Sunday, December 22, 2013

Prayers in the Darkness

Christmas is only 3 days away. It's only 7:30 but I've been awake for hours. The sky is slowly lightening as snow falls heavily. Many inches down and many to come. The silent house was all my own for awhile but now my son and husband stir on the floors above. The dog has finally left his bed and come to join me on the couch, curled up against my legs. I sip coffee and soak in an uncharacteristic slowness to the morning.

Christmas is only 3 days away. People talk about the hustle and bustle and the stress of the stores. I finished my shopping months ago and vowed not to go near the malls in December. Christmas cards were done by Thanksgiving and wrapped presents have been ready for weeks. Each night since December 1st our family has gathered around our Jesse Tree. We have read stories of faith and hope and waiting as we inch towards that important morning that is almost here. We don't talk of Santa or elves, except as they show up in an occasional Christmas movie. We talk of light and love and Jesus around here. I'm not a scrooge- I love this time of year. But he asked when he was three and we told him the truth. Our Christmas is still full of lights and sparkle and cookies and joy. But it's mostly chock full of the life-filling message of grace and incarnation and invitation. And it's magical.

Christmas is only 3 days away and I am joyful. This was a season I dreaded. I wondered again how it would feel to have empty arms, to continue to wait on a dream we've been dreaming for five years. But somehow the admitting of the difficulty, of the dread, brought a new depth to this season for me. I have felt guilty in the past for struggling at Christmas. Not this year. This year I was honest with myself and God. And, oh has he met me. I have dug into Advent like never before and felt surrounded by God's joy and hope.

Yesterday morning I took a long walk. There had been an ice storm on Friday and the trees were particularly beautiful encased in ice, drooping, shimmering. I meandered through the park on a trail I couldn't really see anymore for the snow cover. And I was reminded again that even in the most desolate landscape, there is life. Squirrels chased each other under a pine tree. Red berries hung from bushes and I couldn't help but wonder which animal would seek them out for sustenance as they stood out against the glare of white in the landscape. Soccer goals stand half-buried in snow, just two short months ago supporting raucous games of soccer at recess and after school. You can almost feel them waiting for spring and mud and screams of delight. I know that underneath the snow and leaf litter, a microscopic world scurries on with life, enriching the soil, working tirelessly even in the darkness to sustain the beauty of the plant life that will burst forth in a few months.

God is like that. Sometimes the work is going on in the darkness- and it's not that it's so small we can't see it, it's that it's so big we can't understand it. And sometimes, sometimes he wakes us up before the sun rises and puts this great urge to sit, to pray, to ponder in the darkness. To be reminded that the darkness is not a punishment or a forsaking. It's a part of the cycle of life, necessary and purposeful.

Christmas is only 3 days away. And with it comes the reminder that into any darkness, light penetrates. Joy infuses. Hope overcomes. God is with us, that great message of Christmas, is true and overwhelming.

Christmas is only 3 days away and I am ready and waiting.

Monday, December 9, 2013

How to Love Your Waiting Friends

When I was a child, I remember certain winter mornings. I woke up with a hope, a wondering. Did it snow? Maybe there was a glow from behind the blinds or a certain smell in the air and I leapt out of bed, yanking the cord and praying, yearning to behold a sea of white glare. Some days it came true, other days the sun tricked me with its brightness. Winter was one long wait- for the next snowstorm, the next snowball fight, the next Nintendo marathon with the neighbors in place of school. And it was a fun wait. Eventually it turned into a mushy wait for spring but with that came new joys- soccer would soon start up again, the wearing of shorts, the leafing of the trees, that first afternoon when the sun feels warm again. Waiting is easier when you know the certainty of the outcome. Every year, winter happened. Every year, spring arrived.

For those of us waiting on an adoption or a pregnancy, though, the waiting is uncertain. Nothing is guaranteed. We might never match with a birth family, people undergoing fertility treatments may never conceive. It's a time of hope and waiting- but it's oh so different. People who haven't experienced this type of wait have a hard time understanding. And so many of them want to offer words of encouragement or specific opinions on the "how." Humbly, though, I submit that there are only a few simple things you can do to love us well through this process. I also humbly submit that not all those waiting will agree with these points. We are all different.

WAIT WITH US. QUIETLY. What does this look like? Well, there's no particular process. Think to yourself, "What posture might I have if I were waiting on something that I wanted more than anything else in the world and had no control over getting?" How would you feel? What would you want said to you and what questions would drive you mad? Say the former, avoid the latter and just hang out with us. And don't abandon us when the wait turns us grumpy or mean. We don't mean to be a jerk- gently tell us, let us apologize and stick with us.

DON'T USE THE PHRASE "HAVE YOU THOUGHT ABOUT...?" I know you are well meaning. When our wait goes on, you hurt for us, you want to solve it, you want to see our children come home to us. But we HAVE thought about it. Almost all of it. Most of the fertility options. Most of the adoption options. We've prayed, we've researched, we've been through invasive procedures, we've filled out mountains of paperwork and been asked probing questions. We've thought about it. And when you ask if we've considered a different type of adoption two years into our wait, you just demoralize us. You tempt us to regret a choice we most likely painstakingly made. You make us wonder what we have done wrong to continue to wait.

STOP ASKING IF WE HAVE ANY NEWS. I recognize that this may not be true for everyone but after you've been waiting for something for five years you can rest assured that when it happens, you will shout it from the rooftops. Asking me every time I see you if I've had any news just drives home the point that no, I haven't. No news. Nothing happening. And when I've had a good week of not thinking about it too much, it may derail that because my thoughts immediately will go back to the "why" of all this waiting. So, please, I know you love us and you want to know what's going on. But don't ask me if we've had news. Just ask me how I'm doing- if I have news, believe me, that will be a part of how I'm doing.  And on another point, if we do have news there could be situations (involving birth parents or keeping a pregnancy quiet at first) in which we can't yet share it which just puts us in the awkward position of whether or not to lie to you, our friends. We don't want to have to do that.

AVOID CLICHES. Seriously. Telling me to "never give up" or that you "know it will happen for us soon" or "God is in control" doesn't do anything but remind me that humans feel a need to have a solution to everything. If we decide to give up, that's our business. And, to be honest, it might not even be giving up, just a quiet recognition that one dream is not viable and moving on to a new one. Making me feel badly for considering a new dream doesn't help. And you know what else? You don't know whether or not it will happen for us and certainly not soon. We don't "deserve" this, we haven't earned the right to have this particular happiness. And telling me constantly that God is in control just makes me want to ask him the "why not us" question again. And that brings me nothing but hurt and bitterness and self-pity. So, again, just hang out, just talk to us like there are other things going on than our waiting. And if we do need to vent about it? Just listen. No cliche will make the waiting easier.

PRAY FOR US. A lot of you wonderful people tell me how often you pray and hope for us. Thank you. That really is something you can do. You can talk to God  for us because sometimes we are too exhausted to keep asking for ourselves. Knowing there is a faithful group of people who love us, who want good for us and who dream of this coming true really does bring us joy and reminds us how very much we are loved by God. That, after all, is what we need most.

Monday, December 2, 2013

Press Repeat

This morning my son and I walked to school. He skipped around, swinging his lunch box, dodging half-frozen puddles in his boots and talking to me about life, love and first-grade happiness. I love these walks. Five minutes of calm in our morning- lunch is packed, clothes on, shoes tied, coats zipped (sometimes)...the frenzy of the getting ready gives way to the quiet of the journey. I would love to say that we talk about a vast array of topics, delving deep into culture and dreams. In reality, we talk about snow. Every morning. It goes something like this.

J: Mom, do you think it will snow today?
Me: Maybe. Not too much, I think.
J: But it will snow more than North Carolina, right?
Me: Yes, it will definitely snow more than in North Carolina.
J: Taller than me?
Me: Yes, buddy, taller than you. Though not in one storm. Total, you know, over the whole winter.
J: Wow. Are you sure?
Me: Yes, bud, totally sure. It ALWAYS snows more in Wisconsin than in North Carolina. I promise.
J: (satisfied smile and stare at the sky willing it to snow immediately)

I should probably clarify that we have been having this conversation ever since the second day of school. The first day, rightly, was preoccupied with the whole "we just moved here and I don't know anyone and do you think I will make friends and have fun" conversation that inevitably precedes the first day in any new community. But day two? Snow. Day three? Snow. Day 50? Yup, you got it. Snow.

Most days I quietly chuckle as I answer him, loving his raw enthusiasm and his need to KNOW that it is going to happen. Not just to hope, but to trust he will be getting the snow storms of which he has only dreamed. Some days I get annoyed. Any parent can tell you that a sweet question is nice the first ten times but after the 1000th? Well, it can take work to keep the frustration out of your voice when you've already answered a question 999 times. Sometimes I wish could record my answers and press repeat for him.

But today was different. I didn't chuckle. I didn't feel frustrated. I felt struck. Here was this innocent little boy. This person who I love more than I could've ever imagined. This amazing boy who loves snow and wants it to happen as soon and as often as possible. In fact, his only request when we were moving was that we would move somewhere with a better winter. Wisconsin has been happy to oblige. It's actually snowing again as I type this and I am watching all the Christmas lights twinkle through the flakes. Just beautiful.

