Ellen and Maggie Miller

I’m standing here and I’m choking back tears as I look down into your eyes and read the words you’ve chosen.

I’m standing here and reading these words to you, but if you could see in me right now I’m screaming. I’m screaming and I’m throwing things and I’m kicking this pulpit and I’m saying choice words that you’re not supposed to say up here. Because I am so angry. I am so so angry.

Because when we sat together and we laughed together and we fought together and we dreamed together years ago these were not the things we were imagining.

These months of fighting. You fighting for your girls and me fighting for mine. Different story but still the same. And we text and we call and I’m crying for you and thinking about how brave you and your girls are and you are  saying those same words to me.

This is not how it was supposed to go. We both knew things would get rocky from time to time and that life has ups and downs, but not this. Not so many, many downs.

Not so many months of desperately wanting and hoping and begging for a child. Not 10 losses between the two of us (or more – sadly, I’ve lost count). And not this. NOT THIS. Not standing here and reading to you with anger so full and not having words to say. Because you have done nothing to deserve this. Neither has he. You are good people. You are loving and compassionate and generous people. You deserve better than this.

And truly, I don’t know what to say to you. Too far to hug and sit with and cry with. And texts feel so empty sometimes.

And I don’t even know why I am writing this except that you deserve to know. You deserve to know that you are not alone in this overwhelming, heart wrecking grief.

It wasn’t supposed to go this way.

I have nothing nice to say. No encouraging or uplifting words. Because it is years and years of pain and loss and brokenness and now this. Now this.

I hope for brighter days ahead and dreams come true but life feels so wrecked right now that it is hard to imagine.

I love you, friend. I grieve with you, friend. I think about you daily and my heart swells and aches and breaks over and over and over. Your bravery is astounding.

 

Fighting Monsters

I am drowning.

I am drowning in the fight for you.

I will fight for you because I love you. I will fight for you because you are worthy of being fought for.

I cry. You cry. We are broken together.

I’m scared because I’m clueless. I’m scared because your very life and future are at stake. I’m scared because the monsters have been with you for longer than I have and how will I ever kill them all when they have had so much power for so long.

You and I were meant to be together. We were made for this. The broken me with the broken you.

I am angry because the words come out and feel so empty. And when a scared woman tries to fight a monster, often the monster wins.

Because I am weak. And all I have are words and hands and a few years.

And they have secrets that I will never know. They have darkness and night and pain and they will always have those things.

And my words fall short because I can’t make you believe them. And until you are ready to believe what I say, the monsters are going to win.

And would you please look inside and see the light in there. And would you please see that the monsters are liars and that you can stand up and fight. That you don’t have to cower under them and believe the lies.

And that you don’t have to do it all right. That nobody expects you to be perfect. And that your imperfection is part of the beauty of who you are. And you don’t have to hide the darkness and you also don’t have to dwell in it. That the broken places can be opened up honestly and then you can dance in spite of – or even because of – them.

We are going to be okay. There is light in you and there is light and me. Let’s keep looking for the light together and find space to laugh in the light.

 

When Death is a Friend

A week ago today I sat at my grandmother’s bedside, fully aware that these were the last minutes we would spend together.

A week of processing and mourning and thinking has led me to many places.

Sometimes death comes like a thief and a robber. There are lives lost too early or too painfully or too brutally.

But what I’ve learned this week is that sometimes death comes like a friend.

Sometimes death comes to an old, frail, broken body and gently whispers in her ear, “Come, Friend.”

No more hurting. No more pain. No more seeking and not finding. No more emptiness or anger or bitterness.

No more lonely nights and no more fear and no more shallow breaths.

To a life long lived and a body worn, death is no enemy.

I’ve learned that death is not to be feared and death is a part of life. It’s part of the dance that we all get one chance at – and as my dad taught me this week through the words of a song – death is your final dance and it is the one dance that you must dance alone.

The life and the joy and the pain and the fear and the laughter and the emptiness and the mountaintops and the valleys that pave the road to death are all stripped away in those final moments.

And as you lay there, Mimi, you were no longer all of the things that you had sought to become. You were just you. Lovely and beautiful and beloved. Because you were a soul created and a soul lived.

And the hardness of the years had worn you down, but in your final moments you were at your most beautiful. You became a child again. You were fully able to receive the love that we poured on you in your final moments with no objection.

