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…

What it means to be a woman…

Right now, being a woman is a very trendy thing. There are all of these social media driven explosions about how we should be proud to be a girl, etc. It has happened here or there, over the years but Hillary’s campaign really began the process of bringing it to a head. Because he was running against a girl (and I’m not sure any man would have made it through the election without being painted as a horrible person because of the “Feminist” climate of our nation, honestly) there is no way Trump could have escaped without being labelled a sexist monster who hates women… Then again, it is really Trump himself who made our president-elect such an easy target. I am not going to venture into political waters because everyone else is doing it, and that’s just not my thing. I am here to talk about how this is a really great time to be a woman. You know, #proudtobeagirl and all of that stuff. And don’t get me wrong, I am.

But why now? Why is it so incredibly, mind blowingly awesome to be a girl now? Why isn’t this sort of enthusiasm consistently offered to young girls when they get their first period? Why isn’t it intensified to such a huge degree when a woman pushes a child from her body? Why isn’t being a woman, and all of the awesomeness it entails, being celebrated when the nurturing love of a mother breaks, and breaks, and breaks the heart it beats in because motherhood is painfully hard sometimes?

Feminism is about women having a voice, having rights, being worthy. The heart of feminism is something every single one of us should stand for. TRUE Feminism is not what we are seeing these days. Is it Feminist to have a say about what goes on with our bodies? Ok. I agree, no one should be able to tell a woman what she can or cannot do with her body. My biggest fear, as far as abortion laws are concerned, is that the government would have complete say in regards to whether a woman could keep her pregnancy. If we have strict abortion regulations, this will give them that power and that terrifies me. BUT why has abortion become this symbol of feminism? Why does abortion represent a subculture that is supposed to be about fairness and beauty? There is nothing fair or beautiful about it. Regardless of your perspective or stance, abortion is an ugly act. Metaphorically, let’s look at Breast Cancer. In a society where great tits are invaluable, imagine the woman who learns she has to have a mastectomy and will be left with a caved in chest in place of her greatest physical asset. After her scars have healed, she may feel a sense of beauty in her scar, but the very process to get from one point to the latter will be a hellish journey, paved with varied indescribable emotions. If a woman is diagnosed with breast cancer, should she have the right to make the decision on how to treat it? yes. It is her body. It is her body, period, and up to her to live with the consequences of her decisions…But women should not march the streets deciding that mastectomy scars, or the right to have a mastectomy if we choose, defines us as true women. Just like an abortion. I believe that a baby is a baby from the time it is conceived. I also have a family created by the system in place to remove children from heinously abusive situations. How is abortion any worse than the situations of the 428,000 foster children in the United States. If women who were not going to want or love their babies were forced to have them, what would that number be? And it isn’t just a number, these are children. Broken, beaten, molested, bandaged, damaged, tortured and fractured (sometimes beyond repair) human beings…

Abortion is not something to be celebrated. It also isn’t some deep dark secret that women should keep buried in shame. We each have a story. Those stories are defined by choices we’ve made and choices others made for us. Let’s celebrate our individual journeys as women, and build each other up regardless of differences. Abortion should not be the focus here…

Womanhood should be, In all of its glory.

Hail the women who raise up other women to not only believe in themselves, but to empower other women. Hail to the women who do NOT belittle men as less than worthy. Two wrongs do not make a right. It was never ok for men to treat women this way and it is never going to be ok for us to do this to men. True feminism means we are equal to stand beside them. NOT the same. NOT better, but deserving of equal pay, equal rights and equal opportunity.

I love being a woman. I’d much rather have a vagina over a penis. I love scented lotions, good books, my feminine handwriting, hair products, the very special sanctity that is female friendship and great lip gloss. I love that I have nurturing relationships with my daughter, that I cry in movies and that my shoe selection is much cuter than my husband’s. I don’t want to be a man. I want to be a woman and celebrate true womanhood. True womanhood has absolutely nothing to do with abortion. True feminism, the very essence of feminism, has nothing to do (NOTHING TO DO) with abortion.

Until we can focus on the real priorities and stop getting caught up in the details that distract us along the way, we can expect for things in this country to continue to fall apart. It doesn’t matter who our president is, if we can’t get it together and stand as a diverse community who truly loves and accepts EVERYONE, we are lost. (and by everyone, I do not mean simply the homosexual and transgendered communities, but the Christian Pro-lifers too.)

