Tag Archives: relationships

as the world turns

earthDo you remember that old soap opera, “As the World Turns?” I wasn’t a fan of the show, but do vividly remember the opening credits, a globe of the earth spinning round and round in space. My favorite soap was “Santa Barbara.” My mom and Grandma Bushmiller got me hooked on that one. When I was in high school, Grandma bought the house next door to us, the same one that our family friends, the Reynolds, lived in for years. I would walk next door to Grandma’s house, and she would have her old RCA turned up so loud that the floors literally shook. Grandma was hard of hearing. She didn’t wear hearing aids, but she sure could have used them. We lived in Bossier City, Louisiana at that time. One weekend, I went to the annual Peach Festival in Ruston, Louisiana, just to meet the actor (A. Martinez) who played the character, Cruz, in “Santa Barbara.” I waited patiently in line that hot summer afternoon to get an autographed headshot. Apparently, A Martinez went to school with some official who lived in Ruston, and that’s how he came to visit the Peach Festival. When it was my turn to get my signed headshot, I told the actor of my dream to pursue acting. He looked at me, not even a hint of a smile crossed his face, and told me not to do it. I don’t remember his exact words, but that was it in a nutshell. Of course, I didn’t take his advice, and after graduating college, I moved to Florida then LA to pursue acting after I’d gotten my SAG card for some bit part I had in a movie. Seems like that time in my life was somebody else’s. I was so young and naive, yet thought I knew it all. I had a lot to learn and, unfortunately, it came the hard way.

Three decades later, I’m still learning. Most people my age have settled into a career and have been at it for years. I’m starting another new job and am feeling the steep climb necessary to learn a new skill set and get familiar with a new role and agency. I do not want to experience anymore transition for a very long time. Speaking of transition, I was in the company of some good friends last night whose son just graduated from high school. I felt for my friends, as I remember the heartache I felt when our daughter left for college. Pure agony. Our kids used to play together, and my friend and I would watch Jane Austen movies while they played. My family and I were in San Diego to celebrate and reconnected with some other families we hadn’t seen in years. We all attended the same church a long time ago. One of the moms said that she was considering pursuing an MSW or Master’s in Education so she could teach. She worked in social services at one time and was familiar with the agency I currently work for. I shared with her the challenges of the social work profession and hoped that I didn’t come across too negative, but felt I had to be honest.

It was really good to see our old friends and their kids. I said that I missed having a school aged child at home. I missed being a stay-at-home mom and all of the running around for extracurricular activities, our daughter’s friends in our home, etc. I taught piano on and off for years while our daughter was growing up so that I could be at home with her. Maybe I should have just stuck with teaching piano. I pursued a Master’s degree in Social Work because I’ve always wanted to help people, especially adoptees and adoptive families. But even more so, I had something to prove to myself, which is probably not the best reason to spend an exorbitant amount of money! In any case, it is what it is. I have a master’s degree in a tough profession. I’d like to believe that over the last few years, I’ve ruled out what I don’t want to do in the profession. It’s taken a pretty big toll on my physical health, but I’m finally in a place I believe I will be happy at for a long time. I guess I shouldn’t be so surprised that it’s taken nearly 2 years following graduate school to figure it out – it follows the pattern of my life – a late bloomer I will always be. I have no one to blame but myself.

So, here’s to new, new beginnings. Ugh, just saying that makes me tired. I pray that it’s the last one for awhile, perhaps forever. Good news, once we get through this month and September, cooler weather and my favorite time of the year, Autumn, will arrive. My oh my, a lot has happened over the last year. I’m beginning to love the area we live in though and finding new stomping grounds. Still commuting to work, so that hasn’t changed. Well, at least there’s one constant…

saving grace

I always wonder how much to divulge of a personal nature on my blog. Sometimes, I think I go a little too far and later regret it. This may be one of those times, but here goes. As I have expressed before, one of the things I’ve struggled with the most as an adoptee is identity. I was adopted during an era when adoptive parents were discouraged from talking to their children about their own adoption. What little my adoptive parents did share with me was related to their own experience– in other words their joy in adopting me, never any information about my birthfamily or birth heritage. Growing up, I was extremely shy and painfully insecure. To what degree adoption vs. personality played a role in that, I’m not sure. As I got older, my adoptive parents did not see through the smokescreen of rebellious behavior to the identity confusion I struggled with and offered little emotional support. The happily ever after bubble burst somewhere around pre-adolescence. My adoptive mother exasperated it all by becoming more authoritarian while my father remained mostly passive. I became extremely fearful of her angry antics. This did very little to foster any sense of self and largely crippled the growth of independence. Instead it lead to a passivity in my character and a fear of anger that to this day make me cringe. I was inept at displaying emotion, and bonding with others was difficult. Those who did not know me well perceived me as aloof.

