Tag Archives: trauma

A Monthly Update

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ordinary life

Often in my focus to report on the “big” events of life I procure a pile of photographs documenting the smaller moments that add up to life here on Patchwork Farm. This blog is dedicated to that collection of captured moments. Here’s to the moments that make up our ordinary, extraordinary life!

Searching for Buried Treasure

Toby is a member of a local metal detecting club. The Beaver County Metal Detecting Club is comprised of 20+ men and women who gather monthly to compare notes and swap stories of their best treasure finds over the last month, as well as organize formal hunts a few times a year.

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A few Saturdays ago was the annual fall hunt with the club…something Toby always looks forward to. The hunt keeps him out of the house all day as club members participate in a series of hunts, searching out buried treasure hidden by members of the club earlier in the day. Toby always returns home a bit sore from all the up and down movement that comes with an all day hunt, but with a smile on his face, eager to show off his haul.

Tyler is always first in line to help Daddy sort and count his loot.

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Great Blessings

We would just like to thank you all for the outpouring of love and support you have shown our family and Ozzie during this hard season of life. We have felt the sustaining and strengthening power of many prayers and are happy to report Ozzie is doing better than we ever imagined. He is thriving. The results of the therapeutic support he is receiving is nothing short of miraculous and we are so proud of him and the hard work he is doing to heal. He will be starting EMDR therapy this week with a licensed EMDR therapist and I firmly believe this therapy, used with patients suffering from PTSD, will be the answer we have been seeking to unlock the memories of abuse at the hands of Ozzie’s birth mother and birth father, and open the door to begin healing from that trauma.

Family-Based Rocks!

Because Ozzie will be away for a few months, our Family-Based services are coming to a close. Family-Based is another layer of therapeutic support we implemented in hopes of helping Ozzie stabilize and heal at home. That was not God’s plan for Ozzie and our time working with Family-Based was short lived, but it served a purpose. I can now look back and see why God opened a door that closed so quickly after entering it. Our time with Lisa and Valerie was short but they provided support and resources that were key in helping our family heal…particularly in meeting the needs of the older kids who were dealing with their own trauma…trauma that comes as a result of adopting a child who had been abused and suffers from Reactive Attachment Disorder. It was Valerie that introduced my older kids to the Ready Yourself Youth Ranch that they now volunteer at two mornings a week, helping with horses and learning the skills they need to become mentors at the ranch.

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Last week was our last home visit from our Family-Based team. They brought cupcakes to celebrate and a craft project for the kids to do while they talked and helped the kids process the muddy mix of emotions everyone is struggling with since Ozzie left.

They painted river rocks together. In our area there is a fun movement taking place that involves painting rocks, tagging them with #beavercountyrocks, sealing them and then hiding them around the county. Once found you can follow the travels of your rocks on Facebook as seekers take photos of your rock, post it, and then hide it in a new location.

The kids had fun painting their river rocks to get into the #beavercountyrocks game.

The results were fun and creative!

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Now, where to hide our rocks?!

Ukulele Adventures

For Molly’s birthday she received a ukulele from my parents. She has been toting it back and forth to co-op each week where her friend, Caleigh, has been giving her lessons. With all the toting back and forth Molly decided a case was in order. She found one online and used some of her hard earned money to purchase this charming panda themed case. Molly is thrilled!

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PSATs…BLAH!

Last Wednesday Molly and Rusty had their PSAT test. This test…preparation for next year’s SAT test, is just a sad testament to how old my babies are getting. I look at Rusty and Molly and can’t wrap my brain around the fact that we are creeping closer to college searches. Neither were particularly thrilled with taking the PSAT but were excited that they were able to test at our school’s new Pittsburgh location and see their Pittsburgh based teachers.

Tatum and Annaliese, two of Molly co-op friends, were also signed up for testing, so we volunteered to load up Big Bessie and take everyone down on Wednesday morning. Rather than have everyone drop off kids off at 6:30 in the morning, we just had the girls spend the night. It worked out well. They managed to take something they were all dreading and make it fun.

Earlier in the day Molly prepped the bus for their sleepover. She thought it would be fun to camp out in the bus, and I was thrilled to see the bus getting used after a summer of sitting dormant. Molly made the beds, carried out movies they could watch on the TV, and filled the fridge with snacks and drinks.

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I think the girls had fun,

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And everyone survived testing, although I think they would all say they are glad it is done and over with!

Rusty on the Road

Rusty is slowly and hesitantly embracing his role as a new driver. Being the third child I have taught to drive, I find it interesting how personalities shine forth in each child’s driving style. Rusty, who has always been extremely careful and conscientious, is a slow and steady driver. There is no speeding, law bending, or bone breaking moves with him behind the wheel.

