Tuesday, November 25, 2014

I'm the Second Mommy, and That Is OK

Check out my guest post over at Carissa Woodwyk's blog.  Carissa is an adoptee who grants wisdom, honesty, and compassion into the lives of her readers.

Happy Thanksgiving, everyone!

Thursday, November 20, 2014

"Follow Your Heart": That Time When Abraham Got It Right

The story of Isaac and Abraham has always made me uncomfortable.  I mean, who wouldn’t feel uneasy about the almighty, loving God commanding a parent to sacrifice his child?  It’s weird.  Gives me the feelings I had watching the first Hunger Games: dread, uneasiness, and a sense of pending doom.

A few weeks ago, I was doing afternoon homeschooling with my girls. We try to start off each session reading a devotional: one story from The Jesus Storybook Bible.

Today was the day Isaac and Abraham made their appearance.  And I skipped the story without hesitation, moving on to when Jacob married Leah and Rachel.   I mean, what was I going to tell my girls about a father putting his son on an alter, preparing to sacrifice him, because God ordered it?  What follow-up questions could I possibly ask my girls to soften the story’s blow, put a positive spin on the whole thing?

As we completed our devotional, the easier, subsequent story of Jacob marrying Leah and Rachel, something dawned on me about the story I purposefully skipped.

Sometimes God asks us to do really, really hard things, because He is preparing us for something great. Will we obey and trust, or will we give in to the whims of our emotions and grasp sand?

Here’s the deal.  Choosing to adopt is hard.  Almost no one comes to the decision without some soul-searching, agony and dread, excitement and anxiety, fears and insecurities, loss and grief.   Almost no one goes through the process without facing a roller coaster of choices and emotions (and second-guessing both one’s choices and emotions). Almost no one adopts and then skips down a path of rainbows and butterflies.

Adoption stems from loss. Someone loses something. Arguably, all triad members lose something in adoption, though some of those losses are obviously much greater than others. To succumb to adoption takes tremendous sacrifice in many ways, whether one is a biological parent or adoptive parent.  And then, of course, there is the one adoption centers around: the child. 

In the midst of making choices about adoption, adoptive parents have a tremendous amount of power, though simultaneously, they have no control.  Their dream of becoming parents is contingent upon a biological parent (or parents) losing their child. Even when this loss is voluntary, it is nevertheless difficult. 

Because adoptive parents have so much power---which agency they use, how much money they have (Can they pay expenses? Afford to travel? Pay to use a more visible and active agency or attorney?),  openness or not to certain situations (openness after the adoption, openness to the sex, race, age, and needs of the child, etc.), and more---they elect to be part of a situation that requires many choices to be made, choices that can change the trajectory of the lives the adoption situation involves.

The adoptive parents are likely very eager to adopt, perhaps enduring years of infertility and miscarriages, their reasoning can be compromised. Their hearts on the line with each possible adoption situation.  They may not see the bigger picture: what their choices mean for the child they will adopt.

Our hearts can be incredibly deceitful.  Despite all the cheesy “follow your heart” canvas prints I see in almost every department store, choosing to follow one’s heart is one of the worst choices an adoptive parent can make.

Adoption shouldn’t be about self-affirmation. It’s not about rescuing a human being or receiving a gift. It’s not about ministering to a woman in a crisis pregnancy and then “helping” her by becoming her child’s parent. It’s not about being “called.” It's not about trying to create a magical healing from all past pain for oneself.

Adoption is, ultimately, complex and bittersweet.

And because adoptive parents hold much of the power, I believe we should take our role very, very seriously.  We need to submit to God’s every leading as we take baby steps (pun intended) toward meeting our forever children. And this means throwing aside preconceived notions and selfish desires. It means choosing to be ethical NO MATTER WHAT.  No matter if we have to wait more months or years to become parents.  No matter if this means we never adopt. No matter how subversive we seem to the majority of the adoption community or the public. No matter how many times we have to say no to those in power who urge us to push when we know we shouldn't push.

