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

Saturday, December 27, 2014

Trust and Gratitude: A Powerful Combination aka The Christmas Letter I Never Wrote

Trust and Gratitude:  A Powerful Combination
aka The Christmas Letter I Never Wrote
By Anna Giattina Lee

Christmas is over, but our gratitude is overflowing. Words cannot adequately express how grateful I am for the people in our lives that have come to our aid and supported our family and our mission this past year (and every year).

So many days, I feel emotionally alone.  It's not that people don't care, but our lives are fairly challenging to understand and we are admittedly a challenge to be around. Ironically, I'm an introvert who needs time alone to energize; yet God blessed me with people 24/7, making that quite a challenge.  The kids don't do well in certain situations – including any time they are separated from us. As I've come to recognize what those triggers are, I make efforts to avoid them -- so I miss out on some of the things I would like to do because I don't feel like I can do it without ruining it for others.

People always ask us how we financially support so many people with my husband's income. The answer has always been that God provides for us through the people who cross our path. Family, clients, friends, even strangers. Somehow, whatever we really need, and sometimes luxuries far more than we can justify, are literally dropped in our laps.

Money, clothes left on our porch, horseback riding lessons, a car, gift cards for the kids, diapers for an unexpected baby, help paying for crisis therapy not covered by insurance, money for a family vacation intended as therapy to help our family re-group after some awful trying times, funeral expenses, food, orthodontic care.  You name it – if we need it someone provides it.

Then there are the crazy unexpected things, like getting a sizable refund last week for adoptions completed in 2013, when we had no idea that we had overpaid.  And that time I was paid for work I did without sending an invoice because I volunteer part of my time and although I had not billed them in months, they knew our family could use the money.

My husband is an accountant and I am a former attorney, and we both know that none of this is logical.  It's not logical to have 21 kids on our income.  It doesn't make sense to keep giving more and continuing to support others who sometimes hate our guts, sabotage any chance for joy, and sometimes think we have nothing of value but what we will give or do for them.  It doesn't make sense to continue making ourselves a living target for rage and intentionally placing ourselves in the midst of chaos, trying to live in peace. 

While money is not a solution to all of our problems, it is a sad necessity.

The stress of providing for the basic needs of so many, not to mention some super thrifty yet gorgeous weddings and a few educations, is hard on my husband.  As the needs keep increasing – and no, they will never end as long as we are living -- his mental productivity is decreasing because he is learning that it is equally important for him to be emotionally present for some our children from hard places, a regular dad to some healthy kids, and the sole breadwinner. Seeing God provide always lifts his spirits - making him feel like the entire weight of our mission isn't up to him.  And that is a relief to me because I hate watching him struggle and I need his help with the children.

My husband has been a wonderful provider who NEVER complains about working his butt off for other people– even those for whom he had no legal obligation whatsoever.  He gives of himself every hour.  However, when the economy began to tank and his clients struggled, we also struggled.  Through it all we always try to live as a family by the basic principal that we do whatever we are capable of doing for whoever needs it, without conditioning our actions on the promise of payment. While never neglecting those that are paying for services, we will work overtime to meet the needs of others - never knowing how, or when, or even IF we will ever see any return on our investment from that particular person. 

Why? It’s not because we are uniquely holy people who have some special connection to God.

Come to think of it, if you read my last blog post entitled "Why Giving Freely Shows My Trust," then  you will see the kind of internal battle I sometimes have to fight with myself to remember to trust.

Nope.  We actually learned to trust the old-fashioned way.  Experience.  In spite of our circumstances, over and over again – even when nothing made sense --  we have never been without.

Part of that is literal.  We have a beautiful huge house and cars and utilities and good educations and food and diapers and medicine/oils, and so much more. 