Today was different because I finally realized that he asks the same question every day because he cannot believe that the answer he has been given is real. It seems too good to be true given his prior experience with frustrated hopes and thwarted snowstorms that turned into "rain events". Is there anything worse than hearing that phrase on the news when you were supposed to wake up to a winter wonderland? And so he continues to ask and I suspect that until we are all finally sick of the snow in April, the trend will continue. Until he has experienced the winter he wants, he won't believe it. Even then, I imagine that next September will bring a renewed conversation. We forget so easily, even the good.

Today was different because I suddenly have this vision in my head. God and I are taking a walk, as we often do. And he is listening to me prattle on about something or other in that patient way that he does. And I ask him a question. And if I watch his face carefully, I see that tension between amusement, frustration and love. Because he has given me the answer 999 times but I need to ask again. I cannot help myself. What he offers to me is too unbelievable, too good, too patient, too real to be truly comprehensible. And so I have to ask again. How can this God love me? How can I be forgiven? How in the world did God become flesh so that I could know Him better? How is it possible that someone so huge can walk so closely beside me in my suffering? How? Why? Who is he, really? When my experience in life often makes me feel cynical or frustrated or angry because of the hate and suffering and racism and bullying and infertility and lost dreams and all the other things that shout our brokenness from the rooftops, it's hard for me to truly believe in the Good, the Beautiful, the God who is himself Love. The God who doesn't just record his answers and press repeat but delights to engage with me for the 1000th time.

So I keep asking. I look up and I hope. And because he has answered the same way 999 times, when he answers again I believe it. At least for a day. And a day is enough.

My son and I will walk to school tomorrow on snow-covered streets and ponder that great question about "whether or not it will snow today" and he will believe me again that he will get the winter he wants. So, too, I will wake up tomorrow and ask my same questions of God and ponder anew the unrelenting grace and generosity of a God who Loves me more than I can possibly understand.

Saturday, November 30, 2013

The Dread of Advent

As December has approached, a time of year I have always loved, my heart has grown a little heavier. As I realized today that tomorrow is church, that tomorrow is a Sunday in December, it finally occurred to me. Day 1 of advent. Christmas countdown. That time of year when everyone talks about God in the form of a child, when we talk about waiting on the arrival of this little baby, when people read poetry about motherhood in an attempt to relate to what Mary may have felt. The time of year when I am told that to truly understand Christmas better, I need to focus on this concept of Advent. Of waiting. Of expecting. Of not rushing or wanting or striving.

The thing is, I feel like my whole year is lived in a quiet, but painful, advent. Of waiting and expecting. Of not having any control or ability to rush any of this. This year's Christmas season marks the 5 year mark since we started trying to have a baby. Five years ago it was exciting to think about waiting on a physical baby as we waited on the Christ child. That excitement has long since worn off. The rest of the year is one month after another with no results when it comes to that initial desire. With reading books about waiting better and faithfully desiring God and not focusing on this baby. Or finding articles and poetry and art that speaks to perseverance and hope. Of seeking to be content without another child. Of fending off questions and trying not to be annoyed when people try to attribute this particular wait with God's lesson for us or our own inability to learn something he has clearly been trying to teach us or being told for the 100th time that once we stop caring, then we will get pregnant or our adoption will come through. Yeah. Because all my hundreds of friends around me who have tons of kids didn't care about being pregnant. Clearly that's the trick. Manipulating God or anatomy or whatever into making this happen. Sounds like a good idea.

So when my husband asked me a few minutes ago if we were on for our usual plan for church tomorrow? My heart sank. My stomach began to churn. I began to wonder how many glowing pregnant women would totter down the aisle while the band plays "Away in a Manger" in the background and I try to look at the floor instead of envy their bumps. I began to wonder if our church here, in their desire to make and show videos on Sunday mornings, would come up with some artistic portrayal of motherhood and expectancy that I'll have to sit through. In short, I began to dread church. I began to search for legitimate ways to opt out of a gathering in which I normally find life and hope. I began to worry that I wouldn't be able to actually see God through all the God-infant imagery that will now bombard us for the next 25 days.

I hate that. I hate that this wait and the pain within it has robbed me of my favorite season in the church. I hate that I cannot overcome my sadness and my longing and just be able to fully enjoy the advent season. I hate knowing that come Christmas morning when my son places the baby Jesus in our manger scene at home, my heart will also pang with the knowledge that while that manger is full and that should be enough for me, our crib is still empty and I am still waiting.

And to be honest? I don't really know what to do next. People tell you to not think about it, to find other outlets, to pursue contentedness. To just seek God and not what he can give me. But how do you seek God well in a season where every avenue is reminding you to seek Him in the form of a baby, a form that only highlights your own desire for that good and beautiful gift of children? How do you do that well? Most of the year I can conveniently ignore the Christmas story and focus on the Easter one. But advent? Advent feels like one more big reminder that while I can wait on the Christ-child, while I can cultivate my experience of expectancy of what God can do, at the end of the day our long, physical wait still goes on.

And I am exhausted. I wish I could say I'll definitely push through and go to church anyway tomorrow. I don't know. I wish I had some neat package with a lovely Christmas bow that would tie up these thoughts. But much like advent itself, much like all the uncertainty we like to talk about as we celebrate it, all the fears Mary and Joseph must have felt, all the confusion about their future, this post doesn't have a neat ending. I will wake up tomorrow. Maybe I will go to church or maybe I will stay home and take a very long, cold jog with Tim Keller on my ipod. Most of the day I suspect I will be happy and enjoy my family and look forward to class on Monday morning. I will find joys in the quiet moments of the day. I may even listen to Christmas music. Most likely, though, I will not sit around and ponder the birth of Jesus. And I suspect God is ok with that right now.

Thursday, November 7, 2013

A Little Perspective

Earlier this week I stumbled through a video of Chinese orphans answering questions about adoption and what they hoped for in a family, if they ever get one. Later that day, I cried through a homemade video of a dad talking to his three young babies who had just passed away that morning. The internet is awful in a lot of ways, but you know what I've finally realized? It IS good for a little perspective.

We live in an overly dramatic and self-centered culture. One night of watching reality television illustrates only too well the art of overreaction, self-pity, and self-focus that we are being cultivated to understand as the normal, default way of functioning today. Look at my problems. Listen to what so-and-so had the nerve to say to me. It's all about me, after all. Let me be as nasty as I want to be without repercussions.

For years, my knee-jerk reaction to any tendency toward the dramatic was stoicism. Don't tell, even if asked. Smile when it hurts. Be thankful in all things. Never let 'em see you cry or, better yet, don't cry at all. The biggest insult I could have ever received would have been to be termed a "drama queen." Call me nerd, dork, whatever. (And, to be quite honest, many people did.) But as long as I was emotionally in control, I was golden. Responsible. Dependable. Solid.

These last five years have made me seriously doubt the merits of this particular overcompensation. I have delved into the world of counseling, I have used my "feelings" worksheet and attempted to articulate when things have been hard and when they've been good. I have had my own dramatic moments, where it felt too hard to hope anymore or too painful to understand what greater good might have been going on or bigger perspective there was to be gained.

A friend of mine shared a startling statistic: a high percentage of people dealing with infertility are encumbered by the same levels of depression as very ill cancer patients. This seemed crazy to me. I have never had cancer nor even been close to someone who has but have had dear friends lose parents to this horrible disease. I found the comparison terrifying and freeing all at once. Its normal to be sad, even depressed over this at times. This, too, is loss in our lives that needs grieving.

At the same time, that part of me who shies away from the emotional clings to the need for perspective here. Confession time: on my darkest days of frustration I will watch Band of Brothers, Saving Private Ryan or some documentary on human slavery or poverty or adpotion that significantly widens my scope of human suffering. I need to. A friend recently told me she thinks it's fine that I do that but that it's ok to be sad, too. Not to diminish my own pain. And she's right. 

The thing is that sadness without perspective tends to lead me, at least, to self-pity. I don't watch those movies or online videos to erase my pain but to remind myself that in the grand scheme of life pain is everywhere. And yes, much of it is far more intolerable or unbelievable than anything I've had to endure in my incredibly privileged life. Keeping perspective helps prevents the sadness form insulating my world, makes my lens to those around me clear so I can see their pain, too, and reminds me that justice is actually an anomaly in today's world. That the forces of evil and brokennness are hungrily at work, snatching away babies, dreams, freedom and hope from people all over the globe. That my story is not singled out in an otherwise perfect world. This may seem obvious. But in a culture that tells me that it's ok to focus on myself all the time, I need this reminder. It enables me to keep on with much more humility, grace and hope than I would otherwise muster on my own. Maybe to some this reminder would cause despair or hopelessness, but the idea that I am a part of a humanity that is searching for hope in the midst of pain makes me deeply grateful for those beautiful moments of justice, the many gifts I have been given in this life, those days when hope is ever-present and birds are singing and I know, without a shadow of a doubt, that no matter how my story ends, I am not alone in it.

