Monthly Archives: May 2012

Keeping the Good Moments Good

Sometimes kids with grief issues can have a hard time enjoying the good moments in family life. This afternoon we settled in to work on a Christmas craft,  a pine cone elf project. Most of the kids got into the project and enjoyed it. But one was struggling.

After beginning the project halfheartedly, the child asked if it was OK to make elves with frowning faces. Hm, how to answer? Yes, I could sanction the creation of a cranky elf. But then, I’d hate looking at the thing, and the child’s negativity would be manifested in a durable way. Nope. I didn’t think that’d do anyone any good.

I could lecture the kid and insist that the elf be a smiling one. Except I lecture enough in a day, and this was supposed to be fun. Nobody in the room needed me coming down on the kid like a ton of bricks, as tempting as that was. No, I had to find a way to make my response fun, while still encouraging the child towards a project that reflected cheer.

“Oh!”  I said, jumping to my feet and pulling up the child too. “I think that you must not have gotten enough hugs today!! When people don’t get enough hugs, they have a hard time with joy, and of course this project should be joyful. Come here, and let’s hug until you’re strong enough to make a happy craft!”

Grinning ruefully, the child gave me a noodle-armed hug.

“Oh, no!” I said. “We’re going to need to hug until your arms are strong enough for a good hug. We’d better practice kissing too while we’re at it.”

I smooched the child’s cheeks, alternating sides til the child began smiling in spite of efforts to be stone-faced, and actually gave me a decent hug. “OK, now you kiss me!” I said, offering a cheek. Kisses were given, still with a rueful grin.

“Now, are you strong enough to make a happy craft, or do we need more hugs and kisses?”

The child hurriedly assured me that enough strength now existed to create a smiling elf, escaped my hug, settled back at the table, and proceeded to work on a happy face.

During the next hour, a few more hugs were needed to refresh the child’s ability to craft happily. Yeah, I was basically threatening the child with hugs each time cooperation and good attitudes began to slip away. In an ideal world, my child would actually seek out my hugs, would be comfortable with happy family time.

But that is not the current reality for this child. And here’s the thing: each time I engaged the child in this way, every person in the room ended up smiling. Even the child. We ended each interaction more connected, with the child truly more able to participate in the activity. I felt better. The kid felt better. And no one else in the room was subjected to an unhappy showdown.

I don’t always handle it this well. When dealing with a child who is consciously or unconsciously trying to sabotage family fun, we’ve had plenty of showdowns. But when I remember to play the humor card, while still sticking to my guns, I tend to be much more successful in redirecting the child, and also safeguard the joy of everyone else in the room.


Mary Ostyn has been married for 25 years to the guy she met in math class at age 17. I have kids in college, high school, junior high, grade school, and preschool, 10 altogether. Six of her children arrived via adoption, 2 from Korea and 4 from Ethiopia.She homeschools, gardens, cooks, budget-stretches and takes pictures obsessively. Also she writes. Her 200-recipe cookbook/ shopping guide Family Feasts for $75 a Week came out in September, 2009. She also wrote A Sane Woman’s Guide to Raising a Large Family which came out in March, 2009. If she had to describe her blog in one sentence, she”d say it is about making the most of your resources so that you can have the greatest impact possible on the world around you, beginning, of course, with family. Visit her site Owlhaven soon!

The Wrong Diagnosis

Several months ago, I took Evangeline, our adopted daughter from Ukraine, five years old, diagnosed with Down syndrome, to a developmental pediatrician.

“I heard this doctor is good at what he does, and I want his opinion about Evie’s lack of development since she’s been home from Ukraine,” I affirmed rather loudly to my husband Sergei in an effort to hide that really, I was taking Evangeline to this doctor for a second opinion.

A year ago, Evie was evaluated at the Erikson Institute here in Chicago for Autism. At the time, her main activities included rocking back and forth, sitting on her bed, and looking at a light-up toy. Her eye contact was sporadic at best, and she could not tolerate textured food nor touch (unless it was rough housing). I was certain we would come home with a dual diagnosis of ASD (autism spectrum disorder) and Down syndrome because almost every time I reached out to my beautiful blond little girl, my hand would get slapped.