Around my mid-twenties, I moved to CA to pursue a career in acting, a passion I’d had since college. I was full of zeal at the prospect of becoming an actress, but terribly naive. The zeal quickly deflated as I realized the difficulty in getting past an audition and securing an actual part. It had been much easier in Florida. With the lack of social support and a few crazy roommates along the way, I quickly became depressed. That’s when I moved to Orange Co. with some friends from college. One day, I was approached by a very friendly young woman who invited me to dinner. I was a little surprised at her friendliness, but happily accepted. When I showed up to dinner, I found myself in the midst of a group of college girls. What I didn’t know was that they were holding a bible talk after dinner. That totally freaked me out, and I left promptly hoping to never see them again. The young woman for weeks called me to invite me to her church. One Sunday, I accepted for no other reason than to prevent her from calling me anymore. The service was held at the Shrine Auditorium in L.A. I was shocked at how many people were there and how loud everyone was. We went to a music club afterwards where a band performed and members of the church congregated. This appealed to me because I loved music. The next week, I found myself in a series of bible studies led by a woman whose goal was to help me become a Christian. Soon after, I did. I was elated. I found the emotional and social support I longed for. I had a relationship with God. It was almost too good to be true. In fact, it was. The fairy tale became a nightmare as I took on a greater role within the church as a leader in the singles ministry.

For the next 14 years of my life, I endured psychological abuse at the hand of many of the church’s leaders. The church itself was a hierarchy. The top leader exerted power from above through complete control of the church and its leaders. No one questioned his authority. It was all for the purpose of growing the church and making as many disciples as possible. I remember the first leaders meeting that I went to with my boyfriend at the time, who’s now my husband. We had begun a Vietnamese ministry, and my boyfriend was being considered to lead a mission team to Vietnam to build a church there. I resisted strongly to having any part of  this ministry, as I felt about as Vietnamese as the man in the moon, but was pressured and felt guilty about not co-leading with my boyfriend. At this meeting, the region leader asked for specific information that helped predict future growth or decline in membership. When I was asked how many bible studies I was in and how many predictions for baptisms I wanted to make, I was beyond perplexed. I had no idea what that meant and no one bothered to tell me. So I made a guess. Of course, none of my predictions came through the following week. What I quickly learned was that if your predictions failed, there was something wrong with you and your leadership. You were in some type of sin or not taking enough initiative as a leader. Soon our particular region went through a change in leaders, which happened ever so often. This group of leaders was particularly harsh. Because of my passive and quiet nature, the women’s region leader saw fit to put me through leadership boot camp via verbal rebukes, intimidation, and pressure tactics. For a woman who already had identity issues, this was extremely painful and fear inducing, which caused me to feel even more insecure about myself. I was called “vanilla” because I lacked personality. I was rebuked for bad planning when the church planned a luncheon after service and we ran out of food. I did not compare to my boyfriend who was baptizing people left and right. This particular leader called me at work one afternoon to rebuke me over the phone on my lack of bible studies. After hanging up, I went into the bathroom and cried. I just never measured up. This went on for years. What strikes me now is that I never stood up for myself, nor did anyone else.

Eventually, my boyfriend and I got married. Three years later, I became pregnant. We were working for the church at that time, paid ministry leaders. It was the worst year of my life. The higher up in leadership you were, the more subject to scrutiny and abuse you became. I dreaded every week going to those leaders meetings. The insecurity among all the leaders at our level was thick. Who would receive a rebuke this week? Who would be singled out? I hoped and prayed that it wouldn’t be me. I continued to receive comments from other leaders on my “vanilla personality” and lack of friendship building skills with other women in our sector. It was hard for me to feel any sense of identity because we were all forced to conform. We had one collective identity, and anything outside of that was quickly squashed. I was miserable.

