Feelings, nothing more than feelings. . .

Woo to the hoo, friends. We are leaving in ONE WEEK. On one hand I can’t believe it’s finally here, on the other hand it feels like it snuck up on us. Naturally, as we get ready to head out, people ask, “How are you feeling?” As a Jen Hatmaker groupie, I’ve been combing through some of her old posts on adoption, and I found this gem that she actually stole from Melissa Fay Greene on the first year of adoption, and it was a salve to my tender little heart:

“Put Feelings on a back-burner. This is not the time for Feelings. If you could express your feelings right now, you’d be saying things like, “Oh my God, I must have lost my mind to think that I can handle this, to think that I wanted a child like this. I’ll never manage to raise this child; I’m way way way way over my head. I’ll never spend time with my spouse or friends again; my older children are going to waste away in profound neglect; my career is finished. I am completely and utterly trapped.” You see? What’s the point of expressing all that right now? Put Feelings in the deep freeze. Live a material life instead: wake, dress, eat, walk. Let your hands and words mother the new child, don’t pause to look back, to reflect, or to experience emotions. “Shut up, Emotions,” you’ll say. “I’ll check back with you in six months to see if you’ve pulled yourselves together. But no whining meanwhile!” 

And I like that, I can understand the value in that. I know I’ve gotten through more than one tough time in my life by putting my feelings in the deep freeze for a while – not forever, because I think it’s important to be authentic with who we are and explore the complexities of what makes us human. But for a time, for just long enough to MAKE IT to the other side. So, as we approach our “due date” I wanted to take this chance to share all. of. the. feelings. stumbling around in my body right now. One, because I wanted to be honest about what this looks like for me, right now, in this moment. But also, because I’m going to just get to work when we come home, and save all this emotion sharing for a later date. :)

And I’m taking a page from New Orleans Saints tight end Benjamin Watson; who beautifully, eloquently, and honestly demonstrated that it’s possible for one person to feel a myriad of emotions about something — emotions that although might seem diametrically opposed, are ALL still entirely authentic. One emotion simply cannot capture the entire picture. And I just love how he made it okay to feel a lot of different things, and not pretend to have all of the answers to such a complex issue.

To be clear, I in no way equate the complexity of my emotions with his, nor the issue of our adoption as charged, but I personally related to his heart in this instance, and I think so often it’s almost impossible to clearly explain our thoughts about something from just one angle.

So without further adieu, here’s how I feel. . .

I feel EXCITED.

So many parts of this journey make me happy. I am actually really excited to travel alone with my husband and spend some time connecting. It feels fun to have this adventure together, to have a super long flight to read books, listen to podcasts, and annoy him with my incessant talking. I’m excited to visit Lithuania, especially during their Independence Day. I just finished a historical fiction novel called Between Shades of Grey about how Stalin deported tens of thousands of Lithuanians to Siberia in the 1940s. And it wasn’t talked about for DECADES because Lithuania wasn’t able to gain independence until 1990. I can’t wait to learn more about this strong, brave, resilient little country that brought us to our son. I can’t believe I’m actually going to meet our son for the first time, to touch him and see him and hear him. I’m excited to be past the anticipation, and just “have” this baby already.

I feel GUILTY.

I hate that I will be away from Sissy and Bug for so long, and worry about if they will feel lonely, or abandoned, or sad. Bug has been super clingy lately and I have been soaking up every moment and extra hug, not sure how the dynamic will play out when we are all home. I know, without question, that this is a temporary hardship for our family, this separation, and that it is unavoidable to bring their brother home. And I know that Luke 15:4 tells us that it’s nautral for us to leave 99 sheep (who we know are safe) to go off and find the ONE sheep who is missing (because that’s the sheep in danger). But really, I will feel so much better when all my sheep are under the same roof,

I feel EXHAUSTED.

It has been a long year, friends. We started this adoption process within a few months of moving to a new state, with an entire new life to build. Daddy K has a new job, and learning to live within the rhythms of this new assignment has been taxing on all of us. Trying to navigate an entire new set of emotions that relate to adoption has also been draining. It’s a roller coaster of highs and lows, and that modulation has worn me down a bit.  I’m ready for to move on past settling in and waiting for our boy.

I feel ANXIOUS.

There is so much unknown in this trip, and I honestly struggle a lot with not having control. I’m not sure how Boo will feel about us, how deep his grief will be over losing his home, his language, his caretakers. I’m not sure how or if he will eat and sleep once he’s with me. Or if the clothes I bring will fit. Or anything really. And yet:

Worry implies that we don’t quite trust God is big enough, powerful enough, or loving enough to take care of what’s happening in our lives. 
Stress says the things we are involved in are important enough to merit our impatience, our lack of grace towards others, or our tight grip of control.
Basically, these two behaviors communicate that it’s okay to sin and not trust God because the stuff in my life is somehow exceptional. Both worry and stress reek of arrogance. They declare our tendency to forget that we’ve been forgiven, that our lives are brief … and that in the context of God’s strength, our problems are small, indeed. –Francis Chan, Crazy Love

I feel HOPEFUL.

