Wednesday, February 25, 2015

the lie of "I could never do that" or "I can't imagine"

Anyone who knows me knows I'm a talker. At the Global Access conference last week, my friend Mike complimented me as he passed me mid-conversation yet again, saying something like, "Look at your networking skills! You're always in a new conversation with someone else every time I see you!"

My reply? "Or maybe I just like to talk a lot!"

Confession: Mine is probably closer to the truth.

But sometimes I'm quiet. Or to be more accurate, I talk about the things that don't matter so much while staying silent about what's really on my heart.

When I do lay it all on the table -
the challenges of scheduling multiple therapy and specialist appointments every week, the uncertainty of knowing what Zoe's future looks like, the concerns about racial tensions in our country as the white mother of children of color, the difficulty supporting two second graders with drastically different educational foundations such that homework times can feel hellacious, our medicine regimen of 2-4 daily inhaler or nebulizer treatments and twelve pills a day between all of us and one injection a week and 4-5 physical/occupational/speech therapy sessions a week outside of school, my meal planning for a large family, and so on 
- the reply is usually some variation of "I could never do that" or "I can't imagine."

But if it were your kid, you could. You would.

And the look on your face usually tells me that you did just imagine what that might be like but you're afraid of offending me with what your imagination showed.

I wouldn't mind all of that, except that after the "I could never..." or "I can't imagine," the conversation usually ends. A long pause or a quick excuse tells me my truth was a little too truthy for you. Friendships are hard enough to come by in the midst of mothering a gaggle of kiddos with varying needs. At the risk of sounding pitiful, here's another truth: I need you. And maybe you need me too. We were created for community, after all.

We can't be truth tellers if we're afraid of the truth, if we're afraid to admit that, maybe, you just don't want my struggles or you're glad they aren't yours but that you love me and are glad to know what my reality is and are willing to listen any time I want to talk. (And that's okay, because I don't really want your struggles either, if I'm telling the truth.)

I like to talk. I do. But lately I've been convicted of my laziness with words at times. I don't think anyone who has ever said "I could never..." or "I can't imagine..." is intentionally lying - I know I wasn't meaning to when I used to say them - but a lazy lie lacks truth all the same.

Let's be truth tellers, y'all. Part of that is giving others permission to tell their truths, even the uncomfortable and hard and messy ones.

speaking of mess, here's a little of mine. i snapped the pic because i was struck at how beautiful my mess looked in the late afternoon light. isn't that just how it is, though? all our brokenness has beauty in the right Light.

Monday, February 23, 2015

let's be truth tellers and not mask wearers

When did the people of Truth (myself included) stop being truth tellers instead of mask wearers?

What if... 

...we stopped presenting polished versions of ourselves and let it all out, even those parts the world says we should hide?

...we cared less about our kids' behavior and more about their hearts?

...we sought to love people rather than impress them?

...we valued differences instead of ignoring, dismissing, or ridiculing them?

...we really truly wholly believe that every person - including you and me - has a story worth sharing and a voice worth hearing?

...we answered honestly when asked, "How are you?" and
...we were ready and thankful for genuine answers to that question?

...we acted like God's purpose in each of us mattered so that we stopped trying to pretend to be someone else?

...we dealt with our own logs instead of attacking the specks of others?

...we offered up our broken pieces to create a beautiful mosaic instead of hiding each chip under the rug to never shine?

What if?

In my writing and speaking and friendships and family, God is stirring up great things. I'm realizing more and more that I need to stop hindering that work by trying to be who I think I should be instead of who He made me to be. To be honest, I don't know exactly what that looks like, but I do know one thing for sure: I want to be a truth teller and not a mask wearer.

Who's with me?

Monday, February 9, 2015

where I'll be writing & speaking in 2015

This blog has been quiet, in part because of the holidays (Christmas break doesn't offer a lot of writing time!) and bouts of sickness (when does cold and flu season end?) but also because I've been elsewhere online. To find me when this space in quiet...


Global Access Conference
presented by Joni & Friends
February 17-20, near LA

The Global Access Conference will bring together disability leaders, ministers, educators and practitioners from around the world. It’s an unprecedented opportunity to share experiences, forge strong working relationships, and learn how to practically and effectively promote disability ministry in the Christian community.

I'll be leading two sessions

  • The Special Needs of Foster and Adoptive Families and 
  • What are some practical implications of the verse "Blessed are the nations whose God is the Lord? (a roundtable discussion follow-up to Nick Vujicic's main stage talk). 

