Many of you have been asking how to support us during the huge transition of bringing home our son, and we are overwhelmed and so incredibly grateful for your love. I wrote this blog a few years back when we adopted Karlos that has some basic information, but I’ll try to share some specifics here.
Airport Welcome Party
We’ve debated on this one for a while, but Charlie says Zeke is comfortable with crowds and is always excited to see children his own age. Therefore, if you’d like to come be part of the welcome crew, we’d love to have you. However, please know that if you get anywhere between me and my hubby and my son, I will MOW YOU DOWN. Be prepared (and prepare your kiddos) that Zeke will need some space. He’s going to be meeting his mom and his sisters and brother for the first time after coming off a 14+ hour flight. Ellie and Micah will be seeing their dad for the first time in 18 days. There will likely be ugly crying, possible tantrums, and guaranteed craziness. If he shows any signs of being unhappy, we will whisk him away to a quiet place as soon as possible.
That said, you guys have been our champions….our encouragers, middle-of-the-night question answerers, resource-sharers, tear-wiping warriors. In one way, this is a beautiful finish line, but it’s also the beginning of our lifetime journey with Zeke. We’ll gladly take your hugs. Text me or FB message for flight details. They’re expected around 9:30 p.m.
A friend was kind enough to set up a meal train HERE. Have you seen the Instagram photos? This kid LOVES to eat. As do all my kids. Okay, and me. The bump and I eat ALL the things lately. However, Micah is in complete denial about the fact that food must be cooked, and meal prep at my house generally involves her hanging on one leg screaming “FOOOOOOD!!!!” while I try desperately to create something edible. I’m getting a little panicky about surviving the first few months as we incorporate a new kid into the “witching hours” between 4-7 when everyone is super cranky, hungry, and generally miserable. Having to not worry about meal prep would be pretty much the best thing ever. We are not picky. Sandwich tray? Awesome. Velveeta shells and cheese? Fabulous. Zeke likes fruit, rice, noodles, vegetables, and pizza, of course. Ellie and Micah are typical kids who would eat nothing but chicken nuggets and macaroni and cheese if I’d let them, but they’re pretty flexible too. We will sing your praises for any offering of sustenance.
Forgive Us for Saying No
I’m a yes person. As in, YES I’ll help with that committee and YES I’ll bring those cookies and YES you can host that at my house. Being a yes person is good sometimes; it leads to lots of adventures and new friends and it gets stuff done. But it’s easy for we yes people to become overcommitted, too thinly stretched, and often teetering on the edge of insanity as we dash from this to that. For the next few months, or year, or however long it takes, Charlie and I are really going to make a serious effort to embrace the NO. Because our kids are going to need us to be NO people. Our son is going to be learning a new language, a new culture, and how to be part of a family. Our girls are going to be adjusting to having a new person who needs our attention as a part of their everyday lives. And when we get all that figured out, silly Mom is going to bring home another tiny human and turn the world upside down again.
When you need people to volunteer to do the things or bring the things, we are probably going to say NO. We may or may NOT show up to the meetings, services, groups, showers, coffees, parties, and practices. We are invested in finding ways to make life as easy and simple as possible as we survive the next year. Our first priority will be forming a strong and solid attachment with our son while helping our other kiddos transition to life with a new brother. And this priority means we might sometimes (or all the time) say NO to you. We ask your forgiveness and understanding ahead of time.
Of course, though we will strive to be some rockin’ recluses, we will eventually need to start introducing Zeke to our world, and Ellie and Micah will go stir crazy in a couple of days and start breaking windows and ripping cabinet doors of their hinges. Therefore, next up on the blog….some advice on things to do and please don’t do when you do see us out and about.
This morning, I wrote while Ellie and Micah were in childcare at the Bartlett Recreation Center where I recently purchased a three-month membership. Worth. Every. Cent. This means for two hours a day, at least, I can take a little mental break while they play, and I have an uninterrupted cup of coffee. Sure, most people actually work out, but I’m growing a human while keeping two other “spirited,” blessed little humans alive as a solo mama for 18 days, so you keep your spinning, core-strengthening, total body fusion fabulousness to yourself, thank you very much. I’ll be sitting here with my coffee. And probably some chocolate.
Future blog post? Ode of Wonder to the Single Mamas. You ladies are WARRIORS, and I decided that on maybe Day 2.
So if you follow me on FB or Instagram (pics and videos there), you know that Charlie is currently on Day 6 of the #ZekeComesHome journey. I’ve been trying to update pretty regularly through social media, but here is a more detailed outline of the trip for those of you wondering what takes so long and when he’ll be home.
7/20: Left in the early a.m. for Beijing. Charlie scored a SWEET seat with two empty places next to him. He often has trouble with a bad knee and was grateful for the space to stretch out.
7/21: Arrive Beijing. Met by the CCAI Beijing representative outside customs and taken to the Marriott hotel.
7/22: Tour Beijing including Tiananmen Square, the Forbidden City, the Hutong Tour, and an acrobatics show.
Many wonder why they include an extra few days and touring in the trip. The time in Beijing isn’t required, but most people traveling all the way to China want some opportunity to experience some of their child’s culture. CCAI also puts families into travel groups, and the touring days give people traveling from different parts of US time to arrive, allowing for delayed flights and such. Charlie also appreciated the time to try and reset his schedule and deal with jet lag before meeting our son.
7/23: Tour the Great Wall! Go to the bank to exchange money for adoption expenses in Zhengzhou.
Charlie said it was easily over 100 degrees; he sweated through all his clothes and actually has a shirtless picture on the Great Wall. I’m praying this is not some horrible Chinese cultural faux pas. His response? Well the other guy in our group did it too! China, I’m sorry.
7/24: Depart Beijing for Zhengzhou. The CCAI rep escorts travelers to the Hilton Hotel.
Charlie visited the Chinese Wal-mart at this point and stocked up on snacks, drinks, toys, and a stroller for Zeke.
7/25: THE BIG DAY!!! Get Zeke! All families traveled to the registration office where orphanage officers from around the Henan province brought the children being adopted to meet their families. In the afternoon, families signed the Guardianship Agreement and took photos at the office. After returning to the hotel, families met with the CCAI rep to prepare registration paperwork.