Tyler must disagree, as he has taken to wearing safety gear when Rusty is behind the wheel. 🙂

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I fear the day it is Tyler’s turn to get behind the wheel. I think I may have to borrow that helmet!!

My Mini-Me

Grace is now a red head and I think she plans to stay that way. After years of bemoaning the fact that I ended up with three blondies, I finally have a redhead… thanks to L’Oreal!

I don’t know if it is the red hair or if the genetic connection has become more pronounced but I feel as though I now have a younger (and much cuter)  mini-me!

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My Buddy

Tyler is now my buddy. With Ozzie away and the older kids engaged in school, social activities, and work, it feels as though it is often just Tyler and I hanging out. Between therapy and tutoring appointments 5 days a week, we spend a lot of time on the road together or at the table together doing school. After a decade of juggling the teaching of 3-5 children their lessons every day, it is bizarre to have hours to spend working with just one. The older kids are so independent now that they only come to me when they need clarification or help with a question, which frees me up to work with Tyler all day…

and I must admit I’ve loved.

We have had a lot of fun delving deeper into subjects that interest him, seeking out fun science experiments and art projects to enhance his online school lessons, and having the time for weekly trips to the library. Here are some of his recent projects:

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The Monster Under the Bed

All of the one-on-one attention has been a blessing in other ways too. Tyler is struggling with monster sized fears, fears we are working to address in therapy. These fears are driven by the abuse he suffered as a small child and while he struggles to express the thoughts consuming him in his head I have been able to piece together the fact that they are trauma driven simply by where and when they are most prevalent. His PTSD seems to rear its ugly head after the sun goes down. Nighttime is scary time and his bedroom and the bathroom are the places he fears most. From his child profile I know that dark, closed places and the family bathroom are where most of the abuse took place, so it make sense that those are the places he fears most.

Miss Tina, our therapist, has been working with Tyler to help counteract the negative emotions connected to those locations with positive ones. We do this by making happy, light, funny memories in those locations. We play family board games on his bedroom floor, we have shaving cream battles in the bathroom….whatever we can think of to bring light and peace and laughter to a place that is dark and scary in Tyler’s mind.

One way we have done this is with the use of bathtub crayons in the shower. Bathtime is a nightmare with Tyler. He is terrified to shower or bathe. And knowing what was done to him in his birth family’s bathroom, I understand that. But we have to help him overcome that fear, so we bought some bath crayons, and enlisting the help of the other kids our shower wall has now become a message board for the kids. Tyler’s curiosity of what funny photos, messages and game boards have been drawn on the shower wall since his last bath has surpassed the fear of bathing (as long as we do daytime showers.) And I have LOVED reading the dialog back and forth. What an awesome way to battle a fear, encourage writing, and strengthen bonds between siblings, all in one swoop!

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Healing bonds via Snail Mail

Strengthening bonds has been a focus in all our family’s relationships this past month. We have all felt the polarizing affects of RAD and trauma after the last 8 months of being in crisis mode. This ongoing, escalated state has a huge effect on relationships and the family dynamic. Now that everyone is stable we are trying to begin healing the damage. One way we are facilitating that healing is through weekly letters between Ozzie and the other kids. Every Sunday they write him a letter which are then mailed out through the week. Ozzie then can write back and the kids can begin reconnecting again.

This week we did something different. We each did a handprint on paper using paint. When our handprints had dried we flipped them over and everyone wrote something they love or admire about Ozzie, using the line, “A high five for…”

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I then laminated our handprints and connected them with a metal ring as a special momento for Ozzie, allowing him to reach out and touch our hands whenever he feels lonely.

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Well, there you go…

A small snapshot of our ordinary, extraordinary life.

God is good!

 

Halloween came early this year…

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Tyler…our resident goof ball!

 

(I’m still a week behind in my blogging. Here is my final blog about last weekend’s festivities…)

This past weekend was a tough one. The knowledge that Ozzie was leaving on Monday morning and would be gone for four months left everyone feeling unsettled and emotional. We tried to move through the days as normally as possible, but it was challenging with that big grey cloud hanging over our heads.

Everyone was dealing with a muddy mess of emotions. We were grateful that Ozzie was accepted to this awesome facility where he will finally get the intensive therapeutic help he needs to heal from past trauma, but were also mourning this upcoming shift in our life, upset and grieving that this step needs to happen.

