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Saturday, December 29, 2012

Bumps in the Road

Has it really been two months since I posted anything? Geez, there is no excuse for that. Although I doubt that all twenty-two of my readers are biting their nails in anticipation, I guess two months is a long pause in the middle of all this excitement. And a long pause is really what it has felt like for us too- we at the Line house have just been in a "holding pattern," because right after my last post, there was an appeal. We expected it, we were told to prepare for it, but it was discouraging nonetheless. So we waited thirty long days to hear that the appeal had been denied. Sweet relief! Six days later, we got another call - there was a second appeal by another party. I won't go into boring details, because I myself (a family law nerd) got really burned out around November. There was paperwork slowly moving around in different offices and courtrooms, there was this achingly, tormentingly grinding slow desperately obnoxious clock ticking in my mind - tick - tick -tick - tick. It's even worse than that BIOLOGICAL clock that all women have but some deny it. I was still hoping and praying that this adoption would happen before the end of 2012. In my mind, adopting C, C and E would be the PERFECT Christmas present. My mom described it this way in an email: "I feel like we've all been holding our breath for the past six weeks." So when the call came announcing the second appeal, I cried. I cried hot, angry tears and told our caseworker, "Well, I'm just pissed." She tried to comfort me, and tried to help me see that this was just another bump in the road. In fact, she used the term "bump in the road." I was not excited about her metaphor. I was ready for an adoption hearing in superior court, not another bump in the road to permanency.
Around this time, Big C started seeing a new therapist. I don't blog daily for a reason, and this child is the reason. I've been a short-term or long-term mother to twenty nine kids and this one is the toughest. He wears me down. He exhausts me. Oh, he has many, many wonderful qualities - but he also has some personality "quirks" that are other-worldly. In fact, if Scully or Mulder was to ring my doorbell one morning to announce that this child is from another universe, I would not be shocked. And although this child has zero problems at school and on the basketball court, he is hard to treat in therapy. Or so it seems. Anyhow, we had to transition to a new therapist and I was pretty excited - hopeful that the new one would be our magic answer! She would be the key to unlocking that tied-up heart and resolving these lingering issues with authority, respect, honesty, and love! I know (now) how silly that sounds, but I have made great strides myself with good counselors, so I always have a lot of hope when working with a new provider for one of my children. The first appointment came and I picked up the little stinker from school where he greeted me in the front office with a glare and said "Mommy! I thought you said you would pick me up BEFORE P.E! YOU LIED!" Lovely to see you too, son, I thought as I ushered him out of the office while explaining that I had miscalculated the time it would take to get to the appointment. We drove to Cleveland and found the office with no trouble, signed in and looked through some Bible story books while waiting to see our new hero. When it was time for his appointment, the therapist led us back to a small cozy office with a two love seats, a small desk and a shelf full of toys. Big C picked up a small ball and began throwing it at my head. I quickly told him that he was not to throw the ball at people, and the therapist offered a few rules about her play area. "You may roll the ball," she told him, "But you cannot throw it." It should come as no surprise that the ball was soon confiscated and Big C sat in the floor surrounded by trucks and dinosaurs, pouting about the injustice of losing that Spongebob ball. She explained that each week she would spend a few minutes catching up with me about his progress, and would then spend the rest of the hour talking with him and building trust. I knew she would also ask me what I hoped we would accomplish through therapy - my goals for treatment. I knew it wouldn't sound good to say "I hope you can make him a little nicer, a little more normal," So I listed some of the main issues we have been dealing with at home. "It's odd . . ." I told her, "He seems like he likes me, seems to be trusting me, but then he does something so rude, or cruel, or so mean. I gave her this scenario to better explain what I was trying to say: At bedtime, I try to spend about 20 minutes with the little ones in their bedroom. We sing about five songs in the rocker, we talk and laugh, and then I put them in their beds and sing "Jesus loves me," before leaving the room. Then I go across the hall to Big C's room. We read two stories, laugh and snuggle, tell jokes, etc. and then he always asks me to scratch his back. I scratch his back and sing one little silly song that he loves. We always laugh. And sometimes, that's it, I tell him good night and that I love him, and I walk out the door. But most of the time, it doesn't end that peacefully. I finish scratching his back and he asks for a longer back scratch. I scratch his back a little longer, then I persist that I must leave -it's bedtime! I turn to leave and then comes to mysterious part. Under his breath, he mutters "butt head," or "Stupid" or worse . . . as I am walking away. A couple of times, he has not only muttered an ugly name, but he has thrown an object at me, or just as I am closing the door he screams "Mommy! I hate you!" This is hard for me. It makes me feel like the entire 20-30 minutes we just spent together was a waste. One night, I taught him about Wet Willy's, putting my spit-covered finger in his ear and we laughed and laughed. I let him give me a wet willy, pretending I didn't know what was coming when he whispered "I'm gonna tell you a secret!" And we laughed so loud, John came to see what was happening. And after he was under the covers, back had been scratched, song had been sung, and little brunette head had been patted, I turned to walk out the door and heard him mutter "Shit head." Why would a child do this? As I was describing this scenario to the new therapist, in just as much detail as I've given you, I knew it probably sounded trite. I am a thirty-five year old, married, professional woman who volunteers in her community and has fostered dozens of children! Why would this bother me so much? And yet it does, I admitted. It bothers me because I don't understand it. Why is he pushing me away?
The therapist nodded at all the appropriate times, and we talked quietly since big C was just a few feet away cramming dollhouse figures into the trunk of a toy car and pounding them with his fist. "It sounds like attachment issues," she offered. I nodded, pretending to agree. Attachment? We talked more and she offered this synopsis: "He loves to feel close to you, but he's still holding you at arm's length." She then asked me how I was feeling about the progress of the adoption timeline. For a few minutes I pretended to be the hopeful, upbeat, always-positive-foster-adoptive mom that I pretend to be ninety per cent of the time. It turns out I couldn't lie to her so well. I dropped the act, and shook my head in realization. "I think I've been keeping the kids at arm's length too," I confided. And I told her about Peniel and Jeremiah, and all the other kids I have loved and lost. I told her about the babies I had lost in early pregnancy, and the baby we were planning to adopt at birth. "Honestly," I told her, "And I didn't realize it until now, but I think I've been withholding my love because I'm afraid of losing them. Every time something happens to postpone the final adoption, I worry. I fear that something crazy will happen and all this love I spent on them will be lost." And there was so much more I didn't say that afternoon. It wasn't my session, but maybe I should have stuck around for one that was focused on me. All this time I've been trying to figure out why Big C is afraid to let go and love me, and yet I've been afraid to let go and love him. To love him completely means to accept him, in spite of his imperfections. To love him means to let go of my own ideas and notions of what makes a perfect family, a perfect mom, and perfect child. It turns out that no matter how great he feels when I love on him and show him attention at bedtime, and no matter how much fun we have and how close he feels to his new "mommy," when I turn to walk out the door, he throws up a defensive arm to protect himself. He's only trying to keep himself safe. He's only trying to spare himself from future pain. Oh, my poor little one. I understand that now. I see it exactly as it is, because I've been doing the same thing too.
Like many children I have parented, the words "I love you" don't drip naturally off Big C's lips. In fact, he hasn't said it, yet. But two weeks ago during church, when the children were coming into the sanctuary after their classes, he slipped behind me in the pew and handed me a small 3X5 index card with the letters ILYU in his childish scrawl. "What is this?" I asked, ready for any answer. He pointed to the letters as he spoke, "It says I LOVE YOU," he announced, and bounded off down the aisle to tackle John.
It turns out we needed these bumps in the road. Had it been a smooth ride we wouldn't have realized how much we needed each other, and how God is working it all out, step by step, day by day.

