Tag Archives: RAD

A Time to Heal

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A few weeks ago we received an invitation in the mail to attend a recognition banquet at the Downingtown office of our cyber school. The invitation was for Molly and her family. She was one of the students be honored. We made plans to attend and initially we planned on making it a special mother/daughter trip for just Molly and I.

As Ozzie’s return home neared I watched the kids came to terms with this transition as they individually sorted through the mix of emotions tied to Ozzie’s return home. Molly in particular struggled to reconcile her past hurts and the need to forgive with anxiety that Ozzie would return home unchanged. She had such a desire to forgive and move forward but struggled to let go of the past hurts Ozzie had inflicted and trust that it was safe to emotionally open up to him. I saw the conflict playing out as she worked to forgive and move forward. My heart broke for her and Ozzie and all the other kids because I knew the hard emotional journey before her…before us all.

I also saw the spiritual maturity she showed as she approached those struggles humbly and prayerfully. As her recognition banquet approached she came to me to ask my thoughts on inviting Ozzie to come along on her special mother/daughter weekend. It was with great love she decided to set aside her own selfish desires and invite Ozzie along, hoping that some one-on-one time and special shared experiences might serve as a healing balm to past hurts.

When she extended the invitation to Ozzie he too was touched and motivated by her desire to heal their relationship and move forward, so he reciprocated her efforts with his own and decided to treat Molly to a fun, shared experience.

While he was at Harborcreek RTF Ozzie had the opportunity to earn “allowance” for daily chores and community work. After returning home he received a check in the mail closing his account. He decided to use a portion of that check to do something special for Molly on the trip and make a memory that was just theirs to share.

As a Mom I was touched and moved by both of their desires to forgive, heal and mend their relationship as siblings and the maturity and selflessness they each showed in sacrificing their own selfish desires for something bigger than themselves…

So, on Monday morning we left on a road trip of hope and healing as we headed east to Downingtown.

After a few stops along the way we made it to our hotel. Molly and Ozzie reveled in the fun of staying at a hotel,

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Swimming in the hotel pool,

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And enjoying the most delicious complementary breakfast I have ever seen at a hotel!

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After breakfast we got dolled up and ready to head over to the school for Molly’s recognition banquet and lunch with her teachers.

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The celebration began with a catered lunch of salmon, zucchini patties, chicken and macaroni and cheese. We enjoyed picnicking outside with the Hudak’s who were also there for Tatum’s recognition.

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After lunch we moved inside where a board meeting was taking place.

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There, in front of the board and their families, two dozen students were recognized and honored for achievements apart from their academics.

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It was a delight to see Tatum and Molly celebrated for their charitable endeavors.

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After they received their awards we stuck around long enough to visit with some of their learning coaches and teachers, both past and present.

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Ozzie was over the moon to get to see his learning coach, Halley Scarpignato, who surprised Ozzie with a new 21CCCS t-shirt.

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After saying our good-byes we were on the road, headed back home with a fun stop along the way.

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(In the next blog I will share some of the fun Molly and Ozzie shared these last two days.)

It was two days of healing and connecting for two of my kiddos.

Forgiveness isn’t easy.

Letting go of past hurts is hard.

Trusting those who have disappointed you requires faith,

And moving forward requires a certain level of selfless surrender…

But I know healing can be found in the most torn relationships if you can surrender the pain to the Heavenly Healer…

The same healer who turned water to wine, brought sight to the blind, calmed storms, and raised men from death…

I testify that God can take relationships left in ashes and breathe life into what was destroyed, making it better than before.

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I know this to be true…

I’m watching it happen.

A Small Spark…

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We saw the smoke before we saw the flames.

Driving down our road we were taken by surprise to see smoke rising from the hillside across the street from our home.

As we neared the field we discovered the entire hillside in flames.

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My heart raced as I fumbled to unlock the screen of my cell phone, find the button that allows me to dial (buried within the apps that litter my phone), and dial 911.

It was just Tyler in the car with me. Being my child who is actually extremely competent and calm in emergency situations, he pointed out that the flames were slowly climbing the hillside toward the natural gas well at the top of the hillside. He calmly suggested we finish our phone call from down the street, “You know, just in case everything blows up.”

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The dispatcher informed  us that police and fire fighters would arrive shortly and that they would want to speak with me, so Tyler and I hung out at the end of the driveway, a safe distance away from the flames rolling across the hillside.

A member from the fire department was the first to arrive and the first to question whether we had seen any other vehicles on the road before he took off in his truck to search for the potential arsonist before returning to us to have a longer conversation.

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After being assured that our home wasn’t at risk and there was no risk of explosion we settled in across the street from the fire, well out of the way of the police and firemen who spilled onto the scene, and watched as the fire was brought under control.

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This is the second fire on our road in the last two weeks, but one of many that evidently have been taking place in our township. We told the fireman who was first of the scene that a week prior two mattresses had been dumped on the edge of the road, near the bottom of our driveway, and a few days later were set on fire.

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We were blessed that it had been a wet week because the damage was contained to a small area near the road. Had it been drier or windier we could have lost everything…and everyone…

The thought of all that could have been lost, as a result of someone else’s criminal mischief, is sobering.

This particular fire was also set by someone who had disposed of an old couch on the side of the road a few days prior and then returned Wednesday afternoon to light it on fire. I suspect we missed crossing paths with this individual by only minutes. The couch was still smoldering when we came upon the fire. On that day, however, the elements didn’t work to our advantage. The drier grass and higher winds made the flames spread quickly.

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We were so grateful for the quick response by so many emergency personnel who arrived on the scene and made quick work of subduing a dangerous situation.

