on this day of thankfulness

On this day of thankfulness, my childhood has been on my mind. Maybe, it is because my daughter is now the age I was when I had my hysterectomy. Sometimes, I see myself in her. Curious. Strong-willed. Lover of fluffy things. Empathetic. Other times, I don’t.

Barrenness rushed in like a thief in the night. It didn’t just steal from me at that time, in that present moment. It kept stealing each and every day as I grew up. A stalker. A shadow that didn’t go away. A reminder of what was missing.

On this day of thankfulness, I’m reminded of the power of restoration. That somehow, grace had the audacity to chase me down, prove me wrong and breathe love and life into my soul.

Thankful for a loving Heavenly Father who took my physical, emotional and spiritual brokenness and flipped the script.

Lightness out of darkness.

Fruitfulness out of barrenness.

Gratitude replacing grief.

On this day of thankfulness, I am truly blessed.

Life Lesson: Equal in Worth

I have been searching for ways to teach my children life lessons without it being too preachy or boring. I decided to start “Tuesday Night Teachings” in our home. The theme for the first night was “A Life Lesson: Equal in Worth”.

After dinner, I commanded (not really, but that just sounds kinda cool) for my kids to stay at the table when they finished their food. Once we were all done, I told them this story:

“My hands were full at the dollar store when I got in line behind a man in his upper twenties. He looked at me and said, “You have on a nice outfit.” I said, “Well, thank you so much.”

He then said, “Are you single?” Smiling, with a small little chuckle, I said, “No, I’m married.”

“Do you have any single friends?”

“You know…I really don’t have that many. Most of my friends are married.”

At this point, I realized that this young man was extremely lower functioning – like even though he was an adult, he was more like a 4-year-old. He paused for a moment and looked away. He then turned back around and said, “Can you help me?” I gazed at my watch. I only had about eight minutes to get the stuff and go, and said, “Yes, I only have a few minutes but I can definitely help you. What do you need?”

He seemed a bit embarrassed as he said, “Sometimes, I have to wear diapers.” I said, “Do you need help finding the right ones?” (I realized that he was holding a package of baby diapers.)

“Yes, can you help me?”

Off we went to the appropriate section to find the size and type he should get. I said, “I have to go get back in line because I have somewhere to be in about five minutes. Make sure to get this package.”

At the counter, I told the clerk that the young man needed assistance. Checking out, I saw him leave without the item that he needed. Why he was allowed to go into the store alone without assistance? I felt bad for having a short timeline to be somewhere. I should’ve just stayed with him until he got what he needed.

In my van. Crying. For a young man to compliment me in one minute and then admit to wearing diapers and needing help really tugged at my heart.”

My kids were staring at me as I told the story and fought back tears again. I then laid three five dollar bills on the table and said. “Which one of these five dollar bills has more value? The one that looks perfect, the one with dirt on it or the one that looks worn out and torn up a bit?”

My kids paused for a minute and one-by-one pointed to the bill they thought had more value. I then said, “Okay, so in God’s eyes, which one do you think has the most worth or value?” Reaching out, one-by-one, my kids pointed to the one that was worn out and torn up a bit. I said, “I like that you answered that way, but actually, all three bills have the same value. They are each worth five dollars. When it comes to people, we all have the same value to God. It doesn’t matter if we look perfect, dirty or have scars, we each hold the same value to God.”

“Tuesday Night Teachings” are now a part of our home and I hope to share more with you as we move along in this season. This life lesson definitely warmed my heart a bit – not only because I was able to teach my children a truth about God that they really seemed to soak up, but because my experience at the dollar store today taught me so much as well.

We all have value. We don’t have to be perfect. It doesn’t matter if we are dirty or have scars. Despite our age, life lessons signify growth.

Life lesson = Equal Worth. Yes, we are all equal in worth to Him.

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.

Pouring Into a Broken Cup

My child looked at me and said, “I’m not sure I was made for this world.”

Gut punch.

Eyes welled up.

I did my best to tell my child that there are moments throughout our lives (even as adults) when we wonder about our purpose. We hugged, shared tears and I whispered words of encouragement to my child. This wasn’t the first time my child has said something like this. I thought we had crossed that bridge; met that need, etc. However, that part of my child still leaks.

Parenting kids with extra needs feels like pouring into a broken cup that has a leak in it. No matter how often or how much you keep pouring, the cup never seems to fill up.

Take your favorite coffee cup (or, if you are one of those people who don’t drink coffee, imagine your favorite cup of the beverage of your choice). You love this cup. It has some sort of significant meaning to you. Each day, you greet this cup with joy because you know you can pour your stuff right into it.

Now, imagine if your favorite cup never seems to fill up. You search it and discover a small, ever-so-tiny, crack. You fix that crack and pour into it again. It seems to hold your drink just fine until you notice it leaking again. You search and discover a different crack. You patch that up because you just can’t stand the thought of never using your favorite cup again.

You get up each day with the hope of “This time, my cup will not leak.” Some days, it works! You jump for joy and savor each sip. You go to bed thinking, “Perhaps, I actually fixed it this time.”

The next day, you get up, pour the same amount into the cup, and…yikes. You are pouring into a broken cup. The cup not only leaks your drink all over the place, it literally won’t even hold a single drop. It gets messy. Sometimes, it leaks all over you. You get sad and angry and then sad again. You look at your cup and think, “I’m not giving up on you. I know you will hold liquid again” and then, you patch it up (again) knowing that you may have to repair it in the future.

This is what parenting kids with complex needs feels like; to constantly pour, fix, and pour again knowing that you will never be able to mend all the cracks.

Of course, I’m not comparing children to coffee mugs – at least, not literally. There are days where no leaks seem to appear and your child just goes along the day without any significant issues. You get a glimpse of normalcy.

Most days, though, life is not like this. Before anyone complains that I’m complaining, I truly hope you don’t think that. Although each day as a parent to three children with extra needs is challenging, I know that pouring into them – leaks or not – is worthy of the time and effort. However, parenting kids with extra needs is exhausting. Emotionally. Physically. Spiritually.

Observing other people’s children who always seem to have their cups filled and who are “winning” at friendships, academics and other aspects of life, can be downright depressing. It is NOT that we want other children to fail. Not at all. It is just that the issues that a lot of parents face or worry about pale in comparison to the issues of those of us who are raising extra-needed kids.

When one parent worries about whether her child will make the starting line-up of a sports team, we worry that our children won’t even be allowed to try out due to behavioral issues. When one parent complains about a child staying up too late watching YouTube, we struggle with children who literally can’t sleep without medical intervention. When we look at images of kids at birthday parties or other social events, we grieve that our kids are not invited to any parties.

The saying, “You can’t pour from an empty cup” is true, but it is hard to have a full cup when the ones you are pouring into have so many leaks. Our own cups get depleted – almost to the point that we don’t have anything else to pour out. Yet, we keep pouring into a broken cup. We keep hoping. We keep praying.

Considering this, I also look to the Lord. He sees me as a cup that is always needing to be repaired. I can be fragile. I have cracks. I need to be restored on a daily basis.

I can just imagine him saying, “Girl. We’ve fixed that. Don’t you bring that up again.” I can also hear him saying, “Girl. You are worth it. I will restore you each and every day. There is nothing that won’t cause me to repair you and make you whole.” He is pouring into a broken cup on a daily basis.

Those of us who have been chosen (because I believe that) to parent children with extra needs may question if we are meant for this parenting experience. Yet, we are.

Some days, we hold it all together. Other days, we leak like crazy. However, we are repaired and restored each day by the Lord so that we can do the same for His little soul vessels – our children – our beautiful and broken cups.

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.