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.

hope and healing pic 1
hope and healing 2
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 🙂


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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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. 

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. 


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. 

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:












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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It is today. It is not yesterday. 

Savanna’s 9th birthday was at the beginning of August. She had been counting down the days, weeks, and months since May…so we were all anticipating it and excited for the day to finally be upon us. A couple of days before her birthday, Savanna asked us what time she was born. There are so many stories we don’t have the luxury of knowing and being able to share. But, we do have her birth certificate. So on the morning of Savanna’s birthday I brought her to the safe, unlocked it, and took out her birth certificate. 11:46am.  She immediately declared, “So I’m still 8, Mom!” I had every intention of making a big deal at 11:46 but totally lost track of time. We were having people over so I was doing some last minute cleaning up when Savanna came charging up from the basement, frantically calling my name, and pointing to the time on her watch. We all celebrated that she was finally 9!!! 

As excited as I was for Savanna, a big part of me was overcome with a heaviness of grief. Savanna’s birthday served as a stark reminder of times and things we never got to experience with the girls. 

I long to be able to have memories that I can share with the girls. Like feeling them move, and seeing them through the ultrasound. Or, how they were with crying, eating and sleeping. When they learned to crawl and walk and talk.  The girls often ask about these things and it’s hard not being able to give them real answers. 

Some of the things I can reconcile and while it nudges at my heart, it doesn’t break it. Like not knowing the joy of learning of the pregnancy, sharing the news with loved ones, watching my belly grow and marking the monthly milestones with baby bump pictures, or ensuring I did everything possible to give my babies a healthy start. Memories of feeling their first kicks, singing to them while they were in my womb, or hearing their first cries. For the most part, these are things that I go through seasons of healthy grieving and have been able to process, accept, and then let go of.

But then there are other things that tug hard at my heart. So hard that they break it wide open.  Like not being there to soothe their cries and meet their most basic needs. I think it’s so hard because from what we know, those basic and most important needs went completely unmet. This year Savanna’s birthday flooded me with heartache and grief, more so than the others, because we recently learned that her early days were not easy. Born at just over 4 pounds she had to fight hard to survive. We know from limited hospital records that she spent 39 days in the NICU and then was in and out of the hospital during her first year.  I wonder if anyone from her biological family was there to love on her during those 39 days?  From what we know about the history, it’s unlikely anyone visited very much. This thought brings me to tears. 

We are blessed to have a lot of babies in our lives right now – both family and friends.  Seeing the unconditional love, affection, and endless positive feedback these kiddos get has also been pulling on my heart strings pretty heavily the past few months.  All children need and deserve this; their survival and healthy development depends on it! The girls missed out on this. Their most critical years of development were full of chaos, confusion, instability, abuse, and neglect. 

We live through the repercussions of this trauma on a daily basis. For so long I have been the strong one. I take the lead in participating in therapy, working with the school to secure services, and do the therapeutic work at home and in the community. People often ask me how I do it, and the truth is, I feel it is my calling and purpose.  As hard as it may get, it brings me joy and I wouldn’t choose it any other way. 

This summer, though, I went through a period of grieving. I think it can be hard to talk about grief as an adoptive parent because adoption is viewed as a problem-solving event filled with such joy and happy endings. Initially, I didn’t talk about all I was feeling. Aside from feeling guilty for even feeling it, I was embarrassed as my grief had reached a point of anger, regret, and resentment. 

I was angry over lost opportunities and the aftermath that we live on a daily basis. And as much as I hate to admit this, I found myself feeling various regrets and resentments as we spent time with families who were raising their biological children.

I became overwhelmed with wanting to be able to raise the girls from birth. With this, I imagined how our life today would be so much different…

Maybe they wouldn’t project their feelings of hate and anger towards their biological parents at us (mostly me) when triggered. I have sported many bruises and some scars from being attacked, because in those moments of flashbacks, my girls honestly believe I am their biological mom.

Maybe their “go to” vocabulary wouldn’t be crude and curse words.

Maybe they wouldn’t struggle with their concepts of self-worth and have such lost self-esteem. 

