Going Home

My chaplaincy residency is coming to a close.  The entire residency is finished in May, but I have one extra unit from before, and have a little one who doesn’t breathe, and a husband who misses me, and other little ones who need their Mama back, homeschool to do, and a family to fall in love with… that is my work.  That is my ministry, finally.  So it looks like I may finish in March, if I can even make it that long.  We are going day by day, my team and I, seeing how things are at home and what we need as a family.

I honestly don’t know what chaplaincy will look like in my future, but I have been obedient to what was asked of me thus far.  I will confess I am crawling to the finish line, or maybe even hobbling like one of those Olympic racers that falls down and gets carried the last bit.  I am grateful to have had the colleagues I have had, who have been so gracious and supportive while I learned to apply a bit of grace to my Self.

I am hungry to be home with my children.

My psych job in the ER is evenings, so it has made for long days to do a full time job at night after doing a full time job in the day.   But the evening shift is perfect because it means when chaplaincy residency is finished, I will have days to be home with my children!  Then I will go to work about supper time, and Nathan will tuck them in, and have some quiet hours to himself.  It will work for us for now.  It’s perfect for the season we are in right now.

Except as chaplaincy finishes, it brings up new questions.

We need our Bartlesville house to sell, because there is not work for me there and no audience for Nathan.  I got the most random jobs there, but they were so spread out I was away from home too much.  Nathan came up with all kinds of different events to see what would draw an audience, and no one came hardly at all.  More people from Owasso came to his events than people in Bartlesville, even when the event was in Bartlesville.

It’s sad to leave Bartlesville for real, though, because we loved it, and the people there.  But we wouldn’t change having been there for a minute.  As Nathan’s dad just told me, we got half our children from Bartlesville, so that’s not a bad deal at all.

But now we are in Tulsa, temporarily, having moved quickly to get all the children in Deaf school and get me close to the hospital for chaplaincy residency.  But now the residency is almost finished, and the older children got asked to be withdrawn and go back to homeschool, and the younger children are in a preschool that is the same distance from Owasso as it is from our house right now.

Also, we are struggling to get sign language interpreters at church.  One of them can’t make it to our current building.  All the rest live in Owasso.  So why are we still here?

There’s really no reason to stay in Tulsa, other than our friends (and the fact that it’s super fun).   We don’t have housing here, and my work is easy to get to from Owasso where we do already have a house, and the schools are better in Owasso plus all our homeschool friends are in Owasso if that’s what we wanted to do, and the contract for our renters ends next month.

So we have given them notice that we are not renewing their lease, and will be moving home to Owasso in April.  If we have endured all we have endured, just to gather our family, and now with Kyrie on palliative care, it’s time to go home.  We are done with fostering, done with hospitals, and ready to be home.  It’s time.

So yeah, that’s our big news for the day: we are officially moving home to Owasso in April.

Family Dramas

I got to work just after seven this morning, and am here until around 9 tomorrow morning.

Nathan was busy, with a rare visit from Anber’s grandmother.  Her aunt was to come, but did not show up, and the grandmother was almost thirty minutes late.  She was late enough we were able to contact Alex’s biological dad, who came right away and played with him.  He and Kirk and Barrett’s mother are good to all the children, and all the children see them as more aunts and uncles, I think.

It’s such a struggle.  We want contact with their biological families as much as is safe to do so for several reasons.  The most important reason is that we believe in families.  Another reason is attachment, which is so important for development.  Another reason is to help equip the children with familiarity and information as they grow up, rather than slamming them with their entire biological children when they are suddenly adults by age but still struggling with developmental disabilities.  We want to be present now, and help them navigate those questions as they grow, rather than it being on them to sort out alone when they are older.

They have been sealed to us for all eternity, and we will always be their family.

But we are not their only family, and adopting them means adopting their biological families, too.

That’s easier sometimes than others.

Mary’s mom was back in jail last week for stealing again, and her mugshot revealed she is being beaten again by the man she thinks she loves but who uses her for drugs and dirty work.  Mary’s mother hasn’t seen Mary for over a year, and her father is still in prison.

Kyrie’s father was back in jail last week, too, for drugs and stealing also.  Anber and Kyrie’s mother has been transferred to a different prison again, and is now asking for visits there.  I am more open to that idea than Nathan is, but then today the grandmother told us Kyrie’s biological family wants to steal her and take her back to Pakistan.  While that may be true, I think it is more stereotyping than actual current threat, as mostly what we have heard from that side of the family is simply that she does not exist since the two parents were never married.

What do we do with that?  How do we still reach out to them, while keeping the children safe?  It’s “easy” when a family refuses to participate like Kyrie’s father’s side of the family, or when some of them aren’t functioning enough to participate, like Mary’s mother.  But that just delays the questions instead of normalizing them, and it leaves us wondering how to reach out.

Today was big because Alex’s mother was sober and also came to the visit.  Usually it is just his father.  He was so glad to see her!  They play hard, talk about serious things, and Alex does a lot of confronting.  It’s been good for all of them, and I am in awe of their healing.

