in which I browse the interwebs so you don't have to

Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Why White People Adopt Black Children: "As an adoptive mom to two black children, and thus, the matriarch of a transracial family, I can testify that white privilege, prejudice, and stereotypes against black people still exist despite the number of people who claim to be colorblind. In addition to racial prejudices, my family is sometimes treated as second-class because we came together through adoption instead of biology."
I will admit to feeling like we were past this, as a culture and a nation. I also will admit that most people, even while treating me this way, do not truly understand what they're doing. I do not believe that most people intend to cause our family and our children pain, yet there are still so many questions, statements, and ideas which do that.

I Will Gather All of You: "I will be the paper, that even when you shatter, will hold you together.  You will not burst into the wind so that all your parts will be lost. You will not be lost. But I will hold you together, even in your brokenness."
Oh, how I need to be held together.

Help Your Children Live a Better Story: "Our kids are bored with the story we are helping them write. The religious interactions we provide are often times cliché, the means of learning trite, and the Bible we present has no more depth than the felt board Bible Studies presented in Sunday school. So how do we change? How can we help our children write a better story that will draw them closer to God’s heart? Here are a few things you as a parent can write into your child’s life to help cure the pervasive boredom of this generation."
I'm eager to pass along to my children the exciting adventure of this story we're living in. I really have been struggling with the current thought about how what God needs most of us to be is a boring Christian. To be plodding along in our faith. Not cool. I get what they're trying to say. That not everyone gets to live in Africa or be Bono. But what they're really presenting is that the majority of Christians are living boring lives, and we're supposed to all learn to be fine with it. That faith is largely just based on 'plodding' along. (Can you think of a more depressing word?) And glory upon glory, if you do this boring stuff really well, then God might "honor" you by calling you to the truly exciting way to serve Him.
The life God calls us to lead, the story He calls us to live in is right here and now. My life is not just a preparation for something more exciting. My life is certainly not boring. Nothing about following Christ has ever been boring in my life. If I find myself getting bored, I can almost guarantee that I'm not following close enough to Jesus. If I transmit that to my kids, then I am doing them a great disservice. It bothers me that this is how a significant portion of people are viewing their lives. That this is what they're passing to their children. I fear that our kids will definitely reject this way of life, this exciting, marvelous, truly best way of life, if they see their parents plodding along in boredom.

My Learning Curve: Caring for Our Other Children: "How do we focus so much energy on parenting the kids we have from hard places while also parenting the 2-3 young biological kids we have?"
While this is a constant struggle for us now because we're parenting a kid from a hard place, I find this advice to be useful for anyone with multiple children. Let's face it, there will always be one child that demands more attention at any particular time through your life. These suggestions serve as a reminder that even if one is requiring more effort, there is still balance to be struck in our families' lives.

new music tuesday

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Shaun-Groves-Third-World-Symphony-iTunes-banner-200x200This is a great day for new music. If you haven't bought Shaun Groves album yet, you should. Beautiful grace-filled music. You will not regret it. While you're at it, watch this video of him and my favorite blogger, Ann Voskamp, at her farm in Canada. It's all grace there:

"A life contemplating the blessings of Christ becomes a life acting the love of Christ.
I listen to wind in the corn, rain on the pane, and I find my place.
All the lost pieces are finding their place…."
~ excerpted from One Thousand Gifts

All Is Grace (With Ann Voskamp) from Shaun Groves on Vimeo.

 After you get that one, hop on over and get Sara Groves' new album. More than a month ahead of schedule. It's been a happy, happy morning at our household. Love Sara Groves. Love pre-release packages. Love all this music.
Pre-release packages available today.

"When you see a man walk free...
When you see a child walk free...
When you see your family free...
It makes you dream of Jubilee.
Keep your eyes on the prize, hold on."
~Eyes on the Prize

monday, full of grace

Monday, August 29, 2011

319. my children are forever home, hope fulfilled

the day after

Thursday, August 25, 2011

The attorney said that this is the most people he's ever had at an adoption. The judge said he only sees this many people in the courtroom when it's a jury trial. Pretty cool. I have never been more proud to be a part of the families that we're a part of. It's a large part of the reason why we have been 'successful' in attaching, caring for, and becoming a forever family for Brenden and Niah.

