Friday, July 25, 2014

Word Art

Writing is my therapy.  It is also my attempt to create.

My kids used to say, "Mom, draw me a cat." (or a snowman. or a house)
And in my feeble way, I would scratch out a cartoon version of the real thing.
And they thought it was amazing! Beautiful! How did I get to be such a great artist?

Well, I knew the truth.  It wasn't any of those things, but to a five year old soul it was perfect.

Not too long ago, I discovered that for me, words were a better way to draw pictures.  For most of my life, the pen had been a tool used for utility.  It wrote reports, it calculated numbers.  It sketched ideas for house plans.  It jotted notes to my loved ones.

But then I discovered that if I sat long enough to catch the swirling thoughts that raced through my head and weighed on my heart, I could transfer them to the page and it made sense. I was surprised  that those fragmented pieces that had floated randomly could be collected together and it sketched something.  Amazing.  Beautiful.  Complete.  I could tweak, trim, embellish here or there, but whenever I decided it was finished, it was.

That is no small thing in a life of endless washing, drying, folding, cooking, shopping, shuttling, packing, unpacking, budgeting, and, well, the list keeps going. None of those things stay finished.
But the written word wasn't, and then it was, and then it stayed.  Finished.

And I knew I had touched on some hidden venue of creativity that my Creator had deposited in me long ago. I just hadn't noticed it was there.

 Words are my therapy.  I know it to be true, because as I type, tears slip out of the corners of my eyes and run down my face.  And even days later, when I reread the carefully chosen words, the mist in my eyes tells me that the message is still true.

They may not paint the same picture for you.  I don't believe they have to.  Call it modern impressionistic.  That's the beautiful thing about art.  You don't know why you love it, but something about it rings true for you, and stirs your insides and you smile. And you think, yeah.  I have always thought that. I just hadn't seen it written out.

Word art.

Saturday, July 19, 2014

How to Spot an Elephant and Other Important Life Lessons

When thinking about elephants, I can’t help but look back on my childhood and chuckle. This may date me, but there was a time when elephant riddles were the rage.  “What time is it when you have ten elephants charging after you?  Ten to one.”  “What time is it when you find an elephant in your car?  Time to get a new car.” “How do you know if there is an elephant in the refrigerator?  You can spot his footprints in the jello.”  

I would think it would be kind of obvious if I had an elephant in my refrigerator.  That’s what makes that joke funny.  When I wrote about the proverbial “Elephant in the Room” in the adoption world, I pointed out attitudes and prejudices that seems obvious to many people, but few are willing to address.  It’s really much more complicated than that.  

How do you spot an elephant in the room? Well, assuming he is invisible, you need to search for evidence of his presence, the most obvious being that most everything around him will be smashed.  When objects are smashed, it’s unfortunate, but most are replaceable.  When it comes to people being smashed, the ramifications are much more serious.  Smashed people have little voice left to cry out for help.  Those of us who witness the smashing of someone have a moral responsibility to jump in and help.  But we need to be careful, lest that huge animal take his turn on us.

So, let me step away from the allegory and put it in practical terms to which many can relate.  Bullying has become a very popular topic in the news.  Nobody likes a bully.  We all side with the victim and become insensed that someone would pulverize another individual either physically or verbally.  Tragic stories fill the internet of teenagers that demolish others so brutally that a person takes his or her life.  Reputations are destroyed. Lives are ruined.  

Most of the time, the bully feels fully justified.  Yes, there are cases among children where bullies pounce on victims just for sport.  I would guess that often the bully has himself been bullied and  is trying to regain something he has lost.  Still, we hate bullying in any form.  

But when it comes to bullying in adults, it becomes less obvious who is the bully.  It’s harder to draw the line and know whose side to take.  It’s harder to identify if he is a bully or not, because that person seems so justified in his actions.  

