Tuesday, February 27, 2018

Dear Church: 6 Things You Need to Know When an Adoptive or Foster Family Visits

Dear Church:

My name is Rachel.  When my family walks through the doors of your facility, you will probably notice us.  Not probably.  Correction.  You will definitely notice us. 

That's OK.  

Two white parents and four Black kids:  we stand out.  We're used to it.   Plus, we're a big family:  large and loud.   

Though we look different, we are there for the same reasons your other congregants are there:  because church is important to us and we want to find a place of belonging, and a place to grow spiritually.   

But can I tell you, there are some thing you need to know about my family/families like ours, families formed by adoption and foster care.   

1:  Don't insist our children go to Sunday School/children's church/nursery.    

Many churches today expect and emphasize that children should go to the designated children's area, not sit in church with their parents.  Trust me when I say, I know kids can be distracting and disruptive, and if my children do something along these lines, I promise to take them out of the service.  

You may wonder, why not?   

Our kids may have traumatic backgrounds.  They may have attachment issues.  They may be completely terrified of strangers.  This goes beyond typical childhood "separation anxiety."  To hand our children to complete strangers and walk away for an hour or so maybe isn't going to happen.

Don't question our decision.  Instead, offer up a "busy bag" for those kids who stay in church.  Or offer empathy and support.  We may not explain to you why our children aren't going with the other kids.  Be OK with that.   Trust that we are the parents and we know what we're doing.  Tell us what services you offer for kids, and then leave it up to us to decide.   

(If your sanctuary isn't welcoming of children, we're not coming back.)  

2:  Don't touch our kids, including their hair.   

This is an issue we encounter everywhere, not just church.  

Curious white hands try to make their way to our Black daughters' intricate cornrows.   

Let me be clear:  you shouldn't touch children you don't know, and you should never touch a Black child's hair.  

Just because their hair has color in it, or beads at the ends, or an afro, these things aren't your invitation to put your hands in our children's hair.  It's inappropriate.  It's a micro-aggression.  And it's offensive.  

You are more than welcome to say how nice/handsome/beautiful their hair is.  Just don't touch it, and don't grill them:  "How long did that take?  That must have taken such a LONG time!"  That's just weird and awkward.  

Again, children with traumatic pasts or special needs may be really uncomfortable with strangers.  I know touch is part of the beauty of the human experience.  But a stranger touching a child can be incredibly anxiety-inducing for our kids.   

So wave.  Say hi.  Introduce yourself.  But don't put pressure on the kids to respond, and certainly, "keep your hands to yourself."  

3:  Don't pour out your adoption story or insist we tell you ours. 

We visited a new church recently where a woman (in a multiracial, biological family) introduced herself, told us all about the children's program, and then asked, "Now are your kids from the same family?"   

Um, are we girlfriends?  Didn't we JUST meet?  

Another woman came up to us and gushed that she was a grandma by adoption.  I think she was excited to meet another family like ours.  But then she proceeded to tell us her grandchild's adoption "story" including the fact that he was abandoned, languished in an orphanage, had special needs, and she wasn't even exactly sure how old he was due to his previous life.   It was uncomfortable.  It was awkward.  It was inappropriate.  

My kids' adoption stories are beautiful, and they are none of your business.  

Examples of what NOT to say:  "Are they real siblings?"  "Are they in foster care?"  "What country are they from?"  "Why did you adopt?"  "Why didn't you have your own kids?"  

If there are other families-by-adoption in your church, and if we attend your church long-term, we'd love to connect with them.  But this is one of our initial visits.  Don't bombard us.  And don't assume that part of our nice-to-meet-you conversation is going to entail us divulging intimate, private family details.  

4:  Don't ask a lot of us or hand us a bunch of crap.

When I walk in the door with six coats, four backpacks (full of toys/snacks/diapers/etc.), my purse, and my family, I just want some Jesus.  I don't want to fill out your paperwork so you can call me, mail me something, or drop something by my house.   Just be friendly and respect boundaries 1-3 that I just shared.  I know you'd like us to come back.  And trust me, we will if it's the right fit for us or we want to learn more.  But just don't put another piece of paper or "free gift" into my already very full hands.   Please.   I cannot.    

And while we're at it:  children's ministry.  Do not give out candy and snacks, many of which my kids' cannot have.  This is not exclusive to adoption/foster care.  

We visited a church a few weeks ago where the kids were given candy before we even had them in their classroom.  Candy two of my four kids cannot have due to the dye in them.  Then when they left, they were handed more candy.  It all went in the trash.   

