Monday, December 19, 2016

Christmas Grace by Kristin Orphan

What a year!  When I look back on the past 12 months in my family, I’m amazed at all that has transpired.  We have experienced change, celebrations, set backs, confusion and break-through.

As we head into the next couple of weeks of celebration.  I know that our family time will not resemble the holiday movies I see on TV.  Some will be awkward, others will be disappointing, and at times, I will wonder why I worked so hard to make a special memory when no one else seems to care.  I will be tempted to compare my kids to others.  I will fantasize that other people are having the magical Christmas I can only dream about.  I will grieve that I am a reminder to my daughters that their “real mom” is not present with them.  I will mourn that my sons’ less than perfect Christmas is in part a result of the choice my husband and I made years ago to adopt two children who have experienced trauma and loss.  I will once again wonder why we have not progressed further and why “the most wonderful time of the year” feels anything but. 

Then I will remember why my family does not look or act like anyone else’s.  I will think back on each of the days and circumstances that led us to say, “yes” to two little girls who would eventually call us mom and dad.  Who, despite their protests and regular rejection, need us to tenaciously love them, set boundaries and pursue outside help to address all of the challenges that we have and will face in each stage.  Then, I will allow myself to review the victories of these past 13 years, the moments of joy, humor and connection.  I will remember each time one of my sons proudly explained why his skin does not match his sister’s skin and when one used the pronoun “we” to say, “we adopted her.”  I will remember the first Mother’s Day tea, when my oldest daughter shyly brought me a flower in front of her whole class and read her poem to me. Oh, the cost, knowing that she had another mom out there whom she would not see for Mother’s Day.  How lonely she must have felt while the rest of her fellow eight year olds could not begin to imagine the dilemma of two moms, or trying to write a poem about a woman you had just met a few short months before.  I will smile at how my youngest daughter and I share many of the same hobbies and interests and how people say she “gets her singing voice” from me.

In the hardest of times, I find my greatest comfort in remembering why: why we built our family in this way, why our girls needed us to be their parents, why our sons are more compassionate than most young adults their age and most importantly, why we celebrate Christmas.  I know that I am not the first to pose that challenge.  However, I think it bears repeating, because each holiday season, I bring unrealistic expectations to this wildly busy and expensive month.  I think it is my job as a mom to create wonder and to purchase gifts that will leave each of my kids feeling loved and known.  I want my plans to work out flawlessly.  I want to be able to respond positively when people ask, “How was your Christmas?”  And yet, I know our Christmas will be messy, uncomfortable and perhaps even a little embarrassing, not unlike the first Christmas.  And yet, out of the discomfort and difficulties of Mary and Joseph’s journey, redemption and grace came into the world through our Savior Jesus Christ.  May we find redemption and grace this year in the midst of our own messy and miraculous journeys.

Wednesday, June 15, 2016

Choose Your Battles by Kristin Orphan


 Choose Your Battles by Kristin Orphan 

I have two older brothers.  They are only 15 months apart from one another and have been best friends all of our lives. Being the baby and the only girl often left me feeling a bit on the outside, so I worked very hard to be just like them.  If they cursed and spit, I cursed and spit.  If they yelled at the TV during an NFL game, I yelled.  If they dared me to do something crazy, I typically went for it.  Jump off 5 concrete steps in roller skates?  Sure!  Oops fractured arm. Fold me up in a coach bed, replace all of the cushions and sit on it?  Sure!  Currently, I'm not really fond of tight spaces. 
Let them take turns launching me off the bottom of their feet to see who could send me further?  Sure!  Oops, broken and dislocated elbow, two surgeries and an awesome scar.  They were especially nice to me that week.  Bottom line, I thought they were the coolest ever and could do no wrong and ALL of their ideas were great.  I was also under the delusion that they thought I was cool, too.

The only time in our lives that we were all at the same school and on the same playground was when I was in 1st grade.  My oldest brother Kevin was in 6th grade and my middle brother Kendall was in 5th.  Having graduated from the baby playground of Kindergarten made me feel invincible. 
Before school one today, I looked across the field and saw my oldest brother in a wrestling match with someone in the dirt.  Believing my brother needed help, I picked up my metal Charlie's Angels lunch box and began to run full speed at the perpetrator, yelling the whole way...."Leave my brother alone!" I have long since suspected it was the inspiration for the "Freedom!" scene from the movie Braveheart.

I felt like a hero!  I had waited all my life for a chance to show my brothers how much they really needed me.  For the next few minutes, I chased that boy, threatening to bonk his head with my awesome lunch box if he didn't keep his hands off my brother.  Then......the bell rang.  Shew, my little legs were burning and I couldn't keep running much longer, but my brother would be safe now.

