Wednesday, July 11, 2018

Roots and Wings

You are going to your first college camp. You are so excited you are jumping out of your skin and I am so excited for you. It’s been a major topic of conversation for months. It’s a couple of miles from our house, at the university where I work. Your dorm is literally across the parking lot from my office—but this is big. You will have roommates. And stay up late. And meet boys. And take classes in real college classrooms. This is a big deal.

You ask me twenty times if I’m ready to go. You ask questions about everything—the registration desk and the fast food joints and why the dorms have six girls. You want to know everything…until we sit through an interminable orientation and you spend the entire time texting your friends.

I ask if you want me to drop you off or go with you to check in. You look panicked. Definitely come with me, mom. We check in and get directions to pick up your dorm keys. Again I ask if you are ready to for me to go. No, come with me to my dorm. So I do. At the dorm there are five other girls with the same nervous-excited look on their faces. Five other parents give their kids hugs and say goodbye. No, stay, you say. Come with me to orientation. You hold my hand as we walk and for a few minutes you are five again and I’m your mom and you are my girl.

By the end of orientation your head is swiveling around, trying to see all the people. We head for a get-to-know-you ice cream social. I am tired. I have to be up in 8 hours and I still have to go home and do laundry and take a shower and pack a lunch. No, you say. Stay for ice cream while I find my new roommates. Suddenly I see that you’ve got this. Totally, completely, got this. I’m your training wheels and you are so ready for them to come off. No, I say. It’s late and I’m tired and you’ve got this. You hesitate. Then you nod. Yes, you say, I’ve got this. You bounce away, grinning, with the unconscious grace and artless elegance that are so you.

I go back to the car and cry.

I’m not sad.  This is what I want. This is what I love. You--confident, happy, bright and shining and marvelous and good. I’m crying because I’m tired and it’s been a long week and I’m so lucky to be your mom and this whole thing of dropping you off at dorm rooms and watching you flit away in highs-top sneakers is everything I want even if I also want to pull you back on my lap and sing one more lullaby and play one more game and just have a little bit more time to soak in the wonder of mothering you. The moment you were placed in my arms at two days old was the beginning of watching you leave.

Today as I’m exiting work my phone rings. Where are you, you say. Leaving work, I say. Wait! I’m almost to your office. Why? Oh, nothing. We are just having dinner by your office and we are early and I wanted to see you. I’m already in the car, I say. I’m already driving home, I say.

Can’t you just turn around?

I consider. I came into work early so I could leave early. A long to-do list took over and instead of leaving an hour early I got out ten minutes early. Ten minutes is still early enough to beat the traffic and cut my drive home in half. I have perishable food in the car. I told the sitter I’d be home early. I planned to cook a real dinner for my kids after a week of fast food.

Fine. But only for a minute. I’ll just give you a hug and then I need to get home.

You are watching for me. Your long legs lope over to my car when you see me coming. I roll down the passenger window and you start a rapid-fire monologue about the boys you met and the pizza party you are planning with your roommates and the people who asked you if you are my daughter and the all-you-can-eat buffet for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. I smile and nod.

A boy calls for you to hurry up. You shrug and say you have to go. I tell you to be good and be safe. You roll your eyes—maybe only a little bit.

You bounce away and in the bright sun it looks like you are taking flight.

This time I don’t cry.

Wednesday, April 20, 2016

Birthday Season

It's birthday season at our house. Everyone but Mommy and Annie have birthdays in the spring, so it's back-to-back celebrations for a couple months.

Birthday season reminds me all over again how lucky I am to have these people in my life.

Mia, my newly minted 12-year old, how I love her mother heart! She is naturally kind, generous, and thoughtful, with a special gift of gratitude. She is discovering her athletic prowess and enjoying big girl activities with her best friends. She's not sure how she feels about YW yet, but Grace goes, so Mia is giving it a chance. She continues to be the resident family wit, seeing the ironies in everyday life and keeping us all laughing.

Jack just turned 6 and in his mind I think that's pretty much days away from full-fledged grownup, driving and voting. He is BIG! He tells everyone! For his birthday he opted to bring treats and birthday hats to his kindergarten class, for "my Mrs. Johnson and ALL my friends." Jack makes friends everywhere he goes. "Hi, I Jack. Who you are?" is his favorite opening line. He's also the king of TMI, informing old ladies in the checkout line that he has no daddy, that his mommy is fat,  and that his butt is itchy.

Mercie has had a very eventful spring so far, which I will write about in a separate post. This isn't how she planned to turn 11, I'm sure. She has stayed her funny, sweet self through some hard times lately, and demonstrated real courage and grace even when she's in pain. She is impressing everyone with her grit and toughness. That's my girl! I wouldn't wish for the trials, but it has been nice, I admit, to have more one-on-one time with my Mercie.

