Recommended Adoption & Foster Care Resources for 2018

One of my favorite parts about adoption is the connections I’ve made with people all over the globe. I’ve come to know and appreciate an inspiring network of truth-tellers and hope-bringers doing meaningful, sustainable work within the adoption community. I am a more educated, better informed adoptive parent and human being because of these relationships.

This post is for you if:

  • You believe foster care or adoption might be the next step for your family.
  • You need ideas on how to better support foster & adoptive families.
  • You would like to be more involved in caring for foster & adoptive families.
  • You want to provide financially for adoptive families AND do some Christmas shopping.
  • You have been touched by adoption or foster care in any way.

And if you don’t fit the above criteria, well, that’s fine. I’ll just be over here putting on my bossypants and telling you to read on anyway because there’s some good stuff here. 

Below is a list of resources that have encouraged and provided practical support for birth families, adoptees, and many foster & adoptive families. I’ve done the research and compilation for you. So, grab a cup of coffee, unless tea is your thing. Or soda. Whatever. Go on. I’ll wait…

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Now, have a seat at your desk or curl up in your favorite chair with your laptop or phone (not the flip kind). All you have to do is scroll down and read. See? Isn’t that easy? The bulk of the work is already done for you.

YOU’RE WELCOME.

ORGANIZATIONS:

  • Lifesong: “Seeks to mobilize the Church, where each member can provide a unique and special service [related to orphan care]: some to adopt, some to care, some to give.” Lifesong was instrumental in helping us to bring Sam home. They provided matching two grants—one personal matching grant and one through our church. They are an amazing, generous organization.
  • Adopt US Kids: “A national project that supports child welfare systems and connects children in foster care with families.” Provides great information for starting the domestic adoption process.
  • National Down Syndrome Adoption Network: Led by the kind and fearless Stephanie Thompson, the NDSAN seeks to provide a loving home for kids with Down syndrome. This is the organization that connected us with Sam’s birth family. Stephanie continues to be a part of our lives and we feel privileged to call her ‘friend.’
  • Reece’s Rainbow: “The mission of Reece’s Rainbow is to advocate and find families for orphans with Down syndrome and other special needs by raising funds for adoption grants and promoting awareness through an online community, media communications, and other events.” This is an international organization that informed me of the desperate need for kids with special needs to be adopted. If they don’t get adopted, many will age out of their orphanages and often get lost on the streets or are left to languish in poorly run institutions.
  • Empowered to Connect: ETC is a ministry that works to connect, encourage and equip families and churches by providing a supportive and authentic community that encourages families on their adoption/foster journey.
  • The Post Institute: This is a place where parents and professionals involved in the lives of our most vulnerable and challenging children can find effective solutions, education, and support. They offer educational materials and support services to help parents lead their families on a journey of healing the wounds of complex trauma.

BLOGS/WEBSITES:

  • Cherideejohnson.com. Adoptive parent and writer, Cheri Johnson offers wisdom and encouragement to non-biological moms. She candidly shares her experiences and the hard truths of adoption while graciously offering hope in the midst of the tough seasons. She also provides practical suggestions for how the local Church can be proactive in relating to non-biological parents and offer ongoing support for them and their children. (Side note: Cheri has become a dear friend to me, a clear voice that I trust to point me to the Truth. She’s a real gem.)
  • Confessionsofanadoptiveparent.com. Mike & Kristin Berry’s passion is to encourage adoptive families “in the trenches”. They share and speak on a wide range of topics with the goal to offer hope and solidarity to adoptive and foster families.
  • SherrieEldridge.com. Author Sherrie Eldridge frequently writes from an adoptee perspective. She talks openly about her life and her wounds, reminding her readers of God’s deep love and acceptance, while offering practical ways to support adoptees. 
  • www.theadoptedlife.com. This is one of my favorites, especially as it relates to the topic of transracial adoption. Angela Tucker, an adoptee, is the heartbeat of this informative, thought-provoking space, where she endeavors to give adoptees a bigger voice in our culture. Angela & her husband filmed the documentary, Closure, in which Angela shares her quest to find her birth family. It aired on Netflix and is available through purchase at https://www.amazon.com/Closure-Angela-Tucker/dp/B00H8B87ZE.

BOOKS FOR ADULTS PARENTING OR WORKING WITH ADOPTEES:

  • The Primal Wound: Understanding the Adopted Child by Nancy Newton Verrier
  • Twenty Things Adopted Kids Wish Their Parents Knew by Sherrie Eldridge
  • Under His Wings Adoption Workbook: Truths to Heal Adopted, Orphaned, and Waiting Children’s Hearts by Sherrie Eldridge & Beth Willis Miller (both adoptees)
  • The Connected Child: Bring Hope & Healing to Your Adoptive Family by Dr. Karen Purvis
  • From Fear to Love by Bryan Post
  • Being Adopted: The Lifelong Search for Self by Brodzinksy, Schecter, & Henig
  • Adoption Nation: How the Adoption Revolution is Transforming Our Families—and America by Adam Pertman
  • Talking With Young Children About Adoption by Mary Watkins & Dr. Susan Fischer
  • Beneath the Mask: Understanding Adopted Teens by Debbie Riley & John Meeks
  • Real Parents, Real Children: Parenting the Adopted Child by Holly Van-Gulden & Lisa M. Bartels-Rabb (a bit dated but chock-full of solid research and relevant material)
  • Inside Transracial Adoption: Strength-based, Culture-sensitizing Parenting Strategies for Inter-country or Domestic Adoptive Families That Don’t “Match” by Beth Hall & Gail Steinberg

BOOKS FOR YOUNG ADOPTEES:

  • I’ll Never Let You Go by Smriti Prasadam-Halls & Allison Brown
  • Tell Me Again About the Night I Was Born by Jamie Lee Curtis & Laura Cornell
  • When God Made You by Matthew Paul Turner (not technically an adoption-specific book but contains major themes of belonging, worth, & the thoughtfulness of God in creating us)
  • A Mother for Coco by Keiko Kasza
  • I Don’t Have Your Eyes by Carrie A. Kitze
  • Not Quite Narwal by Jessie Sima
  • Wonderful You: An Adoption Story by Lauren McLaughlin & Meilo So

PRODUCTS THAT GIVE TOWARD ADOPTION:

  • Randi Harper joined the business of Monat as a way to help other families with the financial piece of adoption. As an adoptive parent to a little guy with an extra chromosome, Randi says, “We understand the grueling task of fundraising and wanted to bless others now that we’re on ‘the other side.’” She sells naturally-based, vegan, gluten-free, certified cruelty-free hair products. Randi’s work allows you to purchase high quality, eco-friendly hair products while giving toward adoption. Contact her here to learn more: http://combing4cause.mymonat.com/influencer and IG @curlyimpact.

 

  • Cady Driver is an adoptive mom, one of the fiercest adoption advocates I know, and a professional artist. She serves the adoptive community through her artwork as a way to raise funds for adoptive families. Consider purchasing Cady’s artwork or purchase art lessons as a unique gift this holiday season. Your giving will help adoptive families bring their children home. Learn more about Cady’s incredible work and art classes at www.artbycady.com and on Instagram @cady.driver_artist.

