The Habit of Celebration

In the month of November, we turn our attention to practicing gratitude. That’s a great focus. Today, I’d like to take that a step further and say, we need to practice the habit of celebration which in turn produces memories to be grateful for!

“Make sure that the good ground of your home includes an abundance of laughter, parties, celebrations, presents, candles, Christmas trees, gifts, surprises, rocky road ice cream, jokes, backyard picnics, vacations, mountain bikes, bike rides, swimming, fishing and games. At the various houses in which our family has lived, we have had things like a swing set, a tree house, a tent, sleeping bags, a basketball hoop, baseballs, gloves and bats.” 

Seven Habits of a Healthy Home

One summer Sunday, we had a family birthday celebration for Amerey and Damian. Their birthdays are three days apart, and we often celebrate them together. We had grilled chicken and veggies and had a build-your-own fajita buffet. 

My brother Jess and his wife Tessa were able to come, along with their two children, Lexie and Alivia. My sister Natasha and her three children, Aaliyah, Aaron, and Israel, came too — plus my daughter Audrey and her husband Adam. We had a full house and lots of conversation and laughter.

The ironic thing about this celebration is that it had been preceded by a catastrophe. An hour before the party was to begin, Amerey and I were in the kitchen doing some prep work. She was making five gallons of lime water while I sliced green peppers. Her boyfriend had called us several times and warned us that a violent storm was headed our way, but it was still sunny, so I just kept chopping. Within minutes, though, the wind picked up, and black clouds rolled in. Amerey and I ran down to the pool patio and put the umbrellas down, closed the shed, and ran back inside with the wind knocking us around and sheets of rain pouring down on us. 

Back inside, Amerey dried off with a towel and checked the garage. An inch of water had flooded in. We began moving drums and anything we could out of the water’s path. Then she ran upstairs, only to find water cascading from the foyer light. 

My brother Jess and his family had pulled up in the middle of the storm and were waiting it out in the car. When the rain slowed, he called.

“Come in here — we need you!”  I said.

He came inside, checked out the light with a flashlight, and found where the water was coming in. The rest of the family arrived home from church, and we worked on sweeping water toward the garage drain. Tessa took over my slicing job. Damian went down and fished the sticks, leaves, and other debris out of the pool. I cleaned out the light and cleaned up water around a leaky window.

I went back to the kitchen to make sure everything was out and ready. Amerey and Tessa were still slicing and dicing, and everything was on track. “I am so through with this house!”  I complained to Tessa, and then we had gone on with the party.

The highlight of the celebration was our tradition of taking turns at the dinner table to speak blessings to the birthday person. It’s a celebration of memories. Each person starts with, “My favorite memory of you from the past year is . . .” 

This particular year, Damian had turned eighteen, and the comments he received were all about his work ethic and how he had matured. My son-in-law Adam spoke of his tenacity in projects, such as taking something apart and building something new out of it. 

The memories people shared with Amerey were about her being on her own, living in an apartment. Ania’s favorite memory was being able to go spend a weekend in the apartment and eating almost a whole pan of brownies together. Fun times!

I tell this story as a reminder: some of our best memories come at unlikely times. Like a fun-filled birthday party in the middle of a massive storm.

Choosing to Celebrate

Celebration is a choice. If our family had waited until all the circumstances were perfect before we celebrated life, that party never would have happened. When it comes to celebration, timing isn’t everything.

“He who observes the wind [and waits for all conditions to be favorable] will not sow, and he who regards the clouds will not reap.” (Ecclesiastes 11:4)

 This scripture puts it plainly. If I wait for conditions to be favorable or for everything to be perfect, than I will never sow, nor will I reap. If I want to reap a harvest of memories with my children, then I must sow the habit of celebration over and over again. 

As a parent, you never know which memories will stick. Every once in a while, my children will speak of a bad memory from their past, but more often than not, they share good family memories. 

“Remember when we went hiking at Coopers Rock?” 

“Remember when we made cards at my birthday party?”  

“Remember when we rollerbladed up and down the boardwalk at the beach?”

Each one of these memories were probably preceded by unfavorable conditions. They definitely weren’t experiences that we planned down to the last detail and executed without any hiccups.

While speaking to the Mom to Mom group at our church, I was asked the question, “Well, what if I plan a fun activity like making cookies, and my kid says she doesn’t want to do it?”  My answer? “Do it anyway!” 

I have found that no matter what “fun” thing you have planned, there will be naysayers. The naysayers may drag their feet and complain, but years from now, it may be a fond memory. I am often surprised when my kids mention one of these events as a favorite memory — even though I remember clearly that, during the actual event, he or she didn’t want to participate. 

Hurt children are often afraid to participate. If the situation is a new scenario for them, they may feel out of control. If the child has bad memories associated with a particular activity or event, he may think that it will end up the same way. 

An example I’ve already mentioned from my own life is long car trips. In my childhood, these were scary times for me. My father would become tense and angry as soon as we got in the car. I began to associate long trips with anger. I didn’t want to get in the car and go to the mountains or the beach or anywhere. Even today, in my adult life, I must remind myself  that long trips are not bad things.