We sacrifice what means the most to us, our desire to become parents in a particular, pre-determined, planned way, in lieu of the greater good.

It’s a big pill to swallow. And it’s not until we are in the midst of making decisions, the ones where we are caught between our heart’s desire and what God is telling us to do, that we realize how big adoption is, how life-changing it can be. In this moment, when we choose God over self, our heart changes. 

And God smiles.

Give God something to bless, friend. 

Lay it down on the alter and see what happens.



Monday, November 17, 2014

It's Adoption Month: And Here's What I Want You To Know About My Family

I’m not an adopter. I’m a parent.

My kids are my kids. Not my adopted kids.

My kids are real siblings.

Our adoptions were ethical.

We love our children’s birth families. We visit them. We honor them…

And we respect their decisions. And no one else can tell them or us that what they chose to do was wrong or right. No one else knows the circumstances of the situations. Nor should they.

We celebrate adoption in our household. The adoptions of our children, the family tree becoming an orchard. We recognize the joy and the pain, the ups and downs. We cry and mourn and laugh and dance.

We are honest and empathetic with our children.

We are not saviors, villains, heroes.

We are a real family.

We are always learning and evolving.

We are honored to be our children’s parents.

Adoption is bittersweet and complex.

Our children…well, our cups runneth over.

They are an intricate, beautiful blend of nature and nurture.

They are loved and wanted.  They always have been.

They are going to grow up and do great things, because they have the love, encouragement, and support of two families who love them each dearly.

Friday, November 14, 2014

The 6 Most Influential Parenting Books This Mama Has Ever Read


The most complex, draining, joyful, interesting, demanding, and ironic job I believe one can ever have.

Parenting is many things, but able-to-be-simplified is not really one of them.  Many books (and the experts or everyday parents who write them) have often attempted to create the perfect, easy guide to all-things-parenting.  But every one of them have failed. 

The authors I love, and trust, are those who don't claim to have it all together or claim to have perfect answers.  Rather, I trust the authors who are realistic and forgiving. Humor helps, too. 

Here are my current, top 6, favorite parenting books that have influenced me and why I love them:

The Hands Free Mama:  The author, first off, lives true to her message: less screen time, more in-the-moment-time. Her blog is simple, her posts are reflective and honest, and she doesn't post very often because she's busy being in-the-moment. Like most moms, I struggle with balancing all the electronic distractions (which begin as necessities for work and safety and communication) with living in the moment and relishing in the blessing of being my children's mother and my husband's wife.  And just being ME and enjoying who I am and what I'm capable of.  This book offers heartfelt messages, truth mamas need to hear, and practical steps to live hands free. 

The Connected Child: There are so many books that tell parents how to discipline their children effectively, but few get to the heart of parenting: connection. This book is written for adoptive parents, but I have found that the methods can be helpful to any parent-child relationship.  I greatly enjoy the tone of the book: honest, firm, and heartfelt. And the fact that when we wipe away all the discipline methods that do not work (at least not long-term) and get to the heart of the matter (the heart), connection and healing can happen.  I also love that though this book is about connection, the authors aren't "fluffy" or hokey.

No More Perfect Moms: As a type A lady, this book resonated with me on many levels. First, unlike a lot of Christian literature, I felt that the author didn't put forth a perfect Christian front. She's realistic, kind, and forthcoming. The author reminds readers that they don't have to be perfect because Jesus is the perfect One. We need to chill out, stop trying to take the Savior's place, and enjoy the children we have. This was a refreshing read in an age where perfectionism is expected.

The Girls Who Went Away Fair warning: this is a hard read. The author shares the stories of women who were coerced into placing their children for adoption in the 1950s and 60s. What does this have to do with parenting today? The author takes readers into the depths of manipulation, abuse, societal expectations, stereotypes, loss, and secrecy:  things that resonate with most women.  We are reminded of the bond between mother and child and the importance of demanding, seeking, and adhering to transparency and justice.

