Saturday, August 25, 2012
Ten 40 oz empty bottles of alcohol in the kitchen sink in Florida, seven children living alone in Swaziland.
It’s Saturday morning and I am not writing this from patio in Swaziland, but rather from the floor of a hotel room in Tallahassee, Florida. Yesterday we drove from Georgia to Florida to move Spencer into his apartment at Florida State University. He is sharing it with three unknown roommates and we were all arrived with great expectations of meeting these people whom he will spend the next year with. These three guys would be his “family” while Ian, Chloe and I are living in Swaziland and this apartment would be his “home”.
Spencer and Chloe had driven down to Tallahassee last week to drop off a load of things for his apartment. He told us that he was quite surprised at the mess that his apartment was in when he arrived, but hoped that it would be cleaned up before he arrived again on Friday. Alas, that was not to be. We walked in the front door and the kitchen sink had no less than ten empty 40 oz bottles of alcohol in it. The fridge was full of rotten and rotting food. The pantry, cupboards and counter tops held half empty boxes of cereal, crackers a few unknown food items and there was a smell that wasn’t quite recognizable. Of course it didn’t help that the air conditioner was broken and we are in the peak of Florida heat and humidity.
All I could think was “Welcome to your new home Spencer. I hope you have a great year. We will miss you.” How on earth could I really leave my baby in this situation? But had God put him here for a purpose? How do we know if this is where he is to be and not just take control and say “over our dead body are you living in this place!”? Letting go is such a hard thing to do. And knowing when to do it is may be even harder. We are “fixers”. We want to fix things and make them right. This situation created confusion, anxiety and uncertainty for everyone in the family.
Spencer is likely the bravest kid that I know. He looked around, took a deep breath and then started to quickly unpack in his room. The room was small so he removed the doors to his closet to tuck the top of his bed in the closet to make more space in the room. As that was happening, two of his roommates (the ones who had been living in the apartment for the summer) made an appearance. We politely shook hands and eyed each other up to quickly evaluate if this was going to be a good year or a bad year. First impressions are what they are and my heart sank even further.
It was clear that Spencer needed to be left on his own to unpack and process so the rest of the family headed to the hotel to get showered and ready for dinner. We left the compound and started to drive. After a quarter of a mile and a short conversation, Ian turned the car around and went back to the rental offices and asked for a manager. She was very kind, professional and understanding. She assured us that the apartment should NOT look like that and was very sorry. Within minutes she had another alternative. We asked Spencer if he wanted to move, because we believed this had to be his choice, and with some hesitation (not wanting to be “that guy who is judging others”) agreed to move. We packed up all he had unpacked, loaded two cars and moved to another building.
Spencer is now officially attending Florida State University. He has three great roommates who are Sophomores and Juniors and seem to be serious students and have a good sense of humor. We are thankful.
Yesterday was a traumatic day for us all. When do you let go and let your adult child make decisions and when do you still use a gentle word to help out in a situation? These are new waters for us and we, like the thousands of other parents who are navigating through this as well, are praying for peace, joy and protection for the gifts that God has given us ... our children.
What a contrast this week has been from last week when we raced our youngest, Ishmael, to the hospital to save his life. He is only three months old and was suffering terribly from malnutrition. We feared for his life as he was down to five pound and Thabile stayed with him night and day to feed him special formula and nurse him back to life. He is now back home and doing well. That was too close.
Only six days ago I was in a house where seven children (under the age of eleven years) were living alone. The 30-year-old mother was going to jail for three years for stealing formula and diapers for her four-month-old. She was worried about her other children and asked us to go and check on them. We went out with the Child Protection department of the police, only to find the all the children sound asleep living in squalor with no food to be found.
I know I will never get used to the contrasts in my new life, but I don’t ever want to miss the opportunity to give thanks for all that the Lord has given me. Those children didn’t choose to be born to a young poor mother in Swaziland. Ishmael didn’t choose to be born to a mother who couldn’t feed him. I didn’t choose to be born in Canada and neither did Spencer. God made those choices and decisions and we must all deal with the hand that we are dealt. We are to give thanks to the Lord in ALL things … sometimes that is hard to get my head around.
Today we will go and buy food for Spencer’s pantry and fridge and not worry about paying for it. We will eat at a restaurant of our choice and enjoy the weekend together a family whom I am so very thankful for. I give thanks today for ALL that we have been given including choice, wisdom, favor, finances, love and the very scripture which guides our choices and our lives. May we never lose sight of each of these precious gifts from above.
Live from Florida, I am ready for a new day.
PS - I can't believe how much quicker it is to upload photos and this blog with HIGH SPEED INTERNET access which is FREE at our hotel! Oh yes, I do miss this very much ... and am thankful this fine morning :)