Tuesday, March 5, 2019

March 5th Marks 20 Years

Today is the Birthday of Grumpy.  At 2:35 PM today, March 5, 2019  he turns 20 years old.

I wish that I was writing a post of celebration and joy in regards to the 20th birthday of my third youngest dwarf.  I am instead making a plea to our family and friends, to commit to praying for him today. For safety, for others to be raised up around him to guide and protect him, and for continued favor upon his young life.

As you know Grumpy spent January 2, 2018 through the 10th of January 2019 homeless.  The Prince and I did all that we could to help him find a meal, transportation (we provided him with two bikes)  places to stay, clothing, occasionally a shower or a car ride.  Sadly at every turn he would disrupt his opportunity because of his inability to follow the rules, fleeing and leaving all his belongings behind.  The further he got into his stint being homeless the shorter his stays became in the homes of those who were willing to take a chance on him.  He refused to get a job.  Opportunities for employment arose, even some of the managers of the locations he was applying went so far as to purchase work shoes or clothing for him, all resulting in him just never showing up for day one.

On January 10, 2019 the Prince made a two hour drive with a dwarf that we thought may be at the end of himself.  We found a ministry that specialized in men needing a fresh start.  Men that needed to disconnect from the environment that they were living in and receive supports and therapy to help them in a span of two years, reconnect with appropriate contacts in their life, learn job skills and work on learning to help themselves. 

Sadly, we report that while he managed to stay longer at this placement than any other over the last year, they have returned him to our home town area to a mental health facility.  We believe that he was baker acted, and hence has 7 days of observations at this location.  After that time, we are unsure what his lot will be.  He is soon running out of options.  Florida does not have systems in place for young adults with mental needs.

If we are being honest, Grumpy most likely needs to be institutionalized so that he can live his best life ever.  He needs to be in a place where he is told when and how to do things, and just has to follow the rules.  Where someone will wake him for work, remind him to do his laundry, enforce schedules and time management for him. A place where when you do not follow the rules, there is a consequence, and there is consistency until the offending behavior is regulated.

Please be praying for Grumpy today on the day of his 20th birthday. We know that we are only part of his story, and the Lord holds his beginning middle and end in His hands.  However, even though we know and trust this, we still need to be fervent in our petitions and prayers for this young man's heart, soul, mind and body. As you pray today with a hope for Grumpy's future, please include the following areas:
  • A secure and safe placement for him after his 7 days are up at this mental health facility
  • In the time he is in the facility, that they would see the true depth of his illness which may open up other options for treatment and/or programs 
  • That whatever needs to happen to Grumpy to bring him to the end of himself, would happen sooner rather than later
  • That Grumpy would desire change, want to work and function well in society
  • That he would not be placed back on the streets, homeless
  • That the Lord would continue to raise up men and women that would desire to pour themselves into Grumpy to give him yet another fresh start
  • That Grumpy will not forget that above all he is loved and treasured as one of God's children and that he has value. 
Just because we as a society do our part and adopt these children from foster care in no way assures them a healthy and productive future.  At some point in their lives their mental health overtakes their abilities to function inside or around the "normal" parameters of life and they disrupt from their safe and structured home environments.

I leave you with these statistics to ponder.   It is more than just and adoption issue.  It is more than just a homeless issue.  It is more than just a mental health issue.  As these children in foster care or that have been adopted age, it becomes a mental health issue for many, and homelessness or prison for many more.

The statistics  are a couple years old, however speak volumes to the situation in our foster care system, and the overwhelming increase in our homeless population across the nation.  Our states need to make changes so that we can appropriately care for those who have mental health issues. 

Estimates at the end of 2017 Fiscal Year indicated by the US Department of Health and Human Services, Administration for Children and Families, Administration on Children Youth and families and the Children's Bureau indicate that the following: 

437,465 children were already in foster care at the start of the fiscal year
273,539 children would be added to the foster care system in that fiscal year
250,248 children/young adults would exit the foster care system in that fiscal year through aging out or reunification attempts (many to return again another year)
117,794 children would be adopted into homes during that fiscal year

Approximately 1/3 of the total homeless population includes individuals with serious, untreated mental illness according to a research summary compiled by the Treatment Advocacy Center.

"Serious mental illness disrupts people's ability to carry out essential aspects of daily life such as self care and life management skills.  Mental illness often also prevents people from forming and maintaining stable relationships or cause people to misinterpret others guidance and react irrationally.  This results in pushing away caregivers, family and friends who may be the force keeping that person from being homeless.  As a result of these factors and the stress of living with a mental disorder, people with mental illness are much more likely to become homeless." (National Coalition for the Homeless)

This is not the path that I ever thought I would find myself on, but as I journey I share, as we are not alone in this fight for our children, adopted or biological.

Statistics have been cited from the sources indicated

Tuesday, February 19, 2019

They say, "Sometimes even a blind squirrel finds the nut."

Much of our life spent parenting children, the typical and the not so typical, has been filled with quick change in directions, attitudes, and drama. Trauma to triumph in a minute, or vise versa,  so when a moment happens that makes us stand back just shaking our heads, with a small and crooked smile, on our faces that are a mix of joy, bewilderment  and a dash of "did this really happen?", well it just needs to be shared.

