To Accept the Things I Cannot Change

I am prone to lean towards “control freak” status from time to time. I’ve been that way for as long as I can remember. As a teen and young adult, it tormented me. I struggled for years with an eating disorder upon learning that one thing I could effectively control was food. Time and experience has taught me to surrender. Control is a facade. None of us are really in control of anything. No matter how much we’d like to believe otherwise, we are all just one phone call, one event, one doctor’s visit, one unexpected moment away from our lives being turned upside down. I don’t say that to be melancholy, this realization has strangely brought me so much peace. There is only One who has control. But thankfully, I trust Him. He is good and just and loving and so it is okay. There is freedom in surrender.

Still. This control thing creeps up from time to time. And anxiety breeds rampantly in the mind of someone grasping for control. It is the thorn in my side like the one Paul spoke of in 2 Corinthians. It keeps me from becoming proud. It reminds me of my need for the Peace-Speaker in the midst of my chaos. And so in a way, I am grateful.

Last night my mind wandered down the dark and twisty path it sometimes ends up at. I thought about the burden of living in a world where terrorism, violence, deadly illness and natural disasters are so common it seems ironic to call them news. I thought about how much heavier that burden is living in a world with children. What if one of these awful things touches their lives? I can read for hours about effective ways to help Layla with the needs she has. I can remind the kids to wash their hands and say their prayers (because Jesus & germs are everywhere…). I can teach them about “tricky people” and make them wear helmets and I can find the fine line between teaching them to be brave and keeping them safe. I can always, always pray for them. But even if it goes against every fiber of my Mama Bear instinct I must accept this one thing…I am NOT in control of their lives. Only God is. I have to relinquish any sort of control I try to hold even if it’s under the pretense of wanting to protect them.

I can teach. I can direct. I can discipline and encourage. I can and will spend more hours in prayer for them than I have for anyone else in my entire life. But they will make their own choices, face their own consequences, and experience their own tragedies. I have been placed in the position of responsibility of these precious lives and I will care for them, I will guide them and I will love them so much it hurts. But I must surrender their lives to the One I have surrendered my own life to and trust. He loves them more than I am capable of loving. He is a good Father. It can all fall apart tomorrow and if it does, we will deal with it then…but tonight I will sleep in perfect peace. Because I will choose to trust Him.

Stuff is crazy, ya’ll. In personal lives, in society, in the country, all over the stinkin’ world. And so maybe you’re feeling a little anxious, too. Maybe your mind has ventured off to the dark and twisty places that mine has been. Be encouraged. Be still and know that He is God. Our emotions don’t have to be defined by our circumstances. Choose trust. Choose peace. We can rest in knowing that He is good. Always.

Until the next blog…be blessed.

Mental Healthcare for the Poor

There are things that weigh very heavily on my heart and mind that never would have had we not adopted Layla or started working with families in crisis. I am grateful for the challenge and for the constant reminder that we must refuse to be complacent. But I wonder how I can take all these thoughts and feelings and turn them into action. I know that we are able to make a difference serving as a host family with Safe Families and through building relationship with those in poverty, but it is overwhelming how many nuances there are in this “crisis world” that I often speak of. It’s all far more complicated than I could have ever imagined.

I’ve been thinking a lot about mental healthcare because of Layla. Recently Layla’s psychiatrist sat us down and basically told us that she felt that Layla’s case was beyond her abilities to treat. She sent us off to find a developmental specialist who could do extensive testing, nailing down some concrete diagnoses and taking it from there. And so the search began. We found that in our huge metroplex, there were only THREE specialists. Of those three, only two of them were taking patients. Thankfully, we have good insurance, and so we had the choice of both. One was an hour away and the other two hours, so we picked the one that was closer. They sent us an estimate of what we would owe after insurance and we certainly had some sticker shock. Thankfully though, we were able to do it. The doctor’s office was fantastic, everyone in there was so knowledgeable and helpful. When we walked through the door the doctor was already well versed on Layla’s history and chart.  It is true that sometimes you get what you pay for. In our time taking Layla to a variety of specialists, we have noticed the more “exclusive” ones are usually pretty amazing.

