A Determined Love

Seven years ago this week we saw three of our children for the very first time. Two little girls, sisters, who were 6.5 and 7.5 years old as well as their little brother who was three. I had been expecting them for a full six months. I thought I was prepared. After all, we had been fostering for nearly fifteen years and they would make 45 foster children that had entered into our care. I had pretty much seen it all, after all. We had determined to love them through difficulties,that surely would be faced.

When they came we knew the plan was adoption and we were committed to be their family. Having already adopted one older child (one of our sons came to us at age 8)in addition to three others who had come as infants, we didn’t expect things to be easy. What we didn’t truly grasp however, was how different this experience would be. Not only were all three children considered older-child adoptions, the girls had lived separately from their brother. They had survived in their situation often clinging to each other while their little brother had thrived in a loving foster home. Social Services will make every effort when possible to keep birth-siblings together. Sometimes, too often, it is not possible. This time it was because we were willing to take the three of them.

I’d like to tell you that it was love at first sight and we all were so happy to have each other that a glorious joy filled our hearts and homes as a result. But, that would be far less than true. I will be brief in my explanation as this is a blog and not a book. Although our youngest had some serious grief issues to work through, today I’d like to focus on my daughters while being careful to respect their privacy. I think our journey with attachment issues may could help another struggling family and give them hope. There were days that I felt hopeless and those were days I relied heavily on my faith and the support of friends and family.

The first I heard a mention of attachment issues was in foster care training nearly 20 years ago. I listened but, I did not hear what was being said. After all, I had a way with kids, I had never met a kid who didn’t love me and and and … I had been called to do this as a Christian. Surely we would be the exception and not have these strange struggles they briefly spoke of. By the time the girls arrived I knew better. Reality and experience had taught me differently.

The first thing worth mentioning is that although the girls were very close in age and had lived in the very same environment, they, being two unique individuals, responded completely differently. So, that’s the first thing I want you to take from reading about our experience. Every experience, every child, every family will be different. Read and talk and research as much as you can, certainly. But, do not expect to find the magic fix. It doesn’t exist. Your journey will be your own.

While one daughter seemed to readily accept her new family and was eager for a new life, the other struggled with finding her place in this new world. It was during these first months that I began to look for answers and search for understanding in earnest. I’m not an expert on RAD (Reactive Attachment Disorder) nor am I trained in therapies and treatments for attachment issues. I will leave that to the many available resources to handle. But, here’s what I can offer and the second thing I’d like you to take with you today. You are not alone. Don’t give in to the temptation to alienate yourself during this difficult time.

I was recently talking to another adoptive mother concerning attachment issues. She and I agreed that often, the adoptive parent tries to hide struggles as they feel particularly scrutinized as well as wanting to shield their children from being labeled. Then, of course there is the reflection on adoption as a whole that might result. We would never want to discourage someone who is considering adoption. But, the struggles are real. You are not alone. There are others who are on similar journeys. Find them, online groups, adoption support agencies, church small groups, whatever you can find.

The third thing I want to offer you is this. Don’t rely on feelings as a measure of success with your child who is experiencing attachment issues. If you do, you’ll both feel like failures at the end of the day. Love is a grand thing and I often say ‘in the end, love wins’. I stand firmly by that. But, the love required in such a relationship is not the love you feel but, the love your are committed to. It is not the love that makes you feel all warm and tingly but the love that presses on in spite of pain.

When my son who came to us as an angry eight year old child and had been with us a short time, I told my husband that I never expected him to love me or accept me as a mother. I could not see the light at the end of the tunnel. If I could have seen a light of any sort I would have been quick to conclude it was likely a train headed my way to finish me off. It is HARD to try to love someone who doesn’t love you back, even if it is a child. So, I went on to tell my husband that although I was convinced our son may never reciprocate our love, we would love him through committed determination and pray for God to love him through us when we weren’t capable of doing so.

I’m afraid there are a portion of you reading right now who are a bit aghast. How could someone struggle with loving their child? Let me caution you not to judge the struggles of someone who is walking a path you’ve never trodden. Entire households can be turned on end by one struggling child. The other children in the family can be impacted. Marriages can be strained. Hope can waver. Physical health can be strained. Exhaustion can set in. Faith can be in crisis. Unless you have been there and even if you have, hush. Just hush. Remember each journey is unique.

