Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Almost Home

We met Faith and Brian on a Tuesday. Wednesday we scheduled time to take them out for a short visit with us. We met their foster mom at their day school and took them out to Wendy’s.  On the way into Wendy’s Faith asked what they should call us. When Kirk asked them what they thought, Brian piped up right away, “mom and dad”. Faith looked like she was thinking or waiting to see what we said. We told them that if they felt comfortable with mom and dad that was fine with us, but if they weren’t ready they could take their time .

Over dinner we were getting all kinds of questions. Faith asked, “So, the Element, is that your car or our car?” and she made a motion with her hand to indicate all of us. I said, “our car.” She seemed to get a kick out of that. They started saying things like, “when do we get to see our house. What are the names of our cats again?  On and on with our.

After Wendy’s, we went bowling, Faith was very chatty with me. Brian followed Kirk everywhere and took every opportunity to say “dad.”

When our visit was over, none of us wanted to leave each other.

The next day was Faith’s birthday so we called her on the phone to wish her a happy birthday and that we would be at their birthday party on Saturday. As soon as Kirk hung up, the phone rang-it was Brian saying, “Hi”.

Friday we picked them up and brought them to the house to show them their home and their bedrooms.  They loved seeing their rooms and meeting the cats. We had some dinner, strawberry shortcake and went swimming. As soon as we told them it was almost time to go back and that they needed to dry off, Brian had a meltdown. He refused to get out of the pool and just went completely wild. It was the first time we had seen this side of Brian and it was a startling dose of reality. He had this crazy look in his eyes and took some time to get him to comply. 

On the way home he was pretty wild and was getting his sister worked up. We lost our way for a little while on the way back to the foster home. Faith asked if we were going to have to spend the night in the car.  Brian started laughing uncontrollably.

By the time we reached their foster home we were all a wreck. Brian ran out of the car, arms flailing like crazy and ran into the arms of his foster mom. Faith just walked with her head down. The foster mom looked at us and then at them, “Is everything ok?” I wondered if the kids were thinking they had messed up and we would change our minds.

On the way home I kept seeing Brian’s’ crazy eyes and playing over and over what had happened. The reality of what we were about to take on was heavy on us. We had a hard time sleeping that night. For the first time in my life I felt like I was going to have a panic attack. I kept imagining that the next 10 years would be like this.

Kirk and I had long conversations. Could we do this? They were already calling us “mom” and “dad”.  We felt like we had no choice but to make the hard commitment to do whatever we had to do and get whatever support system we needed, to make this work. For the sake of the kids we had to do this. We were going to wear our knees out in prayer, and we were going to have to stick together as a couple like we never had before. 

Monday, August 25, 2008

Monsoon Emotions

During a good Monsoon a dust storm is followed by rain.  The heat increases and draws out all the moisture from the desert as the day goes on. In the late afternoon the moisture explodes into high thunderclouds that reach up into the atmosphere at a rapid rate. The downdrafts from these forming thunderstorms kick up dirt. A well-formed storm can kick up a wall of dirt miles wide and thousands of feet high, causing traffic accidents, and dusting everything in its path. When the dust passes a downpour of rain almost always follows it.

After spending a year with our kids we have gotten so we can see the signs that something inside of them is brewing into a storm. This past weekend, Brian regressed in his behavior a little. He would be swimming in the pool and we would hear him growling. His play was unusually energetic and he was having a hard time calming down. His emotional strength was low and he reacted or cried over everything.

After 2 days of watching this behavior and giving each other puzzled looks, Kirk and I had a talk. We both agreed that Brian must be thinking about something. Kirk had some grocery shopping to do and he took Brian along. On the way to the store, Kirk talked to Brian.

“How are you doing, Brian?”

“Good” was the answer.

“Well, you are giving me signs that something might be bothering you. Are you thinking about anything?”

Brian hemmed and hawed and tried to change the subject by asking what kind of car had just passed them.   He finally said, “Yeah, I’m sad that I might never see my mom again.” He again changed the subject by asking about another car they passed.

Later that evening we had a family talk. We have talks occasionally where we open the floor for them to ask us questions or talk about things they are thinking about. Brian brought it up again, “I am sad that I might never see my mom again.” He started to rock back and forth, buried his head in a pillow and started to laugh hysterically.

Faith looked at Brian, and then at us, “He does that when he is upset.” She then scooted over to where I was sitting and grabbed my hand, “I’m scared”. I held her hand. We let Brian laugh and rock for a while. Then I got on the floor, sat next to him and put my hand on his back. He sat up and rested against me. Faith moved over to my other side and rested up against me on that side.

