Tuesday, March 3, 2015

Gearing up for Joy in the Journey Retreat 2015

March 2015 will bring the Joy in the Journey Inc. ministry's second annual Retreat for adoptive and foster mamas.  The Joy team is so excited to gear up for this annual event geared at connecting and encouraging retreat attendees as well as sharing what God's been laying on our hearts in the last year. 

This year's retreat theme is based around the journey found in Hebrews 12:1-2 and is centered around the idea of Intentionally living out a life that constantly looks to the Lord for guidance.  Our "tag line" is Walk the Hard, Celebrate the Joy.

This month, our posts will come from our amazing retreat speakers.  If you are attending the retreat, please allow these posts to encourage you as you prepare your hearts for all God has to offer through the retreat.

If you are unable to join us this year, please open your hearts to these posts as well.  Our prayer is that you will be encouraged, energized and ready to take your next step, whatever your journey, through the writings of our talented presenters.

Thank you for loving and being a part of this ministry.  May God bless you as you Intentionally seek His will!

Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Resource Review: iMOM

This months resource is a web site that I have used numerous times. It has many assorted helpful resources and I'm positive that you will find it to be a favorite "go to" web site. The website is www.iMOM.com

When you visit iMOM, make plans to spend some time exploring.  The creators of this site allow you to print off their hundreds of ideas for FREE!  I finally got smart and bought a 3" three ring binder with dividers so I could organize the different categories I found useful.  

The topics of my dividers (and, yes, they have many charts, examples, and ideas for these topics) are: Chore Charts, Reward Charts & Games for Behavior, Behavior Consequences & Discipline Ideas, Lunchbox / Love Notes, Dating (including family conversation starters & worksheets), Lessons for Good Behavior and Activities for Boredom. Again, these are just my topics. They have several more!!  

In the very front of my notebook, I placed a sheet labeled, "10 Simple Rules for When You're HOME ALONE" so it can be pulled out in a hurry.  Finally, to help remind me what a "Good Mom" looks like, I placed "The A, B, C's of Good Moms" in the clear outside cover; it helps me memorize them as I walk past my handy binder!  My only warnings are.....

1. make sure you have TIME to explore on this site, because it's hard to leave it!2. make sure you have plenty of paper and ink for your printer because you're going to find some amazing things to print off for your benefit.

Happy Exploring!  


Tuesday, February 17, 2015

Confessions of a Waiting Mama: My Love

In the spirit of Valentine’s Day, I wanted to take some time to brag on my curly-headed, basketball-loving, guitar-playing husband. There’s no one else in the world I would rather walk this beautiful/gut-wrenching/joyful/heart-breaking/amazing road of adoption with than him, and there are so many reasons why. We’re new to the world of adoptive parents, but you would think Isaac had been preparing for it his whole life (and sometimes I doubt that God has been orchestrating this forever WHY?). Here is a list of things that prove why my baby daddy is the best ever.

-He didn’t flip out when I first mentioned adopting before trying to have biological kids. In fact, he was totally on board. I was prepared for him to shut me down immediately but he did no such thing. He was all in from the get-go.

-He’s basically the calmest person ever. I freak out about anything even remotely bad or remotely good in life. Anything above or below completely neutral causes an extreme reaction in me. He is my constant.

-I have spent my entire life coming up with baby names (I’m a girl, it’s what we do). I had list upon list upon list of names that I’ve doodled on notebooks since elementary school and was 100% sure we would use. Then one day out of the blue, he suggested a boy’s name and I melted. Completely melted. It was perfect. It was so completely us. My entire life had been devoted to naming our future children and in one instant he completed the task. Whether we use that name for Caribaby, a belly baby, or a goldfish, it’s perfect.

-He is SO excited to be a dad. Before we decided to adopt, I questioned whether or not he even wanted to be a father. Not because he ever expressed that, but because (again, remember who I am) I am 100% expressive about EVERY TINY DETAIL and he is calm about EVERY TINY DETAIL. He expresses his excitement different than I do, and I love him for it.

-When the emotional roller coaster of being on a waiting list was too much for me, he took over. He became the one to communicate with our agency and to check in when the time was right. He worked on the US Embassy issues and faxed every document imaginable to the Caribbean.

-He tells me often what a great mother he thinks I will be. Whenever I doubt my ability to handle whatever is to come in our future as parents, he reminds me that it’s not up to us to succeed, its up to us to let Jesus be the center and let him restore and reconcile all things back to himself in the most perfect way.