Because I know God is part of this story. It’s His story. He always shows up. Actually, I guess He never leaves. And I know that as we walk out on this water (to the place where if I take my eyes of Him for a second I’ll drown), I’m going to fall more in love with my Creator. Being completely dependent on him with foster an even deeper relationship, and there is freedom in knowing I don’t have to have all the answers because Someone else does. In Tiny Green Elephants, one of my favorite blogs throughout this process, she reflects on her first adoption journey and the lessons they learned along the way:

What I’m saying is, if God is asking you to do anything, no matter how big or how small, it’s because He loves you, and because he wants what is best for you, and those you love, and his plan is bigger than just your plan for yourself.  Don’t stress, don’t worry, relax.

He loves me. He loves my husband. And He loves my children more than I could possibly ever imagine. And true, He’s not promising me smooth sailing in this, or a perfect transition without pain and suffering. But He is promising me Himself. Which is more than enough. More than I deserve.

Thank you for investing in this journey with us, for taking the time to read about our story and listen to my heart. We are ready to bring our little man home, and start figuring out what happens next.

But God doesn’t call us to be comfortable. He calls us to trust Him so completely that we are unafraid to put ourselves in situations where we will be in trouble if He doesn’t come through. –Francis Chan, Crazy Love

the very hungry catepillar

We leave in about two weeks and honestly I am all over the place emotionally. Trying to get everything planned out and then dealing with changes, worrying about if it will all go perfectly (umm, I really like things to all go perfectly), and losing sleep over how the kids will do while I’m gone is all making me a hot mess.  So, I haven’t had a lot of space left in brain to write anything creative. Or write at all, or respond to texts or messages. It’s taking all of my energy to just keep plugging along.

But, I did want to quickly write about one things people outside the adoption world might not be familiar with – it’s called cocooning. When I mention it to people, they agree that it makes sense, it’s just not something they’ve ever heard of before. Sometimes I forget that everyone hasn’t read all the same articles, blogs, and books as me, and I just assume everyone has heard of these things.

For detailed information, you can google adoption and cocooning, but I’m just give you the simplified, Ali-version here. The basic idea is that once an adoptive child comes home, they kind of need a “reset” of sorts. This is especially true of older and internationally adopted children. Everything in their life has changed dramatically, and “experts” seem to agree that there is value is spending a little bit of time hunkering down once you are home.

What this looks like varies from family to family, and the length of time is dependent on the individual child (and what the rest of the family can handle). Essentially, you want to help the child form a secure, lasting bond/attachment with his new mama and daddy, as opposed to just viewing you as a reliable caregiver. One thing I read suggested cocooning for one month for every year of orphanage life, plus one month. So we’d be looking at 3 months-ish. Something else recommended at least 6 weeks.

One thing that is hard during this time is that you are not encouraged to let other people meet your new child’s needs. Which means even though he will be the cutest little Eastern European on the block, when he first comes home we won’t be able to let other people hold him. We also won’t be able to go out as a whole family for a while, so we plan to alternate Sundays at church for a bit. Some families have said it’s taken only a few months for their child to adjust, others actually over a year. Really, we have no idea what it will be like for our little dude.

The danger is that if your child is being cared for/loved on by too many people (really people outside of mom and dad), they won’t internalize the actual difference between their previous situation and their new life (i.e. orphanage care versus FAMILY). And to create a strong attachment, its important for them to understand that they have a mama and a daddy who will meet their every need. This attachment is crucial for later emotional maturity and stability.

We will also have to limit family outings because of the over-stimulation for him. He has literally spent his entire life in one building, and mostly the same one room, so EVERYTHING will assault his senses. At the beginning, that will be too overwhelming for him, so we will stay home and just focus on simple play, eye contact, rocking. Essentially, you almost treat them like an infant at the beginning, in an attempt to create the natural attachment that occurs when caring for a baby.

Practically, I think this will be difficult for our family. The other kids have activities, and I know spending so much time in two units (one parent with Sissy and Bug, the other with Boo) will be lonely for all of us. Also, Daddy K and I won’t be able to go out on dates for a while since he won’t be able to stay with a babysitter, although we have talked about leaving after the kids are in bed. Let’s be honest though, by then I’m sure I will just want to be in bed too! I’m definitely looking forward to the time when we are past this initial phase. But I don’t want to rush it either, because I understand we are laying the foundation that will be crucial for Boo to feel secure for the rest of his life.

So, if you are in the local area, please don’t be offended if we turn down invitations or don’t invite you over. Also, please don’t think we are crazy when ask you not to pick up our little guy. You are welcome to talk to him and engage him while we are holding him. We will play it by ear and try to adjust as necessary to make this transition easy on all of us. We can’t wait to share him with everyone as soon as he is ready!

