Sunday, July 14, 2019

A Foster/Adoptive Mom's Take on Toy Story 4

Last week Brinkley saw a commercial and asked to see "the toys" so yesterday I loaded up both boys and took them to see Toy Story 4.

A friend asked my thoughts on it from a foster care/adoption standpoint as she is trying to decide if it is a safe movie for her foster daughter as she often questions why her story doesn't work out the way things do in kid movies.  That was an excellent question, and I wish I would have watched the film with that in mind from the beginning.  Since I didn't intend to examine it from that perspective, I am sure that I will miss some things that may be relevant, but I'll take a stab at it.

*I don't want to spoil anything, so forgive me for being vague about some things.*

As you may know from the last installment of the series, the toy gang has found a new home with a preschooler named Bonnie since Andy moved away to college.  Bonnie leaves the toys for her first day of kindergarten.  She is given the task of creating a pencil holder and in the process creates the newest addition to the gang, Forky.   Forky is created out of some unpleasant circumstances and doesn't see himself as worthy of being loved.  He refers to himself as trash and repeatedly tries to get away from the group and dispose of himself.  Woody is determined not to let this happen and takes on the task of continually monitoring Forky and repeatedly reminding him of his worth to Bonnie.

Forky's insistence on disposing of himself leads to him being separated from the group and of course Woody is on a mission to get him back.  With the support of their friends, the journey begins.  When Bonnie realizes that she has been separated from her new friend, her heart is broken, and she longs to have him back.  Woody, Forky, and their host of friends go through one thing after another to protect Forky and show him his worth.  (Some really creepy dolls that look like ventriloquist dummies are involved.)

There is a lot of talk about lost toys and some sadness shown by those who don't have a kid and want one.  Some of the lost toys have formed their own support system and no longer wish for a single kid but instead have found ways to be with many kids.  Part of the movie is set at a carnival, so the toys that are waiting to be won are in search of their kid.  They desperately want a kid and get angry when Woody and his gang seem to be moving in on their territory.

There are lots of twists and turns and quite honestly, some of them were stressing me out!  I could anticipate what was coming and wanted them to make different decisions so that they didn't create more drama.  I'm not really a high-risk kind of girl.

Woody never gives up on his friend and the gang is all in to help him with his mission.  Through the love and commitment of his new friends, Forky begins to realize his significance.  In the end, everyone ends up in just the right place.  For me, the ending was not what I would have wanted and I may have gasped and been a little too emotionally invested.  I may have even made a comment out loud.  (Like I said, I was a wee bit emotionally invested.)  At the very end, we see a glimpse into the first day of 1st grade where Bonnie brings home yet another creation and Forky willingly jumps in to help this new friend begin the adjustment period.

Personally, there was not anything that was a red flag to me regarding my own foster/adopted child.  I think that Woody's persistence helping Forky to see his worth was an excellent picture of what a supportive family would look like for a kid.  Woody and his friends go to great lengths and never give up despite Forky's efforts to distance himself.  Even when other people told him to give up (including Forky) Woody pressed on.

Every child's story is different.  With that in mind, you will need to think about your child's story.  I feel like this movie portrays the "lost and found" toys in a positive light.  Everything is not neatly tied up in a bow at the end though.  There is a different path than you may expect.  For some kids in care, this may be a more realistic view of what often happens in their situation.  While it was a positive ending, it was unexpected.  Sorry for the vagueness on the ending, but as I said, I don't want to be the spoiler.

Side note, I want to applaud Disney and Pixar for including children and toys with disabilities (even if they were subtle).

Tuesday, June 18, 2019

A Life Changing Summer

It was the summer of 1999 and I was 20 years younger (and almost as many pounds lighter).  I was in between my junior and senior year of college and eager to make the most of my summer.  I accepted a position at a local church to serve with their youth and kids for the summer.  (What were they thinking hiring a 20-year-old kid to manage other kids?!?!?)  It was a church that I had driven by hundreds of times but had never been inside of and didn't know anyone that attended there.  In a way, I was nervous about the responsibility I had taken on but I was naive enough to think I had it figured out.  

What I didn't know was that I was about to experience the best summer of my life!  

Just as I suspected, I didn't know any of the students or kids, but that changed quickly.  I soon fell in love with the students and many of their families that welcomed me in with open arms.  Relationships formed quickly and some of them were almost effortless.  It was as if we were just meant to be together.  We experienced a lot of things together that summer.  Some of them were funny, some frustrating, and some serious.  

