Wednesday, November 16, 2016

Everyday Grace

Earlier this week I found myself driving downtown very early in the morning. I was tired and out of my routine. As I drove towards the sky rises and into heavier traffic I found myself looking inward and focusing on myself. Thoughts about the kids, school work, behavior problems, dinner, budgets, writing tasks and work crowded my mind. Typical working mother multi-tasking. If my brain were a computer I would have 20 tabs open at once. It is no wonder so many of us are just so tired all the time- our brains are always on the move!

I found my way to my destination and, in my typical fashion, circled the block a few times trying to figure out where I should park. As I drove past a well manicured green space something bright blue caught my eye. Foxes! A family of over-sized colorful, movable foxes were peeking out from behind a group of trees. Last weekend my family and I wandered into a group of over-sized and colorful snails hiding out in the downtown library courtyard. We then saw similar birds in another part of the city. The foxes made me smile, remembering the fun surprise happening across the snails had been for my boys. "These animals must be all over the city!", I thought to myself. For just a moment, those computer tabs in my brain shut down and a warm feeling crept in. 

I remained confused as to where to park and so I pulled in to a small lot. The attendant stopped me and I assumed he was going to take my payment so I began rooting around for my wallet, barely making eye contact with the bundled up gentleman at my window. "Good morning!". He greeted me happily. His smile beamed at me. Warmth crept in a little more. After taking the time to ask me why I was downtown he suggested another parking garage just down the street that would better suit my needs for the day, and that was less expensive. He lost business in his little parking lot because he was doing the right thing for me. Warm. Warm. Oh so warm!

As I pulled in to the parking garage down the street the attendant flung open his window. Again, my expectations for whatever interaction we were about to have were low. "Good morning!". Here was another human being smiling at me again. After telling me to have a "most amazing day" he waved me on. so.much.warmth.

Everywhere I went that day my interactions were the same. Police officers, city workers, cafeteria employees and fellow citizens were going out of their way to show kindness and respect to one another. Smiles were waiting down the hall as I turned the corner. Doors were held. "Please" and "Thank You" were repeatedly offered. And with every pleasant interaction any frustration I had carried with me into the city that day melted away. Sometimes our fuse is just ready, isn't it? There are times that one frustration after another pile up and before we know it we are primed to explode at whatever the next frustration might be, regardless of how small. Like many people, I am no stranger to the short fuse. Often, for seemingly no reason at all, I am ready to explode, anger living just below the surface.All the time, it seems. I am two inches from an angry outburst all.the.time.  But on this day, pleasant interaction after pleasant interaction slowly extinguished that fuse. Just think how much we could all move forward along whatever path we are individually on if we all treated each other this way. One big train of warm fuzzy feelings, winding through our families and communities. 

I was driving home that evening when the sunset painted the sky. I am usually inside the house during this time of day, especially during the colder months, when the sun sets earlier. I am rushing to finish my work day and then rushing downstairs to start dinner and homework, and then rushing out to after school practices and scout meetings. Sunsets are not usually on my radar. But on this day I had no choice but to enjoy the beauty. And it was spectacular. 

The grace of God is in the ordinary. In the every day. We know this, of course. In theory, we understand this and we have been told this many times in our lives. We see this ordinary grace in literature, we hear it in songs on the radio and our ministers share it with us over and over again. But I think we tend to forget. We tend to ignore the mundane and focus on the wait for the Big Sign

But what if that big sign doesn't come? What if we spend our entire lives waiting? What a tragedy that would be, to miss the every day grace. To miss a brief but tender moment with a child because we are rushing out the door. Grace lost. To lose focus on a conversation with a loved one because we are so focused on getting to our destination on time and so instead are thinking about the traffic that surrounds us. Grace lost. To miss sharing large, colorful animal statues with my boys, because I was annoyed at the change in my routine that brought me downtown in the first place.  Grace lost for sure. 

There is a bigger picture, though, than the simple fact that God is in the details. He is also in the pain and suffering and even the little frustrations we face every day. What if these hard moments are God's way of saying "Pay attention!". "Open your eyes and LOOK!". How many of those moments have I missed? 

"Pay attention! Your child's behavior is trying to tell you something!"

"Look at your husband, right now! Watch this gentle moment he is having with his son!"

"Open your eyes! Your coworker is hurting." 