*If you’d like to learn more, check out How to Have Peace When Your Kids are in Chaos – the book  (this article is an excerpt ) and the course.

National Adoption Month and Some Thoughts on #adoptionrocks

It’s national adoption month and a friend of mine shared a post on the #adoptionrocks by Tara Vanderwoude, Social Worker. You can find her whole post on her Facebook page. I’ll share some snippets here. 

“For the past handful of years, #adoptionrocks has been popular across social media. A quick query on Insta shows nearly 500k photos hash-tagged with this sentiment. It’s mostly APs using it, and photos come up with adoptee toddlers at the apple orchard, adoptee tweens reading a book on the couch or adoptee grade-schoolers on the first day of school. Other photos show newly adopted kids in the courtroom on finalization day, while other photos are fun selfies of a white parent with a kid of color.” – Vanderwoude

when Adoptive Parents don’t feel the right to Celebrate.

I’d already been thinking about the topic of adoptive parents because recently because of an alarming trend not to celebrate kiddos because we might offend someone. I’ve talked with some parents, who adopted/foster and want to protect the rights/feelings of birth parents.  Because of this, adoptive parents seem as if they hide in the shadows. Afraid to post. Afraid to talk about the joy the kiddos bring or have in their homes. It’s just not right. We shouldn’t hide. We should brag that these wonderful kiddos exist. They are precious.

– One of my adoptees.

“Simply stated, I just don’t get #adoptionrocks .

In light of #passTheMicToAdoptees this November for #nationaladoptionawarenessmonth, I’m wondering:

– For whom does adoption rock? The AP? The birth parent? The adoptee?” –

Vanderwoude

In this world of “tolerate and love everyone” it seems as if there should be no rules. No heartache. No disrespect to any people group, culture, or gender. But there is disrespect when you tell a family not to hashtag something in a celebratory way or say that adoption shouldn’t rock for them. Also, just so you know, when a white parent adopts a child with a different skin tone, that child will retain the skin tone throughout their lives so it will show up in all the family photos. Celebrate it. Adoptive parents  should not feel guilty, condemned, and carry the trauma the child has on their backs like a sack of rocks. We can’t help our kiddos find hope or healing in the position of guilt and condemnation. Or maybe they should get down on their knees and crawl on glass for penance? When are we going to stop 1984-ing every aspect of everyone’s lives? Really? 

Hashtags

I’m not huge on hashtags. I use them but they aren’t something I put a lot of thought into. If hashtags were more important to me I might use #NiCUrocks right now. Not because I’m thankful that my grandson was born eight weeks early. Not because I want to glorify one of the six risk factors for trauma. Not because of the science I know about preemie births and the possible outcomes. No, because, there are nurses, doctors, equipment there to help my grandson survive and thrive.

Just as when I was in Iowa one summer when my dad was teaching a summer class at Waverly. The tornado siren went off and we all walked to the basement and hid out there until the tornado passed. The tornado took out a gas station a few blocks away. #basementsrock.

What #Adoptionrocks is Not

I’m going to be pretty blunt here because other people feel the right to be blunt about what we should or should not say, tag, feel, do, think, or write. #adoptionrocks is not synonymous with #birthmotherstinks or #trauma is great. 

Guess what? Adoption is there because there has been trauma. Period. No use or avoidance of hashtags will change that. If you are a trauma-informed adoptive/foster parent you know that. What I don’t get is when adoptive parents aren’t allowed to celebrate the child. Yes, birth parents of  bio children post pics of apple picking days, farm days, Christmas tree hunting, summer swimming, and hashtag all sorts of things. Why? Because it’s our new form of scrapbooking. It’s our way of storing photo memories. It’s our way of storing snippets of celebration.

The Origins of Adoption

As Christians, let’s not forget the origins of adoption. It was God’s idea in the first place. Ephesians 1 says: 

4 Even as [in His love] He chose us [actually picked us out for Himself as His own] in Christ before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy (consecrated and set apart for Him) and blameless in His sight, even above reproach, before Him in love.

5 For He foreordained us (destined us, planned in love for us) to be adopted (revealed) as His own children through Jesus Christ, in accordance with the purpose of His will [[b]because it pleased Him and was His kind intent]—

Our adoption into God’s family rocks. Our adoption is not something we should hide. We should celebrate. And when we adopt, we follow in the Father’s footsteps. We acknowledge the world is broken. Just as God gives us place in His family, we give our kiddos a place in ours.

Adoption Gives Us a Voice

Therefore you are no longer outsiders (exiles, migrants, and aliens, excluded from the rights of citizens), but you now share citizenship with the saints (God’s own people, consecrated and set apart for Himself); and you belong to God’s [own] household. – Ephesians 2:19

Once we become part of the family, we have voice, we aren’t outsiders. We have a place at the table. We have security. Adoption provides the same for our kiddos – a Voice. 

Adoption helps the child say:

I have a family.

I’m clothed.

