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

Sunday, December 29, 2013


Sometimes I have no words to say.  Do you ever have a story take you so by surprise that you cannot respond?  

I hope you can bear with me as I share some stories that have left me speechless over this Christmas season.  I am finding that in addition to caring for these children, these "orphans" that God has allowed me to love, that God has pressed into my spirit that I need to share their stories.  

Hopefully not in a revealing way that may later embarrass them (which is why I am careful about not using names nor too many gender specific pronouns with these stories).  Not in a revealing way to make you pity my specific children or family.  

BUT revealing in a painful, naked way that exposes what many foster and adoptive families are attempting to help the children God has placed in their care heal and recover from.  

Revealing the deep, ugly wounds on a child's heart that have created the defiant teenager, the disobedient child, the drug addicted adult, the child molester, the inmate.  

Revealing the raw, ugly, messy truth of what children in your state, community, school, or neighborhood are living with. Right. now.  Unrescued. Unloved.  Unredeemed.  

If you do not want to know; If you cannot stand the truth; You should stop reading.  My heart is full of these moments, these stories, this pain.  And I see it in news stories, in people in the grocery store.  I cannot help but write about it.  So if you want to know the mushy, lovey side of adoptive and foster parenting, you will need to find another blog.  Or find me in another time of life. 

Because while we have mushy moments, they are balanced with the revealing of pain.  And I think what we are learning in this journey is way more connected to seeing that love, the feeling, comes through love, the action, slogging through the mud and muck of the hard pain.  And frankly, I think that is the lesson I am meant to share with you.  

There are days when it is all chaos and arguing and fighting and I am yelling and fussing and time out rules the day.  There are days when it is tantrums and melt downs and tears and rocking and trying to fill gaps that are years old.  Trying to guess is this from not being cared for, is this a disorder, is this an "adoption thing", a "foster kid thing", a "boy thing"....

There are days of pouring out of hearts and behaviors that would leave me cold in fear for my children's future if it were not for the peace of God and His promise that He will heal them.  Fervent, heart wrenching prayer days. 

Recently one of the boys asked the other, "Did your dad ever do anything bad and have to go to jail?"  

"Yeah, my dad went to jail.  He shot at the cops."  They are so casual about it. 

Our two sibling sets have remarkably similar stories. Similar family histories.  They are beginning to find common ground in their history while remaining amazingly protective of their biological siblings. 

Protective to a point of severe anxiety.  Fight, fight, or freeze is constant for our children. Have you ever stumbled onto an intruder?  A hostile dog? Something that was a real danger that sent your body into high alert.  Our children go into that mode every time someone knocks at the door.  If a meal is 15 minutes late.  If the dog gets out of the back yard.  If I raise my voice too much or move too quickly towards them.  Can you imagine heart pounding panic 10 times a day? Every day?  I don't always get it.  Miss the signs.  I didn't have the same.  

The other day a child is refusing to move, cooperate, total melted puddle of screaming.  I quickly move to take them to their room and end up holding them until they have regained control.  During this a sibling comes multiple times to check that I'm not hurting them.  Afterwards as we talk and I asked if they thought I was going to hurt them.  Nod.  Tears.  

"My uncle punched her in the stomach once.  He was my favorite uncle.  He always brought me stuff.  Later that day someone came up and shot him."  I feel as if someone has sucked the air out of the room.  

During this season, we are trying to help our children to see.  See their own preciousness.  But how do you see precious in yourself if the people who were supposed to protect and care for you never kept you fed, never protected you, tried to hurt you.  

"What are the promises Jesus gave us about God?"  The first one we talk about is how God loves us.  How can they understand this when they have not experienced the love of a parent?  The ones we've known for longer, although they have experienced our love, those early days, they've left scars that block their hearts.  Keep them from truly knowing.  

The second promise we have is that Jesus said God will take care of us.  He loves us more than birds and animals and He feeds and cares for them, so He will care for and feed us.  So we should never worry.  But again, how do you communicate this to a child who was homeless?  Who awoke in an alley with his parents gone?  When their earliest memories were harsh and painful.  

Worry.  Fear.  They are so much a part of our children's make up.  I want so badly to help them break free of it.  So I ask them to share something they worry about so we can pray for each other.  Pray for God to help us with our worry.  

"I worry that my old parents don't have a house.  That they have no where to live."

"I worry that someone won't come when they said they will."

"I worry Santa won't come.  He never came with my old mom and dad."

"I worry that I can't go back home."

"I worry because my old mom and dad are in jail."

"I worry that my old dad is hurting my old mom."

"I worry about getting enough to eat."

As they share, I hear some struggling to not cry.  As we pray, some give in to the tears and weep.  Tony and I both end up with lapfuls of crying children.  "I remember someone hitting my brother.  She used a pricker bush."  A memory from a previous foster home.  

"Why did my old mom say she hates me.  Why did she have to have me?"  She said it so matter of fact.  No real emotion, just this puzzled, furrowed brown. I tried not to cry.  

This same child looked at me today with a huge smile and said, "Mommy, I love you SOOO much!"  

I responded with a hug, kisses, and tickles, "You are so precious!  I love you SOOO much too!"  To which she looked puzzled.  Furrowed brow, smile gone. 

Two nights ago she was sick with a stomach virus.  After she was back asleep, my husband looked at me, "She didn't cry.  Did you notice? I've never seen a child throw up and not cry before."  No emotion.  Because no one has ever met her need before so best turn off the feelings.  Bury the sadness deep where it can't hurt.  Yet it can.  It does.  It is toxic.  It turns this pixie faced baby into an uncontrollable teenager or a drug abused young woman.  How to get it out.

I read a story someone posted on Facebook.  A mom and her boyfriend neglect, abuse, and horribly kill her 2 year old child.  The comments ranged from "What a monster!" to "I hope they rot in hell and are killed in jail."

It makes me so sad.  They cannot see past the current behaviors to the past woundedness.  Was that woman told that her own mother hated her by the time she was 4 years old?  Was that man beaten unconscious as a boy? What happened to my own children's birth parents that was so awful that it set them on their current path?  Could someone have stepped into those lives and changed the course?  Would that precious 2 year old still be alive today?

