Monday, June 15, 2015

I'm not getting rid of the dog

I feel like I am supposed to share this, though I'm not sure that everyone is going to appreciate it.  But something hit me in the middle of the night last night.  Or more accurately, something bit me and then something hit me.

I got up to go to the bathroom, as I often do, many times, and I came back to find our dog, Quin, on our bed.  He is a rescue dog and we have had him for two years.   This dog loves me -- unlike our other dog who pretty much ignores me all the time.   Quin is a gorgeous dog -- I found him online, and we have never regretted our decision.  He is gentle and patient, hardly ever barks, and is always eager to see me.  I'm not a dog person, so for me to tolerate, much less enjoy, a dog is surprising.

Quin's habit is to sneak in our room while I'm in the bathroom, wait until I get back into the bedroom and get settled and then jump off the bed and beg to be let out.  So I reached over and nudged him to get him to jump off the bed and head out into the hallway.   I startled him in the dark, and he bit me.  It hurt.   It didn't break skin, but I have bruises this morning.

As I was falling back to sleep I realized that I was not blaming the dog -- I was blaming myself and trying to figure out what I could do differently the next time to keep that from happening.   And then it hit me.   I wish I would have done the same thing with my children during our roughest times.  But instead, I blamed them, wondering if they were safe to live at home.

I never thought once about this being Quin's fault.  He responded as one would expect a rescue dog, who has had who knows what happen to him, to respond.   He acted out his fear.

Are children that much different?   Grant it, I don't encourage children biting their parents, but what if our response to our children's aggressive behavior were more along the lines of "how can I change what I am doing to stop that from happening again?"

I know there are a lot of kids who have behaviors that come out of nowhere.  But many, many times they start with something small and escalate because of the way we, as parents respond.   Things get escalated to the point where someone is in danger and then our conclusion is often to blame the child and wonder if we are safe with them.

Maybe I'm entirely out of line here, but I think I'm on to something.   If I had it to do over again, and I've said this to many of you, I would have found a different answer than residential treatment or foster care for a couple of our kids.  I don't get to do it over again, but if I could I would change MY response, because even a decade later their behaviors haven't changed much.  I never was successful in "fixing them."    Fortunately my behaviors have changed as I've come to the realization that I can change only my response to their behaviors.

I'm not going to send Quin away because he bit me.   But I'm certainly not going to tap him on the head in the middle of the night again.   I envision a world where adoptive parents have the same response to their children as I did to Quin last night, as my hand screamed with pain, and plan a way to stop it from happening again.  I envision a world where we all have the  support, skills, and training necessary to FIRST respond by wondering what we can do to change.

God grant me the serenity
to accept the people I cannot change
the courage to change the one I can
and the wisdom to know it's me.  (anonymous)

Tuesday, June 02, 2015

How it works exactly....

So I started my brilliant idea yesterday and obviously my lack of attention to detail is not helping people figure out how to participate in this Stronger Beginnings Challenge.  So, here is how it works.

1)  You pick some people you want to honor.   Examples of 15 different categories can be found in this blog post from yesterday.

2)  You go to the Stronger Beginnings Approach Go Fund Me website and make a donation.  You start by hitting donate, then you put in your amount (at least $5) and your information as well as credit or debit card info.   Then in the comments section there you put who you are honoring.  Example from my first tribute:
I'm giving to Bethany in honor of some of my first friends in the adoption journey... those who have been parenting kids from hard places for as long as I have. Meg McDonald, Michele Hutton, Paula Lee Dunham.

3)   After it processes your donation, hit "Share" and it will take you to Facebook.   Add to the Facebook post the words above.   Then challenges those people to spend 5 minutes and $5 to honor some people in their lives.

4)  Remind them and show them how if they need help.

Make sense?  Questions?

Monday, June 01, 2015

Why I've Been Awake since 3:15 a.m.

This morning I woke up at 3:15 a.m.  It wasn't an emergency.  No police, no appendicitis attacks, no kids sneaking in or out -- just an idea that wouldn't go away.

