Friday, October 31, 2008

"This Looks Like a Drug Deal"

It has now been a couple of days since I've seen Mike. I last saw him on Wednesday night when I picked him up after his work shift and dropped him off at the (new) friend's house where is staying. I reminded him yesterday that I would be unavailable Thursday (meeting out of town in the metro area), but he called anyway, wondering if I could give him a ride to work. I couldn't and told him that he'd need to call me this morning to get together.

I didn't hear from him this morning. I figure that he's an adult (legally, at least), has been in jail numerous times and seems to be able to find a place to stay each night so I don't need to follow him around with telephone calls, especially when I'm not sure where to find him. This afternoon, on my way to a town two hours from ours to pick up our eighteen-year-old son, John, who is coming home for the weekend for the first time in nearly a year, my cell phone rang. I was in the midst of following my iPhone's GPS map, so I couldn't answer. Mike left a breathless message to "call as soon as you can." Since Mike's physical location does not always match the cell phone number from which he has called, I chose to wait for him to call me back instead.

The cell rang a few minutes after picking up John. "Hey, dad, it's me, Mike. Can you give me a ride to work?"

It was 3:45. He needed to work at 4:00.

"I'm sorry, Mike. I'm not in town right now. It's why I told you yesterday to call me this morning."

"Oh. Do you think you can call B[urger] K[ing] for me to tell them I'm going to be late for work?"

"Um, no. I don't even have their number. You can call them to let them know you'll be late for work."

"Well, I thought your iPhone had that google feature."

"Yes, it does, but I'm driving right now and I'm not going to take the time to find that number to call for you. You can do that for yourself."

"Okaaayy. When will you be back?"

I told him my approximate arrival time.

Two hours later, five minutes after stepping foot into our home, the cell phone rang again. "Dad?"

"Yes, Mike."

"Are you home now?"

"Yes, Mike. I've been here five minutes." Who says FASD people don't have a sense of time? (I'm only being facetious, but it has always disarmed me when Mike is able to put things together when he really needs to).

"So, you can think we can meet up so I can get that check [to help pay his rent while he stays with a friend]? I can come by the house."

"No, Mike. You can't come by the house. That would violate the restraining order."

"Oh, yeah. How about we meet at that park on top of the hill?"

"You mean E[rlandson] Park?" I confirmed.

"Yeah, that one."

"OK. I'll be there in ten minutes. See you then."

I arrive at the park in question, turn off my ignition and listen to the radio. I wait patiently as five minutes turn into ten. I am beginning to feel frustrated by this turn of events as my cell phone rings once again.

"Dad? Are you at the park yet?"

"Yes, Mike, I've been waiting here for ten minutes."

"Well, where are you?"

"I am in the parking lot."

"I don't see you."

"Are you at E[rlandson] Park, Mike?"

Garbled background noise as I hear his voice asking his friend where they are.

"Oh, I guess we are at A[lexander]. We'll be there in a minute."

I smile. Our town is not that big, the two parks are not that far apart, and I made certain in our initial conversation to confirm the location by name, not by geographic estimate. There was a time for me when Mike's rapid movements from mental lucidity to cloudiness really irritated me. I believed that if he could remember something on one occasion, he should be able to repeat the performance. But I have learned over the years that this is simply not how Mike's mind works. And I have had to learn that it is MIke I care about, not the functioning of his brain patterns. Yes, it is still irritating to me, but I am getting over it year by year.

His friend and Mike pull up in an old car. I nod greetings to his friend who exchanges the masculine pseudo-gesture of polite recognition as Mike hops out of the car to open my door.

"Hey, Dad. Sorry about that. Do you have the check?"

I hand him the check. He pauses, looks at the check, glances around the parking lot and says with a silly grin that lights up his freckled face and makes his blue-green eyes sparkle.

"You know this looks like a drug deal."

It's ironic. In this paternal/child interaction he is the experienced one, I am the novice. Mike would know what a drug deal looks and feel like. I would not (unless you count watching too many episodes of COPS).

"Yeah, MIke, I guess it does."

"So, anyway, thanks. I'll call you tomorrow."

With that he bounds back into his friend's car and our daily interaction is complete. It has now been just about two weeks since Mike got out of jail, and from all I can tell he is doing as well as he ever has. There is no reason to suspect that he is using chemicals of any sort, he is not involved in illegal activity, he has a place to stay. For Mike this has been a pretty successful run.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

"If I Fail My UA It's Your Fault"

With apologies to those who read this blog, knowing that we have twelve children, and hearing me blog almost incessantly about our son Mike ... I continue to do so for at least a couple of reasons: (1) it gives meaning to what I am attempting to do in helping Mike, (2) it helps educate people who do not understand or who have not lived with fetal alcohol spectrum disorder, and (3) it provides support for other families encountering similar experiences.

Here is a synopsis of today's connections with Mike.

It is 4:45 PM, I am in my church office awaiting the arrival of a 5:00 PM pastoral counseling appointment and my cell phone rings. I answer it, knowing it will be Mike. "Dad, can you give me a ride to work? It's me, Mike."

"Mike, I'm getting ready for an appointment right now; I can't give you a ride at this moment."


"You can't give me a ride now?"

"No, Mike, I have a commitment right now."

"Umm. So how am I going to get to work?"

I do my best to be positive and self-differentiated, reminding him that I cannot help him at this moment. He is agreeable enough and hangs up.

An hour later my cell phone rings again. I have just finished my appointment, so I agree to pick Mike up and transport him to his job. I have another commitment at 6:30 PM, and it is already 5:55, so I am anxious to finish the ride. As I pull into the driveway of the home where Mike has been staying there are three other people on the steps with him, a young adult male, and a young adult female with a young child on her hip. Mike bounds out to the car, "Think you can give [my friend] a ride to [location several miles out of my way]?"

I glance at my wrist, deduce that I have just enough time if we leave immediately and agree. I am not happy about doing this, but I feel it is one of the ways I can show appreciation to the people in question who have allowed Mike to live with them for the past week. Mike's friend ambles into the car, we exchange names and I deliver his friend to the specified location.

He thanks me, and we depart for Mike's place of employment. I ask Mike about his friend. It turns out that Mike is actually the friend of this guy's brother (the guy is actually in his mid-20's). There are four or five other "kids" living in the home with their mother. "Pretty ghetto, huh?" Mike asks me. I simply smile and shrug.

I have learned to be a lot less judgmental over the years, especially as it concerns Mike and his friends. There was a time when both Claudia and I tried to help Mike make better friend choices, but because of his disabilities he has typically moved to the lowest rungs of human life and living situations. They are, after all, the only ones who will accept him and help him in times of desperate need. Rather than recoil at the interactions, I have had to reframe them in my mind, reminding myself that it was people at the margins of life that Jesus was most frequently with (and it was the "religious" people, in fact, who most criticized Jesus for that). I remind myself as well that in the ethos of my denominational history (Methodist) it was with those who were most challenged and challenging that John Wesley (founder of the movement some three hundred years ago) spent much of his time. I am in good company (Jesus, John Wesley) spending a bit of my time each day with people who are so very different from myself.

Before I drop him off for work Mike says, "I'm not sure how long I'm going to be able to stay there."

"Why is that?" I ask.

"Well, everyone there is cool with it except his sister. [The 17-year-old with child on the hip and another on the way]. She's pregnant and she's drinking, and I keep telling her what a bad idea it is. She doesn't like that."

Since Mike knows firsthand the effects of fetal alcohol spectrum disorder, I can only imagine the way in which he confronts this drinking teenage mother. I'm sure his approach is less than tactful or respectful. It is, I am sure, direct and pointed. In any case, I have to respect my son's desire to prevent others from his fated existence.

It is several hours later. I have dropped Mike off for work, tended to my 6:30 commitment and have arrived home to take a walk with our dog. Midway into the walk Mike calls, asking for a ride home from work. Since I have made a personal commitment (internally) that I will do whatever I can to empower Mike's clean and sober lifestyle, I agree to pick him up. I arrive a few minutes later at his fast-food restaurant work site. As I pull up to a parking spot I can see Mike sitting at a table. Upon seeing my car, he stands up, grabs a bag of food on the table and begins to exit. Before he reaches the outside door I can see him stop, turn around and look. I wonder what is happening.

Then I see him dart back to the table and pick up the soda he had forgotten. I smile to myself in a sardonic fashion ... even when he is doing his best, Mike's scattered nature will always haunt him. I need to see those situations to remind myself that much of what Mike has done is impetuous and without malice or intent. If I can remind myself of the way his brain functions (or doesn't function) it helps me to be more patient and gracious toward him.

He jumps into the car where I witness yet another dysregulated response.

"Hi," I say.

"Hey is for horses," Mike responds, which would have been a very appropriate response had I said, "Hey," but I had said, "Hi." I choose to smile instead of correct.

"Do you think you could take me to [local grocery store that cashes paychecks]?" he asks, a sense of pride emanating from his voice.

"What do you need to do there?"

"I need to cash my paycheck." He nearly beams with pride at his accomplishment. In nineteen years Mike has never before received an honest, earned paycheck.

"Sure. How much is it?"

"Not very much." He is not deflated, just factual. "It's only $51."

I commiserate. "Yeah, by the time they take out taxes and stuff there's not that much left, is there?" I decide not to go on and on about how working less than 15 hours a week at a minimum pay job isn't going to produce much profit for him. I decide to let him enjoy the fact that he has earned his first paycheck.

It turns out that the store in question will not cash his paycheck without a photo ID. They will charge him $2 to cash his check in any case, and I decide that I will offer him a gracious out. "Well, Mike, if you will endorse your check to me I will swing by the ATM and give you the cash. I'll just deposit your check and you can keep the $2 for yourself."

