Monday, December 30, 2013

"Which team are you on?"

   Four years.  Tonight the balloon lady at a popular "kids eat free" night asked Etienne how long he had been home.  I hate answering that question.  It's so long.  It's as long as the Olympics cycle, it's a presidential term.  It's a lifetime.  And it's such a horrible answer to how long my son has been home.
     Four years should be long enough, right?  Surely, the majority of this kid's memories are of his parents loving on him.  He can't readily spit out kinyarwandan and he no longer hugs strangers.  So things are cool than?  Hardly.
     I reexamined vigilant last post.  The other battle that we've seen more than ever is argumentative, blatant "You are wrong and I'm not" behavior.  Lemme explain.  At lunch time I gave everyone a choice of soup or a sandwich.  Etienne requested a cold sandwich.  I let him help make it.  Cold cuts, cheese, chilled mayo (d'uh).  I set it in front of him.  He touched it.  Then he said, "That's not really cold. I'll have soup."   Or when he snapped all of his brother's glow-in-the-dark necklaces, then screamed "I DID NOT BREAK IT. I SNAPPED IT."  Then there was the "I didn't punch Zeke, I smacked him."  Etc, etc.  All. Day. Long.
     I guess I am complaining.  I know, I know.  He's not breaking furniture or putting holes in drywall. ("Kara, he's so much better then he was a year ago").  A year ago, he never screamed at me.  A year ago he did not find every little fight, argument or literal interpretation of my words.  A year ago, I didn't have this little fear sneaking in that one day he will get too mad at me.
     Tonight we hit a breaking point.  I know that the lack of strict routine during holiday break is difficult for most families ("It's beginning to look a lot like Christmas....and mom and dad can hardly wait for school to start again..."). My son had decided to get himself out of the tub without washing and pushed me away as I tried to turn him back again.  I reminded him that I needed to see him scrub himself.  He argued that he could do it himself and he already did (he hadn't).  It escalated from there.  He screamed and pushed me.  A lot.  He's really strong.  I lifted him back into the tub to just scrub the stinky parts, then let him scream.  I had to close the door and leave.  As my wise hubby says, to not engage him.  Later, I returned and I tried to remind him that it's harder to make good choices when we are tired.  More screaming that he's not tired.  More pushing me.  So I left him.  I told him if he wasn't tired, tonight I wouldn't make him go to bed.
     It's the least attached parenting choice I could have made.  I know it.  My other kids needed me to read and snuggle and pray with them.  So we did our thing and he did his own thing in his room.  Later, I snuck in and I could hear him praying "I don't want to be on sin's team."  As I type that, I cry all over again.  I went to my son and I laid my head on his chest and I sobbed.  He cried too (this is really, really good).  He didn't apologize.  That's okay.  I told him I was afraid when he got angry, that he is stronger than me.  I told him that no matter how mad he gets, no matter how big and strong he is, I won't stop chasing him.  I can't stop chasing his heart.  I told him that even if he never, ever trusts me in my lifetime, God has bound us to one another.  We prayed together for a long time.  I asked him if next time, when we started to fight, if we should have a code word.  He suggested asking him which team is he on? when he is yelling.  So that is our plan for now.
     I am not here to complain.  I am here to share for the other parents out there.  It has been four years.  Four years feels like a lifetime and only a moment.  Click here to a read a professional's explanation of RAD; because sometimes we have beautiful, healthy days.  And sometimes we have ugly, long long weeks.
      I am not looking for pity or a casserole.  I just want to explain this healing, it's a long road.  There is a song, originally by John Mark McMillan, that has become me and E's lifesong:

He is jealous for me, loves like a hurricane, I am a tree
Bending beneath the weight of His wind and mercy
When all of a sudden I am unaware of these afflictions
Eclipsed by glory and I realize just how beautiful You are
And how great Your affections are for me

And oh, how He loves us, oh

Oh, how He loves us, how He loves us

     So tonight I am laying next to E on his floor.  I've read some verses of Isaiah to him, our own little tradition in these four years.  And I think of all the mamas in the bible.  Hannah.  Sarah.  Women that waited and waited and waited on the Lord for their child.  I thought that I had quit waiting for my E to be mine four years ago, when I first held him in my arms.

Monday, December 16, 2013


VIG-I-LANT: alertly watchful especially to avoid danger

VIG-I-LANCE: 1. the act, state or quality of     being vigilant

            2. the abnormal state or condition of being unable to sleep 

I've been wanting to share about vigilance for a long time now.  It's the perfect word to describe my E; the way he carries himself throughout the day, how he appears when he with a group or even his family, and absolutely how he looks when he is "sleeping" at night.
We've been especially vigilant lately because we've had a birthday, Thanksgiving and now the holiday season.  The fun Christmas activities, changes in routine and even sounds, smells and sights send lots of little ones into an oblivion.  For my E, all the "fun" equates to lousy RAD behavior, lack of sleep, and crazy uncoordinated large motor skills (he fell down a flight of stairs TWICE Saturday, he fell UP THE STAIRS yesterday. Thank God he is made of rubber.).  
Hearing the word vigilant, I used to envision a poor teenage babysitter, late at night, getting prank calls and being hypersensitive to the creaks and moans of the house.  Or maybe the gal walking alone through an abandoned parking lot.  Then, about 2 years into living with it, I began to recognize that my son is  vigilant.  Sometimes it is to what everyone else in the room is putting in their mouth.  Other days, he's vigilant to every sentence that Ryan and I pass between us ("Mom! Wait! Did you just say that there will be whale at Sunday school tomorrow?").  It's super annoying and sad for us but for our boy, it has got to make him exhausted in general.  Think about how you feel at the end of a suspenseful movie.  The story has resolved and you naturally relax your muscles and exhale.  And feel pretty tired, right?  
The part that gets me is that my E is a kid.  He's never seen a horror movie.  He's never left alone and no one has left him out of anything in four years.  Yet still.  Before my E came home, he had the experiences and visceral emotions to shape him to be alert.  On standby.  Ready for fight or flight.  All the time.  Yuck.  How can that not break my heart?  
It's just a word, not a label.  A window into his actions, if you will.  So when you see my son in the coming days, give him some grace.  He's asking what you just drank because he wants a drink too.  If you hear him interrupting and pushing his way in, he doesn't want you to forget him.  When you see him rubbing his eyes with his fists and falling down all over the place, don't forget that last night he hit his head on the wall , wet the bed, then awoke before the sun.  
I am trying to remind myself of this too.  When I want to hit him for dumping water on Molly's friends or sneaking into the bathroom when I'm peeing, I will phone a friend for prayer.  This isn't his fault despite how long it has been.  As much as we tell him over and over and over again that he is home.  He has a family.  Forever.  There aren't words to reason away fear of being hurt, both physically and emotionally.  You can't rationalize with someone that has been wounded.  That's that whole "actions speak louder than words" thing.  
So I tried something new last night when I was tucking him in.  I made him repeat after me.
"My mommy and daddy love me."  Repeat. As he said the words, I squeezed him tight and prayed that God would deliver him now.
"No matter what I do, my family won't ever leave me." Repeat, kisses, hugs, pray. Repeat. 
"I'm not an orphan. I am a child of the one true King."  Repeat, hug, squeeze, pray. 

Tuesday, December 3, 2013

We're not that into the Elf...

