Happy Anniversary, Chris Lierheimer.


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Twenty seven years ago today, I :

*Was very young. 23 seems a lot younger now than it did then.

*Was twelve pounds lighter and had great knees! It’s amazing the noise they make now.

*Decided that life with Chris Lierheimer was better than life without him.

*Thought that all an abused man needed was the Holy Spirit and the love of a good woman. (There’s a book about naivete in there somewhere. )

*Was lighthearted. Thought PTSD was a designer disease for slacker soldiers.

*Thought a lot less than I do now. Pretty much accepted what my conservative Baptist upbringing gave me, word for word.

*Thought about ‘terminal’ in terms of trains and airports.

*Was exceedingly self-absorbed. The world was my oyster, and I was going to make a difference.

*Had no idea what an ‘intact family’ was. Didn’t everyone have one? What’s up with making a special name for what’s normal?

Now, twenty seven years later, on this day, I:

* Am 50. That seems so substantial. My peers are busy getting their minds blown about teetering on the brink of old age, and I don’t have time for that. As far as I’m concerned, 50 is High Noon, so let’s get busy!

*Weigh in at around a buck forty instead of a buck thirty. Guess what? I’m never going to stand on a pointe shoe again, and good for the 23 year old Victoria who could. My body has mothered four children, seen a good man to his grave, held the hands of dying men and women, and kissed my own mother goodbye. I’m delighted with this ‘car’ God gave me to drive around while I’m here, in spite of the fact I have to take in for repairs more often. I can swim, run around, hike, ballroom dance, turn the heads of the middle aged man set, (and a few women) -In short, this body rocks.

*Still think that life with Chris Lierheimer was better with him, than without him. It would be now. I’m sitting on the porch of our lovely little family cottage in Upstate New York, watching the herons and loons go by. Having kids is great to share these things with, but having him would be better.

* Realize that paternal abuse is about one of the most heinous things someone can do to a child. Chris needed years of therapy before marriage, and certainly before children. Had his mother addressed this instead of denying it, many of our bumps would have been diminished.

*Carry a lot more weight around. Chris’s death was the most traumatic event I have ever endured, and the fallout from PTSD lasts. More on that later.

*Realize the kind of Baptist upbringing that I had was a genuine mixed bag. The youth leader was a charismatic high school teacher who actually believed that Catholics likely weren’t Christians because they worshipped saints. All the ‘cool’ kids went to youth group, and chubby stutterers like me were relegated to the outskirts. On the other hand, we hand a constant, steady stream of solid grounding in the Scripture, and for that I am grateful.

*Shudder less at the word ‘terminal’. My good friend Clare Flourish (clareflourish.wordpress.com) unwittingly gave me a piece of life-changing wisdom a few columns ago. We were trading experiences about seeing our fathers age, and in her case, die. She told me that she had, rather than a sense of ‘a life lost’, ‘a life completed’, at the loss of her dad. I believe that we were created not to die, but to live with God and enjoy Him forever. Clare’s words gave me a vision of my dad finishing the work he was to do, and getting off at his terminal. He’s going to be with his father, and his Heavenly father. This is a good thing. Thank you, Clare Flourish.

*Am a great deal less self-absorbed. Thank God. Had I no children, no husband, no divorced, agnostic, Jewish, Buddhist, doubting, gay, transexual, young, elderly or otherwise different friends, I’d be a crashing boor. I shudder at the thought.

*Mourn the loss of my intact family. There is simply no getting around that. My dear friend Bird Martin (everyonehasastory.me) once observed  …wouldn’t we want our loved ones to keep a little token of us in their hearts should the roles have been reversed?…Chris will have left behind a little legacy in that you will be little more empathetic for others who are going through the same thing. Don’t fight it in those sad moments when you think of him. Embrace the fact that he deserved to have someone grieve for him  here on earth.”  

I find this to be true. And as I said a few days ago, some pain demands to be felt. But my family is not intact and I wonder where the fractures will end. God is the Great Physician, to be sure, but we do not know His plans.

Even so, life is good. On this, my twenty-seventh anniversary, my children and I raise a glass of peach wine to that marriage day long ago. Happy anniversary, Chris Lierheimer.

Much love,

 

Victoria

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There Must be a Burning Bush Here Somewhere


In the midst of the most painful of faces, God shows up in the strangest of places.

Someone I trust once told me “Victoria, be careful, anger is never the end.” What he meant was that anger is easy, and often a really good mask for what’s really going on.

