My Latest Escape

I mentioned a while back how I deal with stressful times by picking up embarrassing hobbies. Making jewelry, reading about the apocalypse, almost burning my face off with peppermint essential oils. Good times!

I didn’t know how stressed I was about this coming summer (so many long days…so few plans…such bored Cherubs) until I scheduled my sixth Stitch Fix shipment in three months. I. Am. Hooked. I have officially entered the Random Modes of Escapism phase of my stress cycle, where the anticipation of a box of clothes – items that may or may not fit, be my style, or be anything close to what I need – brings me HOURS of joy. And because the financial commitment is so low (I might keep 1 or 2 items of what they send) and the wonder at having a few select items that actually fit is so high, I keep updating my Pinterest board and watching my email to see when my next box of Things to wear while listening to the Cherubs complain about how bored they are will arrive. (Seriously. This is a new fashion category for me. I have business casual stuff I wear to speaking events; jeans & tops I wear to church, meetings, appointments, etc.; and a small but growing collection of items I wear while sitting my home office deciding how long to let the Cherubs bicker before I intervene.)

The Serenity Prayer says something about accepting the things I cannot change/having courage to change the things I can. This is right at the heart of that. I cannot change summer. I have tried. I have failed. Camps were full by the time I called. #1 just wants to play video games, and #2 just wants to go shopping and paint pottery. I don’t blame them, but that seems like thin stuff to fill the seven weeks for which we don’t have plans. So to fend off worry (because panic is not helpful) I distract myself with lesser things.

To wit:

Here is a picture from my most recent Fix.

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Out of the box, I thought this top was the ugliest thing I’d ever seen, and the jeans looked like mint gum. Then I put them on and fell in love. I look like Kate Middleton! I thought, woozy with delusion. You know…when she’s twenty years older, and has finally made Queen, and can eat sometimes….

I’m Kate at 48!

I’m not sure Kate will ever have a crowbar lying in her closet because her bedroom renovation got a bit out of hand, but whatever. Now I have a DEFINED STYLE! It involves mint gum jeans, which I didn’t see coming. But whatever. It’s a distraction. I’ll take it.

Here’s the rest:

 

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The white top was too big, and I sold the blue bag on Facebook because I have one sort of like it. And the shorts…are just shorts. But as you imagine me saying to the Cherubs, for the 129th time this summer, No, you can’t go roam the northern suburbs with your friends for nine hours…no we can’t do unlimited screen time again today…Yes, I know you’re bored… isn’t it a more pleasant to picture it coming from Kate Middleton’s Future Self, rather than me in stretch pants and a giant T-shirt that used to be Steve’s?

The good news is, this too will pass. Actual summer will come. The sun will shine, temps will go up, and I’ll remember that if the kids are home and bored, we can go to the beach every single day if we want to. We won’t (want to, that is). But awareness of that freedom will permeate my brain when some critical combination of Vitamin D & salt air is reached, and I won’t need to manufacture fun surprises at quite the same pace.

But for now? I’ll take it.

If you need an escape, this is a fun one. If you try it through this link, I get a $25 referral credit, which brought the cost of my last Fix down to $13 for the sweater I kept.

I expect to hear from twenty-something Kate any day now, thanking me for giving her a vision for her future :)

Sharing a Win

I told you about the Women’s Retreat. And the CFCS Gala. But I also want to share a big family win that happened in the midst of it all.

Last Friday was the first night I’ve spent away from home & the kids since they moved in with us almost two years ago. We hugged goodbye Friday morning before school, and they saw me again Sunday morning before church because it was after midnight when I got in Saturday night.

When I think of what a disaster this would have been a year or two ago, I am in awe of how far we’ve come. I’m sharing this for those of you who are in the weeds of adoptive transitions right now and are terrified that the state of suspended existence you’re in right now might be your new forever normal. It’s not. 

Two years ago, if I’d tried this, the Cherubs would have been certain I was off doing something illegal. They would have been ANGRY, SCARED, and completely dysregulated (a psychology word that describes the state where you’ve lost your ability to cope and your behavior gets disruptive. The phrase, “He’s lost his sh*t?” Yeah, that’s dysregulation.) It would have been a mess, and totally not worth the damage and the aftermath.

One year ago, if I’d tried this, the Cherubs would have been mildly suspicious. The term shady would have been thrown around repeatedly, searching for a place to land. There would have been stern looks and mumbled comments about Don’t your kids matter more than a bunch of women? and I bet Dad wants you to stay home…  It would have been frustrating for everyone and probably not worth it, which would have left me ANGRY and SCARED that I’d always be hostage to their emotional ups and downs.

This year, there was none of that. The kids ate junk food they couldn’t wait to tell me about. Dad took them to Target and was in & out in under five minutes, a feat I cannot duplicate.  They slept normally, and jockeyed for who got to have their screen time first. They missed me, for sure. But they were free from worry and anger and fear, and able to continue on with regular life. That’s a gift.

