True Confessions….

In light of what’s happening in the world right now, here is a really dumb post to keep the mood breezy……

A few things you may not know about me:

Now that J.O. is working from home, I sometimes go to work even when I’m off and just read a book. Alone. In my office.

Sometimes I go for a “run” but really just go around the corner and sit on the trail behind our house and watch Netflix. I’ve never been more “healthy” than when I was trying to finish Grey’s Anatomy.

My son open hand slapped me this morning when my eyes were closed in bed because I wouldn’t look at him. So, I did what the therapist suggested and pivoted away from him. He then threw himself off the bed in anger so I told my 2 1/2 year old with global developmental delays, “That hurt no one but you bud. I’m headed to the shower.” He was fine FYI….me too for anyone concerned.

Our house has cameras in it for an old alarm system. The younger girls still think they work and I take risks on that one all the time. So far I am 10/10 on telling them to go ahead and confess because I saw it on camera. I’ve learned a lot of interesting things simply by bluffing. I’m getting very good. Sometimes they yell at me and ask me what they’re doing in front of the camera. I can usually guess or sneak around and peak.

If I’m in a bad mood, I grab my flower mask out of the car instead of my First Baptist one. That way I don’t have to worry if I’m not too friendly.

I realized several years ago spanking didn’t work for my kids. Plus, I only ever spanked out of anger. I also said dumb things like, “do you want a spanking?” My mom pointed out once that a child has never answered yes to that question. In the last 2 years my kids behavior has stayed the same. It’s no better or worse with lack of spanking. So has this worked? No clue. But we are all happier.

Having 5 kids gets me out of a lot. No one expects me to be really good at anything. It’s been awesome for someone who is happy being mediocre. When Henry is the only child at home, I will have to move.

I don’t have fear of missing out. I love chatting and keeping up with friends, but relaxing on the couch wins out every time.

Well, if you made it this far congrats. Hopefully I can create a more intelligent post soon.

Treating People like Humans

I’m obsessed with a new show on ABC called “For Life.” It follows a man wrongfully convicted of being a drug kingpin who receives life in prison on his first conviction. It’s based loosely on a true story and is easily one of my favorite dramas on tv.

My favorite part of the show is the female warden of the prison, because she is determined to completely change the way the prison is run. She allows longer visitations, more contact between inmates, and gives them a place to work out and play sports outside.

Basically, she treats them like humans.

I’ve only been inside a prison as a visitor twice and both times were within the last year. So, I will be the first to admit my experience is very limited. However, I noticed something the first time I visited. The mood in the visitation room was extremely subdued. The officer on duty was very stoic and had no visible personality. Now, I should be clear about something. The women in this facility are not on death row with shanks hidden in their pants pocket. Felons yes, but mostly due to a lifelong struggle with addiction.

Anyway, I was immediately told this guard wouldn’t let many things fly. The women were visibly nervous when I started letting Henry roam around the room. He started going towards the American flag and I could tell this was not okay. The guard was giving us the eye and Henry’s biological mom told me I should probably grab him. She told me she was nervous this guard would give her a strike and she was working so hard for no strikes. I just chalked it up to prison life and tried my best to keep Henry from running rampant. At one point, she asked the guard if we could take Henry in the play room and the answer was no. There seemed to be no apparent reason for this answer other than the fact that she could.

However, the next time I visited I noticed something different. There was a different guard on duty and the room was visibly more relaxed. Women were smiling and talking a bit louder and the guard even made an effort to engage in a bit of small talk. The play room was utilized and Henry was able to make his way over to the coveted flag. It was a better experience completely, but the reason didn’t hit me until one night when I was watching my beloved show.

The second guard treated these women like humans. She celebrated their families, smiled at their children, and allowed them to play together in the playroom. She still followed every single rule they had, but did it while remembering these were actual people. With real families. And real lives outside of these four walls.

We wonder why people are so often released from jail just to find themselves right back in. Have you ever been around a child who can do nothing right with their parents? Seriously. They wake up and screw up from the second their feet hit the floor. They are too loud, too rowdy, too rude, too messy, etc. etc. And after a while they just quit caring. They are going to stay in trouble no matter what so they might as well have fun while doing it.

Now, before you come at me with, “but kids are not hardened criminals” or “these people are terrible people.” Let me tell you something. I’ve heard about some kids doing some pretty sad things. Starting fires, offending against a younger child, and so forth. But make no mistake….if we tried to rehabilitate them by putting them in a metal cell in our closet, we would be the ones arrested. We don’t do that because it wouldn’t work. And because it’s extremely cruel. As parents, we may send our child somewhere for help, but it would look more like a therapeutic center and less like shackles and chains.

