Tag Archives: adoption

“I’m fine,” she told herself…

Standard

college

I feel as though I’m suffering from an emotional hangover…

Too many feelings squeezed into too short a period of time,

With all of the residual manifestations connected to an excess of living.

I literally feel as though I am emotionally hungover, with many of the symptoms seen in alcohol induced hangovers.

I find myself weary, heavy, numb, foggy and teary as I try to continue navigating the responsibilities of day to day life while accepting that life as I have known it for 20 years, is changing…

And changing very soon!

The crazy thing about it all is that everything I am navigating through is exactly the things I have prayed so hard for. There is a part of me that wants to smack the tears off my own face and remind myself that this is all good stuff!

Feelings of gratitude and joy are the prevailing emotions, but closely tied to feelings of gratitude and joy, are feelings of uncertainty and loss…

And guilt.

Guilt that I am feeling anything but gratitude and joy in the midst of such blessings. Unlike the seasons we have had to endure that are filled with such darkness and danger, despair and loss, this season is blessedly positive, but I still find myself struggling.

Perhaps I am unaccustomed to things going so smoothly.

Perhaps I have forgotten how to navigate life outside the emotional bondage of crisis management.

Perhaps I feel as though I am losing some of my purpose or value.

Maybe it is simply the emotional push-back that is rooted in the fear of change.

Or maybe, just maybe, this weight of emotions is simply bone-deep fatigue, born from trying to fit in so many “lasts” before life changes for good.

I am not certain.

I only know that time seems to be racing past and I am desperately grasping for its tail, hoping to slow it down.

college 2

I know that I am not alone in this place. Many other friends have expressed similar emotions, born from similar situations. I take strength from knowing that this muddy mix of emotions is normal, that I am not the only one trying to gracefully navigate them, and that millions of mothers before me have made it through this season to find joy and purpose in the next season of parenting.

So many changes are coming down the pike, not the least of which are:

  1. Gracie getting married! Only two months until her big day! The last few weeks have been spent entrenched in bridal shower planning, bachelorette party planning and wedding planning. Grace and Zach have also been on the hunt for an apartment. They will be staying in the area, as Grace still has a few semesters of school to finish before earning her degree in American Sign Language interpreting.

IMG952019081395162651

 Well, they found one that they love and fits their budget. And we have the benefit of having them nearby for at least the next year…which is a HUGE blessing for our adopted sons who have been struggling with triggered feelings of losing another person they love.

Last Sunday we drove over to Ellwood City to check out Gracie and Zach’s soon-to-be newlywed digs.

IMG_4306 (2)

It is an upstairs, one bedroom apartment with a big kitchen and lots of light. It is perfect for them and so exciting. Grace can’t wait to start decorating!

IMG_4321 (2)IMG_4308 (2)IMG_4311 (2)IMG_4314

2. Molly is about ready to take flight! In less than three weeks she will be heading out to school. Rusty and Braden will be joining us as we take a weeklong road trip to Idaho to drop her off. Along the way we are going to revisit some of our favorite national parks from our bus trip three years ago, so Braden can experience some of these national treasures.

IMG952019081495163539

Over the last month Molly has been making piles in preparation for college, getting together with friends, and finishing out her employment at Eat n’ Park. In fact, a few weeks ago she was asked by her employers to reconsider heading west for school. They wanted to offer her a management position. Her boss told her how impressed they have been with her since she began working for them in the spring and could see a great future for her with the company. She sweetly declined, knowing that BYU-Idaho is where she is being called to, but was honored and touched by the job offer.

3. Molly will not be the only college student this year. Grace and I will also be working towards our degrees, and Rusty is now unexpectedly joining the college ranks as a duel enrolled high school senior.

A few weeks ago we toured our local community college’s aviation program to find out more about their drone piloting program. This is a field that interests Rusty and so we added CCBC to our college tour list.

As we sat and spoke with the Dean of the program, he encouraged Rusty to not wait until graduation, but rather enroll for the fall semester as part of the duel-enrollment program. After speaking with his cyber school, 21st Century Cyber Charter School, we learned that Rusty had the option of replacing his high school electives with college courses and receive both high school and college credit, thus getting a jump start on his college degree.

He is very excited and will be taking most of his classes at the local airfield where he will learn the skills to graduate with a drone piloting license. Toby and I were pleased to learn that the high demand for drone pilots, coupled with the minimal number of colleges offering this newly emerging degree, meant that 100% of their past students have graduated with job placement.

IMG_2582 (2)

4. Braden is also venturing into new territory. In June he expressed a desire to cyber school like the other kids for his senior year. He struggled with our local brick and mortar school and some of the negative influences that proved too much for him to manage. Since being home this summer he has felt the difference that separation has made on his emotions and his ability to make good choices. He is happier and more at peace. I’m hoping it is as good a fit for him as it has been my other kids.

In addition to cyber schooling, he and Rusty will be getting together with other teens from church each weekday morning at 6:00am for early morning seminary (a religion class that allows for studying the scriptures and discussing gospel topics with the other youth from church under the guidance of a teacher.) I think this will be beneficial to both boys and will meet some of Braden’s social needs as one of my extroverted children.

5. Tyler also continues cyber schooling, but through PA Cyber. And although I feel that PA Cyber falls short when compared to the education offered through 21st Century Cyber School, it has proven to be a great fit for Tyler. Last year was his best year ever and he took off under this model of cyber schooling. He is eager to get back in touch with teachers and peers whom he hasn’t talked to all summer. Tyler will be in 7th grade this year. How is that possible?!

received_2117729885190822

6. Ozzie continues to thrive in the residential treatment facility that he has been residing at for more intense therapeutic work. His success there is not surprising but rather an expected result of a structured, unattached environment. The goal we are working toward is for him to successfully transfer the skills he uses at the RTF to the home environment, thus making his presence in the home safe and stable. This isn’t an easy transition, as his diagnoses of Reactive Attachment Disorder makes the thing he most stands in need of (connection and attachment to family) the very thing he fears and fights against. It is heartbreaking in its presentation and heartbreaking to know that as devastating as this diagnoses is, it could have been easily avoided through loving maternal care as a young child. The transfer of skills we are working toward is accomplished by slowly introducing interactions with family members (and eventually visits home) to his treatment plan and then addressing the negative reactions to triggers  with his therapeutic team in the RTF upon returning back at the end of a visit.

