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

* 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

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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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A Letter to the Judge

Things with the girls’ court case were highly contentious on many levels.  For the majority of the case, I was the subject of brutal questioning and cross examination.  The reasons for this varied as the life of the case played out.  

Around the time we made the decision to move forward with finalizing Shianne’s adoption, we hired a private attorney.  As foster parents we had NO legal rights.  Up until this point we weren’t afforded the opportunity to share anything in court outside of our legal testimony. This testimony was directed by questioning from attorneys who did everything in their power to present a case against us.  Although the Judge denied the request for us to become a party, she did sign a motion stating that Jeff and I would be granted “the right to be heard.” 

Turns out “the right to be heard” could mean a number of things.  NO ONE knew what to expect it would mean in our case. So to avoid becoming a complete mess, I wrote the letter below. If all else failed, we could just stick to the script. 


Originally written for December 23, 2013

Good Afternoon, Your Honor:

Thank you for considering our motion and for allowing us the opportunity to be heard today. As I reflect on the last, almost 4 years, from the first days of getting to know Chelsea, Savanna, and later Shianne, to holding all of 3 them through their SANE exams, to countless hours in facilities and therapy sessions, to all of the glimpses of normalcy and happiness that are captured in the pictures that you saw in the girls memory books and even more that we have been blessed to live… I realize that all Chelsea, Savanna, Shianne, and ultimately Jeff and I have wanted MOST of all….was to be heard. We’ve screamed and shared our stories the best we’ve known how and then found ourselves beat down, pushed around, and stuck in a system that we desperately cannot wait to get out of. Right now though, I know I speak on behalf of all of us when I tell you that we are all breathing a little bit easier because we can sense that the right people at the right time may finally be hearing us….

Jeff and I have now been before this court as witnesses while the public defenders did their best to vilify us in an effort to reunify the Oden siblings with their biological parents. Through a grueling Termination of Parental Rights (TRP) trial. Through several hearings post-TPR that have felt even more difficult than the ones that came before. Through one of the most beautiful experiences of our lives to date as we finalized Shianne’s adoption. And then I was able to testify as an “official mom” on September 4th.   And now, we are here today with an opportunity to be heard outside of any line of questioning…

We just want you to know that we have and will always be committed to all three of “our” girls. And I use the word “our” loosely…because the reality is, that while we fully claim all 3 girls as our daughters, be it foster or adoptive, Chelsea, Savanna, and Shianne have belonged to all of us. All of the people who are sitting here today and countless who aren’t…have had an important hand in their lives as foster children…for better and for worse. We have certainly been blamed as the cause for the “worse” plenty of times from what you’ve heard on the stand and read in court reports.

Given all of the pictures of us that have been painted for you, we respect that in many ways it took a leap of faith for you to be open to exploring bringing our family back together. We thank you for your willingness to explore this. We know that each of the girls, as well as all of us as a family, have a lot to work through. It will be hard and it will take a lot of work and commitment for all of us involved in the therapeutic process. By now we are sure that you are familiar with Dr. Meyer’s report. There are two things that really hit home for us from her report. The first is that Shianne no longer meets the criteria for a diagnosis of depression and PTSD. For us, this is the most compelling argument to the power of good and appropriate therapy and a permanent loving home. Having lived Shianne’s PTSD with her for the last several years and most recently being able to live life with one of the most resilient and well-adjusted 5 year olds any of us here will probably ever know gives us a hope we have never truly been able to grasp until now….a hope for the positive impact that the “right” therapeutic process could have for Chelsea and Savanna. The second thing that stands out to us is that Chelsea and Savanna need to be on their way home to us for them to have this opportunity …what Dr. Meyer describes as their “BEST opportunity” at finding healing from their past and being able to live their best lives. We are trusting that Dr. Meyer’s thorough observations, assessments, and recommendations, and all that has gone (goes) on here today, is the start of moving forward to bringing Chelsea and Savanna home.

