Friday, May 11, 2012

Dream. Learn. Create. Repeat.


This was the advice at my commencement ceremony today.  Today I "graduated" junior college with my A.S. in general studies. I actually have three classes I have to take this summer before I get my degree but commencement for 2012 graduates was today.

I had dreams... I had many many dreams. My biggest dream as a young girl was to be a mommy. I wanted to be married and have a family. While some children played school, or wedding, I played being pregnant and  being a mommy. I babysat since a very young age. My biggest desire was to have a large family and be a mom. 

I also had other dreams. I dreamed of graduating college. I left my private high school during the fall of my senior year for many reasons, but I went to college that spring semester.  It was 2001. I set my first foot on the North Idaho College Campus as a student 11 years ago.

After that semester I moved to Boise met my husband fell in love and moved across the country. I planned on going back to school where we lived in South Dakota but God changed the plan. 

 I became a mommy in 2004 but it was nothing like how I had dreamed. I became extremely ill and was diagnosed with lupus during my pregnancy. This resulted in damage to my kidney's, bed-rest, a host of medications, more hospital visits than I could count, and a premature delivery at 33 weeks.  It was all worth it though... Christian is AMAZING.   I never got a chance to enjoy pregnancy and do all those fun milestones and experiences like belly pics, and breastfeeding. I was a mommy but not how I had dreamed.

The fact I developed lupus nephritis during my pregnancy meant no more babies for me. My dr. said the next time could kill us both. My heart was broken. My dream of being a mom to a home full of children was gone. I had no idea at that time what a journey God had planned for our family. How He dreamed a different dream for us.

 Over the course of the next couple years I tried to finish my degree a couple of times. I got sick a couple of those times with a lupus flare and ended up on chemotherapy. I tried school from home but again had too much going on to finish. God decided to throw us another change.

Our adoption journey started with being licensed as foster/adopt parents. We could not afford foreign adoption and wanted to grow our family. Shortly after we became licensed our first placement Chloe came to live with us at six weeks old.  Amazing, beautiful, baby girl who blesses our lives every day. With our new little one, the dream of college was tabled yet again.

We have been fostering for five years now. 13 children have lived in our home. We have adopted two. We have done respite for even more. I am a professional parent and have been mommy to house fulls of children.

I went back to school again full time this fall.  This time was different. This time I had a goal. I wanted to get my bachelors in social work. Our experience with the foster care system has changed  me forever. You see I had dreams before. But God had better dreams. I learned so much from the experiences of the last eleven years. My life looks nothing like I though it would yet I am so incredibly blessed. 

You see, I think we dream and then we learn. We learn about ourselves and our "superpowers that God has given us" (the way Christian describes gifts). We learn about God and His plan for our life and what He is going to do with our dreams. He wants us to have the desires of our hearts. It just doesn't always come in the packaging we expect. God creates for us an amazing life and story full of testimonies of His love and provision if only we are willing to let Him lead.

Repeat...  I would repeat it all...I wouldn't take back anything. If I had been able to have my dreams the way I planned,  I would not be who I am today. 11 years ago I stepped foot on that campus with dreams. Today I graduated. 

I am excited to see what God is going to do with my dreams today. I continue to dream of doing things. I am going to finish my bachelors and maybe even my masters degrees. But most of all I am anxious to learn more about the Heavenly Father I serve and leverage my superpowers for Him.  I know that He will create another beautiful amazing chapter in my family's life.

And then... it will all repeat again...

Thursday, May 10, 2012

Support for invisible disabilites...

I spent a good portion of this week talking to several adoptive families that I know about whether they would be interested in an adoptive family support group.  We have a support group in our area for foster and adoptive parents. It is an amazing group where you can meet and get training and walk through the journey of fostering and adopting within the system with people who "get it". 

But what about those families that don't foster anymore? The families whose lives have been transformed through the miracle of adoption and they are done fostering and working in the system. This group doesn't really fit their needs.

When you are a foster parent you have a million people in your life and your business. Sharing parenting with literally a village of individuals. This is a double edged sword for families. It is overwhelming and frustrating and a blessing all at once.

