Why I’m Learning to Talk to Strangers

Our girls are two of my best teachers. They see the world so differently than I do. They’re young, free, kind, and compassionate. They don’t always know what’s expected in situations, so they’re often unencumbered by social norms and pressures. 

Because of these things, our younger daughter, Kristin, talks to strangers. This is not just a once in a while thing. She actually seeks out conversation with people she does not know on a very regular basis.

Now, this probably sounds a little creepy, and at times it does make me nervous. I’m well aware that not everyone is safe, and some people don’t have good intentions. I want her to know the importance of safety and being with a grown up you can trust. But most of the time, she’s talking to strangers when we’re together, when she knows she’s safe, and when she wants to include someone.

Sometimes we’re at the grocery store in the checkout lane, and she just launches into a full conversation with the 17-year-old behind the register. Other times we’re getting out of our van in our driveway, and she runs out and immediately screams “hi” to someone walking past our house that she noticed as we pulled in. She chats with receptionists at appointments, patrons at the movie theater, and just about anyone she notices.

Sometimes, quite often actually, she chats with strangers at our weekly Sunday morning Breakfast Club. These are normally people who are experiencing homelessness, so our guests rotate regularly. Our guests are usually looking for a good meal. What they don’t know is that they’ll be welcomed with heartfelt conversation as well.

A typical morning at Breakfast Club

We arrive at 6am, and Kristin can’t wait to see her “best friends” a term she uses far too often for people she doesn’t know well. When she says, “best friend” she just means it’s someone that matters to her. It’s a sweet perspective and reminds me that we often just pass by the background players in our life. In coffee shops and restaurants, as we shop and as we work, it’s fairly common practice to just ignore one another.

But not my Kristin. She is a people-person. She sees the humanity in those around her and takes a genuine interest in them. She asks questions, sometimes about what they’re wearing, why they look sad, or who they’re with, and while Dustin and I are constantly trying to steer her inquisitive nature into appropriate social norms, we’ve decided we don’t want to crush it completely. 

Maybe it’s ok for her to go against the grain a little bit. Maybe it’s ok to ask how someone is doing and really wait for the answer. Maybe it’s ok if she shares a little bit of her own story with them. Maybe it’s better for all of us if we stop rushing past the other humans in our story, and we lean in a little bit for the connection that so many of us are craving.

My “Yes” List

I joined Jen Hatmaker’s Book Club which probably comes as no surprise to anyone in my life. She’s my favorite. She’s funny, honest, bold, and kind. She loves Jesus and people. She’s been leading me from afar for years through her writing and social media presence.

So when she says, “I’m starting a book club, and it’s x amount of dollars,” I say to myself, “Well, of course I’m in. Please take my money.”

The first book in our club was Tell Me More by Kelly Corrigan. I’ve never read anything by Kelly Corrigan, though I’ve seen Jen recommend her books before. Honestly, I just have an ever-growing list of to-be-read books, and sometimes I need a little incentive to finish one before opening the next. Nothing like online accountability to keep me going.

I’m so glad I decided to jump in because I absolutely LOVED this book. Kelly is honest and raw. Her writing is relatable and easy to follow. I loved the short essay format for each chapter and all of the moments where I heard myself saying “me too”.

You’ll have to dig into the book to see what you think, but today I’m sharing a list I was inspired to write based on Kelly’s short chapter that she dedicates to her “Yes” List – things she’ll always say “yes” to in life.

Christina’s “Yes” List

  • Iced Coffee with French Vanilla NutPods
  • Potatoes
  • Reading by the any body of water
  • 90s music
  • Exercising as alone time
  • Rewatching Gilmore Girls
  • Sparkling water
  • Date Nights with Dustin
  • Buying cute notebooks to contain all of my lists
  • Reading aloud to my girls
  • Breaking tension with jokes
  • Game nights
  • Working from coffee shops
  • Schitt’s Creek
  • Inviting friends into our home

So, what’s on your “Yes” List?

“Maybe God is Like That Too” – A Reflection

 

We bought a new book for our daughter, Kaylynn, this year for Easter. I had seen one I knew I wanted to grab for our younger daughter, Kristin, and because keeping things as even as possible seems to be the best approach in our household, I obviously needed to find one for Kaylynn as well. I landed on one entitled, “Maybe God is Like That, Too” by Jennifer C. Grant.

