Faithful

Through it all, through it all, my eyes are on you.

Through it all, through it all, it is well.

We sing the words again this morning and I remember.

Another day we sang this song, a day not too far in the past.

Today I can sing with gusto.

That day I could barely breathe.

That day I collapsed under the weight of what felt impossibly hard.

Making space for grace, making space for Love

During the home stretch in Little One’s case.

I was exhausted.

And I knew the days ahead would likely leave me more ragged and vulnerable than I already felt.

That day I knew that ultimately it would be well with my soul.

But it was the prayers of dear ones whispered in my ears when I couldn’t drag my needy self off the floor that breathed life.  That spoke it to be well.  Right then and there.  In the middle of the mess.

The words today feel like a victory chant.

Like a standing stone.

Because, friends, our God is faithful.

Not just because Little One is asleep in the other room right now, all arms and legs and outside voice and fiery personality.

But because in the days to come, I got to watch love win right in the court house.

Because I got to stand in the sacred space of speaking worth and value into hearts that others dismissed too easily.  And some days I still do.

Because when I didn’t have the strength to drag myself off the floor and singing it is well made me feel like a hypocrite, it left no question who made beauty start to uncurl from the broken places.

And it sure as anything wasn’t me.

And so, today, I sing with gusto.  Knowing that there will be other days when I collapse under the weight of what feels impossibly hard.

But still it is true.  Still it is well.

Because, friends, our God is faithful.

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An Adoption By the Numbers

Months in care: 30 (I cannot count the days… it hurts my heart too much)

Number of CASAs: 2 (one fantastic, one not-at-all fantastic)

Number of days lost from work because of sudden arrivals/removals from my home: about 8 (not including the FMLA leave I chose to take during the first two months)

Number of days lost from work because of court hearings that didn’t happen when/where I was informed they would: 3

Number of court hearings and other official meetings that I “accidentally” didn’t get notification about: 3

Child’s social workers: 5

Number of times I dropped the f bomb on child’s social worker (without children present): 1

Number of times dropping the f bomb on social worker got me what I wanted: 1

Supervisors: 2

Number of times I pestered supervisors because I didn’t like social workers’ answers: too many to count

Big Bosses: 2

Number of times I called in the big boss because I didn’t like supervisors’ answers: 2

Number of times calling in the big boss got me what I wanted: 1

Number of times the big boss told me emphatically to wait in the lobby and not come upstairs to his office: 1

Number of times I threatened to appeal a decision that actually had to do with me (most decisions in foster care don’t): 1

Number of times that threatening to appeal got me what I wanted: 0.5 (they met me halfway on this one)

Number of times I was late arriving for a required visit: 1

Number of times a professional was late or didn’t show for a required visit: 50? 100? These are actual estimates.

Number of times I would do it again: all of them.  Because Little One is worth it.  All of the little ones are worth it.

(To be fair, not all adoptions are like this.  My daughter’s adoption involved only one social worker and no f bombs.)

The Call That Changed My Life

Three years ago today, I got the second call that changed my life.

The first one was giddily anticipated… the call about the Little One who would grow into my big girl.  The one that proved the naysayers wrong.

This one was different.

I had just had my annual foster care reconsideration visit a few days earlier.

I had jumped through the hoops to stay licensed for another year even though I really, really wanted to be done.

I told my social worker that I didn’t know what kind of placement I wanted.  But that parenting my big girl had made me brave, and she could call me about anything.  And that I would probably say no.

It was Friday afternoon and I was just leaving work.

And there was a baby.

A tiny one ready to be released from the hospital on Monday.

I had no plans for childcare (not to mention that the baby was too young to be in daycare even if I did).  I had no baby stuff.  I had never even held a person this tiny before, much less walked into a hospital and taken one home.

It was crazy.

And I knew by the pounding in my chest that the answer was yes.

And so I took a few months off from work (yep, with a weekend’s notice!).  I filled my sister’s minivan with stuff I thought I might need.  And I walked into the hospital with my mama pretending that I knew what the heck I was doing.

As she told me all about specially mixed formula and follow up appointments, the nurse said she could tell I had done this before.

I told her that I was a good faker.

And I strapped this tiny Little One into a borrowed car seat and drove him right on home.

It’s true, he had me at one look into those deep brown eyes.

