Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Why I Love My Math Man

I love that at the end of a 12 hour day of math, my husband comes home energized.

I love that I can walk around the house tidying up and find little pieces of paper all over the place with totally incomprehensible writing on them, like the little discovery on the kitchen table this evening.

I love that my husband unflinchingly admitted, well before I was a sure thing, that he watched Good Will Hunting on the eve before math exams in college to psych himself up.  

I love that it is not a completely uncommon thing for me to be woken up in the middle of the night by passionate mutterings of math equations from the other side of the bed.

I love that when we see dorky math jokes on tshirts or bumper stickers he doesn't even pretend to think they are dumb.

I love that he can call me from a three day math conference and tell me that he's genuinely having a really good time and that the talks are incredibly interesting.

I love that his math brain has translated into a phenomenal ability to play the piano and that I get to be serenaded by this talent on an almost daily basis.

I love that he's ok with the fact that my eyes glaze over when he's trying to explain some particularly exciting point from his class that day but that he continues to explain anyway.

Most of all I love that he loves what he's doing. And that he was clearly meant to do it. 

Sunday, November 27, 2011

The Letter

For weeks now, one page of our adoption photo book has remained empty. It's this huge blank space, devoid of any writing, any pictures...and every time I pull up the book online to write in it, I freeze up. The letter to the birth parents. A succinct note that in just a few words enables me to communicate who I am, why I love my family and why I respect the decision this person is making in choosing adoption.  This has got to be the hardest thing I've ever written.

How do you write a letter to someone who is trying to decide whether or not you are the right mother for her child? Where do you even start? "Dear person who is going through one of the most painful struggles a person could ever go through...let me introduce myself?"  My consolation is that my husband's page at this point is also blank. Neither one of us has felt a particularly spectacular moment of inspiration that has led to an actual letter.

A few friends have reminded me that in the grand scheme of things this letter very likely won't mean much for our adoption. The story our book tells, the feeling a parent gets when they read it or even just a random picture of our family at the beach that a birth parent really likes could be the simple deciding factor, one way or the other.  Bottom line, they have reminded me, is that there is Someone at work over all this who will help the right parents make the decision that is best for their child and invite us to be his or her forever family.  But, being someone who loves beautiful words, who has been battling perfectionism all my life and struggles mightily and often with trust, this letter feels like it needs to be perfect. That it needs to communicate our admiration for their choice, our own humility in this process, our love for these birth parents and their unborn child while all the while feeling sincere and not cliched. Or we'll never get chosen. 

Reality is here.  This book needs to be finished in a little more than a week. We'll be sitting down with our case worker who needs to "approve" it and then we need to let that book go from computer to ink and paper (in the multiple copies needed for the agency office).   After that, we won't be able to change anything, unless, of course, we want to redo it and single-handedly keep Shutterfly in business this holiday season.  Given all our other holiday and adoption expenditures, I'm thinking we've got one shot at this. Breathe in, Carolyn.

Earlier this week I sat in our nursery with the early morning light streaming through the window.  I sipped my coffee and enjoyed the peacefulness of a room that is just waiting for a little person. A room that just this summer was transformed from an often-unused guest room to a bright and cheerful nursery. A room that now holds the promise of noise and stinkiness and the crash of toys and squeals of delight that a nursery is made for. I spent some time praying for our little one who will live here and for the parents who will make the ultimate, grief-filled sacrifice in giving her to us. Moments like that help make the words of this letter feel less important. There's really nothing I can say that can touch that deepest part of who they are that will always ache at some level over this choice.

I'm thinking I probably need way more time in that quiet, sweet nursery than I do thinking ponderously in front of my computer.  That sweet room reminds me that the words to this letter, whether important or unimportant, will come at the right moment and, hopefully, speak life and encouragement to these people who will be irrevocably tied to our family, not because I am good at stringing coherent sentences together or because I know the right thing to say but because of the grace and love of God, who has seen us through three years of waiting and will see us through this letter, too.

Monday, November 7, 2011

The Colors of Us

Last week my son and I started reading a book called The Colors of Us.  This book was recommended at a fantastic talk I attended recently that discussed racial perceptions in children.   We were given a nice list of books to get some good conversations going around the house. And off to the library we went.

The thing is, though, my kid seems to not notice physical differences between people besides, unfortunately, weight. (Believe me, this has definitely been commented on loudly in public settings. "Mom, is that lady having a baby?!', child says as he points to a woman who is likely no less than 70 years old with a bit of a belly. "No, kiddo, I don't think so.")  No, my child is a relatively non-visual kid.  So some people might find it strange that I'd want to point out differences to a kid who seems happily "colorblind."  I'm of the opinion that if I don't start the conversation, someone else will and that conversation might not be so positive.  I want to be proactive. And I also think that the idea of colorblindness is nonsense, to be quite honest.

The woman who gave the talk I attended quoted a statistic that 75% of black children have talked openly about race in the home by the time they enter kindergarten and only 25% of white children have. I'm not sure where she got her stats but, honestly, that stat on white kids struck me as high. Maybe I'm pessimistic about white people and racial conversations, but I'm glad the stats show that someone, somewhere is having them and I want to be sure that Josh is comfortable talking about this and is taught healthy attitudes and language from a young age.

Do I have all the answers? No. But I want him to know from a young age that this is a good thing to talk about, that there is deep beauty in the differences he sees.  Or doesn't see yet, but will.  Do I know what I'm doing? Not necessarily. Do I feel completely confident that everything I say is being said correctly? No. However, I'm hoping to continue my own education in this area even as I educate my son rather than letting fears or misgivings keep me silent. It's very likely that his little brother or sister will not share his ethnicity.  I'm excited about that but I also know that that means another type of education that I need to be ready to provide, for both my children.  Transracial adoption is not meant to be trendy. It's hard stuff. It will mean many more racial conversations in our family than in the average white family.  I look at that as a positive thing.  So many of us who are white have the option to not think or talk about race - we don't have to because it feels like it doesn't affect us. But people of color do not have that option.  For many, their race is a very real part of who they are and it affects what their day looks like.  If we bring a child into this house who is not white, I want to be ready to help that child understand that there are still systems and structures and people out there who will judge him based on the color of his skin, that this country is still amazingly far from racially reconciled.  And I don't want my children to know only the hard stuff, but also that white isn't "normal" and that the "colors of us" are all beautiful and unique. 

So we will continue read this book and many more like it. It has already led to some fantastic conversations about his own race and background and it has changed how he is coloring his coloring books.  To be honest, it's pretty boring to always use that peachy color when you're coloring in people, anyway. Branching out in our crayola box has added a lot of fun to art time around here.

I look forward to more ways to figure out our world together.  

Friday, November 4, 2011

Hindi and Portuguese and Mandarin, Please?

I've never been a huge fan of kids music. Sure, I enjoy the average sing-a-long with a group of little kids as well as a good campfire song, but when it comes to listening to music in the car? Nope. There were certainly things I was willing to give up when I became a parent but singing at the top of my lungs and car dancing were not on that list.  Happily, it seems my child may have inherited this deep joy of personal abandon in the car.  It seems that as long as I play a song that has electric guitar and a sweet drum beat, we are all set. He even requests songs with electric guitar solos which means we get to listen to plenty of 80's music while he air guitars it in the back seat. Yes.

This week, we have moved into a new genre of music.  Those who know me probably know that I love to listen to music written in different languages. I have tried in vain for several years to convince my child that listening to music he cannot understand is, in fact, very interesting, but until now he didn't buy it.  Then Chris Tomlin put out a version of a song we've known for years that has different verses being sung in Hindi, Indonesian, Spanish, Portuguese, Zulu, Afrikaans, Mandarin, Russian and English.  Now, I instantly loved this song and put it on when we got in the car this week. It starts in English, so Josh didn't automatically ask me to change it to an English song. And then he kept listening.

If you haven't heard it, here it is.
How Great is Our God World Edition

Just a few days later, the only song we have listened to in the car is this song. Over and over. And our interchanges have sounded like this.

Josh: "Mom, what language is that?"
Me: "Um, I think Russian?"
Josh: "From Russia?"
Me: "Yup."
Josh: "Mom, what language is that?"
Me: "Um, I think Mandarin."
Josh: "Where do they speak that?"
Me: "China."
Josh: "Ok, so now I want to learn Hindi and Portuguese and Mandarin, please. I like that one, too."

Seriously, I am wondering if this kid is going to be some kind of polyglot, he's so interested.  The obsession with the song tops off a month during which we have been disallowed to read books with our own boring mid-atlantic accents but have been pleaded with at rest and bedtime to "please read that in a French accent" or "how about a Brooklyn accent today, mom?"  My child has never been particularly visual, but what he lacks in that, he more than makes up for in his auditory interests. We cannot now go into any store without him asking me several times where different people are from when he hears them speak.  Sometimes rather loudly. I am thankful he is still so darn cute or people might misconstrue what he's asking.

