Monday, January 9, 2017

Walking/Driving After Midnight


We are all probably pretty familiar with the phenomenon where you hear a song and it is able to transport you back into a moment of the past because the song played at a significant time in your life.  It evokes the same emotions, feelings, moods, vivid memories flood back.  It is much more than just nostalgia, it doesn't necessarily make you yearn for the past, it transports you there.

Twenty nine years ago, my mother ended her life.  A single bullet and it was over in that instant.  She'd suffered with depression and I suspect other mental health struggles for maybe forever.  She had a traumatic childhood herself and despite her best effort she was not able to overcome the demons that continued to haunt her.  She planned her death in great detail.  I was nine, I had no idea what was happening at the time but looking back it takes my breath away.

The events surrounding her death were extremely traumatic for me.  I didn't realize until I was in my thirties just how traumatic they were.  I began seeing a therapist and discovered I was struggling with PTSD.  I had almost no memories of the first decade of my life.  When I turned the age my mother was when she died, memories suddenly began flooding me at inopportune times.  Feelings and traumas I had never dealt with were demanding my attention.  I have continued therapy and worked on dealing with those issues and feelings in addition to taking medication to combat some of the same demons my mother fought for so long.  I am not ashamed.  If nothing else, my mom surely taught me a heartbreaking lesson.  I will continue to get help and fight for my life for as long as I live.

I am in a much healthier place today.  I hold little resentment I once clung to and I am able to see through my own experience, the struggles she faced.  For as long as I remember, I've had a strong connection to Classic Country music, mostly women.  Patsy Cline, Crystal Gayle, Tammy Wynette, Loretta Lynn, Dolly Parton all hold a sacred place in my heart.  One memory I have that is a positive one is that my mother was a singer.  She was talented, and she loved to sing.  She would put records on and dance and sing around the house almost daily when she was well...and she would sit and sing and cry when she wasn't.

On our most recent vacation to Myrtle Beach, we drove through the night.  I am by nature a night person.  I enjoy the quiet and stillness of the night and I function best in darkness.  I pulled up my playlist on my iPod.  The rest of the family was sound asleep and I drove through the hills of West Virginia and Virginia while I sang my heart out.  It was maybe the most therapeutic thing I have ever done.  I started with "Walking After Midnight", tears fell down my cheeks as I sang the words, remembering my mom singing that song all of the time.  It transported me back to a moment of her holding my hands and dancing with me in our living room.  Her smile, her long blonde hair, and her chunky cardigan sweater were almost tangible.

My playlist continued, Crazy, Harper Valley PTA, Don't It Make My Brown Eyes Blue, Islands in the Stream, Jolene, Stand By Your Man, Delta Dawn, I Don't Wanna Play House, I Fall to Pieces, She's Got You, Coal Miner's Daughter, Fist City, and the list goes on.  I've had this playlist on my iPod for as long as I can remember, I guess as long as I've had an iPod.  There are so many moments in my life I yearn for my mom...for her advice, for her help, just for her presence.  It was on that drive well after midnight, as I sang Walking After Midnight along with Patsy that it occurred to me that those records were soothing to my mom's soul, and today, they soothe mine.  I miss her.  Every day I miss her.  I have missed out, she has missed out, my family is missing out...but in a way, she continues to mother me through music.  It might seem silly, but as I listen to those songs, I can hear her voice, in those moments she is with me.  I sure wish I still had those records, but for today, I am grateful for iTunes for bringing my mom back to me in a small way when I really need her.  It is comforting to be transported to those moments, dancing and singing in our living room and let's be honest, most of those songs teach a pretty good motherly lesson and there's something to be said for the sound of a fiddle, a banjo or a steel guitar.  ;)

"I go out walkin' after midnight, out in the moonlight, just like we used to do, I'm always walking' after midnight searchin' for you."


Wednesday, January 4, 2017

Take Care of One Another

"We must absolutely take care of one another.  It does take a village, but we have to be a village first. We have to take care of each other's children."  - Ruby Bridges

We've been studying a bit in our homeschool studies about activists who have made a difference.  One of the most recent people being Ruby Bridges.  I read this quote and it resonated with me so deeply.  Things in the Bolte house have been good.  Everyone is doing pretty well, we had an amazing Christmas vacation and things have been relatively uneventful.  Nevertheless, I am tired.

I don't just mean I could use a nap kind of tired, though a nap would be nice, it would not come close to alleviating the bone numbing exhaustion I suffer from.  Raising six kids, two who are currently very active in sports, two with some significant special needs, a dramatic seven year old and infant is a lot.  Each day I find myself more overwhelmed and tired than the last.