 

  • Open Hearts for Orphans. Adoptive mom, Lisa Murphy, started this non-profit after bringing 5 children home from China. Through various programs, OHFO seeks to minister to the needs of orphans worldwide. Lisa and her team provide opportunities to give financially toward medical expenses, adoption grants, and orphan sponsorship. If you are looking to purchase meaningful gifts that will also support global orphan care, please consider what OHFO has to offer, especially this holiday season. Note specifically their beautiful jewelry, their ‘downright loveable’ merchandise (which supports Down syndrome adoption), and Lisa’s book, With An Open Heart. All merchandise is listed in the store section of their website at www.openheartsfororphans.org. You can also find them on Instagram @openheartsfororphansorg.

PODCASTS:

  • Tapestry’s Empowered to Connect: For parents, professionals, ministry leaders who want more authentic, deeper connections with the children they are serving.
  • Adoptees On: Adoptees discuss the adoption experience.
  • Who Am I Really? Real-life stories from adoptees as they search & find their biological family members.
  • The Adoption & Fostering Podcast: Conversations & discussion on contemporary adoption & foster care.
  • NPR Episode 10/13/2018. Code Switch: Transracial Adoptees On Their Racial Identity & Sense of Self. Click here to listen: https://www.npr.org/2018/10/13/657201204/code-switch-transracial-adoptees-on-their-racial-identity-and-sense-of-self

INSTAGRAM: There are countless adoption-related Instagrammers. My favorites are listed below. From birth moms to adoptees to other adoptive parents, I am encouraged, challenged, humbled, humored, informed, and inspired by these beautiful voices:

  • joinbravelove
  • cherideejohnson
  • adoptionshare
  • theluckyfewofficial
  • angieadoptee
  • bigtoughgirl
  • lifetimehealing
  • kindredand.co
  • carissayoder
  • sherrieeldridgeadoption
  • ndsan321
  • adoptionsupportnow
  • adopttogether
  • adoption
  • transracialadoption

You know, of course, that this is not an exhaustive list but I trust it will get you started or lead you to consider some new voices. With the excessive noise online, I struggle to know where to focus my time when I’m exploring adoption resources. I hope my work can spare you a few hours. And if you think this post might serve someone you know, please share. Thanks!

What adoption and/or foster care resources have been helpful to you and your family?

3 Ways to Connect with the Down Syndrome Community

Martin Luther King, Jr. once said, “Let’s build bridges, not walls.” His words offer a challenge worthy to be considered.

For many years, walls were built to keep people with Down syndrome separate from their families and communities. Those with an extra chromosome were seen as immoral, the result of sin, a burden on the entire family.

Medical walls were built by surgeons who refused to provide life-saving surgeries for newborns diagnosed with Down syndrome.

Domestic walls were built by ‘experts’ who strongly encouraged institutionalization and forced sterilization of children with Ds.

Verbal walls were built by degrading language used to describe people with Ds.

Vocational walls were built by employers paying less than minimum wage for employees with Ds.

Educational walls were built by schools that will not include or provide appropriate services for students with Ds.

How sad that we humans have used our time, energy, and resources to stack bricks rather than dismantle them.

In the U.S., the walls of institutions and other social barriers continue to fall but there are still (less obvious) walls that need removed in order to include and build relationships with people who have Down syndrome. Sometimes these walls look more like fear, ignorance, or apathy:

  • Fear: “I don’t want to inadvertently say something wrong or offensive so I’ll just not say anything.”
  • Ignorance: “I don’t know how to relate to those people. I just don’t know what to say.”
  • Apathy: “I don’t feel like connecting. And why should I? It’s not my job.”

If we’re honest, each of us has some resistance or even aversion toward certain people who are unfamiliar or seem annoying to us. Avoidance is an emotionally safe response, the default that keeps us from risking a few splinters and laying down planks to bridge the divide. In church culture this avoidance might be couched in religious language, “I just don’t think I’m called to serve those kinds of people.”

I’m not suggesting that everyone in a church community should work exclusively with those who have disabilities. I am however, suggesting that those of us in church culture may be guilty of using religious language as an excuse to distance ourselves from those we’re called to engage. Serving with an ‘us-them’ perspective in any capacity isn’t effective for wall removal and bridge building–nor does it reflect the character and work of Jesus, the One many of us claim to follow.

So, how can we break down walls and build bridges to connect with those who live outside our socio-cultural circle? How can we move from knowing about Down syndrome to actually knowing people with Down syndrome, especially if they’re not a part of our daily life?

I offer these simple steps.

3 Steps to Connect with those who have Down syndrome:

1. Initiate. When you’re out in public and see someone with Down syndrome, make eye contact, smile, and say ‘hello.’ This simple gesture reminds the person with Ds and the parent of a child with Ds that they are worth your attention. If you really want to go bananas, you might even introduce yourself (gasp!). Take a moment to chat. Look to the parent or caregiver for cues, if needed. Ask about their day, the purpose of their outing, school, work, etc., (any topic you’d chat about with a typical family). Most parents appreciate when people make the time and effort to introduce themselves and get to know their kids. Don’t let fear, previously awkward meetings, or apathy squelch an opportunity to engage. You’ll likely leave that brief encounter encouraged and inspired–but even more, you’ll assure a family that they matter.

2. Invite. If you know of someone with Ds, a parent raising a child with Ds, or your child has a classmate with Ds, include them whenever you can. Whether you’re hosting a birthday party or a gathering in your home or meeting friends for a playdate, extend the invitation, even if you don’t know them well.

Sam and I recently attended a birthday party for a kid in his class at school. I was nervous as we knocked on the door of an unfamiliar home, where I wondered if he would be included. I silently chastised myself, as one of Sam’s classmates greeted us at the door and welcomed him with great enthusiasm and a gentle hug, “Hi, Sam! Hi! Wow! Sam, I didn’t know you were going to be here! Yay! Sam, you’re here!” This 5 year-old boy was so genuinely thrilled to see Sam that I dropped my purse and stood by the door for a minute, struggling to swallow the lump in my throat. I didn’t realize how much I wanted him to be included, to be seen and valued by his peers.

Be like Sam’s classmate and send the invite. You’ll leave a grateful parent speechless.

3. Volunteer. This third step in connecting with people who have Ds seems most effective with specific, consistent work over time. Your faithful presence in local organizations and programs and/or in a church setting provides opportunities for you to regularly connect with the Down syndrome community.

Our non-denominational church has worked hard to specifically include those with different abilities. They provide a buddy for Sam (and several other kids) every Sunday. Once a month, they host a family respite night, as well as a parent group for those raising kids with different abilities. Free childcare is provided at each monthly gig for all of the kiddos. Yep, you read that right. ALL of our kids. For free. I get all verklempt just writing about it.

This inclusive approach works well with committed volunteers (like you) and a compassionate community whose leadership not only values people with different abilities but also provides support, resources, and encouragement to their families.

For those of us who have minimal, if any, contact with people who have Down syndrome, we would do well to initiate, invite, and volunteer wherever and whenever we can. Choosing to do so will help dismantle walls and build bridges that connect us to a community full of wonder, where we can love the oft excluded, learn from each other, and find our lives enriched.

If you’re interested in connecting and developing relationships with those who have Down syndrome or finding organizations that specifically serve those with intellectual disabilities, here are a few options to get you started. Check your local area for more details.