He was an infant, after all.  How can you not bond with an infant?

But I didn’t know what the future would hold.

It would be years before that Little One would share my last name.

Years of uncertainty and stress and jumping through one thousand more hoops.

Years of navigating a relationship with a birth family that loves him too.

Years of monthly visits by social workers and CASAs (some great, some meh).

One whole year, in fact, of hellos and good-byes that ripped my heart to shreds.

This Little One immersed in potty humor and obsessed with basketball was worth it all.

To know him, even for a short time, would have been enough.

To hold him still, to ruffle his perfectly messy curls makes my heart explode.

Friends, sometimes the answer is no.

But sometimes the answer is yes.  Even when it seems crazy.

Sometimes the call that changes your life comes when you’re least expecting it.

That Time Jesus Paid for my Lawyer

Sometimes I hear people say “you know, foster adoption is free.”

It always makes me cringe a little.

Because the reality is that it doesn’t take much money to adopt from foster care (although you do have to prove that you are financially able to take care of a child).  But it is hardly “free.”’

You pay in blood, sweat and tears.

You pay in sleepless nights and desperate pleas and time taken off work for appointments that all have to happen during business hours.

In any case, you get financially reimbursed for most things along the way.

Including a lawyer.

My big girl’s adoption was easy-peasie.  Or at least as simple and straightforward as such a thing can be.

I called a lawyer, went over a few things on the phone and met him for the first (and only) time on adoption day.

I never paid him a penny.  The money went straight from the agency to him.  Easy-peasie.

As I’ve mentioned before, everything about Little One’s case was different.

Nothing came easy (except falling hopelessly in love with an infant… oh. dear. goodness)

When it came time to finally get a lawyer, I wanted the best.

So I researched.  And I called.  And I used my brain and my mama-intuition to make a good choice.

Because everything about this case was different, I used my lawyer for some adoption-related things before finalization.  It ended up that I paid her just about exactly one thousand dollars more than I would be reimbursed by my agency.

I didn’t care a bit.  I am not poor (just cheap!) and the peace of mind was worth every single penny to me.

Until a sweet friend slipped an envelope into my hand one evening.

Inside was a card full of encouraging words and cash money.  This friend had received a windfall and wanted me to use this money to help pay for an adoption lawyer.

Eyes wide, my big girl and I counted the bills.  So many bills.

Bills totaling exactly one thousand dollars.

There is no way this friend could have known how much I paid.  Or how much my agency would repay.

But the God who counts hairs on our heads also counts pennies.

The Jesus who takes care of sparrows also takes care of solidly middle-class mamas.

Breath catches in my throat to think of it still.

That time Jesus paid for my lawyer.

Life’s like that.

Two years ago, December nearly broke me.

It was Little One’s first Christmas, and he was not spending it with me.

I found out later that he actually spent his first Christmas in the hospital… and I honestly think it was the gracious provision of God that I didn’t know that at the time.  I’m not sure I could have handled it.

It was also my Mamaw’s last Christmas.

This, of course, we didn’t technically know at the time either.

But I think our hearts did.

Of course, my beautiful daughter deserved everything I could muster up for her.

And I tried.

Wrapping gifts half-heartedly at the last second, I walked through all the motions.  I did all the things.

All the while missing one that I loved so hard it physically ached.

Hopes and expectations rising and falling with every phone call that cold, dark month.

Such a long darkness, that December

***

This year, both of my babies are home.

Home forever, snuggled into bed in their Christmas jammies.

My Mamaw is in heaven.

Also, I guess, home forever.

And I feel the happiest I ever remember feeling in my whole life.

No, things are not perfect.  My job is not super fulfilling at the moment.  I lock horns with my big girl, so much like me.  Little One is loud and wild and leaves a trail of random objects in his wake all the time.

But my babies are home.

You guys, my babies are home and I cannot help but smile.  And decorate.  And buy all the things.  And wrap tidy piles of presents while humming Christmas tunes.

I’ve never much felt festive at Christmastime.

Until I did.

Life’s like that, I think.

Even for those of us who love Jesus.

There are Decembers that will nearly break us and ones that make us wonder how in the world we ended up with everything we want.  Every.  Single.  Thing.

And so.