Raising special needs kids is something I never realized was as intense as it is.  It feels like every day is a battle and many days, I feel like I am losing.  Decisions are made every minute of every day that have to be thought through in their entirety or the consequences can send us in a downward spiral or worse.  I have a child who does not correlate cause and effect, has no respect for boundaries and has no fear, she has to be supervised every single minute of every single day. My kids have to be wearing the right pants, their socks have to be just right, their backpacks packed with the appropriate tools (wiggle seat, sensory soothers, books, etc) to help them be successful for a day in school, and the list goes on.

I wake up in the morning, feed the baby and try to chug a cup of coffee while it is remotely warm, when this fails, I'll later pour the coffee over ice and pretend I intended it to be that way.  I wake Jacob and Lily and get them dressed for the day.  This can go well, but more often than not I've chosen the wrong pants or the wrong socks or we want to wear three dresses at once.  When it comes to wardrobe, if it is weather appropriate, I typically don't fight that battle, I pack backpacks, making sure each kid has what they need to be the most successful on the bus and at school.  I brush hair and teeth and hope the bus comes on time because it is all a delicate balance.

Once they are safely on the bus, I walk back up the driveway where I hear the baby screaming because she cannot see me and I've gone outside in the 10 degree weather without her.  I come in and scoop her up and check emails for the day, I return emails to caseworkers, teachers, therapists, biological parents, grandparents and other service providers.  Most days there is then a doctor appointment or caseworker appointment or therapy appointment to deal with.  I wake the other kids and they get breakfast, (which I am learning to have them do for themselves, clean up, get dressed and brush teeth, they then begin work on their homeschool checklist for the day that I have prepped at an hour no one should see.

We get the schoolwork done, read books, play games, create things, while I juggle a baby, dinner plans, bills, and phone calls from caseworkers, school, therapists, etc.  at 3:30, I realize I have forgotten the second cup of coffee I made and just pour it over ice and suck it down.  The bus comes and two four year olds who have mostly held it together all day come home in tasmanian devil fashion.  They blow through the door and it all falls apart, I spend time trying to decipher their behavior and what it means and how to help them, I lose my patience, I begin again, I finally send everyone to separate areas with a  screen, because I am human.

Howard comes home, we sit down to eat (I won't even try to describe dinner chaos, but imagine feeding a herd of finicky tyrannosaurus rex, it resembles that), Howard kisses me and out the door he goes to coach either Luke or Ben, sometimes both.  I clean up dinner whilst refereeing UFC style four year old brawls, and wrestle them to the tub where I assembly line bathe the three youngest children, lotion them up, brush teeth, read stories, snuggle and tuck them in, clean up the bathroom, sit down, get up, tuck kids back in, repeat.  Oversee showering of older kids, laundry, food prep for the next day, feed the baby, lie down to watch The Daily Show and promptly fall asleep.

I am sure that is not even it and that is just a normal day not a day where the s#it hits the fan.  It is exhausting and overwhelming, and amazing and rewarding.  Not a day goes by that someone doesn't look at me very seriously and say, "I don't know how you do it all" or "I think you are taking on too much" or "you can't save the world".  The thing is...maybe I can't save the world, but I can make the world better for a few, so I will keep just doing that.  Just because I can't do all things for all people doesn't mean I should do nothing.  These days the world praises independence, not having to lean on others, we are missing our village and I am a product of a village of adults who cared enough to invest in me when my own mom was missing.  I might be tired, but I'll keep doing that for as many as I can, because these kids, they are amazing gifts and they have so much to offer the world, they make ME better, and maybe, just maybe the village starts with me.  The tears, exhaustion and sleepless nights are more than worth it.  We have to stop viewing kids as other people's children and a burden.  They're all our children and our future.  Let's stop blaming and shaming and making parents feel they aren't doing enough, lets take care of each other and each other's children. Parenting is hard. Extend grace. Lend a hand. Be the village.  World change is going to start there.


Thursday, December 8, 2016

Unrealisitc Expectations are Premeditated Resentments


The first decade of my life was spent in a home filled with love but also expectations.  High expectations, often unattainable expectations.  My mom was a perfectionist, and it wasn't quite as much that she wanted things to be perfect, but she wanted things to at least APPEAR perfect.  She did a great job of this.  From the outside looking in, we probably looked near to perfection as a family.

Appearances can be deceiving.  My mom was struggling with mental health and as a result every one in the house was also struggling.  I am still trying to piece my childhood together and heal from the trauma unintentionally inflicted upon me by the one who supposedly loved me most and in her own way, she did.  I am grateful in my life to have learned that there is One who DOES love me most.

