Monthly Archives: May 2017

Jesus, take the Wheel

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I get the feeling God is trying to teach me something.

I have felt this way all year.

This has been the most trying, challenging, exhausting, tear-inducing, fear-inducing year of my life.

We have spent the last 9 months trying to resurface as wave after wave has crashed over us, pushing us back down.

And as I have struggled to regain my footing and make sense of each trial, I have begun to understand the purpose behind the struggle.

This year has been a year of learning to let go, trust God, and give up control…

and obviously I still haven’t learned because, well, here we go again.

I recognize that one of my greatest sins is control and pride. My perceived worth is rooted in my ability to do and manage. I struggle with trusting more in my own management ability over my Heavenly Father’s, and I know that to be true by the complete feeling of panic I have when He leads me down a path I haven’t signed off on.

And the more out of control my life becomes the worse I get.

It seems that the more precarious our stability is as a family the more iron clad my grip on control becomes, certain that if I loosen my hold even a little this already unstable house of cards in going down!

And it is an exhausting way to live.

I find God responding by slowly and deliberately peeling my white-knuckled fingers off the situation as He asks me once again to trust Him.

And the irony in all of this is that I have no reason to trust my plan over His plan. He has proven time and time again that He makes a far better God over my life than I do. He has shown me that His ways are always better and that I can trust in His plan…and yet I continue to battle for control.

Which inevitably leads to “Jesus, take the wheel” moments…

those moments in life when God allows complete powerlessness so as to allow for complete trust and dependence.

It always begins with a tap on the shoulder, followed by a shake and then a shove, and when all efforts are ignored the Lord then lets me fall so that I will reach out for His hands to catch me.

My life has felt incredibly out of control these last few months. In addition to real, hard, heartbreaking trials, we have also been adjusting to the coming waves of change as Grace graduates high school and begins college. All these situations have resulted in sleepless nights and anxiety as I feel my grip of control loosening and the reality that I can’t fix, protect, or ensure anything about the future that is coming hits me.

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And the harder I grip, the more God works on me,

providing experiences and testimony building moments that force me to throw up my hands, trusting that His plan is better than mine, and surrender my control with the simple statement of faith:

“Jesus, take the wheel!”

Now while I have been using that faith statement metaphorically these last few months, this past week it became quite literal and breathtakingly real.

The time had come to register Grace for her fall classes. We had been putting this off due in large part to the unpredictability and instability of our lives right now (and maybe a little of that iron grip issue I was talking about) but we finally committed to make it happen and after breakfast climbed into the van to drive to CCAC.

We were traveling on the turnpike at a good clip, sandwiched between the cement barrier and a tractor trailer going 65 mph in the lane to our right, when I heard a sonic “BOOM.”

My first thought was that there had been an accident just behind us. A quick look in the rearview mirror negated this possibility. My second thought was that the tractor trailer to our right blew a tire.

Within a second or two I knew it wasn’t the tractor trailer, it was us, as I fought to keep control of my van as the shreds of tire ricocheted of the wheel well against the cement barrier.

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It was a true “Jesus, take the wheel” moment.

With strength beyond my own and clarity of mind that was God-driven, I somehow managed to keep the van in the lane, so as to avoid what could have been a fatal collision with a concrete barrier or a speeding semi, and then pull the van over through two lanes of traffic, and off the road without being hit.

Talk about adrenaline!

I could have probably picked up the van and carried it the rest of the way with the amount of adrenaline coursing through my veins.

But, I didn’t.

Instead I called my knight who arrived in his white charger with a spare tire and saved me from a long hike home.

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The force of the tire explosion was evident by the fair amount of damage done by the flying tire pieces, including bent metal around the wheel well and my step’s cover being torn off.

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All was well in the end. We were all safe. The tire was replaced. We made it to registration and Grace locked in her place in the ASL program and eagerly anticipates what promises to be an exciting adventure in the fall.

As for my little “control issue,”

God, your message is coming through strong and clear.

No need for more object lessons.

I surrender.

“Jesus, take the Wheel.”

Longing to heal him

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I never really experienced pain until I was a mother.

As a teen I certainly thought that my level of anguish over what seemed catastrophic to my teen self was beyond any pain anyone else, living or dead, ever experienced…

Oh, to be 16 and stupidly self-focused again.

But I had no idea what real pain and deep heartache felt like until I cared more for another than myself.

For me, this transfer of focus and newly honed empathy came with the birth of my first child when my heart first began walking around outside my body.

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With the addition of every child, biological or adopted, I lost more and more of my heart protection and experienced real, raw, heart wrenching heartache as I had to stand by powerless to protect or free my children from their pains.

This feeling of powerlessness is all the more intense when the hurts they are dealing with are not ones that I can simply “love away.” These “boo boos” are far too deep and festering to simply kiss and make better.

This weekend I spent 12 hours on Friday night at the Emergency Room, sitting by the bedside of one of my children who was in incredible pain.

As we watched the hours pass on the clock above the bed,

waiting for relief from the pain,

while listening to the incessant beep of a monitor,

completely helpless in my ability to take away the pain,

I wanted to weep.

I have never known pain as deep, and raw, and aching as the pain I feel watching my son suffer.

The last few months have been heartbreakingly hard for one of our adopted sons. This child is being consumed with newly developed flashbacks of abuse that he had blocked out. Abuse far worse than any that were reported when he was taken from his birth family. Abuse memories that cause him to curl up in a ball, squeeze his eyes shut, and cover his ears, as he tries to “turn off” the movie playing in his head.