  • National Down Syndrome Society: The leading human rights organization for all people with Down syndrome. Click here to learn more: https://www.ndss.org
  • Buddy Walks: Annual walks held throughout the country, with the goal of promoting education and acceptance of people with Ds. Click here to learn more: https://www.ndss.org/play/national-buddy-walk-program/buddy-walk-faqs
  • Special Olympics: This is the world’s largest sports organization for people with intellectual disabilities. A variety of volunteer positions are available to help serve and support athletes and their families. Click here to learn more: https://www.specialolympics.org
  • Gigi’s Playhouse: An organization that seeks to “change the way the world views Down syndrome through national campaigns, educational programs, and by empowering individuals with Down syndrome, their families and the community. We offer free therapeutic and educational programming to individuals with Down syndrome and their families.” Click here to learn more: https://gigisplayhouse.org
  • Night to Shine: Sponsored by the Tim Tebow Foundation, Night to Shine is an annual global event where people with disabilities participate in prom. From the limos and red-carpet entrances to professional photographers, karaoke, and dancing, this night was created to remind participants of their inherent worth. Click here to learn more: https://www.timtebowfoundation.org/ministries/night-to-shine

If you want to diversify your social media contacts by including people with Down syndrome, I recommend Instagram to follow these educational and entertaining accounts:

@theluckyfewofficial

@eicherumba

@changingthefaceofbeauty

@happysoulproject

@cedarsstory

@karenjp0915

@lifewithmicah

@jimboistheman

@rubysrainbow

@globaldownsyndrome

@littlest_warrior

@ndssorg

@johnscrazysocks

@savedownsyndrome

 

Where do you see walls in your community and how can you help dismantle them?

Where do bridges need built instead?

What would it look like for you to initiate, invite, or volunteer?

*Bridge photos by Arcaion at pixabay.

How Down Syndrome Typically Affects Typical Siblings: An Interview with The Big Kids

When Glendon & I shared with The Big Kids that we were planning to adopt a child with Down syndrome, they didn’t fully understand the implications. At ages 5 and 3, how could they? In their young minds, a new baby with Down syndrome was simply a new baby to them and they were thrilled.

Many families who’ve received a prenatal diagnosis of Down syndrome wonder how a child with Ds will impact their typical kids. I recently read a story of expectant parents who worried that a child with Ds would lead to resentment and future estrangement from their older children. This troublesome thought became their main reason for termination. I grieve that they were left alone in their fears, with no one really available or willing to listen, support, and possibly offer a bit of hope.

While I certainly want to listen and be present for others in their fear and pain of a new and shocking diagnosis, I also want to provide them with a more complete picture. What these dear parents might not have known is that the extra care, time, and resources required to meet the needs of a child with Ds will impact typical siblings–but not to their detriment. In fact, research shows that compared to their peers, kids who have a sibling with Ds demonstrate a higher level of maturity, compassion, empathy, and a deeper understanding of what really matters in life. Of course, every sibling handles familial adjustments differently but these outcomes seem to more accurately reflect reality.

Several families in the Down syndrome community tell me that their typical children adore their sibling(s) with Ds. Of course, there may be medical hurdles to jump, social-emotional issues to manage, and delays to navigate but numerous studies indicate these are minor issues for typical siblings. The meaningful experiences and valuable lessons seem to far outweigh the *perceived* negatives.

For further evidence on this matter, I went straight to the source(s) to get their perspective on Down syndrome.

I close with a recent interview (done separately) with 10 year-old, Selah, and 8 year-old, Jude. As with every conversation in our home, they were encouraged to be honest without fear of my response. I recorded their answers exactly as they shared them–with no editing.

What did you think when we told you we were planning to adopt a baby with Down syndrome?

J: I remember I was real happy.

S: Excited.

How did you feel when you first met Sam at the hospital?

J: Happy. It was awesome to have a little brother. I thought his tubes were cool.

S: Kinda weird because he was attached to all those cords. He was really tiny.

What do you remember most about Sam during his time in the NICU?

J: The tubes that came out of his mouth, like when he breathed out all the bad stuff. I was happy to hold him.

S: He smiled when we held him. He made funny faces when we fed him the bottle.

What was your favorite thing about Sam when he was a baby?

J: I could easily hold him.

S: His laugh–that’s still one of my favorite things.

What was the hardest part for you with adopting Sam?

J: When I learned about racism and his brown skin.

S: It was a long time away from our home.

What do you enjoy most about being a big brother/sister to Sam?

J: He tackles me. I get to cuddle with him.

S: He hangs out with us. He wants to be with us–he plays games and tag with us.

What does Down syndrome mean to you?

J: It means you will be slowed down in some things like being potty trained. It means you might not be able to speak up to bullies because you have a hard time speaking. I feel like Down syndrome makes Sam Sam. He wouldn’t be himself if he didn’t have Down syndrome.

S: It’s like an extra gift. Some people think it’s an issue but it’s like a prize–like you win Down syndrome.

What is it like having a brother with Down syndrome?

J: I like it. Down syndrome makes Sam cuter. It makes me happy. And if Sam didn’t have Down syndrome, I might not know what it’s about or what it’s like for others.

S: Two things: One, it’s awesome. But two, it can be scary because of low muscle tone and Sam’s breathing sometimes.

What is the most challenging part of having a brother with Down syndrome?

J: Sometimes he needs extra care and attention. And I have to share my room.

S: People staring or getting annoyed with Sam because they don’t understand he needs extra support sometimes.

What is your wish for Sam?

J: That when he grows up he’ll have friends and a good job.

S: I have so many! That he’ll be able to do what he wants and Down syndrome won’t–and shouldn’t–affect that. That he’ll be able to stand up for himself. And that he’ll tell us when he has problems, that he won’t keep it to himself so we can help him.

For further reading on this topic, check out these resources:

ndss.org

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3348944

http://downsyndromepregnancy.org/sibling-perspectives-on-down-syndrome

 

How has Down syndrome made a difference in your life? Your kids’ lives?

Would love to hear from you!

When A Diagnosis Determines Your Worth

If you Google ‘Down syndrome’, you’ll find pages of online organizations and dictionaries that provide both general and specific definitions. Most will include something like this:  

“A congenital condition characterized especially by developmental delays, usually mild to moderate impairment in cognitive functioning, short stature, relatively small head, upward slanting eyes, a flattened nasal bridge, broad hands with short fingers, decreased muscle tone, and by trisomy of the human chromosome numbered 21.”

~Merriam-Webster English Dictionary

As one who seeks to communicate clearly through written words, I understand the need to provide adequate information and appropriate descriptors but as the parent of a child with Down syndrome, seeing his diagnosis in print is difficult. Those definitions simply do not capture the wonder that is Sam but, to be fair, they’re not designed to do that.