Kirk’s father’s side of the family is involved, but far away, and we want to drive there sometime for a vacation and stop and visit.  He would love it, and I know they would.  That’s a real possibility, when Kyrie is stable enough for us to be in the car like that without involving any hospitals along the way.

Barrett’s father’s side of the family is skittish about participating because they think he won’t remember them, but we still think it is important.  I keep encouraging them to try.  Anyone who has met Barrett knows that his attachment issues swing to the intrusive side of the spectrum, so meeting new people is no big deal to him.  He would do fine to meet that part of his family.

The point is, that all we can do is invite and support.  We cannot do the work for them.  We can, sometimes, depending on circumstances, even help with transportation, but we cannot make them come.  We cannot make them be interested.

Some of the parents, the ones who have tried hard for several years, and so we are building relationships with them, like with Alex’s dad and the boys’ mother, that just feels good.  We like them.  We are getting to know them.  We are, maybe, even starting to trust them.

But it also feels like as the more that develops, the more significant is the difference between the parents who do not want to participate or do not try to participate.

We know Mary’s mother has lots of struggles, but that doesn’t mean we want her out there getting beat up all the time.

But we can’t exactly keep her safe, either.

We know Anber and Kyrie’s mother is amazing, but a monster on heroin and we can’t keep her clean.

It’s a helpless feeling, this agency thing, when people are free to make their own choices.

It’s hard when you can see what good could come, but others are not ready.

It makes me wonder what are others wanting to support me through, that I just am not aware enough to receive?  How can I do better receiving the encouragement and support of others?  How can I use my own experiences to think outside the box and continue reaching out to these parents in behalf of their children?

I don’t know that we can, except through the inviting part.

That’s what the Savior did: inviting.

He didn’t compel.  He respected agency.  He broke the rules to minister to those who thought they didn’t deserve it, but he was never pushy in trying to get them to engage.

This was what I thought about today, as I worked with families in the hospital, and saw the dynamics of their families in all kinds of different scenarios.

Nathan took the children to church, where a chaplain friend was visiting today, so I was sorry to miss that, but I am glad to be able to do my turn at the hospital.  It’s been hard, between Kyrie medical dramas and my fall, to complete all my hours or be as reliable as I used to be.  But I am trying my best, and my team has been gracious to me.

In the meantime, Nathan is homeschooling second graders on days I am at work, and wrestling with an almost 2-year-old who was way cuter before the terrible two’s!  She can scream “NO” with those lungs we prayed would be strong, and hit the other children with those arms that used to be full of IV’s, spit at you with that little face usually covered in tubes, and run away from you pretty fast with those little feet in their tiny braces.

We prayed hard for this, I remind Nathan.  We prayed hard for a family.

It feels an awful lot like mortality, he says.

 

Round-Ups

I got off work a little early tonight, and so actually got to have a stay-home-date with my husband!


He made us some Korean food, which he knows how to do from his two year mission there, and I am grateful because it is delicious.


Tomorrow is my first complete day off, not scheduled to work at either hospital, for the first time since October.  I am so excited.  There are a thousand things I want to do, but nothing I want as badly as to just spend the day sleeping!  But I know what I will do, and we are all so excited, but you will have to wait and see!

In the meantime, the news on the radio as I drove home said that immigration started doing round-ups in Texas tonight, and that it is going to start in Oklahoma as well.  Regardless of politics, this issue is near to our heart after working so hard to get a green card for our oldest daughter.  We don’t talk about her much because she is grown and can tell her own story, but we love her, and watch out for her, and care about her and her family and friends.  So tonight I posted this to her Facebook page, so that she and her family and friends would be sure and know their rights.

I am so relieved that her green card finally came through, and I hope her family is being safe.

In other news, I found out I cannot get the new cochlear implant “eggs” that I got to try on because they are SEVEN THOUSAND DOLLARS EACH.   I can get a $2,000 credit voucher if I turn in my old white ones from when I first got my implants, but that would still be twelve thousand dollars!  No, thank you.  I will stick with the weight of the world hanging off my ears for right now.  My turn will come soon enough, maybe, or not, but I am okay.  Disappointed, but okay.

Know what is even more exciting?  Sherlock Holmes on Netflix.  Oh my goodness!  Nathan found it and we watched it for our date night, and it was so good!  I love it so much!  We enjoyed the time together in the quiet evening, and I am grateful just to be close enough to hold his hand after this very intense year.

I am also excited to play with the children tomorrow!  We have such big plans!  It’s going to be so great!  I already packed the car and everything, even our food.  I can’t wait!

I don’t know how I will sleep between that excitement, and being all stirred up from Sherlock Holmes, but maybe I think I am exhausted enough that sleep will come!

Haters Gonna Hate

One of my favorite things about the preschool where my little ones go is that they stay in touch with me.  They let me know when the children struggle, when they are having good days, and when they are hilarious with their cereal:

Today was a huge day, in some pretty interesting ways.

First, my “Frenemies” blog from last night got more responses from any blog since the Joplin tornado.  People really responded to it, not to my exact situation, but to their own experiences of either struggling to find friends or struggling to be one.  It’s legit hard, sometimes, but it does make finding good friends worth it.

