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The subject of grief is definitely one for which I now have a deeper understanding.  Losing my mother was so extremely difficult for me.  I had never lost a family member before her, so the immediate grief process was extremely laborious and raw.  She and I were very close.  Her personality was so big, so when it wasn’t there anymore, the space left wasn’t just empty, it was a vacuum.  It threatened to pull me down into darkness.  Frankly, there were many moments when I thought that letting go and allowing that darkness to pull me down, drifting into nothingness, sounded like a good idea.

It’s about a year and a half after she left this earth, and my grief is not so raw anymore.  But it’s still here with me.  I carry it like an accessory I didn’t choose.

Anyone who has taken a psychology course will be familiar with Elizabeth Kübler-Ross’s stages of grief: denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance. Moving through these stages looks differently for each person, but if each stage isn’t visited, even briefly, the process will not be complete.

I had a wonderful relationship with my mom, but even so, I struggled with my grief process whenever I was reminded of the things about her that annoyed or angered me. She was opinionated, loud, stubborn, and a bit of a know-it-all, just to name a few things. So when I felt the absence of those things and realized how…nice it was to not have to deal with them, I felt horribly guilty. But in the end, I know who she was. I know what she meant to me, and I understood our relationship and I know how much I loved her, and how much she loved me. Our relationship was real and imperfect, but not confusing.

Tuesday night, I listened to a webinar as part of our education requirement for our adoption. The topic was attachment and how it may look differently in adoption. It was all really great information, most of which I was already aware of from seminars and conferences we had attended just because we are passionate about adoption and orphan care. But one of the sub-topics caught my attention. Grief, from the perspective of the adopted child. Because adoption does not exist without loss. It does not matter if the child was adopted at birth, as a toddler, or as an older child. That child has lost the chance to be raised by their birthfamily.

With loss, comes grieving. but if that child is in any way unclear about their feelings for or relationship with their birthmom/birthfamily, they can become stuck in that process. If they become stuck, attachment to the adoptive parent will be difficult.

As a child struggles with the loss of birthfamily, they inevitably think about the circumstances in which that loss occurred. Even in a family situation where a child does not feel safe (i.e. alcohol/drug use, physicaly/secual/emotional abuse), the child will still feel a sense of loyalty and love for their birthfamily. The juxtaposition between that love/loyalty and the fear for safety causes a great deal of confusion for the child.

“They’re my parents and I love them, but they let scary people into our house”
“She hugs and kisses me, and tells me she loves me, but when she drinks, she yells and throws things and it scares me.”
“Mom told me that my birthmom didn’t have money to take care of me, but I wonder if it’s because she didn’t love me.”

Confused feelings about birthfamily throws a wrench into the grieving process. It’s hard to deal with feelings when you’re not really sure what they are. Grief is difficult enough without throwing in the additional stress of confusion.

As we prepare our home and hearts for V, we need to be ready for her grief. not only will she grieve her family, but her homeland, her friends, and all that was familiar to her. I am well aware that there is no prescription to keep us moving through the process of grief. No magic potion to get us “unstuck”. I cannot make it better. But I can give her permission and encouragement to slog through the mire. Who knows how long it will take, but I have my slogging boots at the ready.

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We have an incredible Creator who weaves our stories together in ways we are sometimes privileged to know and in others that we will never be privy to. I don’t know how many people actually read this blog other than my family and a few friends, yet my stats claims that there are lots of people who apparently visit and read my often random thoughts and observations. Who knows? Maybe my words have helped or inspired some of you. If so, I would love to hear it. So like, you know, maybe leave a comment or whatever….

When I was a kid, I remember a song that I sang in church once. I believe it’s called “Tapestry”. I can still recall the lyrics:

“I am a thread in the tapestry, I have The Master’s hand on me. And then He weaves me carefully making textures as He goes. Each of us part of this great design, You’ve got you part and I’ve got mine, all of our lives are intertwined, as the pattern starts to grow! Through thick and thin, The Master weaves us in. Young and old, we are the colors of the rainbow. Our lives are short and long, but together we hold strong, with this everlasting tapestry!”

