When Love Doesn’t Come Easy

 

adoption-dictionary

 

Once again, I probably should have seen the warning signs…and I guess I did to an extent.  I’ve been doing this for over two years now, but right in the midst of a season growth and good days for James, I somehow dismissed the sudden regression and the random behavior issues.  Not all of it was glaring, but it was there. So, as you can imagine, I wasn’t quite prepared for Valentine’s Day this year when he suddenly burst into uncontrollable tears while claiming that his sister gave him a “funny look.”

 

In just ten minutes, we were going to be hosting six ladies for our first annual Valentine’s Day Tea Party at The Schoolhouse, so needless to say, it was not the best time for a full-fledged melt down.  I knew I didn’t have time to delve into the depths of the despair that he felt, and I also knew that he was really looking forward to the party, so I just asked him to go collect his thoughts and come out when he was ready.

 

It wasn’t long before he came out of the bathroom with dry eyes and a big smile.  And boy, did he ever shine at that party.  He is a gifted conversationalist and makes everyone feel included and important.  It’s one of the things that just comes naturally to him.  He cares deeply for others.  He spoke at all the right times with all the eloquence I could ask for from a nine year old boy.  He beamed the entire time.

 

I thought there was a chance that with the fun and success he felt at the tea party, the sorrow had passed, so I decided not to bring it up again.  But the next morning, I could tell it was gnawing at him.  I knew what had to be done, so the first chance I got, I sat down across from him in the kitchen chair and asked what was bothering him.  This may seem like an easy question but for a young boy, it’s not.  It’s particularly tricky to one who is sorting out a difficult past.  I may as well have been asking for the keys to Alcatraz.  I persisted though.  I know how to get a kid’s emotional dam to break.  You just gently keep making little knicks with a pick until the whole dam is compromised.  I had him to tell me all the little things that were bothering him until the big things just couldn’t be held back any longer and burst forward with all the pressure of the Hoover Dam. 

 

The years of carrying the stigma of being “different”, of being a “foster kid” started rolling down his cheeks.  Pretty soon after that process began, we got to the core of the hurt…”But Mom, why me?  Why did God do that to me?”

 

I wasn’t prepared for the rush of pain that surged through my body at that heart cry.  Tears started welling up in my own eyes until they spilled over onto my cheeks.  Somehow, seeing me cry caused him to stop.  Ever so gently, he used his blanket to wipe my eyes and gave me a big hug and rubbed my back softly.   It was my turn now.  I guess those tears were the heartache of your child not knowing what a precious gift he was.  It was the pain of your child being angry with  your God, who you love so dearly.  It was the sadness of seeing him struggle to understand how his entire life has glorified God in a unique and special way when you can see it so clearly.  It was the fact that he was hurting, and I knew I wouldn’t be able to take it away.

 

I made him look me in the eye (running with mascara trails by now) and I did my very best to give him what he needed to hear, silently asking God to give me the words.  I told him how he is a person full of compassion.  I told him that the days of being a “foster kid” are over.  I assured him that he is ours forever.  I talked to him about God’s sovereignty and how we don’t always know the why behind the things that happen but we can trust God because he’s a good Father…the best.  God is always faithful and always good, just and right.  We discussed where he had been and how bright his future looked. 

hands-love

 

And then we got to the part that he needs to hear over and over again.   This principle outlines every conversation.  I told him that we can live our lives making excuses and feeling sorry for ourselves and for what’s happened to us, or we can live our lives asking God how we can glorify him through our situations.  I told him once again that life isn’t fair, a fact that he knows all too well.  And then I told him that we can choose to listen to the lies that Satan whispers in our ear telling us that we aren’t good enough and never will be, or we can listen to the truth of God.  That we don’t have to be good enough…He loves us anyway with a never-ending, unfailing, always and forever kind of love. 

 

And that is my biggest, most fervent prayer for James.  That he will begin to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ for him.  For James Wood. 