My mother summed it up beautifully when I shared the news with her. She said, “It is like finding out someone you love has cancer, and the prognosis is not good. And then soon after, receiving the news that your loved one has secured the last bed at the Cancer Treatment Center of America and will be working with the best doctor in that field.”

You don’t know whether to be angry that treatment is needed or grateful that treatment is available for a once hopeless diagnoses.

It is hard to verbalize the hard mix of emotions that come with this journey. I know I struggle to filter through the jumble of thoughts and feelings that knot in my stomach, so I can appreciate the struggles Ozzie and the other children are suffering though during this hard season.

This weekend was particularly hard. We knew what was coming, and with that knowledge there were feelings of relief and great grief. It felt like the weekend was a series of good-byes to life as we knew it. It was painful on so many levels and I didn’t know whether to wish for time to stand still, so as to avoid the inevitable, or to pray for time to speed up so we could rip this band-aid off and begin facing our new normal. Mostly I just felt numb, like a shell of my real self, moving through the motions of living but weirdly detached.

We packed up Ozzie’s bag, filling it with clothes, winter gear, books, comfort items, therapy tools, and photos…everything he could possibly need for the next four months.

We cleaned his room. Preparing it for his absence so that when he returns home it would be ready for him.

Then we tried to fit in some fun and family bonding. Our weekend was filled with horseback riding lessons, “Gotcha Day” fun, and lots of low key, quiet moments as a family.

One of Ozzie’s primary disappointments about going away was his concern about missing out on holiday traditions. He will most likely be able to return home for holidays but is sad to miss out on our families traditions leading up to holidays…like pumpkin carving for Halloween. I couldn’t address all his worries, but that was a concern I could address, and did so gladly.

On Saturday we went pumpkin shopping, allowing each of the kids to pick out a pumpkin for carving and then came home and carved Jack-O-Lanterns a month early.

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Everyone got into the spirit of the evening, seeking out creative carving ideas and jumping into the task of gutting their pumpkins.

The result was an evening of fun for Ozzie and the rest of the family. We were all taking part in a cherished family tradition. Who cares if it was 90 degrees outside while we were doing it. Yes, the finished results will probably wither and mold by next Saturday, but this activity wasn’t about the finished results. Like so many aspects of our life it is not about the ending, it is about the journey.

The kids are now all old enough to be left to their own devices as they turn a pumpkin into something more magical, allowing Toby and I to just sit back and watch the fun.

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I did spend time digging through their pumpkin guts as the kids carved, picking out pumpkin seeds to roast. I found a recipe for dill pickle flavored roasted pumpkin seeds that I wanted to try. The results were delicious!

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The kids all came up with creative creations this year.

Rusty went with a tongue-in-cheek math joke:  Rusty’s pumpkin “Pi”

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Grace created the “Fly Away to Neverland “scene from Peter Pan:

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Ozzie went traditional with an awesome pumpkin face:

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Molly carved a Harry Potter pumpkin:

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And Tyler did a dollar sign face:

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Once everyone was done carving we took their pumpkins out to the porch.

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We lit them, turned off the lights, and watched them glow, enjoying the magic of the moment. It meant a lot to Ozzie that he was able to participate in this beloved family tradition and it meant the world to this Momma to have all my chicks with me on that beautiful September night, as we stood beneath the stars watching their pumpkins glow bright.

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We ended Family Night with the movie, “It’s the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown,” while we munched on pumpkin seeds and enjoyed our last evening together for a while.

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This hard transition is a blessing,

but it still hurts like crazy…

Gotcha Day!

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I must say that on my short list of experiences I dread, right up near the top with root canals and cleaning the oven, is car shopping. I find it painful. I hate everything about it…the decision making, the financing, the pressure from the pushy salesman, the hours spent in the dingy back office signing paperwork, and the knot you get in your stomach  when you realize you are back to having a monthly car payment.

ICK, ICK, ICK…I hate it all.

I would rather dump good money after bad into a vehicle that is on death’s door, if it means avoiding a trip to the car lot, than have to go car shopping.

My son doesn’t agree.

Ozzie’s idea of heaven on earth is an afternoon spent at a car lot reading the information stickers posted on the side window of each car. Ozzie loves cars and has extensive knowledge of every vehicle that ever landed on the road. He can tell you how the design changed from year to year, what special features each one offers, and the year certain vehicles stopped being manufactured.

Before Ozzie left for his inpatient stay he asked if we could celebrate his “Gotcha Day” a few months early. In the world of adoption, a “Gotcha Day” is the anniversary of a child’s adoption into a family…the day we “gotcha.” As a family we celebrate Tyler and Ozzie’s gotcha days much like we celebrate a child’s birthday, as we consider that day the day they were “born” into our family.

