Tag Archives: foster care

The Gift of Friends

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It is not easy being the new kid.

I know this from personal experience.

As the child of an Army officer, my first 18 years of life were spend relocating to a new school, new town, new state, (and even occasionally a new country) every few years. I know the feeling of anxiety that accompanies walking into a new school, uncertain of what this new chapter will hold, just praying for one kind face that will invite you to sit at their lunch table.

Being the “new kid” is never easy, but despite the initial anxiety that accompanied every move, I loved the Army lifestyle. It wasn’t until I had to move between 10th and 11th grade that I really struggled, for as hard as it is to be the “new kid” at work, at church, or in the neighborhood, nothing is quite so scary as walking into a new high school and trying to find your place in the teenage hierarchy.

As I have watched Brandon adjust to life with us, he astounds me with his cheerful acceptance of a very hard life transition.

For as challenging as every move was when I was a child, his is far more challenging. When I moved to a new state I at least had the security of family and the familiar possessions that created a consistent feeling of HOME, wherever we were transplanted.

He, on the other hand, moved in with little to nothing of his own, leaving behind the familiar and stepping into the role of “new kid,” at home, at church and in a new high school.

And he did so with no complaint, with abundant gratitude, and astounding grace.

He made the transition with no complaint about the challenges of starting over once again, but simply gratitude for the opportunity to start again…

In a new home with his brother.

He is no stranger to new beginnings or heartbreaking endings. After he was removed from his biological home at age 7 he was shuffled through 15-20 foster placements. Adoption at the age of 12 was followed by the death of his new adoptive mom and then the declining heath of his adoptive Dad that then led to multiple group home placements.

He is no stranger to the feelings of being the “new kid,” and yet he never complains about the challenges that have come with it,

But I know it isn’t easy.

I’ve been there.

Which makes me all the more grateful for the families and youth at church who have opened their hearts to our newest addition and made him feel as though he belongs and is wanted. Their kindness to my son touches my heart in a way they will never truly understand.

Last Saturday we had a birthday party for Brandon. He had expressed that he had never had a birthday party with friends before, so we made plans to invite all the youth from church over for a bonfire.

Brandon was so excited!

The day was spent preparing for the party as we cleaned up the yard, cut wood for the bonfire, and bought and prepared food.

Brandon’s plans for the evening included eating, hanging out around the fire, and playing night games for hours with his new friends.

At 7:00 the first car pulled in and many more followed. I was touched by the showing of youth who came out on a very cold night to play in the dark and make Brandon feel welcome and loved. I know it was a sacrifice for many who had other things they could have been doing in the warmth of their homes,

but their sacrifice makes it all the more meaningful.

They wrapped Brandon in the warmth of their friendship, making him feel special rather than like another “new kid” who will eventually leave again.

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They demonstrated Christ-like love and it touched my heart.

After everyone left, and we were carrying in the food and trash, Brandon stopped us in the kitchen to give Toby and I a hug.

“Thank you for my party,” he said.

“I love you.”

There in the kitchen of our home our newest addition spoke those precious words for the first time, not by automatic response, nor out of obligation, but from his heart with sincerity and conviction.

And that ended up being the greatest gift of the night.

Time to Catch-up!

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Finally, after two months, I feel like I have found my footing. Autumn came in like a tornado with our scheduled stretched thinner than it ever has been before. The addition of another family member and all the appointments and obligations that come with that, in addition to deciding to go back to school to start working towards my degree, coupled with two boys in football,

Well, I never thought we’d be able to manage the chaos…

But life is balancing and we have found our new “normal.” Routines are established and I no longer feel as though I am sinking beneath the waves, which is why there has been a renewed influx of action on the blog. Football season has come to a close and I finally have found the missing moments needed to write and it is so good to be back.

Blogging is my lifeline. It is my therapy. It is the selfish indulgence that grounds me and gives me clarity, and I have missed it.

Here are some of the moments lived this last month.

“Exercising our Right to Vote!”

November 6th was Brandon’s 17th birthday as well as being election day! Miss Molly, having turned 18 this year, was able to exercise her right to have a voice and vote in her first election.

I was so proud of her. She took this responsibility seriously and spent hours researching the different candidates running for various offices, taking notes, making pro/con lists about their platforms, and then choosing the candidates that best reflected her beliefs. For her one-on-one time last week, I was able to join her as she researched candidates and we were able to have a meaningful discussion about how to choose a candidate. As a result of her example and effort I found myself walking into the voting booth better informed that I probably ever have been in past elections.