Have you ever tried to break up a fight between  children?  You need to be part crime-scene investigator to determine who is at fault.  “He hit me!”  “That’s because she scratched me first.”  “Well, he called me stupid!”  “She rolled her eyes at me!”  and so on.  It’s especially difficult when one of them comes up to you in private and says, “Mom, (fill in child's name) needs to get punished.  I was just sitting and doing nothing, just playing with my toys, when she came up to me and hit me!”  “Did you do anything to cause that?”  “No, nothing.”  I have yet to experience a fight between my children where the first story was purely accurate.  It’s because all they can see is their side of the story.  When I interview the other person, she gives me her side of the situation, based entirely from her point of view.  Both have their own side, in which they feel fully  justified in their actions.  As a parent, I often use this as an opportunity to help them to see the other’s point of view to somehow bring about reconciliation.  My goal is not to take sides.  If I am parenting correctly, the highest good is that these two children will learn to get along and try and be thoughtful of the other’s feelings.  Often, as referee, I am accused of siding with the other team, making bad calls.  As there are no perfect referees, there are no perfect parents.  I have made bad calls, usually due to a lack of information.  Nonetheless, the highest goal is to get these two little people to apologize for their side of the spat and hopefully learn a lesson that they can take with them into adulthood that they need to be nice to people, and can’t always have their own way.   

There are adults who sadly, have never learned this lesson.  Their own way trumps others’ right to an opinion.  They use intimidatation when logic fails them.  They have no problem pulverizing their opponent, especially when they feel totally justified by their cause.  And the highest cause on earth that I have found to date is, “It’s for the children.”  

Well, who could argue with that?  If I can hide behind that phrase, I have so much power, I can smash any opponent who comes near me.  You don’t agree with me?  Smash.  You do something that I don’t like? Smash!  Understand, I am smashing you for a good cause, it’s “for the children.”  And since no one wants to be on the losing side, I can rally other people around me who can get sucked into my “ambivilent cause” and either help me smash, or cheer me on in the process.

I have witnessed this over the years in the church world.  A self-righteous group of people have done cruel things to pastors, their families, or other individuals in the church, all in the name of “excellence for the Lord.”  Their apparent cause fuels them to leave no one standing as they smash people verbally or with gossip.  Every pastor knows this, which is why so many who start out in the ministry end up working secular jobs at the end of their careers.  There comes a point when their own spirits or those of their family are bruised to the point that they wave the white flag and give up.  

I have recently witnessed this in the adoption world.  A few people, hidiing behind their self-imposed standard of right and wrong, rally others in the cause of “protecting children” and pulverize anyone who would think to question them.  It becomes a popularity contest of sorts.  How many people can I get to agree with me, so I can feel justified in my smashing of you?  It is really cyber bullying.  But  bystanders have a hard time recognizing it, since the cause seems so great.  How dare that person disagree with the group that is “for the children.”  They must be anti-children!  They must have a hidden agenda, so we can call them out on it.  They must be self-indulgent, selfish, heartless, inept parents who DON’T CARE FOR CHILDREN!  Gasp.  

Well, I felt a moral obligation to help out a victim recently, who was merely trying to share her struggle in adopting an older child, and got smashed myself.  Not anything too serious, but today I am licking my wounds, assessing my own rationale for entering the battle in the first place.  Nobody likes a bully.  When I saw it happen, I immediately took sides  for the victim.  That seemed easy until the elephant waved his “for the children” sword and ganged up.  Then it was ten to one.  Very hard to win that battle.

So, for now, I pulled away from that group of elephants.  I did so for self preservation, knowing that there will be other helpless victims who dare take them on.  I do so hesitantly, not admitting defeat, but knowing that battles of this sort are not won arguing with them on their battlefield.  I will continue this battle on my knees, knowing that there is a spirit that wants to destroy the people who can make the most difference rescuing children.  The God in Heaven who loves the children more than we,  instructed us to rescue the helpless, care for the orphan.  Our opponent is not a group of self-righteous people waving swords. Our opponent is invisible. He is ruthless and takes no prisoners.

Pray with me that the Lord of the Harvest would send forth workers into His harvest field.  And pray that their eyes would be open.

“For we are not fighting against flesh-and-blood enemies, but against evil rulers and authorities of the unseen world, against mighty powers in this dark world, and against evil spirits in the heavenly places.”  --Eph. 6:12

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

The Elephant in the Room

There is an "elephant in the room" in the adoption world.  In fact, there may be more than one. We dust and vacuum around it.  We arrange our furniture so we can go on with our lives despite it's huge presence. And although we may make passing references to it, nothing is done to escort it to its proper place.   It continues to cast it's huge shadow, hindering our ability to effectively carry on our work.