Accessibility Summit
McLean Bible Church
April 17-18, near DC

I'm not speaking this year, but many good friends will be - Matt Mooney, Harmony Hensley, Jolene Philo, Barbara Newman, Amy Kendall, Marie Kuck, Jackie Mills Fernald, and Emily Colson - so I'm excited to learn, enjoy, and recharge at this well-established special needs ministry conference.

CAFO 2015
Longhollow Baptist Church
April 30-May 1, Nashville

The Christian Alliance for Orphans’ CAFO2015 Summit inspires and equips Christians to care for orphans with wisdom-guided love. The CAFO Summit has become the national hub for what Christianity Today called, “the burgeoning Christian orphan care movement.” Last year’s conference drew 2,600 foster and adoptive parents, orphan advocates, pastors and leaders from 35 countries.

Last year I spoke about Making Your Church a Welcoming Place for Families with Special Needs, and this year I'm following that up with a session titled Post-Placement Church: Children's and Youth Ministries That Are Safe Places for Special Needs.

*More to be announced soon*
as I'm in talks with a few other adoption, women's, and children's ministry 
conference organizers to firm up those opportunities
(Side note: I'm available to speak on a variety of topics related special needs parenting, adoption/foster care, disability ministry, and extending grace to ourselves as women, so please contact me if you're looking for a main stage speaker, workshop presenter, or panel member for an upcoming event. That said, I do have to be selective about speaking engagements because of family and local church responsibilities that come first, so please understand that I turn down great opportunities each year and yours might have to be one of them.)

regular contributions and guest posts

I also contribute guest posts elsewhere, and I'll do my best to link up to them more regularly here.

(Also, I'm starting to use my Facebook and Twitter
pages more to interact with readers, 
so please like it if you haven't yet!)

So please forgive me for being a stranger here from time to time! I hope to see you around elsewhere and, of course, here too. As a matter of fact, I have a bunch of new posts coming soon that you are not going to want to miss! (Way to leave you in suspense, huh?)

Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Our siblings have been home for more than a year. Their siblings still wait.

I've never written this sort of post before. I've never devoted this blog to criticizing the US government's handling of orphan visa cases. Usually, when the US prolongs a case to make sure every aspect is ethical, I am thankful because I witnessed unethical practices by others during our time in Uganda. I never want to see American desires used to trump or ignore necessary investigations to make sure a child truly needs international adoption before we remove him or her from everything familiar to join a family here.

But I know this family. I know their story. I know their integrity. I know their willingness to walk away if this adoption wasn't in the best interests of the girls. And knowing all that, I know it's time to write this post in hopes that it can help draw attention and bring help to their case.

In May 2009, Mary and Comfort entered orphanage care in Ghana, their mother unable to care for them and their father having left years before. In November 2012, the mother terminated her parental rights. And in 2013, Gretchen and Doug Hanna began an adoption. They were matched with Mary and Comfort, who were ages 7.5 and 6 at the time. With the support of their two older children, the Hannas began the process to become Mary's and Comfort's family.

their referral picture, early 2013

A couple months later, we found out about three siblings in another African country. They were 6, 4, and almost 2 at the time. While they were waiting for family, they hadn't been living in an orphanage too terribly long. They hadn't been waiting for years like Mary and Comfort had. Like our friends had done a few months prior, we said yes to being their family.

our referral picture, spring 2013

Both sibling sets needed a new family. Both sibling sets met the US criteria for being considered an orphan, which are that the child "does not have any parents because of the death or disappearance of, abandonment or desertion by, or separation or loss from, both parents OR has a sole or surviving parent who is unable to care for the child, consistent with the local standards of the foreign sending country, and who has, in writing, irrevocably released the child for emigration and adoption."

But now our three siblings from Uganda are here with us and have been for 14 months, while Mary and Comfort still wait. Until their denial, every step of Gretchen's and Doug's process was ahead of ours - referral almost three months earlier, court five months earlier, and embassy interviews one month earlier. Then they screeched to a halt, because the USCIS said the girls' biological father needed to give consent. Nevermind that he had left the family long ago, nevermind that their biological mother gave her consent, nevermind that she and others testified that the father had intentionally abandoned them and could not be found, nevermind that USCIS investigators couldn't find him (nor could private investigators hired by the family). Nevermind that the courts in Ghana had declared Mary and Comfort to be legally Hannas and deemed all requirements for adoption to be met. And nevermind that denying these girls a visa wouldn't make their father appear or decide to parent.

No, a refusal to issue a visa just means that Mary and Comfort still wait for a stable family. Meanwhile, our Patience, Philip, and Patricia have been in our home and family to celebrate two Thanksgivings, two Christmases, one Easter, one summer, and one birthday each with second birthdays right around the corner.