Zeke wasn’t super impressed with Charlie’s toy selection, so they went back to Wal-mart and let him pick out some things he liked….mostly trucks. They ate dinner in the hotel with some friends from the travel group and played in the hotel room. When I talked to them this morning (bedtime for them), Zeke was WIRED. He seemed much more comfortable and was waving, smiling, and chattering. Charlie gave him a bath and to Zeke’s delight, let him soak the room with the detachable shower head. Charlie is worried about Zeke’s eye, which is swollen and red, but otherwise, he seems in good health and is eating a ton.
Still to come…
7/26: Families take a bus to the registration office to complete the Adoption Registration in the morning. The adoption is considered finalized in China at this point. All families then go to the Provincial Notary Office to complete the notary interview, and then to the Zhengzhou Public Security Bureau to apply for the child’s passport.
7/27: FREE DAY (maybe some swimming at the hotel or local tours)
7/28: Parents receive notary documents
7/29: Receive Zeke’s passport
7/30: Leave Zhengzhou for Guangzhou. Staying at the China Hotel.
7/31: Meet with CCAI representatives to prepare paperwork for the Consulate appointment
8/1: Families take the bus to the medical clinic to complete the child’s visa physical and then have the visa photo made. Children between 2 and 14 receive a tuberculosis blood draw.
8/2: Families of children over two meet with the CCAI rep to have the tuberculosis blood draw checked at the clinic and have a chest x-ray taken if necessary.
8/3: BIG DAY!!! Consulate Appointment. The CCAI rep delivers the visa packets to the U.S. Consulate Adoption Unit, and families go the to Consulate to take the oath.
8/4: CCAI reps go to the Consulate to get the child’s visa packets. Families prepare to leave for home. Charlie and Zeke take an evening train to Hong Kong.
Families can choose between Hong Kong, Beijing, and other major cities for departure. Since Guangzhou is fairly close to Hong Kong, he decided to leave from there and built an extra day into the trip in case of any delays at the Consulate.
8/7: Charlie and Zeke board the plane coming HOME!
They’re expected to arrive in Memphis around 9:30 p.m. Sunday night. Many of you have graciously asked about meeting us at the airport (which Charlie and I would LOVE), but we’re waiting to see how Zeke is doing at that point. If he’s bonding well with Charlie and getting used to strangers, we may have some friends and family at the airport, but if Charlie thinks it will be too overwhelming, we may keep it to a very small crowd. All of your support means so much, but we want to make his transition into this country as smooth as possible. I’ll let you know as soon as we decide anything.
Please keep praying for Charlie and Zeke as they continue to get to know one another and navigate some complicated paperwork and tedious steps necessary to come home. Pray for Ellie and Micah who are missing their daddy SO much. And pray for a mama who is significantly lacking in extra patience and energy these days.
SO much has happened since the last time I posted about our China adoption. In a never-ending cycle of hurry up and wait, this year has simultaneously been the most painfully slow and unbelievably fast of our lives thus far.
For anyone considering the process or just curious, here’s an updated look at our timeline. Big, milestone steps will be in blue while financial obligations will be in red. I spent forever going back through e-mails to put this together, but even so, I’m sure there are steps missing. The 4,232 trips to the post office. The required on-line parenting classes. The fun stuff, such as shopping for a little boy’s room! It’s a tedious process, for sure, but what labor isn’t?
July 1, 2015: General inquiry e-mail to CCAI
July 2: Complete a CCAI Family Information sheet
July 3: Complete the Medical Conditions Checklist
July 7: Accepted into CCAI’s Waiting Child Program
August 4: Receive Zeke/Chen Shuo’s file
August 11: Accept the file
August 12: Receive a primary to-do list from CCAI
August 14: Send our Letter of Intent to adopt Chen Shuo
August 19: Decide to use New Beginnings as our home study agency and contact them for initial paperwork
August 24: Upload our adoptive family application to CCAI and pay the first program fee
August 25 –File locked for Zeke/Chen Shuo with the CCCWA (China Center for Children’s Welfare and Adoption).
September 2 – Application approved with CCAI. Parent Training and Dossier Instructions sent. The paper chase begins!
September 8 – Submit our application to New Beginnings for the home study.
September 9 – The CCWA grants Pre-Approval!
September 17 – Mail Care Package #1 to Chen Shuo
September 21 – Fingerprinting for background checks
September 28 – Camille’s physical, drug test, TB test, HIV test
September 30 – Home Study Visit #1
October 6 – Finish on-line parent education requirements
October 8 – Charlie’s physical, drug test, TB test, HIV test
For a more detailed explanation of any of the above including all my crazy emotions, visit an earlier blog HERE.
October and November: Work diligently on completing the home study requirements. This includes four visits with Charlie and me as well as some visits that include all the kids and Jenessa and Kaylee, the young women living in our home. Jenessa and Kaylee also have to get physicals, drug tests, background checks…..the works.
December 4- Send attachments of completed dossier documents to CCAI for review before beginning the notarization-certification-authentication process. Each sheet of paper required to go through this process must be notarized and then go through three separate government offices before it’s ready for the dossier. It involves a lot of driving to downtown government offices and Express mail.
December 8 – Receive a rough draft of our completed home study and return to the agency with the requested corrections the same day. However, our social worker departs on extended medical leave, and we are assigned to a new person with New Beginnings who catches several mistakes that must be remedied in the study. Having thought we were done with this momentous step, I pitch a fit involving ugly-crying, spirited words, and more than one glass of wine. Then I find my big-girl panties and continue on. Because he’s waiting.
December 14 – Receive our first update on Chen Shuo. Cry and CRY because he is there and we are here and it’s about to be Christmas and I want him home NOW.
December 22-23 – Exchange a million e-mails with our new social worker as we finish the home study repairs
December 29 – Social worker sends completed home study to CCAI for review
January 6, 2016 – Send dossier documents to Washington for authentication
January 11 – Mail the I-800A application and supporting documents to the USCIS (U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services). Include a large check to cover fees and fingerprints for four adults, a G1145 form for e-notification, two Supplement 2 forms, two Supplement 1 forms, four separate birth certificates, a marriage license copy, Charlie’s passport and certificate of naturalization, the actual I-800A form, and the very last of my working brain cells.
March 1 – Receive I-800 approval. Begin the notarization-certification-authentication process. Again.