 

We covet your prayers for James to understand this as well, and for all the children who have been abandoned at some point in their life.  It is so hard for them to understand unconditional love, because they weren’t given it at the time when they needed it most.  One of the best things that you can do for waiting children in Arkansas and around the world, is to pray that they will somehow grasp the Father’s love for them.  That in the midst of their heartache, the Lord would wrap his arms around them and show Himself in a tangible way through the hands and feet of Jesus…through The Church…through YOU.

 

This is my heart’s cry today…that Christians all over will realize the huge responsibility we have to pray for, to love, to care for, to raise these children.  Because without the love of people, how can they ever begin to understand the love of Jesus Christ?

 

I Have a Problem…

They say that admitting the problem is the first step to finding a solution. This one really crept up on me.  Like a leaky faucet, it was nagging at me, but only when I was trying to sleep.  I started to notice it when I tensed up whenever James entered the room.  But I knew it was a problem when I struggled to look him in the eye when he spoke to me.   It took me quite a while to realize what the problem was.  One evening, I decided to pick up my Kindle and browse through the multiple free and cheap books that I had loaded hoarded on the topic of adoption.  And there it was….a single book dangling in the list, the oddball.  It was the one book that I own that first clued me in to the fact that early on, I had a bad case of post-adoption depression.

Surviving and Thriving in Pre-Adoption

I opened it and started reading it from the beginning. There on the front pages were the words I saw in every single piece of literature on adoption:

Attachment is your biggest issue in adoption.

You must help your child attach to the family.

Attachment, attachment, attachment…

Except this time, I read it with a new perspective. This time I read those words like this…

Attachment is YOUR biggest issue in adoption.

You must attach to your child.

Attachment, attachment, attachment…

And then, it dawned on me. I had spent so many months trying to help him attach, trying to help him resolve some issues, trying to survive through this adoptive parenting journey, that my own quest to attachment had somehow grown stale.  I had missed the biggest issue in adoption…my attachment to him.

I’ve said this before I know, but as tough as the newborn/baby years were, that’s where the work of bonding is done. Not only does this baby depend on you, but it’s a time when you feel  needed.  You are the center of that child’s world.  Your kisses and cuddles are what makes the world go round in the eyes of your baby.  Their first word is, of course, “Dada,” and “Mama,” if you’re fairly lucky, will be  the fourth or fifth word just after “cookie” and “dog”.  What could be better? And I missed all of that with James.  It wasn’t him who had the problem attaching, it was me.

You get two years into this adoption thing and realize that you’ve never really and truly attached to your child, and it’s a real palm-to-face moment. So like so many times before, I spent a few sleepless nights, asking God what to do.  How do you attach to a child that you never rocked, a child who probably said, “Mama” early on, but wasn’t referring to you?

After a day or two, I got part of my answer. It was time to go through the box.  Oh yes, the orange shoe box that was so tenderly handed to me by James’s foster mom.   The box that contained the only pieces of his past that we will ever know.  And I looked at those baby pictures.  I poured over the small bits of information written on the backs of the pictures and put them in order.  I figured out what we were doing when he was one day old, three months old, three years old….I noticed that he used the same type of paci as Isaac and Hannah, and I imagined the million kisses I would have given those chubby cheeks.  And then I wrote it all down for him.  I say it was for him, but I think it was probably more for me.  I needed to have the thoughts, and to record the thoughts.  So I spent several days carefully placing pictures into a scrapbook and putting my own notes beside the pictures.   Some notes told what was happening to us during that stage of his life.  Some were just random comments that I would have made about him.

“Look at those cheeks! I could smother them with kisses!”

“Look at you in your snazzy onesie!”

 

And with every picture, I felt more connected, more in tune to his story. Now, we can do something that we both yearn for…we can talk about a few precious moments of his infancy, and share those moments together.

