Monday, November 28, 2011

Compassion Fatigue

My baby has a fever.  I think he's teething (finally!).  He's crabby, droopy-eyed, and a little sluggish.

Mostly, though, he just wants his Mama.

And man, do I feel bad for him.  I want to snuggle him.  Rock him.  Love on him.  Make him feel better, even though he's being a bit of a pain in the backside.

Even though he kept me up half the night last night....the eve of the busiest week of my year.

I'm exhausted this morning.  I'm a bit crabby myself, and I'm having to make a concerted effort to function in a regular kind of way.  Yet here is little Baby K, clapping his hands and smiling his giant still-toothless smile at me, and there's no way I can be mad at him.  No way I can take his actions personally. 

It's easy to forgive him; I know he's not being crabby on purpose. 
He just doesn't feel right. 
He's sick.

Know what I wish?  That I could always have the same perspective with my RAD kids.

I'm stuck in a funk of what we parents of traumatized kids call Compassion Fatigue.  I know what my older kids went through as babies and toddlers, I have a pretty good idea of what caused them to be the way they are, but their endless annoying, disrespectful, controlling behavior is blocking all of that out right now.

Frankly, I want them to just knock it off and act right. 

But just like my tiny teething baby, I have to remember:

I need to forgive them; they aren't being controlling on purpose.
Their brains just don't work right.
They're sick.

And when all else fails, it helps to visualize them as crabby, droopy-eyed, fevered little babies, crying their hearts out for someone to pick them up and comfort them.  Snuggle them.  Love on them.  Care about them. 

When they were babies, there's a good chance that no one ever came.  And that makes me sad....makes the compassion flow a little easier, when I think about them being sick or teething or hungry or cold or wet or dirty or scared and crying out in vain.  Left totally, completely alone to comfort themselves.

When deep down, all they really want is their Mama.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Her Own Two Cents

Our five-year-old daughter, Miss J, is very gifted at thinking of reasons to get out of bed.  Sometimes we can tell that she's been using all her powers of creativity to come up with what she thinks is the perfect plan to escape the prison of bedtime. 

Over the past two years or so, Miss J has had countless "tummy aches", a few "fevers", and several phantom aches and pains.  One time, she happily announced that she had broken her ribs.  The problem (or the good thing for us) is she's a really bad liar.  She prances out into the living room and announces quite nonchalantly,

"My tummy hurts!"        

Or, she knocks at our bedroom door and says with a little smile,

"I fell out of bed!"  
                            And you're obviously not injured, so climb back in!   
"There's a cat in my room!"  
                            And I know for a fact that you let him in, so let him back out!  
"I think I might have a headache!"   
                            You think you might have a headache?  And you're happy about it? 

At times, even her genuine pleas have been hilariously self-incriminating, like two hours after she's gone to bed, she comes out crying that she broke her necklace or lost her toy down the back of the bed, which naturally leads to the question "Why on earth are you playing with a toy or a necklace when you should have been asleep two hours ago?!" 

Although she's duped a few well-meaning grandparents and babysitters, as you've probably guessed by now, my husband and I rarely fall for any of Miss J's little schemes.  She's usually told to go immediately back to bed and not to get out again, which she does without complaining, turning around to quip "Goodnight, Mama!" as she skips back to bed.  Little putz of an actress. 

However, when she comes into the room with eyes full of tears, like she did last night, we try to take her seriously.  Something was truly bothering her, we could tell.

"Maybe something really is wrong this time," we wondered. 
"Maybe it's not just something silly."

Or maybe our daughter has just swallowed two pennies because she was trying to clean them with her mouth.

Makes perfect cents to me.

P.S.  Don't worry.  We called the doctor, and Miss J will be fine.  Most objects less than an inch in diameter (except for batteries, magnets and sharp objects) usually pass quite easily through the digestive system.  However, she will probably suffer some emotional damage for being teased mercilessly about always having to put in her own two cents.

Monday, November 21, 2011

The Walk

I got in a  car accident  today.

                                                   Not a BIG one, just a teeny tiny one...

...but  t o t a l l y  my fault.

This morning was one of those mornings that refused to wake up and take the day by storm.  It wanted to meander and daydream and pause, all the while expecting the minute hand on the clock to follow suit.  It refused.  As the minutes sped by, the Queen of this humble green castle (myself) became restless and crabby.  Her demeanor reflected the panic of impending tardiness, and she began barking orders to her lowly (only because they're short) subjects, which didn't succeed in motivating the morning (or the subjects) one bit.