You may have noticed on my Facebook that Bethany has started a Go Fund Me campaign to support our Stronger Beginnings Model.  A couple who are on my board -- and who are amazingly awesome -- have agreed to help raise money for the campaign.   I have been trying to figure out a way to give the campaign a jump-start and instead I have come up with the idea for a movement.  Yes, if you know me, you are probably not surprised that I am envisioning a movement.

But what would it be like to have a list somewhere of people who love children?  I place where I could put my name that signifies things like "I believe kids grow best in families.  I believe that they are entitled to the best start possible."  

As I began thinking about this I thought of all the groups of people out there who believe this to be true and have an impact on children.  I thought it would be so cool to honor them in a tangible way.

So I am going to donate money to Bethany for each category of people I want to honor and tag them on Facebook and see if there are people in that category -- or another -- that they want to honor.  And, of course, if it took some of the pressure off of me and my current deficit budget because we have started this new approach -- that would be a nice by-product.

 I know that 90% of my readers would hand me a five dollar bill if I asked them to -- even if it was to buy myself my favorite Starbucks drink (Trenta Shaken Tazo Tea, Unsweet, with Extra ice).   So maybe, just maybe they will be willing to take 5 minutes and donate that $5 to Bethany in honor of someone important to them.  

So, here are the categories I have thought of and I would love to have you pick one and join in on the fun.

1)  I'm giving to Bethany in honor of my mom and in memory of my dad who gave me the best start possible.   So many people knew and loved my parents for the investment they made in the lives of children over the past 80+ years.  I know that they have many friends who have parents who did the same for their children.

2)  I'm giving to Bethany in honor of my husband and others out their who have been a true partner in parenting.  Without him my children would not have made the progress they have and I would be a complete wreck.

3)  I'm giving to Bethany in honor of single moms, especially the single moms who are raising my grandchildren.   Their lives aren't always easy, but they are working hard to give their children the best start possible in the situations they are in.

4)  I'm giving to Bethany in honor of my children who, though they may not have had the strongest beginning, are working hard to overcome their past, move forward, and have a stronger future.

5)  I'm giving to Bethany in honor of adoptive parents whose parenting journey would have been so much different had their children had a strong beginning.  I honor them for the tremendous gift they have given their children from "hard places" -- I honor them for their resiliency, their tenacity, and their strength.

6)  I'm giving to Bethany in honor of some of my first friends in the adoption journey... those who have been parenting kids from hard places for as long or longer than I have.

7)  I'm giving to Bethany in honor of adoption professionals who work with expectant parents, who prepare adoptive parents, who support those who are in the trenches.

8)  I'm giving to Bethany in honor of educators.   Teachers who invest in children regardless of their abilities, recognizing that children did not choose their own beginning.

9)  I'm giving to Bethany in honor of pastors, youth pastors, children's pastors, and other leaders in the churches around the world who invest in the lives of our children.   Their contributions to the lives of all children and their parents is unmeasurable.

10)  I'm giving to Bethany in honor of those who are using their careers to support orphan care.  Social entrepreneurs who are finding ways to use their gifts and abilities to make a difference in the lives of children whose beginnings were not what anyone would have hoped.

11)  I'm giving to Bethany in honor of my coworkers at Bethany.  Their dedication to children is unparalleled and I am blessed to know them and to be part of the bigger Bethany team.

12)  I'm giving to Bethany in honor of bloggers who have influenced the world by sharing their stories... especially those early bloggers who blogged only to help others -- before it became a method of self-promotion.

13)  I'm giving to Bethany in honor of folks who may not be working in adoption, but who strive for those early beginnings for children that are so important -- people who work to prevent child abuse, fetal alcohol and drug exposure, domestic violence -- people who work as nannies or in preschools.  

14)  I'm giving to Bethany in honor of really cool young people who love children... who are great aunts and uncles, cousins, and friends.

15)  I'm giving in honor of my Bethany board and their commitment to us as a staff and to making a difference in the lives of children.

I think I better stop or Bart might suggest that I'm giving a bit more to Bethany that I need be in our current financial situation (we already have a monthly pledge, so this is above and beyond).

I bet you have a person you would like to honor in one or more of the above categories.

