Thursday, February 5, 2015

I Stick to You!

Parenting children who have been in foster care is very different from parenting biological children in many ways.  I can't speak for all adoptive parents, but for myself I can say that when our girls came to us, I loved them immediately with the mother's love I have for Caleb, our biological child - but I didn't KNOW them like I knew him.

Most times biological kids have a natural attachment to their parents - what I call an emotional leash. We still have to watch toddlers carefully, but most of the time, a kid is not going to wander too far from their mommy.  And the mommy knows the child well enough to anticipate their next move.  Not so with a child that has attachment disorder, lack of impulse control due to brain damage or trauma, and no trust of the adult who is caring for them.

In a store, I could expect that Caleb would stay near the cart, or if he would walk away, would come back in to check in and see that I was still close by.  The girls, however, after living in four homes prior to us, had no such attachment, no emotional leash that linked them to me.  I have worked very hard for 4 years to create this attachment, and we are finally at a place where (most of the time!) I can take them to a store and know they won't just wander away and walk off with someone else.  And I know them well enough now to anticipate their actions.

One phrase I have used over and over and over (which you have to do with children with FASD who have memory issues) is "We stick together."  We hold hands, we hold the shopping cart, we stay together, we stick together.  I finally knew the phrase had taken hold just recently when I realized shopping with them was not as stressful as it usually is, and then especially one afternoon in the car. Amie was upset with Annie about something that didn't go her way.  "Fine!  You not my sister anymore!" she said.  I looked in the rearview mirror at Amie.  "Oh, we don't say that.  We are family, and sisters are forever.  We...." Annie interrupted at this point.  "I STICK TO YOU AMIE!!!".  Don't you just love it?  This concept of we belong to each other, we stay together, I STICK to you has made it's way into Annie's understanding.

Oh, these two.  Yeah, we're stuck to them, and I couldn't be happier about it.


Thursday, October 30, 2014

This Girl

It was almost 4 years ago now that we met our girls for the first time.  Amie was 2 ½ and had only a few words - “agua” (the girls had lived in a Spanish only speaking home for quite awhile), “no”, and “Emy”, which she called Annie, almost as if she had no identity and Annie was an extension of herself.  There was no laughter and there were no tears from this girl.  Just a pathetic little patting of the spot next to her in her bed wanting me to snuggle her.  That was all the communicating her needs that she could muster.  I wrote a post about this on her third birthday, sharing that she really had no concept of who she was, no identity, and how giving her a new name began a process of her coming into her own.  Now that I really know her, I see that she had learned really quickly that being quiet and sitting on someone’s lap had kept her safe - from her sister’s inability to control her own body, and probably from adults as well.  I remember our first walk to the park took two adults and 4 older children to keep the girls safe - Annie from running absolutely everywhere, including the street, and pulling Amie along, because she had never really walked anywhere before - I don’t think, anyway.

But this girl.  This little girl has become herself in so many ways.  She is a superhero loving, princess dress wearing, tree climbing, Taylor Swift dancing, coloring sweetheart of a girl.  In four years she has learned to talk, to walk, run, ride a bike, scooter, and skateboard.  She is a good friend.  She is a cuddler who loves to have her back scratched.  And she knows who she is.  For pajama day this week at school, she wore “boy” Spiderman jammies and owned them so much no one even questioned it, while all the other girls had pink.  She rocks her Star Wars vans, while wearing bows in her hair.  She can rival any boy her age in the tree climbing, soccer ball kicking, basketball shooting categories.  

She no longer allows Annie to take her sensory needs out on her - she defends herself AND uses her words.  She asks for what she needs.  She laughs and she cries, and throws temper tantrums on occasion.  And I’m okay with that, because she feels safe enough now to do the developmental things she should have felt safe to do when she was two.