I’m not asking for a debate on whether adult criminals should be incarcerated. Of course someone who kills another person should be put away. Or someone who sex traffics young girls. And so on and so on. The day sin entered the world, there became a need for rules and regulations.

But I am saying this. As a society, we have to quit treating humans like caged animals and being shocked when they bite.

Same Blood

“Grace and I can share popsicles because we have the same blood.” Annalise made this comment a few weeks ago and though it made me laugh, it also made me think. What did that mean in her young mind? That Trey, Addison, and Henry weren’t her siblings? No. That’s not what she meant. That we weren’t her “real” family? Maybe on a subconscious level, but I don’t think she meant that either.

What I think she meant was exactly what she said. Her and Grace share DNA so they can share food. In her 8 year old mind their germs are the same. Now, you should know something. There was a time this would’ve offended me. Truly. That’s how fragile I was as an adoptive mom. I would’ve felt the need to stand up for whatever injustice I felt this did to Trey, Addie, and Henry and I would’ve needed to make this right. Lest they feel left out.

Not long ago, Annalise did something that was the spitting image of something J.O. would do. I jokingly said, “oh my goodness, you are so much like your daddy.” To which Anna quipped back and said, “which one?” Because again…she’s smart. She realizes that she shares DNA with another man so technically she doesn’t get innate traits from J.O. Now, ashamedly years ago I would have said something like: “What do you mean, which one? You only have one dad.” But, we all know that to be a lie.

I was talking to a therapist years ago and told her Annalise continually told us she would live with us for a bit, and then go back to her other parents. This was right after the adoption and it was devastating to me. I still had the mentality of wiping out her past and rewriting it with only us. Because, I had a God complex apparently. And I will never forget what the therapist said to me. She said, “And so what if she does? What if she leaves at 18 and does just that? Will you have the kind of relationship that can survive it?”

Ouch. The answer was no. Would that be a hard reality if it happened? Of course. But, does it keep me awake at night? No. The truth is, Annalise and Grace have traits that are clearly from someone else. Physical traits aside, those girls can bend in ways that would literally snap Addie right in half. Henry spends his days in the dirt making truck sounds while Trey hates to be dirty. All kids are different. Biological or not. Trey and Addison could not be more different if they tried, but they get certain undeniable traits from J.O. and I.

I suppose the point is this. When you know better you do better. I feel like our world needs to hear this now more than ever. Don’t live on traditions simply because they make you feel safe. Truthfully, the very things some of us hold near and dear are the very things that make others feel threatened. Addie and Trey were not threatened at all when Annalise wouldn’t share her popsicle. Other than simply wanting the rest of it, there was no injustice done. There was no oppression to them by missing out. There was nothing holding them back from their dreams of getting their own popsicle one day. It was a perceived injustice that truthfully just made them irritated.

Obviously this is an exaggerated and silly example, but hopefully you get the point. I could’ve silenced Annalise that day and she no doubt would’ve conformed to my desires. She would’ve learned to hide the hard things and not speak up about things that make us uncomfortable. I would “win” and she would lose. Until the day she had her own voice and freedom to talk. And would people see a bitter, ungrateful adoptee? Or would they listen? Would they care about the history? The backstory? The therapist who advised her adoptive mom all those years ago to make better decisions? Or would they think she was threatening the entire system of adoption and try to silence her? Would she become an “angry adoptee” or a voice of reason?

Maybe it’s time to listen to those traditionally silenced. Even if we don’t understand. Or like it. Or even agree. Will our relationships withstand this? Are they strong enough? If your answer is no, it may be time to figure out why.

Your hair smells good….

A few weeks ago I was sitting in the chair with one of my kids and they commented on my hair smelling good. I didn’t think too much about it and just said thanks and moved on. Then, a few days later, I was laying in bed with another child and she commented on my face smelling great. She wanted to know what kind of lotion I had on. Fast forward to a third child commenting on my hair and I wondered what in the world had changed. I was using the same shampoo and in fact, actually showering less than before Covid hit.

Honestly, I was quite proud that I had trained my hair to go longer between washes by not washing it as often. It certainly couldn’t have been smelling good then. Had I changed dry shampoo? I didn’t think so. My face lotion was the same Mary Kay I had been using for months. Why were they suddenly enamored with my smell?

