Tag Archives: foster care

A Visit with Brandon


Some of you may remember Brandon.


Brandon is one of Tyler’s 4 biological siblings.


We met Brandon for the first time 4 years ago when we gathered all of Tyler’s biological siblings together for a reunion at Patchwork Farm. After many years of being separated and losing contact with each other, they were finally reunited.


At that time, Brandon was the last sibling remaining in foster care and the hurt he carried was evident in his countenance. At the time we inquired about Brandon and whether we could be considered a possible placement, only to discover that his foster parents were in the process of adopting Brandon. We were thrilled with this wonderful news. Brandon was finally getting the forever home he deserved to have.

At our next reunion the affect of being chosen and finally having his forever home was evident on his face. He was a different child and the joy radiated from him.


Fast forward 6 months and after months of not hearing from Brandon or his adoptive parents I received the heartbreaking news that Brandon’s adoptive mother (of 9 months) had been taken from him by cancer. My heart broke for Brandon as I mourned the loss of Tina and wept at the cruelty of this earthly life for a child that waited so long for a mother only to have her snatched away.

Over the next few years we struggled to remain in contact with Brandon. His adoptive father became sick and was in and out of the hospital which led to Brandon being moved frequently through foster homes and residential facilities. We would call and send letters and not get any response. We weren’t sure where Brandon was but Tyler continued to petition us to seek Brandon out.

(Of all Tyler’s siblings Brandon is the one Tyler feels most connected to. I think this is a natural consequence of the two of them being the last of his siblings to be adopted. Years after the other children were settled into their forever homes Tyler and Brandon continued their court-ordered monthly visits as wards of the state.)

Finally, out of the blue, we received a call from a woman who  had been assigned Brandon’s case. Once again Brandon finds himself in limbo as his adoptive father is dying and has only been given months to live. This social worker is working to create a network of support for Brandon. She is seeking out family (both biological and adoptive) that can be a network of support for Brandon, and Brandon gave her our names. She reached out and asked if we would like to have contact with Brandon, would like to be a source of support, and what we would like that relationship to look like.

I explained our situation to her and shared with her the transition we are currently navigating as Ozzie returns home from residential care and we work to find stability with this transition. I expressed our desire to have contact with Brandon and work on reconnecting him with Tyler but couldn’t commit to anything more (ie: weekend visits, etc.) until we evaluated where Ozzie and the other children were emotionally following Ozzie’s return home.

It is with baby steps we are moving forward as we try and assess what our role in Brandon’s life is supposed to be and try to hear God amidst the noise in my head.

Last Friday Tyler and Brandon had their first visit after almost 3 years apart. I wish I could adequately convey the emotions felt when Tyler saw Brandon pull up with his social worker and climb out of the car. Tyler raced across the playground, enveloping Brandon in rib-crushing bear hug.

I was concerned that Tyler would struggle with the difference in Brandon’s looks from the brother he remembers. At age 16 Brandon looks very different from the 13-year-old Tyler had in his head, but that didn’t deter him at all. They picked up right where they left off and it was as though no time had passed at all.


Brandon fell into the role of big brother seamlessly and it was sweet to watch their interactions.


They spent an hour and a half playing baseball and loved every minute of it.

When it was time for Brandon to leave both boys struggled to say good-bye. I am sure both were wondering if and when they would see each other again. With a history like the one they’ve endured as children of the system, good-byes can feel final, because their history shows them that good-byes often are, but we reassured them that another visit was planned in a week which made leaving the park easier on both of them.


I am not sure what the future holds for Brandon but we petition you for prayers. It seems so unjust that one child should have to endure all the heartbreak Brandon has had to endure in his short 16 years on earth.

Please pray for him.


Lots of changes for Tyler


This past month has been a big one for Tyler. He has had some “big news” moments that should be recorded for posterity so we will dedicate this blog to all the latest Tyler news…

Tyler continues to be blessed by equine therapy. Animals are one of Tyler’s greatest therapeutic tools and the affect this horse based therapy has had on his emotionally well being is astounding. He looks forward to these Saturday lessons and his skills and emotional stability have increased by leaps and bounds.

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He is currently working with a horse named Pumpkin. He outgrew Smokey (his first horse) and so his therapist was debating what horse to pair with him next. It is fascinating to observe this process. The pairing of rider and horse isn’t simply a match of size and skill but also a match of personalities, strengths, and weaknesses. After graduating from Smokey his therapist paired him with Rosie. It was not a good match. His trainer felt the pairing would go one way or the other. Either it would be a match made in heaven (assuming Tyler was confident and dominant enough to lead Rosie) or it would go the other way and Rosie would walk all over Tyler (figuratively not literally 🙂 ) leaving him feeling insecure and frustrated. He wasn’t dominant enough to manage Rosie and she definitely set him back a few paces in his confidence. He is now paired with Pumpkin and the match is perfect. He is gaining confidence and connecting with her in a way he never did with Rosie.

The lesson begins with horse care as Tyler brushes down his horse, cleans her hooves, and saddles her.

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Then he climbs on and has an hour long lesson where he learns the skills of horsemanship while also doing therapeutic work with his equine therapist. He loves it and has made awesome gains.

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He now rides independently with confidence. He can stand in the stirrups, trot and canter.

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Glade Run Adventures has proven to be a great blessing in Tyler’s life!

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Tyler has also acquired a new smile in the last few weeks.

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Once again Tyler’s bottom front tooth broke. A few years ago he chipped that front tooth while on a bouncy pad at a corn maze outing. Since then he has had it repaired many times. Its location and Tyler’s natural bite has resulted in that cap breaking off time after time. The last time it happened his dentist felt it was beyond his scope of ability to fix, fearing the break was too close to the root, so I set up an appointment at Children’s Hospital’s dental department. We went in for a consultation and they had no concerns about their ability to patch it. They also took note of his two canine baby teeth that were holding firm despite the adult teeth pushing in from above and erupting through the gums just north of the firmly held baby teeth. They suggested that we pull those two baby teeth at the same time they were repairing the chipped tooth.

A few weeks ago was the follow-up appointment. Toby took Tyler. For the dental work they used laughing gas and put Tyler into a twilight sleep. Tyler left the appointment having no memory of the experience, the only evidence that anything had happened was his new and improved smile.

He came home eager to show it off and share the good news that the dentist gave him permission to have ice cream for dinner that night.

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Tyler’s look changed even more this week with the addition of glasses.

Yes, you read that right. Tyler is now in glasses, leaving this Momma as the last one standing without spectacles. Toby and all my kiddos now wear glasses in some fashion or another while I continue to hold on proudly to the bragging rights of 20/20 vision.

Last week at Tyler’s annual physical he failed his vision screening. He score 20/20 in one eye and 20/70 in the other so his pediatrician sent us for a more comprehensive eye exam. His appointment was Tuesday morning. We went in and sure enough glasses were in order.

His vision test confirmed a strong right eye, a weak left eye and a stigmatism that led to the recommendation of glasses for Tyler. These glasses won’t need to be worn 24/7 but rather for anything that requires seeing details both near and far (like  school work, computer work, movies, etc.)


Once the need for glasses was confirmed we heading out to the display cases to pick a style.