I often find myself struggling with those expectations my mother held, wanting the world to see the family of beautiful well behaved, well groomed children, wanting to put on a picture perfect view of our family.  I mean we're a good looking crew, but it is a mirage.  We are a crew of broken people hobbling our way through life the best way we know how, we have nothing really figured out, we spend our days changing diapers, making meals, cleaning endless messes and feeling like we are botching all of it.

We want to send our kids into the world and have others see our kids as lovely, obedient little genius rockstars.  We often measure our success by their ability to do this.  As my kids grow, I am learning that especially my kids who come from a more traumatic beginning, cannot live up to that expectation.  They have big feelings, big fears and lack the coping skills to shove it all under the rug the way my brain has been wired to do.  Their brains are wired quite differently.

Brain science tells us that early trauma affects kids...even babies.  Stressful pregnancy, drug use, neglect, poverty, all of these things play a role in how the brain of a person is wired from the very beginning.  There are six kids who currently call me mom, each of them with their own unique brain wiring, with their own strengths and weaknesses.  Somehow when we get a compliment on our parenting or on our kids' behavior it validates us, makes us feel as though we are succeeding.

One of my children has been struggling...especially in school.  For months, behavior reports, bus suspensions, and teacher phone calls have been keeping my anxiety level above 100.  The feeling of failure overwhelms me.  I adopted her.  I love her.  I want to save her from all of this.  I want her to succeed, and if SHE succeeds, then I have succeeded.

I have been at the end of my rope, unsure of what to to next for her.  I want the whole world to see her the way I see her.  I want them to see a ray of sunshine, a walking rainbow, a beautiful girl who is beating the odds.  They see behavior.  She cannot put on the facade most of us learn to put on.  She wears it ALL on her sleeve, her joy, her frustration, her sadness, her anger, all of it.  I have felt helpless and alone, and I can't really even imagine how it feels to be her.

I sat in a child psychologist's office with her this week, desperate for hope, desperate for answers.  What I got was a little bit different.  It was an emotional appointment as we discussed all of my little girl's strengths and weaknesses, her struggles and her past, but when I left that office, I left with a gift.  I left with a feeling of having ACTUALLY been heard.  I left with a peace that that woman saw my daughter as I see her.  She saw the amazing, brilliant and sweet little girl I love, and she saw her struggles.  Never did a look of annoyance cross her face just compassion and understanding.

My girl responded well to her and obviously so did I.  I didn't realize how much I just needed someone to HEAR me, not to downplay my concerns or to blame poor discipline, but to HEAR me. Expectations are a good thing, and we should hold high expectations of our kids but we need to make sure they are realistic.  This woman "got" my girl.  Her expectations for her were high and appropriate.  She helped me to see that my success as her mom has nothing to do with my daughter's perceived success in the world.

As I drove home, tears ran down my cheeks as I came to the realization that success looks different for different people.  I cannot spend my days worrying about the years ahead.  I must spend my days in this moment, helping my kids find their own success for today.  I cannot be their savior.  That job is already taken.  I can be their mom.  Their cheerleader, their biggest advocate.  The fight is long and the fight is hard.  I am exhausted, but one day at a time, I will choose love and compassion.  I will still get spit at, and kicked and screamed at.  I am parenting children who need to release those feelings and they feel safe to do it with me, even though it hurts.  I will snuggle them and reassure them, I will discipline them by teaching them the way they need to be taught and let go of what the world thinks I should be doing, because if they've got it figured out, then they should be doing it.

So, parents out there, parents of special needs kids, kids from hard places, kids who've endured trauma.  I see you.  I hear you, and I am with you.  You'll find no judgement here, we're all limping along as best we can.  We might as well do it together.  Let's redefine success, let's continue to raise happy kids who feel loved and live up to their own greatest potential...whatever that looks like.  Hold those expectations high, but attainable.  I raise my coffee mug to you, one day at a time, and sometimes just moment by moment, we can do this, it is a hard and sacred job, but we are blessed to do it.

                                                       Photo by Holly Jane Photography

Monday, November 14, 2016

A Walk Down Memory Lane


In September of 2012 we began our journey into the foster care world. It has been a roller coaster for sure and there have been many moments when I have just wanted to throw in the towel, but overall it has been amazingly rewarding and I am so grateful to have this opportunity to be just a small part of what God is doing in the world. Our first foster care placement was a 3 week old baby girl. I fell fast and hard for her, she was like an extra appendage of my body and could be found in my arms at all times. Just three weeks after we met her, a case worker drove to my house, with her mom, who loves her VERY much, and I had to hand her back to the woman who grew her in her womb. It was bittersweet loading that girl's belongings into the car that day. I hugged her mom, we both cried and I hit my knees praying that they would be able to be together forever.