I have never seen a doctor pay closer attention to a patient, all of her words, every single action. He was like a pediatric mental health genius. At the end of it, we walked away with our pockets a little lighter but FULL of information as well as the official diagnoses we needed to get Layla more helpful treatment. For the last couple of years we have spent so much time and energy trying to put together the complex puzzle that is our sweet big girl. At the end of our time with the specialist I felt like he threw us a ton of puzzle pieces that we had been missing and it was truly priceless. I’m so grateful.

At the same time, I haven’t been able to stop thinking about this experience. That we were able to get her this great help because of good insurance. And because of money. And because of a reliable vehicle that can get us an hour’s drive away. All of those things are privilege. And I’m wondering more and more what mental healthcare looks like for the poor. Do their issues go unnoticed or undiagnosed? Does it stop at their primary care physician who just writes some prescriptions and hopes for the best? ‘Is this why we see substance abuse prevalent among the poor? Not because they are “bad” but because they are self-medicating? How does someone with mental health issues hold down a job or become a productive member of society when they are unable to get the help that they need? We still have a long road ahead with our amazing little girl. But is Layla’s future brighter simply because we can afford for it to be? It’s a hard pill to swallow.

One of the Safe Families mothers we have worked with has mental health issues that were only diagnosed after she got into trouble. Apparently this is common. In 2008, one single jail in Harris County Texas was spending $24 million a year on mental healthcare alone. And all too often, inmates get their first diagnosis only after being incarcerated. This particular Mom was able to get on the proper medication and dosage to treat her bipolar disorder without complication. Then her insurance provider stopped covering that particular script. The other medication that took it’s place causes nausea and vomiting and lethargy which she now takes a whole bunch of additional medications for. All because she can’t afford the first prescription.

I’m writing all of this not having any of the answers. But I think that if we are going to adopt the “love thy neighbor” mindset that we need to at least consider the issues that our neighbors struggle with.

Do any of you have thoughts on this? Are there resources or agencies that I’m not aware of that we could stand behind as a family to help? If so, please comment or e-mail me, I’d love to learn more!

Until the next blog…be blessed!

Moving out and finding her worth…

Yesterday, we filled the Suburban to the top, no nook or cranny missed and made the trek to Fort Worth. It was M’s big moving day. M is one of the Mom’s whose girls we hosted twice through Safe Families. I have written about her multiple times because she is a favorite of mine. Over the year we have known each other, we have become family. Watching her come full circle, now moving out of the shelter and into an apartment of her own was overwhelming in the very best way. We had talked ahead of time about the possibility of me taking pictures and telling her story. She eagerly agreed, wanting people to understand that all poor people do not cheat the system. She often gets grouped into that stereotype. She hates it so much that she didn’t even want to accept disability for her daughter who has muscular dystrophy because she didn’t want anyone to get the wrong idea or think she was trying to live off of hand outs. She wants people to know about the world of poverty and how impossibly difficult it is to dig yourself out when you’re doing it the honest way.

I had big plans to take lots of pictures to share with you guys…but mostly it was like any other moving day with things to unpack and children to wrangle so I barely got any. But mostly, it looked a lot like this:

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and this…

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We unloaded the Suburban. Kevin brought in his tool box and did all the assembling while M and I kept the kids under control and went through boxes. She cried when she stood in the kitchen and realized it was hers. I’ll never forget that. We listened to the kids say that they were hungry and I watched her get uneasy. She had already confessed that with her recent $0.75 raise at work that she lost half of her food stamps. She confessed animosity towards the girls at the shelter who don’t work at all and get 3x the support she does while she works long hours in a nursing home kitchen half the time and as a CNA the other half. We talked about how the right thing and the easy thing are seldom the same but that God honors integrity. 

We went through a couple of things that were donated from a nearby nonprofit. We figured we’d be able to find the girls something to eat from the box of food they brought. As we sorted through, a lump formed in my throat and I got sick to my stomach. The boxes of donations screamed to me that women like M are not of any value to the world. How can she know her worth when all she’s ever experienced in her life is other people’s throw away stuff?

