Adopting Lyla: Part 2

The fact that a child born to another woman is about to call me “Mom” is a tragedy and a privilege – neither of which is lost on me. My friend Jodi said that.

Adoption is born out of total tragedy. Adoption is not the way life is supposed to be. It’s an unimaginable heartache of the most courageous kind for a woman to have to give up her child. There are countless possible reasons why she must – but it’s still a tragedy for her and for the baby who began bonding in utero with her mom’s voice, smell, and beat of her heart. Adoption begins with the breaking of a bond that wasn’t meant to be broken. If we can’t acknowledge this, then we minimize the pain for both birth mom and baby, no matter how beautiful the story that follows may be.

I hope and trust that our family’s story with Lyla will indeed be a beautiful one.

The fact that a child born to another woman is about to call me “Mom” is a privilege of the most sacred kind. It is the way life is supposed to be that those with love to share give it away, and that those that are called to adopt give that love to a child in need of a home. Every child should have a family in which to belong, where s/he can be seen, loved and nurtured. Our family is grateful, humbled, and overjoyed to be in a position to offer our love and our home to Lyla.

Lyla was born to another woman but will soon call me “Mom.” The magnitude of that tragedy and the depth of that privilege are not lost on me.

To be continued…

Adopting Lyla: Part 1

The dream of adopting a child has been in my heart for as long as I can remember.   In 2nd grade I was obsessed with the movie Annie. At my Annie-themed birthday party that summer, I received an Annie album, an Annie necklace, and an Annie towel. The story of orphan Annie finding a home had captured me – and everyone knew it. “Why adoption?” some people ask. I guess I just can’t think of anything more beautiful in which to invest the life and resources God has given our family.

When Tim and I first met in college, China had just opened up to Westerners, and we were moved by the history, culture and amazing people of China. Tim moved to Beijing for 2 years after college, serving with a campus ministry and teaching English. We were dating long distance at the time, so I went to China to visit Tim. We have so many memories of that trip, including walking along the Great Wall of China, visiting Tiananmen Square, eating super spicy noodles in a dingy underground restaurant and a walk in Purple Bamboo Park when Tim brought up marriage. I said, “I’m really not ready for this conversation yet.” Geez, what was I thinking?!

When we got married, we both agreed that starting a family “someday” was a desire of our hearts. We decided we would try, “down the road,” to have 1 child biologically if possible and we’d try to adopt 1 child from China if possible.

Before our now 3½ year old son Russell was even born, we had begun pursuing adoption through CCAI (Chinese Children Adoption International.)  We filled out the application and attended the 24 hours of required parenting courses. Then we sort of stalled out in completing all the paperwork. Part of our stalling out was just neither of us being good at details, but I also think our hearts were catching up with all the realities of adoption. Eventually our agency said we either needed to move forward or close down our file.

With a lot of help and prayer, we finished the paperwork in the fall of 2014 and finally “matched” with our soon-to-be daughter Lyla on January 8, 2015.

We now wait for her to come home! We are filled with awe, wonder, anticipation, and a whole new set of hopes & fears as we await “Adoption Day,” which is a phrase marking the anniversary of when an adopted family finally gets to hold their child in their arms.

To be continued…

Morning Snuggles with Russell

I’ve loved Russell from the moment we found out he was only the size of a poppy seed inside of me.  But there are moments lately when I look at him, and the depth of love I feel towards him nearly knocks me off my feet.  The other morning he came into our bed early in the morning. Tim was already gone, and Russell lay there quietly holding my hand. The sweetness of his little fingers wrapped around mine, the features of his face, the warmth of his little body, the quietness of that moment, the stillness of early day-all came together and made me want to weep in its beauty. In such moments, I think to myself: I would lay down in front of a train for you. I would learn how to fly for you. I would go anywhere, do anything, pay any price because I love you so much.

Then I think about God’s love for me, and for you, and for Russell. I think about God’s love for all people. For all people he created. For all people of every nation, every political belief, every religious belief, and every status. All people, even annoying people and crazy people and irritating people and the ones who try so hard to be good and the ones who gave up on any attempts at goodness long ago. God created, He birthed all these creatures-all these beings-and His love for His creation is fierce.

