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Susan Wanderer has worked with families in kids ministry for 20 years, with the last ten years serving as Kids Minister at Mount Ararat Church in Stafford. Susan and her husband Ed reside in Fredericksburg and have three amazing kids who joined their family in 2011 and who fill their days with adventure. Come join the conversation over at www.susanwanderer.com 

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My Stomping Grounds

The Trauma Backpack

Trauma. The heart-ache, the wringing of hands, the fast paced beating of the heart, the quickened breathing, the nightmares, the moments they can't be still because their mind is filled with the life-movie that is played over and over and over.

Kids-from-hard-places, who have been adopted (or haven't been adopted), have experienced trauma.

When their thoughts quiet down from the day, their perceptions of their homeland and their actual memories collide into this backpack of trauma and emotions they constantly carry around, strapped to their back.

They begin unpacking that backpack at random times.

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Some kids unpack it at bedtime... when they are most tired and most confused from an already busy day.

They try so very hard to make sense of this life.

At night, when the memories arrive and the tears begin to fall, the unpacking process begins as that heavy backpack is unzipped.

Some nights, they joyfully grab the good memories and celebrate those. Other nights, they yank out the confusing-memories. And their heart tries to understand.

They ask question after question after question.Their confusion and heart-break creates moments of tangled-self-preservation: Anger, Tantrums, Hurt.

Trauma-Mamas begin grabbing any form of answers they can find to help their child unwind the tangled perceptions and hurt.

I pray under my breath for God to rescue my words and bring life and healing for my kids’ hearts.

I remind them that when we don't know, God does.
I remind them that when we are confused, God brings clarity.
I remind them that when we feel unloved and unwanted, God unconditionally loves.
I remind them that God’s goal is to Rescue and Redeem and Restore.

While my heart breaks over the backpack that kids from hard places carry around, I remind myself what it says in the gospel of Matthew when Jesus says, "Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light."

Sometimes the mind and heart need rest from the burden of worry, the burden of hard memories. I hold tight to that passage in Matthew because Jesus offers rest for the burdened. Rest for the weary.

As kids from hard places grow and mature in their years, and counselors provide wisdom, parents give love and a village links arms in support, their backpacks will still be full of memories, but it will hopefully not be nearly as heavy with burden.

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Attachment: Parenting Kids From Hard Places

Wanderers

The kids had not been home long from Ethiopia and I realized I was well beyond my comfort zone. One night, after a very challenging evening, I laid in bed and sobbed. Ugly crying, sobbing heaves. 

What were we going to do?  Every kind of parenting technique we were trying was NOT working. I felt hopeless, in a pit and was scared there was little way out of this hole. 

Ed came home the next day with a plan. The two of us were flying to Dallas. My kind man found an Empowered To Connect Conference (ETC), hosted by Karyn Purvis. 

As we sat on the plane I stared out the window with my bottom lip and chin quivering: If this doesn't work, I truly have no clue what we are going to do. I feel like a complete failure. I AM A KIDS MINISTER FOR GOODNESS SAKE.

Ed held my hand and we flew in almost complete silence the rest of the way as he allowed me to cry.

During that weekend I learned many things:

    1. Attachment Issues are real. They are not simple temper tantrums. They are emotions that erupt from very raw & broken circumstances.

    2. We had a lot of work to do. Both for the kids and for us. We were rookies and it was time to load up some tools in our toolbelt so we could love and care for our children effectively.

    3. Karyn Purvis was a pioneer in climbing the mountains with families who were parenting kids from hard places. 

Attachment issues are hard, confusing and frustrating.  For the parent and for the child. The moment something makes sense and you think you see a victory, a memory or a fear swoops in for the child and brings great confusion again.

And then... there is the great constant dilemma: Attachment, Attachment, Attachment... or, is this really just a discipline issue?

This may sound like greek to you... but to others, you may be knocking your neck out of joint nodding your head so vigorously... because you have BEEN THERE DONE THAT.

It is important to celebrate the victories with your child. Like, stand on chairs and do happy dances when the smallest win is experienced. 

A year or so ago, I had a small victory. NOT a pat-me-on-the-back victory. Rather a LOOK-WHAT-GOD-DID victory.

One of my daughters came home from school:

"Mom, my friend came up to tell me at school today that she was impressed at the weight you have lost.  She said you looked so good."

