Tuesday, December 31, 2013

As 2013 Ends....

I'm feeling a bit contemplative today as I reflect on the year 2013. It has been an incredible year. Possibly one of the best of my life. I am beyond grateful to God for being with us through the many hard years that led to this year which was so good.

I am not completely sure whether or not our circumstances have changed, or whether it has just been me who has changed. Probably both. It's kind of a "did God calm the storm or did He calm his child" question(thanks Scott Krippayne). I think the answer is both.

Because it hasn't necessarily been an easy year. We began November of 2012 with only three kids living at home. Leon, Wilson, and Dominyk were all in school and life was very peaceful. By November of 2013 we had 8 of our kids living at home. It kind of went like this. In November of 2012, Tony and Mercedes moved back home (Sadie completing Job Corp, and Tony getting his GED but being "kicked out" before a graduation ceremony could take place). In March, Salinda and Gabby moved home where they were about half the time (going back and forth between our house and Gabby's other grandparents' home). By July Tony had moved out to live with birth family but Sadie's then boyfriend moved in in August. In September Jimmy moved home as did John after he finished court ordered treatment. Mike moved back home in November. Last week Salinda moved to Iowa with Gabby to live with her new boyfriend who is a D League basketball player, and Sadie got an apartment with another girl. The numbers of who stayed with us went up and down many times.

2013 is also the year that my Daddy went to heaven. I think about him every day. He was 90 and in a great deal of discomfort, so it was selfish of me to ask him to stick around -- he had more friends in heaven than here on earth anyway. But it is still hard not having him a phone call away.

But regardless of the negative, 2013 has brought a lot of positives as well. My mom came to live in an assisted living facility near us. Aiden's mom moved to the Twin Cities and she brings him to church every Sunday that she isn't working and then has dinner with us. We have gotten to see Isaac nearly once a week as his mom is faithful to bring him to visit. Silas entered the world in June and it's so cool to see Kyle as a Dad and watch him and Christy be such good parents.

This year was also a great year for us here at the Minnesota office of Bethany. I invested a great deal of energy into building an amazing team of dedicated, professional and fun women who are kicking butt when it comes to providing good services to families and expectant parents. I am so incredibly proud of the work that they are doing. I also have been able to make connections with some amazing people that include those at the national office, my supervisors, and donors, board members, volunteers over the last year. I asked God to steal my show (thanks, Toby Mac and He has done just that.

On a personal level, I must say that I love our church and the people there. I have thoroughly enjoyed getting involved in the musical groups (praise band, choir and bells) and our women's group. There is so much potential there and I am excited to see what God is going to do in our midst. I really figured that somehow by the time I got to be 50 I would have figured everything out, but I am realizing that I am just beginning to understand huge concepts like grace, unconditional love, mercy, peacemaking, and compassion.

Isaac's mom Courtney put something on her facebook a few months ago that I actually liked (sometimes her stuff is NASTY, but this one was great). It asked the question, "What would life be like if you woke up tomorrow with only the things you thanked God for today." I have spent a great deal of time thinking about that and have been careful to daily thank God for the basics in my life -- food, clothing, and shelter -- but more importantly for the incredible tapestry of people who make up my life.

This Christmas was the best one we have ever had since Bart and I got married. Our children were respectful to one another and to us, they were appropriately grateful and they were generous. At the end of the night, Bart and I happened to be sitting alone at our dining room table and I looked across the table at him, and with tears in my eyes I said, "You know what? We did good." It was a great feeling of satisfaction that our children, even with the rough starts they have had, are doing as well as they are.

So I have my family -- my kids and their kids, their significant others, the parents of my grandkids and their families, my kids birthfamilies that we have connected with, my mom and the constant positive presence that she is in my life, Bart's family -- I'm surrounding by a unique group of interesting folks who makes sure my life is never boring.

And I have my coworkers, that I mentioned above. They are also a very rich part of the tapestry of my life. Daily interracting with them never fails to make me smile.

And finally, I have my friends. Through Facebook and in person, I am reconnecting with folks who have been a part of my life since I was born. Friends of my parents and their children, friends from high school and college, friends from my years in Brookings when I got my masters, and from years in Mexico and Bartlesville when I was working in higher education. And then the countless adoptive parents and professionals that I have met over the past 17 years. And now the friends that I have at Brunswick who have been so incredibly supportive.

The support system that I have in my friends has gotten me through the worst of times and the best of times. Because of Bart and a handful of close friends, I am able to do everything that I do. I want to make sure that I never take them for granted.... they are the reason I make it through each day. God has blessed me and uses my relationships with people to keep me going and do all the things He has given me the privilege of doing that result in children finding homes.

I realize that I have rambled ... but maybe that's because my mind is rambling right as I think about this last year. But I want my ramblings to always end with gratitude.

We had a lot of very very hard years as we parented our children. But 2013 wasn't one of them. 2013 was a year where we got to see a glimpse of reward in the midst of it all.

I look forward to 2014 being an even better year and want every breath I breathe to be one of breathing in his grace and breathing out his praise (Thanks Matt Redmond)...

Friday, November 22, 2013

The Minnesota 500

If you've read my blog or seen my Facebook you know that I have an incredible amount of passion for the issue of kids in foster care who are waiting for a family. Recently that passion has expanded beyond those in the U.S. to include older waiting children in other countries. Recently my branch has been assigned 22 children over the age of 10 across the world who are waiting for a family. I can't get them out of my mind.

For this reason I have designed the Minnesota 500. I really believe that God is asking the church in MN to step forward and consider adopting older kids out of foster care and around the world. The 500 number comes from the 350 who are currently waiting and not in a preadoptive home in Minnesota and 150 of the children internationally that Bethany has been asked by various countries to find families for.

I'm meeting with pastors who will give me time to do so to discuss with them how to set goals as to how many children their congregation will step forward to adopt in the next few years. It is my dream over the next three years to have churches step up to claim a total 500 future adoptions.

So why am I telling you? You might have a connection to a church that might like to hear about my plea. Or, even more significant, you might feel like God is calling you to adopt.

If you would like to hear about the 22 kids that I'm referring to... or if you would like to connect me with your pastor, I'd love to hear from you....

To adequately communicate the passion I have for this, let me post here my gala speech from our gala at Bethany two weeks ago...

In our world today there are a multitude of agencies that exist to deal with the myriad of human needs that we find ourselves facing in a broken world -- homelessness, the incarcerated, those caught in human trafficking, hunger, unemployment, and on and on. And while many see us as not that different from the others, I want to explain tonight why we are unique and why I personally I am humbled by the opportunity God has given me to lead the MN branch of Bethany Christian Services.

Most of you know that my husband and I have adopted twelve children. In 1996 we learned that 120,000 children in the US were in foster care and legally free for adoption… and we felt God calling us to do our part. That began an incredible journey. Now ten of our kids are adults and we have four grandchildren – and my passion for 3children who wait has only increased over the years.

Have you ever asked yourself the question, “Why do I get out of bed every morning?” For seventeen years now I’ve had the same answer. I get up every morning because each year over 25,000 teens celebrate their 18th or 21st birthday and are forced out of foster care, alone and unwanted, never belonging to a family.”

Richard Stearns, CEO of World Vision, answers that question for his own life. He says, “I get up every morning because I get to be the answer to the prayers of a child.”

So what happens to those children whose prayers go unanswered? What happens to those who never know the love and safety that comes with family? The statistics are both alarming and sobering. Of these young adults who age out of the system:
30% are homeless,
63% don’t complete high school,
55% are unemployed,
62% have trouble accessing health care,
40% are on welfare;
42% get arrested,
26% are incarcerated,
60% of the girls are pregnant within a year of leaving foster care.
And over 60% of child trafficking victims across the United States are current or former foster youth

These numbers are what make Bethany stand out as unique from other non-profit organizations. We have been entrusted by God to change the statistics of the future. Every year here in the U.S., these 25,000 plus kids leave foster care without anyone to claim them and no place to belong. The average age now for young adults becoming financially independent from their parents is 27. How can we as a society release foster youth into the world without parents and expect them not to become a statistic?

Bethany Christian Services as a global organization envisions a world where every child has a loving family. In Minnesota Bethany has been working towards that end for over twenty years. Before a child is born we provide compassionate and wise counsel to those deciding whether to parent their child or make an adoption plan. We place newborn babies into families, we bring children from across the world into homes that are planning and hoping and dreaming of their arrival, and we work to find families for older children and teenagers in the foster care system. Today there are 350 kids waiting right here in Minnesota, and 143 of them have been waiting for a family for over three years. 9 We make a difference because each time a child finds that place where they belong, are loved unconditionally, and have consistent support, the likelihood of them becoming a statistic as an adult decreases substantially.