No making fun. “Christian” music back then wasn’t exactly edgy. But this song, however, has a lot of truth in it. We are a part of a tapestry of humanity. Our lives are indeed connected, and every once in a while, some of those connections can sort of blow your mind.  We are in the middle of one of those mind-blowing connections.

On Monday, January 7th, after a beautiful conversation with our sweet J, Craig and I came to the conclusion that our concerns over adopting an older child were ridiculous and unfounded.  Our kids were so incredibly open to it, they loved the idea of having an older sibling, and we had seen how our lives might look welcoming an older child and all of its fabulousness, struggles, language barriers, awkwardness, and wonder.  Our plan for the next adoption HAD been to return to Ethiopia for a toddler girl.  But God leading us to New Horizons and J, changed our hearts.  So on that day, I once again looked at photos of waiting children, this time looking at older children, and expanding the search to Eastern Europe.  I have combed through hundreds of pictures before.  My heart broke for each one.  But this time, I froze.  My heart skipped a beat.  Still, I kept scrolling, then I scrolled back to her.  Heart skipped again.  Scrolled down again.  Scrolled back.  There was something about this girl.

I caught Craig about to return down to his home office and stopped him.  “Look at this girl, honey”, I said, shoving the iPad in front of his nose.  He looked.  He smiled.  He got a weird look on his face.  “Oh”, he said.  “Oh?”, I said.  “Oh”, he said again.  Then he put his things down.  This was my first clue something was happening.  When Craig puts work stuff down, it’s serious.  “She’s lovely.  How old is she?”, he asked.  “Twelve”, I said.  He looked at me again, with tears in his eyes.  “Okay”, he said.  “Okay???”, I said.  “Yes. Okay.  Who do we talk to?”, he said.  “Uhhh…I dunno.  I’ll email someone I guess.  Okay?”, I replied.  “Okay”.

Firstly, I know, our conversation was extremely intelligent and riddled with big words and complex critical reasoning.  Be jealous, it’s okay.   That’s how we roll.

So I emailed the facilitator of the webpage.  That was Monday, remember.  On Friday, as I sat amidst a pile of teenager clothes, accessories, Ziploc bags, and a bathroom scale, I received a return email telling me that the sweet girl I had seen in a photo, was in Ukra*ne and that I should email another woman for more information.  Normally, I don’t sit amidst such things as teenager clothes and whatnot, but I was assisting J with packing for her departure the next morning.  She had just declared me unnecessary in her process (typical 17 year old!), so I was able to email the person to whom I was directed by the website facilitator.  This woman was the one responsible for getting our girl’s picture on to the website, and was advocating for her, after she met her in the late summer while she was in Ukr@ine adopting her two boys.  This particular woman, Kristen, emailed me back in about 10 minutes.  So I emailed her.  And she emailed me.  And I emailed her.  And then she sent me her phone number.  And it was local.

!!

What?  I emailed her again, asking her where she was located.  She replied with the name of a town a mere hour away.  Are you kidding me?  This woman could live in California!  Washington!  Texas! Other far away states!  But she didn’t.  She lived an hour away.  I couldn’t believe it.

The next day, after an extremely difficult farewell to J and feeling like my heart was being ripped from my chest, then wallowing in my misery for most of the day, I called Kristen.  Do you ever have those experiences where you speak with someone and you know you’ve found a lifelong friend?  Threads in the tapestry, friends.  Kristen and I spoke for quite some time and she later informed me that she knew from the first few minutes of talking with me, that we would be adopting “V”.

It was only the next week that we decided to move forward with adopting this girl who captured our hearts.  We are now almost done with our home study, and we’re ready and raring to go with tackling “The Beast”, aka, the dossier.

Last month, I met Kristen face-to-face where every first face-to-face meeting usually takes place: Starbucks.  We sat and talked for a few hours, until we had to pry ourselves away so we could return to our families, who obviously don’t function well without us.  Kristen is one of those people for me, who is so easy to talk to, like a long-lost friend I never knew I was missing.  It was during this fist meeting, that I learned when she met V for the first time.

