Wednesday, September 28, 2016

Therefore, My Heart Is Glad

One year ago today I sat in the den of my in-laws.

I had just returned from a tumultuous evening of walking around with our "expectant" birth-mom, trying to get labor started, and subsequently sleeping on her couch, just in case her water broke over night.  Her "contractions" were five minutes apart, the car seat was in my car ready to bring a baby home, and everything in our life was ready to embrace Addison Renee, our soon-to-be-daughter.

Of course now I can point to the red flags we saw along the way, but until then, I was in denial until it all came crashing down.  The preparations and the dreams died that morning when we realized we had been betrayed and fooled.  Addison Renee would not become our daughter through the miracle of adoption because Addison Renee did not exist.

So, there I was in the den.  Completely in survival mode, trying to figure out how to pack up my belongings (Levi and I had been staying in Western PA with my in-laws), avoiding Levi's questions, and just trying to remain positive. Burned in my memory is the moment that my mother-in-law walked through the door, stood in the door way and looked at me.  I couldn't believe she had come home from work for me - the gravity of loss had not yet set in. She stood there, for just a second, as if to ask a question she couldn't form, and I simply shook my head.

In an instant, she had crossed the room, wrapped her arms around me, and as my face buried itself in her hug, I let out the sobs of a mother who had just lost a child.

And now, here we are, a year later.  The weather is the same, I am not.

Last week, I had an incredible opportunity to visit my sister, Wendi, who worked on a cruise ship for the last year.  This trip so perfectly bookended my year of grief and loss.  I loved exploring cities of New England and Canada, and due to traveling alone and my sister's work schedule, lots of time by myself, my thoughts being my only companion.

Walking along the harbor in Saint John, New Brunswick, I realized this fitting analogy of the past year:

When we lost the dream and child of Addison,  we experienced a trauma.  In a physical trauma, you treat it immediately with triage or surgery or whatever is required.  In this case, our triage treatment was a trip to Myrtle Beach where we licked our wounds, fittingly enough, during an actual hurricane (read about that here).  God blessed me with the song "It Is Well," and I got a tattoo to commemorate the loss and the hope.

After you suffer a physical trauma and it is treated, you must follow up with doctors appointments and physical therapy.  For me, this was following the advice of Melody and Sarah and admitting that I was not "okay," and seeing a grief counselor.  This therapy was life giving.  It was sad and there were moments I didn't want to be real with the loss - shaming it away.  After all, Addison wasn't even "real," right?  But I had to grieve, and I had to grieve hard.  Of course, this helped the healing process (thoughts on grief here).

Then, as sometimes happens after a little bit of healing, my wound got infected.  This was the spot in the story where the baby who would have been Micah almost entered our lives.  His mama chose to parent him (as is completely her right to do).  This time, though painful and a road block in recovery, the wound was not as harsh, quickly treated, and therapy continued.

In the last months there has been evidence of actual healing, though I take things slow, as you would with a physical ailment.

My cruise marked the end of the year of grief, and represented what a one year check up would be.  Walking along the harbor in Saint John, it hit me - I have a scar, but it's not going to cause me any more pain.

Ironically, in contradiction to the hurricane we experienced in Myrtle Beach last year, this year when I cruised, the weather was completely perfect.  The temps were 65-75 degrees, and the sky was clear. We drove south to go to Myrtle Beach during "triage,"  I drove north to cruise.

Acadia National Park, Bar Harbor, Maine
Jess reminded me of the story of the Israelites who wandered in the wilderness after their delivery from slavery.  Deuteronomy 2 says, "You have been wandering around this hill country long enough; turn to the north."

Oh, you can bet I identified with that!

And then a few verses later, it continues, "...the Lord has blessed you in everything you have done.  He has watched your every step through this wilderness...the Lord your God has been with you."

In the last year, there were lots of moments where I felt like I was barely holding on, where I was walking in the wilderness, where the emotional pain was so strong it felt like a physical ailment.  Yet, laced in to the gut wrenching, heart breaking pain, there has been so much self reflection, so much growth, so much change in me.

But only by the grace of and to the glory of God - soli deo gloria.

