She believed she could…

Our girls have been involved with Girls on The Run (GOTR) for the last 4 years. It is an awesome program that teaches the girls important life skills and builds confidence through accomplishment. Each season culminates in a county-wide celebratory 5k. I have watched as the girls have blossomed, building confidence and improving their self-esteem through this program. Each year, they have made comments about how they wished I could run it with them. It truly was wishful thinking as we all knew I was in no shape to even try.

This year, though, Shianne asked me to do it with her. I have been feeling better than ever and if there was ever a time, it would be now. I said, “Yes. Let’s do it”. As we got closer to starting to train, Shianne reassured me that many of the girls and coaches walk, so not to worry. Perhaps she sensed my self-doubt. Because, honestly, I am NOT a runner and was regretting having said yes. I vividly remember being super anxious when we had to do the mile run back in middle and high school. Even though I played sports and was in pretty good shape, I could not do it without taking time to rest and walk. I really only said yes because I couldn’t bring myself to say no and I wanted to support Shianne.

A couple of weeks ago, I learned I will be having reconstructive knee surgery at the end of this month. This likely the result of exacerbating an old injury and running bringing a malfunction of my knee to the surface. I had every reason to stop training and take it easy. Some think it’s crazy, but with my surgeon’s permission and an awesome stabilization brace, I have continued to train. Even so, up until our last GOTR session on Wednesday, I was stopping to walk and catch my breath and the farthest we had done was under 2.5 miles. With the 5K two weeks away, I was starting to feel that self-doubt and anxiety creep in. I honestly believed that it was impossible for me to run the whole thing. There was just not way I could do that.

But then I set out to do a training run today and realized something inside of me has changed. I have spent weeks running with the girls and other coaches as we teach the girls lessons about self-worth, self-talk, and finding their inner “start power”. I am quite certain that through all of this, I have learned more than I’ve taught and been coached more than I’ve coached. Because of this, my impossible turned into something I believed I could achieve. And when I believed I could, I did! (while Jeff and the girls ran off to the waterpark on vacation :-))

I am so grateful to be involved in this program. What started out as something I was doing to support Shianne has morphed into a personal journey that far surpasses my wildest imagination..

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We NEED You NOW

Stories of hope and healing, like ours shared below, made possible by The Tree House of Montgomery County are at risk and we need your help. 

Here’s the low down –

The Tree House has been operating as a public-private partnership between Montgomery County Government and the Primary Care Coalition (PCC). Recently, they started the process of becoming a non-profit, out from under the PCC umbrella.

Becoming a Non-Profit would allow The Tree House much more flexibility in service delivery and open up additional avenues for funding…thereby allowing them to serve more children and families in need.  The Tree House planned to continue their important relationship with Montgomery County Government by partnering directly with the County.  

A lot of hard work and careful planning has gone into this transition process over the past year and a half and things were looking very promising!  All paperwork has been submitted, the Employer Identification Number (EIN) has been issued, and non-profit status is expected to happen anytime now.  

On Friday we learned that the $150,000 promised to The Tree House by Montgomery County’s Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) last November to help get started has been cut to $30,000. This is a crushing blow. Particularly as the money received from the County and most grants comes well AFTER services are provided…meaning this is not a matter of simply re-working a budget.

After learning this devastating news, The Tree House has looked into lines of credit, but the fees are unaffordable. Without the additional $150,000 of funding, The Tree House will have no other option than to cut staff and reduce service delivery in the coming months. 

We refuse to let this happen and are asking you to:

1. Contact the Montgomery County Council and let them know that The Tree House, Montgomery County’s ONLY Child Advocacy Center, is important to you and should be important to them. Final budget decisions lie in the Council’s hands.  

While contacting all of the Council members would be great, we especially hope you will reach out to George Leventhal and Craig Rice.  Mr. Leventhal chairs and Mr. Rice is a member of the Health and Human Services Committee. Both have been key advocates for social service delivery across the County. Furthermore, we just learned that after hearing from concerned citizens, they have been in contact with Uma Ahluwalia, Director of DHHS.  She has assured them that DHHS will be working with The Tree House to restore this funding. So, in addition to sharing your concerns and the importance of this funding, please thank them for their service and advocacy thus far. While this is a seemingly hopeful turn in the story, I am only cautiously optimistic.  This has clearly already become political and such a reduction should have never been an option.  

Mr. Leventhal can be reached by phone at 240-777-7811 and by email at Councilmember.Leventhal@montgomerycountymd.gov.

Mr. Rice can be reached by phone at 240-777-7995 and by email at Councilmember.Rice@montgomerycountymd.gov.

Contact information for the entire Council can be found here.  

2. Private Funding will also help with this situation. So after you have contacted the County Council to share your thanks and concerns, join and/or donate to Team Burning Brightle for the 2017 Tour de Cookie on Saturday, May 6th. 100% of the proceeds from this sweet, family- friendly bike ride and expo go directly to The Tree House. 

To ride with Team Burning Brightle, click here and complete the online registration form. **Be sure to enter promotional code KPBB5OFF to receive $5 off your registration fee. Additional information about the event

If you aren’t able to attend the event, but would like to make a financial contribution, please visit our fundraising page here

_____________________________

1 in 4 children are victims of child abuse or neglect.
And, in the United States, 5 children die each day due to child abuse or neglect.

Each of the children and family members who make up these statistics have a name.  And a story.

While you may believe this kind of thing doesn’t happen where you come from, the numbers speak for themselves.  Child abuse and neglect do NOT discriminate.  It is happening to your son’s friend from Cub Scouts, kids in your youth group at church, your daughter’s BFF, the one who bullies your child at recess, the cousins who live together in low-income housing….the list could go on and on.  Yes, it is happening right in YOUR OWN backyard.

