Completion and Restoration for Our Marriage and Family in 2017| Part 2

Part 2 of my thoughts on the coming year and our theme of Completion and Restoration.

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Don’t miss Completion and Restoration for our Marriage and Family in 2017 | Part 1

Last week I wrote about the theme of Completion for the coming year.

What about Restoration?

With so much upheaval in our lives, relationships have also been neglected. We’ve been working so hard, for so long, we haven’t taken time to enjoy the people we love.

We plan to change that in 2017.

The most important relationship is our marriage.

I love Russ with all my heart, and I need to make sure he knows it, every day. I need to love him more than I love myself, which is easy to say, but not so easy to live.

Every morning before the kids leave for school, we pray,

Hear, O Israel: the Lord is our God, the Lord alone.
Love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your might.
And love your neighbor as yourself.

Those words have sunk deep into me – do I love my neighbor as myself? Do I love my husband as myself? When a task is inconvenient, will I do it anyway to make his life a little easier or better? Do I make sacrifices for him the way I want him to make them for me?

In addition to our marriage, we’re thinking about our kids, especially our older children.

We need to figure out new ways to love our adult kids and grow our relationships with them.

2016 brought many changes with our big kids and we expect 2017 to bring more.

This fall, both Samuel and Isaiah moved away, Isaiah to St. Louis, and Samuel to Portland. These were not, “I’m moving away for a year and I’ll be back,” moves, these were grown-up moves. They won’t live in our little town again. Mimi may be on the verge of moving away too.

Soon we will only have our youngest five living near, which bring us to a new season of life. We need to think about our big kids, how to connect with them, how to spend time with them.

We lost many years while pouring ourselves into their younger siblings. Those can’t be reclaimed, but we can intentionally build something new. It’s tempting to look back with regret, but we won’t gain a thing; we can only look forward and find a new way that brings something better.

Many other relationships were also set aside during those years. We want to restore some of those as well, as time allows, but first, our marriage and our children.

What else will the Lord lead us to restore? Our health, faith, traditions, joy? We don’t know yet, we only know this is our plan for 2017, and honestly, the glimpse we have right now feels full.

We’ll be praying over the long list of incomplete projects/dreams/tasks/commitments, asking God for wisdom about what to complete in all realms of our lives: personal, professional, family, home – everything.

I’m guessing a good number of tasks will be permanently crossed off our lists. We’ll likely wrestle through the remainder, asking each other good questions, prioritizing, figuring out how to help one another.

I will be Russ’ biggest supporter and assistant as he works to complete and restore in 2017, and my most restrained self as I hold back from beginning too many new things and focus on completing what I’ve begun (dare I whisper the word “book?”).

We’ll keep walking through trauma and grief. I met with our counselor yesterday and he told me we’re right where we should be in the grief process. Good to know, because I often feel I’m not handling it well at all.

Russ and I are doing this together – loving each other – trading ashes for beauty, and sorrow for joy, incomplete for complete, and broken for restored.

Lord, have mercy on us. Give us clarity of mind, grace for one another, hearts overflowing with love, and strength to complete the unfinished and restore the broken. Amen.

Lisa

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Understanding Our Children’s Traumatic Memories

I’ve been thinking about memories and trauma – my own, and those of our children from “hard places.” Experiencing a very traumatic event has given me insight into my children’s brains that I never expected to have.

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Will there ever be a day when I don’t think about our accident and losing Kalkidan? It hasn’t happened yet in the 22 months that have gone by.

Nearly every time I get quiet and still, memories begin to surface.

Last night I woke at 2:30; one of the kids had left the light on in the hallway outside our door and the light seeping in illuminated our room.

I must have stirred just enough to wake Russ who got up and turned off the light – which turned out to be three lights upstairs and several downstairs as well.

Once back in bed, I reached for his hand and his fingers closed around mine – safety wrapping around me.

The Silent Pain of a Children’s Inpatient Psychiatric Unit

Today I’m following up on the conversation about the disparity in the treatment of children with mental rather than physical illness by sharing my very personal experience of a pediatric inpatient psychiatric unit. This was a hard post to write, my hope is that someone will be comforted and feel that they are not alone.

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I was devastated. How was I going to tell her that in a few moments I would walk through the heavy, metal door and she would stay behind?

It’s been a number of years now, but when I reflect back to our experience of having my daughter hospitalized on an inpatient psychiatric unit, my chest aches a little and I find I don’t want to linger on the memories for long. I’ll keep this simple.

    1. The inpatient unit is the right place for a child who is a danger to herself or others.

      Keeping my child safe was exhausting, and at times, terrifying. I was traveling to Seattle when it all fell apart. All of my young children were with me and I feared we would not arrive safely. We made it, and we even survived the night, but the next day when we arrived at the hospital for our other appointments, I knew I couldn’t leave that day with any confidence that I could keep my child safe. She was admitted that evening. I was simultaneously overwhelmed with grief and relief, which brought guilt along as its companion.

