When It’s Easy to Miss the Forest for the Trees (adoption update 3)

“We are looking forward in hope.”

Our Chinese visas came last week.  An email informing us that the final piece of paperwork was processed came through on Monday.  I’m sitting at the dining room table covered by multiple stacks of documents, grant applications, recent mail, and FedEx envelopes.  My daily planner lies open next to me with a running (and growing) list of emails to reply to, travel webinars and reading material to complete, airfare quotes needed, and rooms needing to be prepped for little bodies.

It’s been all too easy to miss the forest for the trees.

Another email pops up, another check needs to be written, another decision needs to be made, and I keep running into these fat trees everywhere.  Because they ALL feel like gigantic redwoods basically.  Not a single small sapling among the bunch.

Isn’t that the way it is when major life changes are staring you in the face?  EVERYTHING feels huge and weighty.  I was in the car running errands yesterday and even completing those felt like a major undertaking.  I struggled to take deep breaths against my seat belt as people in cars passed by going about their normal business, and I wondered how they were all doing it and thought that ‘this was just going to be my life from here on out because once we bring our kids home then EVERYTHING will change.  And I will never be able to take a deep breath again.’  And those dang trees stared me right down.

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Photo by Nareeta Martin on Unsplash

I forgot I was standing in the middle of a forest created by Someone much bigger than me.

***

Thankfully, a few calming words from friends and some time with Jesus reminded me where I was and Who I belonged to.  Because the truth is that even when we lose sight of the forest for the trees, the forest is big and wild and still there.  It’s the bigger, miraculous story that God is writing.  It’s how God is turning our fear into faith.  When I step back and ask for eyes to see the forest, I hear His whisper above the trees…

There is Hope.

You are loved.

The story is bigger than you realize.

That whisper sounds an awful lot like my friend Jesus who has been walking every step of this crazy trail with me.  He’s actually been whispering it all along; it’s just hard to hear when I’m so focused on the bark and moss and size and branches of every. single. tree. in front of me.

***

Have you ever been there?  What are the trees blocking your view of the forest?  Do they look like endless bills to pay, constant chauffeuring of you and your people everywhere, or a loved one battling a hideous disease?  Maybe it’s the tedious job you thought would make you happy but it’s not, or the burden of being the sole caretaker for your spouse or parents.  Maybe, like me, it’s a major life change staring you in the face.

Whatever the shape our trees take, let’s not allow them to steal the show okay?  Because the forest, the story that God is writing with each of our lives is so much bigger and more beautiful than any one tree will ever be.

There is Hope.

You are loved.

The Story is bigger.

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Adoption Update, Part 2

It was one year ago this month.

Jerrel came home from work and said, “I talked to our agency today.”

***

In the past, those words had triggered apprehension, a tightening of my gut with ‘what’s wrong now?’ bobbing like a cork to the surface of my mind. In the past, talking to our agency meant going over paperwork questions or deadline clarifications…but it also meant getting verbally chastised because things (which were completely out of our control) were taking so long, hearing that they were being shut down, & hearing that the adoption of our girls was over. So you could see why talking to our agency didn’t stir up the fondest of feelings.

To be fair, we were on our third adoption agency by this point and, with the exception of Agency #1, most of the unpleasant circumstances had been beyond their control as well.  Agency #2 had been extremely knowledgeable and supportive when the adoption of the girls fell through, and we were sad to say goodbye to our contact there.

But we felt a goodbye needed to be said, since the only two countries they worked with were Mexico and Poland, both of which were extremely difficult to adopt from at the moment.  So, on their trusted recommendation, we moved on to Agency #3.  This one represented a number of different countries – including Colombia and China – areas where Jerrel and I had both spent a considerable amount of time.

And so we had filled out the initial paperwork with Agency #3, intending to take it one baby step at a time, refusing to feel rushed into anything.  Our thinking was that once we submitted the paperwork, we would tentatively look into the Colombia program, since Agency #2 had spoken well of their work in that country…and mentioned that Colombia tended to have more sibling groups needing families.  We realized that a sibling group was something we wanted.

***

During the break between our failed adoption and signing with Agency #3, we had continued weekly processing with a trusted counselor.  In one of our sessions, as we discussed how we felt about continuing the adoption process and our desire for children in general, she asked us, “What do you want?  If you could choose any children to adopt, what would be most important to you?”

It might sound like the most basic of questions, but Jerrel and I looked at her like two dumb deer caught in the headlights.

