Aiming Arrows

Musings of a Mommy

Category: Thoughts

Good Grief!

Good Grief!

We’ve all heard this expression, and maybe even said it out of frustration, but have you ever thought about it?  Can grief really be good?  I’m not talking about the kind of everyday irritations but instead the soul wrenching emotions that we feel when we encounter loss in our lives; loss when we wave adios to dreams and hopes or when our health deteriorates and especially when we say goodbye to our beloved friends and family.

What are we to do with the crazy – wrapped around and won’t let go – kind of emotions that we experience?  What are we to do in the midst of grief?

I met Erica McNeal several years ago when we worked at our church together.  Our lives have continued to cross and circle especially through our stories of adoption.  I’ve loved watching their family grow but it’s not been an easy journey.  Erica has also battled cancer numerous times and said goodbye to their daughter shortly after birth.

In Good Grief!, Erica tells her personal stories of grief and writes a bit about the nature of God in light of suffering.  My favorite chapter of the book is called Breaking It Down.  In this chapter she writes about a practical exercise she uses to wrap the multitude of emotions around the scriptures.

“I have found throughout the years that breaking down my stress biblically allows me to stay focused and grounded in God’s Word. Doing this also gives me the gift of talking my worry and anxiety down, by focusing on the positive aspects of what is happening in the midst of my difficult circumstances. It allows me to stop focusing on everything that is scary and negative, while replacing my fear with peace.” – Erica McNeal, Good Grief! 

Erica’s book is also a great resource for the family and friends of the one suffering under the weight of grief.  Have you ever had the feeling that while you were trying to offer comforting words they were actually hurtful?  I know I have.  In Good Grief!,  Erica explains why some words, clichés, and platitudes are hurtful.  She also helps the reader learn healing words and phrases.  And, finally, instead of saying “call if you need anything,” she arms the reader with ideas for practical ideas for serving our loved ones.

So, is grief good?  Well, not grieving when your life circumstances demand such a response is definitely not good!  You can help make the grieving process a positive, albeit very difficult, experience for your loved one by creating an oasis in the midst of their turmoil.  So, grab a copy of Good Grief! How to Create an Oasis When Life is a Desert and visit Erica at www.ericamcneal.com.

Keep reading for the multitude of giveaways Erica is offering this week only!!!   June 11th – 16th.

Purchase an eBook, soft cover, or hard cover copy of Good Grief! and just send your receipt to goodgriefgifts@gmail.com. Each person who sends their receipt will:

1. Have up to 5 opportunities to win one of the following daily thank you gifts:

a. $45 Carrabbas Gift Card

b. $45 Outback Gift Card

c. $50 Amazon Gift Card

d. $50 Best Buy Gift Card

e. Signed Hard Cover copy of Good Grief! and a Signed copy of The Hour that Matters Most from Les and Leslie Parrott

2. Receive a free downloadable podcast of my talk, You Are Not Alone.

3. Receive a free downloadable recording of the Intro of Good Grief!

4.  A free PDF version of my book Monday through Friday of next week for anyone who purchases a copy of Good Grief!

Purchase 10 or more copies of Good Grief! and email your receipt to goodgriefgifts@gmail.com to receive a six week Good Grief! Small Group Discussion Guide! As soon as I can verify your receipt, I will send you the pdf.

Graceanna’s Adoption Story

I read this blog called Kelly’s Korner and every Friday she hosts “Show Us Your Life.”  This week the topic is Adoption, so you know I’m really excited about this topic!  I’ve never linked up with another blog like this and I think I should have gone about it differently (since I’ve already posted my link…:)) Anyway, I decided to write this little post and include all the links to Graceanna’s story in case someone wants to read all 6 of them.

Someday soon I write and share on the blog all about Gunnar’s adoption story.  That will be another day though…

Here’s a glimpse of the road that lead to Graceanna!

