a blog about faith and life by Rev. Cindy Maddox

Posts tagged ‘love’

Something Old, Something New

Wedding rings

I was driving home from dinner when I realized that my hand felt funny. I looked down and realized why. My wedding ring was missing.

I searched my pockets, the inside of my gloves, my pockets again. When did I lose it? I had taken it off this morning to put on lotion, but I was sure that I had put it back on. I would have noticed sometime during the day if I hadn’t. I did a quick U-turn and headed back to the restaurant, afraid to hope that I would find it, but not willing to believe I wouldn’t.

It’s replaceable, I told myself. We can afford to buy a new one. But I didn’t want a new one. I wanted this one. I wanted the one my daughter-to-be had carried in her basket of flowers down the aisle, the one my wife had slid on my finger with tears in her eyes. A new one would be bright and shiny. I didn’t want bright and shiny. I wanted the beauty of a well-worn ring.

I thought of John and Angie. We celebrated their 62nd wedding anniversary one Sunday during church, and after worship Angie and I were chatting. She told me how excited she was when John gave her a ring. “I fell in love with it,” she explained, “because of the rose gold flowers circling a wide gold band.” I looked down at her hand to admire the ring and saw only a plain, thin gold band. “What happened to it?” I asked rather stupidly. She laughed and said, “Well, Honey, after sixty-two years, it wore off!”

I was 45 when Jackie and I married. It is quite unlikely that we will live long enough to celebrate a sixty-second anniversary. Plus, our rings are titanium, which is much harder than gold, so they will not wear away like Angie’s did. But no matter how many years we are given together, I want my ring to mark the time. I want it to show the journey, the way our laugh lines tell our story.

When I returned to the restaurant, I searched the space where I had parked, my path to and from the restaurant, and then the table where we had sat. I moved the chairs, looked under the table, then backed up and looked again, my panic growing by the second. And then I saw it, peeking out from under the base of the table, visible only to someone who was searching. I grabbed it and slipped it back on with a huge sigh of relief. In that moment I looked up and saw a woman staring at me. She had a worried but hopeful look on her face. I nodded, and she grinned. “My wedding ring!” I mouthed. She nodded again, knowingly, smiling all the while.

I don’t know how my ring fell off, but I’m so glad it’s back where it belongs. The blue etching isn’t as bright as in the picture. In fact, it looks rather gray. And I am thankful.

Now Is When

Flying birdsToday I let go of my daughter. Just a little bit. Or I guess I should say, just a little bit more.

Today she started middle school, and that means big changes are on the way. Now is when we begin loosening the reins just a tad. Now is when we begin trusting her to make more decisions for herself. Now is when she will start learning more about the responsibility of freedom. Now is when we begin to see if all our rules and guidelines have taught her anything.

So far so good. A few months ago, at a school dance, she sought me out thirty seconds into a song to declare, “Seriously?! They’re playing ‘I’m Sexy and I Know It’ at a fifth grade dance? This is soooo inappropriate!” I loved that her words echoed my thoughts. But will her values still be mine in three years? And if they’re not, will she be clear enough about her own values to make good, safe choices? Now is when it starts getting hard. Now is when it starts getting real. Now is when we have to learn to trust.

I have parishioners who, just a few days ago, took their babies to college. I know their letting go was harder, more significant. But this is the farthest I’ve gone, so forgive me my desire to hold on.

Today I let go of my daughter. Just a little bit.

Tomorrow I will let go of my son. For good.

You could say that he is not really my son, since he is my foster son. And you would be right. And you would be wrong. Because for eleven months and eleven days, he has been mine. Ours. Part of the family. And tomorrow he leaves us to go live with his grandmother. She loves him, and I know she will do her best to keep him safe and healthy. But he has lived with us for more than 70% of his little life. We are the ones who helped him learn to roll over, who encouraged him to crawl, who watched and applauded his first steps. We are the ones who discovered that he will eat anything as long as it has pesto on it, and that he thinks the best way to comfort someone is to bring them gifts and then hold their hand. We are the ones who know him best, and we have done our best to fill every growing inch of him with love.

And now is when we let go. Now is when we let someone else be his shelter. Now is when we have to learn to trust—trust that we have done our best, trust that he is in good hands, trust that even if he doesn’t remember, he will still somehow know that there are three extra people in the world who will love him forever.

