Wednesday, April 6, 2016

The Good, The Bad, and the Ugly--Encouragement For Parents Struggling to Parent Children From Hard Places

I am a runner.  Not the kind that has the lean, energetic, and toned  body. Not the kind that looks at a piece of chocolate cake and says, "No, I think I'll just have a salad.  I just crave salads, don't you?" Not the kind that says, "I'm so stressed, I just need to go for a run to feel better. "  

No, I just usually (let's be honest here--always) take the cake and leave the salad.  The farthest thing from my mind is running when I'm stressed.  Give me a quiet room, the chocolate, the laptop or a good book, and I'll see you in a couple of hours. 

Not that kind of runner.  The other kind. 

I am the kind that has looked at a difficult situation, longed for an answer, decided that it was too hard for me to tackle, and have placed it on the back burner, hoping for some other runner to grab the baton and take off with it. Except, it's not an easy race.  It's the kind that makes you question everything. Makes you realize your flaws and shortcomings, and doesn't even look doable on some days. It's the kind that makes you look like this:

It's the race of parenting a child from a hard place. 
Loving a child through adoption, foster care, or step-parenting. 
The reason I have been running for the past few years is not a small one.  In fact, it is such a huge weight and mantle that I am so very sure there is no way I can handle this on my own.  I do not have all of the answers for you, my friend.  I am just a fellow soldier struggling with the weight that has been put on my back to make it the next few feet, set down my pack, rest, regroup and get back on the road for a little while longer.

Part of the reason I have waited is that I wanted answers.  How do I help other struggling women through their hardships if I haven't arrived on the other side yet?  How do I encourage the mom whose heart is broken and she is flattened with the heavy burden she is carrying, when I am hurting and struggling too?  I so wanted to arrive on the other side and give the four-step approach to freedom.

This is how you love a child from a hard place.  This is how you parent with pure love a child born to another and is now yours to love and raise.  This is the secret ingredient in that soup you keep pouring methods and ideas into, and it still just tastes flat. 

Three and a half years of trying to create in myself a pure enough heart that I could love a child I don't often like.  Three and a half years of beating myself up for not conjuring up loving emotions when they deserved all of that and more.  Three and a half years of guilt.  Frustration.  Anger. Emotional fatigue.

If you have never parented a child from a hard place, then believe me, sister (brother), what I write will make  no sense to you whatsoever.  You will compare my experience with your own and throw your shoulders back, puff out your chest, and look down your nose on me and anyone else who may identify as pitiful, selfish people who should never have adopted, fostered, step-parented in the first place. 

I know this because I have seen the vicious attacks that have happened on the hurting moms and dads struggling to love an unlovely child, who dare venture out into the deep waters of adoption support groups.  I have seen them stick their toes into the water, hoping, just pleading for another to reach out a hand and help them rise above the flood of hurt and anger. There were those who offered kind words of encouragement.  But I have watched as a few wolves tore apart the injured mother sheep grasping for a little bit of encouragement. Part of me wonders if those wolves were just dressed up sheep--sheep in wolves' clothing, so to speak. Maybe they couldn't admit their own flaws. Maybe denial has worked for them. Or maybe, just maybe they were some of the lucky ones who didn't struggle as you and I do. 

Picture-perfect adoption stories fill social media pages, as they should. Adoption is still the answer to motherless, fatherless children around the world.  Fostering is the emergency rescue of children in danger. 

We need to see the "Gotcha Day" videos, to cry with  new moms and dads who have worked, prayed, and waited for so long and are finally able to hold and hug the children they have loved from afar. We all need to see the miracle of a life rescued from abandonment, placed in a loving home, thriving far more than anyone ever expected. We need to see the before and after pictures. Tens of millions of children still need homes. They cannot rescue themselves. Parents need to rise up. We and millions of others just like us are the answer. Imperfect people are needed to imperfectly reach out to angry, hurting and abandoned children. 

The pressure is there, my friend.  Pressure to fake it 'til you make it, with the idea that at some point you will make it.  Pressure to come up with the answers that nag you day in and day out.  Pressure to paint a picture-perfect adoption story so that you can inspire others to rise up and do the same.

