Love Thy Neighbor

I’ve been cleaning stuff out today and stumbled upon the only picture I kept of our daughter’s sister (whom we affectionately refer to as Magnolia). For months after meeting her, I kept everything as it was and didn’t touch anything. Then once that time had passed (much to my now regret), I got rid of every picture and item except for this picture.

I was up until about 2 in the morning a couple nights ago, listening to sermons and crying over the division in the world, and Christians alike, over the racial problems that still exist in the world today. My eyes (and heart) were opened when we spent those couple weeks in Wisconsin. Much of our time was spent in the black and brown neighborhoods up there. I saw differences like I have never seen in my small town Kansas.

I still sometimes question why we went through what we did with Magnolia. And when I was up late that night, it came to me that maybe it’s because that experience shaped something in me that’s irreversible. It makes me sad because I feel this situation is a great opportunity to love others and have conversations. I also feel that a good discerner of a Christian heart is how much they love. “God is love, and all who live in love live in God”, after all. (I didn’t make that up, it’s from the Bible).

Then this morning I was thinking about the story of The Good Samaritan in Luke. The priest walked by a person who had been beaten and left on the road. (If you didn’t know, if someone helped a person like that in those times they would be considered unclean by cultural standards). The priest lacked compassion for this neighbor of his, even though he had all the theological training to be a priest. Then a Levite walked by, and did the same. But a Samaritan (you could say Half breed), walked by and helped him. He didn’t question what he did to get himself in that position. He didn’t pepper him with questions about his life, he just helped.

It doesn’t help the person on the road (or in the sketchy parts of town) to love them at arms length. Or to yell some Bible verses as you pass by. It’s going to get messy. It’s going to be costly.

But, according to Jesus, this was the answer when asked “who is my neighbor”. So I’m going to do the messy work…gladly. Because there’s a girl I loved the moment I saw her and while she didn’t end up being my physical child, she’s my neighbor.

That’s Life and I Can’t Deny It

When we first moved to our house, the hubs wanted to cut down all the trees and bushes surrounding our creek and pond. I convinced him otherwise, because how would my bird friends come to visit me if they had no where to stay? (Yes, I’m 80).

This morning I was feeling overwhelmed so I went out to feel the sun peeking behind the clouds and watch the different birds flying between all the branches. Then I was struck by the dirt mound to my left.

Last week we had to bury our cat, Ashley. She was hit by a car in front of our house. (I’m going to have a rant about driving the speed limit and actually stopping when you hit an animal another time). We buried her before the kids got home from school, but our girls were hysterical nonetheless.

There are a few moments of the kids crying that are burned into my mind: them crying and saying goodbye to K’s little sister (when we attempted to adopt her), my oldest son crying on the first day of school (because it takes a lot to get him emotional), and how sad my girls were when we told them about Ashley.

I want to protect them from every pain possible. But I know that it is impossible. I also believe there is pain with purpose. I told the girls to mourn Ashley. I told T and C the same when we said goodbye to K’s sister. It is good that they learn to love things and people without conditions.

I think it’s realizing this chasm in life that you start to understand it, even just a little bit. There are and will be beautiful moments throughout your life, but there will also be pain. Let them change you and cause you to grow.

Occasionally sit in the remembrance of it. Knowing it’s all a part of your story, and it can all work for good.

We’re All A Little Different

“There’s not very many black people in the world”. I was sitting out in the back yard with my youngest daughter, who is black. I looked over at her, taken aback, and said “there may not be in this town, but there are a lot of black people in the world”. We live in a small town in the Midwest. It’s safe to say it’s not very diverse.

This is something I have always been conscious of. I knew when we adopted her it was going to take a lot of intentionality to make sure she felt well represented and not separate from other people around her. One of her brothers is adopted as well and is a different race from us also, which does help some.

We read every night before bed, and last night we read a book that was based in Africa. At the end of the book, it showed real pictures of African kids and families together. Guess what? One white person was in those pictures. I told my daughter that if we went and visited there I would be the one who stood out.

My husband and I also told her how we all more than likely came from some other country in our family history. That it just depends on which part of the world you’re in, as to what race the people will be.

I hate that she has moments of questioning her value. I can’t tell you the nights I’ve spent awake worrying about this. But I also know, her skin color isn’t her entire story. I will always do everything in my power to gain knowledge to help with the racial differences , I will show her unconditional love, and she will know in this family she always belongs.

