Growing Pains

I’m writing this for the one who has felt lost and confused;

Given fake smiles and held back tears.

I’m writing this for you, dear friend.

The one who knows she should have it all together,

but somehow it’s all falling apart.

You’re tired of pretending and you just want to be honest.

Is that even ok?

You’re not sure which way is up.

You feel a little jaded.

A little angry.

A little rejected.

Truth?

I don’t have much figured out these days.

I feel like I’m grasping at straws to stay connected to the things I know.

Somehow, along the way I fell for the lie.

The lie that told me I need to hold it all together,

have it all figured out,

put on an image that tells the world I have reached the pinnacle.

The lie that told me I couldn’t be the broken human that I am, who desperately needs a Healer.

But you know what?

I’m tired.

I’m tired of living under the pretenses, the pressure and the fear.

Somewhere along the line, the trying and striving overtook the desire.

Somewhere along the line I replaced loving with doing.

Instead of finding my identity in Christ I’ve been finding it in all the ways I can serve Him instead.

I’ve been clinging to my best image, hoping to impress a God that delights in healing our brokenness.  I’ve actually managed to convince myself that He’d rather not see the weakness even though He’s promised that at my weakest His strength is more than sufficient.

Instead of seeing myself through Jesus’ blood I’ve been trying to earn what He gives as a gift.  There are all kinds of ways to reject God’s gift of grace, and I’ve fallen for the “older brother method” from the prodigal’s story.  The one who was sure his faithfulness and good service had earned him the prize.

So now.

In this space.

In this time.

I repent.

Of the striving that caused me to miss the Source.

Of the pretenses and performance driven efforts that drove me away from authentic relationship.

Of the fear that overtook unshakeable faith.

I don’t have it all figured out.

But it’s time to rest in Jesus’ work for me on the cross.

It’s time to exchange the fear and pretenses for humility, gratitude and honesty.

So right now I’m clinging to hope.

I’m clinging to God’s promise to me in Isaiah 66:9.

“In the same way I will not cause pain without allowing something new to be born,” says the Lord.

I’m clinging to gratitude.

It’s changed my life before and I know time and again it will lead me back to Truth.  It lends me perspective even in the most confusing times.

I’m clinging to the Truth that I know, and trying to rest in the vulnerable places I want to run from.

I’m clinging to Grace, and resting in arms that are big enough for all of this.

All of me.

I’m trying to quiet the many voices and tune in to the One alone that knows my heart, my motives and my destiny.

I heard this song last week.  It made my breath catch in my throat and my heart skip a beat because it felt like God had just reached down and cradled my bruised heart in His big hands.

I CAN JUST BE ME

I’ve been doing all that I can
To hold it all together
Piece by piece.
I’ve been feeling like a failure,
Trying to be braver
Than I could ever be.
It’s just not me.

So be my healer, be my comfort, be my peace.
Cause I can be broken, I can be needy,
Lord I need You now to be,
Be my God, so I can just be me.

I’ve been living like an orphan,
Trying to belong here,
But it’s just not my home.
I’ve been holding on so tightly,
To all the things that I think
Could satisfy my soul.
But I’m letting go…

So be my father, my mighty warrior, be my king.
Cause I can be scattered, frail and shattered,
Lord I need You now to be,
Be my God, so I can just be me.

Cause I was lost in this dark world
Until I was finally found in You
So now I’m needing, desperately pleading
Oh Lord, be all to me

And be my savior, be my lifeline, won’t You be my everything.
Cause I’m so tired of trying to be someone
I was never meant to be
Be my God
Please be my God
Be my God
So I can just be me
So I can just be me
I can just be me.

-Laura Story-
philippians1-6
AF

 

 

Adoption vs. Birth

I went into adoption absolutely certain that I could and would love children born to another woman.

I was right.

I knew long before I met my girls that my love could run as deep, steady and strong for a child I chose through adoption as a child I gave birth to.

But there was also a lot I didn’t understand until I gave birth to my son.

Before we adopted I naively thought that love for my daughters would come instantly and feel deeply maternal.

I was wrong.

While I did fall instantly in love with my daughters, it was a very different kind of love than the love I felt when I gave birth to my son a  year and a half later.

It took day in, day out, month after month after long month of choosing to love my daughters before those feelings of natural, instinctive, maternal love came to me.

In theory I loved them fully and intimately, but realistically

we were strangers

and we needed to get to know each other.

I hadn’t spent nine months feeling the stirrings under my heart.  I hadn’t held them for those first breaths and watched each tiny movement.  I hadn’t witnessed the steady growth and development and learned what experiences formed in them their character and who they had become.

I have missed so much and I grieve that deeply.

When my son was born his innocence and purity took my breath away.  He was…and still is…so unscarred by this world.

My daughters never had that experience.  Even prenatally they struggled against circumstances beyond their control.

