Tag Archives: foster care

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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Coming Home…

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It is 5:00 am and I find myself enjoying a moment of peace and quiet before my world shifts and life is never the same again.

I treasure these early morning hours. As much as I enjoy a good “sleep-in,” I have discovered that if I want a quiet moment to hear myself think and hear God speak, I must get up before the natives start wooping and hollering.

This morning’s quiet time is especially necessary. I needed this time to simply be still and reflect on the past few months. It has been a summer unlike any other. So much living has happened in these past 12 weeks that it feels as though 12 months have passed.

Molly expressed it best when she said, “I can’t wait until homeroom when Coach asks us what we did this summer. It is crazy that I can say…’Oh, you know, my summer was filled with things like church camp, international travel, getting a new brother…”

When our summer began we had no idea this was how it was going to end.

Now we find ourselves on the cusp of Brandon’s arrival. I pick him up this morning at 8:00 am and life as we know it will never be the same. In a matter of hours we evolve from a family of 7 to a family of 8 and I become mom to 2- 16 year old boys. With their birthdays only a month apart it will almost be like having twins.

This past week has been spent “nesting.”

Making room for Brandon in our home required a shuffling of rooms and this last week was filled with major room clean-outs, organizing, pitching, painting, assembling and decorating as we pared down the playroom to a closet of toys, moved Grace into what was the playroom and transformed Gracie’s old girly room into a teenage boy pad.

It was a week of hard work but we were blessed with that energy and excitement that comes during the nesting seasons of life, making this enormous family work project a pleasure.

The first step was taking our large playroom and sorting through 20 years of toys to decide what was worth keeping and what could be donated. Our playroom will be divided into a small playroom for young visitors and future grandbabies, with the larger portion of the room becoming Gracie’s new bedroom.

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The fall goal is to add a bathroom in her room that will become the girls’ bathroom and then the boys can share the downstairs kids’ bathroom.

The larger space that Grace now calls home has allowed for a seating area, making it feel more like a studio apartment than a bedroom.

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She had fun decorating her new digs and loves having the wall space to display her artwork and her hat collection.

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Meanwhile across the house Brandon was busy transforming Gracie’s old space into a room of his own.

When I picked him up last Friday we stopped at the store so he could pick out his new bedspread and the paint color for his wall. It was endearing seeing the enthusiasm he showed as he “designed” his dream room.

On Saturday morning we got to work. We began with painting. He chose a blue/grey color for the wall that completely transformed the look of the room. He worked hard all day, putting three coats of paint over Gracie’s previous salmon color.

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Once the walls were dry then assembly on the furniture began. Some furniture pieces we had on hand but there were some we needed to buy, so a trip to Ikea was in the cards. We love the creative design of Ikea products but Brandon soon discovered the downside of Ikea furniture…the assembly!

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Through the arduous task of taking a box of sticks, bolts, and an allen wrench and creating a finished piece of furniture, I was able to get a glimpse into Brandon’s management of frustration and challenges…

For nothing makes the “real you” transparent like an Ikea project.

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But he handled the challenging tasks like a pro, sticking with the project until its completion and not swearing even once… 🙂

An amazing, character-revealing feat if I ever saw one!

After a 12 hour work day, the room was complete and Brandon was thrilled!

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He was so excited to have a room of his own that he designed. It was fun seeing the pride he had in his efforts as he showed off his completed room to the other kids. On Saturday night he slept in his new bedroom for the first time and today he moves in permanently.

I am not naïve enough to think the next 6 months will be without trials and challenges. We are experienced enough to know what we are getting into, and much like a mother who has experienced “labor” before, I am bracing for the contractions. I know the process of growing a family is painful. I know that there will be white-knuckle, can’t-catch-my-breath moments. I know there will be screams of pain, and prayers for the labor to come to an end. I know the path we are embarking on will be as laborious as the physical act of giving birth to a baby, maybe even more painful in the long run…

But I also know it will be worth it.

I know the joys and blessings that come after the struggle, after the pain, after the labor season.

I also know God has brought this child to us so we are trusting Him to guide us through it.

Never in my life did I think we would be opening our home to a 16-year-old boy as a pre-adoptive placement. When I look back on where we were 10 years ago, and what our vision for our family was I am humbled by God’s greater plan.

Today we pick up our son, not from the hospital nursery, but from the group home he has resided in for far too long. Today he comes home and becomes part of the family.

Today life changes completely.

 

 

A Visit to the University of Akron

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The college quest continues!

This time our search led us out of state,

And this time I had 3 questers with me rather than 1.

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On Friday, Rusty and Molly joined me at 6:00 am for an early start to a busy day. We had plans to tour the University of Akron and we were taking Brandon with us.

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Next year Brandon and Rusty will be seniors so they are at the age when college visits start happening. Since Molly wanted to tour U of A anyway I thought we could make it a fun bonding experience for the three of them, while giving the kids a chance to see if the University of Akron is a possible future school for them.

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We arrived at Brandon’s residential facility at 7:00 am to pick him up then headed due west  into Ohio. Brandon was thrilled that we were headed into Ohio again, having never left the state of Pennsylvania in his 16 years until a recent trip across the border with our family to see a movie in Boardman. You would have thought we were taking him to see the ocean for the first time, or on an African safari, by the way he greeted the news that we were going to Ohio for the day…his second time ever leaving the state. We informed him to expect many more trips to Ohio in the future. It seems to be our second home.