    2. The purpose was not treatment, but stabilization.

      I didn’t understand this until well into my daughter’s hospitalization. I thought the medical professionals would have answers and brilliant insights for us, that it would be more therapeutic. Maybe it was but I was too exhausted to notice. I recall a behavioral program involving a frog and choices, but it didn’t work for my child who could have cared less.
      One idea: perhaps parents need 24 hours to rest and catch up on sleep from whatever severe circumstances led them to need inpatient hospitalization for their child before they can be expected to learn something.
    3. The demands on the parents were unrealistic – at least for me.

      I was stuck in Seattle with five other children for many days. Thankfully, I had family less than an hour from the hospital and my sister was able to watch my children while I was gone. I was expected to be at a meeting with the doctors and staff each morning, and then had another appointment each afternoon. There were required classes and trainings for parents, and time spent with my daughter too.
      There was no time to see my other children during the day. I missed my husband. I missed my kids.
      The day Russ finally arrived, I walked out of a meeting and saw him. I nearly ran into his arms and the tears I had been holding back for days rushed out of me. It was a relief to no longer be alone in this very unfamiliar, difficult place.
    4. My daughter was content there.

      This was a strangely familiar environment, not unlike an orphanage, albeit smaller and much more controlled. There were lots of rules, but she enjoyed following them. With her history of complex developmental trauma and attachment challenges, it may also have been a relief to have a break from the very difficult challenge of living in a family with people who loved her, a mother and father who were committed to her forever, and siblings who shared her room, her life, her school, and even her friends.
    5. It was a step along the way.

      While inpatient care didn’t seem to provide long-term benefits, it turned out to be a helpful step along the way to residential treatment, which was the key to healing for my daughter.
    6. You can always find good folks.

      As a friend recently pointed out, no matter what path of suffering you go down, there are always good people to be found. We met a couple whose daughter shared a room with ours. The girls became friends in an odd sort of way, and we were thankful to have people who met our eyes with compassion and shared a common sorrow. We recognized their path as being much harder than ours and our hearts were broken for them. We’ve lost touch now, but I still think of them from time to time.
    7. Shame was my companion.

      I felt shame that my daughter needed this level of care, that I hadn’t somehow found a way to keep her safe and kept her from getting this sick. I didn’t want anyone to know how bad things really were – even as I write this years later, I recognize that some people will only now realize the severity of her challenges.
      I told very few people that I was nearly living at the hospital. There were no visitors, no cheerful nurses, no volunteers, and certainly no celebrities.
      There was a large, locked door, that slammed shut behind me, isolation, loneliness, and fear of the future.
      There were professionals who wanted to teach me how to be a better parent, no matter that I had many healthy children and did not meet my daughter until years after her severe trauma occurred.
      Let me add, however, many wonderful parents have children with mental illness – there is no place for judgment here. We need to offer compassion and kindness to weary parents.

This experience was a low point for me. We got through it, and my daughter was kept safe; for that I am thankful.

Thank you for reading, for sharing my life and for giving me the courage to step out of shame and speak truth. My precious daughter fought for wholeness and she won that battle – I’m certain she would want others to know it is possible.

Please join the conversation here, or on my Thankful Moms Facebook page. If this post or Toni’s post, Celebrities Don’t Visit Kids in the Psych Unit are helpful to you, please share them. Shares and comments mean the world to me.

encourage one another,

Lisa

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Celebrities Don’t Visit Kids in the Psych Unit

A while back, my friend, Toni, shared her thoughts about the contrast between the treatment of children with mental illness and those with physical illness. When I read her words, I wept. I was reminded of our time with a child in the inpatient psychiatric unit of a children’s hospital. I count that experience as one of the lowest in my mothering life. Toni originally posted this on Facebook and gave me permission to publish it here.

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From Toni:

Today, I have been struck by how disparities affect children. I realize the disparities I see are so small compared to those experienced by many people groups in the world. Yet, I am still heartbroken.

I was driving to a meeting, and a woman on the radio was describing her child’s experience at Seattle Children’s Hospital.

Her child came out of surgery, received her favorite foods, and was greeted by a beanie baby wearing a cast matching the exact cast of the radio announcer’s little girl. I can only imagine how cared for this little girl felt. It truly is the experience I would wish for every child.

Yet, when one of my own children was at the same hospital, on a very different floor, in need of mental health care, the hospital didn’t change my child’s clothes for four days. Even though the floor was a locked wing, the hospital managed to lose the only prized stuff animal my child brought.

I remember leaving one day and yet again, seeing Seahawks players coming to visit, and feeling oh, so very grieved, that our visit was one of silent pain, while other children were greeted with gifts of electronics and celebrities.

Likewise, our family has somehow managed to land in a school district that shows up in a prestigious magazine every year for its ability to get kids into notable colleges. People clamor to get their kids into our district. I’ve known families to produce false addresses just so they can eek their kids in—the AP classes, the sports, the prestige, oh my!

Yet, when a child has complex trauma, mental health needs, and isn’t equipped to enroll in those AP classes, the district puts off meetings and forces children to sit out of school for days until staff is available. Teachers aren’t trained to deal with anxiety disorders, and kids suffer as a result.

