Monday, April 30, 2012

I AM A HELICOPTER PARENT!

I'm guessing that most of you have heard the term "helicopter parent." This phrase is employed to describe the kind of parents who hover over their child in an effort to be sure that everything goes perfectly well, and that no adversity or failure has opportunity to enter the child's life. Helicopter parenting describes a parent who over-functions, producing children who under-function. It's a term with a decidedly negative connotation, and up until last week I did not want to be one! But I've changed my mind, because Ive seen a new kind of helicopter parent-- a next gen kind of hovering that appeals to me. 
Let me explain-- if I do a good job of this, you may also decide to become a helicopter parent as well! I'm going to take you back to Genesis for a minute. Genesis 1:2 says this:

The earth was without form and an empty waste, and darkness was upon the face of the very great deep. The Spirit of God was moving (hovering, brooding) over the face of the waters.


I am intrigued by this picture of God, of His Spirit hovering over the chaos, disorder, darkness, matter without form. And you know the story-- that as God hovered what was in disorder became ordered, where there was darkness light came forth, chaos gave way to harmonic arrangement, emptiness yielded to fruitfulness. It's interesting that the word used for hovering or brooding actually is the word used to describe the activity of a mother bird brooding over her young to keep them warm, attending to her eggs in order that life may come forth. It's the same word used in Deuteronomy 32:11 describing the eagle at her nest:

As an eagle that stirs up her nest, that flutters over her young, He spread abroad His wings and He took them, He bore them on His pinions.

As well as the word used in Matthew 23:37 for the hen gathering her young:

 how often I have longed to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, and you were not willing.

And just one more from Isaiah 31:5:

Like birds hovering, so will the Lord of hosts defend Jerusalem; He will protect and deliver it, He will pass over and spare and preserve it.

I hope that wasn't over-kill, but I just love these images and had the realization that I do want to be a hovering parent after all. Not the kind of parent that does everything for their child, hindering growth and life, but rather the kind that hovers in prayer, proclaiming order where there is chaos in emotions and thoughts, calling forth light into those dark places of fear and rejection and pain from the past. I see the great need for hovering over those empty areas of my child's life, areas that would have borne the healthy fruit that is the normal product of a child being safe and loved-- the fruit of attachment, security, self-confidence, peace of mind and spirit. Because I know, I am absolutely confident, that God's plan for each of my children is that they be fruitful, not empty.

And so I hover. 

I hover to gather up in the spirit that which is without form in my child, but that I know in my spirit should be there-- courage where there is fear, integrity where there is deception, attachment where there is rejection-- and watch as my child finds his God-given shape, as he finds meaning to what had been senseless, as he discovers life and light where there was a void. 

I hover in believing prayer. 
I hover in embracing prayer.
I hover to bring forth new life in my child. 
I am a helicopter parent

We invite you to find us on Facebook for ongoing encouragement and news about Hope at Home events. 

Thursday, April 26, 2012

ANGER: YOURS AND THEIRS, PART III

Here is our last in a three-part series on Anger. You can read parts I and II by clicking here and here.

From Stephen Templeton:

Let's Get Practical

I really appreciate so many people who have taught and written about practical, God-led approaches that we as parents can employ to help our children deal with anger in a constructive way. What follows is largely a summary of techniques that Scott Turansky and Joanne Miller of the National Center for Biblical Parenting have suggested. While there is no formula for parenting our children, and every child and potentially every situation is different and unique, requiring us to always be following the Lord's leading (please see Beth's post PARENTING THE ADOPTED CHILD DIFFERENTLY), there are some practical principles that can help you and your family if you are struggling in this area of anger. The following steps help break anger situations into smaller pieces so that you and your child can catch anger outbursts earlier and prevent massive, destructive anger storms.

Step 1

Identify the Trigger Points and Cues

First reflect on what trigger points tend to set your child off. If your having trouble pinning it down, take a look at the primary emotions listed in Part II: 
Disappointment, Fear, Rejection, Frustration, Sadness, Powerlessness, Hurt, Impatience, Loneliness, Confusion, Embarrassment, Worry, Overwhelmed. 
While certainly not comprehensive, this list likely contains situations that may be one of the primary triggers of your child's anger. One of my children has had struggles with anger, and it became quite clear that disappointment was this child's main trigger point. In our recent Hope at Home Webinar, disappointment was also the primary trigger for the majority of the participants. It makes sense-- most adopted children have experienced devastatingly disappointing, out-of-control events, and by God's hand they are now permanently fused into your family. While their identity has been forever changed, this wound of disappointment is often incompletely healed, and when other completely unrelated disappointing things happen-- they can't watch a video, didn't make the grade they wanted, can't spend the night at their friend's house-- well, that can set off a significant and disproportionate anger response. While it would be normal for our child to be disappointed that she can't spend the night at her friend's house because you have something else planned, it is not "normal" for her to go into a rage because of this disappointment. Helping your childen understand this, in an age and developmentally appropriate level, is the first step in helping them exert self control with their anger outbursts.

