Redefining National Sibling Day

SIBS

How are you? Where are you from? Where do you live? What are you studying? Where is your internship?  How many siblings do you have? 

I’m a fan of details. Of information. I really like dates. I seem to have a knack to remember when things have occurred, birthdays, special events, holidays, etc… All of these socially constructed dates.

Sometimes, it is fun. It is fun to celebrate special occasions. It can also be hurtful. Dates when someone has passed often come to mind. Yet there are other socially constructed dates we celebrate, often without thinking any further than surface level about the underlying message that is portrayed. And if it’s not common, if it’s not “normal” we don’t talk about it.

Today is National Sibling Day. I’ve enjoyed seeing all of my friends pictures with their siblings–silly moments, big milestones, baby pictures. I’ve also been watching these pictures go by for years and have yet to see a single message recognizing anyone’s story other than the “norm.” For some holidays, such as Mother’s Day or Father’s Day, folks have begun to honor those whose mother’s and father’s have passed. For heavy anniversaries, we acknowledge the pain of others.

Yet, for other days, such as National Sibling Day, we fail to recognize problematic structures that reiterate lives should be lived in one particular way, with one definition for all.

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Many meetings begin with an icebreaker. A common one, “tell us your name and one fun fact.” “My name is Tina and I have a sister named Tina.” followed by a stern stare at my friend next to me, prompting her to introduce herself, forcing others to sit in confusion unable to respond.

I love talking. I love getting to know people. Questions that often come with new spaces are usually pretty surface level. How are you? Where are you from? Where do you live? What are you studying? Where is your internship?  How many siblings do you have? With each of these questions, there is generally an expectation of what your response will be. How are you? I’m great/good/etc. How often are we really honest with this questions? Where are you from? Kansas, Colorado, Michigan, Ohio. All expected answers. Responses like Peru, Canada, Sweden, Scotland, are followed by many questions and surprise.

How many siblings do you have? One. None. Two. Four. 

Sixteen. 

There are often a number of responses that follow. “Really?” “Oh man, your parents must have been busy.” “Oh what do family reunions look like? How do you even have enough room for everyone?” “How big is your house?” Etc. Oftentimes, I am met with many jokes.

Yes, I have sixteen siblings. It’s a loaded question with a loaded response.

Family is complex. Personal lives are complex. Childhoods are complex. Foster care is complex. And they all look different for everyone. Yet in today’s society, we’re all held to one set of norms.

I have biological siblings. They’re much older than me and were already adults with their own families and children by the time I was born.

I’ve spent a lot of time listening to other youth in foster care talk about their experience with their siblings by their side. Everyone’s story is different, and I didn’t have that. My foster siblings became my siblings as well. And just as I love my biological siblings where they’re at, I love my foster siblings even after they move out, move home, and move on.

The easiest option is to find an answer that does not deviate from the norm. Pick a number and say that. The siblings that I’m closest with. The siblings who still live at home. Just my foster siblings. Just my biological siblings. But none of those answers are my heart.

I’m pretty lucky to have so many siblings. I get to laugh endlessly and love greatly.

When I was younger I was told that I would never be adopted, and the legality or adoption, or lack thereof has crept into my daily life in a wide range of ways. Just because my siblings aren’t my adopted siblings doesn’t make change my love for them either. Regardless of what I continue to be told.

What I don’t need is for people (and society) to continue defining my family and my siblings. I have had some folks blatantly declare who is or isn’t my family based on blood or marriage, which is not okkay. We as a society need to recognize that “normal” isn’t realistic or a standard of which we should be holding ourselves and others to.

We also need to remember that days like these, National Siblings Day, can bring a lot of feelings for some, can bring a lot of hurt, because of these socially constructed expectations.

My heart is full as I cherish all of the dear folks of whom I call my siblings. My heart also mourns the reality that I have fought to get to this place, and will likely keep fighting for my chosen family.

Joe, Donna, Rik, Christy, Danny, Vanessa, Jeremiah, Terra, Tina, Cory, Jasmine, Amber, Allyson, Calista, Carter, and Jack — my heart is full.

 

 

 

 

 

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God’s Love Never Fails

I find that when God is trying to teach me something, it is when I least expect it. And when he does, it is ways that I least expect.

God’s Love has been a topic that has been on my heart for quite a while now. I have gone from knowing about God’s Love, to experiencing his love and knowing more of him. And this has impacted my life in far greater ways than I could have ever imagined.

A few weeks ago, I went to Chi Alpha, a campus ministry that I attended my freshmen year and have missed greatly since. I have attended on and off, very sporadically, during sophomore and junior years, and after the LSAT I will be back again. 🙂

The second I got to Chi Alpha, I felt right at home, as I always have. The campus pastor, Alex Graves, spoke on God’s Love.  There was a time when I would hear messages about things such as God’s Love and immediately think, “I know about God’s Love.” But the point I broke away from this mindset changed my life.