The morning did, at the very least, offer up sunshine and beautiful frosty blue skies, which were fully appreciated as we climbed into the Royal Minivan nearly an hour past the start of kindergarten.  Knowing that the morning's antagonism had already dampened the spirits of her subjects, the Queen spent several minutes entertaining them as a "fire-breathing" (or frost-breathing) dragon, restoring the laughter and smiles to her little kingdom.  Well worth being five minutes later, and after kisses and hugs, Princess J skipped happily into school.

Off we went to deliver shoebox gifts to our church, which were supposed to have been turned in yesterday, but were being loaded into shipping boxes this morning.  One shoebox filled by each of our children (and their queen)...full of toys and pencils and toothbrushes and trinkets of all sorts...and a sixth unexpected shoebox filled with the overflow of the other five.  Shoeboxes, full of the love of Jesus, sent to six children in third-world countries who are desperate to know of their treasure-status in heaven. 

The morning's lack of motivation nearly caused our shoeboxes to "miss the boat", so to speak, but also afforded us the special opportunity to pray over all the boxes stacked down the hallway (about seven hundred altogether) and ask God's blessing on the little lives that receive them for Christmas.

A few hours and a few errands later found Princess M, Sir C (my valiant knight), Baby K and the self-titled Queen all strapped into the Royal Minivan on our way home. 

Oh, impatient Queen. Will you never learn? 

The cars in front of us were stopped.  There was a long line of cars.  Far too long of a line of cars for me to wait through, I thought.  In the time it takes to act without thinking, I was swerving into the right lane, intent on going around them.

The problem was, there was another car already there. 

So often, I beat myself up for the bad example I set by not being perfect.  I'm horrible at being submissive.  I'm late for everything.  I say things without thinking.  I make mountains out of molehills.  I lose my temper.  I don't do the laundry when it needs to be done.  I don't clean the house when it needs to be cleaned.  I have trouble resisting anything loaded with carbohydrates. 

And even this morning:     no patience,     late for school,                     
                             nearly missed the shoebox shipment,        
frustrated by insignificant things,
                                                  drove into other peoples' cars.

Today, though, my kids also saw their mom (feeling less queenly than ever before) admitting her mistake, accepting complete responsibility for her actions, apologizing to an upset driver, humbly asking for forgiveness, praying to thank God for protecting us, respectfully talking to a police officer, telling the absolute truth regardless of consequences, and accepting those consequences without whining or grumbling.

And though I fail miserably every day to set a consistent Godly example, I know this one incident spoke volumes to the impressionable children that witnessed it....a lesson that is well worth the price of a ticket.

I don't want to be one of those Christians that talks a good talk, I want to be one that walks the good walk.  Today, in those moments, I actually did it.  I walked the good walk.

After the driving skills I exhibited today, maybe I should be walking more often anyway.

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Ugly and Thankful

I have an ugly temper.

A quick, impulsive temper that sometimes, usually with my kids, makes a really big deal about a very little thing. 

The thing is, it never feels like a very little thing until way later, when I'm listening to the still, small voice again instead of the monster of erupting emotion.  Then I think, "Man, that was a waste of anger.  I totally tore down that relationship instead of building it up.  I let sin get the best of me, ignored the direction of the Holy Spirit, and completely blew it.  Again."

I realize that there are multiple good, justifiable reasons to be angry.  I'm not worried about kids know when they've earned a little parental wrath.  I'm talking about the times when my child makes a mistake, or does something without thinking first, or performs some age-appropriate crime and I neglect to charge, try and convict them as juveniles.  Sometimes I'm feeling irritable and they're bugging me, or my feelings have been hurt, or my authority challenged, and I go on and on and on and on and on without so much as pausing for a breath of fresh air.  At times, I can get myself so worked up about something (something that doesn't even matter, no less) that I'm unrecognizable as a child of the Risen King.  Ouch.

Bet there's a good chance you've never seen me like that.

That's because, for better or for worse, I reserve this slightly evil alter-ego Lisa for those who know me and love me the family.  I don't do it on purpose, mind you, it's just that when I'm with my husband and my kids, I let my guard down.  I'm comfortable.  And sometimes I conveniently forget to try my hardest to be Christlike.

But that's what's so incredible about my family. 

They see me at my absolute worst, and yet they love me still. 

I was taken aback earlier this week when I was explaining to Miss M (my daughter with Reactive Attachment Disorder) why family is so important compared to friendship.  In our conversation, Miss M said that she loves her friends "because they like me.  They don't know all the bad things I do."  She admits to hiding the "ugliness" from other people so that they'll like her.