Meanwhile, Doug and Gretchen have visited Ghana, assisted in investigations, paid for their own investigations, responded meticulously to every request for information from the USCIS, found foster homes to care for the girls until they can come to the US, and connected with them via Skype whenever that's possible.

In case you're wondering about the adoption ban in Ghana, that doesn't apply to this case. They were finishing the adoption just as the ban took place, so absolutely everything is legal according to the laws of Ghana and the policies of the US. In fact, the Hannas received a letter from Social Welfare of Ghana assuring them that it was fine for the girls to be adopted and asking the US to grant their visas.

Yet, they wait.

I want to issue a call to action here, but I'm not really sure what it should be. As Gretchen said in her last blog post about this, any advocacy can help. So if you're willing, contact elected officials (especially if you already have an established relationship there) or media sources (see here for one media appearance they've already made). Consider sharing this post in hopes that it will catch the attention of someone who can help.

And pray for progress, please. Our children have been home for more than a year while theirs still wait. These girls have been without a family for nearly six years and can't yet join their legal family.

I'm praying and writing this in hopes for some change to bring their wait to an end soon, because it's not right that our family picture looks like this

while theirs looks like this.

Friday, December 12, 2014

Firefly's new home therapy tool:

I saw this and became obsessed with it immediately. All special needs parents know that moment when we see or hear about something and think, "THIS!" This is a tool or strategy or help that can serve my child well.

For us, the Playpak by Firefly was that item.
(We also own the GoTo seat and Upsee, also made by Firefly. I'll include two shots of at the end of this post, but they really deserve features of their own, so those will come in due time.)

We can use it for tummy and back activities too, but the best help the Playpak offers Zoe is in sitting. All the pieces can be configured in different ways, depending on the child and the purpose. For example, I wanted to stretch her abductors in addition to working on sitting, so I used the orange piece to spread her legs into a prolonged static stretch (and also used on knee immoblizer we already had to keep her knee from bending up and out of the stretch).

Zoe doesn't sit independently yet, but her trunk control is pretty good and her core is growing stronger day by day. With so little stability on her own, sometimes sitting progress hits a plateau, and I'm confident the Playpak is going to be just the external stabilizer she needs as she learns to do more and more on her own.

Prior to her SDR surgery, the tightness in her hanstrings rotated her hips forward when sitting, causing her back to reflexively pull back. (Note: the blue therapy bench in several of these pictures is a different product, but I'll link to that below.)

Now that spasticity is gone, but her body has to un-learn that reflex as it gets strong enough to sit without support.

This is part ab workout system, part seating support system.

The best gift the Playpak gives Zoe? Independence. 

Thank you for that, Firefly.

(Even if we do use that independence for snacking during Barney.)

The Playpak isn't just for passive sitting, though. For this next series of play pictures, I used the strap instead of the larger curved piece so that Zoe could lean forward more.

All the pieces can be positioned as your child needs, using secure velcro.

How secure? Well, for the first time in Zoe's life with us, I left the room to do a couple things while she was sitting and playing.

I've never been able to do that before. She's never had the freedom to just sit and play with her sister, something most three year olds have been doing for quite some time.

THIS. This is a beautiful first, y'all.

Behind Zoe in the picture above, you can see a few pieces we weren't using this time. To give a little more flexible support, I used the orange piece behind her back, setting aside the small yellow support piece, and the yellow strap in front instead of the green curved piece. This time, we also didn't use the blue head pillow which is best for activities done when lying down.

She felt secure in playing without thinking too much about sitting, which is exactly how kids ought to feel.

The Playpak looks bright and fun and welcoming, so her sister wasn't intimidated by it at all. In other words, it's a help and not a barrier to playing with peers!

(Our sweet girls have no idea that every bedroom shared by three year old sisters isn't full of therapy equipment!)

Such precious smiles!

Such secure sitting!

Such fun play!

Now to the details: the Playpak includes a carrying case that doubles as a mat. Inside, the red horseshoe, green horseshoe, orange support piece, yellow support piece, yellow support strap, and blue head cushion are packed in the mat, which also includes loops for toys to be attached.

All of the pieces fit together

so they can be zipped and carried easily.

Seriously, the case is ultra light and easy to transport. I was skeptical about that. But, truly, this whole thing can be easily transported from place to place.

The outer part includes a few small pockets, and so far the manual is the only thing I regularly tuck in there. This booklet is helpful with lots of tips and illustrations, so I like to have it easily accessible.

And Firefly's slogan? It's not a gimmick; it's honest. What they make makes so much more possible for my girl.