"So, your bank is open tonight?" When he reveals innocently his naivete about the workings of life it makes me realize just how alone in the world my adult-son-who-is-really-just-a-kid is.

"No, Mike. But the ATM is always open. I'll just take your check and give you the cash."

"Oh, OK."

I have brought Mike a couple of homemade brownies I made earlier in the afternoon. I ask him if he likes brownies. "Yeah. Did you make them?" I respond affirmatively as he takes the small plastic bag with two brownies in it from my hand.

"You know what this looks like Dad?" he says, a glint in his eye.

"Umm. Yeah. But these brownies aren't going to cost you $60 [which I learn is the going rate for good weed in a plastic baggy like this in our town]."

"Well, if I fail my UA it's your fault," he says jokingly.

"Well, you've blamed me for a lot of things over the years, so I guess if my brownies make you fail your UA I'll take the blame again."

The irony does not escape me. Mike is nineteen, has just earned his first "real" paycheck, does not fully understand the functioning of a 24-hour ATM. Yet he understands all too ably the nuances of packing and selling illegal substances. When I began this parenting process twelve years ago with older kids, I never thought I'd be in this situation, rejoicing that my nineteen-year-old has a job at a fast food restaurant making minimum wage. Years ago I thought I would be disappointed in such an outcome, but with all we have been through with Mike over the past few years, even this feels like a small victory.

It has now been nearly ten days since he exited jail. He is clean and sober. He is working a legal job. He has a place to stay for the night. We can communicate with one another in tones of levity. It will be an OK night after all.

In a Matter of Minutes

Yesterday ended ridiculously strained and full of family stress. And I'm not talking about our nineteen-year-old son Mike. It's a sad thing when one's crime-historied, organic brain damaged son ends the day better than the supposed functioning family members. And it's stranger still when things change within a matter of minutes.

After a full morning of work yesterday and an afternoon of errands of various kinds, I prepared dinner for our family, minus Claudia (who was making an out-of-town business-related visit) and Rand (who was working). It was a hurried affair on my part, and barely an excuse for an evening meal -- sloppy joes, chips, fruit and peanut butter cookies (made from frozen dough). But the meal was remarkably peaceful and stress-free. We prayed together, ate our food, and then scattered in various directions.

Our twelve-year-old son Dominyk and I headed off to a Boy Scout Court of Honor. The Boy Scout Troop of which Dominyk is becoming a part is chartered by our congregation, so we are very familiar with the physical geography of the space. Familiar space is always a bonus for Dominyk, whose anxiety issues can be overwhelming. The Court of Honor was a great celebration of both the Troop's and individual's achievements (this is really a spectacular troop), and at the close we headed home. I asked Dominyk, "So, are you still excited about being a Scout after all you heard tonight?" "Kind of yes, kind of no. My brain keeps saying 'no.'"

"Why does your brain say no?" I inquired.

"Umm. Don't know."

"Well, there are times when we need to tell our brains things are OK, don't we?"

"Yep. That's what I'm doing, dad."

On the way home I decided to stop by the local grocery store to pick up a few coupon items before their expiration date (which was last night). Among those items were sports waters, like Gatorade. The coupon allowed us five free with the purchase of ten. Dominyk has an obsession (in clinical terms, not as in what most people mean by "obsession") with drinks of any kind, and I thought it would be nice for me to let him choose the flavors, a task he completed swiftly.

On the way to pay for them he began to harangue me with how it would be once we arrived home. "I'm going to choose who gets what drinks, dad. I'm going to keep five of them in your closet [where we keep items like this locked up until use] just for me. I'll decide who gets what."

I continued to remind Dominyk that it was not going to work that way. That I would distribute the drinks, and that each person would get one and each person could choose which one they wanted. He was not convinced, although he silence his verbal barrage.

Upon arriving home I allowed Dominyk to choose his drink first, but he was still convinced he would be the arbiter of drinks in our home for the evening. I told him in no uncertain terms that it was not going to work that way, after which he stomped off to his room screaming about my unfairness. I have heard such phrases so many times for so many years I must confess I paid little attention.

I told the other kids they could help themselves to the drinks on the table as Claudia and I departed for a twenty-minute neighborhood walk. The walk itself was enjoyable enough. It was a crisp, clear, cold late October evening and refreshing in its own way.

Nearly home we encountered a shadowy figure lumbering down the other side of the street. Even before we could see his face I could tell by his gait that it was our thirteen-year-old son Tony. He had on his grey hoodie, hood pulled over his head, a backpack at his side and a determined pace coupled with no eye contact.

Claudia headed home, and I walked over to Tony. "So where are you headed?"

"Away. I'm going away from home."


Silence as we walk.

"How long do you think you'll be gone?"

"I don't know. Maybe for good."

"Hmmm. Care if I come along?"

Silence and the adolescent look that says "dad you're so damn dumb I'm not even going to answer that."

We trudge along together for twenty or so minutes. While Claudia and I walked there had been an altercation at home involving at least three or four other of the kids, and Tony feels that he has been mistreated. The fact of the matter is that Tony is seldom mistreated, if that classification is based upon innocence. He is constantly provoking, demanding, violating others' space, physically aggressive and lacking any kind of impulse control. He is unable to see this, nor does he understand how his behavior contributes to the way others treat him. I have given up, at least for now, trying to explain rationally to him why things are the way they are for him. I simply remind him that he does not need to respond with physical aggression and threats when others bother him.

By the time we arrive home the emotional level has been ratcheted up many degrees. Having left a relatively calm (except for unhappy Dominyk) home minutes before, it is disarming to enter the emotional intensity that now floods our domicile. Heading to our bedroom, I see a crumpled note at the top of my trash. It reads:

Dear Dad: I fricin hate you. I wish I was never boren.

Recognizing Dominyk's handwriting and phonetic attempts at spelling, I am angry. I am angry with myself for having purchased the stupid drinks that created the emotional disturbance in our home, and I am angry that I am too tired to respond more positively. Unhappily, I do not handle this stressful invasion into our lives very well. I am not at my best at night, and I find many ways to assess the inadequacy of my and my spouse's parental ability. In particular, I expound for minutes behind the shut door of our bedroom to Claudia about all the ways she contributes to our family's distress. It is a verbal attack that is unwarranted, one that diminishes my spouse and myself in the process.

In the ensuing minutes she responds by leaving the bedroom, intent upon reprimanding to her spouse's satisfaction other children who were involved in the earlier altercation. Her intense interactions with our oldest daughter cause the daughter to explode with nasty words of invective peppered with f*** and other linguistic barbs. It is really very unpleasant, and as we all prepare to try to sleep there is an uneasy truce afoot.

Few of us are happy. None of us are proud of our behavior. All of us feel trapped.

There is, my wife reminds me, always tomorrow. And while I do not know what tomorrow holds, I know it does not include my purchasing any more soft drinks for some time.

Monday, October 27, 2008

One Week, Eight Plus Three Hours

The story continues ... I sat waiting in the parking lot for Mike's arrival for nearly forty-five minutes after the time he told me I would need to wait. During that time I took care of a couple of errands so it was not completely wasted time. At the forty-five minute mark, though, I could wait no longer. I had to be at Wilson's elementary school to pick up items he had sold for a school fundraiser, so I left the parking lot outside the building Mike had entered.

I picked up the cookie dough (fundraiser items), met Wilson at home and then he and I set out to deliver the goods. We had just begun the process when I received a call on my iPhone identified as "blocked." If you've read my previous posts, you know that "blocked" to me equates with the law enforcement center, because all of Mike's calls for the past few weeks have come from there and carried that designation. I answered the call and braced myself for the disclosure that he had violated parole and was back "in" again.


"Yeah, Mike."

"You think you can pick me up?"

"Where are you?" I asked a bit befuddled.

"At the place you dropped me off. I'm done."

"Mike, that was two hours ago."

"Yeah, I know, but they had a lot of people who had to do the 'pee' [UA] test, so it took a long time."

"Umm. Sure, I'll be there in about a half hour. I'm doing something with Wilson I need to finish first."


I must admit I am surprised that Mike is doing this well. He has not only organic brain issues to deal with, but he has such an engrained pattern of behavior developed over the past few years in regard to opposition to authority and the law enforcement process that I can hardly believe he's still doing OK.

While I was waiting for Mike earlier I had stopped by a local grocery store to purchase some gauze, medical tape and antibacterial ointment so that he could care for his lacerated fingers, so as he hopped in the car I handed him the Halloween-orange plastic bag. He inspected the contents and grunted appreciation of some sort.

I asked, "So is Officer C....r happy with how you're doing on parole?"

"Umm. I don't know. I guess so."

We drove a few minutes in silence.

"So," my nineteen-year-old son who sometimes functions emotionally at about the age of ten queries, "are you happy to know I'm passing my pee tests?"

"Well, actually, I am happy about that, Mike. That's great. Aren't you happy about it?"

He looks at me, a frightened fawn caught in headlights, momentarily considering a response. He utters it moments later. "Yeah, I guess."

"So are you hungry for dinner?" he asks. It is four in the afternoon. I have eaten breakfast at 6:00 AM, lunch at 12:00 PM and need to return home to prepare dinner for the others in my family. "Well, I need to get home and make dinner for everyone else now."

"Oh, yeah. Think you could give me five bucks so I could get something to eat?"

I try not to give Mike cash. If there is something he needs that I consider appropriate I buy it directly and hand it to him. And today I do not have any cash in my pocket.

"I don't have any money, Mike."

"Oh, OK."