Step 2

Tune In and Use Words

Helping your child be in tune with his emotions is a great step forward in their emotional growth. Again, the list of primary emotions is a great tool to help your child verbalize how they are feeling before the anger monster takes over and an explosion occurs. You can help them develop a "feelings" vocabulary, and you can help them identify and speak out what is going on inside them. 

Now, in our experience this process has been much easier with our girls than our boys. From a very early age one of my girls was a master at this. She could tell you exactly how she was feeling and was so intuitive in her ability to discern situations. On the other hand, boys will probably need more help in verbalizing what is going on inside. It is our job to help them turn "I just want to hit him" into "What Johnny said really hurt my feelings, and I feel sad". You can help them use feelings language by seeing how they feel and verbalizing it for them. For example, if your child is starting to get mad about not being able to play with his friends after school, you might identify with them by saying "Not being able to play with your buddies is disappointing. I know you really want to go..."

Step 3

Help Them Pull Back Not Push Forward


Helping your child to pull back and not push forward into escalating anger is essential. This is the essence of helping them control their response. The first two steps are geared toward self knowledge, and then we all have to make that choice of embracing the anger response or pulling back in self control. Now, if your child had all the self control she needed, then you wouldn't be having a problem with anger, so one of the primary practical tips is using "The Break" in a constructive way to help break the careening momentum toward a destructive anger outburst. The Break is used as a discipline and training tool, not punishment, and it is not a "timeout". The primary goal is to help settle your child down so that they can then interact in a more positive way. Sometimes you as a parent need a break because you can feel the adrenaline rush coming and it's about to escalate into the unhelpful zone. So you can model this with your child, and this helps lower the emotional level for both of you so that you can shortly come back and achieve resolution. The break is not meant to be used to create emotional distance from your child, but just to help your child, or you, to lower the emotional level and gain some control. We have had occasions when it is has been best to say something like, "I can see that you are very angry right now. Why don't we stop talking about this for now and take a break. We will need to finish our conversation, but we can do it later when we aren't so angry." For some parents, leaving something unresolved can really be a challenge, especially if your child's response to taking a break is more angry words. Some children will look for ways to draw you in with provoking words and actions. Calmly walking away or, with younger children, redirecting their attention to a toy, book, or other activity, is modeling this skill of pulling back, away from the anger, rather than careening full force into it. 

Step 4

A Different Response

Help your child plan ahead for a different response to a trigger or cue to the beginning waves of anger. It is always much more effective to help your child with this step when he is not in the middle of an anger outburst. After the fact, maybe later that evening, when emotions are completely at ease and your child is feeling at peace, present them with scenarios of how they could have responded differently, and what different, positive outcomes would have looked like. For instance, with younger children, reenacting the scene can be a fun way to present a better response than angrily pushing their friend off the swing because it wasn't their turn. Have your child pretend to be the friend on the swing and you be the offended child. Our children always loved this pretend time and found it fascinating to see their daddy or mommy behaving so poorly as we reenacted their actions. Then we would try different scenarios of how else we could respond, using our play-acting as a fun training time. So often we tell children what not to do without equipping them by showing them what they should/could do instead. 
With older children, talking through the scenario is helpful. Ask, "What could you have done differently?" or "What will you do next time instead?"

Step 5

Transfer Responsibility

This is a very important step. We live in a culture where victim mentality is rampant, and it is very tempting for our children to want to blame others and their circumstances for their out-of-control anger response. In fact this certainly is not a problem limited to children! In an age appropriate fashion, it is critical that the child understands that it is his responsibility to respond with self control, and that trying to fix blame on others or circumstances is a no-win game for him.  This does not mean putting your child under condemnation for his actions. What it does mean is that only he can control his response, and that it is his responsibility to grow in this area. We teach our children that, "Your response is your responsibility." Make sure your child knows that you will provide all the support and help that she needs, but that you cannot control her, only she can exert self control. Point them to the Lord as the provider of everything that they need. Help them trust in the Lord for His help and power to overcome. Speak life-giving words of truth over them, of who they really are in the Lord's sight. Help them understand that their behavior is hurting you or others-- "I understand that you are feeling this way, but your behavior is hurting me." In doing this you are helping your child transfer appropriate responsibility for their actions on to them.

