It’s probably happened all along, but

Given the current political climate, I find myself being super vigilant and overly aware of the looks and reactions my daughter gets as we enter a room. Last night we went out to Murfreesboro to meet my sister’s precious new baby at the hospital, and we decided to stop at a restaurant for dinner before heading home. As we were being seated, I noticed a white couple who appeared to be in their mid fifties staring at my daughter. This happens. After a year home, we have mostly adjusted to being a ‘conspicuous’ family. Usually I just smile when people gawk at my two blond haired, fair skinned sons and my brown haired, dark chocolate skinned daughter. Sometimes I’ll shrug my shoulders and say, “We really love contrast in our family!”

But this was different. This wasn’t the curious or interested kind of attention. This was the immediate eye rolling, obvious pointing, and ill concealed racism kind of attention. I stared the couple down as the man continued to shake his head and point emphatically back and forth at our table and the table of Middle Eastern women in hijabs seated next to us. I’m no great lip reader, but a few of his words were pretty easy to make out, and they were words that no lips should ever utter. Finally, after a few more minutes of blatant gesturing and staring, the woman realized that I was staring right back. I gave her a pretty obvious, ‘Do we have a problem here?!’ face, at which point she had the decency to look embarrassed, smile awkwardly, and touch her husband’s arm in an effort to alert him to the fact that his offensive behavior had not gone unnoticed.

I was seething. My daughter, who still believes that everyone she meets should want to be her best friend, was happily coloring her menu, oblivious to the negative attention she was receiving. The women seated behind me were not only engrossed in their own conversation, but have likely been forced to deal with much more overt displays of prejudice and discrimination than my white privileged perspective can ever possibly comprehend.

Chris had noticed the couple when we first walked in, but now he was seated with his back toward them. He has mentioned on multiple occasions that one of these days my mouth is going to get us into an all out bar brawl, and at this point he was observing me carefully to see if this might be the actual day. But just as I was formulating the scathing remarks I was going to fire off at these strangers whom I had now deemed to be ignorant bigots, a little, blond haired girl around Promise’s age wandered up to our table. She stood right next to Promise and showed her a shiny sticker she had just found. Having now bonded over their mutual love of sparkly things and the color purple, the two girls immediately cut through all the grown-up subtext and bullshit and launched into an excited conversation about how our family has four yellow people and one brown one in it, and her family has two yellow people in it. Then Promise invited her over to our house for chapati, because obviously that’s the polite thing to do when you meet a stranger in another city. The little girl stayed close until it was time for her to leave, and she told us all about how she was on a girls’ night out with her aunt and her grandmother. Apparently she had also already met the ladies, “with the pretty scarves on their heads who are from a different country,” seated behind us. As they were leaving, her aunt smiled apologetically at us and explained that as soon as we walked in, her niece had exclaimed, “They look like nice people! I need to go meet them!”

I almost missed it. I had my eyes and my heart focused so firmly on the hate and the judgement, that I could have missed the love and the acceptance. Curiosity is good and beautiful. It can lead to enlightenment, and better yet, relationship. It becomes a great deal more difficult to discriminate against those who are different from us once a relationship has been formed.

So here is what I am choosing to believe:

That curious, open-hearted little girl: she is the future. The couple sitting and judging from a distance: they are relics of the past. The struggle may go on for a time, but I believe to the very core of my being that love will win in the end. As a follower of Christ, I have been promised that. The price has been paid, and the end of the story has been written. Good triumphs over evil. Love is more powerful than hate. And no matter how dark things may get, there are hints and glimpses of that truth all around us if we are willing to look carefully.

Unexpected Grief

I have two new friends that God brought into my life at exactly the right time this past year. They are fairly recent adoptive mamas like me, but they’re a little further along on their journeys than I am. They’ve been kind enough to give me a heads-up about some of the obstacles that could be coming my way, and they are really good at validating the feelings and thought patterns that make absolutely no sense outside of an adoptive mother’s brain. When I’m with them I feel a little bit normal, and that’s a welcome change from how I usually feel these days. I’m very thankful for these women.