That, my friends, is perspective. None of this is about me, after all. Any suffering of my own is a drop in a much larger bucket. Any tendency to want to have a Jersey Shore kind of day and blame my problems on someone else is just a fruitless, selfish endeavor.

Suffering with perspective allows me to enter into the suffering of Jesus himself and further understand what he has done for me, into the suffering of friends and family and love them better, to not be indifferent to the suffering of the world. It teaches me what not to say to someone in times of grief and that, in fact, there is very little that needs to be said at all that can possibly be more meaningful than mourning quietly alongside someone. It shows me that the power of transparency and honesty is about a lot more than self-revelation and inner peace, that it's about giving others' suffering a voice and a space to grieve, too.

This morning I watched a video of a woman who was about to have a double mastectomy holding a dance party in the OR. I don't know her. I don't know what transformed a situation that was probably full of solemnity, fear and anger into a moment of audacious hope and laughter. This was a sweet and painful moment of perspective for me.

For today, a woman chose to dance in the face of suffering. And so I am going to get off my computer and turn on a little Michael Jackson and have myself a dance party, too. I am going to laugh and cry and keep hoping. Life is short, after all. I'd rather be dancing than sighing.

Saturday, November 2, 2013

A Party in a Galaxy Far, Far Away

Someone should warn you when you are pregnant with a boy: be prepared to watch Star Wars, hear about Star Wars, playact Star Wars, construct Star Wars Legos, dress up like Star Wars characters and, of course, be prepared to host a killer Star Wars party. I think there has been some unexplainable and universal change to the boy genome that makes it physically impossible for them to resist the allure of this massive commercial dynasty. My son, despite my own lukewarm feelings about said film, is obsessed and hasn't even actually seen all the movies. It doesn't matter. 2 minutes of a Youtube clip of Han Solo careening through the universe and they are all hooked.

When we were moving to Wisconsin this summer my sweet boy was concerned that he wouldn't be able to have a Star Wars party this fall. "What if I don't have any friends by then?" Well, that'll break any parent's heart. After reassuring him of that distinct impossibility and promising him all the same that we would actually fly back to NC for his birthday if it ended up true, we moved forward to plan a party. Yes, he has been talking about this since approximately five minutes after his lego party last year ended. So yes, it was going to happen.

I geared up my creative juices, scoured the internet for good ideas and here you go. One party in a galaxy far, far away.

What good jedi festivity would be complete without a lightsaber? The kids loved making their own and then trying to use the "force" to keep balloons afloat. Of course, that particularly activity lasted all of 2 minutes before devolving into an all out light saber battle. Really easy project with big returns.

I'm guessing this is the last year that pinning something on anything will hold much appeal for my boy, but he was excited for this one. What's better than Yoda overseeing the festivities? Pinning a lightsaber on him.

It's always fun to put together a clue hunt for these kids. They had to follow a set of riddles around the house and find bags full of legos. At the end they raced to put together small star wars sets. This was a total hit!

Apparently lego-themed food is a big deal. The internet had tons of suggestions and here's what we made! I take just about zero credit for these ideas, just their execution.

Nothing fancy, just some bags with fun Jedi labels filled with some little treats. The kids went home with a bag and their light saber to continue to have fun.

There you go. Nothing too pinterest-worthy, but I have a happy little jedi who spent his 7th birthday with new friends and lots of laughter. Can't ask for more than that. Except, in his eyes, for Star Wars to be real.

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Back to School

I sat in class last week using all the energy I could muster to keep from turning around and stabbing the guys behind me with my gel pen. With one hand cupped behind one ear and the other on said pen, I strained to follow the lecture which was being largely drowned out by the musings of the aforementioned gentlemen, musings that included their most recent foray into alcohol consumption and how they were determined to "try not to cheat" this semester. Noble endeavor. Apparently, some very basic things about college have not changed. Except, of course, my inability to focus on one type of noise (the professor) while another type of noise (alcoholic boasting) is going on in my vicinity. I'm pretty sure I was experiencing age rage due to hearing loss. I'm not sure. Thankfully, my good sense won out and I have not been arrested for a felony.

Other things unrelated to my aging have changed a lot. Just yesterday, I frantically made notes on a mitosis lecture while the people who surrounded me spent time on or texting their friends. One totally unashamed guy slept through the whole thing and another young woman kept asking me "what did she just say?" after completing her most recent text message. This is all at a very reputable university. Folks, I came of age when laptops and cell phones were still in rare use. My roommate in college had a big "car phone" that she kept locked away except for long trips or if she wanted to avoid using long distance when she called her family. When I walked across campus, people either smiled at you and said hello or awkwardly looked at the flowers on the side of the path, but they did not have earphones plugged in (unless they were carrying around their big ol' cd walkmans) and they certainly weren't chatting with some apparently nonexistent human at their side. People who didn't pay attention in class had to resort to daydreaming or writing notes on actual paper to other humans present in the room. Unless, of course, they slept like the guy next to me. We did that, too, although at a much smaller university it was a lot harder to get away with it.

The thing about school is that I absolutely love it. I loved being a student all the way through college and I love it again. It's amazing getting to learn new things and after being gone for so long to feel those synapses firing in that specific way they do only when being challenged in an academic way is exhilarating. And like pretty much every other class I've ever taken, I'm working hard and taking this seriously. Which seems to put me in the minority. When no one around me seems to be as excited about lecture, I go through a range of emotions. First, aggravation: Don't they know they are distracting those who actually want to learn and, thereby, risking impalement by gel pen? Second, sadness: Don't they know that they are missing out on an incredible opportunity to learn really interesting stuff? Third, confusion: How can they just waste their money (or, more likely their parents' money) and not care? Fourth, dawning realization of curve benefits: Don't they know if they don't do well, my score will only get better since they will boost the curve? General feeling of ashamed thankfulness toward these punks accompanies this thought. Fifth, astonishment: Are there really people out there who don't want to do their best at this? Why I continue to ask this last question over and over again in my life I do not know, but the answer is one around which I cannot wrap my mind. How can you not want to do your best at a task set before you?

So here I am, 12 years after graduating from a small, private, liberal arts university in the south, trekking the halls of an enormous, public research institution in the midwest. And just before my first test, the only test I've taken (besides the Myers-Briggs assessment) since 2001, I was nervous. I had my flash cards and had rewritten my notes. I had done all the readings and taken all the quizzes. I'd gone to the Q & A and discussion groups and emailed the TA with extra questions. And still I was sick-to-my-stomach, hands-shaking nervous when I showed up. Once upon a time, I was a great test-taker. Matching and definitions? No problem. Essays? Even better. But Scantron and I were no longer well-acquainted and that test, my friends, was 100% multiple choice.

Why was I so nervous? Well, despite my delusions that I am a recovering perfectionist at this point in my life, it seems that when it comes down to it, I still really want a 100% on a test, possibly even more than I did in college because now I feel like the old lady in the room has something to prove. I still wrestle, deep down, with needing to get the highest score possible and feeling really, really good when I do. I love being a student, which is good, but I still struggle with letting the fact that I'm good at it define who I am. Not so good.

Apparently I have not recovered as completely as I thought. I did really well on that first test, I'm not ashamed to say. And I basked in the glow of that grade for a good week. And it's ok to rejoice that I worked hard and it paid off. But it seems I still need  a daily reminder that my worth and my identity don't lie in what I can accomplish, but in Whose I am. Does God rejoice that I work hard and love what I'm doing? Sure. But he rejoices all the more when I am content in who I am in Him. Loved, forgiven, precious, even if I don't get an A+. That was a lesson I did not believe in high school.

Tonight is my second test of the semester. I am decidedly calmer. I haven't studied as long or as hard but I suspect I've still studied longer than most of my classmates. I am not going to panic if I only get a 90 (or, gasp, lower!), but I'm still going to work my hardest and go for that 100% because I believe it will reflect the fact that I know this information, have worked my hardest and have enjoyed learning it. And have spent a lot of time this last month just enjoying God and letting Him remind me that in the grand scheme of things, of life, perfectionism is an illusion and I will not always be the best at something. And at the end of the day, no matter what happens, that test score will be something (I hope) to rejoice in, but not something to define me.

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

What Happens in Wisconsin

We've been in the great Midwest for 4 months. And during that short time, I have observed some interesting things about life here in lovely Wisconsin.

First, everyone, and I mean everyone, asks you if you own a snowthrower (read "snowblower" for my northeastern friends) when you meet them. What is that? Is it a mark of honor?

Second, the rule at Josh's school is that they play outside for recess until it is below 0 degrees. That's Fahrenheit friends, not Celsius. I guess we'll be sending him in with snowpants and boots starting, well, next week.

Three, everyone loves the Packers. Everyone wears Packers gear as often as possible to any type of event, up to and including Sunday morning church services. If you want to experience a sane grocery shopping experience never, I repeat, never go to the grocery store in the 4 hours preceding a game.

Four, people complain when it is 85 with low humidity. I, on the other hand, run around rejoicing that I can breathe and enjoy the outdoors in the summer.