Then, it hit me. We’ve never had this much time together before. They had never spent this much time sitting beside me reading or watching tv. Or this much time laying with me in bed talking while I pretended to nap. Or stayed in my bathroom while I was getting ready and pilfered through my makeup and browsed my jewelry. Before we were all home together things looked very different. My mornings were spent getting ready in solitude before anyone was awake. My nights were spent running in the door from 15 different activities and shoveling whatever was in the crockpot onto their plates. Typically at this point I was yelling about homework that needed to be done, notebooks that needed signed, and pajamas that needed put on.

I doubt my mom even knows this, but one of my favorite memories is being in her bathroom while she got dressed. Being a mom myself now, I realize she probably didn’t love the lack of privacy but she never said a word. My memories of this time are very random. I remember her always putting on a robe and then the smell of the lotion she would put on. She always had new makeup I wanted to see and some new hair gadget I wanted to try. It was typically a new round brush, velcro rollers, sponge rollers, or something else of the sort. I would sit on the clothes hamper and watch her dry her hair and put on makeup.

It’s so sad to me that it has taken a pandemic for my kids to smell my hair.

Don’t get me wrong: I miss our activities. In fact, I’m so ready to head back to church, swim with friends, and go out to dinner on a whim. My kids are missing friends and are already looking forward to the fall. Especially Grace who needs interaction and face to face friendships. But, I hope I don’t miss the lesson in this time of stillness.

I tell my kids all the time not to qualify their apologies. Don’t say, “I’m sorry for yelling, but it’s because you’re mean.” Or, “I’m sorry for hitting you, but you made me.” I hope I don’t look back and qualify this time in our home. I hope we look back and the kids remember sitting on my tub while I put on makeup. Or sitting in the chair with me watching Shark Tank or Ninja Warrior. Or laying in my bed while I try to convince them I’m sleeping.

I hope they look back and remember what I smelled like. And it makes them smile the same way it makes me smile picturing my mom in her robe patiently listening to me talk.

Entire Span of Life….

Years ago, I heard Christie Erwin give a speech on fostering and adopting and it completely changed my thinking. She began her talk by saying she realized she had to do more than just say she was pro-life. She had to put action to those words. I’ve been thinking lately about what that should really look like for those of us who are pro-life.

If you’re pro-life, you’re pro-family. Period. The 12 year old who is raped by a family member and has no one to turn to? She needs food stamps, free childcare to attend school, help finding a job, and housing as she ages. She doesn’t need judged if one kid early, leads to multiple kids later. It might mean multiple kids on food stamps or standing on the corner asking for money. But, she didn’t abort.

If you’re pro-life, you don’t rejoice when families fall apart. This is a controversial topic and one you may think hypocritical coming from me. However, although I cannot imagine life without 3 of my kids, I wish even more their family would’ve been restored. That hurts even typing it. It really does. Don’t get me wrong. As Christians we are called to stand in the gap when reunification doesn’t happen. But, it’s a family born out of loss. Period.

If you’re pro-life, your thinking changes from: I need to call DHS on that mom, to I need to help that mom. Again, don’t misunderstand me here. There is no tolerance on abuse, sexual misconduct, etc. But most kids enter foster care due to neglect. That typically means poverty. Lack of food. Lack of housing. Etc. Our mind usually goes to worst case scenario when we meet foster kids. Myself included. We picture kids locked in closets and starved to death or beaten. And make no mistake, that happens. But, we tend to only hear about those stories because they spread around Facebook like wildfire. Reading about a child locked in a closet is more interesting than reading about a mom struggling with alcohol and homelessness. Sad, but true.

When sin entered the world, there became a need for foster and adoptive parents and that need will not go away this side of Heaven. If you have always considered fostering or adopting you should do it. Especially if you are pro-life. However, just be prepared to do it with eyes wide open. Fostering may lead to adoption and that can be a great thing. We just tend to stop there. But pro-life means so much more than stopping at birth. It means helping the moms who chose life when the world told them not to. It means helping the children who are affected by addiction. It means helping a foster family BUT it may also mean helping a birth mom. It might mean buying her clothes, food, etc.

If being pro-life meant it ended at birth, we would call it pro-birth. Or pro-pregnancy. But, we are implying that we are pro birth-death. The entire span of life. So, maybe we should either change our thinking a bit or be honest with where we really stand.

Life of Privilege

I don’t write about our oldest son Trey often because he’s easy. You know what I mean. He’s that child who is friends with everyone, kind by nature, and a true momma’s boy. That’s not to say he’s without any faults….he’s still human. In fact, when we were mulching our flower beds, I actually understood why some mothers eat their young. He continually stood in one spot while I worked circles around him. He was also talking my ear off and I realized he had a major man flaw; he didn’t have the ability to talk and work.

