Tuesday, February 28, 2017

In Their Own Words: The Unexpected Journey of Adoption

Last week Cody and Breanna finalized the adoption of their son, Judah. A courtroom full of friends and family witnessed as he became forever and always their son, and Judah's older sister even pounded the gavel and declared it to be so. The day before Breanna wrote these beautiful words and thoughts about their adoption. I love her honesty and transparency as she shares what adoption looked like when they first decided to grow their family, their changed perspective, and how it impacts their future.

Tomorrow we finalize our adoption with Judah.

Tomorrow. The day I thought would never come.   

In some ways it feels like the end of the book we started November 2015 when we finally said out loud to each other and our family, "We want to adopt."

In other ways it feels like the next chapter, a very important chapter, of our life.

Whatever it is, this has been a week of reflection for me. I've reread several of the older blogs, mostly written before Judah joined our family last June. It brings back waves of emotions.

Happy. Sad. Terrified. Confused. Angry. Hopeful. Jaded. Ecstatic. Fearful. Worry. Joy. 

I also reflect on where I was then to where I am now. This probably comes across over-dramatic, but I am a different person now than I was then. I see how God molded me using experiences and lessons and hurt and hope. The worries I had then seem silly in some ways. But sometimes time has a way of doing that.

THEN: A Changing Family 

Will we have enough money?
What will the timing look like?
Can I love this child like my biological children?
How will our other two kids respond? How will our family respond?
Will we say yes to the right situation? Will we miss it?
Will I be strong enough emotionally to finish this journey?

I see now how God provided what we needed when we needed it in one form or another financially. The timing turned out crazy fast, but it is our story...I love it...and I wouldn't have it any other way. The love for Judah is beyond what I can explain here. Like each of my children, I wondered how I would be capable of more love, but then God brings a new level of love and you wonder why you ever doubted.

Judah's siblings adore him. Like LOVE him. They even share with him, which is a big deal. I just wish it didn't include germs.

Our family. It has been an emotion I didn't expect. The joy to watch our family love Judah. Adore Judah. He is so special. Of course we didn't miss saying yes to this sweet child!

And strong enough, no. With God...absolutely.

So all of that is where I "was," but how in the world am I going to put into words where God took me?

NOW: A Changed Perspective

Things I didn't expect to happen that did.

I did not plan for God to open my eyes to more than a need to find a baby a home. I mean that's all adoption is, right?

I wanted to ignore the hard of adoption. Or maybe not ignore, I think I just didn't know. I didn't understand the brokenness. I wanted the sappy made up movie in my mind. I wanted to make it light and fluffy and rainbows and happy endings. Cute pictures of babies and smiling families.

But God opened up a new side. A deeper understanding of this world. And now that I understand more, I can never go back.

I recently read a quote by Jody Landers that stopped me in my tracks, because it bridges these two concepts, of both the BEAUTY and TRAGEDY of adoption.

"A child born to another woman calls me mommy.  The magnitude of that tragedy and depth of that privilege are not lost on me."

Would you do me a favor and read that quote one more time?

Gone are the concerns about if my finances would be enough, learning that for some birth mothers they are considering placing their child for adoption due to finances...all while I'm wondering what "sacrifices" I'll have to make to help pay for an adoption.

Gone are my concerns for timing of traveling to meet our child and how long I'd take off work and where our other two children would stay, when situations I read concerned timing of sentencing, homelessness, job loss and more that others were having to consider.

Gone are my thoughts of wondering if I can love an adopted child like my biological children, when a birth mother or birth family are considering if adoption is the best choice for their own flesh and blood. 

Gone are my concerns on how it would affect my biological children replaced by thoughts of who is concerned for all those sweet children separated from siblings because of not enough homes willing to take an older child or sibling set. Or how many children in both foster care and orphans without families are without a family tonight, because another family is too concerned of the "what ifs" for their biological children.

Gone are my concerns for how my family will respond, when I see others hurting, birth parents hurting... because they did not experience the love I had from my family growing up.  Instead they may have experienced abandonment, physical abuse, sexual abuse, verbal abuse, poverty, homelessness, institutions, and more. Yet I was so quick to judge before I knew.  Before I understood. Who's to say I would be any different? Any better? And who made me the judge of better anyways. God forgive me.

