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Without True Connection, There is Only Parallel Isolation

If you’ve read any of Brené Brown’s books or seen her amazing TedX Talk you know how her research gives evidence that we are “hard-wired for connection,” and that without voluntary vulnerability, there is no true connection, there is only parallel isolation. “It is not good for man to be alone,” is our primal cry for connection.

Adam walked in the cool of the day with God, but yet, God saw something was still missing in Adam; He brought him Eve. What that says is that the act of becoming one which includes one with yourself, is a process that needs relationship with others. You cannot become you alone.

“It is not good for man to be alone” tells us that you and I and our children for whom relationships, vulnerability, and closeness are excruciatingly difficult right now need connection—desperately.

Keep doing the good work you are doing with your hurt kids. The very essence of who they are and who they are meant to become is dependent on it. You have a unique position in their lives with the authority backed by the King of the Universe to show them the power of vulnerability. And yes, it’s perfectly wonderful to work on vulnerability together. It’s not too late for us either!

Running on Empty

Running on empty is a cliche in foster care and adoption circle. Or just parent circles. Well, really…in human circles. It seems that we’re all just gettin’ by on fumes. I always panic when I see the gauge tip toward empty in my car. I was working from home today but drove my car down the long windy and icy driveway to get the mail and back, but still my heart sank when I saw the gauge.

We all want life in a full tank and a new car, don’t we? And if that is not our situation, we might think there is something WRONG somewhere going on. This is especially true in Christianity where we’ve been conditioned to believe that life in Messiah means getting everything WE want. In fact, in any religious culture that preaches “‘peace! peace’ where there is no peace” (prosperity gospel) we often get the impression that the good life in Messiah means never suffering ‘lack’.

But when did NOT suffering become the ‘test’ whether we have God’s favor or not? that idea is certainly foreign to the people the bible was written to. Remember, the bible was written TO the ancients, but is FOR us all.

I sometimes wonder if the avoidance in reading the left side of our bibles is because that’s where we unmistakably learn that a Covenant with God doesn’t promise a life of ease after all. Just look at the patriarch’s lives! Instead, God promises His faithfulness to us to never leave us or forsake us, but that is hardly a trouble-free life. His is truly the better offer, but we don’t naturally see that, we have to grow and mature into that kind of faith in Him. It’s hard to grow into that if no one is encouraging us that way.


Paul gets the concept and tries to teach it. Look at what he says in 2 Corinthians 4:8-9 which, as is the case with all his writing, is a commentary on the torah. “We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not despairing; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed..” The word despairing is the greek word “exaporoumenoi”. It means “You are never going to be in a place where you are utterly at a loss, where all hope has been removed.” (thanks to Dr. Skip Moen for that understanding).


As Dr. Moen says, we are not guaranteed that we’ll have a full tank in a new car, but even a needle that reads empty won’t run out of gas. God promises THAT.

Are you running on empty today? Know that you are still highly favored and loved. All hope is never utterly lost. Ask God to increase your faith in Him in these moments. Rely on His promises that He is there with you in all the struggles that are common to humanity.

NOTE: How can you apply this to your parenting of hurt children? How can you show them that even in their hardest trials – the ones that they suffered before coming into your family – that God was in it with them? Before we can teach this idea, we must live it ourselves. We can;t take someone to a ‘place’ of healing that we’ve not been to yet. But maybe we can travel together.

Beauty for Ashes: A Journey into Grief and Loss

The little talked about secret is that adoption always begins with loss. The bigger secret is that this loss lingers well past the drying of the ink on the adoption decree, the settling in period in the new home, and even well past their acceptance that you are now mom and dad. There is no expiration date on a child feeling grief that they lost their first family. Some days it’s just harder on them than others. The loss travels with them as they grow from childhood to adulthood. Every now and then the loss leaks out, a crack in the dam built up over the years from self imposed and external expectations that they should be grateful they have a family now.

Mom, dad, how are you going to respond to their grief when it comes in waves and in ways that can’t be attended to in a condolence card from the Hallmark store? Can you sit with them in their grief knowing you can do nothing to ‘fix’ it? Maybe it’s their shared 22nd birthday and you have a family lunch planned to honor them but they don’t show up, don’t call, and only one of the two sends a short text saying “I’m sorry we didn’t show up for lunch, I really am” despite having texted you two hours earlier that he is excited for the plans.

