What I see in my family (2017)...
As I’ve had a chance to get away from church ministry and to spend quality time with my family, I wanted to take some time to share some of the things that I’ve observed or that come to mind when I think of them.
I’ll start with my children from oldest to youngest and then make much of my wife to wrap it up.
For starters, every one of my children is fearfully and wonderfully made. Carefully and Creatively made would be a more modern way of saying it. They have delicate design and unique attributes that set them apart from each other even as we are united together in a nuclear family as one.
I decided to take a swipe at sharing what I see in each of my children at this particular mile-marker in time, the Year of our Lord 2017…
Kami – She has just turned 18 and is leaving for college in roughly a month. Because she is the oldest, she has the misfortune, yet adventurous privilege of going first as our firstborn at every new milestone of life. As she is cutting her teeth, we are cutting ours metaphorically as parents…each of us experiencing things for the first time at every new tooth-cutting crossroad. I think I have to give her an extra measure of credit for this pressure that comes with always braving the unknown as the trailblazer. She was uniquely chosen by God to be our first and has been given the perfect personality to be the maverick. Despite being born with various physical anomalies that might tank a good many kids who mature into adulthood, these setbacks have only strengthened her resolve. When I say resolve, I mean a holy rebellion that shoves back the status quo and embraces the challenge of pushing against the popular. If she didn’t, she would see what is popular and wind up comparing herself to the status symbols of her school or our culture and cower in comparison. But God has given her a strong heart, a heart that doesn’t use the hand she was dealt as an excuse for mediocrity or insecurity. She is driven to be in the mix, gravitating to where the action is, wanting to be in the center of the party, loving life so much that it draws people to the dance floor, chasing her dreams with reckless abandon. It’s extraordinary. She is truly drawn to the finer things….coffee shops, artistic knickknacks, cute eclectic clothes, non-mainstream musicians, clean and orderly spaces, symmetry and ambience, photography, and all-things-fringe. It’s just how she’s evolved over the years…I’m not saying there weren’t days of sorrow as the crowd headed left when she chose right, but it’s more than morals that have defined her, she actually likes things that aren’t blockbuster and mainstream. She’s ok with the quirky and eccentric. When everyone else is wearing essentially the same dress at prom that is in style, she opts to find a dress in consignment from another era bucking the trend and making her own marks on the sands of time. And ironically, her choice or idea is raved about and so many ask her where she found her dress and so on. It’s remarkable to see this pattern play out in life. Her path isn’t the well-worn path of the masses, it is the less travelled trail of the artisan, the explorer, the creative. And because of this trait, she sees the beautiful sight and scenes off the beaten path that most miss as their faces are looking at the back of a person following a long line of “go with the flow-ers” in front of them. She is social and gains energy from being around people. She hates being all by herself, it’s boring for her to be home to much, she wants to be out there living the life and doesn’t want to miss out on something fun. That’s another thing, she loves fun people. It’s not that she doesn’t enjoy a serious conversation around a coffee on a rainy afternoon with one of her friends, but she loves to laugh and joke around. She doesn’t have a thousand casual friends, she has a pocket of close friends…that’s her style. She values deep and trustworthy friendship and doesn’t feel the need to make everyone happy. This is again the value of her nonconformist, renegade heart. It certainly causes sparks in our home as she is solidly committed to her ideas and convictions, but it is something that we are grateful God put in her heart. She is a hugger and loves to snuggle. Physical touch is how she expresses her affection for people and so you won’t see her shaking hands and giving many highs fives, her most comfortable greeting is a bear hug. I guess this is one of the areas I see her taking after me. She will cry when things touch her heart and she will laugh when something hits her funny bone. Her emotions are pretty much on her sleeve. She has volunteered in High School for two years with Campus life and has taken younger and often struggling Jr. Highers under her wing each week to encourage them as a “big sister”. It’s been amazing to watch her faithfulness to that ministry even at times when it wasn’t all that rewarding in the moment. Her commitment demonstrated to me a maturity that she doesn’t get enough credit for, much to my shame. I think because she’s the oldest, we as parents are often hardest on her demanding her to set the tone and the example for her younger siblings. I know this has probably been angering at times in her life, but she has responded pretty good even though you can see that her independent heart is exercising some restraint and self-control. She has a beautiful heart that loves people and God and I can’t wait to see all that God has in store for her precious life. We will miss her when she leaves for college next month.