Finally, we would like to share that in what we can often only describe as one hell of a crazy ride over the last several years, there is a constant yearning to find meaning and comfort in how things play out. We find it incredibly powerful, that earlier this morning on this December 23rd, we sat in this same court room as our first foster daughter prepares to spread her wings and exit the foster care system to become fully independent. We know that as she has since she first left our home, Yanina will land back with our family whenever she needs or wants to. We have been by her side as she has graduated from public high school, completed college courses, excelled at her job working with children with autism, gave birth to her newest son, made the admirable decision for Josue to attend private school with his uncles, obtained her C.N.A & G.N.A, searched for jobs and many of the tough times in between. Chelsea and Savanna, just like Shianne, deserve the opportunity to come back home to us where they will be loved and guided through life’s milestones and the in-betweens, before they spread their wings to fly.

In closing, we’d like to share some of the lessons we have taught to, and learned from, our girls over the past 5 years –

Nothing worth having in life ever comes easy.

           Faith makes things POSSIBLE, not easy.

                       We can do hard things. So –

                       Keep on keeping on.

           Life is fragile & hard, but good. So –

           Do what you love and love what you do.

Jeff and I strive to live by these lessons…which is indeed in part why and how we are here today.


As it turned out, we hit the home run on the September 4th court date that I wrote about in my post yesterday. So there was no need for a script. Instead we spent the time getting down to business and planning for Chelsea and Savanna’s homecoming.  They came home FOR GOOD in February 2014. 

Fast forward to August 2015! 

While this time of year brings the back-to-school frenzy and celebrations of new milestones, it also marks a very important date in the Phoenix Family history. This Saturday, August 29th, we will be celebrating Shianne’s 2 yr and Chelsea and Savanna’s 1 year Adoption Days. 

Life is good! 


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hard but good

People often ask how the girls are doing. Jeff and I have long struggled with this question. Of course it’s always easiest to quickly answer that all is good. And on the surface we could get away with this 95% of the time.  Now that the adoptions are finalized, I think it’s only natural to assume that we’re in the “happily ever after” phase. It makes sense. The girls FINALLY have their forever family who love and care for them. How could things be anything but good?!

The truth is, though, that the girls have a deeply ingrained history of trauma. And because of this, I’m not sure things will ever just be all good. Not to be a downer…this is just our reality.

I’ll never forget the first time I testified post adoption. We had finalized Shianne’s adoption just a week before. This was during a critical time in Chelsea and Savanna’s case as the judge was considering placing them back home with us. For those that didn’t support this plan, the prevailing argument was that we were putting Shianne’s well-being at risk by considering bringing the older girls home. The opposing attorney was questioning me pretty hard. Because of my background, I answered questions under the guise of a professional child welfare social worker. I had nothing but sound clinical judgement to support how well Shianne was doing.  She had been working hard in therapy and had gotten to a point of being mentally and emotionally stable.  One thing was missing though, her sisters.  And as cliche as it sounds, the truth was that Shianne could never truly be whole without them.  

The statements I was offering didn’t support the prevailing argument.  Clinically, I was testifying to Shianne’s resilency and stability. And all of the information we had was pointing towards that “happily ever after” story for Shianne. 

Then the attorney finally threw the “mom” card at me.  He questioned, “so as a mom, you’re telling me that you feel 100% confident that Shianne will be just fine?!” As a mom, I knew the reality.  At best, we could assume that throughout life things would be good albeit really hard. So I answered, “as a mom, I think I would be foolish to think that things will be all good. My daughter has a significant trauma history. And the reality is that she will carry this horrific truth with her through life. At any point, if not handled with care, this truth could lead to devastation and destruction. Having said this, I strongly believe that Shianne has had the chance to build resilency and develop a strong foundation. Through the difficult times that are sure to lie ahead, we will rely heavily on this foundation.”  Of all my testimony over the years, I was most proud of this moment. There was no data or evidence based practice to cite. It was just the realization I had come to as a mom. And while this fed into the opposing side’s case, I think it was one of the most compelling arguments made towards bringing Chelsea and Savanna home. 

