Devoted to Duty

Trigger warning: My heart is a little raw and exposed right now and I’m going to go some place I haven’t publicly gone before. I belong to a support group for spouses of veterans with PTSD and TBI and I keep finding just how painful and isolating it can be to love someone who has been changed by war. And because of 2 Corinthians 1:4, I know that God wants to use every moment of pain that we experience in life to comfort others. He can’t use what we aren’t willing to expose.

In February of 1994 I walked down an aisle and said, “I do” to a US Army second lieutenant. I am not a military brat. I did not grow up in a military town. I had family members who were veterans of various wars, but I never really paid attention to how war defined them or impacted their relationships. I knew that I loved him and that he had the most beautiful heart and soul of any man I had ever known. I knew that he would make beautiful babies and that he’d father them well. I could see us with wrinkles and gray hair, rocking together on a porch as we watched our grandchildren play. I knew that this was a man that I was willing to follow anywhere in the world and that I could feel safe giving him my whole heart all the days of my life.

What I did not fully grasp when I said, “I do” is that I was not only pledging my devotion to the man God made for me, but to the US Army. I very quickly learned to accept that his duty would always come before anything else in life, including me. For the first decade of our marriage I was perfectly okay with that reality. His devotion to freedom and service to our nation made me immensely proud.

After September 11th I watched him chomp at the bit to go to war. He voluntarily went to military school at fourteen, went to a military college, and all he’d ever wanted to be was a soldier. He had dreamed of and trained for combat his entire life. And because I love him with all that I am I wanted to see him fulfill the purpose he believed he was created for.

In August of 2003 I stood in an airport bursting with pride and with my heart shattered into a thousand pieces as I watched the love of my life walk away without knowing if I’d ever see him again.

In 2004 he returned to me. Except he didn’t. I quickly realized that the man I watched leave for war was not the man the Army had returned to me. The guy who had always loved to go and do, never met a stranger, was kind to every human he crossed paths with, and who had never once shown me anything other than kindness and unconditional love, had changed.

In the years that followed his first deployment, he adjusted, we adjusted, God was faithful to heal and restore. By the time he called me in January of 2009 to say he was returning to Baghdad ten days later, I had almost forgotten…

During the second deployment we talked a lot more about the possible changes we could face, we talked about the coming readjustment period, I studied combat trauma and how to best love someone who’s experienced it, I prepared my heart for the possibility of loving a changed man for a period of time with the full hope that in a short time he would be fully restored. And honestly, for the most part (I don’t want to talk about his driving), it seemed as though we’d lucked out the second time around. He still wanted to sit in a place where he could see every door, but he was able to eat at restaurants and attend church and the kids’ activities immediately after he returned home. He was extremely kind and compassionate to me, didn’t look for ways (many veterans use video games, television, alcohol, and other unhealthy vices…) to escape daily life and was able to empathize with others.

And then, in May of 2010, just after we brought our daughter home from Serbia, he was triggered. He walked in the door after work and she slapped him across his face. She then turned and attacked me. I held her until she was calm and did not notice the expression on his face as he walked away from us. When she was occupied I went to him seeking comfort. Instead of comfort I was met with a harsh, “I don’t care about your feelings!” and his hands held out in front of him preventing me from getting near him. I was shocked, wounded, and devastated by what had come from his mouth.

I’ve written extensively about Sofija’s aggressive, self-injurious, and destructive behaviors. In the first weeks and months after bringing her home we had no clue what triggered her, but I quickly figured out that her PTSD triggered his PTSD, and it did not take long for everyone in our house to be traumatized. In family counseling we were able to identify that the feelings of helplessness surrounding her behavior outbursts not only triggered war trauma, but childhood trauma. I have learned so much about the brain in the years since that painful day in 2010. We learned later that year that our daughter has abnormalities in her temporal lobe; specifically her temporal horns, hippocampus, and amygdala. Two years later we learned that my husband (thanks to some bad guys and an IED) has a TBI in the same location. If you’re curious about what that means, the parts of their brains that control memories and behaviors, and trigger fear responses, has stored memories of traumatic experiences that make them respond as if they are in danger or threatened by things that are not normally threatening. For Sofija, she gets stuck in fight, flight, or freeze. EEGs have shown that when her fear response is triggered, the rest of her brain stops functioning and we have to use grounding techniques (What color shirt am I wearing? How many fingers am I holding up? What day is it?) to help her frontal lobe (rational thought) take action to calm her down.

My husband’s PTSD looks a little different from Sofija’s. What I’ve learned about most combat veterans is that because of military training, their brains tell them not to flee or freeze, but to fight when they feel threatened or out of control. I have yet to meet a spouse of a veteran that isn’t frightened by their wounded warrior’s driving habits. Combat has taught them that every person in a vehicle is a threat. Things as simple as asking a veteran to put the dishes away differently, can feel threatening and trigger their fear response. Because God, in His infinite wisdom, prewired our brains to be compatible with one another, I’ve learned that my own fear response is almost always flight. I’m not a fighter and when I feel threatened I find a quick way to escape. This tendency means that I’m able to walk away and wait for my husband’s frontal lobe to take action and remind him of who he is. Full disclosure: my instinct to flee did not stop me in the past from sending hurt and angry texts and emails while keeping my distance. We’ve vowed this year to not write anything that we would not look each other in the eyes and say. I’ll have to update later on how that’s going. 😉

Combat was undoubtedly traumatizing for my husband. But, when he came under investigation in December of 2011 by the same Army that he’d devoted his life to serving, the trauma was almost unbearable to witness. For nearly four years, his first love, his calling, his career, his identity, were threatened. The days where he was able to see beyond the need to defend himself were few and far between. It was like being in combat for four straight years, day and night, without reprieve.

I’m shining light into this corner of our lives for a few reasons.