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Those bananas had a thin film of white mold along the backside of them…which was gross, but nothing compared to the green fuzzy mold that had accumulated on the bread and tomatoes. The small bag of canned food held promise, until we read the expiration dates mostly consisting of 2010 and 2011. I blinked away tears and we put away a can of tomato soup, a couple cans of veggies, a small bag of cheetos and an orange. M immediately peeled the orange and cut it into 5 equal pieces for her girls and my kids and I wanted to scream, “STOP IT! Don’t you give that food to my kids….you feed your babies!” but instead I thanked her for her generosity. The kids continued to play and we sorted through the bag of non-food items that came along with the other donations. She already moved the couch to the dumpster and we quickly saw why. It smelled like urine and bugs had made their home on the inside of it long ago. That someone could say  “give this to the single Mom moving out of the shelter, it’ll be fine for her” blows my mind. Donations like that show her what society thinks of her. I hate that. What are we saying about her value that it’s even acceptable to give her these things? Still, not an ill word spoken from her. I asked her how she felt about all of it and she just said “I don’t want to complain, I’m grateful for everything.” The last thing to go through was a plastic bag. And she pulled out 3 shoes…nope, not 3 pairs of shoes, literally 3 shoes.

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M is a single Mom who works long hours, has an almost 2 year old who is constantly on turbo and a 3 year old with special needs. There is no such thing as fancy dresses or going out anywhere. But these were the 3 shoes. They were 4 inch lacy heels and at this point all we could do was laugh. We made jokes about how there should have been a piece of paper included that said “Can you please throw this stuff away for us?” and also some more crass jokes about the types of occupations one might have needing shoes like that. And sorry if it all sounds offensive or ungrateful, I just wish you could have seen her defeated face overshadowing her grateful, humble words. We’ve got to do better.

If they knew M, they would have set aside the best of the best for her. If they knew her story, they would have known she is worth more than moldy food and mismatched shoes. She moved from Puerto Rico leaving an impoverished area, but also all of her family and security, behind. When she left Puerto Rico she had 0 high school credits. The first thing she did when she got to Texas was find an alternative school that would let her work at her own pace so she could get her diploma. It was really important to her that she got to have a diploma instead of a GED. And what takes most kids four years to accomplish, M accomplished in less than a year. She worked tirelessly to complete all of her classes and at the age of 19 received her diploma.

She knew she was on the right track, and when she fell in love she thought she’d get all she dreamed of when she moved from Puerto Rico. First an education, then a family, and then her dream career. She started her family, marrying who she believed to be the love of her life and basking in the security of it.

They had their first baby when things took a turn. There was fighting…so much fighting. It got worse when he started dealing with his anger by self-medicating. One day, she had no choice but to get the police involved. She said she would press charges, but was afraid she would get in trouble, too because admitting abuse meant she exposed her baby to that abuse. The officers assured her that they would never punish a victim, but the next day CPS came and took her baby away. Her husband in prison, her baby in foster care, she was lost. Soon after she would find out that she was pregnant again. She sold everything she had to afford an attorney. She spent all of her savings and went into debt to fight for her daughter. She took all the classes required of her to have her parental rights restored and in the process lost her job. When the judge ordered she be reunited with her daughter he told her, “I want you to know that this almost never happens.”

She had her daughter back but had nothing else left. And so came the shelter.  When we met her, we were taking in her girls who were then 9 months old and 1 1/2 years old. She said she’d never use a program like Safe Families, but then she broke her foot. The girls couldn’t stay at the shelter alone so it was either us or CPS. She didn’t have much of a choice. She was guarded and protective. I didn’t understand why she wouldn’t just let us in. I didn’t know that the last time someone came and took her baby, she lost everything to bring her back. In time, we began to trust each other. We became friends. We started talking because we genuinely enjoyed each other. No because she was a charity case, not because she wanted anything from us, but because God was molding the most wonderful friendship. And then one day she found out that my Daddy is Puerto Rican and all bets were off. She was sold. And we became family.