It humbles me to see how little it takes to thrill Brandon. Perhaps that is the nugget of a blessing buried within a hard-lived life… every simple joy feels like a miraculous blessing. It is good for my kids to be exposed to the humble gratitude and awe that exudes from him. It certainly makes us take stock of all we take for granted and fills us with a deeper sense of gratitude for all our blessings.

The more time I spend with Brandon the more I witness the effect of living a life of survival…

The survival needed to live through the early years of abuse.

The emotional survival of enduring the loss of a mother within a year of finally getting a mother.

The physical survival of becoming your own caretaker and parent when your last surviving parent falls sick with cancer.

And the social survival of finding one’s place in the lockdown environment of spending your teenage years living in a group home, instead of the security of being part of a family.

With that “survival mindset” comes a lack of future thinking. All thoughts and choices are based on surviving today. Dreaming of a future beyond this 24 hours is a luxury not possible for kids living in survival mode.

This can be seen in most kids with a similar trauma history…kids whose every thought must be consumed with how to get their basic needs met, how to protect themselves from danger, and how to survive another day.

Kids whose cabinets are empty can’t be bothered to worry about Friday’s math test.

Kids who lay awake at night listening for the slamming of a car door indicating the return home of an abusive father gives no thought to what skills they need to develop for future employment.

Kids who spend their nights laying at their dying mother’s feet, afraid to fall asleep for fear she will die in the night, can’t dream about their future colleges and careers.

These kids don’t have that luxury.

Manners, grooming, social etiquette, punctuality, and grades are secondary to surviving another day, and so these kids, who are often written off by teachers, neighbors and social workers as lazy, non-motivated, worthless teens with no direction and no hope, are simply children who are trying desperately to survive…

Children who have never been given the stability that makes dreaming about a better future a possibility.

I see this absence of future vision in Brandon. He can not fathom a world where life could be good and he could be great.

I see the trepidation and uncertainty in his eyes when I ask him what he’d like to be when he grows up. It is almost as though “growing up” and surviving childhood has seemed so unattainable that he has never allowed himself to consider what he might want his future to look like.

So, when I told him we were going to tour a college so that he and Rusty and Molly could see if they might want to go to college there he was stunned at the thought.

“So is this the only college in Ohio?” he asked.

When I explained there were many, and he could visit any that he might want to attend, he was flabbergasted. All through our tour he kept asking for reconfirmation, “So, maybe I could go here some day?”

As he looked through the literature he was blown away at all the choices of majors and minors.

“I didn’t know there were so many different jobs you could have,” he expressed with awe. “What do you think I could I be when I grow up?”

“Anything you want,” I answered.

He responded with a shy grin, uncertain if I was teasing him, disbelieving he was capable of dreaming those big dreams, yet hoping perhaps there was some truth in my words.

It was a wonderful day. My heart overflowed with gratitude towards my Heavenly Father for allowing me to witness this transforming journey that He is taking Brandon on. There is a rawness, a vulnerability, and a hopefulness in Brandon that humbles me and drives me to do right by this child.

I pray God will use me as He opens a world of hope, healing, unconditional love and the opportunity to dream big dreams and not just survive, to a young man who deserves that and so much more.

It was a delight having these three connect and bond over the experience.

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When our tour came to an end we drove over to the Homestead (since we were in the “neighborhood”) which allowed Brandon the chance to see the Homestead and allowed my parents the opportunity to meet our new addition.

It was a blessed day ❤

 

 

 

We are happy to Announce…

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For the last 12 months my three oldest children have been volunteering their time two mornings a week at Ready Yourself Youth Ranch. This non-profit organization takes in abused and neglected horses for rehabilitation while also pairing healed horses with children who have unique needs and challenges. It is an amazing organization and serving at Ready Yourself Youth Ranch has proved to be an enormous blessing for Grace, Molly and Rusty. 

This past week we had Tyler’s 16-year-old biological brother, Brandon, visiting and the older kids invited him to go with them to volunteer at the horse farm… 

 For those who haven’t been following the blog this summer, Brandon is one of Tyler’s four biological siblings.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

It was with baby steps we moved forward trying assess what our role in Brandon’s life was supposed to be and trying to hear God amidst the noise of “what ifs”…

Which leads us to this:

Last Tuesday I was surprised when Brandon enthusiastically jumped at the chance to wake up at 6:00 am and spend 2 hours mucking barns and feeding horses with Grace, Molly and Rusty at Ready Yourself Youth Ranch.

Like my other kids, he came home uplifted and empowered by the experience. He loved the horses and wasn’t afraid to get his hands dirty..

Later when sharing his experience with his social worker he expressed in a simple but powerful  way that he found he could relate to those horses he cared for that morning.

He told her, “They are just like me. They were abused and then nobody wanted them.

Yet, just like those horses, who have experienced the cruelest life has to offer and then were given a second chance,

Brandon is getting his long overdue chance at healing, hope and a family…

Here at Patchwork Farm.

Yes, you read that right. The Mccleery clan of seven will soon be a family of eight.

We are choosing to lean into, rather than run from, the discomfort of the unknown,  step out in faith, and rise to the call God has extended to our family…

Trusting that He doesn’t call the qualified but rather qualifies the Called.

And so…

We are happy to announce that our family is growing by 2 feet!!

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Two not-so-little feet!!

Please Pray with Us ❤

 

 

 

 

 

A Visit with Brandon

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Some of you may remember Brandon.

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Brandon is one of Tyler’s 4 biological siblings.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Please pray for him.

 

Lots of changes for Tyler

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What joy fills my heart to see my youngest thriving.

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We are so proud of you, Tyler!

The Blessing of Blogging

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

How grateful I am for this journey.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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