When You Know Their Names

My supervisor walked over with a large file stuffed full of documents, set it down on my desk and said, “Here’s your first case. Make sure to read it and let me know if you have any questions.” I looked at it with apprehension; fearful of what I would see. Slowly, opening the binder, I saw her name. It’s odd how personal and raw it becomes when you know their names.

Like the beginning of a new book, I didn’t know quite what to expect but was eager to read it. Graphic details chronicling the abuse that occurred caused my heart to speed up a bit. I pushed the file away, sat back in my chair and took a deep breath; fighting tears.

Reading an account of a child’s life; one that included sexual abuse and neglect, gutted me. Word by word. Sentence by sentence – the unraveling of what should’ve been a happy and safe childhood. Placement disruption and behavioral issues – all of which added to the texture of trauma in this child’s life. Her life carries the weight of those first few years, even after adoption.

Coming from a safe and stable childhood free of maltreatment, I was unaware of the depth of abuse that occurs in our neighborhoods. As a caseworker, I delved into darkness to which has never really left me. Because of it, I’ve changed. Perhaps, for the better.

When you know their names, everything changes.

May is National Foster Care Month in the U.S. The goal is to bring awareness to the needs of children and the system. It’s easy to look at child abuse statistics and think, “What a shame.” It’s much harder to look away when you know the child’s name.

As we close out this month, my hope is that awareness will stir the hearts of people to dig deep and reach out to at-risk families, children and others involved in the system. It isn’t pretty. It won’t feel good (not very often, at least), but I’d like to think every footstep made toward hurting children and families will cause walls to fall. (Think Jericho and the walls tumbling down.)

And from the crumbled up remains of broken down walls, a movement of hope and resilience will grow causing a better future for all of us. It’s more than a “like to think” thing. Actually, I cling on to that hope.

Idealistic? Maybe. Unrealistic? Perhaps.

But as I said earlier, when you know their names, everything changes.

4 Things You Need to Teach to Raise Well-Adjusted Kids

Note: “4 Things You Need to Teach to Raise Well-Adjusted Kids” is a guest post by Kristin Louis over at parentingwithkris.com. Head on over to her blog for more articles on raising children.

In the age-old battle of nature versus nurture, the latter is undoubtedly preferable as it’s well within one’s control. With that said, it’s your responsibility as parents to not leave anything to chance when it comes to raising your children. Here’s a nifty guide on effectively nurturing the most important traits in your children in age-appropriate ways.

Teach Empathy

Empathy is what sets humans apart, but it’s not an innate trait. 

How to Teach Empathy (Ages 3 to 4)

Empathy in the Classroom: Why Should I Care?

How to Help a Teenager That Has No Empathy

Teach Self-Discipline

Discipline should not be about controlling your child. 

The Importance of Teaching Kids Self-Discipline

5 Ways to Manage Tantrums and Meltdowns

An Age-by-Age Guide To Disciplining Your Kid

Home Safeguards Encourage Self-Discipline in Teens

Teach Positive Thinking

Teaching your kids to take the negative in stride and mindfully choose positivity sets them up for success mentally and emotionally.

Kids as Young as 5 See Benefits of Positive Thinking

7 Activities to Help Your Child Develop a Positive Attitude

Prevention of Internalizing Disorders in 9–10-Year-Old Children

For Teens Knee-Deep In Negativity, Reframing Thoughts Can Help

Teach Boundaries

Teaching kids to set and respect boundaries paves the way for healthy relationships.

Why Kids Need Boundaries

When Your Toddler Starts Testing His Limits

5 Books to Help Teach Kids About Healthy Boundaries

How to Talk to Teenagers About Consent, Boundaries, and Self-control

Yes, there’s no question that raising kids will be a challenge that requires a great deal of patience. Being well-armed with the right resources and information such as these will, no doubt, make the job easier, and a successful one at that.


Today is the Day, Birth Mother

Today is the the day, Birth Mother. On this day twelve years ago, we walked out of the courtroom with our forever. But I can’t and I won’t forget that it’s also been twelve years since you last kissed him good-bye.