This week he and I had our first off-grounds visit. I was allowed to take him to lunch for two hours. This initial off-grounds trip consisted of just the two of us spending time together. We will slowly be adding additional family members to upcoming visits as deemed safe by staff.

I let Ozzie pick the restaurant and he chose Quaker Steak and Lube, a well known wing place in this area.

20190815_115802

He chose it partly for the food but mainly for the décor. He loves walking around the restaurant and snapping pictures of all the cars and memorabilia with my phone.

20190815_11535720190815_115450

He did well and we had a good time.

20190815_112757

He got all dressed up for our date 🙂 

This week we will be taking Ozzie out again following his family therapy session. This time Molly will be joining me so she and Ozzie can have a visit before she leaves for Idaho. We are praying it is healing and positive.

And then there is this guy… working hard and making sure everyone stays in line. 🙂

20190811_153714

This is  BIG week for our family with many monumental events. We have an off-grounds visit with Ozzie on Wednesday, Tyler’s 13th birthday party on Thursday evening, Gracie’s bachelorette party Friday night, Gracie’s bridal shower on Saturday, all among everyday living. It promises to be a full and likely emotional week…

Wish this momma luck as I try to keep it together!

 

 

So Glad we “Gotcha!”

Standard

fd7311c6c6320addcb0f55453d7850a4

In addition to celebrating the births of each of our children, we also celebrate the “birth” of our adopted children into our family. This annual celebration marks the anniversary of their day in court when they legally became a McCleery. This anniversary is known in the world of adoption as “Gotcha Day.” In our family we celebrate our boys’ “Gotcha Days” by allowing that child to pick a fun activity for us to enjoy as a family.

For our family, the “Gotcha Days” of our three adoptees fall on July 23rd, November 22nd, and March 26th…nicely spread out through the year for seasonal adoption celebrations.

Because the adoptee gets to choose the family activity, the way we celebrate “Gotcha Days” are as varied as the boys we have adopted. In the past we have gone for ice cream, visited car lots, gone to the courts to play tennis, etc. There is no rhyme or reason to these special days other than they are family-connected and driven by the wish of the adoptee we are celebrating.

This week we celebrated the “Gotcha Day” of our youngest child and our first adoption. This “Gotcha Day” holds a special place in my heart as his adoption opened the door to a world our family would have never known without him. Tyler came into our life as a newly turned 6-year-old and his entrance in our life was nothing short of divine intervention.

You see, when we were in the process of opening our adoption file, we were given the opportunity to select details about our potential child. The survey was specific with the adoptive parents given the opportunity to choose what behaviors, background and disabilities they felt capable of handling. Some questions were ridiculous like, “Will you accept a child who wears glasses?” Other questions were far more significant like, “Will you accept a child who has been sexually abused?” The questionnaire was hundreds of questions long and in the end, with much prayer and consideration, felt called to let God decided which child we were to adopt. With a desire to truly submit to His will and let Him pick our child, we answered yes to every race, sex, age, disability, trauma, and behavior with the exception of three hypotheticals that we felt were beyond our capacity as parents.

Because of the 3 non-negotiables we marked on our application Tyler never should have come into our life. Good thing our God is bigger than our insecurities because had He not circumvented our barriers, we would never have been blessed with Tyler.

How our file ended up on the desk of an Allegheny County social worker is still a mystery to us. Our agency claims it wasn’t sent by them, knowing that this child wasn’t a fit with our specifications. All we know is one day, in the middle of August 2011, we received a call informing us that we were one of two families being considered for a little boy named Tyler. It soon became clear to the social worker that I had no idea what he was talking about so he quickly emailed us Tyler’s child profile and made plans to visit our home the next afternoon to discuss the matter further.

That night, after the other children had been put to bed, Toby and I sat in bed and began reading through Tyler’s child profile. Before we finished reading the first page we were already certain that this child…his trauma, behaviors and needs were far beyond our scope of expertise as parents, and those three non-negotiables that terrified us were all present in this poor boy’s past. Our hearts broke for him but we felt certain that we were unequipped to be the parents for this hurting child.

With our decision firmly made we went to sleep brokenhearted but certain that we were making the right decision. The next day I called the social worker first thing in the morning to cancel our appointment scheduled for that evening. I spent the day attempting to make contact with no luck. No one could track him down and none of our messages made it through, so despite our attempts to cancel, that social worker arrived at our home that evening.

We sat down, ready to let him know that we didn’t feel like we were the right match, when he opened the file and a picture of Tyler fell out on the table. In that moment I knew I was looking at the face of my child, long before determined and destined to be part of our family. I knew he was mine and despite my fears and insecurities, I knew Heavenly Father was delivering Tyler into our arms for a great and important purpose…a purpose that has slowly been revealed through time as we have grown as a family in size, purpose, patience, compassion and eternal vision.

0030121

Knowing he was destined to be our son didn’t erase the realities in his file that worried us and made us feel overwhelmingly inadequate, but knowing God was calling us to this journey lifted us above the “what ifs” onto the plane of submissive trust in God’s plan.

How grateful I am that God did not let us get in His way of His plan. I can look back now and see that His hand was in the creation of our family from the start. His hand was in  every “no” he whispered to us as we grieved the disappointment of our own plan falling through, and in every push He gave us toward a “yes” when we were too afraid to take the first faithful step. He knows what our final family unit will look like and He has been the architect of each phase as we grow into that family.

Who knew that is setting our family file mysteriously on the desk of an unsuspecting social worker He was opening the door to two children, pre-destined and divinely selected, to be a part of our forever family.

First came Tyler’s adoption in 2012:

img_8629img_8585

Then Tyler’s adoption brought Braden to our family seven years later when he became a McCleery on March 26th, 2019.

IMG_20190327_120024IMG_9925 (2)

I can’t imagine how much love, learning, personal growth and blessings we would have missed had we said no to that little six-year-old boy.

