filling in the blanks

Monday, June 27, 2011

Piecing together our children's history has turned out to be even more painful than I imagined. Not just because of their stories, but also because of our part in them. I don't know if there will ever be a time when I don't wonder what about might have been or what should have happened. But here we are. Even though I believe with everything in me that Mr. B and Baby R were meant to be a part of our family, and for whatever reason, their older sister was not, it is still painful. I think this is a bit of tension that I will forever live with.

It's hard for me to hear some of the behind-the-scenes stuff that goes on with the case. Even though we suspected and pretty much knew a lot of the stuff, it is still painful to hear some of the things the powers that be said about us and our (soon-to-be) children. It's hard for me to hear that our situation really was as precarious as we suspected. I was holding on to some hope that we were reading too much into different decisions and certain conversations, but today we just received a little confirmation that we weren't. I'm not exactly sure why it's so painful for me to hear. I think it's because it makes me feel a little like we've done something wrong. Even though we've been told the whole time that we were doing such a great job, I can't help but feel like 'they' didn't want us to do such a good job. Like we were doing something wrong by doing the right things. How do we work within and work for change in a system that really doesn't truly want you to do a good job? For a system that would sometimes rather move children again than actually listen to you advocate for them? As always, I selfishly would have just rather this have all happened the 'easy' way. We meet foster parents for whom there was very little drama. They accepted a placement, and then they adopted the children. Fairly drama-free. That wasn't our lot, but I think even hearing some of the behind-the-scenes drama today makes me even more grateful and in awe of what God has worked out for our children. Most people say to us things like 'how lucky' they are to be in our family, 'what a gift' we've given them. The truth is, Mr. B and Baby R are God's gifts to us. We're the lucky ones. We're the ones God has blessed.

235. bittersweet joy at seeing old friends who live far away
236. a completely unexpected answer to prayer
237. a 'village' to raise my children with
238. a long-awaited victory for my oldest son
239. young men who listen to the Spirit's leading
240. orange fiery lilies opening to the sun
241. feeding hungry tummies
242. making up after a fight
243. opportunities to humble myself - to lay down my prider
244. cool breezes from a summer storm
245. God's unexpected blessing through disaster - sharing our lives with those displaced by flood
246. committed family of faith working together to make one spectacular week for our area's children
247. building connections, reassuring love to an anxious, scared three-year-old who is still just learning to trust
248. seeing God's hand guiding our journey, working it all together for our good and for His glory
249. the sweet blessing of our children. all four of them. God's gift to us.

on my own desert island

Friday, June 24, 2011

Not sure if this is just for fun or really speaks to a deeper longing in my soul to be all alone on my own desert island, but here's the five albums I would not want to be there without (this is a fairly recently revised list thanks to the plethora of good music that's been coming out lately)...

1) The Joshua Tree - U2
First every time, all the time, for the rest of my life. I could not love any album more than this. If I were only allowed one, this is most definitely the one I would take.

2) Children Running Through - Patty Griffin
Still my favorite Patty Griffin album. She's brilliant.

3) Barton Hollow - The Civil Wars
A new addition. But oh so worthy. I do not get tired of this album.

4) Tapestry - Carole King
A perennial favorite. If this were a cassette tape in my house, it would be worn out.

5) Good Monsters - Jars of Clay
The best album they've put out in my opinion. It's just amazing. I loved it the first time I heard it (rare), and I still love it (even more rare).

So how about you? What are the five albums you'd want on a desert island?

lessons learned

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

I totally missed yesterday's scheduled post. I've not been very successful in my disciplines this week. I feel like we're stuck in this major learning curve right now. You know, the one where you already know a lot of the stuff you should be doing, but you're just not doing it right now? Yep, that one.

...where I know that part of the way I can help Mr. B through his crisis (which is in its third week now and progressively getting worse) is to do our home therapy sessions every. single. day. Whether he asks to or even wants to.
...where I know that spending 10-15 minutes rocking him at bedtime every. single. night. will result in a smoother transition, less anxiety, and better outcomes for every one in the family.
...where I understand that I need to be turning around every 'no' and filling my children full of 'yeses'.
...where I realize that intentionally reducing our commitments and being more mindful of our scheduling will help all of our children, but most especially Mr. B.
...where my own spiritual and personal disciplines ground me a way that make me better able to care for my children and myself in a healthy and positive way.

Yep. That learning curve.

