Tuesday, March 17, 2015

Airick Leonard West: On a Bike in the Car Lane - A Glimpse Through Your Child's Eyes

During the upcoming retreat my sister Meri (a white woman) and I (a black man) will, in part, discuss our childhood and how it informs our thinking about raising children in multi-racial, multi-ethnic, and multi-cultural households. Her four (1 Taiwanese, 2 Haitian, and 1 birthed) and my five (4 African-American and 1 Vietnamese) are reflective of those values and lessons -- often hard won. I'm looking forward to gathering with you all and to the sharing that will take place.
But for this contribution to the conversation, I want to take a moment to honor three things my sister does for me today as an adult that are extraordinarily relevant to the topic and that offer sage insights into what culturally competent parenting looks like.

1. She's Able To Use "White Privilege" In A Sentence Without Freaking OutA dear friend of mine is white, married a black woman, and now has two intelligent little bi-racial sons. While the first was still gestating, I asked him how he was preparing himself to raise a child that wasn't white. He seemed genuinely surprised by the notion that society might receive his soon-to-be son any differently than it had received him. 

Meri's ability to effectively articulate the concept of white privilege -- whether using those words or not -- creates a safe place for my experiences to be accepted and interpreted gently. She understands the difference between oppression and discrimination. She's taken the time to educate herself on contemporary matters of race and ethnicity. She's not naive to the rampant forms of racism and ethnocentrism that continue to harm children of color in our nation in ways that often remain invisible to even the most well-intentioned white parents.

2. She's Prepared To Abandon Her Friends/Family If NecessaryAnother dear friend of mine brought his soon-to-be spouse home to meet the parents for the first time. In short: it didn't go so well and the parents effectively offered an "us or them" style ultimatum. He left and didn't return for several years -- until his parents came to grips with the reality that the world is a more diverse place than the one they grew up in.

Meri hasn't had to face this conversation from our side of the family; our parents are two of the most welcoming and caring people I've ever known. But as a child and as an adult she has had to draw the line with people who were not raised in the same enlightened manner. Her willingness to immediately stop spending time with any friends or family who might in any way be unaccepting of or whose behavior marginalizes her children because of their race qualifies her as both an amazing sister and a loving mom. She surrounds herself and her children with as many wonderful people of color as she is able. She protects them against racial violence (verbal, emotional, and physical) the same as she did me.

3. She Asks For My Perspectives And Listens To Them When I ShareConsistent with being the person who invited me to partner with her at this retreat, Meri has often sought me out as a discussion partner in her and Brian's child rearing. Her interest in seeking the point of view my journey provides demonstrates an understanding that her view of the world is fundamentally insufficient to prepare her for raising children who will likely experience a dramatically different view from either of ours. At the same time that her reaching out meets her need to best support her children, it meets my needs for validation and trust.

I am incredibly grateful for the gift that is my sister. She has been my tormentor, my protector, my confidant, my mentor, and most importantly, my friend. I am excited to share more of our story and ideas with you all next weekend.

Friday, March 13, 2015

Nikki Pauls DeSimone: Sharing their Stories

When I started working in adoption in 2004, the adoption community was sort of in an odd place. We were coming off decades of a thick veil of secrecy in adoption. Being a kid of the 90’s, I knew kids who were adopted, but we sure didn’t talk about it. If they celebrated “Family Day” in their own homes, nobody was sharing that information at school on Monday. And that was even more progressive than the previous decades of maternity homes (aka. spending the summer with Aunt Ida in Iowa), parents not telling their kids they were adopted until they were adults, and sealed adoption records. So when the 2000’s came, we were like “hey, that’s clearly not a good and some kids are really struggling as adults. Let’s just do, well, I guess the opposite.” So we did. And then we had people telling their 3-year-olds everything known about their birthmoms, sexual assault, how babies are made, their own fertility struggles, China’s one child policy, poverty, and a host of other topics clearly inappropriate for a child who was also learning how to pee in the potty.

So rather than going too far back again, some of us have come up with a brilliant idea to bring it more into the middle. Let’s talk and be honest, but let’s be age appropriate about things too.  For some of our children, the stories are all they are ever going to have. As such, we must covet and cultivate our children's stories for them until they are ready. In this breakout session, we will cover how and when to share our children's stories with them, find creative ways to share, and examine the importance of being age appropriate when talking with children about their stories. This session will also touch on what is appropriate to share with others and how to equip our children to answer those hard questions that are inevitable with children who have been adopted.