Part of that is perspective.  While we certainly live an American lifestyle with cars and iphones and computers and Internet and freedom, we are satisfied with far less quantity than in our earlier life.  And while we rarely forgo quality (translated durability) we actually feel better living in this world now that we live predominantly from hand-me-downs, clothes left on our front porch in trash bags, thrift store bargain shopping, cars at least 10 years old, used and hand-me-down furniture and so forth.  For us, everyday is Black Friday. Finding a good bargain is as exciting as anything new and we know that means that we can meet more needs.

The funny thing is that God provides for our family through others - – emotionally, financially, spiritually, and in every other way  -- whether we trust Him or not. 

The kicker is that when we choose to trust, we get to rest and wait with anticipation.  When we fail to trust, we tend to worry and agonize, trying to find our own solutions as we are left wondering why we meet with obstacles at every turn. 

Somehow, true logic seems to say trust and skip the agony even though it doesn't make sense in the world's view, especially with a financial or business mindset. But I can’t always remember that. 

This year was one of those years that was extraordinarily hard both financially and emotionally.  Yet, as I reflect on the events of this year – I find nothing but good. It all came together for me on Christmas morning. 

Since 1995, we have had a family tradition of gathering on our stairs before the kids come downstairs to open gifts and my husband prays for each and every family member who is was not with us, or who is somehow struggling to overcome.  That includes all biological family members for each of our 21 kids.  Some years, prayer takes a very long time. 

But this year was different.  Many of our usual crew was missing.  There were only 13 of us on the stairs this Christmas morning.  Ironically, this was not because of some tragedy, but because everyone was exactly where we had been praying for them to be for years! 

All but one of my adult children who have children of their own were WITH their children this Christmas.  Either at their own home, sharing Christmas together as a complete family, or at our home with their kids.  It was at that moment, I realized that years of praying had produced fruit.  Fruit that is hard to see in the midst of chaos.

So, once again, God gave me a glimpse of all that we learned this year.  Things that are hard for me to recognize except in the context of some of our family rituals.

We learn every day to trust irrationally.

We learned – again - that we can live with even less than we thought we needed last year. 

We accepted that we can feel peace in the midst of chaos.

We continually force ourselves to remember the value of being content and grateful, no matter what.

We understood - again- that everything takes time and that there are no quick fixes to broken lives. 

We were grateful that after more than 8 years with us, children were reunited with their mother and new father and are doing well. Mom is working and has returned to school.  She is also working on writing her life story with me, which is a unique bonding experience.  Bonus: We continue to see them daily. (We raised mama too – so this is a win-win-win!)

We continue to be proud of one of our older daughters and her husband, who have voluntarily adopted one child and taken legal guardianship (meaning zero financial support from the state) for 2 more children over the course of 2 years.  These are kids that would otherwise have been in foster care.  My son-in-law is just like my husband, voluntarily working his butt off to provide for children that he would otherwise not be required to support.  And my daughter is mothering  3 under 3  and a pre-teen like a pro.  I love watching them give to others.

Another daughter is almost finished earning her Masters in Marriage and Family Therapy so that she can help families get the kind of counseling we so desperately needed for our children. I love watching her grow and mature into this role.

While yet another daughter is has the most incredible heart for God and life, is finishing her college degree and planning to work for or start a non-profit organization/mission using her business degree. I wish I had known what I really wanted to do with my life at her age!

One child (who gave me fits as a teen) is a working mom and wife with incredibly beautiful children, whom she teaches and trains to be gracious and polite and humble no matter their circumstances. Watching her become a mother has been my privilege. 

The child who helped me so much with the babies when she lived at home is now a preschool teacher/nanny that gives of herself daily, even when it is hard. Everyone adores her heart and commitment to their kids and they trust her implicitly.

One daughter, who we were told would never live independently, is working two jobs, married to an incredibly supportive man who totally takes care of her, and is soon to be a mother.  Far from the description we got when she was a pre-teen, she is nothing short of impressive.

Yet another child is a hard-working mom to her children, who are all thriving under her direction – even though her life is still hard every single day.  Her children do not live the life she had to endure.