22 teenagers have recently been assigned to our Minnesota branch from our global office. They are older kids from Africa, Asia, Colombia, and Bulgaria and they have taken over my dreams and permeate my waking hours. I have read their paperwork, I know their stories and I have memorized their faces while creating profiles and working on a slide show. Their pictures are in my office... they are hanging on the walls around me.

Most of you don’t know that prior to coming to this position I worked for a non-profit agency that specialized in matching children in foster care with families. In my years there I was personally a part of over 500 children finding their “forever family.” But these 22 kids have hit me harder than any of those 500 ever did.

You may wonder why these 22 haunt me and I want to give you an honest answer. Even after all of my previous success as a recruiter and matcher, I don’t think that I can find these kids a family. The words “how would you like to adopt a sibling group of teenage boys from Bulgaria?” don’t come up naturally in daily conversation. The job is too hard. The task is too difficult. I don’t even know where to begin.

To make it even harder on me, I know for a fact that my husband and I could parent any of these kids. But our bedrooms are full -- in fact I’m not even sure we have a free couch this weekend. So instead of taking them in, I need to talk you – or someone else – into adopting them. And without God I know that is an impossible feat. I share the need but it is God who will speak to hearts and we at Bethany are praying that someone, maybe even you, will listen.

Regardless of the difficulty of the challenge, I compelled to tell you about them because I believe with all my heart that God is not ignoring the prayers of these 22 kids. It cannot be God’s plan for these beautiful teenagers to end up on the streets of their home country.

And it’s not just these 22. How can we say that it is His plan for millions of kids to spend their lives without family? And this is the problem: God doesn’t have a plan B. He looks to us. We are his hands and feet here on earth.

When the statistics came out about children aging out of foster care several months ago I saw that the number was continuing to grow. In 2011, 26,286 left the system and went out into the world without a family. That day I wrote a blog entry and I want to read some of it to you:

The God I serve would not intentionally let 26,286 young adults loose in a world with no support and without anyone to turn to in crisis. So I ask myself, “could it be that He asked His people to adopt them, but they said no?”

When I think of those 26,286 kids I no longer can ask myself why God didn’t do something about their plight. Instead I realize that He did a great job of caring for them ... He called His people … but they didn’t respond. It may not be as simple as 26,286 families saying no to God. But what if it is.

SO there you have it. This is the kind of stuff I've been doing lately -- and the MN 500 program is front and center in my mind -- in addition to raising money, supervising staff, and doing everything else I do at Bethany.

I'm believing God for this miracle.

Where Have I Been?

Where did the last two months go? I think I was immersed in life and today have come up for air. I was asked on Facebook to blog again, and so I am going to do that and try to answer the question, "Where have you been?"

I just read my 50th birthday post and made myself cry. Not because I was impressed with what a brilliant writer I am (though there is that :-) but because I am so incredibly grateful for where I am now and the life God has allowed me to live.

So.... here is where I have been.

1) I've been at church. A LOT. I am convinced that the group of people at Brunswick may just be those who "get church" and are attempting to learn how to "Do church" the way Jesus intended. I am quite invested in it as MY church, not just Bart's. I don't think this has as much to do with the church itself -- becuase we had some incrdible people in Belgrade, Luverne, and Mankato -- but because of my position in life. I can finally focus on something besides parenting -- which obviously I am still doing. But having 12 kids ages almost 15 to 27, is much different than, say, having 9 children between the ages of 5 and 15.

So at church I am playing in the bell choir, singing in the chancel choir, and recently joined "Testify" the praise band to play keyboards. I am thoroughly enjoying being part of a great music ministry. And I am also involved in a Women's Bible Study that meets weekly, a "Circle" that meets monthly, and I do a few other things here and there.

2) I've been at work! A couple weeks ago we had our annual Bethany gala which was so incredibly awesome. So many people were there who are friends of mine, as well as my board and awesome staff. It was a great night... and even a successful fundraiser!

I have developed a new initiative that I am going to blog about separately so that you can see what I'm up to without everyone from Facebook having to read through this drivel when I link the post. But the "Minnesota 500" program is a huge part of my life right now.

I end up working 50-60 hours a week but I love almost every minute of it.

3) I've been trying to keep up with my kids, though half-heartedly. I just don't have the energy to get caught up in the drama any more. So I have a "don't ask" policy. I figure if they want my advice or they need to know something, they will tell me. The exceptions of course are the three who are still in school and I get a little more nosy about them. The rest of them are adults though and supposedly "on their own" so I'm sort of viewing my home as a college residence hall like the one I used to manage back from 85-88. I never worried about the residents, never asked them where they were - it was just my job to be there if they needed me. So far it's working. I'll tell you about each of them in a minute.

4) I've been trying to be a good daughter to my mom. She is an amazingly resilient happy person with a great attitude and a love for God and others that is insurpassable. She inspires me. But her to do list for me is like God's mercies -- new every morning -- and fitting that in amongst everything else is a challenge. She loves living at St. Therese and being part of our church and our family (but she can't hang out with us for a long period of time. She thinks we are exhausting. :-)

So, I suppose those of you who have been reading my blog forever and a day would like to know how the kids are. Here we go:

Kyle is doing great, turned 27 this week. Wow. He and his wife Christy live an hour north of us. Bart and I are "nannies" on Fridays for baby silas who is now 5 months old -- he does it most weeks but I fill in when he can't. He sent me the picture above this morning. Kyle and Chirsty are both teachers and Kyle has started his master's program. They live in a home they had built and they have a puggle puppy who is incredibly annoying.

Rand is in Mankato, still working at Lowe's, still doing great, still invtesting lots of time in Young Life. He visits us often -- and connects regularly with his birth brothers and his birth dad and his family. Some day I have to blog about that whole story. Simply awesome the way life has turned out for him.

The son who doesn't want to be named in the blog is coming to live at our house to live for a while starting today or tomorrow. Finished court ordered rehab a couple weeks early and needs to do aftercare in our area. His son, Aiden, comes up to see us often as Tessa moved up here with her parents and is only about 35 minutes from us. They usually join us for church and lunch on Sundays.

John has been living at our house for the past couple months -- since he got out of court ordered rehab. From what we can tell he is staying sober, and doing well. He seldom leaves the house except to go to work, and doesn't seem to have made any friends which is a really a good thing. Even though he and Courtney aren't together, she brings Isaac up almost every week. He just turned three in October and is a rambunctious crazy talkative loud little boy full of life and fun.

Jimmy had a job from August to October washing dishes, but is currently unemployed and living at home. He helps a lot around the house and doesn't cause too much trouble, but really needs to find a job.

Salinda is living at our house almost full time and has been since March. Gabby lives with us about half the time. Salinda has a full time job as an asst. manager at a fast food place and seems to be happier than she has been for a while. Gabby is learning and growing... precise, quiet, articulate, thoughtful -- everything Isaac is not.

Ricardo is in jail -- we don't know the story, we just see the website. Something about a pistol and assault and his brothers who have been in that jail report that he is heading for prison. We hope not. His story is the one that most breaks our hearts as he did so well while he was living with us.

Mercedes has three nanny jobs and works more than 40 hours a week. She gets paid good money, she is super good with the kids, and the families love her. She also is a big help with her neice and nephews -- her employers let her bring Gabby to work so Salinda doesn't have to pay for day care. Sadie turned 19 last week... hard to believe.

Tony is living with birthfamily. He had a job for a couple weeks, but apparently is currently unemployed. He is planning to come home for a few days at Thanksgiving -- and he was here for my dad's memorial service in October.

Leon is doing his second senior year at a different school and he is doing quite well. He is getting good grades and should graduate at the end of this semester. He has a job as a PCA and is a very willing and helpful chauffeur for his siblings.

Dominyk is having the best school experience ever. He is getting OK grades, loves to go to school, and seems to fit in well at the charter school he attends. He is going to be 18 in April -- hard to fathom -- and he has a girlfriend!!! I know, we were surprised too. He is 6' 3" and is obsessed with getting into the army -- although he still has about 60 pounds to lose. He just got a job at the place where my mom lives at the dining center.