Sunday, October 28, 2012

This Momma

The past few months have been very exciting for us, and also emotionally challenging. The little ones who were placed with us on March 27 were considered a "legal risk" placement, which basically means that although it looks like they will become legally free for adoption, that was not yet the case when they were placed with us. So we brought them into our family with very open and hopeful hearts- praying and wishing they would forever be ours. Situations like these can take years, but fortunately due to some hardworking people involved in their case, and thanks to foster care reform laws in the state of Georgia, C, C, and E were on the fast-track to permanency. Over the summer when all three parents were incarcerated at the same time, the state filed for the termination of parental rights. In case you don't know what that means, it is exactly what it sounds like - a judge hears a case to determine if it is in the children's best interested to terminate their biological/legal parents rights, essentially setting them "free" to be adopted. So way back in the last summer when all the parents were locked up, we signed papers indicating our wish to adopt this sibling group of three. Everything was explained to us- the legal process, paperwork, financial commitment, etc. and we joyfully signed those documents. Then a court date was put on the calendar - October 10, 2012. And though some cases (like ours) may seem cut and dry, like a determination would be quick and easy, this is rarely the case. The attorney for the parents works hard to find compelling evidence why their client's parental rights should remain intact. The attorney for the state prepares a case to show the court how the parent has not demonstrated the ability to parent his/her kids. The caseworkers for the department of family and children's services work with the state to establish the reason why they felt it was no longer a good idea to try and "reunite" this family. In our case, there were also a handful of biological family members (who had all at one time been ruled out as an appropriate placement for the kids) who had hired an attorney and gone to battle against the state as part of the same case. At the same time, there is also an attorney for the kids- also known as a GAL, who represents the children and their interests in court. And fortunately for us, there was also a wonderful CASA (court appointed special advocate) a volunteer who works exclusively for the children, and makes an informed recommendation to the court on behalf of the kids needs and wishes.
In preparation for a court case involving four attorneys, three biological parents, and a host of evidence, witnesses, and experts, the judge had assigned this case four days on the court calendar- 10/10 being the first day of proceedings.
A few days before the hearing, our subpoena was served. We also received notice that dad #1 (Big C's biological dad) had agreed to surrender his rights and there would be a "goodbye" visit for him on the tenth when we came to court. My sister agreed to go with us in the event that John and I were called to testify. We hoped and prayed that we would not have to testify. At the end of day one, the kids had a visit with their great-granny, while we went to lunch with a few of the key players and caught up on the days' events. We learned about the great show that went on in the courtroom, the tears, the accusations, the eye-rolling, the dramatic meltdowns, the expert testimony (that didn't look good for the biological parents) and the blame game, where I'm told the biological mom actually took the stand and tried to point the finger at the judge. The most dramatic part for me all day was when I took Big C across the hall into a conference room for his goodbye visit with his biological dad. The child was running a fever that day, fighting a cold, and he just plain didn't want to interact with someone. Plus, and let's be fair - he is five years old. Concepts like "forever" and "goodbye visit" are pretty abstract to him at this point. To him, he just wanted to stay on my lap and when a stranger came to get him and take him across the hall, he was not happy. He fought her with his entire body, and cried and screamed into my neck. "Can I walk him over?" I asked, thinking I would just lead him into the room and drop him off. Little did I know that because all the important people were in the courtroom fighting it out, there was a lone deputy who had brought Big C's dad over from the jail. They sat in conference room chairs, watching awkwardly as I struggled to bring the five year old into the room. A woman from DFACS was there, but we had never met before and I am pretty sure the kids haven't ever seen her either. The deputy was a grandfatherly man, and he smiled warmly, trying to ease the tension in the room. "Should I leave?" I asked, seeing Big C's dad in person for the first time.
"Why don't you stay?" The deputy asked, and I took a deep breath, feeling like a fish out of water. What was I doing here? Why was I part of this? I always assumed that God called me to adopt children out of foster care to get them away from their original parents. My plan never included being buddies with original dad. But God gave me grace . . . again. I turned and saw him sitting there, in plain clothes because they let him change- slumped in a chair holding a few snapshots of himself and Big C together on their visits over the past year. I could see he was fighting back the tears, and that made me soften toward him. I walked over to the chair beside him and sat down, cradling the child in my arms.
"Hi," I said, trying to think of what to say at such a time.
"It's nice to finally meet you," he said, offering me his hand to shake.
We sat there quietly for a few minutes. The lady from DFACS and the Deputy seemed to be waiting on me to take the lead. So I did, with God's help. I told original dad about Big C's progress in school, our recent camping trip, his plans for Halloween, and about our household. I told him about my infertility, my desire to be a mother, and my love for these children. I told him about my faith, and about my amazing and wonderful husband. I asked him questions about his family, his parents, his brother, his former jobs, and his pregnant girlfriend. We talked about everything from hobbies to hymns, tattoos,  cars and dogs. At one point he calmly said, "The only reason I signed the papers is because I can't do anything for him right now. And I don't want him to move again. I don't want him the be with anyone but you guys." I nodded, appreciating his honestly. I told him that in our house we don't speak badly of anyone- including other parents. I explained to him that we will raise the kids to have respect for their birth parents, to know that they did the best they could for them at the time. I told him that he would never have to worry if his son was loved, cared for, and protected. I assured him that this was not goodbye forever. When the visit was almost over, our wonderful DFACS transporter arrived and took Big C into her arms to free me up. I went to take Little C to the potty and as I walked from the room, I took one last look at Big C's birth father. They spent about fifteen more minutes together before the deputy took him back to the jail.
We were excused from attending the hearing on Thursday, so I hung closely by my phone at work all day. I got regular updates from our case workers, the CASA, and others who were involved. At around 3:30 pm, I learned that Dad #2 had surrendered his rights to little C and E, his biological children. Our caseworker asked me if I could transport the kids to the courthouse for their "goodbye" visit with him the next day. John had a job interview so it would just be me. I thought I would just be the transportation - but again I was wrong. On the way back to the courthouse, my phone rang with an unfamiliar number.
"This is Deputy Davis . . . I was just calling to see how far away you are?" I told him I was about an hour away, and he commented that we were making good time.  He told me that we would meet inside juvenile court, at the same conference room as the prior goodbye visit. I realized it was that same older gentleman who escorted dad # 1 to Wednesday visit.
"Oh that was you on Wednesday?" I asked him.
"Yes," he said, "And I meant to tell you - you did a wonderful job with him."
That was the Lord, I told him, because it was very hard and very uncomfortable for me. And yet, God called me to do it again on Friday.
I met with our CASA volunteer (who had come to support me) and we realized no one from DFACS or family court was coming to supervise the visit. It was just the four of us- and the two little ones. We got there about 4 pm and saw one of the grandmothers had been invited as well. Little C looked at her suspiciously, as though he could barely remember her - but not enough to slow him down. The two of them ran around the conference room, eating handfuls of raisins and getting into everything.
Dad # 2 was soft-spoken, smaller than I had imagined - quiet. He tried to hug and play with the kids but they regarded him as a stranger. E knocked her head on the corner of the conference table and screamed for me, running across the room into my arms. I felt like dad #2 and grandma were watching me with the kids, maybe hoping to find something that they could dislike about me- but as the visit moved on, we talked and opened up to each other. Grandma asked if she could send me some pictures of distant relatives and baby pictures of the kids. I told her that I would like that very much. I told her and her son that we would never speak ill of them, and that we would always make sure the kids knew how much they were loved. Dad # 2 told me similarly to Dad #1 "I couldn't do nothin' for them in the jail. And I want them to know I love them." I assured him the kids would always know he loved them. He was more playful than dad # 1, maybe because the kids are smaller and you have to be on your toes with them. But at the end of the hour, a second deputy came into the room and motioned to him "It's time to go," he told him. And the air in the room became very heavy, like someone was about to be executed. I saw him literally swallow a huge lump in his throat. He took a deep breath and fought back the tears. The kids didn't know what was happening while the dad and granny took turns hugging and kissing them, at one point Grandma grabbed my hands and thanked me, saying "I love you." I struggled with my reply. Should I say "I love you too?" to someone I don't know - to someone who at one time posed a threat to my possible adoption? I looked at her in that moment, while the deputies were leading us from the room. I looked at her pale face, stringy long hair, thin frame, faded jeans, tear-stained cheeks. Underneath it all, I saw E's little face, the light in her eyes - and little C's sweet smile. There were my babies- in her face. I couldn't help but love her, because they are a part of her - so I embraced her in that doorway and said, "I love you, too."
Outside the conference room and outside the courthouse, I could not get away fast enough. I ran with the kids in their stroller and buckled them into the car seats. They were hungry, but there was no chance I was stopping in that county for dinner. We drove for over an hour before I stopped to buy them a happy meal. At that point, it might be less "Happy" and more like and "angry meal," but I let them play on the playground and get an ice cream cone to make up for it.
And we came home.
And we waited.
I hoped we would hear that biological mom had let go gracefully. But, as the CASA told me, "She won't go away quietly." 
The third day for court was scheduled for October 16th. The caseworker called to tell me that, while the kids were excused from court, I was being called as a witness. Me and my big mouth.
So John and I made arrangements for the kids to be dropped off super early at the daycare so we could travel again to the courthouse 2 hours away- and watch the drama unfold.
We arrived a few minutes before 9am, and sat in a waiting area with various relatives of our kids. A few minutes later, the caseworker motioned for us to follow her into a hallway where she told me "you're being excused from court today. We don't need your testimony." I must have looked stunned. God knows I had practiced my little speech over and over, looked at my notes, listened to "lose yourself" by Eminem in an attempt to motivate myself, picked out a special "court outfit" and even wore my special bracelet that I wear anytime I need confidence. Not to mention we drove 120 miles again . . . but truly I was relieved. I was relieved because I just wanted this to happen without me. I wanted there to be enough compelling evidence that I could just collect my babies and leave when it was all over.
"But," she told us, "you're welcome to stay and watch the hearing. You both can sit in the back of the courtroom."
I jumped at the chance to do that. It was way better than trying to stay busy all day, wondering what was happening. I don't even think I gave John a vote. I grabbed his hand and we walked into the courtroom.
"Yes, were staying," I told our caseworker.
It was a very long day.
The judge made it clear that she wanted to finish hearing this case on that very day. She explained that breaks would be very brief- lunch would be only ten minutes- and that court would remain in session all night if that was required. Again, I hoped it would be quick and easy. Instead, it was long and ugly. It was like Jerry Springer meets Law and Order, with relatives pounding their fists on the podium, biological mom growling and staring at me, the Granny club seething in anger just down the bench from us, attorneys asking difficult questions, the judge asking for clarification on a few things.
The most memorable moment of court for me would be during the state's arguments when the assistant district attorney was questioning a witness on the birth mom's side. "And you think," she shouted, "That considering all these children have been through, that we should remove those children," she turned and pointed to us, where we sat holding hands on the bench, "from this Momma and this Daddy." 
At 4 pm, John and I left during a short recess. We needed to be back in Dahlonega in time to pick up the kids. It did not appear that court would be over soon.
At 7:30 pm, all sides rested. We were not there- but we got the message. The judge decided not to rule from the bench, and indicated that she would likely use the last day set aside for this case- October 23 - to render her decision. I prayed it would not take thirty days (that is the legal time limit for the judge to render her verdict in these types of cases.) I told myself we would hear something right away. I tried to put it out of my mind for a few days. We tried to stay busy. The weekend came, and I got sick- really sick. I vomited, ran a fever, had chills, cramps, sore throat, and a terrible cough that is still lingering a week later. And by Monday, I grew really worried, irritated, desperate, and cranky. I couldn't exercise, I couldn't talk without crying, and I started dissecting everything I had seen and heard in that courtroom. Suddenly all the outrageous things I had seen and heard were starting so seem less outrageous as my mind started playing games like "worst case scenario" and waking me up at night to ask "What if??" That is not a pleasant feeling, and it lasted for a few days. Tuesday came and went. Wednesday came and went. And Thursday came and went, with me slowly slipping into insanity. I texted and called our caseworker and CASA like some love-sick seventh grader: "Has she made her decision yet?" "Have you heard anything yet?" "Should I be worried?" "What's going on here??" I was so obsessed. And like I told my facebook friends, the person who penned the phrase 'no news is good news' was clearly a drinker. For the first time in my life, I was seriously considering drinking.
I began to think that maybe it would have been better if I had testified. Maybe it would have been good for this Momma to take the stand. This Momma could have told the granny club all about the sad state in which these babies came to us. This Momma could have told the court about the amazing progress of these three brave kids, of their huge leaps and bounds in health, emotional well-being, academic pursuits, social development, and inner healing. This Momma could have told them about the way they cling to me, want to be held and rocked as much as possible, draw pictures of our family, ask for John when he is away for just a few minutes. This Momma could have told them how they NEVER ask for their birth family, never mention them, never draw pictures of them. This Momma could have told them all about the emotional baggage these little ones carried into their new home. And this Momma could have told them that although I may not have carried them in my body,  I would give my life to see them happy and healthy forever.
Friday morning I came into work, warmed up my breakfast sandwich, checked my emails. Around 8:45 I went into the restroom, carrying my phone (because that's what you do when you're obsessed) and it rang.
"Hello?" I answered, half coughing (still sick.)
"Are you ready for some good news?" she asked me. She being our caseworker.
"Oh yes," was all I could reply.
"It's done," she said fiercely, "It's over. We won."
I could barely wrap my head around it. Finally. Thank you, Jesus! And the words that followed were sweet and perfect. She told me how the judge had written into her court order: "the children were placed in this current home in March of 2012 and the foster parents have done wonders for them. It would be detrimental to the children to be removed from this home."
This Momma is really, really happy.