We talked. Brian was cycling through grief again and he needed a safe place to go through it. I was reminded how wounded theses kids are.  

Sunday, August 24, 2008

How I met my kids

Kirk pulled into the cul-de-sac and parked in front of our case workers white Silverado. My heart was pounding and my head throbbing. I looked at Kirk. I saw it in his eyes too. Did we make the right decision? What if they hated us? What if we weren’t ready for this?

Kirk moved first, “We might as well go in”. I moved, but slowly. It was like in a dream where you can’t seem to get your body to move fast enough to run away from the monster. He took my hand. We walked toward the 2-story house, up the front stairs to the porch, and Kirk reached his hand out to ring the doorbell. I knew now that there was no turning back. Ready or not, here we were.


About 1 year earlier, Kirk and I had gone to an orientation at AASK, the Arizona Adoption of Special Kids. We were really impressed with the presentation and signed up that we were interested in more information on foster to adopt*. We had thought about this for many years. Kirk and I had been married for 16 years and were unable to have children of our own. We felt like this was the right time in our lives to move forward with adopting children.

It took us about 8 months to go through the paper work, background checks, and the 10 weeks of training.  Once we were certified, we started to receive e-mails on profiles of children that were available for foster/adopt. Sometimes it was overwhelming to just read the cold hard facts on the kids. Sometimes I wondered if I was in over my head.

About 2 weeks before we met our kids, I got a crazy idea. I called Kirk at work and asked him how he felt about adopting siblings. I didn’t see myself raising an only child and I felt that it would be a hard adjustment for the first child we adopted, to bring another stranger into the home. Ideally, I thought it would be nice to adopt a brother and a sister too. Kirk and I agreed, so I sent an  e-mail to my case worker. I got an  e-mail back right away. It said, “Funny you should mention that. I will send over a profile that just came through, that you might find interesting.”

We thought the profile sounded right for us, so I called our case manager. He agreed to represent us at a meeting regarding the children. Five families in all sent their caseworkers to represent them at the meeting.

I was getting ready to leave for a movie night at church when I got the call. Out of the five couples, we were unanimously voted to take in Faith and Brian. It was so exciting and scary all at the same time. I called my sister and let her know. I told a few friends at church that night too. It was almost overwhelming to feel all the emotions of the drastic change that we were about to experience in our lives.

1 month later we met with our case worker, the state workers representing the children, their court appointed special advocate (CASA) and a supervisor or two. At that meeting we were presented with all the known facts of the case.  Every issue, every single good or bad deed that they had done.

Their CASA had taken a photo of the kids recently and passed it down to us. In the photos, they were hiding behind a tree, poking their faces out and smiling ear to ear. They were so cute. It was Friday and we were given until Monday to make our decision. When we left the office, I remember standing outside with our caseworker and Kirk said, “It sounded pretty good to me. We will let you know as soon as we decide.” Our case manager agreed that this sounded like a good case. When we got in the car to leave we both looked at each other. “What do you think?”, said Kirk. “It sounded good to me”, I returned. “Lets go for it.” We felt very at peace with our decision. I didn’t feel any conflicting feelings or misgivings.

On Saturday, I called the CASA (who had given me permission to do so) to ask more questions. When she answered her phone and started talking I heard the voice of a little girl in the background, “who is that?” That was the first time I heard Faith’s voice.

On Monday we alerted everyone that we decided that we were going to take these kids in. Everyone was excited to have finally found a home that would take both Faith and Brian.  Placements for older siblings can be very hard. Faith was 10 and Brian 9. Our first meeting was set for the following Wednesday. We would have dinner with the kids at the foster home where they were currently living.

The state worker told us that she would get to the foster home early and talk to the children before we got there. She would tell them that a couple had chosen them out of all the other children in Arizona, to be a part of their family. She would then show them pictures of our home and tell them a little bit about us. Then we would show up…..


So Kirk rang the doorbell.  We heard a little commotion inside. A skinny little boy with big eyes swung the door open. He looked right at me and hollered, “She’s pretty!” and ran back inside. When we came in out of the sun, I saw a little girl in a flowered jumper, sitting on the couch, holding the pictures of our home in her hand.

We sat down and the case worker encouraged the kids to ask us questions. I don’t remember what they asked us. I do remember Faith was quiet and seemed to be studying our faces. Brian couldn’t wait to show us the tricks that he could do on the trampoline that was in the backyard. We were only supposed to stay about 2 hours to keep the first visit simple.

Later, the state caseworker said that she had never seen a visit go so well and it seemed like we all got along so quickly. Maybe she tells everyone that, but then maybe not.

 At a photo shoot with friends that night I told them, “I just met my kids and I have fallen head over heels in love with them.”



