Tuesday, September 5, 2017

Beautiful Scars

My seven year old son Levi is adorable.  Dark brown eyes set below sandy hair with a cowlick off to the side.  "Mommy, why did you lick me when I was a baby?" he has asked more than once, truly thinking I am to blame for the hair not lying down.  He's got light skin with olive under tones and tans easily.  Long lashes, button nose, rounded ears, and a red smile that frames white teeth transitioning from baby to man.

However, none of these things are root of compliments and comments on his sweet appearance.  No, it's ALWAYS about this...see if you can spot it...

His dimple.

Just one one side, unnoticeble unless he's smiling, in which case it takes the spotlight.  Someone recently caught a photo of Levi in mid laugh, and that sweet little dimple is just the star of the show.

It's ironic that this is one of his sweetest features.  He did not have it at birth; it wasn't supposed to be there.  His dimple is a scar.  A scar that formed after a semi-traumatic injury to a then three year old who needed four stitches to mend it.

An amazingly well placed facial laceration.

Just in case you don't believe me...

I have to be honest, I struggled with whether or not to share this picture of Levi, because it's so raw.  I remember the sad emotions and feelings of helplessness and failure.  Watching your children suffer is every parent's kryptonite.  Looking at this picture brings tears to my eyes.

Four years later, this scar is still with him.  And I kind of love it.  A silver lining of the best kinds.  How can it be that his injury made his already adorable self that much cuter.   In a way, physically speaking, a scar actually made him better - added something special to his already great self.

This time last year I went on a cruise. I can't stop reminiscing about how gloriously relaxing and healing that trip was for me.  It was that trip where I realized grief had stopped constantly hurting me and was healing nicely - leaving behind just a scar.  I toured beautiful mountains and seascapes in Maine and Canada, finding great delight in the fact that the cruise sailed North, and that's just where my mental state was finally headed.  It was truly a turning point.

Just like looking at that above picture of Levi - seeing pictures of dark times in my life triggers the sad feelings.  When I see pictures of the beach trip we took after an emotional hurricane and happened to meet face to face with a real hurricane, my heart tugs - those memories are still there. But the memories don't cause me more pain - they just are.  They are part of my scars.

My therapist has often asked if grief, loss, and our adoption journey has changed me.  Yes, resounding yes.  Strangely enough, I grateful for those changes, despite the method at which they were delivered.

I feel stronger.  Stronger emotionally, stronger spiritually.  I am more confident, less easily deceived.  I am more empathetic, more grateful.

Seems like my scars actually made me better - helped me to grow, learn, change.

This picture shows the scars - Levi's dimple, me holding baby J, and on my face I see everything that has changed in me.

Photo cred: Sally Belle Photography, filter added later to keep things vague for Baby J

Isn't this kind of the fascinating tension God has established for us?  He creates something wonderful, but gives us the ability to change it (cultivate it), though sometimes at the cost of destruction.   For example - God created plants like wheat and grapes, which are so pretty on their own, but broken, crushed, and completely destroyed, can yield something else beautiful - bread and wine.

For example - His own Son,  Jesus, created in and lived out perfection, but broken, crushed, and completely destroyed, yielded something else beautiful - redemption for His people.

Seems like His scars made it all better.

Tuesday, August 29, 2017

Ticker Tape Parade

A cool air has settled over Lancaster County this week.  The kind of weather that begs you to do yard work on a Saturday and end the day with a fire, bundled up in blankets.  So, that's what we did.

"You know Levi, when you sit around the campfire, you have to have deep conversations," I teased our now-seven-year-old son.  The three of us (Herb, Levi, and I) ate hot dogs and cookie dough, and the feelings of joy, contentment, and love were as thick as the smoke from the fire.

Here we sat, in our new back yard, discussing Herb's new position at work and the upcoming school year in a community that we love, listening to the hum of the white noise on the baby monitor, telling us our new baby was sleeping soundly.

Somehow we ended up down a rabbit trail, trying to remember if the year Herb was hospitalized for a week with an unknown fever, shortly followed by a terrible run in with shingles, was before or after his friend tragically died, and whether or not we had been introduced to any "potential birth moms" yet.  Was that the same year he started seminary or was it the year of the disastrous and life-changing extended family situation?  We didn't even mention when we were financially strapped and underwater on a house we couldn't afford in a location an hour away from work and church, that led to two moves and less than ideal housing situations.

We reveled at the gravity of each of the situations, now in our rear view mirror.  Chuckling because of the non-chalant way which we talked about each of these moments.  Each individually frustrating or devestating, and together compiled for over half a decade of struggle.