When we took a long break and were no longer fostering all of our kids adopted. I realized I missed those people. As much as it drove me batty. As much as I wanted to be done with all of their opinions and them telling me what to do. I missed them. I missed the support and understanding. The people who understood and validated my feelings.  I missed my community.

Re-entry back into the "real" world from being a long time foster parent is not as easy as one would think.  I struggle to know how to talk to "normal" mom's about their "normal" children.  I am constantly on alert of how my children behave around typical families.  I fear judgement.

My children have special needs. Our life could be a reality TV show. You can spend a day with us and laugh and cry and think to yourself... "did that really just happen?"  We are a full blown three ring circus of awesome sometimes. Society does not always look to kindly on a three ring circus.

My husband and I want to connect. We want support and relationship in our church.  But we are petrified to just go over to someone's house for dinner.  Our children are predictably unpredictable in the their behavior.  Is Christian gonna melt down cause he doesn't like the food and say somethings rude and burst into tears?  Is Josiah gonna hit their children and pick on the other kid causing screaming and tantrums. Is Chloe going to have and outburst of behavior or invade someones space inappropriately?   Maybe we shouldn't try to go to other peoples houses.... They are going to think we are bad parents... let's stay home... or get a sitter... wait our family supports are busy... we don't have a sitter... let's just not go.

This is why parents of children with special needs struggle with isolation and sometimes depression. This is why the divorce rate is over 80%  I wish I could find solace in my church community.   Unfortunately, frequently the Christian community is very judgmental about parenting.  I have been told that kids just need more biblical discipline. I am not opposed to spankings they have their place at times. However, I can't fix my children's behavior with spankings. I am not saying all churches and Christian's are this way but it is more common than you might think. I feel the need to explain my children's histories so that people will understand.  You can't tell my children have disabilities by looking at them. Their disabilities are "invisible" to the outside person. It just looks like they are spoiled and naughty, and that they have ineffective or lazy parents.

It is exhausting to try to explain things to everyone all the time. I just want people to think before they judge. To act in love towards my children and my family as Christ would with no reservations. To see that perhaps things are challenging for us and offer us support, help, with no strings, no judgements, no explanation needed,  no advice.

Please don't try to fix my children.  I have logged countless hours working with professionals and Google learning about how to best parent my children. Even more hours praying, crying out to God for wisdom and guidance.  Your love and logic, 123 magic or biblical discipline advice is not needed. Your love and acceptance and support is.  Your willingness to learn how to help my children, how to take care of them, so I can have a break is needed. Your listening ear and partnership in prayer when I am struggling would be salve to my heart. 

Christians need to remember... Judgements can wait. Love and acceptance cannot.  We are to be lights to the dark world. What does it say when some adoptive families find more acceptance in the darkness than the light. To me it signals a need for a change of heart and perspective.

I think we are going to start a support group for these families. The ones who need to get support from others in their shoes. But a support group is not enough. We need to do more.

The churches need to stand up, and step up, to be light and love in these families lives. No judgements, no advice, no strings. Just Christ centered love and service. 

What can you do? What can your church do? What do you think when a child is screaming about cookies in the store and his mother just keeps shopping ignoring him?  What do think about that mother? What about that kid that is socially awkward and is a little weird?  Do you tell your children to go play some where else?  What do you think about that child and their family?

Judgements my fellow Christians can wait... Love, kindness and acceptance cannot.

I just wanted to add...while this post originated around foster/adoption. This is something many families of children with invisible disabilities face biological or adopted. In our family we have been blessed with children in both ways.

Saturday, April 28, 2012

Updates, thoughts, challenges, victories...

Wow I haven't had time to write in so long. Well, at least not for pleasure. In the past year to two years since my last post our family has gone through a whirlwind of changes.

Change 1: I am a full time student. I went back to school in the fall full-time and am going to be walking in commencement ceremonies in May for North Idaho College with my A.S. in General Studies. I will then go through 8 weeks of an intimidating 8 credit summer semester to get my actual degree and graduate. I am then off to the Lewis and Clark State College Coeur d'Alene campus in the fall full-time to finish in two years my bachelors in social work.

