Tag Archives: trauma

Demolition Derby!

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Adopting two boys with a history of early childhood abuse and trauma has had a profound effect on all aspects of our life. It has changed the way we see and navigate our world. It has made me question truths that were once embedded in me and flipped any parenting strategies that were tried and true with my older children, on their head. Parenting a child from trauma requires me to pause, consider how I instinctually would respond to the situation, and then do the complete opposite.

It is like living every day as “Backwards Day.” One area where this is particularly true is how I respond to emotional escalation. When my children were little and they would start to escalate or spin out of control, my instinctual response was to channel my internal “Mr. Rogers,” lower my voice, speak softly and calmly, and decrease the energy level of the situation.

When parenting a child that comes from trauma, this approach is not only ineffective but can have the opposite effect that you are seeking. For children who come from abusive homes calm, quiet, and soft voices are unfamiliar and scary. They are so foreign to these kids that were raised in an environment of chaos and heightened fear. I have discovered that when children from hard places are feeling emotionally out of control often what they are most in need of is external chaos. By increasing the energy level, by bringing an unexpected and crazy response to meet their chaos, their internal anxiety lowers.

I know it sounds so counterproductive to those of us who come from healthy homes, but for children who have lived their entire life in a state of heightened adrenaline, calm is unknown and uncomfortable.

It has taken me a long time to reprogram my approach. It takes presence of mind to walk into one of the boys’ meltdowns and rather than talking calmly and trying to diffuse the escalation, amp up the energy with a pillow fight, a Three Stooges comedy routine, or an impromptu Nerf battle.

I knew Friday was going to be rough. Ozzie was returning home and with his return came heightened emotions on everyone’s part. I knew the situation was a ticking time bomb.

Ozzie was angry and blaming me for his time at the hospital.

Tyler was fearful of Ozzie’s return home.

And everyone else was emotionally on edge.

I knew it was time to pull out the big guns and amp up the energy and chaos is a big way, so as to avoid a crisis. I had to choose a parent driven, fun, healthy form of chaos before the boys tried to meet their own need for chaos in an unhealthy and destructive way.

Friday evening Toby and I just had the two little boys with us. Molly was at work. Rusty was on a white-water rafting adventure with his Boy Scout troop, and Grace was recovering from wisdom teeth surgery (more on those adventures in a future blog) so we made plans to have some one on one time with Tyler and Ozzie. We knew it needed to be high energy and adrenaline filled, given the emotionally instability of everyone with Ozzie’s return home. We were also looking for an activity that would bond and connect Tyler and Ozzie in a healthy way, with the hope some shared fun would dispel the fears Tyler was having of Ozzie’s return home.

So, what did we do??

We headed to the Butler Farm Show for some messy, muddy, noisy fun at the Demolition Derby!

I knew it was the PERFECT activity for the boys.

We arrived at the Butler Farm Show just as the Demolition Derby was beginning. Despite the rain, the crowds were high.

We parked in an outer field and took the tractor-pulled wagon to the front gate.

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At the front gate, we purchased tickets and headed in.

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The sun was just starting to lower in the sky and the neon lights of the rides and booths lit up the fair grounds.

We walked past the buildings that held all the 4-H farm animals.

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We stepped into the arena where the demolition derby was being held and the place was buzzing with excitement.

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We missed the first heat but saw the after effects of the destruction which just fueled the boys’ excitement for what was coming.

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As we sought out seats in the already packed stands we ran across friends and stopped for a quick chat.

We eventually settled ourselves near the top of the stands…seats that allowed us a sweeping view of all the action without any of the flying mud that accompanied the lower seats.

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The next round of cars drove out and lined up for the next heat.

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The competitors drove junk cars that had been dolled up and personalized with paint and props, which was as cosmetically effective as putting lipstick on a pig,

But the results were comical. There was much creativity put into the designs.

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Then the countdown began…

5, 4, 3, 2, 1…

And the destruction began.

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Much like an adult version of bumper cars, the vehicles rammed, crashed, and collided into each other.

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The thrill level increased as tires flew off, bumpers crumpled, and engines caught on fire.

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It was everything a little boy loves: cars, mud, noise and destruction.

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Not only did they love it, but they enjoyed it together. It was a shared thrill, a connecting experience, one step closer to bonding.

As chaos ensued below us I watched as the boys found peace with the thoughts in their head.

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They were still. They were calm. They were happy.

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By feeding their need for chaos with a fun, healthy, high adrenaline experience we found some peace.

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Oh, the irony!

I have a feeling there will be more demolition derbies in our future.

 

A Safe Circle

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On Thursday morning we received news of Ozzie’s discharge date. After three weeks in Mercy’s DAS program for acute stabilization they deemed him safe to return home.

This was good news as we have missed Ozzie being home with his family where he belongs, but I’d be lying if I said that the news didn’t stir up hard emotions in the other children. Ozzie’s absence has been a time of respite for us all. Prior to being admitted things had escalated to a level we had never experienced before, and the effect on everyone was heartbreaking. His heightened level on aggression and rage left the other children fearful of what might happen next.

This has been especially true for Tyler whose trauma background makes him especially susceptible to that fight, flight or freeze response when Ozzie starts escalating. It is a hard, heartbreaking situation to be in as a mom. By meeting the emotional needs of one child I am triggering the memories of trauma and destroying the feelings of safety in another. It is an impossible position to be in and requires a constant, concerted effort to meet everyone’s needs and keep everyone stable.

The news that Ozzie was returning home brought mixed feelings of happiness but also worry and concern and perhaps a bit of dread, knowing what home life was like last time he was home. The emotions of the older kids were evident only to this Momma’s well trained eyes as I saw an increase in sensitivity, irritability and tears over trivial things. I could see that they were struggling with worries about the storm that could be brewing on the horizon, but it was Tyler that most concerned me. The absence of violence and aggression these last few weeks transformed Tyler into a child whose was “lighter.” The absence of fear was apparent in the way he laughed more easily, interacted more joyfully, and engaged more readily. He was a different child.