This morning when we woke up, things were different. I can't explain it, but the children were different. I know it's not my attitude because I was just really tired and not too happy when we got up. However, Brenden was happy. He woke up with a smile on his face, said, "Mama, I love you", and he's been pretty joyful ever since. Stuff that would have set him two days ago has been fine. He's compliant, happy, playful. It's strange. Time will tell if this will stick around, but I am honestly surprised by this reaction. I did not expect it at all.

The rest of the children are just tired. So am I, but there's a party to get ready for still. No time to sit around right now...


Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Dear Brenden and Raniah,
Today is our Happy Adoption Day. You joined our family 16 months ago on the day you moved in, but today makes it legally forever. These months have been both the hardest and the most special months of our lives. You probably won't remember the day you moved in. You probably won't remember most of the days you've spent with us since. You probably won't even remember this day. But I hope that what you will remember is that we have loved you with absolute abandon every moment you've spent with us.

Brenden, you made me a better mama. Your older brother made me a mama for the first time, and your older sister made me a lover of little girls, but you have made me a better person. You have taught me what trust and acceptance looks like in a very tangible way. You are conscientious, loving, serious, and so intelligent. Your dignity and strength in the middle of trauma and pain has inspired me. You have such a concrete knowledge of the pain that this world can hold, and I am so grateful that you chose us to be your family. Because you did, you know. We wanted you to stay forever, but you had to choose us back. I watched you choose to love me, and I have been completely and utterly changed.

Raniah, you have brought such joy and delight into our lives. You'll never know any other reality than being at home with us, but the day you moved in was the day we fell in love with you. You might have cried that entire first day and most of the night, but I think you quickly sensed that here was a safe place, a connected place - a place where you could cry and someone would come immediately. A place where you could be held, be fed, be comforted, be loved. It took a very long time before you laughed, but I can still remember that first laugh that you gave us. Niah, we can not imagine our family without you in it. You are loving, funny, busy, and full of life. You are the perfect addition, the best little sister.

Someday, you both are going to want to know all of this. What this day was like. What your life was like before you lived with us. What your first mom and dad were like. When you're ready, we're eagerly waiting to share with you. I do want you to know, however, that we're going to screw up with all this sometimes. We won't always make the best decisions. We may not always use the right words. We definitely won't truly understand what it's like to be either of you, to be adopted, to be biracial, but we will do the best we can. We will continue to trust and follow our Savior, and we pray that for both of your lives as well. One thing we've learned through this journey so far, and one thing that you will learn as you grow up: Love isn't enough...but God is.

Today, with both of you, both of us, Ben, Maggie, and all of our family and friends surrounding us, you are finally, forever home.

first world parenting

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

I've been watching my friends' facebook statuses (stati?) update all week with the start of their homeschooling year and the start of the public school year. Yesterday, I read another article about the famine in the Horn of Africa. Then I read yet another article about the poverty that people are living in here in the United States, and I thought about what a life of privilege I am leading. What luxury we have to spend our time debating whether or not to work or stay at home. Whether or not to send our kids to public or private school. Whether to home-school. Whether to pack lunches or purchase them at school. Privilege.

What am I teaching my children about this? We might live lives of relative privilege, but we don't have the wherewithal to take them to a third world country and expose them to true poverty. We definitely don't try to point out the people living in poverty in our own community. We live, work, go to school with people in literal poverty. I don't want my kids to think of themselves as privileged, in the sense of better than. I do want them to know that we are fortunate. That other people do not live like us. I want them to see the pictures of the people starving in Africa. I want them to hear the stories of the desperation that drives immigrants to undertake an often deadly journey to our country or to wait ten years for a visa to go through. I want them to open their eyes to see the kids around them who are homeless, whose parents are addicts, who are struggling to make ends meet, who can never pack their lunch for school because it's too expensive. However, I want this all to happen while still helping them maintain their humility, their compassion, their empathy, their Christlike-ness rather than teaching them about the 'poor people' and how we should help them be better or richer or whatever.

