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

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Part 2 of 2 - "Take Only Pictures. Leave Only Footprints."

STOP: If you haven’t read Part 1 of this story, scroll down to the previous link and read the story with the same title first.  

Sometime this week -- between the time that I discovered undeniable evidence that a small rodent was living in our car and yesterday -- one of my clever girls strategically placed three milk duds in the glove compartment on top of the tire warranty and the shredded tampon.  Whether she felt sorry for the little guy or just wanted to experiment, I don’t  know.  (Don’t ask why we didn’t remove the shredded tampon when it was originally discovered.  I have no explanation.)

When -- purely out of habit I might add -- I reached in the glove compartment to get a napkin to wipe the muddy footprints off the seat where people have to step in order to get to the far back seat, I was startled to see what looked like three droppings from a much larger animal.

Upon closer inspection, I recognized them as milk duds with the chocolate chewed off!  If any doubt remained as to whether the creature was still on the loose – it was removed.

It was time to bring out the big guns – my husband and the mouse traps.  For the record, my husband now tells me that he didn’t doubt that a creature was in the car on the trip home, he’d just tried to catch them so many times before that he knew the stealth creature wasn’t going to allow itself to be found on the side of the interstate, so he just waited.  Unfortunately, tracking down and destroying small rodents is a skill he has developed over the years. But those are other stories which I have not yet written.

WARNING: If you are an animal rights activist, work for the humane society or belong to PETA – you might want to stop reading here.  The rest of the story involves some minor violence.

We make it a policy to keep our house open to everyone and stray animals are no exception.  For the most part, we don’t kill spiders or other small insects if we can simply slide them onto paper and put them outside where they belong.  But we draw the line at creatures that invade our personal space and destroy or contaminate things or people.  Houseflies, stinging insects, roaches, rodents that are not caged, and scorpions fall into that category.

We live in the woods and we pay professional pest and rodent control services dearly every month in the hopes that we’ll never have to do the dirty work ourselves.  But, to date, no professional has ever caught a rodent in our home – or car.  It’s always a family effort, led by my husband – using our collective wits and brains to outsmart the rodents.  We always win – but it takes time and every brain cell we can muster.

Last night, my husband went looking for mousetraps.  Much to our surprise, one of our kids admitting to having an unopened package in her room.  When asked why, she mumbled something about buying traps and shaving cream on the camping trip as part of a practical joke they were planning to play on my husband. We didn’t ask any more questions… “Just go get the mouse traps,” we ordered.

Step One:  Mouse trap with peanut butter in the glove compartment.

We’ve been told by the professionals that peanut butter smells great and lures the rodent to the trap.  They are correct.  If you want to feed a rodent – be sure to use lots of peanut butter. What they don’t mention is that the animals can simply lick it – never setting off the trigger device.   We have learned to use this step as an appetizer – lulling the smart creature into a false sense of security. Thirty minutes after setting the trap, the peanut butter is completely gone, the trap is untouched, and on a diet of milk duds and peanut butter, we don’t have anything but a fatter rodent.

Step Two:  A ball of cheese molded around the trigger device.

This method is not without its draw backs, but it requires slightly more effort on the part of the rodent.  They tend to be like humans and try to take all the cheese at once.  This is the cause of their ultimate demise.  Greed.  Funny.  That’s so human.

Anyway, this time we let the trap stay overnight. Sure enough, the next morning, our 8-year-old, and as of today the only boy in the house – runs to check the trap and finds that our plan has worked.  Caught with his mouth on the proverbial cheese ball, he met his fate.  It was a mouse.  Which was a relief.  Rats are really disgusting.

He’s brown and furry and really kind of cute.  I take a moment to mourn because I actually like mice.  But not if they are living in my car under cover of darkness.  That’s a little unnerving.

So, unless the mouse has brought his family – we should be back to business as usual -- with enough leftover food and trash in our car to feed a small third-world country, but with one less mouse to feed! 

Part 1 of 2 - "Take Only Pictures. Leave Only Footprints."

I have been writing for many years, but only recently started to blog.  It's time for a little humor. This story was originally written in January 16, 2007.  It is told in two parts.  You won't want to miss the end of this hilarious story!

The sign on the way out of the camp site said, “Take Only Pictures.  Leave Only Footprints.”  We are typically a law-abiding family, but sometimes, things are simply beyond our control. 

Last month (that fact will become important much later in the story) we took our family on our 2nd Annual “Escape the Chaos of Christmas” camping trip.  For my husband, that means a tent and sleeping bags. Problem is, only 4 of our 18 children have been boys—and the majority of our girls aren’t the outdoorsy type. 

I’m head of the girly girls.  The last two times we went camping – oh, who am I kidding? -- the only two times our family camped – we had young babies, it was December, and I couldn’t bear the thought of our infant freezing to death – even if we do live in Alabama.

Therefore, I insist on renting a cabin with running water, a kitchen, and a space for the pack-n-play.  I meet with little resistance. Everyone prefers the comforts of heat, a soft bed, and no living creatures with more than 2 legs– even if that means 13 people crammed into a cabin built for four, with a single bathroom.

Months before the big event, my husband begins asking, cajoling, and finally begging for his girls to join him in the tent for a fun, frolicking evening around the campfire.  He’s not a seasoned camper – as evidenced by the fact that he didn’t know food inside the sleeping tent is a bad idea – but the girls don’t know the difference. 

The kids that are willing to humor their father and sleep in the “man” tent insist on the campsite nearest the outdoor bathroom facility.  Moreover, after spending all day inside the cabin in their sweats without a shower, they line-up for the only indoor bath in order to shower, shave, straighten their hair and apply full make-up before spending one night in a sleeping bag in the bitter mountain cold. No amount of reasoning convinces them that this is not necessary. I find it highly amusing.