As for me, I love that he's so interested.  We came home the other day and I convinced him to listen to a song in Cherokee after which we ended up having a really lengthy discussion about the migrations of people over thousands of years, who Native Americans are and a somewhat awkward conversation about what happened to them when people who look like our family came to America.  No one wants to teach a 5 year old the word "genocide", so we'll save that particular lesson for a little bit later. 

I don't often give out parental advice in this blog, but listening to these songs has opened up a world of discussions for us. Discussions on race, ethnicity, language, culture, geography and who God is in the midst of all of those things. It's been pretty sweet.  I have delighted in seeing him truly start to learn to appreciate the beauty of different languages and am excited to see the way this continues to play out. He cannot wait to begin to learn to speak some of them. 

For his sake, I hope he has more natural talent in learning languages than either of his parents.

Thursday, November 3, 2011

A Different Kind of Normal

There seem to be a few different camps from which people come in the adoption world. Those who have wanted to do this for forever and are completely convinced of what they are doing. Those who always vaguely thought it could be a cool thing but figured they'd see about it after having a few biological kids. Those who never gave it a thought, never assumed they'd have to and are now faced with the choice of either pursuing adoption or not becoming parents.  There might be others, but those are the three with which I've had contact. 

In the first two camps, it seems like there's often this romantic view of adoption. This beautiful picture of how God has loved us and adopted us and wouldn't it be awesome for us to bring a child into our family this way, a child who otherwise would likely have an awful life?  There's sometimes not really any understanding of the amount of grief an adopted child will have to work through, perhaps a callous view of birth parents and a subconscious assigning to them the label of "irresponsible", and an oversimplified understanding of what it will take to parent a child whose life story is, as some adoption books call it, a "different kind of normal."  

If you've followed my blog, you know we probably fall into that second camp. The couple who was never totally convinced we planned to do this but had it vaguely on the radar, who loved the theological picture of adoption and thought that this could be a really great way to grow our family...someday.  When faced with years of secondary infertility, however, adoption was thrust into a very stark light. It became something that wasn't just a romantic possibility, but a very present reality if we wanted to see our family grow.  Suddenly, it became very important to really know what this entailed - to break out of some of the romance and really see what it will take to be good adoptive parents. One the one hand, to be reminded that there is most certainly something incredible and beautiful and deeply theological about the process. On the other hand, to be faced with statistics and trainings and books and articles all geared towards preparing us for that different kind of normal. How to talk to your adoptive child about his or her life story and birth parents, how to answer blatantly ignorant questions on the playground or at the mall about the demographics of your family, what type of openness to choose, whether to interim foster the child you adopt or go with direct placement and, of course, the particular challenges and opportunities with transracial adoption.

It seems like everyone has an opinion on these issues. Many people have audibly breathed a sigh of relief that we are going with an infant adoption because "the child will bond more easily with you."  Maybe so, maybe not. Everyone wants to ask the question about transracial adoption but many people don't have the words to put the question to us.  A lot of people have questions about the extra challenges of the teen years in raising a child who is not your own race in a country that is highly racialized.  How do you help them form identity? What will you do if they resent you from taking them from their "culture"? These are questions we have heard and questions we have had to wrestle with as well.  The thing I've learned is that many of the stereotypes I had about adoptive children and parents are false and much of my own ignorance seems to be pretty widespread. People have lots of concerns, but a lot of them are often based on hearsay or the assorted story they've heard in the news.  But how many of us, unless we're actively pursuing this, have really read the literature?  I certainly had not.  Especially not on the topic of transracial adoption.

The topic of transracial adoption is really one for a series of posts. It is loaded. There are advocates, there are proponents. There are transracially adopted children who would testify that this was a great experience for them and others who would atttribute a lot of difficulties in their own life to having been brought up in a "white" home but not being white themselves.  The fact is, there are differences in raising a child of another ethnicity than ours- not differences in how we will love them or what we will teach them about life, but things we will need to be aware of about who they are, what society says about them because of their ethnicity and what challenges will face them as they grow that our white son may never face. In fact, in going the route of adopting a child of color, we will have to go through some very specific trainings that adoptive parents adopting a white child will not have to do.  Clearly there are big differences, even in a world that often likes to talk about the beauty of the melting pot or "all God's children" and then say that love will cover over anything we could possibly do wrong.

Like I said, this topic alone could and likely will be, a series of posts in the near future.

For now let me say this:  parenthood is full of surprises and unknowns.  You don't know who you'll get from your own uterus and you don't know who you'll get from another woman's.  This process is teaching me to hold some expectations very loosely and to cling to certain truths all the more tightly. 

Our family will be a different kind of normal- we have no idea of knowing what that will look like despite all our trainings and adoption plans and intentions.  We just know it will be. And that that different kind of normal will be beautiful, hilarious, painful, nerve-wracking and unexpected, just like making a family has been up to this point.        

Saturday, October 29, 2011

Going Sugar-Free

I've been seeing a nutritionist for quite some time; really, since my body retaliated against fertility hormones almost a year ago by making me feel awful 24 hours a day.  And I've been mostly happy with the results. My headaches are mostly gone, I feel healthier, my grocery bill has increased. (Well, maybe happy isn't the word to describe that last side effect)  No changes in my baby status but other things have made life much better.  Everything she has asked me to either give up or add to my diet up to this point has been doable for me. Some choices were hard, but still realistic.

Then yesterday she drops what feels to me like a very real bomb. Here was the conversation.

Nutritionist: "I think you should go off sugar for 6 weeks as well as cut down on carbs."
Me: (silence)
Nutritionist: "I can't see any other reason for a lot of the issues you have, the weight loss and especially the infertility, other than a sugar sensitivity."
Me: (silence with increasing panic)
Nutritionist: "So, do you think you can do it?"
Me: (Full on panic) "Does that mean all sugar? Even honey? And chocolate? And pasta?" (heart beating incredibly fast to the tune of "I cannot do this, I cannot do this, I cannot do this) "How do you expect me to drink your herbs with no honey?"
Nutritionist: "Yes. All sugar. All honey. A little pasta. You can put stevia in your herbs." (For those who have tried stevia, this was no consolation to me. Blech.)

So, there you have it. She wants me to try it. And for 24 hours I have been mulling this over. Like the good ISTJ firstborn that I am, I will follow her rules. I will try this. In honor of my last day of eating sugar, I had two large cups of very sugary coffee and a cupcake and s'mores. I'm sure I overdosed but I figured if this is it for awhile, especially with both Halloween and Thanksgiving looming, I was going out with a sugar-coma bang.

You see, I love sugar and carbs. I love desserts, especially cookies and ice cream. I cannot ingest a hot beverage that does not involve bountiful spoonfuls of sugar. I eat whipped cream right out of the can when no one is looking.  If my steering wheel were coated in sugar, I would lick it while I drive. 

This, my friends, is a big sacrifice. And the test came quickly. A friend came over today with her two lovely dogs for a playdate. And into my home she came with a box of hot krispy kreme donuts for a surprise. Seriously? I gazed longingly as my son and she consumed donuts, watching little pieces of that gorgeous hard icing falling to the ground and contemplating whether I would be considered deranged if I were to drop down on all fours and lick them up off the deck. Zeke beat me to it before I could act.  I should also mention that this very well-intentioned friend had zero idea I was off sugar. Any other day in my life, I would've greeted her with her very own parade.

Yes, this particular sacrifice is going to take a lot of hard work. A lot of trust in God's ability to give me the self-control I lack in this area.  This is going to take me waking up every morning and recommitting this to a God who is way more powerful than my sugar cravings and is in control of my crazy metabolic issues and my rebellious uterus. Even on the days when I struggle to really trust his sovereignty and his fairness.  And those days, I am sad to say, still come more often than I'd like.  Maybe this is one more way he's going to show me how big he is and how much faith I really need to get through each day.

Friday, October 28, 2011

Adventures in Backyard Camping...and Airborne Assaults

Neither my husband and I would be considered experienced or skillful campers. We love the outdoors but for most of our lives have loved the outdoors during the day and enjoyed our soft beds at night. Occasionally, we both experienced backyard campouts or an overnight at a campground and I did once spend a few days hiking through the Adirondacks, but we are probably pretty soft-core when it comes to braving the overnight elements.

So, when it came time to introduce the child to the wonders of campouts, we decided to stick to family tradition and start out with the backyard. Last night, we borrowed the neighbor's firepit, cooked hotdogs and s'mores over an open flame, managed not to set the fearless dog on fire who was gamely attempting to steal said hotdogs, pitched a tent, told 'dog' stories (we actually wanted the kid to sleep, after all), had a flashlight show and hunkered down for the night.

Upon which I remembered why I don't camp very often as I tried in vain to roll in any direction that would let me sleep on a surface that did not have multiple acorns and sharp rocks intruding into various organs. Ah well. The sacrifices we make for our kids.

So, there we were, child sound asleep, adults sleeping fitfully and dog occasionally woofing gently as another neighborhood dog made his presence known by howling at the bright moon when I was abruptly shaken awake to hear my husband militarily whispering "let's go, let's go". I stared incomprehensibly at him with the child in his arms and a panicked look on his face and, of course, was instantly awake in my own state of panic. What was wrong? Was Josh ok?

