Learning How to Eat (Coffee #4)

If we were having coffee (or tea, whichever), I would probably talk to you about Whole30. Don’t worry. I’m not going to become a food blogger or a healthy eating blog or a weight loss blog. Sure, it would be good for me to lose a few pounds, but that’s not why I’m doing it.

In the last year, our life has been a bit chaotic. Moving, remodeling, working, school, etc. I’ve never been an avid cook. I have a strong preference for 5 ingredients or less, 30 minutes to the table meals. Over the last year or two, actually cooking regular meals became more of an occasional event than a daily event. For the last 4 months, I didn’t actually have a kitchen, so we relied a lot on convenience foods and eating out.

As we were getting ready to move in to our new kitchen, Mike suggested that we do some kind of cleanse or eating plan to help us get back in the habit of preparing foods and making healthier dietary choices. After a little bit of research and discussion on what we felt we could tolerate, we decided on Whole30.

Last Saturday, we carried everything up from the basement where our makeshift kitchen area had been during the remodel and filled up our pretty new cabinets. On Sunday, I went grocery shopping and spent more money than I have ever spent at the grocery store. (After months of not cooking, our pantry was rather bare from the start.)

Let me tell you, going from no cooking to three full meals every day is an adjustment.  But, now at the end of Day 7, I think we’re getting the hang of it.

And we even said no to the peppermint hot fudge ice cream cake at our son’s birthday dinner today.

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My Favorite Season (Coffee #3)

If we were having coffee (or tea, either works for me), I would tell you that spring is my new favorite season, at least for right now.

I have loved autumn. I love the leaves changing colors and falling. I love watching the corn (in abundance in my neck of the woods) turn from bright green and full of life to gold then brown and dry. I love the sound of the wind whispering through the papery leaves, of the cornstalks and the trees. I love watching the sights, sounds, and smells of harvest. I eagerly await being able to see for miles when driving down the road instead of being walled in by giant stalks of corn. (See above reference to the abundance of corn in my neck of the woods.) I love sitting around the fire, roasting marshmallows and sharing with friends. I love the break from the summer heat. I love fall.

When I lived in Ohio, I loved winter. The sparkling of the trees covered with frost. The snow blanketing the roofs. The smoke curling from the chimneys of the Amish houses surrounding our house. And the snow covered slopes. We lived close to a ski resort, and spent one day of most winter weeks on the slopes. I learned to ski when I was 22, and for this very unathletically gifted gal, gliding down the slopes felt like such a big accomplishment. Then we moved to Illinois, and now are several hours away from the nearest skiing. The wind ripping across the prairie yields more ice than snow. And winter has lost some of its charm.

And now spring. The last few years, our winters have been hard for us personally. Some tragedy, some despair, a lot of stress, and a lot of work. I am grateful that the winter that just ended did not contain anything terribly bad for us. But adding a major remodeling project to our already-packed-full schedules, it was just long. For three and a half months, we did not have a kitchen. Rooms were blocked off with plastic. Every.single.thing.in.the.house was coated in a thick layer of drywall dust. The last year or so has been personally difficult for me as I’ve been stretched and grown on the inside in ways that mirror the changes in my house. Or maybe it’s the other way around, and the changes in the house mirror the changes on the inside.

Our remodeling project is not finished yet (still have to paint and install trim and doors and finish up odds and ends), but our kitchen is beautiful and fully functioning. I walk into it first thing each morning to let the dogs out to and am greeted with light pouring in from both the front and back of the house. I open the patio door and see the concrete forms for the new patio and firepit area that are being poured tomorrow. I see the plants and flowers popping up along the fence. I hear the birds chirping. I had my coffee on the backporch this morning (made by the Keurig that has finally returned to the kitchen after living in our bedroom for several months) and watched the birds flit and flutter.

Hope springs eternal in the human breast;

Man never is, but always to be blessed:

The soul, uneasy and confined from home,

Rests and expatiates in a life to come.

– Alexander PopeAn Essay on Man

We still have a lot of work to do in the yard and in the house. Our schedules are still too full. But the sun is shining. The birds are singing. The flowers are blooming. And we have that annual reminder that dark breaks to light, cold yields to heat, and death brings forth life.

Behold, the former things have come to pass,

Now I declare new things;

Before they spring forth I proclaim them to you.

                                                -Isaiah 42:9

Another Teacher

My heart is broken today. Three weeks ago, my favorite school teacher passed away. Today, my favorite teacher on adoption and foster care issues, child development, and parenting passed away.

Remember the conference I mentioned this weekend? The Empowered to Connect Conference is based on the work of Dr. Karyn Purvis and the others at Texas Christian University’s Institute of Child Development (ICD). Dr. Purvis had been scheduled to speak at the conference, but she was unable to attend due to her doctor’s orders as she was battling cancer. Just a handful of days after that announcement, she passed away.

