2020 Heartache

I’ve sat down to write this post several times. It’s hard to sum up 2020 and then turn to 2021 when a lot of what occurred last year is still at the forefront of my mind and heart. But then I remembered this. Back in October, I wrote a poem expressing my observations and angst about what 2020 looked like from this American’s view. I’m not a poet by any stretch but I do like to dabble in it. So, here it goes: 2020 Heartache

“Happy new year!” We shouted with glee. “This will be the best year for me.”

Whoa, the world’s warning, something’s coming our way. It’s a hoax, a scam. Now, move on with your day.

Doctors and nurses are risking their lives. But at the same time, we won’t empathize.

Sickness and death caught us deep in its snare. “Yeah, right. It’s just the vulnerable, so why do we care?”

“What about our rights?” People like to ask. It seems freedom only matters when it comes to a mask.

And then…I Can’t Breathe…

So we marched for all to be treated the same. But another month went by and we forgot his name.

“All lives matter”, we’ve been told to say. But does that include the weak, refugee, and gay?

“What about babies in the womb?”, we type in our feed. Yes, of course, but there’s still caged babies in need.

Parents are struggling, and kids are, too. We’re trying to adapt to this tiresome new.

Small businesses have had to shut their door, while big corporations seem to grab so much more.

We spit and shout and show little grace, but would you do that to me if we were face to face?

There’s left and right, both with lies to be told. Each day that passes, the gossip gets old.

Stories are weaved that should cause us to break, but when truth won’t serve us, we call it fake.

We preach kindness and compassion as a way to heal, but when our tongues lash out, both lose their appeal.

“Don’t live in fear”, so many have said. Why would we say that with so many dead?

If 2020 has done anything well. It’s ripped off the veil and cracked open our shell.

Don’t lose attention and expect a turn. Have we gone all year with nothing to learn?

America the beautiful, a memorable song, but this year we sure have gotten it wrong.

The pursuit of liberty is this nation’s goal. But does it really matter if we’ve lost touch with our soul?

My homeland, my country, that shining city on a hill. Truth be told, my heart aches for you, still.

Friends, One thing I keep coming back to is this. Even though we experienced 2020 heartache, and struggle with what’s going in the world, we need to remember that Jesus already overcame it. I wish you peace in this New Year.

actions speak louder than words

Our kids are really good at saying, “I’m sorry” and I’m happy about that but often, their apologies are followed with the same behavior. The pattern is: behavior, “I’m sorry”, behavior – repeat. Regardless of how many times I’ve said, “An apology is the first step. Changing your behavior (or at least trying to) is how you fulfill an apology” or “actions speak louder than words”, they just don’t seem to grasp as well as I’d like for them to.

Recently, I announced that we were doing a Tuesday Night Teaching. If you’ve followed my blog for a while, you will know that I’ve done several of these throughout the past year. It went something like this:

“Kids, do you know how I always tell you that an apology is good but after you apologize, you need to work on changing whatever it is that you had to apologize for?” (They all agreed.)

“I’m going to show you what that means. Here is your apology.” I wrote the word ‘sorry’ on a piece of paper and put it in a cup of water. I then wrote the word ‘sorry’ and put it in a cup of peroxide.

After a few seconds or so, I pulled out the note in the water and rubbed it gently with a towel. The word ‘sorry’ stayed there. I then pulled out the note in the peroxide and rubbed it gently with a towel. The word ‘sorry’ faded.

“Do you see that?” They all closely looked it over. Their eyes checking out every part. “The apology in plain water stayed put. It didn’t change. It’s because there are not any active ingredients in plain water. The apology in peroxide faded. It’s because there are active ingredients in peroxide.

Apologies take action. If you say you’re sorry but you don’t take any action to correct it, the apology just sticks around. Nothing more…and the reason you had to apologize may also stick around.

If you take action and change your behavior, the apology fades but what takes its place is a clean slate. If you keep hurting a friend over and over again but not changing your behavior, eventually that friend will leave and all that will be left is the memory of your apology. But if you hurt a friend, say you’re sorry, and then change your behavior to show that, chances are you will still be friends. Apologies require action.”