Nikki, MSW, is an adoption social worker, turned adoptive momma, who resides in Prairie Village, Kansas with her husband Brian and daughter Yiyi. Nikki also serves as an Assistant Professor of Social Work at Avila University in Kansas City, Missouri. 

Read More About the Retreat Sessions here

Tuesday, March 10, 2015

Nikki Pauls DeSimone: Grief and Loss {with something special just for you!}

As of late, I’ve taken a little look at myself and some of my main (non-family) loves. Here are my top 3.

#1 – I love going on job interviews. I job interview for hobby with no intention of taking the job. It makes me feel good about myself. It’s sick, I know. This is how I end up with 6 jobs – not exaggerating.

#2 – I love falling asleep on the couch. It’s like a little treat for me. My bed is so comfy and I love my husband, but there’s still nothing better than the occasional “Nikki night.” I was older when I got married, so I still appreciate a night sleeping alone here and there.

#3 – I love talking about grief and loss. It is absolutely my favorite topic during home study interviews. Perhaps life in general. Always has been. But now after adopting my own child, I am obsessed with the subject matter. Home study families and dinner party guests of the future, get ready.

So when I was asked to present one of my three main loves at Joy in the Journey retreat, I was all too happy. You’ll have to come to the session to find out if I’m giving job interview pointers, extolling the virtues of a night alone, or talking about grief and loss.

In my grief and loss session we will examine the common theme of grief and loss as it pertains to your adopted children. In this session we will see how grief and loss issues can manifest themselves in your child though sleeping issues, eating issues, self-confidence issues, maturity, and their educational journey. We will look at trigger events and see how grief and loss issues will be lifelong.  I will pepper you with stories from older adult adoptees so we can really see how your child will never “outgrow” these issues, We will also take a look at our own grief and loss issues and see that by dealing with them proactively we may be able to avoid the common Post-Adoption Blues phenomenon. Come to this session with an open mind, ready to learn, perhaps put some pieces of your child's puzzle together, and examine the importance of doing some work on you before, during, and after your adoption. 


I have worked in adoption for the past 11 years, but my love for adoption began long before that. As a young child, I begged for my mom buy to me a Cabbage Patch doll that looked nothing like me. I treasured that adoption certificate with my life. As a teenager, I befriended all the exchange students at school and babysat almost exclusively for children who were adopted. When I was in college, I began sharing my plans for adopting my own children. It was around that same time that I figured out that I could also make a career out of it. Six weeks before graduation with a Spanish degree, I chose MSW programs that didn’t require the GRE, applied quickly and got accepted days before I graduated. While in graduate school, I made no bones about the fact that I had no desire to do anything in social work that didn’t relate to adoption. Much to the chagrin of my professors (of which, for the first time, I was not a faculty favorite…can’t imagine why) I landed my own practicum at the international adoption agency where I have worked for the past 11 years. My love for adoption grew in 2008 when I also began working in the field of domestic adoption and then in 2014 when I adopted my own child from China. I am so excited to be attending and speaking at Joy in the Journey this year. I’ve never attended a women’s adoption retreat before and am eager to get to spend a couple of days with old and new friends. 

Read More About the Retreat Sessions here

Friday, March 6, 2015

Jen Decker: One of THOSE Days

Ok…I’ll admit it…today was one of those days…you know the ones.  The one where every single second I was needed;  #1 slammed her finger in a door, #2 feels lonely, #3 throws a fit and antagonizes everyone else.  My husband has had it, with the finances, the kids and probably me.   I have lost tickets to a show that came in the mail and have a million emails to return.  It is 10 degrees outside and we are all stuck in this house and I may or may not have just snapped.  To be honest we are all out of ideas for togetherness, and at one point I look up from my laptop, my husband is on his iPhone, my daughter is watching a show, one son is playing the Xbox and the other is playing a game on the iPad.  Connected Parenting at its finest folks.  

