adoption, beautiful, birthday, confession, family, gifts, gratitude, holiday, infertility, journey, marriage, parenting

17/14 vision…

Seventeen years ago, three very fragile and amazingly resilient children asked me to be their mother. Being a lover of birthdays, I remember this clearly, in that mildew scented cafeteria, because it was my grandmother’s birthday. I am also, I’ll admit, a sucker for symbolism. After seven miscarriages and a failed adoption, wasn’t the very fact that it was ON my grandmother’s birthday exact proof that this was a good sign?

I know, I know. At 24, I should have been much wiser than that. The thing was, however, I loved those kids incredibly. I had not taken the job in that group home in an effort to shop for children. (A phrase my older daughter, at least, will find bitter twinged amusement in.) I had accepted the position because I needed to stand on my own and because I loved kids and was really great at my job.

I had developed various sorts of close relationships with various kids who were growing up there. Some souls simply click, but with these three it was different. The first confirmation, of the miraculous element, for me had been when I developed special relationships and felt drawn to each of them before I was really aware that they were actual siblings. The three were not particularly close to each other, and in settings like that you often have kids refer to other kids as siblings, when they aren’t. When I learned, a couple of weeks in to my tenure, that they were biological siblings I realized that pull had made divine sense.

I had not been expecting the request, when they came together to ask it of me. I was, at 24, far too immature to understand the gravity of how difficult that must have been for them, considering their journey thus far, in life. My co-worker was sitting with me and she squealed a little and remarked “this is perfect! You and those three are a beautiful combination and seeing you all together makes life make sense!”

That journey towards them was not an easy one. There was much standing in the way and honestly, at 24, if I had known exactly what the heart fight would look like, I might have run away screaming. Thank God, I didn’t. I was witness to very abusive manipulations, over the years, and a control battle over those precious spirits, that still (in recollection) makes my skin crawl. Though our journey as a family has not been at all how I would have designed it, the outcome is a familial connection that I would not trade for the world. The journey was long, and eventually one of the three found parents who were closer and a better fit. I always understood, and grieved, and in the end came to peace with the fact that I love her just the same, no matter what…

~~~

Fourteen years ago, I was approached to be the mother of a broken little four-year old girl. It was a decision that we made within a few hours, even though I found myself weather worn from my other mother-journal-struggle. (which at this point, was still going strong) My fear was that we would grow to love this tender little child and then lose her, down the road. The once-again-symbolism of my grandmother’s birthday being near, and what the journey with those three beautiful kids had been like, were not lost on me.

You see, the feared possibility was not completely unfounded. We had been the soon-to-be adoptive parents of twin girls, once upon a time. Our ten months with them were that sort of chapter where every day felt a little like this is what my soul has been waiting for, finally I am complete. Then, due to a technicality regarding a gun, an arrest method and a court loophole, they were returned to the stranger that was their mother, leaving my arms empty and my heart officially shattered…

Two days after being asked, we drove out to pick up our daughter. It was a sunny September Sunday afternoon, and I had made sure to call my grandmother, on the way over, to wish her a happy birthday. The sunshine easily acted like a promise that this time, this time motherhood might not hurt as bad, and may not end with empty arms. This little girl was a gift, but she was also a daily reminder that there were no guarantees. For a very long time I walked the tightrope of guarding my heart and that same heart diving headfirst into the sea of her child-spirit. Tens upon tens of thousands of dollars later, (and sadly a nine-year court battle which always seemed to play out more uphill than down, until we one day found it over) she was legally ours. Throughout this time, there were sadly moments when this growing girl would be used, as a pawn, to hurt our older kids. It was a sick and a meant-for-tragedy thing, and miraculously it never worked. Seeds meant to sow resentment, simply sowed love.

~~~

My beautiful, (now in heaven) grandmother’s birthday has born to me, motherhood. She was such a strong woman who held a family together in ways which I could never replicate, all the while her birthday knit together another branch of her own. My motherhood journey has been anything but traditional. Just the same, I am the mom to some of the most extraordinary humans I have ever known.