But let’s back up for just a second.  Craig and I were discussing the possibility of adopting again during the summer of 2012.  We decided at the end of August that we would take a month to pray about it separately, then come together again and share what our thoughts were.  A mere two days later in church, we were both moved in an extraordinary way.  It was nothing less than the Holy Spirit speaking directly to us, separately.  You can read more about this experience in this post, which happens to be co-written by Craig.  Note the date.  August 23rd.

Back to Kristen and new friendship and delicious coffee.  As we chatted about V, her boys, Ukr@ine, adoption, how crazy we were, etc, I asked her when exactly she was in Ukr@ine.  She had mentioned, “late summer”.  Hmmm.  So when was that, exactly?  She said they arrived the 21st, met their oldest son on the 22nd, and then met V on the 23rd.  Of August.  She met my darling girl on the day we posted our intent to adopt again.  More threads woven into the tapestry.  She promised this precious girl that she would do all that she could to find her a family.  A family is what V had asked Kristen for.  A family to love her and never leave her.  A family to count on and call her own.  A family to fight with, to laugh with, to share with, to sit with, to grieve with, to struggle with, to grow with.

Sweet, darling, precious, V.  We will be that family for you.

Okay, so here’s the official post on my experience at Summit VI.  The Christian Alliance for Orphans put on another amazing and life-changing conference this year. 

The General sessions were inspiring!  It’s hard to pick a favorite, but I know that I was particularly moved by Mary Beth Chapman, who bravely shared her experience with losing her adopted daughter, Maria Sue.  She said she hates speaking in public, but she spoke so eloquently, so genuinely, it felt as though we were guests in her family room, and she was just telling us her story as we sat together over coffee.  The way that she and her husband, Stephen Curtis Chapman looked at each other, winked, gestured, as she spoke…it was so adorable.  We could feel the love between them, how this tragedy in their lives, brought them together, made their bond even stronger.  What an amazing testimony.

I was also profoundly affected by Stephanie Fast.  She was adopted at the age of nine, from South Korea.  Her story is tragic, and she has every reason to be a shell of a human being, completely broken.  She remembers being abandoned by her mother, placed on a train and just sent away.  She remembers desperately trying to walk back to her village, following the train tracks from the direction she came.  She remembers the atrocities she faced, that no child should ever have to face, experiencing evil in human form, hiding in holes dug out by soldiers in the hills during the war, shunned by everyone she comes across because she was mixed-race.  She is now 53, a woman who is strong, confident, and in my mind, the poster child for why adopting older children is an awesome thing, and how beautiful and amazing things can come from it.  She knows that her ability to overcome all that was stacked against her is only due to God.  Despite the horrific tragedies she faced, the hand of God is so clearly evident in her life.  As she spoke, I was so moved, I was choking back sobs.  Tears streamed down my face, and I was trying REALLY hard to avoid going into the “ugly cry”.  You know the one.  Catching my breath, hiccups, gasps, burps, ghastly noises, snot….oh yeah.  The Ugly Cry.  I managed to avoid it, but oh, how my throat hurt!  Blech.

Along with the General sessions, there were also breakout sessions.  A decent sized list went with each session, offering some great choices for smaller, more intense information on adoption, foster care, or global orphan care.  I loved hearing Dr. Karyn Purvis, of Texas Christian University.  She specializes in children who come from “hard places”, i.e., any child who has experienced trauma, loss, or abuse.  She was AMAZING.  I also loved Michael and Amy Monroe, founders of Tapestry at Irving Bible Church.  Their ministry is such a great example for Craig and I to follow as we make our strides toward starting up our own foster care, adoption, and global orphan care ministry at our church.  They have provided a wealth of resources for us!