Apparently, I just need regular reminders that we are not a 'normal' family. Sometimes I forget. I start to require more of our children than they can give. I set them up for failure. I berate myself afterwards. I spend a lot of time crying, feeling sorry for myself, feeling sorry for my children, but come on. It's my fault. Largely, anyway. I know the answers. (At least some of the answers.) They're just painful for me. It hurts me to back away from commitments. to not do all the things I want to do, to not have fun and party like everybody else I know. It hurts me to make choices on behalf of my children that makes them feel left out. It really hurts me to feel embarrassment when people don't understand our family choices, when they call us overprotective, when they think our discipline is too strict, when they think it's not strict enough, when they roll their eyes, even when they think that we don't like them because we have to make painful choices. I have too much pride to deal with that well.

Today, I read the most beautiful post over at Noisy.Colorful.Lively. She just so poignantly described the painful isolation that we experience as a result of being the 'secret keepers' and of protecting our family. Somehow it wounds my pride to have secrets. I think it's because I don't like to be misunderstood. I like to defend myself. I like to defend my children, and I can't do either. To do so would violate their stories. It would violate their being.

This whole painful journey is causing me to relinquish my pride. Bit by excruciating bit. Every time I feel like the hard part is about to end, and I let down my guard, get lazy, start pretending like we've got this all under control...that's when I'm reminded. I can't do this on my own. I want to. I want to hang on to my abilities and do it myself. (Yes, I am three years old inside) I want to be all that. Turns out I'm not. I need grace, both to give and to receive. I need strength beyond myself. I need this lovely online community I've found for encouragement, honesty, and accountability. I need someone a little more in control, a little more capable than I am. (Thankfully I know Someone like that.)


dancing on Mondays

Monday, June 13, 2011

This morning I feel like dancing. It's the beginning of a very rough appointment week. I have some anxiety over how it will go. I have plans to work out that anxiety at the gym. Although, not tomorrow because Wendell is working tomorrow night. But maybe Tuesday...

I made a new workout playlist this past week. I am still enjoying it after 6 play-throughs, so I deem it a success. Unfortunately, it causes me to dance. Which might not seem like a bad thing, but if you're dancing on the elliptical or the treadmill, sometimes you look a little strange. Feel like dancing your Monday away? I'm loving Foster the People right now.

This week, as always, I am counting the ways that God loves me. I've said it before, but I did not expect this discipline to change my life to the extent that it has. I feel different. I am different. I'm faced with pain, with anxiety, with uncertainty, but I choose joy. I choose to rest in the all-encompassing, overwhelming, never failing love of God.

223. safety for disobedient children

224. a new workout playlist
225. charred-edge smoky beer burgers (thanks Rachael Ray)
226. welcome relief of air conditioning
227. opportunities to teach my children about honesty
228. celebrating the accomplishments of my sisters and brother-in-law
229. relaxing parties with family and friends
230. the recording magic of my DVR
231. the sweet, confident voice of my little boy telling us his full name
232. a glass of Simi, thanks to my sweet husband
233. playing Dutch Blitz with my mama
234. a heart full of love and laughter to start out a really tough week

it doesn't matter how young

Sunday, June 12, 2011

One of my very favorite parts of Summit VII was sitting under Dr. Karyn Purvis for a too-short breakout session. I want her to be my mama. (My second mama of course - my first mama is too awesome to give up.) She is gentle yet tough and has spent her career dedicating herself to helping 'children from hard places' heal. As well as helping the parents help these children heal. We are very excited to be planning to attend an Empowered to Connect conference in September which is two days of training and encouragement for parents, professionals, and church leaders who are committed to helping children from hard places.

One of the biggest learning curves that we had when approaching foster care/adoption was our impression that because we wanted children younger than 3 that the impact of the abuse and neglect they had experienced would be less. We thought that transitions as such a young age would be quickly forgotten and not as big of a deal as for older children. We were dismayed to learn this is actually the opposite of the truth. The younger a child is when the trauma occurs in their life, the more devastating the consequences. The common psychiatric wisdom is that by age 4, our brains, personality, emotions, etc. are developed basically for good. (Not that people can't change after age 4, but it will take much longer and far more work if it happens at all.) So the abuse and neglect that our children experienced, even at their very young ages, has actually caused their brains to develop abnormally. By therapeutically parenting them, we are literally helping to rewire their brains.

Dr. Purvis spoke about the 'still face research' that has been done on infants. The particular experiment that I've attached a video of was done by Dr. Edward Tronick on babies of 12 months with secure attachments. It's fascinating stuff:

Dr. Purvis really focused on a similar experiment done on five month old babies. (I can't find anything online for this right off hand, so I'll try my best to summarize it correctly.) In this particular research project, the babies were exposed to a stranger instead of their mother. The stranger exhibited the 'still face' for them for two minutes. Fifteen months later, the babies were brought back in and shown a series of photos of different people. When the stranger's face was displayed, the babies turned their face away from that photo. They still negatively remembered that person, even though the person was a stranger in the first session, and none of the babies had been exposed to him or her since. Fifteen months later.