The news of Ozzie’s discharge date brought back all those old fears of not feeling safe. Memories of the chaos and abuse in his unsafe birth home tend to bubble to the surface when there is emotional chaos and escalation at home.

I didn’t know how desperately he was seeking and begging for safety until the morning of Ozzie’s discharge when I found him outside. He was coloring with chalk on the sidewalk. I sat down beside him and asked him what he was drawing.

“A Safe Circle,” he replied.

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I had never heard him use that term before so I asked him what a safe circle was.

He answered, “It is a place where no one can hurt me.

Now this is not a term or a strategy that has ever come up in therapy. It was a coping tool Tyler created on his own, which is a huge step forward from the emotional “freezes” he has been having lately. Here he felt unsafe and came up with a strategy to bring that feeling of felt safety he was in need of.

I asked him to tell me about his safe circle.

He explained that as long as he sat in his circle Ozzie couldn’t hurt him.

I asked who was allowed in his safe circle and he began to draw.

He drew Toby and I. He drew Grace, Molly and Rusty. He drew the dogs, and then he drew himself.

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It is hard to describe the flood of mixed emotions that crashed over me as I sat on the sidewalk with that broken little boy.

I grieved for the pain he has felt in his short life that makes him so afraid.

I grieved for the pain Ozzie has felt at the hands of his biological parents that make him so angry.

I grieved for the profound loss of what our family once was, a loss that is deeply felt by my older children.

I grieved for all the children that are still living in their own personal hells that haven’t been rescued.

I grieved for those children who may never get a chance at love and a healthy family.

I grieved for the families that are also in the trenches fighting the hard fight to save their children from their past,

I grieved, but I also found myself buoyed up by gratitude…

Gratitude for a testimony of a God greater than earthly heartbreak,

Grateful for His hand in leading us to the people and services that support and help us in this journey,

Grateful for second chances, do-overs, and the unfailing hope that things will get better.

It broke my heart to see the artistic manifestation of Tyler’s deepest fears crudely drawn out at my feet, by it also brought forth a bubble of gratitude and hopefulness. He did it. He faced his dark demons and rather than cower under their power he used his voice to name the fear and then came up with a strategy to face that fear.

A Safe Circle may seem silly and ineffective in facing all that we face in our home but this was the emotional equivalent of Tyler donning his armor for self protection, which is a HUGE step forward in his therapeutic journey towards overcoming his past.

The next step is healing the brokenness of the relationships under our own roof and part of that is helping Ozzie and Tyler connect again with the absence of Fear and Anger getting in their way.

We began healing the past destruction by inviting a different form of chaos and destruction on Friday night with a visit to the demolition derby. Stay tuned for the recap of our muddy, messy, noisy adventure!

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And then there were TWO!

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On Friday I found myself down to two children…something that almost never happens. Grace was working at the Philly Pretzel Factory and Ozzie is currently inpatient at Mercy Hospital right now receiving more intensive trauma therapy.

Rusty was also gone for the week.

On Sunday night, as we were driving home from the Homestead (following Gracie’s graduation celebration with Mimi and Pop Pop) we received a phone call from friends asking us if Rusty would be interested in attending Boy Scout camp with their son up in New York. Their troop had a few last-minute drop outs and Rusty was invited to join them in place of one of the missing boys. The cost was already covered which meant Rusty could attend for free. It was an awesome opportunity to earn 6 more merit badges and enjoy another week at Boy Scout Camp, and all the fun it entails.

He was a bit nervous leaving for New York with a group of leaders and boys he didn’t know well, but he said, “yes.” We were very proud of him. A few years ago I don’t know that he could have pushed through his anxiety to go, but this week he pushed himself out of his comfort zone and decided to join this other troop.

We arrived home from the Homestead around 8:00 pm and began washing all our gear from the Trek camping experience (that we got home from the day before) and packed Rusty up to head out again for a week in New York, which  he will return home from with just enough time for another load of laundry before we leave for Texas.

From Virginia to New York to Texas in a week’s time. Russ has become quite the world traveler!

He had a good time. His favorite merit badge class he attended was Basketry, where he learned to weave baskets. He brought home these two completed projects.

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We had a lot of excitement in his absence…more negative than positive, but we ended the week on a high note when I found myself home with just Tyler and Molly.

The day started out hard for Tyler. He has been struggling with debilitating fears that cause him to shut down and push him into the “freeze” fear response. This is very concerning for us and we are trying to work through what is triggering this new, more primitive, fear response.

On Friday we had a doctor’s appointment. Before we could get ready to go, however, Tyler went into freeze mode, triggered (I believe) by the arrival of two therapists from Glade Run Family Based Services that came out to talk to me about whether their services would be a good fit for Ozzie and our family, upon his release from the hospital. While they were there Tyler shut down and remained in shut down mode for the next 5 hours. We missed our doctor’s appointment and all the packing and preparations I had planned for the trip were placed on hold as I worked to help Tyler regulate.

It was at that point I set aside all my plans for the day and declared it a play day (aka: mental health day!)

 After a hard, high-stress week my two most emotionally sensitive kids needed to enjoy some light hearted, happy fun, so that is what we did.

We started with a trip to the Dollar Tree so I could get some treats and games to make fun travel bags for our 46-hour road trip. While there Tyler spotted a combination lock that he desperately wanted. I saw in it an awesome new fidget toy, so I bought it for him. As I taught him how to unlock it (spinning it right, left, right) I was transported back to my high school hallway locker.

He has loved this silly, $1.oo gadget. So much so that I keep finding everyday items locked up around the house.

