All the Pages

While she was still in Korea, our daughter went to a weekly playgroup with other kids like her, who were waiting for their forever families. When we came to bring her home, the adoption agency that had become part of her regular community gave us a little photo book with a cheerful yellow cover and English words and phrases spread throughout it like, “I love you” and “happy day.”  It’s full of pictures of her at playgroup playing with friends, enjoying Korean snacks and Korean toys. It’s a glimpse of her in her culture of birth before everything changed.

She loves to look at this book. Every so often, she will pull it off of the bookcase on the low shelf spot it keeps and pore over every page of it on repeat. Even though she is young and cannot fully comprehend or explain the loss she’s experienced, it’s clear that she still feels it, no matter how happy, brave and adjusted she’s become since. Early on, I was a little afraid to show her this book and other things that would remind her of life before us. For a few weeks, I put it on a high shelf behind other big books and looked at it when I was alone, thinking about what we would say when she looked through it and wondering what she would remember of it.

Eventually, we put the book out where she can see it and reach it and show interest on her terms. We look at the book and other pictures we have now and speak simply but honestly.  We don’t do this perfectly.  Sometimes I feel fear sneaking up on me and the desire to try and make sure she is happy and doesn’t have to face anything that reminds her of what she’s lost is strong. I have to push back against this. Again, and again, we see how imperative it is that we welcome her whole story. A story is incomplete without all the pages. In adoption and beyond, we must to learn to welcome our whole stories, or we risk missing out on growing in grace and knowing how deeply we are loved.

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When she looks at the book, she says things like, “I want  go there. Can we go Korea ‘gain?  Together?”  She then lists each of our names and says she wants us all to be there. She naturally wants to make connections between the two worlds she has known in her short life while knowing that we aren’t going anywhere and that we are forever.

We tell her we want to go back there and yes, that we want to go back there together. Every chance we have, we try, however imperfectly, to tell her that what she grieves is worthy of the grief she feels, whenever and however she feels it.

In western Christian culture, we’ve been conditioned to hide sadness, cover up weakness and put a strong and cheerful face forward. We hide our grief for fear that others will mistake it for ingratitude.  We bury our lament before it’s finished because we’ve been told there’s an open window somewhere that we should be focusing on instead.  And yet, when I look at scripture, I see there is welcome space for these things. There are no time limits or cut-off dates placed over them.  Jeremiah does this beautifully in Lamentations 3.  While the chapter ends with hope, there’s nothing of platitude in his writing.  In Lamentations 3:19-24 (The Message), he writes:

“I’ll never forget the trouble, the utter lostness,
    the taste of ashes, the poison I’ve swallowed.
I remember it all—oh, how well I remember—
    the feeling of hitting the bottom.
But there’s one other thing I remember,
    and remembering, I keep a grip on hope:

God’s loyal love couldn’t have run out,
    his merciful love couldn’t have dried up.
They’re created new every morning.
    How great your faithfulness!
I’m sticking with God (I say it over and over).
    He’s all I’ve got left.”

His sadness is spiritual; he meets with God and affirms the place of his hope in the very depth of it. The most beautiful art and poetry courageously rise from places of ash and loss, brokenness and grief.

I am learning from my daughter.  It’s impacting the way Matt and I parent all of our kids and the way we welcome our own stories with wholeness.  I watch my daughter’s small hands working together, one holding her playgroup picture book  steady while the other turns pages and urges her to remember who she was and who she is. I am learning in fresh ways that grief and joy can co-exist and work together. Like two hands from the same body, they work together to lead us to our one and only hope throughout every page of our story.

From Hidden to Risen

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“Quiz me on this rock,” he said, holding up a bone-colored, jagged- edge stone. I could almost see his words of response at the edge of his lips, ready. My nine-year old has always been excited about geology. Any mention from me is all it takes to open the floodgates of his excitement and stored up information.

“Did you know that some of the rarest gemstones are made deep down in the earth in the hottest lava?”

