Wednesday, May 04, 2016

Safe Place

Do you have a safe place?

You know, a place where you might go when disaster strikes.  A storm cellar.  The southwest corner of the basement.  (I have been in the Midwest a long time, haven't I?)  You get the picture, it's that place of retreat when the storm nears.  A physical safe-haven to protect yourselves and the ones you love the most.  Yes, even the animals.  (Do you have any idea how difficult it is to get a cat to follow a disaster plan to the basement in a timely manner while her owner wails out of concern for her beloved pet? No? Consider yourself lucky.)  Peruse any emergency kit planning guide and you'll find reference to a "safe place."

It stands to reason then, that our hearts and minds, as well as our physical bodies, need somewhere to take refuge when times are hard.  A good friend of mine shared this idea with me about five years ago, right after the second inpatient hospitalization with our eldest adopted daughter.  In a classic case of "had I known then what I know now," our limited understanding of our daughter's needs enabled us to come up painfully short when helping her put this idea to good use.

Us:  So, it would probably be a good idea for you to have somewhere safe to go when you feel all the feelings you seem to have so often.

Her:  I guess.

Us:  Okay, good.  Let us know where you choose.

When I read this to myself, I cringe at my perception (worse than the reality, but still…) of what the conversation sounded like.  My mind reassures me that we did the best we could with our beginner-level skill set of parenting a kid from hard places, but my heart aches that we couldn't understand that those very typical, warm, fuzzy feelings that most other kids feel, when enveloped by their safe place, were all but absent from her repertoire of emotional safety.

She couldn't make a safe place. She had never seen one before.  

Unfortunately, we determined that all of the years she had spent with us, living in a safe place, should have erased all of that old, unsafe, traumatic memory and replaced it with, you know, new, happy, safe ones.

But that's not what happened.

What happened was that although she learned our home was a safe place, the constant replay in her head of the living nightmare that was her childhood didn't disappear.  This made for a really bad combination of feelings under one roof.  Her hellish memories bubbled and simmered to the surface until she got to a place where she could let them all out.  Her safe place.

Our house.
Our home.
Our safe place.

Looking back, with the benefit of hindsight, it's very plain to see.  But at the time. Well, not so much.

I read an article the other day about how a person can become a "safe place."  The article stated:

This is the hard part of relationships: entering into marriage and parenting knowing full well that you’re going to be someone’s safe place, but not knowing what that really means until one day when the jolting realization is upon you. It’s an honor that some people go their entire lives without experiencing. It is the rawest part of the human experience, holding another person’s hand as they navigate through difficulty.
When you finally see it for what it really is, rather than thinking that this other person is just trying to make life hard for you by being angry or sad all the time, it changes things. This person feels safe with you. They need you to help them make sense of something that is bothering them. It is beautiful, this unfiltered, real love.
And I want so badly to end this story by saying that our daughter has finally found her safe place.  And that we have been thrilled to have the "honor that some people go their entire lives without experiencing."

But neither would be true.  At least not entirely.

Although, I can honestly say that we continue to hold out hope that one day our daughter will find that place that makes her feel safe, and that we will look back on this opportunity with time and wisdom at our sides and see the beauty in the ashes.

Maybe tomorrow.

Saturday, April 30, 2016

The Beautiful Mystery

I've been reading Louise Penny's best selling book, The Beautiful Mystery.  It was a Christmas gift that I am just now getting around to reading, which is pathetic, I know.  But I am, at long last, finding time to read this story that blends faith, humanity, music and mystery. A third of the way into the story, and I would say it's a winning combination.

The main character is Chief Inspector Gamache and the story is set in the monastery of Saint Gilbert Among the Wolves in an ethereal wood, inaccessible to the rest of modern society.  The story's prologue gives a thorough background into the history of plainchant, or Gregorian chant, which was the format for the Divine Office.  Through the years, the Church lost this art form, and it wasn't until the 19th century that a young monk in France decided he was up to the task of recovering this lost art form.    The chants were simple and pure.  And it is said that all who heard the ancient chants were profoundly effected.  So much so, that the chants were known as "the beautiful mystery."

But this isn't a book review post.  It's a reflection on a quote from Dom Philippe,  the abbot of St. Gilbert.  As he stands before his community, one of whom is a murderer, he reminds them:

"Our order has been tested over the centuries.  And this is another test.  Do we really believe in God?  Do we believe all of the things we say and sing?  Or has it become a faith of convenience?  Has it, in splendid isolation, grown weak?  We challenged we simply do what is easiest.  Do we sin by silence?  If we have real faith we must have the courage to speak up."

To me, that, is the real mystery.

It's easy to stand on unwavering faith when life is easy.  It's not impossible, but it's a lot more difficult to  walk the walk when everything falls apart.  

And that's the mystery, isn't it?  How does a life of faith stand up to the tests of life?   

I can only speak from my own experience and from the experiences written by the saints.  But I would argue that walking through the fire isn't just an inconvenience, a punishment by an cruel world or the mocking of an unjust Creator, it is a requirement of a life of faith.