After this, I read 1 John 4:7:

“Dear friends, let us continue to love one another, for love comes from God. Anyone who loves is a child of God and knows God.”

I ended the lesson by talking about how we are children of God and we are to love others. Apologizing is a form of showing love but changing our behavior or working on the things we do that hurt others is an essential part of loving people.

Friends, actions do speak louder than words. Words can hurt and they can also help, but just as love is a verb, so is apologizing.

**Author’s note: I’ve been devoting more time to my social media platforms, especially Facebook. To see more of my posts and daily life events, please consider following my page by clicking on this link: Barren to Blessed Facebook

In That Building

That building right there is where my life changed in 1983. It’s where worried parents and frantic doctors scrambled to save my life; the hallways imprinted with the pacing back and forth steps of a team wondering what was wreaking havoc on my body. Broken hearts. Spilled-out tears.

I ended up spending my senior year of college interning in that hospital. In an odd way, being there every day was comforting; like coming home. Occasionally, I meandered my way up to the floor where I stayed for a month. I searched for the nurse’s eyes to see if anyone recognized me. So many years had passed and the hospital had gone through its own renovation. Everything was different.

I’ve said before that trauma is not a place. It’s an experience. Yet, in many ways, trauma can be connected to a place. Seeing this hospital and being inside it reminds me of the pain I experienced there, but it also renders me with the calmness of courage I had to fight the infection and survive.

In that building, I won. My future changed and trauma infused itself into my parents and self, but I won. The building has changed so much. Walls have come down and in their place, the newness has taken over.

The same goes for my life. Tearing down the walls I built up to store my medical trauma revealed a newness; a refreshing of spirit. But the trauma of it all has never left. I feel hints of it from time to time. I battle with the injury to my self-esteem and physical issues still occurring years after my surgery.

In that building, my life changed. We’ve both been through many renovations, yet we are connected to each other.

Because that’s what trauma does.

Armor of God

Last year, I started “Tuesday Night Teachings” with my children. My plan was to keep this up on a weekly basis. Goodness. That plan fell through! This week, I finally got back to doing a lesson. This one is called, “Armor of God”.

I gathered the kids around and asked them to name what was in front of them. They quickly guessed the round “ball” as being a walnut but weren’t quite sure what the nut was. I told them, “They’re both walnuts!” The kids couldn’t believe that tiny nut was inside of that big, green ball.

“Do you know what the armor of God is?”

They threw out some ideas gained from their years of being involved in Sunday school.

“I’ve been thinking a lot about the armor of God. Right now, in our world, things are a little scary. Christians are fighting against other Christians regarding politics and what is right or wrong. Sometimes, I feel like I’m not good enough or misunderstood. I feel bad about myself at times as well but then I remind myself that the only opinion that really matters is God’s opinion of me. I try to keep on the armor of God.”

Looking at both walnuts, I said, “The walnut without the shell is someone who doesn’t have faith. The one with the shell is someone with faith.”

I then took a knife and applied pressure to the walnut with the casing still on it. The knife cut into it a little bit but not all the way through.

“Now, look and see what happens to the walnut without the shell around it.” Applying the same amount of pressure, the walnut cut right in half. The kids were like, “Whoah…”

I pulled out a hammer and knocked on the walnut without a shell. It crumbled. I knocked on the walnut with the shell and it barely dented.

“When we talk about putting on the armor of God, what we mean by that is keeping our faith, knowing that we are protected by God…even when we are worried, scared, or feeling bad about ourselves. People say things that cut us like a knife or the weight of what we’re dealing with is so heavy that it’s putting pressure on us. Just like the walnut(s), without the armor of God, we can get cut or crushed. Now, that doesn’t mean that words won’t hurt or we won’t ever worry. Keeping on our armor of God will help us.”

