S is for Social Workers #AtoZChallenge

A to Z Letter SI am behind.  This has been a very stressful week, and I am behind as a result.  I doubt I will finish on time, but I will finish.

Our social worker the second time around was great.  After our first disappointing experience that included a social worker that didn’t seem to really be in our corner, I was fairly skittish about the second go round, so you can imagine my relief when we met our social worker, and she appeared happy to meet us, enthusiastic about representing us, and desirous of supporting us through everything.  She was our advocate, and she did not disappoint us.  Even when she had to make the phone call to tell us of our disruption, she was sympathetic and kind, and she encouraged us to stay the course.  Those are not easy phone calls to make, and she handled it well.

When the second match went south, she was quick to point out that this was not a situation we wanted.  Not only would it have been very difficult dealing with a mentally ill birth mom, but the potential for a hereditary illness was there as well, and bipolar disorder is not something to take lightly.  Judging from the birth mom’s psychotic break, it was a potential disaster that we were grateful had been avoided.

amazingadvocates2And finally, when the right match happened, she was so happy for us.  She made sure we knew to call her anytime we had questions or concerns.  She kept up (and kept us up) with our paperwork, and she educated us well on what to expect at the hospital, including that she would be our voice and advocate at the hospital for anything to do with insurance or the legal issues surrounding our adoption.  We were grateful for that, because hospital insurance representatives and social workers are working for the hospital, and that is almost never going to align with the best interests of the adoptive parents.

We were extraordinarily blessed during our adoption, though, because we had two advocates in our corner…quite unexpectedly.

social workers change futuresWe met our birth mom’s social worker at our second match, and we connected instantly.  She liked us immediately, and the feeling was mutual.  We spoke briefly afterwards, and she told us she liked what we had to say.  When the match fell through so quickly, it never occurred to us that we would have an advocate in her, but we did…in spades.

She is an extraordinary woman with not only a passion, but a gift for her job.  She cares for these birth moms with a mother’s love, she treats them with respect, she is kind, and she is tough when she needs to be.  Above all, she exemplifies the love of Christ to them.  Her birth moms thrive under her care.  Our birth mom thrived.  I thrived.  And I still thrive, because we are still connected, and she is as much a part of our story as our birth mom.

Adoption-HeartWhen I say that God has been present in every single detail of our adoption, this was no exception.  She wanted a match as much for us as for the birth mom she represented, and she obviously felt that we would be a good match for our birth mom, because she encouraged our birth mom to choose us.  I can’t thank her enough for that, because she was right.  We connected with our birth mom immediately, and I felt confident from the beginning that it was right.  God was at work there, not only connecting us to this wonderful social worker, through whom we were connected to our birth mom, but also smoothing the way ahead of us and allowing our relationship with our birth mom to feel natural and easy.  We saw each other every week, and every week I was reminded of the extraordinary things God does.

This lovely woman, with her heart for these troubled young women, is the best thing our agency has going for them.  I hope they know it, because she is worth her weight in gold.  God called her to the job she does, she does it extraordinarily well, and she touches the hearts of everyone with whom she works.  I am so very grateful for her, for all she did for our birth mom, and for how she blessed us in the process.

Romans_8-28

I is for Inner Circle #AtoZChallenge

A to Z Letter IFrom the beginning of our adoption journey, we had a small group of friends with whom we shared the details of what was going on.  These were close friends, people we knew we could trust completely, who would rejoice with us and grieve with us through the ups and downs, and who would faithfully pray for us throughout.  Several of these dear friends honored us by providing references.  What an act of love that was to us, and as much as I love language, I can’t find adequate words to express how grateful we are to them.

We needed this group.  I needed this group, especially.  I needed some pals who knew, intimately, what I was going through.  I needed friends to confide in when I needed to talk…share…vent, and I did all of those things.

venting sessions

What I (we) also needed was a group of friends who, while they knew all the details of our experience, shared many other things in common with us, so that we could go out together, have play dates with our kids, laugh, cry, and talk…all without ever discussing our adoption.  We talked about it when we needed to, and the rest of the time we lived life with these friends.