I was trying to get her to understand how much more powerful it is when people know everything about you...have seen you throw hundreds of tantrums, have heard you scream terrible things, have been bitten and scratched and pinched and kicked by you, among other things....and still love you and want to be with you. 

That's the power of family.

It's easy for people to love you when you're being sweet and nice, but it means a whole lot more when someone loves you after seeing you at your worst. 

A good lesson for a child with RAD.  A good lesson for me, too.

I'm so thankful for my family, who loves me regardless, who forgives me always, knowing full well that I'm going to mess up again.  And for my friends who know all my faults and love me still, well, I consider you my family, too.  Thanks for loving me at my ugliest.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

It's Hard to Hug a Porcupine

It's hard to hug a porcupine, they really are quite prickly.

Your instinct is to turn around and run away quite quickly.

For if you venture close to one, there really is no doubt,

There will be a confrontation and some quills will fling about.

Yes, it's hard to hug a porcupine, or even to go near one,

You know what she can do to you- there's reason you should fear one.

Just when you let your guard down and you show her some affection,

She'll do her best to injure you, shoot quills in your direction.

Oh, it's hard to hug a porcupine, to cuddle would be silly,

And if you could avoid one, well, it would be wise to, really,

But if you have no choice to, put a leather vest and glove on,

Protect yourself most carefully if you've a porcupine to love on.

RAD kids are like porcupines, they seem all kind and gentle,

Until you try to love one you don't know they're temperamental.

As soon as you get close to one, to love, to be a mother,

The prickly porcupine comes out; they'll fight you like no other.

And it's hard to love a porcupine, to even want to see one.

It helps to think of all the things that caused your child to be one,

But still the daily struggle, when they hate you with a passion,

Soon it breaks your will to love and wears away compassion.

How do you hug a porcupine, when her quills stand at the ready?

How do you choose to love her?  And to keep your temper steady?

You arm yourself with righteousness and truth and faith and prayer,

And you trust the love of Jesus to teach your porcupine you care. 

10 Finally, be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power. 11 Put on the full armor of God, so that you can take your stand against the devil’s schemes. 12 For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms. 13 Therefore put on the full armor of God, so that when the day of evil comes, you may be able to stand your ground, and after you have done everything, to stand. 14 Stand firm then, with the belt of truth buckled around your waist, with the breastplate of righteousness in place, 15 and with your feet fitted with the readiness that comes from the gospel of peace. 16 In addition to all this, take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming arrows of the evil one. 17 Take the helmet of salvation and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God.

Ephesians 6:10-17

Friday, November 11, 2011

My Little Garden

People have often thought it a bit weird that my husband and I chose to adopt two older special-needs children when we were, at the same time, having babies the "old-fashioned" way.  In all honesty, it wasn't what we set out to do.  We were open to the thought of adoption, but figured that if we ever did, it would either be before (as in years before) we had biological kids, or long after we did (as in after our kids were grown up).

Well, God doesn't always ask us to do things that fit into our own plans.  Unfortunately, sometimes we're so wrapped up in those self-blueprinted plans that we fail to hear His voice...but on this occasion we listened, we heard, and we obeyed.  And we ended up acquiring our first four children (two babies, a four-year-old, and a seven-year-old) in just a shade over two years.  Yikes!

It's been difficult, to say the least, especially since our adopted kids (and our daughter especially) have struggled greatly with Reactive Attachment Disorder.  Sometimes I marvel at how God has kept each of our biological children safe from the often-ugly effects of RAD, not only protecting them from physical harm during violent outbursts, but also protecting them from emotional harm.  It's obvious to us that God hand-picked the personalities of the babies He gave us.  They (all three of them now) are resilient, secure, content, and spite of the turmoil they have been witness to.  Granted, we've been vigilant in protecting them ourselves, removing them from sketchy situations whenever possible, but it still remains a miracle that none of our biological kids (now ages 5 1/2, 3 1/2, and 9 months) have ever for a moment imitated one RAD behavior or given us any reason to think they are scarred in any way.

(Having said that, I want to acknowledge that having young children (especially babies) in the home along with RAD kids can be extremely dangerous.  Kids with Attachment Disorders can be very violent and controlling, loving the feeling of power over "weaker" things (babies, toddlers, pets).  Children with severe cases of RAD should (for their own protection and the protection of the "weaker" things) be kept away from young kids and pets.  Our kids, while they do have control issues, vent them by being incredibly bossy with their siblings, not violent.)  

