Monday, December 15, 2014

Choosing to Remember

The first Sunday of Advent turned out much the way I thought it would. Wonderful time at church with our community, a hurried lunch and cooking soup for our evening out and then a fantastic time making wreaths. My son made a new friend his age, I had a great time chatting with some recently made friends, the food was delicious and the celebration meaningful.

Then I hit Monday morning. I opened my computer while it was still dark and sipped my coffee while I read that morning devotional. I thought about the challenge issued to our community on Sunday morning- a challenge to breathe in Hope and breathe out Fear. And to try to do it constantly this week. I thought about all the articles on Ferguson I have open in my browser, all the pain I've been reading about and thinking about, the protests, the mess, the anger, the injustice. I thought about how my life right now is not in a tangible period of waiting or suffering. And I wondered how to truly dig into Advent when things feel good and right. Why should I invite the idea of suffering into my mornings when all is well?

My pastor never urged us to breathe out suffering, incidentally. None of the devotionals or articles encouraging us to step back from the harried season and think are encouraging us to avoid suffering.

I spent 6 advents waiting. 5 of those advents I felt significant suffering- the loss of Amara, the continual defeat of infertility, the loneliness of living in a place with few friends. But the bottom line was suffering and waiting were real to me. They were tangible. The act of digging in to the deep part of Advent was not actually that difficult. It was the hope and joy of Christmas that seemed elusive. 

During this season when joy feels present, when hope is easy for me, I have to remember that for a lot of people, the opposite is true. They are where I was last year, quite possibly walking in much worse places than I myself have treaded. To avoid this, to run from suffering, to only choose to remember the Light, is to forget what Advent truly means. It is to deny that there is real hurt, real pain being experienced by my fellow man. And that during Advent (and really during the rest of the year), part of the following of Christ means entering into the darkness of the world around me, empathizing, listening, grieving and, yes, still hoping. 

One of my favorite advent posts I have read this season came shortly after the Ferguson decision. Christina Cleveland writes:

"We do the Light a disservice when we underestimate the darkness... Advent is an invitation to plunge into the deep, dark waters of our worst world, knowing that when we re-surface for air we will encounter the hopeful, hovering Spirit of God. For when we dive into the depths of our worst world, we reach a critical point at which our chocolate and pageants no longer satiate our longing for hope – and we are liberated by this realization. Indeed, the light of true hope is found in the midst of darkness." 

So while it would be easy for me to find satisfaction in the chocolate and pageants and Christmas "spirit" that swirl loudly around me, the harder work of keeping my eyes open, of staying awake to the quieter pain is worth it. Even reading back through my own feelings in past years and remembering the sadness, the yearning, the pain, the never-ending wait is powerful. While I didn't enjoy those emotions at the time, I choose to remind myself. I choose not to skip straight to the joy. I choose to remember. 

Matt Jenson, in his post in the Biola Advent Project writes that "in Advent, not only do we anticipate remembering; we also remember to anticipate, to yearn for the day when Christ comes again."

Indeed, we are waiting and hoping in a Christ we know has already come. And at the same time, we anticipate another coming, another fulfillment, an end to the darkness. An end to injustice and fear and pain and miscarriage and unfulfilled longings. 

The hardest thing for me is to know the suffering and the darkness and not fear it. To know that while I am in a period of fulfilled longings right now, I do not know what pain lies ahead. To train myself to breathe in hope in the mornings and breathe out the fear of the unknown. To continue to learn how to wait on the Lord and the day of His coming, one day at a time, even when my earthly waiting is temporarily stilled and joyfully fulfilled. 

That is the work of advent for me this year. The choice to remember, the choice to see, to feel the darkness in the world even as I rejoice in the beauty of the gifts I've been given. And the choice to continue in hope, to invite the Light to shine into a broken, hurting, yearning world. 

Thursday, December 4, 2014

What I Wish I Didn't Have To Tell You

My Darling Boy,

It's your first birthday this week. We made it! That first year is so hard, kid. Sleepless nights, feedings round the clock, no personal space or time for your mama, older brother adjusting, dog in panic mode again with a little one around. It's been good and hard. The way that first year should be.

Like most parents, I've tried to treasure this year even as I've wondered what will come next. What will your personality be like? Which sports will you try and which instruments might you play? Will you like to read or prefer math or maybe both? Will you like to work with your hands or be a visual artist or dancer? Who will you be?

But son, in the wake of recent news, there are bigger questions I have right now.

How, in the name of God, will we as white parents teach you how to be a black man in this America? An America that claims to be post-racist but will target you as inferior from the get-go. An America with systems set up to make you seem suspicious, to assume failure, to promote fear of you. To hire people who will assume the worst of you because you might listen to hip-hop or wear a hoodie or walk alone in a neighborhood that is predominantly white or get behind the wheel of a car and dare to drive somewhere or play with a toy gun in public.

Who will not look at you as an image-bearer of God but a thug or a hoodlum or a troublemaker.

How, in the name of God, will we ever understand what you will feel like when these things happen? How will we help you understand? I may have been teased or underestimated or harassed as a woman. But you, my son, if things don't change, you will be in danger.

I remember the moment I realized how truly different raising you would be. I sat across a table from a Black friend at a coffee shop. She told me that she had to tell her teenage son not to drive too slowly. Not to wear a hoodie in the car. To always, always be as compliant as possible if pulled over. To keep his hands visible. To make no trouble. To be lessened, somehow. About how she worried when he was out. How she knew he would not be treated fairly. This was all before you came home, son. This was early in our process when we were trying to figure out if we could do this. Should we do this. Unfortunately, transracial adoption is not as simple as love. You will need more from us.

So, son, in the wake of continual news that has rendered me speechless and grieving, I promise you this. We will not stay silent. We will not whitewash your history. We will not pretend things are fine and good. We will not celebrate colorblindness. We will continue to teach your white brother about racism and the horrific history of our country in the hopes that he will be a voice for justice. Not just for you, but for all. We will teach you things we wish we didn't have to say. Oh sweet, innocent boy, I wish these were things we wouldn't have to say.

They shouldn't have to be.

Son, you are only one. You are still young. And because I believe in a God who wants justice more than any of us, I will also hope. Hope for deep change. Hope that this new wave of protests, that words uttered now and in the coming months will stir hearts, will unite believers and unbelievers alike to speak up for the oppressed, will ignite change in this country, will cause repentance and anger and grief. I will choose hope, even as I choose honesty. Even as I prepare for what I will say to you. Even as I try to explain Michael and Eric and Trayvon and Tamir to your brother.

Maybe by the time we start to talk about it change will be in the works. Honestly, I doubt it. But I have to hope - as a mother, as a daughter of God, as someone who cannot imagine that anyone will ever look on you with any feelings other than deep love. I have to choose hope.

So, darling boy, I ask in advance for grace. I will get it wrong. Dad will get it wrong. We can never truly understand. But son, we will ask for help along the way. We will apologize often. We will listen well to you and never discount your experiences. We will choose to live in communities who will talk about this and try to live it out, who will never separate the gospel from God's good work of justice. We will do our best to prepare you for what's ahead and we will stand beside you and behind you as you face it, knowing that God goes before us all and loves you more deeply than I can ever imagine.