Sam, 1 month old–fresh from the NICU

I know that my son’s value is not determined by his diagnosis but sometimes our world tells a different story. The history of how American culture defined, perceived, and treated people with Down syndrome is quite dark. Here’s a brief timeline:

  • 1773. First insane asylum opens in Williamsburg, VA. In the next 200 years, thousands of people with intellectual disabilities were funneled through various state-wide institutions.
  • 1838. First document to ever record people with intellectual disabilities as ‘idiots’ (to distinguish from those who were classified as ‘insane.’)
  • 1866. John Langdon Down, who discovered Ds, refers to the collective traits he discovered as ‘Mongoloid’ because their facial characteristics resembled those from Mongolia.
  • 1883. Sir Francis Galton first uses the word ‘eugenics’ to describe how Americans must assign value to those with intellectual disabilities. As a result, laws were passed, demanding forced institutionalization and sterilization of those with disabilities.
  • 1912. The Kallikak Family, a best-selling book is released by Henry H. Goddard. The book builds and perpetuates the false premise that intellectual disabilities are connected with immorality. Mass social hysteria ensues, calling for forced sterilization and institutionalization.
  • 1939. Hitler demands the extermination of 200,000 people with intellectual disabilities–many with Ds.
  • 1946. Parenting guru, Benjamin Spock, states in his popular book, Baby and Child Care,If [the infant] merely exists at a level that is hardly human, it is much better for the other children and the parents to have him cared for elsewhere.” (p. 478)

Not until the 1960’s and 70’s did the U.S. begin to shift its perspective, thanks in part to President John F. Kennedy. S L O W L Y, public outcry led to the closing of institutions and the passage of human rights laws as parents, caregivers, educators, and people in power demanded equality for people with disabilities. Their tireless efforts and stubborn voices blazed trails for the rest of us to follow. The trail has widened as more of us speak up for and seek to empower those with Ds, while educating the general public on the benefits of inclusive spaces.

Sam, 2.5 months old

Humanity. Equality. Rights. Inclusion. These speak to progress, yet within the highly educated medical community, most doctors and geneticists continue to apologize to women when disclosing a prenatal diagnosis of Ds, often just moments before they suggest termination as a solution. Despite their ‘smarts,’ many medical professionals are quick to provide a dark and limited option for expectant mothers, “Either your life will be really hard or you can abort.” (Actual words spoken to a friend.) In a world where we can choose from 15 different kinds of toothpaste, this either-or nonsense seems like a cruel irony.

As I write, many European countries are inching their way toward eradicating Down syndrome. With prenatal testing considered normative (and I’m not at all judging the tests), the number of abortions continues to rise. If we believe that a baby in a mother’s uterus is a human, this would be genocide, no?  

Cognitively impaired.

Idiot.

Feebleminded.

Mongoloid.

Delayed.

Retarded.

Problem.

Hardly human.

Really hard life.

Words like these make it easier to justify the extermination and ongoing exclusion of a vulnerable people group and the mothers trying to decide whether it’s worth the lifelong risk of birthing them. Why bring them into a world that doesn’t value them in or out of the womb? It seems we’ve failed both women and children.

Sam, 1 year old

I wonder, is this really the kind of culture we want to sustain? To refuse to stand with women who need support (financial, emotional/mental, medical)?

To leave pregnant women with limited options at a crucial time?

To offer an apology when she’s given a prenatal diagnosis?

To end life because of a possible diagnosis?

To vote for the traditionally *pro-life* political party, even when those candidates won’t sign bills that provide equal opportunities and fair wages for people with Ds? (I’m looking at you, Republicans.)

To maintain the status quo by keeping people with Ds out of classrooms and work spaces and airplanes?  

To associate only with people who look like us by hosting parties and gatherings in which we don’t invite those who have Ds?

To refuse to consider the authenticity of our ‘seeker friendly’ churches, which don’t really create space or provide resources for those with Ds?      

If we claim to be pro-life advocates, we need to rethink the issues of diagnosis and worth and inclusion and what they mean for both mothers and their children with Down syndrome. 

Sam, 2.5 years old

We must provide ongoing support and updated, accurate information when expectant mothers receives a prenatal diagnosis of Down syndrome. If we really value women, we must work to improve employee maternity leave and insurance coverage. (In related news, Down syndrome is considered a ‘pre-existing condition’–which means ‘limited/no coverage’ with most private insurance companies.)

We must use appropriate language and terms and offer more than one option for expectant moms.

We must remember that a baby in the womb deserves a chance to be born.

We must be graciously present for women no matter what they decide.

We must show up for new moms and their families, embrace the gift of their friendship, join them in Buddy Walks, vote for candidates who advocate for the differently-abled, and find other ways to engage this new community.

Children with Down syndrome are more than limited definitions, their mothers more than mere recipients of a diagnosis. Both bear Divine fingerprints, offering beauty, joy, and delight to our world–if we’re willing to see. We must endeavor to become a society that takes their hands and says,

“You are seen. You are loved. You belong.”

What Down Syndrome Can Teach Us Now

When I married nearly 16 years ago, I never dreamed I’d be parenting four kids, one with Down syndrome. I had no intention of managing what feels like a circus most days–not that I was opposed to circus life or extra chromosomes–I just wasn’t thinking about motherhood in any form when it chased me down.

After birthing my two oldest and struggling with post-partum depression, I waved the proverbial white towel, calling a truce with my mind and body. I needed mental space and rest to find my sanity (and sleep) with two Littles.

 

 

 

But, dear readers, babies just don’t keep. Eventually, diapers morphed into undies, sleepless nights rolled into sweet dreams, and my once helpless cherubs began to feed and dress themselves. ThankyaJesus.

I shed the zombie look (sort of) and my capacity to form coherent thoughts returned at last (still debatable). This was the season in which I sensed a holy nudge, a gentle Voice asking, “Are you willing to let My dreams become yours? Are you willing to rethink your own ideas about your family and future?”

As many of you know, that nudge led to prayers and conversations and new dreams and eventually, a baby boy with Down syndrome–our Sam.

Prior to Sam’s arrival, I read all I could about Ds, sought advice from experienced parents and professionals, and grew in my awareness of potential issues related to this diagnosis. I researched possible medical complications, physical care, therapies and education, finances, future work, state and federal policies, and our culture as it relates to people with different abilities. Even with all my experience working with people who have Ds, months of personal education, and now 4+ years of parenting Sam, I’m still discovering new truths and learning important lessons.

In a time of divisive politics, hateful rhetoric, and social media outrage, I want to highlight this truth as we celebrate Down Syndrome Awareness Month:

Choosing to believe stereotypes creates distance between ‘us’ and ‘them.’

While Ds is its own culture with a handful of common traits, those with Ds are individuals. Each person brings his own genetics, personality, family, life experiences, needs, preferences, education, and more. Just because we might know a few people with Ds who have sunny dispositions doesn’t mean all people with Ds do. (This is probably the most common stereotype.)

Like any social group, people with Down syndrome cannot be put into a ‘one-size-fits-all’ category. When we do that, we miss the unique gifts found in each person. 

This idea goes beyond the community of Ds to other neighbors who don’t typically fit the majority profile, whether immigrants, refugees, Muslims, people of color (POC), folks with disabilities, the incarcerated, those who identify as LGBTQI, or anyone else who might be considered the ‘other.’ 

Choosing to believe stereotypes can actually prevent us from learning from people who differ from us, who have very different experiences, who look at life through a lens other than our own. We take one conversation or experience or person and craft stories about what we think is true of an entire group and as a result, fail to see the Divine imprint on each human.

In our pride and ignorance, we may write another narrative, one that pens an incomplete, often negative story. Confident we have the whole truth, we often assign motive and value to groups of people we haven’t taken the time to know. Instead of graciously moving toward individuals, we use our limited knowledge and assumptions to determine whether to engage ‘the other.’ I wonder who we miss connecting with when we do this? 