They fought for survival even before their first breaths.

I would give anything to give them the innocence my son got to experience, but I can’t and that is hard.

It is hard to look into my daughter’s eyes and see longing there as she says, “Mommy, I wish I grew in your tummy.”

Or to hold her shuddering little body as she cries tears of grief and loss for her birth mother…tears that she can’t even understand they are so complex and raw.

When my daughters came to me at 7 and 5 years old, they had personalities, character traits and a whole life that I knew very little about.

Sometimes that still gets in the way.

Sometimes I see fear, and I don’t know why it’s there.

Sometimes I see pain, and I don’t know what it’s about.

Sometimes there are vivid memories of people and places that I don’t know and I have no way of knowing if these memories are accurate and true or distorted by a child’s memory.

They’re looking to me for answers and I don’t know what to say.

Sometimes I see anger and resentment and I have no words to unravel the pain behind it all.

Sometimes I am the one battling the deep feelings of loss, of insecurity, of resentment and of exhaustion.

It is so tiring to constantly battle the layers upon layers of grief, fear, loss and trauma written on the hearts of children who have seen and heard and felt the unimaginable.

There is always always an unknown factor to consider.

Just because I chose this doesn’t mean it’s easy.

It’s not always fun.

Hurt makes people hurt.

Fear makes people push away.

Betrayal makes hearts break and the healing is slow and painful.

Sometimes I just want a normal family.

Yes, it’s true and I said that out loud.

Sometimes the guilt of that tears me apart.

But so many other times I see love, and I feel honoured to be their mother.

I see happiness and it overwhelms me with joy.

I see healing and it makes me fall to my knees in worship to the One who can bring redemption out of so much pain.

So many people see all the hurt and pain that often goes along with adoption and they decide they could never do it.

Too many risks.

And it’s true…after having experienced both adoption and natural birth, I will atest to the fact that giving birth is probably easier.

It’s the natural way to receive a child, the way our Creator first designed for families to be born.

It’s beautiful.

But what about when the original design falls apart?

What about when pain and destruction and sin enter in?

Ripping, tearing, breaking;

leaving wounds upon both the innocent and the guilty?

Then what?

Is there any hope of redemption?

Yes!

A thousand times yes!

I cannot begin to pour enough passion into these words.

To let you see,

to let you feel

the incredible grace

that our Father pours upon those who choose to engage the pain.

How he takes the ashes and creates beauty from them.

How he takes the broken and uses the scars to proclaim His glory.

How he bathes us in grace upon grace.

How he heals and transforms and gifts.

How we see the gospel through this thing we call adoption.

It is probably true that nothing quite prepares you to face the pain of this.

But it is absolutely true that nothing will prepare you for the rewards you will experience and the victories you will be a part of.

Nothing will prepare you for the small things that will bring you joy,

the grace you will receive

and maybe most of all the love that will grow strong in your heart for these children you’ve chosen as yours.

Yes, yours.

It will become their identity.

Your children.

It’s my favourite thing to say.

My daughters.

One of my favourite narratives in scripture is the account told in Hosea of God lavishly loving upon the people who had turned their backs on him.

Hosea 2:23 says,

“I will sow her for Myself in the land. I will also have compassion on her who had not obtained compassion, And I will say to those who were not My people, ‘You are My people!’ And they will say, ‘You are my God!'”

When I read these words, there is something that resounds within my heart.

I will say to those who were once not my own

“You are mine!”

I will choose, despite all odds, to

lavishly love

upon these people who were once strangers to me.

And in it all, the unthinkable will occur…

we will become one.

A family.

A home.

A testimony of grace and redemption.

So even though adoption can be hard and messy and complicated

it is so worth it and in it’s own way

it is so beautiful.

I’d do it all again in a heartbeat.

AF

Anger & Grace

It was a classic moment.

I could feel my heart rate increase as I stared down at the defiant little eyes staring up at me; daring, taunting and luring me into the ring.  I felt my cheeks flush hot and my shoulders stiffen with anger.

A tiny voice in the back of my mind squeaked a warning, but my emotions screamed at me to just react!

I was the adult, after all!

How dare she talk to me this way?

Look at me this way?

Challenge me with a mere tilt of her head?

Out came the words, with the lash of sarcasm to make them powerful and biting.  I watched with satisfaction that quickly faded to shame as her spirit broke before me, in the worst of ways.  The angry, defiant eyes quickly covered in tears and her face crumpled at the tone in my voice.

I had done it.

I had cut to the bone.

Intentionally, I had hurt her.

Far surpassing my authority as a parent I had stooped to the level of a child giving slap for slap in a schoolyard tussle.

As she bent to my anger and my bidding, I felt only guilt and shame.  I had done it again.  In the very moment where she needed me to be the parent, in control of my emotions despite her behavior, I had fallen quickly and securely into the trap.  While she tested and resisted, scanning the boundary line for strength and safety, I had lunged in for the kill.

