Category Archives: Adoption & Foster Care

Mother’s Day Blessings and Memories

Happy Mother’s Day to all of the moms out there who love everyday in big and small ways. In ways that are noticed and acknowledged and in so many ways that are not but will be felt, remembered and cherished. Generation after generation.

I know I am a little behind on sharing Mother’s Day sentiments but I had a busy Mother’s Day myself; enjoying church with my family, doing a little antiquing on my own, and then watching The Avengers and Captain America with my husband and kids.

Yes, those were my movie choices.

What? Well we couldn’t watch Thor, we’d just seen it a few days ago.

Then yesterday, my husband and youngest took me out for sushi and to browse the bookstore and enjoy a treat in the café. So today is the first chance I’ve had to share Mother’s Day with you.

While Mother’s Day is a day for watching action movies … what? … it is also a day for reflection and celebration of the women who have mothered us. The women who have nurtured us, stood by us, been both patient and frustrated with us, disciplined and molded us, mentored us but above all, loved us. Always.

Everyone’s story is different. But I hope with all my heart that you had or still have a mother or mother figure in your life to remember and be thankful for. Whether you are able to hold her hand or just her memory.

I am blessed to have some wonderful women to celebrate on Mother’s Day …

Mom-and-MeMy fabulous mom who was always in my corner.

I am so thankful for all she taught me (and all she put up with from me in the process). Self-sacrifice, the reward of  hard work, the ability to do a lot with a little, dinner at the table as a family, cooking, gardening, homemaking – homemade is best, anything after 1am is just going to get you into trouble and to pray, attend church, read and study my bible and look to God in all things.

I also got her sassiness, temper and eye rolling death stare. It’s true.

And if you ever wonder why I am a little “over-the-top”, this was my 4th grade Halloween costume …

Marie-Antoinette-for-HallowMarie Antoinette

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She made the whole thing.  The dress. The powdered wig.  I got “over-the-top” from her.

And I love her for it!

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I celebrate my Aunt Andi (my mom’s sister) too. She’s fun, independent and tenacious!

And I still look at her like that sometimes.

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And my grandma Ibby. I’ve told you a lot about Grandma Ibby and her incredible recipes have been the subject of many of my blog posts. I’ll be posting her delicious banana bread recipe on Friday. You won’t want to miss it! So much of what I learned from my mom came from the lessons and example of her mother, Grandma Ibby. She is deeply missed.

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I love this picture of me with my great-grandmother Rose, my great-grandmother Clara, my grandma Eileen (my first best friend) and my very own super-mom! It is a blessing to have known two of my great-grandmothers. I will share their stories one day. But I do hope you will click the link just above and read about my grandmother Eileen. She was such a huge part of my life and I have so many wonderful memories of her. A love of antiques and making all that is old new, beautiful and loved again comes from her. Plus she let me eat Fruit Loops (banned and forbidden by my health conscious mother) before bed. Which was awesome.

So now, I am a mom too. I have learned from the best. Not how to be June Clever perfect  but how to give everything I have, to keep trying when I fail, to say I’m sorry when I need to, to love the Lord with all my heart and to pray for my children in all things.

I received some pretty incredible gifts this Mother’s Day. Gifts that let me know my kids love and appreciate me, even if I don’t always think they show it.

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Ask any mom, that is what she wants most and the simple gifts made by her kids are the most precious!

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Nathan gave me a sweet card and poem and “mom’s helping hands” with the things we like to do together written on them.

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Purple was my favorite color as a child. Sara knows that and made a purple necklace for me. Her sense of humor came through with a piece of paper with the word “PEACE” written on it. Whenever they ask me what I want for my birthday or Mother’s Day, I always answer “peace” as in a peaceful relaxed day with no kids fighting or arguing. So, she gave me peace.

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David made a book for me at school which was filled with his creative writing and story art all the way from the beginning of the year.

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This is a picture of him in his Halloween costume. He was a Ninja and that is exactly what it looked like right down to the “spider” treat bag and the “fluf pads” muscles. So cute!!

No, I did not make it.

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He answered questions about me. He knows me. I love that!

He also said my favorite TV show was “Beerfoot” which is Barefoot Contessa. My favorite hobby is cooking. My favorite book is a cook book. My favorite restaurant is “all” restaurants. I enjoy cooking. And that if there were four extra hours in a day, he would spend them cooking with me.