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Photo by Davide Foti on Unsplash

In our whole three-year process, we never really stopped to ask ourselves what WE actually wanted.  We just knew we wanted children, both biologically and through adoption.  As our struggle to start a family continued, we felt God nudging us to explore adoption.  We didn’t really consider any specific desires other than international adoption.

We felt like this previous group of siblings had been dropped in our laps, so to speak, and that God gave us the green light to adopt them.  Even though part of us was terrified of adopting five children all at once, we still had a heart for these kiddos that seemed unlikely to find a home all together anywhere else.

When the adoption fell through, we were so focused on asking all the questions and wondering why God led us to these children only to seemingly take them away that we still never paused to consider what we actually wanted.

***

So we took a few days and let that question simmer between us.  In time, a few desires began to bubble to the surface:

  • Siblings.  We wanted more than one child, and would love to have boys AND girls.
  • Children close in age to their cousins (4-10 at the time).
  • Children from either a Spanish-speaking country (like Colombia) or China, since those were languages we were most familiar with.  We traveled together to Colombia and fell in love with the country and its people, and I had dreamed of adopting from China ever since living and teaching there for several years.  China, however, seemed out of the question because of our desire for siblings; Chinese adoptions are almost always one child.

***

We had just barely articulated those desires when Jerrel came walking through the door saying he had spoken with our agency.  As I braced myself for what I was 75% certain would be bad news of some sort, I heard him say something about China.

Wait a minute.  What?”

“I know we had expressed an interest in siblings from Colombia, but they asked if we would be open to pursuing a Chinese adoption.  They have a set of twins, a boy and girl – 7 years old, who were in the process of being adopted when things didn’t work out with the family.  Since we already have a completed home study with approval for siblings, they thought of us.”

With the mention of China, my eyes sprung a leak.  As Jerrel kept up the description, my eyes started overflowing.

Twins.  Jerrel is a twin.

Boy and girl.

Seven years old, fitting right in with cousins.

China.  A place that will always feel like a second home to me and that I had longed to incorporate into my own home.  A spoken but buried desire for years now that had seemed unattainable.

The first two thoughts that popped into my head were:

  1.  God, are you serious?  Every single one of our desires checked off?  That’s crazy-amazing and so like You.
  2.  If THIS one ends up falling through too, that would be the meanest form of mean and I will. be. done.

Hope soared like an eagle, followed quickly by the tight reign of previous disappointments.  What if this one didn’t work out and we had to start over with a new country again?  What if, what if, what if?  But even as the ‘what if’s’ clamored for attention, it felt like God was acknowledging the desires of our heart as well.  Almost as if He was nodding His head, proud of us for allowing our dreams to take shape and form words once again.  Saying ‘yes’ to this possible Chinese adoption felt like the next right baby step.

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***

So, ever since that August afternoon, we have continued taking baby steps towards these two kiddos living half a world away, in a country that remains so close to my heart.

If I’m honest, our hearts have been guarded throughout most of the process.  We haven’t spoken as openly about this adoption as we did about the first one.  But as steps continue to be taken and paperwork continues to be processed (swiftly!), we find ourselves now on the brink of the unknown in the next few months.  An unknown that feels both sudden and a very long time in coming.  An unknown that God is reminding me He already knows.

***

Slowly, slowly, the guardrails are coming down and excitement is taking their place.  We are expecting our visas to come in the mail today and waiting on a travel date from China.  In the meantime, we are collecting toys and chore charts and picking out English names and fundraising for the final leg and I am teaching Jerrel Chinese (oh, what fun!).

And we are looking ahead with hope.

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Adoption Update, Part 1

This is long overdue, I realize.  Some of you may have started following along here several years ago when I began sharing our adoption journey.  You offered encouragement and prayers on our behalf, listened kindly as I processed what on earth God seemed to be asking of us in preparing to adopt five children all at once.  If you’re just joining in, you can read more about that here.

And then early last year, the proverbial crap hit the fan, the adoption ground to a halt…and I stopped writing.  No journaling, no Word docs that no one else saw, nothing. Partially because we were both in so much emotional turmoil that I couldn’t begin to make sense of everything going on inside my head, and partially because we had also been in counseling for a while and I was already processing verbally.  Writing seemed redundant, too much work.

And so things here remained quiet.

And then gradually, I started putting thoughts down on paper again, with a blog post here and there.  But not about adoption.  Truthfully, there wasn’t much to tell for a long time.  We were on a break for about six months to grieve and process.