Praying I don't forget when my children have their next "behavior" moment. Eating from the garbage or stealing from their siblings.  Talking back, arguing, yelling at me when they don't get their way.  That I don't forget their pain. Their aching hearts.  That I let God's hand guide my response, not my own quick temper or agenda.  

Today as we are driving down the road it comes up again.  "My mommy said she hates me.  Why did she have to have me."

"That must make you feel sad!"

There's the furrowed brow again, as if trying to decide how to feel or what the word sad means.  "Yeah.  My daddy broke the window.  She cut her foot." 

"How did she get cut?  From the broken window?"

"Yeah.  He was trying to get in.  He hurt her.  He threw me in the toilet."  

I can see the chaos, the violence in my mind's eye.  I am struggling to maintain a calm face. Another child pipes up, "My daddy choked my mommy." She pauses and points to the other child, "Do you believe this mom?"  Even with her life experiences, she's shocked at what she's just heard.  

I nod.  I ask a few questions.  It becomes obvious that this child's existence is a miracle.  That she could have been that news headline.  That child who'd been killed by the angry, violent man.  

I see a woman in the grocery story.  She is obviously strung out.  She is covered in sores.  Dirty.  Looking for who knows what.  My initial thought is judgement.  I see her child looking dirty, neglected.  One of my own children points to her and says, "That looks just like my old mom."  Heart sinking at my own judgement of her.  She is likely the child of poverty, an alcoholic parent, maybe a homeless parent.  And she is still the unrescued child.  

They are all around us.  Neglected or abused children trying to raise their own. Repeating cycles.  In a broken, fallen world.  They are in our state, our community, in our school, and on our street.  And they need our voice.  They need to be rescued and loved.  Loved despite their behaviors.  In spite of themselves.  

Just like I need a savior to love me in spite of myself.  

These children, they need us.  They need the church to step up.  But so do their parents.  They do not need us to call them monsters and spew our hate or anger at them.  

Because one day, my own son could be that person who could not conquer his past.  My own daughter may succumb to the sadness she has buried so deep rather than healing.  

I would ask that you pray.  Pray with desperation for these lost and lonely. For this ugly, painful side of life that only God can heal.  

Pray that God would guide you in how you can help in your community. Because while I appreciate all the times people tell me I'm wonderful for adopting foster children, I am only one mom.  And they are many.  So are the needs.  

The need for birth parent mentors to help them get their lives straightened out.  For someone to believe in them, in their value and preciousness for the first time in their lives.  

For mentors at school for children growing up in poverty or single parent homes. 

For support to help foster and adoptive families care for these children better.

For more foster families to love children that can often seem unlovable at times.  Or rather they are unwilling to accept that they are worth loving.  And God is asking us to show them that they are.

Then Jesus said to his disciples, "Therefore I tell you ,do not worry about your life, what you will eat; or about your body, what you will wear.  Life is more than food, and the body more than clothes.  Consider the ravens: They do not sow or reap, they have no storeroom or barn; yet God feeds them.  And how much more valuable you are than birds!  Who of you by worrying can add a single hour to his life?  Since you cannot do this very little thing, why do you worry about the rest?  
Luke 12:22-26

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

The Joy in the Hard

"She may have Fetal Alcohol Syndrome."  The words hung in the air.  "It would be worth getting a diagnosis one way or the other just so we know how best to teach her."  

Early on we'd suspected that possibility but decided to let her have some time to adjust. Now the therapist had brought it up.  It was the one diagnosis that we'd said we didn't think we could parent.  And yet here she was.  We'd said from the beginning, whatever God gives us to parent, we will parent them. Period.  But this, Oh God, why?  

 A pit formed in my stomach for the next 48 hours or so.  It was one of those, I can't eat and the world seems to be coming at me from far away sort of times.  

Then I received an email from a friend asking if I was OK because I'd seemed a little off the day before: 

"Just wanted to let you know I prayed for you.

'In conclusion, be strong in the Lord [be empowered through your union with Him]; draw your strength from Him [that strength which His boundless might provides].' Ephesians 6:10 amp
'So we take comfort and are encouraged and confidently and boldly say, The Lord is my Helper; I will not be seized with alarm [I will not fear or dread or be terrified].  What can man do to me?'  Ps 27:1; 118:6 Hebrews 13:6"

As I read her email, I felt myself say, "OK God, this is what you've given me.  I said I'd step into the battle, so here I am.  I'll need your strength to  to fight this fight though.  I'll need your shield of protection.  I will not be afraid.  Or at least I'll try to have courage through my fears."

I'm sure I said it through gritted teeth but once I'd said it, all sorts of peace and calm!

I spoke to a friend tonight about how we watch our kids rail against things that are so "unfair".  As we talked, we were both reminded of times recently that we'd had the same reaction with God about something in our lives.  Like a child with FAS.  

Once again I am reminded though, that I am not the God of my children.  I can encourage, hold, disciple, and love.  All of which first comes to me from God before I can give it out to them.    

The past few days have brought a lot of hard things.  It's funny because the first weeks with this new "batch" of kids (sounds like we're baking cookies here!) was so hard.  No, not hard.  Challenging.  There were melt-downs, moments (whole days) of chaos, no sleep for weeks, prayer, logistics of teaching them how to act in a store or walk across a parking lot, and more prayer.  

At some point about a month in, we seemed to turn a corner and routine seemed to settle in.  We began to be able to read the kids.  They began to feel comfortable.  Or as comfortable as one can feel when calling complete strangers mommy and daddy.  

Now we're in what I think is the really hard time.  And really beautiful time. It's when God begins to knit our hearts together.  It's intense and it's painful and I wouldn't trade it for the world.  

Have you ever had a great friend?  I mean one who you'd go to the ends of the earth for each other?  And you probably did.  I think many of us have buddies, acquaintances, and good friends.  But it's in those really hard times when friendships are FORGED.  Going through fire together changes, solidifies.  

This week I have listened as one child asked another, "Have you ever seen your daddy do something bad and go to jail?"  

I watched siblings listen as one child sobbed in my lap and described being homeless, sleeping in a trash can, waking up in an alley with no around.  At the age of 2.  

I had a child order me not to run a red light "so the police don't come get you. They got my mama once.  She had to go to jail.  I rode in the police car to my house.  My daddy was there.  He blamed my mama."