After a lifetime of challenges, the cherished mom of several of our kids has become a stable, working woman with a healthy relationship, who is re-engaging in her children's lives with us and is distancing herself from her traumatic past and terrible choices.  (We raised her too, so this is thrilling for us as well!)

I have connected with one of my adult children in a brand new way.  We went from not trusting each other, to living together long enough to find out that we not only could tolerate each other, but we actually liked each other.  That was a bonus blessing.

Sibling groups are being reunited physically and emotionally as they grow up and learn how to relate to each other in healthy ways -- as the people that they have become, rather than as remnants of their past selves.

Every day, my husband and I learn a little more about how to connect and bond to our children that have special emotional needs.

We are blessed by school teachers and administrators that truly care about our children and go far out of their way to help us with all of our unusual needs and situations with grace and understanding – even when our children don’t meet any other normal criteria for special needs assistance.

My husband’s clients are loyal and kind.  A few -- who I’m fairly sure don’t want to be singled out – have supported our family mission far beyond any polite gesture of support.

I don’t know if we unintentionally surround ourselves with good people, or we get special treatment.  Either way, our doctors, dentists, pharmacist, therapists, orthodontists, teachers, grocers, veterinarian, neighbors, and even our garbage and recycling collectors -- who empty 4 cans at our house each week without complaining because they know our unique situation and often wait for us to run down the last load – are wonderful, helpful and gracious, always giving us the benefit of the doubt and helping in whatever way they know how. I brag on them all the time.  

I don't think we are special people who deserve so much blessing, but let me tell you I love it.  Every year, I am reminded of the simple - but challenging to remember principal that the people we surround ourselves with are the hands and feet of God for us.

My life feels so right when others support us in whatever way they are capable. My role is to trust irrationally and to be grateful no matter what. 

As some character in the Princess Diaries once said, "The concept is grasped.  It's the execution that is a little elusive!" But I'm working on it. 

Monday, December 8, 2014

My Story: Why Giving Freely is Ultimately a Test of my Trust

Preface: This past week, I posted 17 Counter-Intuitive Choices for Believers that will Vastly Improve Your Quality of Life.  Of course, I have stories to go with each lesson I am learning, but so far, they are only written in my head.  Yesterday, I couldn't help but write my lesson of the day - the truth in all its glory! Turns out, it really connects to three choices.  

Choose to give generously and freely, especially when you think that you have less than you need.  

Choose to be transparent and real and authentic and vulnerable, trusting that the people who matter will love you anyway. (So if telling you my actual thoughts doesn't make me vulnerable to critique, then I'm not sure what will!)

Choose self-control, especially when you are tempted. (Like, you know, when you are tempted to keep something that doesn't really belong to you ... or something like that... maybe!)

My Story: Why Giving Freely is Ultimately Test 
of my Ability to Trust
By Anna Giattina Lee
December 8, 2014

Today is one of those days when I had to make a choice to trust. 

I have this personal rule about giving at church. Regardless of what my husband gives on behalf of our family, for the past few years I have had this little ritual at church of looking in every nook and cranny of my purse, my briefcase and on my person and literally giving every last cent.  Mindful of that verse about bragging about giving, I find it’s generally wise to keep it a private thing – except to my husband, and then only in relation to getting excited with him about God’s provision. 

It’s not like it is a huge sum of money. I give because I want to DO something specific to demonstrate to myself that I am trusting God’s provision.  Sometimes, a diligent search produces nothing. Not a single penny. Sometimes, I can muster up a few dollars and some change. 

Other days, like today, I have been to the bank to get cash to pay to get into my son’s basketball game.  I was in a small town and my bank wasn’t there, so I had to go to another bank and pay a $3 fee to withdraw.  Paying a fee goes completely against my penny pinching ways –but it was a necessity (because of my poor planning – but still….)   In order to make it worth my $3, I got out $100 – forgetting that the next day was Sunday. 