We got our Ugandan brood together one morning last week. We drank a lot of coffee and talked while the kids played. The timing of this was pretty perfect as the holidays had been much harder than I expected.

I feel like sometimes in my eagerness to share the progress we have made as a family, I can gloss over some of the darker and more painful aspects of our adoption journey. That can be a dangerous habit as it sets unrealistic expectations both for ourselves and others. Perfect pictures tend to alienate people. None of us have our shit together, but sometimes the pictures we post and the stories we choose to tell imply that we think we do. I am guilty of seasoning our truths for more palatable public consumption, but I am discovering that some of the raw, bitter flavors should be allowed to stand on their own.  There is dignity in the hurting and beauty in the grief. It cannot and should not be masked. (I know. I used a cooking metaphor. Oh the irony.)

This might not make any rational sense, but as we approach the one year anniversary of bringing our daughter home, I am experiencing a fresh grief over the loss of Promise’s first four years. Yes, we chose to adopt. Yes, we knew that older child adoption meant bringing a child into our family who already has a past and a history of her own. But no, I wasn’t prepared for how much my heart would break over not having been there for the past and the history of this child who has become so fully mine.


It is often one step forward and two steps back as Promise learns to trust our love and submit to our guidance while simultaneously greiving the loss of her first family and her first home. What has caught me off guard though is how deeply I too grieve these losses for her. I probably wouldn’t have been as surprised if I had found myself wanting to push away reminders of her life before she became part of our family. Many of the things she went through are worth forgetting. When you fall in love with someone, you don’t tend to dwell on the loss of the person they were before you came into their life. Our tendency is to look forward; to focus on our sameness.

And yet I often lie awake at night thinking about all that she was, and all that she has lost. Unanswerable questions burn in my head. What if taking her away from her country and her culture dooms her to a life of feeling different and ‘other’? What if we can’t or don’t do enough to preserve her sense of racial and cultural identity? What if not knowing what became of her birth family is a question that haunts her all her life? What if her birth mother had been just a little bit older? How desperate and alone must she have felt? Was she able to get the care that she needed, or has she already left this world? If she is still alive, how often does she ache for the baby that she left behind? Does Promise have any biological siblings now? What did our daughter look like when she was first born? What did her cries sound like? Who was her birth father, and does she look like him when she smiles? Is there something, anything, we can do to help our daughter piece her story back together, so at the very least she could have some peace in answers? These are questions our wise-beyond-her-years daughter is already beginning to articulate. Too many nights my own desire for answers weighs my heart down until all hope of sleep is lost and the tears soak silently into my pillow.

I found a picture of my daughter not too long ago on a Facebook page that was raising money for Promise’s orphanage. In the photograph, my child is maybe two years old. She is lying, swollen and unconscious on a dingy hospital bed with an IV hooked up to her tiny arm. She is all alone. A small, vulnerable figure, protected only by a worn out bed-sheet and crumbling concrete walls.

A piece of my heart shattered when I saw that picture, and I don’t think it will ever be pieced back together. Rationally, I know there were people there caring for her. The doctors and nurses who administered the life-saving drugs and fluids. The heroic orphanage ‘mamas’ who sustained her with the meager resources they had. I am even told that Jjaja, Promise’s maternal grandmother, visited once during her long months of hospitalization.

But I wasn’t there, and that just plain rips my guts out.

Comments meant to bring comfort like, “But look how healthy and happy she is now,” make me feel alone and only seem to invalidate the inexplicable yet overwhelming feelings of grief.

Yes. She is here now. She is healthier now. She has a family now. But that doesn’t undo what was.