March 2 – Mail sealed dossier to CCAI
March 4 – CCAI receives dossier and begins the review process
March 10 – Mail the second agency fee and the CCWA fee to CCAI
March 16 – Dossier extension granted automatically
April 11- CCAI sends our dossier to their Colorado offices for translation
April 15 – Our dossier goes to China! Party like rock stars! (Which basically means we order pizza for dinner and sneak chocolate bars from the secret candy stash to go with our wine after the kids go to bed.)
April 17 – Learn that I’m PREGNANT. Panic. Cry. Laugh. Cry some more. Bury my head in the sand and refuse to process for a few weeks. Because whaaaat?!?! You can read more about that little surprise HERE.
April 19 – Our dossier is delivered to the CCCWA (China Center for Children’s Welfare and Adoption), otherwise known as the coveted LOG IN DATE. Wahoo! Download the LID packet with more to-do lists.
May 16 – Pay the third program fee to CCAI, the post-adoption deposit, and the BLAS translation fee
May 20 – Soft LOA!!! (Letter of Acceptance) from China. Time for a dance party! And a little panic attack, because this is REALLY happening!!!
May 22 – Mail more forms to CCAI (I-800 application, the I-800 Supplement 1, the I-864W form and form G1145).
May 24 – Official LOA
May 25 – Wire orphanage fees to CCAI
June 3 – Receive Travel Packet #2 from CCAI
June 13 – Receive I-800 Provisional Approval. Email the National Visa Center (NVC) for a GUZ case number and Invoice ID number. Complete the DS-260 U.S. visa application for Zeke/Chen Shuo.
June 16 – CCAI submits the visa application and other necessary paperwork to the US Consulate in Guangzhou. (At some point before this, we had already applied for and received Charlie’s Chinese visa. I think in April?) And after months of debate, finally decide that Chen Shuo’s American name will be Ezekiel Chen Shuo Lebel. Ezekiel means “strengthened by God” and in so many ways, we pray strength for him.
June 24 – Second update on Zeke/Chen Shuo. Cry HAPPY tears as my heart melts, realizing that we are SO CLOSE to a travel date!!!
June 30 – CCAI’s Guangzhuo staff pics up the Article 5 (signed 2nd acceptance letter) from the Consulate and sends it back to the CCCWA. It’s the last document before travel approval!!!
July 5 – TRAVEL APPROVAL!!!
July 6 – Consulate appointment confirmed for August 3, 2016. The trip is planned backwards from the Consulate appointment.
July 15 – Pay travel expenses to CCAI. (It’s up to each individual family to book plane tickets to a from China. However, once there, the agency handles all in-country transportation, hotels, and tours. CCAI provides an amazing staff member at each stop throughout the journey who is on-call 24/7 for adoptive parents.) Receive final travel packet and commence packing and putting together the dozens of documents needed in China.
July 20 – Charlie departs for China to bring home our son!
Okay, so I realize that about .02% of you lovely readers needed that much detail, but just in case we decide to do this again (I mean, not anytime soon obviously, but we’ve learned saying we’re done doesn’t mean much to God), I wanted to have an easily accessible reminder of what to expect. A reminder that we made it! And when Zeke asks a million questions about how he came to be here, I won’t have to dig back through my e-mail for specific answers.
Coming soon: Charlie’s China travel itinerary and trip update. He’s going to have Zeke in his arms any moment now, and we’re both feeling so many emotions. I want to be there so badly, but I’m also grateful to be home with the girls, helping them get ready for such a huge change in our lives. Charlie is thrilled, of course, but also terrified. Since our son’s life has been filled with primarily female caretakers, Charlie is nervous about how Zeke will bond with him. There are so many unknowns.
Please lift up Charlie in your prayers as he begins forming a relationship with our son, and please, please pray for Zeke. In a few hours, he will leave the only home and caretakers he has ever known and given to an almost-stranger who doesn’t speak his language or look like him. He’ll be staying in a hotel for the first time, riding on trains and planes, eating new food, meeting new people….so many hard things for one so young. I look at Ellie, and I imagine all she would feel if this situation were reversed. Despite the best of explanations and preparation, I imagine her fear. Her sadness. Her anger. And my heart breaks that this must be part of my child’s story.
Adoption always begins with loss. With brokenness and heartache. There is beauty too, as shattered pieces become something new and strong, but creation takes time. Pray that we have patience, compassion, and understanding as we honor our son’s grief, and that we are able to make him feel safe and loved as soon as possible.
My abdomen is expanding at a rate I find fascinating and mildly alarming as our little lime-sized human enters the second trimester. Simultaneously, our adoption binder swells with more and more paperwork as we prepare to send Charlie to China in another few weeks to bring home our son. And my phone’s contact list is performing some downright rabbit-like antics as it expands exponentially with the numbers of pediatric neurologists, orthopedic specialists, and the myriad of other support persons we’ll need on our team later this year.
There’s a lot of stuff going on, and all the time sometimes, it seems a bit overwhelming.
And some people say, “God won’t give you more than you can handle.”
These people are dear to my heart, and I know it’s meant with the best of intentions. Love to all of you who use this classic line.
But folks, I’m here to argue that we must STOP saying this to one another. It’s lovely, but it’s also a complete and total lie.
Personally, I am not good at the handling.
By Christmas this year, I will be responsible for parenting a special needs six-year-old, a spirited five-year-old, a tornado of a two-year-old, and a brand new tiny, helpless infant. Honestly, there are moments each day (such as those absolutely precious moments when Micah is screaming “MaMAmaMAMAma!!!” from the back seat in rush-hour traffic while aiming her sippy cup at my head and Ellie whines about the fact I’m so MEAN because I NEVER let her have ice cream for dinner) that I hyperventilate a little thinking about two more. How in the world?Will my hearing or my sanity go first, I wonder?”
But God won’t give you more than you can handle!
Except that sometimes, He totally will.
We begin as lumps of clay. Gray. Shapeless. Without function or purpose.
The Potter slams us down on his wheel and begins the crazy ride of life. Sometimes, we are nauseous from the spinning, longing to return to the safety and anonymity of the shelf. The Potter douses us in cold water and begins prodding, pushing, pruning. At times, He uses sharp tools, making deep cuts that encircle our entire being. And when the spinning stops, there is, of course, the fire. (I take comfort in the fact that the clay probably complains a lot and often has some choice words for the Potter. I feel you, clay.) But in the end, the clay is strong, beautiful, and ready to serve. The clay can’t handle it, but the Potter can.
