All Just Souls

“All Just Souls” These words hit me while at the emergency room with my oldest son. A transgender woman entered the room and curled up on the chair. She sat there in physical and emotional torment. My son didn’t notice. He was too engrossed in his Ipad.

Soon, the family across from us began staring immensely at this person. “It’s a man”, I heard them whisper. Glaring again. Giggling. Whispering into each other’s ears.

She bent over in pain. My heart sunk. Soon, her name was called out. It was was a male name (meaning not a gender-neutral name). I knew the family would get a kick out of that and watched as they began all over again with the giggles, whispers, and stares. Not surprised. Sickened, though.

She came back and sat down near where I was. She was alone. Trembling. In pain. No one was there comforting here – unlike 99% of the others waiting in ER that evening. The internal battle in my mind started. “I can’t leave my son. What if she has something contagious? What can I do? What should I do? No. I’m going to mind my business…”

These thoughts coursed through me. Occasionally, I would look up and give a good glare at the family clearly enjoying their mockery. I looked again at my son. “Thank goodness he is oblivious to this.”

Before I had the courage to ask her if she needed someone to sit with, she was gone – whisked back to get the care she obviously needed. I sat there riding a wave of guilt over my lack-of-action and defiance to that inner voice that says, “Go.”

“Never again”, I thought.

My son was called back, checked out and (thankfully) able to leave the hospital that night. As we left, I thought about her. “Did anyone come up there? Is she okay? Does she have a family or anyone to support her anymore?”

For the next few days, my mind kept going back to that night at the ER. Yes, I am bothered that I didn’t get up when feeling nudged to do so. I missed an opportunity to try and love on someone who needed it. I’m also terribly troubled by the actions I witnessed.

The first moment I had with my kids actually paying attention to me (the struggle is real!), I said,

“Hey guys, you know that in life you will always be surrounded by people who look different than you, have different skin color, love differently, believe differently and make different choices, right? Well, it doesn’t matter how different a person is or if you don’t understand that person or don’t agree with their choices, what you are responsible for is always choosing to be kind. There is never, never any reason to be cruel.”

“Mom, you know I don’t act like that.” “Yeah, that is really mean.” Soon…their words in response to mine began to warm my heart.

I went on.

“Listen, guys. None of us are perfect or sinless. We have to remember that as we are sitting in judgment of others, God is watching us do that. We are being judged while we are judging others. Again, even if you don’t agree with someone, if they are different or you just don’t understand, there will never be a single reason to show cruelty or ridicule or laugh at someone – especially those who are hurting or in a bad situation. As Christians, we believe that each of us have souls. We need to start seeing each other not as people but as souls who want to be treated with kindness and understanding. We are all just souls. Does that make sense?”

“Yes, we know, Mom.”

It has been a few weeks since this occurred; yet, I keep thinking about the person…that soul….crumpled over in despair next to me.

It broke my heart – but in a good way – in a God way.

There are some who may think I’m leading my children astray by raising them as Christians but teaching them about acceptance and choosing compassion for those we don’t understand. We don’t just want to live by faith, we want to love by faith. That is the difference.

Gosh, when I visualize Jesus, I see him sitting next to those who are persecuted around us or walking right up to someone that others wouldn’t dare walk up to.

He loves those who are unloved by others. I can’t imagine believing so deeply in the love of Christ but not desiring to show that to others; to mock those who he gave his life for, to speak or act in cruelty towards the very ones he came to save.

“All Just Souls” Yes, we are. Let us always remember that.

Author’s Note: I could not leave this post without mentioning the high suicide rate in the LGBTQ community. It is absolutely heart-breaking. If you or someone you love needs helps, here is the suicide prevention hotline for the United States: (877) 565-8860 In Canada, here is the suicide prevention hotline specifically designed for the transgender community: (877) 330-6366 You are loved.

When We Said Yes to Adoption

When we said yes to adoption, we chose YOU.

We said yes…

to laughter and tears,

to delight and heartbreak,

to gifts and losses,

to sweet words and eye-rolls,

to the past and the future,

to hardship and grace,

to love.

Happy Adoption Anniversary Day, Sweetie.

Note: Our daughter’s adoption anniversary was on Monday but due to the flu bug (YUCK) hitting our home, I’m just now getting around to posting this on the blog.

