Thursday, December 31, 2015

Hope is a Four Letter Word

My social media feeds are full of ways to resolve to get fit/healthy/debt-free/successful. I love the built-in reset we have every year to start fresh, create new goals, and refocus. Although admittedly I typically cringe at creating goal lists. January 1st starts strong and by March my list looks like my feeble and failed attempt to get my stuff together.

One trend for goal setting is to choose a word for the year. The concept is that one word would sum up what you want to focus on, who you want to be, and how you want to live. The idea has been swirling around in my head and heart for a few weeks now, but landing on just one word has been hard.

What would sum up all I want 2016 to encompass for me? 

Looking back, I can sum up 2015 with one word: HARD. Our year started with a bang: a new home, careers soaring, and grand dreams on the horizon. But starting in August, our hard hit. And to be honest, it hasn't really let up. It feels a bit like being on a coastline during a storm: the waves keep coming and all you have capacity to do is brace yourself for the next one.

So here I am, on the brink of a new year, more than ready to say goodbye to the hard of 2015. 

This afternoon, my word hit me: HOPE.

I literally cringed when I first had the thought. Hope sounds a little like a four letter word right now. Offensive. Shocking. Even a bit cruel.

Sometimes, hope feels brutal. 
When you're in the wait and it seems unending.
When your current reality looks bleak.
When countless prayers seems to go unanswered.

It's hard to describe the toll continuing to hope can take on your heart. 

Hope deferred makes the heart sick... {Proverbs 13:12}

We just hope in the wrong things.

Earthly security. Easy relationships. Praise and esteem. When I think about some of my longings and prayers, sometimes I'm praying for ease and comfort rather than more of Jesus.

But reading through the scriptures, it doesn't take long to see that hope has a place firmly grounded in our lives and in the good news of the gospel. We are a people created to hope. 

I've underlined or circled each mention of hope in my Bible. In some of these spaces the ink is blurred where my tears have wet the pages.
Behold, the eye of the Lord is on those who fear him, on those who hope in his steadfast love. {Psalm 33:18} 
“And now, O Lord, for what do I wait? My hope is in you. {Psalm 39:7} 
Why are you cast down, O my soul, and why are you in turmoil within me? Hope in God; for I shall again praise him, my salvation. {Psalm 42:5} 
For God alone, O my soul, wait in silence, for my hope is from him. {Psalm 62:} 
But I will hope continually and will praise you yet more and more. {Psalm 71:14} 
My soul longs for your salvation; I hope in your word. {Psalm 119:81} 
Uphold me according to your promise, that I may live, and let me not be put to shame in my hope! {Psalm 119:116} 
I wait for the Lord, my soul waits, and in his word I hope. {Psalm 130:5} 
“The Lord is my portion,” says my soul, “therefore I will hope in him.” {Lamentations 3:24} 
And hope does not put us to shame, because God's love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us. {Romans 5:5} 
May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that by the power of the Holy Spirit you may abound in hope. {Romans 15:13} 
Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. {1 Corinthians 13:7} 
Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for he who promised is faithful. {Hebrews 10:23}

But this one is my favorite.
O Israel, hope in the Lord! For with the Lord there is steadfast love, and with him is plentiful redemption. {Psalm 130:7}

Hope, at it's core, is grace. God's grace to me in a season of hard and waiting and aching and grieving. 

So here's one four letter word that will be echoed in our home all year long. We'll shout it over the busyness of our lives. We'll remind each other over the dinner table. We'll even whisper it to each other in the dark. 

Tuesday, December 29, 2015

Adoption Story: Cory and Joy

Cory and Joy's story to bring home their daughter is packed with stories of how God was in the details. I never tire of hearing how 

From the beginning, they hashtagged their adoption journey on social media #bringhomebabyhenderson. Every update, every fundraiser, every prayer request had #bringhomebabyhenderson tagged at the end.

And then, one evening in November, just like that, they posted a new picture and a new hashtag. I've never cried over a hashtag before. But that night I did. #bringhomebabyhenderson became #broughthomebabyhenderson.

Today Joy shares their story and the amazing details that led them to their beautiful daughter.

Our lives were forever made better on November 10th, 2015. But let's go back just a little bit! 

Earlier this year, Valentines Day to be exact, we signed papers with an amazing woman named Susan VanSyckle of Christian Adoption Consultants and officially began the adoption journey.  There were times of such hope, laughter, fears, tears, disappointment, anger, excitement and most of all the feeling of the unknown. My husband likes to say I have "control tendencies." I say I like to be "in the know, of all things." So, to relinquish control of every detail, of something so huge and life changing, might have been the biggest test I've ever endured. 