I read Ephesians 6:10-17:

“Finally, be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power. Put on the full armor of God, so that you can take your stand against the devil’s schemes. For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms. Therefore put on the full armor of God, so that when the day of evil comes, you may be able to stand your ground, and after you have done everything, to stand. Stand firm then, with the belt of truth buckled around your waist, with the breastplate of righteousness in place, and with your feet fitted with the readiness that comes from the gospel of peace. In addition to all this, take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming arrows of the evil one. Take the helmet of salvation and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God.”

After our lesson, our family said a prayer and took communion together. I encouraged them to be strong in their faith even when bad things are happening in the world. And, friends, I think we can all use this reminder right now.

Using walnuts, a hammer, and a knife, I gave my kids a visual representation of the armor of God. I truly hope they wear it all of the time.

STAND Above the fray

Scrolling through my Facebook feed, I landed on a friend’s posting of a long, drawn-out conspiracy theory that, quite frankly, demonized people who voted a certain way. Anger visited me. Putting my fingertips to the keyboard, I started typing a rebuttal. At that moment, these four words hit me: STAND ABOVE THE FRAY.

Social media is used to weaponize folks. Visceral tongue-lashings of others go on day after day. I admit that I have been guilty of it. I’ve posted an emotional response to things and then had to delete my post because I never want to hurt anyone or spread a message that doesn’t represent who I am, or more importantly, who Jesus is. I’ve been blocked by people, unfriended, and misunderstood. None of which gets to the heart of any issue that we’re facing.

The United States has a lot of problems right now -the pandemic, voting rights issues, treatment of non-white people, conspiracy theories that turn into triggers. The list goes on. But these things are not what I’m talking about it. The problem I’m witnessing is the hate and disdain for others because they simply don’t vote the way one expects them to or in the same way. Or, they don’t want to jump down that rabbit-hole and join others in their quest to prove they’re right.

Growing up, my parents were on opposite political spectrums. One was more conservative, the other more liberal. One a Republican, the other, a Democrat. They had friends and family members between this political spectrum. Not one time did I ever hear a nasty word about someone because of the way they voted. It was simply just that they voted based on their concerns and life-experience. That’s it. Because of freedom. Because of the right we all have to choose how we vote.

Our children are growing up in a society that devalues a person’s right to choose a political leaning. And I refuse to be someone who doesn’t raise her children to assume the best about people – regardless of how they vote.

So, when it comes to politics, I’m choosing to stand above the fray. This is a new concept for me as I’ve always enjoyed a good back and forth. But, anymore, I find that decent conversations are hard to have with others when falsehoods and scorn are being splattered across the scene.

I choose to stand above the fray of:

  • Assuming that if people are passionate about one issue, they don’t care about others.
  • Demonizing and calling one side evil or assuming the other is more righteous.
  • Categorizing people solely based on how they vote.
  • Believing that someone isn’t Christian (enough) because of whose name is marked on a ballot.
  • Dehumanizing others because I don’t understand their fears or struggles.
  • Questioning patriotism because some question leadership.
  • Spreading conspiracy theories that are usually just that – a conspiracy with little truth.
  • Joining in on ridiculing others by sharing memes that do nothing but promote bitterness.

I will fail at times but I’m giving it my all so that the only thing I promote is hope, love, and authenticity. I’m rarely met by Jesus when I go low. And, others are not met by Him when they see me go there.

I’m choosing to stand above the fray.

Activities to keep your kids busy indoors

Note: I enjoy hosting guest posts on my blog. This one is written by Carrie Spencer. She offers ideas for activities to keep your kids busy indoors during this season of social distancing. You can find her over at thespencersadventures.net!

Whether due to a global pandemic or rainy weekend weather, parents often have to navigate days with their kids stuck inside. Coming up with things to do at home can get tricky, especially if you’re on a tight budget! But there are endless ways to keep your kids entertained—and educated—while they’re home from school.  Even as the lockdown restrictions loosen and your local attractions reopen, you can keep these budget-friendly indoor activity ideas in your arsenal to pull out whenever the weather turns bleak.

Make the Most of Screen Time

While you may not want your kids staring at screens all day, a computer or tablet can be a great source for educational activities. According to Earth Science Jr., you can find all kinds of fun things to do online, from taking virtual tours of aquariums and zoos to attending online musicals and concerts with the whole family. 

