The Pharisee in me

On the water

Funny thing about life before parenting, and even life before you’ve had the chance to parent a challenging child. You can be really smug thinking you’re a pretty decent person, that you’re good at loving and good at forgiving. You may glimpse a bit of less-than-awesome lurking in there, but it’s still possible to fool yourself that most of the time all is fairly decent inside that heart of yours.

And then. Challenge comes.

Maybe it’s a defiant kid. Or a wounded one. One who struggles with anxiety, and shows it by trying to control everything, including you. Or maybe it’s not even a child. Maybe it’s a teen. Maybe it’s a spouse who hurts you, challenges you to the core. And you find yourself looking at a person in your life whom you’ve promised to love, whom you’ve been called to love, whom you desperately WANT to love.

But instead of love, if you’re being honest, you sometimes feeling pretty much the opposite. Sometimes you’re even acting pretty much the opposite.

And all of a sudden you’re face to face with just how bankrupt that heart of yours can be, when you’re running on your own power.

Because real love isn’t the kind that only loves someone who’s smiling sweetly back at you and agreeing that all your ideas are stellar. Real love carries on, reaches out, gently directs, shows kindness, even in the face of rejection. Yes, there is a place for limit-setting too– some situations where you legitimately need to say, ‘No more’.  But real love keeps seeing the struggling soul inside that person who’s hurt you.  Real love keeps being willing to go to the cross daily for that person.

I can’t love like that on my own.  I can only do it with the power of Jesus in my life.  And even then, imperfectly.

In the past, there were times I judged people who were struggling to love those around them. It seemed so obvious to me what they should be doing.  Lose that grudge. Love your kid.  Love your spouse. Forgive your friend.

Except, wow, that job is exhausting some days.

These days, thanks to the hard bits of my own life, there’s a new compassion in me for folks struggling to love well. Life is hard.  Relationships are hard.  We’d all be better off if we judged less and forgave more.  Offered grace more freely, especially when folks don’t deserve it. We’re all going to hit those hard moments when we need someone else to reach out with more grace than we deserve, and love us in spite of ourselves.

And sometimes the person I most need to forgive is myself. Yes, I can do all things, but ONLY through Christ who strengthens me.  And the wonderful thing about Jesus is that He’s always there to pick me up when I get foolish and try to walk on that water all by myself.

Finding time for rest

We are in our last push to get school done for the year.  Half the kids have already finished their math.  All but one are done writing.  My two high-schoolers taking college classes are finishing up last projects and gearing up for finals. The teens are down to their last two chapters of chemistry, and because I’m feeling tired, I’ve decreed we will be reading and answering the review questions, but won’t take those last two chapter tests.  They’re delighted.

It is a busy time, but one where a slower pace is just around the corner. I am so looking forward to it.  We’ve had a good productive year, one where in wanting to get things finished with my senior who’s graduating, we’ve all worked harder than usual.  I’ve especially seen gains in writing skills, which is a great thing.

Some of our precious Sunday visitors

Though productivity is a great thing, it can also be overdone.  This year I’ve felt the need for more rest than we tend to get on the weekend.  Saturdays are often slower-paced.  But Sundays are very busy — filled with grandbabies and visiting kids.  It is a wonderful kind of busy –  I am so very blessed.  But it isn’t quite rest.  Two year old boys move fast, ya know!  And feeding two meals to a crowd is busy even when I do a lot of the cooking on Saturday, and have kids doing the cleanup after meals.

So this summer and continuing into the next school year  we’re trying something new.  We are making Monday a day of rest.  No agenda, no activities.  The kids can sleep in  –that’s one of the things they want more of — and we can all have time just to hang out, read and relax and maybe even play games.

Thanks to homeschooling, we have the flexibility to give this a try, and I’m hoping it’s just what we need.  How does the pace of life feel in your family right now?  Do you feel like you get enough down time?  What do you do for rest when things get busy?

that adoption video going around on facebook

So there’s a PSA-style video that’s been going around on facebook talking about the intrusive questions that adoptive families get about their families out in public.   The video suggested that those types of questions are akin to asking a female if she’s had surgery to augment a part of her body– totally inappropriate and invasive of a family’s privacy.