First, I don’t want anyone living with a wounded veteran to feel shame, isolation, or hopelessness. YOU ARE NOT ALONE! John 10:10 The thief’s (Satan’s) purpose is to steal and kill and destroy. My (Jesus) purpose is to give them a rich and satisfying life. I have witnessed far too many individuals and families destroyed because of war. Jesus did NOT live and die and rise again for people to be destroyed. He lived, and died, and rose from the dead, so that the damaged and dead parts of our lives could be resurrected, restored, and redeemed. 1John 1:5-7 This is the message we heard from Jesus and now declare to you: God is light, and there is no darkness in him at all. So we are lying if we say we have fellowship with God but go on living in spiritual darkness; we are not practicing the truth. But if we are living in the light, as God is in the light, then we have fellowship with each other, and the blood of Jesus, his Son, cleanses us from all sin. If you feel like you’re living in darkness, please find some support. See a counselor, join a support group, find a friend or two who will listen and encourage you. There is not a single instance in scripture of Jesus sending a disciple out to perform miracles alone because God never intended for us to fight our battles alone.
Second, it has been almost three years since my veteran retired and lost his first love. This new chapter has been beautiful and fulfilling in ways we never imagined. It has also brought about unexpected challenges, grief, and exposed many layers of unhealed pain and wounds. We are working hard to heal those wounds and better cope with the challenges. So if you have a moment, feel free to pray for us to embrace all of the restoration and redemption that God has promised us.

I want to offer some encouragement and tips to those spouses who are currently in the trenches. First and foremost, if you or your children are being abused, please please please get help! If you don’t have a safe place to go, call 1-800-799-SAFE (7233) or go HERE and chat with someone who will help you find a safe place. If your spouse is suicidal, call 1-800-273-8255 (press 1) or go HERE to chat with someone who can help you develop a plan. If you need marriage counseling, family counseling, or individual counseling for anyone in your family, Military One Source offers it for free. If your veteran struggles to work and manage money, Military One Source also has resources to help with finances. If you are feeling alone in your battle and don’t have any idea where to turn, THIS is a great website packed full of links and resources. If you are dealing with the VA (God bless you!), they have a webpage for caregivers that outlines all of the resources available to you. https://www.caregiver.va.gov/ Also, find a local church and join a small group or a Bible study. I honestly could not have survived the investigation years or the years after our first deployment without a community of Christians who loved me, listened to me, spoke truth to me, and lifted me up when I couldn’t stand on my own two feet.

Also, no amount of trauma is an excuse for bad behavior. If your veteran is making bad choices, this is your permission slip to stop excusing the bad behavior because of a diagnosis. I’ve experienced a ridiculous amount of trauma in my life. But guess what… I’m still responsible for every choice that I make. If I screw up, I’m accountable for it. So are you. So is your spouse. We will all stand before God some day and answer for every unrepented sin we’ve chosen to commit. Nowhere in scripture does it say that a diagnosis of PTSD or TBI will get us out of accountability. Also, you will NOT stand before God and answer for your spouse’s choices. It is REALLY easy for those of us living with veterans or parenting children with disabilities to make excuses and apologize for their behaviors. If you find that you are rearranging your life to keep your spouse from being triggered and apologizing for their behaviors, I’m giving you permission to STOP IT! In psychology those patterns are called enablement and codependency. Scroll back up and read what the Bible says in John 10:10. You were meant to live a satisfying life! If you can identify a pattern in your life of apologizing for the behaviors of others or you struggle with caring for yourself, get THIS BOOK now! And when you’re done with that one, I can highly recommend THIS ONE. Also, learn the phrase, “I am not getting on this emotional roller coaster with you. Enjoy your ride and I’ll meet you back at the platform.”

Whether or not you give up on the person you chose to spend your life with is a choice. I firmly believe that 99% of success in marriage is the refusal to quit. On January 1st I wrote a post explaining that as much as I didn’t want it to be, my word/theme for this year is “Grace”. Alas, I should have known that it would be tested over and over again. But… 2 Corinthians 12:9TPT But he answered me, “My grace is always more than enough for you, and my power finds its full expression through your weakness.” So I will celebrate my weaknesses, for when I’m weak I sense more deeply the mighty power of Christ living in me.” God only knows how much grace I’ve needed in life and how much more I will need this side of heaven. But He promises that His grace is ALWAYS more than enough for me. And if He’s got more than enough grace for my brokenness, then I trust that He will always give me more than enough for the brokenness of others. The moments when I want to call it quits are always the moments when I forget about grace.

Hebrews 4:16 So let us come boldly to the throne of our gracious God. There we will receive his mercy, and we will find grace to help us when we need it most.

Last, but certainly not least, I encourage you to seek God in navigating the journey of loving a veteran. I had a great heart-to-heart talk with my nineteen year old yesterday about something that’s been weighing him down. I told him that I wished I could fix it for him, but I can’t. And then I told him that it’s not his to fix. It’s God’s. I learned many years ago that the only way I could have peace and let go of the need to make other people’s problems my own is this… Every time something heavy pops in my head that is out of my control to fix, I say, “God, I give this to you. It was yours before I tried to make it mine. Thank you for holding my heart, renewing my thoughts, and fulfilling your promises. Amen.” There have been situations in my life where I’ve prayed that prayer at least a dozen times every hour until I felt free from the burden and truly trusted that God was in control. Give your spouse to God. Trust me. He’s MUCH better equipped to restore, renew, redeem, and heal than any of us are.

Always Devoted to Duty,

Kaci

Happy, Holy, Hard, Hopeful, Healing Mother’s Day

I awoke this Mother’s Day to a message from my firstborn letting me know that she had arrived in Cannes for the film festival. She made a film a couple of years ago that won a couple of festivals in the US and in December she was invited to show in Cannes. My joy and pride in her talent and accomplishments is nothing less than holy.

This precious picture of the four who call me, “Mama” was taken six years ago. Those years have been filled with uncountable challenges and some fairly traumatic wounds. Shortly after receiving the message from France, my boys brought me breakfast in bed (that they made together without arguing -Woohoo!), gifts, and the sweetest card filled with their gratitude that I am theirs and they are mine… healing.

While eating the breakfast my boys made me, I began to weep. I so wish that this day wasn’t filled with such a mixed bag of emotions. But it is. It is a hard day not just for me, but for so many people that I know and love. Some of us have no mother to honor today. Some of us have mothers that, due to unhealed wounds, we would rather not honor today. Some of us are grieving children both alive and dead. Some of us are longing for children we do not yet have. Some of us have children with no father to encourage them to honor us. Some of us have our children’s fathers around, but because we are not their mothers or because of their own unhealed wounds, they do not honor us or encourage our children to do so. Some of us are living with shame and regret over choices we’ve made as mothers. Some of us have children that are being raised by other mothers. And some of us are raising children that were birthed by women who will never get to hear those children call them, “Mama.” All of these realities complicate this day.