We hope this series has been helpful to you. As with all aspects of parenting, we encourage you that prayer is your best parenting technique. 
May the God of Peace Himself fill you, and your children, and your home, with His Reigning Peace at all times and in every occasion. 

Please leave us a comment with some things you have done in your homes to help your child, or yourself, deal with anger. It would be a great help to us all!

Monday, April 23, 2012

RETREAT ALONE TO ADVANCING TOGETHER


We are thrilled to introduce you to our first 
MARRIAGE MONDAY! 
and to Brad and Kate Aldrich. They write and speak on all things marriage. In 2009 they followed God’s prompting and founded One Flesh Marriage Ministries, a blog based on their marriage journey and God’s word in Ephesians 5. Brad is a Pennsylvania Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist and the director of the Family Resource and Counseling Centers. Kate is a homeschooling mom and a family photographer in her free time. God has given Brad and Kate three amazing blessings, two biological and one adopted who have enriched their life and marriage. 
By Brad from One Flesh Marriage
Feeling alone, distant, withdrawn isn’t only something that happens when we are actually alone. It is very easy to feel alone in marriage. Sometime, especially under stress, I find myself pulling back from those around me, including my wife.
It is easy to say that we should remember God is with us, even when we feel alone, but that is often difficult to practice. I wanted to give husbands and wives some tangible ideas and techniques to bridge the gap between feeling united and feeling your spouse has emotionally retreated.
I'm not sure exactly why I feel the need to retreat when life gets a little out of control, but in talking to other guys I have recognized that this is a very common response to stress. Many men, under stress retreat into themselves. In my post on stress, "Stress the Man Way or One Way" I encourage guys to fight this tendency and allow their wife to share the burdens, to communicate the stresses, and open up. 
So what do you do when you see the stress in your husband or wife and they are not opening up? How can you say, "Hey, share what's on your mind" without simply adding to the problem?
5 Ways to Change Retreat Alone, into Advance Together

1. Pray

Stop and ask God specifically for peace, for guidance in how you can help, and for wisdom in addressing the situation with your spouse. Keep connecting with God and he will show you a way!

2. Pray

Yes I know that was number 1, but this time do more than say a prayer just between you and God. Write your prayer and send it to your spouse in an email or letter. It is a great way to let them know that you recognize the stress they are under, that you want to help, and that you are there for them! Kate did this for me a while ago, and I’m man enough to admit it brought tears to my eyes knowing that she was walking this journey with me!

3. Open the Communication Door

If your husband or wife has not spoken about something stressful, then you need to create an opportunity for them to communicate. We often wait around for them to take the initiative. They are the ones that retreated, so it should be their responsibility to change right? Wrong! 
You are in this marriage journey together, and your goal is to Advance Together.  You do not simply want to be available when they emerge again. You need to create a time and space to communicate together. Work to eliminate distractions for a specific time. Find a time for just the two of you, and open up the door.

4. Start Small

When there is an elephant in your marriage it can tend to stamp out all of the rest of the conversations.  Both of you know that you should be talking about the stress that has caused the retreat, yet that isn’t always the easy thing to do. Start by talking about little things; talk about the day, the kids, anything. Listen for ways to show your support, encouragement, and love; then you can address the elephant in the room.

5. Be Quiet

When one of you is under stress it is easy for the other to want to swoop in and try to fix it. Unfortunately, this almost never works. In fact, it might be what is keeping your spouse from actually sharing what is going on. If you see they have retreated, then open the door and just listen. As they begin to share, listen with the goal of understanding them, their thoughts, their emotions, their ideas. It is in the understanding not the solution that you will start to feel together.

Keep Communicating and Keep Praying!

What has your husband or wife done to help you feel that they are with you and that you don't have to walk alone?


Wednesday, April 18, 2012

WHO IS SHE?

We thought we'd take a little break from Stephen's series on anger-- everyone needs a break from anger, right?! Don't be angry though! There's still one more post coming! Enjoy this wonderful story.....