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

The Best Medicine

When my sweet Amanda first came into my life, she was one sad little customer. She was the most beautiful little girl on earth with these big, clear blue eyes and her sleek little tan. But you never saw those eyes light up like they should, like a little girl who was truly happy. A few years later, during the same summer vacation when she first called me "Mom," Amanda and I played around in the surf while my mom watched from the beach. I don't remember why exactly, but we started trying to do the moves from Riverdance, and kept falling down laughing and getting tangled in our own feet. Later that night, my mom pulled me aside: "Melissa," she said, "That's the first time I ever saw her really smile- I mean, she really just lit up with her smile." And she did. She was even more beautiful than ever after she found her smile.
I grew up in a house where we laughed and played a lot. We especially loved playing practical jokes on each other. One of our favorites was to hide this giant, scary, life-size doll around the house. We all agreed that doll was creepy, but imagine pulling back the shower curtain to find her standing there holding a razor, with that super-scary grin on her face and those black Mary Jane's and blue ruffled dress. We also hid plastic animal feces, rubber rodents, and swapped out shampoo for Ranch dressing. Once my sister Becky fed me a dog treat, pretending it was a gourmet brownie from a specialty store.
The strange part is, I never realized how much I rely on laughter and humor until we brought home three little ones who had lived in five consecutive foster homes, and never really understood the meaning of the word "family." The first week the kids were here, I let them jump on the beds, splash me from the bathtub, sing and shout in the car, taste everything with their fingers, and generally just go wild. It was about 90% unplanned and 10% intentional. I mean, I didn't set out to let them go hog-wild, but getting to know them, learn them, and make them feel comfortable was REALLY hard. It was such a zoo here those first few weeks, but we made it. And one memory of Big C stands out in my mind during those first few weeks. He had just gotten used to calling me "Mommy," and had come to understand that we were serious about taking care of him and his siblings. It was during his bath one night when Porky had come in the bathroom to supervise. I don't know if all Rotties love water, but this one does, and when she saw the boys splashing in the bathtub, she just had to join in. So as the boys splashed, Porky jumped up and tried to bite the water with each splash. The boys were scared at first, not understanding what she was doing, but I explained that she just loves to play with water, and as I laughed, the boys started giggling, and as the giggles turned to big belly laughs, the splashes got bigger, the walls got wetter, and we were all pretty much soaked- including the dog, who was having a blast. After getting out of the bath, Big C was running wild, still overwhelmed with hysterical laughter. I held out his pajama shirt like a bullfighter and called "Toro, Toro! Olay, Olay!" and he ran (head first) into the pajamas. We both fell down with laughter, and he begged me to use the bullfighter voice over and over. When it seemed that the party was getting too wild, I lowered my voice and sat in the recliner while he pulled on his pajama pants. "Okay," I told him, "It's time to settle down. Let's calm down, now. Come sit with me and let's rock" But he was only getting started. Laughter was his new drug, and he was hooked. He took my face in his two hands and got really close to me before he said: "Mommy, laugh! Keep laughing! I love it when you laugh!"
It's a miracle I didn't cry.
How long did I take for granted the security of the happy, healthy, sometimes hysterical family that I grew up in? For how many years did I forget that not all kids are so fortunate? Some kids have never had a mommy or daddy who laugh, who love to laugh, to share stories, jokes, pranks, and silly songs? Many children live with parents too consumed by their own personal issues and problems to giggle and tell jokes with their kids. Some little ones have only heard mom and dad scream, cry, fight, cuss, lie, use profanity, tell vulgar jokes, or speak to one another abusively.
I believe laughter has healing power. The laughter of these little ones in my home and my heart is healing me. They are day by day, systematically healing the wounds and scars that I bear from the heartache of infertility and pregnancy loss. When little C comes running into my arms and says "Tell me the snake secret!" with a huge beautiful smile, I know exactly what to do. I lean over and gather him close to me, put my mouth up to his ear and hiss "Sssssssssssssssssss!" That's the snake's secret! And it works like a charm! We both laugh, and we are both made stronger.

Monday, September 10, 2012

Out of the Blue

Sometimes when you least expect it, something ugly happens and reminds you of a long-fought, yucky battle that you thought you were finished fighting. At least that is the way it seems to me. Because even though I can't carry a child nine months in my womb and experience pregnancy and childbirth, sometimes the children that are mine through step-parenting, fostering, adoption, etc. begin to feel like they really are all mine.
And that's why it is really hard when something slams me in the face and reminds me there is someone else - another mother. She was first. She was crucial. She was the womb. And somehow it always feels like she's got one up on me.
Things were just rolling along rather nicely, and we are moving toward the *hopeful* conclusion of adoption very soon for our three little ones. We have settled into a nice routine and it goes like this:

In the mornings, little C wakes up before most chicken farmers do. He tiptoes into our bedroom and crawls into our bed. He usually plays with my face and my hair, sticks his fingers in our nostrils, or our mouths, while we try to catch just a few more minutes of rest. When he doesn't get the expected result - getting us up- he starts whining about being "thirsty" and "hungry" and then goes into the living room to dump out all the toy bins or turn on the TV really loudly. This wakes the other two little ones, who I will call "Grumpy" and "Chatterbox" for this portion of the narrative. Grumpy slams doors, cries, screams, accuses people of hitting him, and sulks about the house looking for someone to fight with. Chatterbox starts having a loud and lively conversation with herself from her crib, with her baby doll, stuffed panda, or pillow, or whoever is close enough to hear. If no one comes right away, this changes to shouting words like "Dadda! Dadda!! Mommy!!! Mommmamommamommma! Daddaddaddddaadddaddddaaddd!!!!" until one of us (usually John) rescues her from her crib. About this time, the teens start to stir. They are mad because of the noise upstairs (even though after six months we ought to expect it) and they begin their cereal-slinging-lost my shoes-can't find my homework- get out of my way! routine, while one of us (usually John) is slapping down some breakfast for the Little people.
Georgia now drives (be afraid, be VERY afraid) and she takes Mitchell and Samuel to school. The little people ride with me, so while I shower and get ready for work, John changes diapers and dresses three preschoolers. We then gather backpacks of varying superheroes, lunch boxes, homework projects, class snacks, extra diapers, and load everyone into the car. I drop off Lizzie first, then big C for Kindergarten, then little C and I cross the mountain, while he rocks himself from side to side and sings things like "I not a baby, I a big boy!" over and over again until we get to his preschool. I take him inside where he collapses like its the first day all over again and then I hold him for about five minutes until he is comfortable and goes on to play with the other children. I go to work. And recently, I've been working out with my office friends on my lunch hour (another story, but I'm so glad we are doing this now). John cooks, shops, runs cars to the mechanic, cuts grass, and does a myriad of other tasks that I am not sure how we got by with him working before. In the afternoon, I leave the office, pick up all three Little People and return home. John normally has dinner going, and it's a wild evening of dinner, baths, playtime, homework, arguments over the computer, and other normal "family stuff." Around 7:30, I take Lizzie and little C into their room where we rock and sing bedtime songs for about 20 minutes. Then I pray over them each, little C calls this "tell me a secret" time, and they go to bed - sometimes. Then I'm across the hall reading two library books to Big C, tucking him in and the obligatory "back scratch" that started the first night and has continued ever since. When all the "I love you's" and "Good nights" have been said, I hit the garden tub with a mystery novel and John catches up on politics and football. All things considered- we have established quite a routine.
And so it was last week when I came home from work, hot and tired, worn out and hungry. John had brought Lizzie home early and had taken her for a stroll around the neighborhood in the red wagon. She was happy to see me, and just full of joy like always. I picked her up and kissed her and snugged with her for a minute, thumbing through the pile of mail on the kitchen counter. And there it was.
I put Lizzie in her high chair as John was bringing dinner over to the table. I ran into my room, then shoved the letter in my top drawer and returned to the dinner table.
Always observant, Samuel asked, "Melissa, what's wrong? What was that in your hand?" Maybe he saw the blood drain from my face as I sprinted to my bedroom.
"Oh nothing, nothing, " I told our family worry-wart, "It's not important."
"But you look upset . . ." he began, but I cut him off. "It's no big deal Samuel, it's mine, nothing to worry about."
We had dinner. I tried to ask the kids about their day. I tried to focus on getting everyone to ingest a green vegetable, or at least some ketchup (is that a vegetable?) After dinner, we started the bath routine. John was playing lifeguard so I took the letter out and read it. My mind was reeling, but the most obvious question of all was: how did she get our home address?
I grabbed the little laundry baskets marked with the kids names and stormed into their rooms to put their clothes away. John put Georgia on lifeguard duty and followed me.
I was trying to put away clothes but was more or less slamming them into the drawers. John stood there with the same look he gets on his face anytime I go into an emotional rant. The look on his face just says, "Oh God, here it comes." And then I fell apart.
Why? I sobbed, Why, when everything is going so well? Why do I have to get a letter from their birth mom, thanking me for taking care of HER CHILDREN? Why? Why would God allow this? Isn't it enough I can't have children of my own, so why when I wanted them for so long, and worked so hard to get them do I have to SHARE them with ANOTHER MOTHER? Then I spouted off a list of my former pen-pal birth moms who had interfered (From jail) with everything I ever tried to do for "my kids". Everything from insisting I send school work to jail, to suggesting I help mend the broken relationship between the two, to asking me to bring the children to jail to visit, all the way to throwing a complete tantrum in a kindergarten hall over who was the "real" mom at a freaking Mother's Day breakfast when the picture was CLEARLY of me because I have blonde hair NOT BLACK!
How did she get our address? I cried to John, getting louder: This means her WHOLE crazy family has our address! They could come and stalk us outside our windows! They could follow me to work! They could try to kidnap the kids!
Through my entire meltdown, John was his usual calm and assuring self. He put out his hand as if to offer me support, he nodded appropriately and he reminded me to keep my voice down as a few choice words flew out of my mouth. Then I cried like I haven't cried in a long time, grabbed my cell phone, and stormed out the front door to sit on the driveway.
I knew I couldn't let the kids see me that way. And I certainly wasn't going to show them the picture drawn from their mother in JAIL. They don't even know where she is because they never ask about her. They never ask about her because she was so frequently absent in their lives that they don't even notice she has been gone for months. And this is all such a familiar scenario that my mind is growing tired replaying this tape.
I sat out on the driveway and called our caseworker from Families First, who let me cry like a baby and never judged me. She reassured me that I had a right to feel upset, and to feel violated that I was receiving mail from an inmate who posed a threat to my very desperate hopes to be a mother. She listened to me go on and on for over an hour - in the evening, from her home. (This is why we LOVE Families First.) And when the call ended I felt a little better. I sat there for another few minutes on the driveway, until Georgia returned from band rehearsal and nearly ran over me in one swift motion. After I recovered from nearly being driven over, I dusted myself off, put away my phone and went to get my babies and rock them to sleep. I'm glad it was a little later than usual, and it was a little darker outside because they couldn't tell that I was crying as I sang to them, a little song I made up weeks ago:
                            You are my Rainbow, you are my shining star, 
                                    my happy ending, yes you are. 
                              You make my heart smile, for all time,
                                  you are my baby, and you are mine.

Thursday, August 2, 2012

Big Decisions for Little People

Today we got up an hour earlier than normal. I had a goodie bag packed and spent some extra time on my hair. We had to wake up the little ones, except for Lizzie who heard the commotion in the kitchen while I was putting an ice pack and some cheese sticks into a little Life South cooler. Today was the next step in our journey- a placement hearing, or to some: a judicial review. Today was the day when the juvenile court judge would take a look at where the kids are now, where they have been, and what progress has been made towards a permanent home for them.
You all know that we want to be the permanent home for them. That is why we got involved in this after all. Yes, there was a time when I could parent children and then "give them back," watching them reunite with parents, sometimes with great unknowns ahead. That was mostly during my twenties when I figured I had plenty of time to plan and have my own family- my own children.
About ten years, a broken marriage, an ectopic pregnancy, a new exciting marriage, three stepchildren, another ectopic pregnancy, five reproductive procedures, and a lot of heartache and loss later, I realized that I just couldn't keep "giving them back" to an unknown future. Maybe its the control freak in me, but I wanted my OWN children, to cherish, nurture, love, raise, and enjoy. And I have to honestly say that March 27 was a day that changed my life.

But not long after our new little ones were with us, my mom was here helping me get settled with the "babies" and she uncovered a file of information about their biological family and the facts of the case. She found this in a black nylon backpack with old chewing gum stuck in the top velcro. She read through it that evening and gave me the Cliff's notes version over coffee the next morning while I rushed around trying to keep up with a girl who eats dog food, and two boys who were constantly banging into walls and pulling down the curtains in my living room. I didn't give much time to the matters of that black nylon bag, I assumed these children had been placed with us because there was no hope of them going back to their natural parents. Over the next few days and through a series of phone calls and emails with important people, we learned that our case was far from neat and simple. Our case was in fact the very thing I hate the most: headed straight into the great unknown.

I have poured my heart out through this blog many times, so this will not be new information: I have a very intense, daily, unrelenting struggle with letting go. Back in my active al-anon days, I recited the phrase over and over: Let go and Let God.  Someone I worked with had a refrigerator magnet with the phrase written in delicate cursive: Let go and Let God. It sounds good, doesn't it?

But when the visits with birth family started, and the kids were bounced back and forth across three counties to visit with people they didn't have a bond or connection to, it was hard for me to "let go." Even the transfer of the three car seats into the waiting vehicle of the transporter was painful. I planned my daily schedule around the visits so I would be occupied while the kids were not in my care. It absolutely infuriated me that "my kids" were at McDonalds or the outlet mall with someone else, possibly calling them "Mom" or "Dad", all the while I was gnawing my fingernails in a failed attempt to let go.

One night I was rocking Lizzie, smelling her hair, gently rubbing her back through her pink pajamas. She had her head on my shoulder and was almost asleep.
"You are my sunshine, my only sunshine . . . you make me happy when skies are gray. You never know dear, how much I love you . . ." And like a prayer from my heart to God's, I sang the last words, "Please don't take my sunshine away." 
This is all in His hand, His control. I have no control here and that is sometimes frightening, when it should be refreshing and comforting.
I love them so much.
Dear God, please don't take my sunshine away. 
This has been my daily prayer to God.  As selfish as it may seem, or as naive, or as childish as it may seem, I find myself daily begging God, please . . . please . . . please God. Please don't take my sunshine away.

They have become my sunshine in a way that I cannot put into words. . .

I never thought I could take care of a baby girl because I'm terrible at styling hair. One day last week I realized that I can style Lizzie's hair. I can style her hair because, unlike my playmates growing up, or even my cornsilk cabbage patch kid dolls with their shiny perfect hair, I know everything about Lizzie's head. I have memorized her scalp, the way her hair parts from the back, slightly to the left, behind her eye, and how it grows forward like thick bangs around her sweet forehead. I have memorized her hairline, just like I have memorized the freckles and tiny scars on big C's legs, the birthmark on his forehead and the small of his back, and like I have memorized the sound of little C's footsteps and the pounding of his heartbeat as it thumps against my own, or the sparkle in his eyes: the way I can look into his face and tell if he is anxious or worried.

Which brings me back to my original reason for this story: Little C- the middle child. He carries his anxiety and nervousness in his belly. He came to us with chronic headaches, diarrhea, and weight loss. His weight had dropped from 32 to 29 to 28 and his 2T clothes hung off his body. We persisted in having him evaluated by specialists. They ran some tests, they ordered some blood-work, I - not they - collected a lot of very unpleasant samples. Most all the specialists agreed: these physical symptoms are a manifestation of the chaos and commotion in this little boys' life. After months of these symptoms (the records indicate the diarrhea started in January of this year) little C's symptoms began to fade away. We took great strides with his diet and gave him probiotics, and plenty of attention, but I know that's not the reason little C's tummy troubles got better. At his last physical he was up to 34 pounds when he was down to 28 in April. The photos of his first day with us stand in contrast to the ones we have of this week. He is a glowing, happy, healthy preschooler. And everyone in court today agreed- he looks like a different child.

So it makes me very sad to say that as we walked up to the courthouse steps, little C was holding hands with his CASA worker and said: "Where is Daddy?" His CASA worker pointed to John and said "he's right there," to which little C replied, "where is the other daddy?" And it occurred to me that in four months little C has never asked about the other daddy. But arriving at the courthouse with its intimidating metal detectors, the proud flags waving in the sky overhead, and the endless stream of adults rushing in and out, he was reminded of the daddy from before. The daddy he only saw in this courthouse. The daddy who made promises he couldn't keep- the daddy who kept showing up in shackles and handcuffs.