My daughter then walked over to me, put her hands under her chin, looked me straight in the eye and said "Mom, I was just so proud of you. And I was proud at what you've done."

This may not sound like much. It may just sound like words. But you adoptive-Moms know what I am speaking about.  

I flash-backed to that flight to Dallas where I was sobbing, begging God for help.

As my sweet girl spoke to me in that moment about her friend, my lungs ran out of air, my tears started to flow and I hugged her as tight as humanly possible. 

It wasn't about the weight AT ALL.  It was about a connection we had in that brief moment. A connection I had begged God for over three years earlier. 

A dance party erupted. I know she thought I had gone a little crazy, but it certainly did not stop me from celebrating. 

All adoption families are in different parts of this journey. Some have referral pictures, some are freshly home with new little loves, some are celebrating the successes and some are knee-deep in "HELP-ME"! 

Sweet friends, find one victory to celebrate today, just one. In the early days of our family, my one victory may have been that they only ran around the table 6 times instead of 7 times at dinner (all while screaming in Amharic). And we celebrated the mess out of that win. We literally let the girls stand on their chairs at the end of dinner and do the happy dance. 

Sound strange? Well, attachment is a strange, exciting, hard, confusing world.  Attachment is so possible, sweet Mamas, one slow victory at a time.

If you are in a puddle of discouragement in the middle of your bathroom floor, you are being prayed for. You are being cheered on by my Mama-winged arms. 

Many of you are dealing with serious serious attachment issues with your kids.  Ones that require more than counselors & far more than a cheerleader. Some of you are in deep discussions with professionals to figure out the how-do-we-do-this? 

YOU ARE NOT FORGOTTEN. Your kids are not forgotten. God sees this huge burden you are carrying. He sees their hurts and their past experiences. His plans are still to prosper your family. It may not feel like it during this season.. but its truth. 

I am praying right this very second that he will send you arm-holders that will hold your tired and weary arms up higher than you ever imagined. 

Fellow Adoption-Families... go find those weary parents and be their arm-holders with your words, with your prayers and with your actions.  This journey is hard, but we are not in these weeds of attachment and connection alone.  Keep going.  

Adoption is so worth every hard part, every joy, every high and every low. My kids are a deep joy I never understood until they entered my world. 

Adoption Families, our kids are amazing and we get to see the beauty bloom out of the ashes of their past circumstance. 

Keep moving forward, Mamas! 

(And keep Karyn Purvis books on your iPad.)

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Parenting Perspective In The Smart Phone Age

This week has felt like Full-On-Springtime. The temperatures have been in the 60’s and 70’s, birds are chirping, the playgrounds are full again, people are out running and biking, parents are gleeful because KIDS ARE OUTSIDE OF THE HOUSE AGAIN!

Families are experiencing warmth and embracing outdoor activities like it is their job. An early celebration has begun. Social media is declaring “I LOVE THIS WEATHER! BRING IT!” 

Except for one group of people. 

What? Who are these people who are anxiety-filled about Florida Temperatures invading the rest of the country?

Farmers. 

This warm weather has also affected their crops.Their little budding-blooms are confused. They feel the warmth glowing on their soon-to-be-petals and have begun bursting out of hibernation with an array of beautiful colors, fragrances and hope.

However, in a week or so, our winter weather will return and the blossoms will be vulnerable and without protection from the harsh elements. A freeze will occur and the majority of crops will be lost. 

Joy will not fill the homes of the farmers. They will line up at banks, asking for loans and praying prayers of providence over their crop-loss and empty bank accounts. 

How do I know this? I am a farmer's daughter.

As a child, during early-spring-experiences I would hear jubilation from friends over the beautiful days. And rightly so, WARM WEATHER IS SO LOVELY! Then a few months later, I would hear concerned-filled-prayers from my parents.

It’s all about perspective. To most of America, warm weather is a refreshing reprieve from the harsh winter cold. To American farmers, it’s the precursor to a devastating loss. 

Perspective and personal experience brings a new and different view. 

(What is up with this girl writing about weather, farmers and global warming?  I thought this was an article about kids and technology.)

Hang in there. 

What’s another American perspective? 

