One of my favorite family pics of almost all of us a few years ago!

Saturday, July 26, 2014

Witness to Glory: How a Wedding Dress Revealed God's Heart for His Daughter

The look on her face said that she was stunned.  Dumbfounded.  Maybe even in awe.  She stared at herself in the full-length mirror.  Mesmerized.  Taking in the moment in all its fullness and revelation.  And then she burst into tears. 

She had been trying on wedding dresses with most of her sisters all afternoon.  There were 8 or 9 of us in a semi-circle taking over half the dressing area – all there for a single purpose – finding a dress for my daughter’s wedding. Other than the super-sized crowd of witnesses consisting of less than half of my mega-clan of kids, it was a pretty much normal wedding shopping experience. 

We all searched through the racks passing quick judgment on every dress, “Too frilly.  Too old looking.  Hate the neckline.  Too much boobage.  Not enough bling.  Who would ever wear THAT?  Gorgeous – but I could buy a car for that price.”  Rarely did two of us agree on the perfect dress.  Our tastes are all vastly unique. 

But we all know “the” dress when we see it.  And this was hers. With tears streaming and black mascara flowing freely down her light brown skin, we all giggled and gushed – knowing that this dress was perfect.

With seven brides so far – and another 9 or so daughters waiting for Mr. Right - we are becoming fairly accustomed to the wedding planning process!  Small budget.  Tiny by most standards.  And the bride comes first.  Find the perfect dress and accessories – make her feel more special than ever before -  and then decide everything else with whatever money remains! 

But sometimes, I realize that I’m not prepared at all for what happens.  And today was one of those days. 

Today, as I watched her wiping her tears and still gazing into the mirror, I realized that these weren’t just the usual bride tears.  I know this child.  I know her history.  I know the ongoing trauma that she endured at the age when most young girls are playing dress-up in old prom dresses, creating make-shift veils and wobbling around on heels far to high for their unstable feet. 

This child.  My child.  Had no frame of reference for such a dream.  My little girl was struggling to survive the nightly abuse, while other little girls were free to imagine and play.

I stared at her.  In awe of the femininity this particular dress exposed.  Amazed at the glimpse I was being given into her soul.  The part of her that dared to dream for something more than pain.

There were oohs and ahhs and woo who’s coming from the semi-circle as we all expressed our approval.  Aware of the significance of this exact moment in her life, I  say almost quietly above the crowd noise, “Binky, you have never imagined this moment before now, have you?”

She looks at me, wiping her tears with her now black fingers, “No. Never,” she manages to get out before the tears start rushing out again. 

She doesn’t need to say more.  I get it.  I get that for at least that moment - she is finally free of some of her demons.  She is finally free to see herself as God intended her.  Perfect and beautiful.  And maybe, just maybe.  For that moment.  She doesn’t see herself as damaged goods – unworthy of love and respect. 

And I am there to witness God in all his glory.  Working in the heart of my hardened child.  Ready to heal her from her past. 

Postscript: And that, my friends, is the answer to the constant question, “How do you do this?”  I am able to endure all the pain and heartache and trouble and sacrifice because every once in a while, I am allowed a mere glimpse of the potential life that has been entrusted to me.  And that is enough to keep me motivated.

Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Foster Care: 53 Kids and Counting….

Foster Care: 53 children and counting….
By Anna Giattina Lee

In honor of National Foster Care Month...

Brave is such a powerful word.  It’s right up there with saint and courageous. Innocent people seem to think it is a compliment to use such words to describe our super-sized family.  Truthfully, it just makes me very uncomfortable. 

Okay.  I understand that most sane people don’t spend all the time, energy, and money to become an attorney, and then earn a Masters in Secondary Education, only to leave the professional world and the accompanying salary to foster and adopt a total of 53 children and counting.

Most men I know aren’t willing to give up most of their favorite things to become the sole provider, working hard to support a mega family created because we willingly choose to raise children born into other families.

I am even willing to acknowledge that as parents to three biological children and 18 that are legally ours - my husband and I are in the minority, both literally and figuratively. If it weren’t for the recent wave of reality shows about large families, not many could imagine what it would be like to live in our unique family.  Even fewer could picture themselves as parents in an interracial family with some kids that come and go and others that are permanent.