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An hour later the ground was no longer burning…no longer smoldering, but the effects of one small spark was evident in the charred ground that had replaced the tall, blowing grasses .

I have been thinking a lot about the power found within a small spark…

Power for destruction or power for good.

A few years ago we had the opportunity to visit Sequoia National Park as part of our cross-country road trip. There are no words that can adequately describe the awe- inducing wonder of standing beside one of these mammoth trees.

Giant sequoias are the world’s largest single tree and largest living thing by volume. Giant sequoias grow to an average height of 164–279 feet and 20–26 feet in diameter. Record trees have been measured to be 311 feet in height.

The oldest known giant sequoia based on ring count is 3,500 years old. Giant sequoias are among the oldest living things  on Earth.

While visiting Sequoia National Park we learned more about these trees and one thing that stood out to me and left an impression was the important role fire plays in the life of a Sequoia tree. While many forests would find destruction at the hands of a forest fire, the Sequoia tree finds life….

“The Giant Sequoia  is truly the most awesome species in the Sierra Nevada ecosystem. As in other living communities, sequoia groves – and the mixed conifer forests that contain them – have evolved with and adapted to natural processes that must continue if the community is to remain healthy. Fire is one of the major processes essential to the health of giant sequoia groves.
In the early 1960s, Dr. Richard Hartesveldt explored the connection between fire and sequoia regeneration. His small-scale prescribed fires followed nearly a century of fire suppression, and resulted in the germination of sequoia seeds and the recruitment of sequoia seedlings – something that had not occurred in the absence of fire.
Since those first experiments, researchers have further shown the benefits to sequoias from fire. Dendrochronology has determined that low intensity surface fires swept through the big trees approximately every 5 to 15 years. Sequoias rely on fire to release most seeds from their cones, to expose bare mineral soil in which seedlings can take root, to recycle nutrients into the soil, and to open holes in the forest canopy through which sunlight can reach young seedlings.” -National Park Service

Not only is the Sequoia tree designed to withstand the destructive power of fire. The tree actually finds life within those very same flames.

It takes the heat of fire to cause the cones of the tree to open and drop its seeds, leading to new life in the Sequoia forests.

What a beautiful analogy for life.

We are all hit with unexpected sparks in life…

Sparks that can turn into raging infernos of destruction.

Quite often these sparks are set by those intending to harm, while other times they are simply a side effect of life here on earth, like the strike of lightning during a summer storm.

Sometimes we are the “fire starters,” making choices that lead to destructive consequences.

Sometimes these sparks can be contained and managed, but often we find ourselves being hit with the hot wind of an out-of-control inferno that is beyond our ability to battle…we simply must ride out the tragedy and wait for the fire to burn out, hoping that the destruction isn’t too great.

 

In the wild fire seasons of life it is easy to become so consumed with survival in the midst of destruction that we don’t even notice the  hardened scales of our conifer cones opening under the heat of adversity, allowing seeds of new life to fall to the blackened ground.

Often it isn’t until the fire storm has passed that we see the bright shoots of green pressing up from the soil around us bringing with it hope, promises of healing, and the gift of new life.

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The same field (10 days later) as life burst forth from the charred soil…

Much like the Giant Sequoias, we have been through the fire and now find ourselves at the other end of this particular inferno. We are seeing the work of God sprouting up from destruction.

We have witnessed God’s promise:

That in life the greatest trials often give birth to the greatest blessings.

I testify this to be true.

 

Finding Healing through Horses

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Both Tyler and Ozzie have been on a journey to find healing through horses. For Ozzie, that therapeutic journey is just beginning, but for Tyler we are now eight months into his equine experience.

Both boys receive equine therapy through Glade Run Adventures, and although both boys work with the same therapist their sessions look very different. This is because each program is built around each client’s particular needs.

At the start of each boy’s therapeutic journey with Glad Run Adventures we sat down and discussed our goals for the program and the unique strengths and struggles of each child. The program was then tailored to meet that child’s needs.

For Tyler our goal for equine therapy was increased mindfulness, decreased anxiety, increased confidence, and trauma healing. We know that one of the most successful therapeutic tools for Tyler is animals. He connects with animals easily and is able to open up and express emotions with animals in a way that traditional talk therapy doesn’t  always work.

Tyler has found a level of comfort and confidence on the back of his horse that isn’t always seen in other areas of his life. He LOVES equine therapy and has blossomed under this form of therapeutic care.

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After eight months of lessons he is now capable and comfortable grooming his own horse, mounting and dismounting independently, walking and trotting. This last week he was thrilled to discover he had graduated from lessons in the arena to his first trail ride. This was a big deal because he is “drove” his horse without the leading of his therapist. She followed as he took the lead.

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Ozzie’s first lesson was this past Wednesday. He also has an overall goal of trauma healing but has other objectives that differ from Tyler. For Ozzie our therapeutic goals include connecting and empathizing with his horse, mindfulness, body awareness, and sensory imput. Both my boys have sensory seeking behaviors- something that is commonly seen in children from hard places- but Ozzie’s added diagnoses of autism increases the need for sensory input even more. Our hope is that we will be able to really feed that need through horse therapy. Because Ozzie’s goals are a bit different than Tyler’s goals, more of Ozzie’s lesson time will be spent off the horse and focused on grooming. By grooming an animal Ozzie will be able to learn how to connect through showing care to another.

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He will strengthen his ability to read social cues by watching the horse’s reactions. He will get bathed in a sensory rich environment as he pets, brushes and squeezes the animal. He favorite think to do is rub his face in his horse’s mane.

