Much More

Adoption: The act of transferring parental rights and duties to someone other than the adopted person’s biological parents. (Concise Encyclopedia/Merriam Webster)

I ran across this definition of adoption when doing some research.  It seems so simple; too simple.  It doesn’t take into account the emotion, waiting, persistence, patience, grief, giving, receiving, love, and joy that travel along the way towards adoption, and it certainly doesn’t describe life held after adoption.  It is so much more than just transferring parental rights.

Adoption is hope.  It is commitment.  It is patience.  It is waiting.  It is grief.  It is joy.  It is giving.  It is love.  It is receiving.  

I gave myself away to my children before they were legally mine.  I did not wake up the morning of their adoptions and discover new-found love based on transfer of parental rights.  I dreamed of them.  I yearned for them.  I grieved for them.  My soul grasped for them.  My imagination sculpted them.  Truthfully speaking, I loved them before I even met them.

In return, I received so much more than the legal status of being called mom.  I have been given the chance to push a little harder to make the world better for them.  I have been awarded the opportunity to imprint their lives with love.  I have received living, breathing, laughing joy.

I have received those moments of feeling full well the Lord’s penmanship of my life. I see the Lord in my children’s eyes.  I feel Him in their embrace.  I hear Him in their wonder of the world.  I still remember being that girl who didn’t know when or if I would ever be healed from the pain of barrenness.  I still think about her and who she used to be.  I still grieve at times for what she went through and for the pain she carried through the years.  But then….I look at my children, feel His presence, and know full well that I am healed.

Adoption deserves so much more than a legalistic definition.  It is defined by the path that one walks – whether birth parent, adoptive parent, or adopted child.  It is shaped by the loss along the way.  It is refined by the waiting.  It is colored by the emotion and highlighted by the joy.  It is enhanced from the giving, and humbled by the receiving.  It is love in action, hope in process, and life lived in the full awareness of Him.

Yes…adoption is so much more.

Real Mom

The other day my son said something to me that stopped me in my tracks.  He was mad at me for getting on to him about needing to clean his room when he said, “You’re not my real mom.”  Whoa…I felt that gut-wrenching, knife in the heart, floor dropping out from under me twinge of pain.  After he said it, I sat down next to him and looked at him.  He had that look of confusion mixed in with a little sadness and anger.

I asked him, “Sweetie, what do you mean?”  Nothing…nothing but staring off at the TV screen.  “Honey, please help me understand what you mean.  Do you mean that I’m not your real mom because I didn’t give birth to you like your birth mother did?”  Silence.  Then finally, he looked at me and said, “You are not my real mom because you tell me what to do and you always get me in trouble.”  I have to admit that I was a little more relieved with his explanation, but still bothered.  I told him that he gets in trouble when he disobeys, and my job as his mom is to tell him what to do sometimes.  I also told him that we are his real parents and that we love him more than anything.  He looked at me and said, “Okay, but you’re still not my real mom.”  My mind was racing with how to handle this.  I grabbed the basket of laundry and used it as an excuse to escape off to our room to silently and quickly allow myself to exhale, gather my thoughts, and hold back the tears that were wanting to escape.

I returned to the living room and noticed that he went on with his after-school routine of building Legos, drawing, and eating a snack.  From time to time though, he looked at me and studied my face.  I kept it all together.  I acted as if nothing was wrong and that his words had not bothered me.  We went on with the rest of the afternoon like usual.  Later on in the evening, my son was quite clingy.  He wanted me to hold him, lay by him on the couch, snuggle, etc.  I took him up on the offer, and wondered if his words were still on his mind as well.

When I told my husband what was said, he responded “Caroline, you have to expect this.  If he knows it bothers you, then he will use it in the future when he is mad about something.  He was probably just testing you out to see how you would respond.”  My husband was right.  I do expect both of my children to refer to their birth parents as their “real” parents at some time during their lives.  I expect them to have a lot of questions about their birth family histories, how they ended up in our home, and anything else that has to do with adoption.  I guess I just didn’t expect it so soon, and I certainly didn’t expect it to hurt so much.