Of course, the next minute, as reality began to set in, I realized that we were under airborne assault. It was as if a thousand squirrels had banded together in one final act of mutiny against humankind, counted to three, and then launched every existing acorn at our feeble tent. I think I even heard one laughing maniacally. As small gunshots went off around us and the wind roared and the smell of rain became more pungent, the panicked whisper came again. "Let's go, it's coming!"

Now, this moment reminded me of one of the first few months of our marriage as we were still getting used to sleeping in the same bed when I was awoken to my husband who had protectively thrown his body over me and was shouting, "stay down, the sky is falling"(no, neither the sky nor ceiling was actually falling down)  so it's possible that he was experiencing a not-unusual sleep-motivated bout of hysterical heroism.

We paused, talked quietly about it, realized that it was not unlikely that a large limb could come down on our sad little tent the way the wind was blowing and carried the soon-to-be-disappointed-but-still-in-a-dead-sleep child upstairs to bed.  We took apart the tent in the moonlight, calmed down the dog who was potentially more worked up than my husband over the whole event and trooped upstairs to our soft beds and a likely painful explanation to come in the morning.

Clearly we have developed no new outdoor skills since the last time I tried camping.  Ah well, here's to giving it a try and to a flexible child who awoke with a  few disappointed tears a little later and then rallied to the cause of comfort by snuggling up with us in bed for the night.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Where Are All the Women?

This is my second season coaching soccer. This year we're in the Under 5 league, which means that the cuteness level is still dangerously high but the skill level is actually starting to catch up. At least most days.

The world of kids sports is an interesting one. You certainly can get the parents who are already living vicariously through their children's heroics on the field, but I've only encountered a few of these so far. I imagine the ratio grows steadily larger the older the kids yet.  Occasionally you get a kid who talks trash, but again, they might be a bit too young for this to be a big deal.  The trash talk is kind of funny when they do come up with it. Probably not quite on par with what's heard on the sidelines of the world cup, to say the least.

Possibly the most interesting part of this so far has been the coaches. I grew up playing sports from right around Josh's age. With the exception of one year of volleyball and track, I had women's coaches through my sporting years.  Most of the girls I was friends with were involved in at least one sport. Gymnastics, soccer, softball, field hockey, track. In college many of us continued by playing intramurals and I've been a part of a co-ed volleyball league this past year in the Triangle in which many women my age are involved.

But out on that field? I have only encountered one woman coach and that was last year in the Under 4 league. She may or may not have been a college student trying to get some community service hours.  So where are all the women?  Early in my marriage, Reed and I would have (usually congenial) arguments about who was going to teach our kids which sport. I called volleyball, he had dibs on basketball, I got baseball, he's excited about football, etc.  We both played soccer and both looked forward to coaching and figured we'd take turns. My schedule works best with this and so I get to do it right now. I wonder if other marriages have had similar encounters or if this is an area where gender stereotypes still reign?  Maybe it's just a foregone conclusion for many that the dad will coach, if anyone is going to do it?  It certainly looks and feels that way.

I'll be honest. I think this is a shame. While I think men can be and are great coaches, I also think women have a ton to bring to the table here, especially those who stay home more than their husbands.  For a lot of us, we interact more regularly with bigger groups of kids.  We're usually the ones going to the birthday parties or arranging the play dates. We often chaperone the preschool trips and try to come up with creative projects on rainy mornings.  So why aren't we out on the fields?

I imagine that for some women, sending their kids off with dad for practice is actually a much welcome break, a chance to have an hour to themselves or to get dinner started without children underfoot.  I totally get that reasoning and if I had more than one kid I've wondered if I'd urge my husband to do the coaching so I could get a break.  But for some women, I wonder if it's just not on the radar. Maybe they haven't played sports since middle or high school and there's a confidence issue. Maybe they aren't sure they have the time to be creative and come up with good practices. I fear, though, that some of this is just that sports are still a man's world.  And when only dads are coaching, that's all the kids will see.   

I'm not a sociologist and have no hard stats to back up any of these musings. I've just been pondering, after two weeks in a row playing against coaches I wouldn't want my son to have, where all the women are.  And wondering what kids soccer would look like if a few more took the plunge and risked severe head and shin injuries by playing "Kick the Coach" every week. 

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

The Mushy Brain

It's been a long time since I've been in an academic class. Or to a lecture. Or in any kind of environment in which my brain would be regularly massaged.  I spend a lot of time playing with cars and legos, drawing pictures of airports and racetracks, planning soccer practice drills and playing tee-ball in the yard. I do a lot of data entry with my job, a lot of meal planning and implementing for my family.  I laugh a lot.  But there are days my brain feels like mush.

I loved school. I really did. Unashamedly. I was that person who looked forward to final exams because it meant that life slowed down around me and all I had to do was study for hours and hours a day. Lock myself in the basement of the library with a lug-a-mug of hot chocolate mixed with coffee and just study. Learn. Think. Cram my head full of interesting (and sometimes not-so-interesting but nonetheless necessary) facts.  I can still tell you the names of most of the classes I took in college because I actually enjoyed them. I really did. And not in that "oh I'm so privileged to have an education so I should appreciate it and work hard" kind of way. I was a nerd in the nicest sense.

For over 10 years now I have not been a student. I've taken a few summer seminary classes, as well as a few forays into the creative arts with a hip-hop dance class and oil painting(The hip hop class alone is probably worthy of several blog posts).  There are days, though, that I just miss being a student. Days when I go to the library to work on documents for my job and stare jealously at the person across my big table who is clearly studying a textbook. I'm sure I've become the "creepy" girl at the local library by now.

Tonight a friend invited me to attend a local event. A lecture on Race and Children's perspectives at a local eatery, a program affectionately(and nerdily) known as Periodic Tables.  Halfway through the day I was partially trying to find a valid excuse not to go. Not because I wasn't interested in the topic, but because I've become accustomed to being in my pajamas by 8pm most nights curled up on the sofa with my dog and a good book. And occasionally my husband.  But as I was hemming and hawing and generally feeling like a fuddy-duddy, I suddenly realized that I could not remember the last time I had done something like this. When I had gone into an environment that might actually challenge my brain a little. When I'd hung out with only adults outside my home.  And I realized if I didn't get out and do this, I was definitely in danger of brain atrophy.

So, my friend and I ventured out in the rain. She 39 weeks pregnant, me tired and grumpy from a week with a sick child and too many pretend car races to count.  And it was fantastic. We talked, we laughed. We listened to an intelligent adult human being with a PhD talk about race and perceptions among children and what we as parents can do to be proactive in building a healthy understanding of race in our kids as well as fostering open communication about it in our homes. It was challenging, it was entertaining and it made me yearn for more.  It made me yearn, as I often do these days, to be a student again.

Some days I do wonder if this growing desire to be back behind a desk is just my typical boredom or if it's really the Lord starting to move me towards a change.  I've been working with the same amazing organization for 10 years now. And I love it. But sometimes I'm not so sure that I'm staying with it for all the right reasons.  I've never been a particularly fearful person, but it's no small thing to end a career with a company you trust, colleagues you love and a cause for which you are passionate.  Taking a plunge somewhere else would be a huge change. And being in the middle of the adoption process doesn't make taking that plunge any easier as I am busy plunging in other ways.

Whether I move slowly towards the decision to go back to school or not, I do know this. I'm going back next month to hear another lecture. Second Tuesdays of the month, here I come.  Mushy brain beware.

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

The New Camera

When my little point and shoot died a few days before my trip to Ireland this summer, I frantically spent hours on the internet, trying to figure out if there was a reasonably inexpensive way to upgrade to a better camera in time for the trip. There wasn't. Thankfully, a dear friend let me borrow her lovely camera for the trip and I was able to come home with hundreds of clear pictures and, inadvertently, the overwhelming desire to now take hundreds of clear pictures as often as possible. I guess this is how new hobbies are born.

So, I've been scouring the ads for months, waiting for the perfect combination of price, age, condition and type of camera to come up and this Monday, bingo. There it was. A Canon Rebel EOS series. Practically new, excellent condition, with a bag, with memory cards, with a lens, with built in deep joy, without a ridiculous price tag.  My darling mother had already offered to help offset the cost by contributing as a birthday and Christmas gift and so I jumped on it.  I am now the proud owner, scouring the manual and torturing my child and dog during even the simplest of family moments.  As I snapped away during chili night last night, my husband wearily asked if all these pictures would go on facebook. No, darling. Even I know that no one cares to see chili smeared on our faces on a random Tuesday night for no specific reason.  (Don't we wish all facebook users knew this?")

But, in the name of full disclosure, here are a few shots that I've enjoyed taking over the last 24 hours. New hobbies are just the best.  
My very fluffy Zeke

This is how I look when I am playing with anything that has wheels.

Marigolds Still In Bloom

Dribbling at Soccer Practice

Yeah, that ball just went in.

Friday, September 30, 2011

Did I Really Just Say That?

