Friday, November 11, 2016

My Heart Cry

Yesterday I had the first flashback I have had in over 20 years. Over 20 years ago, I took power back after my sexual assault. I went through extensive therapy, to fix and strengthen the broken parts of me. I relived my experience while giving my deposition to an unsympathetic and doubting man to help change the law in my state. I told my story to individuals in order to raise awareness for this injustice. Through the grace of God, support of others and inner strength I did not know I had, I even got to the point of forgiveness and a continued relationship with my abuser (this is not something I would advocate for in most circumstances). My healing journey brought me to the place where I could honestly say that while I would never want to relive my experience, I would not change it--for it shaped who I am, and I really like her. My point is that I have come to a place of healing that many in this situation will not reach.

Being that this is where I have been in my sexual assault journey for over 20 years, I was blind-sided by the flashback. It was just as real as if it had just occurred and left me shaken. I learned long ago that I cannot control these experiences, they come when they are triggered. They are a visceral reaction to my previous experiences and my current state. It does no good to try to suppress the flashback. Instead, I have learned that if I let it play out, give grace to that innocent girl, and give myself time to process it, I can find my balance again. It also helps to understand the trigger--what in my current life has set off this flashback?

This time, I realize, it is fear. Fear of not being heard and validated. Fear that the world is not safe. Fear that society does not stand with me, does not hear me, does not validate me. For me, my reaction to the election results is more than sadness at not winning. It is a lump in my gut that will not dissipate. It is fear. The victim of sexual assault in our country has the obligation to prove way beyond a shadow of doubt first that the assault even occurred, second that she did not agree, and third that she was completely innocent. Not just innocent of explicit consent, but every conceivable implicit consent (Was she wearing too short of a skirt? Was she possibly intoxicated? Did she walk into a dark alley after looking his way, thus implying she wanted it?). As we learned from the Stanford rape this year, she finally has to prove she is worth more than he is as a person for him to receive a punishment that affects him a fraction of how it will affect her. Here I am, 20 years and a lot of therapy and support out, more whole than many with similar experiences, brought to my knees with a vivid flashback. In public. In broad daylight. It doesn't really go away. Ever. When our country elected Trump, the message to this sexual assault victim was a solid stand with my perpetrator. That might not be what your vote meant to you, but it is what his victory told my soul. By voting in a man who bragged about sexually assaulting women, my country told me that behavior is okay. It tells him, it is okay. Voting him in to office has reinforced his behavior. This is the part I am struggling with. This is what has caused enough primal fear in me to trigger a flashback.

I can't pretend to know another's experience, but I wonder if this isn't the same fear sitting in the guts of minorities in our country? I have heard of multiple racist and sexist accounts against my friends' children. These have occurred in the days following the election. Voting for Trump, despite his hateful comments about minorities, women, and other so-called "lesser-thans" is viewed (by me, by Trump, and by many others out there) as approval for him and his behaviors. Conservative Christians and other really good hearted people out there, I get you. I grew up with you and I grew up as one of you. My life circumstances may not allow me to be you anymore, but I get and I love you--and I hear you. You wanted change that aligned with your values. You wanted change that heard your struggles. You don't agree with his hateful comments, and you may not even like him as a person--but you needed the change he promised to bring. The problem is, on the ballot there is only one box to mark. You don't get to mark yes for him, but no for the hatred he spews.

When I told my mom (who loves me very much and does not ever want to see me hurting) that I had had a flashback yesterday, she urged me to get therapy. She wanted me to find a way to fix myself so I could live successfully in this society. While I appreciate that this comes from a place of love and isn't a bad idea, what I hear is that I am broken. The reality is, my world is broken. When Trump's views on sexual assault became clear, I was still okay. Why? Because there was outrage. Society stood with me and all the other me's out there and said, "We will not stand for this! This is wrong!" His ratings dropped. I felt surrounded by support from the majority. However, when he won the election, the message to me was it is ok. It is ok that the man who will have the most powerful position in the world feels free to misuse his power against women. I wonder if people of color across our nation had the same reaction when he said hateful things about their race, when he incited others at rallies to show their hatred?

One thing that has been shown over and over in occasions of violence is that silence is the same as acceptance. The same. It sends the message of acceptance to the victim. It sends the same message to the perpetrator. This silence has to stop. The message has to change. The thing is, sexual assault happens to 1 in 4 women in college. Right now. Today, 1 in 4. Twenty-five percent of males are not causing all of this pain. In fact, the number of people causing the pain represents a very small percentage of those in our society. The same is true for those people doing overt racist acts. The problem is that a small percentage of people doing similar acts to multiple people makes this a very big problem. If our President does not see this as a problem, and in fact incites this very behavior, the problem will grow. We have learned from this election that racism is more rampant than we once knew. Those of us who come from a place of privilege don't experience it daily, so we were able to believe that it wasn't as bad as it is. Now we know. Our power doesn't stop with the ballot. We need to be very clear of our expectations for those we have placed in power.