These memories of abuse are so painful that he expressed a need to do whatever he had to, to make them go away.

He yelled, and then cried, and then whispered in defeat, exhausted by the constant torment of the past …”I think it would be better to just die. Please, just let me die.”

So there we were, at 4:30 in the morning, waiting for the ambulance to take him from the ER to a place where he could be monitored, and stabilized, and get more help than could be offered in outpatient therapy.

And it was one of the hardest nights of my life.

You know, I once thought I knew what pain felt like.

But I didn’t…not really.

Watching your son, who has lived his entire life fighting for a chance to be loved and longing to feel worthy of love, drown under the nightmares of the past…

Nightmares so horrid that death seems preferable…

That is pain.

But while suffering through the shared pain of hate and abuse, I have also discovered the redeeming power of LOVE.

Maybe I can’t “love” the pain away from my suffering son, but I know someone who can.

Because He also suffered such pain. He chose it and bore it so that He could say to each of us,

“You are not alone.”

That is the pain of Gethsemane.

That is the suffering of Christ,

From our pain,

brokenness,

hopelessness

and suffering

blooms redemption.

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Please pray for my son.

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Therapeutic Thursdays: The Power of “Yes”

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For this weeks installment of Therapeutic Thursday I want to begin with one of the three cornerstones of Trust-based Relational Intervention (TBRI), developed by the late Dr. Karyn Purvis, for parents raising children from hard places. The three cornerstones of TBRI are Empowering, Connecting, and Correcting. I thought I’d begin with one particular tool we have been applying to promote Connection with our two adopted sons.

There is an unrealistic expectation I have seen when it comes to adoption, that love is enough to solve any problem or issue that arises after adoption. That is an unfair expectation place on the adopted child and on parents raising kids who come from a life of early childhood trauma, neglect, or abuse, because those early life experiences taught them that “love” is scary, unpredictable, untrustworthy, and even painful. These kids have a very different set of experiences with love then you might have  which can result in a “Clash of the Titans” showdowns.

This is especially true when you have adopted a child with attachment issues or a diagnosis of Reactive Attachment Disorder.

When the first behaviors arise, there is an arrogant ideology that you can love the pain away. With that unrealistic expectation comes feelings of resentment when that child rejects your love and responds to each effort to get closer with behaviors designed to push you away. The more you try to love their past out of them the more they rebel in word and action.

Over time this takes its toll on a family. You morn the loss of the family you thought you’d be after adoption and the loss of who you once were. You find yourself evolving from loving mother to a Marine Drill Sergeant. Since loving acts are reciprocated with destroyed property, physical aggression. and hurtful manipulation we desperately find ourselves moving into the camp of stricter consequences and the tactic of,  “punish the behavior out of them.”

We soon discover this to be an equally ineffective tool as these behaviors are not defiance behaviors, rather they are survival behaviors. These hurt kids can no more accept our love or be moved by our consequences than I can fly to the moon. They are prisoners of their past trauma and are driven solely by the fight, flight, or freeze response of their brains.

Much like a cornered dog who has spent years chained up and kicked, these kids from hard places don’t “growl” out of aggression, but out of fear and a need to survive.

They are terrified by the love we offer. They have been burned before by the very adults that were supposed to love, nurture, and meet their most basic needs, and as a result learned early on that adults are untrustworthy, attachment results in pain, and that they can only depend on themselves to get their needs met.

This survival mindset is the foundation for the most difficult behaviors associated with RAD kids.

So, while our instinct might be to first address the behaviors that are causing havoc in our homes, we must first address the cornerstone of connection, because as Dr. Karyn Purvis always said,

“Connection must come before correction.”

So, for the next few weeks I will be talking about some of the strategies we are using in our home to foster connection.

In an effort at transparency I will admit this is by far the most challenging aspect of the program for me. Connection is easy with people who treat you kindly, but requires intentional, Christ-like effort when trying to connect with someone who wakes up daily with the sole goal of hurting you and pushing you away with their behaviors.

Loving a child from trauma can be likened to hugging a porcupine, the closer you pull them to you the more you get poked.

It requires consciously and deliberately letting go of years of hurt and the mountain of resentment and say, “I am stepping back into the minefield, for the sake of my child’s heart and healing.” It requires humility. It requires the ability to forgive (and forget) 20 times a day. It requires looking at your child through the eyes of trauma and seeing those hurtful behaviors as survival behaviors. And it requires getting closer, when all you want to do is step away. It is an exhausting test of devotion. And it starts with Connecting…reaching out and reacquainting yourself with the child you have been holding at arm’s length as a means of self-preservation.

And it isn’t easy,

But it works.

For the next few weeks I am going to share some of the strategies I have been applying in an effort to connect with my adopted son. And the first strategy I’d like to introduce is giving your child the gift of “Yes.”

This one seems so backwards and counterproductive when viewed through the lens of parenting a child who hasn’t experienced trauma. In fact it goes against everything I did as a parent to my older kids. In an effort to raise humble, grateful children that didn’t carry the “entitled child” stigma of their peers, we made every effort to say “No” more than “Yes.” I saw the effect of too much indulgence in the children of friends who parented differently than we did and was determined to not have our kids grow up believing the world owed them something. We consciously made an effort to say “No” more often than “Yes”, so that the yesses were appreciated more and so our children saw every small blessing as the gift it was.