 

Photo by gerault at pixabay.com

I’ve noticed people writing a limited story about Sam. In social settings, I watch as kids and parents determine his physical differences. Most observe that he doesn’t engage like a typical peer, his mannerisms more juvenile, his marked delays perceived as a nuisance. I witness the furrowed brows, rolled eyes, heavy sighs, and the turning away to avoid him–my son, the ‘other.’ With imaginary pen in hand, they hastily make note, “This kid is so annoying. I don’t know how to relate to him. I’m uncomfortable. I’m going to find someone who’s more like me.” 

I grieve not only for what this incomplete storytelling means for Sam as he begins to understand his differences but also for what those kids and their parents are missing by choosing to ignore him. 

I wonder what we might be missing, too, when we don’t acknowledge the image of God in the ‘other’, when we refuse to find ways to connect with those who differ from us.

Sam’s life reminds me to resist the easy route of stereotyping, to lean in and listen to those whose perspectives and lifestyles don’t mirror my own. Down syndrome spurs me on to move closer to others so I can more clearly see the Imago Dei in each person and love them as I’ve been loved. 

 

Who might you be avoiding because of your assumptions or limited perspective?

What is one step you can take this month to move toward someone (or a particular group) you consider ‘the other?’

 

On Bullying and Boundaries and Belonging

I don’t know what your life looks like these days but mine is bursting with the colorful personalities of four kids who bring a variety of preferences, peculiarities, and pet peeves.

One gets slightly enraged at the sound of chewing (pretty sure that’s genetic), the other oblivious to flapping molars.

One gets irritated with all the singing and dancing while the other enthusiastically belts out every lyric of The Greatest Showman.

One is meticulous about good hygiene while the other needs encouraged to wash off the funk.

One hustles out of bed in the morning and speed dresses (is that a thing?) while the other burrows deeper under the covers, savoring those last few minutes of shuteye.

And two certain cherubs are consistently L.O.U.D. and early risers. I’m not namin’ names but thankfully, they’re still contained in their tiny baby jails.

With all the differences wrapped up in each kiddo however, I have found one common thread woven through their diverse DNA: All four want to belong.

Photo by Becca Neufeld Photography at www.beccaneufeldphotography.com

Last year, our family experienced bullying for the first time. (I refer to the person who bullied as “Bee” in this post.)

Bee was in our home.

Bee sat at our table and enjoyed meals with us.

Bee played in our yard, twirled on our tire swing, and made slime with our kids.

We offered her encouragement and time and compassion. We wanted Bee to feel a sense of belonging with us, especially when conversations revealed that her home was not often a place of warmth and welcome. Despite some of our concerns with her occasional meanness toward Selah, both at school and in our home, we prayed to be hospitable and kind (and sometimes struggled to do both).

Perhaps in our naivete, we thought our open home would lead to a changed Bee–a Bee that could work through unresolved anger and begin to soften toward a Love far greater than our own.

A couple of months into 2018 however, we learned that her emotional needs exceeded our abilities and we made a difficult decision that wracked me with (false) guilt. After weeks of prayer, wise counsel, and ongoing conversations with school personnel, we set a boundary: Bee would no longer be welcome in our home until she provided a sincere apology and Selah came home with zero complaints about Bee’s aggression.

For our oldest, school no longer felt like a safe place where she could focus on subjects and friendships without wondering what Bee might do to her. Despite the many ‘tools’ we gave Selah to help build her resilience as she related to Bee, the attacks continued. While Selah felt supported by a few adults at school, her ongoing concerns fell silent on the ones who had the ultimate authority. As a result, home became her main place of belonging and we would do whatever necessary to ensure that remained so.

A few days after we set this boundary, Bee showed up at our front door, wanting to come in and play.

After consistently, aggressively, physically hurting Selah.

After writing hateful notes about Selah and passing them around to other girls.

After threatening to seriously injure Selah and another student.

After lying to teachers, faculty, and us about the extent of her behavior.

Bee still expected to join us in our home, as if her bullying had no effect on our relationship with her.

My response to her that day could be summed up in the words of Simon Cowell, “Um, that’s a ‘no’ for me.”  

I told her that we cared about her and wanted to have her in our home. I also gave her a choice to admit and apologize for the ways she had hurt Selah. (She yelled, denied any guilt, and stomped off the porch.)  

Some might think our boundary too strict.

Some might think our family unforgiving.

Some might think our family unloving.

To these I would say:

Love often sets healthy boundaries for the good of others even when others refuse to see the good.

Sometimes the best way to love those who bully is to set a boundary and offer them an alternative–an opportunity for them to own their actions–not another invitation for them to treat you with contempt.  

Bee was not allowed to hurt, taunt, and degrade Selah at school and then expect connection with us in our home. Our permission only enabled her to bully in our home, albeit more subtly. As the drama at school increased, maintaining status quo in our home seemed to communicate to Bee that we were okay with the bullying. We were inadvertently teaching her that she could intentionally hurt others and never be required to endure the relational consequences of her behavior. She could use and abuse people as she pleased and still enjoy the benefits of their company whenever she wished.

By allowing our relationship with Bee to remain unchanged, we risked emotionally disconnecting from Selah and breaking a sacred trust we’d spent a decade building. Refusing to set a boundary would have said to our daughter, “Your needs are trivial. Don’t speak up–even when someone relentlessly hurts you. No one will listen to you, anyway–not even your parents.” That was not the kind of message we ever intended to communicate.  

We care about Bee.

We pray for Bee.  

We choose to forgive Bee.

We want to see redemption and restoration in the life of Bee.

We love Bee.

Boundaries don’t make those statements less true. Boundaries don’t make us unkind. Boundaries aren’t rejection. Boundaries (in this case) offer protection and clear expectations for both girls. 

Until Bee is ready to confess and seek forgiveness, Wisdom tells us that our boundary must remain so that our home can remain a place of refuge and belonging, especially for the four we’ve been given to train and lead and raise.

Was there ever a time you set a boundary for the good of others? What was the response? How did you handle the situation?

Would be so good to hear from you! Your story might encourage another reader.

 

***I realize that bullying is a difficult topic that can elicit strong, complex emotions. Many families have endured far worse than we have, with tragic, devastating results. I have learned that even with all the anti-bullying campaigns and zero-tolerance zones, kids who bully get away with more than any well-meaning slogan aims to prevent. I highly recommend that parents continue to engage teachers and administrators, document every incident, contact the school superintendent and/or lawyer and/or law enforcement for advice, support, and resolutions, consider alternative schooling, and stay emotionally connected as much as possible with your kids, while keeping your home a safe place where they know they belong.

***Featured photo credit goes to Wokandapix at pixabay.

Two Words To Remember This School Year

I find myself talking to The Big Kids quite a bit these days. At 10 and 8 years old, they’re in my favorite stage so far–willing to ask me anything about anything. Topics range from Why Hair Grows There to How Systemic Racism Began & Continues.

Strange body odors? Check.

American politics? Check.

Atomic wedgies? Check.

Adoption and different abilities? Check. Check.

Jesus and healing and death? Check. Check. Check.

I’ve looked into their innocent brown eyes and assured them that no question is off-limits, even when I have to contort my face to keep from laughing at times.