We are just beginning to understand the full effects of our children's past on their lives. We are humbled by the strength and resiliency of our children. We are humbled by the challenges that lie before us in learning to parent our children. We are grateful for people like Mr. B's therapist and Dr. Karyn Purvis who are dedicating their time and careers to helping parents like us who just want our children 'from hard places' to heal.

tuesday five?

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

I know that five isn't alliterative, but the only numbers available for T are two which is not enough, and really big numbers. So I've picked five random items for my list. I'll save alliteration for another day.

1) I love chicken enchiladas. Especially these ones. Although I chopped up six pretty old, striated jalapeƱos for the enchiladas and our side salad and my hands feel a little fiery this evening.

2) I also love mint and lime. I am getting pretty good at combining them for beverages, if I do say so myself. Wendell agrees though.

3) Tonight at the gym, I rolled the dice and started my entire song library on shuffle - always risky. But the first song? Rocketown. That is correct. A little MWS made my whole evening worthwhile. You definitely need to share the joy. Just lean in close to your monitor because Michael is always better live. One time, circa 1999, I saw Michael rock a pair of capris. I'm still a little conflicted over the success of that outfit. Side note: recently learned that MWS is a grandpa. Freaky, right?

4) Directly related to the previous item - I think need a gym buddy. Sometimes I like working out alone. Sometimes I wish I had someone to talk to. Working out is more fun with a friend.

5) I am looking forward to attending a wedding this weekend sans children. While I love my children, I would like to enjoy this wedding, and that absolutely cannot be done with my little 18-month-old delight. Now for what to wear...

dark girls

Monday, June 6, 2011

In the wake of the embarrassing Psychology Today article, which has since been removed from their site, I've just been wrestling with the thoughts of what my daughter might one day be subjected to because of her skin color. We get a lot of advice, mostly unsolicited, about raising a child of color. It tends to be from the parents of transracially adopted children. It almost always centers around this basic concept - 'It's not that big of a deal. Don't worry about it so much.'

I never want to be offensive, but frankly, their advice doesn't hold a ton of weight with me. The people I want to hear from are people who are not just raising children of color, they are actually people of color themselves. They're black parents. They're adult and teenage trans-racial adoptees. They're people with experience about what it's like to grow up black in America. I want to know, not what their parents think/thought was best and good, but what they actually experienced. I want to know what was a big deal. What we should worry about. What worked, what didn't. What I should be aware of when I raise my daughter in a world where major publications will still publish articles that say she's not as beautiful as everyone else.

I went to a session at Summit VII about this very thing. A panel of trans-racially adopted adults sat in front of us, openly answered our questions, and were very gracious to a room full of white people, who've grown up with white privilege, trying their best to navigate this world with new eyes for the sake of their children. The biggest take away I got from that session was that it is a big deal. Sure, maybe not as big as spiritual development. Maybe not as important as emotional healing from trauma. Definitely not as important as a loving, stable, intact family unit facing the world together. But it's still a big deal.

Today I found this video, and it just broke me. My daughter's skin is beautiful. I want her to know it. I want her to believe it. Yet throughout her life, there will undoubtedly be people who will tell her differently. Those people may look different than her, or they may even share her skin color. I'm hopeful that pieces like this will continue to open people's eyes to how we view skin color in this nation. I'm hopeful that the pain and trauma represented in these nine minutes will one day be things of the past. One day.

Dark Girls: Preview from Bradinn French on Vimeo.

every good and perfect gift

211. freshly mulched flower beds
212. cool showers on a hot day
213. Wot-A-Dog - best drive-in restaurant I know
214. last days of school

215. committed teachers
216. a blessing and legacy of three generations at an elementary school, unfortunately for the last time
217. mint and lime
218. crispy brown edges of chicken enchiladas
219. fresh and bright black bean and corn salad
220. a preachin' husband
221. skinny little sun-browned children
222. the littlest's beautiful chocolate brown skin

new design

Friday, June 3, 2011

The blog looks a bit different. Much much better in my opinion. My limited design skills could only carry me so far. I just needed something with a matching color scheme and looked a little cleaner than before. Plus, I am so in love with this new tree. I far prefer it to the old one.

Thanks to Franchesca from Small Bird Studios for the great design. She was a pleasure to work with. I highly recommend her for blog redesign. She was very prompt and extremely reasonably priced. When I started looking for new blog design, I was overwhelmed with the cost. Since I'm not making any money with this blog or doing any sort of mass-market outreach with it either, it was hard to justify the money of a super expensive design, so I was very happy when Wendell gave me this as a birthday gift. I was really pleased to find Franchesca. She has a lot of options to choose from and right now, I'm limited to non-photo type headers and such, but maybe someday..