Right now I am back in Tulsa, where I have lots of friends I do not get to see because of working two full-time jobs and spending the rest of my precious time with my family.  I am so glad this season is almost finished!  We go to a ward where I do not even know people’s names, though I recognize the kind faces who have helped our family so much, as well as some of the brave faces who greet me as I breeze past wishing I got to stop and chat (or hiding since I don’t have to try).  But my heart is full of love for them, and I don’t know what I would have done without my church family in all these hard years.

Because last night was my overnight as chaplain, that meant I had today off.  This was so great!  I got to hang out in homeschool with the second graders, and we got through laundry (again).  The little ones went to preschool still, and Kyrie went another day tube free.  Once the children were finished and outside playing, I even got our taxes finished, which is always a relief.

And then I took care of me, and took a nap.

Really!  I did!  I know you don’t believe me, but I am working seriously on self-care.  Last night my overnight shift was not one of those nights where it is quiet and I mostly get to rest and sleep even though it is not as good as being at home in my own bed with Nathan.  It was one of those nights with one code blue after another, and I was so tired today!  So instead of working harder on the house, I got the big things done, and then let the rest go, and laid down and slept for a whole forty-five minutes.  BOOM.

I remember sitting down with Nathan’s parents and with the Bayleses last summer, talking about the chaplaincy residency, and how hard it this year would be.  We were really worried about how we would get through, and that was when we thought we would have their help.  But moving to Tulsa so that I could be home those extra two hours a day before and after work, instead of driving back and forth to Bartlesville, was really worth it for our family – even though it was a lot of work to move here and we miss our family and friends there.  It was the right thing, and the focused-on-our-family thing, and I am glad we did it.  We have had so many moments together that made worlds of difference, moments we would not have had if I had hours to drive each day and missed that extra time at home.

I still miss being at home, but Nathan calls me from pickup line at the preschool, and we FaceTime with the children.

I love that man.

I call when they are finishing supper, for prayers and good night tele-kisses before he tucks them in.

Except for on extra exciting nights, when second graders have tickets to the ballet!

Many thanks to Nathan’s parents, who drove all the way down tonight to stay with the little ones while Nathan had a date with Mary, Alex, and Kirk.  They had such fun!  I am very excited for my residency to be almost finished, so I can play, too!

The other big thing today was that we got our first haters!  We got our first nasty remarks in some comments on social media, which we knew would happen as not all the reviews can be positive.  Obviously not having read the book, one lady was saying that we should have written about our experiences of fostering instead of what happened to the children before we got them.  We assured her she could get the book and learn all about our fostering experiences.

A second nastygram came in an fairly legitimate concern about us telling stories that belong to the children.  They said that we should not tell the children’s stories at all, because now we have made that public and the children don’t get a voice in what is shared.

It is actually a totally valid concern, and I agree with it.

Except that it’s not entirely accurate in our case.

Our children had stories already made public by biological families and in one case, a foster family that did not follow privacy rules and got their home shut down and all fosters removed because of it.  So their stories were already public, and some of it even on the news as well.  Because of all this, the children were being traumatized by those versions of their stories and wanted to tell it their own way.  They worked on this in therapy, sharing their story in their own way, and we still do that when we go around to speaking engagements.  But they also get to share their story through the book, and the children helped choose which stories to tell or not, and they have listened to the whole book several times and approved it before publishing.  Kyrie was too young, it’s true, but our focus on her is the advocating work, and that just requires sharing a story.

We have an older daughter who did not want to be included, and we respected her wishes.  We rarely talk about her, not because we don’t love her, but simply to respect her privacy.  As the other children have gotten older, what we share in the blog and how we share it has also changed.  The children also often pick which pictures of theirs they want to share, and still love making their song videos.  They love having a YouTube channel where they can watch a playlist of themselves!  It’s so funny!  But as they grow, we hope that shifts into their own voice in some way, and will become more about their own style and voice than us helping them do it.  We totally agree that they are individuals, and get their own votes – and that those votes shift and change as they grow.

Mostly I love that they still like dressing up in matching clothes, because I know those days are numbered.

Besides that, the response to people sharing our story through the Humans of Foster Care facebook page has been outstanding!  Emails are pouring in, of families who have now signed up to be foster parents, or foster parents who called caseworkers because now they have the courage to go ahead and adopt, or special needs moms who are now connecting together, and even many former foster and adopted youth who want to share their stories, too, and talk about how to connect with their biological families.  It’s so huge!

And on Amazon?  People buying the book?  Our book has jumped all the way up to 25,000 in the rankings (out of two million), which is huge even if not fancy, and we are grateful for people spreading the word.   We are getting so many foster agencies and CASA agencies and other advocacy groups saying they purchased it for their libraries for parents, and so many high schools and colleges who are getting the book as required reading textbooks for their classes.   We are so excited that people are finding it, and hope it is doing well.

In the meantime, I am avoiding the hard work of writing the next chapter of our next book, so I ought to work on that while I can!

Frenemies

I once walked in on my VT making plans with an old high school boyfriend to meet secretly in Texas.  She was married, but struggling.  I was a new convert, with my faith development still in the very black and white stage.