New Year’s Goal of Changing the Narrative

Watched any news cycles lately? If so, have you heard the phrase, “Changing the narrative” or “change the narrative”? My guess is that you probably have heard that phrase more than once! As 2018 came to a close, I began to think about what my goal for the New Year would be. With “changing the narrative” freshly on my mind (thanks to ALL the various news guests who love to use this phrase), I began to wonder if a New Year’s goal of changing the narrative would be worthy of giving serious effort towards accomplishing.

Let me explain.

2018 was a bit rough for me. I found myself questioning a LOT about my lot in life. We faced numerous obstacles with our children. I turned away from potential career opportunities because they just didn’t sit well in my gut. I realized that I could not keep my children and husband a priority in my life if I pursued these things. I have to admit that my narrative for most of the year was filled with a big old case of the blah’s. I thought, “Well, if the kids weren’t so hard or if I didn’t have to worry about that or if our financial situation was different or if people would just see that for what it is…then I would be able to do this or that or the world would change…or…” Needless to say, I’m thankful that it is a new year.

Over the Christmas break, I took time away from work to spend with my family. During this time, I was smacked with the reality that my own perception and narrative needed to change. What the Lord impressed upon my heart is that the only way to truly change the narrative in our lives is to fully embrace changing it within our own hearts and minds. It isn’t about seeking others to change their narratives. Sure, we can lobby for that. We can advocate for changing the tone to which we disagree. However, in order to create change, perhaps, we must start from within. My goal for this New Year is to do just that.

I know I have other goals to work on in 2019. I need to eat better, exercise more and focus on a few projects that I have in the works. I need to spend more time being present, in the moment, and less time on social media (which is funny because I’m blogging right now). However, the most important goal I hope to achieve is changing the narrative to which I function on a daily basis – especially when it comes to frustrations at home, at work and in my every day life.

It is with a big lump in my throat that I read, “A soft answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger.” (Proverbs 15:1)

With a guilty conscience, I read, “Keep your life free from love of money, and be content with what you have, for he has said, “I will never leave you nor forsake you.” (Hebrews 13:5)

It is with a twinge of hope-filled remembrance, I embrace, “Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.” (Philippians 4:8)

As this first month of 2019 is drawing to a close, I realize I have already failed at this goal of changing the narrative. I slipped back into the cynicism that can create a false sense of coping. However, I have had a few successful moments of changing my narrative as well.

It has become a daily ritual that starts out in the quiet of the morning before the kids are awake. I refocus on how I want to respond to my kids or whatever else comes up in the day. I remind myself of the important things that I need to focus on – not the ones that drain me or cause contempt in my heart. I am beginning each day with a self-pep-talk of shifting my internal conversation from defensive to offensive. I am consciously choosing to say, “I love you” more often and at unexpected times. I am choosing to never forget that Jesus loves me no matter my circumstances or when I’m at my best or worst.

Keeping all of this in mind, my New Year’s goal of changing the narrative of my life is one that I believe will change me.

“As someone who thinks within himself, so he is.” (Proverbs 23:7)

What are your goals for 2019? Do you think a New Year’s goal of changing the narrative would help you? I’d love to hear your feedback. Post a comment!

P.S. Here is a pic of us as we celebrated the New Year!

‘Tis the Best Gift We Can Offer {a few lessons from reading home studies}

A part of my job is to read home studies for prospective foster and adoptive families. I have probably read somewhere in the thousands of studies. Although each one has a unique perspective on life and various layers of the human story, there are a few themes that run with each one.
 
1) People do not recall the “things” they were given as children. Instead, they remember vacations, family game nights, traditions, meals around the table, going to their grandparents’ house for family gatherings, feeling loved and knowing they are wanted.
2) People recognize that chores were good for them. Some had way too much put on their plates, while others did not have enough. Because of both experiences, the importance of appropriate chores is appreciated.
3) People recall the tempers of their parents and the fighting that occurs. Looking back on their childhoods, they are able to talk with detail about how fighting between their parents affected them and in some way, affects their current relationships – both in a good way and a bad way.
4) There is usually at least one solid adult who meant the world to them. For some, it was their mom. For others, their dad. For several, it was a relative or neighbor who mentored and loved on them when they needed it.
5) Children, who are not allowed to freely express their emotions, remember it as adults. They recall feeling stifled by not being able to show anger or being fearful if they showed anger.
6) Even in the worst home situations, most people walk away with a set of values taught to them. They can tell the difference between authentic values and false living.
7) Most people are forgiving towards their parents. Even as adults, people tend to still crave a decent, healthy relationship with their parents.
 