Five, people like guns. There are signs on the sides of roads promoting gun ownership, revering guns, advertising gun shows. Kids play with toy guns like it's no big thing. What's with all the guns, folks? Are we afraid the corn fields are going to rise up and attack us?

Six, aforementioned corn. Everywhere. All the time.

Seven, those crazy accents I anticipated really do exist. And my neighbor even said "Don't you know?" in that fantastically Canadian way us East-coasters imagine people out here talk. Also, someone told me to "yak it up"(read "Yayk it uop") with my hubby. Apparently that's English.

Eight, everyone who finds out that we moved from North Carolina asks us why in the world we would move to Wisconsin and then they proceed to tell us the winters aren't really "that bad." They are lying through their teeth and I can see them holding back a mixture of hilarity and pity in their eyes. My neighbor actually admitted that he wants to watch us the first time we shovel our driveway. Possibly he'll bring popcorn. Maybe laughing at transplanted southerners is a form of winter entertainment during the dark months around here.

Nine, water fountains are now bubblers. I shall never call them that. At least not with a straight face.  
Ten, and I'll end with a straight-up nice one, the people are awesome. Down to earth, friendly and helpful. Our neighbors invited us over for "brats" the 2nd night we were here and are now good friends. A group of people we'd never met before helped us unload our moving van and provided friends for my son, as well as a heavenly coffee cake, towels and sheets so we wouldn't have to find ours that first night in a new house. They are now good friends, too. How could they not be? The coffee shop people are nice, the toll booth people smile and I promise you I met the friendliest receptionist ever born at my son's dentist office. She should have an award for nicest human.

So, Wisconsin, four months down, countless months to go. I love your accents and will continue to enjoy encountering your quirks of culture and language. Thanks for providing the prettiest summer weather ever to welcome us here - surely it provided a good enough foundation for us to make it through the winter that, apparently, started today with our first flakes of snow.

Monday, October 7, 2013

Why We Wait

In church yesterday, I sat down with tears streaming down my face. I know this might be a regular occurrence for some people, but I'd rather become a dog-feces collector at the local park than cry in public. But there was this moment- just a few words in a song- that reminded me again of why we continue to wait. Why, in the face of loss, frustration and no change in our circumstances, we continue to hold onto hope that we will become a family of four.

There was a line in the song that spoke of God being the father to the fatherless. And many times I've sung that and not thought it through very far. Not thought about all the individual stories I've now heard about children out in the world who are legally or effectively parentless. Whose stories, even if they end in good, have started off hard. Have begun with loss and grief. A lot of people think adopting an infant will make it easier on that infant who never knew a different life but doctors now know that even those little ones know. They know they were taken from the arms of the woman who carried them for 9 months and placed with strangers. They need reassurance, to build trust, to learn to love. And no matter how amazing their adoptive families may turn out to be, the story of loss will still be there. It was never intended for them to lose so much so young. But it happens to way more children than we can even fathom.

So, why do we continue to wait? Not because we're amazing or particularly good at waiting. Not because this process is fun and enjoyable and we want to prolong this period of invasive questioning and interminable inaction. Some people have said to me "I could never do that." I always think first, "Well, goodness, neither can I." Who really can? God alone is really the father to the fatherless, really the only one who can fill any of us, can redeem any of our losses. By saying yes to adoption we are not saying we are amazing parents sent to heal a child. We aren't saying we have better coping skills or that we are the "right" family for a little kid to come into. We don't believe we have it more together than most of the families we meet. In fact, the whole home study process really shines a light into all the ways you don't have it together in ways you never realized. All we are saying is that there is a need that we can fill and a missing place at our dinner table. And while well-intentioned people who love us tell us whichever child comes into our life will be lucky to have us, privileged to be a part of our family, I know in my heart it will be the other way around. That this child, this one we've been waiting for, will cause us to be overwhelmed with gratitude. Just like our firstborn biological child, we'll struggle through those early feedings and sleep-deprivation and wonder (guiltily) what we were thinking. Just like him, we'll marvel at her first words and cheer when she takes her first steps. We'll agonize when she's sick, we'll teach her the abc's and soccer (which are equally as important, by the way), and we'll watch her while she's sleeping, careful not to wake her, wondering what dreams a little baby has. And we will look at each other all the time and say "Where did she come from? How did we get this gift?", just like we do with our son who came to us another way.

So, we hope and wait. Not to be someone's savior, not to change someone's life, but for the life that is going to radically change ours.


Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Navigating the Anniversaries

In retrospect, perhaps it wasn't the most emotionally  savvy idea I've ever had, volunteering at a children's clothing consignment sale this weekend. If you've never been to one of these, you should know that it could be otherwise known as a pregnancy festival or a family-with-a-bajillion-kids gathering. Certainly, it's a virtual field of land mines for people with fertility issues or infant loss of any kind, particularly those who had a miscarried child's due date to remember this weekend.

But there is no gentle or loving way to tell the woman who has just given birth 3 weeks before and exclaims "I am SO glad not to be pregnant anymore, I am DONE with having babies!" that you'd give anything to be in her shoes and shouldn't be she be thankful for her children? (Especially when you remember the feeling of being glad your own pregnancy was done so you could sleep again. Or at least think about sleeping again. Ha.) There is no way to quickly answer the question that every volunteer feels compelled to ask- "How many children do you have?" -without being reminded of your baby's loss and the times you've come close to an adoption but seen it fall through. Again. And why, why, does it seem that when you tell people you are adopting, they ALWAYS ask you from which country? And when you respond that you are adopting domestically, they seem disappointed. What is THAT?
Whole outfit = $15. He insisted on wearing it  right away.

So yeah, maybe I shouldn't have volunteered. But my yearning need for a good deal (and the wide chasm of emptiness that comprised my son's winter wardrobe) overrode any emotional good sense I might've developed over the last 4 years. If you volunteer, you get to go to the pre-sale and everybody knows that's where the good stuff is. My kid is now ready for his first ever big snow storm. A few months early, but hey.

Navigating the anniversaries can be really hard. Our little girl might have turned 4 this past weekend. She might be running around the backyard with my son and our neighbors even as I type this. I say "might have" because nothing is guaranteed. If we hadn't lost her during pregnancy, she could have easily passed on in early infancy or through some childhood illness or accident. Nothing at all is ever certain and the thing I'm learning about these anniversaries is that if I let myself fantasize about what she might be doing now, I only make it worse because I create a false reality. I only get sadder, I only imagine I see glimpses of what she might have looked like or which of our traits she might express as she grows and which things she would do that would make us wonder from where in the world she came. Dreaming about those things does me no good and only distracts me from the family and friends I have here with me. In the now. And it doesn't help to actually remember her, because none of my imaginings are actually who she would've been. Don't our kids always surpass our own imaginations?

One thing I can say is that this year there was a change for me. The past three years I knew it was September long before I noticed the calendar. I'd feel on edge, angrier than usual about stories about children being abandoned or killed at birth, frustrated at irresponsible birth fathers, missing the children we still don't have, snapping at people who said the wrong thing. But this year, I had to look at the calendar. I had to purposefully notice that mid-September was approaching. Maybe I'm just busy with all the "new" in our lives or trying to desperately remember how to be a serious student. But it snuck up on me. So, I wore my special necklace, the one that reminds me of Amara, and there was just a sweet remembering this time. The ache is fading a little, it doesn't make me as sad as it used to. I'm not crazy enough to think that next year will be the same or easier.  I am sure I'll be surprised as each one comes around to see what new thing God is doing in my healing. What a gift, though, to feel like I could just be present this year. That my mourning had taken a turn, was mostly just a time of remembering and then being reminded to continue to dream about what may come this coming year.

 No matter what, even the hard anniversaries are good. They remind me of God's presence, of his deep care for me even when I was pretty convinced he was punishing me or abandoning me, of all the amazing people in my life who have loved me well during this crazy process and who are going through challenging and often similiar experiences of their own and of the fact that my story is far from complete.

God gave me the gift of hope this time around and that is no small thing.

Thursday, September 5, 2013

Confessions of a Skinny Girl

I am too skinny. I am too skinny in a culture that doesn't even have such a category, other than for those who struggle with eating disorders or serious illnesses. I am too skinny to find dresses that fit correctly or bathing suits that cost less than $100 or jeans that stay up without a belt. I am too skinny to have the kind of family I have dreamed of. I am just too skinny.

Here's the problem, though; ever since getting pregnant the first time around, during which my metabolism went haywire, I have gotten more compliments on my appearance than in the first 28 years of my life. I hear it all the time, "You look great," "What do you do to stay so thin?" and "Man, I wish I could look like that." Usually, I just uncomfortably nod my head and say a quiet "thank you". But inside? Inside, my heart is breaking. Because I don't want that kind of attention. I don't want it to be considered good or healthy or desirable to be my weight. I don't want to do anything that affirms what our culture says about skinny being the only beautiful. I don't want a BMI of 18. I don't want this.

