Wednesday, March 14, 2018

Can Jacob's Mission Community Center Prevent the next School Shooting?

In a world reeling from the latest high school shooting, families sit around dinner tables and discuss gun control matters.  Others fumble through or add to vitriol on social media about the right or wrong way to protect school kids.  What is most misunderstood, however, is that the answers to solving these problems are in the field of healing early childhood trauma.  

No one wants to think of Nikolas Cruz as anything more than a monster, but he never had the chance to recover from his deepest childhood grief, loss, and attachment problems.  At only five-years-old Nikolas witnessed his father’s death, later he was relentlessly bullied, his adoptive mother also died, and then he was fostered by family friends*.  Foster and adoptive parents in the trenches feel the weight and likelihood that more has happened to Nikolas that hasn’t yet been disclosed.  And sadly, these unresolved traumas have left a devastating wake on the world around him.

What can you do to prevent children with dark pasts from becoming the next school shooter?  How do you stop these kids from having a psychotic break that creates new traumas for others?  Instead of blaming parents, instead of fighting about gun rights, we have to focus at the core of their problems:  that’s exactly what the non-profit organization ASA Now is doing and why (despite incredible odds) they are moving forward to create Jacob’s Mission Community Center.

In a life touched by adoption or not, it is no longer an effective option to live obliviously unaware of what childhood trauma looks like in our communities.  Check out these national statistics**: “Girls in Foster Care Pregnant by 19 – 50%, Former Foster Kids in U.S. Prison – 74%, Incarcerated within 2 years of “Age Out” – 50%, and Former Foster Youth on Death Row – 80%.”

ASA Now’s mission is to “support and strengthen the most vulnerable population” by providing therapies, extra-curricular activities, food boxes, social connections, information and trainings on how to receive essential psychiatric counseling, medical services, and much more.  ASA Now is “committed to ensure that all families who have been touched by foster care succeed,” and prevention is at the forefront of their purpose, but their mission needs you to help raise the final amount to open the doors that will fill lives, hearts, and homes with the adequate healing that is still missing in our Arizona resources to help these broken children and their families recover. 

Tax deductible donations will help open the doors for Jacob’s Mission Community Center (click here).  To learn more about the center get involved today, and/or make a difference by helping fund ASA Now directly (click here).

Also, don't miss the ASA Now Fundraiser breakfast (click here) next week on Friday, March 23rd to build funds for Jacob's Mission Community Center. Funds will help make the center fully opened and functioning by 2019 for all of Arizona's foster or adopted children and their families. For only $30 individuals can participate in the fundraiser breakfast, and business sponsorships are listed below:

*Information about Nikolas Cruz found published here with Canoe, here with Yahoo, and here with SunSentinel.
**Statistics found in the following studies and cited by the ASA Now Strategic Plan: 2015 U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Administration of Children and Families, Administration on Children, Youth and Families, Children’s Bureau, US Department of Justice, the Casey Foundation and the National Foster Care Coalition.

Monday, March 12, 2018

The 3 qualities I had no idea I would need desperately...

Hard times show true colors and actual abilities. Hard times can make or break us, and hard times also make us grow. 

Back in the day (and because marriage is one of the most life changing choices in a young person's path) I made this list of qualities I wanted my future husband to have, and then I made a list of things I would do to also live up to the requests I was hoping to find in my future husband. 

Ironically, with my mile long list of qualities, I happened to miss the THREE VERY MOST IMPORTANT THINGS I WOULD NEED in my life partner and eternal friend:

  1. HUMOR - I could have found ANY DRABLY PERFECT person with all the qualities on my list and lived MISERABLY ever after. But lucky me, Mitchell cracks jokes at just about everything--he's got good timing and a good memory that makes his humor an on-the-spot and in-the-moment stress reliever. It pulls me out of a funk every single time.  
    Like the times he photo bombs! 
    And the times he poses for the heck of it. 🤣
    Or the time he drove around town with a pink unicorn on his work truck. 😂
  2. STEADINESS - I think I suffer wth ADHD. Mitch knows how to focus. I am emotionally here, there, and everywhere. Mitch is even tempered. When I panic and believe the sky is falling, Mitch builds something to hold it up. It's just part of who he is. He's logical, and steady (even if he knows how to be funny). And it's part of his persona to be steady by fixing things--it's the way he shows he is THERE for me and for others.