Reading home studies can be quite tedious. Interesting, but tedious. Each time I read one, I’m like, “Oh…yeah. I totally could be handling that issue better” or “Man, wish I could be as wholesome and loving as that mom.” Needless to say, reading the stories of others can be quite humbling!
 
However, with each study (basically a story) that I read, I am reminded that none of us are perfect. We each have our own insecurities, challenges, talents and imperfections. What is important in life is that we connect with our children, we give them experiences, and we never abandon or pull away from them.
 
Just a few reminders as we head straight into Christmas. Children will not remember each gift they open on Christmas morning, but they will remember us and the love we give.
‘Tis the best gift we can offer.

In Need of Grace {a letter from my child}

“The children who need love the most will always ask for it in the most unloving ways.” Russel Barkley

I think of this quote when parenting my kids.  It is a great reminder when I’m struggling to manage the problems and issues we often face.  I have also thought of it when considering my own actions.

Sometimes, I’m not easy to love.  I absolutely admit that I can be a bit of a grouch at times.  I can put expectations on my kids that are probably too high for their level of functioning.  My feelings get hurt, I lose my temper, and I struggle showing grace – even when I am the one who probably needs it the most.

Last week at a doctor’s appointment for a recent back injury, my doctor asked me how things are going with the kids.  I sat for a minute and thought, “Do I tell him the truth that life is hard or do I grin and say things are going fine?”  The word “fine” has become the one I use when things really aren’t that fine.  It gives a simple response to questions that I don’t want to unpack.

As much as I tried to keep it in, I couldn’t.  The tears ran down my face as I explained the issues we are having and how I have been feeling and failing, lately.  The funny thing (actually, not that funny) is when you are told “maybe tomorrow will be better”, deep down you know that it probably won’t be.  Instead of offering a rallying cry to me, my doctor let me cry.  Soon, he brought in a counselor they have on staff and she also just let me cry.  It felt good to release it.  I should probably do that more often.

Fast forward a few days from this appointment to my birthday (yes, I just turned another year older).  My children were having a rough night.  I’ve learned not to expect nights without behaviors – even on special occasions.  As I opened my gifts, one of my children handed me a letter…

Dear Mom,

Thank you for sooo much for being graceful, and loving to me and for adopting me and helping me up when I’m hurt, cheering me up when I’m sad and you love me no matter what I do.  Thank you for being my mom for the best years of my life.

Did you read that?

Graceful.

Loving.

Helping.

Cheering.

Best years of my life.

I cried as I read it and looked at my child.  Soon, this child’s eyes were welling up as I opened up my arms for a big hug.  I will hang on to this letter.  I will read it over and over again during the good times and the bad.

It is hard to explain what it is like to raise children who struggle with lots of things – mental health, academics, behavioral issues, etc.  From the outside, my kids look perfect.  Their outside appearances do not match what is going on internally.  Because of this, there are false perceptions made about all of us.

Having been down a bit from the past few weeks of challenges, I have been in need of a lot of grace.  I have wondered in desperation if I was equipped to handle the arrows aimed in my direction and at my children.  I have questioned if there will ever be a relief or a miracle or something that proves the heartaches and hardships will make sense one day.

Through a child’s words, I was offered that grace.  It spoke straight to the heart.  I was given the gift of encouragement and a glimpse into why it is so important to keep going.  I was reminded of the need to offer grace, the feeling of being loved, the importance of helping and encouragement, and that (often) we parents are our children’s entire worlds.  My child’s letter thanking me for the grace I have shown actually provided me with the grace I have searched for, lately.  What a powerful moment it was.

Although my child wrote the letter, I see God’s hand all over it.  I hear Him saying, “There you go…there you go.  See?  I told you it is worth it.  You do matter.  Your children matter.  You may not see it every day, but your children do and so do I.”  