I saw the video all over my news feed last week. My very first reaction, to be honest, was an uncomfiness with the word used to describe female anatomy.  (I grew up with a daddy who had a Puritanical streak– he wouldn’t even say the word underwear in public, lol.  And right or wrong, his sensibilities still live on in my first gut reactions to things at times.)

I know the video creator’s intent was simply to educate people– to help them think about why these types of questions feel intrusive to adoptive families.  And he’s right– we do get tired of explaining our families over and over in the midst of buying eggs and milk and jeans in Wal-Mart. (My personal most-hated question is: ‘are they real siblings?’  Ugh. Yes, they’re real.  Yes, they’re siblings.  But is their particular DNA a Wal-Mart Stranger’s business?  Didn’t think so.) A lot of my discomfort with such questions is how those questions feel to my kids– like we’re constantly needing to say what they have is real– a real mom, a real dad, real siblings. No, not the first, but real nonetheless. Does that question always have to be there, needing addressed over and over?

I’m guessing the video creator was hoping that making people think about this might inform the public in a way that could spare all our kids pain and discomfort.  But there are two things that the video overlooks.  Comparing a child to a part of the female anatomy doesn’t feel so comfy to adoptees.  Here’s an article on Lost Daughters that makes that point much better than I can.   Particularly searing is the comment from Samantha about the way the video objectifies adopted people, comparing them to objects to be purchased. Though I can’t ever fully understand the adoptee experience, I do NOT want to be a clueless momma who never imagines life through my child’s eyes. It’s vitally important that we seek out the viewpoint of adult adoptees.  Adoption has a much greater (and often more painful) impact on people’s lives than I ever understood when I was a brand new adoptive momma. Oh, I pray that I can always be a listener, even when (or especially when) someone’s thoughts feel uncomfortable to me.

The second thing that the video doesn’t quite address is the amazing opportunity we adoptive families have to engage the public in a child-honoring, God-honoring way in those exact moments of questioning.  We don’t have to go into depth about our kids’ DNA or past story, nor should we.  And the occasional person approaches questions so ham-handedly we may at times just need to shut ‘em down and walk away.  But the majority of the time folks are honestly curious.

My first responsibility, always, is to my children– to answer in a way that protects their privacy while also affirming their priceless worth and their legitimate place in our family. Sometimes I do a little debrief after a nosy stranger walks away, to talk about how I answered, why a person might ask such questions, and how the child might respond when he gets a similar question.

But as a redeemed child of God, I want to extend grace to the people around me too.  Some folks may be considering adoption themselves.  Others might be trying to better understand the adoptees in their own lives. If we can be grace-filled and God-honoring in our responses to those questions, while also affirming the precious value of our children to those people — right in front of our children– we might just be planting a seed, or watering a sprout, or helping to advocate for another child who needs a family.

So often in life our attitude powerfully influences our effectiveness in a situation. Though I still inwardly wince when I get a silly question, these days I also try to see those questions as opportunities to speak for my children, and to advocate for children elsewhere who are voiceless and in need.

Hairstyle ideas for curly hair

Hairstyle Ideas for Curly Girls

Hairstyle Ideas for Curly Girls

  I thought it might be fun to share some photos of hairstyles our girls have had over the years.  I’ve captioned each photo with a short description of the hairstyle.  It’s definitely been a learning experience over the years, and some of my early attempts were a little rough.  I was inexperienced, and my girls were wiggly, and had very thin hair.  But I’ve gotten better at it over the years, and my girls are lots more tolerant of sitting still these days too.

Some important tips:  Make sure your kiddo has something to do while you work.  We usually do movies and snacks.  Make sure the hair is wet and well conditioned.  Also, don’t be afraid to break up the work into sections.  We often wash, condition and pick out the hair one day, afterward braiding it quickly into two braids, then do a more elaborate hairdo later that evening or the next day.  You have to do what your child will tolerate.

If this post is useful or interesting to you, I’d love a pin on pinterest!

My baby, age 1, playing with the hair goodies

My baby, age 1, playing with the hair goodies

Puff ponytails

Loose twists with lots of conditioner — works well when hair is fairly short

Wedge parts fanning out from the top of the head. Clips on ends of straight braids

Wedge parts fanning out from the top of the head. Clips on ends of straight braids

Left- 4 braids. Right- cornrows

Lots of braids!