Loss Along the Way (#1)

Heart Sickness on the Road (#2)

Fear Blocking the Path (#3)

Our Good Gift (#4)

What’s in a Name? (#5)

Happy Birthday! (#6)

Christmas in a Word

It seems that everyone is talking about describing the last year with one word, or instead of New Year’s Resolutions, using one word to define the coming year.  It’s funny because during our Christmas celebrations, I found one word rattling around in my head:

Lavish

Rich and elaborate; generous and extravagant; abundant and profuse are all words used to describe and define lavish.  Our Christmas celebrations could be described with any of these adjectives.  The time with our family of 4 was rich with stories and decorating and crafts.  Puzzling and gaming and conversation with extended family was extravagant in time, relaxation, silliness and fun.  The gifts were also lavish.  They were not lavish in expense although most gifts were purchased with money.  They were not lavish in number although there were more than were dreamed.  The gifts were lavish with joy in giving and receiving.  So often I want to deny the fact that much excitement about Christmas is because of the gifts.  I especially try to teach my children that the celebration is not because of what is under the tree but rather the Gift that could never fit under the tree.  This year, as I settled on the perfect gift for each person, and as I watched my children receive with great joy, and as I opened gifts that were special beyond what I would give to myself, I reveled in the gifts and found my heart even more inclined to the

Lavish Gift

of Jesus the Christ

I was reminded deep in my soul that Christmas is all about The Gift and its rich, extravagant, profuse value.  This year, I was wrapped lavishly.

Amazing Grace

I love the hymn, Amazing Grace.  I’ve sung it nearly every night to each of my babies, their eyes trained on my face as they lay in my arms.  Gunnar can sing most of it, but when he can’t find the right words he just makes up his own phrases.  When he sings his own lyrics I realize he understands the meaning in the way only a child can.  This hymn is probably the most personally meaningful to me of all the many hymns I know, and I love hearing the rich history of its origin in this clip.

Vision From the Prodigal’s Father

It seems we all love the story Jesus told of the prodigal son.  We’ve heard it often in sermons.  Maybe we’ve even read it several times on our own.  I think the draw is that on any given day or season of our life we can relate to at least one person in the story.  Prior to having children of my own, I  vacillated between identifying with each of the brothers.  I was so appalled that the son would ask his father for his inheritance.  Talk about inappropriate and disrespectful!  To me it sounds like he not only couldn’t wait for his father to die but he didn’t care much about his father while he was living. 

As Gunnar’s birth was approaching in the fall of 2005, I was thinking about the kind of relationship I hoped to develop with my son.  One of the most important things to me was that I would be a person with whom he could be himself.  I don’t want my children to have fear of being embarrassed by their questions or desires.  As we walk through issues of character development I don’t want them to experience shame and guilt but rather inspiration, encouragement, and always love.  Character development is always painful but I hope they will not feel alone on their journey.  This type of relationship looks different with my 22 month old daughter than with my 4 year old son.  And, it certainly will look different when they are teenagers and then adults.  I haven’t always achieved this goal in my interactions with them, but my failures don’t make it any less important for me to keep trying.

With my vision for our family relationships still developing in my mind, I found my thoughts about Jesus’ story of the prodigal son changing.  I began wondering, how did the father develop a relationship with his son that would allow him to ask any question no matter how inappropriate!  Yes, the son’s question is still awful, but I love that he asked his father for what he wanted.  I imagine there had to be a sense of safety with his father.  I imagine he also knew the father loved him extravagantly.  

I am teaching Gunnar about things that are not appropriate to ask people, and we’ve had a few learning experiences as of late.  However, for his daddy and me, I want him to ask us anything.  I believe he will also learn to curb some interactions with us by learning of appropriateness with others, but I really don’t care if he doesn’t.  It is so important to me that he feels completely safe to let his emotions out, his desires be known, and his questions asked.

The topic of adoption is one that I adamantly believe must be explored with honesty.  It’s tricky though.  A young child may be ready to identify themselves as an adoptee, but they certainly cannot be expected to understand, embrace, or feel comfortable with some of the more emotional or complex relational aspects of adoption.  Pictures and letters from birthfamilies are treasures but they must be saved for a time when the adoptee is mature enough to handle the information.  Even with the realization that some of the wonderful details of Gunnar’s adoption story needed to wait until he was older, I really thought he should at least know he was adopted, but he didn’t.  I’m not totally sure that even today, he would say, “I was adopted.”

About 9 months ago, I called Bethany, because I was alarmed to realize that not only did Gunnar not know he was adopted, he had no idea what the word meant.  I was stunned because I don’t think hardly a day goes by that I don’t talk about adoption in my general routine.  My social worker at Bethany assured me it was not uncommon for young boys to show no interest or knowledge of adoption and the disinterest can often last several years.  With my fears relieved we went on about our life.