Finally, Wilson is about to turn 15. He spends almost his entire life in front of a screen, but we have let that go. We have discovered that you can't really get addicted to drugs or impregnate someone if you are connecting to the XBox all the time, so we are letting him kind of make those choices on his own. He is getting excellent grades and is wrestling -- rumor has it he will have the varsity spot come January at the high school even though he's still at the middle school and in 8th grade.

Whew. Are you tired yet?

So, that's where I've been. I really wish I could find a way to keep blogging, but somehow it doesn't end up on the priority list....

I don't read blogs any more. I barely look at Facebook. My world is right here in front of me and it is so full it is overflowing.

If you haven't seen this video yet you should watch it right now. It's so incredible. And in it are the words to my current favorite song....

and all of the sudden, I'm unaware of these afflictions eclisped by glory -- and I realize just how beautiful You are and how great Your affections are for me....

When you hear this young man sing those words they will give them a way deeper meaning

Sunday, September 15, 2013

On Turning 50

Yup, it happened yesterday. I turned 50. I guess big birthdays call us to reflect and think about where we've been and where we thought we'd be now when we dreamed of today years ago.

I can't remember my 40th birthday. Neither can Bart. All we can remember is that we had 9 children between the ages of 7 and 16 and that we were anticipating the arrival of a 10th. We know we lived in Luverne, MN at the time and since I wasn't blogging back then, I have no idea what happened. Maybe someone else remembers my 40th, but I am drawing a blank.

However, I will never forget my 50th. Last night our church had it's block party -- the Carnival of Community -- like they do every fall and this time it so happens that it fell on my 50th birthday. I kept referring to it as the "Carnival of Claudia", jokingly of course, but they sure turned it into that! Our praise band learned a new song, written especially for the occasion, and preformed it right after I was crowned the "Queen of the Rodeo" in honor of the "Big B Roundup" theme of the carnival.

Ten of my children were there as were all four of my grandchildren. Our daughter in law and both of our grandbabymamas were there. My mom was there. And of course, my amazing husband was there. Several members of Rand's birth family joined us as well. And about 200 other people... all celebrating the fact that we were together. It was awesome.

This morning I have come to some conclusions about what I thought 50 would be like and what it has actually turned out to be.

First of all, to start off with the only negative thing, I never dreamed I would be this unhealthy when I turned 50. I never thought I'd be this out of shape, this heavy, this messed up with diabetes and heart issues. It makes me angry at myself for not taking better care of myself and for creating such a deep hole to climb out of when I do decide to do something about it.

But then the rest was all good stuff.

I never dreamed that I would be this challenged and have such a rewarding career at 50. When I was in my 20s I had the best job ever -- Dean of Students at a small Christian college -- and I loved it. But by 28 I was bored with it, not having any idea where my next step was. I had reached my lifetime goal by 24. And for several years I thought I had peaked early and would never find the "perfect job for me" again. But my job now is awesome. I am able to use my strengths and all of the experiences of the last 20 years to work on behalf of children. I love my staff and the challenges that my job brings me.

With the crazy risk-filled out-of-my-comfort zone life that Bart and I chose, I never thought I would feel this satisfied or this content with our family's life. Things are are sometimes completely chaotic and out of control at this stage, with so many young adults trying to make their way in this world, but I'm actually OK with the challenges. All of our kids are OK. Some are flourishing. All of them have some contact with us and we get to see all four of our grandchildren fairly often. No one is completely angry with us (at least not today) and they typically get along well with each other. There is a family-wide investment in the next generation and our grandchildren have very committed aunts and uncles.

I certainly didn't realize that my life would be filled with so many great friends. When I was in college I heard from many, "Cherish your college friendships, because they will be the best relationships of your life." And I made some awesome, lifetime friends during those days. But I didn't know that some of them would still be my friends at 50 or that I would have made hundreds of friends between then and now. I certainly didn't expect to be surprised at this age with so many new, good friends who live in community with us. My birthday celebration last night was proof of something that continues to amaze me: God has blessed me throughout my life with people who love me in spite of my unconventional ways of dealing with people. Flaws and all, they love me, and I them. Decades of strong, resilient friendships that leave me feeling blessed every day. I recognize that not everyone has that.

I had no idea how much I would still be learning about life, God, and my faith at this point in my journey. In my 20s I knew everything, so I have no idea how I arrived here -- knowing so little as I turn 50. But I am constantly surprised by the ways that God teaches me things on a daily basis about what He expects of me and who He is. I am thrilled to be involved in a church at this time where there are so many who long to be what God wants us to be, who support me in my faith, and who want to constantly do more to build God's kingdom.

Finally, I didn't realize how much more I would love my husband now than I did when I knew him 30 years ago, or when I married him in 1996. He is a consistent example of self-sacrifice, unconditional love, mercy and grace, and spiritual discipline. He is so sharp it's almost scary, so wise, articulate and bright. And his wit is so quick and so hilarious that I find myself laughing every day. And unlike me, the ever-so-predictable one, he is incredibly unpredictable and always keeps me guessing. Life is never dull when he is in it... no matter what we are facing. The things we have been through together have made our marriage and our love for each other stronger... they haven't torn us apart.

And so I guess when I think back to my expectations when I was 25 or 35 looking ahead at 50, I can sum it up by saying, "I never dreamed I'd have such a satisfying career, such an unusual yet amazing husband and family, such a heart full of love for those who surround me, or a faith so ever-changing and ever-growing that I can't wait to see what's next.

I've said it many times to many people over the years. I didn't want a safe, easy journey, or to be like everyone else. I wanted a life that I could not handle on my own, because I wanted to watch God do cool stuff. He has done just that. My whole life has been valleys and hills of a crazy reckless roller coaster ride that I have just LOVED being part of. And it will be even better when I can look back from heaven and see the ways God had everything figured out. I'm excited about learning from Him how He worked everything for good...

And so I conclude with the bridge of one of my new favorite songs:

One day I'll stand before You
And look back on the life I've lived
I can't wait to enjoy the view
And see how all the pieces fit...

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Grace Bothers Me

John is back in touch with us. After some time in jail and alcohol treatment, he has stumbled upon a job that has some promise for him. It involves convincing people to get new roofs after storms and it has some potential. In addition, he has a boss who is willing to take care of transportation and housing for him in the meantime so it's working out well. Ironically the office for this company is a mile from our house and the apartment he is talking about renting for John is about that close as well. So we are seeing him daily. And I'm not going to even ask any more questions about the job. He's got a pay advance and a place to live and he seems sober so it's all good.

Isaac and Courtney came up this weekend to see him/us and it isn't easy for them to get along. John hasn't been around Isaac for a long time and Courtney is used to doing things herself. John is trying to establish position as "Dad" and wanting Courtney to be quick to forgive while he is easily frustated with her. Others in our family are wondering why we are so quick to forgive him.... even though they have been eager to accept our forgiveness in the past for the things they have done to us.

As I was trying to explain all this yesterday, I was thinking about how much our kids have taught us about forgiveness. We have learned with clarity what Matthew West sings in his song "Forgiveness,"
It'll clear the bitterness away
It can even set a prisoner free
There is no end to what it's power can do
So, let it go and be amazed
By what you see through eyes of grace
The prisoner that it really frees is you

I explained to the kids that forgiveness may not have much of an effect on those we forgive, but it transforms us as we learn to offer grace. Our kids give us so many opportunities to learn that as they live out their anger towards others in our presence and direct it towards us. After years and years of it, we have learned the beauty of forgiveness.

So night before last Bart and I were reading in James chapter 2 where James is pointing out that if you screw up in one little way, you break the whole law. In other words, no sin is worse than the other and so we need to be careful to view others with mercey because we need it so desperately ourselves. The passage concludes with the words, "mercy triumphs over justice."

Then yesterday morning I was riding to work and heard Matt Redman's song, "Your Grace Finds Me." Except that I misunderstood the words (British accent maybe? :-) and I thought that he kept singing, "Your Grace Bothers Me." And I realized I agreed.

It bothers me when God extends His grace to other people who don't deserve it! Even though that is the point of grace-- that we don't deserve it -- it annoys me when people who are REALLY bad get offered grace. Just like my kids who are annoyed when we offer forgiveness to their siblings, even when they need it so desperately for themselves, I do the same thing.

When I was a teen I remember how frustrated I was when I realized the grace offered to the thief on the cross. Here I was committing myself to serving God for my WHOLE life and I was still going to get the same reward as a criminal who had only five minutes of life left? That BOTHERED me. But that's grace.