So in response to the question of "Why did you...?", the answer is "Because God asked us to."  But the other, even greater question for me has always been "Why did God ask us to?  Why now?"

Five years after obeying God's call to adopt, I think I'm finally seeing part of His purpose in giving us all these kids at the same time.  Since the day they came to us, my older, troubled kids have been learning to love and attach to the cutest things on Earth....babies.  The imprinted images of neglect from their early years are being replaced with images of Mom cradling babies, singing lullabies, of Daddy tossing them in the air, of happy, drooly laughs and chubby arms waving at them as they walk through the door.  They've seen first-hand what love and laughter and tenderness and care does for a baby.  They've seen each of their young siblings blossom into cute, entertaining, healthy little people...and at the same time, they themselves are blooming into something more beautiful than any of us ever imagined.

Watching my now nine-year-old daughter's face as she plays with the baby, seeing her glow with adoration as her three-year-old brother is learning to write his letters, hearing her say "He's so cute!" or "You're the best baby ever!" or "I like my little sister" absolutely melts my heart.  She is learning to love!  She's becoming compassionate!  Where these feelings were once foreign to her, she can now feel them and even express them, and I know that the babies have helped her in ways I couldn't. 

RAD kids often turn into RAD adults, and have trouble bonding with future spouses and children, thus spreading Attachment Disorder into the next generation.  Hopefully, my kids will be able to grow up, have secure relationships, and raise healthy, attached children because they've witnessed it being done.  God made them key players in a functional, happy, God-fearing (though incredibly imperfect) family.  It was His plan, and I firmly believe He will be glorified in their lives because of it.  God is so good!

I would never go around telling anybody they should adopt troubled kids while they're already raising a young family.  I know the risks, the heartache, and the sacrifices involved.  I would, however, strongly urge you to follow whatever it is that God is asking you to do.

His plans are always greater than our own. 

Living out a life of obedience to Him has been the hardest, most humbling, and most rewarding thing I have ever attempted to do, but my little garden of children is blooming and thriving and growing...all because we listened...and obeyed...and we continue to try to live in His light.   


Monday, November 7, 2011

So Sweet

My three-year-old son wants to marry me when he grows up.  He doesn't care that I'm already married to Daddy, he still just really wants to marry me.  How sweet is that?

At three years old, he can't imagine being without me...being away from life independently from me.  I'm the most important thing in his life, followed closely by swords and trucks and diggers and books and dinosaurs.  Okay, to be fair, I'm sure Daddy's in there, too...but probably somewhere after the trucks and before the dinosaurs (love you, honey). 

So why does he love me so much? 

Because I love him.  I take care of him, I feed him, I clothe him.  I completely accept him.  I comfort him when he's sad, I forgive him when he's been ornery and disobedient.  I teach him, I protect him, I spend time with him.  I listen to him; I treat him like the treasure I know he is.  He needs me, and he knows it.  He's completely vulnerable, and yet He trusts me completely.

I am his rock...the one he trusts with his life. 

He's been told by his brother and sisters that he can't marry his Mama.  Now he insists that he's just going to live with me forever, and never ever move out.  Still sweet, although I'm sure that by the time he's forty it will be more creepy than sweet.

So I got to thinking that it's really no wonder that God wants us to come to Him like a child: trusting, loving, believing.  It comes naturally for healthy, nurtured little kids to adore their parents and to desire to be with them every waking moment.  To trust them, rely on them, be completely vulnerable with them.  To relay all of the joys of life to them.  To share all of their problems, big or little, with their mommies or daddies, and truly believe that they will make them better. 

What could be sweeter than to share everything about your life with the one that loves you more than any other?

I wish I could place myself in God's hands so whole-heartedly, instead of willfully trying to control my life on my own.  I'm not very good at running my own life, anyway.  I nearly always mess it up, and I end up feeling miserable and alone.  So I've set myself a new goal. 

This week, I'm going to try to love God like a toddler loves his Mama. 

Like my toddler loves me.

P.S. Now that he's been told that he can't be a daddy someday if he still lives with his Mama, my little son is planning to grow up, get married to someone (he still hopes it will be me), and use his very own digger to build his family a our back yard.  Then he can use the back door to visit me whenever he wants.  So sweet.  Love this kid. 

