Our Family

Our Family
Our Family: Pops, Me, The Teenager, The Boy, The Freckle Faced Ninja, Miss Priss, Miss Sassy Pants, Madi-Lou-Who, & Dora the Explorer

Thursday, November 24, 2011

Why Homeschooling

When we decided to home-school, it was after a particularly trying year last year.  Teaching has, for some time, become a challenge.  Not in a good way.  I had begun associating my job as a teacher of Kindergarten and 1st graders with paperwork, an overly messy classroom, an endless amount of planning, preparing, filling out, grading, ....the list is endless.  I would have four hours worth of work many nights, after I left school two hours after the kids did.  When it was just Gabby, I felt guilty that she was getting so little of me.  She'd stay late with me at school, frequently eating fast food for dinner, and sit by my side while I worked on school work long into the night.  I was short-tempered and frazzled.

When we suddenly went from just Gabby to 4 joys in our life, I found that I went from short-tempered and frazzled to desperate.  I wanted these children so badly I had ached in my heart for them and I was turning them over to others to raise.  Now this is not a condemnation on working mothers so get off your high horse if you're feeling all ruffled that you're working and putting kids in daycare.  This is my story, not a commentary on your choices!  If you can swing working and parenthood, you are amazing in my book!

Our days were a study in how fast can I get these kids to move.  How fast can you eat breakfast?  How fast can they get dressed?  How quickly can I get them in the car without chaos ensuing?  Never wake them up sooner than necessary because who knows what might happen!  Drop off quickly, more chaos and crying.  Late for work.  Rush.

Same after school.  Stayed too late.  Rush to pick them up.  Last ones there again.  Ugh!  Lydia's belligerent because she'd been left so late.  Pretending she'd had a good day until I saw the note.  Rush home.  Cram something that didn't involve cooking into them, baths, bed.  Somewhere in there try to figure out how to get Will's homework done and address Lydia's behavior for the day.  Collapse for 15 minutes then drag out the school stuff.  Work until midnight if I was lucky.  1 or 2 am if I wasn't so lucky.  At some point try not to cry when I realized there'd been no bedtime stories.  No singing to sleep.  No tender hugs.  I was otherwise occupied.

Will did great in school thanks to his wonderful kindergarten teacher.  He was with me at school so we saw each other lots but I was distracted.  Busy.  He felt in the way.  He was fighting to feel accepted, to overcome food issues, bonding issues, and I was otherwise occupied.

Gabby, full of teenage hormones and was struggling to discover her identity; Struggling with this huge change in her life;  And she was silently crying out for my attention. But I was otherwise occupied.    At one point Gabby decided to run away.  She only lasted about an hour but as she ran away from school, that was long enough that it scared all of us.  Desperation gave way to terror and I began begging God for help.  "Oh Lord, you've given me more than I'm capable of.  I can't do all this.  My children are getting the short end of the stick.  Help."

Madi was doing normal things that a 2 year old does but those tantrums and defiance seemed so much bigger than normal in view of everything else.  She loved school and her teacher but I was missing the hours she was awake.  I was otherwise occupied.

And Lydia.  My Lydia.  She was so willful.  So hurt-filled.  So angry.  And I was so unprepared for how much I would come to love her, hurt for her, understand her, and not know how to help her.  We enrolled her in Pre-K and warned them from the start that this would be a bumpy year.  She lured us into a false sense of security by having a perfect first couple weeks.  Then the battle began.

The notes became a blur: "Lydia kicked the teacher today.  Lydia hit her friend.  Lydia grabbed and threw several children's lunches away before they could eat today.  Lydia spit on the teacher.  Lydia had a meltdown because she didn't get to paint today."  She probably had to leave the room more than 100 times over the course of the year.  We tried every traditional and creative thing we could think of in the way of rewards and consequences.  We even had "magic boots" that make you make behave.  Yeah, that worked for about 2 days.  Many days I just put her to bed as soon as I could.  I mean, 5 pm is an acceptable bed time right?  I didn't know what else to do with her.  Our wonderful counselor who came with glowing reviews was turning out to be not so wonderful.

Total frustration.  "God, please help us.  We're at the end of what we know to do."

He answered, "My child, I gave you those children to care for.  I did not give you the others in your classroom.  As precious as they are, they already have parents to care for them."

"But God, we barely make it by now and we're trying to find a bigger house.  That'll cost more.  How will we get by if I quit my job?"

"My child, I'm telling you what to do.  How it will happen is up to me.  You don't control that.  I will take care of it.  You're job is to seek me."

Crap.  That isn't the answer I was looking for.  I was looking for a plan of action.  A 3 step plan.  Ever feel like that?  God is telling you to do something and in your heart you desire to do it but it's scary because you can't see how it could happen?  When we first decided to adopt the kids it was that way.  But somehow I'd been able to trust easier with that.  This felt like jumping off a cliff with out a net.

But God gently worked on us.  Guiding us to realize He was in control and would take care of everything.  So we took the plunge.  It has not been easy.  There are days when I am not so emotionally prepared for spending all day with 2 emotionally raw children.  Other days, I'm at the top of my game and handle everything they throw at me with grace and don't even yell at them (rare but it happens).  And then there are the other days.  The days when we just seem like a normal family.  Days when their past is not threatening to overwhelm their present.  Days of just living, loving, and learning.  And I love those days!

We have busy, hurrying days still.  But now we are hurrying so we can go to Gabby's school for a Veteran's Day program.  We are hurrying to go outside and decide which is the most beautiful color in all the fall leaves we see.  There are bedtime stories, songs, and I smile a lot more.

Tony's favorite thing is that I make him breakfast and lunch each day.

Gabby loves that if she calls me, I will be there to answer the phone.  I heard Gabby say something about her sister the other day  and realized it was the first time I'd heard her refer to one of her siblings as a sister not, "the kids".

I'm not the most organized, go on tons of field-trips, teaching fantastic lessons, home-schooling mom.  But instead we are making the most of our days, catching up on the cuddling and holding they missed as babies.  We're making up for missed childhood play instead of dealing with grown-up situations.  We're doing our best to soothe their wounds and still bewildered at how to help with some.

