Monday, September 30, 2013

One Year Ago Today

It's been a year. 
One year ago today was the last day our son set foot in this home, the last day he woke up under our roof, the last day he was so close that I could touch him...

...and yet my touch could do nothing to soothe the long-buried rage that erupted from deep within.

One year ago today was the last day these walls...and our little children's eyes...lay witness to the violence that had become almost commonplace in the months before. 

Violent rage had become the routine.

So sad, looking back.  Sad that our little ones knew what to do when he flew out of control.

Go to the school room.
Close the door.
Strap the baby into his booster seat.
Pick out a movie.
Turn it up loud.
Wait for Grandma to get here.

My parents, ten minutes away, had been "on-call" for much of the summer.  One year ago today, Grandma was here, in the room with the kids.  Papa was upstairs helping Scott with Mr. J. 

Angry and frightened and more traumatized than I realized at the time, I had been firmly instructed to get away, go downstairs.  I was pregnant, and he had already threatened to kick me in the stomach more than once.  It would be months before I would stop involuntarily jumping at the slightest sound.

Trauma goes both ways, you see. 
The traumatized child becomes the traumatizer. 
The victim becomes the aggressor.
And the family that refuses to give up on love will come out on the other side with the battle scars to show for it.

We will never be the same.

Some changes have been good, have taught us to be more like Christ... rely more fully on Him. 
But other changes are just layer upon layer of hurt and fear and pain and uncertainty...

...making me long for Heaven. 

One year ago today, we called the police, and they came. 
When they left, they took our son with them.

A difficult day, to be sure, but also a day of relief.

It's been a year of peace and healing. 
Of letting our guard down and actually living again.
We've been able to reflect, reevaluate, and gain new perspective on the events of last summer.
We've been able to breathe.

Our son is not grown up yet.  He's not secure and healthy and happy. 
He still needs us.

May this time of refreshment prepare us for whatever lies ahead.

Thursday, September 19, 2013


This time last year, I had a really awesome vegetable garden.  It was so awesome, in fact, that my little kids had to exercise teamwork just to get a single cucumber across the yard and into the house.  (I kid you not. Those suckers were HUGE).  The tomatoes were so plentiful, I began experimenting with fresh salsa recipes, heading up to the garden to pick a basket brimming with 'matoes each time I felt the urge.  And still, their remaining kin were left to rot on the bushes or, better yet, to provide the local mammalian with delicious, juicy red snacks.  Apparently, our furry neighbors enjoy tomatoes a heap of a lot more than my mom-in-law, who can barely look one in the eye.

Anyway, I didn't mind sharing our garden with the animals last year, although I admit there were a few hard feelings toward the deer or whatever-it-may-have-been that chewed all the leaves off my acorn squash vines, resulting in an entirely acorn-squashless fall.  I'm still a bit bitter.  However, squash aside, there were plenty of fresh veggies to go around.  I would've been happy to have sent Mom home with her own brimming basket of tomatoes if I'd thought for a moment she'd have taken them.

Being our first garden, we kept the variety to a minimum last summer. Cucumbers, tomatoes, squash, corn, peas.  Every seed that we planted seemed to sprout forth from the earth with a sense of pride in its purpose.  Each plant bore its fruit with gusto; except those blasted deer-eaten acorn squashes (see? still bitter) and the peas, which withered and croaked under the scorching sun of the hottest summer I can remember in Michigan.  In spite of the horrible heat, the rest of our garden grew and thrived and yielded well into the fall.

And then there were the pumpkins.... 


Last fall's bountiful harvest
We had oodles and oodles of pumpkins; a whole jolly-orange pumpkin patch sprouting up from our field in which we had simply dropped and covered a few handfuls of seeds.  The pumpkins grew proudly in such aggressive numbers that we were able to have our entire Sunday school class over for a pumpkin picking party (a PPP?) in October.  Each child in every family went home with a pumpkin, and my kids were still able to make a handful of cash at their little roadside pumpkin stand. 

We made such great plans for the next summer's garden. 
New and different varieties. 
More pumpkins,
more people over to pick them,
more money made at the little roadside stand.

Lots and lots and lots of plans.

And that's where my happy little tale ends.  With plans and good intentions.  If you only like stories with rainbows and unicorns and lovely fairy-tale endings, then stop reading.....NOW.

Because this summer,
I discovered that I'm a really crappy farmer.

True story.  Cocky and confident from our garden success last year, we just threw some seeds in the ground again this spring and expected great things.  Never mind that we planted everything about a month later than planned (this happened last year, too!).  Never mind that we really never researched what we were doing.  Never mind that LAST year, the actual farmer that "for-real" farms the acres around our property had mistakenly treated, plowed and fertilized our entire little piece of earth on which our inexperienced hands then threw their handfuls of seeds. 