When dealing with kids who come from hard places, mercy and grace and forgiveness are daily concepts that both haunt us and save us. There is no other way to counteract the pain. And no matter how much it bothers those around us who don't understand, we have to offer grace. God's grace isn't fair.... that's not what it's about... because mercy triumphs over judgment.

Those words have been running through my mind again and again the last 24 hours. Your Grace Bothers Me. Mercy Triumphs Over Judgment.

They challenge me. They explain things to me. They motivate me. They give me peace about the way our lives are "turning out." I don't like them... my personality is one that can be harsh and judgmental and critical and black and white and my first thoughts have often been ones of punishment and justice and fairness and people getting what they deserve... and yet that's not what I'm called to do.

I heard it explained years ago that Grace is getting what you don't deserve, and Mercy is not getting what you do deserve. Makes a lot of sense to me.

So, at the risk of being repetitive and redundant, let me challenge us to let our first thoughts and our first words every time to be love... to be forgiveness..mercy...grace.

Because in the end, Mercy Triumphs Over Judgement. Mercy and Grace Win. Every time.

Friday, August 23, 2013

Too Much To Report.... or maybe not

I think that the challenge with blogging so sporadically is that the idea of telling you how and where everyone is is so daunting that I don't want to begin. It's the same when people ask me how I am... I can answer that -- but then they ask me, "And how are the kids?" and I suddenly get tired. It takes a long time to answer how twelve kids and everyone connected to them are doing.

So maybe I'll summarize to say this: The kids we have living with us are fine. But even answering the question, "How many kids do you have at home now" is challenging because it changes so often. I can tell you who is living with us at this moment, assuming things didn't change last night (I am in a hotel room in SW Minnesota right now, so it may have changed).

Jimmy is home from Job Corp having been kicked out weeks before his completion date. He is a dishwasher at a local restaurant where he has been working for about 3 weeks. I know that he is a hard worker and he is getting almost full time hours so that is a blessing.

Salinda and Gabby live with us about 1/2 the time. Salinda is now an assistant manager at a DQ in the Cities -- so it's great that she is finally back to full time work. The challenge is day care and Gabby's daddy wanting to spend time with her and them living an hour away, but Salinda handles it better than I would. They go back and forth -- and it's nice to see them when we can. Sometimes Gabby's dad's sister spends the night with us as well -- usually about 3 times a week as she has a job but no apt in the Cities as well.

Sadie is living at home and working as a Nanny for two different places. She really loves the work even though she complains that it is exhausting (one of the jobs she has 3 girls under three, including one that is about 6 weeks old). She has a boyfriend who is renting a room from us and is starting college in October. He is a really nice kid who respects us and our rules and letting him move it was a much better alternative to what they had planned.

Leon is going to repeat his senior year and should be done with school in December. He works part time as a PCA and continues to be the most cooperative and supportive son ever. He is especially good with helping out with my mom and picking up Jimmy at midnight. When he goes back to school life is going to be more challenging in that regard.

Dominyk is starting 11th grade at a charter school that is an excellent fit for him. He has big dreams to join the army but needs to lose about 90 pounds first.

Wilson will be in 8th grade in the fall and is almost as tall as Leon. He seems to have come out of his 13-14 year old emotional cave this summer and is back to being somewhat engaging. He and Dominyk and Leon went on a missions trip in July and had a great time.

So, where's Tony you ask? He is "with the fair" as he put it and living with his birthdad who he met this summer. We don't hear much from him but I think that this was something he needed to do. If he were our oldest this would probably be freaking us out, but after all we've been through we are OK with it.

well, now I'm on a roll so I might as well finish up. Kyle and Christy are doing great -- Baby Silas is almost 2 months old and a very very active baby -- sometimes even fussy. He is constantly in motion, something different than the other three. Kyle and Christy both teach full time in the same school district.

Rand is moving in with some buddies in Mankato from YOung Life soon. He still works at Lowe's and we still help him manage his money, but he is doing well. He has reconnected with birthdad and his family and someday I'm going to write a blog entry about all that. We've met them and it's been so cool.

The son who does not want to be named here I won't tell you much about because whatever I write makes him angry.

John is done with jail and alcohol treatment and is, as of last night, working for a roofing company. We may get to see him as his first assignment is in Minneapolis, but he has been living with his sponsors in Mankato.

Ricardo is living with Mike at least until the end of this month. We have invited him to move home but he refuses.

We see Isaac about once a month -- Courtney brings him up and he is the most fun and engaging little guy. Aiden and his mom are moving to the twin cities in September and so we will be seeing more of him.

Wow. That's a lot. See why I get tired when people ask me how everyone is?

Saturday, August 10, 2013

It's Not the Critic That Counts

Working for a large adoption agency isn't easy. I am one person -- but I represent 1200. And I work in a messy, messy world. Nothing about adoption is as cut and dried and easy as the general public thinks it is. It is just sometimes, for lack of a better word, icky.

And there is no way to please everyone. Each person in the Adoption Kinship Network (the new phrase replacing the triad and attempting to include other significant people in a child's life) has their own needs, their own perspective. And often if we a take a stand for one of those members, the rest misunderstand.

Add to the messiness of the adoption world the messiness of the Church -- this huge diverse group full of people attempting to follow Christ in an imperfect world with all of it's differences between denominations and perspectives.

The organization I work with is deeply entrenched in both of those worlds and for anyone who thinks it's easy to navigate all that, you haven't done it yet!

I read an email on Thursday night after a great first day at the Willow Creek Association's Global Leadership Summit. I learned a LOT that day and was fired up -- similar to the feelings of youth camp as a 13 year old. And then I read this email and it was as though all the air had been removed from my balloon suddenly and I was deflated and defeated. The email was about a public post online that basically bashed me personally and the agency I work for in general. It was written by someone who doesn't know me personally, but still that, and the comments by strangers that followed it, were hurtful, insulting, and some of them quite false.

Because, you see, nothing is quite as easy as it appears.

And because my agency has to respond to things according to policy, I was forced to do absolutely nothing... besides shrivel up and whine internally.

Until the next morning, when I heard a speech by Dr. Brene Brown, who is quite a profound communicator. She said that courage and comfort are mutually exclusive -- that if you are going to be courageous there are times you will be uncomfortable ... you will face adversity and criticism, and you will often deal with opposition.

And then she quoted Theodore Roosevelt, and when you read it, you will not need further explanation as to how that was a day changer for me and how it inspired me to keep on keeping on.

“It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.”

Saturday, July 27, 2013

Surviver's Guilt

Yesterday was another great day. I got to do most of the first day of the 16 hour training that we call PPAI in Minnesota. It's the training people have to take in order to adopt from the Minnesota Waiting Children program and it's a great group of people. I feel good about being able to tell them my story and helping them learn from my mistakes. We know so much more now about brain trauma and how to parent children who have it that it is great to be able to share that with people before they start parenting kids from hard places.

After the training I was able to have dinner with my friend Michele. I just spent 10 minutes trying to find the picture that I know I put on this blog the last time we had dinner -- which I am pretty sure was 4 years ago. She and my friend Meg and I all met on an AOL message board back in 1997 when we were getting our home studies done. Between the three of us we adopted 30 kids in 30 months, and then went on to adopt a few more -- I think maybe the total is 33 or something between us.

Anyway, I had a great time catching up with Michele -- Meg has since moved to Colorado so she couldn't join us and we missed her. Of all three of our stories mine is the easiest. I don't know why or how that happened, but it makes me want to complain less... and it makes me have survivers guilt.

We are all wide-eyed, passionate, naive. We adopted hard kids. We fought to get hard kids in some situations. We gave it our all. We were invincible and resilient. And today all of us are still standing. But I haven't had to endure the things either of them have.

I spent the early morning hours today putting togehter a slide show of my kids -- then and now -- and realizing how far they have come and how grateful I am.

Today Dominyk, Leon and Wilson are coming home from a missions trip. I have missed them and can't wait to hear about their trip. Last night I said good-bye to Tony -- more on that later -- and I actually have mixed feelings. Kyle and Christy celebrated 3 years of marriage and their son is a month old now. Isaac's mom Courtney is bringing him to spend the night with us.

Life is good. God is good. And I am sad for my friends whose lives have been so challenging -- but I am grateful that they are still the resilient people I have always known, able to see some good in their situations.

I get to train some more today and then Kari and a panel of people are going to come and she is going to train them. I am looking forward to my day....

But before I hit publish ... I read this today -- posted by my friend Kim Stevens. I'm sure she would want it shared with as many as possible....