I’m fairly certain that they are not trying to impress anyone.  I doubt the bears care about make-up.  It’s more about comfort.  They simply feel better sleeping on the ground when they are clean and pretty.  

But I digress. Obviously, we survived the four-day camping trip.  When it comes time to pack the cars (it takes two cars to transport our family anywhere) each girl assumes the task of collecting her personal items, stowing them in her designated, pre-sized duffle bag and placing all of the extraneous parts and pieces directly beside the car so that they can carefully crammed into the car at one time.  After years of traveling with a large crew, I have packing down to a science.

The two and one-half hour drive home with 8 people in a Suburban is a bit crowded, but we are not above using a portable DVD player to keep them from killing each other.  Fortunately,  I had to leave a few hours earlier with some of the kids to get our 10 ½ month old to her “as close to 9 months as we are able to remember and can actually find the time to make the appointment -- well check-up”  But that’s another story.

Somewhere in route, I received a frantic phone call from one of my girls – speaking in a rushed, high pitched tone, she says, “Mom!  Mom! (Insert screams!) Can you hear me?  There’s something in the car.  Mom! I promise you!  We have some furry creature in the car with us.  It just crawled across my! (Insert 7 screaming girls!)  It was the kind of voice that made my mother heart jump as I immediately envisioned dead bodies strewn across the road.  Listening to her words, I realized it wasn’t quite that dramatic, but I still couldn’t make sense of what they were screaming about. 

She continued, “Mom!  Dad doesn’t believe us, but I promise you some furry thing just crawled across the floorboard of the car.  We must have packed up some animal when we packed the car.  Mom!  Please tell dad that we are serious.” 

I try reasoning with my loving husband. “Are you sure it’s nothing,” I say sweetly.  Okay, anyone who knows me, knows that’s a lie – I never speak sweetly. But I do ask him.  Then I figure any animal crazy enough to get in the car with 7 screaming girls and my husband deserves the punishment.  Besides, I was in another car.

Anyway, he refuses to pull over on the side of the interstate, refuses to unpack all seven girls, the entire truckload of camping supplies, 6 hair straighteners, 8 pillows, the dvd player, and all the dirty clothes to find an imaginary animal.  He did suggest that they open the windows.  He was ready to get home. Creature or not. 

The remainder of the trip home the girls kept their feet in their seats and refused to sleep – all watching intently for the next sign of fur. There was none.  When the girls got home and emptied the car, there was still nothing.

Perhaps the problem is that seeing fur in the Suburban isn’t all that unusual – however, it is more likely to be that furry green mold that grows on a two-week old peanut butter sandwich than a small animal.  In spite of the lack of evidence to support their story, the girls remained firm in their belief that there was, in fact, an illegal stow away from the camp ground.

Flash forward 21 days and approximately 2,000 miles on the odometer. 

I give my 20-year-old daughter two plastic applicator tampons to put into the glove compartment.  She lays them on top of the tire warranty that we bought with the new tires just days before the camping trip. These items are emergency equipment in a car full of teen-age girls.

Two days later, we are loading the car for coop.  My 14-year old daughter opens the glove compartment and finds a perplexing scene.  Holding up one of the plastic wrappers that has obviously been chewed open and a plastic applicator with a tiny hole in the handle she looks quizzically and said, “Is this supposed to look like this?”

Initially, I wasn’t paying attention to her, which is not all that unusual because I’m taking a head count of kids, making sure the baby is properly restrained, checking behind others to make sure they what they need and loading my teaching materials before we drive off.  But her facial expression causes me to notice her.

I glance over at the items she is holding and then divert my eyes to the open glove box where I see that the cotton that has been removed and shredded into tiny pieces which are now lying on top of the tire warranty.  Upon further investigation, we discover that the warranty is missing a one inch semi-circular chunk from the right corner. The edge of the paper has a pattern that bears an uncanny resemblance to tiny teeth marks. 

What can I say? My husband was wrong.  The evidence is overwhelmingly against him!

How a small rodent has survived a month inside our car is a mystery. How anything can survive in our grungy 1998 Suburban that is literally falling apart at the seams is a mystery.  How it could go unnoticed during a 500 mile trip to Florida with 8 children, an  800 mile trip to Kentucky, and a minimum of 12 trips per day taxiing kids on every  errand you can imagine, is priceless

Okay.  We took plenty of pictures.  We left at least 13 sets of footprints.  It was the “only” that gave us a little trouble. 

The story continues in Part 2, which I will Post simultaneously.

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Forgiveness Doesn't Come As Easily As I Had Hoped

Sometimes, words come back to haunt me.  About a month ago, I wrote in a post entitled “A Big Fat Zero In Parenting 101”:

“After a lifetime of dealing with never ending problems, I sympathize with those who have found themselves in similar positions and don’t have the support system or coping skills or knowledge to push through the pain and get through a problem without hurting their child.  It seems odd that I would feel that way about the people who hurt the children I take care of – but I empathize because I can see how it easy it would be for me to go completely over the edge and hurt another person.  There, but for the grace of God, go I.  Those words play over and over in my head. 

Don’t get me wrong.  I’m not condoning hurting your children or anyone else. And I’m not excusing it. I’m simply stating what other people might recognize but not admit.  We all have that innate capacity for evil and we are all selfish to some degree and those qualities, left unchecked and without God, can yield some horrific results.”