Over the next few weeks we accepted a sibling set who were with us just a week and another baby girl who had been born the SAME day as that first baby girl. This baby girl left us to be with her grandparents on November 13th around 7 pm. They picked her up, thanked us and even called me later that night to go over her bedtime routine. My heart was sore but grateful. It was so amazing to be a safe place for kids and to get to see them reunite with biological family. Nevertheless, they became a part of our family instantly and we have missed each of the children who have been in our home. We pray for them each day and try to stay in touch when appropriate.

The morning of November 14th I got a phone call from the agency for a little boy. I told the worker that I needed to think about it as I kind of felt my heart needed a breather. It wasn't like me to hesitate but for a reason unknown to me at that time, I just didn't feel ready. I thought of and prayed for that little guy throughout the day and figured I'd call that afternoon to see if he'd been placed.

Just before lunch time, the phone rang again. It was the agency again, I hesitated to answer, but they never pressured me into taking a placement so I figured it must have been something else. I answered the phone and the sweet worker on the other end, said I wasn't going to believe what she was about to say so I maybe should sit. She explained that after an unfortunate series of events, that very first baby girl we'd fallen in love with was coming back into the system today if she could be found and she knew how much we loved her and she wondered if we'd want to be her foster home again.

Tears of joy and sorrow streamed down my face as I said yes. I hung up the phone, called Howard and started to prepare for her. I waited on pins and needles all day for a phone call saying they'd found her and that I needed to come get her. We continued to wait, the kids were elated and so excited to see her again. Just before midnight that night, I got a call, I left instantly and picked our girl up at a local Burger King parking lot. To this day we joke that babies don't come from storks, but Burger King.

We brought her home and bathed her, snuggled her and cried. We wondered what had happened. We knew her mother loved her deeply, and was surely heartbroken. I won't share any of her mom's story as it isn't mine to share, but she is a kind and loving person and she loves her children and we love her. As it turns out, this baby girl is our daughter Lily Grace. She is a ray of sunshine in our every day and challenges us constantly. We are grateful that she is now forever ours, and we grieve the loss she continues to feel even though she doesn't quite understand it. As foster parents we believe it is incredibly important for kids to know their roots. Lily has seen her first mom when possible and is building a relationship with her biological grandma, great grandma and sisters. It has been an overwhelmingly amazing honor to be able to watch her story unfold. She was our first foster care placement and is now our forever daughter. She is loved by all of us incredibly and also by her biological family.

I pray my Burger King baby will always know how loved she has been all along and not a day goes by that I don't pray for her first mother. November 14 marks the day that Lily came back to us but also the day she was separated from her natural mother forever. We rejoice and we grieve and I think we will probably always dance between the two of those as we navigate this foster care/adoption world, but as you read this story of God's plan for Lily, consider if He'd also have you play this part in the life of a child or a family who needs a safe place for their child even temporarily. It is definitely not for everyone, but could it be for you?




Tuesday, July 12, 2016

The Body Remembers

I've been struggling this past week with anxiety more than is typical for me.  Things are going well, Howard is home for summer and we've been having a great time together as a family.  There is nothing major going on that should cause additional anxiety in fact I SHOULD be having less...and so then that thought plays over and over in my mind causing an anxiety snowball.

Tonight I had a couple of moments to myself to decompress as I cleaned up the basement.  The littles were sleeping and those who were awake were happily engaged in some activity otherwise.  I've struggled with PTSD in the past several years and ended up seeking treatment for the flashbacks and lack of sleep I was experiencing, things have been significantly better, but this week things have been kind of tough.

We all know about flashbacks, suddenly a memory floods your brain taking complete control sometimes seeming so real that you struggle physically.  You see the entire event replay so clearly in your mind.  It is less common however to realize that our body remembers these events as well.  It isn't only our brains that suffer from trauma.  Trauma affects EVERY cell of our being.  Those cells all have the capacity to recall the trauma.

This week I've been feeling a bit like I've been hit by a truck and as I spent time allowing myself to feel those feelings and figure out what was going wrong, I realized that this week, is the 2.5 year mark since my cancer diagnosis.  Strangely as each of my six month oncology appointments approaches, my arm will ache and I find myself checking lymph nodes more often because I'm just so achy.  My body remembers cancer.  My body remembers a large chunk of flesh being cut from my left arm and sewn back together under great tension.  My body remembers the lymph nodes being removed from under that same arm and the more I fight those feelings, the worse they tend to get.  I've learned (with therapy) that the best way to cope is just to allow myself to feel the feelings, even if they're scary and even if it gets worse before it gets better.

This week I will head to the Clinic, have my oncology appointment and hopefully be 2.5 years "no evidence of disease" from stage 2 melanoma.