God won’t give you more than you can handle.
But then, other times, I don’t think we necessarily should credit God for the ugliness life throws our way. There is free will and evil and sickness in this fallen world, and sometimes, life. just. sucks.
A few days before I found out about this pregnancy, my father was diagnosed with cancer in a tumor in his throat. He’s several weeks into intensive chemo and radiation and is battling through the brutal fallout. His meals come through a tube inserted in his stomach as the radiation fries his taste buds and his throat. He’s had all his teeth removed to prevent the radiation from destroying his jaw bone. Painful new symptoms appear each day. As I grow a life, my father fights for his.
He can’t handle it.
My mother battles multiple sclerosis. She’s also my father’s primary caretaker. She pushes Ensure into his feeding tube every three hours, and carefully cleans the syringes, ready for the next round. Nightly, she rubs cream into the sores on his back, hoping he’ll get some rest. She spends hours cooking, trying to find something that will taste better than motor oil so that he might get down a few bites. She sits with him through the long hours of sickness stretching through the nights. She never cries in front of him.
She can’t handle it.
My sister works full time. She has a daughter, a husband, and a household. She’s in seminary to become a United Methodist minister. She lives near my father, and she drops in to see him almost every day, bringing food and making sure my mother remembers to feed herself. Though she can barely keep her eyes open, she puts her daughter to bed and comes to watch Star Wars with Dad, because he loves movies with his girls.
She can’t handle it.
And out in the world?A crazed men with a hate-fueled heart enters a nightclub and slaughters innocents by the dozen. A toddler is snatched from his parents’ arms at the happiest place on Earth. Drowned refugees wash onto beaches. Rampant rape culture and systemic racism allow yet another shameless monster to avoid consequences for his abhorrent actions.
Again and again, mothers call the cell phones stuck to the floor in pools of blood. Parents lose their grip on tiny fingers. Fathers scoop lifeless bodies from the sand, and a young, brutalized woman tries to find a path forward without the benefit of justice.
Certainly, they cannot handle it.
This baby is due one day before my father’s birthday. And I’m terrified something will go wrong and bring him even more pain. I ache with my inability to sit beside him every day, cracking jokes and watching birds in the backyard. I ache that I can’t drop off lunch for my mom or relieve her during the long hours of chemo treatments. I ache that I can’t curl up in pajamas with my sister as assure one another that this will all be okay.
I can’t handle it.
I used to think I could. I believed, in fact, that if my faith were as strong as it should be, then I should be able to handle anything. In an effort to bolster my own confidence, I’d whisper the words to myself…God wouldn’t give you this if you couldn’t handle it. Pull it together. Be stronger.
And then, I’d suffer the guilt, crushed under the weight of too big things and too painful hurts, angry with my weakness in “handling” things.
The truth is that we can handle very little by ourselves. If we could, we’d have no reason to grow in compassion, understanding, strength, and love. We wouldn’t need one another. We wouldn’t need a Savior.
But we so desperately do. Some days, we need our people to help us gather up the frayed bits of our sanity and dust them off for the next day’s battle. Other days, just to get out of bed, hurting people need the supernatural strength of the God who promises to hold fast in the storms.
I don’t know how much of life is part of God’s divine plan and how much just happens. I don’t know why we’re spared from some things and forced to suffer others. But no matter the causality or ultimate outcome of all the hard, I do believe that while we can’t handle it, He can.
I choose to believe that no matter the mountains and valleys, He will ensure our paths lead into His arms. I choose to believe that while we can never grasp the entire plan of an omniscient and omnipotent God, He is good, and He works for good in our lives.
Therefore, I’m trying to make peace with my weakness and welcome it with love. I offer these words in an invitation for you to do the same.
“…God has chose the weak things of the world to shame the things which are strong…” 1 Corinthians 1:27-29
“He gives strength to the weary, And to him who lacks might He increases power. Though youths grow weary and tired, And vigorous young men stumble badly, Yet those who wait for the LORD Will gain new strength; They will mount up with wings like eagles, They will run and not get tired, They will walk and not become weary.” Isaiah 40:29-31
“Therefore I am well content with weaknesses, with insults, with distresses, with persecutions, with difficulties, for Christ’s sake; for when I am weak, then I am strong.” 2 Corinthians 12:10
Because the truth is that He can and will take the torn fragments of any hurting life and create a new story.
And He seems to have a particular interest in doing that with the folks who absolutely cannot handle it.
As I said in my previous post, I think it’s important to share our stories; thus, while I don’t always have time to write my own words, I often share the experiences of others on social media. When I come across something I find challenging, beautiful, true, thought-provoking, or completely infuriating, I share.
The other day, I shared this:
I shared because I found her words powerful and tragic. I cried thinking of the people in my life ripped apart by Christians so intent on hating sin that love is lost completely. I thought about people I cherish, nearly killed by the “love the sinner, hate the sin” refrain, and I wonder to this day if their scars will ever heal. I wonder if they will ever come to know the unimaginable grace of God. I lamented those who use the line as an excuse to practice bigotry, hate, and cruelty.
Recently, I discovered while scrolling through my Facebook feed late at night (stupid indigestion), that my sharing inspired a rather angry blog post from someone on my feed. Sigh. I seem to have a talent for riling folks up. Hey, we all have our gifts.
So, I’m a “rabid liberal.” My beliefs are “insane.” My Christianity is based on the worship of self. I’m in for a “rude awakening,” and it “doesn’t end well.”
All this, because I discussed with someone in comments that I stopped believing years ago that homosexuality is a sin. I didn’t come to this decision lightly. I read opinions and Scriptural interpretations from God-seeking and well-learned individuals on both sides. I prayed. I listened. And I chose the path to which I felt God calling me.
I think it’s the choosing that causes this individual the most grief. He argues that we cannot follow the parts we like from the Bible while ignoring the rest, or we are simply creating our own faith.
Completely logical, right?
But if we’re being honest, we must admit that we all pick and choose. Every last one of us.
As I’ve written previously, “This is how the Bible that was used to support slavery, persecute women, and wage war, is the same Bible that teaches us to abolish slavery, honor women, and encourage peace.”
The same book. Completely different interpretations.