I can't say that I exactly know how to do this. It's painful and difficult to think about - to know my life of privilege while seeing the abject poverty, disease, death, famine, and sword that makes up the reality of so many others. So I pray. I pray for my children. I pray for their children. I pray that God will visit us, in our privilege and in our poverty, in our health and in our sickness, in our public schools, in our subsidized housing, under the bridges, and in our 3000 square foot homes.

"Come, come and meet us here
Come and touch our tears
And we will weep no more
Come, come and meet our pain
Come and lift our lame
And we will limp no more
Come and we will want no more...
God, won't You come by here?"
(Come By Here by Shaun Groves)

I've had this album for a little while now, and it is just incredible. It speaks to my soul in an almost tangible way. The prayers of this album are the prayers of my heart today. It comes out next week online, and I encourage you to buy it.

Shaun Groves - Third World Symphony (Ethiopia Story) from Shaun Groves on Vimeo.

You can listen to the whole album here:
Third World Symphony
Third World Symphony

And you can buy it here:
Shaun Groves online store

a single thank you

Monday, August 22, 2011

After an unexpectedly emotional, exhausting, on the edge of traumatic week, I have just one gift to be grateful for this week. However, it's a pretty big one since I actually have been getting more sleep and my awake time feels much lighter now...

318. Megan, back home.


Monday, August 15, 2011

This morning, I'm in some serious prayer for my family. I'm struggling to see where God's working in this particular situation. I'm grateful I can rummage through my purse to find my notebook, encrusted with chap stick and goldfish crumbs (thanks Baby R), to read through line after line of God's working. But I'm still struggling with where to find God in this space. Will this situation one day be a gift or will the struggle be what becomes the gift? Today I'm wondering.

301. small legal changes all adding up to our official declaration as a family
302. one final full day of sister adventures for awhile
303. dum-dum suckers from the bank drive-thru
304. the myriad of colors and smells at a market
305. handmade clothing
306. artisan breads and ice creams
307 creamy chocolate, tinged with cinnamon, chased with the heat of cayenne
308. the heady heat of the best Pad Thai I've ever had
309. sharing life, even the disappointing parts, with family
310. having fun at church
311. new clothes for court
312. the long-awaited arrival of the grandparents
313. a night out with old friends - the ease of a relationship when you've grown up together
314. the unadulterated love of my children for their grandparents
315. time alone with my favorite four year old
316. regular reminders to not be complacent with parenting
317. God's not-so-subtle nudging to put my children's needs first

sister diaspora

Friday, August 12, 2011

Tomorrow my sister comes home from a week of training in Texas, and then she'll move to Indiana to begin her term as a MVS worker (Mennonite Voluntary Service) I'm excited for her opportunity, but...

In the next few weeks, my other sister will be moving even further south - an hour away instead of 40 minutes. It doesn't seem like much, except that this particular move means that she won't be coming up our way for school or work anymore. Even when she lived 40 minutes away, the bulk of her life was still in our area. That changes this year. An hour isn't super far, but...

Something about a sister, even when we piss each other off, is just different than any other relationship. I'm going to miss it. My kids are going to miss it. I'm pretty sure my husband has no idea how much he's going to wish they still lived here, if only for the relief it gives him from all my problems and ideas and talking....which I can currently do with my sisters.

For a few days this week, I also thought that one of my sisters-in-law was moving as well. Not cool. I would only have ONE sister-in-law left. Now that their opportunity didn't pan out, I feel guilty for being glad that she's not moving away. I'm extremely thankful that I will still have sisters-in-law here. I depend on them as well. I'm ever so grateful that I am friends with my family.

But here's the lesson: I need my sisters. I'm going to miss them. I'm not doing as well with all of this as I had hoped to. I'm sure it's multiplied by the facts that my life is about to change significantly. In my head. Lots will look the same on the outside, but this particular chapter of my life is about to be over. What will the next chapter look like? I have no earthly idea, but what I do know is that I'd rather my sisters be in it.

Here are some of our favorites. You might not think they're funny. You might not enjoy them at all. But sisters, they get you.

Unicorns and Carman. Favorite things.

a change in the system?