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Grace, Molly and I went to vote together. What a special experience it was for me to exercise the blessed right to have a voice, with my two daughters.

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“Big Bessie Bit the Dust”

Our big, beautiful 12 passenger van began to show distinct signs of a slipping transmission. Rather than wait for the inevitable, we decided to bite the bullet and begin vehicle shopping, something that is considered a dream evening for Ozzie and a living nightmare for me.

The death of Bessie required us to reevaluate our needs and priorities in a vehicle. As much as I love the space Bessie afforded us, She was killing us in gas consumption. It was finally decided that with the amount of driving I do weekly and the impending winter, that we would sacrifice room to stretch out for all wheel drive and improved gas mileage.

I let Toby take on the car search, with Brandon’s help, happy to remain at home and avoid the wheeling and dealing that comes with car shopping. I assured him that all I needed was a car with an engine, a radio, and a cup holder, and the gift of NOT having to pick out the car would ensure I was grateful for WHATEVER vehicle he brought home.

On a Friday evening after school, Toby and Brandon headed to Ohio to chase down a deal Toby found online. The vehicle was 3 years old, had only 9,000 miles, all wheel drive, got 20 miles to the gallon (compared to Big Bessie’s 10 miles/gallon), and it was an 8 seater. It sounded perfect and it was…

Meet our newest addition…name still to be decided! 🙂

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 “A Spooky Date with Tyler”

A few weeks before Halloween I received an invitation to join some of Tyler’s buddies from church and their mothers for a mother/son date to Freddy’s Haunts.

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“Freddy’s haunts is a family owned and operated haunted trail that was originally opened in 1993 under the name skull mountain haunted trail. 

We are an immersive, all enclosed haunted trail that is filled with the monsters from your worst nightmares. Our old-school haunted trail operates rain or moonshine with an enclosed waiting area so that you don’t have to endure the elements along with your worst fears.”

 

I had my reservations, given Tyler’s history of heightened fearfulness and my history of being a weenie, but Tyler begged to go and I thought it sounded like it could be an awesome bonding opportunity for Tyler and I, as well as a fun memory made with friends. I was glad our friends suggested it because I would have never considered it on my own, but it ended up being a blast!

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I think next year we will try to talk the entire family into braving Freddy’s!

“Flying High…Drone Style!”

Rusty has been having a blast with his 17th birthday gift…

A high-flyin’ drone!

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Our acreage makes for a perfect flying zone. With each flight Rusty gets stronger and stronger in his skills as a drone pilot and it is fun watching the footage of what he catches on film as the drone flies high above our heads.

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“Hocus Pocus”

As a family we dressed at the gang from Peter Pan for Halloween, but Grace also had a Halloween party to attend, independently, with her YSA group. Feeling that her Halloween costume wasn’t strong enough to stand alone, apart from the rest of Peter Pan’s crew, she began exploring options for a second Halloween costume.

She and two girlfriends ended up creating their own group costume and going as the three witches from the classic Halloween flick, ” Hocus Pocus.”

Grace dove into the family dress-up box of past Halloween costumes and emerged as Winifred Sanders:

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“Photo Fun!”

This past month we had the opportunity to capture the beautiful faces of some of our favorite seniors on film. Following Molly’s senior photo shoot we were asked by a few of Molly’s friends if we could take their senior photos as well. October provided the perfect backdrop and Grace, Molly and I have had fun playing “photographers” to these beautiful girls. At one photo shoot Molly couldn’t help but jump in front of the camera for some pictures with one of her best buddies!

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“Saying Farewell to Family Based Therapy”

Well, after nine months of weekly visits, our family based team is saying “good-bye.” Family Based therapy was put in place when Ozzie exited residential care, as an extra layer of support for his transition home. We were blessed with two awesome ladies as our “team.” They quickly became part of our life as they spent hours in our home and many hours sitting beside me in the ER when Ozzie was in crisis.

For nine months their primary objective was to work with our family on goals of increased safety and sibling connection, while our trauma therapist focused on EMDR therapy with Ozzie. This double layer of therapeutic care proved to be just the ticket and we have seen great growth in Ozzie these last 9 months.

Yesterday was our final session. It was with mixed feelings we closed out our file and said good-bye to these gals with a pizza party and celebratory gifts. They have been so good to us and this final session was no different. They brought the family pizza and gifted the kids with their own game of, “Whoonu,”

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A game that became a favorite in our therapy sessions!

They also generously gifted me with a gift certificate for a massage at a local spa with a reminder to continue making self care a priority.