Finally, one of the coolest sessions was a panel of two adoptive moms and a handful of teeenagers.  The teens were all black and the moms were white, and the session was about raising a transracial family.  It was so great to be able to listen and hear from those who have “gone before”.  I realized that one day, I will be a mother to a black man, and I had no idea what to do about that.  It’s an awesome responsibility.  My son will face racism and the thought makes me sick…but how do I help him navigate that?  This panel was so helpful, encouraging, and insightful.  I feel so much better about the task ahead of me.

If you have any interest in going to Summit next year, GO!!!!!  It is SO WORTH every single moment.  To be around people who share this passion, is so uplifting and grounding at the same time.  I am inspired and equipped because of Summit.  THANK YOU to all who worked so hard to put it together.  Now I just want to know where it’s going to be next year!!!???

🙂

The spring of 2010 seems to be a major time of growth for me.  I’ve been doing so much in terms of making life changes and setting goals and actually following through!  I’m sort of really proud of myself. 

My committment to working out and running has yielded some lovely changes in my body and thus my confidence level.  I bought a few new pieces of clothing last week and literally jumped up and down and clapped in the fitting room (I know!  When does THAT ever happen???), when I fit comfortably into a pair of pants two sizes smaller than I wore before!  TWO SIZES SMALLER!!!  Yee-haw!

One amazing event in my 2010 spring was attending Summit VI put on by the Christian Alliance for Orphans.  It’s two days, intensely scheduled,  information-packed, emotion-overload conference on orphan care.  The program encompassed foster care, adoption, and global orphan care.  The conference is basically two days of learning about a topic that I am intensely passionate about.  I’ll post more on the conference later, because frankly, there’s a lot of stuff that touched me, that I feel God opened my eyes to, and I sort of feel like I’m on the precipice of something big here.

The experience was made even better because of the people who came with me.  A fellow adoptive mom, Shonah, a couple from our church (also adoptive parents), and a friend of Shonah’s who is only 18, and yet totally on fire for taking care of the world’s orphans. 

Shonah and I met at a Chicagoland gathering of families who had either already adopted, or were currently adopting, through our agency, Adoption Advocates International.  At the time of the gathering, she and her husband were in process to adopt, as were we.  They had two biological children, a boy and girl, pretty close in age to our own biological children.  Other than some wildly inaccurate assumptions I had made about her (I’ll tell ya about that later if you’d like to know, Shonah!  heehee!), we had a great time talking and exchanged emails.  We kept in touch throughout the process and when we were in Ethiopia bringing home Myles, we got to meet and spend some time with their little guy, who happened to be in the same room as our Myles.  Small world.

Anywho….I guess it would be a “well, duh” sort of statement if I said that spending four days with someone sure does allow people to get to know each other on a whole other level.  I feel like that’s what happend with Shonah & I.  I can’t speak for her, but I am so blessed by this woman whom I have the honor to call sister and friend.  She shares this passion I have for caring for the fatherless, and even if we didn’t click personality-wise, we would still be connected just through this passion alone.  But the bonus is we do click!  We had so many moments of hysterical laughter, the kind that gives you an ab workout and causes you to have to catch your breath.  We shared tears.  Oh so many many tears.  Like, ridiculous amounts.  But it was mostly me.  Shonah said that sometimes I was crying enough for both of us and that’s why she wasn’t crying.  I think I’m just an emotional basketcase sometimes.  We shared time of prayer together, sharing what God seemed to be speaking to our hearts – oh yeah, and more tears.  We shared the experience of worship and fellowship with our brothers and sisters.  So suffice it to say, it was a wonderful experience – and I feel like I’m saying the word “experience” a lot…oh well.   🙂 

I guess my ramblings come down to this.  The conference was awesome, but the bonus blessing was getting to know Shonah better and deepening a friendship.  I feel like that sort of connection is so rare, and frankly, really difficult to find and sustain as a woman and mother to young kids.  So thank you Shonah, for coming to Summit with me, and for all the laughter, tears, prayer and shared committment to speaking for those who cannot speak for themselves.  You have made my life richer!