For Melvin - A Message of Love and Unconditional Commitment

It is with a very heavy heart that I write this week’s CCN news. Our youngest son, Melvin, lost his battle with heroin addiction this last Tuesday. He was only 21.

Mel came to us at 2 ½ years old with no language, no understanding of what it meant to be part of a family and no capacity for receiving affection. Every day with him was worthwhile – he challenged us, he caused us hurt and worry and he brought us such joy. Melvin’s smile, his laugh could light up the world.

As a fellow adoptive parent, I know how difficult it is to love and stay committed to a child who is unable to receive, appreciate or reciprocate that love and caring. In fact, that pain is one of the contributing factors to adoption breakdowns. We wonder if anything we have done or can do will make a difference. We wonder what will become of our children. But our children are not intending to hurt or anger us out of choice. It is their response to loss and trauma beyond their control and understanding. I firmly believe and have seen the proof that if we can just hang in there long enough, we can and do make a difference.

Many of you have heard stories of Mel over the years and listened to me talk about how much he taught his father and I. There were countless moments when he pushed us to the limit and today I can only say how grateful we are to have had the time with him we did and to know that we never stopped loving, believing in, and being there for him.

I want to share the most recent and most important lessons he taught us. Close to three years ago, Melvin overdosed for what we later found out was the second time. The doctors told us that he would not survive the traumatic brain injury and we all prepared for his death. All of us except Buddy, his dad, who knew he would survive. If you have attended a training or lecture of mine, you know that Dr. Bruce Perry later told me the constant massage and touch we gave him were what saved his life that time. I wish we could have been with him last week to hold and save him again.

As the doctors predicted, he was not the same person after his miraculous recovery. We received the greatest gift; Melvin opened himself up to love and appreciation. He came home within two months – frustrated that his basketball shot was way off, walking a bit slower, forgetful, and without any memory of what happened or his time in the hospital. Those were challenges, but were nothing compared to the positive changes. We had a whole new boy who could give and receive affection, appreciation, joy and hope.

For the last fourteen months, Melvin struggled to find and maintain sobriety. I have lost count of the number of programs he graduated from, was discharged from, or was kicked out of for all kinds of infractions. Each time, he get right back to another and continue to try. He wanted to “get right” and become a drug counselor for other young people struggling with addiction. I have been reading dozens of messages from people he touched – every one talks about how he helped them stay strong, how he inspired them or gave them hope.

To his father, his siblings, his niece and nephew, his aunts, uncles and cousins he could finally say “I love you.” Throughout these last months, there has not been a text, message, phone call or meeting with him that has not included the words “Thank you, I appreciate it,” and ended with the words “I love you.” Now that we can’t say or hear those words again, we truly understand the importance of treating each moment as if it could be the last.

Melvin wanted to do something good in the world for others and I believe that he has and will continue to do so. His big sister called me earlier today to tell me that she has finally found a job after being unemployed and unemployable for several years. She has enrolled in a local community college and will start in September. She says she was inspired by Melvin and wants to make him proud – he is the angel that will sit on her shoulder and help her along the path. His brothers have made it possible for Buddy and I to get through this horrific time. His other sister is doing all she can to stay strong and stay healthy. And his recovery community has asked to participate in his memorial so they can bring a message of recovery to other struggling young people as well.

Today and every day I am asking each of you to honor Melvin’s memory and support his desire to do something good in the world…

Parents – stay committed to your children no matter what. When you think you cannot do it for another minute, that is when they need you the most. Look to other parents to help you hang in there. If we can keep our kids connected to us, they always have a chance to heal from their wounds. It takes time, it is not easy, but it is the promise you made and you must keep it.

Child welfare workers – commit to ensuring that no child grows up and leaves care without a family. When you meet with resistance, fight it. When you get discouraged, seek hope. When you run up against a barrier, challenge it. For every child there is a family and each child and youth has a right to one. The question you can keep pushing is, “What will it take?” and then pursue that.

Community, providers, courts, and legislators – do your part. These children belong to all of us. Vow to not let stigmatization, budgetary issues, politics or indifference guide your choices. With every action, vote, decision you make, ask yourself, “How will this affect this child, all children?” If you aren’t satisfied with the answer if it were your child that would be impacted, then it is not acceptable for any child.

Finally and most importantly, youth – know that you are special, that you are worthwhile, that you have a voice you need to use, and that you are loved and valued. Ask for what you need, find allies in your peers and adults, believe that you deserve and can have a family of your own, and believe in yourself.

With love, deep sadness and hope,


Friday, July 26, 2013

Did 26,286 families say no to God in 2011?

Yesterday was a great day. I got to meet and talk to 3 pastors and a church administrator about adoption, focusing on my passion for older children with special needs both in the US and around the world. I have some ideas of how to further engage the church in having a realistic view of this issue and in preparing them to do this adopt and raise the children with tools we didn't have 15 years ago.

I also spent some time yesterday finishing the book "Kisses from Katie." I have checked out her blog. I am amazed by Katie, but by how she explains things in her, I'm not sure she would want me to be. Her story makes me feel guilty for internally complaining about the uncomfortable bed and the rediculous excuse for a shower in my Day's Inn (I'm out of town getting ready to train today). And her book, with it's vivid description of the filth, disease and poverty in Uganda, makes me ask myself why.

I heard a sermon about 30 years ago called "God has no Plan B." We are it. He is caring for the world through His people -- through us. We are Christ's body -- His hands and feet on earth -- and there IS no other plan.

You do the math... Katie says the very same thing in her book but I've been saying it outloud to people since I did the math in January for the first time.... 153 million orphans, 2.2 billion Christians. Only 7 percent have to adopt one and there will be no more orphans. Oh yes, I am aware of the complications and that it doesn't always go as planned and that it isn't easy, but my point is this: God has more than provided for the care of the orphans and fatherless that break His heart -- He has His Church. So I have to believe that some people are saying no when He asks them.

I was thinking about the kids who age out of foster care without a committed adult in their lives. Maybe adoption isn't the answer, but what about those who don't even have ONE person committed to them for life. Quite possibly that number is way lower than the 26,286 of kids that aged out as quoted by AFCARS in 2011 -- many of them could have had a person like that because that isn't reported in the statistics, but I want to use a number -- substitute it for whatever number you feel comfortable with. And then ask the question with me.

I do not believe that God cares for kids that way -- that He would intentionally let them walk out into the world at an age where their frontal lobe is still developing without anyone to turn to in crisis. Could it be that He had a plan for each of those 26,286 and asked His people to adopt them, but they all said no?

And what about the millions of children on this planet that are sick, starving, bug-infested, covered with sores, and lacking in even the simplest pleasures of life like pure water? Is God ignoring them? Or is He asking us to do something about it and we are ignoring Him?

It's simplistic to think of things in those terms. It's controversial to indicate that possibly -- in a land where many people feel a daily $5 mocha or latte is a necessity -- WE are responsible. Is God providing enough for everyone the world and yet we are taking so much more than our share and for THIS reason children are dying every day?

I don't like these questions. They run around in my head and they bug me. And yet today, I will most likely run through a drive through for a nice cool drink or snack and think nothing of handing over my card to be swiped. I am equally guilty and I don't like it.

So when I think of those 26,286 kids in 2011 I can't help but ask myself why God didn't do a better job of caring for them. And then I realize that He did a great job ... He called His people. It may not be as simple as 26,286 families saying no to God. But what if it is.

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

And yet another post with a tapestry theme...

I took a quick trip down memory lane this morning. I put the word "tapestry" into the search box of my own blog and read the entries where I mentioned that word in my blog posts. There were several. And every time I used the word "tapestry" I was talking about the same thing...

I am very much a people person. I have a strange personality, a little gruff sometimes, way too harsh most of the time, and I probably make some people have neck hairs standing on end every time I walk into the room. But I like myself quite a bit (my parents fault for overdone self-esteem cultivation efforts they undertook during my childhood) and I also love people.

However, I don't like small talk, mingling, or simply meeting people for the sake of networking or with some goal in mind. I like getting below the surface and having interchanges that impact me and others on a deeper level. I love to hear the stories of people... not just their facts... but the ways their lives have been shaped by their experiences.

So that's where this whole tapestry thing comes in. Sunday Bart was preaching about foundations and was talking about individuals who impact us. And I started to think once again about how incredibly grateful I am for the now thousands of people who have been a part of who I am. I see my life as a tapestry and every person is a stitch in that work of art, forming the person I am continually becoming.