The same district doesn’t always classify the use of the “n” word as racist.

I want a kid with a broken arm to receive all the love care and attention she deserves. I want kids who are headed for the Ivy Leagues to be supported.

I also want kids who need specialized attention to be just as championed, just as valued, and for their advocates to be viewed as partners, not the enemy.

Toni Esparza

 

Toni is married to the wittiest and most handsome man in the world who still takes her breath away almost 20 years after the day they met. Together they have been gifted 7 cherubs that have taught them more than any degree or job ever could. Toni is passionate about magnifying the voices of those the world has quieted and firmly believes no one should ever fight a battle alone. As a humble follower of Emmanuel, God with us, she hopes to link together with the weary arms of others


Friends, if this speaks to you, please share your thoughts. Reading it stirs my heart and may even prompt me to revisit our painful experience enough to write about it.

There is so much shame surrounding mental illness, and yet many families are struggling to meet the needs of their children. These families need our love and support – we need each other.

Leave a comment here, or on my Thankful Moms Facebook page. I would love to hear from you.

Lisa

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How Foster Care is Restoring My Hope

I’ve been a foster mom four months today.

Who knew that this unexpected journey of foster care would be one of hope and healing for me?

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Each foster placement is different, and our very next one may require me to dig deep into every bit of therapeutic parenting I know, but that isn’t the case right now.

Our adoption experience brought me to my knees in desperation every day. The depth of trauma my children experienced before coming to me was profound. PTSD, Reactive Attachment Disorder, and many other diagnoses, flooded our home with trauma, pulling us down into depths we could not have anticipated, leaving us broken.

We’re working through it still – and grief is piled on top like a sodden wool blanket.

3 Tips for Parents – When You’re About to Lose It

In 2012 I hosted a book group on my blog discussing The Whole-Brain Child: 12 Revolutionary Strategies to Nurture Your Child’s Developing Mind. This post is the third in a series of reflections on each chapter.  Lisa 9/24/16

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Many years ago there was a public service television ad featuring a young mom frantically trying to manage many things at once.  On the screen, her baby is crying loudly, a pot is boiling over on the stove, and the phone is ringing on the wall (yes, it was that many years ago).  Completely frazzled, the mother turns rapidly toward the sound of the baby wailing, and a voice says,

Take hold of yourself before you take hold of your child.

That ad has stayed with me through many years of mothering.

While Chapter 3 of The Whole-Brain Child, Building the Staircase of the Mind, is written primarily about our children, the last two pages are written to parents.

The foundation of the chapter is that the lower brain, which is responsible for basic functions of the body and for strong emotions, needs to be integrated with the upper brain which is responsible for higher-order and analytical thinking.  It’s the upper brain that regulates our emotions and calms our reactions.

This may sound familiar, especially to those of us with children from “hard places.” When a child is in “fight or flight” mode, she is functioning in her lower brain and unable to process with her upper brain.

This is why Dr. Karyn Purvis taught that when our child is very upset, we use:

  • few words
  • gentle touch
  • a soft tone of voice
  • and when all else fails, we simply keep our child safe.

But what happens when we, the parents, are losing it and functioning in the downstairs brain?

The authors recommend three strategies:

1. Do no harm.  

“Close your mouth to avoid saying something you’ll regret. Put your hands behind your back to avoid any kind of rough physical contact.  When you’re in a downstairs moment, protect your child at all costs.” p.64

2.  Remove yourself from the situation and collect yourself.

Take a break.  Walk away. Try deep breathing, do some physical activity, call a friend; do what it takes to calm yourself.  For me, this also includes prayer – lots of it, but in the most simple forms, “Jesus, help me.”

3.  Repair. Quickly.

“Reconnect with your child as soon as you are calm and feeling more in control of yourself.  Then deal with whatever emotional and relational harm has been done.” p.65

Most of us aren’t going to cross the line to abuse, but we may fling words at our children that cannot be retrieved, or be harsher than we should be.

We need to recognize when we are no longer thinking clearly and implement these three strategies immediately.

So that young mama in the television ad? Before she took another step toward her crying baby, she needed to stop, turn off the stove, step outside and take some deep breaths. She might have even rolled her head from one shoulder to the other to release tension.

She needed to remind herself that everything was going to be okay and that she was a good mama. She needed to tell herself that dinner wasn’t ruined just because it boiled over, and the phone call she missed didn’t really matter. They could call back.

She needed to reflect for a moment on the sweet feeling of her baby in her arms, and maybe even say out loud, “I’m a good mama and I love my sweet baby.” Then, when her heart was no longer racing, when her upstairs brain was once again in charge, she could step back in the house, walk calmly to her baby’s crib and take her little one in her arms.

Question: What do you do to calm yourself when your downstairs brain has taken over and you’re about to lose it?

Reflections on other chapters:

The Whole-Brain Child and The River of Well-Being

Four Steps to Connect With and Redirect Your Child

encourage one another,

Lisa

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