Understand this moment in time was an accidental victory.  Not one thing about the way this unfolded was "appropriate" or pleased the Prince and I as parents.  It went against all the safety nets and rules we had set up for this dwarf.  Yet in the end, amidst the sneaky behavior, the lie and finding out the truth, this dwarf caught a victory, and a rash of "what for " from the Prince and I. 

This is the tale of how even a blind squirrel can find a nut.  Our dwarf Happy will live with us forever as we are his legal guardians. He is 21 is diagnosed ID.   He has celebrated some wonderful milestones in the last year,  which included landing a part time position doing what he loves, landscaping. Yes, even in the hot Florida sun. That job has lead to a occasional work  mulching and mowing in our neighborhood.  He has sustained continued employment at his main job at a local grocery store for going on three years now.  He graduated high school.  He got his first cell phone.   He turned 21.  He has picked up a hobby, wood burning, and it turns out is very skilled at it!  He volunteers twice a week at our church to help with sound for events.  In all a stellar year for the dwarf!!

Out of all of the above mentioned milestones, the item that has honestly given us the most problem has been, of course his cell phone usage.  The prince and I have been pretty tireless in trying to monitor and delete and discuss things that we see in text messages, on internet searches and the apps he uses that are just not socially acceptable.  Learning the appropriate rules for snap chat, and texting is difficult to navigate typically, but when you miss cues socially it can be really tough.

Often on the app Let Go, and similar sites and apps, we would see him bartering with people for items they were letting go by posting for sale,  in ways that were not only a waste of the sellers time but also were getting him bad ratings on the site for not showing to look at items he claimed he wanted to purchase etc. He would offer all the money in his account $46.29 for a $200 item, or he would barter with them in other unreasonable ways like trade offers of things he had. 

Unfortunately, another one of this particular dwarf's challenges is lack of comprehension about money. Truth be told most young adults suffer with this one.  But for Happy, this is a hot topic at least once a week. 

Three Sunday's ago the prince texts me while I am at work.  He says did you know that Happy bought a scooter?  "What?! NO!!"   He proceeds to tell me that Happy came home from church on Sunday afternoon riding a motorized scooter. 

When the Prince inquired about the scooter, Happy indicates that someone dropped it off for him to "test ride".   But it seems suspicions that Happy is not riding back across the street to the church to return it to anyone. 

The Prince pulls up Happy's bank account and finds that his account is overdrawn by $550.  Now remember to Happy there is not much difference in his mind between $10 and said overdraft amount.   He regularly spends more than he makes. 

The Prince confronts Happy about the lie, the overdrawn account which indicates no one is waiting for him to return the scooter after a test ride,  and for yet another time, speaks to him about making purchases of such grand proportion without discussing his desires to do so with an adult.   Not much sticks from that conversation, as it is clear that Happy can only see visions of freedom in his eyes as he tries to focus and listen to his father. 

Understand, the Prince and I have been talking about the potential of getting Happy a golf cart, or scooter for small trips around the neighborhood and for him to get back and forth to work.  However we have not mentioned this to him yet, as the situation is a bit more complicated in the fact that Happy can not get his license, he will always live with us as we have legal guardianship of him for life, and we have not done any research about what is acceptable in Florida for use in the bike lane. 

Sunday, the scooter is affectionately referred to as the "$550 paper weight" as we are not going to allow Happy to ride it until we find out what the law is.    It takes the Prince a few days to sort out the Florida law.  And wait for it... this is where Happy lands on the good side of all these bad choices.  Drum roll please.... according to Florida law if you own a motorized scooter and it is a 50CC machine, you must register it, you may not ride in the bike lane, and you must have a valid drivers license. 

Happy's new acquisition?  Well this is the victory!  He unintentionally purchased a used scooter, behind our backs without the assistance of a sales person that would know the rules that was a  49CC machine...  Because it is a 49CC machine he can ride it unregistered, unlicensed anywhere that the speed limit is 25mph,  or any roads of greater speeds that have bike lanes!  As the Prince learns the rules, suddenly the scooter becomes a significant victory for our dear dwarf. 

With this purchase he can now drive himself to and from work. He can ride to and from church.  He can run for dinner, grab something that he needs at the store and last night he and friend even went to the movies. And while the distance was less than 5 miles from our home, the dwarf at 21,  finally has a great sense of freedom, pride in ownership, a feeling of being one of the guys.  Really, it makes a mom's heart swell! Well that swell is a little bit of anxiety truth be told! 

His job coach shared that at his work, people are noticing that he has more pep in his step, is working harder, and seems to be boosted by this positively "accidental" working out of his unauthorized  purchase.  He rides to his job, locks the scooter to the bike rack and takes his helmet to the break room.  He offers to run small errands for me, and today he even went for a haircut, that he scheduled on his own! 

If it were up to the Prince and I, we would most likely still be in the research stage of this idea to get Happy some independence.   While I have once again blocked all re-sale apps from his phone, and Ipad, and have been diligently checking for inbox messages from Craigs' list sellers,  it seems that this purchase was a great deal, (it came with the full size helmet ) he was not taken advantage of, the price was fair and the person he bought from was on the up and up!! 