Could well-prepared soil have had something to do with the success of last year's garden?

Sometime this summer, I was standing forlornly in the overgrown weed-patch that had, a year ago, been our thriving garden.  I was sad and frustrated.  We had spent days planting this garden.  We'd worked hard.  We'd doubled our pumpkin patch space in anticipation of using it to bless more families in the fall.  I had been so excited to see everything begin to grow, and the kids had been looking forward to setting up their little produce stand.  I'd even planted several extra squash plants to share with the deer.

What really got me, though, was that I had prayed over this garden.  I'd asked God to bless the fruits of our labor so that we could share them with others.  We'd watered and weeded and watched, but the weeds grew in by the hundreds, faster than we could pick them.  The seedlings didn't grow as quickly as they had before; they couldn't keep up with the weeds and got choked out.  For the most part, our garden has been a disaster. 

All because we didn't first prepare the soil.

Why did I think I could skip such a crucial step?  Do I really think that farmers spend all that time and energy preparing their fields for nothing?!  Did I think I was above the dirty work and that God would bless my work and desire to serve Him when I wasn't even willing to put in the effort to prepare the soil?

I have a lot to learn about farming and gardening.  Over the winter, there will be some serious research going on in this house in preparation of spring.  What's funny, though, is that what I actually learned this summer has a lot more to do with myself than with gardening.
Last year's pumpkin patch.

You see, I'm not just a crappy farmer.
Sometimes, I'm a really crappy follower of Christ. 

So often, I've barreled into my life saying "Lord, today I am going to serve you!  These are my plans.  Please bless the fruits of my labor even though I refuse to or forget to or neglect to prepare the soil of my life by reading Your Word and by spending significant time with You today."

How can I possibly expect to yield a bountiful harvest in my life if I haven't first prepared the soil?

I'm committing to change.  To never again waste my seeds of faith and service in unprepared soil.  I want the fruit that my life produces to be God-honoring, God-blessed, and accomplished with my eyes firmly fixed on Him.  From now on, I begin each day with Him.  Only then can I give the fruit of my marriage, kids, babies, homeschooling, friendships, music, writing, and anything else He puts in my path...only then can I give it the best chance to flourish.

And if this change in me and in the fruit that I bear is the result of the complete and utter failure of the garden I asked God to bless, then I guess He answered that prayer more beautifully and fully than I ever could have imagined.

Maybe next year?

Tuesday, September 3, 2013


I broke my camera.

Not to worry.  It's currently at the camera hospital, and I'm hoping it will make a quick and full recovery.  However, a broken camera means that it's really super hard for me to give an update about our trip to see our son.

Why, you ask?

Because I'm a photographer. 
And a perfectionist. 
And my brain can't process the thought of doing an update without pictures...

...and I have pictures on that camera that I desperately want to include in this update.

(In hindsight, I probably should have purchased a card reader so I would never be in this exact predicament.  Hmmm.  Might want to do that before I go and break my camera again.)

Anyway, several people have been asking about our trip, and some have indicated that they're waiting patiently for this post.  And since my camera may be gone for another week or two (is it weird that I feel a little lost without it?), I'm going to go ahead and write it. 

For your amusement, though, I thought I'd punctuate the post with a few pictures I uploaded from my little point-and-shoot camera...which I let my kids use on the trip.  Enjoy!

First off, some awesome news:

Our visit with Mr. J went really, really well!

Yay!  We weren't incredibly nervous this time.  Not sick-to-your-stomach kind of nervous like back in April.  But still...with everything we've been through with Mr. J, there are always a few nerves involved.  We needn't have worried; the good behavior that he's been exhibiting at school transferred beautifully to being off-campus with his family.

We had some great conversations with the rest of our kids before we saw Mr. J on that first day, too.  Miss J, age seven, summed up what most of us (me, Scott, my mom and dad, Mr. C, 5 years) were feeling.  She said:

               "I'm really excited to see (Mr. J) today...
                   ...but inside I feel kinda nervous, too."

Exactly.  The only one who didn't have age-appropriate emotions was Miss M, which is no surprise.  Emotionally, Miss M is far younger than her eleven years.  She's very black-and-white in her thinking, and couldn't understand why we would be nervous since Mr. J has been "being good" recently.  It did give us a chance to explain (again) how your actions determine how much people trust you in the future, and how damage can be done to relationships.  One of these days, we're hoping the empathy and emotional intelligence piece kicks in! 