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No one will be stealing his shorts!

The day got better for Tyler but the evidence of his heighted level of anxiety was present even in the midst of our evening fun.

We started by heading to the pool for “Flick and Float.”

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Toby was working late trying to finish up the job he was on before we left for Texas the next day, so I headed to the pool with just Molly and Tyler. When we arrived, I scoped out a seat by the pool while Molly headed into the girls’ locker room to change and Tyler headed to the boys’ locker room. Molly came out minutes later and then we waited for Tyler…

And waited and waited and waited.

Finally, we walked over to the door of the locker room to check on him. From the door, we could see him balled up and hiding in the corner. He had stepped out of the locker room and hadn’t spotted us in the crowd of swimmers. He panicked, thinking we had left him.

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It breaks my heart to see my boy, who has always been so fearless, fearful of everything…

He finally made it into the pool and had a wonderful time playing water volleyball with Molly.

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The “flick” part of “Flick and Float” never happened. There were technical difficulties with the projector, so we floated without flicking.

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Toby arrived home around 8:00pm so we headed back home to change into dry clothes and the four of us headed over to our local fireman’s fair to let Molly and Tyler ride some rides.

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Tyler’s anxiety level decreased significantly with Toby’s arrival home. Toby really is Tyler’s greatest source of security and felt safety.

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We had a fun evening soaking up the festive atmosphere of the summer carnival.

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There is something magical about the glow of neon lights, the sound of carnival barkers, and smell of funnel cakes.

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We ended the night with sweet carnival treats. Cotton Candy for the kids and I and a funnel cake for Toby.

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It has been a hard, heart-breaking week at Patchwork Farm. I have felt so sad. This special time with Tyler and Molly was just what I needed, and just what they needed.

Tomorrow we leave for Fredericksburg, Texas, with stops in St. Louis, Oklahoma City, Ft. Worth and San Antonio.

I pray things only get better from here.

Travis and Krista, here we come!

I hate Blogging

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Blogging is therapeutic for me,

But sometimes I hate it…

Because by recording our journey with words, the heartbreak and pain of this journey become all the more real.

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When I decided to begin making a recording of our adoption journey I made a promise to myself that my recordings would be real and honest. That I would be brave enough to be authentic, with the hope that others might be strengthened in their own hard journeys, knowing that they aren’t alone in the struggle of mortality.

But it sometimes is hard and disheartening to have to follow a good news blog with a sad news blog…

But this is the heartbreaking reality of raising a child with Reactive Attachment Disorder. Emotionally they can escalate from joyful to enraged at a speed of 0 to 60, especially when faced with a positive, happy, family bonding experience like the vacation we just arrived home from and the trip to my brother’s wedding we are leaving on in a few days.

I won’t go into the specifics of all that has transpired over the last five days, suffice it to say, it had been heartbreaking. Ozzie is in a very dark place and confirmed his struggles at therapy on Tuesday when he told his therapist that he didn’t feel safe with himself. He shared the dark thoughts and fantasies he had been having, as well as the heartbreaking flashbacks that were consuming him. It was decided at once that he had to be hospitalized again.

He wasn’t safe to travel to Texas for the wedding.

Tina was fearful for his life and said he needed to be placed under suicide watch immediately.

Once stabilized he will spend the next 4 weeks at Mercy Hospital’s DAS program where he will undergo more intensive inpatient trauma therapy to help him process the flashbacks of past abuse that are the source of his emotionally instability right now.

My heart is breaking.

This isn’t how I pictured my brother’s wedding.

This isn’t how I pictured our adoption journey.

This isn’t how I pictured my life.

I mourn for all that has been lost.

I mourn for what could have been.

But I especially mourn for this hurting, broken boy who feels so unworthy of life.

This isn’t the blog I wanted to write.

I’d like to end with a note of hope,

But I am empty.

This is me being courageously real and authentic.

Please pray for us.

 

 

Crossing the Grand Canyon

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Sometimes I feel like I am drowning under the weight of the trauma that has hijacked our lives.

Not just the trauma playing out in our own home at the hands of hurt children who are the products of past hurt,

But under the enormity of how deep their wounds run, how affecting their past stories are, and how hugely overwhelming the work ahead of us is.

I sometimes feel as though I am standing at the edge of the Grand Canyon with no ropes, no harness, and no mule, and I must figure out how to get myself (and my family) across this chasm safely.

It is enough to make me sit down and cry.

The task seems so impossible.

The work is so overwhelming.

This is the life that comes with adopting children who come from hard places. This is the impossible task I wake up to daily. And just when I think we have found the path that leads to the other side we turn a corner and find ourselves at the edge of another cliff.

I suppose this is an accurate analogy for parenting in general, and certainly relatable for any mother who is raising a child with special needs or unique challenges,

But it is especially true for raising children who have a history of trauma, a past filled with abuse, a diagnosis of PTSD or Reactive Attachment Disorder, or any child with attachment issues.

Each step forward is paved with uncertainty and unpredictability.

I step, never knowing if the ground beneath me will hold or if it will crumble.

A happy moment or a fun experience can turn to heartbreak in an instance as unseen triggers force the primitive fear part of the boys’ brains into fight, flight or freeze mode…

Instantly shutting them down and putting a halt to everything until we can work through it.

Minute by minute I am combatting every traumatic experience, every memory of untrustworthy adults, every failed attachment, every spoken lie that has cemented itself in my boys’ brains…all while working to help them feel safe.

It is a full-time job…and by full time I mean I am on duty 24/7, constantly assessing, watching for triggers, helping them to regulate and pulling them away from the edge of the abyss, all while trying to meet the needs of everyone else in my life.

It can be exhausting,

And I often go to bed feeling like a failure.