Anyway, that’s not the point. This week we came to the beach to just get away. The fact that we even have the ability to do this is not lost on me. We have the ability to pick up and leave without worrying about things left behind. J.O. is out of a job, but we still have money. That’s not the reality for most Americans who are out of work. In fact, it’s why I find myself so torn on the coronavirus crisis. Not torn on the precautions we should take (masks, social distancing, hand washing), but torn on my personal opinion. It’s not life changing for us to alter our lifestyle and stay home but for a ton of people it is. Childcare is a necessity for Americans to work so I refuse to judge people who send their kids to summer camps or daycares. Staying home is not an option for all. It’s very easy for me to have a strong opinion when I don’t face the same reality.

I digress again. This week Trey has found a new found freedom on his bike. This is the best place to ride for miles because it’s extremely flat. We’ve allowed him to take off and explore on his own. I went with him the first two days, but then he took additional rides solo. Yesterday, he grabbed his wallet and rode to the ice cream shop down the street for some ice cream in private. It gave him a taste of independence while still (hopefully) being safe.

However, yesterday when I sent him off and told him to call me when he got there, I realized something. I was worried about his traffic skills, but not worried at all about him riding a bike through neighborhoods. Not at all worried about people thinking he’s suspicious or up to no good. Or questioning his motives. Or drilling him at the ice cream shop about paying with cash and where it came from. None of that was a fear for me. Even when he pulled over in a neighborhood and took a break and was on his phone. Nothing concerned me about that at all.

I guess I’m rambling to say this. It’s never been more evident than now our society is still in favor of families like mine. That’s just a fact. It’s not Trey’s fault that this is his reality, but it gives him a responsibility. Responsibility to at least recognize it and acknowledge it. It should change the way he does things. Change the way he looks at things. It’s going to be tempting for him to read articles and think, “I wonder what really happened?” or think, “I would never do that.”

You know, we have all become experts during this time. We are all sharing some pretty amazing articles and statistics with little thought to their accuracy. And the truth is, we share what is relevant and helpful to us. Want the world to stay completely locked down? Find a statistic to back it up. Conspiracy theory? Share something to support that. Think we should open up tomorrow and the most vulnerable stay home? Find some doctors who agree with you.

I could find any statistic I want on fostering and adopting. And if I couldn’t find what I wanted, I could write a pretty convincing article and label myself an expert.

During this time, we shouldn’t be naive. Ask yourself questions and do some scholarly research. But make sure you acknowledge your own privilege while doing it. It’s easy for me to enjoy this week at the beach. It really is. I have some amazing in-laws who are here too and J.O. has been more relaxed than I’ve seen him in some time. I’m not worried about our ability to go home and pay the bills. At least for a while…. This will go down as a great vacation although it came from a storm in our life. That’s called privilege.

This is one of the hardest things to teach Trey without making it his fault. It’s not his fault he was born a middle class white boy, but it’s our responsibility to make sure he’s not the man chasing the jogger in the truck one day. It’s our responsibility to help him see all sides of the coin and to help him see our reality is not the same for most. My biggest hope and prayer is that he grows up so focused on Jesus that this is not hard for him to grasp. Because truthfully, that’s everything Jesus embodies. It’s much easier to teach our child to see others through the lens of grace and love when he is looking at others through the lens of Jesus.

When you don’t see the ram..

I wrote a post last week about God’s provision and specifically used the story of Abraham. I made the point that Abraham knew God would provide when he was asked to sacrifice Isaac. Either by providing a replacement, or bringing him back to life. In the end, God told Abraham not to harm his son and there was a ram in the bushes to fulfill the sacrifice.

But, what about when the ram isn’t there? What about the times you pray specifically and there is no visible way out. J.O. has been blessed with an amazing job the past 14 years. He went to work at this place when Trey was a baby. The way the door opened for him to work there was nothing short of a God thing. J.O.’s dad met a guy through his John Deere business that was in the exact field J.O. was looking to get into. This man wasn’t looking to hire anyone at the time, but said J.O. could come in and talk with him. J.O. had another job offer at the time, but wasn’t too excited about it. It was a grant writing position and the epitome of a desk job. J.O. couldn’t imagine sitting behind a desk all day, but he was also terrified to turn it down.

When he met with this man David, they hit it off immediately. David decided to take a chance on him and the partnership was born. J.O. loved this job. He was good at it and thrived in the environment. He worked a lot and was often stressed, but it was easy to overlook because it provided a great life. I often felt like a cheat when people would tell me how great it was what we were doing with fostering and adopting. I knew so many others that sacrificed so much financially and it wasn’t that way for us. It felt wrong to put us into that category.