I’m certain that Russell’s 3-year old brain cannot fully comprehend or fathom the depths of my love for him. I’m certain that my little brain cannot fully grasp God’s love for me either. But if my love for Russell is a fractured, incomplete & imperfect picture of God’s love for us, then that realization of the immensity of God’s love changes everything. It makes me wonder…

Why would I ever fear in this sort of love?

Why would I ever embrace or support hatred or violence?

Why would I ever hold on to a grudge?

Why would I ever choose doing over being?

… The list goes on and on.

The depth of Gods’ love is an ever-deepening spiral, unfathomable, and it is our only context for enduring transformation and change. So, let’s not be afraid to be like Russell and put our little hands in God’s hands in the stillness and quiet and in the turmoil and terror of this life. We are loved.

Adoption Update

When our son Russell was still only an unnamed hope in our hearts, Tim and I felt drawn to adoption. It is estimated that 153 million children worldwide are orphans. That need, combined with our sense of God’s calling and our own desire to build a family, led us down a winding road whose destination we still don’t see clearly. We began the journey more than 5 years ago by attending various local and international adoption agency informational meetings. We eventually chose Chinese Children Adoption International as the route that felt most consistent with our hearts and God’s leading. We struggled through some of the potential “ugh” realities of adopting, including the possible lack of knowledge on family medical history, the unique attachment journey some adopted kids and parents enter, the unknowns, and the long waiting periods. We sat through 24 hours of required parenting courses. We began saving our money for the associated costs of adoption. And we waited…

Last week, after a long silence, our dossier (the extensive paperwork associated with adopting) was finally filed in China.  We received the first “file” of a little girl for our consideration in adopting!

Please pray for us. We are seeking to discern if this sweet little girl is a “match” for our family and us for her. The thrill of hope inside of us around this possibility is indescribable!

My friend Jodi Landers has adopted 2 children from Sierra Leone, and she has wisely said, “A child born to another woman calls me mom. The magnitude of that tragedy and the depth of that privilege is not lost on me.”

Thank you for your prayers as we seek to hear God’s voice in this process!

Saying Goodbye to Sam

The dog was created specially for children. He is the god of frolic.” ~Henry Ward

I was never much of a dog person, until we got our Old English Sheepdog. We named him Sam Wise Gamgee, after Frodo’s best friend, since he was about to become our family’s new best friend. Tim and I were living in Iowa at the time, and I was sad and resistant about being in a town that felt way too small for my ambitious 20-something year old heart. I traveled a lot for work, flying in and out of Chicago, so we had Sam shipped from a breeder in Montana, and we picked Sam up in the cargo section of O’Hare International airport after one of my work trips.

I was instantly in love. That fluffy puppy sat on my lap the whole 3-hour drive home to our house on the Mississippi River in Iowa. He was a mere 40 pounds then, only half the size he would become. Sam settled gently into our lives during that tough season  when our marriage was being tested in new ways, my faith was being strengthened, and I was discovering that hope really is stronger than my fears. Sam was great comic relief for us in the midst of all that loneliness, tension, struggle and tears. That was 12 years ago.

Since that first day, Sam has been a constant presence and has moved with us 8 times. He was there to welcome our son Russell home from the hospital. Sam watched and comforted all of us through Russell’s many  “firsts” and through our parenting “firsts.” Sam taught me so much about the value of play and companionship, rhythm and routine.

Over the last few months, we noticed Sam losing his energy and his ability to walk. We watched him getting increasingly uncomfortable. We slowly and reluctantly recognized that Sam was dying…

Earlier this week, we had to say goodbye to Sam. I cannot remember the last time I cried this much!  Even though Sam’s health had been declining for some time, nothing could prepare us for saying goodbye to a dog that had become family.  We miss him already. We are so grateful for the special years God gave us with our fluffy puppy. A friend gave me this quote, which sums up one of the many gifts God gave us through Sam:

“Dogs are our link to paradise. They don’t know evil or jealousy or discontent. To sit with a dog on a hillside on a glorious afternoon is to be back in Eden, where doing nothing was not boring-it was peace.” ~Milan Kundera

Sam, we love you, and we are so glad God gave you to our family. You will forever be in our hearts.

