Overcomer

  
Shortly after Chelsea and Savanna came home, we started the everyday tradition of Love Boxes. They are in a special cabinet and anyone in the family can leave a love note or something encouraging in the girls’ boxes. This was at the suggestion of our wonderful therapist.  With the girls leaving our home at such a young age and then being tossed around, they were struggling with wondering if we REALLY loved and wanted them in our family. Something tangible like the Love Box gives the girls a lot of reminders and offers them something they can go back and read through when they need to. 

The other day Savanna was very upset and shared that no one had left her a love note in awhile. This was true. We had moved the cabinet while we were remodeling and let this important tradition fall by the wayside. So, Savanna brought out a huge box with her name and “this is my mall box for notes!!!!” written on it to help us remember. 

  

As I put some notes in this morning, I took the time to read through old ones.  Memories came flooding back – I could remember what hard things we were working through or fun times we enjoyed as I read each one.  Today I want to share the hardest one Jeff and I have written to date.  I think I’ve mentioned the Spring into Summer season is particularly hard for all 3 of the girls. A lot of big and hard decisions that negatively affected them were made in this season over the 5 years they were in foster care. Consequently, we continue to see spikes in difficult behaviors during this season. 

This letter is from April 2014. Just a year ago Chelsea was very unsafe; so unsafe that she had to be hospitalized in an acute psychiatric facility…again.  In part, for Chelsea it was a personal sabatoge. Children who have been through so much trauma and perceived rejection often cannot handle the natural anticipation of the NEXT time it will happen, so they create the situation for themselves. It relieves all of the anxiety that comes with the wondering and worrying about when things will go wrong again. 

We were bound and determined to end the hospitalization pattern for Chelsea. We all knew she had it in her to overcome this and work through her trauma at home and in outpatient therapy.  This letter marks an important turning point in Chelsea’s healing journey.  She continues to struggle and we are getting through yet another really hard season.  But this year, she is not shattering glass windows, making suicidal statements, or harming others.  Wow! We have come so far this last year! While in the trenches of working through the every day recovery process, it can be hard to recognize the progress. This letter reminds all of us of the progress that has been made.  

This is Chelsea’s “favorite letter” in her box. She has read it many times; during times when she felt she was losing control and times when she had it all together. Each time, a new truth speaks to her and she can relate it to what is going on in her life in a meaningful way. 

Today, I especially needed to be reminded of the importance of choosing to overcome the suffering. It is a choice, sometimes easier to make and follow-through with than others, but the choice is always ours. 

April 16, 2014

Chelsea,

Our sweet, strong, caring, brave, and loving butterfly girl : -) We wanted to write you this letter so that we can share a few things and give you something to hold on to that you and we can read when we need a reminder.  

We love you so much, Chelsea! We have since the day we met you in April of 2010. At that time, we didn’t think we could come to love you more, but we have and we continue to love you more with each day. Just like a caterpillar blossoms into a beautiful butterfly, we have watched you blossom into a beautiful young girl. We are so proud of who you have become!

Chelsea, your life has been very difficult in so many ways. You have experienced things that some people will never be able to begin to understand. Mommy and Daddy have had the privilege to share some of the hurt, pain, confusion, fear, and anger with you…and we understand. It’s not fair that you had to go through everything you went through. It’s just not. But, your strength and determination to overcome all of life’s hurts amazes us. And, you set a wonderful example for other hurting children and people around you. Chelsea, you truly are an OVERCOMER! We know sometimes it’s hard to remember that you are in control when the difficult thoughts and feelings try to invade you, but Mommy and Daddy have watched you OVERCOME time and time again and we believe that as you continue to make good choices, you will only become a stronger OVERCOMER. When you make the choice to be an OVERCOMER, there is nothing you can’t work through and come out stronger on the other side of! We, along with the village of other people who have come to know and love you, will continue to cheer you on and support you in making the choice to be an OVERCOMER! You can do it! We know you can!