This was not a large group of friends.  Sure, most everyone who has known us during the past 10 years knows we were somewhere in the process of adoption, but most did not know the details.  We didn’t talk about it a lot, not even between the two of us.  Our biological son knew that we wanted to adopt a child, and he prayed diligently for a sibling, but he didn’t know about the sadness we felt over not being matched the first time around; he didn’t know about the matches that fell through; and he didn’t really know about his baby brother until it was a foregone conclusion.  We wanted to protect him from the ups and downs of the journey, and we proverbs 4 23felt we needed to protect him from the disappointment of the disruptions.  He didn’t need to have that heaviness on his heart at age eight, not when he needed to focus his attention on school, and friends, and play.  We also didn’t want him to start feeling as though God was disappointing him by not answering his prayers.  We knew that wasn’t the case, but it’s sometimes hard to convince myself, and I’m a lot older than eight.

Frankly, we wanted to protect ourselves, too.  We didn’t want every conversation to start with answering adoption questions and giving adoption updates.  There were so many months when nothing happened, so there was nothing to tell anyway, so we intentionally stayed quiet about it.  Especially with the matches that fell through, because worse than dealing with it between the two of us (and sending an update to our inner circle), was to have to address it over and over and over with everyone we knew.  So we didn’t share much of what happened with many.

Now that it’s all over…and with a happy outcome…I want to share our story.  First and foremost, I want to have it written down for us, and especially for our adopted son to one day read.  However, I also want to share it publicly, so that those who know us and are curious about our story can read it, and those who are considering adoption can get a glimpse of what it is like.

silly girlfriendsWe still have the inner circle, and we (I especially) still need it from time to time.  Things come up, and they are not only cherished friends in whom we can confide, they are riotously fun friends that laugh and enjoy our quirky silliness, and they are praying friends who lift us up to the Lord regularly.  There are no better friends than that, and I am grateful for them.

H is for Home Study #AtoZChallenge

A to Z Letter HIt is exactly what it sounds like…a study of your home (not just the bricks and mortar) to ensure that it (you) are suitable candidates for parenthood.  Amazing that when we have biological children, the assumption is that we are suitable, but when we seek to adopt, we start at zero and must pass inspection of nearly every detail of our lives.

It is what it is, and if you’re committed to adopting, as we were, it’s part of the price you pay (no pun intended, right?).

We underwent two home studies, and in both cases we had a case worker with whom we forged a really great relationship right from the start.  That is important.  If you don’t connect, I would strongly urge you to find someone else do to it.  This is the person who, for all practical purposes, holds your adoptive future in his/her hands, and you want someone who advocates for you, which means you want someone who likes you…a lot.  It doesn’t hurt at all if the feeling is mutual.

The nitty gritty of the home study looks like this:

  • homestudyApplication…fill it out fully.  Rest assured you are being checked six ways from Sunday, so do not lie.  If there are things that need to be disclosed, disclose them.  Better to deal with them now – especially if they are deal breakers – than after you have spent a lot of time and a good deal of money.
  • Health History…physical and mental health, so get your physicals.  Your doctor will have to fill out a form from your application packet that confirms your fitness to parent.  It’s not about perfection, just about reasonable mental & physical health…and “reasonable” is a very elastic term.  Don’t let this worry you.
  • Criminal Background…the rule of thumb is no felonies, but obviously each state has standards specific to the state.  This requires fingerprints, and it takes several weeks, so get your digits inked early.  In our state, I learned it is a misdemeanor to fail to license your dog.  Now I think this is a huge overreach of government intrusion into my business, but it’s small potatoes when you want to adopt, and the home study will require it.
  • Financial Background…your credit history will be checked, so if there are issues, address them and fix what you can.  Your income will be verified.  Every state has a minimum amount a family must make to be considered for adoption, with a set amount more for each additional adoptee (if you want more than one child).  We were considering that, so we had to verify we could, in fact, financially care for multiple children.  You will need at least one, and probably 2-3 years of signed tax returns to provide, so find them and keep them accessible…and you will have to update them for every home study renewal, and for your final adoption hearing.  Fair warning…
  • magnifying glassHome Inspection…clean your house, lock up your firearms and ammunition separately, have a plan to keep your cleaning supplies & medications out of the reach of children, pick up your clutter, lock up hazardous materials in the garage, etc.  It will all be checked.  On this point, I think it goes easier for families who have kids already (we did), because the health and well being of your child(ren) is an indicator that you are, in fact, successful parents already.  I’m not sure this is fair, but it is reality, so if you’re seeking to adopt your first child, jump high & clean through the hoops.
  • Interviews…the only residents of your home who will not be interviewed are pets and young kids.  In our son’s interview (he was only interviewed in the second home study, and was seven at the time), we were allowed to be present, but he had to answer the questions.  We were interviewed jointly and separately.  In our individual interviews, we were questioned about many of the personal issues that were addressed in our applications.  Be truthful and honest.  Don’t gloss over struggles and weaknesses, because it looks and sounds bogus.  Address them head on, and be honest about how you manage them.  We both did that.  interviewCase workers understand that no one is perfect, and why would you want that anyway?  We are human, and fallible…what the case workers (if they are doing their job right) need to see is that you are functional, that your marriage is stable, and that you have the necessary qualities to make a good parent.
  • Documentation…make sure you have certified copies of birth certificates (for everyone living in the home), marriage license(s), divorce decrees and custody arrangements (if applicable), legal residency and/or citizenship (if you were not born in the US), dog licenses (I’m serious!), and any other that is required.  Keep it accessible, because you will need it more than once (thank you CPS, or whatever that agency is called in your state).
  • Money…yes, the home study costs money, and it is not usually included in the cost of the adoption.  This varies by agency, so check the stipulations of the agency you select.

