Pure Vanilla

20191014_130707638_iOSWe are often asked what is like in our family.  We have all kinds of funny little phrases that we use to quickly describe it.  My previous favorite was, “A tentless circus with lots of side shows.”  This picture above is my new metaphor.  Going forward, I am just going to show people this picture.

I am sure some of you who are wondering where this is going.  Well, that is exactly the point, so without further delay, allow me to explain.

Beautiful is away right now, helping Princess and her Prince Charming with the birth of their own Princess (to be blognamed after I get to know her a bit better).  That meant, I was on morning tidy up.  After I had worked at for a bit and was feeling pretty good about the general state of the house, I noticed that I had walked by this little gem at least a half dozen times.  Yes, that really is a botte of Pure Vanilla Extract. Normally, a bottle of vanilla extract wouldn’t even warrant notice, never mind becoming my new theme meme.  However, this particular bottle was sitting in our living room right next to the TV.

My thoughts ran something like:

  1. Is that a bottle of extract?
  2. Yep, vanilla extract to be precise.
  3. That will make a really nice icing, but it will yellow a bit. 
  4. Almond extract is a nice choice too.
  5. I wonder who put that in living room.
  6. I wonder what they were making.
  7. How about that,  I didn’t even wonder why that was sitting there.
  8. Yep, this sort of thing is common enough that it did not even phase me.

And there it is:  The very metaphor of plainness – vanilla, in completely the wrong place and this is perfectly normal for us.  When you have special needs children in your family, you learn to expect the unexpected, and you learn that your normal is not like other people’s normal.

You drive through the neighborhood and see the immaculately trimmed bushes and edged yards, and you think, “Good for them!  It must be nice to have that kind of time.”  You see other kids running out to go play after school, while yours is hustled off to speech therapy.  Other parents are posting their kids and their new sports trophy, or a picture from some exotic location while you are just trying to figure out which child has school the next day.  You have to ask your child three different ways if he likes his quesadilla spicy of plain, because you’re not sure if he really understands the question (and he is giving you a different answer every time – turns out after 6 times, he likes them both, but he prefers not spicy).  And you have big children that are still having toileting accidents.  That is our normal.  And we love it.

Ours is a blessed life.  We live  with some of the most amazing people on this planet.  I am privileged to visit with, and enjoy them every  day.  And Beautiful and I have the responsibility of helping them find their way in the world.  My only regret is that most of you will never have the chance to know these amazing people like we do.  They see the world differently and they enjoy deep satisfaction in things we are “too busy” to see.  They are eager to share that world with us every day and it constantly blows my mind.

That is our Vanilla Extract.  It might look like everyone else’s, but ours is sitting in the living room, and we are just fine with that.

Good things gone bad

apple-rotten1

Preface

I am not writing this post to make people feel bad if they have made bad choices.  Rather, I am writing it to shed light on a problem and help others to avoid painful and damaging mistakes that everyone will later regret.  This post if about avoiding a practice called “rehoming.”

When jokes aren’t funny

We have probably all heard parents make joking comments about giving their children away.  We also know that is typically just a way of making light of a difficult day, especially when we know those same parents truly love their children.  We know this because they are always doing crazy things to dote on them.  However, when it comes to adoption, that is not a joke that is funny.  It is not funny in the first sense because that is one of the primal fears that these children have.  You cannot joke about their fears because it only makes them trust you less, not more.  They think they were adopted in, why can’t they be adopted out?

It is not funny in the second sense because adoptive parents really are giving their children away.  There was a recent investigation by Reuters into the activity.  I have a link to it the report below.  I have to warn you that it will likely make you physically ill to read in the same way it did Beautiful and I.

http://www.reuters.com/investigates/adoption/#article/part1

Seeing what is inside

Adoption can, and should be an amazing blessing to both the parents and the children, but like anything in life, sometimes the reality does not live up to your romanticized preconceptions.  When reality and preconceptions don’t have a play date and get along, that is when you God cuts right to the heart of the fruit and,  you get a chance to look inside.  You get a chance to see what you are really made of.  I pray when you go through that experience, you are not heart broken over what you see inside.