I’m a big fan of this stage of parenting my pre-tween and tween. Their endless wonder leads to so many interesting conversations and I’m grateful to be present in the dialogue, to help them find the answers, or to simply say, “I don’t know” when they ask me things like, “Will Sam have Down syndrome in heaven?”

Sometimes I worry that my answers are too detailed, that I’m offering too many words, overloading their growing minds in my earnest attempts to educate or inform or encourage.

But they seem undeterred, eager for more.

My hope is that they absorb all the good words that I endeavor to use: the red letters of Jesus, the truths of Scripture, the reality of history, the meaningful song lyrics, the beautiful stories, and profound poems written by countless men and women all over the world. I want their tender hearts and minds to be so full of the truth that lies can’t find any space to burrow inside. I want to protect their impressionable ears from the hateful and divisive words that seem to greet each of us more frequently in our polarized society.

While I believe that the words my kids are absorbing here at home are good and meaningful and true, I don’t want these humans entrusted to me to be tight-fisted consumers. I want them to take what they’re learning here and share it with their neighbors and classmates and teachers and yes, even (perhaps, especially those most difficult to love.)

I want them to tell the truth and treat others with respect.

I want them to stand with the bullied and include the ones who wonder if they matter.

I want them to encourage others and make at least one true friend.

I want them to work hard and listen well and make the most of their educational opportunities.  

With all of the possibilities, I found it a bit challenging to choose just one phrase for them to consider and apply this year. But I finally did and it’s this:

BE KIND.

Photo cred: reneebigelow at Pixabay

That’s it. Nothing new or deeply profound.

When you meet a new classmate: Be kind.

When you see a kid quietly upset: Be kind.

When a student appears left out on the playground: Be kind.

When a student forgets her lunch: Be kind.

When a teacher seems in a bad mood: Be kind.

When a kid on the bus is being teased: Be kind.

When a kid seems different from the cultural norm: Be kind.

When you disagree with a classmate: Be kind.

When another student is rude: Be kind.

There are countless scenarios both in and out of the classroom where my kiddos can apply these two simple words with potentially powerful implications. Choosing to be kind will require different responses, depending on the need of the moment and the people present. Of course, I want them to learn and excel in school but I also want them to be aware of how they can include and encourage others, even when the easier choice would be to ignore, retreat, or retaliate.

And sometimes, these two kiddos are the ones who most need a good dose of their own kindness.

The Big Kids have a strong tendency to be self-critical. When they don’t meet their own expectations in some way, they tend to think negatively about themselves and once they move in that direction, they struggle to find their way back to the truth. I’m learning to give them ample time to process life, while offering heaps of encouragement and grace and love notes under their pillows to help chase away the dark thoughts. So, in their efforts to be kind to others, I also want them to remember to be kind to themselves–to extend grace to themselves, to rest in the love of God.

There’s a song by Andrew Peterson that speaks to this–one that I’ve played for them on the really rough days when music and lyrics offer more than I can. You can click here to listen.

Be kind, Kids. To others. To yourselves. That’s it.  

 

How about you? What is one idea/phrase/truth you want your kid(s) to hold on to for this school year?

 

  

3 Helpful Ways for Parents To Approach IEP Meetings

Remember that time you skipped and twirled your way into your child’s Individualized Education Plan (IEP) meeting, stopping only to sign in at the office? You didn’t even realize you were humming “Happy” by Pharrell Williams as you took your seat at the table, where your child’s team of educators waited, the glow of halos above their precious heads.

 

 

Throughout the meeting, you threw your head back in laughter, your hands clasped together in joy as the team shared countless stories of the wonder that is your child. The only shock you felt was when you learned of the new and improved resources available for your child with different abilities.

Another hour of OT each week?” you cry, “Be still my beating heart!”

“Two extra hours of speech therapy? Surely, you jest!”

“A new aid to help with classroom engagement? STOP IT!” 

What’s that? Your IEP meetings don’t fit this scenario? Hmmm. Was it the halos? Were they too much? Was it the song choice? Not a Pharrell fan? I’ll get on that.

Oh, Parents. I see you. You’ve got additional considerations when it comes to educating your kiddo(s) with not-so-typical needs.

In reality, you probably sit at a table with a handful of *usually* well-intentioned, exhausted school professionals, who are *often* limited by district regulations, time, and funding. (Or they’re refusing to use the funding for its mandated purposes–a common complaint I’ve heard.) You work through each goal, swallowing lumps in your throat as the heat creeps up your neck and into your cheeks. You force yourself to maintain composure, while trying to determine whether the recommendations from these *mostly* dedicated professionals are realistic for your child.

 

Seriously, those nails are perfectly manicured. Where do I get some like that?

 

You wonder why The Team can’t provide the appropriate (number of) resources.

You wonder how that particular team member ever got hired. (Do they even like my kid?) 

You wonder if The Team will actually do the work as specifically outlined in the IEP.

You wonder what might happen if you advocate too little–will he get the services he needs? Or if you advocate too much–will she be ‘punished’ for your ferocity?

You wonder if the goals for your child are realistic.

And ultimately, you wonder whether any of these standards even matter, especially when you consider our great big world beyond the classroom–a world in which your child has more to offer than what’s contained in a meeting. A world in which all you really want to know is whether she will ever really belong, regardless of any IEP goal.

I’ve heard from many of you regarding the dreaded IEP meeting(s). Your negative, often maddening experiences have inspired me to think about what has helped me to prepare for and process these meetings in a way that feels empowering and hopeful. While I know there are many factors to consider within our specific IEP spheres, I’ve discovered–

3 Helpful Ways for Parents to Approach IEP Meetings:

  1. Determine your expectations. What are you hoping to gain from this time with The Team? Are you planning to work with them to explore appropriate goals for your child? Or are you already guarded and angry? Does it feel more like a battle to fight for basic services that he’s legally entitled to receive? Are you new to this whole piece of education, confused by your own role? Do you find yourself wondering if this meeting even matters when nothing seems to change anyway? When the system already feels stacked against your kid? 

When I take an honest look at my expectations, I am better able to address Sam’s current needs. Taking the time to work through my own anxiety (about his development, school, future, etc.) feels empowering and allows me to better collaborate with his team in a productive way. I am no longer a helpless victim at the mercy of my own frustrations or intimidated by a group of educators gathered around a cramped table. Rather I’m an informed, engaged, and thoughtful parent, willing to be honest and kind, and ready to be a strong voice on behalf of my son.

2. Keep the day open. Whenever the IEP meeting happens (usually mornings here), I try to keep the rest of the day ‘free’ of planned stressors. For instance, I wouldn’t schedule an IEP meeting on the same day as, say, a mammogram. Or a follow-up to a recent mole scan. Or a meeting at work in which some folks will be ‘let go.’ I know life is full and you’ve got responsibilities to consider but try to keep some space in that calendar square. This will allow time for you to process the meeting, record any concerns or questions that emerged later, and even create a follow-up plan, if necessary. Leaving margin also gives you a chance to decompress emotionally, physically, and mentally. You will likely need it.

I know some of you march into those meetings in full armor, ready to do battle, feeling like you’re the only one fighting for the needs of your child. When you walk out, your chainmail is mangled, your helmet smashed, and you’ve lost your sword. You’re worn out and angry from advocating, from having to handle the same abrasive team member, from proving to the school–the system–that your child is worth more than what’s printed on paper and that he is entitled, by law, to certain services and resources.

