December 2, 2016

Reunion: When You're Always the Bridesmaid, Never the Bride

Thanksgiving Day found me 32,000 feet in the air on my journey home from a missions trip to Africa. While we were traveling over the Atlantic, I received a Facebook message from a stranger. (Thank God for technology that enables one to be online on a long flight.) She said, "This may sound like a strange request, but I believe you may be related to my long lost cousin..."  She wanted to know if I could give her any insight to connect with him as they were close as children and she greatly missed him. 

I quickly realized, the woman's long lost cousin happens to be my step-father. He is the husband to my first mother (birth mother) who is now deceased. I could help her reconnect and was glad to. 

Knowing my stepfather well (those of you who read my blog know him as "Tom") I knew without even asking that he would be overjoyed at this connection and welcome her call even on a holiday. She proceeded to pick up the phone and call him and a few hours later, circled back with me. “We were on the phone for over an hour!” and said. “You have absolutely made my Thanksgiving! Thank you sooooo much!”

At the airport with my friends who accompanied me to Africa
I am more than glad to help people in this way.  I can’t even count the number of people I have helped by pointing the way to their family members through various means. Some of them were my own relatives whether birth or adopted. And others, I am not related to at all. However, I have connected many people with the right search angel who helped them, or someone in the adoption community who led to the discovery of their long lost family member. I have had a small part in so many people’s story who thank me for making their reunion possible. And I’m happy for that. I really and truly am.

And at the same time with each one of these situations I think to myself, “Will I always be the bridesmaid and never the bride?”

My traveling companions and I were on our next layover and so glad to be eating American food again when I decided to pop a question. I never shared what had just transpired with my facebook message on the plane but I simply asked them, “Did you have the experience for a long time of always being the bridesmaid and never the bride?”

“No,” each of them answered, “I didn’t have that experience." They all shared that they either hadn't ever been a bridesmaid or were rarely a bridesmaid -- or, they were a bride in the period of time when they wanted to be.

It reinforced what I was feeling.
And what I still feel.
Alone when it comes to this.

It seems like everyone else is finding and announcing their impending reunions. 

Every day on DNA Detectives I see another person with a breakthrough.

I check my DNA results on all the sites every week. 
Same thing, nothing new. (Sigh)  

I come to grips with the fact that I may never walk down the aisle of reunion on the paternal side.
I’m running out of time.
I may forever watch others reunite, while I never do.
I am happy to help others but I wonder, "will this ever happen for me or will I just help others and see their dream come true?"

Many people have helped me on my paternal search and for this I am grateful. I hesitated to even write this post for fear of making any of them sad. Because they have been so good! My friend Gayle has tried so hard to make this dream come true for me that sometimes I think her heart hurts worse over it than mine has.  I have also had several complete strangers have compassion on me and take DNA tests for me in hopes of helping me. And yes, that's amazing.

For as many who have helped me, many have also slammed the door. I am currently trying to get information from a man who may well be a paternal relative. There is so much that points to the possibility of us being related, but he is reluctant to tell me anything and has stopped talking to me altogether. I am sure it's because he knows if we are indeed related it's going to be extremely painful for at least one person in his family. I understand that but still want to know the truth. 

I wonder why the same grace and help I've given to others doesn't always come back to me. I keep holding on that some day, it will.

Another side of me chastises myself with, "You had a reunion on your maternal side. Thank God for that blessing and stop focusing on what you don't have."  I do that for a while but my heart still longs for the truth no matter how much I focus on my blessings.
One of the big keys for me while waiting is to keep a  good attitude. I remind myself to be happy for others. And to continue to be willing to help anyone I possibly can, even if I never get the desire of my heart. That’s what a loving person, a healthy – whole person, does.  Although the longing in my heart doesn't go away, it does do my heart good to see another person's dream fulfilled.

I want to be the person that continues to support others and keeps a good attitude about it even while my own need goes unfulfilled.   I know I’m not alone – there are many of us who are always the bridesmaid and never the bride. And we are surrounded by friends who were brides in the time frame of their dreams.

I ask God to help me me stay loving and supportive. To stay soft and sensitive, not hard and calloused. "Make me better, never bitter" is my prayer.  I want to love big and be happy for my friends, no matter what.  God help me.

July 28, 2016

How Does Family Preservation Work?

