Saturday, March 13, 2010

Changing the Ending

Sorry I haven't posted much this week. (But boy am I going to make up for it with this post the length of "War and Peace.") We've just been busy.

But my thoughts lately have been about how to change the ending of someone's story--including mine. I remember doing one those assignments in high school where you write your own obituary. It had significance then as I was just trying to figure out who I was and what I wanted to be. But if I wrote my obituary now, the task would have even more meaning. I'm at an age of making major choices for how I will spend the second half of my life (or whatever days God grants me)--the beginning of my story is a distant memory and I'm shaping today what I leave behind.

I've attended some funerals lately--the average age of these friends is inching closer to my own age--so perhaps that's why I've been doing that mental obituary writing. Last Thursday was also the anniversary of my mother's passing. (I shared about the significance of that day here.) But perhaps the greatest influence of this life-evaluating has been having Daniel in our lives.

We can't change the beginning of his story, but we have changed his ending. It's like watching the DVD of a movie and clicking on "Alternate Ending." He knew what kind of ending he might have had after spending his childhood in an orphanage in Guatemala. With his adoption, the script was edited and his heart rejoices that now his story includes a family and a future. He's so precious. When I ask him what he wants to do when he grows up he says, "Great things, Mama, great things! But I don't ever want to move far away from you."

He was so sweet on Ava's birthday last week. Here's a child who has never had a birthday with a family, who went to great lengths to make sure Ava's day was special. He made her 14 cards. He made banners and displayed them around the house. He even gave $5 of his own money to Ava as a gift. It's hard to remember not having him as part of our family. He's like an instrument added to our family band and, even though his tune can sometimes be a bit off-key, I can't imagine our song being played without him. He is changing the ending to our story as well.

It is convicting as Brad and I pray about the future of our family. We know there are other children who need homes. We know we have the ability to change the ending for other orphans. Right now we are focusing on getting our four settled after two years of crazy, yet it is hard to look the other way. Knowing what we know. Seeing what we've seen. How can we say that the plight of 147 million orphans is not our problem? It is. As Christians, God has called us to change the endings of their life stories.

Last Christmas I had wanted to post my past Christmas letters that tell the story of our family. Because I was in Guatemala much of the holiday, then busy trying to get ready for Daniel to come home, I only made it to 2004. Although I realize it's mid-March, I'm adding one today. (The letter and photo below are from Christmas 2005.) And although I don't think this one is a big tear-jerker, some of you might need a tissue. (Some readers have requested Kleenex warnings.) It includes a story about my mom and talks about how love can change any ending to any story.

May you experience life-changing love in your own lives!

More Than Lots,

Dear Family and Friends,

I began writing my annual Christmas letter December 1 with the goal of getting my holiday greetings out early. But by Dec. 2 my life resembled a bad rendition of the “Twelve Days of Christmas” (no need to sing along): 12 loads of laundry, 11 trips to Kroger, 10 days of antibiotics, 9 Christmas parties, 8 years old when my daughter figures out that mommy is making everything up as she goes along, 7 hours spent trying to get a photo with everyone’s eyes open, 6 strings of lights that burned out after I hung them on the tree, 5 mystery stains on the carpet (and company is coming), 4 hours sleep a night, 3 nervous breakdowns (which is actually a low number for me), 2 girls singing “Feliz Navidad” at the top of their lungs, and 1 husband who travels as if he’s running from the law. So add a partridge in a pear tree and I’ve got a holiday letter that will be ready by Easter.

Anyway, to those of you who billed me for the Kleenex from my last letter, I promise to go easy on you this time. This year we have nothing but happy to report--we’ve gone from “goodness and mercy shall follow” to “my cup runneth over.”

It’s been almost a year since the arrival of our New Year’s baby and this precious gift of life has brought so much joy. He fits into our crazy family quite well, although he frequently has a look of concern. I’m hoping God gave him a pre-earth pep talk along the lines of: “Okay, buddy. The good news . . . this family wants you really bad. The bad news . . . they’re all nuts.”