But more than where she is now, I care where she’s going to be for eternity. This is the basis on which we live. We all feel like we don’t belong sometimes in this world. While my daughter’s are more visual, which causes more direct conversation about it, every one deals with it some times.

Her struggles won’t look the same as my struggles throughout life, but she belongs in this family. Because the family we will end up in eternally will be filled to the brim with different races, yet we will all be one family. For eternity, we will see and celebrate the differences in each other. I can’t wait for the day.

Not Everyone Is Going To Like You

I think one of the most dangerous mindsets is the one that thinks everyone has to approve or agree of all your life choices. Your value shouldn’t come from what I think of you. My value or justification of my choices shouldn’t come from you. I’ve always said at the end of the day if you have peace with your truth (however you judge that) and yourself, that’s all that matters.

Personal story: When we started the adoption process for our first adoption, we specified race on our paperwork. Not because of us, but because I was worried about the adopted child being loved differently from others around us. I literally lost sleep over it because I didn’t have peace about it. I would stay up late and search through the Bible (my gauge of truth). I couldn’t find any truth to justify it, even if others didn’t agree. So we changed it.

Many people didn’t understand our wanting to adopt in the first place. Some family members were downright upset that we started the foster process after. (Not all, many were supportive). But I had one person literally say, “are you kidding me?” to my face. We’re they uncomfortable conversations? Yep. Was I upset? Yep.

But at the end of the day I knew I wouldn’t have peace if I didn’t live the Truth. Not everyone is going to like everything you do. Not everyone likes everything I do. It’s just not feasible in life. But I also don’t have to agree with your every choice to like you. If you feel the need to tear down those who oppose you, you are no better than them.

If you know what you’re doing is right, you don’t need justification from others. If you feel you need others to tell you that you’re right in order to believe it, maybe you need to examine why.

I Can’t Protect Them From It All

I am 10 years or so in to parenting. I have spent most of my years trying to protect them from anything that will hinder their true personality or cause unnecessary pain. I have recently realized that their are going to be outside circumstances that will inevitably effect their growing into their own person, regardless of how much I want to stop it.

My 8 year old daughter has began changing a lot of things we thought were “part of who she is” of late. She has always loved sparkles, pink, frills, and anything girly. In the past few months, this has become a complete about face. She wants a completely new wardrobe of nothing girly. She wants to cut her hair shorter; whereas before she’s always loved her long, blonde locks.

I know she is also my child who wants to fit in with those around her. I am 98% certain that the change in appearance is linked to the fact that she doesn’t see many other friends into the girly things she was into. I can’t even tell you the number of times I have asked her why the change, her responses always being “I just don’t like it anymore”.

On the other side of that, I know my kids don’t care about a lot of things their friends do, and for that I feel to blame. Because of the makeup of our family, we have experienced more loss and heartbreak than most. Etched into my memory is my 4 and 6 year olds crying as we said goodbye to our almost adopted baby girl. I can see a clear image in my mind of us walking out of the State Foster Care Visitation building as we said goodbye to the little man we loved on for several months.

Now, don’t get me wrong-the brokenness that comes with fostering and adoption is minuscule compared to the beauty that has come from it in our family. We have 2 beautiful babies who are thriving in our home. We are able to, daily show our kids that looks and appearance alone do not make a family. We are able to show how easy it can be to be grafted in, what it means to “be adopted as sons”.

I want to protect them from everything, but I also know this life was given its thorns and thistles for a reason. Every area of this life is marked with sin and unrest. So in the meantime, I will be here for my kids, knowing none of our lives (including theirs) will be perfect or without suffering. Together we will look forward to a time where all things will be made new. One day we won’t be crying over good byes. There will be a time we don’t live to please anyone but the only One who matters. This is our hope.

Break Pride to Pieces

This past weekend, I had a moment of dread when I thought I had been doing something wrong to my daughter’s hair the past 5 years. For those that don’t know, child #3 is adopted and is a different race than me. I’ve spent hours and hours reading, watching, practicing, and talking with others in order to better learn how to do her hair.

I initially learned how to do it because I do not ever want my daughter to feel like she HAS to go outside the home to have her needs taken care of. Yes, it will look better when it’s done at a salon as she gets older. Mine looks better when I go to a salon as well. So, it’s never bothered me that some day we may end up at the salon.

The other night revealed a less desirable trait in me as well. The first thing I felt when I thought I was wrong, was embarrassment. Embarrassment because I was worried what people would think if they found out I had been doing her hair wrong? Would it confirm the idea that multi-racial families are just too complicated? Would people think I’m not the best fit mom for my girl?