For a super brief overview of how adoption could go, this is it: 

Homestudy: Takes about 8-12 weeks. It's things like background checks, fingerprints, child abuse checks, doctor visits for medical clearance, biographies, and social worker visits to evaluate your home/marriage/children/family history/financial state. This is a clearance from the state for you to bring a child into your home and is required for any adoption. 

Agency Placement: You choose an agency you want to work with to find a birth mother. Normally a fee is required to sign with an agency (this isn't necessarily true with CAC). Agencies work with birth mothers to make sure they are confident in their decision to adopt out, among other things. 

Presentation of Adoptive Profiles: You see "situations" once you are with an agency of birth mothers and their histories. You get the option to "present" to a birth mother. Which means you want her to look at your profile and want to be the one she chooses amongst all the others. There are often many "no's" before an adoptive couple hears a "yes."

Matching: Birth Mother says she wants you as the adoptive parents. And the adoptive parents say yes to the birth mother. A portion/all of the adoption expenses are due at that time, depending on the due date, etc. 

Birth: Every situation is different. Some birth moms want adoptive parents there. Some don't want to meet. Some develop relationships way before the birth and continue a relationship years after. 

So, disregard every bit of what I just wrote. And I'll tell you the Henderson version of our adoption...

From April (when our Homestudy was approved) through October, we saw nearly 50 different situations from expectant birth mothers. (It'll take another day for me to get into that entire emotional, physical and spiritual process of seeing these situations and praying each one through). 

Despite what I thought at the beginning of this journey, November rolled around and we had not said YES to being presented to one birth mother. Not one single time. I would cry to Cory and tell him "if we never present, we can never be chosen." And he would often times cry with me, all the while knowing that neither of us were settled on presenting to any situation we had seen so far. We agreed at the beginning of this that if both of us weren't 80% about a situation, we would not present. So, we sat with November upon us and had honestly relented it would be 2016 before a baby would enter our home. The situations we were seeing were due dates of Feb, March, even April at this point. My Mom heart had been settled and I told the Lord I was okay to walk out the holidays without our family of five. And I truly was leaning into the Lord and trusting. 

And then on November 4th, a Wednesday afternoon at little after 5:00, I saw a name pop up on my phone. I grabbed the call with no idea what a lady I've come to love named Tara, was about to tell us. 

As she spoke, it was almost like I was in a tunnel. Dreamlike. And different than anything before. 

Here's what I remember: "Joy, we have a baby that's been born. A few things were different than what you guys had been "open" to, but for some reason we wanted to call you and Cory first. If it doesn't sound right to you, that's okay. But we just thought we should call. Story is, baby was born last week. Birth mom has already signed relinquishment papers. Baby was born seven weeks early and is in NICU but only because baby isn't sucking correctly yet...{a few more details}...Before we called anyone else, we wanted to call you guys. I can give you up to 24 hours to make a decision, but then we must move on. Does this sound like something you and Cory would be open to?" 

The only two things I remember asking were "Tara, you didn't say whether this was a boy or girl." Her response was "Oh, it's a baby girl." Anyone who knows us closely, knows we were open to either. But the Lord had rested a girl on our hearts for a while. My second question was "Does she want an open, semi-open or closed adoption." When she answered semi-open, I think I knew with every fiber of my being that this could possibly be the one. 

I immediately hung up and called Cory. Now, he is always in a preservice meeting with leaders right around this time. I'm sure the sheer fact I CALLED him (I am not a phone person) scared him. When he answered and I was out of breath and my voice was shaking, he was in fact scared and wanted to make sure me and the kids were safe and okay. After I told him about the call with Tara, he was in as much shock as I was. As soon as we hung up, he unknowingly-to-me called Tara himself to ask questions. 

Fast forward to the next morning, and we are pulling every medical record we have from baby and birth mother, getting them to our doctors, nurses, and professional village. We wanted to first and foremost know what we were walking into. Knowledge is power. From everything we walked away with, nothing moved us or swayed us from the decision we knew was happening in our hearts. 

We called Tara first thing Friday morning and told her yes. 

YES. We actually said the words "Yes"!!!!! 

Unfortunately, by the time logistics, attorneys and paperwork could be taken care of, we were saddened to know that we needed to wait until Monday to head to Florida. If we were to go over the weekend, we would not have legal papers to see her, so we were advised to just wait the weekend out. Talk about the longest wait.

At the same time, baby girl was doing SO well, that she was discharged from the hospital. So, at 10 days old, she was released into a private cradle care home that works with our attorney. Monday morning rolled around and we got the official call around 10am to COME TO FLORIDA TO GET YOUR BABY!!!! We checked the kids out of school, and headed on our way! 