Tyler, who is typically pretty indecisive, knew very quickly the frames he wanted. Once he found the style he liked he didn’t want to try on any others.


His glasses will be in on Friday and we will officially have another “four-eyes” in the family!

Tyler continue to makes strides in all areas of his life. This has  been a breakthrough year for Tyler, as he has really come into his own. His growth physically, emotionally, behaviorally, socially, and academically have been HUGE.

School has been a dream this year. The struggle is a thing of the past and we can now sit, do lessons, and really have fun with it without the usual battles, bribing, and tears (mine, not his!). It is no longer like pulling teeth. He is engaged, eager, and so much fun. Much of his success comes from the additional reading support he is getting thanks to the Children’s Dyslexia Center of New Castle and Jan Newman, his Barton Reading tutor. This week he passed his level 3 assessment and is now in Barton Reading level 4. This is a HUGE accomplishment and a reflection on how hard Tyler is working.


Tyler has come so far. He is a delight. My days are so starkly different now than they were two or three years ago that I sometimes forget that things weren’t always this easy with Tyler.



His is in his renaissance, fully thriving and finally “settled.”

This past Friday he was invited to a friend’s birthday party from church. Tyler and his best friends went for pizza and laser tag to celebrate Carter’s birthday. It was the first time I was able to simply drop him off with a “Have Fun!” farewell and have no worries. He had a wonderful time.

What joy fills my heart to see my youngest thriving.


We are so proud of you, Tyler!

The Blessing of Blogging


Isn’t it a beautiful thing to watch God work…

Taking our vision and transforming it into something so much greater than anything we could have planned ourselves.

How grateful I am for the journey God has taken me on these last 5 years. When we opened the door to the world of adoption we had no idea the wild ride we were boarding. We didn’t anticipate the twists, turns, sharp drops, and stomach flips. We also didn’t anticipate the magnificent peaks, thrilling climbs and heavenly views.

Perhaps that is why God opens doors an inch at a time. Had he swung the door wide open revealing the entire ride I don’t know that I would have been brave enough to climb on. Rather He has revealed it a turn, a hill, a twist at a time, allowing us to grow in our ability to trust that as the ride conductor He won’t push us past our limit. Through the journey He taught us that if we simply lean into the wind and trust the creator of the ride we find ourselves buckled into then there is no need to fear the tracks ahead, regardless of what the next turn brings.

Often in the midst of a journey we struggle to see past the climb we find ourselves on. We can easily lose sight of where we began and how far we have come. I think this is revealing of the shortsightedness we as human beings struggle with.

In the scriptures the word “Remember” appears in various forms over 300 times. The significance of this word is revealed in the frequency God commands us to “remember.” Our Father in Heaven knows us. He created us. He is aware of our shortcomings and our shortsightedness. History has revealed men’s propensity for forgetfulness especially when it comes to remembering lessons revealed to us during the strain of an upward climb when we then find ourselves coasting on a straightaway.

One month after Tyler moved in with us I was prompted to embark on a different journey, one well outside my comfort zone. I felt called to record the journey we were just beginning by way of a blog. I knew nothing about blogging, was pretty much absent on social media, preferred my privacy, and was downright frightened of putting our journey out there for everyone to observe and perhaps judge, but for every reason I found to not move forward with this prompting three more reasons why I needed to take this leap were revealed.

This blog began as an act of obedience. I didn’t know what, if anything, would come of my efforts. When I began it was painfully laborious as each blog entry took hours to complete. As time passed I became more comfortable with the medium, more adept at typing, and more at peace with the transparency that comes with recording my life in this way. What was initiated by a prompting became a source of joy. This blog became my gift to my kids as I recorded the story of our journey for them to have when they are older. It became a way to connect with, offer support, and glean support from others who are walking their own hard road. It became my therapy, my safe place to work through my own emotions and find a resolution and peace that I could only seem to find through words. By sharing with others, I found a piece of myself that I didn’t know existed, a voice that up until then had been silent. As we rode this ride of adoption the purpose and blessings of this blog evolved as we evolved, and in this journey I found my own calling.


This week I typed my 1000th blog and I have reflected on all that we have experienced together. While the purpose that drives me to sit before the keyboard has evolved over the last five years, the joy I have found in sharing our story continues to be one of the greatest blessings in my life.

How grateful I am for this journey.

In trauma therapy with Tyler we continue to lay the groundwork for EMDR, a needed next step in healing from PTSD. Unfortunately, we can’t get anywhere near the past before Tyler shuts down. It is far too big and scary for Tyler to face. Knowing we need to get him comfortable with looking backwards in time we decided to start small and safe, moving from his early years with us, prior to his adoption, backwards through time.

The goal is to help him feel safe remembering good times so that he will eventually feel safe looking at the scary stuff, so he then can begin to heal from the scary stuff.

This is where the blog comes in. Originally intended to be a scrapbook of Tyler’s life, something for him to hold onto and treasure as an adult, it has now become a powerful therapy tool. I have had past years of blog entries printed up into “digital scrapbooks.” We have been using these blog books in therapy to look back and REMEMBER, so that Tyler might become less afraid of looking to the past.

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Every night Toby reads a few blog entries to Tyler as his bedtime story. Tyler now looks forward to this special time of getting to hear stories in which he is the lead character.

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We also bring these book to therapy with Miss Tina and read some entries with her, helping Tyler to become more comfortable with remembering, working on identifying emotions felt in those moments from his past, and utilizing those entries to start building a life book for Tyler, something he currently does not have.

When I began blogging 1000 entries ago I had no idea the magnificent journey we were embarking on. I had no idea what God’s purpose was behind the prompting. I had no idea what a lifeline this virtual conversation with all of you would be for me. I especially had no idea that these words, penned for another purpose…

To encourage others and be encouraged, to serve as a form of therapy for myself, to record our story of hope and healing for future reflection…

Would end up being the very tool needed to help Tyler heal.

It is beautiful how God is using Tyler’s own journey, his own story, his own reflections, to heal him from the trauma of his past. It is so divinely perfect and beyond anything I could have planned or orchestrated myself. This daily practice has also blessed us in another way. It has helped us to “Remember.” Remember the struggles, the climb, the self doubt, the worries, the fear…all so distant now. By rereading the stories from that first year of our adoption journey I remember how hard it was and am humbled by how far God have taken us, and the miraculous work He has performed in all of us, refining us and making us better than we were before. 

When God cracks open a door and asks us to step inside without seeing exactly what we are walking into we can trust that is we simply obey and take a step of faith He will take us on an incredible journey, a journey that’s purpose is often unseen until years down the road.

Thank you for walking with us through these last 1000 blogs. We couldn’t ask for better traveling companions as we reflect on and “Remember” God’s goodness in our life.

Tyler’s Birthday Bash



Often in our celebration of all the beautiful blessings that come with adoption, we fail to acknowledge the many losses that also are tied to it. For a child to land in a position that makes them free to be adopted a loss had to preempt it. For some children the loss, or the series of heartbreaks leading up to an adoption are greater than others, but every child’s adoption story contains an element of loss.

This is true for both of my boys.