Happy has made a large step forward in being independent and is starting to enjoy some additional freedoms!  I make him keep his GPS on at all times!  He has to check in before leaving anywhere, and has to report to us when he arrives at home or another destination, but so far he is following the rules of the kingdom and those of the Florida bike lanes!!

Happy is currently living his best life ever! You can't make this stuff up!!! 

Thursday, January 3, 2019

A Future with Hope

Today is the anniversary date of the removal of one of the seven dwarfs from our kingdom.  Last year at this time, I was a mess.  I was faced with a decision which required me to finally back up my three plus years of words, with actions.

For almost four years, the prince and I kept telling this particular dwarf that his life choices, his inability to do the right thing, to be a productive member of the family, was drawing neigh.

The parts of the story that are the in between, started over thirteen years ago. The meet and greet, smiles, reuniting of siblings, the adoption, the honeymoon period, the start of inappropriate behaviors, failing in the classrooms, questions on our end, testing, evaluations, twenty-six months of a therapeutic treatment facility. The RAD diagnosis and therapists, wrap around services, IEP meetings,  behavioral specialists, phycologists, psychiatrists, medications, an inconclusive FAS diagnosis. Walking through our days on egg shells for fear of setting him off, holidays,  birthday's, fights over homework,  manipulation, fights about nothing and all things, his cursing, his tears, our tears, the growing anger, the lying, the continual battles of wills, the lack of being tethered to reality in his life, his inability to make good choices.  All this pushed us, pulled us and challenged us to become his biggest advocate, his biggest supporter. Yet, nothing made the impact in his heart or mind to promote healing or growth in any lasting, tangible ways.  Still we carried on with equal parts determination, and hope. 

If you had told me when we started this process of parenting "special needs" children, that were classified as "special needs" because of the number of siblings in their grouping, I would have thought you were crazy.  After all these years of living in the trenches, battling daily, an existence that very few people understand or even try to understand, I sometimes feel like I am the crazy one.

While I am secure in the knowledge that is a path that the Lord has equipped me(us) for, there are certainly times in this journey when I have not relied solely on Him or His promises.  There have been times when for the sake of self preservation, I have gotten in my car and driven away. I have yelled until I was hoarse. I have cried.  I have locked myself in my room.  I have shuffled kids off to friends homes in the middle of the night so they would be safe so that we could spend hours de-escalating a situation.  The number of hours of my life spent in negotiations, battles of the will, steeped in worry and fear and the struggling with the unknowns for this one dwarf alone, are unable to be counted.

In the reflecting of those minutes, hours and days we did all this and more clinging to hope. We battled in the trenches for his spiritual, mental and physical being.  Hope for the next hour, the next day and for his ultimate future.

When it became apparent that this was a situation that was not changing for the good, only deteriorating, we were faced in that moment in time to say, enough is enough.  That day was January 2,  2018.

In the midst of this past year, I find that there is nothing harder than knowing the name of the homeless man on the corner.  Being torn between helping again, or running the risk of being an enabler.  Knowing when to walk away.  Knowing to not answer the phone.  When to ignore that pleas of strangers and police that want to reunify because they only have one skewed side of the picture. Remembering when faced with the stories about the worst of times that he was enduring, that at the end of it all he is a liar and a manipulator, who has had countless chances to change and has not.  How challenging and difficult it as been to stand firm in our decision to have him to leave our home. 

Even in this, when the path for him seems hopeless.  We, as his parents have hope.  In the midst of the past year, there has been growth in the other dwarfs,  in the absence of the one. Healing has begun for me personally.  The stressors in our home has been dramatically been cut.  As I write this update, tomorrow there is hope for this one too.  It is going to take a monumental effort on his part.  He will have to conform, and while he has agreed to this two year program, the hard work is going to have to be done by him.  If I(we) could have fixed his broken parts there would be no need for any of this past year to happen.

Please join us in praying for our dwarf.  While he has said with his words that he will participate, he is not yet there.  The journey is going to difficult.  He will be doing this alone.  It will be at least 13 weeks or more until we hear from him, and even at that, the responsibility of communicating with us will fall on him to set up and organize, with the staff of the program.

"The Lord is good to those who wait hopefully and expectantly for Him, to those that seek Him."  Lamentations 3:25

May this time away be for our dwarf the final stop in his tormented existence.  May he find peace from his past, come to terms with his current and find his own hope for his tomorrows.

Sometimes, I do wish that I was making this stuff up....

Sunday, December 2, 2018

Being Intentional in your planning and preparing for the holiday. A collaboration of ideas.

As we finished the Thanksgiving holiday, and crept closer to December and the Christmas holiday, I started seeing many posts about ways to de-stress and declutter our holiday season so that we could get the most of this year’s Christmas. 

It matters not how hard we try, often many of us end up wrapping gifts on Christmas Eve, doing last minute baking, and overall feeling like we have at the least compromised our joy, but in many cases losing our joy, in the last-minute crazy of the Christmas season. 