Yesterday, she won third place in a coloring contest.  (Which, by the way, is huge for a FASD kid, they usually are a number of years behind in development, so for her to “be in step” with her fine motor skills to kids of all ages is incredible).  Today was Superhero day at school, so today was basically, for her, the BEST DAY EVER, because she gets to share her accomplishment by showing her class the stuffed spider she won yesterday in the contest AND wear a Wonder Woman costume.  She walked onto that playground this morning with the biggest smile on her face, and was still grinning like crazy when I left her back at her classroom.  

I stood and watched from afar for awhile, crying happy tears at that sweet, happy little face. Because this girl.  This girl with her athletic ability, tree climbing, superhero loving, princess dress wearing, sweet loving heart, has come into her own. Her superpower? Overcoming incredible obstacles and blooming into one amazing little person who has our hearts.

Tuesday, October 7, 2014

This Book Saved My Marriage

10 years ago, my life had fallen apart.  Brent and I had been separated for 6 months, which meant no more full-time ministry, losing friendships, and selling our beautiful home.  The loss was great, the heartache was intense, the grief nearly unbearable.

Then God placed the book The Power of a Praying Wife by Stormie Omartian in my hands.  Not a book I was too excited about reading at the moment, let me tell you.  I was weary, hurting, and beginning to lose hope.  But I decided to obey.

Starting October 1, 2004, I began reading, a chapter a day, each chapter with a prayer at the end.  The first prayer was for my husband’s wife.  Ahem.  I thought this was a “change all the things I think are wrong with him right now” book. Nope.  It started with me.  Prayers that God would change MY heart, MY attitude, MY commitment.  And it worked.  

That month of prayers changed my life, and eventually, with a lot of hard work and forgiveness on both our ends, our marriage.  On October 1, we were barely speaking.  By October 31 we were bringing Caleb to a church harvest carnival together and agreeing to go to counseling.  By November we were in counseling, and by August of 2005, after 17 months of separation, we were reunited as husband and wife.  This last August, we celebrated 19 years of marriage.

I still read the prayers in that book almost every day.  One a day for 10 years.  After that first month, I added in Stormie's book, The Power of a Praying Parent, and have read a prayer a day in that book faithfully for ten years as well.  The prayers in the book are not a replacement for an intimate conversation with God, but rather a guide for how to pray for my husband and my kids, and I have seen God work in amazing ways through them!

Every time I cycle through the prayers again, I can see how they were answered specifically that last month, that last year, over the last DECADE!  They are constant reminders of me humbling myself and entrusting my life and our family to the Lord, and of how He is So. Very. Faithful.  Every prayer in those books has been answered in a tangible way.  Every one.  Prayers for friends, teachers, relationships, health, career, fears, family, relationships with God.  

Prayer, my friends, works.  When we sit down at the feet of Jesus submitting to His will, asking for His help, He answers, and it is beautiful.  Sometimes it is as simple as a little temper tantrum problem with a toddler, and sometimes it is a miracle in a marriage.  God cares about it all, and will work in it all when we ask Him.  Have a marriage that needs saving? It starts with you, God, prayer, and trust that He will do what He promises!

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Are You Still My Mom?

Today was rough.  Not the worst we’ve ever had, and not entirely unusual, but worse than it’s been in awhile.

From school pick up at 2pm ‘til I put them to bed at 7:30, it was CHAOS.  This is an incomplete recap of our afternoon and evening.  Yes, yes, there was more.

2:30-5pm Temper tantrum, wailing and gnashing of teeth (literally), rending of bedding, “I’m getting a new family,”  “I want a new mom,” (one kid), while the other was talking incessantly about two new friends she made at school in between getting upset about the other one being upset and responding with verbal abuse to said other child.  Temper tantrum regarding the fact that I let sister play with old (not connected) iPhone while she played with BRAND NEW KINDLE FIRE she owns because she won it in a library raffle.   Said electronics were confiscated for the evening. It was a downward spiral from there.