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When we did begin taking tentative steps back into the adoption world last August, we didn’t really talk about it much outside of the two of us.  I knew I was only capable of taking the tiniest of baby steps right in front of me.  Sign some paperwork for a new agency?  Sure, I can do that; it’s just paperwork.  Let myself dream about what that paperwork might actually lead to?  Nope.  Not ready to go there.  Answer an email from our social worker?  I can do that.  Get rid of drawers full of girls’ clothing in the back bedrooms and start thinking about what we might need for ‘new’ children?  A hard NO.  And I probably would have smacked anyone who suggested it (and not with the love of Jesus, either).  We still referred to those back bedrooms as ‘the girls’ rooms’ up until not long ago.

Grief takes time.  It was so easy to feel ridiculous for being torn up about children we had never met.  All we ever had of them was a photo and a video and information on their favorite colors and which of them liked Dora the Explorer and which of them loved spaghetti.  But those bedrooms had been decorated with their favorite colors in mind (and still are) and were constant reminders of what we had lost.  Our counselor introduced us to the phrase ‘disenfranchised grief.’  It’s the term used to describe the kind of grief experienced by someone who has had a miscarriage or an abortion…or a failed adoption.  It’s the loss of something or someone that you were hoping and planning and loving and dreaming for – without ever physically seeing those dreams realized.  That break we were on?  It involved working through our grief and wrestling through LOTS of questions for God.  Questions like:

  • Why did He lead us into this adoption only to hang us out to dry? (at least, that’s what it felt like)
  • Did we even hear Him correctly in the first place in pursuing this adoption? And if not, our whole paradigm on how we heard from God felt completely shaken.
  • Why would a good God allow five children to remain trapped in the system?  Children who had someone willing to give them a home?
  • Did we even WANT to continue the adoption process after a journey in which everything that could go wrong seemingly did?  Life on a break started to feel REAL comfortable after the roller coaster of adoption.
  • What was the point of getting our hopes back up again only to have them possibly crushed?  And what did that mean for living a life of faith and hope in an unseen God?
  • What did it mean to grieve well?

You know, easy stuff like that.

Even though we were surrounded by doubts and questions, we were aware of the constant undercurrent of God’s presence. Even though I didn’t like the way circumstances had turned out – and I frequently told God that by emotionally stomping off to my room and slamming the door in His face – down in the depths of my soul, I couldn’t shake His ‘withness,’ His presence deliberately showing up despite my temper tantrums & questions.

It’s the church who labeled Thomas a doubter. Jesus simply called him a friend and showed up and let old Thomas have at it. What if we made more room for doubt and less demand for fired up, frame-worthy faith?” – Lisa Jo Baker

Sometimes it’s like that isn’t it? Something happens that shakes the very foundation of what we thought we knew to be true about God. We pray and believe and fight for hope and a healing only for the death of a loved one to knock the wind out of us. The doctor’s office calls with the test results and it’s not what you’ve been praying for. The routine pregnancy check-up that uncovers no heartbeat and brings full stop to all your dreams.

What happens when following God doesn’t seem to bring a fulfillment of the very thing He told you to do?  What happens when walking in obedience to God only seems to bring more pain? I still don’t know the answers to those questions. But I’ve asked them. And I know that He’s listened to me. Somehow simply being heard can bring about a settling of the soul even more than knowing all the right answers can.

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Photo by Ken Treloar on Unsplash

And so we still don’t have answers to a lot of our questions. In this lifetime, it’s unlikely that we will.  But that shouldn’t stop us from asking them.  Because it’s in the asking and seeking that we find what we didn’t even realize we were looking for.  We find Someone who is willing to listen and will always call us His friend.

***

Since last August, we’ve been moving forward (shakily and slowly, at times) in embracing the desire to adopt that is still on our hearts.  What has that looked like?  Surprisingly smooth steps – and a new country.  Stay tuned for more details on that soon…

 

 

What I’m Loving Lately

I always love reading lists of what others are enjoying – and usually end up with some great recommendations in the process, so in the same spirit, here are a few of my recent faves:

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1. The Longmire series on Netflix.

I never pictured myself a fan of westerns, (and I still wouldn’t, really) but I LOVED this show. It was a great blend of individual mysteries developed within a larger story arc, something I’m learning that I really enjoy in a TV or book series (Louise Penney, anyone?). The developing relationships between characters was intriguing, and I found myself constantly pulled in, wondering what would happen next (and if Vic and Walt would ever get together, FOR THE LOVE). We finished the series recently and I have yet to find something quite as binge-worthy (with my go-to exceptions of New Girl and the Great British Baking Show, although they’re a little more feel-good and not quite as gritty). Suggestions welcome!