It was important to Ozzie that he get to celebrate this special day with his family. His actual “Gotcha Day” is November 22, but since we were uncertain as to where he would be in his treatment journey, and since we didn’t know if we would be able to take him out that day, we opted to celebrate early.

His request for his “Gotcha Day” this year was a trip to local car lots. He explained that what he wanted to do more than anything was to visit all the car lots in our area, as a family, and look at the cars that were for sale, and then go out for dinner.

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It was an unusual request, but a feasible one, so we made plans to spend the afternoon “car shopping.” This was really a testament to how deeply I love Ozzie, as this is a request I would not answer yes to with just anyone.

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The pain of car shopping was magnified on Saturday as, in addition to all the normal car shopping pains, I now had to explain to the pushy salesman that we weren’t actually there to buy a car, we were just looking.

They would inevitably pushed back with, “Well, what sort of vehicle are you looking for. I’m sure we can find just the thing for you.”

“No, I mean we are really just looking,” I explained, “Like for fun…like we don’t need a car. We are just out for a family outing.”

At this point confusion would wash over the salesman’s face, uncertain if he was getting the brush off and should keep pushing, or if we are in fact a crazy family just out for a fun afternoon browsing car lots.

The fact that I had a camera around my neck and was taking pictures of Ozzie next to the various vehicles confirmed the latter.

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At one car lot, however, the salesman demanded a more thorough explanation, as he couldn’t wrap his brain around the idea that someone would visit a car lot for fun..so we explained it was Ozzie’s “Gotcha Day,” the anniversary of his adoption, and this is how he wanted to spend the day.

The man turned to Ozzie, offered his congratulations, and asked, “So, do you want to sell cars when you grow up?”

Ozzie nodded his head with an enthusiastic, “YES!”

To which the salesman deadpanned, “Don’t do it kid. Life’s too short.”

I died.

The man then invited Ozzie in to the office and let him pick out a stack of vehicle brochures. Ozzie was in heaven!

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When we were done visiting all our local car lots, we headed over to Ponderosa for Ozzie’s “Gotcha Day” dinner, per his request.

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It was a crazy way to celebrate the anniversary of Ozzie’s adoption, but so perfectly Ozzie. He loved it, which is all that matters. That is what “Gotcha Days” are all about. It is our opportunity to celebrate that special child and the unique gifts, talents and spirit they bring to our family…

And that is just what we did.

Happy early “Gotcha Day,” Ozzie. We love you to the moon and back!

Healing Trauma away from Home

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Sometimes love…real, deep, powerful love…is about choosing what is right and not what is easy. True love is rooted in forgiveness, in sacrifice, in humility, in choosing to continue to show up and engage. True love is about putting your own desires aside and loving the other enough to make the hard decisions. It is choosing another’s well being above your own, and caring enough to let heartbreak, for the sake of healing, be part of the journey.

I have learned more about the meaning of true love from our adoption journey than any other relationship in my life. I think it is because it has challenged my way of viewing love, and what love really is, more than any other relationship I am in. I have learned how to love through the hard stuff. I have learned how to love when love is not reciprocated. I have learned how to put aside my own selfish desires for the well being of another. I have learned that love is a choice, not simply an emotion. Love is choosing to continue showing up when it is hard…when it is heartbreaking…when it feels hopeless. Love is more powerful than a simple emotion. Love has the power to transform. Love has the power to mend. Love has the power to grow us and mold us into the beings God intended us to be, but that sort of transformation doesn’t happen when relationships are easy and effortless. No, that sort of miracle growth only occurs in the harshest conditions, when we have reached the end of ourselves and surrendered it all to God.

Oh, what a journey it has been these last eight months. God has been working in mighty ways and we have all been feeling the growing pains. It has been the darkest season of my life. At the time I couldn’t see where it was leading…I struggled to find the hope hidden in the heartache. God was working on me. God was teaching me the lesson of unconditional love. He humbled me and allowed me to fall to my knees so that He could lift me up. There is no greater heartbreak in this world than watching your child suffer, and Ozzie’s suffering has consumed my every thought, my every minute, and my every prayer these last few months.

His past has come back to haunt him and the trauma buried deep within is bubbling to the surface. The flashbacks are paralyzing, and memories of abuse that were never reported are now consuming him. He is victim of an abusive beginning and now that traumatic childhood is affecting his ability to function, attach, and heal today.

