In his heart a man plans his course, but the Lord determines his steps. Proverbs 16:9

Friday, April 19, 2013

Jury Duty

You know you're life is at a pretty low point, when you are actually kind of looking forward to jury duty.  I acted like, "Really?" Now jury duty?" However, there was a part of me that was a touch giddy at the idea of waiting for my name to be called, while reading a book on my iPhone.  I wouldn't have even been opposed to sitting in on a juicy traffic violation of some sort?   I could feel like I actually accomplished something as I will have fulfilled my civic duty, all while my mom watched my kids.  How was any of that a bad deal?  It wasn't.  I didn't end up reading my book, but I did sit and talk with a new friend and I watched the first part of  National Treasure, twice.  Again, not too bad.  But, by the time Nicolas Cage stole the Declaration of Independence the second time, the fun was over and my cluster of people were ushered upstairs to a courtroom.

There was a group of 72 random (and I mean that in more ways than one) people, sitting in assigned seats, all awaiting our next set of directions. I didn't think that it would be humanly possible for the room to be as quiet as it was, with all of those people sitting hip to hip, but you could literally hear people breathing.  The judge finally entered the room and we all stood.  He began to outline for us, the next couple of days, and for 14 people, the next three weeks.  We were all staring headlong into the possibility of being chosen to decide the innocence or guilt of a man accused of murder.  I'm not gonna lie.  There was certainly a part that seemed pretty exciting.  I sat the entire day, actually thinking that maybe I could do this . . .   maybe it would be a good break from reality . . . maybe I'd be a great juror, because I want justice to win, just like everybody else.  

After the judges introduction, he opened up the floor and gave everyone permission to share, if they chose, what "hardships" they were facing that would keep them from being able to perform their duties as juror.  Some had finals and group projects on the horizon. Some had parents with failing health. Some had child care issues. Others lived far away, but very very few "hardships" actually qualified according to the law and to the judge.  During these hours, the room was full of practicing jurors.  As each person shared, you could see everyone examining whether or not the voiced hardship in life was a valid reason to be dismissed from the room.  And the retired gentleman behind me, complete with his foam front hat and his San Francisco black sateen jacket would huff and sigh in utter disappointment, each time someone would raise their hand to speak. You could tell he was disgusted with the American people.  I listened and I watched, but I didn't say anything.

It seemed like people had some legit reasons, but the judge and Mr. San Francisco didn't think so.  I kept wondering if my situation was a "hardship" that would qualify.  I figured I would let something else weed me out.  I didn't want to use Dave's death to be boiled down to an excuse to get out of jury duty, even if it was legit.  A group of us were then let go for the night, but a portion of the 72 remained to speak to the judge and attorneys one by one.

I left the courthouse and re-entered my actual life.  I headed to Grief Workshop, which did NOT impress me at all.  One of the speakers said, "You will wear your friends out.  It's a fact."  That's great. And so encouraging to hear.   Then our small group met, which was semi-fine, but over and over again, I kept thinking, "Oh, I can't wait to tell Dave . . . ."  How ridiculous is that?  I'm in Grief Workshop, repeatedly wanting to tell Dave what everyone is saying and what I am thinking.  So frustrating!  I went home and cried.  I, also, realized that I was super delusional thinking that I could remotely pull off being a juror in a murder trial.  That was the denial phase of grief speaking.

It was about 9:45 the next morning by the time the one by ones were finished getting interviewed.  Most of them were sent packing.  When we entered the courtroom, there was a much smaller number of people and in my most judgmental view, I thought that only about half of the remaining crowd would be fit to sit on a jury for a murder trial.  The judge asked one last time if there were any others with a hardship that may prevent them from providing this man with a fair trial.  A few people spoke and each plea for a dismissal was shot down.  My heart was seriously pounding.  I literally could not figure out if mine would qualify.  I was starting to realize that my worst fear was that that everyone, judge included, would not see my hardship as that hard.  With my heart pounding wildly, I raised my hand and choked out the words, "My husband recently died."  Where did these tears come from?  I was trying so hard to remain composed in front of all these strangers.  The judge just barely could make out what I was saying, and he said, "Did I just hear you right?  Did you just say that your husband recently died?"  I said "yes."  He asked if I thought that this would impair my abilities as a juror and in a lot more words than necessary, I said "yes," again.  I don't know what made it feel so unbearably vulnerable, but I felt like I was sitting naked in front of all these people.  Nobody else was crying - only me.  Then, in a very sweet way, the judge said, "This is big."  Then I started crying a little harder.  What a relief to hear him say that.  "This is big."  Then he thanked me for giving it a try, which to me, was like acknowledging that I wasn't just trying to use this as an excuse to not serve in this capacity.  And then he finished with, "For what it is worth, you will be OK."  Then I got up, and left, and went back to my real life.