Last week, one of my young children was traumatized and abused by someone in our close circle who was supposedly taking care of my child for a few days while we were out of town.  Obviously, I can’t go into detail because there is both a criminal investigation and a child welfare investigation as a result of the abuse.  But I’m not feeling as forgiving and understanding as I was just a short time ago.  Actually, I’m pissed.  (And yes, that would be another one of those words I use in desperation that is not fit for public school or lady-like conversation.  But I think I’m entitled at this moment.)

In re-reading my words, I notice that like a good lawyer, I qualified my statement.  I understand that some people are in a position of weakness through choice or circumstance and they feel trapped and alone and abuse or neglect happens.  But such is not the case here.

I’m pissed that another human – who has plenty of financial, physical and moral support from relatively sane people – even when he doesn’t deserve it – still chooses evil.  I’m pissed that a man who professes to believe in God uses his power and control to harm people he perceives as weaker or not worthy - just because he feels like it.  I’m pissed that I trusted him.  I’m pissed that the legal and child welfare system may not provide justice to my child.  And I’m agonizing over the fact that I have spent the last 17 years of my life trying to protect children who have been severely harmed by others. Now the abuse happens on my watch and a child who was mostly protected up to this point is hurt. 

I don’t know what else to say except, “Please God, don’t let the damage be permanent. And show me how to forgive."

Postscript 1:  For those of you who might be inclined to think forgiveness means restoring the relationship with the abuser - that is not the objective.  In fact, it is probably dangerous - especially for my children.   Moreover, those of you who think I should wait for him to repent or be sorry for what he did before I forgive, may misunderstand that I am the one harmed if I can't forgive.  It can eat away at me for years and still have absolutely no influence on the outcome of the abuser's heart or of the legal system.   I understand that both intellectually and in my heart.  

Postscript 2:  I am often amused by the role irony plays in my life. I just realized that I was out of town teaching others about biblical peacemaking and forgiveness at the time my child was harmed.  Maybe God needed for me to see the obvious connection.

Monday, June 25, 2012

Fear and Reason

At 9:39 p.m. last night a stranger passed away, leaving behind her husband and three children.  Only she didn’t feel like a stranger to me.  Her name was Laura Black and she felt like a friend who had shared her struggles with me personally. I cried.

I cried for someone I had never met.  I cried because she was living and dying one of my greatest fears -- that something would happen to me and I would leave my children without a mother.  Again.

On both a physical and spiritual level, I have no particular reason to fear death soon.  But today I had to admit that I am fearfully living, in part because of some experiences. When I left town in January 2011, my 18-year-old was killed in a car accident.  Last week, we left our youngest children at home with family and friends to take our middle kids to a national leadership conference.  While we were away something terrible happened to one of my pre-school children and the youngest had a new outbreak of staph that required round-the-clock care.

I think of myself as a rational person, but there is no logic to my fear.  Even living, I know that I can’t be with my children every moment to protect them from harm. I like to think that when I am here, they are safe.  But hard things happen even when I’m here.

I think I’m afraid that my children need me too much. So many of them have already lost one mom and it would be so unfair for them to lose me too. I think I feel that without me their life would be incomplete.  That perhaps God isn’t enough for them without me to show them the way.  That somehow, I’m so important that my absence would matter. 

And the reality is it would matter in so many ways. I know that.  But ultimately, my presence or absence in the lives of my children does not determine their eternal destiny. They aren’t mine.  They are gifts from him.  I have to remind myself of that on a daily basis. I have to relinquish control – or more accurately – the idea that I ever had control in the first place – more times than I care to count.  I have to remember that I am only one of many earthly guardians trying to lead them on a path toward God. And that he is the only certain promise in this life.

I was introduced to Laura through her CaringBridge site where she posted information about her battle with cancer.  I knew one of her friends who shared the link to her page. Laura was a local lawyer.  Like me.  She was a mom.  Like me.  She was a writer and a Christian struggling to reconcile her faith to her situation.  Like me.  And she openly expressed her thoughts and fears and emotions to strangers.  Like me. 

I began reading her entries just a month ago when she began writing, “What I want you to know about life” letters to her very young children.  I have been trying to write those very letters to my children for at least 10 years, but something else always takes priority and I have done little to meet that goal.  At least on paper.

Like tonight.  I left the kitchen immediately after cooking dinner and told my husband, “I have to go write.”  He was confused.   I don’t usually say that.  But I had learned about Laura dying right before dinner and I had so many words in my head that I needed to get on paper. So I went to my room and closed my door. 

I had written two sentences when my 1-year-old came knocking on my door with his distinctive little knock saying “Nanna.  Nanna?  I need you.” He has been struggling with a serious staph infection for about 8 months and he wants me all the time.  I thought about telling him to go away so I could write and then the irony struck me.  I am living.  I am available.  I want to write, but he wants me in person.  So I let him in and cuddled with him, then changed his clothes and got him ready for bed.

Almost on cue, as I sat down to write again, my 4-year-old boys came running in and jumped on my bed (I hadn’t bothered to close my door this time.)  One wanted me to read him a book.  The other wanted me to wrestle with him.  Both announced that they were afraid to go to bed in their own room because there might be monsters.  They suggested sleeping in my room!

Again, I thought of how badly I wanted to reflect on the meaning of Laura’s death and why it affected me so profoundly.  But the irony was not lost.  I closed my computer again and read a silly Chic-Fil-A book about a Cliff Hanger that happened to be sitting on my bedside table.   And when I asked the boys about their monsters, they asked me about coyotes.  We talked for a while about the sounds they hear at night in the mountains surrounding our home.  They wanted to know what coyotes eat.  So I opened my computer to find out.  We looked up the answer and before it was over, we had watched the lioness at our local zoo deliver a cub, another lioness get eaten by hyenas (who sound like they are laughing according to one son), and a pack of elephants taking care of a newborn.