And I sat there and watched as your sons loved you in a way that I had never seen before. Their hardness and their hurts stripped away, too. And they treasured those minutes and they kissed you and they sang to you and they covered you in love. The gently touched you and whispered words in your ear that probably had never been said because life is too ugly sometimes to say the words that our souls feel in the deepest places.

And my brother and I, your grandchildren, we sat there and we saw you a child again. And we loved you, Mimi. Not because of anything that you have given us or because of anything that you have done, but because you are you and you are beautiful. And you are worthy of love.

And your great-granddaughters mourned because they are old enough to understand the finality of it all, but too young to see that maybe it is a little bit beautiful too. And my child hurt in deep, deep places with no way to express because she really did love you, Mimi. And letting you go hurt her more than she thought it would.

And your great-grandsons laughed and ran and yelled because that’s what they do. And they love you too, Mimi, but they are too caught up in the living to worry about the dying.

And your tiniest great-granddaughter, well, she saw you there and she loved you, Mimi. And she didn’t understand it, but she knew that she loved you. And she kissed your tender head and told you that she loved you. And probably her love was the most pure because it’s all she knows. And she’s still looking for you and I hope that her soul remembers yours because I know that she was the treasure of your heart.

And the children sat there and we sat there and we cried and we laughed. And old friends came to see you and they tenderly touched you and told you all of the words they wanted you to hear. And you lay there and I believe you joyfully received it in its fullness, because in that moment you had nothing to give. And sometimes we all need to just sit still and listen and receive.

And the tender moment I had with my daddy, loving him and listening to a song and knowing that you were in the next room breathing your last moments. Knowing that there was no time frame and that there was no agenda and that we were just here and that time would open up and stand still for these few moments while we loved you and we loved each other.

Sometimes the hardest moments in life become the most holy and beautiful because everything is stripped down and we are all laid bare.

This death that we experienced, it was the most tender and peaceful of days. With children laughing and playing at your feet, and all of us just being there and whole and loving you with nothing else to do.

And I’m sorry that you hurt and I’m sorry that your body gave up and I’m sorry that you’re gone. I’m sorry for the pain and the lonely years and the tearful nights.

I’m so glad you were my grandmother. I’m so glad to have been able to see you on your last day here. To see it all stripped away and the soul inside opened up for all of us to love.

And someday my parents will become the child and I will become the parent. And I pray that our last moments are as tender as these were – that I care for them in the loving, compassionate and graceful way that your sons and my mother did in your last moments.

May my life honor you and the life that you lived, and the life that you hoped to live.

And as you said to me just a few days ago, I’m so glad God chose to plant us in the same patch. Your seeds have been scattered. I am still blooming.

Thank you for the years.

 

 

 

A Beautiful Journey

I love people.

The happiest place for me to be is sitting in a group of people and just listening to them talk about their stories. I love hearing about people’s childhoods, their family vacations growing up, their crazy Aunt Sally. Bust out the old family photo album and I’m over the moon. I just seriously love people.

Last night I had to go to foster parent training. (How many times have I been through a class on psychotropic meds?!). I sat next to this beautiful woman and it was so amazing to hear her story of how she got into being a foster parent.

This is a single woman. She has six – SIX – foster children living with her right now.

Her journey started when she was teaching high school and one of her students was in foster care. She decided to start fostering.

After getting licensed, a teen girl was placed in her home. They were happily living in her three bedroom apartment until her foster daughter ran into two sisters that she remembered from a shelter they had all lived in together. The sisters (also teens) were in a bad foster home.

Her foster daughter begged her to PLEASE let the girls come live with them.

So mama went out and bought herself a six bedroom house. And those girls moved in and she went from being a single woman with no children to having three teenage daughters.

I LOVE this story!!!

So now her house is brimming with teenage girls. She showed me pictures of them. She told me about college and how they come home to her on their breaks. She told me about how she finds a way to buy a car for every single one of them. She showed me their prom dresses.

Right now she has five teenagers. And a baby.

She said they called her 3 months ago and told her about this little baby and that they really just knew this baby was meant to be with her.

She told them she only knows how to take care of teenagers. She told them babies weren’t her thing.

She said yes to the baby.

So now those five teens and this mama are loving on this 6 month old baby girl. She was placed at three months and at that point had NO NAME. So this mama has a baby now and she has given her a beautiful name.

And if I could express in words the JOY that is written all over this mama’s face, I would. But there are no words. She just radiates life and beauty and love.