Aly – She’s our second born and came out of the womb screaming bloody murder. Over the next several months she calmed down and actually became dainty, shy, recluse, insecure and somewhat uncoordinated. She couldn’t really talk until she was 3 and even then she had a way of talking that was very baby-like. I initially thought she was going to be our homebody that was afraid of crowds and human interaction. In her early days of school she was OCD with all sorts of issues with socks and shoes that would rub her feet a certain way and send her into a tirade. We finally just let her wear open-toed sandals to school in the dead of Michigan’s winter. It wasn’t worth the fight. She wouldn’t let me lay next to her on her pillow because it would get it warm, so I would have to prop my head up with my hand to keep it off her mattress, stuffed animals, pillows and blankets. She would methodically line up her stuffed animals in the exact same way every night, angled just perfectly so that she could lay her head down in peace. She was stoic, tight, sensitive, insecure, and tentative…UNTIL…in a matter of weeks it seems like she bloomed like a flower into a bold, joyful, humorous, social, tender, affectionate, outgoing, bubbly bundle of boundless energy. I don’t know what happened, but anyone that tells you that someone won’t change from a fearful, shy, and sensitive personality into something else hasn’t met my daughter, Aly. She loves academics and studies relentlessly for good grades…she’s a learner…albeit somewhat of a perfectionist…I think that is part of the OCD that hung on cause it certainly isn’t triggered by the messiness of her room. (sorry Aly) She loves soccer and has excelled to the point where she played Varsity her sophomore year. But I think what I love about her more than anything is her relaxed presence. She loves to act goofy and silly and make everyone laugh around her. She doesn’t take herself too seriously and seems to have a pretty good idea of who she is and she likes who she is. There is something about freedom in a person that makes them contagious and attractive…and people love to be around her for this reason. She has scads of friends in all social classes. She is gracious to all, even the people that treat her harshly or are hard to love. In fact, some of the people that have hurt her with their words are drawn back to her in their time of need because she is so faithful regardless of disappointing decisions others make. She’s human, don’t get me wrong, and the decisions of the people she loves really crush her and make her cry on certain nights and cray cray on other nights, but in the end, she is right as rain and as true as they come in friendship. She loves to get to know God and journal her thoughts. She hasn’t done it every night for 4 fours, but for the most part she’s pretty faithful in spending time with God. I love her affectionate manner and the way she loves to snuggle on the couch. There was a day when she was stiff as a board when I would hug her, now she melts into my arms and I don’t mind that one bit. She wants to be a pediatrician someday and you know what? I think she’s going to do it. She can do anything she sets her mind to and as long as she does it for the glory of God, I think her future is as a bright as her eyes when she’s smiling at you.
Taylor – I can honestly say that Tay was our favorite little baby. She was as free as a lark and her mannerisms and joy filled our house with an extra measure of delight. She would dance in circles, sing songs, parrot back things we would say to her, and pull stunts that would have us laughing until we snorted out loud. She was a trip. I remember we would be practicing for worship on the weekend at church and she would be down in the front dancing and twirling around endlessly lost in the music and the simple love of life. She was a breath of fresh air. Around 5 or 6 some things happened to a family in our church that affected her so deeply we thought we may never get her back. A car accident happened that killed the child of some keys leaders in our body and as we rushed over to the family’s house, both Heidi and I thought we each had her in our cars and ended up leaving her home. She was there about 20 minutes by herself on the porch crying when we pulled back in the driving and she said to me, “Dad, I was praying that God would help you to come home.” In that moment—and all it takes is a moment I’ve learned—she went from being the personification of freedom to the embodiment of bondage. She was fearful and her mind was filled with thoughts of worst-case scenarios, death, worry, dread, and odd thoughts about life that honestly scared us to death. For years she couldn’t get to sleep for hours and then is subsided for about a year and a half only to start up again with a vengeance. We went through another year of deathly fear at about age 10 that I thought would never end. What broke my heart the most was the remembrance of this fancy-free little child that lost her innocence and was now bound in chains that anything we tried to do to break ended in futility. We ached for her as parents, but prayed for God to restore her joy and freedom using this long season of anxiety and fear to make her who he wanted her to be. I’m proud to say that she has come through the other side of the darkest part of that season, but her disposition is one of sensitivity and conscientiousness and people-pleasing. Some of these traits have a wonderful side. She is the most engaged with our adopted sons and has been since the beginning. She doesn’t mind being alone and doesn’t mind working hard. In fact, she is the hardest worker in our family and if there’s anything to do outside that involves manual labor, she’s at my side. She has a particular draw to those with special needs and someday wants to work in that field of interest, but she isn’t waiting until college…she does it know with Joshua in our home and with other kids that struggle. She just sees the outsider. She can sense the underdog. She can feel the vibrations in a room and knows the misfit. I wonder if all that she’s gone through makes her extremely sensitive to those who are suffering inside, struggling to be and feel normal. I know that she so badly wanted to just feel normal, but her mind would vex her so that it forced her to overcome over years of battling the beast. It’s made her a tender and wise soul. I’ve always said that she is the most spiritually and emotionally sensitive of all our children. Again, I think she had to grow up before her time and though that created inordinate internal injury, it also formed muscles that many kids her age don’t possess giving her efficiencies that are quite extraordinary. I still try to carry her up to bed each night and lay with her in her loft bunkbed. I climb the ladder two steps and wait for her to tap on her yellow throw pillow which is a sign that I can come up and join her. We lay there talking as she plays with my outstretched right hand and we talk about life. Every other night she will say, “Dad, can you pray with me?” and that’s because she has an order about how things need to go before she lays down for the night. I think her future is bright and as God continues to bring more and more liberation to her soul, she is going to be a sharp sword in the hand of God. She is precious beyond words.