What a blessing Lisa and Val have been to our family. I have come to realize, through this challenging walk of adopting kids from hard places, that angels do walk the earth today, and many are simply known as “therapists.”

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Here We Go Steelers…

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On the day following his actual birthday, Brandon received an unexpected birthday surprise. His placement social worker from “Second Chance” stopped by to wish him a Happy Birthday and gave him a card to open. Inside the birthday card were two tickets to Thursday night’s game.

His social worker is a huge sports fan and is a Steelers season ticket holder. She never misses a home game. Wanting to do something extra special for Brandon she handed over Thursday night’s tickets. Toby was Brandon’s “plus one.”

Thursday night arrived and Molly graciously offered to play “parent” while Grace and I were at our Thursday night classes and Toby and Brandon were at the game. Like a pro she transported Tyler to his dyslexia tutoring and Ozzie to his autism social skills class, allowing Toby the night off to go and make some special memories with his new addition.

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Toby and Brandon had a wonderful time. The weather was bitterly cold but that didn’t damper their enthusiasm.

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A COLD night in Pittsburgh.

The Steelers played a great game and came out the victors over the Panthers in a 52-21 win.

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There were some familiar faces in the crowd 🙂

The guys wandered in after midnight, raving about the game and the experience.

What a special shared memory they made that night,

All thanks to a social worker who goes above and beyond the call of duty to bless the lives of the kids in her care.

Brace Face #5

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This week Brandon joined the ranks of brace-faced kiddos at Patchwork Farm. For the next two years he will wear his orthodontic grill with pride as it moves and molds his smile into the grin of his dreams.

When Brandon moved in two months ago one of our first appointments was to the orthodontist to have him evaluated for braces. The orthodontist confirmed what we already suspected, that Brandon’s bite needed some major adjustment, so plans were made to add him to the ranks of past and present McCleery “Brace Faces.”

Grace and Rusty both needed braces and received orthodontic care through Gulland Orthodontics.

In the last 6 months, Tyler and Ozzie both began their orthodontic care at Spokane Orthodontics, an orthodontist 40 minutes closer to home who also accepts their insurance.

It was at Spokane Orthodontics that Brandon was evaluated for orthodontic care and found to be in need of braces.

Last Wednesday was the big day and he was very excited!

 

Brandon is self conscious about his smile and was thrilled to find out he was approved for braces. His appointment was scheduled for Halloween. We arrived at the office at 8:00am for his appointment and for the next two hours his teeth were cleaned, dried, glued, and wired until I was called back to see the finished product and we received instructions about the care and cleaning of braces.

Luckily, I am an old hat at the braces thing, having parented 4 other children through the unique dietary restrictions and hygienic care of brushing, flossing and caring for teeth shrouded in metal…

Despite having never worn braces myself.

Brandon was eager to show off his new smile.

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After his appointment, but before returning him back to school, we made a quick stop at the grocery store for soft foods and pain killers. I’ve learned that the days following the application of braces are painful ones and chewing is near impossible, so we loaded up on soups, mashed potatoes, smoothie ingredients and ice cream, and then made sure he had Advil in his system before I took him back to school.

By the time he arrived back home he was hurting but managed to rally enough to enjoy our Halloween festivities,

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And he even faced the candy restrictions (that come with braces) with happy acceptance. As the kids dumped their candy and began the beloved tradition of sorting and divvying up the Halloween treats collected during trick-or-treating, Brandon, Tyler and Ozzie laid claimed on the chocolate treats that were braces-friendly.

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It was a monumental day for our newest addition…

His first Halloween at Patchwork Farm AND braces.

It was an October 31st for the memory books!

I’ve Never met a Pumpkin I didn’t like!

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I LOVE this time of year.

October has and always will have my heart.

I love the weather, the smells, the changing leaves, and the activities attached to this month…

And I tend to fill those 31 days to capacity as I try to fit in all the fall fun I can before the weather turns, the evenings darken, and the hustle and bustle of the Christmas season comes down upon us.

With the month of October comes my favorite holiday of the year…

HALLOWEEN!

It is with great enthusiasm we plan our costumes and decorate the house. One tradition that accompanies this holiday is the annual family pumpkin carving night.

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This year I lucked out when I stumbled across an exceptional deal on pumpkins when driving past a country farm. Sitting by the roadside were HUGE pumpkins that were being sold for $2.00/ each, regardless of size. Well, who could pass up a deal like that?! Rather than simply buy the kids each a pumpkin like I usually do, I decided to go ahead and buy 8 so Toby and I could each carve our own pumpkin.

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We decided Sunday night was the night.