There are two problems with the black and white stage.  One is that it gives an illusion of temporal facts rather than spiritual principles, and not everyone has the same understanding or has made the same promises.  Another is that worrying about rules more than people is legalism, not compassion.  I’m pretty sure the Savior was pretty much a rebel from the rules, and always erred on the side of compassion.

Jesus as “the shepherd” is what teaches us to be “pastoral”.  Instead of confronting my friend about the phone call, how could I have instead been more supportive of my friend in her marriage struggle?  I don’t mean having affairs are okay, but I do mean she obviously already felt emotionally abandoned, so what good did I do her by abandoning her further?  I was a terrible friend, even though I was defending truth.  I was not being pastoral in how I delivered truth.  It took me a long time to understand that.

There are ways to testify of truth while still showing love.

I did not show her love, and I lost that friend.  We had been very close, and I grieved losing her for a long time.  I am forever grateful for the lesson I learned, though, because what I thought was “right” really had been so damaging.

People are important, not rules.

Because when we are talking about the laws of covenants, the only ones I am in charge of enforcing are my own.  I am responsible for the covenants I have made, not responsible for judging others who have but “sin differently than I do” or for condemning those who haven’t even made those covenants are so are not held accountable for them.

Two years later, I lost another BFF when I verbalized my own personal struggle with her struggles.  I was wary of the temptations of things from long ago that she was currently exploring.  It felt necessary for me to protect myself by fleeing from the Pharaoh’s wife like Joseph did, and just not even get anywhere near some of that old stuff.

If Nathan were in New York, and had to go out with theater friends who were drinking, he can go and not drink alcohol.  It’s not a big deal to him.  He just never has, and just doesn’t.  I maybe could do it, and would want to think I could do it, but it seems like a foolish dare to take when it is better for me to just stay home.  But it doesn’t make Nathan bad for going, and it certainly doesn’t make drinkers “bad” when they haven’t made a covenant not to do so.

Nathan and I have promised not to drink alcohol.  He just doesn’t, and picks something else.  I choose to not even get that close.  I can drink water at home!

That may be the best thing, but I felt convicted when a friend was struggling with her own issues and wanted to explore the difference between her embedded theology and her deliberate theology.  Embedded theology has to do with the faith tradition you grow up in, while deliberate theology has to do with growing your own faith – like gaining your own testimony, rather than just relying on what everyone has always told you.  Sometimes, developmentally, when people are shifting from embedded theology to deliberate theology, it looks like backsliding or rebellion, even though it’s actually progress.  I so wanted to support my friend in this journey, and be present with her, but for me it was true that her exploration would be my rebellion, and I could not go there.

But again, I was not very pastoral about it.   Maybe Joseph wasn’t very pastoral when he fled the scene, either.  Because sometimes fleeing really is the best thing.  So maybe I did the best I could.  Well, I know in both situations – with my VT and my friend two years later – I did the best I could, really.  But my best wasn’t very helpful to my friends.

I wasn’t pastoral.  I was judging their choices instead of focusing on my own, and judging the implications of my supporting them instead of just being a friend.  It can be tricksy sometimes.  So while it is true there are some things I myself may need to avoid or even flee from in effort to keep my own covenants that I have made myself, it is the Spirit’s role to convict hearts.  I have no authority to condemn people.

It’s like being a parent.  You can’t nurture your children by shouting at your children until they are compelled into obedience.  That only teaches them how to scream while resenting you.   If I were to follow the pattern of the Savior, I would be loving them, which would invite them to change.

I think this is one of many reasons I got called to chaplaincy.  It isn’t because I was so smart, or so special, or even so spiritual.  It was because I was a lousy friend.  Chaplaincy taught me about being “pastoral”, and helped me grow in self-awareness about why I struggled with people skills.  Or just people, in general, which is pretty ironic since I’m a counselor and all.

Counselors are crazy, most of the time.  I’m sure of it.  Why else would we be so good at what we do?  It’s our language, folks.  Crazy.

But when we learn how to be more pastoral, or at least start practicing to get a little better at it each day, relationships improve dramatically.  Whether my work with patients, or interacting with people with whom I disagree, or whether getting to know people who are very different from my little world that obviously needs expanding, anyway.

This week I took the children with me to the Owasso High School “Equality Club”, where we presented about the story of our family.  We talked about different disabilities, different races, and different backgrounds.  Then we listened as they shared about gender issues, orientation issues, disability experiences, and racial tensions.  It was super intense, and I took the second graders with me, so we had lots to process after we finished.  But I think it was really good for them, and I know they are already better friends to others than I am even now.

But that’s the kind of thing parenting teaches you, how to be a better person and all.

Because as it turns out, you can’t really teach the children anything you aren’t willing to teach yourself.

What?  I know!

It’s like Love and Logic for adulting.  Yikes.

Because as it turns out, to be friends with others, you have to stop being a frenemy with yourself.

To be friendly toward your children, you have to stop being a frenemy with yourself.

To be pastoral with those around me, I have to really actually truly believe The Lord really is my Shepherd.

It’s a learning curve, you guys.