And the 3 step plan we hoped for?  Nope, nada, nothing.  But God has made it happen.  Someone commented to me, "it just doesn't make sense on paper, does it?"  Nope.  We should not be able to survive but I'm realizing God's economy isn't the same as ours.   Just when we think, how are we gonna make this work, He sends the answer.  Out of the blue.  And we are doing more than just surviving.  We're thriving.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Break My Heart

Play While you Read

This song just keeps spinning around in my head.  It's been there for several days and I couldn't figure out what it was.  The line, "Break my heart for what breaks yours" just kept playing over and over.  Like a record that was stuck.  

I tried to sing it yesterday (yikes!).  But Gabby just smiled and broke out into the song for me.  Relief, now I know what it is.  As many other songs I hear, those words just won't go away from my mind.  The last verse goes like this:

"Heal my heart and make it clean, 
Open up my eyes to the things unseen, 
Show me how to love like You have loved me
Break my heart for what breaks Yours, 
Everything I am for Your Kingdom's cause, 
As I walk from earth into eternity."

I read the other day that there are an estimated 163 million orphans worldwide.  There are 500,000 children in the U. S. Foster Care system.  It's hard to wrap my mind around that number.  Too many faces to comprehend.  What does that mean?  What does it look like?

Yesterday I met I woman who had a beautiful 20 month old that she and her husband have adopted from China.  That precious child has been with them for 7 months.  As we talked, we both recognized the bond adoptive parents seem to have almost instantly.  It's a different kind of pregnancy and labor.  One of endless waiting.  She saw a picture of her daughter and spent months looking at that picture wondering who was tucking her in at night.  Who was feeding her?  Kissing boo-boos?  I was in tears just listening to those few questions.  How well I remember.

Another friend got to hold a beautiful 3 month old baby.  They never thought they'd want to adopt an infant, but here they were in an orphanage Kyrgyzstan. Half a world away.  Expecting to meet a 4 or 5 year old when someone placed this baby in her arms.  She and her husband fell in love.  4 years later.  Still waiting on the home country to begin approving adoptions again.  The mom and dad are so amazingly strong, I cannot imagine.  4 years of  praying, hoping, waiting, wondering.  Who is tucking her in at night?  What does she like to eat?  Does anyone hug her when she's scared?  I cannot contain tears at the thought.  

Another family had to wait for news of heart surgery on their precious child, a world away, in China.  Paperwork hold ups, lost paperwork, frustration.  Finally after so many months, they were able to go get their daughter.  I read her story of wondering.  Wondering who was comforting the healing baby after surgery?  Was she scared of the dark?  Did she have a favorite teddy bear?  I watch the whole family hold her with such a look of contentment and love now that she is with them.

I met a couple in September who is adopting a child from the Ukraine.  They had to have the paperwork in and many very expensive fees paid before her 16th birthday (October 2011) or she would have been turned out of the orphanage to live on her own.  I remember feeling panic for them.  As they talk with her on the phone, she is so frustrated, trying to understand why it's taking so long.  I imagined this sweet 16 year old living on her own suddenly.  She's only a little older than Gabby.  It made me shudder.

163 million orphans.  500,000.  So hard to wrap my head around those numbers.  Until I hear the stories.  Then my heart breaks.  

I remember our waiting.  Wondering.  Anger at reading what they'd experienced.  And our children are some of the luckier ones.  

I remember being told they had to return to the foster home for a month after a week long visit with us.  I thought I could handle it.  Until I held them.  Rocked them. Cried for them.  Smelled their hair.  I could not send them back.  Send them away like so many others.  

163 million.  500,000.  I want to hold them all in ways they SHOULD have been held since birth.  Children who have known anger, neglect, loneliness, hunger, isolation.  Never security, safety, caresses, nurturing.  My heart breaks.  

Now I know why that song will not leave my head.  God broke my heart long ago.  For these children.  

For Samantha* who replayed her parents violent fight in cartoon strips in her writing journal.  She described her father insisting her mother abort the most recent pregnancy.  Number 4 child.  Too many to feed.  She would wear her father's undershirts to school as a shirt.  Neighbors described them not being allowed in the house during the days in the summer.  Locked out.  Without shoes.  July heat.  While their parents were at work.  She was 6 years old.  Her brother and sister were 8 and 3.  I had the privilege of loving her for 10 months until she moved on to 1st grade.  My heart breaks.  

For Gail* who was in the same class as Samantha.  Who was brilliant and violent.  Who smelled and had lice all year long.  Who was removed for a season for sexual abuse then returned home.  The rainy day our principal had to drive her home is burned in my memory.  No one answered the locked door.  Gail used an umbrella to undo the chain lock on the inside of the door.  Mom was passed out and would not wake up.  I remember holding her through violent outbursts, protecting the other children from flying chairs.  Restraining her but wanting to hold her, get her to cry and share her fears, tell her it would be alright.  All through elementary school she would come back to visit me.  I still see her occasionally, running around the houses near the school.  And I wonder.  Does anyone hold her?  Is she scared of the dark?  Does she remember that I love her?  And my heart breaks.  

For a Compassion sponsored child I read about.  He lives in the Amazon.  Mother gone.  Father went up the river to another village for work.  Took his brother but left him to fend for himself.  Alone.  Living in a hut.  Once a week the father leaves food on his porch but no contact.  No hugs.  All Alone.  My heart breaks.

All of these precious children.  163 million.  7,700.  The faces swirl through my head as tears come again.  I seem to cry easily these days.  As my heart breaks, I wonder where I have been all these years.  Why I was numb to them.  We intended to adopt sooner, talked about doing foster care "one day down the road" and I wonder.  While these babes had no one to hold them, what was I doing?  I cannot hold them all but can I...what?  What can do?  I ache for them, the "unwanted" children.  

I try to imagine a child of 17 here, in America, with no ties to a family.  I wonder what will happen to them?  Will they go back to their birth family?  To violence or neglect?  Will they seek a better life?  Will they drift, unattached?  Do they have anyone to guide them?  Are they scared of the dark?  I wonder.  And my heart breaks.  