We are totally fine with having people come to the airport to meet us, especially because this will probably be the last time for a few weeks that we are able to be in a larger group and give people a chance to meet him. After that, we plan to cocoon through all of April and then see where we are at. Daddy K and I will take turns getting the other little people out of the house for the sake of the sanity, and to make sure they still feel nurtured and loved. If you want to help Sissy and Bug feel special during this time, you are more than welcome!

We are so excited to be this close, and yet obviously we are still in the stage of the big unknown. Even more excited to get home and start figuring out what our new normal will look like. Thanks for supporting us on this journey.

Where We’re At: January 19, 2015

Happy New Year! The holidays got relatively busy for us, and we traveled to Chicago to see family for Christmas. Then we were only home for a week before I packed up again for some Reserve time in DC. We wanted to finish all my time as early as possible so that we’d be ready to travel when it was finally time. Also, having my Reserve time finished before Boo comes home ensures I won’t have to be separated from him (or Sissy and Bug) for at least a year. I’m not sure yet how we’ll manage that first separation, but right now it’s not even something I want to wrap my head around, because we have something much more important to worry about:

A court date! Little Boo will become our son on March 5, 2015. I sent off our first bit of official paperwork on March 6, 2015. We had already been figuring things out for a few weeks, but I took a picture of that first “real” step so I’d remember. On March 6, the application to adopt went to our agency. One year later, a little boy an ocean away will get a family. A mama and daddy who whisper in his ear that he is valuable, worthy of love, and forever a Kojak. I can’t wait. I am beyond excited. And also a little bit terrified. Maybe two parts excited, one part terrified.

envelope

I was the crazy lady at the post office taking a picture of an envelope. At the time, I was determined to take a picture of everything, but you know, life happens.

So what does that mean for us? Well, now my Type-A, slightly OCD, crazy mode has started to set in. There are a decent amount of logistical arrangements that need to be made, a pretty decent chunk of money that still needs to be paid, and a billion things to look up on the internet. As my mind swirls with all of the things I need to make happen and I try to Google away the panic, I can’t help thinking, “Why on earth didn’t I look this up before?” And, oh yeah, I still haven’t finished that one really important book. Ummm, or that other one actually. Aaaaaaaaah! Maybe we’re not ready!

But are you ever really “ready” for something that is going to change your life so drastically? God is showing up in the little ways, gentle reminders that He is with us, and He is with Boo, and He cares about the details. Like the dates. And we sold our Corolla on Craigslist in like two days without a single hitch. First test drive, the money was in our account the same day. From a mama buying a car for her college-aged son, whom she adopted as a baby.

And of course, because I’m me, our schedule is going to be just a little different than most of the other families who have gone before us. I’m not surprised anymore when random things happen to me, although to be fair, in many cases I’ve had a small (or large) part in the unlucky circumstances I find myself in.

Our court date is March 5, so Daddy K and I have to be in country by February 26. We will fly out on the 25th, and it ends up being an overnight flight. I’m not sure yet if we’ll get to meet our little man that first day, or will get settled and head to the orphanage the following morning. I do know it will be impossible to sleep that night. I mean, how crazy is that, that we’ll meet our son? Then we will spend the next week visiting Boo at the orphanage. We’ll be there for three hours in the morning, then have a break, then another two and a half hours in the afternoon.

Our court is in the capital city in the afternoon, so we’ll drive there in the morning. Already feeling sad that my boy will wonder where we went. After court we head back to his smaller town to wait to hear from the judge. This is where our case gets tricky. Our court is on Thursday, so we will either hear from the judge Friday or it won’t be until Monday or Tuesday of the following week. And the catch there is that Wednesday is a national holiday, so no offices of any kind will be open.

We can’t spring Boo from the orphanage until we have his “new” birth certificate, which can’t happen until we hear from the judge. Our facilitators seem to think the judge will grant us the “urgent execution,” which means we will be able to come home with Boo on this trip. But the delay for the birth certificate will push us back. Once he’s out of the orphanage (forever!), we move to the capital to finish the paperwork necessary to bring him into the U.S. Here’s the catch — there are two US doctors that work at the US embassy and you are required to have a complete physical before you are issued a visa to enter the states. In theory, you can’t have that physical complete until the child has a US passport. Which obviously hinges on the birth certificate. But, to really spice it up, those two doctors, the ONLY two doctors who can examine Boo, will be at a medical conference for embassy doctors (in another country) from March 9 – 15. Ha! I can’t even be frustrated, because it’s so typical of my luck. Honestly, I know it will all work out how it is supposed to, so I’m trying to not waste my energy with too much stress.