This week was our seventh year celebrating Tyler’s “Gotcha Day.” On Tuesday we found ourselves home with just Tyler and Braden. Everyone else had school or work. Tyler’s request for this year’s “Gotcha Day” was to go to the movies, so on Tuesday night Toby, Braden, Tyler and I went to see the new Spiderman movie. The movie was great, but the company was even better.

Resized952019072395183316

How grateful I am for the blessing of adoption in our life.

IMG_5962 (2)

I can’t help but reflect on all the beautiful moments we might have missed out on if we had allowed ourselves to be guided by fear instead of faith.

adoption-quotes-2

And Life marches on!

Standard

The summer continues to race by at a breakneck speed. I can hardly believe it is mid-July. It has been an action-packed summer with one big event following the next. I’ve been so busy living life that I often forget to sit down and record the happenings of life,

So here it is…

A quick update on the latest and greatest at Patchwork Farm.

Rusty returned from Scout Camp, having had an awesome week despite record high temperatures and an aggressive swarm of mosquitoes. He returned home looking like a victim of a smallpox epidemic, but was smiling nonetheless.

July 9th was Chick-fil-A’s “Cow Appreciation Day.”

IMG_2392 (2)

This is a favorite tradition in the McCleery household, offering up all our favorite things:

A solid theme, group costumes, and free food!

chickfila

We have been enjoying this annual event for years…

chickfila 2

And this year was no exception.

But our numbers were down a bit due to kids’ work schedules and a resistant family member that looked at me, incredulous, and stubbornly insisted, “It would take more than a free chicken sandwich to convince me to dress up like a cow!”

Spoilsport!

cow

But those who did choose to participate joined hundreds of other “cows” at Cranberry’s Chick-fil-A for a fun, festive, and FREE chicken dinner.

IMG_2384 (2)

Thanks, Chick-fil-A!

And while he had no interest in transforming into a cow for a free chicken sandwich, Braden has been busy with other transformative projects, particularly the loft outside his bedroom.

Last Saturday he approached Toby with plans to transform the sitting area outside his bedroom into a teen “lounge” for hanging out and playing games. He had a vision already in mind and money set aside from his paychecks to bring his vision to life. His plan: tear up the carpeting, lay down a wood floor and paint the current yellow walls a smoky grey. Impressed by his initiative to take on a home DIY project independently, and his willingness to fund the project, we gave him the go ahead. After a quick trip to Home depot, he and Toby began laying the floor.

IMG_2277 (2)

Two days later paint went up on the walls.

IMG_2404 (2)

The space is quickly transforming into what will be a fun, teen, hang-out area. I’ll post pictures at the completion of the room make-over.

One of the biggest events from the last week was the wedding of Gracie’s best friend and future sister-in-law, Stephanie. Steph and Grace became friends when they found themselves sitting side by side in a Sunday school class at age 10. Who knew 11 years later they would both be “brides-to-be” and soon-to-be sisters.

FB_IMG_1563547968502

Stephanie and Gracie…4 years ago today! And look, Gracie’s future husband in the background!

FB_IMG_1563547953950

The Tame and McCleery girls.

A year ago, before Grace and Zach were even an item, Stephanie asked Grace to be her maid of honor. What a sweet turn of events it is that she finds herself now engaged to Steph’s big brother.

received_338877880323705

The responsibilities of her role in Stephanie’s wedding has kept her schedule busy for the last few weeks, but Gracie has loved being an active participant in her friend’s big day and an extra set of helping hands to her soon-to-be second family.

The festivities began the week prior to the wedding with the bachelorette party. Molly and I were invited to join Grace, the Tame gals, and some of Stephanie’s friends for a night of creativity. It was a fun, festive celebration of the bride-to-be at a local craft studio called “Artsy Doodle.”

While there we each had the opportunity to make a burlap door hanging. There were so many cute choices but in the end the McCleery girls (and Melanie) each chose the pick-up truck door hanging.

FB_IMG_1562614387562

It was such a fun evening and the finished results of everyone’s efforts were nothing short of charming!

FB_IMG_1562614382476

One week later it was Stephanie’s big day!

IMG_2397 (2)

Grace giving her maid-of-honor speech.

I don’t think I have ever seen a more beautiful bride.

IMG_2399

Stephanie performing a song for her groom.

It was a beautiful day filled with love, laughter, friends and family.

received_563770097489210

Next up: Gracie and Zach…Only 3 months until their big day!

 

IMG_2400 (2)

 

 

Land of the Free because of the Brave!

Standard

4th-of-july-quote-1

Nothing brings the summer feels more than the 4th of July with its cookouts, swimming, and sparklers.

I love the 4th of July. It is one of my favorite holidays. My patriotic heart swells with delight at the sea of red, white and blue and the patriotic music that becomes the soundtrack to the day.

Typically our 4th of July involves a trip down to Pittsburgh to participate in the festivities leading up to an always amazing fireworks show. We love the celebratory air that accompanies the experience and there is no better fireworks show  in the area than the one put on by the city of Pittsburgh.

Unfortunately, this year we had to switch up our traditional 4th of July plans. My busy kids, with their  very full schedules, made our traditional trip to Pittsburgh for fireworks an impossibility, so we needed to come up with a plan B.

Since everyone was free the first half of the day so we decided to enjoy our family time in the morning before everyone headed in separate directions for the afternoon. We decided to head to Moraine Lake for a picnic.

It was a beautiful day. The sun was shinning. It was warm enough to make swimming a delight but not so hot as to make a picnic miserable.

Grace invited Zach to join us, bringing our numbers to seven, in the absence of Rusty, who was spending the week at Scout Camp.

We found that we were not the only ones who thought a day at the lake was a good idea. We found the lake hopping with visitors,

IMG_2232 (2) - Copy - Copy

And it was easy to see why…

It was a practically perfect day at the lake!

IMG_2241 (2) - Copy - Copy

We found a spot and settled in for a relaxing afternoon. Tyler and Braden headed straight for the water where they spent the next three hours tossing the football with other kids in the lake before breaking for lunch.

