Cliffhanging (revised)

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MH900431259

Cliffhanging

By: Regina Fike

 

When I was a teenager, I went with my youth group to an “unexplored cave” At least that’s what the glossy brochure said.  It certainly had been “explored”, it just wasn’t lit and developed like some other tourist sites.  For a fee, “explorers” got a map and a flashlight, and could wander around in the dark cave. As a side note; I have often wondered at the wisdom of the youth group leaders who thought turning a bunch of hormone laden teenagers loose in a dark cave was a good idea, but I digress.

As our small group ventured into the darkness, one young man ran fearlessly ahead.  At some point, we heard blood curdling cry for help coming from the darkness ahead.   We hurried along toward the sound of the now frantic teen who we found hanging on a rock face off the edge of the trail. Some fifteen or twenty feet below was the flashlight that he had dropped.  He was clutching the rocks frantically, fearing that he was about to follow his flashlight into the abyss.  When our group got to him, the collective light from all of our flashlights revealed that his flashlight had indeed fallen some twenty feet, into a tiny crevasse, while the crying boy was clutching the rock face, with his feet dangling in the air…about a foot off the cave floor.  Needless to say that boy spent the day (and many days thereafter) taking some ribbing about his experience.

Many year have passed since that day in the cave, but some recent events have called the images of that day to my mind with remarkable clarity.  To understand why, I invite you to spend a few minutes in the dark caves of my adulthood.

Some time ago I received a call from a school secretary, asking me to come quickly to the school. Bryce was in crisis. I arrived at the school to learn that he had become enraged at the end of the school day and during intervention, he ran from the building and into bus traffic.  When the principal, assistant principal, and teacher attempted to move him to safety, he hurt them, badly.  I was unprepared for the visceral response I had to seeing the bloody welts and bruises that have become so common to me, on someone else’s body. Knowing that is was my son had done this to them somehow caused greater physical pain than when the injuries had been inflicted on me. As staff tried to re-group in the hallway, Bryce sat on the floor of the “quiet room”, his tear stained face leaning on the thick glass door.  The scene was surreal, and terrifying. I felt a rising panic as the realities started to settle in on me.  The event that we been running from, and feared was upon us.  Our son was in excruciating pain. While his little body was present, his spirit seemed lost in a place beyond my reach.  We needed to go to crisis. My little boy was going to be hospitalized.  Waves of panic and fear were rising in me. I ran outside the door, trying to force air into my lungs.  I felt bile rising in my throat and I vomited.   As shaking subsided, I went inside and asked if I could sit in the quiet room with him.   We didn’t speak, I just sat on the floor next to him and he crawled onto my lap. I held him and rocked him and we both cried quiet tears.   As often happens after Bryce’s rages, he was docile and weak in the aftermath, and this time, so was I.  It took twelve hours for the crisis worker to locate a bed in a facility hours away from our home.  As he was put into the ambulance for the two hour ride to the pediatric psych hospital, I felt that I had been thrust back in time to that moment when this nightmare began, and we were leaving him in the arms of virtual strangers on a stoop in West Philly.  The emotional pain was eviscerating. I tasted the bitter bile burning in my throat, and my body shook as the ambulance drove away.

In the ten days that followed, doctors told us there was “intensive therapeutic interventions”, and “evaluations of his medications and diagnoses”. There was also mourning and fear. I listened for his voice among the playful laughter of his sister and the grandbabies in our house. His toys were where he left them, his bed was unmade. His absence was a loud, cold, noise in my heart that ached in constant rhythm.

My fears about what he was going through and what came next were inescapable.  In short, I was hanging by my fingernails on the rock face, paralyzed with fear of the impending fall into the unknown abyss. I love my son. The fear that I could lose him is an emotionally menacing untenable threat.  It is a dark place.

Maybe that is why I have been searching for ways to reframe the conversations going on in my head. There may be something instructive in the experience of my youth. It may be time to let go of the rock face that I have been holding on to so desperately and trust that the floor is not as far away as it feels. It may be time to let others shine light on the hurts and offer help. It is possible that the bottom is as dark and painful as the fear…but maybe not. Either way, it is time to let go, and have faith that the One who is the Light will help us land.
 

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Are we there yet?