I don’t even know where my son got the term “real mom”, or why he would say this.  I know he was mad at me, but he had never said anything like that to me before.  Perhaps someone said something to him at school.  Maybe he overheard someone else talking about this.  Or perhaps, he is just starting to really process and learn how to navigate his own world of adoption.  Maybe he has a fantasy version of his birth mother, and in that fantasy she would never “get on to him”, put him in time-out, or make him clean his room.  I don’t know, but it reminded me that adoption is extremely complex and there are layers within it.  One certainly needs to have “thick-skin”!

One thing though that has been laid on my heart since all of this took place is that my husband and I need to be mindful of the adoption language we use around the home and in the community.  We need to be there to answer any and ALL questions our children have even if it makes us uncomfortable.  We need to not perceive questions about birth parents as a threat to who were are and the relationship we have with our children.

And, we need to keep in mind that we are their real parents.  We are a real family.  We get on to each other.  We discipline the kids when they are being disobedient.  We lose our tempers at times.  We get frustrated at times.  We are not perfect.  But, if we were perfect, didn’t lose our tempers, didn’t get frustrated, didn’t discipline, and didn’t get on to each other, then we would not be real at all.

A Blessing from Above

A Blessing From Above is probably one of the Little Golden Books that is not well-known.  It is a sweet story of adoption and a fantastic way to introduce the idea of adoption to young children.

Written by an adoptive mother, it tells the story of a Kangaroo who prayed for a baby.  While under a tree, a baby bird fell out of its nest and landed right in her pouch.  I looked all over for it in various bookstores and finally settled on ordering it from Amazon.  I’m so glad that I did because I have read it several times to my children.

Recently when reading it to my son, we came to the part of the story that talks about how the mama bird noticed she had too many babies in her nest and decided to give the baby bird to the kangaroo.  My son stopped and said “Wait!  So….she gave her baby away?”  I sat there for a second trying to read his expression.  It appeared that he was not just asking a simple question about the story, but processing it as well.

I said to him, “Well, she decided that she could not give the baby bird all the attention that he needed and when she saw how much he was loved by the mama Kangaroo, she decided to let him stay with her.”  I do not know if I answered it the right way or not, but he seemed okay with the answer.  We finished the book, put it back on the shelf, and he returned to his usual routine of playing with Legos.

I have found it a little difficult to fully explain my children’s whole stories to them.  This book helps in some way to promote positive feelings about adoption, but I have not been able to find a book suitable for young children that helps them understand foster care adoption.  The truth is that both of my children were taken from their birth mothers involuntary for reasons of serious safety concerns and other issues.  Their stories are not as easy to explain.

They did not just fall out of an overcrowded nest.  Their birth mothers did not choose us as their parents.  My son’s birth mother did sign away her rights voluntarily, but only after nearly 12 months of efforts to get him back.  She did say that if she could not have him, she only wanted us to have him.  But still…it is not the same.  My daughter’s birth mother never made one effort to be reunified with her baby girl due to instability and other factors.  It is hard to put drug abuse, chaotic home environments, and instability into kid friendly terms.

I have heard of books for older children adopted out of foster care, but none for young children who were taken into care as newborns and placed with the families they eventually were adopted by.  All of this being said, I still do love A Blessing from Above, and have suggested it to numerous foster/adoptive families.  It speaks of the goodness of adoption, of the love of birth mothers and adoptive mothers, and of the ultimate blessing that comes only from above.

Do you know of any children’s books that talk about foster care and foster/adoption?  If so, please let me know!  

It Just Takes One Family

“There are no unwanted children, just unfound families.” The National Adoption Center

I have this quote taped to my desk at work.  I believe it to be true; however, it can get discouraging when children end up growing up in the system because families are not found.  There is a push for placing with relatives and for searching out extended family members who may not even be aware that children have entered custody.  I agree that this should be a priority when it comes to finding relatives for children who have lingered in care for too many years.  Sadly, it does not always happen for them.  I know of several children who came into care at age 10 and exited out at age 18-21.  Basically, they grew up belonging to a system, but not a family.