I love you, Schade. Thanks for being my favorite part of every day.

Tuesday, February 10, 2015

A Minute With Nikki - Therapy

Generally speaking, I work with two kinds of people. Tell me what camp you find yourselves in.

Camp A: Certain your adoption will chain you to a lifetime of weekly meetings with the therapist, so why waste time? Get off the plane, or out of court, and head immediately to the therapists office.

Camp B: Every day is a struggle. You feel alone. You turn to God and cry out for help and still the feelings of being overwhelmed are present every single day. You find that even though you said you knew that the phrase “love is enough” wasn’t true; perhaps you really hoped it would be for your family. But, it wasn’t.  

Readers who know me at all should know that I was Camp A. We had our first meeting with our therapist before our daughter was even home. We met with her a few weeks before we left for China to get some good bonding activities to plan and toys to bring with us. It was extremely helpful and we had a lot of very simple, terrific fun times while we were in country.

After we got home, we kept in touch with the therapist through emails and texts. We waited to meet with her again until the time came that our daughter’s language and development seemed appropriate for our first family meeting. We presented it to our daughter like it was something for our whole family to get to understand one another better. Rainbows and kittens. And that worked for like a second until she told us that she knew that it was primarily just for her and basically described what therapy is. Busted.

But we preserved. We went. Someone had a bad attitude. She told us the therapist had a lot of internal anger and rage and that she didn’t think we should go back to talk with someone like that. But, it was 50 minutes well spent. And I will say that the goals we were working on and the negative behaviors dramatically improved even after just one session. Whenever regression would find us (as it inevitably did) we would just say “Hey, little one, isn’t this one of the things we’re working on with Miss _____?” And the sigh would follow, and the answer would be yes, we would talk, and improvement began.

We had a second session a few weeks after. This one was better. Someone agreed that perhaps she misread the therapist and perhaps her anger and rage wasn’t actually anger and rage. And maybe she was a little nice, just a little. Perhaps her hair was pretty. And maybe she did really want to help our family. And maybe there were things we all should be working on.

As we prepare for session three, we are all planning our goals together. I think everyone has a good attitude going into #3. This therapeutic process truly is a blessing for our family. I can’t say enough good things about it. It is absolutely worth every penny that our very frugal family is paying. We really are growing together, with some help that many of us need.

Just think about it. Consider it. Make lots of calls until you find the right person to help your family. But the important thing is that you see the value in having someone else on your side to help. Sometimes that’s the most helpful thing you can have on a tough day.

Nikki has been working as an adoption social worker for the past 10 years.  The consummate single gal was married in 2012 and started an adoption process to adopt a 10-year-old with special needs from China soon after.  Nikki loves writing home studies in the Western Missouri area and preparing families for the realities of adoption.

Tuesday, February 3, 2015

My Story: Being Held Captive

If there were one piece of advice which I could give to encourage my fellow sisters who are in the long wait for their children, it would be this: you are not captive to the journey.

My husband Butch and I had always known that we would welcome children into our family through adoption.  We began the journey in the summer of 2011 and felt the Lord calling us to pursue international adoption from Taiwan.  Most adoption processes during that time took less than 1 year to complete which is unheard of in international adoption!  So, we eagerly dreamed and planned to have our child home by the next summer.  We applied to, and were accepted by, a home in Taiwan who just loved orphans and provided a temporary home for them until they could be with their forever families.

However, unbeknownst to us at the time, Taiwan was changing their adoption laws.  The country began slowing down adoptions and halting some until the new laws came into effect.  One year passed until the home we were working with asked if we wanted to remain on the waiting list because they couldn’t guarantee us a child.  We had to make a choice to continue on the list or leave the program. 

This was such a heavy time.  That’s the only way to describe the heartbreak and disappointment.  We felt like we were thrown several steps backwards.  We didn’t want to start the process over by pursuing a different country’s program.  We weren’t handling it well.  My husband struggled with anger, but I obsessed about the what-ifs.  I monitored other families’ movement within the process.  I organized and reorganized our adoption files.  I distanced myself from most friends and some family.  In hindsight, my life had become captive to the journey.

During this time, I was reading the book of Jeremiah, which the Lord really used to minister to my heart. 

Jeremiah 29: 4-7 says,

“Thus says the Lord of hosts, the God of Israel, to all the exiles whom I have sent into exile from Jerusalem to Babylon, ‘Build houses and live in them; and plant gardens and eat their produce.  Take wives and become the fathers of sons and daughters, and take wives for your sons and give your daughters to husbands, that they may bear sons and daughters; and multiply there and do not decrease.  Seek the welfare of the city where I have sent you into exile, and pray to the Lord on its behalf; for in its welfare you will have welfare.’