 

Homeschool: Black History Month, Week One

We have already introduced the concepts of “prejudice” and “privilege” and “racism” when we did this project:

 

We re-watched that video to transition into Black History Month by going to see Hidden Figures.  We talked about the historical context, and processed after about the things they noticed that were oppressive or due to prejudice, privilege, or racism.  We then explored the new terms of “segregation” and “desegregation”, using the movie examples of the separate water fountains, bathrooms, coffee pots, library areas, and schools as the children noticed them in the movie.

To stretch their understanding of other important historical figures, and to start connecting some of the timeline from slavery to civil rights to current protests, we focused this week on a few other famous black heroes – this time each child picking a hero to study more in depth and work on a project to present to the rest of the family.  We watched some videos to get us started as Mary picked  Rosa Parks, Kirk picked Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., and Alex picked Muhammed Ali.

We also read this book:

 

We also, of course, watched the “I Have a Dream” speech, and used THESE WORKSHEETS to memorize pieces of it and write our own speeches.

 

In the worksheet, it has the speech written out in pieces easy to memorize.  But it also properly has the quotation marks when he references other texts.  So we had good practice at identifying commas, different kinds of punctuation, and quotation marks specifically.  We also got to talk about poetry, poetry in prose, and other techniques like parallels and allusions, as well as rhythm and black preaching.  They loved this!

We then went back to the quotation marks and were able to look up the items, like the Constitution, and the Declaration of Independence, for example, that each of those quotes referenced.  We then got to expand social studies and science both, talking about how these documents are preserved.

 

 

The other quotation marks are in reference to the song, Free at Last, so we looked it up, too, and learned about Negro Spirituals and work songs.

 

Then we watched a group perform a version of Free at Last:

 

That took us to music, and they loved singing this song!  We talked about the word “negro” and why it was used and how it was taken by white people and used in ugly ways, even becoming uglier words, and how we do not use ugly words for people, nor do we use any words at people.  We talked about Mary being bi-racial, and how she will choose as she grows up which words are more comfortable for her, whether that is Black, or Black-Biracial, or African American, or not, or something else.  We have talked with some of her biological family about these issues, so she is exploring it already on her own and shared some of her feelings.

We used her example of this exploring what it means to be her to connect all the way back to Hidden Figures.  This time we talked about all the “firsts” those women accomplished and what they fought for, and how sometimes it was very simple things they could do in every day life to make big changes for many people.  Courage doesn’t always have to be big for it to be meaningful.   That brought us to the simple but powerful story of Rosa Parks, which we studied HERE.  Then we used THIS WORKSHEET to structure our discussion and THIS COLOR SHEET to explore our responses to what we learned.

 

When we talked about Cassius Clay, or Muhammad Ali, we used THIS WORKSHEET to help focus Alex especially on some of the things we learn from this hero rather than only the fighting!  Autism makes understanding something like boxing tricksy, and I can’t have him running around punching everybody.  So while I thought it was a great pick for him, we did need to focus his ideas, and that worksheet helped as it told the story of him overcoming his fear of flying.  I then used THIS SITE to talk about how Muhammad Ali actually struggled because he loved attention so much, but grew into a humble man.  And yes, we watched the boxing clip!  We also used the talk about boxing rings, which are circles, to bring in math.  We talked about measuring and length and area, and practiced doing that on squares and rectangles and measuring lengths of prize ribbons.   We also used the time clock to review time, and the counting down of minutes in seconds, and doing some multiplication for how many times he won if each event had three rounds.  It was so great!

Just to top it off, and to ask for my own natural consequences, we did use boxing to have PE, and talk a little about the rules – and how to play hard while still following the rules. That seems risky, maybe, but super important!  It’s actually super critical, especially with Alex’s autism or Kirk’s cerebral palsy or Mary’s Deafness, to be able to hear the directions accurately and be able to follow them without getting out of control.  We thought it was a great day!




And after all that restraint about peaceful protesting, I think they were super excited about learning how to Box!

 

Who knew it would be teaching them to box that would finally make them so QUIET?!

What fun we had today!

Some Day Sabbaths

Fast and Testimony Sundays always bring with it the added layer of limited coping skills, when you are hungry which somehow makes you tired and weak, and reliant on your faith and spiritual self in a whole new real way than when you can just avoid feeling anything by eating what you want when you want.

We crawled to church, all of us, ready by noon but somehow still not storming the building until after one.  Because they have been baptized, the second graders want to fast and are trying, though we would of course give them food if they chose or needed it.  The preschoolers have asked to skip breakfast because they want to be cool like the big kids, but they eat lunch on the way like Kyrie does.

The point, then, is to keep as easy a morning as possible, so that fewer coping skills are actually needed, right?  So we make sure everyone but Mary and Anber has showered the evening before, and then keep things low key as everyone takes turns getting dressed while I do Mary and Anber’s new braids for the week.

This morning it was watching their own YouTube channel, where they have all their parody songs posted in a playlist so it just loops one after another.  They love this, and its the most accessible home movies ever, after the old filmstrips Nathan and I used to have when we were little!  We also get fun notes from other families who also let it play for their children, some of them other kids in the hospital like Kyrie, so we are glad to cheer them up!