Deuteronomy 30:15-16, 19 “Now listen! Today I am giving you a choice between life and death, between prosperity and disaster. For I command you this day to love the Lord your God and to keep his commands, decrees, and regulations by walking in his ways. If you do this, you will live and multiply, and the Lord your God will bless you and the land you are about to enter and occupy... “Today I have given you the choice between life and death, between blessings and curses. Now I call on heaven and earth to witness the choice you make. Oh, that you would choose life, so that you and your descendants might live! 

I’ve had a couple of recent conversations that have reminded me of God’s truth, dried my tears today, and given me great hope. Those conversations have revolved around the many times in the book of Deuteronomy when God said to the Israelites that He gives us a choice between life and death, blessings and curses, and promises that whatever we choose is not just for ourselves, but for the generations to come. God didn’t say that we have to wait for our parents to choose life, prosperity, or blessings in order for us to experience those promises. He didn’t say that we needed to think about our circumstances before choosing. He didn’t say that we are unqualified to choose. He didn’t say that we needed to wait until everything was easy and painless. He simply said that WE get to make those choices. And, if we love Him and walk in His ways, we (and the place we occupy) will be blessed.

Romans 5:5 Such hope in God’s promises never disappoints us, because God’s love has been abundantly poured out within our hearts through the Holy Spirit who was given to us.

Whether this day is filled with hardship, holiness, hope, or a healing process; my prayer is that we all find something today to be happy about and the courage and wisdom to CHOOSE blessings, life, and prosperity.

Have a Happy Holy Hard Hopeful Healing Mother’s Day.

Minding the Gap

mind the gap

mind

verb (used with object)

  1. to pay attention to
  2. to apply oneself or attend to
  3. to look after; take care of; tend
  4. to feel concern at; care about.

gap

noun
  1. break or opening, as in a fence, wall, or military line; breach
  2. an empty space or interval; interruption in continuity; hiatus
  3. wide divergence or difference; disparity

A few weeks ago I was searching for a deal on flights to Serbia and the best fares all required at least one lengthy layover. One option was an eight-hour layover in London. I have a dear friend in England that has gotten married and become a father since the last time I saw him so I checked to see how much it would be to stay overnight. When I found that it was $400 cheaper, I sent him a text to see if they’d be in town, booked the flight, and began packing. My overnight stay with his precious family turned out to be a great decision. Besides falling in love with his sweet wife and the best-natured baby boy I’ve met, I realized exactly what I was traveling to Serbia for.

I had two hours of train (or “tube”) rides to get from Gatwick Airport to where they live in Essex and along my journey I quickly noticed that before each stop there was a recording warning those departing to “Mind the gap.” When I exited each train I turned and found signs on each car and tiles on the ground spelling out the same warning. I’ve done a little research on why the warning is given. The phrase was coined in 1968 to remind passengers to pay attention to the space between the train and the platform. Some of the platforms are curved and the train cars are straight. So, in some places the space between the platform and the train is quite wide and creates a hazard for passengers if they aren’t “minding the gap”.

After my quick visit with the Brits and a brief layover in Poland on the 100th anniversary of their freedom, I arrived in Serbia to be greeted by my brother Samuil. Samuil and I are cut from the same cloth. We are both gifted networkers, love Jesus, and we both attempt to squeeze every minute of purpose out of every day. So I knew from the moment I climbed in his car at Tesla Airport that the days that followed would be filled with adventure.

Twelve hours of sleeping off my jet lag led to me awaking on Monday morning ready to do whatever God had planned for me. As I prepared for the day I pulled the hoodie pictured above out of my luggage. I walked past it at Heathrow just before boarding my plane to Warsaw and impulsively went back to purchase it. As I lifted it from my luggage the words stuck in my head. They would replay in my mind throughout each day that I spent in Serbia. “Mind the gap, Kaci.”

On Tuesday my friend Pam and I spent the day with government officials, social workers, and several foster parents. The day began with an unexpected newspaper interview (If you paste the link into Google translate it will translate the entire article) in the same paper that has covered parts of our story in the past. We were there to discuss the way foster care and orphan care are done in the US and ways to better prepare orphans for independent living. The day was humbling and enlightening. The truth is that we fail in SO MANY ways to care for orphans in America and we aren’t doing any better than Serbia is when it comes to preparing the next generation for independent living. I quickly realized that everyone in the room had things to learn from one another. The day turned into more of a think tank on ways to “mind the gap”.

Tuesday night we had dinner at a transition house in Belgrade. Pam asked the youth living there if they could have dinner with anyone in the world, alive or dead, who would it be. One girl said that she would want to have dinner with the Aleksander Vucic, the Serbian President. She happened to be sitting right next to me and spoke English so I turned and asked her what she would ask him. Her response, “Does he care about the youth of Serbia and if he does what is he doing to keep us here?” This precious nineteen year old girl, that is stuck between a very hard childhood (her platform) and living out her potential is desperately looking for someone with power to “mind the gap”.

Wednesday we taught foster parents, social workers, and leaders of several NGOs on trauma informed care and fundraising. At the end of our teaching we had a Q&A time and once again it turned into a think tank on ways to “mind the gap”.

Wednesday night I had a drink with a friend that is a Colonel in the Serbian Army. On our walk back to where I was staying we briefly discussed his experiences with war. I quickly realized that little is done to care for veterans in a nation where military members have experienced more combat than this military wife can fathom. Noone is “minding the gap”.

On Thursday I climbed in the EUS (Samuil’s organization-Evangelical Student Organization) van and drove to Novi Sad for a conference on human trafficking that was organized by my friend Marco. The conference was amazing! SOO many people showed up to learn and lend their voices and I could not be prouder of what has been done in Serbia to “mind the gap” for victims of trafficking since my last visit in 2011.

