Monday, July 20, 2015

#LoveforEli, forever

I was planning to write a post today about our friend Eli. I was going to ask you to pray for him. I was going to tell you all of his bone marrow transplant on April 17, of the rare immune condition that required it, and of the complications with his kidneys and lungs since then. I was going to tell you he turned four around the same time our Patu did.

Eli at the hospital with his mom, dad, and big brother

In my planned post, I wasn't going to be telling you that he won't be turning 5 next year along with her.

In my planned post, I wasn't going to be telling you our prayers for healing weren't answered with a yes on earth but rather a yes in heaven.

In my planned post, I wasn't going to be sharing that Eli's fight and pain and complications ended shortly before midnight last night.

As we've grieved the loss of our referral of Zoe's brother and rejoiced for the sweet couple who will be bringing him home, I've coped by praying for others. That's how I process my own struggles, by asking God to help others in theirs. I'm not sure why, but it works for me. I think it's something about getting my mind off myself, focusing back on God, and loving others through prayer. That combination soothes my heart.

In the past week, I've mostly prayed for Eli and his parents and his big brother.

Eli's mom Lisa and I have met up for dinner and coffee a couple times in the past week or so, as she's been up here from Florida with Eli hospitalized at Duke. We met in our teens, and we've been friends for longer than I've known Lee. I believe she was the one who coined the nickname Shannon Anna Dingle Heimer Schmidt when I started dating the guy I told her might be "the one." (He was, of course.) We've kept up our friendship via email and then social media and even occasional visits. During one of Eli's first visits to Duke, he and Lisa and Lisa's mom joined our family for pizza and soda and chaos... you know, typical Friday night fare around here.

I was dreaming and hoping and longing for the day when his transplanted immune system was strong enough for him to sit with us at our table once again. But that pizza dinner isn't going to happen, not this side of heaven.

My heart aches for them. For us. For a world that isn't going to know the amazing 5 year old and 6 year old and 13 year old and 21 year old and 90 year old that Eli would have been if he had lived past 4.

Please pray for everyone who loved Eli, especially his dad, mom, and brother. They'll be heading back to Florida soon, without their fighter boy. I texted Lisa this C.S. Lewis quote earlier because it seemed fitting: "The death of a beloved is an amputation." Pray for them, for the loss and absence that will never go away, even as they give thanks that Eli is wholly healed and that they'll join him in heaven one day.

I usually end posts with some conclusion or hope or challenge. But today, I have nothing but eyes that are cried out and a heart that hurts from all the hurting... so I'll leave you with Lisa's words, sharing the news of Eli's passing. Let this be the challenge I offer and accept today:
Eli finished his battle just before midnight last night. He went peacefully and felt no pain. We are relieved for him that he doesn't have to be tortured anymore. We are so glad to know he's whole again in heaven, doing all of the things that have always made his soul happy. We are absolutely broken that we don't get to experience him healed here.

Thank you for praying and bELIving. One of Eli's great gifts was that he pulled back the corners of people's hearts to the possibility of Love. If Eli swept out any cobwebs or cracked open a part of you that you had shut a long time ago, please leave it open. For Eli.
‪#‎LoveforEli‬

Wednesday, July 15, 2015

glad/sad

Be careful if you ask, "How are you?" anytime soon. With the hot mess of emotions I have going on, you're not going to get the simple, "I'm fine," and keep on walking sort of answer.

We got word yesterday that "Sam" will have a family coming for him soon, but it's not going to be us.

I'm sad, but it's a contented sort of sadness. The family who has accepted his referral is a wonderful one. We've already been in touch, and we'll continue to be so that Zoe will know her brother and her brother will know her. We'll be able to see him grow up, albeit through pictures and stories from his actual parents.

Yes, it stings that those parents won't be us.

But.

We trusted God. We placed this in his hands. We prayed, hard. We asked him to choose what was best.

Meanwhile, another couple trusted God. They received a referral. They prayed, hard. They knew our love for this child, but they felt certain of their "yes" to both God and the child we called Sam.

Even though we didn't know he would be available for international adoption until months later, we've known about "Sam" since the week we was born. It's becoming clear that our role in his life was to pray for him daily until his parents knew about him and could begin to do so. They look forward to being able to tell him that he has been deeply loved, every single day of his life. I'm glad we could be part of that. Still sad, yes, but glad/sad.

No, this isn't the story I wanted to be writing, but it's not my story to write. It's God's.

When we announced the plans for this adoption, we ended the blog post with these words:
We know this is crazy, but I hope you’ll share in the joy of this story we never would have crafted on our own. We said our family was complete, but God didn’t agree. We know He writes the best stories, so we’re looking forward to what’s in store.
 And we're still looking forward to what's in store, even though it's different from what we wanted.


Monday, July 13, 2015

laying my Isaac on the altar, not knowing if I'll get to pick him back up

Over the past week, two stories have loomed large in my mind: the story of Abraham and Isaac at the mountain altar in Genesis 22 and the story of the two mothers fighting over one child in 1 Kings 3. In case you need a summary or refresher, I'll share the gist of each:

In Genesis 22*, God calls Abraham to take his long-awaited son to Mount Moriah for a sacrifice, except they had no ram or other animal to offer on the altar. That's because Isaac was meant to be the offering. I can't imagine Abraham's three day hike with his son and two servants, knowing what was to be asked of him at the end point. Then he and Isaac leave the servants behind as they go to the altar. Abraham lays the wood upon the altar, binds his son on top of it, and just before the sacrifice, God puts a stop to it. A ram is provided. Abraham gets to lift Isaac off the altar again.