Because one thing is for sure, at these times when our faith was most fragile, at the point when we thought there was nothing left to do but wave a white flag of surrender,  God drew us closer.  We sought Him or He sought us.  I want to be clear, though.  This doesn't mean at those most difficult times that God showed up and "fixed" everything.  It doesn't mean that from the pits, God reached down and drew us out.  In many cases, during these darkest hours, we wondered if God was still there.  But, what did happen,  (as it happens in any relationship where strong emotions are present) is that our relationship changed, deepened, and revealed itself to be something different from what we had previously thought.  

It is impossible to have a "faith of convenience" when the very circumstances you are in demands you have courage and put on your big girl panties of faith and be who you say you are.  

Ask the saints.  Read their stories.  You'll find that if there is one way to deepen your relationship with God, it is to step into the darkness where the only way through is to seek the Light.

Wednesday, April 20, 2016

Starting Point

So I've put myself in the position, now, of figuring out exactly where one begins after so many years of silence.

Do I start with the developments in the stories of our adopted children?  Are those even my stories to tell?  At some point, their stories reach into ours and fuse together becoming one and the same story, but I'm not sure where exactly that happens yet and I want to respect the confidential nature of such sensitive topics.

Do I start with the foray into mental health care that our family has had?  The myriad of diagnoses, the countless therapy sessions, the battles against insurance companies or the learning curve of psychotropic medicines?  Any one would give me plenty of fodder for the blog.  Easily seven years worth.

Do I start with the collateral damages to friendships, family members, finances, physical and mental health?  There's no shortage of any one of these.

Do I start with the battle for services?  From the state to the classroom…the battle was nearly insurmountable.  Nearly.  And that is definitely its own story.  Which leads me to…

Maybe I start with the changes, the growth and the lessons learned about achieving the impossible?  About living through stories you never would have written yourself into--if you were actually in control of the pen--oh, or what about that--control?  Many lessons about how little control is actually in our possession.  Any of us.

And that's just the adoption related stories.

Kids have grown up, as they tend to do, moved on to colleges, grade schools and high schools.  Some remain at home still, for which I am grateful to still have the opportunity to live again some of the years I think I missed while we lived in crisis mode.  And the babies.  I wouldn't be telling the full story if I didn't recall the seven sweet lives that sli
pped through our grasp over these last tumultuous years.

And work and home and life.  And all the things that it encompasses.  Including our faith.

What has nearly a decade of trauma done to our faith?  

That's a good question.  I'm still struggling to find the words for an answer.  But our faith is still the compass.  The same faith that led us to answer God's call in the past continues to lead us forward.  With much wider-eyes than before, for sure, we step forward in faith and continuing to build.

Tuesday, April 19, 2016

Blog Silence

A little over seven years ago, the writing on this blog came to a screeching halt.  For so many reasons.  I read a story today called The Silence of Adoption, and it occurred to me that, perhaps, it was time to play a bit of catch-up here in this space.  For today, however, I'll share The Silence of Adoption as a very teeny, tiny baby step forward.

Thursday, December 24, 2009

Santa Tracker

Wondering where Santa's sleigh and reindeer are right now?  Grab your kiddos and check out this nifty site from NORAD (yes, the air defense people) and see how much longer until Jolly Old St. Nick is in your neck of the woods!

"For more than 50 years, NORAD and its predecessor, the Continental Air Defense Command (CONAD) have tracked Santa’s Christmas Eve flight.
The tradition began in 1955 after a Colorado Springs-based Sears Roebuck & Co. advertisement for children to call Santa misprinted the telephone number. Instead of reaching Santa, the phone number put kids through to the CONAD Commander-in-Chief's operations "hotline." The Director of Operations at the time, Colonel Harry Shoup, had his staff check the radar for indications of Santa making his way south from the North Pole. Children who called were given updates on his location, and a tradition was born."

And if there's a skeptic in your midst, have he or she check out Virgina's famous letter to the Chicago Sun-Times from over a century ago.  It still rings true today, doesn't it? 
If there is one thing true about Christmas it is that it was, is and continues to be a time for miracles--beginning with the birth of our Savior.  Wishing you all the joy of the miracle of Christmas--today and always!

What to do with the Egg-stra Eggnog

There's an extra half-gallon of egg nog in my fridge since the night of the adult Christmas party.  I'm thinking that making these muffins might be a wise use of my surplus, but Candace had another plan.

Me:  What am I going to do with all this eggnog?

Candace:  Daddy loves eggnog.  Let's give it to him.

Me:  But Daddy is the ONLY person in our house who will drink it and there is a lot left.

Candace:  (grinning the wild grin of a child on Christmas Eve) No, mommy.  Daddy and Santa like eggnog.  They can share.

How can I argue with that sweet logic?

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Next Stop Bethlehem

Subtitled: Will I even stop re-running this when she's a teenager?

Next Stop--Bethlehem

Not only does this time of year leave me feeling a bit nostalgic and melancholy for warm family memories, it also leaves me reminiscing around my previous years' Christmas posts, which leaves you, dear friends, the bearers of my jolly finds.

From the Christmas ark-ives...


The vacant nativity scene should have been my first clue...

But sometimes, you just have to see things to believe them...

Could it be? Rather than the traditional long-eared donkey, Joseph high-tailed it into town driving Mary, the animals and the three kings on--dare I say--a big yellow school bus?

And how did the mother from the Fisher-Price family doll house get on board?

Look out, Oliver Stone. You've got nothing on a three-year old left to her imagination.