I’m sensing a theme, maybe I need to expand my horizons a little.

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He also listed three reasons why “you are special to me.”

You love me.

You say prers (prayers) with me.

You love me more than I can love you.

And then he wrote this. And I cried.

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I’ll never forget the time you “never gave up to adopt me.”

And that is what being a mom is. We never give up. Not ever, no matter what. We are always there for our kids. Fighting for them. We sometimes fail and we often regret but we never give up.

Mother's-Day-2013Because our mom, or someone who loved us like a mom, was always there for us.

Fighting for us.

And just when you think your children don’t realize or appreciate it, they come out of left field with just what you needed to hear.

“You never gave up …”

Of course I didn’t, I’m your mom.

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Adoption Day Reflections

It is a busy Monday. A day filled with errands, laundry, picking up endless toys and shoes and books. A day filled with plenty of the usual things that make-up a typical weekday for me.

But it is not a typical day.

Today is my baby’s adoption day.

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Four years ago today, the documents that made my husband and I his parents were signed, stamped, sealed and filed. Official.

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But I have always been his mommy.

So really, April 29, 2009 was simply the day the State of Arizona finally caught up.

My husband and I are over the moon with joy to have our kids and we are blessed to be adoptive parents but we don’t make a big deal on adoption day. Every family is different and for some it is a day for a party and that is wonderful.

For us, it is a quiet day of thankful reflection. No party, no fuss. That may seem strange, but there are reasons.

For me personally, the pain of our journey through the foster care system remains and while that journey has a happy ending, I feel the welling in my chest as I think back on the struggle.

No, the filing of a piece of paper is not what I celebrate. I am happy and relieved to have it but it is not what I celebrate.

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I reflect and I celebrate the moments I spent rocking my son as he attached to his new life.

I celebrate the dimples and the smiles and the energy and the laughter.

I celebrate the hundreds of times I read Brown Bear, Brown Bear as his tiny hand excitedly turned to the next page.

I celebrate all of the memories yet to be made.

I marvel at and celebrate the depth of the love I feel for this child God has blessed me with.

I celebrate the miracle of him.

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April 29, 2009 is not the day Nathan became my son.

He was my son from the moment God placed the desire for him in my heart.

He was my son from the moment I first laid eyes on him and held him close to me.

He was to be my son from the moment he took his first breath.

But he is not my son alone. My son was not an orphan. My son has another mother. Barely more than a girl herself when he was born. My gain was her loss. I think about her today. I’ve thought about her all day. And I’ve prayed for her.

It has taken me a while to get to this place. A place of forgiveness and understanding. And while my heart is bursting with joy at being my boy’s mama, balloons and cake and celebration just don’t fit.

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I think about the day he will ask me about adoption. The day his daddy and I will explain it to him. He is still too young to completely understand what it all means.

I want him to know that he came from her to me not because he was unwanted or because there was something wrong with him but because he is loved by a Heavenly Father who has a great plan for his life.

I want him to know that before he was her child or my child, he was His child.

I want him to know that he healed my broken heart.

I want him to know that it doesn’t matter that the color of his eyes, his skin, his hair are different from mine. He is my son and I am his mommy. God has made it so.

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II want him to know how his sweet spirit and adventurous nature brought life back into our world. Just when we needed it most.

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I want him to know how much his joy for life and laughter consume me.

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I want him to know that I will always be his mommy.

Always.

I want him to know that he will be covered in my love and prayers.

Wherever he goes, whatever he does.

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So while April 29th may be his adoption day, I want him to know that every day with him is a party and a cause for celebration!

Your mama loves you sweet boy. For ever and always. And I celebrate you Every-day.

Never Tire of Doing Good

With the bombing at the Boston Marathon, our world faces yet another violent, senseless tragedy.

Such an absence of regard for human life.

We get comfortable. We forget or remember less and less. Daily life continues and the realities of the ongoing horrors of this world become removed. War, human trafficking, slavery, abuse, murder, unspeakable brutality. The pain and suffering of rampant disease, hunger, starvation; all a world away.

But this, this jars us awake.

Our own backyard. We are not immune and we cannot live as if we are. There is an enemy and his insidious evil reaches into every corner of this world.

But so does light.

We are all grieving the injury and loss of life in this tragedy. We grieve with the family of an eight-year-old boy. A boy who’s heart carried a message of peace. A life filled with promise. We grieve with a father who right now can’t imagine how he will draw his next breath. How he will tell his wife. How he will help his daughter to cope and to heal. I have fought for that same breath. Not in exactly the same way but enough to know that the next breath will come and then the next and then the next.