The book begins with a boy who lives in the city having a conversation with his grandmother about God. The boy, having never “seen God”, is wondering what God is like.

The grandmother, in her wisdom, encourages the child to look throughout the city and notice the places that people are displaying God-like characteristics – the fruit of the spirit to be exact. Wherever there is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control, she suggests, God is there too.

The boy goes on to spend his day on the lookout for God. He notices God in his classroom among the students, in his neighbor as he opens the door for someone, and in his own grandmother, as she faithfully washes the dishes that evening. God is evident in the spaces he’s experienced daily, and all he has to do is begin to notice.

It’s a simple message that has stuck with me over the last couple of weeks.

God is always moving and always at work, not just in the spaces that are bright and easily defined as beautiful, but also in the spaces that seem devoid of those things. God is inside the broken and bruised and tattered and torn realities that sometimes fill our daily lives. God still shows up right in the middle of those spaces with a presence and Spirit that is unmistakable.

If we’ve met in person or perhaps even online, it’s probably evident that I’m passionate about foster care. The system and the stories have impacted me in ways that I can never rid myself of, even if I would try. The pain and the brokenness and the injustice of it all are what first caught my attention. The loss and the longing and the not-quite-made-right-ness seemed exactly like the places that Jesus spent his time.

But it wasn’t only devastation and destruction that I saw in the system. I saw stories of hope and healing. I saw families being restored, light breaking in, and the Church engaging. These realities and endless possibilities captured my heart and my dreams. They have shaped the last 8 years of my life and have forever impacted my trajectory.

There’s a parable in the gospel of Matthew, where Jesus is talking about the Kingdom of Heaven. He says, “The Kingdom of Heaven is like the yeast a woman used in making bread. Even though she put only a little yeast in three measures of flour, it permeated every part of the dough.”

This, to me, is foster care. A system full of overwhelming heartache, yet permeated with the aroma of God’s slow-working, Kingdom of Heaven.

And I’ve seen this happen in so many ways right in our own church. Through the overflowing donation bins in our lobby packed with diapers and wipes, so that families have one less thing to think about when welcoming a little one into their family on a moment’s notice. Through the desserts served and the smiles given to a room full of tired yet faithful case workers. Through the Christmas presents bought and wrapped for kids spending Christmas away from the mom and dad they’ve known.

Through the meals delivered to a family as they celebrate an adoption and welcome a five month old baby into their home all in the same week. Through the child care volunteers, who spend time with a room full of kiddos so that foster and adoptive parents can connect, decompress, and share. Through the older couple, now honorary grandma and grandpa, who takes two energetic boys out for one-on-one time, so an adoptive mom and dad can have a couple of hours of silence to sit and breathe.

Through the CASA volunteer from Peoria driving all the way to Carbondale, so she can check on her kiddos who are now placed there. Through the Genesis volunteers who welcome the tentative first-time student who’s never been to church and seems overwhelmed by all of the sights and sounds of a new environment.

Through the family that welcomes a teenager into their home, even before the system acknowledged that the need was truly there. Through the couple that says yes again, even though they said goodbye to the little boy they loved.

Like yeast permeating flour or a mustard seed moving mountains, these ordinary actions of ordinary people are slowly but surely reminding me and the world around us,

“Maybe God is Like That Too”.

She Leaves a Little Sparkle Wherever She Goes

Kristin Joy-

Today you’re 7! I can hardly believe it.

You’ve been with us almost half of your life now, and I’m not sure how we ever got along without you.

Your joy is infectious. Your compassion is authentic. You love babies and taking care of people, and I love watching the ways you make the world a better place just by being you. When I was looking for a gift bag to put your presents in, I couldn’t resist the one that said, “She leaves a little sparkle wherever she goes.” It’s just the absolute truth, my girl.

We celebrated with your favorite things this weekend – special treats, baby doll accessories, and a ballet leotard

so you can turn on that classical music you love and practice dancing for endless hours in the playroom.

And then, we got to the cake.

When we went to our friend’s first birthday party in May, you were enthralled by the smash cake experience immediately asking if you could do that on your birthday. Your eyes lit up as everyone cheered on our little toddler friend and laughed as he dug his hands into that cake.

And I wondered to myself, “Did you have a smash cake when you turned one? Did you try to blow out your candle and open presents with your little hands and light up the room with your beautiful smile?”