I ached as a child described to me watching a favorite uncle punch a sibling. Then being alone and seeing that uncle get shot.  

I listened as Tony talked with a child who said, "When my mommy and daddy stop fighting we can go home."  She could not, is not ready to, hear the truth. That same child cried tonight, missing her mama and missing what that mama could not have given her even if she had the chance.

It seems I've held endless children who could not articulate the depths of sadness that is at times suffocating their little hearts.  The sobbing of a wounded child comes from a place inside that often they attempt to build walls around.  Each time I hear a hard thing to hear, I realize I've removed a brick in the wall.  That hole in that wall is precious to me and brings a sort of intense, fierce joy.  

They go hand in hand, the hard and the joy.  The ugly and the beautiful.

This is the time of fire in our lives.  Not being on fire, but a time of forming, changing, and solidifying.  It is hard.  And it is long.  After 3 1/2 years, we are still in this time with our first "batch" of 3.  It's long, this battle.  More of a war.  Maybe every moment, when something is shared, is a small battle.  Just the fact that the battle was fought is a victory then.  

And on the other side of every moment of sadness is an opportunity to hold a mourning child who was not held and comforted as a baby.  Wrapped up in every expression of fear about the past is an opportunity for a new sibling to connect over shared wounds.  Every tear that is wiped away is a chance for redemption of a life.  And after every comforting comes a moment, however brief, of trust.  

Trust.  If you have never cared for a wounded child, you have no idea how precious that moment is.  Every disciplining brings renewed fear.  Every action is questioned through the lens of past hurts.  Trust.  It was broken long before these children could speak.  Long before they knew us.  

Yet is is our bridge to repair.  

If you are a mama or papa to a hurting child, I am praying for you tonight. 

Praying that God will fill you with His strength; That you will remember that He is your Helper; And that you will turn to Him when you struggle.  

I am praying for the joy that follows the pain to be yours and that God will knock down the bricks your child may chose to use to keep the sadness at bay.  

I am praying for healing for your child, no matter what or how big the wound. 

Most of all, I am praying that we both remember that we stepped willingly onto the battlefield and that no sacrifice we give to these, our children, will ever be as big as the one God made for us, His children.  

Be blessed.

In the image of God

We just had family pictures.  When I first began thinking of scheduling them, I was imagining those great pictures I see of families strolling through a park, colorful leaves all around.  Laughing, running children.  I wanted to show everyone, like every proud mama, our beautiful children.  

But more than that, I wanted our children to see their beauty.  Wanted them to understand that God had planned them for a purpose.   

"Before I formed you in the womb I KNEW you, before you were born I set you apart..." Jeremiah 1:5 

I've always wanted to sow into the children around me how precious and valuable they are.  How beautiful they are inside and out.  I wanted them to know that when God looks at them, He sees a part of His own reflection, sort of like you seeing how your daughter has your smile or how your son laughs just like you.  

"So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he create him; male and female he created them." Genesis 1:27 

Some of my kids are starting behind the curve though.  Self-worth is a constant human struggle.  But to have never been held by your daddy and told you were his beautiful princess or to have mommy call you "her little man". To instead be treated as if you were in the way.  To not be cared for, much less fed, leaves a vacuum.  It sucks away all belief that you have enough value to be wanted and loved, much less that you are precious and beautiful. 

So I wanted to hang pictures of these children that I KNOW are precious all over the place so that they will begin to see their beauty.  Begin to see through my eyes.  

But as the day of the pictures drew near, I began to feel unhappy, grouchy, and like the last thing I wanted to do was get pictures taken of my double chin, flabby arms, and big fanny.  I totally lost the joy of the day in focusing on my own extra poundage!!  

But that evening after I grouched through the chaos of corralling 6 wild kids and 1 reluctant teenager to pose for 45 minutes (thank heavens for a patient friend who loves kids!!) a friend posted this blog article on Facebook: myfriendteresablog.com.  It really gave me a huge pause!!  How could I sow into my children what I was not believing myself?!  I see my flaws, my wrinkles and fat.  I miss seeing how those wrinkles are from the joy of laughing when one of my children says something funny.  I forget how those extra pounds are from eating good food around a table with friends or family. I just see the "imperfections".

What's funny is, that when I am getting ready in the morning, regardless if I am in jogging pants or the dressiest outfit I own, at least one child ALWAYS comes in and tells me I look pretty!  Do you remember feeling that way as a child?  So how can I begin to see myself that way so I can teach my children?

As I talked to my mom over Thanksgiving, she made an off-hand comment about not liking a picture of herself that was taken recently.  I had seen that same picture and thought, "Look how joyful they are!  Bet they had a great time on that trip!"    

So we see the beauty in those we love but it's not there in the mirror when we look.  Maybe we are looking in the wrong mirror though.  

As I ruminated on this whole thing, I stumbled onto the blog of someone at my church who has been blessed with a beautiful new baby.  This baby also happens to have a heart defect and Downs Syndrome (read: paperfences).  As I read in comments she replied to someone that along this new journey she'd had doctors say horrible things to her.  

I was dumbfounded.  Doctors, who are gifted with so much knowledge, talent, and wisdom about the human body, often miss seeing the human being inside the body.  How is this possible?  Then my husband pointed out that our society's value on the person is based on their productivity.  

Are you a multi-millionaire?  Then we'll put you on the cover of SUCCESS Magazine.  

Are you a perfect example of feminine beauty?  You get to be on the cover of ELLE or Victoria's Secret.

Are you a chiseled, famous singer/actor?  PEOPLE's 100 most beautiful people.

Do you have the most perfect house or garden?  Southern Living.

And there's the rest of us watching these examples of human perfection on TV or a movie screen, imagining a romance or wishing we were more like this fictitious creation of a Hollywood director.  We are missing the God given beauty that is sitting in our own seat.  We are looking in the wrong mirror.

Where is the magazine that displays the list of the World's Most Beautiful, and shows the mom who is up late finishing a Science project with (for) her daughter?  The dad who works diligently every weekend helping his son finish an Eagle Scout project.  The grandma who comes over and helps an overwhelmed new mom do laundry.  The friend who brings a meal when it's needed.  The uncle who teaches how to fish.  The man who always arrives early to make sure the coffee is ready before church.  The young woman who sits by her sick parent's hospital bed.  The teenager who rakes and mows for an elderly neighbor voluntarily.  

