Over the summer a strange wind stirred up in our neighborhood. We heard a few loud bangs and then sudden calm. My husband and I immediately split up to assess the damage. Trees had fallen all around our home. A neighbor’s full-size trampoline had flown around the block, wrapping itself around a tree. Another neighbor’s shed had found it’s way five blocks down the street.

And for us, the wind had whipped a neighbor’s lawn chair through our siding, through our drywall, into our bedroom.

The actual hole takes up about 6 square feet of our bedroom wall. We’ve been living with it for several months now, working out the details with our insurance claim and a contractor. Eventually we set a date for new siding.

So what does our family do when their home is about to be stripped and re-sided? We grab paint, brushes and grubby clothes and we paint on it.

We spent a couple of hours on a chilly November afternoon painting and laughing and spilling and making a mess. The neighbors even stopped by to check it out and paint. Here kids, take a brush, make a mess.

Look at a house that was destined for disaster that got repurposed in artistic expression.

A few days after, some guys came over, stripped our artwork and put up what I call “Naperville Beige”, an acceptable color that will help our resale value. The work was quick, decisive and professional. But it was nothing compared to our afternoon of family art time. I wish it could have stayed that way.

We’ve had a big, long year. This Thanksgiving, I’m thankful for the opportunity to paint on pain. Stuff happens and we don’t have to know why. We have to paint on it. Trauma happens. Paint on it. Families struggle. Paint on it. Raising children is hard work. Paint on it. People disappoint us. Paint on it.

When we painted on our house, it still had a hole. It still caused us a lot of grief. We couldn’t pretend that it wasn’t there. But we took an opportunity to create something out of the ruin. Watching the little hands brush paint all over a scary time in our history was an experience of resurrection. New siding really wasn’t.

Paint on it.

 

I was walking my son to his kindergarten class when a new little friend of ours joined us. Her name is Jaylen and she is biracial. Jaylen really loves to lavish attention on my daughter, who is Ethiopian.

Another little girl approached us. “I didn’t know you had a little sister! She is so cute.”

Jaylen replied, “She’s not my sister.”

Then she paused.

“But she’s my sister in God.” And then she pointed to my son. “And this is my brother in God.” Then at me, “And this is my mom in God.”

I looked around at all the kids on the playground and thought, yes. Yes, I am.  This is what community is about. This is what adoption is about. This is what parenting is about. I am your mother.  You are my daughters and sons. We say “sister” and “brother” a lot in church and it’s easy. But this girl got my attention. We’re not just brothers and sisters. We are family.

What if we all saw others in this way?  What if we recognized our human and familial bond to every person we encounter? And what if we took responsibility for that relationship?

Through Jaylen’s eyes, the playground is a big family.  I want to see through those eyes.

My kids are real. My kids are natural. My kids are my own. And yes, they were adopted.

If you are not sure how all those words go together, click here. But beware. As soon as you know about negative adoption language, you will hear it everywhere.

Everywhere.

I didn’t know what positive adoption language was until I read about it. So why would I expect family and friends and strangers to know what it is and how to use it?

At first I got shivers whenever I heard an insensitive phrase or a negative term. I felt like I needed to be outraged at these offenses if I were to actually represent adoptive parents well.

Now I’ve finally come to the point in my adoptive parenting journey where I choose not to be offended by lack of knowledge. If someone just doesn’t know any better, then they probably mean no harm by a stray comment. It’s my job to respond in a mature, life-giving way.

So when these situations occur, I laugh. I educate. I ignore. I blow it off. I stay calm.

I don’t get angry.

Here’s why:

My kids do need to know that we will only speak respectfully of others. They also need to know that their daddy and I will protect them from verbal abuse. But they also need to know how to have grace for those who just don’t have a clue. We won’t stand by when others are ridiculed, shamed, stereotyped or belittled, but we won’t do that to ignorant people either.

My List

Here are a few gems from our lives so far:

  • When are you going to have some children of your own?
  • Do you have any heart conditions or cancer in your family history? (a nurse asked me at a wellness check up for my Ethiopian daughter)
  • Is that your daughter? She..um..looks like you.
  • Your kids are so lucky to have you.
  • I can’t believe someone could ever give a child away. Look at him, he’s so beautiful.
  • Do you run a daycare?

I left out the racial observations that our transracial family has experienced. That’s a different topic, and different lessons can be learned there. There is a lot of emotion out there on all sides of transracial adoptive families. But our concerns remain the same: Protect our kids. Respond to others with love and patience.

What will you do with your list?

You adoptive parents probably have a list like mine. If you have older kids, you probably have a long list. And the offenders probably didn’t know any better. What will you do with your list? Will you grow bitter and cut people off? Or will you laugh on the inside and educate on the outside?

