Mothering the Second Time Around

I’m at that part in the newborn phase where I start to simultaneously rejoice because I’m sleeping better…and still wish I was sleeping better.

In the earliest weeks with Zoe, motherhood was truly a joyful free for all.  I mean.  Look at me.

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I was thrilled to be a mom, but I couldn’t even hold my head up anymore.  I was just so tired.  I remember laying on her playmat when she was about five weeks old and sobbing because I just wanted to sleep more than anything.

Riley is a much easier baby than Zoe (there are no pictures of Riley like this…not a one)

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but she still isn’t sleeping through the night (although, PRAISE THE LORD, she is not up for 1–2 hours at a time several times a night, screaming the second you stop rocking her at the preferred rocking pace and altitude like a certain someone).

When we began considering a second child, it wasn’t the finances or daytime difficulties that I had to get over.  It was my fear of being tired.  I literally had nightmares about being that tired again (those nightmares would wake me up, and then my anxiety about this issue would cause insomnia…how meta, right?)

I’m one of those weirdos who loves being at my peak all the time.  When I worked full time, I very rarely drank even a glass of wine on work nights because I didn’t want anything to slow down my performance at work.  I put my all into my workouts and rest in between them to make sure I get maximum results.  I eat for energy.  I pay attention to how I work and live and critique myself to make sure that I constantly improve.

Being tired is my nightmare because it puts the brakes on all that.  Fatigue makes me forgetful.  It makes me want to sit around instead of work.  It makes me feel lazy.  It makes me crankier.  It makes my brain work slower.  I’m not at my peak when I’m tired, and the kicker is that no matter how I critique myself or try to push myself…I’m still tired.

For someone who loves game plans and self discipline and results, this is obnoxious.

But mothering the second time around means that everything I’ve learned about living under grace instead of perfectionism is actually internalized, instead of out there waiting to be learned.  Mothering the second time around means that I know that this is a phase—that it will take time, but eventually I’ll feel like me again (maybe even a a more badass version of me.  I looked for a better non-swear-word descriptor than badass, and there just isn’t one).  Mothering the second time around means that I can admit that yes, the middle of the night feedings are obnoxious, but they also create a bond between me, my baby, and God that nothing else could produce.

The first time around, I despised the weakness and tiredness.  I loved everything else about being a mom, but I just wanted to be BETTER (faster! stronger!) again.

This time, I’m learning to accept the tiredness not as weakness, but as signs that I am working HARD, getting stronger as a mom and wife, and doing my best, which is all you can ask for from yourself.

I’m learning that I have a choice in how I talk to myself—I can praise myself for what I accomplish despite being tired, which is life-giving, or I can chastise myself for what I still won’t have the energy to accomplish, which is pointless.

I can live in this phase, accepting it as it is and trying to enjoy it for what it is—or I can wish it away anticipating the time when my accomplishments feel easier to measure and achieve.

A certain husband says “we’re done” with kids.  I hope I win this debate, but just in case I don’t—I’m going to soak up the weakness and tiredness instead of loathing it.

Because I am mothering the second time around, and so I know:

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someday I will miss this tired.

A Photo Exhibit

Here are some photos that probably shouldn’t make the blog…but in the interest of promoting fine art, they will anyway.  MWAHAHAHAHA.  Crack open that cab sauv.  It’s about to get sophisticated up in here.

I call this one, “Who Woke Who Again?” 

Photo on 10-10-14 at 6.28 AM #3Contrary to appearances, I didn’t rouse myself at 5:15 am, that’s for sure.

This one is titled, “Hey Girl Hey.

hey girl heyJust catching up on the latest gossip.

This photo series is called, “This Town Ain’t Big Enough for the Two of Us.  Also, Zoe Dressed Herself.” 

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This piece is called, “Silence is Suspicious.  Very, Very Suspicious.”  

IMG_3246(Me: “Zoe, are you eating cereal?” Zoe, through a full mouth: “No.”)

The following gem is from our recent professional family photo shoot.  During our session, Zoe went rogue and refused to smile unless David threw her into the air or unless the camera was pointed at Riley (in which case she would throw herself onto the floor in the background of the shot and roll like a log towards Riley screaming “cheese!” So helpful.)  

I call this, “Photojournalism at Its Finest, Birth Announcements at Their Worst.”  

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Lest you think I’m unfairly picking on Zoe, this photo is titled “WHO Did They Send Me Home from the Hospital With?”

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“Call Me Maybe” was the hottest song of the summer.  In 2012.  Hence, I call this photo, “Out of Date.” 

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And I’ll pick on myself a bit too.  Our next photo is called, “Why Mom Won’t Ever Be a Craft Blogger”  (alternate title: “Is that Minnie Mouse or V for Vendetta?”)  

IMG_3564“Oh well,” Zoe says.  “I’ve already been exposed to V for Vendetta.  I’m cool with this.”

IMG_3565Zoe then added “eyes” (related: she recently pointed to my eyes and counted 1, 2, then to the lenses of my glasses and counted 3, 4…a wonderful flashback to third grade.)  

IMG_3567After making Minnie Mouse, Zoe requested that I use my mixed media “skills” to create “fire.”  Um, ok, little pyro.  I took my best stab at it, then invited her to paint it.

Things got a bit messy.

And…edible.

The resulting photo is titled, “If You’ve Ever Wondered What Goth Zoe Would Look Like, Here’s Your Answer.”  

IMG_3571I can’t even.

The second-to-last photo in our exhibit today is titled, “Don’t You Dare Pay Attention to that Baby.” 

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And our concluding photo, “Nobody Puts Toddler in a Corner.  No One Who Wants to Live, That Is.” 

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From the Other Side…ish

Today, we took a drive.  And our drive took us past that exit—the one that holds the hospital where I met Zoe for the first time, where my heart grew more full than I ever knew it was capable of.

It’s also where my heart broke.

It’s funny how an interstate exit can hold so much of my life’s experiences.

Someone asked me the other day if I was still grieving our failed adoption, or if getting Riley had ended my grief process.  I appreciated the question a lot, mostly because it’s something I’ve tried to avoid thinking about and sometimes the things we avoid are the things we most need to face.

Like everything grief-related, it turns out that there’s not a simple answer.  But here’s a start to an answer and some of what I’ve been mulling over: in my mind, these events aren’t comparable.

Loving Brianna resulted in great pain.