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Life in the patch I a whole lot of “2 steps forward, one step back”.

Bryce is home today due to a teacher in-service at his school. Taya has a regular school day. Rick is coming home early to accompany me to a medical test that I have been dreading this afternoon.

This morning as we were pacing through normal school day routine for Taya; Bryce experienced a rage. According to his initial assessment, he was angry because I declined to stop doing Taya’s hair (…..and cleaning up a dog mess, ……and packing a lunch,……and tracking down a folder that apparently grew legs overnight and wandered out of her backpack….) so that I could toast his pop tart. During the ensuing ten minutes, my son informed me (repeatedly) that he wanted me dead,… that he wished to be the instrument of my death,….that he believed me to be a “fat, ugly, lying , old, bitch…and a fagot”. He also expressed his belief that I was good for target practice; although admittedly, I drew this conclusion empirically from the shoes and small appliances being lobbed at my head. I am fairly certain that he broke his all-time best FBPM (“F-bomb per Minute” for the novices) record. As a side note; may I just say that as a former homeschooling mom, I find the improper use of a verb as a noun, adjective, adverb, and even a prepositional phrase, to be maddening! You know you have been living in the Patch a long time when you want the expletives to at least be grammatically correct.

This little episode this morning has given me a heartache. First, because as I am having my test later today, I am certain that I will hear my son’s voice in my head; wishing for my death. There is something so obscenely raw and dark in the words that he says in an attempt to exorcise his pain that the very air seems to become a lethal weapon.  I haven’t yet mastered the art of deflecting every blow.

Second; I suspect this one hurts a bit more because these kinds of episodes have become mercifully infrequent. It’s amazing how the human mind wants….needs to obscure and repress trauma for the sake of survival. My heart and mind happily wants to believe; against all reason, that this will never happen again.  The obvious problem is that when it does….(and it will), you are required to experience the loss and mourning….again.

On the upside: Bryce managed to course correct quickly, and on his own.  One of the toughest chores in the RADish Patch is maintaining regulation and giving your child time and space to try to access the tools that he’s been taught. Unlike all the other life skills we try to teach our children like how to dress themselves and use the potty, and brush their teeth, the skills of regulating can only really be practiced during crisis. This morning I CERTAINLY broke my SPPM record (“silent prayers per minute”) as I waited anxiously for some sign that Bryce could grope around in his darkness and find a few of those tools that would let some light back in. And what a gift when you see it happen!  After less than 15 minutes, he came cautiously into my room and asked me if he could try to do a “reset”. This is a term that we have taught Bryce to use like a lifeline. Often the rage feeds on itself. It can seem impossible to the child to find a way to communicate that he knows he has gone too far and needs room to “course correct”. Asking for “reset” or “course correct” is the way Bryce can call for a time out and know that we will give him a moment to figure it out.  Next step is finding his “power words”. This is the processing he is learning to do to recognize, identify and articulate his truth. For kids who have experienced pre-verbal trauma; this is where the healing must begin. Today Bryce was able to find “power words” to communicate that he felt “jealous”, and “threatened” by the attention I was giving to Taya. THIS IS HUGE! Because once he gets to that point on the journey, we can dialogue about the most important questions: “Is it true?” When Bryce can ask and answer these questions, he is immediately connected to his power and light comes pouring back into that little soul.

So….10 yucky minutes gave me evidence that Bryce has gained a lot of real estate in this journey. It’s a win…I’ll take it!

Cliffhanging

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MH900431259

When I was a teenager, I went with my youth group to an “unexplored cave” .  At least that’s how the brochure marketed it.  It certainly had been “explored”.  It just wasn’t lit and developed like some other tourist sites.  For a fee, “explorers” got a map and a flashlight, and could wander around in the dark cave. As a side note; I have often wondered at the wisdom of the youth group leaders who thought turning a bunch of hormone laden teenagers loose in a dark cave was a good idea….. but I digress…

As our small group ventured into the darkness, one young man ran ahead….fearlessly.  At some point, we hear blood curdling cry for help coming from the darkness ahead.   We hurried along toward the sound of the now frantic teen who we found hanging on a rockface off the edge of the trail. Some 15 or 20 feet below was the flashlight that he had dropped.  He was clutching the rocks frantically, fearing that he was about to follow his flashlight into the abyss.  When our group got to him, the collective light from all of our flashlights revealed that his flashlight had indeed fallen some 20 feet…..into a tiny crevasse, while the crying boy was clutching the rock face, with his feet dangling in the air……………about a foot off the cave floor.  Needless to say that boy spent the day (and many days thereafter) taking a bit of ribbing about his experience

 

As I relate some things that are happening in our family recently, you may understand why I chose to share this story.