Truthfully, the only hard part of it all is the amount of time I’ll be away. Although I’m excited to travel and explore and learn about another country, I hate that I’ll be away from Sissy and Bug for that long. Our facilitator thinks best-case scenario is that Boo and I fly home on March 20. Daddy K will have to come home much earlier, right after court. Our awesome nanny and friend from Washington is flying out to watch the kids while we are both gone – I’m not sure who is more excited, her or the kids! Then, another one of my sweet friends from Washington is going to fly out to me and replace Daddy K for a week. I am so thankful that I’ll have some company in that initial time I come “home” with Boo. And also just to protect me from loneliness. In a perfect world, we had hoped to be able to fly back stateside together, so I’d have help on the long flight. But our timeline makes this impossible. So yeah, it’s a lot of moving pieces.

And it’s probably just because I only got back this weekend from being away for two weeks, but it’s breaking my heart to think about my other loves missing me for so long. Daddy K said they lit up when I got home Saturday, like they just softened and relaxed in the arms of their mama. And they are fighting like crazy to have me put them to bed, or sit in my lap, and I just want to assure them it’s okay, I’m not going anywhere. Except that I am. For what will be almost a month. It’s bittersweet. But all is grace. I know He is with us and with them, and I pray that He will comfort their little hearts and prepare them as best as possible for what’s to come.

I first posted about our adoption journey on March 21, 2014. March 21st is World Down Syndrome Day. And I posted that we hoped next year our son would be celebrating at home with his brother and sister. Being celebrated, loved on and laughed with. He and I will hopefully get off a plane in Florida on March 20, 2015, where he will meet his brother and sister for the first time, before driving to the first home that’s ever been his own. Cutting it close, but right on time.

Birthparents

Almost eight years ago, in a hospital in Russia, a woman in her mid-twenties gave birth to her second baby girl. She already had one daughter, and she and her husband were excited to welcome another child to the family. Except immediately after she delivered her sweet, tiny beauty, the whispers started. Her beautiful girl was born with Down syndrome, and this diagnosis would alter the course of their lives forever.

During her post-partum hospital stay, the “specialists” came to talk to her. She was confused, and afraid, and just desperately wanted to hold her baby. Hear us out first, they forcefully asked.

It’s not worth it, they told her, to get attached to this kind of baby. She will be nothing but a burden for the rest of her life. She will never be allowed or capable of attending school, so you’ll have to quit work and will never be able to find another job. Moreover, your poor older daughter will be an outcast, shunned by her friends and never invited for sleepovers. Your husband will invariably grow tired of the child and leave the family, and you’ll have to fend for yourself and your children.

To make matters worse, children with Down syndrome become aggressive as they get older, and end up with monstrous strength that could be a danger to your entire family. It’s better to leave her now anyway, because she will never be able to form a connection with you – she won’t be able to give or receive love, and she’ll never understand that she has a mother anyway.  She won’t have enough intelligence to even feel sad in an institution. This is really the best choice for everyone.

They whispered the first of these things to her while she was still on the delivery table, crushing her joy and extinguishing her strength. Then, throughout the next few days, different experts all came around to reiterate the same message – I’m sorry for your loss but your baby simply isn’t fit for society. Please go home and do your best to forget about her.

And this sweet young mama, this mama who was shocked and scared, confused, grief-stricken and numb, she did what they told her. She went home and tried to move on with her life. Because what other option was there? But she never forgot.

She and her husband got pregnant again, and this time gave birth to a healthy baby boy. But life, it’s unpredictable, and their little man got sick. He was fighting cancer and eventually became too sick to go to school. (He is now in remission). She had to quit work to care for him, and the strain was too much on her marriage. She took a hard look at her life one day and realized, I’m am in the exact situation they described — I have no job, no husband, and a sick child who can’t attend school.

The thing is, life can be unkind no matter how hard we try to protect ourselves, to insulate ourselves and our family from hardship and pain. And she determined, in that moment, that she would get her daughter back. Whatever the cost.

She met resistance every step of the way. Searching through every possible database of children available for adoption, she finally saw a picture of a little girl she knew was hers. And she ignored protocol and called the orphanage in tears, begging to come see her daughter. They hung up on her. But she persevered, and obtained all necessary legal documents to reclaim the child she was persuaded to give up.

Dasha

Seven and a half years after she was born, her sweet girl finally felt the soft touch of her mama’s hands stroking her hair. She felt the cool tickle of her mama’s lips on her cheek as she whispered I love you. Yet even as her mother picked her up from the orphanage to take her home forever, they tried to convince her it was a mistake. She belongs “behind the fence” they told her, not out among the people. They virtually demanded she leave her child at the institution. But this mama, she wasn’t going to be persuaded twice. This time, she knew her daughter was worth fighting for.