We were greeted at the elevator by an armed deputy who escorted us to a private play area. It was just John and me, and our three babies. Several important court people came into the room one or two at a time to chat with us, and once or twice they asked me to step out in order to keep the kids from knowing what was happening. After about thirty minutes, little C began to fuss and act up. "I need to go poopie!" he cried, and I rushed him off to the men's room. In the bathroom I realized his stomach was upset. John took him the next two times to the bathroom to "go poopie." The longer we stayed at the courthouse, the more out of character little C became. He was nervous, loud, whiny and demanding. Lizzie didn't much know what was happening. Big C was strangely calm. But little C, my poor little guy- he was just a wreck all morning.

It was a relief when all the big decisions were made for today. The judge had read my report, and the recommendations from CASA and DFACS. The attorneys announced their plans to file for termination of parental rights. My head was spinning and my own guts felt twisted each time the door of that playroom opened and someone else came in to inform me of what was going on. The birth family requested to see the kids today and the decision was made not to allow that. We were relieved. And by 11:20. another armed deputy arrived outside the playroom to escort us out of the building. We stopped for some lunch when we got out of town, and about twenty minutes later, with his tummy full of lunch, little C fell asleep in his car seat. One minute he was looking out the window, maybe watching some fuzzy memories or faintly familiar places roll past the car, and the next minute he was peacefully resting, safe and sound.

Thank you, God for today, for big decisions and for little ones. Dear God, please don't take my sunshine away.

Saturday, July 21, 2012

An open letter to APOLOGIZE to all mothers of preschoolers

To all mothers of preschoolers, I must apologize. Yours is a world I did not understand . . . and yet, now I do.
Yes, it's funny how our perspective changes as our life experiences grow and expand. For me, I was constantly looking down at many women out there. Like the women pushing a cart through wal-mart wearing wrinkled t-shirts, sometimes with no bra, sometimes with bedroom slippers on, a glazed-over look in their eyes. I turned up my nose at you moms with screaming toddlers. You know who you are: the kid is screeching and clawing at you and you just thumb through a People magazine and pretend it isn't happening.
Up until about 3 and a half months ago, I never left the house without makeup, unless I was running a very high fever, or recovering from surgery. Even then, it might be to the convenience store for a bottle of ginger-ale, but God Forbid- never to a public place like Wal-Mart! And yet, something about adding 3 children under age 5 into our household, two in diapers, all with very serious issues of trust, grief and trauma, has turned me into a mommy-zombie.
I feel like I've been walking around in a sleep-deprived stupor for about 100 days. Somewhere in the middle of the chaos, a voice says "were almost out of diapers . . ." and somehow I make it around the mountain in my car, never hearing the songs on the radio, I step out of the car never noticing that I am wearing a shirt with a huge stain on the front, and two holes in the armpit . . . with shorts that haven't really fit me since my junior year of college. I find a cart . . . I roll forward with the cart because it is holding up my entire upper body . . . I step into the nauseating florescent light and putt around in wal-mart like a . . . zombie.
My legs are hairy . . . my breath smells bad . . . there is only one underwire left in my bra.
Forgive me, ladies. I just didn't understand.
I used to snicker at those of you with two-inch roots. Make a hair-appointment, I thought.
I rolled my eyes at moms who brought their children into public wearing nothing but a diaper. Laziness, I thought. Okay, I get it now.
Whatever I thought before, whatever I believed before, whatever I wondered before has all come full circle, and the criticism that surrounded me like a snuggie has now vanished in the florescent light of Wal-Mart where I'm standing on the pet food aisle trying to remember why I came here in the first place.
So to all you moms who give in and let her have the sour gummie worms thirty minutes before dinner: I get it now.
All you moms who cut your hair as short as an army ranger because you just don't have time to style it anymore: I get it now.
To all you who arrive for a meeting at work in navy slacks and black dress shoes because you got ready in the dark so as not to wake the baby: I get it now.
Those of you who take a piece of chewed gum out of your own mouth and give it to a screaming kid because it's just not worth the fight anymore: I get it now.
And those of you with chipped nail polish and toenails long enough to slice cucumbers: I do get it now. And I'm sorry I judged you.
I get it now.

Saturday, June 30, 2012

Along the Winding Valley

John and I kid around a lot about the oldest of our three new children. We should probably stop, but in the beginning, we joked around as a form of therapy for ourselves. "Big C" as I call him in this blog, is a difficult child. Oh, he is a beautiful little boy. All three of our little angels are beautiful. "Little C" has a grin that will have the girls swooning one day. And our little girl has golden hair and little gold flecks in her eyelashes. And Big C is just adorable too. He has those big brown eyes and mischievous grin. He's handsome, and smart and coordinated for a five year old. But he is far from the easiest child I have ever parented.
The kidding around between me and my husband is normally something like this:
Me: "I'm going to the store to get milk, eggs, etc. Do you want me to take one of the little ones with me?
John: It doesn't matter, I can watch them all - or if you want to, you can take Big C . . ."
(Insert sarcastic laughter)
Occasionally, we have a little disagreement over who will handle his antics. It goes like this:
Me: It's your turn, dude. I've had enough of the master of disaster.
John: Seriously? I changed two exploding diapers just now on the other two.
Although it doesn't always go like this, you get the picture. It's not easy. We knew this whole "arrangement" would not be easy. But all the classes we took, books we read, stories we heard, and conversations we had- nothing could have prepared us for these specific children and their needs, experiences, and trauma.
And being that Big C is the oldest, he remembers the most. He holds onto the most.
After he went to therapy this past week, he started recalling stories of his parents, who he referred to by their first names. He knew the names of the towns he lived in, who he lived with, and where Little C lived, and all the other details. He knew unbelievable details. It was so sad.
And as frustrating as this child can be, sometimes I am overwhelmed with grief for what he has lost and what life has done to him. He has a hard time with trust. The first time his caseworker came to visit us, he was terrified that she was going to take him to live somewhere else. The first time I took him to daycare, he clung to me, afraid I would leave him. And at therapy, before he will go in the room and play in the sand or with the other toys, he turns and asks: "Will you be right outside the door the whole time?"
I don't know what heavy burdens he has carried but I know he has had a hard time just being a child. He spent the first five or six weeks in our home telling us how to change the baby's diaper, how to discipline his brother, how to cut the food for them, how to hold the baby, and all manner of things most five year olds never bother to be concerned about.
Recently I decided to look up the children's names and read about their meanings. I have this big fascination with names and what they mean. If I had ever been able to have my own babies, it would have been a big process to choose their names. As it is, I put great time and thought into naming my two babies in Heaven - Jacob and Abigail. So, not being able to choose your children's names is hard, but I wanted to know their names all the same.
I flipped through a book of baby names and read the meanings. Everything was pretty straightforward, nothing spectacular. But I did pause when I got to the meaning of Big C's name.
It means "winding valley."
Another translation claims that his name means "bent or crooked."
Could there be a better name for this child?
It breaks my heart, but his name fits him well. We watch him struggle, make unwise choices, use profanity (at five years old!) and learn the hard way. We watch him battle moment by moment with simple rules and structure that is designed to guide and protect him. He has been in this winding valley all of his life. He has struggled on path that is bent and crooked. His life has been less than ideal.
So it was that today I did go to the grocery store to pick up milk, juice, bread, etc. You know, the basics. And I was tempted to just take the baby. She is so easy and sweet and people stop by the cart to gush: "Oh! She looks just like you!" And I smile and feel so happy. Or I could have taken my handsome Little C, who sits happily in the cart and is just glad to be there. But when Big C heard I was going to the store, he slipped into the narrow space between my body and the kitchen counter and reached for my hands. "Can I go with you Mommy?"
Flashback of the last two times he accompanied me to the grocery store: Screaming, kicking, clawing me, slamming the grocery cart into my heels (ouch!) grabbing at helium balloons and knocking down a display of Little Debbie cakes . . .
John looked hopeful . . . the baby was content . . . Little C was about to take a nap.
"Okay, buddy. You can come with me."
And the little Winding Valley happily trotted out the door with me.
In the parking lot, I laid down the ground rules. You may have one (1) treat, if and only if you stay with me, do not ask for anything, and do not attempt to push the grocery cart. Do not argue with me, do not talk to strangers, and do not run in the grocery store.
He agreed to my rules.
We shopped for about thirty very uneventful minutes. We spent even longer with the cashier due to an issue with my kool-aid coupon. As we checked out, I told Big C he could choose his one (1) treat. He chose a cheese danish, of all things.
While I paid, the charming child walked over to some 25 cent-candy machines but HE DID NOT ASK FOR A SINGLE THING.
We walked to the car, loaded the groceries into the back and he climbed into his booster car-seat. I buckled him in and he asked if he could eat the danish in the car. I said yes and got into my seat, started the AC and began backing out of the parking space. While I was turned around looking out the back windshield, his eyes locked with mine. Between bites of danish, he smiled and said: "Thank you, mommy."
As we pulled out of the parking lot, I caught a glimpse of him in the rear view mirror. I was overcome at the sight of him: sweet, innocent, pure, lovable, precious, full of life, and full of energy. He looked so safe and so "at home."
"I love you, buddy." I said.
And I meant it.
I do love him.
We didn't sign up for easy street. We signed up for the winding valley. And I am happy to be moving forward, one step at a time.

Sunday, June 24, 2012

Rollin' with the Changes

We knew this was coming but it still hit us out of the blue. John went to work on Friday with his customary brown-bag lunch and Steelers mug of coffee and was soon greeted by his supervisor- the district manager- coming to deliver some news. I'm not going to call this "bad news," in fact, I refuse to call it anything other than "news" because we just don't know what God has in store for us next. John has been working for Wolf as a manager for over twelve years. He has been with Wolf far longer than he's been with me, and he has done well there. But sadly, the economy has hurt this business and his store, along with many others, is closed. Originally, he was told that there would be about 3-6 weeks until the store was officially "closed." That changed yesterday when John was told to put a sign on the door and start boxing up the merchandise. Done. Over. Adios. The End. John called his "guys" - the faithful work associates who have kept him company for years, and passed along the "news." And here we go again.