Beneath the view…

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Beneath this multi color sky rests a village.

Villagers close their days, in many ways. Some are laying the tableware down, while the stew is simmering. Others slap turkey and thinly sliced swiss between two slices of rough cut baguette. There are homes with shingle tile roofs, where beneath them families interact little, instead losing their best selves into their screens. Some homes have single-paned windows, no television and their dinner of lentils and tofu will be followed by board game and laughter.

One or two of these homes likely have pictures of Jesus on the wall, angry hearts seated in plaid patterned recliners, bottles of cheap bourbon stashed about the room indiscreetly.

Across town perhaps a father is sincerely praying a prayer of gratitude for the meager meal his family is about to dine on. In another home a mother is crying while her pork chops burn on the stove because her four-year old drew all over the newly painted dining room with sharpie, and she’s tired.

Beneath many of these roofs there are tired and weary souls. Tired from working, tired from living. Tired from living to work, lack of connection, poor nutrition, fitful rest, marital discord, and so on. Tired never ends…

One woman, down there, in one home hiding behind one porch light miscarried a baby today. Behind another, a spouse hides the secret of an affair. One home holds an empty bed because their teenage son ran away, choosing addiction over the tough love of a mother and father.

A fraction of the homes have held cancer, loss, bankruptcy and enraged anger.

Beneath the view, an artistic photograph with which one took pride and many admired, there is life. Life is ugly and lonely, life is messy and hard.

Though much is speculated about these nameless, faceless people below, a few things are certain…

There are hurting, aching and broken people down there, hiding behind their front doors. Neighbors don’t know. Many neighbors do not want to know. The Villagers are consumed with their own empty, lonely aches.

No one grabs the hand of the stranger next to them, no one says “We’ve got this, you and I. You are not alone.”

Wednesday morning the sun rose, and people felt crippled with fear. Not just these villagers, but most of us. Our financial system took a hit and the optimistic ones placed their hopes in a man who isn’t ready to be our everything. No man is. Until we take the faceless and broken and learn their names, learn their stories, and decide to set our aching down to help them carry theirs, we will continue to fall downward.

Today let’s go love someone. Let’s call a friend whom we know is hurting, and let’s not ask if you need anything, let me know. No, let us say “I am bringing you a well needed chocolate bar that I am instructing you not to share with a single soul!” And then do it. And when we see them, hug them with as much sincerity as our arms can contain, and let them know by our gestures that We’ve got this, together, and they are not alone.

Shame, fear and hatred bread in the dark. Let’s be the light, and shine and shine and shine, until there isn’t a square inch left untouched. Let’s make America great, finally...

Sea glass…

photo-1433162653888-a571db5ccccfI have something that has been weighing heavy in my thoughts, which I fully intended to write about this morning. After the unfolding of this weekend though, I find myself unable to go there quite yet… It isn’t that it was a bad weekend. It was a full weekend. A busy weekend. A surprising weekend.

My beautiful seventeen year old began her weekend single, with not only no prospects, but learning to accept herself in that place. Said seventeen year old ended her weekend snuggling on my couch with her boyfriend, whom she met 2 days before in totally cute and bookish/classic movie sort of way. I will not share the story here as it is not mine to share. The part I want to talk about is related, but more so mine.

Friday was kind of a huge day for that part of me which connects my brain and my heart. I’m sure you know the part in which I speak of… Gen and I, (in case you’re new here, I’ll take a second to point out that Gen is, in fact, said seventeen year old.) went to see the Hillsong movie on Friday afternoon. (on the chance that you are not new here, I know that this part in my chain of events will be of no surprise to you.) (sidenote: it’s incredible and you really should go see it.) There were a few things mentioned in the film which really stuck in my brain. The longer those things stayed planted in my thoughts, the more they grew and the more I simply felt WOWED by life, by divine intervention, by…

One of these thoughts was a reassurance that things are not up to us and we can’t control them. To degrees we can, sure. But there are so many things that we can’t, bigger things… Sometimes really beautiful things, like the unexpected pregnancies during the difficult and tumultuous times. Though this is not a place which I have lived in, I have seen this very thing play out in the lives of my sister, my older daughter and many, many friends. It is the sea of big scary unknowns whose waves crash into something amazingly beautiful and life affirming. These out-of-our-hands miracles which we may not have wanted, expected or believed we needed are the bits of life which reflect the brightest.