I seem to have a perpetual ache in my heart now.  I love my children so dearly and their past seems so distant sometimes.  But I ache for the times they were scared or confused and we weren't there yet to comfort them.  My heart breaks for all the 7 year old boys somewhere in the world who do not have a family to help them understand the hard things of life.  I ache for all the 5 year old girls who just wants to be loved, be told they are beautiful but thinks you have to be "cute" like a baby to be loved. 

I do not know what God has called you to in your life, but I hope He breaks your heart for it, as it breaks His.  It is overwhelming.  But it is a path I would not turn from if given the choice.  As my heart breaks, it is being healed at the same time; becoming more clean.  A little less selfish, more aware.  My eyes are opened and I wonder.

125,000 children in U.S. foster care are waiting for a "forever home" through adoption
There are between 7,700 and 10,000 children in foster care in the state of Georgia alone.
Georgia has about 1/2 it's needed number of foster homes.  

If you feel God has called you to foster or adopt, please don't turn away from that calling.  

If you don't feel called to foster or adopt, but want to help in some way, there are a multitude of ways you can support a foster or adoptive parent (prayer, meals, babysitting, tutoring, transportation, to name a few)!!  A good resource in the North Fulton/Gwinnett area is Promise686, an adoption and foster care ministry begun out of Perimeter Church in Duluth, GA.  www.promise686.org.  They are on Facebook as well.  

a father to the fatherless...God sets the lonely in familiesPsalm 68:6

Friday, November 18, 2011

No Sugar?! Are you nuts?

So we are a no sugar family.  Except on those rare occasions when mommy or daddy suspends the rules, like Thanksgiving.  I mean, who can say no to pecan pie or pumpkin pie cheese cake?  Of course I'm feverishly trying to come up with a sugar-free version!  

But most people think we're nuts.  Foolish.  Someone recently stated on FB, "Call me weird...but I don't restrict my kids from any foods.  Our huge bowl of candy is out in the open and hasn't been touched in four days.  They only want/go crazy for that which they can't have.  I never have to worry about what they eat or how they act when I'm not around.  Everything in moderation is our motto."  

My first thought after I read this was, "Who is the bigger fool?  The fool or the fool who follows him?"  Not really appropriate but you can't go wrong with a good Star Wars quote!  

But it did make me pause to think.  What is moderation?  We have 2 hypoglycemics in our household so sugar moderation is very different here. 

One of my friends said she let her kids have a few pieces, like we did, and tossed the rest.  All her friends went nuts!  Like she was doing a disservice not contributing to rotten teeth and childhood obesity!  I think having a couple pieces then tossing the rest IS moderation.  But apparently my children not having cake at a birthday party makes me the equivalent to Mama Hitler.  So what are the adults that say no, diet Nazi's?

It just seems like we're all so focused on pleasure that we can't be swayed from it even if it is proven to be a terrible thing for us.  There are some things that are just black and white but rather than take a stand we say, "It's complicated."  Really?  OK.  sugar is toxic to the human body.  It essentially poisons you and acts like a drug (similar to cocaine) in the brain.  But to say no to my kids when they ask for a candy bar in the store is complicated?  No, the truth is that I want a pack of Reeces Pieces so if I say yes to them, I can eat mine in piece and not have to share it!  

How can it be moderation when every trip to the grocery store, our carts are full of sugary cereals and other fake foods?  Our excuse is, "my kids have a fit and won't eat healthy foods".  Well, that doesn't really fly because frankly, your kids will eat what's on their plates if they get hungry enough.  Our son has some serious food issue due to food deprivation at an early age.  Should I tell him he can have what he wants and let him continue to depend on food for comfort? Should I tell him, just eat in "moderation" and hope he understands?  

When our kids first came to us they were used to a sugary, junk food filled diet.  Sure they had things like spaghetti, hamburgers, pork chops, etc.  But that was once a day at dinner.  Healthy food was given in moderation, junk all the rest of the day.  Sure he and Lydia balked when I gave them only whole wheat bread, made the try avocado, and eat 2 pieces of raw broccoli.  Sure they fussed when I told them I don't EVER buy candy and treats at the grocery store.  They had to learn that the word "no" IS and answer, despite their desire for a yes!  

So I'm partial to the whole no sugar argument.  Let's take a different subject.  Can an alcoholic or drug addict use "in moderation"?  No is the only answer there, and if they are honest with themselves, they know it.  How about honesty.  If my child lies to me "in moderation", it's still lying.  Should I condone it?  And where is the line between my kid "moderately" misbehaving and being a pain in the back side?  What about pornography.  As a wife, are you OK with your husband looking at it "in moderation"?  I could keep going.  But in our society, when a person says, "There is no gray area in this topic.  It's either this or this."  We consider them intolerant.  Especially if we disagree with them.  

When you put things in a Christian perspective, God did not say should, maybe, or will you think about it, when he stated things in his word.  Jesus called us to be the salt and the light to the world.  He came that we might have more life and live it fully.  But somehow, instead we think I'll just do things in moderation.  Wow, are we missing out!  Jesus came to give us MORE life!  Richer, fuller, more exciting.  But we'd rather live in the gray areas of moderation.  

But where does moderation give way to excess?  Where is the line that I stepped over that finds me out of shape and 30 lbs heavier than I know I should be.  It was invisible.  I wasn't paying attention.  Which cookies or slice of pizza did it?  Which time that I decided not to exercise stopped it for good?  

When God gave the Ten Commandments, none of them began, "Maybe you shouldn't..."  "Thou shalt..."  It's a command.  An order.  But we seem to think that those rules shackle us too much.  If we just live in moderation things will be fine.  Ever see a young child run from their parents?  They are running to what they perceive as freedom.  Every adult around instead sees the bigger picture.  The car coming straight at the child.  The drop to a cement walkway at the bottom of the wall they are running along.  We take in things they don't see and we realize that our safe boundaries, however restricting feeling to the child, are freeing in that we put them in a place they can run and not get hurt.    

God is our heavenly parent and he sees things we can't see.  Our perspective isn't the same.  In Corinthians, it says our bodies are a temple.  The temple in Jerusalem was the most holy place.  Equating my body to that, certainly changes my perspective!  Shouldn't I steer away from things that are just "pleasurable" but don't actually do good for me?  