Friday morning I overslept and awoke to my friend Mila at the door (with breakfast-because she’s a hero). She made me coffee while I threw my clothes and face on and after a much-too-short catch up on all that she has been doing to “mind the gap” by opening a crisis pregnancy center and helping women who’ve experienced abortion find healing; my friends Bojan, Rachel, and Marijana arrived to drive me to meet Sofija’s biological brothers.

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Y’all, my time with these men who share my daughter’s blood was priceless. They were kind, welcoming, and honest. They are good men (both in their thirties), and they want to know Sofija. Their Mother’s story is one for another day and there are two more siblings I have yet to meet, but sitting in their home and seeing my daughter’s eyes, and smile, and ears, and hands was one of the greatest gifts I’ve been given. I also met Sofija’s sister-in-law and niece (both incredibly beautiful). These people are Sofija’s family which makes them OUR family.

Friday afternoon was spent shopping with my friend Tatjana that started the transition homes that brought me back to Serbia and then attending Samuil’s birthday celebration. On Saturday I flew home.

I missed church on my first Sunday home because.. jet lag. And I missed this last Sunday because our family caught a nasty cold over Thanksgivin. While sniffling and fighting a fever I sat and watched a sermon via Facebook live from the International Christian Fellowship in Belgrade. It was their tenth anniversary and it only seemed appropriate that I watch the ten-year celebratory service of the community of believers that gave me all of the friends I was able to connect with on my trip. Jonathon Lamb was the guest speaker for the service. He is an author and minister from Oxford, UK.

In the middle of his message, Jonathon quoted 1 John 2:6 “Those who say they live in God should live their lives as Jesus did.” It is one of my favorite life verses. In fact, I believe that all of 1 John 2 is one of the most powerful passages in the Bible and I highly encourage you to click the link, read it, write it down, read it some more, and make it your daily challenge. Trust me! Trying to live it out WILL be a challenge. But if each of us who calls ourselves “Christian” would actually make it a daily challenge to live our lives as Jesus did, we would never have to question whether or not we’re “paying attention”, “applying ourselves”, “taking care of”, or “feeling concern for”; the “breaks or openings”, “empty spaces and interruptions in continuity”, or “wide divergence or disparities” of this world.

Mind the gap.

 

Adoption = Loss and Gain

novi sad
Beautiful Novi Sad showing off her fall colors for me.

I have been asked often in the last nine years, “Why Serbia?” Sometimes people are just curious and sometimes the question is asked with judgment and usually followed up with, “But there are so many kids in America who need families.” My reply is almost always, “God.” That response is the truth. God chose our family for a little girl who happened to be born in a nation more than 5,000 miles away from America. When we learned about her we weren’t even looking to adopt and we didn’t know where she lived. And when we did find out that she lived in Serbia we had to look on a globe to see where exactly Serbia is. But, in all honesty, there was a reason we never even discussed adopting domestically in the many discussions we had about adoption in all the years before we found her. I knew too many people who adopted domestically that had messy situations with their child’s biological family. I did not want “messy”. I always thought that IF we adopted I wanted it to be with no strings attached. If only it worked like that…

April 2010, at Sofija’s adoption ceremony, a social worker handed me a genogram of her family. I was stunned and had no clue how to process all of the information on that piece of paper. I had the names, birthdates, and last known location of her three brothers, her sister, their fathers, all six of her aunts and uncles, and her grandparents. I tucked the paper away in our dossier folder and waited a long time to pull it out. As the months passed after bringing her home I quickly learned that the information I was given was a rarity. I don’t know any other Serbian adoptive family that has received so many details about their child’s biological family.

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One day I was sitting on the floor with my baby girl and playing with her cute toes (yes, she painted them herself in that picture) and all I could think was, “I wonder if they look like her first Mom’s?” And then I started wondering if her brothers and sister were tall and athletic like her. So… I pulled out that piece of paper and opened my laptop and began searching Facebook. Within minutes I was fairly certain I had found her siblings. For the next two years I would just randomly stalk their profiles and look through their photos for some connection. Someday I should probably thank them for not having all of their photos and information private. 😉

During one of my photo stalking escapades, I came across a picture of her oldest brother with his feet propped up. They looked EXACTLY like Sofija’s. I laughed and then I cried and then before I could think it through I typed out a few sentences that had been running through my head for a while. I sent them in a message, and then copied and pasted them into messages to the other three siblings. And then…. crickets. For THREE YEARS. I stopped stalking and let it go. I didn’t want “messy” and I wanted to respect their rights to not be in contact.

And then, in July of 2015, I woke one Sunday morning to messages from all of them. One of them had found my message in his “other messages” folder, contacted his siblings, and they all had a million questions. They did not know she existed, much less that she had been adopted and was living in another country. I soon received friend requests from aunts and cousins spread out all over Europe.

For the last three years we have been in contact and tomorrow I will meet her oldest brother and his wife and baby. Tonight, I am a bit emotional and if you’re reading this you are welcome to start praying that I am able to contain my emotions so we can make the most of the time we have together.

I will not lie, I went through our entire adoption process with completely selfish intentions. I wanted this little girl that I knew was supposed to be my daughter to be mine alone. I did not want any other family in the world to have any claim to her. But that’s not how it works.

My daughter lost everything when we adopted her. No matter how badly I wanted to believe that she gained the world by becoming a part of our family the truth is that she lost every single thing she ever knew and was taken away by complete strangers. The truth is that when she was left at the hospital after birth and then transferred to an orphanage at ten days old, she lost a mother, father, siblings, aunts, uncles, grandparents, and dozens of extended family members.

But…the minute I opened that first message and a connection was made, I gained family. Sofija may have my blood type and my eye color, but she shares their blood. For several weeks the chalkboard in my house said, “You will never look someone in the eyes that God does not love.” I put it there in an attempt to break the political tensions in our house and remind each of us that political views do not define a person. Only God gets to do that. We are all His creations. We are all family. But God’s creations that I get to meet tomorrow have blood running through their veins that ties them to the little girl that calls me, “Mama”. And that’s kind of a big deal.

 

 

i met a girl

Eight years ago today, after sitting through a meeting at Serbia’s Ministry of Social Welfare and listening to the heart-wrenching story of our daughter’s first five years of ife, our family drove to the little village of Velika Plana and met the girl who was about to rock our world. 