Let’s be gentle with the ones who struggle to go through the motions, whose hearts ache so hard that they physically hurt.  Because they are us.

And let’s be gentle with the ones buying all the things and doing all the things and feeling all the festiveness.  Because they, too, are us.

Let’s link arms and light candles and hold space for the ache and the celebration, the grief and the joy, the sobs and the festivity.

Because we’ve been both places and we will again.

Because life’s like that.

Reluctant Hospitality

Once upon a time, I was young.

I had all the degrees I wanted and a job with a good salary.

I was done travelling the world to find myself, and I was ready to put down roots.

So I bought a condo.

With two bedrooms and an “extra” sunroom, it felt just right.

I bought it from a couple with a toddler and another kid on the way.

And I thought at the time, “oh this will be perfect until I have two kids.”

I guess somewhere in the back of my mind, I imagined that I might do this in a more traditional way.

But really, I think I figured that meant, “it will be perfect forever.”

It’s hard to think ten years out when you are young.

Introvert that I am, I loved having my own space.  I still do.

But I knew when I bought it, that it wasn’t just for me.

It almost felt like a divine imperative.

Share with God’s people who are in need.  Practice hospitality.

(Romans 12:13)

My mom is the best hostess.  And my sister.

They are in their element with a crowd gathered around their table, chowing down on a delicious home-cooked meal.

I guess this is what I was imagining.

But I don’t really like to cook.

Or hang out in crowds at all.

And yet, in this season of affirmation, I am reminded of my own reluctant hospitality.

Over the past five years, my home has been “home” (for a few nights, a few weeks or forever) to five sweet babies that I love dearly.

It has been laid bare to countless resource home workers, children’s case workers, interns, CASA volunteers, transporters, lawyers, fire marshalls and health department inspectors.

I haven’t always welcomed this latter group with unabashed joy.

Really, I’m not sure that’s a thing.

Honestly, I’ve been surprised at how much it’s felt like an invasion of my privacy.

Maybe that’s the practice part of practicing hospitality.

But here’s what I know.

Five babies knew love and safety and songs about Jesus inside these walls.

And lots of other people got to see love walked out here.

Whether masquerading as snuggles or time-outs or a half-crazed mama insistent on the best for her babies, they got to see love.

I feel like I’m heading into a new season of life.

Maybe there will be potlucks.

Or maybe just conversation over a cup of decaf (I still don’t like crowds much).

But I want to keep practicing hospitality.

However that might look.

The Exhale

We finalized Little One’s adoption this week.

It was, pretty much, the perfect day.

Except for the part when he was grumpy and yelled at everyone.

But whatever.

It was the day that changed nothing.

And everything.

The actual details of our life look pretty much the same as they did before.

Tomorrow, I will stroke his curls and change his diaper and strap him into his carseat and drop him off at daycare and feel sad that I will spend all day with other people’s children instead of my own.

And grateful for a daycare provider who loves him like her own.

And then we will come home and laugh over dinner and read “Brown Bear” one hundred times and get baths and sing songs and hope for the best in his big boy bed (with his crib as a back-up option because we are not ready to die on the hill of the big boy bed just yet).

It will look pretty much like most of the days we’ve lived together over the past two years.

Except I will be able to breathe.

I will not have to ask for permission to cut his hair or to post his pictures or to let him sleep somewhere other than his own room.

I will not have to have all of his medical and daycare paperwork signed by a social worker.

I will not miss work or lose sleep over court hearings and other official meetings that may or may not happen at the time and place I am told.

I will not record every single thing (no, really, every single thing) for fear that some or another professional assigned to his case (most well-intentioned, many overworked, some completely burnt out) will not and I will need that exact date and time and phone number somewhere down the line to prove that I followed all of the rules and parented him well.

I will not cancel stuff I want to do because of required visits with some or another person who needs to lay eyes on him by some arbitrary date (which, by the way, is tomorrow).

I will not fret about what would happen to him if, God forbid, something happens to me.  Because today, I get to make those decisions instead of the state.

I will not wake in a panic, sweating up until the last possible second that something could still go wrong, that he could disappear.

This week was the exhale.

The release of breath that I’d been holding for the last two and a half years.

My life looks the same

But I feel one thousand pounds lighter,

Like I am walking on air.

This, too, is adoption.