Tag Archives: trials

A Small Spark…

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We saw the smoke before we saw the flames.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Power for destruction or power for good.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What a beautiful analogy for life.

We are all hit with unexpected sparks in life…

Sparks that can turn into raging infernos of destruction.

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

We have witnessed God’s promise:

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

I testify this to be true.

 

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

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

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

2017 was one of THOSE years.

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

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

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

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

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

I see the purpose.

I see the growth.

I see the blessing and care.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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“A selfie with your first ornament”

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“A selfie of you decorating the tree”

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“A selfie with Rudolph”

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“A snow angel”

 

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“A selfie with Rudolph”

 

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“Selfie with a snow angel”

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“Selfie with a gift”

 

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

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

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Lucas was hilarious! We laughed until we cried.

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

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

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

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By then it was almost midnight.

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

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Pay no mind to the drunk behind the curtain

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

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

 

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

 

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

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Happy New Year, from our family to yours!

Finding Peace and Joy this Christmas Season

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

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

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

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

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

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

But peace and joy are not.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Merry Christmas, my friends.

Oh, Crap!!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Not only this Christmas season, but all year long.

 

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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Let’s Go Fly a Kite

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Prior to leaving for the beach I picked up 5 kites when I found them on sale while I was shopping. Like their mother, my kids have never really had a successful kite flying experience. As a child I remember several attempts at kite flying that never really took off.

Eagerly anticipating a Hallmark card moment of standing in a field of blowing grass,

with the tails of my kite blowing in the wind,

as I held tight to the string,

ended instead with me running full speed through the field,

working up a sweat

as I fought to catch a breeze so that my kite would take flight.

Until yesterday I had never successfully flown a kite.

But there on the beach, that everyone else had abandoned because of grey skies, choppy waves and increased wind, our kites took flight. In fact they soared.

That very element that drove away the other sunbathers, is the very thing that we needed. It was the winds of adversity that allowed us to find joy in soaring.

The same can be said for our lives. So often we think that real joy, peace, and fulfillment in life come from ease or the absence of trials, when in reality it is the storms and winds of adversity that cause us to rise above the world, soar to greater heights, and allow us to touch the heavens.

I used to think happiness came with a life of ease, but I have learned that it is through great opposition that we grip the string of God’s grace more tightly, and are lifted to higher places, better able to view Heavenly Father’s greatest vistas.

Sure a life of ease seems safe and comfortable, but it is only by following God’s calling to step into the wind that our souls really take flight.

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The wind blew. Our kits flew. And we were blessed with an afternoon of joy.

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Don’t fear the winds of adversity. Step forth with faith, trusting the Keeper of the wind, and discover the joy of flying a kite!

A “Perfect” Tree

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I think one of the greatest battles for a mother during the Christmas season is the  battle that rages within against unrealistic expectations.

As mothers we feel a pressure to bring the magic of Christmas to our homes. Somehow the responsibility of living up to the “Hallmark Holiday Television Special” standard of Christmas is placed squarely on the mother’s shoulders.

Very rarely do I see a husband stressing about Christmas cards, matching PJs,  or finding the perfect gift for his mother. No, it is the woman that carries that burden, knowing that if she doesn’t execute all parts of the holiday production with Martha Stewart grace, there will be a price to pay… with guilt being the universal currency.

And what is even more ironic in this tale is that the expectations and the guilt is rarely laid on us by someone else. Instead it is placed squarely on our shoulders by self. I have spent this month pondering what deficiency in myself or what human frailty drives this need for Christmas perfection.

Perhaps I was spoiled in childhood by parents who made Christmas so magical and made the magic look so effortless. That is a hard act to follow when you become a mother yourself.

Maybe it is the saturation of possibilities that bombard us on social media (aka: Pinterest,) making everything we do seem “not enough” when compared to all we could do at Christmastime.

Perhaps it is simply the plague of “oldest child syndrome” that comes with a certain drive for pleasing others and performing perfectly that I never can quite shake.

I try to kill the beast within but it is an ongoing battle that leaves me swinging from unrealistic expectations, to fatigue, to guilt and back again.

The Lord knows this sin I struggle with. He knows how the holidays feed this beast within and only make it grow. He knows my fear of losing control and disappointing others only serves as a chasm in our relationship that drives me away from Him rather than draws me closer, so often He will step in to protect me from myself, and allow situations that are bigger than me and my power of control, to realign my focus.

And when that happens, as much as I might fight it, I find that I gain my footing and am able to exhale.