We don’t have custody of Livvy anymore. But, she still lives with us. Her mom has custody again and she and Livvy's four year old brother have moved in and joined us in our home at our invitation. We have this arrangement for as long as they need, while she gets on her feet. It could be months or years and it matters not – the offer stands for her to live with us for as long as she needs to. 

Lexi completed the one year program she was in, a few weeks ago. She not only completed the program - she did it with excellence. She was an R.A. of her dormitory there, sang in the choir, and worked hard and got her GED. She is a transformed person. We are so proud of her.  

It has been awesome to see mother – daughter – son reunited. To see them laugh together, eat together, attend church together, play together and drift off to sleep together. It’s a beautiful thing.

Many great things have happened in the past week. Some of those things were nothing short of a miracle. To name a few things – Lexi got her driver’s license reinstated. She got a job! (Yes!!!) Enrolled Brody in school, (an A-rated school, close by), put Livvy on the  waiting list for Early Head Start and more.

In the past week Lexi went with me to a few places that I preached and at one of those places the pastor’s wife said that she was given $100 to help a single mom and God laid it on her heart to give the money to Lexi. (Actually, that is all she has to her name right now until she gets her first paycheck.)

Most of all, a very generous friend from a neighboring church stepped up and offered to pay for Lexi’s training to be certified nursing assistant. She’s wanted to get into the field of nursing, unbeknownst to the friend. She will start training for that in September.  This is just a first step.  We have so much to be thankful for, and none of what I’m about to say negates our gratefulness 

This past week is a  revelation.

It's a revelation about single moms and about family preservation.

Here it is:   

If a lot of people don’t want a single mom to succeed they will have a really hard time doing it. 

It really does take an advocate and a village.

 In one week’s time I have learned so much about Medicaid, Early Head Start, School Readiness, WIC, food stamps, and more.

On her third day here, Lexi got a job. (Praise God.) She will be starting at $8.07 an hour. The other night I spent a few hours with her filling out the Medicaid application. She and the kids don't have insurance and are desperately in need.  My husband checked the application over after we prepared it. We pressed “send” and she was immediately rejected.  Whaaaaaat? How the heck do you make $8.07 an hour with two children and get turned down for medical care?  (Yes, she will be working the required number of hours -- actually more.)

So I spent hours the next day while I was at work, trying to call these people while simultaneously working. I heard a recording to press this number, press that number, and then waited on hold on speaker phone while I worked for about two hours. Finally sick of this, I looked up my local Access Office (I didn’t even know what an Access office was before)  left work, got in my car and drove over there. Peeved about being on hold for two hours, I walked right up to the desk and said, “Hey, nobody’s answering the phone, so I’m here.” Yes, I truly did. Then I proceeded to ask them how the heck my niece who makes $8.07 an hour was just turned down for Medicaid. They were actually really nice to me, but explained that I must have filled the application out wrong. I have no idea what was wrong. They didn't give a reason for turning it down. But they said what would have to happen is that we would have to wait about 30 days to get turned down again and appeal it. And keep appealing no matter what. "You need to be relentless they said." No problem, Relentless is my middle name. 

What a system. Forget about making America great again. Make America answer the phone again.

So my husband called an insurance specialist and he said she and the children are  is definitely eligible for Medicaid but they will give us the runaround forevermore and we need to stay on them until they give in.  

Okaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaay. Your government dollars at work, my friends.
We pay all this tax money so folks in need can be provided for.  Then we who have paid these thousands of dollars in taxes have to CHASE the government down and try to force them  to cough up the money to the people who are in need? How crazy is that?  

The rejection letter from Medicaid said to check about Obama care. We did and those folks said she was not eligible either. Something about having to make $18 K a year. I don't understand this reasoning at all. The insurance specialist said that with her salary she would never have enough to pay the deductibles.  So much for hope and change.

With all the money we pay in taxes, I was thinking they may roll out a red carpet for Lexi and the children and even send a marching band to the house. I was wrong. They didn't even give us a set of coasters or a pen.

The government doesn’t do go out of their way for anybody, and it still takes people like me and you, family members, friends, non-profits and churches and the like who give a rip about people.    

At the end of the day it's not the government who helps people.
It's people who help people.

Government is just one big ball of red tape that you have to keep chasing .