Equine therapy is just one more tool we are applying to help our boys find help and healing.

Here is a little more information on this therapeutic tool as taken from equestriantherapy.com:

“Equestrian therapy (also known as equine therapy or equine-assisted therapy) is a form of therapy that makes use of horses to help promote emotional growth. Equestrian therapy is particularly applied to patients with ADD, anxiety, autism, dementia, delay in mental development, down syndrome and other genetic syndromes, depression, trauma and brain injuries, behavior and abuse issues and other mental health issues.

In many instances, riders with disabilities have proven their remarkable equestrian skills in various national and international competitions. This is the reason why equestrian therapy has been recognized as an important area in the medical field in many countries.

Equestrian or equine therapy is also an effective technique for many therapists to teach troubled youth on how they learn, react and follow instructions. For example in a  beginners’ horse therapy, a student may be asked to get the horse move outside of a circle without even touching it. Students may try to clap, yell and whistle but the horse won’t heed the signal. In the same manner, parents, friends and others who are part of a troubled youth’s therapy would learn that yelling, clapping and forcing would not be the best way to make the person do something.

Why horses for therapy

Horses are the most popularly used animal for therapy although elephants, dolphins, cats and dogs may also be used. This is because horses have the ability to respond immediately and give feedback to the rider’s action or behavior. Horses are also able to mirror the rider’s emotion.

The basis of the therapy is that because horses behave similarly like human beings do in their social and responsive behavior; it is always easy for patients to establish connection with the horse.

Therapeutic benefits of equestrian training

People with cognitive, psycho-motor and behavioral disabilities have shown positive results when equestrian or equine therapy is taught correctly by certified equine therapists. Just like other therapies such as physical, occupational and speech-language therapy, people with disabilities are being helped or assisted by certified therapists to cope with their disability like regular or normal people can. However, equine therapy combines all three in such a way that the patients or students do not feel that they are actually under therapy.

In the process, equestrian or equine therapy aims for its patients or students to:

  • Build sense of self-worth, self-concept
  • Improve communication
  • Build trust and self-efficiency
  • Develop socialization skills and decrease isolation
  • Learn impulse control and emotional management
  • Set perspective

Equine therapeutic activities

What are the equine-related activities for therapeutic purposes? The activities are not limited to horseback riding. Many students may feel intimidated by the horse’s size and features and may take some time to develop trust when around the horse. So included in the therapy program are lessons on horse care, horse grooming, saddling and basic equestrian.

How does equine therapist suit the activity to the patient’s needs? The process or technique to be applied during the session depends on the type of disorder and its severity. But the primary techniques are:

  • Cognitive therapy
  • Practicing activities
  • Activity scheduling
  • Play therapy
  • Storytelling and talk therapy

Watch this video from Oprah Show on how equine therapy helps an army veteran cope with post traumatic stress.