Brian Regan, my favorite comedian, does a hilarious bit about the sentences he never imagined he'd have to bring himself to say as a parent.  I find his observations to be true and have also found myself marveling at the sentences I never dreamed I'd hear said by another human being.  The problem with both, I've found, is that one has to keep a straight face while either saying or listening to said lunacy.

For example, here are some of  the things I've had the joy of listening to lately:
"Mom, what would happen if I accidentally ate your boogies?" (and no, I cannot imagine a scenario in which this would have been a legitimate concern for my child)

"Mom, come quick. I found something." (Upon which I enter the bathroom and find my naked child bent in half closely scrutinizing his private parts.) "Look, there's three!" (Attempt at keeping straight face so as to literally not laugh at my child's self-discovery of extra body parts.)

"Why doesn't Henri (our friends' dog) run more? (I explain to child that when animals and people get older they begin to slow down.) "Oh, like daddy?" (Ouch, husband.)

"Mom, where is Megan's baby going to come out of when she's born?" (I explain as gently as possible about the mechanics and anatomy of childbirth) "Mom, that's a really strange place to come out of!"(True thing, buddy.)

And here are some of the ridiculous things I've heard come out of my own mouth, not necessarily in response to the above scenarios, just in general good-time parenting moments.
"If you don't finish your cookie, we can't read a book."
"Please don't climb me." 
"No, we can't go to the store and get a baby." 
"Stop riding the dog!" 
"No, I didn't pee on you when you were born." 

I'm absolutely sure there are hundreds more absurd sentences that I have formed in the name of good parenting. The best thing I can say about all of these moments is that I am very much kept laughing in my home, even when the laughing has to be held in and expressed later so as not to insult my child's very serious scientific inquiries.   Here's to four-year-olds and their natural comedic contributions to family life!

Saturday, September 24, 2011

And Then I Stepped On A Slug

It's been one of those weeks.

Our second baby would've been two this week. I thought it wouldn't be a big deal. It was.

I spent every extra minute of free time planning a yard sale that made a grand total of $14.

We got adoption paperwork back in the mail because we had submitted something incorrectly. Oh, snail mail.

I haven't slept through the night in a week due to thunderstorms, racing minds and a four year old who has suddenly decided that sleeping through the night is for suckers. (I realize that to those of you with newborns this seems ridiculous but when you get past that sleepless stage and into the realm of the living, the nights when you go backwards take on a whole new realm of pain.)

I had to give my son a very specific and anatomically correct sex talk. It's too early. Darn his very particular and insistent questions and all the pregnant women around me that have precipitated them.

And then I stepped on a slug. Tonight, when I got up from the couch to go rooting through the kitchen to find my secret stash of life-saving mint milanos, I stepped on a slug. A slimy, fat, sitting-in-the-middle-of-my-kitchen-floor slug.  Right.

Normally, I like to find the bright side or some deeper lesson in a week like this. Tonight, I am just thankful that tomorrow is Sunday. Thankful for a new day. A new week.  A morning with my church family.  And also, of course, that the slug has been swiftly and summarily squished and disposed of.

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

A Different Kind of Waiting

While pregnant friends and acquaintances update their facebook statuses, sometimes multiple times a day, I wait. I have no baby bump to proudly take pictures of. There are no ultrasounds to post as my profile picture. There's no ecstatic call to the family members to gush over a positive pregnancy test.  I have no daily reminder of a baby due to nausea or sleeplessness or heartburn except for that which is caused by the mountain of paperwork sitting on my desk.

I can't plan for a certain color nursery because I don't know the gender of my child. My son can't reach over and touch my belly when his little sibling kicks.  People in public don't see me and automatically know that I'm expecting a little one. Some family and friends aren't even sure what they think about this addition and some aren't supportive at all.

But somewhere out there, there's a baby. A little person who is loved by the God I know. He may not yet even exist. She may be considered an accident or may have parents who can't care for her even though they want to with all their heart.  There might even be two babies.  

So. I can pick out names. I can get my nursery ready because who needs a gender specific nursery, anyway? I can have pictures taken and put together a book that represents the gifts I've been given in my family, friends, home, work and church so a birthparent out there can see what life a baby might have here. I can talk about the process of adoption with my son and still pray every night for his baby brother and sister. He now adds "from mommy's belly or from adoption" to the end of his plea. I can update people in our lives who are excited about this every time another piece of paperwork goes through or we cut a big check.  I can plan and dream with my husband about what changes a second child will bring to our family dynamic, although it's likely an illusion that I have any idea what it will be like.

I can know in my heart that there's a special child out there, one that is perfect for our family, who will be a child, a friend, a sibling, a torturer of our dog and, if my son has his way, will be skilled at the bass so our band will be complete.  A child who will likely not look like any of us but will be just as much a part of our family as any child I could give birth to. I can wait, sometimes patiently but often impatiently, because this child is as real as any other.   I can resist the desire, by God's grace and help, to feel jealous at all the pregnant people around me because the great (although sometimes elusive) reality is that I'm expecting, too.

It's a different kind of waiting. It's hard and good and oh so rich.  It's waiting on the unexpected and knowing it will change my life.

Thursday, September 1, 2011

The World of Jane Green

I don't precisely remember how it happened but I've found myself immersed in Jane Green books this summer. I've read two and am in the middle of the third.  Possibly the attraction is that her main characters are often leading a parallel life to mine: Young to mid-30's, moms, careers.  In the stories, these women are discovering they have at some point in their lives settled for less than what they want or deserve and they experience these epiphanies of longing. Of wanting a better life, a life that reflects who they really are, what they really want, not just what they've fallen lazily into. And suddenly life works out well. Things fall together, happiness ensues.

Clearly I'm writing this with a pinch of sarcasm.  Not because I think the endings are cliche but because I think there is a piece of me who feels the same way. That has trouble with contentment. That wonders "what if" about certain decisions I've made along the way.  I'm betting many women I know would feel the same way, deep down. It's not something we necessarily admit or talk about, but some vague discontent. I've heard some of the questions asked that I do ponder. Is it possible to be in purposeful mission when you're elbow deep in diapers and ABC's?  Can you really "have it all" and not be overwhelmed?  Is it ok to not feel totally fulfilled by motherhood and family life? What are healthy desires?

At the core of these books is the premise, of course, that each of us deserves in life to be happy. That our end goal and the means along the way should be self-satisfaction. Making the decisions that are best for us as individuals, moving on in marriage if you accidentally married the "wrong" guy, getting angry or, to be frank, bitchy to assert that we are not pushovers and can claim control over anything we want.  Over and over again these characters make poor decisions. And over and over again there is this glaring thing missing. The author stops short of identifying that core longing and doesn't choose to make much commentary on the ridiculous nature of these characters' sexual, moral and, to be frank, pretty selfish decisions other than that eventually they'll happen miraculously upon the "right" decisions. But to me, on each page, there is this clear void. This overwhelming need to be fulfilled and while the author rightly helps her protagonists realize that happiness doesn't lie in the number of Manolo Blahnik shoes one owns(I didn't actually know what these were before reading the books, given that my primary shoe store is Payless) they never quite get past finding happiness and contentment in relationships and self-fulfillment.  The longing stays a longing.

I imagine if there were a real-life epilogue to most of these stories, say 10 years down the road, these women would be discontented again because we are not meant to be fulfilled by anything other than God. I related so uncomfortably close to these women in some ways and had to be reminded that my happiness, first of all, is not my goal in life and, secondly, that no matter how much longing I have, the only place that space will be filled is at the foot of the cross.  Not filled by a new baby, not filled by a foray into grad school or a new career or anything I can achieve myself.

I'm convinced that this author has hit what a lot of women struggle with right on the head.  She has done so humorously and with elements of hope. But the success stops there. Without God, everything else is just so uncertain. Even with God, most things are still pretty uncertain. But at least when I'm pointed in that right direction, the uncertainties don't sway me as much. The lack of control isn't quite as terrifying. The "what-ifs" not quite as loud or condemning.  The poor decisions, hopefully, become fewer. The longing may stay, but the joy of it is that it's a longing with a clear fulfillment.

I'm thankful for these books, thankful that they've reminded me of my innate tendency to desire things, to desire fulfillment in my own achievements and to always, always seem to long for more.  I'm thankful that it is clear that nothing earthly can possibly fulfill those longings and that every time I put down one of her books I am drawn back to scripture, drawn back to true hope and the only safe place to truly process those longings.

I am also very thankful that these books make me laugh out loud. Anything that helps me take life less seriously is always a welcome addition to the day.  

Monday, August 29, 2011

The, um, Joys of Learning

There was a whole lot of new going on around here this summer.  Training wheels have came off the bike, the child wants to roller skate, has recently started regularly doing chores that don't involve just picking up the seemingly endless piles of toys in our home and has learned to swim.  What does this mean? As the rate of learning new and difficult things increases so proportionately does the parental need for patience and understanding(as well as does the use of ice packs on the lower back.)