I'll never forget the few moments as we crossed the bridge into Jacksonville. The sun was setting and it was a scene so beautiful I had rarely seen anything like it before.  As cliche as it sounds, Cory and I couldn't make eye contact. As we were listening to some worship music, we just simply heard the sniffling from each other. I knew in that moment that God had been writing this story long before I ever knew any detail. I knew that in just a few moments our lives would forever be changed. We were about to meet our daughter. 

We stopped about 7 minutes before we got to the cradle care home so that we could all freshen up and change from t-shirts to actual clothes. This was our last picture as a family of four, in the parking lot of a shopping plaza! 

And THIS is our first picture as a family of five! We arrived to the home around 6pm where "Memaw" was taking care of our baby. We all got to hold her, I fed her, and changed her diaper. And then we had to say goodbye until the next day. 

The next day at 1pm, we walked into the attorneys office to sign papers for Ella Kate Henderson to become ours! While we were signing documents, the birth mother called and asked if we could meet with her on Thursday (two days later). The attorney advised us that this was not required of us, and it was up to us. Cory and I had decided that we wanted to be honoring of her and that we would come back on Thursday for the meeting. 

Thursday came.  It was time to go back to the attorneys office for our visit with the birth mom. I'm not sure how to accurately describe the emotions leading up to that moment, so I don't even think I will try. We walked into the attorneys and Tara sweetly smiled and said "she's in here, but she's very upset." We walked into a room where a beautiful woman was visibly emotional and crying. She hugged us both and the first thing she said was "thank you, thank you." We exchanged just a few words of greeting as she looked at Ella in the car seat and cried some more. She commented how beautiful she was. We told her that she in fact was beautiful and that she had done a great job. The case worker reiterated "Yes, you did that. Look at her!" The birth mother had not been able to hold Ella in the hospital. When she was born, she went straight into NICU. So, she asked if she could hold her and we told her absolutely. I remember Cory trying to unbuckle her, and I think he was so nervous he just couldn't get her out! I went over and got her out, wrapped her in her blanket and handed her to her birth mother. She stood rocking her, crying and telling her how sorry she was. And then continued to thank us. After a few moments, she sweetly handed Ella back to me. I sat down holding Ella and she sat down beside me. She had one question for us and that was "if we would love her as our own." She herself had been moved around in foster homes and family homes as a child, and never treated the same as the biological children. Before I even had a chance to answer, Cory looked at her with tears in his eyes and said "I promise you that we will treat her as good as our older two, if not better. She is already so loved." That is all that the birth mother needed, because she cried again and said "I need to go." Before she left, I gave her a necklace and explained that Ella will have the same one when she is older. She asked me to put the necklace on her. We then hugged again and as quickly as we had arrived, we were leaving. 

It seemed so surreal. And so peaceful all at the same time. I think she needed that closure. And we needed that closure. As Cory put it, we were able to see that she had a tender heart. As tough and as uncharted territory as it was, it was good for us all. 

We left the attorneys office and drove straight to where our almost entire family all got to meet her. Tell me the Lord is not into details! We can now say that ALL of us were born in Florida. It seems a small detail to some, but it was one my Momma heart wanted throughout this whole time! 

To sum this up, let me tell you that this sort of story is rare. Things don't happen like this, or fall into place like this, or have so many risk factors removed from adoption. We had never planned to adopt an already born baby. I never saw myself getting her from an attorneys office instead of a hospital. I had a "birth story" all laid out. Yet, in all the ideas we have of the way things should go, God totally goes before us and sees the situation so much better. We didn't have to worry about a birth mom changing her mind like so many people unfortunately do, because papers had already been signed. We didn't have to wonder if our daughter would be born with this or that, simply because she was already HERE and we could see her with our own eyes! We never once presented ourselves to a birth mom. We had an attorneys office "feel like" they should call US. People, that's huge. God spared us in so many ways we will probably never even know.

I tell people so often who ask about why we would adopt. That's the easiest question to answer. Redemption. Redemption, plain and simple. We were once redeemed. Chosen by a God, who saw our imperfections, and still said yes. Saved from death, to life. 

Adoption is messy. But it is oh so beautiful. 

It is heartbreaking. And it is life giving. 

To see Ella's face and know that her destiny could have been death. Could have been abortion. Could have been a life apart from us. 

Adoption is worth it. 

Adoption is redemption. 

There is SO much more I want to say about our emotions, about our hearts, about Autumn & Easton. But this is simply to let you all know of Ella's introduction to our lives. It's a scratch in the surface of the entire journey. For now, know that our arms and hearts are full. We feel honored that the Lord orchestrated such a rare, yet beautiful exchange for us to bring her into our lives. We will never be the same again. 

For more on Cory and Joy's journey and this original post, check their blog: All About the Hendersons.