The new design makes me feel fresh and clean. Such a breath of fresh air when I post. I am grateful and happy today.

opened eyes

Finally, a first post about the Christian Alliance for Orphans Summit VII. For reference, the first post will be kind of an overview. I'll get into specifics later.

I was admittedly a tad nervous about attending this particular conference. Excited, yes, but sometimes I find the way Christians treat orphan care a little too provocative, fairly romanticized, and with a load of guilt thrown in for free. I was pleasantly surprised to not find any of that at the Summit. At least, not in the general sessions, and definitely not in the break-out sessions I attended. What I did find was support, encouragement, challenge, realism, and quite a bit of provocative material...but provocative in all the right ways.

I think the thing that has most stuck with me from the couple of days we spent at the Summit was this verse. I'm not sure where I heard/read it, but I can't forget it:

Once our eyes are opened, we cannot pretend we do not know what to do.
God, who weighs our hearts and keeps our souls,

knows we know and holds us responsible to act.

Proverbs 24:12
Our eyes have definitely been opened over the past couple years. Now we are responsible to act. W and I have felt for some time that what we're doing in foster care is larger than just our family. We're not exactly sure what that bigger picture is going to look like in the future, but we feel very strongly that we are called to continue in this life's calling. For the immediate time being, we need to concentrate on stabilizing our family, gathering ourselves from the initial trauma and grief of the past couple years, and putting our lives in order again. For a little while at least. (We actually have some opportunities brewing that we are grateful to be a part of - more on that later, I hope.)

The first and probably most important lesson from the conference is that orphan care is not an option for God's people. It's a command. We are all called to orphan care as followers of Christ. God's Word could not be more clear on this subject.
Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this:
to look after orphans and widows in their distress
and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world.

James 1:27
It looks different for everyone - by no means is everyone called to adopt, to foster, to sponsor children, or to work in rural Africa helping families with sustainability so that they can provide for their families effectively. We all will be doing different things to answer God's call to care for the orphan, but make no mistake, if we do not answer God's call, we will be held accountable. This was especially impacting to me because I want to continually be sure that I am following, listening and obeying. I can't just rest on the fact that since we've been fostering, since we're going to adopt Mr. B and Baby R, and since we sponsor children in Africa that we are fulfilling God's call in our lives in this area. I can easily see us falling into the trap of thinking that we've already done our part. As if God calls us to obey Him and then once we've done what He asked, we're free. The question for me is - what is God calling us to now? It might be to continue on with what we've been doing, but it also might look very different than what we are currently doing, what are we are planning for the future, than what we think is best. We have to be open, ready, and willing to obey with whatever He puts in our path.


Thursday, June 2, 2011

This past week was so heavy with processing that writing the gifts didn't even cross my mind. I think I can ride on my last gift for quite awhile yet.

We've had a lot of discussion about what it means to be here forever, what it will be like when we go see the judge (which is total conjecture since we have NO idea), and what it means to 'visit' with Mr. B's sister. Mr. B is still clearly so into the idea of being here forever. I thought maybe the excitement would wear off, but it hasn't yet. He told me, "I so 'cited." I'm not quite sure what he thinks is actually going to happen since things aren't really going to be changing all that much, but he's plenty happy about it anyway.

I also spent an entire afternoon yesterday poring over each of the kids' records. We have almost all of them at this point except for copies of their original birth certificates, copies of their Social security cards, and their Help Me Grow records which are apparently extremely detailed. I'm pretty excited about those since there are few people involved in this case who were in all of their homes, who saw them interacting with their mother, and the Help Me Grow worker has been there from the beginning. (Yep, that's right. They're not entitled to their original birth certificates, just copies of them. There are people all over this nation that have no access to their original birth certificates. Even our President had to get an attorney to arrange special exceptions)

When we started this process, I was unprepared for the amount of grief we would go through. Every step is just one more thing to grieve, for our children and for myself. Every single step is one more step of pain and loss. I grieve my children's loss - and there is just too much loss in their short little lives to even write out. I also grieve for myself - that I couldn't be there. I grieve that all I know of Mr. B as a newborn can be summarized in a page of statistics and two little footprints on a copied hospital record. I grieve that we don't even have Baby R's records. I wish I could've been there. If I had been there, Mr B. wouldn't have been sick so much. If I had been there, he wouldn't have been homeless. If I had been there, he wouldn't have been hurt. If I had been there, Baby R would've had a stable place to live with a mother that adored her every second of the day for every single day since she was born. If I had been there...

Yesterday was also the last time that the foster care worker will be to our home. It was fairly emotional - more for her than us obviously, but still. We have one more case worker meeting period. It feels a little surreal at this point. While I can't imagine our life without Mr. B and Baby R, I also can't quite get a handle on the fact that they will really and truly be ours for as long as we're both here.

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