Monday, August 22, 2016

Who You Say We Are

My heart is breaking today.  One of our children is in crisis.  This child, through no fault of their own, struggles with the neurodevelopmental and behavioral effects of Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder as well as co-occurring mental illnesses.  The inability to reason effectively or make wise choices has added drug abuse to the list of issues.

Today I cried out to God.  We love our child.  We want the absolute best and we will continue to advocate for our children even if we are rejected because in this case our child cannot advocate on their own.  This child was adopted into our family “No Matter What”.  That is how we operate.

This is my lifeline today.  I am clinging to its message and clinging to the truth that is we are not our diagnoses.  We are not what others may label us.  We are not our past.  Hallelujah, we (and our child) are who HE says we are.

Oh how great is the love
The Father has lavished on us
That we should be called The children of God
Oh how great was the cost
The Father was willing to pay
So we could be called the children of God
And all that we can say is thank you, Thank you
And all that we can say is thank you, Thank you
We are your sons
We are your daughters
Hallelujah, we are who You say we are
So we lift our hands
And cry Abba Father
Hallelujah, we are who You say we are
Hallelujah, we are who You say we are
Oh how great is your amazing grace
That took us as orphans and slaves
And made us your heirs, And gave us Your name
There's nothing more we could ever do
You finished it all on the cross
Then rose from the grave
And brought us with You
Written by Steven Chapman • Copyright © Sony/ATV Music Publishing LLC

Thursday, June 16, 2016

Open Letter to Jen Hatmaker

I have been a fan and a reader for some time.  I loved the threads of grace that I glimpsed in your writing and I felt a kinship with you in that I am also raising home-grown kids as well as adopted kids.  Your Facebook post today and the subsequent “hero stories” you requested from your readers and then applauded in your own replies really has me questioning that kinship.

You started your post with an amusing anecdote about a difficult day with your son and the ensuing battle of wills.  But it then deteriorated into a celebration of parenting stories that featured manipulation, abandonment (albeit temporary) and shame.  It concluded with a call for other similar stories. Many of your readers obliged.  Tales of more shame, rejection and humiliation under the guise of natural consequences followed.  And you commended them.  Repeatedly. 

First of all, I am completely aware that sometimes it is good, even necessary, to find the humor in hard circumstances.  However, laughing at and hailing destructive discipline "techniques" as positive is completely different and, in my humble opinion, is what you and a large majority of your readers did.

There is also a difference between “natural consequences” and consequences that a parent imposes to “teach a lesson”.  I believe that in your post and the resulting comments that difference was ignored.  A fellow adoptive parent once said, “A natural consequence is a consequence imposed by nature, like burning your finger when you touch a hot stove. No person decides that your finger ought to be burned to teach you a lesson. The laws of nature ensure that your finger gets burned, whether you need to learn that lesson or not.” (Mark Vatsaas)  If you need to “come up with” a “natural consequence”, it is NOT one.

What concerned me most, as an adoptive mom, was that these methods of shame and repudiation have been scientifically proven to be detrimental and ineffective for kids with backgrounds of trauma.  To champion them can quite literally be dangerous for these kids and threaten to emotionally, psychologically and neurodevelopmentally destroy them.  A survey of current neuroscientific studies validates this information.  The best resources for connecting with and disciplining (which can be defined as an activity, exercise, or a regimen that develops or improves a skill) kids from hard places can be found in the writings of Dr. Karyn Purvis from Texas Christian University’s Institute of Child Development and Dr. Dan Siegel (clinical professor of psychiatry at the UCLA School of Medicine).

I do not have perfect children.  I struggle with parenting them everyday.  Before I knew the scientific data regarding trauma and its effects on the brain I parented the same way your readers were encouraging and lauding.  Sometimes I still struggle.  Parenting is not an easy job and parenting a child with trauma is even harder and messier.  But I am daily encouraged by the progress I have seen in my children when I connect first and correct last.  When I look behind the behavior and find the need.  When I go through the natural consequence with them as opposed to delving out my own created consequence.

I encourage you and other adoptive and foster parents to attend an Empowered to Connect conference (usually sponsored by Show Hope and Focus on the Family).  You will be emboldened by the hope that can be found in connected parenting techniques.

Thursday, September 10, 2015

Coming Out of Hiding

I love the app “Time Hop”.  I enjoy pulling it up each morning and looking at the posts and photos from that same day throughout the last 7 or so years.  Occasionally they bring a tear to my eye but more often than not, I smile.  The memories are so precious… even the ones that hurt.

But something happened a couple days ago.  My “Time Hop” from a year ago abruptly went silent.  No posts.  No pictures.  No memories.  Just sudden stillness.  And I remembered.  My open book was slammed shut exactly one year ago.  For five days.  Five days in mental health facility.


You read that correctly.

Don’t let anyone try to convince you that there is no such thing as post-adoption depression.  Or that dealing with a traumatized child will not in turn traumatize you as well.