She was close to death, and she was alone. She is my child, and I hurt when she hurts. I wasn’t there to do that then, so apparently I am doing it now. I absolutely know that God was and is with her. I know I cannot and did not save her, and that the same is true for all of my children. They are His first and always. But sometimes that head knowledge takes a while to take root in my heart. Sometimes I just need to sit here and process the loss for a minute. To cry. To let myself be sad.

Being sad is hard for me. It leaves me feeling vulnerable and exposed, so I tend to choose mad instead. I become grumpy, negative, and irritable. I nag and nitpick at my husband and my children, at the very child whose hurt has left me so broken-hearted in the fist place. It’s contradictory and irrational, and it often leaves me with a fresh wave of guilt to ride out.

And this is where the mothers who have gone before me, both adoptive and biological, make all the difference. They remind me that it doesn’t have to make sense in order to be true right now. They just sit with me in the hurting places, the broken places, and remind me that this journey takes time. There are so many bumps in the road, so many places where the path seems to lead in circles, but ultimately hope and healing are what God has promised us.

The Homework Rebellion

Today my 8 year old got off the bus at around 4:15 looking totally exhausted and defeated. This wasn’t a good sign as it was only Monday afternoon. As soon as he opened his backpack I could see why. He had a six page math pretest and a two sided social studies worksheet, all of which were supposed to be completed for homework tonight. This was in addition to the spelling words he needed to study and the 20 minutes of required reading he is supposed to do every evening.

After looking over the assignments, I told him that I wanted him to try his best for 40 minutes. This is still much longer than I think a kid should have to work on homework when he has already been at school all day, but it’s a compromise from the one hour ‘max’ that the county school board has set. I told my son that as soon as 40 minutes was up, I would write him a note for whatever he hadn’t finished. I would not hover, I would not nag, I would just trust him to get as much done as he felt he could.

After 40 minutes of sitting quietly at the table, writing, erasing, and wringing his hands in frustration, my child was spent. He had only completed about a quarter of the math packet and none of the social studies worksheet. But a deal is a deal, and I could see all over his face that absolutely nothing would be accomplished by making him sit there any longer.

Once the note was written and the incomplete work was put away, my son joined his brother and sister who were playing chess on the living room floor. Within a few minutes they were all laughing and joking…and actually playing a game of chess! After they were done, my son helped cook dinner, carefully measuring out ingredients and learning how to check the temperature on the meat thermometer.

We ate dinner as a family, and then my husband took all three kids out in the yard to play soccer. My son listened intently as his father instructed him on different goal tending skills, and he made his little sister giggle by taking a dramatic fall every time she tried to score a goal.

Later, once showers had been taken and the kids were ready for bed, all five us of snuggled up together and both of our older children took turns reading out loud to their younger sister. Then hugs and kisses were given and all of the kids were in their beds asleep by 8:30.

So my question is this: where did the real learning occur tonight? And if the answer is as obvious as it seems to me, then why do we repeat this arbitrary fight of completing hours of homework, night after night after night?

If the purpose of educating our children is to equip them for life, then we as parents have a vital role to play. It is our job to teach our kids that their quality of life matters, and that real learning can take place any time and anywhere. We need to teach them that life is about balance, and setting healthy boundaries helps to keep that precious balance in place. We need to teach them that rest is important, and nurturing relationships should always take precedence over accomplishing tasks for their own sake.

As a teacher, I understand that there are often more standards to address than there are hours in the school day. I know how hard it is to cram all of the instruction, practice, and assessments that are required into a fixed amount of classroom time. I am not saying that all homework is bad or pointless, or that sticking it out and going the extra mile academically does not have its place once in a while.

What I am saying is that I think a little perspective is in order. 8 short years ago, my son was barely able to bring a spoon to his mouth or to sit up on his own. He has already learned so much in such a short amount of time, and he still has so much more to learn about the beauty of life and the world around him. So few of those priceless, time-sensitive childhood lessons can be learned while sitting inside on a beautiful sunny afternoon, staring hopelessly at a packet of worksheets.

