celebrate adoption

Saturday, August 29, 2015

Earlier this week, an anniversary came and went without much fanfare on our parts, school and the transition back to that routine consuming our lives. We don't make a huge deal of adoption days around here, out of respect for our children and their first families, but we typically go out to eat or something. We want to follow our children's leads when it comes to processing their adoptions. They get to do this on their own terms. While we did make a big deal out of their adoptions when they occurred, this happened with sensitivity to them and their first families. We probably wouldn't have done the same things if they'd been older, if they'd had more contact with their parents, etc. 

Adoptive parents are always walking this fine line of reminding our children that they are special, that they have unique stories, that we love and respect every part of them, including their past and their first families and not making too much out of all that. Not to make them seem "other" or to remind them of past trauma. Never to make them feel like they don't belong or that they're less than in any way.

This week, however, we fielded multiple situations in our family where things were 'not fair'. Where they felt like other families had more things, more money, where other kids get better material items, better experiences, and on and on. These are times when we need to remind our children that they were, each of them, placed in our family for a reason. They were placed in our family through different ways, but that doesn't change how our family functions. Regardless of how things started out, we believe that we're all in this family because God put us here. He gave us to one another. Our children to us, us to our children, the kids to one another. We are a team, and there is no one else in this world that can fill each of the positions on our team other than the ones already here.

Thursday night, we headed downtown to the courthouse yet again. Four years and four days after the first time we walked into that building. This time wasn't for an adoption finalization, but the unveiling of a mural that some of the adoptive families in our county helped create. We each made appointments, went and painted for an hour or so, and now that mural hangs in the hallway of our county's Probate Court. It's beautiful, and it was an amazing way to commemorate our anniversary. Special in a way that another dinner at Cracker Barrel could never be.

It reminded our kids, both the ones who were adopted into our family and the ones who were born into our family, that our family is unique. We are special, and we get to do amazing things that all of those families that they feel have more material goods and bigger houses and more money will probably not ever get the opportunity to experience. We might not make a huge deal about adoption all the time here, depending on the needs and mood of our kids at any one time. We might not have big parties and give gifts like some people do on adoption anniversaries. We will continue to be sensitive to the pain and loss that our children feel surrounding their adoptions, but one truth remains this week: no one else in this entire world will have the experience of being a part of this particular family at this particular time. And that's something to celebrate.

saying yes

Wednesday, August 26, 2015

When I started parenting, there were so many things that I was never going to do. You know, arbitrary moral-ish type items. A lot of them are just my own standards - I don't pretend any type of holiness or extra morality over them...they were just things I do and don't like when it comes to parenting styles and children. Random things like (and don't judge me here. I know some of them sound stupid) not letting my kids go to dances, making my son have his shirt on outside even when it's hot, not painting my little girls' nails, putting a onesie on my babies at all times, not piercing the girls' ears, etc. Mostly appearance type things that really have no bearing on real life problems or solutions, but just existed in my head as standards for our family. I wouldn't say I have no reason for these standards - I do have valid reasons for all of them; it's just that those reasons aren't life or death, future threatening reasons.

One of those 'things' happened to be class trips. We don't really do overnights for safety reasons. There are a couple families that we know well and that have a specific familial make-up that we are comfortable with that I will allow my kids to go to their houses, but we're talking once or twice a year usually. The oldest has gone to church camp the past couple years, but understand - this was difficult for me. I did not love camp as a child, and beyond that, I have heard enough stories from the teenage boys in our former youth pastor days to be more than a little leery of the locker room behavior that occurs. We sent him off with prayers and a little gratefulness for the break from all the early teenage angst.