This idea of intentionally saying “Yes” more than “No” goes against everything I believe. But this is what I needed to understand about the difference in my older children’s upbringing and my two little boys’ upbringing. The older three were given a million “yesses” in their early years, while the two younger boys were told “no” time and time again…and I am not talking about verbally “yesses” to what they wanted at Dollar Tree. I am talking about every “Yes” I gave them as infants when I came to their cry. I am talking about every feeding and changing, and snuggle I said “yes” to when I met their most basic needs. I am talking about the thousands of times I said “yes” to their need for comfort after a nightmare, or “yes” to their request for help when they couldn’t do something on their own. I think about the millions of “yesses” they received for every time they were hungry and asked for food, or thirsty and received a drink. When reflecting back on my bio kids early years, I would not consider myself a permissive parent, but when I consider the many ways they were told “yes” by simply nurturing and caring for their basic physical and emotional needs I can see clearly the millions of “yes” answers that were invested into their trust bank which is what they are healthy, attached children.

I wish I could say the same for Ozzie and Tyler, but their starts were much different and those basic needs were not met regularly or consistently. Their parents said “No” to their requests when they didn’t meet their most basic needs as infants and toddlers. Because of that they learned quickly that adults won’t take care of you and can’t be trusted. They became their own keepers and continue to apply those survival strategies today.

Our goal is to balance those early years filled with “No” with an abundance of “Yes.” They more we can say “Yes” and meet their needs they more they will trust us to meet those needs, thus feeling safe enough to abandon those survival strategies they depend on.

Saying “yes” builds trust.

Saying “yes” leads to attachment.

Here is a great video about the power of “yes” from a TBRI parent:

http://empoweredtoconnect.org/building-trust-by-saying-yes/

I urge you to pick a day and give it a try. When your child asks for something, bite back the impulse to answer with the automatic “NO,” and consider whether this is a request you can say “yes” to. See how many “yeses” you can log in a day, and watch your relationship with your child transform and you feed his/her trust tank with each yes…

And with each met need.

That is how connections grow.

This is how our children heal.

This is how attachment forms.

Next week we will delve into another connection strategy we have had tremendous success with: “One on One Time.”

 

Flour Ball

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After a full day of testing on Wednesday, we returned home, ate a quick dinner, and were out the door for youth activities at church.

The kids were especially excited about the planned activity for the evening. It was flour ball night! Flour ball is a messy version of capture the flag involving nylon socks filled with flour. The flour balls are thrown at the opposite team’s members when they cross team boundaries in an attempt to steal that team’s flag. Once marked with flour that runner has to go back to their side to restart.

The winning team is the team that manages to capture the other team’s flag.

The result is a fun, fast-paced, messy game of tag.

And the youth love it!

Here’s a peak into Wednesday night’s fun:

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It was a fun/messy time had by all!

Keystone Testing

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Every spring our regular school routine is disrupted for a few weeks as the kids participate in Pennsylvania’s mandatory state testing. These standardized tests are universally despised by all…the students, the parents, the teachers, and the administrators across the state…in fact I think the only true “fans” of these tests are the government officials that mandate their usage. So, as a collective group, we endure them because we have to.

Over the years we have found that the kids’ school, 21st Century Cyber Charter School, has done everything in their power to make the experience as bearable as possible on both parents and students. They try to make it fun for the kids and as a result my older kids actually look forward to this week of testing, rather than dread it like they have in years past.

This year it was just Molly and Rusty who needed to take the Keystone tests. As a senior, Grace was done with Keystones, and Ozzie had already completed his PSSAs in April. Molly had Algebra and Language Arts Keystones this year, and Rusty had Algebra and Biology Keystones to take. This meant we were at the testing site on Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday this past week.

Because my kids are cyber schooled, they don’t have an actual school site to test in, so  their cyber school sets up testing locations across the state of Pennsylvania for students to test at. Our closest location was Butler County Community College where we have gone for state testing for the last 3 years. We are now old pros at this gig and have a system set up. Because of the one hour drive back and forth to this location we opt to hang out and wait rather than drive back and forth. Here is how we spends our days waiting for testing to be completed:

We begin by dropping off the testers at the Continuing Education building at 8:00am,

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And then head next door to get settled in for the day. (We pretty much have the place to ourselves as classes are currently out.)

We begin our day with schoolwork. For the first few hours we do school work, accomplishing the last assignments of the year.

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Tyler inevitably completes his scheduled work for the day before Ozzie is done with his 11:00am live class so we play one of the board games that were packed in my Mary Poppins bag of tricks.

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This past week we played many rounds of Uno, Catan Junior, and Banana Split.

When Ozzie is done with his assigned work for the day we run all our school gear to the van and get our lunch. There is a walking trail around the campus that we would take to find a new picnic spot each day.

The favorite picnic location this past week was the baseball field located at the back of the campus. The boys got a kick out of sitting in the dugout and eating lunch in the stands.

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On the second day of testing we brought a bat and ball and spent the afternoon playing on the ball field.

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It was a perfect way to burn off some energy and kill time before the 2:00 pick-up time.

On Thursday we got a real treat when we saw the firefighters gearing up for training. From the ball field  we had a perfect view of the firefighter training area. The boys we so excited to get this impromptu show as the firefighters trained by putting out a mock oil tanker fire.

