A Letter to My Children

 

Recently our country has erupted with news stories, staggering across the bottom of our tv screens, and finding their way into our news feeds, police brutality, another shooting of an unarmed black man or woman, Black Lives Matter rallies, violence against police. And my children have begun asking questions.

My eight year-old son Demetrius keeps asking me “ Mama, are they going to start segregation again?”

I have avoided his question for a long time. And I think the reason I’ve avoided it is because if I want to be honest, I have to answer him, “It never actually ended bud.”

 

And how do I begin to explain that dark history? How do I begin to explain that what they’ve taught him in school is not the whole story, or even an accurate portrayal of part of the story?

 

I feel super inadequate as a white woman, trying to communicate to my Black and American Indian son that the history of our country is full of darkness and oppression for his people.

 

Yet my avoiding his question, my unwillingness to feel uncomfortable and inadequate is problematic in this goal I’ve set to be a stone catcher. It speaks volumes of my privilege. So I am starting today, while sitting on the airport floor in Chicago, after binge listening to my hero Bryan Stevenson, I am feeling like I have to begin somewhere. So here is my letter to you Demetrius, and to all of my children:

 

D-D,
You know how we’ve been talking about what is going on in America, about why police have been shooting black people who didn’t have guns? You know how I’ve talked to you about how you need to act around police? You know how sometimes I yell at you when you loose your cool, and I start crying and I usually say something like, “Demetrius! If you act like that out there, you will get shot! You have got to learn NOW how to be respectful, because you don’t have the luxuries that Tre has.” And you always scream back at me, “That’s not fair!”

 

And you’re right!

It’s not fair.

 

And yet it is still true.

 

D-D, you keep asking me if they are going to start segregation again. But I want to tell you something. Something that th
ey haven’t told you in school, something that makes people uncomfortable. D-D, segregation hasn’t really gone away. We can call it different things now, it looks different than water fountains and schools. And yet it doesn’t at all. Because black people still don’t get the same water (Flint, Michigan) or the same access to education (http://www.usnews.com/news/blogs/data-mine/2015/01/28/us-education-still-separate-and-unequal ). And although we don’t have signs that hang outside of restaurants any more, we still have restaurants where you wouldn’t be served, just based on the color of your skin.

It’s awful. Really really awful.

 

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Here’s what I haven’t told you:

 

  1. There is a politics of fear and anger in America. Our leaders have fought to keep us afraid and angry for a long time. And when people are afraid and angry they will tolerate injustice, abuse, and cruelty. I don’t want you to be afraid and angry. I as your mom want to make sure you are a man full of hope. Because where there is hope, there is no longer a place for fear and anger. And then truth can reign. It is important that you, even as a little boy, begin to understand that identifying the ‘bad guy’ isn’t as clear as the news, our president, or your teacher makes it out to be. If we become afraid of a group of people, we will begin to make decisions that don’t represent our God.
  2. All people are equal. They aren’t treated equally though. And that is not what God wants. In my opinion, the worst part of slavery was that white people acted as if they were different than, better than, and superior to, black people. And we aren’t. And unfortunately that hasn’t much changed. The slaves were freed, but white people in America have continued to treat Black people as if they are inferior. It looks different than indentured servitude these days, usually, but it isn’t.
  3. Terrorism isn’t new. Terrorism has been occurring in the United States since the very beginning, it began with white people committing acts of terror on your American Indian ancestors. Terrorism didn’t strike in America for the first time on 9-11. Terrorism has been woven into the history that blankets our land. And without us being honest about what we, as white people have done, our country can never heal. The lynchings of black men, women, and children were acts of terror that infiltrated our country since the end of the Reconstruction in 1877 up until the 1950s. Muslim’s aren’t the first terrorists on this dirt. We are.

 

Buddy, I know that when we talk about these things you cry. I don’t ever want you to loose that. I want you to forever feel how awful this is. I want you to forever feel the weight of injustice. I pray that your dad and I can encourage you to not run away from what feels hard. I pray that we will teach you through our own broken paths, that you, D-D Luke, were made to do hard and holy things. Please be brave brave brave.

 

I love you to the moon Bub.

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(This letter was spurred after listening to a talk given by Bryan Stevenson at All Saints Church in Pasadena, California.)

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You need a therapist. A good one.

