Tag Archives: lessons learned

Icy Roads Ahead

Standard

icy

Winter has finally hit Western Pennsylvania and from the sounds of predictions being whispered in the produce aisle of the grocery store this winter promises to be colder and snowier than the last few years.

Last winter we lucked out with milder temperatures and minimal snowfall…both a blessing from the perspective of Momma chauffer…. Which doesn’t mean I love a good snowfall. There is nothing I fantasize more about during the winter months than a snowfall epic enough to shut down the state and  allow us to hibernate at home for a week or two. Unfortunately epic snowfalls like that rarely come about and instead we are faced with cold, ice, and snow minimal enough that life marches on, but significant enough to make life more challenging.

For our family that challenge comes as a result of a full size van that performs poorly in the ice and snow, and a steep driveway that is accessible during the winter months only to 4WD vehicles. This means that when snow coats our gravel driveway we have to park at the bottom of the driveway and hike 1/2 mile in to get to our home.

We have become accustomed to this winter tradition, always leaving the house dressed for a winter hike on the off chance we won’t be able to make it back up the driveway, and often carrying a sled or two in the back of the van to help transport groceries and gear up the long driveway if the van won’t make it.

The challenge, however, is often simply making it TO the driveway. Living in the country means our roads are often the last ones in the area to be cleared, so it is always with a prayer and an adventurous spirit we venture out after a snowfall.

Today was no exception.

It seemed the weather was reflective of the last 24 hours at home…a bit icy and dicey.

Here is the reality:

I always struggle with writing about the darker side of adoption and the hard days at our home. And by hard days I’m not talking about sass and spilled milk. I’m talking about epic tantrums that last for 12 hours.

I struggle with sharing for multiple reasons.

I struggle with the challenge of simply vocalizing the reality of this journey. It is a crazy ride of ups and downs with an ever consuming barrage of emotions that are so hard to comprehend by someone who hasn’t lived it that I often feel it is not worth trying to verbalize. And that feeling of defeat can often be seen in the longer stretches of silence on the blog. When things are unbearably hard I am too worn down to type.

I struggle with finding the balance between honoring the stories of my children and their individual struggles, while being real and honest and raw about our life, because it is a life full of blessings even though those blessings aren’t always neat and tidy and may seem unconventional to others.

But I write.

I  write to educate others and share the things that have worked or been an epic fail for us on this journey in the hopes that someone else might find answers that they are searching for.

I share to encourage. Our message is never intended to gain accolades or sympathy or promote judgement about our children. We share our story of struggle so that you might find strength in your own story of struggle, knowing that you are not the only one struggling day to day to find direction, hope, joy or simply a moment of sanity in the midst of the darkness you find yourself lost in.

I share with the hope that the truth of our journey might lead you to be more empathetic towards people in your life that are walking a similar road. Raising children with special needs, whether yours biologically or  those who have come to you through foster care or adoption, is exhausting and hard, and if by sharing our story you feel inspired to reach out and lighten the load another family that is struggling as a result of an understanding you have found in our story, than the time spent and the vulnerability that comes from opening our life to others is worth every word.

I share to bring awareness to epidemic of neglect and abuse that destroys the lives of thousands of children daily. I share my boys’ struggles to bring awareness to the devastating affect anger, substance abuse, pornography, hatred and basic neglect cause. The sins of the parents not only destroy families and hurt children, they change children. I watch my boys try to navigate life with the same devastating diagnoses of PTSD that a soldier, a grown man exposed to war, shoulders. A life with Reactive Attachment Disorder, a disorder that changes the very brain function of children whose most basic need for love was not met in infancy, and is, according to our therapist, “The most challenging mental disorder to work with and heal.”

I share to bring a voice to my boys and all the children who struggle and are judged by their behaviors by those who can’t or are unwilling to dig beneath the surface of the “bad kid” label and consider the hurts and emotions driving those behaviors.

I share to end the silence, because as far as I’m concerned there is too much uncomfortable silence surrounding this important topic.

Which brings me to my point.