When Brady was just days old, the girls commented: “He’s more fun to watch than TV!” They absolutely delight in him and he in them--his biggest smiles and loudest giggles are in response to his big sisters. The only thing he lacks is personal space. His mini-mommies love to hold, sing, read, play peek-a-boo, and tickle him. He loves music--which he dances to with a Stevie Wonder-type head move--and gives a toothy grin and round of applause for everything. His first word was appropriately “uh-oh” and he took his first steps Thanksgiving weekend trying to escape from his sibling fan club. He’s become the family mascot and adds sweet sunshine to our home.

Ava turned five last March--the highlight of her year has been being a big sister. As far as she’s concerned, Brady is HER baby and we are just helping her raise him. She has bestowed on him hundreds of nicknames and does a multitude of voices to communicate on his behalf. She keeps us busy with her extracurricular schedule of ballet, gymnastics, and soccer and loves her half-day Kindergarten. Her appearance has changed quite a bit this year--she lost eight teeth and her hair has grown half-way down her back. (If you remember, two years ago her sister gave her a crew cut.) We call her “Speaker of the House” because her life is one never-ending show-and-tell. But our clown is full of compassion and she adds humor and a tender heart to our home.

Olivia, who turned eight in April, also loves her role as a big-big sister. However, she’s a bit more deliberate in her care for her baby brother. For example, while Ava carries him in a wrestling hold that resembles the Heimlich Maneuver, Olivia will inquire about the status of her brother’s diaper and the frequency of the spit-up before she showers him with affection. She is enjoying life in the third grade and continues to love to paint, sing, and cook. This year she has discovered a love to be onstage while participating in school productions and Walk Through Bethlehem at my dad’s church. (Motto: There are no small parts, only shy actors.”) This has been her year to try new things and gain independence with some old ones. It’s a joy to watch her bloom and she adds courage and creativity to our home.

Brad is well into his fifth year of working with his company. The upside of having your own business is that he can steal toilet paper from the office without an ethical problem. The downside is that he’s had to travel quite a bit. (I was suspicious of my Frequent Flier the first half of the year because Brady didn’t sleep though the night till he was six months old.) There’s nothing more endearing than a man who loves his children with every fiber of his being, which is why the time away is so hard and the homecomings are so sweet. He’s the one we all run to when we want to share our victories and it’s his should we cry on to unload the disappointments. He adds patience and encouragement to our home.

And I am deliciously tired savoring every golden moment with this crew. It’s been an adjustment having three kids in such different stages of childhood. For an old mother, I’m learning new tricks--like caring for a colicky baby while making a Betsy Ross costume, helping one child who has lost her library book while another is losing his umbilical stump, and nursing in the minivan while wrapping a birthday present in a Chuck E. Cheese’s parking lot. But I’ve learned that it’s okay to lower some standards (Hamburger Helper is considered gourmet in these parts) if I remember to raise others. (Well, who am I kidding--everything’s pretty much been lowered.)

If last year’s theme was “Goodness and Mercy Shall Follow” than this year’s is “He Restoreth My Soul.” But it’s a long road back to green pastures and still waters. I felt like I spent 2004 seeking shelter from the storm and 2005 rebuilding from its devastation.

The funny thing about the holidays is how joys and sorrows seem to be magnified under the Christmas lights. How wonderful it is to hang three stockings on the mantel this year, still my heart aches that there’s a little person missing from our family. How special it is to celebrate Brady’s first Christmas, but, oh, how I wish my mom and grandmother were here to share it with us. Yes, fa la la can quickly turn into bah humbug for those who have experienced loss.

On those days when the absence of my mom seems unbearable, I keep my spirits up and her memory alive by sharing stories about her. The other day when I was reminiscing I remembered a special Christmas. I must preface this account, for those of you who didn’t know her, by explaining that my mom was known for her storytelling. E.F. Hutton had nothing on her because when she spoke, everybody listened . . . and laughed . . . and cried . . . then begged her to tell another one. Her audience understood that her tales were “based” on actual events, but seasoned with a lot of Dixie.