FROM SUSAN HILLIS:

It couldn't have been planned to work out better!  One week ago, we drove 4 hours out of town, Cristi goes into labor 4 hours after we arrive, and their beautiful little girl is born 4 hours after that!  It is a HUGELY exciting privelege to see that one of the fruits of our parenting is that we are building foundations for generations to come!  (I already have 2 granddaughters, a 3rd on the way, and with 10 kids, I am counting on at least 30 grandkids, as I am sure some of them will adopt!)
Before Elyse was ever born, Cristi and Andrew had received understanding about who she is and about God's purposes for her life...as you read this excerpt from their happy birth announcement, see if you can figure it out!

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 It is with great joy that we announce the arrival of our daughter Elyse Gabrielle Slate (formally known as Skittle :).  Elyse arrived at 3:28 AM on April 7, 2012.  She weighs 5 pounds, 10 ounces and is 19 inches long.  Mother and baby are both doing well.
 About her name...
One of the meanings of the name Elyse is "my God is bountiful."  It is our heart that our daughter would truly know the bounty of God in all areas-- His bountiful love, mercy, provision, faithfulness, etc!  Her middle name (Gabrielle) is the female form of the name Gabriel.  In the Bible, the angel Gabriel was the messenger who told Mary and Joseph about Jesus.  Andrew felt like God showed him that Gabrielle was the middle name for this baby.  It is our desire that Elyse Gabrielle would experience the bounty of God in her own life, and then be a messenger of the good news of Jesus for others.
We appreciate your thoughts and prayers as we adjust to this new season of parenthood!
Love,
Andrew and Cristi Slate
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So, what's your name?

As I read Elyse's birth announcement, I felt such gratitude that the Lord had shown Cristi her Identity -- Elyse;  and Andrew her Destiny -- Gabrielle. 

From even before each of us is born, the Lord has His hand upon us, creating us in His image, for His purposes.  He has an identity and destiny picked out for each of us and for each of our children before we are ever even born!
Let me close with a personal story.  About 4 years ago at a 24 hour prayer meeting, one of the leaders from our church encouraged each of us to spend some time alone in prayer and simply ask the Lord to show us our name..."Lord, what is the Name You think of, when You think of me?"  I did, not expecting the answer to be so evident and prompt.  Within a short time was imprinted clearly in my mind this phrase, 'mother of nations; I see you as a mother of nations.'  I felt so very priveleged to realize part of these adoption purposes in my life is so very intertwined with who I am, with my name, with God's purposes for my life. 
Have you ever asked or thought about this question?  If not, I encourage you to.  The Lord's purposes in making you and me and each of our children is good. 

We ask, Lord, that you give us eyes to see and affirm who our children are, and to encourage them in Your good purposes for their lives. 

Monday, April 16, 2012

ANGER: YOURS AND THEIRS, PART II

From Stephen Templeton:

Having children can provoke and expose areas in our lives that are not whole, areas that God wants to restore and heal. The Lord uses these challenging situations for our good, to help grow us up. The pressure of the adoption process and parenting in general almost always reveals things in ourselves-- unwhole areas, past hurts, places in our hearts that need healing and restoration. This exposure is God's kindness and mercy because He loves us so much. In What Angry Kids Need, Jennifer Brown and Pam Hopkins write, "The most important thing you can do to raise a child who manages anger in healthy ways is to learn to do so yourself," and I think they are probably right. The good news is that we have a Father God who has given us everything we need to do this.

Good for Identifying, Not Solving

Scott Turansky  explains that "Anger is good for identifying problems, but not for solving them," and we have found this to certainly be true. If you can look on anger not as a way to solve problems, but as a great way to identify problems you can then turn an unpleasant experience into a helpful one. 

Some of you may recognize this type of scenario-- you've just told your son it's time to stop playing his video game because dinner is ready.
He doesn't. 
You repeat yourself.
He repeats himself--that is, he doesn't. 
You walk over to him, have him look you in the eyes and tell him he will stop the game right now. 
He does, but accompanies his belated response with disrespectful words and an angry accusing tone. 
At this point, you have a choice. You can respond to his anger and ugliness with your own version of the same in an effort to let him know you won't be treated that way, and to "give him a taste of his own medicine." And maybe simply because it is offensive to be treated that way and you are just plain angry. However, using your own anger as a parenting tool in most cases will either crush a child, or provoke him to a magnified response. Rather, his anger has given you information as a parent-- you have some work to do. But in the moment, your clear and calm response gives your son some information too. 
He will come to the table and eat; he will not be playing video games tomorrow; he will play again (at whatever time you determine is helpful) and when he does he will have another chance to do it right. 
The result is a much nicer dinner for the family!