Grief isn’t a very good guest of honor. Loss doesn’t know how to be happy.

Parents do you know it is grief that makes them decide to ditch out on the family plans? Or more accurately said, it is the unresolved grief they have carried ever since they joined your family and had to let go of their fantasy that their ‘real parents’ would come get them after all. Do you know that they have been secretly nursing this loss all these years – such big feelings with no where to go. They need a place for it to go.

Someone named Keith C. Griffith is quoted as saying, ” “Adoption loss is the only trauma in the world where the victims are expected by the whole of society to be grateful.”

Ouch.

But true.

The truth is that loss and beauty can live together but no one is telling us that and we’re not telling our kids. Unresolved grief is the result and it looks like a whole host of other ‘issues’ beside what it really is. Addictions. Failed relationships. What looks like indifference. Hostility.

No one is telling us that it is not only possible to simultaneously be happy in a new home and also mourn the original one, but that it is okay to live in the tension of those two worlds. It is ok to talk about the loss and be sad…really, really sad about it.

These worlds collide on days like birthdays, ‘gotcha- days’/ adoption anniversaries and really any major holiday where family (or the illusion of the perfect family) is on display. These are the days where loss and grief spill out in often unexpected ways. It is hard on parents and it is hard on the kids. And not many are talking about it .

Nobody tells us parents that it is our responsibility to not only tolerate these big feelings in our kids, but to actually invite these feelings. Even though we can not ‘fix’ it for them. And no one equips us to do the necessary hard work on ourselves first to look at our own feelings of loss and grief. Yes, I lost out on being my sons’ only mother. I lost out on having a family that is not touched by trauma. I lost out on being able to take their pain away. And I lost out on 22nd birthday parties.

My sons lost out on never having to feel the most painful rejection a child could ever feel. They lost a biological connection to people just like them. They lost a health history. They lost family stories of ‘you look just like…’ and ‘you have the same eyes as…’. They lost out on being born into a safe family. They lost out on never having to question what ‘family is forever’ means. They lost out on never having to question their own self worth or preciousness.

So where do we go from here? We can’t ignore the grief, that much I know. Maybe we start with our own grief work first. Then we’ll be in a better position to hold space for our child’s grief. No the loss doesn’t go away. But maybe, just maybe, when we are open to it, don’t hide from it, we can see that loss is the place where beauty starts.

In the book of Isaiah, God promises to give Israel “beauty instead of ashes.” I am intrigued that in Hebrew the word for beauty is spelled with the same letters as the word for ashes, just in a different order. Is the telling us that beauty can come from ashes?  With God, this is reality. He’s really the only One who can meet each of us in the place of loss and grief and bring forth a beautiful journey to wholeness. Now that’s a party we are all invited to.

Building Faith, Houses, and Families: Pay Attention To Your Foundation

“All Scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness; that the man of God may be adequate, equipped for every good work.” (2 Timothy 3:16-17).

I remember the first time I realized that when this was first said, the ONLY scriptures of God were those that are now called the ‘old testament’. It stunned me and made me question where my biblical foundation lay. Was it firmly planted in the rich soil written about in the left side of my bible, or was it on shaky ground of denominational biases created out of foundation-less opinions. That’s a lot to take in. Proper foundations are important. I’ve been slowly building up the foundation of my faith all these years later – a foundation that is decidedly Jewish and Hebraic. Yes, Jesus is Jewish.

I didn’t really understand the importance of a solid foundation to any building project (whether it be a house or structure, or whether it is one’s faith, or family) until our family built a house from the bare ground up, several years ago. I remember being given a timeline of sorts for how long it was expected that each stage of the building project should take. It appeared from that timeline that the final phase of the project would go up much faster than the first or middle phase. I remember this because I was all about speed then. Build me a house already. I was frustrated at how slooooow the initial phase was supposed to take, and even more frustrated when in fact, it took even longer. At least once a week we’d come as a family (all nine of us) to the property to picnic and check on our house. Oh, my! How slow that first phase went up. “Gotta take time to build the foundation that the house sits on, otherwise, nothing else fits together”. That’s what they told me. Hummmm, I wondered if that is true for all ‘building’ projects. I’d already seen it true in matters of faith and godly living through actions. What about for raising up children? Does the foundation really matter? What was mine?