At the time, our dad worked right across the street from our elementary school.  Unbeknownst to me, my brother went straight to his office after school. Surprisingly, he did not go there to tell him how I had saved his life that day and how I should get an extra dessert as a reward.  His exact words were, "You have to get her under control!"

So, my dad delicately explained to me that evening that 6th grade boys don't want their little sisters sticking up for them.  Who knew?  That completely blew my 6 year-old mind.   Also, he said my brother was in no imminent danger, he was just rough-housing with his friend.  Hmm – guess I had totally misread the situation.

I wish I could tell you that I learned my lesson that day, but over the next several years, I couldn't keep myself from butting in and coming to both of my brothers' "rescue" and defense a few more times. 

 Eventually, I learned that those were not my fights.

Can you relate?  Have you ever jumped in to a fight with your whole heart, but left your brain behind?

While there are definitely times when we should stop, count to 10 and let common sense take over to prevent us from diving into conflict, there IS a fight in life worth not only engaging in, but persevering and winning. 

That is the fight against our flesh or the "us" before we surrendered our lives to Jesus Christ.  Those selfish desires and priorities that so easily creep up and are in conflict with who God is helping us to become by the work of his Holy Spirit in us.
Let's spend our time and energy on the stuff that counts and learn to let go of what doesn't.

"So I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh. For the flesh desires what is contrary to the Spirit, and the Spirit what is contrary to the flesh. They are in conflict with each other, so that you are not to do whatever you want." Galatians 5:16-17

Tuesday, May 31, 2016

Discerning God’s Will by Kristin Orphan

Discerning God’s Will by Kristin Orphan

Often I have conversations with families who are trying to understand what God is asking them to do.  The journey of foster care and adoption is full of twists and turns.  We may be heading down one path and then a door closes and we are faced with either stopping or taking a turn.  As believers, we desire to be obedient to God’s calling on our life, but how do we know what that calling is?

1 - Determining God’s will through his Word:  Anything that aligns with the precepts and commandments in his Word is his will for us - like the fruit of the spirit, or generosity, honesty, grace, tithing and forgiveness when others hurt us.  These things may not be easy, but we know it is his will, because his Word is clear on these points.  We always go to his Word first.  Anything we think or feel or desire that contradicts his Word and his character as described in his Word - we can be certain is not his will for us.  

2 - Those times when God places a strong passion, desire OR calling in our hearts: The things we do big and small that align with his Word and our calling to represent Christ on this earth AND are specific to the gifts and desires he gives us.  Like hospitality, singing on the worship team, organizing a food drive, etc. Again, these actions may require sacrifice or cause discomfort, but we are confident that he is directing our path and providing opportunities, because they are clearly a reflection of who God made us to be and we cannot imagine our life without it.  In these situations, we still ask God to open and close doors according to his plan.

3 - When God disrupts our plans and even our desires and asks us to do something that either doesn’t make practical sense OR we simply do not want to do it: We see several examples in scripture of this. Jonah, whom God called to go to the Ninevites and tell them to repent so he could save them, hated the people and absolutely had no desire to be a part of their redemption.  Joseph had every right to divorce Mary quietly when she told him she was pregnant.  It took a visit from an Angel to redirect Joseph’s path.  Also, when Jesus stopped Paul on the road and disrupted his pursuit to persecute Christians and called him instead to preach the good news to the Gentiles.  Even Jesus himself prayed that God would deliver him from the cross, but said, “but not my will, yours be done."  In these examples, God was VERY clear. He left no doubt in his will.  I believe we can look back at these examples and know that when God calls us out of our comfort zone, life plan and even beyond our personal gifts and desires, He will be faithful to be very clear with us. He loves us and does not want to confuse us. In these times, we pray continually, search his Word, wait patiently and trust that his Spirit is alive and actively working on our behalf.  He will show us what obedience looks like.  

It becomes even more challenging when working through these decisions in a marriage and family, because the husband and wife can experience different emotions and desires.  Once again, we have to come back to the faithfulness of our God.  His will does not hurt one to help another.  So, we trust that he’ll bring us along ultimately to a place of agreement and unity when we humbly offer our desires to him and pray, “but not my will, yours be done."  We wait patiently for clarity, then we take action and trust God to equip us for his calling

Monday, May 16, 2016

Different Worlds, One Family by Kristin Orphan

Different Worlds, One Family by Kristin Orphan

When you say “football,” a very different image comes to mind depending on who you are.  What about the term vet?  What do you think of? You may have thought of a veterinarian or someone who served in a war.

It really depends on your perspective and where you came from.  What do you think or feel when you hear the term “forever family.” Consider a foster or adopted child who just joined your family.  What might they think when they hear that same term?

We each view life from a unique lens.

We often think of culture in terms of ethnicity or country of origin.  This is a key influencer and very important part of our identities.  Culture also refers to other influential social factors.