And it is beautiful.

The Face of Adoption: Adoptee and Birth Mom

It’s embarrassing, really.  Jennifer asked me at the beginning of March to do this blog and as excited as I was…I didn’t even know where to start.  I feel like I have written this 100 times in my head and while I needed to just put it down on paper…here I sit ready to put it down.   I have an interesting situation, really, some of which my own choices has gotten me to, but I am proud of my story.

My name is Crystal.  I am 32. I have an incredible family. 2 parents and 4 siblings.  I was born and raised in Dallas, Texas….to an AMAZING family….into which I was chosen.  I am adopted.

Face of Adoption

Looking at that sentence seems so strange because I hardly even think about it.  I always KNEW….I was told from the day I was brought home that I was PICKED to be a Bunch.  My parents CHOSE me and wanted me and loved me before they ever even met me.    I think its pretty neat to be adopted.  Not only did you have one set of parents who loved you enough to make the selfless decision to give you the life that they could not provide, but you got LIFELONG parents who love you just as if you are their own…because you are.    I am my parents and they are mine and nothing will EVER change that.

On April 12, 1999, at the age of 17, I became a Birth Mother.  He is 15. 15 years? How is that even possible? So now, I am an adoptee and a birth mom.  That’s interesting isn’t it?  It certainly gives an interesting perspective on adoption and realizing what my birth mom went thru 17 years previous.  I will never forget holding that little boy in my arms and telling him  how much I loved him but that I couldn’t give him the life he deserved or needed and I wanted him to be happy and  have a good, full life, and that I was doing this for HIIM.  I picked his parents.  I LOVE his parents.  It took me 4 very long hours to sign my name to those papers.  I knew it was the right thing and I knew it was exactly what needed to be done and I would not ever, for one second, change that decision…but if you think it wasn’t the most gut wrenching thing I have ever done…it was.  Adoption is not because you don’t love…it is because you love so much and you are choosing to give someone something so much better than you can provide for them yourself.   I made a pact with him that day that I would make him proud.  I wanted to make sure that he was able to be proud of who his birth mom was and what she stood for.  I believe I have accomplished that, although it took me a while to get it right….and really sometimes, let’s  be honest,  it’s  still a work in progress.

When I found out I was pregnant, I ran away from home and dropped out of High School.  Thru this process, I went back home and went back to school, and graduated ON TIME with my High School Diploma and went on to college and got a degree from Abilene Christian University in Physical Education.

On April 27, 2006, I became a Mom.  I chose to parent her.  I am convinced that Emma Grace saved my life.  That reckless life I lived before, never really came to a halt until I had her.  I went thru the adoption process with her, but never chose adoptive parents,  even at 24 and about to graduate from college, I wasn’t sure that I had it in me to parent.  I worked 2 full time jobs, finished school, and had a baby.

EmmaBluebonnets

My parents graciously allowed us to move home, as I would have while transitioning from College into the real world without Emma, for 6 months.  I found a teaching job in that time frame and Emma and I have been on our own since.

Being a parent is hard.  It is ugly and messy and beautiful and fun and funny and gross and sad and lonely and happy and adventurous and rewarding and heartbreaking and glorious.

I wouldn’t change a thing about my story.  I love that I am an adoptee, a birth mom, and a mother.  These 3 things make up so much of who I am today.  I have a heart for those who are hurting and lost and I love the stories of God’s grace that I am able to see and experience and that I have lived out in my own life.

My name is Crystal.  32 years ago, I was adopted.  At the age of 17, I became a Birth Mom.  At the age of 24, I became a Mom.  My story is broken and glorious and I am proud of it.

Face of Adoption

Thank you,  God, for parents who love their children enough to give them a life that they could not yet provide, thank you for parents who are willing to love children as their own even though they didn’t live in their body, and thank you for parents who are willing to sacrifice everything to parent and raise their children.  There is no greater job in the world and no job I would rather have.  I am so blessed.

Crystal was a Teacher for 7 years and is now living her dream of being a stay at home mom running a very successful business with It Works! Global, an all natural health and wellness company, with supplements and a skin care line.  You can check out her website at www.makeawishormakeithappen.com. You can read more of her story here.

True Freedom

freedom

Last night we decided to eat dinner outside. The weather was gorgeous and we all know that in Texas spring lasts for about two weeks. After that, if you aren’t in a pool, you aren’t outside.