But the answer that I had searched for these past three and half years hit me in the face today.  I guess I knew it all along, but now I'm finally going to pass it to you.  It's okay if you don't get it right away. It took me an awful long time to get it myself. 

As beautiful as the "gotcha day" videos are.  As beautiful as the successful, picture-perfect adoption stories are.  As amazing as the before and after pictures of rescued children are, they all pale in comparison to the most beautiful expression of love of all.

The breathtaking beauty is in your struggle. 

Your tears, your doubts, your anger, your hurt paint a masterpiece far more beautiful than anything else.  You are loving the unlovely in the midst of all of the ugly.  Your broken pieces are creating a mosaic.  You can't see it because each piece looks imperfect.  Parenting in your weakness.  Helping when you are hurting.  Providing when you are angry.  Giving when you have been taken from.  The Bible puts it this way:

“Here is a simple rule of thumb for behavior: Ask yourself what you want people to do for you; then grab the initiative and do it for them! If you only love the lovable, do you expect a pat on the back? Run-of-the-mill sinners do that. If you only help those who help you, do you expect a medal? Garden-variety sinners do that. If you only give for what you hope to get out of it, do you think that’s charity? The stingiest of pawnbrokers does that. “I tell you, love your enemies. Help and give without expecting a return. You’ll never—I promise—regret it. Live out this God-created identity the way our Father lives toward us, generously and graciously, even when we’re at our worst. Our Father is kind; you be kind. --Luke 6:32-36The Message (MSG)

You think you have come up short because you are so engulfed in the emotions of it all, it feels like failure.  If you truly loved your child, wouldn't you know it?  Wouldn't you feel loving? Wouldn't you have the endless "I would kill for this child, I would give my life for this child, I would give up everything for this child" emotions to go along with it?  Guess what?  You don't need the emotions. The fact that you don't have warm fuzzy feelings is proof that you have loved when it is hard.  It is the extra mile.  You have already walked it.  You have given when it didn't feel like giving, it just felt like a big charade. 

The angry outbursts followed by an apology, or maybe not.  Yet another meeting with the school principal, the teacher, the resource worker.  The IEP. Hundreds of hours of counseling.  Nights of lost sleep.  Trips to psychiatric wings, to hospitals, to jails.  Breaking up fights. The phone calls from school.  Staying up late nights trying to figure out how the extra bills will be paid. The nagging feeling you are doing irreparable damage to your other children. The arguments with your spouse. The pit in your stomach.  The tears you have cried.  All pieces.  All imperfectly, breathtakingly beautiful.

There's a song that plays quietly in my head on some days.  It says what I feel often.  I heard it many years ago before I could apply it to my struggle. 

"...People say that I'm amazingStrong beyond my years,But they don't see inside of meI'm hiding all the tears.
They don't know that I go running home when I fall down.They don't know who picks me up when no one is around.I drop my sword and cry for just a while.'Cause deep inside this armor,The warrior is a child."(From "Warrior is a Child, by Twila Paris)

"Once upon a time, my sister, you were a girl with a beautiful dream, and so was I.  We were going to be mommies.  We were going to share a lifetime of love and laughter with bright-eyed, dimpled children that would thrive under our care.  We were going to foster or adopt and give a future to a child who had no future.  Our hearts were loving, our motives were pure, we just didn't know then what we know now.  We didn't know that damaged children take more than love and security and structure to heal.  More than food on the table and a roof over their heads and clean clothes and new toys and a good education and piano lessons and band aids on skinned knee." 
(excerpt from

Stand up,  chin up, shoulders back, my friend. Take a deep breath. You are doing it! You are making a difference. You are accomplishing what many wish they could, but aren't yet.  Don't worry about the finish line right now.  Your goal is the next few steps.  You have an Advocate that is with you, giving you what you need for today.  Surrender your hurts, your fears, your anger, your imperfections to the One who can fill in the gaps for you.  He promises to be the perfect Father to your child when you fall short.  He is cheering you on in your battle. 