After months of escalating behaviors and an emotional downward spiral, he has hit rock bottom…the place we all so often need to touch to begin our journey up. In the midst of the darkness I struggled to find hope, but now as I stand on the edge of the light I can see God’s hand in these last few months. He was laying a foundation for what is to come…a necessary foundation for Ozzie to qualify for the help he really needs.

God’s plan began to come to fruition a few weeks ago when his treatment team made the recommendation for a longer inpatient stay at a hospital that works specifically with kids who suffer from PTSD and early childhood trauma and abuse. I struggled with the thought of Ozzie having to go away to receive the help he needs but understood what the treatment team was saying. For trauma as deep and dark as what Ozzie experienced, weekly outpatient visits just couldn’t dig deep enough, quickly enough, to root out the source of the infection that is festering within. They explained that he needed to be receiving daily therapy with a specialized trauma/ EMDR therapist that can help him get the healing he needs to free him from his past. I understood it on a cerebral level, but my heart hurt.

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I couldn’t make the call. I surrendered it to God, knowing that the chance of him getting into this trauma center was slim to none. The waiting list was long and the chances of insurance approving the placement was minimal. I prayed God would speak through circumstances and if Ozzie was to find his healing in Erie at this treatment center then doors would miraculously open, testifying of God’s plan.

The last two weeks have been wrought with miracles, and two days ago we received the call that a bed had opened up for Ozzie. We will drive him up to Erie on Monday and he will remain there for a few months while he receives treatment. It is all good news…but hard news. I think we are all struggling a little bit with the reality of it all.

Once again I am learning a lesson about the real meaning of love.

Love is doing what is right, as opposed to what is easy. It is making short term sacrifices for long term healing. It is about sacrificing the temporal for the eternal. It is about setting aside our own selfish desires for the sake of what our child needs most, and surrendering this child (who is simply on loan from God anyway) to the hands of a loving Heavenly Father whose plan is greater than ours.

We have felt the strengthening power of your prayers.

Thank you, friends ❤

 

A Date with Sister

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Like Tyler, Ozzie doesn’t live with his biological sibling. Ozzie has one younger sister who was placed in a different adoptive home by the courts three years ago. Just like with Tyler’s story, we have made a concerted effort to maintain and even build their relationship through frequent phone calls and regular visits.

Eight months ago things began to spiral downward at an alarming rate. Events were taking place in both kids’ lives that were affecting them emotionally. Both were being haunted by new memories of old abuse at the hands of their bio parents. Ozzie was experiencing flashbacks that involved Zoey and muddied his emotions as we tried to help him process and make sense (but who can really make sense of parents hurting their children) of what happened. As a result our monthly dates with Zoey were put on hold per Ozzie’s request. A few months later we revisited the idea but by then Zoey was working through her own struggles with past trauma involving Ozzie and didn’t feel emotionally ready to see him. This went on for months as both kiddos rode the roller coaster of ups and downs while processing past trauma.

Ozzie has been spiraling downward at an alarming rate, to the point that we are actively seeking out intensive trauma therapy options. His treatment team has recommended an inpatient program that will take him away from home for a few months where he will receive  more specialized therapy for his  past trauma and abuse…therapy than can’t be done in an outpatient therapist’s office. It is such a heartbreaking journey we have been on, but we have seen God’s hand as we move toward this possibility.

The possibility of being away for a few months spurred Ozzie to want a visit with Zoey. He asked if they could have a date, and I happily made it happen. On Saturday we met Zoey (and her adoptive mom) at Eat-n-Park for a breakfast date.

Ozzie brought Zoey’s gift. Zoey’s birthday was months ago but Ozzie didn’t feel emotionally ready to give her the gift he picked out until now.

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In the small bag was a series of get to know you questions.

I recognized a key factor in this get together going well, was going to be facilitating conversation between Zoey and Ozzie that was light, fun, and superficial. Neither were in an emotionally healthy position to discuss their struggles, their past choices, or trauma memories. They had both gone through a lot in the last few months. They hadn’t seen each other for six months. Both were nervous about the encounter. We needed to keep things silly and non-threatening.

So, as we sat and enjoyed a breakfast date, Ozzie and Zoey took turns pulling questions out of the bag and asking each other questions like:

“If you could visit any place in the world, where would you go?”

“If you could dye your hair any color what color would you pick?”

“If you were invisible for a day what would you do?”

“What is your favorite smell?”

“If you could have any animal as a pet what would you choose?”

The questions worked beautifully. They broke the ice and allowed the two of them to become reacquainted in a fun, non-threatening way. They talked and laughed with ease. And everyone left the restaurant feeling as though the date was a success.

God’s mercy enveloped those two children on Saturday morning. He gave them the beautiful gift of reconnection and love. It was a blessed morning.