It wasn’t an easy transition, but she finally connected with an organization called Downside Up, a non-profit that provides support and advice for families raising children with Down syndrome in Russia. They also operate an Early Learning Center in Moscow, and develop innovative child training and parent support methods, as well as disseminating knowledge and experience among Russian professionals.

But in Russia, where old prejudices and misconceptions about the nature of Down syndrome (and potential of people with Down syndrome) are still prevalent, sometimes a family’s biggest obstacle is others’ unfriendliness and lack of understanding. To that end, Downside Up works towards raising public awareness in hopes of changing societal attitudes.

Today, this almost 8-yr-old attends a special school, and is thriving in her family.   She is home, and free to grow at her own pace and in her own way with a mama who loves her madly. She is lucky to have a mama who is stubborn, unwilling to give up on her girl. But she represents so many more little boys and girls in Eastern Europe, who are relinquished to an orphanage because their parents are told it’s the only reasonable choice.

This is a real story, about a real mother and her daughter.   You can link to the Russian version here, as well as the Google translated piece here. I added emotions and feelings as I imagined they would occur, but the truth is intact. I imagined these feelings because I often imagine Boo’s birth mother, agonizing over the little boy she felt kick in her womb and saw laugh in her dreams.

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I brought Bug into this world only 15 days after she delivered Boo, and I know she loved him as fiercely in that moment he took his first breath as I loved Bug. It is such a beautiful moment. Then someone took a sledgehammer to her moment, and it shattered into a million pieces. I don’t feel angry when I think about his first mama, I feel compassion. Bucketfuls. And heartache. The same day I held our tiny bundle in my arms and cried tears of joy at his very existence, she mostly likely cried alone in a nursery prepared for a boy who never came home.

Oh, Boo’s beautiful birth mama out there somewhere – I wish you could know … I promise you I will love him with all of my heart for the rest of my life. We will do everything in our power to make sure he always has what he needs to grow and learn and succeed. He will be cherished, but also challenged. We will always celebrate how lucky we are to have him, and he is finally going to make it home.

 

***Don’t forget about Reece’s Rainbow’s Angel Tree 2014 children, still waiting for families.  Especially our sweet Ryan (L), who, while I would love to see his grant grow, I’d really like to find a mama.***

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Where We’re At: November 21, 2014

We are tired. Well, mama is tired, and if mama’s tired, everyone’s tired, right? :) The darkness has descended upon Northwest Florida, and it’s surprisingly as dark here by 5 pm as it was in the Pacific Northwest. I am a sunshine girl, and eagerly looking forward to the winter solstice on December 21. Come back light, come back! But, the fact that we are getting SO CLOSE to Boo gives me something to look forward to.

Since our last update, there has actually been a ton of progress. After our initial approval from USCIS, we were able to officially submit our dossier to Boo’s Central Authority. Once they reviewed and approved our file, they agreed to “match” us to him, and pull his file from the central database. Yay! Then, the  Central Authority compiled an official report all about him.  After receiving the report, we could choose whether or not to accept his official referral (we choose YES, obviously!).

Boo4

This report talks about his biological family, and includes his medical history and orphanage reports throughout his little life. The best part — reading all sorts of information about our guy, including that he loves to bang on the drums during music class and that he makes his wishes known by shouting and waving his hands. :) He’s a Kojak, for sure. We learned that he is currently wearing hearing aids, and it’s recommended he see a ophthalmologist for some possible eye issues.  Umm, a two-year old with glasses?  I might die from the cuteness :) We also noticed he recently had a follow-up echocardiogram on his little heart, but we haven’t heard back the results of that test. All in all, it was awesome to get a fuller picture of our little man, and a better idea of his health needs and where we will need to follow-up when he gets home. The worst part — reading the line on report after report, “Nobody has visited the child.” It wrecked me a little bit to think about him all alone. He went to live at the orphanage when he was four days old, and I picture my own teeny tiny four-day-olds, and my heart breaks for baby Boo.

It’s such a double-edged sword though, because his lack of visitors actually makes it easier for an international adoption. They have to highlight the fact that not a single relative has ever shown any interest in him in order to make it clear that international adoption is in his best interest. So their loss is our gain. And although I will forever be grateful for our son, my soul aches for his aloneness. For his aloneness that represents the aloneness of SO. MANY. MORE.

A child born to another woman calls me mom. The depth of the tragedy and the magnitude of the privilege are not lost on me. –Jody Landers

So where do we go from here? Good question. First, we go BACK to US immigration. Yesterday we sent off our I-800 application (wait, you thought we already did that? Ha! That was the I-800a, you see. The approval of which is actually called the I-797. Get it together!) This form is officially titled, “Petition to Classify Convention Adoptee as an Immediate Relative.” Once USCIS approves our I-800, we will get yet another approval form (actually I don’t know the name of that one yet) to send back to Boo’s country. Then, the hardest waiting yet. This time, we will be waiting for the Central Authority to assign us a judge. Once we have a judge, said judge will give us a court date. The court date is the day we will ask to officially adopt Boo, so we will have to be in country for a week or so before that date. It finally feels real, and although we’re disappointed he won’t be home for Christmas, we are excited to have what feels like an end in sight. And we want to take this time to enjoy our current “calm before the storm” with Sissy and Bug. Although realistically, there isn’t really ever a calm with these two. All is grace.