Eric is coming into his own as he approaches 11. He's an awesome cub scout who is currently the leader of his age group. In true Eric fashion he requires them to chant "Eric is awesome," sing a song about his greatness, and salute a flag that proclaims "Eric is great." He has very easy-going fellow scouts and a super cool scout leader :). He continues to whiz through all things academic, earning a few conversations with mom about how school won't always come so easily....

Grace has blossomed in junior high. No other words for it. She loves her friends, her classes, her violin and piano, her acting.....and boys. So far she has shown very good taste in her crushes. She likes boys who are kind and smart and funny. I hope this never changes! She's always on her phone, drives us all nuts with the karaoke machine she got at Christmas, and continues to be my right-hand woman. She can't wait to be 13 soon and get on social media.

And even though Annie's birthday isn't until fall, I'll give her a shout-out anyway. She is determined to be a big girl and get out of diapers, even if she hasn't fully grasped the idea behind potties. Not content with walking, she's now running everywhere. She continues to be the spoiled-rotten baby of the family who gets pretty much anything she wants thanks to her adorable smiles and heartbreaking "cry face," as Mia puts it.

My house is ALWAYS loud. Always. It's almost always crazy and chaotic and messy. But I get to come home to those faces. Luckiest mom in the world, that's me.

Sunday, July 19, 2015


Yesterday I took Jack and Annie to get haircuts.

Annie needed surprisingly little mommy-intervention (unlike last time, which was an unhappy experience for all of us), sitting up like a big girl and grinning into the mirror. She loves being pretty and being fussed over, so she was in little-girl heaven.

Jack jabbered away a million miles a minute, making friends with all the stylists and customers alike. He ended up sitting down at one end of the shop, where he couldn't see me once Annie was done and I took her back to the waiting area.

"Hey," he exclaimed cheerfully. "I need my mom! Where's she go? I love her SO MUCH!!! I her boy and she my mom. Where is she?"

What kind of five-year old announces to the whole place that he loves his mom SO MUCH? This kid is one of a kind. Of course, he also informed the stylist that he wanted his hair cut SO long, so he can put barrettes and braids in it, and he wants his hair to look like mommy's hair.

He's a weirdo, but he's my little weirdo, and I love him SO MUCH!!!

Sunday, March 22, 2015

Overheard at Our House

Jack's prayers:

"Dear Fadder, we thankful for eat and oranges and apples and not big apples, only little ones and night-night, lots and lots of night-night. Thankful eat soup and crackers and not broken crackers except Mommy like broken crackers but not Jack and Mei-Mei love her toys and lots and lots of toys for Jack and Mei-Mei, and Jack toys with songs. Thankful for naps and thankful for Eric and getting water bottles and in the fridge because I a big boy and cookies--one cookie, two cookies, Mommy say no more cookies.....and three cookies! Thankful for EricMercieMiaGrace, Thankful for TV and watching Signing Time and George and Barney, but not Mommy's movies, only mine. And piano. An toys with songs. And my new jammies. And Mei-Mei no crying because she is a baby. Jack a big boy. I four, like Caillou. I five on my birthday and go to school in August. And grateful for sun glasses and Jack's new sunglasses. And Grace. And Mia be quiet. And Mommy sew Jack shorts like cut, cut, cut, and BRRRRRRR (imitates sewing machine sound), all done! And more cookies. InthenameofJesusChristamen."

- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -

Dinner Conversation:

Grace: "Why does Aunt Holly have big lips and the rest of you don't?"

Me: "I don't know. I guess she's just the lucky one who got all the good lips genes in the family and the rest of us got screwed."

Grace: "She must be a really good kisser with those lips."

Me: "WHAT????"

Grace: "Well, is she? Better than you?"

Me: "I wouldn't know. I sincerely doubt there is a person alive who could tell you how Aunt Holly & I compare in kissing."

Grace: "Why?"

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Seeing Me

Like most of America, I'm overweight. Fat, even. I don't like it, and I always have somewhat vague intentions of doing something about it.

While I am quite confident in my intellectual abilities and my professional prowess and my social skills (well, mostly) and my mothering and even crazy things like public speaking and performing on a stage, I, like so many other women, have internalized the message that fat = something very, very wrong with me. Because of this I avoid pictures of myself. I don't necessarily avoid having pictures taken--I know my kids love me and my friends love me, and I don't let my image issues get in the way of the people I love having pictures of a person they love (me). But you can bet your sweet booty that I avoid looking at pictures of myself. Also, mirrors and doors and windows that reflect me back to myself. If I forget to look away in time and catch a glimpse, I wince.

