Wednesday, September 21, 2016

Seeking Solitude in the Digital Age

Had I not accepted an unusual challenge during my senior year of college, I doubt I’d be currently aware of how my heart longs for quiet.

The challenge was to choose a spiritual discipline I’d never intentionally practiced before and find a way to observe it for one week.

The list included disciplines I was well acquainted with, such as prayer, fasting, and meditation. As I read on, I began to wonder if there was a spiritual discipline unfamiliar to me. When I read “Solitude” I honestly had to admit I didn’t even know what practicing solitude meant. All I could picture was living in the wilderness, wearing a brown robe cinched with a rope, and making my own butter.

The whole idea seemed highly impractical, but I do love a challenge.

The year was 2001. At the time, I owned a cell phone but for emergencies only. Because it seemed like such a novelty, I constantly told myself it cost $220 per minute to use (which it might have because I was most definitely roaming where I went to school) so it just took up space in my purse. The internet was up and running, but when writing research papers one still needed to cite real books. Email had become a thing, yet my friends and I utilized it to write each other letters. Upon receiving an email, I would print it out and save it in a special shoebox where I also kept my handwritten notes from friends and family. While I owned a television, I didn’t purchase cable, so I could really only use the VCR unless I wanted to watch something badly enough to get the tin foil out and begin problem solving to make our antenna work. AOL Instant Messenger was new and, on occasion, I would chat with a few friends who had it. LOL was the only initialism I recall ever reading, and I never once used it myself.

When I decided to practice solitude I knew I needed to set guidelines for myself. At the time, I lived off campus and had a week where I was staying alone. My classes were scheduled on Tuesdays and Thursdays and I was only taking a few credits as I had already met most of my graduation requirements. With this schedule, I realized I could avoid contact with people five out of seven days. I also chose to eliminate listening to any music, watching any screens, and any use of the phone. Having completed all of my final papers, I had already packed my computer up and sent it home. Therefore, I had no internet. Believe it or not, while I didn’t make a rule for this, I also don’t remember reading nonfiction books.

Given I spent most of my time alone that week, and that I had been struggling with loneliness going into the week, one might wonder what I did with my time.

I still wonder that. I remember reading, journaling, cooking, and cleaning. I remember life becoming peaceful, my heart becoming light, and time passing fast.

Toward the end of the week, I was surprised to realize I was no longer lonely. In fact, I wanted to find a way to extend my week of solitude. My heart had found the very quiet it needed. Which was the quiet I had been robbing myself of out of fear- the quiet I usually spent my hours distracting myself from.

Human connections are imperative for all of us. Yet, when I deny myself of solitude, my relationships suffer. I’m too scattered to listen and respond well.

Social media and email are tools, and in order to use them to enhance connections, I need to set the rules.

I don’t want to live distracted by ads, text notifications, social media, and email.

At this point in my life, a week of solitude seems nearly impossible. Still, I know I need to make some changes to quiet my heart. Last week, I made a social media schedule for myself. According to this schedule, I should not be on social media during one minute I would otherwise be spending with my children. I also purchased an ancient word processor to write on so I’m focused during time I’ve chiseled out for writing.

I took these measures after hearing my three-year-old ask me three times before his words began to register, “Mommy, are you listening to me?”

He shouldn’t have to wonder.

My life is complicated enough. At times I am distracted by weighty matters that seem like threats to my family’s well-being. With or without social media, there will always be times I have difficulty being present for my loved ones.

I do have the power to limit distractions.

When I am brave enough to use that power, I’m free to carve out fragments of quiet I once believed were unobtainable as a parent.

As a result, I’m more present with my loved ones- something our hearts mutually desire.

Can you relate? Join the Conversation, here,
on Facebook, and on Twitter. Also, remember, I’m scheduling posts and responding when I can give you my full attention too!

Thursday, August 25, 2016

Adoption: Was it a Mistake?


Six months after our sons came home, I began to wonder if I’d made a monumental mistake.

All five of us were miserable.

Was it my fault?

Would our sons have been better off in another family?

Unable to sleep, I tossed and turned wondering if every member of our family was going to continue suffering, reaping the repercussions of my mistake for their entire lives.

I wondered if my error in judgment had ruined us.

But I’m realizing my ignorant, angry, and fearful responses to my children’s pain (as displayed through their behavior) hurt our family more than any one of my children’s behavior ever could.

Every single time I took my child’s behavior personally, I made the wrong choice.

Each time I refused to empathize with the pain behind my child’s behavior, I made the wrong choice.

Each time I allowed my fear to control my responses to my child, rather than letting love lead, I made the wrong choice.