It is topics such as these that I had categorized and put in a box. When I was at church, and God’s Love was the message, I would take that box out, revisit the information, and return it to the shelf for later use. This past year, God taught me so much more, outside of that box I had created.

At Chi A that night, I was reminded how important God’s Love is in my life, and how much of an impact God’s Love for me has had for me. One of the things I really like when Alex speaks, is how he connects the message to reality. Our evening began with the question, “When have you not felt God’s Love?” I immediately had a few things that came to mind, namely my childhood.

Coming from a broken home, there are numerous things that didn’t go as they should have, and while I know it happens, I wish no other child to be growing up in the same conditions I did. While my life is at a completely different place now than it was ten years ago, it has been a process to heal and move past some things I’ve been harboring in my heart.

For years, I focused my attention on “giving it all to God,” because after all, God makes all things new. But time after time I would find myself right where I began. My sophomore year of college, I really became connected with the unforgiveness I was hiding within. At that point, my focus shifting to forgiving those in my life who had hurt me. Which also, proved to be difficult. I couldn’t just wake up one day and decide “Today, I’m going to forgive.” No matter how much I wanted to, or how hard I tried, I would find myself right back where I had started.

Specifically, I have focused on forgiving my biological mother. At the same time I was working on forgiving her, I was also working on building a relationship with her. Prior to these past few years, we went for six years with no contact outside of mandated court hearings, where we didn’t really engage with one another, and when we did, it was relatively hostile and unhealthy.

So, here I am thinking I can forgive her, yet when I hear her voice, I would find myself filled with anger and realize I was far from having forgiven her.

I went to a conference in September 2013 where the focal passage was Lamentations 3:19-29, and this passage spoke immensely to me.

“Because of the Lord’s great love we are not consumed, for his compassions never fail. They are new every morning; great is your faithfulness. I say to myself, “The Lord is my potion; therefore I will wait for him.” (verses 22-24)

“His compassions never fail”–“they are new every morning”. These words liberated me from the cycle of failure I was feeling. “Therefore I will wait for him.” So I waited.

And waiting taught me to really truly trust God and trust in his plan. And this lead me to love. God loved me. God loves me. God will continue to love me. And the same love with which God loves me, he loves my biological mother. God loves her.

And because of God I can love her.

And because of God’s love, the chains of unforgiveness were broken.

So, when Alex, ended the night with asking “When have you felt God’s Love?” While I shared of moments in Costa Rica, God’s love has changed my life. God loving me and allowing me to love has set me free.

“In all things we are more than conquerors through HIM who LOVED us.” Romans 8:37

“We LOVE because HE FIRST LOVED US.” I John 4:19

It’s not always paradise.

I’m in Costa Rica, but life isn’t always paradise. Just as in the United States, life can be hard. Especially when you’re away from everything comfortable. I’ve found a lot of people have told me, “but you’re in Costa Rica; but you’re in paradise” but it’s a little different when you’re living it. This past week has been a lot of just this-hard. I’m so glad everything goes exactly according to plan, down to every last detail. Except it never does. The past two weeks or so have been full of failed plans, plan Bs, and starting over from scratch. And it hasn’t been easy. A major thing that has changed over the last 10 weeks is my attitude and perspective on things. Three months, Six months, a year ago, when things didn’t go according to plan, I would begin to stress and panic. However, now I barely bat an eye. I’ve learned that stressing out is going to get me no where. Changing this one small thing has actually changed a lot. I don’t think a single thing these past few months has went exactly according to plan. For me or some of my friends. Starting when I arrived with a miscommunication with the KU Study Abroad Office, to getting sunburned (with sunscreen and reapplying; I listened Moms), to stronger language barriers than expected, to getting lost in a random town outside of San José, to losing a good friend back home, watching a friend loose his debit card and then losing mine a week later, a friend fracturing a jaw, another friend busting open a lip, busting open my leg, petty crime, crooked taxi drivers, failed Monteverde plans, failed Nicaragua plans, and more failed plans. With every bump comes a story. And with every story I’ve learned a little, grown a little, and matured a little. Overall, my attitude has changed tremendously (I think I already said that; oops). I’ve become the person who not only says “everything is going to be okkay” but believing it too. I’ve learned to take each moment as it comes and move on to the next one. Part of me can see how every failed plan could have ruined my adventure here in Costa Rica, after all, ‘it’s the end of the world, right?’ But instead, I’ve turned the discouragement into encouragement, and I’m still moving right along. I’m so thankful to have an amazing group of friends to travel this journey with, an amazing group back home cheering me on, and an amazing God above looking out for me. So tomorrow, after changing tickets and companions, I’m headed to Nicaragua. I’m excited for an amazing week exploring a new country, even if we have to spend the night at the border.