So, in a recent effort to once again shame and guilt myself into getting with the program and back to the gym, I decided that I needed to face the photos. I decided to sit down and stare at every picture taken of me in the past few months and confront that dreaded fat lady. I just knew, in the back of my sad little brain, that I would be so grossed out and horrified that I'd be instantly motivated to cut out sugar and trim calories and give up my already-non-existent sleep to get more exercise time.

I braced myself.

I opened the pictures.

And I started to cry.

You guys, I love this lady. SO MUCH.

I didn't see fat.

For maybe the first time in my life I didn't start going through a mental checklist of everything that's wrong with me.

I saw happy.

I saw peace.

I saw brave. Tough, even.

I saw vulnerable, mixed with indomitable.

I saw loyal and kind and fierce.

I saw messed-up and kooky and sometimes just flat out wrong--but I also saw someone who gets back up and starts over, who has the guts to forgive and to seek forgiveness.

And I saw love. Oh my goodness, so much love. I saw a deep, deep reservoir of powerful, tenacious, so-intense-it's-almost-unhinged kind of love that takes down mountains and crosses oceans and changes the world because nothing can stand up against that kind of unselfish and unconditional love.

There are so many things wrong with this silly lady--and only a few of them are physical.

But there are so many things RIGHT.

I love her.

I have fought so hard to become her.

The fat will go away. I'll figure out how to incorporate a regular exercise routine into my crazy busy days. I will eventually start to get more sleep, and it will be a little easier to eat right and have energy and invest a bit more time in my physical self. I know this.

But I won't wait--until I'm thinner or my skin tone evens out or my hair has more volume or whatever flaw-of-the-day goes away--to love myself.

I'm plenty of awesome already.

There's a quote circulating the internet, whose provenance I couldn't find, that reads "If only our eyes saw souls instead of bodies, how different our ideals of beauty would be."


I regularly, nearly daily pray that God will give me eyes to see the good in people, to see them as He sees them, to catch glimpses of the Divine within us.

I never realized that He wanted me to start by seeing me.

*Mad props to Julie Roper and Sindea Horste for the most excellent photography skills showcased in this post. The love and happy oozing out of the photos is all me. The skill to pull it out via camera--that's all them. Very talented friends are one of my favorite blessings in life

Saturday, November 01, 2014

Why Family Matters: A Photo Essay


July 2014 I met Annie. She was almost four years old and weighed 18 pounds. She was so weak that she could barely pull herself into a sitting position.

October 2014. Annie has been home for three months. She is up to 30 pounds. She scoots all over the house. She pulls up on furniture and puts things in her mouth. She babbles ALL. THE. TIME. She loves hugs and kisses. She giggles nonstop. She is so, so, so happy.

Every child deserves this kind of love. Every child deserves a permanent, forever home. Every child deserves people who notice them and care about them and plan for them and find joy in them. That kind of care doesn't come from nannies or orphanages or social workers or temporary foster homes.

Families matter. Just ask Annie.

Wednesday, October 08, 2014

Today's Inspirational Message

Let me tell you two stories.

Story number one is about a precious college friend of mine who has a special gift for kindness. One of the ways that she makes the people in her life feel loved is through little love notes and kind messages. When we were in college together, more times than I can count, she lifted my day and brightened my world with her sweet words.

When she was engaged her soon-to-be husband did an internship across the country. In this pre-internet (or just bare beginning of internet) era, most of their communication took place via old fashioned letters. After sending a few letters to him, my friend was startled to receive them back, corrected and marked up with red ink.

My friend is a woman of many, many talents, but spelling is perhaps not her strongest point. Her fiance wanted to help her overcome this perceived deficiency, and thought this was a reasonable way to go about it.

However, she was embarrassed and suddenly self-conscious. The stream of notes and messages instantly dried up. I was selfishly angry at her fiance, not only for hurting my friend's feelings, but because I missed her notes! Her expressions of love had blessed my life immensely, and I was irritated that someone else would belittle something I cherished.

Now, before anyone starts bashing the fiance, please understand that we were all very young, still very much learning about relationships and people and life. While heavy-handed and somewhat patronizing, her fiance had good intentions. They eventually worked through this, they married and are still married, and I am once again the recipient of her kind little notes, for which I am deeply grateful.

Story number two is about one of my beautiful daughters. For the purpose of the story, and to protect her self-confidence when she reads this ten years from now, we'll call her Eve.

Eve has many wonderful talents and abilities, to the point that she often amazes and sometimes scares me. She LOVES to sing, loudly and passionately. She is not, however, always on key.

As her mother, and as a musician with a fair amount of general musical background and some expertise in vocal performance, I can attest that she has become noticeably better over time, and I have every reason to expect that she will continue to become even better as she continues to sing. Her delight in her voice is so evident that it makes me happy just to hear her.