Then comes this 8th grade class trip. The expensive one to Washington, D.C. I have so many objections. So many. The separation of the haves from the have-nots. The dangers of having 100+ kids away from their parents for four days. The sheer expense of it all. The chaperone situation. On and on. I actually didn't even consider it. Sign-ups were last year, and they sailed by. This fall, the pressure to go came back with a vengeance. Let's put aside my irritation with the teachers pressuring kids to do an expensive extra-curricular in the classroom, and go forward to the point when our son presents us with a contract he had typed up himself, outlining a payment plan for him to pay us back for the trip and the pros and cons for him going, complete with fanciful calligraphy font and signature lines. He'll be irritated when I say this, but it was adorable.

Due to his commitment to his project, we decided we had to give it a more serious consideration. At which point, we surprisingly found ourselves coming up with our own negotiations to counter his contract with. My objections? Almost completely answered, down to hired hotel security guards that are stationed in each hallway for the night shift to assure that no one comes our of their rooms.

That's how I ended up in a crowded cafeteria to sign my son up for the White House tour and figure out room assignments, and that's when I re-discovered how crazy I am about my son. He already had three roommates eager for him to join their room as soon as they found out he was attending, but one of his other classmates came up at the meeting to ask him if he had a roommate. This kid didn't have a single person to share with. Of course, my mama heart was bleeding for this kid who is, from all I can see, completely sweet and kind, but I wasn't about to force my son away from the first group.

First thing he did the next morning was come and tell me that he texted his friend, and he still hadn't found any roommates. So he went to the school, on his own initiative, and told the teacher in charge of room assignments that he needed to switch. He talked to his other friends and explained the situation. If this had been just a case of our son switching from one group of friends to another, I'm not sure I would've cared. But I sat in that cafeteria and watched all the other kids match up in groups of three and four, watched this kid cross the cafeteria specifically for my son, and watched him leave after realizing he was already in another room.

I asked some questions later. You know, why this kid didn't have other friends. Why the other kids didn't like him. All the usual probing questions a mama wants to find out. According to my son, his friend just has mostly girl friends. He's interested in different kinds of things than most of the other middle school boys. They make fun of him. They call him gay. They do all those crappy middle school behavior things, and my son is still his friend. He told me just because someone's different doesn't mean there's anything wrong with them. He said being quiet isn't a reason to not like someone. He said even if he is gay, what difference would that make in how he should be treated? 

My son and I have been at odds lately. He is in the throes of teenage hormones, and I've been less than generous in my responses. In the middle of the yelling matches, I find it hard to remember that my son is kind and compassionate beyond measure. I forget how completely smitten I am by him and who he is becoming.

This week, I was reminded of how strong he is. How brave. How unafraid he is to be friends with a kid whom others make fun of or to room with a kid that others are calling gay. It clearly never even crossed his mind to consider what others would think of him, and I am so thankful for that. I'm so envious of that, actually. If I could've navigated my school years with half as much grace, I would've been much better off. It took me a lot of years to come to that kind of self-assuredness.

This week, I was reminded of his diligence and commitment to hard work and responsibility. I don't know too many other kids that would plan a year-long contract to repay a debt for a trip they wanted to go on. Not to mention, his repayment schedule solely depends on his hugely underpaid newspaper delivery job that pulls in a regular salary of a whole five dollars per week. He said he didn't include tips or extras because that money is unreliable so he can't depend on it to repay the debt. I mean. My kid.

This week, I was reminded of last year's end of the year awards ceremony. Our oldest has always gotten a plethora of academic awards. I'm happy he is successful at school, but honestly, I'm not that proud of it. It's largely genetics that makes him think in a way that is well-suited for traditional schooling. But last year, he won a different award. A write-in ballot from all of his classmates for the Character Award. Now that's the kind of award I can be proud of. Proof that he is living his life with integrity. Proof that other people can see the light of Jesus in him daily.

This week, I was reminded that sometimes we make decisions for our children that look different than what we imagined our lives would entail. Other people might not approve or understand. Maybe we never expected to say yes to the things we find ourselves saying yes to, but then again, we didn't know the kids we were going to be parenting when we thought about all those things. Every kid is different, and every kid needs parented differently as a result.