I knew I needed to apologize, but I had no idea where to even start and all I wanted to do was wallow in my anger, humiliation and frustration.

I have struggled with anger for as long as I can remember.

I have a temper that flares quickly and burns hot.  I’ve had to learn the hard way time and time again that giving it even a tiny dose of oxygen explodes into wildfires I regret deeply.

I need Jesus to deal with this ‘thorn in my flesh’ every day of my life.  Just when I think maybe I’ve kicked it once and for all, it comes out of nowhere and knocks me off my feet, leaving me bruised, humbled and broken before my God.

I need grace.

Grace for my own sinful heart and grace for my children’s sinful hearts.

I have read every verse I can find in the Bible about anger, for obvious reasons!  There is so much in there about anger, and how destructive and dangerous it can be.

“Whoever is slow to anger is better than the mighty, and he who rules his spirit than he who takes a city.” Proverbs 16:32

“Be angry and do not sin; do not let the sun go down on your anger, and give no opportunity for the devil.” Ephesians 4:26-27

“My dear brothers and sisters, take note of this: Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry, because human anger does not produce the righteousness that God desires.” James 1:19-20

“A soft answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger.” Proverbs 15:1

In the few years I’ve been parenting and caring for little people, I’ve found a few good strategies to help curb that anger when it rears its ugly head.  Today I am writing this post mostly to remind myself of what I know to be true!  I need this today.

1) Take a time out…for Mom!  Go lock yourself in your bedroom for a few minutes, go use the bathroom, do the laundry…anything that can get you a few quiet moments to recalibrate.

2) Be honest with your child about your feelings, but not in a reactive way.  “Mommy is feeling really frustrated right now and I just need a minute with Jesus to figure out what I need to do right now.”

3) Force your body to physically relax.  Loosen those shoulder muscles, stretch your neck and massage your cheeks.  Close your eyes, breathe and count to 10.  If you’ve chosen the bathroom or the bedroom as your escape room, force yourself to smile into the mirror before you head back down to face the music.  It really works!

4) Carve out time in your days for quiet time, prayer and simple things you enjoy.  This will help prevent the anger!  I know this is not easy for busy Mamas, and don’t kid yourself into thinking that through every season you’re going to find 30 minutes a day of God time or me time!  You might only get 15 minutes to talk to God in the shower, a few glances at a Bible open on your desk throughout the day or a verse taped to your mirror.  You probably won’t get a novel read but you might get in a walk to the park or a minute sitting in the sunshine while the kids bike outside.  When things are really crazy, take a look at your entertainment diet.  Make sure you’re spending your down time listening to worship music, inspirational podcasts, etc.  Take a few seconds to read that blog that pops up on facebook about an issue that you’re struggling with currently in your spiritual life.  Pop onto Youtube and find a women’s devotional for the day.  Be honest in your next conversation with your girlfriend when she asks how you’re doing.

5) Take a nap!  Again, I know this isn’t easy, but if it’s at all possible in your day, a quick nap or rest in the afternoon can prevent all kinds of explosions through the supper hour when everyone is low on energy, carbs and patience!

6) Look at your failures as opportunities from God.  Then embrace His forgiveness and forgive yourself too!  You very well may deal with this your whole life long, but each time you can reach out and grasp the power that God longs to place in your hands, you are gaining ground!  Don’t give up or let yourself wallow in defeat and humiliation.  Buck up and own it!

7) Say sorry.  Just do it.  No excuses!  Those sticky, small arms around your neck are worth it.  Your apology speaks a thousand words of wisdom and offers tangible grace to your littles.

Every now and then I experience it.

Victory!

I stop and take a moment to curb the anger before it takes over.  I whisper a prayer, get down on my knees and suddenly see the hurt lurking behind her angry eyes.  I offer the hug instead of the biting retort.  I grasp the power, and oh is it sweet!  It is there!  With His help, I can have the victory, but I can’t do it alone.

So keep trying!

Keep surrendering your spirit to His will and some sweet day He will give you the Victory!

AF

We Are Home Schooling!

Yes, you read that right.

Me and my littlest A are homeschooling!  It’s been 2 weeks and maybe we are just honeymooning but it has been AWESOME!   I love it!

Now I can just about see some of you rolling your eyes, making that skeptical face and going…yeah whatever.

I get it.

I never wanted to home school, either.

In fact, until I read through my daughters’ adoption files I always said that I would never do it because I would have hated it as a child, myself!  I thought that home schooling was for really large families who like to hide away from the world or display their family on TV shows!  I thought children who were home schooled were all really smart, a little socially impaired and just not normal!  As you can see, I really hadn’t spent much time thinking about it or taking a look at people who actually did home school!  These were just my misguided perceptions, which I am thoroughly embarrassed of now.