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We have reach the point of life where we rarely have a night where everyone is home together. As much as I hate it, the reality of this season of life is that school schedules, work schedules, church commitments, and social obligations make catching everyone at home, all at one time, a near impossibility. Because of this we have set aside Sunday evening as our family night. After dinner on Sunday we gather in the living room to calendar out our week as a family, hold our weekly family council, and enjoy a lesson, activity or game, and fun treat as a family. Even this commitment has become more challenging with Gracie’s YSA congregation’s meetings now beginning at 3:00 pm each Sunday. This means that Grace isn’t getting home until almost 8:00 on Sundays… but we are making it work. We just save our Family Night activity for 8pm on Sunday nights.

This past Sunday was pumpkin night.

As we prepared for Gracie’s arrival home we cleared the dining room table, covered it in plastic, and carried all the pumpkins in from outside. With the addition of empty bowls carving knives, and metal spoons we had everything we needed to create jack-o’-lantern magic.

When Grace got home we jumped right into the festivities. Everyone chose their pumpkin and began sketching out their design on their pumpkin. I love seeing how creative everyone is with their ideas. And it is always neat to see how reflective the design is of the carver who is creating it.

It was especially neat to watch Brandon as he experienced this family tradition for the first time. He is 16 years old and this was his first time carving a pumpkin, and as his mom this “first” was as delightful as it was watching it with my older kids when they were toddlers experiencing this tradition for the first time…

The only difference: Brandon was a lot less messy and a lot more capable of safely holding a knife.

Everyone jumped in to the task at hand and soon completed pumpkins were scattered across the table.

Tyler created a happy jack-o-lantern.

 

Ozzie paid homage to Gracie’s automobile with a Kia logo.

 

Rusty, our Disney fan, carved a delightful Winnie the Pooh pumpkin.

Molly, our rain lover , carved her pumpkin to reflect a personal delight- autumn rain showers!

Gracie’s pumpkin reflected her educational pursuit of sign language with an artistic carving of the sign for “I love you.”

And finally Brandon decided to keep his first jack-o’-lantern traditional, with a carved  face, cutting the eyes into hearts and topping his pumpkin with a crown.

Toby decided to carve his pumpkin into a night scene, complete with a shooting star.

And I transformed my pumpkin into Jack, from the Disney classic, “The Nightmare Before Christmas.”

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The guts from eight pumpkins were sorted through, as we pulled and rinsed the seeds to prep them for roasting, and then we headed outside to light all the pumpkins from within and watch them glow on the front porch.

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Standing back  and looking upon our completed creations made my heart swell with love and gratitude for the simple things in life that brings such joy.

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They were simply magical!

For dinner we enjoyed Molly’s dinner creation of stuffed pumpkins. This is a recipe that was passed down from Toby’s mom after she made it for the kids one Halloween weekend when they were little.

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We felt it was time to resurrect this recipe and Molly took on the job of gutting eight pie pumpkins and helping me make the rice and ground beef filler that gets cooked inside. The finish result was delicious and festive…

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A perfect ending to our fun, fall, family night!

Far too long apart…

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It has been 4 weeks now since our family of 7 became a family of 8. At a court hearing on August 22nd, the judge presiding over Brandon’s case officially placed in him in our home as a pre-adoptive placement.

Our last four weeks have been extremely busy. Those who have fostered children well know how busy things are those first 30 days following placement. In the midst of simply trying to find your footing as a new family there are a lot of extra tasks on the family calendar…

Things like tracking down IEPs and past records, registering for school, shopping for all the basic necessities like clothes and sundries that the child arrives at your doorstep without, fill your days. There are also endless appointments, most of which are required to occur within 30 days of placement. Home becomes Grand Central Station. The front door becomes a swinging door as endless people enter and exit. This is all a good thing. The increased level of monitoring is to make sure some these children are safe and cared for, but just to give you an example of what I am talking about here it what that level of care looks like:

Once a week, the social worker from your agency assigned to your family will visit your home.

Once a month, the social worker from your county’s CPS will visit your home.

Within the first 30 daysthe child needs to visit his/her pediatrician. If your child has specific health issues, it is possible that your social workers may request this to be done sooner.

Within the first few weeks, the court investigator will also make a home visit. (The court investigator is the CPS social worker tasked with making a recommendation to the court (judge) regarding the child’s case in the early stages.)

Within the first few weeks, you may also receive a home visit from a social worker employed by the child’s lawyer.

Possible other appointments include, but are not limited to: IEP meetings, therapy appointments, tutoring, and other various and sundry things that may arise in the case.