The Bible didn’t change. What did undergo radical transformation were the hearts, minds, and understandings of people in close relationship with the Father.
If there was a singular way to interpret every word of the Bible, then denominations wouldn’t exist. But as it is, Christians disagree on whether or not women can preach, if they should cover their heads, or if they can use birth control. Christians disagree on playing musical instruments in worship and on how much water is required for a legitimate baptism. Even within denominations, members disagree on political parties, alcohol consumption, appropriate modesty rules, gun control, LGBT rights, and on andon and on.
My church calls these second and third tier, or open-handed, issues. Indeed, to identify as a Christian, one must hold true some central tenets. We call these close-handed beliefs. At the center is Jesus, followed by belief in the Trinity, acceptance of Scripture as God-breathed, acknowledgement of the divinity and humanity of Jesus Christ, and a belief in salvation.
For all the rest of it, the church attempts to create a safe space for people to work out their own faith with fear and trembling, confident that if God is the well of life-giving water in the center of a field, we can take a million different paths around the pasture, but tired and thirsty, we’re all headed to the same place.
Theologian Peter Rollins writes, “In being faithful to the text we must move away from the naive attempt to read it from some neutral, heavenly height and… read it as one who has been born of God and thus born of love: for that is the prejudice of God.”
Author Rachel Held Evans argues in her book, A Year of Biblical Womanhood, that the important thing is how we pick and choose. Evans writes, “Are we reading with the prejudice of love or are we reading with the prejudices of judgment and power, self-interest and greed?”
Organizations or individuals who purport to have all the answers scare me. They leave no room for the questioning. No room to grow. With vindictive words, weaponized Bible verses, senseless boycotts, and never-ending judgment, they tell the hurting, “You are out. You are not welcome here,” and in doing so, they rip away the grace of God from those who need it most. When a person devotes himself to legalism, constantly policing the perceived moral infractions of others, is there any room for Jesus left in his heart?
I don’t have all the answers. I hold my faith in one hand, and the other often trembles under doubt, anger, uncertainty, and unanswered questions. However, I hold on, accepting that tension isn’t inherently bad. I hold on, continuing to pick and choose, with Matthew 22: 36-40 as my go-to compass. I hold on, confident that for those that seek God and His direction, we will find Him…rabid liberals and all.
It seems to me, that life insists on providing the most to write about when one cannot find a scrap of time in which to write. The best stories—the blood, sweat, and tear tales—don’t leave much room for quiet reflection in the moment. They’re demanding, exhausting journeys with few rest stops.
However, we need stories. We need to tell our own and then weave them together with the yarns of those around us in order to make some sense of the stretched and tattered but oh so brightly colored threads that make a life.
Author Glennon Doyle Melton says that for her, reading is inhaling and writing is exhaling.
And if I’m honest a moment friends, I realize that I’ve been holding my breath for the better part of two years while flying through the pages of my story. I’m running out of air.
Thus, it’s time to pause and start catching up on the business of breathing.
If you’ve read this blog much in the past or know me personally, then you likely know that my husband and I struggled with infertility for years. We always discussed adoption as a way to build a family, but we planned to have a biological child first. Like most, we wanted that quintessential life experience. After four years of marriage, we were ready to be parents, and pregnancy seemed the most logical, direct, and well-traveled route.
However, after one positive pregnancy test ended in an early miscarriage, I could never get pregnant again. After a myriad of embarrassing tests and uncomfortable and expensive procedures, I was told it would never happen. For a while, I thought that part of my story was going to define the rest of my life, if not destroy it completely. It was lonely, heartbreaking, and so painful, but it moved us forward to the next chapter.
Eventually, we began the adoption process, and we brought home our sweet Ellie two months after submitting our paperwork. Over time, we found a real peace with our infertility, and began excitedly traveling down our path as an adoptive family; we added Ian, Herdest, Karlos, and Micah in the next three years.
Last year, after much prayer and discussion, we decided to pursue our first international, special-needs adoption, and we fell in love with the profile of a five-year-old little boy from China, our precious Chen Shuo.
And this, dear readers, is where the story takes a most unexpected turn.
Breathe in. Breathe out.
Yup. I’m pregnant. (That’s the test I took in a Kroger bathroom….after the one I took at home.)
After years of no birth control. After going round and round on the crazy Clomid train. After carting Charlie’s sperm through the Starbucks drive thru, the sample cup nestled between my breasts to keep it warm, on my way to the next of four intrauterine inseminations. After all the pain and tears and doubts and humiliation. After finally finding peace and bidding an accepting adieu to the reproductive parts of motherhood. After firmly deciding we were done with the baby thing. After selling 90 percent of all our baby-related items in a consignment sale earlier this year.
We’re bringing home a special-needs son in August who does not speak English to join my baby Hulk-smash two-year-old and my super spunky five-year-old, and I’m pregnant. Therefore, by Christmas, I will have four children—ages barely 7, 5, 2, and tiny infant. <Insert massive slight panic attack here.>
This isn’t news, of course, to anyone who knows me.
I did a crappy job of waiting to tell people, but in my defense, I had to tell. I process freak-outs socially. In order to handle big news, good or bad, I need people who will sit on the couch with me and squeal and cry and crack jokes. I need people who will read my crazy-long, rambling text messages and assure me things will be okay, and that it’s perfectly acceptable to eat half a box of Honey Combs in one sitting. I need people who will show up at my door with crazy generous gifts of baby equipment (even though the baby was only then the size of a blueberry) because it makes me feel less panicky. And I’m immeasurably grateful for all the friends who have been there to do all these things and more the past few months. I love you.
Now, for those of you who like the more practical details, here you go:
Due: December 21, 2016.
Currently: 11 weeks, 5 days. The baby is apparently the size of a lime.
Here’s my 11 week ultrasound.
Everything is looking good so far. Our little lime was jumping all over the place—waving, dancing, and stretching. I had no idea they moved that much this early. Completely amazing. Of course, I cried.
First trimester symptoms: All the things. The “my breasts are on fire, those eggs cooking are going to make me barf in the sink, I’m sobbing over an unforgivably cheesy Nicholas Sparks movie” things. Though lately, nausea has given way to an insatiable appetite, which is kind of fun. The exhaustion remains, and I could easily sleep 20 hours a day. If only….