Culture is a term used by social scientists for the way people live.  It includes art, beliefs, customs, institutions, inventions, language, technology and values. 

People learn a culture by growing up in a particular family and community.  Culture includes all areas of life and every person has a culture.  Each aspect of a culture is developed by people, overtime and in response to needs and stress.  (Family Wellness).

When you welcome a child or youth home from a different family of origin, really no matter the age, they bring with themselves the different aspects of the culture they were born in and raised in up to this point. 

Sooner or later these aspects will emerge and create tension in the family.  Ultimately, I believe that differences can produce strength and enrich a family.  This takes time and work in bringing together different worlds into one family.

As foster adoptive parents, we all come with expectations, world-views and hopes.  It is perfectly natural.  It is also very important that we examine the origin and purpose of those expectations.

Expectations and cultural perspectives are powerful.  We are the only ones who can identify what our expectations truly are, and look for ways of either satisfying them or learning to let them go. 

The first step in this process is to be aware of who we are and where we are coming from: our culture.  Having perspective on the origin of our values and expectations is a crucial element in being a confident individual who can relate to another person in a respectful, healthy way.

What do we think is the right way of doing something?   Why do we respond the way we do to certain situations or comments? What are the core values that are informing these strong opinions? 

Human beings are complex, dynamic creatures.  We are influenced by our DNA, environment, and experiences.

What seems typical and normal to one person may be foreign and strange to another. 

Food and language are just two examples of characteristics that may define our culture.  I’m not only referring to different ethnic languages, like French or Spanish, but also what we consider acceptable language.
My son is going to the University of Alabama in the fall.  He will be expected to say, “yes, sir and yes, ma’am” when addressing his elders.  Try that in New York or California and most people are going to think you’re being sarcastic. 

What about the words, “I love you?”  Some people say them very easily and often.  Like, “Bye mom, love you.”  Others may be just as close in relationship, but these words are reserved for more intimate, special occasion settings.

Once we have had the opportunity of reflecting on who we are and how we’ve been influenced, it is very important that we also discover who our children are and what have been the influences in their lives. Many times we relate to our children based on our illusions or expectations of them. We want to see in them the person we hoped for, not taking into account the person they really are. 

Our children live under the heaviness of this disappointment in addition to their own grief from losing their biological family.  In this hectic life it is worth it to stop and reflect on who each one of our children are, and most importantly, listen to them telling us who they are.

Where they are coming from.  What have they experienced?  What did their world look like and feel like before?  What was their neighborhood like? 

Growing our families through foster care or adoption will change our family culture.  I had the na├»ve idea when we entered this journey many years ago that I was bringing children into my culture and that they would adapt accordingly. 

I’m glad I was wrong, but the shift in mindset has rocked my world. I had to choose to step outside of my cultural norms, family traditions and even my natural personality traits, in a pursuit to provide a home where each person is taken into account and everyone makes a contribution to the whole.  My values have not changed, but many of my methods have. 

We are most successful when we make these adjustments as a whole family, rather than placing unrealistic expectations on our kids to do all of the changing.  Sometimes, due to traumatic past experiences or development delays, they simply cannot. 

We have to look for new and creative ways to satisfy our values and take into account their special circumstances.  The more flexible we can be, the less we risk breaking.

We have to look for new and creative ways to satisfy our values and take into account their special circumstances.  The more flexible we can be, the less risk of breaking.

Tuesday, May 10, 2016

Invisible Wounds by Kristin Orphan

Our society has a lot more grace for visible wounds and disabilities.

Last year, I had a bulging disc in my lower back. It was so painful. I lived with the pain every day. It dictated how I functioned. I tried to keep going and act like nothing was different, because I didn’t want it to keep me from doing what everyone else was doing.

Then, I realized it was only getting worse. The pain was impacting my mood and draining me of energy.

During this time, I was at the store, using the cart as support to get a little shopping done. I brought my things out to my car, gingerly unloaded and then limped the cart over to the curb, where I put the wheels up so it would not roll into any other cars.

I was in a lot of pain. I was fighting back my tears. As I carefully walked back to my car, I got a very dirty look from a lady who said to a friend loud enough for me to hear, “the cart corral is just over there, you’d think she could walk a few more steps and put it away in the right place.”

As they walked away, I was left feeling very embarrassed and ashamed. They could not see my injury. It was invisible to them, so there was no grace. I agree, I would have preferred to put the cart where it belonged, but I was doing the best I could.

The impact of trauma is invisible. A child who wears the physical characteristics of special needs is often treated with compassion and openness.

A child who wears their trauma through anti-social behavior is looked down upon and judged as “bad.”

As parents, it is our job to see the behaviors for what they are, survival skills and symptoms of an invisible wound that impacts our child’s ability to function in the world.