The Israelites were exiles in a foreign land.  They were legitimate captives to the Babylonians.  I can’t imagine what it must have been like to be held against my will by strangers.  Yet here I was allowing my thoughts and circumstances to hold me captive from life.  What really caught my attention in this passage was that the Lord tells us to live our lives, to show up and be present, and that we will benefit when we seek the welfare of others.  I can’t worry or obsess when I’m intent on living for God and serving Him.  This passage really convicted and encouraged my husband and I because it really helped us to move beyond ourselves.

We asked the home if we could take some time to pray about  our decision and waited for one month to see how the Lord would guide us.  So many loved ones prayed for us too!  And you know what?  The Lord heard our petitions!  Through confirmation of God’s word, we decided to continue on the list, which was the best decision we’ve ever made!  Taiwan started approving adoptions again a few months afterwards.  Six months later in November of 2012, we were matched with our almost 3-month-old son! We named him Silas Lin, and he was beautiful and healthy!  It was love at first sight!

The home told us that he would probably come home within 6-8 months after we were submitted to court, but this didn’t happen.  Instead, months passed without news of progress, and my husband and I were trying so hard to see the good in the journey and not be so confined by the process.  When April arrived, we heard that the courts rejected our case because more paperwork was needed from the birth family.  We understood, though, that the necessary paperwork had been received, and we had been resubmitted to court in May.  

So, now we were eagerly anticipating having Silas home sometime in the fall.  Months passed again without progress.  When August arrived, we received the devastating news that our case was again rejected because the courts wanted specific paperwork from the birth family that still hadn’t been submitted.  The home now had the arduous task of tracking down our son’s birth family to get them to complete more paperwork. 

We desperately worked hard to not be miserable and impatient.  I decided to lead a women’s prayer group at my church, which was a great opportunity to care for others and share about adoption with them.  The Lord also encouraged me through many other adoptive Mamas.   A dear friend of mine who adopted her daughter from the same home encouraged me with these words:

“Our God is our Redeemer.  He not only redeems us from our sins, but I believe that He can redeem lost time with our children too.  Those milestones you’ve missed, He’s going to make it seem as if you were never absent.”

And you know what?  She was right.  About 3 months later (almost 1 year from the time we were matched with him), we got the call to come for our first visit to meet our son.  This was such a precious time to finally meet and love on Silas.  We were able to see his beautiful country and learn more about his birth culture.  It was amazing for our family of 3 to finally be together even if it was for 2 short weeks.  I pray that God strengthens all of you Mamas out there who will have to do it in the future because it’s heartbreaking and really hard.  We chose to trust in God’s protection over Silas and our case.

Two months later, we received the best Christmas gift ever!  Taiwan officially decreed Silas as our child that day, and we were invited to come over on New Year’s to bring him home!  Finally!  Silas was coming home!

We were in the adoption process for 3 years.  It took us 14 long months to bring Silas home.  All of us who have experienced adoption know that the paperwork alone isn’t for the faint-hearted.  It can be easy to feel robbed of one of the most joyful times of your life wading through those piles, fearing the what-ifs, or dealing with the stress of it all. When you just don’t know if you can get one more paper notarized, the hope for your child is an amazing motivator!  And that’s what a captive needs: to hope in the Lord who alone can liberate and provide the most amazing miracles in our lives. 

Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Our Story: Bonding

We are nearly six years into the in writing of our adoption story. Most days that doesn’t seem to be the focus of our lives. We are just like every other family living the daily grind of work, bloody noses, owies, laughter, dishes, brushing doll hair and hanging with friends. The creating of our family took a slightly different recipe: foster-care then adoption. But it affects how we parent, whether consciously or sub-consciously, because how we bond and attach with our children, and how they attach with others, is affected because of their loss.

When my husband and I took our foster care and adoption classes, I didn’t have six years into the future on my radar. For me the feeling of being a mom in six years was like looking into the future when I had graduated high school. I knew eventually I would graduate college and have to be an adult. But that seemed to play out in front of me like a Hollywood movie.  It was something I could visualize, but would never actually act out.  

