Our Journey to Riley: Part Two

“In no way is it enough to set out cheerfully with God on any venture of faith.  You must also be willing to take your ideas of what the journey will be like and tear them into tiny pieces, for nothing on the journey will happen as you expect.”
–from Streams in the Desert, by L.B. Cowman

When we left off in Part One, David and I had just agreed to adopt Zoe’s biological sibling, who was due in eight weeks.  Over the next month, we told our parents and closest friends about our news, prepared a nursery, prayed hard for our future addition, and got organized for life with two.

On Christmas Day, we told our extended family about the upcoming addition.  Everyone rejoiced.

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As the weeks went by, some red flags started to emerge.  The birth mom skipped several OB appointments and lied about several things.  But she kept reiterating that she intended to place the baby with us.  Ordinarily, red flags would make us run—but we knew her.  She had given us Zoe.  We loved her and trusted her.  And we didn’t feel like God was telling us to run.

Then, two weeks before the baby’s due date, I got a call from our case manager.

The birth mom was having second thoughts.

I want to make it clear that I respect the enormity of a decision to place a baby, and that I don’t automatically think I am more qualified to parent than someone else.  However, in this particular case, every professional involved thought it would be in the best interest of this child to come home with us as the birth mom lacked the physical, emotional, and mental resources to care for this child and lacked family support as well.  After working in Title I schools for a few years and learning the difference between “rougher than my upbringing” and “harmful to a child,” I agreed with their assessment.  We were scared by the thought of a child entering this situation.

The case manager and the social worker working with the birth mom suggested that I have a phone conversation with the birth mom to remind her of her positive feelings towards us. I agreed, feeling overwhelmed by the enormity of this assignment.

The next day, I was on the elliptical machine at the gym when my phone rang.  Was I free to talk to her now?

I stepped out of the gym and sat in my car.  It was a crisp Friday morning, and I shivered a little in the car as I chatted with the birth mom.  At first, it was just a conversation between two moms—updating one another on their kids and on life.

Then it got serious.  She said she was having second thoughts about this adoption.

I told her, “I know it’s a huge decision.  I want you to know that we love you regardless of the decision you make about this baby, and we will always love and respect you because you are Zoe’s birth mom.  I want you to make the decision that is best for the baby.  I can’t tell you what that is.  But either way, we will still love you.  Please just let us know what your decision is.”

And at that moment, she said “I woke up this morning and knew what I have to do.  I need to place the baby with you.  It’s the right thing for the baby.  Talking to you makes me feel certain it’s right.”

She said it would be helpful if I would come to some OB appointments with her, as she didn’t have any friend or family support, and invited me to go to an appointment with her a few days later.  Everything she said sounded “right.”  But I still came home and said to David, “I’m not sure what will happen here.”

We felt exhausted.  But at the same time, we didn’t feel like we were supposed to “move.”  In many ways, I wished we felt that way.  It would have been easier.  But God kept telling us, “stay with this.”  1518807_709743621525_999587354_o

I wrote to my prayer group that day,

“I was reading this morning about how a planter and a harvester aren’t always the same person and I realized that in this situation, I feel called to faithfully ‘plant’ love regardless of whether I see this ‘harvest’ or not. I get the sense that God just wants me to obey and live out what He has called me to (pursuing this adoption and loving and supporting the birth mom) regardless of outcome.  I feel strongly that there is an entire spiritual dimension going on that I know nothing about, that may have very little to do with me, but that my obedience still can impact.  Of course, God is going to do what He is going to do and I couldn’t stop Him by NOT obeying—but maybe He wants me to play a ‘willing participant’ role instead of ‘mere bystander.’

And so my cry to God is ‘if all I am in this situation is a planter—let that be enough.’  I am praying for the outcome I want too, of course, and I trust that God CAN do that and very well MIGHT do that but that is not the most important thing to me anymore.  And so I ask for your continued prayers for this situation, for the outcome but also for the process in me and in whoever it is supposed to be impacting.”