A darker reality of this same idea comes in the form of child abuse. Child abuse of any nature is unacceptable and never justifiable. Anyone who has been present in our world knows, however, that it is an epidemic reality. Child abuse victims, as they grow, become one of two people. Have you ever really noticed this? Having worked in the industry of broken children (which is, sadly, an industry here in America) for the better part of a decade and a half, I saw it unfold and cycle over and over again. Option one is the bitter, self-centered eternal victim who will always wear the blue-colored glasses aiding them to see themselves as the one wronged eternally. By friends, family, lovers, cable men, creditors, land lords, employers, their own children, etc. We all know these people, the ones with the lifetime of themes of being wronged somehow. The ones who talk on and on about it. Psychologically speaking, this is a pretty interesting way to live. Though we often get frustrated with these sorts, and due to that, they may wind up alone- they are not entirely wrong. Often they either keep themselves so down that they attract users and manipulators. In the times when they haven’t, however, I personally believe they are simply stuck in a rut. Whenever their childhood wounds happened, no one likely advocated for them. Isn’t that all they are doing those 10/20/30 years later- advocating for themselves, in their own minds anyway? The second option, however, comes less naturally. It is the option of bettering yourself, and going on to impact the world for the better, in some way, because your childhood wounds made you stronger. The two options truly are choices… And though the first part is beyond our control (and I do not believe EVER destined to happen) we can decide how we handle it, and who we choose to become.

Both my husband and I were at that crossroads, in our youth. We had to decide which route to take and upon our early days of meeting and getting to know one another, we both spoke the words aloud about how we wanted to provide a home to kids who needed it because that had been done for us. Over the 23 years which have followed, we have been foster parents, been a shelter home, housed teenage runaways, and become the parents of three of the most awesome, not-from-our-womb kids we could have imagined. Our home has also been the temporary home of quite a few young adults who became a part of our little rag-tag family. There is no way we ever could have orchestrated any of that, but we would not change a thing. The absolute ugly of our young lives was turned into the most amazing things in our grown ones. The stormy waves crash, again and again, making something beautiful. It is like the origin of sea glass, or the unearthing of shipwrecked treasures…

Sometimes we simply go to work a little lonely, on a friday night and then wrap up the weekend holding hands with a cute boy on the couch whose path yours likely crossed with many, many times before…

Originally…

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The separation between Chw and I found me really transparent as I journeyed through that season. It is a time, in my life, that I will always be scarred by and forever altered. It’s ironic because we have been divorced before, but that time period was a cake walk compared to the heart-carnage of those seven months. Even now, there are days when I awake and am confronted with every single one of my worst nightmares become reality. On those days it takes everything in my power to get out of bed and function. I truly am but a shell of someone else…

A few days ago Gen and I were talking about love & marriage… She is fascinated by the fact that I knew I would marry her dad the second I met him, and then, decades later my older daughter met her now-husband and had the same certainty. Trying to explain to a dramatically romantic 17-year-old that this wasn’t something we dreamed up and willed to happen, is difficult. In both cases, mine and my daughter, I’m pretty sure weren’t fixating on anything, but instead just filled with a knowledge that this person was the one we’d marry.

In all honesty, it’s that very fact which made both my divorce and this separation hard to swallow. It’s an interesting story, to my daughter (and to me too) so I thought I’d share it with you…

When I was barely fifteen, I had a pretty traumatic break-up. It wasn’t that this boy was the love of my life as much as the fact that a relationship so intimate should not have occurred in the first place. I was young, I was damaged and this only served to wound me more. It was after the recovery began that I sat down and made a list. I simply prayed that God would show me the best features for my husband, because at that point I was beyond terrified of loving anyone else, for fear of the hurt…

My list included a lot of things that I found attractive or appealing. It also had a few things that I couldn’t quite explain, regarding their existence on my list. Time passed and I began dating someone whom inhabited very few of the things on my list, but I cared so deeply for him that I didn’t care. Looking back with this sort of adult reflection I realize this person was actually my first love. The first heartbreak had hurt, but it wasn’t about love as much as lust, codependency and an unhealthy need for someone to want me. This other relationship was love. It was that quintessential coming of age sort of experience that formed a vital part of me. The heartbreak eight months later was searing but bearable because I’d grown up some. I understood more. Also, my heart was being ripped to shreds in other ways so that goodbye took a back burner to life.