Here’s the good news. After time and healing and consistency and love and prayers (lots of prayers) things did change. Our oldest son is now a well-adjusted, healthily attached, firmly bonded member of our family. Yes, it has been over a decade of ups and downs to arrive at this point where the only real frustration is that of any parent of a young adult transitioning into independence. But, all along the way there were moments of refreshing and tiny miracles that combined into this big miracle. I want to mention that because my journey as a mom to him often gave me the wherewithal to not give up with my daughter. So, there’s the fourth thing I have to offer. Whatever stage of the journey you are on, it will not be this way forever. One small victory at a time will lead you further down the path and one day, your relationship will be better.

Here are a few practical tips to consider.

1) Watch for triggers. Sometimes it can be a smell, a sound, a movie. When we watched ‘Blind Side’ as a family it was very upsetting to my girls. The five boys found it inspiring. The girls had some bad days afterwards. It was all too familiar to them and triggered some issues. Another trigger with my oldest daughter was having a very special moment of bonding together with me. This triggered her as she felt that bonding with me was a betrayal to her birth family. That occurs much less now, seven years into our relationship. Hormones can trigger any human being into irrational behavior and certainly can do the same for a child with attachment issues. Watch for triggers.

2) Don’t take it personally. It is not about you or your parenting skills (although there is always room for improvement). Attachment issues are COMPLICATED. I recently read an article that discussed findings concerning the alternate ‘wiring’ that occurs in the brain itself when emotional needs aren’t met in those early years. Your job, as the parent, is to be the plumb line of your relationship. I love that term and often refer to it in my Bible Studies that I teach. A plumb line is a standard of stability to measure by. You try to stay the same when they aren’t. You are hoping to be counted on when they can’t even count on themselves. You are to strive to offer open arms when they are finally ready for that hug that they’ve refused countless times. You are going to resist letting resentment take a seed in your heart.

3) Cut yourself some slack. While you are to make every effort to be that plumb line, you are only human. I highly suggest you find your own plumb line to rely on. My chief plumb line is my faith relationship with Jesus. My second is my loving devoted husband. Others are found with close friends and family members. You are going to stumble and maybe even fall flat on your face as you try to do this very hard thing. When you do, get up. Get up and dust yourself off and try again, a little wiser and stronger than you were before. Every failed attempt is proof that you are still trying.

4) Keep a journal. Write down your frustrations and take note of every good moment. Not only will you release stress onto the paper that is very therapeutic, you will have a record to refer back to on days when you think you’ve made no progress or and need some serious reminders of how far you’ve come. If medical intervention or counseling is required, this journal will be very helpful to those attempting to help. You can even write out your prayers and then note the date that they are answered. They will be answered. Love will prevail. In the end, love wins.

Today I can say, without hesitation that my daughters are better. They are healthy and attached with rare moments to remind me of what has been accomplished. I can say, without hesitation that this world will be a better place because of them. I know this, because I am better for having loved them with a determined love.

Until it Hurts

This morning I read a post that I made on FaceBook three years ago. Here is what it said.

Today I am hoping to smile until my cheeks hurt.
I am hoping to laugh until my sides hurt.
I am hoping to practice humility until my pride hurts.
I am hoping to pray until my knees hurt.
I am hoping to love until my heart hurts.
I am hoping to take a stand for what is right until my feet hurt.
And then, I will give my hurts to the Lord, sleep in sweet slumber and start all over again tomorrow.
I love a good plan!

I found myself nodding my head in agreement as I read my own words. This is how I want to live and living this way hurts a bit. I know you know what I mean.

In order to smile until my cheeks hurt, I may have to grin and bear it at times. When the refrigerator goes out or I have to explain the very same mathematics concept for the millionth time.

In order to laugh until my sides hurt, I may have to look for the humor in the chaos that happens as regularly as clockwork. I might as well giggle even if I have to cry before I do so.

In order to practice humility until my pride hurts, I may have to be willing to ask forgiveness when I’m wrong and be satisfied with not having the last word in every argument.

In order to pray until my knees hurt, I may have to stop my fretting and worrying for a while. I will have to let go of what I’m trying so desperately to fix and trust God to do what I can’t.

In order to love until my heart hurts, I may have to put others first and give the benefit of the doubt to those I do love. I will have to accept that vulnerability is a part of extravagant love.

In order to take a stand for what is right until my feet hurt, I may have to stand alone at times. I may have to take the road less traveled and refuse stubbornly to step aside when it really matters.