This year, while I saw many posts about various ways to handle this stress, I had a thought.  Let me engage some wonderful ladies, in my online bible studies to see what sorts of tips and tried and true ideas they have for decluttering and de-stressing the holiday season, so that our focus as moms can be our family and remembering the real reason for the season; Jesus. 

While many of the ladies in these two groups were encouraging of this collaboration, they admitted that they really did not have much to contribute but were excited to read what others had to say on the practical ways to get a handle on the strain and stress that we as moms feel (real or perceived) during what should be the most glorious time of the year. 

First and foremost, many of the women in the online groups indicated that regardless of how busy they knew that their days would be, they had to take the time to focus on the Lord.  Without a daily and purposed quiet time, they find their frustration and irritation on the rise in the month of December.  I agree.  After all, the Christmas season is about celebrating the birth of Christ.  Regardless of your preferred style of study and quiet time, either an advent style devotion, or the study with a specific group of ladies, stay connected to the Lord daily! 

Secondly, many ladies also indicated that it was helpful to maintain a regular work out program.  We all agree this is not the time to start a new fitness program (wait until the first of the year and resolve to do so then) but if you are a walker, a runner, a boxer, a weightlifter, a Zumba dancer, or a swimmer; keep at it!  Purpose to make it to your activity of choice, at least three times a week, to not only offset the additional calories from breakroom goodies,  and holiday parties, but to just keep that time for yourself to focus on your body and mind and keeping them healthy. 

From here on out the responses are varied, but all are worth consideration and are in no particular order:

Greeting Cards: Some indicated that they no longer send holiday greeting cards.  Others indicated that they still send greeting cards, but it makes them anxious that they may have missed someone.  Here are some insights about holiday cards.  If you want to send them, plan to have them done and ready to go in the mail by black Friday (the day after Thanksgiving) I can speak to this personally as I typically prefer to make my cards by hand.   However, it started to become a major stressor in my life.  So about 10 years ago I made an agreement with myself.  If the cards were not done, addressed and stamped by the end of September, I would skip them that year.  There have been some years that I have not sent cards.  Most years, I enjoy either creating (this year I colored them) or addressing cards I found at after Christmas sales, as a summer weekend project. 

Many, including myself keep track of whom I send my cards to.  By placing a list of the recipients on a piece of paper in your calendar or other safe place  ( setting aside about 1 dozen extra cards and stamps)  so that if a card comes in the mail during the month of December, from someone that is not on that list, you can quickly jot a note and send a return greeting!  

If you opt to skip the cards, then be okay with it!! Don’t second guess your decision, but do enjoy the greetings from those that send you greetings!  If you really want to reconnect with someone, then save their card and send a personal hand-written note/email/Facebook message after the first of the year! 

Shopping:  Another hot topic was shopping.  Wow, so much to say about this area of the holiday!  Where do you even start, what are the boundaries? Some indicated that each child/person in their home receives three gifts, as a representation of the gifts baby Jesus received from the wise men.  Others indicate that their lists for their loved ones start the day after Christmas,  and they keep a note book (or the note section of their phone) for listing things that their loved ones mention throughout the year as things they like, or wish they had. 

Others indicated that they get wish lists from their loved ones no later than August/ September and attempt to do all their shopping on Black Friday and Cyber Monday.  

Personally, I try to have all my shopping and wrapping done by November 30th each year.   While there is occasionally a few items that slip through the cracks until the early part of December, it is a great relief to have the bulk of the gift giving handled before the first of December!  

For those of the group that have out of town family, online gift giving seems to be the best option.  I agree!  For my family and friends, that are out of town, I order wreaths and other live greens for them, which are delivered end of November and early December, that include a personal message and gives them a gift that they can enjoy for the entire Christmas season.  Additionally, using e-bay, amazon, Esty and other online stores to order and ship gifts to family and friends across the miles, is best done early, with guaranteed availability of items and delivery in time to actually be a Christmas gift.   

It seems that hands down, shopping on line, either at Amazon or your favorite retailer, with front door delivery was the go to method of shopping for the majority of the ladies that weighed in on the shopping aspect of the holidays!  

Spending: There were many that have learned lessons about over spending and creative ways to plan financially for the holiday.  Many banks offer Christmas club accounts.  For years when our kids were small, we started one of these the first of the year and then put cash in each payday.  The bank then paid them out around the first of November.  It was a great way for our young family to prepare all year for expense of the holidays!   If your bank doesn’t have a specific check into opening a savings account that can be used specifically for holiday saving year round.

For the few ladies that really enjoy the Black Friday craze, they weighed in with their tips for successful shopping including purchasing the newspaper or looking at the online advertisements, to make a “road map” of where you will go, at what times, to get the best deals and the best chances at the items you really want.  Many said that it can be tricky to Black Friday shop, because if you are prone to impulse buying, you could walk away with many “great deals” but with no one to gift them to. 

The last note on gift giving and spending is make a list!  Check it twice! Or five times!  Whatever you need to do to stay on budget and on task.  I know that there is always that one person on my list that is super easy to buy for and if I am not using a list that person ends up with two Christmas’s worth of gifts and everyone else looks like they were an afterthought!  The “list” can be altered throughout the shopping season but provides a great baseline for staying in the means of your holiday spending and gift limits!  