Breastfeeding Without Birthing The author goes where no author has gone before: an in-depth, experienced explanation of the possibilities a mother has when it comes to nurturing her baby at the breast even though she hasn't given birth to that baby. The author, an adoptive mother herself, and an experienced lactation consultant, gives women exactly what they want: truth, advice, and encouragement. (See my blog's most popular post on the same topic this book covers)

The Honest Toddler  This book is hysterically, laugh-out-loud funny. The author doesn't hold back one bit, sharing what all moms know to be true; motherhood is nothing like a Hallmark movie. Sometimes we need to shush the critical voices and just laugh. Laugh at ourselves, laugh at the parenting situations we find ourselves in. 

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

God and Adoption: Where This Christian, Adoptive Mama Stands

I am a Christian.  A Christian who has grown to become quite critical of adoption and the adoption industry, particularly when involving fellow Christians.  (You can read more about adoption ethics here, which is my second most popular blog post of all time).

So, here goes:

First, I do not believe I was “called” to adopt. 

Christian terminology usually makes me very uncomfortable.  Because I feel like a lot of talk about “the Lord” is really about the people uttering those words in a twisted way to self-bless their choices. The whole “called to adopt” phrase makes me cringe. 

I absolutely believe God tells Christians to do (or not do) things.  I do believe that God can bless any situation, including biological parents who choose to parent their children rather than place them for adoption.   

I knew we would adopt.  It was March 2006 while I was in the hospital, just a few days after an ER doctor told me I had this horrible forever disease called type 1 diabetes.  I wrote in my first book about the moment when my first CDNE (Certified Diabetes Nurse Educator) asked Steve and I if we planned on having kids and how we still could, despite of/with, type 1 diabetes.  As she proceeded to share what type 1 diabetes and pregnancy might look like, one word popped into my mind:


Was it God who put adoption in my mind? Was it my own desire becoming evidently and suddenly clear during one of the hardest moments of my life?  I can’t say yes or no to either with certainty. 

But I do believe the choice to adopt was entirely up to me and my husband.  And we did it for one reason: we wanted to become parents. 

Second, I do believe that Christians need to be financially responsible. God calls Christians to be good stewards of their finances.   This means that when it comes to adoption, some hard financial choices need to be made.

I also believe God wants Christians, who choose to adopt, to be discerning in the adoption professionals they utilize. 

I do not believe in selecting agencies that prey on expecting parents and prospective adoptive parents with sneaky fees, astronomically high fees, or sliding scale fees based on a child’s race or the income of the adoptive parents. 

Adoptions cost the agency the same money, on average, regardless of the race of the child, the income of the adoptive parents, or the needs to the expectant parents.  Agencies that charge high fees are predatory and are in adoption for the money, not the adoptees, adoptive parents, or expectant or birth parents.

Bottom line: An adoptive parent’s selection of an adoption professional can change the trajectory of many lives. The decision to work with a particular professional should be taken seriously. Unreasonable adoption fees are a red flag.

Third, I do not and will not every ask God to help an adoptive parent get a placement faster or get a particular placement.  By praying these things, is to pray for biological parents to lose their children, for children to lose their biological parents, and for loss, grief, confusion, and harm to be created.  

I love an article I once found over at Adoption Voices (one despite an hour of searching, I was unable to locate), where the author sets up this analogy.  How is it ok to pray for a biological parent and child to be separated for the “gain” of an adoptive family?  That’s like praying that a wife and husband get divorced so that someone can then swoop in and marry the man or woman.  It’s disturbing. 

Fourth, I do not believe in promoting a hierarchy when it comes to triad members.

All are equally valued by God.  All are worthy of redemption, redemption that yields freedom, forgiveness, joy, and abundance. 

But many believe that adoptive parents are saviors to be glorified, birth parents are a myriad of living stereotypes which warrant disrespect and dehumanization, and adoptees are things to be given and received.