While joyfully singing and dancing around in my kitchen this evening, I reached up to open a cabinet and apparently subconsciously went with the superwoman strength reach coupled with the poor hand-eye coordination girl and jammed my finger into the edge of my microwave.  Some flat metal part of the microwave went right under my fingernail. 

In case you’re wondering….that really hurts.   A lot.  And the pain continues as you attempt to clean up after your children and inevitable jarring of your finger again and again thereby revisiting the previous immense pain. 

Okay, so maybe IMMENSE pain isn’t accurate.  But you can’t argue with me that breaking a bone, having surgery, labor pains, etc. don’t make getting papercuts NOT painful.  Geesh, did that sentence make sense?  You know what I’m getting at, right?  Also, washing dishes with that separated skin from under the nail is quite painful as well.  I think we all know the moral of the story here.  Stop being so joyful.  At least around metal appliances. 

In other news, as the mother of three kids, there is always something hilarious being said by one of them….at least the ones who speak.  And Myles is starting to speak now.  Oh yes, thanks to Daddy, he now says, “Pooper!” because Craig called him a Little Pooper.  Thanks sweetie.

Anyway, the observations of the world around them are so fascinating and mostly entertaining.  Today I heard Cole giving Caroline a lecture on the health benefits of water.  “It’s chock full of protein Caroline.  And that’s really good for you.  It also has Vitamin C.  And that’s good for you, too.”  This kid is so smart, he knows stuff even I don’t know.  They should totally put that on the label.

Being the mom of an adopted Ethiopian boy is also quite entertaining at times.  I love how my kids will introduce him to new people.  “This is my baby brother, Myles.  He has brown skin and black curly hair.  Let’s play pirates!”  They’re so honest, so matter-of-fact.  And then it’s on to playtime.  They might as well have said, “I’m wearing a blue shirt today with jeans.  Let’s play pirates!”

Oh yes, and I’m aware of how this blog is severely lacking in pictures.  I’ll work on that.

My Favorite Family

All five of us

I thought I’d take the time to introduce my family.  This is us.  Aren’t we adorable?  🙂  My husband Craig and I were married in October of 2002, about one year and one week after our first date.  After we married, we moved to Grand Rapids, MI and stayed there for 5 years.  We moved there because Craig had gotten a job at a University there.  Two years and one day later, we welcomed our son Cole into the world.  He was very much a blessing, and at the same time, a huge change to our lifestyle.  I don’t think you ever realize how very selfish we are as humans until you have to care for another life. 

When Cole was about 8 months old, I discovered I was pregnant.  I like to tell people that while I gleefully shared the positive pregnancy test for Cole, I chucked the stick at Craig for Caroline saying, “Well, what are we going to do now??”  This was mostly due to the fact that Craig was attempting a business start-up and we had no health insurance.  Miraculously, we worked things out though, and Caroline joined us in February of 2006. 

The weeks following Caroline’s birth were dark days for me.  Before I realized what was happening, I found myself in the grip of severe post-partum depression.  I guess I’ll get more into this at a later date, but the short version is that life was awful, I felt hopeless, but after confessing my feeling to my OB/GYN, I got the help I needed.  I went to counseling, and went on anti-depressants.  I cannot say enough about the importance of finding help when you are depressed.  It is not a battle to be fought alone!

After 5 years in Michigan, we moved back to Chicagoland, again for Craig’s job.  In 2008, we began the process to adopt from Ethiopia.  After many stacks of paper, many pages read, many documents notarized, and many headaches and impatient waiting, Myles Peter Mintesinote Isaak joined us in June 2009.  He was 7 months old at the time.  The entire adoption process stretched us in more ways than we could have ever imagined, and we are the better for it.  Adjusting to his arrival was more difficult than we first anticipated, but coming up on a year later, we are so blessed by him and we are amazed at how we have been shown even more of God through this process.  He really is Good, all the time.

Oh, that is us in a nutshell.  You will be learning all of our crazy quirks and strengths and general craziness through this blog.  Should be pretty interesting.  Thanks for joining us!