Joshua – I remember the first time I laid eyes on this kid. He was in an orphanage with about 8 beds in about a 10X8 room. After a hoard of abandoned children swarmed around us, he was the only one who was off to the side by himself. He couldn’t talk, even his own native language, and he rarely, if ever smiled. He had a distended belly because of malnourishment, and he was clearly socially reclusive. We gave him a lollypop and that drew him out of his shell a little bit, but there was no doubt, out of all the kids in this orphanage, he was the most non-affective, withdrawn, and emotionally-detached of them all. I remember coming back to the hotel after meeting him and just crying with Heidi for Joshua counting the cost of what the future would hold. We knew the journey wasn’t going to be smooth. And it hasn’t been. He was born with scaring on his brain that effected his speech, swallowing, as well as a number of other functions that rely on the particular lobe of his brain that has sustained the most damage. We since found out that he was drugged and left alone for hours on end while his mother engaged in prostitution to support the family. He was eventually taken care of by his grandparents until he landed in this orphanage. But to say that our journey with him has been hard wouldn’t be telling the whole story because this kid is maybe one of the sweetest kids I’ve ever met. He is tender with his brother and with other little children. (although he’s been known to push around kids his own age). His smile and boyish joy is unparalleled whenever he is the center of attention or given praise. He concentrates with staid attention in conversations and when details are being shared about how something works. What he lacks in language skills he makes up in motor skills. He loves to color, put things together, tear things apart and put them back together, and order things. It’s amazing to watch him excel in these areas of giftedness. He loves stories, read or told, and will pay attention as long as you have the ability to sit there and tell them. When he laughs it’s completely silent all the way until the end…especially when he is laughing from his gut. It’s like he doesn’t breathe for 15 seconds and you realize he is holding it in until the last sigh of laughter. He loves to snuggle and seems to love physical touch as a primary love language. I think this is, in part, because communication is so hard for him. He finds it easier to hug your leg or arm and stay there for a while letting you know that he loves you and feels safe. Even though it takes him a while, we (including his five-year-old motor-mouth brother) will wait and give him space to put his words together. But there is something when he talks that pulls your heart strings. His eyes are pure as he thinks through every syllable and labors to string them together. It almost like the harder it is for him to speak his mind the more valuable what he says seems when it comes out. He is coming out of his shell more every day and I can honestly say he is pure joy in our family…I can’t wait to see all the obstacles he overcomes to shatter the odds stacked against him. He is a fighter and I pray that God will protect his precious heart from the arrows of people’s comments and questions that could easily crush his surging spirit. I truly believe God watches over vulnerable hearts like his…and I love him deeply and dearly.