Thursday, November 3, 2011

More or Less

Once upon a time, over seven years ago...before children, before a renewed commitment to the Lord, before the discovery of my purpose on the Earth...I was gathering up my things at the end of a workday, moments away from heading home.  I was the manager of a small business, a portrait studio nestled inside a mostly-forgotten mall, and I was tying up a few loose ends at the front counter before leaving my studio in the hands of an employee.

It seems that mostly-forgotten malls are rarely forgotten by one group: the mall-walkers.  For years, when business was slow, I couldn't help but notice every person that walked by over and over again, and these people (whether I came to know them or not) became permanent fixtures of my workplace.  On this particular day, my attention was drawn by some commotion to the bit of mall outside my storefront, and I looked up in time to see a familiar middle-aged woman collapse to the ground.  She had been carrying a pair of crutches, and my first thought was that she had fallen while using them and needed some assistance to get up.

I ran out into the mall, as did a few people from a neighboring store.  When I got there, the woman was unresponsive, and it was evident that this was something far more serious than a fall.  I yelled to my employee, who was standing at the front counter, and she immediately dialed 911.

Life sped up and played in slow motion all at the same time.  No one knew what to do.  It seemed like the woman was gasping, we thought she was, and we assumed that she was breathing.  It was so hard to tell.  No one was doing anything...everyone there was so young and in disbelief.  I knelt down and I rubbed the woman's back, I whispered in her ear that Jesus loved her and that someone would be there to help her soon.  I think I was crying.  I felt totally helpless, but I just kept telling her that Jesus was with her and that everything would be okay. 

The paramedics were there in moments.  They took over.  Told us to leave.  Stunned, I went back to my studio.  But I didn't leave.  My soul...was still out in that mall with that poor woman lying on the ground, pleading with her to pull through as the paramedics pumped her chest with an almost violent urgency.

God and I didn't speak frequently enough back then, but He heard a lot from me that day.  I called my parents and asked them to pray.  I called my sister.  As an afterthought, I decided I should probably call my husband, too, although he wasn't much of a pray-er then, either.  Then I got down on my knees in Camera Room B and poured my heart out to God.  (In the years that followed, as my then-life was being reshaped into my now-life, Camera Room B became witness to many of these prayer sessions, but it can be certain that at the time, it was caught entirely off-guard.)

Eventually, after half an hour or more of constant resuscitation attempts, the paramedics lifted the woman onto a gurney, still pumping oxygen into her body with a plastic "balloon" over her mouth and nose.  I watched them wheel her away, and I knew.

The woman was dead. 

I went home that night limp with the fatigue that comes from having fought hard and lost.  I had spilled my emotions on the floor of Camera Room B, and yet I found that I had many more to spill in the days to come.  My beloved Grandma Mac had passed away just months previously, and this fresh encounter with death tore the scab from my heart as mercilessly as an eagle plucks a fish from the sea.

Just days later, I came home late after closing the studio.  As I walked through the door of my home, I witnessed yet another horrific death.  A man had been impaled with a fence post, and a grotesque, blood saturated wound consumed his entire upper body.  His chest heaved with the effort of each agonizing breath; the sounds of death gurgled from his throat.  And although my husband flipped the TV off the moment he saw the horror on my face, the image of this dying man is forever imprinted on my mind.

And very suddenly, my eyes were opened.

Death is not entertainment.

Death is real.  Pain and suffering are real.  And real people who suffer from real pain can't change the channel or forget about it at the commercial break.  Our culture would have us believe that we can, in our own lives, experience these "entertaining" things- death, tragedy, violence, divorce, casual sex- and go on living completely unscathed...unscarred...untouched. 

Our culture lies.

We were created in the image of God, with the ability to feel.  We were created to be in community, sharing in eachothers' joys, hurts and sorrows, full of compassion and sensitivity and love.  We were created to connect deeply.  We feel loss and horror and anger and betrayal and there are lasting scars when we make bad choices or when terrible things happen to us.  What our culture of entertainment wants us to believe is simply not true.

So where do we draw the line?  What's acceptable entertainment, and what isn't?  Are there times when it's alright to watch people being killed or living immorally on-screen?  What if it's obviously make-believe?  What if it serves a purpose, such as to educate or inform?  What if it isn't gratuitous?  Is it okay for adults to watch things that children shouldn't?  What if we're mature enough in our faith to truly not be influenced by what we watch?

I don't have this all figured out, so please don't assume that I think I do.  There is one thing that's clear to me, thing that I am certain of. 

As our culture becomes more and more saturated with entertainment - movies, television, video games, internet - we are not becoming any more like Jesus.

We're becoming less like Him.