Sticker Shock

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At first glance, this magnet on the back of my car is nothing special. It’s hardly as cool as my “Team Oxford Comma” sticker or the logo of my beloved St. Louis Cardinals. Heck, even my Valdosta State University alumnae badge of honor is more unique.


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Like hundreds of other folks in the place a call home, it indicates that I have a curtain climber or two involved in an afterschool activity known as, you guessed it, “Kid Chess.”

Each Tuesday, our dastardly duo finishes their school day and heads for the cafeteria to learn about “the immortal game,” beloved by commonspun philosophers, kings, and titans of industry. For ninety minutes, they learn strategy and play a game or two with classmates on the same skill level as they. Some weeks, the boys sprint out, their faces flushed with the thrill of conquest. Other times, they more closely resemble Eeyore, the beloved sad sack of the Hundred Acre Woods because they’ve been beaten like a tied up goat. But I’m happy either way because they’re learning how to think critically, to be good sports, and to take risks.

But that’s not what makes that goofy blue knight sporting the Def Leppard do so special.

When we were going through the adoption process—filling out mountains of paperwork, taking IMPACT training classes, and meeting with advocates and case managers, every so often, I would think to myself, Do we REALLY want to do this? Are we sure that we’re sure about this life-changing choice?

Most times, the answer was yes. But there were days (more than I care to admit) when I backpedaled from the entire thing. Days when I heard adoption horror stories in the news or from the mouths of well-meaning friends. Days when I came home exhausted and realized just how difficult life could be for a working mother. Days when my selfishness overruled my willingness to obey.

I prayed for peace about what sometimes seemed like an altogether foolhardy endeavor. I asked for confirmation from God, some grand symbol like the ones he gave Moses in the wilderness or during Belshazzar’s feast. Heck, I decided I’d settle for a little dew on some fleece. But the Lord, as we all know, is not in the earthquake, fire, or whirlwind. It’s the still, small voice we should be listening for, the gentle question that comes to us from just outside the safety of our caves.

Days before our paperwork was approved, I was still wrestling with adoption and with all the worries and expectations that are part and parcel with becoming a new parent. But driving home from work one afternoon, I saw a car with one of those silly magnets on the back, and I found myself saying, It might be fun to raise a kid who plays chess.

Wham.

Just like that, I went from worrying about all sorts of things (most of which have not come to pass) to thinking, It might be nice.

And now—one year after children were placed in our home—that magnet is proudly on display on the back hatch of my filthy yellow car. Evidence that God is indeed at work in the details.

 

On the Radio (Whoa Oh)

Today, I had the pleasure of speaking to John Hall and Kathy Emmons on 101.5-WORD FM in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. Mr. Hall read my most recent article on her.meneutics, contacted me through this very blog, and asked if I’d be interested in sharing my story with their listeners. Who knew it was as simple as all that!?

For a person who makes a living behind the relative safety of a keyboard, a live radio session was more than a little daunting, but both hosts were wonderful. They asked some great questions, and I can’t thank them enough for letting me come on to tell folks about adoption—both the hard parts and the beautiful ones.

If you’d like to listen to the interview, please click the player below. (My segment starts around 1:17:44.)

 

 

 

 

And now I have this song stuck in my head.

Heart of Stone, Heart of Flesh

There are times when “God did it” is the only answer that makes sense.

Last Thursday, Wayne and I attended a “Family Meet Up” event in Atlanta. In essence, it was an adoption fair where representatives and case workers from all the regions in Georgia came together with information and flyers about kids who were available for adoption in their areas. The goal? To match prospective adopters like us with adoptees in need.

I expected the event to be interesting but perhaps not overly busy, but every time I’ve gone to a foster care adoption event, I’ve been pleasantly surprised to find the place is full of interested families and single parents. Well, as per usual, this place was packed to capacity, and folks were asking questions, giving and taking names, and making connections like crazy. It was overwhelming to say the least.