Why do we only see beauty in what we perceive as physical or financial perfection in this broken, fallen world?  Because in reality, there's always cellulite, there's always anorexia behind a too thin frame, sadness behind a fake smile, and the picture on the screen is an illusion.  

The real beauty is in the flesh and blood of my husband who throws his head back when he laughs, really laughs!  It's in the look on my daughter's face when she realizes one of her grandparents just pulled up in the driveway.  It's in the way my son lights up when he talks about soccer.  It's in the leaves in my messy yard that are way over due to be raked.  It's in the tousled, just awakened hair of my youngest first thing after her nap.  

And it's in the image of God in me.  And in you.   

If you're like me and you want some practical ways to work on self-image with yourself and your children, especially a traumatized child, I've listed some of the things we are doing.  I have stolen all of these from many wiser than me, other moms, Karen Purvis DVDs and books, etc.  Please comment with any things your family does that may be helpful to others!!  

  • Seek out Bible verses that express God's love for us or that describe our beauty in His eyes
  • Take turns at dinner expressing what you each like or are thankful about a certain person.  Our kids all look at the floor when it's their turn to be talked about as if it's really hard to hear the positive.  
  • Read the Jesus Storybook Bible
  • Take candid pictures of your kids and display them where they can see their own smiling face.  Comment on how you love their smile.
  • Get cheek to cheek in front of a mirror and comment on how handsome/beautiful this precious child is.  
  • Read the Five Love Languages and the Five Love Languages for Children. Use this to see how to fill your family member's love tanks (and how yours gets filled up).  This is one we JUST clued into with one of our kids despite having read that book years ago!
  • Write a weekly or monthly note to each member of your family telling them what is special about them.  
  • Take your spouse and each child on a date.  This doesn't have to be frequent to make them feel special, although if you have teens, I'd suggest weekly if you can!  

Saturday, November 23, 2013

Sad Heart

When I look at my children, I often see them as they are on the outside. 

Smelly (face it...kids smell...not good!).  
Hard work.  

Then sometimes, God blesses me with a look inside.  Then I see just a small heart, and it's laying nestled in my hands.  It is very obviously a gift.  

Today as we sat around the table, we were talking with The Boy about control and trust.  How we really don't have control.  He gets that intellectually but for the child from a hard place, the illusion of control is all they have.  He is holding on tight to that illusion for dear life.  He lives in a constant state of control.  Fear.  It guides all his decisions.  

Often he will sit perched, like he's ready to spring out of his seat at a moments notice.  Especially if he's in your lap.  Never relaxed.

Recently he snuck some pretzels out of the pantry and ate them in his room. Then he panicked.  And rather than come talk with me, he didn't trust that I'd forgive him, he ate soap and hair gel.  This was to cover the smell of the pretzels on his breath.  

That fear turns off all logical thinking and he just acts in total self-preservation.  This is so common of a traumatized child.  This intelligent boy panicked.  Flight, fight, or freeze!  

As we talked today about learning to trust that God will do all for good so that we can give that up fear and illusion of control, Tony asked him, 

"Do you believe that we like you?  Do you believe that we love you?"

Head bowed he responded with a very wishy washy, "yes".  And suddenly his countenance that is always guarded and watchful crumbled.  Tears brimmed.

"Do you really?"  I asked, "Because the look on your face says you aren't so sure.  Look in my eyes.  We. Chose. You.  We. Picked. You.  We. Wanted. You."  

Tony, "The first moment I saw a picture of you, I knew.  You. Were. My. Son.  Mine."  pause.  "Can you tell me something we do that makes you feel loved?"

Silence.  This precious boy whom I have labored over for 3 1/2 years;  Who Tony has reached out to for 3 1/2 years cannot think of something that we do that makes him FEEL LOVED.  

All the other children, thinking we are playing a game are giggling with their hands raised.  They all begin naming ways they feel loved: presents, hugs and kisses, being sung to, read to...

Finally the boy murmmers, "When you take me to soccer."  Tears begin to fall for real now.  

"Why are you crying" I ask as he crawls into my lap.  

"Because, my old parents, they never hugged me."  

I cannot choke down the tears.  Later, I cannot even relay this conversation to my mother-in-law without beginning to cry.  

"This?"  I tell him, "This is the real Boy.  He is sad.  And there is nothing wrong with feeling sad.  The Boy I usually see is pretending nothing is wrong a lot.  But the REAL Boy has a lot of sadness.  I wish the real Boy would share his sad feelings with me more often.  Because I love him and love to hug him." 

Suddenly we are surrounded with sisters who all want to hug The Boy.  He is inundated with giggling girls who love their big brother and want to see him smile.  And he smiles.  A real smile.  And for the first time in a long time, relaxes in my lap.  


Feeling a tad sad tonight.  Our therapist came this afternoon.  She spends time with our 5 year old then asked me if school was getting better for her.  I let her know that she's still struggling with being impulsive and similar behaviors and that I felt the teacher was probably very frustrated.  "Yeah, I could tell.  Dora the Explorer (nickname) described what it's like in the classroom."  It was not happy what she described.  The impatience and frustration her teacher is feeling is fully communicating to Dora.  She may act 2 but she has the intellect of an 8 year old!  

Then she asked if I was planning to move her to a new classroom.  Ugh.  

I am torn between thoughts of past students who had similar challenges.  Did I treat them so impatiently that they knew I didn't like them?  When they described me outside of school, was it as someone who only yells?  That makes me sad.

The other half of me is sad for my sweet, impulsive, bright, cut a hole in her pants and shirt today girl.  I KNOW how frustrating she can be.  I also know what an amazing smile she has when I connect with her.  And I know I just yelled at her too.  

I want to smack my own head and wonder HOW God could have called someone like ME to this.  Why in the world is He trusting ME with these children!  I am too quick to jump to conclusions, too quick to condemn, too comfortable with peace and quiet, too....holy cow I'm a mess!  