Let me digress for a minute to talk to you about two more sweet babes. One is Ryan, a four-year-old little boy living in an orphanage in the same country as Boo. This guy seriously has the best smile ever, and would make an incredible son. Since I’m his Angel Tree Warrior, I asked our agency about him. They’ve had him listed for some time and she let me know that no one has ever asked for more information about him. Not once, friends. Even asked about him. I think my heart split into a million pieces hearing that. And I’m guessing his orphanage file has the same line, “No one has visited the child.”  Please  consider donating to Ryan’s grant by clicking on this link. And maybe sharing his picture and link to help his family find him.

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Also, I wanted to introduce you to sweet Valerie. This little pumpkin is only two-years old and our agency just sent out updated information that says the staff calls her Miss February.  Miss February also has Down Syndrome and a couple of genetically-related heath concerns, but she is actually doing pretty well at her orphanage. You can also donate to her grant and read a little more about her here, but what she really needs is a family to come scoop her up.

M 221 Vasare Foto - 4Thanks, as always, for reading and caring about our family. Hope your Thanksgiving week is filled with lots of friends, fellowship and food! We truly have so much to be grateful for in our house, and in this season of darkness, I know how important it is for me to keep my eyes fixed upon the blessings.

Happy Birthday Sissy!

Dear Sissy,

Happy Birthday beautiful girl! Four years ago today you made me a mama, and the magnitude of that responsibility still brings me to my knees. Anne Voskamp reminds me that motherhood is a hallowed place, a sacred vocation and a humbling privilege. I am partnering with your father and Our Father to sculpt a soul, and there is no manual for making sure we get that right.

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And as you know all too well, that means I get it wrong a lot of times. You’re the firstborn in our family, which means we practice the most on you. We guess at the best way to love you, correct you, motivate you and console you. And sometimes those guesses are spot on. And sometimes those guesses are terribly off, and we all pay the price for those missteps. But you have the most forgiving heart. You don’t hold our inexperience against us, and we get second chances every day. We are learning to love you, and one another, day by day. It’s a lifelong process I think, and I promise to never stop learning, to never give up on getting it right.

When you were 9 months old, I wrote you this letter.  I love you as much today as I did then, and the magic of your eyes has only intensified. Sometimes I just stare in awe at your perfect little face, and I honestly just can’t believe that you are mine. And I want to wrap you up and put you in a box so that nothing bad ever happens to you, to maintain that innocence and sweetness forever. I want to protect you from ever being hurt, from ever feeling sad, from ever seeing pain. We read a book together a lot called Blueberry Girl, and there is a line in it that always chokes me up:

Words can be worrisome, people complex, motives and manners unclear. Grant her the wisdom to choose her path right, free from unkindness and fear.

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But part of my desire to freeze time is selfish. In this time, in this place, you need me. You want ME to comfort a skinned knee or a bruised heart. It’s my arms that make you feel safe, and my love that makes you feel valued. You promise Daddy and I that you will live with us forever, even after you go to kindergarten. And most days, I really wish you would.

But that’s not the point of parenting, right? From the moment you were conceived, I was preparing little-by-little to let you go. First, you grew your own body and life support. I helped you grow bigger and stronger until you were ready breathe this earth’s air on your own. Then, with each day, and month, and year, you have grown more independent and able to care for yourself. When you were about 6 months old your Daddy asked me when you would start talking and ask to help make dinner. Three plus years later, you talk all the time, and you love to help prepare food for yourself.

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Each minute of every day, we are doing our best to get you ready to face the world without us. Psalm 127:4 says, “Like arrows in the hand of a warrior, so are the children of one’s youth.” You are an arrow, and will shoot out into the world with passion and hope and joy. You have so much to offer this world, and it is humbling to think of my responsibility in helping you find your way. I want you, more than anything, to always feel confident in who you are, and how you were made, and what you are worth. The way your Daddy and I love you is only the teeniest fraction of the way your Creator loves you. You are His greatest delight, and there is nowhere you will go that He won’t be with you.

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But right now, when the walls of our house are your only world, I want you to know how much you are loved. How deeply, how desperately, how wildly. You are my little ball of fire, and your determination teaches me more about grace than a thousand Bible studies. The other night when I asked you to bring me your plate, you handed it to me and sighed, saying, “Why do I have to do everything around here?”