Wayne and I visited each booth, each of which had a different theme. Some were simple and cute: a cowboy themed “Adoption Round Up” and another called “Matchup Madness” that was, you guessed it, all about basketball. My two favorites were a Lego themed one called “Build a Strong Family” and a Peter Pan one called “From Neverland to Foreverland.”

Well, we finally got to the Frozen themed booth (“Some People Are Worth Waiting For”), and something interesting happened. No, it didn’t make me like Frozen—that isn’t even a possibility. They had several sibling groups, so we started asking questions of the case worker in charge of finding them permanent homes. We were discussing a brother and sister, and then she dropped a bomb.

In the brochure, it stated that the boy had a “medical condition.” It turns out that condition is cystic fibrosis.

The entire time we’ve been looking to adopt, one thing Wayne and I have agreed on is that we cannot adopt a child with special needs. Our reason? We just don’t have the bandwidth. We both work outside the home and have only a handful of relatives nearby, all of whom are several hours away.

My reaction to this news should have been an audible gasp, a cluck of the tongue, a “Poor baby,” and a subtle return of the flyer to the table. Thanks, but no thanks.

But none of that happened. Instead, I said, “Tell me more. How did they come into care?”

I didn’t back away. And almost a week—and a few hours of research into CF later—I still haven’t stopped thinking about that boy and his little sister. And though everything in me is saying, What are you doing!? This is too much for you to handle. Get real.You’re not strong enough…loving enough…faithful enough…patient enough…spiritual enough, I still can’t quite let go of it.

A few months ago, my CEO preached on the moment in Joshua 4 when Israel crossed the Jordan on dry land and erected twelve memorial stones to remind them of God’s miracle. At the end, he invited each of us to come to the front and select a stone of our own from the pile in front of him. We were supposed to use it either to mark something God had done for us or something we were praying for him to do.

I drew this….

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I keep telling God I’d like a little boy and a little girl, ages eight and six respectively.

Guess what the brother and sister we talked to that case worker about are? Yep, eight and six.

Maybe it’s just a coincidence. Or maybe that’s the reason CF hasn’t scared me off yet. I keep thinking about how hard those kids’ lives have been, especially his. Not only does he live each and every day wondering who is going to feed him, shelter him, and take him to school. He also has to wonder if he’ll get his breathing treatment and if someone will help him clear the mucus from his lungs. He has to wonder if anyone will take him to the doctor when he’s sick and get him the many medications he needs. If someone will hold him when the coughing just won’t stop and will love him as their child even though they will be asked to attend his funeral one day.

And the thought of a child being asked to bear all that leaves me furious and brokenhearted at the same time. Me…the woman who never wanted kids and who, even after she said yes to adoption, added the caveat “but absolutely no kids with special needs.”

If that’s not a moment where you have to say,”God did it,” I don’t know what is.

I’ve been praying for God to change my heart, to break it for what breaks his, and to soften it in preparation for all the challenges Wayne and I are going to face. I’m essentially asking him to do what he promised in Ezekiel 36:26-27: “And I will give you a new heart, and a new spirit I will put within you. And I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh. And I will put my Spirit within you, and cause you to walk in my statutes and be careful to obey my rules.”

I’m starting to realize that, no, I will never be spiritual enough or strong enough. I will never be sufficient for the task to which I’ve been called. But I’m not supposed to be. However, Jesus is all that and more, and recognizing that has given me a peace about our adoption that I’ve not experienced in the many months we’ve been attending classes, filling out paperwork, and meeting with case workers.

I’ve come to understand that a heart of stone doesn’t protect me or keep me from getting hurt. It only prohibits me from feeling the emotions (both good and bad) that I need to experience to become who I am meant to be. God doesn’t give us a heart of flesh only to leave it exposed to the elements and susceptible to wounds. Quite the opposite is true. The apostle Paul tells us, “the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus” (Phil. 4:7).

I may not adopt this little boy and girl, but the sudden and inexplicable willingness to do so taught me a great deal about myself, God’s design, and how he does indeed purpose all things—even a headstrong, unwilling mom—for good.

Thoughts on Parenthood or: How I Nearly Killed My Cat With Holistic Medicine

A few weeks ago, I decided that I needed to try a natural way of relieving my tension headaches, so I bought some eucalyptus essential oil at a farmers market.