It probably helps that we started talking about this retreat back in October. They saw the flyers, and the web page. They heard me announce it at church, and talk to people about logistics. They knew how stressed I was about low registration in the weeks before the event, and saw me grin with stunned relief as the registrations poured in during the last few days, putting us up over 100 people and squaring away the finances.  They knew who would be there, and a bit about what we’d be talking about. They knew it would be all women (which probably helped a lot.) A lot of preparation went into this on the family side.

But still. They were happy kids all weekend long. That is a miracle.

And on Tuesday, when we had another event to go to, and I told them “We’ll be coming home around 7:30pm”…then texted Steve’s awesome parents who were watching them at 8:25pm to say, “We haven’t even had dinner yet…” they kids were unphased. Grandma brought them upstairs and they put themselves to bed. And I had a glimpse of a world where these sweet children are truly able to launch out into the world feeling secure about things at home

I think I underestimate the role of consistency in relationships. Of being who you say you are, doing what you say you’ll do, and showing up where you say you’re going to be, over and over again.  Nothing we say can duplicate the power of trust earned over time.

I want to remember this in other areas of my life. I’m not always consistent. But one of my life goals is that whenever people from different areas of my life meet, if my name comes up, they will find that their experience of me has been more or less consistent. I spent a lot of time in my 20s & 30s (and early 40s) like a chameleon, adapting to my surroundings. I thought it was what I was supposed to do. It was pretty lonely, not to mention exhausting. At a certain point about five years ago, I sensed God (and Steve) telling me to stop, to be me, to trust that while no, I wouldn’t fit in everywhere anymore, in the places I did fit in, it would be a better fit.

I am stunned by the way this has shaped our new family. The Cherubs know this about their Round #2 Mom: I’m not that exciting. I wear mostly the same clothes, go to the same places, hang out with the same people. I like things other people might not like (such as writing books and starting a church and throwing retreats where people can connect with God) and don’t like some things others think are great (such as roller coasters and spicy food). I’m a little weird, but I’m consistent. And consistent is better than cool when you’re building a family. 

The Rest of Yesterday’s Story

Yesterday I had a bit of a rant. I wasn’t sure whether or not to post it. It had the potential to come across as full-on ungratefulness for all I have, and I am astoundingly blessed. It hasn’t been that long since I felt astoundingly NOT blessed (to the point where Steve and I actually had the conversation, “Do you think we might be cursed? Because in the Bible, lives like ours mean you’re cursed…”)  and so I don’t take what I have now lightly.

But here’s the thing: every answered prayer brings with it parts that drive you bananas. And every “here’s a look at my life” blog (or book) brings the temptation to only show the parts where you’re crushing it – not the parts where it’s crushing you.

I don’t want to do that. As disappointing as it is to watch someone who has something you’d give ANYTHING to have complain about it, it’s even worse to witness their seemingly perfect life and wonder why you’re not as constantly chipper and celebratory and just as thrilled to be alive as they are.

I’ve had those thoughts.

Why aren’t I capturing our lives in heirloom-quality candid photographs? Why don’t I have a capsule wardrobe? Or a in-home craft corner? Or a partnership with artisans in emerging nations whose wares I feature on my blog? Why don’t we do game nights? What does it mean that Steve wants to give up on the 1000 piece puzzle we attempted during vacation but I want to leave it out because it means we can just eat dinner in the kitchen? WOULD WE BE HAPPIER IF WE HAD CHICKENS??? 

I’m not even kidding. I’ve actually wondered if our lives might be more peaceful & happy (and heirloom-quality photo worthy) if we installed a coop of pecking, pooping BIRDS in our backyard. Because nothing says SERENITY NOW! and HONEY, TAKE A PICTURE! like your dog’s mouth filled with the feathers of Clyde the Clucker. Thankfully, my sister reminded me of the time THAT NIECE came home from a farm visit covered in bird lice. That cured my chicken fantasy once and for all.

But why did I have it in the first place?

I share about the things I struggle with in an attempt to make my online life look a little bit like my actual life. Yes, I untag myself from unflattering Facebook pictures. But then I circle back and tell you that the tummy rolls are so out of hand, they require professional intervention. 

The other day, someone asked me, “Who reads your blog?” I thought for a moment and realized that in my imagination, you guys are curious about adoption, wondering about what faith looks like in the midst of real life, and/or just interested in an entertaining story.

All of these things have ups and downs, and none of them are true or encouraging or memorable if they skip the hard parts. But to be really good, they also need a satisfying ending that leaves the main character in a place the reader feels good about. So let me do that for you:

My day yesterday was not all bad. Yes, the morning was rainy and rocky and emotionally perhaps not my best (given that whole hiding out on the third floor thing.) But then it was REDEEMED. The sun came out. I had lunch with a friend. I’ll call her JESUS POWER GIRL because she is so openheartedly encouraging everywhere she goes. She was full-on hands in the air praising God for something right there at our lunch table in the middle of Cambridge yesterday (not a common sight, to put it mildly) and the people around us were all smiling and nodding because the happiness is so contagious when she’s around. Then she told me about when she had three teen boys living with her, and how she was grossed out for years by the household aftermath of those sweet, smelly young men. But now they’re successful, launched actual men, and it’s worth it.

And with that, I got my eye back on the ball.