One of our favorite things to do with this blog is to write a post together. Unfortunately, that doesn’t mean we get to sit down and write at the same time, we just work together on a post- both bringing our best ideas to the table. It’s been a while since we did this, but we’re excited to introduce: What Makes a Great Therapist.

From Celina:

Throughout my 38 years, I have had a good handful of therapists, counselors and other helpers. Honestly, most of them did me only a little bit of good.  I sought out a therapists because whatever I was dealing with I knew I needed help and being a self-aware, relatively intelligent person, I found that they could not offer me much more than I already knew. I want to point out that I went into these therapy sessions as a willing party-wanting help. I wasn’t dragged or forced into anything (well when I was 15, but that’s another post coming soon). I went ASKING for help, and usually leaving empty-handed.

So, I’ve had lots of not-so-great helpers until about two months ago. Two months ago, I was at the lowest point of struggling with addiction that I knew I was not overcoming even with the weekly help I was already getting. Through a series of referrals, I found Chris (who I’ve mentioned before). Chris is the best therapist I have ever seen. Ever. And seeing him has helped me to realize what makes a helper great.

Here are the top 5 things that I think make a great therapist.

  1. A great therapist does not interrupt you when you are speaking. Even if they know that what they have to say is important and you need to hear it, or they are so excited about your breakthrough, they wait until you are totally done talking so that you can listen well because you’ve said all you need to say.
  2. A great therapist rarely talks about his or her own life. If they do, it’s a totally relate-able experience. I once had a counselor who when I would tell her what I was struggling with would say, “Well you think that’s bad, blah, blah, blah, here’s my story that’s worse than that…..”. That is not helpful or professional. I know maybe 5 things about Chris and 4 of them are because I asked.
  3. A great therapist doesn’t give you all the answers to your problems, they make you work for it. They make you sort things out until you can come up with some answers on your own. Then they help you with answers and solutions.
  4. A great therapist waits. They let you sit in the silence after you’ve spoken and they wait. Because maybe you are not done and until you’ve exhausted all you have to say, you won’t be ready to listen. They wait because silence is sometimes the thing we need most to heal. They wait because maybe they are measuring their own words before they speak them.
  5. A great therapist is qualified for your specific need. Chris is a specialist. He has studied and worked in the area that I am struggling with. If you are struggling with trauma, a general family counselor probably does not posses the tools you need to heal. General counselors for sure have their place- I am not wanting to downplay their role, but in order to get the best help, seek out a qualified specialist.

If you think you need some therapy (and I kind of think we all do), please don’t hesitate to seek it out. You might have to wade through some shitty counsel before you find what you need, but don’t give up! I’ve been going through the process of healing from addiction for almost two years now and it was only two months ago that I found Chris. Healing doesn’t happen overnight and you have to work damn hard to get it.

From Amanda:

Like Celina, I think everyone needs a therapist. Especially if you are in a relationship. With anyone. So that means everyone.

I go to therapy most often with my husband. We have a great marriage. And we need help. All the time. Without getting into our business, which I am sure you are not interested in, I will just say that most people marry their opposites, and so they struggle with understanding each other and each others motives.

That’s not David and I.

We test the exact same in most personality tests there are (except the Enneagram). It’s scary. And apparently fairly rare.

We go to therapy to be safe. Sometimes we go alone, but most often we go together. And our therapist is amazing. One time on the way to therapy I asked David, “We are doing so good, what are we even going to talk about?!” We found some stuff and I actually think that was one of our most powerful sessions.

So here are my top three things to look for in therapy.

  1. You leave with a lot less money than you came in with. I know this sounds silly, but I really believe it- good therapy is expensive and probably should be. Therapy is an art. It is something that takes a special gifting, and a lot of training. You can find cheap therapists, or even free ones but I suggest you invest in therapy. I really mean it. Investing in your mental health, spiritual health, and in your most precious relationships is wise. We may be broke, but we are rich in relationships, thanks to our crazy expensive therapist.
  2. You leave feeling redeemable. There have been times when David and I have stepped into our therapists office, and I wasn’t sure if we’d come out together or alive. I thought going in for sure one of us would be left bloodied on the floor. Never once have we stepped out of the therapists’ office feeling further apart. We have dealt with BIG stuff and every single time, on the elevator ride down to the parking lot, we hug and cry and kiss, and fall more in love. Our therapist has a way of reminding us what is the most important.
  3. You leave having learned something. Our therapist has taught us a few extremely valuable lessons. He does this quickly and usually in some sort of weird analogy. But the lessons he has taught us seem to come up daily in my relationships. Lessons about shame, lessons about arguing, lessons about listening, and lessons about story telling- all of which have been remarkably powerful. When I leave, I feel like I learned a lot, yet I have never felt like he was teaching me. It is a remarkable thing.