Gone are my concerns for the "right situation." Can I just admit that if I knew everything at the beginning of our adoption, even the story of our sweet, precious baby boy and how he joined our family, that I might have run away? I am so thankful God chose to keep things from me and share them as the time became right for my heart. It was the right situation. It was the perfect time. And not because it was easy. Not because it was flawless. Not because it went as planned. But because this is a beautiful, difficult, story of God taking the hurt in this world and using people, broken people like me I might add, and turning tragedy into beauty.  

And gone is the concern for MY ability to stay strong. 2 Corinthians 12:9  says, "He said to me "My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness. Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me."

And so like all good lessons, we have to decide what we will do with new information.

NEXT: Changed Lives 

Like a good Sunday sermon, do I leave with some half-hearted "that was a good sermon, but I don't really want to apply it to my life...hey...where are we eating for lunch?"

Or do I take my daughter Charlotte's approach? "Mom, I think that went well.  We need to adopt another child.  I want a sister. Maybe we should have ten kids in our family. Maybe we should buy a store instead of house so we can have more room for all the kids that need a family. I will share my room. I will share my toys."

Since bringing Judah home, I've had to spend a lot of time really asking what's next. How do I let this be more than a good book and let it penetrate my life forever?

For me, I have to acknowledge these deep issues. I have to accept the brokenness. I have to remind myself I'm not asked to "fix it." But that I can't ignore it either.

I have to recognize that along with a cute newborn baby, are birth parents that are often hurting. Birth parents who may not have had the same privileges and love I've experienced.  And I have to love them too. We may not be best friends. We most likely won't make the same life decisions. But, I have to examine my own heart. And ask myself if I truly love like Jesus. Or just when it benefits me. And really, what kind of love is that anyway.

I have to acknowledge that there are many who would not place their child for adoption if they had the availability to provide for the child themselves. Will I care enough to do anything about it? For me, it looks as simple as selling Noonday jewelry which helps provide fair trade jobs. It looks like supporting a ministry in Kenya where they are taking the hard road, the long road, the impacting road, of teaching four ladies a trade of sewing over the next year and supporting these women and their children until they are able to do so on their own.

I want to partner with families called to foster. To love them. To care enough to ask and ask again on how to help. I want to see our amazing church family take even more steps in coming alongside those in the foster and adoption process. I want to meet needs on the care portal to keep families together. To give the mattress so that kids aren't sleeping on the floor. And help buy uniforms so kids go to school feeling worthy. To share with people that God sees their worth and I see their worth. To not just say "go in peace, be warmed and filled" without really giving to any tangible need.  

My religion is not about works. But what is my faith with no action?

Matthew 25:35-40 says, "For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you clothed me, I was sick and you visited me, I was in prison and you came to me.’ Then the righteous will answer him, saying, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you drink?And when did we see you a stranger and welcome you, or naked and clothe you? And when did we see you sick or in prison and visit you?’ And the King will answer them, ‘Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me.’"

It's about how God used something that started with such a simple idea, and revealed a new light on Jesus and His Word. There is something different in head knowledge and watching that something become heart knowledge.

I pray the molding will not stop here.

I pray in another year to read this blog and see how God continues to challenge my way of life.

I pray in another year, I look more like Jesus and less like my old self.

I pray that though God doesn't NEED me, that He would chose to USE me. Messed up, called out, prideful, judgemental, stressed out, WEAK...to show just how perfect, all knowing, humble, forgiving, patient and STRONG He is.

Thursday, February 23, 2017

I Prayed for Cancer

It was a selfish prayer. And an ignorant one.

But there was a time when I actually prayed I had breast cancer instead of going through hardship in our marriage. Maybe it was more a common thought that invaded my heart more than an actual prayer. But one that came up often.

It would be easier I thought. I could manage chemo and hospital stays. I could have something identifiable and easy to attack. It's easier to talk with kids about sick bodies than sick hearts. Mostly I thought it would be easier because people know what to do with cancer. Everyone knows someone who has wrestled through it: a friend or a family member. And you bake them casseroles and you take them to chemo and you watch their kids. Culture knows what to do with cancer. But culture doesn't know what to do with a broken marriage. Especially when the two people in the broken marriage don't want to give up. And the brokenness lasts awhile and the healing takes longer than everyone else has time for.

