Friday, July 31, 2015

soapbox friday: in which I am pro-life

My facebook feed is overtaken with Planned Parenthood haters. Truth be told, that recent video makes me feel ill. It's callous, and it breaks my heart that human beings can speak so callously of other humans. I want to hate that woman and all she stands for.


Personally, I'm not a Planned Parenthood hater. I have mixed feelings about this agency. They provide services to women that literally no one else is doing in many, many areas. (Fact Check: Abortions are only 3% of their total services, and by law, no federal funding is permitted to be allocated for abortive services.) They provide contraception, STD testing, ultrasounds, prenatal care, counseling, and so many other necessary services. I have three different friends who were helped in a very specific way by this agency. After rape. After an abortion. After an unplanned pregnancy. They went to Planned Parenthood because their own churches and Christian schools would give them no assistance. You tell me who the callous, hate-filled agency is in those instances. 

That said, it's really all this call for this to be our "moment", for this to be a galvanizing incident for the pro-life movement that's getting me at this particular moment. It's often coupled with ideas of ways to help, most of which do not even begin to address the real problems that lead to abortion. Frequently, it's accompanied by graphic descriptions of what happens to babies when they are aborted. It's awful and makes the stomach churn.

Are you horrified by the description of what happens to babies during an abortion? Me too. But let me tell you about what happens to many of those same babies that aren't aborted. 

Let me tell you about a child who was duct-taped naked to a child's potty so tightly and for so long (more than a full day, actually) that her legs lost circulation and turned blue.

About a child who, as a preschooler, was forced to scrounge for food in the trash to feed herself and her siblings while they were alone, without food or diapers, for hours and hours on end.

What about a child who was walking barefoot through dog and human feces in a home that was so bad that the social worker, who has seen many a dirty home, literally vomited upon entering?

Let me tell you about a child who was not only forced to watch her mother engage in sexual acts with her boyfriends while she was four and five years old, but was also forced to engage in sexual acts herself with those boyfriends.

Or a kid who was locked in a bathroom with only bread crusts to eat.

Or a baby who had a gun pulled on him with threats of murder.

Or a kid who entered foster care with bruises still on their back from abuse that had occurred SIX WEEKS earlier.

What about the baby who had an open sore on the back of her head from sitting in her carseat 24 hours a day? Never picked up. Never cared for.

Let me tell you about what it feels like for a child to know that their mother doesn't want them. Or to know that their parents have chosen drugs again and again and again.

Does that horrify you? Does it? My experience is that most people are more horrified by the thought of abortion than the reality of what these children live through. These are some of the kids that we've met. That we've parented. That's the reality of what it looks like when women choose "life" instead of abortion. This should horrify you. You should want to throw up when you read this, same as when you read the descriptions of what abortion entails.

Are you pro-life? Really?
Because it's about more than calling your congressman. Or funneling money towards that one pro-life women's center in the area. It's about more than sharing articles on facebook.

It's about supporting policies that help women at risk. Expanding government services to those most vulnerable. It's about all of those policies that people love to get angry about: legally mandating that contraceptives are provided free of charge, not requiring drug tests for women to receive food and medical services, paying for mental health care, expanding early childhood education services, providing bus passes, parenting classes, in-home parent aides, and drug rehab. It's about opening more domestic violence shelters, more detox centers, dumping minimum sentencing, allowing felons more rights, and more. 

It's about stepping up and caring for the children whose mamas chose life instead of going through with the abortion. That means exposing yourself and your children to the ugliness of life, yes. It means bringing traumatized, terrified, abused, and neglected children into your safe cozy home. It makes your home less safe, less pretty, more chaotic, but it's what it takes to love and heal a child.

It's about continuing to live in your neighborhood where the neighbors use too much bad language, where the house across the street deals drugs out of their bedroom window, where children come to your door and into your yard at all hours, where your stuff gets stolen out of your cars and garages instead of moving to the country where it's quiet and safe and you don't have to worry about those things. It's putting yourself in the midst of it so you have a chance to make a difference.

It's not about adoption usually. It's about being willing to put your own savior feelings of rescue on the line to commit to help a family do what it takes to remain together and become a safe place for one another. It's about allowing a single mama to live in your extra bedroom. It's about driving her to appointments. It's about providing a dad with a job and very likely, the transportation to get there. It's about loving a child like they came from your very own body, yet still being willing to say goodbye forever when they are ready to move back home to the family they are intended to be a part of.

If you're not willing to be horrified by what these children go through, if you're not willing to step up and put your lives on the line for these women and children, then I would challenge you that you might not be truly pro-life at all. Don't mistake me. I hate that abortion exists at all. Hate it with every part of my being. Life is sacred. ALL of life is sacred. But until we wake up to what's really going on here, until we stand up for what matters most with our hands out in service and surrender to help those who need it the most, saying we're pro-life is just lip service.