Oh how I wish I could have been there. I would have loved to see those early years, my girl.

So today, for the final part of your 7th birthday celebration, I made you a smash cake.

We sang you “Happy Birthday” and you blew out those candles, and then I told you to dive in. Your seven-year-old eyes lit up with pure joy, and just as you do with all parts of life, you enjoyed the moment to its fullest. You smashed your face into the cake and shovelled it into your mouth by the handful.

I am so happy to have shared that moment with you.

I’m learning that part of this parenting thing means doing whatever it takes to parent each of my girls in the unique ways that you each need. In doing that, I become more of the parent that I am meant to be, and you are able to grow and thrive and move ahead.

And today, Kristin Joy, I think our whole family grew a little bit closer by watching you smash that cake between your hands. Because even though this might not have been your first smash cake, it was your first smash cake with us, and we’re grateful we got to share the moment with you.

With all my love,

Mama

 

 

 

how the journey began

 

I remember the Facebook message she sent to a few ladies at our church.

My friend had been contacted by another state’s child welfare worker. Her husband’s relatives had hit some rough spots and our friends’ nieces had been removed from their home and were in need of a place to live. She and her husband were on the list of “kin” to call, a practice that is done in most situations when families can’t stay together due to abuse or neglect.

My friend – the beautiful, selfless, young woman, with two girls at home who were 2 and 3 – was asking this group of women via Facebook message – what should she do? Should they say yes and offer for the girls to come live with them? It looked like it would be a long-term placement leading to adoption, and this wasn’t something either of them were expecting, let alone planning for.

The group message went back and forth a little bit, as each of the women within the group offered our two cents about a situation none of us knew much about.

And even though we were uninformed, we loved our friend, and made sure she knew we’d support her in whatever ways we could.

When our friends made the decision to move forward with the process of welcoming the girls into their home and their family, our church was there to support them.

One Saturday afternoon while our friends were at a foster parent training class, we broke into their home, as any loving church family would do.

We brought in bunk beds, rearranged furniture, decorated walls, and made sure all of the girls would feel special in their home. We worked quickly, aiming to be done by the time our friends got back from their class. I’ll never forget their reaction when they came into their home. Tears and laughter and so many hugs. It still goes down as one of my absolute favorite days.

Our little church had found a practical way to come alongside this brave couple and their two (soon to be four) daughters. We didn’t know much about foster care or trauma, but we recognized the courage of our friends as they stepped into an unknown future for girls they’d never really known. That type of commitment and love made us all want to do something.

A few weeks passed, and they welcomed their nieces into their family. Now, a family of 6 with no relatives in the area for support, Dustin and I began to help out in little ways. We met them at the hospital one evening when their oldest girl had swallowed a penny. We babysat, so our friends could connect to a weekly small group and have date nights. I even got to attend “Grandparents’ Day” since their kindergartener didn’t have a grandparent in the area who could come.

Dustin and I were four years into our marriage at the time, and we hadn’t made any decisions on whether or not we’d have kids someday. We had been focused on graduate school, working a few part-time jobs, and just enjoying our twenties without the responsibilities that kids would certainly bring. But we had lots of experience around kids, and it felt pretty natural to offer help in this way.

It was a sweet season of our life, and when we decided to move back to Illinois just a couple of years later, saying goodbye to those precious girls was one of the hardest parts. They had become family.

When our friends said “yes” to their two nieces joining their family, I had absolutely no idea that the course of my life was being altered forever. But that is exactly what happened.

Their willingness to step into their girls’ story has forever impacted ours. The family we have built, the church we attend, the jobs that we love are ours, in part, because of the decision they made to open their hearts and home to two little girls who needed a forever family.

We watched their family walk a foreign road, and their living, breathing, demonstration of what it meant to love compelled us forward. Dustin and I could see a path in front of us that was different from anything we’d considered before. Their faithfulness will forever be a mile-marker in our foster care journey.

And once we began to dive deeper into understanding the foster care system as a whole, we simply could not look away.

Healing Through Relationships

My life has been so full these last few months that I haven’t had much space to share more of our story. Here’s a post I wrote recently about how healing for children from hard places comes through relationships.

conversations on the fringe

Last week, my husband and I spent thirty hours in a three-day training about parenting children from hard places. The course was designed to equip us to train other parents who are doing the tough but important work of parenting children from hard places. The training was informative, difficult, and incredibly beneficial, and I can’t wait to pass on the information to other families in the foster care and adoption community.