IMG_2249 (2) - Copy - Copy

Toby found a spot of shade where he enjoyed simply sitting and relaxing with a magazine…a rare and treasured treat for my love who works hard every day from dawn to dusk.

IMG_2233 (2) - Copy - Copy

Molly, who has also been working hard, juggling daily shifts as a waitress at Eat n Park, enjoyed the gift of rest as she lounged in the warmth of the sun, eventually succumbing to the sandman.

IMG_2252 (2) - Copy - Copy

In between the trips to the water, everyone enjoyed a picnic lunch and the company of family, while overlooking a stunning vista.

IMG_2229 (2) - Copy - Copy

By 4:00 pm the grey clouds began to roll in, warning of the impeding storm. We packed up our gear and headed home so everyone could get ready for their evening plans.

We did make a quick stop along the way, however, at The Snowman.

IMG_2256 (2) - Copy - Copy

Toby treated everyone to a snow cone, which was a perfect conclusion to an already perfect day.

IMG_2270 (2) - Copy - CopyIMG_2262 (2) - Copy - Copy

When we arrived home Molly prepared to join up with friends from church for an evening of board games and fireworks in their apartment parking lot.

received_2439271882778192

Grace and Zach headed downtown Pittsburgh to enjoy an epic fireworks show from the top of Mt. Washington,

received_464560910997067received_853260658388679received_326810271542209

And Braden prepared for his work shift from 6:00-10:15. Because Braden would need picked up from work at the same time most firework shows were occurring, Toby, Tyler and I stayed home and enjoyed a movie night until it was time to get Braden.

It wasn’t our typical 4th of July celebration…

“Typical” is no longer our “normal” with kids growing up and making their own plans, but it was a wonderful day nonetheless.

How grateful I am for all this day offers us: a chance to celebrate the freedoms we enjoy, a chance to honor those who made those sacrifices possible, and the chance to do so with the people we love most.

freedom

 

Kalahari Adventures

Standard

IMG_1841 (2)

Following the Pennsylvania SWAN awards banquet on Wednesday night, we were invited to stay at Kalahari Resort for the next two days and make a family vacation out of the event.

IMG_1698 (2)IMG_1761 (2)

As if the award recognition wasn’t enough, we felt absolutely spoiled rotten by this special gift.

IMG_1858 (2)IMG_1869 (2)

Thursday and Friday were spent connecting as a family, playing as a family, laughing as a family, and enjoying a respite from life.

IMG_1802 (2)

The kids loved the abundance of water slides available at “America’s Largest Indoor Water Park.”

IMG_1780 (2)

Some of the slides were familiar, having ridden the sister slides at the Sandusky, Ohio Kalahari Resort,

IMG_1808 (2)IMG_1845 (2)IMG_1854 (2)

While other were unique to this particular park.

IMG_1821 (2)

When we weren’t off sliding, our family could be found enjoying the lazy river or the wave pool.

IMG_1817 (2)IMG_1815 (2)

Braden and Tyler were particularly fond of the basketball pool with its abundance of basketball hoops and balls.

IMG_1800 (2)

Many hours were spent in that pool bonding as biological brothers. The genetic connection is clearly evident in these two natural athletes who are more comfortable competing with a ball in hand than doing anything else.

IMG_1793 (2)

We also enjoyed the outdoor hot tub. The combination of warm water, cool breezes, summer sun, and gorgeous views brought home that vacation feel. It was lovely to sit and soak while visiting as a family, knowing I had nothing else to do for the next 12 hours.

IMG_1871 (2)

Our two lazy days also allowed for me to have time to sit and read a novel and allowed Toby a much deserved nap…two luxuries that have become a rare treat in our lives recently.

IMG_1824 (2)

 

It was a lovely luxury to let go of a month’s worth of worries and heartache and simply be present in the gift of today.

IMG_1875 (2)

It was a blessing to be still and simply breathe, soaking in the blessing of our mini vacation, and praising God for restarts and reconnection.

IMG_1879 (2)

IMG_1868 (2)

That is what this time away was for our family. Tucked away in the gorgeous greenery of the Pocono mountains, we found the peace that had been so hard to grab hold of for the last two months. Somehow stepping away from outside influences we were able to remember what this journey was all about.

IMG_1768 (2)

It was a breakthrough experience for our child who had been pushing hard against the connection that he has fearfully been fleeing from since Mother’s Day. I’m not sure what clicked internally but amid the splashing and sunshine and celebration of adoption with hundreds of other families much like ours, he found some peace…

At least for the moment.

IMG_1786 (2)

And that was the greatest gift of all.

Celebrating Permanency with SWAN

Standard

“It is with feelings of gratitude and humility that we stand up here tonight and accept this award. Many thanks to the Statewide Adoption and Permanency Network (SWAN). Permanency is a journey that requires the support of a village. We are so grateful for our village of support, particularly our caseworkers and dear friends, Lisa, Raquel, and our amazing Second-Chance family.

We are often asked by friends what skills or talents are needed to be a foster or adoptive family. That always makes us laugh, because nothing makes you more aware of your complete lack of skills and talents than foster care adoption. In reality it is a humbling journey of self-discovery as you realize how little you actually know. This walk is unique and as a result each approach must be unique. There is no tried and true method, no fail proof system. It is a lot of trial and error and trusting your gut.

But I think there are certain character traits that are seen consistently in families that have chosen to walk this road.

SWAN families tend to be “big picture” visionaries. They recognize that sometimes they must choose to close their eyes to the small irritations and unimportant annoyances for the sake of the more important stuff.

SWAN families are tenacious. Like a Pitbull on a bone, they will fight relentlessly for their kids, advocating at every turn to get them what they need and give them the life they deserve.

SWAN families are adaptable. While not always born with this trait, it is one quickly learned in the trenches. Raising children with individual trauma histories, personalized triggers, and unique needs, means being willing to make adaptations on the fly. They are pros at coming up with a solid “Plan B.”

 SWAN families laugh together. They soon discover that this road is not without struggle and many days will lead to a place where one must either cry or laugh. And while crying can be cathartic it does give one a terrible headache, so they laugh. They laugh at the absurdity found in the everyday wrestle of growing a family.