Loving Riley resulted in great joy.

They are different girls, different situations, but Brianna wasn’t an overture for Riley—she holds her own story, and so does Riley.

Riley isn’t a solution or answer to my grief.  She is a completely separate blessing.  I appreciate the gift of having her as my daughter all the more because of what I experienced on the way to her, but that’s MY story—not hers.  Her story doesn’t begin with my pain, but with her birthparents’ selfless decision to have her and love her in the best way they could think of.

Riley was born at a different exit of a completely different interstate.  Literally, and figuratively, this is the truth.

And that exit is where I’ll start her story when I tell her about it.  We didn’t adopt her to heal our hearts or to replace “the daughter that got away.”  We adopted her because we wanted and loved her.

But for those of you who have been following MY story, I will say this: for months after our failed adoption, I felt like I moved through life with a painful and gaping emptiness.  I tried my hardest to embrace and be filled by the blessing of Zoe, and was never NOT filled with joy by God’s goodness in giving me her and David to love.  But I felt, very keenly, every day, the absence of the family member we had wanted and planned for.  I felt this way before Zoe, too—I tried my hardest to embrace the life stage I was in, but I just knew that I had more love to give and so badly wanted another person to spread it to.  The emptiness was something I felt every day, through breakfast and lunch and evening walks and bedtime, a constant message beating in my heart even when I told it to shut up and go away: there should be another person here to love.

I don’t feel that way anymore.  My heart is fuller and happier these days; it’s a companion I don’t mind having along.  And that’s a wonderful, wonderful gift that I humbly and gratefully gasp out thanks to God for.

But am I “healed?” Am I “over it?” The unbidden thoughts and feelings that came as we drove by the exit today tell me, no.  I’m not.  And I don’t know how that works in this type of situation, honestly.  Maybe full healing comes with time.  Maybe it comes with reconciliation.  Maybe it comes with answers.  And those last two aren’t dependent on me, so maybe it doesn’t come.

But in case you’re where I was, in the emptiness…I thought I’d send you this message from the other side…ish of emptiness:

When you get here? The pain of the loss you’ve experienced doesn’t negate the joy of God’s grace.  The existence of grief doesn’t diminish the gift.  Just because there is darkness, doesn’t mean it wins forever (“the light shines in the darkness, and the the darkness can never extinguish it!”) It is scary now to think about opening your heart again, but when you do and it’s right, you will be able to cherish and love as if there was no in between.

IMG_3415Crowder sings, “Earth has no sorrow that Heaven can’t heal.”  I cling to that, not my situation, not the child in front of me.  And here, the writer in me would like a nice ending statement here, but the real-life-liver in me is finding out that, like all things grief, there isn’t one.  It’s a journey and an annoying one at that.

But you’re not alone on the journey.  And there is joy that you can’t picture still to come.

 

Transformation by Toddler

I’m living in a token economy right now.

Due to some previously-alluded-to adjustment issues, sweet Zoe—and everyone else!—now receive a sticker reward for “nice touches” to Riley.  I personally am wearing one sticker; Riley is wearing three (the rules get a little fuzzy after the sticker is awarded).

In addition to our positive reinforcement, we are also making heavy use of “time out.”  Even Java, our bichon poo, spent some time in time out today for not listening (Zoe’s advice to our canine inmate: “sorry to mommy!”)

I was never one of those moms who was totally overwhelmed by a newborn.  There were tough moments, but it was actually easier than I expected.  Your basic duties: hold them and help them stop crying.  You’re doing great!

Toddlers? Totally different story.  Your job description reads teach, coach, prevent injury to other and self (this involves putting yourself “in their head”—basically, lose half your wits, pretend you drank three energy drinks, and feel ALL THE FEELINGS at once and you might be close) and MAKE A HUMAN BEING OUT OF AN ANIMAL.

Now, I’d be lying by omission if I didn’t mention that I genuinely enjoy toddler Zoe.  I’m actually kind of obsessed with how funny, intelligent, and interesting she is.  But every so often, she seems untamable and I just think, please hold me and help me stop crying.  I have no idea what to do with this kid.  

IMG_3483“Just taking a cute photo of Ri—AHH!!”
Toddler impulse control strikes again.

And those times make me feel like a real big failure.

On Wednesday I was feeling particularly bogged down in despair at my inability to control (I should probably write “positively coach,” but let’s be real…) Zoe’s behavior when I got to leave the house for a few hours for a work meeting.  I put my lipstick on and walked out of the house, trying to avoid a conspicuous fist pump as I breathed in the sweet, sweet air of freedom.

As I trotted into our city’s coolest coffee shop sans stroller, diaper bag, or concerns, I thought: maybe I should go back to work full time.  At least I feel successful at this.

And then, as we waited for our conference call to start, one of my fellow team members showed me pictures from her daughter’s recent wedding and then read this blog post out loud to me.  And unexpected tears came to my eyes because I realized: there is so much more to come.

Raising a toddler is hard.  When each day takes everything that I have, it’s hard to keep the long view in focus.  I find myself focusing only on this stage’s successes (or often, challenges).

But as my teammate reminded me, I’m not raising my girls to be toddlers.  I’m raising my girls to be teenagers, adults, professionals, friends, moms, wives, grandmothers.  There’s a whole life ahead of them.

And when I look up long enough to remember that? It totally changes my perspective.

The day-to-day life in the two-under-two trenches is hard, but by working with them every day on kindness and gentleness and self control and sharing and all of the things that make us, you know, NOT ANIMALS, I am hopeful that there will be days ahead of me where:

  • my preschool-aged daughter will share some of her favorite things with her younger sister (this already happened this weekend when Zoe and I were leaving a birthday party and she told me that she wanted to share her party favors with Riley!)
  • my elementary-aged daughter will discipline herself to work towards a goal she is passionate about
  • my middle school daughter will stand up for an underdog at personal cost to herself
  • my high school daughter will love volunteering with children at an underserved elementary school
  • my college aged daughter will understand how to set boundaries
  • my adult daughter will thoughtfully consider her gifts and the world’s needs, and make a career choice she enjoys
  • my adult daughter will understand that a good relationship takes work, and will be dedicated to doing her part of the work, producing a joyful and life-giving relationship that we’re all proud of
  • my daughters will be friends. Maybe, they will even be MY friends.

It’s easy to focus on the toddler behaviors that need to be modified (and they do need attention).