Tuesday, December 2, 2014

All the Unknowns

Every two weeks, I faithfully take out my pathetic little camera phone and snap a shot of my littlest. I compose a short text with some updates and send it all along to his birthmother. In 10 1/2 months, I had gotten two replies. Two. That's 34 messages and only twice had they been acknowledged. Both times, his BM stressed how hard this is and how much she missed him, so I'm not sitting around feeling annoyed or bitter about her lack of reply. Simply put, I have no idea what she's going through and I don't begrudge her her silence.

Two text messages. Until his birthday this past weekend during during which we were surprised (and so very excited) to receive a birthday message for him and the first pictures we've ever received of his birth mother and half sister. Treasure, really, in the adoption world. We were so grateful and those pictures will go right in his life book. But you know what? I want so much more for him than 3 text messages and a few pictures.

Daily something arises in his little life and I wonder if it's just his unique personality or if one of his birth parents was like this. I don't have his biological grandparents to ask those fun questions- "Did his dad scream with delight like this as a baby? Did his mom blow kisses to the dog, too? Were either of them this mind-bogglingly large at this age?" I don't know who he looks like - the recent picture we received was more of an artsy profile shot. No idea whose toes he has or which expressions mirror which parent.

All the unknowns feel like a loss to us. I can only imagine what they will feel like to him when he realizes them.

One of the things I pray for daily is that his BM will change her mind about meeting us all. I have these fantasies of us sharing Thanksgiving dinner in 10 years or meeting up every few months to laugh and chat or, at the very least, when we likely need to leave Wisconsin in a year and a half, being willing to hang out at a coffee shop for a few, potentially awkward, minutes so she can meet him before we move very far away. Not to say that we wouldn't return for him to see her- we knew when we adopted here that we were also quite possibly making a lifelong commitment to Wisconsin.

But you know what I want to know? How long has his family been here? What is his sister like? She looks sassy and sweet in her picture, having struck this adorable little pose with her hand on her hip and this huge smile lighting up her face. How is his BM handling the loss of him TODAY? How can we support her and love her?

And possibly the hardest part of all of this is that we will truly never know his birth father. That door closed a long time ago. We may eventually get answers to the pieces of his life puzzle on his BM's side but the other side will always stay dark. There will always be more unknowns for him than for my other son. And having to tell him about that man? I don't look forward to the hurt and confusion it will cause when that day comes but he deserves to know his story.

Before we adopted, I remember a friend of mine with two internationally adopted children lamenting the fact that there will be whole pieces of their lives that don't include her. The first years of their lives in orphanages, their birth stories, the missing newborn pictures. When they first spoke or walk. There was a whole other life these kids had lived.

I cannot imagine how that feels.

Having our little guy come to us at 6 weeks old, we have gotten to experience a lot of the firsts. His brother and I watched him take his first steps exactly two weeks ago. I get to hear him call the dog "God" and I was there the first time he called for Mama from his crib. I've rocked him to sleep for almost 11 months now. I watched him learn to grab things and sit up and recognize us and crawl with passionate delight towards his dad when he gets home at night. He didn't have much going on in life before we met him- pretty much that newborn trifecta of eat, sleep and poop at his foster parents home. We did miss his birth, his coming home, his first smile - but he's rewarded us with about 10,000 since then so I guess we're ok. In the grand scheme of things, we didn't miss much.

I am grateful I'll be able to tell him anecdotes about him as a baby and fill in some of his story. But I also long for the ability to tell him more. To fill in hard gaps. To help him learn how to cleave to God when his human story cannot be enough for him and, to be honest, might be entirely too much to take in. To teach him ways to work through questions of identity and community that will be more confusing for him being raised by white parents.

There will always be unknowns. That's adoption. We welcomed the unexpected and the unanswerable into our lives when we signed all the papers.

We also welcomed deep joy in the midst of the all the questions. I am hoping that as we continue on this path, as he grows more and learns to talk and hears his story, that he will be able to fully mourn the losses and unknowns even as the Lord teaches him to fully delight in Him.

Advent is a season for pondering the suffering in our lives and in the world- and right now, we don't feel much of that. We are in a place characterized more by joy right now. It would be tempting to jump straight to Christmas. But I am no stranger to the idea that our joys are made sharper, more intense by the sorrows we've experienced- I did spend 6 advents and Christmases longing for this child, waiting in sorrow, mourning the loss of Amara. The sorrows our little guy has in store will be no easy thing to work through. We will cry alongside him when he's hurt, we will fight alongside and before him when he is treated unjustly, we will mourn alongside him when the pieces we have of his story only cause confusion.

May we continue to learn to both mourn and delight as the time of his understanding approaches so that he might, as much as possible, learn those things with parents who know them, too.

Sunday, November 30, 2014

Digging Into the Wait

One year ago, I was in a very different place than I find myself today.

One year ago, I dreaded Advent. Experience had led me to believe it would be a painful season, a season that only heightened my feelings of loss and frustration.

One year ago, God surprised me.

Not only with an Advent experience that ended up being full of peace, an experience that taught me more about Him, that helped me take the focus off myself- but weeks into it's celebration when He had already shown up and worked some healing in my soul, we also got the call that changed our lives. Last advent, the Lord met me in powerful ways- both spiritually and tangibly- with the gifts of hope and the (almost) fulfillment of a dream that was to come to fruition just a few weeks into the new year.

This year, I have been eagerly anticipating this time. Remembering dark, quiet mornings, sipping coffee, pondering the stillness. Knowing that there will be mornings I don't quite get to enjoy it that same way this year, but for a pretty good reason. This year, I have a crazy one-year-old careening around the house, pulling ornaments off the tree. We can't put up our stockings or he'll pull them down. He won't understand a bit of what goes on for the next month, but he'll enjoy the sparkly lights, the crinkle of the wrapping paper, the Christmas boxes that will be so much more fun than the actual toys that come inside them. My older son, however, continues in that sweet spot of parenting. Old enough to enjoy, old enough to participate, to continue to learn and young enough to want all three of those things. To find magic in awaiting the Christ child, to anticipate our nightly readings with the Jesse tree. We don't do Santa or the Elf around here- and I'm pretty convinced his Christmas is just as magical, and certainly as or more meaningful, as any other kid's.

This year, though, I want to dig in in a fresh way. I want to blog my way through the experience. I want to see it from my son's eyes, to experience the Jesse Tree like he does, to do my morning Advent Experience and to continue to train my heart that grew up without much idea of liturgy what it means to really live Advent.

So, today I start. This morning I'll start the Advent Project online. Then I will head to church to worship with my community where hymns and choruses will be sung, where the first candle of Advent will be lit. Later this afternoon, I will head back to celebrate with 70 of those people and our children as we make our own, fresh advent wreaths and celebrate the beginning of the season with a meal together.

Let's go, Advent. Let's see what fresh joys and challenges await.

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

The Delight

No one ever said that parenting is easy. Well, maybe somebody said it, but I'm sure if he did he was delusional. Or particularly gifted in dealing with unreasonable and illogical humans. 

I've learned, though, that finding small things to enjoy and delight in each day goes a long way. And one of my favorite parts of being a mother these past 8 years is watching my sons with their father. 

The way my firstborn would wait at the back window with the dog for his daddy to get home from work. 