So we are trying to enjoy it.

Anyway, we’re sitting there at dinner. The children are eating their food. Then all of a sudden my little princess girl stands up and starts twirling. She’s twirling and twirling and twirling and then she starts to laugh. So we’re all sitting there eating and she’s just spinning and laughing so hard.

And of course that made the rest of us laugh.

She falls down laughing and we’re all cracking up and it hits me.

That right there is the thing that I’m searching for.

That freedom. The girl needed to spin, so she spun. She spun with everything that she had and knew how funny it was and she wasn’t afraid to laugh about it.

Contrast that with me.

I walk into a room full of people. I worry that I am saying something wrong.  I worry about laughing too loud. I worry about how I look. I want to say something but I don’t for fear that I will end up looking stupid.

I miss the dance.

And my baby girl, she is so uninhibited by ANYTHING that she is just completely and fully who she is without worrying about what anyone thinks she should be.

I love that about her. I want to be like her.

Everyone who looks at her sees her beauty. Even if she is covered in dirt (as she is a lot of the time!) with her hair all over the place, her beauty shines through.

There is no pretense. There is no judgment. It’s just her, being her. And it’s lovely.

My baby girl is the very essence of freedom. And when Jesus tells us to become like little children, I’m pretty sure this is what he means. No pretense, no judgment, no fear of the future or worry about the past. It’s just here, now. I’m just me, completely me and you’re just you and we’re free to dance and laugh and fall down and make fools of ourselves.

True freedom. True beauty.

Changing Foster Agencies

After our super hard year last year we decided that we needed a break from fostering. So as of October of ’13, we closed our home. This wasn’t really what we wanted to do. We wanted to just “take a break,” not completely close it. But I was so sick with mono/hepatitis and our agency urged us to close and so we decided to just follow their advice.

So when we decided to get back into it in February of this year I was extremely disappointed to find out that we were going to have to start completely from scratch, as if we had never fostered before.

I was hurt that our agency had led us to close our home and misled me into believing that re-opening within a year would be a breeze.

There were other things that happened along the way, but we decided that it was time for us to “shop around” to the other foster agencies in the area and see if there might be a better fit.

Because it’s frustrating when you are getting emails from people at your agency whom you don’t know and who know nothing about your family. It’s frustrating when it takes over a month to simple information that you need to get paperwork going. It’s frustrating when the organization has gotten so big and impersonal that it feels like you are just part of the herd.

So we found Lutheran Social Services and man. It’s like a whole different world with them.

I love them because their offices are small. I love them because they require less training. I love them because they offer training online. I love them because every person in the office knows every family fostering out of that office. I love them because they license all families that are open to loving kids and don’t discriminate.

But the thing that sold me on them?

We went to orientation and the man we spoke with said, “If you’re looking to do this so that you can complete your family, we will direct you to another agency that can help you with that. This is not about you. This is about helping kids.”

Yes. That’s right.

What a perfect fit.

When Everyone Thinks You’re a Saint – My Messy Beautiful

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So my husband and I started fostering when I was 22 and he was 23. I don’t know what the hell we were thinking. Seriously. Newlyweds, never been parents, barely starting a career. Our families thought we had lost our minds. I mean, they smiled and nodded and said it was sweet but I could see through those forced smiles that they really thought we were nuts.

But see, my problem is that anytime somebody tells me that I can’t or shouldn’t do something, I get this unquenchable urge to do that very thing.

So we did it. And our first placement was 8 years old, which was pretty wild.

And though I loved her from the start, it was really, really hard. At 22 I started attended PTA meetings and class parties. And all of the other kids had moms who could be my mom. And I barely knew my daughter’s name. I had no clue how to parent her or how to act around other parents.

She would make friends and I was so afraid that their parents wouldn’t trust me that I didn’t ever invite them over. I didn’t talk to their parents. Because I was afraid that they would think I actually had a child at 14. And they might ask questions and I’m not very good at keeping things to myself and I really didn’t want to shame her.

I was terrified.

Somehow we limped along. We did okay at home, for the most part. It was an adjustment, of course. And there were some really bad days where I over reacted to things that shouldn’t have been a big deal. But we were making it okay.

Then we had our biological son and started fostering again.

And something really, really strange happened along the way.

People started to say things like, “Oh, you guys are so amazing.” And “I could never do what you do.” And “You have such a gift.”