You can do this.  You already have. 

Tuesday, October 27, 2015

The Day I Grew Up Just A Little

I distinctly remember my dollies, my babies piled carelessly in the top drawer of an old peach colored dresser in the playroom of our basement.  They were my secret stash, the promise of long hours of pretend, of dreaming of the days I would hold real babies in my arms and they would call me Momma and I would love them like nothing else in this world.  

My first baby was a Chatty Cathy doll I unwrapped when I barely knew what Christmas was and first discovered that beautiful boxes under a magically lit tree held amazing surprises inside. If I put my finger into the little white plastic ring on the back of her neck and pulled the cord, she would say magical things like, “kiss me good night” , “may I have a cookie,” or “I love you.”    Eventually her pull cord broke, and she was forever silenced, but she was still my baby.  

There were other babies in the drawer, including several cast-off, hand-me-down dolls from friends or cousins who outgrew the need to play “house” or “babies.”  There was my beloved Paulie, so named because it was the best name in the world and because I always had wanted a boy baby.  I found a picture of Paulie in a Sears catalog years later and to my dismay, discovered that his real name was something akin to “little Miss Wet Wet” or something equally derogatory.  Paulie was beautiful, and a BOY, and would never be reduced to a little miss anything. There was Cindy, my biggest chubby baby that had indelible red marks on her face, left over from the time I tried to play “clowns” with  her and a sample tube of Avon red lipstick.  She was forever marred, but I covered her face as best as I could with a receiving blanket when I held her, and loved her despite the fact that her clown-like appearance remained.  

Babies were for holding, and dressing, changing, feeding, and putting down for naps.  They didn’t have many clothes between them, so they learned to share and make due, just like the rest of us. They loved you, and needed you and never left you.  Whenever you needed a friend, they were forever waiting in that top drawer, carelessly strewn from a quick clean up time. They never seemed to mind being piled in there, always ready for their next excursion.

I remember sewing outfits for my babies.  I had taken old pairs of shorts that were too small for me and cut them down and sewed them on my mom’s old Singer that she had patiently taught me to use at the tender age of seven.  Paulie, Cathy, Cindy and the others had new clothes.  They were so excited!

Days of playing and imagining turned into weeks, months, and years.  Eventually my tattered group of dolly friends grew old and worn, and I felt the need for a new baby.  Christmas was coming, and along with it was the promise of a new doll.  Out came the Sears catalog, and as I began my search for a beautiful new friend, I came upon a very sobering discovery.   The manufacturers’ age recommendations could not be wrong.  The truth I discovered that day was this:  twelve was too old for dolls.  It was time to embrace what other girls my age had long since done.  The babies were to be set aside to make room for music and sports, sleepovers and crushes.

This day will remain in my mind as the day I grew up, even if just a little.  The bitter-sweet coming of age time ushered in new days of insecurity, peer pressure, and a nagging feeling of innocence lost.  But I will be forever grateful for the care-free days of playing Momma to a group of little ones that helped mold me into someone who would someday love her real babies more than I could ever have imagined.    

Friday, October 16, 2015

It's Not Easy Bein' Green

“It's not easy bein' green
It seems you blend in with so many other ordinary things
And people tend to pass you over 'cause you're
Not standing out like flashy sparkles in the water
Or stars in the sky

But green's the color of Spring
And green can be cool and friendly-like
And green can be big like an ocean
Or important like a mountain
Or tall like a tree”
--Kermit the Frog

I remember hearing that song over and over on the radio many years ago.
It was kinda catchy, that’s for sure.  And I was sure there was a deep hidden meaning to the lyrics that I couldn’t quite grasp yet.

I remember being “green” at a new job in a large corporation.  I was a temp employee, which I soon found made me a little lower than the retention pond outside the building.  It was bad enough that I didn’t know anyone, but worse still, didn’t know the unwritten rules about working there.  Somehow, in some way there was a set of rights and privileges held for full time employees and a completely new set for the temps.  It was totally ridiculous.  