The way my youngest now goes charging in his loud, passionate way down the hall when he hears the kitchen door open, yelling until his dad picks him up. The difference between the two ways they deal with this is so telling of their personalities- one, cautious, thoughtful and always a little older than he really was and the younger who never stops moving, exploring and throws himself at everything.

Hands down, though, one of my current joys is watching the youngest at the end of dinner. 

It's become habit that when the youngest is clearly finished, my husband will get up and walk over to the piano and play some music to keep dinner time going a little longer so the oldest one (and usually me) can finish our food. The sheer anticipation and joy of that walk and those first few notes played cannot be described with anything other than a video. 

Seriously, people.

The grinning, the clapping, the dancing. The realization dawning on his face of what's going to happen as his daddy walks across the room. It's almost too much. And I know this is one part of the early years that I will miss deeply when he's older. When he goes through apathetic phases or times when he doesn't feel like a rousing family band moment is all that cool. 

It struck me this week as I watched this scene unfold for the umpteenth time, how much my husband's actions mirror the Lord's. How we are going through the day, the regular, mundane activities of cooking, eating, cleaning up and how he sees us. He knows what we delight in. He knows the aspect of His character that we need to see, to know better, to yearn for. And he reveals himself to us. In sweet, moments like this. Like a daddy walking slowly to the piano to create music for his infant, he longs to bring delight to us. I love how watching my husband be a father has shown me so much of my own heavenly Father's heart for us. 

It brings to mind a verse that has always meant much to my music-loving, dancing soul:

The Lord your God is in your midst,
    a warrior who gives victory;
he will rejoice over you with gladness,
    he will renew you in his love;
he will exult over you with loud singing. 

Zephaniah 3:17 (RSV)

This picture of a God who loves us, who fights for us, who renews us and who covers us with his song. That is a picture of fatherhood that is one worth pondering, one worth embracing. 

I am so grateful my sons are growing up with a daddy who knows how to delight in them and to bring them joy, who is constantly discerning what it means to cover them with his love and exult over them. When the evening piano times fade, as most phases do, I eagerly anticipate what new and fresh and delightful ways the Lord will continue to teach us who He is through this crazy and exhausting thing we call parenting. 

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

DIY Holiday Luminaries

I am not ashamed to admit that I love the Christmas season. I love the spiritual side of it - the advent readings, the carols, the Jesse Tree, the candlelight Christmas Eve Services. And I love the aesthetic side- the decorating, the twinkle lights, the smells of baking, the parties. All of it, really.

My son shares in my deep love for this. Each year on the day after Thanksgiving, we get down all the boxes, carefully take all our knickknacks down from around the house and replace them with holiday decorations, trim the tree, wrap the banisters and set up the advent wreath, manger scene and Jesse Tree. He has already asked me several times if we can just do it early.

Nope, I'm a stickler. Thanksgiving first, my boy.

In anticipation of that day, however, there is one area of my house I've never felt looked truly finished when decorated- our mantle. I had a little idea rolling around in my mind this fall involving mason jars, glitter, letters and candles and my son was completely on board with making a fun holiday project a few weeks in advance.He loved that it felt like decorating early and I loved that they would be ready for when that actual day comes.

So, without further ado, here is what we did.


3 Large Mason Jars
3 Small Wooden Letters - we chose "J", "O" and "Y". You could obviously adjust and do a longer word with more mason jars.
Mod Podge
Foam Brush
Glitter - we used a white/silver snow-like glitter.
Votive Candles or Tea Lights
Paint or Spray paint- we chose royal blue

First, we covered the mason jar with a layer of mod podge using a foam brush. You don't have to wait for it to get tacky before moving on to the second step, like you do with some projects.

Second, we sprinkled glitter all over the jar.

Repeat steps 1 and 2 until all your jars are glittery.

Third, while the jars were drying, we spray-painted the letters with a royal blue. I also painted the jar tops but didn't end up liking the way they looked on the finished product. We chose spray paint because (a) we already had it in the house and (b) it dries quickly. I did also paint the tops of the jars but ended up not liking the way they looked.

Fourth, we cut some silver and white ribbon and tied it around the tops of the dried mason jars. We added a decorative silver bead at the top to cover where we tied it and left one piece hanging down the middle of the jar. Make sure it's long enough to glue to the back of a letter.

Fifth, once the letters were dry, we got out the hot glue gun and glued the piece of ribbon to the back of each letter. Hot glue dries so quickly you can just hold it there for about 30 seconds and then gently turn it around so it lays against the jar.

Sixth, we raided our candle stash and found three small votive candles and gently placed them inside.

We lit the candles, turned down the lights and were delighted with the results!

I think they'll spice up the mantle nicely.

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

How Many Clicks?

Just moments ago, I stood on our driveway waving goodbye to my oldest child as he scootered away for another day of school. This kid wakes up raring to go, eats his breakfast, gets himself ready and prefers to be waiting by the doors of the school when they are opened at 7:45. All the while he is getting ready, he is chattering about what he looks forward to: his teachers, his schoolmates and science.

I love this kid.

As a parent, we all hear the old adages: "the days are long but the years are short", "they are only young once" and anything else meant to encourage a sleep-deprived and frustrated demographic to treasure the time when their children are really young. Sometimes we manage it and other days we just survive the hard days and try not to feel too badly about the treasuring that may or may not have occurred. And then they hit this age when they are self-cleaning little conversationalists and you talk about life and love and science and God with them and wonder how you got so lucky and how your family became what it is.

Along the way of just doing life, we develop these little traditions. Things that define our family, things that build into our relationships with our kids and our spouse that become distinctly us. I assume these are the things we'll remember when old: monkey bread on Christmas morning right after opening presents, family band times after dinner, camp-ins in the living room. And all the littler, day-to-day things that feel mundane but really make up the significance of this time in our lives.

Every night, we go through the same old (seemingly insignificant) bedtime routine. Snack, drink, reading, feed the guinea pigs, brush teeth, floss, mouthwash and prayers. And every night, just before I tell him how much I love him, I ask this question: "How many clicks?"

You see, he has this awesome moon given to him by his uncle. It has craters and shadows and lights up from a little remote control. The number of times you click the button determines what phase the moon is in. To me, this is the coolest night light ever. It fades after a half hour down to darkness but he gets to fall asleep to this beautiful light and be reminded of the bigness of the universe.. And I don't know how it started, but my husband and I are the ones who light it. He picks the phase, we press the buttons, follow it by an "I love you so much, I'll see you in the morning!" and then leave the moon-lit room, the child snug in his warm bed, the scent of his hair lingering in our memory, the sense of another day come and gone, full of memories and mistakes and successes and us.

There is no way he would let us forget to do it, either. It's just a part of who we are right now and like all the other little traditions that have come and gone, this one will likely fade at some point, too. He'll get too old for it or it will break or he'll want to pass it on to his little brother. Something will change. But for at least a year of his life and counting, that moon will have been as crucial a part of bedtime as the words we share with each other. We'll remember it when he's older. It'll be one of the things we talk about when we remember the sweet years when we still played a big role in bedtime. It'll always be something his uncle gave him that was really meaningful for a time.