But isn't that just like God?  We get in the middle of something WE thought WE had only to discover WE have NO CONTROL!  WE are a MESS!  And hopefully, we then discover the He is there waiting for us.  He's equipped us with all we need.  Him.  

Behold, I am with you and will keep you wherever you go, and will bring you back to this land.  For I will not leave you until I have done what I promised you.
Genesis 28:15

I hunted off and on for months for a therapist for our kids.  I kept quitting in frustration.  Then one day I prayed, "Come on God.  Please.  I NEED for this." Later that same day I emailed a church about their VBS.  BAM!  I'm in an email conversation with a licensed therapist who leads worship there.  She's worked with traumatized children for years.  Only God.  

So here I am, yet again, trying to heal, fix, solve all on my own.  I'm forgetting that He is waiting to hold my hand and lead us through this journey.  

So if you're like me, you're still fixated on the school situation I mentioned at the beginning of this post.  What to do?  I will totally admit that my Mama Bear instinct says, go tell this woman off and yank my baby out of that place! 

But my, "I just yelled at her myself, was once a teacher in her shoes" self stops short.  What if she's just as frustrated as I was a moment ago?  What if my parents had judged me as harshly?  What if God had given up on my messy, imperfect self and not trusted me with these children?  

As it is written: "None is righteous, no, not one;"
Romans 3:10

She is not more messy than me so how do I give up on her for what I have myself done?  She is not tormenting my child.  She is just frustrated.  She is not abusive, just so very impatient.  

So I am praying for her patience.  Praying for God to bring gentleness out in her.  Praying for the words to say when I meet with her in a week.  Praying that my words touch her heart and soul.  Praying for guidance with and healing for my little Dora.  

Gracious words are like a honeycomb, sweetness to the soul and health to the body.
Proverbs 16:24

Thursday, November 21, 2013

And Then We Were 9

Teen Extraordinaire!
It's funny how life can change in an instant.  One day I'm thinking how "busy" my life is with homeschooling 4 children, occassional volunteering with a ministry, trying to help my previously adopted children heal from past traumas, and keeping up with laundry for 6.  I THOUGHT I was busy....I was delusional!!  ;)  
Ninjas Warriors - Watch out!!

I got the call on a Friday.  September 20th to be exact.  We prayed on Saturday and Sunday.  We said yes on Monday.  7 days later 3 new children joined our family.  So here's our family now:

The Tooth Fairy, a fairy princess,
a butterfly, and Dorothy

Gabby - 15
The Boy (Will) - 9
The Freckle Faced Ninja - 7
Miss Priss (Lydia Grace) - 7
Miss Sassy Pants - 6
Dora the Explorer - 5
Madi-Lou-Who - 5
FYI: We will not post face shots or use their names on my blog or social media until our adoption is final.
So, we had 1 week prepare for this new part of our family's journey and all along the way we have been met by the hands of Christ.  

1 week to complete a 3 month homestudy process. And through it we had the opportunity to share our story at 2 doctor offices and watch as they bent over backwards to help us get things done with amazing speed!  Things came together that we had no reason to believe would come together that fast!
1 week to prepare our house to hold 7 children.  Over the weekend I had prayed through all doubts and fears.  I had total confidence that this was where God was leading us.  Once I made the phone call, I became assailed with doubts and anxiety about how we could do all that was needed, did I even know what was needed, was I really prepared to walk this road of discomfort again.  And once again God met us in our need.  He supplied everything: 
  • an interior decorator to help us organize bedrooms (thank you Andria!!)
  • a teenager who in my moments of frustration and anxiety, quietly asks, "How can I help mom?"  Who said to me in a moment when I feared I might cry in front of everyone, "ya know, they aren't as bad as I thought they'd be.  I think things are going to be just fine!"  Thank you so much Gabby Gonzalez, you are such a blessing to all of us!
  • A laundry fairy named Jeannie Gautier who I can never thank enough!!!!
  • Willing hands to donate furniture, help us move and organize things (thank you Tony's men's group, April, Tracy, & Amy, Dean & Rachel!) 
  • Friends with willing hearts to ask how we are and listen to our story. Again and again!  :)
  • Family...could we be blessed with any better family?  All of our family has loved and supported us as we broke the news they'd be gaining more grands/nieces/newphew/cousins!  They have welcomed, helped, prayed, and loved.  Thank you all!!!!  
  • Financial blessings from countless people ranging from checks out of the blue to putting money under our name at a clothing store!!  
  • 2 Care Teams organized by Promise686 (www.promise686.org) to bring us meals several times a week, babysit occasionally, and support us (If you are a foster parent or have adopted children from trauma, or just been through a time of trial, you know what a HUGE blessing it is to have dinner just SHOW UP!!  Thanks to all who are on our Care Teams!) 
  • a new refrigerator, fixed back fence, and carpeting in our now playroom (Finn Smith and friends, you are wonderful!!!) 
  • Yard Help...Hallelujah!  (Thanks so much Jeff!!)
  • Most importantly, people to constantly pray for and over us!  You have no idea how this has blessed us and we have felt your prayers to be sure!!
1 week to prepare our hearts for hard days to come.
1 week to prepare our teenager to go through a huge life transition again.  
1 week to prepare our children to re-live what they had been through.  To help them understand that these kids might be with us only for a time.  As excited as we might be to welcome new sisters and a brother, they weren't exactly thrilled to be coming to live with us.  And it was going to be hard.  And hard is OK.  

We knew we were saying yes to 3 freckly foster children.  What we didn't know is for how long.  They were not yet legally free to adopt but the expectation was that they would become free.  That their mother's parental rights would be terminated.  In 3 months.  Or in 6 months.  The judge felt mom needed more time than the 12 months she'd had.  

On Monday night they came amidst what felt like chaos.  Beds not ready, dressers still to be put in place, clothes in chaos.  

On Tuesday the chaos became real.  Registering for school, teaching routines, restraining one after another during some pretty intense tantrums, trying to explain to them what in the world was happening to them.  

6 different families in 1 year.  At least 4 schools. 3 schools this school year alone.  Their heads were whirling.  And so was their behavior.  

They had not seen their biological mother in several weeks and there was a very real possibility that we would need to take them to see her.  The last visit had been very traumatic so how to prepare them for it. And how to prepare ourselves for the aftermath.  Tuesday we were told they'd let us know but there would be a visit in the next week.  