But when I take a step back, look into my daughter’s eyes, really see the amazing human being in front of me, and dream for a second about the potential, that is so much more life-giving and inspiring.

IMG_3496I don’t have all the answers to deal with Zoe’s pinching problem.  My sticker system may not work.  I might lose my temper sometimes and other times I might be so shocked by a behavior that I can’t muster a good response.  Riley will have a whole different set of issues when she gets to this age (pray for me?)

But Zoe isn’t just a toddler.  She is a human being with a beautiful heart and limitless potential. She’s a gift.  She’s MY gift.

I love what Gloria Furman writes in her book Treasuring Christ When Your Hands are Full: 

“God’s sovereign grace releases me from the worry that I’m doing a haphazard job of orchestrating my children’s lives for them.  The gospel reminds me that a mother’s plans are not ultimate; God’s are.  God is the one who has created these children, and he has far more intentional intentions to glorify himself through these kids than I could ever dream up

He knows the number of their days and no part of their story surprise Him.  He is the God to whom we want to actively, daily entrust our children.”

My expertise is limited, and some days my patience is too.  But God knows what she needs—and what I need.  And as I earnestly seek Him, I am equipped with what I need to serve her, and to grow into the mom and person God wants me to be.

Some days, I look at my daughter thinking “AHHH! She needs to change!!!”  But really, we’re both on a transformative journey.

And the sweet thing is that we’re traveling together.

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At Season’s Change

Last night, David and I finally unpacked the last moving box.  We still have a few blank walls, and our fall decorations have turned up missing (which makes me wonder what else might be missing) but for all intents and purposes, we’re settled.

The fall semester is one third of the way done.

It’s football season, which means I see significantly less of David.

It’s finally cooling off a little here in Florida.  I saw people in sweatshirts on our walk Wednesday morning (and rightfully so—I mean, it was 78 degrees.)

I’ve switched to hot coffee drinks.

Riley had her two month appointment this week.  I found myself thinking: “you’ve only been with us two months?” It feels like she’s always been with us.

All of these signs point to a new season.  Thank God.  

It’s no secret that 2014 has not been an easy year for me.  The year has been full with anxiety, waiting, sadness, and loss, capped off by housing issues and a forced move.  I feel scarred by this summer, which held the highest of high notes with Riley but was very difficult otherwise due to constant moving and adapting (and honestly, summer in Florida could be its own brand of seasonal affective disorder.)  My grandfather died a few weeks ago, necessitating a 36 hour trip to Colorado to celebrate his life and the joy He has found in His eternal life with Christ.  I found myself telling David “I’m so eager for a new season” about 600 times this year, but it seemed to just keep blending together into one challenging one.  I’m not proud of what all this angst says about my ability to be content no matter the circumstance—but I’m also aware that some seasons are just hard, and that even if you do your best to choose joy in the hard times, it’s okay to look forward to when that joy comes more easily.

The last box we unpacked was full of random items.  Tools.  Newborn diapers (oops.)  And this stuff:

IMG_3453This is proof that, even in the midst of a hard season: a miracle can happen.

Riley came out of the womb without a name.  She left the hospital with a temporary name.  But in 2-3 months, she’ll have a permanent name.  How like our God—who lovingly takes us into his family as we are, gives us His name and His strength for our life here on earth, and gives us the assurance that we will belong to Him forever in heaven.

The miracle of Riley reminds me that no matter what my circumstances may look like, there is one circumstance that supersedes everything: that I have been loved, as I am, without doing anything to earn it, by a God who wants to unite me to Himself forever.  As I pass through seasons of life, learning from each one, this truth is my constant—and I long for it to be the lens through which I view every season, stage, transition, and role I play.

“What a God we have! And how fortunate we are to have him, this Father of our Master Jesus! Because Jesus was raised from the dead, we’ve been given a brand-new life and have everything to live for, including a future in heaven—and the future starts now!”
I Peter 1:3-4 MSG  

 

A Sweet September

I wanted to wait to write an update until I had something deeper to say than “here’s a bunch of cute and funny photos of my kids, plus a comment or two that I think is witty” but at the rate my brain is going (or NOT going,) that means you won’t hear from me until Christmas.  So, indulge me in another “life lately”-style post!

I recapped the highlight of our Disney trip in my last post.  Not covered in that post was the next day when, thanks to wrong directions from resort concierges and staff, I spent several hours roaming around three Disney resorts with the girls looking for what I had been told was an “amazing playground.”  We never found this mystical place, but we DID get to ride three buses, two boats, walk approximately 3 miles, and experience the excitement of being stranded in a remote area of a wilderness campground for an hour—all in 90 degree weather.  At each stop of our incredible journey, I had to break down the stroller (and infant car seat!) and take the two girls, our diaper bag, and the Ergo safely on and off of the mode of transportation by myself because apparently the staff can’t help (“lawsuits,” they explained, as if this single word could make me understand why they stood there watching as I struggled with 75 lbs of people and things.)  Ahh, the happiest place on earth!

This campground selfie sums up the trip nicely:

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“Just a fun day with the gir–AAKKKK!”
Guess I don’t have to worry about when to expose Riley to peanut butter anymore…

On the plus side, I realized that if I could live through this experience, I could probably handle taking both girls shopping, so we’re a bit more functional these days.

Let’s see…other updates…

Riley has woken up to the world, and man, is she pretty!!

IMG_3329Don’t mind the Harry Potter-style scrape on her head…I’m calling her “The Baby Who Lived (No Thanks to Zoe)”

She has started batting at toys, tracking really well with her eyes, smiling in response to our faces, cooing, and kicking her playmat piano like it’s her job.

IMG_3199It’s apparently Zoe’s job too.  Every day she’s hustlin…

IMG_3335Riley’s all, “seriously, Mom?? I thought that thing was supposed to be for ME.”

Riley remains peaceful and happy—basically, a dream baby.  She’s been out of newborn clothes for three weeks, which is so funny to me since Zoe was so shrimpy.  We have her 2 month appointment this week and I’m very curious to see how much she weighs!

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On a related note, Zoe is 25 lbs now.  I’m pretty sure 3 lbs of it are hair.  Check out this recent post-nap hair:

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My dad, mom, and teenage siblings vacationed at a nearby beach over Labor Day weekend. We didn’t want to subject the family to our nighttime wake ups, so we commuted back and forth every day for a few days.  It was so much fun! My parents made sure that I got a little “vacation” myself—I got to go paddle boarding twice, didn’t have to cook for a few days, and my dad watched Zoe during her nap times so that I could take Riley to the resort Starbucks and cuddle with her (one-on-one time with her is so precious to me.  As are iced soy lattes.)

