Monday, May 30, 2011

Matching Mondays

Reece's Rainbow is a group that recently received some press via the generosity of the actress, Patricia Heaton who pledged to donate money for every person who followed Reece's Rainbow on Facebook.  Reece's Rainbow seeks to find homes for children with Down's Syndrome and other medical conditions, especially in countries where there literally is no hope for these children.  Children with these disabilities face instituionalization in mental hospitals, being bed bound for life, and being cast out onto the streets as teens.    Reece's Rainbow not only advocates for kid but also establishes grants to help fund the adoptions of such kids.  Right now, there are several kids who have large grants to offset their adoption costs, as in grants ranging from $5, 000 to $16, 000.  If you are considering a special needs adoption, Reece's Rainbow is definitely worth the look.

Boys, 5 and under, from Reece's Rainbow, all with signficant monies available in grants to offset their adoption costs

Eddie- Cerebral Palsy, possible Fetal Alcohol Syndrome/Effect, heart concerns, over $16, 000 in monies available

Easton- high funtioning Cerebral Palsy, grant money of almost $6, 000

Ilya-Down's Syndrome, grant money of over $6, 500

Vilis-Down's Syndrome, grant money of almost $8, 500

Girl's, 5 and under, from Reece's Rainbow, all with signficant monies in grants to offset their adoption costs

Meredith-Down's Syndrome, over $5, 000 in grant money

Nellie-Down's Syndrome, over $5, 000 in grant money

Friday, May 27, 2011

Love, Death and Real Life

As many of you know, D and I have spent the last 3 weeks or so helping his grandma in the last weeks of her life.  A lot of 2 hour trips in the car, late nights, and phone calls to doctors and nurses.  And a lot of times we hear things about how blessed she is to have us helping her or about how involved we are as grandchildren...essentially a lot of people singing the praises of D and myself.

However, if I were to be completely honest, those accolades are a bit misplaced.  To start with, we are in this position by default.  D's mom was an only child.  D's grandma was an only child.  D's grandma is deceased as is most of his family.  And D's brother lives in another state.  We are the closest family members.  We are obligated to do those things.

And to continue with the confession type feel, D's grandma was not the easiest person in the world for me to love.  She had done some very hurtful things towards D's mom many years before I became a part of the family.  During D's mom's illness and death, D's grandma was almost like an absentee parent who expended little time or effort in helping to care for Sheila.  And often, D's grandma had a tendency to be controlling about the  littlest things which drove me batty. 

So why would I choose to share those feelings now, when it might seem a bit disrespectful?  (It is not that Marie was an awful person.  Because she wasn't.  It's not about venting or laying down every flaw she had.  In fact, I can certainly list many positive things about her.)  It' because God is writing this story and I feel like I would be remiss to write about Marie's death without writing about the way God used her to push me to love in ways that were better than what I could do on my own. 

On my own, I wanted to be angry with Marie because she had hurt D's mom, Sheila.  On my own, I wanted to resent Marie for not helping D and his brother as they dealt with their mom's terminal illness.  On my own, I wanted to be frustrated with Marie when she stood over me and told me how to wash the dishes, nevermind that I am 32 years old and have a pretty good idea of how to wash the dishes.  And on my own, I wanted to push her away, to ignore her and leave her to her own devices which included aging at home, alone.

A while back I found a quote that said "It is easier to control people than to love them."  And that probably summed up a lot of my feelings about Marie.  I often wanted to love her on my terms, when she acted in the ways I wanted.  I would find myself thinking "If only she'd do x, then it would be easier to feel a deeper love for her."  Or I'd think the opposite of that.  "If only she would stop doing y, then I could invest myself more in loving her." 

I know that love is not about conditions, that we should not love people for what they do.  But knowing that and living that are two different things. 

And while I wasn't out to control every detail of Marie's life, I was instead seeking to mete out my love for her, to control my love for her based on whether or not she was at least willing to meet me in the middle so to speak.  I wanted her to compromise a bit.  I wanted her to not be so stubborn.  I wanted her to understand that some of the things she had done in the past were hurtful to others.  And if she could at least give me that, then I could love her better.

But God had other plans.  God used those thoughts on love and control to little by little chip away at a shallow love.  God continually reminded me that people who have difficulty loving and living freely often have never experienced the unconditional love of their Creator.  I honestly believe that to be true of Marie.  She suffered a lot of hurt in her life and had many reason to doubt that she was loved by the Maker of the earth.

Two weeks ago, when we came up, I was very concerned about our time with her as her health was failing, and I was not sure she could stay at home even though that is what she wanted.  As we were driving, God continually placed 1 Corinthians 13 before me.  He reminded me that I was not there to convince Marie, to persuade Marie, or to chastize Marie but that I was simply there to love Marie and to tell her how much He loves her. 

So as we arrived and found ourselves in a situation where she had fallen on a previous day and was unable to get up off the couch, we realized we would have to call the ambulance to transport her to the E.R..  She was unhappy and a bit angry.  I matter of factly told her to remember that we loved her to which she snorted and said something along the lines of "It doesn't feel like it!" 