My first indication of Gunnar’s interest came right after Memorial Day weekend when he asked me why Graceanna’s skin was brown.  I think he’s always been aware her skin was brown but having a brown skinned sister was totally normal to him, so there were no curiosities about it.  I told him I wasn’t sure why God made her skin dark brown and his a very, light brown – almost white.  He seemed satisfied.  I, however, had to bite my tongue really hard to keep from talking about all sorts of things that he wasn’t really asking.

Early this week, I was talking on the phone with someone who thinks the foster baby they have may go back to her family.  My friend was sad of course, and I shared some of my experiences from when Garrison went home with his birthmom.  Gunnar was listening while we talked and he wanted to know “what family is Garrison in now?”  I questioned him about whether or not he knew Garrison and he pointed to the picture of him we have in our living room.  Then, I told him that after Garrison was born we thought God was giving him to us so we could be his family, but instead his birthmom wanted to keep him in her family.  Again, Gunnar seemed satisfied and I again had to bite down on my tongue.

Yesterday, I received some relief for my tongue!  Gunnar asked, “Mommy where do we get babies?”  I explained that God grew a baby in the tummy of a woman.  If Gunnar had been 16 years old, a significant roll of the eyes would have accompanied his response, “I know that; but Graceanna didn’t grow in your tummy.”  Aha!  He really is asking for more!  “That’s right Gunnar.  Graceanna grew in the tummy of another lady and then God gave Graceanna to us to be her family….The same thing is true for you.”  “I didn’t grow in your tummy?”  “Nope.  Isn’t it amazing how God made our family?”  “Yep.”  (Sidenote:  I bristle at using the term “another lady” for their birthmoms, but in the moment that’s what I used.  I want them to connect the dots about having a birthmom when they are ready.  Right now I believe they are both too young to have a meaningful and accurate understanding of the fact that they had another mommy before me.  As they get older, they will get more and more details about their own adoptions and I look forward to those conversations too!)  I think that’s going to be his last question for a while on this topic, but we’ll see.  As much as his constant talking can wear me out, I hope he never stops asking these kind of questions.

So, while there is a lot I don’t understand about the prodigal son’s father, through Him, I gained a vision for our family.  This week I believe I saw glimpses of that vision joining me in real life!

Photoshoot Lessons

It seems that my first post after an unexpected hiatus should be filled with amazing news and spectacular pictures.  The truth is, things haven’t been particularly news worthy around here unless you consider loads of snot production interesting.  All four of us have been hit hard by the pollen, but we’re so much better now.  I also pulled a muscle in my lower back which frustrated my normal routine for a few days.  Throw in several hard conversations with various friends, some sad news with other friends and you see our month has been pretty full. 

One highlight for me my own private lesson in photography with my dear friend and professional photographer, Gretchen.  She wanted to do this for me because I had helped her with some other things, but I can tell you I got a lot more out of the deal than she did!  So one evening, after Steve got home from work and before her husband who is an eye surgeon (don’t know exactly what he’s called but you get the idea) got called in to work, we headed out. 

 Gretchen picked a location.  I agonized over hair style, clothing choices, and props.  In the end, the dress I chose was a gift from my aunt who purchased it during their trip to Greece.  Love it.  Love it.  Love it.  And, I loved it for a shoot at this location.

Our subject, Graceanna, was less than enthusiastic though.  We kept her busy with crackers, therefore, any really good shot was usually full of cracker mouth.  From that standpoint our session was a bit of a disappointment, but, the real purpose was for me to learn.  And, learn I did! 

The light was perfect, so warm and soft.  I finally have embraced the fact that if I want a “portrait” i.e. something I’d hang on my wall for all time, I have to committ 100% to the right light which is the right time of day.  I’ve known the importance of light and have experimented a lot with it, but I’ve come to a new level of understanding.  Oh!  And, I learned something completely new to me…dynamic lighting!  This is lighting you can’t find in a studio.  I don’t think.  Maybe you can, but wow what God has done with the sun and trees and grass just can’t be beat.

One thing I love about Gretchen’s work is that if it’s not excellent, it doesn’t leave her “shop”.  See how I cut off Graceanna’s hand?  Not good.  See the crackers in her hands and mouth?  Never, ever would have happend in the first place.  Gretchen is committed to excellence.  She is skilled in the traditional “rules” (why am I using so many quote marks?!) of photography and if she breaks one it’s for a good reason.  She has mastered her camera of course.  She also has a determined style.  But, she has something that can’t be taught or learned.  She sees in a way I just don’t.  When she puts her eye to the viewfinder something great happens.  I’m learning and improving but what she has is God-given and remarkable. 