I am the mother of an eight-year-old boy who came to my husband and I an abused and neglected toddler only to leave us just after his third birthday, returning to uncertainty; taking my breath with him.

I am the mother of an eight-year-old boy who has experienced the worst of this world. Abuse, neglect, trauma at the hand of the very person who should have loved him the most. But he was not defeated and the next breath came.

I am the mother of an eight-year-old boy who has been delivered from the darkness and who’s light now shines brightly. Piercing that darkness.

Monday afternoon, as I watched the early news reports with him, we talked about what we saw. Not the horrors or the violence.

No, we didn’t talk about you.

We talked about the people we saw helping other people. People rushing to the aide of strangers. Ordinary people doing extraordinary things. Selfless acts of courage; the best of people. That is what we saw.

We didn’t see you.

We didn’t see an enemy at work. We saw good, people doing good.

And while we watched, do you know what my son said to me? My precious eight-year-old son who has been through so much. “I will be like them mommy. I will run to help.”

He is awake.

I am the mother of and eight-year-old boy who will NEVER tire of doing good.

You have made sure of that.

Your injustice has only made him desire what is right. He will be a “righter” of wrongs.

Your pain and hurt and horror has given him a heart of empathy and understanding; a deep desire to relieve suffering. He has overcome the worst and he will be a light in the darkness.

You have lost.

Yes, another eight-year-old has fallen. His precious life has ended; but still, you have lost. His message is alive. And it has been heard.

Martin Richard Peace

“No more hurting people. Peace.”

If your aim was to strike fear. We are not afraid. We are awake. And you have lost.

If your aim was to devalue, destroy, defeat; know this, the battle has already been won and it is  you that has been defeated. It is written. It is our promise. It is our hope. And we will never tire of doing good.

In the midst of the most unspeakable darkness, there will always be someone there to do good. To shine a light. To shine His light. You have lost. My eight-year-old has picked up the banner of Martin Richard and will carry on. He is awake and he is not alone.

And let us not grow weary of doing good, for in due season we will reap, if we
do not give up. Galatians 6:9 ESV

What to Give and What to Give Up!

Ash Wednesday. The beginning of Lent. Forty days (Sundays not included) meant for reflection, repentance, and sacrifice. A time for Christians to prepare for Easter and remind ourselves why this time matters so much. That we would focus our hearts on Jesus Christ. On his life, death, burial and resurrection. On His suffering and His sacrifice.

I truly love this season, it always feels like a new beginning. A time of renewal, a rebirth. Spring is near and life is on the verge of abundance, nesting birds, blooming trees, a bursting garden. A recovery from that which was harsh and cold and heavy.

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Not all Christian churches observe Lent but my family does and we are deeply blessed to do so. I was raised Presbyterian and grew up with the season of Lent but not the personal practice of “giving something up” in observance of Lent. That is something my husband and I decided to do as a married couple and it is something our children will do for the first time this year. We have asked them to pray and listen for what God is putting on their hearts, what He wants them to give to Him. Sara is pretty sure she will be giving up the computer. David was quick to offer up fruits and vegetables, we suggested a bit more reflection. Nathan is still a little young to fully understand but we will encourage him and show him by our example.

If you have read my last few posts, you know that I have been on a bit of a journey with God over the last few weeks – probably much longer but I’ve only just begun to really listen. I feel Him pulling me forward into a new season. My family is moving into a new season. That I have felt coming for some time now. I have observed the change in my children. The deep healing and increased peace in them.

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Four years ago, in the Spring, our older two children returned to us after having been back in the care of their birth mother for nearly two years. You can read more of that story in my post “Beauty from Ashes”. In that four years, we have walked with them through some very dark and terrifying places as they fought their way back from abuse and trauma. It has been hard. Very hard. The hardest thing I have ever done and I have not always done it with grace.

But now, my children are doing well. They are moving forward. Charging forward.

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God has redeemed so much and has brought them so far beyond their pain. He has enfolded them in His grace and filled them with the promise that His plan for their life is good. He has reached them and they have opened their hearts to Him in miraculous ways.

My own heart overflows for the changes I see in them but the process of that change has taken a toll. And now it is my turn. His eyes have turned toward me. Really they have always been on me too, but now I am aware.