And finally, SWAN families love fearlessly. They choose to not guard their hearts or hold back when it comes to loving kids from hard places. They know that parental heartache is a risk of helping kids heal and learn to love again.

I would venture to guess that those same traits that are seen in the families who adopt foster children are the same traits seen in those workers who are fighting on behalf of those same children.

We are incredibly grateful for those of you who are on the front lines, listening to the hard stories, showing up day after day, climbing into the trenches to fight for every child’s right to go to sleep with a full belly, to be tucked into clean sheets and a warm blanket every night, to have a table to do homework at and parents who love them enough to nag them to do their homework.

We believe every child deserves to be safe… And every child deserves to feel safe.

We believe every child deserves to be loved… And every child deserves to feel worthy of love.

We believe every child deserves to know that they will wake up tomorrow…

And every child deserves to dream big dreams about their tomorrows.

These are basic human rights, but they are rights many children would not have if it weren’t for you child advocacy warriors who choose to keep showing up, day after day, fighting those hard fights and being a voice to those children who do not have a voice of their own.

So, whether you are here tonight because you are fighting the hard fight in Harrisburg, or here because you are fighting for the kids in your communities, or here tonight because you are a family fighting for the future of kids that live under your own roof…Thank you.

You are fighting for the greatest of all causes!

Like you, we believe every child deserves a family…

And every family deserves a child like the ones you have met tonight.”

IMG_1751 (2)

These were our words as stood in front of hundreds of other adoptive families, social workers, agencies and law makers at the 27th Annual Pennsylvania Permanency Conference this past Wednesday.

The entire experience was surreal and incredibly humbling, beginning with an unexpected call from Harrisburg, back in March, informing us that our family had been nominated and chosen as one of six families to be recognized as adoptive family of the year at SWAN’s annual conference. 

We later found out that it was Raquel, one of our AMAZING social workers that came into our life with the placement of Braden in our family, who wrote the state to nominate us.

We were beyond touched that she thought enough of our family to nominate us for such a special award. Later, when I had the opportunity to read the words she penned about our family on the application, I was moved to tears.

When the call came informing us of the award, we were invited to attend the permanency conference to receive it in person. They informed us that this year’s conference would be held in the Pocono Mountains of Pennsylvania at the Kalahari Resort. They informed us that a suite would be paid for as part of the awards ceremony and our family was invited to stay and enjoy the indoor water park as part of the celebration.

Needless to say, everyone was very excited. The only damper on our anticipation of the day was the realization that Ozzie would not be allowed to join us for the ceremony. The facility he is currently receiving therapeutic care at didn’t feel he was ready for a trip off campus.

But Raquel video taped us receiving the award so that we could share the experience with him. This was, after all, an award for the whole family.

We arrived at Kalahari at 1:00. We had previously visited the Kalahari Resort in Sandusky, Ohio, but this Kalahari was nearly double the size. The kids had a blast exploring the property and checking out the resort while we got checked in.

IMG_1701 (2)IMG_1713 (2)

IMG_1702 (2)IMG_1764 (2)

Then we headed to the suite that was booked on our behalf. The Statewide Adoption Network covered the cost of our first night’s stay, and then our adoption agency, “Second Chance Inc.- Kinship Care,” graciously asked if they could gift us with a second night’s stay. It was just that…a gift. An incredible gift of love for our family.

IMG_1667 (2)

The African theme carried into our bathroom with our hand towel folded as an elephant…so cute!

IMG_1665 (2)

The view from our suite’s back patio. It is so pretty here.

IMG_1839 (2)

Wednesday night was the banquet. As award winners, we were invited to join the other five families at a pre-banquet reception to mingle and get our photos taken with state representatives.

IMG_1728 (2)

All dolled up for the occasion, we snapped a few photos of our own before going in.

IMG_1716 (2)IMG_1719 (2)

Once there we enjoyed hors d’ oeuvres while waiting for dinner.

IMG_1722 (2)

Then we were escorted into the banquet hall where we joined 500+ other guests for a delicious meal.

IMG_1749 (2)

IMG_1746 (2)

At our table we were joined by Lisa, Braden’s social worker who fought so hard on his behalf and tracked down every lead in an effort to find his biological siblings. It was her relentless efforts that brought him to us and made him our son.

IMG_1733 (2)

We were also joined by Raquel, Braden’s pre-adoptive social worker, who has been nothing short of amazing in tracking down his past history and building for him a life book of his journey. As the one to nominate our family, she and her son joined us for this special honor.

IMG_1742 (2)

After dinner it was time for the award recipients to be recognized.

IMG_1740 (2)

How humbling it was to stand among such child advocacy warriors and have our meager efforts highlighted. One of the women who was also honored was a window who has been foster mom to over 250 children in her 30 years of fostering. At 76 she is in the process of adopting another teenage boy. It is astounding. I look at individuals like her and it lights a fire in me to do more. There are so many children who need a home and not nearly enough families willing to take a leap of faith. 

It was with great humility that we stood among those faith-filled giants who have made loving children their life’s work. 

So often this road of loving kids from hard places can tear you apart. It can be exhausting, devastating, and often thankless. You wonder if you small effort is making any difference at all, and it is not just the adoptive families that struggle under this weight of responsibility. It is everyone that is working for this cause. The agencies, the advocates, the CASA workers, the social workers…each and every one of them are choosing to climb into the trenches day after day, and fight the very hardest of fights, because no cause is more worthy of our time and effort than this one…

Giving every child who needs and wants a family, the chance to have a family.

IMG_1756 (2)

It was an amazing night for our family…

IMG_1830 (2)IMG_1831 (2)

Certainly one we will never forget!

IMG_1837 (2)

We were humbled to be recognized,

And honored to stand among so many with a similar heart for adoption. 

We feel incredibly blessed!

 

Road Block Ahead

Standard

road block

This week was a big one at Patchwork Farm!!

It was graduation week for Miss Molly and her nearest and dearest friends, and we had a few action packed days planned for the graduate.