Everyone that weighed in stated that staying on task for giving and financial spending makes the season easier to manage and makes the new year manageable, since you will not have over spent.   Many said if they do not have cash, they do not make the purchase.

Wrapping: In regard to wrapping, over the years because of the number of children we have (7), we wrapped all gifts in a separate paper for each child.  This is a great option for me, as I know that since the gifts are not hidden, no one is sneaking peeks because no one knows what paper their gifts are wrapped in until Christmas morning!  

It is also great to pick up paper and ribbon at the after Christmas sales, so that when you are shopping and wrapping in August and September, you have paper and do not have to wait for the retailers to put out their stock. (while you are at it, purchasing that discount paper and ribbon at the end of the year sales, go ahead and add scotch tape to that list and keep it with the paper for safe keeping! 

Now about this point in the post you are feeling a bit overwhelmed!  As one online contributor shared, always keep wine on hand… it is the great holiday stress reliever, however if you plan, and are intentional in your holiday preparations, you can just enjoy your wine, or cup of hot tea with a good book, without the guilt of being behind as the holiday rolls up on you fast and furiously! 

Baking and Meal Planning:  Another area that causes much stress is holiday baking and meal prep!  Here are some insights from the ladies.  You are either a baker or not.  If you are not, do not worry, you have a friend that will deliver some sweet treats to your home for the holidays!  If you are a baker schedule your baking time!  We have always made many types of cookies and shared them with neighbors, postmen, garbage men, bus drives etc.  But to use baking as a gift giving option, you do have to have a plan!  So, in October, make the list of the types of holiday baking you would like to do, and then start adding a few of the baking items to your standard grocery list through the end of November.  This helps keep the cost lower, as you spread it out across several weeks of shopping.  Also, don’t forget the containers that you are going to use to wrap those great treats in or distribute them in. 

Be intentional about scheduling a baking day.  Clear your schedule of all distractions and plan to spend the day baking! In our house now that the kids are grown, this helps ensure that they are off work, and have the time also to bake.  

If you have younger kids, you may want to consider letting each child choose their favorite type of cookie and they can bake that one with just you, so that you can purpose to have some one on one memory making time with each of your kids.  But again, it must be intentionally planned on our end, so that we have the supplies and the right mindset.  Being in the kitchen with littles is not always easy.   

If baking is not your thing, as early as September, you can make a few types of dough, (sugar cookie, chocolate chip, snickerdoodle etc) roll the dough like a log, and wrap in saran wrap and tin foil and place in the freezer.  When you need or want cookies for the holiday, remove the cookies from the freezer, slice and bake by normal baking instructions.  Or buy frozen cookie dough at the grocery and keep on hand for the holiday season.  The end result is the same, a house filled with a fresh baked cookie aroma!

In addition, like the baking ingredients, meal planning and purchasing can put a huge hit on the family grocery budget.  If you use frozen turkey, purchase "Tom" at the end of the summer,  for each holiday.  If you make green bean casserole, purchase two of everything in the summer and stock pile them in your pantry with an X on them, as a sign to yourself that they are earmarked for the upcoming holidays. 

We often seem surprised by the holiday meals, but they are coming, so planning in advance and purchasing everything prior to Thanksgiving, is what many ladies said they do.  Then, give it no more thought until the week before when you need to purchase your perishable items like potatoes, or fresh meats and vegetables.  

Again, the key the ladies indicated is making a list, and planning ahead!   This sounds great you say, except you do not have a lot of storage or freezer space. No worries!  You can then either, put aside a certain dollar amount each week starting in the summer (based on your budget) so that you can purchase supplies for the holiday meal and baking in December without wrecking your grocery budget.  However if saving money(cash) is an issue, and you are tempted to use the cash for other things, try purchasing gift cards for yourself from your primary grocery store and put them away each week, so you can pay for your holiday meal and baking items with gift cards vs your standard weekly grocery budget monies when the time comes.

Here is an example from our house. We have many “traditional” meal items.  Christmas Eve dinner is always homemade chicken pot pie.  At the writing of this post the chicken is cooked and shredded and in the freezer in gallon zip lock bags with the celery and slivered carrots and chicken broth.  The week before Christmas I will hand roll the dough and cut it in squares and place it on wrapped cookie sheets in the fridge.  The day before Christmas eve, I will pull those bags from the freezer to thaw, and then on Christmas eve in the morning place the prepared ingredients in the stock pot on low, bringing to a slow boil and add the dough prior to leaving for church, turning back to warm, so that dinner is ready after Christmas Eve services at church… no fuss no muss.   Regardless of the tradition, my grandmother’s hot chocolate, or breakfast on Christmas morning, the prep is done well in advance of the actual holiday meal need, and the stress is minimized, allowing more time for sharing time with my family instead of being alone in the kitchen! 

Okay, I bet you are wondering what we missed!  DECORATING!!  This preparation is literally my favorite part of the holidays!  I did not get a lot of ladies weighing in on this particular part of the festivities, but I have lots of great ways that I have made this work for me over the years, and I love to share. 