I can even force myself to concede that living in a home with 8 bedrooms, 4 refrigerators, 2 washers/dryers, 5 freezers, a semi that delivers frozen food to our home, 100+ dishrags, 7 kids under the age of 8, and a load of hormonal teens and young adults is a little extreme.
But none of that makes us special.  Crazy perhaps.  But not special. 

Seventeen years ago, my husband and I recognized a need and made a choice to commit to changing the future one child at a time. We never planned to raise quite this many children.  In fact, we started slowly back in 1995 as a respite home, offering a place for a 13-year-old girl to spend summers and holidays with our family instead of the group home where she lived.

By 2000, when we went from five to nine children in less than six months, every person who knew us thought we were certifiably insane.  Even our pastor, who has since eaten his words and now remembers when we only had nine girls, declared that we should not try to raise that many children.

At the time, I was still practicing law and my husband had his own CPA firm. We had become pregnant on our honeymoon and had three girls by our fourth wedding anniversary, so it certainly wasn’t a fertility issue. We had no desire to get into the Guinness Book of World Records.  We weren’t contemplating a television deal with TLC. We really had no motive, other than keeping siblings together whenever possible and to honor our faith by answering the call on our lives. 

We are intelligent, educated people.  At least our degrees say that.  We know that the numbers don’t make sense.  Financially or otherwise.  But we try hard not to think too much and just follow the need wherever it is.

We literally met the first teen we adopted on our fifth wedding anniversary while she was on a group outing in a state park.  That seemingly chance meeting was the beginning of our adventure, because it was the moment that my husband realized he could love a child that was not biologically his own.

Our second adopted child is a wild, exciting and heartrending story all by herself.  By the time she was six-years-old, she who had already been placed in six different homes.  When we heard about her, her adoptive placement was disrupting because of her psychological assessment and she needed a new family immediately.  There was never a question that she was our child, but every day was hard for all of us.  Tragically, our daughter was killed in a single car accident while texting and speeding, exactly 12 years to the day after we met and chose to adopt her.

Our third child’s attorney had met us at a foster parent training session. We were the only couple that expressed a willingness to foster and adopt a teenager.  Less than a week later, when one of the kids on her caseload suddenly needed a permanent placement, she called us to take a thirteen-year-old girl.  
Without much thought, only an awareness of need, she became ours.

Within a few months, we were asked to foster our next three children for the weekend while the State waited on three separate placements to open up for the sisters. We couldn’t bear the thought of traumatizing the girls even more by splitting them up.  Thirteen years later, we can safely say that this has been the longest weekend in our lives!

And the stories number all the way to 53 kids and counting….

Even now, many mornings we wake up wondering how we can possibly meet all of the varying needs of our children on a budget that is half of what it used to be and with sanity that is quickly waning. On good days, we rest in our faith.  On bad days, we try to do it all by ourselves.

Our peers are well into planning the details of their retirement and we have no idea  how many more children might come through our home before we die.  We just take each day as it comes.

So why do I hate the thought of being called a saint, or brave or courageous? 

It’s fairly simple.  There are well over 100,000 kids in the United States who need to be adopted.  There are approximately a half-million children in foster care at any given time.  And there are far too few people who are willing to foster and adopt these children. 
Perhaps it is because they fear that they are not equipped to handle kids with physical, mental and spiritual issues that can seem overwhelming. Or, when they see people like us –  who stand out because we are on the extreme edges of what seems possible – they think that fostering or adopting just one or two children would be insignificant.  Of course, that is not true.

And therein lies the problem.  If what we do is labeled special.  If a person can put us on a pedestal and make it seem like caring for children in need of family is brave or noble or sacrificial.  If others think that we must be more patient or wealthy or giving than they are. If people are convinced that the life they imagine for themselves can’t happen if they bring others into it. If they believe these things, then it is easy to trick themselves into believing that they can’t possibly be the ones to step into the role of foster or adoptive parent. And that makes me sad.