Please tell me I'm not the only one. That others like to try to pick and choose their suffering too. We tell ourselves THAT thing wouldn't be as bad, or as hard, or as painful. What would you rather? Infertility? Cancer? A broken marriage? A lost child? It's all crazy-making, isn't it? To pretend we could "handle" one form of suffering "better" or "easier." That we could bear up under the weight of THAT thing better than THIS thing.

Because the truth is we've all be touched by some kind of suffering. Suffering we never would have "picked" if we had some kind of choice in the matter. Brokenness we've walked through since we're walking in a broken world, wrecked by sin and the fall. And none of us had a chance to sign up for what we thought would be the easiest or could handle ahead of time.

It's easy to look around at other's lives, envious of their "lesser sufferings" or self-righteous that we're "doing so much better." But comparison can be deadly. It can create bitterness, anger, and resentment. It contends for contentment and joy in our hearts. 

Instead of pushing away from the pain we can lean into Jesus right in the midst of it. "I'm not a theologian or a scholar," Elizabeth Elliot once said, "but I am very aware of the fact that pain is necessary to all of us. In my own life, I think I can honestly say that out of the deepest pain has come the strongest conviction of the presence and the love of God." 

What if, in the midst of my suffering, I didn't ask for less of it, but more of God?

So, slowly, my prayer changed. Instead of asking for a different kind of suffering, or for the suffering to stop altogether, my prayers have dramatically shifted. Desperate for more of God right in the middle of things. Begging him to be near and enough. Focusing instead of changing my circumstances on the outside to changing me on the inside. Asking him to make me more like him in the midst of it all. 

I used to think God sent or allowed certain specific suffering to touch me because he needed to teach me a lesson. He was the "teacher" in the sky and I was the student on the ground. And the "lessons" would just keep coming until I finally passed the test. Although I think there can be seasons like that, I see God much differently now. More as a loving Father, heartbroken beside me as the suffering in the world impacts me and my family. Walking with me, holding me through it. 

I don't think I'll ever embrace or cherish the specific suffering I've walked through (or have yet to walk through). But I can cherish a sweet Savior who promises to walk with me. Who promises that he works all things for my good and His glory. And who promises that nothing ever happens outside of His sovereignty and care.

I don't have to pray for a different kind of suffering. I just have to pray for more of God in the midst of it.

Tuesday, February 14, 2017

Adoption Story: Mark and Jenni

I can't think of a better day to share this family love story. One of their first pictures as a family included them wearing shirts they had made: There is always hope...This became their watchword as they strove to become a family of three. Today Jenni shares their journey, and why she believes more than ever that holding onto hope is worth it.

Our adoption journey began officially in the fall of 2014 though adoption has always been a part to our hearts. 

We were home study approved in April of 2015. We waited until August 2015 to officially become a waiting family due to a family member being diagnosed with Dementia, Alzheimers type. A common question in the adoption community is do you prepare the nursery during the wait or once the baby is in your family? We focused on preparing our home and nursery during these months. Decorating the nursery was God’s grace as we were also juggling the responsibilities of care giver. 

We were first matched in April of 2016 with a little boy. We knew once we were matched the risk increased. We also knew that if we shared our joy when we were matched that it was possible we would also have to share our pain. We ended up sharing our pain as this adoption ended in late May. 

To our surprise, we were matched for a second time shortly after on July 22, 2016. We went to doctor appointments.  We heard the heart beat. We found out the gender and just like when we were matched before we even named our baby. This is what's hard about this open adoption process. You have to prepare your heart for both joy and heartache. That means you have to believe while you are matched that the little person developing and growing truly is yours.

God has taught us through these experiences that you have to live in the moment because the moment is all you have.

For a waiting adoptive family this means...

  • You buy baby boy clothes but leave the tags on them this time. That way you are preparing for your baby but you are also guarding your heart and saving finances for the next time you need to buy baby clothes.
  • This also means you go ahead and schedule announcement pictures  for the match and a  fresh 48 photo session for when he arrives. You understand though that they may have to be rescheduled.
  • This means you keep the car seat base in the car and continue to add to the nursery. You order a bringing home outfit with baby's name knowing that you may have to end up selling it.
  • This means you prepare for this little person while also preparing for the possibility of a loss. While we have never been pregnant, we have lost two babies. It's different than a miscarriage but it's also similar. We had plans, hopes and dreams for both of these babies and for our family. 