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Like a true Florida baby, Riley was in the ocean at 6 weeks old.  She totally kicked back and relaxed.

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1.5 week later, Aunt Kelsey came for a visit to meet Riley.  All parties enjoyed her visit and craved her attention, as evidenced by this darling photo collage (click to enlarge.)

Aunt Kelsey collage

She was a HUGE help in practicing my routine with the two girls, cooked us a few freezer meals, babysat Riley so I could get some one-on-one time with Zoe, and even encouraged David and I to sneak out for two date nights while she was here.  Since she left, Zoe has continued to thank God for “Ke-sey” before bed every night.  It is so sweet to watch my girls fall in love with my family.

IMG_3410Some personal updates: I am LOVING work right now.  I don’t talk a ton about work here, but right now I’m teaching an undergraduate public health writing class and am really enjoying watching my students engage with each other and our course content.  Public health writing is equal parts formula and craft, so there actually is a lot to teach and finesse even at the undergraduate level.  It’s fun to give thoughtful feedback to my students and watch them apply it, and to encourage and coach them in their career aspirations.  I’m also writing two grants a month for a local nonprofit through a grant writing business that I’m a part of, and just wrapped up the last part of my last summer consulting project, which involved training the staff of a local nonprofit on a 3-5 year evaluation plan that I created for them after working with them to help them define their desired impact.  I work on Mondays from 9-1, during nap times (the girls are coordinating their naps most days right now which is fantastic,) and as needed on weekends and early mornings.  It’s not too much, I love it, and I get to spend the majority of my week with the girls.

IMG_3381I’m feeling a lot more comfortable with both girls now and feel God’s goodness every day as He somehow equips me to do and enjoy my day.  I definitely don’t shower or cook from scratch as much as I used to, but I’m in a good groove otherwise.  There’s always clean laundry in our drawers (or at least in a hamper somewhere,) I can take the girls most places without having to over think it, we’re sleeping better as Riley is down to one nighttime wakeup most nights, and I’ve gotten back into exercising again  (I wasn’t starting from scratch, but it felt like it—my kudos to anyone who has recently started an exercise routine.  I had to legitimately pray and coach myself through some of those initial workouts!)

My goals for the next month is to keep that routine going, to eat real lunches (that hasn’t been happening lately, but I know that continuing to get back into an exercise routine will help my appetite get more regulated again,) to have two date nights with David, and to deep clean my house 1x.  (I know, aim big!!) I also want to keep having regular “quiet times”—whatever that needs to look like in my day :)

Photo on 7-28-14 at 6.45 AM #2I am also back volunteering with our youth group girls, thanks to some youth group moms who are making themselves available to watch the girls each week.  The support our church family gives us is unreal and we’re so thankful.  I am excited for the year ahead with my high school girls.

I will close with some gratuitous adorable pics, because I live for excess!

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That Time I Betrayed All My Principles (And Loved It)

Until Zoe was about 13 months old, I had a parenting philosophy that we were not going to “do” characters in our family.

Laugh all you want, experienced parents: I was convinced that I could shield my daughter from becoming a pawn in the merchandising machine of Disney, Nickelodeon, and company.  We would spend our time playing with natural wood toys, painting, exploring the outdoors, eating organic food, and reading books with watercolor illustrations.  Our trips to Target would remain peaceful; Zoe would never demand Sponge Bob fruit snacks or throw a tantrum over not getting the Big Bird toothbrush because she wouldn’t know who they were.  

Oh, how the mighty have fallen.

When Zoe was 13 months, she discovered Elmo.  We had never watched Elmo at home, but she discovered a small Elmo doll at Target, picked him up and hugged him, and wouldn’t let go. For the price of a latte and a small part of my soul, I could make her smile this big?! Okay, I thought.  We’ll let Elmo in our cart and into our house and maybe even into our hearts.  BUT JUST ELMO. She’ll never discover his friends.

IMG_2362Zoe with her favorite Elmo of the multiple Elmo dolls we now own.

Apparently these kid marketing people are, like, good at their jobs.  These little Sesame Street characters are everywhere, and once our family and friends realized that Zoe liked Elmo, they made sure that she owned the whole neighborhood.

Ok, so we’re sticking to Sesame Street characters.  They’re at least associated with education, I reasoned.  We won’t do any “fluffy” non-educational characters though, and she is definitely not watching TV.

I held strong until she was 18 months old and I was at my parents’ house trying to watch three kids and finish two grants.  It was miraculous: fifteen minutes of “Elmo’s World” once a day gave me the time to check my work, make a meal for Sam or Olivia, or do the dishes while Zoe sat still! Ok, but TV is only at Gigi and Papa’s house! I said.

A week after we got home, Zoe had an ear infection followed by the stomach bug and stopped eating or drinking for three days.  “She needs to stay as still as possible,” her doctor said.  “Try TV.”

Two weeks after Zoe recovered, Riley joined our family.

Let’s just say that I can recite entire episodes of Elmo’s World now.  (“Birthday” is my favorite.  Only a real Scrooge doesn’t like to celebrate a fictional fish’s birthday for 17 minutes and 34 seconds, and Mr. Noodle’s attempts to “wrap a present” on this particular episode are far better than his groan-worthy acting on “Play Ball.”)

Flash forward to two weeks ago, when David and I had the following conversation:

David: So, I’m still signed up to go to that conference at a Disney resort in two weeks.
Me: Can you get out of it? We have a newborn.
David: (checks) Nope.
Me: Well, I guess I’ll stay home alone with them for three days and three nights…
David: Don’t do that.  You guys should come for at least part of the time.  If you can handle them during the day, I’ll be able to help you at night.
Me: Okay.  “Night” and “help” in the same sentence? We’re in.  But I’m not taking both of them to a theme park.  I haven’t even taken them both to Publix yet.  What can I do around the hotel?
David: Hmm. Do you think Zoe would like a character meal?
Me: She doesn’t really know any of the characters.  (Brightens) Wait! We have two weeks.  That’s enough time for her to learn their names.  I’ll show her some videos on YouTube.