Today, on the way home from church, as we neared home we found ourselves stuck halfway up an icy hill not too far from home. This road was not only icy but also narrow, with sharp curves and steep drop offs. We were a quarter way up the hill when I began to panic that we would not make it. I hadn’t realized how steep the grade was until we were climbing. Halfway up the hill our tires began to spin, and 100 feet later we came to a stop. The van wouldn’t climb any further. The road was too narrow to turn around. So we began creeping our way backwards, down the hill, in reverse. It was a painstakingly slow process as we worked to keep the van in the middle of the curving road and away from the drop-off alongside the road. Every turn was a blind corner. We knew that we were at risk of being hit from above or below by a car taking that corner too quickly. We prayed and creeped along. The journey down the icy road became a familiar analogy of our adoption journey with close calls, frequent corrections and adjustments, and a white knuckle grip on the steering wheel.

Along the way we encountered a few vehicles. All saw us before tragedy struck but even those encounters were familiar and comparable to our adoption journey, with some drivers honking in frustration at the inconvenience our struggle was for them, while others simply drove by, eyes focused straight ahead, unaware of the breakdown happening just feet away from them.

Then there were the good Samaritans…those that noticed our struggle, stopped to check on us, and offered their assistance to help us get back home safely and in tact. After a extremely challenging Saturday  I couldn’t help but draw a comparison to those in our life that “honk,” those that simply drive by not noticing, and those who stop and ask, ” What can I do to help?”

I am so grateful for those good Samaritans that stopped me today and asked, “What can I do to help?”

You know who you are.

painted-heart

And while there is often nothing that can be done to help, like by the fellow drivers that stopped us on that icy road,

the inquiry, the love, the words of encouragement, and the concern shown by others can be just the boost needed to keep crawling forward.

During this Christmas season, as we celebrate the hard journey taken by a faithful young man and his wife heavy with child, let us all take notice of those around us traveling lonely, hard roads. Let us be more like the humble shepherds who chose to look up and then show up.

christmas-pictures-annunciation-shepherds-949501-wallpaper

Let us judge less and love more.

christ

Let us love as Christ loved.

Lessons I’ve Learned through Adoption

Standard

Last Thursday I was invited to speak at local adoption support group’s meeting about our adoption journey. It ended up being a wonderful experience. As I prepared my thoughts for the evening, and reflected back on the last three years and the adoption of two sons, it gave me an opportunity to ponder the lessons we have learned along the way.

When we first felt God calling us to adopt,

our vision of what they journey would look like was far different from the reality that was ahead of us.

Not better, not worse, just different.

We thought we had a handle on things. We had parenting experience and felt we were pretty competent at it, so this adoption thing was bound to be a breeze, right?

Ummm…nope. 🙂

Through this process we quickly learned how little we actually knew. We discovered that there are lessons that can’t be learned ahead of time. Some things must be learned in the trenches.

With that being said, here are some of the lessons we have learned

as we have navigated the road of adoption:

#1: Adoption is HARD!

I remember attending an adoption prep class prior to having Tyler move in with us in which the speaker compared adoption to giving birth. She made the profound comparison that growing your family requires labor. For a woman giving birth that is a physical labor that stretches over the course of hours or days as you brace yourself to bear each painful contraction. Adoption labor is also a necessity. It may not cause the same physical pain, but it is a labor of love none the less

that hurts your heart and tires your spirit. It requires that same commitment as birthing labor

to keep pushing through the pain to enjoy the reward that comes after the pain.

#2: If God calls you to it, He will qualify you for it.

This has been, by far, the sweetest blessing of our adoption journey. We have witnessed the Lord’s hand in powerful ways, as a result of our complete dependence on Him, as we have traveled these uncharted waters. We quickly learned how ill-equipped we were to do this alone. That humbling realization led to a deeper relationship with the ONE who can do it all…

and can equip us to do it all.

Through this process I have discovered that, with the Lord’s help, I can do hard things. Things I never felt I could manage…

– Driving through crazy, scary, Pittsburgh traffic by myself to get to a court hearing.

– Battle epic temper tantrums that would last for hours

– Dodge sharp flying projectiles with the greatest of ease.

🙂

God truly gives you superhero powers when you are fighting for a noble cause…

the life of a child.