They Need to Know

On days like today I never know how much, if anything, to say to my kids. They are 10, 8, and 4, so for the most part I am still able to manage what world events they are and are not aware of, particularly in the summer months when they aren’t hearing anything on the bus or the playground.

I’ll admit that this morning there was a part of me that wanted to say nothing. To allow them to believe that their world is safe and that equality exists…if only for a little while longer. But my silence will do nothing, and it is an insult to countless mothers who do not have the luxury of sheltering their children from injustice today. So after breakfast, I sat my 8 and 10 year old sons down, and I told them what had transpired in our country in the last 24 hours. Immediately their eyes shot across the room to their beautiful, brown skinned sister, who was happily coloring at the kitchen table. Then came the questions, and the looks of concern and confusion as they tried to piece this new information into the, “all men are created equal,” framework they have been taught.

I told them what few facts I knew, and then we talked about race in a different way than we ever have before. We talked about how there are things they can never fully understand as white males in this country, but that they must, WE must, never stop trying, never stop listening, never stop humbling ourselves enough to allow our perspective to change and to grow. We talked about the importance of standing up against injustice whenever we see or hear it…as in actually standing up and being willing to fight back by whatever means necessary when someone is being mistreated because of their race, religion, special needs, etc.

I am certain that this knowledge will take away a small piece of my sons’ innocence and optimism about the world in which they live. What it will not do for my white skinned boys is make them afraid to go out at night, to start driving, or to make a mistake, lest they pay with their lives. That cannot be said for men and boys of color across this country today. For them, this knowledge carries with it a very real and very rational sense of fear. So while I would do anything to protect my sons from the cruelty and injustice of this world, they cannot, should not, and will not be sheltered from the truth because their skin tone is lighter than someone else’s. To not tell them that this is happening is to imply that it need not affect them. And if that level of white privilege, of blissful ignorance, is allowed to continue in our country and in our homes, then how is real change ever to come? They need to know. It needs to affect them. It needs to affect all of us.

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Though she be but little…

If adoption has taught me anything, it’s that completely contradictory emotions can exist in the same moment. After being home with our Promise for three months, our days are still ripe with heart breaking joy. Joy in how far she has come, in her inexplicable strength, but heart break over hurts that run deeper than we can ever truly know. We have been a bit concerned with Promise’s fearlessness recently. Today her swim teacher commented that she never seems bothered when she gets water up her nose or when she stays under for too long. “She seems to have an unusually high pain tolerance,” she commented.

‘You have no idea,’ I thought to myself.

Our girl is covered in scars. Deep scars that will likely never completely heal. Sometimes she asks me about them. “Mama, chi-chi-chi- no?” (What is this?) She will say softly, pointing to a cluster of pockmarks on her knee, her damaged nail beds, or the large lesion on her stomach. And a lump catches in my throat, because even though I am her mommy, and I have promised always to protect her, I have absolutely no idea what hurt her. I don’t know if she cried, or if anyone was there to hold her if she did. I just know that I wasn’t there to pick her up, to kiss the boo boo, to bandage her wounds. Those hurts happened before I even knew who my miracle girl was.

There is a Shakespeare quote that goes, “Though she be but little, she is fierce!” This is my child. She is fierce and fearless, brave and strong. She is tougher than I will ever be. But I pray that love will teach her that she doesn’t always have to be.

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The Hungry Child

Hunger is an ugly adversary. Angry eyes staring you down across a table, tearing you apart with every bite you take.

Her plate is empty. Before you even sat down, she greedily shoveled every morsel into her mouth, inhaling more food than air, heaving and sweating from the exertion, then meticulously wiping every trace of seasoning from the plate with her fingers. Her muscles are tensed, her face set in a defiant snarl. She is ready to fight and thrash lest anyone come too close while she feeds. Her stomach distends, stretching to the point of bursting as she swallows down so much more than her tiny frame should take in. You can see it in her eyes. The soulish pleasure of consuming more and more and more, willing each and every bite to somehow fill up the void that she carries. But still, when her meal is through, animal eyes fix hatefully upon you. As if the food in front of you had been taken right from her mouth. She can never be satisfied.