After several appointments, Erikson concluded that Evangeline was not on the spectrum but probably suffered from the debilitating effects of orphanage life paired with cognitive and developmental delays that can accompany Down syndrome.

But I wanted an answer.

When the report came in the mail, I opened the letter while sitting on the toilet seat behind a locked bathroom door and cried. On some level, I wanted the dual diagnosis because I wanted answers. I wanted to know why Evie ground her teeth constantly, why she sought out dust and dirt to eat but refused real food. I wanted to know why she scratched her sisters when they tried to hug her, and cried at loud noises, and sat off to the side of our lives alone, most days, rocking.

But I did not get a concrete answer. I got a “keep doing what you are doing. Find more therapy opportunities, give her time to bond with your family.” And slowly over the next few weeks, I started to shut down. I found it too painful to try to connect with my daughter. For months, I went through the everyday motions of caring for my family as best I could, all the while holding back from climbing into bed. I no longer attempted to bond with Evie. If she was fine being a part of our family without really being close to me, than maybe, I could live like that too.

And, then I realized something.

I was seeking out the wrong diagnosis for the wrong family member. Sure, it was good to have Evie evaluated a year ago. She certainly had characteristics that could point to ASD. But really, I was the one who needed the most help. I was struggling from post-adoption depression, which could have only been aggravated by a little post-traumatic stress disorder thrown in after Polly’s stroke, diagnosis of Moyamoya, and two brain surgeries. After our time at the Erikson Institute, I quietly unravelled.

I have struggled with depression all my life, but alas, it is kind of like that pesky monthly period for women. Every month I am shocked that my foul mood results with menstruation. And I am 36 years old!

Depression is like that for me, too. It sneaks up on me: a few aches and pains, feeling a little down in the dumps, sleeping poorly. I fight, I do what I absolutely need to for the family and then when I can’t anymore, I get into bed and I don’t get out.

I started to see a doctor and a therapist, but I wasn’t feeling better. I cried out to God to help me, to show me how to trust him and get back on track, but to no avail. I struggled for months, but still, somehow managed to post perky facebook stati often enough so that people outside my direct family wouldn’t suspect a thing.

But I was drowning.

This past fall, God gave me the strength to try again to get help for my depression. I went back to my doctor and let her put me on a higher dosed anti-depressant. I started seeing a different therapist and we clicked right away. I started to wake up in the morning and notice that the sun was shining.

And I saw Evangeline, a little girl considerably changed from a year ago.

Since Evie has been with us (over two years) there have been little breakthroughs here and there in our bonding. I liken them to nicking the surface of a frozen lake with a BB gun.

Now that I am above water again in life, the ice is starting to thaw. I can sit a stare at Evie for a while, marvel at her button nose, appreciate her smell, want to pull her to me.

So, why did I take Evie for the second opinion last week?

Because I wanted to make sure that a dual diagnosis isn’t in the picture for our girl. A lot of her behaviors have fallen away but she has a lot left. And although we are doing much better, I am now struggling with the guilt of that missed time when a shadow of a mother was parenting my daughter.

At the appointment, Evie climbed up into a chair, uninterested in the train set the doctor attempted to entice her with. But she laughed when he tickled her, and followed his finger as he played with her, and looked both the doctor and me in the eye almost the whole time.

I loved the doctor. He was a bit brash and un-orthodox (took a text from his wife during our interview and laughed out loud at what she wrote :). But he cut to the chase with me and it was just what I needed.

“I don’t see any definite red flags regarding a dual diagnosis off the bat, of course, if you’d like, we can do a full evaluation of Evangeline to get more in-depth. But I have to ask, why are you here? You’ve already had your daughter evaluated at Erikson?”

“Because, well”, I took a deep breath. “Because I am afraid I am not doing enough. Our other daughter got sick and ended up needing two brain surgeries six weeks after Evangeline came home from Ukraine and I. . . well, I’ve struggled with depression.” I kind of left my answer there but in my heart I added, I am afraid that I have already failed her.

“Mrs. Marchenko, your family has been through a very difficult time these last few years. I want you to know, you are doing a good job with your kids.”