The time of year has also added to the craziness as we try to adjust as a family to a new son but also adjust to a new school year and become acquainted with being public school parents and all that entails ( bus schedules, football practice, open houses, etc.)

In the midst of the craziness, however, I have tried to keep a firm grip on what is most important and not allow the “important” to be swallowed up by the “urgent,”

And one of the most important tasks on the list has been to facilitate reunions between Brandon and the biological siblings he has not seen for the last few years.

When Tyler, Brandon, and their other two brothers and little sister where removed from their birth home they were separated by the courts and placed in different homes. Over the course of a few years they were adopted individually into different families. When Tyler came into our life it was just he and Brandon left in the system having court ordered sibling visits. We knew that upon the adoption of Tyler one of our first priorities would be to track down and reach out to the various adoptive families and try to reconnect him with the siblings he had lost.

We have been blessed greatly in this regard. We located and reached out to the other families soon after adopting Tyler and were able to host a reunion at Patchwork Farm soon after. What joy there was in watching these children reunite after years of separation, and what a joy it was meeting the amazing families that adopted each of Tyler’s siblings!

Since that special day we have tried to keep Tyler connected to his siblings through phone calls, birthday gifts, and visits, but because of the life circumstances unjustly thrust upon Brandon, he has not been able to enjoy that same level of contact.

Brandon adores his siblings and has missed them greatly, so one of our top priorities, amidst the craziness of all the “urgent tasks” filling our calendars, was to make time for Brandon (and Tyler) to reconnect with their biological siblings.

The eventual goal is to host another reunion at our home in the upcoming months but I didn’t want Brandon to have to wait on the logistics of multiple schedules aligning for that to occur, so in the meantime we arranged some individual visits.

Which leads us to two events that have occurred in the past few weeks…

First we had a visit with Cheyanne and her mom. Cheyanne is the youngest of the sibling group and the only girl. She is deeply love by both my boys and when we were able to arrange an impromptu visit both boys were over-the moon about it. It happened after our Kennywood visit. Rain led to an early closing, leaving us free late Saturday afternoon with no plans. Realization that we weren’t to far from Cheyanne’s neck of the woods led to a phone call and plans to meet at Dairy Queen for ice cream and a mini-reunion between Cheyanne and her big brothers.

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It was absolutely delightful watching these three reconnect and become reacquainted, and doing so over Dairy Queen blizzards made the experience all the sweeter! They had all grown so much since their last visit that they couldn’t help but be shocked by each others growth, but despite the physical growth and changes to their appearances, the genetic resemblance remains as strong as ever! There is no question that these three are siblings!

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A week later we had the opportunity to meet up with another one of Tyler and Brandon’s siblings. This time it was Sean that we arranged to meet.

Like Tyler and Brandon, Sean also plays football for his school and after getting a copy of his game schedule from his mom, we made plans to meet her at one of Sean’s games so his brothers could cheer him on.

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It was delightful catching up with Sean’s mom while my boys watched their brother play.

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Tyler was delighted to find out that, just like him, Sean was the team’s kicker…

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And just like Tyler, he is incredible at it!

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After the game we had a half hour to spend together before Sean had band practice, so we drove to Wendy’s for a quick dinner that Sean’s mom kindly treated us to. The boys were so cute together. It was neat watching them reconnect, tease,  and laugh as brothers do.

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Their only complaint was that they didn’t get nearly enough time together. They desperately wanted to head to a local park to throw the football, but were grateful for the time they did get together.

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Hopefully we will be seeing all three siblings again soon, for nothing has more value in this life than the love of family!

Friday Night Lights

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It is fall in Western Pennsylvania and we find ourselves in the heart of football season. After years of avoiding organized sports with the older kids,  we dipped our big toe into the sports pond when Tyler joined our family at age 6. We tried to fight it but even at that age he had an affinity for sports of any kind, having been actively involved in soccer and football at his previous foster home, and we soon realized that for all of our survival that kid needed an energy outlet!

After a few months in our home we gave into the inevitable and signed him up for soccer, followed by football in the fall. It was a definite social shock stepping into the world of little league sports and all that comes with it.

The benefit of such an uncomfortable social shift, however, was a very tired little boy at the end of the day…a benefit that far outweighed the less appealing aspects of organized youth sports.

It was because of our naivety and lack of experience that we found ourselves at Blackhawk Lil’ Cougars football sign-ups that first year. We saw the signs around town advertising football sign-ups and so we arrived with required papers in hand (birth certificate, report card and proof of address) on the night advertised. He was registered and began playing, making quick friends with the other little brutes on his team. There was something endearing about watching 20 wild 6-year-old’s navigate the field as they learned the sport.

