Saturday, November 1, 2014

Thirty Six

I never imagined ringing in my 36th birthday by walking into my girls' room at midnight to kiss them good night only to have the putrid stench of crap hit me in the face like an anvil. I turned on the light to find my sensory seeking two year old had retrieved the contents of her diaper and proceeded to paint her entire crib, sheets, pillows and self with it. It was everywhere. It was like a nightmare. I should also note, she then put her PJs back on before creating her masterpiece.

I stood there at the door staring in disbelief at the sight before me. Howard stood behind me also taking in the view. We took a deep breath (outside the room) and we just started cleaning. He took the child and painstakingly and gently washed her cleaning poop from under each and every fingernail, and I grabbed the Clorox wipes and a pair of rubber gloves and started scrubbing the crib, walls, floor and bedding. This process woke two other sleeping children who proceeded to scream through the entire ordeal. It wasn't fun.

Standing at that door, the task ahead seemed daunting, exhausting and impossible but the only thing to do is jump in and just get it done. Life is much the same. Sometimes we just have to focus on the next MINUTE and not worry about even tomorrow....sometimes, you hold your breath and hunker down and just do what you can do in the moment. Sometimes that is all you can do. This life I live...it is a crazy one...and while sometimes I would just like to escape, because the weight of all of it feels crushing ... sometimes, the sacredness and beauty of it also overwhelms me.

That baby we had to clean up after. She was born to another mom. This world is broken and heartbreaking things happen, and God chose our family as her family. I never could have dreamed that my thirty fifth year would bring me a curly haired, carefree and happy daughter forever. He placed that girl in our home, in a perfect world, she never would have needed to be here, and sometimes just the fact that these kids need a safe place feels like too much to bear, I mourn with her the loss of her first family, I hope that one day I can help her make sense of her past...but today, I get to clean up her poop, I get to he His hands and feet to this sweet gift...I get to help her work through the trauma of her past and show her that there IS hope and that life is messy and it is beautiful, just like her.

Today I turn 36. I won't be coy and pretend I am 21 a fifteenth time. I won't lie about my age. 35 brought a cancer diagnosis, an adoption, a new foster baby, several amazing new friends and so much more. I have been through a lot in thirty six years. I have encountered a LOT of loss, a LOT of love and a renewed hope and faith in the One who orchestrates it all. I have NO idea what 36 will hold, but I know He is writing the story and I know not one ounce of pain is for nothing. He uses it all. I will give thanks for EVERY moment...even the crappy ones...because they are a gift. We are never promised another one...the moment we are in is all that is guaranteed.




Tuesday, October 7, 2014

Extend Grace

You've probably seen it happen. A woman in her 30s navigates a grocery cart full of children, some trailing behind through the grocery store. She has the signature plastic folder full of WIC checks, she looks like she might break down and cry in the cereal aisle as she tries to match brands, ounces and flavors to what is listed in that stupid plastic folder while she tries to keep her brood from knocking over pyramids of neatly stacked cereal boxes (what is even up with those? one more obstacle for moms). People push past her as she tries to make the right selections, rolling their eyes or casting a judgmental glance as they fail to hide their annoyance as they pass by. By the grace of God the woman makes it to the checkout, though sweating profusely and on the verge of tears, in one piece with all children accounted for.

She avoids eye contact with all other shoppers and looks for the most "seasoned" cashier. Her heart begins to race, panic is beginning to set in just at the thought of what is about to occur. She chooses a line. She begins to meticulously arrange her items on the belt in multiple orders placing dividers and checks with each set of items. She sees a man and his daughter get in line behind her. They are carrying a basket with a head of lettuce and a Monster Energy drink in it (interesting choices). They flash a smile and she offers for them to go ahead of her. They say it is no big deal and they can wait. Her pulse quickens some more at the thought of holding them up and she INSISTS they go ahead of her. They oblige and thank her and head on their merry way.

The mom directs her children who've been pulling her clothing and begging for all of the endless garbage at the checkout display (again, grocery stores must hate moms) to the bench at the end of the check out aisle. They sit there and bicker about this one touching the other and they have the meanest mom in the world because she wouldn't buy Lucky Charms even though the box says "whole grains". The mom lines up all of her items according to each WIC check and the marathon begins. She prays the cashier knows what she is doing and the register works without a hitch.

A man and his teen son get in line behind her. Her heart races some more. Her breathing quickens. The man begins tapping his foot. The cashier (this time was kind, but not all are) shares a knowing look and patiently begins to check and double check each and every item stating that if three WIC mistakes are made, a cashier's grocery store career is over, so she is sorry but she HAS to double check. The mom nods and smiles. The mom signs the first WIC check, wildly motioning for her wild children on the bench to be seated, it will ONLY be a few more moments. The second WIC check begins to go through the machine, but the printer is broken. The cahsier must call for help. She hits the blinking light sign on the aisle and the mom thinks about the sangria in her fridge at home.