I haven’t been the sister, daughter, friend, wife, etc. that I want to be. I am in the trenches. I am trying to save two lives, and unfortunately that effort comes at the expense of other things I want to be doing for the other people in my life that I love.

What makes it doubly hard is the fact that the trauma driven behaviors of one boy will then trigger the trauma driven behaviors of the other, as we have been seeing the last few weeks.

Tyler’s trauma behaviors are very fear based. He acts up or shuts down because of debilitating fears. These fears continue to grow as he has begun remembering more about the abuse that happened in his birth home. Over the last year his fear reaction has evolved from fight mode (the body’s adrenaline-driven response to perceived threats) to the more primitive fear reaction of freeze mode.

Now when he gets anxious or fearful he just shuts down. He literally freezes. He won’t make eye contact or speak or move. He curls up or slouches down, covers his face, and is unable to respond.

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It is then up to Toby or I to help “thaw” him, or regulate him, to the point where he can process, reason, and express what he is fearful of.

It is heartbreaking to watch and literally slams the breaks on any plans we have when this happens, because we can’t move forward or do anything until I can help him out of his frozen state.

This process can take minutes or hours to work through.

The added challenge in our home, currently, is the fact that Ozzie is inducing these fear responses in Tyler.

While Tyler’s trauma behaviors tend to be fear driven, Ozzie’s tend to be anger driven.

He is so enraged about the injustice of all he has endured that his behaviors lately have been very angry and aggressive, and when Ozzie lashes out in angry tantrums, Tyler shuts down in fear.

Both are prisoners of their past abuse.

Both are in crisis.

 Both need help regulating.

Both of their behaviors are trauma driven.

 Both need me.

So, my life has become an exhausting dance of jumping from one boy to another…both in crisis, both in need of my help.

Ozzie’s biggest struggle right now is combatting and challenging the lies in his head. He has expressed that he deserved to be abused by his birth parents, and he is mad that we won’t hurt him as well. The more love and affection we show, the angrier he gets. When we don’t engage in the abusive acts he is begging for he engages in self harming behaviors and suicidal fantasies.

In therapy we are working with him to challenge those thoughts, but it is hard to reprogram the lies that were drilled into his head and heart for so long…

Lies like:

“This is all your fault.”

“If you were a good boy I wouldn’t have to hurt you.”

“This is for your own good.”

“You aren’t worthy to be my son.”

“I am ashamed of you.”

Because that is what he believes.

He doesn’t believe he is worthy of love.

He feels the abuse was completely his fault.

It breaks my heart.

As part of the process to help him understand and believe that a child NEVER deserves to be abused, we are working with baby dolls. This came as a result of a comment he made that babies deserve to be hit if they are bad and cry a lot…a lie he truly believes to be true. We are challenging that thought process by examining the relationship between babies and their parents and talking about what babies can and can’t do for themselves at various ages and what loving moms and dads do to care for their baby.

He is so very uncomfortable with the work.

He gets angry when he sees the baby dolls come out.

He is struggling with feelings of anger and resentment over what should have been his childhood, verses what was his childhood.

As part of the journey to model appropriate parent/child interactions our therapist asked us to pull out the girls’ old baby dolls and when we are sitting as a family, like during our evening devotionals, and for the older children, Toby, and I to all “care” for a baby in Ozzie’s presence. She felt it especially important that Ozzie see Toby and Rusty lovingly handling their baby dolls so that he can witness what a loving and nurturing father looks like.

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And despite the unorthodox approach and slightly uncomfortable assignment thrust upon my men, they have risen to the task beautifully.

Ozzie is still very uncomfortable with the work. He gets angry when he sees us holding the baby dolls and has expressed the fact that he always feels angry inside when he sees moms holding their babies…a sure sign that Miss Tina is emotionally probing in just the right area…but progress is being made and the more he is exposed, the less volatile his anger about the babies seems to be.

It is slow, laborious work healing broken hearts,

But I hold on to hope and lean on faith, trusting that our Heavenly Father, the ultimate example of a loving, caring, nurturing father, is performing a miraculous work in us all…

Healing our hearts,

Mending our hurts,

And molding our lives into something greater than our past.

It can be exhausting, discouraging, heart breaking work, especially if I look beyond today at wide expanse of open canyon that lies ahead.

That is when I get discouraged.

 That is when I get fearful.

That is when I lose hope and my faith falters.

When I look too far ahead I am consumed with fear.

When I spend too much time looking back I get lost in sadness,

But when I keep my eyes focused on the next step in front of me, I am at peace.

 “An accomplished Ironman triathlete once shared the secret of his success. ‘You last the long race by running the short ones.’ Don’t swim 2.4 miles; just swim to the next buoy. Rather than bike 112 miles, ride 10, take a break and bike 10 more. Never tackle more than the challenge ahead. You last the long race by running the short ones.”

This journey is not about the next 10 years, but rather the next 10 minutes.

There are days that I am overwhelmed by the task in front of me. The ravine I stand before is so wide, so deep, and oh, so daunting…

But I know that I am not traveling alone. God placed me at the edge of this cliff, which means He has already laid a path through it.

So, I will take the hands of these two boys that He has placed in my care, and we will cross this canyon together…one small step at a time.

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American Ninja Warrior

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Are you familiar with the TV show, American Ninja Warrior?

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While on vacation at the beach we stumbled across this gem of a TV show. The kids had watched some clips of it on YouTube previously and while we were surfing through the channels at the beach house (a rare treat for my kids who don’t have cable/satellite TV at home) Tyler yelled, “STOP! It’s American Ninja Warrior.”