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Assassin in a bottle.

It wasn’t some watered down stuff from a spa or girly bath products store; it was straight up. Like so strong a koala could drink it on the rocks with a splash of soda and a lime wedge, so I thought it best to put a drop or two on a cotton ball to test its potency before using it in earnest.

When I turned the bottle over, my cat Ivan–with the perfect timing that only felines have–jumped on the counter to get himself some lovin’ and set a horrific, unstoppable Rube Goldberg machine into action. He bonked my elbow with his head and sent a gusher of oil out of the bottle’s mouth, drenching the cotton ball and my hands. And in the middle of the fracas, Ivan walked right under the flow and got a perfect stripe of eucalyptus oil down his back.

Turns out, it is toxic, especially when ingested in oil form. And what do cats do best? That’s right. They bathe themselves profusely. I hollered for Wayne to grab the bottle of coconut berry cat shampoo, and we feverishly washed Ivan in the bathtub, passing bottles and cups back and forth as efficiently as a seasoned NASCAR pit crew.

Ivan is normally good natured, but I think he was fairly well freaked out by the strong smells of eucalyptus and panic emanating from me. So he skipped over the steps by which cats show their displeasure (twitchy tail, bug eyes, low growl in the back of the throat) and went to plaid.

He got clean. I got a scar. (See photographic evidence below.)

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Scars are cool, right?

The evening ended with a wet, furious cat, a bloodstained tub, and a room that smelled so strongly of eucalyptus that we had to shut the door so we could sleep. And while I didn’t have a headache when the escapade started, I sure did at the end.

But no worries. We’re both fine now.

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He’s back to his lovely, lazy, tubby self.

Humor aside, there was something else of note in the evening. The entire time I’m scrubbing my cat’s back in a frenzy, wondering if I’ve killed him with my stupid attempt at holistic medicine, I kept thinking, I’m not fit to be a parent! What kind of mother will I make if I can’t even take care of a cat? They’re self sufficient! All you need to do is feed them and clean the litter box once or twice a week. I can’t even do this right! And the voice in my head grew louder and shriller as I went.

I fretted and fussed over him all night, wrapping him up in a towel like a kitty burrito and praying he wouldn’t die some horrible death because I was an inept pet parent.

The next day, we took him to the vet, but they didn’t see anything to worry about. So after he charmed the scrubs off of every lady in the place and got a rabies shot required by the state of Georgia, we took him home. Now he’s fine as a frog hair split three ways. Yes, he was lethargic the day after the visit, but in my defense, he’s often so lethargic that it’s hard to tell if he’s sick or just being a bum.

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“Oh, Mother….must you carry on so?”

Still, I keep going back to that frantic thought I had as a hunched over the tub, scouring my poor cat and trying not to cry. Is that what parenthood is like? Do you constantly second guess yourself and worry that you’re a failure? Are there mulligans in parenthood or do you make one slip up and the little hooman in your charge ends up a “deaf, dumb, and blind kid” (who may or may not “play a mean pinball“)?

These are the things I worry about as the adoption approaches. Up until now, my blunders were my own. Any stupid mistake I made impacted my life (and on occasion Wayne’s). However, we always found a way to work ourselves out of a mess, no matter how royally we hosed up. With children, the rules change. Heck, the entire game changes. Any poor decision I make won’t just throw a wrench in my life; it will impact theirs.

What’s worse, I can even hurt them with my words, my lack of attention, or my impatience. And fixing whatever I break will take something a lot more painful than a quick dunk in soapy water.

Sometimes I think about my kids; I wonder where they are and what they’re going through. The little lives that will be entrusted to me are, as we speak, are experiencing the worst the world has to offer: neglect, abuse, deprivation, shame, and pain. Or maybe that’s over. Maybe they’ve been taken away from the abusive parent (who they still love despite all the failures) and thrown into a system that will bounce them around from place to place, some of which may be less than ideal. I think about what might be happening to them, and I want to scream.