  3. GRIT - Some people say "after 3 kids it's all the same"...the joke was on us as our 4th, 5th, and 6th kids are the "hardest" for us. I used to live my life believing I could get thru anything I signed up for because of sheer grit, and determination to never give up. And I did exactly that in all my endeavors until my adrenal glands (aka stress managers) broke. Lucky for me, Mitchell Jay has a seemingly endless reserve of "sheer grit", and when my engine came to a screeching halt, he strapped his strong-hearted-we-can-and-we-will-do-this jet packs on. When life got rougher he pushed the turbo speed button and saved the day. Every day. Every time. I'm getting better and my adrenals are healing, but I'll never forget just how awesome this man is under fire. I get burned in the fire very easily, but turns out Mitch is pretty fireproofed. Who would have known--that's the quality I would need most in my future husband? It's the one thing he possesses that I had no idea our family would desperately need until I ran completely out of my own grit. When we were under flames and fire and in the moments I had nothing left to give is when God showed me the true gift He'd sent our family in this man of mine.He pulls his fair share as a husband and father, and he's a true teammate in raising our 6 kids.

Everyone I know who meets Mitch seems to like him or to love him. They like him because he's naturally funny, he is calm, logical and steady, and he's quite obviously a hard-working-family-man with a boatload of grit (I think it runs in his veins--I've got a lot of Bordens and Whitings to thank for that). I am grateful that this is the man I am blessed to call my husband.

Wednesday, February 28, 2018

Is there room for Agnosticism in the Church Pew?

Wearing "Sunday Clothes" to church is a tradition I've participated in since I was little. Who doesn't like to dress up once in a while (or once a week)? Wear your Sunday best and symbolically give "your best" to the Lord while going to church--that's the point of it, right? The idea also translates further to showing an outward expression of an inner commitment--or so that's how I interpreted it. 

Until I met a friend who came to church in a tank top. He didn't just wear a tank top once. He did it every Sunday, and it showed his favorite bands and often his shirts exposed chest hair. But each  Sunday he came I could see his humility, tho. 

His humility was not expressed by adhering to social or cultural norms. His humility was evident in the way he carried himself--yes even while showing his chest hair in church. His humility was open for all to see when he walked to the pulpit on testimony day and gave the most honest testimony I have ever heard. He very reflectively said he wasn't sure if he believed in God and then he opened up about some difficult experiences he's been through and what he feels. He expressed so much more acceptance of "what is" than most of the people I have been around in church settings in my entire life. I cried like a baby thru his whole testimony. I felt so much closer to God by hearing about his struggle and the shards of hope and light that kept him moving forward.

I had so much admiration for my friend that day. The truth for me was that behind the smoke screen of my beautiful Sunday dress with perfectly fixed hair and make-up, I was actually really hurting inside. I had been hurting inside for a long time (even tho I've been doing all the right things and even been doing them for the right reasons). I've been unable to understand how to accept what-is until only recently in my life and the path of bad habits makes it still quite a struggle at times, so his testimony resonated with me, and I knew that thru the eyes of his Agnosticism he was actually closer to God than I was. In my eyes he actually KNEW God better than he even realized. 

What's interesting is that my friend had the opportunity to get "church clothes" for cheap or for free but he continued to come in his tanks because this was HIS personal journey and it was happening without a time-frame that was dictated by anyone else. It was happening in a real way and not in a fabricated way that anyone else thought it should look like.  I actually respect him more for that because he was demonstrating self-acceptance--something that in my thirties I am barely coming to understand. 

Each Sunday that he walked in I would find my soul filled with pain and wishing that the whole congregation could be more like him. Why can't we all come to church as we are? I wish we could. The truth is that WE CAN. The problem is that we are often running so much from what is going on--striving so much to "rise above" it, that we actually miss dealing with our problems altogether and often by running we create more problems for ourselves. Instead of wearing perfect Sunday clothes and slapping on happy faces, why can't we show up AS WE ARE? What would happen if we could SEE people as they are and what they're going through each week? Would we have signs at church on our clothes or hovering above our heads? 

Maybe you'd see some messages like, "I'm struggling with my self-worth." 

"I have a binge eating disorder." 

"I look at porn and don't know how to stop." 

"My marriage looks good on the outside but this no longer feels like a fairy tale to me." 

"I get bullied at school." 

Or what about "I get bullied at church."

"I was sexually abused and I feel like no one can relate." 

"I feel differently than you do with your political opinions, but my religious reasons are as closely related to my stances as yours are to yours." 

"I'm gay but I'm afraid to tell anyone about it because all the other gay people I know who are open about it no longer feel accepted at church." 

"I am not actually happy as a stay at home mom but everyone else acts like they are. What is wrong with me?

"I want to experience more from life than what I'm getting." 