And suddenly you lose your appetite. Because hunger is an abyss, and now it sits at your table.

Some children find comfort in planning out what they will do the following day. But not the hungry child. Each night she meticulously plans out exactly what she will eat, telling you again and again what each meal will consist of. She is compelled to remind you, 5, 10, 50 times over, because on some level, deep down, she doesn’t yet believe that you will remember to feed her tomorrow.

I thought we were prepared for the food issues we might face. We read all the books, watched the videos, talked to the experts. But in the face of such desperation, there is nothing to be said. Only the twisting of the stomach and the hitting of the knees as you beg her healer to satisfy and restore that which seems broken beyond repair.

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How is Africa?

I am already starting to forget little details of the journey. Sometimes life is so big, so significant, so over the top overwhelming, that the moments start to blend together, and the playback in my mind becomes blurry and distorted.

That can’t happen though. This is our story, her story, and God entrusted us with it for a reason. So just as I have done with both of our boys, I am trying to put the moments into words so that one day, each of my children will be able to reflect on that which they can no longer remember.

This was written on the second night of my second trip to Uganda. And while the memory is still raw and ragged in places, it is also a testament to what an overcomer our girl is. I hardly recognize the child in this story today. Sometimes it is only in looking back that we can truly appreciate how far we have come. This story is titled ‘How is Africa’ because that was the question I had no idea how to answer for the majority of our time there.

How is Africa?

Well, tonight my child (who as of yet is not particularly sure if she wants to be my child) wailed unconsolably at the door for two hours straight because I made the spaghetti wrong, and I wouldn’t let her eat it on the white bedspread, but really because she missed her foster mommy, and once again everything is new and strange.

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How is Africa?

Well, after wailing for two hours and systematically removing and then throwing every piece of clothing on her body, all the while refusing to let me comfort her or come within a foot of her, my child finally passed out asleep for about five minutes and then woke up feeling much more calm, and decided to sit on the floor stark naked, and eat the entire plate of now cold, wrongly prepared spaghetti with her hands, as if she did not have a care in the world.

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How is Africa?

Well, I have been here for 24 hours, and it feels like a month. I am too tired to sleep, and I have already prayed the desperate prayers of the aching mother’s heart that knows my love alone can never begin to heal the broken places and the bleeding places in her tender little soul, so Jesus please, I beg of you, you have to hold her while she won’t let me, and you have to remember every promise you have made to her, and stir those solid truths in her heart even now as the earth beneath her feet shifts again and she is all made up of fear and grief and the overwhelming instincts to fight or flee.

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How is Africa?

Well, Africa is good because our God goes before us, and He is good. He sent a friend who is more like a sister on this journey with me, and she washes, and tidies, and delights in my girl, and lets me cry when I need to, and cries with me when the words fail us.

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He orchestrated miracles like lost baggage being found, and strangers in the Detroit airport who turn out to be traveling to Uganda to adopt too, and whose daughter happens to have been my daughter’s foster sister these last five weeks.

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He gave my girl an unquenchable spark, a well of joy, and a spirit of silliness that shine through, even as she struggles with the transition. He gave her a foster mommy who loves her so very much, and spent the last month and a half reminding my girl what a family is. He gave us a beautiful place to stay with fruit trees for climbing and clothes lines for hanging the wash out in the sunshine. In a million little ways, every moment we are here, He is reminding us that He will not leave us, any of us, as orphans.

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In One Week


The boys picked out a gift for us to take to Sweet P this week. We leave on Thankgiving morning, arrive in Africa on Friday night, and on Saturday we will travel to the orphanage. The coming together of all the details this month has left me dumbfounded. It’s perfect love, and it should be casting out my fears for the coming days.

