for sixteen years.  Considering that I still sort of feel like a 17 year old most of the time, that’s an awful lot of married life.

And it seems fitting that, with the crazy, hectic, overscheduled life we lead, that the day would sneak in and take the backseat.  Like, that is the part of the love story—the part where the love story just is.  We just live into it.  It’s normal, we take it for granted, we live it, and when we realize the beauty of it, it is all the more special for how truly ordinary it is.

One day, the kids will have moved out, the dog and cats will have passed on, our house that currently feels too small will feel much too large for our needs.  I’ll be able to sit on the porch and read a book while I drink my coffee without anybody asking me for a snack.  At the end of the workday, we will look at each other and decide if we want to go see a movie and not need to do any advance planning. We’ll just be able to go.  One day, we will eagerly anticipate the special things we will plan for each other to celebrate our wedding anniversary.

Today, we made it out the door without arguing.  Kullervo buckled Fitz in the car, held open the car door for me, and gave me a kiss before I dashed off for a day of driving kids around.

Sixteen years, and that is probably the best thing I could have gotten—a crazy morning with my beloved, dancing the choreographed logistics of raising five little ones.  Maybe it doesn’t seem romantic.  Maybe it isn’t exciting.  But for me, the pragmatic nature of being married to a man who will make the coffee and the breakfast while I make the lunches and change the diapers while I prepare the formula and water bottles is pretty damned romantic.

All The Feelings

So, everything has changed.  Everything got real yesterday.

We started the process to become foster parents on September 9, 2015.  That’s AGES ago.  We did an information session that day, and followed it up with 30 hours of training.  Then we did the background checks, roped a couple of friends in to be our backups and got their background checks done, fingerprints, and the home study.  The home study involved the fire department coming to our house (and deciding our windows were not to code), the health department coming out (and deciding that our house was mostly okay, with some minor, easy changes), and multiple visits with a social worker to talk about Kullervo’s and my history and motivations and all the things (read: free therapy).  Due to our neighborhood being a national historic neighborhood, our windows were ultimately allowed as an exception.

Finally, we found out at the beginning of February 2017 that we were approved.  We got our certificate that said that we were official foster parents.  I was out of town on a Christian middle school retreat, and I got the text from Kullervo, and I just cried and cried.

And then, nothing.

We were supposed to hear from our social worker at some point, but paperwork moves slowly through the governmental system.  We figured that it was all God’s timing, and when we had our entire lives all put together with a bow on top (read: the house was clean), we’d call someone and find out if we had fallen through the cracks.

But then yesterday happened.  Yesterday, I got the call.  The first call.  There was a little girl who needed a placement that day, if they could find her, if her father hadn’t run off with her.  Her story is not mine to tell, and we weren’t sure of all the details anyway.  But she was 14 months old and she needed a place to go.

We said yes.  We prayed first, but of course we said yes.

Social services found her, and at 7:30 last night, she arrived.  Just a sweet little girl with a diaper bag.  Her father had packed what he could, but said they didn’t really have food.  There were diapers, baby wipes, and some too-small clothes.  And a little girl who attaches really easily, especially to women.

She didn’t cry.  She whimpered a bit when Kullervo picked her up, but didn’t cry.  All night.  I woke up this morning and rushed to where she was in case she was dead.  She wasn’t; she was asleep.

We loved her.  She was so lovely, so sweet, so beautiful, that we hoped we’d get to keep her, but this morning they identified a family member who could take her in.  So 18 hours after we welcomed her, we kissed her goodbye.  With prayers and hopes and all the feelings.

My little boys didn’t understand.  Neither did my mama heart, but my mama heart doesn’t win this one.  Part of this job, part of this calling, is the goodbye.  It’s all the feelings, over and over, and my prayer, from the very beginning, has been that God would give me a heart big enough for this.  Big enough to love the children who had been hurt.  To love the parents who hurt them.  To love in spite of the brokenness.  To be a safe place, full of love and the Holy Ghost.

So, tonight is a normal night.  No new baby, nothing out of the ordinary.

But, yet, everything has changed.  Because this is real now.

The Morning After

We are not a Christian nation, but we sure like to say we are.

Somehow, so many people in our country have confused Christianity with Republicanism.

Somehow, the words of Jesus about how we treat our neighbor have translated as the least important words to follow, even though He sort of said they’re a big deal–one of the biggest deals.

Somehow, the message of grace comes after the message of repentance when we talk to people, even though Jesus always showed grace first.

This morning, I woke up with a heavy heart and a sense of dread.  I’m not a political guru.  Like, at all.  I don’t closely follow most of the issues or most of the stances.  I find overwhelming all of the moving parts of how the country runs, the competing values and interests and needs and the right way to allocate the limited resources, and all of the nonsense that gets added to bills and measures in order to pass them.  There is a stunning lack of clarity about how things get done, and I know I’m not the only one who feels that way.  But I’ve heard some the things that Donald Trump has said, and I just don’t understand how America got here.