Thanks for hanging with me when there are dips in the ride. I know they’re not as fun as the slow climb to new heights. But if someone told me about a roller coaster and didn’t mention that I’d be terrified and furious for significant parts of the experience, I’d find it hard to trust them.

I’d rather have you trust me than think I’m perfect.

Trashed

If I have to pick up one more item of Cherub detritus, I will lose my mind. Last week we were all home for vacation. This week, our house is TRASHED. It’s been five days, and not only have I not restored us to a basic level of not panicking if someone knocks at the door, the filth has escalated to a point that I am holed away  upstairs in our bedroom/construction project, thinking, If I make things nice up here, maybe I can just leave downstairs to the savages…

There is scum and smell and crumbs and stuff everywhere. #1 Cherub’s room smells so bad, it’s leeched out into the kitchen. Last night I had him bring every single article of clothes he owns into the laundry room, because I’ve come to understand that his standard of “Oh, that’s clean…” and mine reside on different planets. #2 made this rice-in-a-sock thing in Home Ec that you’re supposed to heat up in the microwave to soothe hot muscles. I have no idea whose sock it was or where it came from, but it’s been on the coffee table in the middle of the living room since Tuesday, along with an earring, a hair elastic knotted with her ripped out hair, and the empty cover to Just Dance 2017.

 

Three weeks ago, #2 told #1 she would mend a hole in his soccer sock. So they left it IN THE DINING ROOM, UNDER THE KEYBOARD to await repair.

I’m not sure I’ve ever said or written this before. But I just can’t even

This is driving me to apocalyptic pronouncements. We cannot all four be home for a week ever again, because the aftermath is simply too much. Someone will have to go to camp, or on a missions trip where you’re only allowed to bring two items of clothing, or on a grand tour of mowing lawns for all the grandparents. Whatever. I don’t care. But this cannot happen again, because while I love being a wife and mom, and I love our house and the people/creatures who live here, I never for one second wanted to be a housewife. This is the worst job ever. I did not marry this building. I did not vow to love, honor, cherish, protect (scrub, dust, vacuum) it til death do us part. And yet here I am, hiding on the third floor, knowing what lies ahead.

(And before you tell me to farm this out to our good Cherubs, can I just tell you that they both have housekeeping jobs they supposedly do for allowance. But they do them with such an extravagant flourish of half-assery that you couldn’t pay me to take a bath in our hair-product/AXE gel infested tub, or sit on our dog hair covered living room carpet, even in the moments immediately following their efforts. And sadly (or not), I don’t have the energy to add intense chore oversight to my  bitchy-mom workload.  I have only so much nagging in me each day, and right now every single nagging unit is claimed by the never-ending battles of Yes, you have to eat protein and No, you cannot wear that today.)

I’m more convinced than ever that household mess is a result of the Fall, just one more thing to blame on Adam and Eve and that stupid piece of fruit. “You want knowledge of Good and Evil?” The serpent asked. “Eat this…then you’ll have DUST and GROSS FILM ON THE BOTTOM OF YOUR TOOTHBRUSH HOLDER!”

Jesus said we should take heart when the world gives us trouble, because He has overcome the world. If anyone knows of a testimony where someone has overcome the scourge out household mess by the name & power of Jesus, LET ME KNOW. I’m game for a miracle.

Blergh

I was sick yesterday. You know that weird feeling where it feels like all the blood has been drained from your arms and you just want to go to sleep for the next sixteen days? Yeah, that. Nothing was really wrong. I kept trying to buck up and get with the program. I schlepped Cherubs. I wrestled with an excel spreadsheet for next weekend’s women’s retreat. I thought about how, as much as I love retreats? That’s how much I loathe excel. I sent the wrong spreadsheet four different times to two different people. This is a test of my spiritual fortitude, friends, and I am failing.

Then I scrolled through Facebook and Pinterest until my head swam.

I love the practicality of Proverbs in the Bible, but sometimes I hate it when they’re true. Like the one that says, You can make plans, but the Lord’s purpose will prevail. Sigh.

On a funnier note, I peaked at my next Stitch Fix box (you can see what’s coming once it ships). It’s good that the last one was such a hit, because this one contains a pair of jeans in MUTED PURPLE. I can’t even describe how ugly they are, except that the first thought was That looks like something a cat puked up… And there’s a dress. You know how I feel about dresses. And while it’s true, I requested a dress (I have a Gala early next month for the organization that helped us adopt The Cherubs), I requested a very specific sort of dress.

I pinned THIS:

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Notice how the stripes make it almost not a dress, even though it is a dress? I was practically excited about it.

But they’re sending THIS:

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It’s like the striped dress got caught in a wood chipper, then the Duggar sisters pulled it out and added extra fabric to the bottom to make it modest. I’m cringing.

And finally, last night Steve & I discovered that we’ve been using the same toothbrush. For at least a month. Turns out we both like the red one. #Hygiene

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The Story of Our Staycation

In an Easter miracle that feels every bit proportional to Jesus rising from the dead, we managed to pull off a school vacation that didn’t suck.

Easter 2017

I am awed and grateful. I’m not even sure how to describe it, so I’ll just post a bunch of pictures with a few words to record this moment in time.