Over the next two weeks, I attended two appointments with the birth mom.  She acted relieved and excited to have me there.  We made our birth plan.  My mom came, ready to help.

And then, the day of the C-section arrived.  We waited and waited for the phone call telling us our baby’s gender.  Hours went by, with no information.  “She should have been done by now,” we realized.

It was pouring outside.  My mom snapped some photos, trying to capture the mood of the day our new son or daughter would be born.  They are telling.

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IMG_3469Then the phone call came.  My mom, not knowing what was being said and thinking she was snapping photos of a happy moment, took these photos.  They make me tear up looking at them even now.

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IMG_3494It was not a happy moment.  Our birth mom had been through the C-section procedure, refused calls for a while, then finally got in touch with our case manager only to tell her, “it’s a girl.  I love her and I’m keeping her.” 

Our case manager said, “she sounded pretty loopy from the pain meds.  I bet tomorrow she will say something different.”

If you’ve read my blog or followed our life at all this year, you know that she didn’t.  For three weeks, she wavered while we waited, grieved, felt guilty for grieving, hoped, felt stupid for hoping, prayed and generally went crazy, but ultimately, she said she was keeping the baby—that she knew it wasn’t the best decision for the baby, but that it was her decision.

Our case was closed.

Now what?

We didn’t know.  But we knew—and wanted to trust—that Someone else did.

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Part III coming soon.  

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Our Journey to Riley: Part One

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Our family now.  Welcome, sweet Riley Grace. 

I barely know where to begin this story, except to say this: I never in my wildest dreams thought I’d have two under two.

David and I had discussed kid spacing.  2.5 years apart sounded great.

Until we adopted Zoe.

At our first post-placement visit, three weeks after Zoe came home with us, our social worker joked “so, are you ready for another one?” In all seriousness, I said “yes.”

When I told David about our conversation, he laughed nervously.

“You were joking, right?” he said.

“Nope.  I would take another one any time.  Including now,” I said.

My poor husband, sleep-deprived and wondering what glutton for punishment he had married, told me that we could renegotiate our 2.5 year spacing but that he didn’t really want to have a discussion about a new baby until Zoe was one.  He didn’t think we could handle more than one baby.  I understood and tried to respect his wishes, and we settled into life as a family of three.

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However.

In the first week of October, when Zoe was ten months old, I felt my heart being tugged towards adoption—hard.  A newspaper article.  A song.  A dream.  A story.  A book.  Another newspaper article.  Billboards.  I felt like I couldn’t escape it.  I finally told David at lunch on October 8, “THIS IS INSANITY.  I can’t escape this.  I feel like we have to pray about whether we are being called to adopt again now.”  He laughed.

Later that afternoon, I got an email about a young boy in our community who needed a home.  I don’t ever get emails like this, and when I called the friend who had sent it to ask more questions, she said “I knew you were going to call.  I sent it to a group of people so you wouldn’t feel singled out, but I knew you were the one who was going to call me back.”

After that, David agreed to pray about it.

On October 9, he gave me the okay to call the lawyer representing the boy.  After all, it wasn’t a newborn.

The situation with the boy didn’t seem like a fit, but somehow I left the conversation with a request from the the lawyer to talk to David about whether we would be interested in adopting a baby who was expected in December.  The lawyer was finding it difficult to find a black family—the mom’s preference for the baby—and wondered if the mom would feel comfortable placing with our multiracial family.

I presented the situation to David, mostly as a joke.  We had not called about a newborn—we had called about a young boy.  Hilarious, right?

Oddly enough…that husband of mine said “I am actually really excited about the possibility of a newborn.  Ask more questions.”

I asked more questions.  We began to pray.  We talked financials.  We had money earmarked for one more adoption.  Could we live on David’s salary + my part time work with two kids in diapers? Yes, we realized.  We could.  It would be tight, but we could do it.    

The lawyer suggested that we put a family profile together for the birth mom.  I made it over nap times and turned it in.  We kept praying.  We didn’t feel the “STOP” we expected to feel.  What was this?