God is good…

Always good!

 

Tyler’s Birthday Bash

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adoption

Often in our celebration of all the beautiful blessings that come with adoption, we fail to acknowledge the many losses that also are tied to it. For a child to land in a position that makes them free to be adopted a loss had to preempt it. For some children the loss, or the series of heartbreaks leading up to an adoption are greater than others, but every child’s adoption story contains an element of loss.

This is true for both of my boys.

Both had a tragic beginning filled with neglect, abuse, loss and heartache. Both were in unsafe situations. Both deserved a better life than the one they were living. In both cases CYS and the judges involved knew that they needed removed from their birth homes. It was 100% the right call. But even with all of that there is a feeling of sadness at the heart of both of my boys, who grieve the loss of the life they once had.

For both my boys, the loss of their biological siblings is a huge part of that sadness. While they lived as victims of abuse and neglect their siblings were their allies, their confidants, their safe place in an unsafe world. In Tyler’s case his siblings also became his saviors.

Tyler has four biological siblings. He is second to the youngest with his sole sister younger than him. In his early years it was those three older brothers that made sure he got food, that took extra hits in an effort to stave off some of the abuse directed at their younger siblings, and who comforted and held him when they were all locked in a closet together. Tyler’s brothers were not only are his siblings but his hero. They may have even saved his life. When Tyler was only two years old, his two older brothers (ages 8 and 6 at the time) took advantage of an opportunity to escape and they fled the house. Police discovered Michael and Brandon walking down a busy road, carrying their little brothers. It was winter time and Tyler was just wearing a diaper. That act of heroism led to an investigation that revealed all the horrors happening behind closed doors and resulted in the five of them being removed from the home.

Tyler and his four siblings ended up being placed, and eventually adopted, into five different homes. When we came into the picture. Tyler and Brandon were the last two that hadn’t been adopted. At that point the siblings had all lost contact from each other, which set me on a mission to find them and reconnect them for Tyler’s sake. A few years ago we were able to get all five of them together for a picnic at our house. What an amazing day that was as siblings, separated by court rulings, miles, and years, finally came back together. Since then we try to get them all together a couple times a year but inevitably a few can’t come or end up canceling at the last minute.

This year as we were planning Tyler’s birthday, we asked him what he wanted for his birthday and he replied, “All I want for my birthday is to have all my siblings together…all 8 of them!” Tyler’s inclusion of Grace, Molly, Rusty and Ozzie to his list of biological siblings warmed my heart. It is crazy to think that Tyler does indeed have 8 siblings.

This got the ball rolling, as we made plans to get all his siblings together for his birthday. The first order of business was to choose a venue. Because of the disconnection and awkwardness that comes from not seeing each other for a year we thought it best to plan Tyler’s party around an activity rather than a dinner. I know Tyler does better in emotional situations if he has a physical outlet for his nervous energy, and I thought his siblings might be the same, so we planned Tyler’s birthday party at Flight Trampoline Park. My thought was that they could interact and catch up while playing together, making the entire experience less threatening for all involved.

As the event neared, Tyler’s excitement grew. He couldn’t wait for his special day. He couldn’t wait to see his biological siblings. Then the calls began to come in as siblings had to RSVP their regrets. One by one we heard back from each sibling, expressing their regrets that other life obligations kept them from being able to attend. I understood. Life happens and trying to coordinate 5 different families’ schedules is next to impossible, but Tyler was crushed.

Then we heard from Michael, and Michael (Tyler’s oldest brother) said he was coming and couldn’t wait to see Tyler.

Now I had three empty slots in my 10 jumper reservation and was looking for warm bodies to fill the spots that were left vacant by Tyler’s sibling canceling. Tyler wanted to invite some of his friends from co-op or church, but I hesitated doing that because I wanted to make sure Michael and Tyler could connect and catch up and I didn’t want Tyler’s attention split between his brother and friends, so instead we invited the Hudaks to join us, since they are like surrogate siblings to Tyler anyway!

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It was a perfect solution. Tyler had Michael to jump with, Rusty had Lucas, Molly had Olivia, and Ozzie and Michael’s little sister jumped together.

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We arrived Monday night a half hour before the party was scheduled. Our sweet party planner took over, handling the decorations, confirming our pizza order, collecting gifts and handing out the jumping socks for the kids to wear.

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She was awesome and I had to do NOTHING all night. It was lovely.

They even allowed us to begin jumping a half hour early since the crowds were low. Since we had an open jumper slot Toby joined the kids on the trampolines.

