Tag Archives: foster care

It takes a real man to be a Dad!

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Today is the day we celebrate fathers.

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It is the day we honor the men in our life who love unconditionally, who provide selflessly, and who step up and give all for the children they love.

I have been blessed with exceptional men in my life who have shown me what a real man is and how a real man acts. From my grandfathers, to my father-in-law, to the man who raised me, I have been blessed with the best.

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I have learned from their examples, been bolstered by their encouragement, and watched as their values were manifested in the way they lived their lives.

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Each of them showed what they value most by the daily choices they made, making clear that God and family come first.

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I was raised by a great man which is why I sought a great man to be my eternal companion and the father to my children. I was one of the lucky ones that didn’t carry the burden of breaking an unhealthy or dysfunctional relationship cycle. Because of how my father loved my mother, I knew what I was suppose to expect from a relationship. I don’t take this for granted. I know this was a great blessing that so many are denied.

But I have also witnessed in my life the great power of a good man to be a “cycle breaker.” I see it in my own home. I see the power for change that can come when a good man loves a child to the degree that a child begins seeing themselves as loveable.

When it comes to good men, I have been blessed with the best. Today we celebrate our 23rd anniversary and Father’s Day. On the day we married I thought I couldn’t love him more than I did in that moment, but that love was nothing compared to how I feel today.

That love was sweet but untested. It lacked the depth that comes when you move beyond a feeling to a choice. Love grows deeper with each trial and test. Conviction, connection, and commitment come from those hard seasons of life when you choose to stay rather than run. Deep abiding love comes when you see your spouse making the right choice, even when it is a hard choice. It grows as you watch him say “yes” when others would say “no.” Each selfless sacrifice for the good of another added another layer of depth to the love I already felt.

And then he became a father, and my love grew 100 fold as I watched him love, care and provide for our children. I watched as he set aside his own dreams for the sake of his little family.I watched him man-up, go against the agenda of the world, and choose to do right.

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I watched as he loved our children with all he had and watched as he gave them the world.

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And then he gave even more when he opened his heart and home to our sons whose own biological fathers failed them. He took on a responsibility that wasn’t his because of who he is…

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It isn’t easy being a “cycle breaker.” It requires a level of selfless love and unwavering commitment, but he not only took in children abandoned by the world, he made them his in every way. He provides, he forgives, he accepts, he gives, and gives some more so that his boys might know their worth. He loves them as they should have been loved since birth, even when the love, respect, and care he gives isn’t reciprocated. He knows that being a father isn’t about what you get back. Fatherly love isn’t a feeling…it is a choice, and he keeps showing up and loving his kids…

Which is one of the many reasons I love him!

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I am so grateful for the gift of good men in my life. Their walking, talking, daily examples of a father’s love has helped me better understand my Heavenly Father’s love, as illustrated in the poignant video below:

Happy Father’s day, to all the good men in the world.

May we raise them.

May we respect them…

That they may they know their worth.

The first week of May…Thank God it is Over!

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There is no role I value more or invest so much of myself in then the role of mother. It is the title I hold in highest esteem and one I feel has been divinely assigned. Whether my child came to be through biological channels or delivered into my life through a series of “God-incidences,” I know that the children under my care were divinely delivered. Because I hold the role and responsibility of mother in such high esteem, Mother’s Day has always been a cherished holiday for me…

At least it was in the beginning.

In recent years Mother’s Day has become a day that we white-knuckle our way through. Mother’s Day week is our “Hell Week” at Patchwork Farm.

In the world of Navy Seal training, the fourth week of training is dubbed “Hell Week.” 

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This is when students train for five days and five nights solid with a maximum total of four hours of sleep. Hell Week begins at sundown on Sunday and ends at the end of Friday. During this time, trainees face continuous training evolutions. 

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Pretty much every evolution during Hell Week involves the team (or boat crew) carrying their boat — inflatable rubber Zodiacs– over their heads.

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Timed exercises, runs, and crawling through mud flats are interspersed throughout the five-and-a-half days. The largest number of trainees drops out during Hell Week.

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This extreme training is critical, though. SEALs on missions must be able to operate efficiently, oblivious to sub-zero temperatures and their own physical comfort. Their lives, as well as the lives of others, may depend on it.