And the reason it has taken me almost four years to write about this? Well, it's not kosher to complain about being too skinny, is it? Even now, some of you are reading this and thinking "Oh, I'm so sorry for you, you poor, sad, skinny girl. Are your diamond shoes too tight, as well?" I have had plenty of friends who have struggled with weight on the other end, who have longed to lose their baby weight, who have worked hard on diets and exercise and weight watchers and have not gotten the results they've wanted. Who have longed to be skinnier. What do I say to them in this struggle? We are just worlds apart.

I haven't always had this problem. For most of my life, I was at a normal, healthy weight. I could gain it if I ate too much ice cream and am well acquainted with the famous "freshman 15." After all, what do you expect when you combine a sweet tooth and stress with an unlimited dessert bar at college? I could lose weight if I wanted to and went through my share of phases where I wanted my body to look slimmer. I remember what it was like to long for that "hollywood" body, to buy into the idea that the slimmer I was, the more beautiful I would be. And now I hate the fact that I have what I thought I wanted.

Most days. 

Here's the rub. Some days, in my darkest of hearts, I feel really good. Really proud. I like the way I look. I feel proud of the skinny. I fear the day when we will solve whatever is causing this uncontrolled weight loss and I will gain back the weight. Deep down I wonder if I really DO want to gain the weight and be healthy again. Will the compliments stop? Will I miss the skinny? Will I be satisfied with the new look which, after all, is really the way I looked most of my life?

On the other days, most days really, I count calories. Not in the way most people do. I have to make sure I've eaten more than enough. I have to make high-fat, low-sugar, gluten-free, protein-packed smoothies just to make sure I don't lose more weight. I have to get on the scale, always with a feeling of apprehension, and check to be sure that I'm at least maintaining where I currently am, staring at the screen and hoping an acceptable number pops up. And hesitantly sharing with my husband when I've accidentally lost again, like there's some kind of shame in it or that I am somehow to blame.

And friends, this is exhausting. It's much like counting every calorie on the other end in the hopes of losing weight. Except that when the people around me joke about "not taking that second piece of cake" or something going "straight to their hips", I have to keep silent. I can't interject with "Yeah, I wish I had that problem!" People look at you like you have two heads if you complain about this. And I get it. Who else struggles with this? Well, honestly, probably a bunch of people like me who keep it to themselves because there's not a whole lot of compassion floating around out there in cyberspace for us, just videos and posts by well-intentioned people either condemning skinny people for having the wrong priorities or being sick or, on the other side, people praising us for (allegedly) working our booties off to look this way.

So every time I receive a compliment, every time I have to go buy some new clothes because my old ones no longer fit, my heart cries out "no"! Every time someone sends me an article on why sugar or gluten or sun-exposure or just, frankly, breathing may be causing my infertility and weight problems, I want to run the other way. I wonder when I refuse that cupcake at the kindergarten party if the other parents are thinking "Oh, THAT'S why she looks like that. She doesn't eat what she wants," when deep inside I would love to devour that cupcake, have a second one and wash it all down with a gallon of sweet tea. But I can't. I'll actually lose more weight and get a migraine on top of it. And if there is anything worse than a disgruntled unintentionally skinny girl, it's one with a migraine.

If I believe the compliments, I look better than I did when I was 10 pounds heavier. And I doubt anyone, when I finally, hopefully, gain the weight back will say "Wow, have you put on weight? You look amazing!" But maybe they should. Maybe I should post on facebook when I put on a pound, when I finally reach a BMI of 19 or 20, when I'm back to my pre-baby weight from 7 1/2 years ago and don't need to even worry about looking at a scale anymore. Back to being healthy.

In the meantime, I have to fight that daily battle wherein I confess that at the same time that I hate this, I sometimes also love it. That while I don't want to think of this as beautiful, I often do believe it is. And that even while I struggle with not wanting this and trying to fix it, I need to still believe that I am beautiful even if it's not the weight issue that is the focus of the beauty. That it is worth the hassle to continue to try to figure out what's causing this and fix it, and maybe get to experience the joys of eating good bread and pasta again. Because seriously, gluten. I miss you. If we have said goodbye forever, I shall fondly and longingly remember your contributions to my happiness.

And the bottom line here? My doctor has been convinced from the start that this is linked to our infertility. That my inability to maintain a healthy weight prevents this biggest of dreams that we have from coming true. That if I could just go ahead and gain 10 or 15 pounds already (easy, right?), all these "why" questions would be answered and we would have the baby we've been waiting on for four years. Which means there is yet another element of having no control in this whole crazy infertility journey because I can't do a simple thing like gain weight.

So, I will continue to drink my 600 calorie smoothies and use whole milk in my cereal. I will continue to exercise and run around with my kid because it's just plain fun and I can't be bothered about worrying if my caloric output is too high on top of everything else. I'm an active person and I like that. I will continue to ask God to help me figure out what's causing all this and for, again, patience in the meantime. I will try to be gracious to people who comment on my weight and gently explain why I wish I weighed more and why I wish our culture didn't praise the skinny. I will continue to be a skinny girl until I am not.

But dang it, when I finally break the weight threshold I haven't been able to hit, I'm gonna rejoice. With more than a smoothie.

Friday, August 16, 2013

Silver Linings

I just posted a status to facebook. Josh didn't get into the school across the street and it was full of complaining and 'woe-is-me-I-have-to-drive-my-kid-to-school-this-year-blah-blah-blah'. After about 6 minutes of it sitting out there in cyberspace I was overcome with remorse. Who am I to complain about this? So, my kid didn't get into the public school across the street. So what? In the grand scheme of education in the world, he has access to schools. And not just schools, but good schools. I have to drive 4 minutes across town? Well, we have a car to get him there. He doesn't have to walk an hour by himself on a dangerous road to get there.

Shame on me. Shame on me for thinking that my frustration was even near worth complaining about. There are millions of children all over the world who don't have his opportunities, who have never been to school and may never go. Parents who would do anything to give their kid a shot at learning but they can't because of their finances or the way their country provides or doesn't provide education or because their children are girls and not boys.

Selfishly, I wanted exactly what I wanted. I wanted our hours of research to give us exactly what we planned for. I wanted him to have a 3 minute walk to school to make my life easier. I wanted out of the carpool line. I wanted the brand spanking new building with the huge gym and lovely art room for him. I, I, I.

Well, I took that status down. I am grateful this morning that our silver lining is quite bright. He got into a school down the street that is rated just as well (if not better), that has a very nice principal, that has smaller class sizes and, I'm sure, will be just great for us. And even if those things weren't true of it, it's still a school, still a place where my kid can go and be cared for and taught and given crazy opportunities. Above all, I am thankful that I was able to see my own selfish nearsightedness in the midst of the disappointment and that God is big enough to forgive me for it and even give me excitement for a school on which we didn't plan.

Silver linings do have a way of setting our priorities back on track, don't they?

Monday, August 12, 2013

The "Good Enough" Thing

A few weeks ago I woke up tense and nervous. There was the house to clean, the child to get out the door to "Wacky Wednesday" at soccer camp which involved lots of hair gel, face paint and, of course, giggling, the cookies to bake and the final checks to make sure the paperwork was in order. You see, it was home study day. Again. And though all the case workers I've had assure me that there is nothing to be nervous about in this process, the bottom line is that your whole life is on display. And the biggest question I'm usually stuck with in and through it all is "Am I good enough?"

Do we have good enough communication skills as a married couple?Am I a good enough parent?  A good enough Christian? Daughter? Wife? Am I good enough to be trusted by a birth parent to become her child's real parent? Are we a good enough family to be picked? Am I good enough?

They say in this process that you really get to know yourself.  People talk about how any old person can go and get pregnant- there are no tests to pass, no background checks involved. No one is looking up whether you've ever committed a felony or asking how your sex life is after 10 years of marriage. No one cares if you have date nights or if you have the emotional capacity to be unselfish enough at least some of the time to be a decent parent. No one cares if you have a theory of discipline in place or what your relationship is to your own parents. Or at least, if people are questioning those things, they are rarely questioning them to your face, right? But to be allowed by the state or the federal government or another country to become a legal parent to someone, you get asked all these questions and more. I generally consider myself to be reflective person- but sometimes, sometimes, it is just too much to always be looking, always be asking, always wondering what someone else will think of the answers to these questions. Because, unfortunately, the bottom line is that these answers do matter. We had to be approved by someone. We had to pass a home study.

So a few weeks ago when I woke up with my stomach clenched, it wasn't a foreign feeling. For almost two years, it has felt like our life is on display. Knowing that birth parents are looking at our book- and passing us over- does not help. You begin to ask questions about "why". Why did they choose someone else? Why didn't they think our family would be a good fit? Is it because we already have a biological child who is the spitting image of his dad? Is it because we don't have a pool (I'm not kidding!) or because we have a dog or they don't think we are good looking enough? Why not us?

And when you combine the questions of "Why not us" and "Am I good enough?" you begin to get into dangerous territory. It's easy to start to question every little thing, to try to change yourself in ways that might seem more attractive, might seem like what you think an agency or a birth parent might want. You are tempted, like in so many other areas of life, to heed the voices of man over the voice of God. To rethink the whole process, even, because if there is one thing I've learned, it's that you have really got to want this. Adoption isn't easy. It doesn't happen quickly. It's messy and complicated and completely exhausting. And it means that you are constantly being questioned, assessed and, yes, even found wanting.

