Thanksgiving Bread Crumbs

Thanksgiving Eve MMXV

While Jimmy and I were in the midst of the adoption home study process, we navigated a truly intense exploration of our backgrounds and childhoods. Our precious social worker lead us through an intimate analysis of our motives to adopt.

It was exhausting but enlightening and it lead me to a contemplation of my own openness to this child across the sea whom I have never met. I am in awe at the way I recognized her as my own without any hesitation at all. That seed of love could have only been sown by God.

But I have been reflecting on how God planted this seed within me. My Goddaughter, Ashley, recently wrote to me, “God speaks to us in different ways. He speaks to you in ‘bread crumbs’. He knows you will analyze the past in order to see your path to the future.”

I have been contemplating the bread crumbs that have lead me to the adoption of this sweet baby that God spoke into my heart. Their trail clearly leads back to the grandfather who adopted me, my “Uncle Niam.” I am confident that the place in my heart that is capable of loving Song-Felicity no differently than I love her siblings was cultivated and prepared by the way my Uncle Niam loved me. He was my grandmother’s cousin but always so much more to me. When my life was touched by loss and crisis shortly before my third birthday, Uncle Niam stepped in to tend to my heart as it broke for the first time. He continued to tend to it tenderly until he was called home to heaven in my early adulthood.

He told me our story over and over though I knew it by heart. The very closest person to my toddler heart was, without question, my maternal grandfather…my “Poppy.” I remember clearly the time and trauma surrounding his death though I was not yet three years old. And I remember when Uncle Niam walked into the kitchen door of my grandparents’ home shortly after he learned Poppy was gone. I can still feel the relief I felt seeing him there. He scooped me up into his arms and I buried my face into his chest and cried. I looked up at his face only long enough to ask, ” Will you be my grandfather?” His answer: “I thought I already was.”

And he was. In every single way. At every ballet recital, every Christmas program and every birthday dinner. He was at my bedside when I awoke in the hospital with a broken arm and in Gainesville hosting my college graduation luncheon at the Wildflowers Cafe that I loved so dearly. He memorialized events in my life by adding charms to my charm bracelet and adding beads to my ” add-a-bead” necklace. I was never one bit different to him than if I had been born of one of his children. And he always beamed recalling how he was “chosen” by me.

When my Daddy had official-looking adoption papers drawn up to memorialize him as our grandfather, we gave them to him for his birthday, I believe. I remember him sitting in our living room and weeping as he read them. As a young child, I did not understand his tears…but oh how I do now!

And it is so intimately beautiful to me that his life is still giving to mine because he left me prepared to love this tiny girl no differently than if I had carried her within my own body. He prepared my heart to “love without borders”. He was an intimate witness in my life to this kind of love and he taught it to me so very personally over and over and over again. I had no idea what being loved by him was preparing me for. I only knew, and know even more now, that being loved by him was precious and lovely.

What a gift…to be loved so strongly and so deeply that it truly transcends time and the grave and spills over into the future and across the sea! I feel him in my heart and life as much as ever and cannot wait to share his glorious way of loving with my daughter on the way. He stepped into my life while I was still only 2 to care for the pieces of my tiny heart as it broke in a very big way. Song-Felicity will likely be almost precisely this same age when we get to her. I already ache to scoop her up in the same way and tell her, like he told me, that in my heart she has always been mine.

My bread crumbs certainly lead back along a very clear trail. And the trail always finds its origin in the same holy and glorious example.

A Piercing Clarity

23 November MMXV

In the two days between placing our baby girl’s file on hold with the adoption agency and Jimmy’s return home from his trip, I was literally buzzing like a bee. By the time Jimmy arrived back at our home, I had already forwarded the medical file from China to a pediatric cardiologist and had made an appointment for Jimmy and I to meet with him to discuss his findings the following Monday which was a few days away. There was nothing I could do as we waited for that appointment other than pray. And I prayed hard. I wish I could say that I had the grace to place our precious China baby into God’s hands and trust His Will to be done but I was so far from that sacred space. I was a wreck.

I prayed for clarity. I prayed for doors to her to clearly open if we were her parents and to clearly close if we were not. Contemplating their closing is what was choking the life out of me. What if her medical condition was so severe that I was not enough of a “medical mama” to care for her needs? It is no secret that after six children I still cannot even look at loose teeth without feeling weak.