Lots of braids!

 

 

Twists

Twists

 

Yarn braids. Blue – straight braids. Red – cornrows.

Nubian knots

Nubian knots with lots of triangle parts

Two ponytails with twists

Julianna's wedding cornrows were done by Lidya

Julianna’s wedding cornrows were done by Lidya

Cornrows with an angled part

cornrows with an angled part

Straight braids to triangle parts

Straight braids to triangle parts

Cornrows with beads and an angled center part

Cornrows, half-braided, half-twisted

Cornrows, half-braided, half-twisted

Cornrows with an angled part

Cornrows with an angled part

My baby is getting big!

 

 

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so that I will remember

My girl
She comes out into the kitchen in the morning in tired black leggings a touch too small and a black long sleeve shirt a lot too large and my first reaction is puzzlement, then a grumpy wondering why she’d chose to wear THAT this morning. This child has a quirky/adorable sense of style and LOVES clothes, usually the brighter the better. And the truth is, I love to see cute clothes on my kids every bit as much as I enjoy wearing cute things myself, so when they look scruffy, it kinda bothers me.

But somehow the moment moves forward, until a bit later, thinking of errand-running later in the day, I ask her to put on a cuter shirt ‘instead of all that black’. And she complies, a little huffy, but silent. And still that little niggling thought is at the back of my mind, wondering about all the black.

But again the day sweeps me forward — reading, chemistry, math, laundry, cooking– until lunchtime where she mopes over her food. I ask her what’s up and she doesn’t tell me and pokes at her food some more. Finally I tell her sternly to eat her five bites of mac and cheese and get it over with. And after lunch when she growls at me or a sister, or maybe both of us, I ask her to rest on the couch near me til she gets her head together.

Then I reconsider and pull her, stiff and long-legged and cranky onto my lap, where she suddenly melts into my lap like that’s where she needed to be all along, and all of a sudden she says, “Did you know I had the most horrible dream last night?”

And she launches into a story of her Ethiopian dad dying, and her being in America not able to help him, and it all being so very sad that she couldn’t bear it. “That’s why I wore all black today,” she said.

And suddenly I am awash in sadness at her bearing those sad thoughts alone without telling me. And I wish she’d just SAID at the beginning of the day what was bugging her, for crying out loud. Clueless mommas like me need HELP with this kind of thing, after all. But mostly I am repentant of my busy-ness, and my not-asking-ness, for ignoring my own instinct about my kid.

And here in my arms, long legs or not, I see how little she is and how very much she still needs her momma to look her in the eyes and snuggle her in close and ask her how she’s doing today. And tomorrow. And every day.

And I write this so that I will remember. Today. And tomorrow. And every day.
Us
(story shared with my daughter’s permission)

When they were almost two

Playing outside

Recently I was playing with our two little grandsons, both of whom turn two in the next couple months. They’re learning so much– talking and running, and showing understanding of so many things about their lives. They come to our house each Sunday, and walk in with smiles on their faces, eager to play the same games over and over again.

SnackingThey ride their little bikes. They ask me for stories. They follow their Auntie Julianna around with utter adoration. They sit in their high chairs at the kitchen counter, snacking with her and watching me make dinner.  They play with the same toys over and over.

Filling the Kitchenaid

They go into the pantry and fill up my Kitchenaid bowl each and every week, usually with raw potatoes, but sometimes also with toys.  They savor each repetition, each ritual.  Toddlers are creatures of habit, after all.  It’s so much fun to watch them.

They follow her like she's the Pied Piper

But lately while watching their happy and growing competence, I’ve also been struggling with grief.  Not for them;  they’re enjoying a wonderful start at life, and are so treasured by so many.  I’ve found myself grieving anew for my own precious kids who came to us through adoption.

All of them experienced dramatic life-disruption at some point.  The two who keep coming to my mind when I watch our grandsons are the two who came to us at exactly this age.  It’s such an aware age.  So much learning has already happened.  And yet they’re young enough that it’s impossible for them to fathom a life-change as complicated as adoption.