It turns out, my parenting foundation was obedience. I didn’t know then, like I do now, that pretty much everything having to do with raising children can benefit from knowing what foundation is the strongest. Obedient children is definitely important to families, no matter how much one differs on what ultimately that obedience should look like, or how to get obedient children.

Obedience is important to most parents; it’s often the foundation of parenting. It’s like a child’s obedience is the litmus test of good parenting in our minds. This was certainly true for me in the earlier days of parenting. When one of my children obeyed, I felt like I was doing something right and this made me feel good about myself. When one of my child disobeyed, it triggered me to do whatever was quickest to get the child back in line again. Because I tied my child’s obedience into my self worth, I ended up putting obedience too high of a priority on my unwritten list of qualities I wanted to instill in my children. And so my parenting foundation became more about obedience than it did anything else, all under the guise of helping them become more of who they were created to be.

The problem I was running into though, was that with an obedience focus, I was undermining my ability to nurture other great qualities in them. Also, the obedience focus undermined our relationship together.

Make Relationship Be Your Foundation.  

I know now that in order to truly thrive, a child needs to feel like they are seen, heard, known, and accepted by their parent or caregiver; this is the foundation of healthy attachment, which is the foundation of connected relationships, both as children to their parents, and into adulthood with adult relationships with others. Relationship builds trust and trust motivates obedience. But when obedience is the sole foundation instead of relationship, you may end up with kids who outwardly ‘behave’, but does it come from a place of love, or out of fear of punishment?

One great way to keep relationship the foundation of parenting is to remember the motto “Connection before correction.” Watch here for a great video (about 4 minutes) on the beauty of keeping connection as the foundation of all interactions with your child, even when you need to discipline them. I am not suggesting that you dismiss obedience.

To find out how deep that obedience is embedded into your parenting foundation, ask yourself:

  • Why is obedience important to me?
  • Is parenting ‘success’ about me getting my child to obey?
  • Is parenting ‘success’ about my child’s ability to obey me?
  • What am I afraid will happen if I don’t push for obedience?
  • How does my own self esteem tie in with my child’s obedience?
  • Am I choosing obedience in this moment to feel good about my parenting again?
  • What’s in it for the child when I focus on obedience to the exclusion of building trust?

Perhaps you can redefine parenting “success” and make it about something besides obedience, or something in addition to obedience. Personally, I like connection.

Let me know in the comments what you think and how you might want to move forward.

Gail

And While I Wait

“Yet those who wait for the Lord will gain new strength”  Isaiah 40:31

Can I be honest? I’m still waiting for my 21 year old, Russian-born sons to ‘come home’ and fully accept their sonship. I’m still waiting for them to give up the same enticements that led to their birth parents’ downfall and subsequent termination of parental rights. I won’t say more about that – that is their story, not mine to tell.

But I wait.

The Hebrew root for wait is qawa. It means “I wait, look for or hope with eager expectation”. This goes completely against our culture. Waiting is seen as weakness, a nothing of value in a world of do, do, do. But to wait in the Hebraic sense of the word is quite active.

The thing about this kind of waiting is that it is tied in with hope. Hope that God is active in their lives, even if I am not as active as I’d like to be. Hope that God as a plan for their lives, even if I, looking for perfection, can’t see the little progresses.

What are you hoping for? How long are you willing to wait before you give up on God to answer? Are you needing new strength for the road ahead, which looks so scary? Remember to wait for the LORD, and let Him give you the strength for the long haul.

Let’s wait together.

Risk Factors for a Poor Start in Life

TBRI® has identified six early risk factors that impact how some children think, trust, and connect with others. These risk factors change children’s brain development and brain chemistry, leading to a higher risk for emotional problems and mal-adaptive behaviors.

The Risk Factors Are:

Difficult pregnancy

 •including medical, drugs/alcohol, crisis or other trauma.

•persistent, high level of stress throughout pregnancy.

Difficult birth

Early hospitalization

 •greater exposure to painful touch rather than nurturing, comforting touch in the first days of life.