Maybe we wouldn’t have had to spend hours a night going through a rocking protocol (which the girls fought all the way) in an attempt to establish healthy bonding and attachments. 

Maybe we wouldn’t have had to hospitalize our child for suicidal and homicidal ideations at the tender age of 5. 

Maybe they wouldn’t be obsessed with their looks, believing they aren’t “sexy” without make-up and innapropriate clothing. 

Maybe they wouldn’t be overcome with fears of horror film characters like Chucky, Jason or Michael Meyers coming to hurt and sometimes even kill them. Or other fears resulting from their PTSD that still cause Shianne to have night terrors.

Maybe they wouldn’t gorge on their food because even after 5 years they worry about when, what, and where they’ll eat next.

Maybe they wouldn’t be obsessed with boyfriends and other sexual content.  Or feel the need to be hyper sexualized because this behavior was expected of them, and deeply ingrained in their minds and bodies from the sexual abuse.  

Maybe they could tolerate and respond to healthy discipline rather than be overcome with fear that we will hurt them.

Maybe they would be further along in their academics because they would have had opportunities to read and learn their colors, numbers, and letters rather than being exposed to explicit language , movies, and innapropriate behaviors. 

…the list could go on and on…but most importantly, my heart always turns back to breaking for the love and care my girls never got in their most critical years.  

I knew all these messy feelings I was having weren’t going to go away on their own; there was clearly work to be done. The first step in this was sharing how I was feeling with Jeff and a dear friend. They were very supportive and I felt a huge weight lifted. By sharing my truth, I set myself free to attend to the areas of my mind, heart, and soul that were in need of some TLC. 

It had been an intense summer as it was the first summer I wasn’t working and had the girls home with me. With Jeff traveling and working extra hours, I was go-go-going in caring for the girls and hadn’t taken enough “me” time. There were definitely times my anger and resentment got the best of me, and I responded to the girls in ways I am not proud of.  This added more regret to the pile of my messiness. 

We decided a Mama break was in order so at the end of August, Jeff took the girls to visit with his family in North Carolina. 

There was plenty of work to be done around the house and it would have been much easier for me to dodge confronting my anger, regret, and resentment by getting lost in house and yard work.  Instead though, I held space for myself and practiced being still. 

Sure enough, the more still and quiet I allowed myself to become, the more I heard my heart and soul speaking to me. I decided this would be a good time to work on the iceburg exercise that I wrote about in my Sunshine & Anchors post.  Remember the tip of the iceburg, what lies beneath, the sunshine, and the anchors? 

IMG_0785-0The tips of my iceburgs were the resentment and anger. It was important for me to understand what was underneath the surface. This was one of the hardest parts. I stayed still, practiced kindness, and gave myself lots of grace…which allowed me to identify some of my underlying feelings. These included jealousy, fears, perceived inadequacies, unmet needs, feeling pressured, and feeling judged.  Now that I’ve identified and accepted these, I have  begun to work through them. 

During my week alone, I was able to tap into plenty of my sunshine. Things like reading my favorite blogs with a cup of tea, walking, cuddling with the dogs, warm baths with lavender, writing, and listening to music. The important thing moving forward is committing to making and taking the time to access my sunshine on a daily basis. 

A breakthrough moment came to me when I inadvertently came across my anchor. I was reading my favorite blog, Hands Free Mama. I love everything Rachel Macy Stafford writes. This post was about Do-Overs. We use this concept a lot in our house, so I was expecting to read what I already knew: that we all deserve them and they are a helpful learning strategy. As it turned out, though, the main point was much more paramount and exactly what I needed to keep me grounded. 

While Rachel was writing about regrets from parenting choices she wished she had made and done differently, I was really able to relate how I was feeling with all the things I was wishing I could change in the girls’ lives. 

It is today. It is not yesterday. And today brings me endless opportunities to parent, teach, and love my girls. Spending time wondering “what if”, wishing things would be different, or worrying about regrets takes away time, energy, and love that my girls need and deserve from me today. 

It is today. It is not yesterday. These seemingly simple words struck a chord and they have become my anchor as I’ve worked through this latest phase of my grief. 