And then…

I’ll surely have my share of hurts. It is the way of life and love and laughter. But, I don’t have to keep them. My Lord, my sweet Jesus is truly willing to take them. He will unburden my shoulders and give me that sweet rest that I need so badly. After all, tomorrow will come and there will be new opportunities to pour ourselves out into the lives of hurting and wounded people. Tomorrow will come and give us more opportunities to invest into others. Tomorrow will come and give us more opportunities to laugh and pray. Tomorrow will come and give us more opportunities to practice humility and take a stand that makes a difference. Tomorrow will come and we can do it again, even when it hurts.

Entanglements

This morning I have been doing a lot of thinking and my thoughts have led to the entanglements of life. For the most part, those entanglements involve people. People don’t come in the easy-care, wrinkle-free, stain-resistant department. People are difficult. Whether young or old, they require maintenance and time and energy and effort. I’ll tell you what else they require, they require a lot of patience and forgiveness. If you want an easy, stress free, drama-less life you’d do best to avoid people altogether. Of course you’d also miss out on the best of life while trying to sidestep demanding entanglements. You’d never have a big family fight but, you’d never experience the joy of reconciliation. You’d never lose sleep worrying about problems that are not your own but, you’d never know the great delight that comes in sharing the victories that are not your own.

The truth is, people disappoint us. They falter and stumble. This morning I was reading Romans 15 in The Message and several phrases really stood out to me.

“Those of us who are strong and able in the faith need to step in and lend a hand to those who falter, and not just do what is convenient for us. Strength is for service, not status. Each one of us needs to look after the good of the people around us, asking ourselves, “How can I help?”
That’s exactly what Jesus did. He didn’t make it easy for himself by avoiding people’s troubles, but waded right in and helped out.” Romans 15:1-3

One dictionary defines entanglement as ‘to twist together or entwine into a confusing mass’. Nothing about that definition beckons unto us saying “come a little bit closer”. As a matter of fact, it pretty much shouts “AVOID AT ALL COSTS”. When Henry and I decided to become foster parents we were cautioned by many to reconsider. After all, the foster care system is one entangled mess. I often call it broken, but, truly entangled is a better description. It is one thing to take a child into your home, it is another to deal with family visits and siblings and relatives and therapies and social workers and court appearances. We were cautioned but, we pressed ahead and in our fifteen years of foster care we fostered forty-five children. A few were there short term, maybe a dozen but, there were many who were with us for years and seven of whom we adopted.

When we were training to be foster parents one of my concerns was how I would feel towards the birth parents. Would I be able to be civil to these people who obviously didn’t want their children and had harmed them in some way? And then, as is so often the case, experience taught me differently. I began to meet these real, struggling, faltering human beings and I was for the most part flooded with compassion.

I remember once that a birth father showed up at our door early on Christmas Morning, pounding until we opened it. He held gifts in his arms and shouted at us to let him see his son. We had to try to calm him while we explained that his son was no longer there. You see, he wasn’t supposed to know where his son was because he would not respect the boundaries of visitation. Social services had found out that he had figured out the child was with us and after over two years of building a relationship with us, he had been moved. I’ll never forget the look on that man’s face when he realized that his determination to break the rules and outsmart the system had resulted in another move for his son. It was an entanglement.

Another time on another early morning one summer, I went to let our pooch out to potty and saw a vehicle parked in our driveway. Inside the car was the mother of one of our teen girls who was with us for nearly four years. She just sat there and I just stood there wondering what to do. I was in my housecoat and had rollers in my hair. I hadn’t even had my coffee. I decided to step to the car and she rolled down the window. “Would you like to come in for coffee?’ I asked. She looked so defeated and sad sitting there that I could hardly stand it. She came in and I hastily went and woke our foster daughter. “Your mom is here,” I told her, “come on, let’s fix her breakfast.” We did and I’ll never forget her comment that she couldn’t remember the last time she had eaten. It was an entanglement.

Once, we had a child placed with us rather suddenly. The social workers knew we could be counted on in a crisis and this was a crisis. The child’s parents were in a heated divorce and each accusing the other of endangering the child hoping to prevent the other from having visitation rights. Tempers had flared in the courtroom until finally the judge ordered the child taken into custody until it could all be sorted out. This was a Friday and that meant a long weekend ahead. The child wasn’t your typical foster care child. This was all new to him and to say he was traumatized is not an adequate description. He was nine years old and I already had two other nine year old boys, as well as several other children. He cried and cried. He would only speak to ask me to take him to his grandparents. I explained that I couldn’t do that but, I could keep him safe until he could return to his family. Finally, I asked him to tell me about his family and then I did something I wasn’t allowed to do. I searched for their number in an old fashioned phone book until I figured out how to contact them. His grandparents wept openly as I explained who I was without giving them a name or address. I’ll never forget their gratitude of just hearing from me, a total stranger that he was safe and being cared for. It was an entanglement.