At this point the man behind her sighs loudly, discussing how this is ruining his whole life and if people can afford an iPhone (which the woman had just put away into her purse) they should be able to afford baby food and formula. The mom digs deep, chokes back the tears and signs the check. After the third check, the mom has her non WIC groceries, and the cashier begins to ring them through. The man now very loudly comments that if a person can afford organic milk and apples then surely they could do without WIC. The mom digs into her purse, pulls out her wallet and hands the cashier her debit card. The teenage son now comments on the mother's matching wallet and purse, clearly Vera Bradley, just like his mom's, and the two go off on a rant about how they are late to get home to see Boston College play and they don't have time for the drains on society to waste. He practically yells, "Five minutes of my life wasted so that others can get a free ride" and he heads to the self check out.

The mom wipes away tears, gathers her belongings and her children and they go to get into the car.

That mom, the one with the Vera Bradley purse and iPhone, buying organic milk and apples was me. And that guy was an ass. (sorry but he was) What he didn't know and probably didn't care to know is that yes, I had been given that purse and wallet as a gift from my husband for Mother's day. I had gotten about 6 hours of sleep in the past three days because I've been cleaning up puke and snot like it's my job...oh wait, it is. I am taking care of a half dozen children, I've had people comment on that also, wondering why I don't use birth control if I can't afford to feed my family, they have no idea that I did not give birth to half of them. The WIC checks in question were for a child who is in state custody and needs formula and baby food, not that it should matter, because if a person qualifies for WIC, it really isn't any of anyone else's business. Foster kids automatically get WIC, because while some think we get "paid" to take care of these kids, the truth is, the amount we get doesn't cover the cost of having the child in our home...making the WIC checks necessary.

I say all of this because of all of the BS a person has to deal with when fostering children, WIC is maybe my least favorite. The judgement, the comments, and the stress are immense, and we wont' even discuss the hoops you have to jump through just to get the darn checks, that is a panic attack all its own. Then when you go to cash them you basically have to do the hokey pokey and turn yourself around. Without those checks though, I wouldn't be able to take care of these babies, I've had the honor to take care of, so next time you are behind a mom in the grocery store and she has WIC checks to cash, be kind. It really isn't fun for her either and she is likely doing the best she can, and maybe even more. Time is important but it isn't more important than people. Extend grace and kindness because you have no idea what battles people are fighting. That guy behind me. He made me cry...he made me feel like garbage, but honestly, my heart breaks for him and for his kid...that kid is learning from everything he sees and that man must have a pretty hard life if he can't wait in a grocery store line for five minutes. I guess grace goes both ways. It isn't our job to judge, an ounce of kindness would do wonders.


Sunday, October 5, 2014

Invaluable


Foster parenting can be a lonely business. It is tough to go out into the world and join playdates and homeschool co ops with families who just don't get it. Many try and many are willing to jump in and help which makes these outings bearable, but the constant worry that your child's trauma will surface in behaviors that everyone will judge, making sure you aren't meeting on a bio parent's turf to avoid further drama, and just the sheer exhaustion of it all often make me bail out of such outings.

Once in a while you find a friend or two who are living the same reality. They are in the trenches, healing trauma, doing paperwork, cleaning for monthly social worker visits, engulfed in appointments, praying just to get through THIS moment. I have found a couple of these recently and honestly I am not sure how I've gotten through the past couple of years without them. This isn't to say I am not grateful for my amazing friends who still embrace us and love us through it all, I really am and I don't know what I'd do without those friends either and they are SURELY part of how I HAVE gotten through the past couple of years reminding me of who I am because they've been with me for longer than I've been a foster mom.

I have found that far more valuable than therapy, or even a glass of wine, is just a chat with a fellow foster mom or two who get it on a level that no one else will. She also looks pain in the face every day and embraces it anyway, knowing God will bring beauty from the ashes. She gets the twisted sense of humor needed for such work, she laughs and cries and walks alongside. She prays with and for your family knowing the gravity of it all. She understands the frustration of red tape and judges and visits and the politics of it all.

These family connections are proving to be invaluable in my life. Somehow a trip to a public place with another family like mine seems less daunting. We might have over a dozen kids between us but somehow when we're in it together it seems doable...and it is we can laugh at the chaos and shrug off the stares. A camping trip that may have otherwise seemed impossible becomes possible knowing we're all a team working toward a common goal.

I am grateful for all of the friends I have in life who join me where I am, but if you are a foster mom out there, feeling isolated, find yourself a fellow foster mom or two or three...it will be an invaluable resource.


Friday, September 19, 2014

Just a Day in the Life

After an evening of hourly wakings from a baby girl who just can't seem to adjust to the back and forth schedule between her parents and her foster parents, at 5:41 am I am awakened to "MOOOOOOOOOOOMMMMMMMM" in a tone as if it were a swear word at a volume that could wake the dead.  I jump up and run to try to quiet the Jake Monster before he wakes the other half dozen people in the house.

