Lead Me On: The Gift of Audrey Assad

The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want,
He makes me to lie down in green pastures,
He leads me by the still waters, he restores my soul….
Though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death
I will fear no evil, for Thou art with me. From Psalm 23

View More: http://marycarolinerussell.pass.us/inheritanceIn the world of foster parenting and adoption, there are some valleys that are so dark and deep that the very act of passing through them leads an indelible mark upon even the most trusting and devout of souls. The pain of the journey is all-consuming, each day white-knuckling it from one moment to the next.

When at last the darkness passes and you begin to see the light again, you take a deep and thankful breath, grateful just to have survived. And in the next breath, you fervently pray that you will never have to walk that way again.

Confirmation CountdownLast night, just one day after returning with the family from Costa Rica, I was horrified to discover we were heading for the valley of the shadow again. As the details emerged, I burst out sobbing so hard I could not catch my breath. “No, dear God. Please. I can’t bear it.” It wasn’t the same valley, not exactly. But another dark and frightening.

My friend Colleen and I were scheduled to go see Audrey Assad in concert that evening. I had heard Audrey’s testimony about her struggle with pornography two years ago at the Edel Gathering in Charlotte. I prayed that God would speak to me that night.

Inside the church, I took a moment to light a candle … and remembered the time, as we were crossing the first valley of shadow, when I sent my Baptist parents on an impossible quest: I asked them to go to a nearby Catholic church and light a candle for their grandson. Nervously they ventured inside, and the kindly priest explained they had recently renovated the church and taken out the bank of candles. Then he gave them a leftover candle and told them to take it home, put it near a picture of our family, and light it each time they prayed for us.

They did. Then they went back three times, each time the candle burned to a nub. They weren’t exactly sure how lighting a candle would make a difference — it wasn’t part of their tradition. But for me, they found the courage to follow through. And now, as I thought about all that had happened from the lighting of that candle to this one, I took a deep breath and thanked God that he would give us courage to face this, too.

We had arrived early enough to get a good seat, second row center. Sarah was over-the-moon excited, seated between Colleen and “Miss Kelly,” who runs our church youth group. I half-heartedly joined in the rosary that preceded the concert. My mind was numb, my eyes bright with unshed tears. Audrey came out and played a few songs, told a few stories, and suddenly … she began to play a gentle ballad by an unlikely prophet that had gotten me through many a dark night when our son was in his program.

When you’re weary, feeling small.
When tears are in your eyes, I’ll dry them all.
I’m on your side when times get rough and friends just can’t be found.
Like a bridge over troubled water, I will lay me down…

Suddenly it was as if all the air had been sucked out of the room, and I realized that I was holding my breath to keep from sobbing. Fortunately I had an escape valve in my eyes, a tiny trickle that coursed down both cheeks as I sat there in the semi-darkness, listening as God whispered consolation to my heart. He had not forgotten me or my family.

Audrey started talking about the origins of the song, how songs mean different things to different people — even the songwriter, whose inspiration may have come from a very different source. “But that is the power of music, that it speaks to people where they are, that they can find a home in a song.”

I experienced the truth of that in special way that night. As parents, we work hard to make a home for our children — but we cannot give what we do not have. When we are weary, we have a home in the Sacred Heart, which beats when our own hearts are broken … and was broken that our hearts might beat anew.

Photo credit: Picture of Audrey Assad from her website.

Laying My Burden Down…

Today in cyberspace I came across this post that talked about how we all walk through life carrying a burden like some oversized suitcase. For some, it’s divorce. For others, it’s infertility or some dark moment(s) from the past.

Our children each have a suitcase, too.

One of the things that struck me about this post is the idea that each of us have to learn how to take out and lay down the heaviest junk in our suitcase, so we can carry it. This doesn’t come naturally … and in point of fact, it’s something that in an ideal world parents teach their children.