*Foster to adopt is when you are willing to take in a foster child whose case plan has moved toward adoption. The risk factor (or emotional risk) is higher, because that can change.

Friday, August 8, 2008

Thirsty Living

I was running errands with my daughter on Sunday afternoon, when I realized my mistake. Faith and I had forgotten our water bottles-something a desert dweller is never without.  I was thirsty, so thirsty my mouth was dry when I tried to swallow.  It was the 32nd day in a row that temperatures had soared over 110. Wind blew like waves out of a just opened oven. I licked my dry lips out of impulse, but knew they would just chap. To the east monsoon clouds were building over the McDowell Mountains, and I hoped they would bring rain. It seemed lately though, that even the most threatening storms passed over or fizzled out.  Sometimes a few fat drops would hit the sidewalk and evaporate seconds later on the sizzling pavement.

I was not only thirsty but I wanted to see water-not water in the pool, real, natural water.  When the passing storm caused temperatures to drop below 100 that evening, I knew I had an opportunity. I wanted to visit my favorite spot in the desert.  I knew that there was enough for the hike before the sunset or before a storm would reach us. When I told my family where I was headed, they all wanted to go too. There was a sense of excitement.

We quickly filled our camelbacks and put on hiking shoes and drove out to REACH 11, a desert preserve at the north edge of Phoenix. If you judged a trail by how it looks when you start, you would not choose this trail. A sandy path winds through sparse mesquite shrubs and scorched grass. An old saguaro cactus, pitted with holes from cactus wren and gila woodpeckers, is a sentinel near the beginning of the path.

We started the trail, knowing there was water at the end of our path. We knew that the desert would give way to something that few people know about. The mesquite shrubs got bigger and closer together, and then the path became cooler as overgrown mesquite boughs reached overhead. Tall green African grass grew thick in the shade. Coolness was rising up from the ground in surprising drafts.  Rabbits were darting across the path in a crazy scurry to get away from us and we briefly saw the faint outline of a javelina ahead of us on the path. Then we came around a corner and there it was, the pond, a little pond surrounded by trees and grass and teaming with life, in the middle of a barren desert. Dragonflies dipped their tails in the water. The surface of the water was teaming with water spiders and knats. Fish of all size swam to the edge when we stooped down to the surface of the water. In the dried mud around the edge were footprints of desert animals that had come for water.

I have visited this place of solitude for 7 years and have never seen it dry, even in the strongest heat blast. To a desert dweller like me, this is a refreshing sight, to know that even in the desert there is water.  There is nothing spectacular about this pond, except that there is not supposed to be any water here.

In the past year it has also become a place of hope for me. I have had desert experiences. I know that there are droughts in life too. Last summer I had come to a desert place in my life. I was burned out, empty. It had been a year of tremendous life change, and my mind and body said,  “stop”.  When I tallied up the year it wasn’t surprising to find myself in this emotional desert. I had ended a job and my boss unexpectedly died two weeks later. I started my own business and taught myself web design, which sometimes made me want to pull my hair out. I was dealing with conflict with a family member. At the same time, my husband and I had decided to adopt and we had gone through 10 weeks of training and a lot of paper work. Kirk and I were just around the corner from major life change and sometimes I didn’t know if I was ready. I was confident about the decision but not about my ability to be a parent. I was scared.

I was thirsty and their wasn’t anything to swallow, or so it seemed. I didn’t have the emotional energy to lift my Bible and figure out what I should read. I went to a Christian bookstore and found a devotional that looked like it was written for me titled,  “Dancing in the Desert”. I started to work my way through the book, knowing that there was water, even if I was in the desert. It took a week for me to finish 1 chapter.  I took my time drinking it in.

A close friend knew I was depleted. I don’t remember everything she said, but she encouraged me that God must be preparing me for something. There was a reason for this barren desert.

This is what I found: Rest in God, A path to quietness with God, and a surrender of control. I began to loose my fear of the desert and started to embrace the thirst for God that it was giving me.  Slowly, quietly, the cool refreshing rain began to fall. Some of the bonds I was holding onto gave way.  I kept on the path and eventually I came to the water.

It was after this time in the desert that God brought Faith and Brian in our home, who eventually became our adopted son and daughter. That chapter would become the most difficult period of my life thus far. I was glad that I had found rest in God and was ready to surrender control of my life. He had work to do in the lives of 2 little kids and he was going to use my husband, and he was going to use me. He used that desert to strip away some excess baggage and strengthen me for what was ahead. My friend was right. 

When I visit my pond I think about my journey through the desert. I know now that even when I don’t know what is at the end of a path, I can trust what God has for me.