I’m not so naïve to think that this is the magical potion to attachment, but it’s a good start. The more I look at those baby pictures, the more I find myself attaching to him.   Adopting is hard work.  I’ve  said for years now that if you want God to reveal all your selfishness and ugly places of your heart, you should homeschool your children.  And then, I said that if you want God to reveal all your selfishness and ugly places of your heart, you should adopt.  Honestly, I’m kind of ready for a break on dealing with my selfishness and ugly places.  But it’s worth it.  It’s worth all the painful self-examination in the world.  I love my family.  Every member of it.

The other day, the Wal-Mart greeter stopped us and said, “Every single one of your children look just like you!” I snuck a glance over at James and he was beaming, and I couldn’t see my face, but I’m pretty sure I was too.   Looking at him that day I was sure that he is firmly attached.  Our family table is his family table, our family Christmas card is his family Christmas card, and our family resemblance is his family resemblance.

I pray that I can continue to nourish and grow this attachment as he has. I pray that I can recognize his small cues for love and attention that he so needs for his development.  I know that he has not gotten to where he is overnight but I can draw encouragement from the little bit of hope that comes from a simple comment from a Wal-Mart greeter.

We Can’t Watch That

Movie

We messed up. We always read the reviews, but this one time, we didn’t.  You would think that we would have this down by now, but as we sat there watching this movie, my mind was racing…wondering what to do.  Should I go turn it off?  Leave it on?  Should I try to grasp for some off topic theme?  No…there was nothing to do but finish the movie, and pray.  You might think that this movie had really naughty language…or maybe adult content, but that wasn’t the problem.

We found Bold Eagle on Amazon Prime, and we thought that it was just a non-mainstream movie, one of those silly budget kid flicks that would be completely harmless.  And to a good percentage of the child population, that’s exactly what it was.  But not to our family.  The plot involves a baby eagle being separated from his birth mother while she has been captured by evil people with the help of babbling, ignorant policemen.  The baby eagle spent lots of time in the care of a kind police dog.  And then, at the end, the people who captured the birth mom turn out to be the bad guys and the baby eagle is reunited with his mother in a fantastic, feel-good ending.

Yeah….it really does sound pretty much harmless. But here’s what it teaches my adopted son.  It teaches him that the people who locked up his birth mother (the police) were probably bad guys, confirming something that he already halfway believes.  It teaches him that one day, there will be a glorious reunion with his birth mother…a reunion in which she has been looking for him for a long time, and it was the bad people keeping her from him.  It teaches him that his birth mom was most likely a victim.  It plants the seed that maybe we are just a temporary family.

I had never, never, seen these things in movies before adopting James.  It never crossed my mind, but now it’s what we think about every time we sit down to watch a movie.  Do you have any idea how many movies have adoption-related themes?  A gazillion.  I’m not condemning these movies…really I’m not, but I do sometimes wish that we didn’t have to be so vigilant.  Movies that all the other kids are watching are many times a no-go for our family for that very reason.  And let’s just be honest here…what kind of movie would end with the baby eagle being forever separated from its mother?  I mean, seriously?  So I get it, really I do.

It just gets frustrating sometimes. It’s a constant reminder that our story won’t exactly have a happy, feel-good ending.  There will always be moments where he will look at me with tears in his eyes and say, “I just want to be with my real mom.” And that phrase will still sting ten years from now.  There’s a really good chance that he will always think of his birth mother as a victim, and there’s an even better chance that he will always, always hope for a glorious reunion with her.  Some days, it’s just hard.  Some days, I am tempted to go through his birth mom’s entire rap sheet with him.  But I don’t.  I know that she holds a special place in his heart, and while I will be truthful, I won’t be hurtful.

I am reminded of a storyline from a movie that we absolutely loved, Inside Out. It’s a storyline that shows that our memories and emotions aren’t continually set on joyful.  Sometimes they are slightly colored with sadness, and best of all, this storyline shows us all that it’s okay to be sad sometimes.  We need to feel our emotions, big and small, pleasant and unpleasant, regardless of whether we want to or not.  But going through those emotions with people who love us and care about us make it just a little bit better.  So that’s what we will continue to do.  In the meantime, I sure do hope for more movies like Inside Out.