So you know we are a mess. And we know you probably are too. If you don’t have a good therapist yet, find one.

If you have a therapist, and you’re not sure if they’re good, they’re not good. Break up. Tomorrow. Because when you have a good therapist, its kind of like getting engaged, you can’t stop talking about it, you tell everyone, and your life changes forever!

nuts

XO,

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Road to Congo: Our Adoption Story Part 2

Now that we had decided we would adopt internationally to add to our family, we had to decide where to adopt from. There are probably hundreds of places that you can adopt from, but we knew only about China, Russia, and Africa. Truly at the beginning of this process we were totally open to wherever God would have us adopt from.
One thing we knew all along was that “God knew”.  We knew we had to ask the questions, but we also knew that God knew where our children would be from.

We started to think about all the places where there were children who needed families and suddenly, it became totally overwhelming. We were paralyzed with indecision about where we should adopt from.

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Because we knew there was no time for fear and indecision (I had already waited 2 years, people!), we decided to decide and to decide once and for all where we were going to adopt from. Once we settled on that, Congo was actually an easy decision. Congo was our introduction to this whole international adoption thing and it just made sense. At the time adoptions began in Congo, adoption agencies were boasting (falsely) a 9 month start to finish adoption process, the US government was offering a massive tax credit for adoptive parents, and we had a Congolese connection with Andy’s sister. So, we decided: Congo.

Now that we decided, we selected our agencies (we needed two- one for the domestic side and one for the international side) and we started the whole paperwork process. I’m not going to bore you with this, suffice to say- everything you’ve heard about the paperwork involved for adoption is true. If you plan to adopt, buy yourself a new pack of pens and plan on spending many waking hours filling out paperwork. Luckily, I am organized and driven so I dove right in. For someone like me, the paperwork was a breeze. My favorite game as a child was to play “office” so this was all fun for me. I planned date nights for Andy and I to just fill out paperwork and I actually loved every minute of it.

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Once we were signed on with agencies and filling out paperwork, we knew the next thing that would happen was a whole hell of a lot of waiting. So we decided to get to know what we didn’t know. I knew of two adoptive families through my job at Compassion, so I called them up, told them we were adopting and invited ourselves over to dinner at their homes. That was one of the best things I did during our wait. These families were open and honest about adoption- the good, the amazing, the bad, and the awful and it was just what we needed to hear. Like everything in my life, I had an unrealistic set of expectations about what adoption would be like. (Honestly, this is one of the biggest struggles with prospective adoptive parents- unrealistic expectations.) So meeting with families who were 2, 3, 5 years into the process and had their children home was really helpful. It enabled us to lower the bar and set realistic standards.

We decided early on to adopt siblings instead of just one child. The cost was much lower to adopt two children at once, rather than to adopt twice, and we knew we wanted more than one child, so it was easy to just do it all at once. We figured we didn’t know what we didn’t know about just having one kid, so we dove in (Andy and I tend to do this a lot..!).

Someone told us to “get the youngest kids you can” and that is sound advise (but it doesn’t address the fact that trauma impacts the brain even in utero). But getting younger kids can make the attachment and bonding processes easier, so there is that. We figured since we wanted two kids we would need to up our age limit a bit so we would have a better chance of getting a referral sooner, so we decided any gender, two siblings under 5 years old and that was our criteria.

Now that we had the big decisions made, paperwork underway and the waiting began we needed money. And lots of it. In the next part I’ll share how we raised funds for our international adoption.

XO,

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The pregnancy I always wanted didn’t save me

Four years. We spent four years trying to get pregnant. Every last hope. Every last wish. Everything I ever wanted hinged on having children. I wanted a baby so bad.

Anyone who has struggled with infertility knows the cycle of emotions. Shame. Pain. Embarrassment. Hope. Disappointment. Hope. Disappointment. Jealousy. Shame for feeling jealous. Hope. Disappointment. Anger. Sadness. Depression. Round and round it goes.