     Reader warning:  No judgement, promise? Do not take offense to the following true story.  If your kids are into this new tradition, I am super excited for you.  We are not.
     Sometimes I feel like I am on the Truman Show or that at any minute a TV crew will pop up from behind my couch and yell "Gotcha!"  Our day to day life reminds me that God clearly has a sense of humor.  If I take a step back, I can laugh at the absurdity too.  This is follow up to several recent discussions regarding the Elf on a Shelf business.
     This morning, over smoothies and peanut butter toast, goes something like this.  Zeke says (in his Barry White kinda voice).
"Mom.  Most of the time we aren't really really good.  And we don't have an Elf like the kids at school.  So I don't think that Elf really works or he would totally be here.  He is really scary mostly.  Like he wants to hurt me."  (He stole that line from the movie Elf)
     Everyone then agrees that the Elf on a Shelf is scary and Molly tells the boys that the Elf wasn't around when she "was a kid."  I made them promise not to ruin the Elf thing for all the kids that they know and they also had to promise on their remaining Halloween candy that they would not tell other kids that the Elf wants to hurt them.  Blake decided that ultimately it would cause many kids to have new nightmares and we "do not want to be the cause of scary toy dreams."  By the time we left for school, the Elf we were discussing had taken on more of a Chucky-meets-Babes in Toyland role.  Yikes.
    It gets better.  My kid, the one that just tried to walk naked out in the hallway while the neighbor girls were here, then proceeded to attempt sneaking his to football helmet to school, says
"Aren't we supposed to be good because it makes God happy anyway?"
     Oh. My. Heart.  Sometimes he is listening to me!  Holy awesome.  My same kid that says he will be a preacher (Step 1: Do not get kicked out of Sunday school) just gets the Big Stuff.  And that's really all that matters in the end.  I am ever grateful for these glimpses of glory and the humor that gets laced into it.
PS I swear that I have never, ever shared that I am convinced that the Elf is a serial killer.  Obviously, my kids are brilliant.

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Breaking the Sleep Cycle

  I've written a lot over the years regarding our struggles with sleep (or rather a lack thereof).  As I have learned more about my son and the rewiring of his thinking, feelings and even senses, I totally get why he does not sleep well.  Who would, really, when they have such extreme conditions early in life?  Of course he still processes old memories, old feelings and old fears at night.  Of course he needs grace in this.
That being said. UGH! Finding that grace for him in the last hours of the day is difficult for all of us.  Our cycle here is that E wakes up early.  Really early for a kid who goes, goes, goes without a nap or even a pause all day long.  Usually, E is up 2 hours before the rest of the kids.  Some days (note, I didn't use words like many or most!) he will lie in his bed humming softly or talking to himself.  Usually he wonders to the bathroom at least two times.  By the time the rest of the entourage wakes up, this kid is WIRED and ready to go.  It's best for all of us if he gets dressed, brushes his teeth, etc, in my bathroom.  His nonstop chatter, chanting, touching and stomping is a lot so bright and early.
  By the time 4 o'clock rolls around, E is done.  Finished.  Ready for bed.  I would be too if I ran- not walked-everywhere, was hypervigilant to everyone around me and generally was on fast forward mode.  That's where our strict routine comes in with the high protein, the sprints, yada, yada, yada.  Basically we hang on until bedtime.
Now usually I avoid asking for advice.  Please don't take this the wrong way.  It just stems from the fact that parenting E is never going to fit the mold for most kids.  I've been hurt a lot over the years by this.  I value all your opinions and thoughts but I have also come to guard my heart in this area.
E is chronically sleep deprived.  We can see and hear his fatigue.  I don't know how to break this cycle.....I would guess that he gets about 9 hours of sleep.  This is the kind of sleep that involves crashing into the wall, hanging off the bed, tossing and turning, keeping muscles flexed, peeing.  Not that sound or restful.
Thoughts? Suggestions?  I'm bracing myself but I'm ready for my community here.

Thursday, October 31, 2013

This is so good!

  My E has been back to some sleepless, wet nights.  He's coming home at the end of the day just worn.  I know that it takes every fiber of him to behave, to try to learn, to not do so many things that he's constantly tempted to do.  He is tired from trying so hard and it doesn't help that he isn't sleeping well.  Remember when you had a baby and between late afternoon and bedtime, it's witching hour? Too late for a nap but too early for bedtime? Yah, that's us.
  So we do our strict schedule and it helps.  Mostly, I really believe that God has softened my heart to him in many ways.  I just don't care anymore about a lot of stuff.  Ryan will roll his eyes at me because by 8 o'clock every night, E and I are arguing back and forth.  We both have to "have the last word."  I know my dad is laughing at this right now; this was always the reason I was grounded as a kid.  He gets that from me.
  Today was different.  Today, E came home, did his snack and his exercise and then-wait for it-he went and got his "sight words" and began writing.  It's Halloween, people!  Candy and lack of structure and routine!!  He asked me to help him write his sight words in 10 sentences.  There was no crying.  No quitting.  No whining or pretending to go to sleep.  No thumb sucking.  When he messed up, he crossed it out and started over again.  It was awesome.

  That is what we like to call evidence of God's grace.  

  I had been pretty frustrated.  We have a lot of stuff (mostly really good, see here) going on.  We have a dead beat renter squatter that owes us over a year's rent to our KS house.  I was bummed about that terrible mess.  At work, we've had an "intruder" (think guy with a automatic weapon roaming the halls of a clinic), super young teen moms, mentally ill patients.  Just ugly stuff that weighs on me.
  And then, BOOM.  God shows up again.  At my kitchen table in the form of sight words.  Reminding me of what He is doing in my son.  And in an orphanage in Kigali.  In the homes of 55 (!) families that are matched with kids.  What a blessed, insanely dramatic life we have here.

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

The NEED to talk

This has  been a  season of so much redemption  in our home.  In our Etienne.  In my heart. Letting  go  of all our ideas  of  what "normal"  really  looks  like. Embracing dysfunction. Living  with  two  little boys  that  started  their  lives  in an overcrowded  orphanage  is never  going  to  look  like a Disney movie.  Remember  those  after  school  specials  in  the 80s?  Like  that.  Only maybe  without  a quick resolution followed and a PSA.
So I  thought I had  truly  let  go  off  all  my grief  and ugliness. I  said I  didn't  care  that my house  is a bit damaged,  that  we  don't  all  sleep well,  that  it's  hard  to  find a  sitter  on Saturday  night.  And  most  of  the  time,  this  is  totally true.  Totally.
Except  there's  this  thing about behaving  at  school.  We've  been  saying  that  we  don't  care  if our kids  aren't  the  best readers  or mathematicians  but  we  do  care  that  they  are  all respectful  to  everyone;  that  they  are showing God's  love  in  their  actions.  To  me,  it  seems fairly straightforward  that  if a  grown  up  says "be  quiet!"  you  do  it. And  when  you obey,  you  show God’s  love  to  your  teacher.
E's  poor  teacher  has  begun  using  this  website  called "dojo"  to mark  his  daily behavior.   We  just  log  in  every  night  and -voila!-  there  is a  cute monster  with a behavior pie  chart  thingy. My kid can not, CAN NOT, not  talk. Don't  get  me  wrong,  it's  light  years better  than the regular  visits  to  the principal.  But  he's  still failing miserably  at getting  through  the  day  in the  classroom.
Today's talking  was  off the  chart lousy.   I'm  trying  to  rationalize   with  him as  we  do our strict  after  school routine (high protein snack,  laps around  the house, help mommy in the kitchen).  Even  as I  talk, I  know  it's pointless.  Finally, I sighed  and  asked  him why  it was  so  hard  not  to  talk.  I  swear  this  is  what  he said:
"I need  to  tell my  table  that Jesus suffered because He  loves  them  so  much.  I need to  tell  them  that."
Oh. I  feel  like God  just  took  me  and  shook  me  upside  down.  Like He is shouting "Hello, Kara,  this  life  is  so  much  bigger  than talking  in  class.  This  boy's  worth  is  why I died."
Holy  awesome.  How  do  we discipline a  child  who  is desperate  to  share  the gospel?  So desperate,  in  fact,  that  he's choosing  to sacrifice a  trip  to Pizza Machine ( we  are not above bribes)  because he NEEDS  to  tell others  the Good News.
I am  not  sure  how  to navigate  this  one.  But I  am beyond humbled to be trying  to figure it out.