His question sticks with me. I didn’t know, or if I did at one time, I forgot.

Diamonds are made in hidden places, under the stress of extreme heat.

For the last year, my family has been in transition. All year, we’ve been given the task of building and re-building as we’ve grown from four to five through adoption. As incredible as the gift of adoption has been, the transition of this gift has required all of us to get to work down in hidden places.

 

Head over to SheLoves Magazine to read the rest of the post.

One Year with Everly

It’s been a year of crossing bridges and constructing them.

We’ve seen our girl cross milestones this first year together:  ABCs, shapes, colors and 123s.  Climbing, jumping, sorting, discovering.  Here’s where adoption is different though: our little girl has trekked mountains while passing through these expected milestones.  It wasn’t just ABCs, it was ABCs in a new language, culture, home, and learned on the shoulders of loss.

Her early weeks of life were acquainted with isolation and transition. She lost the very first mother-voice she knew, something I can only imagine like a song you love and long to sing, whose volume keeps turning down in a noisy room until it’s gone. I know she’ll always be looking for that particular song.

She knows we’ve loved her from the start.  But memories of that plane ride home a year ago still puts me into a panic inside.  I feel a piece of the same panic every time she wakes in the night afraid, or wakes us mid-night terror.  No matter how many times I read about night terrors in scientific terms, the thought of hers alone makes me lie awake frozen and anxious.  Some of my deepest fears as an adoptive mama have turned into  an unwelcome shadow, whispering beside me on those nights. You aren’t her real motherYou don’t know her.  Love can’t make it across a bridge of colliding cultures like you claim to so whole-heartedly to believe…

I’ve cowered in moments, but I’ve also chosen to speak truth back in the darkness. I’ve called on my God to silence that shadow.  And I remember:  All year, we’ve been building something beautiful.

This year, one of our sons has grown into a more caring, sympathetic brother as he’s witnessed his little sister adjust and grow. The first night she was home, she stayed near him, drawn to his tenderness and attention, and all year we have watched this enlarge his empathy and affection as a person.

Another son was jolted by the transition and resistant to the change with an adamantine stance. He clung to what was for months, and yet, over time, and almost undercover, his passion for the past morphed into an unlikely bond.  His heart grew even bigger than it already was, in a corner he had originally intended to keep to himself.

Our daughter has gone from a girl who refused to speak, to a girl full of spunk and compassion. She’s tells me she wants to learn ballet while spinning dizzy in our living room one minute, and then chases her brothers around armed with a lightsaber, the next.  She’s a forever Korean girl whose favorite things to eat are still rice with seaweed and Jajangmyeon, who’s also claimed the winning title of chocoholic amongst her siblings. If you ask her how much any of us love her, she will stretch her arms out wide and yell, “SO MUCH.” She’s a girl who’s known.  She’s our daughter, and most importantly, she’s learning again to know that she’s undoubtably loved.

So many people frame adoption in the need that exists out there, but what I’ve learned this year is that there’s also an immense need in here for the kind of welcoming that is adoption. It’s the kind that requires every bit of us.

Day by day, long night after long night, memory after memory made, we’ve been crossing bridges and constructing them.

It’s been hard work for all of us, and a year later; I am tired.  But a year later; I am in love with our family of five more than ever before.  A year later; we’ve all learned a little bit more about what it means to love and be loved.  We are still learning and that might be the best part.

Happy One Year, Everly Jun.  You are loved and known. Loving and knowing you is more beautiful than we could’ve ever imagined.IMG_7466

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Loving Our Younger Selves



It was cold and overcast on our daughter’s Gotcha Day. We drove away from the adoption agency in a small, navy blue van with another adoptive family. Our little girl rode on my lap, still unaware of what was happening. She went from playing with the new toys we’d given her to looking up at the other little boy who was with his new family with curiosity and concern as his cries filled the vehicle. It took her a few more hours before she began her own tears.
I remember watching our daughter’s foster mother as we drove away and how my heart ached imagining how hers must’ve been. As we drove away from the building where so many people knew our daughter by name, and from the woman who had lovingly cared for her every need since she was an infant, I wondered when our little girl might want to return. I pictured her years older, standing on that sidewalk again, reaching for her past self.
In my own search for and struggles of identity, I’ve often believed returning to a physical place would solve everything. Having moved multiple times throughout my formative years, I lived in a constant state of adjusting to a new normal while reaching back for the past. In high school, after a move to the Midwest, I spent almost every day vowing to return to California. I believed it was the one place I belonged most of all. And yet with time and many short return visits in-between, new places became home.