"It was a really hard few years, wasn't it" I asked.  "Being Levi's mom has been the best time of my life, but outside of parenthood, there have been so many challenges."

And then, like a ton of bricks, the irony of it all hit me, causing me to gasp.  From 2010 to 2016 it was one thing after another - 6 years of trials.

"You know, Herb, the last year has been pretty great."  I know I've written about that before, but it all dawned on me in a new way.  The seventh year of Levi's little life was a milestone year for our family - growth, renewal, freedom, forgiveness, restoration - in nearly every way possible.

"It's almost like this was our Year of Jubilee!"

Herb, always the cynic, laughed, but said, "I wouldn't read too much in to it - I don't think it's prophetic."

Prophetic? No.  Ironic? Sure.

However, it gave me pause.  In an instant, my brain and heart finally caught up to reality.

There was battle after battle after battle.  Some battles were victorious and some left carnage that I hope to never experience again.  And the final battle - the one that asked the very vulnerable and hopeful adoptive/foster momma to sit in a NICU, advocating for and loving unconditionally a little guy who may or may not become her forever-baby - took every ounce of strength I had gained from all that had not killed me before.  That final mental battle was so so so incredibly difficult, that when it came to an end a month ago, and we knew that Baby J was staying with us forever, I still couldn't let go of my brokenness.  I still walked around like this wounded and weary survivor.

Sound the trumpets, shred the paper, let the nurses kiss the sailors in the street, it's time for the Ticker Tape Parade.  I am so ready to celebrate.  We survived, but more importantly, in the times when we didn't thrive, we never walked alone.  Every mile mattered, and nothing was for waste.

I hesitated to share this little joke about our "Year of Jubilee," because it's not a promise that if you trust God all your wildest dreams will come true...that's only if you vote for Pedro. But I want to stand beside people in their battles, Rosie the Riveter style.  Let's role up our sleeves and do the hard work of trusting God, even when hope seems lost.  Let's ask each other for help and encouragement.  Let's embrace the beauty that comes when we realize joy and grief can coexist.

Here's the number one thing struggles have taught me - when it all falls apart, I can still have peace and joy.  Why?  Because my ultimate joy is not in this world - as this song says, "What a relief it is to know that in Christ, my joy is complete."   The hard times have pressed me in to that truth and made me that much more grateful for anything good that was happening in life, and hopefully, that much more empathetic to those who hurt.

Finally, please send tissues, because now that I'm mentally here, my eyes won't stop celebrating.

Sunday, August 27, 2017

Two Reasons

The sharpied sign pointed around the corner and around the ramp.  The back entrance to the church gymnasium was propped open with a crib mattress.  The room was lined with rows of tables, littered with baby gear, and streaming with mommas.  I walked behind a very pregnant lady, and fought the urge to justify my presence.

(This is a thing I fought mentally all the time - no... I wasn't pregnant, but yes...I was really expecting,  yes...I should still prepare.  No one challenges me on these things, it's just the internal dialogue for many people who build their family through adoption.)

I zoomed past the tables that were exploding with pink and purple and gravitated towards the one with a little bit of blue, but mostly whites and greens.    I inspected some baby gear as I considered the cash in my wallet.

The year was 2016, and we had just been matched for the second time, with an expecant mom who was planning to make an adoption plan.  In the year prior, when we were waiting for Addison, our first match, I hardly bought a thing that was specific for her.  One purple cloth diaper cover, one pink shag rug (from a yard sale), four watercolor print storage bins, and a pink bottle.  Everything else that was in preparation for her was gender neutral...or not purchased.

Like a car seat.

Levi's infant seat had expired and for whatever reason, I just COULD NOT bring myself to purchase a new one for Addison.  I KNEW we were going to need it, but I just couldn't cross that bridge.  And in hindsight, what a blessing that we didn't.  If you know our story, you know why - because it would have been a pink car seat in my car waiting for a little girl who was not coming home in it.  A little girl who did not even exist.

So there I was, at the baby sale, willing myself to make a purchase.  Tears stung my eyes and a lump swelled in my throat.

"Oh please God," I thought, "not a melt down here.  Not now.  I am happy to be here.  I am grateful to being in baby prep mode.  I am relieved that You are in the business of fulfilling hopes and redeeming loss."

Spending money on a baby that's not in my belly was admitting my vulnerability. Buying the bassinet would be showing that I was expecting a baby again, and would make my heart break that much worse if it did not come to pass, again.