Ok.  I didn’t mean to have a Gretchen commercial.  She’s going to be so embarassed if she reads this.  I just so admire anyone who is so committed to growing and learning and improving and committed to excellence.  And, of course, I love photography.

The next morning, Gretchen came to my house while our kids were at Mother’s Day Out.  We openned PS and from the first mouse click she did things differently than I had taught myself.  The only thing I know about developing film is that each step is precise and if done incorrectly the actual photograph is damaged, and it’s very similar to digitally developing your “film”.

I definitely had new tools and skills to practice but our edit session ended all too soon.  Gretchen was called away on a volunteer assignment for an organization called Now I Lay Me Down To Sleep.  I love this organization.  NILMDTS is made up of professional photographers who give their time and talent to families whose babies are not expected to live at birth.  So, needless to say, I was eager to send Gretchen to this family in need.  Since then I’m finding it difficult to get this family out of my mind.  I know nothing of them.  I just know that a family in my city is hurting with such terrible loss.  What is boggling my mind is to know how many times these photographer’s services are needed.  One day, I would love to be a good enough photographer to offer myself for this cause.

The Middle Mom – Book Reccomendation

The Middle Mom: How to Grow Your Heart by Giving It Away ...a foster mom's journey

The Middle Mom is an easy read that tugged at my heart-strings and made me think about my priorities at every page turn.  It’s written by a woman I have met a few times and she warmed my heart and ministered to me during our journey to Graceanna.  She is as sweet as she sounds.  In her book, she tells about her experience loving many children in her home as a foster mom and also an adoptive mom.

On page one Christie reminisces about being a child and wanting to be a black singer.  I don’t know if Christie is a singer or not, but she is most definitely not black.  After completing the book, I was still thinking about this inconsequential story and something was resonating with me.  Finally, I reached into the recesses of my memory and I realized I had the same dream minus the singing.

To find my story believable at all, you need to know I can walk outside and come back in with a tan.  And who doesn’t love a good tan!  Even though I like that deep golden glow of summer, I lather on the sunscreen these days.  However, this story occurred before the skin cancer awareness days.

So, my great tanning, lead to a conversation with my dad.  Our conversation went something like this, “Dad, you know how I get really dark in the summer?”  “Yes…”  “You know, in the summer when I’m really dark… do you think people might think I am part African-American?”  “Well, sure.  I think that’s possible.  You do get really dark.”  Yes!  And, off to school I went.

I was in about first or second grade.  It was a crisp, cool, fall day.  Several of us were on the monkey bars and I had an announcement I couldn’t wait to make!    I made sure I was in good position for maximum ears and I blurted out, “I’m probably part black.  One of my biologic parents must have been African American.”

Where was the excitement?  Why are they looking at me with blank faces?  You don’t think so?  I hurried to add my proof.  “I’m very, very dark in the summer.”

The moment passed.  We all resumed trying to cross the bars without falling to the sand.  I was very disappointed.  No one seemed to agree that my conclusion was likely.  Actually, I think they thought I was crazy.

Twenty-five (or so) years later, this desire still rings true for me and while I’ll never be black, I enjoyed this memory and the emotions The Middle Mom stirred in me.   Even my mom, who doesn’t like to read too much, read it in one day.  Now, that’s an endorsement!

I just included my little story to bring you a little humor and to share a little bit more of my craziness.  I want to be clear, children in foster care are ALL colors.  And, Christie’s book is not about fostering or adopting “outside your race.” Her book is about her heart which has been broken as she grieves the babies she’s loved deeply and then lost.  It’s also about her heart which continues to grow in capacity to love even more and show others that it’s possible for us too.  We can make a difference.  Even if you have no intention of ever fostering or adopting, I hope you will read this book.  Maybe it will stir memories of a childhood dream or stir your heart into action by finding a way to care for the truly innocent ones.  If nothing else, it will open your eyes to the real experiences in a world you may not know exists.

To buy her book and find out more, click here.    She also has a blog I have enjoyed.

Gotcha Day and Big Brother Day

Hi everyone!  I’m still here.  Thanks for checking on me.  I will be back from my little blog break soon and posting pictures from Graceanna’s party. 