Don’t get me wrong.  What we do is hard.  Sometimes really hard.  There have been countless times when I hate being responsible for so many lives. Other times, I cherish the privilege of that responsibility.   

Sometimes, I feel like no one could be more impatient or militant or less nurturing than I can be.  Other times, I conclude that I must be the most patient person in the world because I haven’t actually hurt any of my children and God knows I’ve wanted to put one of us out of our misery on more than one occasion. 

But brave is a word I reserve for others.  Like my children – some of whom have been neglected, beaten, raped and abused and who choose every day to overcome their past. 

And my children who were neglected or feel abandoned by their families and who struggle to accept our love and find their special place in our family. 

Or my birth children, who have shared their parents and walked alongside the struggles of their adopted and foster siblings without complaint since they were pre-schoolers.

Brave describes my children who grew up in poverty and who could barely read or write by middle school, but who worked hard and managed to graduate high school and even attend college with some scholarships. 

Brave is a perfect word to describe my adult children of addicted parents, who are ensuring that their children are not forced to endure the uncertainty of that life. 

These are the people for whom I reserve the descriptions brave and noble and courageous. 

Because admittedly, although this life we chose is not always nice and pretty and happy by the world’s standards, my husband and I gain far more than we sacrifice.  Our lives have meaning and purpose.  

And if that makes us brave, then so be it. 

But I still don’t like that word.

Wednesday, May 14, 2014

When Life is Complicated: 5 Rules for the Proper Use of Curse Words

When Life is Complicated:  
5 Rules for the Proper Use of Curse Words
By Anna Giattina Lee

Trigger Warning:  Some bad words were used in the writing of this article, but none were harmed.

When my kids hear another kid say a bad word they always shout, “Mooooom, so and so said the “B” word!”  For the record, every bad word is a “B” word.  I usually don’t know what word is actually spoken, but I’m sorry to say that anything from the mundane to the horrific is possible. 

Sometimes.  Okay, more than sometimes.  Bad words loosely fly around our house like dust bunnies when I turn on the fan. It could be anything from brat to shut up to what is referred to in semi-polite society as the f-bomb! 

It’s not usually worth a diagnosis.  I just shout back, “Whoever you are, saying whatever you are not supposed to say, stop now!”
I wish I could say I was a better example.  That none of these words ever spill from my mouth or the mouths of any of my older children.  But that would be a lie.
Let me clarify right from the start.  The little ones are not “allowed” to use these words.  Ever. The fact that it gets them into trouble with the teachers and the parents of their friends is only partly the reason we frown on the use of bad words.
However, in the lives of some of my profoundly traumatized children, and those of us who are on the journey with them, these words spill out at times.

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again.  I’m not proud.  But so far, it is the only coping mechanism I have found that allows some of us to release some of the pent up screams and frustration we feel. It is especially useful for my kids when physical violence has been the go-to method of releasing that pent up rage. It helps me when I am so crazed that I feel like slamming someone up against the wall, which I must admit is a feeling that has passed through me on far more occasions than I care to count.  (But no, I’ve never actually done it.  I say this to illustrate just how strongly I feel the emotion at that moment.)

I’ve never read this in any professional material, nor have I been trained in the use of curse words as a therapeutic tool, but in my crazy little world, I have found it to be quite effective when used properly.

I know. I know.  Some bright person is going to recognize that this is an oxymoron in civilized society.  Proper use and curse words don’t belong in the same sentence.

Moreover, for my Jesus following friends, I apologize that I haven’t fully fleshed this out from a biblical perspective.  I understand that we are not to take the Lord’s name in vain, nor are we to be quick to anger, and God gives us lots of instructions on the use of words.  And to the extent that any words directly dishonor the Lord’s name, are directed AT a person rather than to them, or are spoken in anger that is unjustified and impatient, I totally agree that they can NEVER be used properly, even by my loose definition.

But there is some gray area in between.  Some area that comprehends the value of words and the nuances that make them so powerful.

In our family, bad words are not made to throw at someone, but to reveal the depth of passion, feeling or attitude needing to be expressed in a way that nothing else does quite as effectively.