We’ve rejoiced with her when she got her CNA, and got a better job. We’ve mourned with her when she lost said job because it wouldn’t work with her childcare hours. She called me crying when her daughter was diagnosed with muscular dystrophy and I cried to her when I was stressed out about Layla’s struggles. She has nothing to give and yet she always says, “If you need anything, I’m here.” And she’d give me the little she has without a second thought because that’s just the way she is. 

Kevin snuck out and ran to Walmart and when he came back we started unloading groceries. M’s tired face softened and she was mostly silent. I couldn’t tell if she was embarrassed or overwhelmed but I didn’t want her to feel uncomfortable so we left the groceries in their bags and I just hugged her really tight.  I told her we had to get the kids to bed but that we loved her and would see her soon. Kevin would later tell me that the girls immediately started tearing into the yogurt because they were so hungry. M would later confess that the girls were just going to have that bag of donated cheetos for dinner. When we got in the car we talked about how therapeutic it is to serve others. We talked about how easy it is to love someone who is so different than you and how it’s so obvious that love comes from God. We talked about how easily we can take for granted our own full pantry until we see an empty one.

Then my phone rang. We were maybe 10 minutes out and it was already M. She was sobbing. She said that she didn’t want to cry in front of us, but now she couldn’t stop. She told me that no one in her life actually meant it when they said they loved her or that they were there for her. She said this is the first time. She said she had been sitting there while the girls ate wondering how she was going to repay us. She said that she hoped I knew that she was always there for us, too. And I begged God that the little that we’ve been able to do for her would help show her that she has value and worth.

I told her that everything that we’ve been able to do for her has been because the Lord has provided for us and that He was using that provision to provide for her, too. And that He loved her so much, that even if He hadn’t sent us, He would have sent SOMEONE. It’s not because we are good people or because we just have so much extra to give, it is because He loves her so much that He has sent help. We talked about the way God brought us together to be family and that He is a good Father who takes care of his children and where we might fail her as family, because we are human, that He will never fail her. I pray she comes to know this deep in her soul.

I pray that God will send helpers to the M’s all over the world. There are so many. And I pray that all of you reading this will learn the faces and the names of poverty and take them by the hand and walk with them. And I pray that it changes their lives and changes your life the way it has ours. I pray that when you drop your boxes of donations off to the shelters or the food pantries, that you think of the single Mom moving out on her own for the very first time and that you will put the best of what you have in that box and that in return, she will feel like she has worth.

Until the next blog…be blessed.

Sometimes she leaves us…

One minute she’s with us and then the next minute she’s gone.

 

All is well when she gets in the car after school. I hand her a snack and she tells us she earned a sticker. We make our way to Target and the mood shifts. I can see the manic look in her eyes and my stomach drops. She is defiant and loud. Her movements are brisk, her eyes refusing to make contact with mine. She’s gone.

She’s not Layla anymore. She can’t be reasoned with or spoken to. She doesn’t even hear us. She just screams. We leave and she won’t keep her seatbelt on. Out of desperation, Kevin puts her in the car seat with the 5 point harness. He hopes she won’t take that off. She’s not safe.  She scratches him and yells. I get in the seat next to her and wrap my arms around her tightly as Kevin drives away. I squeeze her arms close to me so she feels some sense of security in the midst of her thrashing around and I whisper “Shhhhhhhh” into her ear over and over. Her body goes limp and she cries. I cry, too. And I silently thank God that her Occupational Therapist gave me the right tools to do something. I silently thank God that it worked. She doesn’t know why it happens. We talk about all the better things she can do when she starts to go to that place. She tells me her brain talks to her and sometimes it says bad things. She is confused and sad and we are exhausted in every sense of the word.

Honestly, on days like this I fantasize about a Layla who was never exposed to drugs in her birth mom’s womb. I dream about a Layla who doesn’t struggle with dark moments in private. My mind drifts to what it would be like without a world of Neurological testing, Occupational Therapists, Psychiatric visits and medications under our belt. The doctor says scarier things than she used to. Like how to look for signs of bipolar disorder. I feel ill-equipped. But the moment I catch myself thinking this way, I stop myself. God has assigned Layla her portion and cup. And he has assigned me mine, too. And if I acknowledge that He is good, (He is, by the way) then I must acknowledge that what He allows is for our eternal good as well. We can do this. One day at a time.