Abuse

•Children from abusive backgrounds are always on guard, hyper vigilant to the environment around them.

Neglect

•The message sent to a child from a neglectful background is ‘you don’t exist.’

•Children from neglectful backgrounds often suffer from the most severe behavioral problems and developmental deficits.

Trauma

 •Any number of traumas in the child’s life (witnessing an extreme event, for example) can cause the child’s developmental trajectory to change in response.

The brain is “plastic”, which means it adapts to these situations that the child faces. Responses to these environments are ‘wired’ within their brain and are changeable to suit the needs of the specific situation. The bad news is that the behaviors that helped them cope in their early environment can become mal-adaptive once they are in your home and safe. They no longer need the behaviors for survival, but their brains are still wired to feel that way. Thankfully, the brain remains “plastic” throughout our life and still adapts to new situations. What this means for your child is that, with help, he or she can heal and learn to function in your home.

Suddenly Siblings™

When I first realized how hard it had been for my biological children already in the home when we adopted, I felt like a failure. My ‘resident children’ had been suffering for years and I didn’t realize it. They’d been afraid to speak up for fear it would be just more stress added to their already stressed family.

It wasn’t until about 10 years after the adoptions that I realized how much pressure my biological children were under to continue to be welcoming to their adopted siblings even when they were tired and feeling alone in their frustrations at their brothers’ behaviors. My expectations about what the resident siblings could handle were way off.

Talking about it openly, discussing the ‘secondary trauma stress’ they were experiencing, and allowing them to not walk on egg-shells anymore made a world of difference for some of them. Giving them ‘permission’ to be understandably upset about what was happening with their brothers’ behaviors wasn’t an easy transition for me, but at least I didn’t feel like I was a complete failure anymore.

To help other parents avoid the mistakes I made by not knowing how to support my kids already in the home, I created Suddenly Siblings™, bringing focused support and education just on resident children.

The website suddenlysibs.com is full of content to help you understand

  • WHY your resident child needs specific support when your family fosters or adopts
  • WHAT you can do to support them
  • and HOW to connect with them even if it’s years later (like with me)

You can support your children already in the home – it’s never too late!

Gail

Wilderness and Desert Places

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They’d been telling us all week that being in this Israel wilderness, away from distractions of modern conveniences will practically guarantee a special encounter with the Holy One. After all, we had been staying at one of the 42 wilderness camp sites from the great exodus. This is the area that Abraham walked, where he raised Isaac and Esau. Its history is holy (set apart). But for this Montana gal, what I experience isn’t very spiritual. It was in the high 90’s, it was sticky, sand dusty, there were flies everywhere and much of the area is dry and parched.

When we were sojourning in Israel, the land had not yet entered into the wet season, which comes after the days of Sukkot. They’ve had life-giving rains since we left, praise God. He is so faithful. It is a tradition (and a necessity) to pray for rain during the days of Sukkot.

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When I first began to contemplate the lack of modern distractions that the dessert offers, I was hot and bugged by flies, as I sat in a tent replica of the kind that Abraham and his family lived in. The walls and roof were made by Bedouins, they are authentic, if not ancient.

In the desert, I wondered if I can quiet my mind long enough to hear God in the wilderness. Kol demama decca is the Hebrew phrase we’ve translated as ‘still, small voice’ – the voice that requires a very attuned and attentive ear to be able to process.

My husband Randy has been frustrated with me for some time, because I keep asking him to repeat what he’s said to me. Maybe I’m losing my hearing, I don’t know. He wants me to get it checked out when we return to Montana. If he thinks I wasn’t paying close enough attention to him, instead of just not being able to pick up the sounds he’s saying, then he usually will just say “never mind” and that’s the end of that. Truth be told, I don’t know if I can’t hear, or if I am not attentive enough. Perhaps my processing speed is slowing down, and before my mind can ‘wake up’ to listen, over half of the words he’s said are already gone. ‘Huh? What did you say?’ If there is any kind of background noise around me, I am a goner, that’s for sure.

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So there I was, in the desert wilderness of the Arava, wondering if I’m not hearing all that God is saying to me because of the background noise, or slow processing speed, or if I am not constantly on the listen for His voice.  