Not very long ago one of her friends was over at our house. Eve began belting out one of her current favorites. Her friend burst into giggles. "Oh my gosh, that is awful! Stop singing! You are so off key!"

Eve stopped. I saw the bewilderment and hurt in her eyes. Her friend looked to me as an ally. "Eve likes to sing, but she's not very on key, is she?"

I looked at my beautiful girl and responded with all the force I could muster, "I LOVE to hear Eve sing. It's one of the happiest things in my life. I can't think of anything more beautiful, or that brings more joy to my heart than hearing Eve sing."

Her friend looked put out. Eve's face broke into a giant smile and she went right back to singing her heart out, loudly and passionately and oh-so-happily.

Here is today's inspirational message:

God gave you a voice so that you could sing. God gave you words so that you could use them. If spelling isn't your strong suit, keep working at it, but don't wait for perfection to share your words. If singing off-key is one of your special talents, try your best to stay on key, but don't keep the song bottled up until you can nail it.

Critics live in a dark and tiny world, where beauty is narrowly defined and becomes much less beautiful for the constrictions placed upon it. You don't belong in that ugly little world.

Joy is infectious. Our world needs more of it. Small-spirited people will always want to stomp out joy. You just keep on being joy anyway.

This message has been brought to you by Psalms 100:2. Go out there and share your gladness!

Monday, September 22, 2014

The Adoption FAQ

I've received a lot of questions about this latest adoption. Somewhat surprisingly, it hasn't felt intrusive; rather, compassionate evidence of people's interest in my family and the two newest additions. Some of the questions come from personal interest as well. Many people consider adopting at some point or another, and see the opportunity to get personal, up-to-date information from someone who is currently, or so newly, involved in the process.

For whatever reason, I've felt inclined to put some of the most Frequently Asked Questions--with accompanying answers--here on the blog. Some of the answers are perhaps more personal and candid than I might normally share, but I'm including them because I want those considering adoption to have real information.

Question: How much did the adoption cost? 

Answer: I haven't totaled up receipts yet, so ask me again after I file my tax return this coming year. However, my best estimate, and certain to be pretty close to the final number is $40,000. Yes, that is forty-thousand dollars.

Question: How did you afford that? 

Answer: With a lot of faith, a lot of hard work, and a lot of sacrifice. As a family, we saved up money for nearly four years to make this adoption happen. We didn't take family vacations. We shopped at thrift stores and clearance sales. We all pack lunches--me to work and the kids to school, and we eat a lot of PB&J. When I bought a house four years ago I purposely bought a house that cost much less than the loan amount I qualified for so that our monthly expenditures would stay down. All the penny pinching never would have been enough alone, though. I took on extra work and socked the money away for the adoption. I applied tax returns toward adoption costs. At the tail end, I borrowed a small amount from one of my retirement accounts and maxed out a credit card to make it happen. Thanks to the generosity of donors through the Reece's Rainbow website and my traveling companion Lucas, about $3,500 worth of fees were paid by others. International adoption is also a fairly drawn-out process, and the money comes due at many points along the process. This isn't my first rodeo. It was my first adoption as a single mom, but it wasn't my first adoption. I knew the process. I knew from my own experience that when God calls you to do something, He prepares the way. Being part of His plan is simply the best thing EVER. It doesn't erase the hardship, and this adoption was definitely a doozy at times. To badly paraphrase someone far wiser than myself, if Christ Himself paid the ultimate price to redeem a human soul, we shouldn't expect it to be easy when we walk the path to save a human soul, either. And don't give me any crap about how adoption shouldn't be viewed as rescue or saving. My baby girl was literally wasting away and DYING in her orphanage. Adopting her was a life and death thing. I saved her....and she has also saved me. She has brought new life to parts of my heart that I didn't even know were closed. She is teaching me about love in a deeper way than before. We are saving each other. The same has been true for each and every one of my children.

Question: Why did you adopt two kids? 

Answer: Because I am certifiably insane. There are other explanations, but I think that's the biggest, most accurate reason. Also, I knew I wanted at least two more, and I doubted I'd have the stamina to go through another international adoption. Doing the two simultaneously saved a not-insignificant sum of money, either. I'm so glad I did! It's definitely been harder than adopting one at a time, but seeing the special bond these two have with each other makes it beyond worthwhile.

Question: How did you choose these two children? 