Sometimes, I close my eyes and imagine us back in the room where we used to visit. That stale room didn’t speak of the love flowing from it. Colorless walls didn’t paint the scene of two strangers brought together on behalf of a new, precious soul. We spent so much time in that room. Holding him, soothing him and swapping stories of life.

And then, we had to say goodbye to the room where our story took flight. One final goodbye. We embraced and exchanged well-wishes. But they didn’t serve justice to the journey we just traveled. Our road coming to an end. You held him and kissed him. Oh, the bittersweet taste of that final kiss.

Beautiful and broken all at the same time.

I don’t know what it would be like to exist in your shoes; to carry the ghost of a child you barely knew. I don’t want to imagine it but I can’t help myself. The truth is that a piece of my heart walked away with you on that day and it has never returned.

Today is the day, Birth Mother. As we ate cake and celebrated adoption, you were on my mind. You’ve never left. How could you? I don’t want you to. I don’t ever want to forget you. Because of him. Because some stories should never be erased.

The closer he gets to being an adult, the more I feel the pain; that urging to slow things down, revisit earlier years, and hang on even tighter. Even that feels selfish. For you, he’s still that clumsy little babe who cooed and giggled at the sound of our voices. Moments captured in time. Ones that never aged.

Beautiful and broken all at the same time.

Today is the day, Birth Mother. Years ago, the gavel fell and that chapter closed. But a continuation of our story emerged; one of challenges and cheer, of laughter and fear. You haven’t been here for it, of course, but in many ways your presence is still felt.

In my mind’s shadows of that old visit room.

In his laugh.

And his heart.

In his crooked smile.

And all the other things that make him delightfully who he is; who we are.

Beautiful and broken all at the same time.

The Summer of ’76

It was the summer of ’76 when my dad drove our family to California for a vacation. I was four-years-old in the backseat of a sweaty, hot car as we made our way to the Golden State – approximately 1,900 miles from my hometown. When we arrived, we checked in at the hotel and then headed straight to the beach. Warm sand hitting my toes. Sun setting across the distant ocean. Taking in the glory in front of us.

I cautiously approached the water with my green flip-flops on. Dipped my toes in and then took a few steps. The tide came up, pulled my flip-flops right off of my feet and swept them out to sea. Dad exclaimed, “Jaws got them!” as he tried to cheer up his sad little girl. (The original movie just came out the summer before our trip. Plus, about a mile from our beach, someone caught the largest Great White in California history, at that time.)

The rest of the beach vacation consisted of me digging holes in the sand, running close enough to the water to fill a small bucket, and pouring it in the sand; my attempt at building my own little ocean so that I didn’t have to go where Jaws lived.

Ocean animals have terrified me ever since. I love looking at the ocean, but you won’t ever catch me swimming in open water. I won’t book cruises and can barely watch movies that contain deep water/giant creatures that could eat me for lunch.

My four-year-old brain heard my Dad say, “Jaws got them!” My brain signaled that the ocean and sharks are something to avoid. Digging a hole to create my own little ocean was a way for me to build a safe place where I knew I could survive without the giant monsters looming in the water.

This is similar to what we see with children who have experienced trauma. (For the record, I’m absolutely not saying that my experience at the ocean is as serious as traumatic events of abuse.) This experience instantaneously changed my view of the ocean and it has stayed that way ever since the summer of ’76. The holes I dug really didn’t create more safety for me even though my brain convinced me otherwise.

Just as happy experiences alter development of the brain (in a positive way), trauma does so as well. But not in a good way. Instead, the brain develops patterns for survival. For some kids, it may look like hoarding food even though there is plenty to eat. For others, it could be locking every door they enter just in case someone tries to come in.

Some kids run away from their caregivers (even ones who are safe) and keep running to avoid any type of attachment or relationship. Kids may lie to avoid a beating, although they are no longer in an environment where beating occurs. For others, it looks like claiming control of everybody and everything they can (even animals) because they could not control what happened to them in the past.