I have to be honest, my typical response to this would be own all of it as if I am expected to be the fix for all of it.  I must cure the injured finger, fix the loneliness, stop the antagonistic behavior and make sure my husband is happy, organize the papers (OH MY WORD, the PAPERS), respond to the emails in some magical time warp. Then create warm family experiences with hot apple cider, fresh baking bread, pajama bottoms and board games full of laughter and zero accusations of cheating.   Suddenly, the picture in my head of what I am supposed to be is a long way from the picture of what is…so then I start down this road of self-talk…  

  • This is happening because I don’t pray enough for everyone.
  • If only I were more creative about activities.
  • If only I had paid more attention to the budget.
  • My kids are reacting to chemicals in processed foods, everyone feels bad because I don’t prepare healthy enough meals.
  • If only I were more organized.
  • You brought this on yourself…you are supposed to make adoption look fun to others.
  • Why have I said would volunteer for all these things?
  • I feel fat.
  • Tammy isn’t like this…she is always organized and efficient.
So then what do I do?  I make a new PLAN.  Yep, in my new world order I will be efficient and organized.  I run to the Christian book store where I am sure to find some books on how to do this better.  I will now be able to pray better for my family, create efficient time management systems.  In this new world I am mentally creating, I will know where the ice pack is right away when the finger gets slammed. I will invest in my middle child daily for 20 minutes so that his nagging loneliness doesn’t eat his tender heart alive.   (This type of investment means feigning interest in Ninjago and Chima play by play stories, but I will do it and he will feel so loved!)  I will make sure I create constructive opportunities for my littlest to engage without being an antagonist.  My new paper system will ensure that no paper ever goes missing again. And because I am now so efficient, in my new fantasy world I will surely lose weight because I will have more time in this new system to plan and prepare healthy meals prepared with vegetables out of my own garden.  Also, my sweet husband will not have to come to the end of his capacity because I will efficiently run things so he doesn’t have to be troubled with all of this.  I will be more fun and exciting for him.

Here is the problem with MY NEW WORLD ORDER…ME.  I am the problem because I have put myself at the center of this new world order (and the last one, which need I remind you, is imperfect).  I behave as if God was waiting for me to read the right book to whip things into shape, and is powerless until I pray the right words enough and get organized!   Why do I do this?  Why do I take all of this on?  Where did I get the idea that it was my job?

Honestly those questions are not that important. The TRUTH I have been learning (notice I am still in process here) is that Jesus’ invitation to me is so simple…there are no books, but there is one book…no strategies, but there is His plan…no amount of checklists, but plenty of grace.

28Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke on you and learn from me, because I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.30 For my yoke is easy to bear, and my load is not hard to carry.”  Matthew 11:28 & 29

Well, this is awkward…because I have made being a godly woman about my performance as a wife and as a mother and if my husband is stressed out and my children are unhappy, uncomfortable or struggling I have put that on me but God doesn’t.  His yoke is easy…his burden his light.   If that is true, then I need to behave as if it is and THAT, my friends, is what FAITH is.  This journey we are on, requires faith.  And, when I look at my children, my marriage, my life I must believe that God has a plan for this CHAOS that does not require me to put myself in the center of the solution.  

Now faith is being sure of what we hope for, being convinced of what we do not see. For by it the people of old received God’s commendation. By faith we understand that the worlds were set in order at God’s command, so that the visible has its origin in the invisible.  Hebrews 11:1-3

Talking about faith, buying cute necklaces about faith, and shabby chic wall art professing faith are WAY different than walking in faith daily.  But if the promise is true…if what I cannot see right now (the invisible) is working to produce fruit that I WILL SEE (the visible) then I must step out of the way. I have a long ways to go…but I am confident that God will complete what he started and I don’t want to miss it and I don’t want you to miss it either. 


Jen hasn’t sat still in 38 years.  It’s a problem.  She is learning to sit at her Savior’s feet and that “doing” is not nearly as important as “being” his dearly loved daughter.  This is a hard lesson for this busy and driven mama of 3, but it is proving to be the most important one yet.   Growing up in an adoptive family herself, God gave Jen a passion for supporting and equipping adoptive families.  She, and her husband Loren, are Empowered to Connect trainers in Kansas City, where Jen is the director of an area foster and adoption ministry.  

Read More About the Retreat Sessions here

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!