Tuesday, October 8, 2013


This is a first!
     Friday Etienne got his first ever "Way to go!"  These are awarded by the teacher for either being respectful, responsible, safe or caring.  This was kind of a big deal (for obvious reasons).  Then, on the way home, he chucked it out the window.  Typical irony of our life.  We love small victories and funny stories.
     We had parent/teacher conferences tonight.  Cheering that we haven't had calls from the Principal this year.  Thankful that no parents have complained or threatened us (not exaggerating, true stories).  Bummed that E's poor teacher has to discuss a lot behavior drama with us.  Bummed that school is not his thing.  He is getting English Language Learning (ELL) again; she says that she can definitely identify some language barriers.  Still.  Etienne is also getting some supplemental reading.  These are services that I never would have imagined I would be so appreciative or rely upon.  They are essential for my son to learn.
     Rejoicing that she said "Some of the things he says amaze me.  There are times that he comprehends things beyond years.  It's like he's an old soul."  This brought tears to my eyes.  The only prayer that I have ever had for Etienne in public school was that people could see the real him; that his behaviors wouldn't hinder relationships or learning.  Ultimately, his classmates and the staff around him can see his loving heart and caring ways.
     I spent this morning in worship alone.  Reading scripture and listening to music.  Reflecting on how far God has brought our family and my heart.  I can't believe that the softness in my son's eyes, the way he leans into me when I am near him, or how in the past week alone we have been "lunch buddies" (packing the same lunch) and "work buddies," (doing home repair together!).  This is so much evidence of God's grace in our home, in E's healing and my heart.
     Etienne is back to having a difficult time sleeping at night.  This makes learning, behaving and functioning all day long a lot harder for our man.  We have totally compensated over the years as to how much rest we need, but our prayer for E is that he may rest well each night so that behaving and learning is a little easier during the day.

Thursday, October 3, 2013

Nothing so broken.

   A couple of nights ago I got one of those moments.  You know the ones.  The kind that need savored, captured in  a corner of your heart where you will never, ever lose it.  Even in the midst of it, I told myself that I would relive this moment even when I was old and gray.  Over the last few years, since we adopted two of our children from Rwanda, many of our moments have been rough.  Painful and not blog-worthy.  But the other night, I was gifted with a sweet moment over the letter 'W.'
     E's been home a long time now.  Four years today, in fact.  Long enough that most of our community doesn't really remember us from before we became insane (eh, I mean a party of 6).  Long enough that it's easy for outsiders not to possibly grasp the enormity of how we became we.  The intricacies that weaved our boys to us.  Long enough not to understand that sometimes even the littlest thing, like only eating two helpings at dinner instead of five is a really big deal.  Or how a six year old finally, finally recognizing the alphabet after four years of practice is enough to send his mama into a heap of tears.
     It's no secret that school isn't E's thing.  Kindergarten was really all about attempting to grasp some of the general expectations that the world has on people.  Don't put your feet on your neighbor.  Stop clogging the toilets with paper towels.  Avoid throwing your socks on other people's faces.  Those.  And also recognizing the alphabet, counting to 20.  Tying your shoes.  Sigh.  By spring time, E hadn't really mastered any of the above listed.  He did, however, share the gospel with at least 3 classmates, open his milk by himself and wrapped his way into his teacher's heart.  That's about it.
     Before E had started school, I had done a couple of years of "homework" with E every day to help him try to catch up to the rest of the kids that didn't have three languages scrambled into their heads before the age of 4.  Sometimes our homework involved tubs of rice, a string of dyed pasta or a bucket of water.  We used clay.  We explored forests.  We celebrated when E sat for 5 minutes straight.  Eventually, I realized I wasn't getting anywhere.  The boy still had a blank look when we read "Chicka Chicka Boom."  Every patient tactic I used failed.  Two years of our efforts, and at the end of kindergarten he could not if his life depended on it identify more than a handful of letters.  We knew, being the savvy attachment parenting gurus that we are, that this was because our son was still struggling to bond with us as his forever family.  There was this wall between my son and me.  I finally threw in the cards the day that my sister-in-law pointed to a McDonald's cup and asked him the letter. He didn't know I was nearby as he proudly said "M."    My stomach lurched and tears filled my eyes.  That was the last day that I did any extra "homework" with my son.  We still read books as a family each night, but I quit trying to help E learn.  It was pointless.  He still cringed when I touched him.  Our nights were sleepless, filled with a wandering six year old, wet linens and  restless sleep.  The kid still glazed over when I told him that I loved him.  Each day we were filling every minute with strict routine and structure for our son; giving him less opportunity to spiral into uncontrollable behavior.  After three and a half years, we had reached a point where I really believed that God would redeem my son.  But  redemption would not come in my lifetime.
     So we decided to go to Africa.  Coworkers, the same ones that weathered years of me swallowing tears, avoiding calls from the Principal's office, generally looking frazzled, raised their eye brows.  Family politely, subtly questioned if that was a good plan "for E."  Why not?  Really, we'd already been in survival mode for so long.  Part of me wanted the 16 hr flight to just sleep.  The rest of me just needed a break from constant frustration.  It hurts to keep on loving on someone that doesn't reciprocate.  We had reached a point where we knew that whatever repercussions would come from our trip weren't anything worse that what we were already living.
     We came home to the best summer ever.  The kid didn't wiggle away from my touch.  He looked me in the eye.  We all six had fun.  We laughed.  We didn't speak of it, but Ryan and I felt that there had been a shift in our home.   I found the energy to work on a little "homework" again.  The week before school started, I asked E to do chalk on the driveway with me.  At first he whined, but eventually I convinced him we could make a game.  First, I drew a whale.  He guessed it.  Then I drew a whistle.  After the whistle came the wave.  Soon, E got that we were making the 'W' sound.  It's a tricky one.  Just say 'w' aloud.  Doesn't it sound like it should start with a 'd?'  I held up my middle three fingers, forming a wave or a 'W.'  E could see it.  Holding his middle fingers formed the shape of a wave and the letter.  It was pure luck that I pulled that wave/three finger W thing together on th"e spot like that.  Whatever.  I asked the other kids to say 'w' words throughout the day to help their brother with the repetitiveness of it.  For a couple of days, the six of us did great holding our three fingers up for a 'w,' trying our best to use silly words like "wing nut" and "walrus whisperer" in normal conversation.  Then school came and we jumped into our fall routines of school, sports, drama, work.  Life goes on.
     Ryan and I were tucking E in the other night.  I was feeling a little guilty that we hadn't read that night, we'd watched "Wipe Out," instead.  Ah-ha!  "E, was does 'Wipe Out' start with?"  I asked.  It had been at least a week since we had practiced the tricky letter.  E thought for a moment, then said
"Wa, wa, wa.  W! Wipe Out starts with 'w'!"  He grinned and held up his three middle fingers, forming his wave.
"Worm! Water! Wave! Wiggle!"  He continued with his words.  We were all three smiling big, goofy grins.  Then Ryan asked E.

"E, who taught you the letter 'w?'  Was it grandma? Was it at school?  On Sesame Street?"

     A slow grin spread across E's face.  He put his arms around me, sort of pulling me to his chest.  Then he said
"Mommy taught it to me."
     By this time, I didn't just have tears in my eyes.  I was crying hard and E kept wiping my face.  We didn't need words to explain why this was a big deal.  E knew just like his parents.  That wall had come down.  He learned something from his mama.  For the first time ever.
     Sure, one could argue that I have indirectly taught my son many things since bringing him home.  Speaking English, brushing his teeth or blowing his nose are all things he's learned living in a family.  Those are all necessary skills for a child in a structured setting.  This was very different.  My efforts, four years of wheels spinning, hadn't ever gotten us anywhere.  And here we were, on a random school night in September, crying our eyes out over the letter 'w.'  It couldn't have been more perfect.  Another chapter in our E's story that only our Creator could write.
     Redemption has come.  In my lifetime.  In unexpected and beautifully messy ways.  It wasn't me.  It wasn't the constant structure or framework.  I can't attribute it to attachment parenting or a good therapist.  It's so much more than that.  God's love has knocked down that wall that brokenness and abandonment had built around my E.  And it's not going anywhere.  I can feel and see and tangibly touch the changes in my E's heart.  His eyes are soft and he leans against me when we are near.  E is all mine and I am all his.