I’ve made a lot of mistakes.

Many of them leading to my family’s distress.

Bringing my children home was not one of them.

Can you relate? Join the Conversation, here,
on Facebook, and on Twitter.

[FYI:  Matt and I make our major decisions together. Yet, this blog is where I share my story.]

Foster Care & Faith

On hearing this, Jesus said to them, “It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick.

I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners.”

Mark 2:17

As a young adult I worked as a live-in houseparent at a home for children in foster care. After living with and caring for a house full of girls who had experienced early childhood trauma, I spent an hour with a college friend and former ministry colleague.  
“You’re just not the same, Nicole. At all,” he all but mourned.
“You just aren’t happy-go-lucky anymore. You seem more… you seem… you seem more… realistic. Less optimistic.”
His words stung. Not because they were incorrect. Though unintentionally accusatory, his words were accurate. My worldview had been impacted by pain and suffering.
During that year, I had learned how devastating life could be for children who were no less deserving of a happy home than I had been as a child. As I’d attempted to love children from hard places, I’d been punched in the face both figuratively and literally. My car had been vandalized, my personal items had been stolen, and I had once dislocated my shoulder commandeering a broomstick from a child who was threatening to beat my coworker with it.
Many nights I cried myself to sleep. All of my best ideas had been exhausted and I was hopeless.
I had failed many times in an area I’d once considered myself strong in… loving others.

Thursday, August 18, 2016

Our Summer Rhythm

Confession:  While I love writing and connecting with friends through writing, my ability to publish a blog post is greatly hindered by school vacation.


School breaks present unique challenges in our family, often resulting in emotional regression and exhaustion for all of our members.

I want to love summer, but as I strive to meet one or two of my children’s needs, it feels as if I’m actively neglecting the needs of my other children.

For years, we fell into an unnatural, summer routine of meeting one child’s needs while everyone else waited in line- becoming less healthy by the moment.

Until this current season.

Over the years we’ve realized our two children who are adopted need an unusual amount of structure to feel safe and enjoy themselves.

This makes sense to me. When two of my sons came to live with us as older children they had no reason to trust me. They weren’t calmed by the rhythm of my heartbeat or voice, and they probably had little reason to believe I was capable of meeting their basic needs.

When my two biological sons were born, they would cry and I would meet their needs. They already knew my scent, voice, and the rhythm of my heartbeat and, therefore, my presence was regulating for them. Through closeness and repetitions of me meeting their physical needs, my sons began to expect me to to be close and to meet their needs. They began to trust me. They eventually began to sleep longer between feedings and we established a natural routine based on trust.

For two of my children, the rhythm of our routine is comparable to the regulating nature of a mother’s heartbeat. [Tweet This]

After almost six years, I see signs my children are trusting me outside of the routine. But still, they thrive with as much routine as I can provide.

Therein lies the problem:  our two children who don’t have a history of developmental trauma are stressed out and inhibited by the intense structure that causes their brothers to thrive.

Yes, our four children enjoy each other and can have one or two weeks of vacation together in relative harmony. (Which is a recent thing, a major blessing, and something we do not take lightly.)

But after that initial two weeks, two children are looking for structure and two are pining for down time.

We tried day camp to add structure, and it wasn’t healthy for our children. For a couple years our sons attended a therapeutic camp and they loved it! The staff even knew how to make the transition smooth as to minimize loss. Sadly, the camp had an “off” year and as one treatment provider said, “If you’re going to run a therapeutic camp, you can’t have an off year.”

She’s right. That camp, exceptional while it lasted, is no longer an option for our family.

This year, with the help of our state, we were able to hire a babysitter (who is a friend) for a few weeks. Each day, for those weeks, she repeated a routine that was comfortable and involved a tremendous amount of physical activity and fresh air for our sons.

They had a blast! Beyond having a blast, this is the first summer our family has continued to make real relational progress and was able to begin the school year strong.
Our summer solution this year is by no means the solution for all families with a complicated dynamic. It might not even be the solution for us next year. I share our experience because I want you to know that if you somewhat dread summer due to the unique obstacles it presents for your family- you’re not alone!

I know how it feels to take a Facebook break because I cannot read one more status update from a glowing parent anticipating the bliss of endless summer days with her children.

I know what it’s like to adore my child and cry myself to sleep because I’m not sure I’ll ever get one moment’s rest from meeting his complex needs- moments I desperately need to preserve my patience so I can love him well.

Like some of you reading, I celebrate unique milestones such as our first summer of continuous fun and uninterrupted progress.