EmilyI remember waiting to bring them home, staring at their pictures, and worrying about the coming upheaval in their lives.  But even then I don’t think I let myself fully imagine the pain that they were about to experience.  How hard it would be for a little one to leave every scrap of the familiar that they so treasure at that age. To be placed into the arms of strangers, and then begin a whole new life.  New bed.  New food.  New faces.  New language.

In 2000When I see the deep awareness and the growing understanding our little grandsons have at this age, I see so clearly WHY many, many adopted kids need, not weeks, but YEARS to settle in well.

I am profoundly grateful that our grandsons are growing up in security.  In love.  I wish all my kids had gotten that wonderful beginning– without relationship rupture, upheaval, and complete world-change. Blessedly, God’s love and power is bigger than hard beginnings, and He’s done much work in their hearts and lives.  Our kids are overcomers.  They’ve grown and settled in and are thriving.

But I don’t take easy beginnings for granted any more.

Maybe that’s good.  We’d probably all be kinder to each other if we remembered that some scars are invisible,  and that not everyone began life feeling secure and knowing they’re loved.  It’s good to also remember that God works mightily right in the middle of the hard, encouraging us toward growth, showing us His love. And very often He uses people to be that love in the flesh.  How awesome would it be if we could each look for ways to be part of His healing plan in the lives of those around us.

Why go to an adoption conference?

Why go?

John and I first became adoptive parents in 1998.  I have gone to quite a few adoption conferences over the years since then. But somehow we’d never managed to get to one together– until this past weekend, that is, when we were able to go to the Refresh conference in Seattle. At least half a dozen times during the weekend, John said, “We should have done this years ago!”  And it wasn’t only the hours of uninterrupted time together that made him say that. ;)

One of the things John most enjoyed was the reminder that there are many, many families out there very similar to ours.  I tend to be aware of that because of my involvement in the online adoption community.  But in his typical world, it’s a lot more common for folks to shake their heads over how many kids we have, and act like they’ve never seen such craziness.  It can get a little wearisome.  But this weekend we had some really nice chances to connect with families similar to ours, families that understand our joys and challenges because they have similar ones of their own.

So, in no particular order, here are a few reasons to consider taking your husband to an adoption conference.

  1. To learn from adoption experts, and to be reminded of what you’ve learned in the past.
  2. To gain perspective about the challenges you’re facing in your home.
  3.  To meet families like your own, encouraging and being encouraged as you visit.
  4. To have some good adoption-related discussions with your spouse, sparked by what you’re learning.
  5. To be able to problem-solve in the future from a similar knowledge base.
  6. To eat sushi, curry, or whatever else your (kid-free) hearts desire.
  7. To have TIME ALONE with your husband!
  8. Did I mention TIME ALONE with your husband?? :)

Ways to help a new mom

Our first baby

Our first baby was born during my last semester of college.  I had to go back to school when she was just ten days old.  I was able to bring her to class with me, so it wasn’t all that bad.  But that first morning, as I was trying to shower and get ready to go, all she wanted to do was nurse.  Finally, in tears I called my mom asking her to come help me get ready to go.  She did.  And finally I made it out the door to class.

Whether a couple adds to their family by birth or adoption, there’s always an adjustment period, a time when the family needs to find their way  to a new normal.  During that time, those of us who care about them are often eager to help out.  But what are some of the best ways to do it? I’ll share some ideas that I think are helpful, and I hope that you also will comment below and share what others did that you found most helpful when you were adding new children to your family.

1. VISIT GRACIOUSLY.  Wait awhile before visiting and keep visits very short.  Even if you tell a momma not to clean up the house or get dressed, having company very soon after a new child’s arrival can be stressful and tiring.  Bonus points if you stick a load of laundry in and do a few dishes before you leave.

2. FEED THE FAMILY.  Bring food in disposable containers.  If you’re not sure of your cooking abilities, Pizza Hut gift certificates are awesome.  Do check for food allergies and family preferences. Bonus points if you add a stack of paper plates to relieve the family of dish duty for a few days.