On Wednesday it was secretly decided that we would drive out in shifts; with most of us leaving to head east on Thursday, and Toby and Molly leaving bright and early Friday morning due to work conflicts that prevented them from leaving on Thursday. I knew this trip was going to be especially challenging for Braden. I anticipated the combination of heightened emotions, family togetherness, Ozzie’s absence, and Molly preparing to go away to college, would set off insecurities deep inside that might prompt him to flee rather than have to face Molly’s graduation ceremony… as this has been his pattern recently. My solution to scaling that possible roadblock: throw him off by eliminating the anxiety brought on by anticipation, and simply show up at school a day early with bags packed and jump right on the turnpike, travelling at a speed that would discourage passengers from jumping.

This plan was divinely prompted and it worked out perfectly. By not anticipating a Thursday departure, we were able to avoid the self-destructive behaviors that present during anticipation of upcoming family connection experiences,

And the unpredictability and adventure of an impromptu road trip fed his need for chaos and risk, in a way that was healthy and parent-led.

This plan worked perfectly.

At noon I stopped by the high school to sign Braden out. He joined Grace, Molly and Tyler in the car with all our luggage, we jumped right onto the turnpike. 3 1/2 hours later we found ourselves in Harrisburg for our first overnight stay. The juggling of multiple schedules required us to travel in shifts. My most pressing requirement was to arrive at a location that offered Pathway gathering classes so I wouldn’t miss out on Thursday night gathering points for my college courses. As I looked up Pathway gatherings on the Eastern side of the state, I decided Hershey/Harrisburg area was our best shot. It was timed out perfectly, allowing us to arrive, check-in, settle the kids into the hotel room with dinner and a movie, before I left for class.

My plans were thwarted, however, when we pulled into the Radisson that was to be our home-away-from home for the night and found it surrounded by armed guards, swat teams, local police and military.

My first thought was, “Oh, Crap…They must of heard we were coming.”

My second thought was, “Or maybe someone was murdered.”

It turns out that neither was true. The reason behind the walking/talking fire power was that the Vice President of the United States was spending the night at our hotel for a GOP convention.

Mr. Mike Pence almost lost me 60 points in class credit this week when the armed guards refused to let us through the barricade to check into our hotel. Lucky for my family, I have grown bolder and more fearless in recent years, thanks to MANY opportunities to grow those assertiveness muscles…

Needless to say, after all I have lived through in the last few years, armed soldiers with intense scowls didn’t scare me in the least.

They were simply just another roadblock that needed to be scaled as we moved toward a bigger goal.

I have come to appreciate the roadblocks of life.

They stretch us in ways that the easy seasons of life don’t.

They grow muscles that can only be built through adversity.

They give us a healthier perspective on life.

And they gives us the opportunity to fight for those things and those people who deserve to be fought for, despite the lies that have argued otherwise.

The road blocks of life allow us to prove our diligence, our courage, our tenacity, and the depth of our conviction for the cause we are fighting for.

road blocks 2 - Copy

Road blocks allow our empty words to have a voice…

The powerful and resounding voice of ACTION.

After some sweet talk and then some straight talk, we were waved through and allowed to check in. I settled the kids in and left them with their faces pressed to the window in hopes of catching a glimpse of someone important, while I raced off to class. I arrived and was only 15 minutes late…a sure miracle given the obstacles we faced.

Everyone did exceptionally well in my absence despite disappointment that no one of note strolled by their hotel window.

On Friday we met up with Toby and Molly at the Home 2 Suites in Downingtown, PA, that would serve as home base for the weekend.

The first big event: Molly’s senior prom!

Stay tuned for pictures of all our gussied up girls!

Hanging on for Dear Life!

Standard

And then in the midst of it all, life keeps rolling on…

A never-slowing train, speeding down the track.

As we hold on tightly, trying to enjoy the scenic vistas as they fly past.

Rusty now makes child #4 in the “gainfully employed club” at Patchwork Farm. He has joined Braden as an ice cream scooper at Handel’s and is loving the experience. The increased cash flow, coupled by the free sweet treats, has made this a dream job for our gentle giant.

IMG_1086

With 4 children employed, and Ozzie currently residing at a residential facility, we have found ourselves left with only Tyler home a lot of the time. It is so weird to look around and have only one child lounging in the living room, instead of six. The experience has given us an sneak peek into life in the future when Tyler will be the last child at home. I think he is feeling a bit lost in it all, but I keep telling him we just need to hang in there for a few more years and once we can kick everyone out we will be able to have some awesome adventures with the extra disposable income that will result from a decreased family food budget! 😉

Ozzie has been transferred from the acute facility where he was being stabilized to the long-term facility where he will be for the next 6-12 months for more intensive, in-patient trauma therapy. We feel incredibly blessed to be able to get him admitted to the same RTF where he was so successful prior. Located in Erie, Harborcreek Youth Services provided an amazing blend of physical, emotional and spiritual care that allowed Ozzie to safely face the traumas of his past that are so destructive to his current relationships and result in poor choices and dangerous behaviors.

The sheer quantity and variety of therapeutic work that can be offered in a week-long period (family therapy, trauma therapy, EMDR therapy, group sessions, anger management, art therapy, animal therapy, trauma releasing yoga and music therapy) gives Ozzie a highly submersible experience that yields amazing results for him.

We hate that he has to be sent away to get the help he needs, but we are so grateful for the loving care he receives from amazing staff who act as interim parents in our absence, supporting Ozzie as he focuses on his own healing journey.

Gracie just finished out another semester of school and one of the art electives she chose to take this past semester was a pottery class. Beginning with basic pinch pots and working up to creating pieces on the wheel, Grace had the opportunity to design, create, paint and fire a variety of pottery pieces. This week she brought home her finished creations. Some of her finished pieces include:

A large flower vase that she made as a gift for her Momma:

IMG_1292 (2) - Copy

A model of our school bus turned RV:

IMG_1278 (2) - Copy

A wall vase to hang on the wall of her room and fill with fresh flowers:

IMG_1289 (2) - Copy

And a set of mugs that she creatively designed with a pocket to hold the used tea bag when making a cup of tea:

IMG_1286 (2) - Copy

This is just a sampling of the completed projects she brought home. She loved the class and we loved being the benefactors of her talent and generosity!