To learn more about the Firefly products shown here...
About the Playpak ($449)
About the GoTo Seat ($265-299, depending on size, available in pink, green, and blue)
About the Upsee ($489, available in different sizes and colors)
To buy any of those products or others from Firefly

Other products...
LiteGait harness system (contact them for a quote)
LiteGait GaitKeeper Mini treadmill (contact them for a quote)
Kaye adjustable therapy bench (shop around for the best price; ours was $153 from Amazon)

Disclaimer: This Playpak was given to us from Firefly for review purposes, but my opinion is all my own and I gave no guarantees of a positive review. 

Thursday, December 11, 2014

Who told you this is what Christmas is for?

I hope I never get over the ridiculous grace of God becoming a baby, being born in the humblest of settings, and entering the mess our sin created in this world he created. What a love! What a gift! What absurdity!

That's what was on my mind yesterday afternoon, as we took our annual trip to Boyce Farms here in Raleigh to cut our own tree. I'll admit I prefer the variety behind us in that picture, but those trees grow in the western part of the state, and I'm not up for that drive just to cut a tree. So we go for the less showy varieties that will grow around here, as I try to remind myself that Christmas isn't about the photoshoot-ready magazine-suitable professional-looking trimmings.

It's about a God who wrapped himself in flesh to be the sacrifice we could never offer out of our own chaos. If you're looking for a blog about where to find that perfect garland or how to make a dozen kinds of cookies for gifts or 27 must-have decorations for a Happy Birthday, Jesus party... well, then click that little x to close this window, because this is not that kind of place.

We're a messy family. Patu's shoes were on the wrong feet, Zoe looked like she was drooling blood as she joyfully ate her candy cane, Philip said he didn't feel well and we dragged him out anyway and then he was diagnosed with pneumonia today because we're great parents or something like that, and... well, you get the picture. We're a party of eight, and our real world includes pictures like the one below in which one of our five year olds decided it would be hilarious to pretend he was pooping a tree.

Somehow I don't think that picture is going to end up on Pinterest, y'all. (Also, did I really just share that? Yes, yes, I did.) But somehow in all the tinsel and tradition and tree-trimming and twinkle lights, I keep finding myself forgetful that Christmas is all about mess.

When my daughter doesn't offer the smile I was hoping for as she "helped" Daddy with the saw, I often fail to remember that another Father made a plan to rescue his disobedient children before time even began.

As we hunt for the perfect tree to grace our family room, I can easily lose sight of the grace available each moment for all my imperfections.

As my precious ones point out tree after tree with exclamations, "What about this one!," my mind jumps to the bare patches or odd shapes of each one without pausing to grieve my loss of the childhood faith they still hold.

In their eyes, Christmas is full of magic,

not the false kind written about in novels and playing out on the big screen

but a truly magical plan of redemption, drafted by the all-knowing one who could foresee our failing before they bit into the forbidden fruit.

Genesis 3:11 holds the most convicting question in all of scripture, in my opinion. Do you remember what God asks them?
"Who told you that you were naked?"

When I say I'm following the Christ child but spend more time seeking the sparkles than the sacred, I hear, "Who told you this is what Christmas is for?"

An infant who entered the world in a stable full of dirt and animals and more manure than our modern nativity scenes show grew into a man who died defeat sin with a blade but with his own death.

To a world that was lost, love came down and put on skin.

(Did you see the lost one in the picture above? It's like "Where's Waldo?" Patu edition.)

Christmas isn't about the perfect tree or the perfect Advent devotional or the perfect matching pajamas or the perfect wrapping job or any of the other worldly perfections we strive for.

Christmas is about our imperfect world being interrupted by the only child who could lead us out of our darkness and into his light.

As we enter these last days before the beauty of a newborn king breaks forth from this season of waiting, I know I'll be distracted at least a dozen times more by the shiny, the sparkly, and even the sin of this world, bogging myself down with all the wrong trappings.

"Who told you this is what Christmas is for?"

I'm the one, along with my husband, who will tell them what Christmas is for. And as every parent knows, they are listening more closely to what my actions say than to what I share during our dinnertime Bible stories.

As they're listening to me, I hope they'll hear what Christmas is truly for.

I pray their eyes will see a mother who loves the Lord more than she loves finding this year's perfect tree.

And just as they rest in the arms of their Daddy, I'm gladly burying myself in my Father so that they will see more of him and less of me.
And the angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God. And behold, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus. He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. And the Lord God will give to him the throne of his father David, and he will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom there will be no end.”

And Mary said to the angel, “How will this be, since I am a virgin?”

And the angel answered her, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; therefore the child to be born will be called holy—the Son of God. And behold, your relative Elizabeth in her old age has also conceived a son, and this is the sixth month with her who was called barren. For nothing will be impossible with God.”

(Luke 1:30-37 ESV)