I don’t want to be the next person who harms them. I want to be the one who does everything right, who doesn’t make mistakes, doesn’t lose control, doesn’t break down or screw up or lash out. No matter what.

But one thing this silly moment taught me is that it’s so easy to do. So easy.

***

I want to hear your thoughts, your advice, and your good counsel. If you’re a parent, especially of adopted children who come from hard places, please share your experiences and thoughts in the comments below!

 

 

Step Up

Adopting children involves a great deal of preparation–everything from your home to your heart–and we did a bit of both this past weekend.

Our couch and chairs, which were perfect in a two bedroom apartment, left us looking a little house poor in the new digs. So we decided to go ahead and buy a sectional that we could use for entertaining and for what we hope will be many fun family movie nights. So we spent most of Friday hauling the old stuff to Goodwill and then filling the empty space with the lovely piece you see below.

The cat is scoping it out, trying to find the best place to sit.  And yes, we are changing the wall color.
The cat is scoping it out, trying to find the best place to sit. And the walls have been painted since. No more gaudy mint green!

 

The new monstrosity comes in four sections: chaise lounge, center couch, end couch, and ottoman. Three of the four pieces weren’t too much trouble, but the end couch (the one closest to you in the picture) was an absolute bear. Even after we removed the wooden feet and tried wedging it through the door from multiple angles, it still refused to go in. However, twenty minutes (and several frustrated grunts) later, we managed it. And I thought I’d never use geometry again after high school.

The schlepping wasn’t the part that got to me, it was getting the pieces up and down the back stairs. The reason? I don’t like moving around when I can’t see my feet. I just don’t believe I’ll hit stable ground when I don’t know exactly where I’m headed. I can’t shake the feeling that I’ll find the one hole to step in or that my foot will slip, either of which will end with me crashing to the ground. My brain knows that I’m okay—but for some reason, if I can’t see it, I don’t believe it. And until I can get my bearings, my stomach slushes around in my gut like a boat bobbing on choppy seas.

I felt much the same way on Saturday in our IMPACT training classes at Bethany. As we sat and listened to all the signs a child has been sexually abused and the ways in which he/she might act out, I felt that place in me go loose again. I floated on a sea of incertitude, lost and wondering where this process might take me. The questions flashed in my mind, all strobe lights and gaudy neon…

Who exactly am I bringing into my home?

What kind of damage has already been done, and is there enough love in me to help undo it?

Am I ready to raise a child who has faced horrors I’ve never even imagined?

How am I going to manage this and a full time job?

I honestly don’t know the answers to any of these questions that now hang in the air like an unresolved chord, dissonant and jangling.

I’m in the cavernous space between them and their answers. It’s a place of uncertainty where I can’t see my feet, spiritually speaking. I don’t know where this process will take me, if I will land on solid ground or find myself tumbling down the stairs. “Just show me a few details,” I ask God. “Like how many kids we’ll have. Or how about a heads up about the kinds of behavioral issues they’re going to have so I can research and prepare myself. Just a few clues, God. That’s all I need really.” But He’s silent. Not because He can’t answer me, but because answers aren’t what I need.

The other day, a good friend said, “Jamie, it’s in the act of faith that courage becomes a reality.”

That’s why (as much as I hate it) I need to stand, my foot hovering above the unknown, and trust God to take care of me when it lands. Why? Because the courage comes when you act, not as you wait.

Tim Challies put it this way in a recent blog post about making decisions:

“The thing we want [an answer] is a thing God does not give us. He is far too wise for that, and does not give us that view of the finish line, that sneak peak of the future. He could, of course….But he doesn’t.

Instead, he does something far better: He gives us a view of himself. We don’t need to know the future when we know the one who holds the future. God does not want us to put our hope in a future outcome, but in him. We don’t ground our faith in a result, but in a Person. If we could see the future we would take our eyes off him. If we could see the future, our faith would be in the future. But when all we see is God, our trust must be in him.

