Thursday, May 14, 2009

"It's About...Love"

I have mentioned my lovely family in my posts.

I usually throw in the caveat that two of my kids were adopted when I mention that I have seven children--not because they are different or not as much a part of my family, but probably because in this day and age when one says they have seven kids you get a lot of shocked looks. So I think I am sort of apologizing for having more than the 2.3 kids that is the 'norm'.

I shouldn't do that.

I don't love my adopted children any less than my biological children.

I'm really going to have to start being more proud of the fact that I have 7 kids. I adopted it isn't like they were a surprise. :)

[I've been writing this post over a few weeks, tweaking it here and there, and I just wanted to pop in a quick story here that happened at kindergarten open house last week. I had this topic on my mind, so when I checked my 3 littles in, the lady asked if the two were twins. I simply said "No." And she waited. And waited. And waited. I finally rolled my eyes and said that one was adopted, and then the woman was fine and moved on. But it bugged me that I had to clarify. Maybe my answer from now on will just be "Yes."...]

I do wish that I had a wonderful, warm-fuzzy story about their entry into our family though.

You know what I mean...everyone has heard the touching stories about how a family went through the adoption process and had grandiose spiritual experiences that solidified the fact that their children were meant to be with them.

Sometimes those stories are so fantastic and tear-jerk worthy that I am sure that for a few seconds in time I can hear the violin playing in the background and hosts of heavenly angels singing the Hallelujah chorus....

That didn't happen with us.

That doesn't mean my two additions weren't meant for my family.

We genuinely wanted them. We got into adoption on purpose. We were foster parents to two other separate placements before we were able to bring these two siblings into our home.

So let me break a couple of myths that people tend to think about fostering and adoption.

First, fostering isn't a horrible thing. Even when you take in children and love them and get them in a home that finally gives them structure and stability, only to know that they will be returning to the chaos that they called home before they lived with you.

You know that for the short time they are with you, you will be giving them what they desperately need. And also during that time you know that their parent (usually just one parent) is trying to get his or her life back together enough to be able to get their child--who they really do love, even if their life choices don't seem to reflect that--back with them.

In my mind, I always switch places with the birth parent. If I were in their situation and had my child taken into State custody, I would want to have every opportunity to work to get my child back. It only makes sense that reunification is a State's first priority.

That said, when I took in foster children I never gave my whole heart to loving them. I was more like a caregiver who loved them as much as I knew my heart could take if they went back to their birth family.

After two placements being returned, I had shut down a little more of my heart by the time we had our two placed with us.

By the time we realized that our situation was going to become permanent, it wasn't a big 'a-ha' moment. It had evolved into something more like instead of 'knowing' they were meant to be with us, we knew it would just simply feel wrong if they left.

That is a different feeling, even though it might sound redundant.

I think it just took me awhile to let go of the clamp I had cinched around my heart that was protecting me from the 'just in case they go back' thought.

The second myth is that all foster kids have issues.

A lot of them do. You would too if your parents were on meth and cared more about their next 'hit' than feeding you. Or protecting you. Or keeping you clean.

But honestly, I know more kids with "issues" who aren't adopted, than those who are.

That's the thing with agency. Everyone chooses their own actions and regardless of your familial status, you might choose right or you might choose wrong.

I think every kid has caused some grey hairs on their parents' heads.

It isn't fair to blame it on the biological link. As if they would have been perfect if they had been the fruit of your own personal loins.


At least with foster kids you have an idea as to WHY they are acting and reacting the way they do. That makes it easier to help them, or to get help for them. A lot of parents with biological kids with issues go so long in a state of denial that by the time they realize that maybe they should step in and do something, they have a lot of sifting to go through to pinpoint the method of assistance that would benefit everyone the most.

(I'm trying really hard to not point my experience, the second you point out someone's poor parenting skills you have a child that suddenly gloms onto that and decides to take that exact poor parenting example and magnify it tenfold.)

Third, remember that what you hear in the news about adoption or foster care that is negative is the extreme. It doesn't make the news unless it is shocking or dramatic. For every case of neglectful foster parents who chain their foster kids to their beds, there are thousands of fantastic foster parents.

As a matter of fact, even if you have never in your life considered fostering children or teens, I highly recommend everyone who has kids or who deals with kids to take the foster parenting classes. They teach you how to be parents. They teach you to understand why your child acts a certain way--foster, adopted, doesn't matter. Some things are universal. And the foster care system has developed a fabulous course to help adults be, well, adults.

For example, I learned more about the world a 4-6 year old lives in. If you see your 4 year old break your lamp and you ask "Did you break that lamp??" and they say "No." They aren't lying to you. Honest. They are telling you the answer they want to have in their world. In their world, they didn't break the lamp. So where I might have been mad that they broke the lamp and then mad again when I thought they were lying to me--"Helloooo...I just SAW you break it"--really I should have asked, "Why did you break that lamp?" Or send myself to timeout until I can deal with a 4 year old and a broken lamp with some level of maturity since last time I checked, I was the adult. Mostly.