But when special needs walks into the picture, everything changes.  Suddenly I could see that even though I loved school and it would have made me miserable to be at home, for some children it may be the exact opposite!

For some kids, school causes so much stress that they spend all their time just trying to cope!  This may be a result of trauma, attachment issues, learning disabilities or any number of other special needs.

There are tons of supports available, but you have to fight for them and it’ll take time.  I certainly don’t recommend that every parent experiencing difficulties with their child at school should just pull them out without exploring their options, but sometimes all the support and time in the world won’t meet the real needs of your child.   This is especially true in adoption.

For months, I had been saying…we’ll just give it some more time.  Or, I’m not ready yet so that’s just where she needs to be.

In truth I wasn’t confidant enough that I was ready to commit to this journey or that it was the right path for my daughter.  For some reason I was really afraid that I would pull her out of school and then fall flat on my face!  I was afraid she wouldn’t learn, that it would all be a mess and that we would all hate it!

But somehow God has a way of making things clear and as things got worse at school my mind lingered more and more on the idea of home schooling.  Part of me fought it…simply because I love school!  I love the specific school my daughters were attending, and where my oldest daughter still is.  I love the community.  I love the staff.  I love the atmosphere and all the kids.  I love the special projects and events that are connected to school.  I love the opportunities school brings to experience life alongside others and to have a broader view of the world.  I just love it.  I am a teacher, after all.

However, God began to speak to my heart and show me that my daughter needed something different.  My husband and I had always promised that we would make decisions about our children’s education according to what was best for each child, one year at a time.  We could no longer claim that we were doing that, and that bothered me!  Even worse, I was scared and discouraged as I watched my daughter start to fall back into behaviors and patterns that we hadn’t seen in a long time!  I felt like we were losing ground instead of gaining, and I missed my happy little girl.  Though we had a great team at school and communicated regularly, I realized that my daughter didn’t need a teacher.  She needed her Mommy.  She needed me.

So in some ways I chose to home school out of desperation and because school was not working…but even more I chose to home school because I realized that I wanted to!

I missed the first four and a half years of my daughter’s life.  I want to spend more time with her!  I want to be there all day, every day, even though it truly does drive me crazy sometimes!  I want to know every little thing that happened in her day, and to be the constant that she comes back to.   I want to be the one who laughs with her, gets frustrated with her, explores the world with her and watches her learn and grow.  Because even after 18 months together, I’m still getting to know her.  I’m still trying to figure out who she is and how she thinks.  I’m still learning her challenges, her strengths and her learning styles.  I am still figuring out her love language and her sense of humor.  I am still proving to her little heart that I am her Mommy and I will always love her; that even though others have come and gone I am here to stay.  There is nothing that can replace TIME.

So, here goes nothing!

The next half year is a bit of an experiment, but I am so excited.  I am excited to be able to focus on the things my little girl is good at, and remove some of the things she is not yet ready to handle.  I am excited to use the teaching skills I have to figure out how she learns and to make learning fun for her.  Choosing to home school a special needs child is completely different than choosing to home school a child who is gifted or even just average.  For the special needs child, you need to lay aside curriculum expectations, most typical teaching styles and any methods that conflict with your child’s exceptionalities.  I have to fight against the temptation to follow a book, accomplish too much in one day or copy other’s home school structures.  Home schooling is all about finding what works for your child and your family.  Once you embrace that, there is immense freedom!  It is wide open from there!  You get to decide what you study, how much, how long, where and when.  You get to decide everything.  This can feel scary, but chances are if you set out on this venture your gut will let you know the answers to these questions.

 So far, it has been the best decision I’ve ever made.

I have my little girl back.

I’m seeing peace where I saw frustration and agitation.  I’m seeing happiness where I saw a constant edginess.  I’m seeing success where I saw failure academically.  I’m seeing gentleness where I saw anger.  I’m seeing a glowing pride in her bright blue eyes where I saw confusion.

It’s not all perfect, and I’m still figuring out how we’re going to handle all this.  I don’t know how long we’ll be doing this, but for right now it’s the right thing.  I am sure of that.

I was given some great advice from another home schooling mom.

Pray.

Pray over everything you do.  Pray over the math, the spelling, the reading books and the colouring.  Pray for wisdom, pray for patience, pray for grace and perseverence.  Pray for courage and a sense of humor.  Pray for yourself, your child, your husband and your other children.  Pray blessings over your child and their school work.  Pray blessings over your home and family.

Know that this work you have chosen to do…been called to do…is valuable and important in the eyes of God.  At the end of the day, you are Kingdom building, not just teaching ABC’s.

This is the perspective I want to embrace as we dive into this new venture.  I want to teach my daughter out of a sense of gratitude, and hand all the work of our hands over to the One who can make it beautiful and valuable.