In October, I left a job of fourteen years. A comfortable, easy, pleasant job that I had done for so long I could do it with my eyes closed and both hands tied behind my back. I left because God said "it's time to go, I'm done with you here," and he lead me to work right here in my community with a struggling non-profit that truthfully couldn't afford to hire me. But God opened that door, and I am overwhelmingly grateful because not five months later we received the wonderful news that our family was about to grow in a very special way. Bringing C, C and E into our home has changed our life dramatically. In fact, it was such a massive change for us that John took 6 weeks of paid FMLA time to stay home with me and help get the children into a routine with our family and community. We went from being a family of 6 to a family of 9 and I have loved every minute of it (except for the uncertainty about the future . . . but let's not go into that right now.) I am tempted to be a little nervous right now, but actually I'm kind of excited. I'm excited to see what God has in store for us. John has been faithful to a job that hasn't always been easy. He has been a hard-working and faithful provider for our family, and I believe God will honor that faithfulness. John has sacrificed his Saturdays and some Sundays for years, and many holidays. He has worked long hours, put up with ornery customers, and spent far too much time wearing a black polo and khakis. And now God has something else for him- and for us.

My mother in law called tonight to ask how John was doing. He is her baby, after all. I should also interject that I adore my mother in law. She is adorable, funny, clever, creative, warm, and witty. She is someone I admire and enjoy. Her humor is always laced with sarcasm (like me), and she is thoughtful like no one I have ever known. She never forgets a birthday, she never lets a holiday pass without sending a card to each of the children. And she faithfully calls us every Sunday just to check on things. Tonight's phone call was focused on John, and of course, the children. And I felt really encouraged after talking to her. She believes like I do, that something great is just around the corner. 

Our life seems to be full of changes. Yes I know, everyone feels that way. But when I think about the changes that have happened in this house over the past year, I can honestly say that these changes have been for our good. Isn't that what scripture promises us? That in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose. Romans 8:28 Sometimes I am still blown away that God chose me and called me according to his purpose. But I am grateful for this perspective. I am grateful that as we roll through life and face these changes, we can know that God still holds us in His hand. Nothing takes Him by surprise.

Now if all of you will just keep reminding me of this!

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

The Emotionally Crippled Mommy

I had one of those weekends where all I could think about was "what if?" What if we lose them, what if we have them for another year and THEN we lose them? What if we have them forever and they grow up to resent us and turn into delinquents?
I can't say what causes me to have these fears and feelings of gloom. I can say, being brutally honest, that sometimes facebook is really hard for me. It seems like page after page of newborn babies, pregnancy posts, happy pictures from the delivery room. And in spite of these beautiful children that live in my home, and my wonderful compassionate husband, I still struggle with bitterness, sadness, longing, and loneliness. Yes, loneliness. Infertility makes you feel like you are alone in a sea of happy fertile people who were blessed to be able to plan their families, and see the natural fruit of their wombs. Infertility makes you feel left out. It's like being the only kid not picked for a team in kickball, or not being asked to a school dance when all your friends are going.
This weekend I was seriously bummed out. Just watching the kids play made me sad. I couldn't enjoy them because all I could think about was how broken and imperfect this world is - and how broken and imperfect I am. I thought about their circumstances, and how they came to us- and I thought about what I used to imagine as my future. You know- a good old, pity party.
And at the height of my brokenness and self-loathing, the boys asked for a bedtime story. I reached into the big basket and pulled out three board books. "Pick one," I offered, already too distracted by my pitiful nonsense to pay much attention to the titles. John noticed one of the three books was Max Lucado's book, The Crippled Lamb. He muttered something about that sounding like a really depressing children's book. I didn't remember the whole story. I knew it was something about a lamb that was there during the nativity. In a fleeting moment, I thought about putting that one back. It might be easier to stick with Little Monster or the Berenstein Bears than deal with the complicated theology of barnyard animals as spiritual beings.
The boys followed me into the bedroom and naturally they picked "the lamb one." I opened the book and started to read, telling myself not to get emotionally dragged into the story. Max Lucado is great - but sometimes a little heavy for a Sunday night. Big C was sitting on my lap while Little C wandered in and out of the closet, talking to himself and counting his fingers. I managed to get through the first part, about how poor little Joshua (the crippled lamb) always felt left out because he had a bad leg and the other lambs were mean to him. I remembered parts of the story as I read (it's easily been eight years since I read this one) about Abigail the nice old cow who encouraged Joshua that "God has a special place for those who feel left out." Why did that stupid dreamy-eyed cow have to say that? I got choked up on page two. Big C was sitting in my lap and he pointed to the drawing of the cow. "Is that his new mommy?" He asked. I sniffed. "Yes, she's . . . well, she's like his foster . . . foster mom." And then I really fell apart. Joshua the lamb was not able to go into the fields with the other lambs because he was crippled. He was different. He was broken. And my heart was just broken. I cried big, crocodile tears, desperately trying to pull myself together. But who was I crying for? The fictional lamb with a disability? For the next few pages, Joshua watches the birth of Christ unfold in the stable where he was left behind with Abigail the cow. When the baby Jesus is cold, Joshua curls up beside him to keep him warm and he stops crying. And then Joshua is reminded of Abigail's words: God does have a special place for those who feel left out.
As I wept my way through this children's book, Big C looked at me with complete astonishment. "You really ARE crying!" he exclaimed. "Yes, I am," I replied. Little C had stopped digging in his diaper long enough to notice my emotional breakdown.
"What's wrong with you?" Big C asked, "It's just a story. Besides it's all okay now, see, he's not sad anymore."
He was right. Joshua, the crippled lamb, made peace with his disability and his loss. He accepted God's purpose for his life, and was glad- maybe delighted - to be "the one" who stayed behind in the stable and got to be with Jesus.
And I'm gonna get there too- one day. But in the meantime, I hugged my little ones tight. They are mine for right now. I am here in this moment for this reason, just like Joshua.

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

These are My People

This new phase of my life is full of rich experiences that ought to be written down- if only I had the time. Something about the addition of three preschoolers into a house full of hormone-infused teenagers has me running in circles. And probably the most interesting part of this journey is making a home for three children who called me "Mommy" the first day they entered my home. Yes, it is a strange thing to go pick up three bright-faced children in the parking lot of a restaurant, strap them into car seats in your own vehicle, and bring them home. I cannot imagine what it must be like to be so little, and have no idea where you are going, where you will sleep that night, and who will be taking care of you. What must it be like to watch the sun go down as the car moves along an unfamiliar highway and you notice the dark gray caps of the blue ridge mountains ahead of you- mountains you have never seen, as you leave behind the last place you called "home?" My three new babies were in their last "placement" for only three hours before the "potential adoptive parents" who had taken them, made a decision to give them back. One of the case workers told me that these parents complained: "These are not the children you described to us on the phone," before packing them up and sending them on their way. At this point, having no other in-county options, their placement team decided to call our private agency in Atlanta, and the decision was made to send the three little ones to the home of "Mr. and Mrs. Line." Imagine that! A couple made a quick decision in under three hours and these children came to us! It's a miracle, really . . . a strange, wacky, mixed-up kind of miracle, but a miracle nonetheless and I will take them any way they come.
Of course this experience is different for all of the kids. Our sweet girl, just 18 months old now, is full of life and bubbly energy. She is happy to be held, cuddled, tickled, or just smiled at. She knows us and trusts us now after seven weeks. She calls John Daddy and reaches for him whenever he is nearby. I have to admit that in the beginning I wondered if she would attach to us. She seemed ready to go with anyone who showed her the slightest bit of attention. She reached for strangers, smiled at all of us the same, but looked lost and alone in the floor of her nursery class at the daycare. So I must admit, somewhat ashamedly, that I was secretly happy the first time I took her to day care and she refused to let me go. She held on to my arms, crying, pleading with those dark gray eyes for me to take her with me, instead of leaving her. I felt a twinge of guilt at my happiness, not that she was crying- but that she was longing, and that she was longing for me.
My little middle monkey just melts my heart. He has these big brown eyes and the deepest little voice for a three year-old. Just the sound of the word "Mommy" from his lips is all I need in the morning. At first I wasn't sure how he would bond with me. He was so confused about where he was, and who was the boss. He attached to John so easily, clinging to him like an orphan - grunting instead of talking, flying into tantrums if John set him down. I realize now that I avoided him for the first two weeks. It was easier to let John handle him, and the other two were demanding enough. I'm not saying I ignored him- but I just didn't work on getting to know him. And then one day, I saw him sleeping in his bed, his little body so tiny and I saw this precious baby that he is, so desperate for a mother's love. I made a decision in that moment to hold him more, to reach for him more, to tell him how handsome and how sweet he is, as much as possible and to nurture him.  I fell in love with him! And he fell in love with me too, and the nurturing paid off. Suddenly, he is even more charming and beautiful than the first day I saw him.
But the child who is probably experiencing this new stage of his life with the most difficulty is our oldest new child at five years old. He has hurt the most, I believe. He remembers the abuse and the violence he witnessed. He recalls those stories to me often. He remembers the places they have lived, the people who cared for him (or should have), and the way the house looked, the toys inside, and the beds they slept in. He remembers the names of previous caseworkers, caregivers, foster siblings, and family members. He has previously assumed the role of parent, and is just now learning to "let go" and be a little boy.
On his second day with us, while driving to my dear friend's house to play, he asked me "How long are we gonna live with you?"
I was shocked by his question, but I answered, "I hope forever."
He sat quietly for a minute before replying, "Why would anyone want to keep us forever?" 
On the way into his home town for court nearly two weeks ago, he sat up in his car-seat and looked around. We had driven for over two hours, away from the mountains, away from the river, away from our front porch and two dogs, and the toys in the yard. He hadn't said anything about where we were going- he was just along for the ride. But as we approached the center of town, he took notice of an old, run-down looking hotel where shady deals go down in the light of day. He sat up straight and tall, and announced that he and his brother had once lived in "that house." Further down the road, he looked out the window anxiously, watching familiar buildings and sites go by. Quieter than usual, he softly said: "I used to live in this world."
My heart sank.
I guess when you are five, and you have had 5 different homes in less than a year, and some strangers take you home and feed you, bathe you and tell you that you can call them "Mommy" and "Daddy," you probably do feel like you have gone into a different world. And when you once lived in a scrappy hotel and witnessed unspeakable acts of violence, and suddenly you are whisked away to live in a big, bright house full of crankly but lovable kids and two giant hilarious dogs, and a constant supply of friends and toys, it probably does seem a world away.