I check his diaper, hand him his "nuh" which is his word for pacifier, cover him, rub his back and say a prayer that he'll sleep for at least one more hour.  This prayer goes unanswered.  This little dude wakes every morning and hits the ground running.  I try desperately to snuggle him in my bed, then the couch as he asks for "guy" which is Bob the Builder".  We settle in for about .2 seconds before he then needs a banana and water.  At this point I just give up.  We get the day moving, he chases me around for about two hours as I try to tackle Mount Laundry and spot clean the super sticky spots on the floor before the mornings social worker meeting.

I race around, brush my teeth, Jacob throws whatever he can find into the toilet, unrolls an entire roll of toilet paper and finds a pair of scissors.  We head downstairs to get dressed.  I pull on the "Keep Calm and Jacob on" tshirt some sweet friends made me to remind me to keep a sense of humor and stay calm, knowing I will need it for this day.

Social workers are due at the house at 9 a.m. and I continue to sprint clean and get everyone up for the day.  I look at the clock.  It is 8:48.  Plenty of time to throw in some toaster waffles and rush everyone out of bed and to get dressed.  There is a knock at the door.  My heart sinks.  I open it and the monthly check in begins.  We sit down at the table while Jacob begins to literally climb the walls and tantrum.  I pull him into my lap as we discuss monthly fostering stuff.  I look down to realize he's now crapped MY pants.  Awesome.  I try to laugh it off and excuse myself to change my pants and his and wash up.  I return to the table as two more babies begin to beckon.  I feel my heart racing.

I am grateful for these particular two workers as they couldn't be more sweet and understanding.  Just as we begin to wrap up a little early, I sigh thinking I have a few minutes to catch up before the next meeting, Early Intervention at 9:30.  9:15 there is a knock on the door.  I try to breathe and race to butter waffles.  Thankfully our speech therapist was late and so the meeting couldn't begin, giving me time to get everyone settled.  I sat down to realize the smoothie I'd made myself was now covering my two year old son.  I clean him up and grab Lily, I sit her in my lap, and you'd think a person certain couldn't have their pants pooped by two other people, but it happened.  I change myself and Lily and we get on with the meeting.

Jacob's behavior continues to escalate, he's throwing chairs, rolling all over the floor and basically just going mad.  I make mental note of the leftover sangria in the fridge.  We discuss Jacob's wonderful speech gains...then we discuss his behavior.  I melt into a puddle...frustrated, exhausted and defeated.  Our therapist assures me we can help him through this and that I need to give myself a bit more grace.  I put Jacob in his crib just so I can breathe for a moment.  (He struggles most when we have visitors).

She then reminds me that sometimes we have to change up our tactics with kids who aren't "typical"  I cry again and tell her I have no idea what typical even is.  She sympathizes.  We wrap up our meeting, the next social worker arrives to pick foster girl up for her visit.  I grab her to put her seat....and wouldn't you know, poop ALL DOWN MY SIDE.  (Mental note:  NO more Giant Eagle diapers)  I send her off, but not before running barefoot down the driveway with something I'd forgotten to put in the diaper bag.

I come inside and begin lunch.  I get everyone seated.  I can feel tears welling, I remind myself it is almost nap time.  I serve lunch, on paper plates because good gracious I cannot keep up with the dishes.  All babies are secured in high chairs and older kids are happily eating.  I run to pee for the first time since 6 a.m.  When I return to the kitchen I find that Jake has taken his entire plate of organic quinoa pasta and shown me just what he thinks of such things by throwing it in every direction within eight feet of his high chair and has decided his yogurt cup would make a lovely hat.

I scoop him up, wipe him off and decide nap time is now.  I put him in his crib, partly because he is exhausted, and partly, if I am being honest, for his safety and for mine.  I turn on his sound machine, rub his back and go into my room and SOB.  I give myself five minutes to cry and then I return to the kitchen where Luke has cleaned up every.single.noodle.  I didn't say a word, but he knew I was on the brink.  I hug him and cry some more.  He's such a great kid.

I get Lily to bed, my sister shows up with two dogs, the two dogs entertain the big kids outside and my sister cleans my kitchen while I just sit down for a minute.  My rear end no sooner hit the couch, and Jake was screaming.  I went in, comforted him, although again if I am being honest, I had to force myself.  I really wanted to run far away.  I fought the urge to go out and kiss the UPS man for delivering two cases of diapers to my door, I have been trying to keep up with cloth diapers, but let's be real.