God doesn’t comfort us by showing us the future, but by showing us himself. He shows himself as the all-powerful, all-knowing God who is for us, not against us. He shows himself as being far more committed to us than we are to him. He promises that he will never leave us nor forsake us, that he will work all things for good, that he will hold us firm to the end. He guarantees that he has purposes in this world and that nothing can change or interrupt or thwart them. He assures us that he will be glorified. He says, “Don’t look at the future, look at me!”

That’s what I have to remember in the empty, hollow space of dissonance—the resolution will come. Yes, the questions will be answered.

Perhaps they will be fast, miraculous, onomatopoetic answers….Zap! Bang! Boom!

But I think it’s far more likely to happen over a slow passage of years. I’ll get them as I help my children untangle the knots of pain in their souls and put themselves back together. Getting them will hurt, yes, and there will be tears of both joy and sorrow. But I cannot allow the lack of them to delay God’s plan for my life. So bring on the next piece of unwieldy furniture, the next challenge, and the next question.

I’m ready to step up.

Worth My Salt

Sometimes, I honestly don’t know why I’m doing this.

I know it’s the right thing to do. I know I’m being called to do it. But every time someone asks me, “What made you want to adopt a child?” I draw a blank. I stammer. I say something acceptable and then spend the next hour sorting through the words, hoping to find the golden nugget of truth. It’s not something I consciously decided to do or willingly embraced. Yet, here I am, about a month shy of my 36th birthday, beginning the adoption process. And because I think best when I write, I figured why not chronicle the entire madcap experience here?

A little back story on me. I had dolls, sure, but I preferred to wear my plastic She-Ra armor and defend the Crystal Castle (a.k.a. “the garden shed”). I wanted play “G.I. Joe vs. Cobra” in the backyard with all the boys (and would choose to be Scarlet or the Baroness depending on which team picked me). When my parents told me it was time to start earning my own money, I chose to mow lawns rather than babysit. And this was when we lived in south Florida where it’s 98 in the shade with 100% humidity. So, yeah, the idea of motherhood is a bit foreign to me. I don’t have much experience with kids younger than 13, and though I’ve been a teacher, it’s a far cry from parental experience.

Wayne and I discussed different adoption options and finally landed on the one that seemed to be the best fit for our current stage of life and personalities: foster to adopt, special needs. I’m already beginning to see that the wonderful world of adoption is chock full of terms and acronyms, so allow me to explain our choice.

Foster to adopt involves taking in a child or children when one birth parent’s rights have been severed. (Also know as TPR or “termination of parental rights.” I told you there were acronyms aplenty.) Basically, the state is trying to reunify the child or children with family, but that often does not happen because the parent is found unfit. Children who come from these homes are often abused (emotionally, physically, or sexually) and neglected (especially with regards to health).

We chose this option because we want to adopt an older child rather than an infant. There were two reasons for this. One, I didn’t feel led to give up my current job, and two, doing so would put some serious hurt on our finances. (While we could survive on one salary, it wouldn’t be pretty. And I wasn’t really keen on pinching pennies until they scream.)

Also, it’s one of the greatest areas of need in the United States. According to Adopt US Kids, “More than 250,000 children…enter the foster care system every year. While more than half of these children will return to their parents, the remainder will stay in the system.”

Image courtesy of examiner.com.
Image courtesy of examiner.com.

The other term, special needs, is a little more misleading. Yes, it applies to children who have some sort of physical, emotional, or mental handicap, but it can also apply to children who:

  • Are older than age 5
  • Are part of a sibling group that needs to be adopted together
  • Have a history of trauma

The second one in that list is the reason why the term applies to us. We have room to take in up to three children, so we’re opting to go for a sibling group. I’m hoping for a pair because once the children outnumber the parents, you have to start playing zone defense.

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We have taken the first steps to make this happen. We selected Bethany Christian Services as our agency, filled out our preliminary application, and attended the first two-hour information meeting. The next step is to begin IMPACT training, which involves 20 hours of classroom time. Part of me is eager to get started, yes. But another part of me hesitates. It asks, “What are you doing!?” We’ve finally managed to get ahead a bit financially, and life is hectic but manageable. I get plenty of sleep. My schedule is my own. I have down time and can enjoy an evening on the town without pulling off a feat of logistics to rival D-Day. And I’m choosing to give all of that up, no waterboarding involved.