This December was one of those seasons of surrender.

This month we were faced with challenges and obstacles bigger than us. And during most of those challenges Toby was out of town and I was struggling to manage them on my own. Add to the challenges we were facing as a family, the pressures and unrealistic expectations that come with the Christmas season, and I found myself at a crossroads. I had to willingly make a choice to LET GO of my vision for the holidays and LET GOD lead.

This meant my itinerary, my plans, my traditional parties, activities, and ways of bringing Christmas magic that I was holding onto so tightly had to be let go so as to open my hands and heart for the type of Christmas that God had planned for us.

I shared some of that transformation in a previous post, but God continues to work on me. He is helping me to refocus, slow down and see the Christmas season in a different way. And in the process He is bringing a depth and closeness to our family and a greater appreciation for the true gifts of Christmas in the process.

Lately it seems the theme for this Christmas is: I plan and God laughs… and then He provides something better.

That theme continued with Toby’s homecoming and our plan to get the perfect Christmas tree.

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We have been eagerly counting down the days for Toby to come home so that we could go get our tree and start enjoying those traditions that we didn’t want to do without Toby. . Going to get our Christmas tree was at the top of the list. We usually drive to a “you pick” Christmas tree farm and cut down our own tree. I love everything about the experience from the tromping through the woods, to the debate over the best tree, to the towing the tree home on the trailer.

 It is my favorite part of Christmas.

So when Toby arrived home and we made plans to go out Saturday afternoon to cut down our tree, we were all very excited. It felt like Christmas had finally arrived. Daddy was home, the tree was going up, and now, 7 days before Christmas, the holidays could begin. All was right with the world.

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Daddy’s home!

 

It was right about then God started laughing.

You see, the night before had brought an ice storm that left our steep driveway encrusted in a beautiful, but treacherous, layer of ice.

My van was parked at the bottom with no hope of climbing the slick drive, but we were surprised to find out that Toby’s truck, that ALWAYS makes it up the driveway, even in the worst driving conditions, couldn’t make it up.

In fact not only could he not make it up, he actually ended up being pulled backwards down the driveway,  losing his trailer that was attached to his truck, over the edge of the hill.

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Our plans to take his truck and trailer to the tree farm were stalled as we called for a tow. Assuming we would just have to postpone our plans for a  couple of hours we started working the phones, only to find out that NO tow company wanted to have anything to do with our driveway and our predicament.

So we moved onto plan B. We would take the van and deal with the truck and trailer later. The van was already at the bottom so we would take it and simply strap the Christmas tree to the top. Nothing was going to stand in the way of going Christmas tree hunting.

And then God laughed.

We climbed in the van all bundled up in gear and proceeded to spin in place. For an hour we dug, we laid gravel and salt, we pushed and we pulled, but that van wouldn’t budge.

So now it was Saturday afternoon and we were stuck.

It was the last Saturday before Christmas to get our tree and we had one truck with no brakes (remember Gracie’s crash,) one truck perched precariously on the edge of an icy driveway, and a van parked on an ice skating rink. We weren’t going anywhere until the spring thaw.

I was frustrated and discouraged. Once again my plans were not God’s plans.

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Then He planted a seed of an idea. The day need not be discarded as failure. After all we lived on 53 acres of land. “Why not,” the thought came to us, “go Christmas tree hunting on our own property.” If we can’t drive to the trees why not shop at home, so that is what we did. And it was the most special Christmas tree hunting experience we have ever enjoyed as a family. It was an experience we would have never enjoyed had everything “gone right” and played out as I wanted it to.

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The kids were sold on the idea immediately. With hand saw in hand (the chain saw was trapped in the back of the jack-knifed trailer) we headed out. The three dogs joined us as we tromped through the snowy woods.

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Our Christmas tree options were limited.

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While much of our land is forest, it is filled primarily with deciduous trees and not evergreens. This added to the challenge of the hunt and a whole lot of laughter as we pondered the possibilities which seemed to come down to  30 foot or 3 foot pines, with not too many options in between.

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The dogs loved this unique adventure and raced around our legs, chomping on the snow, as we worked our way from one corner of the property to the other.

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We finally stumbled across a possibility.

It was definitely “airier” (that is the kind way to say it was sparse) than a commercial tree, but it had a pretty shape and a country charm about it.