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Spencer's Story To Tell

Whew!  Finally, I am sitting behind my computer.  My last post was a doozie for me, no doubt.  I'm so glad I wrote it when I did, because life all of the sudden went into turbo and I've really been missing time to just be, and think and cry and write and it's making me feel pretty brittle the past few days.  I thought I would write on Easter, but then what I was going to write about was Easter. It just seemed too contrived, so I waited and now I'm jumbly with thoughts and have quite a tangle to unravel.  So here we go.

In reference to my last post, Dave got me an iPad for Christmas.  We usually buy each other things like cheap flip flops, a cool flashlight, or a Sonic shake, so this was WAY WAY out of our present giving league.  It's funny that I should am writing about this tonight, because an hour ago, Spencer said, "who was that iPad for?" We recounted the story together and he said, "I wish you would have opened it and I wish Daddy could have been there for his last Christmas."  Ah - that Spencer.  That is who I want to talk about tonight.

I struggled for awhile about writing about my kids.  In large part, because it was just emotionally impossible, but also because I had to figure something out.  In adoption training there was a whole chapter about how you will handle your child's story. At the time, keeping our unknown (at the time of training) child's story private and just for them seemed so special and keeping it secret made it seem so sacred.  Fortunately, I totally forgot about that sweet notion and I just have told whoever asks that Maci's mom was young and we don't know who the dad is.  There you have it.  I didn't even think for a minute about keeping her story secret and now I'm glad.  If I would have thought about it, I would have thought way too much about it and analyzed every pro and con of it and driven myself crazy. It has led me to think about a phrase that I feel like I have heard more and more lately.  "It's not my story to tell."  It sounds very protective.  It sounds very ungossipy.  It sounds like there would be nothing bad in that phrase, but I think there can be.  Stories left in the dark can often times take on a new and detrimental story line of their own.  I don't want Spencer to feel like his story should be a secret or that there is any shame in anything that he has done or said, so I'm outing him. Or at least, I'm cracking the vault on some of our conversations.

Telling Spencer that his dad died was easily one of the most horrific sentences to every come out of my mouth.  Friends picked him up early from school (randomly enough he also talked about that tonight, too).  He was wearing khakis and a striped zip up sweater, of which he has not worn since.  I remember him coming through the front door and dropping his jacket and backpack on the floor and was excited to see all these people in our house.  When I delivered the news, which seemed super unreal to me in that moment, he reacted in a way that was somewhat similar to my reaction.  He was just in shock, but the shock soon gave way to tears.  Ah, that Spencer.

Fast forward a few days to Dave's services.  Before we went to the viewing that night, I spent a couple hours with Spence, reading a kids book about the death of a loved one and drawing some pictures for him to put in Dave's pocket that night.  He thoughtfully and painstakingly drew the sun, some grass, a cross, a flower, himself, and his daddy.  Then he moved on to another drawing, but before he got too far, he went back to his original work.  He started adding a little length to Dave's hair and changing his eye color.  I asked him what he was doing, and he said that he was making that me.  In true mother form, I felt like I needed to control this situation, fearing that he would regret for the rest of his life changing Dave into me on his final piece of artwork to his dad.  Desperately trying to play it cool, I urged Spence to keep Dave in the picture, but he just said, "No, this is you."  THEN, on the cross, he drew Dave.  He knew exactly what he was doing.  Could there ever be a more meaningful picture, a deeply bitter and a deeply sweet piece of six year old art?  Ah, that Spencer.

Speaking of the cross, on almost every Easter Sunday, it has bothered me that I don't have a more emotional reaction to what Jesus has done for me.  I mean, one would think that particularly on this Easter Sunday, I would just be on my knees thanking my Jesus for dying on the cross, so that I can be with Him and be reunited with Dave again someday.  I should have been weeping with gratitude for conquering even death.  However, Easter Sunday went more like this.  On the way to church, in the van, Leah informed me that she was still wearing her pajama bottoms (fortunately they kinda matched) and Spencer informed me that his buttons were off by 2 spaces, all while the three of them ate their Easter breakfast of Cliff Bars.  Then we got to church and even though I have been going there for 16 years, I still couldn't figure out where the kids go on Easter Sunday for crying out loud, so I brought them to "big church," as they call it.  We sat in the very last row of the balcony, because trying to keep my three kids settled, without any bribes handy, during a longish sermon, is no easy task.  Easter Sunday was no different.   The early service is fairly well known for hosting the somewhat more seasoned, and I might add, stoic crowd.  I mean, the choir was singing this amazing song that made you think that angels were going to appear and start dancing down the isles.  Yet, all the millions of grey hairs in the that room didn't move a millimeter.  I didn't hear a toe tap in the crowd, except for the little Ethiopian next to me.  I'm not even kidding when I say that it looked like she grew up in a Glory Hallelujah Amen Amen Black Church.  She was clappin' her hands and swayin' and reachin' toward heaven.  Then the song ended and in stark contrast an, also, very seasoned pastor announced in his quiet, crackling voice.  "Welcome.  Toooodaaaay is Eeeeaster Sunday."  To which Maci, literally yelled (which is pretty much her regular speaking voice), "It's Easter Sunday!!!!!!!!!"  Based on her reaction, I think she was the only one in the crowd to really understand Easter.  I love, love, love, my church, but mark my words.  Next Easter I'm going to a church with a little more color.  Can I get an Amen?