And, for the first time, I have high hopes for our next school vacation.

Let’s connect on Facebook and Twitter

Thursday, July 28, 2016

Catching Kindness from My Children

 Who/what inspires you to be kind? Explain why they/it inspires you to do so.

I’m inspired to be kind when I recognize how naturally tender and empathetic my children are if I’m sensitive and kind to them. My worst regrets in life are times I could have been listening more carefully to their behavior and words, and chose rather to ignore their emotional needs for the sake of convenience.

It’s important to be kind to others, but it’s just as important to be kind to yourself. What do you do (or plan on doing) to be kind to yourself (either as a mother, as a professional, or as a woman)?

One major improvement I need to make is to schedule the predictable breaks I desperately need to lower my stress. When I’m less stressed, I’m naturally more sensitive, friendly, generous, and considerate to those I interact with each day.

It’s often said that kindness is easier said than done. As a parent, what valuable advice can you give for showing kindness to others (especially to those who may not seem like they want or deserve it)?

Because I’m continually learning valuable lessons as a parent, it’s becoming more natural for me to see others in the same way that I see my children. My children do the best they can do with the skills they currently have in their toolbox. When they aren’t doing well, they typically need rest, food, or for me to teach them how to do better in any given struggle.
When I remind myself to give others the same grace I give my children, I am more kind. Often as a result, my children see grace modeled and learn to be grace-givers. 

Read the full interview here at 

Monday, July 18, 2016

Fear or Love

Fear is powerful.

But not as powerful as love.

Fear builds walls.

Love builds bridges.

Fear must create “others” in order to define self

and dismiss others to approve of self.

Love makes unexpected friendships

-being completely unaware of self.

Fear is against.

Love is too busy standing for and with to have her attention diverted.

Fear survives.

Love thrives.

As I scroll through my Facebook feed, I'm met with fear-filled posts that are dismissive to strategically created "others." As I read, I'm reminded that those who are defensive are currently submitting to fear and, therefore, momentarily, incapable of love 

                                               - just as I am incapable of love when I'm a slave to fear. 

And I recall  treasured words I memorized as a child- words I still believe and cling to...

“There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment. The one who fears is not made perfect in love.” 1 John 4:18

Sunday, July 10, 2016

Let's Be Brave, White Parents of Future Black Men

My husband, Matt, is an excellent story teller. He comes alive in every detail of each moment in such a way that his stories can often be longer than the event they’re describing. He’s engaging and people hang on his every word.

However, there is one story I despise hearing from him- the story of how he and his friend Ryan were roughed up by police officers outside of Chicago.

Matt and Ryan were driving in Matt’s swanky 1988 Ford Taurus and were pulled over because Matt didn’t use his blinker correctly. During their drive, they had been listening to a lecture by one of their college professors on a handheld mini-recorder. Seeing the flashing lights behind them, Ryan suggested they record their interaction with the officers on the recorder. Matt thought the idea was hilarious and Ryan crossed his arms and positioned the mini recorder so that it was pointing out from under his left arm.

As the officer approached Matt’s window and looked into the car, he suddenly jumped back and ran back to his vehicle because- as the black men reading this have realized all along- the end of the recorder resembles the barrel of a handgun.

What followed was forty-five minutes of being surrounded by twelve squad cars, listening to screaming obscenities over a megaphone, being ripped out of the car, slammed and pinned on the ground, cuffed by S.W.A.T. team members with guns drawn, and, Ryan, having a gun pushed into his ribs (as the officer said, “If you make one move, you’ll be breathing through your chest.”)

Every time I hear the story, all I can think of is how close to death Matt was.

Still, when Matt tells the story he's clear that even though the incident was physically excruciating and terrifying, the officers acted appropriately considering the situation.

And I’m quickly reminded of how two of my children would never have survived the same ordeal.

Matt and his friend Ryan evoked fear in the officers because they appeared to be armed and ready to fire.

As two of my sons grow up they will elicit fear because of the color of their skin.

They are so innocent.

Yet, we’re raising them in a culture where they will one day be guilty until proven innocent.

We have to learn how to better parent them so they can be the safest they can be in a world that sees them as a threat.

We Need to Listen

When it comes to racism, we can learn concepts, but we will never have the opportunity to learn from experience. We live in an age where it is easy to find voices to listen to. We need to listen to black men and women. We need to listen to mothers of black men and women. We need to listen to grandmothers of black men and women.

We need to listen to the angriest voices. We need to listen to the voices that make us most uncomfortable.

We cannot pick and choose. Every black person has a perspective and that perspective is influenced by his or her experience and every experience shared is a gift as it’s an opportunity for us to learn so we can become better parents and community members.