So, this morning before church I was looking for money my parents had given our children to give away before Christmas (another great story) and I ran across the money I had stashed in my purse from yesterday.  My first thought was nothing gracious or noble.  Nope.  Not me. What did I think?  “Oh crap, now I have to give it all away.  That wasn’t my plan!” Even typing this I feel like an idiot for thinking that.  Like the money was mine anyway. 

Anyway, it didn’t end there.  I wasn’t wise enough to just obey and comply with my own dang rule.  No, I started thinking about how I could spend a good chunk of it on the stuff we “needed” before we got to church.  Major shame here.  I stopped at the corner store (a treat) and found myself spending $2 on soft drinks for the kids. 

Really?  Are you freakin’ kidding me?  Soft drinks? Did I really just spend $2 on four soft drinks - something that is so rare that the kids wonder if I’m dying or something?  So sorry God.  I’m lame. And I know it.

But there is more.  Handing out soft drinks to four shocked children, we head to our usual Sunday morning bagel stop.  A few times a month we get this treat on the way to church -- usually just a $13 expense for two meals for the entire family.  No cream cheese.  No drinks.  Just straight bagel.

But what do I think? “Hmmm..  Maybe i should go ahead and get an extra pack and freeze one for later.  I have the cash……”

Really God?  Why do I fight you on everything?  How can I be so thick headed?  Thankfully, by the time I get to the front of the line I have convinced myself that I’ve already spent too much time arguing with myself and I don’t feel one bit better.  I know that I am choosing to rely on myself and not to trust God to meet my needs - but I don't seem to want to hand over control. 

So I ordered our usual frugal pack.  And asked for 3 glasses of water.

One tiny little success – but it wasn’t over yet. 

Aldi is our usual after church stop.  By now I was convincing myself that I needed to put up or shut up.  All I needed was a quarter for a basket at Aldi  - I would give away the rest.  

My mind immediately remembers all the times I have been to Aldi with not a single penny in cash and someone has given me their cart without me having to ask.  

I argue with myself for another few seconds, but ultimately, I leave the quarter in the bottom of the cup holder because it is covered in some sticky substance that I now have all over my hands. I wonder to myself if this is a practical matter or my attempt to hold onto 25 cents worth of control?

So, I walk into church and the person who greets me is a woman who lost her husband to cancer this year.  It is her first Christmas without him.  We connect on our shared experience and loss. 

Twenty feet away I see a close friend who is far younger than me, but has always been a wise and faithful servant and prayer warrior and I think, “Oh! You want me to give the money to this family.  Okay.  That’s good with me.”  As if my agreement is a prerequisite.   

I wait for an opportunity to secretly slip the money in the front of this person’s sweatshirt pocket – but he’s a guy and I think better of that plan!  Walking up, all I say is, “I don’t know why, but this is for you.”  

He glances at his closed hand, which is now in his pocket and gives me a quick smile matter-of-factly with a slight amount of shock, “Well, okay.  I’ll take it.”

He doesn't say, “Thank you.”

Nothing like, “Wow, I can’t take your money.  You need this too.”

Nothing, except a smile and a hug, where he says “Praise God” and we part ways. 

At that moment, my heart was filled with joy.  Because we both understood that the money wasn’t mine.  Never was.  And my only job was to be the physical body that passed it along to the person who God wanted to have it.  At that moment, all the pieces fit together.  It all made sense.  And I knew – once again – that God not only provides me with what I need, but he lavishes me with bagels and soft drinks and a home and a vehicle and things far beyond any basic need. 

Once again, obedience brought me joy – even though it went against every grain of flesh in me.  Why do I have to keep learning this lesson over and over again?

Oh, and does anyone need a quarter? I wiped the sticky stuff off of it.

Sunday, December 7, 2014

17 Counter-Intuitive Choices For Believers That will Profoundly Improve Your Quality of Life.

17 Counter-Intuitive Choices For Believers
That will Profoundly Improve Your Quality of Life.
(Easy to say.  But a lifetime to Master.)
By Anna Giattina Lee

NOTE:  This is a work in progress.... both the list and my choices.