On the way home, I asked one of my kids how class went, and she told me one of the kids in her class had type 1 diabetes (like I do).  I asked her, "How did you know?"  She said she told the teacher she cannot have the candy because of her diabetes.  (Heartbreak!)

I worked in children's ministry for years.   Please just keep it really simple and fun.   And don't give the mom and dad MORE work.  Getting to church was work enough!   

5:  Don't tell us your church is diverse if it's not.  

One Asian person or two Black people doesn't mean your church is diverse.   

This has happened to us many times.  We call a church to get information, and of course I ask about racial diversity.  What I'm told on the phone and what I see on the church FB page tend to be VERY different.  

Just tell us the truth.  Don't waste my time.  If your church isn't racially diverse, just say so.  You don't have to hide it, apologize, or explain away.  Just give me the truth.

I called a church a few weeks ago and asked.  She said, "it's not right now.  But that is an area of focus for us."  She went on to explain all the things they're doing to become a more woke congregation and increase their diversity.  I very much appreciated her honesty!

6:  Educate your staff on adoption and foster care.

If you have adoptive/foster families in your congregation, ask them to educate your staff and leadership on adoption and foster care.  This helps you not only be a place of welcoming for families like mine, but helps you "lead by example."  You can teach your congregants by knowing what's right and wrong yourself!  

One example would be positive adoption language (PAL).  For example, a child was "placed" for adoption, not "given up" or "given away" or "put up."   A child "was" adopted (if the adoption has been finalized) and should not be referred to as "an adopted child" or "a foster child."  They are first and foremost a child.  (WORDS MATTER!)

The more you learn about adoption and fostering, the more likely you are going to attract and keep families like mine at your church.  And as you do have families join, ask them what they need and how you can support them.  Consider having one of your families head up a ministry just for families like mine.

Of course, you can always snag my book as a no-nonsense, authentic, funny, educational resource on adoption.  

Thank you for reading.  Thank you for listening.  Now go be church to families like mine! 

Love, Rach

Tuesday, February 20, 2018

What's the Deal With Essential Oils? A Conversation With Meghan Joy Yancy

I'm going to be totally honest with you (always).   I am like SO not cool.  Not on-trend.   With anything:  health, music, television shows, books, fashion.  
But after learning I had breast cancer (disease #2, since the #1 spot was taken by type 1 diabetes) last summer, a friend of mine (also a survivor) suggested sniffing essential oils.  Like taking a deep whiff when I was feeling another wave of debilitating anxiety.  I had a few oils in my bathroom drawer. So I took her advice, even though I was like, essential oils, what?  
Now if you know me, you know I'm a major skeptic when it comes to all-things-health.  I don't believe in magical cures, diet plans (like no carbs---because, are you freaking kidding me?!?---heavily referenced in my latest book), or pills that make you a health superstar.  How are essential oils any different?  Well I'll tell you the truth:  taking a deep breath, inhaling the scent of the oil, DID offer me some temporary relief from my anxiety.  
Curiosity got the best of me, and I reached out to a fellow blogger and mama of a big, multiracial family:  Meghan Joy YancyShe knows all about essential oils, and she told me I could ask her anything.  Anything?  Yes, anything.  So I did just that.
Rachel:  First, you have a big, beautiful, multiracial family and another little one on the way:  a baby girl!  HOW in the world do you stay sane? 
MJY:  Haha! Jesus. Really though, my faith in God. He is my rock. And there are so many factors that play a role in my sanity. I’m a huge advocate of SAYING NO (even to good things) because I believe a more simple life is the key to that secret sauce of happiness. I’m not talking about laziness but I am referring to leading a life of less busy-ness. My husband is my partner in life and we make such a great team so we really help balance one another out well. And there are definitely still days of crazy chaos, but I’m learning to embrace them and learn from them.
Rachel:  Can I be honest with you?  When the essential oil trend began (and to this day), I’m a skeptic.  I don’t believe in magical cures.  As a type 1 diabetic and breast cancer survivor, I know that there are many tracks to good health, not just ONE thing. So pitch to me, please.  How can essential oils, overall, boost a person or family’s health?  
MJY:  Can I be honest with you, too? I WAS A SKEPTIC TOO! And then I started using the oils and my world flipped upside down. And truth be told, it’s an entire lifestyle of health and wellness that I believe so. When I started using YL essential oils, my eyes were open to so much more. I began researching more about the food that we ate and the products we put on our skin. It opened the door for a completely new lifestyle for myself and my family. And I can truthfully say that our health has just continued to benefit from using the oils and making many other changes in our life. That being the food we eat, the products we use and the atmosphere we surround ourselves with.
Rachel:  We’re right in the midst of sick season. Flu.  Colds.  Croup.   Strep.  You name it.  Can you suggest some specific ways essential oils can help a family get through? 
MJY:  First of all, I wanted to just clarify that any suggestions made are specific to Young Living Essential Oils and not be used with oils from another source. Any statements I make have not been evaluated by the FDA and are not intended to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any disease. Anyone suffering from disease or injury should consult with a physician. That all being said, in our home, we use Thieves EO for all our immune boosting needs! We have it running in our diffuser, rub on the bottoms of our feet and create some great all-natural chest rubs with RC (for respiratory support) as well. We drink the Thieves Vitality oil in our tea and I even will take it in an empty vegetable capsule when I need an extra immune system boost. I also like to add Purification EO to our diffuser as it purifies the air while neutralizing odors. Win win, baby!