I love that. And as much as I've always loved the big traditions- lighting all the candles on Christmas Eve, eating dinner at my grandparents pool when we visit in Florida and all the other things we do that fit into that category, I think I'm growing to love these small moments more. It's almost impossible to pinpoint how they start and why they become necessary, but they are all the sweeter for it. They are what I really want to remember some day. When the kids are dropped off at college or walk down the aisle or get those first real jobs, it'll be all the little things that we did, all the small moments and the ways we learned to celebrate them, that truly make our family what it is. It'll be those tiny traditions that came and went that we'll laugh about and remember and maybe even see replayed in their own families some day.

Yes, the days can be long and the years can feel short, but I'm learning to take it one day at a time, not rushing the littlest one in growing up and not holding back the oldest one, and just letting life happen.

Saturday, October 11, 2014

The Never-Ending Deck Project

More than 20 days ago I posted a photo to my facebook page proclaiming my intent to finally, after living here for over a year, refinish the deck. If you are like me, once something around the house bugs you, you likely think about how soon you can fix it on a daily, if not hourly, basis. So, I was excited to no longer have a deck that was the world's largest splinter with splashes of paint in random places. A deck that might actually look at home in our beautiful yard and garden.

Deck after powerwashing and sanding
When I posted that picture I had already powerwashed and sanded it which, since just about anything I accomplish these days happens during my littlest's nap times, took me a solid week. I didn't have high hopes for finishing the painting part quickly.

I was right.

Today, just after I finished it, Reed said to me "So the painting only took like a week, right?"

Not quite, and I'm glad to see his powers of observation are working as well as mine are through all the sleep deprivation around here.

No, 3 weeks of painting during naps, waiting out the rainy days and taking a break when family visited and here we go. Probably not my best work ever, but I think it looks pretty nice against the light grey house and white trim and I look forward to all my flowers complementing the blue next summer season.

Deck after two coats of paint (and yes, that was a lot of trim)
For now, since it'll likely be covered in snow starting in a little over a month, I'll enjoy it in its flowerless state during frigid mornings full of steaming coffee when the little is asleep and I am no longer on my hands and knees painting.

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

The "Good" Thing

Confession: I raised my voice to my eight-month old baby this week. The older child had been chattering at me ALL THE LIVELONG DAY so my head was ringing with noise and the littlest one was refusing to eat again and would only calm down when I gave him his pacifier but would then take said pacifier out, throw it as far away from himself as possible and then scream again because he wanted the aforementioned pacifier. Irrational, selfish behavior, if you ask me. And my brain had had enough. I cracked.

Some days I just cannot work with these people.

And you know what else? Pretty much every day I am aware of just how bad I really am at this whole parenting thing.

The strange thing is, though, I've found that when I'm willing to be honest with people and confess to how badly I feel like I'm failing, about what it's really like behind all the cute pictures on facebook and the laughing baby in videos, I am almost always reassured by them that I am a good parent. Without any investigation into what exactly I have or have not done for (or to) my boys that day. It's a blanket reassurance that I usually don't think I have earned. And I've said the same words myself, time and time again.

But here's the thing. If I read half the blogs and articles out there, I would be assured that I am a "good" parent because when asked I would emphatically declare that I love these boys. And I do. So much that it knocks the wind out of me when the oldest climbs a tall tree and I have to push through those intense feelings of fear of him falling or I can't see if the youngest is breathing on the monitor during a particularly unusual stretch of sleep and have to tiptoe in and place my hand on his back to make sure it's rising and falling. Of course I love them.

I know, however, from experience that love has never prevented me from doing selfish, frustrating and, sometimes, completely irrational things of my own. Love is not always really enough. At least not human love. Love doesn't prevent me from having a bad day, from taking it out on them and then beating myself up until I'm in tears of my own when my husband finally walks through the door. Love does not in itself make me a "good" parent.

So when I read these articles reassuring me that whatever decisions I am making, they are my own to make as long as I love my kids, I get a little nauseated. Really? Whatever decisions I make are fine as long as I love these kids? I know for a fact that I make decisions that will probably make them wonder what the hell was wrong with their mother when they are older. I know for sure that I don't always choose selflessness or care for them over my own self-preservation. I know already what they'll tell their therapists some day. But because I love them, I am a "good parent". Or so I am told.

Here's the problem as I see it. If I approach parenthood from this perspective, that I am GOOD because of something I feel for them, I'm going to be in pretty big trouble. I spent most of my 20's trying to shake off the "good enough" gospel. That if I just followed the rules, checked off the boxes and FELT good about God, then I myself was good, I myself was on the right path, I myself had done enough to be loved by Him. Trying to shake off that gospel and replace it with a deep thankfulness for God's forgiveness, mercy and grace for me, a deeply flawed sinner, has been a long process. A hard process. One I am still working through.

So why in the world would I want to approach parenting the same "good enough" way?

I am not a good parent just because I love my kids. I am not a good parent when I make the "right" decisions and we all know that in today's hyper-competitive mom culture, those decisions are under constant debate anyway. I am only a good parent when I am letting God love them through me. To be honest, though, I'm often so self-focused, so unforgiving towards my own shortcomings, that I have a lot of trouble moving out of the way so He can do that. But if the gospel of truth tells me that I am a loved daughter of God because of what He has done for me (and not because I am good enough for Him), then the gospel of parenting dare not lead me in the opposite direction. I cannot earn being a "good" parent through my decisions or my emotions. I am going to make mistakes, some huge, some tiny. I have been given a huge responsibility, one which I cannot fulfill without a really overwhelming dose of God's grace to me every day. And yes, a lot of days, when I look at the emotional detritus, the physical mess of my home, the tear streaked faces of one or all four of us, those days will look like failures. This, it seems, is my greatest struggle as an adult. To have been good at almost everything I've ever tried, to realize how fully I've relied on my own self-sufficiency and to continue to cling to it even in failure as I parent. Oh to be set free from that scrutiny, to wake each day to rely on the only Good Parent, and invite His boundless love, patience, creativity and energy into my sleep-deprived and self-focused soul. What would that feel like?

The deeper problem of earning the status of "good parent" through my decision-making skills or my love for these boys is that in so doing I also take on the twin demons of self-righteousness and fear-driven anxiety. In reality, much of my parenting is done as if I don't know the God of grace. It's done in fear and exhaustion, in juggling these twin demons, in judgment of myself for the ways I fall short, and paradoxically, self-righteous judgment of those who do this parenting thing differently than I do, which is why we all get so upset and roast each other over nursing and organic food and spray sunblock or whatever the new thing is we are supposed to be hyper-vigilant and angry about. Good parents versus bad parents in the daily showdown of who is making the best decisions for their kids. Ugh. And interestingly, it is no better for me to think of myself as a "bad parent" as it is to think of myself as a "good parent." Both distinctions are too caught up in my own abilities, my own issues, my own fears. Both distinctions do not see the fuller picture of who I am in God; broken but redeemed, failing but victorious, unlovable but loved.

So, please, let's stop telling each other we are good parents, especially when we don't know what the day has looked like. I'm sure we're all not quite as quick to share those moments of shame with each other but maybe we should be. Maybe if we could trust that we'd listen and not just blanket or negate our feelings with the "good parent" gospel cliché answer (or, just as bad, accuse each other of being bad parents), we'd share when we yelled at our children or locked ourselves in a closet so that no little hands could touch us one more time. Rather than sulk around in guilt or put loose band-aids over feelings of failure, we might actually work through the deeper issues that are being driven to the surface by, in my opinion, the hardest freaking job in the world.