Answer: That is an interesting question. With my others, I had fairly specific spiritual experiences with each one that led me to believe that particular child was meant to be in my family. This time around was somewhat different. I never felt any big rush of certainty, or instant heart connection. I did feel peace. I looked at a lot of children's files before I requested pre-approval for my son. I didn't have a blinding light telling me he was The One, but I thought he seemed like a good fit for my family. I prayed about it and didn't get any warning signs or "no" answers, so I moved ahead. I wasn't looking for my daughter; I had just begun to entertain the idea of bringing home two instead of one. However, these wonderful, wonderful women who have taken on the task of advocating for orphans, raising money for their adoption, and praying them home to loving families posted pictures of Annie on social media sites and blogs. I stumbled across one of her pictures, felt mild interest, and things went from there. I had no idea what I was getting into, as she ended up having more challenges than initially expected. The absolute certainty came later. My son came to me with arms outstretched, calling me Momma and staring deep into my eyes while he stroked my cheek, and I went head over heels, love all the way down to my toes, this is my son and I would throw myself in front of a bus for him. Annie's health challenges made it questionable at one point as to whether I could bring her home. There were a few points where I had to decide whether to continue pursuing an adoption that may very well fall apart. I couldn't tell you a moment when it clicked, but at some point I just knew that I would follow this one through, all the way, no matter what the outcome. A few days after taking placement, my agency worker called in China from the US and asked if I was sure, now that I knew just how poor her health was, now that I had a better sense of all the uncertainties and unknowns I would be facing if I parented this child, was I sure that I still wanted her? And I started bawling because this was my baby, and there was no freaking way in the entire universe that I could ever walk away. Adoption is a huge step into the unknown. I can't tell you any transcendent stories of how I knew these two children were meant for our family. But they were. Of that I have no doubt. Sometimes God leads us along His path through grand moments and rock hard conviction. Other times we just take faltering, stumbling steps on a whisper so slight we're not sure it's even there, and the path isn't evident until we look back.

Question: Why special needs kids? 

Answer: Why not? Seriously, even with birth you don't get guarantees. The reality of adoption is that any child who is anything less than physically, emotionally, and mentally perfect may not ever find a home. In some countries even minor physical challenges can be a death sentence. Many things that we don't even consider an issue here in the US can lead to a child's internment in an orphanage or even death. My daughter had undiagnosed acid reflux for nearly four years. By the time I reached her she was dying. She had lost so much weight her skin was hanging and her bones were protruding. Her teeth were completely rotted away and her gums were a mass of infection. The severe malnutrition and constant pain she faced left her with significant developmental delays. It goes without saying that this would not have happened had she been in an even halfway decent family in the US. My two sons had surgery in China long before I took them home. Son no. 1 is in perfect health now. Son no. 2 has a couple more surgeries and some physical therapy, but he is likely to regain perfect health and full use of his body. Both of my boys would have been condemned to a life in the fringes of society as both orphans and special needs kiddos. That is unacceptable to me, and hopefully unacceptable to anyone reading this. I don't mean to sound blasé about adopting special needs kids. It broke my heart that there were some special needs I simply had to say no to. As a single mom without any immediate family nearby, with four other kids and a full-time job, there were some things that were just beyond me. Adding these two new ones is stretching me uncomfortably thin many days. the end of day, I couldn't walk away, knowing that I had the opportunity to give these little ones a home.

Question: Why China? 

Answer: That one ended up surprising me a little. After my older son's adoption I didn't expect to adopt again from China. I didn't have anything against the idea; I just had a soft spot in my heart for other countries as well. There were several factors that led me back to China. One, Eric really wanted a Chinese brother. Two, the list of countries who would accept single parents is small, and China is one of them. Three, I knew the adoption process with China. Four, I knew that my adoption agency, Children's House International, had an amazing track record of getting approvals for single moms. A smaller, though still valid consideration was the fact that China's adoption program is very stable and well-managed, compared to many other countries. My older children were very invested in this adoption. I did not want their hearts broken by having an adoption fall apart due to volatile and unpredictable events and changes with the other country.

Question: How do your other kids feel about having Jack and Annie?

Answer: This adoption was their idea! They argued for it and fought for it and wore me down enough that I was finally willing to get on my knees and find out if it was God's will. Jack and Annie are here today because of their older siblings. Having said that, I was sure that the reality of two little ones would wear thin and the time would quickly come when the older ones would be ready to pack them back to China. We are at the three month mark and it hasn't happened yet. They wake up each morning racing for the cribs to get their babies up, fed, and dressed. I sometimes have to intervene to make sure that I actually get any time with the babies. They've taken on a LOT of added responsibility, and give up a fair amount of their time to help care for their younger siblings. I ask if they wish things were different, or if this is too much for them, and they look at me like I'm completely nuts. It's hard to imagine a couple of children as loved and treasured and spoiled as Jack and Annie. There is a wonderful spirit of love and service in our home as we all rally around the babies.

Question: Would you recommend adoption to other single parents? 