Finally, our daughter arrived. I had a difficult delivery, and our daughter had a rather traumatic entry into this world. It took me several months afterward to regain my strength. It was worth it as they say, as the birth of our daughter was truly my saving grace. I cannot tell you how much having a baby changed my life. She became my everything and the one thing that kept me going. Other women in our sector noticed a difference in my personality. I’d become more genuine, more loving, softer. I had never experienced that kind of love before– the kind of love a mother feels for her child. I understood how much God loved me. Lexie was a fussy baby, and I often worried about leaving her with another member from the church as I went off to leaders meetings. I wonder if some of it had to do with the stress that I felt. A year after going on staff at the church, my husband and I were asked to step out. We obviously had not measured up. I have never been more relieved than I was at that moment.

Years later, another leader in the church stood up to the top leader, and the top leader and his wife were forced to step down. He and his wife eventually left the church to build another of their own. My husband and I very soon afterwards decided to move to Arizona, which was highly disapproved by the leaders above us. It was after moving here that I began to get in touch with and heal from all of the trauma caused by the church. I went through several stages during this period– depression, anger, grief. I felt invisible for a long time, but I was heading toward recovery. I went back to school and became a music therapist. Slowly, my self esteem grew and I began to build a stronger sense of self. I look back on that period in the church as a time of growth, even though it was quite painful. It forced me to gain a sense of responsibility and independence that I’d never had before. It’s given me a deeper sense of compassion for people. I know that the leaders who abused me were themselves being abused by leaders above them. In many ways, although you might think the opposite to be true, I learned to serve others. Of course, the light that shone the brightest then still beams the brightest today– my daughter, who continues to teach me how to love. Of all of her many virtues, her ability to extend grace towards others even when they disappoint or hurt her amazes me. Grace always wins.

Why do I share all of this? First, I had some discussions with someone recently that stirred up some painful memories that I thought  had been laid to rest. Second, if I had had a stronger sense of self and identity, perhaps I would have been bolder and confronted some of those abusive leaders or just left. Lastly, I urge adoptive parents to take seriously the huge responsibility given to you in guiding and shaping your adopted child’s identity, self-esteem, and general well-being in a positive way. Whether your child takes interest in his/her cultural roots and identity at one stage or not doesn’t mean that it will remain that way forever. We all question who we are at different points in our lives. Adoptees’ feelings and thoughts about adoption change with time and life experience. Foster open communication with them about their adoption. Adoption is not a happily ever after fairy tale. It is a traumatic event for the adoptee no matter how loving and supportive you are, especially in those first few years of adjustment– even if your child seems well-adjusted. I don’t want to pathologize adoption, but as an adoptee, I feel it only right to talk about such critical issues. Adoptive parents today are certainly more aware of some of the challenges that present in transracial adoption. This is a good thing. Let’s keep things moving in that direction.

After 40-something years of struggling with identity, I am at peace with who I am. I have learned to say what I think, even though it still feels uncomfortable at times. Reuniting with my birthfamily brought me back to my cultural roots. I can’t imagine never having met them in this lifetime. I don’t carry around any malice towards those who hurt me. On the contrary, I feel sad about the aftermath that followed many of them, as well as other members of the church. I’m stronger as a result of all that’s happened, and that’s what counts. I realize now that God is much more gracious than I ever made Him out to be, and grace always wins.

forgiveness

On the way home from dropping my daughter off at school this morning, one of my favorite songs came on the radio, “Forgiveness,” by Matthew West. I was captivated because Matthew played it acoustically on guitar. For me, there’s nothing like an acoustic performance with just the artist’s voice and his instrument. As I listened to the song, a wave of grief struck me. I thought about a particularly painful time in my life. My adolescent years. I thought about my adoptive mom and the difficulties in our relationship when I was a teen. Our conflicts were rooted in a serious lack of understanding. We didn’t know how to work through our misunderstandings and differences. My mom also had an angry streak that scared me to death. She often lost control of her anger when upset or stressed.