This morning, though, was extra special for our morning cuddles together.  They wanted to watch their playlist of the adoption videos as well.  I don’t know if they were just feeling sentimental, or if it was because of seeing Alex’s dad and Kirk and Barrett’s mom recently, or if it was our recent news that Anber and Kyrie’s mother has gone to prison, Mary’s mom is back in jail, and Kyrie’s father is back in jail.   Now all my girls have both sets of biological parents in jail.  Sigh.  It’s been rough news around here, even if it is also a relief as far as safety goes.

We have tried to liven it up with fun things, though.  They have figured out the “live feed” on the Keeping Kyrie fan page on Facebook, so have had fun sharing silly time with friends and family that way:

 

The second graders also had a very funny day in homeschool last week as we talked about Groundhogs!

 

It’s so funny that technology can keep us connected in such simple ways.  I am so grateful!   I know it can be abused, and the kids are more and more in charge of what they share on the blog or fan pages as they get older, but it has been really good for staying in touch with family and friends.  Or even me!  Nathan and the children sent me this video while I was at work tonight after church:

 

I shared my testimony of these joys in church this morning, not because I had anything planned or fancy to say, but because it is true.  It has been eight years since I met the missionaries, and I am so grateful!  Everything changed, and we have endured some hard experiences, but all of it has been progress and I wouldn’t change a moment.  Happiness does not depend on our circumstances, but it is something we create as we love and serve one another.  I am so grateful Heavenly Father had mercy on me to show me such a thing, and so grateful for this family that has been gathered and the family we are becoming!  What a life we share, and what adventures we have!

Civil Disobedience

The day I got cancer?  That was bad news.

Life-changing bad news, the kind that takes ages to recover from and the kind where even if you survive, nothing will ever be the same again.

The day we brought Kyrie home from the hospital (the first time)?  That was amazing news.

It was amazing news, but the kind where you knew life was going to be really hard for a long time and there was no way around it.

Keeping up with politics the last two weeks?  That was INSANE.

There was so much happening so fast!

Nathan and I are trying to read to be aware and understand, and he is way braver than I am in some ways for asking questions publicly on social media.  I mostly just read both sides of the story and compare, then talk to him and a few select friends who can discuss without being pushy one way or another.  We have been surprised how negatively some people have responded just to questions, and grateful for others who have had the maturity to discuss without imposing their own beliefs or being ugly about it.

I won’t speak for Nathan, but I will say that I am a registered Independent.  I want to study the people, and the issues, and the party responses, rather than commit myself as a “member” of that kind of nationalism.  It feels dangerous to me, but maybe I read too many books from hundreds of years ago and ought to catch up to modern times.

I do participate consistently, though, and make a decision in time before primaries and re-register so I can vote how I want in primaries before the big elections come.  I want to be independent of the two party-system by default, but that doesn’t mean I vote for a third party candidate.  The one in Oklahoma this year was nuts!  The other big one in the country wasn’t an option in my state.  The big one before him, who lost to Hillary, had a few cool ideas, but no way could he pull it off.  America just wasn’t ready for that kind of change.  It wasn’t going to work even he stayed independent.

I don’t want to commit to a third party any more than I want to commit to one of the polarized parties.  It just is creepy to me, and makes me feel all suffocated.  I’m just too oppositional, I think.  I wouldn’t even be a member of my church if I didn’t have such a testimony of its truth, and its a miracle I ever married Nathan, excepting that he was so exactly me that even I knew it.

But now here we are, with a new President and everyone is all cranky about it.  Some people like him and are being really inconsiderate of the people who are still adjusting, and other people don’t like him and seem to be shouting all the time.  It has been such a politically charged atmosphere, and it seems the unfolding of events – or, rather, the response of the people, has really polarized everyone.  It feels divisive and gross.

Thomas Paine said:

“Those who expect to reap the blessings of liberty
must undergo the fatigue of supporting it.”

I have thought about that quote a lot as the last few weeks have unfolded in all its drama.

I believe our government, though not always its people, has something true and special about it that is unique from other governments.

Maybe that’s like a church, where you believe it is true even though the people that make it up are so human and full of mistakes sometimes.

I also believe that our Constitution, which establishes and explains our government, is most sacred.

But I see this play out with the Bible, when I work as a chaplain, and so many people interpret the same thing a hundred different ways.

So it’s tricky.

It gets even trickier when people are so passionate about what is happening: some people are passionate because they are so excited for serious changes the government has needed for a long time, and other people are passionate because they are actually afraid for different groups of people and the future of us all.

All of them, though, are having trouble keeping up with what all is happening because so much is happening so fast!  I read in one place that previous Presidents have had three or four major things on their schedule each day, but Trump has an hourly agenda.  They say he only sleeps three or four hours a night, so it’s no wonder he can work so hard so fast.  It seems he is working the government the same as he worked a business: on overtime, with his staff running to keep up with him!

I think he’s also the first President to use social media to the degree that he does.  There has been a presence for a while, but not personal use or the frequency or intensity of that presence like there is now.  It’s like having a live Eagle cam, except instead of little baby birds we have the Oval Office and all that’s happening.  That’s legit, and feels intense in a new way, something different than our society has ever experienced before.  It’s like we just got the first television set, all over again.