I don't know that I can adequately share the heartache we experienced in words. I do know that it was our community that held us together. In the months ahead we had opportunities for a match but turned them down. How we had envisioned our adoption journey was not our experience. God had to do some repair work on our hearts. It was in these months that we contacted Susan and began to work with Christian Adoption Consultants. She and the adoptive community that she leads were a God send for us. Susan provided a wealth of information, encouragement and was a sounding board that helped us through some of our darkest days. 

We got a call on December 12, 2016 with prospective match for a baby due January 7, 2016. We met for dinner and were officially matched. We attended two doctor appointments with the expectant parents, established some rapport, and were there for labor and delivery. 

Our daughter was born and placed in our family on January 11, 2017. It is a day that we will never forget.  We were already in love with her but once we laid eyes on her our love instantly grew. 

God had saved us to be her parents. 
She was the one we had been waiting for. 
The one we prayed for. 
The one we had dreamt of. 
The one that we had always hoped for.

Tuesday, February 7, 2017

Adoption Story: Reed and Suzanne

Sometimes the joy isn't just how the story ends. It can be found throughout the journey. What started out with grief God met with joy. What began as despair God met with hope. Reed and Suzanne's story to parenthood didn't go as planned, but some of the best stories don't. When we give our lives over for God to be the author, He can write some amazing stories. Reed and Suz found this to be true for their family...

We have the best ending to our story…the best! But it’s not only the sweet sweet ending that brings tears to my eyes, but the tender way God brought us through this journey to this unbelievable “ending.”

Our plan was always to have a biological child and then adopt. We had no idea the roller coaster of trying to have a biological child would be for us. Every month having hope, then losing hope, then starting again, while all around us it seemed like no one else was having a hard time getting pregnant. Then, after starting fertility treatments, it almost seemed like the hope was higher and therefore the loss was greater every month. It was isolating, it was painful…it was grief. That’s when God started changing me and changing my husband. We had to wrestle through the hard together and trust God’s ultimate plan for us to be bigger and better than we can think up for ourselves. I also started experiencing God as the comforter. I don’t know how many times I’d be driving home from the fertility clinic or laying in bed at night with my heart literally hurting, and, for the first time in my life, instead of feeling anger, doubt, and blame in my hurt, I felt the comfort of God’s arms around me and the assurance that this heartache was for a purpose. God grew my trust in Him and relationship with Him in ways that couldn’t have been done otherwise. 

In the midst of our fertility treatments, we both had the idea to start the adoption process. We knew we wanted to do it and we figured we would’ve started by then anyway. We felt like God was moving us in that direction. I heard of Christian Adoption Consultants and Susan through a friend and so I gave her a call to see if this was the path we wanted to take. We had such peace and excitement after talking with Susan and knew this was what we were supposed to be doing and when we were supposed to be doing it. It was amazing how drastically my heart changed towards our infertility. This was our purpose and we were on our journey to find our baby! Unlike the unknown of trying to have a biological child, we knew there was a baby at the end of this journey, regardless of how long it might take. Finally, I had hope again. 

Overall, our process was pretty fast in getting matched, but there were plenty of “no’s” in there that made it seem like an eternity. I quickly found out that there is still loss and grief in the matching process just like there was in our infertility. It was early November and we had just had two situations in a matter of two weeks that we were presented for. We were so hopeful for both and ultimately weren’t chosen to parent those babies. My emotions had been yanked in every direction in a very short amount of time and my heart hurt. I was feeling so hopeless. After finding out we weren’t chosen for the last situation, I prayed to God telling Him I was at the bottom and I needed hope. One hour later we were emailed a situation about a baby girl. I think we loved some part of every situation we were sent, but there was something different about this one. We immediately responded that we wanted to be presented. I felt a different kind of peace with this one. The next day, I read a Facebook post by a couple different friends who both were either matched or brought their baby’s home that day. That was the day our profile was being presented to the expectant mom. Perhaps clich├ęs, but I felt that was God encouraging and reassuring me. Something made me start praying differently that day too. It seemed like God wanted to me pray specifically for what I wanted. So I did. I told him I wanted this to be our baby. Yes, I still wanted the baby He had in mind for our family and the perfect timing, but I asked that THIS would be that baby and THIS would be that time. It took two weeks of long, hard waiting. Then, on World Adoption Day, we got the call that expectant mom had chosen us to be baby girls' parents! I had such confidence in God’s presence in this, and yet still was blown away that it was actually happening. We found out just in time to let our families know for Thanksgiving. Finally, we could celebrate having a baby with our families. 