"I had to ask for help paying for my food box this week at the food bank. I don't know how we're going to make it."

"Reading scriptures, praying, and going to church isn't actually lifting my fog of depression, but I'm here anyway." 

"My child has special needs and I'm beyond tired but I don't feel like I can ask for any more help.

"Sometimes I drink alcohol." 

"I live with regrets and don't know how to move forward." 

"I can't stop grieving the loss of someone I love."

Or what about, "I'm having a hard time believing in God this week, because believing in God in the past has hurt me."

The signs might change week to week--you'd never know what they'd say but they would be real.

What's interesting to me is that I don't personally believe that we're all as good as we try to make ourselves and others believe. It could be argued that we are no better than the worst that is within us. The trick is that the worst that is within is can never actually get better when we're continually in denial that it's there and continually running from it instead of facing what-is. We're told that Jesus Christ can heal broken hearts, but how can we even come to Him with our broken heart or our contrite spirit if we think that's not for us--if we think everyone else at church is the sick one instead of us? My parents used to tell me that church was like a hospital for the sick--and I agree with them. 

It's not anyone else's fault that this has happened, but I personally feel like for way too long I've really misunderstood what "being sick" really looks like on the outside. For me, being the one who is sick means I'm wearing the perfect Sunday clothes and my whole family parades in to church looking like we don't have problems. While not originally intended to be this way, the premise of looking good at church can actually turn into a smoke screen for anyone (although I am not saying this spiritual trap happens to everyone). All I'm saying is that MY soul needs to be more real. Because that's how I'm coming to know my Savior better. I am coming to accept myself more and thereby I am beginning to accept my Savior more. I can say that this has happened to me in a large part because of agnostic friends on the church benches. My soul needs more agnostic friends in my life--and not so my understanding or interpretation of God can heal them--it's because I know their honesty and acceptance is the missing piece to the puzzle of what I need to bring me closer to Jesus so that He can heal me. 

I believe this is one of the many ways where the first shall be last and the last shall be first, but sometimes we're so focused on fixing what's wrong with everyone else and their life perceptions that we forget how to let God speak to us in personal ways. Sometimes the way He speaks to us is in a lengthy, struggle-filled journey that might even make us question Him. 

In the last few weeks I have worn less make-up to church, and when I was stressed about finishing my make-up in the parking lot I heard the echoes of my own words from this post I've been formulating: "Go inside as you are, D-Jo. PLEASE just come as you are."

Monday, February 5, 2018

Sometimes Cain Still Kills Abel

Having a child with Reactive Attachment Disorder has been one of the most grueling and faith trying trials of my life. It was the very thing I felt I couldn't do. I told my husband that I could take on ANY issue in foster/adoption EXCEPT for that. I wasn't even afraid of Autism, Deafness, Hepatitis C, food allergies, Blindness, you name it, none of those things sounded impossible to work thru in my mind compared to the mental health and behavioral challenges found in a child with RAD. Ironically, I only understood the tip of the iceberg at that point. So imagine when not just one but two of my adopted children were diagnosed with it and when one of them began to get an alphabet soup of other diagnoses along with the RAD diagnosis. The weight of the challenge in front of us was crushing. I had a therapist tell me, "This isn't a death sentence." But try to imagine having a 3 or 4 year old make suicidal statements or act bipolar. Imagine darkness that doesn't seem to go away. And then imagine having your concerns being dismissed and invalidated everywhere you turn because everyone under the sun says to you, "Oh that's normal." Here's a video that shows how bad RAD can be: it's definitely NOT normal!

I knew one of my daughters before she came to our home and I told the case manager that some of her behaviors made me worry that she had RAD. He said, "Oh no, she doesn't have that." Well, turns out that the state just lies to keep children adoptable or they are entirely incompetent. My daughter had not just a handful, but 19 of the 25 risk factors that could cause enough trauma for a child to have RAD. Even so, we knew what we were getting into before the adoption was final, and we made the choice that we would be there for our children no matter what.

What's crazy is that as hard as it is for us, there are families who have it even worse. Those families have been so supportive to us.

So I am left to wonder. Why does God allow this to happen to children? Does Jesus' sacrifice really make all of this "okay"? The answer, at least for this moment of time, is no. None of this is okay. We have hope that SOMEDAY Jesus will heal us and that the pain will eventually be over, but in the struggle to fix everything now I have had to reconcile that some things are not able to be mended. Some mountains cannot be moved. Those are the mountains that have to be climbed.

