Archive for the ‘Adoption’ Category

About a year ago, when I started working at AscensionPress, I thought my blogging days were over . . .  There was simply too much to do, and not enough time to write.

Four months later, as my family life unraveled at the seams, I had an even better reason not to blog: There are some things that are too private, and too painful, to submit to public scrutiny — even in empathetic circles. Now, eight months later, we’re seeing light at the end of the tunnel, and I can envision that one day I’ll be able to find a way to share some of the lessons I’ve learned from this experience. Not yet. But someday.

In the meantime, I’ve come to realize just how much it has meant to have people who have been where we are now come alongside us, reassuring us that we will survive this, too. I’ve had several such kindred spirits cross my path these past eight months, and I will always be grateful God sent them my way.

And so, I’ve decided to begin again, and find ways to reach out to other parents of extraordinary children. I’ve come to appreciate that “Extraordinary Moms” is not quite the right approach (who among us wants to think of ourselves as “extraordinary”?). We love our kids fiercely, passionately, and without reservation — just like every other good parent does.

And so, “A Rosary on My GPS” is my new blog — and I hope you will join me over there. It’s for parents of adopted, fostered, or special-needs children, and I hope to use the “road trip” metaphor to draw from the collective experiences of other smart mothers and fathers, who understand that family life is like a road trip. Sometimes literally — for adoptive parents, that trip can take them to the other side of the world. But always metaphorically.

As parents, we sometimes need direction to help us avoid the potholes and congestion; we need the practical variety (symbolized by the GPS) and the spiritual variety (the rosary beads). And so — voila! — my new blog. I hope you’ll take the time to weigh in on the discussions taking place over there.  If you have a story to share, I’d love to have you guest post. But for now, c’mon over and just say hi. (Extra points if you have a resource or two to share on my blogroll.) You can also contact me privately at heidi.hess.saxton@gmail.com.

Blessings, and thanks,


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At St. Joseph’s in Downingtown PA, those who show up five minutes late (or even, some Sundays, right on time) may not get a seat. When I was teaching CCD, this wasn’t really a problem; there was always plenty of time between class and Mass to install ourselves in our favorite pew.

Then, a few weeks ago, a shadow fell over our house. We have been deliberately vague on the details with people; suffice it to say that when we adopted our children from foster care, we never imagined just how far-reaching the past might be. At the advice of our pastor and other experts, we made a plan that involved removing our son temporarily from our home, and placing him in the home of his godparents (who have no children), until we could get things sorted out. I also resigned as a catechist so that I’d be able to focus on the needs of my family, and travel back and forth as needed. It isn’t ideal . . . but little about our lives is ideal right now.

In some ways, I feel like I am returning to those humiliating early days of foster parenting, when I went from being the leader of the worship ensemble to being the woman whose little boy punched a priest in the middle of Mass (Father had reached out to give my three-year-old foster son a blessing). Now as then, I have ample evidence that I am in way over my head in the parenting pool. Now as then, I try to keep paddling bravely. Now as then, I find myself wondering if I will make it.

Today we arrived at Mass just as the Gloria was being sung.  Sarah and I squeezed into a place between an elderly gentleman and his wheelchair-bound wife and a family with six teenagers (we later learned they were foster parents). In front of us was another family with two children who were about the same age as my kids. At first I was struck by how happy and affectionate the younger boy was, hugging his big brother and kissing his mother … and then he turned and I saw his face just as he erupted with a squeal of joy.

Sarah noticed, too. “Why does he look like that, Mommy? Why is he making those noises?”

“He has special challenges, honey. But he has special gifts, too. See how he loves his brother and father and mother?”

She nodded. “Yep. He’s full of love. That’s his gift, right?”

“Yes, honey. We all have special gifts and challenges. That little boy is a gift to his family … and today he is a gift to us. Just like you are a gift, with your bright eyes and sweet voice. You are a gift especially to me.”

And it was true. As I watched the family pass the little boy back and forth, encouraging him to be quiet and reverent, I was reminded that the best offerings are not always the most outwardly reverent ones. The most thankful hearts are not always the lightest ones. And the ones who most need to be there are not always the best dressed or best behaved.

I also realized that we were exactly where we needed to be just then. By bringing their son to Mass with them, even though he might make a “joyful noise” at some inopportune time, this family had ministered to me in a way that no one else could have. My heart felt lighter just from having witnessed the sight of that family loving each other and drawing close to face their challenges together.  This boy was a true gift … and a rare treasure. And yet, many such children die while still in the womb.