I enjoyed the time with them, imagining what memory they might take with them of that few minutes with Nanna. 

I was able to write about 3 more sentences before my 22-year-old daughter called from her full-time, live-in job in Tennessee where she is learning what it takes to be the leader in charge, a mentor, and a co-worker with her peers.  We caught up a little on life at home and spent a good deal of time talking about leadership and mentoring and what that looks like. In the end, she laughed as she realized our jobs were remarkably similar.  She laughed at me, saying that she really understood my emotions and issues – because they were hers.  I think she understood me in a way that she had not fully grasped before that moment.  For a moment I was both her leader and her peer.  It was a nice moment. 

And I could have missed it.  I could have been busy writing what I wanted them to know rather than sharing with her in the moment.  As much value as writing , it became blatantly obvious that I can’t let my desire to write override the time I spend in direct contact with my children. Yes, I need balance for sanity.  But if what I really want is strong, loving, loved children, then my presence while living is more powerful than my words after I am gone.

Ultimately, I realized that some of the “letters to my children” won’t be written on paper.  Rather, they will be written on their hearts through my daily and routine interactions with them.  I may have to remind myself of that frequently because sometimes it is easier to hide behind my computer than to interact with real people. And I am also blessed to have so many older children who can pass along what I have taught them to their younger siblings.   

And come to think of it... I guess I just wrote a letter to my children telling them what I want them to know!

Postscript: Duh Moment! What I sat down to write was directly affected by the three interruptions of my children.  Ironically, the interruptions are what God used to teach me what he really wanted me understood about my relationship with my children.  Of course, this didn’t occur to me until I finished writing this and was in the shower.  I’m a little slow.

Part 12 - Lee Family: Our Birth-Foster-Adoptive Journey to 20 Children

To be inserted at a later date.

Part 11 - Lee Family: Our Birth-Foster-Adoptive Journey to 20 Children

To be inserted at a later date.

Part 10 - Lee Family: Our Birth-Foster-Adoptive Journey to 20 Children

To be inserted at a later date.  I'm pre-occupied with other thoughts.  Be patient.

Part 9 - Lee Family: Our Birth-Foster-Adoption Journey to 20 Children

To be inserted at a later date.  I'm preoccupied with other issues at the moment.  Be patient.

Part 8 - Lee Family: Our Birth-Foster-Adoption Journey to 20 Children Part 8

To be inserted at a later date.  I'm distracted by my current thoughts on life!  Bear with me. 

Friday, June 8, 2012

Patience: Social Workers. Judges. Lawyers. And Life.

For those of you following the Lee Family Story, I'm out of town and can't write very easily.  There will be a short pause in the story until I return.  In the meantime, I will post a few things I have written that I have not yet shared.

I was wrong.  Today I realized there is one area in my life in which I am patient.

I’m sitting in the general waiting area of family court, thinking about patience.  I have to think about it because every time I come here I have to BE patient.  This is a place filled with conflict.  A place where troubled moms and dads and parents and new born babies and children all congregate because the parent(s) allegedly did something wrong.  Alcohol. Drugs. Neglect. Anger. Abuse. Abandonment. Poverty. Hopelessness. Lack of Education. And More.

It is also a place where people are trying to get their life together – or thinking that they are trying to get it together --  believing that they are entitled to more.  More time.  More chances.  More help.  More understanding.  More grace.

And sometimes they want less.  Less blame. Less responsibility.  Less accountability.  Less hopelessness.

The people around them have several duties: to protect the child, provide help for parents willing to conform to routine pre-printed court orders, and to try to protect the natural parent-child relationship. Some well-meaning over-worked attorneys try to provide legal help and representation – sometimes spending less than 10 minutes on the case before having to represent their client’s interests in the courtroom.  The nuance is lost.  Attorneys and judges and social workers tend to revert to pre-conceived (and often well-justified) ideas about the particular facts of the case. It is routine.  In part, because the truth is that there are many similarities in the stories that are told in the courtroom. 

But humans (or at least American humans) don’t like to grouped into a category.  They want to be treated as an individual.  Humans don’t want be attacked.  Humans don’t want to be told they aren’t doing it right.  Humans don’t want to have their children taken from them.  It’s natural for there to be a lot of anger and resentment and bitterness on the part of parents and other caregivers when their blood is taken unwillingly. 

But part of the test is the parent’s ability to remain calm.  To sound intelligent and reasonable.  To avoid shouting or name-calling.  To recognize the power of the social workers and the judge and the attorneys and to know that they have seen it all before.  Acting irrational only feeds into the preconceived idea that they aren’t a suitable parent.

It’s a delicate balance. 

Today, the courtroom is crowded with about 200 people.  There are no seats.  Young men don’t offer them to their elders.  Perhaps no one told them about what it means to be a gentlemen.  Maybe they heard it, but that isn’t the most important thing on their mind.  Most are either a parent or a child waiting to hear their fate.  Offering seats to others isn’t the priority.

For my part I have had to learn to wait.  Patiently.  As a former attorney I used to think I had to fight.  To make my position known.  To be loud enough to be heard.  (I still have to do that at home.)  I thought I had to prove my point.  To convince people to follow me.  To persuade them that I was right.  And I still do that to some degree – but more patiently. 