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Eventually we had to pull ourselves away from the excitement to go collect the kids. Testing was done for another year! As a “thank you” to the kids who showed up for testing each student received a new 21st Century t-shirt,

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And as a thank you to the parents who drove them to testing, we each received a $3.00 gift card to Dunkin Donuts for each day we were there. These we given to parents so they could go get a coffee and donut as they waited for their kids to test, but we saved up our three days worth of gift cards and used them to buy a dozen donuts to enjoy on Friday. What a treat! Thank you, 21st Century!

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Another year of state testing done.

We are now on the final stretch of school.

We can see the finish line approaching.

Only 10 more days and then:

“No more pencils,

No more books.

No more teacher’s dirty looks!”

A different sort of Mother’s Day

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I recently revisited a book I first picked up in high school. It is funny how two decades and a boatload of life experiences can alter a piece of literature. The words on the page may remain static and unchanging, but the interpretation and affect of those words are as varied as the hands that pick it up to read it.

The book I am reading is called, “A Child Called IT,” by Dave Pelzer. I don’t remember which friend first recommended it, but I remember the first time I read it. I was enthralled and horrified, as well as a bit skeptical. Surely, there is a sprinkling of fiction in this author’s recounting of a childhood riddled with the most horrific of abuse, I thought to myself.  Surely it wasn’t as bad as he recounts on paper. I thought there must have been some level of sensationalism added to sell the book. I couldn’t fathom the idea that a mother would hurt a child…so horrifically…so intentionally.

Last Saturday, while spending the day in Wooster with my mother for Mother’s Day, we stopped in her local bookstore and I saw this same book sitting on the shelf. I picked it up and found myself adding it to my pile of books to purchase. I felt compelled to revisit the story again. I began reading it two days later and devoured it in a day.

I still find the story of abuse horrifying, but far more believable than I did at age 17. What’s more, I found myself reading the account through new eyes. Not only did I believe its truth, but I found myself paralleling the story of young David with the stories of my boys and their own journey through neglect and abuse on their road to safety. As the author spoke the thoughts, worries, and reasons for his behaviors through the mindset of a little boy in survival mode, I felt like I was listening into the thoughts of my own adopted sons, who while now in a safe and secure home, still live with a survival mindset and struggle with survival behaviors.

When we chose to adopt our lives were changed forever. There is not one aspect of our lives that has remain the same. God has used this journey to mold all of us into beings far different than who we were five years ago. It has been the hardest journey of our lives but by far the most affecting. God has expanded our hearts, revealed our flaws, given us a depth of character and capacity for compassion that can only come from Him and His work.

I have learned so many life lessons along the way. Too many to count…too many to name. But one of the greatest lessons I have learned about myself is how naïve I was about the reality of life for so many, and how easy it is to judge the path of those who chose differently than us because of life circumstances far darker than any I’ve ever had to navigate.

When I was little and we would hear the story of another’s struggle or burden or misguided choice, my mother would wisely pull us away from the path of judgement and lead us towards the path of compassion with a single phrase:

“There but for the grace of God, go I.”

Oh, the power in that simple phrase.

It is a humbling reminder that all that I am, all that I have, all that I have accomplished, is because of God’s good grace.

Who is to say how my life would have played out had I been dealt a different set of cards.

I recognize that a huge part of my blessings come from having been blessed with a good mother and father…healthy parents, who learned from generations of good, healthy, capable, loving parents before them. I used to take this blessing for granted. A loving mother was all I have ever known and I assumed all were blessed in the same way. My perception changed when we began reading the files of children in foster care and we got a small peek into what reality looks like for millions of children. It humbled me and made me realize that all that I am, and all that is good in my life, is not because of anything I did or didn’t do. I didn’t make the right choice because I am awesome. I was able to make healthy life choices because it had been modeled for me my loving parents, grandparents, aunts and uncles.

We are currently fully immersed in the TBRI world of Karyn Purvis, as we relearn how to parent children from hard places. Our journey began a little over a month ago with the Empowered to Connect conference we attended. Oh, how it has changed our world, and our perception of our boys and their stories. It has made me realize the great, intrinsic value the relationship between mother and child has on every aspect of a child, from their brain chemistry, to their relationships with others, to how they perceive their world. What it takes to grow a healthy human being begins with the simplest ritual of holding a baby when it cries and meeting a baby’s most basic needs. The result of that not occurring as it should is horrific and heart breaking and life affecting for that child and everyone that attempts to attach to them. I am better understanding the great, divine role of mothers in God’s plan and how a disruption in God’s plan causes chaos and destruction. I also now better understand that a mother’s inability to meet these most basic needs in her child is usually a result of a history of unhealthy relationships perpetuating over time. A “bad” mother isn’t made, she is taught.

As I celebrated Mother’s Day this year my heart was in a different place. It meant something different this year. It meant something more. It was less about my role as a mother and more about reflecting on how blessed I have been to learn from the best. I come from a long line of women who have been loved and nurtured and as result have loved and nurtured me. This is a gift I don’t know that I fully acknowledged before. Toby comes from a long line of women who were loved and nurtured, and thus were capable of loving and nurturing him. The result is being able to raise healthy, happy, stable, loved children. And we can take no credit for their goodness, for who knows who we would be and what our life would look like had we been dealt different cards.

“There but for the Grace of God, go I.”

I also find myself remembering the women who gave birth to my adopted sons. I am grateful for their gift of life to two of the most important people in my life. Women who parented the only way they knew how. My connection with them is complicated and wrought with mixed emotions. I hate the hurt they inflicted on my boys, and I hate the hurt that they must have endured to make the choices they did.