Changing the landscape to which kids from hard places view life includes us changing our perceptions of trauma. The brain controls our action – even when we don’t understand it. From fear to elation, everything that happens all comes to down to brain chemistry, connectivity and development.

When I revealed that his words forever altered my view of the ocean and aquatic life, my dad was quite surprised. He had no idea that experience in the summer of ’76 had an impact on me. Families who care for traumatized children mustn’t be surprised when the child pulls away from nurturing or hides food in their sock drawer. Or, runs away from the home. They need to know that it isn’t the child’s response to them but to trauma.

As we end National Child Abuse Prevention Month and move into Foster Care Awareness Month in the US, let’s strive to truly and deeply understand trauma and the subsequent life-long impact it has on the developing brain.

April Showers Bring May Flowers

April showers bring May flowers. Seems like a perfect time to focus on this thought. I wanted, better yet, needed to change the tone of our home life since being in a shelter-in-place status. The moods of our children and my husband and I have not been the best. (Embarrassed to admit that.)

Last night, after taping a paper petal-less flower that I created to the wall, I called the kids together and had them sit down in front of it.

“You know this is a difficult time for everyone and I haven’t been in the best of moods, lately. But God reminded me today that there we can always find things to be thankful for even in hard times. You may not know this, but you are living in a major historical event.”

“Really?!”

“When I worked in a nursing home, I got to talk to an elderly man who was a child during the 1918 Spanish flu. What we’re going through right now is like it because this virus is happening right now around the world. Do you know what the man remembered about it? How his mom and dad kept him and his siblings safe and alive because they had to stay indoors all of the time.” (I didn’t tell them about how his mom used whiskey as medicine. They don’t need that idea.)

I went on to tell them that even though this older man remembered how bad the flu was, he also remembered the good things that happened while being kept safe in his house.

“I know it’s hard to be in the home all of the time, but we can always find things to be thankful for. April showers bring May flowers and what we’re going through right now is similar to a storm. But, guess what? There are things each day that we can be happy about and hopefully, in May, there will be lots of flowers.”

I then pointed to the giant flower on the wall. “I made a lot of petals out of paper. Each day when you wake up or throughout the day if you think of something you are thankful for, write it down, put your name on it and give it to me to tape up. When this is over, we can look at our flower in full bloom!”

Each kid grabbed a petal and wrote something they’re thankful for today. My husband and I did as well.

April showers bring May flowers. My hope is my kids will learn that even when things seem uncertain, we can always find a reason to be thankful.

“I will give thanks to you, Lord, with all my heart; I will tell of all your wonderful deeds.” – Psalm 9:1

Medical Trauma Has Been on My Mind

Medical trauma has been on my mind. Despite, or maybe because of, the current pandemic that is disrupting all of our lives, I’m pressing onward in writing my story. I want to remember every detail; all of the moments of anguish just as much as the squeals of delight. Medical problems are traumatizing and often overlooked when we study trauma-informed care. I knew my mom would have more answers for me but I also knew that a hard conversation needed to occur.

“Mom, I need a favor. I’m working on a writing project and need for you to try to remember all of the details about my surgery and the time you spent at the hospital with me.”

“Um…well…I remember it as if it was yesterday but then I also have times during it that I’ve blocked out or something. I’ll try…I just don’t know if I can remember all of it.”

Within seconds, Mom started pouring out details of that fateful time in 1983. The paper quickly filled up with notes. I barely kept up with her. Her voice cracked a few times, followed by a drawn-out silence until picking back up where she left off. I knew she was holding back tears. I knew this was hard for her to go there again. As you can see in the image, Mom thought she couldn’t remember that much because of the stress involved at that time, but she did.

What I experienced is considered medical trauma. For her (and my Dad), it is also trauma induced by the near-death experience of their daughter.

Why am I telling this to you? Because medical trauma has been on my mind. I’ve been trying to dodge the fear of getting sick with this virus. I know, however, that it is a trauma-trigger for me. And, for anyone who has experienced significant, life-changing illness. It is also triggering for people who cared for those of us who survived serious illness.