The good news?! There are safe places where these stories can be shared and handled with care.  Child Advocacy Centers (CACs) like The Tree House CAC of Montgomery County provide a range of specialized services to children and families impacted by child abuse and neglect.  Among the services provided are forensic interviews, medical services performed by a child abuse certified pediatrician, victim advocacy, psychological assessments, and on-going therapy.  Staff are trained on the impact of child abuse and neglect as well as trauma informed evidence-based practices.  Therapists and other staff are equipped and able to screen, assess, advocate for, support, and work with children and families. Together, they provide appropriate medical, psychological, psychiatric, and therapeutic interventions tailored to each child.  In general, this multidisciplinary approach allows the family to stabilize and work through the resulting trauma from the abuse and/or neglect.

In 2015, The Tree House provided services for over 700 children and families (over 800 in 2016).  The Phoenix Family is just ONE of them. Over the years, we went through multiple therapists with the girls…many times taking months for the girls to get settled and begin to share…only to be told those stories couldn’t be told.  Most of these therapists had the best of intentions, but were either ill-equipped or not permitted to provide the level of specialized services that the girls and our family so desperately needed.  As a result, the trauma continued to boil and eventually reached the tipping point…burning into the lives of the girls, our family, and members of our community.  At just 4 and 5 years old, the girls were experiencing such severe Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) that they became self-injurious and aggressive towards others.  At times they even struggled with suicidal and/or homicidal thoughts and behaviors.  These cries for help reached the point of requiring multiple acute hospitalizations and eventually extended placements in a Residential Treatment Center.  We worked with countless professionals over the 5 years that we were therapeutic foster parents and the majority of them lost hope and labeled our girls as “damaged beyond repair”.

Today we are considered a “success story”.  There is NO doubt in my mind that the greatest influence on our success is the trauma-based and child & family-centered services we have received through The Tree House.  While our friends and their children were rushing off to extra-curricular activities, we were heading to therapy.  For two years we spent the majority of our afternoons and evenings at The Tree House, participating in individual (x3), family, group, and child/parent therapy.  In addition to providing the highest level of therapeutic interventions, our Tree House therapists (and all staff from receptionist to Director) believed in and advocated for our family, and the potential the girls had if afforded permanency through adoption.  This advocacy was crucial to the court case and lead to us being able to finalize all of the adoptions.  In short, the services provided were nothing short of life-saving.

To use the words of The Tree House,

 “The Tree House CAC of Montgomery County Maryland is dedicated to reducing trauma and promoting healing for child victims of physical abuse, sexual abuse, and neglect. Through an innovative collaborative process between the private and public sectors, key professionals come together on behalf of the best interests of victims. This effective early intervention is essential to ensure that an abused child or adolescent develops into a healthy and productive adult, capable of forming trusting and loving relationships. Underpinning the work of The Tree House is the belief that the cycle of child abuse can be broken and the knowledge that child abuse and neglect is preventable!”

Our girls were highlighted in The Tree Houses’ 2015 Annual Report.  Their names were changed for confidentiality, but I love how hope and healing is highlighted here and in the Tree House’s mission and vision shared above. All too often we hear about the negative impacts of abuse and neglect.  Most recently the Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs) study has brought attention to the potential for long-term affects including early death, increased incidences of incarceration, physical illness, addiction, and depression to name a few.  While this is important information, this doesn’t have to be the plight of our children.  When offered timely & appropriate evaluations and treatment recommendations coupled with effective therapeutic services, children and families are able to strengthen.  This increases resiliency and has the potential to have a strong impact on reversing the negative impacts of adverse childhood experiences.  Our girls are living proof of this.

hope and healing pic 1

hope and healing 2 

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Dear Caring Ones: Happy Social Work Month

It’s the first day of March which means Social Work Month 2017 has kicked off. If you are a social worker, thank you for all you are and all you do. Thank you for being part of a profession that has and will continue to spark positive change on micro and macro levels. If you know a social worker, now would be a perfect opportunity to show your gratitude and support for the work they do…work that is often minimilized and misunderstood.

I’ll never forget my excitement when I first learned about the field of Social Work. The mission, core values & principles, and ethics are everything I would design had I been able to build a profession from the ground up. As I began pursuing my BSW, my excitement grew, and by the time I completed my MSW, I was a full-blown passionate social worker! How awesome that I could do what I love and love what I do!! Between internships, completing my BSW & MSW, and the first stent of my career, I spent about 10 years in the public child welfare field. Some may call it ironic that I ultimately had to leave my professional calling of serving children and families in 2014, in order to SAVE my own. I call it God.

My last gig in the public child welfare world was in Arlington County. It was this season 6 years ago that I came back to my desk and found a portion of a beautiful letter written by Dr. Jaiya John. It was a particularly intense and emotional time in the life of the girls’ case. We had recently broken the news to all three girls that Chelsea and Savanna were not coming home to us from their residential placements. I had stepped away from my desk to take a call from Amy, the girls’ attorney, and now, dear friend. She was calling to give me a legal update and talk about how everyone was doing. I remember everything about that phone call, including where I was standing, what I was wearing, and all the thoughts and feelings that came rushing up from deep within.  Up until that point, I had done a pretty darn good job of maintaining my composure (all things considered). That day, though, it was as if the flood gates had been opened. I was feeling abandoned, betrayed, horrified, guilty, ashamed, outraged, and very broken, yet miraculously beautiful.

Although in many ways we were surrendering and some even went so far as to describe us as “giving up”, I was still hopeful, committed, determined, and had a firm grip on my faith. A faith that promised me that our family of 5 would, one day, rise from the ashes. That together, we would pursue and experience healing and restoration beyond our wildest imaginations. That no matter what and no matter where, this Phoenix Family would find ourselves BURNING BRIGHTLE…

After hanging up with Amy, I had to leave work because I had officially reached EMPTY for the day. So, I quickly and quietly went to my desk to grab my things and pack up. This is when I found a portion of the letter below face down on my chair. I snuck out of the office and read it as soon as I got to my car. Oh, the wisdom, comfort, and strength that overcame me as I read Jaiya’s words was God-sent. Although I later learned that the print out was from one of my colleagues in honor of Social Work Month, I truly believed it was my confirmation that I was doing the right thing for and by my girls.