More than that, however, I want to pass on this information to those who are interacting with children in all settings. Our schools, our churches, and our community organizations that serve children and teens would benefit greatly from understanding the effects of trauma on the developing brain. And while I could get into the science side of this, and I hope to in future posts, I want to start with the basics.

Relationships are at the heart of God’s…

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sleep matters

photo

I don’t really remember the specifics of our first few weeks together as a family. It was all so different and completely consuming. And while the girls continued to call us Mom and Dad, it felt a whole lot like an ongoing babysitting gig. Was that normal?

There were moments that these strange feelings would cause slight anxiety in me. I dealt with the fear that I’d never attach in the way I was “supposed to”. What if I never felt like their mom? What was being a “mom” supposed to feel like? Who could I talk to about this? I mean, I signed up to enter parenthood this way, so I really shouldn’t be complaining…

I knew I felt responsible for them. I wanted them to succeed. I was cooking and cleaning and keeping up with their laundry. I did their hair in the mornings before daycare and tucked them in at night. We gave lots of hugs, answered lots of questions, and adjusted to our lives not being our own anymore.

And while it all felt a little bit weird, we kept going.


Mornings were hectic. Bedtime was exhausting. Sleep was elusive. We knew that parenting was hard and that stepping into parenting this way would be even harder, but we didn’t have a barometer for anything. We weren’t friends with anyone who was fostering. We overthought and questioned everything that was happening, trying to figure out if any or all of it was “normal”.

We were going to appointments, meeting with their case worker, sitting in court rooms, and figuring out sibling visits (which proved to be really difficult) all while trying to learn the ins and outs of who our daughters were.

And we weren’t able just to focus on bonding because we wanted to make sure they got into good patterns of behavior in our home. We had to find some balance of discipline and correction alongside the task of establishing trust and connection. It seemed so hard to do both. Had we been placed with a baby, we’d still be exhausted, but we wouldn’t have to jump right into rules and consequences and registering for Kindergarten. We knew we’d been thrown in the deep end, and it was time to learn to swim.

Everything we had read (which wasn’t an awful lot) told us to establish routines and stay consistent. So in the midst of chaos, I tapped into my inner rule-follower – who loves lists and plans and knowing where I’m going – and got to work. Dustin is really good with structure too, so this part made sense to both of us.


The first thing that was apparent was that bedtime needed an overhaul.

Even though we had been sticking to their routine and had kept their bedtime consistent, they were definitely not settling in. As soon as we’d say goodnight and close the door, the cycle would start. They’d get up for a myriad of reasons, or no reason at all. Over and over again we’d put them back to bed. We tried being gentle. We tried being firm. We tried rocking until they were more tired. We tried incentives. Nothing seemed to work.

Once we got them to stop coming out and we thought they’d finally fallen asleep, we’d hear them talking. Sometimes an hour or two after we’d said “goodnight” one of them would sneak out of their room and just sit at the top of the stairs, waiting for us to find her.

And though we were trying to get them to bed between 7:30 and 8pm, by the time they were actually asleep, it was closer to 9 or sometimes even 10pm.

Once they had fallen asleep, the middle of the night interruptions began. Most nights, our younger daughter would leave her bed several times and make her way to our room. I’d wake up to her just standing there, next to my bed, just looking at us, saying nothing. No questions. No words. Just staring.

I wondered if she was fully awake. Maybe she was sleep-walking or had woken up from a nightmare. She was in a new room of a new house with new parents. The fact that she wasn’t waking up screaming was actually surprising, and yet this wandering around thing was unsettling and exhausting. Was it normal for a child to wake up this many times a night? Shouldn’t she be able to self-soothe? Did she ever turn-over and just go back to sleep on her own?

And why did they wake up so early? How could they possibly be rested enough to get up?

One thing was clear – we needed a solution. This wasn’t working for any of us. I woke up to every sound, every night, feeling hyper vigilant, unable to relax, adrenaline pumping through my veins.


As my number of hours of sleep plummeted, so did my spirit and my ability to cope graciously.

I was frustrated that we couldn’t control the situation. I was frustrated that they weren’t getting the sleep they needed. I was frustrated that we weren’t getting the sleep WE needed.