For example, I was instructed that the employee Christmas luncheon which we were all to bring a dish for was for the employees.  Temps could “eat off the table” if there was anything left later on.  I kid you not.  This was a direct quote to me from one of the pharisaical workers there.  

What irritated me most was that the head of the department was supposed to be a Christian.  When a particular event happened that not only affected me, but eventually my children, I blew a gasket.  I wrote a scathing letter to the head of the department, standing on my highest platform, waving my biggest preaching finger, reaching deep for the best Scriptures I could hurl at him so that he would “see the light.”

I was so green.

It was the first and only job I was ever dismissed from.  Licking my wounds, it took me quite awhile to recover.  Yes, being green was a difficult thing.

Thursday, October 15, 2015

The Power of Close

I never really understood the power of close until it was first threatened.  All my life I had dreamed of being a Mom, and although it was not an easy road, it was the one I was born to travel.  My children curled round me on the couch like a fuzzy warm blanket--It is the stuff that makes the hard days, the sweltering in laundry days, the runny nose, colic, the never-ending-shuttles-to-school days bearable.

two hands holding.jpg

Spring is an exciting time of year for our kids.  It marks the count-down for the end of school.  We honor those who have made it through and are ready to graduate.  I had dutifully attended many graduations before, but  one year changed everything--it marked the graduation of our firstborn daughter.  This life-defining event  questioned all that I had lived for, my destiny as a Mom.  This one event  proved that I would not always have my children close.

No one prepares you for the day the notion that your child will not always be with you and live at home with you travels from the recesses of your mind to the reality of your heart.  It hits you like a tidal wave.  My children not always close?  How can this be?  I had lived in the present, I had cherished each milestone, I lived intentionally as the best Mom I could be for so long, and one day when I least expected it, everything changed.  

The thought of not only my daughter moving far away to start her new life at college was bad enough.  I mourned this during graduation, after, and all the way to the day we packed all of her earthly possessions and sent her on her way to her new life as an adult.  I mourned more than I had ever imagined I would.  Wasn’t this God’s plan?  Weren’t we parents so that we could train up our children in the ways of the Lord and send them out to be world changers?

A few summers later, we moved our second daughter four hours away for her new start. Our first daughter spent the summer in Africa, and our son was in Macedonia for a short term missions trip, I paced up and down our long driveway and wondered how I had missed the signals. Why didn’t anyone else talk about this kind of loss? Weren’t they still our kids? Didn’t they still love us, with promises of visits a few months away?

But they weren’t close anymore. The gut-wrenching change that pulled them from the safety of home out into the world to test their wings, left me broken, but oh, so grateful. Grateful for the precious years spent close. Grateful to have been able to love so deeply, so completely, that even their leaving left such a hole that only His presence could slowly heal. The power of close is real. But often it’s only when they are gone that we appreciate it.

Wednesday, October 14, 2015

Why Grown-Ups Are Not Good Dreamers

I always loved dreaming about what I would be when I grew up. It was the question most adults asked you when they were trying to be nice and didn't really know what else to say. I didn't mind, though, because it stirred up  a great amount of excitement for me. When you are four, or five, or even ten, there is no pressure, no sense of regret or frustration with it.  When you have the whole future ahead of you anything is possible. You can dream about being a mommy or a teacher, an astronaut or a nurse.  You can plan to travel the world, help the poor, cure cancer.  Why not? The sky is the limit.

But somewhere along the way those dreams drift into the everyday responsibilities of life.  “What do I want to be?” is hijacked by “What needs to get done today?” The need to be responsible and practical overcomes the dream.  There are people who depend on you, bills to be paid, homes to keep in order, jobs to be worked, laundry to conquer, food to buy and cook.  The original question is written off as a childish exercise in developing your imagination.

But, should it be?
Ephesians 2:10 says: For we are God’s masterpiece. He has created us anew in Christ Jesus, so we can do the good things he planned for us long ago.”