This is what the first week of May has become at our house. Triggered by significant traumas, the anniversary of past losses, and the complicated and tangled emotions connected to the title of “mother,” Mother’s Day week is by far the most hurt-filled for my adopted sons and the most challenging week of the year for our family as a whole.

It is understandable.

For a child who has experienced neglect and/or abuse at the hand of the one person who should be their lifeline and source of greatest security, the perception of “motherhood” is skewed. This is a reality I have come to experience firsthand over the last seven years. When raising children with attachment disorders there is no greater threat and no larger villain in their eyes then the mother of the house.

It doesn’t matter how different I may look from the mother that failed them, or how different I act from the mother that hurt them…

Because I am “mother,” I am the enemy.

Gaining a greater understanding of attachment disorders and the effects of early childhood trauma has helped me gain an understanding of why I am public enemy #1. It has helped solidify the reality that, despite all I give and all I do, it will never erase the damage done in those early years. The more I study, the more I understand this on a cerebral level…and that helps…but it doesn’t take away the sting when the attacks that are intended for the woman who hurt my sons are targeted toward me simply because I bear the name of “mother.”

Over the last seven years Mother’s Day has gone from being my favorite holiday to being my most dreaded. Once filled with childhood drawings and burnt toast in bed, delivered by sticky fingers, it is now a day filled with misplaced rage, deep hurts, and destructive behaviors. It has become our “Hell Week.”

It is the most trying week of the year at Patchwork Farm. It is the week we all brace ourselves for, knowing it will not only fall short of the Hallmark image of Mother’s Day, but will more closely resemble a documentary on Navy Seal’s “Hell Week.” It is a week of “minimal sleep and continuous training exercises” in which our fortitude and inner strength are tested to the extreme. It is a week of slugging through emotional mudflats and fighting the emotional fatigue of hefting the heavy weight of trauma above our heads for days at a time. It is a battle of endurance and more that once I have considered just not showing up for “Hell Week.”

This year was one of those years.

This year I had a pass to skip out on “Hell Week.” A year ago Toby and I began plans to take a trip we have been dreaming about for two decades. We were taking our long-dreamed about cruise to Alaska and we were planning on leaving the Saturday before Mother’s Day. Needless to say, that trip was canceled as the cruise industry shut down in the wake of Covid-19. I was disappointed on many fronts. As we entered into Mother’s Day week I mourned the loss of our long-anticipated trip, but I also mourned the reprieve from the abuse so closely connected to Mother’s day week. It was the “Hell Week”  we have come to expect from our kids that have suffered so much hurt, heartache, and loss in their short lives, but the chaos playing out at the hands of the hurt were countered by the efforts of my children who haven’t experienced trauma at the hands of a mother.

We lost our opportunity to escape to Alaska, so they brought Alaska to us.

On Saturday, following a quick run to the pharmacy to pick up prescriptions, Toby and I returned home to this:

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We were sent to our room to dress for dinner, as the kids finished transforming the dinning room into an Alaskan escape,

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Complete with mountains and evergreen trees,

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And wild animals!

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By raiding the camping supplies in the basement, they created recreated the Alaskan wilderness in our own home.

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Their creativity and efforts made me feel incredibly loved and cherished.

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Grace cooked a delicious dinner of Alaskan salmon, lemon pepper green bean, and croissants, with mint chocolate chip ice cream for dessert,

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While Molly served as our onboard waitress.

It was a perfect night and such a gift of selfless love after an especially hard week.

That is the wonderful thing about “Hell Week.” It doesn’t last forever.

It is a season of extreem challenges and intensive training. It builds muscles that are otherwise untouched and reveals to us inner abilities and our strengths. It is a time when our will is tested and we demonstrate, through our fortitude, that we will stand by our commitments and stay true to the cause.

It is choosing to fight when giving up would be easier.

It is giving our all when we feel completely spent.

It is choosing to endure rather than “ring out.”

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And it is holding on to the hope and the promise that this too shall pass.

 

 

 

 

 

It went by in a FLASH!

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It is hard to believe it has been a little over a year since Braden moved in, and a mere seven months since he became our son. In so many ways it feels like he has been a part of our family forever and I can’t imagine life without him. It makes me sick to think of what could have been had we let fear, rather than faith, guide us in the decision to say “yes.”