Please don’t misunderstand. I am thankful and I am blessed and I am happy. Truly. But I am tired, I am weary, I am spent. Not because of my children or because of their pain or the journey God called us to walk with them. But because of my choices in dealing with just how hard it was. Because of my need for control and the avoidance of the depth of my own loss, grief and pain. The guilt of my mis-steps and lack of grace. Too long I have buried it all in distraction and busy-ness. Too many times I have come before Him broken and on my knees only to take back that which I was so desperate to give to Him. He has waited for me to bend just far enough and now He is calling me out. He is calling me to a season of change and renewal. And I am listening.

Lent. This year He is not asking me to give up a favorite food item, TV, wine or chocolate. No, He is asking for much more. He is asking me to dig deeper. He is calling me to give up SELF. To give Him the pieces of me that I still cling to, hide behind, wallow in, make excuses for.

I will spend the next forty days committed to a pattern of change, committed to live more intentionally. Directed and purposeful. Proactive instead of reactive. Refreshed and not tired. Renewed and not weary. Listening for His voice to tell me what is mine and giving over what He claims as His.

I will sleep more.

I will eat more that is green.

I will eat less that is white.

I will drink more water.

I will exercise more.

I will deepen my prayer life and devote more quiet time to Him. I will rise to meet Him every morning and not find a reason why I am too busy or too tired.

I will  make no excuses.

I will be slow to anger.

I will watch my tongue.

I will guard my thoughts.

I will remember that while I am a mom, I am a wife too.

I will fast. Over the past ten years, I have walked closer and closer to God but I have never fasted in prayer. Never. He is asking me to start.

I will rid myself of all that I have taken up that He has not asked of me. I will clear the clutter and all that keeps me too busy and distracts me from Him.

And when I am done, when He is finished. I will celebrate that He is Risen. That He lives. And that I too am alive again.

Pinewood Derby Prep, When a Block of Wood Becomes Something More

It is Pinewood Derby time around here. Consider this the Indy 500 of the Cub Scout world.  My middle guy and his dad have been working hard on his Pinewood Derby Car; taking a small rectangular block of wood and whittling (or sawing and Dremeling) it into a unique and hopefully fast race car.

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But truthfully, it doesn’t really matter how it looks, if it is fast or if it wins.

Because what they have really being doing, what it is really all about, is spending time together. Deepening their bond. Making memories. Teaching. Learning.

That is what really matters.

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What could possibly mean more to a little boy than to have his small hand engulfed in the hand of his daddy as he helps him guide the saw and shows him “how to do it”.

“No man stands so tall as when he stoops to help a child.” – Abraham Lincoln

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When his father’s actions say …

You matter to me. Your interests matter to me. I am busy but I am not too busy for you.

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When his guidance and patience send the message …

I am here to do what you can’t but I will show you how to do what you can.

And trust you to do it.

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When his teaching shows that with a little teamwork, cooperation, and persistence a plain block of wood will become something amazing.

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When the gift of his time reminds his son …

You are part of a team. Loved. And your dad is on your side.

So Jesus said to them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, the Son can do nothing of his own accord, but only what he sees the Father doing. For whatever the Father does, that the Son does likewise.” John 5:19

Friday Morning

I haven’t been able to post the last several days. My heart has been heavy and grieving. How do I talk about the Elf on the Shelf or cookies or meal planning or lights or tree trimming?

Friday morning. It is all we are hearing about, thinking about, talking about. I have read so many beautiful posts, thoughts, prayers and scripture uttered in the search for hope amid such unimaginable grief.

Beautiful insight.

Exactly what I wanted to say.

What I would have said had I been able to find the words.

I have read the prayer of St. Francis posted on Facebook by Ree Drummond (The Pioneer Woman) … Lord Make me an instrument of your peace. Where there is hatred, let me sow love; where there is injury, pardon; where there is doubt, faith; where there is despair, hope; where there is darkness, light; and where there is sadness, joy. O’ Divine Master, grant that I may not so much seek to be consoled as to console; to be understood as to understand; to be loved as to love. For it is in giving that we receive; it is in pardoning that we are pardoned; and it is in dying that we are born to eternal life.

Yes, Lord.