I Corinthians 6:12, 19-20  12 All things are lawful for me, but not all things are helpful.  All things are lawful for me, but I will not be enslaved by anything.  19 Or do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, whom you have from God?  You are not your own, 20 for you were bought with a price.  So glorify God in your body.  

Now I know I'm gonna make some enemies on this one (even more than by not letting my kids have sugar)!  But, there are millions of women right now (notice it's almost entirely women) who are addicted to the whole Twilight series.  To the extent that they will stay up to go to a middle of the night showing.  Hmm.  Sort of like relational porn for women.  But other than lusting after another man, what exactly does all of that do for you that's good?  Isn't lusting after him the same as committing adultery in our hearts and minds?  I wonder.  I'm not knocking you if that's you, I've been there too, just another book, a different movie.  Many of them.  

See that's Satan's trick.  Make it look so innocent, moderate, that it seems harmless.  But after the movie we drive home to our messy house, our complaining kids, and our once fit hubby who needs to lose a few pounds and snores.  Discontent.  The more Edwards we lust after, the less our own husbands satisfy.  The more our own marriages and lives seem to fall short.  So we go to the fridge and pull out the soother of our choice (wine, ice cream, pizza).  The next day we look at our sagging chest, our expansive waist line and sigh.  

How does all that glorify God?  It doesn't.  So just like we have to tell our children NO (and some people should do it more frequently!)  we have to begin telling ourselves no too.  

Here's the awesome part though.  If you ask Him, God will help you say no.  He wants your life to be full of joy!  He wants you to be free from anything that could have a hold on you.  He wants you to have true freedom, safely in His arms.  What is it that you are putting in your body/mind/heart that is unhealthy for you?  What are you with holding from your body/mind/heart that it desperately needs?  

So ask him today.

This new puppy wasn't what I had in mind!

Sir Winston Churchill Gonzalez
We got a new puppy about 2 weeks after Gideon died.  We all love him but had a bit of a hard time attaching to him at first.  He was too hyper.  Chewed too much.  Too little like our sweet, docile Gideon.  Yikes!  We began to wonder at times if we'd made the right decision.  Could we handle this bundle of energy?  Would we go nuts before we got him trained to our way of life?!  

Reminds me of the first year after we adopted Will, Lydia, and Madi.  That whole honeymoon period?  Yeah, that lasted about 2 days!  Then?  The tantrums, biting, food issues, emotional roller coasters in all 6 of us...AAAHHH!  I distinctly remember wondering on so many occasions if I had what it took to do this.  I mean, I know God doesn't make mistakes, doesn't give us anything he doesn't give us the tools the handle; But really?  I was drowning.  I was so overwhelmed with their needs that normal life threatened to take me down (I cried on many occasions over the laundry! 

God had planted a desire for these children in our hearts but love, it grows out of those seeds as they are nurtured.  It doesn't spring up over night.  It takes time.  I knew the reality.  I knew it would be hard and I knew we would struggle.  But knowing is not the same as living it.  I knew we were doing what God wanted us to do.  

But I'd fallen in love with a picture.  Just like seeing Winston, our puppy, on the shelter website.  A picture doesn't show some one's heart any more than it shows a puppy's true personality.  It doesn't tell you they still hope they can go home to their old parents.  It doesn't tell you they're afraid of thunder (that'd be Winston).  It doesn't tell you that they will freak in public in ways only you can tell but that strangers just think your 5 year old acts like a 2 year old all the time.  It doesn't tell you that they will wake up every morning and need to check to make sure you are still in the house and they haven't been left.  

A picture shows a smile but behind the smile is so much more.   When our kids came for real, there were times when I wasn't sure I even like them and wondered how I could fall in love with them!   I was scared I was failing as a mom to these kids who so desperately needed me to succeed.  I was aware of all the possible issues they COULD come to us with.  I wasn't prepared to deal with them on a heart level.  

Madi and Lydia
I got irritated every time Lydia uttered a cuss word (oh yeah, she even knew the "F dash dash dash" word as Ralphie would say!).  I got frustrated that Will wouldn't slow down when he ate, to the point of choking and...ick!  I became exhausted with the constant, daily challenges Lydia was giving her teachers and classmates at school and cried more times than I can count over not knowing how to help her.  I grew cranky every time Madi wanted to be picked up...every 15 seconds...all day long....

Gabby had always been so easy.  They were too hard, too loud, too scarred.  Why couldn't they just fit into our family?  Had God chosen the right parents for these children?  Was I going to do more damage than good?  

Will and Gabby
Gradually, over the year, Madi became accustomed to not being held 24/7.  Will still eats too fast and worries that we will leave him.  He's aware of his fears now and trying to learn to trust us to always feed him and always be there.  Lydia is still our strong-willed child but the cuss words have disappeared as have almost all the tantrums and acting out.  She's now the sweetest, most kind-hearted of all.  She still acts funny in public at times but calms down with just a hug and a reminder that she's safe.  

We have learned with our puppy, to put valuables up high and not to freak too much when he chews through the rung of a chair.  His hyperness is calming down occasionally, giving us all hope for the future.  But we're becoming used to it.  And at times, it's even becoming endearing!  We've adjusted and he's becoming trained (sort of) in how we want him to act.      

Our kids are loud, they run through the house, they argue and hit, but thankfully none of them chews on the furniture!  Somehow, instead of "fitting in" to our family the way it was, we have begun to fit to each other.   

Those seeds of desire that God planted have begun to blossom in to enjoying and loving my children; And knowing they are mine.  

Friday, November 11, 2011

Cats and Dogs

OK all you doggy types, I am a confirmed cat person.  Always have been.  I don't like slobbery, high maintenance, fur-shedding types.  Love to pet other people's doggies, just never wanted my own.  Cats are low maintenance, fun for the whole family!  Cat box, spot of sunshine, a bowl of food and you're good to go.  Got a flashlight or laser pointer and the cat is fun for the whole family (they will chase that dot for days without figuring out it's not really there).  We had a cat, who each time the toilet flushed, would rush to the bathrooms, put her front paws on the seat and watch the swirling vortex of fun!  

So for years I have fought the family requests from Tony and Gabby, then the littles when they came along, for a dog.  "No, we don't have a fenced yard."  "No we're gone too much."  I knew I was fighting a losing battle when I stopped working.  Home all day.  Uh oh!  