In 1 Kings 3, two women are sleeping in a house with their newborns when one baby dies. The mother of the dead child switches the children, placing her dead baby in the sleeping mother's arms while taking the live baby back to bed as her own. The sleeping mother awakes and begins to mourn but then realizes the dead child isn't hers. The two women end up in Solomon's court, both demanding that the living child is hers. Given that DNA testing isn't a thing yet, Solomon has to judge which mother should raise the child. His solution? Cut the child in half and give part to each mother. One mother agrees to that plan, even though the baby will die, and the other offers to give the child away to prevent any harm. Solomon rightly determines that the mother is the one who was willing to give up the child rather than allow him to die. A real mother is one who seeks the best for her child, no matter what heartache it might bring to her.

If you've been following our story - see posts here and here - then you probably understand why I've camped out in these two scripture passages.

God has asked us to lay our adoption of "Sam" on altar before him. The beautiful difference, of course, is that no harm will come to Zoe's brother. Another family has been offered his referral or, in terms of this metaphor, the opportunity to pick his adoption up from that altar. If they say no, we will gladly lift our plans from the altar once more and continue to pursue being mom and dad to "Samuel." But for now, we have to leave it all at the altar, trusting God to do what he deems best.

God has asked us to care more about what's best for "Sam" than what we consider to be best for us. If the other family says yes to the adoption referral of Zoe's brother, that means we set aside our hurts to move forward with a relationship with them, so that the siblings can know each other. Yes, we want for them to grow up together in the same family. But, no, that decision isn't up to us right now. So rather than to allow our feelings to tear apart this little boy or tear at the adoption hopes of another couple, our bold answer has to be that of the first mother in 1 Kings 3:26:
Then the woman whose son was alive said to the king, because her heart yearned for her son, “Oh, my lord, give her the living child, and by no means put him to death.” But the other said, “He shall be neither mine nor yours; divide him.”
I will act as this sort of mother to "Sam," even if I never get to be his actual mother. If it is best for him - which is something only God knows - my prayer is "God, give them this baby boy." Being a parent means putting a child's best interests first, even when it breaks your heart. Perhaps that's what we'll be asked to do, to have fostered love for "Sam" in our hearts for months but then to submit to the adoption by another family. Or perhaps, like Hannah said of her Samuel in 1 Samuel 1:27, we might get to say, "I prayed for this child, and the LORD has granted me what I asked of him."

I don't know how this will play out.

I do know that I will trust God, no matter what.

And I am thankful that we will probably get to be part of Zoe's brother's life, even if we don't get to be his parents.


our first family picture with Zoe, three years and one day ago


_______

*Note on Genesis 22: I know two of my dear friends, both atheists, who point to this story as proof of a macabre god who isn't worthy of worship. I understand their stance. It is a hard story. But for me, it serves as a powerful object lesson. For starters, Abraham tells Isaac that God will provide the lamb, so maybe he trusted all along that God would spare Isaac. We don't know that for sure, though, from the story given in the Bible. If God had Abraham go through with it, sure, I might have difficulty trusting that God, if I'm completely honest. But as this story stands, nothing in it changes in my respect for a God who illustrates to us again and again that he is all we need! I'm not saying that because of blind obedience or "shoulds" - as in "I should believe..." or "pastors say I should..." or "I write about faith so I should..." but rather because I have been there. No, I've never been asked to lay a child on an altar for bodily sacrifice, but I have been called by him to lay my health, my marriage, my child's eyesight, this adoption, and more treasures at the foot of the cross... and in each of tose moments, I've found Christ alone to be sufficient. After all, God provided the ultimate sacrifice of his son on the cross, and this story of Genesis 22 - and my story of my own life - is but a shadow of that. I started this side note as an explanation for friends who aren't Christians, but I think I might be failing at that because I can only explain this through the lens of knowing and trusting a God who you don't know or consider to be real, if you're one of those friends. So suffice it to say: I know in the dark and in the depths and in the quiet and in the loud and in the hard and in the easy and in the doubts and in the tears and in the laughter that he is real to me, so I can't help but read and dissect this story with that perspective.

seeing a miracle
{an update on Zoe's vision}

Remember my last post about Zoe's visual impairments? I wrote:
You know I like to write about the beauty we find in the midst of brokenness. But sometimes
it just feels like brokenness.
Not beauty.
Not yet.
Let's try that last phrase in Zoe's words:

A video posted by Shannon Dingle (@dinglefest) on

We decided to switch ophthalmologists a couple months ago. Our first was a competent clinician and a solid diagnostician, but communication? Not her strong suit. For us, that's a deal breaker, because Zoe's medical and educational teams need information to care for her well, so lone ranger practitioners just don't work for us.

Last week we saw the new doc for the first time.
And last week we felt the beauty, not just the brokenness.

Yes, Zoe's vision is still impaired. But? Wait for it...

The beauty:

  • In March, glasses weren't expected to do much for her, improving her vision some but still leaving her - even with glasses on - in the range of legal blindness defined as 20/200 or worse.
  • Now, her vision with glasses is 20/70. Perfect? No. But 20/70 is considered partially sighted or low vision, not legal blindness. And it means she can see from 20 feet away what I can see at 70 feet, which is a lot better than only seeing at 20 feet what I can see at 200 feet away.
  • And? Her astigmatism is worse than we thought (okay, a smidge of not great news there) but that means she needs one of the lenses replaced with a higher prescription in her current pair of glasses. So her vision next time around could be better than 20/70. 