One very important point regarding your interview:  talk ahead of time about how you want to discuss your discipline strategies, because you will be asked.  Spanking these days is controversial, so if you do spank, make sure you are prepared to answer that question.  Also know that you will likely be required to sign an agreement that you will not spank your adoptive child, particularly if you are adopting from foster care.  This is crucial to understand, because when you adopt foster kids, there are almost always issues with neglect and abuse (physical, psychological, sexual, verbal, emotional).  Spanking is counter productive, because it reinforces abuse in the mind of the child.  You must be willing and prepared to use other behavior modification strategies, and you need to make sure that you can administer them consistently and with love.

OK, soapbox done.  Just be informed, so you can be good parents to whatever child(ren) God places in your family.

home study approved

This is boring, tedious stuff.  A lot of it is, in my opinion, overkill to satisfy the state’s requirements, but it not optional.  My husband and I talked about adopting before we ever married, and we both felt (and feel) strongly that God called us to it.  None of the hoops that we have jumped through to get to the end were lofty, but they were necessary, and in the end, our second child is now home.  It was all worth it for him…even licensing the dog.

Perhaps a Perspective Shift Today…

phil pirate

My silly, lovely, wonderful husband!

I’ve been reading Natasha Metzler’s blog for a few years now.  She inspires me with her graceful willingness to be transparent in pain, all the while giving God glory for the beautiful, blessed life that he created for her.  I am humbled by her faith, and by her conscious decision to take every situation in her life and find God’s blessing(s) in it.  What a beautiful testimony to the power of God’s love and grace, and how it can so magnificently transform us through our pain and disappointment.

This month she is writing a daily post on what she loves about her husband.  One new thing each day.  I love this, because each one has caused me to stop and reflect for a moment on my own husband.  Today she wrote about how her husband blesses her with his gift of conversation.  I love that something so common, so taken for granted, so quotidian (to quote my friend Bri), is described in such a way.  I love it because my husband blesses me in this way, too.

How many times does he allow me to talk his ear off when we go to bed…too late to talk…but knowing that I need to decompress?  The answer is too many to count  And so many times has he offered a perspective to me that I have not yet considered.  So many times he has offered a Biblical framework in which to see my concerns anew.  So many times he has thoughtfully expressed his understanding of a Biblical principle that opens up a new level of understanding for me.  So many times…in the middle of the night…when I am downloading all my worries and rants to him.

I am so very thankful for him, and for how he helps me reshape my thoughts and worries.  I am thankful for his depth, and for his willingness to be tired the next morning because so many of these deep conversations happen in the middle of the night.  I am thankful that he listens (even when he’s tired), and that he hears…that he seeks to know my heart intimately, and that he prays for and with me.   I am so very, very thankful that God saw what I needed and provided in such extraordinary measure.