As I continued to process my feelings and give myself the space to just be present in them, I also thought about how this week is Isaac's eleventh birthday.  Eleven years ago to this date I was carrying my second born son safely in my womb unaware that ANYTHING could go wrong.  I had a nursery prepared, and we were so very ready for his safe arrival, when the bottom all fell out on July 14, 2005 and my world changed dramatically forever.

My body remembers.  These memories are ones I am never quick to push aside.  Unlike my cancer memories, these memories are ones I savor and wish I could relive just once more, I wish I could make better use of the time I had and be more prepared for what was about to come.  I miss that boy something fierce and my body literally aches for him around this time each year.  It is a bittersweet ache because while I still grieve him, that aching is proof that he lived and that he mattered.  Sometimes I struggle to move through these aches and pains because in a different way it feels comforting to just revel in the tangible evidence of his absence.

For tonight, I will sit and just allow my emotions, mind, body and spirit to just be and feel all of the things I need to feel for now.  Sometimes the best thing you can do for yourself is just be, be gentle, be kind and be present with yourself and that is my plan this week.  As I head to the Cancer Center this week and celebrate the 11th birthday of my second son, I will be mindful, gentle and kind.

  I guess I share all of this to remind everyone, we've all got some type of baggage and trauma, and you sure aren't alone in that.  The world seems to be going mad. God created each of us with the capacity to take care of ourselves but we weren't meant to do it alone, so as trauma continues to affect us individually and as a society, let's be a little more gentle, a little more kind and a little more present with ourselves and with each other.  The world is a tough place, a kind word and a gentle smile go a long way.  Let's feel all of the feelings and allow others to feel all of the feelings, let's judge less and love more, the body remembers, each cell remembers, let's give them good memories.

Wednesday, June 8, 2016

Solidarity


"Alone we can do so little, together we can do so much." Helen Keller

"Solidarity is  not an act of charity, but mutual aid between forces fighting for the same objective."  Samora Machel

This past weekend our family went on an annual camping trip with families similar to our own, families built by God in many ways, birth, adoption, foster care, guardianship.  These families always teach me so much.  Sometimes raising kids especially ones who had a rough start in life is a lonely and uphill battle and with these friends, I feel so much less alone.  I look forward to this annual camping trip each year and this was the third year.  We don't really DO anything exciting or super fun, we just take a long weekend and BE.  We sit and chat and enjoy our kids and each other we are able to relate to the struggles the other is having and are able to be a sounding board when a listening ear is needed.  We eat good food, drink boxed wine and clamor for coffee in the morning.

I've been very fortunate that in the past couple of years I've been able to secure a couple of REALLY close knit friendships that have changed my life.  As I sat near a campfire last weekend with one of those friends, in her "enlightened" state she began to talk about solidarity.  The word has stuck with me for days now and just keeps coming to mind.  I sat with another friend that same weekend as she talked about how alone she felt and my heart was just so heavy for her.

Last night my youngest kids had a tball game.  They got suited up and we excitedly ran onto the field yelling our team chant.  As I watched Howard coaching this group of kids I was just so grateful to be able to do what we do and to have him beside me as we do it.  We make a pretty good team.  Solidarity in marriage is important...united we stand, divided we fall.

As the game approached the second inning our three year old darling began to act as though she were a tiny terrorist, running away, spitting, kicking, and swinging a bat wildly.  She's the sweetest most amazing kid and yet she can turn on a nasty side in a moment and it can be tough to bring her back from that.  Kids who have experienced early trauma in life tend to have a more sensitive fight or flight response and once hers is triggered it is SO tough to turn that "lizard brain" off and move the thinking to he higher parts of the brain.  I've recently realized that my early trauma has caused my fight or flight response to be more easily triggered as well and that can be a recipe for a disaster.  Being aware of that has been huge for me.

SO as I tried to deal with her and also call out the batting order, I realized there were people (family members even) staring, glaring and shaking their head at my struggling girl.  I could see that she was escalating fast and I began to feel my own adrenaline begin to spike.  I took a deep breath, handed Ben the batting order, scooped her up and took her to the car, buckled her in where there was no audience and she could have quiet and we both sat, held hands and cried.

I was so embarrassed by her behavior.  I want people to know that I am a good mom.  There were people watching this event who were critiquing my parenting in this moment and in their minds, I failed.  I came home feeling defeated, but as I have reflected on those moments today, I realize that I won.  I stayed calm and collected. I recognized her needs and I met them.  She was overstimulated and needed quiet.  She needed me to speak softly and hold her hand.  She didn't need "discipline" or scolding or spanking.  She needed me.  She needed to know that I was right there with her no matter how scary the feelings she was feeling were.  Within minutes she was singing and playing sock puppets with her socks and happy as could be.  I continued to sit and weep, and then a sweet friend knocked on my car window, saw my tears, listened to my words and took my girl for a walk so I could breathe.  No questions asked, nothing expected in return, she was in it with me.  Solidarity.