Caleb – This cat is the life of the party. He has always had the biggest smile and the deepest laugh of anyone in our family, even Aly, and that’s saying a lot. He’s the baby of the brood, so he gets a certain amount of attention that comes with that position in the birth order. He is, of our five kids, the one that talked first and, shortly thereafter, most. He loves life and doesn’t know a stranger. We have been on several walks down the dirt road this summer and he is adamant about waving at cars passing by or saying hi to bikers or walkers who are passing us. I love his fearlessness to engage people. He is the enigma in the sense that he is fearless in so many social arenas and personal spaces, but when it comes to adventure and danger he couldn’t be more terrified. In fact, Josh is the one who loves rollercoasters and heights, while Caleb is content to ride a merry-go-round. But he’s not afraid in the least when it comes to bugs, snakes, or animals of any kind. He will go and pick up a snake, snapper turtle, or baby bird without hesitation while Josh winces and recoils. So the fear is selective. Just last week he came into the house with a beetle that was the size of a half dollar. It bit him on the arm and he dropped it screaming that it hurt while reaching down to pick it up again. The jury is still out on whether he is going to be a dare-devil or a scaredy-cat…but either way, he’s an absolute thrill in our home. He is a pill, but even while he’s getting in trouble, it’s hard to not start smiling while you’re disciplining him because he’s so darn cute. He has a tender, tender heart and loves to snuggle for as long as you’ll hold him, especially the mornings. He loves when the wood stove is heating our house in the winter cause he’ll just drag his orange blankey downstairs over his shoulder and then sit in front of the fireplace warming up before he hits the day with a passion. He still takes naps everyday and he’s 5. He just goes so hard after life that he tires himself out by 12:30pm. He will even ask if he can take a nap, so I’m interested how he’ll do in Kindergarten this year when they don’t have a rest time. He loves to wrestle, well both he and Josh do, and they both love to dress up as superheroes…He is Batman and Josh is Superman. I will never forget the time that I was laying them down and was telling them that they were my boys. It was probably about a year into the adoption. ICaleb looked at me and said, “We are your sons.” It was interesting that he knew the difference between the intimacy of being my boy and being my son…he was picking up on the distance that admittedly still existed between us as I was working toward bonding with them. Caleb bonded to me really fast, but it has taken years for me to really bond with him. I’m so grateful that both he and Josh have been so persistent to pursue a close relationship with me even when I was tired and preoccupied. The reality is that bonding has really happened on my end in the last three months like never before. I love Caleb’s personality and as the girls grow older and leave for college, I’m beginning to see how Caleb and Joshua will take their place in our home and create a new normal filled with adventure, energy, and intimacy. Caleb will be a key component in that intimacy…I can see it already. He wants it and he gives it naturally. I love that kid with all my heart.
And now, my wife. The last several months of rest and freedom have offered me a space to appreciate her afresh even after knowing her for almost 25 years this Fall…
Heidi – God knew the kind of woman I needed. She is tender and strong. Organized, yet spontaneous. She is a conductor in our family. Like a maestro leading a symphony, she leads our family from movement to movement with great care and consideration. She has the ability to be very scheduled, but to care about what is happening in the scheduled activity enough to ask the girls about it after it’s done. There isn’t a day that goes by that she doesn’t shift from the master planner to the personal inquirer as the day draws to a close. She is always asking how we are doing or feeling, wondering what we are thinking after we experience something at school, or with friends, or during the soccer game, or at church, or in a meeting. It’s really amazing that she possesses the gift to guide our family from the altitude of 30,000 ft. as well as the ability to enter into the deep weeds with each of us in whatever we’re facing or feeling. She cares deeply for my heart and can tell when I’m zoning out. When she sees it, she doesn’t flinch and asks the question our whole family has come to know her for: “Is everything ok?” It may seem like a simple question, but when you’ve been hurried and buried in busyness all day long, it’s easy to lose that desire to care for everyone else’s feelings. She really typifies the person who believes and lives as if everything matters…everything. There are times when I even do triage and bypass certain things to conserve energy and pursue my personal pleasure, but she offers herself up as a living sacrifice more than anyone I know. From turning socks back outside-in and finding their match in a pile of cotton chaos all the way to driving as many miles as it takes to get one of our girls to their soccer game with the boys in tow. She expresses her fatigue, but she doesn’t complain. It’s different. She is open about her heartache, but she doesn’t bellyache. I love that about her. Her pain tolerance is unreal, and her threshold of endurance is dauntless. Most would be crushed under the weight of continuing to do things without anyone’s knowledge or acknowledgement, she spends—and I’m giving a ballpark guess—90% of her life doing things for others in abject obscurity. Few can do that without losing their mind or making sure everyone knows everything they’re doing so they get the credit they feel they deserve…not this woman. She doesn’t even know how special she is and that’s what makes her really special. She has done a phenomenal job of balancing the crazy life of the Holdridge Family and we owe her a debt that we honestly could never repay. I love her more than words could convey.
Thank you, God, for my one-in-a-million family.