So for now, this is our story, and it’s full of so many emotions. Joy. Hilarity. Fear. Stress. Anxiety.
Several dozen times a day, I look to the heavens and shout (not always in my head), “What are you thinking?!”
He chuckles, I think, but he doesn’t answer. The greatest Storyteller rarely reveals his next plot device, after all. We just have to keep turning the pages and trust we’re in the hands of a master, who holds the perfect ending in His hands.
I have waited for weeks to write this post because I keep thinking I will find time to get all the people clean and dressed and together in the yard with some hand-made, Pinterest-inspired prop set against perfect autumn foliage at the photogenically perfect time of day to create something like….
There are a million beyond adorable announcements, but clearly, I am delusional to think that we’ll get there in this season of life. Letting it go, folks. But I absolutely cannot wait a single moment longer to share some BIG news. We’ve informed most of our family, friends, and support groups, so now it’s time to share with you, dear world!
We are adopting! Again. (Okay, if you know us at all, you’re not really surprised. It’s kind of our thing, but we are still EXCITED!!!)
This time, we’re bringing home Shuo, a five-year-old boy from China. Prepare yourself to meet Mr. Adorable.
He likes singing, painting, and connector blocks. And did you see the way he smiled at the camera at the end? Oh. My. Heart.
This will be our first international adoption and our first experience adopting a child with medical special needs. Shuo has mild cerebral palsy and clubfoot, so we’ll be incorporating frequent therapy and some surgeries into the next few years.
Here’s the timeline so far…
The Journey to Shuo
July 1, 2015 – I succumb to peer pressure from other adoptive mamas sharing photos and impassioned pleas on Facebook for waiting children in China, many from the CCAI program.
Anyway, I send a general inquiry e-mail to CCAI….just to see what the first steps would include. I’m clearly not serious. We’re not ready. Charlie and I have decided that we won’t pursue any further adoptions until at least December.
July 2 – There’s nothing on television, so I start clicking around on CCAI’s waiting child list. And I keep clicking. And clicking. I become completely entranced and find myself wanting to know more about several children. So I go ahead and fill out a CCAI Family Information Sheet so I can make specific inquiries. But again, I’m just doing some initial exploring. Getting a head start, if you will. We’re not ready, ready? Are we? What defines ready, again?
July 3 – I go ahead and fill out the Medical Conditions Checklist, because if there was some tiny infinitesimal chance that we wanted to be matched immediately, CCAI would need that completed. And besides, there’s nothing on TV. Googling random medical disorders is educational.
July 7 – Accepted into CCAI’s Waiting Child Program
July 28 – CCAI shares the file of a little boy they want us to consider….at which point I fully confess to Charlie the extent to which I’ve jump-started a process we had planned for December. He’s….well, there are some feelings. I start sharing reasons why maybe we shouldn’t wait. He grumbles.
August 2 – After careful prayer, consideration, and consultation with medical professionals, I realize that Charlie is right, and this child’s medical needs are too much for our family at this time. Also, he just doesn’t feel like ours. We decline the referral. However, Charlie and I have been talking about moving up our timeline non-stop. I live on the waiting child list, and I keep returning to the video of this one little boy, Shuo. His face radiates joy, and I find myself wanting to climb into the screen and hold him. Charlie hesitantly agrees to at least view his file.
August 4 – We receive Shuo’s file, and I fall in love. He is supposed to be in our family, and I just know this in my gut. Charlie, the brains and balance of our duo, freaks out at the rapid progression of the process, and retreats into a grumpy silence on the matter.
August 11 – After a dozen late-night conversations, prayers, and lists, we must give CCAI an answer. I’m reading back through the file while Charlie has gone upstairs to watch Transformers. (He processes best during action movies, y’all. It’s a thing.) I’m texting him random information from the file. And then, I get this.
He comes downstairs, and tells me he’s in. 100 percent. He’s crunched numbers and considered the 10-year and 20-year plans, and he’s reached a peace. He wraps me in a hug, and we start joyfully imagining life with our son. Apparently, one can make decisions while watching Transformers. (And yes, we are so lazy we regularly text one another from different rooms in the house. Don’t pretend you’ve never done it.)
August 12 – We receive our primary to-do list from CCAI.
August 14 – I send our Letter of Intent (LOI).
August 19 – We decide to use New Beginnings to complete our home study and contact them for initial paperwork.
August 24 – I upload our adoptive family application to CCAI and pay the first program fee.
August 25 – CCAI e-mails to tell us they’ve formally locked our file for Shuo on the CCCWA (China Center for Children’s Welfare and Adoption).
September 2 – Application approved with CCAI. Parent Training and Dossier Instructions sent. The paper chase begins!
September 8 – Submit our application to New Beginnings for the home study.
September 9 – The CCWA grants Pre-Approval!
September 17 – Mail Care Package #1 to Shuo
September 21 – Fingerprinting for background checks
September 28 – Camille’s physical, drug test, TB test, HIV test
September 30 – Home Study Visit
October 6 – Finish on-line parent education requirements
October 8 – Charlie’s physical, drug test, TB test, HIV test
There have been over 100 e-mails thus far involved in the above steps, as well as a million or so words typed on dozens of forms. And we haven’t even really dug our heels fully into the dossier process yet, but we’re working steadily, and we’re incredibly grateful for the support of friends who have traveled this path.
We hope to travel by late next summer if all goes as planned, and we’ll plan on spending approximately two weeks in China.
And if you skimmed the above timeline, I hope you understand why we’ve been a little preoccupied the past few months and will likely continue to be so for awhile. We’re going to need a little grace. We’re going to miss events. We’re going to forget birthday parties and be ridiculously late with baby gifts. We’re really going to need the freedom to say no to some things. We may be rather absent friends.
Please forgive us and know how much we love and need you.
We’re overcome with so many emotions at this point. We’re slightly overwhelmed by the volume of paperwork and anxious about missing a step or making a mistake that will delay the process. We’re trying to plan financially and emotionally for the demands Shuo will bring to our family and the certain challenges of transitioning from two littles to three. But most of all, we’ve started imagining each moment of our lives with this precious little boy—moments pushing another swing, hearing an extra voice scream-singing “Shake It Off” for the ninth time in one car trip, snuggling another warm body, asking for just one more story.