What are those things He planned for us?  Did he plan for us to be so bogged down in everyday responsibilities that we can’t see beyond our “to do” list? Is our sole purpose for being put on this earth to clean up after other people, shuttle, hurry, wash, rinse, repeat?

Or have we missed something? Did the Infinite Creator of the Universe put in us the desire to create?  To build?  To build-up? And if so, what is keeping us from it?  

What is that dream that lies dormant, almost lifeless?  What questions do we need to ask ourselves so that we can fan into flame those gifts, those dreams, those abilities that were put into us and planned for  since the creation of time?

Here are some new questions to ponder as we hurry along our  in duties today, shuttling, cleaning, filing….

  • What do I love?  What gives me great joy?
  • What do others say I am good at?  
  • What do I think I am good at?  
  • If time, money, and ability were not an issue, what would I love to devote myself to and become an expert in?

In other words, if I could dream again, and live my dream, what would it look like?  Who would I love to take along with me?  What would I love to look back on and say, “Wow, God, we did it! “  

Although you obviously can’t  accomplish it all in one day, what does the first step look like?  I’ll be your cheering section.  I know there are others who would love nothing more than to cheer you on as well.

So, here’s your new question:   “What do you want to be, now that you're all grown up?"

Ten Things Pastors Wives Would Want You to Know But Are Afraid To Admit

Having been married to a pastor for over thirty years, I have experienced first-hand the ups and downs of ministry and the toll it takes on a pastor and his family.  I have friends who are pastors’ wives, and those friends share a bond with whom few others can relate.  Our husbands are fallible, and yet face the constant pressure to balance church and family.  I came across an article a year ago entitled, “10 Things Pastors Hate to Admit Publicly.”  The author,  Matt Bozwell was amazed  how it went viral almost immediately. There have been many critics of this message, but the sheer numbers of pastors that have read it and shared it speaks for itself. (If you haven’t read it, please invest a few minutes on  It is excellent.)

Although I have read several articles about pastors wives, there are a few things I have never read that I have noticed among other pastors wives that are worth mentioning from our perspective.  Here is my own list.

The Ten Things:

1. We have no idea what a pastor’s wife is supposed to look like.  When I was in college, there was a joke that circulated about minister’s wives.  “She needs to be able to “teach, sing alto, and look good at conventions.”  And although we repeated it tongue-in-cheek, there was an underlying truth that was hard to escape.  There was an expectation for a pastor’s wife that was different than other women.  

So we are tempted to measure ourselves by other pastors’ wives we know, see their giftings, and know that we cannot measure up to the persona we see in them.  So, as much as we like to portray that we have it all together, we don’t.  And, aside from trusting in the Holy Spirit to lead us, in and of ourselves, we see our shortcomings  center and front.

2.  We struggle on how transparent we should be.  We don’t want to be put on a pedestal, yet we feel the pressure to model “true christianity” to others in the church as a means of encouragement.  The flaws in our parenting styles, our appearance, our personal relationship with Christ, our ability to submit as helpmates to our husbands, and the other thousand shortcomings we have but are afraid to admit keep us humble, yet sometimes at arm’s length from others in the church.

3.  That thing you read about the pastor’s wife being the loneliest person in the church is very often true.  (See number 2.)  We don’t want to be seen as playing favorites, so often we keep our relationships superficial so that we don’t cause any women to "stumble." Maybe it's that, or just that transparency is scary.  We have many acquaintances, but few close friends.  Many of us have been hurt by past friends who have left the church  and caused a rift in the relationship, so we are more cautious now.  We still need the social outlet of girlfriends, but are unaware on how to fill it.  

4.  We struggle with our husbands, our children, the demands of our lives, but don’t have anyone safe to share it with.  Our husband is your pastor.  We don’t want to hinder the work of God through his sermons and ministry, so we cannot share our struggles with you.   