Last week, I received a call from a school secretary asking me to quickly come to the school. Bryce was in crisis.  I arrived at the school to learn that he had become enraged at the end of the school day and during intervention, he ran from the building and into bus traffic.  When the principal, assistant principal, and teacher attempted to move him to safety, he hurt them…….badly.  I was unprepared for the visceral response I had to seeing the bloody welts and bruises that have become so common to me, on someone else’s body, and knowing that is was my son that caused them. As staff tried to re-group in the hallway, Bryce sat on the floor of the “quiet room”, his tear stained face leaning on the thick glass door.  The scene was surreal, and terrifying. I felt a rising panic as the realities started to settle in on me.  The event that we have ran from and feared was upon us.  Our son was in excruciating pain, in a place where I couldn’t help him.  We needed to go to crisis. My little boy was going to be hospitalized.  I was physically ill,  I ran outside the door, trying to force air into my lungs.  I felt bile rising in my throat and I vomited.   As shaking subsided, I went inside and asked if I could sit in the quiet room with him.   We didn’t speak, I just sat on the floor next to him and he crawled into my lap. I held him and rocked him and we both cried quiet tears.   As often happens after Bryce’s rages, he was docile and weak in the aftermath, and this time……… so was I.  It took 12 hours for the crisis worker to locate a bed in a facility hours away from our home.  As he was put into the ambulance for the 2 hour ride to the pediatric psych hospital, I felt that I had been thrust back in time to that moment when this nightmare began, and we were leaving him in the arms of virtual strangers on a stoop in West Philly.  The emotional pain was eviscerating. I tasted the bitter bile burning in my throat, and my body shook as the ambulance drove away. Tonight as I type this, Bryce is spending his fourth night in the hospital.  There is acute and intensive evaluation of his meds and diagnoses. There is intensive therapeutic intervention, and there is profound sadness and fear.  I listen for his voice among the playful laughter of Taya and the grandbabies in our house.  His toys are where he left them, his bed is unmade.  His absence in our home is a loud, cold, noise in my heart.  It aches in a constant rhythm. My fears about what he is going through and what comes next are inescapable.  In short, I am hanging my fingernails on the rock face paralyzed with fear of the impending fall into the unknown abyss. I love my son. The fear that I am losing him is an emotionally menacing untenable threat.  It is a dark place.

Maybe that is why I have been searching for ways to reframe the conversations going on in my head. There may be something instructive in the experience of my youth. It may be time to let go of the rock face that I have been holding on to so desperately and trust that the floor is not as far away as it feels. It may be time to let others shine light on the hurts and offer help. It is possible that the bottom is as dark and painful as the fear…………..but maybe not. Either way, it is time to let go, and pray to find our feet on safe ground again quickly.
It’s time to have faith……….and let go……

The Labor of Adoption

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Today my 17 year old son asked me for a picture frame.  He pulled his well worn life book out of the closet, and brought it to the diningroom table.  He thoughtfully selected  pictures from the lifebook and created a collage that he wants to hang in his room.  Among the pictures are those from his infancy; some with his biological mom and dad, and some of siblings.  He approached me with a picture of a beautiful little girl with a huge familiar smile. In faded pen across the bottom of the polaroid were the words “your sister”, and was signed with”love” from family member.  He approached me with the picture and asked if I knew her name, or what became of her……….I don’t….