I am looking forward to each of the todays I am afforded to mother my girls. And rather than thinking about the “what ifs” and how life would “maybe” be different, I will choose to show up and be inspired by all that Chelsea, Savanna, and Shianne are today. When I keep showing up fully present with love, the girls will continue to heal and reach their full potential. 



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On Choosing Love

Lastnight I wrote a facebook post that dragged on and probably should have been a blog. I want to remember this important perspective on life, so am turning it into a blog post. For those of you who follow me on facebook, this may be a repeat. But I think if there is anything we could use a double-dose of, it’s love : -)


It’s been a rough few weeks. I re-herniated the disc in my back that I had surgery on in April (I wrote about this in Lucky Number 13). It is compressing on a major nerve, so in addition to back pain, I am having pain and neurological symptoms in my leg. I see my neurosurgeon Thursday to come up with an action plan. 

I am on heavy pain medication 24/7 and am basically out of commission – as out of commission as a mom of 3 girls can be. The pain meds allow me to function and be as comfortable as possible, but they also get the best of me. I become irritable, agitated, inpatient, unrealistic, and at times unkind. It is NO fun. Needless to say, it takes quite a toll on my family. 

Even with the pain meds, I am having trouble sleeping tonight. With my strength and balance being off, I took a fall down the stairs today which exacerbated things. Normally I would be laying here feeling upset and annoyed as I desperately try to get some sleep. And, I wouldn’t normally share all of these details with the world…but tonight I feel compelled to. Because I’ve spent the last 5 hours re-reading many posts on my friend Rachel Macy Stafford’s Hands Free Mama blog (I’ve shared some of her posts and told you about her new book before). All of her writing is filled with such wisdom – and she shares her wisdom in the most gentle, kind, compassionate, encouraging, and loving ways.  

With her latest post, she offers an I CHOOSE LOVE 21-day challenge. Because of my current circumstances, I am finding it very easy to let love begin to fall by the wayside, so this comes at such an awesome time for me. It will be quite the challenge as these pain meds (and the pain itself) are no joke. We can do hard things, though. I’ve already gone through the opportunities that are sure to arise tomorrow and made plans of how I can and will Choose Love over all of the obstacles that will try to get in the way. 

“Let love start this day. Let love end this day. Let love transform the minutes in between …”

Pleas take a few minutes and read this Choose Love post –  I’ve also copied and pasted it below for those of you who don’t like all of the clicking around. I can’t imagine why you wouldn’t want to take the challenge with me 🙂 And even if you don’t, I promise you’ll walk away with at least one important insight.

‘Choose Love’ 21-Day Challenge: Part 2
                  SEPTEMBER 25, 2015
            from http://www.handsfreemama.com 

* On September 22, I posted a passage on The Hands Free Revolution page illustrating how ‘Choosing Love’ as a first response might play out in a typical day. The concept deeply resonated with many people. I’ve added it to this post and decided now was the perfect time to bring back this transformative 21-day challenge. Let love start this day. Let love end this day. Let love transform the minutes in between …

I never know where interviews are going to take me – but I can almost always be sure they will take me back—back in time. And although most days I try my best to look forward, sometimes it’s enlightening to reflect back and see something I can only see with time. This is my story, as well as a challenge, should you choose to accept.

It was this, the second to last question during my interview on Better Worldians Radio that stirred something inside me: “With the success of your book and popularity of your website I imagine you could be busier than ever. How do you keep the balance and keep living Hands Free?” asked Gregory, one of the show’s hosts.

I briefly described several strategies I used when I began my journey that are still in practice today. Wanting to place emphasis on what I feel is the most important one, practicing daily distraction-free rituals, I shared this story …

The night before the Hands Free Mama manuscript was due to my publisher I was working furiously to meet my deadline. My parents had come from Florida to help me any way they could.

It was around 8:30 p.m. and I was bent over the keyboard surrounded by empty soda cans, crumpled papers, and used sticky notes.

I felt my mom gently touch my arm. She’d just come from my older daughter’s bedroom. “Natalie requested her nightly Talk Time, Rachel,” she whispered softly.

Without hesitation, I got up from my work and headed straight toward Natalie’s room.