Rachel:  As I’ve shared, I struggle with anxiety (like many moms!), as does one of my children.  Can essential oils help me ease some of my symptoms?  

MJY:  There are so many oils that can help bring emotional balance to people of all ages. I love making specific rollerball blends for each of my children that will cater to each of their needs. StressAway EO is a great oil for moms! I love to put a rollerball top straight on the bottle and rub it on my neck and shoulders. Besides smelling amazing, it holds properties that help you achieve that emotional balance and release stress. For my kids, my go-to oil is always lavender. It helps brings feelings of peace and calm and is great to diffuse close to bedtime. Gentle Baby EO is a gem I love to sprinkle on the babies blankets and pajamas before naptime or bedtime for a calming atmosphere. Some other great oils to create a blend for that emotional support are Cedarwood, Vetiver, Valor, Patchouli, Joy and Peace + Calming.
Rachel:  I'm ridiculous when it comes to makeup.  Like I stand in the aisle at the store or stare blankly at my computer screen:  frustrated and confused.  I usually walk away with NOTHING or too much of what doesn't even end up looking good on me!  I'm also really wanting to live as healthy as possible:  so I want QUALITY and safe ingredients.   Talk to me about makeup, since girl, you ALWAYS look stunning in your IG pics.  I need to know your secrets!
MJY:  You are too kind! I was actually never too much into makeup (or at least didn’t know much about it until I started youtubin’ a little bit. And then it was fun!) And once I began using YL essential oils and my eyes were opened to the toxins in our every day products, I discovered that a lot of those toxins are in our freakin’ makeup we smear on our faces every day! Women are exposed to over 150 chemicals each day from the makeup we put on our faces. They have horrible side affects on our bodies as well. I knew I needed an alternative and I made the full on switch once YL launched their Savvy Minerals makeup line and it has been extraordinary! I learned the difference between safe and quality products and I took it seriously the ones I’m putting on my face. Plus, I’ve been able to play around with the line and create some really fun looks. The minerals are so interchangeable so I can use the eyeshadow as a shade of lipgloss and I can use the blush or bronzer as a eyeshadow. 
Rachel:  If there’s one thing you’d like to tell the world about essential oils, especially someone like me who is pretty darn clueless, what would it be?
MJY:  That they are a natural part of the earth and people have been using essential oils since the beginning of time. Somehow, they got lost along the way and we are just now beginning to get back to more natural remedies. There are so many alternatives out there and I just encourage people to do your own research. Beginning this lifestyle with essential oils has been absolutely life-changing for me in so many ways and their benefits are available to everyone. The one thing I always say when someone asks me if an essential oil can be used for “so-and-so” is… There is an oil for that. There is ALWAYS an oil for that.
Starting today through Sunday, MJY is giving away an incredible Young Living Essential Oils bundle.  Visit me on Instagram to enter!  

Want to snag some essential oils for yourself or learn more about joining the Young Living team?  Contact Meghan via Insta or e-mail today! 

Tuesday, February 13, 2018

When An Adoption Fails, Love is Always the Right Answer

The first time it happened, we got a phone call from our adoption agency.  Would we care for a toddler whose mother was choosing between parenting and placing?  At the time, we had a child of the exact same age:  so we agreed.  We were told it would be just a few days.  But a few days turned into three weeks.  And during that time, I fell in love with the little boy who wasn't mine.  