This exercise was a painful reminder that I share my son with others. The emotions that occupy a mothers soul during these moments are torrents of conflict.  Unlike the labor of a natural birth, the labor of adoption is physical, emotional, and spiritual work that is done over years of life.  For those who would adopt, it is wise to understand the nature of this labor.  It is a truth that although we don’t share the same genetic background, or ethnicity, I have long ago allowed my mind to forget that this child was not “mine” from his birth. I claim him, I love him, I am connected inseverably to him.  This is my reality.  Adoptive parents however must reconcile to the fact that “their reality:” is not the only one.  My son’s reality is fuller. In his heart there are rooms which are occupied by increasingly opaque memories of faces that look more like his own. In still other room, there are the latent chimera of all that might  have been. He holds the keys to these rooms close.  There is an unspoken awareness that opening those doors is some how dangerous.  Dangerous because they may cause hurt to family, dangerous because bringing those emotions into the light causes pain to himself. Dangerous because they represent all the unknowns of his life.

Experience has shown me that the years between 14 and 20 are  pretty challenging times. Even children with the wind at thier backs can have moments when they feel the world is against them, and that parent understand less than nothing about their hopes, fears and hurts. Having lived through this age with two older sons, I have learned to hang on and enjoy the ride.  The material difference is that I have never questioned that when the rollercoaster came to a stop my sons will still be my sons, and that they would never question that.  Parenting an adopted child adds a dimension of menace to a mother’s worst fears. What if this son walks away?

Now the questions; do I love enough to encourage him to open doors? Am I fearless enough to hear his hopes and apply my heart to them regardless of where they lead? …..and the most profound question…Am I willing to risk losing him?

Here is truth; Love cannot be compelled, nor held captive.  If you choose to love a child that was not born to you, at some point your heart will be tested. Can you hold on tight enough to be willing to let go? The labor of adoption is worked out in this question and is only answered in faith.

I trust my son to find his truth.  And I love him enough to walk through those locked doors with him.

Some of us think holding on makes us strong; but sometimes it is letting go.
– Hermann Hesse

A Word on Forgiveness

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I was at an IEP meeting for Bryce last Monday.  We were reviewing the data from a recent neuropsych eval and trying to glean off any bit of new information that may help Bryce in the classroom. This was a particularly interesting meeting because we have been generally trending towards better behaviors since the beginning of the year, The Friday before the meeting however, Bryce had an explosive episode during an activity in the regular ed classroom.  I was anxious to hear the teacher that was involved, talk about her perspective about what happened. Here is the shortened version:

Bryce attends “specials” in the regular ed classroom.  Friday he was there for a Junior Achievement presentation.  He was apparently feeling some anxiety and was beginning to “act out.  He was asking to go back to his emotional support class. Not only did his teacher decline, but she threatened to negatively mark his behavior chart. ( losing behavior points results in no gym time at the end of the day.) As she related her version of events, I could imagine Bryce feeling trapped,scared, and frustrated. At one point, he spontaneously bolted out of the room and headed to the other classroom.  If the teacher would have left this alone, we would be talking about a far different result. As it was, she opted to follow Bryce to the cassroom waving the behavior chart, and informing the teachers aide that he would have to lose gym time. Bryce’s response to what he percieved as a threat was to punch said teacher in the back (she is 7 months pregnant)……….

When you are parenting in the patch, certain things cause your heart to race and bile to come up in your throat.  Seeing the school’s phone number on my caller ID or hearing that my son has just assaulted a pregnant teacher are both qualifying offenses. I was sufficiently mortified to apologize profusely to the teacher in question, although I felt like there may be something to be learned from what happened.  I knew in my gut that Bryce was experiencing fear and he was looking for a way to retreat. It is telling that the “assault” didn’t happen until he ran away from a high anxiety situation, and the teacher pursued him into his “safe” place.  Now I happen to know that Bryce loves BOTH his Regular Ed and Emotional Support teachers. But obviously he feels safer with the Emotional Suport Teacher.  I felt like we might get close to something very important if we could figure out why.  So, we started to  pick it apart……Both women love Bryce….both women are competent educators…..both women manage their classrooms effectively……and then the emo. supp. teacher said somthing that shot through the air like lightening for me…  She said ,”Bryce knows that when he makes a mistake, it can be corrected, and we start fresh – I don’t hold grudges, and I don’t throw his past mistakes at him”.    AND THE ANGELS SANG 🙂  This was profound.  In debriefing, we learned that Byce was beginning to feel that he didnt understand what to do during the JA activity.  The teacher, (trying to be encouraging) told him ” he could do it….sit down and focus”, when he didnt respond the way she wanted – she threatened. When he retreated, – she pursued….. As a result, their relationship has changed a bit, and that makes me sad.