Tomorrow is the “March for Life” in Washington, D.C. Thousands of pro-life marchers will converge in our nation’s capitol to commemorate the tragic anniversary of the signing of Roe v. Wade. Hundreds of thousands more will, like me, be with them in spirit as we continue to live out the daily challenges of family life as another kind of testimony to the dignity and value of every single life.

The elderly gentleman will fix his wife’s breakfast and brush her hair.

The foster family beside us will wait for the case worker of the sibling group they recently welcomed into their home.

The family in front of us will pull carpool duty as they take their younger son to therapy and school, and cheer their older son at his basketball game.

And I … well, I will continue my own vigil, asking God to do something so that one day we will all be under one roof, facing our challenges together. Thank you for continuing to pray with us.


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The Next Chapter…

If you’ve followed my blog with any regularity, you may have noticed that my posts have become increasingly fewer and farther between.  To be honest, it’s not that there hasn’t been anything going on. It’s just that I haven’t been able to talk about it, for reasons that I’m still not fully able to explain.

My friends — both virtual and in real-life — will be pleased to know that I am happier, we are all happier, than I can remember in years. Craig and I actually laugh out loud together at the end of the day. He goes off to work with a smile on his face. The kids bicker less. Even the dog smiles. A gigantic weight . . . has miraculously been lifted from the Saxton house.  As I’ve said in several cryptic e-mails now, God is good. All the time. Though we’ve had to wait for it, His best for us was infinitely better than anything I could have dreamed.

I’m hoping that even this much will be an encouragement to someone out there. After all, I started this blog as an encouragement for Extraordinary Moms — women who find themselves living out their vocations as wives and mothers in extraordinary circumstances. Many of you have cared enough to write and tell me how these posts have helped you, and it has been a rare priviledge to journey alongside you, even for a little while. But as most women who venture into motherhood soon discover, life is built in chapters. And many times, the only way to fully embrace the current chapter . . . is to let go of the previous one. It’s part of the deal.

Yes, even the “best” chapters of our lives carry a hefty price tag. In order to enter into this new family adventure, I will have to let go of some of the activities, and even some close friendships, that I’ve come to treasure. It isn’t easy. But it IS necessary.

So . . . this is going to be my last post, both here at EMN as well as on my public forums, for the foreseeable future. There are many reasons for this, but the most important is that what I need to do for my family in the weeks and months ahead is going to require every bit of spare time and effort that I can muster. Fortunately, it’s happy work, an unimaginable and jubilant release after what has been nothing short of months and months of … well, just the opposite.

And so, I close with one of my favorite bits by Robert Browning . . . from Pippa Passes:

The year is at the spring
    And day is at the morn;
    Morning is at seven;
    The hillside’s all dew-pearled;
    The lark is on the wing;
    The snail is on the thorn:
    God is in His heaven—
    All is right with the world!



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Last month Rep. Fortney Stark (D-CA) proposed HR 3827, “Every Child Deserves a Family Act,” which prohibits discrimination in foster or adoptive placements based on the “sexual orientation, gender identification, or marital status.” If it passes, faith-based agencies would be forced to place children in “non-traditional families,” even if it is contrary to their religious beliefs.

With so many children in the United States in need of temporary or permanent homes — over 115,000 of these permanent wards of the state — it seems only fair to ask, “Why not place these kids in the homes of GLBT adults? Isn’t any family better than no family?”

In a word, no.

I do not say this glibly. There is no denying that there is a real shortage of good foster homes, and that more needs to be done to recruit and train licensed foster families. My own kids have an older brother who waited almost three years before he found his “forever family.” Each time we visited, it hurt to hear him cry out for us to take him, too. We couldn’t . . . but we prayed until someone did.

There are times when a single parent may be a child’s best option.  The wholehearted commitment of mature singles who choose to adopt and raise a child alone takes my breath away.  Even so, the absence of a second parent often takes a toll on the whole family.  Nature dictates that the human family by design is based on the love of a man and woman.

To suggest that the best way to find good homes for foster children is to license gay or trans-gendered adults is like saying the best way to solve the priest shortage is to allow priests to marry: It disregards the original purpose of the restriction, as well as the intrinsic good that the requirement represents. In the case of priests, celibacy allows them to channel their energies into a wholehearted service of God; in the case of foster parents, married couples are best able to give children the opportunity to experience family as God intended it — wrapped in the loving embrace of a man and woman sacramentally bound to one another for life.