First, we had the two year anniversary of the day we met the Cherubs. We did not celebrate this, however. I tried that last year, asking #2, “What do you remember about that night?” to which she replied, “We just cried. We didn’t want to leave where we were to go live with strangers.” Yikes. So this year, we left this one right alone. Next month, we’ll celebrate Adoption Day, and then Moving In With Us day in June. But now we leave Nice To Meet You Day out of the picture. Lesson Learned.

We DID celebrate Easter, my favorite holiday.  At church we had art by Grace & Reena, and music about the incredible things we believe.

I preached about the Boston Marathon, and how cool it is that, four years after the Marathon Bombing, no one talks about who did it or why. Instead, everyone talks about the overcoming that happened in the aftermath, and how the words Boston Strong define who we are and what we love about living here. There are Boston Strong signs and t-shirts everywhere. I love it.

Then we prayed for Gwen & J.J. our two friends who’d be running the next day.  So inspiring.

Speaking of inspiring, Steve & I had a date afterwards! The Cherubs went on an overnight with their grandparents, and we went out for long relaxing lunch, after which we came home and RIPPED UP our bedroom.

And no, I don’t mean that as a metaphor.

Remember I told you about the stairs? And how that led us to some conclusions about the gross, hazmat-y rug?

Well, the project expanded in scope almost immediately. Replacing the floor somehow led to repainting the bathroom sink cabinet, pulling up all the baseboards, and taking down a wall.

Here is my inspiration photo:

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Here is what I woke up to this morning:

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Really, we’re practically there.

But I’m happy to report that there are now 10 contractor bags of gross rug down in a bagster next to the driveway, and our floor is now covered in lovely maple boards on which no dog has peed. I’m taking that as a win.

Perhaps the most exciting part of the week was watching Gwen finish the Marathon. Her friend J.J. flew up from Florida to run with her, and spoke at church about how friends run all different kinds of marathons together, cheering each other on and helping through the touch stretches. A bunch of us gathered in an office space overlooking the finish line to watched them cross, and as they crossed, we all pretended to have something in our eyes. Tissues all around for the big wins.

Finish Line Gwen and JJ

 

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Then Steve, the Cherubs & I walked back over the bridge into Cambridge. It felt like such a long distance, but our attitudes were kept in check by all the tinfoil wrapped people we passed who’d just run 26 miles, and the glorious sky over the city, and the fun of having something like this happen for people we love, in a place we love. Really, it was all the gushy feelings, accompanied by some sore legs.

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Speaking of sore legs – I went to the gym. Three times. My first session was with a trainer who is Irish and seven months pregnant, which means we looked like twins. I won’t post pictures of that. I’ll just say that I’m glad I can slide in my socks across the new wood floors as a form of travel rather than having to pick up my feet for each new step.

Happy Monday, All.

He is risen, indeed.

The First Days of Adoption

Friends of ours just met their kids for the first time!!! They’re adopting older siblings from foster care. For obvious reasons, this makes my eyes fog up. I am so excited for this new family. And aware of how vulnerable it feels to attempt this. As much as we all want to imagine these moments as beautiful scenes where orphaned children run into the arms of their new parents with bright smiles, grateful hearts, and the sun shining down on us all, that’s not exactly what it looks like.  At least that’s not what it looked like for us.

For us, it looked like equal parts wonder, awe, and terror.

I’d forgotten about this until our friends sent out a picture from the night they met their cherubs. They were on a couch together, arms around one another, looking for all the world like a ready-made family. It was GORGEOUS. It reminded me of sitting on a similar couch, taking a similar picture. And the surrealness of the whole, “Hi, so nice to meet you, I’m your new mom/dad/kid.”

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Don’t we look happy? But #1 is CLUTCHING that conversation ball for dear life. It might be the best present we brought that night. 

After that night, we started the visits and the process of getting to know each other. Our kids liked us okay. We were white, which wasn’t their favorite. But we said we’d get him a basketball hoop for the driveway, and that she could paint her room any color she wanted, and we had a dog. So that all worked in our favor.

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Steve & #1 assembling the basketball hoop. This took approximately 5 hours, at which point we could see in both kids’ eyes, “Wow, this guy might be serious about being our Dad…”

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Paint swatches on #2’s bedroom wall. She had hundreds of these, and was so excited when she found the perfect shade of lavender.  

We spent the next day with them. We shot baskets at court near their foster home, then went out for lunch. We went bowling, and for frozen yogurt. On the way home, #2 Cherub commented, “Wow, you guys spent A LOT of money on us today.” We didn’t know how to respond. She was right (who knew fro-yo could cost almost $30?). We hadn’t realized how soon we’d be navigating real parenting questions. How should we convey to them the truth – You guys are worth so much to us, of course we want to spend money on things like this, and the other truth – No, this does not mean we’ll buy you every single thing you ask for, like real Uggs or $200 sneakers – when we barely knew them? I think we said something about how we try to be frugal about some things so we’d have extra to splurge on things that really mattered.

Sometimes you just punt.