Trump is here for the next four years. I accept that. We have had Presidents before and will have Presidents again that I don't align with. I accept that. However, we don't have to and should not accept his hateful comments. He needs to acknowledge the power his comments have as the President of the most powerful country in the world. He needs to acknowledge they were wrong and that those sentiments will not be tolerated in our country.

I don't feel safe--I don't feel that my daughters are being raised in a community that has their backs. I don't believe people of color feel safe. I don't believe the LGBTQ community feels safe. I don't feel people with disabilities feel safe. Everyone deserves to feel safe. If you believe that God calls you to take care of the "least of these" in society, or if you believe in taking care of them because you are just a good person, than please, stand with us. Hear us. Please don't discount us as just being emotional or "sore losers". Hear us and tell us you will keep us safe. An easy way to tell me you hear me and stand with me is to write letters to every person you have voted into a position of power. Tell them that you expect them to stand strong for the safety of all people in this country. If you voted Trump into office despite disagreeing with his stance on humanity, make that very clear to him. If you need a template for your letter to get you started, let me know. As parents, we don't make our children guess our expectations. Instead, we clearly state them ahead of time so they have a chance to meet those expectations. We, the people, are now Trump's boss and we need to make sure he understands our expectations prior to his inauguration. Another way is to share this perspective with your friends and ask them to join you in setting expectations. Remember, Trump ran on the platform of being different than the establishment. Therefore, we can not expect him to follow the implied rules of the previous establishment. We cannot sit back and hope and pray that he will be for all people. Also, if you see people peacefully protesting, listen to them and stand with them. Obviously, your experience is quite different from theirs or you would be standing there with them. Find out what it means for them. Chances are, they aren't wasting their time, standing, marching, holding up a sign and chanting until they are hoarse because they didn't have anything better to do. It is because they have been hurt or they see hurt and need change and healing.

This blog post is for every woman who has experienced sexual assault. If this election has had this affect on me, what is it like for those women who are just beginning their journey to healing? I have put in a lot of work towards building a strong self, taking back the power that was ripped from me so long ago. Writing this blog required me to be very vulnerable. To take down the walls of strength I so purposefully constructed. If you are feeling inclined to take action steps to stand with me, please leave a comment and let me know how you have made an effort to make this country a safe place for all people. I still believe that love is more powerful than hate, and that together we can make influence the outcome. Thank you for taking the time to hear my heart cry.

Tuesday, March 1, 2016

The million dollar question

Photo taken by A Mother's Art Photography

How are we doing? That is a really good question. 

In the weeks that followed our decision not to adopt K, S and A from Ukraine, we really struggled. My health tanked following the kids departure. My cortisol levels dropped to a subclinical level. The last time my cortisol was that low, I was taking supplemental cortisol to keep me functional. Chronic fatigue and pain became a part of my days again. I chose not to start the supplements again because I did not want to have to re-wean off of them. We figured it was a temporary setback due to stress, so Mike stepped back into his caretaker roll as I have been pretty useless. I am not sure how we would function without that man! On top of my health, the girls began to struggle at school and at home. This was their biggest experience with loss to date. We had to put some extra supports in at school and muster up extra patience and grace at home. Thankfully, they have some very understanding teachers with really big hearts! It really felt like all of the work we have put in the last several years to help the twins do well at school despite their issues was coming unraveled. We started to question why we had chosen to rock our seemingly stable boat to pursue this adoption! We wondered whether all this effort had been for nothing. 

It took us about two weeks to get in touch with the kids in Ukraine. It was torture waiting to tell them. We felt honesty was the best tactic since we truly wanted to continue being a positive relationship in their lives. If we were not honest, how could they trust us going forward? We also wanted to be very careful not to make any more promises we could not follow through on. We cannot let them down again! They took the news so much better than we thought they would. Our worst fear was that they would be angry with us and not want anything to do with us. All of us cried on the phone as we shared our hearts. There may come a day that they are angry as they also grieve this loss of a dream. If that happens, we will work through that as well. Since our first phone call, we have been able to talk weekly. It has been so good for our souls to hear their voices and know that they are doing well. 
photo taken by A Mother's Art Photography