When Tony said, "Look, dog adoptions.  Let's stop in just to 'pet the puppies'."  Right!  The second time we did that, we came home with one.  Surprise, surprise!

Gideon became a part of our family.  And yes we voted on names.  Thankfully "Sharky" didn't win.  Much to certain people's disappointment, neither did "Methuselah" though!   He weighed about 5 pounds and as Tony put it, we don't need a fenced yard for a 5 pound puppy who's ears are too big for his head (little Skippy Jon Jones is what we should have named him!) and can barely make it up and down the porch steps to go potty!  The kids loved the idea that they had adopted him just like we adopted them.  They wondered if he missed his old family and promised to be a good family for him.

From the beginning I was adamant that he belonged in the kitchen (picture Lady and the Tramp), yet on the first night I couldn't look at those little puppy eyes and leave him alone all night!  So off to sleep with us he went.  I actually gloated to Tony if he chose to sleep with me, not him (he did the same thing!).  He'd curl up in this little ball in my underarm and shiver until he got warm.  I took him everywhere I went and called him "my baby".  OK, I was pretty smitten with the little guy!  

That was our first clue some thing wasn't right.  Constant shivering.  He never seemed healthy.  Slept too much, ate too little, too little muscle tone.  After our second vet visit with weird symptoms, we got an antibiotic and anti-inflammatory for fever.  Unfortunately that's how we discovered he had something called "liver shunt".  

He began hallucinating then had a seizure.  Of course these things don't happen in the middle of the day on a Tuesday so we rushed him to a middle of the night vet clinic ($$$$$).  Turns out his liver wasn't working so he was not getting rid of toxins from his shots, meds, etc.  So here I am with a puppy I didn't want, crying in the vet office because to fix this he's gonna need an expensive surgery, IF they can fix it.  So I take him home so we can figure out what's going on.  As soon as the meds they gave him wore off, he started seizing again.  For 12 hours we watched him in constant seizures.  Total agony!

We kept him hidden from the kids so they didn't see what he looked like.  I cried like a baby to both mine and Tony's mom's.  I cried out to God.  How could he let our kids, who had lost so much, suffer more?  This puppy was supposed to be a bonding experience, not a painful one!  I prayed, please Lord don't do this to them!  

What I really was praying was don't do this to me.  Don't take away this precious little joy.  All I could see was what Gideon meant to me and to my family.  

By the end of the day we realized that he was not going to get better and would not survive a surgery.  We had to put him to sleep. We returned to the vet hospital.  It was the most peaceful thing I've ever seen.  He finally calmed and then just fell asleep.  The sweet people at the vet office made us a foot print to keep.  They even carried him to the car for us and called our regular vet who sent us a card.  Wonder if medical doctors act that way ever.

I cried buckets that day and the next.  No matter what I told God about my kids, I was crying for MY lost joy.  Now my prayer was "How could you do this Lord?  He was just a baby!  And we loved him!"  I felt a bit lost in a fog of misunderstanding.  

Gideon's main position...
sleeping on the couch!
Tony and Will went out and spent their grief digging a hole for us to bury him in.  I helped the girls draw pictures for Gideon and held Gabby while she tried to hide her tears.  All the while asking God, "Why?"  Lydia was darn near inconsolable and Madi still thinks Heaven is the white box we brought Gideon home in.  

After we buried him Tony carried, a manly trying to hide his tears, Will and I carried a sobbing Lydia back to the house.  Halfway there Lydia says, "I miss Gideon.  And I miss my old mom and dad."  Ahhh.  The fog began to lift.  I don't believe God reaches His finger down and taps us on the head and says, "This bad thing is going to happen to you now."  Instead, I think he knows the bad things that are coming and He has His reasons that we cannot fathom for allowing certain ones into our lives while He prevents others that don't serve His purposes.  Because its his purpose that all of this is for.

I felt Him telling me, "Here it is.  Here's the reason.  They need to mourn.  To miss.  To understand."  

My children have all lost something, to differing degrees.  For Madi, there is no conscious thought of this yet.  But Gabby, although there is no memory of her birth family, there is the thought of this connection that she cannot touch.  Cannot explore.   Is just beginning to understand.  For Will and Lydia, it's much more present.  Their old family is present in their thoughts at all times.  Their foster family was their "mom and dad" for almost 2 years of their short lives.  

A child's identity is completely wrapped up in who their parents are.  Were.  Confusion there!  They've had 3 distinctly different sets of parents plus 2 sets of grandparents raising them at different times.  And as they attached to one, it was taken away.  Attached to another, taken away.  They have lost, and lost painfully.  Against their will.  Against their desires.  Multiple times.  For them to understand at this point is almost impossible.  But they must continue to mourn and know that mourning is OK.   

Think of a time you were burned by a bad relationship, whether friendship or dating or spouse.  Were you not gun shy the next time?  More hesitant?  The worse the hurt or betrayal, the more hesitation in the future.  For our kids to bond to us, they have to feel so safe and secure that we will never leave them.   They have to believe we are a "forever family".  Second verse, same as the first...they've heard that line before.  And those people are gone.  Not allowed in their life.   
Gabby comforting an
inconsolable Lydia

So, OK God, I get it.  This was an important experience for them.  I cannot heal them.  Time cannot heal them but will bring understanding.  Hopefully one day Madi will realize Heaven isn't a white box buried in the backyard.  All for of them will begin to understand the why of loss and death.  This is something they will always know as a part of them.  If we help don't mourn the loss, it's as if we're saying it didn't happen, wasn't important.

But how do you help someone deal with a loss that, while painful, was for the best?   A loss that is so connected to who think they are.  

This whole experience was one I wish I didn't have.  Yet there's a part of me that knows it was a beautiful thing.  We got such extreme joy out of loving Gideon.  And God gave me such insight into the hearts of my children the day he died.  It's been over a month and sometimes I still expect to see him curled up on the couch.  The kids talk about him less but still say they miss him on occasion.  

Tony asked me one day, if I had to do it over again, would I still get him if I knew then what I know now.  Yes.  No question.  Because as hard as that time was, the joy I remember and the insight gained, far outweighs the cost.  And seeing my kids reaching for us to soothe their hurt hearts, gives me renewed hope for our bonding as a family.  And a seed of hope is all it takes to keep going.  