It is exhausting.  Parenting ANY kids is exhausting.  It is a monumental task of the greatest importance and we all feel like we are barely hanging on.  What we need, isn't criticism, glares or snide remarks, what we need is solidarity.  These kids are our future and they are so amazing.  We need to feel unity, we're all in this together and we're all doing the best we can with what we've got.  We all fail sometimes, and I am slowly learning that I'll never be a perfect mom, but I AM the mom God chose for each of my kids, and HE knows best what they need and for some reason He thinks they need me so who am I to argue?

No parent wants to fail, but we can't do this thing alone.  Maybe next time you see a frazzled mom or dad struggling with a tantruming child or just looking tired, offer a smile, a word of encouragement, even a prayer, those glares, snide comments and eye rolls don't help anyone, one day these kids are going to run this world, so let's stand in solidarity and do this together...after all there's no such thing as other people's children, they all belong to us.  United we stand, divided we fall.  Be the village.

"Solidarity is not a feeling of vague compassion or shallow distress at the misfortune of so many people, both near and far. On the contrary, it is a firm and persevering determination to commit oneself to the common good; that is to say to the good of all and of each individual, because we really are responsible for all."  Pope John Paul II


Wednesday, May 25, 2016

Society Needs a Shiva Lesson


This afternoon, I sat in the hospital listening to a dad who lost his infant son the day before.  With tears streaming down his face, he looked at me and said,  " I never knew how hollow words could be until now."  The mother of this same sweet baby looked at me with wide eyes and said, "WHY would you CHOOSE to be back here with me and relive this Hell?  I don't understand." As a bereavement doula I have had the sacred privilege of standing in the space where birth and death meet.  It is an uncomfortable place.  As a society, we shy away from the uncomfortable or we over compensate with meaningless words.  In the last two days, I have had several people ask me why I CHOOSE to sit there, in that uncomfortable place.

I gave whatever answer came to my mind but as I have processed the last couple of days, I have given it much more thought.  Isaac and Asher taught me a lot.  They have changed my whole world, and it is true that I want to be able to walk with families and help them as they navigate such difficult circumstances, but truthfully, I think society needs an overhaul on how we view grief and it is my hope to help facilitate that change.

As a society we are very uncomfortable with death.  We see someone suffer and we want to fix it.  We want to make it better and make them better, and as a result we rush people through their grief.  We want to see them happy again so we push them along sometimes kicking and screaming and encourage them to "move on" and "get over it".

In the Jewish culture, when a close relative dies, they practice a tradition called "sitting Shiva".  Shiva is a seven day period where the bereaved are expected to do nothing but grieve.  People visit and sit with them, not to talk or offer platitudes but to just be, in that grieving place with them.  No rushing, no blaming, no moving on no attempts at fixing anything...just sitting with the heavy grief and honoring the memory of the loved one.  I believe they got grieving right.

It is hard to enter into someones suffering and just sit there with them.  It is uncomfortable and awkward and we screw it up with our hollow words and empty promises.  When we are able to move past offering solutions and move toward offering our very selves, we are becoming more Christ-Like.    When we draw near to the broken hearted and offer our whole self to enter in and share their suffering, we are acting much like God did through Jesus.  My hope is to maybe be an example of God's love for us and love others with that same love, to comfort others with the comfort I've been given through Him.  Maybe through me, they can feel the nearness of God.  That is my prayer as I walk into every hospital room I enter.



Monday, February 22, 2016

Purpose in Puke


February is generally a tough month for me emotionally.  Jacob turned four, my mom would've celebrated a birthday, and it marked two years since my surgery to remove the melanoma and lymph nodes in my arm.  To describe it as an emotional roller coaster would be an understatement.  Then comes Asher's birthday.  I know I've said it before, but February 22, 2008 was one of the most amazing days of my life.  Asher's birthday was a sacred kind of day that has changed the course of everything for us.  God has used our sweet Asher in more ways than i ever could have dreamed and while my arms still ache to hold him, I see daily the difference he is still making in this world.

This month, has been that same emotional roller coaster as always, but this year we have also dealt with some big house repairs needing to be made, foster care struggles, adoption struggles, hives and a LOT of vomit.  In each season of my life I have made some friends who were in that same season, my foster adoptive peeps are the ones I tend to be with most at this stage. The community of the few close friends we have right now makes life so much better...when one of us struggles, we all just jump right in and help the others.  Everyone just does what they can do and we call it the "trickle down effect", so one family might help another family so that they can help another.