It was roughly two and a half months after that bus-station goodbye kiss that I found myself flooded with the knowledge that I was going to go to college in a few short weeks, where I would meet my husband. I was seventeen. Believe me when I say that, at my now 40 years of age (and the mother of a 17-year-old) this whole truth makes me a little nauseous. Also, the fact that I was not secretive about this sudden assurance and that every adult in my life responded with “that’s great!” really blows my mind…

During freshman orientation I scanned the new arrivals and sank upon the realization that my husband was not in the room. I just knew the second I saw him, that I would know. I already knew the majority of the upper class-men and knew he was none of them, so I volunteered to work the retreat weekend instead of camping with my school. What was the point of going if my husband wasn’t going to be there and I could earn a few bucks back in town.

I KNOW… I shake my head, as a parent, whenever this topic comes up.

So, Tuesday (post labor day camping as a college) I’m sitting with a friend in a chapel assembly. The speaker encouraged us to “mingle” with people around us, and that’s when this guy sitting directly in front of me turns around and smiles, says hi, compliments my necklace, says hi to my friend (as if they know each other!) and then goes back to his front facing seat. It all happened so fast that it took me a few seconds to comprehend the odd certainty rushing through me. That boy was my husband. I quickly ask my friend and she shares that they got to know each other AT THE RETREAT… I mean, what the heck?

After chapel I tap him on the shoulder, introduce myself and ask him why he missed orientation. He answers about being a late arrival and then tells me his name.

Let me take this moment to share a few fun facts leading up to this introduction…

  • his foreign exchange student BFF had played baseball at the group home I lived in, AND I had talked to him.
  • his girl BFF is someone I had met at camp and saw at all of the youth events where our youth groups both attended. We were cordial, but mostly I was pretty enamored by her because she was beautiful and friendly and I was a sheltered group home kid who didn’t see a lot of either. In fact at one event, at her church, I remember telling my own BFF “I bet her and I are roommates one day!”
  • his ex-girlfriend was a couple of years ahead of me at the same college. her roommate, freshman year, was my very good friend. When I would sleep over, the ex-gf would go home and I would sleep in her bed, where the wall was plastered with pictures of her “ex that she still loved.” My husband…
  • And this is Gen’s favorite detail: that spring we went to the same concert, and were in the SAME section.

Ok. So I get his name and immediately ask if he knows my recent ex, because they share the same last name. He didn’t, but it turns out that the majority of his paternal family (whom he had only recently met) lived in the same area my ex was from.

It was an instant friendship. (fun fact: His roommate ended up dating my roommate and they also married and are some of our dearest friends.) We palled around and did everything together. It wasn’t long into our friendship before I told him we were going to get married. This is where I have to point out a few things:

  • I wasn’t attracted to him. I don’t know why, he is attractive. I wasn’t attracted to anyone.
  • he was unlike anyone I had ever dated or been interested in.
  • he could be really annoying.
  • our sense of humors fell short of meeting in the middle, most of the time.
  • we only had one thing in common, life/future vision wise: we both wanted to be a stable home and love for kids who needed that.
  • he loved hip hop dancing and rap music, the two things I detested.
  • he hated to read. (though not on my list, I had spent so much time reading with my ex that I believed my marriage would involve books significantly.)
  • he did not enjoy debates, or deep discussions at all- something that I thrived on.
  • He didn’t really have a family. I didn’t either and so I really ached for one.
  • my long forgotten list was found 7 days after we met, and as time proved- he embodied every single attribute.

Though I didn’t, at first, understand why it was him, it didn’t take long for me to be so grateful it was. This girl who had been waiting for a family and completion eventually let the guard down and found it in him.

I don’t know why I knew, or how. I just know that there were dozens upon dozens of things, in those early days, that only confirmed it. And that vision we agreed on, that became our family. For twenty-three years we’ve been a home to many who needed one, but the best of these were our three kids.

(fun fact #2: His female BFF and I did end up living together for a short period of time. We never really became friends, though for a while I thought we had, but how I’d known that would happen I never quite knew.)