I know he is hungry. He doesn't recognize that the reason I don't have any cash in my pocket is because I have spent most of my discretionary money for the last part of the month in his direction over the past week to buy him a few clothes, a warm hoodie to wear and some shoes. But he's not thinking of that. He's not being manipulative or selfish; he's just not thinking of that at all.

He doesn't ask, so I offer.

"Well, I don't have time to eat with you, but I can swing through the Taco John's drive through. How would that be?"

"Umm. That'd be great. Thanks."

It goes against my grain, really. I have always believed that food is meant to be shared with others, and preferably in a home around a table with those you love. Food to me represents family, friends, warmth, togetherness, attachment, joy. But to Mike, separated so long from those who love him by behaviors that cannot continue in our home, food is simply sustenance. And so I content myself knowing that even if Mike cannot eat with his family these days, at least his family can offer him some food in Jesus' name.

I drive through, purchase the food, hand it to Mike, and he says, "Thanks."

In two minutes we are at the location where he is currently staying. On the way I remind him that if he gives me his clothes that need to be washed the next time we meet up I can do that for him. I pull the car into the driveway, glance in his direction and say, "See you later, Mike. I love you."

"Yeah. You too."

And maybe, in that split second of time, we both mean it.

One Week Plus Eight Hours

It has been one week and eight hours since Mike was released from jail. Over the past few days I have been in contact with him about once a day, usually to provide transportation for him to work. Our conversations have been brief and factual. Today, as I type these words, he is meeting with his parole officer. His meeting began at 1:30, he told me he would be finished in fifteen minutes; it is now 2:45, so I am wondering if perhaps something has gone awry. If I don't receive a telephone call from him soon, I will begin checking the county jail custody list to see if he appears there.

It's a strange thing to parent an adult child who has spent more time since reaching the age of majority incarcerated than not. While others his age are completing their first or second year of college, our son is still trying to complete high school. Other kids his age are dealing with difficult roommates or challenges in their schedule, while our son is simply trying to stay out jail, hold down a part-time job and retain housing. As I blogged earlier, I have learned how to view Mike's situation differently than I would have even two years ago. Then I still had some typical expectations for his life. I no longer live under the illusion that Mike's life will ever be ordinary.

By Thursday of last week (his fourth day out of jail) he had already been involved in an altercation that resulted in numerous scrapes (a number quite deep) on one of his hands and shoulders. The story is that he was helping to protect a friend who was being threatened by someone else with a knife, and in the process he was shoved to the ground and his left arm and hand ground into the gravel and pavement beneath him. I saw him a day or so after the altercation and his hand did, indeed, look quite nasty. In addition he was kicked in the head a couple of times, resulting in a bruised temple and cheek.

So today, on the way to his parole officer meeting, he pulled off a bandage and said, "Do you think I need to see a doctor?" On one of the fingers was a skinless gash, oval in shape and probably an inch in diameter. The top layer of flesh was gone and what was left bore the tell-tale signs of too much coverage and not enough light or oxygen to promote healing qualities. "I think," I said, "that you need to make sure you keep it clean and that you allow it to have some air." "Oh," he murmured as he pulled off the other three bandages on other appendages. "S***" he cursed. "Is that my bone?" He peered more closely and said, "Yeah, that's my bone."

Fortunately I was driving so I didn't have to look. There are reasons why I am an ordained minister and not a medical professional.

Up until today's meeting Mike has had what I would consider, for him, a successful seven-day run. He has not been arrested, he has worked, he has stayed in the same location for housing, he has made both PO meetings to date, he has met with the county mental health social worker to investigate service options.

The first seven days have been good ones for Mike. It's the last eight hours I wonder about.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Never Mind ... Maybe It's Just the PTSD Talking

Last night I blogged that I was dubious about Mike's whereabouts and activities. I went to sleep last night without difficulty and awakened this morning as I usually do, so my sleeping was not affected. However, being the parent I am, my first impulse was to check the online county jail roster just to make sure my nagging suspicions could not be confirmed. Before I clicked to the site, though, I picked up my iPhone and discovered a text message that arrived at 12:34 AM. It was Mike. A brief message simply telling me that he had found a place to stay and that he had used $5 (I had given him a $10 yesterday to buy something to eat) to "buy gas. Hope that's OK."

There was some strange comfort in his message. He took time to let me know that he was safe and he reported back to me how he spent the money I gave to him. For someone with the checkered history Mike has, especially with those of us who love him (that's where the attachment disorders kick in), I'm not sure he could have done much better than that. Now, of course, I have no way to prove that he was, in fact, safe or that he did, in fact, use the money for gas, but that's not my job to figure out.

He appropriately informed me of his schedule today, which includes being at work by 11 AM, and asked if I could meet up with hi (the trunk of my car continues to be his closet). I agreed, so at 10:30 I will meet him at a local gas station, give him a ride to work, wait while he changes into his work clothes, and then open my trunk so he can deposit his other clothes in the "closet."

For many people who don't understand the lifestyle of adoptive parents with special needs kids (or special needs kids who are now "adults") this "taxi service" thing might sound silly or warped. Fortunately my schedule is fluid enough to allow me to do this, and it provides me some comfort knowing that I can be of assistance to help Mike do what he is supposed to do. While I cannot make his decisions nor do for him what only he can do, I can do my best to empower him. I use that word intentionally, because this situation could easily become one of enablement (which I view with disdain) rather than empowerment. It is my task to keep my boundaries with Mike clear and to offer what assistance I am able to offer. This way it benefits him, and helps me to find comfort in a challenging situation.

Many times adoptive parents jokingly (and sometimes not so jokingly) speak of their own "post-traumatic stress" (PTSD) as a result of raising children who are unpredictable, threatening and scary. So, at least for this moment, ignore last night's cynical blog. Maybe it was just my PTSD talking.

It feels good to know that for forty-eight hours now Mike has done what he is supposed to do.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

I Hate To Say It, But ...

I think my previous post was prophetic. In it I spoke of how I have learned to count differently when it concerns our children who have special needs, and specifically how hours are a fairly accurate measure of success for them.

This morning, day two of our son Mike's release from jail, began responsibly on his part. He called me at about 7:30 AM to check in, to ask when we could meet (so that he could leave with me his duffle bag with new clothes; he doesn't want it "lost" or stolen). We agreed upon a time for him to call back, and we met at that time. I had work commitments all morning, so I agreed to meet up with him again at 12:30 this afternoon. We met at that time, ate lunch together, drove to an alternative learning center (school) where he got scheduled for the remaining pieces he needs for his GED and then we were about out of time. I needed to be back home by 2:00 PM, so I left him at the library (at his request). He asked when he should call me back. I told him sometime tonight after 7:00 PM. It is now 9:40 PM, and he has made no contact with me.

I have learned not to get very troubled about this behavior with Mike, since it has been occurring for at least the past seven years. When Mike was twelve or thirteen he would disappear for days, sometimes, with no word to us as to his whereabouts. It was his unpredictability then (and our inability to supervise or provide protection to him) that resulted in his numerous treatment center and secure facility stays, which he rues to this day as having "stolen my childhood." We, his parents, of course, are the culprits for this theft.

So, while I am not surprised by his erratic behavior tonight, it does forebode for me that Mike's time "out" will not be long, maybe hours, maybe days. Here's the scenario as I reconstruct it in my mind, as to how Mike thinks about this (if, in fact, it is a thinking process at all).

Yesterday he needed someone to meet him after he was released into the cold from jail. His dad was the most logical choice. His dad fed him, purchased clothing for him and a warm coat, paid for him to get an new state identification card, paid today for a new library card, and bought him lunch. He had a meeting with his parole officer today which he described as "sucky." When I asked why he said that he had to drink an untenable amount of water in order for him to undergo the UA testing required. His test, after nine months in jail and only one night out, was predictably clean. His next parole officer meeting is a couple of weeks out.

I suspect he has met up with old cronies once again, thinks he has time to drink or drug a bit before his next UA, and is beginning on that journey again tonight. Since he has the bare minimums of what he needs, he feels he is set for now and he has time to "recover."

So, for at least the first twenty-six hours (maybe thirty, if I'm really generous) Mike may have been completely compliant with the terms of his release. I am hoping that tomorrow might result in forty-eight hours, but I have to admit I am dubious. We'll see what happens, when he calls next and what "need" he has that I can fulfill.

Fortunately for my own sake I have learned to set emotional limits and financial limits. I can sleep well tonight knowing that I aided Mike's immediate needs in the real world, that he can't blame me for not having something warm to wear in the cold fall weather, and that he has food to eat that should keep him for a day or so. And I have no illusions that "this time is going to be different." If it turns out that it is, in fact, a change, I will be grateful and glad for Mike. And if it is no different than all the other times I will not blame myself, and probably not even Mike. This has become such an engrained pattern for him I'm not even so sure he can change things.

As my friends in the recovery world say, "It's one day at a time." I would change that slightly. "It's one minute at a time." While I don't know what's happening for Mike tonight, I have no control over it, nor over him, so I will not worry or become anxious. Once again, as he has taught me time and again over the past ten years, I will simply commit him into God's care, knowing that this is all I can do. And maybe that's enough.

Monday, October 20, 2008

Learning How to Count

When I was younger I used to count by years. It was "x" number of years until high school graduation, four years of college, two years of internship in my chosen field, three years of seminary education. For a long time the concept of years served my thinking rather well.

I have discovered that as a parent, and an adoptive one at that, that I need to learn how to count all over again. When dealing with special needs children it is not helpful to count in years. A year is a nearly insurmountable period of time in which to project outcomes. Even months are too big of a stretch in most cases. Occasionally days will suffice, but I am discovering that hours and minutes are a more accurate measure for assessing success in many of my children's lives.