I have had to redefine the miracles. I used to pray for the miracle that God would heal my kids and take away the negative effects of the choices made by others, because my kids and the rest of our family didn't deserve the consequences of those choices. I used to pray for it to all be better. But God is teaching me how to accept what is while I am on this journey to find healing with my children. We go to therapy and we see progress even if it's slow and I do believe there is great hope for my children to overcome their odds because they are already rising above some of their challenges, but even with the progress, our story is not over yet.  I know many people on a similar journey as ours who are fierce fighters and advocates for their children and who have the literal faith to move mountains. Yet their children's mountains have not been moved (at least in the form of having their devastating circumstances fixed--I also know many individuals on this path who have had their circumstances get worse by taking on the burden and carrying the cross with these kinds of kids). 

There is no sure guarantee for healing trauma in this life. And because of that I have had to find the internal strength to understand and accept that sometimes as awful as it may be, there are stories where Cain still slays Abel. There are circumstances where tragedy remains tragedy and that in the here and now there is no way to fix it. Living in denial of what is cannot change that. 

In reflecting on the story of Cain and Abel I have wondered what made him so jealous, so angry, and so quick to lie. Those are the very same attributes you find in children who have suffered early trauma. He sounds exactly like a child with Reactive Attachment Disorder to me. I have seen that pattern over and over, hundreds of times. We revere Adam and Eve as the world's best parents...or at least I know I have. They were God's chosen -- the best parents possible to start out the earth, with the best genetic prints to begin the human race. All of Heaven must have stopped to watch their majestic wedding. These are the thoughts I have had before about our first parents because I do believe in God and in His word and I have always viewed things positively. I also have previously tried to fit His word into a box I have created of idealistic circumstances. 

But life has shown me that when you're asked to "leave the Garden", the world you live in really can be a god-forsaken place. On my own journey of foster adoption I have thought again about what life might have been like for our first parents. Maybe they were doing their best but it wasn't good enough for Cain to be completely protected as a young child. Maybe they had to deliver him on their own and with no medical knowledge of what to do. Assuming it was her first successful pregnancy, perhaps the entire experience as a first time mother was terrifying (all of those feelings--especially prolonged and extreme emotional stress--affect your child's development in utero). Maybe she had terrible nutrition or serious illness during her pregnancy with Cain. They built alters and made sacrifices--maybe they burned plants that weren't good for them. Maybe Eve unknowingly or accidentally ingested plants that were equivalent to drugs or chemicals while she was pregnant. Maybe Cain was deprived of oxygen or had other medical issues that were not taken care of properly during his birth. Maybe Eve's milk didn't come in because of the stress of the circumstances and perhaps Cain was fed water or other fluids that weren't good for his development. What if He was a failure to thrive type of child? How much prolonged exposure to the wind and cold did he suffer? Did Adam and Eve know that babies should be loved and cuddled and spoken to, or did they think he'd be okay sitting at home alone even as an infant while they went out to gather food? Maybe he witnessed some violence with animals because the way they had to live was brutal and that's super scary for kids. The possibilities are truly endless. I'd say it's highly likely that Cain had a traumatizing childhood and that Adam and Eve didn't quite know what they were doing (because none of us do as parents and everyone's first child is a Guinea pig in some fashion) but their circumstances were way worse to deal with being the first humans all alone out in the dreary untamed world. Maybe by the time Adam and Eve had Abel, they had learned some things the hard way (like we all do) and they knew how to raise children in a safer and more protected way. Abel was likely to have had a better upbringing not being the first child. He was likely able to grow in a more neurotypical way, but Cain's first exposure to the world taught him that the world is a cruel harsh place and his deepest survival skills were firmly in place. I believe this because the natural stress responses of Fight/Flight/Freeze are all identifiable in this story. Abel was a threat to Cain because Abel had more favor with God so Cain fought his brother in jealousy and killed him. Then he took flight. When God found him and spoke to him, Cain froze up and lied--which is exactly what RAD children do all over the world every single day. Their brains are hardwired to do exactly that. Fight. Flight. Freeze. Jealousy. Anger. Lies. The disonnection from love and compassion is neuroscience and it happens routinely in cases of early and extreme childhood trauma. Cain was a child with RAD. 

Image from

None of my theories can be proven of course. And even if God was merciful and gave Adam and Eve all the knowledge they needed to prevent medical trauma from happening to Cain and even if they did everything naturally and right and he still turned out the way he did, or even if he was just born with a darkly motivated disposition, there would still be a harsh reality in this story: You can be the best parent in the world with  immeasurable faith, knowledge, and trust in God but sometimes you can still experience a story just as tragic as this one where Cain still kills Abel.