I am soooooooooooooo grateful to all of the family and friends and the church (not just our church but many church folks from all over) who have reached out to help Lexi with everything from a package of diapers to clothes and shoes, to training to be a CNA. She couldn't move forward without this kind of help. It's the grace of God and this kind of help that has kept her alive! (One year ago she was literally on the verge of death!!!)

More than ever I believe in not only the hope and help of faith, family and friends, but in people like Carolyn Espina and the New Life Center for Family Preservation. They do amazing work. Day in and day out. I believe in them. I believe in what they do.  (By the way, I'm their speaker again at their annual fundraising banquet this year in November. If you live in Florida, maybe you can come! It's on Thursday night, November 3 at Harvest Assembly of God in Lakeland.)

We are praying that Medicaid’s decision will be reversed and will stay on them until it is.  Even if it’s until Jesus comes back they will have to put up with hearing  my relentless voice.

We are praying for a compassionate dentist to help her, pro bono. Do doctors do stuff pro bono or is that just lawyers? Well, you know what I mean.   At least one of her teeth are infected to the point where it has to be extracted. I have written emails to local dentists asking for help and asked friends if they know anyone who does this kind of work as charity.

We are praying provision for a car for her, to get her to work and Livvy to head start, and Brody to school and back.  (There is little to no public transportation in our area.) She will save what little bit she can each week toward it, and we know God is able.

We are praying that a spot with Early Head Start will open for Livvy. Until then we will keep up our juggling act. We could be in the circus by now. She is used to going to Uncle Larry and Aunt Deanna's office when we do not have child care, and traveling all over the state of Florida staying in hotels when I have to preach.

We are praying that with the provision of a job, her bills will be covered.

We are praying most of all that she and the children feel secure and loved in their new place here, and that they thrive and reach the destiny God has for them.

What’s the point of this post?

People talk about how the church isn’t pro-family preservation in many ways.

Sometimes that is true. Other times, it isn't.

Right now in addition to my sister (her mother) -- and our family -- it's the church who is helping Lexi.

I see that the government isn’t set up to promote family preservation.

Family preservation only works when people care.

Family preservation only works when people want it to. 

Photo credit:

June 29, 2016

No Explanation Needed

Shifts are happening with people becoming greater educated about what adoptees face. Even so, the adoptee experience remains vastly misunderstood or not understood at all by many. Once I came out of the fog, I used to try so desperately to try to make the people around me understand.  Now I realize that not only can you not make someone understand but they have to have a desire to understand in the first place.  If something affected me, I would try to explain it. If I was going to do something or not do something, I would give a reason.  But that has changed.

In the past if my family asked me to go to a movie and I was apprehensive because I thought it may have a triggering theme, I would go into an explanation of why I’d rather not participate. Sometimes this led to my family trying to convince me to change my mind and go. This led to a heated discussion a few times as I didn’t want to be pressured to go through something that for them was pleasure and for me, pain. I just wanted to be at peace. And for me, peace in that instance meant staying home. Now I don't talk about triggers, I just say, "No, I don't want to go to the movies tonight."(By the way if you want to have a heads up about movies beforehand, go to Addison Cooper's Adoption at the Movies. He has given me perspective and saved me from a bad experience quite a few times.)

In the past if I made a leadership decision based upon a trigger or potential trigger, I felt the need to talk to somebody about it even if just one close friend. Perhaps this was to unburden myself more than anything - I'm not sure.  A while back, I sat in a room with a group of leaders who were all encouraged to host a speaker who had just given a presentation about their organization. The short talk itself was unsettling for me and I couldn’t wait until it was over. However many of the leaders around me were already pulling out their calendars to see when they could schedule the person. I just smiled and went to the coffee station for a few minutes and then went about my day, continuing on with the rest of the meetings. No need to talk to anyone about it. I just made a choice and that was that.

In retrospect, I have come to see that a lot of my stress came in the times where I tried to explain my decisions. Why I chose something or why I did not.  Why I go to certain places or not, why I participate in different things or I don’t…why I host various people or I don’t…why I support specific people, causes or organizations or I don’t. I now see that a boatload of my stress came because I didn’t just give a simple no and let it go at that.