“American Ninja Warrior (sometimes abbreviated as ANW) is an American sports entertainment competition that is a spin-off of the Japanese television series Sasuke. It features hundreds of competitors attempting to complete a series of obstacle courses of increasing difficulty, trying to make it to the national finals on the Las Vegas Strip, in hopes of becoming an “American Ninja Warrior”. To date only two competitors, rock-climbers Isaac Caldiero and Geoff Britten, have won the course and achieved “Total Victory”. Caldiero is the only competitor to win the cash prize.”

We were soon all sucked into the excitement of watching these superhuman competitors race through an obstacle coarse without falling.

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Tyler was hooked.

For my competition loving, athletically driven, adrenaline junkie boy, these men and women are modern day Greek gods.

And Tyler wants to be just like them!

He had the opportunity to test his skills at a new playground the other day.

As we were driving past Blueberry Hill Park on our way to an appointment, Ozzie asked if we could stop to play. Blueberry Hill Park is connected to his past. It is located near where he lived with a previous foster family and he has sweet memories of playing there with his biological sister, Zoey. I was happy to meet his request. We stopped and are glad we did. In meeting Ozzie’s request we discovered a new favorite playground…

One Tyler has renamed “The American Ninja Warrior Park.”

And here is why:

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The playground equipment is a loop of climbing challenges, with things like: monkey bars, a moving bridge, and a “zipline.” The boys love playing American Ninja Warrior and racing each other  to the finish line without falling or touching the ground and getting eliminated.

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These two have given me my fair share of grey hairs,

but on days like this one,

when their smiles are as bright as the sunshine,

and their behaviors are driven by joy and not trauma,

I send up a silent prayer of thanks for this moment of ease,

and count my blessings,

and delight in being the Momma to these two warriors…

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They may not be able to scale steep walls or leap great distances, but their lives and stories of survival are the epitome of what it means to be a warrior.

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Finding hope at the Scottish Rite Cathedral

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The Scottish Rite Cathedral was our home away from home for many years. It became the answer to our prayers when Grace and Molly were diagnosed as Dyslexic in early elementary school. Both were struggling academically and as we prayed for answers as to best help them we were led to the Children’s Dyslexia Center of Western Pennsylvania.

It was here the girls found the missing keys to understanding the mechanics of language.

It was here, using an Orton-Gillingham program, that my girls learned to read.

It was here, under the instruction of some awesome tutors, that my girls came to believe that they were not stupid, but that their brains worked differently than their peers. They learned they too could find academic success, it just required a different approach and a lot of perseverance.

The Children’s Dyslexia Center of Western Pennsylvania is outstanding and is completely free to families of students who have a diagnosis of Dyslexia or reading disability. Sponsored and funded by the Scottish Rite Freemasons, this center offers the best therapeutic reading approach for Dyslexic students that is available in our area. This is an incredibly charitable undertaking, as the tutoring cost per student/each year is $5000.00…all funded by this nonprofit organization.

This means we have been beneficiaries of over $25,000.00 of free Dyslexia tutoring over the past decade…

And now we find ourselves here again.

Once again we find the answer to our prayers at this lovely, old building in the heart of New Castle.

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Last fall, after getting the results of Tyler’s most recent testing numbers for his IEP team, I felt prompted to send his file over to the director of the Children’s Dyslexia Center to see if he would qualify or benefit from their method of tutoring. I soon heard back that not only did he qualify but he was an ideal candidate.

We were put on a waiting list, hoping for an opening in the upcoming year.

Because this center is in such high demand,

AND because of the fact they have a limited number of specially trained instructors,

 AND because students remain in the program for two to three years,

there is a waiting list to get in.

This week we got the call we were praying for.

At 8:45 am on Tuesday morning the director called and said they had a spot open unexpectedly and if we could be there in 30 minutes Tyler could be tested and begin the summer session with the tutor that just became free.

Needless to say, we raced over. Un-showered and looking a little worse for wear, we went, grateful for the opportunity, desperate to not lose our spot.

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When we walked through the doors it was like stepping back in time. Nothing had changed. It looked the same. It smelled the same. I think even the magazines were the same. 🙂 

Last time we were here my girls were Tyler’s age. I remember Rusty playing in front of the giant mirror, as I tried to keep him occupied while the girls met with their tutors.

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It was like stepping back into a sweet memory.

This place was such a great blessing in Molly and Gracie’s lives.

I pray it was be an equally great blessing in Tyler’s life.

This now means our Tuesdays and Thursdays are crazy days…but full of activities that are blessing and benefitting Tyler, and giving him the extra help and support he desperately needs.

We leave the house at 8:30 am.

Tyler has tutoring at the Dyslexia Center from 9:00-10:00 am.

Then we drive 45 minutes to Beaver Falls were the boys have back to back therapy sessions from 11:00- 12:45 pm to work through their past trauma with their therapist, Miss Tina.

Then it is 45 more minutes of driving as we head to Wexford for another hour long tutoring session with a Barton trained reading specialist (Miss Jan) who Tyler meets with from 1:30-2:30pm.

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After all that running the boys are rewarded for their hard work with a picnic and playtime at the park before we head back home at 3:30 or 4:00 pm.

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It makes for a LONG day.

By 3:00 we are all spent, especially Tyler who says that his brain hurts by the end of it all,

But we are making huge strides and working toward good things,

Which makes the craziness worth it.

How grateful I am for answered prayers!

A Sweet End to a Bitter Beginning

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Sometimes I feel as though my life has “Multiple Personality Disorder,” with multiple lifetimes occurring at the same time under the umbrella of one life.  

(Let me reiterate: My LIFE,  not my child)

Much like made for TV character that transforms from controlled to chaotic, kind to cruel, joyful to drowning in despair, our life has evolved into a hair raising, out of control ride…

Stable one minute,

 completely derailed the next.

We find ourselves living in a constant state of hyper alert watchfulness.

We spend the minutes of our day always assessing, monitoring, and anticipating what sight, smell, sound, thought or memories will transform our life from calm, controlled and happy, to raging, fearful and hopeless.