A God-given Emotion

So let's talk a bit more about anger. What is it? Well, anger is just a strong, God-given emotion. In and of itself, anger is not right or wrong. It is not evil, but it is a strong emotion that we all experience at one time or another. It's what we do with the anger that counts! Our goal and responsibility as parents is not to remove any anger responses from our children but to help them express it in appropriate ways. It would be wrong, unrealistic and unhealthy for us to expect our children to never get angry. Living life with people can be challenging-- there are no perfect families or people, and you and I and our children are going to experience anger. That is completely normal and expected. Do not put an unrealistic expectation on yourself or on your children that there will never be outbursts of anger and friction in your home. We are people and not robots.  In fact there are appropriate things to be angry about (injustice, the hurting and wounding of the weak and innocent, etc). Long-term suppression of anger is unhealthy and can lead to bitterness, hostility, depression and physical illness. It is documented scientifically that some physical and mental illnesses can be traced to the poor handling of anger. On the other hand, I think we all know intuitively that out of control anger is incredibly destructive to relationships, and that little muscle, the tongue, is incredibly potent and potentially destructive. So should we all go out into the woods alone for primal scream therapy session to deal with our anger? Maybe not.

What's the Primary Emotion?

Because anger is good at pointing out the problem, it is considered a "secondary" emotion. It arises from a primary emotion, and helping your child name and discern the primary emotion behind his or her anger can be a very helpful tool in helping to deal with a strong anger response. Some of the primary emotions that elicit anger are:

Disappointment     Fear     Rejection     Frustration     Sadness  
Powerlessness      Hurt     Impatience   Loneliness      Confusion
Embarrassment    Worry   Overwhelmed

One of our often-told family stories is a good example of fear induced anger. I was at home with two of my daughters, Julia and Rachel, then aged 3 and 5. It was a lovely spring day, and I had cracked the dormer window in Rachel's upstairs bedroom. The girls were having a great time pretend playing, and I was working on something downstairs when I heard Rachel running down the stairs screaming, "Daddy! Daddy! Julia's out on the roof." Well, with my heart in my throat, I tore up the stairs to their room and spotted 3 year old Julia crouched down on the flat section of the roof just outside their dormer window. The "barely opened" window was three feet off the floor, but she had climbed up and just crawled through the opening, and was sitting on a flat landing section of the roof just outside the window. Filled with fear I ripped open the window, grabbed Julia in and began spanking and screaming at her in anger. I was terrified and overwhelmed. I soon gained control and just held her tight. The fear I experienced (the primary emotion) exploded in anger (the secondary emotion) at her and the situation, so I overreacted. The best part of the story, that only came out years later, was that Rachel, then age 5, confessed that she had been the one who urged her sister to climb out onto the roof! Here is a picture of Julia and me-- just so you know that our relationship has managed to recover from my outburst!

Anger and the Scripture
What does the bible say about anger? There are many scriptures that deal with anger, and they are very insightful and full of wisdom in giving us guidance in how to deal with this emotion.

Psalm 37:8
Refrain from anger and turn from wrath; do not fret- it leads only to evil.

Proverbs 14:29
Slowness to anger makes for deep understanding; a quick-tempered person stockpiles stupidity.

Proverbs 29: 22
An angry person stirs up conflict, and a hot-tempered person commits many sins.

James 1:19-20
My dear brothers and sisters, take note of this: Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry, because human anger does not produce the righteousness that God desires.

Psalm 4:4
Tremble and  (In your anger) do not sin; when you are on your beds, search your hearts and be silent.

Ephesians 4:26-27
"In your anger do not sin": Do not let the sun go down while you are still angry, and do not give the devil a foothold.

I find the last two scriptures particularly helpful- "In your anger do not sin". So it is possible to feel anger and not sin. Whew, that's a relief. Again, it is what we do with this strong emotion that counts.

Stay tuned for the last in this three part series on Anger by Stephen

Thursday, April 12, 2012

ANGER: YOURS AND THEIRS Part I

From Stephen Templeton:

"I hate you! I hate you! I hate you! You're not even my real mother." Slam goes the door. 