Counting the Cost

In Luke 14:28-31 Jesus discusses counting the cost of following Him.  He says,

For which of you, desiring to build a tower, does not first sit down and count the cost, whether he has enough to complete it? Otherwise, when he has laid a foundation and is not able to finish, all who see it begin to mock him, saying, ‘This man began to build and was not able to finish.’

Even though Jesus was describing the cost of discipleship, the principle applies.  It is important that you know what you are getting into before you jump in, or you may have regrets.  The bigger and more public the project, the bigger and more public the regrets.

Before you adopt, make sure you know the cost.  What is it like?  What are the children like?  What are their hopes and dreams?  What are their fears and concerns?  What potential problems could you face?  Are you prepared to tackle them?   If not, how do you get prepared?  Those are just a sample of questions to ask.  If you aren’t asking, then you are not counting the cost.

What is Adoption?

The problem that this issue misses is a fundamental misunderstanding of adoption.  Parents who would “rehome” their children like some dysfunctional puppy never came to grips with adoption to begin with.  I believe our model of adoption is God’s adoption of us.  What child could be more disappointing to their Father than us?  Yet, He does not “rehome” his hurting children.  Rather, He pours on more grace to help us heal from our self-inflicted wounds.  When God adopts us, it is for life.  We are not second class citizens in the family and our rights as His children are eternal.  We have access to the Father and become recipients of His care and concern.  Nothing can take that away.

In the same way we have come to view marriage as a legal contract that can severed the same way it started rather than a divine union, we have come to misunderstand adoption.  If you view adoption as a legal contract rather than a divine gift, then you are going to hurt these children even if you keep them.  You are going to hurt them because you are viewing them as something other than what they are and your perspective will come out in your actions one way or another.

Children from “hard places” are usually wounded, but it was almost never self-inflicted.  Those wounds were likely inflicted by those that should be the source of healing and protection not harm, and that can lead them to see the world differently.  Therein lies the problem.  Are you going to commit to that child, no matter what their problems may be and help them understand that their perception of the world was based on experiences from a very small group of people?  Or are you going to reinforce their perception of the world that they are the only ones that will care for them?

Love is not Enough

I cannot tell you the number of times that Beautiful and I have heard people make some comment about the children just needing to be loved.  “That will fix what ails them.”  If, by that, you mean lots of affection, I will tell you that that is a good start, but if you think food on the table, clothes, a warm bed and a hug at the end of the day is going to change their view of the world, you are sadly mistaken.  However, if by love you mean what God does, then I am all in favor.  What does God mean by love?  He means doing whatever it takes to provide for the needs of His children.  That includes making the ultimate sacrifice. That means putting aside your preconceived notions about the healthcare system and government agencies and whatever else may be preventing you from getting that child what they need. It means not taking no for an answer when your child needs help. That means swallowing your pride and reaching out to other parents and listening to what they say, not what you want to hear, but what they are actually saying.

Theology is not enough

I have also met folks that believe that sharing the Good News with them will fix their issues as well.  I wholeheartedly believe that this is knowledge that we all need, but knowing God alone will not fix what is hurting in them.  James discusses this very topic in Chapter 2:15-16.

If a brother or sister is poorly clothed and lacking in daily food, and one of you says to them, “Go in peace, be warmed and filled,” without giving them the things needed for the body, what good is that? So also faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead.

If you believe a knowledge of Christ is sufficient to cure what ails them, you are doing exactly what James discusses.  Knowledge of Christ will save their soul, but in the same way it will not fill their belly,  it also will not heal the wounds they have.

If you are counting on your affection and gospel to help “fix” these little ones, you are like the man that Jesus described who wants to build a tower.  You have not really counted the cost.

What are you made of?

So the million dollar question is this.  When God slices you open like a fruit, what is inside?  Are you ready to go the distance no matter the cost, or are you going to take your ball and go home because the other kids aren’t being nice?  If you are ready to go the distance, then you might be called to adoption.  If you are not willing to relearn all that you know about parenting, please do these children a favor and don’t start.  You will not like what you see when God cuts you open.