I once heard a pastor say, “Every person you meet is a person for whom Christ died.” 

Repeat:  every person.

Every person was created by God, loved by God, and wanted by God.

Though the adoption industry, in general, thrives on supply (children) and demand (adoptive families), capitalizes on the desperation of both adoptive families (their desire to have a child) and the expectant parents (perhaps a crisis pregnancy situation), and gains money in exchange for a placement, Christians are called to higher thinking and better actions; we are called to ethical behaviors and Christ-like love for all people.

If Christians are to be the “hands and feet” of Jesus and the “salt and light,” we have to view all triad members, all people, as God does.

Thursday, November 6, 2014

Three Bowls of Chili: Getting Grateful

It’s a Tuesday evening.  My three kids are all expressing various degrees of hysterics. My toddler, with his infinite ability to consume, is moaning “eeeaaattt” while collapsing at my feet. My daughters are wandering through the house, paper grocery bags over their heads, claiming they are headless.  You know, in celebration of Halloween.  I have spent much of the afternoon on the couch, my blood sugars refusing to stabilize, while the kids enjoyed watching back-to-back viewings of Frozen.

I’m grabbing toppings and the water pitcher out of the fridge, glancing at the clock.  My husband should be home any minute to take our middle daughter to her swimming lesson, and I get to entertain the oldest and youngest during the hour before bedtime, also known as hell-time.  I have yet to pack my daughter’s swim bag or dress her for class.

I’ve made chili, excited to start using the slow cooker again.  But instead of a chilly fall evening where we laugh over steaming bowls, it turns out to be one of those unpredictable Midwest fall days when it’s almost ninety degrees outside.  The heat makes us irritable. 

Today is also the day my phone has stopped working.  Like not just frozen where a simple restart remedies the problem, but the face is the dreaded Black Screen of Death.   My oldest is getting her hair braided tomorrow, and I need to check in and make sure the appointment is still set.  I cannot, however, because the braider’s phone number is stored in my phone, the phone that has picked today not to work. 

I wrangle my son into his highchair and hand him a piece of cheese and a Disney princess sippy cup, the only one clean.  I call to my daughters to get into their seats. Ten minutes to eat dinner, I notice.  I place cheese and crackers in front of them, and they reject the crackers made of pumpkin seeds, flax, and other things that are too brown and hearty.

I’m wearing a t-shirt that is at least five years old and says in cracked, screen-printed letters, “Stop diabetes.”  It’s ironic given the unstable blood sugars I’ve experienced the past few days. My hair, which was freshly cut and colored the night before, is sloppily braided in the front to keep it out of my face. I have on no makeup and have no energy.  No selfies today due to the resemblance to a scary Halloween lawn decoration.  Oh yes, and because my phone isn’t working.

I suddenly realize we have family pictures scheduled for Saturday morning, and despite today’s heat wave, Saturday is going to be significantly cooler, by approximately forty degrees.  And yes, my girls are wearing sleeveless shirts.  When will I have time to go get shirts to wear under (or over?) the sleeveless tops?  But won’t that look ridiculous?  But I don’t have time to choose all new, coordinating outfits for our family of five.

I turn the slow cooker dial from high to warm and remove the lid.  The scent of seasoned tomato goodness fills the kitchen as steam rises quickly into the air. I open the dishwasher, the one I still haven’t emptied from the previous evening, and find three, mismatched bowls.  I place them in a line in front of the slow cooker and begin to fish for a ladle from the over-crowded utensil drawers.   I finally discover it, faithfully jamming one of the drawers with its awkward shape, and I swiftly yank it out.

“I want to listen to music!” yells my middle child.  Then she burps, making her older sister giggle.

“I need more water.  I’m sooooo thirsty!” moans the oldest, as if she’s been traveling the Sahara all day.

“That’s not how you ask.  Try again,” I say over my shoulder.

“More water, please,” she replies in a rather insincere tone.