When I encounter people struggling with divorce, I often refer them to Lisa Dudley’s website and her excellent book, “Divorced. Catholic. Now What?” For teenaged burden-bearers, I also like to give Lynn Kapucinski’s “Now What Do I Do?”  I just gave a copy to one of the girls in my religious education class, and her mother immediately wrote to thank me for giving her a resource to help them talk more openly and constructively about what the girl was going thorugh.

Is your child struggling with some burden or grief?  Don’t forget you are the one who is best able to help him or her process what she is going through. Get professional help if needed … but do talk about it.

My friend Judy Miller sent me this link about an upcoming adoption workshop she is offering, a six-week e-mail course that covers a variety of aspects of adoptive parenting.  If you’re feeling in need of a little extra support, this may be a good resource for you!

Weekend Ponderings: Time Passages

Memorial Day Weekend is a family holiday at the Saxton House. Four years ago this weekend, Chris and Sarah were welcomed into our family through adoption . . . and into God’s family, through baptism.

We always try to spend as much time as possible together, enjoying each other, on these weekends. And yet this weekend, I confess there is a bit of a pall over our festivities. Yesterday a dear friend of ours passed away — Father Roger Prokop. I wrote a little about him at “Mommy Monsters” today.

Today’s Gospel, then, speaks very clearly to me today, from John 16:

“For the Father himself loves you, because you have loved me
and have come to believe that I came from God.
I came from the Father and have come into the world.
Now I am leaving the world and going back to the Father.”

I wonder how the apostles felt when Jesus said this to them. Did they know just how little time Jesus had left? Did they contemplate what life would be like without Him? Did they suspect, even momentarily, that they would experience such profound spiritual intimacy with the Eternal One? Or did they simply get caught up in their dread and grief?

It’s been four years now since the Saxton Family became the Saxton Family. It’s been longer than that since Father Roger and I saw each other with any kind of regularity — we joined a parish close to our new home shortly after the kids arrived. And yet, I miss him. I know that, even now, he continues to pray for us — even as we pray for him.

Other priests — good men, all of them — have become a part of our lives. But Father Roger will always hold a special place in my heart. His life was to me a living reminder of the God who loves His children, no matter how far away they move.  Rest in peace, dear friend. 

Miracle Mondays: Guest Post by Catholic Matriarch

Today I’d like to direct you over to “Catholic Matriarch,” who recently posted this amazing story about a woman who chose to bring to term her child, who because of a rare genetic disorder survived only 10 minutes.

“I was so happy I did what I did,” little Angela’s mom says of her decision to bring her infant daughter to term. “You get to see your child’s birth and death all collapsed in one time frame. What most people want for their kids is for them to go to heaven. You get to complete that journey with them. As a parent, that is unbelievable. Life is about relationship to God. You know that when you literally pass them from your hands to His.”

Miracle Monday: Ben’s Bells Project

ben_collage

Update: On April 15 I got a note from Ben’s mother, thanking me for the post … and letting me know that, two years after Ben’s death, they adopted two girls from Russia!

On March 29, 2002 — Good Friday seven years ago — three-year-old Ben Packard suddenly died of croup. His parents desperately wanted to find a way to bring some kind of healing out of their personal tragedy.

They created “Ben’s Bells” to recognize acts of kindness in their community — in their own words, “to inspire, educate, and motivate each other to realize the impact of intentional kindness and to empower individuals to act accordingly to that awareness, thereby changing our world.”

“Ben’s Bells,” grew to become a community effort that recognizes the power of kindness. In memory of little Ben, people in the Tucson, Arizona area gather to create these beautiful ceramic windchimes … and send them to selected recipients (it’s called “belling”), whose act of kindness has made a difference in the life of local residents. To date more than 11,000 sets of bells have been distributed.

One of the recent recipients of this award are foster parents Barbara and James Reyes, whose story was run in the Arizona Daily Star last February.

Ben’s mother Jeannette tells their story here.  The site offers instructions on how to start a chapter of the “Bells” in your own community as well!