It’s just that it gets so lonely. To most of the world she appears normal. The well-meaning “She seems fine to me” comments are like a punch in the gut. I am grateful that you have never seen the scary side of her and yet simultaneously frustrated that you do not understand. On the other hand, if you HAVE seen that side of her, I am terrified you will compare her to her brother and sister and somehow view her as less. Is there a way for you to recognize she is different without treating her that way? I’m not sure.

Before the night is over she is completely back to normal. And our aching hearts are already on the mend. We have been there/done that too many times before. We may go months before we see anything like this again, or tomorrow may bring another day of pain. We just never know. But we carry on. We know that even when Layla is at her worst, she is the most incredible gift. And when she is at her best, there is not a greater feeling in the world. I wouldn’t trade her or change her for anything. Her story is beautiful and she is a fighter.

 

P.S.-Give grace to the family with the kicking and screaming child walking out of the store. Yes, that child may be a spoiled, entitled, brat. But that child could also be the most pleasant, well-behaved, sweet thing who fights the hardest, darkest battles behind closed doors. And her Mommy and Daddy might be afraid and overwhelmed. One smile and nod can remind us that we are not in the trenches by ourselves. Assign positive intent. It makes all the difference.

First Day of School!!

 

 

 

 

 

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Our babies are growing up so fast!! Today Layla started 1st grade & Bryson started Kindergarten. I am counting down the hours til I get to pick them up and find out how their day went! Tomorrow Bryson will have to miss school because he’s having a little procedure in hopes of finding out what’s been going on with his tummy lately. I’m so grateful it worked out that he didn’t have to miss his first day though! I’d like to write a post soon about the crazy whirlwind of a month we’ve had and how lovingly God has poured peace into our tired souls in the middle of the most difficult circumstances. But for now, let’s all cry about how big my kids are!! Hehe! 

 

Until the next blog…be blessed!

What about MY son?

Can I be frank with you guys? The reason I despise talking about racial tension is because if I say we still have a problem, I am diminished to being nothing more than the white wife of a black man. To many, it seems that OF COURSE I’m going to feel that way because my husband must have influenced my opinion. If I had married a white man, perhaps my feelings would be considered. But because of who I chose to marry and because my babies’ skin is darker than mine, my opinion is skewed. It feels pointless. But seriously? I am ill over the countless stories on the news. And I am appalled by our sleepy nation and our collective unwillingness to wake up. Not just to the black men being shot down or put into choke holds forced to suffocate by police. But by Christian children being cut in half by radicals in Iraq. And by women being kidnapped and forcibly sold for sex until they reach the point that they’d rather die than continue. But all of that is too much for one post, so today let’s talk about the Ezell Fords and Michael Browns. Let’s say their names and tell their stories and determine that this is unacceptable. And you can think that my opinion is skewed…and maybe you’re right. One day though, a cop may decide that my son looks more black than white and in today’s climate that makes me feel afraid. If that makes me biased, then so be it.

I remember the first time Kevin was pulled over while I was in the car with him. We had been dating a couple of years and we were on our way to see a Christmas tree lighting. Kevin had recently got a new car and the temporary tag had fallen and was not visible to law enforcement.

It never occurred to me that there was a reason to be scared of the police. When I was a child my father got pulled over because I was holding up signs in the back that said “There’s a cat on your roof” and another driver didn’t think it was as funny as I did. He was nice, he cracked a joke and let us go before asking that we stick to signs that said things like “Hi!” instead.

One time in college I failed to yield and I was pulled over. The officer sympathized with how busy college life can be and warned me to be careful and that was the end of that.

It was different in the passengers seat with the black man I would one day call my husband. I saw a flashlight shine in his rear window as the officer inspected the inside of the car. To this day, a police officer has not done that to me. For Kevin though, it has been a consistent occurrence. I could only see the officer from the shoulders down but I will never forget the way his hand looked when he placed it over his gun holster on his belt and said “Have you ever been arrested before?”

