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

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.

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