My faith has been through the fire, and it has been refined.  In the face of deep pain, clinging to the Lord was my only consolation.

For now, I end with some verses from Psalm 16 -  I feel like I could have penned this myself.

Preserve me, oh God, for in You I take refuge. You are my Lord; I have no good apart from You. The Lord is my chosen portion and my cup; You hold my lot.  I have set the Lord always before me; because He is at my right hand, I shall not be shaken. Therefore, my heart is glad, and my whole being rejoices; my flesh also dwells secure.  You make known to me the path of life, in Your presence there is fullness of joy; at your righthand are pleasures forevermore. 

Psalm 16: 1, 2, 5, 8, 9, 11

Thursday, July 28, 2016

In Transition

Friends...If you have never spoke with a professional counselor, please make it a priority.  I can't speak highly enough of the solace and peace of mind and healing it has brought forth in the last six months.  Maybe you don't struggle with grief or anxiety or depression, but if you do...finding a good therapist is so unbelievably helpful.

My counselor has been challenging me with practicing intentionality and mindfulness.  What does this look like?  It means instead of thinking about the "next thing" I need to do, I appreciate the scene I am playing out at the time.  Here are some specific examples...

  1.  In the morning before jumping out of bed, I start the day with a great present moment awareness, setting the stage for calmness.  I soak in the sun shining through the windows, the warm body beside me, the gracious God who has allowed me to wake one more day.
  2. In the shower, rather than planning and rehearsing through my morning or my day, I take time to feel the water, smell the soap.  Treating myself to some great smelling lathery goodness is helpful.
  3. In driving - from walking to the car to driving between work/appointments/etc, I find opportunities to walk slower, drive more cautiously, use red lights as a moment to breathe deeply, listen to music or podcasts, have deep conversations with the five year old in the back seat who is wise beyond his years.

There are several other times through the day to practice this mindset - I remember my friend Melody purposefully trying to enjoy dinner preparation with an adult beverage and good music, instead of looking at it as a chore.

At counseling as we went over these mindfulness practices, I said, "It's hard for me to believe I should be enjoying each of those times in my day because I see them all as purely transitional."

I paused as I physically felt a light bulb go on so bright in my head that it almost exploded.

"Holy cow," I exclaimed, "that's how I've been viewing this whole waiting-for-baby season of life."

A huge grin spread across the counselor's face.  "Exactly," she confirmed.

What have I been missing in the last two years of this adoption journey?  CONTENTMENT.  INTENTIONALITY.

There have been so many precious gems of joy as a family of three.  Yes, we want so badly to grow our family.  "I just feel like I'm never going to be a big brother," Levi says with exacerbation.  And yet...these are days, weeks, months, years, we will never get back.  I don't want to miss the time that Levi was four, five, and six because I was so tangled up in my own bereavement.

Last summer I did really good at making it the "Summer of Levi," trying to appreciate all the things we could do because we only had one kid who was now far past the toddler years.  Grief and depression and longing for the "next thing," has robbed me of that joy for the past few months.

Not anymore.

Yes, our family is in transition, and it may be for a long time yet.  But from this moment on, I refuse to let that define my contentment.

Friday, June 24, 2016

Genie Jesus

A few weeks ago, I had the most amazing realization.  This came a year after meeting a woman who deceived us about her pregnancy for five months, a month after the baby we referred to as "Micah" entered the world as his mother decided to forego her adoption plan, and just a few days after learning that baby "Micah" has now been placed in foster care.  My heart has shattered in a million pieces in the last year - over "Addison," over "Micah," over Levi's heart break, and over the loss of control.

But then I remembered something pivitol - as fresh as if it was yesterday, even though it happened five years ago. Too ashamed to speak the words out loud,  after Levi was born, I questioned my faith.
My favorite thing to do back in late 2010 was to talk about God's faithfulness.  God had been so faithful to Herb and I by granting our desire to become parents in a whirlwind of spontaneous parenthood that ended with a Levi.  In fact, the moment of becoming a mom and having that hope fulfilled was so powerful in my life, I got a tattoo to remind myself daily of God's kindness to me.