If you're a parent in the trenches of a life with a child from horrible circumstances, I just want to send a message from my phone screen to yours: This is hard, but you can do this. Don't stop praying for miracles on behalf of your child but also know that maybe the miracle you're praying for is actually already in you. The miracle is that you have a heart to love a child who is unloveable to others. The miracle is that you are there for them 'come what may' and 'no matter what'. The miracle is that no matter how dark it gets, you had the heart to stand up to fight for the impossible, and your child's story is better than it would have been (even if it's still tragic) simply because of you. Don't worry yet about how your child's story might end. Celebrate each small success when you have it, and know that no matter what comes, love doesn't have an end. And that's a beautiful thing.

Saturday, January 20, 2018

Should You Need to Find Yourself?

I have heard the theory before that if you know that you're a child of God, then you won't have the "need" to "find yourself", because it explains where you came from and why you are here.

For years that kind of logic was satisfactory to my soul and "knowing" or believing rather that I am a child of God helped me thru a lot of things...maybe almost everything that was difficult for me could somehow be related back to the concept that I was His child and He had a plan for me. Even in my "mid life crisis" about a year ago when I dyed my hair pink because that was the only thing I could control--even THEN, I remember a specific day in September 2016 where I believed it was God himself asking me in my mind: "Who are you Debra Jo?" When I responded out loud, "I don't know anymore," the words came back to me: "You're my child." It was powerful. That day His message was enough. It was strong enough to glide me carefully thru at least the start of the next season of my life.

But then something crazy happened. I gave my life--literally my whole life--to God because He called me to adoption, and then without losing everything tangible I still lost my whole life as I knew it. I lost supports that had ALWAYS been my go-to. I lost my health (dramatically). I lost my 10-year identity as a mom of just boys. I lost the mold I had devoted my life to: the stay-at-home-mom life that used to be the best thing for us. I lost my ability to cope with the stress of entrepreneurship. I lost the ability to enjoy home and family life. I lost my safe havens. I lost the approval I used to have from individuals who used to seem to approve of all my choices. I lost a lot financially.  I LOST MYSELF because I gave everything I had UNTIL I HAD NOTHING left to give. 

I did it all for God. 

Because I was His child.

And this was what He asked for me to do. 

The best of all the things I lost tho is the previous belief I was subconsciously living that success in life is about having a perfect little family with no real world problems. I never want to revert back into that belief system again because it was actually entirely contrary to knowing God and accepting Him.

Maybe "all of what used to be" was simply required in order to pay for the priceless gift of my girls. I would absolutley do it all again even knowing just how deeply dark and painful it would be for countless moments along the way. Perhaps what happened was a law of sacrifice. Maybe you cannot gain something so beautiful unless you fearlessly let go of everything you used to have.

However here I am now and I see that it is time to find myself again. I am not my old self. The old me is sort of here, but I gave her up for a rebirth in the cause of what my Father asked of me. What's almost terrifying to me is that this time God is the one who is telling me to find myself. This time He knows I know I'm His child, because for quite a while, everything I ever used to rely on was stripped away from my life until He was the only one left standing. Now I see that I can be His child and still have the need to FIND myself. I believe He is trusting me to do just that. There is a promise about it even (and I paraphrase)--"whosoever shall lose their life for my sake shall find it." Unfortunately or maybe fortunately, there is not a promise or requirement on the time limit for the "finding". 

So here I am in the season of finding. If you were to ask me outright and if I were to answer honestly, I'd tell you that I don't know who I am yet. 

But here is what I know about myself so far and here are some of the ways I can personally identify (in no particular order):