One of the biggest robbers of peace in our homes is the destructive anger responses in our children, and in ourselves. While destructive anger is by no means solely an adoption issue, like many parenting and relational realities, it may be exaggerated and more pronounced in the setting of the adoptive family. Excessive anger reactions in your child or in yourself can leave any parent feeling overwhelmed and out of control. And if it has become a significant issue in your home, it is as if the peace of your home has been hijacked by this strong emotional response.

Surprised by Anger
As the father of seven children, four adopted and three biological, I have had the "opportunity" to see my share of angry responses and to feel them myself. Beth and I were somewhat caught off guard by the intensity of anger in some of our children, as well as our own anger that would arise in some of the challenging circumstances and stages our children were going through. Before the Lord called Beth and me to adopt, our family consisted of three young girls, all of whom were fairly obedient and peaceful. We were far from perfect, but there was rarely a raised voice or significant discipline issue. Of course, our children were still young, pre-adolescents, so they still looked to both of us for answers on what to believe and how to act. We also both grew up in very stable, peaceful homes where arguing and rebellion were not an issue. So when the Lord called us to adopt older children from Russia, we experienced a steep learning curve as to how to deal with anger, disappointment, distrust and rebellion. When our Russian-born children came home to us they were 10 and 5, and 10 and 7 years old, respectively. They were already their own persons, yet now they were Templetons. Templetons with the added complication of significantly difficult pasts and hurts. While our family is one family, and there is no distinction between adopted and biological child in regards to value, love, affection and care, these past emotional wounds have produced opportunities for anger to explode in our home.


"Hurt People Hurt People"
It is fascinating that essentially all adopted children, whether at birth or at an older age, experience a wounding of the heart to some degree. And this woundedness is often expressed in anger. The adage: "hurt people hurt people" is true. Some wounded, hurt children lash out at siblings, parents and friends causing hurt and anger. As young ones in the early family-building stages after adoption, children are learning what it means to live in a family, to have parents, rules and boundaries. One of the surprises for us was the degree of "freedom" the children had in the orphanage. Sure, there were lots of rules, and if you broke them and were caught, there was some form of punishment (often quite harsh), but for the most part, they could stay up as late as they wanted, could wander about the village as they pleased, and could watch whatever TV or movies they wanted. As soon as the orphanage workers had turned their backs, it was a free-for-all. So learning what it means to have parents who are not like the orphanage workers, but actually will follow through and be consistent in what is allowed and what is not 24/7-- well, let's just say this was quite a shock to their systems! Running into the barriers and boundaries of normal family life evoked fairly regular anger responses in our children, until they began to be transformed by God's power and our consistent love.


The Anger Vortex
During the teen years, it is very common for an adopted child to experience and display an exaggerated, amplified teen rebellion, in which anger is often one of the primary manifestations. While this can be scary as a parent, Beth and I try to always remind one another that each challenging episode is an expression of God's mercy to our child-- that God is uncovering and exposing a wound in them that he wants to deal with and heal. And the dealing with this wound could, in fact, be messy. We are always asking the Lord to show us the issue or wound behind the anger that He wants to heal. It was and is always easy to get sucked into the anger vortex, but that, we have found, is always unhelpful and often destructive. It is our job to be the parent and maintain self control. In fact, while my flesh wants to control and fix my child and whatever issue they may be having at the time, my primary responsibility is to control myself. 

A Great Opportunity
One of the most challenging and difficult aspects of being a parent is remaining calm and cool, maintaining self control while your child is acting out. Whether they are throwing a toddler or teenage temper tantrum, maintaining self control is our call and responsibility as the parents. Now, confession time: Beth and I have failed in this on many occasions as I'm sure you have or possibly will in the future. But even when you do mess up in this arena as a parent, it is actually a great opportunity to model what you do when you make a mistake: you acknowledge it and ask for forgiveness. This is what we expect and want our children to do, so let's show them how in "real time" when we fall short. Still, remember, you are the parent, and God has placed all the children, birth and adopted, in your family by His divine will and for His purpose. And, he has placed the mantle of spiritual authority on your shoulders, and he will give you everything you need to fulfill this calling-- all wisdom, all patience, all love, all kindness, all firmness that is required. He wants us to know to the depths of our being that He, as our Father, will provide everything we need to parent the children he has given us.


James 1:5 (The Message)
If you don't know what you're doing, pray to the Father. He loves to help. You'll get his help, and won't be condescended to when you ask for it. Ask boldly, believingly, without a second thought.