1999 Youth Group
 I'll never forget the day that I was handed the keys to the church van for the first time.  I loaded up a hand full of middle schoolers and hit the road for a pool party.  It's a good thing that I was naive enough to be adventurous.  I had NEVER driven a big van before.  I am not sure that the staff or parents were aware of that and it was a good thing we only drove about 10 minutes away.  (Sorry to inform you now parents!)  That van and I became quite well acquainted by the end of the summer.  I even had my first mom moment in that van when I pulled over on the side of the road and had a come to Jesus meeting with some little boys on the way home from a kids day trip.  

There were some tense and frustrating moments at beach camp when a camper from another church made some terrible accusations about me that were blatant lies.  There were times when students shared very deep and personal things about their families and I was able to walk through those situations with them.  I didn't have answers for them, but I did have love and time and that's what I gave them.  

One of my favorite memories from that beach camp.  Macho Man and Gorgeous George.
It was, and still is, a privilege to be trusted to lead and love these kids and students.  It was one of the greatest privileges of my life.  There were some great relationships formed and I have been privileged to be a part of other stages of their lives as well.  I've been to and a part of their weddings, their baby showers, cared for their children, and sadly been through losses with them.  Some of those losses have been their beloved family members and unfortunately, some of those losses have been the students themselves.  

Yesterday I walked into the doors of that church again.  This time was different though.  I wasn't there to see one of my kids married off or there for a shower to celebrate the next addition to their family.  I was there to say a final goodbye and to mourn with one of those families.  Yesterday, I said a final goodbye to the second one of my students.  We lost our friend Robert in 2016 and last week we lost Rebekah.  

Rebekah and I at beach camp.
As I followed her family's Facebook posts on Thursday, I cried and prayed all day for the Lord to intervene and save her from whatever toxin had taken over her body and quickly took her life.  I have cried every day since thinking about the precious life that ended too soon.  

Though I don't understand and doubt that I ever will, I do know that God is a good, good father.  I do know that it is a privilege to be a part of people's lives (the good, the bad, and the hard parts).  Ministry is a unique honor and privilege.  Being trusted to lead and guide people and being given the privilege of being a part of their highest highs and lowest lows is one that I hope I never take for granted.  

Despite the pain, the tears, and the sleepless nights, it's all worth it.  I can't thank that church, it's staff, and those parents enough for the privilege of being welcomed into and trusted in the lives of their children.  Thank you for allowing me this honor.  It was a blessing then to call them my students and is a blessing today to call them my friends.  

The "gang"

*Thank you to Rebekah for the photo album that I treasure.  

Wednesday, February 6, 2019

Sweet Memories and A Revelation

Scrolling through Facebook this morning I came across this video that my cousin shared.  

This is a story that I am very familiar with, so I found it odd when I began sobbing as I watched.  This is the community that I grew up in and the high school that I attended.  Radio was an everyday part of my high school life.  He hugged me and would sit with me at lunch.  I often shared my lunch with him and I would bake cookies for him.  We had a routine: 1. hug 2. he'd ask "you bake me cookies?" 3. he'd whisper in my ear, "don't tell nobody, you my girlfriend."  

You were guaranteed to see Radio sitting at his desk near the main office taking up attendance cards.  (Yes, we still used real paper and pencils for things in the 90's.)  He was just a part of the package that was attendance at T L Hanna High School.  I love Radio and consider it a blessing to have had him as a part of my high school experience.  

This morning Radio's story hit me differently.  Yes, I had a bond with Radio and enjoyed the times that I have had with him.  Yes, he was one of the bright parts of a high school experience that I didn't particularly enjoy.  There are many things about that not so great experience that I have been able to look at in hindsight and see God's providential hand.  Things that I couldn't see or even imagine as a 13-17-year-old girl.  Well, one of those things just hit me this morning as a 40-year-old woman.  

Who could have ever thought that God was using that experience with Radio to soften my heart to those with intellectual disabilities?  God was planting a seed in my heart that I wouldn't see unearthed for 20+ years.  Those days that I sat and opened his food packages at the lunch table, the days that I leaned in a little more to be able to understand his broken speech, the days that I gave hugs and cheers for his seemingly minor accomplishments, the days that I was just a friend and treated him like every other kid at that lunch table.  Who knew all of those days were just glimpses into what the rest of my life would look like.  