I've spent way too much time lately concentrating on the negative, and I just forgot who my son really was. In my willingness to say yes was hidden the truth of all of that. Sometimes the joy and reward of my yes is for more than just my own kids. Sometimes it's for their friends too. And sometimes it's for me. I'm so thankful I said yes.

so loved

Wednesday, August 19, 2015

I've detailed our struggles with school some in the past. We made some mistakes, for sure. Last year brought us to a near breaking point with one of our kids, and I was worried that we wouldn't be able to find our way back out. His traumatic kindergarten year was beginning to visit itself again in a new classroom, with a new teacher, even in a different school building. Through some tough choices and some concerted effort on both our part and the teacher's part, we ended the year in a glorious wave of success. I have never been more grateful for a teacher in my life, but as summer began, the flush of victory faded, the urgency lessened. My dreams and prayers for my kids' teachers dwindled until it was time for school to begin again.

We got the all-call about posted class lists, but fresh in my mind was the knowledge that my son had to return to the school building he attended during kindergarten. Back to this building where he had such traumatic memories. Different teachers and a different administration, yes, but it also brings the real need for him to ride the bus again. I felt like all the stuff we sacrificed to do last year to help him succeed was impossible this year, and my fear that we would regress back to previous behaviors and intensified fears. I couldn't bring myself to drive the kids by the schools for several days.

When I finally succumbed to their pleadings to find out their teachers, we pulled up to the curb, walked up to those giant windows and nervously scanned the sheets looking for their names. Neither the children nor I were reassured by anything we saw on the papers. We had no personal knowledge of the teachers and no one we knew personally had the one to whom my second grader was assigned...my anxiety and my guilt over my lack of real concern over the bulk of the summer was not really abated.

I went to open house with an apprehensive heart, armed with our 'introduction' letter for the teacher. We walked the opposite way from that classroom where the ill-fated kindergarten year had taken place and walked into a new classroom that I was earnestly praying would give him a fresh start. Within minutes, I had hope for our son's whole year. It was an easy introduction, the teacher was so responsive to our letter, and by the time we left, I knew she had been a foster parent for fifteen years while her children were smaller. I left the building with far more peace than when we arrived, yet still in prayer for my littles' first days.

Once they left for school that first morning, I spent the whole day in appointments without much time to think about what was going on. I was just resting in the hope from open house. By the time we slowed down at all that evening, I had an email waiting in my inbox from our son's teacher. Before I started reading, that familiar pit in my stomach from the previous years' teacher communications had arrived. 

It wasn't far into it before I knew this communication was different. She explained classroom protocols - and it's a truly positive behavior system! no color cards every day!! - and she outlined ways she had already made efforts to help our son feel safe and secure in her classroom. She explained her background as both a therapeutic foster care worker and parent, she expressed her commitment to working with us, our son, and his therapist if necessary to make this year successful for him.

By the end of the email, I could not hold back my tears. Not only of gratitude for this teacher and her commitment, but just in absolute wonder for how loved my son is. Oh, not by me; I already knew how much I loved him. Not even by his teacher, although that was something I had definitely prayed for. But by the One who created Him and knows Him by name.

We sent our kids to school this week with a verse of promise from Isaiah 43 - a promise that God created them. He formed them. They do not need to fear because God is with them. He has freed them from that. He has called them by name. They belong to Him. Even when the teachers might not remember their names right away, even when the kids might not know who they are, God knows. He knows them so intimately. The very Creator that formed the universe formed my son's heart. He loved him before he was even born, and He loves Him still. He knew the teachers my child needed to counteract what happened to him his first year of school. He knew and He cared even when I forgot to think about it. I can't control all these things that may or may not happen to my son, but there is One who loves my son more than I ever could. He loved him when he was born. He loves him still with such tender care and mercy. 