Our Father God has a plan for all of this.  He is sovereign over all and that brings me comfort.  But the biggest response to this, as a Christian, needs to be repentance.  We have work to do, sisters and brothers in Christ.  We, the church, need to do better.

If you are a Christian, and you voted for Donald Trump, I would like answers.  Why did you vote for him? How are none of these things priorities?  How will you respond?

When you see you black and brown neighbors and friends, after they are stopped and frisked, after they are the victims of police brutality that is endorsed by the President of your nation, how will you look them in the eye and tell them that you loved them as yourself?

When you see the millions–MILLIONS—of women who came forward and shared their sexual assault stories after Donald Trump bragged about his own compulsion to grab women, and then pooh-poohed his comments as just locker room talk, how will you look them in the eye and tell them you seek justice for the oppressed?

When I first heard that audio of Trump, I was awake all night.  I lay in bed, reliving and re-experiencing multiple sexual assaults.  I wound up getting up and trying to write down all that I could remember just so that I could maybe get some sleep.  I was shocked by how much I remember, and I was also shocked by how much I can’t remember.  In case you’re wondering, I only ever tried to report one of these incidents, and I was not believed.  I am not the only woman for whom this is the case.  And that’s only counting the ‘big’ ones, and not the regular occurrences of men smacking my behind, grabbing onto me and refusing to let go, making vulgar comments, or otherwise making me feel like an object instead of like another human being.

When you talk to your daughters and your sisters, how will you explain how an overly qualified woman had a chance to be the first President of the United States—seriously, the best resume for the job that a person could have, ever—and the man without any experience was chosen instead?  (Note that this also happened after this same political party made it very clear that the future first black President was ‘unqualified’ because of his lack of resume.)  How will you look them in the eye and tell them that you love justice?

When you see your Muslim neighbors, how will you apologize for the fear that they feel?  How will you avoid oppressing the sojourners among us?  Remember that you know the heart of the sojourner, for you were sojourners in the land of Egypt.

When you see your brown friends, whose racial identity isn’t obvious, and as such experience the fear of getting pulled over by the police or questioned at an airport or otherwise harassed because of their lack of whiteness, how will you explain to them that it’s okay?  When you see people whose religion is different from yours being persecuted by authority figures solely because of their religion, how will you demonstrate the fruits of the Spirit?  Can you tell me how I explain to my eight year old daughter that, no, even if Donald Trump insisted he would build a wall to keep Mexicans out of the country, he will not be doing that?

When you see your LGBT neighbor, how will you look into their eye?  How much fear and dread will you see there?  How will you help to maintain the rights of the afflicted?

When you see a POW, or a disabled person, do you think the things that our future President said to and about them is kind and loving?

I just don’t understand what politics you, Christian Donald Trump voter, put before the well-being and safety of these, your neighbors, sisters, and brothers.  Please, explain it to me, because I want to understand. 

Do you really think that God is more concerned with fiscal policy and Supreme Court justices than how we treat our fellow citizens on Earth?

We Christians have work to do.  We need to repent and turn back to the God who loves everyone.  He doesn’t just love everyone in a general sense of the world, he loves every. individual. person.  He loves them right now, in who they are today.  He loves them even if they’re brown.  Even if they’re Muslim.  Even if they are unsure of their sexual or gender identity.  Even if they have hearts full of hate and vitriol.  God even loves you, Christian Donald Trump voter (and maybe I need to do better at remembering that myself, in my anger and hurt and confusion).

We Christians need to remember that the way out of the evil we see on earth isn’t through government mandates or political opinions.  It isn’t through legislating sexuality or women’s reproductive issues.  It isn’t through condemning people with different viewpoints than us.  We overcome the evil on earth by loving first.  By loving people in a radical, crazy way that Jesus loves us.

So, to my black, brown, LGBT, Muslim friends—I love you.  And I am here for you and I am sorry that hatred and fear of difference seems to have won out over justice.  Our home will always be safe for you, and we will do everything in our power to stand beside you and keep you safe.

To my Trump-voting friends—I love you.  And I am sorry for the anger in my heart towards you.  I hope to have conversations and understand and help work towards the change and the life that Jesus called us to.

So, please-contact me! Christian Donald Trump voters—please help me understand why and how you could have voted this way.  Because I can’t get there myself, and my heart is so sad today.  But I will listen and I will hear you and I will try to understand.  And if I can’t understand, I will love you anyway.

Christians, let’s love harder and better and more completely.  The only way, going forward, that I can see right now is to pray and to love and to love some more.  Every single person.