Technology.

girl cell phone

To most, it’s a game changer in the best of ways. It provides immediate connection, time- saving assistance and awesome effectiveness. It opens up doors we never thought possible, it allows us to be efficient in ways we never dreamed and it provides connection with co-workers, friends, and family in a fraction of the old-school-communication time. 

Smart technology has changed how we work, interact, parent and live life. 

Then perspective and personal experience steps in. 

To some parents, technology is not delightful, their experience of their child with their first Smart Phone/Tablet is different. Their child is now face to face with images and conversations that they never knew existed before that little tablet/phone entered their world… and all innocence feels lost. 

No matter how many boundaries were put into place, somehow something went wrong. 

To some marriages, technology is not merely an easy way to share a calendar or communicate about dinner plans. It’s the reality that time and intimacy have been stolen because virtual-reality feels better than dealing with real-reality. It might mean that the intimacy of communicating and connecting has been lost to social media scrolling, binge-watching Netflix or deeper still, pornography. 

Don’t get me wrong, I do adore a good Netflix marathon. I am not casting down judgment on a good Gilmore Girls binge-fest. I love to hit play for one more episode to find out what is happening in Stars Hollow. Who doesn’t want to know what’s going on in that cozy town? As much as I adore Lorelai and Luke, sometimes those continuing ‘extra episodes’ seriously distract me from my own main squeeze. 

To some personal lives, technology is not life-giving. It provides a way to check out and not engage. I work with families for a living. I see people walk into church each week.  The ones that do not want to engage in conversation keep the phone in their face. 

I also notice the same thing when I walk through the halls at my kids’ school. The parents who would rather zone out have a greater ability to do so when they mindlessly scroll through social media. 

Please don’t think I am wagging my finger. I too, at the end of a day, am a scroller. I sometimes don’t want to engage. I want to zone out. So I scroll. And because of that, I miss valuable connection with other parents, friends and family. 

Technology has provided us a way out. And perhaps we don’t need a way out. Perhaps what we truly need is a way back in.

It’s all about perspective. 

While technology is beautiful and glorious in its time-assistance and awesome-effectiveness, it has also provided a great divide in homes, families and in communication.  It depends on your perspective and personal experience.

We as parents can figure out technology boundaries, because we are adults. However, kids need guidance to know where the boundaries are with their technology guidelines. 

I have worked with families for twenty years. I’ve sat and held hands with parents as their kids have experienced great embarrassment and loss. 

Just as the blooming buds on my dad's apple trees need protection from the harsh winter elements, we as parents need to provide that protection for our kids. Because when our kids are exposed too early to the freedoms of the internet, tables, iPhones, etc… it can be devastating for some families. 

Yet, we are also the very first generation of parents to walk this road and travel this journey. We are writing our own textbook on how to parent in the smart-technological age. And there are days we are going to win and days we will fail miserably.

My best advice:

•    Circle up with other parents and create community. Ask them how they are guiding their kids with technology. Ask often. The wisdom of other parents is a glorious thing. More than the wisdom though, its important to link arms with other sojourners on this journey. Create Community.

•    Be open and honest with your kids. Tell them why you have created boundaries and rules for technology – that you care about them and love them. They may eye-roll you. Who cares? Keep telling them. 

(Side Note: Oddly enough, the best thing to happen to us when we explored boundaries for technology: A sheriff visited our kids' school and explained the importance of technology boundaries, why boundaries were necessary and the consequences of stepping outside the given boundaries. It opened up incredible dialogue with our teenager. Not fearful dialogue, but a very sobering dialogue of why we need boundaries and what could happen should we not honor those guardrails).

•    Grace. Grace. Grace. We are going to parent our tech-savvy kids beautifully some days while other days we are going to cry our eyes out. Because life. The best thing we can do is give ourselves a break and not load parent-guilt on our already burdened shoulders. 

We CAN navigate this journey, parents. I believe in our kids. I believe in community. I believe in us.

I also believe in lots of prayer for our families as we navigate through this very tender topic. 

 

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America, Love Never Fails.

America, we seem to be in full-alarm mode.

We have Trump-ers.

We have Resist-ers.

We have Persist-ers.

Then there’s fake news, real news and SNL.

(Lemme pause for one moment…. How spot-on is Melissa McCarthy?  America needed that laugh, didn’t we? Perfect timing Melissa. Brava, Brava!)