Parents of children with extra needs, moments like the one I experienced reading my child’s letter may not come around very often.  I know this.  You know this, as well.  We find ourselves not only managing the typical antics and activities of childhood, but also managing the extra stuff; the kind that yearns to siphon whatever energy or hope we have left at the end of the day.  Some days, it isn’t very much, is it?

We have to remember that we are making a difference even if we don’t see the results immediately.  We must believe that even though a miracle may not occur, our actions, stability, support and love are miraculous to our children.  It is okay to admit our failures.  It is totally acceptable to dwell in the knowledge that we are desperate for a measure of grace on any given day.

Keep going.  Keep the faith.  Even if you think no one is noticing, remember that your children are.

So is the Lord.

Praise Him for that.

 

Not a Burden (a little note on the adoption anniversary of our youngest son)

Happy Thanksgiving! Hope your day was filled with family, food and friendship.
 
A few nights ago, our oldest two kiddos were just not into it (meaning getting along, playing nice, communicating with us, etc). My awesome husband suggested I take our youngest son out to eat and that he would hold down the fort with our two older, cranky kids.
 
As my young son and I scarfed down our meal, I delighted in his whimsy. He is quite the character, says the most random things and dreams of being a rock star one day (insert my fear of him living in our basement as an adult). 
 
Anyway!! As I sat and listened to him, I realized how lucky we are to have him as our son. We hadn’t planned on adopting again but life throw us a curve ball and we chose to take the pitch. We hit the ball out of the park with this kid. I’m so glad we did.
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Five years ago today, our adoption was finalized. As we celebrate Thanksgiving today, we are thankful for being his parents. Children are a blessing, not a burden (even on the hard days).
 
P.S. I’m totally fine with him being a rock star one day as long as he can pay his own bills…
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Keep It Real {things I wish I heard prior to adoption}

As a parent to kiddos adopted out of difficult situations, here are the things I totally wish someone would have said to me prior to adoption:

1) It’s not gonna feel good all of the time.
2) Nurture is awesome, but genetics are huge.
3) You might have days where you wished you had made a different decision. (don’t guilt yourself about it)
4) Raising children with extra needs causes you to live life around a schedule of medicines, appointments, triggers, and other issues.
5) It does hurt when you are told that you are not their “real parent”. (even though you pretend it doesn’t)
6) Fear causes you to overthink…a lot.
7) There will be things that come up in your child’s life that you never had to deal with.
8) Don’t compare your own upbringing or the way you were as a child to what you expect or wish of your child.
9) Adoptive parenting can be very lonely and isolating.
10) Don’t underestimate your voice in all of it.
11) Never underestimate your child’s voice in all of it.
12) Get used to advocacy. It will become one of your best assets.
13) Adoption = loss. It just does.

I never want to paint a rosy or perfect picture of adoption – not even during National Adoption Month. Instead, I want others to know that while adoption is incredible and totally life-changing, it is also hard.

In order for us (people who work and live life within the realm of adoption) to make a difference, we need to take off our rose-colored glasses. We need to tell it like it is. We have to understand that adoption is wonderful but also challenging. The gavel’s declaration of adoption does not mean that hard stuff ends. If anything, it is just beginning.

For any of you who are parents through adoption and are struggling, I see you. I get it. I am right there with you.

Keep your chin up. Keep it real.

5 Things I Would Tell My “(pre)Adoptive Mother Self”

November is National Adoption Month in the US.  We set aside this month to focus on adoption stories as well as the plight of many children waiting for families.  I’ve been an “official” adoptive parent now for a little over ten years.  We’ve stretched out of our comfort zone, dealt with issues that we never thought we would face, and we’ve laughed…a lot.

Even on the hardest days – the ones where we have really struggled – my husband and I do not regret our decision to adopt our children.  We would have missed so many precious moments.

Ones like this, 20180607_144153_Film1 (1)

Or, this one…

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Thinking back to my “(pre)adoptive mother self”, I totally wish I could say that I was 100% prepared for parenting – not just parenting in general, but adoptive parenting.  I know that there are many similarities, but I also know there are many differences.