One of my son’s birth mother and I spent a lot of time together. She was young enough that she could have possibly been my daughter herself. I kept her other children many times that weren’t in foster care to help her when she’d find herself in trouble once again. When she got straightened out enough that the judge was willing to give her another chance, I thought I would absolutely die. We were losing our baby. I had invested in her and now my reward was that she would have our son. See how entangled it gets? But, I’ll never forget the day, just three days later when she showed up at my door with him in her arms. She told me she couldn’t raise him and she knew I was supposed to. He became one of our forever children through adoption.

If you will, scroll back up and read that portion of scripture from Romans once more. If you find yourself in a position of strength then take the opportunity to lend a hand to those who falter around you. Are you strong financially, then take that as an opportunity for service, not status. If you are strong spiritually, reach out to those whose faith may be faltering. If it really isn’t convenient to get involved, welcome to the life of extravagant love and get involved anyway. Not sure exactly how you can help? Then, ask how you can help. Wade right in. After all, that’s what Jesus did for us and He is our perfect example of how to live this life, even with all the entanglements.

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This Call is for You

Back in the day, when party lines were the norm, the phone would ring and you knew a call was coming through but, you had to listen carefully to determine if that call was for you. As I read the familiar passage in the Bible for my early morning devotions today of Samuel the boy and his experience trying to answer the call that he heard, my mind went several directions. Christians talk a lot about being called, discovering your calling and answering the call of God on your life. What does that mean anyway? Well, simply put, it means this. God created you for a purpose, you were lovingly designed with intention and in such a unique manner that you are equipped to fulfill that purpose. As I read about Samuel, I realized that often we are like the young boy Samuel who heard the call and kept answering but, heading the wrong direction. In case you aren’t familiar with the story, you can read it in 1 Samuel chapter 3.

The first verse in the chapter sets the scene and my first impression was that this could be said about this very day as well. “In those days the word of the Lord was rare; there were not many visions.” This is a sad state of affairs, we should know. Verses 2&3 tells us where the priest Eli was and where the boy Samuel was. They were each lying down in their assigned places Take note, Samuel was properly positioned to hear from the Lord. Are we? Do we ever get quiet enough to hear what God has to say? In verse 4 it says simply that the Lord called Samuel and then Samuel answered, “Here I am.” So far, so good. Samuel is positioned properly to hear the call, God calls and Samuel answers with a willing heart. But, then things go awry. In Samuel’s eagerness he answered the wrong call. He runs to Eli, the priest. He is mistaken. He is dismissed. He went back and laid back down. Have you ever felt like Samuel? Have you ever felt sure that you were being called? Had yourself all worked up and excited and ran to answer the call only to discover you were mistaken? It can be a bit embarrassing, like you are crashing someone else’s party. It can be a bit unsettling as you question your own ability to hear from God.

One thing about it, Samuel didn’t give up and neither should we. In verse 6 they could have written “ditto” because that’s exactly what it was, a repeat of the same occurrence. God calls, Samuel hears and responds but, heads off in the wrong direction. He is once again sent away, told to take a chill pill. Well, Eli didn’t exactly use those words, but that is basically what he is saying. Have you ever tried to follow up on a dream or vision, a calling that has you on your feet and running, only to be met with tolerance and reserve? It is as if they are saying, “please calm down” or “not right now” or “perhaps another time”. This is not the reaction that you are looking for when your fire has been lit and you know you are suppose to be busy doing something that matters.

Verse 7 really caught my eye as it explains a bit of Samuel’s confusion and apparent lack of making any progress however willing he was to do so. “Now Samuel did not yet know the Lord: The word of the Lord had not yet been revealed to him.” There is a big clue in that little bitty word ‘yet’. It is so often about timing. It is so often about ‘yet’. The call was genuine, but Samuel wasn’t quite ready. This was going to be the first step of the journey not the arrival date. In verse 8 we start off in a similar manner. The Lord calls, Samuel answers and once again heads in the same wrong direction. It takes some of us a few times around the same mountain to finally get the message. Hey, you’re going the wrong direction. Stop doing the same thing expecting a different result. Thankfully the older and wiser man, realized what was happening and redirected Samuel to handle things differently the next time. What a treasure to have Godly folks around you who are wise and experienced.