Wednesday we got an email.  The subject said, "A great big praise the Lord". The sender was the a supervisor at our agency.  The body said, "Social worker was in court all day.  On a positive note, TPR (termination) WAS GRANTED!!!! There will be not more visits."  

To say we were stunned would be a huge understatement!  We'd prepared ourselves to let these children go in six or eight months if that was God's plan and suddenly the were ours!  With that came a great sadness.  This meant that, despite her poor choices, these three innocents could not go see the person that they had more connection to than anyone.  This woman who is more of a child herself, raised by parents much like herself.  I see her as a scared, lonely, abused child in my mind's eye when I look at these children.  

I am sad for her life losses.  The path she was set upon with no one to rescue her.  I am sad for the loss my children feel, all of them, because of someone else's choices.  

But I am also reminded of the sovereignty of God and his plan of redemption. It's now my job to impart this to these babies.  To teach children who feel unloved and unlovely, that their life has purpose.  It has beauty.  That THEY are beautiful.  That what has happened in to them was NOT in their control. Not their fault.  

But first...I must explain that they can never. see. their. mother. again. How? How?  I'm at a loss.  And the chaos of settling in swirls around us.  

By the end of the first week we have both been hit and kicked and dealt with what feels like 100 tantrums.  One won't sleep more than four hours at a stretch then she's awake two.  One is so angry and yells, "DON'T TOUCH ME!" if your hand reaches towards him.  One knows every song I would never let my kids hear in a million years and the Miley Cyrus like moves to match them! They are all so angry, frustrated, confused.  

My stomach is in knots and I constantly pray that God will give me peace.  I cannot eat and I feel as if I've had too much coffee and no sleep, which I have.  Both.   

Week two is much the same with maybe a couple less tantrums.  Bath and bedtime takes two hours and it is completely necessary that all hands are on deck.  I am constantly on the verge of tears and not sure which way is up.  

At the end of week two I realize that they have no school on Monday and I'm in a panic because Tony won't be here.  HOW AM I GOING TO SURVIVE THAT? And Thanksgiving break?  And Christmas break?  As I ask a friend to pray for that I begin to realize that I am so busy worrying about tomorrow that I am forgetting to live in today.  

Suddenly I am calm.  God's peace that I had been praying for settles over me like a blanket as I realize God is in control of tomorrow.  He always was.  We will all survive one way or another. And the day comes.  It is our best day yet.  And my heart, my faith, has turned a corner.  

Somewhere around the third week our Freckle Faced Ninja made the connection based on The Boy telling his story that he was not going home to his mom again.  I guess it was time to talk about it.  He heard it, denied it, took responsibility for it himself.  Miss Sassy Pants refused to hear it at all for a long time.  Freezes anytime any discussion of the past comes up.  Dora the Explorer gets a furrowed brow then launches into a story about her birth parents that makes us all sad.  She's so matter of fact about it.  Maybe that's why it's so sad.  

Now here we are seven weeks down this road and I am amazed.  The child who would not let me touch him now asks for constant hugs.  The child who never smiled for 3 weeks, giggles and laughs with joy.  The child with the Miley Cyrus moves...well they all do them now so that's not exactly forward progress but she also has begun to make eye contact for more than 3 seconds.  We see playfulness and joy where before all we saw was anger.  We see the tentative beginnings of sibling bonds and the full-blown ability to fight like any brothers and sisters do.  The fear that did paralyze them as soon as the lights go out for bedtime is still present but it's not quite so paralyzing.  

Most days are still hard.   We've moved from survival mode to beginning down the long road.  This road to healing where there is no end in sight.  Yet if we could just see around the bend in the road we'd see, really see as God sees, the child who could be.  This is the time we are desiring to see the child hiding behind the coping mechanisms.   

What will the real Miss Sassy Pants be like?  Behind that tough exterior that tells everyone what to do and tries to make sure no one is getting into trouble, is there a soft-hearted ballerina?  Or perhaps a spunky soccer player? I can't imagine the energy she expends focusing on keeping everyone on the straight and narrow.  And the thoughts of why she does it makes me so sad. To look at this sweet thing and realize that she feels the burden of keeping everything copacetic so no one gets yelled at.  Or worse.  To think that she feels the burden of CAUSING the pain her mother experienced at the hands of another.  That she thinks she had the power to stop the hurting at someone else's hands.  This long road of us teaching her how little of it all was in her power.  How little of it all was her burden to bear.  And how it is time to let go of control because it is God's job to hold the world together, not hers.  

And now is when the stories just begin to come out in drips, a few here and a few there.  Part of me desires to hear them in hopes they will help me find the cause of the anxiety that is causing Dora the Explorer to have such a hard time going to sleep and to wake up from 2 am to 4 am every night.  But part of me doesn't want to know.  It rips at my heart to hear some of the things my children say, as if it's normal to sleep in the trunk of the car.  Or to share a "hotel room" with 5 kids and 4 adults.  Or to have more kids come to live with you, causing a shortage of food.  

Seeking ways to build trust with The Boy who is starting to hoard food out of fear again.  Desiring to give new coping skills to replace the lying that is done by several of them, again out of fear.  Wanting to replace their inner fear life with one of faith and trust and dependency.  

How to show God to The Freckle Faced Ninja?  How to walk beside him as he begins to let the anger drain out and replace it with the constant joy of KNOWING that he is the kid of a KING and not the kid of a jerk.  That no matter how his earthly father acted, succeeded or failed, that there is one who loves him so dearly that He was willing to die for him.  He is like a wall of wooden slats.  The sun shines through slim gaps in the wood but not enough to warm the room.  That is his joy.  It leaks through but does not yet pour out.  It is a beginning though.  I am seeing him begin to spring more and more leaks as the wood weakens and the anger holds less sway.  

Many have asked how we are doing.  I will tell you honestly, I am tired.  I am exhausted.  So is Tony.  And some days by bedtime I wonder how I will get up and do this again tomorrow.  But each day I do.  And each day I see beauty and joy and laughter in my children.  Some days the chaos is too much for this introvert and her introverted husband (I am SURE God has a sense of humor...2 introverts raising 2 introverts...plus 5 extroverts....).  