Then, there are those stories that are so incredibly encouraging, and remind me that “we” (meaning those in the field) should never give up on finding permanent families for children.  I know of children who came into care between the ages of 9-12, their biological parents rights were terminated, and they lingered in the system for several years until meeting that one family that made all the difference.

When I did direct case management work I had a girl on my case load who came into care at age 9.  She spent several years wandering between foster homes, disrupting out of some, being promised adoption by others, but never really connecting with any of them.  One day though, that all changed.  She met a young set of foster parents who provided respite for her.  Their connection was almost instant.

A few months after she moved in, the foster mom called me and told me that this girl was making infant noises at the table and asking the mom to feed her with a baby spoon.  The foster mom was not panicked, but wanted to understand why this teenage girl would do this.  I suggested (I’m no expert) that perhaps it is because this girl had always been the mom to her younger siblings.  She never had the chance to be mothered.  I offered that the foster mom should just “go with it” for a few more weeks to see if it subsides.  Sure enough, a week or so later, the girl stopped doing this and went back to feeding herself like a 15-year-old should.  Her foster family adopted her right before her 16th birthday.  Instead of moving from one family to another, she stayed with a family of her own.

Another situation I know of involved a foster family who desperately wanted to adopt a little girl between the ages of 0-3.  They had been matched with a little one, but that situation did not work out for them for several reasons.  I had sent out a profile of a 15-year-old girl who had been in care for a few years.  She was bright and wanted to attend college, but truthfully, the odds were against if she stayed in the system much longer.

After reading her profile, the foster family called me and asked to learn more about her.  Imagine my surprise when they inquired about her!  I think I needed to clarify that she was 15 years and not 15 months old!  After meeting her and being interviewed by the professional team, the foster dad called and said words that have stayed with me for years.

“Caroline, we may not have bought her first Easter dress, or been around for her first Christmas, but we realize that there are many firsts that we can give her.  I will be the first father she has ever had.”

This conversation is one of those nuggets of goodness that I hold on to while working in child welfare.  They did go on to adopt her and the last I heard, she was doing extremely well in school and preparing to look at colleges.  Her dreams are being realized because of one found family.

I have said over and over again throughout my career in child welfare that “it only takes one family”, and I believe this.  This is the reason why the quote from the National Adoption Center is pasted on to my desk at work.  Part of my job responsibilities is to forward profiles of foster children in need of adoptive homes to families who are hoping to adopt.  Just this week, I have already forwarded around 5 or so profiles. As I do this, I think to myself “it only takes one family.”

One family can make the difference in the life of a child.  One family can provide the soil to which a child can lay down roots.  One family can offer the encouragement and structure needed that will start the child on his or her path to college or a career.  One family can show by actions and words what it feels like to be a part of a healthy home.  One family can help to break generational cycles of abuse and neglect.  In the same tone, one family can potentially make a generational change in the lives of children.  And, one family can model the grace, love, and acceptance that we all long for.

 

Enough to make a difference

I asked God, “How much time do I have before I die?”
He replied, “Enough to make a difference.”
— Unknown

Call me strange, but I enjoy browsing through quotes on various topics of interest.  I love it when a quote catches my eye and causes that silent but golden “aha” moment.  The quote above is one of them.  I have often wondered “Am I really making a difference in this world?”  “Do my actions, whether part of my job or not, really help to create something new and hopeful for someone else?”

Through my years working in social services, I have heard many social workers say the same thing when questioning if their footprints (I’m not talking carbon footprints) on this Earth are making positive differences in the lives of others.  Social work is incredibly draining.  It is both a blessing and a burden.  Those of us in the child welfare field go to work knowing full well that our “job demand” really does exist because families are in crisis, children are being hurt, and lives are in chaos.