“There but for the Grace of God, go I”

Mother’s Day is a hard holiday in my home. My boys struggle through that day dedicated to the celebration of the role of mothers and all the emotional baggage and great feelings of loss that brings it with it, but that said, this was the healthiest and happiest Mother’s Day we have had in the last 4 years, due in part to the TBRI principles we are applying and a lot of upfront prevention we invested in the day.

To begin we went into the holiday with a new approach. I began by putting myself in a good place emotionally. Past Mother’s Days have been hard. Ozzie struggles with such anger and feelings of hurt towards his biological mother that Mother’s Day has been a day full of sabotage and hurts directed at me. Prior to the Empowered to Connect conference I struggled with understanding the complex, over-the-top emotions that drive his behaviors on special holidays, and as a result didn’t approach the day with the level of compassion I should have.

I have learned better and now can do better.

This year I hedged my bets for having a more loving and compassionate response to his sabotage efforts by celebrating Mother’s Day on Saturday with my own Mom. I drove out to Ohio to spend the day, one-on-one, with my own mommy and by doing so filled her love tank and had mine filled in return. We shopped, had a fun lunch, and celebrated motherhood together.

And in doing so was able to return home Saturday night filled with love and peaceful acceptance for however Sunday would play out. I met my own emotional needs so that I could better meet Ozzie’s emotional needs.

While I was gone, the big kids and Toby hedged their bets too. They wanted me to have a special day, but knew all too well how most holidays play out in our home, so they were proactive and invested a huge amount of love and time into surprising me Saturday night with a beautiful yard.

While I was gone they went shopping at Home Depot, bought mulch and flowers, and mowed, trimmed, weeded, and planted their love into my heart. They spoke to me in my love language of service, and made me feel so loved and valued for Mother’s Day.

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I am so grateful for my kids and their big hearts!

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Tyler made my Mother’s Day sign.

 

The scope of Gracie’s love acts spread even further when she took Tyler shopping for ingredients for my Mother’s Day dinner. She had the lovely idea of buying a dozen roses and then letting Tyler hand them out, a rose at a time, while they grocery shopped, to mothers with children.

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I felt like this was a gift to me too, as she (with her own sacrifice of time and money) taught the valuable lesson of “love of service to Tyler” and showed him that the greatest joy in life comes from giving to others.

We were also proactive this year in choosing to not attend church for Mother’s Day, but worship at home. I knew Ozzie was unstable with all the emotions connected to Mother’s Day and I recognized that the kindest, healthiest way to help him through the day would be to hibernate at home, away from the Mother’s Day talks and lessons about loving mothers and gratitude for mothers, all which tear new wounds into an already fragile soul. I knew we needed to just lock the doors, and connect as a family, without external stimuli, so that is what we did.

And the love of God permeated our home.

The kids gave me their gifts of love and heartfelt, homemade cards, and we just hugged, loved, and prayed our way through the most difficult day of the year.

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Gracie gifted me with a manicure date with her and Molly this coming Friday. I was so touched!

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Fancy Bath and Body Works hand soaps from Molly.

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Molly’s words of love.

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A new paper towel holder from Rusty.

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And the cutest cookie jar ever from Tyler!!

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Tyler made his card all by himself this year. The portrait of the two of us melts my heart. He loves my eyes! 🙂

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Candles from Ozzie.

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Oh, those words. ❤

 

That day we felt the strengthening love of God as we celebrated mothers…The birth mothers that bore them, the foster mothers who raised them, and this mother who tries daily to live worthy of calling them her forever sons.

God is here.

God is healing.

God is Good!

Therapeutic Thursdays: Lessons I’ve Learned Along the Way

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At Patchwork Farm we are on a journey of discovery and healing. 6 weeks ago I attended a two day Empowered to Connect simulcast conference, at a local church near us. It was my first exposure to a parenting technique developed by the late Karyn Purvis and her co-author, Dr. Davis Cross, for kids from hard places. This therapeutic parenting approach is called TBRI (Trust-based Relational Intervention,) and it is the revolutionary parenting program that has saved our family and turned our lives back around.

Those who have been following this blog since the start know the unique challenges we have navigated in our adoption of two older, foster child placements. They both have a history of early neglect and abuse. That early history has affected them in so many ways like physical development, sensory processing issues, learning disabilities, relationship struggles, and has resulted in their development of “survival behaviors.”

        At the Empowered to Connect conference I learned the “whys” behind the behaviors we deal with, and the “hows” of what to do to address the needs behind the behaviors. As a result of that education, and applying the strategies we have learned, healing is happening. Praise God!

I have felt called to share some of these strategies with other families that might find themselves engulfed in that same hopelessness we felt as parents of two boys with Reactive Attachment Disorder. These techniques are incredibly affective for RAD kids and kids from hard places, but can be equally affectively applied to our children who don’t come from trauma. TBRI is just good, healthy, Christ-like parenting that works!

I look forward to sharing our life changing journey with you as we focus on one applicable technique of TBRI with you every Therapeutic Thursday. These will be fed to you a bite at the time so that you have the opportunity to put a piece of the program into practice, try it out, and see how it works before I introduce another piece of the TBRI puzzle.

We will kick off this new segment with a throwback blog about some of the lessons we have learned so far, on this crazy journey we call adoption.

When we first felt God calling us to adopt,

our vision of what they journey would look like was far different from the reality that was ahead of us.

Not better, not worse, just different.

We thought we had a handle on things. We had parenting experience and felt we were pretty competent at it, so this adoption thing was bound to be a breeze, right?