Baby A, Mr. J, Little K, and Daddy's beard.
We'd planned out the four-day visit beforehand, trying to balance fun activities with quiet, quality family time in a way that wouldn't overwhelm anyone.  One of our biggest concerns was how Mr. J and little Mr. K would respond to one another.  Our oldest son has always adored his baby siblings, but Little K was less than eighteen months old when Mr. J began having serious difficulties, and he hadn't seen his big brother in almost a year since.  We were afraid that K wouldn't remember his brother, would be fearful or timid, and worried how that could make Mr. J feel.  So, Scott and I headed out that first morning to see Mr. J with only the two littlest guys.

Little K was a bit timid at first.  It took him a few minutes to realize that Mr. J was the same brother that he has told us "lives on da phone" or is "working hard on da school bus" (we pray daily that he's working hard and healing at school).  It didn't take long for him to realize that his brother liked him, thought he was funny, and wanted to spend time with him, though, and he was at ease in no time at all.  Mr. J was surprised by how much he's changed.  K was barely talking a year ago, and now he doesn't stop!

With the first hurdle jumped, we left the school with our oldest son in tow.  It was a strange sensation to actually have him with us!  We eventually met up with the rest of the family at a park, where we had a picnic and spent the afternoon catching crayfish, playing Frisbee and catch, and munching on treats - all things we've always enjoyed as a family.  It was a good first day.

A lovely portrait of our oldest and youngest sons.
The rest of the visit was a bit of a blur.  We spent Sunday with Mr. J at his school, attending church with him, eating lunch there, and allowing Mr. J to give the family a tour of the animals on the ranch.  Monday morning, we had a professional family picture taken, which was one of my biggest goals for this trip. 

RAD kids try so hard to push away the people who love them, especially when they feel unsafe or out-of-control, that I was eager to make this statement by getting our portraits taken:

"In spite of everything, you are still part of our family and we are still here for you". 

Besides the picnic at the park and the family picture, we also made a quick trip to the zoo during our visit, went out for a couple nice family dinners, went bowling, shopped for new shoes, and sat around our cabin while the kids played UNO.  Basically, we tried to do all the simple things we've missed doing together as a family.  Mr. J played with each of his siblings, frequently wanted to hold the baby, wrestled with five-year-old Mr. C (who has missed his wrestling buddy terribly) and was respectful and agreeable the entire time.

There were a few tender moments, too.  Moments only for me and my son, that can only be evidenced by the tears running down my cheeks as I write this.  I prayed then that God might help me treasure those moments and ponder them in my heart, just like Mary, and this remains my prayer: that I might cling to what I know  is true and not hold on to the bitterness of last year. 

What I know to be true:

God is good all the time, and He's got my son in His hands. 

Despite all the heartache, the rage, the trauma, the bad choices and the threats, my son loves me.  He loves his family.  He wishes none of this had ever happened, and I believe strongly that, like every teenager, he's struggling to discover who he is and to find his place in the world.  It's just harder for him because of the trauma and uncertainty of his first seven years of life.

It's our job as his parents to stick with him as he figures out who he is, who he is in Christ, and what it means for him to be adopted... not only into our family but into God's.

Saying goodbye was almost unbearable this time.  Words of love and encouragement and forgiveness were spoken, hugs were given, tears were shed....except from Miss M, who basically said "See you in December!" :)  And then we walked out through the front doors one last time, leaving a piece of our hearts behind. 

We had never been together before.  Not all of us, since Baby A was born after Mr. J was gone.  I will never again take for granted the simple blessing of having my entire family in one place at the same time.  The blessing of eating dinner around the same table, of looking back and seeing all six of my children riding together in the van.

It was amazing to finally be a complete family of eight...
...a preview of what's yet to come, Lord willing...

...even if this time, it was only for four days. 


Please keep praying for our son.  He's made tons of progress since our first visit in April.  He actually wants to succeed, and has even moved up another "rank" since we left two weeks ago!  We aren't under any delusions that everything is perfect because his behavior is good, but we are really excited to see him in control of himself once again.  Our hope all along has been that Mr. J would be able to regulate himself, control his rage, and would get to a place emotionally where he's willing to start the long road to healing.  More importantly, willing to let God work in his life.  Pray that he's truly headed in that direction!

And for your enjoyment, a few more noteworthy photos I found on my camera:

A goat.

A sidewalk?

A dead zebra head mounted on a brick wall.
Pretty sure this is the tablecloth...

A tortoise.  Or rather, a tortoise leg.

 Oh, how I want my camera back.  :)