Make it real.

Faith, by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead.

James 2:17

Thursday, July 23, 2015

learning in solitude

I've been in such a long season (at least it feels long) of holding things tight to my chest, of feeling like I have no safe and secure place to lay it all out there. Every time I speak, I hear the hesitation. The carefully masked words. The vague answers. It's not really who I want to be. It's not really who I am deep inside, but for some reason, there is still something there holding me back. For what? For comfort? For safety? For pride? 

Simultaneously, I feel myself living in greater vulnerability in my alone times. My conversations with God have never been deeper and more fulfilling. Never more honest. Never more demonstrative. It's a weird dichotomy. Perhaps it's the ebb and flow of life - greater vulnerability in one place while drawing back in another. I find myself weeping alone much more often than I cry in public nowadays.

This season of solitude is drawing me deeper, for sure. I've been learning in some very precious ways throughout the past six months that God loves me. Intimately. Deeply. Passionately. It's hard for me to rest in that. I'm a helper, by nature, and sometimes, ok, often, I take my internal value from that instead of from who God made me to be. To BE, not to DO. I search for value outside myself which sets me up for catastrophic failures. Like cake throwing

Then, in my quietness, I read these words, and my soul resonates with the truth of them:
"In solitude we can slowly unmask the illusion of our possessiveness and discover in the center of our own self that we are not what we can conquer, but what is given to us.  In solitude we can listen to the voice of Him who spoke to us before we could speak a word, who healed us before we could make any gesture to help, who set us free long before we could free others, and who loved us long before we could give love to anyone. It is in this solitude that we discover that being is more important than having, and that we are worth more than the result of our efforts. In solitude we discover that our life is not a possession to be defended, but a gift to be shared. It's there we recognize that the healing words we speak are not just our own, but are given to us; that the love we can express is part of a greater love; and that the new life we bring forth is not a property to cling to, but a gift to be received. In solitude we become aware that our worth is not the same as our usefulness..."
Henri Nouwen

My worth. My life. It's a gift I have received. It's a gift to be shared with others, and when I rest in the love of the One who knows me best, that's when the words flow freely. That's when the love inside of me wells up to those around me. No more throwing cake. I am set free.

Wednesday, July 15, 2015

food fights

This past weekend has been extremely full of emotion for all of us. Our Very Big Thing is looking just as impossible as ever, and we have no idea how to feel about it. We have a child who has been in a funk for quite awhile, and things continue to digress between us. As if the continued propensity for running away isn't enough (go ahead and ask me about how I felt when I found said child walking down the busiest major road in our area), things really just came to a head yesterday when I threw a piece of cake at this particular offspring.

You read that right.

I       threw        a            piece         of         cake.

Someday, I'm sure my children will look back at their time at home with their mother and talk about my gentleness and self-control. How long-suffering I was. How I was the calm and steady center of the family. I'm pretty sure that's what they're going to say.

The thing is, this parenting thing is just so very hard, and parenting kids from hard places is even harder. It's hard to explain to parents of kids who have not been through quite as much trauma, because behaviors sometimes look very much like "normal" child behaviors. I wish I could remember exactly where I read it, but someone once described parenting children from hard places as parenting with a highlighter. The words (behaviors) might look the same, but everything is highlighted in neon yellow. There's just something intensifying all these normal looking behaviors. That's our lives right now.

It wears on me. Not only does it take a tremendous amount of emotional and physical energy, not only does it take way more time than anything else in my life, but it also brings me face to face with the ugliest parts of myself. The parts where the child who struggles to believes themselves worthy brings me face to face with my own struggles with worthiness. I'm supposed to be the one teaching them, reassuring them that they are special, that they are  loved, that they are intrinsically worthy, and I can't even believe it about myself. I lose my cool. I yell. I throw cake at my kid.

Let me not delude myself - these moments are not my finest moments,
but instead of thinking all the things that I tell my child over and over,
things like...
our behaviors are not our identities
everyone messes up. we say we're sorry, and we move on.
we can always start again
you are special
you are loved no matter what....

Instead of that, my inner dialogue much more resembles this:
you are the worst mother in the world
no wonder they hate you
their first moms would be horrified to know you're treating them this way
maybe the powers that be made the wrong decision when they decided you could parent this child

and most often:
you are not worthy of love

It's a humbling thing to have your worst behaviors on display for your children to see. It's terrible to realize just how close I am to the most hateful of behaviors on any given day. Coming face to face with all the ugliness in my heart that I thought I had dealt with, but instead is now spewing out at the ones I love the most is awful. I'm scared to think about how my behavior can further harm my child and break their little hearts wide open. Beyond that, I don't like to think of myself as internally fragile, and yet, here I am struggling with the same things as my littles.

