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!