So there you go. My ramble on foster parenting, adoption, and things I've learned in that whole process.

We are truly blessed to have all seven of our children.

When people hear we were foster parents and that we adopted two from the foster care system, I hear too often responses such as "Those kids are lucky to have you."

The truth of the matter is that we are the lucky ones.

I might not have had a burning flame of confirmation that our two we adopted were somehow pre-ordained to be in our home, but the gaping hole I am sure we would feel if they weren't here is confirmation enough.

Sunday, May 10, 2009

May Writing Challenge

Christine Bryant has issued a May writing challenge to those of us in A.I.

In a moment of weakness--and knowing that I should take every advantage to write--I agreed to her challenge this month, and the following is the result. The challenge is to write about a woman that has influenced our lives in some way--the key being that it cannot be my mother, so don't feel bad, Mom, when you read this and it isn't about you. :)

Now, before I begin my challenge piece let me just say that 'challenge' has been the key word for me on this one. As I have admitted freely in previous posts, I am basically a shallow person. I thought about a lot of different women in history, in the Bible, in my neighborhood...and realized I don't often think hard enough about anyone to have them effect me in any way that hits me hard enough to stand out.

I had to be a bigger person than that, right? I thought harder, and vague visions of past women in my life floated just out of reach for my head to wrap around any one person in particular who could stand out as having an impact on my life.

Then I made the mistake of reading Christine's own entry on her blog, and that threw my thinking in all sorts of different directions.

But the following story began to stick out a little bit more and a little bit more. And while I'm not 100% positive it fits the May writing challenge criteria, it is a decent story about a great female. One who I hope to grow up to be like someday.

To a missionary new in the field, if you are waiting for your visa you aren't always excited to be somewhere else. You aren't supposed to be spending three months in the States, you are supposed to be immersed in the country you were called to serve in. But sometimes the Lord has different ideas. Sometimes a short stay in the Ft. Lauderdale, Florida mission ends up being a time for growth and learning that you couldn't have developed anywhere else.

What Hollywood, Florida did for me was teach me through the simple choices of an investigator what true sacrifice is.

Carola Davis was only twelve years old. She and her parents had been taking the missionary discussions for a few months. They lived in a poor area in town, in a simple duplex. They loved my companion, who had met them tracting--going door to door in their neighborhood. They first tolerated and then accepted me, and we had many visits with them to help them overcome some issues, such as a 20+ year smoking habit of Carola's father.

Carola wanted to be baptized. Her mother and father wanted to be baptized. They had done everything that had been asked of them to take that next step, except attend a church meeting. Every week we would invite them to church, and every week something would 'come up' that made it impossible for them to attend.

During these visits we talked with Carola and she would tell us how she is doing in school and with her friends. She talked on and on about an upcoming band trip her class was taking. She had been selling candy door-to-door and had finally raised enough money to pay for her bus ride with her school. She was thrilled, and we were excited for her.

Before leaving her house, we asked her family again if they would like to attend church services with us the following Sunday. They knew that it was the last requirement they needed to take in order to finally be ready for baptism, but with reluctance they once again told us no.

Not having a ready excuse this time though, Carola's mother finally admitted that the reason for not being able to attend church was that they didn't have any good shoes to wear to church.

It surprised both my companion and myself enough that we had no immediate response except to say that we were sure everything would work out, and that we would do what we could to help them.

That Sunday morning just before leaving for church, my companion and I received a phone call from Carola's mom asking us for directions to the church and to double check on the time. We told them we would wait on the front steps of the church for them and introduce them to the bishop and show them around.

When they finally arrived we could see all three of them wearing brand new shiny church shoes. All three had matching smiles and such a great spirit about them.

My companion and I complimented their new shoes and Carola's mother hugged her daughter to her and told us with tears in her eyes, that Carola had heard her excuse for why they had been refusing to come to church. She had then immediately gone to her room after we had left that night and had brought her mother the money she had earned to pay for the school trip.

Carola told her mom that it was more important for her to see her family baptized and able to become sealed in the temple for eternity than to go on a trip with her classmates.

Two weeks later, the family was baptized.

Carola's example--even twenty years later--has stayed with me. I don't know if I would have sacrificed what she had when I was twelve years old. I would like to think I would have done the same thing, but I remember that age being one of self-import.

It has stayed with me enough to help me prioritize what is really important in my life.

It influence my decisions because it taught me to look at decisions in a bigger scope.

Will my decision help other people? Or will it only effect my life?

Is it a worldly desire? Or a decision that will have cause and effect forever?

A twelve year old girl.

You never know who is going to have an impact on your life. I never would have dreamed that I could learn so much from someone so young. But I did. And I will forever be grateful to her for the example she set for me.