The Mirror Moment

Or What I Need (and Want) to Do, but Have Not Yet Succeeded in Doing

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Matthew 18:35:  So also my heavenly Father will do to every one of you, if you do not forgive your brother from your heart.”

Mark 11:25:  And whenever you stand praying, forgive, if you have anything against anyone, so that your Father also who is in heaven may forgive you your trespasses.”

Luke 6:37:  “Judge not, and you will not be judged; condemn not, and you will not be condemned; forgive, and you will be forgiven;

Luke 17:3-4:  Pay attention to yourselves! If your brother sins, rebuke him, and if he repents, forgive him, and if he sins against you seven times in the day, and turns to you seven times, saying, ‘I repent,’ you must forgive him.”

1 John 1:9:  If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.

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cs-lewis on forgiveness

C.S. Lewis talks at length about forgiveness, and what it means to really forgive.  It is a task much more significant and difficult than simply uttering the words “I forgive you.”  It is a radical action, like love, that when done with the same desire and fervency that God has shown, wholly reconciles the relationship.  It is not forgetting, but putting it in the past and leaving it there.

I had a mirror held up to my face heart over the holidays, and realized that I have become that which I hate most.  I seek forgiveness from Christ for the most inexcusable in me, yet I have not done this for others.  I seek reconciliation and redemption from Christ, but I have not offered this to others.  I ask for God’s mercy and grace in my life, but I am reluctant unwilling to spare even a measure of it for others, even those who have granted me an undue portion.

cs lewis obeying godWhat do you do when you realize that all the navel-gazing in the world…that which you thought would give you a release from the bitterness, anger and frustration that has plagued you for so long…does so only minimally, but has the very real consequence of hurting others more than helping yourself?  When the mirror was held up and I saw SAW, I realized the bill of goods that I’d been sold…and believed.  In the effort to make others see, really SEE, I failed to see for myself.  And what I see…finally…is this:  I can not claim forgiveness for myself until I am willing to forgive trespasses against me.  I can not be reconciled to Christ unless I am willing to be reconciled with those in my earthly life.  With my family and friends.

forgive others

And it is HARD.  I have had this crutch, this safety net of anger & pain, for so long that to try and break it down is unbelievably daunting.  Tim Keller talks in Counterfeit Gods about how we don’t realize what becomes a false god to us until we recognize that we have made it more important than God Himself.  Why can’t I trust God to protect my heart?  I know He will.  Why can’t I rely on God to show me the way to redemption?  He always does.  Why can’t I lay at His feet the shackles of hostility, bitterness, pain, grief, anger, frustration, worry…and know that He is bigger than all of those barriers, that He is more than enough, and that He has only been waiting for me to cast aside my counterfeit god and truly rest in Him?

I hate being vulnerable.  I hate being in a position to be attacked, vilified, and ridiculed.  I hate feeling as though knowledge about me constitutes ammunition that can be used on me later.  There is a sense of protection in putting things out into the world in writing, so that I can say what I need want to say without immediate repercussion.  So I have taken the easy road.  I have written about the litany of hurts and slights in my life.  I have wallowed.  And I have hurt others.  I have made targets of people in a manner that allowed (I thought) for as little consequence as possible.  Except that now it is out there, and the bell can not be un-rung.

no-new-years-resolutionsI stopped making New Year’s Resolutions many years ago.  What was the point?  We all start the new year with expectations that it will be different from last year, and from the year before that.  2013 was no different for me…I started the year with no list of things to do better, no list of changes to make, no list of goals to meet (other than to try for the gazillionth time to read at least 100 books).  Then came the mirror moment that reflected how empty my soul has become, because I keep digging at the bottom instead of turning around and letting God fill me up.  I am tired.  I am tired of only partially trusting God, and in still thinking that I have to do the heavy lifting in my life.  I am tired of propping myself up with grudges and grievances.  rather than laying them down at His feet and moving on.  I am tired of what so much navel-gazing has rendered in me…which is nothing.  I am tired of being empty.