I’ve been studying Gideon and I keep marveling at the similarities between Gideon’s battle story and the story we’ve lived over the last eight years as we’ve fought for our girl’s freedom and health. Dear Hubby and I are social creatures. According to Myers & Briggs we’re both about as extroverted as humans can be. Before Sofija Bea Brave joined our family our social circle was big. Like REALLY big. We were involved in ALL THE THINGS. We hosted dinner parties and small groups every single week and when we didn’t have a crowd at our house, we were out and about surrounded by people. What we considered our “army”, was HUGE.

Judges 7:2-3MSG God said to Gideon, “You have too large an army with you. I can’t turn Midian over to them like this—they’ll take all the credit, saying, ‘I did it all myself,’ and forget about me. Make a public announcement: ‘Anyone afraid, anyone who has any qualms at all, may leave Mount Gilead now and go home.’” Twenty-two thousand soldiers headed for home. Ten thousand were left.

One of the hardest realities to face after bringing our baby girl home was that our people were quickly disappearing. Our army was shrinking. It scared me and it hurt. It REALLY hurt. But God had called us to win a war. He knew who we needed on our team and He knew how easily it would have been for pride to take over and convince us after every small victory that “I did it all myself.”

And then, a year and a half into being a family of six, Dear Hubby’s investigation began.  The fire got REALLY hot and our army shrunk again.

Judges 7:4-6MSG God said to Gideon: “There are still too many. Take them down to the stream and I’ll make a final cut. When I say, ‘This one goes with you,’ he’ll go. When I say, ‘This one doesn’t go,’ he won’t go.” So Gideon took the troops down to the stream. God said to Gideon: “Everyone who laps with his tongue, the way a dog laps, set on one side. And everyone who kneels to drink, drinking with his face to the water, set to the other side.” Three hundred lapped with their tongues from their cupped hands. All the rest knelt to drink. God said to Gideon: “I’ll use the three hundred men who lapped at the stream to save you and give Midian into your hands. All the rest may go home.”

I always thought that it was weird that God told Gideon to keep the ones who cupped the water in their hands to drink it. But let me tell you something. As our army shrank from huge numbers to a handful, I learned very quickly to appreciate those people who not only took things into their own hands but who held God’s Word in their hands and drank from it themselves. Let me tell you something else. When you’re fighting for your family and the lives of those you love, you do NOT want people advising you that aren’t passing along advice that they receive directly from God. I appreciate a good sermon as much as anyone else, but when it comes down to matters of life or death, I don’t want to hear the words, “I heard this great sermon the other day and thought of you.” Nope. I want to hear, “I was on my knees the other day and God said…” or “I was reading the Bible this morning and God showed me something for you.”  When it comes to survival and winning the war, I’ll take an army like Gideon’s victorious three hundred over the thirty-two thousand of distracted, misdirected, and fearful soldiers he had in the beginning of the story, any day.

I won’t lie. The girl I met eight years ago scared me. The thought of parenting her seemed like the most daunting task I’d ever faced. It has proven to be just that. More days than not I have had moments when I cry out to God that I just can’t do it any more. And then, He reminds me that He NEVER said that He would not give us more than we can handle. What He will do is ALWAYS be there where we meet the end of ourselves. Gideon faced an Army of at least one hundred and thirty-five thousand Midianites with only the three hundred warriors God left Him with. God made it very clear that the Midianites could not be defeated through the strength of Gideon and his army. But where their strength ended, God got to show off.

Over and over and over again, in these last eight years, God has had opportunities to show off. Piece by piece my girl is being healed. In the process, God is replacing each of my own broken and weak pieces with huge chunks of His strength. My daily prayer and anthem have become… Less of me. More of Him. That’s how wars are won.

The feral five-year old we met in April of 2010 has turned into a mostly domesticated thirteen-year old princess. She holds my heart and has her Tata wrapped around her little finger. Although there have been many times when I’ve wondered what the hell I got myself into, I can’t imagine my life without her.

Eight years ago I met a girl. She rocked my world. 

 

muffins with mom in a mental hospital

This post is for every girl who struggles to find joy on Mother’s Day.

girlwithdolls

Little girls play with dolls and dream of someday mothering real babies. But those little girl dreams never quite match reality, and for this reason many grownup girls have a love-hate relationship with Mother’s Day. I’m one of them.

I lost my mother in 2006. She wasn’t perfect, but she was a constructive, loving mother. I miss her.

Psalm 34:18 The Lord is near to the brokenhearted…

I have two babies that I will never hold this side of heaven and I know far too many Mamas longing to hold their lost babies today. Women who’ve lost a child through miscarriage, abortion, adoption, illness, or tragedy…. this is still your day. You are a Mother.

Psalm 34:18 The Lord is near to the brokenhearted…

On Mother’s Day 2016 my baby girl was seven months into a year-long hospitalization. In anticipation of Mothers Day, these signs were posted all around the hospital…

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If you’re struggling today because your child is hospitalized, living in residential care, or unable to utter the word “Mom”, this is still your day. If you’re spending this day watching your child self-injure, destroy everything in their path, or praying that your child’s aggression isn’t directed at you, this is still your day. Hang in there, Mama!

If this day is hard for you, know that you are valued. Know that your job as a Mama holds worth beyond measure. Know that you are a creator, a giver of life. Know that God is near you. He sees your broken heart and He grieves with you.

babymissinghead

Whether you are having Muffins with Mom in a mental hospital, longing for a Mom that isn’t here, longing for a child you cannot hold, parenting a prodigal child that you will not hear from today, or trying to find a way to feel like a success when your child has lost his or her mind; I pray that you find some joy today. Eat some chocolate. Drink some wine. Take a bubble bath.

This is still your day. Even if it brings with it a roller-coaster of emotions, I pray you feel God’s presence and find (at least) a moment to honor yourself.

Blessed Mother’s Day!

merci beaucoup

So many of you have been praying for our family and specifically for Sofija. Thank you! Gracias! Dankie! Hvala! Muito obrigado! Molte grazie!

In a thrilling, hold-my-breath, edge-of-my-seat game, the New England Patriots defeated the Seattle Seahawks in the Superbowl tonight. I have to confess, I’m not a fan of either team. I do however feel like my team won the Superbowl.

