Tuesday, November 24, 2015

Shout out love

To the couple who picked up the tab for our five squirmy and rambunctious children at dinner the other night:

We arrived at the restaurant with five very hungry and tired children. We had almost opted for peanut butter and jelly sandwiches at the hotel in preparation for our long drive home. But God had other plans. He knew we needed to be encouraged.

Last week the children and I joined my husband on one of his business trips. He flew out ahead of us, and I drove the children several states over to the state where they were born. While there, we visited with their previous foster family and then we spent a few days at museums and parks. Being in their home state triggered some varied responses in my kids. Although they intellectually know that adoption means permanency, when you've spent between 30% and 75% of your life in foster care, it takes some time for emotions to catch up to reality. 

To say that last week took its toll on me is an understatement. It may not have been as bad as our first few weeks together, but it was definitely a giant step backwards. 

So, when the waitress approached our table tonight and mentioned you, I was sure she was going to inform us that you complained about my son who was constantly peering over the divider to see what you were eating while repeatedly saying, "mommy, I'm really hungry," or my daughters who were using outside voices at an inside table while calling me a "meanie."

Instead, our waitress said that you had paid the bill for our bouncy bunch.

Thank you.

You have no idea what a blessing that was to me. 

I had some time to reflect last week while driving, and I realized that trading in a career for motherhood is essentially exchanging back-breaking work for heart-breaking work. 

This is certainly true for all mothers. But, those of us who parent children with histories of trauma often have to deal with an added layer often unknown, misunderstood, or even ignored.

You may not know how each trip to the store, each ride to the park, each day at school is a game of Russian roulette. 

Will my older children throw tantrums at the store? Will one of my kiddos scream at the top of her lungs in public? Will another one threaten to kick me in the face if she doesn't get what she wants? Will one bite the other? Can I just get through the checkout line without an argument that turns into a shoving contest complete with blood-curdling screaming? Do I correct my child and risk adding fuel to her fire? Or, do I ignore her defiance while judgmental eyes think that they would never let their child speak to them that way?

I thought I was largely past the multiple successive tantrum phase (and I don't mean by my soon-to-be 3 y/o), but this week was a reminder of how far we've come. To be honest, I am just glad that the people in our hotel who heard our chaos won't recognize me at the pharmacy. 

I read once that what many people don't realize is that, while "normal" children (and by that I mean children blessed enough to live with the parents that gave them life) have episodes of defiance and rebellious behavior, children who come from trauma have much longer lasting episodes...tantrums that last for hours, days, or even weeks; high-pitched screaming coming from kiddos waaaay past the tantrum throwing phase. Or, in our case, children who are learning boundaries that differentiate between private expression and public expression of frustration.

A few months ago, our middle child coined a phrase during her bedtime prayers. Now each night she prays that God would help us "shout out love" to those around us. I love this visual. 

"Mom," she'll say, "do you know what it means to shout out love?" 

"Tell me," I reply.

"It means to be kind to people you don't know."

To the couple who shouted out love to us last week....may you be blessed beyond measure, and may God's blessings be returned to you in "a large quantity, pressed together, shaken down, and running over." (Luke 6:38)

"‘I can guarantee this truth: Whatever you did for one of my brothers or sisters, no matter how unimportant they seemed, you did for me.’"   ~Matthew 25:40

"Do not forget to show hospitality to strangers, for by so doing some people have shown hospitality to angels without knowing it." ~Hebrews 13:2

Monday, July 20, 2015

Other mothers....

My other mom.

It's a phrase we hear often in our home. "My other mom bought me that" or "my other mom used to [fill in the blank]." One Friday as we were walking from the zoo to the parking lot, one of my girls nonchalantly said to me, "I have lots of moms."

Lots of moms.

Oh sure, many children might say the same thing about their best friend's mom or a special woman from church who mothered them. I know many families who refer to special friends as their "adopted sister" or "adopted son."

But, my kids mean it. I am at least their fourth mother.

Four moms.

Can you imagine? For my second youngest, that means he has been in more homes than he is years old. He has missed out on crucial bonding experiences that can only be restored by God's grace.

The other day we were listening to the Frozen soundtrack. At one point, my 5 y/o tells me that "this is the part where her parents die on the boat, but that's ok because she can get a new mom and dad, right?"

That makes sense, though, through the eyes of my children. When one mom is gone, another becomes available. Normal, right? For them, yes.

We talk a lot about family in our home.  Our children don't all come from healthy families, so they often simply don't know what a healthy family looks like. We find that we are regularly having to define family to them. ("Families walk together at the zoo." "Families have good days and bad days." "Families help and support each other.") My kids know that I while I am not their first mother, I am their last. But knowing and deeply understanding aren't always the same. I am frequently reminded that it takes thousands of positive experiences to counterbalance only a few negative ones.

A few weeks ago, we had a wind storm that knocked a big oak tree into our house, causing damage to our roof and attic structure. Oddly enough, on the outside the tree looked quite healthy. There were no bare limbs and the leaves were full and green. But, there had been some rotting due to insects and animals, and that was precisely where the trunk broke. What's outside isn't always what's inside. That's why God looks at our hearts.