So, earlier this summer as I was dutifully holding up the back of the bike as my child rode gleefully on in the 90 degree heat I was reflecting on what this summer had to offer.  We lasted roughly 20 minutes in the heat before a very wilted me and a very sweaty Josh stumped back into the house to crash with some watermelon and ice water in front of Dinosaur Train. (If you have a young child and haven't discovered this show, what more could you ask for in entertainment than the plot of dinosaurs who travel on trains to different eras to meet other dinosaurs? I submit to you, nothing.)  A few days later, we spent an hour in the pool- Josh "swimming" as I held up his stomach in a vain effort to get him to actually move forward while he kicked.  Another morning, before we rode bikes I also held him up as he attempted to roller skate which essentially meant "push one foot, push the other foot, fall and yank mom's arm out of her socket...and again".  There's a big theme of "holding" in all the learning going on around here.  Which translates very nicely to a tired and sore back for my increasingly aging body. There are days that I really do miss being 18. I'm guessing all this would be much easier in that body.

 But here's what I've learned. As I thought about three months without school or foreseeable structure, it seemed like an  endless series of "holding ups".  The bike, the roller skates, the swimming, the constant verbal holding up in reminding him to do his chores and talking him through the next LEGO creation he was working on.  I've already seen some of my values coming to the top. I've learned I cannot stand the words "I can't" coming out of my child's mouth and have found myself making those declarative family lore statements like "In our family, those words aren't allowed" or "Ogrosky's don't say can't!"  Where did I come up with that?  I've also found myself really irritated when my child seems to be illogically fearful.  Sometimes I've wanted to yell, "Just get over it and do it!"  I'm thinking this would not be a particularly helpful response to a frightened and cautious four-year-old so we usually packed up what we were doing and left the trying for a new day.  But I really do hate the idea of giving up. Not trying drives me crazy. These are values I clearly hold dear.

Some days I really wondered if the new day would actually hold a breakthrough.  I wondered if he'd ever really let go of the side and swim without being held. He did - he even jumps off the diving board now. I wondered if he'd ever make his bed without being asked- lately he's waking up, picking out his own clothes (which is a small miracle in itself given that I have a child who'd prefer to spend the whole day in jammies) and making his bed before he comes in to wake us up.  I'm still wondering if he'll ride his bike without training wheels but the unknown is now more of a when rather than an if.  He figures it out eventually. Even with all his holding on.  He eventually lets go.  He does persevere. He doesn't give up- he just does it in his own unique way.  Maybe that has something to do with being an Ogrosky or maybe it's just who he is.  Who knows.

Oh, parenthood. My perpetual lesson in patience and letting people be who they were made to be.  My hope as we head into the fall is that I'll really remember who my son is in those moments when he feels so "other".  That I'll hold him up for as long as I'm supposed to and help him let go when the moment comes.  That I'll confidently share our family values (that someday will likely be joked about to college roommates) in the context of grace and trust that they come across in love and not tyranny.

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Mountain Release

My husband and I decided to take a few days away, just the two of us. There’s this great B&B up in the mountains of Highland County, VA owned by my colleague’s parents and recommended by friends. The views are breathtaking, the coffee flows, the owners are kind, the food is fantastic, the rooms are without televisions and it’s impossible not to rest. Anything you do involves fantastic scenery. Above all, it’s quiet. Deafeningly quiet.

With the quiet comes a slowing down. It’s not easy for me to slow down, to really let my brain stop. Sometimes my brain feels so busy that I can’t even pinpoint what it’s actually busy doing. When I hit that point, I know it’s not a good sign. And as we’ve started along this adoption process, I’m noticing my brain tending in that direction again, tending towards chaos. Keeping track of paperwork, wondering, waiting, waiting, waiting. Did I mention waiting? Trying not to be frustrated when someone takes two months to fill out one tiny little piece of paperwork and then when it is finally sent it you find out from the agency that it was done wrong and has to be redone. How many more months, my brain wonders?

It all comes down to a lack of control. I can’t make someone prioritize our adoption- to many people, it is just another piece of paperwork. To us, it’s a child and every minute that goes by is another minute in our lives without that little person in our family. Another prayer time at night where my 4 year old quietly begs god for a sibling and starts to, finally, hint at being impatient with this whole process and asks tougher questions. Why do some of his friends have multiple siblings and he gets none? Doesn’t God hear our prayers?

So, being here, being away, not checking email, not being able to know if, finally, this one person has gotten her part done has actually been a good break. As I type this I am gazing out the window of our room on a gorgeous pink and purple sunset over the blue and hazy mountains. I am reminded that no matter how much I enjoy the perception of control, it’s all an illusion, anyway. I can’t really control anything. I can’t control our adoption process, my fertility, the bee that just stung my poor husband in the neck. None of it.

This past Sunday our pastor preached another sermon in a series on discernment and decision-making. One of his points was that when we are waiting for something our prayer needs to not be that that thing would come or happen, but that we would be content, patient and faithful as we wait and learn to trust God’s heart. And as I’ve thought about that I’ve had to be reminded anew that I need to pray that I would know that there is purpose in the waiting – not that God is maliciously sitting up in heaven and chuckling as he decides how many months or years to make us wait for something but that in any waiting I can choose to listen and learn or I can choose to grumble and yearn. Pure and simple.

So, with mountain breezes here hinting at fall, with no phone ringing or child chattering, I am enjoying at least a few moments of sweet quiet, of just trying to wait and be content, of not checking email every hour or two to see if the agency has approved us. I am slowing down and it is everything I dreamed it could be.

Friday, July 8, 2011

Sanctification by Community Pool

Last summer we freeloaded on some friends a number of times rather than joining a community pool ourselves. In my estimation, Josh was still young enough that being at the pool was less fun and more work.  Going occasionally was good but going all the time sounded exhausting.

This year, however, after another successful year of preschool, a great first season of sports and still no baby to be cared for, we thought it was good timing to join a pool and Josh was really excited about the prospect of making new friends and learning to dive for rockets at the bottom of the pool.  I was, I think, blissfully unaware of the challenges to my patience that awaited.

Apparently my inability to even desire to understand teenagers or treat them with much patience was about to become a big liability in terms of pool enjoyment.

We've been going to the pool for a month now. Sometimes as a whole family, sometimes we invite friends, sometimes we end up being the only people there.  I have learned quickly when the "right" time of day is to go. Namely, the time of day when the fewest teenagers will be there. You see, in one short month, I have overheard all the gossip I'd care to, witnessed plenty of teenage mockery and disdain, been splashed, jumped on, swum into, seen my child's rockets stolen from right under him as he was about to dive, been used as a human shield in "marco polo" and watched my own 4-year old pushed out of the way while he was attempting to swim. All of this has been executed without a single "excuse me" or "sorry". Not a single one.

Now, I'm not the kind of person to randomly blow up at a person in the grocery store who does something rude or even really get too worked up in general when people are thoughtless.  But there have been moments this summer, and I'm ashamed to say many of them, when my very first inclination was to reach out and slap one of these kids across the face. The rage that has welled up in me when I've been knocked over or when my four-year old has asked me, ever so sweetly, "why do they keep taking my rockets, Mommy?" has overwhelmed me at times. It's like that surprising first moment in parenting when your child makes you so mad you could scream and you finally understand why your parents got so worked up when you did things wrong as a child.  My anger has surprised and confused me which is amusing because when I really think about it, I'm not surprised at all.

Most of us feel a righteousness in angry response if our space is invaded, if an injustice occurs or if our young are threatened.  I feel all of these things at once at the pool on a pretty regular basis. But the real reason I'm not surprised is because I've seen my heart. I've seen the ways I self-protect, the ways I choose myself and my family over others, the ways I choose "me"  and my agenda all the time. Rather than trying to interact with these teens and see if there's some greater way that I can care for them, I stand far off. I judge. I seethe. I complain. I rail about parents who can't teach their kids manners and vow that my child will be different. And I feel justified.

So, this morning, when I'm faced with a rainy day and no pool prospects, I'm taking pause. What does the Lord have for me at the community pool?  What can my child learn about God in how I treat these teens who don't treat us well? What can I learn in humbling myself and letting Him speak and act through me?  What do these teens need from Him?  I am more aware than ever of my need for His grace in this process of sanctification, of becoming more and more like Him.  Since I'm pretty sure Jesus wouldn't actually reach out and slap these kids, I'm taking pause.

Next time I pack for the pool, I'll be sure to not only include our diving rockets, but a healthy dose of grace, mercy, patience and self-awareness.  Maybe God will do something really crazy in the middle of "marco polo" and surprise me. 

Sunday, July 3, 2011

When the Foxhole Needs to Change

Well over a year ago I wrote about choosing a foxhole, about settling down in a church community even in the midst of feeling burnt out and fearful about the potential tyranny of church commitments mixing with my inherent inability to use the word "no".   At the time, we settled on a church that's a good place. There are people there who clearly love God, love others and are seeking to follow him faithfully in this world. It's not perfect and it wasn't my style, but we were happy with the choice. The only problem was, after months and months of trying to actually fit in, at some point you have to ask yourself that question: "It may be good, but is it right?" 

