Seeing for Two

We have a semi-open adoption with our girls’ birth moms, which means that we signed a contract to share photos of the girls with their birth moms at specified intervals.

All year, I try my hardest to capture photos of my girls’ everyday lives, their special occasions, their vacations, their time with friends, their time with family.

All year, I see for two people.

I see my daughter running on the beach, not only as myself, but for her.

I watch a birthday celebration through my own eyes, and at the same time, try to take photos for her.

I enjoy watching her peddle her bike in the beautiful sunset light, and wistfully realize I can’t capture it exactly right.  I savor it for two.

As my deadlines approach, I go through all of the photos, deciding what photos I would want to see most if photos were all I got to see.

I add captions, explaining “this is her best friend” or “this is what we did for her birthday” or “this perfectly describes her personality.”

I write a letter that may or may not be read.

And then I click “submit.”

This week marks three years of moments that I have gotten to see firsthand.

I am the photographer—not the person viewing the photos through a computer or a printed album.  This privilege is never lost on me.

As I click “submit,” I pray for the woman on the other end of the photograph.

And then I step away from the computer, back to my girls, and resume seeing for two.

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The Miracle in My Mailbox

A few minutes ago, I walked out the door for my usual afternoon chore: dump the full diaper pails in the trash can.  Check the mail.  Nothing exciting.

But in my mailbox today, there was an envelope from the Social Security Administration.

Inside, there was a card.

There was her name.  Riley Grace Ourlastname.  There was a number.

And then there were my tears.

After a year and a month’s worth of paperwork, this was the last detail for my last daughter.

Three years ago, when we started Zoe’s adoption process and began what would become nearly three years of continuous paperwork, I read the book “Adopted for Life” by Russell Moore.  He writes,

“Keep yourself from being overwhelmed by the sheer volume of all this paperwork by seeing it for what it is—a labor for the children God is calling to be yours.  You are kind of like Jacob of old, working years of arduous labor for the permission from her father to marry Rachel.  For Jacob, the years of work ‘seemed to him but a few days because of the love he had for her’ (Genesis 29:20)…imagine that Jesus himself is asking you to fill out that stuff, and do it with joyfulness and gratitude.”

I fully embraced that philosophy.  All of the work and i-dotting and t-crossing has been part of our calling to find and love these girls and make them part of our family.  And it’s over.  And they’re ours.

And it still all feels like a miracle.

I couldn’t fill out enough paperwork to earn the right to hear these girls call me “mama.”

It’s all His gift.

Thank you, Lord.

“Praise him for his acts of power; praise him for his surpassing greatness…let everything that has breath praise the Lord.”  –from Psalm 150 

Adoptive Parent Questions

On this blog, I typically write about lessons I’m learning and experiences I’m having.  I don’t write from a place of complete resolution very often—my blog title is “Journeying with Him,” not “Journeyed” or “There!”–but I always try to share SOME nugget of a lesson learned or perspective gained so reading it isn’t just a waste of your time.

Today, I thought I’d break from that and write from a place of complete NON-resolution about some of the things that I find myself thinking about as an adoptive parent.  None have answers; they’re just things I think about and weigh from time to time.

So many of my readers have expressed an interest in adoption.  Here are some of the things you may find yourself considering if you go that route.  Some apply to multiracial families, some to open adoptions, some to adoption in general.

Race/Ethnicity:

-In an average week, what color is my child’s world? Is she seeing people who look like her? Where is she seeing them? What are they doing? What assumptions might she make about people who look like her from what she sees? In other words, is she seeing black/biracial people in a variety of jobs with various levels of educational attainment and SES, or is she just seeing white people and/or white people who are served by black people?  (The default in our area is one of those two, which frustrates me to no end, but that’s why I think about it and try out different solutions.)

-Do we have friends of other races? Do we have friends from other ethnic backgrounds? Are we spending enough time with them to make sure they are quality friendships? Do my daughters know these friends?

-Do we see and spend time with other multiracial families?

-When my daughters read books and watches TV, does they see children that look like them and families that look like their family? If not, where can I find these materials for them?

-How do we talk about race in our family? What are our terms, what is our approach, and what is developmentally appropriate? For example, Zoe just started talking about “dark skin” and “light skin,” “brown eyes” and “blue eyes.”  Do we add words to the conversation like “beautiful” and “different,” or just keep it to the color descriptions right now? At what point do we progress the conversation to why our skin is different?

-How do I best care for my daughters’ hair? What products, grooming routines, and hair styles do I need to learn about to keep their hair healthy and to help them feel comfortable? What resources do I still need to learn about and who can I call for more consultation?