Friday, August 30, 2013

Birth Moms

     I swear that the kids save up their most awkard ("Mom, where do you catch the baby out of?), embarrassing ("LOOK! That man looks like Chunk!) and heart stopping (see below) conversations for when Ryan is at work.  I get to be the one to fumble, usually tearfully, through these moments with them.
     To be honest, Blake has been a stinker this week.  That kid is either really, really good or really, really bad.  Luckily, he's usually great.  Not so much this week.  Being the instigator that he is, Blake had managed to get his brothers naked, screaming and running circles around the dining room table.  At one point, I hollered in my toughest voice something about birthing Blake into this world and taking him back out of it.  Don't judge.  You weren't herding loud, nude boys.
     A short while later, as I was lathering lotion on the now clean, naked boys, Ezekiel began to cry.  Really big tears rolled down his soft cheeks.  Sweet boy said in his deep voice
"Mommy, I don't know if I am supposed to love you or my birth mommy more."
     Oh my heart.  I wrapped him in the biggest mommy hug I could and rocked him.  I told him that there is room enough to love us both.  That sometimes he may not want to love her at all and that's okay.  That sometimes he may not want to love me and that's okay too.  He just cried harder and said
"Keep hugging me, Mommy."
     I reminded my Zeke that his birth mom could not give him clean water or food or a safe place to live.  He asked if she was dead and I was honest.  I said I didn't know, that only God really knew.  I said that it really stinks that we don't know for sure but that we do know for sure that I am his real, forever mama.  That God made us family.  Then Molly, whom by this time was rubbing Ezekiel's back, said
"Zeke, remember how God loves us all so much? Remember how He doesn't love some people more than others?  You can have a different kind of love for both your mamas and it doesn't have to be more or less."
     She rocks that big sister thing.  I realized later that my lame comment about birthing Blake must have stuck in sweet Zeke's head.  Ugh.  I always knew that this conversation would come up.  This is one that I've said over and over to myself, in my head.  But saying it aloud to my son as his big body shook with tears wasn't something that I could ever really prepare for.  It's the sin of the world that there are orphans.  That birth moms can't or won't keep their children.  But then there is that thing called grace. Once again,  I was reminded how sacred and precious and-holy cow!-huge this life we live is.  How blessed I am to be the one to guide their little hearts to Him.  
Molly walked Ezekiel to kindergarten but he would not let her hold his hand. Sniffle, sniffle.


Wednesday, August 28, 2013


    This week commemorates the 50th anniversary of Martin Luther King Jr's"I have a dream" speech.  I know you all know that.  What I also know is that some of you don't have is the perspective that I do; raising black children in the United States.  I'm not gonna lie.  The footage of Lincoln memorial, the images of Birmingham, Alabama, the words of Dr King's message, they all rock me to my core.  This is more than my country's ugly history; it's raw and real to me in ways I didn't previously understand.  Let me tell you why.
    Earlier this summer, from the back of the mini van, Etienne said "I don't think a lot of vanilla people like brown people."  Out of the clear blue sky.  We were seriously on the way to my brother's house.  Hadn't been in public, Ryan and I hadn't had any lively debates on racism.  The television was off.  This kind of statement, though we thought that we had prepared ourselves for it, shocked us and saddened us.  Our son is around other African Americans but he does not live in a predominately African American part of the country.  Our son is routinely around a community of trans racially adopted kids.  Yet he feels racism.  He doesn't have words for it or even a moment that he can pin point.  He just feels it.  Doesn't that make your stomach churn?  He is first grader in a middle class family surrounded by a lot of hipster educated, typically PC, sometimes pompous but always well meaning people.  Unbeknownst to E, his statement happened the same time that the jury reached a verdict on the Trayvon Martin trial.  I was already wondering if Etienne and Ezekiel how we would counsel our beautiful brown boys on image and style and racial profiling.  My heart hurt to know that someday, when my beautiful boys were young men, there would be people that would be judge them for their skin color.  Etienne's comment has haunted me since.
     Here's the other thing.  I know many white Americans believe that racism is pretty much dead.  I think that there are many people, even those that I love, that have cutesy Pinterest "Love is blind" pins and they listen to JayZ and they believe that all Americans have equality.  But being "color blind" is only avoiding that although Dr King's dreams are almost realized, we aren't quite there yet.  
      Last night, as Ryan and I were tucking Etienne into bed, he began to cry.  He said "I wish I looked like everyone else, Mom.  Some kids don't like my hair.  And I don't feel like the blonde kids don't like me."
Probably some of the worst words my child could say.  There is absolutely nothing that I could do to really fix this or to comfort him.
    So I told him that a long time ago, I began to know with all my being that God had extra special plans for Etienne.  I said that there was purpose in his struggles.  I told my E that right now his heart is a squishy ball of play dough. That God is just squeezing and shaping Etienne's play dough heart so that when the time comes, his heart will have more space to fit in all the other people in the world that have hurt and trials like him. Then I just held him and cried with him.
     Blake was on the bunk above us, hearing this conversation. He skittered on down and laid himself flat on Etienne.  Then he took E's face in his hands and he said
"E, don't you know that you are the strongest kid in the school?  You can run faster then everyone else.
"E, you can see your muscles without even trying. And your eyebrows catch sweat so you can see the football."
     Thank God for brothers. Thank God that Blake could meet Etienne where he was; speaking on his brother's level.  Our tears quickly turned to giggles.  Sigh.  
     It get's messier. This morning, Molly laid her head on my lap and sobbed. She sobbed because her heart broke to know that her brother felt racism, that her "ancestors" persecuted others, that she can not do a whole lot about any of it.  The boys, meanwhile, were engrossed in MLK Jr's son on the Today show; whether he was "kind of strong or kind of fat?"  All this before 8 AM.
     So you could argue that Etienne is just insecure (which he is, duh.).  You could say that I am more sensitive (of course I am, you would be too.).  But the fact is that my son's perception is that he is disliked because he is African American.  And that is the problem, isn't it?
     I will continue to acknowledge Etienne's feelings when he believes that he is judged by his skin tone.  I won't ever be that mom that gives false assurance on things I don't  know full well.  But I will tell Etienne that I know kids like him because he is the one to tie their shoes, to sit next to them when they are alone, to be a friend to them when they are lonely.  I will tell him that he is wanted, that he is loved and he is his Father's child.  And that he has the biggest, squishiest play dough heart ever.

Saturday, August 17, 2013

The Other Shoe.