Suddenly my mom called out after me, neither of us knowing that what she was about to say would become one of my greatest Hands Free motivators. “I tried to tell Natalie that you had a lot of work to do tonight but she adamantly said, ‘Grandma, Mama always comes.”

Mama always comes.

I stopped midway up the stairs in an effort to wrap both my brain and hands around those sacred words and accept them as mine.

It hadn’t always been that way, you see. But somewhere along my Hands Free journey, I’d become someone my child could count on to come to her bedside each night to talk—no matter what


As my radio interview began to wrap up, I was amazed that out of all the things the host could reiterate from our hour-long discussion, he chose this:

“I think these three words are words we all want to hear sometime in our life, even just once: ‘Mama always comes.’”

Hearing the interviewer say those words made me feel just like I did when my mom spoke them that very first time. I was crying now. I desperately hoped the show’s listeners could not sense that I’d become a blubbering mess. With tears dripping down my face, I realized something I could only know now looking back in retrospect:

I could have easily kept working the night my daughter asked for Talk Time, but I didn’t.

Why? Why did I not explain that I was under a tight deadline and it would all be over the next day? Why did I not mention that my author advance and reputation were riding on a punctual submission? Why did I not quickly run upstairs and give Natalie a kiss and promise we’d have Talk Time in the morning?

Of all the times I could have said, “Not tonight,” I didn’t. Why?

Because I chose love.

Just like I did the night before … and the night before that … and the night before that … and the many nights before that.

I chose love that night just like I did on the very first day of my journey when I had no idea how to transform my distracted, joyless, maxed-out life into one of meaningful connection and peace. I wasn’t sure of anything that initial day of my journey except that love was the right choice. Love could never be the wrong choice.

But here’s the most critical element, the piece that made this choice a doable, repeatable action that stuck:

Sometimes I showed up to love without a smile.

Sometimes I showed up to love feeling ugly, worthless, and inadequate.

Sometimes I showed up to love alone and scared.

Sometimes I showed up to love when I didn’t know what I was doing.

Sometimes I showed up to love when it was the last thing I wanted to do.

Sometimes I showed up to love even though I had so much to do before the day’s end.

Sometimes I showed up to love when my patience was gone.

Sometimes I showed up to love when I had no love to give.

Despite the obstacles … despite the excuses I could’ve made … despite the pressures and distractions of the outside world … despite the mean voice of my inner critic, I continually showed up to love.


Because I never left the same way I arrived.

I always walked away a little lighter … a little more at peace … a little more hopeful … a little more grateful … a little more joyful. Love was always the right choice. I never once regretted choosing love over all else.

So I showed up to love again

And again

And again

And again

Until one day I was known as ‘The One Who Always Comes’ to a little girl whose opinion mattered more than the world.


Making it a habitual practice to choose love changed my inner fiber, the wiring of my brain, and my entire life perspective regarding what was important. Thus, I’ve come to believe there is one single action that has the power to transform negativity to positivity … distraction to presence … disconnection to connection: Choosing love—choosing love as much as you humanly can.

On any given day, there’s probably 101 things running through your mind—from what you need to do … to what you should do … to what you didn’t do … to what you wish you would’ve done. I know because this was me. It was exhausting. I felt like I was failing a lot. Now I try to go with one action over and over and over. This singular action helps me focus on what matters and let go of what doesn’t. It helps me make better choices and move on when I don’t.

Every minute of every day, I try to CHOOSE LOVE—two transformative words that become ingrained with repetition. Let me show you how CHOOSING LOVE could play out in a typical day:

1. Wake up. Mind starts racing. So much to do. So tired. Instead of reaching for the phone or grumbling about all there is to do, think: CHOOSE LOVE.

It might sound like this: Today is a new day. I am thankful I have been given this gift. My goal is to get out of bed and greet myself and my family with love. Love is how I will start this day.

2. Child not getting ready. Frustration rises. Instead of threatening or yelling, think: CHOOSE LOVE.

It might sound like this: How can I help? Let’s set a timer. How quickly do you think you can do clothes, shoes, backpack? Okay, let’s do it. On your mark, get set, GO!