In the time that has passed, K and S got to take a 19 hour train ride to meet the President of Ukraine. How exciting is that?! They got to take some tours of Kiev, eat a very nice lunch and talk with the President before returning to their orphanage. They have shared how well school is going (K says the boys are working hard in school for the first time. She says they are starting to learn to read!), new soccer skills they are achieving and much more. They also shared that the boys have asked K to read them the bedtime story we read nightly, as well as singing their song to them (we had a personalized song we sang for each child at tuck-in). It has been so encouraging for us to see that our time together did make a difference for these kids! All of the love that we (and many of you) shared with these kids seeped into their hearts and minds. The English lessons that we are still able to provide for these kids continue to show them that they have worth, that their learning matters to someone in this world. It gives the boys time to spend together three times a week (without this, the boys rarely see each other in their large orphanage), which reinforces the bonds they have built during previous hosting experiences. English lessons give them time with an adult who cares. Their tutor spends time with just the boys two days a week and all three of the kids a third day (K gets English class in school, unlike the boys). This time with a safe and caring adult is a rare luxury in an orphanage environment. K tells us they really enjoy their tutor. I know their life over there is still hard. We still pray nightly that they will be adopted by a family better suited for their needs. However, hearing the smiles over the phone and their excitement about certain aspects of their lives makes a world of difference for our hearts. 

So, how are we doing? We are doing much better. We are settling back into being a family of five. We are getting used to the quiet again. We are slowly making our house 'ours' again and not 'ours and theirs.' We are recognizing that our family is not yet ready to make such huge changes. We need more time for my body to heal. My body cannot yet handle the increased load adoption would bring to our family. This is a hard pill for me to swallow. If you know me at all, you know that 'you can't make this work' was never part of my vocabulary prior to my illness. Being still (Psalm 46:10) is not something that is easy for me. I want to help God move the mountains. I need to learn to wait for Him to move
photo taken by Rose Davidson
the mountains, make the path, and illuminate the way. Our hearts are still with these kids and the millions like them. We still hope and pray to be used by God to help children who are hurting. While we wait for our opportunity, we will continue to make

health--both mine and our family's emotional health--stronger to prepare for future opportunities.

Thank you to all who have loved us through this loss in our lives. We have really appreciated all of the support during this time.

P.S. I have been reading the book, Kisses from Katie, to the girls in the evenings. What an amazing impact this book has had on all of us. The conversations we are having about the world outside of our safe comfortable bubble are fantastic! Either the girls are being kinder to each other, or I am noticing it more when they are (or both). If you are feeling like you can't possibly make a dent in the world's problems, you really should read this book. 

Wednesday, January 20, 2016

When there are no good answers

I know I really need to blog when I don't know where or how to start. As many of you know, we just spent a month hosting three kids from Ukraine. That is a month that I will not ever forget. Our hearts were stretched way more than we thought possible. We had so much support from our little community (and even from our further away heart community). You guys allowed us to do the day in and day out loving and nurturing for these three precious kids. I wish this blog could be about all of the little ways we, our girls, and these three felt the love of all of you. How they felt worth. It was amazing. I also wish this blog could be about the million funny, beautiful and heart-wrenching moments we experienced in the last month. It was, hands down, the most alive month of my life. I am sure we will be processing and savoring many of the experiences far, far down the road. 

Since this blog can't be about those other topics, I should probably get on with it. I just really don't know how to. Here goes--if you have ever read my blog posts before, you know I don't know any other way than to be raw and real. Grab the tissues or close the screen now. 

When we started experiencing delays in the adoption, we decided to host the kids while we waited. It was another big expenditure (which many of you helped fund), but we wanted to all be together for Christmas--shoot, we wanted to all be together, period. We also, through the desire for more education on adoption, had become more acutely aware of some of the unsuccessful adoptions out there. Pair those stories of caution with my degrees in psychology and we thought hosting would help us put our worries aside as we moved forward. Our thought was that if we provided a very structured, consistent and calm home for a month--one that gave a very realistic representation of our life--we might either see that it clearly wouldn't work, or we would see signs that it would. We were very realistic going in, as we did not expect to resolve any of the deep wounds these kids carry in a month of hosting. We were hopeful for small signs of progress, but more than that, we were hoping for no signs of brokenness that we couldn't help them overcome. You have to know that we expected wounds, we expected one to two years of unrelenting hard work followed by many more of being selfless for these kids. We prepared our three here for many ugly possibilities, including how to handle abuse. We expected deficits--in learning, in life experiences, in accepting love. We were not afraid of what was required of us on this journey. Let me be very clear here, we fully intended to adopt these kids. We were "all in". They were, in our hearts, already our kids. They had been hosted three times as a unit and a few times individually. All families had fallen in love with these kids and felt they were adoptable for a family. We did not expect to find anything that would keep us from adopting, but needed, for the sake of our family, to not be afraid to pull out if we could not ensure safety. 