Shhh. It’s time to listen. I think God is speaking.

I have documented assurance that the EA battle is over, so as each day goes by, I find anger draining out of my body. Those of you who read the previous post know that my little Christian preschool was the subject of some very real religious persecution. Not fair, not right, not OK in any sense of the word. But what’s really the issue here? Religious persecution has existed for millennia, I’m actually in some pretty lofty company.

The Jewish yellow identification star.

Anger at God? Well, that’s pretty easy too. Chris didn’t do anything to deserve such suffering, and neither did I, or all these kids. But what’s really going on here? People get cancer and die. Families suffer, hundreds and hundred of you reading are feeling this ache with me right now.

Anger at friends who betray, deceive, when better paths are obvious? Everyone has experienced a betrayal, even Jesus. What’s really going on?

I am finding more and more that I just can’t keep anger up. I spent over a year being angry at the government, largely because they offended my overdeveloped sense of justice. It’s not supposed to be that way, in the land of the free.

I have spent two years being angry at God, because what God treats his faithful servants so brutally? I have found that the depth of what Christians call ‘sin’ is far more entrenched than I ever grasped. Remember the Lazarus story in John 11? The one about him being raised from the dead? Why do you suppose “Jesus wept” and the disciple John made such a point out of recording it?

I think now he wept for all of us. We were meant for better, and not to have lives that are ‘nasty, brutish and short’, as Thomas Hobbes put it.  Jesus wept because of the utter brokenness of our bodies and situations. Who knows what kink in Chris’s body gave him that horrible disease? But Jesus wept, and that alone makes me feel less solitary.

Anger at friends? Someone today told me that being associated with a ‘need’ for friends is a pretty good guarantee of disappointment. Do I ‘want’ new friends? Sure. Do I want to be social, interact with other members of the tribe? You bet. But do I ‘need’ new friends and situations? Not really. Not enough to be so wounded  when a woman chooses to end a friendship with me out of her own fearful need.

Looking, looking for what’s really going on.

In the end, I find I don’t have the energy to keep it up. Perhaps that’s the burning bush here, what God is speaking to me. I wasn’t made for anger.

I like it, I like the feel of it, the taste of it, the rush of adrenaline I get when I am so clearly wronged. I like being the avenging angel, the wrathful goddess to set things right.  I cherish my anger, I go to bed with it, and polish it, and keep it on display for others to see. I’ve made it part of me, like a prosthetic arm.

I don’t think Jesus cares much for that.  I think it transforms people, and it’s transformed me. I don’t like that much. I am beginning to see that might be what he meant when he said ‘don’t let the sun go down on your anger.’

Remember when Jesus was healing on the Sabbath in a synagogue? (Luke 15) The leaders in the temple got pretty mad that he was ‘working’ on the Sabbath. The chapter says that Jesus was angry, but more in the context of grief. Sort of “You are my people! Why wouldn’t you be elated that I was healing on the Sabbath?”

Maybe that’s the kind of anger he wants me to have. Grieved that our government would act against the interests of the people. Grieved that a woman would abandon integrity, instead of abandoning selfishness.

Grieved that I, the owner of all this, would let anger have such a dwelling place in my heart. I think I’m done. I’d rather have peace.

Much love,

Victoria

Abi’s Story: Must Love Kids


When Chris and I were in our late twenties, we were going to a megachurch in Denver called Cherry Hills Community Church. It had a lot going for the late twenties and early thirties crowd, and we made a lot of friends there.

One Sunday we were sitting in the auditorium before the service started, idly paging through the bulletin. Our eyes landed on this squib, at almost exactly the same moment.

Adopt A Child from China

Do you have a heart for children? Come and learn about foreign adoption in China. We will meet in Room 208 next Wednesday evening at 7 pm. 

     We just looked at each other. Instantly, we both knew what to do. Wednesday evening couldn’t come fast enough! We rolled up our sleeves and plunged into the application. The process was long and complicated, and we discovered that the vast majority of people who participate in international adoptions do so in part because of fertility issues. As this was not the case with Chris and me, we often floated on the outskirts of group discussions.

     We had our homestudy, answered all kinds of questions, and broke open every piggy bank and source of cash we could find to pay the exorbitant fees. Chris used to refer to them as ‘ransom for our daughter.’