So, here are my 5 Basic Rules for the use of curse words and other politically incorrect language:

1.  Curse words and bad words do not belong in your everyday language.  They are a special tool that is useful only when used sparingly, knowingly, and intentionally to make a very specific point. Overuse negates the   effectiveness and power of any word.

2.  Know your audience.  If you choose to use bad words in front of someone who doesn’t follow this kind of philosophy, there will be consequences. Teachers might inadvertently label you the “bad kid.”  Your friends who are more sensitive might be offended.  You might hurt someone’s feelings.  Your friend’s parents might not want you to play with their child.

3.  Cursing is ONLY permitted when there is no other acceptable word or safe action that will be as effective as the curse word will be.  The truth is, cursing sometimes has the same affect on our brains as physical actions.  If the choice is to hall off and punch a guy, or scream at the top of your lungs, “I’m so effin pissed.”  Choose the screaming cuss words. 

4.  Do not use words to call someone names, as in “I know what I’m doing, idiot,” or “You are stupid.”  However, in the right context it is proper to say, “You are acting like an idiot. You have a bitchy attitude right now and it is not helping your case.”

5.  The word must generate the emotion or feeling that the word intends to incite. And by intend, I don’t mean that you are using the word to hurt someone just for the sake of hurting them.

And one more that should be a rule, but isn’t official.

6.  If mamma uses the “f” word, you better run and hide.  She reserves that word for when there is nothing else for her to do.  “She is as mad as she gets.  Her next choice is murder.  Run.  Fast.”

Allow me to illustrate, I have been known to use the “S” word - more commonly known as shut up. I used it long before it was politically incorrect because it might harm the poor fragile psyche of our delicate children who should never be told “no” and who deserve only our best all the time.  I think that is crap!

When I say shut up, I’m not saying, “Sweetie, could you hush?” or, “It is my turn to talk and I need you to listen.”

I’m not thinking, “I need you to be quiet for a few minutes.” 

I mean, “I’m sick of listening to you nag and whine and complain, so keep your comments to yourself and don’t talk to me another second.”

I intend to convey, “You are lying to me and you better be quiet before any more stupid spills out of your mouth.  I will not listen to what you feel you must to say to me at this very moment.  Stop talking and think before you speak.  Until then, I’m going to ignore you and I expect you to stop talking this instant.”

I am thinking, “If you call your brother a loser one more time, I’m going to explode.  When you try to justify it to me, all I can think is that there is NO justification.  So stop talking.  Period.  Nothing you can say will help your case.”

When I say shut up,  I mean just that.  I want to convey all the negative that the word connotes.  If I don’t want to convey that, then I will use another word, like “be quiet please,” or “hush,” or “shhh.” 

Sometimes the word shoots out faster than I can stop myself. Like when I hurt myself, when I step on a lego with bare feet, or I break my humorous while trying to hang a shower curtain, or when I jam my toe into the brick wall by accident, I can almost certainly be caught using the other not so nice “sh*#” word!  It happens so fast and so automatically, I rarely have a chance to shut my mouth! 

Frequently, curse words are an expletive used as an adjective to amplify the meaning of a noun or a pronoun.  Like when I have a deadline and the computer locks up on me for the 50th time and I can’t get the printer to work and I say, “I hate the damn computer.” That’s almost a violation of Rules 3 and 4, but not quite.  I really do hate the damn computer at that moment. And it isn’t harmed by my expression.

In a far more serious conversation with one of my teens who is struggling to put the pieces of their traumatized life together, it might come out through wails and crying like this, “Why is my life so *&?*!* hard.”

Even when directed at me personally, when one of my kids is in a rage that is hard but necessary as a part of healing, I would never reprimand the child for using any bad word in the book – even repeatedly.  In this case, the child knows his audience and is using the words properly.  And we have both found it to be extremely therapeutic. 

I could give many more examples, but suffice it to say that in our unusual family, we use whatever tools that work to relieve the intense pain that we all endure while engaging in life together in sometimes impossible circumstances. 

I am well aware that some people will be shocked by this revelation of my thoughts because I try to know my audience and respect those that I’m talking to.  But others, who have benefitted from my philosophy – especially my kids and some of the ones that I counsel who have no perceived place to vent– are equally thrilled that I have adopted this philosophy.