We want to tell you something you may not know….even when you weren’t living with us, we continued to love, believe in, and fight for you. Earlier on, before you had the opportunity to work with such great therapists like Ms. Andrea and Dr. Meyer, you had SOOO much going on: you were adjusting to living in a new home, you had all kinds of scary thoughts, you didn’t know if or when you would visit Rose and Kenny, you felt unsafe during your visits, you hadn’t been taught how to control your thoughts and feelings, and you weren’t allowed to share your thoughts and feelings openly with your therapist or social workers. Even though Mommy, Daddy, and you tried our hardest, it got to the point that you were unsafe to yourself and the people around you. Chelsea, this is okay and it is an important part of our family story. You were going through so much back then, it wasn’t your fault that you had to leave. We understand that you grew up in an environment where unsafe things were happening and you did not have the chance to learn how to deal with all of your thoughts and feelings in a safe way. Given what you had been through, your behaviors were normal and understandable, and you were not to blame. It is important for you to know that we have never blamed you, and that we have always loved you. We are grateful that there are such wonderful places like PIW and St. Vincent’s to help children learn to be safe, and ultimately, to be OVERCOMERS. Chelsea, we know it was really hard leaving us and going to PIW, St. Vincent’s, and then the C’s. We know this because it was just as hard for us to not have our butterfly girl at home. EVERY SINGLE DAY you were away, we blew you kisses, sent you love messages through the air, and prayed for you. We never, ever wanted you to leave us, and we missed you every day. The only thing we ever wanted was to keep you and your sisters safe.  

Now you are home and we are so proud of the beautiful young girl you have become. We know there is only more beauty in store for you. We are thankful for and feel very fortunate that you have Ms. Andrea to help you become the strongest Chelsea possible. And, we have Dr. Meyer to help us become the strongest family possible. Mommy and Daddy are 100% committed to putting in the hard work it takes to help you, Savanna, and Shianne become your best selves, and to be sure our family of 8 (gotta include Chance, Riley, and Louie) becomes the strongest and best family possible.  

When we first began to learn that you and Savanna were going to be coming home, we were overjoyed. We are so very happy that you are back in our home. Our family feels complete with you in it. We also knew very well that we had a LONG road of HARD work ahead of us. Everyone in our family has a very important role to play in this long road and hard work — Mommy, Daddy, You, Savanna, and Shianne. We knew this when we fought for those 2 years to bring you and Savanna home, Chelsea. And we believe that you have what it takes to put in the hard work so that we can become the strongest family possible.  

Chelsea, part of your important role is making good choices in how you handle your thoughts and feelings. It is okay and normal to feel sad, angry, scared, confused, worried, lost, unloved, and unwanted….you can bring any of those feelings to us, your therapists, your writing, other adults you trust, and to God. When you are struggling with hard thoughts and feelings, it is how you choose to handle those feelings that matters the most, and always keep in mind that we are here to help you. You have two choices: 1. You can let your feelings take over and control you and choose to have unsafe behaviors; OR 2: You can use your coping strategies to work through them and/or ask and accept help from all of us who are here to love and help you. It’s up to you, Chelsea. We’ve seen you make awesome choices in how you handle these thoughts and feelings. Like when –

  • You were out shopping with Daddy and you wanted to buy more than what you went to get. You started to get upset with Daddy and expressed that you didn’t feel like he loved you because he wouldn’t buy you two pairs of shoes or let you run around the store. You started to lose control of yourself by stomping off and yelling. But, then you let Daddy give you a hug and listened as he explained that we had agreed what we were going to the store for and that he was taking good care of you and loved you. You were able to get yourself back in control and have a good rest of the time shopping.
  • Or, when you were really upset about not getting to use the Slip N Slide and chose not to throw things and try to hurt Mommy like you had done the day before when she said “not today”. Instead, you chose to work with Mommy to make a list of other things we could do in the meantime – like playing at the park, jump roping and using chalk, driving the Jeep, and going for a boat ride.  
  • There was also the time that you were feeling all sorts of hard feelings when you went to respite with Ms. B. One night you let Ms. B know that you needed quiet time to watch TV and help get all of the “noise” our of your head. And then you also let Ms. B know other things that would help you and made the choice to follow through and find comfort in sending us text messages, calling us and your sisters, and you met with Dr. Meyer to help you work through all of the difficult thoughts and feelings you were having. You finished the week strong!
  • And then, there was the time when you were feeling really on edge after a day at Spring Break Camp. At first you were hitting Mommy, running away in the parking lot, cussing, and throwing things. But, then you accepted Mommy’s help. You told her you needed a hug and after a big hug you jumped on her back for a fun ride to the car. And then you worked hard to keep your body in control and got buckled in the car nicely. You ended up having an awesome evening!