We were fully committed for the entire month. One of my biggest regrets is that we didn't see it earlier so that we could explain, in person, to the kids why we can't adopt. I did not see the most disturbing behavior until we were staying in the hotel in Texas the night before they flew back to Ukraine. At that point, I was so exhausted that I couldn't even process what I saw. I was so concerned with meeting their emotional needs as they left for Ukraine that mine were on hold. When I returned to Wisconsin and began to talk through my unease with Mike, the behavioral patterns became more clear. I also reached out to two different psychologists, not to rely fully on my own training since I was so emotionally attached. I then reached out to our adoption director for her input. We spent several days in prayer and have leaned on the wisest people in our lives. There has not been one person who has not understood and encouraged us to heed the warning. The psychologists and our adoption director all strongly advised us to stop the adoption proceedings based on the behavior we described.  Despite this, I have spent the last few days trying to talk myself out of the decision. Trying to figure out a way to make it work without jeopardizing the safety of our family.  
As I type this, I feel like I am trying my best to explain my heart so there isn't judgment, rather than convey what really matters. What does matter is that there are three kids out there that we promised the world to and we can't deliver. Three kids who are so broken and hurt, through no fault of their own and we can't fix it or even hold them close while they hurt. We can't prevent a world full of future hurt. They are in a situation that sets them up for failure and we can't remove them from it. Two of the three are so ready and open for a family and Ukraine won't split siblings for adoption (not that they would agree if we could). Two of the three have so much potential for amazing things and we can't help them reach that potential. The third has so many things going against him. They are all unfair and out of his control. They are all possibly workable except that he has so much pain that he wants to make others hurt like he does. This is the part that breaks my heart the most. It comes from a place of so much pain, I don't want to give up on him. Realistically, though, we can't be what he needs while at the same protecting the other 5--let alone having anything left to provide for the others' needs. His best chance would be a loving home with no other children. 

We have really struggled with the whys. Why did God bring them into our life? Why did we feel led to tell them we were adopting them? Why did our lives seem so destined to be led out together? Why didn't God give us a "no" before when it would be less painful? I still don't have the answers, and I won't pretend to. I may never have the answers. My friend, Christa shared this song with me the other day. You know how I lean on songs for prayer and focus., well this one is perfect for me right now. Maybe it will be helpful for you, too. The song is "Trust in You" by Lauren Daigle. I don't know why I am always amazed by the intricacies in God's plans, yet am thrown for a loop every time when they don't go the way I envision. Even though I know His plans are always good, I struggle with letting go of my ideas. As she asks in her song, how do we go on when He doesn't move those mountains we want moved? 

Here is what I do know and trust. I have never met a person with faith like K's. She is 14 and is amazing. The stories she shared with me are incredible. God has been constant in her life--very present, guiding and protecting her (and in doing so,  also protecting her brothers) in palpable ways. He has a plan for this child, that is way bigger than mine. We were clearly led to be a part of her plan, just not in the way we thought we were. He has not led her this far to hurt her and walk away. Please continue to pray for these kids. Their story thus far is full of heartbreak. It has also been so touched by love. Everyone I know who has touched their lives has fallen in love. The love they felt from our community was not in vain. It is one more positive experience to shore up against the negative. They know there is good in this world--they felt it with every meal, every gift, every experience they had while they were here. We will continue to support and love them in whatever ways they accept. Even if they are too hurt to accept our presence in their life, we will understand that and continue to pray for them. We cannot stop loving them; we don't know how to. Despite the hurt, we wouldn't want to, even if we could. 
   I also know and trust that God has a plan for our family that is equally big. He has    
   opened our eyes and our hearts in a way that cannot be shut. We are not going to rush 
   into anything. We need to take some time to grieve this loss and wait to be led. Trying 
   to control or influence God's plan has never worked out well for anyone.  
This is the hardest post I have ever written. Our family is devastated. Our house now feels like their house. It is full of memories from last month. We are raw. We are trying to attend to the grief of our girls, but struggling because we have so little left to give. Last month, while amazing, took a lot out of us. It was exhausting. Instead of taking a breath and looking forward to their return, we are grieving the loss of our family of 8. Watching the pain of our three here is so difficult. I wish I could take it away, and yet I know in the long term it will be one of the things that teaches them to cope with future loss. It doesn't make it easier. Then my heart travels across the ocean to my other three hearts. I cannot hold them as they cry. I cannot answer when they ask, "Why?" All I can do is pray that God scoops them up in His huge and capable hands and wraps them with His love. I can't help but also pray that He gets on with the amazing part of His plan for them sooner rather than later. 
   One more thing, we know that many of you have invested financially in us adopting 
   these kids. The adoption site that we used will only reimburse us for actual expenses we 
   have (we send receipts). The majority of the money covered the cost of hosting the kids
   last month as well as upfront costs of adoption (home study, etc). If we adopt in the 
   future, we will have a head start with our home study complete already. All money left
   in the adoption fund will be dispersed to other families that did not raise enough to
   cover their adoption expenses. Therefore, all money donated has or will go toward the 
   care of orphans. That being said, if any of you would like to be reimbursed, please let
   us know. We don't want there to be any animosity about money. You can also rest 
   assured that what you donated helped bring the kids here and gave them a month with 
   a family that truly cares about them and will look out for them in the future.