I don't mean to raise any kind of theological debate in asking that question. I merely mean that sometimes in life we choose to do things because they are good things but not necessarily because we are supposed to be doing those things.  This is how I got in over my head in Richmond. All the things I was doing were good, but at some point they were just things I was doing.

So, having committed to a place and tried in vain to feel connected, in feeling frustrated every week at still feeling like an outsider, we had to ask ourselves if it was ok to leave. We had to have that wrestling match with the Lord, because I have had roughly a million conversations over the years about how you don't choose a church just based on what you want or because you like the music or because the pastor is a particularly sassy preacher. You choose a church because of what the Lord is doing in and through it and how you might be a part of that. Not personal preferences, but how God wants you to be a part of His story there.  So, in my typical fashion, I began to wrestle with a lot of guilt about the possibility of leaving a church. Am I leaving because, frankly, I don't love the music? Is it because it's too traditional for me and I just can't adapt? Is this selfish? Or is it right?

For a long time my story with the Lord has been deeply interwoven with the story of race and multiethnicity in the church. I've seen this play out in our choices of where to live, in what I've bugged my students about, in the most difficult struggles of my own prejudice and sin, in my passion for worship and in my communities.  So each Sunday as we entered this community the thing I was the most aware of was how monocultural it felt. The music was the same and reflecting one specific type of style, the way things were done were always one way. And I believe my heart felt stifled. Staff who've tasted both the highs and the lows of multiethnic community often joke that InterVarsity has ruined us for the church. I felt that this might be true- could we really find a community here that was talking about this, that was willing to change to reflect the people who were involved?  It didn't feel possible where we were.

In the midst of struggling with this guilt of possibly leaving a church, we began to look around.  I went into it this time around with a little bit of a different outlook, though. One thing I could say about not being able to plug in at this church we had committed to was that I had had time to heal from my overcommittedness in the past. I had had time to begin to really yearn again for community, to have hope in my own ability to make the right choices in how to serve and love there, to be able to listen again to the Lord as he challenged me in new ways.  So as we talked over where to try, I was doing it this time with eagerness.  With expectation. Yes, the guilt warred with both of these emotions each week, but ultimately the Lord really freed me from it. We tried two churches, one of which we had checked out initially when we moved here but had decided against because of some uncertainties they were going through at the time.

After just a few Sundays, I knew. I knew this place that we had tried two years ago was the right place. It hadn't been before- I know that. The year we spent at our other church was a good time of healing for me.  Possibly if we had stayed at this new church back then, I would've immediately jumped in and had no time to heal. There's no way to know for sure, but I suspect it.

But what I do know is this.   This morning, I woke up excited to go to meet with the Lord in community. I was looking forward into running into people we've just met and excited for Josh to continue to make friends in his Sunday school class. I wondered what creative mix of music the music director, a man I've recently met and really enjoy and respect, had put together for the morning and so grateful to be able to get involved with what he's doing in the coming weeks and months.  I was humbled to look around the room at an increasingly diverse group of people and know that the Lord was doing something really great here.  I laughed as the worship leader made us all join hands and sway at the end of the service as we sang and laughed even harder when for some reason it ended up not being cheesy.  I felt drawn into what God is doing here and excited that multiethnicity is a conversation that is being had loud and clear.

And as I looked around at kids running around with blue or red tinged lips because of the patriotic cupcakes they had at snacktime I felt sort of like a kid myself.  A kid with all these new opportunities in front of me, who has felt welcomed into this new community and released from the old, thankful for what the Lord did in my time there and excited for what He will undoubtedly do here.  Our last church was a foxhole. This one, I hope, will be more like home base.

Monday, June 13, 2011

Navigating Adoption

I recently saw a movie, one of those teen flicks that you go into assuming that it will be happily mindless and which is perfect for someone who is hoping to doze in and out of sleep on the couch with some noise in the background. You know the kind.  This was the day after camp, a day during which I literally ate, slept, read books, watched movies and slept again. (Thank you, dear husband.)

The movie that I'm talking about is called Easy A. It wasn't a movie I'd heard of, but Netflix recommended it so I gave it a shot. It actually ended up being rather entertaining. One of the subplots of the movie was the relationship of this young adopted boy to the rest of his family. You don't see adoption in most movies. In fact, I was having trouble thinking of any movies I'd seen with any kind of portrayal of adoption, let alone a positive one. It was not even close to the focus of the movie, but the interactions between the father and son nonetheless reminded me of the conversation. And made me yearn to move forward in this.  Funny how an almost insignificant scene can spark something in you.

For months now, my husband and I have been talking about it. We've talked to others who have gone through it, we've been reading books, we've been praying.  And let me tell you something. Adoption books are hard as junk to get through.  There are hard and sad stories, there are disheartening statistics, there are differing opinions on almost all aspects of adoption. Closed versus open. Domestic or international. Infant or child. Foster system or private agency.  Race, gender, prenatal care, sick, healthy. And the hows: how to acclimate an adopted child, how long the process of adoption takes, how to choose an agency, how to pay for it, who in the family gets an opinion, how to prepare your older child, how do you know if adoption is for you, the list goes on.

And one more "how" that I'll add to the whole process: How to stay sane.

Now, in my saner moments of this process, I have that thought that any foray into parenthood, biological or adoptive, comes with a huge list of unknowns. There are very few aspects of what kind of child I'll have that I can control. No matter how well I plan a biological birth, I could still end up with a child of either gender, one who may or may not have behavioral problems or attachment issues, who may have learning disabilities or health issues, one who might look like me or not...the only things I can control in a biological experience are who the father is and what I eat and do during pregnancy. That's pretty much it.  So, when faced with actual adoption applications, the ones where I need to check boxes, I feel so selfish. Who am I to decide exactly what I want or don't want in a child? Shouldn't I be open to whomever needs a home? I wouldn't get most of these choices in a biological birth, so should I really restrict our choices in an adoptive experience?  It's an amount of control in the process that I actually don't want. Sometimes I wish someone would just literally drop a baby on my doorstep in a cute little outfit, cuddled up in a bassinet so all the choices would be made for me.  Life is rarely like that, though.

One thing I do know is this.  I have an incredible template for adoption in what my Heavenly Father has done for me through Christ.  In those moments when I wonder if I'll love my adopted child as much as my biological, I am reminded of a Father who ultimately sacrificed his own son so that I could be adopted into His family, fully loved, fully brought into the inheritance normally reserved for biological sons and daughters. I have hope that the Father of all gifts, when He gives us this good gift, will also fully prepare us to overwhelmingly love this new addition to our family. That he will prepare my older child who, at the moment, is very confused about why his sibling will likely come from somewhere else and not his mother's belly, to be a fantastic older brother.  I am convinced that in this process of choosing and risking and waiting that I will understand whole new facets of God's character and his adoptive work in creation.

So, one week into submitting our application and already feeling the impatience settling in (yes, this will be a long road for this poor waiter!), I am trying to focus in on God's perfect timing.  That he sent His Son at just the perfect time to offer all of us orphans a perfect, forever family, one that brings life, security and significance in my status as child of God.  I'll take this process one step at a time and pray that as our family moves closer to adoption, my heart will move closer into the heart of my adoptive Father.  

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Ten Years

It's just over a month ago now that college students and campus staff alike saw the end of the academic year, meetings slowed down and people on an academic calendar began to reflect on some of the bigger lessons of their year.  For me, this year feels particularly significant because of two things. One, it's now over ten years ago that I was in my final week of classes as an undergrad at Richmond. I was feeling that crazy mix of nostalgia, panic and impatience that plagues the seniors with whom I'm in contact every year.  I had a vague idea of what was next, at least for a few months, but beyond that I had no real idea what the future held.  It's now hard to remember not knowing what my twenties would look like! Two, it's ten years ago that my husband and I went on our first, albeit awkward, date. Ten years! I can still remember many of the specifics- the roommates convincing me to say "yes", the awkward front door interaction, Reed getting lost on the way to the coffee shop, my spectacular tripping episode while walking up the stairs at Palani Drive.  Ah yes, young love. 

Having a first date in the midst of so much transition and uncertainty was perhaps not the wisest I idea I've ever come up with.  I didn't know what I wanted out of life let alone whether I wanted anyone to share it with me. At that point in my life I was still really stubborn about men, still decidedly certain that marriage was not necessarily the path for me. Enter Reed. There wasn't this "starbursts and marble halls" moment, for those of you Anne of Green Gables fans, just this quiet, Godly man who wasn't afraid to be himself even if it meant our first few dates would be awkward. He didn't try to impress me or pretend he was some smooth talker, he was just, well, Reed.

Our courtship wasn't what you'd call a whirlwind. It was this slow learning process, playing football or basketball in the park, meeting each other's college and high school friends, learning the insanities and joys of our respective families, watching Office Space all the time as his time in the corporate world needed increasing doses of humor, the telling of childhood and college stories and those tentative moments of talking about the future (possibly together) that we hoped for.  We did have our romantic moments-running in the rain, hiking humpback rock, sweet and quiet dinners out, playing the guitar together at the gazebo on campus and, of course, his very well-orchestrated proposal involving trickery, way too many roses and a self-composed and well-performed song.