 Stay tuned for Part II to hear more from Stephen about this topic.

Monday, April 9, 2012

THE EFFECTS OF THE PAST AND THE EFFECTS OF FAITH

It's really Susan's fault that I felt like crying repeatedly while at Disney World last week during Spring Break. Like you, I read Susan's post, Love + Half A Brain = A Whole Life (if you haven't yet, please do; it's fascinating!), and my thoughts were full of the realities she spoke of-- both the effects of the scientific realities as well as the effects of the spiritual reality of HOPE. So full that The Mouse had to take a back seat as my emotions took in the contrast between what I saw all around me and what I know was the past experience of so many of our adopted children. I love Susan's insight and ability to take scientific research and make it accessible for people like me; and I found what she shared absolutely fascinating, especially in the context of my surroundings.

Normal Family Life
I was surrounded by families with young children, and the accompanying sounds of little ones asking questions, holding hands, demanding attention, throwing fits, being carried, being disciplined-- you know, all the regular stuff of family life. I thought how great it would be to have a dime for every time I heard, "Daddy, daddy, daddy, DAAAAADDDYYYYYYYY......LOOK AT THAT!!!!" Or, "Mommy, did you see Mickey! Let's go see him. Can we, can we, can we go nooooowwww?! Mommmmmmyyyyyyy!" 

It was such fun to have the leisure to watch all of this interaction, but I felt a sense of sadness as I realized afresh that for some of our adopted children this kind of normal parent/child communication and interplay was completely and utterly nonexistent. I imagined one our our precious treasures at that age saying, "Mom, look at me! Look what I can do! See? See?" while she jumped from one stair to the other. And no one, NO ONE, saying anything. No, "Wow sweetie, that's awesome. Man, you sure can jump high! Do it again!"

While standing in line to get a drink the little girl in front of me asked, "Daddy, what does carbonation mean?" Immediately both her mom and dad replied, "It means bubbly." So completely unremarkable. So normal. But (thanks to Susan!) my eyes filled with tears thinking of my children asking a question, one of thousands that children ask growing up, and hearing the deafening response of SILENCE.

No Response
If you spend much time in a place like Disney World you are going to see some sad interactions too. Parents at the end of their patience "rope" and children purely exhausted and over stimulated. Lot's of irritated and harsh responses to observe for sure! While I watched one little boy repeat over and over (even to the point where I was getting irritated!) 
"Mommy can I get a toyyyyy? Can I canIcanIcanIcanI pleeeeaase? Please Mommyyyyyyyyyyy!!!!!!!"
--only to be completely ignored until finally the mother turned in what sounded like desperation to me and said, "NO! We are not getting you a toy. Now stop whining. You are driving me crazy!" (You moms out there can relate, can't you? Or is it just me?!) I realized that even that harsh response was better than nothing. I imagined what it was like for my own children at that age to ask over and over for something and not once, NOT ONCE, hear a response, not even an irritated one. How sad. How devastating for the growth of a person, an identity, a brain. No wonder the science shows that the impact of stress on the brain is significant and far-reaching.

The Effects of Faith
I think the Lord was re-filling my heart with compassion for my children that day at Disney World. Compassion that grows from understanding changes the way I think and the way I feel about my children. It has a significant effect on me I find. Once again, my heart was full with the realities that such a void leaves in a person.
But not full without HOPE. I sense the Holy Spirit stirring up FAITH in my spirit. The scientific realities are trumped by the spiritual reality of Faith that says

"with God, nothing is impossible" (Luke 1:37)
and 
"All things are possible with God." (Matthew 19:26)

For although compassion helps me respond better as a parent, it does not have the power to heal my child. For that, we look to God.

 Where there was NO ONE in their past, our children will see JESUS.

Where there was SILENCE, they will hear His VOICE.

Where there was no reply, NOT ONCE, to their questions, they will be satisfied with MANY RESPONSES.

I'd like to close by repeating the prayer Susan ended her last post with. It is a prayer worth praying over and over. Let us join in faith for God to do what only He can do in and for our children.


So we pray that You, Lord, the One who is all powerful, will take any of those brain connections in our children that are weak, and still bearing the effects of toxic stress in their early years, and use God's love and our love to rewire them.  We pray with Paul:
"May God himself, the God who makes everything holy and whole, make you holy and whole, put you together - spirit, soul, and body - and keep you fit for the coming of our Master, Jesus Christ." (I Thessalonians 5:23 MSG) 
 For your glory and for their healing!
Amen.