You have no idea how true that is

tree_full

Today P.C. was helping me put up ceiling fans in our house.  He climbed up the ladder when it was in our room and looked out the window.  When you are up on a ladder looking out a window, to a six year old that feels pretty high.

In typical P.C. fashion, he started asking me if he was higher than the various things he could see (a long list to be sure).  When he started with the trees, I had to ask him which ones since some are much taller than the house.

[BEGIN SIDEBAR] The lot was wooded before our home was built and many of the trees remain.  In addition the builder planted two more maples when the final landscaping was done. [END SIDEBAR]

He explained that he was referring to the two “family trees.”  Since the two maples were planted when the family moved in, he has decided those are family trees.  I thought the name was pretty clever, but I had no idea just how far his clever would take him.  His next comment floored me.

“We have two family trees because we have two families.  This tree is for our family and that tree is for my birth family.”

We are wide open in our house (in a lot of ways) but the family tree concept is not one we have even addressed.  Here is my little 6 year old, freewheeling it on my ladder espousing the higher concepts of adopted families and he has no idea how poignant his comments are.

When we adopt children into our home, they are becoming part of this family, but they do not stop being part of their birth family.  Both families will loom large for the rest of their lives, whether they ever see their birth family again or not.  That biological footprint and the time in their mother’s womb is their baseline.  It is their foundation.  We can build on it, and and we can help them build on it, but you cannot change it, and you cannot undo it.

Our prayer for all of our children is that they will stand on our shoulders and use what we have learned and accomplished as a foundation to rise even higher.

Today, he was taller than his family trees.  I pray that in the near future, he won’t need a ladder to get there.

Welcome Pooh Bear!

JacksonObservant readers will have noticed that there are only 6 children in the banner picture, but the name of the blog is “Seven on Earth.”  That is not because I have been negligent in updating the picture.  It is because little Pooh Bear was not allowed to have his happy smile distributed as bits across the Internet.  You were missing out. 

We were in one of the most difficult periods in the adoption process with little Pooh Bear:  The Waiting Period.  The rest of the phases involve you and your lovely bride doing something (assuming you have a lovely bride).  Not so the waiting period.  There is nothing to do but wait.

All of the paperwork, the background checks, the home study, the planning meetings are all over and done.  The petition has been filled out, duplicated, signed, notarized and filed.  Then you wait.  You know it won’t get done in a couple of weeks so you can relax for the first few months.  After that, every trip to the mail box is a cycle of “today could be the day” followed by “nope, not today.”

Well, today was the day.  The plain, unremarkable manila envelope was in the mail box.  Contained within that envelope was the paper we have waited months for.  Pooh Bear’s adoption decree!  The Lord has been faithful beyond our understanding, but we truly are blessed to overflowing here.  We officially have seven children in our quiver now.  It truly is the closest thing to heaven I can imagine.  It truly is Seven on Earth.

A Rose by Any Other Name…

Gonzalez-Blue-Jersey

When you have adopted children you will run into all kinds of funny situations that more traditional families don’t experience.  We ran into one the other day when Beautiful and Thunder went to watch some of his peers finish their games.

Beautiful was visiting with the grandmother of one of the other players.  The grandmother had been made aware that we have adopted children because their family has been instrumental in at least one of the adoptions.  Thunder walked up and briefly joined the conversation.  After he walked away to join the other players, the grandmother asked if that was our son with the “Gonzalez” shirt on.  Beautiful replied, “No… our son had a Red Sox shirt on.”  The grandmother indicated that she thought maybe he kept his last name when he was adopted.  Beautiful replied that his last name is ours and was trying to figure out where the Gonzalez came from. 

Later,  Thunder came back to visited again and Beautiful introduced them.  When he turned around to leave it all became clear.  Thunder was wearing his Adrian Gonzalez Red Sox Jersey and the grandmother thought it was his jersey.