2. A new haircut

I wanted something shorter and edgier for spring and summer and found myself drawn to all the asymetrical bobs and pixie cuts. So after falling down the Pinterest rabbit hole (as one does), I showed a few pics to my hair stylist and she gave me a fresh ‘do. LOVE.

3. Big earrings (see above photo)

I’ve always been a fan of a statement pair of earrings, but they are having a fashion moment right now – and I am here for it. Feathers, hoops, teardrops, links….I’ll take them all please.

4. Spontaneous library hauls

I stopped by the library the other day to pick up a book I’d reserved and noticed the latest Sophie Kinsella book on a display shelf. I’d been reading a lot of non-fiction, and some chick-lit sounded like the perfect respite. It did not disappoint.

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5. Sunshine!

We have been drenched in rain lately here in Mississippi (side note: I can never write or say ‘drenched’ without hearing the old lady from Anne of Avonlea rolling her r’s – ‘I said drrrenched, and I meant drrrenched.’). It’s currently raining as I type this. I know it’s good for the coming of spring, but this Florida girl needs her sunshine! So the last few sunny days have done my soul good.

6. Asparagus

Spring means gardening – and asparagus! We haven’t finished planting our summer garden yet, but our asparagus bed is growing strong. I’m a huge fan of dousing it with oil & vinegar, salt & pepper and throwing it on the grill for a few minutes. SO good.

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7. A new porch swing

Some friends of ours from church gifted us with a porch swing a few years ago, and it’s been sitting in our shed until we could find the right place to hang it. We moved some things around between the back and front porches a few weekends ago, and Jerrel hung it on our front porch. I’ve always thought swings and porches were kindred spirits, and I adore how inviting it looks.

8. Small groups

Before Jerrel and I were married, I was involved in several small groups with my church in Florida. I grew to love and depend on the sense of community and family that those represented for me. When I moved to Mississippi our church didn’t have small groups, and I found myself missing those deeper relationships. Over the past few years however, we decided to be intentional in having people over to our house regularly, and it has been life-giving. Our church recently started small groups, and we currently have three small groups that meet at our house on a weekly or semi-weekly basis (yes, three – can you tell I missed it?). It’s made for a busy season, but mostly I’ve just enjoyed the rhythm it has added to our weeks and the deepening relationships as a result.

That’s all for now. What have you been loving lately?

Happy Friday!

A Prayer for Running Well

Jesus,

I so want to run my own race well, but my eyes wander so easily. I compare my beginning to someone else’s middle, or even my middle to their Instagram-worthy ending, forgetting that their starting line probably looked very different from mine. Forgive me.

Emily P. Freeman says of You:

He does not manage us, to-do list us, or bullet-point us. He loves us. Is with us. And believing Him feels impossible, until we do, like a miracle, like luke-warm water turning merlot red right there in the cup. And hope sprouts new, because God doesn’t give us a list. He invites us into the story.

-From A Million Little Ways

I so want to believe that is true. I do believe…help my unbelief. Let hope sprout new.

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Photo by Evan Kirby on Unsplash

My comparison game often stops me in my tracks, keeps me second-guessing every step that I just took and every one I’m about to take. The internal voice in my head says that maybe this other path would be better, produce better results. That she’s obviously more successful than I am by walking that path, so I should chase that path also.

And in doing so, I leave the path YOU’VE carved out for me, Jesus. I lose sight of what You say of me and the story You’re calling me to live in this world.

May I keep blinders on my eyes to see clearly the path You’ve laid out for me. May I learn to cheer my sisters on while still running my own race with passion and purpose and clarity. May I not downplay my own worth when I see another’s success.

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Photo by Matt Lee on Unsplash

I so want to see You for who You are, and in so doing, see myself for who I really am.

May I be single-minded in my pursuit of this one wild life You’ve given me.

Amen.

***

*Thanks for reading these words here, friend! Of all the words floating around the Internet, I count it a HUGE honor that you would stop here for a few moments. I originally started this space as an intentional reminder to seek hope and hints of the bigger story that God is writing with our lives. I’d love to send you a little gift, a ‘thank you’ for choosing to seek hope along with me. Sign up over on the right side of the blog (or down below if you’re reading on your phone), and I’ll send you my favorite Spotify playlist For Holding onto Hope. I hope you enjoy it! It’s on repeat over here constantly. *wink*

For Holding onto Hope