Hard but good has proven to be our rythym. It’s a rhythm that I wouldn’t change. Nothing is taken for granted – from the girls or our perspective. The hard times are really hard.  They stretch us beyond our comfort and force us to face just how fragile life is.  They also allow us to experience how powerful love is.  Each time we face the hard, we are afforded an opportunity to grow – individually and as a family. Each time we face the hard, we are given an opportunity to experience healing and grace. 

While it may be easier to play it off, we usually stick to the truth.  And the truth is that things are hard.  With the hard comes equally as important good. 

So, things are hard but good! 


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Sunshine & Anchors

I never cease to be amazed when I particiapte in therapy with my girls. Such hard work they do. All of the hard work adds up to insights that lead to breakthrough moments. These moments are sometimes weeks and months in the making; like a recent breakthrough session with Savanna. She had been waking up angry to the point of getting verbally and physically aggressive towards me. While at therapy she couldn’t think of why and often downplayed the extent of her massive feelings. She claimed all was well. 

Over time, we were able to narrow down that this was particularly bad on Mondays and didn’t occur to as great of an extent on the weekends. Eventually, Savanna was able to identify she didn’t want to go to school because she was feeling really “mad”. 

Of course her therapist and I knew there was was something deeper. Often our feelings look and feel one way on the outside, but below the surface – there’s usually something bigger. Honestly, we had both imagined it was something going on with a boy who was making her feel uncomfortable or that she was struggling with separating from me as she had shared such sentiments a few weeks before. 

We use the iceburg analogy a lot with all 3 of the girls. But this time, Savanna and her therapist took it a step further to help her recognize how her coping skills could come into play with all these big and hard feelings. They added in sunshine and anchors and over the course of a week were able to get below the surface and identify that Savanna was really feeling embarrassed, ashamed, guilty, and scared/worried about her friends not wanting to play with her. 

I think this is a great tool that all of us can benefit from. So the next time you or your child find yourself feeling consumed by big feelings, try drawing a simple picture. Include yourself in a boat approaching iceburgs, sunshine, and an anchor. Then go through and label the parts. 

Picture yourself in the boat approaching the iceburgs which are made up of mounds of big feelings. This is where your sunshine comes in. The sunshine is what helps to melt the iceburgs away so they aren’t so scary and unmanageable. Knowing and accessing your sunshine can help turn chaos into calm. These are your comforts. Perhaps a warm bath, a cup of tea, working out, or getting some fresh air. Once some of the ice has been melted, try and identify what is below the surface. After you identify the underlying feeling and/or problem, try to begin working through it.  

There will be times when the sunshine is not enough, though. It is in these times that we must rely on our anchors. Anchors are what help ground us when the feelings beneath our iceburg invade and overcome us. When the fear that looks like anger is so big that our sunshine can’t help melt it. Some anchors might be your faith, good friends, time with family, or therapy.

My bet is that, like me (and Savanna), you’ll leave the exercise feeling a little better, much more in control, and with insight into the thoughts and feelings below the surface. It is only when we identify these deeper thoughts and feelings that we can begin to work through them. Remember you can always grab onto your anchor(s) if things become unmanageable during the process. 


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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


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. 



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Too Many Troubles

Yup! Sometimes the troubles are as hard as remembering what way is left and what way is “wiiight”. Sometimes they are as hard as remembering they are all in our brain. Aint no place that troubles don’t go….

The cool thing though, is that when we take them to someone or somewhere else and let them out, they usually don’t seem AS hard.  They start to become more manageable. 

Just 4 days after Jeff recorded this video, Savanna left our house unexpectedly and did not come home for a couple of years. 

We recently had the opportunity of sharing some of our journey for the first time in a public arena. I posted these pictures of us on the way to our radio interview and before we hopped in the car afterwards.