Before I do however, please note that this is a serious thing for me, decorating.  I do have a Christmas problem. Inside and outside my home. If you doubt it for one moment, know I rent a storage facility for all my Christmas decorations.   I do understand that there are not many of you that do decorating on the scale that I do. (Most do not.) DO NOT feel discouraged, the level of decorating that you do, is what you do. If it in any way causes stress in your life just review some of the ideas below and see if any could help you with the stress. 

The first thing that I started years ago (at least 20) was organizing all my decorations by theme (room).  When the kids were small they each had a bin with a tree for their rooms, and the ornaments that were the room theme (hunting, sparkly things, football team) which also included santa hats, and special blankets for their beds etc.  If you are like me, most always the decorations go to the same place and stay in the same general pattern over the years.  When you have a bin for each theme(room), you can decorate a room at a time vs, pulling all the decorations and reorganizing the whole house at once. 

When I enter a room, to start decorating, I take the bin(s) for that room with me, and the cleaning supplies. You read that right, cleaning supplies!  My themes are vast after 30 years of Christmas decorating, and so all my “typical” decorations come down, are dusted, stacked neatly on a pile and then I wipe the walls, and baseboards, dust the furniture, and then re-decorate by pre-appointed Christmas theme. Then the standard decorations are placed in the empty bin(s), and are clean for their return to each room after the first of the year.  

For example, my half baths have always had a reindeer theme.  Hand towels, a wreath for the wall, and small wooden and plush reindeer add the festive touches to the room.  By cleaning the room before decorating, I am also guaranteeing myself if I only manage the basic bathroom cleaning for the month of December that space will be guest/company ready at all times. 

If you have not thought about your rooms in themes, here are some ideas.  My main family space is nativities, big and small, and our family tree. Our family tree has all the ornaments from our kids and my husband and my childhoods.  I anticipate that it will in years to come be filled with our grandchildren’s homemade treasures too.  

As an aside, in regard to the decorations for that tree, each of the kid’s ornaments are marked with their initials and sorted into containers.  When it is time to decorate the kids, each get to put up their own ornaments (which my kids insist on), while I did not figure out soon  enough that I should have been keeping them sorted all this time, until about 6 years ago, it has been SO helpful.   Now that they are starting to leaving home, when they have their own first trees, I can just hand them their ornaments with ease whenever they are ready to decorate in their own homes. 

Other themed rooms are snow people including a snow man tree with ornaments, and shelves with knickknack snowmen and women.   My kitchen is gingerbread men, and the tree in that room is decorated with a variety of old kitchen gadgets, cinnamon sticks and ribbons.  I have a vintage Santa nook, and a beach theme for my lanai including throw pillows for the furniture, and a sea themed tree. 

This year I got to add to my themes, because for the first time, I have a guest room!  I purchased a small table top driftwood tree, some new bed sheets with flamingo’s in Santa hats,  a driftwood wreath, and decorated  a small tree with shells and driftwood… while purchasing the decorations, I also made a stop for a small bin to house these items in for the other 11 months of the year! 

I think that it is also important to evaluate your decorations each year. Sometimes we have things that get broken.  If I can fix it, I stop right then and go for the glue gun or the super glue.  If I can’t fix it easily, I return it to the box for repair after this Christmas season or determine if I it is even worth the fix.  Sometimes,  somethings that are not sentimental, are only around for a season.  For example, none of my kids have trees in their rooms any longer.  It was a phase and that is over and all those supplies and items either got merged into their personal ornament collection or were donated to the Goodwill/Salvation army, so others could find a way to use them for their holiday memory making. 

Some other ladies shared that it is helpful to spend time with their small children cleaning out and purging their play boxes and playrooms, and donate to a specific cause before the incoming gifts arrive.  Not only does this make room for the new items but also helps our littles understand that not everyone is as blessed as we are, and many can benefit from items that we no longer play with or care for.  

 One more note, as I know this post is growing long. Please let’s remember that the Christmas holiday season is not always a happy and joyous occasion for everyone.  I have found that by being intentional prior to the first of December in regard to my own traditions for decorating shopping and planning, this has relieved much of my inward focus and the stressors so that I can now focus more on others.  I do not always do great at this, but it is my goal, to each year stay on task personally, and spiritually so that I am more sensitive to those around me that may be lonely or struggling because of depression or loss of a loved one.  When I complete my tasks, big or small, before the first of December, I have found that I have more time to consider others before myself.  Maybe blessing a family in need with gift cards, baked goods, or gifts so that their holiday is a little brighter.  Giving to a toy drive.  Taking that time for coffee and a chat with a friend that is hurting, without feeling guilty about tasks that still need to be checked off my "to do" list. 

Intentionality is everything during the holidays!  I hope that you have each been blessed by the ladies who took the time to contribute their thoughts and ideas about how they manage areas specific to Christmas planning and execution.   As women we put a lot of pressure on ourselves.  Most times when I look back at the not so perfect Christmas’s (and there have been a ton of them) I am the only one that remembers the pie was burnt, or the gift wrap was held together with string because I ran out of tape at midnight on Christmas eve.  