Sometimes, that means other things trickle down.  This month, it was the stomach flu.  It was ugly, it was brutal and it didn't discriminate.  It ran through three families and back again through each of them.  I was texting with one of my BFFs who we'll just call JB, chronicling my day of vomit, flooded basements and letters from prison and ended the list of happenings with Asher's birthday.  She commented about how the struggles we're having now seem trivial in comparison with Asher's birthday, and I quickly replied that at least I have peace in Asher's story because it has been life changing and meaningful.  It is hard to find meaning when you are cleaning up more bodily fluids than you knew possible.

That evening as I was filling a garbage bag with bedding to be burned because...some things are just not worth saving, my mind went back to that conversation with JB.  I went back in to the bedroom to help clean my six year old up from her recent sickness and as I wiped her face, tears ran down my own, I remembered the days after her EB diagnosis, I wondered if I'd get to see her grow up and here she is defying ALL odds.  I'd give anything to have Asher here even if it meant wiping puke from his face.  February 22, 2008 was a sacred day, I bathed my dying baby and was surrounded in love, and I am so grateful that I get to be Asher's mom, but there is also something sacred in bathing the sweet blessings in this home, there is purpose in cleaning up the puke.  In their sickness, they feel the same love Asher felt in his and that is something.  I GET to be here and love them when they're sick as well as when they're not, and let's be honest, friends, as they get older, sick time snuggles are pretty precious because snuggles get a little harder to come by as our kids grow up.

Happy 8th birthday, sweet Asher Joseph.  I miss you more than words could ever say, and my heart aches each day to get to snuggle you just one more time.  God blessed us BIG when he gave us you and you continue to bring perspective and help me find purpose in all things... even puke.

It is well.  It is well with my soul.





Thursday, January 21, 2016

Random Thoughts From the Cancer Center

Almost two years ago, I spent my first morning in a cancer center.  I remember dreading it, I remember thinking that there couldn't be a scarier place to sit, and now, after having spent my eighth afternoon there, I have to tell you that while I HATE melanoma and what it steals from people, the cancer center is a sacred space.  It is a space filled with the bravest most amazing people.  People fighting the disease, people researching and devoting their lives to helping people fight the disease, and people making peace with statistics and prognosis, as well as people blowing those statistics and prognoses out of the water.

There is nowhere I can think of where human mortality is any more visible, ok, maybe the morgue but you get what I mean.  I turned thirty seven recently, and while that makes me middle aged, I am so grateful for every one of those thirty seven years.  I am not wishing I were younger (although I do appreciate when others think I am), I am simply grateful for another day.  After a cancer diagnosis a person is forced to face mortality.  I was thirty five when I was diagnosed with cancer.  Hearing the words "you have cancer" conjures up images of death, let's be real.  I was thirty five, I'd already outlived my own mother, and that had been my goal for most of my life.  A lofty goal, as it turns out.  I mean, as you age you know people die, you know everyone dies, you know one day you will die, but much like losing a child, it seems to be a tragedy you somehow feel immune from.  At least I did.

I won't say I don't fight fear, I do.  I struggle with depression and anxiety.  I want to see my children grow up and to grow old with my husband.  I want to be there for all of the things my kids do that my own mother missed with me, I will say that there are lessons to be learned that I may never have really embraced until the word "cancer" was uttered to me.  I am a hard headed, strong willed, girl.  The Lord knows this.  The greatest personal growth in life often comes from the greatest hardships.  Cancer has been no exception and I refuse to waste it.  Don't get me wrong, I still loathe cancer, but I am not willing to not seek beauty where I am, and I am finding it everywhere.

As it turns out (and maybe it is easy for me to say as I still stand at stage 2) I look forward to my days at the cancer center.  While they do include needles, oncologists, surgeons, scans, and this time some vein mishaps, vomit, and loss of consciousness, I mean, we're talking about cancer so those things are kind of to be expected and really are at the mild end of the spectrum.  I enjoy meeting other patients, I love hearing their stories of hope, and success and wisdom.  I've met some of the most incredible people sitting in the waiting rooms of that cancer center, people I think of and pray for daily though I may never see them again this side of Heaven.

I look forward to visits with my oncologist.  He is a funny guy, he is caring and he listens to EVERY SINGLE neurotic concern I have, he laughs with me and he understand that often humor is how I cope. He makes me watch SNL skits to ease tension, he drops an f bomb here and there and tells the best stories.   I look forward to a little solitude and scrolling my phone and reading a book and if that cancer center doesn't have the most amazing ice machine...dang I love that thing.  It also doesn't hurt that there is a Starbucks within the walls of the hospital.