Fear of what could go wrong hijacked our thoughts when we first received the call asking us if we would consider opening our home and hearts to a 17-year-old boy…Tyler’s biological brother. There were so many reasons to be nervous, so many unknowns, so many shared horror stories that we found ourselves paralyzed by the anxiety of the unknown. We didn’t realize it at the time but what should have scared us was the consideration of all that we would miss by saying “no.”

Luckily we were blessed with a social worker that didn’t accept our knee jerk reaction, driven by ignorance and fear, and instead supported us as we navigated our way through our questions and concerns.

She didn’t give up on us and neither did God, who had plans that were bigger than our own agenda and blueprint for our life. He heard our concerns and answered them with His truth, spoken with compassion and love…

Giving us the opportunity to be part of something so much bigger and better than ourselves.

That isn’t to say that the journey from a year ago to today was easy, smooth or without trials and triggers. It isn’t easy growing a family, and with the addition of another child comes growing pains. Adoption is hard but there is something humbling and divine  about getting to participate in something so heavenly orchestrated.

Our adoption journey with Braden has taught me to trust God’s plan and timing, even when it runs counter to our own plans for life.

When we said yes to adopting a 17-year-old boy I was overwhelmed by the task ahead of me and felt the pressure of time against me, wondering what difference we could make in Braden’s life with only a year of childhood left before he was legally an adult. I had experienced the long, arduous journey of attachment with both Tyler and Ozzie and knew how long and hard the road to attachment was. Could we make a difference in a year?  Would we even be able to scratch the surface of attachment after all the loss he has lived through and all the walls of protection he has had to build for self preservation?

Luckily, my Lord is bigger than my logic and He has proved time and time again that He is a God of miracles. He can move mountains, He can heal hearts. And he can grow families, regardless of the worldly obstacles that seem unmovable in reaching that goal.

It has only been a year but this sweet boy has my heart. How grateful I am that God didn’t let fear drive our decision. I can’t imagine our life or our family without him…

This week we celebrated his 18th birthday!

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Braden’s birthday celebration was split between two days. This was due to a special request he had for his birthday. He wanted to visit a haunted house!

Knowing that most haunted houses would be shut down by the first weekend in November, we made plans to celebrate his birthday a week early so as to grant his birthday request. On the Saturday before his birthday we made plans to visit a haunted house as a family, but first we met up with Grace and Zach for dinner!

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Braden wanted wings for his birthday dinner so we met at a local wing joint that boasts 100 different wing flavors.

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Everyone ordered a dozen wings of their chosen flavor and then we enjoyed a buffet of tastes as we passed the different wing flavors around the table so everyone could try one of each flavor.

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It was a delicious pre-birthday dinner!

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When dinner was complete Grace and Zach opted to bow out rather than join us at Freddy’s Haunts.

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Braden was very excited to visit this haunted house.

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He had never been to a haunted house before and was excited to experience the thrill of fright as we navigated our way through the haunted halls of this local fear factory. We also happened to be visiting on their “black-out weekend” when an already spooky experience gets amped up by the absence of lights.

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Each group is given a single glow stick to guide them through the darkness.

Forming a human chain and holding tightly to the family member ahead of us, Braden led us through a maze of dark hallways as spooks jumped out and stalked us for the hour and a half it took us to find our way out.

It was a creepy as you might imagine…

And Braden loved it!

The following Wednesday…on Braden’s actual birthday…we celebrated his 18th birthday.

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His birthday theme was built around his favorite superhero: The Flash!

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Many of his gifts reflected this theme, including gifts from Mimi Joy,

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And his gift from Rusty:

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He loved the love put into his special day and the gifts that were so thoughtfully chosen by friends and family.

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His gift from Mom and Dad was the BMX bike he’s been wishing for.

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Happy birthday, son. We can hardly believe you are 18…

This year has gone by in a FLASH!

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How blessed we feel to call you our son!

 

So Glad we “Gotcha!”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

First came Tyler’s adoption in 2012:

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

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

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

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

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

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Kalahari Adventures

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

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

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

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

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

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While other were unique to this particular park.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

At least for the moment.

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And that was the greatest gift of all.

So very weary…

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

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I find myself craving the solitude of my bed.

I am so very weary.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And it sucks…big time!

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

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

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

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

It seems to be a reoccurring lesson in my life.