I have heard that once child welfare (whether as a foster parent, juvenile officer, or case manager) “gets in your blood”, it is hard to get it out.  I believe that.  I suspect that even those who have left the field continue to think about the children they worked with who may now be young adults trying to make it in the world.  Often, I think about the children I have worked with over the years.  I wonder how they are.  I wonder if they ever got what they were looking for…although so many did not even know what that was.  Did I really make a difference in their lives?

I like the quote above because it reminds me that each day is a new opportunity to make a difference in the world.  It reminds me of the absolute responsibility and beauty of life itself.  The joy of living is also tied into the duty of sharing that joy with others.  The grace of waking up each day feeling safe and loved is a gift that deserves to be shared with others and is just enough to make a difference.

Grace is a Gift

Lost Hill Park

Yesterday, we took the kids out to local park to take some pictures.  I planned their outfits, made sure their faces were clean, and properly instructed them to not wipe anything (crumbs from their snack) on their shirts.  I am not a “photographer” at all, however, have a decent camera and every once in a while, I get lucky and capture a fantastic moment!

As we were walking along the trail and stopping to snap off some pictures, I tried to instruct them to look at me more often, not walk into the tall weeds, or stay on the trail, etc….but I do not think they were paying too much attention.  Their agenda was to have a good time while mine was to get some good photos of them.

We came across a partially dried up creek bed where we stopped to let the kids throw rocks in the water.  I said to them “Do not get in the water. If you step in the water you will fall.”  I took a quick picture of them and was preparing to take some more when my daughter took one step onto the slimy rock and down she goes.

right before the fall

Being the drama queen that she is, she screamed at the top of her lungs while partially soaked in water with the slime of algae on her.  The people walking on the trail were staring at us.  My son just continued to throw rocks into the water as if nothing happened.  My husband was laughing, although he was trying to hide it from me.  I quickly pulled my camera up, took a deep breath, and said “I told you that if you stepped in the water, you will fall down. We have to leave now.”  To be honest, I was fuming inside and did not see any of the humor my husband found in it!

This morning while thinking about our day yesterday, the Lord impressed this upon me.  “Caroline, how many times have I told you to step back from the edge?  How many times have you fallen, and stood up soaking with the slime of sin?” 

Wow – our Lord never fails to turn life into a lesson.  

He is the best example I have of being a parent who finds joy with my children even when things don’t go “my” way.  He is the forgiving parent who does not pack up and walk away.  He is the gracious parent who still wants to capture my moments of beauty despite the fact that I just wallowed in the mud.

Thank you, Lord, for reminding me that grace is truly one of the most important gifts a parent gives a child.

Forgiven

The picture on the right is of a ring I wear nearly every day.  Besides my wedding ring and a necklace with the names of my children engraved on it, this ring is about the only consistent piece of jewelry I wear.  The word forgiven is engraved into the ring and serves as a gentle reminder to me that nothing else matters really except for the forgiveness and life I have in Christ.

On the inside of the ring, Eph. 1:7 is engraved.

In whom we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sins, according to the riches of his grace.  Ephesians 1:7

Sometimes, I think about things I have done in the past and the struggle even now to live a life that models Christ to others.  I get caught up in wondering whether or not I’m “good enough” for the Lord.  Truthfully, I’m not good enough for Him.  No one is.

Often, my human desires get in the way of keeping my eyes, mind, and heart focused on Heavenly intentions.  I set goals that will enhance my walk with the Lord, but then fall short of completing them.  I get up every day saying and praying that I would act in ways pleasing to Him and that the love of Christ would show through my actions.  Then….life happens.  I get upset about something, or make a snap judgement about a situation, or not offer the same amount of grace that the Lord has given me over and over again, and that feeling of failing the Lord sinks in.

During these moments, I look down at my ring and see FORGIVEN.  It serves as a quiet reminder to me that He has already chosen His grace over my flaws.  He loves me despite all the messes I have made and will make until the day my eyes look upon Him.  I am already forgiven for things of the past and the times I acted as if I did not know Him.  Nothing will change the mighty forgiveness of the Lord.

His love is unfailing, His blood is redeeming, His mercy is miraculous, and His forgiveness is forever.