3. Traffic is horrendous. You are going to be late. The whole day is going to be off. Instead of cursing, reaching for the phone, or making a dangerous U-turn, think: CHOOSE LOVE.

It might sound like this: I have just been given uninterrupted time. I will take this time to breathe. I will ask my child to sing me a song. I will listen to that voice and know it won’t always sound like this. I will take this moment of frustration and turn it into gratitude.

4. Arrive at destination only to be met with criticism, judgment, or rudeness. Instead of taking it personally, wasting your precious energy, or saying something you’ll later regret, think: CHOOSE LOVE.

It might sound like this: Their negative response is not about me. It is about them. I refuse to let their toxicity contaminate my day, my job, or my life. I will smile and let it go.

5. Perform your duty/assignment, and it is not as good as you’d like. Instead of berating yourself or trying to make it perfect, think: CHOOSE LOVE.

It might look like this: I have spent ample time and energy on this project. It is good enough for today. My effort is enough to make a positive contribution and that is what matters.

6. Evening packed with sports, meetings, dinner, and homework. Instead of bemoaning your chaotic, crazy life, think: CHOOSE LOVE.

It might look like this: Sometimes it is hard to be here. Tonight is one of those nights. But I am needed. Tonight I will focus on the smile I receive when my loved one spots me on the sidelines. Tonight I will focus on the sound of contentment I hear when my loved one digs into the meal I prepared. Tonight I will focus on the goodnight kiss that is offered to me. I am needed. I am loved. I am here.

7. Fall into bed. Mind starts racing. Instead of reviewing mistakes, failings, and what you didn’t accomplish today, think: CHOOSE LOVE.

Think of all the times you chose love today. And even if it was only once, celebrate it. In the midst of chaos, inconvenience, frustration, and crabby people, you chose love. With the millions of other choices you could’ve made, you chose love. Love is how this day will end.

My friends, consider the possibilities for a moment: What might result if love becomes your default choice for 21 straight days? What opportunities might open up? What connections might be repaired? What moments might you grasp that otherwise might be missed? Who might you become?

Instead of

The One Who’s Always Too Busy

The One Who Overreacts

The One Who Never Listens

The One Who Rarely Slows Down

The One Who Always Looks Miserable

The One Glued to the Phone

The One Missing All the Fun

The One Who’s Given Up
You might just become The One You Always Wanted to Be …
A Listener

A Hugger

A Forgiver

A Take Your Timer

A Belly Laugher

A Risk Taker

A Silly Grinner

A Moment Grasper

A Liver of Life

Why? Because good things start with love.

Just show up to love today.

Don’t worry about what you look like or what yesterday looked like.

Just show up to love.

Something tells me you’ll walk away a little better than when you arrived.

Then do it again.

*all text and pictures from Rachel Macy Stafford at http://www.handsfreemama.com

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Congratulations! Your child has been…

At the end of last year, Savanna was super excited to apply to become a patrol. She had been looking forward to the opportunity since 3rd grade. The day she found out she didn’t make it was full of lots of tears and disappointment. She’s never wanted something so badly, so you can imagine the let down. It was a blow to her self-esteem as she began comparing herself to her classmates that made it and wondering if she would ever be “good enough”. 

I was actually pretty surprised she didn’t make it. Of the 3 girls, she seemed the most qualified. But this served as another stark reminder of how much harder life is for the girls. They have made huge strides over the years but still have a long way to go in meeting school and societal standards.

Our school offers a second round of patrol selections a couple weeks into the school year. Savanna took the initiative to ask her teacher and the patrol sponsor what she needed to improve on.  She was told she needed to demonstrate greater responsibility in completing class work and homework, improve her focusing, and work on being responsible among her peers.

All summer, Savanna brainstormed how she would show that she was ready to be a patrol. Once school started she was very anxious to get the patrol application. As each week passed, Savanna looked forward with great anticipation to the next week…maybe it would finally be the week she got her application!

Sure enough, last week was the week! The application includes a section for the student to write about examples that show they are ready to be a patrol. Savanna worked on several drafts until she was happy with her essay. She was so proud and read it to me, Jeff, Grandma Nance, and Grandpa Mike. 