I contacted our old adoption agency.  Can we do an expedited home study? I asked.  Our case manager said yes.  We heard from the lawyer that the birth mom was interested.  Everything was falling into place…for an adoption.

The week before Thanskgiving, David and I began to feel uneasy about the specific situation.  I asked some friends to pray for clarity for us before we signed the retainer letter and put our check in.  We decided to make our decision over Thanksgiving break.

Two days before Thanksgiving, I got an email from our case manager at our old adoption agency.  Could I call her? There was something she wanted to discuss.  

My heart began racing.  Somehow, I suspected what was coming next.

We played phone tag.  I tried to quell my nervousness, telling myself she couldn’t possibly say what I thought she was going to say.

Then, at Target, while Zoe and I posed for a picture by the Lego display—a phone call.

IMG_0108Our case manager.

My suspicions were right.  Zoe’s birth mom was pregnant again and wanted us to adopt the baby.  It was probably a long shot, but were we remotely interested? 

Yes.  We were, I said.

Our case manager was surprised.  Didn’t we even want to talk about it? No, I said, looking at David.  He nodded.  We didn’t need to.  

We had already opened our hearts to the possibility of a newborn, soon, and we had already decided that we could make the logistics work.

We had already talked about it.  We just didn’t know who we were talking about.  

I thanked God for the clarity about the other situation and we rejoiced in the fact that God was making it clear to us that we were supposed to adopt again, sooner than planned, and to adopt a newborn.

We let the lawyer representing the other birthmom know that we were withdrawing from consideration, and began preparing to welcome Zoe’s sibling into the world.

Little did we know what was about to occur.

This is getting long and both girls are up from their naps now (so fun to say “both girls!!!”)…so part II will be coming soon! 

 

Seven Stages of Moving

We are officially moving.

It isn’t a decision I really wanted to make.  I loved our little house, love our neighborhood, love our neighbors.  I know all the dogs in the neighborhood.  I know exactly how long it takes me to walk to Starbucks, with and without the stroller.  I know the shadiest streets and the closest parks and the length of time it takes to bike to the waterfront.

On our moving day, I will have been in this house one week shy of six years.  It’s the longest I have lived in any one house.  I’d stay longer if I could.

But it’s time.  I won’t go into all the details now, but my sister says it best when she says the last two months and the next month will be a great chapter in my book someday.  She’s right.  My husband is also right when he says I am being a bit over-emotional about our move (we’re only moving five minutes away.) 

Here are the stages of moving grief/excitement I have been experiencing lately.

 

Stage One: Melancholy 

Yes, we’re only moving five minutes away.  But this won’t be my kitchen anymore.

Six years ago, I pulled these appliances and pots and pans out of carefully wrapped packages, feeling a little less homesick in a new place every time I used the mixing bowl from Sue and the measuring cups from Lisa, the Pyrex containers from Emilie and the dish set from Heidi.

Four years ago I celebrated my Master’s graduation in this kitchen with my family visiting.

Three years ago, we hosted a baptism party in this kitchen for a boy who writes me Mother’s Day cards.

Nineteen months ago I opened baby shower gifts in this kitchen, filing toddler utensils in the back of a cabinet for what I thought would be an eternity away.  She uses them on a daily basis now.

This is all so sad.  I think I will cry into this box.

 

Stage Two: Misplaced Rage

How the HECK did I get so much Tupperware?!! Why does none of it have lids?! What have I been doing with my life for the last few years that this is so unorganized?

And why won’t this @#*! packing tape dispenser work better? Does it think I have all day? If you haven’t noticed, Tape Dispenser, I have a whole house to pack.  If you could, you know, DO YOUR JOB, it would be at least a little more efficient.

OH MY GOSH ASSEMBLING BOXES IS SO MUCH WORK.  Can’t they just come pre-assembled?!!

 

Stage Three: Excitement

At least in my new house, I’ll be able to take a shower with actual water pressure.  And maybe I’ll even be able to find a corner for an “office nook” all to myself.  I should totally start pinning “office nook” ideas! And we’ll have a playroom.