Consider yourself warned!

Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Mother's Day Reminder: 100+ Ways to Screw Up Parenting and Still Raise Pretty Great Kids

100+ Ways to Screw Up Parenting 
and Still Raise Pretty Great Kids
(in no particular order)

In spite of the fact that the vast majority of my children have come from very challenging places, I’m fairly satisfied with the way all of them are turning out.  They are resilient, loving, people who struggle daily, but who persevere and are tough, in the good sense of that word. 

They love each other and are committed to making their lives different.  Several are now married with children of their own.  I’m seeing a break in the cycle of poverty and poor decisions that impacted them as children.  And my birth children, who walked beside their adopted and foster siblings through all the issues, have grown-up with a desire to give the world more than they receive.  Overall, we have raised many unique individuals and I’m happy with the works in progress. 

Another adoptive mom called me in tears yesterday saying, “What am I doing wrong that not a single one of my children will listen to anything I say?  What kind of a mom am I? 

I paused and listened to her desperation and then said, “A mom like me.  You aren’t doing anything wrong.  And you are doing lots of things wrong. But this isn’t about the mistakes you are making or even what you are doing right.  You are a good mom with a virtually impossible job. You are weary and this is a very hard life we have chosen. You can do this and they know that you love them.”

There was silence on the other end for a moment.  “This is so hard.”

Yep.  It is. But so often when I talk to parents, I just want them to remember that they are human and they will make more mistakes than they can count.  But mistakes are not what define them – especially in the eyes of their children. 

The truth is, when they are older, our children usually don’t remember what we remember.  They barely remember our faults and mistakes.  Except in cases when parental conduct is on an extreme for an extended period of time and physical or emotional harm results (i.e., abandonment, abuse, addiction, mental illness etc.), children more often remember how they felt, rather than nitpicking every decision you made.  If they feel that you loved them.  If they feel that you cared.  If they feel that they mattered to you. Then the mistakes are pretty much irrelevant.

Just for fun, I tried to think of 100 ways I have messed up parenting the 53 kids that have come through my home. Because I have been parenting for 24 years and I still have little ones, it is safe to say that I have tried a variety of approaches to this parenting gig.  In some ways, I’m lucky because I get to keep practicing!  In others, I’m not so lucky because no matter how much knowledge I have, I find myself continuing to make mistakes!

Anyway, I made myself stop at 106 – which is likely to make my OCD readers a little edgy!  But it wasn’t even a challenge.  If I had allowed myself, I could have come up with 500 without too much more thought.

Let’s face it.  Parents are hard on themselves.  And even harder on each other.  Sometimes we feel like we have all the answers and everyone else is doing it wrong.  Other times, we know that we are desperately in need of help, but we are afraid to admit our shortcomings for fear of criticism. Neither position is particularly compelling.

As a mother of so many children over such a long period, I have learned one solid truth about parenting.  Kids are resilient and parents are human.  We will make tens of thousands of mistakes as we attempt to navigate this parenting experience. Sometimes, we will have days or weeks of constant mistakes.  Other times, it will feel like everything is working better than we could ever imagine. But in the end, it is a balancing act.  Trying to avoid the extremes on a regular basis, while trying to find that magical place that allows us to raise productive members of society who have something to contribute.

So here’s my list.  If you don’t find yourself somewhere on here, please contact me immediately.  I want to know how you do it.  (I’m serious!)