Oh, little one, if only you knew. That most everything your Daddy and I do is for you and your brothers. Trying our best to create a life for our family that instills strength, values authenticity, and teaches kindness. If only I could somehow explain how my heart beats in time with yours, and how I long to hold you when you’re sleeping, so that I’ll never forget the miracle of your childhood.

Image-1And yet, all too frequently, I send you a different message. You have a front-row seat to the very worst parts of me. You get the impatience, short-temper, harsh words and lack of grace. Isn’t it funny how we expose our most ugly selves to the people we love the absolute most? And it’s strangers that get all our gentleness, patience and smiles. Maybe it’s because we know our loved ones are forever people, but honestly, it makes me sad. I heard it described once that it’s because we rub up against one another in our raw places. We spend so much time together that it’s inevitable, this rubbing of raw hearts, emotions, souls. And raw on raw is painful. But there is a beauty is that too.

To be loved but not known is comforting but superficial. To be known and not loved is our greatest fear. But to be fully known and truly loved is, well, a lot like being loved by God. It is what we need more than anything. It liberates us from pretense, humbles us out of our self-righteousness, and fortifies us for any difficulty life can throw at us.  -Timothy Keller

Oh, heart of my heart, girl of my dreams, joy of my world – THAT is my wish for you on your fourth birthday, and every birthday thereafter…that you may be fully known and fully loved all the days of your life. Not only by the God who made you, but by those who surround you, especially your family. May I always strive to truly know YOU, and forever remind you of my unwavering love.

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Happiest of days Emilja Rae…I love you so much my heart could burst.

Love,

Mama

****Would you please consider donating to help a little boy who has no mama to wish him happy birthday…no mama who knows the smell of his hair or the magic of his eyes.  No Daddy to fully know and fully love him, to guide him into manhood with grace and gentleness.  You can either buy an AWESOME t-shirt here, or donate directly to his fund here. (Link available at the bottom — phone — and side — computer — of my blog as well).****

Accepted, not asked.

So if you read my post about our Angel Tree bub, you know that on October 21st, we were officially matched to Boo. And that means his file has been pulled and matched with our dossier…and that might seem insignificant, but it’s the first time in his little life that someone has claimed him. He BELONGS. To us. We don’t deserve it. And although we still have to wait for more information and an official referral, it definitely makes things more real. For me, it felt similar to when we found out the gender during our 20-week ultrasound. Just knowing I had a little girl (and then boy) growing inside me somehow solidified the pregnancy, reminded me that yes, this is really happening.

And it’s the same reminder here. This is really happening. And sometimes when I lay awake at night with that realization, a thousand taunting voices creep in. And sometimes those voices can be paralyzing. Lies always cloak themselves in darkness. Truth is revealed in the light. And when I wake up in the morning, my heart in calm, and my resolve strong. But I wanted to be honest here about those fears. However, please know, in that honesty, there is never doubt about our decision. We have never second-guessed that we are doing exactly what our God is asking, and that He will be there every step of the way.

But we are human, and our hearts are fragile and our flesh is weak, and sometimes we grow weary. And I’m a mama of two toddlers, which probably makes me more emotional. And okay, I’m fairly Type-A, so my inability to control the outcome of this journey rocks me to my core.

“Safe?” said Mr. Beaver; “don’t you hear what Mrs. Beaver tells you? Who said anything about safe? ‘Course he isn’t safe. But he’s good. He’s the King, I tell you.”    -C.S. Lewis, The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe

This isn’t a safe choice. But it’s good. And it’s right. I can still remember this quote painted on the wall (Tiger 10 represent!) at the Air Force Academy that said, “If it wasn’t hard everyone would do it. It’s the hard that makes it great.” (Which a quick Google search tells me is attributed to Tom Hanks in A League Of Their Own). I loved that quote, and loved reading it on the wall as I sweated (swat? ha!) through a training session. And it’s not that I’m a glutton for punishment and I think that doing something hard somehow makes me worthy. But there is truth in that, right? If adoption was easy, we would have no orphans.

But at night, when the rest of the house is quiet, sometimes all I hear are whispers of just how hard this hard might be. And those little lying whispers, man, they are surprisingly loud.

What if this ruins everything? Any by everything, I mean US. Our family, our life, our plans. Sometimes, I will be rocking my sweet man cub in his room in the dark at night, smelling his baby hair and savoring his warm little body and fear suddenly strikes, “What if I never do this again?” The boys will share a room, and bedtime with two boys will mean less rocking, less cuddling, more chaos. And what if Bug resents that shared time. . .what if he feels replaced? And what if that feeling ruins the rest of his life? Or maybe worse, what if Bug doesn’t resent it, because Boo doesn’t want to be touched? He might not want his mama to hold him or kiss his head, preferring to be laid down alone in his crib. Will I feel resentful? Will I unintentionally place unfair expectations on our new babe, and stress him to just LOVE us the way I think he should? What if it’s worst-case scenario, and Boo never attaches to us as his family? Are we still committed then? If he’s angry and disconnected, doesn’t communicate or engage? What if I’m not as strong as I want to be? What if I stop believing He will be strong when I’m not?