He was our first son (but not "ours").  He arrived reeking of cigarette smoke, his shoes two sizes too small, and his sippy cup half-full with some sort of bright red liquid.  He was smart.  So smart.  And he was hungry.  Always hungry.  He would eat whatever we fed him.  Within a few days, he went from severely constipated and nervous to a little boy with a glow.  He and our daughter quickly became friends and siblings-of-sorts:  bickering over toys (some biting may have happened...).  Every night, when we put him into a pack-n-play, he would quickly fall asleep, but find himself, in the dead of night, creep into our room, his arms outstretched waiting to be scooped up and cuddled.  

We included him in everything we did.  We took him to the park, out for ice cream, to church.   I took out cornrows for the first time, the little guy being so patient with me.   When my husband would arrive home from work each day, our daughter would squeal "Daddy!" and reach for him.  Within a few days, the little boy would do the same.   

I fell and fell hard for him.   A child among many.  Hungry (for food and love and attention).  I called the social worker and said, "If he's available for adoption, we want him.  We want him to be our son."  But she said no.  There was an interested family, homestudy ready.  

He didn't end up being adopted.  He was instead handed over to his biological father for the first time in his life.  

The day the social worker picked him up, I packed up all the clothes and shoes we purchased for him.  Extra diapers and wipes.   Toys.   I was desperate to give him things, since I couldn't be his mommy.

The social worker said, "Thank you," as we installed the car seat and buckled him in.  Then they drove away.  Forever.   

For a few years, I searched the waiting child websites, hoping (and yet not hoping) to see his face.  I wanted to know he was OK.  Or that my heart didn't lie to me:  that he was to be our son.   


The second time it happened, I had just left a dental appointment.  My girls were with a babysitter.  I turned the volume back up on my phone and saw I had a voicemail from an 816 number.  Kansas City.  The same area my girls had been born.  

My heart started racing.  I immediately called the number back.

It was our lawyer.  A toddler boy was available for adoption, immediately.  He needed to know now:  did we want to be considered to be the little boy's parents?   I called my husband, who is the type who needs time (usually a lot of time...too much time, in my humble opinion) to make decisions.  But this time he said, "OK."  It would be cool, he felt, to have a son.  And the little boy was younger than our youngest daughter, so no messing around with birth order.  

But then it was no.   It would take a good month to get a homestudy (which we needed to do an interstate adoption), complete with state and federal background checks.  I called lawyers.  I called social workers.  But all arrived at the same answer:  that we needed a month to get it done.  And we didn't have a month.  The toddler's mom wanted to place him into a forever family immediately. 

So our yes turned to no.  The son we so desperately wanted was not to be ours.   Again.   And though we had two beautiful daughters, our hearts still ached for the what-could-have-been.


The third and fourth time it happened were potentially the hardest.  

Now you'd think that after having three children, all of whom came to us by adoption, we would be fulfilled.  We wouldn't yearn or imagine or hope.  But we did.  

Twice, biological siblings were placed with another family.  Again, both boys.  

Why were these so difficult?  I think because we know, we know, how strong biological ties are between siblings.  We know how meaningful they can be.  We know that for an adoptee, "losing" a biological sibling to another family can be heartbreaking and confusing.   

And not once.  But twice.  

I know those boys were never mine.  But there were times that the grief I felt, not just for myself, but for my child, was all-consuming.   


Every time there was a no, there was a yes.  When boy 1 didn't become ours, six months later we adopted our second daughter.   Losing Baby D was the prompting we needed to say "yes" to doing another homestudy and adopting again.  

When boy 2 went to another family, we knew we desired to have a son to call ours forever.  Though we never specified sex when adopting, we were matched with a baby who, we learned two months before the due date, was a little boy.   Our son.   

And when two more boys (3 and 4) were not placed with us, I felt the growing urge to adopt "just one more time."  We were matched very quickly, but not with a boy.  Another girl.  Our third daughter (our fourth child).  She is our sunshine.  


So what I want you to know is that the losses, the times you hear no (yet again), the almosts, the rejections, the broken hearts, the hopelessness, the crumbled dreams...they are so real and so raw.  But that's not all, dear one.  They existed and moved you closer to your "yes."  

I am thankful for the heartbreaking moments, the baby boys who left forever imprints on my heart.  I still ache for them, even though I have a beautiful family of four children with miraculous stories.  I am sad, still, that I wasn't to be their mommy.   But I do pray that each of them have exactly who and what they need to become successful, happy, kind, strong young men.   

When you are in the midst of heartbreak, in whatever form it comes to you on this wild adoption journey, you are allowed to feel all the feelings.  You aren't silly or ridiculous for falling in love with children who aren't yours.   You may never "get over" the children who never called you "mommy."  You may not ever stop thinking of them, praying for them, or yearning for them.   