For the first time since that timid little seventeen year old request for my motherhood was asked, I am spending this day alone. In the past I have either been with my husband, visiting my kids, becoming a mom again, just with one kid, two kids, or the best of times- all three. One year we were recovering from the wedding, the day before, of my older daughter. One year we went to the Lion King on Broadway, on other we sat around eating chocolate fondue and making silly home movies for my husband because he couldn’t be with us. Somehow the day has always been special, playing out as its own sort of character within our family and lives. (fun bonus fact, my son married a beautiful girl, whom I adore, whose birthday is the day AFTER this little anniversary of ours. Attraction truly is a spiritual thing.)

This year my husband is 8,000 miles and 16 hours away. My son is in the far corners of the country doing his part to keep our nation safe. My older daughter on her own motherhood journey, waking from ringing in her own anniversary- marriage. My younger daughter, the sweet little four-year old of fourteen years ago, is on a dark and prodigal journey that this mmama heart of mine hopes will not last forever, but worries about the consequential scarring that may happen along the way. My family is a lesson to me that fighting for those whom your soul loves, is primal at best and always vital. The journey will never be scripted the way that your heart hopes, but the outcome of love will always be worth it- even when things don’t go your way.

Happy birthday, Grandma…

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adoption, confession, family, journey, parenting

a PSA…

Our youngest came to live with us when she was four and a half years old. Many of you know that story, about how our little family unit came to be. She’d had a rough go of it, for those first four years. Within the first few days that she lived with us, we took her over to a friend’s house. We were very close with these friends and wanted to share Gen with them, and vice-versa. We weren’t there but half an hour, or so. As we were pulling out, my friend called my cell to tell me she’d seen Gen with an orange golf ball in her pocket. “I’m pretty sure she stole it from my husband’s set, but honestly I don’t know how or when. Just a heads up, you might have a little stealer on your hands.”

She had not come to my friend’s in possession of a golf ball. We waited til we were home to gently broach the topic. Gen was adamant that it was her golf ball, she’d gotten it as a present when she was two from so & so. The story came so honestly, so naturally that had we not be the ones to sort through the very few belongings she’d come with, we might have believed her.

When she was little, she stole a lot. She stole everything from gum, to candy, to food, to stickers, to socks, to receipts. If she wanted it, she believed she deserved to have it. If she was confronted, a lie so believable flowed from her lips and when consequences came, she was so broken that we didn’t believe her and she wasn’t a thief.

The longer this went on, the more defeating it became. All of the well-meaning people who were reassuring us this was kid’s stuff and she’d grow out of it, stopped saying much of anything. We taught and taught and taught her through various degrees, that stealing was WRONG, that lying was WRONG. We were doing everything right, in that regard. She honestly just never cared if it was right or wrong, or if anyone got hurt.

My point here is sometimes things happen. Kids become adults who make their own choices. Sometimes, like with that little girl, they will blame whoever they please, anything to not own the responsibility. But please, when this happens to someone you know, don’t blame the parents for the child/adult child’s choices. Their journey may have been wrought with hell, and defeat and hopelessness may be the hats they wear more than any other. A little love can go a long way…

adoption, beautiful, chronic illness, confession, entertainment, family, fibro, food, friendship, gratitude, home, infertility, journey, Lately, marriage, parties

Consider it an invitation…

I love Jesus.

I am pretty ok with that, and I hope that you are too. If you aren’t, just know I am ok with that too. My loving Jesus isn’t about you at all, it is about me. It’s about my heart, my life, my choices, my journey, and a lot of other large and small things which add up to equal my faith.

I cautiously consider myself a Christian. I say cautiously because, honestly, at least in America (and some perceptions of American Christianity) the name has gained a bit of a rough reputation.

My pastor spent Sunday morning talking about Detroit. This looked a little like a history lesson. It involved political bits, heart bits, hard truths and a bunch of other uncomfortable and completely relevant things which together equalled a pretty amazing talk. He challenged us to be honest with ourselves about the walls we build. Initially the topic came up because Detroit was once known to have a dividing wall. I guess pieces of this wall still exist. This wall was raised to literally divide the African-Americans and the Whites. Though the wall isn’t technically much of a thing anymore, Detroit is still ranked as the most segregated city in America. I live in the metro part of this amazing city and I have to say this announcement shocked me. Our church alone, (granted, it’s a pretty huge church) likely has multiple people from most nations, in attendance. Our neighborhood actually has a dozen flag poles sporting flags from 12 different nations because we are such a diverse little community. Then again, this is the metro area, and not Detroit itself.