I’ll pause and let you re-read that last sentence.

MY MORALS HAVE SLIPPED SO LOW, GUYS.  

And last night, as I sat across from my chicken-nugget-eating, dessert-buffet-partaking, character-knowing, HAPPY little girl, I thought: I’m so glad!

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IMG_3296Some rules were meant to be broken!

But seriously, as I adjust to two kids, I have to have SO MUCH GRACE for myself.  It is hard work, and it would be easy to drown in guilt because I’m not as good as I want to be at it.  This night was a great reminder that sometimes, my expectations of what I “should” do and the rules I’ve created for myself about what kind of mom I want to be are actually blocking fun and enjoyment from my life as a mom.

Last night was the best night of Zoe’s life.  I am so glad I got to enjoy it with her!

Life with Two So Far

I thought I’d write a little post about life with two kids.  This is a good illustration of what my day to day life looks like now: 

Photo on 8-17-14 at 11.06 AMIf you detect a slight hint of fear in my eyes, you’re right on! It’s a little overwhelming to have two under two, especially when one is a strong-willed and energetic toddler and one is a completely helpless baby.  Throw in a move and starting a new semester as an adjunct instructor, and wow, it’s been a crazy month.    

I’ve been SO blessed to have lots of family help over the last few weeks, as David’s mom and my mom both visited for about 9 days each.  This, along with David’s paternity leave, provided me with about 3.5 weeks of a 2:2 adult-to-child ratio.  Without this, I think someone might be dead (and the odds are fairly even for all of us–Zoe from self-inflicted daredevil-style injury, Riley from Zoe-inflicted injury, and me from fatigue and/or despair! LOL.) 

I start every day sitting in the bathroom for a minute and telling God, “I need you!!! I can’t do this alone! You gave me these girls.  Now please give me what I need today to be the best mom to them!” After that, I take a deep breath, force myself to leave the bathroom, and try to take it hour by hour because I don’t know how long my day will be, what sorts of toddler challenges await me, whether Zoe will be nice to her sister or will spend the entire day trying to pinch and hit her, whether I will get to take a shower or not, whether I will get a break at all in the form of simultaneous naps or if I will just spend the entire day caring for babies (my “workday” now can easily be 4:45-5 am until 9-10 pm, so if they don’t nap at the same time, it is a long day.) 

One thing that I DO know is that my day will be purposeful…because although it may be difficult sometimes, I believe wholeheartedly that I am right where I am supposed to be with the children I am supposed to have, and that God will give ME what I need to give THEM what THEY need.  

Every day I have to admit my inability, put my faith in something beyond my own abilities and energy, and trust in Him for what I need.  It’s humbling, and honestly, “humbled” is not my favorite feeling. 

But every day He has been faithful to provide what I need—whether that is patience, insight into their needs, energy that belies my sleep deprivation, a positive daughter/daughter moment…

IMG_3128(Zoe loves to play “patty cake” with Riley)

…a friend who is miraculously able to come over when I need an energy outlet for Zoe, dinner delivery, a break in the extreme heat that lets us get outside, a fun hour where Zoe does not challenge me once, or a positive text when I need the extra encouragement.  Also, the God who invented the coffee plant is a good God.  Amen.  

Here are a few things I LOVE about being a mom of two: 

  • I’ve been trying to take Zoe for some special “mommy/daughter trips” that are just me and her.  She REMEMBERS them and talks about them later.  It’s so sweet and makes me feel really good about the time that I invest into making it happen. 
  • Seeing Zoe and Riley interact.  Zoe is very sweet with Riley about 85% of the time.  She says “hi Riley!” every time she passes Riley’s bassinet, whether Riley is in it or not, and in the mornings she usually wants me to put Riley into her bed so that they can cuddle for a few minutes.  Zoe sleeps with a blanket and an Elmo doll, and she will tuck Riley in with her blanket and will make her Elmo doll dance for Riley.  Riley is very interested in Zoe…unless she’s sleeping.  Even then, Zoe will often find a way to involve her in an activity!  
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  • Having Riley around has brought out a nurturing side in Zoe.  She really loves playing with her baby dolls now, and thanks to Grandma, we have expanded our collection of toy baby accessories to include a toy bottle, a toy bouncy seat, and a toy Pack N Play.  In between these and the real baby accessories littering my house, there is NO mistaking the presence of two under two in this household.
  • One day when Zoe had been particularly unkind to Riley, I was feeling very discouraged…until I saw Zoe pick up her baby doll, sweetly cuddle with it, and sing “Jesus Loves Me” to it.  It made me feel like everything I have been doing to try to help Zoe learn about kind and nurturing behavior will eventually pay off.  Learning at this age is a lot of scaffolding, but eventually, she will act kindly without me having to constantly instruct her.  Plus, when she does get it, Riley will have another role model.  
  • Zoe is OBSESSED with riding with Riley in the double stroller.  
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    When we go for walks outside, Riley tends to open her eyes REALLY big.  Zoe thinks that Riley is being intentionally funny, and giggles hysterically at her.  It’s hilarious.  
  • I finally bit the bullet and hired a sitter to come for a few hours a week to help me get my consulting/teaching work done.  I felt too guilty to do this with one child and tried to just work during nap times, but with two, I know that their naps won’t always coincide and so I felt very confident in the decision to hire a sitter.  God provided a great and energetic sitter—an alum of our youth program who is currently home for a “gap time” between college and graduate school. I’m scary excited for 9-1 on Mondays! 
  • With two kids, there isn’t a lot of time to spend sitting around holding Riley, so I sometimes worry about our bond.  However, when she does get fussy, she seems to relax the best with me over any other adult in our home.  I love this! 
    photo-72I may not feel the slightest sense of mastery yet, but I’m excited to keep improving as a parent of two and I am so thankful for the chance to parent these girls with my amazing husband by my side!   

 

Our Journey to Riley: The End (and the Beginning.)

I am writing this final chapter of Riley’s story in my new dining room in my new house—the house I wasn’t looking for and didn’t know I needed, the house that is blessing our family immensely.

A few feet away from me sleeps a baby I could say similar things about.

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I am still getting to know this house, and I am still getting to know this girl.  But what I do know about her is this:

  • She has a great smile.
  • She has the most peaceful temperament of any baby I’ve ever met.
  • She is immensely loved—not just by us, but by her biological family, by her extended family, and by her spiritual family of friends and family—and their love for her is a beautiful reminder of what is good and right in this world.
  • She was meant to be ours.