Thursday, November 3, 2011

Gabby, adopting an angel

Here is Gabby with her
foster brother AJ
It all started when I said I would do respite care for the Smith* kids.  Their foster mom was having angioplasty and needed some help for a few days while she recuperated.  Now I loved their foster mom so I was willing despite the wild look in Tony's eyes when I told him they were coming to stay.  The oldest was sweet about 1/3 of the time and on her guard the rest.  Very protective of her younger siblings and not inclined to do homework with out a major ordeal.  The middle brother, as the only boy, viewed himself the "man" of the family and would give a tornado a run for its money in energy.  The youngest, would smile at everyone, run up and hug strangers everywhere we went, then tell them her daddy was in jail and her mama was buried.  Their first night with us she poured out a new bottle of shampoo so she could have a bubble bath.  My doubts began right away!  About my sanity and possible parenting abilities!!!   

Towards the end of their week with us, we went to a Memorial Day picnic with the other foster families in the community.  As I sat down near the playground I saw this little fuzzy headed blond thing toddle by me in her red checked dress.  She rummaged through a diaper bag, coming up triumphant with a bottle.  A teen in a wheelchair began fussing at her to put that back but as he didn't have the mobility to stop her, she ran off giggling.  I was fascinated!  I'd heard him call her name and knew who she was.  I had heard she had been adopted yet here she was, still with her foster family!  I wanted to swoop her up and take her home right there!   

Gabby at 2 with Grammy Alice
I left the picnic to take my three charges to visit their foster mom.  Mary and her husband, John, were dears who had had many foster children over the course of their marriage and had adopted several.  She and John treated us like we were kids of their own, feeding us and even doing daycare for us after our adoption.  That day at her house, all I could talk about was Gabby.  I was bubbling over with curiosity!!!  Was she still available to adopt? Would they let us have her?  The department was angry at us because my mother had contacted the National Foster Care Board about how our last adoption (see the post "Alyssa" for the story) was handled.  Apparently they'd come under some scrutiny for how they handled things!

Unbeknownst to me, God was directing paths to converge, starting with that picnic.  That same day, an adoption social worker called Mary, unofficially, to ask if I'd noticed Gabby.  Of course I had and Mary told her how I'd been so excited to know if she was available to adopt.  The worker let Mary know the situation about the department being angry at us and that they were hesitant to let us adopt a child now.  I guess when you mess up, take it out on the ones who suffered for your mistakes, huh?!

Anyway, once she told Mary that, Mary placed a phone call to the supervisor of the department.  She told him in no uncertain terms, that he better make sure that we were able to adopt this baby if she was available to be adopted.  If they didn't she and her husband would quit doing foster care that day!  Do NOT make a Hispanic mama mad about her babies!!!  Needless to say, the adoption worker paid us a visit before long to ask if we'd like to adopt Gabby!  :)

Things seemed to crawl after that but looking back, they moved quickly!  We met "Grammy Alice" soon after when we did respite care for one of her foster babies for 2 nights.  This baby was a few months old but looked newborn and was on a heart monitor.  She barely kept any food down, her reflux was so bad.  And she was super sensitive to touch.  All thanks to the gift of meth in her system in utero!  I'm happy to report that she's a happy, healthy teenager now, but I vividly remember not sleeping for 2 days while she stayed with me!!  Grammy Alice was Gabby's foster mom.  As a nurse, she usually only took very medically fragile children into her home.  She said Gabby was the first "normal" kid she'd had as a foster parent!

Grammy Alice's sweet note on finalizing our adoption
Reindeer Antlers.
Need I say more?
In the middle of talks with the social worker and staying up all night with a heart monitor going off, we left New Mexico for a few weeks to go visit family in Georgia.  While we were there, Gabby was all we talked about.  We asked everyone we knew which name was better, Ana Maria Gonzalez or Gabriela (after the angel Gabriel) Elise Gonzalez.  When we asked my grandfather, his response was, "Just don't call her Gabby.  It reminds me of this toothless, cowhand on a cowboy show back in the day."  :)

After we came back home there was more waiting.  It seems like adoption is all about the wait.  In the movie "Shadow Lands" CS Lewis makes a reference to a bleak winter and feeling discontent, calling it, "This waiting room of the world".  Sometimes it feels like that.  Going through the motions of daily living while really I'm in a waiting room, waiting for the real story to begin.  We filled out paperwork, took classes, and waited.  After a year we got a placement.  Before we could finalize, the child was sent back to her birth parents (read the post "Alyssa" for the story).  Heart break.  More waiting.  Now, months later, we were waiting again but hope had reared it head!

on her head!
In mid-July were finally told that things were a go for Operation Adopt the Cutest Little Fuzzy Headed Baby in the Southwest.  OK, so that's a long title, but we were so excited!  At least I was.  I think Tony was feeling on guard.  After the last heart break, he has talked about how he stayed at arms length for a little while after Gabby came.  As you can see in the picture, she quickly became "Daddy's Girl"!  The day they called, we went to visit her and tried to hold her for the first time (you try to hold a 15 month old who has discovered she can walk!).  My brother was in town visiting and he loved telling people he got to meet his niece before her grandparents did!  :)

Gabby and her cousin Madeline
Of course we got the huge history of her entire 15 months of life.  Thankfully, she had suffered no abuse, just neglect at the hands of a mom, who honestly didn't have the means to do any better.  She had been abused as a child herself, and that sadly left many scars.  For 2 weeks we visited, several of them overnight.  Our first overnight visit was right after she had tubes put in her ears (we weren't delaying for any obstacles!).  She came to live with us officially on August 4th and we moved to newer (as in not ready to be demolished as they did with our old duplex) base housing.

I'm sure Gabby had an adjustment phase with moving to a new home, but other than crying when I left her alone with Tony the first week or so, we didn't notice it!  She just became the center of our joy!  3 days before her 2nd birthday, we finalized her adoption.  We declined going to court because, although we loved the adoption worker, the less we had to see the other workers from the department, the better.  Now I regret that but I think we were holding on to a lot of anger from losing Alyssa still.