I’m fed.

I’m safe.

I am loved. 

I am valued.

I passed the mic to my adoptees.

I even took this a step further and asked my adult adoptees if they had issues with the hashtag. Nope. My eldest said, “Most kids feel lucky to be out of the situation they were in and put in a better one so #adoptionrocks.”- Eldest Son

“I think it’s cool. It will show some people who always thought adoption was a bad thing that it’s a good thing.”- Youngest Son.

My other two adoptees agreed with their siblings sentiment. The question started a great conversation about birth parents and respect and such but that’s a post for another time.

We should be happy that parents are willing to build their families through adoption. All children are precious and should be celebrated. During this national month of adoption, let’s do that. Celebrate the avenue in which kids find family. Celebrating adoption is not celebrating trauma. It’s celebrating family. With the culture telling us to celebrate same-sex parents, transgender, or just about any life choice. How about we just say to ourselves, I respect your life choice to celebrate using a hashtag that says #adoptionrocks.

One final thought from a Facebook friend: 

“If we look at adoptions as we look at stepparenting, maybe we could come to a consensus that ALL parenting rocks, if you’re raising a kid, you’re a PARENT, and that is your CHILD whether by blood or love and that families are just that, families. Different, wonderful, traditional, nontraditional and families raising good humans just ROCK no matter what they came from or what they look like ❤”  – Megan Lake

Side of Grief

“Aunt __________ had a stroke,” the voice on the other end of the line said. The bottom fell out from under me. I gripped the counter for support.

After multiple moves from hospital to hospital and some new factors, the prognosis is not good. Aunt _______ has a special place in my heart, only seven years my senior and a writer (journalist) with a quick wit and a heart for hurting children. She has been a constant fixture in my life and is famous for our coffee dates that last for hours while we talk about everything and nothing.

Grief sucks energy and leaves me drained. To add to that, over the past several weeks my family has suffered its share. A dear aunt from the other side of the family slipped away far too quickly. I got a text at 4:30 am that she was gone. My sister-in-law spent nearly a week in the hospital while I was on vacation (and no one told me). That news shook me. I called her as soon as I heard and was relieved to hear her voice on the other end.

I’m a deep, slow processor. While others are microwaves, I’m a woodburning stove, the embers burn slowly. I almost didn’t write this post because my processor is still creaking slowly away, but I felt I had to share this message, one I have experienced over and over: Grief and joy co-exist. I didn’t used to believe this. I thought that I could be happy or sad. Turns out joy is not happiness. It’s a fruit. It need to seed, to flower and then to produce a tiny fruit that matures until it is ready to harvest.

Charles Dickens said it best:

“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair, we had everything before us, we had nothing before us…”

Fifteen years ago I had two seasons burst forth at the same time. My new kids came home from Poland and at the same time, my Bud (step-father) labored to breathe in ICU. I had the joy of my whole family together at last and the grief of losing Bud. He died a week into the kids’ new life in the states.

Last week, with the devestating news of my aunt pressing on me, I almost cancelled Camp Lemon-Lime, a family camp here at my home for the kids and grandkids. I followed through because I know joy and grief can and should co-exist. He prepares a table for me in the presence of mine enemies. He provides daily manna. I trust that I will see the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living and He is good. He gives good gifts.

Camp Lemon-Lime Lucy goggles
Ready to swim!

We swam, jumped on the trampoline, ate S’mores every night while we sat round the campfire and watched the fireflies light up in the distance. I napped in a hammock one afternoon while the grandkids napped after two swim sessions. I battled it out in the pool with sponge balls and laughed hard and long with Sam and Theo, Jerry, Adam and Rafal. Audrey, Amerey and I chatted and read aloud to one another while lounging in lawn chairs on the front lawn. And…sometimes I cried quietly, sometimes out loud.

Camp Lemon-Lime Let me help you with those!
Let me fix those for you!

In the midst of all the fun, a dear friend was wounded deeply. I shot her a few texts and said some prayers and wished I had some sturdy, strong boxing gloves I could put on and to into the ring for her.

Camp Lemon-Lime Pip and Hunter

Camp Lemon-Lime ended Sunday. Jerry and I drove the hour and a half to visit my aunt. The situations are still there, active, living, breathing, causing pain and suffering, yet, my joy is there too. I have a brown paper bag full of memories, moments of connections, play-doh at the dining room table and a long story telling, jumping on the trampoline like popcorn. Sweet conversations that begin with, “Ni Ni, COME!”

Camp Lemon-Lime amerey belly
Please show your pregnant belly, Amerey. Going for a walk. Lucy has her backpack with her Wendy doll safely tucked inside.

Camp Lemon-Lime Sam
Night Swim/kayaking with help from Uncles Hunter and Gregory creating some white water!

There is sometimes snow in summer. Seventy degree days in December. Joy and grief blast in at once. Weeping endures for a night but joy comes in the morning with tousled heads and bowls of cereal in the library pouring over nature guides.

Linking up with Kristin Hill Taylor for Three Word Wednesday!

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