If you could use a device upgrade, consider getting your kids a child-friendly tablet or laptop that they can use for engaging learning programs, online courses, and educational apps. Don’t worry, this purchase doesn’t have to break the bank! Keep your new electronics under budget by shopping at retailers like Staples and using Staples promo codes and coupons for discounts.

Get Moving

According to KidsHealth, kids need at least 60 minutes of moderate to vigorous exercise every day. Understandably, it can be difficult to meet these recommendations when your kids are stuck indoors. Get your family moving by searching for free online fitness classes designed specifically for kids and families. You can use items from around your home to create a fun activity course inside—as long as you remove potential tripping hazards. You could even hit two birds with one stone by turning your household chores into a game, helping your kids get the exercise they need, and tidying up your home at the same time!

Teach Them Something

Although your kids are getting an education at school, you can supplement their classroom learning by turning everyday activities into teachable moments. Get your kids to join you in the kitchen, and have them practice their math skills by helping you multiply or halve recipes. You could also revisit your household budget together and talk to your kids about money management—not only is this a great way to teach about financial planning, but it can also help your family cut unnecessary expenses! This is also an excellent time to help your kids develop essential values and life skills, like empathy, self-discipline, and positive thinking. 

Use Your Imagination

If you think you’ve finally run out of ways to entertain your kids at home, it’s time to get creative! Encourage your kids to engage in imaginative play. Pretend play is great for developing children’s decision-making and problem-solving skills! To get the ball rolling, you could create a pretend restaurant, have your kids put on a play for you, or build a fort out of blankets and pillows. If your closet is brimming with old clothes that you never wear, this could be a great opportunity to do some decluttering and create a dress-up box for your kids. No purchase necessary! Thanks to the power of imagination, your kids can play for hours on end without expensive toys or fancy products.

Keeping your kids busy during long days at home can feel like an endless battle, but it can also be incredibly rewarding. Exercising, playing, and learning with your little ones are fantastic and affordable ways to strengthen your mutual bond. Use your time together to create lasting memories and help your children establish healthy behaviors that will stick with them for the rest of their lives! 

“Shouldn’t have been a mother”

“What would you say to an adoptive mother who still feels like God made her infertile because she shouldn’t have been a mother?” I received this message via one of my social media pages. Upon reading it, my heart dropped to my stomach with immediate empathy for the woman asking. The struggle she has with her children’s challenges directly connects to her feelings of unworthiness due to infertility. Sisters, this is such a brutal reality for many of us. I’ve faced this falsehood more than once.

It is vital to separate your infertility from any behavioral, academic, or mental health issues your children have. Children come to us from brokenness – regardless if it’s through foster care, international adoption or domestic adoption. Along the way, something broke within your child’s family of origin thus creating the need for adoption. Many children in need of adoption come from a place of trauma. This creates the need for a different way of parenting, and it can be so very heartbreaking and hard.

Add this on top of the trauma of infertility and you end up having a mix of weariness and sense of not being good enough. Infertility is just as much a spiritual and emotional battle as it is a physical one. I’ve questioned if I was equipped for this role of being a mom to three children with varying needs and difficulties.

We often feel like we weren’t meant to be a part of the motherhood conversation. And then, once we actually become moms through adoption and it doesn’t feel good, we do this thing with our minds where we venture back down that road of despair. The lies we once convinced ourselves of being true are now compounded by the one thing we thought would stop them – motherhood.

Separating infertility from the hardship of (adoptive) motherhood is complex. In every way, it takes intentionality. It takes awareness and vigilance because it’s easy for us to “go back there”. It’s far too effortless to damage ourselves with self-criticism.

But please hear me when I say this, the thoughts of not being good enough do not come from God. They just don’t. We are his jars of clay; his most precious treasure. He doesn’t tell us what we aren’t, can’t or shouldn’t be.

During those hard times when you think you shouldn’t have been a mother, let the whisperer of souls remind you of who you are and all that you were meant to be.

