Have you ever tried to do 500 things in an hour? Me too. Productivity ranks high on my accomplishments list. I love being productive and the more items I can check off a checklist, the happier I am, but in teaching, that can be a real killer of joy. I’m glad that I changed my ways! You can read the rest of my story over at Sonlight by clicking here.
I’m visiting over at the Sonlight blog today! It’s a huge blessing to get to share my homeschooling passion with a wider audience through a company that has quite literally changed my family. Today, I’m sharing my first post about why we are making the switch to a four day curriculum this year. I would love it if you would hop over and show some love!
Who gets saved sitting in a claw foot bathtub? I thought. Sitting on the closed antique pull-string toilet, where I found myself so often in the last year, I couldn’t help but chuckle at the story that this would be for him. You see, James regularly goes to that old bathtub to sit and think. Sometimes he goes when his behavior requires some extra thinking time. Sometimes he goes to get away from the world for a bit. Sometimes, he takes a clipboard and gets his schoolwork done back there. Most of the time, that’s the place where we have the hardest and the best conversations. So, I suppose that it makes sense that he was sitting in the bathtub and I was sitting on the closed toilet when he said, “Mom, I need to talk to you about being saved.”
We’ve had the conversation several times now, but I could tell that this time was different. There was an urgency in his voice and I had the feeling that he was serious about it this time. As I began to talk to him, he said, “Mom, I know that I have to believe with my heart and confess with my mouth, but I’m just….I’m just….well, I’m just so bad sometimes. I just can’t get it right.”
Haven’t we all felt like this sometimes? My heart went out to him, knowing what it’s like to feel the weight of your sin. I think it’s particularly so for kids like James. I think they not only carry the weight of their own sin, but also the weight of their past, and the weight of sin that isn’t even their own. So, I talked to him a bit more explaining, and then Dad came in and climbed in the claw foot tub with James and took over the talk. Yeah, it was quite the sight.
After a while, they came out of the bathroom and announced that James had accepted the wonderful gift of salvation. I don’t think anything is a better moment for a parent. Birth is amazing, but this rebirth…it’s better. And for a child that wasn’t naturally born to me, it was almost like a make-up for that missed time. Isn’t God crazy good like that?
He is in the business of redemption…sweet, beautiful redemption. And nobody does it better. No one could orchestrate this scenario. No one could ever dream up being saved in an old bathroom in a schoolhouse. Just God.
We have prayed for that moment…many times over, but I know that it’s not by our strength or power that he was saved. It was by the grace of God. It was God who placed him in a Christian foster home. It was God who placed him in our home. It was God who gave him family and extended family and a church family and friends who prayed for him. It was God who gave him a story that paralleled our story so perfectly. It was God who used trouble to lead to restoration.
“…and I will make the Valley of Achor a door of hope.” -Hosea 2:15
It was God who chose James Wood.
So today, with joy and gratitude in my heart, I have to recite one of my favorite passages:
“I will show my love to the one I called Not my loved one.
I will say to those called, ‘Not my people’,
‘You are my people’;
and they will say, ‘You are my God.’
I was being played…like a fiddle. Like a fiddle on the song “Devil Went Down to Georgia” actually. You can talk to any adoptive parent, and they will tell you that their child goes through cycles. They will do really well for a while and you will feel like you’re making progress, and then, sometimes slowly, sometimes in warp speed, they will head downhill. Behavior will take a turn for the worse, and a lot of the problems that you thought were over, rear their ugly head once again. This is typical. What’s that saying in Ecclesiastes? “There’s nothing new under the sun…”
That’s where I was going wrong. Tim had been telling me this for some time now, but it’s much more fun to pretend like it’s your idea, right? Anyhow, the problem was that every time he went on a downhill slide, I was surprised, and let me tell you, being surprised that a kid misbehaves is like walking outside in the wintertime and being surprised that it’s cold. Kids are going to misbehave.
So this time, when the downhill slope began, I was once again, surprised. And because I was surprised by it, I went down with him. Now, I’m not saying that this was the only reason for my meltdown. It wasn’t. But, it certainly pushed me over the edge. A week ago today, I left school feeling utterly defeated. I had failed as a mother. (If you watch The Goldbergs, say that in a Beverly Goldberg voice). So I sat and pouted about all my shortcomings for a bit, and I felt so defeated that I didn’t even feel like talking to Tim about it. I knew that the only way out of this feeling was to go to The Source. The Bible. I needed to hear from God. So I turned to Hosea, and I read the passage that gets me through every single time:
“There I will give her back her vineyards,
And will make the Valley of Achor a door of hope….
…I will betroth you to me forever;
I will betroth you in righteousness and justice,
In love and compassion.
I will betroth you in faithfulness,
And you will acknowledge the Lord.
….I will show my love to the one I called, ‘Not my loved one.
I will say to those called’ Not my people’;
‘You are my people’.”
-Hosea 2: 15, 19, 20, 23
Every time I read this passage, I am reminded of why we chose to adopt. I’m reminded of the fact that we wanted to give hope to a child who had been robbed of it. We wanted to add to our family through this beautiful process called adoption. And through it, I am learning more than I ever imagined.