Dressed up for Pioneer Day in
3rd Grade complete with
American Girl Doll
Gabby has continued to be such a source of joy in our lives.  We left New Mexico a few months later to come home to Georgia and we're doing our best to raise a good southern, Georgia Bulldog!  Gabby is now 13 years old, in 8th grade.  She blesses all of us with her beautiful singing.  As a toddler, she learned to sing before she could talk!  She has always love to read and of course we think she's brilliant!  Her creativity and imagination are amazing.  She's always invented amazing stories and is in the middle of writing her first novel!

From age 1 until her 12th birthday, she was an only child.  Now, while we didn't spoil her materially and are definitely on the firm side as parents, being an only child gives you a sense that you are the center of all.  The day of her 12th birthday she became the oldest of 4 children when we brought Will, Lydia, and Madi home.  I know it rocked her world but today she is the best big sister I know.  She has helped them find their imaginations and loves to play with them.

With Pink Bear who after 12 years
is a rather grayish pink!
As you can tell, we're proud of her and abundantly blessed that God placed her in our family.  I read where someone once said that adoptive families are not God's plan A.  His plan A was for the biological family to work right!  That made me think.  Am I OK being plan B for when plan A fails for God's children?  Looking around at my messy house, hearing the children laugh and yell at each other.  Holding my son while he cries over words his foster family said that still hurt.  Helping our children cry over wounds they are too young to consciously remember.   Yes, I think I am OK with that.  Remember, this is all Plan B.  Plan A was a garden.  A garden where foster care, orphans, and pain didn't exist.  If Christ is OK with being Plan B, then I'm pretty sure I am too.  

*Not their real names

Shoe Diva!

Friday, September 23, 2011


 Thinking of 10 years ago when September 11th was a fresh event.  The loss was incomprehensible at that point.  I truly could not wrap my mind around that many people just gone.  10 years later the stories of those people's lives and those who loved them is all around.  It’s amazing.  We talk about 3 degrees of separation.  Ripples in a pond.  The number of people impacted by the ones who died that day is what is incomprehensible now.  1 life well-lived, loved by many, mourned by thousands.  Multiply that times the many lives lost that day.  Wow. 

It makes me think back to other lives I’ve mourned.  A college friend who felt so alone that a couple years later he took his own precious life.  He had a fiance, a loving brother, friends.  Yet he felt alone.  His funeral was packed with people he impacted.

A miscarriage.  A life not even born yet.  And both our families’ mourned. 

And Alyssa.  The pain of the day she left us is still tucked into my heart.  I think of her less but always remember.  It’s been almost 12 years since we met her.  We were finished with our adoption class and all the paperwork and we waited.  We had requested a girl under age 3.  After what seemed like forever we got a call that they had a 6 week baby girl if we were interested.  Just as the pain is still close, so is the euphoria from that moment!  We could pick her up the next day! 

We could not sleep that night.  We ended up at Walmart about 11:30 pm shopping for a crib mattress and asking some kind, white-haired grandmother what a 6 week old baby needed!  We were elated and terrified at the same time. 

The next day was a Friday in mid-October.  Almost Halloween.  We went to pick her up after work and I just stared at her in amazement!  She was precious from her bouffant of black hair to the fattest checks I’ve ever seen!  She had a swollen eye from an eye infection that made it look like she was winking at us. J  We took her home after the foster mother made sure we both knew how to change a diaper and gave us the run down on her eating/sleeping habits. 

Neither of us slept much that night nor did we eat the next day (I think around 5pm we realized it and had carrots for dinner.  Why I remember the carrots is beyond me but they stick out in my mind!).  We just watched Alyssa and tried to make her smile.  What a smile!  It was like the sun.  And her laugh was such a belly laugh!  I could always get her to laugh. 

We were like a kid at Christmas!  We bought her 2 Halloween outfits because they were too cute and changed her ½ way thru the night of answering the door!  We were pretty ridiculous!  That kid had more cute baby clothes! 

We had 6 amazing, carefree weeks before the social workers told us that despite the fact that mom had abandoned her and didn’t want her, things were not the 99% done deal we’d been led to believe.  Mom changed her mind.  Wanted her back.  She had 6 other kids by 3 other dads.  Would we keep Alyssa while mom tried to prove she was a good mom and get her back.  Turns out the social workers didn’t have her sign the papers to relinquish her rights when they should have.  In the beginning.  It would have been a done deal. 

What would you do?  We agonized.  How to be the “foster parent” to a child I was imagining sending off to Kindergarten in a few years and envisioning in a wedding dress by Tony’s side one day.  Could I take her for visits with this woman who lived in abject poverty and drop “my baby” off there?  A woman who we were pretty sure was doing drugs?  Whose children all were sick all the time?

But what if we said no and they decided not to return her.  Would they allow us to adopt her still or would they feel we were too selfish?  It was the hardest decision I’d ever made.  Little did I know, harder ones were still to come. 
We chose to keep her.  From December to February we took her for visits and nursed her back to health when she came back sick.  Fended off social workers who did not believe us that she came back to us sick because the birth mom said she’d been fine with her.  Spent the time she was away from us, sick to my stomach with fear for her.  There was no heat in their house and winter nights in the desert are very cold.  Called anyone we could think of to see if there was any way we could stop her going home and made every social worker in town mad at us for trying. 

Then they gave us a date.  She was to be returned.  I managed to sit through the court hearing then fled the court room racked with sobs.  Tony just hardened himself and fussed at me for making a scene.  I could not breathe or function.  She would be gone in just a few days. 

Then a co-worker approached me.  She had a friend who worked for the government chasing down people who kidnap children and non-custodial parents who take their children.  She had heard our story and asked my co-worker to let me know that if I chose to take this child and go to Mexico, no one would come to get me. 

Then I knew the hardest decision I’d ever faced.  Could I “steal” a child for its own good?  Could I go to a country to live where I did not speak the language and leave all I knew behind, including my husband who was military and would have been chased if he went AWOL?  What would I tell Alyssa if I did that?  It was “for her own good”?  She would have hated me, I think.  And yet what fate was I leaving her to if I didn’t.  Would she one day hate me for leaving her to her fate? 