5-7:30pm.  More crying, fighting, bickering.  “Can we go play with our new bouncy balls in the field behind the house?”  Yes, please.  Stay where you can see our house.  Husband walks in door from 12 hours at work at almond harvest, to eat dinner and leave again, and I turn around and they are out of sight.  I run out into the 30 ACRE  field.  Nowhere to be found.  I hear a blood curdling scream, still can’t see anyone.  After screaming their names myself, I see Annie running to me, “Amie’s stuck”.  I run down our row of houses backing up to the field, to what would be the OTHER END OF THE BLOCK and there is Amie, holding onto a fence crying and screaming like a banshee because HER SHOE IS IN SOMEONE’S BACKYARD.  I retrieve shoe.  I retrieve children and dog and dolls and bouncy balls.

Walk back.  Tell girls to play in back yard.  Feed husband.  Try to talk to husband. “I want water.”  “You can wait.  I’m trying to talk to Dad.”  Look out the window.  She is filling a cup of water from the pool.  I decide I don’t care.  Until she drops said cup and decides to stick her head UNDER THE POOL COVER to try to grab the cup.  Fails.  Decides WHAT THE HELL and throws 3 cups, a plate full of paint from painting earlier (I won’t say how many days earlier), a fairy house from painting unnamed days earlier, and a chair.  Literally all in one minute.  I head out and make her clean it all up.  Walk back in, husband has finished food and is gone.

I had actually been a trouper to this point.  Used my “don’t mess with mommy” voice, but didn’t yell, didn’t spank, held at appropriate times, and held firm at appropriate times.  But this time, I cry.

I tried to explain that their bad choices literally took the 5 minutes we had with Daddy today away from us, and that our tired Daddy came home for a little rest and food, and got CHAOS.  Annie, “I’m sorry, Mommy.”  Amie, “Are you still my mom?”


Are you still my mom.  She knew it was a rough day.  She knew she had crossed several lines, and her fear was if she was still mine.

In my tears, I got down on her level and looked straight in her eyes and with everything in me, said, “Yes, yes, yes.  I am and will always and forever be your mom.  No matter what you say to me, no matter what you do, I am your mom.  I chose you.  YOU ARE MINE.”  Annie wanted forgiveness, but Amie wanted to know her place in my heart was secure.

Wearily, I got them both to bed.  (T shirts and dirty faces and tangled hair and no brushing of teeth this night and I don’t care.)  I did threaten big trouble if there were any nighttime wanderings.  I don’t think I could be held accountable for what I may do if I were to have to parent any more.  I made myself a stiff drink (don’t judge) and sat by the pool in the cool of the evening.  Out came the stars, and right in front of me, the Big Dipper.

I have looked out at that constellation many an evening - particularly when we lived in Washington, I would go out on our balcony each night and look at it a few minutes while listening to the frogs sing in the creek nearby.  It always makes me ponder God’s greatness, His bigness, and His faithfulness.  It’s always there.  He’s always there.

As I looked this night at the Big Dipper so large, so close, framed by the perimeter of our fenced back yard, I thought of Chris Tomlin’s song, “You are Amazing, God”. He sings, “You placed the stars in the sky and you know them by name, you are amazing, God”.  I was reminded again of God’s great love, and God’s great faithfulness to me.  He is bigger than behavioral problems.  He is bigger than chairs in the pool and messes on the floor, and dinner thrown in the trash.  He loves me and has chosen me and I will always be His.  He is faithful to me in this calling he has placed on me to be these children's mommy.  He is faithful to them, to call them to a higher purpose, and to love them as they are.  He chose them, literally pulled them out of the muck and mire of their former homes and gave them a firm place to stand with Him and with us.

And maybe, as I parent them, in a day like to today, and with all my heart can say, “Yes, yes, yes, I am your mommy forever no matter what!”, I will be able to help them get a glimpse of God’s faithfulness, His everlasting love, and their eternal belonging to them.  His choosing of them.  That, my friends, will make it all worth it.  For now, I’ll be happy if they sleep all night.  I’m off to do laundry and bed, and love them more tomorrow.