All of this Trumpeting, Persisting, Resisting, Fake News, Real News has me wishing I had my own podium to push around sometimes. (Sean, I mean Melissa, does that so well!) .

In the middle of all the crazy, we have little people watching us make choices. Choices about how we treat each other, about what we stand for, about being a Good Samaritan or being the one who walks past the crash scene.

I don’t want Team Wanderer to walk past. I want us to stop and help heal the wounds, listen to the stories and hold the hands of the wounded.

On my way home from work one night, I realized a miraculous thing: this new order does not change the fact that we can still serve, love and embrace humanity around us.

heart on window

I arrived home and gathered my crew up. I looked them in the eyes, talked to them about refugees, the poor, the oppressed, the marginalized. I told them stories of each of these populations of people. We prayed. We prayed some more and declared we will be people of action. We will not shrink back. We then sang the Nicene creed together, to remind us what we believe and the importance of the One we follow.

Before you think this was an incredibly perfect kumbaya moment, I have three kids. Which means three siblings. While it was beautiful and special and necessary, it was far from perfect. And that’s the beauty of family.

That night we asked God to open doors for us to be door-holders & room-makers & hand-holders & cheerleaders & caregivers. Y'all, this generation is watching how we handle this hot mess that America is in.

Let’s allow this generation some space to embrace and understand empathy.


That means:

They listen to the stories of people.

They have empathy towards humanity.

They have tenderness with their actions.

They have an awareness of those around them.

 

No matter who seems to be in charge in American politics, we need to stay sober and recognize that we are still in charge of guiding our own families. 

We can be determined to be angry and arrogant while living in the land of consistent eye-rolls. 

Or we can say: No, we still have the ability to love our neighbors as ourselves.

We can rise up and be families who make a difference in this world, no matter who is seated in the Oval Office or in Congress or in the Senate. 

Politics does not determine the heartbeat of who we are or who our families will become. I have been listening to story after story of refugee families.  And while they experience some of the greatest heartbreak known to humankind, their resilience proves that the government doesn’t get to be the one to determine the kind of family they become.

Our refugee friends are some of the kindest, most compassionate, most giving, most sincere friends we have known. The government didn’t tell them to be like that. They chose that kindness.

So, let’s rise above. 

May we be the ones who teach the generations behind us to calm down, take a deep breath and go love our neighbors. Because love never fails. 

Susan family

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Ladyburg Love

I pause my normally written posts at Fredericksburg Parent and Family for a PSA for all locals in the Northern Virginia area… well, all of Virginia actually. Because anywhere you live in our Commonwealth is worth the drive to this fantastic local store we stumbled upon during our holiday shopping trips.

I will gladly wear the nametag Ms. Poppins as I say, this store is practically perfect in every way. Its bath and body products have transformed my life. My dry, callused hands have been transformed into soft-as-butter.

If you have been to Ladyburg on Caroline Street in Old Town Fredericksburg, you know the loveliness I am about to explain.

The Ladyburg storefront is nestled inside the quaintness of Old Town and right beside Benny’s pizza. So, Win-Win.

It has three small sections. The first section is where all the magic happens and where all the deliciously scented lotions, soaps, bath bombs, and moisturizing bars are created. My goodness, it’s a window shopping delight. My daughter adores watching them whip up their gorgeous smelling products.

The other two sections are filled to the brim with their sensational items. It’s cozy inside and the staff is genius.  They overflow with excitement when you ask them about a certain bar, soap or scrub.

My favorite items: Sugar Scrub and Moisturizing Bar (Tobacco Flower Scent… so so delightful and cozy-warm).

Whipped sugar scrub

It’s getting close to Valentine’s Day, fellas. Any product you purchase at Ladyburg would be a lovely treat for the gal in your life.

And your lady-love will be smelling super sweet when she gives you your Valentine’s Day smooch. Another Win-Win!

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Pouches' Community Corner

This month Pouches learned about a very important resource for families who have lost loved ones to sudden tragedy, an organization called LLOST.

keepsake box

The foundation has helped 44 hospitals in 22 states through their Treasured Memories program. The program sends nurses to bereavement training, and provides or supplements the $55 memory boxes that include clothes, booties, handknot blankets, pictures, foot prints, hand prints, clipped hair and other mementos.

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