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At 6:30 Michael’s family arrived. Tyler couldn’t believe how tall his older brother had gotten. Michael is now 17 years old and 6’3″ inches tall.

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It was a delight to see the two of them together. As disappointed as Tyler was by his other siblings being unable to come, I think perhaps it was a gift. It gave Tyler a unique opportunity to bond with his oldest brother, who he sees least often.

At the trampoline park there were different play areas.

There was a huge open jump area with trampolines lining the floor, where the kids could jump and do flips.

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There was a laser obstacle course that was like something from a spy movie, where players moved through a dark room filled with lasers and tried to navigate to the other side without touching them. It was a race to beat others’ times.

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There was a American Ninja Warrior obstacle course comprised of four different courses that players tried to move through without falling or touching the ground.

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And then there was the Dodge Ball court where Michael and Tyler spent most of their time playing together. Like Tyler, all of his siblings are incredibly athletic and competitive, and they had a blast playing dodge ball together.

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At 7:30 our time on the trampolines were over and we moved upstairs to the party room, where our sweet party planner took over and served up pizza and drinks to the kids while the adults enjoyed some time to visit.

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After pizza came cupcakes, as we sang to Tyler and watched him blow out his candles.

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Then Tyler opened his gifts. The Hudaks gifted him with birthday money which resulted in Tyler excitedly declaring, “I’m RICH!”

And Michael’s family gave him two new board games. Tyler also received a special gift just from Michael: a Steeler’s football. Perhaps the greatest gift came in the form of the birthday card that Michael wrote to Tyler which read:

“Happy Birthday, Tyler. I love you so much. I always think about you. If you ever want to talk to me you can call. I hope you had a great birthday. Love, Michael.”

It was such a special evening. We were sad that not everyone could join us, but perhaps it was all part of God’s plan. Tyler had a special night connecting with his oldest brother… his first, and greatest, hero.

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At the root of adoption is heartbreak and loss,. To not acknowledge that is a tragedy. There is no way I can take that heartbreak away from either of my boys, as much as I’d love to. All I can do is commit to them that I will do all I can to restore some of that loss through moments like this. I can’t give them back their old life…I wouldn’t, for their sake…but I can grieve with them for their loss, hold them when they cry, acknowledge that adoption is born of tragedy, and help them hold onto the safe parts of their past that are important to them…like the siblings that love them.

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Finding Healing through Horses

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Two months ago we began additional therapeutic services in the form of Family Based Therapy in hopes of adding another layer of therapy, and hopefully healing, to our journey towards helping Ozzie. These two family based therapists come into our home a few times a week and work with both Ozzie and the rest of the family. One of the goals we are working on with them is setting up regular respite opportunities for Toby and I, and for the older kids, to step away from the crushing chaos that comes with having a RAD child in the home and breathe for a moment. I understand the importance and necessity of regular respite when raising a child with special needs, particularly when raising a child with reactive attachment disorder, but I haven’t made respite (particularly for myself) a priority. There is a part of me that feels guilty for “indulging” in self-care, despite all the evidence of its necessity. I am not the best mom I can be when I am weary. And parenting a child in crisis 24/7 with no break is a recipe for burnout. So regular respite has been one of the three goals we have been working toward with our Family Based team.

Last week they made a suggestion for a respite opportunity for the three older kids. The neat thing about this suggested respite was that it was a volunteer opportunity. It is an opportunity that not only provides regularly occurring periods of time away from the house and the struggles within its walls, but also gives them the opportunity to focus on serving others: a winning recipe for true joy and respite from the weariness of our own trials.

The respite opportunity suggested comes from Ready Yourselves Youth Ranch (RYYR), a horse ranch that Valerie, one of our Family Based therapists, volunteers at. She thought it would be a good fit for Grace, Molly and Rusty…

providing them with a sanctuary for their weary souls, but also an opportunity to be a blessing to others.

Last Friday we met our Family Based team at RYYR to tour the facility and indulge in a little animal therapy. Here is a little information about the ranch:

Our Mission:

Ready Yourselves Youth Ranch exists to be the hands and feet of Jesus Christ by bringing  together rescue horses, children in need, and volunteer mentors ready to shine the light of Jesus in the darkest night, creating a safe and loving environment ready for God to heal.

Our Goals:

SERVE the Lord by being ready to show his love and grace through action and prayer.

LOVE the child. Every mentor’s priority will be to make sure that the child feels loved, unconditionally. This will come as the mentor gives support and encouragement during the child’s difficult times as well as celebrating his/her accomplishments and victories.

SAVE the horse. We will provide all necessary care for rescued horses, bringing them back to health so they can become nurturing members of the ranch.