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Tyler had his heart set on another tree that we had to veto for the simple fact it was too small and delicate to hold any ornaments. I could tell Tyler was frustrated that we couldn’t see the possibilities in his tree, that he viewed as perfect, so he did what anyone else might do in the same situation:

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He ripped it out by its roots and carried it home to put in the corner of his bedroom, root ball and all. 🙂

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Toby then pulled out his hand saw and dropped our mighty tree….TIMBER!

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It looked even bigger when it was laying across the road.

We ended up having to “trim” half of it off to make it fit in the 14 foot tall corner of our living room.

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The hilarity of the situation continued as we tried to drag this enormous tree up our icy driveway and get it into position in the living room.

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Stay tuned for part two of our tree adventure…decorating Goliath.

A Tired Momma

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The best comprehensive overview of life with children with attachment issues (aka…RAD) that I have seen. Parenting a RAD child can be the most draining, exhausting, defeating, and isolating road to walk. It is hard to explain how very hard life is for the parents and siblings of children with Reactive Attachment Disorder. To the outside world these very hurt, sick children can seem charming and delightful. The parents of RAD kids are often seen as overly strict, hard on their children, or crazy because these children have developed unbelievably advanced ability to lie, manipulate, and charm, meanwhile behind closed doors the storms rage 24/7 with the primary caregiver being the most targeted victim of the abuse. This heartbreaking disorder is brought on by lack of care when a child is young. By not having their most basic needs met by a loving parent these children never learn to form attachments. I have two children with a RAD diagnoses, with one who displays the symptoms to the degree laid out in this overview. I am a tired Momma. Parents of RAD kids live in a constant state of exhaustion as a result of moving through their days in a hypervigilant state. I am feeling the fatigue all the more intensely with Toby gone. Parenting an abusive child with no respite is so hard. I know some of my friends with RAD kids will get this. I can see them nodding, “Yes, yes! This is my life!” But for those that don’t live in a world where attachment disorders drive every aspect of your day, here is a cheat sheet into our world. I share not to embarrass or shame. I share not for attention or pity. Rather, I share, because I know there is someone reading this with tears streaming down their face, thinking, “Finally someone understands what I have been going through.” Whether this is your journey or whether your struggles come in a different form, this is a good reminder that things are rarely what they seem. Ladies, let us all love and support each other more and judge a little less.

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For more about our life raising a child with Reactive Attachment Disorder check out this previous post:

https://ktmccleery.wordpress.com/2015/02/10/rad-not-so-cool/

The Hoover Dam…or as Tyler calls it, “The Hoover Darn”

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Preparation for this road trip began months before we actually packed up the bus. There were so many things to figure out, so many moving parts involved in a trip this long and involved, that the preparations took a long time. There was the researching and planning of our route and what sites we wanted to see. There were the logistics of the bus conversion and making sure mechanically it would be able to handle a 9,000-mile journey over a variety of terrain. There were the school preparations as we worked with our cyber schools to make sure this road trip would be feasible with school work, and making sure we were prepared for how we would manage internet while on the road. There were campsites to book, menu and grocery planning, packing lists and home preparations for leaving our home and farm under the care of a house sitter for seven weeks.

There was also the issue of medications. Both little boys are on a variety of medication that help with the symptoms of ADHD, anxiety and Reactive Attachment Disorder. They both receive therapy for early childhood trauma but the medications they are on help them manage their symptoms so that they can do the therapy work. These medications are essential for their well-being as well as for the functionality of our family as a whole.

Before we left we worked to get the boys’ medications stabilized and prepared for our time away from their doctor and therapist by filling their 30 days of medication the day before we left and then bringing their refill scripts with us.

I was concerned that we might have an issue filling their Concerta scripts for ADHD because it is considered a controlled substance. So I set aside time to speak with our pharmacist face to face. I expressed my concerns and she reassured me that it shouldn’t be an issue as long as I had paper scripts from the doctor and photo ID…

Boy was she wrong!

It has been a nightmare. For 6 days, through 3 states, with stops at 10 different pharmacies, we have tried to refill the boys’ empty meds.

Each pharmacy had a different reason for saying, “NO.” One refused to fill any out of state scripts for controlled substances. One wouldn’t fill the script because more than one medication was written on one script. Another wouldn’t fill any script that was written more than 14 days ago. Another refused to fill a controlled substance script without speaking to the doctor.

It was that pharmacy that resulted in an extended stay in Las Vegas. The pharmacist wanted to speak to our doctor. It was Saturday morning and our doctor wouldn’t be back in the office until Tuesday so we had to wait, with crossed fingers, that our extended stay in Las Vegas would pan out.