Then when Levi was about six months old, I started to wonder... If our adoption story had not ended with us bringing home Levi, would I still be on my soap box yelling, "GOD IS SO FAITHFUL!!!!!!  YOU CAN TRUST HIM!!"

For months, this thought tormented me.  I was paralyzed in fear of what my answer to that question may have been.

And yet...God.

Here we are today.  Weary and beaten from the journey, yet still standing because of His ability to carry my when I couldn't journey on myself.

The last year has been arguably one of the most faith challenging, tear stained years of my life, and yet, I still believe "if not, He is still good." The hows and whys of the details of the suffering of His children still float around unanswered.  I will probably never know those answers, but for now, I am okay with that. I have realized that God's faithfulness does not hinge on His ability to grant my wishes.  He is not a blue genie.  Praise Jesus.

This, my friends, is the peace that passes understanding that guards your heart and mind in Christ Jesus. (Philippians 4:7)

Soli Deo Gloria.


Saturday, June 18, 2016

Welcome Back, Hope.

...the picture frames are facing down and the ringing from this empty sound is deafening and keeping you from sleep.  Breathing is a foreign task and thinkings just too much to ask.  You're measure your minutes by a clock that's blinking eights. - Dashboard Confessional
I am ready.

Ready to talk.  Ready to come out from hiding.  Ready to address the silence.

The last month and a half has had some of my darkest moments.  Scratch that, it's been a dreadfully heart breaking year.  There have been wonderful moments and snapshots in time where joy fills my heart and laughter fills my lungs, but there were weeks when silence and depression won.

There was a lifetime movie moment that involved me crying the hard floor of my cement basement.  There was a week where I went to the gym every single day because I literally couldn't think of anything that sounded enjoyable, so I might as well do that.  There was a solid two months where my every waking thought was consumed with the idea of going back to bed.  Consumed, I exaggerate not.

And then, hope.

Out of nowhere she knocked on my door and let herself in.

"Remember me?" she asked, an old friend with whom I had parted ways months ago.  I thought our differences were irreconcilable.  But she persisted, she pursued me.  She renewed my sense of wonder and reminded my of my desires - not by acts but just by being.

It happened at the weirdest of times.  I was updating our homestudy paperwork.  A tumultuous task the first time, and by this, the third time I have done it in as many years, it should have been depressing.  But it was not, rather, it was hope filling.  We are still in this.

I am not gonna waste my shot.

So, here I write, motivated again.  The joys I had lost are beginning to return.  My finger tips tap on the keyboard the hope is flamed.  She is rooting for me, for us, for our family.

If the adoption disruption in the fall made me realize how muchI really do want another baby, the disruption this spring made me realized that someone is really missing from our family.  He or She or They are out there, somewhere, and we will get to them somehow.  I'm trusting God and I'm on my knees.

I am filled with hope while I am waiting for my hopes to again be fulfilled.  

It feels good to be back.

Back to the start, it's a new inning
It feels like the end, but it's the beginning

So I'll rejoice in the peace and suffering that put me at Your feet
You can have my doubts and fears, I know You've bottled every tear

Friday, April 22, 2016

Let Your Gentleness Be Evident To All

Grief is a strange strange thing.

I can sit at a soccer game cheering for Levi, travel to Disney World and enjoy it all has to offer, make exciting plans to "move on" (whatever that looks like), deal with big grown-up things that are hard and have nothing to do with my grief.  I can function as normal, but the grief is always there, just below the surface.

I really hoped it would have fled by now.  Some days it's the loss of a baby and the loss of a dream of what could have been.  Some days it's the burn of betrayal mixed with the dream of justice, or even revenge.  Some days it's the sting of infertility that hurts as freshly as the first time I read a "not pregnant" on a stick.

And for all the pain, there is just as much hope.  

But I'm so weary of waiting and hoping and pressing forward.  Some days I want to scream - "GUYS I CAN'T DO THIS.  DID YOU FORGET WHAT HAPPENED TO ME?"

And then I remember that something happened to all of us.  Not with Addison - but life in general.  We all have those circumstances where we think, "Holy crap, I can't believe what I have endured, I can't believe this is my reality," and we want to wear the badge of grief like a sandwich board sign reading, "Be gentle with me.  I can't handle this today."  Maybe that would actually be helpful.