Hard moments are tough. They can be physically and emotionally draining. They can sometimes feel like huge setbacks, or bring big feelings of disappointment. But they are also the times we so often remember. The moments that live in our hearts, whispering to us to make a change. Maybe it's an adoptive mother who will never forget the look in the sunken eyes of the children at the orphanage where her child once lived. That hard memory of having to walk away from all of those little ones, leaving them behind, knowing they don't understand why there is no love, yet, for them, might lead to a heart whisper that leads to a lifetime of working for orphans.  That call from a friend announcing the death of her marriage might lead to a heart whisper of thankfulness in a relationship and a desire to work harder to sustain a marriage. That hard moment of seeing another mother fall apart at the set backs of a special needs child, yet again, may lead to a heart whisper to get involved, to become a part of someone else's village. Yes, hard moments are tough. But they are needed. They are wake up calls from God to do something. To notice something. To stop running and just be, if only for a moment. 

Grace in the ordinary and hard moments bring His love for us alive. Maybe it's a warm feeling brought on by the goodness of others, a fox statue or a colorful sunset viewed from the windshield of your car in rush hour traffic. Or maybe it's a big push found in the heart whisper we hear as we sit in  the ruins of yet another disappointment or set back. They are easy to ignore, the warmth and the whispers. Open your eyes! Look! The moments are everywhere, aren't they? 

What warmth have you felt, or what heart whisper have you heard today? Share your comment below. 

Thursday, November 10, 2016

Adopted Children Are Not Merchandise- Using Appropriate Adoption Language

It is common knowledge among anyone not living under a rock that no one likes to be labeled. Schools go out of their way to not saddle a young child with a label that will follow them their entire academic career. Stay at home moms push back against their label, while working outside the home moms often hate their moniker as well. Labels are, by definition, a way to classify a group, to set apart. And labels are notoriously not all inclusive. You can like a particular rock band, for instance, and be labeled a member of their "army" but that doesn't mean you don't also like many other forms of musical expression. Labels are often so offensive that groups of like minded people go out of their way to choose their own defining labels; we know we can't escape them and just be labeled "human", so we find ones we are comfortable living within. Obviously, being labeled a fan of a particular musical group is not really all that damaging. But you see my point.

There are two sides to the label discussion, and both are passionate. On the one hand, what someone else says about you, how they categorize you, really speaks more to the state of their heart than yours. Our worth is certainly not found in a label, even though many strive, at great cost, to achieve their most prized label, whether that be "Mom", "CEO", or "Mr. President".  But on the other side of that argument stand many, many people who have been harmed by the labels others have placed on them.

The labels we use to describe others is such a big problem that many organizations have created glossaries of "preferred language". GLAAD provides a Media Reference Guide of terms to avoid on their website. Many adoption advocacy organizations do the same. And for good reason. A person who has never walked a path outside of the traditional may not know how much damage a casually thrown out comment, (read: label), can do. If that describes you, then pay attention.

In the wake of the 2016 Presidential elections emotions are high. In sharing a well written Huffington Post article, (Read it here.), on why some internationally adopted children have been scared by the anti immigration rhetoric that has polluted this election cycle the following comment was made:

"there are millions of kids in the foster care system..maybe you should have looked into the citizens of the US before you imported brand new kids from another country."

While there are so many things wrong with this short comment, so much hatred and contempt and ignorance, I want to focus on the label. Do you see it? Imported.  Children are not items to be bought, sold and imported. (As in, "How much did he cost?") And when language like this is used, it degrades the person being labeled. Even if that is not the intention, this type of language slowly wears down a person, demeaning them yet again, showing them, yet again, that there are people out there in their world who think less of them. Who think they are less deserving than others, simply because of where they were born. And it's not just adoptees who face this feeling of being less than. Anyone walking their own unique, spectacular and brave journey has faced this type of judgement. Words are amazing. They let us share, feel, think, escape. And they also hurt. 

It is important for adopted children to feel grounded. To truly trust in who they are. This is an extremely difficult task on a god day. Questions of "Why" and "What if" are always floating just beneath the surface. Finding their place in a world where they are not connected on that primal level with their most loved family members is not easy. Adoption, just like walking any other beautiful non traditional path is an amazing gift, but it doesn't come without loss. Truly knowing who we are is hard. To be labeled as merchandise that can be bought and sold and imported makes it so much harder. 

When an adoptee does not feel grounded big problems can occur. In little ones this shows up as low self esteem, focus and learning deficits, and often severe behavior problems. In older teens and adults it can lead to drug and alcohol abuse, mental illness and even incarceration. Feeling comfortable in our own skin, knowing who we are and who stands with us is vital to a healthy sense of self. Hearing words like "bought" or "imported" are not just insensitive. They can be incredibly damaging. 