What a powerful concept!….. that forgiveness creates peace, safety, healing, opportunity for change, limitless potential.  Think about what might happen if our children truly believed that when things go wrong, that there is always a way back to regulation, and that feeling of peacefulness. What Bryce’s emotional support teacher is doing so marvelously is creating an environment where Bryce feel’s safe to make a mistake and try again, knowing that she believes he can do better……No punitive judgements, just the forward inertia of faith.

Now, if we believe that this is a healing and wise practce for our chidren, it follows that we will have the same mercy on ourselves.  Parenting in the patch is hard.  At any given moment situations evolve in rapid fire sequences that make it virtually impossible for even the most skilled parents to get it right every time. It is a foregone conclusion that we will mess up.  When we do, it is important that we model this basic lifskill for our children:

  • Acknowledge that you made a mistake
  • Say you are sorry and ask for forgiveness.
  • Remediate the damage.  Fix what you can.
  • Forgive yourself – and lay it down.
  • Believe that you can do better next time

Make sure your kids see you model this, and equally important, allow them to model it too. When your child makes a mistake:

  • Allow them to acknowledge the mistake and get their head around it.  They can’t do this effectively if you are yelling or guilting.  Let them find the words, and give them enough silence to be able to hear their own heart.
  • Hear ……and accept their apology
  • Help them get a plan to remediate.  It is an important truth that “mercy can’t rob justice”.  Forgiveness does not absolve the need for us to try to make things right, but remediation is not punative. Trying to restore things that have been broken (ie:trust,, safety ect) shows evidence that we understand that someone or something has been hurt.
  • GRANT FORGIVENESS…….this means that we start fresh, and we are not casting the mistake up to the child over and over, or reminding them of their failures.
  • BELIEVE…harness the forward inertia of faith, and convey to your child that although mistakes will happen, you believe in their goodness, and infinite potential.
  • Acknowledge and celebrate good choices.

Psalms 32:1

“Blessed is he whose transgression is forgiven, whose sin is covered..”

Growing Pains

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It has been a tough week for one of our teenagers.  You see, he’s be doing some texting……alot of texting in fact. The problem is that his cell phone plan doesn’t include texting (and he knows this), so each text was costing us money.  The fallout occurred when I got the bill for the overages, totalling $587.40.

So with this lead line, you might think that I am setting up a rant about teenage irresponsibility, or that the sub-title here might be 101 ways to ground your crazy teenager.  If so, what I have to say next may be a disappointment.

First, let me say that when I discovered almost $600 of overages on our phone bill, I was ……..”displeased”.  In fact I was hyperventilating while speed dialing my son, and mentally rehearsing every  curse word in my limited vocabulary.  I was hoping it was a mistake. I was disappointed, hurt, frustrated, confused, and angry………very…….very angry.  After confirming that he was indeed responsible for the mess we found ourselves in, and realizing that it would be a full 4 hours before he got home from school, (and I could get my hands on him ) I took a few deep breaths and called my husband. when the rage started to calm, we decided together that would wait for a day before we sat down together to try to sort this out. In retrospect, I am really grateful that we took a bit of time to gain some focus and consider what we wanted to accomplish.

Without relating the minutia, let me say that the conversation the next day accomplished a few things;

  • our son’s phone privileges are temporarily gone while he works to make restitution of the debt that his choices created.  This is the mechanical /” cause and effect” part of parenting. It is necessary, but mere correction and restitution are NOT the  primary objectives. So what is???…….
  • The infinitely more important things that happened in that conversation are that we were able to convey the following to our son: 1) Your value and worth to those who know and love you is far greater than $587.40.  2) Our anger and frustration is not based in our belief that you are “bad” but rather in our absolute knowledge that you are “good” and have made a choice that didn’t honor your own worth. 3) Mistakes are opportunites…….for growth, course correction, learning, land increased peace.
  • And perhaps most importantly, it was an opportunity to share a truth; Every soul who walk the Earth ,(including mom and dad) inevitably make mistakes. It is part of the human condition.  The miracle is that we get to change, learn and grow. And we BELIEVE in you.