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but still my heart aches at the thought of leaving the children I love. The obstacles once we arrive in her country still loom heavily. Thankfully His goodness is not dependent on me. I am holding on while shaking in my boots. He knows what it has taken to get us this far, and He’s going to carry us the rest of the way. I don’t have to know exactly how that will look because I can trust that He is faithful.

 

Our Flights are Booked!

This has been a blessed week. On Wednesday I had the honor of standing by my sister’s side as she brought her first child into the world. My niece is five and a half pounds of pure preciousness, and she is starting off in life with the most valuable gift a child can have, a loving family. 

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The morning after the baby was born, I got an email from our adoption agency. We have been assigned a court date in our little girl’s country at the end of this month. Our flights were booked yesterday thanks to the incredible generosity of some dear friends. On Thanksgiving morning we will board a plane in Nashville, and sometime the following evening we will arrive in Africa. 

I went to the store the other day to buy a gift for my niece and to look for a dress for our girl to wear to court. As I stood in front of a rack full of pink for the first time since I became a mother, I got incredibly overwhelmed. How do you pick out a dress for a child you hope to love and care for for the rest of your life, but whose size you still don’t know? What colors and fabrics say, ‘Please trust us to take this precious one to the other side of the world?’ If the skirt is twirly enough, will it make her feel beautiful and treasured?

Rationally I know a dress can’t do any of those things, but that didn’t stop me from bursting into tears in TJMaxx and leaving empty handed.

this is a holy and weighty time. There is deep joy, and there is deep fear. 

We will go, and we will love her. We will ask to be her forever family. But even if the judge grants us that privilege, we will have to come home without her. We will spend Christmas with our children here, knowing that she is waiting for us there. We don’t know how long that wait will be.

Please pray with us that throughout this process, every person involved with see her for what she is. She is not a political issue, a nationality, a diagnosis, or a process. She is a child who needs a loving family. And she shouldn’t have to wait another year, month, week, day, or minute to know that she is wanted.

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Out on a Wire

For two months it has felt like we are standing at the top of a cliff, knowing we are about to step out onto a thin wire connecting us to where we need to go. This week, it feels like we took the first step out onto that wire. 

We mailed our dossier off to our agency two days ago. They will review it, contact us with any changes, and then the document will be sent on to Sweet P’s government. We are also waiting on our own government to contact us with a time when we can be fingerprinted (for the fourth time since we began the adoption process I might add…I swear our prints have not changed, but I digress). Once we are fingerprinted again, our government will review our application for her immigration, and hopefully give us a ruling before we are ready to travel. Typically we wouldn’t send our dossier off without this ruling, but there is a sense of urgency as elections, court recesses, and a scarcity of court dates in her country could put off our ability to travel indefinitely. It is our agency’s hope that by submitting our paperwork as quickly as possible, we might be granted a court date before the end of the year. As in…within the next two and a half months.

I feel scared. I am scared we won’t get a court date. I am scared we will, and we’ll need to travel before we have all of the funds we need. I am scared to be away from my boys for over a month. I am scared we won’t get her. I am scared for her health. 

I was verbally processing some of these feelings to a friend over the phone the other day. My friend, who has the gift of thrift, was perusing a local salvage shop while encouraging me to trust God for the process. As we spoke, her eyes landed on this beautiful treasure.

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Eventually it will hang in Sweet P’s room over her bed, but right now I am keeping it front and center where I can see it every day. It’s okay to feel what I’m feeling, but the truth is that if it’s God’s will for this little girl to be a part of our family, He will make a way. If God says fearful little me can be up to the challenges ahead, I can be.

For two months it has felt like we are standing at the top of a cliff, knowing we are about to step out onto a thin wire connecting us to where we need to go. This week, it feels like we took the first step out onto the wire. There is no net below, but there is Jesus.