A Thank You Note

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To the staff at Harborcreek Youth Services,
I just wanted to take a moment to express the gratitude our family has felt for the healing that has been found within the walls of Harborcreek Youth Services. It was with great heartache, but also great prayer, that we considered an RTF as the next needed step to help Ozzie and the rest of the family heal from immeasurable trauma. Ozzie came into our life four years ago through foster care. Upon meeting him for the first time we knew he was meant to be a forever member of our family. We also recognized that the path we were choosing to step on was not going to be smooth or easy. In addition to our three biological children we also had adopted a son with a similar trauma background to Ozzie’s and the same diagnoses of Reactive Attachment Disorder.
We knew the hard journey that lay before us in helping him heal, but we also knew that God equips those He calls.
Harborcreek  has been an integral piece of Ozzie’s healing journey.
The year prior to his stay was fraught with heartbreaking and scary choices as we watched Ozzie spin out of control. Memories of his past abuses overtook any rational thinking and he was consumed with thoughts of hurting himself and others. Each month brought another trip to the emergency room and hospitalization as he was consumed with thoughts of hurting or killing himself to escape the memories of the past that continued to haunt him. Our home became a maximum security facility with cameras installed throughout the house, alarms on bedroom doors and myself acting as Ozzie’s shadow as we moved through the day.
My goal was simple.
I just wanted everyone alive and safe for another day.
My life felt much like I had pitched a tent on a battlefield.
We went through the motions of everyday living; preparing meals, eating dinner as a family, tucking children into bed, all while bullets whistled past our tent. We lived in constant fear that one day one of those threats would hit its mark, so we invested everything we had into helping Ozzie find healing. We soon realized that even with all the services and support we had in place ( trauma therapy, EMDR therapy, equine therapy, medication management, and family based services,) for him to find the healing we wished for him, a higher level of therapeutic support would be needed.
It was with broken hearts we agreed to the next needed level of therapeutic support, which was an RTF.
It was a decision we didn’t make lightly, and while I knew our hands were tied slightly in the decision making process of where the insurance company would approve him to go, I knew that God knew where Ozzie needed to be. After much research and a lot of prayer my hopes lay in Harborcreek Youth Services.
Our first interaction with Harborcreek Youth Services came in the form of an interview with an intake worker at Harborcreek.
He met with us at an Eat n Park, halfway between our home and Erie, and over lunch he got to know us and in turn let us ask questions about the facility. The purpose of the meeting was for him to meet Ozzie in person, recognizing the impossible task of really getting to know a boy through a list of behaviors on paper. He wanted to make sure Ozzie was a good fit for the facility before a bed was offered and that was the first clue that Harborcreek Youth Services was different than other RTFs.
Rather than being driven by a bottom line, he was asking the questions needed to make sure Ozzie would be a good fit with the other boys and that Harborcreek would be the right fit for Ozzie and our family. The motivation was evident. This was not a business motivated by money, but rather motivated by something more divine…helping hurt kids heal.
When we received the call that a bed was available for Ozzie it was with a hard mix of emotions. There was relief and gratitude, but also much sadness that our adoptive journey had strayed so far from where we thought it would take us.
I struggled to hold back the tears on the day we dropped Ozzie off, and it was with great compassion and kindness that the staff helped us with that transition.
The first month was challenging for Ozzie and for the rest of the family as we struggled to find our new “normal,” but we soon saw that this higher level of therapeutic care was exactly what Ozzie needed. We were blown away by all that was offered at Harborcreek. Ozzie’s days were filled with group therapy sessions, music therapy, individual therapy, family therapy, trauma release exercises and EMDR therapy. The fact that Harborcreek offered EMDR therapy was one of the greatest pulls for our family. We have seen how much more effective it is for kids with RAD and PTSD than traditional therapies, and here he was able to really delve into the darkness that haunted him. His therapists worked to help Ozzie strengthen his communication skills, his ability to recognize and name emotions, the ability to feel safe connecting, and thus attaching, to our family.
There is a special spirit at Harborcreek Youth Services.
You can feel it as soon as you step on campus.
It becomes evident that this is a Christian facility from the moment you walk through the doors, and the fact that the kids are offered spiritual feeding, in the form of church services and access to spiritual council, sets this RTF apart from others. I believe this is a key component to why a higher level of healing is found here. Mind, body and spirit are so intertwined that it makes sense that only in a facility that treats all three components would healing be found to this degree.
There are so many elements to life at Harborcreek Youth Services that I appreciated. First and foremost was the staff. I can imagine that in a facility that works with troubled and hurting boys, it would be easy to disconnected and become hardened as a means of self- preservation. I am sure it can be heartbreaking and frustrating to not always see the fruits of your efforts, but I was amazed at how kind, connected, and invested all the staff were.
I was impressed by the level of care put into safety…Elements like house rules and security cameras were used to provide a safe environment for these kids to heal, but just as much effort was put into making sure Ozzie felt safe, not just was safe…a key component to getting the kids out of the fight-or-flight mindset which allows for healing.
Ozzie was placed at Harborcreek to find healing and help but it wasn’t all work. He appreciated his time in the classroom and loved his teacher. He raved about how good the food was…our compliments to the kitchen staff! And the all extras that were part of life at Harborcreek; things like sports, dirt bike classes, and trips off ground were a wonderful way to bring motivation and joy to kids who perhaps have received little of that in their life.
Ozzie spent seven months at Harborcreek Youth Services, and in that time found a level of help and healing that would have been impossible to replicate in an outpatient setting.
Our family is so grateful for all the staff, from the CEO down, who invests so much into this divine calling of helping those boys whom the rest of the world has given up on.
Your facility has the power to change the course of a young man’s life. I have witnessed it myself in my own child and will forever be grateful.
Last night  I stepped outside to find this scene before me.
Ozzie and his younger brother were sitting on a blanket under the stars looking for constellations. They sat side by side, talking and laughing.
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This was a scene I only dreamt of a year ago.
You have brought healing, joy and laughter back into our home.
Thank you for being that blessing!

The End of Winter

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This winter had been a weird one in Western Pennsylvania…

A bit bipolar in its behaviors with a sporadic mix of unseasonably warm days followed by an unexpected 10 inches of snow.

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There seems to be no rhyme or reason to the recent weather patterns and all creatures, great and small, seem anxious and uncertain as to what the day might bring.

Daffodils reach for the sky, teased out by the warmth of the sun, only to be covered in layer of snow hours later.

Birds are waffling in their duties, uncertain as to whether they should begin laying eggs or hunkering down in their nests for a long winter’s nap.

The furnace has had a workout, shifting from air conditioning to heat in a 12 hour span.

And  my 11 year old has given up trying to make any effort in dressing weather-appropriate and has compensated by simply pairing his flip flops with sweaters.

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The uncertainty has left everyone feeling a bit unsettled and I find myself taking note of how reflective our outside environment has been of our internal state.

Ozzie has spent the last 7 months in a residential treatment facility about 2 hours away. It was with tremendous heartache and no shortage of prayer that he was admitted. The year leading up to that decision was unimaginably traumatic for Ozzie and the rest of the family as the demons from his past history of abuse reared their ugly heads in heartbreaking, tragic, and dangerous ways. After exhausting all therapeutic support for Ozzie that could be found in an outpatient setting it became clear that for real healing to take place he would need to be immersed in an environment of intensive therapeutic support. For these last 7 months Ozzie has thrived under this higher level of care. With the sheer volume of therapeutic supports like daily therapies (individual and group,) music therapy, EMDR therapy for his PTSD, and trauma release exercises, he has found hope.

We all have.

I recently had a friend comment that they sometimes found my recordings on this blog to be disingenuous to our reality. Although not intended to be critical, merely taking note of the fact that most recent blogs have been lighter and fluffier than the heavier stuff that was more common a year ago, I have since thought much about that comment. As a mom I walk a shaky line in recording the story of my family. I share not for accolades or attention but for a mix of other reasons. I blog to record our story as a gift for my children in the decades to come. I blog as a therapeutic tool for myself. (The act of telling our story helps me process and make sense of this often hard journey.) But mostly I blog because I feel called to allow others to walk with us in the hopes that our trials and our joys might help you in your journey and that I might testify of God’s goodness in ALL seasons of life. Every blog is penned with prayer…A prayer that God might use this walk to support another in their walk. I don’t share all. Some would argue I share too much, others would say not enough, but every blog entry is prayerfully approached.