Both had a tragic beginning filled with neglect, abuse, loss and heartache. Both were in unsafe situations. Both deserved a better life than the one they were living. In both cases CYS and the judges involved knew that they needed removed from their birth homes. It was 100% the right call. But even with all of that there is a feeling of sadness at the heart of both of my boys, who grieve the loss of the life they once had.

For both my boys, the loss of their biological siblings is a huge part of that sadness. While they lived as victims of abuse and neglect their siblings were their allies, their confidants, their safe place in an unsafe world. In Tyler’s case his siblings also became his saviors.

Tyler has four biological siblings. He is second to the youngest with his sole sister younger than him. In his early years it was those three older brothers that made sure he got food, that took extra hits in an effort to stave off some of the abuse directed at their younger siblings, and who comforted and held him when they were all locked in a closet together. Tyler’s brothers were not only are his siblings but his hero. They may have even saved his life. When Tyler was only two years old, his two older brothers (ages 8 and 6 at the time) took advantage of an opportunity to escape and they fled the house. Police discovered Michael and Brandon walking down a busy road, carrying their little brothers. It was winter time and Tyler was just wearing a diaper. That act of heroism led to an investigation that revealed all the horrors happening behind closed doors and resulted in the five of them being removed from the home.

Tyler and his four siblings ended up being placed, and eventually adopted, into five different homes. When we came into the picture. Tyler and Brandon were the last two that hadn’t been adopted. At that point the siblings had all lost contact from each other, which set me on a mission to find them and reconnect them for Tyler’s sake. A few years ago we were able to get all five of them together for a picnic at our house. What an amazing day that was as siblings, separated by court rulings, miles, and years, finally came back together. Since then we try to get them all together a couple times a year but inevitably a few can’t come or end up canceling at the last minute.

This year as we were planning Tyler’s birthday, we asked him what he wanted for his birthday and he replied, “All I want for my birthday is to have all my siblings together…all 8 of them!” Tyler’s inclusion of Grace, Molly, Rusty and Ozzie to his list of biological siblings warmed my heart. It is crazy to think that Tyler does indeed have 8 siblings.

This got the ball rolling, as we made plans to get all his siblings together for his birthday. The first order of business was to choose a venue. Because of the disconnection and awkwardness that comes from not seeing each other for a year we thought it best to plan Tyler’s party around an activity rather than a dinner. I know Tyler does better in emotional situations if he has a physical outlet for his nervous energy, and I thought his siblings might be the same, so we planned Tyler’s birthday party at Flight Trampoline Park. My thought was that they could interact and catch up while playing together, making the entire experience less threatening for all involved.

As the event neared, Tyler’s excitement grew. He couldn’t wait for his special day. He couldn’t wait to see his biological siblings. Then the calls began to come in as siblings had to RSVP their regrets. One by one we heard back from each sibling, expressing their regrets that other life obligations kept them from being able to attend. I understood. Life happens and trying to coordinate 5 different families’ schedules is next to impossible, but Tyler was crushed.

Then we heard from Michael, and Michael (Tyler’s oldest brother) said he was coming and couldn’t wait to see Tyler.

Now I had three empty slots in my 10 jumper reservation and was looking for warm bodies to fill the spots that were left vacant by Tyler’s sibling canceling. Tyler wanted to invite some of his friends from co-op or church, but I hesitated doing that because I wanted to make sure Michael and Tyler could connect and catch up and I didn’t want Tyler’s attention split between his brother and friends, so instead we invited the Hudaks to join us, since they are like surrogate siblings to Tyler anyway!

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It was a perfect solution. Tyler had Michael to jump with, Rusty had Lucas, Molly had Olivia, and Ozzie and Michael’s little sister jumped together.

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We arrived Monday night a half hour before the party was scheduled. Our sweet party planner took over, handling the decorations, confirming our pizza order, collecting gifts and handing out the jumping socks for the kids to wear.

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She was awesome and I had to do NOTHING all night. It was lovely.

They even allowed us to begin jumping a half hour early since the crowds were low. Since we had an open jumper slot Toby joined the kids on the trampolines.

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At 6:30 Michael’s family arrived. Tyler couldn’t believe how tall his older brother had gotten. Michael is now 17 years old and 6’3″ inches tall.

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It was a delight to see the two of them together. As disappointed as Tyler was by his other siblings being unable to come, I think perhaps it was a gift. It gave Tyler a unique opportunity to bond with his oldest brother, who he sees least often.

At the trampoline park there were different play areas.

There was a huge open jump area with trampolines lining the floor, where the kids could jump and do flips.

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There was a laser obstacle course that was like something from a spy movie, where players moved through a dark room filled with lasers and tried to navigate to the other side without touching them. It was a race to beat others’ times.

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There was a American Ninja Warrior obstacle course comprised of four different courses that players tried to move through without falling or touching the ground.

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And then there was the Dodge Ball court where Michael and Tyler spent most of their time playing together. Like Tyler, all of his siblings are incredibly athletic and competitive, and they had a blast playing dodge ball together.

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At 7:30 our time on the trampolines were over and we moved upstairs to the party room, where our sweet party planner took over and served up pizza and drinks to the kids while the adults enjoyed some time to visit.

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After pizza came cupcakes, as we sang to Tyler and watched him blow out his candles.

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Then Tyler opened his gifts. The Hudaks gifted him with birthday money which resulted in Tyler excitedly declaring, “I’m RICH!”

And Michael’s family gave him two new board games. Tyler also received a special gift just from Michael: a Steeler’s football. Perhaps the greatest gift came in the form of the birthday card that Michael wrote to Tyler which read:

“Happy Birthday, Tyler. I love you so much. I always think about you. If you ever want to talk to me you can call. I hope you had a great birthday. Love, Michael.”

It was such a special evening. We were sad that not everyone could join us, but perhaps it was all part of God’s plan. Tyler had a special night connecting with his oldest brother… his first, and greatest, hero.

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At the root of adoption is heartbreak and loss,. To not acknowledge that is a tragedy. There is no way I can take that heartbreak away from either of my boys, as much as I’d love to. All I can do is commit to them that I will do all I can to restore some of that loss through moments like this. I can’t give them back their old life…I wouldn’t, for their sake…but I can grieve with them for their loss, hold them when they cry, acknowledge that adoption is born of tragedy, and help them hold onto the safe parts of their past that are important to them…like the siblings that love them.

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Therapeutic Thursdays: Lessons I’ve Learned Along the Way


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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Angels Come in all Shapes and Sizes



He was a big man. Standing 6’5″, he towered over Ozzie. Like Oz, he was nervous and unsettled, unsure of this unorthodox meeting. His hands were worn and calloused, and I could feel the effects of hard living on his hands as he stood to greet me with a hand shake.

He was broken.

Like, Ozzie, he carried the weight of a horrific past on his shoulders, bent by the burden and misplaced shame of an abused child.

But when he finally looked up I could see his soul shinning out of his pale blue eyes. Under that mountain of grief, pain, and survival behaviors, lay a heart so big and so vast.

He was a kind man.

While his speech and demeanor were tough and rough, it didn’t take long to see the gentle kindness that was at the heart of this goliath.