As we sat, I gently told her that love always protects and that even though she didn't like what was happening, that it didn't mean that we didn't love her.  I also told her that God loved her more than we did, that no matter what, His love for her would be evident in her life.  We talked a bit and Marie shared how God had put plenty of suffering in her life.  My heart  continued to soften and God reminded me of how Marie spent most of her life missing out on the greatest love of all, an intimate and personal relationship with God.  Yes, she believed that God existed but believing that and believing in the redeeming and rescuing power of His love are two different things. 

As the last few weeks have progressed, God has worked in me and the lives of a few other people to remind Marie of the truth of His love.   I don't know if Marie ever fully grasped exactly how unconditional His love is or if she ever was able to rest on this earth in the provision afforded by His love but I can certainly hope that she is sitting in His presence now, wrapped in a marvelous, awe inspiring, completely radiant love like she has never known. 

And me?  Well, I guess I can walk away knowing that God has stretched my definiton of love, that He has encouraged my heart to press on when love is hard, when love is not fun, when love is taxing and when I am spent.   "And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love. "  (1 Cor. 13)

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

More Conleigh stories

I noticed Conleigh grabbing herself in the usual potty dance way and asked her if she needed to go potty.  She of course told me no.  5 minutes later, same deal and again she answers no.  2 minutes later, the potty dance continues, I ask again, and she answers no.  This time I ask her what is going on because I'm wondering if she is itching, hurting or if it is indeed a potty issue.  She matter of factly replies "I'm trying to hold my pee in!"  The actual literalness of it just makes me laugh.  Nevermind that somehow she had convinced herself that holding your pee in with your hand is somehow different than needing to go potty.

We rode the escalators tonight for what might have been Conleigh's first time on such a machine.  She was beyond thrilled at the whole adventure and promptly spent the ten minute that followed talking riding the "elligator."

Tuesday, May 17, 2011


I got nothin' this week.  D's grandma is still in the hospital and is day to day on being discharged to a nursing home.  We'll probably head up her way sometime at the end of the week.  D is busy wrapping up the end of the school year which for almost every teacher is like a mad dash to the finish.  Tomorrow is actually the last day and he will spend his whole day helping with the all school cook out.  That will actually be a pretty easy day for him.  Since I have nothing of value to share, I'll leave you with a tidbit from the Conleigh file...

Conleigh, upon hearing D accuse me of not having a sentimental bone in my body, quickly ran over to me, touched my arm to feel for bone, and replied, "Yes, she does!  It's right here!"

Sunday, May 15, 2011

Thus far...

As I start the week, I can't help but be joyful over small things God has done in the lives of those around me.  A friend who has had multiple miscarriages and recently took a leap of faith and adopted a new baby just revealed that she is pregnant.  A situation I have prayed over for many months now regarding one of D's soccer boys and his uncertain future has had some new life breathed into it.  And last week, I was feeling a bit stressed over all that was going on with D's grandma, specifically how we would be able to be there for her while parenting two four year olds and living two hours away from her.  Even in the middle of that, we muddled through a long week.  And the message I really felt that God gave to me specifically in regards to her (show her a 1 Corinthians 13 kind of love) was reiterated not just by me but by someone else who stopped to visit with her while in ICU.  I am so thankful for a God who stoops low and mixes it up with us on an earthly scale.   There are still plenty of things I'd like God to show up and fix.  We still have bills and stuff keeps breaking.  I'm not sure how permanent that the solution for D's soccer player is.  And we have no plan for moving or selling our house, adding to our family, or working with D's grandma.  But thus far the Lord has helped us...

Friday, May 13, 2011

Not the week I had anticipated...

This week was a strange one.   I had anticipated being home all week with the kids, with no real plans.  (Which was actually going to be kind of nice since last week was a hectic week with district soccer and me working 4 days.)  D and I had planned to take his grandma to the doctor on Monday.  We also decided to send the kids to my folks' for the weekend so we could go to the doctor's appointment alone and pick them up afterwards on Monday. 

However, when we got to his grandma's, she was in poor shape and unable to even get up off of the couch.  Good bye doctor's appointment, hello ambulance.  After a long afternoon in the E.R., they admitted her to the I.C.U..  She had been having lots of pain in one of her legs which was what was preventing her from getting up.  They ended up deciding it was a nerve based pain due to a previous surgery and prescribed some pain medication that has made the pain much much better.  They also discovered a host of other medical issues including COPD and emphysema, a urinary tract infection, possible pneumonia, and unregulated blood sugars which are due to her diabetes.  Her oxygen/carbon dioxide levels were of grave concern so much so that they almost put her on a respirator.  Thankfully, they got things straightened out without having to go that route. 

At any rate, I ended up spending Monday through Thursday in Norfolk with her.  D came back home on Tuesday and Wednesday and the kids stayed at my folks' until Friday.  They moved her out of the ICU on Thursday and since her pain was much better and the issues with her breathing had seemed to stabilize, D came up on Thursday and we decided to come back home on Thursday night.  I am not sure when they will discharge her nor am I sure when we will make the 2 1/2 hour trek back north.  I suppose even if they don't dismiss her, we will probably head back that way within the next 3-4 days.  I'm certainly glad to be back to a bit more normalcy even if that means cleaning out some really nasty things out of my fridge and coming back to a mountain of laundry, a broken AC unit, a barely working clothes dryer, and a clunking sound in my van. 