I had to look away as the tears pooled in my eyes.

“And now, Ms. Evangeline,” the doctor turned to Evie and let me attempt to compose myself.

After the visit to the doctor, I realized I had been looking for two things: 1) the wrong diagnosis, and 2) validation that I am the right mom for my child.

Adoption is beautiful, but it is also very hard.

With God’s help, we all can be the right parents for our children.


Gillian Marchenko

Gillian Marchenko is a writer, speaker, and advocate for individuals with special needs. Her writing has appeared in Mom Sense Magazine, EFCA Today, The Four Cornered Universe, and Chicago Parent. Gillian lives in Chicago with her husband Sergei and their daughters Elaina, Zoya, Polly, and Evangeline. Connect with Gillian on Facebook or Twitter, check out her website at, or follow her family blog Pocket Lint.

How Long?

We’re not necessarily doubting that God will do the best for us;
we are wondering how painful the best will turn out to be.
– C.S. Lewis

I came across this quote in a rather timely read of Mary Beth Chapman’s book Choosing to See. The book is about Mary Beth’s life, her marriage to musician Steven Curtis Chapman, the birth of her children, the adoptions of her three youngest daughters, and the tragic death of her 5-year-old in 2008. Reading through this painful story has helped me work through a lot of the pain and sadness I’ve run into this past week as John and I wait endlessly for our adoption to move forward. Sort of an “if-she-can-make-it-through-that-then-I-can-make-it-through-this” kind of a read.

While our adoption process had been moving along fairly well- albeit slower than we had hoped for- we’ve come to a standstill. The home study is long done. Fundraising complete. Agency fees paid and sent. Our preliminary dossier carried to Russia; it should even be translated by now. All our immigration paperwork has been sent in to the US government. And now? We wait, endlessly- waiting for Moscow to lift the adoption suspension and start registering dossiers again.

I wake up every morning, hit the snooze button, and begin to pray for our little guy. I walk around our neighborhood, whispering prayers to God- asking him to AWAKE and act on our behalf. Pointing out that if he can make spring happen, raise every blade of grass to life, and command the trees to burst with blossoms- if he can create new life where only weeks ago it looked like there was none- then surely he can move a government to lift this adoption suspension. I lie down at night wondering what our little guy is doing, if he’s just getting up for the day, and hoping he’s well cared for. I imagine what it’s going to be like to finally hold him in my arms and then I force myself to think about something else, otherwise I’d never sleep.

I cry a lot because even though I know God’s putting all things back together in Christ, the effects of the fall are still too powerful. I cry out because I hate that the world is still so broken and I lament that God seems so slow to move sometimes. I cry because I don’t know whether my faith is weak or whether I’m right to be so upset in the face of brokenness.

I’m not necessarily doubting that God will do the best for us;
I’m wondering how painful the best will turn out to be.

I’ve received a lot of assurances through our adoption journey. “It will all work out.” “All in God’s timing.” “He has a plan!”

Yes. True.

But “a plan” that “works out” in “God’s timing” still leaves room for lament. Think of the martyrs whose testimony far surpasses my own; their deaths were part of a plan that worked out in God’s timing… but still, they died.

The only thing I know is that somehow it all works out for God’s glory. In that, my faith is unwavering.

But in the rest of it, I cry out with the Psalmist:

How long O Lord?

Will you forget me forever?

How long must I wrestle with my thoughts?

And day after day have sorrow in my heart?

I trust that this endless waiting and wondering and worrying is God’s best. I trust it works out for his glory. I’m just wondering how much more painful it’s going to be.


Jillian Burden


Jillian Burden is an expectant mama; she and her husband are expecting their

With the Lights Off

I have a story to tell you. A story about racism.

I love to take one of the littles after bath time, even when Mama insists on asking me several times, “Do you want to take him? Or do you feel like you have to take him? Are you sure?”

My answer is always the same.

I want to take him because I love them! And it also helps procrastinate my chore of cleaning the kitchen.

Today, Jude got out of the bath first so I got him in his pjs, read him a story, said prayers, and told him Mom or Dad will be in soon to give him a kiss goodnight.