Thursday, December 24, 2015

Merry Christmas From Some Sweet Faces

When couples start with Christian Adoption Consultants, they become family. I love the steady stream of Christmas cards I receive with families who have grown in the last year, updates, and sweet faces.

Is there anything better that this little cutie under your Christmas tree?!

Each one captures just a glimpse of the joy adoption can bring, tells a part of the story of how God came through on his promises, and shares a peek into years of answered prayers.

I thought I would share a few of these adorable CAC littles as they celebrate the holidays.

Meeting Santa for the first time
(Regretting meeting Santa for the first time...)

Merry Christmas!

Tuesday, December 22, 2015

Adoption Story: Matt and Deaun

Motherhood comes in all different and beautiful ways. For DeAun, becoming a mom had been something she dreamed of for years. When Matt and DeAun started with Christian Adoption Consultants, they were close to giving up on that dream. But some dreams never die.

DeAun shares the story of how her dream to become a mother came true through the gift of adoption...

As I sit here in bed, with my  four week old daughter lying next to me, I remember how I used to wonder how will I feel when I become a mom. Going on this joy ride called adoption definitely brought Matt and I closer together these last three and a half years. We were both able to stay strong for the other (we joke that we took turns "losing it!")

Adoption is not easy. It’s definitely not for the weak and weary. Working as an ultrasound technologist, I am often asked if I have kids. "No, we are unable to have children, but it’s okay because we are adopting." I won’t miss saying that sentence anymore...

When we got the call that we were matched, we were happy but it seemed to take a bit for it to sink in. And then, just a few weeks later, our daughter was here! A text, "It’s a girl! 9 pounds, 1 ounce, 20 ½ inches long" would change our lives forever.

It would be hours later when we stepped into a hospital room and met our daughter for the first time. For months I had researched, studied, and listened to everyone around me regarding the first time they saw their child. I don't remember many specifics about that moment, but I remember the first words I ever spoke over her: “I love you so much." 

It didn't take long to be inaugurated into mommyhood by the christening of spit up and dirty diapers. Yep, I was definitely a mom now! I was amazed that during this time I found out that I can do a lot of things one handed and how I felt rested even though my nights were full of wakefulness. But I don't mind. These were the nights I prayed for: nights with little sleep but lots of snuggles.

I always knew that God intended me to be a mom and now feel so at peace with our daughter. I know that our family is complete and I couldn’t be happier. This precious girl is going to know that this family loves her so very much. Even though our adoption is kind of a closed one, she is going to know that somebody else loved her first. When she is grown, I want her to feel like she can love and appreciate what her birthmother did for her. 

So as I sit here with my beautiful daughter sleeping next to me, I feel like a mom.

Tuesday, December 15, 2015

Adoption Story: Matt and Jenny

Matt and Jenny were in church one Sunday and five months into their adoption journey. They had started with Christian Adoption Consultants in April, were home study ready in May, and had been waiting since then to be matched with an expectant mama.

That morning, they listened as they heard the familiar story of Hannah from the Bible. A woman desperate for God to answer her prayers for a baby. And a God who was faithful to keep his promises.
In her deep anguish Hannah prayed to the Lord, weeping bitterly. And she made a vow, saying, “Lord Almighty, if you will only look on your servant’s misery and remember me, and not forget your servant but give her a son, then I will give him to the Lord for all the days of his life…”

1 Samuel 1:10-11
The prayer resonated deep in Jenny's heart. After having their sons, they knew their family was not yet complete and after years of praying for direction, they started the road to adoption. They had been praying for a baby for years now clinging to the promise God have them...

Six hours later, God answered their prayer. They received a call about a little girl who had been born that day. That evening they talked to the birth mother and the next morning they were on a flight to meet her. An hour after walking into the hospital they signed the paperwork making a little girl they had been praying for their daughter.

And when they would walk out of that hospital days later, they sang the song of Hannah, celebrating the God who answers prayers and keeps his promises.
My heart rejoices in the Lord;

    in the Lord my horn is lifted high.
My mouth boasts over my enemies,
    for I delight in your deliverance.
There is no one holy like the Lord; there is no one besides you;
    there is no Rock like our God.
1 Samuel 2:1-2

Thursday, December 10, 2015

The Ache of the Wait in the Holidays

You've met Amy before. A sweet adoptive mama and client turned dear friend. We met over coffee to talk about adoption and the last time I saw her, her family of three was gathered in my living room with our crew. I love her thoughts on adoption, the hard wait, and the holiday season...