This experience also requires, developmentally, a higher level of thinking and processing than just critical or abstract.  Almost everything that happens in the White House now has two sides to it, and we the people are left wrestling with it and what it all means and what the implications might be.  It’s uncomfortable.  It’s easier when things are black and white, or this and that, or we have some preparation time before our whole lives change again.

For example, news that Trump wants to cut funding for the arts was heartbreaking, right?  Obviously with Nathan’s background and the education level we have and the activities we enjoy with our children, we are great fans of the arts and theater and music.  It’s really, really important to us, and we believe in its value in our culture and its impact on the development of our children.

But at the same time, we know Trump is serious about the budget.  And when our family is keeping a strict budget, we have similar cuts.  We don’t get to go to the movies or the symphony or the ballet or fancy art shows.  We may get free tickets to the dress rehearsals, or go on a free Saturday at the museum, but frivolous stuff like that gets cut from our budget when every penny goes to keeping your baby alive… even though we really, really, really love it.

It’s one of those times you just wish you were wealthy, in an imaginary and obscene amount of wealth kind of way, so that you could just rescue the programs by funding them forever.

Because they are worth it.

One thing we can all agree on, though, is how honest Trump is.  I mean, lots of people talk about lies, and there are all the arguments about “alternative facts”, but what I mean to say is that Trump is doing exactly what he said he would do.  In fact, the very language of the rhetoric of the executive orders is taken directly from the campaign trail.  So while he may be super aggressive and doing more than we can keep up during his very long work days, he is doing what he already said he would do.  No one should be surprised, even if they disagree with him.

The text of the executive orders in the last few weeks also reveal how involved that Bannon guy is.  He has a very apocalyptic view of the world, and some of the hysteria from the people will only reinforce his views.  The people who do not agree with Trump need to be very careful how they respond, or there will literally be more of what they already don’t like.

And Bannon means business: he’s the one who broke the bio-dome, you guys!

In fact, some people are saying that Trump wanted to move more slowly with all the changes, but Sessions and Bannon were the ones who wanted to hit hard from the beginning and push so much through all at once before there was much opposition.

True or not, it also seems that when there is big drama over one thing, ten more things happen that slip past the media.  I wish everyone would simmer down so we could all pay attention.  That would be more effective than just being fussy.

That begs the question, then, when to fuss or when to just be present.  One Muslim friend told me that since they have had to condemn extremists of their faith for sixteen years since 9/11, then moderate Republicans should condemn the Alt-Right now that they are fighting extremists in their own party.  Those are big words!

At the other end of the spectrum, an evangelical friend told me that all the personal inappropriateness from Trump before he was President should just be let go already, because it was in the past and because the office of President isn’t personal.  I think for me, it feels more personal because Trump is so present and active in his own social media story.  Maybe that’s just me still adjusting through the transition from reality star to real life, maybe.

The circumstances of our family also make it personal, of course.  That’s true of any family.  The way it impacts us is the comments DeVos made about special needs children.  That exchange got my attention since I have six special needs children, obviously.   The other piece that got our attention was the immigrant issue, which is why we let our children respond so directly as I stated before, since our faith tradition is built on immigrants, and our ancestors are immigrants, and we never would have had Kyrie without Muslim immigrants.  Her biological family was directly caught in that drama, and it’s been hard to see those issues at a personal level rather than just the broad view of politics.  We also have our oldest daughter whom we fought for so long to help get her green card, which is now at risk, plus our friends from India and Mongolia and Korea who are immigrants and have families in other countries that are affected.

The other big piece affecting us is if Trump really moves Medicaid to “block grants” or repeals or defunds the ACA, which would affect our children who have already met their lifetime caps otherwise, and all of us who each have different pre-existing conditions.  So no matter what the actual issues are, as soon as those topics start getting debated in politics, we get anxious and start paying attention and maybe sometimes are even afraid.  Having insurance or having those protections help make us feel safe, so it’s scary when those issues are even on the radar, much less threatened, even when in reality maybe nothing would change or everything will be fine.

Sometimes it’s not about facts or alternative facts, but about the experience of the facts.

A friend told me this morning that Trump has good plans for the country as a whole, but is just terrible at social skills.  Another friend debated back that it wasn’t about Trump at all, but that Republicans are good for the economy but Democrats are good for humanity.  I think that for me, whether any of those perceptions are true or not, a girl sure thinks about it differently when she has six special needs children to raise.

Franklin D. Roosevelt said:

“We must scrupulously guard the civil rights and civil liberties of all citizens, whatever their background. We must remember that any oppression, any injustice, any hatred, is a wedge designed to attack our civilization.”

I think that’s the start of the answer, when debates over politics start to intrude upon civil rights.  That’s the answer to the question about when to fuss or not.  That’s the answer that comes when you ask about how long do I wait before I protest in defense of my faith?  How long am I quiet before I shout for the protection of my daughters who will grow up as women in this world?  How long do I listen to political sparring before letting my mind wander to my brown daughters, to my ability-challenged children, to the supplies and doctors and equipment I need to keep my baby alive?