If could go back, here are a few things I would tell myself:

  1. When the gavel falls and adoption is declared, that is when the real work begins.  Meaning, adoption can get much harder.  Sure, there are difficulties getting to the place where you are on the eve of adoption, but oh boy, all of the trials we experienced during that time seem kind of trivial compared to some of the issues we now face on any given day.
  2. Don’t take it personally.  There is a special kind of guilt that seems to tag along with adoptive parenting.  It is hard to not take things personally when you witness your child struggling or when your child says things to you that take your breath away (I’m not talking about the sweet statements, although there has been some of those).  When you work tirelessly advocating for and managing your child’s life to the point of not being able to capture just a glimpse of forward movement, it is hard to not take it personally.  Just don’t.  Or, at least, try not to.
  3. Listen.  Like, REALLY listen to others who have walked in the shoes you are about to walk in.  Learn what you can about trauma (in the womb and out).  Be prepared to have a host of professionals in your life (doctors, specialists, teachers, therapists, etc).  Definitely advocate and ask questions but also choose to listen and learn.  It will serve you well.
  4. It is not going to feel good all of the time.  The reality is that parenting (of any type) can break your heart from time-to-time.  With adoptive parenting, the things that break your heart tend to be ones that you really do not fully comprehend and certainly cannot control.  I’m talking about genetic issues that come into play as the years go on.  I’m speaking of the damage done in the womb that is hard to explain to someone.  I’m thinking of the challenges that you never faced growing up but now dwell in your home because your children face them.  Nope.  It does not feel good all of the time.
  5. No matter what, don’t give up and don’t you dare second-guess your importance in the life of your children.  Don’t do it.  Never do it.  Your kids need you.  They don’t need another set of parents to not come through.  It will get rough.  You will think, “Am I really being the best parent I can be?  What if I didn’t answer that question the way my child needed me to?  Maybe, I’m the problem?  What if I tried a little harder?”  These questions have circulated in my mind a lot through the years.  They are made up of guilt mixed in with a sliver of grief.  Just don’t go there.

Looking back to my “(pre)adoptive mother self”, I totally thought I was prepared for all of this.  I thought I had a grasp of trauma-informed parenting, adoption issues, loss and grief, and a whole host of behavioral issues.  I totally was not.  I can’t even pretend that I was.

Yet, would I do it all again?  Absolutely.

Can I imagine a life without my children?  No way.

Without (foster parenting) and adoption, I could have missed this:

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Barrenness Hit Me Today

I glanced up towards the beverage coolers of the grocery store and noticed a pregnant woman walking by. Her skin was glowing, belly round and full, and she was beautiful. I  noticed the woman in front of me noticing her as well.

In my head, I thought, “Pregnant women really are beautiful. I bet she is so happy to be carrying her baby. I wish I could have carried mine.” 

Yep. Right there as I’m checking out, answering the cashier about my choice of a paper or plastic, barrenness hit me today.

I don’t think about it all of the time. Honestly, barrenness doesn’t knock on my door like it used to. Most days, it never even crosses my mind…most days.

Today, it did. Perhaps, it is because this week has been filled with teaching others about trauma that can occur in the womb. Maybe, it is due to explaining to teachers, who don’t know my children that well (yet), about their challenges. Or, it could be that both worry and sadness have visited me this week.

As soon as I got home from the store, I packed the groceries into their allotted space in our kitchen and headed back to our safe spot where we put meaningful items that belong to our family. I dug through the paperwork and pictures and found a copy of a letter that I had sent to a former pastor of mine many years ago.

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2008

I wrote it on the eve of my husband and I filing our adoption petition for our oldest son in 2008. The image above is just one section of a one-and-a-half page letter to my pastor. I’m not sure why I kept it but am glad that I did.

Life has a funny way of kicking us around a time or two, doesn’t it? Hard experiences like to sneak their way around our hearts a bit. They lay dormant for a while and then, BOOM, there they are. There.They.Are.

I’ve heard that, sometimes, you have to look back at where you were to appreciate where you are. I’m finding myself doing this more often than not; especially on days where barrenness seems to smack me upside the head. With regard to the letter, I read it again and felt as though I was typing it for the first time; my eyes filled up, my hands trembled a bit, and I exhaled deeply. I needed to visit the elation, promise and revelation, even in barrenness, that I found through the Lord ten years ago. I needed to take a step back and remember all of it.