       

When our application was completed, China closed. NBC had done a series about Chinese orphanages called, “The Dying Rooms.” The gist of it involved hidden cameras, and footage of sick little girls deemed to be too needy to take care of. Should one of the babies be found in this condition, they would be placed in these rooms, and an attendant would come back when the crying was over. It was horrible, true, and irrelevant. American journalists cost the Chinese government ‘face’, and China would make us pay, somehow.Well. The cessation of Chinese adoptions was supposed to last 30 days. It stretched to 60, then 90, than ‘an indefinite period of time’. Who knew when China would open up again? So we decided to wade in the water again. 10 weeks into my pregnancy with Faith, I got a phone call after particularly vigorous bout of vomiting.  China had just opened again, and our application would be processed shortly.  Yep, I thought it was pretty funny too.

We boarded the plane with the rest of our group when Faith was six months old. China in 1994 was quite a place to be. Chinese at the time had a thinly veiled antagonism toward foreigners adopting ‘their’ children.We would travel around with our new children, and draw quite a crowd.  Abi didn’t look anything like the gorgeous creature you see here. In fact, it’s a family joke that Abi was the scrubbiest, weirdest looking little kid you’d ever want to see! Chicken pox had raced through her orphanage, leaving scars on this kid’s face. The back of her head had flattened, as she spent most of her first nine months on her back. Lice and bedbugs were rampant in her orphanage, so her head was shaved.

To top it off, she showed her native intelligence by bellowing her objections to the two strangers who were now showing her all sorts of attention. Who were these people, anyway? Where is my cribmate? Restore my world, such as it was, right now!

It was such fun getting to know this kid! In a lot of ways, she was the most challenging  to parent. Often times friends ask me, “Well, she was only 9 months old when you got her, how hard can it be?”

It’s amazing to me how often people underestimate children.I usually don’t answer that question anymore. Some folks ask that and they already have children. I just (inwardly) shake my head and wonder just when they’ll start to pay attention.

Baby Miao Zhu (Abi’s given name) missed her biological family terribly. She had a very difficult time bonding with Chris or me,  and simply couldn’t deal with transitions of any sort. I remember one October going to Vail to spend a few days with my parents. She wailed in the room for nearly four hours.

Fortunately for us, we had several good attachment therapists in the area. After working with Abi for about a year, amazing things started to happen. She sprouted six teeth in a month. She grew and inch in two months. In the midst of all this, she started to walk. The therapist explained that it was as if her brain was giving her body permission to grow. Really, it would bring tears to watch. 

At seventeen, Abi decided to completely freak me out by wanting to go to art school in Brooklyn.

Born in China, raised in the mountains of Colorado, now wanting to spend a month at the Pratt Institute? I’d better sit down.

Abi makes friends easily!

Abi took to Pratt like a rocket to space. I couldn’t believe it! She mastered the subway easily, and actually listened to all of my cautions about city navigation. She poured herself into her artwork. Often, when she would call me, it would be with only a few hours sleep. She was so tired, she would speak in fragments.
“Mom…I really like drafting….vellum is cool…..we had nudes in class today….”When the month was over, her artwork was judged by a professor. It was a rigorous procedure, but then Abi got Chris’ work ethic ages ago. She works her little tail off. Her focus was interior design. Here her professor is critiquing some of her models. She drew, modelled, painted, collaged, and charcoaled her way through six hours of college credit, and came home with a remarkable portfolio and A’s. What a great kid.
In a way, I think that the loss of Chris was the hardest for Abi. If you think about it from the body count perspective, that makes a lot of sense. Abi, the knowledgeable baby, was perfectly aware that her biological mother, father, grandparents, and any other Chinese relatives were lost to her forever.  After she was adopted by us, she was very much her father’s daughter. She had Chris’ wry sense of humor and witty tongue. She has his sense of productivity and hard work, and his sense of making the most of his talents. She also has a mirror of his relationship to God. Chris was always just a bit suspect of God the Father, as his own father was such a criminal.
Abi has a similar mistrust, and who can blame her? She’s lost two fathers here on earth, and doesn’t yet have the perspective that this grieves her Heavenly Father immensely.
But what a gift for me. Psalms says that “Children are a Gift from the Lord.” In spite of all the work, and all the trials, and all the energy spent, I have found this to be true.
I have been quite gifted. Again, I think that God must love me after all. But could another man love me? Only if he loves kids like Abi.
Affectionately,
Victoria
Victoria’s List of What Makes a Real Man
1. Someone who treasures me more than himself. One might almost think that’s Biblical.
2. Courage. Take heart. Never, never give up.
3. Must Love Kids.  The greatest strength is shown through gentleness. Jesus himself had a special place in his heart for children.