These are just a few examples of how we know that it is in you to make the best choice in how you handle your hard thoughts and feelings. You are an OVERCOMER and can be in control : -) Remember that Mommy, Daddy, and everyone else who loves and cares for you, are here to support you in making these difficult, but best choices. Please let any of us know if we can help you in a different or better way. We are all here to support you. 

We all remember the time that the 8 of us were not able to safely live as a family. But, there are a lot of people who are committed to ensuring this never happens again. YOU are one of them, Chelsea. We believe in you and have faith that you will continue making good choices to work through all of your thoughts and feelings. We’ve seen you make huge progress with us, Ms. Andrea, and our family work with Dr. Meyer, so we know you can do it.  

There have been some times lately where you have not made the best choices and have not stayed in control. If you continue to not accept help during these times and choose to let everything out through unsafe behaviors that endanger family members or destroy our home, we will have no other choice but to put you in a safer environment such as the hospital or another foster home. Mommy and Daddy can say for 100% sure that we don’t want you anywhere else BUT HERE IN OUR HOME. We love you very much and we know that you belong here with us. We also realize, though, that our number one job is to keep you and your sisters safe. We never want you to leave us again: that would be devastating to all of us. But because we love you and your sisters so much, we can’t stand by and allow you to get hurt, hurt others, or destroy our home. So we need to work really hard to continue to learn and actually use our coping skills and take control of our lives so that we can all stay together as one big, strong family.

We are in this fight WITH YOU. Let’s continue being brave, working hard, and loving together…. We trust that there are only greater things in store for all of us if we choose the path of making the best choices and allowing others to help us when we are hurting most. We believe in you, and now it’s time for you to start believing in yourself. If we all work together, we can do great things!

We love you!

Mommy and Daddy

Jeff and I don’t have boxes, but the girls often give us love notes. This is one Chelsea wrote to me just last weekend. 

  

People often say things like “one day the girls will be able to realize all you have done for them and they’ll be so thankful.” I would argue that they already do and it’s things like this that let me know for sure. 

  

 

About Kristin Phoenix

daughter turned teacher turned social worker turned wife turned foster parent turned mom When people who don’t know our family story find out that we fostered and adopted the girls, we generally get one of two reactions…”I would have never known. They look just like you!” or “Oh, how beautiful.” Both of these things are 100% true – on the surface. The picture perfect, shiny, pretty surface. But, just below the surface is a whole lot of mess and brokenness. Our girls endured things that I never even read about in my textbooks. Our family endured things that go completely against the 3 philosophies of safety, permanency, and well-being that the child welfare system is in place to protect. When we have the chance to share a little bit more, the response always goes something like “but…how?!…and why?!” I believe in dreaming big. Part of my dream is a child welfare and healthcare system that would have prevented unnecessary trauma for my girls, my family, and our community. The other part is one of redemption and recovery for everyone involved in our story – which is everyone. I now believe part of why our family endured what we did is so that people would hear our story and ask the hard questions of how and why. With sexual abuse, trauma, foster care, and adoption, we never truly know until we find ourselves in a position of not knowing. Because of the nature of our case, I often found myself in a position of not being able to really answer the hows and whys. I reached a point where staying silent was the only option. Now that our adoptions are finalized, it is time for me to break the silence. This blog is me daring to run after my dreams – even when I find myself out of breath (which is mostly every. single. day.) It is stories of how the collective we have lived up to the Phoenix name and are rising from the ashes to burn bright! I also currently write and edit for Social Justice Solutions
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2 Responses to Overcomer

  1. Thank you for sharing your struggles and challenges, and how your family has overcome. Your family is a testament that beauty can come from ashes!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Greg Williams says:

    Chelsea, I read what you wrote today after the taping of the TV show and was so impressed by the fact that you thought of yourself as an Overcomer. I then read this blog and the letter your parents wrote you about being an Overcomer. While I read it I thought of Dr. Martin Luther KIng and how he helped his people, the African Americans whose family were slaves hundreds of years ago, Overcome. One way they would remind each other that there was Hope and that they would survive was to hold hands and sing, We Shall Overcome. Maybe you could start thinking of We Shall Overcome as your family’s song. The power of having hope that you and your family will overcome the ways you have been hurt in the past is huge. Jesus really believed in hope and the power of hope and love to change the world – to Ovecome. Go for it.
    Uncle Greg

    Liked by 1 person

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