I had my two year scans and check ups this past friday, though my two year anniversary is next week.  All is well with my health and my soul.  I pray before each appointment for good news, but also that if the news is not what I hope that I am able to live this story well and to bring glory to God in some small way.  Melanoma is a cancer that has no cure, all we can hope for is no evidence of the disease ravaging our bodies.  It is often lying dormant only to rear it's ugly head some time down the road and while I praise God in my health right now, I pray that if that is a road I am to walk that I am able to praise Him in that as well.  I met a few beautiful souls this visit who are doing this so well, they were such an inspiration to me.

One man reminded me that while cancer is NOT necessarily seen as a gift, that it does bring gifts in kind.  He is ten years out from a stage four battle for his life and is just grateful to be here today.  He has learned not to worry about tomorrow, but to just be glad he woke up today.  He told me that after diagnosis, his wife left him and that he had some pretty low lows but for some reason, the Lord wakes him up for another day and he refuses to waste it.

Facing cancer, facing mortality is a scary thing.  It kind of takes your breath away, but if you let it, it can give you new life and new breath and a new appreciation for all things.  Cancer might be the thing that kills me.  It might also be a bus, I mean it could be a shark, it could even be the radiation from the scans that are intended to save me, the bottom line is that every single one of us is only here for a very short time.  We are given a set amount of moments, God has ordained exactly how many and we have no idea what that number is.  We are not promised a tomorrow, but if you're reading this, you have been given a today.  Love big, live big, give big.  Make the most of today, we are ALL facing mortality.  Go out and accomplish your mission, let's all make the world a better place in some way before we too disappear.

“Each of us is merely a small instrument; all of us, after accomplishing our mission, will disappear.” 
― Mother Teresa


Tuesday, November 10, 2015

Letting go hurts

"A sacrifice to be real must cost, must hurt, and must empty ourselves. Give yourself fully to God. He will use you to accomplish great things on the condition that you believe much more in his love than in your weakness." - Mother Teresa

One of the phrases foster parents hear most often is "I couldn't do it, I'd get to attached." This week has been a tough one in our home. The little girl we've loved as our own for the last year and a half has begun transitioning home to her biological family. We have kissed her boo boos, celebrated her firsts and snuggled her each night. She owns a piece of my heart. If you go into foster care guarding your heart, you're doing it wrong, because attachment is kind of the point.

Research shows that children who do not securely attach to a caregiver in the first two years of life struggle to function in normal life as an adult. Children need families. I don't for one minute believe our family is perfect, but we're loving, we're available, and we know God has called us to this. In an ideal world, a child would remain with their biological family forever, but that isn't always possible.

When parents cannot provide a secure, safe and loving environment for their children, foster parents are called to fill in those gaps. We step in, we get attached, we advocate as best we can, we cry tears of joy, sadness, grief, frustration and exhaustion, we love them as though they've grown in our womb, we hope and dream and pray for them and for their biological families and while it may hurt terribly when they leave, we hope and pray that reunification is a safe and healthy option for them. We sign up HOPING to say good bye. Healthy, positive reunification is ALWAYS the goal.

In the next month we will have to let go, I hope our love, tears, snuggles, meetings, prayers, and sleepless nights were enough. I pray that the time we've poured into her will matter in the grand scheme of things, I hope that we have given her the gift of being able to trust others, to know that she is loved, to know that God has never for one moment left her, my heart is already breaking. I am struggling with the idea of walking into her room and not seeing her giant smile light up that bright pink room. My heart sinks as I have already begun packing her things.

This baby has been in our home since June of 2014 and by Christmas her absence is sure to steal the breath from my lungs. The system is broken. I am not sure that the decisions that have been made in this case are the best, but I know that I have done EVERYTHING I can to advocate for this little girl, I have crossed every t and dotted every i. I have loved her with my whole heart and I love her biological parents. I pray for them and for their reunification to be a positive new beginning for their family.

In the end I know that we serve a God who loves this little one more than I ever could, He is sovereign and I find great peace in knowing those facts. While the system is broken, He is not. He is a loving God, and a God of second chances, His grace and mercy have carried us this far and will continue to carry us through the days to come. Tears will fall, and every one of them has been hard earned, she is worth those tears. If I had cowered away from the pain of losing her, I never would have known the joy of loving her, and she is worth it. EVERY child is worth it. So while not everyone is called to foster children, the "I'd get too attached" excuse, doesn't fly with me. Attaching is the point. There is great purpose in that pain, if you think you would get too attached, maybe you should consider fostering, because that is what these kids need.