Over the years, I have learned it is more effective to wait on God.  To wait on his timing.  Many times in the past 5 years, I’ve waited or a runaway child to return.  I’ve waited on a kid that hates me and sees me as the enemy to view me as the mom I want to be for them.  I have watched my children and courts make decisions that I knew were bad and wouldn’t last.  But after making my position known, I wait.  I tell the child and the workers that I will be waiting if things didn’t work out as planned.  Then I let it go.

Which causes grief on the part of some of my other children. They verbally question why I am not “fighting” for the baby that they love.  Why I’m not “doing something.”  And all I can tell them is that history has proven to me personally that if I am patient and wait, the right thing will happen.  Sometimes bad things happen in between, but I know that I’m not in control.  Blaming and getting angry does little for anyone. 

Now don’t get me wrong.  This doesn’t mean that I’m not frustrated.  Or angry.  That my concern doesn’t show through in my everyday mood and activities.  I still FEEL the pain.  I have just learned that I can’t act on it.  I don’t need to burn any bridges.  I can only build relationships.  And that takes time.  A lot of time.

So I find myself being more patient that I ever knew capable because God has shown me that he is in control of my life and the lives of the children he places in my path.  And after doing this for the better part of my entire life, that’s a good place to be.

IF only I could only be as patient with my husband!

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Part 7 - Lee Family: Our Birth - Foster - Adoption Journey to 20 Children

Part 7 continues Heather's story. NOTE: I posted Parts 6 and 7 together so go back to Part 6 if you want to read this in order.  

This is a story that is so full of life and death.  It speaks to many that are hurting.  

Heather's Struggle to Find Her Identity

What I didn’t realize fully until Heather was gone and I was able to read her journal was that she started her journal when we grounded her from basically everything in her life.  We call it the Bed, Blanket and Bible Drill.  When we have run out of options and the kids get in to trouble with everything they own and every privilege and it looks like nothing is safe – we clean out their room of everything but a bed, blanket and bible.  Okay, we might leave some empty furniture out of convenience, but basically the idea is to remove everything that is cluttering their mind, tempting them, and causing them to be too busy to listen to themselves, to us, and to God.  No music.  No books.  No posters or pictures. No technology.  No TV.  No phone. No nothing.  Oh, did I mention No Door?  Yep. We remove the door too.

We leave them with their own thoughts, God’s Word, and a comfortable bed – they can keep a pillow too. As a result, if they want to engage with people or technology - they have to join the rest of the family or do nothing at all. 

We’ve done this more than one of our children -- to varying degrees and for varying lengths of time.  Sometimes, it works and helps the teen clear his or her mind and get back on track – realizing all that is lost and appreciating it all the more.

Once, after trying this with two of our 16-year-old foster children – they ran away – got caught – spent a night in juvenile hall and ultimately were removed from our home as foster children and placed in a group home.  We could have taken them back immediately, but we felt that this situation was dramatic enough that it might get their attention.  So we worked with DHR to let them go through this process, with the hopes that they would choose to return to us.  If they chose to return, we knew we had overcome a major obstacle that exists when we take in teenage foster children who really don’t want to be in care. 

The two children took dramatically different courses.  One child realized how much freedom she had with us and how much we loved her.  She was gone for 6 weeks and finally decided to return to our family.  We adopted her – and although the trying times didn’t end and we had many more dramatic moments with her – she is now responsible, married and has a beautiful daughter of her own, whom she adores.   But most importantly, Jesus is the center of her life.  Although at the time it looked as if our strategy failed – after all, she ran away – in reality it was her turning point. 

The other child didn’t do as well.  She eventually ran away from the group facility where she was placed and was gone for five months before she came back pregnant.  We had been searching all over the world for her and had never given up hope that she would return.  As promised, she was able to choose to return to our home.  She lived with us during her pregnancy and we helped her raised her daughter until she was two. 

Before we thought she was ready, she left our home with her daughter and tried to live on her own. That didn’t work out as she had planned and we are now raising her daughter and her two sons.  But she is a believer.  She has a strong foundation.  She can choose what she wants for herself because she knows both worlds. But, like Heather, she’s struggling to overcome her past and make a different future for herself. 

I say this not to condemn her, but to remember that sometimes, as parents, we do what we think is best and it still doesn’t produce the results we hope for.  But that doesn’t mean we can stop pursuing.  Stop trying.  Or simply give up.  Although our current strategy is to stop all help and do nothing but pray for this child, that is not because we have given up, but because we have done all that we can do and the rest is up to her and God.  We will assist her again when she wants our help. 

Other childrens’ reactions have not been so dramatic.  Like Heather.   I now know that she took the time to start to think and make peace with God.  She used the busyness in her life to hide from her problems.  Taking everything away left her exposed and vulnerable.  She didn’t like it.  But she clearly needed it.

I knew that we had given Heather a strong biblical foundation – not because we read and studied the bible every day together, but because we tried to live out our beliefs everyday – not just on Sundays.  The Truth was the basis for all our decisions as a family.  We intertwined God’s Word into our everyday language – but not in an obvious way – in part because we were also parenting four new teen-age girls and we tried not to sound too preachy with them, so as not to push them away from God before they really knew Him. 

A few months before she died, Heather tried to tell me that she didn’t know the difference between right and wrong.  That we had somehow failed to teach her that. At the time, I just laughed and said something like, “That’s a sorry excuse and a new one.  But I’m not buying it.  I’m pretty sure that over your lifetime, we’ve pretty much covered most things you need to know about right and wrong.  We have never made you memorize verses, but we give them to you daily.  Let’s start with the basics. Don’t kill.  Don’t lie.  Don’t Cheat.  Don’t be jealous.  Don’t put anyone or anything else above God.  Love others as yourself.  Not to say the 10 Commandments are all the instruction God gives on right and wrong – but they pretty much cover most choices…” 

Of course, she was in trouble and pulling the “I’m too stupid to know what I did was wrong because you didn’t teach me well enough” card.  Needless to say, that card didn’t work with me.  But she was desperate and looking for a way out of whatever situation she was in at that moment.  