Thursday, August 11, 2011

The team members are still on my mind this week as we mail and deliver party and court invitations. (Because we're going to court and then we're having a party!) The foster system is broken in a whole bunch of ways, but in spite of that, the people on our kids' team worked hard for them. Sometimes what they thought was best wasn't, and sometimes what they thought was best didn't happen. They just continued to work together to help the kids. Culminating in one fairly important meeting towards the end of this case where thirteen (13!!!) people sat around a table at DJFS to talk about and determine what was best for all three of the kids. 2 caseworkers, 2 FCS supervisors, 1 psychiatrist, 3 therapists, 1 CASA worker, 1 Help Me Grow worker, and 3 foster parents. All there to advocate for what was best for the kids.

We believe that meeting was the turning point for this case where it was decided that Mr. B and Baby R would stay with us. Even if it hadn't ended up that way, I still would have felt really good about this particular aspect of the case. It just doesn't happen that way in most places, in most cases.

One of the really cool outcomes of this case was that we are in the beginning stages of becoming involved with a new team that is attempting to use cross-agency communication and training to develop a 'model' team for subsequent cases. What happened for our kids should happen for all kids. The adults in their life, the families and the professionals, should be working closely together, communicating with one another, and spending their time and effort on behalf of the children. I'm not quite sure what our role will be in this team, why they invite us to these meetings, but as long as they let us attend, we're committed to be there to help make things better for the children in our county. Is change coming? I sure hope so, and I'm excited to get to be a part of it.

foster care team members 101

Thursday, August 4, 2011

When a child enters the 'system', they are immediately matched with several different adults that thereafter make up their 'team'. Well, ideally this is what occurs. In our kids' case, this is definitely what occurred, and it happened in a pretty spectacular way. I'm certain I'll be writing more about that soon. I probably will be talking quite a bit about the 'team' for our kids in the next few weeks as we inch towards our finalization day, so I decided to briefly run down the explanation of each of the members to help you understand the roles of the people surrounding our kids, and hopefully someday, every kid who enters foster care. (It just doesn't always happen like it did for Mr. B and Baby R) There are a lot of acronyms. It gets confusing. Here's my attempt to make it slightly more clear.

FCS: The first team member is always the case worker. They work for Family and Children Services (FCS) as it is called in our county. The agency that FCS falls into is the Department of Job and Family Services (DJFS). Interesting fact about our area - maybe it's like this everywhere, I wouldn't know: DJFS is 'governed' by the county commissioners. Possibly you don't find that interesting at all. I rarely understand governmental structure, so I found it pretty fascinating. Helpful for voting as well since I thought the commissioners just took care of stuff like roads.

The case worker starting out works in the foster care unit. They may or may not be a social worker. Their primary goal is to provide to support to the whole family, parents and children alike, so that reunification is possible. In my experience, it seems like they spend a lot more energy on the parents since the children are usually safe in their foster homes for the time being. In our county, the foster case worker is required to visit the children in their foster homes at least once a month. They come out, talk to the kids if they're of age, observe them, get the run-down on all the happenings, etc. This worker also might do in-home support for the biological family in order to try and maintain the kids in their own homes with their own parents. This is obviously a very brief synopsis. All of the case workers we have met are overworked. There are far more needy children and families than FCS can facilitate effectively, so they concentrate on the very worst. Our case worker likes to say, "we have to talk about 'ideal' versus 'illegal'."

If the case does not end in reunification, the state files for permanent custody of the children. After that is granted, the case is transferred to the adoption unit. The kids then switch from their original worker to an adoption worker. This worker is focused on finding, placing, and maintaining a permanent placement for the children. If they stay in their current foster families, basically all that there is to do is paperwork. If not, there is a family recruitment period, matching conferences, and the very important decision making on matching a child to a healthy, happy, well-suited permanent family. In our state, there is a minimum of six months in a home before an adoption can be finalized, so the worker may have quite a bit of time with the children before they are adopted.

GAL/CASA: The second member of the team is one that sometimes doesn't even participate. This is the Guardian Ad Litum (GAL) or CASA worker. We've had three placements and never met a GAL or CASA until this case. This seems to be fairly prevalent in the system. CASA stands for Court Appointed Special Advocate. In certain cases, the CASA worker fills the role and function of the Guardian Ad Litum. His or her job is purely to advocate for the child/children's best interests. All of the CASA workers are volunteers. It's really a terrific organization. Our CASA worker has been truly amazing. He is dedicated, passionate, caring, and he happened to win CASA worker of the year here in our state based on his work for our kids.