I will back up a little now and finish the story.  But I just had to say this first: in case anyone else out there finds themselves in a situation, wondering what is God doing??!!

He is doing something good.  That verse that says He works all things for your good? It’s true.

And I’m learning that you don’t have to understand it all.  You just have to thank Him for what you do understand, and let your faith in His goodness carry you through the parts that don’t make sense.

Back to our story…

***

We got to the hospital around 4:30 pm on June 21.  Riley’s birth mom, “P,” had been induced the night before, and we were all expecting a baby to come that night.

Nothing happened.

We spent hours that night with the birth parents and the biological grandmothers, chatting as P had contractions. I challenged myself to stay present and tried to soak each part of the conversation into my memory so that if this baby came home with me, I could tell her details about her family…but I have to admit that my impatience was getting the best of me.  I just want to meet this baby.  Why is it taking so long? I asked God.

Around 10 pm, I left the room to go to the bathroom.  The birth dad’s mother followed me out and there, under the dim lights of the hospital hallway, asked me a rapid-fire series of questions about myself, David, our faith, adoption, and our hopes for this baby.  We talked for almost thirty minutes and wound up hugging and crying together.

“I thought you were the right ones for this baby when I read your profile,” she said.  “Now, after meeting you both and hearing your answers to my questions, I have no doubt.  You are the family God picked for this baby.”

At this, I decided to pipe down my inner Thomas and trust God’s timing.  I was not going to ask Him one more question.  I was going to enjoy this ride!

David and I wound up spending the night at the hospital, as the doctor said that if anything changed, they would have P begin pushing right away.  P had invited us to cut the cord and catch the baby—a tremendous honor and an opportunity we were not going to miss.  We got a few hours of sleep on a combination of a borrowed hospital bed and the vinyl family waiting area couches.  No baby came.

The next morning, we were exhausted.  We couldn’t imagine what poor P felt like, and so we were relieved for her when the birth dad came in and told us “they are doing a C section, starting now.”  The time? 8:30 am.

(Guess when my Bible study had already decided to corporately pray for a safe delivery for P? 8:30 am.)

At 8:50 am, a beautiful little girl entered the world.  At 8:54, we were invited to gown up and head into the infant nursery to meet our daughter.  We actually ran into her on the way into the nursery.

I instantly burst into tears.

“She’s so beautiful,” I said.  “She’s so beautiful.”  It was all I could say as I looked at her, thinking of our journey to get here, thinking of how much I had longed for and prayed for this baby.

My mind sped through the past I looked at her thinking, this is happening in the present—in MY present.  There is a baby in front of me and she is moving, squirming, looking around, and these nurses are calling me “mom.”  I am crying and feeling real tears fall on my arm.  I just drank a large coffee so I know I’m awake! This is not a dream! 

Amidst the exhaustion and unplanned C-section, I didn’t bring my camera into the infant nursery, so this crude cell phone picture is the only picture I have of our first thirty minutes with Riley:

photo-71We stood watching her in awe as the nurses examined her.  She looked around—cooing, interested, alert.  I could barely breathe.

After a while, I was reunited with my camera.  A nurse took a few photos for us:

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We invited the birth dad and biological grandmothers to come in for a while to see her while the nurses finished cleaning her.  Then, the nurses told us to go to a private room to spend some special bonding time with the baby.  We couldn’t believe that we were getting this privilege as adoptive parents.

As each moment passed, we fell deeper and deeper in love.

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As the day went on, we learned that the birth parents wanted me to stay in the hospital and begin caring for Riley right away.  The nurses gave me a room, ordered meals for David and me, brought me towels and shampoo (I hadn’t showered since Sunday night and it was now Tuesday afternoon) and generally made everything lovely.  For the next two days, I stayed in the hospital with Riley while David went back and forth from the hospital and caring for Zoe.

A few times a day, we’d truck down the hallway to P’s room.  It was beautiful to watch P and Riley’s birth dad interact with her.  I don’t feel comfortable sharing a lot of details of their story or their time together, but I have a beautiful set of photos that I will show Riley someday.  She is a profoundly loved little girl.

Any parent who has been through a “traditional” matched domestic adoption will tell you that the time in the hospital is a roller coaster.  You are falling in love with and caring for a baby that you aren’t sure you will take home.  You are interacting with biological family members who are on their own roller coaster.  You are aware that you are constantly being watched; that every action has a potential impact.  My desire for this time was to show the love and unconditional acceptance of Christ to the family—not to manipulate anything and not to worry about the outcome.  I wanted our time together to leave an impact on the family whether we took the baby home or not.

Throughout our stay, God was faithful to encourage me that this was happening.  In one of my favorite moments, the birth dad’s mother pulled me aside on Tuesday and said that our conversation the night before had encouraged her more than I could know.

“I had to leave the hospital on Monday afternoon because I was so sad thinking about saying goodbye to the baby,” she said.

“But I made myself come back to meet you.  As I drove away last night, I called my mom and said ‘now that I’ve met them, I have total peace about this.’  You guys are wonderful and so loving, and I know you’re going to raise her to know the Lord.  I don’t look at this as a loss anymore.  I think of it as the joining of families.  I’m not saying goodbye to her.  I’m saying hello to an expanding family. I love you guys and am happy to have you as part of my family.”

THIS is adoption at its finest, is it not? I was so joyful.

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But as I described, it was still a roller coaster.  In Florida, the birth parents sign their parental rights away, thereby placing the baby with you, 48 hours after the baby is born (the birth mom also has to be painkiller free for 4 hours prior to signing.)  This would put our signing on Thursday morning.

For most of our hospital stay, I felt joyful and at peace.  But on Wednesday night, I felt like a wreck.  I was exhausted.  I was alone in a noisy hospital room with a baby that was having some feeding issues (since resolved) and that may or may not be mine.  I felt sad for P.  I felt the reality that P could choose not to sign; that this could be my last night with Riley.  I felt the temptation to detach.  I felt the weight of the failed adoption.  I felt alone.

I said into the darkness, I am not alone.  

And I began talking to God about this baby, my feelings, all of it.  It wasn’t coherent or organized.  It was a jumbled prayer of fatigue, my desires, my questions, and my reality (honestly, I think this must be His favorite kind of prayer.)  I talked through our journey with Him, asking again, what was any of this? If this was supposed to be my baby all along, why did all of that happen? Why did I feel that call to adopt in October? It was so random.  This baby probably wasn’t even conceived then!