What if, instead of platitudes, we answered with questions, listened well and directed each other's hearts to repentance and grace? Wouldn't that be more powerful and enduring that simply offering the "you're a good parent" speech when we struggle? Doesn't that road offer us a way out of ourselves whereas the "good parent" speech turns us back inward, focuses us on our own abilities, our countless exhausting decisions?

Then maybe I could end the day not in shame and exhaustion, frustration and anger, but in the quiet knowing that whatever my failures that day, it is not up to me to be that perfect mom. That the next day is a new day, one I can start by moving out of God's way and letting Him figure this parenting thing out for me. And where I am quick to anger and slow to forgive, His grace can slow me down and remind me to take each moment less chaotically, to lean into His love and mercy for my children and myself and to be committed to asking the good questions that point myself and my other parent friends away from ourselves and towards the only One who really has the answers and the patience for this parenting thing anyway.

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

That Final Piece

This morning we stepped into a courtroom with a mixture of butterflies and confidence. You can't help but feel nervous when standing in front of a judge but we also felt the surety of having done our part. The paperwork, the waiting, the post-adoption visits with the caseworker, all the medical paperwork we had to fill out and send in, the emails and calls to ensure everything would go through. The hassles with the insurance company who just could not understand why we didn't have a social security card or birth certificate for our son, as if we are the first people ever to adopt a child. But today it's all done. Today we stand here before this woman who has the power to make everything final. Legal. Done. 

A dear friend of mine with three adopted children recently posted a profound quote:  

"A child born to another woman calls me mommy. The magnitude of that tragedy and the depth of that privilege are not lost on me." 

As we stand here today, I remember that. I etch it into my soul. So many people like to focus on or emphasize that fact that we have done something here. That WE have been saviors in some kind of way, rescuers. For me, it never feels that way. It feels like we have brought a child into our family, just like anyone else, but maybe in a slightly less "regular" way. I look at my child and see the huge losses that have already been stored up in his baggage- his birth parents and their extended family, his foster family, whatever life he might have had without us -good or bad. I hear his belly laugh and get sucked into those gorgeous brown eyes and wonder who he looks like and whether one of his biological parents laughed like that. We'll likely never know. But we didn't do any rescuing or any hero work here. We are simply parents; flawed, exhausted and grasping for a daily dose of hope and grace, just like anyone else. 

So today, the magnitude of that quote hits me. The depth of the privilege it is to call this child son, to embrace the responsibilities, challenges and joys of what it means to be his parent, that he is irrevocably, legally and (like he has been from the moment he was placed in our home) heart-rendingly ours. That there are already significant tragedies in his life that we'll have to work through together some day. 

But the point is this: we WILL do it together. Today it's final. It's done. The final piece of a dream. With a few short words and under the smiling eyes of a judge, we were pronounced a family. 

It feels really good. 

Wednesday, July 9, 2014

Backyard Transformations

You know that one thing that drives you crazy from the moment you move into a new place? Yeah. Welcome to my gravel pit.

I'm not sure what this was used for in the past- speculation includes a base for a pool, the spot where a playground existed (and I'm guessing, caused many skinned knees) and, well, really that's all we can come up with. I knew from the minute we moved in that I could only put up with it there for so long but I also know we'll probably only live here a few years which puts expensive landscaping projects at the bottom of our to-do list. What could I do that would cost almost nothing and that I'd be able to pull off myself?

After thinking and sketching, I decided to go simple. I chose to move the black borders in a few feet, creating a more circular area for the gravel and moving all the gravel to fill it in more deeply, creating a place for our fire pit and patio furniture. I extended the edges of the space left behind to wrap a little around the patio to create some curves and then tilled, supplemented and fertilized the dirt left behind.

Once it was finally warm enough, I planted tons of seeds, a combination of annuals, herbs and vegetables.

A few months later with Wisconsin's glorious sunshine and steady rain and here you go! We've been eating sugar snap peas straight off the vine for a week and are waiting for the zucchini, squash, cucumbers, cantaloupe, basil and cilantro to ripen soon.

We enjoyed the 4th with the fire pit going and good friends around it, with the scents of marigolds, dahlias and ripening tomatoes wafting around us, not to mention the singed marshmallows the 7-year-old contributed to the evening.

Lost cost, just a little sweat and tears and I've got a patio/garden!

Thursday, June 12, 2014

Choosing Real Life

Exactly one year ago, we spent one long, exhausting, sweaty, emotional day putting the whole of our life into a huge truck and saying goodbye to home in NC. We left with the deep hope of returning in just a few short years, with the uncertainties of life and new relationships in an entirely different part of the country in front of us and with the knowledge that surely we'd be able to keep in touch with these amazing friends we'd made during our relatively short time there. Some say this has been a big year for us. I say we've gone through more changes than is probably good for any one family to go through. New state, new home, new culture, new school, new job, new baby, new friends, new church, new winter experience (read, misery). New.

In a lot of ways it has been good. Wisconsin schools are amazing and as we approach the last day of school tomorrow I have a child who is not looking forward to summer vacation because of how much he will miss his class and his teacher. And while the winter was beyond awful, the summer here is beyond amazing. (We're still trying to decide whether the summer awesomeness outweighs the winter hell.) We've met some wonderful people and seen some beautiful places. We've seen our adoption happen after years of waiting and signed our finalization paperwork yesterday. One court date away from this particular journey's end.

But here is the reality right now. Much of the time, I am lonely. I am sad. I am isolated. I am missing home and friends and family and wondering again what it was like back when everybody just grew up and stayed close to home, raised their kids in that type of community, didn't go it alone halfway across the country. Much of the time I am slightly angry that we had to leave such an amazingly pro-adoption community of friends, that I had to say goodbye to people with whom I could truly be myself, a feat I don't often accomplish. But my current loneliness? Is it my husbands fault for following his dream across the country? Is it the winter's fault for trapping me inside for 4 months? Is it my baby's fault for reminding me again that I am just AWFUL at parenting during the baby phase?

No. It's my fault and my fault alone.

You see, when we moved here I was determined to stay connected back home and to connect here. I didn't want to come but I tried to embrace the adventure, think of it as 3 years of opportunity, tried to hope that our adoption would happen while we were here, that we would enjoy Wisconsin as much as we did NC. But rather than choosing the reality of connectedness, the hard work (for me, at least) of picking up the phone, of planning and following through on skype dates, of pursuing people here in face-to-face interactions at the park or museum or ice cream shop, I chose facebook. Over and over and over again.

Now don't get me wrong. Facebook has its good points. I get to keep up on news from friends all over the world, I get to share the deep joy we felt when N finally came home, I get to laugh at the crazy things that happen to people when do life together. But at some point, checking once a day becomes twice and three times and 10 and then 50. I put the baby down for a nap and run to my computer. Which obscure friend to whom I haven't spoken in 20 years will have posted an article that I'll read even though I've never even heard of the topic on which it's written? Which new parental controversy will suck me in, even though I actually don't care, and will it send me then spiraling into yet another pit of self-hatred when it comes to my clear shortcomings in the parenting department? And suddenly, 45 minutes later, the dishes still aren't done, I haven't weeded the garden, I may have even forgotten to eat and shower and the baby is waking up. More guilt, more frustration. It's a beautiful cycle, really.