On the outside, my children are beautiful and look normal, but on the inside, there is so much unseen hurt. This hurt permeates our days and turns even the most benign occurrences into triggers. Not getting a glass of water before bedtime can result in a 45 minute tantrum. Choosing the wrong park for a morning play time can inspire a screaming fit coupled with hitting or biting. But underneath it all is hurt - pain too deep for words. And, this is where things sometimes breakdown. It is also why we sometimes rock our oldest at nighttime or spoon-feed our almost 4-year-old. Emotional ages in our family do not mirror chronological ones.

One of my girls will frequently tell me she likes me. She has not yet told me she loves me, although she often says she is glad to be in our home. In a way, I admire her honesty. She isn't ready to love me, and that's ok, because every other adult that she has loved is no longer around. But, she also isn't ready to say it just to score points with me. I give her credit for that.

The other day at my parents' home, my son looked at my mother and said, "Mommy belongs in our family." So profound for him. Here is an almost 4-year-old whose vocabulary consisted mostly of parroting words back to us just five months ago. He struggles with sorting items such as shapes or colors. And yet, somewhere deep inside, our gracious God is beginning to heal his heart. Not only was our son able to initiate such a thought, he was able to understand what it meant to belong.

"And I will restore or replace for you the years that the locust has eaten...." 
(Joel 2:25a)

Thanks be to God. Amen.

Tuesday, March 3, 2015

Milestones, messages, and miracles...

It's been one week since our children came home with us.

Life is a journey marked by milestones, often of the most unexpected kind. Six months is a big one in NJ adoption, because after six months the court can finalize our adoption, sealing it forever. I also remember when my baby was around 10 months old that it suddenly struck me that she had been with me longer than she had been with her birth mom.

Today marks one week of being a family of seven. One week means we've made it through the varying schedules of each day at least once. For me, that's a tiny milestone.

Lots of words have been making their rounds in our home this week. Words ranging from "this is the best family ever" to "you make me mad" to other nastiness I'll not print. Some of it is normal childhood interaction (that my sister and I NEVER experienced, I'm sure, right mom?). Much of it is trauma based.

We have one who likes to scream at the top of her lungs when angry, another who spits (and got me squarely in the face this morning), and still another who pinches, hits, pushes, etc. This sometimes even all happens at once! My sweet oldest seems to be the punching bag, and she is struggling to learn that I am the mom; she doesn't need to be. My precious baby pickle has decided that slapping, pushing, and screaming at the others is the way to solve her frustration at the intrusion.

But, amidst all the chaos, mean words, bad attitudes, and messy mealtimes, one conversation has haunted me since hearing it.

Last week, I took two of my girls grocery shopping, and on the way home one said to me, "mamma?" I replied. She continued, "I called you 'mamma.' Whenever I get a new mom, I call her 'mamma.'"

Whenever I get a new mom..... 

Tonight at the counselor's office, another one of my kids said that we were going to keep them for a few years. Another asks every time we go out, "can we go back to your house?"

It's only been a week. It will take time to overcome years of ingrained experiences.

But, woven throughout this past week have been some good moments.

Despite the meltdowns, interrupted sleeping patterns, sickness, tantrums, and fighting, we managed to start homeschooling (even learning a few Latin words!). I also discovered the my kids really like cleaning house (not cleaning up toys or rooms, of course, but I'll take it). Our downstairs windows are sparkling, and our bathrooms are shining! My 5 y/o insists that she should do all the vacuuming. They really seem to love working together, and they take pride in a job well done. Even the 3 y/o wants to dust and little A loves (and I means loves) to empty the bathroom trash. So much so, that she'll often throw something away in there just so she can empty the can into the kitchen.

We also have had the joy of routinely talking to our kids about Jesus as they have asked good and insightful questions. Tonight as we were driving, I commented that we should pray for daddy as he went to a board meeting where the men have the important work of making big decisions for our church. One of my girls asked if we could pray right then. If only we adults would ask the same question when raising a prayer request.

So often, it is tempting go into these sorts of situations thinking about all of the things we may teach our children, when in reality, God is gracious enough to use them to teach us along the way. Today, when my little one spit in my face, I was so angry I had to walk away and let my husband discipline. A few moments later as I was loading the dishwasher and chewing on my insulted pride, I was struck with remembrance that my Lord was spat upon.

God specializes in tearing down our idols and cleaning our hidden ugliness. 

I can handle screaming, hitting, fighting, tantrums, etc. But spitting insults me. Because somehow, the dirty truth is that my pride wants it all about me.

And yet, as I realized that the God of the universe endured spitting and oh so much more, my eyes filled with tears. Because suddenly, I was on the other side of the equation - no longer the victim, I was the offender.

Oh the deep, deep love of Jesus.

Vast. Unmeasured. Boundless.


(S. Trevor Fracis, 1875)