The second part of the application is a rating scale in several areas for the teacher to complete. A few days after she turned in the application, Savanna got in the car and told me that Ms. Zimmerman (patrol sponsor) had told her she got 3s and 4s. 5 is the highest. When I heard this I was worried she wouldn’t make it. So we talked about how she would handle not being selected. 

Each morning as we drove to school, Savanna would excitedly declare that it might be the day! Turns out today was THE DAY!!! 


I couldn’t hold back my tears of joy & excitement. Savanna set a goal and achieved it with her hard work and determination. We are SO proud of our new patrol!! 

P.S. – Savanna received her patrol belt today (9/28/15) and will start training at the various posts tomorrow. I love seeing her beam with joy and self-confidence as she shows family and friends her belt and talks about all of her responsibilities. 


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summer 2010: the one that changed it all!

Five years ago our world was forever changed. We had a fun June evening of swimming and grilling out with good friends. The night was topped off with angel food cake, strawberries, and whipped cream for desert. We said goodbyes to our friends and we’re working on getting the girls inside for their shower & bedtime routines.  We had scheduled for Chelsea to meet with a social worker the next day as she had been sharing some details of physical abuse by another little girl. Chelsea asked nicely to swim for a few more minutes so I stayed behind with her while Jeff took Savanna in. 

A few minutes later Chelsea swam out to me and grabbed ahold tightly. I told her that she was going to get to meet with a social worker tomorrow. And with that, the levies broke. With an unstoppable force, she began disclosing to me. Although I had heard many disclosures during my time in Child Welfare, none compared to what I was about to hear. I listened for a minute or two and then had Chelsea get out of the pool. In many ways I was hoping that changing the environment and giving us another task to focus on would redirect Chelsea. This was her time, though, and there was no stopping it. 

Once inside I called Jeff down. He stood, leaning up against the counter as Chelsea and I sat at the kitchen table and she continued sharing details of her abuse. I did the best thing I knew and took notes as I used reflective listening.  

Once Chelsea’s disclosures settled down, I reached out to our social worker after hours and also consulted with a friend. We all agreed it would be best to wait until the morning to call the report in. We somehow managed to get through the evening. First thing in the morning, I called Child Welfare to make the report and arrange to be seen. I knew every hour mattered during this critical time after the first disclosures.  By 9:30am all of us were seen and interviewed by the Child Welfare Investigator and Family Crimes Detective. 

Following our interviews, I met with the investigator and detective. Chelsea’s  disclosures were traumatic and left them in complete shock.  They were looking at me in disbelief.  The girls’ story probably tops the list as one of the most horrific cases the agency had worked on to date. 

With Chelsea’s consistent and strong disclosures, everyone was sure the criminal case would be a slam dunk. So I left meeting with the investigator and detective being told to expect to hear something about visits with the biological family being suspended ASAP. The detective also directed me to record any future disclosures with my blackberry phone. 

Unfortunately, things didn’t work out as everyone imagined they would. No slam dunk! Despite strong SANE exaxms with physical findings, the first disclosures that were made at our home and the statements made to the detective and investigator, none of these would hold up with the prosecutors in court.

With that, we began the journey of being tossed around and let down by the system that was designed to protect the girls safety and well-being. It didn’t take long for the public defenders representing the biological parents to come up with a detailed story of how we had coached the girls to create “false memories.” They claimed that these false memories lead to their disclosures. The theory was that we did this in an effort to adopt the girls and live happily ever after. 
Unlike most families, we became foster parents with the goal of being just that – foster parents. We envisioned many children coming through our home as they and their biological families worked on becoming well. We dreamed of all of the children and families we would get to know and the role we would play in their healing and reunifications. Adoption was never our primary goal. 

Even if adoption had been in our plans, I found myself sick over the public defenders insinuating that we just wanted to adopt these girls.  There is no happily ever after when you’ve been through what our girls went through. Every facet of their critical early years of development was shaped by abuse and neglect.