The emotions are suffocating. And so, so lonely. Because it is such a hard thing to deal with it’s an even harder thing to talk about. Infertility is very isolating. Every time I  hear of someone who has been ‘trying to get pregnant’ I am taken back to the place of isolation. I feel those emotions again: the sadness- deep and aching and I long to say, “I get it.” But having a baby after struggling with infertility boots you from the club. Yes I can relate, but to someone struggling, my struggle isn’t that real anymore. I have what someone else is wishing and praying for. So my voice into their sadness is a quiet prayer. When I was struggling, I remember talking to people who at one time struggled with infertility who now had children and it just didn’t count. No matter what kind of hope, courage or empathy they offered me. Because when you are in the depths of this struggle it feels like there is no way out. And frankly, I didn’t want to hear that someone else made it out because I knew I might not ever get out of that hole and I didn’t want to be alone at the bottom.

Our journey into parenthood is another blog post, but I’ll tell you this: because our desire for children was without reservation, we changed our “Plan A” to adoption. We knew we wanted children and after two years of trying to get pregnant we decided we didn’t care how they came to us. For some, the adoption process is just like the infertility journey, only it is years of the same cycle of emotions +++ years of paperwork and bullshitting. For us, after two years in the adoption process we were finally cleared to go to Africa and pick up our two children (unheard of timing). The day after I bought my plane ticket to pick up our kids, I found out I was pregnant. So I was leaving for Africa in two weeks (without my husband!) and I was finally pregnant.  For us: a miracle unfolding. Only two years to adopt internationally- unheard of. Pregnant now that everything about our adoption is final- unheard of.

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Here is Eloise making our pregnancy announcement two days after our return from Africa.

And now it gets good because in nine months time I will have a complete family. A husband, two children by way of international adoption and the baby I always wished for. What more could someone in my situation want? All the prayers, hopes and dreams have come true. Which is exactly what the problem was. All of my hope was hinged on things that could be taken away from me- things of this world. None of my hope was in Christ.

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So, when Avett was about a year old, and our adopted children had been with us about 20 months, I crashed. How could everything I’ve ever wanted crush me so badly? I was depressed. Seeking old vices. Not connected with anyone. Not anchored. I KNEW I had everything I ever wanted and yet I was m.i.s.e.r.a.b.l.e. Miserable. Unhappy. And most of all guilt-laden. The baby I dreamed of for years didn’t deliver the happiness the dream promised. The children I dreamed of for years didn’t save me. And please let me be clear here: every single one of my children is perfect. I don’t say that lightly, trust me I am a realist at best a pessimist at worst. Vaughn and Eloise really don’t misbehave. Avett slept through the night right away and was always a happy and fun baby. Childbirth and pregnancy were really wonderful. I had the natural childbirth I hoped for and a healthy baby. It wasn’t my children not meeting my expectations of a perfect family. It was my expectations of a perfect family. All of the dreams I had, when they were answered didn’t satisfy me. Because now there is nothing more to hope for. I truly, really, 100% have it all. So there is nothing left: except Jesus.

To be fair here, the truth is, I can’t blame 100% of my crash on my misplaced hope. Having three kids in nine months is a real shit storm. It is not easy- and when you are in the thick of something so, so hard you actually have no idea how hard it is. All the adjustments. All the unknowns. It’s crazy town. Until you have a moments rest, you don’t know how stressed, tired, and overwhelmed you really are. And that is certainly part of what happened to me.

I love my kids and they really do make me happy, make me laugh and in many ways complete me and my picture of who God created me to be. But they aren’t the end of the story and I made them my happy ending. My happy ending is Jesus and my real happy ending is heaven with Jesus.

So what now? I’m two and a half years in. I still struggle. I still hate myself for not being happy with what others would kill for. I still don’t understand why perfection wasn’t enough. But. God. I’ve pursued the things in life that don’t satisfy: drugs, sex, money. And now I’ve pursued more things in life that don’t satisfy: pregnancy, babies, a husband, a perfect family. One of those is an ‘unhealthy’ pursuit and the other, at least socially acceptable. But guess what: only Jesus. Only Jesus can fill me up. Only Jesus is the appropriate hope for me.

I’m happy with the life I have. My kids are wonderful. My husband is amazing. But getting what I dreamed and hoped for didn’t save me. It just made me realize how much saving I needed.

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XO,

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