Here are my resolutions for 2013…a very different lot than had I made them 17 days ago:

  • Make God the biggest part of my life, rather than the grudges I have held onto for so long.
  • Think of others before myself, care for others before myself, serve others before myself.
  • FORGIVE.  My single, biggest impediment to quieting the personal demons, and to reconciling relationships that have been hurt by my inability unwillingness to forgive.
  • Understand that forgiveness is both an action and a process.  Do it daily, sincerely, and continuously.
  • Read my Bible every day.  Let it infuse me, and change me.
  • Stop making excuses.
  • Be joyful always.  In fact, do just as 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18 tells us:  16 Rejoice always, 17 pray without ceasing, 18 give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.

be silentPractically speaking, this means the blog will change.  A number of posts will go private, and I will not publish them again.  I have hurt and angered others by writing them, and that stops now.  I will not publish new posts airing grievances against others.  If I can’t find a way to focus my thoughts in an uplifting way that points no fingers, it will not go live.  I want to do something better with my time and my passion.

reconciliation-lizbydesignDoes it seem strange to look at this chain of events and thank God for the crushing blow of clarity?  Sometimes – MANY times – it takes exactly that to get it.  How many times do I need the mirror to be held up before I realize my brokenness is by my own hand, and I am crushed by the weight of my own sin?  I don’t know…I’ll let you know…this year…as I let Him help me out of this spiritual, mental & emotional pit I have dug for myself.

I believe, Lord.  I truly believe.  Please help me to take it to heart and live it out.

Doing It Right This Time

An Adoption Manifesto

This is the second time in the past four years that we have been at the end of a home study and ready to add a child (or two) to our little family.  Our first attempt, undertaken in Tennessee, went smoothly through every step of the process, but the months ticked by as we waited for a match and I began to get discouraged.  We watched other families, who started their adoptive journey at the same time, bring their babies home.  I can’t imagine feeling any happier for them than I did (and do), because I intimately understood where they had been and how the struggles to expand your family can discourage even the most hopeful.  As we approached the anniversary of our approval, with no obvious progress, I found myself wondering what was wrong with us, what was wrong with me, what did birth parents not see in us that they saw in others.

Amazing, then, as we were contemplating having to renew all of our paperwork for another year, to have a job offer fall into my husband’s lap that we just could not refuse.  This was not out of thin air.  We had been open to relocation for quite some time, and my husband had even submitted his name for consideration on a four year international assignment in Santiago, Chile…one that ultimately fell through.  So my husband accepted this job offer, and we picked up and moved cross country so he could be a member of the start up team for a new office.  Our adoption file was placed on hold.  We settled in to life in the desert, sold our Tennessee home, and except for some truly precious friends we left behind, severed our ties to the Tennessee Valley.

It took me almost two years before I was able to tackle a home study again.  It is an arduous process, packed with lots of paperwork, interviews, and extremely personal questions.  It has to be that way…it should be that way…but it can feel really invasive.  After having been through it once, after having second guessed virtually every answer, every disclosure, every decision as we filled out the application, I was momentarily paralyzed at having to do it again.

My husband told me that the first time around, he felt like he was the one running point, pushing me to get everything completed and submitted, and though he knew I wanted to do it, he felt a little like he was dragging me along, and he wasn’t going to do that again.  If we were really going to do this, I had to run point this time.  I had to take the lead in getting the paperwork finished, scheduling the interviews, prepping our 7yo son for his interview, getting our house prepared, and basically moving the process along.  I think he wanted to make absolutely certain that I was in this 100%, and he was right to put the responsibility on me.  I needed that to get me moving, and here we are now, having completed the process once again…waiting for a child (or two) to add to our family.

And this time, we are doing it right.

My husband and I have had a lot of conversations about our experience in Tennessee.  He didn’t realize at the time how discouraged I was, in large part because I felt like the agency was not taking good care of us once our home study was complete.  I had sensed that our social worker (also the head of the agency) did not seem to have an aura of joy about her job.  She didn’t exhibit excitement about what she was doing.  She didn’t seem energetic or filled with an eagerness to find a match for us.  She didn’t seem excited to present us, and over the course of a year with them, our profile was viewed twice.  After all the hours spent making it as good as we possibly could, making sure it accurately represented our family, making sure it was well put together and error free, it seemed to languish on the shelf most of the year.  This is devastating to a family who has such high hopes that this (very expensive) process will culminate with a beautiful child to call our own.