I am 46-years-old and have known for thirty-five years that I would never have a biological child. You would think by now that I would be “over it”. In many ways, I’m so over it – like bye-bye. Yet, in other times, it seeks me out, dances around me, and teases me like a school-yard bully. It ticks me off, makes me feel insecure, and breaks my heart time and again.

I still look at pregnant women with awe but a sliver of jealousy. I still wonder what it would have felt like to announce our pregnancy to my husband and our parents. I imagine the feeling of my children growing inside of me and the passion I would have carried to give them the best in utero experience possible.

Yes, sometimes, you have to look back at where you were to appreciate where you are. For me, looking back at the empty space of barrenness and then recapturing the feelings of going through the motions of adoption, does my heart good. It does it so good.

Barrenness hit me today. It sucker-punched me at the grocery store when I was least expecting it. I didn’t have my boxing gloves on. There wasn’t a coach in the corner telling me how to handle it. Nope. None of that. It’s not that I have ever had that to begin with, though. Instead, I revisited a moment in time that has carried me through these past several years.

To recall the feelings of hope and love, to dwell for just a moment in the silence of gratitude, and to revel in understanding that comes from the Lord is by far, the best defense when hard experiences try to find a way to slither back into our lives.

No one is the keeper of our past, present and future like the Lord is. No one can turn devastation or despair into goodness like the Lord can. True peace and understanding comes from the Lord. It always has and it always will.

And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. -Philippians 4:7

 

 

 

 

 

Six Years Away

Son,

Six years away.  This is all I can think about right now.  As you turn twelve, the thought that we only have six more years until you are a (legal) adult keeps coursing through my mind.  Oh, my.  Time fleets and flutters its way through our lives, especially when we are not paying attention.

We fought hard for you.  I want you to know that.  I don’t mean in physical words spoken out loud for others to hear.  I mean in words whispered and cried out to our Father in Heaven.  It wasn’t that our fight was just about you.  Perhaps, just perhaps, it was also about us, about our own desires to become your forever parents, for an answer to the barrenness in our lives and for the abundant clarity of it all that only the Lord can bring.  We also spoke those words for your birth mother.  Please believe this.

Six years away.  In this short amount of time, we will face obstacles.  We will deal with middle school angst, puberty (I know….SO embarrassing), first loves and high school antics.  As your parents, we will worry and fret about you becoming a driver.  We will always worry a bit about you.  Sorry.  That’s just how it is.

Son, only six more years until we release you into the world.  There are moments when my heart just can’t take it.  I think fondly back to our early days.  Sweetness seemed to follow you everywhere you went.  Your curiosity about the world, whimsical expressions and overall silliness absolutely captured the hearts of many.

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In so many ways, I still think of you as that little Mamma’s Boy that you once were.  I know.  I know.  You are growing up.  You don’t need me as much as you once did.  You grimace and get embarrassed at me…often.  Here’s the deal, though.  I may embarrass you at times or get on to you about things, but I will never not love you.  Ever.

Six years from now, you are declared an adult.  Where has the time gone?  What happened to yesterday and the day before that and the day before that?  I used to believe that fostering you and not knowing what was going to happen was the hardest part.  I now know that witnessing you grow up, dealing with the issues we have faced, and watching you crawl closer and closer to leaving is the hardest part.

I never understood the idea of half of my heart living outside of my body until I wrapped my arms around you.

If able to, I would go back and repeat each and every single day just to hold you and capture those moments one more time.

There is a lot of life to be lived between now and then.  I know this.  I also know that even though you will be an adult sooner than we are prepared for, you will always be our little boy, our first baby and one of the most important parts of our lives.

Son, on your 12th birthday, I want to say that I love you more each day.  I am proud of you.  I adore your quirks (even when they drive me crazy).  I appreciate how you methodically think about Every. Single. Thing.  I crack up at your goofy laugh and the many excuses you can come up with to not clean your room.  It pleases my soul to see your gentleness with animals.

It both breaks my heart and fills it with joy to watch you grow into the person you are.  For you, kiddo, are a good human being.  You, son, are a blessing.

Happy Birthday, Bubby.  Love you forever.

Only six years away…

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