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

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.