IMG_1279 (2) - Copy

With the conclusion of May comes many end of the year/graduation celebrations for Miss Molly. The first acknowledgement that this was really happening and that our little girls were all grown up occurred at our end of the year co-op picnic. We joined with other co-op families to celebrate another successful year of teaching our children at home. As part of our picnic, Miss Lana brought a celebratory cake for our four graduating seniors.

IMG_1166 (2)

I still can’t wrap my brain around the fact that four women stand before me where four little girls with mismatched socks once stood.

IMG_1170 (2)

Four sweet girls! Caleigh’s curlers are in preparation for that night’s performance of “Little Women” at Mohawk High School.

On the heels of one graduation celebration came another. On Sunday we celebrated Molly’s graduation from seminary, a scripture study course offered to the high school students of our church. For the last four years she has chosen to add an additional 60 minutes of work to her weekday schedule to study the teachings of Christ and apply those teachings to her life as a disciple of Christ. We are so glad she chose to participate, as we have seen first hand the great growth that happens when our children are actively pursuing a relationship with Jesus Christ through daily prayer and scripture study.

IMG_1234 (2) - CopyIMG_1238 (3) - Copy

As part of the graduation ceremony, we heard from a few of the graduating seniors and then enjoyed a beautiful musical number as Hailey and Heather sang “Be Still my Soul” while Molly interpreted the song through American Sign Language.

IMG_1269 (2) - CopyIMG_1231 (2)

Following the ceremony there was a reception in the cultural hall where guests could enjoy desserts while strolling around, reading the graduation posters, and signing their well wishes to all the graduating seniors.

IMG_1246 (2) - CopyIMG_1263 (2) - Copy

So proud of you, Miss Molly!

IMG_1272 (2) - Copy

Another celebration of Molly’s upcoming graduation from high school came in the form of a senior trip. Molly and Tatum were invited by Irvin and his family to stay at their home in Gettysburg for two days.

IMG_1224 (2)

After years of friendship, Irvin wanted to have the girls come and visit his home town and meet his parents. The family set up their pottery studio/store as a B & B for the girls, spoiling them rotten with homemade meals, story telling, chocolates on their pillows, site seeing around Gettysburg and even gifted them with one of their handcrafted mugs as a parting gift of hospitality.

received_2054192154882231received_297797501102943

On Friday, the girls joined Irvin for a trip to Knoebels, the amusement park that was chosen as the site for this year’s senior day. There they met up with other 21st Century seniors and teachers for a day of riding rides and having fun…

received_333888120611419received_842098952842328received_1807967899305927

Ending the day with ice cream.

received_457636034998345

It was a fun adventure for Molly and Tatum to share before they get pulled into the vortex of college life…

And it was all made possible thanks to the kindness and hospitality of the Young family.

It is an exciting time for Miss Molly and we couldn’t be happier for our walking ray of sunshine!

So very weary…

Standard

 

“I felt very still and empty, the way the eye of a tornado must feel, moving dully along in the middle of the surrounding hullabaloo.”
Sylvia Plath

weary3

I find myself craving the solitude of my bed.

I am so very weary.

That down-to-the-bone weariness that finds tears hovering just behind the eyes and feelings of intense hopelessness fighting hard to push down those remaining crumbs of hope.

We find ourselves in another season of transitions as Ozzie returns to Harborcreek for intensive inpatient therapy for the next 9-12 months, Molly’s graduation nears (only four more days), Gracie prepares to be married in five months, we brace for two more graduating seniors next year, all while Braden derails and I desperately try to successfully finish my first year of college. It is all so much and I find myself moving through my days in a state of numb detachment, dealing with the next pressing crisis while trying to mime some appearance of normalcy on the outside, as I crumble within.

I find myself battling feelings of resentment over the stolen minutes, of these last months I have with my girls before they leave, that are spent chasing Braden as he runs away, shuts down, or destroys property in a fit of rage. I understand where it is coming from. I see beyond his anger and defiance and know that all this change has made his already uncertain world seem all the more shaky. Reacting from a place of fear, he is making decisions that will push us away before we can push him away or leave him. Cerebrally I get it, but fighting on behalf of a 17-year-old who is defiantly determined to sabotage this second chance he has been given has be worn down, discouraged and empty…completely and totally empty.

As a result I once again find myself isolating from others, both in a physical sense as well as a virtual one. Perhaps this comes from an uncertainty as to what and how much to share…always trying to walk that delicate line between being real in our journey while still respecting the privacy of my family. Or perhaps it’s because I feel so lost in the darkness that I struggle to find the light that I want to share with you. Sometimes, though, I think it comes down to just being weary. A weariness so soul deep that even a Rip Van Winkle sleep couldn’t bring the rest I crave.

The weariness comes from the lack of respite. I’m sure many of you can relate. You might not be dealing with the same trauma but perhaps your circumstances bring a similar weariness.  It is a weariness that comes from always having to be “on.” The opportunity to escape, even mentally, is not there. Our home at the moment is like an active minefield. We are tiptoeing through our days, trying to tread gently for fear of setting someone off and then having to attend to the casualties and destruction.

Last week we had a therapy appointment with Tina. I went in first to update her before I brought the first child in. She asked me how I was and the floodgates opened. After weeks of isolating myself from the world I finally had someone safe to talk to. I told her I was tired…so very tired. I laughed with bitterness at the irony of my situation. In my desire to save children from a life of horrendous abuse I find myself in my own abusive situation.

I am, in essence, the one being hurt in an abusive relationship that I can’t walk away from. If it was my husband doing and saying these things I would have walked away a long time ago, but these are children. My children. My boys who are dealing with hurts bigger and scarier than anything you and I could conjure up in our scariest nightmare. I have the privilege of being both of their security as well as the walking representation of the figures they love and hate the most: their birth parents. And so I get to be on the receiving end of all the hurt they would like to inflict on the parents they don’t have access to.

And it sucks…big time!

I get to be the emotional punching bag for hard feelings.