Often the struggle of what to write is not a debate of how much to share but rather HOW to share.

That is where I find myself today.

As the snow swirls outside on April 17th, I struggle to put words to the uniquely emotional journey we have been on these last 7 months. I don’t know that I have the words to fully convey the muddy mix of emotions that are connected to this unique journey. Much like the winter we have experienced these last 5 months, our experience with having a child in a residential treatment facility is a constant mix of sunshine and snow, with so many heartbreaks connected to the decision, but also immeasurable blessings. Each day I find myself uncertain of what the emotional forecast of the day will be and whether the hope or the heartache of the situation with reign supreme.

Saying good-bye to Ozzie on day one… leaving him in the care of a stranger… while I drove home… was the hardest day of my life. It was an adjustment for the entire family as we tried to find our new “normal” with Ozzie gone. As time passed the sharp ache dulled a bit, and while each home visit and the returning drive back brought tears, the situation didn’t seem so hopeless. We were seeing the fruits of God’s hand in leading us to this particular facility at this particular time.

We have watched Ozzie blossom under the intensive therapy offered him in an inpatient setting. He has worked so hard in his healing journey, has learned new ways to cope with the demons of his past that will inevitably raise their ugly head again in the future, but once again it is with a muddy mix of emotions that we transition into another new “normal.”

How do I fully articulate the emotions that fill our home this week when we ourselves struggle to name them all?

Ozzie will be discharged this Saturday. He has worked through the program and has experienced a level of success that many boys there never find. He has fought hard in his healing journey. He has faced down fears, memories of abuse, and his own destructive behaviors with the courage of a knight battling a dragon. None of this came easily and each step toward healing was paid for with blood, sweat and tears…on all of our parts.

I fully believe he is ready to return home.

Knowing his discharge date was approaching, my focus has been on preparing for that transition. Outpatient therapies have been put in place. With his return home he will continue EMDR therapy with Miss Tina, Family Based Therapy services have been put in place, and Ozzie will begin equine therapy (horse therapy) next week. Contact has been made with the school, his room has been prepared, and our schedule has been altered to account for Ozzie’s weekly appointments.

Once the logistics of this transition had been figured out it was time to address the emotional impact this transition was going to have on all members of the family.

When Ozzie left in September he was in a heightened state of crisis and his behaviors were threatening and unsafe. These last 7 months brought feelings of felt safety to the other children, feelings of safety they had not experienced in the year prior. With Ozzie’s return home pending, the anxiety in the home has increased significantly as the kids brace for the unexpected…

And while I know Ozzie is returning to us stable and safe, it will take time for the other kids to see that themselves and begin the process of trusting him, forgiving him, and reconnecting with him.

To help them express , process, and work through some of those emotions and concerns, I set up a family therapy session with Miss Tina. Knowing that Rusty and Tyler would be less comfortable/capable of using traditional talk therapy to express the emotions churning within, I suggested we do an art project.

At home we have had a great deal of success with Tyler using markers to express his emotions. When he can’t say what he is feeling he will color an abstract work of art, assigning an emotion to each marker color. The result is incredible. He is able to purge the feelings locked within and I am able to get a powerful visual of what he is feeling, and thus know how to best help him.

I suggested we use this same technique with the other kids at our family therapy session. The day before our appointment we sat down and made a list of emotions that we might all be feeling about Ozzie’s return home and then we made an emotion “key” with Tyler selecting which paint colors would be assigned to each emotion.

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On Thursday we drove to Miss Tina’s office with our paints, brushes and canvases. While the kids painted their emotions we talked through our crisis/ safety plan. When everyone’s paintings were complete we went around and talked about the emotions (and the corresponding thoughts) that went with each brush stroke of color, allowing the kids to comfortably share the muddy mix of emotions they have been feeling. I think it brought a sense of comfort to look around and see that the rest of the family had the same mix of colors/emotions that we had each been feeling individually.

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It is with great joy, gratitude, and relief that we welcome Ozzie back home, but the reality is that there are other emotions that color this transition as well.

Anxiety seems to be the prevailing constant in everyone’s work of art, so as we take this next step in our adoption journey we petition you, our fellow sojourners, to lift our family up in prayer.

We are ready to leave winter behind. We are ready for the new life and hope that comes with spring.

May the storms be over.

May the sun come out.

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Please pray for us.

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.

Welcome, 2018! We are so glad to see you!

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Some years are hard to say good-bye to. Some are not.

There are years of blessings and sweet reprieve and then there are years, much like a guest who has overstayed their welcome, that leave one ready to help them out the door with a boot to the butt.

2017 was one of THOSE years.

It was the hardest year we have lived as a family. There were challenges we never guessed would be part of our family’s story, and trials that exceeded anything I could have fathomed five years ago. This year was an out-of-control, white-knuckle ride that taught us much about surrender and left us looking to our only source of hope: the divine conductor.

It was an unpleasant year of stretching…a dichotomy of great discomfort but also great growth.

Its funny how those two things seem to be attached by an unbreakable string.

The lessons learned this year were essential, even blessed, and now that I have survived the storm I can look back and see that what seemed an out of control nightmare was a divinely orchestrated season of pruning, a needed season before we could bear fruit.

I can look back now and see things more clearly than I could when I was drowning in despair 6 months ago.

I see the purpose.

I see the growth.

I see the blessing and care.