My Newest Adventure…

 

I’m starting a preschool. Have I told you that?  Maybe not…I wasn’t sure that I wanted to blog about it, because it’s really different from what I’ve blogged about in the past.  But I’m not really concerned with that anymore.  My blog has always been a journal of my life and thoughts and I believe that it should stay that way.  So here I am, sharing a new adventure with you…

Believe it or not, this is yet another dream I’ve always had. It just hasn’t been the right time until this year.  I’ve always loved teaching children, and as the years have passed, I’ve been so blessed to have so many different experiences that have all shaped my educational philosophy.  From teaching in public school to homeschooling my own children to teaching all age groups in churches and volunteering in various mentoring programs, to adopting a child from the foster care system, I’ve had the great blessing to use all these things to shape my ideals about education.

I’m really excited about this new adventure. I’ll be using all my experience to make a memorable, meaningful preschool experience.  Our preschool will be nature-based.  We have a large garden and small farm behind the preschool that we will be visiting often.  We will take nature walks and play a whole lot.  We will build a strong foundation for future learning in all subject areas, but specifically in reading, writing and math.  One of the greatest qualities in children is their natural curiosity, and we will use that to foster a deep love of learning.  But more important than all that, my personal goal as a teacher is to teach them about Jesus.  It is my deepest desire that they know scripture by heart, that they hear all the great bible stories that each point so clearly back to The Gospel, and that they know why I love Him so much.

I’ve realized over the years that children don’t need a room full of bright colors and busy decorations. For children with sensory issues and hyperactivity, that is a huge distraction that makes them uncomfortable and doomed to fail.  So we have been working hard on remodeling an older home.  We are designing it to have the feel of a home, with a touch of vintage schoolhouse.  Our hope is that children walk in and immediately feel comfortable, peaceful, and at home.

I’m looking forward to telling you more about the preschool. In the next few weeks, I’ll be giving you a full tour via this blog right here.  But for now, here are some pictures of the transformation.

the schoohouse before

This was what the house looked like when we started. Check out that 1950’s floor!

the schoolhouse ceiling before

When my sweet in-laws peeled off the ceiling tile we found a boarded ceiling!

the schoolhouse old

Then, we ripped the walls off and found shiplap underneath. Some of the boards were original shiplap. So cool!

the schoolhouse 2

A lot of paint, new windows, new floor, and beautiful trim, and it’s starting to look great!

the schoolhouse scallop

The scallop you see here is one of the many nods to the vintage feel we are going for.

the schoolhouse with floor

And this is the first room almost finished. Can you just imagine lots of learning happening here?

 

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 For more information about our preschool, you can check out our Facebook Page.

The Schoolhouse Facebook Page

https://www.facebook.com/theschoolhouseinmorrilton/

Preparing Your Biological Children for Adoption

Preparing Your Biological Children for Adoption

When we began the long process leading up to adoption, we knew that this was not going to be a husband and wife thing. It was going to be a family thing.  We knew that we would need our children to be on board, because we had a suspicion that it wouldn’t always be easy, and we never wanted our kids to resent the decision to adopt.  Looking back now, I can clearly see that God had his hand at work in our kids long before we ever knew that adoption was on the horizon.  So, I wanted to share some of the things that we did (both knowingly and unknowingly) that helped to prepare our children’s hearts for adopting their brother.