The bright spot in all this "good enough" junk is the way it sends me running back to the cross. Running back to the reality that actually yes, I AM not good enough. That's the point. If any of all this, if any of life in general was about being good enough, well, then we're all all in trouble. None of us are good enough. There is no measure out there by which we can say we're passing- no parental yardstick or spouse ability scale or spiritual checklist that can even begin to really label us as good enough. The point is that we are not good enough but God loves us anyway and gives us what we need to parent well or be a loving spouse or kind neighbor. I need to return to that truth every morning in this process. And for someone like me who takes a lot of the weight of the world on my shoulders, who is skilled at carrying around guilt, expert at condemning myself for any little mistake, this truth needs to hold primary focus in my life. I can't be good enough. I can't. Only Jesus can. And that, my friends, takes the pressure off. If I'm not trying to live up to some impossible and vague standard, I can just rest in the fact that all God needs from me is to receive His love and live in it. And I won't be nearly as affected when we are, yet again, passed over for another family. I can learn to rejoice that that baby has found a loving home rather than see it as our loss in the situation.  

So, when I talk to my case worker tomorrow about a possible birth parent match, I need to go into that conversation with this reality permeating my soul. That God is good, that his timing is perfect, that if this doesn't work out it has nothing to do with anything I could've done, that the only thing I can do in this wait is continue to seek God, love my family and neighbors well and wait for the moment, in all its beauty and chaos, when we finally bring that child home.

Saturday, June 29, 2013

An Only-Child Mama

I see you watching us at the park. You are wondering if he's my only child or if I have older children in school somewhere or perhaps a baby that's home napping with a grandparent. I don't. He's it. And it's ok. 

I hear you on the playground at church, "Is he your only one?" and I know you don't say it with any kind of judgment, but in a culture where baby-making seems to be everyone's Saturday night hobby, it feels like it. Like having only one kid is somehow an affront to American Christianity. And maybe it is. But I'm pretty sure it isn't to God.

I feel you wondering what I do with all the extra time I must have with only one kid. Oh, you mean that time outside of my job, parenting a six-year old, assisting with Sunday school, leading worship, coaching 17 6-year-olds in soccer, volunteering in kindergarten, driving carpool, studying for my psychology class, taking adoption trainings to keep our home study updated, being a wife to a husband writing a dissertation, executing a move to Wisconsin and figuring out how to plan a family menu when I'm sugar-free and gluten-free. Right. Oh, well I guess I just sit around and gaze at my navel all day long.

I don't write that to sound snarky. I actually write it to say that my life is pretty full. I didn't choose to have an only child. Some people do and that's great. Some people, like us, have it thrust upon them due to circumstances beyond their control like disease or loss or infertility.

But here's the deal. Each day that goes by without another child in our house is another day I get to treasure with my little man. It's another day I can be involved in his life with less distraction than I would if I had a newborn in my arms. That's not to insult parents with lots of kids, it's just reality. I wish I were you. But I'm not. So I'm finding my own ways to savor the different path our life has taken from just about everyone around us. It's hard to find other moms of only-kids, at least in America. I suspect I would not feel as alone in this in a place like Europe. But, until my husband gets an amazing job at Oxford or something, America it is.

So I will continue to plan long car trips to fun places knowing that I only have to worry about one kid who is actually a pretty darn good traveler. I'll continue to structure my day without worrying about naps and sign him up for whatever I want to sign him up for because I'm not trying to juggle 3 or 4 kids' schedules. I'll continue to enjoy multiple hours in every day where we get to talk and giggle and read and build legos without someone else needing me, other than our ridiculous dog who seems to think he is, indeed, a human child. I'll soak in our bedtime ritual, where all four of us cram into Josh's little twin bed to read and pray and cuddle and talk about our day together. I'll take it one day at a time and revel in the uninterrupted time I have with my first born.

Some day, I hope in my heart, that this time when we are just three will be a memory, albeit a sweet one. I will have spent much of our time together wishing for more children and my son will know about some of that. He wants siblings just as much as I want him to have them and we talk honestly in our family about the waiting. It's alright for him to see his parents desiring for our family to grow and for him to express his frustrations with the process. But I never want him to believe that we had to grow because he was not enough. The grand truth is that no one person, nothing in this world is really enough for us except God. But in the smaller scheme of earthly happiness, the son I have been given is enough. I am so grateful for my little man and if it were ever time to give up fighting for another baby, we would do it. We would move on in thankfulness for the gift we've been given in him. We would still be a complete family even if we looked out of place in church. We would not be lacking.

So, this only-child mama is going to grin right back at you on the playground. I'm going to be as nice as possible when you ask me intrusive questions about my family, but I may be more honest with you than you are expecting. Maybe you'll know in the future that not every family needs to look a certain way and that having an "only" is not necessarily a bad thing. I am going to look you straight in the eye and tell you that I'm happy, that I love my son, that I don't know if there are more children coming but that no matter what, we are a family with a life that's full and chaotic and joyful, just maybe in different ways from yours. 

I am an only-child mama and it is good.    

Friday, June 7, 2013

Ten Years of Life As We Know It

I sit here surrounded by mountains of boxes as it pours outside. The fridge is almost down to bare bones. The child is finishing up his last day of kindergarten. The other child, my sweet honorary 18 month-old niece, is asleep in the nursery that has still never been used for our own child as her parents travel to a wedding this weekend. I am glad she is here, the house feels fuller. Later, we will meet friends for lunch, say goodbye (again), go to J's doctor to get some adoption paperwork done and then meet different friends for dinner tonight to, you guessed it, say goodbye. My son and husband have a prior fun overnight engagement so I will sleep alone tonight. On my 10th wedding anniversary.

This is life. There will be no fireworks today or any fancy dinners out. There will be no dropping of the child at a distant grandparent's home to take a quick weekend away to celebrate. There will just be a quiet remembering, even in the midst of packing that 100th box and probably being cranky with each other or, for the first time in years, changing diapers, cutting up grapes into tiny pieces and wrestling into car seats. There's a quiet buzz in the air. 10 years.

I can remember those couples we met early on who were past the 5 year mark and thinking that they seemed like experts and now here we are at 10. Yet, we are clearly no experts. I can remember what we thought ten years would look and feel like and what we'd do to celebrate. Things generally don't turn out anything near what you expect, do they? Instead of flitting off to have a second honeymoon, we are in the midst of moving across the country. A different kind of adventure. I thought we'd be settled by now, in the house we would be in for the long haul with lots of (read 2 or 3) children around the house. But as I've grown up with this man, the excitement of his adventure has rubbed off on me. Settling, after all, is vastly overrated. I may not be moving to Wisconsin to pursue my own dream(since I'm still not sure what I want to be when I grow up), but it's definitely a chance to continue to explore, continue to figure what the dream even is. And, frankly, to do the figuring in much lower humidity. No small thing, my friends. No small thing.

But here is why we don't need the weekend getaway or fancy dinner tonight. Those are definitely perks, certainly fun and good and, hopefully, eventual celebrations to recognize this landmark. But for today to look like any other day, and to be, in fact, slightly more chaotic than usual with a second child in the house and too many events in our schedule on top of moving, gives us the chance to remember the day we said "we will" as we live out what 99% of this marriage thing actually looks like. Most if it isn't glamorous. Most of it is waking each day, choosing the "we will" for the 10,000th time, knowing that without God we'd make a huge mess of it anyway, confidently mucking through even the days that are filled with tension or anger or chaos because we've chosen to muck through it together, good or bad, settled or adventuring, whether we get to celebrate the big moments when they happen or not.

So, love, happy anniversary to you on this warm, rainy summer day. We were married on a day just like this in Richmond ten years ago, full of questions and hopes and knowing we were saying yes to the hardest thing we'd ever do. As we move into this new adventure, I can only dream of where we'll be ten years from now - it's all too uncertain. I can hope that maybe, just maybe, we'll get to go somewhere fantastic to celebrate that anniversary. But what I do know is this: I know that we will still be making that quiet choice each morning to turn towards each other and fight for the vows we made so long ago.

Monday, April 29, 2013

The Silent Loss

They call it the Silent Loss. The Invisible Death. You can go through it without a single person besides yourself having any idea it's happening. And no one can possibly warn you about how hard it will be until you experience it. Possibly we think it will be an easier loss because we've bought into the lies of our culture that tell us it's "just a fetus." That dehumanize what from the instant of conception is unequivocally life, and beautiful life at that. For many people, the minute the little stick turns pink, that child is a baby, a little life on the way, with cribs to plan for and maternity clothes to buy.

Perhaps since I've been so honest on this blog about our own story of miscarriage and infertility, I find myself often aware of people who have gone or are currently going through the loss of miscarriage. Just in this last month, my heart has been broken three times alongside friends who have shared this news. And you know what people say? It happens all the time. It's common. Which unintentionally, or possibly intentionally, communicates that we should recover quickly from it. Get on with our lives. But you know what I say? There is nothing common about death. Every loss is unique, every baby has the right to be mourned. There is no such thing as "getting on with" something when you've lost a child. That loss will always be a part of your story.