Of course, we get a kick of this little story and we are thankful he was not wearing a Big Papi (David Ortiz) jersey at the time.  His game jerseys do have our name on the back of them.  While he might not look like the more extended family, we are proud to see the family name on the back.  He is a great young man and we give thanks every day that he is part of the fun that happens under our roof (regardless of how he plays).

Blessings Beyond our Understanding

baptismal-fontThis was a big week for Pooh Bear.  The funny part is that at this point, he has no idea of the significance on the events that took place.  The exciting part for me is being here as bit, by bit, the layers will be pulled back for him and he will understand (as much as anyone can) the great changes that took place.

Monday we filed his petition for adoption.  While that might not seem like that much of event, you have to understand that from here the distance from filed adoption petition and finalized adoption is the distance from one pile of papers to another.  At some point in the next six to twelve weeks, we will receive a very non-descript envelope that will inform us that his adoption has been finalized.  It will have a date on it and that will be his Adoption Day that will be celebrated annually in our house, but that envelope is incredibly anti-climatic despite the significance it represents.  The filing is the last “hurdle” that needed to be jumped in order to get there.

It also means that he can now be called by his new name, however, we have another tradition in our family.  That is, the children receive their new names at their baptism.

And that brings me to the second big event of the week for Pooh Bear.  Today he was baptized.  All baptisms are extremely exciting for me, but it is all the more exciting to be part of one like this.  By God’s design he was born into one family.  Yet, also by God’s design, he is now part of ours.  While we were up front with him, making covenant for him, and on behalf of him, his birth family was with the congregation, tearfully adding their support.  It is beyond comprehension by human minds that such a thing could be.  It does not make sense, and yet, it happened.  We were all there to witness it even though, to a large extent, most of the sub plots of this great tale were lost on all of us.

This day marked his entry into a covenant of faithfulness, just like his filing marked the beginning of the process that brings him into this family.  He doesn’t fully understand either (in fact I am quite sure the only thing he knows is that he got wet), but understanding is not a pre-requisite to receiving the blessings of either.

He doesn’t need to know that I am his father to be blessed by the provision, protection, and love that will come from that.  Neither does he need to understand what that water poured over his head means in order to receive the blessing from it. He is eternally marked and he belongs to Jesus, just like he belongs to this family.  As he grows, it is our job to help him understand what it means to belong to the family of God, just like it is our job to help him understand what it means to belong to our family.

In the meantime, blessings will be poured out him.  Some of those he will recognize while others will bless him without him even knowing it.  In the end, that is the condition of us all.  There are blessings we recognize and are grateful for, and there are those that are poured out on us by our loving Father that we don’t have a clue are even there.

I am grateful to our eternal Father that He does not bless us based on what we understand.  If that was the case, I am afraid, that I would have far fewer blessings than I now enjoy.  In fact, I know for certain that I would have at least 7 fewer blessings.  Those are blessings that have names and are frequently the subject of this blog.

All In

We had a pool when I was growing up. I remember clearly that my siblings used to jump right in, where I would sit on the edge for what seemed like an eternity. I hated the shock of jumping into cold water (and I still do).

Unfortunately, some folks approach parenting, especially foster or adoptive parenting, the same way I approached the pool as a child.  Generally the rationale that I have heard is that they want to see if it is something they can handle first. Or “it depends on the kid” they might get.

This post is really about being All In for Foster and Adoptive parents, but I will cover being All In for all of your children in another post.

For parents, not All In with their Foster or Adoptive children, you might have made statements like, “These are our children, and this is my foster child.”  Or “He/She’s a foster kid.”  Or even, “I have two children and a foster child.”

Do you see a pattern yet?  I can guarantee the children get the message after the first statement.  They get it loud and clear.  There are “your” children, and then there are the “third wheels.”  Your biological children will get the message that the other children are second class.  So will the other children.  You are teaching something harmful and dangerous.