My sister leaves, the kids put in a movie and I contemplate getting Jacob out of bed, but ultimately decide that for my own mental health I need at least an hour.  I turn a movie on for him but he screams like he is on fire anyhow.  I do everything I can to console him.  He won't be consoled.  I think again about that sangria in the fridge.  I choke down my melted smoothie from early this morning.  (A kale smoothie is barely palatable at room temperature but once you put all the ingredients into it, you can't bear to dump it until you remember that your two year old had been painting himself with it hours prior)

I finally decide that in order to be able to parent these children for the rest of the day I need to just take a break.  My break consisted of going to the basement and sitting next to the dryer (to drown out everything else) and matching fifty seven billion socks.  I loathe matching socks yet somehow today I found GREAT joy in doing so.  I'd like to tell you I sat there and thought deep spiritual thoughts, but I LITERALLY thought NO thoughts.  I head back upstairs to deal with everything feeling much more grounded.

I get to the living room and find that my big kids thought it would be a good idea to crumble mini wheats and scatter them all over the kitchen/living room area that my sister JUST swept.  I sit down on the floor, I take deep breaths and count to ten.  I ask the children to just clean it up.  I don't care who did it or why, please just clean it up.

Howard walks in, can see the exhaustion on my face and scoops Jacob out of bed and takes him outside,  I will skip the grease fire, broken dish, spilled milk (which tears may or may not have been shed over), prayers to Jesus to "just come back", pondering of "what the HELL have I done", thrown food at dinner, high chair protest, pee puddle incident, loose toad in the house and head right to the part where I may or may not have finished that sangria directly from the bottle while I cleaned up dinner and ran for the hills like a prisoner busting out of prison to Target.  A couple hours out of the house with no one getting any bodily fluids on me, asking me to wipe anything, whining for food, or smacking each other, let alone touching each other, and a cup of coffee gave me new perspective.

I now sit here in my bed, MacBook in my lap watching Jimmy Fallon's lip sync battle, a glass of sweet tea, and everyone is sleeping.  Tomorrow is a new day.  I think we shall go to the park.  :)  I didn't yell ONE time today...so despite all the crap (literally) I shall count today a wild success.




Monday, September 15, 2014

Empowered to Connect

Many of us go into this adoption thing knowing adoption is hard, but the extent to that difficulty is often not grasped. It wasn't for me. I knew that both of our adopted kiddos had suffered trauma, I knew it was going to take patience and love, but a couple of weeks ago, if you asked me if you should adopt, I'd probably have told you "not in a million years".

Both of our kids come to us with differing traumas, but traumas none the less. I won't share their stories here because I believe those are theirs to tell, but adoption is born of loss so suffice it to say that even if you are in the delivery room to welcome your adopted child into the world, they've still suffered a trauma.

Our sweet two year olds are tough. We're dealing with language delays, sensory processing issues, impulse control, and a WHOLE heap of anger and aggression. I've been more than exhausted in learning how to deal with them as all of my tried and true parenting techniques just aren't working. Time outs make behavior worse and they feed completely on my level of stress. Stress has been high and to say life with these two precious ones has been tough, would be an understatement.

I hate to admit it but there have been times that I've wondered what on earth I've done to my family. I yearn for the old days of only three kids. ;) Then God gently reminds me that this is NOTHING I've done and that He is in control. I waver between thinking we've been reckless in our family growing and knowing we're following His call. I've been weary, and while my heart knows these sweet blessings have suffered a trauma and they are the victims here, I've struggled with viewing myself as the victim. What seems like willful disobedience has become more than I can handle. I needed help. My compassion for my babies was waning and I was beginning to wonder if they were just doomed to be "jerks" their whole life.

I was blessed to join some amazing friends who are also on the same foster/adopt journey and head to the Empowered to Connect Conference this past weekend. I've read Dr. Purvis' book "The Connected Child" and it was fantastic, but getting to sit in that room and see it in action was such an immense privilege and blessing that it is tough to put into words. I am still processing much of what I learned this weekend but I will tell you that I've come back with a new sense of hope and a renewed compassion for our kids...all of them.

If you have a child who has suffered any kind of trauma in life I highly recommend Dr. Purvis' resources. She is like the "Hurt Child Whisperer". She was unable to personally be at the conference as she is battling cancer at present but her staff was amazing and I will never be able to thank her enough for her help. Restoring hope to my weary heart is a gift I can't even describe.

I've learned so much about the biology and science behind the kids' behavior, and I am now continually reminding myself that "anger covers fear" so all of that anger is coming from a kid who just desperately wants to feel safe. He's coming from a place of such primal fear and he is doing what he knows to do to survive. Just in the last 48 hours I have implemented SOME of Dr. Purvis' suggestions into our home and I can tell you that there is more joy and peace than I would have imagined. It takes a lot of work and intentionality but I am so grateful to know that healing will come for these kids. We've taken a bit of a "step backwards" and are just working on making sure our kids FEEL safe. I am learning not to enter a battle for control with my children as it isn't worth the win. I hope to share in segments more of what I learned at the conference to show my fellow adoptive/foster moms out there that there IS hope and there ARE answers. We can do this!