Since that afternoon in 2011, this letter has evolved into a very deeply personal message.  Initially one that I would share with a select few every so often.  Over the past couple of years, though, I am feeling moved to share it over and over again…

I love full-circle moments and this Social Work Month is one of them for me as I re-embark on my professional journey. Although I wouldn’t trade being home with the girls and all of the healing and growth that has taken place, being out of the field has left me with a significant void. I am so excited to get back on the frontlines, while being able to work for an agency and in a position that values home and work life balance!

While the letter below  was written from the perspective of a child, I believe the powerful metaphoric message applies to all social workers: case managers, clinicians, supervisors, program administrators, managers, community organizers, and policy makers. As well as the populations they serve and empower.  Now, more than ever, our children, families, communities, organizations, democracy, and public policies need each of us to do what our profession does best.

If you are feeling beat down and worn out from all that has gone on these past few months, I hope Jaiya’s letter binds up your wounds, infiltrates your fatigue, and nourishes your mind, body, and soul. Because we need you now more than ever, Dear Caring One.

_____________________________
Dear One Who Cares Enough to Serve My Life:

I am a child for now. One day I will be the cascading consequence of your touch. Last night in my room, I found myself releasing a watershed’s gathering of tears. I fell asleep as a river. When I woke I realized what that river was: a flow of gratitude. For you.

Dear Caring One . . . If ever you find yourself as a river filled with too much . . . just too much . . . I hope you will take out my words, and swallow them into your heart, so you will know that who you are is always Greater than what sometimes feels like just too much. I want you to know I am a river that passed once by you, and when I arrived, you did not turn away. You did not turn away.

The first time you sat with me, you chose to look from your soul into mine. I could see you seeing me. I could feel you feeling me. In that moment I had found an island on which to rest my weariness in this wide and unforgiving sea. You let me glimpse just a little evidence of your own life struggles in the honest quiver of your face. In spirit I felt you take my hand and join me in this deserted place they call The Young Who Is in NeedI wonder when they will realize that when my heart is cut it is the entire human soul that bleeds.

You told me secret stories of your scars, and fears, and doubts, and how your own tender blossom was violated before you ever released your bloom. You watched over me with Love, even as society watched over you, suspicious of us both. Each time they wanted to brand me with stigmatic lies and cast me to the dungeon of social banishment, your voice cried out: This life will not be left to scavengers. Its sun will surely shine!

I began to know what hope feels like, as you showed me how your life’s fate was hitched to mine. Over and over in panic I drew my weapon of distrust against your advances. Instead of gunning me down in return by giving up on me, you smiled and said: Holster your fear, and come inside the shelter of your possibilities. I did. You stood at the door, on guard while I lay down to catch a rare and needed sleep.

When I woke, you were there, with bowls full of fresh hot faith in me, and lightness and laughter poured in cups of tea. You ate with me. Which is to say: You wrapped your human soul around my human struggle and let me feel your heat. You were going to care enough for me to do whatever it took. I know that look. I’ve seen it in the eyes of parents well enough to protect their young, and halt the world at the line of indiscretion against their offspring.

I keep springing off from earth on forays of fantasy, looking for an escape from my reality. You keep risking merciless outer space, with no fancy ship or special suit, to bring me back to the planet of my destiny. You help me to see that what I thought was my reality is my illusion, and that I can arrange the stones of my circumstance into a staircase ascending into the life I dream.

Do you know how great you are? You stand your ground every time I scream. I walk heavy . . . you lift me up in laughter. When laws and rules say: No, we can’t do that to help that one, you crush that No under your heel and by will of force give No no choice but to turn into a Yes. You change laws and rules by the power of your devotion. You change this world. For caring is revolution’s greatest sword and you wield that gleaming power. You are the sixty strokes of endurance that help pass my fateful hour.

When I fear sunset, you lift the disbelieving sun for just a while longer. When I falter, you alter my course with kind correction and firm resolve. When I thirst, you pour more water. In my darkness, here comes your candlelight. You teach me by the way you touch me how to kindly touch our humankind.

I carry a porous bag leaking my relationships. You walk behind with your brave basin catching all the drops. I have never heard you slur my mom or curse my pops. I have never sensed you insinuate that I come from bad people, or that good people will save my life. Your lesson is always about the goodness inside what looks like badness, and that I, like the earth, and being of the earth, carry all that I need to heal myself, reveal myself, kneel myself down before my Greatness and let life’s cleansing breath carry all my woundedness away.

On this day, Dear Caring One, I hope my words infiltrate your fatigue. That my words live inside you, a Love virus you can never eradicate. This world and its values cannot measure you. Only the lives you touch can do that. Cruelness and coldness can never create new life. Only your Light can do that. The Peace you so deserve is pronounced compassion. This Peace sits waiting in old oak barrels only your Love can tap.

Dear Caring One, lift my words to your lips and drink this truth into your heart: You are the Greatest Gift this young life has ever known. If I am royalty, your service is my throne.

In Gratitude Forever,
A child for now . . . one day the full grown life your Loving honed.

Copyright © 2011 Jaiya John

JAIYAJOHN.COM

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Personal Love: We can Always Come Back to This

It has been just over a year since Gramps made his way home. On February 17, 2016, Heaven gained an awesome man. Our family lost an incredible son, brother, husband, father, grandfather, and great-grandfather.  The community lost a true friend and servant who brought much joy & laughter wherever he went.
I remember working on gathering pictures to create memory boards for Granps’ Memorial Service.  A few tears fell as I looked through the ones Jeff & his family had chosen for the slide show. Many were from years past; some from before I was born.

When I got to the pictures of more recent years, the tears began to multiply.  These pictures, which only captured fleeting moments,  allowed me to re-live some of my most favorite memories made with Rainey & Gramps.

In the midst of going through the various albums these pictures were in, I came across this message which I had saved several years earlier…

Dear Human

What perfect timing for me to find this. I’ve read it many times over the last year while grieving, and each time the tears flow a little less.  While this has been a huge loss for our entire family, I find comfort in knowing that Gramps made his way home as completely himself…it was enough: it was plenty. That he knew he was not sent here to be perfect, but to learn and live personal love so that one day he could return to the unconditional love he came from.