Adoptive parents are some of the most amazing people on earth.  I have made new friends  via adoption groups that will last a long time.  Should we ever meet  in person, I am sure we would throw our arms around each other like long lost friends.  We understand each other.  Similar to teammates or fellow soldiers, we hold a camaraderie based on enduring a difficult process and finishing.  We have scaled the mountains of paperwork together.  We love children together.  Adoptive parents are generous, giving their lives to help the world's most helpless.  So what I am about to address is not meant to dimish any of them or their amazing accomplishments.  It is strictly to address an issue that I feel needs to be tackled head-on.

The proverbial elephant is a saying that depicts something that is very obvious to all involved, yet for various reasons, no one is willing to acknowlege its presence, let alone address. In the adoption world, the secret is this:  adoption is hard.   Not just expensive, that's a given.  Difficult.

Those of us who have contemplated the orphan crisis in the world are overwhelmed by the huge need of millions of children.  We have witnessed hundreds of stories of helpless children being placed in families where they have thrived.  We have seen the "before and after" pictures of toddlers from Eastern European nations who were literally on death's door, who had no chance of surviving let alone living anywhere near normal lives, had they not been given a second chance in a family.  Their new shining eyes and smiling faces hardly resemble the shadow they were only months prior. We have witnessed the deplorable conditions of overcrowded orphanages, pictures of children living twenty or more hours a day in cribs, devoid of any human contact.  We have held orphans in our arms and our lives have been changed.

I am fully aware of my own limitations.  I cannot rescue millions of children.  I can, however, do my best to encourage you to roll up your sleeves and do something.  Sponsor.  Foster. Adopt.  Something.  And I know that when you truly experience the redemption process, you, in turn, will influence others.
Albert Einstein stated, "the most powerful force in the world is compound interest." What begins as simple multiplication quickly increases exponentially.

Enter the elephant.  The elephant says that anything I do or say that will encourage you to adopt is good.  Anything I do or say that would cause you to think twice about adopting is bad.   The adoption world has created its own sub-culture.   We feel we must learn its language. While "in process" (of bringing our children home), we quickly "adopt" a new acronym-filled language.  Not wanting to be found wanting, we secretly investigate the meanings of these acronyms such as PA, LID, TA and CCCWA  so we can communicate intelligently with our new friends experiencing this same new language.

The elephant says we must also learn the taboo words and promise to never use them.  We must never refer to the children as "orphans". (After all, how do you REALLY know for sure that their "birth parents" are no longer alive?)  Never carelessly sling around the word "abandon."  (What if they found out that is what actually happend to them?)  For sure never refer to the process as "rescuing children." (How egotistical are you, anyway?) And the most recent word I so foolishly threw out there, NEVER refer to the emotion that our children experience, no matter how old they are, whether or not they show signs of tantrums, hitting, spitting, kicking, or spewing vomit in the form of  the written word in order to demoralize and marginalize another person as "anger."  Hurt? Yes.  Frustration? Yes.  Anger?  (How patronizing can you be?)

The elephant says we must protect these children at all costs.  We must hover, making sure no one will offend them by pointing out the obvious--they don't look like our biological children.  Pity the fool who stops us in the grocery store to ask whether the children are "ours" or not.  Gasp.  We must make sure they fit in to our culture perfectly, while at the same time keeping vigil to expose them to their original country's every holiday and observance.  We must continually attend to their every need, feverishly trying to take back what was lost during those years before they were with us, even to the detriment of our other children.  And if this process proves to be too much for us as parents, if we find that we struggle in the area of emotional attachment to these precious ones (including tantrums, spitting, kicking, incessant whining, etc.) we must promise to NEVER ADMIT DEFEAT.  Never let anyone know you're hurt.  Never acknowlege the struggle.  Oh, it's okay if you couch it in vague terms, such as "please pray for me.  I'm having a very hard day."  That is socially acceptable in this culture.  Anything more than that runs the risk of jeopardizing your child's very existence, at least their mental health and self confidence.  What if they somehow searched the internet in the future and found out that you actually wrote about them?  And it wasn't pretty?  What if you admitted publicly that your child hit you, pummeled you with words, acted in any negative way and the world found out?  What kind of parent are you anyway?  You must silently endure, "take one for the Gipper."  Your child's entire future rests on your ability to keep your mouth shut.