I get it. Mentally, logically, I understand the reasoning and the motivation behind the behavior. As dysfunctional as it may seem, this is actually as sign that we are moving in the right direction. The honeymoon period is officially over which means there is a heightened level of trust.

But even with that knowledge I find myself feeling beaten down by the personal nature of the attacks, as I try to figure out how to navigate this relationship with a 17-year-old that screams he doesn’t want to live here, while internally battling fears that he won’t be able to keep living here.

I know there is a lesson to be found in the midst of this, but the weariness that has become a constant companion leaves my brain foggy. I suspect this is another lesson in surrender…

It seems to be a reoccurring lesson in my life.

The reality is, I am in a season on life where my level of control over the choices, safety, and futures of my children is minimal, and it scares the heck out of me. I can’t slow down the clock and the days seem to be rushing past faster than I can grab hold of. I think my weariness is probably rooted in grief as I mourn the death of what was, what could have been, and what will never be.

I don’t share this to darken your joy or weigh down your spirit, but to speak to that soul who is reading this with tears in their eyes, saying…”me, too.”

If you, in whatever circumstance you find yourself in, are thinking, “there is nothing left within me. I am bone dry,” perhaps you will find solace in this prayer Heavenly Father led me to today when I was desperately searching for a sliver of light in the suffocating darkness that chokes me…

weary2

It is time to rest, weary heart…

Be still, and hold up your cup.

 

Fighting for the GREATEST Cause

Standard

29f4b86d4ad3b9037747d8bb95a8562d

We find ourselves in the trenches once more.

I share the quote above because it powerfully puts into words the reality of our journey and petitions for the prayers we stand in need of.

Adoption is a war, but not the war it appears to be through the eyes of those on the outside looking in. To the casual observer it would seem that we were fighting a losing battle against our kids from hard places. The defiance, rebellion, and dangerous manifestations of anger that burst forth in the form of running away, physically assaulting siblings, property destruction, chronic lying, suicidal ideation, manipulation, and relationship sabotage smack of “us verses them.” If someone would step into our home in the midst of one of our daily battles, the screams of, “I hate you! You are not my mom!” coupled with flying projectiles would definitely lead you to believe the warfare playing out is familial, but that is simply not the case. Our war is not with our children. It is a battle we are fighting side by side with our children, against the trauma of their past. Though they do not always see it that way.

The reality of adopting kids with a trauma history is that as a family you are choosing to open your door and invite inside a battle of epic proportion. You are choosing to fight for the soul of a child and Satan doesn’t fight fair. By choosing to adopt children that the world has seen fit to abandon and give up on, you are agreeing to walk into the fire and expose your home, your children, your marriage, your friendships and your extended family to a whole new level of spiritual warfare.

And I’m here to say that we can’t do it alone.

We need our prayer warriors to surround us with an armor of fortification because our ragtag battalion is growing weary and our wounds are extensive.

Sometimes I look on my family, especially on the heels of one of those intense and destructive battles, and I see in them the faces of the famous Howard Pyle painting, “The Nation Makers.” This iconic piece of artwork is a powerful depiction of the War for Independence. It depicts a line of soldiers in tattered clothing and bandages marching forward through a field of grass and wild flowers. They push forward with a purpose and a drive that trump all obstacles. Bloodied and bruised, they do not hesitate.

nationmakers

And bloodied and bruised my family pushes forward, fighting for a cause even greater than independence. We are fighting for salvation; reclaiming a soul from the brink of destruction.

54b53c8204fa6bcab31f954c7131fd49

But that doesn’t always mean that soul wants to be saved. Satan’s greatest weapon in his spiritual warfare arsenal is to whisper into the vulnerable ears of my sons that they are not worthy of our love or God’s love. With those lies, he plants seeds of hopelessness that leads to behaviors only seen in those who have nothing left to lose.

I could draw a vivid picture of our life through my words but it wouldn’t even begin to sufficiently illustrate our reality, and even if my words didn’t fail me, you would have a hard time accepting that it is truth. Our “normal” has reached a new level of dysfunction.

This heightened level of warfare has led to us calling in reinforcements. After multiple trips to the emergency room in the last month, which has led to multiple acute stabilization programs, Ozzie’s doctor has deemed him unsafe to return home at present. She feels he in unsafe with himself and fears for the safety of the other children in the house. Once again we find ourselves in a place where to best love this child, we must surrender this child to God’s plan for him. That plan will involve intensive, inpatient treatment at a residential facility.

We are all heartbroken, hurting, and weary. My older kids are feeling beat up, both emotionally and physically, and Tyler and Braden have been significantly triggered by the events of the last months, setting us back a million miles in their therapeutic journeys.

We all want to curl up and cry.

This walk is so very hard, and I often count my blessings that I didn’t know how hard it would be prior to stepping into the fire, because I fear that I wouldn’t have had the courage to say yes to God’s call.

6ef66f1bdbe25d3a4aeb06b994ad3951

We are now trying to find some level of stabilization, both individually and as a family unit, for the injuries are severe after this latest round of battles. I look at my family and I am seeing the effect of living a life in crisis, and sympathize with the fact that everyone is trying to continue navigating “normal” life and everyday commitments while destruction and great loss play out behind closed doors.

In the past I have likened this way of living to pitching a tent on the battlefield. War rages on, and you can hear the whistle of bullets as they pass dangerously close, but you try to continue carving out a life amid the destruction.

Just last week, as Ozzie lay in an emergency room bed raging over the fact that I wrestled the handful of pills out of his mouth, thus preventing him from ending his life, I sat trying to submit my last college assignments for the week through my cell phone before the 1:00am deadline. It is crazy and absurd that this has become our “normal.”

I share this because without an understanding of the chaos that is driving our world, life may appear “fine” to the untrained eye, and it is because of this lack of awareness that expectations placed upon Toby and I and our children result in “final straw” moments of emotional collapse.

As a family we need more empathy and support and less judgement.

So, please be tender with my troops.

They have been fighting a war most of you will never have to experience. They are choosing to step on the battlefield day after day, to fight for the future of a child who has walked through hell and feels undeserving of anything more.

Please pray for us.

6c6bcda63a9a634d381339f07f223b0e