We’re not completely naive to this process. We know the work of forming attachment will be long and hard. We know there may be medical or developmental issues yet to be revealed. We know that the redemption of adoption is balanced by the brokenness of a world in which so many children end up orphans.
But we also know that God is in charge of building our family, and we do our best each day to trust and follow Him. So mostly, we are overcome with the aching desire to hold our son in our arms.
Please join us in praying for a smooth adoption process, Shuo’s continued health and well-being, and patience for a certain four-year-old who wants her brother home NOW.
I have always identified as female. I do get irritated with gender stereotypes and generally think too many aspects of society are unfairly and often absurdly based on gender identity, but I’ve never questioned my own gender.
Therefore, I have absolutely zero idea what it might feel like to be physically trapped in one gender while my brain is another. I have no knowledge of what it would be like trying to navigate today’s world as an intersex person born with genital or chromosomal ambiguity. I can, however, imagine that none of these things would be easy.
Which is why I really just don’t get some of the callous vitriol I saw on Facebook recently over a tiny little pronoun change. A suggested pronoun change, at that. A news storyannounced the the University of Tennessee in Knoxville included a list of gender-neutral pronouns in a newsletter, encouraging students to make students feel welcome by using a pronoun of choice.
There was no ZE! HIR! MANDATE necessitating the use of non-traditional pronouns. It was merely a proposal from the Office of Diversity and Inclusion. A discussion starter. An idea.
But this guy in my Facebook feed apparently interpreted the pronouns as a personal affront and proceeded to rant. He called the idea stupid and ridiculous, and suggested that anyone who supports this idea is crazy and needs therapy. (Counseling, by the way, should never be used as an insult.) So here are a few thoughts for Mr. Pronoun Protector:
I happen to know you’re a church-going guy, and hopefully, therefore, a man who loves God and wants others to know Him. But as you likely know, when you post stuff on social media, a big ole bunch of people can read it, and likely, not all of them are going to agree with you. Yes, you are welcome to your opinion, but that rule goes for others too. So let’s pretend that some folks in the following categories read your words: A transgendered person. A gender-confused teenager. An intersex person. The parents, friends, siblings, or coworkers of any of the above.
Do you know what they saw in your words? Hate. Judgment. Deaf ears. Hard heart. A line in the sand telling them, “You are not welcome. You are out.” I’d like to tell you, there are enough of those angry voices already. Will the people above beat down the doors to your church? Will they seek you for counsel or friendship? Will they see God in you?
There is a person I love dearly who struggles with gender identity, and when I read words like yours, my heart aches for ze. Because it doesn’t matter if you understand or agree, ze is God’s beloved child and deserves, at the very least, our willingness to listen.
So to any transgendered person, I’d like to say, God created you and adores you. And though I haven’t walked your particular journey, I will humbly listen to your story and seek to understand. I will support your right to be treated with kindness and respect. And if a new pronoun will make you feel more comfortable, accepted, and loved as you travel a difficult path, then I’ll do my best to incorporate ze into my vocabulary.
Hey folks! Life has been rather busy the past few weeks. There are BIG HAPPY EXCITING things I’m dying to tell you all about, but I have to follow protocols and wait just a bit longer. There are also several SERIOUS CHALLENGING WEIGHTY subjects rolling around in my upstairs brain, but I currently have limited time and want to write about something fluffy. So I’m going to steal.
I recently finished Jen Hatmaker’s latest book, For the Love, and perhaps I will share a full review later. But for now, I’d like to say it made me laugh out loud, and who doesn’t need that? I particularly appreciated the book’s several chapters of thank-you notes–Jimmy Fallon style. And since she clearly admits that imitation is the greatest form of flattery, here’s my own little tribute to Jen and Jimmy.
Thank you, Axe-body spray, the sacred anointing oil for every teenage boy (and girl) who joins this family. You are the air we breathe. (Really. You have consumed all oxygen in this home in some odoriferous reaction.) Now I know the scents of Dark Temptation, Anarchy, Phoenix, and Apollo, and I find them all strangely representative of Irish Spring…if the soap were to enter into a loveless marriage with Seabreeze. You creep through the house, adhering to every surface, impairing my ability to breathe and my will to live, but hey, based on the look of the Diaper Genie, you may the lesser of two evils. Love, Mom’s Nose.
Thank you, my son who insists on sleeping with our pets. I love discovering that the cat has been trapped in your room for 24-hours after your departure to college. After all, accessible litter boxes are for privileged felines, and we don’t coddle pretentious aristocats around here. P.S. The corner of your room could use some Axe. Best wishes, Mom
Thank you, children who take my silverware to work and school and friends and outer space, never to return. I’m down to two-ish spoons, but hey, plastic really cuts down on washing time. You are so thoughtful. Love, Mom Who Better Start Finding More Finger-Food Recipes.
Thank you, baby poop. You keep life real and give meso many opportunities to practice humility. My kid is in an “I only want to eat blueberries and fiber-loaded pea crisps” stage, so we are frequent visitors. Before my first cup of coffee. Two bites into dinner. On the way out the door when I’m already late. I get it. You are the boss. And when my 25-lb child is thrashing like a rabid anaconda, you are so generous with your lessons, literally just reaching out and touching everyone. Thanks for the stellar example. And no, that is not chocolate on my face.
Thank you, Lifeproof phone case. Turns out, your definition of “life” did not include my teething 14-month-old, but we appreciate the opportunity to provide the exception that proves the rule. Oh, and we humbly suggest you call Sophie the Giraffe for some survival tips.
Thank you mom, for keeping every single scrap of paper I touched during my entire childhood. Sorting through those boxes was wicked fun, especially when I found all those dazzling pictures of myself from the seventh grade. I mean, everyone wants to re-live middle school, right? Stay Cool, Crazy-Haired Camille.
Thank you, pistachios, for leading me to a self-diagnosis of misophonia. After the children are tucked in bed and the house is quiet for the first time all blessed day, my beloved husband pours your delectable offerings into a bowl and proceeds to chomp away. Right. next. to. me. And while the skittering-crunchy-snap-smack may not register to some, it sounds to me like an orchestra from the bowels of snacking hell. Also, I have retrieved no less than a dozen of your discarded shells from the depths of my baby’s chipmunk-like cheeks, but what fabulous motivation to never put down the vacuum! Sincerely, Wife Wearing Headphones.