And in that darkness, I almost felt His chuckle.  “Really?”

Wait…

I pulled out my cell phone calendar.  My hands began to tremble a little as I counted backwards.

Sure enough.  Riley’s due date had been July 9.

This meant that the week that David and I had started praying hard about adoption together—the week that he had said “I am actually really excited about the possibility of a newborn”—the week that we decided that we felt called into the action of pursuing adoption—the week that we started praying for whoever our future baby would be—was the week Riley was conceived.

We had been praying for Riley since she was conceived.  We just didn’t know it.

And there, in that darkness, I relaxed into this truth: this was our baby.

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I don’t always understand how God works.  I don’t.  I don’t understand why a good and loving God wouldn’t just give me my baby without the painful loss preceding it.  But He gave me a baby, y’all.  Hallelujah! I also know that God doesn’t allow useless pain, and I also know that He gave me the encouragement that the situation with Zoe’s birth mom wasn’t about us.  Through our experience I’ve grown, I’ve been humbled, I’ve learned to understand others better, I’ve learned more about life and grief and marriage and parenting and faith and friendship, and who knows what He’s done with it in others that I don’t know about?  Would I trade all that for no pain? Probably.  I’m weak and human.  But I can also say “thank you” for the pain.

Shauna Niequist writes, “This is the work I invite you into: when life is sweet, say thank you, and celebrate.  And when life is bitter, say thank you, and grow.”  

Adoption offers plenty of sweetness and bitterness.  LIFE offers plenty of both.  And God is in both of them.  And, like this dining room I’m writing in, His work might be unexpected…but it is always good.

I look at the baby sleeping next to me, and I listen to the early morning singing of my other baby in the next room (I’ll need to get her soon!) and all I can say is thank you to the One who has given this life to me.

I don’t deserve it.  But I hope to steward it well.

For reasons I do and don’t understand, I’ve felt called to share our story with you along the way—the good, the sad, the ugly.  I hope You see Him in it.

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It is all Him.

Our Journey to Riley: Part Three

“Oh, how slow grief is to come to understanding! When the grieving women were sitting there ‘opposite the tomb’ (Matthew 27:61,) did they see the triumph of the next two thousand years? Did they see anything except that Christ was gone? The Christ you and I know today came from their loss.  Countless mourning hearts have since seen resurrection in the midst of their grief, and yet these sorrowing women watched at the beginning of this result and saw nothing.  

What they regarded as the end of life was actually the preparation for coronation…but they did not see it.

It is the same with us.  Each of us sits ‘opposite the tomb’ in our own garden and initially says, ‘this tragedy is irreparable.  I see no benefit in it and will take no comfort in it.’  And yet right in the midst of our deepest and worst adversities, our Christ is often just lying there, waiting to be resurrected.”
–from Streams in the Desert, by L.B. Cowman 

***

A few days into our grief process, I decided I was sick of hiding.  So I wrote about what happened.   And then I kept writing—about what sadness physically felt like, about how difficult it is to grieve with a child always watching you, about how I didn’t understand anything that was going on, about the sweetness that we found in our marriage in the midst of this loss.  I admitted to feeling angry with God for seemingly leading us to a dead end (an an expensive one at that), for not acting in a way that made sense to me, for allowing a child to have such a poor start to her life when there was another option for her.   I confessed my inability to understand the answer to the question, what now?

What I didn’t write about was that we re-entered the adoption process.

In February, I had a counseling session with a social worker from our agency.  During our call, she gently commented, you have everything ready for a baby and your hearts are ready for a baby.  Adoption takes a while and typically involves a lot of waiting, so why not start the wait now and grieve while you wait instead of waiting until you felt ready and then face a long wait? In the meantime, you can say “no” to a situation if one comes up and you don’t feel ready for it.

I was kind of shocked by the suggestion, but when I shared it with David, he agreed with her.  I talked with her again, saying I just wasn’t sure, and she said, re-entering the process might produce some closure to the failed adoption—a way of saying, “we know this situation with Zoe’s sister is over and we’re ready to accept that.”

David was enthusiastic about re-entering the process.  I was still hesitant, but was comforted that we could turn down a situation if we didn’t feel ready, so I updated our family profile and dropped it off on March 18.

As I drove away from our agency, I felt numb.  But the next day…I felt lighter.

I felt hope.

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I began praying for the baby we might have in addition to the baby we didn’t have.  This time, my prayer looked like this: God, for reasons that seem increasingly beyond my understanding, we felt you clearly calling us to adoption in October.  I don’t know what the heck You have been doing, or what any of this was, or why you let things go badly like this here on earth, but scripture says You work all things for our good.  All things means ALL THINGS, and “our good” means that you’re working for our good and for Brianna’s good too.  I want to believe.  Help me believe.  

My daily prayer became, I do not want the fastest adoption.  I want the RIGHT adoption.  Make it clear.  Bring peace when it’s right.  

A week after re-entering the process, we got a call about a baby due in a few weeks.  It was a bit of an unusual situation, so we had 24 hours to decide whether we wanted to be considered for it.  It was exciting to be considered so soon, but as the 24 hours ticked by, I felt increasingly like I wanted to throw up.  I didn’t feel peace—I felt the complete opposite.  I felt panic, anxiety, discord.

This is NOT right, I finally told David.

I feel the same way, he confessed.

And here, I began to feel thankful to God again—not just for the obvious blessings like family and friends that I had never stopped thanking Him for, even in the hard times—but because we had heard His guiding voice again.

Since that day in January when my heart shattered, I had felt His presence and His comfort, but His guidance felt nebulous and far away.  But here, I had evidence that He was still guiding—that I hadn’t messed up or misheard His directions—and with this little bit of encouragement, it became easy to trust that He would keep guiding us to the right situation.

I began to take small steps to ready ourselves again, as our agency was hoping to provide us with a shorter match or a “stork drop” situation after our failed adoption (a “stork drop” means the baby is already relinquished or is about to be relinquished when they call you…so you get a phone call that says “hey, come pick up your baby RIGHT NOW.”)  

I applied for an adoption grant to make up for the amount of money that we had lost in our failed adoption.

I updated our hospital bag.