Ummm…nope. 🙂

Through this process we quickly learned how little we actually knew. We discovered that there are lessons that can’t be learned ahead of time. Some things must be learned in the trenches.

With that being said, here are some of the lessons we have learned

as we have navigated the road of adoption:

#1: Adoption is HARD!

I remember attending an adoption prep class prior to having Tyler move in with us in which the speaker compared adoption to giving birth. She made the profound comparison that growing your family requires labor. For a woman giving birth that is a physical labor that stretches over the course of hours or days as you brace yourself to bear each painful contraction. Adoption labor is also a necessity. It may not cause the same physical pain, but it is a labor of love none the less

that hurts your heart and tires your spirit. It requires that same commitment as birthing labor

to keep pushing through the pain to enjoy the reward that comes after the pain.

#2: If God calls you to it, He will qualify you for it.

This has been, by far, the sweetest blessing of our adoption journey. We have witnessed the Lord’s hand in powerful ways, as a result of our complete dependence on Him, as we have traveled these uncharted waters. We quickly learned how ill-equipped we were to do this alone. That humbling realization led to a deeper relationship with the ONE who can do it all…

and can equip us to do it all.

Through this process I have discovered that, with the Lord’s help, I can do hard things. Things I never felt I could manage…

– Driving through crazy, scary, Pittsburgh traffic by myself to get to a court hearing.

– Battle epic temper tantrums that would last for hours

– Dodge sharp flying projectiles with the greatest of ease.

🙂

God truly gives you superhero powers when you are fighting for a noble cause…

the life of a child.

# 3: Sometimes this journey is about embracing Plan B:

As I observe the adoption journey of many friends and acquaintances, I am struck by how many have been placed on this road as a result of circumstances beyond their control. Many of them had a different vision for how this journey would play out. Perhaps they assumed they would grow their family through birth. Perhaps they signed up for adoption with a certain type of child in mind. Perhaps it is the timing of the process that is different from expected. I have come to realize, through our own journey toward adoption, that what you think the path will look like is often very different from reality.

We began considering adoption 10 years ago with domestic infant adoption in mind. When we felt God calling us to foster child adoption we thought it would be a child under 5 or a young sibling group. We began with a list of non-negotiables…things we didn’t want in our home. Then we witnessed the truth in that old adage, “When we make plans, God laughs.”

Everything we thought we didn’t want is exactly what we received and we gained a testimony of the importance of embracing Plan B

because our Plan B is quite often God’s Plan A…

If we would trust the Lord when the road bends in an unexpected way we would see the great blessing of His plan…

the BEST plan.

#4: Glean all the wisdom you can from the experiences of others.

It is humbling when you have to face the reality of your own inadequacies.  We were flabbergasted when we applied all our “tried and true” parenting tools to our adopted treasures and discovered they were ineffective. We quickly leaned that parenting a child who had experienced trauma was far different that parenting a child whose early years had been filled with love and security. We needed a new play book. After depleting our “tried and true” parenting tool box we began seeking out support.

We discovered the gems of wisdom that could be found in others’ experiences. Tapping into the lessons learned by those who walked before us turned out to be our greatest asset. We felt like we had finally been given a code book to the behaviors we were seeing.

It was therapeutic to talk to others who “got it.” We discovered the great blessing of adoption books, great social workers, support groups and a good therapist.

# 5: Self care is essential!

Toby and I have an ongoing joke in our family about a little idiosyncrasy of mine that drives him CRAZY. It is my  tendency to allow my gas tank to run down to EMPTY. He doesn’t get it. He is of the mind-set that you should always have a half  a tank of gas in your car. When his truck’s gas gauge drops below the 1/2 mark he stops at a gas station to fill it up. This is very different from how I work. There have been many times in our marriage that Toby has had to come and rescue me by the side of the road because I had run out of gas. He lovingly arrives with a container of gas, shaking his head, just not getting it. I try  to explain,

when he asks, “How does someone run out of gas?? The gauge tells you that you are almost out?”

that I just hate stopping for gas. I am busy and it always seems like a waste of time. Instead I push my car to the limit to see how far I can go before I have to stop for gas.

Toby always points out the obvious, “You just wasted A LOT more time waiting for me to bring gas than the time it would have taken you to just stop and fill up.”

I realize this. I don’t know why I do it. But I find it is an accurate reflection on how we both manage self-care. When he is running low on gas he makes sure to address the issue before he runs out of gas. I, on the other hand, run on fumes and push myself to the brink of exhaustion, and then discover that I am stuck.

This last year has taught me a lot about the importance of self-care. If you are raising a child who has been a victim of trauma, you are walking a hard road. You must fill your tank regularly or you WILL run out of gas…

and then you are no help to anyone.

For each of us that “fill up” will look a little different. You must make sure you are carving out some time for yourself…

Get adequate sleep, feed your body regularly, take time to do something that makes you happy….

It is so important!

# 6: Take care and nurture the primary relationships in your life.

The road to adoption can be all-consuming. I had no idea how it would consume my time, my energy, my creativity, my whole self. Because it is so consuming it is very easy to let the primary relationships in your life get pushed to the back burner. We found that during the hardest times of our journey we would collapse in bed at the end of the day with nothing else left to give. It is tiring and it is very easy to put off the things that are most important for those things that are most urgent…

in essence, those “fires” you are putting out all day.

But it is when things are toughest that we most need the strength we gain from our deepest relationships…

The relationships we have with our Lord, with our spouse, with our other children…

This sometimes requires digging deep and engaging when all you want to do is crawl in bed and pull the covers over your head.