Turning Over

When I was a little girl, I often went to the lake with my dad. Dad, a professional fisherman, spent countless hours on the lake with me right in tow. There was one time per year that we didn’t get in the water or didn’t even go there very often. “The lake is turning over, Carrie,” my dad said. By turning over, he meant all the junk and dead waste rose to the top, revealing the unseen ugliness in the depths below. It returned to its beauty and splendor once it finished this change.

Over the past few weeks, the image of a turning-over lake has filled my mind. Fires have raged. Grief has poured out. All of it exposing the soiled parts of our country; the stains of our past and dirt of our present time.

We’ve all watched the debates and visceral reactions to these three words: “Black Lives Matter”. Just three words but enough to bring people’s full attention. Hit hard by the yearning of unspoken voices who no longer want to be silenced. Nor, should be.

When I first started telling people about my hysterectomy and struggle with barrenness, no one said to me, “Well, you know, Caroline. All stories of infertility matter.” While this is true – that everyone’s stories of infertility or hardship matter – saying this in response to a cry for help or someone’s attempt to invite others into their world is so belittling; ignorant of the important message carried within each and every single story.

Throughout this time, I’ve reached out to black friends about their experiences with earnestness to listen..

“Can I ask you a question? I want to make sure I understand what I think I understand” I said.

“Sure”, she said.

“I want to make sure I understand white privilege – that it means I haven’t had to face what you’ve had to face.” Her eyes opened up a bit more. She sighed, and nodded.

Our conversation unfolded into one that broke my heart. She told me the things she worries about and has to do in order to maintain a small measure of felt safety in this world. She then moved on to talking about her children. Telling them how they should talk, what they should avoid wearing, the actions they take, etc.

I lost it. Tears came; breaking down my heart piece by piece. Guilt and shame and profound sadness hit me hard. My friend is a person of color living in this land of the free, home of the brave.

As a white girl, I’ve been ignorant of the things I’m free from:

  • being followed around by security guards in stores
  • having to prove I can pay for a meal
  • being accused of shoplifting because I carry a large purse
  • people moving away from me because I sat down next to them in a restaurant
  • being called derogatory names
  • anxiety when being pulled over
  • having to teach my kids what to say, how to dress or act based on the color of their skin (so that people won’t get the “wrong” impression)
  • being questioned if I belong in a certain neighborhood

In the foster care and adoption community, we focus on connecting before correcting. A major part of connection is to validate one’s story and to not minimize the impact of trauma on their lives. So, when I hear people say, “Black Lives Matter”, I say, “Yes, they do.”

And then I turn to Jesus. I think of all the various people he walked with; stories of pain, guilt, sin and loss. Jesus was specific when he addressed each person or crowd. If only we could listen like him. As a believer, I know that racism is the antithesis of Jesus; a slap in the face of every single thing that he lived and died for.

A part of our national history is based on devaluing the lives of non-white people. Systemic racism took root in our landscape and has never gone away. Friends, when we fall at the altar of God, will we be able to say we fulfilled the directive of Proverbs 31:9? (Speak up, judge righteously, and defend the cause of the oppressed and needy.) That we sought justice for those in need of it? That privilege blinded us from seeing the existence and experience of others? Instead of sitting in silence, will we stand and shout?

As our nation is turning over, showing us the yuck and filth below, will we choose to look away because it’s more comfortable? I sure hope not. Resistance to discomfort brings change and progress to a stop – in our own lives, in the life of our nation.

As a young girl, I didn’t like looking at the lake when it turned over. It was gross, especially when realizing all the nastiness that was below me when swimming at one point. However, I waited with hope for it to be made anew. Turning over was essential.

Watching our nation turn over doesn’t disgust me. Instead, it moves me to take a closer look at myself, seek out others whose life experience has been different and to listen like Jesus. I’m standing with hope, eager for change and looking forward to a future free from the debris of systemic racism and injustice.

“The ultimate tragedy is not the oppression and cruelty by the bad people but the silence over that by the good people.” Martin Luther King, Jr.

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.