Kol demama decca and the desert wilderness go hand in hand. I do know this: the desert is quiet, and it causes me to realize there is still a lot of “self” that is a droning background noise that makes it more difficult for me to hear God. My needs, wants, desires, and insecurities are loud in my life. Perhaps it does take heat and sand and flies and sweat and tears for me to be reminded of what His voice sounds like. It can be painful, but it is good to be in the desert wilderness when you know God is there, too. What does your dessert wilderness look like? Look for the beauty of fellowship with God in the middle of the dry places.

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The Tamarisk Tree

“Abraham planted a tamarisk tree in Beersheba, and there he called on the name of the Lord, the Eternal God.” (Genesis 21:33)

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Tamarisk tree in southern Israel

It’s the only recorded time in scripture that Abraham planted trees.

The tamarisk tree is a very slow-growing tree, taking hundreds of years to grow to full maturity. The mature trees act as a kind of air cooling system in the hot desert.

Think about this: Abraham was so confident of the promises of God to create numerous descendants from him, that he planted trees that would not benefit himself in the here and now, but rather would provide for his descendants who would come through hundreds of years later after leaving their captivity in Egypt.

Oh, to be so confident of God’s promises in the future, that I would live today sowing seeds of faith like that!!!!!!

What ‘trees’ are you planting today that will benefit your future generations? Comment below.

Getting Dressed In God’s Closet

I vacillate back and forth between believing fake it ‘till you make it is an appropriate motto for parenting kids from trauma backgrounds, or not. Most of the time it sounds so right. Other times it appears disingenuous. Apostle Paul has some words of wisdom.

And so, as those who have been chosen of God, holy and beloved, put on a heart of compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, patience Colossians 3:12

The Greek word for put on is the verb enduo, which is the picture of getting dressed.  You pick out what you’re going to wear and you put on the clothing.  Literally, the sentence reads, “Put on, therefore, as elect ones.”  In the Greek, the action is at the beginning of the sentence, which, essentially emphases the action of getting dressed, not in the selection of what to wear.

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Think about this. In order to put on the garments, we have to do something.  In this case, take the steps necessary to wrap yourself in these clothes.  As bible scholar Skip Moen says, (and thanks to him for giving me this great word study) “You can’t sit naked in the room waiting for God to dress you in compassion and kindness.”

By the language employed in that verse, we;re not being asked to wait until God changes our heart before we exhibit compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, or patience. That’s where the fake it ’till you make it comes in!  The power is in getting dressed, not how I feel about it. I can already exhibit those actions towards my child (or others, or myself) even if I don’t feel like it, even if it feels fake.

Compassion: I will recognize that in many cases, if my child could do better, they would do better. I can look for the deep need behind the behavior and not punish my child for those things they are not yet capable of doing. Instead, when appropriate, I can teach them the skills they are lacking or are underdeveloped.

Kindness: When my child comes home from school, I will remember that he or she has had to pull it together for so many hours already and that when they get home to their safe place, they may collapse into a puddle of emotions and feelings and misbehavior. I can do small acts of kindness for them and let them decompress in ways that are meaningful to them. Offer a favorite snack, set up a bubble bath time, allow them quiet time alone or offer special time with me.

Humility: I can model humility to my child by being honest about my own shortcomings as a person and as a parent. I can apologize when I am wrong, I can admit fault. I can be willing to change when necessary.  I can say, “honey, I don’t know the answer to that. Let’s find out together’. I can keep learning.

Gentleness: I can offer a shoulder to cry on, instead of an ‘I told you this would happen if you did xyz.” I can walk over to my child when I have something important to say to them that may be hard for them to hear, instead of shouting it across the room. I can soften my gaze when I look at them, I can get down to their eye level. I can be mindful to connect with their heart before I correct their behavior.

Patience: I can wake up each day with the intention of doing it all over again. I can answer their same question for the 10th time about when dinner is going to be ready, or whatever other incessant question they ask, with the same loving response as I would answer their deeper question, “Are you going to feed me and love me and take care of me no matter what?’ Because they is what they are really asking.  

The real key to success that Paul is trying to get us to understand is that when we put on the actions of compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, or patience, and ask God to be in it with us, we will be transformed to fit the clothes. I want to get dressed in God’s closet.