Perhaps one of the most important things that parents do is frame a child’s opinion of their potential. We help them catch the vision of the greatness within themselves, and burn it in their consciousness by anticipating its realization.  it is the forward inertia of faith rather than the destructive cycle of judgement and ridicule that allows us to grow.

So, we are down  by $600 and it will probably take 6 months or so to get it back.  I count it as time and money well spent if he has a greater understanding that mercy can’t rob justice, but love doesn’t run.

Tethered by a thin silk thread…..

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I have had a very introspective weekend…. I experienced a professional  loss, and then Rick and I found out that a friend is battling cancer.  This news gave rise to some poignant conversation about life, family, and the finite nature of our time in this place.  This summer Rick and I will celebrate our 31st anniversary.  I have spent a fair amount of time considering the anomolys nature of our relationship. You see, 17 year olds who marry 21 year olds after a 3 month courtship, don’t typically get to talk about their 8 children and their happy relationship 30+ years later.  Such a gift deserves some consideration. 

Three decades of time find us in a comfortable rhythm of well-worn habits, and traditions. But it hasn’t always been so…… In fact, as a teenage bride, I challenged, tested, fought, fussed, cried, threatened, screamed ……(not every day…that I recall), but more often than I would care to admit.  In retrospect, I am embarrassed to confess that I gave rise to more than a few pouting, fit throwing, bouts during our “honeymoon” years.    Wait a minute!…..this sounds familiar doesn’t it?  Hmm…”.challenging, fit throwing,crying threatening, screaming”…….Where have you heard that before?  Yep; sounds like a typical day in the patch doesn’t it? 

My introspection has caused some truths to settle on me today.  I was studying these dozens of years, and looking for wisdom.  How is it that two kids who started in that precarious place have arrived safely on the other side.  Understanding this rather miraculous event could shed some light on how we might navigate  life here in the patch.  Afterall, some of the issues that I had at the beginning of our marriage journey are not dissimilar to  the issues facing our RADish.  FEAR…..of abandonment….of attachment…..of losing control…..of change……..of the unknown….were undoubtedly at the crux of my unsettledness. (just as they are for our RADish).  So…I asked myself; “What caused the change?”….”When did fear give way to peace?”…..”How can I re-create these conditions for our RADish?”

 Here is truth;  I am tethered to my husband by a fine, imperceptible, but infinitely strong thread.  I learned very early on in this relationship that he was anchored, strong and fixed,  He was immovable.  Nothing I said or did that may have given offense, or pushed a lesser man away would budge him an inch.  Nor would he demand that my behavior change.  The landmarks on the map of our lives together were carved on my heart over the years as water cuts through stone.  I simply came to believe certain truths as Rick demonstrated them over and over again.  He could be trusted, …..he loved me – unconditionally….    Moreover, he trusted me, sometimes when I hadn’t earned it. I was never compelled, but he always expected that there would be reciprocity. When I fell short, there was no judgement, only the forward inertia of faith.   I have been free to be every thing I could dream.  He has encouraged the flights of fancy, and consoled the failures.  At moments when I raged, he stood stoically against the storm. Ignored my weaknesses and extolled my virtues.

 My husband drives a truck for a living.  By the world’s standards, he is not a wealthy or influential man.  But I say truthfully that he is the most remarkable man of my acquaintance, and his influence on me has been profound.  He seems to have instinctively learned a truth that many people never grasp.  The most powerful, healing form of love is one that will fix itself to stand anchored firmly against any raging storm. It is the love that will never compel reciprocity, but anticipates it with faith.  It is the love that waits.  It is the love that creates peace from fear.  Yes, this weekend I realized that me and my little RADish have much more in common than I might have first thought.  The antithesis of fear is love…..just as the darkness from the light.  Healing happens in the patch as our RADishes learn that they are free to choose, and we are anchored here in love that can’t be moved, or changed or discarded.  The fine threads that bind us together are spun every time the water cuts through stone.  

I Corinthians 13:4

4 Charity suffereth long, and is kind Charity envieth not; charity vaunteth not itself, is not puffed up,

 5 Doth not behave itself unseemly, seeketh not her own, is not easily provoked, thinketh no evil;

 6 Rejoiceth not in iniquity, but rejoiceth in the truth;

 7 Beareth all things, believeth all things, hopeth all things, endureth all things.