If you are currently doing Foster or Adoptive care please take the following test:

  1. Have you ever found yourself getting frustrated with your foster or adopted child because of the sacrifices your biological are having to make?
  2. Have you ever found yourself reacting more defensively when your biological children were hurt by your foster or adopted children?
  3. Have you ever had second thoughts because the foster or adopted children are more work or have more problems than you expected?

If you answered yes to any of those questions, you are fooling yourself.  You are not “All In.”

Here is another way to look at it.  If you found out that your biological children were suffering from cancer, wouldn’t you do everything in your power to learn about how you could help them and provide every opportunity for them to get well?  Why is that Foster and Adoptive children do not merit that same kind of dedication from you?

The short answer is, they do.  When you sign up for Foster or Adoptive care, you are agreeing to be their parents for them until the Lord sees fit to do something different.  If the children placed in your home by some legal means don’t merit that same kind of dedication as they ones placed in your home by birth, then you need to change your thinking and fast.

Children that come into your home via foster or adoptive placement are going to fight an uphill battle all their lives.  You are making the hill even harder by tripping and pushing them down as soon as they start.  In short, you, the God given source of support, encouragement and protection are in fact undermining discouraging and attacking them in subtle ways that you probably don’t see, but they surely do.  You are slowly poisoning them with your double-minded thinking.  If you think you are saving them from abuse when you are not All In, I have news. You are the new abuserYour family will follow your lead.  You set the tone and culture of the home.  If you are not All In, they won’t be either.

If you want help on how you can get your thinking changed, please post a remark and I will do what I can for you.  If you are just not sure, please do some deep soul-searching soon before you do more damage to the children you are supposed to be protecting.  Your children deserve better.

If you can’t get All In, then I have one piece of advice for you:  Get out.

Bittersweet blessings

We recently learned that Little Z (pending all of the paperwork shuffling and such) will be joining us as a permanent member of the family.  On the one hand, we are all overjoyed to have him stay with us as long as the Lord will allow as a member of the family.  His soon-to-be brothers, sisters and Mother and Father couldn’t be happier to be able to enjoy every moment of his blossoming life.  It is such a joyful and mesmerizing experience to watch little ones grow.  Every day is a new discovery for them and a new discovery for us.  They are learning about this marvelous world God created, and we are learning about the amazing little person that they reveal with each passing experience.  From that perspective it would seem we couldn’t be happier.  Indeed, if that was all that was in play, that is precisely where we would be.

Unfortunately, there is more to it than that.  For each child that joins our family and blesses us with a new ingredient in the grand recipe, there is a mother and father that are missing out.  They are missing out on all of the little “firsts” and discoveries that this child they brought into the world will experience:  The first haircut, the first smile, the first rollover, the first tooth, the first bike ride, etc.  They are also missing out on all of the smiles of adoration and giggles that these precious little ones give out with such glee.  It is true, they are also missing out on the challenges of helping the child find his or her way and deal with all of the complications that those bring (and those can be mind warping and heart wrenching sometimes).  However, there is deep reward in that as well. 

To add to the bitterness of the situation, usually a child joins our family in this manner because the mother and father could not, or would not overcome some unhealthy situation that would have been even more unhealthy for the child.  This could be anything from drug and/or alcohol addiction to mental and/or emotional disorders.  The trouble is that most people end up in that condition because they are having difficulty coping with something in their life currently, or in their life past.  Unfortunately, whatever it was that drove them there has been compounded with the interest that they are not able to raise their own child(ren).  Now the possibility of escaping the bindings that hold them, just became slimmer.

It is because of this perspective that is always before us that we enjoy the Bittersweet Blessings of these little people that bring such joy to our family.  We count every moment a blessing because we remember well, that “but for the Grace of God, there go I.”  Blessings are always good for us, but so is fried liver.  They always make us better people, but they don’t necessarily always taste great going down.

Foster Care is not Adoption (although it could be)

A recent conversation reminded me of a common misunderstanding related to Foster Care.  Most people are aware that Foster Care is not Adoption.  However, most assume (and children adopted through foster care further reinforce this impression) that Foster Care is just a different way of adopting.  It is not.  It is something much more, and it is vitally important.