This morning, for example, I was up early in order to meet our son Mike outside of the county jail, as he was released at 6:00 AM. It was a chilly fall morning with temperatures hovering in the mid-40s, so by the time I arrived at 6:10 AM Mike was already shivering in the cold, holding in his hands two plastic grocery bags containing all of his worldly possessions. Other than the clothing on his body (and the sweatshirt in question was given to him by the jail staff), he had only a few paper documents and a number of drawings he has been working on.

He has been in jail so long that he didn't recognize my car. It was seven months ago that we gave our newer car to our oldest son Kyle and purchased an older (though nicer) car which we have been driving since. When I pulled up Mike was surprised to see that it was his ride, but upon discerning my presence he jumped in the front seat, all 168 pounds of him.

There are few places to go at 6:15 in the morning, especially in our college town, so I drove to a family restaurant and we had breakfast together. We had a good conversation, and Mike reminded me continually why it is so easy to love him. When he is chemical free and needing the help of someone he is charming and more socially appropriate than several of our kids who have no real challenges.

Within a few minutes I became tasky, and we made a mental list of his tasks for the day, the chief among which is "find a place to stay." "It's a little early, dad, for me to be trying to contact friends, but I'll try later" he reminded me after we had established that as a priority. "Yeah, Mike, I understand that."

After eating we drove to my church office (Mike cannot be in our home, especially when his siblings are there, and they were still getting ready for school at that time), and I gave him, per the judge's order, a specific invitation to be with me in the church. (The judge ordered this as part of his sentence since he was involved eight months ago in a burglary at our church). In the office I worked while he emailed friends to see if he could find a place to stay.

At 9:00 AM I telephone one of the county's adult mental health social workers. She was not in, so I left a message asking her to contact us about setting up an appointment to talk about what services Mike qualifies for. I am hopeful that she will return my call sometime soon so we can get working on that. She already has Mike's file (has had for a couple of years now so that when the need arose it would be there).

We stayed at the office most of the morning, until departing to purchase some personal care items and some basic clothing. He has one pair of tattered jeans, so I purchased two more (discounted at T J Maxx) for him, as well as a sweatshirt. He now has some t-shirts, underwear and socks. That's about all he has, but it will be a start, and he appropriately thanked me.

At 2:00 PM I dropped Mike off at the place where he has started to work, where he quickly changed clothes. I told him to call me later tonight (I have responsibilities all this afternoon through early evening) to update me on things. It has been nearly nine hours since I picked Mike up, the first time I have seen him in the flesh for nine months. And in those nine hours he has been successful. Nothing has been stolen, no one has been lied to, everyone's property has been safe.

I am learning to be thankful for hours. I'm sure glad I have learned how to count all over again, because for now, at this very moment, everything is OK.

Sunday, October 19, 2008

Sometimes I Think I'm Doing OK

I must admit that there are many times as a parent that I wonder what difference it makes. Because I am a parent only by adoption, I do not have the birth parent route to contrast or compare with; as a result, there are times when I say, "I'm not sure it would have been all that different for my kids had we not adopted them." My wife is always quick to correct my moments of self-doubt. Melancholy that I am, however, I need to be reminded in ways that I could not otherwise manufacture, that this is so.

I was reminded tonight that maybe I'm doing OK as an adoptive parent. Shortly after I submitted my previous blog about my meeting up with Mike tomorrow morning, I took our two youngest kids, Dominyk (12) and Wilson (9) for a quick bite to eat. It has become something of a tradition in our home that they and Claudia and me (or one of us parents) will eat our Sunday evening meal together when the older kids are all at youth group. Claudia is the driver for youth group kids tonight, so it was only the three of us.

We voted. It was 2-1 in favor of McDonald's over Wendy's (you can probably guess who was the sole voter for Wendy's), so the three of entered a local McDonald's at about 7:30 PM, not exactly primetime for eating in our southern Minnesota town. It took very little time for our order to be taken and processed. We sat down at a round table near what appeared to be another family grouping, although from external observation it was hard to figure out the connections. There were two adults a bit younger than myself (late 30's maybe), another adult (probably in her early 20's), a grade school aged boy (sitting with the older adults) and a young girl, probably 2 sitting with the twenty-something adult female.

Dominyk, Wilson and I were chomping on french fries and discussing the details of the newest McDonald's Monopoly game when I heard, "What the hell are you doing?"

Usually that's a sentence that emanates from one of my own children while we are eating out, so I was momentarily taken aback as I surveyed the verbal landscape. It was not the older two adults; it was not the young Hispanic family of four sitting t our right (they were speaking in animated Spanish, and while I know a little Spanish, I would not have understood that phrase spoken). To my shock (and I am not always very shockable these days) it was the twenty-something female speaking to the two-year-old child in diapers, who I now assumed was her daughter.

"You sit down and eat your food now," she continued to command. The toddler said nothing, seemingly unfazed by the barrage of negative emotion accosting her young ears.

By this time Dominyk had craned his neck around to see who was using the words that delight him so, and he began to chuckle. I chose to ignore his response, as I didn't want to further inflame his giddiness. Within seconds he was once again focused on his Monopoly pieces. Young mom with young child, however, was not yet finished.

"Stop it now. You can't put the whole damn thing in your mouth at one time. What's wrong with you?" she berated the young child.

I never really know how to respond in such a situation. I am always troubled to see a child verbally abused and wonder if that's what I am hearing in a public setting that perhaps it's even more vicious in a home with closed doors and windows. I could be wrong about that assessment, but I wonder. I had glanced at the young child earlier and didn't see any signs of physical abuse or neglect. Since the older adults sitting nearby (connected with these two) didn't flinch an eyebrow and move a muscle in her direction, I assume that she may have learned her interactive style from one or both of them.

I don't think I'm a coward, but it just didn't seem to be the time or place to confront negative parenting, and any intervention with a stranger it is certainly outside of what Minnesotans consider to be "appropriate." It appeared that things were calming down, the young child was eating as her caretaker directed, and so I relinquished my irritation, although I prayed briefly for all involved.

And so I moved my attention back to my own two boys. As they enjoyed their fast food fare they did not have to hear words of condemnation (although at times at least one them does receive words of direction, quietly issued and not with profanity), they did not have to be degraded for being humans. They simply ate, chatted on about what they might win from the Monopoly promotion and enjoyed these brief moments together.

Sometimes I think I'm doing OK as a parent.

For Better, for Worse

It is 6:30 on a Sunday night and Dominyk (our twelve-year-old son) and GIzmo (my faithful walking companion canine) and I are enjoying the beauty of an October evening. The sun is setting, a rose-colored spectrum of warm colors. "Dominyk," I say pointing to the skyline, "Isn't it beautiful?" "Yep, but it doesn't really match the colors of the leaves." Dominyk is an interesting child, always has been. His unique challenges create a very talkative, attention-challenged child whose ways sometimes resemble a borderline autistic.

A few days ago while he and I were traveling somewhere he announced to me, "Dad, I don't think I'm ever going to leave home. I'm just going to stay with you and mom and take care of you when you're older." "That's thoughtful, Dom, but I'll bet the day will come when you are ready to be on your own." He is not convinced, so I add, "But it's not a decision we have to make right now. You have plenty of time to think about that."

He and I are walking together when my cell phone rings. The called ID reads the telltale, "Blocked Call," which as I explained in earlier blog, means I am about to answer a call from our local law enforcement center, where our son Mike has been "executing his time" for several months. I answer the call.

"Um, hi, dad."

"Hi, Mike."

"Um, do you think you can pick me up tomorrow? I'm getting out."

We had talked about this on Wednesday night, so I am not surprised. I have purchased him some clothing items that I have not yet had a chance to get to him, because I know when he is released he will have only the clothes he is wearing and nothing more. We have recently purchased him some work clothes, and now he will have some underwear and socks to add to his very meager possessions.

"What's your plan? You can't come to our house, you know."

"Yeah, I know. I just want you to talk with me about what my options are so I can make some decisions."

"What time?" I ask. I already have a rather busy morning, and Claudia will be leaving mid-morning by shuttle for the airport on a four-day business trip out of state.

"How about 6:15? They let me out at 6:00."

I pause. I consider telling Mike I have a full morning. I would like him to know that his release will be an inconvenience to me. I wish he were able to have other plans or alternatives so I could, in good conscience, agree to meet him at another time. But I know he does not. And I figure it is a positive sign if he wants me to help him make some choices. Mike's IQ is high, but his organically damaged brain has so little executive functioning that he needs all the guidance he can receive. His typical pattern upon departing jail is to meet up with some of his crime-ridden friends. I have yet to determine whether that is because he is drawn to the lifestyle or because he has no other options. I have always hoped and wanted to believe it's because he hasn't had other options.

These are the thoughts that race through my mind before I speak. But I already know the answer. Tomorrow I am the "other option" that Mike needs. My conversation with him may not get him past evening before he is in legal trouble again, but I believe I have a moral responsibility to aid someone who specifically asks for my help, especially when it is my son.

It's too bad that parents don't take some kind of vows when they give birth or adopt a child. In many ways parenting is at least as big a challenge as is marriage, which provides a number of vows between two parties. I'm not exactly sure what parenting "vows" should sound like, but at the very least they would include the words, "for better, for worse; for richer, for poorer."