3.  OFFER TAXI SERVICE.  If you have a comfortable relationship with the other children in the family, offer to run them to sports practices, pick them up after school, or take them to the park for an hour or two.  Bonus points if you ask the new parents what they need at the grocery store while you’re coming to their house anyway.

AmandaAscher4. ENCOURAGE HER TO COCOON.  As much as you love visiting with your new-momma friend, she may not have the energy to be out and about visiting and running errands for awhile.  Especially in the case of a difficult delivery, or a newly adopted baby, it will probably benefit everyone to stick really close to home for awhile.  Later will be soon enough to rejoin the larger world and be social again.  Be the kind of friend who encourages and respects that time of quiet.

What did friends and family do that most helped after you added to your family?

Calm mom: be what you want to see

Calm Mom

One of the hardest things in the world to do as a parent is to keep from ‘going there’ along with your kids when they’re losing it big time and spilling their frustration all over you.  Maybe your two year old is flailing on the kitchen floor because you won’t give him a cookie before dinner, or your 9 year old is stomping around mad over having to set the dinner table, or your 16 year old wants to go to the mall when he’s got mountains of homework. Here we are, doing our best to parent wisely, and there they are, spitting mad and sure we’re just being mean.  It can be pretty darned tempting to lose your cool right alongside your kid, can’t it?

Back when all my kids were preschoolers, I fondly imagined having loads of patience by the time my kids were teens.  What I didn’t realize is that often the teen years can be more frustrating than the teeny ones, and with my houseful of teens and preteens, drama happens on a daily– ok, sometimes hourly — basis. Decisions are bigger. Hormones are everywhere.  (Four girls live here, after all–okay, 5 counting me.)  By their teen years, kids have a pretty good idea of where mom’s buttons are.  So when they’re mad, they often try to get you to join them there in frustration-land.  Maybe not all teens do that, but some of mine sure do.  Maybe some of yours too?

Two books by Daniel Seigel have been a hugely helpful to me in moving past gritted-teeth frustration toward something that looks and feels more like real grace. I mentioned them to you last year:  Parenting from the Inside Out and The Whole-Brain Child.  I’m still benefiting from reading those books and better understanding (everyone’s) brain function.  To look at a person who’s losing his cool and to be able to remind myself– “Oh, he’s/she’s dysregulated right now.” — well, it has just been huge.

Because here’s the thing: no amount of logic is going to touch a really upset person at that moment. That kid is going to need to be heard and soothed before I will have much success steering him towards right behavior.  It’s not about sanctioning rudeness– it’s about accepting where they are and sometimes being willing to wait to talk about what behavior is okay and what isn’t. Everyone returns to calm more quickly when they feel heard instead of squelched. And kids with very intense personalities, loss issues, or trauma backgrounds are going to need a whole lot more time and help getting to calm before successful correction and redirection can happen.

For me, a big part of the equation has been getting better at recognizing when I myself am following my kid down into dysregulation. You know, that place when your heart speeds up and there’s tension in your chest and you can practically feel the steam hissing out of your ears? When I go there, whether or not I manage to fake calm, I’m rarely especially wise or kind.  That of course does nothing to help my kids toward calm.   On the other hand, when I AM able to model calm (have you heard of mirror neurons?) I can avoid fueling the fire and often can help him find his way back to calm a little sooner as well.

Calm Mom:  be what you want to see in your childSO–what kinds of things can help us BE the calm that we wish to SEE in our children?

  • Remember in the midst of the interaction to ask children about their feelings and reply with empathy.  Let them vent a bit.  Yes, even if they’ve been rude. Once calm has returned is plenty soon enough to talk about any inappropriate behavior that happened while they were angry.
  • Hang onto your compassion.  Try to remember how it felt to be a kid, and out of control of so many things in life.  Try to guess what’s most frustrating for your child about this moment.
  • Ask yourself honestly if this is a big problem or a small one. Hang onto your perspective.  Many things that feel big in the moment will not matter a week or a month  or a year from now.
  • Take a deep breath and (if your child is somewhere safe) step away for a few moments.  Grab a cup of tea if you have time.  Remember that in most cases it’s okay not to resolve the entire problem right then.  Just do what it takes to get people moving back toward calm.
  • Call or text a friend who understands and is willing to listen to you complain for a bit.  I think every mama would benefit from having a texting buddy for those hard moments– a true friend who understands you can feel terribly frustrated with your child while also still loving him greatly.  (Come to think of it, almost all moms should understand that, right?  Haven’t we all been there?)
  • Pray for your child. Remind yourself that God has a plan for his future, that He is growing him each day amid the challenges. Then remind yourself of five things you love about this kid.  He’s worth every ounce of effort and hassle, isn’t he?
  • Finally, don’t forget to give yourself grace in the middle of this messy work.  We all lose our cool sometimes.  And one of the hard but beautiful things about motherhood is that tomorrow and the next day and the next we’ll get many more chances to jump in and try again.  Be blessed, momma, and remember you’ve got Jesus right there beside you on this journey.