Many days I lose my cool too often and must ask for forgiveness.  Many days I'm too mad to remember to ask until they are all asleep.  

Many nights I am baffled and on the internet or buried in a book trying to find answers to behaviors.  

I am overwhelmed with 2 therapists, dr appointments, psychologicals, IEP and SST school meetings, laundry & dishes, dentist appointments that require sedation because of the amount of work needed on such a little mouth.  

And everyday I am over run by eager hugs and kisses, children who demand more tickling, and dare me to zerbert their tummy.  

Mostly I am amazed that God has blessed me with his long road.  Each hurdle we jump, we jump together as a family.  And there is Christ to catch us if we stumble as we land.  I am grateful for every mud puddle along the way because each time I will look down and see God's reflection looking back at me out of it and hopefully be able to keep walking.  Thank you for walking this long road with us!  

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

What color are Cheerios?

I had an uncle growing up that wasn't really my uncle.  His name was John Henry.  I hope you all had one like him.  He was best friends with my mother's brother Bob and was treated like one of the family.  I don't remember much about him except that he seemed tall to my 5 or 6 year old self, had dark skin, a big smile, and he was usually one of the reasons I'd get to giggling at the dinner table and end up having to leave the table for a few minutes to compose myself!  

As a child in a small town in the south in the mid to late 70's, I didn't realize how unique this friendship between my uncle and John Henry was.  How it pushed the boundaries of what was typical.  How it stretched some of my family.  And how they loved him.  I saw John Henry.  Others saw a black man. Still others saw a friend.  Wonder what God saw?  

Sadly John Henry's life ended far too early but I wonder about him in our lives and how today it would not matter that our skin colors didn't match.  Or does it?  

I think partly because of John Henry and partly because of my mother's students and friends being a variety of races, as a young child, I was completely unconscious of racism.  Skin color was sort of like hair color in my world at that young age.  My best friend in kindergarten was Monica. She stood up for me when I was teased for my short "boyish" haircut.  To me she was brave and strong.  She never had less than 6 beautiful braids with colorful barrettes on each one.  I was so jealous!  Now looking back I wonder if there were times when I should have stood up for her.  Times when maybe she was treated wrongly because of her skin color.  

As I hit my pre-teen and teen years I began to see an under current of discomfort between people of different cultures, ethnic groups, or races.  I have seen and heard stories of past and present offenses against people based on differences that just make me ill.  Some of them are so current and so crude it would shock you if you didn't witness it first hand.  It makes my heart ache that we treat others so badly based on a difference like skin color. Something God created.  That the Almighty views as beautiful!

Recently I discovered that Cheerios used a biracial couple in a commercial, along with a biracial child.  My normal reaction would have been, "cute kid!" expect that my attention was taken by the violently negative responses some have made to this commercial.  Before I go any further, I want to say that I think General Mills is AWESOME because their response was to simply disable the ability to comment on the commercial and delete the negative comments. They stood behind the commercial.  

I was embarrassed, saddened,...and convicted. 

It made me look inside and wonder what I think of others.  What do I think of other races?  What do I think of biracial marriage?  Children?  All those answers were pretty positive.  I think children who are mixed race are gorgeous!  I find their parents to be people and don't usually worry about what color they are painted by God beyond that.  

I'm pretty sure that genetically our first parents were a nice latte or caramel color with all the genetics we see in the world.  Or maybe they were the original biracial couple!  And Christ was probably not blond with freckles.  

But what do I think of racism?  That question stopped me cold.  The sad thing is that I do not.  Because it is not a challenge for me.  I live in a progressive, metropolitan city (#1 in nerdiness & #1 in redneckness...go figure!).  It is a city of many colors, cultures, and lifestyles.  In my immediate community, church, and association, we are of like minds about color being just a part of someone not a separator, similar socio-economics, politics, education, etc.  In short, our lives fit together.  They mesh.  We agree.  

So racism isn't on my radar.  Until it is.  

I have friends now, 2013, who have described to me events, days, words. They were ugly, painful, embarrassing.  And all of them were connected to the color of their skin or their ethnic background.  Why do we seek to hurt that which does not look like us? 

I live in a bubble.  Most of us do.  We live in a bubble of our comfort zone.  My comfort zone doesn't all look like me.  But they THINK like me.  They talk like me.  I suppose instead of racist, maybe I'm guilty of a sort of classist discrimination.  Only associating with those I feel are like me in these ways. I wonder have I hurt someone with words or a look?  A look that said, "You don't belong here."

Now we have a boiling nation, angry and on opposite sides of a fence we've painted black and white.  One side is screaming, "HE'S A MURDERER!" while the other side yells back, "JUSTICE WAS SERVED!"  

And I can feel nothing but sorrow.  Sorrow for Trayvon's mother who lost her son.  Whether he was troubled or not, she has lost the precious child of her heart.  I do not know what went on that night.  I did not follow the trial and was frankly sickened by the media frenzy.  But I want to hold his mother and weep with her for her loss.  

I feel saddened of stories that I am hearing about young black men who are suspected, followed, looked at with suspicion due to their age and skin color.  I have not lived this.  I cannot imagine.  I am looking at my children and I wonder how young men deal with such pressure.  

I am saddened by the anger and violence that people speak of in impoverished inner city neighborhoods that is ending the lives of so many teens, many of them African American or Latino.  These are precious children of God and I know he is weeping for them.

I hear of what someone wrote on the car of my African American friend and I wonder in that moment, how she explained those horrible, cutting words to her beautiful young teen-aged daughter.  

Is it any wonder that people who are treated as such would feel anger?  That there would be a riot?  Just because we do not experience a situation does not mean it does not exist.  And just because one such person is cruel, does not mean all such people are.  

So what is the answer?  Where do we go from here?  How do we back away from the boiling point and move toward healing?  I cannot make others like me due to or inspite of my skin color, economic level, education, etc.  I cannot change who I am or what I look like to fit into others molds.  So, how do we honor our differences, appreciate our uniqueness, and come to common ground?

I'm not sure we all can.  Because we all have history.  We have been hurt.  Or we have been trained.  Or we have been taught.  It all builds up.  