And I see that single set of footprints in the sand left by a loving Lord who carried us through the last 12 months…

But I’d be lying if I said I was sad to see 2017 go.

There is a sense of relief that 2017 has come to a close, as well and profound feelings of hope that next year with hold more laughter than tears.

Welcome, 2018! We are so glad to see you!!

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It has become a annual tradition to join our friends, the Hudaks, in ringing in the New Year…and do so in spectacular fashion!

The evening revolves around food, as all good celebrations do. We make a variety of appetizers to add to the scrumptious feast laid out by our hosts, and together have one heck of a spread!

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We arrived to begin the countdown at 7:00 pm. The night began with eating and visiting. Everyone enjoyed the opportunity to catch up and hear about each other’s Christmases. At 9:00 pm the countdown to New Year’s began.

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For the last few years we have planned fun activities and games to countdown the minutes leading up to the ball dropping in Times Square. The kids never know what is planned so these activities are revealed by popping a balloon every 30 minutes that contain a paper declaring the next activity.

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The planned activities kicked off at 9:00 with some fun 2017 trivia and a “Year in Review” sheet for everyone to fill out. This has become a beloved tradition that I treasure. It is so much fun to see what each of my kids write in their reflections as they look back on the past year, as well as read their goals for the upcoming year. Scrapbooking these sheets allows me to look back on their evolution and growth as they grow from children to young adults.

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At 9:30 the next balloon was popped. This was a game that required some floor space so we moved down to the basement where the kids would have room to spread out in a large circle. For this fun, high adrenaline game the kids took turns rolling two sets of di with the goal of roling a double. When someone rolled a double they got to pick one of the movie theatre candies from the center of the circle OR steal from another player. This twist in the game made for a lot of squeals and groans as the kids acquired their favorite treat only to lose it with the roll of the dice. At the end of 10 minutes everyone got to keep whatever candy was in their possession.

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At 10:00 the kids broke into two teams: boys vs girls, for a “Selfie Scavenger Hunt.” The list they were given instructed them to take selfies with the 15 items on their list, most of which revolved around the Christmas season. It was a delight sitting back and watching the eight of them race and scramble to try and find all the items on their list.

 

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“A selfie with your first ornament”

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“A selfie of you decorating the tree”

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“A selfie with Rudolph”

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“A snow angel”

 

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“A selfie with Rudolph”

 

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“Selfie with a snow angel”

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“Selfie with a gift”

 

At 10:30 we engaged in a little “Hanky Panky”…a game that is as much fun to photograph as it is to play. Everyone gathered in the living room with a fresh box of tissues on their laps. On the count of three everyone began pulling tissues from their box, one at a time, with the goal of being the first to empty their box. We thought the Hudak’s propensity towards allergies would put them at a distinct advantage over the  McCleerys, but Toby (our Dark Horse) pulled off a spectacular win.

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At 11:00 it was time to introduce the Hudak’s to “Speak Out,” a game we enjoyed immensely at our “Mock New Year’s Eve party” two days prior.

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Lucas was hilarious! We laughed until we cried.

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As midnight loomed we had time for one last activity. This one came from the Hudaks. It was time for our traditional launching of the sky lanterns. Decorated with our hopes and dream for the New Year, we stepped outside and launched  our dreams toward Heaven.

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There is something so beautiful about penning our hopes on paper and setting them a flight, both figuratively and in actuality.

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The night was cold and still as we watched our lanterns of light float away.

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By then it was almost midnight.

Bubbly was poured (Non-alcoholic, of course) 😉

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Pay no mind to the drunk behind the curtain

And hats were donned, as we counted down to a New Year.

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We ushered in 2018 with cheers, kisses, and the Hudak tradition of a barefoot run through the snow…BRRRRR!!

 

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Lucas: Mr. “Too cool for School” was unfazed by the experience.

 

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Then enjoyed the warmth of the fire and good company until our carriage turned back to a pumpkin and it was time to return home.

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Happy New Year, from our family to yours!

Finding Peace and Joy this Christmas Season

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Well, Christmas Eve has finally arrived. After weeks of preparations leading up to this day, it has finally arrived, and I am enjoying a few minutes of silence, peace, and reflection before the craziness begins.

This has been a blessed Christmas season as we have found ourselves in a place of immunity, flying above many of the struggles and trials of last Christmas season. This time of rest has been appreciated, especially as we reflect on the last 12 months and all the heartache we endured. 2017 was a hard, hard year…one of the hardest of my life. There is a sense of relief that we will soon be closing this chapter and stepping into a new year filled with hopeful possibilities. But as we find ourselves in a more peaceful place this Christmas season so many others are enduring their own personal hell. I can’t even count the number of calls and conversations I’ve had this month with friends that are enduring the hardest experiences life has to offer. The sheer number of conversations I have had with friends who are finding themselves in the midst of the most tragic life circumstances are staggering. These stories of heartache have kept me awake into the night and play in a continual loop in my mind as I move mindlessly through the menial tasks of everyday life. As I fold my laundry I am haunted by the loss of one family’s child just days before Christmas. As I wash dishes I play back stories told through the tears of friends who are dealing with the ugly affects of trauma…effects that seem to rear its ugly head during the holiday season. As I wrap packages in the festive paper of the season I play back the phone conversations with friends who have shared their tears and stories of heartache with me in the last few weeks.

