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

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Happy 20th Birthday Heather! I'm So Proud of Your Legacy.

NOTE:  I posted this same entry on my other blog,  It assumes that you know our story, which you can find on the other site.  It's Heather's Birthday and I took the opportunity to write her another letter in memory of our journey together. 

Happy Birthday Heather.  I'm Proud of Your Legacy
July 17, 2012

Dear Heather,

Today you would have been 20-years-old.  But I guess you know that! I don’t know if you have any need to celebrate birthdays in heaven, but we still celebrate you here. We are releasing balloons and eating cotton candy.  Your life and your death have impacted my life and so many others more than I thought possible. 

I have been thinking about what you would be like right now.

I wonder where you would be in your journey to healing.  I wonder how much deeper you would feel the love of God.  I wonder what our relationship would be like and whether you would be in college or have your own apartment.  I wonder how many more times you would have cheated death to experience the thrill of life.  I wonder if you would still be impacting so many lives by your mere presence and I especially wonder what you would have painted or written or videoed.  Your art is displayed in the dining room.  Your videos and much of your writing is on the internet.  It serves as a reminder and an encouragement.

A few of your siblings are in the stage I would hope that you would be in now.  The other day, one of your older sisters told me that even though she has had security and stability for more than 12 years, she is only now able to start coping with her past.  You started thinking and processing your life much earlier than most, but you hadn’t yet finished… at least not in worldly terms. I imagine that you would still struggle, but also experience hope. 

I have been sharing your letters with the world.  Or at least anyone who wants to read our story.  I knew that from your position in heaven you wouldn’t mind me sharing.  Especially if they can help someone else.  You would have done anything for anyone, even a stranger.  To this day, I cannot pass a homeless man on a street corner without hearing you demand that we pull over and give him something.  So I do.

That’s why so many people were impacted by you.  Because your unconditional love showed through.  People who knew you. People who had only met you once.  And even people who heard about you through others.  They were all impacted by you.  That’s why your letters attract a lot of attention.  They are so honest. 

Of course, you never imagined me reading them.  At least not this way.  But I did.  They helped me understand you so much better than I ever did while you were living.  I wanted to understand.  I tried to understand.  And I did understand a lot.  But I didn’t really know the depth of your thoughts.  They often got absorbed into your silliness.  And you often shut me out.  Believing I didn’t want to be bothered, when really, I just didn’t know what else to do for you. 

For me, finding, reading and responding to your letters after you died has been the single most valuable thing I have done to grieve my loss.  I got to tell you calmly all that I tried to convey to you in our long talks.  And your letters answered many of my questions.  I read your criticisms of me, but I also read that you loved for me.  I realized that you were listening to me when I was speaking – even though I often felt ignored. I was able to fill in the pieces of your story – the things my mommy-heart knew, but I had never fully confirmed.

I wrote my letters to you over the course of 6 months.  What I wrote just came pouring out.  I didn’t have to think very much.  And the entire time I was writing, I was learning about you and about myself and about others.  To this day, I still re-read your letters and my responses.  Each time I do, I learn something new. 

Lots and lots of people have written me to tell me that our letters have impacted them more than they could express.  Parents, teens and even young adults.  Male and female.  Believers and non-believers.   They are all saying the same thing.  They feel understood and/or they are learning to understand in a way that is hard to achieve. 

I love that God not only uses our thoughts and words to help others, he uses them to help me. Countless times since you died, I have been talking to one of your brothers or sisters and I start to say something, and it turns out to be exactly what I had written to you.  So I pull out your letters and I read them so that they can see that my advice is the same no matter the circumstance because Truth is Truth.  It also helps for them to not feel so alone.

Your death has given me words for the desires of our heart - to find Every Child a Home and a family that will love and cherish them forever.  My vision has expanded.  I feel compelled to talk and to use our story to help others understand what it means to feel abandoned.

I have been grieving a lot for all the hurting children lately.  As I’m reading and writing and posting, I keep seeing exactly how similar the themes are for hurting children.  Loss, abandonment, entitlement, trust, fear, and so much more.

This weekend, I read a book by a man who was raised in the Russian orphanage system.  He tells a compelling story of his life in multiple orphanages and one abusive adoptive home.  He was a throw-away in Russian society and eventually aged-out in a system where about 10 percent of orphans commit suicide. Even in a foreign country, the emotions and feelings prove to be universal. (Infinitely More by Alex Krutov.) Ultimately, he dedicated his entire life to helping others.

Last night, I listened to a video by a young man who was raised in, and aged-out of foster care in Alabama. ( He was in 46 homes.  He never found anyone who was willing to allow him to be a part of their family. He never felt like he belonged. 

At one point he said, “I never stayed any place long enough to call it home.”  I felt like I heard your voice in the “There is No Place Like Home” video when you said, “I never stayed in any place long enough to get familiar with it and be able to say, ‘This is home.’”     (

When he finally graduated from high school, he was given $500 and an empty independent living  apartment.  That’s all he had.  No family.  No real support.  No love.  Just $500 and an apartment.  No one should be that alone.

But like Alex, the Russian orphan, he is not dwelling on his past. Instead, he is trying to make a difference. He is now in college studying social work. 

The one thing all three of you had in common was Jesus.  When the world let you down, you relied on the only real Savior.  And that makes all the difference.

Alex has already impacted the lives of many Russian orphans who aged-out of the system.

I feel certain that the young man raised in foster care will affect the lives of those he encounters because he truly understands.

I have chosen to devote my life to helping the children God brings to our family. Thankfully, your father and the rest of our family have joined that vision wholeheartedly. Hopefully, our story will allow other people to see what we see.  That it is challenging and sad and frustrating and exhausting, but it is worth it.  Alone, none of us can solve the entire problem, but we can help just one person outside of our normal circle of family and friends to feel included and not so alone.

You have taught me that we are worth it.  

I love you honey.  I’m proud of the legacy that you have left behind.

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