On another note that just make my Mama heart happy, I was so pleased at how Conleigh dealt with this impromptu mini vacation at Grandma's.  Last summer, she stayed overnight without us for like 4 days.  When we picked her up, she was a bit clingy with Grandma and kind of had that "do I listen to Mama or Grandma" look.  It's one of those things where you kind of think she's sorting out being left, having another mama type figure in the picture, etc. and now she is having to sort all of it out.  So while her response then wasn't cause for grave concern, I was so pleased to see how she responded this time around.  When she saw us pull in, she got silly and started trying to hide in Grandma and Grandpa's car.  But then when she could get close to me, she wrapped her arms around my neck and started telling me that she missed me, that I was her Mama, etc..  It was beautiful.  No hesitency from her about if she should stick close to Grandma or come running to Mama.  She chose Mama...just like she was supposed to.  Ah, sweet joy!

Monday, May 9, 2011

God and Me-Pitstop Parenting and Priorities

These last few weeks have been hectic and exhausting.  Because school will soon be out, I agreed to work four days last week.  In a row.  Add that to back to back soccer games that were district finals.  One of which started at 8 p.m..  So one late night and one really really late night.  And also adds the emotional and mental stress of ending a season and saying goodbye to senior boys.  Toss in Derek's grandmother whose health is not good.  Which create stress because we worry about her and we worry about what is the best thing for her in terms of where she lives.  Oh, and maybe make an offer on a house just for fun.  Did I mention I was up 3 times in the middle of the night with sick kids? And since we like to run ourselves ragged, let's start asking some questions about a 14 month old, special needs infant in Haiti.  Why not exhaust yourself physicallly, mentally, and emotionally, all at the same time?

The end result is two people who are barely functioning.  My laundry pile is crazy.  I put a load of towels in the dryer to dry, forgot about them, and then had them not get all the way dry so I had to pull them out and get ready to rewash them.  Nevermind that I had a load of laundry in the washer which I had also forgotten about that had sat for a couple of days and needed rewashed.  So I had to be content tossing the semi wet towels on the laundry room floor.  The kids went to my folks' for the weekeend and I kid you not, my poor son had no clean underwear to take.  I tried to hurry and resolve my laundry issue but couldn't get it all done in time so as we were heading out the door to drive to Grand Island, I'm carrying several pairs of wet underwear for him and attempting to drape them over the back seat, hoping they might dry on the way.  (At least they were clean.)  The dishes are also taking over and our floor is getting to the point of being too gross to walk on with bare feet becauase of all the crusties that stick to your feet.  I'm not saying that because I think a clean house is so very very important.  It's just representative of being too tired to do much of anything other than get through each day.

On Sunday, our minister Dan preached on parenthood and the one thing that stuck with me was his description of pit stop parenting.  That would be the kind of parenting that zooms in and focuses on a task for about 15 second and then hurriedly sends the child on his way.  That's a bit how this week has felt.  This week was such a good reminder that I can't do it all and there is a reason why I don't want to work full time and run to events after school every night, of why I want to live more simply than a lot of other American families.  I'm not being critical of people who do such things, just that for me, it's not a great fit.

Then this morning, Passionate Homemaking had a post entitled, "Why Mothers Need to Pick Their Priorities."  She lists many good things like exercise, Bible study, and raising our kids right.  But what she says about those good things is important to hear.  "When we don’t know who we are, where we are at, and where we are headed we get distracted by all the “important” things….because they are all around us."  This last week has been a week full of good and important things but it's also been a week where I'm not sure if I've focused in on what should be most important.  I'm looking forward to a quieter, more focused week, to finally getting the sour smelling towels off of my laundry room floor, and using my vacuum cleaner for a major cleaning session but I'm also looking forward to getting back to finding God in a week with a slower pace and to enjoying my kids rather than rushing around from place to place.

Sunday, May 8, 2011

Forever Changed

Tonight, Mother's Day evening, we received a very timely email.  Lori, one of Conleigh's main caretakers in Haiti, who is now in Canada, had returned to Haiti recently.  Unbeknownst to us, she had plans to meet up with the familes of the kids who left after the earthquake, including Conleigh's.  So imagine my surprise to receive an email from her explaining that she had sent a motorbike for them and that when they arrived, she shared photos from our blog with them.  And she updated us on Conleigh's mom and half siblings.  And she offered to find them again when she returns to Haiti.  And she sent us photos from their meeting.  Oh what a sweet gift! I can see Conleigh in their faces which is just a delight.

Yet it is also full of sorrow. 

Conleigh's half sister has thin, orangish hair which is a sign of inadequate nutrition.  Which just breaks my heart.  To know that she (and probably others) are hungry.  To know that that could have been my Conleigh.

And it is full of anticipation. 

Conleigh will be so excited to know that Lori found Mama Bernadette.  I think she will revel in the new pictures. 

But my heart is also full of trepidation. 