That is the hypocrisy that exists in this world.  The result?  A skewed portrayal of adoption.  The fairy tale stories of children redeemed fill the internet.  The silence of the many struggling parents are hugely ignored.  Parents experience guilt, shame, and loneliness, for they have no reference point for the anger,  (did I just use the "a" word?), depression and disillusionment they feel. And although much is written to better understand children from hard places and the struggles they face, almost nothing exists to help parents understand their own emotions and struggles in the process.  In our attempt to protect the children, we alienate the very ones that have poured out their hearts, souls, and finances to elicit change.  We ostracize the very ones that  helped.  We shoot our own soldiers.  Not on purpose, mind you.  Friendly fire is unintentional.  And we are often oblivious to the extent of the subsequent damage.

There is another term in the adoption world:  "disruption."  It is the "d" word.  A horrible word.  Technically it is dissolution, the breaking of a relationship between family and adopted child.  It refers to a situation where a couple (or single parent) brings a child home by means of adoption, struggles for an indiscriminate period of time, and eventually comes to the point that for the sake of their own mental health or the safety or health of their other family members, "re-homes" their adopted child.  The child is passed to a new family by means of an agency, or often by a simple legal document granting power of attorney to a new family.   Void of criminal background checks, home studies, or any other protocol followed to originally adopt them,  the implications are huge.  The danger cannot be overstated.

Disruptions and dissolutions are the blight of the adoption community that, left unchecked, have silently spread throughout the Western world.  It is the silent epidemic for which no one wants to admit any responsibility.  We characterize "those parents" as abusive and neglectful.  We dismiss them as careless and irresponsible.  We gasp at their inability to cope.

Yet, should we in the adoption world be held accountable?  Do we unknowingly contribute to a family's demise?  Are we in any way responsible for the irreparable damage inflicted on the once-again abandoned children in this underground re-homing process?  In our effort to protect our children, have we unknowingly caused further injury to other children?

The elephant in the room is not a cute, pink domesticated pet.  It is a large dangerous animal that is silently wreaking havoc on innocent lives.  It is our duty to admit its presence.  It is our responsiblity to address its damage.  And it is our obligation to corporately obliterate it.

The world's children and those who hope to make a difference depend on it.

Saturday, July 12, 2014

Making the Most of Plan B

They spent their first precious years on the other side of the world.  Abandoned at just a few days old their stories are remarkably  similar.  Both of our sons were born with special needs that were obviously too much for their parents to handle.  The joys of bringing a new life into the world had suddenly turned to grief when two unrelated, probably young mothers realized that they could not keep the precious children they had birthed from their bodies into the cold cruel world.

Adoptive parents spend a lot of time and mental energy trying to make sense of a terrible story.  We try to climb into the minds of people we never met, from a culture we have mostly gleaned bits and pieces from, and try to piece together a story we can give our children.  When they start asking the difficult questions, our goal is to field them from the experienced professional parent status we think is possible.  Did their birth parents really love them?  Was it heartbreaking to leave them? Were they too poor?

We wonder if they were slaves to social stigma that told them that any imperfect babies were to be discarded as bad luck.  Were there grandparents or in-laws involved that gave them no choice, because it was their responsibliity to carry on the family name?  Yes, these are all options, albeit terrible ones.  Which one makes the most logical sense to share with a boy who wants to know why he wasn't valuable enough to be kept and raised by the mother who bore him?   

Do we go for logic, anyway?  What about kindness?  Which story gives them the confidence that it wasn't their fault, that they had nothing to do with the choice that was made for them before they barely could see the world around them? It is impossible to sort through the why's and what if's to make sense out of something we had no control over, nor complete knowledge of, but often we still try.

They were four and five when we finished the final form in the mountain of paperwork that makes adoption possible.  We boarded planes, survived crazy taxi rides, and eventually landed in the proper places at the proper times, recited the proper words, signed the proper documents, and took the proper photos to make it official.  We raised our hands and solemnly promised to raise them to their full potential, never abandon or abuse them, and teach them about their country's heritage.