I left the sale nearly empty handed. save for 3 clothing items.  At the time,  I felt sorry.  Sorry for the reservation I held when it came to falling in love.  Sorry that the minute that I knew of his beating heart, I couldn't give him all of mine.  After all, my heart was still a little broken, and in the process of repair.   I was sorry that he wasn't be celebrated like he deserved.

But the tears fell that fall day because of him - were they happy tears or sad tears, or a little bit of both?

This snapshot is etched in my memory.  A mental photo of a time I clearly remember deciding my only option was to lean on the One who would author our story - and pray that His will was for our lives to not only intertwine.

And yet, it wasn't meant to be.  The little guy that would have been name Micah was born and we discovered his arrival on Facebook, seeing his first picture in a bathroom at a pizza shop while my friends waited outside to pick up the pieces.  His mom forewent her adoption plans, but very soon afterwards, he was placed in foster care.

Ironically, she had gifted me carseat just weeks before her delivery, which I kept, and use currently with our rainbow baby.

I share this story for two reasons.

I have spent the last year trying to find other people who experienced loss, whether adoption disruptions or miscarriage or marriage struggles, and tried to understand how long I would hurt, longing to know that I was normal for grieving so hard.  

Our story has a happy ending now, grief is behind me, and it's time to start talking and filling the silence that I have left in the wake of the hard moments.  I want to keep record of the broken road and be able to share this journey with Baby J someday.  Because guess what, I didn't get to celebrate him either, because he came so suddenly.  But you can be sure, we are spending the rest of our lives making up for lost time.

Sunday, July 16, 2017

Post Tenebras Lux

Three months ago I had one of those perfectly joyful moments.  Easter had just passed, which we enjoyed hosting in our brand new house.  Herb was settling in to the demands of a  new position at work while finishing up some difficult but enjoyable schoolwork.  Levi was in a happy routine at school, and was still on a high from being in Disney a month prior. 

I was driving home from worship team on this night, April 19, listening to my favorite song by my favorite band, and the thought crossed my mind, “I’m going to be all right.”  

You probably know bits and pieces of the long and tumultuous journey through adoption we’ve experienced.  There have been numerous uphill battles, and moments of such extreme heartbreak that I stood with the shattered pieces in my hands, bewildered.  

36 weeks prior to that April 19th moment, a spark flew in my heart.  “What if I surrender my desire for a baby?”  And in that moment, ironically again in my car, on a hot August day, I prayed, “God, I give this to you.  I want another baby so badly, and I know that you will either fulfill that desire, remove that desire, or change me through the process of having that desire unfulfilled.”  

After that prayer, the very clear next step was for Herb and I to become certified to be foster parents.  Of course, this process turned out to be much more arduous than we expected - but that’s kind of been par for this course.

So, back to April 19, in my car, joyfully reflecting on God’s faithfulness, and looking forward to our home study the following day, which would have us OFFICIALLY on the waiting list for foster care, ready to go at anytime.  Bunk beds assembled,  new tooth brushes and toiletries purchased.

Knowing how God works all things together for His glory and for the good of those who love Him, it should be of no surprise to me that that very night, April 19, a little tiny baby was born at 36 weeks gestation, suffering from some scary  (though temporary) conditions, fighting for life in the NICU.

The next day, 15 minutes prior to our foster care home study, we were notified of and asked to be the foster parents of this precious child.  The caveat was that of the Unknown - the baby may shortly be returning to birth parents, or  they may be making an adoption plan, in which case we would become the adoptive parents.

Within 24 hours, the baby was in my arms and, more importantly, in my heart.   

But really, it feels like he's always been there.  

The moment I saw his face I had an overwhelming sense of “Oh, there you are.  I’ve been looking for you.” 

{Unfortunately, I can’t show you a picture of this perfect little face just yet.}

This child, our first foster care placement became a "adoptive placement" 31 days ago.  In Pennsylvania, 30 days is the time period that a birth family has to revoke their decision, though the adoption won't be official for another 6-9 months. 

He arrived after a time of great pain in our lives,  a heartbreaking time in the life of his first family, and was born in a stressful scary medical situation, but has been nothing but a beacon of light to all he has touched.  

There’s a latin phrase for this - post tenebras, lux - after darkness, light.

Our hope is fulfilled.  As Levi, the-most-happy-big-brother-EVER, says, “I just can’t believe all my prayers are being answered.”

So, I would like to officially announce our most glorious news - we’re adopting, it’s a boy, he’s already here, and when his adoption is final, I will post a million and one pictures of this sweet baby.

Say hello to Baby J.