Adoption has changed the kind of tapestry I may have had without it because it has introduced me to a lot of people who are nothing like me. Up through college I was surrounded most of the time by people who shared my values and ideas. We were part of a secure and very comfortable subculture and I could have easily chosen a life where I surrounded myself by people just like that.

And while there is a certain amount of beauty in a weaving made up of only two or three colors, the most striking and beautiful tapestries include multiple bright colors. While I am referring to race and culture to a certain extent, I'm also talking about socio-economic status, value systems, religion, etc. The more people I let in my life who are different than me, the more colorful and beautiful my tapestry becomes.

Because of adoption I have met foster families, guardian ad litems, and social workers of my children. I have met some of their birth families. I have met fellow adoptive parents, special ed teachers, probation officers, mental health workers, residential treatment staff, bailiffs, and others. The people my children have chosen to be friends with, or even have children with, have introduced me to so many others much different than myself. And I am a better person beacaue of these people.

I was reminded of this again yesterday when I met with Nasreen Fynewever for a few minutes. She is a beautiful, delightful, intense, talented person who lives her live intentionally. An adult adoptee from Bangladesh, she has a unique pespective. I loved hearing her story and I learned a tiny bit about a country I knew nothing about. Now I want to learn more regardless of how and when our paths cross again.

We met for one hour -- both of us very busy people -- but now there is a new stitch of a different color in the tapestry of me. And I'm reminded to celebrate the ways that God has used adoption to provide me with a more colorful weaving than anything I could have planned or imagined myself.

Adoption isn't easy. It's complicated and messy and stretches us and hurts us and enlightens us and develops us and settles us and heals us. It's an amazing journey not for the faint of heart. But regardless of its hardships, it is also one of the most amazing ways that God uses to create a stunningly beautiful tapestry, rich and deep, that is the person we each become. And for that I'm so very grateful.

Sunday, July 21, 2013

On the list of my top ten pet peeves....

I know that when you read this your first response might be "Then do something about it." But if you know ODD well, you know it's not worth the effort.

After saying that let me say this because I can't put it on Facebook because it will just start an argument. But for the last 5 years one of the top most annoying things in my life has been unemployed adults sitting in my house watching Tru TV while I try to work. To me, it just about sums up the life of a loser in a small snapshot of their day.

If you are a fan of Tru TV I apologize, but when there are more words bleeped out than there are words spoken, that's a warning sign of something that does not indicate a high level of intelligence.

When I was in Mankato I just left the house and went somewhere else to work when that was happening. But here I do have a job. Except that today is Sunday and I was trying to do some digital scrapbooking but only got one page done above and I have to stop. I don't have an office so I am stuck at the computer in the family room with Tru TV calling me a witch with a b every three words and listening to bleeps and to top it all of and make my blood boil the room is filthy and the person watching the TV is supposed to have cleaned it.

I know you're saying that you'd put a stop to this if you were me. I wish you'd come over and do it. :-)

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

My Bad

You'd think by now my buttons would all be broken. I have parented kids with ODD or conduct disorder since the first day of 1998. That's over 15 years of arguing, resistance, escalating behaviors, being sworn at, demeaned, ordered around, and belittled. Every button I have has been pushed so many times that you would think they were broken. But apparently not.

This morning our son who came at 20 months almost 17 years ago, who is now eighteen and unemployed (a long and annoying story) was up early. He's never up early. But our new dog (yes, a beautiful golden retriever mix that we "adopted" yesterday from an animal rescue place) apparently woke him up and so as I was trying to get out of the house I was accosted by a fairly large, very annoying person determined to argue with me.

And I responded poorly and it escalated and by the time I walked out of the door I was annoyed and angry and he was calling me what apparently is my nick name... a word kinda like witch but different.

So on my way to work today I was thinking about all this and realizing that all through this journey I have been the one who, 90% of the time, determines the outcome of any argument or discussion with my children. My response, either gentle, calming, soothing and kind or argumentative, angry, rude and obviously annoyed, is what takes us to the next step. I choose how much things escalate by what I do.

I wish it were different. I wish I could blame it on them. But the truth is, I'm the one who controls the emotional environment in my home based on the way that I respond to my children and their special needs.

This isn't intended to be guilt producing for me or anyone reading the post. It's just a factual observation. And it isn't true 100% of the time -- there are times when kids are going to rage on even if I respond perfectly. But if I can keep from getting sucked in, a term I learned long ago from my friend Cindy, things go better. But I can distract, divert, and change things with humor, kindness, understanding and compassion more often than not.

I've gotten better over the years. I've learned some things. My buttons have gotten harder to push. But again today, as I have had to do so many times, I have to inwardly acknowledge my mistake and say to myself, "my bad." Not my favorite thing to do.

Maybe next time I'll do better. I hope so. If not, I'll forgive him, forgive myself, and keep on moving on like I have for 15 years.

Part of why I can do that is that the first child who taught me about ODD is now a 26 year old married elementary school teacher with an adorable newborn who is living in his own new starter home that he and his wife had built last year. He is very responsible, pays his own bills, attends church, and is living the American dream. Not bad for a kid who didn't have permanency until age 11 and was so defiant I was sure he'd self destruct.

I screwed up this morning. I've screwed up thousands of times. But I don't give up. I still plan to improve and respond better the next time. Maybe by the time the last one leaves home I'll have this figured out. :-)

Monday, July 15, 2013

Sitting back and watching them shine....

I am a control freak. I admit it. But I'm less of a control freak than I used to be.

For years I ran my family ... almost like a drill sargeant runs his platooon. I told them what to do, where to go, where to sit, how to act, and they listened to me once and a while. But most of the time their issues just made them oppositional and I set them off by simply being a mother figure and being in the room. So sometimes, now that 10 of the 12 are adults, I just sit back and watch and am finding that the lack of my presence actually helps them function better.

Yesterday was one of those days. It was a great one. Even though the parents of our grandson who was being baptised are not together, they acted civil toward each other and were both very pleased (as were we) at how meaningful the baptism was. We had dinner together afterwards -- Eight of our kids, a boyfriend, a babymama, a daughter in law, three of our four grandchildren and my mom.

I didn't sit with them during church nor did I tell them where to sit. But they all sat together in the first three rows. I sat over by the baptismal font by my mom so I could get pictures. They were perfectly appropriate... all of them. At lunch I didn't tell them where to sit and they managed to work it out so everyone was happy. There were no conflicts at the table, no arguments, no tears. It was just a nice day.

It's fun to be finally be mature enough to shut my own mouth and sit back and enjoy things without having to attempt control every move. Without me "provoking them" by suggesting they do things differently, they managed OK.

My mom mentioned to our daughter-in-law last night (she was a day care mom for years and years while I'm growing up so she knows a lot about babies) that Silas, the newborn, probably senses her tension when she is trying to sooth him and he cries for hours. I realize now how that the same thing probably applied when my kids were younger. My tension was escalating everything for them when I was attempting to calm them as they raged or argued or fought with me.

It's only taken me seventeen years of parenting to get mature enough to shut my mouth and sit back and watch. Obviously I couldn't have done that on a regular basis back when they were younger, but I certainly wish I could have been calmer and less controlling. We might have had a lot more fun.

But there is nothing I can do about those days... I can just remember yesterday and apply it to future events. Sometimes it's better to just sit back and trust them... and occassionally, when I can do that, they shine.

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

They multiply...

As I'm trying to get back into the habit of blogging, I am trying to figure out how to catch everyone up on what is going on in all of the kids lives without being too specific and it ain't easy. Part of the reason is that there are so many extra people involved now who can easily google this and read through the blog that I'm hesitant to mention people by name.

In retrospect, I had really stupid expectations in regard to what was going to happen to all of our kids when they "grew up" and reached eighteen. I never really thought beyond that, except that I had this preconceived idea that our parenting would be done. They would be adults. I assumed they would do what I did... go off to college, stay there, finish, get a job so they could support themselves, and stay moved out.

But as some of my other friends with neurotypical kids are finding this isn't true yet. With the unemployment rate at around 25% for adults 18-25, there just aren't jobs out there for them. Those who aren't college material have an even harder time, and even those with college degrees are ending up having nowhere to go but home after incurring all that debt. These friends and I have been passing around the quote, "the only day that is more sad than the day your child moves out is the day they move back in." :-)

So they don't move out... or if they do they come back. Subsidies end and they stay (or, if they are college material, subsidies end and you have college to pay for). Financially we are more strapped than we ever have been before and the demands from them are high. I'm sure that if you haven't been in this place yet you have all kinds of ideas about how you would say no, but each situation is unique and it's more difficult to say no that you might think.