Foster Family: The last 'standard' member of the team is the foster family. Anecdotally, we have found that most foster families do participate in the team meetings. It's probably a combination of factors - the case worker might not act like their participation is needed or even wanted, the family might not have time to go to meetings in the middle of the day, the family might not realize how important their perspective is to the case. There is no one who will know the children better, however, than the family that they are living with day after day. This input should be invaluable to all the other team members.

Birth Family: Oh, I neglected to mention the biological family. They are a really important part of the team as well. We just don't really have much experience with this in our case. Our kids' mom came to a couple of team meetings, but then that was the last we saw of her. We also met a grandmother and a great-aunt. Extended family is encouraged to participate as well, both as support for the birth parent/s and as potential caregivers for the children as a kinship placement. Ideally, the biological family would be involved in all meetings and decisions, working their case plan, and getting their lives in order to get the children back.

Our kids' team had a few other really key members. This is, as we've learned, very unusual. The children are lucky if they get the case worker and the CASA worker to work together, much less any of these remaining members.

Help Me Grow: A really key player and advocate for our kids was their Help Me Grow worker. Help Me Grow is an in-home program that helps expectant parents, newborns, infants and toddlers. They provide health and developmental screening and services to aid with early childhood development. They offer parenting tips, classes, info on baby and child care, and much, much more. Our kids' Help Me Grow worker was actually requested by their mom before they ever were a case with DJFS. She has been there from the very beginning and has been invaluable in advocating first for their mom, then later on for the kids as it became more evident that things were not going to work out in their own home. It's a really great on-the-ground agency who is providing a tremendous service to our community and our state.

Therapists: Another of the key players is the therapist role. Both Mr. B and his older sister had therapists who advocated for them and their mental health progress or lack thereof. They came to team meetings, maintained communication with the foster families, the CASA worker, and the case worker, and spoke in court on the children's behalf. We have amazing resources in our county for early childhood mental health, and we are very blessed to be recipients of those services. I believe every child in foster care should have access to these resources.

Foster Care Coordinator: The last important team member on our kids' team is a nurse who works at the local community health center. She processes the intake portion of foster care in this county. If a child enters foster care, they will go to meet this woman; she'll assist with an intake physical exam, give them a kit of toiletries and basic items (since they usually come into care with nothing), and often maintains relationship with them as they make their way through the system. She is an amazing, compassionate, passionate woman who is just one of the best parts of the system in our county. She advocated for our kids both in team meetings and at court. We love her. Our kids love her. And she loves them.

So, there you have a basic structure for our kids' team. Our kids are young, but if they were older, I would imagine that an ideal team might even include teachers, tutors, or mentors. Like I said, this was unusual. Divinely unusual, in my opinion. Our kids are happy and healthy and in a forever home because of these people. What a blessing it has been for us to know them all and be a part of this whole painfully beautiful experience.

World Wide Wednesday

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Here's a not-so-secret disclosure: I read a lot of blogs. Thanks to Google Reader and the handy-dandy 'Next' button, I read them very, very quickly. I estimate only 15 minutes or so a day to get through more than 50 subscriptions, plus many, many links off of those blogs. So I'll do a little wrap-up for the benefit of those who do not share my blog passion. These are just brief excerpts; click on the link to read the whole post or article. And here are my favorite links of the past week - they're a bit random, which is how I roll on the internets:

Our Little Tongginator: Helping a Family Who Recently Adopted: "I thought of several things that church members can do to help a family that recently adopted an older baby or toddler. I wasn't quite so blunt with my words when speaking to them, but I figure if y'all are reading here, you are open to hearing my no-holds-barred opinions. (And yes, y'all, I know that families who adopt newborns need help, too, but families adopting older babies and children typically require more non-traditional forms of assistance.)"

The Bloggess: Would You Like to Buy a Monkey?: "Last weekend at a thrift shop I found a small, stuffed monkey, which seemed to have some sort of snout leprosy and would probably murder us in our sleep. I named him “Copernicus”." [Disclaimer: This is an adult link. If you are offended by language and/or homicidal monkeys, then skip this link entirely.]