Thank you, size 2 people in my home that bake homemade chocolate chip cookies and bring home barely touched cheesecakes. I pity you and your tiny, baby metabolisms that burn 1,000 calories as you put on your Sephora mascara to head to the gym. My wiser, seasoned metabolism says “Pass me the yoga pants and another slice of cake!” And no, I did not eat the last cookie. With Affection, Mom Who Sometimes Lies About Cookies.
Okay folks, that’s it for now, but I’d love to see your thank-yous in the comments. Love to all!
Earlier this month, international hottie soccer star David Beckham found himself the target of on-line parenting “experts” scolding him for allowing his four-year-old to use a pacifier. Oh. the. horror. They launched into a vitriolic tirade of concern regarding the blessed child’s dental health, speech acquisition, psychological well-being, and overall chances of survival. Because….a pacifier.
First, why is this news?
But second, kudos to Beckham for calling out the haters. He responded,
Why do people feel they have the right to criticize a parent about their own children without having any facts ?? Everybody who has children knows that when they aren’t feeling well or have a fever you do what comforts them best and most of the time it’s a pacifier so those who criticize think twice about what you say about other people’s children because actually you have no right to criticize me as a parent …
Exactly. Maybe Harper was sick. Maybe she was just having a moody day and two minutes of pacifier time helps her regulate. Maybe she was play-acting and mimicking a baby. Maybe….it’s not our business.
So many people are always in judgment mode, but seldom do they possess the facts.
Consider these scenarios:
A five-year-old begins to throw an Exorcist-style tantrum in the middle of the mall. His mom responds by handing him a pair of headphones and allows him to use her skirt to hide his head.
A seven-year-old refuses to shower or bathe regularly. Even though he quite often smells, his parents choose not to make an issue of his hygiene.
A family with half a dozen children of all ages allows snacking between meals. Children are never told to “wait until dinner is ready” but are allowed to choose between various fruits, granola bars, or other snacks when they are hungry.
A couple sleeps each night with their eight-year-old nestled between them. Every night, he wants to be rocked like an infant. Sometimes, he wants to be spoon-fed, and they oblige.
A 16-year-old is allowed to sit in the lobby and read a book or play on her phone during church services. She’s not required to attend her little brother’s soccer games or her sister’s piano recital.
If you’re completely honest, how many of these situations would invite judgment?
Tantrums?! That child is obviously spoiled or she’s a poor disciplinarian. The unwashed kid? His parents must be neglectful. Allowing between-meal snacking is too permissive and promotes poor eating habits. And on and on and ON.
But here’s the thing: we don’t know the facts. We don’t see the sensory processing disorder that can turn mall crowds and loud music into elements of torture. We don’t see the years where there was no food and feel the panic even a moment of hunger can bring raging to the surface. We don’t understand that the older child may need to re-live missed moments of childhood to form healthy bonds. We don’t know how a religious service or a seemingly innocuous school event could trigger a visceral response to past trauma. We don’t see, and so we make snap judgments.
Many of the decisions Charlie and I make as parents invite critique from others. We don’t spank. Mouthing-off is often met with a chance to re-do or a silly game to redirect an attitude. We allow one of our older kids to smoke. We don’t pick fights over tattoos or body piercings. We don’t force our younger kids to hug or kiss Aunt So-and-So, and it’s okay if they’re not in the mood to be constantly adorable.
And oh boy, do we get the judgment sometimes.
Recently, one of the most frequent criticisms from someone was that Micah is spoiled and too attached. And of course, this provides a little chuckle, because if you know anything about the adoption world, you know there is no such thing as too attached. So thanks for the compliment! Also, in case you’re not aware, research reflects that securely attached children experience a host of benefits including protection from toxic stress, greater intelligence, and earlier independence.
So again, in case you missed it, attachment is not an insult.
Many parents, especially adoptive ones, read endless books, go to conferences, and buy ridiculously expensive baby carriers–all in the name of fostering healthy attachment. Parents determinedly forfeit sleep for months, tucking newly adopted (tossing, turning, bed-wetting) toddlers between them. Mamas learn to do laundry, cook, and continue parenting other children while a 40-pound child clings to a hip. With adopted infants, we are fully aware that tiny babies can also experience tremendous loss and grief, and we nestle their perfect, fragile bodies on our bear skin, sharing our warmth and smell and heartbeat….whispering our message that they are safe and the world can be trusted.
Micah is definitely experiencing some clingy moments lately. Often, if I’m anywhere in the room, she screams like a mandrake (Google it if you’re not cool enough to be a Harry Potter fan) should anyone else try to hold her except me. Other times, at playgrounds, the children’s museum and other loud, crowded places where one would expect a child to be overwhelmed, she runs full-speed away from me, cackling maniacally. She has spent entire days at Kids’ Day Out without a hiccup, and other days, she can’t make it through an hour in the church nursery without a massive breakdown.
And I suspect all these inconsistencies in behavior are a direct reflection of the fact…..she’s ONE. Her mood fluctuates rapidly and dramatically depending on a million factors as she tries to figure out the world. Did she miss her nap? Stay in the pool too long? Has it been 30 whole minutes since she ate something? Because all these things will result in a completely different kid.
From 8 to 14 months, children often become frightened when they meet new people or visit new places. They recognize their parents as familiar and safe. When separated from their parents, particularly when away from home, they feel threatened and unsafe.
Separation anxiety is a normal developmental stage. It helped keep our ancestors alive and helps children learn how to master their environment.
It usually ends when the child is around 2 years old. At this age, toddlers begin to understand that parents may be out of sight now, but will return later. There is also a normal desire to test their independence.
So there, haters. Of course she seeks me out when confronted with new faces and strange places. Of course she wants mama when she’s tired, hungry, uncomfortable, or uncertain. Completely. age. appropriate. And in NO way in need of your judgment.
Admittedly, it’s beyond fabulous to have a break, (if you’ve heard her scream, you are nodding your head in sympathy for my ear drums about now) and if she’ll go to someone else, awesome. We provide lots of opportunities for her to practice independence and learn that grown-ups come back. However, if I’m in the room with her, and she wants me, I’m not forcing her to go to you if I can help it. That’s just not how we roll.
So if you want to call her spoiled because she likes her mama, be my guest. If we’re talking about love and attention as currency, then I pray for the strength and resources to spoil each of my children better each day.