So do not let my words discourage you if you are following the call to adopt...but please educate yourself on the needs your child WILL have. I was so naive. I really thought that MY adopted kids would be fine, my parenting of my older three has been relatively easy so CLEARLY I am a good parent, but the truth is...we all need work. Time for a shift in parenting. We need to be more real with pre adoptive parents so they are more prepared for what they will face and equip them with the resources to find the answers they will seek! I am feeling a strong call to help make this happen in my area, so stay tuned! :)



Tuesday, August 12, 2014

On Suicide and Depression (and a Confession)


As most of you know, when I was nine I lost my mom to suicide. All of this discussion about Robin Williams has me kind of sad and frustrated with where we are with mental illness in this world. My heart was DEEPLY saddened when I heard of his death yesterday. I have always loved him. While I obviously don't "know" him, it hit close to home. My mind raced thinking about his family. In suicide, the ones left behind have so much to work through. I am still working through my suicide junk from my mom.

I have read articles today about how depression isn't really a disease, how it isn't a medical matter but one of joy and gratitude or lack thereof and I have to tell you I couldn't DISagree more. Depression isn't a choice. Truthfully...in most cases suicide isn't a choice. I feel compelled to share with you my personal journey with this topic. So here goes.

In the years following my own mom's suicide, I was so angry, so bitter, so hurt. I was consumed with guilt, grief and shame. No nine year old wants to have to answer questions about his or her parent's death...especially when it is one that is so difficult to understand and so taboo. I would speak of my mother with contempt. I hated her. I thought she was a selfish coward and if you look back in this blog you'll even find my words saying those things even just a few years ago. People would tell me she was sick and needed help....yadda, yadda, yadda. I felt like everyone was glossing it all over and remembering her as some kind of hero when in fact I believed her to be so cowardly. She betrayed me and I felt like she didn't feel I was worth living for. I'd get so angry when people would speak highly of her.

Then one morning I woke up and looked in the mirror. I saw her reflection. I was most of the time either crying or lashing out at the people I loved most. I was aware of how many blessings I had all around me and yet I enjoyed nothing. I put on a brave face and tried not to let on because I believed the term depression was just a cop out. I believed medication was something people used to numb and forget about what would have to be dealt with inevitably anyhow. I thought if I prayed harder, I'd snap out of my funk. Well guess what. All that pressure...just made it worse. The guilt mounted. I sunk deeper and deeper. I was in a fog. I felt like I was swimming and going about the motions of life but I couldn't come up for air. I almost just felt like a spectator. I wasn't really engaging in my own life.

In November of last year, I started counseling. I began to see what my mother was going through. There were times that I truly wondered if my family would be better off without me because I was just no fun. I never ever thought of killing myself, but I credit that largely to the fact that I am far too aware of what that choice my own mom made did to me and I don't want that for my kids. I want them to know that I love them and want to be here for EVERY event in their lives and I think they are worth fighting for. That is what this is...it is a fight. I have cancer. I will fight cancer with everything I have. I also suffer with clinical depression and anxiety as well as PTSD. That my friends is the first time I've admitted that.

It is easy to say, hey, guess what, I am a cancer warrior. People find that noble. No one will fault you for having cancer. They will rally behind you and build you up. It is NOT easy to say, I am a depression warrior. People think you're a debbie downer, or crazy or worse. There is such a stigma attached to mental illness and you know what...it is NO less of a disease or struggle than cancer. In the Christian community it can even be worse. People will say you don't pray hard enough, you don't have enough faith, etc. Those are all lies. If your brain chemicals are such that you can't see past the hurt you deeply feel, you can't see the hope. You can KNOW it is there, but you can't see it...your brain won't allow you.

So here's my confession, even after counseling, I was struggling. My brain would not let me find joy....I fought so hard that it exhausted me. My doctor was able to talk me into taking a tiny pill and within weeks, the fog began to lift. I had feared that tiny pill for so long. I thought it was the "easy" way out, I was adamant that I'd never need it. That little pill, makes my life manageable, it allows my brain to process one thing at a time. It made me a better mom, wife and friend. It helped to give me the boost I needed to deepen my faith and see the hope right in front of me.

I haven't really admitted to many people that I was diagnosed with clinical depression or that I take medication for it. It is time we all have this discussion. It is time we break free from the ridiculous stigma attached to mental illness and treat it like the disease it is. If we hide from it we become part of the problem. Biologically, sometimes we need some help. We need not be ashamed of that. The unfortunate truth is that some people won't get it. They'll still judge and think less of us for it...and that sucks, but truly, that's on them.

We need not glorify suicide, but be real. The people suicide hurts most are those left behind and if our dialogue doesn't honor God and prevent this from happening to others it is worthless. God teaches us to love one another above all else. I really believe IF we did that, this problem would be far more rare. I have come to a place of forgiveness and healing with my own mom through my own struggles with depression. I now know she truly wasn't able to think long term...she was thinking of the intense hurts at that moment and how she knew she wasn't the mom or wife she wanted to be. I truly believe she thought we'd be better off without her.