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

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

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

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It is time to rest, weary heart…

Be still, and hold up your cup.

 

Fighting for the GREATEST Cause

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We find ourselves in the trenches once more.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

We all want to curl up and cry.

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

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

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

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

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

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

So, please be tender with my troops.

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

Please pray for us.

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What’s in a Name?

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Well, friends, we just received the exciting news of Brandon’s adoption date.

On March 26th at 9:00 am we will go before the judge who will legally confirm the bond that has already occurred in our hearts, naming Brandon as our son in the eyes of the law.

It is with great excitement that we count down the minutes to our big day.

With the impending adoption comes some big decisions, as Brandon decides what he wants to do about his name. Having been through the adoption process twice before, we are well familiar with the logistics of the legal process. At the adoption ceremony the adopted child can choose to change their last name (or not,) as well as make additional changes to their given name.

This was a special experience with both Tyler and Ozzie, who chose to not only take on our last name as their own, but also change their middle names.

When we approached each of them with the decision to alter their names, we talked about what is expected of us when we, as Christians, take on the name of Christ and what His name brings to mind. We then talked about taking on our father’s name and how a last name is a legacy that our fathers and grandfathers pass down to us and what responsibility comes with that surname.

We spoke of how taking on the name McCleery grafts them into our family tree in a way that is indistinguishable from those connected through blood, giving them all the same rights and responsibilities of being a member of the McCleery family.

As we discussed the changing of Ozzie’s and Tyler’s middle names, we approached it with the same joyful anticipation that we approached the naming of each new baby in the family. With great excitement and delight we pulled out the baby name books and looked up the meaning behind our favorite names. Then everyone wrote down their 3 favorite names anonymously, along with the meaning behind those names, and we pulled them from a bowl reading them out loud.

Then each of our sons had an opportunity unique to them because of the means that they were joining our family, and got to personally choose their new middle names.

It was a special experience for our family and one of those cherished memories I will forever associate with the beauty of the adoption journey.

Tyler chose to change his middle name from Jordan to Jacob, and Ozzie chose to change his middle name from Emlyn to William. His unique middle name had strong ties to family and he was eager to shed that connection with his abusers.

When we were approached to begin the paperwork for Brandon’s adoption hearing, we had to fill in what he would be known by from that day forward. That simple question led to a deep discussion. When we approached Brandon, we were uncertain if he would choose to change his last name. His situation is very different from Tyler and Ozzie’s in that this is his second adoption, not his first, and he is 17-years-old. There is a deep connection to his adoptive mother who died of cancer and his adoptive father who is fighting his own cancer battle, and we weren’t sure what he would want to do.

He has decided to take on McCleery for his new last name and honor his adoptive parents by hyphenating their two last names (they weren’t married) and make that his middle name.

When he told us that was what he’d like to do, we were touched and moved by his choice. What a beautiful way to honor all the parents that have loved him.

Then he asked if changing his first name was an option as well. This question took me by surprise. It wasn’t something we had ever considered for the other two, just for the sake of continuity and preservation of who they were despite the huge life change they were experiencing. I wasn’t sure how to respond. It didn’t matter to Toby and I personally, but I wasn’t sure from a therapeutic point of view whether it was an emotionally heathy choice or one that would cause issues or regret later. Rather than answer him, I suggested we bring it up to his trauma therapist at our next appointment.

I gave Miss Tina a heads-up so that she could give the question some thought before meeting with us and at our next session Brandon explained what he wanted to do and why he wanted to do it

He told her very thoughtfully that “Brandon” had lived a life full of unspeakable horrors, neglect, sadness and loss. He explained that after a lifetime of bad he was ready to have some happiness and a fresh start and didn’t feel he could really start fresh while continuing to hold onto a name that had experienced such bad things.

“For this reason,” he explained, “I want to change my name from Brandon to Braden. I’m ready for a fresh start to my new life.”

She listened thoughtfully to his thoughtful explanation, and exclaimed to me that she thought that his desire to change his given name was not only healthy but showed great maturity and thoughtful consideration, and then concluded by expressing that there is no one she works with whose experiences justify the need for a “clean start” more than Brandon’s.

So, in 19 days Brandon Chesney will become Braden McCleery.

The transition from Brandon to Braden has required thoughtful effort on our part, and we recognize it will be a transition for all of you as well. We have begun that transition at home and from here on out we will be referring to our son as Braden.