This also requires planning and effort.

It means waking early to have quiet time with the Lord and filling your spiritual bucket when all you want to do is sleep another 30 minutes.

It means carving out a date night with your spouse, even if all that date night can be (in this season of life) is pizza and a movie in bed.

It means staying up a little later, after the little boys are tucked into bed, to have heart-felt talks with your teenagers.

Making the effort, even when you feel you have nothing left to give, pays back a hundred fold…

# 7: Let go of the guilt.

I know no other way to say this than to be blunt:

You are doing the best you can.

Give yourself a break.

Let go of the guilt.

Do the best that you can and then give the rest to God.

# 8: Embrace the Ridiculousness.

Sometimes it feels like we are living in an alternate reality. Sometimes Toby and I will catch each others’ eye across the chaos filled room and we just smile. “We just can’t make this stuff up,” we say to each other. We find ourselves saying things to our children that we never thought would come out of our mouth like,

“Get the cat out of the toilet.”

We find ourselves parenting behaviors that border on the absurd.

There are days so filled with CRAZY that we learned early on that the only choice to be made in the midst of them is whether to laugh or to cry…

As Marjorie Hinckley said:

“The only way to get through life is to laugh your way through it. You either have to laugh or cry. I prefer to laugh. Crying gives me a headache.”

🙂

# 9: Adoption is not about changing a child’s life.

We entered into the adoption journey with the belief that we were being altruistic.

We thought we would bless the life of a child…

we would save the unfortunate.

That was not the reality.

While, yes, their lives may have been changed, it was us whose life was most blessed. It was our lessons that needed to be learned, it was our spiritual and emotional growth that needed to happen, it was us that God was working on.

Through this journey we have all been blessed with increased patience, deeper empathy, a greater realization of our own weaknesses and a deeper testimony of God’s ability to heal.  We have learned lessons that we may never had fully understood if not for the struggles we had to overcome along the way. While this road has been challenging at times, I have watched my children rise to the challenge and all of us blossom as a result of the struggle.

 And we are a better family for it.

# 10: It is worth it.

For those who are still in the darkest part of the journey I speak to you about hope. In the midst of the storms it can be hard to see the end from the beginning. It can feel hopeless, and scary, and you question whether it was the right decision. It can be hard to look forward to the future when you are drowning today. But I am here to tell you that it will be worth it. The hard times are building a foundation for a bright future. And as you struggle through day after day of tantrums and worries you will eventually find yourself on the other side.

One morning, not too far in the future, you will take a deep breath and exhale. You will realize that you are no longer holding your breath and things are ok.

It is a long road…

but it is worth it!

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The Cone is Back!

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Just when we thought we were free from the terror of a Great Dane encased in a hard plastic cone…

Just when the other dogs quit cowering in fear at Olive’s entrance into the room…

Just as the cuts on our arms and legs began to scab over…

Just when we finally threw that sad excuse of a cone into the trash,

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the adventure begins again.

For the THIRD time!

We arrived home on Wednesday evening, following two fun-filled days at Kalahari. We were greeted by enthusiastic, happy dogs who were glad to see us.

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All was good.

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All was well.

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Until…

*cue scary music*

We open the door to find this!

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Blood everywhere.

Olive was let outside for a few minutes and in that time, in the midst of her leaps of joy and pirouettes of happiness, she somehow injured herself. And I mean REALLY injured herself.

We opened the door to find our front porch looking like a scene from The Walking Dead.

Undeterred by the gushing wounds on two of her feet, she continued to bounce around with 100-pound-puppy energy, quickly coating the porch, us, and herself with blood.

It was at this point Molly pondered out loud, as she ran to the medicine cabinet for bandages, “I wonder what it would be like to just have a normal, boring day around here.”

But, alas, nothing is ever simple, uneventful, or boring at Patchwork Farm.

No, everyday is an adventure…whether we want it to be or not. 😉

Thus began adventure # 786,901 at Patchwork Farm: “The day the cone returned!”

It took all the older kids to hold Olive down so that Toby and I could inspect the damage. When the blood kept soaking through the pressure dressings we put on her ankles, we knew the situation exceeded our level of expertise and it was back to the vet for another overnighter for Olive.

She is earning her frequent flyer miles at Rainbow Vet, and we are personally funding our veterinarian’s next European vacation! Ugh.

We were able to pick up Olive the next day. After walking the entire yard we still have no idea what she ran through that tore her up so badly that she needed to get staples in her legs,

But the end result was minor surgery, boxing gloves for paws, and the return of “The Cone.”

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She is now on “bed rest” once again-

“And it is SO MUCH FUN!!” I scream with a manic grin.

She also can’t get her bandages wet for 10 days, a challenging feat living in Western Pennsylvania, so she was sent home from the vet with little plastic galoshes that must be tied onto her feet every time she goes outside.

Moving with the grace of a newborn giraffe, she struggles to move through the yard hampered by boxing glove feet, covered in stiff plastic bags.

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She has adapted by learning to walk on her tip toes, quite reminiscent of Wile E. Coyote sneaking up on the Road Runner.

It is quite comical to watch,

but the return of the “cone of shame” is not so comical.

We are all suffering from this latest Olive adventure…

Olive is feeling the pain of her most recent injury in her feet.

The kids are feeling the bruising pain of collisions with the “cone of shame” on their arms and legs.

And Toby is feeling the piercing financial pain of Great Dane ownership in his wallet.