But here I am. Here we are. We are a family six years after. And we are still attaching and bonding. We are still trying to navigate this road to healing and make a house of love. What has been a conundrum is that the bonding has been harder for me and my daughter than for me and my son. She was older when she became our daughter and I’m sure that is part of it, but gender, I think plays a roll, too. As we have walked this journey, I’ve had to do a lot of educating and re-educating myself beyond the classes and books from the beginning of our journey.

What I want to share are four things that have been a help and comfort to our family when we are in the trenches of working to strengthen attachment and bonding with our kiddos.  These four things keep us sane and keep us loving through the circumstances that sometimes seem to be isolated only to our family.

When we worked to start new attachments where there were none, beginning with trust can be a great option.  In our case, I was able to use the attachment our children had for each other to gain trust.  When Allyson, our daughter, began to trust me to take care of Aaron, her brother and our son, she learned she could trust me to take care of her, too.  She could depend on me and an attachment began to form.  This took small consistent steps in everything I did for them.  It began with having their cups and breakfast ready the minute they woke from bed and nap, to being there to kiss their scratches and bumps, and playing with toys after meal times each day.  While it sounds simple, I can attest that six years into our journey, my daughter still needs that reassurance that Mommy and Daddy are still watching her and that she can know her schedule each day.  She still needs to know that her mealtime and her bedtime will be consistent, that morning time will come and we will be there.  Those first two and a half years without a meal time and an adult who could protect and take care of her made a lasting impact.  She will test my husband and me, so before that testing comes, I MUST set my mind and heart to know that it IS NOT PERSONAL. 

Here we are in our journey about to celebrate SIX years of my children’s journey in our family. But the biggest surprise for me that I feel is (again) not talked about in the adoption books or classes we’ve taken: six years later we are still fixing and working on the attachment, especially with Allyson. Who knew that six years would not be enough to heal not having a parental attachment for over two years from infancy? Most days require me to step back and assess her words, the rules broken, to see if it is typical eight-year-old testing or if it is an attachment testing. Sure we’ve been told about the bonding process taking time.  Realistically could it take years?  Would that feeling in your heart of finally you being the mom or dad and her really being your child take a year? Two? Four? To really solidify? When we shift our thinking about this and open up to the time it could take to heal and enable ourselves to speak openly about the situation with our kiddos, we can freely have the safety to love openly without hurt. We also must know that there is more than just a feeling of being a mom or a dad. That it is being there consistently, time and time again, to kiss the boo-boos and to provide love unconditionally.

The bonding and attachment has been different simply based on gender, geography and genes and how we relate as daughter /mother and son / mother or daughter/father and son/father.  These attachments are taken for granted that first moment when you lay eyes on your child and portrayed in our media as magical moments. But as foster and adoptive parents, we walk in with guarded hearts prepared for loss in a way because of the realities we’ve been educated about. Based on our histories of who we are as an individual, our gender, geography and genetics play into how we will bond as a parent. In the book, The Open-Hearted Way to Open-Adoption by Lori Hold and Crystal Hass, the authors speak about a mind shift in the way we think about adopting.  It is not the birth family versus the adoptive family, whether you are having a closed adoption or an open one.  When we think this way you end up creating a split person in both biology and biography.  I think we can all agree we are striving to create whole little people.  The point the authors make is on being open with our children and encouraging them it is okay to love their biological parents, too. “…we acknowledge that parents are capable of loving multiple children. So why not allow—encourage—children to do the same with multiple parents?”  When we think about it this way, we can allow ourselves to open up in love, too.  Allowing for the attachment to overtake the hurt, neglect and histories that can get in the way. If we allow ourselves to open up this way, we can take out much of the history of ourselves and help heal the history/hurts of our children without taking things personally and allowing the child to open up to attachment and bonding.

Take a step back and prioritize your goals. Are you looking ahead too much at the future?  We all need incremental goals.  We all have hopes and dreams for our children.  Those will change shape and form as their God-given gifts morph and emerge throughout their lifetime, but what about today and living in the moment today?  Add to the mix our relationships with our own parents growing up, and our “parent glasses” we wear become quite foggy when relating to our kids. Taking a step back to notice I can handle this moment right now; that this is all I need to get through is this tiny moment will make the task of bonding seem much easier to take. One moment at a time.

Remember to breathe. Don’t  take it personally. Hopefully you found some encouragement in knowing that it takes time. Six years into our story, we are still tying up all of our attachment strings. Take the time, rethink your goals, step back and look at your history and that of your child and build trust. It is so worth the investment to stay focused.

But above all else, love.   

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Resource Review: Small Town, Big Miracle