As I reflect, we have learned some of the important truths in Courtney Walsh’s message above from Gramps.  He didn’t teach us about these things while we sat and visited on the couch.  Love was always a verb with him.

He showed us this through his love for his dear wife, Rainey. Second to God, He loved her more than anyone. And while Gramps never believed he would die, especially before Rainey, they lived their lives like they were dying – as if each day may be their last. Aside from them, I’ve yet to know a couple who loved each other, enjoyed each other’s company, had fun, and lived life to it’s fullest like they did. Date nights, skiing, dancing, getting together with friends, traveling with “The Coach” to Horseneck Beach and Destin Florida every year. Seems like anytime we spoke, they were headed out somewhere to do something they enjoyed…together.

He showed us this in his love for our country and his military service.

He showed us this in his love for his son, Glenn.  It didn’t matter how long or stressful his work day was, he made time to practice football and show up to every game with his movie camera in hand.

He showed us this when Jeff’s mom, Teri, was put on bed rest while pregnant with their youngest son, Joey. No one had to ask. Gramps called and said, “Im coming.”  No one dared try to stop him because this was Gramps living out his personal love.  He was also known to be a tad bit stubborn :-).  He spent a couple of months there, helping to care for the 3 older boys and things around the house
He showed us this in how he cared for his grandsons.  Jeff has shared fond memories of times he spent with Rainey and Gramps during the summers of his childhood.  Throughout adulthood and important milestones in Jeff’s career, it has been Gramps who he called first to share good news and recieve advice.

He showed us this when he volunteered as groundsman every year at Henderson Beach State Park.
He showed us this in his love for animals. He often volunteered at the animal shelter.  I will never forget all he and Rainey did to save and then take care of his beloved dog, Buddy.

He showed us this when he was so excited to meet our 3 foster girls. They were in a hard place with some difficult behaviors. Gramps and Rainey did everything to make them feel safe and comfortable. He loved walking them to the park and pushing them on the swings.

He showed us this as he shared in our pain and navigated messy parts of life and relationships with us.

He showed us this when after having multiple court dates changed, we finally had a last-minute plan for Shianne’s Adoption Day.  Gramps said, “Rainey and I WILL be there.”  A few hours later they showed up for Shianne’s Adoption.

He showed us this by using his gifts to fix and build anything and everything. Whether it was for family, friends, or strangers. As long as it helped, he was quick to jump in.

He showed us this in his perspective during the last few weeks we had with him.  After learning of his cancer, the girls wanted to visit, but he wanted to facetime instead.

I have been tuned in and loving everything about NBCs This is Us. On last week’s episode, William, the grandfather passed away. It was during a fun trip with his biological son, Randall, who he had recently connected with 36 years after dropping him off at a fire station. The two forged deep bonds during this trip, sharing eachother’s passions, bearing witness to their brokennes and messy love. Creating memories as this love was made whole. When Randal learned William wouldn’t make it home from the trip, he insisted on flying his daughters, who had absolutely fallen in love with their grandpa, so they could say their goodbyes.

William ensured his son that he had already leaned over and kissed the girls goodbye before leaving on the trip.  And then he said this….

“I want them to remember looking up at me, not down.”

Although we will never know for sure, I believe this might have been why Gramps didn’t want us to bring the girls for a visit when, as hard as it was, we knew he didn’t have much longer.

I’ll never forget the pride and joy Gramps had when facetiming with the girls.  They were excited to show him one of the gift cards Rainey & Gramps had given them for Christmas. Gramps was so fulfilled seeing those and listening to the girls talk about making purchases at McDonalds. Then the girls wanted to show him some new stuffed animals – he tuned in, asked queations, and cracked some jokes…even though he was feeling horrible and in a lot of discomfort and pain. The girls were looking up at him and it is a precious last memory.

When I finally got my turn to talk, his first words to me were, “how are you feeling ?”  I had just gotten out of the hospital myself.  This is how he loved – genuine and selfless.

The last thing Gramps and I said to each other was “I love you!”

Up until the end, Gramps lived the personal love he was sent here for.

There is no doubt that a good amount of the Phoenix love and strength that has been passed down and lives through our family of 5 is due in part to him.

We miss him dearly and this anniversary has taken us through the ebbs and flows of memories. As I Watched This is Us, I was reminded of what Gramps.would want for us. To be looking up, not down. To be doing what we love; living life to the fullest. And, to know that, “We Can Always Come Back to This.” To the place of love that Gramps and his memories have infused into our lives…some of which are captured below. And as we do, we will be looking up, not down.

Take a listen to We Can Always Come Back to This

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I am. You are. And, Together, We are GREAT!

My good friend, Jenn, and I were talking last night about to-do and to-be lists. We all have them. And for most of us, they are never-ending….

How many of us have a list of our accomplishments or why we are GREAT next to the to-do’s and be’s?! I encourage you to listen to/watch this and find some piece of it that you can believe. Use this as a starting point to set your intentions. Then, do your part to carry them out. 

America, we are GREAT! We always have been. I think that as long as we believe we are, we WILL continue to be! For what we put out into the world is what we will attract back.

This means that all of us have the power & potential to be GREAT, too. I get it; you might not feel so great. We are surrounded by such negativity and unless we create positivity, the negativity will only grow until it eventually consumes us and creates unproductive thoughts and feelings. My sense is that this is where we are as a community and for many of us, individually.

In an effort to counteract some of the negativity and increase productivity, I encourage you to make at least 2 more lists:

 1. of all of your accomplishments; and,

 2. of all the qualities that make you GREAT

Then put these next to or on top of your to-do,  to-be, and any other lists you might have. I promise that eventually GREAT feelings and things will come…

 I am. You are. And, Together, We are GREAT!!

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Hope, Healing, and A Chance for YOU to Make a Difference

Today is the 6 year anniversary of when the journey of being saved began for our girls!! On April 6th, 2010, they and their 2 younger siblings were removed by our dear friend and one heck of a social worker, Deb Korth. 