That’s when Jude asked me a question.

Jude: looking at his arm next to my arm. “Why is my skin browner than yours, Sissy?”
me: “Because you’re from Vietnam, Jude”
Jude: “Why are people from Vietnam browner?”
me: explaining it the only way I knew how, “Because that’s the way God made them.”

I dimmed the lights and shut the door a bit, thinking that was the end of the conversation, but as I was cracking the door he decided to sum up his thoughts on the subject.

Jude: “Sissy, what if we turned off all the lights? Everyone would be browner… right?”
me: “Yes, Jude. Everyone would be the same color. Goodnight, I love you.”

That last comment that really caught me off guard. How is it that my 4-year-old brother had captured the
essence and understood the subject of differences in ethnicity?

Beautiful Feet

Driving down the road in my ginormous brown van feeling stressed and stretched and strained and DONE, I heard the whisper of the Lord posing a simple question. Whenever the Lord asks me a question, I know I’m in for some freedom. His questions always seem to lead me out of a problem and into an answer.

“What would you rather be doing?”

Art by Life Verse, click on image to see store

So simple. And immediately my complaints of dealing with sibling arguments, of correcting rude behavior, of dropping off and picking up seven children all within seven years of each other in age, figuring out AGAIN what we would have for dinner–you know the story–were transformed from overwhelming to strangely satisfying. The plain truth of it was that I would not rather be doing anything else in this world.

I love a lot about my life; I love a lot about being a mother. I think the thing I like best of all is that I get to create the first forum for the Gospel to be experienced by the seven people that God has given me to mother. Think of the missionaries over time who have had the absolute thrill, the challenge, the honor of taking the Gospel of God’s Goodness to a people for the first time.

How beautiful on the mountains
are the feet of those who bring good news,
who proclaim peace,
who bring good tidings,
who proclaim salvation,
who say to Zion,

Lord, Teach Us How To Pray

a lesson from a sermon…

“have you ever prayed for something and not gotten what you prayed for?”

have you ever thanked Jesus for NOT giving you what you asked for?

we were asked why we pray. the general consensus was “to get stuff”. but after hearing the lesson – we see it’s because we know our Father will only give us what we need. we’re praying for “YOUR” kingdom come – not “MY” kingdom come. listening to this – i mean REALLY listening to this – hit me hard.

i have vividly haunting memories of being at work in the last bathroom stall praying to God that i was not having a miscarriage. i prayed to God that i would do anything He wanted me to do if He would just let me keep this baby. that was 8 years ago, but i can remember it like it was just an hour prior. at the time i could not understand why i could not have what i asked for. i was not praying for a new car, or a house, or a new cell phone – but i was still praying for something that i wanted. i was praying for my will to be done. not what God wanted and knew i needed. it hit me hard because i knew, sitting there listening to this sermon that if God had given me what i wanted then, i probably would not be Dax’s mommy now. that stirred up a wave in me that’s pretty hard to digest.

i thank Jesus that i was not given what i thought i needed in 2004, or in 2008, and thank God that He gave me Dax because he’s more than i could have ever dreamed of.


Adrianne Taylor White

I am a dedicated follower of Christ, wife of 10 years, mother to our 6 month old son Daxton and our two doggies.


On vacation my girls, my mom and I wandered through the outlet mall for awhile.  On various clearance racks I found t-shirts for the boys and for the little girls.  So near the end of our wandering when we walked into Old Navy, I figured that might be a good place to find t-shirts for our teen daughters as well.

I should have known better;  like most teenage girls, they are persnickety about their clothes and habitually get overwhelmed by choices in stores.  But since I’d already found things for the other kids, I wanted to get them something. A quick cruise around the store didn’t spark their interest. To simplify things, I headed them toward a display containing basic T’s in 6 different colors.  I’m always glad to have more simple t-shirts myself, and I figured they’d be useful neutral additions to their wardrobe.

“Pick something,” I said with a smile. “What color do you want?”

They looked uncertain.  They hemmed and hawed.  They picked up things and set them down looking disinterested.  Five minutes went by.  Meanwhile the other members of our party were done shopping and the grandbaby was showing signs of needing to nurse.

