When I was a little girl growing up in the Roman Catholic Church, I loved Palm Sunday. Maybe it was because the sun was melting the dingy grey snow piles in Western New York, and we knew the next week we could wear our new Easter dresses, and possibly our new white patent leather shoes if we could get mom to believe our promises that we wouldn’t stomp in the snow piles with them. Or maybe it was because it was all part of the season changing, showing decorations of bunnies and chicks and Easter eggs and, of course chocolate, candy and jelly beans.
I remember sitting at church, staring at the front throughout the service: they had huge urns full of palm fronds, and at the end of the service, they passed them out to everyone, and we got to take them home. I specifically remember my dad taking a frond with him and weaving it with another to make a neat design as we waited for brunch at a local restaurant after church. It was mesmerizing, different and new, and I never forgot the impression it left in my mind or heart.
Of course the significance of Palm Sunday itself was not lost on me, either: this was the Sunday that Jesus himself came riding in to Jerusalem, less than a week before His death, sitting on a donkey that had never been ridden before, and as He rode, the people cried, “Hosanna to the Son of David! Glory to God in the Highest!” laying down their cloaks on the road before Him, and cutting off palm branches to lay on His path, anything to show admiration and respect towards the man they wanted to see as King.
It was all so magical to me as a child; the King was getting His glory, and the best was yet to come.
As I got older, I went my own way until my college years, when I truly realized that giving my heart and life to the Lord first was the only way I was ever going to do anything significant in my time here on earth. Within a year, I was in Virginia attending a Bible School, soaking up anything and everything that had to do with my childhood King. I was changed forever.
When the Gospel came to life for me and I began to see that King in a different light, the heartache and pain I had to see in myself was sometimes overwhelming. Because here is the thing: that King that rode into town that day was going to be crucified by those same people just five days later. And He knew it! He knew His purpose, He knew why He came, and He was all about doing His Father’s business, to the bitter end. The irony of it all was not lost on me, and for years I wrestled with the question “How could He do that for me?”
The kids came along and Easter took on a whole new meaning for me: I was elated to be the one to create such beautiful holiday traditions like the ones my mom had always done for us girls: baskets full of chocolate bunnies and Easter eggs, hiding them to be found on Easter morning, brunch with waffles and orange juice, new dresses for my girls and new shirts for my boys, a huge ham dinner that lasts for days… it was all so integral to the celebration that Easter was the beginning of new life in so many ways. The King had Risen, and death was defeated. I cried every Easter Sunday for years at the magnitude and power of the message.
But it all came after Palm Sunday. And it had to get worse before it got better.
As we walked this road of raising our kids and running our business, we felt compelled to adopt two children. That’s all I knew in my heart; that’s all I saw when I prayed. And I knew that was the next step in where we needed to go. Well, if you know anything about the Lord and His “wonderful works” you may have also discovered that He only shows you pieces and parts of what is to come. So we became certified to adopt, and still a year later we had not found our Forever Kids. My heart was broken open so hard for so long I was convinced it was physically breaking. It was a void I could not explain, and it sent me back to my bedroom window every morning, asking the Lord to show me what it was that He wanted me to do. I would do anything to get rid of the ache in my chest, anything to fill the void in my heart. So He sent us a foster child. One that was supposed to be reunited with his parents, and needed as much if not more healing from all the trauma than they did.
When Tim and I first signed up for the foster classes (believing it was the best way to pursue adoption for us), the only two stipulations that we stated to each other in our decision making process were (1) that we would NEVER foster for reunification, and (2) that the children would NEVER be local.
It’s amazing what a year of waiting and the word “yes” will do to change your heart and life.
Our new little guy was supposed to head home to his parents and he was indeed from Roanoke. Each time I drove to the city to run errands with him, he would point out to me places that he knew well, and roads that he knew as friends’ houses. It was unnerving, for sure: this child had lived a life completely unrelated to me for nearly five years of his life, and in one moment, he is moved in to my home as my son for an untold amount of time, needing love, kindness, teaching, training and medical care. And I don’t even know where his past life was or what it was like!?!
Five months into it, we have walked a path I never thought existed to human kind. It just was not part of my world, and even as I walk it, I am in disbelief that so many of my other amazing foster parent community friends have done this, some for twenty years or more. The lives they have changed! The corner of their world they have repaired! What it has silently done behind the scenes to better our community, all in my accidental indifference. It is so incredibly beautiful.
But beautiful is not always pretty.
You see, the children that need the most love and kindness are not the ones in the sweet Fisher Price ads or the ones that ask for it nicely. Don’t get me wrong: our little guy is the most beautiful thing I have ever seen, especially when I look right into his eyes and he can lock eyes with mine (something he could not do when he first came) as I sing him “Hush, Little Baby” at bed time.
But many, many times, he asks for love in different ways than the rest of my kids do.
His last couple visits with his parents have not gone very well, and it takes a toll on his little heart and mind. He can’t process all those feelings and emotions, some of which I’m sure are greater than you or I have ever experienced. It comes out in awkward ways, in awful ways, in ways that could break your heart if you let it.
Well, because of that crazy snowstorm that came in Saturday night and was nearly completely melted by Sunday afternoon, church got cancelled. On Palm Sunday.
I was really sad about that, honestly. Probably because I am more desperate now than ever to hear the word of the Lord being spoken in my life, but also because this is my favorite Sunday of the year, the one I was still grappling with, even at 36 years old, and I was not going to get that message to help me sort it out that day.