The next time we saw them was Wednesday.  I drove the 45 minutes to pick them up after school, then we came back to Cambridge to wait for Steve to get out of work so we could have dinner together. There was a weird rule I don’t quite understand that we weren’t supposed to take them to our house until we’d had a couple weeks of visits, so we ended up doing a lot of driving around and activities. I’m not good at planning activities, so this was super stressful for me.

Okay, let me get honest: this part was just awful.

I already loved these kids. But they were so unhappy to have their lives disrupted. They loved their foster mom, and her family. That was the best life they’d ever known, and they were ANGRY that they had to leave it. They hated the music I played in the car (all we could agree on were a few songs from the Jackson 5. Shake Your Body Down To The Ground will forever remind me of being stuck on 95 North in Friday traffic). They hated missing out on time with their friends and foster cousins.  On some trips, they’d both cover their heads with the blankets we kept in the backseat, just to get away from me.

This gave me lots of time to figure out activities for us, what with all the not talking.

This went on for two months.

Most transitions go WAY faster. (We have one set of friends that met their daughter on a Saturday, then she moved in The following weekend.) Often this isn’t based on what’s best for the kids or the new parents, but a more practical need: there aren’t enough foster homes available in Massachusetts, so if DCF can move two kids into a pre-adoptive placement and free up those beds for other kids? That’s the top priority. Fortunately for us, our kids’ foster mom was retiring, so there was no rush. We were able to spend two months transitioning. This let the kids finish off their school year where they were, and allowed them to process some of their feelings of loss, fear, and anger along the way, which made a little room for some excitement to creep in there.

That first Wednesday, we painted ceramics.

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Then we picked up Steve at work, ate dinner out, then drove them home. They were clearly relieved to get back.

I share all this to let you know: this takes time. It didn’t stay this hard forever. It’s been more than a year since either kid hid under a blanket on a car ride (I mentioned this to #2 last week, and she’d forgotten all about it.) But it was rather rocky for what felt like forever, as it ticked by, one minute at a time.

What helped us turn the corner? There were a bunch of things. Their foster mom did an incredible job helping them wrap their minds around the concept of adoption. We showed up on time for every visit and seemed glad to see them, which counted for more than we ever would have guessed. But the unexpected factor was THIS DOG.  The kids loved her, and she loved them. They agreed that she was awesome, even though the jury was  still out on us. And so they let her nudge them along those first few steps of becoming a family.

A pivotal moment was the night we brought Bergie with us to drive the kids back to their foster home. They got out of the car, hugged us and her, and then headed in. Bergie looked out the car window as they went up the steps and in the door, and then began to howl.

She’s part Great Pyrenees (you can read about our best guess at her genetic heritage here), bred to protect sheep. From Day One of meeting them, The Cherubs have been her sheep,  and she takes her job seriously. She was MOST UNHAPPY that night when we drove away without them.

This was, I suspect, the thing that helped the kids consider the possibility that our house might be an okay home, and we might be okay family.

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Waiting for #1 to come home. She has subdued an invading bear and has things on lockdown. 

Every family has its own unique story. Our friends’ experience transitioning will be different than ours. They’ll have their own ups & downs. Life might look long sometimes. They might wonder if they’ve ruined all their lives with this crazy idea. (Okay, I’m sure THEY’LL never wonder that. Surely that was just us…) But you do what you do in any challenge in life: you hang on, pray, and watch for small signs as things get better.

Over time, we’ve seen a cycle, where what used to feel like miracle moments of unexpected closeness become the new normal. Then we climb up on that new level and reach for the next step. This is my hope for our friends.

And for YOU when you adopt your cherubs from foster care :)

 

Laughing & Crying

I didn’t realize how schizophrenic my weekend was until I sat down to write this post.

First, the funny part:

Have you guys noticed that the way clothes look on Pinterest & style cards isn’t AT ALL how they look on a live body? I think this is a metaphor for EVERYTHING.

This weekend, Steve & I both had boxes arrive from Stitch Fix. I am incredibly in love with this service, ever since they sent me a pair of jeans that fit right out of the box. My round #2 came at the same time Steve got round #1. The results were…mixed.

Here is Steve’s face when he opened his box:

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I laughed so hard I hiccuped. You can’t really tell from the picture, but that plaid shirt looked like it had been made from men’s swim trunks as part of a Project Runway challenge. The look is best described as metrosexual surfer. It even had those loop things on the sleeve with the button!

If you have met Steve, you know that there is no way he would ever wear something like that. The man is a hockey goalie. He buys his clothes at Timberland, NorthFace & L.L. Bean. Next he pulled some grey Sperry-type boat sneakers from the bag and I had to gasp to get enough air.  He tried it all on under protest. The Cherubs were speechless.

We looked at the little style card they sent with the packages and realized something: There is a GARGANTUAN GAP between how things look in 2D, set out flat on a style card with coordinating pieces, and how they look in 3D, on a living person.
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(I’m sad to report that Steve would not let me take a picture of him wearing these items. This shows once again that he is wiser than me.)

Here’s the thing: If you’d shown me this card in advance, I’d have said, “That looks great – he’ll love it!” (Provided I didn’t notice the little sleeve loops). But there’s this collision that happens when we try to transition things from 2D to 3D. Not everything survives the trip.