I have learned that it is possible to take a tone with a person that says exactly what you wish you could say to them without using words. I didn’t know about that tone until I listened to that officer speak to Kevin. And I remember Kevin using a calm and respectful tone in return. Because that’s how he was raised. And I wonder had he been raised differently or if he had less patience for that officer’s attitude, if we would have found ourselves in a scarier situation. Thankfully another much kinder officer pulled up who took over and we quickly transitioned back to a routine traffic stop.

I could tell you that we’ve moved beyond the place in our nation where people are judged by their skin color but then I would remember that we are terrified to drive through certain states when we go to visit my parents. That one time we made a pit stop in a town where we were clearly not welcome and for a moment I feared what an angry old man would do to myself and my daughter as we walked out of the restroom. I still cry when I think about the way he looked at us and the tone he used that screamed hatred and disgust when he whispered.

I don’t like talking about this in a public forum. But we need to talk. About all of it. We are afforded the luxury of shutting the t.v. off and not paying attention for the sake of our comfort, but then nothing will change. And I’m begging you to long for change. I have babies growing up in this world who need to know they can trust the police. I never want my son to know what it feels like for an officer to try to intimidate him by putting his hand over his gun as he speaks. I never want my daughters to feel that life would have been easier for them had they been all white instead of half.

Join me. In the aching. In the praying. In the acting whenever we can, however we can. Speak truth. And stop turning the t.v. off for the sake of comfort. People are dying. We can’t be okay with that.

Until the next blog…be blessed. 

For Jordyn

In 6 short days Jordyn will be having a birthday! It has been quite a week, but it’s such a special time for our little girl and I wanted to be sure to get her annual birthday letter written!

My dear Jordyn-

It is hard for me to fully grasp what it means that the “baby” of our home is turning 4. Late night feedings, never-ending diaper changes, and those precious quiet moments in the rocker by your crib where you lay silent across my chest as I pray words of love into your sleepy ears…well those days have gone away. Without my realizing how quickly they were going as they went. I look at you and see a little girl instead of an infant and it still catches me off guard. But as I savored every second of those fleeting days, I savor every moment of watching you grow into such a big girl. The only thing more beautiful than your big smile and bright eyes is your kind and gentle heart. I am so full of love for you, sweet girl.

When you were a baby, getting you ready for bed was one of my favorite parts of the day. We would rock and sing and your drooling, toothless smile melted my heart every single night. And even now, I know the memories we make when the sun goes down are memories I will hold on to forever.

On a normal night we will gather together in the playroom singing our nighttime songs and praying our bedtime prayers. Hugs and kisses all around and then you hop up the stairs and head to bed. By the time I am upstairs, your breaths are slow and rhythmic and I watch the stillness of your beautiful face. I kiss your forehead and pull up the sheets and you are none the wiser. Still, it makes my heart so full. There are other nights though, that as the house quiets and I open your bedroom door, your eyes open wide and your giggly smile is reminiscent of the toothless smile I gazed at years before. I lay down next to you in your bed and we tell stories and sing songs. As you tire, you throw your arm around my neck and I pet your hair and watch your eyes get more and more heavy. In those moments, there is not a stress, a worry or a fear in the world that matters. All I can think of is how blessed I am to be your Mommy.

I know time will continuously escape me as I watch you, your sister and brother grow. It is inevitable. I know how there are some days that drag on forever and that then in the next instant I am grasping for more time. I know that someday, not too long from now, you won’t need the tuck-ins or sleepy songs. Someday, just as my mother did for me, I will go to bed and only doze until I hear you come in safely for the night. Someday you will spend the night in your own place for the first time and maybe call to say goodnight (please call to say goodnight. I’m going to be a wreck.). I know that when that night comes, I will open the door to your empty room before I go to bed and still vividly be able to see you. A drooling toothless smile rocking back and forth…the heavy eyed little girl who throws her arm around my neck to fall asleep. And I will be thankful. It has been such a joy to call you daughter.

Happy Birthday to my delightful little Jordyn. I love you higher than the sky and deeper than the sea.

Love,

Mommy

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