But that's not even the most beautiful news, y'all. In March her previous eye doctor saw and documented severe retinal malformations, leading to the poor prognosis. This time?

"I don't see anything concerning here," the doctor said. "Her retinas look great. I suppose she could have some retinal damage on the extreme edges that I can't see right now, but that wouldn't affect her vision."

Y'all.

So did the first doc mess up? Was she incompetent? Did she make a mistake?
I'm sure the answer is no to all of those. I sat there with Zoe in my lap during the exam. She was meticulous. She examined my girl's retinas closely. She saw something.

So did the second doc mess up? Was she incompetent? Did she make a mistake?
Once again, no. I sat there with Zoe in my lap once again. She spent even more time checking for retinal issues because of the previous doctor's findings. She saw nothing.

Seriously, this is nothing if not miraculous.

In my struggles with hard news last week, I didn't have the emotional bandwidth to process all that I've shared in this post. Please don't take my silence to imply that we're not in awe of another amazing act God has worked in our little girl's life. We have been on our knees all week, in both praise and prayer. We have been celebrating this, even as we grieve otherwise.

A few friends have said they're impressed by our faith in the shadow of an adoption that might be failing. Please know this: in the midst of deep sorrow in the change of our plans to adopt Zoe's biological brother, God gifted us great joy in this news about Zoe's eyes. He didn't have to do that, but he chose to.

He asked us to trust and hold Sam's future loosely.

Meanwhile, he placed the gift of healing for Zoe in our hands, reminding us of his trustworthiness in a tangible way.

That's beauty in the midst of brokenness, my friends. And we are thankful.



Friday, July 10, 2015

how are you holding up? and other questions

Many of you have asked questions about my last blog post, so...

How are you holding up?

Um, I'm not really sure how to honestly answer that question. I'm listening to a lot of Gungor and Laura Story's Blessings and similar songs in a playlist I made a titled "encouragement" long ago for such a time as this. I'm diving into the Psalms. I'm flipping through albums of memories from Zoe's adoption exactly three years ago and viewing each one as a stone of remembrance of what God has already done in and through our family and her first family. 

Oh, and I'm eating all the things. I like to eat my feelings, and none of them have been healthy this week. 

So if you're homestudy ready now, does this mean...?

No. Let's just stop right there.

For those of you who aren't familiar with the lingo, homestudy ready is an adjective used to describe an adoptive family who has been approved to adopt by a licensed social worker and who has the report - the homestudy - to prove it. That homestudy is used to evaluate a family's ability to be a safe, loving, and suitable adoptive match for a child in need. When prospective adoption situations arise, agencies and lawyers seek out homestudy ready families first, because having a homestudy is like putting your money where your mouth is - it means you aren't just talking the talk of adoption, but you're willing to walk the walk of being scrutinized and background checked and physically examined and having your children medically cleared and getting personal references and providing every imaginable financial detail and discussing any hard parts of your part and... well, let's just say it's a lot. 

(Note: I'm not complaining about that. It's a lot because it should be a lot. When a child loses his or her first family - by choice or abuse or death or disease or poverty* or some other measure of brokenness - the next family to receive the child should be screened well so that the child doesn't have to experience any additional trauma. I'm all for homestudying the heck out of prospective adoptive parents. I'm just saying it can be a lot to open yourself up to, even with the best social worker.)

*Side note: poverty alone shouldn't be a reason for adoption because financial and social supports can and should be extended to try to allow the first family to parent the child. If that is truly attempted and doesn't work, then that means another reason is present in addition to poverty. But when poverty is the only problem, then the solution should be something else other than adoption.

When friends ask what's next for us if this adoption doesn't happen and we have a homestudy ready and we're already pre-approved for international adoption by US Citizenship and Immigration Services, they're asking if we're going to adopt a different child. The answer? No. Not unless God moves us in a way we're not expecting right now.

Adoptions fall through. We know that. But our family has never experienced an adoption failure before, and words can't describe this hurt. It's like having a miscarriage but the baby is fine, thank God, but you'll never get to hold and love and raise him like you expected so the loss and grief and sadness is still deep and profound. Loving someone else is always risky, and right now we're feeling too raw to even consider that sort of risk again.

We've said no before and had God turn it into a yes, so we'll see what happens this time. We weren't planning to adopt yet when my friend Georgeanna contacted us about Zoe and we weren't planning to adopt three at once or from Uganda at all until another friend shared a waiting sibling group with us, so we've learned to hold our "no" loosely. After all, we want to be faithful in all circumstances, not just the ones we choose. But for now, our hearts are with "Sam" and not ready to open up to any other children than him and the six God has already placed in our home.

How's Lee? How're the kids?

Lee is grieving hard too. From comments made to us in passing, we've realized some people assume I'm the driving force in our adoptions. That couldn't be more wrong. Lee and I are a team. I guess you could say he's the leader and I'm the mouthpiece. His heart is as 100% in this adoption as mine is.

We haven't told all of the kids yet. Some are too young to fully understand. The big girls do know, though. They say they won't be sad until they know for sure that he's going to be adopted by the other family. Patience says she's sure the other family is going to say no to the referral and then we're going to get to be Sam's family. I'd love for her to be right.

Do you think you might be able to adopt Sam after all?

I really don't know. I want to say yes. I want this to work out in the way we imagined. I want God's plan for this to match with ours. I want to be hopeful.

But hoping hurts right now.