Tomorrow will be one of those days for Mike. He leaves jail not richer, but poorer, in so many ways. He has nowhere to go, no one other than parents as a healthy resource, too many concerns for someone who is nineteen. Ten years ago I made an unspoken vow to "love and to cherish" him and his birth brother, and I will continue to be true to my vow. And so tomorrow at 6:15 AM I will welcome into my personal world (but not our family world for numerous reasons) our errant son. Maybe, my heart portends, this will be the time when enough comes together for Mike that he can begin a new chapter in his life; while my head tells me it is unlikely.

Tomorrow morning it will be his father who loves him showing up before the sun rises to help him brainstorm options for "better," and once again I will be prepared for the "worst."

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Surrounded By Mental Illness

You'd think it would be enough that I confront various levels of mental illness in my life as a father of adoptive children. Let me hasten to add that not all of my children have mental illness, but several of them do have interesting behaviors and ways of relating to the world that often tire me. There are moments when their ways of understanding or responding to things are just too weird for me, as a rational, mentally healthy, fairly emotionally balanced (my wife might differ on my definition of that) person. In any case, I have come to accept my role and have actually learned as a parent to separate myself from (most of) my children's peculiarities.

Knowing that my home life is often interesting and occasionally challenging, I find some measure of relief in my vocational life as a pastor. Most days I spend with people of relative emotional balance, shared spiritual values and some genuinely nice people. It is a blessing. So when mental illness begins to horn into to my vocational life, too, it feels a little overwhelming. My church office and the people in my congregation and the community who frequent our church facility allow me to feel safe and "normal."

That changed for me tonight by my introduction to Pastor Charles. I knew something was amiss when I received a telephone call at home from one of the physicians in our congregation who was at the church earlier tonight. She talked with Claudia, who asked her to tell the visitor that our benevolence fund process only works during business hours (9 - 3) each day. I assumed that might have taken care of the issue, because we didn't hear back from her.

I arrived at the church a few minutes early for my 6:30 meeting, got to the meeting and began when within five minutes there was a knock at the door followed by the immediate intrusion of a smiling face and a garralous stranger asking for the "Shepherd of the fine flock." I stepped into the hallway amidst raised eyebrows of those in my committee meeting. In a broken French patois with enough English for me to understand I learned that Pastor Charles had been sent by the God of light to vanquish the darkness of the evil one. Based on his dialect and his theological descriptors, I suspect his origins are Caribbean and that his history is connected to voodoo.

He was clear that he is a practicing Christian and that he has turned his back on voodoo, even though his former wife (of fifteen years now) has sought to bring him down. He informed me that he has not engaged in sexual intercourse for more than fifteen years and that Satan is constantly trying to bring him down, but that the light of the Lord is bringing him through such temptation and trials.

It was a disjointed experience for me. I recognized clearly the theological premises he was articulating ... in fact, on a number of his preaching points I could ally myself theologically. But the rate of his delivery, his demonstrative gestures and his intensity made it clear to me that he was suffering from some form of mental illness, in addition to the cross cultural challenges. I told him I needed to get back to my meeting, but that if he would wait I would transport him to a nearby hotel.

The meeting was intense (it's budget time in the church, and this committee was discussing one of the most sensitive areas of church life, our staff and ways we compensate them), and I had been in church from 7:30 AM to 4:30 PM today for a district committee meeting already, so I was tired and not very patient. During the meeting I received two individual warnings that "you have a guy in the narthax waiting for you." The second came as a succinct note written by one of our AA group leaders (we have numerous support groups in our church most nights of the week) telling me about a "guy with two suitcases who appears to have some mental problems." I figured if an AA participant suspects someone is mentally ill I'd better listen.

After the meeting one of the committee members kindly offered to accompany me. I did not perceive our visitor to be a physical threat, but you never really know, so I accepted his offer to come along with me to transport my Pastor friend to a nearby hotel. The five minute ride to the hotel bore much more preaching and revelation from God. I should not have been, but I was, surprised by his biblical literacy and theological sophistication, although it was hard for me to separate those pieces from his breaks with reality and his report of being followed, persecuted and assailed by alien beings.

Upon arriving at the hotel I did my best to convey Christian grace and charity. After a mutual blessing he offered me several of his illustrated creations in gratitude for my kindness to him. A random sampling is pictured above. They are intriguing pieces, most of which are black and white, depicting various spiritual quandaries, angles, shapes, alliances and superiorities. He spoken frequently of mysticism and spirituality in ways that an ordinary person would find creepy. I graciously accepted his eight pieces of work, wishing him well on his journey.

Returning to the church to drop off my parishioner companion I thanked him for being supportive. "You sure do meet some interesting people, don't you, Bart?" he said. I regaled him briefly with several other incidents I have experienced over the year, trying to advocate for the plight of the mentally ill in our society.

People like Pastor Charles should not have to wander the streets, seeking the help of churches and others in their quest for survival. In our community there just aren't resources to offer someone like him, especially someone who appears so very different from the social norms of our southern Minnesota community. The only goal in our community is to get someone like Pastor Charles quickly on the road to the next town. In no way do we want him here, largely because we have no way to deal with such significant mental illness.

As I assessed the situation, I realize I did not feel good about simply dropping off a mentally ill man at a local hotel. Although I didn't perceive him to be a physical threat, I wanted to do what I could to ensure the safety of his next listening audience. I called the police to report the situation so they could follow up to make sure everything was OK at the hotel.

And then I prayed. I prayed for myself, feeling like I am surrounded by mental illness. I prayed for the people in my church that they might learn compassion and Christian grace from experiencing in whatever way Pastor Charles. I prayed for the hotel staff person who would have to deal with his erratic behavior. And I prayed for Pastor Charles. That God will protect His precious child, even when the rest of the world doesn't know what to do.

I only hope that others will do the same for my children when they are erratic, disconnected, rageful, antisocial and creepy. Even the most mentally ill in our society belong to someone who loves them.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

The Day After Sentencing Conversation

As I promised Mike at yesterday's sentencing, I showed up tonight at the jail to visit with him. I was the only one in the visitation room -- evidently Wednesday night visitation is not well attended -- so we visited almost an hour. Visits are typically thirty minutes in length only. I have previously been critical about the ways visitors (like myself) are sometimes treated by law enforcement center personnel, so I need to balance my previous words with words of appreciation now for the opportunity to "extend" the visiting time. It feels much more humane to me, and I appreciate that.

"So, did you like what you heard in Court yesterday?" were Mike's words of greeting to me.

"Umm. Well, not really. Did you?"

"I don't know."

"I'm assuming you probably knew what the judge was going to say before he said it, right?"

"Yeah, my attorney talked with me about it beforehand."

"So, tell me, what does it all mean?"

"It means that if I don't follow every single thing the judge said [and at this point Mike elucidated his understanding of the numerous terms to his sentence] I will go to prison for twenty-two months."

"So do you think you'll be able to do what you are required to do?"

With no hesitation on his part Mike answered, "No."

We pause in our conversation to absorb his candorous remarks, and then I pick up our interaction again.

"So, you're saying that you know yourself well enough that it's not going to work or you're saying that no one could possibly do all that."

"Well, both really. I don't know how I'm supposed to work, find a place to live, do eighty hours of community service within twelve months, finish school and stay out of legal trouble."

"You're right. That's a lot to do. It's going to be hard."

"So, I think I'll probably end up executing my time."

I have heard Mike use this insider language before, but I've never been quite clear on what exactly it means. So I ask him to try to explain it to me once again.

"It means that when I get out [on Monday] I'm done serving my time for now, but if I break any of the terms or probation I'm going to prison. But I think I'm just going to save some money, stay out of trouble and then execute the time."

I am more confused now than ever. "I'm not getting this, Mike. You mean you're going to plan to screw up so that you can go back in?"

"Nah. What it means is that I can ask to serve my time, and because the prison system is so filled I would be able to sit in the county jail for seven months and finish it all up."

"Oh. So you can decide to come back in and serve the time locally, on work release, and within seven months you're done with the whole sentence. If, I mean, you are able to complete the others terms ... restitution and stuff?"


More silence ensues as I consider how much about our criminal justice system my nineteen-year-old son has learned, and how much he has taught me in just the past year.

"Well, in your situation that might be the best thing for you. You'd have a place to live, you'd be able to work, and you'd be able to get your time done locally."

Our conversation wanders into other avenues. He is trying to assess how much assistance from us he can garner in the next few weeks. It is awkward for me because I want to help him get on his feet, but I will not put myself in a situation where I and our family members will be taken advantage of once again. He has repeatedly stolen and taken from us over the years, and I will not do that again.

I agree to purchase some underwear and socks for him, since he has one pair of each. I do not agree to help him find a place to live. (Been there, done that, bad results). I do not agree to provide him a cell phone. I do not agree to provide him with transportation (although I may be willing to help with that within the city limits if it means a ride from work to his place of abode). I agree to consider helping with fees so that he can test for the GED.

He asks about family members, and I give him updates person by person. He decides to tell me that he smokes, something I am not surprised by. "It helps me relax when I'm under stress," he tells me. "And you're paying for these how?" I question, since he has just told me he has limited clothing and no place to live. "I draw pictures and people pay me." "And you're not concerned about your health?" "Well, I figure I have to worry about skin cancer before lung cancer" (Mike is very lightly complected). "I know you don't like that I'm doing it, but it helps me."

"Well, Mike, I guess everything is relative."

"What do you mean?"

"I mean no father wants to be visiting his nineteen-year-old kid in jail, so in terms of context your smoking isn't probably the biggest issue we're talking about right now. Of course I care about it, but I think there are probably some other things that are more important at this point in time."

"Oh, you mean like my having a place to live and stuff?"

"Yeah. That's what I mean."

By the end of our conversation there are several barbs that I refuse to be snagged by. "Well, I've learned a lot about jail since I've been pretty much locked up since I was thirteen." "Yes, Mike, you've had a difficult few years."