With adoption, it is particularly important that we listen to transracial adoptee voices. Once I heard an adoptee speak about how different her life was as a black woman once she went to college because she was no longer experiencing the umbrella of white privilege she had by being her parents’ daughter.

It was the first time I realized my black children experience white privilege.

It was the first time I realized one day they won’t.

Unfortunately, many of us adoptive parents didn’t realize the impact of racism before adopting black sons, and now, we aren’t immersed fully enough in communities of color.

We Need to Humbly Seek and Engage in Community

We need community to raise our children well and our children need role models who look like them.

I couldn’t agree with him more. Furthermore, as white parents of black children we need to embrace humility so our black friends know they can directly confront us on the parenting of our children. We need to invite their criticism.

Beyond that, my sons need to have safe men to look up to who look like them. My children shouldn’t be responsible for finding everyday role models on their own.

If I want my sons to respond to racism safely, bravely, and in a way that evokes respect, I must raise them in relationships with people who experience racism.

We Need to Take What We Learn and Teach our Sons the Rules

Often, with adoption and children with a history of trauma, routine is better accepted than rules. Yet, if we as parents are unaware of the rules black men follow to stay as safe as possible, we’re unable to start the right routines- routines that may keep our sons alive.

Due to some special needs in our family, we started many routines long before our friends began teaching their same-age, black sons simple rules, such as “how to wear a hoodie." We always narrate the “why” behind the routines in a developmentally appropriate way, and yet, we know our children may not yet trust us enough to believe us. They DO come to trust routines though. Routines feel safe.

Informed routines could lead to their increased physical safety as well.

We Need to Correct Our White Community

When we’re in community with folks who honestly believe we can either be loyal to black men or law enforcement, we need to lovingly call them out.

When our friends or family members use offensive and outdated language to refer to our black children, we need to lovingly educate them.

When our community members make broad brush racist statements, we need to lovingly speak up.

When opportunities present for us to lovingly point out racist behavior in others who are not in community with people of color, we need to seize those opportunities. .

This goes beyond being an ally.

This is first about being parents.

Parents willing to take risks to love our children well.

We Need to Be Willing to Cut Ties

I’m going to be honest with you, being unfriended is a gift. At least you don’t have to initiate the conversation when you’re unfriended.

Also, we can no longer associate with some people who used to be friends. When we initiate brave conversations and the response from a friend is hateful or dismissive, we need to veer our path from theirs.

Please hear me. Of course, we still care about former friends as human beings. We hurt for them. We love them. Our children learn compassion as we love those who are incapable of loving us back.

But, if a relationship with a friend is a threat to my child’s trust in me as a compassionate human being, the friendship must end.

We Need to Consider Trauma and Trust

With adoption and trauma, we often have to be so much more sensitive in our conversations with our children because if our words overwhelm them, they can go into fight, flight, or freeze.

We know that our children's fight, flight, or freeze responses often look scary (or guilty) and generate fear in those around them- making them targets for the very violence we hope they can avoid.

Adoptive parents, many of you get this. At times, it will be a challenge because people of color who do not have extensive experience with early childhood trauma will disagree with how you’re raising your black sons.

Still, we must be brave and be faithful with the wisdom shared with us by those who've experienced racism while considering our children’s already complicated experiences.

It won’t be easy.

I’m reminded of a beautiful evening Matt and I had about a month before our sons came home. We were surrounded by friends who came to our house to pray for us and for our sons. Matt and I were the only white people present.

As my friend Regine prayed, she wept over our bravery to choose to raise black sons. Over how scary and heart wrenching the journey would be. About how, as white people, we could have avoided the vulnerability and the risk we were actively seeking by becoming parents of our sons.

After she prayed, I noticed most everyone else in the room was nervously shifting and avoiding eye-contact with us as if they were all wondering if we had any idea about the weight of raising black sons.

I was also wondering if we had a clue. We’d heard stories. We knew facts. We knew statistics. But we did not know what it felt like to be the mother, father, brother, sister, aunt, or uncle to a black male. Neither of us knew what it was like to grow up black.

Neither of us were yet weeping specifically over the weight of raising black sons.

And we’ll never know the weight in the same way the other people in our living room that night knew as we can’t change our past experiences or the privilege our skin color affords us.

Which is why we know we need help.

Many of us didn’t adopt knowing how high the stakes were for our black sons.  

But now that we know more, we need to be responsible with our knowledge.

Let’s be brave.

“Do the best you can until you know better. Then when you know better, do better.” - Maya Angelou

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