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.

Tuesday, March 4, 2014

The "Kids and Race" Conversation

A few weeks ago I shared about why I feel it's so important, really crucial, to choose to intentionally educate our children about ethnicity and culture. A number of people responded really enthusiastically in agreement but wondered where exactly to start. I am by no means an expert, but here is a list of what I have done and am continuing to do for my own individual growth and understanding as well as in learning to educate my family.

(1) Start with yourself. If you are uncomfortable talking about ethnicity and race, you won't get anywhere with your child. Seek to understand your own background, your own culture. Read books about stories different from your own. Watch movies that teach you about different ways of life. And this may be the most obvious thing in the world, but ask yourself "Does my immediate world only look like me?" What ethnicities are represented in your church? Do you have close friends who are people of color, the kind of friends with whom hard conversations can happen and the friendship will actually deepen? Who are your neighbors? What does your child's school look like? His teachers and principal? Her doctors and dentists? His friends? Sports teams and clubs? You may need to make intentional choices to have more diverse surroundings in your life.

(2) Learn to listen. As a white person, some of my biggest hurdles were in learning to hear and believe what my friends were telling me. I wanted to solve it, deny it, wallow in grief about it, but I had to stop reacting and just listen. Just sit with them in it. I had to learn their stories, see which experiences had contributed to who they were to even begin to come to grips with my own voice in this great conversation. Be quick to listen and slow to defend.

(3) Embrace your child's observations. Your children may notice differences in skin color or hair texture or how someone talks. Rather than shushing them and telling them we are "all the same" or it's wrong to notice those things, ask them questions. Well, what color is his skin? What color is your skin? What does this hair feel like? Do you know that there are places where people speak languages other than English? Do yo know that you speak English? What countries can we find on the map? Do you know that your ancestors didn't grow up here and came from other countries like these? Kids love questions, they love trying to answer them and they will ask you 100 more for each one you answer.

(4) Intentionally grow your library. If you are like me, your child's library is full of favorite books you owned as a child, of gifts you've been given by others and by the occasional book your child has actually picked our him or herself. What would it look like if you asked friends of yours with different backgrounds what some of their favorite books were in childhood? Or scoured the internet for lists of books with protagonists that look different from your child or you? Check out some of those books from the library, find your favorites and put them on birthday and Christmas lists. Your child's library should be a picture of the fullness of the ethnic story.

(5) Find ways to celebrate and explore culture. Many of us live in or near cities that are actively promoting cultural conversation. Print out your city's annual civic calendar. Is there an Irish festival coming up? Go ahead and check it out and enjoy the dancing and soda bread. What about a Chinese New Year celebration? Or an African Arts Festival? Vary up your family activities - these types of activities will only increase your child's exposure and give them more opportunities to ask good questions and experience, quite frankly, a lot of fun and food they might not otherwise have had.

(6) Have international nights at home. Wouldn't it be a neat thing to choose one night a week or a month and have an international night? Pick a country and find it on the map, have your children do some coloring or decorating in the colors of its flag, make a meal from that locale, learn to say "hello", "goodbye" and "I love you" in that language. Invite some friends to do this with you- maybe even take turns hosting this with a bunch of families. Geography, culture and good food all in one. Easy win.

(7) Don't just go with America's race conversation timeline. Our education system has relegated the appreciation of certain backgrounds to specific months of the year. If we only celebrate those backgrounds during that month, though, what does that teach our children? That white is normal and everyone else gets one month of thought. Don't just wait until February to talk about black history. Learn enough about it that it becomes a part of American History in your household. Read books like "Heart and Soul" by Kadir Nelson so your kids begin to understand the bigger story. Don't just talk about Native Americans at Thanksgiving and please do not play into the legends our country has built around it, the ways we've whitewashed a great injustice. Learn the real stories of Columbus and the early explorers. Dig deeper and teach truth in age-appropriate ways. Your kids can handle it and will thank you later for your honesty.

(8) Open up your experience of God. I grew up in a middle class, white, northeastern town. Most of the people in my church had Italian or Irish backgrounds and had been raised in Catholic households. As such, I had a specific experience of God molded in that context - one that concentrated on love and holiness. By leaving the north and going to Virginia, I saw a different view of God and how to approach him, one that centered more on grace. When I began going to Gospel Choir concerts and then joined an inner city church and was trained as a worship leader, I saw yet again a different view of God and what it looked like to worship him, one that emphasized his love of freedom and deliverance. All these experiences have deepened and broadened my understanding of who He is and the story he tells. If I only ever worship where I am initially comfortable, I am not just closing myself off to learning more about others but I'm honestly telling God I don't need to know as much about him. That may sound harsh, but I believe it to be true. Teach your children songs that praise him in non-English languages, help them learn to enjoy music written by his people that may not be playing on your local Christian station or be on CCLI's top 10 list that week. I promise you, you'll thank me for it.

(9) Teach your kids to listen. This will flow out of our own good listening. I don't know about you, but I want to raise children who like the sound of other's voices. Who want to ask good questions and then quiet down and listen to the answers rather than children who will compete with others for who can tell the best story about themselves, who are staying quiet through an answer only to formulate their own story in response. Our American tendency is to one-up each other, to love the sound of our own voice and trumpet it freely. I am guilty of this myself. But what would it look like to raise people who cared about other people, who legitimately wanted to know each other's stories and celebrate them, mourn with them, encourage them? Wouldn't that set them up much better to believe the injustice they hear about and be allies in overcoming it?