# 3: Sometimes this journey is about embracing Plan B:

As I observe the adoption journey of many friends and acquaintances, I am struck by how many have been placed on this road as a result of circumstances beyond their control. Many of them had a different vision for how this journey would play out. Perhaps they assumed they would grow their family through birth. Perhaps they signed up for adoption with a certain type of child in mind. Perhaps it is the timing of the process that is different from expected. I have come to realize, through our own journey toward adoption, that what you think the path will look like is often very different from reality.

We began considering adoption 10 years ago with domestic infant adoption in mind. When we felt God calling us to foster child adoption we thought it would be a child under 5 or a young sibling group. We began with a list of non-negotiables…things we didn’t want in our home. Then we witnessed the truth in that old adage, “When we make plans, God laughs.”

Everything we thought we didn’t want is exactly what we recieved and we gained a testimony of the importance of embracing Plan B

because our Plan B is quite often God’s Plan A…

If we would trust the Lord when the road bends in an unexpected way we would see the great blessing of His plan…

the BEST plan.

#4: Glean all the wisdom you can from the experiences of others.

It is humbling when you have to face the reality of your own inadequacies.  We were flabbergasted when we applied all our “tried and true” parenting tools to our adopted treasures and discovered they were ineffective. We quickly leaned that parenting a child who had experienced trauma was far different that parenting a child whose early years had been filled with love and security. We needed a new play book. After depleting our “tried and true” parenting tool box we began seeking out support.

We discovered the gems of wisdom that could be found in others’ experiences. Tapping into the lessons learned by those who walked before us turned out to be our greatest asset. We felt like we had finally been given a code book to the behaviors we were seeing.

It was therapeutic to talk to others who “got it.” We discovered the great blessing of adoption books, great social workers, support groups and a good therapist.

# 5: Self care is essential!

Toby and I have an ongoing joke in our family about a little idiosyncrasy of mine that drives him CRAZY. It is my  tendency to allow my gas tank to run down to EMPTY. He doesn’t get it. He is of the mind-set that you should always have a half  a tank of gas in your car. When his truck’s gas gauge drops below the 1/2 mark he stops at a gas station to fill it up. This is very different from how I work. There have been many times in our marriage that Toby has had to come and rescue me by the side of the road because I had run out of gas. He lovingly arrives with a container of gas, shaking his head, just not getting it. I try  to explain,

when he asks, “How does someone run out of gas?? The gauge tells you that you are almost out?”

that I just hate stopping for gas. I am busy and it always seems like a waste of time. Instead I push my car to the limit to see how far I can go before I have to stop for gas.

Toby always points out the obvious, “You just wasted A LOT more time waiting for me to bring gas than the time it would have taken you to just stop and fill up.”

I realize this. I don’t know why I do it. But I find it is an accurate reflection on how we both manage self-care. When he is running low on gas he makes sure to address the issue before he runs out of gas. I, on the other hand, run on fumes and push myself to the brink of exhaustion, and then discover that I am stuck.

This last year has taught me a lot about the importance of self-care. If you are raising a child who has been a victim of trauma, you are walking a hard road. You must fill your tank regularly or you WILL run out of gas…

and then you are no help to anyone.

For each of us that “fill up” will look a little different. You must make sure you are carving out some time for yourself…

Get adequate sleep, feed your body regularly, take time to do something that makes you happy….

It is so important!

# 6: Take care and nurture the primary relationships in your life.

The road to adoption can be all-consuming. I had no idea how it would consume my time, my energy, my creativity, my whole self. Because it is so consuming it is very easy to let the primary relationships in your life get pushed to the back burner. We found that during the hardest times of our journey we would collapse in bed at the end of the day with nothing else left to give. It is tiring and it is very easy to put off the things that are most important for those things that are most urgent…

in essence, those “fires” you are putting out all day.

But it is when things are toughest that we most need the strength we gain from our deepest relationships…

The relationships we have with our Lord, with our spouse, with our other children…

This sometimes requires digging deep and engaging when all you want to do is crawl in bed and pull the covers over your head.

This also requires planning and effort.

It means waking early to have quiet time with the Lord and filling your spiritual bucket when all you want to do is sleep another 30 minutes.