Answer: No. It's hard. Really hard. Parenting is hard, and doing it on your own is so very much harder. I do think two parents are better--better for the parents and better for the kids. I had lots of arguments with God over this very issue, as He prepared my heart for Jack and Annie. However, we don't live in a world of best-case scenarios and millions of children around the world just need a family; not a perfect family. I would caution single parents to think oh-so-very carefully about adoption. It's a huge deal. But if God is speaking to their hearts, even if it seems crazy and impractical and even slightly impossible, I can attest that His ways are far better than ours, and it will all work out. It really will.

Question: Do you think everyone should adopt? 

Answer: Nope, not even one tiny little bit. I can't think of anyone I've ever looked at and thought, "Oh my gosh, she should definitely adopt a child!" I don't know people's hearts, I don't know God's plan for their lives, I don't know what silent burdens they carry. If you ask me whether you should adopt, I will tell you that I don't know. That's between you & God. On the other hand, I DO think that many, many more people should adopt. I don't know who those people are; I trust that God does. But with millions of orphans worldwide, and a Judeo-Christian ethic that teaches us an obligation and responsibility to care for orphans, I DO think that we all can and should do more. If adoption is not your calling, you can support families who do adopt. Financially, yes, but also emotionally and spiritually. Satan hates adoption. He hates children coming out of bondage and into family love. He fights hard to keep it from happening. I promise you, if you know families who are working to adopt, they need a cheering section. They need courage and strength and conviction. If adoption is not your calling, you can support the many worthwhile charity organizations that support orphans through providing education, vocational training, and even basic things like clean water, nutrition, and lifesaving surgery. You can pray. Just like Annie's prayer warriors and orphan advocates did long before I knew of her, you can pray these children home. There is SO much power in prayer.

Question: What advice do you have for someone considering adoption? 

Answer: Do your research. There are times it might feel like a second job, because it is. There are excellent and reputable agencies and there are frightening ones...and at a first glance they don't look that different. Talk to other adoptive parents. Talk to different agencies. Read the fine print in agency policies. Carefully consider your family's needs and abilities, and what will work for you. Plan and prepare financially. I recently met a young, newly married college student who confided that she and her husband planned to adopt when they became more financially stable. I told her to start planning for it right now by living frugally and staying out of debt. In most cases, adoption is costly, and there are few exceptions, especially outside of foster care. If you are serious about adoption, start planning for it financially. God helps those who help themselves. Likewise, take care of your own health. If your own health is poor, not only will you find it problematic to raise children; you may not even be approved to adopt in the first place. Adoption home studies look at things like health, employment security, ability to provide for the child, strength of marriage, emotional wellbeing, and more. If you need to work on yourself first, do it.

Question: What is the best thing about adoption? 

Answer: I can't choose just one. Seeing God's Hand so up close and personal is pretty awesome. Watching Him move mountains and cross oceans for one little child is pretty amazing. The good people you will's a privilege to walk with so many people who devote their lives to some of the world's most vulnerable and needy souls. Expanding your definition of family across racial and ethnic lines, learning first hand that you truly can love another human being with a love so intense and real it defies explanation, even if you don't share DNA and will never, in a million years, look alike to the physical eye. Watching the miracle of a child who has never known love or trust discover both through you.

The best thing about adoption is tucking a little girl into bed at night, a little girl who supposedly will never talk or walk and is so severely mentally retarded that her home country recommends institutionalization--and she reaches up to touch your face and whispers "mama." That's the best thing about adoption.

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Meditations at 5:00am

One of the crappiest things right now is having this vibrant, beautiful little boy, and lacking sufficient history with him to know how best to soothe him, calm him, anticipate his needs, head off his tantrums, and help him feel better. It just sucks.

My daughter wasn't in a good situation. She has been very slow to warm up to all these changes, but she is definitely warming up. Watching her soak in her new reality that she won't ever be hungry again, that someone will actually respond when she cries, that she can get all the snuggles she wants...Every day we get more smiles, more giggles, a little more of her personality peeking through. We visited her orphanage a couple of days after taking custody of her, and even with only two days, when the aunties passed her around to say hello, she was clambering to get back in my arms.

My son was in a very good orphanage. All of his growth reports note that he was a favorite of all the caregivers there. He is a naturally outgoing, good-natured little boy. He was prepared well for the adoption. He came straight to me, put his arms around me and called me momma, and walked off into the sunset.

It took a couple of days before the first reality check. He went to bed in the hotel room and shortly after I glanced over to see him shaking with silent sobs, tears rolling down his cheeks. That became something of a pattern. He can go a few days, living in each moment and totally enjoying things, but then all the newness wears off and he just cries. This is greatly complicated by the language barrier. We can't explain and reassure, and so sometimes he has big, ginormous meltdowns over simple things--because, in his world, even simple things can be huge. In China he sometimes screamed if we had to get in a car. He absolutely refused, if I didn't get in first, to assure him that I would be with him in the car. I couldn't blame him for freaking out--the last time he got in a car, they took him to a civil affairs office and left him with me. His whole world turned upside down. From his perspective, getting in cars is the scariest, most dangerous thing in the world.