Yes, now they were part of a real family, a place to belong.  But is it quite that simple?  I have read countless blogs of adoptive parents that proudly announce that these children from hard places were always meant to be in their families.  That they knew deep down that those children were connected to them by some mysterious "red thread" that joined their hearts together from the beginning of time.

I can't believe that.  Plan B has always been an inferior substitute  to God's Plan A.  Ask the parents that struggle for weeks, months, and even years with broken children that are trying to make the best of this plan B called adoption.  Try to convince them that the trips to doctors, counselors, psychologists, the night terrors, the fits of rage, the periods unconsollable crying were all a part of plan A.

The truth is, we are all a part of Plan B.  But He always had it in control.  Plan A was that we were to live in a perfect place with no sin, disease, heartache, and death.  Plan B was that He would take care of the darkness with the Light of His Son.

Yes, we are all adopted into Plan B.  That levels the playing field.  We will never know what life would have been like in a perfect Garden--at least in this lifetime.  But someday we will see that our real home, our real family isn't here anyway.  Until then, we make the most of Plan B, knowing that "He Who began a good work in us, will carry it on to completion."

After all, it's not our plan anyway.

Friday, July 4, 2014

The Secret is in the Exhale

I don't  consider myself an expert in many things. Never fought any bad guys that I know of.  Definitely not faster than a speeding bullet.  Never even budged a locomotive.  Positive that I would not attempt to leap a tall building in a single bound.  But this one thing I do have as a notch on my imaginary  belt--I successfully birthed six babies, the difficult way.  No epidurals, no pain killers.  Beautiful, bouncing, big babies. Understand, there were times when I really did try the epidural road to childbirth.  But each time, different circumstances prevented it.  So, even though the birth videos are not pretty, I can hold my head high and share birth war stories with the best of them.

And my advice to all those moms who would like to know the secret to my success?  The secret is in the exhale.  Really.

Long, steady, focused exhales.  One, two, three four.  The inhale takes care of itself.  If you force yourself to relax, mentally sharp, MAKE every part  of your body go limp and exhale slowly, you can scale the most difficult mountains of  contractions and make it to the downhill side.  Exhale.  Steadily.  Slowly.

Years ago in a pediatrician's office, we held our precious daughter as she once again labored to breathe.  At four months old they had called it bronchiolitis.  At eight months old  the diagnosis was bronchitis.  The familiar wheeze that came whenever she caught a cold brought us once again to the kind doctor who listened, diagnosed, and then prescribed again.  This time, though, at age three, her diagnosis had a new name.  Apparently she had reached the right of passage  to call it asthma.

I secretly wondered why the familiar symptoms magically got a new name.  The wheezing and coughing were not any different than before.  But the one thing the doctor said stayed with me.  She said that asthma can be identified  by the wheeze.  The difficulty was not inhaling.   The wheezing only came when my sweet little girl breathed out.  The inhale took care of itself.  It was the exhale that was hard.

I had often considered myself to be a type B personality.  I actually prided myself in my ability to keep cool and calm when others lost their tempers.  Rarely raised my voice when a controlled steady answer would suffice.  Over the years I had juggled many balls, spun many plates, all while keeping cool, calm and collected.  I was the go-to girl.  The supermom.  The backbone of my husband's endeavors.

Eventually my red cape began to wear thin and I started manifesting  symptoms I had never experienced before--loss of sleep, shortness of breath, even chest pains.   The culprit?  Stress.  Too many responsibilities, enduring emotional trials without a release, trying to please too many people too much of the time.

I needed to learn to exhale again.  The inhale had always been easy.  The responsibilities never seemed to end.  But the exhale took more of an effort.  I needed to learn to rest.  I needed to retrain my family that when Mom sat down, it was not their signal to find something for me to do! I needed to realize that it was okay to schedule fun and relaxation.  A pedicure was not just something that the rich, pampered wives on the other side of the train tracks did for fun.  It was okay to spend time and even money once in awhile on myself.  Make myself relax.  Focus on the exhale.

I would love to say that I have since arrived and become an expert on exhaling--resting.  The truth is, I still struggle in this area.  The Lord commanded his people to remember the Sabbath rest many times throughout the Bible.  It is not an option.

Lord, teach me to exhale--to be obedient to You and rest.  The inhale will take care of itself.