Last Friday night, John and I volunteered (what we we thinking??) to babysit kids for a foster parenting class. So we watched eleven preschoolers who all live in different foster homes in our area, including our own. I was surprised that in the room full of rambunctiousness (7 boys, 4 girls!) our three little ones clung to us like laundry on the clothesline. They refused to let go, swapping my lap for John's, or vice verse. I could barely get up to hand out crackers to the other kids. But finally, one by one, they began to play with the other kids and toys. John was picking up blocks and I had moved to the other end of the room. A little boy named Alex had fallen over and was crying. I picked him up and sat him on my lap. He cried and cuddled close to me, and soon his foster-sister, an adorable little four-year old girl with crossed-eyes and blue glasses, came and sat on my other leg. Soon they were smiling and holding on to me, and no sooner did my five year old take notice.
"Hey!" He shouted, angrily stomping his foot, "That's my mommy! And I want to sit on her lap!"
"It's okay," I told him, "They just want to sit with me for a few minutes."
He stomped his foot again, "But you're not THEIR PEOPLE! You're MY PEOPLE!"
I smiled and reminded him that he was going home with me, and there was no reason to be jealous. But secretly I was pretty happy. I'm happy to be his "people."
I pray and hope we can be their people forever. We need each other.

Friday, April 20, 2012

Is love worth the risk?

Another week in our journey has come and gone. John is in the bedroom giving little Lizzie a breathing treatment. The little boys are in bed, big boys are watching TV. Georgia is on a "date" at a school play. I needed to blog tonight.
I needed to blog because as we are four weeks into our new lives with "little ones," more of their story has begun to unfold before us, more of the sad truth about their predicament. Harder for me has been the realization that when we took these precious little ones- we were stepping into unknown territory. And the unknown territory is all because of one little box we checked on the last form of our home study. The question beside that box asks: "Willing to accept legal risk placement?" and we checked "Yes."
Of course, going back to that moment in my mind, our adoption caseworker was very cool and gentle about it. She was awesome after all. I remember sitting on our back porch and she was going over the final "application" to adopt. To the question of ages, we listed all ages up to ten since we had already determined not to upset the birth order already in place with John's three children. For the question of siblings, we checked "yes" and stated that we were willing to accept a group of 2-6 related children. To the question of race, we checked "all" because we truly did not have a preference. And that last question: "willing to accept legal risk placement?" Is the reason we now have C,C, and E.
Going back we wouldn't have done anything differently. We know scores of people who have accepted legal risk placement and now have their children, safely and permanently legally adopted. We have also heard a "few" horror stories, but not enough to scare us from checking that "yes" box.
When we first got that "all important" call about C, C, and E, we felt they would be ours for good. We forgot about checking that little box. We drove blindly and madly to a town nearly two hours away to pick up two dark-haired little boys with runny noses, and one blond little tot with soft chubby cheeks and a funny little smile. We signed some paperwork in the Cracker Barrel Parking lot. We took possession of three car seats, four garbage bags full of clothing and personal belongings, broken toys, stained and worn-out pajamas and outfits that I would never dream of putting on a child. We stuffed all of these things, along with the kids, one bicycle, one pink princess car, three green duffel bags and quite a few plastic superheroes with missing limbs into one car. We didn't have enough time to take a breath or process the depth of this situation, or pause to consider the risk.
We brought home our new kids, introduced them to our existing kids, put everyone to bed and tried to sort through the mounds of junk, limited paperwork, and varying emotions. Lizzie woke us up the first night and I hopped up to rock her in a rocking chair that brought back memories of Jeremiah. I stroked her hair and smelled her baby smell and recalled all the nights I had cried myself to sleep wondering if God would ever hear my cry and give me a baby. Had he given me a baby? No, not in the conventional sense, but for a few nights I forgot that she wasn't mine yet.
My mom came into town and stayed for four nights after I called her in a panic. We had only had two hours notice after all! John took off family medical leave, but it didn't kick in for another week. Alone at the house with three preschoolers, mom and several wonderful church members came to my rescue. The first few days and nights were especially rough. I was so tired! But after mom came and went, and then John was on leave, everything seemed to get a little better. They began calling us "Mommy" and "Daddy." My friend April came to help me out one day and meet the kids. She commented that I had waited so long for a child to call me "Mommy" and now I had three who called me that special name.
But then the next week came. Week two was when the case worker called to arrange a visit with biological mom. We didn't know the whole story, but we began to piece it together with the fragmented information in their files and with what we had been given by DFACS. At the end of week two, another worker called to arrange a visit for the oldest child with his biological dad. Soon we were shuffling the kids around to meet with people who had obviously let them down to some advanced degree in the past. When we told the oldest of his visit with dad, he threw himself in the floor crying and begged not to go. At their second visit with mom, he informed her that "I have a new mommy and daddy now" which did not go over well. At each visit, mom sent more junky toys, more candy, more cheap clothing in the wrong sizes. She sent home garbage bags of Easter candy with labels warning not to give to small children due to choking hazards and chocolate bunnies so old they had turned almost white. Again, we sorted through the "baggage" and pitched what was unacceptable.
And in the past week, I have started feeling this deep fear and sadness. I have to remind myself every day that God is in control of this situation. I would hear one thing from one person involved in the case and I would feel like it was just a matter of time until the termination would take place. Then I would talk to another worker or voice in the case and hear a completely different side of the story. This is just a mess, just a tricky mess. Nothing seems to ever be simple in life. But some grace did come yesterday, through our Families First caseworker, Jocelyn, who took one hour out of her busy life to talk to me and answer all of my questions about the pending court case, birth mom's rights, criminal proceedings, and a lot of legal jargon. She reminded me that we did agree to accept legal risk and that there is no guarantee that these children are here to stay. Then she reminded me of the important role we play in these children's lives right now. "The best thing you can do right now," she told me, "is love them and try to give them the most normal and healthy family situation you can give them at this moment in their lives. Love them the way you would want someone to love your children."
At first that really stung. I wanted to say "but I don't have any children of my own." It reminded me of all the kids I have loved and lost. It reminded me of Peniel and Jeremiah, who's hand prints are all over our home, and who we could not have loved more if they had been born to us. I still can't bear to paint over Jeremiah's drawing on the wall beside the pantry, or his name that is drawn into the wall above the bed he used to occupy. Some of their clothing and toys have now been passed on to these two new little boys. I don't put a shirt on these boys without remembering Jeremiah wearing it on the first day of Kindergarten, or to church one Sunday. And I know that when we took those two sweet boys, we were also taking a risk. We loved them with all we had, with complete devotion, but we couldn't keep them. In the end, we lost them, but our love for them will never go away.
So we will love again because love is worth the risk. We don't know how long they will be ours. I pray it is forever, and I pray that we were wise to take the risk again. For them, tonight, right now, they are part of this family. And in my heart they always will be, no matter what.
Please pray for us.

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Week One Done

So it has been one week since our new kids joined our family. So much has happened in one week, namely, I have lost five pounds and about 40% of my brain cells, and I can no longer complete a sentence without trailing off into a fog. Having gone on a few mission trips, including construction project trips, I can honestly say without a doubt that I am exhausted. I have never been this tired in my life. But yes, tired and happy. The kids are wonderful. They came with lots of baggage, but they are wonderful.
My five year old can cuss you out in just a few seconds. He knows words I had never heard in college. He knows how to use them. He can cuss you under the table in no time at all. Today, I was thrilled to hear him say "Shut the heck up!" to his baby brother, rather than: "Shut the X#$% up!" like I was hearing a few days ago. He is a precious, little, dark-haired boy with tiny teeth and big brown eyes. He wants to do right, and he wants to be somebody's little boy, but he is so angry. He has been hurt by so many adults, that he just lashes out at everyone.
My "middle child" came to me with chronic diarrhea. His paperwork says that it started on March 9th, which is why I am calling it "chronic." I took him to the pediatrician where he wailed and screeched for her as he has for me for an entire week. He makes sounds like a wild animal when I  change his diaper. The diaper contents look like guacamole, refried beans, or well . . .use your imagination. He just can't shake his tummy troubles but it hasn't hurt his big appetite. He loves all foods, and he loves John! He won't take a nap unless it's laying on John's chest or being rocked by John.
My little girl is just sixteen months old. She is funny, with a bossy little personality, walking around sticking her finger in everyone's face and saying "No!" She loves carbs and has such chunky little legs you would swear she was my biological child. Our plan is to change her middle name to Joy when she is adopted.
We are slowly falling into a routine. John is home for SIX WEEKS!!! on paid leave!!! I am overjoyed, and with his help, we are getting it done. I always thought I was so good with children. It's a different world with these guys. John is so good with them, so patient, and so gentle. I am so blessed to have him as my partner.
We have gates up in our house, we have covers on the electrical outlets, stoppers on the drawers. There is never a dull moment! well, there wasn't before!
Pray for us, because the kids are still "foster" until the biological parents are terminated. It will be a long, hard road. Nothing wonderful ever comes easy, right?