For our family this Christmas season will be our most memorable. It is our first Christmas as a family of three. Our home is overflowing with love, magic and new beginnings. This year we get to celebrate Christmas with our son. We spent hours Christmas shopping (and lets be honest, baby B is not even gonna know what's goin' on this year!), we have dreamt of the traditions we hope to start to make the season full of magic. We had no idea just how emotional this Christmas would be for our family. This is a dream I wasn't sure would ever come true. But, one thing I can say for sure?

I would go through all of the heartache and sadness again to get to my son. 

To all of you who have babies growing in your hearts right now, I promise you, this holiday season will soon be filled with love, joy and overwhelming thankfulness. Right now, I know your hearts are dreading spending another holiday without your child. I know your hearts ache watching families celebrate the magic of Christmas with little ones. I know you dream of the day when you get hang up that stocking that says "Baby's First Christmas." I know you can't wait for the day when you get to wrap gifts to put under the treat for your most treasured gift.

Please don't lose hope.

Last year, I was walking with you. I remember being curled up by our fireplace holding tightly to the book I had bought for a baby I had hoped to be holding in my arms.

I remember each tear that fell down my face. 

I remember each silent prayer I whispered to God, begging Him to give me strength. 

You're. Not. Alone. 

Please don't give up hope. Please don't lose your faith.

This season, I'm praying for you hearts to be full of hope for what is to come.

It is worth the wait. 

It's worth every single tear. It's worth every silent prayer. 

Please know you are in my heart this season.


For more on Amy, her beautiful family, and their adoption journey, you can head to her blog, Glimpses of Hope.

Tuesday, December 8, 2015

Adoption Story: Chris and Heather

Walking with families through their adoption journeys is always an honor. Watching in anticipation as they walk through the process and a family is created is miraculous every time. But having a front row seat to a family's steadfast faith through it all - this is always something incredible and inspiring.

Chris and Heather had that kind of faith. And it started from the very beginning, when they first thought about having children...

What a journey we have had to building our family. We went through fertility treatments very soon after we got married, knowing it would be difficult to get pregnant. We had 4 failed IVF cycles. It was emotionally, mentally, physically, and spiritually very difficult. We knew we wanted to adopt, even before going through the treatments. We wanted to adopt for second or only child, whatever God meant for us. 

Chris and Heather got off to a fast start. But no one could have predicted the hard road they would have to walk...

We started our journey with Susan and Christian Adoption Consultants and were hopeful and excited to be adopting our baby. We knew God had a plan for us, and that he would bring us the baby we were meant to have. We were home study ready in April. We were matched with a expectant mom fairly quickly. It turned into a complex situation and we had to make the heartbreaking decision to put that baby in God’s hands and walk away. If God meant for the baby to be ours, He would work it out, if not, He would not.  My heart still breaks for that little baby, but we know He has that baby in His hands.  

During this time, as they were praying through what God had for them, I watched as Chris and Heather trusted God completely with this sweet baby and their story...

We were excited to get a call Tuesday, September 22nd about a baby girl that had already been born. The birth mother had already consented to the adoption and wanted the agency to find her baby a good family. We were excited! The situation was perfect, but we had to wait for the birth father to sign his papers as well, so we waited anxiously. We got the call Thursday, the 24th, that he signed his papers and that she was ours. We were overjoyed and thanking God!  We hopped on a plane Friday night and met her Saturday morning. We were in love!  

From the time we were home study ready, it was just over 5 months and we had our beautiful baby girl in our arms. Mia Claire, our princess.

Congratulations, Chris and Heather. It's been such an honor walking with you and watching God write your story!

Thursday, December 3, 2015

Adoption Story: Radale and Breann

Radale and Breann have a beautiful story of how they became a family of three. I always love having the opportunity to share a family's story through their eyes and words. Listen to Breann share how adoption went from a dream to a daughter placed in their arms in a matter of days...

I have to admit I never thought I'd be doing this: sharing our story. To tell the truth, I never thought I'd be doing a lot of the things I have done in the past year, but here we are. As  introduced the world to our new baby girl. That announcement soon led to many friends asking if we would share our story and help them find the answers to their questions; questions on adoption and how to start the process. Radale and I found ourselves sharing the story of our adoption journey over and over and then it struck us, if more people could get answers maybe more families could find their happy beginnings.

The Back Story
I'll keep the beginning short. It was this time last year when Radale and I knew that God wanted us to grow our family through adoption. After researching and talking to many people and different agencies we finally made our decision that we would apply to one agency and then...our path was redirected. We had a distant cousin who revealed that they had just adopted a beautiful baby girl with the help of a consultant. This eventually led us to Christian Adoption Consultants and our consultant, Susan, in February of 2015. On July 10, 2015 we were officially "home study" approved, which in a nutshell means that the bulk of our paperwork was done. Now began the official "wait." We were prepared to wait 6 months, a year, maybe even 2 years but nothing could have prepared us for what happened next.