I daresay the stats would support that if you are reading this you fall in one or both of two categories: someone who has experienced miscarriage for yourself or someone who knows someone who has. And let me be frank: if you don't think you know someone, you do. That's where the whole invisible thing comes in. Someone in your life has been through this. And after 4 years of processing, reading, ranting, praying, talking, listening and hoping, I've come to some conclusions about this silent loss. I share them today to stand in grief with my friends who are currently going through this. I love you, God loves you and I wish with all my heart you didn't have to go through this.

(1) You are never ready for how hard it is going to be.  There is no other way to say it. It's death, it's not expected and it hurts a ton. It doesn't matter how "early on" you were nor should you let people tell you it should hurt less if you were "only" a certain number of weeks along. It's real and painful loss.

(2) You and your spouse will likely grieve it in very different ways and wanting said spouse to grieve the same way you do will only add conflict and pain to your grief. Let him or her grieve their way and try to move towards each other as best you can even if you can't understand the other's process.

(3) Don't try to "get over it." Accept that this loss. Just like if you have children who have lived, this little one will always be a part of your family's story. Ignoring it in the vain hope that I'd eventually stop being sad didn't work for me and I doubt it works for many people.

(4) Don't try to replace that baby. Sometimes when we lose a child we rush back into the "trying" phase again under the false expectation that another pregnancy will heal that pain or fill that void. That is a unique child you lost - no other child can or will ever replace him and you are setting yourself up for even more pain and confusion if you expect a pregnancy to solve your problems.

(5) Expect the due date to be a hard day. You may have lost your baby at 5, 12 or 20 weeks. No matter how early it was, that loss is valid and that due date will feel like a sucker punch.

(6) Know that social media will be a minefield. Seriously, you can't swing a cat on facebook without hitting a pregnancy announcement or a photo album of a wrinkly, red newborn. Some days it won't affect you and you may even be able to rejoice with your friends, other days you will feel like someone is dancing on your heart and shouting "look what we have that you don't!" Try not to take it personally, shut down the computer and go for a run. Or sing 80's music at the top of your lungs. You know, whatever works. 

(7) God's sovereignty is tricky and people who try to comfort you with it maybe don't have it right. People might say "she is in a better place" or "God must be causing this to teach you something." Um, yeah, that's not helpful. None of it. Do I believe that anyone who is already in eternity is categorically in a better place - sure, God's a pretty awesome being to be around. Is that a comfort when I want my baby in my arms? Not really for me. Maybe for some people, though I can't say. Is it true that God caused this to teach me a lesson? Nope. Is it true that God caused this to teach me a lesson? Nuh-uh. Is it true that God caused this to teach me a lesson? No freakin' way! Can you tell this was a particularly hard lesson for me to learn?  My God is not vindictive or manipulative. He is love, he is good, he is life abundant.

(8) Church is hard. It just is. Most churches seem like baby factories, pastors talk about being fruitful and multiplying (can we PLEASE talk about context with that one!) or quote passages about God closing or opening wombs and everyone on the playground asks intrusive questions about how many kids you have. And nobody talks about miscarriage in public. Ever. We church people don't know what to do with it when our whole lives we were told that babies are blessings and God wants to trust tons of them to us to raise. But what do we do when we don't have them- what does that do to our understanding of blessing and God's role in fertility? Boom. Yes, that was the sound of my head exploding. There are no quick answers here. Sovereignty is tricky and since about a bajillion books have been written about how it works, many of which differ in their conclusions, I will not attempt to write the final word on it here.

(9) You are not being punished. This didn't happen because you parented a first child wrong or because you didn't learn some lesson God wanted you to learn. God is good. Satan is not. God hates death. Satan loves it. Bottom line.

(10) Life's not fair. You can't expect to only go through a miscarriage once - it could happen again or it could be followed, like us, with years of unexplained infertility. And it's fruitless and petty to keep score with other people on who has had this whole thing the hardest or easiest. If you could, I'd be mad at every woman I saw in Target who had 4 kids trailing her. It is my firm belief that Satan is having a field day when it comes to the fertility question. Miscarriage, stillbirth, infertility, abortion, SIDS. None of those are from God. Not one. But trying to ask for fairness in the world is futile. We live in a broken world and no one, NOT ONE OF US, is guaranteed justice, fairness or freedom from pain while on this earth.  That is only reserved for eternity.

(11) Remember it. Some people get tattoos. Some have memorial services. I got a necklace with our daughter's would-be birthstone and wear it almost every day.  On the 4th anniversary of the miscarriage I named her because I could no longer bear to call her an 'it.' Not everyone needs to do this the same way- but if you choose to remember, you won't try to replace her. And if you don't try to replace her, you might actually find yourself starting to heal.

I could probably go on and on. If I'm totally honest here, I wish I hadn't learned these lessons or that I had learned them through research rather than through experience. I wish we hadn't gone through it. I'm certain that God has remained present and taught me amazing things as I have clung to him but I will never be, nor do I have to be to remain a God-honoring believer, thankful that it happened.

What I am thankful for is that I didn't stay silent. Oh, I did at first as many of you know. I hid it, I ignored it, I insulted my friends by not trusting them to love me in it. But eventually, I let people into it. Some of them didn't say the right things. Most of them did. We can't expect those around us to respond perfectly all the time. But we can risk letting them (maybe one person, maybe ten) know that we will not suffer our loss silently or, perhaps more importantly, alone.

Friday, April 19, 2013

Enough, Already!

Where am I today, you ask? Well, not in Madison with my husband looking for houses where I should be. No, four hours before our flight was scheduled to take off on Thursday, my son fell ill with a stomach virus. Two hours later, after rocking him back to sleep and falling back to sleep myself, disaster struck me, too. Poor husband, trying to clean up stuff all over the place, on the phone with the airlines pleading for mercy to change our flights to Friday without a ridiculous financial penalty (please don't anyone lecture me about travel insurance) and, ultimately, deciding to get on the plane because we could not think of another time possible to travel out there in the near future. Leaving his wife and son behind to the care of my mom who had flown in to watch Josh while we traveled.

I am finally out of bed today. Josh is back at school, having much more quickly recovered from his little attack than his older, immuno-challenged mom. He spent most of yesterday bounding around the house playing legos with his Nana and wondering why the heck his mom was still sick, occasionally bringing me huge glasses of water and asking me if I was planning on staying in bed all day with an accusatory note in his voice. So sweet. Yes, baby, mama's not going anywhere anytime soon.

So today I'm staying close by my phone and computer. Because my husband is in Madison, Wisconsin, touring around the neighborhoods I have tried to envision for the last 3 months with our realtor, walking through the houses of which I've seen pictures, and trying to make a decision that we'll both be able to live with for the next three years. And I am waiting for extra pictures, verbal notes and lots of questions along the way. The last time my husband looked at places to live without me it was when we were engaged and he was looking for apartments for us to move into after the wedding. The reports I got were like this:

Me: What was it like?
R: It was nice.
Me: Was it one story or two?
R: Um. One?
Me: How many bedrooms?
R: Um. One? No, two!
Me: Bathrooms?
R: Ahhh....

So, yeah. I'm a little worried. Of course, that was more than 10 years ago so I trust the whole "growing up thing" and knowing me a ton better than he did then will increase his level of observatory thoroughness, but still. What a mess. I wouldn't want to be in his place with all the pressure of deciding alone.

I know what I should be saying in the midst of some kind of all-wise moment here. Hahaha, clearly I am not in control. You can't plan on anything in this life. Hold everything loosely. Blah, blah, blah. But, you know what, I've already learned that, thank you very much, about a hundred times over. I KNOW I can't plan on anything but it sure would be nice to plan on something once in awhile. How many times does one person need to learn the same lesson? Enough, already. I get it. Life is unpredictable. Nothing is a sure thing. 

Can we move on to the next lesson, please?

Friday, April 12, 2013

Get the Word Out

Dear Blog Friends,

We have been on the adoption waiting list for 14 months now with just about nothing to do to help move things along. A friend recently suggested I ramp it up. There is only so much waiting a person can do without being able to take action.

So, blog friends, I have created a blog site with all our adoption information. I have put links on this blog to get to that site and directly to our video and our profile with our adoption agency.

Why am I posting on here?  Because you can help!You have overwhelmed us with prayers and support during this waiting.

Why not overwhelm us with some mass support via social media?

Networking is the best way for birthparents and adoptive families to find one another.

  • Would you consider posting our adoption blog or adoption profile on your facebook account or on your own personal website?
  • Would you think about people you know who might be a good connection and let them know about us?
  • Would you let us know of any connections that would be helpful for us to follow up?
We really appreciate anything you can do to help. Your support means so much! 