It wasn’t until we were fully entrenched in the world of the Cougars that we found out that we should have signed Tyler up under Beaver Fall’s league since we technically live in Beaver Falls school district. By the time we realized our mistake Tyler was firmly settled into this group of boys and we chose to request an exemption rather than move him. He has been playing with the Cougars ever since and loves his teammates and coaches.

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That was all well and good and then Tyler’s biological brother, Brandon, moved into our home. He, too, has both a love and affinity for sports and since he is currently required by the judge to attend our local public school it made it easy to simply sign him up for the high school football team.

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After a few years of not being able to live a “normal” teenager’s life, he is thrilled to be navigating halls between classes and donning football gear every day after school. Like Tyler, he has a natural gift for athletics and is loving being part of a team.

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So now we have two boys on the field each week, but they wear the colors of two different schools…

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Two rival schools.

Which had made life a bit crazier than usual.

Everyday Brandon has football practice immediately following school until 5:30 pm. We pick him up and then head to Tyler’s field for his daily practice from 6:00-8:00 pm.

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Friday nights are spent under the lights as we dress in our orange and black to watch Brandon play.

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Then on Saturdays we put on our green and gold to cheer on Tyler.

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Some of these games are pleasant but others are miserable…

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This one was particularly nasty as we battled high winds and heavy rains. We definitely earned some parenting points for our participation!

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For the most part we have been able to navigate this arrangement,  but Friday presented its own unique challenge when both boys were committed to be on two different fields for Friday night’s game.

Brandon’s game was a home game on Geneva College’s field but Tyler was also invited to be on the field Friday night as part of Blackhawk’s community days. The high school invited all the little players and cheerleaders to the game to support the high school team. The boys were invited to sit along the sidelines and then step onto the field as the big boys entered the stadium, cheering them on.

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Tyler didn’t want to miss this special event so we began our night with the Blackhawk Cougars and then at halftime drove across town to watch the second half of the game at Beaver Falls to cheer on the Tigers.

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It has been fun watching Tyler and Brandon bond over football. And we are all thrilled to have someone living in the house who readily volunteers to toss the ball with Tyler, giving the rest of our throwing arms a break!

Tonight we go and watch another brother in uniform.

Sean, Tyler and Brandon’s middle biological brother, is playing for his school and both my boys are excited to go and watch one of his games and reconnect with a brother they haven’t seen in a few years.

It is definitely football season in Western PA!

 

Adoption is…

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Adoption is caring.

Adoption is giving.

Adoption is hope.

Adoption is redemption.

Adoption is a blessing.

Adoption is LOVE.

But adoption is also heartache, heartbreak and loss.

It is all of those things, and if we don’t acknowledge that truth then we are doing a disservice to those who are embarking on (or are already traveling) the  adoption path.

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Adoption is emotionally messy. Choosing to open your heart and home to a child that has come into your life through loss and tragedy creates a muddy mix of emotions on all ends. With each placement I am better understanding this reality and have adjusted my expectations accordingly.

When Tyler came into our home as a hurting 6-year-old boy, I am ashamed to admit that I really didn’t get it. I viewed what we were offering him to be a loving gift that he should be grateful and excited about. I wanted his emotions to mirror mine. I was feeling excited, blessed, and full of love for my new son but didn’t recognize that his emotions were more complicated.

The reality is…

As much as media wraps the experience in the tagline of: “Adoption is LOVE,”

(Which it is!)

It should equally be acknowledged: “Adoption is Loss.”

If a child comes to you through adoption, whether due to being removed from an abusive home or placed as an infant by a loving birth mother who is sacrificing all for the sake of the child she loves, loss is involved. There needs to be an understanding that while adoption is a beautiful blessing, it is not all joy and gratitude and celebration. There is also a lot of sadness, confusion, fear, anger, and grief connected with this journey.

The past five years have taught me a lot and I feel better equipped to sensitively and kindly navigate this road with Brandon than I was able to with Tyler. God is working on all of us and opening our eyes to the bigger picture and the deeper reality.

Two weeks ago we made a trip down to Washington County so that Brandon could have a visit with his adoptive father (whom he calls “Pap.”) His adoptive Dad is under the care of hospice due to terminal cancer. It is because of a series of heartbreaking losses in Brandon’s life that we find him living in our home. The visit was a good one. It was good for Brandon to see that we would continue to facilitate visits with his Pap and make visits a priority while we still can, but also good for his pap to see Brandon thriving.. giving him a sense of peace about the situation.