These are the first photos she has had that will communicate that her Mama Bernadette chose to place Conleigh for adoption while she continues to parent two other children.  And these are the first photos that will probably make Mama Bernadette seem very real since Lori just talked with her.  (As compared to the old photos we have from when Conleigh was a baby.)

And all of this on a Mother's Day. 

What a poignant reminder of how adoption changes your view of motherhood forever.

Happy Mother's Day!

My kids are at grandma's for the weekend.  Derek and I have gotten to enjoy a nice respite ie recovery from soccer season.  And today at church, in their absence, I was accutely aware that this Mother's Day, I was not missing a child.  I couldn't help but remember previous years when I was filled to the brim with tears over the absence of a child and hoping that no one at church wished me a Happy Mother's Day because that would probably send me over the edge. 

I suppose it's like any other holiday; it can be a time of joy or a time of sorrow. I'm so thankful that I can celebrate the women in my family who taught me that well behaved women rarely make history.  Yet I am also keenly aware of the way many other moms and children will spend their Mother's Day.  Moms who are moms of the heart but not yet moms in the here and now, moms who are waiting for a child who is half the world away, moms who have lost a child through death or adoption.  And children who are still waiting for someone to say "You will stay with me forever.", who are grown but saddened by a strained relationship with a mom, or who have a deceased mom and are just wishing they could hug their mom one more time.

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Teacher Appreciation Gifts

Borrowing an idea from Our Best Bites, the kids and I created some A-D-O-R-A-B-L-E end of the year gifts for their preschool teachers and classroom aides.  (The link has the premade labels as well as some generic ones and some Mother's Day ones.)  So easy and they turned out so well. 

The basic jist is to buy a pull top can of fruit, open the can from the bottom, empty out the can, wash and dry it, fill with some goodies, close the bottom back up with hot glue, then add a label and some ribbon.  We filled ours with strawberry flavored Jello Rainbow Popcorn and Skittles.  (The popcorn recipe calls for peanuts; I never make mine with them.)

The kids helped me make the popcorn, cut out the decorative paper for the labels, glued the labels on the paper, filled up the cans, and cut the ribbons.  

I have to say I like these so much that they may become a traditional end of the year gift.

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

My Response to The Nation Adoption Article

Yesterday, I shared an article that recently leveled some criticism at the way Christians have tenanciously approached orphan care and adoption.  Christianity Today also tackled this issue  with an editorial that offered some thoughts on how Christians should respond to such articles as well as how Christians should be responding to orphan care/adoption.  Specifically, the author believes we must
1.  understand that orphan care is a complex issue and wisely consider our responses
2.  work with trustworthy organizations
3.  speak out against irresponsible behavior
4.  make orphan care about God's concern for the orphan.

My own thoughts are similar but are colored by my own experiences within the adoption world.

1. Orphan care cannot become just another item to check off of our spiritual to-do list.  I think there is a temptation for people to get caught up in the moment and to feel like they must do certain things in order to please God.  We should not get wrapped up in orphan care projects just to make God happy.  I also think that it is a temption for people to feel like they must do certain thing in order to compete spiritually.  If we are using our service to orphans as a way to make ourselves look good to the world, to fill up our spiritual tank, or to keep up appearances within our Christian circle, then we have to reevaluate what we are doing.  It is okay to not be passionate about orphan care.  (Oh how I cringe when I write that because it is a passion of mine!)  Yes, God wants us to care and support orphans.  But we are not all gifted in the same ways nor are we all given the same passions. It is okay if you don't want to spend a month out of your summer sitting in an unconditioned orphanage while a pack of kids climbs all over you so don't feel obligated to do so.   Everyone should have a compassionate heart regarding orphans but it is okay if the way you do orphan care is by simply writing a check.

2. Adoption is not for every person.  Do I think more people need to consider adoption?  Absolutely.  Do I wish more Christians would stop thinking about adoption and just step out in faith and do it?  Definitely.  But I also realize that it takes certain abilities to parent kids who come from hard places.  There are plenty of success stories in adoption.  But there are many stories of heartache and heartbreak, where people were not prepared to adopt or where people tried their best to understand but still found themselves unable to help a child heal or where people were simply given the impression that love is enough.  The love that most of us possess is not enough to parent a kid who is struggling to heal.  It takes committment.  It takes resources that your family might not have.  It takes a toll.  And some families are just not the families who are able to do that.  And it's okay.

3. Christians and the church as a whole must act responsibly in the ways they encourage orphan care and adoption.  This means examining the ethics of adoption.  This means understanding all of the perspectives in adoption from adoptees to birth parents to adoptive families.  It means not being so eager in our desire to find adoptive homes for children that we ignore more appropriate solutions that would care for a child.  Being creative and flexible and simply supportive might enable birth families to stay together.  It means that it is not enough to encourage families to adopt but that the church needs to be prepared to educate beforehand and then support families who are dealing with Reactive Attachment Disorder, Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, and a whole lot more alphabet soup type struggles adoptive families may face.  It means those who are excited about orphan care must temper their words and consider how those words might sound when printed in black and white.  And all individuals must be careful that their actions do not become high profile cases played out in the media that link Christians to child trafficking or baby stealing.