* I am a mother (bereaved, biological, foster, and adoptive). * I am spiritual and religious: I am a Mormon (raised and personally decided to stay), but inside my heart I am also part non-denominational Christian in daily radio worship, part Buddhist in the search of Nirvana, and part Hippie who wants to move to Sedona for a lengthy period of time (IF ONLY). I also understand my atheist friends and why they would choose to be atheist, but I personally believe in life after death because of Jesus' resurrection and bank on it for healing of the past and for so many future dreams. * I love rainbows no matter what anyone thinks that means--I actually love every single color (except for poop brown) and have never truly decided on one forever favorite color because it changes. It always changes! In elementary my favorite color was sparkly purple; in high school it was royal blue and neon green; at one point it was bright red; currently my colors are azure blue and sunlight yellow. You should have seen my wedding cake and decorations! Basically I like rainbows. * I am a wife to the most selfless, hardworking, handiest, bike-ridingest man who is still a 15 year old at heart, who dances with me in the kitchen, who takes me to spontaneous and late night movie dates for sanity, and who makes me laugh when I am stressed (it takes a special person to be able to know how to handle me, because I am still learning how to handle myself). *  I don't enjoy politics anymore and have major issues with the type of extremes that can do more damage to individuals than the good it promises (I used to fight against only liberal extremes but now I'm even talking about conservative extremes). * I am a teacher with a strangely eclectic resume and I don't entirely understand what it means about me or my life path that I happen to have experience teaching preschool, elementary, junior high, high school, and even college leveled students for subjects ranging from algebra, sign language, general education, music education and more (I obsess that I SHOULD edit my blogs because I know highly intelligent and OCD people will judge my grammar and faulty comma usage, not to mention I worry about all my capitalization, spelling, typos, and autocorrect issues, too). * I am awakening to the dire need for women to stand up for equality because I lived in denial for too long that women are treated as second class citizens even in circles that I belong to, and it's important for my own emotional health to add my voice when the topic needs to be addressed. * I am someone who needs to eat gluten-free. I have a toxic relationship with chocolate, I'm working to break up with dairy, and I care about alkalinity. * I am a homegrown, hometown, homebody girl who has suddenly found myself feeling like I would leave in a heartbeat if I could find any way out. Then I realized I have 6 kids, a husband, and a job, so I bought myself a passport instead. * I'm done pretending to be happy if I'm not. * I'm done with trying to be perfect. * I am accepting that I have no control. * I love Jesus Christ and I crave His grace. *

I still don't know exactly who I am, but I can accept that I am unfinished and being guided by the hands of a loving Savior. I understand now that it's okay for me to be on a journey of questioning, seeking, and finding.  Just because God is my Father doesn't explain everything about who I am or explain anything of what He actually knows about me; it's not shameful to need to find myself. He knows His children perfectly; I think He's also watching with trust and patience to see the person I (or any of us) will eventually unfold to be. I can definitely say that I lost myself for Christ's sake by accepting the path He called me to, and so I trust His promise that I will find myself again. And maybe just when I find it He could ask me to lose myself again, but I want to trust that He'll walk me through it no matter what losing myself might mean. 

It just turns out that the "finding myself" part of my life adventure is quite a journey. Unexpected. Deep. Soul-searching journey. And that's okay. Part of me thinks that's the way it was all meant to be.


Sunday, October 15, 2017

How Do You Do It?

I can't tell you how many times people say to me or to my husband: "I don't know how you do it."

This week I took a trip with my 6 kids and some friends and their kids. We went to Sedona--inside myself I felt proud and empowered for doing something so brave as a mother. I may have even called my husband and said, "I'm a WOMAN, hear me ROAR! I'm doing this!" The experience was so awesome. The kids and I went hiking, fishing, site-seeing, and of course we also went down Slide Rock with water temperatures in the 40's! Haha! On my third and last run down the slide with a kid, I may or may not have had to ask my friend to help me out of the water because I could no longer breathe OR swim. 🤣 I laughed so hard drying off in the warm sun as it beat down on me and the red rocks.

A lot of people encourage me in my life as a mom with 6 kids, but I'm just a small-fry kind of crazy mom compared to my cousin Tiff.

Yesterday I had the chance to attend the kind of beautiful temple ceremony that Mormons believe connects families together forever. The highest, most sacred, most purposeful, most fulfilling assignment to have in this life to most people but especially to Mormons is to be in a family. To work together, to love each other no matter what, to never abandon, to assist, uplift, and cherish, to teach, to nurture, to protect, and to purposely focus on helping your whole family find God (in a nutshell) is what Mormons believe in the most. 

Well Brandon and Tiff Martineau are the kind of people who live that. They have 14 children, 10 of them adopted. The most recent two family members were sealed yesterday, and the service was beautiful. One-year-old Charlie may have been a little vocal about wanting to eat during the ceremony but the feeling in that room was full of love. All 14 were well behaved as something beautiful and spiritually moving happened for them in that sealing room. This was the last opportunity they'd have in the temple as a whole family before their oldest son, Tristen, leaves for a mission on Wednesday. 

Tiff has helped me a lot this last year through the adoption of my two littles who have been thru trauma. She's given me advice; she's  encouraged me; she's chatised me for not praying enough; she's listened to me; she's empathized with me in ways no one else I know could. She's been there for me IN THE FIRE. I asked her earlier this year, "Tiff, HOW do you do it?"

She responded with, "You just do it, Deej."