It is a hard way to live, and the effect of past traumas on my already struggling son, can result in a whole family in crisis.

The last 24 hours have been surreal, and as I sat down to record the reality of our life  I debated breaking the happenings of the last day between two blogs, one reporting the good and the other reporting the struggles, but I stopped myself. Our life can not and will not be compartmentalized. As much as I crave the order and control of defining my days in the black and white categories of “good days or bad days,”  the reality of our life is that most days are a messy mix of trauma driven struggles and merciful moments of goodness and joy.

This particular pocket of time began Friday night with heartache.

We are all living out the effects of the early childhood trauma that has reduced my once happy boy into a child filled with despair and hopelessness.

At the root of Ozzie’s hurt is a deep-seated belief, a belief that was planted in his tender soul by abusive parents from the time he was small, that he deserves the abuse he endured, that he is not worthy of anything better, and  as a result he has decided he will sentence himself to a life of hurt and abuse if no one else will meet that request.

“What won’t you just punch me?” he will yell in desperation,

“I just need someone to hurt me!”


When those desperate requests are answered with tokens of love, nurturing acts, and additional support, he lashes out in desperation, hurting the very people who are offering him a safe harbor from the pain.

His behaviors have escalated.  

His desperation has increased.

He is determined to hurt.

He is terrified of being loved and will do anything to keep the thing he fears most, attachment to his adoptive family, at bay.

He is drowning in new flashbacks of horrific acts of abuse and is desperate to quiet the voices in his head.

 All he wants is a way out.

All I want is to keep him safe.

So my life has become a 24/7 vigil, as I work to protect him from himself. Every possible threat has been locked up, and cameras have been installed around the home, allowing for extra eyes of protection on him at all times. I don’t walk away. I don’t take a break. I am on guard. Fighting for this child who can’t fight for himself.

Things escalated to a new level last Friday when he wrote out a plan of how he was going to take his life.

Back to the Emergency Room we went.

Back to be assessed and monitored.

Back to inpatient care for another stay and another shot at stabilization.

By the time the ambulance arrived to take him back to the juvenile mental hospital that he was discharged from just weeks ago, my heart was heavy… heavier than it has ever been. There I stood, staying goodbye to my child who looks and acts more like a ten-year-old than a 13-year-old, in the hallway of the ER at 4:30 in the morning, weary.

So weary of the fight.

So weary of the battles.

So weary of the constant vigilance.

So weary of trying to hold onto hope in the midst of hopelessness.

So weary of trying to keep my family intact in the midst of constant battles against the trauma of Ozzie’s past.

So weary of smiling through the tears and finding the good in an absurdly bad situation.

So weary of being the Mom…the one who must remain hopeful, positive, optimistic and strong. The one who must help everyone else ride the waves of RAD and help the other children process the secondary PTSD occurring in the home. Being the one who must help create normalcy for the rest of the family in a situation that is anything but normal.

But weary or not, we go on.

I climbed into the car, exhausted down to the tips of my toes, drove home and crawled into bed to get a few hours of sleep before a new day began. It was going to be a full day of packing for Girls’ Camp (where I will be serving as a level leader over the 7th year girls) and then our annual strawberry picking, because despite how crazy the night was the dawn will come and the show must go on. There are other people in my family who need me, so I wake up day after day, and keep on keeping on…

Praying for strength.

Praying for grace.

Praying for hope.

Praying for wisdom.

Praying for the capacity to forgive…

And praying that there was a caffeinated Diet Coke in the fridge to fuel my efforts. 😉

From suicide watch to strawberry picking in a 12 hour stretch…

because that’s how we roll.

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Did I mention my life has Multiple Personality Disorder?

Over the last 7 or 8 years we have enjoyed the annual tradition of going strawberry picking as a family. It always seems to fall on the Saturday before Father’s Day, resulting in many strawberry themed treats for the day.

When we moved into this house we were introduced to Catalpa Farms by friends, when they invited us to go pea picking with them one year.

Since then Catalpa’s has been our go-to “you pick” farm in the area.

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Saturday was chaos (understatement of the year!) and really not the ideal day to go berry picking, but knowing the unavailability of free Saturdays for the next two weeks, and knowing how short-lived strawberry season is, it was now or never.

So, after a hard, traumatic previous 12 hours, we rallied as only the McCleerys can, gathered our strawberry boxes, and headed to Ohio.

Grace had spent the day working, while Molly and I packed and prepped for Girls’ Camp. At the end of Gracie’s shift, we drove over, picked her up, and drove out to Catalpa’s for some strawberry picking.

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Since we arrived at 4:00 in the afternoon, there was no one left in the field (pickers or field bosses) so we had free reign to pick anywhere we wanted in rows 1 and 2.

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We are accustomed to arriving early in the morning with dozens of other families and being given a small stretch of field to strip clean. It was kind of fun to be able to roam freely and have the farm to ourselves.

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Since Ozzie was back at the hospital, it was just the six of us picking. We knew we only had an hour until closing so we made quick work of berry picking.

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The job moved at a much quicker clip than usual, with the freedom of being able to move around the field, searching for untouched patches thick with strawberries.

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What a beautiful crop they had this year. The strawberries were large and sweet…a rare combination.

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One of the many reasons we love this “you pick” farm is because of their encouragement to “eat as you pick.” The kids love biting into sun-warmed, just-off-the-vine berries. It becomes a “one for me, one for the basket” dance of indulgence as the strawberry cartons slowly fill.

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We did well. In our hour, we managed to fill 24 quarts to overflowing…

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And I felt my heart lightening and my soul healing a bit under the rays of the afternoon sun.

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We finished at 5:00pm and headed back to the front to pay and treat ourselves to our traditional berry picking reward for our hard work: homemade strawberry slushies.