     We've been waiting for the other shoe to drop since returning from Rwanda.  And guess what?  It hasn't.  That stinkin' shoe hasn't even slipped loose.
     For real.  Pinch me.  There have been countless moments when I have thought to myself "this is the best summer we have had since 2009!"  I can't tell you how many times my eyes have welled up with tears as Ryan and I sit on our red bench, watching our kids play baseball or catch fire flies.  I have not sat on the steps outside the boys' room, crying, once this summer (since '09, I would almost nightly collapse in tears next to Ryan on those stairs).  We are entering our last week of summer here...I think it's safe to say that we stopped waiting for the other shoe to drop.
     There is zero logic in our plan. Zero.  Who goes to the other side of the world to find healing for their son's hurt heart?  We haven't gone to therapy, there aren't any new supplements or theories or attachment techniques.  It's just another chapter that God has written in Etienne's life.  And I am so, so thankful for this illogical twist.
     We still have our wet beds, our crashing into everything, our general random-weird-post institution behavior.  But the dark, flat stares, the manipulating lies, the hurtful actions are nothing like what we've survived in the past.
     Part of it is that I have embraced that my E will never function  like other kids.  Don't judge-let me explain.  For example,  I know Etienne's cues these days and I'm meeting him where he's at.  If he's been out of his comfort zone, over stimulated or tired, it doesn't work to try to snuggle him or even to have him nap.  Instead, we've taken to running together.  The physical exercise helps him regulate himself as well as taking him away from the stimuli (or the grown up that is low on patience).  So when he's starting to do flips off the furniture (I'm not kidding) or laughing his high pitched tired scream, I make him run five laps around the perimeter of the house.  Corporal punishment? Nope, he likes it and we call it "preseason conditioning."
     School starts soon.  E says he could "stay in summer forever."  I'm not gonna lie; I have my own fears about him returning to sitting in a desk, in a classroom with people that don't know his heart.  I get nervous to think that the expectations of the school are going to be really, really challenging for him.  But then I go the grocery store and another mother tells me that E was always the boy that tied her son's shoes.  Or we work in the school garden and his old teacher shares how he always offered to pray for his classmates.  And I know God is using my E in that public school to bring Him glory.
      I think back to a few months ago, when we were so afraid of the aftermath of going to Africa.  And that aftermath has been the best summer of our lives: a swimming, books, ice cream, tan lines, s'mores, road trips, fire flies,  bare feet kinda summer.  It was worth it.  The last four years of feeling like we were just hanging on.  They have been worth every moment we have savored this summer.  So bring on first grade! (Gulp.)  

Friday, July 26, 2013

Partnering with Visiting Orphans


     Some of you may know that Ryan and I are team leaders for an organization called Visiting Orphans (VO).  This is an amazing group of people that we are proud to be a part of.  VO works to send teams into orphanages in all corners of the world with the intent to simply love on children.
     This is especially near to our hearts because we have survived 4 years post adoption with two beautiful boys that started their lives not knowing love.  Eye contact, touch and even direct conversation with my sons sent them into survival mode.  Etienne would snuggle up to any stranger on the street; oblivious to whom it may have been.  Zeke sobbed every time I looked into his eyes.  That is what a lack of love looked like.
     Visiting Orphans does not install wells.  They don't build medical clinics.  They love the least of these.  And that is messy, complicated work.  You may read or hear conversations about whether this is harmful or not: to give kids touch and attention and then to leave again.  Here's the deal.  We are at this point pretty knowledgeable on the subject of vulnerable children.  And we ask you this: what is the alternative?  To turn away?  To do nothing?
     Ryan and I will partner with VO for as long as they will take us.  We love their hearts, their mission and the direction that they allow God to lead them.  Our team from June has launched a foundation, Imana Kids, as fruit from their trip to Kimisagara.  Lives are changed.  People are moved.  God is at work.
     So read the blogs if you want.  But please know that VO trips are with leaders that are trained and knowledgeable on vulnerable children, on the culture and the people of the countries they serve and most especially on the children that often have deep wounds and attachment issues.  It is not easy work.  But it is advancing His kingdom; it's messy and beautiful and meaningful and lasting.
     Our goal for Imana Kids is that as families and individuals sponsor children, they may partner with VO to visit their sponsored child; investing long term in the life of a child.  We are open to questions, to information and even to skeptics.  In the meantime, check out this video.

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Saying "yes"

     I can see it in their eyes.  The people that know our family from a distance.  Neighbors or coworkers that have maybe seen a glimpse of the state of stress that our home has (frequently) been in for the past four years.  I sense the judgement; how they believe that we are nuts when we say we have launched a foundation.
     Their questions: Why would they commit to more? Because God has blessed us with a team of resources.   Don't they need to focus on the kids that they already have? We want our kids to learn to obey God even if the world does not. What do they know about a foundation? Nothing.  But we are quick learners.
    I imagine that when Simon Peter threw aside his nets and gave up his life as a fisherman, the guys in the next boat raised their eyebrows.  Don't misread me here.  There aren't plans to quit my day job.  I am just having a new appreciation for what it feels like to say "Yes!" more loudly and bolder than we ever have before.  To not get too comfortable.
     When I was younger, I was the kid that volunteered to host the party, make the extra posters, run for the next class office.  Somewhere between there and here, I stopped saying yes to others.  It was the most liberating feeling NOT to sign up to bring cupcakes or substitute for Sunday school.  I know that is a bold statement but you have to understand that my saying yes was to please those around me.  My identity isn't in whether the rest of the moms think I have it all together.  My identity is in my maker.
     Standing at the gates of Kimisagara, I could hear God shouting at me as I watched my husband hold those sweet faces in his hands and tell them that they had a heavenly father.  I felt God tapping on my heart as my only daughter sobbed as she said goodbye to Rwanda.  And being home to some of the most calm, RAD free days in four years just makes His plan that much more clear.  Our future is with these kids.
     We have some amazing, amazing team members that are doing this with us.  Our family has given us their back yards, their time, and most importantly, their blessing.  Those that know us well-and know that God is the creator of some of the craziest story lines-are right beside us in this.  We are one blessed family to be loved like this.
     There won't be a finished basement, a weekend away or a new windshield on the van.  As Ryan reminded me, none of those are advancing the kingdom of God.  I love it that this is the man that leads my family.  And I'm not gonna lie, he's leading me where I have always hoped to be!  So yes, we are saying "yes."  Besides, Blake, E and Zeke reminded me tonight that if you say no to God, you may end up in the belly of a fish.

Sunday, July 7, 2013


     Today I heard a sermon about worship that focused on Psalm 95.  Part of worship is being in awe of how big God is.  How little we are.  Maybe it's looking at the Rocky Mountains, hearing the waves of the Pacific crash onto the shore or watching your baby breathe his first breath.
     For me, I am living in awe right now.  It's like a light bulb came on in our house after all these years of having it blink on and off.  Let me explain.
     A month ago, when we were preparing to leave for Rwanda, we got a lot of questions about our trip, leaving our former orphan to return to his country, would effect him.  How he would cope and what the aftermath would look like for us.  The first of the awe was that I had zero, zero, worries about this.  I felt totally at peace and there wasn't an ounce of anxiety regarding Etienne or his brothers.  Wow, this felt good. It feels good to feel good!
     Here we are, three weeks after coming home, doing great.  DOING GREAT!!!  Our first night home, Etienne said the dinner pray.  It was eloquent and beautiful and thoughtful.  That first night, he prayed for the kids we left behind.  And since that night, he is still on board.  No lying.  No destruction.  No all nighters.  It's like God had been working Etienne up for this too.
     So I am in awe.  I am in awe that God could take all our years of struggle to shape us for this.  I am in awe that He has given Etienne a peace that only He can give.  I am in awe that us leaving the continent for many, many nights would result in....healing.  I am crying as I type that.
     That is worship.  The awe at my family and what God is doing.  Every theory, every book, every support group; none of it has had the outcome of Ryan and I returning to an orphanage in Rwanda without Etienne. That is God.  That is awe.  That is my worship.  

Goofball is a fish.  The mask is for effect only.

     Wait, there's more.

     Our foundation is taking off.  Imana Kids is the real deal.  I mean, God is moving.  Things are coming together and they aren't stressful or hard or frustrating.  Babies aren't being born while I am on call (more time to work on bylaws and such!), necessary documents are easy to find, people answer their emails, the kids get along while we write.  Who knew a college kid, a couple of teachers and a midwife could figure out a non-profit?  We have 4 kick-off parties with a goal of $10,000 by Labor Day.  It's big.  God is bigger.  That's awe.  It's worship; my life is worship.

Thursday, June 27, 2013

We'd Like to Share....

Welcome to Kimisagara. Watch your step.
Because of this compassion.

Because of Anasis.

Because my husband's heart broke.  And mine was already in pieces for Ismail.

Because of my boys.