 

 

10 Things You Should Know About FASD

Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder (FASD).

Fetal Alcohol Syndrome (FAS).

Alcohol Related Neurological Disorders (ARND).

Alcohol Related Birth Defects (ARBD).

It’s growing,

spreading,

taking over our society.

An invisible epidemic;

Incurable.

Brain damage.

100 % preventable.

The emotions I feel as I write those words are deep.

Anger.

Pain.

Vulnerability.

Exhaustion.

As the parent of children with Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder this is an issue that has affected me very personally and to be perfectly honest I am just in the very beginning stages of understanding and accepting the realities.

For those of you who may have never heard of Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorders (FASD) or are unfamiliar with the definition, here’s a brief explanation:

When a woman drinks alcohol while carrying an unborn child inside her womb, that child’s body and brain are exposed to a very damaging substance.

Alcohol is one of the most dangerous teratogens (substances that can be harmful to a developing fetus.)

Alcohol, unlike other food or drink consumed by a pregnant woman, passes directly from the mother’s blood stream through the placenta to the baby.

Alcohol in the bloodstream constricts the ability of the growing fetus to access oxygen and nutrients.  Therefore a baby exposed to alcohol prenatally will not be getting the oxygen and nutrients needed to continue developing at a healthy rate. 

This is made even worse if coupled with the carbon monoxide a fetus receives from cigarette smoke.  The baby does not have the ability to break down alcohol the way an adult can, so the blood alcohol levels will stay higher for a longer period of time than that of the mother’s.

This means the baby is being exposed to even greater amounts of alcohol for an even longer period of time than the mother. 

Alcohol causes cell death and sets in motion a wide variety of disruptions all over the body.  The most common affects are seen in the brain and nervous system.  Alcohol exposure can also leave behind toxic byproducts on the brain which linger and continue to cause damage.

A child who has been exposed to alcohol prenatally and demonstrates a significant number of effects physically or neurologically is diagnosed with Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder.  This is an umbrella term that includes Fetal Alcohol Syndrome and Alcohol Related Neurological Disorders.  For the sake of clarity in this post I’ll just be using the term FASD when talking about any alcohol related disorder.

That, in a nutshell, is a description of the invisible epidemic that so many families and individuals are struggling with in our society.  Many of these families and individuals are found within adoption and foster care as alcohol use during pregnancy is so often coupled with alcoholism and drug use postpartum which leads to abuse and neglect.  Unfortunately trauma affects the brain in many of the same ways as alcohol and compounds the effects, giving the child a “double whammy.”

This is a huge topic and one I can’t even begin to cover in one post, but I’ve made a list of 10 things you should know about Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder.  Please take the time to read this.  So many families are trudging through the trenches of raising a child with FASD and feeling so desperately alone.  It’s hard, it’s exhausting and it’s constant.  You can help by being aware of the realities and facts so you can be there to support them.

1) FASD is an invisible disability.  By this I mean much of the time you will not be able to see any distinguishing physical signs.  Some children will display a slight indication in facial features that most people would not be able to recognize but many have no physical indications at all.  Most of these kids look like regular kids with a little extra energy and discipline needed.  This, by far, is the most difficult part of having FASD or parenting a child with FASD.  Everyone around you will struggle to believe that your child truly has a neurological disorder that limits their abilities…and so will you!  A person with an FASD will most likely be incorrectly labelled and judged almost every day of their lives by those around them.  A parent will experience much frustration due to others not understanding their child’s very real disability simply because until you are intricately a part of that child’s world he or she will just appear to be a regular kid.  This is devastating to the person with FASD, however, because as much as we’d like to ignore their limitations, they are very real!  You can only function so long in an environment that does not meet your basic needs.  School, home and the workplace will all become places of failure if your disability is not understood and accommodated for.  Unfortunately most families living with the reality of FASD will still have some people in their lives who take the stance, “I can’t see it, so I won’t believe it exists.”

2) NO Amount of Alcohol is safe during pregnancy!  I cannot even begin to emphasize this enough!  Unfortunately there are still doctors who are uneducated regarding FASD and will tell you that small amounts of alcohol are not harmful to your baby.  They are wrong!  There is no proven ‘safe’ amount of alcohol.  This does not mean that every child exposed to a drop of alcohol will be affected by FASD, but it does mean that every child exposed to even a drop of alcohol is at risk for FASD.  The effect the alcohol has on the developing fetus depends on many things including timing of consumption, amount of alcohol consumed, development of the fetus and the genetics of both mother and baby.  Fraternal twins can be exposed to the exact same amount of alcohol at exactly the same time and still be affected differently because of their genetic makeup.  This makes it impossible for anyone to tell you a safe amount of alcohol for you and your unborn child.  No amount is safe!  This disability is 100% preventable!   