Thanks, Carolyn 

Thursday, March 28, 2013

Practice Makes Perfect

Our house has been on the market for almost three weeks. Three weeks of keeping it immaculate, which is no easy challenge, three weeks of frantically dragging the child and dog out of the house minutes before an agent arrives to show it, of baking 2 cookies at a time in the oven before a showing to overpower the scent of lemon pledge and then not being able to eat them because I am sugar-free, of wiping away every sign that people actually live here in any kind of normal state, of waiting for that call that tells us someone else loves our home as much as we do.

Three more weeks in our lives of uncertainty and waiting. Right. 

The dictionary defines practice as repeated performance or systematic exercise for the purpose of acquiring skill or proficiency. And it is widely accepted that the more we practice, the better we will get: practice makes perfect, right? But what becomes perfect- that object that is practiced or that person who is the practitioner? What's the real point of practicing to the point of fatigue? If this adage is true, my husband and I should be experts at waiting. We should perfectly know how to handle uncertainty, to deal with the unknown. Having our house on the market should be barely a blip on our radar screen. More waiting? Whatever. We know how to do this. 

The thing is, though, practice doesn't always make perfect. We are not experts at the actual waiting, we are just experts at the experience of waiting. There's a pretty big difference. We aren't waiting because we want to get better at it, we aren't inviting the uncertain into our lives to acquire new skill levels in hope and patience. We aren't, most of the time, thankful for the opportunity to practice and become better at this. I wish I could say we were that noble. I'd be lying. Waiting all the time is pretty darn hard.

Just this past weekend, my Fireballs had the first game of their spring season. Their fifth season together. How far they have come - from a cat-like herd of chaos to a group of kids who know the rules, are starting to understand the concepts of spreading out, passing and calling for the ball, of dribbling around the big crowd rather than straight into it, of not touching the ball with their hands. All this has come of practice, practice and more practice. Are they experts? No, and unlikely ever to be. But those moments when a kid who could barely dribble last year suddenly does, gets around the defenders, shoots and scores? Those moments are when that practice has paid off. No one has seen a grin like a kid scoring her first goal.  Or, for that matter, the reaction of her parents on the sidelines.

 The thing about practice is that it's never really finished. Once we've mastered one skill we get a new challenge to tackle. And every challenge, every game, every note of music practiced is different- so the practice isn't about making those pieces perfect, it's about our own change, our own skills sharpening, our own ability to meet each piece, each game, each wait, with deeper commitment, skill, patience and wisdom.

I have been struck again and again, though, what the difference is between the practice of waiting for Something and waiting on Someone. Practice increases our familiarity with the thing on which we wait, it sets our mind on that thing, it pulls our mind away from other, possibly lesser, worries. It shows us our weaknesses, those areas in which we constantly falter and it gives us the chance to rejoice when we push through and master a new, tricky part. If I am constantly waiting on that something and that something doesn't come, my practice seems fruitless and my hope fades. If however, I spend that practice of waiting not on the outcome but on Who is with me in the waiting, well, that is a whole different ballgame. That time that could feel wasted or frustrated becomes fruitful. Because that Someone, God, on whom I wait, is reassuring me that my dreams are good, that the wait won't be forever and that He is with me when the practice gets difficult and I falter.  

I am constantly comforted by the many waits that God's people have had to endure through the ages and, indeed, the waiting God himself does constantly on us, without faltering. One verse comes to mind today that reminds me that this God on whom I wait, in whom I seek to dwell, is even more hopeful than I am that these dreams will come true and who stands beside me and strengthens me as we find ourselves waiting again.

"Have you not known? Have you not heard? 
The Lord is the everlasting God, the Creator of the ends of the earth. 
He does not faint or grow weary; his understanding is unsearchable. 
He gives power to the faint and to him who has no might he increases strength. 
Even youths shall faint and be weary
and young men shall fall exhausted; 
but they who wait for the Lord shall renew their strength; 
they shall mount up with wings like eagles, 
they shall run and not be weary; 
they shall walk and not faint." Isaiah 40:28-31

So, we will keep on practicing, we will walk and not grow faint. We will keep on waiting, keep on living with a lot of unknowns in our lives for now. We will not wait for the solving of those questions to somehow complete the story but understand that the practice is just as important as the outcome. 

Indeed, the outcome will be all the richer for the many hours of practice that has come before it. 

Friday, March 15, 2013

Rest is a Four Letter Word

The thing about rest is that the more we know we need it, the more we realize we've forgotten it, the more we seem to find ways to avoid it. That common adult problem that feeds out of the idea that "busy-ness" equates importance, that common fear that if I stop what I'm doing even for a moment, my world might come to a loud, crashing halt; these things cause me to run from rest. And if you are like me, you are really too tired to run in the first place.

But just like I have to find ways sometimes to command my soul to praise or to be thankful or to turn towards God, I have to find ways to command it to rest. To accept that gift that I cannot and am not made to do everything all the time without stopping. That the very rest that I run from would actually cause the rest of the chaos to abate a little bit.

So, like all things in my life, it comes back to control. When can I plan to rest, when can I make it happen. Rather than receiving. Rather than stopping without a managed plan of attack. Just a ceasing. Wouldn't that be amazing? Just stopping, without guilt, without remorse, without lists of things to do when the rest has finished. Just letting my soul enter into the rest it's already been given.

This post was written as a part of Five Minute Fridays. Check it out and give it a shot next week!

Monday, March 11, 2013

The Naming

It's been over four years since we lost our second child. That first year was full of pain and secrets and transitions. The second year was full of questions and anger and the first stirrings of healing.The third year was full of hope and waiting. This fourth year has seemed to roll all three years into one huge, emotionally chaotic experience. One constant, though, through these four years has been the namelessness of that little one. Calling he or she an "it" or a "baby" but never being able to refer to that child with a name. It's kept that baby distant from me. Nameless, far, removed. 

When I first began to share what had happened, that loss, people always asked me how far along I had been. And each time I was asked that I was reminded again that our culture, including myself, thought of the pain as less real, as that child as somehow less human, the earlier its death had occurred. So with each asking of that question and each increasingly timid response of mine, I felt that my pain should be somehow less than it was. This wasn't really a baby, it seemed. Just a positive pregnancy test. Just a blip on a screen. Nothing that should have had a hold on me.

But it did. SHE did.

I've written recently about the time I spent at a retreat center. During that time, God was very present. And though I hadn't spoken to Him about our miscarriage in a very long time, I felt the freedom to bring it up again. To bring the loss back into the light. To ask some hard questions. And all the while, I grew tired of saying "it." I began to wonder, for the first time, if it would be alright for me to name this child. This faceless little one that I never met. And the moment I asked the question, I already knew the answer. Why not? God already knew this little one, had already given her a name, knew her intimately. Why shouldn't I? And as I sat there, just listening, just being quiet, I knew two things. I knew she was a girl and I knew her name was Amara.

How do I know that? No idea. Does God regularly speak audibly to me? No. But there was just this absolute quiet and a sudden knowing. And I have never been more sure of anything in my life.

That night I got home and looked up the meaning of the name Amara. I've actually never met anyone with that name. I hadn't chosen it in the short time we had to plan for her birth. And as I looked it up, I was astounded to see that it means "eternal beauty." After all, this is the only kind of beauty that I will ever get to see of her. The beauty of getting to carry her little body for a short time and the beauty I will see in her when I one day pass on and finally meet her. Eternal. Not earthly. Not here and now. But someday. And forever.

Recently I stumbled onto an e-book titled "Naming the Child." In this book, the author, Jenny Shroedel, describes infant death as "the forbidden room." It's a place no one wants to go, an off-limits place full of painful memories, secrets, images. A place no one wants to engage or deal with its stirred-up questions.

But it's a place all too frequented by so many of us. Because we don't want to speak of it or burden others by the silent deaths, we keep them silenced. We don't name these little ones. And for some people, I recognize, the naming will only be too painful. It's not what they need. But for me? This has been a long-awaited step of healing. Naming this child, naming this daughter has once and for all helped me to unashamedly declare that she IS. She is not a positive pregnancy test, she was not just a blip on a screen, she should have and still does have a hold on me. She always should.

For three of these years I have worn a sapphire necklace just about every day, the birthstone of the month she should have been born. Sapphires, a symbol of truth, sincerity and faithfulness. And the day I named Amara, I stumbled upon the following scripture:

"For the mountains may depart and the hills be removed, 
but my steadfast love shall not depart from you, 
and my covenant of peace shall not be removed, says the Lord, who has compassion on you. 
O afflicted one, stormed tossed and not comforted, 
behold, I will set your stones in antimony and lay your foundations with sapphires."  Isaiah 54

I would never have asked for these four years. I would never have wanted to lose our daughter. I would never say those trite words that "this is for a reason," like some have said to me, but I do know one thing. Amara is a gift. And the years I've experienced after her death have been years that have changed me in different ways than maybe her birth would have. I'll never really know. I cannot. But since I cannot change the fact that I will never know her this side of heaven, I can continue to hope. I can be reminded that God's steadfast love has not departed from me during this time. I can, every time I glance down at my sapphire, be reminded of a precious baby girl who is a part of this family and is treasured.

Amara. Of Eternal Beauty. You have been named. You are no longer an "it."

You never were.