You see… My team was able to ride together in a car to and from church today. No hair pulling. No slapping. No hands in our faces. No objects being thrown. We all stayed in our seatbelts and kept our hands to ourselves.

And then… my baby girl stayed in kids’ church BY HERSELF for the ENTIRE service. Do you know what that means? It means my dear hubby and I were able to sit next to each other for an entire church service. Guys!! Girls!! That’s almost a date!

As if all the church and car goodness weren’t enough… I  made a pretty-long grocery list and as I was walking out the door to go shopping, Sofija asked to go with me. Without a second thought I said, “Okay.” Dear Hubby looked at me as if I’d lost my mind. Guys & Girls, me and my baby girl went to Wal-Mart, on a Sunday afternoon, along with half the residents of Alexandria, VA, and got all but one thing on that pretty-long grocery list. Baby Girl was A-MA-ZING! She made jokes and stayed by my side and helped me find the things I was looking for and a few things I wasn’t. And then, as if church and the car and surviving Wal-Mart weren’t enough, she clapped and squealed, “I’m SO EXCITED!” when I told her that we needed to stop at Safeway to find rye crackers. As we walked through the doors she exclaimed, “I love Safeway, Mama! They have Starbucks. Can we get Starbucks?” People, please read that again. We had a NORMAL conversation. And… she loves Safeway for the exact same reason that I love Safeway! She’s my girl. 😀

This day. This amazingly wonderful, peaceful, fun, stress-free day. You own a part of it. We are reaping a harvest of the prayers that you’ve sown. You’re a part of a team that lost most of the games this season but showed up in the playoffs and won the flippin’ Superbowl.

Thank you. Bringing up Sofija is a team effort and we’re incredibly grateful to have you on our team.

1 Corinthians 1:4 “I give thanks to my God always for you…”

Also… I made this kick-butt reuben dip for the Superbowl… Recipe herereubendip

We’re all orphans.

Sofija is home and I’m still sifting through the dozen or so blog posts that are running around in my head. While I’m sorting my thoughts and seeking wisdom in what I share, I want to address something that has repeatedly come up since I first began sharing our struggles. Between the messages and emails I’ve received from people sharing their opinions and the ones from people sharing their own struggles, I’ve received another kind of message. Many people read my blog who have no connection to adoption or autism or mental illness. Several of those people have written to me with sincere questions. Things like, “Why is she so aggressive?”, “Why does she hurt you?”, and “What exactly is wrong with her?” Please don’t stop asking questions. Questions beg answers and answers give me an opportunity to educate. I like to educate.

The Bible is packed full of orphan references and I have to be honest. Until adoption was a part of my life, I always skimmed over those verses with the prideful thought that they applied to someone else. Going through the adoption process I scoured scripture for verses that may prepare me to love my daughter. Within days of meeting her, I realized that I was just as orphaned as she was.

Let’s compare me as an adopted daughter of God to the little girl who joined our family through adoption:

– My daughter doesn’t trust my love. She doubts every promise I make. She keeps waiting for me to stop loving her; for me to fail.  / Yep. I can relate.

– My daughter puts her hands over her ears and hums when I’m trying to tell her how much I love her and how precious she is. / It is a daily struggle to believe anything God’s word says about my worth. I stay busy and keep my environment noisy to block out His voice.

– She also puts her hands over her ears, hums, and closes her eyes immediately after asking for something she really wants. She’s preparing herself for disappointment and she often misses my “Yes” because she’s not looking or listening. / Story of my life.

– My daughter hurts herself and puts herself in dangerous situations and then apologizes to me for not loving herself. / All. The. Time.

– My daughter runs away from the place and people who love and protect her. / More times than I can count.

– My daughter resists all rules that we try to put in place to teach her and keep her safe. / I hate rules.

– My daughter will repeat a bad choice over and over and over again without learning from her mistake. / Grrrrr

– My daughter hurts other people because she is afraid of being hurt. She always wants to be in control so she hurts others before they have a chance to hurt her. / This one is not a huge struggle for me. However, I will openly confess that I’ve been there, done that.

– My daughter will be destructive in order to escape a situation where she isn’t in control. / Been there, done this one too…

– My daughter will lash out at me in order to get my attention. / I really wish I didn’t relate to this, but I do. It’s sad how often I forget that I have God’s undivided attention.

– My daughter will try to hide from me when she knows she’s done something wrong. / Dangit. This is another “more times than I can count” offense.

– She screams and fights and does everything she can think of to get out of a vehicle when she doesn’t know where we’re going. She’s so afraid that we’re going to take her some place scary and unfamiliar and because she doesn’t trust us to provide or protect, she fights. / I look forward to the day when she is as tired as I am of trying to escape the journey.

I could probably list out a dozen more ways that I relate to my daughter’s orphan heart. For those wondering why she does what she does or what exactly is wrong with her, it all boils down to that one thing… the heart of an orphan. Autism has removed her filters. She doesn’t know that the socially acceptable thing to do is try to hide her orphan heart. So all her struggles are out in the open. If you haven’t caught on, I prefer “out in the open”. I crave transparency and I thank God for giving me a girl who leaves all her brokenness out where I can see it.

If you can’t relate to me and my girl, I apologize for wasting a few minutes of your time. If you can relate, just know that you’re in good company. Two of my favorite people in scripture are Esther and Moses. Both orphans. Both changed the course of history. U.S. Presidents Andrew Jackson, Herbert Hoover, and Alexander Hamilton were orphans; as were first lady Eleanor Roosevelt and Nelson Mandela. Tolkien and Tolstoy… orphans. Babe Ruth… lived his entire childhood in an orphanage.  Steve Jobs… orphaned and adopted as a baby.

Being an orphan (or even having an orphan heart) should not define anyone. My daughter has many struggles and I will continue to do everything in my power to help her overcome those struggles for as long as I have breath. Those struggles do not define her. Just as my own struggles do not define me. And just as your struggles should not define you. Sofija was created in the image of God. She is wonderfully made. He has a plan for her future. Plans to give her hope and to prosper her. She was created to overcome. All those things also apply to me… and to YOU.  You want to know something amazing? Even if you don’t believe it all, it’s still true. And just like I refuse to give up on my daughter, God refuses to give up on any of us.