So I'm not hoping. I am trusting:
that God is still God.
that God has a plan for us and for Sam and for their birth mother and for the family considering the referral and for you.
that God's plan is far superior than anything I could ever imagine.
that he loves me more than I will ever understand.
that beauty can still come out of brokenness.


None of this is in our hands right now, so we'll wait and trust as our homestudy and dossier sit ready in a drawer, just in case.

Wednesday, July 8, 2015

dingle, party of 8.

I'm not sure how to begin this post. I've only shared about this on friends-only FB statuses so far, so forgive me for the surprise for the rest of you. I didn't want to go public until I felt like the situation was more firm.

I don't think we'll be able to adopt the boy we've named Sam in our hearts.

Yes, he's Zoe's brother biologically. Yes, we were contacted to adopt him. Yes, we prayed over the opportunity and said yes. Yes, we've planned and sacrificed and been fingerprinted and background checked and scrutinized and spent some money toward that end. Yes, we have two or three boxes labeled "Sam" full of baby & toddler stuff in the attic. Yes, we love him and always will, no matter what.

But when I blogged about the possible adoption, I titled it "dingle, party of 9?" with the question mark on purpose. When we announced our news then, we shared:
Right now, we’re in the early stages, so there’s a possibility something could change. That said, we’re far enough in that we feel safe sharing with confidence that this process will end in Zoe and her brother growing up as siblings in our family. (In other words, if this were a pregnancy, we’d be entering the second trimester - not completely out of the woods for complications but far enough along that the odds of everything else going smoothly are pretty good.)
Well, something changed. It seems another family will get to hold and love and raise "Sam."

In Taiwan, large families aren't the norm, HIV is even more stigmatized than it is here, and people with special needs sometimes face discrimination. Don't get me wrong - I love Taiwan. I can't wait until the day we return, whether to visit or for this adoption if the tide turns back to us. But just as I love America while still acknowledging both flaws and cultural issues present here, I'm doing the same here for the island country branded on my heart.

The orphanage where "Sam" lives decided, based on our family size and special needs present in our home, to present Zoe's birth mother with a smaller family to consider and suggested that he would be better served by those prospective adoptive parents. She signed off on that. We have to respect that decision, even as it breaks our heart. It would be arrogantly hypocritical for us to advocate for foreign countries and first parents to have autonomy in adoption decisions and then rail against those principles when it doesn't work out for us like we'd like.

The referral for the child we hoped to adopt has been presented to a different family.

If they say no because of certain risk factors in his file, the referral might return to us. At this point, though, I have to assume they will say yes. Why? Well, I know we would say yes in a second and immediately pay the fees necessary for the adoption services. That money is waiting in an account at our bank, ready for that purpose. Given that we would say yes in a heartbeat, I can't imagine why they wouldn't do the same. We've shared our information with their agency and with the orphanage, in hopes that the siblings will have contact in the future even if they can't grow up as siblings.

Do I know what God is teaching us through this right now? No, to be honest, I really don't. But I know that he is good and perfect and that he loves us and Zoe and her brother and this other family more than I could ever feel or imagine, so we're trusting him to write the next page in each of our stories.

After all, God has gone above and beyond anything we could ever have hoped for our family so far, including the scenes below (captured by our friends at The Archibald Project) from three years ago when we met Zoe for the first time in Taiwan. So for now, we're settling in and striving for contentment as Dingle, party of 8.




Tuesday, June 23, 2015

At 8, our girls are no longer surprised by hate, racism, and violence.

"The girls handled the conversations better than I would have hoped. As we talked about 9 black brothers and sisters in Christ being killed in a historic church, they took it well," I told Lee as I put on my blush Sunday morning.

My makeup brush dropped to the counter with his reply: "How sad."

He continued, "At 8, our girls are no longer surprised by hate, racism, and violence. They shouldn't handle it well. None of us should."

No, we shouldn't. But for my friends in the black community and allies like me who have been listening and learning, we grieved last week but we weren't shocked. While so many white friends see this as an isolated event, we see a pattern.

We hear Trayvon called a man whose hoodie made him worthy of death while the man who killed him is considered justified, even as his story since then has shown a pattern of hotheaded violence. We hear Mike Brown called a man and a thug and a menace and even a demon and Ferguson not race-motivated, even as we hear data that speaks differently. We hear Dajerria called a woman at 14, and we hear people continuing to defend the officer's actions even after he apologized and admitted he had overreacted. We hear about John Crawford being killed in a WalMart for holding a toy gun after a white couple made a 911 call in which they lied about what was happening to make him sound threatening. We hear Eric Garner blamed for the police brutality that led to his death because he resisted arrest and was selling loose cigarettes, nevermind that neither are capital crimes. We hear Tamir Rice called "a young man" by the police chief even though he was only 12 when officers shot and killed him for carrying a toy gun in the park. We hear white friends express that it's easier for them to believe that Freddie Gray severed his own spine than it is to believe that officers acted dishonorably. We hear them say "who?" when we talk about Aiyana, the seven-year-old girl who died when an officer discharged his weapon into a wall as she slept on the other side. We hear silence when Kalief committed suicide as if three years at Rikers without trial and with abuse didn't likely contribute to his mental state. We hear ourselves ask how differently the story would have played out if no one recorded the shooting of Walter Scott, and we pretend we don't know the answer.

And then we hear people ask again and again and again and again and again and again if maybe the murderous act of terrorism in Charleston was an assault on religion rather than race, even when the news was already reporting that the shooter said he wanted "to kill black people."