Change 2: We have just gotten an accepted offer on a house and will be moving in hopefully the next 30 days. We have been sharing housing and expenses with my parents for almost three years now and our 5 person family has been living in 2 bedrooms and 1 bathroom with 950 ish square feet.  We are excited and also a little sad.  Multi-generational housing can be a tremendous blessing and strength.   We have been so privileged to have such amazing support in my parents and the help with everyday life will be missed.   It will also mean a huge amount of changes in our children's lives. My children like many, thrive on consistency, and hate change. Unlike other children, my babies usually have substantial reactions to even normal changes in routine. We are bracing for impact and planning for extra supports even now.

Change 3: We are all older.... Some days I feel like I am 60 years old and decrepit and other days I am still fighting the fact I am now 29 and the thirties are coming and I still feel 24ish !  However for all of us with an increase in age has come growth, maturity, and well more challenges!

       Christian: He is our little professor. I am pretty sure he might be smarter than me in a year or two. He is doing really well for the most part. We have seen him rise to the challenge of first grade this year in a way we didn't even dream of. He still has his struggles but he is reading at the top of his class and excels in academics.  The exception to that being handwriting.  He is learning to have empathy and compassion. Christian has developed a passion for God and wanting to in his own words "be what his name means... a follower of Christ"  I am in awe of how much he care about others relationships with God. It comes out in funny ways sometimes but he truly wants others to know Jesus.  I blessed and surprised by him almost daily.  He brings great joy to our lives and our life will never be boring. He still struggles with many things related to Aspergers but he is truly unique and a gift from God.

        Chloe: My baby girl.  Not any more she just turned 5 years old this month. She is a ball of emotions and energy.  She feels life in every way.  Her emotions are like a wild horse. Some days she is in control of that horse, and other days she is along for the ride. She has been doing well in many areas this last year.  We are in a bit of a rough patch with anxiety and the upcoming months will be hard for her. She struggles with change and we will need to work hard to help her feel secure and safe in the months to come. She also has lived up to her name though... Chloe has blossomed. From where she was 5 years ago an overstimulated delayed meth affected infant to a beautiful, passionate, and compassionate young girl. She is extremely bright and she loves to help and spend time with me. God truly gave us an amazing daughter. She is capable of greatness and I know with God's help we can help her exceed expectations and thrive.
        Josiah: Little man has changed the most in two years. He has gone from a stone faced, flat affect child to larger than life in every way.  He has navigated multiple surgeries, feeding tubes, hospitalizations, therapies, and more. He has made huge strides in every area but there is much more to still be done.  We are still unsure of what all of his challenges are going to be and we are concerned about the potential of FAS  Fetal Alcohol Syndrome or ARND  Alcohol Related Neurodevelopmental Disorder.  Just the thought of that being the ultimate diagnosis grieves my heart and soul. He wants to make good choices so badly but impulse control is one of his biggest challenges. He is so funny and engaging and he wants to please.  He just struggles with knowing how to do it. I see pieces of the sweetest heart in him. Some days he blows my mind with what he says and does. Other days he blows my mind but not in a good way. It is challenging for him to control his behavior and temper. We struggle to find any discipline that works right now.  My heart aches for him. I am praying that we can find someone to guide us and help us to help him succeed. We have not found that yet but we are looking.  We are looking for answers, looking for tools, looking for a way to help him.

      This is why I have decided to write again.  I believe our children and our story can help others. We do not know what the future holds for any of us. I know that God has a plan.  God does not give us more than He can help us handle.

       I feel some days that we have been given an impossible task.  To parent these babies that have been given to us is no small feat and I feel woefully inadequate most days. Today is one of those days.  My heart aches for my little J-funk. Deep in my soul I ache for him. I want to do something, anything to help him. To make it so he is not so frustrated every day. I am scared and worried and full of questions. Today I have no answers. Tomorrow will probably be the same. I may never have the answers I want. I pray that we will have the wisdom and strength that we need to do the job that God has given us.

At a conference today I learned many things. One of the things I loved was to leave the past and future alone and stay in the present.

   "My child has a disability and needs my help today to be successful. "  

Yesterday and tomorrow are not the point.

I need to do the best I can to help my child today. God has the rest covered.