The work of helping a child heal is hard. When we can take a compassionate view and help our community to do the same, everyone benefits on this long journey to health.

Thursday, May 14, 2015

Happy Mother's Day by Ana Morante, LMFT

To the amazing, beautiful, courageous women in my life

Today, Mother’s Day takes on a new, deeper meaning for me. I’ve been given a gift that I need to share with you and then, the world.

Being a mother is a privilege, a gift, and possibly the most intense and deepest experience that we can have as a human being. Nothing can give you more joy and more pain than the connection we have we our children. Although each of us has our own unique way of experiencing that connection, we cannot deny that it transforms our lives in incredible ways.
Understanding the power that I have over my children, makes me feel humble, responsible and excited about the opportunity to shape a human life. When I remember my daughters as fragile little babies, tears come to my eyes and a profound sense of gratitude for entrusting in me their safety and wellbeing. Human life is so delicate and so resilient at the same time, and we as mothers have the opportunity to be the first and most powerful influence to shape, mold, care, and protect that life.

I would dare to say that none of us can look back at our own relationship with our mothers and feel indifferent. For most of us an array of feelings comes to the surface. We can enjoy and feel strengthened by the positive feelings; however, what do we do with the undeniable uncomfortable ones? How have they shaped us? How have they influenced the mother that we are today?

The first thing that comes to my mind when reflecting on this is “COMPASSION” and “FORGIVENESS”. I am a firm believer that all of us, especially when we are mothering, do the best we can with what we have. Working with young children has allowed me to understand the deep meaning of this. Whenever I worked with a child in pain, I learned directly or indirectly about the child’s mother’s story. As far as I can remember, the mother’s story was often as sad or worst than the child’s current pain. This helped me see that the name of the game should never be blame but compassion, and in my case, a profound desire and an undeniable call to work to help today’s mothers do better for their children and future generations. Unless we do something today to revert the trend, pain and struggle will continue to be passed on from generation to generation.
No matter what we do in life, being a mother is the hardest thing we will ever have to do. No matter how old our children are, our role as a mother never ends (but be careful because it needs to change.)

Stress, fear, guilt, ridiculous high expectations, lack of self-care, lack of knowledge or certainty on what to do in each moment with each child, and our own personal challenges and limitations are constant companions in our journey. They deplete us from our ability to connect with the most loving, wisest part of us. We do not need to be perfect. We do not need to be right all the time. All we need to do is connect with love at all times. We need to remember that we are not alone. We need to remind ourselves that our children are not just ours. They are God’s children, and God always knows best. In our times of stress, confusion, sadness, disappointment, fear let’s turn to the giver of life for guidance, support and healing. In our times of joy and happiness, let’s celebrate with the giver of life and be thankful for the ability to experience the depths of love.
To me, there is beauty, power and sacredness in my role as a mother. It is the closest way to connect me and to experience God’s presence in my life.

My sisters in the motherhood journey, I want to thank you for your courage, your strength and your  “YES” to the most important call in life: to shape and mold a sacred human being. Let’s leave guilt and regret behind. Let’s embrace COMPASSION, FORGIVENESS, TRUST, JOY and LOVE every step of the way.

And I want to ask for your prayers, support and best intentions in my call to work to strengthen the motherhood experience today.

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

Can We Fix It? Yes, We Can!

Written by Kristin Orphan
FHF Founder and Director 

We bought a new dishwasher about 6 months ago.  Recently, we discovered that the door that releases the soap was not opening on a consistent basis.  So, we figured out a way to “trick it” sometimes, but often we have to run the load a second time. Why do we keep doing the same thing and expecting different results?  Why are we changing our behavior to compensate for the dishwasher’s malfunction?  Why?  Because, we are survivors.  We work hard to get things done and we are creative in our problem solving.  But, these strengths turn into weaknesses when we neglect to take the time to address the real problem and use up all of our energy with quick fixes that fall short.  We begin to over function in our roles to make up for gaps in the system.  As a parent, whether we’ve come to a new season in our child’s development or we are facing a very difficult challenge, we must learn to do our part well and teach our children to do their part.  Do we stick to the rules and consequences we have communicated or do we get really frustrated and work over time to try to make our child successful at our own expense?  Do our children know that the boundaries we set are loving and firm or have they learned that with enough whining or procrastinating, we will cave and save them in the end? This is difficult for all of us, because we do not want our children to fail.  And sometimes, our children do require extra support and our over working is masking a problem that requires outside help or professional intervention.   Parenting is hard work and it’s easy to take that to an unhealthy and unhelpful level.  We all come to times where we realize that our systems need some adjustment.  If it’s broken, let’s fix it!  (By the way, it turns out it was the dishwasher soap we were using.  Go figure).