 

Stage Four: Resigned

We’ve been packing for 1.5 hour and the kitchen just looks more messy.

 

Stage Five: Needing a Reward

We’ve been packing for 1.5 hour.  I totally need a reward.  Yes, my husband is laughing at me for needing a reward after a mere 1.5 hour of work.  But he has also added a frappuccino to the coffee order.  I’d rather need a lot of affirmation than be a hypocrite.

 

Stage Six: Wanting to Give All of Your Possessions Away (But Only If the People Will Pick Them Up Themselves)

Why do we have 10 coffee mugs that we don’t even use? Why do I have so many T-shirts? WE HAVE SO MUCH STUFF. I’d love to give all my excess away so I don’t have to pack it to make someone’s life better! I wonder if I can just leave it here and put a sign out front that says, “Free Stuff, Let Yourself In?”

 

Stage Seven: Needing a Massage

This stage is self-explanatory.

Our Song

Somewhere in Wisconsin, we gave up.

“All Summer Long” was playing on every radio station in every town we passed through.  Every attempt to change the station had met with a new rendition of “All Summer Long.”

Our white flag was up.  We would listen to this stupid song.

By Illinois, we were singing along—my new husband and I—in that red Nissan Sentra stuffed with my possessions and our wedding gifts.

My feet on the dashboard, his hands on the wheel, our new rings sparkling, that song playing over and over again.  These are the things I remember from that three day drive to our new home.

Our conversation was light and easy.  Our tans were fresh.  We were poor and I was worried about being a wife, but I knew that I was supposed to be sitting next to that man.

Town after town, county after county, state after state, that song played.

By Tennessee we knew all the words.  We joked that years from now, we would remember this song—not the carefully selected first dance song from our reception—as “our song.”

It wasn’t a song we would have picked, or even particularly liked, but it had become the soundtrack to our great adventure.

Somewhere in north Florida, where the stations get scarce, I fell asleep.

I remember David waking me up 45 minutes outside of what would be our home.

“Want to see where we are living?”

I suddenly felt a pit in my stomach.

We drove through the outskirts, through suburbs, through downtown.  With each exit we passed, my anxiety grew.  Would I like this place? Was it right for us? Would we make good memories here, or would it be a chapter we’d want to forget?

“We’re almost here,” he said, jarring me out of my reverie.  “This is our neighborhood.”  

And just then, the song began again.  I had to smile.

Our great adventure wasn’t ending with this road trip.  Our great adventure was just beginning.

I heard that song today as I drove with our baby, and thought of that road trip and the guy who made it with me. We aren’t as young, aren’t as tan, aren’t as carefree as our 22 year old baby selves.

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I mean really.  We look 17.

But our great adventure continues.

On this summer day, almost six years later, I am not wistful for that time.  I like being connected to a community, like knowing my way around the city that once seemed so confusing, like being more confident than that girl was, like knowing more about my husband than that young bride knew.  We are closer now than we were then, thanks to joy and pain alike, and I wouldn’t trade that closeness for anything.

But I still have a special place in my heart for that song, for those memories, for that hesitancy mixed with anticipation: what comes next? 

If the last six years are any indication, it’s going to be good.

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Coffee Date

I have a sick baby and a busy week, so I thought I’d just write something easy today.  I am actually drinking coffee right now (not surprising, I’m sure!) so if you were sitting across the table from me drinking your own cup and chatting about life, here’s what I’d share!

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-Our trip to Minnesota was tiring, but awesome.  It came at exactly the right time, because I was going crazy here in Florida with our housing issues.  It was so nice to unpack a suitcase and know it could stay unpacked for the next few weeks.

My Minnesota highlights included my daily walks with Zoe, seeing my best friend Whitney, and catching up on this season of The Bachelorette with my 13 year old sister (who would probably want me to insert that she CANNOT BELIEVE that Tasos was sent home, as she said this statement approximately 2343 times while we watched the most recent episodes.)