The bigger problem of the cycle is the choice- I choose the fleeting feeling of connectedness over the deeper connections of real personal interaction. I choose the isolation and the safety of my kitchen table and a cup of coffee, rather than doing the hard work of getting past the "dating" phase in new friendships by actually meeting someone for coffee. I choose my own comfort, the quickness, the status that attemps to lure in comments so that I will not feel alone, even though I am actually more alone than if I hadn't posted it in the first place.

In short, I have chosen shallow, elusive intimacy. And it's not working, folks.

My knee-jerk reaction to this epiphany was to swear off facebook altogether. I'm pretty good at being all or nothing, black or white. I have enormous self-control, which is usually a blessing and sometimes a curse because of its rigidity. I woke up this morning thinking, "I'm not going to check it anymore. I'm disabling my account. I'm done. I have to choose real life."

Then I took a long run with my baby. I thought of all the friends all over the world and how I do legitimately enjoy hearing what's going on in their lives, how I love the life announcements and how it really is actually fun to see what the crazy people you went to high school with are doing now that we've all grown out of the stupid and selfish phase that marks those years. I thought of the good and the joy and the positives. And so I did what any logical person who is a raging "J" on the Myers-Briggs would do and made up a list of rules for myself. I will be on facebook less these summer months and here's how I'm going to do it.

(1) I will only check facebook once a day.
(2) I will set a timer for 15 minutes- that gives me a chance to read through my newsfeed once (without clicking refresh), comment if I want to, like a few things and then move on.
(3) I will no longer click on parenting articles. 90% of them end with me having a big knot in my stomach. The other 10% are great and I'll just have to trust my favorite parent friends to send me them via email if they are really worth reading.
(4) I will subscribe to the blogs I actually want to follow so I don't have to check people's facebook accounts to see if they are updated and then get sucked into a myriad of other activities.
(5) I will still post the occasional status update but I'll be a little more prayerful about why I'm doing it.
(6) I'll use the time I would normally spend on facebook making a phone call or sitting outside in the sun with my neighbors or actually answering long emails. Or yeah, doing the dishes. That might help.

I know this isn't a solution to my problem. That I'll continue to be tempted to choose the emptier route. I have some deep soul work to be done here and I'm hoping that God will meet me in that and help me figure out this deeper issue that continually tempts me to seek shallowness. That he'll heal me of settling for less and strengthen me to search for more.

In the meantime, though, year two in Wisconsin starts tomorrow. May it be a year that is marked by deepening friendships, less facebook, more joy and actual intimacy.

Wednesday, June 4, 2014

Summer Ready

It's that time of year again when blogs start popping up full of helpful ways to keep your children from getting bored this summer. Predictably, some parents are excited to have lazier mornings and relaxed days with the kids home while other parents worry about how to fill the hours and what to do when there is no set schedule. I fall somewhere in between.

This year we have the added complication of planning life for a 7-year-old around naps for a 6-month-old. The older one hasn't taken a nap in years (including most of the cross country trips we've done) and the younger one needs to sleep at least 4 hours during the or he's a zombie. And while we are finally in the land of siblings, they are far from being each other's playmates for hours at this point and we find ourselves in much the same place as last year- looking ahead to long, sunny days with endless opportunities for the older, extroverted child who still has no built-in playmates.

So, in the interest of creating some semblance of a weekly plan for our days ahead, I scoured the internet for calendar ideas. While we have outlawed the word "bored" in our home in exchange for a healthy understanding that "boredom" is really just the lull between one finished opportunity and the next adventure to be had, I recognize that a little guidance in said direction can go a long way.

I came up with the following for us, knowing that there are things on here the older child can be doing while I am feeding the littlest guy and putting him down for naps and there is also some built-in quality time for us while the baby is asleep, which will go a long way for my older guy who definitely thrives on play time with his parents.

I'm going to print this out and laminate it- then we can add in which special activities we'll do each day as well as what's coming up that week in terms of planned time with friends, soccer or zoo camp or people coming to visit. My hope is that with some time spent on Sundays together filling this out with our dry erase marker, we can together choose something fun for each day and anticipate that time while also enjoying some structure and some freedom to the day. I took the idea of the themed days from something I found on the internet and thought it would be helpful to have some direction on one planned activity a day. I also know that we realistically won't always plan or execute something for every day and though I HATE not following through on stuff like that, I'm trying to go into this summer with a realistic view of life with a baby and its call for flexibility.

Here's hoping that my 7-year-old can learn some flexibility, too!

Monday, May 19, 2014

Missing Mother's Day

My Mother's Day didn't start with breakfast in bed. There were no mornings off or massages or time to myself. No special dinner or sweet extended cuddle time with my little ones.

No, it looked much like it has for the last 8 years since I have become a mom.

Those first 7 Mother's Days were spent on a big stage with a bunch of college students I had just met. I passed the day with colleagues and new songs and crotchety sound systems and preparations to welcome a whole new herd of student leaders to camp that night. It went by with a glance online to see that all my mother friends were being celebrated and missing my own mom in the process. Most of those years I spent wondering when my mother's day would take on a new meaning. It was ok, though. That was my job and I loved it.

This year there was a noted difference.

I chose to go back to camp for one last hurrah and I went back with a little guy in my arms. This year I perused the beautiful posts and pictures of my fellow mothers, I saw their smiles, the sweet things their children did for them and I only felt jealous for a moment. Things have changed since last year. My waiting in this has ended. Some might wonder if I spent my day thinking about that newest little guy who has made me a mom all over again. I personally would've thought that's what I would've done.

That's not what happened, though.

What did fill my mind this Mother's Day was not what I was missing in my lack of celebrations, was not lost time with my children while at camp, was not the fact that I didn't get breakfast in bed, was not my own mom far away or my sweet 5-month-old baby boy.

What I thought about was a particular mother's empty arms. That somewhere, a young woman who still misses her baby, who chose life for him and entrusted him to us to raise, was having a very different Mother's day. No one was sending her cards. No one was making the day special for her. I wasn't even sure if it was a day I should mention to her- how would she feel this day? Having made one of the most sacrificially loving decisions a parent can make and knowing that that choice would mean that she is forever a mother, but in a way almost no one would understand. Would people in her life even know her story? Know how brave she is?

I know she won't read this. We are in touch but I know her circumstances prevent her from doing much blog reading. I faithfully send her updates with pictures and stats. She knows her little boy is now wearing 2T clothes, that he's eating solids, that he smiles most of the time he's awake, adores his big brother, tries his darnedest to follow the dog around the house and is, in general, the cuddliest little man on the planet.

What she doesn't know is what it's like to experience all those things about him firsthand. And I can't imagine how her empty arms felt on the day that celebrates moms everywhere.

So, to our own personal hero, the woman who gave our son life, I salute you. You changed our lives forever and there aren't really words enough that could ever express how we feel about you.