So after I read Hosea, I sat down and made a list of all the behaviors that James tends to fall back on. I realized that all of those behaviors were attention-seeking. So I could see pretty clearly from my list that he’s craving attention by the barrel-load. Unfortunately, this is an impossible situation for parents with more than one child. When you have a child that craves infinite amounts of attention, you will never meet their need. It’s a situation of a person trying to fill an emotional need through you instead of through God. It’s absolutely exhausting, but it can be better.
Once I had my list, I announced to myself…”I will not be surprised by any of his attention-seeking behaviors. This is what he’s craving, and I know that. There’s no surprise here.” So, beside each behavior, I wrote what I would do in response to that behavior. I made sure that my response was not giving attention, but simply cut-and-dry dealing with the issue.
If James doesn’t get his way, and starts slamming things and crying…I will calmly tell him to go to the bathroom (his favorite quiet place…he likes to sit in the clawfoot tub) until he collects himself while I go ahead with my work.
There was an entire list of things. However, since I had determined to no longer give him negative attention, I knew that I would have to give him some extra positive attention. So I also wrote down a list of things that I can do to provide him with the positive attention that he really needs. That list included writing him notes in his assignment book, taking him to breakfast, etc.
We’ve been at this for a week now, and I have to say that our days have been as smooth as butter. It was time for me to lighten up…big time. I had been so focused on progress that I forgot to enjoy the present. I was so zeroed in on his future that I had forgotten to just enjoy being his mom.
This past week has been absolutely delightful. I have to tell you a funny on James. I had noticed that he had suddenly gotten really bad chapped lips, so I had been treating him for a couple of days for it. Yesterday, I was wondering aloud how he got that level of chapped lips in the summer time just out of the blue. He said, “I know how it happened…I was sucking on half of an egg shell and this happened.” I inspected it closer, and sure enough, his entire chin was purple and red. It wasn’t chapped, it was bruised! My child had a gigantic chin hickey! I laughed so hard tears were rolling down my face. I laughed every time I thought about it. It was the cutest, funniest thing I think I’ve ever seen. I’m so glad that I decided to enjoy motherhood more and stress less. I might have missed the great comedy in that “chapped lips” fiasco! So my advice for all adoptive parents and all parents: Lighten Up! Enjoy your kids. They’re pretty hilarious after all!
I sealed the plain brown envelope with some hesitancy today. That envelope held some pretty important papers…standardized tests for my oldest boys. Now, I should explain that we are not required by the state of Arkansas to do standardized testing. On the contrary, they wisely realized that by requiring the testing of homeschoolers, they were wasting taxpayer money on something that didn’t really mean much in the grand scheme of state education. However, I’ve always said that I would test my kids regularly just for a few reasons: A) To make sure that I know where they are in respect to other kids, B) To make sure that they have exposure to test-taking situations, and C) In the event that we do put them back in school, it will be added documentation for where they should be placed.
But, I made that decision five years ago, when we pulled our oldest child out of public school. A lot has changed since then. My philosophy of education is vastly different than it was. I don’t want a standardized test to define my children’s knowledge or worse, to label them one way or another (genius, average joe, or dumb as a rock). After all, my children are anything but “standard”. They are each so unique and different…how could any of them be tested up against the other?
So I didn’t test them last year. It was James’s first year of homeschooling, and I wanted to give him a year of rest, and Isaac had tested the year before so it wasn’t going to hurt anything for him to skip a year. Then this year rolled around, and I really wanted to see where they stood academically. So we decided to go for it and test them, but as I sealed that envelope today and sent it off in the mail, I got that sinking feeling in the pit of my stomach again. It’s that inner dialogue that we all fight in one way or another that says, “What if this just proves that everything you are doing has been worthless?”
Of course, I know that voice….and it’s not the voice of my Father. So I reminded myself that God leads our every step, and then I realized all the things that these pieces of paper would NOT tell me. Here’s my list:
- That paper will NOT tell me how far we’ve come with James. .. All the hard days, hard discussions, and tears that have paved the way for healing…there’s no test that can tell me the result of that.
- It does NOT account for all the times that we stopped instruction to do some serious heart work this year.
- It won’t tell me that James is testing WITHOUT medication for the first time.
- It won’t tell me that Isaac, who was a struggling math student until last year, did every problem in his head (and nailed it!).
- That paper will NOT provide a complete synopsis of the skills, talents and gifts that God has given each of my children.
- That paper will NOT tell me the hours that we’ve spent together reading and discussing great literature together as a family.
- It will NOT tell me everything that my kids know about our three-year study of American History from the days of the Native Americans to the present.
- That paper will NOT tell me the character of my children.
- That paper will NOT tell me the spiritual condition of my children’s hearts.
- That paper will NOT tell me their intelligence level.
- That paper will NOT tell me their worth.
- That paper will NOT tell me MY worth as their Mom or their Teacher.
Thankfully, after reciting these things to myself, I was able to drop it in the mail knowing that we’ve had a great year. Not only have we made big strides in academics, more importantly, we’ve made big strides in life.
So mamas and daddies of both homeschooled and public schooled kiddos, here are my words of wisdom when it comes to standardized testing…Everything has a place, but keep it there, in its place. Don’t allow it to seep out into other areas where it has no business. A piece of paper, whether it’s a standardized test or a BMI or anything else, at the end of the day, is just a piece of paper. It tells you a few things, but stops short of the big picture.
If you are seeking God’s will for your family and diligently following it to the best of your ability, you have nothing to worry about….God will fill in the gaps, so rest easy.
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.
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.
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.