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Tuesday, April 3, 2012

LOVE + HALF A BRAIN = A WHOLE LIFE

From Susan Hillis:

As WONDERFUL as it was to be with 450 women at the Created for Care Retreat last week end, I keep wishing there had been time for this one more Breakout Session to highlight some exciting info coming our of Harvard; I would call the session,  'When Love Builds the Brain.'  It occurred to me I can write about it and maybe some of you will leave a comment to let me know what you think! I am already planning to share more on this at Hope at Home 2012, October 5-6. We hope you will join us here in Atlanta!

LOVE BUILDS BRAIN CONNECTIONS
Try to think back on a time when your mom or dad did something that left a singular impression of love on your lives.  For me it is the time it was raining, I was about 6 and bored stiff, and my mom made a statement about her love and my importance: "this house (which was messy and needed tidying!) will be here when we are both dead and gone;  let's draw chalk circles on the floor and play marbles!"  Sitting foot to foot, looking at each other and laughing, we had one fine marbles competition!  Fast forward and think of times when we play and share those fun moments and outings with our kids.  Some of mine are sliding in mud puddles in the rain belly first, painting black spots on our white dog so that we could have a dalmatian, sunbathing on the roof through the trap door. 

From research that is coming out of Harvard (some of it actually builds on research at CDC I have had the privelege of being involved with!), it is now clear that loving affection which includes eye contact and touch, actually builds brain hardware that is needed for learning and development.  See it here in this 2 minute clip from the Harvard Institute for Child Development by clicking HERE.

TOXIC STRESS DISRUPTS IMPORTANT BRAIN CONNECTIONS
Now if you are like me you begin to feel a little disturbed as you think of some of your kids who spent their early years living outside of the care of a nurturing family, in orphanages or other alternative environments.   "I wonder what effect this has on brain connections?" Of our 11 kids, the 8 who were adopted at ages 7 to 14 all lived a fair number of years in an orphanage setting.  With time the stress that comes from living outside of a loving family can become so dangerous that it is called 'toxic stress,' and has the potential to disrupt essential connections of neurons, as shown in this short Video Clip.

LOVE COMPENSATES TO OVERCOME THE STRESS
When we put these two clips together, we realize that what is most needed for promoting healing and development in a child from these hard places is love and connection and relationship and shared positive experiences with a nurturing parent and family: as Karyn Purvis so perfectly puts it, we need CONNECTION more than CORRECTION!  If I had understood this need for connection more clearly 10 years ago, I would have spent less time on homework and even more time on building deep and happy relationships and memories (even though we did a lot of this!) 

It is as though I see in the first of these two clips the physical affects on the brain of Paul's advice that we "live a life filled with love, following the example of Jesus" (Eph 5:2).  By giving our children the kind of love shown in the first clip, we are actually helping hardwire new connections in brains that may have suffered the damage shown in the second clip!

WHEN LOVE + HALF A BRAIN = A WHOLE LIFE
Lest any of you feel discouraged, I will close with a final 5 minute clip which includes an interview with Dr. Ben Carson the famous believing surgeon who separated the siamese twins, and the hero of the wonderful young adult biography, "Gifted Hands."  The clip is the story of a little girl with a rare disease for which the only treatment was total removal, by Dr. Ben Carson, of the right side of her brain!  No kidding!  The entire right hemisphere.  And she is happy, well-adjusted, well-loved, normal little 9 year old.  Watch this and show it to your kids!  "Guys, look at how POWERFUL and LOVING God is!  Look at what He can do with half a brain!  He works miracles and can always teach the strong parts inside us to help make up for the areas that are weak!" To watch this fascinating story full of Hope, click HERE.

LET'S PRAY
It is so encouraging that the One who created us is big enough to take LOVE plus HALF A BRAIN and turn them, together, into a WHOLE LIFE.  So we pray that You, Lord, the One who is all powerful, will take any of those brain connections in our children that are weak, and still bearing the effects of toxic stress in their early years, and use God's love and our love to rewire them.  We pray with Paul:
May God himself, the God who makes everything holy and whole, make you holy and whole, put you together - spirit, soul, and body - and keep you fit for the coming of our Master, Jesus Christ. (I Th 5:23 MSG)  For your glory and for their healing!
Amen