“Pick something,” I said.  My smile was starting to feel tense, but I tried to make my voice coaxing.  “I want to buy you something.”

But they couldn’t–  wouldn’t — make a choice.  I toyed with the idea of just grabbing two shirts and saying, “Here ya go.”  But then they’d be sure to hate the choice I’d made, which would translate to clothes sitting in the closet, unworn. My mom suggested quietly that I just give them money, which I knew they’d happily take.  But dangitall, I wanted to give them a gift, something to bring back as a memory from this trip, not hand them cash like this was some business transaction.

Finally we left, having purchased nothing.  Yeah, I could (should?) have been happy they’d saved me a few bucks by refusing to let me get them something.  But I was livid, and I knew exactly why.  This was not just about a couple of t-shirts  This was about all the times I’ve tried to show the girls I love them and they’ve turned me down flat.

Of the times I brought thrift store finds home, excited, hoping they’d like them, only to be met with wan smiles, and have the clothes languish in their closets until I insisted they wear them.  Of the hugs I’ve given that were returned with noodle-arms.  The times I’ve invited them to play games or go to the store with me and they’ve opted out.

Yes, I can force it.  And sometimes I do.  But it can be discouraging to feel such resistance to my overtures even now after they’ve been home nearly five years.

Sometimes things are good between us— like today when I broke the oven door and my 14 year old and I spent 30 greasy minutes trying to wrestle the thing into submission before calling the repair man in defeat.  We shared some absolutely lovely laughing moments.  But all too often I’m met with resistance.

I know that some of the ups and downs are normal teen stuff. Girls often have a hard time getting along with their moms– I know I did when I was 14.  For awhile I fantasized about being adopted by a rich family where I could be the only child and wouldn’t have to do chores.  I’ve told my daughters that, and I understand it’s a tough age.

But still–when a child home almost five years says you’ll never really be her mom, that signing papers doesn’t make it true, it is a knife to the heart.  A failed shopping trip, though a small failure in the grand scheme of things, feels like twisting that knife.  If we can’t even have a successful shopping trip together, what are our chances of a real relationship some day?

I comfort myself remembering how well they do when interacting with people other than me. Folks rave about how great the girls are, how sweet and fun– and I wholeheartedly agree. I’ve seen that sweetness from across the room. I just wish they’d show that loveliness to me more often.  When I do sneak a real smile out of someone, almost always the shades go quickly down over that light, veiling their hearts, snuffing the connection that flared for just a second.

I’m the second momma, you see, the substitute for the one they really want.  Maybe it’s anger.  Maybe it’s fear.  Maybe they love me way down deep, more than they dare show. (Oh, I hope so.)  But it feels to me that their automatic default is to push me away than to connect.

The years have scarred me, and make it hard some days to keep my perspective.  The truth is, eight of the kids think I’m just fine.  But I want these others to love me too, so much that some days my self-worth as a momma feels hinged on their acceptance.  I know how foolish that is;  they’re hurt kids, wounded souls. It’s only a little about me. But I care passionately for them and want them to feel truly enveloped in the love of our family.  No matter how wide the rift, they are part of my very soul, and I will continue to fight on behalf of our relationship.

I talked to the girls after the shopping incident, explained that gift-giving is one of the ways I show folks love– that I’d been trying that day in Old Navy to say ‘I love you’, and that I’d heard rejection in their refusal to accept my gifts.  I think they understood then, at least a little, why I’d come unglued over t-shirts.

While unpacking from the trip, I came across a handful of gummy bears in a baggie.  I stashed them back in a corner, thinking of a bedtime snack.  A few minutes later my 14 year old came into the kitchen, spotted them, and asked for them.  I said no, saying there weren’t enough to share with everyone.  It was true, but really it was more that I wanted them myself.

Later that evening I nibbled a few, but my conscience wouldn’t let me forget she’d asked for them.  I knotted the bag up and set them aside. The next day I came up behind her and tucked the baggie quietly into her sweatshirt pocket with a wink, then walked away quick before I could even see her reaction.  Come to think of it, maybe that’s exactly what I need to do more of:  quick stealth ‘I love you’ actions, without looking for or expecting any immediate reaction.