He illustrated his point by having several people from different countries approach the front of the church. They looked at each other, chatted some, laughed a little and then affirmed “there are no more walls between us.” I’ll admit it- it was emotional and I totally teared up. After this, he had fans of rivaling college teams do the same thing. It was funny and laughs were had, but when he sobered and asked us what walls we put up, I was challenged. I am pretty accepting. I don’t shy away from anyone really. I love meeting people and things that are different don’t scare me. Since that service, I’ve thought a lot about this. There are off-putting things, about me, which likely cause others to put up a wall between us. Despite losing 130 lbs, I am still overweight. I have a lazy eye. I was separated from my husband for 6 months (an issue that many fellow Christians we know can’t seem to get past.) in fact, here is a list of things which have caused people I’ve known to distance themselves from me…

I voted for Hillary.

I have a diverse taste of music.

I don’t support people who discriminate against ANYONE and using their religion as an excuse.

I worked as a film critic for years.

I drink.

As a photographer I have done many boudoir sessions.

I am an adoptive parent.

I struggled with infertility.

I am pro-choice and hate abortion.

I was sexually abused.

I hate porn and believe it decomposes a person’s ability to have healthy self image/relationships/etc.

I am a feminist.

I believe in marriage.

I support equality.

I do not believe men and women are equal. I am different from my husband and my brother. I am not better, but different. I don’t want to be like them.

I do believe men and women should have equal rights, DO HAVE equal worth and value.

I love Jesus.

I will never “shove Jesus down your throat” or preach at you.

I am a person and so each of these things make up a piece of my story… Each of these things has a story and reason for it’s position in my life.

I will not bother/hurt/offend me if your stories are different and your beliefs do not match mine.

 

If you know me, you know that I am a party planner. Best of all are dinner parties. LOVE THEM. Upon moving back to Michigan in 2013, my party opportunities are limited, and this makes me a little sad. After that sermon though, I got to imagining a dinner party. What if we had a lovely homosexual couple over for dinner. What if, in addition to them, we had an African-American couple, a middle eastern couple and a few other diverse additions? Other than the likely fact that we would have some really interesting and unpredictable conversation, what would we have?

A dinner party.

That is literally it. It would not be an experiment. It would not be a meeting. It would not be anything other than a group of people getting together to share a meal and converse. Obviously we would all have SOMETHING in common, or the dinner party wouldn’t exist in the first place. (hence the interesting and unpredictable conversation)

I really wish this dinner party were happening. Do you know why? Because I am seriously lonely and want to host a lovely little dinner party. (That’s the only reason actually. Maybe you should come for dinner…)

When it comes to a different race, or a different class, or a different religion, I am unruffled. None of these things will hinder me from approaching someone, or befriending them, or responding to them if they approach me. The one thing that may honestly hinder me is the fact that I am a total introvert and often have much better intentions than follow through, and I get a little insecure. While I want to approach someone, those things I first mentioned (overweight, lazy eye, etc.) become the wall I throw up to save my ass from someone else’s rejection.

Recently I had the opportunity to get to know a small group of women. One of the women I shallowly pegged immediately as a little stuck up and clearly she had it all together. She was thin and honestly, gorgeous. As time progressed though, it became surprisingly obvious that this beautiful woman and I had far more in common that anyone else in the group. Ironically the fat girl with the lazy eye and the drop dead gorgeous and in shape woman became friends. Is that how she saw me? I don’t know. It doesn’t matter. I threw up a wall with my initial assessment, and what I assumed would be hers… Thankfully that wall became a gate and now it is gone completely. My point is, when pastor Bob challenged us to find our walls and why we build them, this friend instantly popped in my head. I could have missed out on so much because I jumped to conclusions. I don’t do that as a habit, but I don’t want to do it ever. I want to be better, with others and with myself.