The other challenge is that they multiply. They meet someone. They have a baby with that someone. They get connected with their kids' other grandparents, and so do we. And now we are in a phase of getting to know birth families who we are also connected to.

So I'm learning what most people probably anticipated before... kids don't disappear and go away when they become adults, they actually multiply.

I wouldn't want another life and I don't regret adopting as many children as we did. I just think I would have been more prepared when I realized just how many relationships we would be juggling when I'm reaching an age where there is no room for any more facts in my head. We are now connected to a long list of folks whose relationships we are attempting to maintain when I can barely remember where I put my keys.

During a stage of life when people my age were expecting to have their nests empty and lots of time to do things alone together, our lives are more packed than ever. In the last month we have seen all of our grandchildren and their parents, and 11 of our twelve children. We have met three birthparents. We have gotten to know a new girlfriend and met a boyfriend's parents for the first time. We have gone from 3 kids at dinner one night to 9 expecting to eat the next night. Add all of that to my full time job and I'm tired.

But the depth and the power of those relationships, the meaning they bring to our lives, isn't anything I would trade for something more simple. It is an amazing opportunity to learn, grow, and get closer to my kids and what's his name... oh yeah, Bart. :-)

So if you are in the process of adopting several younger children, I guess I'm giving you a heads up. Think about whether or not you will be able to afford to support them all when subsidies end. Think about your emotional capacity to take care of them, and their children, when they become adults.

If you can do it, go for it.... it's a wild and wonderful ride. But do it with eyes wide open and be prepared for a VERY full life fifteen years from now!

Tuesday, July 09, 2013

What's your Side A?

Soon after our daughter gave birth to our first granddaughter a few days after her 17th birthday (read more about that here), Bart went to the Festival of Homiletics. If you aren't sure what that is, it's a conference on the art of preaching. As part of the conference he heard amazing sermons and came home and told me about one of them.

He explained that the preacher was talking about how the old 45s had two sides. One side was typically the hit song of a group, but back in those days they had to put a song on side B. Side B songs were known for being mediocre at best. In the sermon, the preacher talked about how in our lives we sometimes start out playing our side B song. At some point in life, things fall together, and we find ourselves on Side A. The purpose for our life becomes clear and we find ourselves playing our "hit song."

Bart said, in conclusion to him telling me that story, "Maybe our grandchildren will be our Side A."

When people have asked me in the past why we have chosen to adopt our children, I talk a lot about breaking the generational cycle of poverty, abuse, addiction, mental illness, etc. and giving kids a choice by letting them live a different kind of life. They still have free will to decide how they want to live, but at least they have seen a different view of the world. We have children who have parents who have been in foster care and even grandparents who were, so joining our family has allowed them to see a different way of life. And the lives of their children, because of us, will be better.

We have four grandchildren now and while their lives are not perfect (though the most recent one has a chance at a fairly idyllic life), they are having a better start than their parents did. I had the "if you don't want to raise children like _____ you better not drink during your pregnancy" conversation with the moms as soon as we found out they were expecting. All of them have had parents that have gone overboard on the attachment piece. They are developing at a normal rate, are smart and learning quickly and daily (I love to see all that brain growth happening before my eyes as I listen to them request things repetitively from us or their parents), and they have a backup. If things got really bad, there's always us.

So maybe some of our kids won't ever realize what we have done for them. They may resent us and never quite understand the sacrifices we made. They may be angry for a long time over the mistakes that we made. Maybe our parenting was mediocre at best.

But perhaps, as Bart suggested, we are now living our Side A. It sure seems like it in other areas of our lives as things are falling together for us professionally. We get to see our grandkids often -- not as often as we would like, but as often as all of us can make it happen. We love them... watching their personalities develop as they immerge as little people, very different from one another. We know that without us they would not exist, even if it is just because without us our children would not have lived in the place where they met the other parents.

Being a grandparent is a wonderful thing, and it just might be that our grandchildren will be our number one single, our hit song.

Monday, July 08, 2013

Managing Anticipatory Grief

In looking back over the past few years and asking myself what I would have done differently, I realize that I should have done a better job of managing my anticipatory grief. In the past, when my kids were younger, I had many of these thoughts:

"Oh my goodness, I just don't what I would do if I had a child that ended up in jail."

"I'll never make it through it if one of my girls gets pregnant."

"I just couldn't bear it if I had a grandchild I seldom got to see."

"If one of my kids were to walk away and stop having contact with me, it would break my heart."

If you've been a reader of my blog for a long time, you know that all of those things have happened to us and many more that I never dreamed would happen like fighting a couple CHIPS cases, being the victim of what felt like domestic violence, only my spouse wasn't the abuser, having kids in out of home placements, psych hospitals, and the list goes on and on.

And you know what? We're still standing. In fact, there are days when we are down right happy and everything seems right in our world. Not every day, but some days.

At this time all twelve of our children are in contact with us. I have heard from all of them, and seen 11 of them in the past 4 days. I have seen three of my four grandchildren (all in the same place) and I will see the other one this weekend. Most of them are in a fairly good place and all of them are having some kind of connection with us ... and some of them even seem to have many of their attachment issues resolved.

There is a downside to many of their lives... only two are completely independent of our financial support for example...and one is in jail... and I could go down the negative road, but am choosing not to.

The point is all of the "I would fall apart if...." things have happened and we're still here." Bart and I have done it without every needing a drink, a pill, or a joint. ;-) We have an awesome support system and a faithful God, a lot of determination, and a good relationship and we are OK.

Worry about the future adds so much to our lives and I really believe that by the time disasters like the ones we pray never happen come, we have been strengthened by the cycle of growth (suffering, perseverance, character, hope) to the point that we can handle whatever comes our way.

I don't offer specific advice to people much any more, especially those parenting adolescents with a history of trauma. I simply share with them that if you wait long enough, they almost always come back around, even if it is just for cash. :-) Very seldom do we lose our kids forever because we have done something wrong or were bad parents.

Being patient, hanging in there, loving them no matter what, and taking care of ourselves are key components. And one other thing. When your kids are not at home, for whatever reason (ran away, psych hospital, RTC (though I hope not), don't spend all that time fretting. Take care of yourself and enjoy the peace.

It's my expectation that fifteen years from now, or maybe twenty, depending on how old your child is, you're perspective will be like mine -- if you just hang in there. All the horrible things that you hope never happen may happen, but you'll still be ok...

Take care of you. Surround yourself with a great support system. Make a spiritual connection with whoever you see as your "higher power" and cultivate that relationship. If you're married or in a relationship, find times to have fun together.

Let go of shame, blame, and worry and be free to realize that you are strong enough to make it through whatever comes your way!

Friday, July 05, 2013

Sharing in Their Suffering

(The picture above was 11 of our kids at Easter plus three grandkids, two grand-baby mamas, and a grand-baby daddy's sister) It's kind of hard to see when it's , but if you click on it you can see the full picture.).

I have learned a lot over the past year... a lot about many things that I did wrong as a parent. Sometimes it makes me sad. Sometimes it makes me angry. But I have to remind myself that I did the best I could. But I also feel it is important that other people learn from my mistakes. It is too late in the case of some of my children . . . but it isn't too late for many with whom I work and who read the stuff that I write, even though my stuff isn't always that refined.

I never set out on this journey to re-traumatize children. When we started adopting we were trying exactly what we were told to do. We were told that our children with Reactive Attachment Disorder were children of rage who were needing to learn to relinquish control and trust their caregivers. In order to teach them this, we were instructed to break them down -- to take away everything from them and make them earn it back. We were told that we needed to never show our own pain or frustration, but that we should remain the strong ones and never back down. So several of my children who were the most disturbed were the ones who ended up having the most consequences, being most separated from us, and the ones that we re-traumatized the most.

Through teaching the class on adoption competency for therapists two years in a row, and from follow up conversations with people in the class, I have been learning a great deal about the brain and trauma and how it works. There are those that are now saying that until we deal with grief and loss issues and trauma recovery for kids they will be unable to attach. So attachment work is secondary to dealing with grief and loss.

Go with me into the history of one of my children. Removed at 4, he had been separated from his birth parents and put into foster care where he lingered for over 5 years and was in 15 placements. He then was placed into an adoptive family which disrupted, but where his younger two brothers were allowed to stay. Finally at 11 he came to us. If we were to map out his losses on paper what would they look like?