Fear of the unknown is probably what stopped me.  I still question what would have happened had I chosen to take her and run.  Life as I know it would certainly not exist.  Nor would my family.  Sometimes I wish life was like one of those books where you can choose the ending and if you didn’t like it, you could go back and choose a different one.  Just to see where that choice would have led. 

If Alyssa’s life had turned out beautifully, I probably would not question that decision.  Especially because I would not have the 4 wonderful children I have today.  But it did not. 

Her return home was put on hold for 2 weeks while a small issue was sorted out.  Drugs were found in the home by the CASA worker.  For a couple days it looked like things would change.  But on March 12, I was summoned to the school office for a phone call.  Alyssa’s social worker wanted to know how soon we could bring her to the office.  The judge decided she could go home.  I told her not until after work.  I promptly went into the restroom and almost threw up.  I was going to have to give my baby away. 

I left work within minutes and picked her up from the sitter and took her home.  Tony came home and we had about 2 hours to spend with her.  I cried the whole time and Tony just watched her play.  It was the worst day of my entire life, bar none.  I don’t think I have ever felt that depth of sadness and anger.  It consumed me to the point that I could not function. 

Yes, we really dressed the
child up like a cow!
When we took Alyssa to the office I could not look the social workers in the face.  Tony wanted to stay with her as long as he could but I could not face them for fear I was going to hit one of them.  I ran from the office, wanting to scream at the top of my lungs!!  How could they do this! 

The next month or so was like a child died.  I sat up nights in her room smelling her blanket.  I would not wash anything because it had her scent.  Have you ever imagined seeing your child in someone else’s arms and not being allowed to touch her?  That was what it was like.  We were in a small town and would randomly run into them in the store.  The shock was always the same.  I’d try to act normal and hope to get to hold Alyssa.  Then I’d cry all the way home. 

We saw her from time to time around town and her mom let us come visit for a couple months.  But it became too painful to see our precious baby so dirty, never smiling, and too soon looking at us like complete strangers.  She forgot us.  We did not see her for a month or 2.  Then we got news about her.  The social worker felt we deserved to know in person so she came to our house. 

All 8 kids (new baby had been born) were now in foster care.  Alyssa had been left, at 8 months old, in the bathtub with 2 of her siblings aged 3 and 4.  They got out and left her in the tub.  No one knew how long she was under the water.  Or how long it had been since she had been breathing. 

They managed to resuscitate her.  She was not the same.  She had sustained brain damage from how long she’d been under water.  Her personality had changed from joyful to belligerent.  She was described as“difficult to control”.  Her foster home was just 2 blocks from our house (small town).  We were reeling. 

The next sentence out of the social workers mouth were, “We have a little girl for you”.  Her name is Gabby.   

Had we made the right choice?  Why did this happen to an innocent child?  Why did we experience this pain?  So many unanswered questions.

Some people believe in “Karma”.  That something that child did in a past life condemned her to pain in this life.  That something we had done caused us to have this experience.  I could never quite wrap my head around the validity of that argument.  How do you learn from a past life you don’t remember.  At the time I had a vague belief in “God” but absolutely no understanding of God at all. 

Along the way in the past 12 years I met someone who told me He understood my pain from that day.  He could empathize with seeing your child far from you, out of your reach.  The child He was speaking of was me.  Neither Alyssa, nor Tony and I, were paying for a past life when all that happened.  We were simply living in a fallen world full of creatures far from their creator.  It’s a world full of pain. 

I heard a speaker once describing the abuse she suffered as a child and I wondered at her peace.  She said that when she had been struggling early in adulthood to cope with what had happened to her, people had described Jesus as crying as she was hurt.  What an impotent, and wrong image she thought.  Who wants that kind of savior? 

God later communicated to her that Jesus and His angels were fighting a battle in the heaven-lies for her very soul while Satan used men to hurt her body and mind.  And God won her soul!  What a conquering image!  That is my Savior!! 

I will not have answers to my questions until I get to heaven I’m sure.  But until then, each day I will pray that God will send his angels to fight for Alyssa’s soul and that they will win the day!  That He will be victorious over Satan for her heart and soul. 

Today was a challenge...4/22/10

I originally wrote this Thursday, April 22, 2010 at 12:12am (staying up late is the only way I could get things done in quiet!).  Our kids had just been with us a few days.

Today was a challenge. We learned not to let children with food issues help prepare breakfast! And a 1 year old can look adorable and still whack her sister pretty dang hard! I'm not sure I remember how many times we sat someone in timeout. Success of the day...they did sit, while wailing like they were dying, but they did sit!

Will got to see his new school and we all got very overly excited by that outing. We weren't sure how he was going to do with other kids. We went to the park and he did great playing with a friend. I kept forgetting that I had to count 4 kids, not just 1, and decided we need a "team" color for every public outing so I can keep track!

After Lydia asked for the umpteenth time if Tony and I were married, she then announced that we shouldn't be married and said, "I don't like y'all". We know she was trying to figure some things out, we just weren't sure if she was feeling conflicted about her caring about birth or foster parents or making sure we really like her.

Later she called to me from the tub and said, "Mommy, can Daddy marry me?"

I remember Gabby going through the, I'm gonna marry daddy phase so I smiled and answered, "Yes"

"He can marry you and me?" she asks

"Yes, because he loves us both."

"Because he loves me and I'm his princess!" Clarity came amidst the exhaustion! Needless to say, I'm doubling my prayers for her to feel that daddy loves her tons!

On Sunday, Will told Tony they had only been to church once before. We sat together in the overflow room as a family and then spent time talking about how special they were to God. We've talked about it a little each day and now Will & Lydia are asking to say the blessing at mealtimes (while Madi cries because her food isn't ready). Lydia has been requesting Jesus Loves Me as her song at nap and bedtimes.

They have so many needs and they are so amazing at the same time. Everyone has been telling us how wonderful we are, but God is the amazing one. He loves me so much that he put the love for these children in my heart months ago. It's still surreal that they are here, but as each day passes I see their hearts more and more. God has blessed us so abundantly we cannot even fathom it. If you are reading this note, you are one of our blessings. Thanks for all of your love, support, and prayers! We are becoming a family.