It means carving out a date night with your spouse, even if all that date night can be (in this season of life) is pizza and a movie in bed.

It means staying up a little later, after the little boys are tucked into bed, to have heart-felt talks with your teenagers.

Making the effort, even when you feel you have nothing left to give, pays back a hundred fold…

# 7: Let go of the guilt.

I know no other way to say this than to be blunt:

You are doing the best you can.

Give yourself a break.

Let go of the guilt.

Do the best that you can and then give the rest to God.

# 8: Embrace the Ridiculousness.

Sometimes it feels like we are living in an alternate reality. Sometimes Toby and I will catch each others’ eye across the chaos filled room and we just smile. “We just can’t make this stuff up,” we say to each other. We find ourselves saying things to our children that we never thought would come out of our mouth like,

“Get the cat out of the toilet.”

We find ourselves parenting behaviors that border on the absurd.

There are days so filled with CRAZY that we learned early on that the only choice to be made in the midst of them is whether to laugh or to cry…

As Marjorie Hinckley said:

“The only way to get through life is to laugh your way through it. You either have to laugh or cry. I prefer to laugh. Crying gives me a headache.”

🙂

# 9: Adoption is not about changing a child’s life.

We entered into the adoption journey with the belief that we were being altruistic.

We thought we would bless the life of a child…

we would save the unfortunate.

That was not the reality.

While, yes, their lives may have been changed, it was us whose life was most blessed. It was our lessons that needed to be learned, it was our spiritual and emotional growth that needed to happen, it was us that God was working on.

Through this journey we have all been blessed with increased patience, deeper empathy, a greater realization of our own weaknesses and a deeper testimony of God’s ability to heal.  We have learned lessons that we may never had fully understood if not for the struggles we had to overcome along the way. While this road has been challenging at times, I have watched my children rise to the challenge and all of us blossom as a result of the struggle.

 And we are a better family for it.

# 10: It is worth it.

For those who are still in the darkest part of the journey I speak to you about hope. In the midst of the storms it can be hard to see the end from the beginning. It can feel hopeless, and scary, and you question whether it was the right decision. It can be hard to look forward to the future when you are drowning today. But I am here to tell you that it will be worth it. The hard times are building a foundation for a bright future. And as you struggle through day after day of tantrums and worries you will eventually find yourself on the other side.

One morning, not too far in the future, you will take a deep breath and exhale. You will realize that you are no longer holding your breath and things are ok.

It was a long road…

but it was worth it!

IMG_1849 (2)

If I die young…

Standard

 

It is the middle of the night.

We leave in 2 1/2 hours, at 3:00am to board a bus for Mount Vernon, Virginia.

I should be sleeping but I can’t turn my brain off.

Oh, how I envy my sweet husband, snoring next to me, who can simply shut off the worries of his day and sleep.

This week a friend passed away.

tree-of-life1

We haven’t talked in a few years but this friend had a life changing effect on my life. This friend was the one who started our home school co-op group. She saw a need and worked to meet that need by creating a venue for our children to gather, and learn, and for friendships (kids and mommas) to be forged. Meeting her on a cyber school field trip put me on a path that forever changed my life. Her effort has blessed my life abundantly. My children have blossomed, learning has taken place, memories have been made, and friendships have been formed. I owe her so much.

It is funny how the Lord uses us to answer the prayers of others…

and uses others to put us on the paths we need to be on.

Sometime friendships are life-long, but so often friendships are seasonal. That doesn’t mean that they aren’t real, or deep, or special, or valuable, it just means they are there to meet a need or serve a purpose, and then the Lord sends us on to the next friend that needs us.

Or the next friend that we need.

This friend came into my life during a season of transition when I needed support and encouragement. I was graduating from MOPS and moving out of the toddler/ preschool phase of life and entering the world of home schooling. I was nervous, insecure, and lacked a support system. I joined co-op just as it was beginning and immediately felt like I had come home. The past 10 years have been all the sweeter as a result.

I look at the profound role this dear friend played in my life. She affected the lives of so many, far more than she probably ever realized. We haven’t talked in a few years but I was heartbroken to hear of her tragic passing. It has affected me profoundly…

Perhaps because the loss feels so personal. She is me. She was living my life, she was my peer, with kids the same age. In a moment their lives were changed forever. It makes me all the more aware of my own mortality and the fleeting nature of life. In a moment it can be over.