Monday, May 2, 2011

Christianity and the Spiritual Imperatives of Orphan Care through Adoption

Unless you've been living under a rock, you have probably noticed that within Christian circles, orphan care has become a hot button issue.   Many larger churches have entire ministries devoted to orphan care.  Christian recording artist Steven Curtis Chapman has spent much time advocating for orphans and is personally touched by international adoption as an adoptive father.  And maybe you've even seen amazing stories on shows like Oprah where a family adopted and this started a domino effect of adoption with their church body.

In some ways, adoption and orphan care have become trendy.  I think there kind of exists a perspective that there is a new generation of Christians who are poised to change the world by their work for the poor, especially children who live in 3rd world countries.  Between short term missions trips and international adoption, this generation has invested both financially and emotionally into the idea of true religion caring for orphans.  (And sometimes widows, but more often than not, just orphans.)

And I am probably a part of that group to some degree. In 1997, I came back from a trip to Romanian orphanages and was changed forever.  I have a tendancy to be intense and over the top about issues related to 3rd world poverty and children and families in general.  That said, I cannot help but wonder how the Christian push to do something is perceived by others, both inside the church and outside.

A recent article from The Nation has pointed out a variety of concerns associated with the church's desire to care for orphans, especially in regards to international adoption.  (If you haven't read the article, it is worth the read.)  In my mind, the article can best be summed up by saying that there are serious problems with the adoption movement within the church because 1. the church desires to use adoption as a means of prosetilizing and 2. Christians often support or at very least, do not call out unethical adoption situations.

There has been much said within adoption communities in terms of adoption mirroring the spiritual salvation that occurs when a person is adopted into the family of God.  There have also been some leaders within the Christian adoption ranks who have been quoted in less than flattering ways in terms of the spiritual implications of adoption for the adopted children.  Specifically, from the above article, one pastor is quoted as saying "These children don’t recognize the flags of their home countries, Moore proudly noted at a 2010 conference, but they can all sing “Jesus Loves Me.”" while another is reported to have said that adoption is "evangelistic to the core,”  and that Christian parents are “committing to years of gospel proclamation.”

I have no idea to know what the full context of these statements but just using those statements at face value, it saddens me to the core that there are church leaders who have somehow diminished the complexity of adoption into such a succint spiritual transaction.  While I do not doubt that these ministers believe adoption to first be about a child coming to a loving family, their statements reduce adoption to nothing more than an attempt to teach children about Jesus.  The reality is I cannot think of a single adoptive family who chose to adopt just so their child could hear about Jesus.  While many families have reasons that stem from a faith based worldview, these families love their children and desired to have a child not just a potential convert.  And almost every family I know of believes that faith is a personal choice, that God is not a giant puppet master pulling strings and twisting arms until someone believes in Him.  Instead, they believe that their children will have to make a decision about what they believe.  And many are well aware that this free will may mean their child may never embrace the faith of their parents.  I would hope that those who are in high profile positions would chose their words carefully especiallly when the words evangelism and adoption are used together.

The Nation article also cited many examples of Christians who were willing to either break the law or continually bend it, all in the name of caring for orphans.  The Laura Silsby story was mentioned several times which is actually a well known story that I have some ability to comment on. 

Laura Silsby was a woman from Idaho who ended up in Haiti in the days following the 2010 earthquake.  She and a group of volunteers were arrested at the Haitian/Dominican border when they tried to transport a large group of Haitian children to the Dominican.  Their goal was to take the children out of a quake ravaged county and then construct an orphanage in the Dominican. 

For anyone who is at all familar with adoption/orphan care, they know that this plan is completely outrageous.  You cannot take a child across state borders without parental permission.  Taking a child out of one country and into another without proper document is definitely a no go.  The woman was obviously completely inexperienced and had no idea what she was doing.  (If she really was someone trying to do something nefarious, her plan doesn't seem to to be any too bright.  She had no forged documents and didn't appear to be trying to bribe anyone which in my mind would indicate an experienced child trafficker.)  That leaves me believing that 1.  she just had no idea that you couldn't do what she was trying to do, 2.  a Haitian who looked and sounded important told her that it would be okay and quite possibly took a little bit of money from her to give her this faulty information or 3.  she knew what the rules were but believed that given the circumstances, it would be okay to break them.  This story received an intense amount of attention at the time because it was reported as a case of #3:  an American who believed the rules could be broken just because an American wanted them to not exist. 

What was never pointed out was that this case actually proved that the Haitian system for preventing child trafficking worked!  No children were taken outside of the country because the staff at the border stopped them.  The media also portrayed the woman as up to not good because the children all had living parents  Yes, there were many children who had parents and who were not true orphans but this is a very common thing in Haiti.  Culturally, it is common for children to be sent away to live with someone and it is unfortunately common for parents to "give their children up" because they have been promised that their children will have a chance at a better life. 

The reality is there are crazy people in all realms of life, people who are literally delusional.  The reality is there are well intentioned people who get duped.  The reality is there are people who mean well but who really have no business trying to do the things they are doing because they simply don't have the education (both book smarts and street smarts) to do so.  Laura Silsby fits into one of those catagories.  Which one, I'm not 100% for certain.