so encouraged

Love this bracelet Well, I’m sitting here in an airport again today.  My first flight was canceled and I was rebooked on one that departs Atlanta just after 5 PM and is scheduled to arrive home in Boise rather late tonight.  I’m hoping for no more delays or cancellations, because I am more than ready to get home to my precious clan.  But wow, it was a good weekend.

I was so blessed by Created for Care this year.  The gals who put on this retreat truly think of so many ways to care for the mommas who come. Yummy food, fun sessions, a movie, music, and just tons and tons of faith-filled encouragement. The schedule allows lots of down time for visiting, and the keynote speaker was really inspirational. It was just very obvious that she walks with the Lord in the big and little moments of each day.  It was amazing to me to see how SO many messages from different speakers came together with a continuity that could only be God-breathed.

One personal example. A few days before I left for the weekend, I prayerfully pulled together what felt like 2/3 of my second breakout session of the weekend.  Wednesday morning came, the day before I was to leave. I knew I didn’t have that talk done, but felt peaceful about it and instead spent the day playing with my younger girls.  On the plane Thursday I pulled that unfinished talk out again and scribbled a few edits, but soon set it aside again, still feeling peaceful, like it was done enough for now.  Then Friday evening I sat in the main session at Created for Care, first hearing worship music, and then Beth Guckenberger, and was suddenly scribbling frantic notes about my talk, which I realized dovetailed beautifully with what she spoke about.  Oh, that woman knows her Bible.

The Bible verses and story that she shared were like yellow highlighters in my brain, showing me the bits of my talk that I needed to expand and flesh out.  Saturday morning it was more of the same.  Listening, scribbling, and seeing this beautiful connection between the worship, Beth’s stories, and mine. After that morning session I went back to my room, teary-eyed, on fire to finish writing.  (Good thing, because I was going to give it in 2 hours.) I finally saw clearly that my whole talk had BEEN there all along– it just needed God to come in with His highlighter and show me what parts of my story were supposed to be in bold.  And yeah, a few bits that were bunny-trails.. Turns out that particular talk didn’t need any ‘how I….’  bits, because the real message was how GOD has been at work.

There’s no doubt in my mind that He had a divine theme for that weekend, a message that He wanted mommas to hear session after session after session.  I’m sure I didn’t say everything perfectly in my own message.  But I was incredibly touched to see the Holy Spirit so actively at work in each gathering, in each message, and in each heart, including my own. What a good God we serve.

Just a few verses Beth highlighted this weekend in hope that you also will experience some of the encouragement we heard this weekend:

  • Josh 1:8 reminds us to keep the word of God always in our hearts and minds.
  • Matt 11:28-30 is a reminder to release our burdens and lean on Jesus.
  • Ex 8 tells how Pharaoh waited a DAY before he got rid of those darned frogs. (Kinda like us, holding onto our own ‘pet’ sins and worries).
  • Ex 15  tells us that Miriam and the Israelite women brought tambourines into the wilderness.  They came PREPARED to celebrate victory from God. What a neat reminder that the battle– and its victory– belongs to the Lord. (A friend’s take on that story.)
  • Ezekiel 36:26-27 He will give us a new heart, remove our heart of stone and give us a new spirit.
  • Lamentations 3:21-24  The Lord is our portion. His compassion never fails. His mercies are new every morning.

Hope you all have a wonderful week!!

PS- The bracelet is by MudLove.