He seems to really enjoy this new "family" thing he's got. He LOVES following his siblings around everywhere, especially Grace. He gives Annie little kisses, and shares food with her (the true way to Annie's heart). He plays with the neighbors, loves the sandbox, is learning his alphabet, shapes, and colors with the nanny, and tries to give Barney hugs through the TV. He's almost always happy. But sometimes he grieves. Unlike Annie, he did leave people he loved, and people who loved him back. He had a place there. He knew who he was there. I am told that he is exceptionally verbal in the dialect of his region. It seemed clear that he is used to being able to communicate readily with people. Now he's stuck in a new place where no one understands him and he can't understand us. For a bright, social little boy like him, it must feel like a special part of hell sometimes.

I don't know him well enough yet to know when to hold him and when to leave him alone. I don't know when to ignore tantrums and when to listen for a deeper need beneath the tantrum. And even if I can discern the deeper need, I don't always know how to meet it.

He had a rough night. At 5:00am I finally took him out of his crib so that he wouldn't wake everyone else. He fussed and moaned and whimpered for over an hour. I finally noticed that he kept holding one side of his face, and together with earlier observations that he was chewing hard on things, deduced that he might have molars coming in. I gave him some ibuprofen and rocked him, wishing that I could take some of the hard away for him, that I could carry some of the load he's bearing right now on this little four-year old shoulders. Sometimes he would relax into me and calm down, but within a few minutes he'd remember and tense back up, and the tears would start again.

It just hurt that I couldn't do anything, that I couldn't wave a magic wand and show him that it's safe to let Mommy hold him & snuggle him, that I can help if he will let me, that this new family he's liking so much is for real & forever, that I may not always be able to solve his problems but I will always try, that I understand how rough this is.

My 5:00am epiphany was that the 5:00am rocking chair sessions are the only magic wand. Over and over, one at a time, love starts to slowly trickle in. My earlier babies learned it as I got up and fed them, rocked them, changed them. Days and days of that, coupled with soft words, stroking hair and faces, holding them close, smiling eyes--these are the ways that babies learn to trust. Jack is just getting started.

Don't get me wrong--I'm really tired. I'm hoping we don't have a lot of these 5:00am sessions coming up. But along with my prayers for Jack this morning, I was also praying prayers of gratitude to be back in the sacred ground of 5:00am magic.

Monday, August 11, 2014

I Am Not a Hero. Also, Not Amazing.

Here's the deal:

If one more person tells me how amazing I am for adding two more kiddos to my family through adoption, I will hurt something. Possibly the person who says it. I am not a hero, I am not wonder woman, I am not a saint.

Don't get me wrong--this adoption journey was hard. The ongoing transitions and changes in our family and in my life are not easy ones. They are GOOD, but they aren't easy. I won't sugarcoat anything and pretend it's all one big happy party. But I also won't go along with the idea that it's an act of sainthood, either.

It's an act of parenting. Parents take care of their kids, period. I'm hardly alone in this. Parents all over the globe make sacrifices and do hard things to care for their little ones. Often those hard things begin with carrying them in-utero for nine months, and going through physical pain to deliver them into the world. Sometimes those hard things involve social worker visits and flights halfway around the world. And sometimes those hard things even involve giving up that child so that he can have a life that you cannot provide--sometimes, just so the child can live, period. My hard things are my hard things. My children's birthparents have been through their own hard things to provide the best for these children. None of our hard things make any of us saints or sinners or victims or winners. Our collective hard things make us parents, and parents do what they have to do to ensure the safety and well-being of their babies.

My parents raised nine kids. They both worked around the clock. They kept us fed and clothed, they taught us the value of hard work & education, and somehow all nine of us grew up to be pretty decent people. Maybe it's their fault that I'm rejecting the medals for international adoption, because they set the bar too high. Thanks to them, I know that parents do what they have to do for their kids, almost always without applause or pats on the back.

I think what I'm saying is that I don't deserve any more recognition or praise than any other parent who is doing the best she can in her world. We all have our hard things. We all need support and help, and we all  need to be a support and help. My hard things aren't any more noteworthy than a mother who puts off retirement to fund rehab for her son, a mom who takes parenting classes and attends support groups to ensure that the cycle of abuse she knew growing up ends with her, a parent who creates happy moments for her children while coping with marital infidelity and personal heartbreak.