Isaiah 43:5 "Do not be afraid for I am with you.  I will bring your children from the East and gather you from the West."
This little girl was an orphan. Now she’s my daughter.

Now go watch a Batman, Spiderman, Superman, or James Bond movie. They’re all orphans and they all make it really hard for people to love them. But… their stories all end well.

Mission: Safe Sofija (adoption is a horse)

I started a post more than a year ago titled “Cutting the Horn off the Unicorn”.  That post turned into a personal vent session so I decided not to share it. This post is its replacement. I’m about to cut the horn off a unicorn…

Adoption is hard.

REALLY hard.

In order for one Mother to adopt a child, another Mother must lose a child. In order for an adopted child to attach to her/his adoptive family, that child must let go of their biological family. Adoption ALWAYS involves a lifetime war of nature vs. nurture. Sometimes nurture wins. Sometimes it doesn’t.

When you choose to have a child with someone, you usually take into account what that person will contribute to your child. Will they make pretty babies? Do they come from a long line of smart people? Do compassion and entrepreneurship run in their family? Are they athletic?

or…

Will your children be ugly, clumsy, dumb, lazy, and cold-hearted? Do heart disease, diabetes, and cancer run in both of your families? Does your potential Baby’s Daddy have a physical or learning disability?

At the end of the account taking you usually end up saying, “Hey, he meets half my desires for a Baby Daddy and I love him so let’s get busy.”

Adoption works nothing like the above scenario.

Before I go any further I want to say that I LOVE ADOPTION! I don’t want this post to leave anyone believing otherwise.

But I’m sick and tired of reading all the blogs and news articles that paint adoption as nothing but rainbows and unicorns.

In biological parenting you weigh all the knowns, and you accept the risks. In adoption you weigh all the UNknowns, and you accept the risks. I’m a risk-taker. I was made for adoption. And still… adoption has broken me, taken me to the end of myself, and shown me day after day that the only way through this life is 100% dependence on God.

Yesterday, January 10, 2015, I did one of the hardest things I’ve ever done as a parent. My husband and I admitted our nine-year old daughter to the psychiatric unit at Children’s National Medical Center. I have prayed for wisdom in sharing details leading up to this decision while protecting our daughter. The decision to admit her was ultimately made because we no longer felt that we were keeping her safe at home. She will be hospitalized anywhere from one to three weeks and in that time we will meet several times with a team of doctors and develop a plan for keeping her safe at home from this point forward.

When we began the process of adopting Sofija we knew that she had autism. We were told little else about her or her biological family and everything we WERE told was untrue. When we arrived in Serbia and met her and heard the truth of her history and experienced exactly what we were getting ourselves into, I wanted to walk away. Judge me. Think badly of me. I really don’t care. I wanted to walk away. No matter what your thoughts are, I encourage you to click that last link and read the post I wrote in Serbia while God was working on my heart. As hard as it was to move forward and as hard as every day has been for the last 57 months, we were walking in God’s will. And there’s really no place I’d rather be.

The things I feel comfortable sharing about the last few months are:

-Sofija has repeatedly run away and has spent every second of every day trying to find a way out of the house so she can get to 7eleven.

-She has hurt herself. Repeatedly, and in horrible ways.

-She has hurt us. Repeatedly, and in horrible ways.

-She refuses to stay in her seat in a car and she frequently attacks (jumps on, slaps, throws objects at, pulls hair) everyone in the car, to include the driver.

-She has hurt other students at school and on her bus.

Last, but certainly not least, she has stopped sleeping. She didn’t fall asleep AT ALL between January 2nd and January 6th and since the 6th she has slept no more than 2-4 hours per night. When she wakes up she tries to get out of the house which means that we don’t sleep. The only rest Chad and I have had for the last couple of months has been when she’s at school. We’re not living. We’re surviving. We try to keep her and us safe when she’s home and we sleep while she’s at school. That’s our life. Our life is exhausting. We are spent.

Adoption is hard.

Really hard.

But… James 1:27 Pure and genuine religion in the sight of God the Father means CARING FOR ORPHANS and widows in their distress and refusing to let the world corrupt you.

Does that mean every person who calls themselves a “Christian” needs to adopt? Absolutely, positively, NO. But it does mean that The Church has a responsibility to care for orphans. What does that look like? For me, today, it means sitting in a room that looks like a prison cell (with a sweet view of The Capital and the Washington Monument) with my daughter and believing that her (and our) quality of life will be a thousand times better when she is released. It means that I get to spend the rest of my life fighting the nature vs. nurture war with high hopes that nurture will win.

What does “caring for orphans” look like for you? Well, it’s honestly a question that you have to answer for yourself. I can tell you that our family is not the only adoptive family hurting. Maybe not to the same degree as us, but there are adoptive families all over the place just trying to survive.

-LOVE THEM! We’re lonely! We’re tired! We need YOU!! For quite some time we have basically been shut-ins. Because Sofija hates leaving home and her favorite way of taking control in the car is to jump on the person driving, leaving our house as a family has literally required risking our lives. She’s almost 5’1″, weighs 87lbs, runs like a cheetah, and she’s strong as an ox. We NEED people to come to us.

-Stop judging us!!! We need love and grace and compassion and there just isn’t any room in our lives for judgment. And while I’m on the subject: Adoptive Moms, please stop judging other adoptive Moms. Some families choose disruption and if that is what they choose, respect that choice. I can absolutely guarantee you that the decision to disrupt is not made with any less thought than the decision to adopt. We’re all just trying to survive and care for orphans and sometimes caring for an orphan means allowing that child to become part of a new family.

-We also need people to love on our other children. They’re lonely too. They’ve made HUGE sacrifices in order for us to add a child to our family and (in our case) they have been traumatized by the addition to the family. They need some peace and normalcy and they just don’t get it at home.

-Find an adoptive family in your church and get to know them. Go to their home and try not to be freaked out by the chaos. Our church does an AMAZING job of loving on us! We have a small group of people from our church that meet at our house weekly so that we have a chance to love on others.