Sometimes I get so set on loving kids how I want to love them that I forget about loving them the way they want to be loved.  I’m not sure if that handful of gummy bears was received as the gift of love that I intended it to be.  But I’ll keep my eyes open for other chances like that.  Maybe one of these days I’ll actually get somewhere. Until then, I’ll just keep on loving my kids to the best of my ability, and hold onto the faith that God is watching over us all, and that He has a perfect plan for all our lives.


Mary Ostyn has been married for 25 years to the guy she met in math class at age 17. I have kids in college, high school, junior high, grade school, and preschool, 10 altogether. Six of her children arrived via adoption, 2 from Korea and 4 from Ethiopia.She homeschools, gardens, cooks, budget-stretches and takes pictures obsessively. Also she writes. Her 200-recipe cookbook/ shopping guide Family Feasts for $75 a Week came out in September, 2009. She also wrote A Sane Woman’s Guide to Raising a Large Family which came out in March, 2009. If she had to describe her blog in one sentence, she”d say it is about making the most of your resources so that you can have the greatest impact possible on the world around you, beginning, of course, with family. Visit her site Owlhaven soon!

It’s Mothers’ Week: Remember her. Honor her.

art by erin leigh, click image to see more

It’s that time of year again…my favorite time of year.

The purest and brightest greens add their voices to the outside world, sweet little flower buds say they’re ready to be seen, and the air…the cold brisk air begins to fade as spring gently pushes its way in. I love this time of year. I’m ready for this time of year. Something in it breathes new life. And each year, just like the last, I’m so in need of it.

As I find myself stepping into May and the newness of the world around me, two people fall back into my mind who always do so poignantly each year as April draws to a close…my mom and my daughter. Two people, two lives, that ground me to this world.

This world…both in its brokenness and beauty. This world…both with its pain and joy.
This world…where both death and life reside.

For me, each spring, each May, marks significant moments.

May 15, 1943 – my mom’s birthday
May 17, 2003 – the day my mom met Jesus
May 8, 2008 – the day I gave life to our first child

My mom….She was not the woman who gave me physical life, but she was the woman who taught me how to live life. A woman of strength, wise, intuitive, humorous, thoughtful, courageous, etiquette queen. I received intentional lessons about the kitchen to my clothes, to people and churches and makeup and nails, how to entertain guests to strategic ways to obtain used couches on “trash day.” But mostly, she taught me what it meant to be “a lady.” That’s what she was good at. That’s what she offered me. And now, as I wear the skin of an adult, I see parts of these things in me, reflecting her. I love that. I want that. I’m grateful for that.

Yet, in the midst of the good and lessons and character development, our relationship didn’t come without pain.

She was strong, and I needed tender love.
She was precise, and I needed space to make mistakes.
She was fearless, and I needed someone to run to when I was scared.
She was strong, and I needed to learn how to ask for help.
She was consistent with correction, and I needed connection.

Brokenness and beauty.

My daughter…she’s a girl who grabs onto life with both cautiousness and boldness. She’s a helper and initiator, filled with ideas and intent. She’s simple and straightforward, yet diligently charms your heart with her words and smile and eyes. Her spirit is tender, and her mind is sharp. Her love for me melts me. The love I have for her moves me. Nurturing this life has changed me…is changing me. The parts of me that have been called out in this season are mysteriously beautiful, yet the ways I feel drained I’m confident you could see with your very eyes. You give, you serve, you pour yourself out. You find yourself weary and vulnerable, unsure and expectant. This parenting season I’m in, right now, is hard…really hard. At least the way that I’ve chosen to step into it.

Brokenness and beauty.

This season, this month, this week…it evokes my heart in a myriad of ways. I sit in the tension of both the good and the hard. And that’s OK. I believe there’s something really honoring in doing that. It honors the past, it honors the present. It allows for the future…to unfold authentically. There’s this way that our humanness can deny the hard parts. Exhausting. There’s also this way that our humanness can linger in the hard parts. Despairing. Either may make a person feel numb, justified, prideful, battered. But, that’s no way to live.

Could it be that part of