With the help of an unassuming, radio-loving, intellectually disabled man, God was preparing me for a life of loving and fighting for my own intellectually disabled son and those like him.  Radio was just a small stepping stone in finding a passion and purpose in my life.  It may have come long after I walked the halls of T L Hanna High School, but I found it, am running hard to pursue it, and am forever grateful for the seeds that were planted in my heart!  

Thursday, January 24, 2019

Super Mom

Several months ago I ordered family shirts from Old Navy.  They were super family shirts and the boys say super kid and mine says, super mom.  While I hear people direct that phrase at me, it is by no means a label that I place on myself.  I really struggled with even buying the shirt for myself (like really struggled!), but I did it knowing I would likely never wear it as more than an undershirt.  To date, I have worn it exactly once and I fought to cover it up that day.  

Pulling it out of the drawer that day was a conscious decision.  It was one that I had to force myself to make.  It was a day that I decided I was going to fight the demons that constantly tell me that I am not enough.  The ones that try to convince me that I am not doing enough for my kids.  The ones that tell me that I need to research a little more and I need to give up this or that to make time for another doctor or therapy visit.  The ones that tell me I am not doing enough at home to help my developmentally delayed child succeed.  The ones that tell me that I should be doing more to help my child that is struggling to pass math and English. The list goes on and on.  Listening to those voices I will never feel I am doing enough things or the right things.  

The day I pulled the shirt out of the drawer was a day that I decided to push back.  I decided that those voices weren't going to win.  I decided to, as I like to call it, fake it til you make it!  The visual reminder that I wore on my chest that day reminded me that I am the mom that these boys need.  I may not make all the right choices and I may leave out some sort of therapy or intervention that would help them.  It's ok!  I was given these boys and I am doing the best I can and that is enough.  They know that they are loved and they are well cared for.  I don't always get it right, but who does?

I am not going to lie, this mom thing is FAR harder than I ever imagined.  Neither of my boys is typical and both require much more support and assistance than your average kid.  Every day is a fight for my boys, their fights are very different but both significant and both more than I will ever feel that I can understand or tackle.  The good news is, that's ok.  There are going to be plenty more days where I have to pull that shirt out and remind myself to fake it til I make it.  With a lot of prayer, wisdom, and a great support system I am going to do the best I can and the Lord is going to take care of the rest.

So tomorrow I'll be pulling out my super mom shirt as we attempt to tackle the latest obstacle on our journey.  At Brinkley's cardiology check-up in December we found that there have been some unexpected changes with his heart.  Tomorrow he will be having some tests at MUSC to help determine exactly what is going on and what our plan needs to be.  

I ask you to join me in praying for wisdom for everyone involved in this process and for the decisions that need to be made.  Please pray for Brinkley's peace and calmness.  As he gets older he is much more aware of what is happening around him and I pray that he will not have anxiety about his care.  

If you see me in my shirt, just remember that I am no super mom, I am the "just right mom" and I am doing my best to step up to the plate and do what I can for these boys to be loved and well cared for.  Until the voices stop, I'll keep praying, keep pulling out my shirt, and keep on faking it until I make it!

Tuesday, September 11, 2018

Not just one of those days

Have you ever had one of those days?  You know, one of those days when nothing goes right.  One of those days when every little thing is just wrong, wrong, wrong.  Yeah, me too.  

Today was NOT one of those days.  Today was filled with reminders that God cares about me and the things on my mind.  It wasn't a good day, it was a God day.  

I am currently knee deep in planning the Buddy Walk. If you aren't familiar with the Buddy Walk it is an event to promote awareness and inclusion of individuals with Down syndrome.  (You can get details on our website  Event planning is something that I have a knack for and enjoy.  Fundraising, however, is not something that I am good at.  That's the toughest part of my job as the founder and Executive Director of a non-profit.  

With the Buddy Walk being about 30 days out there are some loose ends that I have been concerned about tieing up and most of them involve fundraising.  Yay, my favorite (insert sarcasm font here). I prayed about it and decided this afternoon to make a move.  As a leader and communications professional (at least that's what my diploma says) I've learned that you have to articulate what you need and you need to be specific.  So I asked specifically.  I reached out to two people about some of the needs and then I went to social media with a few other specific needs.  Within a few hours, I had nearly all of the needs met or leads on getting them met.  