If not, maybe just encouraging me with a $5 donation would be enough to get you to do it.   :-)

Here is the link:  Bethany's Go Fund Me Campaign

If you do, please share with your online network and tag someone you want to honor, encouraging them to do so as well.  And just so you know, I'm not going to tag everyone in every category -- so if you fit any of the above, consider yourself tagged now :-)

This is what I intend to post along with the sentences above.  And yes, I'm going to give 15 times. 

5 minutes and 5 dollars is all it will take to honor someone important to you and declare that you believe children deserve the best beginning possible and that children grow best in families.  Please join this list by giving to this Go Fund Me campaign and then tagging others to do the same.

One more thing -- if you read the description of the Stronger Beginnings Approach and listen to the video and for some reason do not agree with our approach, just designate that you would like the donation to go to one of our other programs:  International Adoption, Post-Adoption Support, Older Child Foster Care Adoption, or Post-Adoption Counseling and Services.

As you know, this is more than a job for me.  This is my life's passion and the reason I get up every morning.    Thank you for being some of the first ones to join this movement  :-)

You can check out some of these posts on Facebook today and see how it's going, but I would love to see you do this before I tag you.... and that would make you one of the originators of the movement that woke me up at 3:15 a.m.  :-)

Monday, May 18, 2015

Those Arguing Voices in My Head

This is not a blog post that I'm going to put a link to on Facebook, or even tell anyone I'm writing.  If people find it, they find it., but it's more for me than for anyone else.

I find it ironic that my supervisor suggested on Friday that I take the whole weekend off and not work.  He said I needed time to regenerate.  Little does he know that unlike his home, my home is not a place of regeneration right now.  We have 7 boys living at home and one girlfriend that comes often not necessarily without our permission.   Their ability to get a rise out of me has waned because I'm tired, but there are times  when I get sucked into a stupid argument.  This last one with the person whose name I never mention on the blog but who always brings my blog up when he is mad was the one who I ended up arguing and it didn't end well.   Actually, it didn't end.

I mean it ended -- he stormed out and left me in the wake of his fury.  But it hasn't ended in my head.   Come backs to every comment he made have been running through my head for the 40 hours since the argument.   I can't stop the madness!

I haven't read Cindy's blog regularly for a couple years -- time constraints and not taking time to do anything that's only for me -- but I went back to check it out this weekend.  Her post Yelling Weeds means that for 10 years now we have been living parallel lives.  The stage of inconsiderate entitlement are upon us, and budgeting our money to help supplement the needs of underemployed or unemployed adults may be the most frustrating stage of all. 

Today I don't have lots of nice answers.   In fact, I'm asking a question of all of you who have gone through this:   How do you stop the voices in your head??

Friday, May 15, 2015

What if they don't?

If you used to read my blog 5-10 years ago you would have heard the day to day dumpings of my over-filled brain in multiple posts a day.  Even now going back and reading it brings back some of those same emotions and the anger and frustration that accompanied me day to day during the darkest period of our lives.

But right now I'm at a different place.   Back then I was grappling with a consistent need to fix things and I repeated in my head-- "They WILL heal.  They WILL get better.  They WILL change."   But then we came to a point that I had to ask myself the question, "What if they don't?"

And in several cases, they didn't.  They got worse.   So here I am, my last child with special needs 2 weeks from graduation (hoping and praying it will happen) and only one more child in school.  Our kids, as you know, are now 16-28.   We have 5 grandchildren, one that was born to married parents.  And I think I can answer that question for you ... at least from my perspective.

If they don't heal, get better, or change and if things don't get immediately better but actually get worse before they get better, this will happen:

1)  You will continue to love them and whoever they are connected to.   You will find the strength to keep loving them.

2)  You will forgive more easily and more quickly each time.  You will find it in your heart to have the grace you need when you need it to keep on forgiving . . . way beyond 70 times 7.

3)  You will stop getting sucked in every time.   You will get to the point that you realize that kids, especially teenagers, argue for sport... and that you don't have to take the bait every time.

4)  You will stop worrying so much.  Everything you worry about will happen and you will make it through all that stuff you worried and the result will be realizing that you DO have the resiliency and the strength to deal with whatever comes your way.