Tuesday, June 13, 2017

Break the Madness; Find the Shore

I'm not what I seem, only in this moment
Only in this moment, I'm holding on
Pray I find my peace, pray I slay the dragon
Pray I break this madness, and find the shore
{Gone - Kings Kaleidoscope}

Yesterday was my birthday.  It was a landmark day - time to pause and look around and take in the views.  Time to take stock of what life looks like now, at 33.

Levi and I at my birthday dinner

I kept thinking about my last birthday.  We had just experienced not one, but two sudden and shocking losses through adoption.  On the evening of my birthday, Levi took a picture of me and Herb mini golfing and I remember thinking I actually looked happy in that picture... much different than the deep pit of depression I was trying to claw myself out of.

My early thirties held some wonderful moments, but they also held my darkest times and deepest griefs.

I had all this brokenness and loss in my life over the past several years - and not just the adoption stuff - and while I knew I was moving on and healing, often I just visualized myself at the foot of God, hands full of shattered pieces of hopes and pain, asking Him,

"What do you want me to do with this?  It's too much to carry."  

My only viable option?  To continue to move forward, giving God the brokenness.  Trusting Him to work all things together for His glory and my good, even when the forecast looked bleak or the requirements seemed challenging.

As the months passed, changes started happening.  Slowly and steadily, one after another, hard situations and scenarios were restored and redeemed.  

Strangely enough, I have felt so battle weary and been overwhelmed at the casualties along the way that I have not been ready for the ticker-tape victory parade.  That day will come, I know, but for now, I want to take time to appreciate what has happened in my 33rd year.

- I decided to lay aside my desire for a baby and pursue foster care, saying, "God will either fulfill this desire, take it away, or sanctify me through the process of unfulfillment." We bought bunk beds.

- I had the chance to step back in the classroom, if only temporarily, and be reminded how much I love teaching.  I needed to know this.

- Forgiveness and restored acquaintanceship.

- The amazing opportunity to take some "me" time and cruise with my sister and her boyfriend to New England and Canada.

- We casually looked at homes, and surprisingly, pulled the trigger.  And then moved.  We left behind a special community that I thought we would be in forever, but started a new adventure 12 miles away in a new part of the county, and felt like we got a complete fresh start.

- We said "yes" to our first foster care placement.


Looking back at the past year, I don't know why I got to be so blessed; this is much more than I deserve.  In fact, this list is almost embarrassing to post, because I don't want anyone to think I am bragging.  If I boast, it is to the glory of God, who has journeyed with me, who has carried me, who has brought me from the desert into the time of harvest.

I'm reminded of the last verse of Desert Song, "I know I'm filled to be emptied again; this seed I've received I will sow."

Thank you for all the birthday wishes yesterday, but also the well wishes and prayers and check-ins during this journey.

To refer back to the original song I quoted, they end with some powerful words from the Psalms (which I know I've referred to before...but I'm doing it again)

therefore my heart is glad, 
and my whole being rejoices...
in You, there is fulness of JOY

Saturday, April 29, 2017

Open Hands

About a month ago I experienced brokenness and conviction over my eating habits unlike anything I've felt before.  My thought process was completely unhealthy and alarming, and the the food I was consuming was pure junk.  When I consider the gravity of my mistakes and the work that it will take to correct what I've done, I am overwhelmed.

But, for the last 35 days, I wake up thinking, "Can I make healthy choices today?  Yes."  One day at a time has built upon each other, and has brought me here, a month later, without so much as a cheat.  I pray that this is the beginning of a new journey, but can't wrap my mind around more than the next 24 hours.

This constant "one day at a time," mentality is benefitting me in more way than one...Last week, we committed to our first foster care situation.

This is big.  This is really big.

And when I consider the gravity of what it means to put my heart on the line I can only handle one day at a time.

I am praying for God's perfect will to unfold for this precious child.  I am praying for God's perfect will for our family.  I am praying for God to restore and redeem this hard situation for the child's birth family.

I am losing sleep over the potential of more disappointment for Levi.  Gratefully, he and I started seeing a child therapist a few months ago, giving him the ability to name his feelings and justification to feel all of them.

I am surviving on knowing the Lord walks with us in this journey.  I am assured that our role to care for the fatherless, even if only for a brief period, is work which is commanded by God.

I am reminded that no love given is ever wasted.

My friend Kami to me this: "The whole foster care process is such a good reminder that we hold everything God gives us with open hands.  This child has to be that way - but the rest of our lives are really no different - we have just fooled ourselves into thinking we control it."