Choosing to build your family by adoption means you are signing up for a lifetime of heartbreak.  It is in that brokenness that the walls come down.  That you are able to realize that the confinements of love are ridiculous and that true love has no walls, no boundaries, and no rules.  

So love, dear one.  Love big.  Love hard.  Love ridiculously well.  Love when it hurts.  Love when it's magical and beautiful and perfect.  Love when the easier response is anger, fear, or sadness.  Just love and love and love. 

Yes, I regret not mothering those precious boys.  Though it was never my choice to not mother them.  But what I do not regret?  Loving them in the big and small ways I could, for the times I could.  

Love IS always the right answer.  

Tuesday, February 6, 2018

5 Simple Ways to Celebrate Black History Month With Your Young-ish Kids

My kids are Black 24/7/365.  Yours are, too.

So now that we've addressed that, let's chat about Black History Month.

Yes, we celebrate it.  

Consider this:  I love my children every day, all day, but on their birthday, it's an opportunity to take it up several notches and go all-out for that child.   I look at BHM as the same:  we work year-round to affirm and educate our children, but February is an invitation to step it up, to re-energize, and to re-commit. 

If you're a busy family like we are, you may not have much time (or money), but you can certainly still celebrate.  Here are five simple ways:

1:  Create a playlist.

We have many favorite Black music artists in different genres.  To us, it's important that our kids know that they can enjoy music of whatever genre pleases them, so we point out Black artists in that genre.  Now when a song comes on, my kids ask, if they don't already know, "Is the person who sings this brown?"   For some variety of genre, we enjoy listening to Darius Rucker, Kane Brown, and Mickey Guyton (country), Nat King Cole and Ella Fitzgerald (jazz), Mandisa and Jamie Grace (Christian).   Enjoy your playlist throughout the month AND in the months to follow.  

2:  Volunteer.

Ask your library (whether it be your town's library or school's library) if you can set up a Black History Month display in the children's and adult's department.  Work on the project as a family.  You can also volunteer to read a few books commemorating Black History Month to your child's class.  Teachers generally love parents helping in the classroom AND giving the teacher a break. 

My second daughter looking for the perfect book at EyeSeeMe. 

3:  Donate.

Donate copies of your favorite books to your child's classroom, to your local library, or to your pediatrician's office waiting room.  You might also/instead of consider donating puzzles, dolls, action figures, board games, or art.  Brands that offer diverse products include EeBoo, Peaceable Kingdom, and Melissa and Doug.  You can also consider buying these multicultural markers, crayons, pre-cut bodies, pre-cut hands, and paper to your child's classroom.  

4:  Read and watch.

Make an effort this month to make ALL your bedtime story reads focused on Black history and/or Black protagonists.  For example, here are our favorite children's picture book starring Black girls.  I also list several favorites of ours here.

In our home, Friday nights are for pjs, popcorn, and movies!  Try showing a Black history, kid-friendly film each Friday night this month.  Or show a movie that stars a Black protagonist.   Think Akeelah and the Bee, the Doc McStuffins' episodes where Doc's family adopts a baby (!!!), Cinderella starring Brandy, Whitney Houston, and Whoopi Goldberg (it's SO good), Princess and the Frog.  There are endless possibilities!   Older kids may be intrigued by Selma, The Secret Life of Bees (oh how I love that book and movie!), or Hidden Figures.  There are many sports films that showcase race, including Remember the Titans and We are Marshall.

Tip:  choose books and movies based on your children's interests.  There are so many amazing resources available now!   Check my post on how to institute a family reading night.      

5:  Take a hometown tour.

We are fortunate to live so close to St. Louis.  Last year, we took our kids on a Black-owned business tour of the city.  We had dinner at Steve's Hotdogs, had a treat at Miss M's Candy Boutique, and purchased items from EyeSeeMe bookstore (where my children's books are sold!). St. Louis is currently featuring a Civil Rights exhibit (which is fabulous!), houses the infamous Sweetie Pie's soul food restaurant (we met Miss Robbie!), and offers a vegetarian-vegan bakery (walls covered in Black art which can be purchased) called Sweet Art.  We've also enjoyed both locations of Gulf Shores Restaurant.  On our next tour, we plan to check out Natalie's Cakes in Ferguson.  

You see?  It really is THAT simple.  A little effort can go a long way in affirming your children, learning more about Black history, and showing your children that they matter

And keep an eye on my Facebook, Twitter, and Insta:  I'm posting books daily that highlight important figures in the past and present.