Anyway, I have clearly digressed.  The point is, it has always been hard for me to find the emotion that I think should rise up on Easter.  Maybe because there are so many distractions on Easter?  Who knows.  That being said, Easter Sunday rarely causes my gratitude for Jesus to swell, but I can't say the same for the conversations that Spencer and I have shared since Dave's death, as we have read and reread and reread again the Easter story.  There is something about it that Spencer knows is important.  Not to his head, but to his heart.  Each new read through, he has new questions and each time I fumble around trying to explain the Trinity to a six year old.  Trying to explain that Jesus was fully God and fully human. In fact, I think I wrote in my journal, our last conversation.  Here it is:

March 13, 2013
Oh Spencer!  I’m so sorry that you lost your daddy.  Tonight, Spencer just cried.  He didn’t make excuses as to why his eyes were watery, he just cried.  Spence said, “I’m just sad.”  “I’m sad and I’m scared.”  I asked why he was scared and he said, “Because Daddy isn’t here.”  He then asked if I could marry someone else.  I said I maybe could someday.  Spencer then said something to the effect of “Somebody else might do.”  Then it was followed by a swell of tears and he said, “but I’ll never forget Daddy.”  Then tears and tears and tears.  By both of us.  I don’t always know what is the right thing to do.  Do I cry, because I want to cry with him and show him that it is OK to cry and maybe if I cry, he will cry a little harder and get it out.  Or should I be the strong one.  Should I button it up a little and tell him we are going to be OK.  So, I go for a mix.  I cry with him for a bit, then pull it together, tell him that we are going to be OK and then we cry together for another round.  He just keeps saying, “I want to go to heaven now.”  I explain that we will get to go to heaven and that we are just here for a short  time compared to how long we are in heaven.  He says through watery eyes and shaky breath, but with a smile, “Daddy can’t die in heaven.”  Then I ask him if he wants to read the Bible.  By this time the crying is subsiding a little and I tend to Leah who is all out of sorts in her own room crying over something.  I go in her room, she sees my tears and gives me a kiss and a hug and says, “There’s a Daddy kiss and a Daddy hug.”  I sing to her the old Eagle Lake Camp song, which is where Dave and I both went to camp when we were growing up.  We figured we probably were there at the same time at least one summer.  Crazy, huh?  

Anyway, I went back into Spencer’s room and asked if he wanted to read from the Kid’s Bible or the regular Bible and for the first time he wanted to read out of the regular Bible.  I got Dave’s Bible, coffee stain and all (he doesn’t even drink coffee) and Spencer tells me that he wants to read the story of Jesus dying.  So, I read and he listens intently.  When we got to the part where it says, “In the same way the chief priests, the teachers of the law and the elders mocked him.  ‘He saved others, but he can’t save himself!'"  Spencer said, “He could have, couldn’t he?”  Then we talked about that for a bit.  Then he asked, “Why didn’t he?” And then we talked about how people had to sacrifice a perfect animal to God to cover their sins, before Jesus died and a lot about all of that.  And then he asked, “How was Jesus’s blood so powerful?”  Then we talked about that for a bit.  Then we finished the story.  Then I went in my room and cried.  Oh, Baby.  I’m so sorry.  

That was just one of our conversations.  Each time we have these conversations, it is like heaven touches earth for those moments.  It was like that when Dave first died.  Heaven felt just as real as earth.  Now heaven feels most real when Spencer and I talk about it together. It feels like a testimony to me that Spencer has this earnest need to understand and know Jesus.  I'm watching before my very eyes this child ask questions of eternal meaning.  How does he know that this is so important???  It is something born within him.  Spencer LOVES Star Wars and Star Wars is what Dave and Spencer played, watched and talked about, but Spencer doesn't have a heart need to know about Star Wars.  He has a heart need to know Jesus.  Jesus is what takes the sting away on the nights when Spencer is so torn up.  The same is true for me.

Isaiah 24:8 - He will swallow up death forever.  The Sovereign Lord will wipe away the tears from all faces; he will remove his people's disgrace from all the earth.  The Lord has spoken.  In that day they will say, "Surely this is our God; we trusted in him, and he saved us. This is the Lord, we trusted in him; let us rejoice and be glad in his salvation."