I want to have dinner party after dinner party where my table is filled with people who contribute to great conversation, people who enjoy food and maybe an occasional game or glass of wine. Beyond that, while I don’t want to be blind to their differences, I do want to understand and appreciate them for the unique people they are. (whoever they will be)

 

 

adoption, beautiful, entertainment, family, friendship, gratitude, journey, marriage, parenting

what makes a hero?

Recently I entered into a facebook dialogue about fathers. Specifically the sort of father who isn’t much of an active father at all, rejecting and abandoning their children. What made me truly sad, within the context of this discussion, was the number of people who share that very story. I know that this idea is not exclusive to fathers, but it does seem pretty common all the same.

Some time ago I read a letter my daughter meant for another. Within it she talked a lot of negative untruth about me, but the part that really pushed my emotion over the edge was her writing about her dad, my husband. She spoke about her dad abandoning her and how she had all of these daddy issues because her dad had neglected and rejected her throughout her life. The reasons she was going into such fictitious detail, in page after page was actually to deflect her own responsibilities from decisions she’d made, but that isn’t the point. The point is that this child has grown up being tucked in and prayed with, by her dad, every night that he was not away on business. She has lived through hundreds, if not thousands of movie nights snuggled into her dad’s embrace. She has maintained the second part of inside jokes and daddy/daughter dates, coloring, puzzles, projects, games, shopping, road trips, piggy back rides, video games, bedtime stories, amusement parks, etc. He has never not been present for a birthday, and Thanksgiving or a Christmas. Her dad is 100% all in…

When we think of heroes, we imagine brave individuals, swooping in to save lives, villages or entire planets. These are the things which books and movies are made of. This has, perhaps distorted our view of heroism. Men who stay home and own their responsibility- is this not courageous? My hero is my dad. My dad met me when I was twelve and placed in the house which he and his wife were foster parents. He was not my father (whom I had never met) nor the first person I called dad. I did not like or trust men (thanks, first person I called dad) and so it was an awkward and tough process. Dad can be a title, but it is intended to be so much more. Over the following decades of my life, this man would teach me so much about myself, accepting others, empathy,  and unconditional love. He would meet and embrace my boyfriend/eventual husband in the very way a father should. He would give me a pet name, be at my wedding, repair things in my life that needed fixed, lead Thanksgiving dinner grace in my marriage home, be the only person by my side during an emergency hysterectomy and be such a rock for me as I navigated adulthood through various difficult stages. This man is not my hero because he became my dad, but because I was not alone here. This man has a large number of children who knew him as dad, whose lives he helped shape. Whose lives (in my case, and a few others I know, anyway) he saved in various ways of meaning. When I think of a brave man, I think of him. Some of the kids he sheltered had dads, but many didn’t, and this man bravely stepped in to do what others either could not, or did not. I look at him and I know, without a doubt, this world is a far better place because of him and how he’s chosen to live his life.

The question I was challenged to write about was someone heroic that I admire, who embodied sacrifice and courage. I know a hundred soldiers, all of whom I admire immensely (my son tops the list) and I did not want to deflect from their sacrifice and heroism. On my heart though, were the dads. The men, like my husband and my dad, who love beyond themselves and open up their hearts to parent the unparented and abandoned as if they were their own, signing on for the whole of their lives… I was asked to choose someone I would stand up for. Regarding these two men- (and, my son. :) ) in a heartbeat, time and time again…

Partnering with the release of the up and coming film The Promise, starring Christian Bale, (you can watch the trailer here) I would like to offer a small giveaway. The promise is a story of sacrifice and love. It is about two heroes, one who stands up for truth and injustice and the other who is willing to pay the ultimate cost for what is right.  I would like to give a $25 Fandango gift card to one winner. To enter for a chance to win, please leave a comment on here, or our facebook page, talking about your own hero- and why. (if you share this on twitter, please leave a link in the comments for an extra chance to win.)

adoption, beautiful, birthday, confession, family, food, gratitude, infertility, journey

A family journey…

emmxokmbsik-emma-dauI have been thinking a lot about family lately. My birth family, who i lived with until I was 12, I was the youngest, my grandmother was the woman who loved others through baking, cooking and making for them. My mother was crippled with mental illness and depression and so the most stable parent in my home was only there part time and pretty abusive, but that’s an entirely different story.