I didn’t know what to expect. I approached the meeting with prayers and fasting, certain this was orchestrated by God, but fearful of well-intended plans derailing, causing even more hurt to the two souls who we were trying to help heal.

When Tina approached me a month or two ago with a therapy idea so off the books and unorthodox, I was surprised. In a world of privacy laws and HIPPA regulations, what she was proposing was unheard of. She had never done anything like it before and all she could say to justify this unusual therapy approach is, “God has been laying this idea on my heart for 8 months. What do you think?”

My surprise turned to hope as she further explained her idea. She wasn’t even done explaining her thought process when the Spirit confirmed that this was God-orchestrated. Tina was simply the faithful messenger.

She explained that she has another patient she works with. He is a 6’5″, mid-forty year old man, who is seeking therapy for the first time to address childhood abuse he suffered at the hands of his father. She explained she had been working with him for the last two years and every time she meets with him, she sees Ozzie 30 years in the future.

Their stories are eerily similar. Their abuse, almost identical. Their self hatred and guilt and belief that they should have been able to fix it or stop it, equally misplaced. They both struggle with the same self hate, the same anger, and the same intense anxiety and depression, as a result of being abused as innocents, and Tina felt that perhaps, in a world of feeling so alone, they might finally find understanding and healing in each other.

This week they met for the first time, with Tina, Toby and I there to offer support.

As this gentle giant shared his story of abuse with Ozzie, Ozzie stared in awe, interrupting with, “Me too!”

As this grown man listened to Ozzie share the atrocities he experienced at the hand of his birth parents, we watched as this grown man wept, perhaps seeing himself as a child in Ozzie’s small stature.

They bonded over a shared past and the same current struggles.

The compared coping strategies, confided current worries, and expressed the struggles they have now in trusting people and allowing others to love them.

It was divinely therapeutic.

This grown man was able to look at Ozzie and say to Oz what his childhood self most needed to hear.

And Ozzie was able to listen to “B’s” story, and the poor choices he made in adulthood because of misplaced anger, and realize that he has a choice in what he does with his abuse story moving forward. Ozzie can choose to take that anger and hurt others, or work through that anger and choose better than his birth parents.

From this man came words of encouragement,

 As well as  words of admonishment, “Ozzie, we NEVER hurt women. It doesn’t matter how angry a man feels inside, he never takes that anger out on his mother.”

“B” cheered Ozzie’s talents, listened to his stories, wept for his pain, praised his courage as a survivor, and connected with him over their shared past.

For the first time, in perhaps both of their lives, neither felt alone in their pain.

It was an odd matching…this tall, shy, blue-collared man and this small, precocious, four-eyed boy. Who would have thought, in a world filled with 7.5 billion people, they would find their greatest support in each other…

Only a Great, Almighty, Heavenly Father…

One who looks down on both of them and sees precious, broken, greatly loved sons!

God is good. Always good!


“Empowered to Connect”


empowered to connect

On April 7th and 8th I had the opportunity to attend an “Empowered to Connect” seminar, offered as a simulcast through a church in Beaver. It was 16 hours of education and insight into the effects of trauma on kids and how to parent kids from hard places.

I attended with hope that I would glean even a crumb of knowledge that would help me parent my adopted sons. We have been in crisis mode for the last six months and it has taken its toll on our family. I went, desperate for help, hoping for the missing key…and I got it.

It is not an exaggeration to say it was life changing.

And for the first time in a long time I felt HOPE.

It has been a dark, long, lonely winter and it was as though I had caught sight of the first frail crocus pressing up through the snow with promises of spring on its petals.

I felt the hope of “what could be” course through my veins as I drank in the answers to all the “whys” and hows” that have consumed me for so long.

I felt God calling.

I finally had the map to this foreign land I have been wandering through for the last four years. The key is in the trauma and how we address the trauma, rather than focusing on the behaviors which are the external manifestation to the trauma.

It was my Oprah Winfrey “ah ha” moment.

We had some pieces of the puzzle. Some of these things we were doing instinctually, some were tips we had read, and much of our wisdom came in the form of puzzle pieces given to us by our therapist, Miss Tina , but this experience was as though someone finally showed us the lid to the puzzle box. I finally understood what all those pieces were meant to look like when put together and it gave me an end vision of what we were working toward. It finally all made sense.

Now that we have answers we jump into this new way of parenting. It will be hard. It will require commitment. It will be a long, tiring, ever evolving road. But we now understand where that road began and where we are headed, and so we will begin again, better prepared for the journey!

I now give “an out” to all of you who follow and support us but perhaps aren’t in the trenches yourself from having to finish reading the second half of this blog in which I share a small sprinkling of this amazing therapeutic parenting strategy,

But if you are one of my fellow RADish families, or you are a friend or family member of someone who is struggling, perhaps you will find a nugget of wisdom that will help ease some of the weight you carry or someone you love is carrying.

For local friends: If you read this and feel so called to learn more there will be a rebroadcast of this incredible seminar, “Empowered to Connect”

“Pathway Church will be hosting the rebroadcast of the Empowered to Connect conference on Friday and Saturday, April 28th and 29th from 10:00am.-6:00pm. The program was developed by the late Dr. Karyn Purvis, a child development expert. Since its a rebroadcast, it will be a free event however childcare and lunch will not be provided. If you would like more information about the event, please contact Michelle Smith at milomiche410@gmail.com

(What you will get from the conference far exceeds what little information you can glean from my notes!)

Here is a smidgen of what I learned:

Understanding the science behind the effectiveness of TBRI:

The trauma our kids have experienced have had a neurological effect on how their brains function. Kids from hard places tend to have an underdeveloped “upstairs brain,” the part of the brain that allows us to think, reason, learn, remember and regulate our emotions. They also have a hypersensitive “downstairs brain,” that is responsible for survival responses. This means kids who have been traumatized react in extreme ways and take more time to regulate and calm down. They may even perceive non-threatening situations as threatening.

Trauma is a wounding. It overwhelms the ordinary adaptations to life. Trauma can create PTSD.   This is not just an emotional response to troubling events; it’s the expression of a persistent deregulation of body and brain chemistry.   Brain is assaulted by neurotransmitters — brain chemistry can be altered for decades.  With this change, arousing events can trigger flashbacks.

Trauma creates chaos in our brain.   The amygdala is a small, almond-shaped portion of the brain.  It’s the emotional part. It’s the primitive part of the brain.  It interprets messages that there’s danger or it’s safe.  It knows nothing about reasoning or cognitive functions. It deals with feelings and emotions. It controls emotional reactions such as fear & anger.

(Amygdala) It’s the alarm portion of the brain. It becomes highly active during and while remembering a traumatic incident.  It controls our behavior. When you’ve been in trauma it’s hypersensitive–overreacts to normal stimuli.

 Trauma freezes thinking.

Traumatized people have alterations in their brain. Memory is affected by lapses–there are deficits in verbal recall.

The frontal cortex ability is decreased. Less ability to do left-brain functions–it can’t distinguish a real threat from a false threat.  Intense stress or trauma is accompanied by the release of hormones.   A nerve running out of the brain to the adrenal glands triggers adrenaline and noradrenaline secretions.   Adrenaline and noradrenaline surge through the blood stream causing the heart to beat faster and prime the body for an emergency.