He, too, is experiencing the struggle that comes with transition, as he has come to us, expressing the desire to begin calling us Mom and Dad, rather than Toby and Kate. We are all working through the adjustment of catching ourselves when we slip up and get used to the feeling of unfamiliar names rolling off our tongues, but it is with great joy in all of our hearts that we are getting used to these changes.

As a mother who has walked both roads of growing a family through birth and adoption, I can honestly say that as thrilling as it is to hear your baby boy call you “mama” for the first time, it doesn’t hold a candle to the first time your grown, adoptive son calls you “mom.”

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“We’re Just a Bunch of Sickos!”

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The dreaded post-Christmas plague has hit Patchwork Farm. It seems this time of year always comes with a bug of some sort. I am convinced that illness is the natural consequence of the exhaustion that accompanies Christmas, leaving us all susceptible to whatever sickness is making its rounds.

This year’s version is a nasty mix of high fevers, headaches, and cough, with some kids also being hit with vomiting. In our house the passing of the flu began with Tyler, who also won the prize for being hardest hit by the bug. The next to fall was Brandon, followed a day later by Ozzie. The other three escaped contamination by fleeing the farm and camping out at a family member’s house where they will be house sitting for the next week.

My days have been spent moving from boy to boy, trying to make them comfortable in the “sick room” that was previously the living room. With each boy claiming a couch, my days have been spent refilling water bottles, delivering popsicles, taking temperatures, adjusting the thermostat to complaints of being too cold or too hot, and dumping vomit buckets.

Not exactly my idea of a fun and fabulous way to spend the week, but it wasn’t without tender mercies…

The biggest of which was an opportunity to connect and build attachment.

All three of my boys have a history of childhood trauma. This history is accompanied by a wide variety of symptoms that stem from the most basic forms of neglect. An early childhood that was fraught with unmet needs and lack of care results in a child who is fearful of attachment, who believes they must rely on self to meet all their needs, and sabotages connection out of fear and basic survival instincts.

The work that must be done in the adoptive home to help that child break free from that survival mindset is arduous. In our family we work on this challenging task by using a wide variety of strategies and therapeutic parenting, but it is definitely a slow moving, hard climb to the summit of healthy attachment.

When an opportunity arises to magnify the results of those efforts, we take advantage of it, and count it a blessing. Most of those opportunities come disguised as burdens and bad days. For it is when our kids are hardest, and when they are feeling most vulnerable, that our connection work has the greatest impact.

For my boys those moments of vulnerability usually occur during times of emotional brokenness or physical  illness, when defenses are down and they are receptive to being taken care of.

It is amazing the amount of relationship growth and parental trust-building that can occur during these hard days of life, bringing profound blessings to times that read as trials.

I have found this to be true with all three of my sons who come from a traumatic past. I remember the astounding growth that occurred a month after Ozzie’s placement in our home when he had to undergo an emergency appendectomy. Here are some of the thoughts I penned at that time, in the midst of a challenging few days spent sitting up next to Ozzie’s hospital bed:

“Through the scare of surgery, IVs, and a hospital stay Ozzie learned that we are trustworthy, that we won’t leave, that we will take care of him. He experienced parental love as we held his hand through procedures, were sitting at his bedside as he woke from surgery, and met his needs on the most basic level as we carried him to the bathroom and spoon fed him Jello. God saw what we were in need of as a family and met our needs in a very creative way.”

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This winter flu was our first opportunity to see and meet some of those basic childhood needs when Brandon became the second kiddo to go down with the flu. As much as I didn’t look forward to the extra laundry and missed sleep that accompanies the flu, I knew that there would be wonderful connection opportunities we could take advantage of if we saw this week of sickness for what it could be:

A chance for us to bond in a deeper, more profound way, with our newest son.

And this proved to be the case.

Poor Brandon felt horrible, but in his misery he allowed me to care for him, instead of feeling compelled to care for his own needs. As I tucked him in, took his temperature, rubbed his back and fed him the liquids his stomach would allow, I had the opportunity to meet those very basic, primitive needs that were never met in infancy and early childhood. As a small child he had to care for his own basic needs in order to survive, and in doing so the lesson was soon cemented that, “you can only trust yourself to care for your needs.”