Those are things that have been hanging over me, but even more so I have had some serious needs for Reese hanging over me.  I reached out last week for help with Reese's needs and got the ball rolling.  Yesterday we had an appointment and again I asked specifically for a need that involved our insurance company.  The doctor and I both were prepared to fight for what Reese needs.  Barely 24 hours later I received a call that we have been approved!  

All I can say, through the tears, is thank you, thank you, thank you!  Lord, you care about me and my stuff, even the stuff that seems insignificant in the big scheme of things.  It matters to me and He cares.  I know He is just as good and loves me just as much on those days when nothing goes right and I'll praise Him in the midst of the storms as well.  Today, though, I will praise Him for a God day.

Sunday, July 15, 2018

Beauty from Ashes

Today we had Together Sunday.  This was our first joint service with both of our church campuses together.   Following the service, we had baptism, a meal, and family fun activities.   The best part of the day was seeing three very special kids choose to be baptized.   

We are incredibly blessed to be in a church that embraces the call to care for orphans.   Foster care and adoption are part of the DNA of our church.   On any given week you will see multiple minibusses and 12 passenger vans in our parking lot.   You'll see a rainbow of littles in our kid's department, and you'll see families that look more like It's A Small World than the generic picture frame family.   

Recently,  I had a conversation with a family that adopted a sibling group of four that added some diversity to their family.   I asked about their family's story and how they ended up at our church.   The dad said what sold them was the day that a person at the church asked if the kids were adopted.   He said yes and the response was, just a matter of fact, "that's cool. "  There was no praise of how awesome it is that they took them in.   The was no talk of what a blessing they must be to the children.   There was none of the typical, "I could never do that."  His kids weren't put on display as "those poor children" that he and his wife swooped in and saved.   

The culture of our church is such that it seems odder to not have a connection to foster care and/or adoption than to have one.   Our people are people that see these kids as kids with a story that need a savior just like every other kid.  They are kids that deserve for us to be uncomfortable to love them the way Jesus loves them.   They deserve for us to put ourselves and our selfish worries aside to see to it that they experience the love of Christ in real and practical ways.  They deserve to not only know the love of Jesus but to know the love of a family. 

That culture is what made today so special.  I watched three precious children, loved by Jesus, loved by their foster and adoptive families, and loved by our church take the next step in their faith.   Bryan baptized a brother and sister who found their forever home with an incredible family in our church.   I watched a foster dad baptize his foster son.   (The foster son that he had the privilege of leading to Christ.)  Yes, there were tears, lots of them.   (The foster family & friends, our staff, and even me. )  

I kept thinking about the scripture in Isaiah that talks about giving the people of Jerusalem a crown of beauty to replace their ashes.   What a beautiful picture of redemption!  These kids, through no fault of their own, have been put through the fire.  They have been through things no one should ever face because of the careless choices of others.   Their lives are forever changed but praise God, their ashes have been traded for crowns of beauty.   All because these families were willing to be uncomfortable and get their hands dirty.

Tuesday, January 2, 2018

Here's To A New Year!

While taking Brinkley to school this morning I heard a clip from Tony Evans and wanted to share the story.  You can find it in several of his books.  I am quoting this from his book Tony Evan's Book of Illustrations. 

My son came to me one day and asked me to accompany him to the gym.  He told me that he wanted to show me something.  He was about 11 years old and barely five feet tall.  He wanted to show me that he could dunk!  I had to see this!

I took him over to the gym and he bounced the ball, approached the goal, and cupped the ball under his hand in preparation.  My eleven-year-old son, barely even five feet tall went up and dunked the basketball.  It was an amazing sight... until I realized how he did it.  

Before we went to the gym, he called and asked the maintenance man to lower the goal.  The standard had been lowered.  I had the guy raise the standard back to its correct height.  I explained to my son that the goal should not be lowered so that he can meet it, but that he continue to work hard to meet the standard.

Wow!  How many times do we lower the standard for momentary satisfaction rather than continuing to work hard to meet the ultimate standard?  This along with a quote recently posted on Instagram by David Crowder have become my motivation for 2018.  

Here's to a year of influencing the world by not settling for the lower standard!