The dynamics were skewed but it’s what I knew. “family time” with my mom looked like my mother in front of the TV, smoking and moody. I could watch the westerns or old movies she watched, or I could go play in my room alone. When my step dad was around, “family time” included movie nights, (often inappropriate, but still it was something) and games. My mom really went on and on about how she hated games, but I loved those game nights the most. They were rare. Dinner when he was around was always large meals like Tbones, baked potatoes, corn on the cob and the perfect iced tea. When he wasn’t around I had frozen dinners, half-cooked, nearly thrown and me and verbal abuse about how I would eat it, not gag and not complain. There was also the months long period of time when I only ever was allowed to eat bologna sandwiches.

There was no talking, not really. No parental guidance, or heart to hearts. There were lots of rants, lots of two-faced confessions and a lot of verbal abuse. There was not a “how was school?” or “what are you interested in these days?” Birthday plans, from my mom, typically consisted of plans she made to mess with me the most. The one that sticks out the most is the year she went on and on about how she was going to do something so special and amazing for my birthday, IF I DESERVED it. When the week of my birthday came, I asked her if I’d been good enough and she told me she’d never said she was doing anything for my birthday and I didn’t deserve to even be told Happy Birthday. I was turning 10. The morning of my birthday my mother was especially mean. I walked to my grandmother’s for lunch and tried talking to her about it but she just kept saying “well, you know how your mother is. Just try to enjoy your day.” When she took me home I walked in to a surprise party and my mom crying happily because she had “pulled it off”. I just remember feeling so confused. To this day, 30 years later I still remember that lost and worthless feeling echoing What is going on???, throughout my head.

My larger family consisted of an aunt, uncle, cousins, grandparents, etc. Pretty normal. We did family holiday dinners, when my mom allowed me to participate. It was always fun and there was good food, lots of laughter, games played and I loved them. There still wasn’t talking really. It was, at least when I was around, pretty light-hearted and fun. Well, that’s not entirely true. There were often yelling matches when my mother was in a mood, which soured everything.

At 12 I went to live in a foster family filled to the brim with two biological children and 8 fosters. Family time looked like everyone piled around watching movies and drinking soda and eating homemade popcorn. On Sunday’s, after church, we sat at the table lingering after lunch and telling jokes. We baked and cooked together. Things like parental talks and advice, honest criticism, encouragement, etc were something I balked at because, lets face it, they were a foreign language to me.

I changed foster families once, about a year and a half later. There were similarities but a lot more tension and “joking around” which could have been borderline bullying…

Fast forward to a dinner when Gen was about 9. My son sat at the table and said something very sexually crude, to which my older daughter laughed and said something to follow-up. Chw and I looked at each other and realized that we were standing on a parental precipice. We decided then and there that our home would be the home were things could be talked about, and over the years they have been. If questions were asked, we answered them honestly, without candy coating anything. There were moments when he or I would question if we were doing the right thing, allowing such candidness, but with our youngest heading to college in a few months, we know we did it right.

Family time, in our family, does not happen enough. (That’s the way with older kids I guess.) When it does though, it looks like movie nights with homemade popcorn, or game nights, or family dates to dinner, etc. It looks like walks and bike rides or light hiking. Sometimes there is teenage attitude which puts a damper on it, but most of the time there is laughter, conversations ranging from politics to religion, sex to relationships, etc. There are always movie quotes and references to other times together, littered throughout.

I am not a perfect mother, thankfully I have never strived for perfection. I haven’t ever really worried about if my kids like me or not, but more on loving my kids where they are. Parenthood for anyone is speckled with disappointments and triumphs, adoptive parenting is no different. The journey is hard and our family has a lot of evidence of my shortcomings, but that is ok. This weekend everyone (but my son) was together. As open and honest conversation (about pretty much every possible thing, including an in-depth discussion on poop), laughter (sometimes at someone else’s expense, in a loving way) and at one point we just looked around and thought, this… Of all the dynamics I have known, ours is the one I love the most. It may not be your style, or her style, or that guys over there, but it IS ours. This is us, and I love us…