What if her needs required so much attention that she would need a mama who could provide her with undivided attention without balancing the needs of six other siblings and their father? What if I wasn’t enough for her? What if I wasn’t enough for this child who already had such a hold on my heart?

I repeatedly asked these same questions of Jimmy in a thousand different ways hoping to find one that would reveal that he even had a pulse. I usually find such comfort in his even steadiness. But this was different. This was, without any doubt, the biggest thing we had ever been called to discern in our nearly two decades of married life and I was getting no more response from him than I would have if we were deciding what topics to order on a pizza. Honestly, this time the cool and calm thing was not comforting in the least. It was growing….irritating.

So irritating that on the Sunday before the Monday cardiologist appointment, I could no longer take it any more. In our church parking lot walking into mass I sort of snapped. “How can you act like this is no big deal? It is huge! Don’t you understand that we are going to walk into that doctor’s office tomorrow to learn if we have what it takes to bring her home? Don’t you understand what a wreck I am thinking about what he is going to say to us? Don’t you see that I do not know if my heart will be okay if he tells us we are not up to handling this?”

Without letting go of my hand and without any hint of inflection in his voice Jimmy answered, “You are the only one who is a wreck because you are the only one who does not see how completely obvious this is. If she is ours, she is ours. Period. No matter her heart or any other issue. Nothing the doctor says in that appointment will change anything. If you were pregnant right now with our baby and we learned on an ultrasound that the baby had this same heart issue, we would not be spending one minute discussing whether or not we could take care of that child while we parented the six we already have. We would just find the best way to do it. If she is our baby, she is all ours.”

The clarity of the truth he spoke instantly pierced me. And liberated me. Liberated me to completely embrace this child as her mother….all of her…every single piece of her physically and emotionally broken heart. Whatever the cardiologist or social workers told us that was going to look like, all of those pieces were in my care now. Because she was ours and God had entrusted these precious pieces to me when He had trusted me to be her mother. The liberation was instant and intense and, as so many times before, heaven had clearly spoken to me through my husband’s voice.

I recognized that day that God had quietly answered my prayers for clarity. He had been answering them all along. And while He was calling and equipping me to tend to the pieces of our child’s heart in China, He was also counting on Jimmy to pick up and tend to the pieces of me.

I definitely got the easier job.

Lemonade, Boiled Peanuts And Fortune Cookies!

16 November MMXV

Over the past year, our seven-year-old, Crockett, has been pleading with us to let him have a lemonade stand. It has been too hot, too cold or too chaotic to make it happen. But the weather in North Florida is glorious this time of year and we thought it would be good to marry his desire to run a lemonade stand with giving him a sense of contributing to bringing his baby sister home from China. So we decided to help him with a “Stand For Our Sister”. We settled on offering pink lemonade since it is so little girly, fortune cookies because of their association with China and boiled peanuts because she is coming home to be a Southern girl:)

My mother got permission for Crockett to set up his stand at the Kappa Delta sorority house during the Florida State homecoming football game. You would have thought it was Christmas in our house as our little ones anticipated their “Stand Day.”

But it was lots of work. The Friday night before, Jimmy and I were up until 3 a.m. boiling peanuts, filling bottles with little-girl-pink lemonade and bundling fortune cookies. By the time we had the stand and its contents and our four youngest children loaded up and heading toward campus, I was exhausted and, honestly, not really looking forward to an afternoon of shepherding little ones as they ran a lemonade stand. On the way, I silently lifted a prayer asking for a heavenly attitude adjustment and telling the Lord I really needed a dose of energy and encouragement.

So I should not have been surprised at all when Crockett’s first customer of the day approached our stand on his way to the game. He asked Crockett what he was fundraising for and Crockett answered, “We are raising money to adopt my baby sister from China.” Customer # 1 promptly showed us a picture of his four children, three of whom were adopted internationally! He was the heavenly dose of encouragement I had petitioned! It was so beautiful to hear him talk of his children and to see actual evidence that these children really do come home eventually. My heart needed that at that moment.

He ordered a lemonade and a bundle of fortune cookies and handed Crockett a $20 bill. As Crockett looked to us to make change, customer #1 told him that he was a lawyer and not great at math so Crockett should keep the change:) Crockett was so proud of his very first sale!