5)  You will get tired and start budgeting your emotional energy.  You'll realize that getting all worked up takes way too much energy and so you will choose not to go there whenever possible.

I know some of that sounds a bit cynical, but that wasn't my intention.  My intention was to give you a "light at the end of the tunnel" boost.   But my message is ... hang in there.  If they heal, if they change, if they get better -- that's awesome.  But if they don't, you're still going to be fine.

Older.  Tireder.  Wiser.  Stronger.  But fine.

Thursday, May 14, 2015

Why YOU?

I just got back from a meeting and in that meeting there was discussion about the changes in the law in Minnesota regarding Child Protection.  These changes are causing the numbers of children coming into foster care to grow quickly.

Years ago I would have blogged about 591 of my opinions about these change, but because of many reasons I will keep them to myself.  However, I do want to address the fact that children have been removed from their birth families and there are not enough foster homes to go around.  This means that sometimes there are kids sleeping in sleeping bags on office floors.  There are kids way too young for this kind of experience being placed in group homes or other kinds of institutions until a foster home becomes available.   Foster homes are full in many counties and there is no place to put the children.  We need to do something.   There is a reason why there is a lack of foster families out there -- recruiting people to do something this selfless and hard isn't easy.  But I am determined to do just that --  because this isn't just a professional thing, it is very personal.

My life has been impacted greatly by foster parents -- the foster parents who, for a time, took care of the children who are now legally mine.  We hear many horror stories about bad foster homes in our society -- and I have children who reported less than ideal situations while they were in foster care-- but I also have kids that had great foster parents.  The children who will one day become adopted children are being impacted this moment day because of a lack of good foster parents. 

I'm excited that Bethany is offering this program and I believe that we will be able to do a great job of preparing, training and licensing families.  I talked about that in this post.  But most importantly, I am passionate about kids having a good experience in foster care across the country, whether or not families use Bethany to license them.

So, I'm asking you, if you're between the ages of 21 and 80 to ask yourself (and God if that is something you do) if you should be a foster parent.   You may be asking, "ME?? Why Me??"

Here's my answer.
  • You would understand what you were getting yourself into and would do it anyway.  You would do the research, pay attention in training, and have a clear idea of how difficult the task is.  But you also know that just because something is hard doesn't mean you shouldn't do it, and you would head into it with eyes wide open.
  • You would put your needs behind the needs of the kids and love them.  You would let them attach to you because you knew it was good for them even if you knew you would hurt when they had to leave.
  •  You would understand the value of birth family connection and work hard to make sure that these people that the kids love, imperfect as they might be, are their people.
  • You would treat them just like your other kids.  You would let them be in sports and celebrate their birthdays and bring them with you on family vacation because you would understand that even if it was only for a few days, weeks or months, that they were a part of your family.
  • You would make a commitment to them that would last a lifetime, even if they were only in your home for a while.  You would make sure they knew that they were welcome to contact you and that they always had a home away from home, wherever they would go.
  • You would arm yourself with a circle of supportive friends who could help you so that you had everything you needed to practice self-care and remain resilient for the children.
  • You would understand that it might be impossible to fix the children, but that you could change your response to them and thus help them in their journey.
I could go on, but I think you get the idea.   You may have a long list of reasons why you couldn't, shouldn't, wouldn't be a foster parent.  One of those reasons might be all of the things you have heard about bad foster parents.  But you should do it because you wouldn't be like that.

Another reason that you may have being saying you can't do it, is that you have concerns about working directly with your county.  But now that excuse is gone and I can assure you that working with Bethany you would have the support you hope for in being a foster family.

Scared kids, being removed from their birth families, need a place to go.   Your home could be that place.  

Meetings are being held where I personally can tell you more.  Come.  