So, the moral of the story is that it is super easy to judge and have an opinion on this issue, but it is difficult to understand unless you've experienced it. Let's be kind to one another and show love and compassion. Mental illness is real and it affects more people than we realize. In the county I live in, there were EIGHT times more suicides than homicides in 2013. If that doesn't make us realize that this conversation needs to be had, I don't know what will. If you know someone hurting...reach out!

My heart and prayers are with the family of Robin Williams as they deal with this terrible tragedy.


Saturday, August 9, 2014

Six Months Out

Thursday I went to the cancer center for my six month check up. Because childcare is tough to find for six kids, one of whom is a foster (oh, yeah, that's why I haven't had time for blogging...I am mothering SIX awesome kids right now) I went alone. At first I was apprehensive about this. I kept thinking of the "what ifs", and would I be able to handle being alone if I got bad news. God kept whispering, "you're never alone". He stayed true to that statement for sure.

Early that morning I began the hour and a half drive to the hospital where the nearest melanoma specialists are. Despite the anxiety that I'd been riddled with in the days prior, Thursday morning, I felt pure peace. I turned on some worship music and prayed my way to Cleveland. I prayed for many things. I prayed for good results, peace, compassionate doctors, ease of blood draw, clear chest x-rays, that the surgeon would take more than ten seconds to answer my questions and that my new oncologist would be someone I could trust my life with.

I arrived early, never having driven there myself before I felt a sense of accomplishment just in making it there without getting lost. I parked and made my way down the elevator and through the eerily lit tunnel to the building where the cancer center is. I took the stairs up to the cancer center. Thanking God with each step that I was able to in fact take the stairs. I waited my turn to check in and a cheerful woman greeted me, took my copay and looked at my schedule of appointments. She sent me to do my lab work first.

I headed over to the lab and had my blood drawn. It was quick and painless! Answered prayer! I then waited to see the surgeon (who is so busy and ALWAYS super late) I sat in the waiting room reading quietly until my name was called. I then went to the exam room where I waited an hour for the surgeon. While I was sitting there I tried to calm my mind while barraged with posters and pamphlets about chemotherapy, therapeutic sperm donation (what?), and hospice care.

The doctor came in, was very sweet. Looked at my scar and explained that it was turning hypertrophic/keloid, which is why it's been so painful. He said we'd need to wait a while longer to see what it does and to just massage it. Because so much skin was taken, there was a lot of trauma and tension on the wound. He then asked if he could refer me to the "MelaFind" program so that we could keep a better eye on my moles. After the nurse gave me the information, I headed back to the waiting area.

It was then time for my x-rays which took approximately fifteen seconds. "Hold your breath don't move, ok arms up hold your breath don't move, ok kiddo you're done" Back to the waiting area for me.

I got myself a glass of water (one perk to this place is the ice machine...they have really awesome crushed ice) and made myself comfy on a couch with my Kindle since my next appointment was about two hours away. As I sat, I read, prayed and people watched. In a place you'd think would be filled with despair, the hope in the room was tangible. As I looked around I could see some people getting great news and rejoicing with their families as others did not receive good news and tears flowed freely. As I looked around the vast waiting area, I knew I was sitting in the midst of some of the strongest people I'd ever be in the presence of.

I sat there thanking God for the peace I was feeling, for the quiet time to reflect (since that is a precious commodity as a mother of SIX), and for the affirmations of hope in the good and bad that I was seeing all around me. My name was called right on time and I was taken back to an exam room. I was anxious to meet the new oncologist and had no idea why they'd changed my doctor. I knew the minute he walked in that God had his hands all over the situation the entire time. The doctor walked in, made eye contact with me and asked GENUINELY how I was. He sat down and focused on me. I felt more heard than I've felt through this whole ordeal. He listened to my every fear and concern and he didn't dismiss even one.

We talked about my tumor, the aggressiveness of it, the fact that I was a mom of six and what the prognosis is. The doctor looked at me and said, "You're 35 years old. 83% 5 year survival just isn't good enough. We need 99%. I'd like to suggest a change in your follow up. I believe that because of your age, we need to be as proactive as possible so you can live a long and healthy life. Immunotherapy is really coming along way with melanoma but it does best when used before the cancer really takes over, so I would suggest, and it is entirely up to you, that we do more scanning periodically to make sure there is nothing hiding internally." Tears flowed down my face, as scary as those words are...those are the VERY words I prayed I would hear. I did not feel like the previous doctors had given the attention to the aggressiveness of my particular tumor and I did not feel like they were being aggressive enough.

The doctor looked panicked and said, "Oh please don't cry! We're going to make sure you have every chance to beat this thing. It may never come back but if it does I want to be ready and waiting. You do not have to decide right now. Just please give it some thought." I choked back tears and said, "I would like the scans, I'd prayed hard to hear you say those words and not make me feel crazy for wanting them. I want to be as healthy as I can for as LONG as I can so that I can be the wife and mom my family deserves." He got kind of choked up (he is roughly the same age as me) and said, "Kristy, that is the most reasonable thing I've heard all day. You are really something. You make ME feel like a wimp." I laughed and he said, "I have two kids...and barely make it through most days."