Tomorrow I will let go of my son–my foster son, who was never mine to keep. And then I will want to hold even tighter to my daughter, for I know that my letting-go has only begun. And I know that although today I sent her to middle school, tomorrow I will take her to college.

God help me not to hold too tight. Now is when I need to learn to trust.

Truth and Typos

???????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????Today is April 16, 2013, just one day after the explosions at the Boston Marathon. Today is also the day I was supposed to attend a conference on responding to trauma. But instead I am sick at home, the cold I’ve been fighting for over a week finally having knocked me on my well-padded behind. If I had taken better care of myself when the cold first arrived, it would probably be gone by now. But based on how often I repeat this same mistake, apparently I am incapable of learning this lesson.

Anyway, between naps and reading about the tragedy in Boston, I read my parishioners’ Facebook posts with more attention than usual. One of my people posted a request yesterday that everyone please be careful what they repost, as so much false information was being repeated. In response, a friend of his commented that some media outlets are so intent on being first with the news that they don’t check the accuracy before reporting. Then he wrote, “I don’t want the first. I want the truth!”

Well, that’s what he meant to say. But one little typo–one tiny missing letter–changed his intended meaning.  Instead of “I don’t want the first,” he wrote “I don’t want the fist.”

I don’t want the fist, either. I don’t want the violence. I am sick of the cruelty and the carnage. I am sick of funerals for six-year-olds. I am sick of helping my eleven-year-old think through how she would react in such an attack. Yesterday she asked if we would be mad at her if she gave her life to save a friend. I wanted to scream “Yes!” But I couldn’t.

I don’t want the fist. I don’t want the violence. And I dread the violent response. It is too soon for us to know who perpetrated this act, whether it was domestic or international, whether it was an individual or a group. I find myself praying it was one person, so that our thirst for revenge will be limited. I find myself hoping this one person is white, heterosexual, and either non-religious or even–I’m sorry–call himself a Christian, so that we will not use this as an opportunity to target people of color or gays or Muslims or anyone else we want a reason to hate.

I don’t want the fist. I want the truth. And truth will not come through the fist. It never does. Facts may, but not truth. Truth is far too powerful for that.

At this point you’re probably expecting a “Love wins” message. And frankly, I’m tempted. But my friend and colleague, Rev. John Gage, pastor of the United Church on the Green in New Haven, Connecticut, had this to say today:

[It’s] not that I don’t appreciate all the “love wins… eventually” posts going up in the wake of yesterday’s bombing. Hell, I posted one myself a bit earlier. But, honestly: No, it doesn’t–not unless we make that happen. Love doesn’t just spontaneously appear out of thin air. Love has to have hands and feet. Love needs wisdom and the courage to act now… and now… and now to root out the hate, not with the sword, but with the ploughshare. Far-sighted faith in love’s eventual victory may sustain us in low moments, but love doesn’t actually grow unless we plant it and tend it and defend it at every opportunity. Love is a garden, not a given.  

I don’t want the fist. I want the truth. I want the love garden we all tend.

I pray that this is a lesson we are capable of learning.

It Shows

Young Woman Sitting in Front of a Computer and LaughingYesterday I tried Skype for the first time. I had heard others talk about it, and I thought video chatting sounded great, but I had never tried it for myself.

I finally took the plunge—downloaded the software, set up an account, and bought a headset—and then yesterday I got to visit with Valerie. Valerie and I became best friends when we were in high school, and although our relationship has gone through many changes over the years, I still count her as one of my very best friends. I could call her at any time of the day or night, and she would be there for me. She also can tell how I’m doing by the way I answer the phone. If something is bothering me, I can be sure to hear “What’s wrong, chica?”

Valerie and I don’t get to see each other very often, and she recently moved to London so I don’t know when I’ll see her again. But via the wonders of Skype, yesterday I got to see her (virtually) face to face. I got to see where she works. I got to see her smile. I’ve missed it. I’ve missed her.

After we disconnected, my spouse said to me, “You’re different when you talk to her.” When I asked what she meant, she explained: “When you’re on the phone, I can tell by your tone of voice whether you’re talking to a friend or an acquaintance or a stranger. But your whole face is different when you talk to Val. I’ve noticed it when you talk to your parents, too. Your face is different when you’re talking to someone who you know loves you.”