I have read the words of fellow blogger Derek Maul, “But my God is still the God of hope; and that hope is still articulated most eloquently in the promise of the Christ-child and the imperative of love. And while I can’t offer my faith as any kind of a ‘now I understand’ explanation, or an excuse for ‘unfairness,’ or a tidy answer, I can offer it as proof positive that the very real presence of God both sustains and encourages me – especially in the face of such consummate evil.”

Yes, Lord.

And I have turned to scripture, Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted. Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth. Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled. Blessed are the merciful, for they will show mercy. Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God. Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called sons of God. Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Matthew 5:3-10

Yes, Lord.

No, up to now, I haven’t myself been able to find the words but I have been sustained by the words of others; by the words of my Heavenly Father. What more can be said? What more can I add? And yet I feel like I can’t take another breath or go through another motion until I acknowledge the message He has for me and accept the words He is laying on my heart.

I watch the news, too much of it – and I hear discussion in regard to the shooter. He has an Autism Spectrum Disorder. He has Aspergers. He was a loner. He was odd. My heart breaks again as I read the words of Liza Long in her post “I am Adam Lanza’s Mother”  that has been circulating everywhere. I have compassion as she cries out for help with her own son whom she fears but I am frustrated as she throws out possible diagnoses such as an Autism Spectrum Disorder, Oppositional Defiance Disorder (ODD), ADHD, and Intermittent Explosive Disorder and links them and her son to what happened on Friday morning. I understand she is frustrated with the lack of mental health services and options. I understand she is looking for answers to the challenges she faces and the fear she has. My heart goes out to any mother who feels that she has to fear her child. I will pray for her. A lot of people have commented about her and have responded to her essay both in support and anger but who is praying for her? Who is praying for her son?

Does she need help? Yes. Does her son need help? Yes. Do we need to address the lack of appropriate mental health services in our country? Yes. Are there people who suffer from mental illness that pose a danger to themselves or society and need to be given the appropriate help and treatment? Yes. Do we need to recognize their suffering and watch for warning signs? Yes.

But we also need to be careful of where we place blame, point fingers, misdiagnosed and allow fear to creep into our good intentions; our judgment.

Was this tragic shooting on Friday caused because a young man had Autism, Aspergers, ADHD, PTSD, ODD, OCD or mental illness alone?

I am not an expert. I am not a mental health professional, psychiatrist, therapist or counselor. But I do have a gifted child who has been diagnosed with ADHD, ODD and PTSD due to the extreme trauma he experienced before we adopted him. We have been through a lot with him but I am not afraid of him. In fact, quite the opposite; I am amazed by him and admire his resiliency, compassion and desire to overcome his past. I see his heart and his goodness and I see God at work in his life every day.

I feel a great push to share this because I have put a part of my son’s story out there in the world by talking about his challenges in earlier posts and my heart now breaks at the though of any condemnation or judgment he could face because of the labels he bears; because of the “links” being made in the media and by those seeking an answer. My hope in sharing a part of my son’s story is only to praise how far he has come, to offer encouragement to others and to give glory to God for what He has done in our lives.

There is hope and healing is possible.

I also have a nephew with Aspergers and a close friend with an Autistic son and I myself have faced OCD. And I can’t, not for one more moment, hear this unspeakable act being linked to or blamed on conditions, disorders and/or diagnoses that millions of people live with. Diagnoses or labels that may remove them from the mainstream make them “different” and cause them to struggle but certainly do not make them cold, calculating mass murderers. How often in our history has the fear of “different” resulted in tragedy of its own?

What this young man did was something sinister.

We live in a world where there is good and there is evil.

What happened in that sleepy Connecticut town on Friday morning was evil; “consummate evil.”

  • People with Autism are not evil.
  • Autism is not mental illness.
  • People with Aspergers are not evil.
  • Aspergers is not mental illness.
  • People with mental illness are not evil.
  • People with OCD are not evil.
  • People with ODD are not evil.
  • People with PTSD are not evil.
  • People with ADHD are not evil.
  • People with depression and anxiety disorders are not evil.

Because it is close to me, I write specifically with thoughts of the thousands of foster children in our country who suffer from conditions resulting from abuse, trauma and loss. Overcoming that trauma, hurt, loss and lack of trust is not easy and takes a family or at the very least, someone who cares, a great team and a lot of love and hard work. Being loved and cared for by people who walk along side you and help you is a start. Being prayed for and shown the God who loves you allows for the breaking down of even the most difficult hurts and starts the process of true healing; replacing brokenness with hope. We cannot turn away or refuse to accept, love, help, guide and adopt hurting children because we are fearful. With God … WITH GOD, all things are possible.