And then we hear Dylann Roof described as a young man with a blunt sugar-bowl haircut - even though he's older than Trayvon was and Mike Brown was and Tamir Rice was and Dajerria is, and they were all described as adults - and a loner and quiet and a misguided youth and a sweet kid and someone who probably has mental health issues, and we're not surprised. This is the usual minimizing narrative when the criminal is a white male, who might be described as smart or soft-hearted as we point fingers at bullying and failed mental health supports and childhood mistreatment and mental illness whereas we tend to point fingers at the criminal rightly and even the victim wrongly when he or she happens to be black.


And then we hear the judge handling Roof's first court date calling the shooter's family "victims" in this situation, which didn't sit well by itself but became even more concerning when paired with this judge's having been reprimanded in 2003 for using the n word from the bench. (For good reason, the judge has been removed from the case now, and we were a little surprised and thankful upon hearing that news.)

And then we hear Roof's name and see his face again and again, while the faces and names of Clementa Pinckney, Cynthia Hurd, Sharonda Coleman-Singleton, Tywanza Sanders, Ethel Lance, Susie Jackson, Depayne Middleton Doctor, Daniel Simmons, and Myra Thompson aren't known as well by most of us.

source: CNN

We feel like we're listening on a loop while no one else notices that our ears are bleeding.

Rather than denying the patterns and preparing rebuttals, would you be willing to listen to us? To sit with our words before you respond? To consider how the lived experiences of others might differ from your own? To question why you're willing to listen more to me as a white woman than to people of color saying the same things? To celebrate the testimonies of forgiveness, yes, but also to continue to recognize the tensions of racist patterns that require such mercy to be extended again and again by our black brothers and sisters? To decry vandalism and violence in riots, yes, but also to try to understand the resigned anger behind the actions, the feeling that drastic acts are necessary to get white attention?

Would you consider learning those names I listed above like we have?
"In the meantime, Black folks will continue to go to church. We will worship and restore ourselves and mourn. As we have done after Trayvon, Michael, Eric, Medgar, Jordan, Tarika, Martin, Emmett, Eleanor and so many, many more. We will console and pray and hope that this sleeping country up wakes up. That others – self-aware, non-black folks – will see the full horror of Charleston and desire to exorcise the demons of our history and present culture." — Joshua DuBois, We Need To Talk About White Culture 
Then the next time this sort of things happens - and I sadly expect that there will be a next time, just like my daughters do - maybe you'll see the pattern too. Maybe you'll join us in being sad but not surprised.

And maybe you'll begin asking with us, "What can we do to change this?"

(I'm not going to answer that question here. No, this isn't a cop out as much as it's a cop out to expect every blogger to tell you what you should do in response. Simply put, I think the answer will be different for each of us. But doing nothing and saying nothing isn't going to bring about change, so DO SOMETHING and SAY SOMETHING. Please.)

Monday, June 22, 2015

my past and present are sometimes at tension. that's okay. #takeitdown

Some ancestors on my mom's side arrived in this country around 1620.

All of them I can trace were white, though (like many families) we have rumors of some Native American ancestry somewhere (and like many white families, those rumors are probably bogus).

As well established and well-to-do land owners, many of them owned slaves.

I know some of those ancestors fought as part of the confederacy, following articles of secession that explicitly argued for three of my children to be considered property instead of people.

If my grandmother was right, I'm somehow related to Jefferson Davis on her side of the family.

My dad is a history buff who participates in reenactments of multiple time periods, including as a Confederate solider (though he's pictured below attired as a Quartermaster Sergeant from the 2nd Seminole War, circa 1837).

photo by Mark Rodriguez
Almost every member of my family can look back on most periods of history as "good ol' days" even if they were times in which my multiracial family wouldn't have been tolerated.

Before he retired, my daddy ran the jail system as a major in our county's sheriff's office and served at one point as the president of the American Jail Association.

And I'm the mother of black, white, and Asian children.

My past and present are messy and sometimes at tension with each other. Yours probably are too, albeit in different ways.

I've been blogging and posting elsewhere lately about the conversations we need to be having about race and progress and privilege. As we have these conversations, we don't have to hide our histories and deny the tensions therein. No, let's pull it all out of the shadows and into the light. Let's all bring our collective lived experiences to the table, joining together in the kind of beautiful harmony or tapestry that can only exist when diverse members intermix.

As we do, perhaps our grip on our own histories might loosen as we realize the other side of that experience. Mine certainly has, which is why I - as a descendant of those who raised the Confederate battle flag - join with the voices calling for it to be taken down and only displayed in museums with other relics of yesteryear.

Sunday, June 21, 2015

on privilege vs. guilt

A couple months ago, an old high school friend posted a status message asking anyone who thought white privilege was real to unfriend him. I didn't. Instead I commented something like this, "I definitely do, though I'm not going to argue with you. I think it's possible to remain friends even if we disagree, but if you don't, feel free to do whatever you think is best."

He unfriended me.

I'm not sure why discussions of privilege are so upsetting. Consider a few examples...
Zoe can't walk because of cerebral palsy. Patu can. Patu possesses a privilege Zoe doesn't have. We could call that ability privilege.

A couple of our children possess the privilege of having grown up in the same family their entire lives, being raised by both biological parents and being loved and provided for every day of their lives. The rest of our children don't have that privilege. We could call that family privilege.

When I moved into my apartment in college, I assumed at first that the top shelves in the kitchen were broken because my roommates hadn't used them. Then I realized I, at 5 foot 7, had the privilege of being able to reach all the shelves while Kristina, 5'3"ish, and Lisa, just shy of 5 feet tall, didn't. We could call that height privilege.