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-The same questions above, in relation to their skin?

-What will my daughters look like as they get older? Will my daughters be accepted in this mostly-white area? Will boys want to date them? Will they be accepted in image-focused activities like dance team or cheerleading if they want to (and do I want them to? Ha).  These are the kinds of questions that every mom probably has, but I have no insight from my own life to draw from as I sit around projecting into the future 🙂

Adoption:

-Lots of my friends are pregnant right now.  Zoe has been very intrigued with the concept of a “baby in belly” and talked about how “Baby Zoe” was in my belly.  I told her that some babies grow in their mommy’s bellies and some grow in their mommy’s hearts, and that she and Riley grew in mommy’s heart.  This was probably not developmentally appropriate and it’s definitely not biologically accurate; however, I did not want her walking around with the incorrect thought that she grew in my belly, and she is not old enough to really understand the concept of her birth mom.  When do I begin unpacking this for her?

-Likewise, Zoe understands that “P” had something to do with Riley’s birth.  What does she understand? How much should I discuss this/how much should I have discussed this?

-We have a lot of adoption books, all depicting different aspects and stories.  How often do I read these, which should I read now, and how much should I just let her set a pace for our discussions on this?IMG_2884

-What resources (if any) should I provide to friends as they discuss our family with their kids?

-What language do I teach my girls about how to tell their own stories?

-As my daughters grow and understand their stories, I know that aspects of their identity, self-esteem, and sense of belonging will probably be impacted by the fact that they were placed for adoption.  What else might be impacted? How do I build strong foundations for my girls in these areas now? How do I know if they are struggling at some point?

Birthparents:

-How do I best preserve memories of their birth stories, correspondence with their birth parents, legal documents, photos, etc.? Keeping up with a baby book is already a struggle, but I have to make time for this too, as they deserve access to information about their stories.  What’s the best way to do this for them, and when do I introduce these records of their stories to my daughters?

-How will each daughter’s individual story affect her at different stages of her life? What do we tell each girl, and when do we share that information?

-I have different types of information about each daughter’s story (and different pieces of missing information in their stories).  How will the holes in their stories affect them as individuals and as sisters?

-What will our ongoing relationship with both girls’ birthparent(s) look like? How do I best serve my girls? How do I best respect their birth moms? Should I still be sending photos to one of their biological grandmothers, who asked me to, even though she never responds?

-How are our girls’ birthparents doing? Do they need anything? We can’t really give it to them if they do, but are they doing okay? How are their families? Along those lines, how do you keep wise boundaries (relationally and emotionally) in place, while still loving?

-There are some aspects of my girls’ stories that I’ve chosen not to explore.  Is this actually doing them a disservice, or is it the best thing for them and for respecting their birthparents?

-Will we be asked for something by our girls’ birthparents in the future?

-Will our girls wish we would have done something differently someday?

-Should I reach out and say “thank you” to their birth moms on Mother’s Day, or is leaving them alone more helpful for them?

-Is sending lots of photos at our pre-determined photo intervals helpful, or does it harm the healing process? Is 7 better than 30, or is 30 better? What updates do I include? Do they want to see their baby only, or does it bring them more peace to see their baby in her community/family? Is it safe to share these photos? Are these photos being shared outside of our private communication? Do any of our photos reveal anything I don’t want shared about our neighborhood, family, or community?

Closing thoughts 

As you can see, some of these questions are productive and some aren’t.  Some questions have research and a best practice recommendation surrounding them, while others have have no answers and no way to get closer to answers.

Listing all of these questions all out like this probably makes it seem like I fret a lot, but the truth is that I am usually too busy with the logistical concerns of caring for a baby and toddler to spend lots of time analyzing these questions (and I would never let myself think about all of these questions in a row anyway…hello, anxiety!)

Still, I should think about them from time to time, as I think it would do my children a disservice to parent them as if we weren’t a multiracial family, as if we weren’t an adoptive family, or as if loss wasn’t a part of their stories.  (For more on the latter, read this fantastic blog post.)

And I do have one answer: the best things I do as an adoptive mom is the best thing any mom can do, and that is to pray for wisdom, trust that God will give it to me, and take the advice in Philippians 2:4: “…each of you should look not only to your own interests, but also to the interests of others.” If I am interested in my daughters’ emotional lives, proactively begin conversations with them about their feelings as they grow, pray for them, and seek insight into how to understand and support their unique needs, I cannot go wrong.

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  

 

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!

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.