Not yelling when the situation demands it.
Losing your temper.
Losing your mind.
Not spanking.
Being overly impatient.
Wishing that this wasn’t your job.
Making this job all about you.
Telling your child the truth in a hurtful way when you are frustrated or angry.
Refusing to tell your child the truth so that you won’t “hurt feelings.”
Crying in front of your kids.
Trying to hide all your emotions from your children.
Creating a fantasy world with Santa Claus, the tooth fairy,
 the Easter Bunny, etc.
Refusing to participate in “white lies” with your children.
Having no rules for your child.
Having too many rules for your child.
Allowing your own emotions and frustrations
 to impact your parenting.
Ignoring your own needs for the “sake” of your children.
Standing up for your child when his conduct is unworthy.
Failing to stand up for your child
 when they deserve your support.
Trusting your child when they are not trustworthy.
Failing to trust your child 
when they are actually telling the truth.
Allowing your child too much freedom.
Giving you child too little freedom.
Trying so hard to be your child’s friend 
that you forget to parent.
Trying so hard to parent that you forget
 that they are growing up.
Giving your child whatever he wants without earning it.
Failing to reward your child for anything.
Praising your child for everything (good or not) 
to make your child feel special.
Thinking your child is not “good enough” (perfectionism).
Criticizing too much, too often, and too harshly.
Being afraid to critique your child 
even though your child needs to learn.
Missing nights of homework.
Placing homework and school above everything else
 at any cost.
Giving in to a tantrum just to get it over with.
Not realizing that tantrums are sometimes the only way
 young children can communicate a strong emotion.
Keeping your child up too late.
Refusing to change bed time for any reason.
Holding your child all the time.
Choosing not to hold your child all the time.
Keeping a strict feeding and sleep schedule,                                                     
 even though it means you have to miss opportunities.
Remaining flexible and allowing the day to run its course,                                
even if things get missed.
Laughing at your child when they are humiliated.
Not laughing with your child.
Attempting to entertain your child all the time.
Refusing to entertain your child at all.
Missing a major event (recital, play, etc) 
due to other obligations.
Attending every single activity for you child,                                                        
 at the expense of other important activities.
Letting your baby cry it out.
Not letting your baby cry it out.
Taking your child to the doctor too often 
out of fear, insecurity, or uncertainty.
Refusing to take your child to the doctor 
when it might be a good idea.
Choosing vaccinations.
Refusing vaccinations.
Creating a calm, scheduled, routine, predictable life,                                          
  at the expensive of last minute opportunities.
Creating a relaxed, wild, unscheduled,
 fly-by-the-seat-of-our-pants life, at the expense
 of missing opportunities due to poor planning.
Planning every detail of your child’s future.
Failing to plan any details of your child’s future
Overreacting to every emotion your child feels
 and trying to fix it.
Ignoring your child when they need you.
Not using a car seat properly.
Letting fear make you overly zealous
 in your safety precautions.
Letting your child do something others perceive as dangerous because you feel like they will be fine.
Not letting your child try something
 for fear they might get hurt.
Allowing your child to fail and feel the consequences.
Correcting every mistake your child makes so that he does not bear the feelings or responsibility for his actions.
Missing the signs of depression in your child.
Thinking that every normal hormonal teen act of crazy                                
    requires institutionalization.
Comparing your child to every other child you meet.
Missing major warning signs in your child’s development.
Allowing your child to participate in too many activities,                                
 causing stress and exhaustion.
Refusing to allow your child to participate in any activities out of fear or laziness.
Allowing your children to spend the night with friends.
Choosing to keep your kids at home at night for safety.
Allowing your child to be his own parent.
Refusing to allow your child to grow up.
Over protecting your child from the outside world.
Giving your child total freedom.
Home schooling your children.
Sending your kids to public or private school.
Letting your child sleep in your bed.
Choosing not to let your child sleep in your bed.
Not sitting down for a minute and talking to your child/teen.
Trying to listen to every little thing your child/teen has to tell you, at the expense of other important people and issues.
Putting your children before your marriage.
Hurting your children to protect your girl/boyfriend or spouse.
Drug testing your child even when they are clean.
Denying the obvious signs of alcohol and/or drug use in your child.
Spinning your wheels in an effort to make your child happy.
Not caring whether your child is happy.
Making sure that your child has everything (and more) 
that their friends have.
Not buying your kids anything that makes them feel included in their peer group.
Constantly catering to picky eaters.
Refusing to make anything your child likes to eat.
Overfeeding your children, especially junk food.
Underfeeding your child.
Trying to solve every problem your child encounters.
Not helping your child find solutions to problems they face.
Doing your child’s homework just to get it over with.
Refusing to help with the homework at all.
Babying your children so they wont grow up and leave you.
Treating your children like adults 
and making them grow up too fast.
Centering family completely around your children
Forgetting you have children 
and making it all about the adults.
Making every craft on Pinterest to impress your children, who could care less.
Thinking you are a failure because you can’t make anything on Pinterest and you think your children care.