In general, I think it is very difficult for anyone (Christian or not) to put aside their beliefs that the ends justify the means.  When you are looking a child in the face and you know that they are not going to get tucked into bed by anyone, decrying that we must cross every t and dot every i becomes a lot harder.  When you have had a birth mom begging you to take her child to American because she believes her child has no chance in the country they live, it becomes a lot harder to believe that all the rules are really necessary.  If you have seeen a stick thin toddler whose arms are about the size of your thumb and held that little arm next to yours, it makes it much harder to not want to fudge some of the details.

I am in no way saying that I think it is okay to break the rules.  I'm just saying that life is not black and white especially when we are talking about real people.  To say something is always wrong or always right is a hard thing to do within adoption.  It doesn't mean we shouldn't strive to carve out a set of guidelines, just that it cn be hard to do so. 

Part of that confusion comes because the adoption community does not always agree on what it looks like to have an ethical adoption.  While there are certainly some situations that every person would agree are wrong, there are many situations that are not so clear. 

An example of this is the definition of an orphan.  Many people believe that an orphan is a child who has no living parents.  However, many children who are classified by the U.S. government as orphans for the purpose of adoption have one living birth parent and sometimes two.  (By law, a child with one living birth parent can be considered an orphan if that parent is unable to care for the child and consents to the adoption.  By law, a child with two living birth parents cannot be considered an orphan and is actually not eligible to be adopted.  However, if only one birth parent is listed on the child's birth certificate, then it becomes impossible to know if there is a living second parent and who the second parent is.  This then means that situation is viewed as one where the child has only one living parent, even though the second parent is still alive but often absent from the child's life.)  The other component of this is that if a child has no living relatives to speak for the child, it can be very difficult to prove that the child is really an orphan.  It is actually easier to adopt a child who has a consenting parent than to adopt a child who is a true orphan.  The orphan definition issue raises questions like "Is it wrong to allow a child to be adopted even though there is a second parent who has not consented?"    and "Are true orphans being prevented from finding families because they have no family to attest that the child is truly available for adoption?" 

Other issues that people find it hard to agree on include
-should a child be allowed to stay in an orphanage if the parent has no plans to relinquish for adoption but has no plans to parent the child?
-at what point are a birth parent's decisions final?  Within international adoptions, there are multiple interviews that take many many months.  I know of several families who had birth parents refuse to attend the final interview to relinquish their parental rights despite having agreed in other interviews months earlier.  While I believe a parent should have the right to change their mind, at some point, especially in a process that takes 2+ years, there needs to be a cut off which serves the child's best interests.  Without it, a child is simply a pawn who can be yanked around at the whim of birth parents/adoptive parents/orphanage staff/etc..
-In countries like Haiti, there is no functioning child welfare system.  Should orphanages/adoption officials be allowed to take matters into their own hands in order to prevent children from being abused/neglected, specifically should they encourage parents to adopt and should they refused to return children who are being abused back to abusive parents especially when an adoptive family is willing to adopt the child in question?
-Money is a huge problem in international adoption and is corruption is often listed as a major problem.  Parents should never receive money for a child.  However, is it okay for a parent to receive services from an organization (ie assistance with food and housing) after placing a child for adoption?  It is okay to provide a parent with money for transportation to and from important appointments?  Is it okay for an adoptive family to provide financial assistance to a birth family after the adoption is complete?  Are there birth parents who would see all of these things are perks that make adopton a smart "financial decision?"  And finally are we as Americans setting a double standard when the average cost for a domestic adoption is $25, 000 which often includes things such as housing, food, and medical allowances for a birth mom?

I've just scratched the surface of those types of questions.  And I'm not an adoption professional, an adoptee, or a birth parent.  It is not a simple topic and we as Christians who desire to be involved with adoption and orphan care need to be aware of the ethical ramifications of our choices.  We need to listen to what others are telling us and to evaluate our own positions on where the line is in terms of what is ethical.  The bottom line is Christians cannot become part of a corrupt adoption culture, even if they believe their intentions are noble.

Up tomorrow...a response to The Nation and my own thoughts on key aspects of adoption/orphan care, specifically for Christians and the church as a whole

God and Me

I was doing pretty good at the Maximize your Mornings challenge (getting up before your kids and doing self preservation tasks like exercise and quiet time).  However, the last few weeks, I've fallen off the wagon.  I have been working to keep up with the Facebook Bible study that I'm doing baed on Priscilla Schafer's One in a Million.  The book has been okay.  Not earth shattering but not boring.  However, the chapter I read yesterday really jumped out at me so I thought I would share some of the words she wrote regarding the "in between"-when you've left a time where you have seen God's goodness and provision and are now in the wildnerness.

Schafer relates how she and her husband once arrived in a new town for a speaking engagement and were taken by a local church member to the hotel for the night only to discover that the hotel was near train tracks and that the train was not conducive to getting a good night's sleep.  As soon as their host picked them up in the morning, Schafer writes how she quickly began to complain to her host about the train.  The host replied that she had lived in the neighborhood a long time and had completely tuned out the train.  In fact, the host didn't even notice it.  Schafer then writes

"Something similar has happened in the generational neighborhood we call our own.  With a church on every corner and a Christian radio station at nearly every point on the dial, with Christian bookstores in many shopping districts and more Bible resources available than ever, we've gotten so accustomed to the blessings of god, we've grown virtually deaf to His voice and blind to His presence. 

