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.

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.

Faith over Fear but Not Being Foolish

“I’m scared I’m going to get the virus.” His chocolate eyes looked up at me as he mumbled these words. “Don’t be scared” I said to assure him. “Remember when I told you guys that we need to have faith over fear but not be foolish?” This is why we are staying in the house as much as we can. “Okay…”, he said before relaxing into his bed.

Faith over fear but not being foolish. I’ve done my best to teach my kids this thought while also clinging to it as well. It’s hard, isn’t it? Not hard to be faithful. At times, not hard to be foolish (although we can do a really good job at being quite foolish). The fearful thing – yeah, that one. It’s a challenge to not fear.

Even as believers, our minds wander into the world of “what if”. I know I’ve found myself wondering what life would look like if I got this virus or if anyone I treasure does. These meanderings of my mind do not help. They don’t keep us safe or prevent us from getting exposed to it. Instead, they remind me of just how human we really are; how vulnerable we are.

Friends, this is what I have experienced in my life and believe: we may be strong and healthy one day, then completely broken down the very next day. Our physical bodies – flesh and bone – are Earthly. Our soul is not. And maybe that is one of the main consolations we can hang onto at this time.

Instead of focusing on what is going wrong or our fears, perhaps, focusing on what is going right would do our souls well. In my city, a Facebook group dedicated to helping each other through this has revealed so much. I’ve lost count on the number of times people have offered to shop for someone else or give advice on how to remedy a situation. I’ve woken up to messages checking on my family and have exchanged lots of “I love you’s” this week.

Faith over fear but not being foolish. In some respects, watching the chaos and ashes unfold around us reminds me that the Lord can make beautiful things out of dust and ashes.

Love is greater than fear. What a gift that is to witness.

Momma-in-Waiting (Part 6)

Momma-in-Waiting, I remember you.

It’s been years but you’ve never left my mind. Standing behind a brochure-covered table at a conference, you made your way over to me. I recognized that sheepish grin. One filled with grief and forced onto your face. Your hands grazed over the brochures about adoption; nervously picking one up.

Before you knew it, your friends showed up. Excitement and eagerness written all over their faces. “Here, take this one!” they exclaimed while pushing the brochures onto you. “You should call them!” You stood there, frozen, politely telling your friends that you will think about it.

I wanted to grab you and run away. Take you far from the pain and the pressure. I couldn’t though. Instead, I was a witness to the turmoil you surely felt. As your friends moved on, you paused for a moment and looked up at me. I said, “Call me sometime if you have any questions or need to talk.”

Momma-in-Waiting, your well-meaning friends have no clue what you’re going through.

They try but will never be able to fully meet you where you’re at. That place is reserved for those moments of anguish. You know this far too well.

Momma-in-Waiting, I don’t know if you ever called me.

I talk to so many people throughout the day. Ones just like you. Calling out of curiosity, wanting to learn about adoption, but fearing the answer might not be what they need to hear.

It is hard navigating this strange new land, isn’t it? You dreamed of being a mommy. Married the love of your life and soon, baby-talk became a part of your conversations.

And, then. Nothing. Silence. Negative test after negative test.

You became fraught with worry. That worry turned into frustration. Frustration turned into despair. A few friends know and reach out to you, but don’t know what to say so they overcompensate with philosophical statements and impulsive reactions.

Others become silent. Their silence is nothing compared to the stillness you come to home every day. Your home isn’t filled with the giggles of children. The spare bedroom you once dreamed of becoming a nursery sits empty. Sometimes, you go in there and visit for a while. Laying on the floor and looking up at the ceiling, you imagine the joy that could fill that room. That room is one of emptiness but also of hope.

Hope creates courage. Courage generates resolve. Resolve produces tenacity. Tenacity gives rise to overcoming. And, sweet sister, you can overcome.

Momma-in-Waiting, hold on to that hope.

Let it be a guiding light.

It will carry you far.

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?)

Seasons of Change (Life Lesson)

A few months ago, I started weekly lessons with my kids on Tuesday nights. Although I’ve taken a break for the holidays, I plan on returning to “Tuesday Night Teachings” after the new year. My kids really seem to enjoy them! Here is one lesson that I taught called, “Seasons of Change”.

I started off by reading Ecclesiastes 3:1-8 to my kids.

There is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under the heavens:
a time to be born and a time to die,
a time to plant and a time to uproot,
a time to kill and a time to heal,
a time to tear down and a time to build,
a time to weep and a time to laugh,
a time to mourn and a time to dance,
a time to scatter stones and a time to gather them,
a time to embrace and a time to refrain from embracing,
a time to search and a time to give up,
a time to keep and a time to throw away,
a time to tear and a time to mend,
a time to be silent and a time to speak,
a time to love and a time to hate,
a time for war and a time for peace.