If nothing else, I hope this stage of sadness gives me empathy.  Teaches me to be more gentle with the unknown battles that others are fighting.

Photo credit: Via

There have been many times in the past year where I find myself reciting this (it's probably the only significant passage of scripture I can actually say without looking):

Rejoice in the Lord always, I will say it again, REJOICE.
Let your gentleness be evident to all - the Lord is near.
Do not be anxions about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition,
with thanksgiving, present your requests to God
And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding
will guard your heart and mind in Christ Jesus

Philippians 4:4-7

I know how much tenderness I need; I bet others need it too.

Thursday, February 18, 2016

Around the Corner

I've learned a lot about grief in the last 6 months.  It comes in cycles, and once you are past one stage, you are not free from ever revisiting that stage.  The stages aren't evenly timed, and can be triggered at unexpected intervals.  It's been painful, and yet, weirdly fascinating (maybe I should have pursued that psychology minor I toyed around with).

I have emerged confident, yet cautious; strong, yet vulnerable.  I like the person I have become, and though I grieve the life that would have been with Addison, am grateful for the refining her loss has brought in my life.

The best advice someone gave me, a month after the other shoe dropped, was to see a counselor.  I was strangely fixated on what bad thing God might ask me to endure next, and my sister in law said, "Do you think maybe you should talk to someone about that?"  It was such a simple question, but gave me pause to think, "Huh, maybe."

And then it was the friend who said, "I hear you keep saying things like, 'I thought I was okay, but then...' Have you considered that you might not be okay, and that's okay?"

I had to embrace the loss.  I had to speak her name.  I had to cry in front of people.

And then I had to share my story.

Looking back on the last month, I cannot even comprehend all the opportunities God has given me to speak boldly about grief, loss, suffering, and, of course, where God fits in to it all.  I have learned that JOY and GRATEFULNESS can co-exist with GRIEF and PAIN... and that beautiful tension keeps me pressing into my savior for comfort and hope and thanksgiving.

I find myself grappling with big philosophical things like TRUTH.  I have no time for niceties that come from well meaning people in The Church - in fact I think there's a lot of junk we've been accepting as Truth, and then when our hearts are broken, we are wrecked emotionally and spiritually because what was thought was God maybe actually wasn't, and our focus was on the wrong or misinterpreted promises.

The is only the beginning of a new chapter.  But I like how it's starting.  I trust Him more, and yet have a healthy amount of questioning for Him, and lots of room to be taught and to gain understanding.  I am not going anywhere, and neither is He.

And, as a point of healing, yesterday I held a brand new baby and ENJOYED it.  I snuggled her and smelled her head and changed her diaper and gave her a bunch of Addison's headbands, and didn't feel even a pang of grief or sadness.

Thank you for supporting me, friends.  This has been a year I will never forget, and I know you have held us up in prayer and love when we were at our weakest.  I love you for that.

Wednesday, December 23, 2015

The Christmas Card

I embraced the coming holidays with open arms - my tree was up before Thanksgiving, Advent activities were printed and even laminated, and I was at Target on Black Friday in the middle of the night.  I was Christmas ready.

But the thought of sending out Christmas cards overwhelmed me.  Too much money.  Who's on the list?  Takes time to actually write a little note on each card (which I actually like doing).  And then there's the issue of the family picture.

I hemmed and hawed about Christmas cards for a week or two, and finally realized the hesitation.  The giant elephant in the room.  This year, our Christmas card was supposed to look different.  This year our Christmas card would have featured big brother holding baby sister under the tree, introducing the world to sweet Addison Renee.

And now, it's not.  Because, she's not.

Soon after this revelation of hesitation, I met with my new counselor for the first time.  "If you are not treated the loss of Addison like an actual death, you are doing yourself a disservice."

For months, I have been shaming myself out of grief.  "How can I grieve a baby who wasn't even REAL?!" I thought.  "She was real to you and to all of us, " several of my friends reassured me.