Now, on our eighth anniversary, I am so thankful for our story.  So thankful for the best friend that I made during those two years of dating and engagement and for the ways I have seen God work in both of us since we made those crazy and unkeepable promises to each other eight years ago. I didn't know what was ahead- the craziness of starting over in a new town, the joys of the sweetest little man on earth entering our family, the struggles with loss and infertility- but I knew he was the right man for me to share that journey with.  And so today, I'm deeply thankful. Thankful for 10 years of knowing Reed and 8 years of marriage to him, of learning to trust God when I'm a good wife and when I'm not, and so thankful that He has set this covenant relationship up in such a way that I can wake up each morning and confidently know that my husband is committed to God and to us and to our child.   

Happy Anniversary, Husband. Thanks for our life together. I can't wait to see what's next!

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

The Nudge

You know the feeling. You're going about your business, walking from your car to a store for an errand, waiting in line at the carpool for your child, just sitting on the front porch and thinking and people watching. And suddenly, you're aware that you aren't alone in the world. That there are other people going about their business and that maybe, just maybe, you're supposed to be involved for a second. Or a minute or two. The nudge, I call it.

Yesterday, as I was driving home from an appointment, I stopped to grab a few things from Whole Foods. I try to stock up when I go there because the aisles are so stinkin' narrow that it drives me crazy to shop there and I try to make the visits as rarely as possible. I was not in a huge rush to get home and pulled into a parking spot. I saw a man across the parking lot fumbling under his open car hood. Being the obvious genius that I am, I deduced he was likely not choosing to do car work in the middle of the Whole Foods parking lot and that he probably had some car trouble.  Internal conversation follows:

Me: Oh,  that guy's car must be broken. That's no fun.
Other me: Go to Whole Foods, it's not your problem.
Me:  He looks hot and frustrated.
Other me: You know nothing about cars, go into the store. He hasn't even seen you.
Me: I wonder if it's easily fixable?
Other me: Surely someone else who knows something about cars will help him. And besides, you're exhausted. GO TO THE STORE.
Me: I guess I'll just go the the store and see if he's still here when I get out. 
Other me: Ha!
Me: Wait, I'm no car genius but it's worth an ask.  If I can't help, I can't help.

So, I walk determinedly toward this guy who seems about my age and who is clearly enjoying being under his car hood on a 92 degree day in Durham. I ask him if his car is having trouble (duh?!) and he says he thinks he needs a jump. Do you need jumper cables, I ask? Nope, I've got them.  I've just been waiting for someone to offer a car. Right. I've got one of those.

Three minutes later, he was closing the hood of his now running car and I was making my way towards the produce section. Three minutes, four if you count my internal argument prior to helping. That's all it took. Now, I'm sure someone would've come along and helped him. But why not me? And why did it take me a minute of internal arguing to even think it could be me? Why is it so hard to see the people around me sometimes? Why am I so fixated on my day that I can justify letting it only be about me, my schedule, my plans, my own family and friends?  Why can I walk across campus and only think about my destination and ignore the potential stopping points along the way?  Why can I argue with myself about whether it's worth it to offer help?

The nudge. God's attempt to pull me outside of my own little narrow understanding of daily life and put me in the path of someone new.  That guy might have felt thankful for my help, I don't know. But, I'm feeling more thankful today for that tiny little wake-up call. I may be in Rockbridge camp recovery and understandably a little self-focused as I rest up, but that's never an excuse to only see myself.  I know that I get more nudges than I ever even notice and am adept at ignoring them.  My hope is that I'll hear more and more of them and that the self-arguments will become shorter and shorter until the reflex action is obedience, even when I'm tired and worn out and feel like I have all the excuses in the world to keep walking.  

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Why I Love the Worship Leaders Track

I can still remember my early years of worship leadership. I was totally clueless, nervous, had absolutely no idea how to put together a thoughtful set and just about zero confidence in leading a team.  I played intermittently for my home church, which, unlike most churches I've been a part of, had a serious dearth of any musical gifting aside from vocals.  This church was rhythmically-challenged and overwhelmingly thankful for almost any caliber of musical leadership. I had a few opportunities in college to sing and play guitar but remained relatively unskilled. I tended to grab leadership opportunities in any area other than worship leadership. 

Then, one morning I found myself at a church in the inner-city of Richmond. I was clearly a racial minority, I didn't know most of the music and I didn't know anybody there. And as I was singing (read, listening and enjoying) the new music I heard this voice calling out to the audience, "You look like somebody who wants to worship!"  She called this out a number of times until the man next to me finally poked me in the arm and informed me that I was the target of these exhortations.  I looked incredulously at her, shrunk into myself and smiled and then she beckoned me onstage. I shook my head no. She beckoned again. And for reasons that to this day I can still not decipher, I went. I was handed a microphone, invited to sing and, at the end of the service, promptly told that practice would be this coming Thursday at 7:30. Be there.

This was the start of my education. Abrupt, right? Again, against my own understanding, I showed up at this practice and became a member of that church. I spent two years learning at the feet of men and women from very different church, ethnic and worship leading backgrounds. I learned that when someone in the back yells "Saaaang, girl" that he is encouraging you to keep going, not telling you to stop and learn how to sing better. (I learned that one the awkward way, I'm not ashamed to admit.)  Two years that taught me to love gospel music, to ignore any sort of unbending order to each song, to sing from my gut and not my throat, to be sensitive to the fact that some days God might want us to sing one specific song for 20 minutes until we all "get it", to experience the joys of a spontaneous congregational electric slide in the middle of worship and to grow in my understanding of the themes of freedom, deliverance and dependence.  Two years that opened my eyes to a whole other view of God and how he can be worshiped that didn't replace what I knew but broadened and beautified it.

I came on staff after these two years of learning and leading.  I stepped into an evolving worship culture that was longing to grow in the same areas that I was longing for.  A place where lots of mistakes were being made but even in those mistakes, small steps were being taken to move forward.  One of those steps was the development of the Worship Leaders Track, a place where we could train student worship leaders from all over Virginia, North Carolina and South Carolina each year.  So now, seven years into co-leading the Worship Leaders Track at our annual chapter camp and more than 10 years since that fateful morning I stepped into that church, I am humbled to look back on those early and, often embarrassing, beginnings.  To see how narrow my view of worship and God were and to rejoice in the things He has taught me, graciously, along with the help of new friends and churches and colleagues in my life over those years. 

I leave for camp in just 3 days. I have spent many days of the past year reflecting on camp from last year, tweaking, praying, dreaming with my co-leader, remembering what leading at camp felt like before this track even existed, feeling thankful that our regional director let us take the risk to train students in multiethnic worship.  As I make my final changes to talks and practice the songs that we'll be leading more than 800 students in this year, I think about how much potential this experience has for the students and staff who are coming.  That God might reveal himself in new and potentially broadening and deepening ways.  That my own education would continue, that I would see new facets of this good and beautiful God that I serve and worship.  That I would be humbled again by the incredible gifts that He has given these students in the arts and music and excited as I watch the Spirit grow them in confidence and humility, in skill and dependence.

That's why I love the worship track. In one short week, I see people change. I see their hearts grow in desire for authentic, faith-filled and spirit-driven worship.  I am reminded again that working with college students is a tremendous, life-giving privilege.  And I am humbled anew at the power of God and the beauty of His image reflected in people of every ethnicity and culture. 

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

The Mixed Emotions of Good News

This morning I received a wonderfully sensitive email from a dear friend wanting to lovingly, but carefully, inform me of the wonderful news of her pregnancy. I've known a lot of women over the years who, like myself, have struggled for long months and years with infertility. Some have eventually gotten pregnant and some haven't. But each one understands the mixed emotions that a woman in this struggle goes through when the good news happens for someone else. Again. 

On the one hand, and on a good day, I am overwhelmed with excitement for that person, especially if I know it has been a long, prayer and tear-filled struggle.  Before we went through this I had no idea the highs and lows a woman could experience through the course of each 28-day wait. The impatience, the anticipation, the careful and sometimes rather unromantic planning, and the waiting. The never-ending, gut-wrenching, disappointment- anticipating waiting. So, when a friend gets pregnant, I am sometimes overwhelmed by positive emotion for her. The waiting is over! And if she didn't have to wait long, I am thankful for her lack of struggle. Mostly.

On the other hand, and more acutely on a bad day, I am consumed with jealousy.  I am more aware of my empty arms than her full womb. I mourn again the loss of our own precious second baby, lost so early on and never known this side of heaven.  And I wonder anew if this will ever happen for us. I become so inwardly focused and then angry with myself because of it. Nasty cycle, really, because self-loathing only drives me further from community and more into my own self.