Maybe you tiptoe in, doubting yourself, slinking into the chair, bowing to the suggestions of professionals who don’t know your child like you do. But you’re new to all of ‘this’ and ‘they’re the professionals, after all’ so you smile and nod your head like a spineless puppet.

No matter how you enter and leave that IEP meeting, be sure to carve out time afterward so your mind and heart can take a collective slow breath. Inhale. Exhale. Repeat.

3.) Remember the Truth: IEPs are used to measure and track individual milestones and skills, within the context of standardized charts created by various educators and researchers. IEPs are helpful in creating and assessing *reasonable* educational benchmarks. They give us a baseline for each student, while providing specific goals for kids to work toward, which can be helpful tools. But they are just tools.

 

 

IEPs and their meetings do not measure Sam’s value as a person.

They do not reveal his hilarious side-eye or how he runs to our neighbor’s door to greet him.

They do not indicate his ability to apologize, sign ‘sorry’, and hug the one he has hurt.

They do not record his laugh or dance moves or the delight he brings to our home. (Click here for proof.)

They do not show his interest in books or the tender way he bottle feeds his stuffed bunny.

When I’m tempted toward discouragement and frustration that his scores are consistently below *average* (whatever that means), I remember that IEPs aren’t designed to measure the whole value of Sam.

He is more than the sum of his (non) achievements.

He is more than the sobering black print on white paper.

He is more than some educators might *silently* believe him to be.

He may never jump with both feet in the air at the same time or stack the ‘right’ number of blocks the ‘right’ way. 

But maybe that’s okay. Maybe what should be measured can’t be found in those meetings. Or on paper.

While I’m so grateful for Sam’s team and their hard work in helping us to identify and implement appropriate goals for him, I’m learning that IEPs and their meetings don’t provide the whole picture of Sam—or who he’s becoming as a person.

So, to all of you parents and caregivers embarking on another school year and navigating those IEP meetings, I’m thinking especially of you these days. May you clarify your own expectations, make time to process, and remember the Truth that your child’s worth is not based on any meeting, professional opinion, or some predetermined measuring stick.

And if you forget, as we all do sometimes, send me an email. I’ll be here–ready to listen and help you remember.

 

 

***I realize that the IEP process [in public schools] varies widely, depending on state regulations, school districts, specific needs of individuals, personnel issues, finances, etc. There are so many factors to consider. As Sam grows and his team changes, my writing on this topic may shift. I am simply sharing what has worked for us–for Sam–in this season.

On Choosing Public School…Again

When kids began to sprout up in our home, I just assumed that Glendon & I would be the kind of parents who drafted an educational plan for them and THAT WOULD BE IT. I viewed our decision sort of like a tragically arranged marriage. We would determine their future education before their first words and sign a legally binding contract to seal the deal. No matter how terribly incompatible said choice might be, there would be no turning back. We would simply endure the horrors of our decision.

How foolish of me for being so staunch, so strangely committed to one way of educating. I’ve become the parent I didn’t expect: open to whatever schooling best meets the current needs of our family.

Last year, we made the decision to move from homeschool to public school. And we’ve hit the repeat button for this year.

There are lessons The Big Kids can learn in school that we cannot orchestrate at home.

There are opportunities for them to grow as students that we cannot provide right now.

And The Little Kids at home need me more engaged and ready to meet their demanding stages without the added time and pressure that it takes for me to plan lessons and teach. I recognize the privilege of this choice, especially when I consider the many families who feel stuck and discouraged with their only option.

Could the public (and private) school curriculum be stronger? Sure.

Are there things I’d change about the system? Yaaaassss.

Am I concerned about bullying (especially toward my kiddo with developmental delays)? Yep.

And don’t even get me started on the funding issues, particularly as it relates to race and poverty and life skill programs. That’s another post for another time.

There are plenty of things I’d change about the homeschool culture, too. It’s not all waking up when the Spirit leads and adventurous field trips on the daily.

With our decision–and the decision that many of you face each year–I have grown weary of the negative stereotypes that accompany our varied educational paths.

If your children are homeschooled, you must be sheltered and culturally ignorant and hate public schools.

If your children attend a public school, you must be godless and lazy and surrendered to the state’s ideals.

If your children attend a private/Christian school, you must be rich and exclusive and elitist.

I’ve lived each stereotype, where wrong assumptions were made about me, my family, and now my own kids.

I spent 11 years as a student in a private Christian school. Certain public school kids used the term “preppy snobs” to label me and others who attended. Their words stung, especially since my dad was a teacher at that school. I knew how deeply committed he was to the students and faculty, the tiny paycheck he brought home, and how hard he and my mom worked to keep the five of us enrolled.

We lived simply, without the latest styles or gadgets. Unlike most homes at the time, ours didn’t have cable TV—we had a pair of rabbit ears with foil, though. (All the praise hands!)

We wore hand-me-downs and on a rare occasion went to the dollar theater to see movies that most teens had seen months before at the regular price.

We didn’t take fancy vacations to exotic beaches or snow-covered ski resorts.

We were the slowest people in the checkout line at the grocery store–not only because we had 2 full carts but also because my mom had a wheelbarrow of *double* coupons to present. And this was before couponing was a ‘thing.’

In a school parking lot where new Mustangs, Volvos, and Jeeps rolled in, my siblings and I drove some seriously used cars, like our 1983 station wagon, whose hood flew off en route to school one morning. By the time I was a high school junior, I was lucky enough to drive our 1994 Ford Aerostar minivan to prom. Although, we didn’t call it ‘prom.’ We called it the ‘Jr./Sr. Banquet.’ (Because if Christian school kids danced, they may as well dance themselves right outside those pearly gates and straight to hell.)

Gotta love the internet! Found a picture of her. Isn’t she a beaut?

When we homeschooled, I noticed the furrowed brows and heard these comments, “Homeschool is terrible because you never make any friends. It’s not really school, is it? Are they getting enough socialization?” Thank you for your concern about our kids’ socialization–is that your kid there picking his scab and wiping it on the person behind him?

Now that our kids attend public school, I see the pursed lips and hear the pompous remarks, “The quality of education isn’t great…As a Christian parent, you are called to homeschool and Christian education…I’ve seen the village and I don’t want it raising my child.” Well, goshdangit. You’re just a boatload of good news, aren’t you? Thank you for reminding me that our job as followers of Jesus is to create Christian subcultures in order to avoid a dark world in need of our Light.

I think we can all agree that no educational system is perfect. Right?  

Can we also agree to speak with kindness toward one another?

Can we refuse to burden each other with guilt and shame over the choices we’ve made for our families?

Can we find ways to encourage each other in our educational endeavors?

Instead of [silently] criticizing, let’s support one another. Instead of deeming our choice best, let’s connect with those who educate differently and discover what works for them. Instead of making assumptions, let’s ask questions and learn from each other. And let’s remember that many families around our country and in our world do not have the luxury of choice.

So, here we are—bidding good-bye to homeschool. Again. At least for now.

In a couple of weeks, the Big Kids will walk out the front door, away from me and into a setting where their wonderful teachers will instruct them. They will be welcomed into a more formal classroom rather than scooching their chairs up to our weathered dining room table.