This year if you feel overwhelmed, stop and seek the Lord’s direction.  If it is not important, the task that is stealing your joy, then let it go.  Be okay not always being the most creative mom, or the one who sends the lengthy update on kids and family to your mailing list.  Be okay resting in the joy of the season.  Ask yourself this, at the end of the day, will your home provide a haven for your family and an occasional guest?  Will the joy of the season be what people who enter through your front door feel? Is there peace in your home, when the world outside is chaotic? 

None of this happens overnight.  Years of purposeful and intentional planning go into making things merry and bright year after year.  At the end of it all, my goal is to honor the Lord and my family while being available to share the good news of the birth of our Savior with all I come in contact with, not only at Christmas but all year round. 

Merry Christmas to each of you!  May your days be intentional, your spirit be encouraged, and your hands and feet available to serve in tangible and remarkable ways this Christmas season! 

Wednesday, October 17, 2018

So many levels of broken...

Yesterday, driving in my middle class neighborhood towards the shopping center, I see a field of grass ahead, it registers in my mind, that I am seeing a person, shirtless and shoeless sleeping in broad daylight surrounded by their belongings under a tree.  Upon getting closer I can see said sleeping person clearly.  I know he has a name, I know his birthday, the color of his eyes if they were open, his favorite food, his shoe size, his favorite color and his favorite sports team. 

None of those things seem to be of great importance any longer. He is sun burnt and exhausted, unemployed and virtually skill-less.  He is manipulative and has carved a niche for himself into the fringe of our community in the last nine months. All day long, every day he does nothing, except walk from location to location, carrying his meager belonging on his back, desperately searching for someone, anyone that will listen to his tale of woe, offer him a meal, or a ride and conversation.  Conversation that he can use in some way, for however brief a moment in time, to break up the monotony of his current lifestyle choice.  

He will play to your heartstrings. Within moments of his engaging with you he will be able to tell how to manipulate the conversation to get what he wants in that moment.  Food, a ride, money.  His renderings of the last 12 years of his life are not at all what he has really lived.  Yet as a stranger how would you know that?  He is not remorseful.  He is sorry, but sorry just states how he feels when he stops to think about what he no longer has. But the sorrow is fleeting. It doesn't leaves a strong impact in his broken mind. At least not a strong enough impact that would allow him to consider doing an about face and walking away from this situation, or trying a different path. He’s not broken or willing to place himself under any authority that could change his circumstances. He is okay. Everyone else is the problem. He is living his "best life ever".  No rules, no authority, no consequences except the natural ones, (like no money, no food, no shower, no power) but even those are also not his fault.  

This is a day in the life of my second youngest son.  He is mentally ill.  A phrase that I do not throw out lightly, nor am I over exaggerating the dire situation he is in, or that we as his parents are enduring as a result.  

I find myself repeatedly at a loss for why doing the hard, yet right thing 14 years ago; following a calling to adopt "special needs" siblings, has lead us down this path.  If you had ever told me this would be where I am, and what I would be struggling with, I would have laughed at you.  I would never, not for one moment, believed that I could have endured so many highs and lows in these years, which have lead us to this point in time.  

Here is a list of the horrible side effects for the families of individuals with mental illness. Understand none of these side effects, affect the one that is mentally ill.  This is in no way is this an exhaustive list.  This is based solely on my personal experience up to this point in the journey.  Actuarily speaking, we are on a journey, which in the longevity of a life span has just begun with no end in sight. 

The list in no particular order.  Helplessness. Guilt. Anger. Bitterness. Resentment. Frustration. Second guessing. Enabling. Broken heartedness. Rage. Confusion. Sadness. Grief. Sorrow. Anxiety. Dread. Fear. Doubt. Reflection.  Stop at any point and cycle back to the beginning, because you can feel more than one symptom at a time, and you can dwell on multiple "like" symptoms until you think you're going to lose your mind.  None of which helps, heals or promotes good mental health in the life of those living without mental illness, but whom are trying to minister to the needs of those they love with mental illness. 

When someone you love is so broken, and yet they are so deeply entrenched in the denial of their mental health problems, they never own their current situation. Blame shifting and manipulation are the lenses through which they live their days causing all others in their paths to live on egg shells if you are immediately attempting to care or guide said individual.  All of your safe places are no longer safe, because they begin to surface in those places lingering far longer than is socially acceptable.  Begging borrowing and creating a general nuisance of themselves.  But in this, they remain oblivious.  

For others on the fringe of a family that is struggling with someone suffering from mental illness,  they are faced with the options to engage or ignore.  Engagement is messy.  Because mental illness is messy.  There is no logic, no rhyme or reason to how the affected individual will behave in any given situation. Engagement always leads to devastation in the life of the one that volunteers to step up or step in, because even though you have shared your journey, others stepping in, often think that they can do the same thing you have been doing for years with different results.  Maybe for a week or two the "engager" will see some hope, but it quickly ends in devastation, because anyone with mental illness is unable to sustain "normal" for any length of time, until they go "off the rails". Typically just fleeing, with or without any of their possessions.  Many, after one attempt themselves, or because of watching another person attempt to help, will select the second option.   Ignoring the situation and the family and their needs. At best they may lend a listening ear, while rejoicing in their minds all the while they "listen" that their life is not this messy! 