When you hear others from the ICD speak, it is obvious that Dr. Purvis was the heart and soul of their work. Dr. David Cross, Dr. Amanda Howard, Daren Jones, and many others are filling important roles, but at the conference this weekend, their love and admiration for Dr. Purvis was apparent.

My love and admiration for Dr. Purvis is apparent if you talk to me about parenting or adoption and foster care for more than approximately 90 seconds. I learned about her about three and a half years ago, and I am not overstating her influence when I say that she changed my life. She changed my family. Watching the short videos from her and Michael & Amy Monroe at http://empoweredtoconnect.org/ gave me practical tips and encouragement when I needed it most. Reading the book that she and Dr. Cross wrote, The Connected Child: Bring hope and healing to your adoptive family, was a significant turning point in moving from despair and hopelessness toward hope and healing. Attending the Empowered to Connect Conference in Chicago with Mike helped the two of us get on the same page and gave us a refreshing, much-needed getaway. She taught us how to look past the behavior and see the preciousness of the child who was only doing what he knew to survive. She gave us practical tools to be able to parent to our child’s needs instead of others’ expectations.

Trust-Based Relational Intervention (TBRI) is the name of the philosophy that is taught at ICD and Empowered to Connect. TBRI is an evidence-based program drawing on sound child development principles and the latest in neurobiology and brain research. It is not something someone tried with her own kids and decided to monetize it.

Dr. Purvis’s methods are scientifically sound.

“I’ve never once met a child who can’t come to deep levels of healing if you understand what they need.”

“If you share power with your child, you have proven that the power is yours to share.”

“You have chosen the destination. Let the child choose the path.”

“Recovery of function recapitulates development of function.”

But her heart shone even brighter than the science.

Dr. Purvis called us as parents to love our children the way God loves us.

“Trust-based parenting mirrors God’s sacrificial love for us.”

“It is powerful for children to know that they are loved and adored even in the midst of their worst behaviors.”

Dr. Purvis offered grace.

“It is better to err and repair than never to err at all.”

“We’re called to see the preciousness of our children even when they are covered in their own mess.'”

Dr. Purvis recognized the hurts our children have experienced and gave them a path of healing.

“The kids bled before they came to us. They should not have to bleed in our care.”

“Say to your child, ‘I’m gonna see you through. We’re gonna get to the other side.’”

Dr. Purvis offered hope to struggling parents.

“I want you to know there’s a plan to keep breathing.”

Dr. Purvis was a dreamer who sought to provide resources to people around the world to care for hurting children.

“Imagine a world where every child’s hurt, every child’s cry, and every child’s need is met by a loving adult.”

In her sweet, lilting, southern, and occasionally sassy, voice she encouraged and empowered parents and professionals around the world.

Her work will go on through the ICD, through Empowered to Connect, and through the thousands of parents and professionals she sought to equip.

But, goodness, she will be missed.

(All quotes by Dr. Karyn Purvis, transcribed from my notes from conferences and the dozens of videos of her I’ve watched.)

Working Through My History (Coffee #2)

If we were having coffee (or tea, either is fine with me), I would tell you about the conference I attended the last two days. For the second year in a row, I was able to help host a simulcast of the Empowered to Connect Conference for adoptive and foster parents and the professionals who serve them. I wish I could get every parent to attend because the principles taught at ETC are good for every child. I’ll save that soapbox for another day. Mike and I had attended the live conference in Chicago three years ago, and it really impacted us. Organizing the local simulcast gives me an opportunity to share that blessing with others.

A couple sessions at ETC are focused on adult attachment and how important it is for us, as caregivers and professionals, to own our own history and know what we are bringing to the relationship. This is not to say that our history is the cause of our children’s issues. It is to say that if we don’t address our own hangups, then we will not be able to be fully present for our kiddos. And one of the most important things we can give our kiddos is our full presence. Don’t worry. It doesn’t have to be 24 hours a day. But when we are interacting our children, they need us to not get stuck in our own story and be able to recognize their needs at the moment. We can’t do that very well if we have not come to terms with our own histories. This is true for ALL children, but it is especially true for kiddos who have had difficult beginnings or experienced traumas in their life. These events affected the way their little brains work, and we want to give them all the resources they need to be able to succeed.

There are three primary attachment styles. The first, and optimal, style is secure. Then there are two insecure styles, anxious-avoidant and anxious-ambivalent. When I first started learning about attachment styles, I was convinced that I had a secure style. I would have argued you if you said otherwise. So I didn’t think too much about this. I knew there were some things in my story, from my adulthood, that affected my ability to be present to my kiddo, but I didn’t think I needed to deal with too much childhood stuff. I remember having a discussion about that with Mike on the way home from our first ETC conference in Chicago three years ago.