As I repeatedly hear the question, “where was God that Friday morning?” I find myself compelled to answer because I know where He was, where He is. I know, because I know who He is.

I know because He was with me as I struggled with OCD and He ultimately delivered me from that which threatened to cripple me and hold me back from my purpose.

He has been with my husband and I every moment of our journey as parents called to nurture an abused and hurting child (children). He has walked with us through the rages and the anger and the trauma and has held our hands through diagnoses and therapy. And He has rejoiced with us as our children heal and are made new. As we watch them blossom into who they are intended to be as God delivers them from the hurts this world has visited upon them. He has also been with my children, through it all, and continues to walk every step with them.

He was there Friday morning.

He was with the teachers and staff who stood in the face of evil and overcame it to leave a legacy of love and sacrifice; a heroic testimony to us all. And He was waiting to welcome them home.

He was with each of those precious children; children that He first loved and are now with Him.

He was with each first responder as they ran into that building without hesitation. He is with them now as they struggle to overcome the trauma and heartache of Friday morning.

He is with each parent and family in Connecticut as they grieve the unspeakable and seek a way to forgive the impossible.

And He is with me as I write these words; as I pray for Him to give them to me. As I pray that we will notice and embrace the lonely and hurting before they become the lost. That we will offer hope and light and grace. That we will move forward with understanding and open eyes and not with fear.

“Do not fear what may happen tomorrow. The same loving Father who cares for you today will care for you tomorrow and everyday. Either he will shield you from suffering or He will give you unfailing strength to bear it. Be at peace then and put aside all anxious thoughts and imaginings.” St. Francis de Sales

Blessed be to God, even the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and the God of all comfort. 2 Corinthians 1:3

In the Company of Great Teachers

This past week, David received an award at school,  a “Personal Achievement Award” for the quarter. In our world, this is a BIG deal!

So proud of my guy!

Anyone who knows David will be thrilled for him and so proud of him but I don’t think they will be surprised. Because anyone who knows David knows just how hard this kid works to overcome things that most of us can’t begin to imagine.

David is only eight. In his eight years, he has been unwanted, rejected, mistreated, neglected, abused, bullied, nearly broken, rescued, delivered, redeemed, wanted, accepted, valued, cherished, loved. To quote the beautiful song “What Love Really Means” by JJ Heller, “he’s the kid with the story no one would believe”. A story like that leaves scars. They are not always scars that you can see but they are there and they are painful and debilitating. Scars like Post Traumatic Stress Disorder and Oppositional Defiance Disorder and Anxiety and Attachment Disorders. Scars that on good days make “normal” functioning hard and on bad days, nearly impossible. Throw ADHD on top of all of that and you have a boy who fights a daily battle for self-control, focus and just a little bit of peace.

From the time this sweet boy first came into our lives at the age of 20 months, we have loved him. I have thanked God for the blessing of being his mom and have agonized over the struggles we have had. My husband and I have fought for him, worried and lost sleep over him, cried out over his loss and rejoiced at being reunited with him. We have protected him, rocked him when he cried or raged, sung to him, felt his pain, struggled to parent him, done battle with him, and celebrated small victories with him. We have cried with him, we have cried for him and we have cried because of him. We have laid hands on him and prayed, and prayed and prayed.

And, I have wrestled with my own fear, my own unwillingness to let go and with my desire to keep him protected and at home, safe in our bubble all the while knowing that God has a purpose for him in this world and I need to let him find it. He is not mine to keep.

I think most moms know what I mean when I talk about the “bubble” but I have no doubt that moms with children who have special needs or struggles know exactly what I mean; especially when it comes to education.

School. One word that strikes right at the heart of all moms with challenged kids. How do you fight so hard for them and then stand helplessly by while they walk out that front door into a world that doesn’t love them like you do? A world that doesn’t understand their needs, what they have been through or how they struggle.

At the beginning of each school year, my inner voice tells me “maybe I should just home school him. He’s been through so much. There will be time for him to learn to socialize, to make friends, to discover that home isn’t the only safe place … next year, we’ll do that next year.” And then the gentle voice in my heart whispering “trust Me, I will protect Him, I know what is best for him, I love him too, I loved him first, let go and just follow me.”