IMG_0496 IMG_0497

A friend of mine commented that we looked a little happier and a little freer in the second one.  There is so much power in sharing our stories. Not just the pretty ones that fit neatly into some unattainable perfect package.  The ones with the troubles.  The fact is there ARE too many troubles.  We face them  When we keep them all in our brain, they only grow bigger in volume and power.  The truth will set you free. This has never proven itself wrong to me or my family. 

Don’t get me wrong, sharing openly is not always easy.  We’ve found most of the time it’s actually really hard.  But, intentionally working together over the last 2 years, our family has found a groove.  We are all in an awesome season of sharing our truths. It started with my girls.  Together we learned the healing power in vulnerability.  Sharing our messy and broken (but beautiful!) stories involves SO much vulnerability.  It is awelcomed  vulnerability, though, because it is a shame-smasher.  In our family, shame is not welcomed.  Shame leads to secrecy and secrecy feeds the lies of our hurtful pasts.  So we do out best to tell it like it is – and 100% of the time we are able to follow through, we feel a little lighter and a little freer and a little braver and a little more ready to keep on keeping on and working through the troubles…

Two nights ago we got a bombshell share from Chelsea.  She took that first step and shared another piece of her story. Initially, Chelsea told me how awesome she felt and that she was so thankful she had talked to us.  But once we were headed to and got in that therapy room at The Tree House and had to tell a little more of the story…it was SO hard. So hard that her brain tried every trick in the book to keep her from sharing it – dissociation, aggression, distraction, forgetting, falling asleep.  We kept on keeping on and eventually she was able to share the hardest parts of that story. Eventhough during the hour it felt yucky, as soon as we got driving, Chelsea’s free spirited self came out. She was able to enjoy the fresh air blowing on her beautiful blonde hair as she sang her heart out.  Even more beautiful and powerful, she was able to share with me how proud she was of herself for working hard and “letting it go”. And then she said, “Mom. I am so thankful for this day and this family I have. I am so glad that now I feel safe. Tomorrow I might not feel safe again, but I have you and Daddy and I can talk to you about it instead of acting out like I did this time. Thank you for always helping me.” Together, we can do hard things. 

I was meeting with a writer yesterday.  They had read the blog and knew some of our story, but asked me to tell it to them from the beginning. I hadn’t ever done that. I needed to do that. I had so much bounce in my step as I walked back to the car; weight had surely been lifted!  

Much of the story highlighted how there are a whole lot of troubles.  Near the end of our conversation,  they asked me if there are ever days where we just sigh with relief and say “this has been a nice and easy day.” There hasn’t been one to date.  Instead, I explained to her that we live for the moments like that. And, there are no shortage of those…even if constantly fleeting, we find enough of them to get through each day and honestly feel that we wouldn’t trade our life for anything.  It’s not often that all is well with all of us at the SAME time. We live for these kind of moments…they are truly miraculous.  After a touch and go morning, we’re having an all is well kind of afternoon.  At least for the moment – here’s proof captured.

If you stay up to date with me on FaceBook, you know we had a big share with Savanna last week as well. After 2 years of hard work, she completed her trauma therapy which culminated with the sharing of her narrative.

“Hi this is savanna and I am so happy that I am going to share my trauma narrative with my mommy and daddy and dr. Meyer today. Me and my mommy toke this pics at grandma and grandpas house. they are are feeling pics. 🐬😝😍 ”

Here we are on our way in with the perfect bag for the occasion.


Awesome it was.  Equally awesome and hard.  She was BEAMING as she shared the first 10 pages.  Then, page 11 came. Page 11 has her hardest part.  And her brain tried to tell her she couldn’t.  We worked our strategies to change that thought and she was able to believe she could…and then…she did.  She did it!  We did it!  Together!  Then afterwards, look how proud and free she felt compared to the first set of feeling pictures. Eyebrows relaxed, shoulders down as she holds on to her “friends”, standing tall, and probably the most natural smile I’ve ever seen on her.


Life is hard, but good. 


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