Meanwhile, my son discovers that if he hops in a seated position in his high chair, the entire chair moves, jumping in tiny, loud increments across the wood floor.  He’s grinning, his eyes wide with excitement, while his sisters-turned-mothers tell him to stop. When he doesn’t, the tattling ensues.

“MOMMMMMMMMMM!” my oldest belts out. “The baby…”

“I know, honey.  I’ll take care of it.” I reply, placing my hand across my eyes, attempting to channel inner peace.  It doesn’t work.  I still feel like Maleficent, ready to flip out and cast some crazy spells at any moment.  

I turn back to the kitchen counter and pick up the ladle.

And I pause.

There, lined up in all its hodgepodge glory, are three mismatched bowls, waiting to be filled with homemade chili.

And I realize that for all the things that go wrong every day, there is a lot to be thankful for.

To most of us who take on the role of parent, we know raising children is exhausting, frustrating, and daunting.  There are so many choices to make. The responsibility is great and the reward can sometimes be very little. Most parents I know are stressed and tired. We are doing the best we can, but we are often left with self-loathing, shaky confidence, and an unquenchable craving for margaritas at 3 p.m.

I am certainly no anomaly.  I spend most days in the exercise clothes I put on that morning.  I rarely have makeup on or my hair done. I spend my waking hours washing mountains of laundry, preparing meals and snacks, disciplining, cuddling, organizing, encouraging. I respond to editors’ e-mails while loading the dishwasher, supervising bath time, and wiping noses. 

Being a mom is the most difficult and most incredible thing I’ve taken on in my life so far.

For all its messiness (figuratively and literally), its emotional highs and lows, its unpredictability and irony, and its demands, motherhood is a gift.  And today, I’m thankful that I have three bowls to fill.


Saturday, November 1, 2014

New Season, New Heartset

The other night, my husband and I finally had the opportunity to watch Philomena.  The film was deeply moving, but one scene in particular stood out to me above all the others: when Philomena has the opportunity to confront the nun who hid the truth about Philomena’s son.

Philomena’s response to the elderly nun: forgiveness.

And Philomena’s reporter-turned-friend is angry at her response. How can she forgive the woman who kept Philomena from her son for so many years?

Because, Philomena replies, not forgiving, living life full of hurt and anger, is exhausting. 

Exhaustion. Isn’t that something so many women can relate to? Exhausted due to work, parenting, relationship struggles, a sick relative, personal illness or addiction, financial issues…the list of possible depletions is incredibly long.

And we all have our thing or two that we carry with us, always, that works diligently to take from us. 

For me, it’s my full-time, forever and ever disease. It is by far the greatest stressor in my life. It is emotionally, physically, spiritually, mentally, and financially difficult. Even with good insurance and a five-star specialist, even with all my knowledge of medical terminology and nutrition, even with a tremendous support team (my family)---this disease is really, really, really hard.

I wear it well. I don’t look like a stereotypical diabetic. My doctor praises my efforts. I don’t often complain about my blood sugars.  I’m a warrior. Survivor. Fighter. Every single day. And even on my dark, hard days, I’m still going, because I refuse to give in or give up.

But fighting every day is exhausting. It takes so much energy not only stay alive, but to have a good quality of life.

I didn’t choose this disease.

But in other things, I do have a choice.

My second greatest battle, one common to many women, is a spiritual one.

You see, I love information and hearing the experiences of others. I love seeing an ever-changing FB and Twitter feed. There’s always a great blog post to read, a video clip to watch, or a headline to mull over.  So many ideas, so many experiences, so many thoughts and questions and possibilities.

And overwhelmingly, so much negativity that takes up too much space in my mind and heart.

We each only have so much inside of us each day. We choose what we give that to. And unfortunately, we can give it away to things and people who don’t appreciate it, or even to strangers who don’t even know you or your family or your fears or your triumphs. We can also turn on ourselves, which can be debilitating.