Love alone does not conquer all.

But here’s what does:  Love with a heavy dose of Grace, Knowledge, Mindfulness and Eff-ing Hard Work.  And God.

Last September I reached the limits of my own strength.  I could no longer “pull myself up by my bootstraps.”  In fact, I didn’t even want to. I've had such dark moments of doubt that I've questioned whether I could ever believe again.

I had a small child in my home that did not speak.  Not English.  Not Mandarin.  Not Cantonese.  No words except those spoken as an echo.  He also did not cry.  Not when he hurt himself.  Not when he was sad.  No.  He did not speak.  He did not cry. 

He screamed.

All the time.

He was terrified, distressed, fighting for survival.  For him every moment was fight, flight or freeze.  All too often it was fight.  Pulling out fist full after fist full of my hair.  Spitting in my face.  Scratching me.  Biting me.  Kicking me.  Head butting me.  Hitting me.

For hours at a time. 

It seemed that nothing could calm this poor child.  And as odd as it sounds, while I was the recipient of all the rage, I was also the recipient of all of his need and attention.  I could not leave him for a moment.  He clung to me incessantly.  Always touching me, grabbing me, pulling me.  He would not let me speak to anyone else… not my husband, my children, my friends without first doing everything he could to distract me and then, if that failed, yanking my head toward him and screaming at the top of his lungs so I couldn’t hear the other person.

I knew this was the effect of trauma.  I knew he was in terrible pain.  I knew that every woman who had ever been in charge of his care had abandoned him.  I knew that he had been abused.  I knew that he had spent the majority of his life fighting to live.

I also was quite aware that I had willingly signed up for this.  This did not make it any easier.

I hid.  Or I escaped.  As often as I could.  I began to either recoil or burst into tears at the mere touch of another person.  A simple hand on my arm could send me into uncontrollable sobbing or on the other extreme, feel as if I had been burned.  I began to isolate myself.  From everyone.  I was embarrassed.  I was scared.  I was lonely.  I was hurting.  I was, in my eyes, the Queen of Inadequacy.  And I was failing at everything.

So… how did all this change?  How did I get to today?

1.     I got help.  Counseling.  Treatment.  Support.  With people who were trauma-informed. (VERY important)
2.     I was given grace by those who loved me and cared for me.
3.     I learned.  I studied.  I educated myself on the effects of trauma on children and the residual effects on those who care for them.  I found resources and was able to equip myself with the tools I needed to navigate this time of healing for both me and for my son.
4.     I stopped hiding.

I’m still learning.  I’m still working hard.  This is not easy.  But as Glennon Doyle Melton says, “We can do hard things.” ( I believe it.


Anything written or developed by Dr. Karyn Purvis (Director of the TCU Institute of Child Development)

People of the Second Chance

Wednesday, September 09, 2015

Long and Winding Road

“Far better it is to dare mighty things, to win glorious triumphs, even though checkered by failure, than to take rank with those poor spirits who neither enjoy much nor suffer much, because they live in the gray twilight that knows neither victory nor defeat.”

“Sit down before fact as a little child, be prepared to give up every preconceived notion, follow humbly wherever and to whatever abysses nature leads, or you shall learn nothing. I have only begun to learn content and peace of mind since I have resolved at all risks to do this.”

“When you walk to the edge of all the light you have and take that first step into the darkness of the unknown, you must believe that one of two things will happen. There will be something solid for you to stand upon or you will be taught to fly.”

Big changes are coming for the Baldwin Bungalow.  Larry recently was hired by Molina Healthcare which is located in Long Beach.  Our San Diego house goes on the market today and we’ve begun to look for a new home in Orange County.  There is the understandable mixture of trepidation and anticipation. 

One of the things I have always loved about our family is that we love adventure.  And by adventure I don’t mean the thrill-seeking type… roller coasters, rock climbing, sky diving.  I mean the kind of adventure that changes your story.

God has proven to be faithful time after time and we know that this will be another opportunity for us to learn to trust Him and revel in our place in the grander story.

Please keep us in prayer through this transition.  Especially for the kids. 

The plan is for Emma to finish her junior year here in San Diego.  She started school in July and is well into her FOUR AP classes.  Not all AP courses are offered at every school and we don’t want to waste the time she has already devoted to these classes.  In addition, this is a big year for her competitive show choir as they are traveling to London in the spring.

For Madeleine and Benjamin this will all happen right away and we want to make sure we support, encourage and teach them in a way that will build character and not tear down spirits.

Isaac is living in Escondido with some young seminary students and working full time and it will definitely be hard on us as parents to be that far away from him.  Pray for wisdom for him as he ventures into adulthood and takes on new responsibilities and possibilities.

We will be closer to Landen!  We are very excited about the opportunity to be present for more of his productions and see him graduate next year!

So, the ride takes another twist and turn.  Hold on, Baldwins!  Here we go!