Then these hormones activate receptors on the vagus nerve running back to the brain. This causes the heart to continue to beat faster, but also signals various parts of the brain to supercharge that intense emotional memory.   These hormones assist the individual to mobilize in the event of emergency. They also sweep through the body, return to the brain, and trigger the release of more equally powerful hormones (cortisol, epinephrine and norepinephrine, oxytocin, vasopressin and opioids).

This flood of hormones produces the “fight-flight” response in most people.  When a trauma hits up to 70% of your brain-bound oxygen is diverted into your muscles to propel you somewhere else.

(This will read as bad behavior in our kids…hitting, breaking, biting, bolting)

But for a few individuals, it produces a “freeze” mode. In this instance, all those hormones are rushing through the body and have no appropriate physical response.  The stress has paralyzed the victim.

(This can read as defiance in our kids)

The behaviors can’t be fixed through consequences or bribes because what we are dealing with isn’t a “I won’t” issue. It is a “I can’t” issue. The response is a deep seeded physiological response to a perceived threat.

Every behavior has a function so we must ask ourselves, “What is the need behind the behavior?” In other words, “The behavior is the smoke. The need is the fire. We must train ourselves to look past the smoke to see the fire.”

When parenting kids from hard places we must see the trauma behind the behavior if we are to respond in a healthy healing way.


“If we attack behavior without compassionate insight as to why a behavior exists, then we never generate true lasting healing for our children.” -Karyn Purvis

What does that mean in a practical sense?

Step 1: Recognize what is happening in that moment by practicing mindfulness in our parenting. We must think “trauma” not “behaviors” when we see our children losing control (ie: fight, flight, or freeze mode.)

Step 2: Once we are in the trauma mindset we must step in to help our children regulate. We do this by approaching our children calmly and connecting by getting on their level, making eye contact, through touch, behavioral matching and playful interaction.  “Connection must come before correction.”

Step 3: Ask our child two key questions:

  1. Do you need help regulating? (We need to serve as our child’s external modem until they learn to self-regulate)
  2. Then ask, “What do you need?”

Step 4:  As you engage with your child apply strategies that empower our kids to succeed.

  1. Consider their physiological state. Are we addressing their cognitive well-being by meeting their physical needs? (i.e.: sleep needs, managing hydration, managing blood sugar, regular physical activity, etc.)
  2. Apply ecological strategies. The ecological strategies help us design our schedule and environment so that we can avoid common breakdowns through the day. We do this by:
  3. Managing transitions. Transitions are hard for our kids (even good transitions) because they represent change and the unknown. Consider our children’s life experiences and what transitions they have lived through and we suddenly become more empathetic with the heightened emotional response we get when a daily or life transition takes place for our kids. We can help them manage by giving them reminders, announcing upcoming transitions, and giving five minute warnings.
  4. Develop regular rituals (routines that foster connection) to anchor parts of your day which will increase feeling of security in kids that come from hard places (i.e.: prayer times, bedtime stories, playtimes)

Step 5: Give our children the tools needed to self-regulate. Help them discover a tool box of self-regulation tools that help them regulate when they go into fight, flight or freeze mode. Some ideas include: the use of a weighted blanket, chewing gum, physical activity, or calming activities.

Step 6: Respond in an IDEAL way.

Immediately. We should be addressing behaviors within 3 seconds.

Directly. Go to them, make eye contact, use an authoritative voice, use appropriate touch and playful interaction.

Efficiently. Our level of response needs to meet the level of the behavior. “Don’t use an elephant gun to kill a fly.”

            Levels of escalation:

Level 1: (Playful Engagement) Low level of escalation, sassy tones,  interrupting.    Parent response: playful engagement, “re-dos,” actively learning.

Level 2: (Structured Engagement) Higher level but there is no physical threat. No one is in danger. Parent response: Be firmer, try to get them to express their needs verbally through negotiation rather than using behaviors to express their frustration.

Level 3: (Calming Engagement) Situation has escalated to the point where a child needs help regulating and calming themselves. Parent response: help the child regulate.

Level 4: (Protective Engagement) Active threat of danger and harm.  Parent response: Provide safety for all involved.

(If engaging in an IDEAL way the situation should never escalate to a level 4.)


Action Based. Resolution should be action based, allowing our kids to make amends through their actions.

Leveled at the Behavior. We never attack the child’s character. That only feeds into feelings of self-loathing and shame. Correction should ALWAYS be leveled at the behavior not the child. Making it clear that while their behavior is not o.k. they are still deeply loved. Children who come from a trauma background have a very powerful shame core. Our interactions with our children should never feed into that internal shame. “These children bled before they came to us. They shouldn’t bleed in our care.”

Step 7: Powerful response tools to help our children and the situation from escalating:

  1. “Are you asking me or telling me?” (level 1)
  2. “Try that again with respect.” (level 1)
  3. “Do you need a re-do?” (level 1)
  4. “No hurts. Please try that again.” (level 1)
  5. Give two choices. “Which one do you choose?” (level 2)
  6. “Do you need a compromise?” (level 2)
  7. “It looks like you are having a hard time regulating. What do you need right now?” (level 3)

Step 8:  After the interaction everyone involved should leave the experience feeling calm, connected, and content. That is successful engagement.

Step 9: Other strategies that build trust and foster attachment:

–         Say “yes.” For every “no” you give your child you should be seeking seven opportunities in the day to say, “yes.”

–         Use Time-in rather than Time-outs.

–         When things are hard bring the child closer rather than sending them away.

–         Parent with resolutions rather than consequences.

–         Have daily planned one on one time daily to connect with each child. This time (10 minutes) should begin with connection (eye contact and touch), should be child led play. During this time the parent should not teach, parent, or question. Let the child lead the play. Match their behavior, praise their character and engage in healthy touch. Daily one-on-one time fosters attachment.

–          Create purposeful learning activities to teach life skills during non-escalated times. During a meltdown is not the time to teach the importance of saying, “please.” Instead these important life skills should be taught through playful engagement. (ie: playing “Mother may I “PLEASE” take three steps?”)

So how will you know if TBRI is working? Karyn Purvis’s answer:

“You will know it is working when joy and laughter return to your home.”

“Equipped with deep understanding of attachment, sensory processing, brain chemistry of fear, the impact of my history, and strategies to connect, we can bring deep healing to our children.” – Karyn Purvis


Welcome Home, Ozzie!


A potholder Ozzie made me in art therapy.