Honestly, I cannot stop drawing deep metaphors from this experience.

***

Yesterday, I gave a Palm Sunday sermon inspired in part by this Stitch Fix experience. I talked about how disappointing it is when something you hope might be the answer to your prayers comes within reach…and then turns out to be not at all what you expected.

At least 5 people in our congregation have asked us recently some version of the questions, “How do you deal with disappointment? How do you stay faithful to believing God’s promises when you’re in pain?” As silly as it sounds, Stitch Fix gave me a starting point. It was a low emotion example that helped me think this through, and share it in a way that we could all laugh at. Because we’ve all had the experience of seeing something in a picture and thinking, “That would be great!” only to have it collapse when exposed to the challenges of real, 3D life.

So I told them about how, in order to face getting dressed in the morning, most of us have to die to the idea that we’ll look like a supermodel, or a flat style card. We all laughed.

That was the easy part.

Then came the harder part, because some things are a big, pain-filled mystery and we just don’t know where God is in it all, or what He’s doing.

I talked about the pain of losing Princess Peach four years ago – the devastation Steve & I felt then, the hurt look I still see in her eyes when we see her, how she tries really hard not to ask why we let her go. (Two years ago we gave her a doll for Christmas and her first eager question was, “Does it smell like you?”) I’m still looking to God to make this right when it looks so very wrong.

I know it’s obnoxious to compare this loss to an unfortunate Stitch Fix delivery. But I need both examples.

Steve has already forgotten that that plaid shirt ever happened. (He’ll be quite surprised to see another box arrive in June, with selections from a updated style profile and a Pinterest board I made from pictures of clothes hockey players might wear.) This low-bar example gives me space to think through how I deal with disappointment: in most cases, I trust that there is a something better is possible, and that it’s coming.

The challenge is applying this to bigger things; to real hurts where the emotions are  too live for me to figure out what response my faith suggests, because I’m simply surviving. There are so many swirling questions when we’re in pain. How do I trust that this is God’s best for Princess Peach? For us? What do we DO? How do we move forward? Of course, learning about adoption from foster care led us to The Cherubs, which is amazing. But I don’t think God leaves one little girl out in the cold so that two other kids can have a Mom & Dad. I have to believe that the story is not over.

Closing out the sermon, I shared one special memory that helps me:

It was our last day with Princess Peach. We were in the car, driving her to where the social workers were meeting us to take her away. They were over an hour late, so we had a lot of time to fill. Steve prayed a Father’s blessing over Princess Peach, speaking love and a vision for her life. Then we drove around Cambridge, all three of us numb with disbelief. Princess Peach starred out the window and stroked the soft fur of the stuffed puppies we’d bought to take with her to keep her safe. We had the iPod on shuffle to fill the silence. Then a song came on and Princess Peach lit up. “Play THAT ONE again, please!” she said.

It was a song by CeCe Winans, called “It Ain’t Over.” It’s one of those songs where you stand up in church and stomp your feet and clap. It’s a BATTLE song. Princess Peach kept saying “Play it again?” So we did.

So you gave it all you had

And you still came up short

You’ve been faithful through it all

And you answered the call.

Keep your eye on the prize

Don’t give up the faith

God has a plan for you

That’s why we say…

It ain’t over.

It felt like God was right there with is in that awful moment, challenging us to believe.

And so we do. It’s been four years. I still cry every time I hear that song. We’ve seen Princess Peach 3 times in those years. I don’t know what God is doing, but I know this for sure: It ain’t over.

We pray for her every day.

We move forward with life, trusting that God will reconnect our dots someday.

And we take joy in small things, because they add up and make a difference.

One of the hardest things for me after we said goodbye to her was figuring out how to LIVE. To laugh at something funny, or enjoy a good meal, or be excited about cute jeans that fit…it seemed like such a betrayal of her. We lived in a suspended state for months after that, certain she’d be back.

We were surprised when Easter came, so to speak. How Jesus showed up and reassembled us, giving us new life where we were dead inside. It’s been miraculous. The pain hasn’t disappeared. But we’ve grown into the ability to carry it and live on. And in that, I trust that He is doing something similar in Princess Peach, because she loves him and so is covered under the promise of Romans 8:28 (“For we know that in all things, God works for the good of those who love him and are called according to His purpose.“) I hang onto this verse like a lifeline. And then I entrust this sweet girl to Jesus, and get on with everyday life.

***

My Stitch Fix box turned out better than Steve’s.

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There was another pair of jeans that fit, which makes me want to hug my stylist “Katelyn,” whether she’s a person or an algorithm. I kept a top that was not at all something I would have picked for myself after Steve walked in and said, “Wow, that looks great on you!”

The other three things – a blazer like one I already own, a top I loved thats didn’t quite fit, and a wool scarf – went back (and made me realize I need to take the cold weather outfit pictures off of my Pinterest style board). I didn’t get the 25% discount you get if you keep all 5 items. But even at full price, it was worth it. I spent five minutes placing an order, rather than three hours at the mall, and came out with a new outfit. I don’t look like the perfection on the style card. But I’m a nicely updated 3D version of me :)

I’m taking every bit of joy I can out of that small, silly win.