Messages of Tears

“There is a sacredness in tears.  They are not the mark of weakness, but of power.  They speak more eloquently than ten thousand tongues.  They are messengers of overwhelming grief…and unspeakable love.”                              -Washington Irving

Gosh, I love this quote.  I L.O.V.E. it.  Each time my eyes skim over it and I soak it in, it  causes me to stop whatever I am doing.  I think about the tears shed worldwide on a daily basis.  I think about the tears that have been poured out of the deepest sorrow and joy throughout generations upon generations of humans.

I think about myself curling up in a fetal position sobbing from every pore of my being while mourning the loss of not being able to have a biological child.  I truly mourned this.  Those tears held within them my secrets, my grief, and my pain.  Those tears shed were not in vain.  I earned each one.  I deserved to let go of each one.  Those tears were for the girl I once was, and the mother I thought I would never be.

I also think about the tears of joy that have navigated their way down the landscape of my face. They too spoke volumes of resilience, thankfulness, and complete understanding.  Those tears released the power of love held within.  They too held their place of importance in the history of my life.  They too were for the little girl I once was, and the mother I was discovering myself to be.

I remember hearing the “sniffles” behind me at our adoption hearings.  I quickly looked around and saw family, friends, and even some child welfare professionals with tears rolling down their cheeks.  Each tear was a message of hope and hard work.  Each one represented the efforts made to keep my children safe, to help their birth parents, and to give them the permanent family they deserved.  The Judge stopped the court proceedings during my son’s adoption and gave me a moment to gather my tears back up.  He told me that he had seen many tears of sadness throughout his court room experience, and it was good to see tears of joy.

On a vastly more important level…the most important of all, I think about the tears that flowed down the faces of those who witnessed the crucifixion and death of Christ.  I think about those who must have had tears of awe-filled joy at realizing His resurrection.  The message of unspeakable love, unselfish love, and saving love that those tears gave is still heard and felt today.  At times, I am caught off guard during worship at church.  I find myself singing a song, staring at the Cross, and wiping away the droplets that resemble the overwhelming magnitude of my Savior’s grace and love for me.

I think I love this quote so much because it reminds me of the purpose and the purity behind each tear that falls from our eyes.  The voice held within our tears speaks so much more compared to the words that may or may not leave our mouths.  There is a sacredness there, and it should never be underestimated.

Don’t hold your tears hostage.  Don’t stifle their meaning.  Your tears may be speaking for you.  Allow them to.  Your tears may be speaking to you.  Listen to them.

Masks

My children have plenty of masks they like to wear around the house.  Their imaginations soar as they defeat the bad guys, sneak around like ninjas, or hide out like burglars.  Their masks bring a little more tangibility to their ideas, and for brief moments, they get to be someone different.

Christians (well, not only Christians) often wear “masks” too.  Some may be wearing the mask of wealth when, if truth were told, they are actually deep in debt.  Others may wear the mask of happiness although they are suffering through great sadness.  There’s the mask of strength that is worn by those trembling from weakness.  And, there’s the mask of contentment; although, one’s desires tend to chase him or her around.

The mask of popularity is one that is worn frequently; although, the person may actually be crumbling from poor self-esteem, low self-worth, and loneliness.  The “everything is fine” mask is one I wore often growing up.  I even topped it off with a great big smile.  The fact is that not everything was fine during my adolescents and young adulthood.  I struggled with thoughts and feelings of inadequacy, but no one knew it.  I was semi-popular, active, and out-going.  Even now, I pull out this mask to help get me through rough times.

For moms, we often wear the mask of “Super Mom” even though we barely have strength left in the day to kiss the little ones goodnight.  Our images on blogs, Facebook, Pinterest and any other social networking sites may really just cover up the day-to-day struggles we have as parents.  It is hard raising children in this fast paced world where reality show stars earn more of an income for getting drunk and acting foolish than those who storm through the trenches to save others, those who teach children, rebuild families, or compassionately love on people every day.  It is a struggle to raise children to be selfless and compassionate when the world expects them to be driven, number one, and egocentric.