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My kids are so amazing. And absolutely crazy too, yes. But I love this family we’ve made, and in the dark of the night, fear says I might blow it. It’s tricky, fear. Because it doesn’t even have to be specific to cause damage, and it preys on emotions. Which for me, are sadly pretty fickle. :) My hubby, he’s amazing also. But what will this new little man do to our relationship? We know date night will be out of the picture for awhile, but then what? What if he resents all the time I spend with Boo? What if I resent all the time he doesn’t? What if he thinks I’m not giving enough attention to Sissy and Bug? What if the stress in our house makes him want to be somewhere else? What if it makes me want to be somewhere else? But that somewhere else isn’t together? What if we regret this?

And the truth is, in the middle of the day when the sun is shining, it’s actually hard for me to remember what I was even worried about. It all seems insignificant. Then I get lucky, and stumble upon a post like this one and I remember, it is NOT all rainbows and unicorns. The pre-adoption adrenaline we are feeling now WILL give way to post-adoption blues, and we will get down to the serious business of redeeming life. His life, our lives.

Adoption is hard.  It is inherently loss, not just for the adoptive children, but for everyone in the child’s life. Beautiful, lovely, miraculous things come from adoption. But we do a disservice to adoptive families and their children when we overlook where that beauty came from. It came from ashes, ashes that are blown into a home, leaving the family to clean up the great mess that follows.  It’s not pity that I, or any adoptive parent, needs.  It’s prayer.  Understanding.  Support.

We are under no illusion that we are part of a fairy tale. We know Boo’s transition into our family will be difficult, but knowing something and experiencing it are two different realities. It’s hard to prepare for something you know will be hard, but aren’t exactly sure what that hard will feel like. It’s like giving birth the first time. Or becoming a mother for the first time. Or, you know, #life, in general. You don’t even know what you don’t know yet.

And yet, you do it anyway. You weigh the cost and you make a choice to embrace (or at least tolerate) the pain. Why? Because of all the beauty that follows. And when a mother cries out in the pain of childbirth, we don’t smugly look in her panic-filled eyes and say, “Well, you asked for this.” So why do we do that with adoption? When life gets hard for those who have grafted a child into the tender tree that is their family, why do we feel like we need to say I told you so? You asked for this. As a military wife, I hear that sometimes. And I just think we need to clarify the difference between asking for something and accepting it.   When you ask for something, it generally indicates that you actually WANT it, for some reason or another. And while sometimes a person might ask for pain or difficulty simply because they desire the attention that often accompanies such situations, I’m guessing those people are in the minority. And most likely those people have deeply rooted security issues that are best left addressed by professionals, while the rest of us work on our compassion. But most people in this world, they aren’t asking for the brokenness around them. They are accepting it as part of the deal.

Adoptive families don’t ask for the tension and chaos that comes home with a new child. But they accept it as part of the deal for bringing that child into a home. Adoptive families don’t ask for the financial stress that lingers after spending thousands of dollars to ransom a life, but they accept it as part of the deal for that redemption. Adoptive families don’t ask for attachment disorders, severely neglected and abused children, or self-harming behaviors that might plague a child from a hard background. But they accept that it might be a part of the deal to give that child a chance for a better future. Adoptive families don’t ask for countless hours of therapy, hospital visits, and insurance claims, but they accept that monotony as part of the deal for the privilege of seeing a child made whole. Adoptive families don’t ask for the loss of friendships, isolation, or loneliness that sometimes mark a homecoming. But they accept it as part of the deal for refusing to let a child spend their life alone.

Think about that the next time you want to tell someone they “asked” for something. Do you really mean it? And I try to think about that whenever fear surfaces. There are so many unknowns in our story, and that is the hardest part for me. We have no idea what we have chosen to accept as part of the deal for making Boo our son. We are willing to accept whatever may come, but the uncertainty of it all can be scary.

But the truth is, we are stronger than the fear. Well, maybe we aren’t, but He is. He will sustain us, maintain us, and surround us with His beauty. In the midst of the pain, and the hurt, and all of the broken, He will show us His glory. He will put our family back together more beautifully than we can imagine. He makes beautiful things out of dust. He does, I promise. It’s our belief in family that led us here in the first place. Boo deserves to be part of a family that doesn’t give up on him. Or each other. Or hope and joy and life. Sissy and Bug deserve that too. So we have accepted that there might be some ugly before the beautiful.

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Please be kind to us during that time.

****And please, consider buying a shirt to support Ryan, a spirited little boy who doesn’t yet have a mama in his corner, no one willing to accept his hard in order to uncover his beautiful. You can also donate to this handsome boy through the link either on the side (computer) or bottom (phone) of this blog!