There are many reasons that a child may come into Foster Care.  At the core, the child’s care givers are not able to care for them.  Whether those care givers, were parents, grandparents, legal guardians doesn’t matter at this point.  The point of Foster Care is to provide the child a safe, nurturing place to grow and thrive while their care givers inability to care for the child is addressed.  There are a number of parties involved in the process.  The judge(s), social workers, GAL and attorneys all have important roles, but the foster parent is in a unique role.

When Beautiful and I went to the introductory meeting for Foster Care, I was skeptical about a number of things.  When I heard the speaker explain the concept of Shared Parenting in Foster Care, the lights came on for me.  Shared Parenting in Foster Care is a concept that we have found to be widely misunderstood and even where it is understood, it is often undervalued.  Shared Parenting is based on an exchange of information between the birth parents (or care givers) and the foster parents.  It is primarily intended to help the child adapt while in Foster Care, and to enable the foster parents to have the most relevant information possible in caring for the child.  It is also designed to help the birth parents gain a comfort level with “the system” as they experience more cooperative and less combative interaction (see this article for a good summary of the concept).

The other benefit, and this is the one that truly excites me about the approach, is that it is an opportunity for the foster parents to come alongside the birth parents and help them turn their lives around.  Social Services will warn you about getting in over your head, and rightly so.  Most foster parents are not trained to handle all of the things that might have gone sideways in the birth family’s lives.  But, if you are willing to view the birth family as people and demonstrate a genuine interest in them as people, you will find that there are those that will readily receive the support, encouragement and advice that you have to offer.

I can assure you, there is nothing more humbling or heartbreaking than to have your children taken from you because you are not capable of caring for them properly.  Some birth parents will react in anger to that and simply take it out on you, but there are others that will seek to change for the benefit of their children.

When I think back to that first introductory meeting, and reflect on all of the cases we have been blessed to be part of, I realize how naive I was.  The stakes are far higher than I realized, and the possibility for impact is much deeper.  In Foster Care you have the ability to be in a place to help someone make life changing steps in the right direction.  How many times do we get an opportunity to come alongside someone that is truly motivated to change their lives?

There are many ways we can invest ourselves in this life.  Very few of those will stack up in value to this.

#4 – Parenting is not “one size fits all”

I remember sometime after we had Coco and Princess, thinking we had parenting by the tail.  Sure there were things that came up that were new, but we felt pretty comfortable handling them.  Coco has Beautiful’s personality and Princess has mine so we could relate to each child on a variety of levels.  This made it easier to figure out how to work with the child through their various challenges.

I am convinced God gave us Thunder to show us just how little we really knew.  He is 1/2 Samoan so I knew he was going to be athletic and large.  I expected he would do things early and he lived up to those expectations by learning to walk very young (just before he turned 10 months).  However, I had no idea just what those ramifications would be until THE DAY.  Shortly after he learned to walk, Beautiful and I were in the living room reading and talking while Thunder was napping.  We heard a loud thump and then he came toddling down the hall into the living room.  We were in shock.  Somehow, our 10 month old son had escaped his crib (without injury) and was wandering around.  We were baffled.

We took him back to the crib and asked him to show us how he got out.  He proceeded to put climb the corner by putting one foot on the side and one foot on the end slats and using the pressure to simply walk up the side.  Then crawled across the changing table (a dresser) and jumped down to the floor, landing on his feet.

That was the day, I knew the Lord was serving me notice.  That was the day I knew that parenting was not going to be the “plug and chug” system I thought it was.

What works for one child may not work for the next. Our job as parents is not to conform them to a particular mold.  Rather our job is to recognize how God has gifted them and help shape those gifts into Christlikeness.  That is going to look different for every child and the process is going to be different for every child.  Coco, Thunder and P.C. will all grow to be men of God (Lord willing as we walk faithfully before Him), but they will be all be different.  All three will sing His praises and worship Him together, but all three will serve Him differently.  Our job as parents is to prepare them for that service, whatever it may be.