Wow! It has been one broken, beautiful, and restorative ride so far. We feel blessed for the opportunity this ride has provided us to help spread awareness about child abuse and neglect. Most importantly that it’s PREVENTABLE and, in the unfortunate circumstances that it isn’t, there is HOPE for HEALING. 

 
Please celebrate this anniversary with us by reading this post and then following through to DO something. We would love to have you join or support our Burning Brightle Team for The Tour de Cookie! 

A huge thank you to those who have already taken a stand and joined us in some way to spread the word and support The Tour de Cookie!

 A version of this originally published 2/19/16

I feel very fortunate to be living in and raising a family in Montgomery County, Maryland.  The County is well-known for its excellent school system, cultural diversity, thriving business opportunities, and easy access to our nation’s capital.  We are also one of the wealthiest counties in the United States.  In many ways though, the very things that make this and other areas such wonderful places to live, can cloud judgements – making it easy to dismiss the tragic realities of our communities.  One of these realities is that child abuse and neglect is EVERYwhere.

2015 data for Montgomery County’s Child Protective Services indicates that –

  • 6,829 reports of child abuse or neglect were made
  • 1,876 of these reports met the threshold for a full CPS investigation
  • 397 of these investigations had a positive finding of abuse or neglect

National data from 2012 indicates –

  • 6.3 million reports of child abuse and neglect were made
  • 3 million (approximately) of these reports met the threshold for a full CPS investigation
  • 686,000 of these investigations had a positive finding of abuse or neglect

In short, 1 in 4 children are victims of child abuse or neglect.
And, in the United States, 5 children die each day due to child abuse or neglect.

Each of the children and family members who make up these statistics have a name.  And a story.

While you may believe this kind of thing doesn’t happen where you come from, the numbers speak for themselves.  Child abuse and neglect do NOT discriminate.  It is happening to your son’s friend from Cub Scouts, kids in your youth group at church, your daughter’s BFF, the one who bullies your child at recess, the cousins who live together in low-income housing….the list could go on and on.  Yes, it is happening right in YOUR OWN backyard.

The good news?! There are safe places where these stories can be shared and handled with care.  Child Advocacy Centers (CACs) like The Tree House CAC of Montgomery County provide a range of specialized services to children and families impacted by child abuse and neglect.  Among the services provided are forensic interviews, medical services performed by a child abuse certified pediatrician, victim advocacy, psychological assessments, and on-going therapy.  Staff are trained on the impact of child abuse and neglect as well as trauma informed evidence-based practices.  Therapists and other staff are equipped and able to screen, assess, advocate for, support, and work with children and families. Together, they provide appropriate medical, psychological, psychiatric, and therapeutic interventions tailored to each child.  In general, this multidisciplinary approach allows the family to stabilize and work through the resulting trauma from the abuse and/or neglect.

In 2015, The Tree House provided services for over 700 children and families.  The Phoenix Family is just ONE of them. Over the years, we went through multiple therapists with the girls…many times taking months for the girls to get settled and begin to share…only to be told those stories couldn’t be told.  Most of these therapists had the best of intentions, but were either ill-equipped or not permitted to provide the level of specialized services that the girls and our family so desperately needed.  As a result, the trauma continued to boil and eventually reached the tipping point…burning into the lives of the girls, our family, and members of our community.  At just 4 and 5 years old, the girls were experiencing such severe Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) that they became self-injurious and aggressive towards others.  At times they even struggled with suicidal and/or homicidal thoughts and behaviors.  These cries for help reached the point of requiring multiple acute hospitalizations and eventually extended placements in a Residential Treatment Center.  We worked with countless professionals over the 5 years that we were therapeutic foster parents and the majority of them lost hope and labeled our girls as “damaged beyond repair”.

Today we are considered a “success story”.  There is NO doubt in my mind that the greatest influence on our success is the trauma-based and child & family-centered services we have received through The Tree House.  While our friends and their children were rushing off to extra-curricular activities, we were heading to therapy.  For two years we spent the majority of our afternoons and evenings at The Tree House, participating in individual (x3), family, group, and child/parent therapy.  In addition to providing the highest level of therapeutic interventions, our Tree House therapists (and all staff from receptionist to Director) believed in and advocated for our family, and the potential the girls had if afforded permanency through adoption.  This advocacy was crucial to the court case and lead to us being able to finalize all of the adoptions.  In short, the services provided were nothing short of life-saving.

To use the words of The Tree House,

 “The Tree House CAC of Montgomery County Maryland is dedicated to reducing trauma and promoting healing for child victims of physical abuse, sexual abuse, and neglect. Through an innovative collaborative process between the private and public sectors, key professionals come together on behalf of the best interests of victims. This effective early intervention is essential to ensure that an abused child or adolescent develops into a healthy and productive adult, capable of forming trusting and loving relationships. Underpinning the work of The Tree House is the belief that the cycle of child abuse can be broken and the knowledge that child abuse and neglect is preventable!”

Our girls are highlighted in The Tree Houses’ 2015 Annual Report.  Their names were changed for confidentiality, but I love how hope and healing is highlighted here and in the Tree House’s mission and vision shared above. All too often we hear about the negative impacts of abuse and neglect.  Most recently the Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs) study has brought attention to the potential for long-term affects including early death, increased incidences of incarceration, physical illness, addiction, and depression to name a few.  While this is important information, this doesn’t have to be the plight of our children.  When offered timely & appropriate evaluations and treatment recommendations coupled with effective therapeutic services, children and families are able to strengthen.  This increases resiliency and has the potential to have a strong impact on reversing the negative impacts of adverse childhood experiences.  My girls are living proof of this.

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Knowledge is power and WE have the power to educate ourselves and our communities – thereby preventing child abuse and neglect whenever possible, reducing the negative impact of trauma when it occurs, and promoting healing.  