When it was time to leave and we were walking out to the car Brandon asked if he could go say “hello” to his dog.

Tied up in the backyard was a beagle that was bouncing with excitement at the sight of his boy. Brandon asked if I would go back with him because he wanted me to meet his dog.

The next 30 minutes were spent sitting in the grass as the pup bounced between us. With that wiggling mass of pure love in his arms, Brandon’s soul opened and the words began to pour out. Sitting beneath the shade of the tree he  started talking; sharing memories of all that had happened in that place. Memories of his dog, of afternoons spent in the woods. He shared memories of learning to cook at his adoptive mom’s side and the struggle of watching her health diminish,

And the crushing loss he felt when she died.

It was as though his reinforced, emotional dam broke loose and the thoughts and feelings of the last few years poured out of him. There in the backyard of his home he purged a lifetime of tears and broken dreams and I sat and listened. It was cathartic and I could see the physical affect that emotional purging had on him.

I held him as he cried.

His overgrown, man-body shook with the tears of a toddler…those tears that wrack the body and wash the soul.

I held him tight until he released his grip, indicating he no longer needed hugged. As he stepped away he turned to say good-bye to a furry friend who has been a loving companion through some of the darkest life experiences a person can endure.

I suggested we take a picture of him with his dog so that we could print it and frame it for his room.

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He eagerly agreed and the pup thought it was a good idea too!

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We left the home of his Pap with the last of his meager worldly possessions packed in a black garbage bag. We will be returning for additional visits, making sure he has as many visits with his Pap as we can before Brandon experiences another horrible loss.

But despite the fact we will return for visits, there was a sad finality in the way he looked over his shoulder as we left, at the place he has called home for the last few years.

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Adoption is about hope, care, redemption and love…

but it is also about loss.

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We must never forget that.

 

 

Bethany Adoption Picnic

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Our two youngest boys were both paced with us and adopted by us through Bethany Christian Services. When we were researching different paths toward adoption, God led us to this agency and we are so glad He did. We had such an amazing experience with both our adoption journeys.

Each summer our adoption agency hosts a picnic for their families…

Bringing birth mothers, foster families, safe families and adoptive families together to celebrate the unique and shared connection of adoption.

This annual picnic, held at a local YMCA summer camp (Camp Kon-O-Kwee) is always a lot of fun. It is a delight reconnecting with the social workers that were such an integral part of our life for so long, as well as making new friends with other families that are walking a similar path. There is something so connecting about the call to adopt. Each family there, despite differences in the way they were called to adoption, as well as what each of their adoption journeys look like, find a strengthening connection in the struggles, unique challenges, and special blessings that come with this walk.

There is something moving about standing in a room full of other families who are as unique and mismatched in their composition as we are.

The Bethany summer picnic is always a highlight of the season.

Toby was working on Saturday, as was Grace (Molly was able to join us for 1 1/2 hours before leaving for work), so most of my day was spent with the 4 boys.

The picnic began with lunch.

Following a delicious potluck meal, families scattered to the four corners of the camp where a variety of free activities were being offered; including swimming at the pool, canoeing, games, a splash pad, face painting, crafts, and an obstacle course through the woods.

Our time was spent mainly at the river and in the woods.

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Our first stop after lunch was the river where the kids enjoyed canoeing on the river.

Molly paired up with Ozzie.

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And the other three boys shared a second canoe with Rusty taking the back seat since he has the most experience.

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They all enjoyed their time on the water.

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Then we headed over to the “Trail of Courage” where the boys all had a blast conquering the many challenges of the trail.

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The rope bridge and swing, as well as the zipline, were some of their favorite obstacles.

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By the time we had made it through the obstacle course everyone was hot and thirsty so back to the dining hall we trudged to get cold bottles of water. Before leaving for Tyler’s football game, the boys enjoyed some of the games outside, and the two older boys tapped into their inner superhero with some face painting…

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Leaving us to debate the remainder of the day, “Who is the mightier superhero…Batman or Spiderman?”

My vote: the countless parents we met that day who have given all for the love of a child.

The blessing of “Surrender”

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Tyler’s entrance into our lives was no coincidence…

It was 100% a “God-incidence!”

The way God delivered him into our arms was nothing short of miraculous.

The process towards adoption is an arduous journey, filled with mounds of paperwork, interviews, inspections and scrutiny. Once approved, a waiting family is given a questionnaire to answer which gives the adoption agency parameters to work within based on what you are looking for in a child and what struggles, behaviors, and special needs you feel equipped to handle.