-Don’t be afraid to go to the homes of people with adopted children. You just might be blessed! We’ve learned more about grace, faith, hope and provision, than most people will in a lifetime. Ask us questions. Most of us miss face-to-face conversations.

-If you can financially support adoption, contribute to someone who’s in the process. Adoption is expensive (average cost is $30k-$60k) and just because someone is a risk taker with the strength and grace to parent a child from a hard place doesn’t mean that person has the financial resources to bring home a child that needs a family.

-Offer to babysit. You might get slapped or have your hair pulled or have things thrown at you; but you also just might save a marriage that’s been pushed to its limits. Did you read that? Getting uncomfortable for a few hours may just save a marriage. And a saved marriage means less trauma and loss for a child who’s lost more than anyone ever should.

-Most importantly: PRAY! Pray for our family and when you’re done, pray for other adoptive families. God answers prayers. God heals. God provides. Get on your knees or in your shower or pause before climbing out of bed and PRAY!

In adoption there are indeed rainbows; those bright, beautiful, colorful moments that fill you with hope and promise and paint a smile on your face. But like real rainbows, they fade away too soon and leave you expectantly searching for the next one to appear.

Although the rainbow moments exists, there are no unicorns. Adoption is not magical and mythical. It is hard. Really hard. But you know what? When you cut the horn off a unicorn you still have a beautiful, strong, stubborn, magnificent being. Adoption is a horse. And I like horses.

Believing that our hospital snuggles quickly become SAFE at-home snuggles. 10653833_10205720021978831_9099978568237184432_n

 

 

so my daughter ran away…

I started this blog in the fall of 2009 so that our friends and family could be a part of our journey to adopt our precious Sofija. The last five years have been one heckuva journey! We had no clue what we were getting ourselves into. It was probably better that way. IMG_2216 IMG_2250 IMG_2360 IMG_2401 IMG_2409 IMG_2416 IMG_3029 IMG_3101

Sofija is amazing.

Sofija is beautiful.

Sofija is gifted, and athletic.

Sofija is the queen of selfies (Sorry, Kim Kardashian. She’s got you beat.)

Sofija is also very, very HARD.

Every single bad thing that can come from a child beginning her life in a neglectful institutional setting… she’s got it. She’s broken in a thousand ways. I have many friends with adopted and biological children who have disabilities that say, “I wouldn’t change a thing about my child.” You will not hear me say those words. I would give up a limb or one of my senses if it would heal my child.

One of the many things Sofija struggles with is a total lack of rational fears.  She has plenty of IRrational fears. But when it comes to understanding the dangers of this world… she hasn’t a clue. We have tried and tried to make her understand that she simply cannot run down the middle of the street or leave our house without us. We’ve put extra locks and alarms on the doors. Last Saturday night we grasped just how epically our efforts have failed.

We moved Sofija’s bed into our room a year and a half ago after she repeatedly got up during the night and put herself into dangerous situations or did fun things like pouring an entire jar of honey and bottle of ketchup into her bed… at the same time.

On Saturday night, after her bath, Sofija asked to play in her room. Every 5-10 minutes I checked on her. I always do. At 10pm I called her name and asked her what she was doing. She replied, “I’m still playing.” At 10:05 I called her name and told her it was time for bed. She didn’t respond. Before I got to her door I had a sinking feeling in my gut. It was too quiet. She wasn’t there. As I walked away from her room I noticed that the door to the garage was open. Walking into the garage I saw that the door from our garage to the back yard was open. There was no need to search the rest of the house. She was gone. I didn’t think to call 911. I just took off down the street in my socks. My husband took off in the opposite direction. I made it around our block, ran back in the house, grabbed the car keys, and told my son to call 911. I drove down our street with my windows down, screaming her name, and looking for any sign that she was at someone’s house. Two blocks from home I passed an unmarked cop car that was driving slowly with a search light on. I jumped in front of his car and fell apart. He asked me to please calm down and began describing Sofija to me. It turns out that one of our neighbors had seen Sofija sprinting down the road in her pajamas and glitter boots (that are two sizes too small – they were in a donation bag in the garage). The neighbor called the police. Within minutes Fairfax county search and rescue had seven police cruisers and a helicopter searching for my daughter. The policeman that I jumped in front of followed me back to our house and I listened as calls of “Sofija sightings” continued to come in on his radio. She ran from our house to 7eleven (about a mile) and when the clerk wouldn’t let her get a slurpee she ran to Safeway (a block from 7eleven) in search of ice cream cake. A police car followed her from 7eleven to Safeway and four cars cornered her at Safeway. My husband was driving around the neighborhood when an officer called from the Safeway parking lot asking for a family member because “She’s very aggressive.” EIGHT cops could not get her in the back of a police car. Her Daddy went and got her and brought her home, mad as a spring bear, because she “didn’t get a slurpee OR ice cream cake and the police lights hurt her eyes.”

I didn’t sleep Saturday night. Or Sunday night. Or much of any night since.

Sunday was spent installing new alarms and keyed chain locks. And then, Sunday night, after her bath, she put on socks and shoes and asked if she could play in her room “with the window open.”

What? The? Hell?

Seriously?!

This sinking feeling that I’m going to lose my child to an open window or unlocked door has got to be as close to hell as I ever want to come. I want peace. I need peace. My child needs a miracle.

We’ve done everything we can think of to keep her safe. She’s sleeping in our room with every door double-locked and alarms on all the doors and windows.  ~The irony has not escaped me that most people install alarms and locks to keep bad people out and we had to install them to keep a precious someone in.~ Sofija is now registered with the county as a “flight risk” and the search and rescue team have assured us that they will do everything in their power to get her home should she escape again. I’m printing postcards for our neighbors and all the local businesses with her picture and our contact information. If it was legal to microchip her, we would do it.

All that’s left is hope and prayer. If you think of us, pray for us. Pray for her safety. Pray for her healing. Pray for our peace.

Romans 5:2-5 NLT

Because of our faith, Christ has brought us into this place of undeserved privilege where we now stand, and we confidently and joyfully look forward to sharing God’s glory.

We can rejoice, too, when we run into problems and trials, for we know that they help us develop endurance. And endurance develops strength of character, and character strengthens our confident hope of salvation. And this hope will not lead to disappointment…