And so, as another season of the year began, filled with joyous songs and twinkling lights, another stage of grief began.  Instead of denial, I felt sadness.  I cried more in the first weeks of December than I did in October and November combined.  I forced myself to actually speak her name, and refer to the "loss of Addison."  She may not have been flesh and blood, just a lie conjured by a hurting and sick woman, but she was also a dream and a fulfillment of hope, and the missing part of our family.  And she deserves to be grieved.

I've questioned God - not his existence, but rather his intention.  By his grace,  I've landed back where I started - grateful for his comfort, trusting in his presence, seeking him for the future. 

I've found sweet solace in the music of King's Kaleidoscope.  Seriously good - grief mixed with hope mixed with solid theology mixed with a 10 piece band mixed with Seattle musicianship.

And I've given myself permission to skip the Christmas card this year.   Praying that the new year is filled with hope, trust, faith, love...and a baby.

Maybe someday we’ll meet under the stars
Healed and home free, complete, that’s where we’ll start

Zion, I’m coming soon to where you are
‘Till then my love’s with you, though world’s apart

This will take much longer than I’ve planned
But I will wait to see you, and hold your hands

Waiting each day, God will comfort my soul
You are home now, healthy, safe in His fold

Beyond this storm’s a brilliant sky of stars
I’ll follow you

Thursday, November 12, 2015

Have You Considered...

"How are you really doing? How has this whole baby ordeal affected your walk with God?"  she asked without hesitation.  I knew the question was coming, and I knew because of our long history of friendship, support, accountability, and you-know-my-crap-and-love-me-anyway-ness, I had to actually answer.  Not with Christianese, not with pleasant "doing ok," platitudes, but nitty gritty get to the heart of the issue thoughts.

I side stepped a little, and then the real truth leaked out. I took a deep breath and spilled.

A few weeks ago, I realized that in every trial I face, walking away from faith doesn't cross my mind.  Each struggle, each heartbreak presses me to the feet of God.  "Help me understand," "Teach me to love like you do," "Give me peace."  There is beauty in that blessed assurance...I'm not going anywhere, and, more importantly, neither is God.

But I've found myself sincerely struggling with the idea of what else might God allow to happen to me in order to "test" my commitment.  For example, I'm "okay," with what we've endured (although I wouldn't want to live it again), but find myself getting super anxious about what else  might happen.  What's scarier, is I know there is pride and distrust at the root of this issue.  Distrust is a form of disobedience, and I'm grateful that all of this craziness is coming to the surface so it can be dealt with.

In fact, yesterday, I came to the conclusion that the six scariest words in the Bible "Have you considered my servant, Job." This feeling of God somehow choosing Job's suffering.  God knew that Job would persevere and still choose faith in the end, and the most horrendous things to happened to Job.

And so, there on the phone through my tears, I started listing some terrible things that could happen to me.  I ended with "Why would God NOT do that stuff to me?"

Then, as one does when faced with a conversation that's just a little too real, I quickly changed the subject to my new babysitting job, and how perfect it is for Levi and I, and how I kind of prayed for this exact scenario, but didn't really think much about it, and then it literally fell in to my lap.

"Michelle, I am going to tell you some things you already know," she inserted into the conversation when I stopped to breathe.  "God is a good father.  He loves you, and He does not delight in your pain." She was right.  Even in the juxtaposition of presenting the facts of feeling like a spider in God's fingers just dangling over the fire next to the answer to a prayer I barely breathed out, there was evidence of God's goodness, His faithfulness, His love for me.

Of course I chewed on this all day.  I texted Herb about my cry fest, and felt at peace.  But later was feeling down again, and couldn't shake my "Job Complex."  I'm so freaking dramatic.  

"No more Adele on Pandora," I texted my brother.  "Every song is making me cry today," I wrote, thinking about all the crappy things that have happened in the last few years.  The lowlight real was playing strong in my mind and like a broken record was stuck on some continuous loops.  When he pressed me a little bit about my sadness, I tried to explain the "Job Complex."

Almost instantly, he wrote back, "I'm not convinced that we are all Job.  Does God let us suffer, or is that just life?" 

With one text, he diffused the bomb I had been wiring all afternoon.  Suddenly head knowledge started flowing in, replacing irrational emotions, reminding me in the dark what God had previously taught me in the light.