Ozzie is back home.
And it is a blessing.
This last month ended up being a true gift from God and we witnessed God’s hand in the entire experience from start to finish. I am grateful for Tina’s nudge to consider the 28 day program because the experience was life changing for all involved.
It gave my other children a month of respite to heal from secondary trauma, as well as get some therapeutic help to address the hurts and fears that come with living with a loved one who has Reactive Attachment Disorder.
It also gave Toby and I an opportunity to regroup, be still, and make adjustments to our home life and parenting techniques, changes that are hard to give thought to in the midst of a crisis. We were able to do some family triage and assess the condition of our other children and address their hurts and needs during this period that Ozzie was at Mercy Hospital. We were able to move from a stance of reactive parenting to proactive parenting, considering the needs of all five of our children and putting plans and programs in place during this quiet time of rest.
And I was able to do this without any worry or guilt, knowing that God was the driving force behind this experience and that Ozzie was in a good, safe, therapeutic place getting the help he needed while we were preparing for his return home.
The 28 day treatment program he was in was through Mercy Hospital. When pushed to consider sending Ozzie away for more intensive, in-treatment therapy I was a nervous wreck. I hated the idea of one of my kids being away and I worried that the experience would expose Ozzie to worse influences as he interacted and lived with other traumatized children. I worried that he would take his hospitalization as rejection or abandonment and that would lead to a bigger setback in our attachment work. I worried that in our effort to help him heal the experience would only lead to more hurt, but God was merciful and His hand was in every step of the process, and I was given peace about this needed step, and Ozzie agreed that he needed more help than Tina could offer in outpatient therapy, so five weeks ago today we drove him down, checked him in, and said, “We love you,” as Ozzie was led back into the hospital by staff members.
It was a hard day.
But that day was the beginning of huge breakthroughs for Ozzie.
You see, as incredible as Tina is, as an outpatient therapist she only sees Ozzie once a week for an hour, and as much amazing work as she has been able to do with both my boys in their therapy sessions, at the end of that hour, despite what breakthrough we might be on the cusp of, we must end the session and pick it up again in a week. This is the greatest blessing of an in-treatment program. The breakthrough happens and then there are staff with Ozzie 24/7 that can immediately help him process the experience, and that rolls right into an individual therapy session the next hour, and then group therapy two hours after that, etc. There is a momentum that is gained through therapy session after therapy session that results in huge leaps that simply can’t be gained in outpatient therapy.
Ozzie’s experience at Mercy was incredible and I have nothing but accolades to share about the program. I appreciated how incredible the staff was. They work with highly traumatized kids, many with a diagnoses of Reactive Attachment Disorder, so they get our journey in a way that many other medical professionals don’t, and are incredibly proficient at addressing the needs of these kids. On many visits to the unit I watched as they dealt with tantrums and meltdowns and did so in a kind, but effective way, quickly establishing control over the situation.
I loved how structured the program was. This is a necessity when dealing when a floor full of kids with special needs but was especially effective for Ozzie who, as a child on the Autism Spectrum, responds well to routine, schedules, and predictability.Each day followed the same format with mealtimes, school, individual therapy, group therapy, art therapy,  gym time, and quiet time in rooms for journaling.
I love that the system for addressing behaviors is a reward based system, which I find (when dealing with traumatized children) far more effective and healthy than a consequence driven system. This tends to be the case for children who have been abused because, honestly, what consequence can one even come up with that will have any impact given the horrors they have already experienced in their young lives. This makes these kids unaffected by most consequences for their behaviors, so here they use a point system in which kids can earn points for good behavior and good choices. Their earned points give them a level ranking that determines their privileges. For example a child on level one gets to stay up an hour later than a child on level three. For snack time they can have cookies or chips while the child on level one gets to pick from the fruit bowl. A child on level one earns a longer phone call home or the privilege of picking the movie for movie night, etc. and if they stay at level one all week then on Saturday they get to pick a prize from a prize box that contains new toys like stuffed animals, books, puzzles and other fun treats.
I appreciated how strong the communication between staff and family was here. I never worried for Ozzie’s safety because everything that happened was so well documented. At our weekly update we would be read the staff’s notes for the week that would explain everything that happened that week from how many servings he had at each meal, to every good and poor choice he made in his interactions with staff and peers, as well as how staff addressed each of these incidents.
Communication with family was a high priority, as was improving family relationships. We had a family therapy session weekly, phone calls with Ozzie twice a day, and home visits weekly where he could spend up to 12 hours at home before returning to Mercy. This was an important piece of his treatment plan. First it ensured a continued, strong connection with family, dispelling any of Ozzie’s worries that his new family was leaving him, but also gave the therapist a better idea of his behaviors, as we were able to report about his interactions at home and they could talk in therapy about behaviors that maybe don’t reveal themselves in the hospital setting.
Another huge benefit of hospitalization is the fact that you have doctors and nurses on staff 24/7 which allow for drastic medication adjustments that couldn’t happen in an outpatient setting at the quick rate they can be adjusted when being monitored by medical staff. This was a key component in his treatment as we had to reduce his extreme anxiety that was at the root of many of his behaviors.
It was a month of breakthroughs for Ozzie as he delved into the past trauma and abuse at the hands of his biological parents. In one group therapy session he was asked to color a mask, reflective of his past trauma. The results were heartbreaking as he held up to his face a paper mask covered in black and blue bruises and red cuts. Following that session he was struggling so a male staff member took him for a walk to help him process the emotions he was feeling following the therapy session. He suggested another therapeutic tool and told Ozzie to imagine that he was Seth or Trista and say to his birth parents what seven year old Ozzie wished he could have said when he was being hurt by them.
Ozzie did.
He shouted and swore and released years of anger, hurt, and heartbreak that he never felt safe enough to express before…
and it was life-changing.
It was the first step in a series of major breakthroughs this past month.
Ozzie is now home, but no he is not “healed.”
The experiences he lived through will take decades to work through and process.
I don’t know that one ever completely “heals” after living through childhood abuse.
But he is feeling safer, more stable, and so much better than he was a month ago. He was very brave these past 28 days, facing some horrific demons in therapy, and making great strides which we will continue moving forward with in outpatient therapy. He is happy to be home and we are happy to have our little family back together again.
God is Good!

Healing Deep Hurts



Adoption is supposed to be forever.

Dissolving or terminating an adoption is the biggest “no no” in the adoption handbook.

All the classes, training, and hoop-jumping that a family goes through in the year or years leading up to adoption day are obstacles designed to weed out those who don’t have staying power.

Terminating an adoption carries with it a stigma.

It is a sticky subject and one I feel uncomfortable with because of the strong feelings of judgement I find myself engulfed in when I think about it.

Like so many of the parenting judgements I had when we began the adoption journey I couldn’t believe that anyone would be so cruel, so week, so lacking as to give up on a child they adopted into their forever home, but over the last few years I have had my eyes opened to the heartbreaking reality of the darker side of adoption. Where there once was only judgement there is now added empathy.

Most cases of dissolved adoptions don’t happen because a family gets bored or lazy or decides they’ve changed their mind. No, to dissolve an adoption is far too heartbreaking to pursue over something so trivial. No, usually a family’s decision to dissolve an adoption comes as a result of a family being at the end of their rope, seeing no other solutions, being fearful for their lives or the lives of their other children, feeling as though they are ill equipped to parent trauma as significant and scary as their child’s.

Let me be quite clear, saying goodbye to an adopted child is as heartbreaking and devastating as the thought of having to terminate your relationship with your birth child.

This is why this adoption taboo is rarely talked about. It is the hush hush, dark closet shame thrust upon families in crisis. And most often this controversy revolves around a child with Reactive Attachment Disorder. There is not a family on earth who can successfully parent a child with RAD and have everyone live to tell the tale without a powerful support system and a mighty God. For many families even that is not enough.