So I had to face my own theologies and intentions and try to find out what God was saying to me about this issue on my own. On top of cooking for seven people, running a household of that size, and factor in the snow clothes for all the kids, two of which I am certain are five year old part monkeys. Basically, it was going to be a big day.
As I said before, when you are going through trauma and recovering from a hurtful situation, sometimes things come out that are not nice. And they are usually unleashed on the people closest to you. Nurses get yelled at by patients, spouses take things out on each other… and my foster buddy lets loose on me.
Even on special snow days, hurt can come out. Especially at the most unwarranted times, and inopportune moments. Yesterday, as my hands were covered in paint from turning an old step stool into sleek black to look decent in the boys’ bathroom, my little buddy came bounding up the stairs.
“Ta-wuh?” he asks me. “Yeah buddy?” “Can I have some lemonade?” “We don’t have any right now, I’m sorry,” There is a loud huff and a looking down at feet. “Well, I already had water today.” “I’m sorry honey; I cannot make lemonade for you right now. Maybe later. You can always have water.” “Well, I don’t like water and I don’t want it anymore.” “I’m sorry, bud; that’s all we have right now.”
I’m waiting for the explosion any moment, my own private thoughts of wrestling with this Palm Sunday meaning in the back of my head, and I watch this little guy look me square in the face and announce,
“Well, I don’t love you, and I don’t want to be with you here.”
I stared back at him, and no wisdom came to reply, no answer would come out of my mouth that I thought right. If he only knew what I had given up to bring him into our life at home! How much of my job I had passed off on our (very capable) team, how many nights I woke up to tuck him back into bed after a bad dream and I couldn’t go back to sleep, how many trips to Roanoke for doctor and dentist appointments, the list went on and on. If he only knew what my heart ached for, to be left to myself sometimes while the older kids were in school instead of sitting on my kitchen floor with him reading books that teach him not to punch things, to not have to dread grocery shopping in case he had a tantrum and we had to leave. The exhaustion. The grief. The lost opportunities. The sales I want to promote but my hands are tied because this little person needs me, and the projects I have had to drop because preschool called again and he has had a meltdown.
Of course he cannot know any of it. He is in pain, and he is five. I say, “Well, I’m sorry you feel that way, but I still love you and there is water on the counter if you like.”
He has been saying that a lot lately, and most of the time it doesn’t really hurt. I understand that he doesn’t really mean it, at least towards me, and that he will be hugging me and saying he is sorry within a few minutes. But in my wrestling with this King of Kings that morning, I get my revelation: that is who I am with the Lord: In my best moments, I am ready to crown Him King of my life, crying out “Hosanna to the Son of David!” Yet when the chips fall, and I am lost and confused, and my heart begins to stray because the little boy I opened my heart and life to has spit in my face once again, I turn away from my King and close my eyes as He is crucified. And yet they call it Good Friday. The irony of it all is not lost on me, even in my paint-covered hands and tired mom brain. My heart hurt. It caught me by surprise. And I did not want to be One of Them. One of the ones who betrayed Him. But I know I was. I knew we all are. And I am so humbled. I prayed, “God use me, use me!” and He gave me a task and I cried, “God, I feel so used! It’s not fair!”
We ended up needing a time out that afternoon after we threw a tantrum over the water, and after that we could apologize and love one another and move on. Before long it was time to think of a dinner plan. We decided on easy sandwiches so we could rush through to watch a family movie, Veggie Tales’ The Easter Carol. There is a child in my home that does not understand the Gospel yet, and I am committed to show him every ounce of love and compassion I can muster before he has to move on. He does not have any special memories of Easter that he can recall, so I want to fix that as much as I possibly can. Plus, it is one of my favorites.
The story goes on where a miserly cucumber is taken through time and space by an angel to see what life was and would be like had he made certain choices. He is about to tear down a beautiful church to build a factory, not realizing his beloved grandmother was the one who had commissioned the stained glass windows there herself. The angel takes him to the church to share this information with him, and sings a song about those commissioned windows, all telling of the Gospel itself, from the nativity through to the resurrection. Sitting there with my family, I teared up at each window, ironing out the muddled gray in my mind I had been wrestling with all day, or really, for years. That baby that came so humbly in that manger was the same man who willingly gave His life on that cross when it was time. And even when He rode in to town that day, He knew what He was headed for in just a few short days… sentenced by the very people that were praising Him in the streets right then. He knew it all. And He still chose to go through with it, still chose to walk the walk, because His sights were not set on the crowds cheering or people praising. He was already so far beyond that, to the victory moment where He went down to the depths of darkness and looked the devil himself in the face and took the keys of death, hell and the grave from him as He rose again.
So my tears were just a realization that, for a moment that afternoon, my eyes were set on the wrong thing: the words of my sweet, hurting, beautiful baby boy who has no idea what he is saying to me. And I let myself accept the gift that God so freely gives to me as well: It’s the grace and strength that appears to empower me to look at that child in the face after all we’ve been through that day and sing him “Hush, Little Baby” because he asks me for it at bedtime. That King understands my shortcomings, my failures, and my ups and downs, where I praise Him one moment and betray Him another. He is not looking at that, He is looking at the end result. And I am committed and determined that I am going to see this thing through, and get all that He is trying to teach me in this thing. It is hard. It is blood, sweat and tears hard. But if I got my answer to my decades long search for peace about Palm Sunday in one day, I am confident that only the best is yet to come… like Easter Sunday after Good Friday.