Monday, May 20, 2013

Better Than A Hallelujah

Today Annie:

  • Ate dog food ("I'm hungry!")
  • Spread ashes from out outside fireplace all over the patio and patio furniture ("I was making cupcakes, Mommy!")
  • Peed her pants and proceeded to put the wet clothes on her bed pillow ("I was playing outside and didn't make it to the potty!")
  • Stepped in dog poop and proceeded to rub it on her hands, and then, in her hair. ("I was trying to get it off!")

No, this was not an entire day's worth of disasters.  This was all while I was trying to cook dinner. (Par for the course, I must say, with Annie, this is how much of our days go.) And if you know Annie, then you will understand that each of these things happened in a split second when I was stirring something or looking away for only a moment.  The dog poop incident, was the last in this series of unforgettable evens, and about did me in.  I turned off the BBQ and the stove burners, and brought her upstairs to shower.  I know my frustration, stress, and irritation were evident, although I was holding back and doing my best to hand out a healthy dose of "we don't do this sort of thing" so she would learn, while attempting to season it with some grace.

And as I am washing her hair, Annie begins to sing the words, "Better than a hallelujah."  God speaks through little ones.

Even little ones with dog poop in their hair.

This song sung by Amy Grant is one of my favorites, and came out a few years ago, around the time of my last miscarriage.  I remember hearing it and weeping in my grief.  Part of the lyrics are, "We pour out our misery, God just hears a melody.  Beautiful the mess we are, honest cries of breaking hearts, better than a hallelujah.  Better than a church bell ringing, better than a choir singing out...." To be reminded that God could take my fear, my sadness, my aching for more children, and turn it into a melody.....beautiful.

And He did - He brought me these two amazing girls, including the one I am frustratedly scrubbing down in the moment.

Instantly I softened, tears in my eyes, and said, "Yes, Annie, that's right." As I looked in her eyes and fell in love with her even more than I already am,  I heard the Holy Spirit whisper Romans 12:1 "Offer your bodies as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God.  This is your spiritual act of worship."

Convicting and comforting all at the same time, I was instantly brought back to the moment I first heard that song and wept with a broken heart over our lost baby, and became even more grateful for our precious little girls.  Then I was convicted that in the moments of poop and pee and dog food eating today, I wasn't parenting as an act of worship.  And then I was comforted, as the Spirit again spoke to me and said, "I know how hard this is, I understand, and yes, adopting and parenting this beautiful girl,  in the midst of the sassing and messes and struggles, is your act of worshipping me, is better than a hallelujah."

Tomorrow will probably hold the same kind of stresses that today held.  Messes to clean up, sassing to deal with, Annie's amazing whirlwind of activity and energy, but tomorrow, I will be singing, "Better than a Hallelujah" and offering up this beautiful mess of our lives as my sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God.

Thursday, February 21, 2013

A Wave and a Smile

I climbed into the car after dropping Amie off at preschool. When I looked up, there she was in the window with her sweet smile and a little wave.  This melted me.

Most moms would think this is nice and cute and move on with their day.  I sat and relished the moment because it was a true gift.  When you adopt older kids who have attachment disorder, these kinds of things can be few and far in between.  With Amie it is a sign that she and I are creating a healthy attachment.  That I feel like “mommy” to her and she feels like “daughter” and she wants to see me one last time before I go.  

Kori Heuvel, another adoptive mom, very eloquently calls adoption a “beautiful heartache.” It’s been a long road, this attachment process.  Often difficult.  You can’t take things personally.  One of the reasons this little wave meant so much is often when I have to leave to a meeting at school or run an errand and there’s someone else watching her, Amie will often say, “Bye Mommy,” over and over before I’m even ready to head out the door.  Her way of saying, “I’m fine, I don’t need you, you don’t matter.”  It’s just a defense mechanism, part of the process, but if I were to take it personally, my heart would be breaking all the time.  

I celebrate the journey, though, and I celebrate how far we’ve come.  One year ago, after a year of being her mommy, I got my first “Mommy’s HERE!!!” when I picked her up at preschool.  I cherished that moment and can still remember how my heart swelled with those words and her first time of showing excitement at seeing me after being apart.  