By seeing a need (an empty glass of ginger ale) and meeting that need (by filling it before he asks for a refill) I was able to send a powerful message. That message speaks to the most primitive parts of his brain and rewires that survival mindset that took hold in infancy when he cried and no one came to care for him. By consistently pulling closer when he pushes me away, and affirming connection when he expects me to walk, and by meeting his physical and emotional needs on the most basic, primitive levels, we give him the opportunity to heal the damage done to his brain and rewire his way of seeing the world.

By loving him and showing him care as I would a young child who has a need, and then meeting that need with loving looks, soft touch, and healing care,

I am able to connect, attach, and prove myself to my son.

And sometimes that work is best done amid vomiting and fevers.

The prayer is that this bug will pass quickly. We certainly don’t want this unexpected visitor tagging along on our trip to Disney World!

But until it does, I will thank God for the tender mercy of attachment opportunities with my son.

God is good, always good!

 

Christmas comes to a Close…

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Whew, we made it!

Navigating the holidays is tough on a “typical” year, but we anticipated this year to be more challenging than others, given the added dynamics of a third child with a trauma history joining the family and the triggers that always seem to occur this time of year.

But even with the heightened emotions we managed to find joy and peace despite some hard moments.

Often the “story behind the story” isn’t fully shared. Sometimes that is due to us protecting our boys’ stories. Sometimes it is because our most profound moments are simply to sacred to share. Sometimes the backstory is just too vast and complicated to explain, leaving me to simply omit rather than try to share. Sometimes the changing of tides is so abrupt that I find that before I can share the story of one moment the story has changed.

And if I am being honest…

Sometimes I am simply too emotionally drained to think deep, find the blessings in the darkness, or share the lesson that is hidden within the trial…

And on those days, I tend to remain quiet or keep my blog focused on the shallower moments of living.

But a comment made by a friend made me realize that that our silence has been perceived as ease or insincerity, and that perception isn’t fair to my boys who have been in survival mode this past month, to my older kids who sacrificed cherished traditions and the attention of their parents for the mental well-being of their brothers, or to other adoptive families who feel so alone in the darkness of trauma while everyone around them is enjoying the magic of the Christmas season.

The month of December was filled with many happy moments and special memory making experiences, but those moments are not the only experiences seared into our memory banks as we look back on the holidays of 2018.

Amid the cookie decorating and caroling there were fists being punched through the drywall of bedroom walls, and sleepless nights with children too fearful to close their eyes and face the demons that appear in their nightmares. There were shouts of anger and declarations of, “You are not my real mom! You stole me from my real family!” There were tears of anguish over lost loved ones and expressions of fear that this will all be taken away. There were many unkind words shouted in the heat of anger. We dealt with suicidal ideation, attempts to physically injure family members, and more than one trip to Western Psych for a child to be evaluated.

Those moments aren’t the ones I focused on this past month as I blogged about our Christmas season. I chose to focus on the lighter moments of the journey. I realize now that in doing so perhaps I did a disservice to my children who had to journey the magical season of Christmas through the minefield of trauma. I never meant to imply it was smooth, easy, or without struggle…

I only meant to testify that joy can be found in the darkest of days,

 And despite the struggles that permeated our Christmas season (and will likely always permeate our Christmas season) …

We chose joy.

We chose laughter.

We chose forgiveness.

We chose family.

We chose hope.

We chose connection.

We chose LOVE…

Unconditional, no-strings-attached, LOVE.

And the rewards of that choice were precious and holy.

Now that we have left December behind and have stepped into the New Year, the heightened emotions of Christmas have deescalated and we are looking forward to the normalcy of life that returns in January. I am so proud of my children’s resiliency and selfless choice to stay, to love, to lean into the hard moments and trust God’s purpose in the struggle. I am proud to be raising kids that have the capacity to find joy in the imperfect moments and embrace change with an open heart. I love that they love so unselfishly and keep choosing to do so even when love isn’t easy.

This Christmas was filled with many fun experiences but those were merely the tchotchkes that dotted the bigger picture.

Our Christmas season had less to do with what we did, and more to do with what we chose to be, through the grace and mercy of a great God.

This Christmas we embraced the true reason for the season and in doing so felt the love of Christ more profoundly than ever.

Now that December has passed, we say:

“Welcome 2019,

We are so glad to see you!”