1.      1.      Choose to be transparent and real and authentic and vulnerable, trusting that the people who matter will love you anyway.

2.     Choose to intentionally discover and seek to understand each person’s story so that you can attempt to view life through their lens.

3.     Choose to forgive without conditions, even when forgiveness is undeserved. 

4.    Choose to spend the majority of your time uncovering and recognizing your own faults, then repent and apologize quickly.

5.     In so far as it is up to you, choose Unity with others, remembering that unity is not the same as agreement. 

6.     Choose to give generously and freely, especially when you think that you have less than you need.

7.     Choose to remain humble, even in the midst of overwhelming success. 

8.     Choose to give Grace freely, especially when it is unmerited. 

9.     Choose to overlook and let go of every offense, unless it directly contradicts the five values you hold most dearly.

10.  Choose to be satisfied with enough, even when there is much more available.

11.     Choose joy, even when you have no outward reason to be happy.

12.   Choose to actively search out the best in everyone you meet.

13.   Choose to pray, even when you don’t feel like it and you can’t see the results.

14.  Choose to be grateful for what you have been given, rather than angry, bitter or searching for what you don’t yet have.

15.   Choose to remain committed, even when it is challenging or requires sacrifice.

16.   Choose self-control, especially when you are tempted.

17.   Choose to trust your faith, even without continuous proof.

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

More Children. More Milk. When did saying yes to a new child take less time than buying gallon of milk or brushing my teeth?

Note:  Writing and posting apparently aren't the same thing. :-)  I write all the time for myself, but getting it into post form takes more time than I can muster sometimes.  I can't believe I haven't posted since July 26, 2014.  So sad.  Here's an oldie I just found. 

More Children.  More Milk.
(Written when we added Child # 14 -February 28, 2007)

The call just came.  Actually, it came yesterday afternoon. Due to circumstances beyond her control, the seven-year-old sibling of one of our current long-term foster children needs a new home.  I knew that we would take her because our mission has always been to keep sibling groups together. But our routine life is so busy, I don’t even get a chance to tell my husband that I have agreed to accept a new child.  

We are still in bed at 6:00 and the alarm sounds.  He turns over and I remember the big news, “Honey, I forgot to tell you that we have a new child coming next week. Actually, we know her.  We have been taking her siblings to visit her and she’s the one stayed here at Christmas and a few other times this past year."

“Okay,” he murmurs, as if I just announced that I was going to run to the store to pick up another 4 gallons of milk for breakfast.

This is so strange.  When did adding another long-term child to the family become so routine that the entire conversation takes less time than brushing my teeth?

“She’ll be here March 6.”  I tried to get the current foster mom to hold on until March 21 so that we can have a little more time to adjust to our latest models -- our 2-week-old grandchild and our 20-year-old college student that just moved back home -- but it doesn’t work out.

“How does she feel about it?” he inquires.

“Oh, I think she’s excited. She’ll get to be with her siblings and niece and she loves them,” I say hopefully.

So, we are now officially parenting 14 children, plus a grandchild at least 2 weekends a month. 

The new one is a real cutie – but active.  Things will be very different in a few days.  She will arrive in the midst of the unstoppable routine of our daily lives.  Yet another child joining us with no preparation, no real thought… just an acceptance that we are parents again.   

People keep asking me if I feel stressed.  I should.  And usually I do.  But right now I’m just taking each minute as it comes.  There is a point at which it is no longer possible to remain in control.  To plan.  To predict.  I don’t know exactly which child caused me to realize this – but I finally did, and more times than not – which is better than when I was younger and thought I had it all under control – I can actually remember the lesson.

 Postscript:  WOW!  That call forever changed our lives.  Tqira is now 14-years-old and is officially ours.  So are her bio siblings.  It has been a long hard journey for all of us, but we are persevering as we learn how to do life together as a family.  I wouldn't change it even if I could, because I know that these trials are what make our journeys unique and draw us closer to our Savior.

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!