I also loved watching Zoe enjoy family members, seeing “The Fault In Our Stars” with both of my sisters, and cheering Zoe on as she participated in a Rochester tradition—the All Comers Track Meet! She ran the 50 meter dash in the “2 and under” category and, if I may say so, totally rocked it!

Rochester Track Meet

My lowlight of the trip was the exhaustion that came from meeting the needs of an early rising 18 month old all the way through a curfew-violating 15 year old.  Those were some long days, folks.

-While in Minnesota, I picked up the book Bittersweet by Shauna Niequist.  This is the type of book I want to write someday. I ate up every delicious word.

bittersweet(photo credit: Amazon)

-Zoe is obsessed with the song “My Lighthouse.”  We listened to it 8 times this morning, probably 8 times yesterday, and 10 the day before.  She says “want my iii-house” to get me to play the song, and sings along, and it is THE MOST PRECIOUS THING EVER.  Which reminds me: Zoe talks a lot now.  She can say sentences and totally tracks with conversations.  She is also a sharp observer of the human condition, as I learned the other day when we were playing with her doctor kit:

Me: “I’m so tired! I’m so sick! Cough cough cough.  I don’t feel good! Oh, hey, I’ll take this medicine! (pretending to drink from toy medicine cup) Wow! I feel better!!! I have so much energy! Yay!”

Zoe: “Coffee coffee coffee!”

No idea where she picked that one up.  No idea. Moving right along…

-About two months ago, I started taking “Sunday prayer walks” with Zoe.  Hello, best idea ever! Instead of spending a lot of time getting my “outside” self ready for church, I enjoy God’s beautiful creation with my daughter, lift up some of our friends in prayer, and go to church with my “inside” self totally ready to worship.  Why didn’t I start this years ago?!!

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(Also: some weeks I wind up not having time to shower afterwards, so consider this a blanket apology to anyone who sits by me in church on those mornings.  I’m sorry.  My baby wipe sponge bath can only carry me so far, I know.)

-While we’re talking about church, please note that I am truly a “pastor’s” wife now, not “the YOUTH pastor’s wife,” and then please erupt into a fit of giggles with me because I certainly do not fit into the mold of people who long for this role.  But, let me just say, that I am passionate about the church, and I am passionate about OUR church and the families in it, and that getting to play any role at all in my husband’s ministry (even if I am just the person that cooks dinner for him) is really cool.

-I really and truly missed my friends here in Florida while I was gone.  I am SO happy to have friends that I can miss so much.  That wasn’t always the case for me here, and I don’t take it for granted.

-Finally, I would close on this note from Bittersweet.  If this was actually a coffee date it would be awkward to read aloud to you, so just read it to yourself:

“Everyone I know gets their heart broken sometime, by something.  The question is not, will my life be easy or will my heart break? But rather, when my heart breaks, will I choose to grow?

Sometimes in the moments of the most searing pain, we think we don’t have a choice.  But we do.  It’s in those moments that we make the most important choice: grow or give up.  It’s easy to want to give up under the weight of what we’re carrying.  It seems sometimes like the only possible choice.  But there’s always, always another choice, and transformation is waiting for us just beyond that choice.

This is what I know: God can make something beautiful out of anything, out of darkness and trash and broken bones.  He can shine light into even the blackout night, and he leaves glimpses of hope all around us.  An oyster, a sliver of moon, one new bud on a black branch, a perfect tender shoot of asparagus, fitting up through the dirt for the spring sun.  New life and new beauty are all around us, waiting to be discovered, waiting to be seen.”

Whit and I chatted over a glass of wine in Minnesota and decided that the most profound and life-altering growth in our lives has probably come from hurt.  Do we WANT the hurt? Of course not.  But it can be such a great teacher.

I know I’ve grown a lot from this season of loss in my life.  It may or may not be over, and I’m okay with that because I know that every season ends eventually.

It’s not up to me to decide when the seasons end—that’s God’s job.

My job is to grow in the season.  And I feel like I have done that, and am doing that, and will do it as long as this season lasts.  And that feels good.

What is the best book (or article, or blog entry, or shopping list…whatever) you’ve read lately?