So, there is it is.  My long long list of faults.  Tomorrow, I might print the next 100!  Come on guys.  We can do this. 

Sunday, April 13, 2014


By Anna Giattina Lee
April 12, 2014

It’s spring again.  And just like the miracle of seeing a baby in the womb of a pregnant women never ceases to amaze me, the transformation that takes place throughout spring overwhelms me with moments of unspeakable joy.

I go to bed in darkness, although sometimes the moon moves through the frames of my 6 windows like a movie in super slow motion.   At first, I awake each morning to light flooding through the empty branches of the 50 foot tall trees, lighting my spot on the bed. 

But as spring makes it’s way into my heart, the light turns to sparkles and flashes as it makes its way through the dense green leaves and is reflected back, making me feel like I’m inside a crystal looking from the inside out. 

The windows are open, and I get to hear the leaves as they gently rustle against their branches and rub across my screens to remind me of their presence.  I hear the geese fly over my house with their familiar sounds and I imagine their predictable formation as they make their way over the mountain to the lake a short distance from our home.  The birds sing their various songs.

The house is still amazingly quiet and my littlest one, who still sleeps in our room, breaths gently and mumbles in his sleep as the sun does it’s job and gently pries his tiny eyes open.  He smiles from ear to ear with his eyes still slightly full of sleep in that sweet way that adds to his innocence.  Whether he sees me or not, his first word is always “Nanna,” which he speaks in a raspy small voice that is evidence that he has just woken up.

“I’m here baby,” I say as he looks for my head poking out of my old quilts that I layer to cocoon myself.  He climbs out of his bed dragging his blanket behind and comes to join me in bed for some cuddle time before the day begins full force.

These moments are beauty.  And when I am aware.  When I allow myself to see and feel and hear beauty.  When I recognize it for what it is, I am stunned all over again.  As if it is the first time I have ever understood beauty. 

Why?  I ask repeatedly.  Why do I have the ability to recognize and appreciate beauty? God you didn’t have to make that possible.  But you did.

And then the answer comes in almost the same words every time.  “The most incredible thing about beauty is not that we can see it and feel it and hear it.  But that God gave us the ability to recognize beauty.  To experience it.  To appreciate it.  To love it.  To take pleasure in it.  To let it excite us.  Motivate us.  Enliven us.   To make us happy and creative and joyful.”

And my friends, that is a gift.  A grand gift from God. 

And one that leads us back to Him and His beauty. 

Thank you God.

Monday, March 3, 2014

CASTING BLAME: There, but for the Grace of God, Go I."

Yesterday, I posted the story of God waking me up from a deep sleep prompting me to think about the possibility of accidentally leaving one of my little ones in the car by making me think I had forgotten my 5-year-old in the car the night before!  I hadn’t actually left him, but within 2 hours of being jolted awake with that feeling, my visiting 4-year-old granddaughter was actually forgotten for a few moments in the car after a quick trip to school for drop off. 

God knows me well.  If it had been a vague feeling about something that might happen in the future, I probably would have dismissed it as my thought. 

If I had actually left a child in the car, I like to think that I would have been prompted much sooner! But by making me stop, process and think about what I had done it was at the forefront of my busy mind.

When my son wasn’t at breakfast (which actually isn’t unusual), it made me ask for more detail and gave me the chance to talk to the kids.

So, because I was so checked into this crazy feeling, when it actually happened within a few hours, God had prepared me to act.
The truth is, even if she had been left longer, it was neither too hot nor too cold to cause any long-term damage to her body.  But it would have messed with her emotions. And it would have been terribly scary.

But God protected her.  If it had just been me or my husband, we could have forgotten her for longer.  I could have thought she was back upstairs in the playroom playing with her cousin’s Barbies.

When new factors are introduced - a grandchild that isn’t usually with us on a school morning and normally doesn’t ride along for the trip to school – it is easy to go into rote action mode, not really thinking about what you are doing, but just doing it.