When we concern ourselves with policing everyone else, we lose the point of the list. There are many words and phrases that are hurtful, but our job is to monitor our own mouths. The list of positive adoption language is meant to teach us how to frame our own adoption experiences in healthy positive ways, not to fuel our fire to become offended by someone’s well-intentioned attempt to connect.

When we do our part, choosing our words carefully and educating others, we create a space for freedom, expression, and reflection. I would rather engage in a conversation spurred by the question, “Are those kids yours?” than scowl at every curious passerby. Every ignorant question is an opportunity to share love and inspire others to do the same.

What comments and questions have you heard? How did you respond? How do you discern the difference between ignorance and negativity?

 

Children of trauma believe a lot of lies about themselves. Instead of hearing Mozart while in the womb, it’s as if they all heard the same devilish soundtrack:

  • I don’t deserve to be here.
  • I am bad.
  • You will hurt me, so I can’t trust you.
  • My existence is shameful.
  • I must hide all my faults and mistakes.
  • No one will ever take care of me so I have to take care of myself.

This week I stumbled upon this song. I have purchased it, loaded it onto my iPod, and will now be playing it for every car ride and every errand.

Because of one line.

“You’re not mad at me. You’re madly in love with me.”

If I could heal the trauma soundtrack with one message, this would be it.

Surely Goodness and Mercy by Israel Houghton

I pray this healing over my kids and yours.

What song are you singing to your kids today?

Something I Do

For a long time our 401K and retirement fund were just big holes where we threw our money, hoping to see it again in thirty years. Now we realize that the money is actually going somewhere and being used, for good and for evil. While we can’t control everything, my husband and I decided that we could convert our retirement funds to SRIs – Sustainable and  Responsible Investments. If we are going to be setting aside money to grow for our old age, we want our investments to be used ethically. If you need any help turning over your retirement or investments, we highly recommend Streamline Financial Services. They understand the values we have and they search to find us the portfolio that will make the impact we want to make (or not make) with our money.

Something I Don’t

We don’t budget. We live within our means, but we don’t always know where those “means” are going. A defined budget helps a person be more green because you can track where your money is spent and make a bigger impact with each choice. When we are aware of our spending, we are more effective at limiting consumerism, gas consumption, eating out, and frivolous, impulsive choices. The more we examine our money and its impact, the more we can use it as a tool for change, rather than it using us to keep Walmarts and Targets operational.

How do you make your money serve you? How do you use your wealth (and if you are reading this, you have attained a certain level of wealth) for good?

Our version of the Children’s Picture Bible lies. Well, it has no words. But I’m pretty sure it lies anyway. I’m always having to apologize for our picture Bible, because most of the people in it resemble caucasians. There are very few people of color represented in the cartoon drawings. In one instance, a rainbow of skin colors make an appearance–in the story of Jesus calling the children to himself. Weird, because Jesus is represented as a white guy. Sorry, kids. Your Bible is probably lying.

The historical Jesus was a middle-eastern person. A Jew. For hundreds of years, his ethnicity has been artistically rendered into a European soup of whiteness. Not only is this most likely a false representation of Jesus of Nazereth, but it represents a not-so-subtle message that Jesus = Western Civilization.

But it didn’t always mean that.

My husband Andy and I had the privilege of visiting Istanbul, Turkey this year. This ancient city houses some of the most important pieces of Christian and Muslim history and ancient architecture. We toured the Hagia Sofia, the Blue Mosque, the Hagia Irene, Topkapi Palace and Chora Church. These places of worship and royalty almost reverberate with ancient ghosts. At times we could barely speak.

We visited the Chora Church, which was converted to a mosque in the 16th century. At that time, the spectacular mosaics that lined the walls and ceilings were covered and the sculptures destroyed. Centuries later, after WWII,  the mosaics were restored and the building was opened as a secular museum.

The caucasian mosaics at Chora Church represent the people who crafted them. When they thought about the people in the Bible, they saw themselves. The mosaics they created were unparalleled in all of Christendom and the artwork began to be imitated far and wide. What began as a project of love and a desire to teach the stories of Scripture to the masses became a master version from which hundreds of churches copied and were inspired.

Basically, they started a trend. But they didn’t mean to.

What would happen if we all drew pictures of the Bible that looked like ourselves, our families, our experience? We would have a piles and piles of different Jesuses, with thousands of different skin tones, noses, eyes, and hair styles. Every Children’s Picture Bible would be different. And they would all be authentic, personal experiences of Scripture.

I’ve come to the conclusion that the Children’s Picture Bible doesn’t lie after all. It’s incomplete. It’s missing my Jesus. My kids’ Jesuses. Your Jesus. When all the puzzle pieces of the mosaic fit together, we find him.