"I couldn't finish treatment because you guys took me off your insurance plan in the middle of it."

"Mike, no one in our family over the age of eighteen who is not in school or working is able to stay on our insurance. Are you chemically dependent?"

"Well, no."

"And since you are not chemically dependent, there is no way that Mom and I could have afforded to pay the $25,000 not covered by insurance for you to be in treatment."


Mike has aspirations. He has goals. He wants to get his driver's license. He wants to get his GED. He wants to work and make money. He wants to purchase clothing. But he knows he can never do it all, especially on his own.

"So, I've learned that I have to do what I have to do to survive. When you're starting from the bottom up and you're completely on your own you do what you have to do."

"So what are you saying, Mike?"

"I'm saying that I don't plan to do anything criminal, but if it means I have to do something that will prevent me from living in a box on the street, I'm going to do that. I'm not going to be so desperate that I'm going to be homeless."

And that pains me to hear because I know that for months before he and his birth brother moved in with us ten years ago his birth mother and her four children were, in fact, often homeless. They lived in a car for a while, with relatives, with whomever she could find.

He continues. "I mean it's not like I want to do anything illegal, but if I have to then I have to."

I cannot tell whether he is playing me or whether he is simply stating facts. I suspect it's a combination of the two.

"Well, Mike, Mom and I have always wanted you to be able to succeed, and we are looking forward to the day when you'll be able to move beyond this chapter of your life into a new one."

He says little more. It has been nearly an hour. He is tired of talking, fidgeting, ready for the word that visits are now over. "Well, Mike, I love you," I say as he stands to hang up the receiver. "Love you, too."

And with that we separate. I return to my home with my children, my spouse, my dog. Mike returns to his quarters.

Will they be temporary or permanent?

A Gracious Community

I'm not sure how adoptive parents with troubled children make it without the support of others, outside of themselves. Over the past twelve years Claudia and I have had any moments of exasperation and challenge. We have discovered that the people who were our friends more than a decade ago have largely been replaced. Our "old" friends simply didn't understand the dynamics of children with special needs, nor did they really "get" our passion to adopt older kids who needed permanency.

I'm not sure that we ever intentionally said to ourselves, "Well, let's get ourselves some new friends." It wasn't like or anything. It has happened gradually over time as we have met others who are doing what we do. These are people we would not otherwise ever have known, because they are in many ways so different from ourselves. In some cases we do not share the same geography, the same experiences in life, the same religious preferences, the same philosophies of life. But one thing we share in common is children who are unique and a thirst to do in our world what is right on their behalf, even when it means a complete reorientation of our lives to do so.

We have also been blessed with a very gracious and kind community of faith. The churches that we have served over the past several years have learned what it is about our family that makes us unique and, in most cases, have discovered the passion we have for the forgotten children in our world. In our previous church the parsonage (church-supplied home for the pastor and family) received more-than-ordinary damage over the course of our seven years there. When it was time for us to leave, we offered to pay for at least half of all the damages and left them with a $1500 payment as "earnest" money of a sort. How humbled and surprised we were a couple of weeks later to receive from the church the $1500 back with a note that told us how much they had been blessed by our time with them, and that they wished to care for the parsonage renovation themselves. Upon leaving that gracious community we wondered what our next chapter in life would have in store for us.

We have been in our current pastoral appointment for 2-1/2 years, and while we do not live in a parsonage any longer (this church offers a housing allowance which gives me the opportunity to actually "own" a home and build equity during our time here), our congregation is still affected by our lifestyle. It is not as direct, typically, but the effects are there, and often, if I do say so myself, they are positive effects.

For example, over the past couple of weeks a new family has begun attending our church because we understand what it is like to have special needs kids. She is a grandmother raising two of her grandchildren, both of whom were affected by in utero exposure to drugs and alcohol. (Their birth mom's life has been destroyed by drugging). Grandma wanted a church, had been looking for a church, but wasn't sure where to go. A friend (who is a member at our church) invited her to worship, and told me about it. I took the initiative to visit with grandmother before their visit to worship. We discovered her family and ours has a lot in common. We hope that she and her grandchildren will find the gracious Christian community that we have found.

I am reminded of what a blessing this is as a result of a meeting last night at church. Yesterday morning I sat in court and waited for our nineteen-year-old son to be sentenced on charges stemming from his break and enter episode earlier this year in our church facility. Because we have been open about our family's life and because the actions of this son were directly related to the congregation, I felt I needed to share the results of the sentencing with our Church Council last night. It was a sober moment. The Chair of the Trustees told us that she had filed with the Court the "Victim Impact Statement," and that in that statement she wished Mike well and offered encouraging words to him. Although I did not see the Statement, my impression is that included forgiveness and a good word. No one had a word to add to what I shared last night at the meeting. There was no judgment, no irritation, no faces scowled in malice. Rather there were the eyes and expressions of companions in life's journey, empathic grace offered without verbiage.

I wish for every adoptive parent the gift of supportive friends and a gracious community. There is no other way we would be able to thrive in this journey as adoptive parents of older kids. There is no way to say "thank you" for such compassionate kindness from people who understand and practice the way of Christ.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

And the Hammer Falls

Today our nineteen-year-old son was sentenced in a district courtroom in a neighboring county seat town. At his request, I was present. It was an awkward role for me to have, not because I have never been in court with errant children (I wish I could say that, but I can't), but because his sentencing was as a result of his breaking and entering the church building where I am pastor. To complicate roles even further, Mike is not just my law-breaking son, but I am his pastor. And I am not just his pastor, but I am the pastor of 500 others who call our church "home."

As I waited in the courtroom for his appearance (which took place more than 90 minutes after his scheduled time) I listened as others received their day with justice. There was a young woman charged with theft and forgery; she has served time and will now serve more time plus a fine. There were three young men, all separate cases, all of whom were involved in issues regarding alcohol and/or thefts of various kinds. Each of them will serve some jail time in addition to fines. There were two young women recently apprehended in a burglary which involved serious threats of assault. They will sit in jail with heavy bails above their heads until their cases are finally complete.

And then there is our son. I have not seen him face-to-face for months. I have written letters to him, and I have visited him occasionally, but seeing someone through the monitors in a jail is not really the same thing. Today he shuffles into court, his feet shackled. He is is slender, taller than I remember (he is probably now 5'10"), lean and muscular. His very short reddish blond hair clashes with the bright orange of the county jail clothing. His self-imposed tattoos gleam in their sickly blueness beneath the bright lights of the courtroom. The bailiff announces the case: "Michael Ward Fletcher versus the State of Minnesota."

He is seated with his court-provided attorney. At the adjoining table are the representatives from the Department of Corrections and the County Attorney's office. The judge cursorily glances at the paperwork and asks, "Has a plea bargain been reached?"

"Yes, your honor," the lawyer from the county attorney's office confirms.

Of the five felony counts Mike has been charged with, he has agreed to plead guilty to a charge of breaking and entering that is "just under" a felony count. Because of his numerous other legal run-ins in the past two years he has acquired "points" of some sort (I am not an attorney, so I don't understand the specifics, but I do know that it means if he does something illegal the next time will result in serious charges). The judge asks a few more standard questions and then says, "Mr. Fletcher, please stand for your sentencing."

Our sedate son, his face etched with the somberness of his situation, rises to his feet. He is expressionless throughout the judge's words. I don't know whether it is because he has already read and agreed to the plea bargain (so he is aware of the details), or whether he has consigned himself to whatever might befall him, or if he just doesn't really understand that he is about to hear. Mike is bright, but his FASD (fetal alcohol spectrum disorder) limits his executive functioning, so it is difficult to know what he really understands and what he doesn't. I suspect he is more confused than I am about the sentence. There are many details, some of which are connected to previous criminal activity that affect today's outcome and which are linked to the provisions of the sentencing.

My eyes squint and my eyebrows arch as I hear the words: "You are hereby committed to the Minnesota State Commissioner of Corrections for a sentence of twenty-two months." I look at Mike. I can barely see the outline of his profile, but his hands, clutched behind his back are unmoving. Even from the distance I can see his whitened knuckles, but they do not move. His face is granite, his visage unwavering, his emotion stoic.

The judge's stentorian voice continues. Mike will be on probation for a period of up to five years, during which he is to remain alcohol and drug free, remain law abiding and work "as you are able." He is to serve up to 360 days in the county jail (I have not heard whether that is concurrent with the other term), pay restitution amounting to several thousand dollars, and serve (I think) 80 hours of community service. He is not to enter B--- Avenue U----d M----dist Ch---ch again, without their permission.

The hammer has fallen.

The bailiff brings to my son, the criminal, his sentencing paperwork. Mike signs where he is directed. And he turns toward the officer who has brought him into the court room. It is a small court room; we are close to one another, but we cannot exchange a hug or a handshake or any other physical contact. I move in his direction, and he says, "So, do you think you could visit me tomorrow, Dad?"

In that split second of time there are many things that pour through my mind. I could be whimsical and retort, "Well, at least I'll know where to find you for a while." After five or more years of his running away, treatment center stays and juvenile detention and (now) jail and prison time, I don't have to wonder where he is sleeping, what he is eating or what illegal act he might be committing. Or, I could go "parental" and say, "What? You've just been sentenced to nearly two years in prison and that's all you can say?" Or, I could be pastoral and offer grace, "Mike, we love you and we forgive you."

But all I can say is, "When are the visiting hours?"

Reflections on Twenty-One Years Past

I have discovered that in life there are unifying metaphors, many of which come to us unexpectedly and usually through intentional reflection. Let me flesh out what I mean.