3) FASD is an incurable disability.  There is no “fix” for FASD.  Alcohol is physical damage done to the brain and nervous systems.  While the brain can learn new ways to compensate, the actual damage done will remain the same.  There will be connections missing for the entirety of the individual’s life.  There are medications that may help some children and adults dealing with FASD, mostly to manage the ADHD-like symptoms.  There is not, however, a magic pill for FASD.  There is no one medication that is going to target all the areas of weakness in a person with FASD.

4) FASD causes impairments in children.  Some of those impairments include mental retardation, learning disabilities, attention deficits, hyperactivity, problems with impulse control, language, memory and social skills.  These impairments make it very difficult for children to thrive in environments such as school.  A typical FASD child will probably: have trouble focusing on tasks, require sensory aids, need constant supervision, have trouble making and keeping friends, have a poor concept of time, find it hard to transition between activities, struggle with anxiety, have poor coordination and balance, find it difficult to work toward a goal, will not learn from their mistakes, have poor judgment, be jittery and hyperactive and display extreme mood swings.  Typical behavior also includes habitual lying, stealing and aggressive behavior towards others.  All these behaviors are rooted in neurological damage and need to be handled as such.      

5) FASD affects the way a child learns; it does not mean they cannot learn!  As soon as people realize that alcohol exposure does, in fact, result in physical, irreversible damage to the brain…their first thoughts are that therefore that child cannot learn.  This leaves a pretty bleak picture!  Children born with FASD’s can go on to be happy, healthy, successful adults…sometimes.  The goal is to reach their potential by discovering new ways for them to learn.  This takes a lot of hard work on the part of parents, teachers and the children themselves!  The world is not geared for FASD, and therefore they are at an acute disadvantage.  But don’t give up!  These children are smart, talented, funny, and social individuals!  Many of them will go on to do very well when given the right tools to accommodate their learning style.  They can become responsible, independent adults…but this isn’t always possible.  Every child is a unique case when it comes to FASD and so there is really no way to predict what the outcome will be.  Depending on the areas of the brain damaged by the alcohol exposure or to what degree, FASD individuals may need structure and supports to navigate their days for their entire lives.  Thankfully FASD is starting to become more recognized and therefore more and more resources and supports are available for families, children and adults affected by this disability.

6) FASD is a spectrum disorder.  This means that, just like Autism, children affected by alcohol exposure in the womb will present with symptoms all over the spectrum.  Every child is a unique case.  FASD has a wide variety of faces, making it even more difficult to assess.  A child may be very severely affected and present with many symptoms or a child may be only slightly affected and therefore portray only a few of the symptoms.  However, this does not mean the symptom displayed is any less severe or that somehow it can be “fixed” since the child does not seem to be severely affected!  Remember, this is physical damage done to the child’s brain!  Most children with FASD will display a similar set of symptoms varying in severity.

7) Children with FASD find it very hard to control their emotions and behaviour.  I know I mentioned this earlier, but I feel these two symptoms are worth going over again since they are so disruptive to daily living.  Many individuals with FASD would be able to do quite well in life if it weren’t for their lack of ability to control their emotions and behaviour.  Coupled with difficulty understanding consequences and poor judgment, this is a major obstacle!  Most children with FASD need constant supervision to ensure the physical safety of themselves and those around them.  They are often described as unpredictable, reactive or as one of my daughter’s teachers said, “She’s an opportunist!” 🙂  Unlike most children, these are not traits they will grow out of as they get older, though they may be less noticeable.  Structured environments, repetition and self regulation tools can help them learn to moderate their behaviors and set them up to succeed, but on their own they do not have the cognitive ability to accomplish this.

8) Children with FASD have strengths too!  Despite the challenges of FASD, many of these children are incredibly lovable, gifted and resilient.  They tend to be very social little people.  Though they may struggle with social boundaries they can often win over strangers with their affectionate, chatty nature.  Even though they can have quite drastic mood swings, they can quickly get over being hurt or angry.  One minute they will hate you, but the next they will love you.  My favourite is, “Mommy, I love you more than the sun!”  Besides being very social these children often have strong visual memories, rich fantasy lives, are very creative and have a strong sense of fairness.  They’re energetic and can handle lots of physical activity, making them active, fun kids to interact with!