España 2012-Costa Rica 2015

My first time on a plane and out of the country was in July of 2012 when I went to Spain with my high school Spanish club. I am realizing now how much of an impact this trip had on me, both then and now, and how I’ve grown in these few years.

A lot of factors played into the possibility of attending.
I didn’t have the money to spend, despite the fact I had been working all throughout high school-I had used this money to survive, to buy a car, to pay for things I needed or wanted.
I was still in foster care- and was told no from the beginning. Actually, I was told foster kids don’t do things like that. And I didn’t see any reason why they didn’t.

And that no weighed in my mind with every other no I had heard in my life. Not the no’s that children hear to keep them safe and out of danger, but the “no, you’ll never amount to anything,” type of no.

But with a little inspiration and a wonderful judge, I was granted permission to leave the country, on a plane, with my friends.

Still having $0 toward a nearly $6,000 trip, I didn’t believe it would be possible in the end. But with support and encouragement from my mom Terri, I saw that in the end God will provide and that it was possible for me to raise the money.

So it began. Candy bar sales. I sold at every gathering in the four-state area, from sporting games, to carnivals, to selling out of my locker between classes. Shhh, that probably was a no-no. But I did. And my wonderful community supported me.

10,000 candy bars later, I had raised the money needed to go. I was so ecstatic. And at the same time, I felt I couldn’t be too excited because I had friends whose parents were writing them a check every due date and it was no big deal.

So I’ll be excited now.

I remember my Spanish teacher telling me she hadn’t seen anyone work quite as hard as me, and to be proud; that I would be able to cherish everything so much more. And I’ve remembered those words, years later.

Walking through the streets of Barcelona, I think I was in as much shock about being there as I was excited to take everything in.

Although we had some spanish classes prior to leaving, I don’t remember ever really using the language for myself. However, listening to my spanish teacher speak gave me the desire to learn more of the language and be able to communicate for myself one day.

Also, walking through the streets of Madrid I told myself “I could never do that,” as another teacher shared about living abroad and her experiences.

I could never do that.

Fast forward three years to the date: I’m sitting on a bus on my way to Puerto Viejo in Costa Rica. It’s my 10th week here and I can do that.

I can live abroad. I can speak Spanish and survive. I can have a blast, meet new people from all over the world, try new food, get lost, learn to cook Gallo Pinto, spend the day on a mountain, spend it in a rainforest, I can.

I may not have learned this three years ago, but I have today.

I can’t can no longer be a part of my vocabulary. Because I can.

How hard can it be?

These words have burned in my mind this month.

During my first days of my second class, a classmate was trying to talk to our Spanish professor in English, and he didn’t understand. I watched as she became frustrated and decided to talk to her during the break. She had transferred into our class after the first day, so she didn’t know he doesn’t speak English in addition to Spanish.

During the break, I explained this to her, and her response to me was, “I’m just trying to say food poisoning, how hard can it be?” How hard can it be. These words have burned in my mind this month.

They’ve reminded me that while language barriers do exist, our response to them is extremely powerful. Positive or Negative.

How hard can it be? If it wasn’t difficult, she would have been able to tell him in Spanish. If it wasn’t difficult I would always be able to communicate with my host family, people on the street, and those who speak Spanish in my home country. But it is hard.

However, just because someone doesn’t know multiple languages doesn’t lessen their worth as a person. This doesn’t deem them as unintelligent.

In that moment in class, I felt so much judgment being placed on language barriers. Just as I don’t want Costa Ricans to deem me as unintelligent based upon my Intermediate Spanish, I desire the same for those in the US, who I may interact with in the future.   There is so much a person has to say, even if they can’t communicate it. I don’t ever want someone to feel they are lesser because of my reaction to their language. I don’t want to give that impression. I’ve now lived it. I’ve now seen it from the other side.

Costa Rica: Un país peligroso?

The safety and security of Costa Rica has been a topic of conversation since I began planning for this program.

One of my moms informed me of an incident many years ago that resulted really negatively for a Kansas girl, and questioned the safety of traveling here. This lead me to do quite a bit of research, both through the Office of Study Abroad and on my own.

I found that many people surrounding me who have never traveled to Costa Rica or to other countries outside of the US felt Costa Rica is dangerous or unsafe. However, those who have traveled to Costa Rica and other countries talked about how extremely safe Costa Rica is, and how rare a major incident is.

As I have spent the last 7 weeks here, safety has been on my mind; however, I have never felt extremely unsafe or in danger.