There’s a popular meme that says, “You don’t have to attend every argument you’re invited to.” I have come to realize that explaining my feelings or experience is often nothing but an invitation to an argument.  I refrain from commenting on some people’s posts on social media because it’s not worth the emotional energy that it takes to share the truth, although it is…the truth. It will still be the truth whether they believe it or not. And sometimes as an adoptee I find I am alone in the room with the truth. And, it’s okay. Although it wasn't okay a few years ago. In fact I felt like I would explode if I didn't say something. But I’ve had to make peace with it being okay because if not I would have driven myself to the nuthouse trying to change people who are not open to thinking new thoughts.

I can sense when people are open to education, or not. And particularly in the time when I sense they are not, greater peace comes when I realize that no is a whole sentence.    

May 28, 2016

When Adoptees Have to Take a Step Back

In my travels, I found this book in a used book store.  "The Complete Idiot's Guide to Adoption."

Truth be told there is no such thing. There's nothing easy or uncomplicated about adoption. And sometimes it all becomes too much and you have to take a step back.

I haven’t met an adoptee yet who hasn’t told me that they take periodic breaks from reading or writing adoption related things. Emotional overload can take a toll on you --  body, mind and soul.

I’ve been in that mode for a while.

Staying away completely and having a 100% respite in your mind isn't possible because of all the questions, comments and triggers in the world.  For me the topic comes up at least once a day most of the time, and a lot of that has to do with my line of work.

Some adoptees tell me they don’t experience adoption related talk daily, and maybe the question should be reframed, “How often do you experience talk in any form that intersects with the subject of adoption?"

Daily, I get questions that I have to stop and think carefully about before answering.  And sometimes I don’t answer. Confession: sometimes I pretend I didn’t hear the question. As crazy as it sounds, sometimes I'm not up to answering a basic question.

“Does your mom or dad have brownish green eyes like yours?"

“Did you hear Eddie and Stacey are adopting from foster care? It might be a sibling group, not sure yet…”   

“Where are you from?”

“Does anyone in your family have a history of breast cancer?"

Questions like these come on a daily basis. They aren't mean spirited...they are simply questions people ask in the normal course of conversation. Far too often than not I’ve answered them the way the person asking me wants them to be answered versus the way I want to answer, just so I don’t have to listen to an unwanted speech.

I travel and speak a lot at churches and when I arrive I’m often hit with a trigger before I even set up my things in the lobby.  It’s not uncommon for children to be running around and someone will introduce him or herself and their adopted child and give me their story. Many of them have absolutely no idea I’m adopted. They just want to share. I understand. It's their world and what's happening in it - and what's important to them. I nod my head a lot and smile. I even receive a lot of requests to pray for people who are trying to adopt. And from people whose adopted children are acting out in some way.

Adoption is so complicated. I am never going to gain real understanding or come to an agreement on such deep issues with someone on something so complex in a few minutes of foyer conversation.  So I let it roll and go peaceably to the Green Room to sit in a comfortable chair with a cup of coffee and go over my notes one more time and breathe.

Breathing is good.
Peace is good.

I hate that so often we adoptees have to be silent to get it, but it's the way it goes.

I don’t always share with people that I’m adopted, or anything that is inside of me on that subject because quite frankly, it’s easier for me. Especially before I have to get up and speak and need every speck of physical and emotional energy I have.

Over the past few years I’ve discovered there are a lot of things in this complicated world that an adoptee can only share with another adoptee. And even so, you have to be careful about what adoptee you share with, depending on their level of awareness.

I know it’s not always the best thing to do if you want to change the world. But sometimes, for my own sake, I need to step back. Some days it’s not about changing the world, it’s about my health.

(Before I get a bunch of mail asking if I'm quitting...NO. This doesn't mean I'm not writing or reading about adoption anymore. Simply making the observation that we all need a break from time to time or our own peace of mind, especially regarding something this complicated and never-ending.)

April 4, 2016

Adoption, Dying, Regrets and Curls Out of Control

Some people say they have no regrets and I’m inclined to think they are liars. Who doesn’t wish they would have done something differently? Saying you have no regrets is kind of like saying you’re perfect. Well, I’m not perfect. I have made mistakes and I have things to learn, and henceforth a few regrets.

One of my regrets is not going to visit my foster parents the moment I found out who they were. They were still in existence on planet earth and in their 90's.  They took care of me in the time in between my birth and the time my adoption was finalized. Through the adoption agency, I found out their identity last year. We connected through a phone call and they remembered me right away although it had been over four decades ago. I was able to find out things that helped me piece together the time in between my mother relinquishing me and my adoptive parents taking me home. I was so thankful.