I know that our son doesn't quite yet get this. He doesn't see how our Jesus is loving him so beautifully. He doesn't see how he's being drawn in with arms of love. But I see it, and it just makes me love Jesus more. I am not the rescuer. I am not the healer. I am not the controller of all circumstances and happenings in my children's life. But I know the One who is. He is my friend, and I love to see how He is patiently waiting and working to become the friend of my children too. This week, there's this song ringing in my heart, and that's how I want to leave you today...with these words that I can sing about myself but have become even more powerful when I can sing the truth of them over my children:

I'm no longer a slave to fear.
I am a child of God

summertime gratitude

Friday, August 14, 2015

In the early summer, I found myself standing in the middle of a weedy, tick-infested Christmas tree field, weeping with gratitude that I had the capacity and opportunity to spend hours with those trimming shears with sweat pouring down my back. 

I've written here before about Grave's Disease and the permanent hypothyroid condition caused by the treatment. Last year, I wrote about anxiety and some of the physical reasons behind that. This summer brought me a new recognition of my previous fragility and a new thankfulness for a well-functioning body. After I was diagnosed with a new chronic illness last year and treated for those symptoms, I felt better than I have in years. I could accomplish things, even manual labor things, without the effort that it took before. I could spend time outdoors, OUTDOORS, in the heat of summer without negative consequences. It really felt magical.

The diagnosis I received last summer is for an autonomic disorder called POTS. The autonomic nervous system, according to Wikipedia, influences the function of internal organs. It's a control system that works unconsciously and regulates bodily functions like heart rate, digestion, respiratory rate, urination, and more. POTS is a syndrome that, at its most basic level, means that my heart and my brain don't communicate as they should. There are a multitude of symptoms associated with POTS, including extreme fatigue, low blood pressure, high heart rates, fainting, digestive issues, heart palpitations, heat intolerance, exercise intolerance, and on and on. I'm on a low dose of a steroid which, combined with a high salt and high fluid diet, has been managing my symptoms swimmingly for the past year.

Until the past few weeks. When I started having several near-fainting episodes, overwhelming fatigue, extreme heart palpitations, and more. But time stops for no man, or syndrome as it may be, so I continued to plow my way through the most stressful month we've had in a very long time, compounded by multiple broken bones in the family, a huge family reunion, and some complicating personal and familial issues. Stress brings an increase in symptoms in this particular disorder anyway, so this became a really, really hard month. 

So it's back to basics until we figure out if it's transient or if I need to switch meds or something else. Yoga every day. Walks, even when I get short of breath just climbing the stairs. Hot tea. Hot tea. Hot tea. And so many naps. When my children speak of the end of this summer, I'm confident they'll talk only about the hours I spent in bed in the afternoon. Or maybe they'll just think about how many hours of video games and movies they consumed while I was resting. Guilt stacks on shame (because there's very little more humiliating than nearly passing out in the eye dr office during a routine test), and I'm once again brought to my knees in humility and dependence.

Even though it's a different kind of gratitude, I am as grateful at the end of this summer as I was at the beginning. I am grateful that I have access to medicine to make my life bearable. I am grateful that I have a health care practitioner that doesn't resort to dulling symptoms with psychiatric drugs but looks for the underlying causes. I am grateful that my children are mostly old enough to care for themselves while I take a necessary nap. I wish that the medicine was working well, and I could work out in the heat like I did at the beginning of the summer, but that's how where I am today. Today, I'm just grateful to sit down when I get too lightheaded. I'm grateful for salty tortilla chips, for tall glasses of cold water, for my essential oil diffuser, and for school starting soon. Practicing gratitude might not come easily when things get rough, but from my perspective, it's a deep inhale in a world where, quite literally, my breath too often comes shallow. It's life.

Where can you find gratitude today? Look for the small things, whether it's triscuit spread with cream cheese or the smile from your littlest. Counting gifts reminds us of who we are and whose we are. It's a direct connection to the things and the One that matters. You won't regret it.

photo credit: Route 91 nr Hatfield via photopin (license)
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