Rest assured that little man will grow up hearing stories of your courage and love and that you will always be a huge part of how we celebrate our Mother's Day.

Thursday, April 24, 2014

One Question, No Assumptions

During our years of training and reading, I learned to expect that people would be intrusive, possibly aggressively nosy, about my adopted son and his story. Particularly since we are now a multiracial family, there would be questions and assumptions made about who we are and who he is. My first few forays into public I would run through my head the things I was planning on saying, the responses I had carefully crafted in the face of a possibly offensive question.

But here's the deal. Littlest man has been home now for almost 4 months. And in those four months, we haven't been asked anything offensive. Intrusive, yes. Offensive, no. Do strangers come up to me? Sure. Do random people strike up conversations at school pick-up who didn't even notice I existed before now? Of course they do. Why? Because he's pretty darn cute and because they are curious.

Curiosity is not a sin, the last time I checked. It's what you do with it that can either educate or wound.

I've found that there is one question we are asked that is my favorite.

"Who is this little guy?"

One question, no assumptions. It gives me, his mom, the freedom to answer in several ways depending on who this person is and what relationship I have to him or her. To the random stranger, I answer "this is my son". To the person I've met once or twice and who is usually the parent of one of my older son's school friends I tend to answer "this is Josh's brother." If I know them a little better, they probably get his name in response, too. If they want to take the conversation further, it is up to them to ask more questions. If I want to open up the conversation further for them because I trust them, I can take it further with my answer.

I am in no way ashamed of his story. I am not hiding his adoption. And I know we will not always be approached with my favorite question. In fact, I had the following conversation with a total stranger in a restaurant:

Woman: "Wow, he's cute. Is he yours or is he adopted?"
Me: "Well, thanks, I think he's cute, too. And yes, he IS mine. And he WAS adopted."
Woman: "When are you going to tell him?"
Me: "I told him on his way home on the day we adopted him. It's part of his story and always will be. Nothing to hide."
Woman: "Oh. Ok. Well, congrats!"
Me: "Thanks!"

Some people would say this woman was too intrusive. Certainly, I would never ask someone I didn't know these kinds of questions. But I had the choice of answering defensively or I using it to educate. It's not that he IS adopted. It's that he WAS adopted and is now every bit my child as is his older brother that is sitting right next to his look-alike father. His identity now is my son. And the whole "keep it secret until some perfect moment down the line when you reveal the truth" thing is just not how we do it anymore. Nor has it ever worked for long with a transracial adoption, for obvious reasons. Why should we be quiet about his story with him? Is there shame in it? Something to hide? No. Certainly, we'll tell harder truths about it at appropriate times, but from the start he will know his story and we will celebrate the good in it and mourn the hard.

I have known from the start that I would have to deep into deep wells of grace and patience as we walk this road. Not everyone we meet will approve of what we've done. People will say hurtful things, intentionally and unintentionally. But it has been refreshing to see that for at least for this first part of our time as a family, most of what we've gotten is simple curiosity. I in no way think this will always be the case, that we will never hear anything hurtful. But in the meantime, I'm grateful that during this process as we are figuring out what all this means, we have felt overwhelmingly supported and encouraged. I'm hoping that God will use this time to keep digging those wells deeper so that when the hurtful comments do come, I can respond in ways that do not wound back. I have enough friends who have done this to know that crazy things will be said and that there will be times I have to be a voice of truth and grace. Even this week, a video was circulating that put a humorous spin on what not to say to adoptive families. Clearly this is an issue and I appreciate people who are taking the time to make things like this to help the rest of us know how to put the right words to our questions.

Right now, we are just going to keep figuring out what it means to be a family of four, juggling feedings and naptimes with soccer games and birthday parties, snapping pictures when we can remember to charge the camera, keeping the dog from eating the baby's spit-up and welcoming the questions that do come, because that means he really is finally home with us.

That, after all, is the most important thing.

"Who is the little guy?" He's ours.

Thursday, April 17, 2014

The Entry Bench

Redefining the meaning of productivity is always a crucial step to survival with a young baby in the home. It's been a productive day if your baby has had his diaper changed at appropriate intervals, eaten enough food and had a smile on his face a few times. (Or not, as the fussy days may be.)

That said, it still feels REALLY good to me to actually churn out an inexpensive do-it-yourself project. With snow on the ground (again) and temps keeping us indoors, I needed a little sawing and staple gunning for the soul. I started this project back before littlest man came home with us and it's been staring at me ever since, daring to be finished.

We had a sad, little spot in our foyer crying out for a little spice. I did NOT want to pay a ton of money for a fancy bench.

So, I decided to make my very own homemade entry bench with storage! Without further ado:

This is how I did it:

(1) I went to the Habitat Restore to see what I could find, rather than starting with more expensive, brand new wood. I found these, a kitchen cabinet that would go over a fridge so it's wide but not tall and a thick piece of wood to go on top for the seat:

 (2)  Removed the hardware (old and ugly!), sanded, primed and painted the cabinet. I removed the doors for ease of painting. I also enlisted the 7-year-old who was very excited to help on a painting project and loves feeling like he has accomplished something with his hands just like his mama does!

(3) Replaced the hardware with simple little knobs. Reattached doors to the main cabinet.

(4) Put cabinet liner down inside to help with dirt and wear, since we'll be storing diaper bags and shoes in here.

(4) Sawed the piece of wood into the right size for the top of the bench.

(5) Primed and painted the top of the bench and attached it to the cabinet.

(6) Found an old pillow in my storage area and cut out cardboard to fit the bottom. (I am not a sewer so this is my fix for the lack of that skill!) I then used the staple gun to attach my fabric to the bottom and put the whole thing on top of the bench. Done!

Monday, March 31, 2014

The Great (and Long Overdue) Thank You List

We have traveled the path of miscarriage, infertility and adoption for 5 years now. We know our story isn't done but with the coming home of our beautiful son and the emerging from those chaotic first few months, I am finally setting up an ebenezer. I know not what is next but I know that right now, there is some deep thanking to be done.

To my blog and facebook friends. It has been quite a journey. Thank you for reading, for your notes of encouragement, for sharing the ways that God has used my words and our struggle to speak to you or encourage you. Thanks for giving me the chance to be honest. Thanks to a colleague for encouraging me to blog in the first place and to my husband for always, always telling me to write.

To the amazing Richmond friends who walked with us, mostly silently, through our miscarriage in 2009. Some of you didn't even know why we were sad or what had happened...that is not your fault. That was in my "keep-it-all-to-yourself-and-you'll-feel-better" years. But to those of you who loved us in our silent pain and didn't offer us trite responses, who shared your own stories of miscarriage and loss, thank you.

To my amazing students at University of Richmond, UNC-Chapel Hill and all those who came through the worship track at Rockbridge during this journey, thanks for the ways you asked about our story. For the ways you let me share myself (as I was figuring out how to do that) and share my heart for adoption and transparency in loss. Thanks for keeping me laughing, for always making up the craziest skits and songs in the world, for loving Jesus boldly the specific way that only college students do, for free (and not so free) babysitting of our son and for praying for me so faithfully.

To my hoohah ladies. For always holding out hope, for sharing your babies with me (and letting me rub them on my belly), for giving me a whole weekend of your time every year to laugh, remember, sing, dance, eat and create new and lasting memories. For friendships that started that first week of college and have lasted for over a decade, I thank you.