I knew that she knew the Truth.  Her problem was a lack of trust. And without trust, nothing would really change.  And Heather didn’t trust completely.  Anyone.  Ever.  Not even God.  And many times, not even herself.  (She learned to have various levels of trust over time – but never complete.)

My motives for pushing her toward God were partly selfish I guess.  Years of living had shown me what I didn’t understand when I was a younger adult – I can’t fix every problem. And, at some level, it seemed easier to make her go to God and deal with Him directly – leaving me out of the loop!  But it made Heather feel like I was giving up on her.  That she was too much trouble.  That she had, in her words, “used up all of me by the age of 7.” At first that troubled me and she threw those kind of words back at me all of the time – as if to guilt me in to giving her the secrets to life that she seemingly thought I was keeping from her! 

What I didn’t know until just a few days after she died was that about the same time I began to tell her that I didn’t have all the answers and that I couldn’t fix her problems, she began keeping a very personal, very private journal.  On loose-leaf paper, in order by date, were over 250 letters addressed to herself and to God. Some were simply the journal entries of a wise young woman who struggled with life. Some were passionate love letters to Jesus. Raw and unedited, she wrote from her heart.  She shared with that loose-leaf paper and God what she refused to share with almost anyone else. 

A few days after finding and reading some of the journal entries, thoughts creeped into my head … What if?  What if I had not repeatedly told her that I didn’t have the answers?  What if I had not said, I’m all out of ideas – except for God.  I know He’s got the solution?”  What if I didn’t push her away from me and toward God?  What would have happened if I had continued to try to “help” Heather by giving her the “answers,” as if I could even if I wanted to?

Would she have turned so passionately to God - the only one who could offer her real help?  Honestly, I will never know that answer.  But as a mother, it teaches me an important lesson about my role as mom.  As much as I’m expected to be able to fix anything.  As much as I would like to be able to remove all the hurt and pain from my children.  It simply isn’t in my job description.  At some point, I must walk beside my child and guide her toward the real answers, but I would be a fool to think that I was the answer. I can only hope that I remember that lesson for my other 19 children. 

Part 8 continues with the story of some of our other children's arrival into our family.

Part 6 - Lee Family: Our Birth - Foster - Adoption Journey to 20 Children Part 6

Parts 6 and 7 of the story continue with some of the details of our first adopted child's life.  We adopted Heather when she was six years old.  We first met her on January 16, 1999.  She passed away in a car accident - still chasing her dreams - on January 16, 2011.  She lives on through her story.

The Rest of the Middle of the Beginning:  Heather’s Life

When Heather was younger, we spent countless hours having long talks on my bed. She had a huge gaping hole in her heart.  She had this strong, impossible to ignore feeling that she had been abandoned by her birth family and the one failed adoption and all the families in between.  She felt unloved. Unworthy.  Like she was too much trouble for anyone to endure.

She also had questions about whether she had ever been physically or sexually abused.  She had no specific memories, but she was so young she didn’t expect that she would remember anything.  Over the years, lots of experience with other sexually abused children in our family led us to believe that her conduct was consistent with a history of sexual abuse. But the adoption records weren’t clear about the time or circumstances – just vague allegations.  I had read her adoption file and asked lots of questions during the adoption process, but no one had any clear answers.  So we were just left with the thoughts.  These thoughts haunted her for most of her life. 

We did know that she lived with her birth mom and dad for the first 15 months of her life.  Her mom eventually was placed in a mental hospital for the seriously mentally disturbed where she stayed for many years, but the adoption records gave us no diagnosis. Nonetheless, I think it is fairly safe to assume that if Heather’s birth mom was mentally ill enough to be institutionalized for a long period of time, it is unlikely that she was capable of providing for Heather’s basic needs in a way that we could say was normal during those 15 months. 

In between, Heather lived with at least five other families –mostly family members who attempted to keep her in the family.  But in each home, there was a problem.  Another child was too jealous of her.  The family wasn’t really prepared emotionally or financially to raise another child for the long-term.  Heather was too challenging. Her grandmother adored her but she was too old to raise her.  Family conflict in the extended family was disruptive.  It wasn’t a lack of love for Heather that caused the problems, but nothing was ever quite right.

Heather’s memories of those moves from house to house are conflicted.  She had some very specific memories of certain incidents that she attributed to her leaving.  In every case, regardless of the actual reason, Heather somehow believed that she was abandoned and unloved because she did something really bad that caused her to be sent away. 
Heather was not a model child and it’s natural for her to assume she was to blame.  Having talked to most of her family over the years, no one ever said it was because Heather was a bad kid.  But that’s what Heather always thought - she was bad and they didn’t love her enough to keep her.  Those thoughts consumed her most of her life – until her 18th birthday, when she and I took a trip to visit her birth family – primarily so that she could ask the tough questions she had always needed answers to. That was the first trip back for a visit that seemed to give her some much-needed resolution to her internal conflict. She discovered that she was loved and there was a place for her in her birth family.

We also know a little about the first adoption, which was disrupted following a psychiatric evaluation after a few short weeks.  I never spoke to the psychiatrist, but the first adoptive mom told me that he had diagnosed Heather with Attachment Disorder, which is the diagnosis given for children who are so abused or neglected in their first three years of life that they fail to form a human bond with anyone.  They never learn to trust.  And for many, that failure to trust lasts a lifetime. 

