A few weeks ago a kind man from our church gave Carmen a copy of one of his—and maybe your—favorite books from childhood, Fortunately, Unfortunately. People-of-a-certain-age, you remember how it goes, don’t you?
“Fortunately, Ned was invited to a surprise party.
Unfortunately, the party was a thousand miles away.
Fortunately, a friend loaned Ned an airplane.
Unfortunately, the motor exploded.
Fortunately, there was a parachute in the airplane.
Unfortunately, there was a hole in the parachute.”
And so on.
That’s how our last few months have been. It’s so hard to tell a story when you’re in the middle of it, so I just waited. And waited. Forgetting that the story never really comes to end, does it? It just goes from Fortunately, to Unfortunately, and back again.
So because writing is a way I process stuff out I am going to give you a little installment, knowing that that’s the way we live our lives: that we’re in the middle of them, right up until the very end.
Fortunately, we had the biggest Easter service we’ve had in living memory at our church: well over 300 people (and bunnies!).
Unfortunately, the week after Easter, Molly found out there were 4 separate competing evangelical fundamentalist churches suddenly moving into Somerville, a city where something like only 3% of the population identifies as ‘interested’ in finding a new church. And all those churches are led by hip young white male pastors who all seem to have goatees, perfect families, and some of them even claim to love gay people. Until the gay people want to have sex with each other, and then it’s another story.
Fortunately, the new churches have more to fear from each other than her church does from them. Right?
Unfortunately, that didn’t stop her from having some sleepless nights, wondering if all she and her congregation had worked tirelessly for over the last decade was just going to disappear in the blink of a shiny door-hangers or a big subway ad from one of the bigger, savvier and better-funded fundies, and all the queer and/or progressive spiritual seekers would end up leaping into the warm water of these new churches only to get boiled to death in the long run.
Fortunately, something came along to distract her: a 13-year-old boy from Haiti, Junior, whom her upstairs neighbor had introduced her to.
Unfortunately, Junior was here for lifesaving heart surgery through Partners in Health: he was at death’s door, with two faulty valves barely keeping him alive.
Fortunately, his surgery was a success.
Unfortunately, his recovery was not: on the day he was to be discharged from the hospital, his father, who had chaperoned him here, went out for coffee and never came back.
Fortunately, Molly and Peter and Rafe and Carmen tremblingly agreed to let Junior stay with them while Partners in Health figured out what was next.
Unfortunately, Junior was so distressed that he cried the whole first week he was with them. And Molly couldn’t even comfort him in his native language. And he hated her cooking. And Rafe would lie awake in the bunk above him in the middle of the night and hear the steady –tick –tick –tick of Junior’s titanium valves, and the muffled sobs.
Fortunately, her children and their friends knew just how to pull him out of his funk: fart jokes and trampoline-wrestling! Art projects and scooters! Soccer practice and sleepovers with a big pile of boys! And Junior began to really like his life with the Baskettes. And started calling Peter ‘Dad’ and Molly ‘Mom’ and put a framed photo of himself in their living room.
Unfortunately, under the strain of suddenly being a full-time parent to three children and about to move for the first time in 10 years while her husband Peter simultaneously finished a master’s degree and launched a new ticketing system and working 12 hours a day, Molly began forgetting things. Like: calling the brain cancer patient for follow-up. Like: packing the Epi-pen in her daughter’s backpack. Kind of important things.
Fortunately, there were angels all around, who would take Junior bike riding or bowling so she could get a little of her brain back.
Fortunately and Unfortunately, the Department of Children and Families got involved, who are at times dysfunctional and disorganized enough to make Molly think about voting Republican. And at other times do the most noble work humans can do: getting abandoned and abused children to higher ground.
Fortunately, Junior grew on everybody. He began to learn English. He cooked up fantastic hotdog-and-onion omelettes for the whole family. He learned to put the lid up when he peed. He gained 12 pounds. He had the most joyful laugh in the world. He made art that said “God is Good” in English, and hung it up all over the house.