6 months to a new normal

At our very first post adoption meeting, when we were still shaky and quietly wondering if things were really going to be okay in the end,
our adoption specialist told us that we would probably feel “normal”  again in 6
months.  “Normal,” meaning, we would
probably forget what it felt like before Everly came home.  6 months felt like an eternity away and “normal” felt like a dream at that point.
I am beginning to wonder if the only way we truly adjust to a new “normal” is from an accumulation of daily surrenders. One after another, we raise our white flags to the ever-tempting pull to fight for what was, and we let go of the illusion of security that the past and the familiar bring us. Everyday we work hard to make a home, and everyday I am reminded that we are not home yet.

At 6 months, our kind and feisty little girl now knows most of the letters of the alphabet.  She’s well-versed in Star Wars and can mimic her big brother’s Tae Kwon Do kicks with ferocity. She loves to be silly and to be sung to. When we go anywhere in the car, she often sits in her seat and verbally rehearses the most recent family events that have taken place, or lists each of our family members by first and last name (sometimes she gives all of us one of her middle names). She knows we are all family.  She loves having her brothers home and she’s the sweetest mini mama: if she finds an empty water bottle or cup, she always tries to fill it and bring it to whoever she thinks it belongs to.

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Two days ago, we came home from our first mini vacation as a family of 5.  It beautifully marked this passage of time and all that’s happened within it.

When we were in Seoul to bring our little girl home, we met this amazing couple, Amber and Randy.  They were there to adopt a little girl at the same time (their third adoption from South Korea) and they also had two boys at home who were waiting to meet their new little sister.
In Seoul, 6 months ago
Shortly after being in South Korea together, through the tired texts that Amber and I threw back and forth at each other after sleepless nights, we talked about getting our families together. When they traveled to FL for vacation a few months later, they made a quick pit stop at our house on the way back home. Over dinner we planned on our family driving north this summer to visit them in Ludington.  As the trip grew close, I was filled with worry.  What would Everly think when we started packing things up?  Was she old enough to remember the last time bags were packed? Are we crazy to even try?  Is the travel worth it if we lose some of the progress we think we’ve made as a family?  
The first time we dropped Everly off in childcare at church two months ago, we reassured her by saying that we would always come back to pick her up. So, every Sunday since, she’s said, “Mommy and Daddy always back.”  On our drive to Ludington, Everly kept saying, “Mommy and Daddy always back.” She knew something out of the norm was going on and was checking in to make sure that what she’s come to believe as true, is still true.

It turned that out that we had a wonderful time away.  I am so glad we did it.  Sleep wasn’t perfect but that’s true at home anyway.  It was so good to get away and stretch out into new spaces and see things in a new light. This trip is the first we’ve planned as a family of 5 and we hoped it would get our feet wet for the travels we have planned for the months and year ahead.  I’ll be blogging more about that soon.

With our friends, we marveled how much has changed in the last 6 months.  We watched all 6 of our combined kids play together easily and it was beautiful.  Our girls had these funny moments of staring at one another as if they remembered each other from being in Korea together.

Our families, 6 months later.

Just like our adoption specialist said, now we can’t remember what it was like before Everly came home.   I keep thinking, what if we hadn’t said yes?  Not just to adoption and to our little girl, but to every invitation to a new normal. What people and what new depths and heights of Love do we miss in our resistance to welcome the new and the unfamiliar?