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Made from crushed ice and their home-grown strawberries, this sweet nectar of the gods is incredible…a perfect way to end our strawberry picking fun at Catalpa Farms!

Then it was back home for hours and hours of cleaning, hulling, chopping and canning of strawberry treats for us to enjoy in the upcoming year.

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From heartbreak to happy moment,

The tides turn as quick as that…

All within 24 hours.

A sweet end to a bitter beginning.

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Longing to heal him

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I never really experienced pain until I was a mother.

As a teen I certainly thought that my level of anguish over what seemed catastrophic to my teen self was beyond any pain anyone else, living or dead, ever experienced…

Oh, to be 16 and stupidly self-focused again.

But I had no idea what real pain and deep heartache felt like until I cared more for another than myself.

For me, this transfer of focus and newly honed empathy came with the birth of my first child when my heart first began walking around outside my body.

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With the addition of every child, biological or adopted, I lost more and more of my heart protection and experienced real, raw, heart wrenching heartache as I had to stand by powerless to protect or free my children from their pains.

This feeling of powerlessness is all the more intense when the hurts they are dealing with are not ones that I can simply “love away.” These “boo boos” are far too deep and festering to simply kiss and make better.

This weekend I spent 12 hours on Friday night at the Emergency Room, sitting by the bedside of one of my children who was in incredible pain.

As we watched the hours pass on the clock above the bed,

waiting for relief from the pain,

while listening to the incessant beep of a monitor,

completely helpless in my ability to take away the pain,

I wanted to weep.

I have never known pain as deep, and raw, and aching as the pain I feel watching my son suffer.

The last few months have been heartbreakingly hard for one of our adopted sons. This child is being consumed with newly developed flashbacks of abuse that he had blocked out. Abuse far worse than any that were reported when he was taken from his birth family. Abuse memories that cause him to curl up in a ball, squeeze his eyes shut, and cover his ears, as he tries to “turn off” the movie playing in his head.

These memories of abuse are so painful that he expressed a need to do whatever he had to, to make them go away.

He yelled, and then cried, and then whispered in defeat, exhausted by the constant torment of the past …”I think it would be better to just die. Please, just let me die.”

So there we were, at 4:30 in the morning, waiting for the ambulance to take him from the ER to a place where he could be monitored, and stabilized, and get more help than could be offered in outpatient therapy.

And it was one of the hardest nights of my life.

You know, I once thought I knew what pain felt like.

But I didn’t…not really.

Watching your son, who has lived his entire life fighting for a chance to be loved and longing to feel worthy of love, drown under the nightmares of the past…

Nightmares so horrid that death seems preferable…

That is pain.

But while suffering through the shared pain of hate and abuse, I have also discovered the redeeming power of LOVE.

Maybe I can’t “love” the pain away from my suffering son, but I know someone who can.

Because He also suffered such pain. He chose it and bore it so that He could say to each of us,

“You are not alone.”

That is the pain of Gethsemane.

That is the suffering of Christ,

From our pain,

brokenness,

hopelessness

and suffering

blooms redemption.

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Please pray for my son.

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A different sort of Mother’s Day

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I recently revisited a book I first picked up in high school. It is funny how two decades and a boatload of life experiences can alter a piece of literature. The words on the page may remain static and unchanging, but the interpretation and affect of those words are as varied as the hands that pick it up to read it.

The book I am reading is called, “A Child Called IT,” by Dave Pelzer. I don’t remember which friend first recommended it, but I remember the first time I read it. I was enthralled and horrified, as well as a bit skeptical. Surely, there is a sprinkling of fiction in this author’s recounting of a childhood riddled with the most horrific of abuse, I thought to myself.  Surely it wasn’t as bad as he recounts on paper. I thought there must have been some level of sensationalism added to sell the book. I couldn’t fathom the idea that a mother would hurt a child…so horrifically…so intentionally.

Last Saturday, while spending the day in Wooster with my mother for Mother’s Day, we stopped in her local bookstore and I saw this same book sitting on the shelf. I picked it up and found myself adding it to my pile of books to purchase. I felt compelled to revisit the story again. I began reading it two days later and devoured it in a day.

I still find the story of abuse horrifying, but far more believable than I did at age 17. What’s more, I found myself reading the account through new eyes. Not only did I believe its truth, but I found myself paralleling the story of young David with the stories of my boys and their own journey through neglect and abuse on their road to safety. As the author spoke the thoughts, worries, and reasons for his behaviors through the mindset of a little boy in survival mode, I felt like I was listening into the thoughts of my own adopted sons, who while now in a safe and secure home, still live with a survival mindset and struggle with survival behaviors.

When we chose to adopt our lives were changed forever. There is not one aspect of our lives that has remain the same. God has used this journey to mold all of us into beings far different than who we were five years ago. It has been the hardest journey of our lives but by far the most affecting. God has expanded our hearts, revealed our flaws, given us a depth of character and capacity for compassion that can only come from Him and His work.

I have learned so many life lessons along the way. Too many to count…too many to name. But one of the greatest lessons I have learned about myself is how naïve I was about the reality of life for so many, and how easy it is to judge the path of those who chose differently than us because of life circumstances far darker than any I’ve ever had to navigate.

When I was little and we would hear the story of another’s struggle or burden or misguided choice, my mother would wisely pull us away from the path of judgement and lead us towards the path of compassion with a single phrase:

“There but for the grace of God, go I.”

Oh, the power in that simple phrase.

It is a humbling reminder that all that I am, all that I have, all that I have accomplished, is because of God’s good grace.

Who is to say how my life would have played out had I been dealt a different set of cards.