Tonight, I’m thinking of all the people around the world who have just narrowly escaped death or the ones who are fighting it. I’m thinking about the health care professionals who are battling exhaustion and fear so they can keep someone else alive. My heart is with those who couldn’t be there for their loved one’s final days.

This virus is traumatizing for our society. As we push through it and prayerfully get through it, we will come out okay, but changed. Medical trauma is just as real and valid as any other form of trauma.

Let’s keep each other close in thought. Let’s check on each other, show grace and kindness. We will all remember the fear or worry that we are feeling right now, but we can also do our part in letting compassion and putting others’ needs in front of our own become just as memorable.

Life Lesson: Having Faith

Here’s another Tuesday Night Teaching that I did with my kids. This one is called, Life Lesson: Having Faith.

“Having faith in God means that even though we cannot ‘see’ him, we know he is there. Faith is believing in what we don’t see. Can you actually see love?” My kids nodded that “no”, we don’t really see love.

“What about smells? Can we ‘see’ them?”

Giggles…”Well, maybe sometimes….”

“Okay, but you get the point.”

I looked at my daughter and reminded her of the times she thought God wasn’t listening to her prayers because she didn’t see the answer. I then spoke to my kids about feeling distant sometimes from God, especially when times are hard.

“There are moments when we are going through rough times and we really don’t feel or see that God is near us.”

I took three sheets of wax paper and held them up so that they blocked a cross hanging on our hall.

“Remember, the cross represents God. Can you see the cross now?”

“Not really”, they said.

“Okay, there are other times when things aren’t quite as bad but you still wonder where God is.”

I removed one sheet of the wax paper.

“You can barely see God, right?”

“Yes.”

“Let’s say things are maybe a little bit better but still a little cloudy and you’re not sure if God is near you.”

Removed another sheet of wax paper.

“The cross is becoming even more clear now, right? Okay. Now life is great and we’re moving along…”

Removed the final piece of wax paper to reveal the cross.

“Do you see that the cross was there the entire time, even when you couldn’t see it or when it was a little hard?

This is what it means to have faith in what is unseen. No matter how bad things get in our lives, even when we cannot see him clearly, he is there.”

I then read Hebrews: 11:1:

“Now faith is confidence in what we hope for and assurance about what we do not see.”

Explaining faith to children can be hard, especially for extremely literal kids! I’m hoping that this visual lesson helped them to truly believe in what is unseen; to have faith in God during times in their lives when the view is cloudy and when it is clear.

Life Lesson: Having Faith – this one is for us adults, as well.

This Journey We Are On

There are a lot of worries about this parenting gig. Raising kiddos who are neurologically different offers me multiple moments of worry. I know I’m not supposed to worry. I know that the Lord who knit them in their biological mothers’ wombs has already weaved the tapestry of their lives. I need to trust more; to trust this journey we are on.

Scrolling through some old pictures today, I came across this one taken by my friends at Freedom Photography back in 2013 (before the adoption of our youngest son & when I went through a dark-chocolate dyed hair phase – ha!). Looking at my kids’ tiny little faces with their scrunchy, sweet smiles greets me with great joy.

The statement on the chalkboards sends a ripple through my heart. We weren’t together at birth, but our journeys began together on those days; those laborious, wonderful moments. Those moments belong to their biological mothers. They always will.

If everything we experience is easy, I doubt we could call it a journey. Perhaps, we are meant to stumble a bit along the way so that we can learn how to rise after a fall. Or, maybe, we are meant to mess it all up so that we can know what it is to receive and offer grace. It might be that our hearts are meant to be torn apart so that we can know what it feels like when they are made whole. Maybe, the best part of the journey isn’t so much the final destination, but all the bumps, bruises, and tenderness in between.

I’m not perfect. I won’t ever be all I need to be for my children or my husband. I struggled today and probably will tomorrow. And, do you know what? That is okay. It’s going to be okay.

Pieced together by many little parts of the story – some joyful, some devastating. We are travelers in this journey, each with our own part to play.

My mom always reminds, “The right thing to do is never the easiest.”

And, goodness, this journey we are on isn’t easy, but it is so right. 