9) Children and youth struggling with the realities of FASD are vulnerable.  Many, many of these children and youths will end up in trouble and charged with criminal offenses due to their lack of self-regulation skills and their tendency toward aggression and violence.  Without the ability to control their emotions and responses, they are extremely vulnerable in a society that doesn’t understand or accommodate their needs.  A high number of youths in our criminal justice system have FASD.  Unless they are backed up by professionals or advocating parents to explain their behaviors and beg allowances and accommodations they will be treated as any other person in our justice system.  Even though developmentally they are still a child, they will be treated as adults.  Even as children, FASD individuals are vulnerable.  Children with FASD often have poor social skills and need the protection of adults around them to keep them safe.  They have a very poor sense of judgment when it comes to other people and easily trust anyone who is nice towards them.  They will appear comfortable around even a total stranger if given positive attention.  They also love physical interaction and will seek it out of anyone who is willing to give it.  This makes it hard as a parent to keep children with FASD safe.  An important part of parenting a child with FASD is putting into place appropriate social boundaries.  This can be hard when the child continually receives positive attention from other well meaning adults when he or she crosses those social boundaries.  When children deal with attachment difficulties on top of FASD it emphasizes this and makes it even more complicated.           

10) Education is the key!  The answer to helping the many children and young adults with FASD is found in being aware of the realities and then advocating toward better environments for these individuals to not only cope but to thrive!  By building on strengths and creating a safety net around them, children and adults with FASD can lead happy and successful lives surrounded by people that love and care for them.  They are valuable, beautiful people who deserve the best we can offer them.  As one person put it, FASD is not one of the “designer labels” like autism that people have accepted and provided support for.  With such a direct, negative source it is not a fun disability to talk about, much less explain to children or adults.  It does, however, have just as severe ramifications and being quiet about it never helps.  FASD individuals deserve the dignity and respect we give any other person with a disability and they desperately need those around them to be understanding and supportive even when it gets ugly.  They are not, after all, at fault for their disability.

My prayer as a mother of children struggling with Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder is that they will not only survive but that I will create an environment where they can thrive!

Every single day I want to make the choice to see the beauty of who they are despite their difficulties.  I am humbled to serve a God who can work with even the most broken of vessels and turn it into something intricate, unique and glorious!  Nothing can surprise Him, or travel beyond His ability to transform and remold.  After all, when it all fell apart He was already there.

“For you formed my inward parts; you knitted me together in my mother’s womb.  I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made.  Wonderful are your works; my soul knows it very well.  My frame was not hidden from you, when I was being made in secret, intricately woven in the depths of the earth.  Your eyes saw my unformed substance; in your book were written, every one of them, the days that were formed for me, when as yet there were none of them.  How precious to me are your thoughts, O God!  How vast is the sum of them!  If I would count them they are more than the sand.  I awake, and I am still with you.”

Psalm 139:13-18 

I pray that God will give me the grace and courage to advocate for, offer grace toward and protect these beautiful souls he’s created in His image.

There is so much more good than bad…if only I choose to see.

“I’ll love you forever, I’ll like you for always.”

AF

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Adoption Day & Celebration

Finally, finally…after months and months of waiting…

it happened!

We are officially, legally a family.

I’d like to introduce you to my daughters,

Akeisha Sofie Grace Freeman

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                                                                     &

Alexa Anna Joy Freeman

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Could they possibly be any more beautiful? 🙂

On Oct. 16, 2015 we had our day in court and received the official documents needed to finalize our adoption of Akeisha & Alexa.  It was a rather boring, anticlimactic ceremony that took a grand total of about 10 min to perform, but it was a satisfying, victorious day for the 4 of us nonetheless!  The court presented the girls each with their own stuffed dog as a congratulatory gift and we all went to DQ afterwards with the family and friends who joined us to celebrate with ice cream.

My sister in law gave us a thoughtful gift of helium balloons, note paper and tape so we could write our happy news and send it to the skies for someone somewhere to find 🙂  It was a fun, sweet way to mark our day.

Our big celebration took place 2 weeks prior to our official day in court.  We were running out of time to plan a big party before the arrival of our baby so we decided court date or not we were going to celebrate the fact that we were a forever family!

So…we threw a party!  I couldn’t possibly have pulled off something like this on my own, but with the help of some incredible friends we were able to celebrate with close to 100 people who have been important in the lives of our daughters and us in the past year and a half.  It was an amazing evening and one that we will look back on with joy and gratitude for a very long time.  It was so special to have the people closest to us all together in one place and be able to thank them for walking this journey with us and loving us!

My husband and I really wanted to do a ceremony where we could publicly acknowledge the fact that we had chosen to bring our daughters into our family and love them, care for them and provide for them no matter what.  We wanted Akeisha & Alexa to know that just like our marriage, this was a vow we were making to them for better or for worse, no matter the cost and that we were serious about it.  We wanted them to have a moment to look back on to physically mark the beginning of our family, to solidify in their minds that this was different than every other home they’ve been in before.  Why?  Because this is permanent!

These were our vows to our daughters:

Akeisha Sofie Grace Freeman

We are so proud of the beautiful girl you are growing up to be. We are so blessed to have you as our daughter, and we want you to know that we will always be your mom and dad. We will never leave you.

We promise to take care of you and make you feel safe.

We promise to love you, no matter where you go or what you do.