Unfortunately, it was just too much. The totally legitimate needs of this wonderful boy in distress were just too much for this working mom/minister/cancer survivor. Molly’s stressed-out body, the fourth child in the family, began to try to get her attention in negative ways: her herniated disc began flaring. Her chemo- and pregnancy-compromised pelvic floor began to show signs of collapsing like the work of a shoddy Bangladeshi building contractor. She developed a neuroma in her foot that made walking horribly painful. She couldn’t sleep.
Fortunately, she found an amazing pelvic floor physical therapist, who did magical things with her transverse abdominis muscle.
Unfortunately, she found a less than amazing podiatrist who made things worse before he made things better.
Fortunately, she went to see her spiritual director, who helped her discern beyond a shadow of a doubt that God was not calling her family to be Junior’s ‘forever family.’
Unfortunately, just because you know it’s the thing God wants you to do, doesn’t mean you don’t still feel shitty about it.
Fortunately, things began to move forward with Junior’s placement. Molly sent out a missive to her church and some pastor friends, alerting them to Junior’s situation, seeking a DCF-licensed foster family in Massachusetts.
Unfortunately, calls began flowing in from families all over the country: Idaho, California, Colorado, even Alberta, Canada, people eager to help and wanting a call back TODAY. Some of them were really together people offering legitimate local support. But lots of the emails and voicemails ended with a kind of evangelical Christian signature, “In Him,” that made her want to call them back just to annoy them with female pronouns for God.
Molly thought: who are you people, so eager to help, so much more noble and selfless and resilient and Christian than me, who really struggled with the decision to take on an extra kid for even a few weeks?
Then Molly thought: wait, who are you people, who won’t stop calling me even though we clearly said “Massachusetts” and “licensed,” and who seemed disappointed when we told you no, Junior was all set, thanks very much, as if you had been personally thwarted in your holy ambitions?
Fortunately, after 6 weeks, after lots of phone calls and site visits and forms and confusion and silence and flurry and silence: one family emerged. A good family. A local family. Friends of people in our church and from Rafe’s soccer team. A family that above all, wants what is best for Junior, whatever that turns out to be. And Junior transitioned there yesterday. And, selfishly, happily, we will continue to see him at soccer and at church, and we will still have sleepovers and outings.
Unfortunately, a Haitian aunt and uncle living in Florida suddenly turned up at the custody hearing yesterday, thinking they could take him home with him the same day.
Fortunately, Junior wanted to go.
Unfortunately, the State couldn’t let that happen.
Fortunately, the judge was eager to support family reunification and they will expedite the process.
Unfortunately, it will still take at least 3 months, maybe 6. And Junior hung his head and cried, like he hasn’t in weeks.
Fortunately, the system will work (one hopes). And the state agencies will make sure this family is legit (I have learned more than I care to know about bad foster families in the last 6 weeks!), and they will be legit, and Junior will go closer to home, and live with people who love him and know him and speak his language, and will give him a better life, an easier life and certainly a life with more possibilities in it, than he would have had in Haiti. And we will have a few more months to love on him and help him stabilize in his new life and in his new, strong heart.
Fortunately, Molly got out of family court by noon yesterday, and had the first real Sabbath she’s had since early in Lent, and had a chance to ask herself, “what are those things that I enjoy doing when I am by myself? Oh, right!” And ate year-old chocolate out of the dwindling stores in the pantry (moving in 10 days!) and walked to the public library and checked out books for herself that have nothing to do with church growth or ministry or efficiency or leadership or management: she checked out novels.
And that night, Molly crawled in bed with husband and kids, because we all fit there, a family of four again, and we watched TV in bed and rubbed backs, and we called Junior to say “good night! Bon soir!” as the sun went down, and Junior sounded a little better, a little more himself, and Molly and Peter both slept through the night.
Fortunately. For now.
And a prayer coda: beloved cancendentalists, will you pray for my colleague-sister Rev. Jean Lenk, a UCC minister with an amazing, transcendent spirit and outlook? She has sarcoma, all of a sudden. It’s everywhere. She doesn’t know what kind yet—biopsy yesterday. She’s terribly uncomfortable and knows what this means, but she’s holding up so well. She’s too young for this shit! Fierce prayers, please!