Last week, a friend and I were studying at Starbucks when a random dude asked us if he could sit with us. We were so shocked we muttered out a “sure.” This was one of the weirdest interactions I have had my entire time here. He was really nervous to talk to us and shaking and stuttering. Part of me thought about the fact, that he was communicating with us in OUR language, not HIS. However, as the interaction felt more and more odd, I moved my phone into my lap and my backpack at my feet, in case this was a set-up to be robbed. My friend, Anosheh, asked if he was dared to talk to the only foreigners in the room when he responded ‘no, that he talks to new people for fun.’ We learned he is 17 and odd things about his ex-girlfriend and his desire to go to college. Additionally, he shared (more than once) about his view on safety in Costa Rica.

He told us Costa Rica is a dangerous country and we shouldn’t be out at this time of night. It was around 7, but was already dark (it gets dark here at like 6 every day) ((that’s winter, friends)). He talked about how likely it was that something bad would happen and that he believed Costa Rica was more dangerous than his home country. He and his family moved to CR from Colombia for more opportunities. Having been here for 6 weeks, I was surprised by this conversation because I haven’t felt in danger while here.

The next day in class we talked about safety and security in Costa Rica (ironcic, huh?). My professor asked each of us how safe we felt Costa Rica is. For me, Costa Rica is nearly the same as other countries, such as the United States. Areas like San José, where  1. 4 million people live, are similar to any other large city in the United States. In fact, five US cities are listed as “The 50 Most Dangerous Cities” while CR has zero. After a discussion about how we ‘extranjeros’ perceive CR, my classmate and I explained our interaction with the dude at Starbucks and how many times he warned us about the dangers of Costa Rica.

Our professor went on the explain that many people live in fear that CR is a dangerous country. Oftentimes, people hear about the extreme situations and generalize them for a whole country. Not only do North Americans do this for other countries, but people do it for their own country as well.

I asked my host family if they believe Costa Rica is dangerous or safe, and they told me CR is no different than the US. Having talked about this, learned about it, and living it: Do people live in fear because they’ve been told to be afraid, or because they have reasons to be afraid?

Disclaimer: I realize that CR isn’t a perfect country, and there is a possibility for unperfect things to happen, but CR isn’t an extremely dangerous country that I have found some people to believe.

Comunicación

Communication is completely different on so many levels. It was during week one and it still is during week four. Ironically, if anything, it has gotten harder.

Communicating with my host family has in some ways, become easier. I have been able to learn the different phrases they use regularly and I can now distinguish the differences in pronunciation and vocabulary between Costa Rica and Spain.

However, communicating with them has also become more difficult. Culturally, everyone is extremely excited to help when it comes to the spanish language. This means that oftentimes when I become stuck on a word or phrase, my family will begin trying to finish my sentences for me. I struggle with this a lot. Over the last two weeks, I have realized it comes purely from a place of wanting to help, which has helped me to feel better about the situation. Additionally, during many conversations I will have to abruptly stop to take a moment to formulate a sentence or write down a correction to further understand and learn.

Overall, I am thankful my family works with me, every time I speak, because I can see how I am improving weekly.

Right now, my biggest struggles occur outside our home. Oftentimes, I feel like a complete idiot, sometimes based on the way others respond or treat me.

Last week, I went to the post office to mail some postcards to the US. I walked in feeling pretty confident and walked out just the opposite. I know I have a very “gringo” accent, and don’t speak as quickly as others. After telling me how much it would cost to sent my postcards, the teller knocked on the glass to hold up the number of fingers that corresponded with the cost. When I looked up, I already had the appropriate number of colones out. I found myself offended, most likely because I did understand what was being said and what was asked of me; yet I don’t completely believe she meant to offend me.

It seems that many struggles happen when out and about buying things. Another time, I was buying some things at the grocery store and the employee automatically took out a calculator to show me the numbers instead of verbally tell me how much I owed. It’s hard when you’re not even given a chance, most likely based upon looks.

However, a fews days ago, when shopping in the market, a few people asked if I speak Spanish, and then allowed me to try. Others, didn’t even bat an eye when I spoke Spanish and responded just the same as anyone else. This also happens at a café near campus where I like to spend my time completing homework. The servers are always really patient and work with our Spanish.

All of my experiences with a language barrier continually remind me of those in the US who do not speak English as their first language. I’ve even thought of this with classmates from other countries who communicate with us in English.

Specifically in the US, I have found a lot of negativity toward those who speak English as their second language. Additionally, I have lived in a bubble where people believe that because “we’re in America, they need to speak English” which infuriates me more and more.

As time passes, I am sure I will have more opportunities to reflect upon my language barrier, my improvements, and those living in the US.