It's not just parents, either. My hard things aren't any more heroic than a childless friend who cares for both of her aging parents, or an immigrant friend who works backbreaking manual labor all day and attends classes late into the night, or a friend who faces demons of addiction every day.

I'm uncomfortable with the praise not only because it's unfair, but because I've noticed that it doesn't help me be a better mom, or even just an ordinary good one.

When I gather my kids around the dinner table, I am NOT amazing. Definitely not heroic. They squabble; I yell. Any bad word you've ever heard my kids use, they probably learned from me. I get tired and lose my temper. If I even start, for one teeny minute, to believe things like "amazing," and "hero," I get so tense! I start to feel so much pressure to be those things, and I'm just NOT those things. That stress and pressure raises my expectations, for myself and for my kids, and that's pretty much a guarantee of failure. The negative cycle of perfectionism is toxic enough at my house; we don't need any help.

You know what does make me feel good, though? When people tell me I'm a fun mom, especially when my kids say it. I like being a fun mom. Fun moms smile. They laugh with their kids. Even if I'm not really much of a fun mom, when I'm told that I am, I try to live up to it.

I'm also okay being told that I'm brave. Parenting has ended up being one of the most courageous things I've ever done. It takes guts every single day. Some days it even takes guts just to get out bed. The ways that I am brave might be different from the ways that you are brave, but we can all acknowledge and praise our collective bravery.

It makes my heart happy when someone notices how much I love my kids. It motivates me to keep being loving, doing loving things, using loving words, giving lots of hugs and kisses.

I'm uncomfortable with praise for inheriting a pretty cushy situation. I live in a country where I will never have to make the choice to give up a child so that she can obtain the healthcare to keep her alive. I live in a country where I can attain the level of education I choose, for the types of employment I would like, so that international adoption can even be option for me. I live during a time when my fitness as a parent isn't unduly scrutinized because I am single, when I am not legally prohibited from adopting because of my marital status. I am blessed to be in a situation where I CAN have six kids if I want them. There are people who don't have that choice. I'm keenly aware that I am richly blessed, and 99% of those blessings were not earned.

That is one comment with which I will completely agree: I am oh-so-very blessed. I am blessed to have a wonderful Gracie-girl in my life, who is nearly as tall as I am, ultra-responsible & hard-working & fun. I am blessed with my sweet Mia, and her delightful sense of humor, quick wit, tender heart, and thoughtful nature. I am blessed to know Mercie, to see the world through her unique lens, appreciate her heart for all God's creatures, to stand in awe of her relentless determination to deal with challenges she faces. I am blessed with my little man, Eric--his sensitive and introspective nature, kind heart, keen intellect, and disciplined mind. I am newly blessed with Jack, non-stop bundle of energy, animated and outgoing, a little ray of sunshine. And I am blessed with Annie, my little snugglebug, who is content to spend an entire day soaking in loves.

On top of that, I am blessed with good people who love me and my family. Yes, blessed is a word I will definitely take.

Since many of those people I love and who love me right back are the ones who throw around the words of "amazing" and "hero," I suppose it would be kind of rude to ask them not to use those words.

So, let's make a deal: you can use those words for me, if I can use them for you. I won't use your names here on this blog, but you & I know who you are, and please, know that I think you are absolutely beyond amazing, and heroic in every way, as you:

  • head back to school to complete your degree and show your kids it's never too late
  • keep going to therapy for years and years, refusing to give up the effort to overcome scars of childhood sexual abuse, paying a price for someone else's sins
  • call your sponsor when the urge for a drink comes
  • participate in hours of grueling therapy and rehab every day to regain basic abilities that everyone takes for granted until they are gone
  • put your adoption papers back in again after suffering the devastating loss of giving a child back
  • accept that new foster placement and commit to love that child with your whole heart, whether it's for a day, a week, months, or years. 
  • support your wife through chemo, telling her she's beautiful and meaning every word. 
  • humble yourself enough to ask for others' prayers, so they can help share your burdens
  • swallow your pride and head to the food bank, because your kids' tummies are more important than your ego. 
  • freely forgive those who have deeply hurt you. 
  • teach other people's children while longing for your own
  • open your heart to love again after great loss
  • take on frightening, overwhelming responsibilities at church because you believe God wants you to accept the call. 
  • follow what your heart knows is true, even when everyone around you disapproves. 
  • trim the grocery budget by $20 each month so you can help provide life-saving heart surgeries for orphans. 
  • tell your fiance about your eating disorder.
  • love your spouse through years of bad decisions and poor judgement, never losing sight of all the worthwhile reasons you fell in love in the first place. 
  • share your talents and gifts freely with those around you
Hmm. I guess maybe you are all pretty darn amazing. Maybe even heroes. No wonder some of it rubbed off on me :).