To my running buddies, thank you for letting me bitch and moan and for telling me to get off my sad, whining butt and run with you as often as you did. Thank you for, quite literally, pushing me the extra mile and for sweating out this wait with us in more ways than one. I am quite sure that had I not kept running, my head would have exploded at some point during this long wait.

To my staff colleagues, for living a life unashamedly answering the call to love college students and pushing them to be who God has created them to be. For sharing your children, your lives and your gifts with me. For caring for me at staff meetings in the midst of miscarriage and dashed dreams, for asking me to tell this story, inviting me to love your students and for holding out hope for the eventual celebration. No one has better colleagues. No one. I miss you all.

To my Aunt, Cousin and Mom, thanks for planning a trip to Ireland during the height of my struggle with infertility and making me come with you. For the beautiful castles and gardens, for Irish coffees and long chats, for laughter and good family and for distracting me for a whole week so much so that I could just live and enjoy. I don't know if you know how much that trip meant to me.

To my life group in Durham. For letting a woman who struggles with female community be herself, for welcoming her wholeheartedly into an established group, for providing resources and understanding and terminology throughout the adoption process, for showing us what multiracial families look like in all their beauty and struggle, for countless prayers, for being angry for us when it was necessary and pointing us to Jesus when we lost sight. For sharing your amazing kids with us and doing church and life with us. For being almost as excited about this adoption as we are.

To those who prayed, thank you for your persistence and your strength when we couldn't pray for this ourselves. For our family being a line item in your journals and for the texts and notes you sent along the way to remind us that God hears.

To my new friends in Wisconsin. I haven't known you long. Thank you for screaming and crying and rejoicing at our news. Thank you for watching Josh so we could visit the littlest man when things looked dicey and we wanted to protect him by not bringing him with us. Thank you for providing a community for us to bring our son into, for friends he will make in years to come and memories that will define his childhood. Thank you for meals that were perfectly timed and impeccably prepared. Thank you for reminding us that wherever you go, God is already waiting for you.

To my old friends all over the place. It's amazing to me that I can still talk regularly to people who knew me before puberty and that God has sustained and deepened our relationship over the years. Thank you for checking in on me, for reminding me of what a goober I was in high school, for visiting me and inviting me into your homes, for googling old crushes together to see whatever became of them, for sending gifts when little man came home and for always, always being a part of my past, present and future.

To my family. You've had a long road of waiting right alongside us. You have loved us so well, supported and encouraged our decision to adopt and kept heart when we grew weary. You have rejoiced over the pictures and chomped at the bit to get out here and meet this new member of the family. Thank you for who you already are to us and to what you will become to this new little person in our lives.

To my sweet firstborn, for praying faithfully for four years, for honestly asking what the heck God was up to in the meantime, for loving our friends' children so well that they are half a continent away and still talk about you, for taking seriously this business of becoming a big brother and for making me laugh even on the days when all I wanted to do was cry. You are forever my little man, my gift from God.

To my husband, for holding out hope the whole time, for never agreeing with me when I told him I was going crazy (even though he had that look in his eyes), for not batting an eye over all the stuff we had to do to stay on our waiting list when we moved, for being such an amazing father that I just KNEW we needed more kids so they could experience what being his child is like, for always making me know that no matter what, we were ok, for taking me on "no baby talk" weekends and insisting I take a class last fall and then cheering me through it. I really don't deserve you.

Thanks to God for everything. For never leaving or forsaking me. For sustaining my family through the long wait. For growing my son into an amazing young man who is the best big brother ever. For giving my marriage new depth, honesty and solidity before bringing another child home. For teaching me that you weep alongside me, that you know waiting more than anyone else and that you love adoption. And thank you, most of all, for your love for me and its eternal patience and pursuit of a heart that is too weak to hold on to you sometimes.

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

On Those Days

On those days when your throat aches and your nose drips and you know that the best thing for you would be to drink fluids and rest, you do your best to remember to drink at least one cup of water and soldier on because your littlest one is also sick and needs you even more than usual. On those days you trust in the higher One to take care of you because you can't take care of yourself. 

On those days when you are so isolated by this life change that you scroll facebook frantically searching for that feeling of connectedness, of intimacy, you try to be alright with the fact that it is only the next best thing. On those days you hope that the rain will stop and the temperatures will rise and you will again emerge into the land of people and friendships and sunshine.

On those days when you go to change a full and fragrant diaper and in the midst of changing it your child decides it is time once again to poop, and you find yourself and the changing table covered, you take a (metaphorically, of course, because let's be honest) deep breath, wipe your hands off, change the diaper again, strip the changing table and remember that this phase, too, shall pass. On those days you remember that some day you will no longer be someone else's tissue and toilet and you can begin to wear more than sweats again.

On those days when your baby only takes 3 pathetic naps, 40 minutes, 30 minutes and 20 minutes long, you drink in your coffee and the hard-earned smiles from his snuffly, pouty little face. On those days, you remember that he is likely more miserable than you and you choose compassion.

On those days when you get a phone call from the doctor and there isn't good news, you avoid going on WebMD and you wait for the next appointment and choose to take this day by day. On those days you hope and trust that there will be no "worst case scenarios" and you keep doing the everyday survival stuff in the meantime and hope for the best.

On those days when you fleetingly recall that just months ago you had margin and energy and time to yourself and creativity for your seven-year-old and then feel overwhelmed by how much has changed, you remember that you wanted this. That you prayed for this and hoped for this and still want this. On those days, you choose to remember the forest through the trees. 

On those days when you crave solitude with God but know that that is impossible due to this little person attached to you all day long, you remember that God is not distant in your chaos. On those days you pay extra attention to the words you sing to your baby to put him to sleep, soaking in the truths of them and knowing that God is not just worshiped in the singing of them but in the rocking to sleep of that baby, too.

On those days when you feel irritable and hungry and oh-so-tired of constantly being touched, when your introvert self cries out for retreat and then immediately recoils in guilt, you cling to the generous and honest words of an email sent to you the day after your son came home:

"If you find yourself struggling, exhausted, assaulted by doubts or fears, I would find that entirely normal given the incredible amount of emotion of the past years and then the sort-of-suddenness of this gift.  Hell, even when we carry babies for 9 months and have a good sense of their due dates, we can be surprised by the reality that is mommying a young baby, and the way it changes things-- and yet, of course, we wouldn't change a thing.  It can just be hard at first, a big change, a big emotional swing.  Not to worry.  Just do the next thing.  Make breakfast, feed the baby, take a nap, change a diaper, make lunch, keep going."

On those days, you remember those words and you choose grace over condemnation. Choose joy over despair. Choose "now" over "then" or "next". Choose gratefulness over frustration. Choose dirty sweats and thrice reheated cups of coffee and elusive showers and bulb syringe nose battles and twenty rounds of "The Wheels on the Bus". 

On those days you choose life. Right now, just as it is. And you choose it knowing that it's ok that this is the hardest thing you've ever done, that you are not alone and that in that reality you are given the choice to look for the small and beautiful miracles in each of these hard days or to just see the hard in the hard days. 

On those days you choose to find the beauty and the miracles.