As a personal testimony to the last 14 years of my life, I did not think mental illness was affecting me.  I was living with occasionally unstable adopted children providing for them a loving home, working hard to provide for their emotional physical and spiritual needs and balance the life of mom, employee, wife, volunteer etc.  At the time of their adoptions, mental illness was not known to be the cause of these children's  issues. Diagnoses like ADHD, Reactive Attachment Disorder,  Autism, Fetal Alcohol Syndrome (while playing a critical role in who they have become today), were only discussed in terms of "special needs".  

Subtle changes happened along the way in their progression from adorable "special needs" kids to hormonal, challenging teens. As a parent or loved one, when you are in the trenches protecting, guiding and attempting to navigate these waters on the day to day, all of a sudden the issues have mushroomed to something so large, that most people do not really believe that this is happening in your home. 

These children/young adults with mental illness do not, and would never, behave that way for strangers (remember manipulation is huge) teachers, neighbors or extended family.  Before too long you look back and you see that your friends are distant. Your personal life is on hold, and your lack of desire to even pretend any longer that life is normal, causes you to just stay home.   

Before our move four years ago, our life was much different.  We were known in our community. We had supports.  Relationships were built between all our kids with other adults (neighbors, extended family, church members) that allowed for less trauma overall to the others when one was having significant struggles.  With a call, children were carpooled to and from work and school. Homework helper would appear Monday through Thursday, around our 12 foot table.  Breaks were given to us as parents,  when one or more people would step up at the same time to ensure care for all during our break. Errands were run for us.  Physical needs were meet at the very least with a meal, but often times groceries, financial gifts and more often than not just the gift of time was given.  A listening ear, someone that folded the laundry while I made dinner. Now they are older, it is messier and we are1100 miles away from our family and friends. Most will politely inquire, but have been removed from the day to day, and struggle to understand.

As each day progresses, the only thing that I can stand firm on are the promises of the Lord.  I have been faithful. I have been diligent. I have been obedient.  I trust that what the Lord has called us to, He will equip us for, and I know that more than anything, the Lord loves these kids more than I have or every will.  

My wrestlings come as side effects of living this life.  We can't leave the house for outings, my husband and I together, because of the way these adult-ish kids behave when alone together.  We have to lock up all things valuable when we do leave the house or pack them into the car and take them with us.  We now have to lock the house all the time since we have a desperate homeless child lurking in our safe spaces.  We can't drive or shop or worship without the constant thought of who is where, how long they will be there, and when do I/we need to be back in a supervisory role based on the dynamics of the ones that will be around.  When we get breaks, over the past couple years,  it has mostly been one of us at a time. While I am confident that while I am away my husband can handle the chaos, he never gets to rest when he is away, as he is always worried about my ability to handle the kids in his absence.  One of the major issues not even discussed in this post is that the boys have a great dislike, bordering on hatred of any woman in a position of authority over them.  Well folks that's me the mom. While I understand it, and do not take it personally (most days) it makes it hard to engage them in any situations where I need to correct instruct or re-direct. 

In this all, I can rejoice that it is a season.  In this season, most especially being separated from family and friends,  we have learned to cling to the promises of the Lord and to depend on each other.  I rejoice that in all this,  the prince and I, our ideas, values and goals regarding what to do and how to do it for ALL of our kids has been mostly unified.  

While it is our goal to stop allowing those that are "special needs" to stop train wrecking our every day, we are not there yet.  It could be some time until this season ends.  Some days are good, some days are not.  Yesterday was not.  Seeing my son, lying in a field of grass, almost naked, sun burnt sleeping, surrounded by his meager belongings, brought my heart break to a new and painful level.  

Not only did it physically hurt me, it took me on a journey of self doubt, of anger and frustration.  I would stop and arrest my thoughts throughout the remainder of the day, but my mind kept picturing him lying on his row of broken down cardboard boxes sleeping.  Knowing what I know to be true, God's word, yet still wondering if I did enough. Could I do more now. Should I do more now.   Remember almost simultaneously the ways that I have been recently manipulated, and how he has responded with no remorse, not desire to change... and so the loop plays and replays, sometimes more emotionally raw, sometimes more anger and bitterness.  Insert the truth.  

I wish it was as easy and brushing my hands together in the air and saying. "I'm done!" I wish there were facilities for such persons to get the help we know they need, but there are not. Because for them to get help, they have to recognize that they need help, and then they have to ask for it.  I am waiting for that Aha moment, knowing in the depths of my heart that it may never happen.  

God's got the details of their lives and mine.  I'm along for the ride, and in this I am praying that with each blog I post, each conversation that I have, I will be affecting awareness about mental illness.  The deep uglies of a not so perfect life, and how it affects all involved.  Knowing that somewhere along the way, the Lord will use our story to speak to others, to offer encouragement, and to let others know that they are not alone on this journey. 

It is times like these when I really wish I was making this stuff up...