Adopting Lyla: Part 4

Adoption Day is the day that adoptive parents meet their child for the first time.

I have been told to expect all sorts of emotions on the day that our family and Lyla meet face-to-face. For parents, this day is the realization of a whole lot of wishes, hopes, dreams, and prayers, not to mention an insane amount of paperwork! For the child being adopted, it may also be a day of culminated joy, but there is often an element of loss, too, as the child is separated from whatever semblance of home has been fostered in the orphanage or foster home. For siblings already in the home, “Gotcha Day” can be complex, with some excitement and some perception of threat. The whole family is oriented around the task of bonding, which is a vulnerable undertaking in any circumstance, but perhaps especially in this context where each person longs so deeply to love and be loved. “Gotcha Day” is the beginning of something new and inconceivable, no matter how often we have dreamed of it.

I am waiting and wondering and dreaming of what our adoption day will be like. I wonder what it will feel like for Tim, Russell, and me, and I wonder what it will feel like for Lyla. We would be so grateful for your prayers as we approach this important day. Here are some of our hearts’ longings:

  • Tim and I will travel to China sometime end of May/early June. Prayer for us and Russell as he stays home with Grandma, Grandpa & Gabby as we travel to China to get Lyla. I’m already sad about leaving Russell for those 10 days and I’m nostalgic about our time with “just Russell” winding down.
  • We hope to make our world very small for a while when Lyla first arrives, in order to focus on bonding & attaching with our new little girl.
  • Praying for Russell’s adjustment…Mommy’s adjustment….Tim’s adjustment…Gabby’s adjustment….and a whole lot of patience, acceptance and openness to the big change coming our way.
  • Solid sleeping routines for everyone upon Lyla’s arrival!
  • Praying for Lyla’s little heart as she goes through one more significant change in her life. Praying that as she forms her self-identity that she can be rooted deeply in the Lord and his deep abiding love for her.

For as many as are led by the Spirit of God, these are sons of God. For you did not receive a spirit of bondage again to fear, but you received the Spirit of adoption by whom we cry, ‘Abba, Father.’ The Spirit itself bears witness with our spirit, that we are children of God: and if children, then heirs; heirs of God and joint-heirs with Christ.”– Romans 8:14-17

Adopting Lyla: Part 3

We were sitting in a required parent training for adoption a couple years ago now, when the facilitator started explaining that there is a “primal wound” that develops when a birth mother and a child are separated shortly after childbirth. She was teaching from a well known resource published in 1993 by Nancy Verrier called “The Primal Wound: Understanding the Adopted Child.”  The primary focus of both the book and the class was the effects of adoption on the adopted. The big idea was that all adoptees, even those adopted at birth, experience a break in bond that is a deep emotional wound. And that a loving set of adoptive parents can help to heal the wounds.

I remember there was a woman in our class who listened to all the unique challenges of bonding and attaching inherent in adoption and then she finally blurted out, “This is so depressing! I’m not even sure I want to adopt anymore!”

Tim and I listened, learned, were sobered by the realizations but didn’t feel any less drawn to adopt. For us it felt empowering to know the information. It felt honest to acknowledge and embrace the research. Just like there is a nostalgia to romance, there can be a nostalgia to adoption. Nostalgia plays a role in initially drawing us, inspiring us towards a beautiful vision of what could be. But nostalgia is a limited view. It’s only a small part of the true story. Real love – the tough, weathered, true kind – doesn’t remain in nostalgia-land forever. Authentic love is sometimes boring, sometimes brutal, sometimes messy and scary and roll-up-your-sleeves, push-on, one-foot forward, hard+hard+hard work. Nostalgia comes and goes. Sustaining love on the other hand, embraces the truth, lives informed and rides the seasons of winter, spring, summer and fall.

I want to be the kind of person who moves beyond nostalgia to give and receive sustaining love.  I want to offer this kind of love to my people; to my kids, to Tim and to our home team. I want more than pseudo-community that is all about conflict-avoidance.  I want the real deal. I want to foster true, authentic community that is only born when we risk vulnerability and are willing to enter the tunnel of chaos to find one another as we truly are on the other side.

Embracing “the primal wound” of adoption is just a picture to me of embracing people for who they really are (and not who I want to make them be) and not minimizing the pain of our unique human experiences – whatever they may be.  This takes humility and vulnerability and patience and time – and it is relevant in all my relationships. Because we all have different pains & wounds, and we all have the chance to offer one another healing too.