The Pathway to Parenthood
Over the next few months we were e-mailed various situations from various agencies. Some we thought were good fits for us and presented our profiles only to hear "she chose another family" a week or two later. Some others didn't fit our family and we just moved on to the next one. We understood this was just part of the process and were at peace with it because we knew that God had meant each of those children to be part of other families. We did the only thing we could do, we prayed. We prayed for our child to come to us and be safe and healthy, we prayed for the birth mother to find guidance and help, we prayed for our patience and strength of faith. We just prayed. 

There comes a time in most people's lives I think when you have an epiphany. (You know the kind where you suddenly realize the truth in something you believed all along.) One specific moment that confirms all your beliefs, affirms your faith, becomes your testimony. For us, this was that moment. On September 9, 2015 I received an e-mail from Susan that had a situation from an agency that had a sense of urgency to it. In the email it stated that they had a birth mother due any minute and the agency would be picking the family as she had told them she would rather them find a loving and deserving couple. All she asked was that preferably this would be the chosen family's first child and that she was raised in a Christian home. Feeling pretty confident about this one, I forwarded the information to Radale who immediately responded, "Why not? Seems perfect." So I e-mailed all our information to the agency as we were extremely interested in being considered. Late that evening I received an email from Susan. Knowing that typically when agencies get to choose families they would normally go with those that had been waiting the longest that were the best fit and since we had only been "officially" waiting for exactly 2 months on September 10, 2015 I fully expected another "they went with someone else" response. What I read next changed our lives forever! "I just heard that you were chosen and wanted to personally say congratulations!"

When I saw this e-mail I was speechless (which is a rare moment for me) and I had goosebumps on top of goosebumps as tears flowed from my eyes. It took me hours to be able to get a hold of Radale and when I finally told him the news, I'm not sure he understood me at first! Maybe I put him in shock, but in any case we were both so happy we couldn't believe that in just a few short months we had become expecting parents! Our baby was due in 2-3 weeks! Little did we know it would be just a few days...

The Blessing
On the morning of Tuesday, September 15, 2015 Radale and I were going about our normal routine. Around 10 a.m. I received a call from the agency, "...your baby girl was born this morning!" The next few minutes were a blur as I attempted to put the words she had just said together in my mind and keep my truck on the road. Tears immediately poured from my eyes and a million thoughts rushed through my mind as I sped home to tell Radale. I didn't even stop to shut the doors of my truck or house as I ran in to find him in our bedroom, toothbrush in mouth, staring at me as I blubbered out, "She's here! She's here!" He finally understood what I meant and after a brief moment of shock, crying, and hugging we quickly made arrangements. We spent the rest of the day packing, calling everyone, and making plane and hotel reservations. The next day we flew out to meet our baby girl. At our hotel I was greeted by five workers at the front desk clapping and hollering "Congratulations!" (Radale had told them why we were in town and they were so excited for us.) We proceeded to the hospital where after some papwerwork, red tape, waiting and we were granted access to see and hold our baby girl, Tatum Charlsie, for the very first time. There are no words to describe how we felt at that moment but we knew one thing for certain, she was our daughter and we had never felt so much love for another person ever before! 

A few days later we were able to make this announcement to our family and friends... 
"For God has seen the plans we had for ourselves and has said, 'My child, my plans are far greater than you can dream.'" Radale and I witnessed God's timing and miracles in the last few days. Introducing the newest member of our herd: Tatum Charlsie, born at 3:17 a.m. on 9.15.15. She is our 6 lb.15 oz. proof that prayers are answered! It has been a whirlwind process, and we can't bring her home for a few days but we are so blessed to call her our daughter!

So Thankful
A lot has happened in the last two and a half months and we are all adjusting to being a family of three instead of a table for two. Neither Radale or I ever imagined how much we could love another person until we brought Tatum into our lives. During this season we are truly thankful for all the blessings that have been bestowed upon us and we can't wait to tell Tatum, when she is old enough to understand, just how much she is loved!  

Monday, November 30, 2015

Family Advent Traditions

Each year as advent approaches, we try to be purposeful as a family to make space to celebrate God breaking into our world and anticipating him coming again to make all things right. It's so easy to fill up our calendars and our hearts this season with busyness and unrealistic expectations. With hope misplaced in perfect decorations, ideal gifts, and trying to create flawless memories, we lose what really matters. 

Although I love all the season brings with cozy fires, hot chocolate, lights twinkling, and time with family, I want our family to remember why we exchange gifts. Why we celebrate. And why our hope isn't in a beautifully decorated home or the gifts on our wish lists.