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Finally Home!

Today around 2:30 pm, came the most joyous of phone calls ever made. The adoption supervisor at our agency called us to ask if we would be interested in a sibling group of three: two boys (age 5, and 2) and a baby girl age 1. Never in my wildest dreams did I expect this call, this perfect call. John and I were together because he was so sweetly helping me move boxes from a storage facility for work. We put the caseworker on speaker phone so we could both hear about the kids, just an hour away from us in foster care. When she told us about the babies, I jokingly asked, "Can I pick them up today?" Jane replied, "Actually, I was going to ask you if you would pick them up today."

Words cannot describe the feeling of driving to meet our new kids. I couldn't imagine what they would look like, and that didn't matter. I just couldn't wait to meet them, and hold them, and tell them, "you are safe." The caseworker was parked behind a Cracker Barrel restaurant and joyfully handed the baby over to me when we pulled into the parking lot. Elizabeth held out her little hands to me and laid her head on my shoulder. "They're exhausted," The caseworker told us, "They've been through so much." The boys looked up with round, big brown eyes, probably wondering who we are following a string of broken placements in their short lives.

There are today a flood of emotions I cannot explain. I rocked a baby girl tonight in my arms- a baby I never expected would find her way to me. We put the boys to bed and settled in for the first of many nights together. Thank you, God.

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

If I could just see where I'm going

Sunday morning God had a nice little lesson for me to learn at church. Surprisingly, it didn't come through the sermon, the music, the Bible study class before worship, or even through the word of anyone trying to encourage me. It was just before the sermon, when our pastors offer "a time with the children and yayas." YAYAS are "youth and young adults." I still think of myself as a young adult, but I refrain from thumping down the aisle and plopping down on the carpeted stage area amongst the kiddos in our little congregation. But since our church kids are mostly pre-teen and teen age, Mitchell and Samuel are often the youngest kids up front during this time. Dr. George asked for a volunteer, and naturally the uninhibited Mitchell was the first to raise his hand. The other "yayas" just rolled their eyes and pretended to be bored out of their minds. Dr. George blindfolded Mitchell and asked him to follow his directions (his voice) as they walked down the center aisle together. Mitchell leaned in closely and listened for Dr. George to lead him down the aisle. At the back of our little sanctuary, Mitchell was allowed to remove his blindfold. Sensing his "turn" was over, Mitchell galloped back to his spot on the floor by the pulpit, while Dr. George gave another child a turn with the activity. After finishing with the second volunteer, George asked the kids to share about what it was like to blindly follow his voice down the center aisle. In his nonsensical way, Mitchell blurted out what would be the most important statement of the morning church service for me:
"It seemed like it took forever to get back there because I couldn't see where I was going!"
Bam! Right between the eyes, that was for me. I'm having such a hard time with this part of my journey. This waiting . . . this constant wondering . . . this aching, longing, desperately painful, seemingly stretched-out, ridiculous wait for children to call my own. Looking at profiles, asking questions, waiting for a returned phone call or email, waking up at night wondering who is caring for my children right now and how much longer will it be until they are with me and our family. It just seems like it's taking forever.
I hear and recognize the voice of God calling me forward on this journey. Sometimes I just want to rip off the blindfold and shout: "Where are you taking me? And why is it taking so long??????!!!!!!"

Today I picked up a rental car because earlier this week, someone accidentally hit me in front of the high school. Samuel was with me during the accident. He was quick to point out that because Georgia's plans had changed at the very last minute, we were there in front of the high school at a different time than originally planned. She had to stay after school for a last-minute makeup test in French class, and a meeting for the cross-country team. This required a slight deviation in our plans, and ended up with our sitting in front of the high school for over an hour and a half (thirty minutes stuck in the car because the other driver had pinned me in on the driver's side and the other side was in the oncoming lane.) While we waited for the police and wrecker, Samuel and Georgia talked about how hot it was outside, how thirsty and hungry they were, and how long it was taking the police to arrive. It's hard to believe this was all somehow part of God's plan for our day. But I realized as I was driving along today, that God never has a "plan B." His plans are perfect. That's what the Bible says anyway. See-
 II Samuel 22:31 “As for God, his way is perfect:
                       The LORD’s word is flawless;
                        he shields all who take refuge in him." 

I will be honest with you. I've always got a "plan B." That's because my ways are NOT perfect. My plan "A" life was not working out the way I wanted it to go. So I tried to move to my Plan "B" and I soon discovered that plan was also imperfect because it was mine.
But now I sit here thinking that all along, God's plan for my life was and is perfect. I should have submitted myself to His will all along, rather than fighting him with my own will and desires for my life. As hard as it is to accept, this waiting, this seemingly obnoxious period of being "matched" with a group of kids who need parents, is, just like my sudden change of colleges, my bad first marriage, my divorce, my infertility, my struggles with step-motherhood . . .  all part of His perfect plan for my life.
                     Isaiah 55:9 “As the heavens are higher than the earth,
                                  so are my ways higher than your ways
                                      and my thoughts than your thoughts. 

 I'm going to try to remember this.

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

The Ache

My lovely friend Dea from church gave me a wonderful little devotional book at the beginning of the year. It was written by Sarah Young, and it's called Jesus Calling. I love this little book, and it's never far from me in the morning. Turns out, it was exactly what I needed. Isn't that amazing? That God would care so much about the little (seemingly insignificant) details of my life that He would orchestrate the events so that Dea would give me this book, that was written by someone I've never met, but that it would touch me in such a profound way . . .

My faith has been challenged in new ways since I left full-time ministry. Yes, I do miss my comfy job at Hebron. It was easy . . . maybe too easy sometimes, after being there in that same spot for fourteen years. Don't get me wrong, the hour-long commute for the past three years was not easy, but the job was . . . comfortable. I knew how to do it. I was able to avoid conflict and navigate my way through big and small events. There weren't as many challenges as just ordinary bumps along the way.

Leaving all I had known in Gwinnett/Barrow counties and relocating completely to Lumpkin has been interesting and DIFFERENT in so many ways. I am now a part of a completely different kind of church, with a different style of worship (same Jesus), and lots of new people with different experiences and different ideas. And everywhere I turn, I am blessed to find God's people all working toward the same goals. I work for a nonprofit but not a ministry, I work with people of all different backgrounds and practices. I face challenges that are new and  . . . did I already say it? Different. 

But it doesn't really matter where you go, or what you are doing, you always have to take YOU with you. I mean, here I am, doing something completely different than ever before, with new hours, new responsibilities, new experiences, new perspective . . . and I've got the same old me, the same old temptations, the same old habits, the same old quirks. (Don't ask John, he will tell you that my addiction to Golden Girls reruns makes me weird. This is a "quirk") . . .

And the same old me is still facing the same old daily battle. It's this: One in seven women are/will be affected by infertility. I am the one in seven. I am her. I don't like being her. I would rather not be her.

So it comes as no surprise that while reading Jesus Calling two days ago, after a night filled with bad dreams and some sadness, God spoke to me very clearly through this little book. This book is a daily reader, written in first-person as if God is speaking directly to you. It's basically just scripture, so you don't have to face the age-old questions about if God would really say this . . . because honey, he already did. Of course, the author does take a little liberty (we all do) and in patching together this verse of scripture to that one, she does add a phrase here or there. Monday's reading encouraged me to face up to my biggest faith obstacle . . . and even give it a "nickname" - introducing it to God, and allowing him to handle it. Wow, I've never considered this nickname business before. It seemed a little . . . unconventional? I can tell you my biggest faith obstacle but giving it a nickname? Well, that sounds a little silly . . . a little lighthearted . . . a little like I don't feel. My faith obstacle is hard to sum up in five hundred words or less. My faith obstacle seems so big. How could I give it a nickname and introduce it to Jesus like it was this annoying kid who lives next door to you and is always there asking nosy questions about what you are cooking for dinner?

So I thought about this for awhile. I read over the daily reading again. I got still. I got quiet. I paused just long enough for the nickname to enter my mind. The ache.
The ache is the name of my biggest obstacle. It's not JUST the infertility. It's not JUST the two babies I lost from my own body, and the one I lost in a failed adoption. It's not JUST the feeling of raising other people's kids but not being called MOTHER. It's not JUST being the one out of seven. It's not JUST having to tell people over and over again why I don't have any babies of my own . . . and never really understanding why. Why was I picked? Why was I the one in seven? What did I do?
The Ache is the only name that I can use to really explain it. It's a deep longing, a deep hurt, a deep and abiding sadness that never really goes away. It's a tender spot that aches when you touch it. The ache does ease off sometimes. Sometimes the ache gives me purpose. Sometimes the ache gives me energy to help someone else. Sometimes the ache gives me compassion, or empathy. Sometimes the ache helps me identify with people that I never would have had a friendship with before. And sometimes, like a few days ago . . . I hate the ache with all my heart.
So I named it. I  named my biggest faith obstacle and I introduced it to Jesus.
And he said: “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” (that is really in the Bible, too.)

Who knows? Maybe one day I will make friends with the ache.

Thanks, Dea.