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!

About Singing to Russell

Every night I sing to Russell before tucking him in bed.  Usually I ask him what song he wants to hear and most nights he requests: 1) “Santa baby,” 2) a made-up song or story about Papa Bear, or 3) a song about his friends Benji and Claire. One night recently, though, he said, “Mommy and Daddy drink wine, I drink juice.”  True confession… that is what my 3 year old requested I sing about! You’ll have to imagine how that song turned out because you’ll never hear it from me. No matter what I sing with Russell, I almost always end the night with a hymn, and lately it has been “Come Thou Fount.”

This past summer we did a message series called “Wisdom of the Hymnal.”  In it we looked at the stories and meanings behind some of the ancient hymns, including “Come Thou Fount.” One of the great lines says, “Tune my heart to sing thy grace.”

I love that line because it sounds like a prayer of invitation rather than of obligation. Sometimes I engage in spiritual practices from a sense of obligation or duty – and practices may legitimately become routine disciplines of daily life. But, I do not like when I find myself living primarily out of pressured duty. We always have freedom to offer our spiritual practices with a whispered prayer that says, “Lord, in this practice, tune my heart to sing thy grace.” Singing, living, embodying God’s grace is, after all, one of the healthy purposes of investing myself in spiritual practices. While my participation may delight God, it certainly nourishes my own spirit and hopefully bears witness of God’s aliveness and relevance.

Some spiritual practices that have become meaningful to me lately are:

-the spiritual practice of slowing in which I put my feet flat on the floor and take several deep breaths in and out…tune my heart to your perspective and pace Lord.

-the spiritual practice of reading in which I aim for depth over breadth…tune my heart to your deep mind and heart, God.

-the spiritual practice of friendship in which I make time for eyeball-to-eyeball, face to face unhurried time with someone else…tune my heart to being present over perfect Lord, available and wholly right here, right now.

Through each of these, I am learning to whisper a simple request, “Lord, tune my heart.”

About Being Unplugged

One of the best parts about marrying into the Grade family is the annual “Up North” tradition. It’s that week every summer of Tim’s entire life (and my life since being a Grade) when we hit the lake in northern Wisconsin. We exchange our 4G network for a spotty connection, and we trade in our busy schedules for lazy days with little planned on the lake. We leave all work clothes at home and we rely mainly on swimsuits, flip-flops and the same clothes over and over all week.  Our eyes stare at the lake for hours, rather than our screens and we get loads of time with some of the people we love most.  We find ourselves antsy for activity and hot with cabin fever by day 3 in our attempt to unplug from all the movement that is our daily lives.

This past week we’ve been up north and I’m reminded once again, as I am every year, that there is just something good about non-productivity and less self-striving. There is something strong birthed in quiet and staring into the beauty of nature – if you can push past the clatter within.

Most days this week during Russell’s nap I just sat on the boat or on the dock staring up at those tall, tall trees.  I watched and I reveled and I soaked in all that beauty of the rustling wind in the pines, the deer wandering by, and the water lapping up against the shore.  I found my heart singing for nothing in particular but just because I am here and God is here and we are here together.

I wish for you a moment, or many moments, like this, this summer. May we all better learn to trust that when God tells us to rest, he really does mean it and that there are non-flashy, undetectable, life-giving gifts lying wait for us there.

Dear Tim

Dear Tim,

I want to acknowledge, honor and celebrate so many things about you this Father’s Day.  I am grateful for your tenderness, strength, funny ways, energy, insights and love. But maybe most of all I am grateful for your involvement in parenting. I know that sometimes our culture stereotypes dads as being uninvolved, aloof, oblivious, disconnected – but you are nothing like that. You are every bit as involved in being Russell’s dad as I am in being Russell’s mom. You are equally aware, tuned in, and committed. You prepare just as many meals, change just as many diapers, and say “no” or “maybe later” just as often as I do.  I love that Russell can follow you around in the garage, swing with you on the swing, paint on canvas with you, and cook eggs with you for breakfast. I love watching the two of you together. I love raising Russell with you. I’m so glad you are his dad.

Happy Father’s Day with love from us both,

Susie & Russell

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.