  • Read missionary biographies. We particularly loved George Mueller and Gladys Aylward. Those were two of our all-time favorites. These are really great to show the hardships and the blessings that come through adoption. When we were reading these books, we had no idea that God was preparing our hearts, but when the time came, those biographies boosted our faith in God, and helped us through some of the more trying times that we faced.
  • Talk about it. A lot. We started the conversation over a year before we began moving forward with the adoption process. It started very casually, just discussing the fact that many children don’t have families and that more families are needed. Then it became more serious as we started discussing it in a more personal way. Some questions to ask are:
    • How would you feel about getting a new brother/sister?
    • Would you enjoy sharing your room?
    • Will you begin to pray about this?
    • How do you think adopting a child will change our family?
  • Discuss reality. Everyone has the picture of Little Orphan Annie in their head when they hear the word “adoption”. But in reality, it is not like that. There is a lot of hurt and pain involved with adopting a child, and that will affect your children and your family as a whole. So it’s important to talk about the reality of adoption, not the pre-conceived ideals.
  • Give them your time. Waiting is one of the hardest parts of adoption, but trust God with the timing because it’s also the greatest gift. During that pre-adoption period when your paperwork is finished and you are just waiting for a call, take that time to focus on your bios. It will be a while before you can do that again. For a little bit, most of your energy is going to go to your newest addition, so spend one-on-one time with each one of them. Talk to them, play with them, and give them lots of love to store up.
  • Pray Together. We prayed together with our biological kiddos a lot before and during the adoption process. We wanted them to know that God was in control of the situation, and that we were depending entirely on Him (because we definitely were!). We wanted them to see God at work and one of the main ways to do that is to see God answering your prayers.

Preparing Your Biological Children for Adoption

  • Keep the lines of communication open…before and after adoption. Nothing was off limits for our kids during the pre- and post-adoption stages. If it was on their hearts, we wanted to know it. There were several times that we had to pry out a confession about how they felt. But it was so important to let them get it off their chest, and to let them know that their feelings were 100% normal.
  • Point out their God-given qualities that they will get to exercise through adoption. We really tried to play up my kids’ character qualities. I remember saying things like, “Isaac, you have such a kind and forgiving heart. That is going to be so helpful to you and so comforting to your new brother.”

 

These are just a few ideas that will help to prepare your biological children for adoption. Adoption is such a blessing, but it should not be taken lightly.  It absolutely will change your family.  Expect your family dynamics to shift, your routines to be upset for a while, and your children to feel a little unsettled for a while.  But rest assured and know that it’s only a short time before things begin to settle and the blessings start flowing.

It’s Different

Surviving and Thriving in Pre-Adoption

It’s different. There, I said it.  And to be honest, it feels pretty good to get it off my chest.  For over a year now, I’ve struggled with guilt over the fact that I love James a little differently than I love Isaac, Hannah and Lydia.  Before you think I’m a terrible, awful mother, let me say that it’s a common thought among adoptive parents.  Not all, but many adoptive parents, particularly parents of older adopted children, talk about these things in hushed voices behind closed doors.  Most of the time, you can see some distress on their faces as they gingerly say the thing that terrifies them the most.  And yes, they are worried what you might think of them, and they are also worried that they are somehow cheating their adopted child, maybe not doing the job that God called them to do.

The absence of those precious early years with James haunt me every day. There’s not a minute that goes by that I don’t wish that I had gotten to hold him, cuddle him, and rub his tiny hand as he drifts off to sleep in the comfort of a crib set up just for him.  It pains me to talk about the things that my biological kids did when they were babies.  I show them a video from the past, and I can see it in his eyes, the hunger for a video of him when he was a baby, the wish that I had a cute story about him.  I wish it too.  But it’s just not there.  This is a hole in our history that we both will always grieve.  And due in large part to this fact, our love is on a bit of a different course.

As I’ve tried to put an adjective to my love for him, I’ve only come up with one. Fierce.  My love towards James is a fierce love.  It’s a love that is determined to prove to him his worth.  I refuse to allow him to believe that he will never amount to anything.  I refuse to accept, “Nah, I don’t want to learn that new thing,” because he says it out of fear that he will fail, but I know he will fly if he just tries.  I refuse to allow him to gain acceptance through acting out or acting babyish.  Because I know who he is…he’s a bright, sweet boy that anyone would love to get to know.  It’s a love born out of determination, and it’s a love that is slowly and tenderly formed alongside each other.  As I’ve walked this adoptive parent path now for over a year, I have come to realize that not everyone understands a fierce love.  But I think this is what adoptive parents have in common…the ability to love in many different ways.