In our desire to surrender the process to the Lord we filled out the paperwork with the belief that God knew best what child was to be part of our family. We didn’t want to stand in His way by creating a profile with strict parameters, so we said we were open to any sex, age, race, religion, background, disabilities, handicaps, and behaviors, with the exception of 3 struggles we didn’t feel equipped to handle…

And then we gave it to God.

We thought we were surrendering to His will but He soon showed us that when He asks us to surrender and trust in His plan, he asks for TOTAL surrender, not just “mostly surrender,” as we soon discovered.

Once the agency has the list of preferences in hand they use those parameters to match your family with potential children. When an email comes from local county CYS social workers about a child that needs placed, the agency will look through their families’ files for families that match up with that child and his or her particular needs and then an email will be sent out to their potential families. As a waiting family we have the option to say “yes” to having our family’s profile submitted to CYS for consideration or the option of saying “no” if it doesn’t seem right.

Once the county receives a pile of profiles from various adoption agencies they will narrow the large pile of potential families down to a handful of possibilities and then move forward with more extensive interviews.

This process never occurred in Tyler’s placement with our family.

We were never sent his profile by our agency. You see, Tyler’s child profile included those three issues we said we wouldn’t accept in a child so our agency never even contacted us about Tyler as a possible child for our family and never submitted his file to the county…

So, you can imagine our confusion when we received a call out of the blue that we were on the short list of three families being considered for a 6-year-old boy from Pittsburgh. We had no idea who this child was because we had never been sent information on him.

Then the placing social worker called and asked if we could meet the following afternoon and in the meantime sent us Tyler’s child profile. As I read through his child profile the first time I knew that his needs were extreme and although we said we would let God choose our child, this baby boy’s profile contained the three non-negotiables on our list.

The next day I tried calling the CYS caseworker to cancel our meeting. I hated for him to make the long drive out to our house, knowing we were going to have to say “no,” but despite phone call after phone call and numerous voice mail messages I was never able to make contact.

At 5:00 pm he pulled down the driveway and Toby and I prepared to apologize for his wasted trip. He stepped inside, greeted the family, and opened the file in his hand, revealing a picture of Tyler…

And I knew.

In that moment I knew without a shadow of a doubt that the child in that photo was ours.

By the end of our meeting the social worker declared that he was going to cancel his meetings with two other families he had appointments with because he knew he had found Tyler’s family.

From there things moved swiftly and within 3 weeks Tyler was placed in our home and part of our family.

To this day we still have no idea how our profile ended up on the desk of that social worker or why none of our voice mails were received, but it simply testifies all the more loudly that Tyler’s place in our family was heaven-ordained and orchestrated by a loving God that knew better than us what we could handle and what we needed.

Through that experience we learned a powerful lesson on the true meaning of surrender to God’s will…

And the abundant blessings that come with trusting His plan for our lives.

That day occurred 6 years ago and today we celebrate that little boy’s 12th birthday with the addition of his biological brother into our family.

Much like the “God-incidence” that brought Tyler into our lives, Brandon’s placement was not part of our plan, but it was clearly God’s plan.

We weren’t looking to grow our family. Coming on the cusp of a really challenging year, adding another child seemed crazy, not to mention the fact that the child was a 16-year-old boy!

But just like our experience with Tyler (and then Ozzie) we could see God’s hand in the orchestrating of events that soon made it clear that God had big plans for our family and that He was once again asking for our surrender and our faith in His plan.

Brandon has been placed with us. It will be 6 months until we can pursue adoption and making him part of our forever family, but this was the first step. He is now officially and legally placed in our home as a pre-adoptive placement.

Today we also celebrate Tyler’s 12th birthday. When he moved in six years ago we couldn’t even imagine how our life was about to change. We had no idea how challenging, rewarding, and miraculously glorious this journey was going to be…

And we certainly had no idea that for Tyler’s 12th birthday we would be giving him the gift of family.

12th birthdays are a big deal in our family. They represent the transition from primary to the young men’s program at church. With this birthday comes acquiring the priesthood at church and the opportunity to pass the sacrament. He is now old enough to go to scout camp on his own and will be included in the youth activities at church that he has enviously has watched the older kids participate in for years.

12 is a big birthday, one that is remembered and cherished by all my kids…

But probably none more than Tyler,

Who, for his 12th birthday, is receiving the gift of a lost brother found and brought into our family.

Happy 12th birthday, Tyler!

How grateful I am for a loving Heavenly Father that knew better than us what our family needed most:

You!

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