After this brief moment of doubt, I was reminded that I felt embarrassed because I had put too much pride in myself and my own abilities. Pride has no place in the heart of a believer, when placed in anything other than God. Can I have pride during my lifetime? Absolutely-but I put my pride in the right context when I realize any and every ability I have is given to me by God.

I’ve been reading a Puritan prayer a week from the book The Valley of the Vision by Arthur Bennett. My prayer this week is called “The Great God”. There is a section that goes like this: “Annihilate each clinging shred of self-righteousness, Implant in me true lowliness of spirit,… break me, then bind me up;…Thus will my heart be a prepared dwelling for my God;”. To annihilate means to utterly destroy. To implant means to establish. We should ask God for the grace to utterly destroy every shred of our own self-righteousness. (Because we cannot do it on our own). We should then constantly ask for lowliness of spirit to be established in us. (Because it’s not easy to not feel full of ourselves).

I get that the Christian life is often a topsy-turvy, upside down kind of life. What we are told to do often doesn’t make sense to the masses. But remember there is freedom in learning to die to self and live for God-in all aspects of life.

What reinforces this belief? The fact that when I realized doing my daughter’s hair correctly or incorrectly is not about me. It’s about her, because I want it to be done correctly. It’s mostly about God though, because in all areas of my life I want to glorify Him. There are times that only way we can glorify Him is correcting our mistakes and trying to do different. We try to do different by reminding our selves of the truths of the only person who truly can bind and heal our hearts.

I mean that as this story relates to where my mind goes when I do make a mistake, and how I handle the mistake. Long story short-I reached out to a friend who told me I was doing it correctly. I didn’t have anything I did need to correct. If I did, guess what? I would have corrected it next time and life would still continue.

If I wouldn’t have been focused on self, I wouldn’t have questioned whether or not I was the right mom for my girl, because I know God has given me this child on purpose. I don’t have to care about what others think of my mothering, because only one opinion truly matters. I wouldn’t focus on the difficulties of multi-racial families because I would recall the truth that no life is without difficulties.

Moments like this are bound to reappear all throughout life. Thankfully God’s truths are still here and they apply to all facets of life, even hair.

Rest for Struggle

For my entire life (that I can remember) I remember yearning for the normal, consistent, boring family. I remember watching TV shows thinking “I’m going to have that life some day”.

Welp, here I am: a house full of kids, blessed to be able to (mostly) stay home, a husband who adores me (there must be something wrong right?) and that I adore equally in return. I legit go to bed every night thanking God for giving me so much more than I deserve. These gifts are not lost on me.

I also recognized something else in my life though. There is no normal. We have been through many transitions in our 11 years of marriage. We married young, had babies young, adopted, had a failed adoption, and gone into foster care. That’s just in our immediate family! I’m not even including anything else coming from outside my house.

I started to get pretty confident that I’m a cool cucumber (is that a thing?) now. We’ve handled it all, there’s nothing new to stress about anymore. Then Covid happened. Then school enrollment happened. Who knew signing your kids up for school could lead to eye twitches? (Thanks stress).

But then I remembered something: this is my gift. This life. This family. This struggle. Guys-in this life I’m marching with my eyes set on something much bigger, better even. It doesn’t end with today’s problems, or even today’s blessings.

Every transition or change in life should be approached with one goal in mind- to glorify Christ. Am I trusting in Him? Not just with my decisions, but to sustain me after those choices are made. Do I believe that if I made a choice I regretted, that God will use it for His good regardless, if I’m looking to Him?

Because that’s the truth friends: God is the end all. The decisions you and I are facing may seem huge, even overwhelming, right now. But they are still temporary problems. While Covid and it’s repercussions may last longer than we’d like, and it may effect more areas of life than we’d like, eventually it will end. When it gets to be too much, remember what you’re marching towards- Who you will meet at the finish line. In the meantime, let’s give grace and love each other.

Trauma from Foster Care & Adoption

All of our children that we have fostered or adopted, we have had since they were pretty young infants.  Many think that this helps you to avoid any type of trauma that the children would have otherwise endured had they been older when they came into our house.  While yes, it may help to avoid some trauma that they may actively recall, there is no kid that enters adoption or foster care that does not have some kind of trauma.

I even have another side of our family that some do not: we have both biological and adopted children.  It’s not an “either-or” thing for our family.  I look at my adopted children and am acutely aware of the plan God has for their lives.  That He didn’t mean to leave them as they would have otherwise been left in the world.  He used us for His purpose in their lives.