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We spent the afternoon watching our children engage with their Stand customers. The college girls particularly gravitated toward my baby boy:) And after an entire afternoon of supervising “the Stand”, we headed home with sleepy children…and their even sleepier parents:)

That evening, Jimmy and I discussed the day. Though the lemonade stand was not particularly profitable, it was absolutely priceless. Our family had come together as a team. Every one of us had participated in the mission. The older ones helped to boil and bag peanuts and our 11 year-old bundled fortune cookies and decorated signs. Even our 4 year old got into it by holding a sign in front of the Stand. We got to spend the day together as a family and Crockett got to see all of us pull together to support something he longed to do. And on top of it all, the Stand offered an avenue for our little ones to have a sense of contributing to bringing their sister home.

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As the evening came to an end, my thoughts drifted to our China baby. One day she will see the pictures from her brother’s “Stand For Our Sister” and be able to witness how excited her siblings were to bring her home.. I long for the day there is another Stand for Something in our family…with Song-Felicity gulping lemonade and devouring boiled peanuts right along with us.

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A June 16th Redemption

10 November MMXV

June 16th was the day I saw my baby’s face for the first time. And also the day that so much fear within me surfaced that I tried really hard to forget that I knew she was mine. June 16th was the night I tossed throughout until morning never dreaming how the day would leave its fingerprints all over my heart and all over my life. I was not yet awakened to the gravity of the 16th…until the 17th.

After sufficient rattling and encouragement from my earthly father during our lunch date on the 17th, and following the relentless all-night tugging from my Heavenly One, I requested the file of the child who would not let me rest. When I saw it arrive in my email in box I was actually shaking. I was bathed in an awareness that I was receiving something holy.

Her file from China contained nearly everything this world knows about her short life. Her birthday…or an estimate of it…her medical and surgical records, her sleep schedule and personality traits. It contained her favorite type of toys and the developmental milestones she had reached. And it held within it the report documenting the day she was found.

The former prosecutor in me who had read countless law enforcement reports returned as I read this government report documenting where and when she was found by a security guard. I saw the address of the location and the name of the person who had found her and turned her over to authorities. And I learned the date that all of this happened…June 16th 2014.

I had found this child on the exact anniversary of the day she had been surrendered by her China family. The Exact. Same. Date.

I am a date person. All dates resonate with me. Birthdays, death dates, anniversaries, feast days of saints. They all resonate someplace deep within me. And recognizing that I had just happened to look into the face of this baby across the sea on the precise anniversary of the date her China mother likely looked into it for the last time grabbed me and shook me. Hard.

The God Who had, Himself, fashioned me and Who knows me better than I even know myself knows this about me. So He had chosen to speak to me in my own date language…a language so personal and so intimate that I would never be able to deny that it was from Him. He was gently, yet mightily, demanding me to pay attention to this child..and to Him. And I knew it. Every single fiber that is me knew it.

There was something so powerful in realizing that I shared this June 16th date with her China family…as if they had, themselves, handed her over to me in some way. And in the midst of the joy that surfaced within me over the next few days realizing that she was mine, June 16th kept me aware of, and anchored to, their grief somehow. I will always remember the date with joy as the day I saw my daughter’s face for the first time. But they, in all likelihood, will remember the same date with great pain and sadness. Sharing the same date with them keeps me tied to that in a somewhat mystical, yet very tangible, way.

There may never be enough time this side of eternity to ponder within my heart all that is embodied within this June 16th that we share. But some things have already surfaced clearly. I cannot be separated from my daughter’s story prior to my entrance into it. It is part of her and, thus, a part of me. Because she is a part of me. All of her and all of her story. All of her heritage and all of her heartache. They are now mine too.

And, perhaps the most glorious thing about June 16th is not the way it ties me to my child and to her story but the way it reveals the way God loves her…and has loved her without her even knowing it. The date she was “lost” by her China family is also the date she was “found” by her forever one. God went about redeeming June 16th for our daughter before she was even old enough to understand its need of redemption. Only He can do that. Only He can love like that.

As her precious agency advocate reminds me, God goes before us ALWAYS and in ALL WAYS. He definitely went before my baby into that June 16th.