     It became very clear during our time at Kimisagara that God had big plans for us.  For once, I didn't have words.  I couldn't write and I couldn't put my finger on it.  Ryan had a full heart and a much more clear vision for what work needed to be done.
     Dieudonne and I agreed that we would wait one week.  During that week we would pray and we would listen to God for direction.  That was Thursday.  By Saturday morning (7AM, we were still on East Africa time), he was texting me about the kids.  Here we are, a week later.  This is what we've got.

   We have a name.  A 501c3 submitted.  3 conference calls, a lot of cell phone minutes and an inbox full of God screaming "YES!THIS IS WHAT YOU NEED TO DO!" in the form of agencies, partners, mentors and people that know more than us.  We also have our team.  Dieudonne, Kayla, Ryan and I spent today getting coached by His Chase .  We are ready to share our mission:

  1. That every child of Kimisagara Orphanage shall know that they are a child of God (1 John 1:3)
  2. Every child of Kimisagara will receive the best education for them.
  3. That basic needs including clean water, food and shelter are met.

     What makes us different then every other non-profit?  It isn't us that is different.  It's Peter, Claude, Ismail, Issa and Gloria.  It's how Inasis stopped kicking around a ball to pick up a crying toddler.  It's about how these kids can sit on their dirt play space and overlook the world; hearing and seeing the schools and homes and safety that is all out of reach.  And yet they wrote this:

   To be honest, we are overwhelmed but incredibly encouraged and confident.  The plan is written and it's big.  Our goal is to have every child over the age of 10 sponsored and in a boarding school by the first week of January (when the new school year and term start).  Sponsors will have the option to visit their child each summer with Ryan and me.  We also plan to have an option for those that have excelled academically and socially to participate in an exchange student program here in Council Bluffs.  Ryan's school has been DHS approved and the initial I-20 documents are ready.  Room for more, right?
   It's a lot.  It's going to require some launch parties, some return travel to Rwanda, a lot of prayer and a ton of support from our community.  Kayla, D, Ryan and I are confident that our community is big.  We are the body of Christ and we are commanded to do this.  So let's go.
PS  Website up soon.  Invites in the works.

Friday, June 21, 2013


     I couldn't write in Rwanda.  I didn't have the words and I couldn't put my finger on what was going on.  I could share a lot of stories, pictures and feelings with you but it would not be enough.
     All I can do now is share that this is where Ryan and I met our future.  I can see clearly that God has been leading us here all along.
     The years of struggling to know how to love without restrain our Rwandan sons.  It was all for this.  Kimisagara is filled full of boys and young men.  The ones too big to hold and too grown up to tickle.  I was overwhelmed by the need to love them.  And even more overwhelmed that He has put that same urgency to do this in the heart of my husband and my D.
     What's really amazing is how God has orchestrated all this.  Let me tell you first about my D.  Dieudonne is a college kid in Omaha.  My brother introduced him to me years ago, when he was 18, because he thought maybe at the time he wanted a career in healthcare.  Dieudonne ended up at college near us, so we often would pick him up from the dorms and bring him to our small group for dinner.  I need to mention that D is a Burundian refugee and his story is his to share.  But obviously, he looks like some of my children, he is a great role model for all of them and his history overlaps with Rwanda's.  Last year, when we decided to lead this trip, we invited Dieudonne over.  When he said he wanted to go, we felt like he absolutely, positively had to be on our team.  He could interpret for us.  He could be an example and relate to these children more than anyone else, maybe ever.  And it would be an opportunity for him to return to his home (or close to it).  There were hurdles like crazy to get him back to Africa.  God opened windows when doors shut, He moved mountains and He cleared a path.  Dieudonne's presence in Kimisagara has been priceless.
     Midway through our time in Kimisagara, Dieudonne and I began talking about how every one of the older kids and men wanted to be in school.  We started asking about the cost.  We made a plan.  Our team began taking portraits of every single child and young adult in the orphanage.  We went back to our guest house and did this.
    With the help of all our team and the staff at the guest house, we created a spread sheet and gave every face a number.  Then we went back.
     Dieudonne and I sat on a stone ledge over a cliff in a hallway.  And we started to ask questions.  We wanted to get every face a name and a story.  It was hard.  Really hard.  But that is a story for another day.  What happened when we asked these questions was that this place became holy.  I took off my shoes as I listened.  Sometimes I would look at my D and he would say, "Did you expect this to be different?"  and we would continue on.  It felt like the most important thing I have ever done.
They stayed near us even after we finished.  Every now and then, Dieudonne would strum his guitar.

     We are spending this time now praying and waiting on God.  Next week, we will begin to write the stories out.  And we both know that our path is together, following God, in the future with these children.
     Then there is this man that I married.  I know we both assumed that he would be the man in charge of the money, keeping to schedule and generally balancing me out.  What we didn't expect was for God to shift Ryan's heart parallel to mine in so many more ways.  "Don't tell Kara, but this place does kinda feel like home," was his FB status when we landed in Rwanda.  He loved without restraint.  He found those children that stayed back, the ones with the downcast eyes in the shadows. He held their faces so that he could look in their eyes and he told them that they were loved by God and that they mattered to us.  At night, he knew when to comfort the team and when to challenge them.  He cried. A lot.  And he promised them that he would be back soon.  Ryan was he first person to enter Kimisagara and he was the last person to leave.    He has also informed me that he's ordering "How to Speak Kinyarwandan" on Amazon.  And he is always, always a man of his word.
Speaking truth to the fatherless. This is God's hands and feet.

     My boys at home didn't miss me at all; an answered prayer.  They did great.  We came home to them asking us what we were going to do next in Rwanda.  They just got it.  To us, this is more evidence that we are headed exactly where God wants us to be.  Remember, I am the mama that previously had drama filled weeks following a just a change in her work schedule.  This is big.  This is God.
     Our team included my parents.  To see their hearts break and to watch the physical and emotional stress that they endured humbled me so much.  Having my mom and dad love the least of these in Rwanda gives me confidence to carry on down this uncertain path.  It comforts me to know that they can truly understand why we feel called to this place.
     The rest of our team, I previously called it a band of misfits.  We could not have created a more mismatched-yet perfectly placed-group of people.  Each person had heart to give. No one hesitated, not once, despite conditions worse than anyone should ever live in.  They were beyond great.
     There aren't any words to describe Kimisagara. It is set apart from every other orphanage in that is it physically one of the most unsafe spaces I have visited but it also is the most love filled.  I saw God in the big kids that carried the little ones on their backs.  I felt love in the joyous singing that spontaneously erupted.  I witnessed young men, orphaned their whole lives, snuggle babies just because they could.  Not only that, but women began to trickle in, telling Dieudonne and me that this place welcomed them when their husband's left, when no one else would.
     That's why I took off my shoes.  Holy ground.  True religion.  Widows and orphans in their distress.  

This is my favorite.  My sons were never held like this.  And the walls above them didn't have this beauty.