And in the midst of all this I have struggled to reconcile the great heartache playing out around me with the merriment that permeates all facets of our world this time of year. How does one find joy in the season when drowning under the sadness of their own personal hard season of life? This is the question that has consumed my thoughts for the last few weeks. As I pray for those I love…for those burdened more heavily that usual this time of year…I consider the question, “How do we find the merriment the world says is synonymous with the Christmas season when all we can feel is heartache?” I ask this question not only on behalf of friends enduring personal tragedy but also on behalf of my boys. Coming from a place of indescribable trauma, the holidays represent something different than they might for a child who has only joyful memories to look back on. For a child with trauma, this time of year is a heartbreaking trigger…a reminder of hurt, loss, and scary or sad memories. In past years I have struggled to find the merriment of Christmas amid the behaviors that rear their ugly head this time of year. What was once a season of pure delight has evolved into a season of struggle, heartbreak, and enduring till December 26th as I watch my boys struggle under the added burden of the holidays…and I know they are not alone. I have witnessed it all month long in the lives of so many who are simply trying to make it through this time of year in one piece.

As I have pondered on the question, “How do we find merriment in this Christmas season when all we feel is heartache?” the answer came to me. There during the early hours of morning as I sat in the darkened living room, lit only by the colored lights of the tree, I heard the Spirit whisper the answer I was so desperately seeking…

While the merriment of Christmas may seem beyond reach, the peace and joy of this Christmas season are not.

You see, merriment is circumstantial. It is trivial. It is shallow. It is of the world…

But peace and joy are not.

The peace and joy of Christmas have nothing to do with what is happening around you, rather, they are driven by what is happening within you.

They are a gift from God, freely given this time of year and all year long.

They can be found in the darkest of days, in the hardest of trials, at the heart of the greatest tragedies, because they aren’t born from this world. True Christmas peace and joy are gifts from heaven. They are not driven by circumstance. They can’t be purchased. They are gifts that quietly fall from the sky like snowflakes settling on our shoulders.

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We witness this heavenly Christmas gift being bestowed the first time as we read the account of the first Christmas. Circumstances certainly didn’t justify merriment. We had a poor, young couple traveling with minimal belongings. We had a woman heavy with child, uncomfortable and probably a bit frightened. We had a young husband desperate to find a place for his weary wife to rest…a safe place for her child to be born. There on that Christmas day they experienced homelessness, rejection, and uncertainty. There was a distinct lack of merriment, but oh, the abundance of peace and joy that permeated that Holy night!

We need only to reflect on that first Christmas season to find the answer to the question that has plagued me this holiday season. It isn’t about what we need to “do” to change the course of this hard time of year. It isn’t about “doing” anything. It is simply about being still and allowing the peace and joy of Christmas to settle quietly upon our shoulders. It is a heavenly gift with no strings attached…a gift that is freely and graciously given regardless of what burdens you find yourself carrying this Christmas season. And all that must be done to receive it is to loosen the iron clad grip we have on the worries of this world, open our palms, and turn them Heavenward to accept the peace and joy Heavenly Father is offering each and every one of us.

My prayer for this Christmas season is that each and every one of you might be showered with the peace and joy of Christ.

Merry Christmas, my friends.

Reindeer, and Rabbits, and Robin…Oh My!

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We all have our own favorite holiday traditions.

In fact, it sometimes feels as though the Christmas season doesn’t last nearly long enough to fit in everyone’s favorite holiday activities amid the busyness of everyday life that continues to march on through the month of December…

despite everyone’s wish that we could just “play” all month long.

We have learned that we must prioritize.

We begin the Christmas season with a family meeting where we discuss the family’s vision for the upcoming month and each family member gets to weigh in on what family traditions are most important to them. Using this “Top 7” list we begin to pencil in some of the activities on the December page of the calendar. Many of these traditions take place at our weekly Family Night when everyone is home together. Because of Ozzie’s absence this holiday season we have worked hard to reformulate the way we do some of these beloved traditions so that he wouldn’t have to miss out. It isn’t the same as him being home, but it is the next best thing.

Christmas time is about unconditional love, service, sacrifice, giving of oneself, and family, and we have tried to bring those key values into our visits with Ozzie.

Sunday was our cookie decorating day. Having baked 4 dozen sugar cookies on Saturday, Sunday was freed up to enjoy the fun part of the project which was the decorating. Knowing how much Ozzie loves this particular Christmas tradition we brought to our weekly visit a container of homemade sugar cookies, icing, and lots of sprinkles and glitter so he could decorate, share, and of course eat his fill of cut-out cookies.

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When we returned home (after a great visit with Ozzie) we proceeded to do it all over again with the other four kids. Supplies were gathered and spread across the plastic tablecloth as everyone took their seats around the dining room table.

But someone was missing.

Tyler was hiding once again.

These last two weeks have been fraught with high anxiety and hard emotions. I think the combination of the holiday season, and all the hard emotions that come with the holidays when you have had the past that Tyler has, as well as the realization that Ozzie is coming home in a few days (which brings with it feelings of excitement and joy but also feelings of anxiety and fear) has led to an increase in his already noticeable facial tics ,as well as an increase in his tendency to hide in closets or small spaces…a regression that occurs when he is afraid.

I knew he was struggling and knew it was better to not push, so we began decorating cookies with Tyler hiding behind the Christmas boxes in the corner. My hope was that as he listened to the lightness and laughter of our activity his anxiety would decrease and he would emerge when he was ready…

And he did.

Eventually everyone was seated at the table enjoying this favorite Christmas tradition.

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I loved the creativity shown as family members took traditionally shaped cut-out cookies and found within the familiar lines less familiar objects…

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Gingerbread men were turned into reindeer:

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Stockings transformed into bunnies:

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Trees became clocks:

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Presents were turned into snow globes:

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Tyler turned his gingerbread boy into Batman’s sidekick, Robin:

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And Toby took a deformed stocking and found within its distorted lines the Statue of Liberty:

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The end result was 3 platters of the most creative Christmas cookies EVER,

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And a night filled with special family memories.