In college, some friends took lighter course loads while they worked part- or full-time jobs to pay for tuition. My parents provided that for me. We could call that an example of socioeconomic privilege.
Do you notice what's absent from each of those examples? Guilt. 

I don't expect Patu to feel guilty because Zoe can't walk while she can. I don't expect Jocelyn and Robbie to feel guilty for their family privilege. When I realized my height privilege in the apartment, I chose to use the top shelves for my stuff and leave the lower ones for my roomies to show honor to them, but I didn't feel guilty over it. As I had more time for service projects, study sessions, and ahem parties in college, I felt thankful for my privileges rather than guilty because of them.

More often than not, when I see white friends arguing against white privilege, they bring guilt into the argument. But recognizing privilege is meant to spur us into action not guilt. If your reaction to privilege is, "What am I supposed to feel about this? Are you saying I should feel guilty?" then you're missing the point. Instead we should ask, "What good can I do with this privilege?"

That's what Jocelyn did recently. When we went shopping for makeup for their dance recital, she was upset that the first store carried lots of shades of foundation that matched her skin but only one per brand for her black sisters. "Mommy," she asked, "don't they know that black people come in lots of shades too?" She noticed her own privilege and didn't feel guilty. Instead, she asked if she could write a letter to someone, and this week we delivered her letter to the store manager asking for them to expand their makeup offerings, just like when she and Patience wrote to Mattel about their concerns for Barbie's lack of diversity.

and they all looked beautiful...

Bear with me, please, for one last example. When I swam in high school, I became good friends with my teammate Haley. When our coach gave instructions, he regularly failed to look in Haley's direction even though he knew she was Deaf and relied on lip reading to understand. Knowing my privilege, I'd turn to Haley and repeat the number of laps, time intervals, and kind of stroke to use. I didn't feel guilty, but I used my privilege to even the playing (er, swimming?) field, though it would have been better if the coach had been considerate enough to allow her to see his lips in the first place.

Please, let's stop arguing before we even stop to listen. Please, let's honestly evaluate what each one of us brings to the table. Please, let's strive to do good to others above all else. Please.

Do not withhold good from those to whom it is due, 
when it is in your power to act.
Proverbs 3:27

What would it look like today for you and me to set aside our defensive responses about guilt and instead consider how we can use our privileges - whether they be based in race or gender or religion or ability or economics or height or family resources or something else - to show honor to someone else? 

Saturday, June 20, 2015

My kids aren't colorblind, and neither are yours.

Skin color is discussed often in our household, and Lee and I are almost never the ones leading the conversation. Some samples from last couple of months...

In a pizza place downtown: "Why are all three of the dancers on TV white?

When I talk about a friend of mine from elementary school: "What color skin did she have?"

In beginning a story about her childhood: "Back in Uganda where everyone is dark skinned like me..."

After church a few Sundays ago: "Why was it only white men handing out communion?"

Upon closing a book about a family's response to a storm: "Mommy, I like this book a lot because everyone in the family looks like Zoe. They must be Asian too. Are they?"

They notice.

Their classmates notice, as several have commented to me on the mismatch of skin colors between me and one child or another. Not long after Patience started 1st grade, one of her classmates bounded up to me and said, "You're white," before even saying hello. After I agreed with her, she followed with "Patience is brown." Once again, I agreed. "Okay!" she smiled and bounced off, content that I had confirmed what she had noticed.

A younger friend of Patu's was less convinced when I picked her up at the gym one day.

"Wait, you're Patu's mom?" he asked.

"Yes, I am," I answered, pretty sure I knew what was coming next.

"But she looks black."

"Yes, she is."

"Oh. So you're black? You don't look black?"

"No, I'm white. Sometimes families don't match, and that's okay."

"Are you sure?" he asked.

Our kids are seeing race, and if we're not talking about it, then they aren't sure they can. If you feel the need to whisper or add "I'm not racist, but" every time you comment on something related to race, then you aren't modeling for your children that it's okay to have these conversations.

And we need to be having conversations.

White friends have asked me this week how to begin the discussion. I think it starts by making sure you aren't raising your kids in islands of whiteness. While that sounds harsh, recent research shows that 75% of white Americans don't have black friends (and networks of other racial groups are also segregated, though not as significantly), so segregation is still a thing in 2015. Are all the dolls in your house white? How about the book characters? What's your church like? Does it represent your community's diversity? (Raleigh friends, our area is 30% black according to the US census, so that would mean about 1 in 3 of your brothers and sisters on Sunday morning would be black.) How about your school? Do you go to parks, museums, restaurants, and so on in diverse areas or areas that look mostly like you? As history books in the US often tell the story of white history, are you making sure your home library of children's books tell the rest of the story? Much groundwork is laid in what's around us before words even enter the conversation. Hate for others is often taught directly, but sometimes fertile ground is laid for it by omitting anyone different from our lives in the first place.

Once you start talking, you don't have to make a big deal out of every topic. Parents magazine offers some basic tips for different age groups. If you'd like more ideas, here's a meatier resource for parents from the American Anthropological Association. When you watch a show or talk about a friend or read a book, don't be timid about pointing out differences in a positive way. Just like saying, "Zoe uses a wheelchair, so that's different from your walking, but you both like purple, so that's the same" demystifies one difference among our children, saying "Tiana's skin is a rich brown color, and it's beautiful; isn't it cool how God makes people in so many different shades?" while watching The Princess and the Frog helps to do the same about race. A 2007 study showed that nonwhite parents are three times more likely to talk about race with their children than white parents, and I think it's about time we start talking.