Just a Little Longer, Baby

“Just a little longer baby” This thought has been a recurrent one in my mind as my oldest on approaches adulthood. After watching a him singing a song he made (around age 4 or so), I looked at my husband, started crying and said, “I miss this. I miss the little boy he used to be. It goes by so fast.”

We put a lot of emphasis on celebrating and grieving our “last babies”. I get it. I really do. But, oh man, there is something about watching our first babies grow up. It is a slow process of grief and yet, it seemingly happens overnight.

One day, your first baby is stacking blocks to his own amusement. Laughing at all the silly jokes. Crawling into your arms. Asking to be held. In the tiny, sweet voice, you hear, “Just a little longer, Mommy”.

And then, that little boy is gone. That voice is gone. All the silly jokes are gone. The amusement at stacking blocks is gone. Time is cruel. It steals from us – carries pieces of our hearts away. You look at your first baby and think, “Just a little longer, baby.”

I used to cringe when people would tell me that “it goes by fast”. It’s easy to get annoyed by this because you are just so darn tired and busy. I also used to wonder why elder women (and men) would stare at my babies, grinning to themselves, and giggle a bit. I know now. They were going back in their minds to when their babies were young; visiting a place from long ago, a tourist in a land they cannot stay in.

And now, I’m there. I’m a tourist walking through the land of memories of my first baby. We are getting closer to him becoming an adult. Gulp. In the blink of an eye, he went from being that curly-haired, goofy little dude to a teenager just five years removed from adulthood.

It isn’t fair. It doesn’t feel good. Sometimes, I feel that my heart just can’t take it. I don’t like being this kind of tourist. I don’t want to just visit that place from long ago. I’d rather move back there and do it all over again.

Just a little longer, baby.

Just a little longer.

Life Lesson: Apples to Apples

In continuing life lessons for my kids, I decided to focus on loneliness. For fun, I’m calling my lessons, “Tuesday Night Teachings“. They look forward to Tuesday nights and ask, “Are we going to have a Tuesday Night Teaching?” This one is called, “Life Lesson: Apples to Apples”.

We sat around the dinner table and took turns telling each other what we are thankful for. It was a pleasant sound to this mom’s ears to hear my kids talk about being thankful for people in their lives, including our family.

This conversation about being thankful for each other was a perfect lead-in to tonight’s lesson.

“Don’t leave the table just yet. I want to talk to you. I saw something on Facebook that made me really sad. A guy lost his pet cat and asked for help finding it. He said it was the only thing left in his life. It made me cry for him because he later found that his cat had gotten hit by a car. I thought about how lonely he must be without his pet – especially because he said that his cat was really the only thing left in his life.

There are a lot of lonely people in the world.”

Passing the bowl of apples around, I asked each person (including myself and husband) to pick the one that is the most appealing to them. There were six different apples in the bowl. Each of us grabbed the one that we wanted and then took turns telling why we picked that apple.

“Now let’s all take a bite of our apples.”

The kids giggled a bit. My oldest son joked about thinking he might have swallowed a part of the core.

Lining the apples up next to each other, I said,

“Look at that. They are all so different on the outside, but look at the inside. They are the same. People are a lot like apples. God created us to be unique in our skin color and size. We each have our own ‘flavor’ but on the inside we are the same.

Do you notice that there is one apple that wasn’t picked? That is how some people feel. For instance, some people are left out because of the way they look or the color of their skin or for other reasons. On the inside, they are just like you and me.”

I ended the lesson by talking with my kids about how loneliness is a big problem in our world but if we can get past what is on the outside of a person and look at the inside, maybe we can help each other not be so lonely.

I’m really hopeful that each little nugget of wisdom about God’s truth seeps into their pores; creating a future filled with a genuine love of others. God doesn’t ask us to necessarily like everyone but he does ask us to love one another.

This God-kind-of-love sets the lonely into families.
It sees us from the inside out.
This God-kind-of-love can change generations.

I believe that.

John 15:12: “My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you.”

(Life Lesson: Apples to Apples – what other ways have you used to teach children about loneliness?)