5.  We feel as though we live in a glass bubble, and it’s not your fault.  Not only do we struggle with how fallible we are as role models and what that will do to you, we struggle with what that glass bubble does to our children.  Their perception of pastors' kids  is that they are being judged by a different standard than your children.  We tell you and we tell others that they are just kids fighting the same devil your kids fight, but our kids see it differently.  They remember the comments that have been made to them about how pastors’ kids should know better.   They have been used as sermon illustrations since they can remember.  They don’t understand why other kids can pick and choose whether they want to go to church or youth group and they don’t get a choice.  Their social circle is the church.  Perception is reality.  They believe their lives are on display and some of them handle it better than others.

6.  Our husbands are rarely off-duty.  We know that a ten minute trip to the grocery store can often take an hour.  Our husbands are constantly searching out lost sheep in Walmart, getting caught in impromptu counseling sessions in the produce aisle.  Most of the ordinary events in life become sermon illustrations.  “That will preach” becomes a regular statement in our homes.  Weddings, funerals, school functions, and sporting events become exercises in painting a smile on our faces and greeting all the people that have ever attended our church and have since left.   We still love you and want what’s best for you and your family, but secretly feel we have failed you.  We believe that had we done our job better, you would still be with us.  You are the family member that has found a new and better family.   We know what that does to our husbands.  The longer we have ministered in the community and the smaller the town is, the more this factors in. (By the way,  we read your posts inviting people to your new church  and see how much you love your new church pastor and family.)  We know that the Church is not the building and that we are only a small piece of God’s infinite puzzle, yet we struggle with the urge to compare our church to your new one, and often feel like we have lost.

7.  We owe a huge debt to you.  We have experienced your generosity.  We have been blessed  by you year after year at Christmas.  We have seen the hundred ways  you love on our children.  We see you volunteer in the nursery, teach our children in Sunday School, and  compliment us on how beautiful and wonderful our family is.  We have seen you sacrifice your time, energy, and money to bless us.  We remember your encouraging words when we are tempted to feel deflated.  And as much as we feel the pressure to never fail you, we have heard your kind encouraging words.  We know that when you say you have been praying for us, you really have.  It has not gone unnoticed. We are humbled by you.

8.  We truly love you.  We see your gifts, we are encouraged by your generosity.  We feel your prayers.  You hold so much value to us.
9.  We know our Source.  We see our own limitations, and we know yours.  And yet we do not take lightly the high calling we have been given by the One who planned in advance for our lives and equips us with everything we need to continue in this high calling.  He is the one who is made perfect in our weakness.  He is the one who never fails, even when we fail.  Even when we get hurt.  Even when we feel we don’t measure up.    

10.  We love what we do, even when it seems hard, even though we have been hurt.  We know we can do better, and we set our hearts on doing this.  We feel your encouraging words and prayers and pray that we have encouraged you along the way.  And as much as we have battle scars, it is just proof that we have fought the good fight.  Our prayer is that we will finish the race well.  And we need you to run with us.

Friday, October 17, 2014

Five "Long" Minutes

Why is it I am hard-pressed to find something positive about the word “long”?  The long times I remember most are the hard times.  

A long illness.  
A long term paper.  
A long time in the dentist’s chair.  
A long labor.  
A long time spent missing someone who needed to come home.

Isn’t the word “long” subjective anyway? Is there such thing as time spent with a cherished friend that takes just too long?  Or a great book that we wished we could finish sooner?  Or do the minutes and pages fly by and before we know it, the time is up?

I recently cruised the Caribbean with my beloved husband.  We were to leave on a Saturday, and not return for seven days.  When I thought about being away from my kids for a week, seven days seemed to be way too long.  But after boarding the most beautiful ship I had ever seen, relaxing by one of the many pools on board with a good book, experiencing superb shows each evening, and arriving at exotic islands in the morning, the days flew by. I could have stayed on that ship even longer.  

But most of the time, long and hard just seem to be life-long companions.

So, how do we do long, when long is hard?  I’m pretty sure it’s all about the focus. When I focus on the finish line, today is long and hard.  I was never promised grace for tomorrow.  The promise of joy and grace was for today.  So when long seems hard and the end isn’t in sight anytime soon, it's time to change my focus.  Focus on today.

Find joy in today.
Do nice today.
Love deeply today.
Tomorrow has enough worries of its own.