Do you have to talk about what happened in Charleston? I think you should consider it, but I know every family's decision will be different. In our family this week, we did talk to the kids about that act of racial terrorism, but I understand that some might not choose to talk about the hard stuff yet with kids as young as ours. (Our 8 year olds also know about the North Charleston shooting, as well as Santa Claus, sexual intercourse, gender-based pay inequity, homophobia, 9/11, and religious intolerance against Muslims after 9/11, so we tend to open a lot of hard boxes before other families do. I'm not always sure that's the best approach, but it's working so far for us.)

In our family, talking about race is part of life. Many people assume that's because we're a multiethnic family by transracial adoption, but we were talking about these topics with our white children before adoption brought even more diversity in our lives. The conversation was helpful then, because just as our kids aren't colorblind, I believe the God who created them is purposeful in all things, including the beautiful shades he chose to clothe us in.


photo credit: Rebecca Keller Photography

P.S. Right after I published this, I saw that my beautiful inside and out friend Lauren wrote a similar post. I promise I didn't steal her idea, but I definitely recommend her piece as well. 

Tuesday, June 9, 2015

what our summer daily schedule looks like

It's summer. That means school is out, but we still have therapy and doctor's appointments and all the rigmarole that comes with managing everyone's health.

Keeping routines is vital for our emotional health.

Especially mine.

Last year, I shared our plan for summer sanity. This year's is similar, but the boys are big enough to be included and the little girls are in on it to a degree (because they're little sisters who want to do what their older siblings do). 

Here's the list for the girls.
(Note: I realize I switch between first and third person, alternating "myself" in the first with "your" in the next item on the list... and while it bothers me some, perfect is too high a bar to set for every task.)


The boys' list is more simplified, and I felt safe dropping play outside and do something creative because they'll choose those over the TV anyway. (Plus, as I'll describe below, their writing includes a drawing, so something creative is already built in.) I added hand-drawn illustrations next to each item after I printed and before I laminated them.


Each child has his or her own laminated list so they can check off what they've done as they go, with dry erase markers so they can start with a clean slate the next day.

The little girls don't have a list, but they each have a folder and a journal, like everyone else. I'll hang this elsewhere eventually, but here's all the basic set-up in an organizer I found on Zulily and hung on the mantle hooks we use for Christmas stockings.


For journals, I bought the primary composition books at OfficeMax (also available online). These have space for drawing above where the lines are for writing. They're recommended for grades K-3, but the big girls who are rising 3rd graders wanted more grown up looking notebooks, so I let them chose their own.

For folders, we took the kids to WalMart last night to let them pick their own so they could feel more ownership. (It was after bedtime, so we chose that store instead of Target, because our standards of behavior were more fitting for WalMart, if you know what I mean.) 

Last night was my first night of sitting down with the folders and putting in worksheets for each child. The little girls get coloring pages. The boys get one page each from a Handwriting Without Tears workbook, a Transitional Math K-1 workbook, and a 180 Days of Reading - K workbook. For the big girls, I pull from different levels to meet them where they're at, with one getting reading from 180 Days of Reading - 2nd and one from the same kind of workbook for 3rd. I liked those books because they have a passage and multiple choice questions (as well as some days with written responses), and that's similar to what they'll see on 3rd grade EOG tests next year. Both girls get Rocket Math worksheets (addition here and subtraction here) with the top half for practice and the bottom half for a timed one-minute speed drill. They did these same worksheets in their classes this year, so they already know the drill (no pun intended). Third grade kicks off with multiplication, so their teachers advised that subtraction and addition facts need to be as firm and fast as possible as they enter next year. The girls are also getting some time and money review worksheets, as they both struggled a bit with those last year. I put all the new work on the left pocket in the folder, and they move it to the right side when they're done (just like the boys did in school last year, so this isn't a new routine for them).

 As far as books go, I've leveled every children's book in our house, creating bins for the little girls, the boys, and one for each girl. (That task was a beast and would need a whole 'nother post to explain...) The bin of little girl books are for read alouds, but the other bins contain books that are only at that child/children's reading levels so they can be choosing just right books to help them become more proficient readers.

For Bible memory, we're using the Foundation Verses from Fighter Verses, which is from Children Desiring God. We use the app-based version from iTunes (also available for Android). I lock the iPad to only have that app available (here's how to do that) so they aren't tempted to cheat on taking screen time with any other activity before they've earned it. I'm ordering the verses on a keyring for each child too, but I like that the app includes not only the picture and words but also reads it aloud for them.


Songs for each foundation verse are available at Bethlehem Baptist's websites, which was linked to from the Fighter Verses page:

why, yes, I do like to keep eleventy million tabs open at once...

If you have older kids or ones who are ready for meatier passages, the app includes other verses and memory games for kids who can read. Our big girls could probably use one of the Fighter Verse sets and one could do the Extended versions, but it's easier to use the same verse for everyone. Every day, we do a different verse, so we move quickly. Later verses are longer, though, so we might take a couple days for some of those... it's summer, after all! We can be flexible, right?

As far as chores, zones, and magnets go, here's a description of those. For the Bible study magnet, I'm leading them in that for the summer, with a story from Mighty Acts of God (as we've read through the Jesus Storybook Bible and God's Big Picture Story Bible a few times already, so I wanted to switch it up) and then an activity to follow, like a game or acting out the story or something like that. Since we read the creation story and today's foundation verse is about creation, I brought out our new creation stacking blocks made by Melissa & Doug.