I would much rather see an unveiled, unmasked version of someone’s strife than to walk by and not even notice because of the amazing job he or she is doing at covering up the pain.  Deep longing, jilted despair, and confusion are hidden from the rest of the world when those mighty masks are put on.  As a Christian, I too struggle at times making sense of the world around me, and the reason why things happen the way they do.  I even admit that I wear a mask that covers this doubt up a lot of the times.

I was reading in Luke Chapter 5 today and verses 29-32 jumped out at me.  This blog topic has been on my mind for the past few days, so it did not surprise me that the Lord led me to these verses.

2Then Levi held a great banquet for Jesus at his house, and a large crowd of tax collectors and others were eating with them. 30 But the Pharisees and the teachers of the law who belonged to their sect complained to his disciples, “Why do you eat and drink with tax collectors and sinners?” 31 Jesus answered them, “It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. 32 I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance.”

It makes more sense to me for non-believers to see Christians for what we are; broken and imperfect sinners who know we are our strongest when we declare our weakness.  Instead, I fear what they see is what our masks represent; wealth, power, judgment, popularity, political motivation, and self-righteousness.

Imagine if we gathered the various masks we wear, threw them to the side, and showed ourselves as we really are.  Imagine the difference our actions, not our agendas, would make in the lives of others if we let love lead the way.

Imagine the reaction of others when our masks come off and we show Him to the world.  He is the healer.  He is the lifter of our heads.  His love and His sacrifice is the only “mask” we should be wearing.

Around the Fire

Last night we had the privilege of spending the evening around a bonfire in the country.  Hot dogs, roasted marshmallows, the sound of crackling wood, a gorgeous full moon, the chatter of folks, and gleeful screams of children playing in the field next to us made up our evening.  Fires are so good at catching one’s eye.  I sat and stared for a long time at the majestic wisps of flames as they flickered their way up to the heavens.

With the scent of fall in the air and the comfort of a blanket over me, my thoughts immediately went to the reason why we were all out there under the stars.  Out of the eighteen or so children present last night, around thirteen of them were adopted out of foster care.  Let me say that again….13 out of 18 or so children present last night were adopted out of foster care.  Most of the children were siblings of some sort, but not all.  A handful of families adopted the siblings.  Honestly, it was kind of nice to be at an event where my children were not a minority.  Usually when we go to “get-togethers”, or anywhere in general, my kids are typically the only ones adopted; especially out of protective services.

There is something comforting when being around fellow parents who have experienced the journey of being a foster parent and adopting.  We are able to swap stories of our experiences and compare notes.  We can relate to the challenges sometimes experienced when raising children with histories of abuse, neglect, prenatal exposure, or separation from family of origin.  We can also talk about resources that may come in handy if future issues should arise.

Last night, I took a moment to look out in the field at the children playing.  The image of glow sticks in hands, glow-in-the-dark balloons bouncing up and down, and the sounds of laughing children running freely through the field filled my mind and my heart with gratefulness.  I thought about how their young lives were interrupted by the ways of the world and the poor choices of their  birth parents.  I thought about the losses every single one of them has endured already in life.  I thought about the adults around the fire who took them in.  I thought about the opportunities they have because of permanency in their lives.

I thought about how they get to have a childhood free of abuse.  I also thought about how lucky we are to be a part of this.  Adoption out of foster care is not a second best choice.  It is not reserved for only those who cannot afford private adoption.  It is not just for couples who are unable to have biological children.  It is a blessing to parent a child whose beginning to life automatically put him or her in the category of the “least of these”.

It is a blessing to meet other adults whose lives have also been impacted by the decision to become foster parents.  We are all connected in some way to each other by the children playing in the field.  We are all a part of something bigger, something more eternal, and something better planned for these children.

As I watched the fire burn and looked around, thankfulness filled my heart.  We were all brought together by the one true God who brings light into dark places, hope into hopeless situations, and love into the lives of all of us.