This transition still tastes bittersweet. I’ll miss The Big Kids each day but we are at peace with how God has led us. As a family, we’re learning how to walk by faith, to let go of our need for control, while trusting God to use this season—as He has every season—for His glory and our good.

What educational path has worked well for your kiddos? And how did you decide what was best for them? I’d love to hear from you!

My Dad’s Greatest Gift to Me

When I was 4 years-old, my family ventured down our street to join the neighbors for dinner. I tripped en route and my arms, apparently glued to my sides, did not extend and I fell–quite literally–flat on my face. Dad scooped me up, removed the embedded rock, cleaned my bloodied face, and gently shifted my nasal cartilage to its original position. I still have a cross-shaped scar on my forehead and a crooked nose to remind me of my clumsiness–and his compassion.

As a child born into a low-income family, Dad learned to be compassionate toward those who lacked finances and resources. When he was 10 years-old, his dad died suddenly, earning his mom the title of ‘Single Parent’ (to six boys) and the social stigma that came with it in the 1950’s. Between poverty and childhood trauma, Dad’s empathy for those in need began to swell. As he entered his teen years, he found tangible ways to support his mom, working long hours to contribute to her light paycheck and doing his best to stay out of trouble.  

Dad with 4 of his 5 brothers. He’s the second boy from the right. His mom eventually remarried and he gained another brother and sister.

After high school, Dad scraped together enough money for college and seminary to prepare for mission work with the Warao people of Venezuela. In preparation for this remote jungle culture and language, both he and Mom traveled to Costa Rica for linguistics training. During that year, Dad volunteered at an orphanage, where he connected with a boy named Ronny. Charmed by Ronny’s addictive smile and heartbroken over his traumatic story, Dad graciously challenged a stubborn, misguided mission board that ignorantly insisted, ‘You cannot adopt a child with black blood.’ Compassion defeated injustice (as it often must–even in Church culture) and that beloved boy finally became his son.

Dad & Mom commissioned by their pastor, prior to moving overseas.

While living in Venezuela, Dad built lifelong relationships with the Warao people. He got to know them while casting nets and pulling up fish, paddling in homemade canoes, and sharing stories around open fires. He learned their language and customs and humbly respected their ways. They welcomed him as their Bible teacher, mentor, and maybe most of all, as a trusted friend, willing to help carry their pain. On one particular occasion, he stood with a devastated Warao couple on the banks of the Orinoco and watched their tiny wooden box full of dreams and a baby, float away from their broken hearts. It was their seventh.

Dad on the dock, loading/unloading from a canoe trip with both American visitors and Warao friends.

After nearly a decade in South America, our family returned to the States. Eventually, Dad got a job teaching at a small Christian school, where his compassion moved through the classroom and down the halls. He encouraged those who struggled academically, welcomed those on the social fringes, and adapted his teaching style to those with different abilities. He was quick to speak Grace and unafraid to speak Truth to power–to be a voice for the ones who most needed an advocate.

After years of serving in the school setting, Dad carried his compassion into chaplaincy work, where he specialized in palliative care. He helped countless patients and families navigate the tumultuous road of grief and loss. Rather than comfort the distraught with empty cliches or religious platitudes, Dad found meaningful ways to be present, to create safe spaces for devastated humans to be their messy, broken selves.

Dad’s compassion extended beyond humans, too. He was a magnet for wounded or stray animals, helping countless critters who may have died otherwise. On one occasion, he let us kids keep an emaciated, oil-soaked kitten that my sister found stuffed inside an exhaust pipe–right outside our dentist’s office. We named the cat Lucky, of course. (Unfortunately, that 9 Lives thing is a myth because Lucky lived with us for only a few months before he was hit by a car. #tragicirony) 

Another time, Dad provided foster care for a Basset Hound named Charlie, whose owner had recently died. When the clock struck bedtime, this four-legged, floppy-eared orphan couldn’t bear to sleep alone so Dad slept with him on the couch to keep him from howling in grief all night.

My dad introducing Selah to Dundee, one of many exotic pets that thrived in Dad’s care.

Whether connecting with the Waraos, offering support for struggling families, or tending to wounded animals, every area of Dad’s life was (and is) marked with compassion–particularly his parenting.

 

Dad with his 5 kiddos, 2015. (Not pictured: excessive amounts of sarcasm and laughter. Also, frozen toes.)

Without judgment, he listened to my impossible questions about God and life and truth. He assured me that my doubts were okay and I wasn’t alone.

He was the one to whom I cried, “No! Oh my god! No, no, no!” the night I learned of my brother-in-law’s tragic and sudden death.

He listened to me rail against God and offered no easy answers–only a quiet understanding palpable through the phone.

He endured my rants against *Christian* institutions who believed burnout was a sign of ‘good ministry happening’. As a recovering people pleaser, I’ve appreciated Dad’s assurance that saying ‘no’ is vital for overall health and sustainable work.

My dad never really fit the stereotypical man. He doesn’t have a knack for car mechanics or construction and he never played organized sports. (Although, I’ve heard him tell people that he caught the javelin in high school.) While those skills certainly have value and I respect those who are competent in them, I didn’t learn them from my dad.

I did however, learn compassion.

He taught me to notice the lonely, the weak, and the beauty that blooms in those populations–if I’m willing to see it.

He taught me to weep with those who weep, to lean in to the ache of another.  

He taught me that there is no script for grief but we can choose to be present and tangibly support those left in its wake.

I close with a few excerpts from letters that my dad has written to me over the years. His empathy is woven through his words:

Dear Kate,

As your dad, who can only love with an imperfect love and who can only view an incomplete picture, I would control your life in such a way that you would be shielded from all hurt and pain. I keep reminding God (as if He needs reminding) that you’ve already had enough. I know He hears me and I know that you are the ‘apple of His eye’. And no matter what He allows, He will be our shield and defender, our rock, our shelter in the time of storm. I am praying for you now and in the tough days ahead.

May you strongly sense His everlasting arms.

~Dad (July 1997)

 

Remember that it is alright to carry your doubts to the Lord. He’s heard them many times from most of His children. He will not be shocked or angry. (November 1997)

 

Hey Kate,

Just want you to know that as always, I will be praying for you every day. I’m asking the Lord to give you peace about the present and the future. You will know the next step when it’s time to take it.

We miss you already but are content to know that you are serving the Lord so faithfully.

How we love you! (May 2000)

 

As your dad, I want to ‘fix’ what is broken but as a disciple of Christ, I have to leave that up to my heavenly Father. Please know that you are loved beyond words, by us and by all who know you–and by Him. Words will come as the numbness wears away.

For now, just know that we are with you.

Love,

Dad (October 2008, just days after our miscarriage)

 

I wish I could say or do something to ‘fix it’ but we all know how futile that attempt would be. There have always been times when I wished I could ‘rescue’ those I love from the injustice of life. I realize that statement implies that I have doubts about God’s goodness, His fairness or His love, yet I have learned through these many years that in spite of my doubts, I can still trust Him. Trust does not demand complete understanding.

We love you & Glendon more than life and we cherish our times with you and the kids.

Love,

Dad (July 2013, during a very difficult summer)

This weekend, despite the miles between us, I’m celebrating my dad and the compassion he brings to our family–and our world. I treasure this gift and I hope to use it well in my own life.

 

What characteristic do you most appreciate about your dad or male role model?

What is one meaningful memory about him that you’d like to share?