So there you have it, Everyone. It's the answer from someone who has been through the fire and is in the trenches still. With all things considered in prudence and moderation, remember that everyone in this world has different capacities and capabilities and THAT'S OKAY. Not everyone needs to or is able to parent 14 children especially with the majority having a trauma history, BUT maybe people like Brandon and Tiff wouldn't have to do so much if more people in the world stepped up to do it, too. Could you imagine if every capable family not only took care of their kids but reached out to other kids in need? WHAT IF all the capable/qualified/interested parents reached out to just one or two kids in need? Then people like the Martineau's wouldn't have to have 14, right? Brandon and Tiff are a fierce Mama and Papa bear tho and they'd NEVER give even one of those 14 to ANYONE else because they love them so much--even the hardest ones. 

But WORLD OUT THERE, can you hear what I'm saying? As a society, do we force such a large burden onto one of the best couples among us because we don't have it within ourselves to be brave enough to do the same type of thing, even if it's something we want to do? 

Do we just ask how people do it and then never find out how to do it ourselves?

IF that's what we do, then we have a tragedy, because a lot of good in this world will never happen simply because we are afraid to try.

It doesn't have to be an adoption journey, but I think this family shows us a lesson we can all use because of their adoption journey. The next time you're facing the largest mountain you've ever climbed, the hardest journey you've ever been on, the scariest black hole you've ever been in, the heaviest weight that's been on your shoulders, OR if you're facing the biggest dream you've ever dared to dream, when it seems unattainable to you and you have the gall to ask yourself, "HOW DO I DO THIS?":

Reach down deep and let your inner voice scream back the words, "YOU JUST DO!"

If you can find that inner strength, you can find the solutions to your problems, and if you focus on one day at a time, eventually there will be a day that you'll look back and realize the strength was in you all along. One day you'll be able to say, "I did it. I really did it."

How do you do something that's bigger than yourself? 

You find a way.
You pray your way.
You make the way: 


(The Martineau's squoze me in this photo like I belong with them, because that's just what they do. P.S. I was more than honored when that cute blonde boy on the bottom left told me yesterday that I'm in his "Top 5 Favorite People". He's such a great kid and I definitely do love and care about him and pray for him. I have a husband and 6 kids, so don't even try to do the math and figure out how it works out when I say Paul is in my "Top 5 Favorite People", too! ☺️ It just works, okay?)

Friday, October 13, 2017

Dear Azure

Dear Azure,

It's been 10 years.

Over the last decade there have been countless moments where I believed the vividness of October 13th, 2007 would never fade.

Because I have adopted children who have lived through trauma, I understand now that what I was experiencing in all of those blindsiding moments was something that had a name. Those moments were called trauma triggers. In less than a second my mind, heart, and emotions would be taken directly back to your crash site. I can still see it all now: Melodie checking your pulse, dust in the air, the overturned car, the Priesthood blessing, the people calling 9-1-1, Mitch and the carseat he pulled from the back window, my dad and the other man taking turns with CPR/chest compressions, my cousin Marnie saying, "I think that's my neighbor," the shocked and crying bystanders, and (most heart wrenching for me) your baby with his wide eyes and cute PJ's, the painfully long amount of time for paramedics to get there, the chill in the the wind as it blew the tall mountain grass, the sound of the LifeVac, and more.

What's interesting is that over time the things that used to trigger flashbacks have faded in a way. I don't know if I've taught myself how to block the memory because it's too painful or if time really does have a way of healing all wounds like they say. I've noticed that certain milestone years are harder for me to deal with when your son and my son reach their own big life events (since our baby's are almost exactly the same age). The one thing I haven't forgotten is the way your baby looked that day. I hope I actually never forget his face.

He's growing up now, Azure.

But I know you know that. Whenever I have seen him, he has been doing great! Brian and Ginger are amazing parents and they teach him and all their children all the right things. 

I used to bawl every time I saw the decorative burp cloth my mom and I had used to wipe the dirt out of his eyelashes. It's yellow with tye-died frogs; we put water on the corner of it but Eric kept shaking his head so we stopped trying to get the dirt away. He had been through a lot and he just met us, so if he wanted us to leave the dirt alone we would. All there was left to do was hold him and cry for him and for you. I still have the cloth at my house, but now I don't cry when I see it anymore. Maybe that's because I know he's growing up beautifully and because now I know he's okay.

The day you died and in subsequent weeks I felt guilty that we couldn't save you. I felt this deep internal need to apologize to your family. We did everything we possibly could. Even after you were flown to the hospital and even after watching the paramedics have difficulty getting you to respond with the heartbeat machine, I still prayed and even believed that you could and would recover. I sort of imagined maybe we would meet you once and you'd be able to go on with living the rest of your life. But instead, God had another plan. Even with that other plan, sometimes I still feel guilty.