Then last year at ETC, Dr. Mandy Howard spoke about attachment style. She played videos representing the different styles and explained how each of those styles looks in our adult lives. And as I watched and listened, I realized that I did not have secure attachment. I wasn’t sure where exactly I fell. Was it anxious-avoidant or anxious-ambivalent? But I knew for sure that it wasn’t secure. I had taken a few months off of attending therapy for myself, but after that conference, I emailed the therapist to start up again. I knew it was something I needed to address. Over the last year, I have identified which one of those it is and started being a little more honest with myself about how that impacts me, both as a parent and in all relationships.

During Friday’s sessions, Dr. Mandy again spoke about attachment and owning our stories. I watched the videos representing the different styles and explanations of how those look in our adult lives, and I could see myself very, very clearly. I have to be honest and tell you that it’s not an easy thing to see. It can be painful to look at your childhood and see how you are passing those hurts on to your child and your spouse and to others. But it is necessary. And I can see that I still have a long way to go in making sense of my story.

Working through your own attachment history isn’t about blaming the past, ignoring the past, or re-writing the past. It is about recognizing both the good and bad and making sense of it for you now, so you don’t get stuck in your story when your child needs you or dismiss your child’s story because that’s what you do to your own. And I still have some work to do. My kiddo will be 18 in a couple weeks (how did that happen already?), but I believe that it’s never too late.

#weekendcoffeeshare #etc2016

Happiness

A couple years ago, my therapist and I had a discussion about joy and happiness. This was during a time when there was a lot more sad than glad going on in my life. There was a lot more hard than easy. A lot more grieving than celebrating. Much of this centered around a difficult parenting season, but there were several major things going on in my life right then that contributed. Both of them, joy and happiness, seemed like far off dreams.

I said that my goal was to be joyful because joy transcends circumstances and happiness is dependent on circumstances. My therapist, being the fan of definitions and nuances of words that he is, replied that the word “happiness” can refer to what is happening right now, as in being happy in whatever is happening and not just when positive things are happening. He said he likes to think of it as being happy no matter what is happening.

After my session, I stopped at the store to pick up a few groceries. On the endcap in the housewares department was a display featuring cups and coffee mugs that said, you guessed it, “happiness.” I decided that bit of serendipity seemed as good a reason as any to buy it. So I picked up a “happiness” cup for a few dollars which became my “water cup” at work. Do you have one drinking cup that you use all the time for water at work? Every time I took a drink or saw it sitting on my desk, I had a reminder that happiness can be found in any circumstance. I needed that reminder almost as much as I needed air to breathe, especially as things seemed to be getting worse and not better. I needed to know that I would survive. I needed to know that I would be okay. I needed to know that someday, even if I wasn’t able to yet in those circumstances, I could be happy.

And then, only a month later, at the end of a week that felt like more than a nightmare than real life, I dropped the cup on the floor.

And my happiness broke.

My happiness broke

I shut myself in my office and cried. Because it was just a cup, but it wasn’t just a cup. The cup that symbolized so much for me served as a metaphor for that season.

And the day got harder.

And then, a few hours later, one of the hard situations showed a glimmer of hope. Just a tiny sliver of light. Not much. But enough to give me strength to hold on a little longer.

The cup no longer holds water, obviously, but I just couldn’t throw it away. I gave it a purpose and set in on my window sill holding dry erase markers.

It seems silly, I know, that the cup means so much to me, but I can’t look at it without remembering the conversation with my therapist about being happy in whatever is happening. I can’t look at it without remembering how the cup practically jumped in to my cart that day. I can’t look at it without remembering the day my happiness broke.

That was two years ago today.

The last two years have been filled with a lot of sad, a lot of hard, and a lot of grieving. But they’ve also been filled with a lot of joy and celebration and, yes, happiness.

I still need a reminder that I can be happy, that I can be joyful, that everything will be okay. That I will be okay.

But I am filled with gratitude that when my happiness broke, I did not.

 

Back to School, Back to School (Coffee #1)

If you and I were having coffee (or tea if you prefer), I would tell you that this week, once again, has affirmed why I decided to go back to school.

I have spent a big chunk of time researching graduate school admission requirements, talking with my undergrad academic advisor and department chair, looking at my intended grad program coursework, and panicking about whether or not I would be accepted to my school of choice. I’ve been listing possible academic and professional references. I’ve been listing all of my experiences in human services and clarifying my goals. I’ve talked with several people who know me about my past experience and my career goals.

When I think of everything involved in going back to school – juggling my schedule of family, work, school, and other interests, arranging finances, spending hours reading textbooks and writing papers, planning for my next courses – it can be a little overwhelming to keep everything straight. But in the middle of “overwhelmed,” something is noticeably absent. That something is “tired.” When I am working on school and things related to school and things related to my interest in social work and counseling, I can just keep going. Obviously, I have to sleep and do other things to care for myself, but I don’t get bored. I don’t get frustrated.

And it feels a lot to me like Csikzentmihalyi’s Flow. Which is a good thing.

And a good reminder that all of this work is worth it.

#weekendcoffeeshare