The reality of these thoughts have been all-consuming this week as I consider my own life…

as I look at my own children…

as I listen to my husband snore next to me in the dark.

What would I say if tomorrow were my last day? What would I want my children to know?

So here it is. My words to my babies…

If I die young:

1. I love you. Oh, how I love you. I never understood the power of love until I held you in my arms. In loving you I better understand how my Father in Heaven feels about me, and I am humbled. I worried, with each addition, that I wouldn’t have enough love in me to go around, but I discovered love is sort of magical. It grows and multiplies until it is spilling out of your very soul. There is no limit to it.

I can’t wait until you each hold your first baby and feel the love I’m talking about. Then you will understand the love I have for you.

2. Being kind is the most important thing. More than being pretty or smart or talented. It is important to remember that everyone you will meet in your life is fighting a hard battle. It could be sickness, infertility, the loss of a loved one, financial struggles, a loss of faith, addiction. Everyone has a burden they carry. Most of these burdens are hidden and you will probably not even know they are there, so it is imperative that you be kind to everyone. Be kind to those who deserve it, but more importantly be kind to those who don’t. They are the ones who need it most.

Nothing has greater value in this world than kindness and if you can be nothing else, be kind.

3. The answer to life is found in JOY. The acronym is simple. Jesus first, Others second, then Yourself. By following this blueprint you will always have joy, because contrary to what the world is shouting at you, real joy comes from forgetting yourself and serving others.

4. Build a relationship with your Father…earthy and heavenly. They both love you dearly and want the best for you. These relationships are built from TIME. Your relationship will grow and sweeten as you spend time together, communicate, listen, and follow their guidance.

5. It doesn’t matter what you are doing, only how you are doing it. I don’t care what vocation you choose. I see no more value in being a doctor than a handyman. I only hope you will let God lead your steps as you seek out your life’s path…

and whatever you find yourself doing, do it well. Work hard, give it 100%, do your best. If you can learn early the enjoyment that comes from a job well done you will always find life enjoyable…for there will always be work to do.

6. How you treat someone who can do nothing for you says more about your character than anything else. Remember this when choosing friends or considering a future spouse.

How do they treat animals, children, the janitor, the homeless man on the corner, or the man behind the counter waiting on them? That is the real test of character.

7. Embrace plan B. Your life will be full of plan Bs. Those unexpected roads and course changes that go against your plans. They are often disappointing and it can be hard to embrace plan B when you are struggling to let go of the dream you had. Just remember that your plan B is often God’s plan A…

and His plan is always better!

8. Be grateful. Gratitude is the  father of all other virtues and the key to growth and happiness. Count your blessings and change your life. Something as simple as listing your blessings can change everything…

it may not change the circumstances, but it will change you.

Say thank you. Express gratitude to your Heavenly Father and to others. Take the time to write a thank you note when someone does something kind.

Please be grateful.

9. When it comes to relationships you get what you think you deserve in life. This is a hard one and its root is found in the way you see yourself. You have divine worth and you must believe that. For when you truly understand your great value in the eyes of your Heavenly Father you will attract a spouse who also sees that value in you. Unfortunately, I have also seen the opposite be true.

Believe you are a royal daughter or son of a Heavenly King and you will attract royalty.

10. Live today…really live! So often we postpone the important for the urgent, spending our days racing around “putting out fires,” and never really living. Each day is a gift from God and how you use that day is your gift to Him. So for today be present. Stop and see. Experience the world around you. Listen to the words of those you love, really listen. Work, and pray, and laugh, and love a little more. Practice patience.  Say your sorry and forgive…

Forgive others. Forgive yourself.

Give that compliment, and hug those you love a little tighter for a little longer. Share your testimony. Dream big dreams…

and enjoy the journey,

every twist and turn,

because it is an amazing ride!

“If you must look back, do so forgivingly. If you must look forward, do so prayerfully. However, the wisest thing you can do is be present in the present…Gratefully.” – Maya Angelou