We then went over my blood tests and x-rays which all looked good and we made plans to reconvene for scan and exams in November. I left the clinic that day, feeling God's hand on me. His presence was tangibly felt all day, and while these trials sometimes feel like too much, those moments are so sacred. He is there. He is in it all and we are NEVER alone. I truly couldn't be more grateful.

Cancer is another one of those things that no one wants to have to encounter, but I believe it is going to be another thing to teach me, heal me and help me be better. I believe God knows what he is doing and while it is hard and exhausting, He is forcing me to lean harder on Him and it is a good place to be.

So six months out...still no evidence of disease. With melanoma, they don't really talk cure. It is a disease that can rear it's head at any time...it travels in the lymphatic system and in the blood so the key is to keep up the immune system and be the healthiest me I can be. In the cancer world, time is often talked of in three month increments. Living life between scans can be super hard, but I am determined to live it to it's fullest. This IS the day that the Lord has made....I will rejoice and be glad in it. I no longer fear growing old. I pray each day that I get the privilege of growing old. I intend to be proud of each and every year lived...35 and going strong! :)

Friday, May 16, 2014

Close to Home

I turned on the news before making breakfast yesterday morning. Making headlines were stories of missing children, attempted abductions and a one year old girl locally who was taken to the emergency room for dangerously high blood alcohol levels. I sat down and prayed for our children. It is easy to look out at this world gone mad and think, "I am glad it isn't my kid, or that could never be my daughter", but it is. They ARE our children.

Being a foster mom has brought this notion closer to home than I could ever have imagined. Our children are our future and we are surely not being good stewards of our future. As I placed a plate of pancakes on the table, the phone rang. I looked at the caller ID. It was the Erie County Office of Children and Youth. My heart sank. With each time I see that number, my heart breaks knowing that somewhere there is a hurting child...a child who has been abused, neglected, or abandoned...sometimes all three.

It is hard to go to that place of knowing that right now there is likely a child being exploited, and mistreated. It is hard but it is reality. Until we go there...to that hard place...nothing will ever change. We will never make a difference...you can't hide from the hard stuff and expect to grow closer to Jesus. It is in the hard stuff that we find Him ever near.

The call was merely a clerical one, though my mind raced wondering if it were a call to come and get the little girl from the news. Each time we welcome another child into our home, we get to look into the face of Jesus just a little closer. It might seem like we are crazy or hoarding children, or trying to make up for our own losses, or any myriad of things, but it is simply because He calls us to.

If I've learned anything in my life, I have learned not to shy away from heartbreak. We can't live fearing that our hearts will break if we put them out there. We just have to put them out there knowing that WHEN they break, God will pick up the pieces and put them back together to create something even more beautiful...with every break, the masterpiece becomes more intricate and deep. Shying away from it would deprive us of so many wonderful blessings.

So, if you're wondering if we'll open our home again to yet another child....a few weeks ago, I might have told you we were FULL and our van can't hold anymore. In the last few weeks, God has truly been speaking to my heart...just reminding me to keep it open for WHATEVER He has for me. So I'll trust in that, and each time the phone rings, I will pick it up and pray knowing He will provide ALL of my needs for whatever He calls us to. My heart WILL get broken again...foster care is heart ache all around because it isn't the natural order of things...adoption always means a tragedy happened. My heartbreaks with each call from the agency, knowing these kids aren't being cared for, my heart has broken having to let a little one go back after loving them with my whole heart, and my heart has broken as I signed adoption papers, knowing that this child will grieve the loss of his/her natural parents probably all of their life.

God will bring healing to every heart break, and I have no answers for why. I guess I've finally come to a place in my life where I don't really need to know why. I just trust. I trust that He has a good plan for my future and that He has placed each child in my arms for a purpose. Each time I see a news story on the TV about a child being mistreated, it hits close to home because that child could well end up at my dinner table, that child could be MY child, and with every child that comes to my door, I feel closer to Home. They are OUR children...and we need to love them like He would...they aren't just a news story or a headline...this stuff is happening and it BREAKS His heart and it SHOULD break ours...Let it...see what might happen.




Wednesday, May 14, 2014

It's official!




















Thursday, April 24, 2014

Two Years

Two years ago today, I boarded an airplane and flew across the country to meet my son. It was a day and an experience I'll never forget. The months leading up to the adoption were fast, furious and filled with battles we never could have won if not for God. April 24th 2012, I boarded an airplane and flew by myself to a city I've never been to. God worked out every detail. A dear friend I met via this blog, Christine, lives in that city and she happily offered to pick me up at the airport. I don't know what I would have done without her. I was emotional charged and not thinking clearly enough to navigate a new city and she stepped right in and took me to lunch and then to the hospital.