Likewise, when you do the same thing over and over again, sometimes you actually think that you have done something, when actually you did it yesterday, and the day before, and the day before that, but NOT today.

But your brain can play tricks on you.  And so can the Enemy. 

It’s not always about caring or not caring. 

It’s not always about loving or not loving.

It’s not always about selfishness or selflessness.

It’s not always too many children or not enough experience.

It’s not always about work or something else being more important.

It’s not about anything other than humanity.

When tragedy strikes a family, I cringe when people are critical of the parent(s). I can’t stand to see the daggars come out as people try to find someone to blame, as if that will solve the problem. 

Although it is certainly possible for some of these situations to be the result of abuse or neglect, the result of drugs or alcohol, truthfully, that isn’t the norm.

I know what abuse and neglect looks like.  I live with the consequences every day.

I also know what it means to be human.  To be overwhelmed.  To be lost in your own thoughts.  To make a mistake. 

And who is going to suffer more than the parent who makes this mistake?

The people casting judgment will forget the incident.

They will forget the name of the one who is now gone.

Their lives will move on as if nothing ever happened. 

Some of these people feel, “It can’t happen to me.”

“I would never let that happen to my child.”

“How could you forget your child?”

 How can you think that you dropped off your child at daycare when you didn’t?"

And it is these people that scare me.  The ones who actually believe they could never make this kind of tragic mistake.

I am an educated woman who has voluntarily dedicated most of my adult life to helping children.  I have more experience than most people.  I have more education and knowledge than many.  Yet, I could easily make a mistake that harms someone else.  And that scares me enough to be hyper vigilant and to listen to the promptings and intuitions that I am given.  

But if I ever did make this kind of tragic mistake, I would hope that people would consider my humanity and the bigger picture and not cast immediate judgment on me.

For the record, I’m not above reproach on the judgment problem.  I confess that on the same evening all this happened, I read about the Sommer Wilford, a Birmingham woman who supposedly watched her child burn in a car fire following an accident without telling the police or firemen her son was in the car.  They found his body after the fire was out.

The article clearly implied this she knowingly let him die.  It even mentioned charges of reckless murder.  And possible drug use.  Her wild hair and what looked like a smirk in her mug shot didn’t help her case.  Admittedly, I went in the precise direction that the author of the article intended.  Casting blame on the mom for ruthlessly watching her beautiful son die in the fire.  I even repeated the story to my husband.

But thankfully, I make it a habit not to comment publicly before I’ve done my own research. Out of curiosity, I checked out her young fiance’s Facebook page and found family portraits of a large extended family together with his handsome blonde-haired little boy. 

And this was his last entry.

People look if someone has shit to talk its (deleted his address) where I am I mean you people are clueless she didn't let him die she would never do that that baby was our world and it got taken from ous all of you saying dope was involve I can assure you there was no dope involved no one knows what happened bc guess why no one seen what happened but them and god So before you make all these horrible assumptions stop have some respect and dignity this news thing has taking it way to far and I will personally be putting a stop to it But no matter what is said done etc. nothing can bring my precious baby back he will dearly be missed and please All I am asking for is for everyone to stop until you find out the true story bc I don't even know yet but she was my better half and either of us would have done anything to stop this anything and yes No Matter what I will stand behind her till the end please pray for my family and stop the nonsense

Suddenly, Sommer Wilford wasn’t an object of blame.  She was a human.  With a story.  And a fiancĂ© who believed in her. 

And that’s when I had to recognize that I was judging without all the facts. Perhaps she was under the influence. Maybe the tragedy itself caused her to go into a state of shock that caused her to dissociate from reality.  Or she could be an evil person who wanted her son to die. 

I have no idea what the truth will turn out to be.  And I’m not going to try to figure it out.

Instead, I will pray.  God the Father, wrap your arms around this family and their friends.  Reveal yourself to them during this tragedy.  Let their minds be filled with joy.  Protect them from the comments and people’s opinions.  If drugs or alcohol are involved, I ask that you remove addictions.  Keep the family focused on what is important.  Heal their wounds and surround them with others that will lead them to you.