The psychiatrist’s prognosis was grim.  He said that children with Attachment Disorder are the kind of kids that grow up setting fires, hurting people and animals, and eventually committing murder. He was serious.  His words were compounded by a made for television movie called “Child of Rage” based on a true story of a six-year-old girl with Attachment Disorder that did horrible things to her adoptive family without remorse or the appearance of a conscious.  The movie was also about the then new idea of “holding therapy” which was designed to recreate the child’s early life and teach the child to trust.  His recommendation to the adoptive parents was to get rid of Heather as soon as possible. 

And they did.  I don’t blame them for following the advice of the psychiatrist.  They were young and inexperienced.  They had no children.  They were taking the advice of a seemingly well-meaning professional.  It seemed logical to listen to a man who told you that if you kept this child, your world would become a living hell.

I doubt that when they decided to adopt, they thought they were signing up for that.  They were looking for a child to love and lavish.  I’m guessing they thought love would be enough.  They were enamored by this adorable little blue-eyed girl who knew exactly what to do and say to make someone fall in love with her. 

Often, kids with Attachment Disorder develop wonderful coping skills and appear on the surface to be loving, lovable, happy children that will seemingly go to anyone – even a total stranger. But this is simply a tool for survival.  A way to meet their immediate needs for food, clothing, shelter and human contact without actually being in relationship with anyone.

The reality is that these kids believe that the only people that can be trusted are themselves.  But many don’t even trust themselves over time. Without trust, there can be no real relationship. And that becomes the core of all future manifestations of the problems in their lives.  

We most often hear about Attachment Disorder because of International Adoptions.  Before people really understood this Disorder, foreign orphanages had so little money and so many children that babies were rarely held.  Bottles were attached to ropes strung across the bed.  Cries went unanswered by human touch.  Babies were left to themselves.  God said it wasn’t good for humans to be without others of their kind.  And you can see the truth in that when you see the consequences that occur when innocent, precious little babies are left alone. 

It seems like the solution would be simple.  Place that same little child into the loving arms of a mom and dad who desperately want to be this child’s parents and all will be well. And for some, that is possible – especially if they are still in the life-stage where they are formulating their beliefs about trust and human relationships.  Experts say that this happens before age 3, but I really don’t know.  God is bigger than an age limit.  But he did create us in a certain way and so many times, the outcomes are predictable.

If only love were enough. But it usually isn’t.  The love of parents is not enough.  Can never be enough.  Because this child doesn’t know how to accept love.  This child doesn’t know how to give real love.  Everything is a fa├žade.  A way to “act” to get needs met.  In a weird sort of way – kids like Heather learn to do and say and be whoever they need to be at any given moment – but it is for the purpose of getting something.  Not for the sake of the relationship.

I’m not an expert in Attachment Disorder.  I’m not here to give you a clinical definition and clinical answers.  I speak simply as a parent of an adopted child who was said to have suffered from it.  Over the years, I read and learned what I could.  But mostly, I just engaged in life with my child, knowing that an inability to trust was at the core of all her problems  - regardless of the cause. 

So, this couples’ dreams was turned upside down by her prognosis.  They contacted the adoption agency that placed Heather and told the agency they couldn’t keep her.  They wanted her out of their house immediately.  After all, they had already seen signs that the psychiatrist was right.  Heather held their beloved cat too tightly.  She wasn’t gentle enough.  She screamed from nightmares.  They had caught her in lies.  She intentionally destroyed things that were important to the adoptive mom and then pretended to have no idea how it happened.  Heather remembered all that and told me about it many times.

The truth is, Heather was not the right child for this family.  And God knew that.  But that didn’t stop Heather from feeling abandoned once again.  From feeling like one more family couldn’t handle her and didn’t love her enough to keep trying. 

I didn’t tell Heather what the psychiatrist said about her until she was about 15 and we began reading her adoption records, which contained some of her psychiatric evaluation.  She knew the diagnosis when she was six, but not what the psychiatrist said she would do.  Truthfully, I didn’t think it would help and I didn’t want to give her any ideas or expectations!

Looking back, the first night Heather was at our house, we let all four girls sleep on our bedroom floor so that we could all be together.  The next morning, we woke to find that our entire front yard had been burned in a brush fire.  Apparently, the fire trucks had even come and put it out.  None of us woke up through any of it. 

I never suspected Heather because she was in our room with us and I usually hear everything and everyone in my mommy sleep.  Not to mention, she had only been in the house for a few hours before going to bed and didn’t know where anything was kept.  We certainly didn’t have matches accessible to her.  But there was never any explanation for the fire.

It didn’t occur to me until just a few years ago that Heather could have done that.  Fire starting can be a problem in children with Attachment Disorder.  I never asked her and I will never know now.  But thinking back, I wonder if I had thought she started that fire, would I have fallen into the trap of believing she was too dangerous to be around my other kids?  I think God protected me from that thought.  It seems so obvious now to believe that Heather was the logical person to blame, but it totally evaded me then. Thanks God.

Come to think of it, God always protected our family from what we didn’t need to know.  I don’t know how, but the kids especially, knew nothing they didn’t need to know – even if they were sitting in the room while it happened or while we were talking about it. 

So, I’m not here to cast blame on Heather’s birth family or the first family that tried to adopt Heather or any of the families in between.  That isn’t my job and it won’t make one bit of difference in the outcome.  My only job was to try to understand what might have happened so that we could try to figure out how Heather could learn to trust.  I’m not sure we ever fully succeeded in that quest.