If his birth family, and each of those 15 placements, and in his first adoptive placement, had two or three people or things that were important enough to him to grieve their loss, that means that he would experience a minimum of 34-51 losses before age eleven. But it is probably a lot more than that. Think about the "siblings" in each foster home and in his first adoptive family. The caregivers in those families, their pets, extended family. Then move to school -- a favorite teacher, a best friend. Church? A pastor, Sunday school teacher, youth leader, friends there. And what about pets? Favorite toys? It is possible that my son had 100 losses that he could not articulate and had never grieved.

So coming into my home with all that loss and pain, what were we taught to do? Consequence. Remove privileges. Do what all parents do and send the kid to his room when his behavior wasn't desirable. And in all that, he was never allowed to grieve and his "trauma trigger" of abandonment was just pushed again and again. Each time I asked him to go away from me it was a reminder of over 100 losses.

He was filled with pain, filled with loss, and since kids don't talk about their pain, they act it out, his behavior wasn't perfect. I interpreted it as defiance, unjustified anger, and it frustrated me. If he could just learn to behave, then I would be able to establish a relationship with him. But hugging a porcupine? No thanks.

Back 2007 I attended a seminar about inducement and summarized it this way:

Induceent makes SO MUCH SENSE. The idea is that children who are abandoned feel many emotions -- anger, grief, loneliness, out of control, crazy. When they are finally in a place where they feel safe, they attempt to communicate those emotions but it is too difficult. So instead, they attempt to create those emotions in the person with whom they are beginning to build a relationship.

Unfortunately, as newly adoptive parents, many of us see those attempts to help us understand how they feel as behaviors that must be stopped. We begin to feel all the things they feel-- anger, grief, loneliness, out of control, crazy. So we decide that we cannot handle them and get them away from us, instead of allowing ourselves to relate to them and with them becaue we now understand how they feel.

But by that point this child was already 19, so for him I started to "get it" too late.

So when we invite a child into our lives who has been traumatized, we have an invitation to share in their suffering. Whether we like it or not, we will share their pain. They will show us their pain through their anger and unkindness and we have to figure out a way to work through it. Interestingly, I was catching up on Cindy's blog today and read this entry that talks about how hard this is for us as parents. Sharing in their pain means that we deal with secondary trauma every day.

My parenting has changed a lot in the last 6 years. Consequences are avoided -- they don't work anyway. I am more aware of the inner workings of my children and why they are the way they are. But my days of parenting children are almost over. I am living with young adults trying to make their way through making sense of this loss and wondering how much better off they would be had I known what I know now.

People ask me, "Knowing what you know now, would you do it again." And I say, "Yes, for sure, but I'd do it differently."

If you are not a person who shares my Christian faith you can skip this part, but in hearing the phrase "they are sharing their pain with you" the other day, I thought about these verses from Philippians 3.

But whatever gain I had, I counted as loss for the sake of Christ. Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God that depends on faith— that I may know him and the power of his resurrection, and may share his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, that by any means possible I may attain the resurrection from the dead

We share in His sufferings so that we might also share in His final victory.

There are a couple of stories that I'm hoping to blog if I can find the time that will share a bit of those victories for our kids. We have the privilege of sharing in their victories but to do that we must first share in their sufferings.

There's no way anyone can call what we do easy. But if we seek to understand our children, if we share in their sufferings, if we pull them closer instead of pushing them away, and if we simply hang in there ... keep swimming as we learned in the Finding Nemo ... day after day and year after year, and if we do those things long enough, those moments of victory will come.

Count on it.

Thursday, July 04, 2013

They are OK.... and so are we

I know it's been forever since I blogged. I know I need to get back to it. But so many things have happened that take so much of my time. Let me bullet point the major ones:

1) My work at Bethany is very time consuming but awesome. We are doing really good work with families and we have big dreams to expand our post-adoption support for families. My staff is incredible and we work together very well. I'm very motivated and excited about all that is going on there.

2) My dear daddy died on May 11. He passed away two days after I left Arizona, having spent nearly two weeks there with him, six of them with he and I alone in a strange city at the hospital. They were wonderful times and I could feel the prayers of my family and friends surrounding me. He was an incredible man and was sharp as a tack right up until his last couple days of life. He died of renal failure, so wasn't in much pain. He lived to be almost 91 and he had way more friends in heaven than he did here on earth. His body was so worn out that I could see he was tired of being in it. So I was ready to let him go, and my mom was ok with it too.

I have to share this for those of you who do not do Facebook and haven't heard this story. The very hour he died I had a dream (if you want to know exactly what time you have a dream, have a bladder that requires you to get up every 90 minutes at night). Anyway, I been back to Mn for two days and the night before Mother's Day I had a dream. I dreamed that I had gone to the hospice home where had been living for a few days and they said he wasn't there. They gave me instructions to drive around back behind the home (the home was located in rural Arizona). In the dream, I rounded the bend and the view opened up to this huge beach. My dad was there, rolling himself down the beach in the sand in his wheelchair. Suddenly he stood up and started to run. He did somersaults, he did cartwheels. He jumped with glee. I woke up right after that with such a sense of peace.

The next morning during church I got a voice mail from my mom. It said, "He did it Claudia! Dad got to be with his mom on Mother's Day." She had told me the day before how special that would be and I had asked her, 'Won't that make Mother's Days sad for you in the future." She responded, "No! I would be delighted if he could be with her on Mother's Day.!"

3) My amazingly strong mom finished packing to move to Minnesota by ay 29 (the tickets had been purchased to move both of them here on May 7th, so a lot of the packing was already done). She is in an assisted living facility here in Minnesota and has been for about 5 weeks now. She is an inspiration to me. 84 years old and so positive, strong and full of faith. I talk to her a couple times a day and see her at almost every day. I'm enjoying being able to spend time with her and having my kids get to know her. She appears to be adjusting well to having my Dad gone. She keeps her emotions in check and sees each day as an adventure. I know the secret of her strength -- she has been at prayer by 4:30 a.m. every morning for over 65 years.... I think that makes a person way stronger than I'll ever be. Her faith would amaze and inspire you like it does me. I'm humbled to be around her.

4) We have been reconnecting with several of our adult children. Salinda and Gabby lived here for a few weeks and are still here off and on. We have reconnected with the one son who does not like to be mentioned here -- he was in a serious car accident a few months ago and now comes up here for doctors appointments and has been stopping by. His son was with us for his first birthday. Rand has spent several weekends with us and Jimmy is currently home from Job Corps. Even though we bought a smaller house on purpose, they still come and fill the couches. It takes a lot of time to stay connected with them ... but it is typically fun time and not nearly as stressful as it has been in the past. Even though John is in jail and he and Courtney aren't together, Courtney brings Isaac up often to see us.

5) We are still enjoying an active social life with new friends who are so fun to be with. Bart has to control my urge to schedule every free night and remind me to relax sometimes.

6) We had another grandchild! Kyle and Christy (who are married) had Silas Allen on June 26th. He is adorable and the whole experience was so peace filled. If you know anything about the relationship between Bart and Kyle, you will know how meaningful it was when Kyle placed Silas in Bart's arms for the first time and said, "we have chosen a middle name. It's Allen." The whole world seemed to make sense at that moment because Bart's middle name is Allen.

7) We have had three kids in the past few months reconnect and begin to build relationships with birth family. This has been positive for them and certainly interesting for us, but quite emotionally taxing. If I blog more I may tell some of those stories.

8) We have had school drama including not having any of our 3 seniors graduate. Tony got his GED at job corps but moved home, not out, and the other two didn't manage to graduate. Leon will be trying his senior year again next year and Ricky has moved in with an older brother. Not sure if he will go back to school but he started a job this week.

So, I've been busy, eh? I decided to pop into blog world because today we went to the lake with Mike and Kari back near Mankato. We had a great day -- the best our families have had together ever. All of our kids were appropriate -- 8 of our 12 were there, and one grandson, and 5 of their six showed up and they're granddaughter was there! Significant others were there too and a husband... it was a really, really good day.

I guess I wanted to blog tonight to say this ... it does get better. The hard times do seem worth it. There are struggles, still, but there are times now where we can honestly say that it feels OK to be us... that things make sense in a weird way.

We have 10 adult children now. Only 2 are under 18. We have four gorgeous grandchildren. We look back at the many years of turmoil and we realize that we did many things wrong. The new research now about brain trauma, connection, etc. would have helped us so much. But thanks to God's help, we haven't given up, and they are all OK. Not perfect, but OK.

And so are we.