The same is true for my biological children, although I may not always realize it.  He gave them to the hubs and me so that we could raise them up to be more than what they started out as.  Not only that, He uses all of our children to make us more than we would have otherwise been without them.

I also feel heartbreak when I think about the things I will some day have to tell our adopted children, questions I will have to answer or stories I will have to tell.  Neither one of our adopted children physically resemble the hubs or myself.  They won’t be able to compare us to themselves when it comes to physical features.

They will have to deal with questioning why a parent didn’t want to or couldn’t raise them, because even though things are much more open with adoption nowadays, I never have been able to get those answers.  One of my children will probably never get those answers.  I know, since one of our adopted children is a bit older, that there are some tendencies that we did not nurture but are instead, part of that baby’s nature.

Do I say all of this to be disheartening? Absolutely not, however; I do want parents to be aware of situations that may occur and to be long-suffering with their children.  Now, in my mind it’s not much different than how I raise each of my children.  I try to stay (as best as I can) attuned to what each child needs or responds to the best.  Biological or not, they are not the same.  So it’s not really extra work as far as parenting; it’s different work.

I don’t have to make my biological children feel as though this is where they belong.  Where they were always meant to be.  Even though my adopted children have been here as long as their memory will serve them, we are not their only starting place.  Since our adopted children don’t physically resemble us, (and our biological children often hear how much they do), we find other ways to bring up commonalities.  If one loves a certain food we love, we point it out, “Oh, you like chips just like daddy.  You must have got that from him”.  Or “oh, you’re such a good baby just like your sister was”.

I am going to have hard conversations that I am already aware of and I don’t know yet the effect they will have on them.  I can’t really know until they grow a bit older whether or not they will have an emotional reaction to their first parents not being able to parent them.  With adoption, there is always heartbreak.  There is always some sort of trauma.

Trauma doesn’t look the same from one person to the next.  Some children’s trauma is more apparent than others.  It doesn’t mean it’s not there.  Regardless of the age the children joined your family, you must be intentional in parenting them.  They have to have no doubt that they belong in your family.  That may lead to some uncomfortable moments for you, but if there’s one thing parenting has taught me: it’s not about you.

As parents, we would do anything to make sure our children are well adjusted and loved.  Don’t shrink back just because it may look a little bit different than you thought it would.  Every kid is worth it.

If you don’t give that child a healthy outlet to figure out and express that trauma, they will develop unhealthy coping skills. While some may be more disruptive than others…please, they deserve that space and freedom. Freedom to not feel they need to hide or shrink behind their feelings. Freedom to not be okay sometimes. Freedom to know they are loved regardless.

Social Justice is a Christian’s worry

“Let us examine together the Word of God, and then you will know what has moved me to sacrifice property and friendship, and home and reputation.  With Christian patience and Christian love, give me your attention to the end of this letter, whilst I endeavor to show you that the Holy God disapproves American slavery.” –William Brisbane, Abolitionist

As I learn more about history, it always surprises me how much history repeats itself.  As a Christian, who has adopted and fostered and has a multi racial family, it has surprised me how many people (some Christian) have thought I’m speaking up for things that aren’t actually a Christian’s concern.

While slavery isn’t the known social injustice in today’s time period, there are many other prevalent social injustices still evident.  You may be someone who chooses to put your head in the sand and say “that’s just the way it is”.  That doesn’t stop it from existing.  People made excuses for slavery, but that didn’t make it right.  If you are a Christian, especially, you have a duty to speak up for the marginalized and the down trodden.

For one, we have to be careful to try to not break our lives into “categories”.  It’s a dangerous thing to say “God belongs in this part of my life but not that part of my life”.  God is ruler of the world and that does not exclude the entirety of your life.  Every single part of our life is meant to bring honor and glory to God, no area being excluded.

We also can see in the Bible that Jesus was very much involved in breaking social norms while he walked the earth.  We see him giving respect to women (which wasn’t done often in those times).  They were seen as people that didn’t really have a voice and should just do what they were told to do.  He sat with “publicans, harlots, and sinners”.  People complained when Jesus went to Zacchaeus’s house because they didn’t think he was worthy of entertaining the presence of Jesus.

We should be a voice for all injustices in the world (as they accord with the Bible).  We need to not be so concerned with popularity, our reputation, or our own things when it comes to giving a voice to what is right.  We need to believe that we are all part of one family and act as such.