I was struck this morning as I sat in deep thankfulness for my friend's sensitivity and good news, while at the same time shedding some tears of my own, at how incredibly the gospel intersects this. The gospel should always be what it is; good news. But on some days and in some moments, I think I have trouble receiving it as such. I would rather be steeped in the mucked-up reality of who I'm struggling or striving to be then let the good news be what it is.  Just as sometimes hearing the joyful news of a new gift of life into the world causes me to see my own lack of a pregnancy, sometimes hearing the gospel does the same thing to my soul. Rather than seeing the deep generosity and fullness of grace and new life that God has given me freely in Christ, I only see the ways I can't measure up, the failures in my life, the ways I want to try to earn my good standing before the Lord.  I'm tempted to reject it for the perception of control I maintain if I am driven and defined by my own abilities and desires. Dependence is hard. Receiving good news and perfect gifts is hard. I want to deserve them. But, that's not how it works.

So, this morning, as I spend some sweet time with my little boy, I want to be able to freely and thankfully receive the gift of who he is and not let his lack of siblings determine my day. I want to fiercely cling to the awesome truth that no matter how junked up my heart might be when I hear good news, that God himself only sees the perfection of Christ and longs for me to let the Spirit transform my own messed up and mixed-emotions into pure joy. I know it is only He, in his love and grace and holiness, who can do this.


Saturday, April 9, 2011

P is for Pisghetti

We don't get a lot of mispronounced words around here anymore. In fact, our child says crazy things at this point like, "Mom, I'm ok, I just got something caught in my trachea for a minute. It's gone now." Right.  Maybe it's statements like these which make me feel like I've got a 4 going on 10-year-old that sometimes tempt me to cling to some of those hilariously wrong earlier toddler words.

So, when my son, who is recently obsessed with articulating the first letter of every word he says, said at dinner, "Mom, P is for pisghetti," I unashamedly shook my head yes and told him he was right. In fact, pisghetti does start with P so I wasn't lying. I just can't bring myself (and my husband feels the same way) to tell him the word is actually 'spaghetti'. Some part of me wants to hang onto at least a few small parts of young childhood.

As I was thinking about this desire to maintain some vestiges of toddlerhood, I found myself in the middle of a conversation with a parent of a baby. He mentioned that he really treasures the time he has with his son at 4 am in the morning. In my head, I was thinking "This guy must be totally unhinged!" Maybe his kid sleeps well for the most part or is what one would call a low-maintenance baby but about the only thing I treasured about 4 am time with my son at that age was the fact that I had some small, if delusional, glimmer of hope that he might go back to sleep at some point and I wouldn't have to be in a total coma the next day. 

I can honestly say that I did not have big philosophical musings in the middle of the night or think about how much I would miss it some day when he didn't need me in the wee small hours. I waited for those days, I longed for them, I prayed for them. And now they are here. And they are everything I dreamed they would be.  I don't look back and miss middle-of-the-night feedings, I rejoice now in the fact that I'm pretty well-rested most of the time and usually, if I'm not, it's because I've made that common parental mistake of treasuring my quiet evenings so much that I extend them way too late! I'm very thankful for the now of parenthood.

So, yes, I'm going to hang onto pisghetti for a little while longer, but I'm also grateful for the little man that this kid is turning into. His thoughtfulness, his concern for people(he could barely play soccer this morning after one of his Tiger teammates got hurt because he wanted to make sure he was ok), his random and heartfelt declarations of how he feels about family and friends, his incessant need to know the right word for everything and exactly what that word means and his total obsession with anything lego. I'm in no rush for him to grow up like I was when he was a baby.  And while I'm occasionally tempted to regret not treasuring his infancy a little more, I've given myself a lot more grace in parenting in recent years and let myself just admit that while I may not have been the best parent of an infant, that God has given me some pretty great gifts that mesh well with my 4-year-old.

So, bring on the legos and the Mighty Tigers...bring on the nights full of sleep and the ridiculously complicated conversations over pisghetti and meatballs.  I'm loving this.

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Calling in the Shermans

There's this really memorable and nail-biting scene in Band of Brothers where Easy Company finds themselves on the front lines of a battle with German forces soon after D-Day.  They are being pummeled by Tiger Tanks and artillery and the battle just seems to go on and on with the Americans on the point of defeat. Then, there's this fantastic moment when huge explosions come from the German lines and there they are: the Sherman tanks. One character sums up the emotions of the moment when he yells, "You beautiful babies!" The fight becomes equal, the Americans are saved, and Easy Company moves on to fight on another day.

I've had a month. You know what I mean, one of those long funky spells where something is just not right. No amount of exercise or counting of silver linings or trying to enthuse my way out of said funk has worked. Prayer has felt difficult and draining, loneliness has been a prevalent emotion and I've found myself exhausted and irritable. It's hard to say where it came from, but it has lingered on in a way to which I am unaccustomed.

I was reminded just this morning of the title of this blog and how far I have come in my own understanding of myself and God since I started writing almost a year and a half ago. And that reminded me that at that point in my life, I felt like I was constantly doing battle. That I was fighting my way back into a healthy place with God and others, hitting pitfalls along the way, jumping into foxholes when necessary and forging ahead when possible.  At some point in this busy season of working again and trying to discern my own future when the future I had planned initially isn't happening, I've forgotten to be alert for ambushes.  And as I spent some time in scripture and prayer this morning and then some sweet time with my son for the rest of the day, I realized that that is exactly what happened to me this past month. An ambush. It's been a time when all the lies I am tempted to believe about myself seem more believable, when everything I try to do feels like it comes off mediocre, when clarity about decisions feel foggy and when the things I hope for seem elusive and tiring. It's been a very effective ambush because it has essentially made me want to hide from those who love me, including my God, rather than moving forward by taking some new risks and letting people come alongside me.  Back to the old tendencies, I suppose.

So, this morning, as I sat before the Lord wondering what it was that had caused this (because I'm definitely the kind of person who wants to think through any emotional trauma and solve it, rather than actually feel it) I felt this sense of needing to let go of my obsession to know the "why" in this case.  I felt compelled to remind myself of Ephesians and the passage on arming ourselves and being shod with the readiness of the gospel. And I preached myself up a little sermon, slinging some arrows and wielding my sword so that the great deceiver would know that this child of God is no easy target and that I am definitely not outnumbered.  Lies are just that: lies. Fear of mediocrity is my struggle with perfectionism all over again. Uncertainty of the future is that pesky lack of trust issue. And yes, while the things I am hoping for do still seem elusive, ultimately my most fulfilling hope is secure- I can rest in what Christ has done for me and whatever earthly dreams don't happen, that security cannot change.  

For the first time in weeks, I felt refreshed. Not because I had run 3 miles and pumped my body full of endorphins or because I had woken up with some big project on my mind and conquered it, but because I was reminded of the truth.  God called in the Shermans this morning, letting His word remind me that the ultimate war is already won but that in the meantime, it's a good thing to call in reinforcements.  

Monday, March 14, 2011

Herding Cats and Other Absurd Scenarios

There was a great commercial a few years back for a company named EDS. Admittedly, I did not actually see this video until last week when I commented that I wondered if coaching my child's 4-year-old soccer team would feel like herding cats, in response to which my husband rushed to youtube to show me said commercial. Low and behold, a ridiculous and hilarious short video depicting cowboys trying to get a herd of cats to market.  I laughed but assumed that probably I was not giving the 4-year-olds enough credit after all and went into our first practice with a good combination of enthusiasm, clearly structured plans and optimism.

Turns out that the enthusiasm was the only really useful tool. Within about 10 minutes of practice, flashes of the commercial were zipping through my brain.  Instead of kids dribbling, mass group of children were chattering at the moon that had risen early. Instead of shooting drill, kids chasing birds. Instead of listening to my very well thought out explanations for drills, one boy interrupting to tell me that he liked the color of my soccer ball and one girl asking me (ironically) if cats were my favorite animal and another boy sharing that the Steelers were his favorite team and could we please, please, please name our soccer team after them?  We tried to do a lap around the field with them following me- when I turned around there were 13 children in various states of disarray, some on the ground (I still don't know why), some who had surreptitiously grabbed their balls and were playing with them instead of jogging, some who did not understand the concept of following a leader in an oval and had to be chased down and brought back to the field and one kid playing with a stick. Right.

I've got a week to plan for practice number two and I'm trying to figure out how to reinsert some of the optimism and planning into the reality that is herding cats, especially cats of varying degrees of listening ability, personal spunk and soccer skills. 

A few things I learned today:
One, 4-year-olds are super cute and they know it.  They will use this against you.
Two, if you can make a high-five a part of every drill, do it. They love it.
Three, set the bar low and enjoy watching flocks of birds with them. It's not worth trying to get their attention back until they've flown on. 
Four, parents of children this age will inevitably stay for the whole practice and watch your every move, occasionally chuckling. I don't know if they are laughing at me or the whole situation.  Probably both.
Five, take myself less seriously. (OK, pretty much everything in life is trying to teach me this. Possibly someday I'll get it)
And six, herding cats might be insanely chaotic, but it was pretty fun chaos and I think I'll probably learn at least 6 lessons each week from these kids that'll make me a better parent and person in general.

Now, on to making some possibly less structured, realistically optimistic plans for week 2 as well as contemplating whether it would actually make sense to name our team "The Cats," as requested.