(10) Give yourself and others grace. There is no one right way to talk about all this. You will fail. You won't have answers. You may even teach your kid the wrong terminology and you will find yourself embarrassed along the way. Your may even unintentionally offend someone. It's ok. Ask for forgiveness, find out how you could have done it differently and then keep going. The important thing is to give it a try. Get to know yourself, your family, your background. Get to know your neighborhood, your schools and places of worship. Get to know your child and his or her unique ways of approaching the world and help them learn how to have these conversations. Never be afraid to ask questions. Look for conversation opportunities in your kids experiences. Make sure your kids know that it is safe to ask you any questions they may have. Be patient with yourself and take your time. You can't educate your child in a single conversation. Don't spent a week reading every book you can get your hands on and tire yourself out. Just slowly, intentionally and honestly weave this as an important conversation into your family's life. As with anything, the more something is just a part of your everyday language, the more the people around you (including your children) believe it to be an integral value in your life.

Here is a list of resources that have helped (or are helping me right now!) along the way. They are by no means exhaustive and I encourage you to follow the links in the articles provided within them and continue to explore.  Some of them relate to faith and race and others are more general. I find new things to read all the time. If you have resources to suggest, PLEASE share them in the comments! I would greatly appreciate it.


Understanding the Issue Yourself

ARTICLES
"Being White: Finding Our Place in a Multiethnic World" by Harris and Schaupp

  • If you are white, I suggest reading this book to help you understand your own ethnic background and culture. White people so often just default to thinking we are "normal Americans" and everyone else has a special culture. It's so crucial that we don't do that. 
More Than Equals by Rice and Perkins

  
Talking to your Children About Race

ARTICLES

  
Children’s Books - Some of these intentionally talk about race and others are just good books that depict diverse characters and honor the values of learning and cultural celebration. I have read a lot of them and am currently reading the others!

Preschool
The Colors of Us by Karen Katz
The Skin You Live In by Michael Tyler
A Rainbow of Friends by PK Hallinan
We’re Different, We’re the Same by Sesame Street
God's Dream by Tutu and Abrams
Chocolate Me by Taye Diggs
Whoever You Are by Mem Fox

Grade School
The Story of Ruby Bridges by Coles
National Geographic Kids: Martin Luther King, Jr.
We March by Shane W. Evans
Dave the Potter by Hill and Collier
Heart and Soul by Kadir Nelson
Under the Same Sun by Sharon Robinson
Henry Aaron's Dream by Matt Tavares
I am Rosa Parks by Rosa Parks and Jim Haskins
Almond Cookies and Dragon Well Tea by Chin-Lee
Black is Brown is Tan by Adoff




Sunday, March 2, 2014

The Finishing Touch

For me, the nursery has been the symbol along the way of what's going on in our baby story. In North Carolina, we put it together as a symbol of hope. For two years, the babies of our friends and neighbors inhabited that room. They used the crib, played with the toys and christened the changing table with various gifts. But we left North Carolina having never filled it with our own baby. Taking down that nursery felt like a defeat. Would it ever really happen? Moving was a time snag in our adoption and gave us serious second thoughts about how long we were willing to persevere.

When we unpacked here, we relegated everything labeled "nursery" or "baby" to the basement storage room. It was too soon after the disappointment to set up that room in the new house. However, as months went by and the adoption process here moved quickly, putting us back on the waiting list within two months of our move, I started taking little steps of hope. Taking down wallpaper, painting over the pink and starting to think about what I'd do to finish it up when (and still if) the time came.

When we got news of a possible adoption in December, I decided to go ahead and take the chance. I know a lot of people would've waited, avoiding the disappointment if it fell through. For me, though, God had used those months of a multi-purpose guest room to heal me a little. The idea of putting together the nursery in a big stand of hope was too appealing. I got out the staple gun, I scoured Josh's books for fun ideas and it came together.



Except for one thing.

The name. I loved having Josh's name on the wall in our first nursery in Virginia. I knew I wanted to be able to put this baby's name up on the wall here. I also knew that doing that before he came home was more of a risk than I could take and, to be honest, we didn't know his name yet. Would we keep his birth name as his first name? Rename him and have that be his middle? And we still had yet to whittle down a list of twelve boy names to one. That didn't happen until the final two days before the adoption.

And then he came home. Our Nathaniel Jaceyon. And in these early weeks of snuggles and midnight feedings and learning who he is, the last thing I could manage in a day was a crafty project to finally finish up that room. And the big blank wall remained.

Until last week, that is, when he decided he'd like to start napping regularly in the mornings for me. So, without further ado, I present to you the finishing touch.



The room has it's name. It is finally done.



For those who are interested, here is how I did it.

HOW TO MAKE HANGING LETTERS

Here is a step-by-step of how I did this:

(1) Pick out letters at your local craft store. Mine came with a light coat of white, but I brightened them up with two coats of a glossier white.



(2) I chose to edge the letters so they'd pop off the wall more. I used a navy blue to match the decor of the rest of the room. I needed to touch up some white along the edges where the blue had spilled over a little.



(3) I picked out some complementary ribbon and hot glued it to the back of the letters, measuring carefully so they will all hang at the same distance.


(4) I took four metal washers and covered the hole on the back with a small piece of cardboard. I then cut a piece of the material I used for one of the canvases in the room and covered the front of each washer.



(5) Then I used modge podge to make it look like a shiny knob.




(6) I hot glued the nails to the little piece of cardboard on the back of the washer knobs.



(7) Then we hung them up over the crib! We used a plain nail to first make the holes and then put these in. I didn't want to hammer the washers.