And so I am following and He has been faithful. I am trusting and He has provided, even when I have doubt and am not sure the next moment of grace will come. It always does. In spite of my uncertainty and my fear and in truth, my need for control (which is really just an illusion anyway, isn’t it?), He has truly provided and my son is thriving, even at school.

You see, David received this award not just because he deserves it but also because he has a teacher who sees beyond the challenging behavior of his hurts and special needs to his heart. She sees a child who fights hard everyday to do his best, even when his best for that day might just mean that he kept his hands to himself, didn’t pour milk on anyone’s head, did most of his work and only got out of his seat 6 times instead of 16.

When I heard that David would be receiving this award, I started thinking, reflecting and realizing just how blessed we have been by the teachers God has placed in his life. I thought about how David got this same award last year from his first grade teacher who also saw the perfectly beautiful child beneath the imperfect behavior. I thought about how four years of school (two years of kindergarten, first grade and now second) have brought into our lives not just one or two gifted teachers but many, including a few great aides, principals and support staff. I am overwhelmed to see how these people have not simply accepted the role of educating our son but have put in the time and care to reach out to him and to help him heal.

That is God at work.

That is the answered prayer of a mother on her knees giving her son to God, asking for His help and trusting in His provision.

“I lift my eyes to the hills, where does my help come from? My help comes from the Lord, the Maker of heaven and earth.” Psalm 121:1-2

These are people God has called to stand in the gap for us when we can’t be there to help our son self-regulate, or to diffuse the building anger and frustration or to bring him out of a dissociative episode that seems to come out of nowhere. When we can’t be there (because we can’t always be there), they have been. How do you thank someone for that?

They have accepted David for who he is and have met him where he is. They have expected his best and have not made excuses for him but they have also recognized his limits and given him the help he needs. They have worked with us to find the best solutions for him so that he can be successful. And most importantly, they have made school a positive place for him and have helped him to begin to realize that home is not the only safe place or the only place where he is loved, valued and wanted. How do you thank someone for that?

How can I begin to thank Ms. Vaudt, his first Kindergarten teacher at the wonderful little Christian school he attended right after he had come back to us and he was hurting so much. How do I thank her for holding him while he cried or for the countless tantrums she soothed through a year where his mind was not open to learning but his heart was open to healing. How do I thank the principal of that school for the day I came in to pick him up after he had been aggressive with another child on the playground. When I walked into her office expecting to hear how he was at the very least suspended or possibly wasn’t welcome there anymore but instead found her rocking him in her office chair and comforting him. When I apologized to her for his behavior her response to me was “there is room for God to work for all children in this school.” That school was a special place and it broke my heart to leave it when we moved out of the area at the end of the school year.

David & Ms. Vaudt, 2009

Our next school was also a small Christian school where we had David repeat Kindergarten. He was still having a very difficult time emotionally and had a lot of challenging behaviors that the school was not equipped to manage. His teacher, Mrs. Roach, however, loved him and never gave up on him. In the end, the school was not a good fit for us but I can never thank Mrs. Roach enough for her willingness to work with David and for helping him through such a difficult year. She is a wonderful teacher with a heart of gold and I will always consider her a friend.

David ran into Mrs. Roach at Disneyland, 2010.

After a lot of prayer, reflection, research, discussion and advice from friends with experience in IEPs and 504 plans, we decided that public school was the best answer for getting David the help and services he required. We are beyond blessed to live in an area with a fantastic neighborhood school and so, we enrolled David in first grade and were given one of the most remarkable teachers I have ever met, Ms. Alfonso. I can’t begin to tell you how this gifted teacher turned school around for my son. She is exactly what he needed; loving and kind but firm in her expectation of what he was capable of. He LOVED her (actually, he still loves her and so do I) and he started to love school. He continued to have trouble with less supervised times (lunch, recess, etc.) but thanks to a caring and accommodating principal, Mrs. K, he was allowed to keep a back-pack of Legos in the office so that he could spend those times quietly playing instead of being overstimulated in an unruly environment he longed to be a part of but wasn’t ready for.

David and Ms. Alfonso, 2011

Suddenly, our son began to excel. His needs were met, we had an IEP in place and he started Resource Classes to catch up on some reading challenges and get whatever behavioral support he needed. Which brings in Mrs. Walsh, David’s Resource teacher. Mrs. Walsh has advocated for David and has helped him to “catch up”. She is sweet and professional and puts him at ease by offering him a safe, calm and accepting environment to retreat to when he needs it – as all children with trauma issues do (I don’t have a picture of her yet but I will).We ended last year on a huge high and spent the summer swimming, fishing, relaxing, visiting family and gaining a little weight (sadly, not just David – his was needed, mine not so much) while he was off of the ADHD meds.