I heard a pastor say recently, "God is such a genius at taking evil and turning it into good that will be tempted to look at the good that comes from evil and think that He willed the evil to get the good."

But He didn't.  He can't.  There is no evil in Him.  Life is hard and suffering is real, and it sucks and we want to avoid it.  And we don't know why God intervenes sometimes, and not other times, and that's ok to not know the answer to that.  The struggle is real, and it's going to happen whether I am a Christ follower or not. In that same sermon (seriously, check out Mike Erre preaching about "When God Doesn't Answer" if you have time), he read Romans 8:28 and surmised these three things:

1. God is always good
2. Evil is evil (not pretend good)
3. God's relentless commitment to bringing good from evil

I love this verse in Romans, where Paul writes about the faith of Abraham, "Against all hope, in hope Abraham believed." (Romans 4:18)

This morning, that brings so much peace to my heart. Trusting God to do and be what He promised, even in the face of a broken heart and a weary soul. Sometime in the last month, I kind of forgot that.  He has allowed free will, which has made way for sin, and, as a result, pain in this life will happen. But HE is incapable of evil.   He is a GOOD father.

Against all hope, in Hope I will believe.  I will rest my burden on Hope.  Hope looks a lot like Jesus.  

Thursday, November 5, 2015

Looking Through the Macro Lens

Sometimes we need reminded to look big picture.  You know, "In the Grand Scheme Of Things, this is not that big of a deal."

And sometimes even the Big Picture isn't reassuring.

It is in those times, that we have to look through the macro lens.  In macro photography, small things are enlarged to show beautiful, colorful detail that might otherwise be missed.

For example, these red mums.  The contrast of their scarlet color against the concrete with a little bit of moss patina.  The curve of the stem with the budding dark green leaves.  The delicacy of of the remains of a thin white spider web, trailing off the pedals, flowing in the wind.

But if you were here at my house, walking up to my front door, you would probably miss this beauty. You see, these mums are the remains of something I planted last year that failed to thrive in my flower bed this year.

You would notice the yellowed hosta, the pathetic lone daisy, the cracked concrete porch, and maybe your eye would catch the dying mum.    


As my husband says, sometimes a close up looks better than real life.

Isn't that like life sometimes?  We look around and notice all the things that are not going the way they should be going.  All the angst that weighs us down.  All the hard work and toiling that seemingly never ends.  All the hopes that remain unfilled.

But if we stop and really look through the macro lens, what might we notice?

The smoothness of Levi's cheeks when he nuzzles my face.

The strength in the squeeze of Herb's arm around my waist.

The gratefulness I feel when I consider the faith my parents instilled in me at a young age that carries me through difficult times.

Beautiful colorful details are all around us.   Oh, that I may stoop down and look a little closer.

Monday, October 12, 2015

Likes Comments and Shares

I know you're not supposed to measure your self worth and popularity using the yard stick of social media, but on this special day, I can't help it.

Five years ago today, I wrote about the homecoming of our "tree of life," the day Levi came in to our lives.  It was after weeks of sorrow, somewhat similar to what I'm feeling now, although the situation was completely different.  It was a total surprise, and honestly felt as close to a "stork drop" as realistically possible.

Facebook reminded me, that on this day, five years ago 120 people wished us congratulations.  ONE HUNDRED AND TWENTY.  Those same people were praying for and wishing for a baby for us, joining in our sorrows and our joys.

And those same people, plus about fifty more, have sent condolences, wished us well, and have surrounded us in prayer following the heart break of not bringing home a baby girl last week.

The numbers astound me.  I'm just an ordinary person, how am I so blessed to have so many people who care?

What's the point?  Who cares about social media?  I do.  I have felt so loved, so supported, so prayed for in the last five years on our journey to parenthood, and now on the continuation of the family building journey.   Maybe you don't always understand how adoption works or why it works, but you care, love, and mean well, and hope for the best.

Thank you, you guys.  Whether you are in our close proximity of people we see on a regular basis or part of the crew who's path crossed ours for only a season of life - thank you.  You are our village and I can't wait to show all these comments and well wishes and joy filled messages to Levi when he's older...and hopefully his younger sibling too.