Over the next several months of the summer of 2010 (and for the next 4 years) we did our best to comply with what others wanted us to do.  We were under the Judges orders and direction of Child Welfare. We did have some support as people involved in the case saw the reality and did whatever they could to offer us support and encouragement.  Then there was a sense of betrayal as we learned people we thought were advocating for the girls, were really working against them and us. 

For example, one of the in-home therapists who was assigned to Savanna came for her afternoon appointment. I explained that Savanna was not in a stable place and it was taking both Jeff and I constantly re-directing to maintain some sort of baseline. This woman went and did her session and came back telling me she didn’t know what we were talking about because Savanna was very stable. This as Savannna was banging at our front porch window, yelling “Mommy! Mama! I just want Mama to come help me! Mommy!”  I respectfully told this in-home worker that I disagreed with her assessment and thanked her for her service. Service which we later learned included taking pictures of our house for the public defenders.  (Yes, we were accused of hiring professional photographers to take these pictures and put on our Family Wall because these were going to be our adoptive children.)


We knew exactly what the girls needed. Fighting for these services got us no where. And probably only made “our case” worse.  But when children are ready to share their abuse history, I believe you do whatever possible to make sure that that it happens in the most safe and secure ways while being mindful of meeting any legal, criminal, or other practice standards.


Looking back, without the best and most appropriate services at such a critical time post disclosures, it was only a matter of time before our girls would unwravel…and need a higher level of care….  I am thankful for the glimpses of normalcy captured in these pictures from the summer of 2010. We have hung on to them many times over the years, always believing things could and would get better. Looking at these pictures today gives me so much hope for our family as we continue our healing process. 

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Feels like home…

School is really hard for Chelsea. In addition to extreme anxiety that makes social and peer interactions difficult, she has learning disabilities that make learning difficult. Things reached a breaking point during last school year.  Most everyone’s time and energy was put into just maintaining Chelsea and making it through the school day. This was no way for 4th grade to be going and although we and the school team found ourselves extremely torn, we all agreed Chelsea needed and deserved a higher level of support at school.  This meant changing her IEP coding to Emotional Disability (ED) and getting her placed at a new school with a specialized ED program. 

As a parent, my heart broke for Chelsea. Although this would be in her best interest, the ED code has a strong stigma attached to it.  One stronger than I had given credit as it had already clung onto my daughter. Yup. After the initial excitement of a new school wore off, Chelsea shared that she knew she was one of the “stupid” kids now. And that she had to go to a new school because she was a “bad” kid.  Ugh. And so the internalization of labels began…

As we head towards the first day of school, Chelsea’s anxiety has been ramping up.  This past Monday and Tuesday were REALLY hard with a lot of tears.  I have never heard Chelsea cry this hard – gut wrenching.  Through the tears she shared she was really scared to start at her new school and a lot of her fears centered around those labels of “stupid” and “bad”. 

On Tuesday evening a friend of mine posted a picture of her teacher friend’s new classroom door. I zoomed in on the picture and found myself tearing up as I read through the powerful truths captured by this teacher.  More tears flowed as I thought about how wonderful it would be if all of our kids could have a teacher like this.  I so wished Chelsea could be surrounded by people who understood and believed in her potential like this teacher.  I posted a comment about how much I loved and appreciated the door. 

A few minutes later, I got a message from Mrs. Boyle herself.  She had seen my comment and was wondering if by chance my daughter was Chelsea. Yes! Mrs. Boyle is Chelsea’s new teacher. 

We had the chance to visit the school this week and it was awesome! We met a lot of the program staff and had an intake meeting. It was so refreshing to be surrounded by professionals who speak our language. They understand the trauma history and the impact this has had on the social, emotional, behavioral, and educational aspects of Chelsea’s life.  We couldn’t have hand-picked a better program and set of staff. 

As we were leaving, Chels grabbed my hand and said “I love this school! It’s a lot like home with all of the special words on the wall.” I agree, it feels like home…


Looking forward to a successful school year.  Can’t wait for Chelsea to tear off those labels as she learns that “stupid” and “bad” don’t describe her or her classmates in the least bit.  They are SO much more! They are loved, important, friends, respected, explorers, creators, leaders. They can do hard things. They can change the world. And they are the reason Mrs. Boyle is there! 


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