Tomorrow we celebrate Gotcha Day and Big Brother Day!  September 16, is the day we got Graceanna and the day Gunnar became a big brother.  We’re new to the Gothca Day celebration.  We never really felt like we had Gotcha Day with Gunnar because we were there when he was born and with him since.  But, I’m looking forward to marking the day with thanking God for our two baby blessings!

On another note, I’d like to ask you all to pray for a forever family to be found for two little girls.  They are 2 and 4.  I hope to post more about them soon.  But, please take a minute to pray right now that their family would be nudged into action so they can be united with their two daughters.  I fervently pray these girls get to have the arms of their forever mommy and daddy around them soon.

Happy Birthday! (#6 in a series)

Happy Birthday Graceanna!

You were worth the wait.

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What’s in a name? (#5 in a series)

Graceanna Catherine

In the case of our new daughter, there’s a lot of meaning in her name and I’ve been excited to share the story on my blog!  When Steve and I began the application process for our second child, we really struggled with names for girls.  For us to struggle with a name is not surprising in the least.  Gunnar was almost 12 hours old before we settled on his name, and even then, I thought about changing it for weeks.  “Graceanna” was one name we tossed around quite a bit, but we weren’t certain that’s what we would choose or even if we’d stay with G names.  I was really dreading the moment when we’d need to make a definitive decision since it had been so difficult the first time around.

As Steve walked in the door at 7:30 on the morning we received the call from Bethany, his first words were, “The name that keeps rattling in my brain is Graceanna.”  This was confirmation to me of two things:  1.  this baby was meant to be ours and 2. her name was indeed to be Graceanna, because when Janna called that morning she told me that her interim care family had been calling her Anna Grace.

When we met Graceanna’s foster mom, she told us that almost a year ago they decided to do interim care for Bethany babies, and  Graceanna was their first baby.  Their 3 children were really excited about having a baby in the home too.  Their daughter picked the name for their first baby girl, and for almost a year they had been planning to call her Abigail.  But, after seeing the baby she didn’t think she looked like an Abigail but rather Anna Grace.  So, picking our daughter’s name was easy, unlike the first time around. 

This sweet family spent Graceanna’s first 12 days loving her, and bonding with her, and feeding her in the night, and worrying about her stuffy nose, and just treating her as their own beloved daughter.  So, it meant a lot to them that she still has the name they gave her too.  Incidentally, this family is compromised of a mom and dad with 3 children, all of whom came to their family through Bethany.  Though we didn’t know this family, they are in-laws to some of Steve and my most admired Christian leaders and mentors.  Also, the mom’s name is Leanna.  The only other Leanna I know is my dear friend who was my maid of honor.  So, we had lots of super sweet connections with them.

They gave me lots of sweet pictures from Graceanna’s time with them.  With permission, I’m sharing a picture of Graceanna with Leanna on the day she brought her to us at Bethany.  The love of a foster family was evident in her torrent of tears, and the difficulty with which she said good bye.  Also, we were sitting in the same room receiving our daughter where Leanna had received her own children years ago.  What a special moment for me and all of us.

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Graceanna’s middle name, “Catherine” is also very special because it is in memory of my grandma.  I have known for years I wanted to name a daughter after her, because my grandma was one of the most special people to me.  Even though she lived an airplane ride away, I spent a lot of time with her.  As a child, we spent long summer days working on sewing projects, watching baby chics hatch, eating ice cream, mowing the grass, picking strawberries from the garden, and Grandma read to me all the time.  I so loved hearing her tell stories about the dogs she had loved, growing up years, and her years in college.  She had a Master’s degree, by the way.  Grandma was the kind of woman who at 85+ was still using a computer and sending emails.  She mowed her own yard and kept a garden well in to her eighties.  She could run circles around any of us.  Every night she ended her day by writing in her journal and reading a couple chapters in her Bible. 

I’m having a hard time really describing our sepcial relationship and the things I loved about her.  But, maybe that’s what makes a person touch our hearts this way.  It wasn’t just one great thing about her.  It was her whole essence and the integrity in which she lived her life.  I miss her terribly. 

Grandma loved children, and in fact the last couple years before she died, she was still tutoring students in math and other subjects.  Grandma was really looking forward to being a great grandma.  This is a picture of Grandma with Gunnar when he was 4 months old, she was so happy to finally have a great grandchild and to get to meet him.  Grandma died when she was almost 93, September 5, 2006  – within 2 days of Graceanna’s birth 2 years later.

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