One of the liabilities of my vocational life (ordained minister) is that we move. In my (United Methodist) tradition we move fairly regularly, on the average (these days) of every 7-10 years. (This is a greatly improved statistic from even twenty years ago when the average stay in a pastoral appointment was more like 3-5 years). With each move there is the opportunity for personal and vocational reflection, the process of saying "goodbye" and finding closure in order to move on to a new venue of ministry. These expected moves are challenging for a single person, but when one carries along a spouse and/or children with the process it is even more tendentious. And, if you are adoptive parents (as we are) with children who have previously (in their foster care experiences) moved rather frequently, it is both easy and hard.

It is "easy" because kids who spent any time in foster care know what it means to pick up and move on, often at the whim of someone else's decision. There is little power offered a foster child, and that's what can make it "hard," even when the children are now moving with their parents.

With every move there are multiple boxes that not only have to be packed to leave but consequently unpacked upon arrival. Some of those boxes are essential -- kitchen items, clothing, bedding -- and some are not -- boxes of books, magazines, photos. We have now lived in our "new" community for more than two years, and in my office I still have a number of boxes that need to be opened and sorted through. Truth be told, some of these boxes have now been sealed for nearly ten years, since they also sat in my previous office for seven years without having been opened.

Now here's where the life metaphor thing kicks in a bit. I find that there are so many things in life that each of us need to "unpack." There are unresolved conflicts or griefs, unhealed pains, unanswered questions that we have "boxed" to be opened "later," although later sometimes never arrives.

In a literal sense I am unpacking some of those old boxes, with the goal of having my office organized and in good shape within six months (I'm telling you, there really are a lot of things I need to work through here). And, I am discovering, in a metaphorical sense I still have things to unpack, sort through and with which to find resolution.

This morning one of the old theological journals I pulled out is dated Spring 1987. When I see dates on things, my natural inclination is to wander back into my memory to remember my "place" at that time. The Spring of 1987 was the first year after my college graduation, I was living in the Twin Cities, working full-time in a job I hated and working part-time in a church, which was the fulfillment of my life's call. I was the age then of my oldest son now.

And that's what makes me stop for just a moment to think. In fact, my oldest son was one year old at that time, although I had no knowledge of his existence. When you adopt older children that's one of the strange realities -- the life you were living had no intersection with the life they were living at all. Most parents who reflect back can remember not only what they were doing as an individual or a couple, but what was happening in their child's life, too. I do not have luxury.

But what I can do is to have a better developed sense of the life experience of my son. This is his first year out of college. He is working in his chosen field, and by his report doing well and enjoying the experience of teaching. Twenty-two years ago when I was his age I did not, like he, have enough life experience to fully understand my context or to really assess the meaning of it all. None of us do. But in time we grow. Our lives deepen and expand, we become broader and better connected with ourselves and others.

My life metaphor today is this water-damaged, wrinkled, stained Spring 1987 edition of Word and World: Theology for Christian Minsitry. As I open the stiff pages curled from moisture and disuse, I glance at the article titles. There is an article on feminist language in connection with God, a radical notion twenty-plus years ago. One of the journal writers was at the time an unknown pastor in Oregon writing an academic treatise on mysticisim; he has since become a well-known figure in his denominational world and has pastored one of its biggest congregations. The book reviews in the back now represent work that is considered out of date at worst, classic at best.

Twenty-two years ago I didn't have much time or inclination to read the articles in question. The fact is I have kept these journals all these years in hopes that someday I would have the emotional energy and intellectual focus to read and understand what is there. Year after year I have packed these volumes to read later, and now I finally have.

And I discover, to my surprise, that I have grown in the past quarter century. I am not the same person I was then. Because today I can read the articles, understand their salient points, ferret out the nuances, and most importantly, toss the finally read, shelf-worn volume into the trash.

I have read what is there; I have gained what I needed; I am ready to let go and move forward. Now it's time for me to tackle some of those journals -- and the residual pieces of my life -- from the late 1990s. Expect a blog about that in another ten years.

Monday, October 13, 2008

Without Your Clothes On

I mentioned in an earlier blog that one of the things I want to do is provide a little more levity as it comes my way. Especially because I am by nature a fairly serious person, but also because the adoptive parenting task can be overwhelming to someone with a serious bent, I'm trying to enjoy those unplanned epiphanies where humor enters my life.

This morning I had a funeral for a relatively young man, who at the age of 78, died as a result of the effects of alzheimer's. I've only known him the two years we've been in this community and parish, and the past year he has been largely in a different state of mind, so my memories of him are limited at best. The first year I was here as his pastor he would always thank me at the end of the service as he shook my hand, often by saying, "A very nice sermon, reverend." As you might suspect if you are a church goer, a pastor hears those words on a regular basis, whether deserved or not. It's kind of like greeting someone with, "How are you?" and not really expecting an answer. But with the man whom we said goodbye to today, it always seemed sincere and personal.

These kind of funerals are not difficult. To help a family and friends celebrate the life of a person who has lived his years well, who has spent the past year slowly fading from the life he and those around him knew, is not hard. He, and his family members, were ready for his transition from this life to the one beyond.

Observing his family and friends hug, laugh and share conversation before and after the service was rewarding. It confirms what intuitively I thought to be true. He was a lover of people and those who were in his shadows are good, kind, loving people.

Following the lunch together a small group of family members were gathering to depart as I was crossing the entry area of our church facility. I was on my way to return my vestments to the sacristy when I was pulled aside by his widow. After some kind words and a hug, she introduced me to her deceased husband's sister-in-law. And that's where my chuckle for the day ensued.

"Oh," she said, as her septagenarian eyes scanned me, "that's who you are. I didn't recognize you without your clothes on." She was referring, of course, to my liturgical apparel ... alb, stole and cincture. But I couldn't help smiling to myself about the interesting way we humans communicate one with another.

Tuesday, October 07, 2008

A Confirmation Lap Dance

Most of my blog entries are fairly focused and intended as reflections on my life as an adoptive parent; however, there are moments too humorous in our family's life not to note somewhere beyond our own dinner table. Perhaps if I blog events like this it also will provide some balance (for myself) to my typical need for deep introspection.

Our family that is together was eating a few moments ago, enjoying the spaghetti, salad and bread sticks I had prepared. My wife Claudia is out of town on business, two of our sons are playing in a football game (when there's only one parent home, we usually forego sporting events, even though we do so regretfully), a third son is watching them play football, and our three older sons are out of the home.

As I was getting ready to leave the table our sixteen-year-old son who, along with his fifteen-year-old sister, will be completing their confirmation process in a month, asked me about the confirmation project. (Our confirmands prepare what I call a "Personal Expression of Faith" which needs to include each of those elements ... related to the person, an expression of whatever form they choose, and related to their spiritual journey.

"So, Dad, if I do a CD [by which he means compiling a CD of favorite music and a written explanation of why that music has spiritual relevance to him] what kind of music can I use?"

I've explained this numerous times, so as I was drawing a breath to remind myself to be patient, one of the other kids, just beginning confirmation chimed in, "It has to be Christian music." I said, "Not necessarily, but it does need to have some kind of connection to your faith."

No sooner had those words fallen from my lips than I heard the other to-be-confirmed daughter saying, "I want to do something that's never been done before."

Affirming her positive approach [the last two years with her have been so very difficult, although the last two weeks have been a marvelous respite ... more on that later] I suggested in jest, "How about a rap dance?" Knowing that had never been done before, I thought it might open her thoughts to something even more creative.

"What?! You want my confirmation project to be a lap dance?" she responded incredulously.

"Umm. No. I said, a 'rap dance.'"

Those who understood laughed while the others exhibited a befogged face. And no, I don't think I'm going to add that the list of suggested confirmation projects.

Friday, October 03, 2008

When The Cell Phone Says "Blocked"

I have learned something new about law enforcement in the past few months. Having had no encounters with law enforcement in my life until our kids became involved in illegal activities, there is always something interesting to learn from that side of life. I have learned, for example, that there are two separate housing areas at the local jail. One is for "straight time" inmates (those who are not allowed to leave until their sentence is complete) and the other is for "work release" inmates. (Our nineteen-year-old son has recently "moved up" to become a work release inmate).

I have also learned that sometimes good, law-abiding, tax-paying citizens who choose to visit someone in jail are treated with as little respect as the individuals who are incarcerated. But I've blogged about that before, so I won't perseverate on it any longer.

Most recently I have learned that when my cell phone rings and the caller ID says "blocked call," it is most likely a call from the local jail. Our son Mike has been reconnecting with us more frequently in the past couple of weeks, and while I understand it is because he needs something from us, I also understand that it's part of the reason I am his dad. Claudia and I have adopted kids so that when they are in difficult spots they have someone they can turn to. I can only imagine what it would be like to be nineteen, in jail, and having no adult resources at all (other than what the system may be able to offer). So, although there is not much we can do for Mike at this point in his life, there are some things we can do.

He called today to followup on his earlier request for our help in providing him with some clothing for possible job interviews. He tells me he has a job interview on Monday and wonders if we can help him "with the clothes stuff." I told him that we could, and that I would bring him some interview clothes before his interview Monday.

"Oh, yeah," he continued, "visiting hours are Saturday and Sunday from 2:30 - 5:30."

It's nice to have an "adult" child who wants to see you, even if it is while he is in jail, and even if there are ulterior motives.

With the latest research on the brain indicating that an individual's brain is not fully formed until the age of 26, I am hopeful that offers Mike some kind of a future. It is hard to know with his organic brain damage due to prenatal alcohol exposure, but he has a high IQ and is "bright" enough to get himself into trouble. Perhaps in time he can become a contributing member of society.