The Phoenix Family and Team Burning Brightle are back for our second year partnering with The Tree House to participate in the Tour de Cookie bike ride and stroll.  This year we are expanding our partnership to include (hopefully) a larger team of riders and strollers, sponsoring the neat cinch backpacks riders receive to store all of the cookies they collect along the ride, fundraising, AND hosting a cookie stand. We are carrying Hope and Healing into our theme for this year’s logo which will be on the back of your Tour de Cookie shirts and front of cinch bags 🙂

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Okay, so here is the low down on the  2016 Tour de Cookie:

What: Exciting, fun-filled, and delicious bike ride from one cookie stand to the next. Choose between distances of 12, 26, or 42 miles, and enjoy the scenery and the food! The aim of the event is to raise awareness of child abuse prevention and promote the services offered by The Tree House. All proceeds of the Tree House Tour de Cookie benefit The Tree House CAC, enabling us to better serve our clients. It is a wonderful occasion during which individuals, families, and groups can enjoy a day of fun, festivities, philanthropy, and COOKIES! Watch this video of last year’s event, produced by Andrew Parkison of Green Buzz Agency.

When: Saturday, May 7 2016 from 8:00am – 2:00pm
Where: The Johns Hopkins University, Montgomery County Campus
Fees: $55 per Adult Team Member of Team Burning Brightle (note, this includes $5 team discount). One child 12 and under rides FREE with each paid adult registration. Additional children 12 and under can be registered for $20 each. Fee includes ride, high quality moisture wicking shirt (unisex/men’s sizes), cinch bag with goodies, course support, cookie stands, medical support, technical support, and plenty of post ride fun!

**How to Join Team Burning Brightle as a rider: (click here; select join a team and type “Burning Brightle” into team search field. Type “awesome” as password and click join team. Complete rider information and be sure to also use the promotional code “kpawesometeam” to receive team discount before clicking on register).  

New for 2016…The Tree House Tour de Cookie ØK Stroll! This walk of 906 feet to The Tree House cookie stand and back is especially designed for our non-cycling friends. Come on out, decorate yourselves and your stroller (if you have one and if you want to decorate it), walk, have a cookie, walk back, cheer for our returning riders, and enjoy our expo. If you register by April 10th you also get a t-shirt!

Fees: $24.24 per Aduld Member of Team Burning Brightle (note, this includes a $3 Team discount) and $11.49 for children 12 and under.  Fee includes stroll to the Tree House Cookie Stand, high quality moisture wicking shirt (unisex/men’s sizes), a cookie, and plenty of post stroll fun.

**How to Join Team Burning Brightle as a Stroller: (click here; select join a team and type “Burning Brightle” into team search field. Type “Awesome” as password and click join team. Complete stroller information and be sure to also use the promotional code “KPSTROLLERS” to receive team discount before clicking on register. 

Due to the increasing number of riders registered over the years, The Tree House has had to cap the number of riders for this year. We are quite confident they will reach the cap; so, please DO NOT wait to register or get involved in volunteering. It is also important not to wait, as riders who do not register by 4/10/16 WILL NOT receive the t-shirt.  

If you aren’t able or up to riding or strolling, you are welcome to join us for the Family Expo where you can cheer riders on at the start and finish line, enjoy family-friendly entertainment, a mini-ride for the little kiddos, collect information and giveaways from various community providers, and enjoy food from vendors (bring cash if you plan to purchase lunch or other food/items from vendors).  If you feel compelled to support this awesome cause and/or give outside of riding and strolling, we could use your help and support before, during, and after the event in other ways! Please consider:

  • Recruiting family, friends, neighbors, co-workers, etc to join Team Burning Brightle **details on how to join our Team as a rider or stroller are above
  • Donating to The Tree House through the Team Burning Brightle donation page.  Your donation is tax-deductible and will go directly to providing services to children and families in Montgomery County. The Tree House CAC is a public/private partnership that relies heavily on donations from the private sector to fund services, provided free of charge, to the clients it serves. 
  • Giving a Tour de Cookie Gift Certificate to a family member or friend to join our team in the ride
  • Joining the Family Expo as an Exhibitor or Volunteer by emailing tourdecookie@treehousemd.org
  • Volunteering to recruit entertainers, sponsors, or help put up event posters/hand out event cards by emailing tourdecookie@treehousemd.org
  • Following, liking, inviting others, and/or sharing the Burning Brightle blog and posts. 
  • Following, liking, inviting others, and/or sharing relevant posts on my Facebook page
  • Following, liking, inviting others, and/or sharing The Tree House and Tour de Cookie Facebook pages and posts

Ready?!? Set…GO! …register and invite a friend to join you, like & share this post, donate, find ways to spread the word, volunteer – these are just a handful of things you can do to create ripples that join together as an unstoppable current. ONE like, ONE share, ONE registration, ONE donation, ONE offer to volunteer at a time…

 

With love and gratitude, Kristin

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Personal Love: We Can Always Come Back to This

It has been just over a year since Gramps made his way home. On February 17, 2016, Heaven gained an awesome man. Our family lost an incredible son, brother, husband, father, grandfather, and great-grandfather.  The community lost a true friend and servant who brought much joy & laughter wherever he went.

I remember working on gathering pictures to create memory boards for Granps’ Memorial Service.  A few tears fell as I looked through the ones Jeff & his family had chosen for the slide show. Many were from years past; some from before I was born.

When I got to the pictures of more recent years, the tears began to multiply.  These pictures, which only captured fleeting moments,  allowed me to re-live some of my most favorite memories made with Rainey & Gramps.

In the midst of going through the various albums these pictures were in, I came across this message which I had saved several years earlier…

Dear Human

What perfect timing for me to find this. I’ve read it many times over the last year while grieving, and each time the tears flow a little less.  While this has been a huge loss for our entire family, I find comfort in knowing that Gramps made his way home as completely himself…it was enough: it was plenty. That he knew he was not sent here to be perfect, but to learn and live personal love so that one day he could return to the unconditional love he came from.

As I reflect, we have learned some of the important truths in Courtney Walsh’s message above from Gramps.  He didn’t teach us about these things while we sat and visited on the couch.  Love was always a verb with him.