Nicolas Kristoff in the NYTimes: Evangelicals Without Blowhards: "Partly because of such self-righteousness, the entire evangelical movement often has been pilloried among progressives as reactionary, myopic, anti-intellectual and, if anything, immoral. Yet that casual dismissal is profoundly unfair of the movement as a whole. It reflects a kind of reverse intolerance, sometimes a reverse bigotry, directed at tens of millions of people who have actually become increasingly engaged in issues of global poverty and justice. This compassionate strain of evangelicalism was powerfully shaped by the Rev. John Stott..."

schooltime parenting

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

This week I'm starting to worry think about the start of school this year. Our district is undergoing a restructuring, so both of my oldest children will be at different schools. Likely with different teachers, likely with different kids. It's not at all representative of what I loved about our school district. I'm concerned about how we actually maintain focus in our own local communities and neighborhoods with our kids being bussed all over the district and mixed with all the other neighborhoods in our district. It's not that I mind the rest of the district at all; it's just that we moved to a specific area with a specific family goal in mind. It will require us to be much more intentional about maintaining contact and ties in our home neighborhood. I am stressed about how this will occur.

Basically, I'm just thinking through all of the things we've done to prepare our kids for school, and I'm worried that I'm not preparing them correctly for this next big change in their lives. It seemed easier when it was a small neighborhood, family-based school. When it's local, I know the kids. I know the families. I know which kids have parents who are using, which kids are homeless, which kids are going through a family break-up. That knowledge is going to be much more limited this next year. So, am I hitting the right talking points with them? Am I teaching them the skills they need to make it in a school where they're not already 'known'? I know we would have dealt with this when they moved up to middle school, but they're not that old yet. Maggie, especially, takes quite awhile to adjust to change. I'm worried about how it's going to go.

All of that, plus I'm still making sure that I'm equipping them adequately for the outside world. We, as a family, are very passionate about public school, but it does require us to work harder at certain things than if we were keeping our kids at home. Our family philosophy is not that we are just preparing our kids for adulthood when they will serve God and be a part of his story and go out into the world to minister to others. They are already doing all of those things. They are not people God will use in the future. God is using them right now. Today. Every day.

I need my kids to know, every single day, that they are going out of this house with purpose. They have an essential part to play in God's story, and I have to make sure that I'm continually filling their heads and their hearts with that knowledge. Not only that, but I also need to help them learn the skills that they need to navigate the world. To minister to the kids they come into contact with. To conduct themselves with dignity, respect, compassion, and grace. To communicate truth when the opportunity arises. To be a light to those around them. It's a tall order, but it's one that they can fulfill. Not that they don't ever screw up, but overall, they remember who they are, whose they are, and they live their lives with little kid integrity.

The next few weeks are going to be school-prep heavy in our household. Supplies, clothes, schedules...yes, but more importantly, there will be spiritual prep. Much discussion. Much scripture. Much prayer. We're going to start this school year with clear eyes and full hearts. Can't lose. (I know, I know, I couldn't resist. I just miss that show.)

generations of gifts

Monday, August 1, 2011

Something about this particular heat wave, this particular summer is making me nostalgic. I feel the heavy goodness of a lifetime of gifts, the beautiful weight of generations of gifts. I have such a legacy of faith and family. I am blessed to pass that down to my children; I am honored to see it visited on my sons and daughters year after year. Family is a beautiful, broken, grace-filled thing, and so many of the gifts are woven into our family tapestry. Truly today, I am feeling the 'multitudes' of one thousand, and even more, gifts.

284. girls' nights out
285. years of shared laughter
286. capturing these moments on film
287. family ice cream nights
288. little girl excitement
289. hours of made up songs, sung with flair and delight
290. long sun-soaked afternoons
291. delicious exhaustion after a day in the water
292. a day in court - scheduled at LAST
293. reconnecting with family
294. a husband who knows the best gifts to bring
295. the earth sensuousness of Layer Cake Malbec
296. the sweaty sweetness of a fair day with the kids
297. powdered sugar smiles and sticky cotton candy fingers
298. new forever-family furniture
299. putting up applesauce with all of my sisters
300. planning for babies, enjoying our children, praying for the future - loving afternoons with my sisters and my mom

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