And so, the issue is not whether someone in the GLBT community can be a good parent, but whether any adult’s “right” to parent should take preeminence over the “right” of a faith-based organization to adhere to sincerely held religious convictions when assessing the “best interests of the child,” the golden standard of social work.

Ironically, the “old-fashioned” choices of those with strong religious convictions can actually count against them as foster parents. For example, Michigan families with eight or more children may not take in foster children. Homeschooling families are also ineligibal (unless the foster children are sent to public school). Corporal punishment is prohibited; permission must be obtained to take a foster child to church. Each state has additional requirements.

Believe it or not, most states already permit GLBT adults to become foster parents, and in many cases to adopt. Some public agencies actively recruit members of the gay community, believing them to be an underutilized source of foster families. However, study after study has shown that children need both a mother and a father. This is not “prejudice,” but common sense.

Children who wind up in the foster care system have to overcome so many sad circumstances, and deserve not to be used as pawns by those who seek to exercise their “rights” to the detriment of those children who really do deserve special protection.

Please write your Representative, and ask him or her not to support this bill.


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Tonight on Army Wives, Joan and Roland bring home the child they decided to adopt from the state system. The boy is HIV+, yet the couple fell in love with the little boy (about 8 years old) that they threw caution to the wind, and brought him home as their own.

The little boy, David, appeared to be a loving, engaging child at the agency, and seemed to get along well with the baby. But as soon as they got him home, the boy resisted Joan’s efforts to tend to him, pointedly asking Roland to read to him and turning away from her good-night kiss. Roland later finds his wife in tears in the bedroom. “Don’t take it personally,” he urges. “He just lost his mother and grandmother, but he’s never had a dad. It’s easier for him to let me in.”

I was glad to see them portray this aspect of adopting an older child, the long and sometimes painful process of connecting with him (or her). The reasons for this difficulty can vary — perhaps the child is already grieving the loss of one set of parents. Or maybe he is having a hard time adjusting to your home from the institution who had been keeping him.

Sometimes the problem is the letdown that hits some women after months and months of exhuberant waiting, when the honeymoon ends and you are left wiping down walls and day after day of little-to-no sleep. Nerves can wear a bit thin when the reality horns in on the dream.

It is at this point that an Extraordinary Mom is born when she chooses not to give up, but to love a little harder (or a little softer), and take all the time her child needs to settle in.  Love may come slowly, with a lot of effort and perhaps even some outside help. The child may never realize the number of hours his parents have spent on their knees, interceding for him. And yet this, too, is an opportunity: Because of this little one, we can begin to grasp the depts of the love of our Heavenly Father, who made us his children  . . . by adoption.

God in heaven, you can hear the cries.
You see the need, and alone can heal the pain.
Send your angels to surround and protect our family,
And give me strength enough, just for today.

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This weekend we watched the 1993 version of Heidi, starring winsome little Noley Thornton, Jason Robards (as Grandfather, known by the villagers as the “Alm Uncle”) and Jane Seymour (in an atypically severe role for the actress, the tight-lipped Frauline Rottenmeier).

I didn’t enjoy this movie nearly as much as I enjoyed the classic novel when I was a girl (my mother named me after the title character, the orphan girl who is sent to live with her curmudgeonly old grandfather). This version of the movie takes considerable liberties with the book (including the opening sequence, in which the grandfather witnesses the deaths of Heidi’s parents).

As I watched the  movie, I couldn’t help but wonder how the story would have changed, had little Heidi come under the watchful eye of social services. On the face of it, the grandfather is not exactly a “desirable” adoptive parent for Heidi, though he is related to her. The old recluse has a foul temper, and leaves Heidi to her own devices for most of her waking hours in the company of an older child. Neither of them attend school (despite the remonstrations of the village pastor), and the Alm Uncle’s cabin lacks the most basic conveniences, including refrigeration and indoor plumbing.

Heidi’s cousin, Dete, forcibly removes the little girl from her grandfather and takes her to Frankfort, where Heidi is to become the companion of a wealthy young girl in a wheelchair. (Dete is paid for the referral, casting her motives into question.) Heidi has every possible material and educational advantage, including the affection of her friend’s family.  Even so, Heidi pines for her grandfather’s home. Once again Dete is called upon to take the child back up the Alp to visit with her grandfather (again, she is paid to do so), with the understanding that Heidi would be reclaimed by the Sesemanns in a month’s time. At first reluctant to welcome Heidi back on these terms because of the emotional fallout involved, the Uncle ultimately relents. The remainder of the story is set on the alp, where the Sesemans journey to visit Heidi and regain Clara’s health.