Ghosts and Superheros: How Children Cope with Loss and Grief

shadowRecently Christopher has been preoccupied with ghosts (thanks in part to his older brother, who in typically older brother style regaled his little brother with horrific stories of things that creep and bump in the night). We’ve talked to him about the guardian angels, who protect him through the night. But the imagination is a powerful thing, and several times Christopher has wound up in our room (on the floor in a sleeping bag).

His preoccupation with ghosts and superheros borders on the obsessive, I think … and yet, I hear that this is not uncommon with children who have experienced trauma. It’s part of the way they process what has happened. For Christopher, the superheros (such as his Pokemon DS) provide a distraction and escape from Big Feelings that just won’t quit.

I recently came across this article that describes the “Basic Ph Model” for how children cope with ongoing trauma and stress. This would have real applications for children who have experienced a real — and not just anticipated — loss. Many foster and adopted children would fall in this category, as well as children who has lost a parent through death or estrangement through divorce.

The article describes the six “copying styles” most frequently used by children, which include:

*  Beliefs (drawing comfort from their family’s religious and cultural values, especially through meaningful ceremonies)

*  Affects (venting feelings and emotions, often by talking with a trusted adult)

*  Social (seeking support and comfort from friends and extended social network)

*  Imagination (processing feelings through creative outlets such as drawing, play therapy, creative writing, etc.)

*  Cognitive (processing through problem solving and planning safety contingencies)

*  Physiological (physical activity as a way of providing a welcome distraction, giving the child a “break”)

Author Frank Zenere observes about this last strategy: “Directed physical activity has a dual benefit, allowing necessary buffer time and permitting informal processing of traumatic experiences to occur in a non-threatening format. Opportunities for formal and informal physical activities should be abundant.”

One of the hardest things any parent can do is help a child navigate the uncertain currents of loss and trauma. However, knowing what to look for — and how to adjust our approach to accommodate the needs of a particular child — can make all the difference.

A Prayer for Motherly Courage

Karen at “Be Still My Soul” shares this touching account of a young woman, Myah, whose preborn daughter was diagnosed with anencephaly — a congenital and fatal birth defect.

The story itself is bittersweet. Instead of “terminating the pregnancy,” this young woman decided to share whatever time they had together out of simple love for her daughter. (I also appreciated Karen’s advice to all women of childbearing years to make sure they have enough folic acid in their diet, to prevent this kind of tragedy.)

Today I’d like to offer this prayer for frightened mothers (including those whose children are not yet born), that God would give them the courage to hold on to their children with faith, hope, and love … for as long as they are together.

St. Elizabeth Seton, patronness of dying children, observed:

“We know certainly that our God calls us to a holy life. We know that he gives us every grace, every abundant grace; and though we are so weak of ourselves, this grace is able to carry us through every obstacle and difficulty.”

St. Elizabeth Seton, pray for us!

Bad Endings: When Choices Break Our Hearts

Lately I’ve been thinking a lot about choices. The ones we make (and wish we hadn’t); the ones we didn’t (but wish we had). The ones that hurt no one but ourselves … and those with far-reaching consequences that hurt the least deserving.

For example, “Orphans Hope” reports that if all the parentless children of the world stood shoulder to shoulder, they would circumnavigate the globe three times. (In most cases parents do not choose to leave behind young children — these choices are more complex and indirect, in the form of cultural and global indifference, complacency, and greed.)

Happily, many couples are responding to this overwhelming need by stretching the borders of their families, some through foster care (domestically) or sponsorships (internationally), others through adoption. Increasing numbers of families foster and/or adopt after having (and possibly after raising) their own children. However, traditional adoption has been a kind of twofold redemption.  Continue reading “Bad Endings: When Choices Break Our Hearts”

When Moms Fail

Today Catholic Exchange is running my article about the Utah woman who was sentenced to 15 years for killing her adopted son. Although not all adoptive mothers experience depression, there are many of us who have (or do). If you have a history of depression and are considering foster care or adoption, this article may be for you.

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