Those who have ever questioned the validity of ADHD, or who feel it is a made-up diagnosis to excuse poor behavior in school children, has never lived with an ADHD child. Let me tell you…IT IS REAL!!

Both boys have a diagnoses of ADHD but Tyler is far more severe. In fact his doctor says he has the most severe case of any ADHD patient she treats. When he is on his meds, which includes 5 different medications and 10 pills a day, he is still bouncy and distracted. Living with him off his meds in a little school bus…

Well imagine climbing into a refrigerator box with 33 monkeys and a Tasmanian devil and you just about have it.

The last few days have been challenging. We have had to adjust our itinerary and cut out a few stops to make this extended stay in Las Vegas work.

The blessing is: we are at a wonderful KOA campsite.

The staff is fantastic and there is a beautiful pool where we have spent much time allowing Tyler to burn off energy in the 105-degree heat.

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It also offered free shuttle service so we have been able to take advantage of sites in the area as we wait on news about the meds. While we were stationary we also had a mobile automotive service come out and do a little repair work on some of the wear and tear on the bus that came as a result of our climb and descent through the Rocky Mountains.

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It was nice to be able to have the mechanic come out to the KOA and work on the bus while we swam.

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One of the planned stops for our trip through Vegas was the Hoover Dam, or as Tyler calls it,

“The Hoover Darn.”

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He didn’t buy my explanation that the word “dam” in reference to a structure, wasn’t a bad word.

I don’t know what I was thinking taking two ADHD boys, who are off their meds, to the tallest man made, concrete structure in the western hemisphere.

I think I was just desperate to escape the confines of the bus.

While there I vacillated between a numbing fear that Tyler was going to bounce his way of the side of the dam and a temptation to push him over the side of the dam.

We drove the bus over to the Hoover Dam, a 30-minute drive from our KOA in Sam’s Town, Nevada.

When we arrived we were ushered through a security check point where Police Officers boarded our bus and thoroughly searched it, inside and out. All trucks, Vans and RVs had to be searched.

We don’t know if this is a normal security procedure or if it was a result of the bombings that had occurred on the east coast the day before.

We were soon through security and were told to head to parking lot 14 which was set up to accommodate larger vehicles.

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We were surprised, as we approached the dam, that we would be driving across the top of it. We thought only pedestrians we allowed on top of  it, so it was a thrill to drive across this mammoth structure.

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We parked and began the long decent, down numerous staircases, to the dam.

Walking across it allowed us the opportunity to move at a more leisurely pace, read the signage and take pictures.

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The boys lasted about 3.2 seconds before the first one was hanging over the railing in an effort to better see the water below.  From that moment on we had a firm hand-holding policy for both boys, but even with that safety measure I didn’t have any feeling in my legs and my heart didn’t stop racing until we were back in the bus.

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It was there on the top of the dam that we really got to experience Vegas heat at its best. The 105 degree temperatures felt even hotter as we stood on that enormous concrete slab.

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All around the dam were cooling stations. These giant, mist blowing fans were a lovely relief from the heat.

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But nothing felt as good as the wall of cold air that hit us as we stepped into the visitor’s center.

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We considered doing one of the two tours offered that allows visitors to go inside the dam and see the inner workings of the dam,  but we knew we would never make it with the boys in their current condition, so instead we just bought a pass to the visitor’s center.

Here we learned all about the history of the Hoover Dam, from the planning process, to the construction, to the science behind its inner workings, as well as its function today.

Here are some of the cool things we learned:

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We didn’t realize that the Hoover Dam lies on the border of two states with one side rooted in Arizona and the other in Nevada.

It was a very interesting stop and our visit was packed with fascinating history and fun science.

(On a side note)

If we were to do anything differently we probably would have skipped the visitor’s center. It was $10.00/person but we didn’t feel we got our money’s worth out of the small visitor’s center. Quite honestly we could have enjoyed our visit just as fully having walked the dam and read all the great signage outside for free. 

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It really is an astounding place, well worth a visit if you are in the area.

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We ended our visit with a stop at the gift shop/restaurant.

The kids were really excited for this visit because of their exposure to the Hoover Dam after reading the Percy Jackson series. There is a great scene in one of the books that takes place at the dam…

So in honor of all Percy Jackson fans we bought some “dam fries” to share.

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All in all,

It was a “Dam” Good Day!