He's met us so frequently with what we need-everything from putting food on the table to keeping us from catching the flu-that we typically don't stop long enough to chalk up these daily benefits to His active care and provision. 

But not only that, if He were to do something uniquely interesting in our lives, if He chose to display Himself outside His usual pattern, if the train of His glory were to come through in some remarkable way, is there a good chance we wouldn't even recognize it because we've lived in the neighborhood of His favor for so long?"

In her words, this wilderness, in between time can be not only things like sickness or financial difficulties but even something like having a dry spell in our relationship with the Lord.

She continues with

"The spirit of complaint is born out of an unwillingness to trust God with today.  Like the Isrealites, it means you are spending your time looking back toward Egypt or wishing for the future, all the while missing what God is doing right now. 

And even in the in-between times, He is doing something. 

That's why it is so important that you and I not see these as being dead zones.  As I said before, they are more like bridges that take us from one point to another, always in the direction of where God is moving.  If we can get it through our heads that this is not a waste of time or something to sleepwalk through, we can stand and celebrate the fact that God is active in our boredom.  He is teaching great truths even in the midst of a dry lecture.  When we believe this with our whole hearts, it lets us in on one of the keys to successful abundant living.  The wilderness is not the barrier between us and abundant living.  It may feel like it, but it's not.  The thing the barricades our entrance into Promised Land living is when we wander in the wilderness, when we delay our development program by refusing to stay near to God, even when He feels far away.  

Nearness to Canaan was not His goal for this in-between time in their lives. 

The goal was nearness to Him."

Too good not to share...

Sunday, May 1, 2011

Adopted Kids and Sleep Issues

Probably one of the hardest parts of Conleigh's transition home was related to sleep.  Or lack thereof.  Both her and I spent about 6 months with inadequate sleep.  Which then trickled down into every facet of our lives.  It was like having a newborn at home in a lot of ways; often it was like waking up every 4 hours.

That said, when I tried to sort out what might be going on or what I could do to help the situation, I found very little information out there.  We had tried multiple things like letting her sleep in our bed, letting her sleep in our room, rocking, the cold shoulder during night time wakings, nightlights, music, white noise, melatonin, etc..  Nothing mattered.  She would still wake up multiple times during the middle of the night and be awake for hours on end.  When you are parenting an adopted child, all of those strategies cause your brain to do double the thinking.  "If I expect her to stay in her bed, am I encouraging her to not come to me when she needs me?"  "Maybe she just needs to have the reassurance and closeness of a physical presence so maybe I should just put her in our bed?"  "Am I just expecting too much for this scared little girl?"

At some point, I think the things that stuck out to me where
1.  I had to get some sleep.  I was not functioning well when my nights were continually interrupted.  No deep, REM sleep=a mom who is not able to parent well.
2.  Putting her in our bed only resulted in both of us not sleeping.  She is a crazy sleeper who seemed to be constantly in motion.  And she never slept any better in our bed.  Ditto putting her in our room on the chaise.
3.  I needed to stop worrying about all the adoption stuff and just do what I thought I needed to do so get some sleep so I could function.  We would do our best to work on adoption related issues during the waking hours and not feel guilty about not not having a perfect response for the nighttime.

It can also be helpful to think about some basic questions related to sleep in an adopted child, to see the heart of the problems and not just chalk it up to a child who is pushing your buttons by deliberately sabatoging your sleep.
Why do adopted children struggle with sleep?
Some children struggle with hyper vigilence.  Some adopted children believe that they can trust no one except themselves.  Falling asleep is hard because it means letting their guards down and trusting that they will be safe if they fall asleep.  Falling asleep means that a child is no longer in control of what might happen to himself and that they instead must trust that an adult will take care of them.  Other times, I think it's tied to worry and anxiety.  For some kids, they have difficulty adjusting to sleeping alone, the new noises they hear in their rooms, or just the new bed itself.  For others, it is worry and anxiety over all the change that are happening.  Anxious thoughts fill their minds at bedtime making relaxing very hard.  Are my friends from before okay?  What will happen next in this new family?  That type of thinking, the what if's, makes sleep dificult.  I think Conleigh fit into all of these categories to some degree with the majority of her issues wrapped up in worry and anxiety.

What do sleep issues in adopted children look like?
For us, Conleigh did not stay asleep through the night.  At age 3, she would often fall asleep in a pretty typical way.  But once asleep, she would wake up multiple times throughout the night.  She might fall asleep at 8, wake up at 12, fall back asleep until 2, wake up and be awake until 4, then fall back asleep until 6:30 when she would be awake for the day.  Sometime she would be awake for large chunks of time throughout the night, like 4 hours at a stretch.  She usually did not play or mess with things when she would wake.  Rather, she would come into our room and want to get in bed with us.  If we put her back in her bed, she would stay there for 30 minute or so and then come back in our room.  This type of behavior continued for about 3 months, with her sleeping completely through the night maybe 5-6 days in those 3 months.  At 3 months, she started sleeping more through the night but it would go in spurts.  She might sleep through the night for 2 nights in a row and then be up in the middle of the night for 3 nights.  Conleigh has always taken a nap but despite her nighttime wakings, the naps would always be consistent the same amount of time and relatively short.  When she first came home, she would almost always nap for 45 minute, sit straight up, and want to be done napping.  (It was almost as if she was "startled" awake.)  I always encouraged her to go back to sleep and she would sleep a bit more.  With that additional time, her naps would be about an hour fifteen.  She naps like clockwork, rarely any more than that.  Conleigh also never made up any sleep.  She is/was always up around 7, never sleeping in.  She never took/takes an extra or unplanned nap. 