For a long time after the credits rolled, the underlying themes of the story stayed with me. Each life she touches, Heidi transforms. A bitter old man becomes a nurturing caregiver. A sick little girl grows strong and hale. Even Fraulein Rottenmeier (the incomparable Jane Seymour) softens a bit in the mountain air. The only person who remains immune to Heidi’s charms is the person responsible for her, the cousin Dete, who consistently chooses the expedient solution over the compassionate one.

In retrospect, I should have known how the kids would respond to Heidi’s story.  “Why are they taking her away from the grandfather? Why does he say he doesn’t want her back? That’s not FAIR!” Clearly, they identified with the plucky little orphan.

Of course, “fairness” has little to do with it. It wasn’t fair that Heidi’s parents died. It wasn’t fair that Dete put her own interests ahead of the little girl’s. It wasn’t fair for the old man to be forced to take in his granddaughter — and it wasn’t fair to Heidi to leave her in the hands of someone who so clearly didn’t want her there at the beginning. It wasn’t fair to uproot the little girl … or to place her with strangers not because it is in her best interest, but because it was in theirs. 

Johanna Spyri’s classic novel (even more than this movie) explores the question of “What is family?” and celebrates the healing power of love. For adoptive and foster parents, it also provides an opportunity to explore with your children their own feelings about family.

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As I contemplated writing tonight’s post, I read that Moammar Gaddafi’s youngest son and three grandchildren were killed in a NATO missile strike. The general survived, the report continued. On the other hand … how does anyone survive a loss of that magnitude?  

Ordinarily the news might not have made such an impression on me. However, I recently took my children to see their birthparents, who had not seen any of their four kids in seven years.  It was supposed to be another seven years before Chris was supposed to see them, but Christopher’s birthdad had been having heart trouble. Craig and I talked about it off and on for months, until he finally — reluctantly — agreed to a single visit.  We didn’t want Christopher to miss seeing him altogether.

As we walked into the home, Christopher became very animated, shouting, “I remember! I remember!” He ran upstairs to his old room, which seemed not to have been touched since he left it. All his toys and toddler-sized clothes were still there, as though he would be home to stay any minute. As though the little boy he once was had been frozen in time.

It was the same with Sarah’s room. The crib, the rocking chair, the baby swing … Everything was still there. Quickly their birthmom began digging through toys, handing them to the kids until their arms were full as the birthdad left the room so the kids didn’t see his tears. On the way home, I contemplated what I had seen and wondered if I’d done the right thing. 

Then, as if in response to my unspoken thoughts, Christopher piped up, “I can’t wait until I turn 18, so I can move back with my real family.”

I swallowed hard, trying not to show how his words had hurt. “You already live with your real family, Christopher.  You will always be part of our family, no matter how old you are. That’s adoption.”

He thought about that for a minute. “Well… maybe I can live in the middle.”

This “living in the middle” feeling was understandable, and I didn’t take it personally. I have read of adoptive families that  successfully integrate birthfamily members into their extended family. Even so, my son’s comment made me wonder: How can a child who has contact with two sets of parents grow up feeling anything but “in the middle”?

A few weeks have passed, and I’m still not sure it was the right choice.  Time will tell.  What I do know is that once again Sarah is sleeping with us every night, and Christopher has been having nightmares in which I disappear and he can’t find me. I agreed to the visit out of love . . . and yet I can’t help but wonder if it wasn’t a severe kind of mercy.

God’s mercy can also seem severe sometimes. This is the side of grace we don’t often consider. When Craig and I were presented to John Paul II in 1999, while in Rome on our honeymoon, I distinctly remember looking into the man’s clear blue eyes and thinking that I’d seen heaven there.  He could barely walk, and was a shell of the vital man he once was. Six more years would pass before he was finally laid to rest. Six more years of walking through that valley of the shadow, one painful step at a time.

However, the man Karol Wojtyla had embraced the job God had given him to do: to take up a particular cross that would uniquely reflect the self-donating love of God to all his children. As Pope John Paul II, he reminded us how utterly we need that hard-won, amazing grace every day of our lives. Even, and perhaps especially, when that way grows difficult, when it would be easier just to give in to despair and bitterness.  It is an uncommon kind of mercy, which drives the nails into the cross we have been called to carry.

As we celebrate the beatification of John Paul the Great tomorrow, let us remember the Divine Mercy that guides each of us all the way to heaven.  Together, as a family, in good times and bad, let us recall the act of grace emblazoned on Faustina’s image:

Jesus, we trust in you!

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