The day after Thanksgiving, we got a call we’ll never forget. The expectant mom had taken off and they hadn’t been able to get ahold of her. They told us she had most likely changed her mind. There it was again…loss and grief. The agency asked if we wanted to start being presented for different situations. For whatever reason, it didn’t seem right to give up just yet. We said we wanted to wait through early the next week and see if she didn’t come back. I was confused. I asked God specifically that this was our baby and He answered clearly that it was. Didn’t He? That was a long five days to wait, but the next Tuesday we got another call saying the expectant mom was back in contact, was so sorry for any stress she might have caused, and still wanted us to parent if we still would be willing to! That experience really opened the communication, and, oddly, trust between us and the expectant mom. We were able to talk more about what made her leave and why this was so difficult for her and then were able to support her and pray for her better because of that. We loved her more and appreciated more how hard this has to be for her. Again, God used hard to bring good. 

A few weeks later we were headed to meet the expectant mom and then be there for the delivery of baby girl. We met her for dinner the day before induction. There was an instant connection and we had a great dinner getting to know each other. God definitely works in the details. In conversation, we found out she lives just 45 minutes from my family in Ohio. My high school played her high school in sports! What are the chances? There were plenty of other “coincidences” that made everyone involved more confident this was God’s doing.

The next day we waited to hear it was time to head to the hospital. What a feeling when we heard, “You need to leave now…baby is coming!”  We got to the hospital just in time to see baby girl be born. What a slew of emotions. (My husband had maybe too many emotions combined with sights and sounds and almost passed out. The Nurses got a good laugh out of that). I think the term sweetly broken describes it best. I loved that baby girl as soon as I saw her. She was a gift I never could have imagined. But I was broken as I looked over at her birth mom having just given birth to this baby she carried and loved for nine months and couldn’t even hold her because it would be too hard. While she didn’t want to hold baby girl herself, she did want to see me hold her and bond with her. It was such a sweet moment with my husband and I holding baby girl and introducing her to her birth mom. She asked her name and I remember I could hardly get it out. How special to finally be able to not just have her in my arms, but give her a name. Not only that, but we used birth mom’s name as her middle name, which was so important to us. We told birth mom that baby girl will always know her first momma and how much she loved her. One of the sweetest moments was the next morning when birth mom came to the nursery for all of us to do pictures and say our goodbyes. Before she left we all held hands and prayed over our baby girl. What a blessing for sweet baby to be prayed over by both her moms and her dad before she’s even a day old. She is undoubtedly LOVED. Her birth mom was so brave. She kept congratulating us on our daughter. I was a mess and she kept telling me not to cry. Needless to say, not how I imagined it going!

While we were anxious to get home, our time spent waiting out ICPC was sweet. We stayed in an Airbnb with the nicest family upstairs who took such good care of us and spoiled us. Another way God worked in the details to care for us. I had a chance one day to go for a run around a lake near where we were staying. I kept having to stop and get control of myself. The outcome of our baby girl is more that we could have ever asked or imagined. But when I thought about all that led up to this...the infertility, waiting, no’s, unknowns…and I remembered God’s sweet sweet presence during that time and how He changed us and taught us, I was overwhelmed. 

Early on I had to wrestle with if I truly believed God is good. Yes, I did and do believe that. Then I had to wrestle with if I believed He was good to ME. Again, yes, I felt and saw His goodness to ME. Now I wonder WHY He is so good to me? We're blown away by God's goodness...and not just because of this outcome. We saw His goodness throughout the last few years in the hard and the hurt, and THAT makes us dance in His goodness of this greater than we could ever hope for outcome. 

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