Am I good enough?
Will you love me even when I treat you like crap?
Do you still find me precious and beautiful even my behavior is ugly beyond belief?
Am I worthy?

I guess I'm not writing this tonight to just let you see the vulnerable questions of my soul. Or to just give you the assurance that you are a better parent than me. (Did you see the part about the cake? You are a better parent than me.) Really, what I want you to know is that this stuff is hard, and it's ok to admit it. It might not be as visibly hard as someone else's hard, but the minute we start comparing, everybody loses. If you think your stuff is hard, guess what? IT IS. Your stuff is hard. Your feelings are complicated. Some days you are winning, and some days it is utter failure. But you're not alone. I'm right there with you, and my guess is that we're not the only two. So let's do this together.

photo credit: Rainbow Cupcake via photopin (license)

Tuesday, June 30, 2015

very big things

You know how when you're on the edge of a Very Big Thing, and it consumes all of your time and emotions and energy? That's me for the past three weeks. Nothing official to be said about this Very Big Thing, but it still is just overwhelming my inner life right now. So much so that I have not spent enough time dealing with the Very Big Things that my children are struggling with.

Today changed that significantly. We got to the bottom of some specific struggles with one of our children and made good progress towards helping another one of our children through their issues. I'm battling a bit of guilt tonight for not being able to push through to the root causes behind some of the most difficult behaviors, but mostly I'm just angry. Angry because it's not fair that children should hurt. It's not cool that I have to hold my children while they cry because another adult in their lives hurt them. It's not ok that little minds and hearts have to bear the weight of grown men and women's stupid decisions.

I don't have answers for my children. I know it's common for American families to have the parents be the ones to keep their kids "safe" and "protect" their children from all the crap that's out there, and to some extent, that's true, but in real life? In the messy everyday of broken lives? It's not like that. It's not all safe. I can't protect them from everything. I can, however, sit beside them and hold them while they cry. I can tell them I hate what's happened to them. I can tell them that it's not right and it's not fair and they deserve better. I can tell them they are loved, no matter what.

I wish today had been different. Sometimes I wish we were a 'regular' family with a white picket fence and Sunday School behavior and no outside weirdness. But then I would miss the beauty that happens when I get to see healing in front of my own eyes. I wouldn't get that bittersweet elation that comes when my kids share something really, really hard with me for the first time. I wouldn't get to appreciate just how far they've come, just how much redemption we're witnessing. And honestly, I wouldn't be who I am today.

Do I regret the stuff that's happened to my kids? For sure.
Do I regret that we did this? That we exposed our oldest two children to hard things? That we welcomed hurt souls into our lives? That we are now a family through the miracle of choosing to love one another rather than just through biology? Not for a minute.

So, in my weeks of Very Big Things, both for us and our kids, I am reminded anew of how appreciative I am of my family. How blessed I am that they call me their mama. How I would do this all again and again, and how I can't wait for the opportunity to do more Very Big Things together.

Tuesday, June 16, 2015

missing pieces

Last Saturday, we went to an event with some other foster and adoptive families at a park. As we parked ourselves next to an older couple with four littles running around, we began to make some small talk. As she introduced herself to me, I recognized the name from the case file from my own children. My son spend his first and second stint in foster care in this family's home. I never expected that we would meet this woman, and beyond the written case details, we have no information or pictures from his time in care there. 

I had such mixed feelings while we talked to them about our son and what he was like in their home. When they talked about his older sister and their experiences with her, I just felt like they were discussing different children altogether. Not my son. Not his sister. These kids they were talking about were other children. Children I don't know.

Part of that is true. They are different now. They are unrecognizable as the kids who were in care during that time. Even their first parents comment on it. "well, he used to be such-and-such". Yeah, well. Some shit happened. (pardon my french) These are kids that went through unimaginable trauma and hardship, and they are different now. These are kids that have worked harder than anyone else I know to heal and learn to be part of a functioning family again, and they are different.

Conversely, though, they are the same kids. My son has bits of history that I still know nothing about. These people loved and cared for him when he was a baby. I will never have that experience. There are years of his life that I have no part of, and that's painful as a mama to hear them talk about how he was such a climber, that they'd never seen another kid climb like he did. It hurts my heart to think of the years that I couldn't care for him, the times when he might have felt alone and scared and I couldn't comfort him. It does my heart good to meet a woman who hopefully did comfort him and care for him. Who held him close and changed his diaper. I feel more connected to him and his story now.