ENABLE the children and their families to realize the strength and hope found in God. Once we establish a relationship with the child, we can then provide a support network for his/her family which provides them with hope, encouragement, and prayer through their difficult times.

When we arrived, Valerie (one of our two Family Based therapists) gave us a tour of the barn and introduced us to some of the horses that call RYYR home. As a volunteer there she is very familiar with the place.

The kids loved getting to “love” on the horses.

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Tyler was equally enamored with a five month old puppy who has free reign of the barn.

IMG_1712Valerie explained to the older kids the ins and outs of what is involved in being a volunteer there and walked them through some of the chores they would be doing as volunteers.

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First up:  grooming the horses.

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Two horses were pulled out of their stalls and tied up to be groomed.

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Molly and Ozzie were assigned “Athena”…

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and Tyler and Rusty were aptly assigned “Tyler.”

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Valerie helped them gather the brushes and supplies they would need to groom their horse and walked them through the steps of grooming a horse.

I think everyone was surprised by how many steps and how many different tools are used in the process.

Then Valerie taught them how to clean their hooves.

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When they were done grooming the horses they were assigned the task of cleaning out the water troughs in the pen…a task my kiddos are quite familiar with.

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This gave them the chance to also become acquainted with some of the horse that were outside.

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Ozzie fell in love with a 9-month-old miniature donkey named Reuben. (Ozzie LOVES donkeys.)

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The weather was beautiful and the view was spectacular. I could see why Valerie said she found volunteering there so therapeutic. You step on the property and can instantly feel the stress and anxiety leaving your body.

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What an amazing place it was. And what an amazing service they are providing. The big kids hope to begin volunteering as soon as their clearances come through. As volunteers they will receive free horseback riding lessons themselves and then Grace and Molly will have the opportunity to be a mentor next spring to a child in need and teach that child all that they learned.

What an awesome opportunity God has provided for my kiddos through our connection with Family Based. It is always thrilling to watch God work, answer our prayers, meet our needs, and open doors….

and Friday was no exception.

 

God will Heal what is Broken

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We went straight from the solar eclipse party to the Emergency Room. Since Ozzie’s arrival home from DAS a week ago he has been escalated and unable to regulate. In his heightened state we have been playing Russian Roulette with everyone’s safety, trying to manage the depression and aggression, in hopes of keeping him home where he belongs. Unfortunately his unwillingness to use any coping skills to self regulate has put everyone at risk.

Emotions were already running high. Everyone’s nerves were frayed. And Ozzie was just escalating more as we travelled home from the party. In anger he unbuckled and tried to jump out of the van as we flew down the highway. When he wasn’t allowed to harm/kill himself he took his anger out on the other people in the van. It quickly became apparent that no one was safe, especially Ozzie. A call to the crisis team quickly confirmed my suspicion that we were in for another long night at the ER for a psych evaluation.

Rusty was left home with Tyler who was in shut down mode after the escalation in the car. Grace was at her first college class and Molly was at work. It is in moments like these that I wish there were multiples of me so that I could meet everyone’s needs, but instead we triage, focusing on the child most at risk…most in need. Which was Ozzie.

The next eight hours were spent getting Ozzie evaluated and admitted to a children’s mental health facility where he will spend the next 7 days as we work with his treatment team to decide what long term care we need to explore. Ozzie has been spiraling downward for the last 8 months. My heart is breaking and my soul is weary. We are fighting like mad for Ozzie, wanting only health, happiness, and healing for our son. Unfortunately the demons of his past are fighting just as hard. We are at war with Ozzie’s past. The trauma and abuse he suffered as a small boy at the hands of his biological parents will not loosen their grip on my boy. He is haunted by the memories, the fears, and the injustice of what happened and he can’t seem to break free despite all the therapeutic tools we have armed him with.

He is broken.

He is crying out for help.

He is losing hope and giving in to the darkness that whispers within.

He is a child in crisis and we are all feeling hopeless and helpless.

We are not sure what the next few weeks or months will bring but we do recognize that it is time to consider more intensive therapy. Despite all we are doing daily between family based therapy, trauma/RAD therapy, and medication management, Ozzie needs more.

We are fighting for his life.

And we are not going to give up on our son.

God’s light will permeate the darkness of Ozzie’s past and we will help him see that he is worth fighting for.

Please pray for our family as we search for the help Ozzie needs. We are a family in crisis and need some prayer warriors on the battlefield with us as we battle Satan’s attempts to destroy our son and our family.

Thank you for loving us and supporting us as we journey through this dark season.

And thank you for loving our son.

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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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