Monday, June 10, 2013

Away We Go

   Tomorrrow Ryan, Molly and I head to Rwanda.  We are so blessed to have the opportunity to take loved ones with us.  Our time isn't long but every minute has been given a lot of thought and we are there with one intention: to love on kids who will probably never have an earthly family.
    A lot of people don't get it.  
  • "So you aren't, like, building a school or something?"  Nope, no building. No medical work.  Our job is to hold children that never get held.  Listen to kids that have something to say.  Pray for the mostly forgotten and forsaken. 
  • "It seems like that would just hurt those kids to give them attention and then leave them"  My scientific method, backed by years and years of research in child development, tells us that infants that get skin-to-skin contact for just an hour are healthier than children who aren't.  There is no price to place on giving a child touch.  The alternative, ignoring the 210 million orphans is worse.
  • "Don't you just want to take one home?"  Ugh.  This comment is the worst.  I know when people say this, they mean "it is so sad and if I saw that I would want to do more." So do more.  But don't consider children a souvenir or an accessory.
     While we are gone, we honestly have no worries regarding the boys.  They will be loved well (really, really well) by their Uncle Andy and Katie, then their Nana and Pops.  Dressing the crew is tricky, so I have labeled each boy for each day that we aren't here.  There are love notes stuck inside their underpants (I know boy humor), there are treats and fun activities and casseroles in the freezer.  I have been praying diligently for over a year that they don't miss us much while we are gone, that Etienne's heart will be confident in us, that our family here will have patience, strength and energy for My 3 Sons.  Truthfully, most of the time I feel like it's a Blake-E-Zeke world and the rest of us are sometimes invited in.  That is God's grace that we aren't worried about anything stateside.
     That being said, we covet your prayers!  Prayers that everyone stays safe and healthy, that Andy and Katie, Nana and Pops all have fun with little frustration. Prayers for good sleep for everyone. Prayers that Blake, E and Ezekiel just continue to hold onto each other (wrestling to the ground while doing so, I'm sure). Prayers that Ryan and I lead our team well,  both physically and spiritually.  
     Whew. This is crazy.  After all these years, it seems that we thrive on crazy.  

Thursday, May 30, 2013

...and it's gone.

     Tuesday marked the end of an era.  Tuesday was the last day that I had just a "Mommy Day," as Zeke called our time together.  Tuesday was my Bigs' last day of school.  I get them all four all summer long and then, come August, Zeke will head to kindergarten.  I didn't shed any tears, but I did make sure we did all our favorite things together: cooking, a hike and a picnic at the zoo.  I was very aware all day long, as he held my hand and talked and talked and talked, that this time has been so sacred. I am blessed with a husband that knew it best for our kids to have me until they went to school.  I am blessed by an employer that allowed me a flexible schedule.  I am blessed that we managed to navigate our schedules so that none of our kiddos ever went to a daycare.  They all got "Mommy Days."  Sigh.

PS  My dear, beloved home school friends have long been telling me that I need to keep Etienne home.  I have swallowed my pride and grasped the courage to write about this.  Next post.

Thursday, May 16, 2013


"I have never said 'Do not pee in the trash cans,' so I can't get mad that someone peed in all the trash cans."
     Those words actually came out of my mouth.  After the lengthy clean up that followed the lying, the manipulation and the tears, I wound up with my 69 lb six year old in my arms, rocking.  In my heart of hearts, I know that he can't cognitively understand empathy or consequences to his actions.  I equate it to an 18 month old that thinks it is funny when they hit you in the face.  You don't punish the infant or toddler because you know that they don't understand that they just hurt you; that their little brain can't comprehend their action yet.  So you patiently correct them and move along.  I feel bold sharing this because I know that many, many people would find this idea insane.  But until you live with a child that has been deeply wounded, you probably can't get it.  And that's okay.  I was there and I still find myself wanting to lash out when I am peeling up wet's hard.
     So that is where we are at.  We are trying to condition our brains to give up (for now, and don't judge) consequences, lectures or really much reaction for things like urinating in the trash can.  This means that my boy is doing everything with me or I am doing it for him.  And guess what? He isn't fighting it.
     As we were attempting to rock, this is what I said:
"No matter what you do in this life, I am strong enough to handle it.  There isn't anything you can do that I am not strong enough for.  I can do this because God chose me for you and because my strength is really His strength.  I will freak out.  I will cry.  But I will still be here with you. "
    And then I stumbled and fumbled my way to cradle him in my arms all the way to bed.  That's how we're rolling (for now).

Wednesday, May 8, 2013

Dwell on This

The past three days have been rough.  Really rough.  My spirit is depleted and I'm physically drained.  I have been dwelling on God's character because that is all that I know that is unchanging.  We had been talking about  this with our Rwanda team and yesterday my brother encouraged me to pray on this.

  • God is unchanging (Hebrews 13:8)
  • God's way is perfect (Psalm 18:30)
  • God is always good. Always. Psalm 100:5)
  • God will redeem (Isaiah 47:4)
  Last night I felt like redemption was very far away.  Then Zeke asked me to read out of his bible.  He picked the parable in Luke that Jesus tells of a lost sheep.  The little cartoon was of Jesus embracing one sheep out of a flock of 100, grinning a goofy grin, with all the other shepherds throwing a party.  That goofy image is imprinted with me now.
PS To all the other parents that meet my son.  Please show us grace.  If my child has hurt yours, it is because his heart is hurting.  He doesn't know how to feel safe.  He doesn't get empathy and his little mind can't control his impulses.  It's not an excuse.  It's just the reality.  We are trying.  Know that we have read every book, sought wise counsel, attempted each parenting theory.  Know that we have shed tears for your kiddo.  Ultimately, we rest in the God's character that He will indeed fix this too (Acts 13:38).

Thursday, May 2, 2013


I haven't been writing as much lately.
I struggle with my voice.  And that doesn't happen often.  I feel like I can't do justice trying to express this fine-feathered, often over and misused thing called hope.  I think of Kylie and JaninaF, my little trolls that has somehow found a space in my heart (I still really wanna buy them a coffee). Thoughts of them make me stop typing.  It isn't because I want their approval or I need to have "the last word."  It's because I feel so much sympathy for them that they are missing out.
Missing out on how much richer and fuller and more meaningful everything in life is when you have hope in something bigger than you.  When you find that hope that is unchanging, everlasting and unconditional.
I'm gonna continue to be honest here.  We've had to put on our boxing gloves for Etienne more than we'd like.  Old ugly stuff creeping back in.  I physically feel ill when he slips into the protective mode.  You know the one: the lying, manipulating, hurtful stuff that he does to to protect himself.  I can't stand that sometimes he still has a primal need to resist love.  Ugh.
But here's where hope comes in bigger and better.
There's been lots of lies this week.  Ones that hurt siblings and mama.  At bedtime, we were reading a story about when Moses had warned Pharaoh to free the  Israelites.  The gist of the devotion was that Pharaoh's pride had consequences and the little kiddo summary was "God, others, me."  Good stuff.  Etienne on his on accord said "So when you are lying you are just thinking about yourself and what you want, right?"  Bingo.
Sigh.  This is my son that routinely misses the entire plot of a movie, that until last week didn't realize Eve was a woman; that still loses a lot in translation.  But not this.  He got this.
That, dear trolls, is what hope looks like.

“Hope” is the thing with feathers -That perches in the soul -And sings the tune without the words -And never stops - at all - Emily Dickinson

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Why We Go.

     A year or so ago, a former classmate had a conversation with me regarding mission work in Rwanda.  He said something along the lines of "unless you are living there, aren't you really doing more harm than good?"  I have been haunted by this thought since.
     He isn't alone.  This is a common sentiment in my generation.  We want to empower people to help themselves.  We don't want to sweep in to "help," then leave again to return to our cozy lives stateside.  It's true too.  What good, really, is it for a well meaning group to just show up for a little window of time, build a house, paint a church, play with some kids, then leave again?
     I get it.  When people travel to developing countries do to projects, to give hand outs and "tour" the lives of the impoverished, it does hurt.  It's counterproductive to create a culture of reliance on handouts.  No one benefits long term in Africa, Central America or in the streets of America with this kind of service.  Of course we want to train people to care for themselves.  But what does not showing up at all really look like?
     Let me tell you the flip side of this thought for those that doubt.  I live with the results of not showing up, not caring and not investing in the lives of those children.
  • The flip side, when he is tired, he can't stand the feeling of his jeans on his tummy unless they are squeezing so tight that they cause skin breakdown.  The feeling of the threads of his socks leaves him on the floor in tears.
  • The flip side, he can't sleep all night without old memories creating havoc.  Without having a physiological response to fear when the lights are out and he is all alone.  That's what it looks like when we don't show up.
  • It looks like this child climbing on your husband's new coworker, inappropriately touching and cuddling with a stranger.  Any attention is attention, right?
  • Not showing up at all, it looks like that little brown eyed boy eating more food in than the rest of his family easily at every meal.  His little brain still, still, has doubts that there will be more food when he needs it.  That's what it looks like.
  • It looks like my sweet son closing his hand in the van door again and waiting calmly for me to open it to get his hand out. Without tears. 
     Doing nothing means that are thousands millions of children that don't get touched.  That don't have anyone look them in their eyes, count their toes, tell them they matter.  Those that argue for nature over nurture, I would venture to say are naive to what the lack of touch looks like in the rooms of an orphanage.  Did you know that those rooms are quiet?  The babies, they learn quickly that crying only uses energy.
     There isn't a numerical value for the time spent listening to a child, playing with them or just being present. If my son had been routinely rocked, snuggled and told that he was loved, I know without a doubt that the last three years of my live would have been very different.  
     And this is why we go.  Ryan and I know in our hearts and believe for our family that every moment matters.  