Advent didn't start in a stable. It started in a garden thousands of years before. And rehearsing the truth of God's grand redemption plan is a good (and needed) way to center our hearts this season. Here's a compilation of what our family has done through the years (since the kids were toddlers) up until now. Each one has a link with more details and resources.

This year we're doing Ann Voskamp's Unwrapping the Greatest Gift again. Not only is the book incredibly beautiful, but it's rich with gospel truths. Since the kids are older now (eight and ten) they're a good age to focus more on the story and have significant discussions about what advent and anticipation means to our family daily. Starting tomorrow, we'll be taking more time around the dinner table each night to go through the book.

We've also loved celebrating advent with our much beloved The Jesus Storybook Bible. This is a favorite book in our home and I love how every single story points to Jesus. Reading through it snuggled up together each night is a sweet way to tie God's plan to send Jesus to a hurting and broken world and come back to make all things new together for little (and not so little) hearts.

And when the kids were little, we celebrated with a Jesse Tree for several years. Each night they unwrapped an ornament to hang (or found it hidden in the house) that represented a different part of God's redemption story. It was fun to watch them make the connections to the prophecies in the Old Testament and a little baby born in Bethlehem as they hung each wooden ornament on our little Jesse Tree. 

Here's a few other ways we've tried to be intentional (and fun) at Christmas...

Wednesday, November 25, 2015

Adoption Story: Doug and Elizabeth

Doug and Elizabeth have already been touched by adoption. They adopted their daughter with the help of Christian Adoption Consultants in 2012. When Elizabeth initially reached out to me, she was interested in my Adoption Lactation Counseling Services to prepare for a second adoption in hopes to bond in a special way and give the baby the best start at life.

I've never seen a woman more committed to breastfeeding an adopted baby than Elizabeth. I gave her all the resources to get started and was her constant cheerleader and advisor, but Elizabeth's dedication, perseverance, and fervor to prepare to nurse the little one they were praying for was unmatched.

While Elizabeth was continuing to prepare for a baby, diligently building her milk supply, they decided it was time to work with me as their adoption consultant as well.

Doug and Elizabeth share a strong faith, and knew God had called them to adopt a second time. What they didn't know this time around was that it wouldn't be as easy. They began with CAC in May in hopes that they would be matched quickly. That summer they went through two failed adoptions that left them heartbroken and wondering what God was doing. 

Elizabeth and I had long talks through those months of waiting. With inducing lactation, often timing is important and two failed adoptions added to the pain and confusion at what God must be doing.

And through it all. All of the waiting, all of the working, all of the preparing, God had been working and preparing as well.

On a Saturday morning they received a call about a little boy born just hours earlier. It took Doug and Elizabeth seconds to know he was theirs and just 30 minutes to pack and be out the door to meet their son. Several hours later they walked into the same hospital that several years earlier they had walked into to meet their daughter. This time, they met their son.

It's amazing how God can change the story overnight. What had been months of waiting and frustration and heartbreak had turned into answers and understanding and celebration. What began as another Saturday morning as a family of six ended as a Saturday evening as a family of seven. A son and a little brother was added to the family.

Elizabeth and her son have a strong nursing relationship. He's now two months old and still exclusively breastfed which has led to an incredible bond they share as mother and son.

And as she looks down at her beautiful baby, she remembers the hard spaces they walked through waiting for him to be theirs. The days spent praying. The hours spent preparing. Even the tears spent longing. 

And she knows it was worth it.

Photography by Four Wishes Photography

Monday, November 23, 2015

Adoption Story: Daniel and Taylor

I remember when Taylor contacted me earlier this year (just before Valentine's Day). She had found out about Christian Adoption Consultant's profile services through Pinterest and they were just finishing up their home study. She was eager to find some help with their profile but didn't know much about what consulting could offer.

After a conference call with Taylor and Daniel, they decided to move forward not just with our profile services but also with consulting, calling it a Valentine's Day gift to each other. It turns out that was the beginning of a love story...

Five months later, an expectant mother looked at their profile, the story of their family, and chose them to parent the daughter she was carrying. 

"Everything happened much quicker and much differently than we had expected. We can definitely see how the Lord has his hand in all of it..." What started as a call for help to create a profile ended with another beautiful daughter to add to their family. 

Friday, November 20, 2015

Repost: 6 Tips for a Healthy Open Adoption

In honor of National Adoption Month this November, I'll be reposting some of my most popular blogs on adoption. This week we're focusing on open adoption...

The term open adoption can strike fear in the heart of every adoptive family. But it doesn't need to. Much of our ideas of openness tend to come from stories in the news the media has sensationalized, Lifetime movies, or our own assumptions and misconceptions.

An open adoption describes the kind of relationship an adoptive family shares with the birth family of their child. This can mean anything from shared pictures and updates via the adoption agency or a non-identifying email to yearly visits or even sharing holidays and birthdays together. Each family's open adoption is unique to their circumstance and story.