Oh, Crap!!

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The first clue that perhaps all was not right with the world was the smell.

Rusty and Grace were at home, alone, when they caught the first whiff. A quick glance around the room for 4-legged suspects revealed that the most likely instigators of the smell were curled up on couches elsewhere. They decided they better investigate.

Their keen sense of smell led them to the basement door. As they opened the door to investigate they were hit with a putrid wave of foreboding. Hesitantly and with great apprehension they began descending down the stairs only to step into a nightmare-inducing horror film. A pipe above their head was showering down feces in a most spectacular fashion, while the contents of our septic tank bubbled up from the drains on the floor.

Being McCleery’s, these kids have been better trained for the worst sorts of disaster scenarios than most government FEMA workers. Rather than running from the horror that lay before them they jumped into this crappy scenario with both feet (after donning rubber boots) and set to work trying to save what they could.

Racing through the sewage bubbling up beneath their feet and raining down on them from above, they hurried to move boxes out of the path of destruction.

When they finally felt that things were safe enough to run upstairs for the phone they called Toby and asked what they should do. After confirming that there was nothing else that could be done until he made it home from work, they called me at tutoring to give me a heads up of what I would be coming home to.

In typical Gracie  efficiency, she ended the conversation with a breezy, “Don’t feel like you have to hurry home. We’ve got things under control here.”

When Tyler was done with tutoring we drove home. As we stepped into the front door we were hit with the unique smell combination of sewage layered with ocean breeze air freshener, AXE cologne, and a variety of Bath and Body Works body sprays. I’m not sure if the AXE cologne helped or hurt the situation but the kids insisted that things smelled significantly better with the added scents.

Toby arrived home and headed downstairs only to emerge a little while later with the unfortunate news that there was nothing to be done until septic companies opened the following morning. In the meantime we just had to endure the smell and not use any water. That meant no showers, no dishes, no laundry, and especially NO FLUSHING until we figured out why our basement was filling with sewage.

The next day angels in rubber gloves pulled into our driveway.

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For three hours they worked to remedy our situation. Thankfully they discovered the blockage and was able to fix it, and while they were here we also had them pump our septic tank. One septic emergency was enough for this lifetime so we chose to be proactive while we had the truck here.

Once the problem was solved and the shower of crap had ceased, it was time to brave the horror downstairs and clean up the mess. All I can say is, “Kuddos to these kiddos who without comment or complaint, pulled on their rubber boots and rubber gloves, grabbed a shovel and began scooping.”

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What troopers they were. No strangers to crappy situations, they just dove into this unpleasant task with steely resolve and a good sense of humor and within a few hours had turned our septic swamp back into a basement.

While most teenagers would have been bemoaning this unforeseen change in our Family Night plans, Molly, with typical optimism, cheerful commented as she shoveled poop into trash bags, ” Well, this is one Family Night we will NEVER forget!”

Once everything had been scooped and scrubbed, we doused the basement in bleach to kill any residual germs. As we stumbled upstairs, weary and ready for showers, Tyler took a huge sniff. “Our house doesn’t smell like poop anymore,” he observed, “Now it smells like Kalahari!” The smell of bleach did give the impression we had just walked into an indoor water park. 🙂

All was well that ended well…or so we thought.

The real damage done by this unexpected circumstance had nothing to do with the pile of ruined storage that got carried outside. No, the real damage was far more devastating…

Beginning on Monday night, the night the septic tank back up into our basement, we noticed a concerning change in Tyler. Out of nowhere he developed a pronounced facial tic. It was bizarre. It came on quickly and increased in severity within the first 24 hours. My first thought was that he was having a seizure, as it was disconcerting to see his facial muscles rapidly clench and release as his eyes rapidly blinked. What was even more disconcerting was the fact that he was unaware he was even doing it.

As the week progressed I spent countless hours researching possible causes and set up appointments with his doctor, therapist, and psychiatrist, uncertain if the cause was neurological, medication driven, or rooted in trauma. I had a theory but it wasn’t until we met with his therapist and his psychiatrist that my theory was confirmed. They agreed that what we were seeing was a regression that came as a result of the smell of feces in the house. The sense of smell is the strongest memory trigger we have and they both suspect that when Tyler was exposed to a smell that was so pronounced in the deplorable conditions of his birth home where atrocious abuse took place, he was hit with terrifying flashbacks. Unable to express or vent the horrors playing out in his head, his body responded to that fear and stress physiologically in the form of these new facial tics.

We are still ruling out other possible medical causes but his doctors are fairly certain that this regression is trauma driven, and although the smell is long gone, the flashbacks remain and the feelings of not being safe at home are driving these new symptoms. My heart breaks for him. Not only because of the looks he is now getting from others, but because of the horrors that he must have endured to cause his little body to have such a visceral reaction to a smell.

This entire week has been a profound reminder of the difference between the frustrations and the bothersome inconveniences of life that we perhaps view as trials, and the real trials of life that so many are burdened with this Christmas season. Yes, a basement full of sewage was not fun, but really, was it anything more that a frustration or irritation. How blessed we are to have only endured that situation for 24 hours when there are children around the globe living in such squalor every day. It was a wake-up call for me…a powerful reminder this Christmas season of how blessed we are, but also wake up call of how little we are doing to help those whose trials are so much greater than ours.

Lord, help me to not lose sight of that admonition…

Not only this Christmas season, but all year long.