IMG_2673I continued to feel lighter and happier and more at peace.  I still had questions about why God allowed this, yet recognized that these questions probably wouldn’t be answered in this lifetime and that I had to make a decision about whether I was okay with that or not.  I decided to surrender them, reminding myself over and over again, “all things means ALL THINGS.”

I decided to trust the process He was leading me through.  I decided to thank Him for what I DID have—His presence and His guidance and the assurance that He was with me and for me.

And I kept praying for our future child.

In June, Zoe and I went to Minnesota for a few weeks to teen-sit my siblings.  A day after my parents left, I began feeling deep angst.  It’s tough to describe, but my soul felt rattled and scared and unnerved.  All of the questions and doubts that I thought I had surrendered about our adoption were coming back up.

I asked David, pray for me.  I am processing something big.  

I felt deep in my soul that changes were about to happen in my life.  I just didn’t know what they would be.

A few days into this, I went to my best friend Whitney’s church.  The sermon topic was “God of the storm,” about how God is in control of the physical and metaphorical storms in our lives—a fitting topic.  During worship, I felt the presence and comfort of Christ so strongly.  I continued to feel like my heart was opening to something.

After the service, Whitney’s sister asked me something about our failed adoption and I broke down crying.  I don’t know why I’m crying! I said.  I’m so sorry.  I haven’t cried about this in months!  She apologized for bringing it up and I said no, no, it’s so strange.  I usually can talk about it.  I don’t know what’s going on here.  

Embarrassed, I fled to my car and went home.

Later that afternoon, during Zoe’s nap, Whitney came over.  We sat on my parents’ porch and I told her about how confused and unnerved I was and asked her to pray for me.  And that friend of mine said, “how about right now?”

So with our lattes in hand and the  summer sunshine warming our bare feet, she prayed: God, You know what You’re doing in Sarah’s life, and I thank You that what will happen next in her life is not a mystery to You.  Give her patience as she waits, and clarity about what You’re doing soon.  

The next morning, Zoe and I set out for our usual morning walk.

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To keep her happy as we walked, I sang her the song she had recently become obsessed with.  Its lyrics:

In my wrestling and in my doubts, 
In my failures, you won’t walk out
Your great love will lead me through
You are the peace in my troubled sea.

In the silence, you won’t let go
In the questions, your truth will hold
Your great love will lead me through
You are the peace in my troubled sea.

I won’t fear what tomorrow brings
With each morning I’ll rise and sing
My God’s love will lead me through
You are the peace in my troubled sea.

My Lighthouse, My Lighthouse
Shining in the darkness, I will follow You
My Lighthouse, My Lighthouse
I will trust the promise: you will carry me safe to shore.  

That morning, as I walked and sang, I realized the truth in Whit’s prayer and in those lyrics: that God was with me in every question, in every doubt, in every moment of wrestling.

He wasn’t surprised by them.

He wasn’t judgmental of them.

He was with me, loving me in them.

And He knew what came next.

That meant I didn’t have to know.  I just needed to keep seeking Him.  The rest would follow.

The next day, June 17, I wrote a blog post about learning to live with the mystery.  I said:

I feel God working in me as I surrender this time to Him and though I don’t quite understand yet what He’s doing, it’s enough to feel His presence with me and trust that He will sort it all out.

There is always room [in my life] for God to do something NEW, something different than what I pictured. And I continue to want to step out of the way to allow Him to work.

I pushed publish, almost an “amen” in my mind.  I was still sitting at the desk twenty five minutes later when my phone rang.

It was Tammy, our case manager. Don’t get excited, I told myself sternly.  It’s probably just a paperwork question.

But deep inside, I knew it wasn’t.  I knew I was about to get the answer I’d been seeking.  

“Hi, Sarah!” Tammy said breathlessly.  “Is David around?”

“No,” I said. “I’m in Minnesota…”

“Oh!” she said.  “Well…I can’t wait.  I just have to tell you! I’m just leaving a birth mom’s house, and she and the birth dad have selected you and David!”

“As parents?” I said, just to make sure.

“Yes!” she said.  “She’s due July 9.  And it’s a girl!” 

To make a long story short, over the next five weeks we rejoiced, prepared, met with the birth parents, loved the birth parents, filled out a ton of paperwork, learned we had to move, found a great housing situation within 24 hours, learned we had been awarded THE MAXIMUM GRANT AMOUNT from the adoption funding foundation even though I had only applied for what we had lost in our failed adoption, packed up our house, organized a move for the first week of August, prayed a BUNCH, and waited.

Photo on 6-28-14 at 8.25 PMAnd waited.

And waited.

It seemed like our little girl was quite cozy in the womb and wasn’t coming out anytime soon.  So we used the time well.  We kept packing.  I finished two of my three summer consulting projects.  I hung out with Zoe.  And we kept waiting.

We hadn’t told many friends about our potential daughter because of our previous failed adoption.  However, I told a few.  On July 20, one of those friends asked me, aren’t you going out of your mind with anxiety?!!  

And what I said surprised even me.  I am not anxious, I replied.  I felt that God was doing something in June when I was in Minnesota.  I didn’t know what He was doing, but I knew I wasn’t alone.  I told Whitney and David I needed prayers.  Whitney prayed over me and two days later, I found out about the baby.  I haven’t felt anxious since.  Through our failed adoption and again in this process God has been with me in every question, every feeling, every doubt, and I have learned that I can be entirely honest with Him.  THAT is the treasure.  Not this baby.  Of course I want this baby, and it would be wonderful to get her.  But if I don’t…I still have Him.  And I know He will be with me and give me what I need to make it through.   

The peace I had been praying for? Had been there through the entire process.

This really might be our daughter.  

The next afternoon, we got the call to head to the hospital.  A sweet little girl was about to make her appearance.  Forgetting half of the practical things we should have brought and almost forgetting to say goodbye to Zoe (oops!) we giddily hopped in the car.

On the way, David and I talked, reiterating our desire to enter into this situation with open hearts.  It would be hard, because we knew what it felt like to love a little girl and then lose her, but we wanted nothing more than to surround this precious creation of God’s with complete and unguarded love for her first few days of life—even if we didn’t get to take her home in the end.

We prayed as we drove.  And then looked at each other, beaming, goofily saying variations of the statement over and over again:  “let’s go meet our daughter.”

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The final post in Riley’s story—in my opinion, the coolest part of this entire story—will be coming soon!