And I would smile and receive it because I get what they were trying to say but let me tell you something. Knowing that people think you are some kind of a saint is a whole lot of pressure to carry around.

People know that we foster . And people know that we have hard days and that we struggle to let go and that we get tired and need breaks sometimes.

But what people don’t know is that the pressure that I have felt for the past five years to live up to my “gift” has morphed into some nasty anxiety.

People don’t know that when our baby girl came home to us for good and we were also caring for other fosters and our other two children at the time, I had several mornings where I hid under the covers and cried when my husband left for work. I had one morning when I had what I recognize now as a panic attack. I was drowning and I felt so alone.

Because being a mom is hard. It is hard when you spend your day pouring out yourself for your children and when you never get filled back up. It is hard when everyone thinks you have some kind of incredible gift and they don’t realize that you might be suffocating a little bit and could really use some help.

And maybe people don’t know how to help. Or maybe I wanted to live up to my sainthood and so I didn’t seek out the help I needed. But it was really ugly.

My messy beautiful is this: I struggle with being a foster parent. I say yes to these kids and then sometimes it is really hard to care for them. I feel like my identity gets lost and I just become “the one who fosters and adopts.” And people don’t see that I am really a normal mom who struggles and who some days really wants to throw in the towel and move to Australia.

People don’t see that fostering isn’t really sainthood at all. It’s just taking care of kids. And it doesn’t take a special gift to do that. It just takes an open heart. And our family wasn’t ready when we did it but we did it anyway. And it’s hard and it’s messy but it surely is beautiful.

I’m limping along just like the rest of you. Please don’t assume that I am a saint. I just love kids and I know they are hurting and so it’s just what we do.

It’s messy. But it’s beautiful.

carryon

 

Triggers of an Adoptive Parent

triggers

If you spend any time at all in foster parent training or in any kind of training to care for children who have been abused, you will hear the word “triggers.” A trigger is something (and it truly can be anything) that in the child’s mind is associated with former abuse. When a child encounters one of his triggers, he will react in some way. For some kids, that looks like running away. For others, freezing. For others, fighting or screaming. Every kid is different and every kid has different triggers.

I have cared for a child who had obviously been abused. One of the ways I knew this was because every time she was around strange men (as in men she didn’t know) she would panic. She couldn’t walk near them without me. It absolutely broke my heart because I knew that in some way these men (who I’m sure were very nice) reminded her of past abusers.

We’ve been foster parents for five years now and I am well acquainted with triggers. I recognize that they can come from nowhere and can cause major problems. I know how to be aware of them and sensitive to a child who is in a rough place.

I did not know, however, that adoptive parents can develop triggers. No one warned me that there might be certain situations or images that would cause reactions similar to the ones my foster children have experienced when they encountered their triggers.

I realized this several weeks ago. I went with some friends to a film screening. This film was developed with the purpose of fighting human trafficking. It covered trafficking all over the world and what we can do to fight it.

I could handle watching the images of the girls from third world countries be trafficked. Not that I enjoyed it or that it didn’t make me want to throw up, but I could sit there and watch it and try to learn from it.

But when we got to the scenes of little girls in the United States being abused and trafficked, I panicked.

I started breathing hard. My stomach exploded and I felt like I was going to throw up. My body started to shake. I had to close my eyes. I had to work really, really hard to keep from screaming out for them to please turn it off. I had to get up and go to the bathroom. Then I left.

I had no idea that I had developed a trigger in caring for our children.

But the film was talking about how the majority of girls who are trafficked in the U.S. are first abused by their fathers or uncles. And it showed scenes that looked almost exactly how I have imagined one of my children being abused in the past. I couldn’t look at that film without seeing her and her abusers. I couldn’t look at it without wanting to scream and cry and hit somebody.

It hurts so much to know that your child has suffered at the hands of a monster and that you weren’t there to do anything about it. It is so painful to think about the fact that I wasn’t there to protect my children when they needed me most.

Yes, I know it was impossible because I didn’t even know their names yet. But still. I am their mother. And they were so deeply scarred and I wasn’t there for them.

A trigger for an adoptive parent can look like anything. It can be a picture of a starving child in Africa or a little boy watching his parent die, or a song that speaks to your child’s story.

I had no idea that I had developed this trigger. And I’m curious. If you are a foster or adoptive parent, have you found that there are certain situations that set you off too?