Time marched on and and things were going really well. Until they weren’t. Seemingly overnight things at work got more stressful and no matter how hard we prayed they just weren’t improving. We had friends praying with us, and one of our friends put it best: “It seems the harder I pray, the worse it gets.” J.O. and I started praying for God to show us what to do. But truthfully, we were praying without really expecting anything to change. Really, what I meant was this: “God help the stress to go away and the money to come.”

Looking back now, I was praying bold prayers with my own thought process of how they should be answered. I assumed the ram was there but just hidden for a bit longer.

Then, on Friday, J.O. was called into the office and let go. You could’ve hit him with a ton of bricks. He was hurt, devastated, and lost. He still is. I was mad. Still am. That ram isn’t stuck in a bush. It’s not even there. 14 years, 5 kids later, seemingly down the drain.

However, once I somewhat calmed down, I realized J.O. would’ve never walked away from this job and I would’ve never encouraged it. But, I could see the stress and strain this job put on him. The time it took away from our family. The burden he carried for everyone he worked with. The way he and I had both allowed his identity to be caught up in his job.

He was on the phone with someone after this happened, and I heard the person say “but this is who you are.” And it stopped me in my tracks. This is NOT who J.O. is. J.O. is the man who for the last 15 years has gotten up before me and made my coffee, who has fixed breakfast for kids for the last 13 years. Who has prayed with me, for me, and over me. Who has looked the other way when I spent too much, or came up with crazy ideas for our family. That’s who he is.

The ram wasn’t there. It never came for us and that’s okay. Because the Lamb was already sacrificed. God knew this day would come and that we would be hurt and lost and wondering what to do. We don’t know what the future holds. We don’t know if we will have to make major life changes as painful as that would be. But, we do know this. Just because our prayer didn’t turn out the way we hoped, doesn’t mean it wasn’t answered. We have a choice to make. We can be bitter, angry, and resentful that God took something so important from us. Or we can praise Him for His answer. And as hard as it may be; we are both praising Him for His answer.

Provision

J.O. and I were recently talking about some things that seem to be going in the opposite direction of where we need them to go. It led us to talk about all the ways God has provided in our life, and how we had to trust He would continue. But did I believe that? Or did I only believe that when I wanted Him to fix something? How often did I trust in God’s provision now matter how things were going?

One morning, I decided to look up every time the Bible talked about God’s provision. One of the hardest stories for me in the Bible is when God told Abraham to place his son on the altar. Do you remember that one? If you don’t, here’s a quick refresher: God told Abraham to take Isaac into the woods and build an altar. As they were building it, Isaac became curious what they would sacrifice. Can you imagine being Abraham in that time? Honestly, this story has always made me a little aggravated. Why in the world would God expect Him to sacrifice the child he had waited on for years. That seemed so unfair.

If you continue on with the story, you know that Abraham obeyed. He strapped Isaac onto the altar and was getting ready to sacrifice his son when he was stopped by a voice. This voice told him not to harm Isaac and suddenly a ram appeared for the sacrifice. As hard as this story is to believe, I do think it’s literal. I believe this actually happened even though some argue it’s an illustration. I mean, I get why it’s so hard to understand. If I tried to strap Trey onto an altar of wood and light him on fire, I would be arrested and Trey put into protective services. And rightfully so.

However, while this is hard for us to understand, for the first time it hit me: Sometimes, we have to be taken through things we don’t understand to be reminded there is a ram in the corner. Now, I’m not naive enough to think all our hardships look the same. Some seem extremely unfair. I look at friends who have lost a spouse, a child, their house due to finances, and grieve with them, but I can’t understand it.

However, I know that in my own life I am so guilty of becoming complacent and putting my trust in other things until they are slowly stripped away. There’s more to the story of Abraham that is easy to miss. When Abraham was told to go sacrifice his son, he told people they were going to worship God, but that they would be back. Now, you can think one of two things here: Abraham thought God was just playing (we have no evidence that God had tricked Abraham before so that’s a reach) or he knew God would provide.

Here’s the hard reality in our life all these years later: Sometimes, the ram doesn’t show up to save the day in a way we would expect. Pain and suffering happen. Jobs are not good and money is not there. Illness strikes and people die.

Sometimes, we don’t see the ram waiting in the bushes. Sometimes, we see no way out of a situation. But make no mistake….the ultimate sacrifice has already been made on our behalf. The day has already been saved. We don’t have to wonder what God will ask us to do next. We already know. Sometimes His provision is hard to see. Sometimes we may not understand it this side of Heaven. But, it’s always there because it’s already been done. That is provision we can count on even when we don’t understand.