Wednesday, May 13, 2015

Embracing that Scary Sacred Place

We call Abraham “father” not because he got God’s attention by living like a saint, but because God made something out of Abraham when he was a nobody. Isn’t that what we’ve always read in Scripture, God saying to Abraham, “I set you up as father of many peoples”? Abraham was first named “father” and then became a father because he dared to trust God to do what only God could do: raise the dead to life, with a word make something out of nothing. When everything was hopeless, Abraham believed anyway, deciding to live not on the basis of what he saw he couldn’t do but on what God said he would do. And so he was made father of a multitude of peoples. God himself said to him, “You’re going to have a big family, Abraham!”
Abraham didn’t focus on his own impotence and say, “It’s hopeless. This hundred-year-old body could never father a child.” Nor did he survey Sarah’s decades of infertility and give up. He didn’t tiptoe around God’s promise asking cautiously skeptical questions. He plunged into the promise and came up strong, ready for God, sure that God would make good on what he had said. That’s why it is said, “Abraham was declared fit before God by trusting God to set him right.” But it’s not just Abraham; it’s also us! The same thing gets said about us when we embrace and believe the One who brought Jesus to life when the conditions were equally hopeless. The sacrificed Jesus made us fit for God, set us right with God

Those paragraphs are from Romans Chapter 4 and I used them with my staff during devotions yesterday. Before I go further let me give you some context.

A year ago at this time Bethany lost a state contract and we were in the middle of a financial crisis.   Things were not in a neat little package that I could handle.  I challenged my staff to believe with me -- to have that kind of faith that Abraham had.... and we prayed and we worked hard and God did miracles and we ended an impossible year in the black.

Skip forward to now.  We have all kinds of awesome things going on at Bethany.  Staff are busier than ever.  We have just received a different kind of contract that will allow us to recruit and train families for foster care.  We have started a very different approach to expectant parent advocacy (formerly known as pregnancy counseling) that we feel is so much better for the baby and also for expectant parents and adoptive parents.   We are placing more kids than ever before from foster care into adoptive homes.  We have more work than we can handle but because of several factors, we are once again behind budget.

I realized yesterday, and told my staff, that this place -- this sacred scary place -- is where God wants His people to live.  He doesn't want us stuck in that safe spot where everything that we have to deal with can be easily handled by us.   Lysa TerKeurst said this when I heard her speak a couple years ago and it stuck with me:  "Most of us want to be people of faith without living a life that requires any."

Parenting my kids is very hard -- I really can't do it without Him.  Managing our family finances is very tricky when we are helping out so many of our adult kids, so without God's provision we won't be able to make it.   And my job at Bethany is so stretching, so challenging, that it requires miracles on God's part to give us the strength, the power, and the financial resources to push back the darkness on so many levels.

The temptation is to flee from this place, or to resent it when we find ourselves here.   "I never signed up for this" is a phrase that has gone through my mind many times.   There times when I fantasize about letting it all go and finding a life where things are neat, and tidy, and I can handle it all on my own.

But the older I get the more that I realize that very few people of faith are living in that nice, neat, tidy place.  God stretches us -- suffering, perseverance, character, hope (Romans 5) -- because He wants us to learn reliance on Him.

Today you might be at a place where you feel like you are at the end of all that you can do.   It's too hard, to challenging, too difficult, too uncomfortable and you just want it all to stop.   It's at that point that God can jump in and do the cool stuff.

I am confident that now that I, and many of our staff, have reached the end of our own strength, that that is where God is going to start showing us HIS strength. 

Two songs come to mind.  One you may have heard -- Strong Enough by Matthew West.

Well, maybe
Maybe that's the point
To reach the point of giving up
'Cause when I'm finally
Finally at rock bottom
Well, that's when I start looking up
And reaching out
I know I'm not strong enough to be
Everything that I'm supposed to be
I give up
I'm not strong enough
Hands of mercy won't you cover me
Lord right now I'm asking you to be
Strong enough for the both of us.

The second you probably have never heard.  It's by Annie J. Flint and it's called "He Giveth More Grace."  Verse two says:

When we have exhausted our store of endurance,
When our strength has failed ere the day is half done,
When we reach the end of our hoarded resources
Our Father’s full giving is only begun.
Like Abraham, I am committed that when everything seems hopeless, I'm going to believe anyway.  I'm going to DECIDE to live not on the basis of what I see I can't do, but on the basis of what God said He would do.

That's the scary sacred place -- that place when God steps in to do the things that would not be called miracles if we could do them without him.