What does all of this mean to you? It means we all need to think before we speak. Those words that we feel are funny or harmless might be like daggers to the heart of the person on the receiving end. Some would argue that we are all just too sensitive, and they might be right. We all want to raise compassionate children who are self aware enough to withstand the labels. But as we work towards that shared goal, let's not make it any harder on adoptees than it need be.

If you would like more information on appropriate adoption language to use with your friends and family, consider this list of suggested language from the Adoption Council: Accurate Adoption Language. For more information on how labels can be damaging to our children, please see this article from Psychology Today

If you are an adoptive parent, or the friend or family of an adoptive parent, please consider sharing this  on your social media sites. 

Wednesday, November 9, 2016

So different, yet kind of the same

Sometimes I think that hermit crabs are the smartest creatures on earth. They hang out in their shells, away from the world. Like the Grinch. Up there, on top of his mountain, surrounded by piles of garbage.  Like going off the grid alone, just me and family.  Alone. No news of the horrible things that go on in this world. But let's face it, that is not the world we live in. Even the Grinch had his dog, Max.   This life was meant to be shared, and there is no hiding from it. Besides, I am a leader, of sorts. We all are, aren't we? Every single one of us has at least one someone looking up at us, watching us, taking it all in. I have two. And because I am leading those two young people, I have to fight the urge to go into hiding.

This morning I sat down on my oldest son's bed and gently explained to him the outcome of the presidential election. And while it is the topic that is on the lips of our entire nation today, it is not the first time I have sat down on that bed to have a tough conversation. We have covered racism. Bullying. Adoption. Loss. Pain, both physical and emotional. And I know that I am not alone. These conversations were happening across the country,  in bedrooms, at kitchen tables, in the car on the way to school. Solidarity, parents just trying to hold it all together and find the right path for your family. I want to fist bump every single one of you. We've got this.

I'm not all that worried about my family. Or yours, for that matter. Like I said, we've got this. What I am  concerned about , what kept me awake last night as I processed this most recent attack on decency, were those other families. What are the young people of the other side being taught? What are those kiddos hearing during those bedroom, kitchen table or carpool chats? Which got me thinking.  Are they really hearing anything that much different? Some of them may be hearing hate speech, sure. But I am thinking that many of them are hearing words very similar to what I said this morning. Many of them are probably just like me. A little tired. Drinking cold coffee. Wondering how that window blind came all the way unrolled, again. Moving stuffed animals to find a spot to sit down while absent mindedly rubbing the dog's ears. And then sharing their beliefs. Do I agree with those beliefs? Sometimes. yes, and often no. But what I know for sure is that I cannot change those other parent's beliefs any more than I could change my own. Are there people out there warning their kiddos against people like me? Like you? I can, and should, protect my family from hate. I will always be vigilant to what my little loves are subjected to. But I am not a monster that other parents should warn their children about. And neither are many of those people who hold beliefs different from mine.

Before you shout at me, listen. Think. Ask your friend, your neighbor, your relative holding a different view to share their reasoning. Don't ask this to change their mind. And don't ask it to change your own. Ask it to begin to build a way to a stronger relationship, a stronger family, or a stronger neighborhood. I have friends, neighbors and yes, even family members who I genuinely like and trust around my family yet we are miles apart politically. Or miles apart in how we choose to spend our money, or how we choose to raise our families. Frankly, I am not all that exciting of a person. I like to read and do quiet activities. If everyone I surrounded myself with was just like me, not only would we be the most boring group of people on the planet but no one would grow. And we all know what happens when we stop growing.

We spend so much time telling our children that change comes from within. That they cannot change anyone else except themselves. That they need to lead by example and do what needs done in their world. And that is what we talked about this morning, on that bed, in that dark room with the world waking up around us. We talked about how we didn't change. What we believe hasn't changed. About how we can't expect to change others. About how we can't just talk about it all. We must do. Do. We talked about what we can do, right now. Today. Tomorrow. And we made a plan. Ask a teacher about how her day is going. Be brave and say hello to a neighbor when out walking the dog. Smile more. Slow down. Imagine what, or who, we can see if we stop running everywhere?

When we walked out of that bedroom this morning the sun was beginning to light the rain covered street. The puppy hopped down off her favorite spot on my son's chair, picked up her new blue stuffed monster toy and follow us down the hall. We were met at the bottom of the stairs by the youngest member of our family, wrapped up in his large fuzzy brown blanket, asking for breakfast. Things are currently more black and white in his world and breakfast comes every day at this same time. Instead of shouldering past him or stepping on the edge of the blanket in an attempt to trip his little brother, I watched my oldest child smile at him, tell him he was hungry too, and step aside to let him get to the breakfast table first. Slow down. Smile. Stop running. And breath.