I have wondered if I was one of the reasons God wouldn't let you stay. Did you have to die because I needed to learn something from you?

Sometimes I wonder that because I feel like it's unusual and strange that even tho I never knew you in your lifetime, I feel now that you're one of my best and closest friends. Unless others have been thru a similar experience that kind of a statement might creep people out, but it is what it is.

There have been so many times over the last 10 years where I believed YOU helped me, but especially this last year I have recognized you often.

Last year on Oct 13th, my daughters came to my house for their first over-night stay. That day was actually a really hard day and I was up almost all night trying to comfort my littlest girl in the confusion, anger, anxiety, sadness, and stress of her massive life disruption. But overall I didn't think the date itself was a coincidence. I felt that it was a message from you to me that when I prayed for angels to help my adopted children find their way to our home that you were one of many on the path who helped answer that prayer.

It might sound funny, but earlier this year I did a visualization exercise that involved colors and when my stressors were gone, my remaining "happy colors" were blue and yellow (but not just any blue and yellow, specifically the color of the morning sky blue and the pale yellow of the sun at that time of day). Later I was searching to find the accurate name of that particular blue--when I realized it was called Azure, it felt like anything but a coincidence and it comforted me to know you were in it.

There have been some tragedies within my circles this year. When a friend in my old ward died I found it unusual that I had been specifically in contact with your family that day and I couldn't stop thinking about the things that have happened to me in knowing you and your family. I felt like you helped my friend and also helped me help my friends during that time.

A couple months ago my uncle, aunt, and cousins were in a terrible car crash. The kids were totally fine. That was the first sign that made me believe you were helping them. I feel like saving the children in a miraculous way is your signature mark of involvement. That's what happened when you died and your son was unscathed. That's what happened in the car accident of my aunt and uncle who you knew in your lifetime and their grandkids. My uncle is in Heaven with you now, too, but when he was in critical condition and I showed up to the hospital, I found it so unusual that not only was he located at a hospital hardly anyone I know tends to ever go to, but my aunt was located ON THE EXACT FLOOR that your mother worked on, and that despite my crazy family day traveling, that I walked around the corner at exactly the same time your mom did and that she was there to give ME a hug. The "coincidental" nature, the exact timings, the personal correlations between just seemed like everything was orchestrated perfectly. I just thought, "Who else do I know in Heaven who cares and is aware of Donna's schedule and MY schedule and would be able to coordinate the two precisely?" It just wasn't a coincidence to me and I want to thank you for being there for my aunt and uncle and cousins and me and I'm sure many others from your hometown circles during that difficult time. 

At my cousin, Danny's graveside service, I was on my way to leave but wanted to find your grave, too. I did, and was happy to see your family was there--your mom, Dad, and sister. I gave them hugs and felt love from them and a hello from you.

And one last memory, a little over a year ago, I sent your son a birthday present. The particular deal on the Lego set, the particular stop in your tracks moment walking by it, the way his name popped into my mind, the way it connected me to him and Ginger that week as we talked back and seemed to me like you were in it with us. I feel like it was your birthday present to him, too.

So Azure, I know you're there. I see you in miracles and involved with God's timing. 

You're doing so much good and I believe you're doing more for all of us who care about you than we can truly know. I'm not even your family member, but I feel a steadiness from you that has taught me to believe more than ever in life after death.  If you've done this for me as a mere acquaintance from your lifetime, I can only imagine the miracles and blessings and assistance you've been orchestrating for your family and for your little boy.

Anyway, I want you to know that I care about you and your family. I am grateful for them. We have become connected together thru the pain of losing you and also in the hope of seeing you again. I hope that my association in their lives is not a trauma trigger for them simply because the day I met you was the day you died. Because of that fact I feel like an imposter in your family's life who has no right to feel so close to you, but they have been so kind and have allowed me and my family to feel part of them. The Biglers and Starkes have such big hearts. Sometimes there is no easy way around sad life events and the way they can affect any of us. 

You're probably busy so I'll let you go, but thanks for letting me be connected to you. I still don't understand why you had to go 10 years ago. I think this day and the weeks leading up to it each year will always feel heavy to me, but there is beauty that has come from the sadness along with an internal calm and reassurance that you're still there--that you're still looking out for people you love in very specific ways to show them you care. It gives me a true hope and belief that life after death exists. Because of that I believe it's true that someday I really will get to see you again and I look forward to giving you a hug and being able to thank you in person for becoming my friend and for being there for me and my family in a way no one else could be.