Yesterday, she sat in my lap and just wanted to be held and hugged.  I had a million things to do, but reminded myself that I never got to just sit and snuggle her as an infant, and when she wants to be close with me, the laundry can wait.  So I cuddled and squeezed and tickled and scratched her back and just loved on her for an hour.  And it was great.  

She is healing and attaching.  I am learning to take each little wave and snuggle and smile as a gift.  We are on our way!

Thursday, July 26, 2012

Home is Where the Heart Is

A number of years ago I was a youth pastor in an area in which there were many at-risk kids.  One of the questions they would often ask when meeting someone was, “Where do you stay?”  I came from a very stable home, so when I was new to the job, I didn’t understand this phrasing at all.  What they meant, though, was,  “Where do you live right now?”  Many of them moved often for various financial and relational reasons (some sleeping on friends’ couches until they had to move on to the next place) and so the word “stay” fit a little better for their mobile, often lonely lives.  For many of them, home was where they happened to sleep that night, week, or month, not a haven they could count on going to and resting in for any length of time.

Last week was a long and hard week.  The kids and I made the 15 hour trek up to our rental house in Washington to prepare it for new renters (or clean up the mess the former family left), whichever way you look at it, it was a long drive and a lot of work.

The girls have been on a few vacations with us since their arrival 19 months ago so I wasn’t too terribly worried about taking them (even Annie, who has a more difficult time with things) to a new place.  I however did not call this a vacation because it wasn’t one, but instead tried to explain to their little minds that this trip was to work on the house was where Daddy, Caleb, and I used to live.  Big mistake.

Amie took it all in stride, but Annie, I soon figured out, thought I was going to leave her there.  We arrived at the house on Tuesday afternoon, and from that moment Annie began to regress.  I watched all the emotional and mental progress she’s made decline by the hour, to the point that on Wednesday morning she was back to her blank look with her tongue hanging out of her mouth, something we hadn’t seen for 9 months.  In that moment, I decided I needed to get her back home as soon as possible.  

So for the next 36 hours I worked as hard as I could to do what I could to get us out of there there.  It was difficult - managing the girls while doing yard work, cleaning carpets, shuttling Caleb back and forth so he could see each one of his friends from our time living there...but it was worth it to get my Annie back.  

For the next two days until we were physically inside our home in California, I had to explain to her by the hour (and sometimes more) that we were going home to Daddy, Buddy the Dog, and our pool.  As each hour grew closer to our arrival, I saw Annie progress back into the girl I knew at the beginning of the week.  

At bedtime I sing the girls a special song.  Annie’s is “You Are My Sunshine”.  I changed the end of the song to say, “No one can take my Annie Sunshine away from me.”  I tell her daily that I am so happy to be her mommy, that she is ours forever, that we are not giving her away and no one is taking her away, she is loved, she is safe, she is home.

After 19 months of saying this to her daily, sometimes more, she still has anxiety about being left, being taken away.  Annie, like many teens we have worked with has lived with five families.  If she were able to, she’d probably describe our home as the place she “stays”, afraid to completely trust yet that this is final, not completely feeling at home.  

I prayed while I was driving that when we arrived back in Ripon, her little heart would understand that she has a home.  That she would know that we are her forever family, that I do what I say, that well, as I sometimes tell her, she’s stuck with me whether she likes it or not.

Annie let me rock her to sleep the night we got home, for the first time ever.  I spoke words of blessing over her and wept as she nodded off, the Holy Spirit’s presence palpable in the room.  It was a holy moment.  What a precious gift she gave me that night, trusting me enough and being willing to be vulnerable enough to fall asleep in my arms.  Her way, I think, of saying thanks for not leaving her.

I count it an honor to be the one to help bring healing to these amazing girls’ hearts and continue to pray that they both will feel completely at home in this house, in our family, and in my arms.  My hope is that they would no longer worry about where they will “stay” but simply rest in the knowledge and assurance that they are home.