Although I’ve never thought of this before, it doesn’t surprise me. There is a wonderful sense of security that comes from knowing you are loved, and surely it shows.

But this conversation made me wonder: Is my face different when I pray? After all, I’m talking with someone who I know loves me. Does it show? Does it show on my face? Does it show in my life?

Sometimes I wish I could Skype with God. Yes, I know I am limiting God by anthropomorphizing God, but still . . . sometimes I just want a God I can see and talk to face to face.That’s when I am particularly thankful for people in my life like Valerie, and my parents, and my spouse. Not that they are God! But they do help me catch a glimpse of God’s love through their love for me. And I think it shows.

Vanilla-scented Love

I love new adventures. I love the nervous excitement I feel as I set out on a new journey. I like stretching myself, challenging my limitations. I love the dreaming, the planning, and the preparing. And I especially love procuring all the items I need for this new adventure.

In the past my new adventures have ranged from the mundane (learning to crochet) to the more exotic (scuba diving) and most recently to one with the potential of public humiliation (theater). But the new adventure I’m about to begin is not only the one with the most life-changing potential, but also has, by far, the best accoutrements! I am now surrounded by onesies, tiny little socks, crib toys, pink and blue blankets, two car seats, and one not-too-girly diaper bag. I am ready.

No, I am not, at the ripe old age of 48, expecting twins. But I am expecting babies. My spouse and I have completed training with the Department of Children and Families, and once our home study is complete, we will become foster parents. Our work will be focused on babies, which is one of the hardest groups to place in foster care. People always ask why, so I’ll tell you it’s probably because newborns can’t go to daycare, and people aren’t eager to sign up for those sleepless nights with a colicky infant. But I think the real reason is that everyone knows you fall in love with babies . . . and how will you ever give them back?

I agree that this will be the most challenging aspect of being a foster parent. I have a heart that is bent toward falling, and it can fall fast and strong. But I go into this knowing that, most likely, I will love and then have to let go. It goes with the territory.

I wonder how many people go into parenting with the same idea. After all, the letting go is universal. The children who are ours by birth or selection, those we legally claim as our own, will also require us to let go at some point. At many points, actually. We let go of our moment-by-moment supervision when we go back to work or put them in daycare or send them to kindergarten. Along the way we let go of our ability to select their clothes and control their language and determine their playmates. We let them go behind the wheel (Lord protect them) and we let them go off to college or not and we let them go off and get married or not and choose careers or not and be happy or not, though we pray. Parenting is a million and one lettings-go. Why should foster parenting be any different?

The difference is, with foster parenting, we’re aware that the child isn’t ours. When we bring a child into the world, we tend to think it belongs to us–when in truth, it never did. We just get to walk with that child for a while–we pray for a good, long, watch-them-become-grandparents while, though we are painfully aware that there are no guarantees.

One of the things I like most about the idea of foster parenting is that I get to be part of a child’s life for a while–an important while, those early months when humans develop the ability to attach, when they build trust because their cries are heard and their needs addressed. If I can provide that for a child or two or twenty over the course of my foster care experience, then that is one or two or twenty people who will have experienced, at least at some point in their life, how it feels to be nurtured and loved. There’s no telling what difference that might make–in them and in the world.

But I wonder what would happen if we viewed all relationships this way. We know, for example, that all friendships do not last, and sometimes we mourn the loss of a friend. What if, instead, we viewed ourselves as foster friends? We could love and care for each other for a while, when it was needed, but then we let go and sent one another forward on our journey. With blessings. With love.

In my training with DCF I heard of a woman who provides foster care for infants who always uses a particular vanilla-scented lotion. When she gives each child back to his or her family, she gives them a bottle of the lotion so the child will be held in arms that smell familiar. That smell of love.

Maybe we all need a friend version of vanilla lotion. Or a marital version. Something that, when people move forward from our lives, they can take with them. Something that they can breathe into their souls. Something that reminds them of a time when they were loved.

After all, when I walk out into the natural world, I smell God’s love in the lilac. Why can’t I love in such a way that someone smells my love–and God’s–in the lotion?

A joyful season?