In my interactions with other RAD families I have heard the horror stories that would lead  most people to terminate an adoption. Stories like their RAD kid killing the family cat and leaving it by the front door for Mom to find…a family narrowly avoiding being poisoned by their RAD child after noticing dinner tasted a bit “off.”…fire starting, sexually deviant behavior, risk taking choices like climbing in a car with a stranger. These haven’t been our experiences with our two boys who have a diagnoses of RAD, but this is the reality of people in this community who have adopted children with severe early childhood trauma.

So while I don’t believe termination is ever the answer (there are other solutions to removing an unsafe child from a home and other solutions for stabilization) I do get it. I understand what it means to be a family in crisis. I understand having to parent hurts so deep and dark that no light can get in. I understand the walk of trying to love a child that is TERRIFIED of attachment and will do everything in his power to be unlovable so as to push you away. I understand the hurt, the fear, and the hopelessness of RAD, and I am less quick to judge those who feel they must give up.

We are being personally affected by another’s decision to terminate their adoption. The biological sibling of one of my boys now is back in foster care after that family has made the decision that they can’t parent that child anymore.

My heart has been aching for that child and also for that family.

The result of their decision has also profoundly affected our family. For the last month we have been a family in crisis. The news of a adoption termination with one of their bio siblings has destroyed any stability, trust and attachment that we have built. For the last few years we have, through word and action, worked to prove to our boys that families are forever, that adoption is forever, that we are going nowhere. My mantra repeated over and over again to the boys while they are raging is, ” I love you. There is nothing you can do that will make me stop loving you. You are not going anywhere.”

Because the root of RAD is fear.

These kids learned from an early age that adults can not be trusted. Adults hurt you. And connecting with and bonding with adults makes you vulnerable to more hurt. So they will do anything to keep you at arms length. It begins with subtle, passive aggressive behaviors and if that doesn’t scare you away they up the ante with harder and scarier behaviors until the moment of reckoning when that family gives up on them or they finally believe that there truly is nothing they can do that will make you leave. Every behavior is a test of your sticking power. So while they are raging and seem to be yelling, “I hate you! You’re not my mom! If you don’t let me go to a new home you’ll be sorry!” they are really crying out, “How about this? Will this scare you away? Will you love me still? Can I trust you?” And the trick is to look past the hate and see the fear that drives the behaviors.

This is what has been happening in our home this last month with Ozzie. Any security that has been built over the last few years has been shattered with that single bit of news. He now has it in his head that he is headed for foster care and is doing everything in his power to speed up his exit. It is heartbreaking to watch and has made for a month of violent, scary, and disruptive behaviors…behaviors that have resulted in Ozzie needing additional therapeutic help that exceeds what we are able to provide him with in outpatient treatment.

We share this mainly for the benefit of our other children who we would like to shield from the inquiries of where Ozzie is. They have suffered greatly this last month and we don’t want the added responsibility of having to explain Ozzie’s absence from church and other activities to rest on their shoulders.

Ozzie is in a special in treatment program for children with Reactive Attachment Disorder, getting 24/7 therapeutic care to stabilize him so that he can return home and continue forward with his outpatient therapy.

We have explained the necessity of inpatient therapy to Ozzie and the other kids by likening his emotional struggles to a person with a physical sickness. We discussed the treatment plan for a stomachache and compared it to someone’s emotional struggles. Initially a stomachache could be addressed at home with Mom. She might lay you on the couch, give you ginger ale and crackers and medication, and that might be enough to get better. If not the next stop would be a trip to MedExpress to see a doctor with more expertise who could dig a little deeper, trying to figure out the cause of the stomach ache, and give you new techniques or medication to try. This is comparable to outpatient therapy with Miss Tina. If you still were not feeling any better then the next step would be to go to the hospital where doctors with specialized diagnostic tools, and 24/7 care would be available, while they worked to figure out what was causing the stomachache and then stabilize you so that you can return home feeling better.

This is where Ozzie is at.

He is getting the help he needs to stabilize and the family is using this period of respite to regroup, to address the wounds inflicted on the other children, to reconnect as a family, and to rest and work on reconnecting as a couple. We will work on healing and stabilizing our home while Ozzie works on stabilizing himself.

He needed care beyond what could be offered at home or with Miss Tina. She made a case for why inpatient care was necessary and after prayer and many late night discussions we agreed, so Ozzie is working with the best to get the care he needs so he can return home,

and he can start believing we are in this for the long haul…

we are not going anywhere…

He is ours forever.

Beautiful Brokenness


(It is with a great deal of prayer that I share these words. This is the hardest blog I have ever written, but the most important message I’ve ever felt compelled to share. Warning: the writing is honest, raw, and may make you feel uncomfortable, but it is a message I feel the Lord calling me to speak. Please be merciful in your judgement  of my children and our family.)


Our road toward adoption began with an adoption survey.

Physicals were needed, financial statements were gathered. There were child abuse clearances and home safety checks. There was mounds of other paperwork that had to be submitted, but reality really hit when we sat down for the first time with our social worker and filled out the questionnaire that determined what background, struggles and disabilities we would be willing to accept into our home and into our lives.

The questionnaire is extensive. It is pages were long and listed hundreds of possible scenarios to which we had to answer: would accept, would not accept, or would consider. The intensity and severity of the situations increased as we worked our way from question one to the end of the form; beginning with simple, shallow questions like, “Would you accept a boy,” or “Would you accept a child who has acne?”

It then progressed to questions regarding levels of disability and what we thought our family could handle from disabilities as silly as, “Would you accept a child who wears glasses,” to situations as challenging as, “Would you accept a child with a feeding tube,” or “Would you accept a child that is HIV+?”

From there the questionnaire moved into presented behaviors, moving from the easy to address, “typical” childhood behaviors, into a list of extreme behaviors that can be seen in children with Reactive Attachment Disorder… Behaviors like: fire starting, hurting animals, false allegations of sexual abuse against previous foster parents, sexually acting out with other children, running away, stealing, compulsive lying.

As we moved toward the end of the questionnaire the scenarios became more and more intimidating and the reality of what we could be stepping into, as we considered adopting from foster care, hit us. But we knew God was calling us to walk down this unfamiliar and somewhat frightening road. We had to trust that He knew what our family could handle, and what children were meant to be ours, and most importantly I had to trust that he would protect my children who were already in the home and preserve our family through whatever challenges would come with this decision.

Toby and I didn’t enter adoption with the intention of finding a “perfectly unflawed” child that would be a beautiful and easy addition to our family. No, we weren’t THAT naĂŻve. We had read enough books and attended enough training classes to know it wasn’t going to be all sunshine and roses, we just didn’t realize how very trying it would be. We took a step of faith and trusted that God had a plan for us, and for the child we were opening our home to, and walked toward that calling.

On that questionnaire we said yes to every scenario except 3 of them. We felt that God could not work His miracles if we put parameters on His work. So we said “Yes” to a lot of scenarios that made us uncomfortable. There were only three scenarios we felt were beyond our capability to handle as a family, so out of a list of hundreds of “Yes, we will accept,” there were 3 “No, we won’t” answers.

Then we stepped back and waited on the Lord to work.