Unfortunately, my dad, my sister, and I had heard all her stories numerous times. In fact, we’d heard them so much that we had them numbered like songs in a jukebox. There was one story in particular, I’m thinking it was number 237, that she dusted off every time my sister and I complained about the conditions in our household. It was kin to the “I walked 10 miles to school in the snow each day . . . barefoot . . . uphill both ways” tale that most parents told, but my mom’s “16th birthday story” was much more original and always had us in tears.

“I grew up in a blended family with five kids, “ she’d begin. “We were so poor that the poor kids of our rural Alabama community felt sorry for us. I spent my childhood wearing hand-me-downs and leftovers not only described the food, but our way of life. But this day was to be different. It was my 16th birthday and I just knew it would be special. I remember waking up with big hopes and was giddy with excitement when I was given a present. But disappointment soon followed when I opened it discovered the gift was a jar of Noxzema and ponytail holders. I thought it was a joke. No party, no singing, no special. I went to bed in my clothes with the hope that as soon as I drifted off, I’d hear ‘surprise!’ I wanted to be ready just in case there was a sweet 16 celebration. But I awoke the next day to discover that my birthday had come and gone.”

Well, this story tore me and my sister to bits. There were no funny parts, no happy ending, no way to fix her pain. How I wished that somehow we could turn back time and give her something special on her birthday.

Skip ahead to the early ‘80s, our family was sitting around our Christmas tree surrounded by opened gifts and piles of wrapping paper. My dad announced there was one present left and he handed my mom a small box. She removed the wrapping to discover a jar of Noxzema. She let out a chuckle, being a good sport, and pondered, “I wonder if it still smells like it did when I was a teen.” She removed the lid of the jar to find that it didn’t contain pungent smelling face cleanser. My dad had replace the contents with a beautiful pearl and diamond ring.

The tears first started down my mom’s face, then mine and my sister’s. Although most women would prefer their little blue box to say “Tiffany” instead of “cleansing cream,” to my mom it was perfect. We understood that with this gift of love, my dad hadn’t erased story number 237--but he had changed the ending. This is a truth I have carried my life, that a gift of love can change any ending.

There are parts of my life that I wish I could erase, but have discovered that my trials weren’t meant to be deleted. Through Christ’s gift of love, the were to be overcome. (“In this world you will have tribulation, but be of good cheer for I have overcome the world” John 16:33.) And I’ve learned to be thankful for the blessing of brokenness. Had I not endured life’s winters, there would never be springtime. Had I not had earthly good-byes, there would be no heavenly reunions. Had I not grieved at the foot of the cross, I would not be able to stand in awe at the empty tomb of our risen Lord. Had I not felt the pain and sorrow that comes with living in a fallen world, then I would not understand my desperate need to have a Redeemer who can change the ending of my story.

And so I’m ending 2005 very much the way I began the year. Most nights you’ll find me rocking one of my three (sometimes all three) singing “God is so good, He’s so good to me.” I continue to be grateful for precious family and friends who have carried us through the bad and rejoiced with us through the good. And I continue to be amazed at how the best part of my story is woven with the “greatest story ever told.”

“Unto us a child is born, unto us a son is given” (Isaiah 9:6). And this Christmas we’ll be giving thanks for the birth of two babies. One name Brady whom we call “Chubba, Little Man, Boo-Boo, and Sweet Potato”--a little boy sent to heal a broken family. But most of all, we’ll be grateful for the birth of Christ, whom we call “Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, the Prince of Peace”--the Son of God sent to heal a broken world.

May you have a wonderful Christmas (or Easter, depending when you finally get this) and a blessed New Year.

With Much Love from the Williams Family


Lara said...

Following from Friend Connect on MBC! Lovely blog!!

Kim said...

What beautiful sentiments and pure love for our Lord! Thank you!