As the summer came to an end, second grade began to loom over us and my old fears began to creep in. What do we do? How will we make it without Ms. Alfonso? Can we beg her to teach second grade? Should we research every teacher and request the one that we determine is best? He’s had such a great summer, should we keep him off of the ADHD medication? Should I just home school (it is always in the back of my mind)? And here’s the kicker, we will have a new principal. Does Mrs. K not know what her leaving to improve her quality of life and increase her time with her own family will do to my son’s progress? Anyone who deals with special needs of any kind will tell you that when you have a great team in place and you lose a valued member of that team, it is haaaaard! Before she left though, she promised me that the new principal was great and that we would love him.

Him? A guy? Could you repeat that please?

All of our amazing teachers, our team, up to this point have been women. I’m not against him (or hims in general for that matter, I’m married to a pretty awesome him). I know some fantastic male teachers, I just don’t know this him. Will he have the compassion and understanding my son needs? Will he be too strict, too demanding, too unrealistic in his expectations? Oh, why does the summer have to end?

In the end, all I could do was have faith – which, as always, is what I should have done all along. I met with our new teacher (Mrs. Skinner), Mrs. Walsh, and the new principal (Mr. K), before the school year started. Mr. K was very nice, straight forward and to the point, very Mr. like but approachable and considerate. He didn’t even seem too uncomfortable when I established myself as a crier in front of him, which I hate and I’m pretty sure he does too; or too hurried when I talked A LOT longer than most Mr.’s normally allow time for. I left that meeting feeling pretty positive about the upcoming year, realizing that once again, God had provided for our son.

So now, we are through the first quarter of second grade and we have certainly had some difficulties. It was hard for David to begin a new school year. His fear and anxiety were high and we had decided to try school without his ADHD medication. Many children have great success managing their ADHD without medication. For David, trying to manage ADHD, anxiety and other trauma related disorders, proved to be too much. The first few weeks of second grade were terrible, old behaviors and anxieties resurfaced as did my fear and uncertainty and his anger and frustration. But through all of it, Mr. K, Mrs. Skinner and Mrs. Walsh worked with us and came up with solutions that have helped to get David get back on track. We did put David on a new ADHD medication which is working well for him and the school has provided him with a wonderful aide, Ms. Julie, for the transitional times he still struggles with. He is happy and has settled into a great routine. How do I thank Mr. K, Mrs. Skinner, Mrs. Walsh and Ms. Julie for what they do for my son everyday?

David with Mrs. Skinner and Ms. Julie his Aide, 2012

David and his buddy Reagan receiving their awards from Mr. K

How do I thank any of them? The truth is, I won’t ever be able to offer thanks enough. But David will.

That JJ Heller song I mentioned earlier also goes on to say “He prays every night ‘dear God won’t you please … could you send someone here who will love me?’

He will thank them by growing up to fulfill his potential. He will thank them by become the man God intends for him to be. He will become that man because of the people God works through to love him and that includes his teachers.

So often, we focus on the challenges that come with educating our children and become frustrated by negative experiences. No one likes standardized testing or timed tests, homework is always a battle, we’ve all had to look on math.com for the current methodology involved solving long division (methodology that seems to change on a yearly basis) and we ALL want to hang up the phone when we answer to hear “Hello, Mrs. __________, this is principal __________, we’ve had a little problem today …”.

But what we sometimes fail to recognize is that there are truly amazing teachers, people, out there who give so much of themselves for our kids and ask little in return. In fact on the numerous occasions I tried to find the words to thank Ms. Alfonso last year, her answer to me was always, “stop thanking me, you don’t have too, I’m just doing my job.”

“We have different gifts, according to the grace given us. If a man’s gift is prophesying, let him use it in proportion to his faith. If it is serving, let him serve; if it is teaching, let him teach …” Romans 12:6-7

I love her gracious and humble heart and I will say this because she won’t. A gifted teacher is not simply doing a job. A gifted teacher answers a calling and in so doing, allows God to work through her (or him) so that a little boy with a broken spirit can feel valued simply because he is doing his best.

Someday that little boy will grow into a loving man who values others because he was loved and valued in spite of his challenges and that will be thanks enough.