During the waiting process families are presented with potential matches. In these emails you can read through that child’s file that lays out their history and past trauma, reveals medical history and behaviors, and often contains a photo. After reading the file you can respond back to the agency whether you are interested or not. If you are then your family’s profile is added to the stack of other interested families that the social worker will read through, interview, and pick from.  The survey filled out at the beginning of the adoption journey plays a role in what children’s profiles get sent your way. Because we said “Yes” to so many scenarios, we were sent many child profiles to consider.

The interesting and miraculous part of our story is that Tyler and Ozzie’s profiles should have never been sent to us. There were only 3 things we felt ill-equipped to deal with and our two boys’ profiles both  contained those three non-negotiables. They were “broken” in a way that we felt ill-equipped to “fix.”

This was an important part of the journey. Heavenly Father was teaching us about trust, faith and surrender. He was teaching us about His power to heal. If He had sent us a child whose struggles were manageable with our own skill sets and strength then we would have missed out on this amazing journey of growth, and trust, and dependence on Him.

One of those non-negotiables that terrified us was RAD. We had attended the classes. We knew the symptoms. We had heard the horror stories. And nothing short of God calling would have convinced us to say, “Yes.” But we did, because we were called to.

Reactive Attachment Disorder is a brokenness unlike any other.


And living with a RAD child can often feel like Hell. It is a journey no one in their right mind would sign up for willingly. This journey can only be survived if propelled by a force far greater than a “desire to grow your family,” a “desire be a mom,” or a “desire to save a child.” It is a journey that must be led by a living God if one is to keep moving forward. There are some days that the only force keeping me from running away and not returning is the undeniable knowledge that this is my child, that God is driving this ship, and that He has the power to heal…the power to heal Ozzie’s wounds that were inflicted by the abuse of his birth parents, but also the wounds caused by the abuse inflicted on this family at the hands of Ozzie.

There is a brokenness in our home that comes with adopting a child with RAD…a reality that I never thought would be my life. I never thought I’d have to call the police to come and restrain my child so as to protect the other children in my home. I never thought I’d be walking the streets at 10:00 at night searching for my child who has run away for the second time this week. I never thought I’d be feeling the spit hit my face as that child screams “F*** You,” as he stand nose to nose with me. I never thought I’d live in a home where knives have to be locked up for everyone’s safety. I never thought I’d have a child maliciously threaten to make up false allegations of abuse if I didn’t let him quit school for the day.  My life is spent dodging flying plates, holding my child down until he is done raging, and locking the dogs in my bedroom because that child keeps hurting them.

This is the dark world RAD families live in.

This hell is a reality hidden from family and friends who can’t fathom the idea that our “polite, respectful, calm and obedient” son could ever cause a bit of trouble. Instead of support and empathy I all to often hear from unknowledgeable acquaintances , “Maybe you are just too hard on him. Maybe you just need to be more patient.”

If only….*sigh*

This is reality for RAD families. We suffer in darkness, putting on a show of stability and fulfillment for our neighbors, family members, friends and strangers, while being held captive by a pint size abuser in our own home.

And the greatest heartbreak in this whole thing is that these broken kids are only acting this way because of horrors and atrocities that have happened to them at the hands of the people that should have loved and protected them: their birth parents.

They learned from an early age that “love” hurts, and “love” leaves scars, and “love” is terrifying. The thing they fear more than anything else in the world is attaching to a family, and they will do EVERYTHING in their power to drive you away and keep you from loving them.

I have never fully articulated the reality of our life here on the blog but feel compelled to bring the reality of RAD into the light. You see, RAD’s power perpetuates and grows in the darkness. The power to manipulate and control only works when the reality is kept hidden. Like with many mental health disorders, there is a shame associated with the struggle. I think perhaps the additional stigma connected to adoption, and the scrutiny adoptive families are under, add to the struggle.

Being a family struggling to survive while being held hostage by Reactive Attachment Disorder is an isolating and lonely life.

I am tired of trying to sugar coat the struggle. I know too many families that have been destroyed by RAD, to many marriages that fell apart at the hands of RAD, to many adoptions dissolved by RAD, that I can’t keep quiet any longer.

There is no brokenness more devastating than RAD brokenness. One might look at the scattered, shattered pieces and think,

“This is hopeless.”

“This child is too far gone.”

“The damage done by the abusive birth parents is unfixable.”

It is easy to feel that way. I certainly have. But when I start to head down that road of thought I am reminded by my God who is bigger than any brokenness, that His power to heal exceeds the destruction. He raised men from the dead, and He can raise this family from the grave as well.

In Japan there is ancient art form that celebrates brokenness. This art form is called Kintsugi.

Kintsugi is said to have originated in the 15th century when a Japanese shogun broke a favorite tea bowl and sent it back to China to be fixed. But the repair job, which was done with metal staples – being the standard for repair at that time – detracted from the beauty of the bowl. Disappointed, the shogun enlisted a Japanese craftsmen to come up with a more aesthetically pleasing solution, and kintsugi was born.

Most people would like damages to their broken items to be concealed and hidden by repair making the object look like new. But the Japanese art of Kintsugi follows a different philosophy. Rather than disguising the breakage, kintsugi restores the broken item incorporating the damage into the aesthetic of the restored item, making it part of the object’s history. Kintsugi uses lacquer resin mixed with powdered gold, silver, platinum, copper or bronze, resulting into something more beautiful than the original.

My friend, Tauni, recently gifted me with a stone that had been broken into pieces and repaired using Kintsugi. The small smooth stone’s beauty is highlighted by veins of gold.

The stone was wrapped in a  beautiful card that that shared the history of this art form, that I had never heard of before, and also included her words of encouragement. Her words touched my heart, and the lesson to be found in this ancient art form, moved me.

Through this especially hard week I find myself carrying that stone around in my pocket, rubbing it between my fingers as a form of mindless meditation, and pulling it out of my pocket to examine the veins of gold and ponder on the message found there.

So often when confronted with brokenness in our life it seems that the solution comes down to one of two options: Either the broken object is disposed of, or the brokenness is hidden. With powerful super glue we piece the broken parts together, praying no one looks too closely and sees the flaws. The art of Kintsugi offers an interesting alternative to the brokenness of our lives. What if instead of discarding those things, people, and relationships that are broken,

Or instead of trying to hide the cracks or brokenness,

We instead, reveal them.

We bring them into the light.

We offer them as a living sacrifice to an Almighty Artist and allow  Him to mend the brokenness in a beautiful way.

What if we use them to showcase God’s ability to mend and heal…

For His healing of our brokenness is far more beautiful than an untouched, unmarred, perfect life.

Real Beauty,

Deep Beauty,

Substantial Beauty,

Lasting Beauty

Only comes from brokenness.

And it is by bringing those broken pieces into the light, and humbly offering them to the Master Potter, that healing happens and the real beauty of this life is revealed.

We are a hurting family, a suffering family, a broken family. We are shards of glass scattered across the floor, but that is not where we will remain. My Heavenly Father has shown me what he will create with our brokenness.

He is a master potter,

The MASTER Kintsugi artist,

And through our brokenness He is creating a magnificent work of art.