Sometimes, our long conversations led to short-term relief from her misery, but nothing permanent.  I knew that her only hope was in her relationship with God.  As she got older, I knew that relationship needed to be with Him.  Directly. I frequently told her that the hole in her heart could only be filled by Him, but she kept trying to fill it with me or some other person.  And we weren’t good enough.  We would never be good enough to make her truly happy.  She hated when I said that.

When I realized that I didn’t have many more answers for Heather. When I knew that I had filled her with Truth – even though she couldn’t quite grasp it all.  I knew it was time.  I had nothing new left to offer, so I urged her to engage more fully in her relationship with God.

Part 7 continues Heather's story.  I will post it immediately following this entry.

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

Part 5 - Lee Family: Our Birth - Foster - Adoptive Journey to 20 Children

(This is Part 5 of our story.  It is the beginning of our move into the adoption world.  It is also a story of commitment and endurance.)

The Middle of the Beginning –Adopting Heather

In 1999, at almost exactly the same time that Heather was placed in her first adoptive home, weird things were happening at the Lee home. We were still a respite home for Gail – although she spent almost as much time at our house as she did at the Group Home.  We had wanted to adopt Gail, but she didn’t want to separate from her twin sister and her twin wasn’t interested in adoption. 

Anyway, we didn’t have any specific plans for more children and we had not completed any paperwork or a home study that would allow us to adopt a child. 

Nonetheless, right before Christmas in 1998, Alan came up to me in what I now know is his “God is telling me something really important and I need you to listen” voice and said something totally irrational and crazy – considering he had had a vasectomy after our third child!  He announced in a rather rushed and hurried tone, “Anna.  I can’t shake this feeling that we are supposed to be preparing for another child!”  I knew I wasn’t pregnant, but he couldn’t offer me any more information about how we were supposed to go about getting another child!  And believe me – I asked lots of questions.  

It wasn’t normal for my husband to suddenly blurt out that God was talking to him directly about anything – let alone another child! God doesn’t speak so directly and clearly to me or my husband very often.  And my husband is a man of few words, but the sense of urgency in his voice made me take him seriously. 

So, without any idea of what I was preparing for - I started nesting like I was nine-months pregnant!  I cleaned closets, rearranged rooms, made phone calls inquiring about the adoption process (I couldn’t imagine any other way to get a child), and who knows what else over the next few weeks.

Three weeks later, while I was sitting in my law office working, I got what I thought was a sales call.  I almost hung up, but two words caught my attention – adoption agency!  The call was from a California adoption agency who said that they had heard about us from a person in Texas, who heard about us from someone in who knows where, who said that we might be willing to adopt a school-age girl.  Needless to say, I didn’t hang up.

The private California adoption agency was searching for an adoptive home for a six-year-old first grader whose adoption was disrupting and needed to be placed immediately.  We were given sketchy information about her history – including her psychological issues.  After taking some notes and getting callback numbers, I called my husband.

I had barely gotten the words out of my mouth when he said, “This is it! This is what God was trying to tell me!  Yes.  We will take her.” 

She was still in her adoptive home in Missouri and we had to travel there to meet her.  Fortunately, my husband had always wanted to visit New York City and I had saved up money and surprised him with a trip for our 10th Anniversary in June.  So we turned in our round trip tickets to New York City. Even though Alan was giving up a dream trip – including our seats to the David Letterman show - he didn’t think twice about the choice.  The next day we were on our way to a small town in Missouri to meet our new daughter. 

On January 16, 1999, we spent the day with Heather and her adoptive family – getting to know her.  She was adorable and precocious and we fell in love – knowing that we were about to enter into something big.  Really big. But even we didn’t realize how big “Really Big” was going to be.

As it turns out, we were Heather’s 7th placement.  She had been passed around between multiple family members, but for a variety of reasons, no one kept her for very long.   Her biological Aunt had her the longest – for 2 ½ years – and she ultimately placed her for adoption with a private agency.  Heather was matched with a youngish couple from Missouri who visited her a few times before she was placed in their home for adoption.  The adoption disrupted due to her psychological issues – including the diagnosis of Attachment Disorder - and that’s when we got the call from the California adoption agency.

Two weeks later, in what can only be described as a God-assisted adoption – Heather was placed in our home for adoption by an Ohio magistrate.  We went from having no home study and no idea that we were about to adopt - to having a new child in our home – all in two weeks. 

And did I mention that this adoption involved 4 states – all of which had to coordinate their paperwork?  That can’t happen without God.

Or that the magistrate in Ohio was going to transfer the case to Missouri rather than deal with another failed adoption.  But because I was an attorney and understood the legal issues – as well as being familiar with the foster/adoptive process – she talked to me by phone for almost 2 hours and agreed to retain jurisdiction so that we could adopt Heather?

Or that our doctors did our medical exam and filled out the paperwork the same day we called?

Or that we found a private social worker that came to our house within two days, contacted all our references and stayed up until 3 a.m. writing our report?

Or that our fingerprint report came back almost immediately?

Or that my husband’s Child Abuse & Neglect (CAN) report came back with a problem?  Turns out there is another man with his exact name in a nearby county with an abuse problem.  The miracle is that the social worker was able to definitively establish that it wasn’t my husband – all within the same few days?

So, as you will hear me say frequently… We never really questioned whether Heather was our child.  God had made that pretty clear to us before we even knew she existed.  Whenever things got really challenging with Heather, we always went back to the fact that God had given her to us and we couldn’t really reject His gift.

Part 6 continues with some of the details of Heather's short life and her impact on our family.  Because she is now in Heaven, I feel I can share her story in full -- unlike some of my other kids whose privacy I  want to protect.