One of the earliest memories I have of that anger is when I was in the first grade. I struggled with severe separation anxiety as a youngster. One day at school, like many others before, I had a stomachache and pleaded with my teacher to have my mom called. Mrs. Dent was the sweetest teacher, and I liked her very much, but I’m sure I was her most perplexing student. I watched as she whispered into the ear of another teacher, no doubt about me. The stomachaches had become somewhat of a routine. Finally, my mom was called and she came to pick me up from work. When we got home, she was very upset and disciplined me. I was so confused and cried for a long time. At that age, I had no idea what was going on inside– I just panicked everyday at school when she dropped me off. As I got older, the panic subsided, but the feelings of being a misfit and all alone never went away.

Somewhere during my teen years, everything changed. No longer was I the shy, docile and compliant child. I began rebelling against my mom’s authority and controlling nature. The friends that I wanted so much to fit in with, the “popular” crowd,” had parents that were much more lenient than mine. When I wanted to hang out with them late at night, my mom put her foot down. She could be very domineering and often made decisions for me that I hated, i.e., participating in the marching band at school, forbidding me from participating in clubs I was interested in, etc, etc.  I started drinking with my friends during my freshman year in high school. Drinking gave me a false sense of confidence. When my mom found a liquor bottle at the bottom of one of my bags, she was enraged. I often feared her erratic and angry reactions, which only fueled my resentment toward her.

I couldn’t wait for college and to move out of my parents’ home. It was liberating to get out from under my mom’s control and pretty much do whatever I wanted. I would purposely stay in the dorms during the holidays (although I’d show up for Thanksgiving or Christmas meals) because I didn’t want to be around Mom. After college graduation, I couldn’t wait to move out of Louisiana. I moved to Florida the following year.

When I moved, I knew that it hurt and worried both of my parents, especially my mom. My dad didn’t say a whole lot, but Mom made it clear that she didn’t approve. I know that it left a gaping hole  in her heart. Again, I purposely avoided going home for the holidays. At the same time, I  felt very conflicted inside, guilty for hurting both my parents. Getting away from home was more important to me at the time, however.

When I look back, I realize that the underlying cause of all the conflict stemmed from my struggle for identity. My adoptive parents were ill-equipped to help me face the social pressures of fitting in with my peers, racism, insecurity and acceptance. There was little communication between my parents and I about real issues. I knew that they loved me, but it was rarely expressed in words by any of us.

A turning point came after I became a Christian and had my own daughter. By then, my dad had passed away. I soon learned what it was like to work full-time, have a marriage and family, come home and cook dinner and try to keep a household together (my mom worked full-time as a registered nurse). I understand now what it’s like for your teen to make a remark or cop an attitude  that slices right through your heart. Somewhere along the line I realized that my adoptive parents did the best they could with very little knowledge or support on how to raise a transracially adopted kid. I understand the struggle that they must have felt, too, especially my mom, in the inability to reach me. I’ve come to understand that transracial adoption is challenging, and adoptive parents are faced with a difficult task.

Sometimes people ask me if I’m angry at my adoptive parents for telling me that I was Vietnamese and Japanese and then learning that I’m actually Taiwanese. I might have been 20 something years ago. Actually, I’m sorry that I can’t share with my parents what I’ve learned about myself and transracial adoption. I regret that I did not spend more time with them when they were still alive and that we never had the chance to resolve all the hurts. I know there was an unspoken forgiveness, but there are things that I wish that I’d expressed to my parents that I did not, most of all that I loved them.

As the song ended, I reminded myself of all the good and right things my adoptive parents did. As a mom and adult in mid-life, I see them in such a different way. I remember their generosity, their love, their sacrifice, their desire to see me happy and successful. Despite that painful period, I have many happy memories of my family. I appreciate these lyrics from the song,”Forgiveness”:

It’ll clear the bitterness away
It can even set a prisoner free
There is no end to what it’s power can do
So, let it go and be amazed
By what you see through eyes of grace
The prisoner that it really frees is you

Forgiveness, Forgiveness
Forgiveness, Forgiveness

It took a long time for me to let go of the resentment I had towards my mom. I understand her more today than ever before, and I forgive her as I hope she did  me. Life is so short. I truly wish that I had realized that years ago.

To hear the amazing story behind the song, “Forgiveness,” by Matthew West, watch the video below. And have some Kleenex nearby!