I won’t continue with the rest of the story here, although I encourage you to do so on your own. I want you to consider this. Are you positioned properly to hear the call? Are you jumping the gun and getting the timing wrong? Are you at your ‘yet’? Don’t be discouraged. Don’t be hasty. Don’t be too quick to take off running. Next time, take time to listen to the whole of it, get the details if they are being offered. Let the Lord reveal His word to you so that you know Him and His voice so well, you can be assured that this call is for you.

Write it Down

This morning I’m headed out to attend a writer’s conference. I attended this same conference last year and it was my very first. I left that conference inspired and I must admit, I thought I’d surely have my own published book to share when I returned this year. I’ve made progress. I’ve learned more about how to do what I must do. However, I don’t have a published book, yet. I didn’t reach my goal.

I started this blog a year ago and published my first post as a result of that conference. I’ve been faithful. I’ve gathered a few followers. I am not an overnight sensation. I’m one blogging momma among many. I’m rather like a tiny minnow in a vast ocean of hopeful, talented bloggers.

Last night my youngest asked why I was going to this conference and I didn’t have a quick answer. I had to think about it a while. Why was I going after all? I could just keep working (at a snail’s pace) on the same goals I had last year this time. What was the point?

Now, I have an answer. I am going so that I can keep company with those who are trying to achieve similar goals. I am going to get a fresh focus and be newly inspired and encouraged to keep writing. I am going so that I can learn from those who have traveled the path of publication before me and gain knowledge by sitting in classes and workshops.

There is one other reason that I am spending valuable time, energy and money to attend this conference. That reason is about what i want as a writer. I want to inspire people. I want them to consider adoption differently than they ever have before. I want them to consider Jesus differently than they have before. I want them to give love a chance for there is nothing else quite like the love of a child and the love of a Savior. With these important aspirations, my best tool to accomplish them is to WRITE IT DOWN.

Today that writing is in the form of a blog post once or twice a week and a FB devotions nearly daily. Tomorrow, I will write them in a book.

Now go and write down these words. Write them in a book. They will stand until the end of time as a witness (Isaiah 30:8 NLT)

The printed word is powerful and long lasting and far reaching. It is my passion, my dream, my hope to make a difference in this world far beyond those in my corner of this world.

The Teacher

This passage from Isaiah is speaking to my heart this morning and thought it might be something you need to hear too. Chances are you’ve just been in a place of adversity and suffering or you are in one now. It’s part of life. From the most menial and aggravating to the most life-altering, adversity happens and suffering results.

“Though the Lord gave you adversity for food and suffering for drink, he will still be with you to teach you.
You will see your teacher with your own eyes.
Your own ears will hear him.
Right behind you a voice will say, “This is the way you should go,” whether to the right or to the left.”
Isaiah 30:20, 21 NLT

Another translation says ‘the bread of adversity’. Let’s face it, some things are just hard to swallow. It’s like a bone stuck in our throat, painfully lodged and seemingly going no where. Heck, we would be oh so glad to cough it up and spit it out if we only could. But, no, there it is in all it’s adversity glory with it’s ever present companion of suffering.

We may indeed have to face such times but we do not have to face them alone and we do not have to face them without a guide to instruct us. What a relief!

Look at those verses once more. No one is trying to deny that there is adversity and suffering, but, you are promised a teacher to help you out of that place. Not just any teacher but THE teacher. And the marvelous thing is you will see Him with your OWN eyes and hear Him with your OWN ears. What you will hear is instruction and guidance and wisdom.

Sometimes we can feel paralyzed with fear or stress or weariness. Self-doubt, broken trust and worry can keep us from moving on. That’s when we listen closely to our teacher, take note of the directions given and step forward in faith.

Recently, I found myself standing stubbornly and refusing to move. I didn’t want to do the wrong thing and so I was doing no-thing. Thankfully our Teacher also knows how to get our attention and bring us to our senses. He did so, I listened, I began to move and I’m not stuck in that place of indecision any longer. Hallelujah.

Are you ready to take the next step of your journey? Don’t be afraid, the Teacher knows how to direct you and re-direct you when that is necessary. Take courage and take a step.

“But the Advocate, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you everything, and will cause you to remember everything I said to you. “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you; I do not give it to you as the world does. Do not let your hearts be distressed or lacking in courage.”
John 14:26, 27 NET