I recognize that a huge part of my blessings come from having been blessed with a good mother and father…healthy parents, who learned from generations of good, healthy, capable, loving parents before them. I used to take this blessing for granted. A loving mother was all I have ever known and I assumed all were blessed in the same way. My perception changed when we began reading the files of children in foster care and we got a small peek into what reality looks like for millions of children. It humbled me and made me realize that all that I am, and all that is good in my life, is not because of anything I did or didn’t do. I didn’t make the right choice because I am awesome. I was able to make healthy life choices because it had been modeled for me my loving parents, grandparents, aunts and uncles.

We are currently fully immersed in the TBRI world of Karyn Purvis, as we relearn how to parent children from hard places. Our journey began a little over a month ago with the Empowered to Connect conference we attended. Oh, how it has changed our world, and our perception of our boys and their stories. It has made me realize the great, intrinsic value the relationship between mother and child has on every aspect of a child, from their brain chemistry, to their relationships with others, to how they perceive their world. What it takes to grow a healthy human being begins with the simplest ritual of holding a baby when it cries and meeting a baby’s most basic needs. The result of that not occurring as it should is horrific and heart breaking and life affecting for that child and everyone that attempts to attach to them. I am better understanding the great, divine role of mothers in God’s plan and how a disruption in God’s plan causes chaos and destruction. I also now better understand that a mother’s inability to meet these most basic needs in her child is usually a result of a history of unhealthy relationships perpetuating over time. A “bad” mother isn’t made, she is taught.

As I celebrated Mother’s Day this year my heart was in a different place. It meant something different this year. It meant something more. It was less about my role as a mother and more about reflecting on how blessed I have been to learn from the best. I come from a long line of women who have been loved and nurtured and as result have loved and nurtured me. This is a gift I don’t know that I fully acknowledged before. Toby comes from a long line of women who were loved and nurtured, and thus were capable of loving and nurturing him. The result is being able to raise healthy, happy, stable, loved children. And we can take no credit for their goodness, for who knows who we would be and what our life would look like had we been dealt different cards.

“There but for the Grace of God, go I.”

I also find myself remembering the women who gave birth to my adopted sons. I am grateful for their gift of life to two of the most important people in my life. Women who parented the only way they knew how. My connection with them is complicated and wrought with mixed emotions. I hate the hurt they inflicted on my boys, and I hate the hurt that they must have endured to make the choices they did.

“There but for the Grace of God, go I”

Mother’s Day is a hard holiday in my home. My boys struggle through that day dedicated to the celebration of the role of mothers and all the emotional baggage and great feelings of loss that brings it with it, but that said, this was the healthiest and happiest Mother’s Day we have had in the last 4 years, due in part to the TBRI principles we are applying and a lot of upfront prevention we invested in the day.

To begin we went into the holiday with a new approach. I began by putting myself in a good place emotionally. Past Mother’s Days have been hard. Ozzie struggles with such anger and feelings of hurt towards his biological mother that Mother’s Day has been a day full of sabotage and hurts directed at me. Prior to the Empowered to Connect conference I struggled with understanding the complex, over-the-top emotions that drive his behaviors on special holidays, and as a result didn’t approach the day with the level of compassion I should have.

I have learned better and now can do better.

This year I hedged my bets for having a more loving and compassionate response to his sabotage efforts by celebrating Mother’s Day on Saturday with my own Mom. I drove out to Ohio to spend the day, one-on-one, with my own mommy and by doing so filled her love tank and had mine filled in return. We shopped, had a fun lunch, and celebrated motherhood together.

And in doing so was able to return home Saturday night filled with love and peaceful acceptance for however Sunday would play out. I met my own emotional needs so that I could better meet Ozzie’s emotional needs.

While I was gone, the big kids and Toby hedged their bets too. They wanted me to have a special day, but knew all too well how most holidays play out in our home, so they were proactive and invested a huge amount of love and time into surprising me Saturday night with a beautiful yard.

While I was gone they went shopping at Home Depot, bought mulch and flowers, and mowed, trimmed, weeded, and planted their love into my heart. They spoke to me in my love language of service, and made me feel so loved and valued for Mother’s Day.

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I am so grateful for my kids and their big hearts!

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Tyler made my Mother’s Day sign.

 

The scope of Gracie’s love acts spread even further when she took Tyler shopping for ingredients for my Mother’s Day dinner. She had the lovely idea of buying a dozen roses and then letting Tyler hand them out, a rose at a time, while they grocery shopped, to mothers with children.

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I felt like this was a gift to me too, as she (with her own sacrifice of time and money) taught the valuable lesson of “love of service to Tyler” and showed him that the greatest joy in life comes from giving to others.

We were also proactive this year in choosing to not attend church for Mother’s Day, but worship at home. I knew Ozzie was unstable with all the emotions connected to Mother’s Day and I recognized that the kindest, healthiest way to help him through the day would be to hibernate at home, away from the Mother’s Day talks and lessons about loving mothers and gratitude for mothers, all which tear new wounds into an already fragile soul. I knew we needed to just lock the doors, and connect as a family, without external stimuli, so that is what we did.

And the love of God permeated our home.

The kids gave me their gifts of love and heartfelt, homemade cards, and we just hugged, loved, and prayed our way through the most difficult day of the year.

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Gracie gifted me with a manicure date with her and Molly this coming Friday. I was so touched!

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Fancy Bath and Body Works hand soaps from Molly.

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Molly’s words of love.

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A new paper towel holder from Rusty.

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And the cutest cookie jar ever from Tyler!!

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Tyler made his card all by himself this year. The portrait of the two of us melts my heart. He loves my eyes! 🙂

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Candles from Ozzie.

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Oh, those words. ❤

 

That day we felt the strengthening love of God as we celebrated mothers…The birth mothers that bore them, the foster mothers who raised them, and this mother who tries daily to live worthy of calling them her forever sons.

God is here.

God is healing.

God is Good!