Looking towards my children, I said, “Dad and I have been talking a lot about how much we’ve changed since we were younger.”

One-by-one, I placed the leaves on the table and asked, “What is this?” Each time I pointed to one, they said, “a leaf”.

“Yes, and look at how much the leaves have changed. In life, you will go through a lot of seasons and changes. There will be some days that you feel ‘green’ and happy and other days where you may feel ‘yellow’ or sad. Sometimes, you feel ‘red’ or angry about things going on. Just like these leaves, you will change and go through different times in your lives.

Do you notice that even though a leaf started off green, it ended up red, and even though it went through this season of change, it is still a leaf?” Nodding their heads in agreement, “Yes!”, they said.

“The cool thing is that even though there are changes, the leaf is still exactly what God designed it to be. YOU are as well. Regardless of what you go through or how you change, you were born a child of God and you will always be a child of God.”

Ending the lesson, I explained that this is one of the most important things to remember in life. The only constant is God. When everything else around us changes or when we go through different seasons, God remains the same.

If there is one thing I can hope to teach my children, it is this:

Regardless of what experiences they endure or the seasons of change they go through, I truly desire for them to know just how deeply they are loved by God, how they were created with a purpose, and that they will always be one of His kids.

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.

Dear (foster) Momma of a Stranger’s Child (letter #8)

You sat across from me; worry and sorrow dripping from your pores. Your mind wracking with concern. Your heart aching for an answer. You said, “I was told this is how the system works. This is what I should expect.” For a brief moment, I froze in my seat; my own heart plunging into despair. Dear (foster) Momma of a Stranger’s Child, the least comforting words you can hear are “This is how the system works.”

People say that to you, don’t they? They seem to just let it out without a care in the world. In the upside down that you are experiencing, there really are no care-free words. What you walk through each day is far from that.

I refuse to be someone who reminds you of how the system works. I won’t let you feel less validated or that you are in the wrong for having strong emotions. Actually, on the contrary, I welcome your feelings.

Dear (foster) Momma of a Stranger’s Child, it’s okay to feel sad. It’s okay to wonder when you will have to let go or when you can finally rest in permanence. It’s completely well with me for you to be human.

If anyone knows “how the system works”, it is you. Sitting through weeks (maybe even months) of training about how to care for strangers’ children, your own childhood is being explored. Your financial statements are viewed, fingerprints logged, and friends are called upon to give a reference. You are studied over and over again – watching each and every move.

You show up at meetings and speak the truth that needs to be shared – how the stranger’s child you are loving on is doing. Court hearings, therapy sessions, and visits with anyone who is related to the child are just a part of your new normal. Case managers, licensing workers, attorneys and therapists knock at your door. You prep the child for what is to come of the day, wipe away the tears, comfort the wounds, take the wrath of trauma and whisper hope to the Heavens.

As you sit back and listen to everyone discussing a child whose future is unknown, you want so much to voice your opinion and in doing so, you tremble with fear that someone might think you are “sabotaging” this whole thing. You gain the courage to speak but with anticipation of hearing “this is how the system works”.

Dear (foster) Momma of a Stranger’s Child, you deserve to be heard.

The reality is that you want so very much to see success. You are gutted at the thought of anyone living in despair. If you could, you would wrap the stranger, that has come into your life through a child, and nourish him or her with just enough healing and love to break the cycle and carry on. You desire to do this, even if it means a total loss for you.

There really is no other scenario in life where raw feelings of loss would be met with callous words. Would we say, “well, you knew it was coming”, to someone experiencing the death of a loved one? Gosh, I certainly hope not. Yet, in foster care, this is said a lot. These words do nothing to comfort. They fall flat on anguished hearts.

Dear (foster) Momma of a Stranger’s Child, don’t forget that while the rest of the world might be judging you, the child you are caring for is growing and changing BECAUSE of you.

It’s okay to get attached – don’t let anyone tell you otherwise. Without attachment, there is emptiness. On the outside of love, there is stillness. When hope is left out, there is no future. This is how love works. It is unreasonable to expect anything less.

To love a child you may let go, is something that most people would not do. If this were easy, everyone would do it. Sure, all of this may be how the system works, but you know how resilience works, don’t you?

Stay strong, (foster) Momma. Never forget the impact you are making in this world. It has ripples. Those ripples become streams that soon turn into waves. It is more than just a “system”. It is our future.

For you, this is life. This is how you mark your place in the timestamp of history. Your love is changing generations.

Dear (foster) Momma of a Stranger’s Child, don’t forget that.