He showed us this through his love for his dear wife, Rainey. Second to God, He loved her more than anyone. And while Gramps never believed he would die, especially before Rainey, they lived their lives like they were dying – as if each day may be their last. Aside from them, I’ve yet to know a couple who loved each other, enjoyed each other’s company, had fun, and lived life to it’s fullest like they did. Date nights, skiing, dancing, getting together with friends, traveling with “The Coach” to Horseneck Beach and Destin Florida every year. Seems like anytime we spoke, they were headed out somewhere to do something they enjoyed…together.

He showed us this in his love for our country and his military service.

He showed us this in his love for his son, Glenn.  It didn’t matter how long or stressful his work day was, he made time to practice football and show up to every game with his movie camera in hand.

He showed us this when Jeff’s mom, Teri, was put on bed rest while pregnant with their youngest son, Joey. No one had to ask. Gramps called and said, “Im coming.”  No one dared try to stop him because this was Gramps living out his personal love.  He was also known to be a tad bit stubborn :-).  He spent a couple of months there, helping to care for the 3 older boys and things around the house
He showed us this in how he cared for his grandsons.  Jeff has shared fond memories of times he spent with Rainey and Gramps during the summers of his childhood.  Throughout adulthood and important milestones in Jeff’s career, it has been Gramps who he called first to share good news and recieve advice.

He showed us this when he volunteered as groundsman every year at Henderson Beach State Park.
He showed us this in his love for animals. He often volunteered at the animal shelter.  I will never forget all he and Rainey did to save and then take care of his beloved dog, Buddy.

He showed us this when he was so excited to meet our 3 foster girls. They were in a hard place with some difficult behaviors. Gramps and Rainey did everything to make them feel safe and comfortable. He loved walking them to the park and pushing them on the swings.

He showed us this as he shared in our pain and navigated messy parts of life and relationships with us.

He showed us this when after having multiple court dates changed, we finally had a last-minute plan for Shianne’s Adoption Day.  Gramps said, “Rainey and I WILL be there.”  A few hours later they showed up for Shianne’s Adoption.

He showed us this by using his gifts to fix and build anything and everything. Whether it was for family, friends, or strangers. As long as it helped, he was quick to jump in.

He showed us this in his perspective during the last few weeks we had with him.  After learning of his cancer, the girls wanted to visit, but he wanted to facetime instead.

I have been tuned in and loving everything about NBCs This is Us. On last week’s episode, William, the grandfather passed away. It was during a fun trip with his biological son, Randall, who he had recently connected with 36 years after dropping him off at a fire station. The two forged deep bonds during this trip, sharing eachother’s passions, bearing witness to their brokennes and messy love. Creating memories as this love was made whole. When Randal learned William wouldn’t make it home from the trip, he insisted on flying his daughters, who had absolutely fallen in love with their grandpa, so they could say their goodbyes.

William ensured his son that he had already leaned over and kissed the girls goodbye before leaving on the trip.  And then he said this….

“I want them to remember looking up at me, not down.”

Although we will never know for sure, I believe this might have been why Gramps didn’t want us to bring the girls for a visit when, as hard as it was, we knew he didn’t have much longer.

I’ll never forget the pride and joy Gramps had when facetiming with the girls.  They were excited to show him one of the gift cards Rainey & Gramps had given them for Christmas. Gramps was so fulfilled seeing those and listening to the girls talk about making purchases at McDonalds. Then the girls wanted to show him some new stuffed animals – he tuned in, asked queations, and cracked some jokes…even though he was feeling horrible and in a lot of discomfort and pain. The girls were looking up at him and it is a precious last memory.

When I finally got my turn to talk, his first words to me were, “how are you feeling ?”  I had just gotten out of the hospital myself.  This is how he loved – genuine and selfless.

The last thing Gramps and I said to each other was “I love you!”

Up until the end, Gramps lived the personal love he was sent here for.

There is no doubt that a good amount of the Phoenix love and strength that has been passed down and lives through our family of 5 is due in part to him.

We miss him dearly and this anniversary has taken us through the ebbs and flows of memories. As I Watched This is Us, I was reminded of what Gramps.would want for us. To be looking up, not down. To be doing what we love; living life to the fullest. And, to know that, “We Can Always Come Back to This.” To the place of love that Gramps and his memories have infused into our lives…some of which are captured below. And as we do, we will be looking up, not down.

Take a listen to We Can Always Come Back to This

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Where I wanted to go

Originally written February 7, 2016

Yesterday I wrote and published Where I need to be. It is the first thing I’ve written that I didn’t go back and edit. I only re-read it once. If you’re a writer at heart or know (have to suffer with) one, you’ll understand the magnitude of this. On the way home from Hershey yesterday, I wrote this.  It is written as a post script to Where I need to be, so I hope you’ll take the time to read it, if you haven’t already. 
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P.S. – This post may appear like I have it all together and things are picture perfect. Normally, I do like to post the “Kodak moment” pictures because mothering 3 girls with extreme trauma brings a lot of very hard moments. And, it’s vital to enjoy the miracles of recovery and healing, as fleeting as they may feel at times. 

These past few weeks have been extremely difficult and, depending on your perspective, anything but picture perfect for all 5 of us. Individually, we are each on very shaky ground. 

The girls are going through a lot of major transitions (any of these alone would be more than enough) – moving to a holding school and taking the bus for the first time, not getting home and settled until 5pm, unanticipated moving of their amazing individual and our family  therapist (she is off to help lots of people in another state), new diagnoses, medications, therapists, etc. 

Our Gramps (Jeff’s grandpa) is really sick and has been diagnosed with stage 4 cancer. We wanted to visit him today, but God had other plans and took us to Hershey (edited to add note: Gramps passed away peacefully last week; a post coming on the impact of this loss and the legacy he leaves to live on through us.)

I didn’t want to actively restrain one of the girls across two mornings because she was filled with so much guilt and shame from stealing something. She was suffering so greatly that she wanted to hurt me and the dogs and destroy anything in sight that was destroyable. 

I didn’t want to then rush to school for another who went missing just after making self-harming/suicidal statements. And then ultimately need to restrain her and work with the awesome staff at her school for a good hour to get into our car and heading home safely…all while having a very delicate back. 