One child is taught that only those from our country, our color, our "side of the tracks" are OK.  The rest are to be tolerated but not appreciated.  They witness name calling by adults.  Maybe even violence.  They grow up with these beliefs.  They become a name calling, racist teenager.  There's no real anger behind it.  Just ignorance.  Ignorance usually ends up looking like stupidity, does it not?  

Another child is called a racial slur.  They are hurt.  The child is told to "go be with your own kind".  Anger builds.  The child becomes an angry teenager who wants others to feel what he has felt.  There is mistrust.  How can you trust those who have hurt you?

So now it is time to find answers.  I do not have them.  I am not an expert.  I do know that I am leaning heavily on God in this.  I am seeking his guidance. 

My gut feeling is that God is telling me that I must stand up against the ignorance of those who may look like me, but do not speak for me.  I do not see racism but I feel I must seek it out and call out those who would consider themselves "good people" for their cutting words.  I cannot change them but if enough of us stop them in their tracks, let's them know we won't allow them to insult another human being that God considers precious, perhaps they will keep their poison to themselves.  But then again, maybe God will use our words to change their hearts.         

I must go where I am not comfortable.  Perhaps to an inner city, poor neighborhood, and serve those who are not usually served.  Maybe I should start a conversation with friends of different races and ask if they've ever experienced racism.  And then listen.  And cry with them if they cry.  Pray for their healing.  And maybe, just maybe, God will heal some anger in that process.  

We talk about random acts of kindness.  Buying a cup of coffee, mowing a lawn.  What about random words of wisdom?  They say actions speak louder than words but what sticks with you longer?  I'm sure someone has bought me coffee before but ya know what I remember?  I remember thoughtless words spoken to me in a moment I was in great pain.  I remember praise from a 6th grade teacher that I would be a great teacher myself one day.  Words.  They last forever in our memories.  

Maybe, just maybe, if each of us turns off the toxic news and instead turns to talk to a real person, and use our words with love, we can make a difference. I pray that we can.  

Saturday, October 5, 2013

Dreams of a Little Girl

She tottered back and forth as she walked, wobbly on her high heels.  The two girls giggled as the walked toward the coffee cart at church...to get lemonade. They looked all of 11 years old and so proud to be wearing "high heels".

Do you remember your first pair of high heels?  I remember my grandmother's closet FULL of shoe boxes!  It is one of her loves, shoes.  She would let me play dress up, wear her jewelry  and play in her make up.  I felt like a princess, beautiful, magical, special, cared for.  

My first real high heels were for my aunt's wedding. I was the flower girl.  I had a pearl necklace, a sweet yellow dress, and high heels that I proudly wobbled in for maybe an hour before a blister and the allure of still being a little girl had me kick them off to dance around at the reception.  

There was another girl.  She looked 16.  Maybe older.  Until you got closer. She was about 11.  She wore too much make up and walked with self-assurance in those heels.  She doesn't have the giggly, secure appearance of a little girl with dreams.  She has too much reality.  Reality that has hard biting edges.  

There might be drugs.  

There is probably hunger.  

There is most likely sexual and physical abuse.

There is most certainly pain.  

When she walks down the halls, it is of a school if she's lucky.  But not likely.  
Otherwise, it's the hallway of an apartment where a man has dropped her off. He stands guard until she's finished.  Or rather until they are finished with her. Then he collects money and takes her to the next "appointment".  

Or transport that girl to another place and she has never seen a school. Maybe never had a bath.  Yet men walk down the line, choose her and take her down the alley to a room.  Pay the fee and they can use her how they wish until their time is up.  

It takes my breath away to think of a child being used this way.  Yet is happens over, and over, and over.  

Do we even see these girls?  Do they live where we live?  Or are they carefully hidden from sight?  Prostitute.  Such a hard word.  Intimidating.  It has always implied a certain choice to me.  Until I began to see each girl. And realized their reality.  

One in four girls is sexually abused.  Most "prostitutes", if not all, were sexually abused runaways.  They tried to leave the abuse.  They tried for a better place.  A safer place.  And they were met with someone who instead broke their will with violence, isolation, substance abuse (possibly forced). Then they are tattooed with their pimp's name and forced to do his bidding by starvation, physical violence...

Atlanta is one of the top cities in the US for child trafficking.  

The average age of a child when they are first used for prostitution is between 11 and 14.  

Some as young as 9.   

This feels so personal to me.  You see, I have 5 girls in my house.  They are precious to me.  But not just that, but their earliest beginnings could have led down this same path.  Several of our children were around the types of people that could have put them on that same journey.  

Have you ever seen the hard edge of a 4 year old who doesn't trust anyone? Have you ever heard a word you wouldn't say out of the mouth of one who is just a babe?  Seen or heard them do and say things that let you know that they've seen the latest horror flick or Miley Cyrus dance move?  

God has deviated my children's lives into ours.  I have watched a child go from cynical to so sweet and kind, you would not believe it was the same child.  I am praying to see it again and again and again now.  I am hoping that this deviation has changed the course of their lives forever but I weep to know they could have ever been on this path.

What takes my breath away is the others.  The children we do not know about.  The children who don't have someone saying, "We will step up.  Why not us?"  They are out there.  They are just babies.  They could have been my babies.  

And it is time for The Church to step in.  It is time for the people of God to act. 

It brings to my mind the movie "Courageous".  The end scene is a call to action.  "Where are you men (and women) of God?  Where are you mighty men (and women) of valor?"  

I would ask you the same question.  Where are you?  

We are able to do what we are doing because a community of courageous men and women are stepping up to help us.  They are being the hands of Christ to our children just as much as we are.  Because without our family and friends who are serving us we would utterly fail in this mission God has given us.  He has put us in relationship with those who will hold us up with we falter on this journey, which right now is daily, hourly, minute by minute.  But we are held up by so many, we cannot help but succeed.  

God may not be calling you to bring in children to your home but are you listening to what He is calling you to?  Because He is not prompting you to comfort.  We cannot call ourselves Christians and sit complacent in our homes doing nothing.  If we do, we owe those children we are failing a huge apology.  
For more information on statistics around sex trafficking and how you could get involved to help here is a great website (it's where I got most of my facts):