This morning went well, except that the big girls had a lot of work to do before their room is clean so they haven't earned screen time yet. But that should improve because it's a daily task so it'll be maintaining cleanliness after they get it clean today. Plus I'm hoping it will cement some better habits as we enter the next school year.

And if they don't do their screen time work?

No screen time.

That worked last summer, and I'm looking forward to keeping the same routine this summer too. It's the only way to stay sane with six little ones home for the next few months! This way, we can all enjoy each other, maintain a routine, keep forward momentum academically, and have sweet family time... and then have some media time too, if it's earned.

Wednesday, May 13, 2015

who wants to join me in dishing out more grace and less judgment to other moms?

I'm not sure where it went, but I'm hungry for it.

Grace.

Especially among women.

As a disability advocate, I saw the story of a teenage girl with autism being escorted off a plane soon after the news broke. Her name is Juliette. I sat back. I read. I watched. I listened. And my heart broke.

Then I read the comments.

For the love. When will I learn to never, ever, ever read the comments?

The girl was dangerous, they said. (Um, yeah. All 120 pounds of her.) The parents weren't prepared. (Except they were, for the most part. And every parent has been in a situation in which they were underprepared, but that usually doesn't get us kicked off flights.) The teen was howling. (Um, Jocelyn appeared possessed through much of a flight from Texas to NC when she was just shy of two years old. It happens.) But some passengers heard the mom say her daughter might start scratching because of her agitation, so that was the problem, these commenters state. (But did she mean scratching strangers or herself and her parents? Neither is ideal, but only one is a risk to others on the plane. And as the mom to a child who has sensory meltdowns, I know that it's helpful to explain what might happen so that others aren't shocked when/if it does; such comments aren't intended as threats but rather education and preparation.) Maybe some people shouldn't be allowed to fly, they commented. (Um, just like some darker skinned folks shouldn't be allowed to sit in the front of the bus by similar lines of thought that history doesn't look kindly upon now? Nevermind that this girl has flown to nearly two dozen states and a few international locations, all without incident.)

When did judgment instead of grace become our default for other moms? 

My Zoe is only 3.5 years old, and she's ridiculously adorable. But I bet Juliette was a darling preschooler a decade ago, much like Zoe is now. In the past six months, I've flown with Zoe twice to St. Louis, once for a surgery and once for a follow up appointment. Both flights from Raleigh went well; both flights home... well, notsomuch. 

On our first return flight, we were on the way home a week after her major neurological surgery. We navigated from my friend Brooke's van through security with Zoe in her wheelchair and her carseat towed behind us, also on wheels thanks to a contraption my friend Christy let us borrow. I was also juggling a backpack of toys and games and electronics to keep Zoe happy. As we boarded in advance of other passengers and I installed her carseat and then did all I could to transfer her from the wheelchair to the carseat with as minimal pain as possible, I could tell she was hurting. Then not long into the flight, my heart sank... our charger hadn't been working properly, so her iPod was about to die with an hour left in the air. It died. She cried. As I tried everything I could, she was inconsolable. I wanted to scoop her into my arms, but I knew that would hurt her back and cause more pain.

moments before the iPod died and the tears started

Enter my angel, dressed as a flight attendant. 

She and I had chatted amicably earlier. She knew our story. She oohed and aahed over sweet Zoe. She watched me yawn, spent from too many nights on the poor excuse for a caregiver bed in my girl's hospital room. She might have been able to tell that I was starting to get sick, even though I had no idea that a diagnosis of pneumonia would come about a week later. She could have just smiled and walked on.

And she did smile, as she dug into her own bag, pulled out her own iPad, queued up the education video app her own daughter liked, and offered it to us. Zoe stopped crying. I started. Grateful.


calm with the flight attendant's personal iPad
I wish I remembered more about this Southwest stewardess, other than that her name was unique (maybe started with an M?) and I think she was Hispanic and she had a preschool-aged daughter. I would love to be able to thank her now for her small kindness that was huge to us that day.

If you happen to read this, THANK YOU for embodying grace to us.

The next return flight didn't involve pain for Zoe, but she was tired. When I asked what she wanted to drink, she said milk. They didn't have milk. I suggested Sprite instead. CUE MELTDOWN. For about an hour, she screamed. Kicked. Hit me. Threw things. Yelled NO. As we sat on the floor in the back of the plane, trying to give everyone else some peace and ourselves some space, strangers brought us toys and fruit snacks and anything else they thought might help. The flight attendants respected my attempts to handle Zoe but stayed close in case I needed any help. Finally, I offered Sprite again - the same drink I offered right before the meltdown! - and she accepted and calmed down and greedily drank it and then let out a dainty burp, the kind only possible for little girls under 25 pounds.

What helped us survive those flights? Was it judgment? No.

Grace. 

Moms, let's give each other more of that, okay? Even if the mom on the news should have brought more food on board and even if I should have double-checked the iPod's charge, that doesn't mean we deserved judgment. It just means we're human. Two flight crews out of St. Louis saw our shared humanity and offered me and Zoe grace.

I wish the flight crew carrying Juliette and her mom would have offered the same, but we can't rewrite history. We can, however, stop ourselves before dishing out everything but grace in our comments or thoughts or attitudes, not just toward this one mom but toward all the other moms we encounter.

Grace. We're all hungry for it. So let's serve it up to each other, shall we?