For some kids, sleep issues can include night terrors or nightmares.  For others, it can mean being so hyper vigilent that they can't even nap on a road trip in the car; they will not let their guards down enough to fall asleep in a setting where most kids seem drawn to sleep.  Startling awake can also be an issue.  Another behavior that adopted kids can have is waking up and then laying in bed and self soothing rather than seeking out an adult.   This can mean rocking, head banging, or just simply laying there and not seeking out an adult to comfort them.  For adopted kids, Post Traumatic Stress Disorder can also be a part of their lives and this disorder can create some of the issues mentioned above.

How might sleep issues affect a child's ability to be his true self?
Disobedience and defiance may actually be not indicative of true issues within a child's personality but may be manifestations of lack of sleep.  Neurologically, sleep and the way our brains fuction are tied together in amazing ways.  As adults, we are all aware of how lack of sleep affects our brain function.  We feel fuzzy.  We can't remember things well.  We get cranky.  For children, lack of sleep does these things and more.  In fact, lack of sleep can actually mimic ADHD symptoms.  (See the WebMD and King articles.)  I also had a college special professor whose daughter was presenting with ADHD and nothing seemed to help.  After taking her in for neurological testing, she was diagnosed with a sleep disorder which was preventing her from sleeping for more than a few hours at a time.  For my daughter, lack of sleep makes her struggle with disobedience and defiance.  She is not out of control but her behavior becomes much harder to manage.  When she first came home, we would spend all day disciplining her.  She could hear a direction and within a minute, do exactly what you told her not to.  She would repeat that pattern of willful disobedience multiple times in a very short time span.  (Like 5 times in 30 minutes.)  Some of it normal toddler/preschool stuff.  Some of it is her personality.  Some of it is related to finding the boundaries in a new situation.  But some of it is not.  With my daughter, it is a pattern related to sleep.  We dealt with sleep issues for 6 months; once the sleep issues were in check, her behavior improved dramatically.  And now that we are on the other side of the sleep issues, if she has times of getting over tired, the discipline problems return, in almost the exact same way as they presented themselves before.  But what I have learned is that, without adequate sleep, my child is a completely different person.

What things can be done to ease sleep issues in an adopted child?
I can only speak from our experience as to what strategies we tried.  We worked hard to eliminate fear and worry by sleeping in Conleigh's room, on an air mattress, for the first 3 weeks or so.  We were immediately available if she needed us.  We then moved back to our bedroom which was right down the hall from Conleigh's room.  When the nighttime wakings continued, I allowed Conleigh to sleep in our bed.  Again, we were looking to establish that we would comfort her if she needed.  However, due to her repeated wakings and due to the fact that she is a very mobile sleeper, I was getting no sleep at all.   And it wasn't seeming to reduce the wakings.  She was still awake regardless of if she was in our bed or not.  It also left us wondering if putting her in our bed was reinforcing the waking behavior.  So we went to putting her back in her own bed.  Since D is working full time and I'm not, I primarily did this job.  We tried stuffed animals, music, white noise, light, dark, you name it we tried it.  It was also recommended time and time again to try melatonin.  I was very hestitant to try the supplement because I was concerned about covering up a potential psychological issue.  Specifically, Conleigh had gone through a pretty traumatic event (major earthquake and then coming to the U.S.).  PTSD was on my radar and I didn't want to just give her melatonin and mask something more serious.  We did eventually try melatonin but didn't see a noticeable difference.  After 6 months home, we discussed it with our pediatrician and got a referral to a child pychologist who specialized in sleep issues.   After keeping several sleep diaries and meeting with us and Conleigh, she had a few suggestions.  She suggested that we needed to get a different night light.  Specifically, she said if you are in bed and can read a book when the lights are out (due to the light from the light house) then the light is too bright.  She also suggested that D be the one to take her back to bed when she woke up.  (ie getting attention from me was reinforcing the negative behavior)  Last she suggested that she be made to walk back to bed instead of having someone carry her.  (ie reducing the positive reinforcement of carrying, touch, etc.)   For us, we followed the suggestions offered.  We did so because we felt like the suggestions would not impede her attachment and because we felt she was showing positive signs of attachment.  If we were concerned about attachment, we might not have followed the suggestions to a t.  I don't know whether it was an issue of time or the suggestions or both, but for whatever reason, almost as soon as we started seeing the doctor, the sleep issues subsided.

My simplistic answers aside, Adoption Learning Partners has a webinar on sleep issues in adopted children if you are struggling with sleep.