To sum it all up…

Listen to this song. Pray for Princess Peach, and for the big questions you still have about what God is doing in your life. It’s okay to clap and have some fun with it. I think part of heaven coming to earth is that it brings a lot more joy than we expect, even in the midst of pain:

And if you need some clothes, or feel like you’re style is hopeless and you can’t face the mall? Try Stitch Fix. If you order for the first time through the link, I get a $20 referral credit, which makes jeans more affordable.

This life is both/and, you guys. It really is.

Power Struggles

Rough week here in Ryanville. One of our Cherubs truly believes she is maturing at a tremendous rate, such that she’s becoming more our peer than our child. In her mind, she, Steve & I form a triune leadership counsel, through which we lord power over her brother and the dog. She tolerates my place on the counsel grudgingly. But in her eyes, I’m sort of like the Queen Mum: an annoying ceremonial necessity she must tolerate as she works her way to the throne.

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I cannot even describe how exhausting this is.

In a state of desperation (and because I want to make sure we can afford Catholic school before I threaten to send her there), I’ve turned to Cesar Milan, a.k.aThe Dog Whisperer, for help.

No, I’m not kidding.

I started watching his show & reading his books after we adopted THIS DOG.  As some of you remember, Bergie came to us huge and mostly untrained. She couldn’t walk on a leash without leaping and thrashing, and she looked at the stairs to our house like they were the strangest thing she’d ever seen. She weighed 93 pounds at that point, so these were LARGE problems.

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Steve used to call her “Pot Roast.” :)

Cesar’s point of view on dog training is clear: Dogs need stability, consistency, and clear authority. To become part of the pack, he says, a dog needs to know what is expected and how to participate successfully. Nothing makes a dog more anxious than an unclear pack structure. 

Then he let fly with this gem of awkward truth: “Human beings are the only creatures on earth who will follow an unstable leader.”

Yikes and wow. Hearing this the first time, I realized how trained most of us are to ignore signs of instability in our leaders (and in ourselves when we lead). We don’t want to rock the boat or make things awkward, we don’t know how to fix what’s broken, so we double down on whatever we’ve been doing, hoping more will help. But more unstable leadership doesn’t make a healthy pack. Only good leadership does that.

Cesar’s take on this has been revolutionary for me. With THIS DOG, I realized that I had to stop being pulled around the block by this giant creature, stop talking a high pitched sweet voice trying to appeal to her better nature, and stop letting her jump all over our furniture whenever she wanted. I needed to toughen up. Not in a mean way. I needed to learn to communicate to THIS DOG exactly what I wanted her to do. Which means I needed to figure out what I wanted her to do, so I could let her know.

Which brings me back to my Cherub. I don’t know if this is true with all kids, but I know it’s prevalent in kids who have been in foster care: They don’t trust adults. My kids still don’t trust Steve & me to do what we say, or be who we need to be, or do what needs to be done. They assume we will fail, forget, flake out, or otherwise disappoint them. So they prepare for this contingency.  And perhaps because they’ve been less socialized in faux kindness, our kids are closer to the instinct-level functioning Cesar Milan describes. My Cherub will not follow an unstable pack leader. She will fight that leader in an attempt to take over the pack.

Thinking of our family as a pack is an interesting perspective shift.  I’m pretty confident her behavioral acting out is a problem in leadership, not followership.  So I need to figure out what it is I expect from her, specifically, and communicate that to her, pronto. For her to do better, I need to do better.

(And yes, this means she was right when she said that adoption is “kind of like puppy rescue.”)

I can train a Great Pyrenees mix (a breed often considered untrainable because they are so incredibly independent) to walk gently at my side, I can teach a tween to respect (or at least pretend to respect) authority. It has to be possible, right?

If you think the answer is no, don’t tell me :)

 

Adoption & Marriage

Today’s question is from Tsedal: How did adoption impact your marriage?

Like a cyclone followed by a tidal wave.

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Steve & I have been through some tough things in the 12 years we’ve been married, but nothing has come close to the  challenge of adopting from foster care. Nothing.  There was one night, back when we had Princess Peach, where I looked at Steve and thought, Holy crap, I forgot you have green eyes…  These moments freak me out, and lead me to a frantic place of How do we go back to being connected? But what I’ve learned is that we don’t go back. We set our eyes on a new place and swim ahead to meet there.

There are two major stress sources we’ve dealt with in this process.

The first is DCF. Massachusetts has one of the worst foster care systems in the nation. You know those states in the deep south where folks don’t believe in government sponsored social services? Yeah. We’re below those. For all the talk about us being a part of the liberal elite, this is one place where we are definitely not elite-ing. I have thoughts on surviving this, but I’ll talk about that in a future post, because it’s kind of it’s own thing. But I’m thankful to say that our DCF experience adopting the Cherubs was much better than our DCF experience with Princess Peach.

The second stress source is the one I think Tsedal was asking about: the challenge you experience when you add two more people to your life.