The good news is, if openness in adoption is approached with thoughtful consideration and care, it can be an amazing gift to everyone involved (and your family won't end up in the news).

Here are some things to consider when thinking about open adoption:

Establish your comfort level
Decide what you feel comfortable with early on in the process. What do you want your relationship with your child's birth family to look like? How often do you want contact? What kind of contact do you want?  How will you explain this relationship to your child, your friends, your family? Very often a family's initial thoughts about openness grow and evolve as they educate themselves about open adoption. One important note to make at the very beginning: decide early that you will never give money directly to the birth family. Not only can this be illegal and possibly jeopardize your adoption, but can lead to destructive relationship patterns. 

Create a plan
Things always go better when everyone is on the same page and there are clear expectations. Don't ever step into a match where you are unsure if you can honor the kind of openness and relationship the birth family is requesting. Talk early on with the birth family about what kind of relationship they would like with you and the child; specifically what this will look like during pregnancy, for the first year of life, and throughout childhood. 

Allow for organic relationship
The best relationships grow naturally and over time.  Remember it's easier to continue to open the door slowly than to have to slam it shut. So beginning a relationship gradually and building trust will create a foundation to a healthy and solid relationship. Most often, agreeing to periodic emails and updates can evolve into texting and meeting if you get to know each other and build trust slowly.

Facilitate open communication
Communication is key to any healthy relationship. Ongoing discussion about how the relationship is going and working (or not working) is critical to ensuring that it's working not just for the adults involved, but also the child. Being honest and upfront about issues will create an environment where you can work together to create a relationship that benefits everyone.

Set clear boundaries
Following the above steps and sticking to them will create clear boundaries for the kind of relationship you and the birth family are hoping for. If agreed upon terms aren't being met (the texts are becoming too much, money is requested, etc.), it's ok to remind them of the plan and even to pull back from the relationship for a season if needed.
*It's also crucial to note here that having an open adoption isn't necessarily about how healthy the birth family is. Of course safety is of paramount concern, but during a visit the birth family typically will not be caring for your child without you there. For most families, a visit would be at a park or a restaurant for a few hours with the child, the adoptive family, and the birth family. Most of the time, even a birth parent who is in an unhealthy space in their life and making poor choices can still have a very positive and healthy interaction with the child for a limited time.

Be flexible
Relationships and people change. As they do, it's important to hold onto things loosely. You might be surprised after meeting and getting to know a birth mother that she becomes as close as a sister to you. Or you might find that the birth father is going though a tough spot and firmer boundaries are necessary. As things change, be willing to change your plans in the best interests of everyone involved; particularly the child. And just like our other relationships with friends and family, things will occasionally ebb and flow in terms of closeness and frequency. You can count on this to be the case with your birth family as well.

I wish I could say that in the end if you follow these six steps, you will have a perfect open adoption relationship. But relationships are complex. Real relationships, those that are the most valuable, are hard work. But ultimately, these are the relationships worth fighting for.

For further reading on the topic of birth families and open adoption, check out these helpful posts:

Thursday, November 19, 2015

Adoption Story: Stacey and Megan

Stacey and Megan had already experienced the beauty of adoption with their son, Jake. And when they started with Christian Adoption Consultants, their home study was complete and they were ready to begin the journey again. It was less than four months later that they were matched with an expectant mother. And just five days after that when their son was born.

Megan recently sent me an update on their family and I loved hearing how Cole has brought so much joy to their family...

It has been a wonderful whirlwind since Cole's arrival seven months ago... We are just so in love with him, and grateful every day for God's mercy and kindness in giving us Cole! He is the sweetest, happiest little guy and just started crawling this week. He has the greatest laugh and seems to have the best sense of humor! Jake is the best big brother and literally covers him with smooches every single day. We are amazed at this beautiful completion of our family after so much loss and heartache... I would truly walk through it all again to get to Jake and Cole.

Thank you so much for your support and presence through it all. We are still in awe of how smooth and healing and life-giving the entire experience was after over 11 years of so many heart-ripping losses. We feel as though the experience we had adopting Cole reached back into those old wounds and kissed them and healed them. We are so grateful!

I want everyone to know that our experience with you and Christian Adoption Consultants was truly transformative to our hearts in terms of providing such a peaceful, joyful, and fast adoption experience. After over 11 years of pursuing having a child through infertility or failed adoptions, we found our experience with you all to bring such goodness in a place where we had experienced so much loss and pain! I would want to encourage people to not hesitate to use you all, and to continue to hope even when it feels foolish to hope... We truly experienced God's goodness and mercy and healing through the gift of Cole.

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