I didn’t want to learn this past October that the disc I had surgery on last April had re-herniated and my body had already built up a lot of scar tissue. This is when we had to cancel our adoption celebration trip to Disney for the second time due to my back. Steroid injections and narcotic pain meds for break through pain allowed me to function for several months. Then I reached the max number of injections per year and the pain/neuro symptoms were getting difficult to manage without prednisone tapers, pain meds, and muscle relaxants.  

I wanted to be picture perfect right now. Even more, I wanted to be here at Hershey a couple of weekends ago when I was feeling relatively well. Instead, I was in & out of the emergency room and then admitted to the hospital across 8 days during the Blizzard of 2016, starting the day after restraining. 

I didn’t want to celebrate Chelsea’s 11th birthday in the hospital. She has been looking forward to and planning this one for at least 6 months.

I wanted a clear re-herniation that was compressing the nerve to show up on the MRI they did in the hospital. I didn’t want to be told 7 different possible diagnoses by 7 different medical professionals.

I didn’t want to be 31 and needing a walker and this set-up to enjoy making memories with my girls. 

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I didn’t want to become an embarassment to my girls as they already have way more than enough on their plates. But because of this newest medical mystery and needing a walker to get around, I am. As we walked into Chocolate World, they were behind me saying in an unkind tone “it is SO embarrassing to be seen with Mommy like this.”

And, I wanted to be off this mega-dose of prednisone (see puffy face and body :-)) 10 days ago. The doctors said “no”; and, believe it or not, I’ve lost 35 pounds since last year’s picture (on top). Notice how much healthier my girls look, though – and we thought they looked great then. Rocovery works if you work it. 

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Also, being in recovery, I wanted to do everything possible to avoid needing narcotics and other addictive meds again. Let alone the strongest of the strong in patch and oral form – at.the.same.time. In all the health situations I’ve been through, I’ve never needed this many, this strong. 

I don’t want to be on all of these meds in order to be home and somewhat functional. I don’t want to be the wife, mom, friend, daughter, and person these pain meds can sometimes make me. I want to be able to make it to my meetings and time with friends and family, but most of the time these days, I can’t. 

Thank God for the ability to lean on my 2 amazing supports from the program, awesome family, friends, and my Restoration Church family. 

I want to be able to tell you this support is enough.  But, there are many days right now that I still feel not good enough. Not grace-giving enough. Not loving enough. My supports, angels on earth (and in heaven), the serenity prayer, and memories from my meetings are SAVING my life right now. 

Here’s the thing,though…I obviously needed and still need all of this. The God of my understanding is doing big works in and through me.  In the meantime, I’m doing my best to do my part – by recognizing and acting on the things I can change and letting go of the things I cannnot.  And while I could’ve stayed home and enjoyed the fun through pics and videos, it doesn’t compare.  I’m so thankful to have been here in person for our 3rd annual trip 🙂 

Yes, I seldom end up where I wanted to go, but almost always end up where I need to be. And when I’m where I need to be, miracles abound!!!!

P.P.S. – If you havent yet read Where I need to be, head over there now and be sure to watch the videos at the end to see some of the fun we had!
 

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Where I need to be

  

This is my daily inspirational quote from this morning. I fell in love with it at first sight and have been tossing it around with my mind, heart, and God ever since. Noticing and appreciating how when I actively let go and surrender my will, I get to right where I need to be…often surprisingly quickly and with plenty of peace and serenity.  

Does that mean it’s easy? Most of the time, no. Pain, guilt, shame, worry, and conflict free? Nope.

BUT, totally possible and completely worth it. Definitely a life is hard but good thing!

I kept getting caught up on the “almost always” piece, though. I wanted to be able to re-write the quote and take out the “almost”. I think it’s because I’d like to believe I’m always right where I need to be 🙂 

Aha!!! As soon as I got out of my own way, I came to love the “almost”. It leaves room for more:

surrendering 

faith 

grace 

mercy

wisdom

love 

acceptance 

hope

courage 

peace 

serenity

The “almost” means we get forever chances and only need to aim for progress, not perfection.

It really isn’t all about or on me. God’s got this. So thankful for the opportunity to begin knowing and understanding this and the gift of another day to do my part in getting to where I need to be. 

Right now, that’s off to our 3rd annual Hershey Chocolate World visit with Uncle Timmy, Aunt Hannah and Gman. 

Edited on 2.12.16 to add a couple of videos (bummed they are blurry! I uploaded in HD, so I’m not sure why…)

Love  how each of the girls’ personalities comes out in this little clip. Chelsea – the life of the party & totally enjoying engaging any of the characters who will dance with her. Savanna loving the music and dancing, but also very mindful of the little girl who wanted to dance with someone. And, Shianne standing with Mommy just taking it all in.

Chels and Sav finally convinced Shianne to join in. Love that after she took her time to warm up, she was able to enjoy herself. And all 3 of my girls were smiling and dancing AT THE SAME TIME! Still with the friend Savannna made and included. Also this Hershey band impresses me more and more with each visit. 
  

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I’m Back

Maybe you didn’t even realize I was gone! But, some of you noticed I haven’t written for awhile and that my blog was marked private. Due to some contact from the girls’ biological family, I took a break.

As a family, we needed to process the contact – essentially a family member had found the blog and was unhappy with how our stories were portrayed. We took time to process and understand where everyone was coming from. We talked about all of our options for moving forward. The girls and Jeff were ready to keep going forward right away.

I wanted and needed to give the situation space. There are two sides to every story and I wanted to honor and respect the other side. As a foster and adoptive mother, I have always believed in the girls’ biological family – in their place in the girls and our life stories, in their ability to heal and recover, and in their love for their children. Ultimately, after a lot of thought and consideration, I have decided to continue the blog and keep it public. It has been an important outlet for personal healing and I believe that our story has the potential to impact other families, professionals, and systems.

As I move forward, I would like to acknowledge that some of the girls’ biological family has read the blog and disagrees with most of the story that has been presented. We respect and acknowledge this difference of opinion. What we share on this blog is our AND only our story! We appreciate the family reaching out in a respectful way and trust that any future contact will be equally as respectful and in the spirit of healing.

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