Can someone pass me an aspirin?

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KALAHARI

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Last week I had an opportunity to teach a class for other adoptive families on the value of family vacations and how families in the midst of an adoption journey can find the time and money to invest in this worthwhile cause.

Toby and I both firmly believe that there is a special sort of connecting that happens among family members while on vacation that is hard to replicate in the home environment. When I look back on my happiest childhood memories, the ones that make me smiles and feel most connected with my family, they are primarily vacation or holiday memories. And I don’t believe it is a result of special activities. No, what we do on “vacation” matters very little…especially to children, who are as happy swimming in the hotel pool or playing at the park as they are seeing the Grand Canyon. Rather, I believe it is the quality of the attention we give one another that make family vacations uniquely effective for connecting families. There is something magical that happens when we step away from the stresses of day to day life, look up from our screens and our “to-do” lists, and are present, really present. When we practice mindfulness in our shared experiences we create memories and build lifelong connections that are far more effective than anything you could give to your child. This seems to happen best when we physically step away from the distractions that keep us from connecting.

In the article “Family Vacations Serve as ‘Happiness Anchors’ for Kids Until They Grow Up,”  the author supports this belief by saying:

“Family holidays are valued by children, both in the moment and for long afterward in their memory. So if you’re going to spend money on something, it’s pretty clear which option makes more sense.” 

Aside from making memories and being wise about where you spend, travel is better for family bonding. Where new toys, like screens and gadgets, put distance between family members, travel brings them closer together. It’s all about “talking nonsense with your parents, sharing an ice cream and moments of time in which your interests are genuinely taken into account.”

It goes on to explain:

Memories from family vacations can act as “happiness anchors”

The happiest memory of 49 percent of the British people surveyed was on vacation with family. A third said they can still vividly remember family vacations from their childhood. What’s more, a quarter brought up these memories to get them through tough times. “We consider these to be a ‘happiness anchor’ – reflecting on our happiest memories of joyful time spent together as a family can be extremely powerful in bringing relief and respite when faced with the darker times that life can bring.”

Although Toby and I both greatly value the bonding power of family vacations, we have found that as our family grows we need to evolve with our growing family, always seeking out creative, less expensive ways to vacation as a family.

One affordable, fun vacation that has become an annual tradition is our yearly trip to Kalahari Indoor Waterpark and Resort in Sandusky, Ohio every May. Talk about a lot of connecting value for a small price tag! This annual trip’s affordable price tag comes as a result of joining up with a former co-op family’s church, who books a group deal every spring. The deal includes one of the resort’s rooms and 2 day tickets for four guests to the water park for $129.00…what a deal! Additional kids are added for $25.00/ for 2 days…an incredible discount from their $49.00/day price.

(Just the waterpark tickets would cost our family $700.00 if we booked it on our own.)

This great deal has resulted in our entire co-op enjoying a two day mini vacation with friends every May. It is something my crew looks forward to every year.

This past week was our annual visit to Kalahari, but it was very different from past years. First of all Toby didn’t come. He is in the midst of a job he couldn’t pull off for two days, so I flew solo. Secondly, almost all of our friends who normally join us at Kalahari had other commitments that kept them from coming this year.

The result: The Hudaks and McCleerys flying solo. (Although we did meet up with Lily and Bryn, two little girls Lana babysits.)

It made for a different experience, but we still had a lot of fun.

Here is a peek at some of the wet and wild fun had by all at Kalahari Resort.

We began by arriving at Kalahari and stopping to watch the newly hatched baby ducks:

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After checking in it was time to put on suits and get down to the water park:

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While waiting for the Hudaks to arrive the kids rode some slides:

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When the Hudaks arrived the fun really began!

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After a full day of swimming and sliding everyone had worked up an appetite for Chet and Matt’s…YUM!

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After a good night’s sleep (everyone sleeps so well after a day of swimming) it was time for breakfast at Steak n Shake before we hit the waves again:

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The remainder of the day was spent slipping, sliding, twisting, and splashing, all while making memories that will last a lifetime!

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It was a good trip and a poignant reminder that…

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Soccer Season Starts

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Soccer season is upon us once again.

Although the start of soccer season has been a slow one due to an abundance of rainy days, Tyler is still thrilled to be donning shin guards and cleats once again.

This season began with a change from past seasons. This year Tyler has a female soccer coach, which I find perfectly thrilling. She is wonderful and exactly what Tyler needs. Tyler is drawn to men in a way he isn’t as comfortable with women. He loves male authority and does well under their leadership. He is less secure under female leadership. I think it comes down to the fact big, strong men represent safety. He feels like a man can protect him from the threats he fears most in the world (like his biological Dad finding him and trying to kill him) in a way a woman can’t. What this means in a practical sense is that he will always seek out men for companionship or approval over the company of females. This is something we have worked on over the years, and he is slowly getting more and more comfortable trusting women.

Last soccer season he experienced a co-ed sports team for the first time and it was awesome to see him evolve into a team player who came to respect the unique talents and skills the girls on his team brought to the field.

This year has stretched him even more as he has two female coaches.

They are great with Tyler.

His head coach reminds me a lot of my dear friend Kris H. They share the same bitty stature, sense of humor, enthusiasm, and spunk…a perfect mix of traits for coaching a group of high energy, 10-year-olds.

Their games have been rained out twice, but the games that they have been able to play they have won.

It promises to be another fun soccer season with Tyler, and we are excited to be cheering him on.

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Go Team!