And it’s my prayer that this post might comfort prospective adoptive parents who say the words that have fallen out of the mouths of thousands of adoptive parents before you…”But what if I can’t love them like I love my other child?” So let me take this opportunity to tell you that you probably won’t, and that’s okay.  A different love doesn’t mean it’s wrong.  And even a different love…a fierce love…has the amazing ability to grow over time.

I believe with all my heart that God has a plan for James.   A big plan, and as much as I’ve tried to be the perfect mom for him, I’m still just me-completely imperfect me.  So, I’m slowly coming to accept the idea that God knew that I would love James in a fierce way.  And maybe that’s just the different kind of love he needs to be everything that God wants for him.

Mom’s Helper System

Today, I had the pleasure of speaking to a group of Mothers of Preschoolers or MOPS for short. I really enjoyed it, and I would most definitely recommend this group to anyone with preschoolers!  I spoke about chores, and I must say, in the chore system area, I’ve pretty much tried everything.  But there are two systems that have really worked for my family.  So I thought I’d share them here with you.

Preschool-chore-charts-with-pictures-2

From Homeschool Creations

The first system is one I used when my kids were preschoolers. It’s from the website Homeschool Creations.  I really liked it because it was simple for me and fun for them, plus it gave the option of extra paid chores.  Click here for this system.

The second system is one I developed after my oldest came to me one day and said, “Mom, you never spend time with me.” After I got over the initial shock and rage of the comment (after all, I am a homeschooler…we spend every waking minute together for goodness sakes!), I evaluated our routine, and aside from school time, I really didn’t spend much extra time with them.  A big reason for this was simply that the work load of having a larger family was taking a lot of my time.  So, after some brainstorming, I figured out a system that would accomplish three things:

  1. To teach my kids to do everything needed to keep the house going
  2. To take some of the housework off me
  3. To spend quality time with each child while I’m getting a clean house

So here it is…the Mom’s Helper System. I simply put four hooks (one for each kid) on the closet door in our kitchen, and I hung the cards on the hooks.  Every day that we are home, I rotate the cards.  So, everyone gets to do every job.  I really like this system too, because if we are gone one day, it’s no big deal…I just rotate the next day.

Click here for the files:

Moms Helper Chore SystemMoms Helper Chore System vERTICAL

Moms Helper Chore System

My laundry helper helps wash, dry, fold and put away all the clothes for the day. My kitchen helper (this is the most coveted position available) helps me decide what to make, prepare the food for each meal, and clean up after each meal.  My Outdoor helper helps me keep the outside of the house clean by picking up trash, watering plants and putting up toys and bikes.  Sometimes, this person also gets to pick out the new wreath and put out new décor or plant flowers in the springtime.  The Bathroom helper gives all the surfaces a good wiping with a Clorox wipe, changes toilet paper, and cleans the toilet (as needed).  My kids are still young and not very confident with these “bigger” chores yet, so I at least supervise, but usually I’m right there with them helping.  That’s where the quality time comes in.  While we’re up to our elbows cleaning the toilet, I’m talking to them and finding out what’s going on in their world.

One of the great benefits, however, is that after just a few weeks, these jobs can be done by the kids themselves (for the most part), so if I get in a pinch, I can easily say, “Isaac, go start lunch for everyone.” He will know what to do, because he has plenty of experience now.

I’ve also included a Living Room card. This person could do the dusting or picking up of the living room area.  I’ve also included a Mom’s Helper and a blank card.  These can be used just about any way.  It’s up to you.  This has been a really easy system to keep going.  I know because if it’s not easy, I won’t do it!

I’m making these files available to you to download for free. I hope you enjoy them!