We promise to make Jesus Christ the centre of our home and to show you what He is like by our actions and words.

We promise to pray for you and ask for God’s help to be the best parents we can be.

We promise to have grace for the times you will fail and to celebrate your achievements with you.

We promise to be patient with you as you learn, listen to you and to be gentle with your heart.

We love you so much!

From now on we will always be a family, no matter what.

Alexa Anna Joy Freeman

We are so blessed to have you as our daughter. You bring so much fun and laughter to our family and we want you to know that we will always be your Mommy & Daddy. We will never leave you.

We promise to keep you safe.

We promise to take care of you the best that we can and to give you the things that you need.

We promise to love you forever, no matter where you go or what you do.

We promise to make Jesus Christ the centre of our home and to show you what He is like by our actions and words.

We promise to pray for you and ask for God’s help to be the best Mom & Dad we can be.

We promise to be patient as you learn, forgive you when you make bad decisions and to laugh with you lots.

We love you so much.

From now on we will always be a family, no matter what!

It was a beautiful moment to be able to look into my daughters’ eyes and promise them all we had to offer.

I cannot change the past, but I can offer hope for the future and the promise that they will never be alone.

At the ceremony a friend of ours beautifully described the link between our adoption into Christ’s family and the adoption of our two daughters.  We also sang the song “Cornerstone.”  Standing beside my husband with my daughters at my side and our baby stirring inside my womb my heart was incredibly full singing these words.  With Christ as our cornerstone I know our family’s foundation is strong enough to withhold the changing seasons, no matter how difficult.

“Cornerstone”

My hope is built on nothing less
Than Jesus blood and righteousness
I dare not trust the sweetest frame
But wholly trust in Jesus name

Christ alone; cornerstone
Weak made strong; in the Saviour’s love
Through the storm, He is Lord
Lord of all

When Darkness seems to hide His face
I rest on His unchanging grace
In every high and stormy gale
My anchor holds within the veil
My anchor holds within the veil

Christ alone; cornerstone
Weak made strong; in the Saviour’s love
Through the storm, He is Lord
Lord of all
He is Lord
Lord of all

When He shall come with trumpet sound,
Oh, may I then in Him be found;
Dressed in His righteousness alone,
Faultless stand before the throne.

AF

 

 

I Am Loved

I look up and there she is.

Positioned just like me on the couch, at my side with pen in hand, pretending to do Sudoku like Mommy as she makes little markings and scribblings in her Activity Book.

She wants to be just like me.

I am so blessed.

I look up and there she is.

Smiling at me with those sparkling brown eyes…no filter, no block.  I’m looking straight into her soul and she trusts me implicitly with all that is there.

I am her everything.

I am so blessed.

I fall down exhausted and disgruntled at the end of a long, hot day.  I close my eyes and soon I hear footsteps pattering toward my place on the couch.  I sigh inwardly, wishing for a moment alone and expecting her constant chatter to start any minute.  Instead I feel gentle hands caress my hair and rub my back…soothing, loving, tender little motions.  A soft kiss lands on my cheek and a blanket falls gently on my shoulders.  I smile and stay very still.

She adores me.

I am so blessed.

I open my eyes after a nap and see two little girl bodies huddled at my kitchen sink before my pile of dirty dishes.  I had left them there to do later.  The dishwasher was full and it was too hot to stand with my hands in hot, soapy water.  But there they are and I hear;

“We should do these dishes for Mommy ’cause she’s really tired and she had a rough day!”

“She did?”

“Well yeah, it was really hot and I usually get frustrated when it’s so hot so she probably does too!”

“Oh!  Okay.”

And there they are; scrubbing, brushing, rinsing and drying.  One too small to reach the sink so she stands on a stool by her big sister’s side.

They are loving me with every stroke of that brush.

I am so blessed.

I roll over in bed at the sound of the door as he creeps in to kiss me goodbye.  There’s a glass of chocolate milk in his hands.  He smiles at me and my heart fills up in an instant.  I savor his kiss, his unshaven face against mine, the firm muscles of his back under my hands and the chocolate milk, filling my stomach so I won’t be nauseous later.

I am the love of his life.

He’d do anything for me.

I am so blessed.

Every time I am caught in these moments I feel so incredibly humbled.  I am far from the perfect…or even ideal wife or mother.  I fail miserably on a daily basis.  They hear my sharp tones, they see my angry eyes, they feel my rough hands pushing them away.  They watch me choose myself over them so many times.

Yet they love me so unconditionally and forgive me so completely, even when I am so undeserving.

In their eyes, their touch, their voices of love I see glimpses of my Heavenly Father.

A love that covers a multitude of wrongdoings and places them as far as the east is from the west.

A grace that washes me clean and keeps no record of my wrongs.

They offer me hope for my humanity.

Thank you for loving me.

I love you more than life itself.

XOXO

AF