Why I Love Child Dedication

As a Pastor, Mother’s Day makes me a little nervous every year. I am always aware that this is a painful day, a joyful day, a salt-in-the-wound day and a sacred day – depending on your experience. It is also a beautiful opportunity-day to acknowledge that anytime someone chooses to nurture & care for another human being, they are “mothering” in the best definition of that word.

Tomorrow we will celebrate with nearly 10 families who have chosen to dedicate their children to the Lord. I get misty-eyed every time we have child dedication in our worship service. I’m not sure if it has always been the case throughout the history of parenting but I know that the parents I speak with today (and myself included) regularly feel some shame in their job as parents. If you pull a busy parent aside and say, “you are doing a great job” do not be surprised if they break out into tears. Maybe it is the high expectations of our culture that no one feels they can measure up, maybe it is because every parent just has those days where they want to resign from the job and then feel guilty for wanting to, or maybe it is because little kids are just so unrelenting in their need for help, guidance and parenting.

So when parents stand up and dedicate themselves and their children to God it is a declaration of dependence, it is a cry for help in the best possible way we can cry out for help. It is a full-on, complete and total acknowledgement that we as parents cannot do this job alone. We need God, we need our friends and family, and we need our church community. There are not many places in this world where you can basically stand up and say “I need a ton of help here” and then make a celebration & ceremony out of how totally awesome that is to admit to the world.

Thank you in advance to all the families who will share heart-felt letters to your children with us in church tomorrow. Thank you for modeling dependence and your need for help. Thank you for modeling courage and strength for all of us. Thank you for being a part of our church. We know that you do not need one more person needing you right now, but the truth is: we need you too, our church needs you. We don’t need you to do anything extra, we just need you to be in our lives because what you are doing in raising children is important and when we see your sacrifice we remember why Jesus said “let the little children come to me” and we are reminded that God is found in serving the littlest and least of these.  You are doing a great job.

My father-in-law: Papa “D”

As many of you know, Tim’s dad passed away this past week and we went to WI for the funeral and to spend time with family. You can read his obituary here. We are grateful to all of you for your prayers, support and love on us during this time. Here is a letter I was able to write and have read to my father-in-law just before he died…

Dear Papa “D” –

I just wanted to write you a note and let you know what you’ve meant to me these last 11 years of Tim and I being married.

I remember the first time I met you, which was probably more like 15 years ago. It was at one of Dano’s high school football games when Tim disguised himself so that you would not recognize him and since you didn’t know me yet – we sat behind you and I asked you, “Do you know what time it is?” Then Tim revealed his identity and introduced me to you as his girlfriend.

From that moment on, I have many meaningful memories of time spent with you and your family. So many fun family vacations up north, being on the lake, shopping in Eagle RIver & Minocqua, sitting around the campfire, and so many great meals out in Denver at PF Changs and Ruth Chris Steakhouse. I have always appreciated how you really showed up for the ridiculous and silly games I would organize on our family vacations – like the craziest PJ contest and the Wildest Hat competition. We always knew we’d be in for a good laugh together when you unveiled your crazy costumes. I have enjoyed learning about your passion for music with the kids and the drive you put forth to organize the Marine Band coming to Wausau – not just once but twice!  I also have so many good memories of getting “special drinks” together at Starbucks or mixing up crazy concoctions for the “adult beverage special drinks” around the campfire. For these memories and many many more – I am grateful – and I thank God for you.

Most importantly I thank you for being Tim’s dad.  I truly feel like the luckiest girl on earth to get to be married to such a caring, sensitive, honest, hard working, and dependable man. I cannot think of anyone I respect more than Tim. Men rarely turn out to be so exceptional without a consistent and steady father figure in their lives. I owe you a heartfelt thank you for being Tim’s dad. I have been deeply blessed by you.

Since we don’t ever know what the future holds, I am grateful that you and I know the one who holds the future. And just in case I don’t see you until heaven, I will meet you there – and since they have closed down Ruth Chris Steakhouse here in Denver – I’m planning to enjoy a great meal with you on the other side of eternity.

“Love you much” – as I learned to say in the Grade household.

My thoughts, my heart and my prayers are with you right now.

In His Steady and Loving Arms,