We told him who this couple was, and he was fully present and fine. No visible reaction. He went over, gave her a hug, and ran off to play again. There was a time in the not-too-distant past when that wouldn't have happened. We wouldn't have been able to address the past in public, and he definitely wouldn't have been secure enough to give a stranger a hug.

We took a picture later. A memory both from the day, and a keepsake for our son to have forever. This is a piece of his story that is no longer completely lost to history. This couple, they are real flesh and blood people. They have names and now they have faces. Someday, I think he'll be appreciative we have this.

Foster care is just such a messed up system. It's hard and ugly, and kids get hurt both before they are taken into care and after as well. It is a hopeful pleasure to know that it's mostly filled with people who are really trying to do the best they can to help take care of children. My kids' stories are not over yet , but it is my very favorite thing to sometimes get those glimpses of victory. They might not be the people they're going to be, but they are definitely not the people they were.

Thursday, June 4, 2015


In a facebook conversation with a friend this week, I found myself answering her questions with unexpected candor. As much as I value vulnerability in my relationships, it surprised me that there were areas of my life, fears and dreams, successes and failures, that I had never said aloud to another living soul. Not my closest friends here, not my husband, not even in my journal, quite honestly. I suppose part of it is that no one has ever asked me the questions. Maybe half of the battle to vulnerability is believing that someone genuinely wants to know that part of you. But what's the rest of it? What would make me expose some parts of myself to someone who doesn't even live in my state anymore as opposed to the people I see every day, every week, or even every month or so?

I'm, too often, the person who doesn't know how I feel or what I think until I write it down. That's exactly what happened to me in this conversation with my friend. I read back what I wrote and was extremely glad that I had already pressed enter because some of it was so surprisingly exposed (at least it seemed that way to me) that I wanted to take it back. I'm going to guess that some of you are also familiar with this feeling I'm having: that feeling of being exposed and the gut reaction of wanting to clutch everything tight again, physically draw the words back into myself. 

In the aftermath of all this introspection, I'm left wondering why these particular things are things I've been keeping to myself. I'm wondering who I should've been sharing them with, if anyone. The older one gets, the more you know the value of having some secrets and maintaining a certain amount of privacy, particularly in our social media culture, and just because I can share something doesn't necessarily mean I should. I'm reevaluating my relationships and wondering where I can move forward with greater authenticity.

Are these things you struggle with too? What's holding you back from vulnerability and authenticity in your relationships? Are there things you haven't even voiced aloud to yourself that might need to be said aloud today? There's power in giving something voice. It takes courage, but it's the first step that's the hardest. Maybe you also need to give something voice today - if so, this is definitely a safe space. Leave a comment or email me.

Let's be brave together.

Monday, June 1, 2015

eyes wide open

A different week found me yet again sitting next to my son giving him news that I didn't quite know how to explain to him. This time, however, it was the news that after his friend, the one diagnosed with Hodgkin's Lymphoma, had surgery to remove a lymph node, the pathologist found no traces of lymphoma. At all. "So he doesn't have cancer?", he asked. I can clearly say no, yet I have no explanation why.

Was it an irresponsible doctor who tells parents willy-nilly that their middle-school-age son has cancer? I guess that's possible, although I'd like to believe doctors that work at fairly big children's hospitals do not operate that way.

Was it that blood tests and biopsies can be wrong? I suppose that's possible as well. I googled the likelihood of a false positive lymphoma test, and there's not a lot of them.

Or maybe, just maybe, it's that sometimes we pray for miracles, and God comes through in the way we're hoping. Maybe my prayers that God would show himself real to my son and to his friend and to their family were not just empty hopes. 

We don't live in an age where miracles of major caliber like that seem common. The things we call miracles are more often than not fortunate happenings. Not that God doesn't have a hand in happy coincidences and against-the-odds types of things, but most things can be explained away. This might be one of those things too, but I'd really like to believe that the God who cares about each little sparrow that gets smashed by my car because they won't fly out of the way (yep, that happened this week), cares even more about the hearts and minds and bodies of my son and his friends. 

So we continue on with baseball, with my son's friend on 1st base and the pitcher's mound game after game like we're used to. We carry on with the summer as if nothing happened and everything is fine. I'm just looking at things a little differently now. There are glimpses of heaven right there on the baseball field. God is there in the dust and grass, among the sweat and tears. (They're thirteen-year-old boys, so there's still some tears.) We can look back, and we can say just like Jacob of the Old Testament, "Surely God was in this place, and I didn't even know it." Walking with God is always a move forward, always a step towards having our eyes opened further. I want to live with eyes wide open, never forgetting that God is in this place too.

photo credit: IESA 321 via photopin (license)