I know, I know. Typical kids. Lots of kids find every reason possible to get out of bed. They need a drink of water. Another hug. Another question. A sibling is in the room, and they want to chat. They wake up in the middle of the night and get up early.

But there was something in both Dustin and me that said this whole thing was different. While it looked the typical, it just wasn’t. Trying to convey the nuances of our situation to other people was super difficult, and I found myself becoming angry when people would minimize the issue or explain it away as common place. While I didn’t yet know our girls well, something told me that this was something more.

So we tried everything we could think of, some conventional tactics and some specifically for kids from hard places.

We made the room darker, hoping they wouldn’t wake with the sun. We bunked their beds for less distractions, so they couldn’t see one another at eye level. We stopped playing quiet music and started using a sound machine. We ordered a weighted blanket that was supposed to help with anxiety. We spent more time rocking them hoping to create a deeper bond. We diffused lavender oil. We did massages before bed.

And we ordered a cow clock.

Screen Shot 2017-11-17 at 10.39.39 AM

If you’re not familiar with the cow clock, it’s a cute little clock/nightlight that lights up a cow that is either awake or asleep. We’d set the clock to sleep when we tucked the kids in, and when the cow woke up the girls were allowed to get out of bed.

Honestly, I wasn’t sure how it would work. They had obviously been trained to just crawl into bed with their former foster parents when they woke up early (even at 4am), and that was going to be a hard habit to break. But we knew that for the long-term, sleep was essential – for them and for us. So we got serious about it all.

We started by being firmer. Maybe they were just testing boundaries with us. New home. New rules. Testing limits would make sense.

So, we did the normal bedtime routine, then sat outside of their room after we’d close the door. We’d listen to see if either of them were talking. If/when we heard voices, we’d open the door and remind them “It’s quiet time.” Close the door. Listen again. Remind them again.

We’d wait some more. One of them would inevitably come out the door, needing nothing in particular. One of us would immediately say, “You have everything you need. It’s time for bed.” Over and over and over and over. Gently at first and firmer as they continued.

Somtimes we just escorted them back to bed, kissed them goodnight again, and left the room silently. They’d know we were there for them, but we wouldn’t give much interaction.

One night I remember sitting on the floor outside their room, utterly exhausted. I looked at Dustin and broke down, tears streaming down my face. “Why won’t they sleep? How long will we have to do this? I can’t keep waking up with them. It takes me an hour to go back to sleep and then they are up again.” It was like having a newborn, except that they didn’t need to eat or a diaper change. And they could walk to find us. And they “should have” figured this out by now. And I didn’t yet feel quite like their mom. And it was just so, so hard.


As I reflect on those first couple of months, I wish I could have been more gracious in the middle of the night. I remember hoping that we could somehow, through amazing attachment practices, get them to stay in bed and get the sleep they needed. I remember praying that they’d start respecting our words and reminding myself not to take it personally when they refused to do what we asked.

And somehow, the combination of it all seemed to start working. Firm consistent, boundaries at bedtime and in the middle of the night. Putting them back to bed over and over and over again. Talking about the expectations every single evening and celebrating in the morning when they made progress. We stuck to the plan and finally just got through it.

And we still love that cow clock.

Because of this whole process and the months it took get us where we are, we still consider our girls’ sleep schedule a top priority in our family rhythm. I’m sure this has been hard for some of our friends and family to adjust to, but truth be told, when we stick to the plan they are phenomenal sleepers. They go to bed so well, almost every single evening. They stay in bed all night and get up when their alarm goes off.

It makes going out in the evenings difficult, since they go to sleep so early, but we just offer to host so that we can still be connected to people. We have to get creative when we travel since they really need it to be dark to sleep well, so we bought sleep masks that we keep in the car and use at hotels. They love them and they work so well. We travel with the sound machine and weighted blanket and that wonderful cow clock. And if they are sleeping in a new environment, we try to use lavender oil to help them calm down before bed.

We know this is a season and that someday (hopefully) they will be able to manage this part of their lives themselves. But for now, the discipline of it all is so worth it – for everyone.

Not all parts of parenting work like this – just come up with a plan, adjust as needed, stick to it and see the desired outcome. So for the time-being, I’m celebrating the victories, looking at the progress that we’ve made, and depending on grace for the rest.