Tuesday, April 16, 2013


Hitting the desert yesterday to avoid the April snow.
     Yesterday we had another one of those conversations.  The kind where my heart ends up in my throat, I panic a little (Do I know what to say?!? Why is this happening without Ryan?!), I fumble with my words and then I jump in.
     The entourage and myself were hangin' in the desert at the zoo.  We were literally the only people in the place and spent a lot of time watching the hummingbirds.  Nothing out the ordinary.  Then Etienne said "Mom, I can remember riding on my mom's back before you got me.  She had black hair and everyone around me had brown skin too."
     Pause. What?
     I took a moment to respond.  I asked him how he felt to remember that.
"I don't know.  Maybe happy a little."  He skipped ahead of me with his siblings.  
     We go along thinking we are in the midst of an ordinary Monday, and then BOOM! some memory from the back of this kid's brain creeps up.  At first I thought that maybe he was mixing memories of photographs with memories from before he came home.  However, he hasn't wanted or seen photos in at least 3 years (his choice).  I guess I may think that he has memories from one of the older kids, the "nanny," carrying him.  Ultimately, I don't know and I don't think it matters that much since he says he felt okay with it.  
     It's probably nothing that E didn't sleep well last night; that he began his day at 4:50 AM.  I will ride this one out and see where we end up.  Someone asked me how I felt about this memory.  As long as he isn't hurting more from it, I will embrace it.  There are so many holes and speculations and unknowns in my boys' histories that if a flash of a black hair and brown skin brings Etienne comfort, I will take it.


Tuesday, April 9, 2013

I Can't Leave This Out.

     The genocide of Rwanda started 19 years yesterday.  My heart has been heavy all week, reflecting on a country and a people that I so dearly love.  That I consider part of my own family tree.  I haven't ever written about those 91 days; partly because my words could never capture the horror, the suffering or the still painful wounds that Rwandans feel today.  If you aren't familiar with the genocide, please read a bit here.
     In 1994, I vaguely remember some short news clips regarding Tutsis and Hutus and machete warfare.  In the summer after it was over.  I was busy being a camp counselor and my biggest worry was my weekend plans.  I had no idea that this genocide would someday intertwined with my future.
     You see, no matter which way we spin it, there isn't any denying the impact of this piece of history in my sons lives.  Most likely, their birth parents were orphaned by the genocide.  There are is very real chance that their own birth families were killing each other during those horrifying few months.
      Can you imagine how we will tell their story?  How will we explain that it is was only pure evil that led to the massacre of 20% of the population?  As they get older, I think a lot about this.  Ryan and I try to absorb anything Rwandan-movies, books, presentations, groups; because we love Rwandans but also because we want to know as much as we can about our family history.  When God chose Rwanda for us, we knew our family would forever become Rwandan-American.  And so we crave anything we can get our hands on, whether painful or joyous.
     Joyous.  I absolutely use joyous when I describe Rwanda's history.  Let me explain.
     As we traveled the streets of Rwanda in 2009, we noticed the men in baby pink jumpsuits, filling pot holes, tending to gardens or loaded together in the backs of trucks.  We knew that these men had been convicted of war crimes.  The man driving us around, he was a survivor.  A survivor with machete scars on his face that made it impossible to ignore what had happened to him.  Yet one afternoon, as we waited outside a passport office, I watched as that kind man, that man that snuggled my skinny blond son and greeted my Molly with a kiss on the head each morning, shake hands with a man in a pink jumpsuit.  He shook his hand and exchanged pleasantries.  I don't speak Rwandan and it doesn't matter what they said.  It was this act that is burned into my memory forever.  This act of forgiveness.
     I am sure that our driver wasn't confronting his perpetrator when he shook that man's hand.  Yet he was, wasn't he?  Showing kindness to a group of people that he killed his parents.  Who does that?
     Rwandans do that.  Everywhere.  Those men in pink, they are on the streets intentionally.  They are there so that reconciliation can and does and will continue to happen.  And that leads to healing and recovery and growth.  And that is one reason that I am in love with the land of a thousand hills.
     And that is the part of the story that I will so proudly tell Etienne and Ezekiel.  That their family is part of a story of forgiveness so remarkable that the rest of the world has paused to soak it in.  That their birth country is a place of a thousand hills, with a history of heartache but with even more with hope.

“What I learned in Rwanda was that God is not absent when great evil is unleashed. Whether that evil is man-made or helped along by darker forces, God is right there, saving those who respond to His urgings and trying to heal the rest.” 
― James Riordan

“In all my travels, I've never seen a country's population more determined to forgive, and to build and succeed than in Rwanda.” 
― Rick WarrenThe Bishop of Rwanda: Finding Forgiveness Amidst a Pile of Bones

“Wherever God spends the day, He comes home to sleep in Rwanda.” 
― Naomi BenaronRunning the Rift

Tuesday, April 2, 2013

Well this is new.

   Crazy Tuesdays.  Ryan teaches at a junior college which leaves me shuttling everyone from point A to point B.  I met him at Etienne's football practice, dropped E off, then left to get Molly at her rehearsal.  An hour later, Molly, Zeke and I were taking a walk as Ryan and the other boys arrived home.  A few minutes later, Etienne ran to catch up with us, already in tears.  He is mad.  Apparently, flag football was "good."   We attempted to continue our walk but E was tearful and looking for a fight.  After bullying Zeke and being scolded, he was literally on the sidewalk having a full out temper tantrum.  The 68lb'r was screaming, kicking, punching and sobbing as I struggled to identify our trigger to the meltdown.  I let the other kids move on ahead, sat down on the sidewalk, and wrapped him in a full body hug.  Mostly to smother the screaming and avoid neighbors calling CPS.  We lay on the sidewalk until he could calm himself enough to insert a thumb in the mouth (don't judge, this is our self soothing to get calm), but he still couldn't walk without yelling and crying at me.  Eventually, I just picked him up and carried him the couple blocks home.  Ryan and I turned on some lullaby music, ran a warm bath and stuck him in there alone for a bit.
   Ten minutes of lullaby songs and lavender bath water later, Etienne was able to verbalize that he was really mad at me.  It was one of those moments where I had patience and compassion only by the grace of God because his fit, rage and tears had been off the chart.  But I didn't lose it and I wasn't faking it as I waited for an explanation.
"Mommy, I was mad at you that you didn't stay with me at my football practice.  You weren't with me."
     Throat swelling shut.  Eyes melting.  No words.  I wrapped him up in a towel and a hug.  We stayed that way a few minutes.  When I found words, I told him that maybe we could work on our emotions some more.  That maybe he was feeling afraid that I wasn't with him; and that maybe he felt sad when we were apart.  We made a plan that next time he feels this way, he will give me a hug and tell me that he had missed me.
     This is another big leap forward.  I am conditioned to the ridiculous melt downs and fits.  I understand the reasoning that my son feels abandoned and that he can't comprehend his feelings.  I am a RAD mom; it's how we roll.  What I am not used to is this progress, this stretching of his little heart.  But I am a quick learner.   I will take it.