But of the many blessings I’ve been given, the first and most amazing is my family. I was surrounded by love from the moment I was born. (In fact, my aunt hid in my mother’s hospital bathroom until the nurse left because she was excited to see me and just couldn’t wait.) I have two loving parents, a younger brother, and an extended family who has never once failed to support me. I was never abused, never neglected, never told I was unwanted or that someone didn’t have time for me. And I’m coming to see just what an amazing gift that is. I can’t help every child who has not known this kind of security, but I can do something for the handful God has in mind. To do anything less is disobedient to the one who died for me, the one who allowed me to be “adopted” into God’s family.

Theodore Roosevelt once said, “No man is worth his salt who is not ready at all times to risk his well-being, to risk his body, to risk his life, in a great cause.” I may very well be jeopardizing all of these things by adopting, but I can think of no cause greater than that.

Maybe I know why I’m doing this after all.

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If you’re currently adopting or have survived the process, I would LOVE to hear from you. Please leave me a comment in the section below, and tell me your story. I’d love some advice and to get to know others in this amazing community!

Pure and Undefiled Religion

My article in the June issue of In Touch Magazine is one for the record books. Not only is it a feature, it is also the longest piece I’ve written for the publication to date—a whopping eight pages. It was the first multi-interview piece I’ve ever done (10+), and it also included copious amounts of statistical and personal research. Because of it, I learned better interviewing skills, how to conduct an interview that’s tailored for broadcast, and how a video feature is made. I worked with amazingly talented people ranging from transcriptionists, web designers, and graphic artists to five-person a video crew. Five wonderful people were willing to share their stories with me, and I have no doubt that, through what they shared, lives will be changed. God is going to do something supernatural in the lives of at least one or two people who read this. I know because He did a number on me through the process of constructing it.

I began brainstorming for this piece back in November of 2012, and I have to say that it proved several things to me. One, nothing is impossible for God. There were several times in this process that I nearly threw up my hands and quit, but it was in those moments that God taught me something about reliance and His sufficiency. When I needed the words, they came. And when I trusted Him to provide the resources needed, He never failed to show up.

Two, people matter to God. He wants children to be in families, and He wants us to provide the homes they need. I spoke with brilliant and resilient children who have been hurt more in their short lives than I will ever experience, and I felt my heart growing in response to their stories. Also, I learned that when we grieve, our God grieves with us. I spoke to a widow of 30+ years and a widower who just lost his wife three years ago. The pain was so fresh in his heart that he cried several times during our interview, but he still said without hesitation, “God is good. He keeps providing.” That is the very definition of faith to me.

Third, though I have never wanted children before, God has impressed on my heart that it is time and that adoption is the route my husband and I will take. We’ve made some tentative first steps in that direction, and I firmly believe that I was given this assignment so God could shape and mold my heart to make that choice possible. I guarantee you that there will be MANY blogs posted on this subject in the upcoming year.

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The article has also been posted on our shiny new microsite, which can be seen in all its glory at http://www.intouch.org/missing-persons/widows-and-orphans/. There are some web exclusives there as well as the video and audio/photo slideshow that was produced as a part of the project. It’s a website designed by the wonderful team at Hampton Creative. Go look. Seriously. It looks spectacular.

It will also hit homes this week in print form, which you can read below. If you like this piece and are interested in a free subscription to our publication, please visit our subscription page and give us some info. There are three more months to go in the Missing Persons Project in addition to the two reports that have already been published as well as some exciting interviews and articles coming in the future.

All in all, this has been one of the most challenging, most humbling, and most awe-inspiring things I’ve ever had the honor to experience. God has blessed me in so many ways over the last two years since I started at In Touch Ministries, and words cannot express how I feel right now.

I’d love to hear your feedback about the article, the website, the videos, and whether or not any or all of it changed your thinking on the matter. We love hearing from our readers, so please leave your thoughts in the comment section below.