Take parenting for example. There are so many how-to and how-not-to blogs and forums and articles. A person who reads enough can’t figure out which way is up. Worry steps in. Uncertainty. Fear. Discouragement. The world tells us, we are never, ever good enough, therefore, we are failures.  It’s not only overwhelming, it can be all-consuming.

Adoptive parenting, in particular, can be a challenge. There’s not only the parent and child, but biological family members, social workers, lawyers. There are questions from adopted children that will bring you to your knees. There are feelings of elation followed with guilt stemming from personal joy. There’s heartache, a lot of heartache, when an adoptive parent comes to the realization that adoption is so messy, so bittersweet, and so inherently and deeply flawed.  There are seasons where we feel completely unequipped and unworthy of the children we adopt.  There are times of mourning followed by moments of triumph. 

As a Christian, I have often taken my concerns and personal conflicts to God, having conversations with Him as I sort and battle. And every time, He speaks peace and understanding into my heart. These things evolve into wisdom and discernment. He puts people in my path to guide me. He has blessed me with a family who is incredibly supportive and encouraging.

He also reminds me that in Him, I never have to reach a certain level to be “good enough.” I am already redeemed. I am already free. He reminds me of who I am in Him. He also reminds me that all things will align when I am standing on His foundation, not the world’s sand.

You see, the world loves drama.  Unhelpful, deteriorating, quickly-offered criticism stemming from personal pain. Recently, one of my children was being bullied. And after handling the situation with the help of the school principal, I had shared with my girl this simple truth: hurting people hurt people.

Distraction. Judgment. Anger. War. Fear. Selfishness. Pride.

God is the opposite.  He is peace, joy, redemption, and the very ultimate Love.  He is never-changing, always, certain. Freeing. Confident.  Wise.

As a parent, one who had adopted three times, I have found myself caught up in doubt, focusing on the wrong people and things, listening to voices that seek to tear down and infect me with everything God doesn’t want from me. Reminds me of the Bible story I was just studying with my girls: Adam and Eve. EAT THE FRUIT, the world tempts.

This is not what God wants. He wants NO competitors.  No idols. He wants all of my heart, not the leftover parts after I’ve given everything else away. 

Anxiety isn’t from God. Distraction isn’t from God. Burning anger isn’t from God. Revenge, confusion, those aren’t from God either.

Exhaustion:  you guessed it.  Not from God.

God commands Christians to guard our hearts, because everything we do comes from our hearts.

As this season of thankfulness and giving quickly approaches, I am choosing no exhaustion. And to do this, I must reject the things that lead to exhaustion: listening and obeying distractions.

I choose to focus on the people and moments God puts before me to help me learn and grow. I choose to focus on progress, not perfection, because perfection is God, and I am not Him. I choose to focus on the path at my feet.

I choose to focus on the three precious children I have the honor of parenting.  The kids who can’t stop saying, “Look, Mom!” at every freshly fallen, colorful leaf, at every new bicycle trick, at every scampering squirrel, at every new trampoline jump. The kids who constantly offer humor. The kids who desire cuddles and kisses and soothing, encouraging words. The kids whose soft hands rest on my cheeks. The kid who cannot read enough books, eat enough homemade cookies, or have enough kitchen dance parties. The kids who call me “Mama” when they are happy or “MOM!” when they are frustrated.  

I choose to listen to my village: the supportive, encouraging, heart-challenging individuals who love my family and want the very best for us.

I choose to fight for ethical adoption practices and adoption education, through my writing and my interactions, because I think it’s what God wants.

I choose to pursue my passions and use my gifts.

I choose to love God with ALL my heart, soul, and mind. Unapologetically.  Relentlessly. And to teach my children to do the same.

I choose to remember David and Goliath. David won. The victory is already mine, because God is the stones.

I choose to be reflective, like Mary, who pondered the things God shared with her.

I choose empathy, listening to my children and giving them what they need, when they need it, and how they need it.

I choose to let God and the fruits of the Spirit reign as #1.

I choose counter-cultural love

All else will fall into place.