I didn’t act immediately even when finding out about them. I know, that was really stupid. I was trying to juggle all the things I’ve been juggling, and I kept telling myself I’d get to a visit soon, but I didn’t.

This past week I called their daughter to say I wanted to stop by for a visit. She said, “I’m so sorry…Mom passed away and Dad is close to it.” My heart sunk. I had waited too late. Now I would never see them in person in my adult life. “Your call meant so much to them, Deanna…” she went on to say.

I sat there kicking my proverbial butt all evening.

Why the heck did I wait, even a few weeks? Well although it's no excuse, the simple answer to that is, I was struggling at times just to keep basic things done. Even so, time was of the essence and I missed the window. I had control of the situation and I blew it.

Contrast to that, a situation I do not have control over...    

I have taken every DNA test there is to take. Ancestry. 23 and Me. Family Tree DNA. GED Match.

Followed every lead that comes my way.

Have a search team of sixteen people helping me. (Three have just been added.)

And I still don’t know who my natural father is.

We have followed every lead we have regarding the name that was given by my mother to the adoption agency.  And we come up cold. Because NONE of those men, not even ONE of them in the United States of America with that name, has ANY Greek in them.

The sixteen people on my search team have looked at every man ever living past or present in the USA with that particular name. And not one of them checks out. Because none of them have a drop of Greek blood, and I am overwhelmingly Greek. Too much that could ever be ignored or explained away for any of those men to be my father. And my maternal sister DNA tested for me so that we could exclude maternal matches from my results, and guess mother has not one drop of Greek blood. Therefore, ALL of it is from my father.

So we’ve come to the conclusion that my mother probably gave a fake name to the adoption agency. 

I believe my natural father's name is Gus. Why, you ask? Back in 2013 I was heavily praying about this situation. My prayer was, "God, I am in agony. My mother has died and taken his name to the grave. So just tell me what it is. Just tell me my father's name. You can do it. I know you can. So will you, please?"

And as I prayed, I kept sensing this name..."Gus" in my spirit, every time I prayed. 

Now, most people would just say, "You're crazy, Deanna." But the people who help me? No, they don't think I'm crazy. Or maybe they do but they love me enough not to say it. First, I told my friend Laura Dennis and my husband Larry what I had sensed in prayer. Then, I told Priscilla Sharp, one of the best search angels in the world who I'm blessed to have working on my search, about what I was hearing in prayer. I said, "Pris, I know I'm asking you to go on a search based on a prayer. But will you?" She immediately said, "Absolutely!" and we set about researching Gus's. Now, the plot thickens...

A year later, I had a conversation with someone in my maternal family and asked them to tell me anything they knew about my father. Anything at all no matter how seemingly insignificant. They said, "Deanna, I never met him, but to my best recollection, his name is Gus." I almost fell off my chair!

We have researched many men by the name of Gus and continue to. And, we will not give up. Time is ticking away and unless a total miracle happens, I will probably find a grave. Gus is elderly right now if he's alive. I won't have regrets if and when I find Gus or or whoever he is, because God knows I’ve tried so hard to find him and haven’t been able to. I’m the type of woman who has done most everything I’ve set out to do in life. But this escapes me no matter how hard I try. Even with sixteen people who know what they are doing spending a lot of their precious time helping me.

I hope those who withhold information from adoptees -  whoever they are – mothers, social workers, agencies (it’s different in everyone case) have some regrets. Because even as we try so hard to get to the bottom of where we come from, time goes by and so many adoptees find a grave, not a person. And some won’t find at all. They will die wondering, “where and who did I come from?” And how is that right? Why the needless pain and suffering?

I feel this way about finding my natural father and people respond with: “You came from God.” 

Yes, I know I came from God. (Sigh) So did you. So did everyone. But here on earth…who do I come from? Why do I get up every morning and try to tame curls out of control?   

“But you’re so blessed………”

The fact that I’m blessed has no bearing at all on the fact that I have a hunger to know where I came from.

Greece. That’s all I know for now. This is a scientific fact as to where my Greek ancestors came from, gleaned from my DNA results. 
But I want to know more.

And unless something really big changes, I will know nothing more. Or, I will find the grave of a man who came from Greece.