And if providing him a set of clothes for an interview can help him in that direction, I'm glad to do it.

Thursday, October 02, 2008

A Wish Bracelet

As I walked into our nearly dark church sanctuary last night (we have a Wednesday evening worship service at 5:30PM these days, which is actually growing in attendance, which is nice, but I wander) I noticed a couple of people towards the front of the worship space looking at an array of objects on the chancel platform.

I greeted them and I heard the voice of the sixth grade girl say, "Pastor Bart, would you like a wish bracelet?"

I said, "What is a wish bracelet?"

"Well, you choose one of these bracelets I've made. I tie in on your wrist, you make a wish, and then you wear it until it falls off. Then your wish comes true."

Now I'm not much of a believer in wishes, but I am a believer in prayer. Not wanting to create a philosophical quandary with such a genuine offer from this delightful young person, I said, "Sure, I would love to have a wish bracelet."

She showed me my options, and immediately I chose one that has two colors of green intertwined, one a life-giving grass-like green, the other a nicely contrasting lime green. At the center of the bracelet was a single large green bead.

"That's a good one," she affirmed. "It's even got my lucky bead in the center."

I'm not one for "luck," either, but I graciously accepted her offer. As she knotted the bracelet with two twists she said, "OK. Make a wish." I paused for a minute, nodded my assent, and she said, "There's your wish bracelet."

I've decided I would use my wish bracelet to help me pray for my son, Mike. Mike's eyes are green, varying between a light blue and the intensity of the grass green, sometimes almost a lime color, so the colors of my "prayer" bracelet remind me of him. Several years ago while he was in treatment somewhere (there've been too many times to remember) Mike crafted for me this green beaded celtic cross, which I have occasionally worn as part of my pastoral identity. It's another connection for me with the greens, my faith and my son.

It's funny how a new object on one's wrist seems annoying at first. Every few minutes I feel the bracelet against my skin, and I am reminded of Mike, and I pray for him. It's hard to know what to pray, because it is so basic. I mean, I want Mike to get out of jail, get a job, finish high school and stay out of legal trouble. For most of my kids I don't even have to pray that way because they have mastered (or are mastering) these goals. But with this son it's really just that foundational and just that basic.

I wrote Mike a brief letter this morning, explaining how I would be using my "prayer" bracelet.

I am not ready to give up on you, Mike, and I know that God is not done with you, either. As I explained to you last night in our visit, there is not much these days I can do to be helpful. But as there are things I am able to do, I will try my best. I want you to be able to finish high school, to get a job, to pay back your restitution.

I want you to never touch drugs or alcohol again. I want you to find friends who will be positive (or at least neutral) in your life. Most of all I want you to find happiness and to find your way in the world without further jeopardizing yourself or others

There was, of course, more to the letter, but mostly I wanted him to know that my desire is to maintain a connection with him even though that will be difficult because he can really not live in our home anymore. I want him to know that he is not forgotten, and that there is a person in the world who really believes something can change for him.

If I were simply a pragmatic truth-teller I would say there is little hope and that no change is possible. And maybe there isn't. But I'm not quite ready to give up yet.

A Look On the Inside from the Outside

I mentioned in an earlier blog this week that I received a telephone call from our nineteen-year-old son, who is nearing the end of a ninety-day sentence for a felony charge. He is scheduled to be released in about three weeks. That could change, though, if his upcoming sentencing (for a separate third degree felony charge) results in more time "inside." Although I have been writing to Mike faithfully over the past few months while he has been in and out of at least three separate county jails (sometimes it has been hard to even know where he has been located), I have not visited him for some time. In one of our telephone calls this week he asked if I would be able to visit him. I agreed to come on Wednesday night after my responsibilities at church were completed. So last night at about 7:30 PM I stopped for my 30-minute visit.

The jail in the county in which we live is nothing special. It is dated, overcrowded (it's one of the reasons Mike has been "moving" from county to county) and resembles what you might have seen on one of those television prison reality shows. We are not a big county as counties go, so it's not a huge facility, but the county is currently in the process of constructing a new facility which, I am told, will house up to 300 inmates. The current facility is stretched when there are seventy-five inmates, and it is always full. I won't even take time to comment on how "we" can build a new jail facility to hold four times as many as we can now, in contrast to the lack of any kind of post-incarceration services available. It is lunacy.

It is Fall now, so by the time I arrived at 7:30 last night the facility was enshrouded in mist and the glare of bright lights. There were few vehicles in front of the jail, and I breathed a sigh of relief. There are times when there are so many visitors that the schedule is filled early in the evening. It's always irritating to prepare emotionally for a visit "inside" and then be turned away. While I'm on the irritating subject, it is also irritating, as a law-abiding, respectable citizen who pays taxes in this fine county, to be treated as a criminal when I show up for a visit or to request information from someone who is a law enforcement officer or assistant.

Earlier this week I stopped by to drop off paperwork for our son so the could apply for jobs and was treated so rudely by the front desk person I had to bite my tongue. I was simply inquiring as to how I could drop off the paperwork and her persistent response was, "You can't do that here. We are not permitted to accept items for inmates at this window." She would not offer information as to the appropriate procedure until I pressed, "Well what is the right procedure then?" She shrugged, pointed to a phone sitting on the window counter and said call [an extension]." You can't tell me that she didn't know exactly what the procedure is, and she could have been more courteous to me. After all, I didn't commit the crime, I'm not doing the time, and I'm helping to pay her salary. I wish this were an isolated instance, but I have been treated poorly in phone calls to this county and to another nearby county as well when I was simply inquiring as to visitation hours or procedures. The gruff, huffy, "I don't have time for your stupid questions" response is all too familiar, and it irritates me.

Anyway, last night I was pleasantly surprised by the voice of an officer on the other end of the phone line who, after asking the appropriate questions ("Who are you visiting? What is your name? What is your address? What is your relationship?") politely told me to "come on up to the third floor." Minutes later I walked into the visitation area where there are three or four separate carrels with a video screen and a telephone handset. There was no one else there tonight, so I didn't have to combat the collateral conversations to my right or left. I could focus on my visit, and that was nice.

Behind the other side of the glass sat our son, who eagerly picked up the handset to talk. After exchanging the typical pleasantries Mike updated me on his legal status. As a result of his past year of criminal activity his record will include two felonies that are permanent on his record. He was convicted of receiving stolen property and car theft, and these incidents will follow him the rest of his life. Nineteen years old and every time he fills out an application for a job or a volunteer opportunity or to try to finish high school or to go to a trade school or whatever he will have to mark the box that says he is a convicted felon. It could turn to three in a couple of weeks, but that remains to be seen.

"Well, I've grown up a lot in the past nine months, Dad," Mike said.

"Yeah? I'm glad to hear that, Mike. What's your plan when you're out again?"

"Well, it's mostly to try to finish high school and get a job. But that's hard to do when I don't have a place to live."

"You're right. That is a big issue."


"Do you think you and Mom could talk to [the person who a year ago agreed to rent to me, but who dissolved that relationship after seven days?]"

"I don't think so, Miike. I don't think she is willing to do that again."


Another moment of silence.

"So, do I have any clothes at home?"

"No, Mike, you don't have any clothes at home. You took what you had when you left the last time, and there really isn't anything of yours there." [It has been a year since Mike was even in our home, and at that time he had virtually nothing].

"Hmm. It's kind of hard to get a job interview when I don't have any clothes to wear."

I glance at the orange jail garb that clashes with his reddish-orange hair and feel a pang of paternal angst. What is a parent to do at this juncture in a conversation? The reason Mike has no clothes is because he has spent most of the past year in and out of jail, staying with low-life friends when he is out and having his clothing and any other possessions "lost" or "misplaced" or "taken" by "friends."

"Do you think any of the guys at home have any clothes that are too small for them now that I could use?"

"I can check, Mike, but I'm not sure. Remind me of your sizes again."

He tells me, and I make a mental note to ask my wife about any possibilities on that front.

We continue to talk, exchanging information about family members and the like, when I ask him if he's on any medication.

"Yeah. It's mostly for my PTSD [post-traumatic stress disorder] and insomnia. They've tried different things, and these help some, but I really just need to get out of here. Jail is no place for someone with PTSD."

I have noticed during the first few moments of our conversation that his facial tics are more pronounced and that he is often wringing his hands and pulling his fingers through his hair. Periodically, without warning, at the slightest movement behind him he turns rapidly and anxiously in an effort to self-preserve.

"Do you fear for your safety, Mike?" I ask.

"Umm. Yeah. But I'm going to get out in three weeks or so."

And again, what can a parent do. This is my son, nineteen years old, jailed with criminal adults whose lives have been hardened over the years by their actions and consequences. He is one of the youngest of the seventy-five men currently locked up. His chronological age does not match his emotional age. He is, maybe, sixteen emotionally at this point in time. And I am helpless to do much for him.

He cannot live in our home because he steals everything he can from us. His presence terrorizes our other children. He brings into our home his drug-using friends, and we cannot feel free to leave our residence because he will enter it when we are gone. (We have a restraining order now that has prevented him from doing so currently).

I am torn. We adopted Mike (and our other children) to help them avoid homelessness, to show them a way of life beyond what their birth heritage alloted them, to give them a chance. Some of our kids have seen those open doors and walked through them. Others have seen those doors and walked past them, kicking a way through the wall to make their way of "escape" into bondage.

But I will do for Mike what I can do. And at this point what I can for him is to love him, to be present in his life (although he cannot be "present" in the same way in our family's life) and to remind him always that he has more potential than society or he thinks he has. It's not enough, but it's all I have to offer.

And I hate that.