I will never forget arriving at Phoenix Children's Hospital. We entered the hospital and went to the NICU desk. I explained who I was and a social worker came right out to greet me. She explained that Jacob's birth mother was with him and was waiting for me. We headed down the hall toward Jacob's room. She slid the glass door open and there sobbing in a chair was a beautiful woman and the son she clearly loved. My heart broke knowing the agony of letting go of a child. One look at him and I was instantly in love, but I also fell in love with her, his first mom. She held him and cried and I stood there not knowing what to do.

She stood up and walked over to me and hugged me, still sobbing. We'd talked on the phone many times but this was the first time we'd met. You could see the pain in her eyes and the years of hardship on her face. She was so sweet and just kept thanking me for coming. The nurses were all getting teary and then she handed him to me. It was a sacred moment.  I can only imagine how that must have felt. My heart breaks all over just thinking about it. I was SO excited to finally be holding my son yet I was devastated for her loss. Her attorney was there and took her from the NICU to a counseling appointment.

Jacob and I were alone. I held him but he remained rigid. The nurses started coming in to meet me and talk to me about his care. He cried a lot and was difficult to console. He ate well but wasn't too keen on sleep. He preferred not to be held and if he was held, he liked to be held facing out. Considering all he'd been through in the prior months he was doing great but this was all about to challenge me in ways I never imagined. I tend to be an attachment style parent, and this boy was going to take some retraining to get there.

I slept that night at the hospital. I gave Jacob his bath and made his bottles and slept in a chair right next to him. He enjoyed bath time but loathed diaper changes. We got to know each other as best we could under the circumstances. The next morning I got to sit through his occupational and physical therapy sessions, learning what techniques the therapists were using to help console him and relax his rigid muscles.

I got to meet his doctor that afternoon and he was the kindest man. He hugged me and said that Jacob was going to be just fine, that he just needed some TLC. He told me that he would be a challenge but to continually remind myself that none of it was his fault and that he was doing the best he could. We chatted and he gave me lots of tips and asked that I send the occasional photo as the hospital had been his family for the previous three months. He then handed me discharge papers and said, "It's going to be great. You've got this." It took me more than an hour to pack up Jacob's things. He was well loved there at the hospital, stuffed animals, clothes, blankets, toys, all kinds of things the nurses had brought in for him.

When we were discharged, Christine graciously picked us up and took us to her house to wait until Pennsylvania gave the approval for me to bring him home. It was the longest six days ever. Christine's family was wonderful but I just wanted to get my boy and get home. I was NOT cut out for Arizona weather and I was just eager to get into a real routine with this little guy who desperately needed it. I called home crying daily. Christine's boys were a great distraction. They were so great with Jacob and very sweet. Ultimately the heat was getting to me and I was tired and longed for my own bed. My dear friend Alyssa, whom I also met via this blog somehow moved mountains and got herself a flight to Arizona to be with me knowing how homesick I was. We'd talked and sent messages to each other but this would be our first time meeting. A friend from home, Amy offered to get me a hotel room since her husband had some extra Mariott points and she booked us a room and Christine took me to the hotel to be with Alyssa.

I still missed home but I jacked that AC up and Jacob and I crawled into the big bed and took a nap. Alyssa arrived that evening and we ate pizza, bathed my baby in the sink of the hotel and stuck our feet in the hot tub of the hotel pool. The next morning Jacob's birth mom came to the hotel for a visit. We sat out in the courtyard. I cannot explain it but it was like God granted me a grace that only could have come from him because while part of me wanted to just hide in the room with Jacob, the moment I saw her face that all changed. I wanted her to hold him and I wanted her to know I loved her and that I would always tell Jacob about her and how much she loved him. Jacob's biological grandma was there too and it was great for her to get to meet her grandson and also be there for her daughter. It really was a miracle all around.

Adoption is one of the hardest things I've ever done but it was worth every tear and drop of sweat. God carried us and Jacob every step of the way. I will never be able to tell his birth mom in words how grateful I am for that sweet boy. He has come so far. He LOVES to be held and snuggled. He is developing pretty typically and his speech is coming along! It has been a labor...different from a labor of a child you birth but labor nonetheless. Most things worth doing...are hard. Adoption is one of them.

If you are out there and you are riding the roller coaster that is adoption, please hold fast.  He is with you.  Adoption is costly...it is hard...it is a war like none I have known, but victory is His.  Ultimately His plan prevails.  Discouragement and doubt do not come from God, they come from the one who wants nothing more than to see God's plan fail.  God's plan can't be thwarted...stay the course, these kids are worth it.  If you're not riding the adoption roller coaster, maybe you know someone who is, or maybe one day you will.  Please take some time and pray about how God would use you to be his hands and feet to children in need. Maybe he is calling you to adopt or maybe he is calling you to help encourage someone who is...he is calling us ALL to do something.