He also didn’t realize that I had been feeling profound regret about some of the choices we made regarding the type of child we wished to have.  I made these decisions against my personal convictions, and I knew when I did so that I would regret them.  I hated myself for compromising what I believed was the right thing to do in the name of avoiding some really difficult conversations.  I’m no stranger to conflict.  I’ve dealt with it all of my life, but I have capitulated many times when I wished I had not (even though it was to keep – or make – peace), and here was yet another example of doing just that .  Again.

Not this time.

There were many, many conversations with friends and family over the course of our first home study.  We were grateful beyond words at the outpouring of support & love, at the willingness of those closest to us to provide references, and at their unabashed happiness for us as we pursued what was in our hearts.  So I was completely taken aback when I was cautioned:

  • to think long and hard before we decided to adopt a black child
  • to think long and hard before we decided to adopt a mixed race child if one of the birth parents was black
  • that adopting a black or mixed race child would be fraught with problems throughout our lives
  • that black people value their culture highly, and that would be cause for conflict and frustration in our family
  • that only white people adopt trans-racially and trans-culturally, because we don’t put as high a value on our own culture and traditions
  • that adopting a black or mixed race child would cause the child to have problems being accepted in both the black & white communities
  • that a black or mixed race child would have identity issues being raised in a white family
  • that a black or mixed race child may not be accepted by their own families
  • that people would talk about us having a black or mixed race child

AND:

  • to think long and hard before we decided to adopt a child with any special needs
  • that we would not know what we were getting into
  • that we would likely encounter more difficulty than we anticipated
  • that we needed to be very, very sure we wanted to take on those burdens

I was utterly unprepared with any answer to these cautions, especially the reservations voiced about race.  It NEVER OCCURRED to me until that moment to exclude certain racial or ethnic backgrounds when indicating the children for whom we wanted to be considered.  My husband and I had talked at length about what special needs and/or health problems we felt competent to handle, but the truth is, you never know how special needs and health issues will manifest themselves…until they do.  Adoption is no different from biology in that regard, and the only difference is that in an adoption, you can withdraw.  But if you have discussed it, and prayed about, and know that God has your back in all things…well…

We had also discussed all of the racial issues, and we had no racial concerns or exclusions…until some reservations were verbalized to us.  And I did what I have done some many times throughout my life…I made the decision that would not ruffle feathers, and I nearly choked on it.

Not this time.

If you attended church when you were a child, or have attended regularly with your own children, you are probably familiar with this little song:

Jesus loves the little children,
All the children of the world.
Red or yellow, black or white,
All are precious in His sight,
Jesus loves the little children of the world.

I was reminded of that song as we started our current home study, because “red or yellow, black or white,” all are precious in MY sight, too.  I do not care what color my child is, what race my child is, what ethnicity my child is, or what culture my child is.  I want my family to reflect the body of Christ, and that means actively seeking not to exclude certain of those whom God may entrust us to raise, but rather to be willing and open to whomever God brings into our family.  I can’t do it any other way.  I am compelled as we go on this journey to make decisions I believe are right in the eyes of God.  I believe that includes making practical decisions regarding the health and safety of our biological son.  I also believe it means cleaving to our convictions, and if it ruffles feathers…well, we are prepared for that.

I’ll leave you with one final thought.  We had a discussion with our son a few months ago about what kind of child he might want for a brother or sister.  After telling us he wanted a big brother, a little brother, a big sister, and a little sister, we had the following exchange:

Mom:  What color brother or sister would you like?  (I was teasing, because he’s as likely to say green or orange as any other color)
Dad:  What about green?
Son:  No Daddy!
Mom:  So what color would you like?
Son:  Like us.  You know, human color.
Mom:  Well, what if we get a brother or sister that is the color of D____? (a black/Hispanic kid at school).
Son:  Mommy, D_____ is not a color, he’s a boy!!

What a perfect response from a child who sees people, not colors.  May God continue to keep his heart that pure and unencumbered with prejudice.

Thank you for reading my heart.  Please, pray for us as we pursue adoption once again.  Your prayers are a life raft for us during this journey.