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The darker side of adoption

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It was 1:34 am and another plate flew past my head and shattered against the wall. I chalked up the loss to the cost of adoption, finding some peace in the fact that it was a Walmart replaceable dinner plate as opposed to a china plate or family heirloom. I have long since packed away my Lladro’ figurines on the top shelf of my closet to be enjoyed for a fleeting minute every morning and evening when I pull my clothes off the hangers.

The weeks since Toby has left have been challenging with the boys. Actually “challenging” is a laughable understatement. Things have not been this hard since those early months of placement when both boys worked so hard to test my willingness to stick with them through the most challenging of behaviors.

In fact these few weeks have perhaps been even harder. The silence found resonating on this blog site is testimony to that struggle. When things are hard I find myself isolating from others, both in a physical sense as well as a virtual one. Perhaps this comes from an uncertainty as to what and how much to share…always trying to walk that delicate line between being real in our journey while still respecting the privacy of my family. Or perhaps it’s because I feel so lost in the darkness that I struggle to find the light that I want to share with you. Sometimes though I think it comes down to just being weary. A weariness so soul deep that even a Rip Van Winkle sleep couldn’t bring the rest I crave.

The weariness comes from the lack of respite. I’m sure many of you can relate. You might not be dealing with the same trauma but perhaps your circumstances bring a similar weariness.  It is a weariness that comes from always having to be “on.” The opportunity to escape, even mentally, is not there. Our home at the moment is like an active minefield, Grace and I are tiptoeing through our days, trying to tread gently for fear of setting one of them off and then having to attend to the casualties and destruction.

Toby’s absence has sent both boys spinning out of control and the results are bigger and more explosive than you can imagine. The cruelty, the hitting and biting, the name calling, and the broken decorations, the 911 call (oh, yes he did!), the manipulation, and the holes punched in the drywall are just the tip of the proverbial iceberg. I live in a state of constant vigilance and fear…not of my sons, but of losing control of the situation with my sons.

On Tuesday we had a therapy appointment with Tina. I went in first to update her before I brought Ozzie in. She asked me how I was and the floodgates opened. After weeks of isolating myself from the world I finally had someone safe to talk to. I told her I was tired…so very tired. I laughed with bitterness at the irony of my situation. In my desire to save these two boys from a life of horrendous abuse I find myself now in my own abusive situation.

I am in an abusive relationship …actually two abusive relationships…that I can’t walk away from. If it was my husband doing and saying these things I would have walked away a long time ago but these are children. My children. My boys who are dealing with hurts bigger and scarier than anything you and I could conjure up in our scariest nightmare. I have the privilege of being both of their security as well as the walking representation of the figures they love and hate the most: their birth parents. And so I get to be on the receiving end of all the hurt they would like to inflict on the parents they don’t have access to.

I get it. Mentally, logically, I understand the reasoning and the motivation behind the behavior, but that doesn’t make it any easier emotionally. The  “I hate you”s feel all too personal. I am feeling Toby’s absence in a profound way and am looking forward to him pulling down the driveway in a few days. I look forward to having my co-captain home and being able to “tag out” of the ring every now and then. I look forward to not being alone in the struggle and to the peace and security Toby’s presence brings to my boys and to me. I am looking forward to Grace being able to step down from her role as helper and co-parent and be able to just be a teenager with teenager thoughts and concerns. I am looking forward to getting on our bus and getting away as a family as we share experiences that will glue us together.

So often I find that the only stories shared about adoption are either the rainbows and roses, “Happily Ever After” stories, or the horror stories of families destroyed and adoptions dissolved. I write our story, not to sway opinions, garner sympathy, or embarrass. I share to encourage others and to put a real face to adoption. There are beautiful moments in our journey but also some hard ugly realities. These do not exist separate from each other. Together they make up this life we live. Adoption is a blessing. I testify that adoption not only strengthens families but also strengthens the individual. The struggles have a way of holding a mirror up to our souls to show us the real strengths and weaknesses that lie within. The journey humbles and makes all involved more dependent on Christ. It is a refiner’s  fire that purifies and strengthens.

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We have been asked if we would ever consider adopting again. I usually laugh and say that the answer depends on the type of day you ask. If you asked me this week, as I look at the carnage that covers the floor, I might break down in tears

but the truth is this…

If God calls us to it we will answer with a resounding “yes,” not because I have confidence in our abilities as parents, but because of the confidence I have in my Heavenly Father and in his plan for our family.

Is adoption hard?

 H***   YES!!!

Oh, so hard!

Far harder than we could have imagined, but the miracles witnessed daily make every uphill step worth the struggle.

Even on days like today…

Perhaps most profoundly on days like today.

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