Political ploy or manipulation tactic or real life or not, when even other countries around the world start an outcry against what feels like certain groups targeted, and comparing it to things that happened with Hitler, how can I not respond to that?  It pulls at my heart because I have been to Israel, because I have studied its history and its people, because I have been to the candle-mirror-memorial where the lives of children were ended to quickly and too violently and without anyone speaking up for them.

I promised, that very day, I would speak up.

Never again, we say on Holocaust Memorial Day.

So I think it’s fair to be diligent, even if this is not that.

Because we have to stop this before it is that.

So it’s fair to take two weeks to listen and learn and watch and see, to ask questions until you understand, to even protest or speak up or shout out against oppression, even if just to be sure you are on record as saying That. Was. Not. Okay.  Never.  Again.

Henry David Thoreau wrote that:

“true patriots are not those who blindly followed their administration
[but] those who followed their own consciences and in particular, the principle of reason.”

I believe in America.

I believe in the Constitution.

I believe in our government being the best we know how to do so far.

I might even be proud of it, of our country, of us.

I appreciate that there are some things needed to protect our country and its government that are sometimes very uncomfortable, whether that be budget cuts or protests about them.

I appreciate that we have the right to discuss and debate and even dissent.

I appreciate that we are empowered to “undergo the fatigue of supporting” that which we call “liberty” and “freedom” and this government charged with ensuring rights for all of us as humans sharing this land together.

I can barely run my family of eight, and have no idea how the leader of a whole country can do it – especially with every single moment highlighted on television or social media.

My friends who are Republicans are saying that Trump is doing exactly what he promised, and that it’s all good and will help things, and just to trust him and watch and see.

My friends who are Democrats are still grieving the loss of the Obamas, feel Trump is being tricksy, and are overwhelmed by so much change so fast.

I read this morning in Alma 60, where there is a story of our champion Moroni complaining about the government.

Well, he doesn’t complain at first.  In fact, he specifically does not complain.  He trusts the government to “govern the people” and “manage [their] affairs”.  So even when things were hard, and resources scant, and the people were hungry and had little help, he did not complain.

He didn’t complain until he felt the government had actually neglected the people instead of caring for them.

Even then, he didn’t really complain about the government so much as protest by confronting directly and just straight up discussing it.

And in that protest, he notes how once again the people are in crisis only because they first allowed themselves to be divided by contention.  He writes:

Yea, had it not been for the war which broke out among ourselves; yea, were it not for these king-men, who caused so much bloodshed among ourselves; yea, at the time we were contending among ourselves, if we had united our strength as we hitherto have done; yea, had it not been for the desire of power and authority which those king-men had over us; had they been true to the cause of our freedom, and united with us, and gone forth against our enemies,…

But then he says something subtle but super important:

But why should I say much concerning this matter? For we know not but what ye yourselves are seeking for authority. We know not but what ye are also traitors to your country.

He asks the government, through what he writes during this little protest, what is actually going on.  He says why they are scared, and what they are concerned about, and why it is frightening.  He calls them out, giving voice to the people, and stands his ground in protest until he gets an answer.

Now, in that story, he does get an answer, and everything gets untangled, and Moroni goes on to support the government in conquering a rebellion.

But the point is, the questions were fair.

Sometimes in the church world, we forget that questions are part of the process.

In our church particularly, we cannot forget the power of questions, not when our entire faith tradition is founded upon one young man’s questions.

We see in the scriptures over and over again how nations fall because they are divided among themselves, because of contentions that leave them vulnerable.

We are becoming a country divided, and I wonder what can we do to rise above that, to learn to listen to each other and not lose hope in one another?

What can we do to celebrate the triumphs of those with whom we disagree?

What can we do to slow down and have compassion on those who don’t see what we can understand?

Are these not the very covenants we make at baptism, to mourn with those who mourn and to comfort those in need of comfort?

We cannot rise above as long as we see the drama as us versus them, whether that be conservative versus liberal, or Republican versus Democrat, or my God versus your God.

None of that is of God.

None of that brings peace.

There are ways to understand each other, even if we disagree.

There are ways to appreciate each other, even from different perspectives.

There are ways to stand together, to hold the hand of someone a world away, to be a light to those who don’t want to be unheard, or forgotten, or to be left alone.

This is the answer to every religious question, my supervisor said today:  LOVE.

These experiences transform us, with “form” referring to who we are and “trans” referring to “beyond”.  How can we grow beyond who we were yesterday?  Is that not our theology, even as Latter-day Saints, even as we talk about eternal progression?

I don’t have a personal audience with Donald Trump, but I can talk to my representatives about the needs of my families.

I can’t protect everyone on the planet from all the terrorists out there, but I can work on my own self-talk so that when I get poked by others there is nothing but love to come out.

I can’t help my friends get into the country to be safe, but I can send them supplies that they need to be well until we know what is going on.

I can’t rescue the arts budget for the nation, but I can teach my children to love the worlds of music and color and imagination.

I can’t keep up with the political news as fast as it is coming out, but I can make a difference in the lives of my neighbors.

I can’t make other people agree with what I think about which issues are important or why, but I can listen to them and learn why their issues are important to us all.

In memory of our God, our religion, and freedom, and our peace, our wives, and our children—

~ Alma 46:12