Steve and I went into our adoption with some solid reserves in the happily ever after department. We’d started our marriage terrified that we’d blow it, and so spent those early years searching out good advice. Most of what we received was total crap, to be honest. I wrote about this in my second book, how useless we found the common marital wisdom: Communication is the most important thing. Sex matters less and less once you’re married. Get in touch with your feelings, they’ll never lie. Thank God we didn’t go with that.

The best advice we got – that we still use today – came from a video of a conference where a group of no-nonsense, straight talking African American pastors (I can’t tell you how grateful I am for the way the black church doesn’t mess around pretending abundant life comes via three easy tips and a “God loves you” refrigerator magnet) pulled no punches as they talked about what it takes to build a marriage. They told us to put God first, ahead of each other. The said we should pray about things that bothered us before discussing them (sometimes rather than discussing them, at least in the heat of the moment). They insisted that we should never ever speak negatively about each other to other people – no girl talk about frustrating habits “all men” have, no guy talk about nagging/overspending/sex-withholding wives. Engaging in that talk is CURSING YOUR MARRIAGE, they said. Don’t do it. They quoted a Proverb that warns, “A wise woman buildeth her home, but a foolish one plucketh it down with her own hands.”  They talked about the call of God on wives to build up our husbands with our words – not imaginary flattery, but with the truth of who God made him to be. She said this was an act of war against the things that daily life tempts us to settle for. And then finally, in perhaps the most hilarious part of the conference, there was this powerful declaration: Ladies? You need to give that man some s*x! They explained how this is intended by God to be the bonding agent in marriage; how it’s not about being in the mood, it’s about building and reinforcing the strength of your marriage.  (I apologize that I only remember the things wives should do part of their advice – it was far more balanced that that.)

These are the things we’ve tried to do.

Adoption has made them as close to impossible as I’ve ever experienced.

Perhaps the most unexpected part of adoption for me has been how much of it is a power struggle. Who is in charge? Who is most important? What takes priority? Does the squeaky wheel always get the grease? If not, then HOW DO YOU STOP ALL THE SQUEAKING?

Kids demand to be the center of the universe, of course. We know this. But when you adopt, you also know that these particular kids have gaps in getting the love & attention they need to thrive, and you want to fill in those gaps as quickly as possible. So you pour EVERYTHING into that, and then some. This worked well for us at first, and then it didn’t. Then we had to set our house in order, so to speak.

At first, the Cherubs HATED it when Steve explained the God first, marriage second, Cherubs third prioritization system. #2 Cherub in particular (the one who genuinely doesn’t understand why we won’t give her the master bedroom) was offended. So we explained (repeatedly) how putting God first adds security to our marriage, and putting our marriage next, above them, adds security to our parenting. This is good news, we told them. Watch and see…

Then we struggled to live it out.

When you adopt, you’re told you need a strong support system. You have no idea what that means, so let me tell you: It’s not just friends & family who think what you’re doing is cool. It’s friends & family who can pass a CORI background check and will babysit.

You’re told to plan date nights (or nights out with a close friend if you’re single) so you can recharge. This is so good in theory. But if you’re four months sleep deprived and starting to twitch at human contact? The last thing you can pull off is a date night — it’s too much restaurant selection, too much non-mom outfit finding, too much expectation to figure out where you left your eyeliner six months ago when you last used it.

We are just getting a handle on this, almost two years in. I wish we’d done it sooner, but it was simply beyond us. (Some might call this depressing. I call it being a lifelong learner :) )

Date nights are where we remember that we prefer each other. It’s a chance for Steve to say, “Let’s have sushi, I know it’s your favorite,” and me to say, “I’ll drive home so you can have a beer,” because most of our everyday life is about the kids, rather than each other.  Date nights give me time where my head is clear enough to even think of how to encourage Steve, because the exhausted hour after the kids’ bedtime (when we’d both rather be watching Madame Secretary) is barely enough for basic maintenance, let alone team building.

So we’re trying to get good at that. Pray for us.

The one other thing I’ll add is how late I was to recognized that (despite all the ways Steve & I share parenting), setting the tone and emotional temperature for our home is almost entirely up to me. I’m not sure why this is, but I’ve discussed it with other adoptive parents and this seems frustratingly true: If you’re a woman? You’re probably the happiness thermostat for your household. So I’m working on keeping it at a good temperature. This is good for the kids, but even more important for us. It’s so much easier for Steve & I to have a good marriage when I am generally happy. So I’m getting really intentional about having my own work to do that isn’t related to the kids, responding to their drama in a calm, even tone, and using what Princess Peach used to call “the firm voice” to quash nonsense quickly, before it spirals. This way when things come up, they’re real things, not just the vague malaise of overwhelm that creeps in if I’m not vigilant.

That said, we’re getting the hang of it. It has taken longer than we expected, but we’ve reached a point now where we’re building reserves again rather than draining them, which feels good.

If you’re thinking of adopting? Take a dream vacation. Get a big fluffy dog. Move to Greater Boston and join a great church with people who will pray for you AND babysit your new kids when you’re forced out on a date night. Build up your reserves so you have the time you need to establish your new normal.

It’s not easy. But it’s worth it.