Wednesday, January 26, 2011

The Dedication

Once our adoption was final, I was ready to celebrate! I had worked through so much of the grief as the date of the court hearing approached. I had cried (sobbed) many bitter tears of regret, anxiety and fear. So much of this situation just wasn't fair--to my little girl or to my husband and me. There was so much pain involved, that even though I was thrilled with the finalization of the adoption, I couldn't keep from acknowledging the grief. But I was done crying (for the time being, anyway.)

So, on the evening of our celebration, we had an adoption/dedication service during our church's Saturday evening worship service. Our pastor and many others in our church family, as well as our own families had walked with us through this whole process and nothing seemed more appropriate than to celebrate with all of them under one roof. I didn't count, but I'm sure I sent out over 100 invitations. We had friends and family from three different states. New friends we've only known a short time, old friends who've known us since our older children were little, and even friends from high school! Not to mention our family, including 11 of our 14 nieces and nephews and our great-nephew. My mom's cousins who we rarely get to see came as well. As our pastor asked everyone who was connected to us to stand, three fourths of the congregation rose to their feet. Amazing... God has so blessed us with support, and we are so grateful.

Our pastor had heard me when I shared with him that I could not celebrate without acknowledging the hard parts of this situation, and he addressed them. He has witnessed our heartbreak for our son and our little girl's biological mother. Even though they were not present, we could not leave them out of this service. Here are the words our pastor spoke over our little girl, her biological parents and my husband and me.

We come together today to celebrate a very important and precious transition in the life of this family. This little girl has been adopted by her grandparents as their daughter. Today we celebrate the life of this little girl. She is a unique weaving together of nature and nurture into one marvelous little human being with incredible potential and purpose.

May all of us remember that, regardless of the circumstances of our birth or who our parents are, God had a plan in creating each of us. It doesn’t matter whether our parents were good, bad or indifferent. God knew that those two individuals possessed exactly the right genetic makeup to create the custom “us” He had in mind. They had the DNA God wanted to make us. Not one of us is here by mistake.

Adoption is a time of celebration and rejoicing. But it is also a time to shed tears. Just as an oyster is wired by its creator to wrap its innermost being around any unexpected pain to produce a beautiful pearl, everyone involved in this adoption process has wrapped his or her innermost being—time, energy, blood, sweat and tears—around this little girl. Tears oftentimes are the only language we can speak and they have been a part of this process.

As the poet, Washington Irving said, “There is sacredness in tears. They are not the mark of weakness, but of power. They speak more eloquently than ten thousand tongues. They are messengers of overwhelming grief and unspeakable love.”

In this adoption, there is a time to celebrate and a time to mourn. To this little girl’s birth parents, we say that there is tremendous courage in the decision to make sure that their daughter’s future needs are being met. They have done their very best under difficult situations. So we bow our heads in a word of prayer for them right now…

Dear God, we pray for the birth father and mother of this little girl. We ask Your comforting hand to be upon them as they have released their daughter to her grandparents. We know that this was a terribly difficult situation and decision. May You guide their lives and bring them to a place where they see with utter clarity Your grace and love. And may they one day accept You and follow You with all their hearts, souls, minds and strength. In Jesus’ name we pray, Amen.

Now, [speaking very gently to our daughter and taking her little hand in his] remember to look at your fingerprints often and remember that they are the marks of ownership on you, like a shepherd’s unique marks on his sheep. Your fingerprints will never leave you and they remind you of who and whose you are.

I anoint you today as the precious little girl you are, loved by God, loved by your birth parents and loved by your new family—not only adopted by them, but adopted by us and God as well. In the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit, Amen.

Now, [speaking to my husband and me] you, as this little girl’s grandparents, have agreed to take on the responsibility to raise her as your very own daughter. I am sure that the unexpected twists and turns that finally brought you together as a family have not been easy. We affirm you and are proud of you for wanting to provide for her and take care of her. So I ask you now, in the presence of God and your family and friends…

1. Will you do all in your power to raise this little girl in a Christian home. If so, say, “We will.”

2. Will you do all in your power to teach her the treasures of the Bible, the power of prayer and the personal worship of Jesus Christ as her Savior? If so, say, “We will.”

3. And will you involve her in the family and faith of God so that by the teaching and example of the church, she will come to profess her own faith in our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. If so, say, “We will.”

[We obviously responded affirmatively to each question!]

You are the new parents to this little girl. Go forth with confidence, knowing that you are the ones responsible for her physical, emotional and spiritual well-being. Love her with God’s love and form a brand new home. Work through your grief, continue to bring healing to your family and grow new hope and new grace in your little girl.

Let us pray, O God, we lift up these parents and their new daughter to You. May Your love and grace fill their family. May You help them to be parents who are examples of Your love. May this little girl find a new family and a new place to be loved and nurtured into faith in You. And may she come to know, like all of us, who her Father truly is. In the name of the One who created us, loved us, and raised us into His kingdom, Jesus Christ we pray. Amen.

Friends, a new family has been formed this day from all the circumstances and situations of the past, and all the hopes and dreams of tomorrow. And so we step forward with courage into a brand new day and a brand new family. For we know that we are all adopted as children into the family of God. May God the Father, God the Son and God the Holy Spirit bless and preserve and keep us all now and forevermore. Amen.

And so, we now move forward as a family--acknowledged by the state (two states, in fact!) and the church. May I remember the vows I took that evening and never forget the sacred trust that God has placed in me. May her beautiful brown eyes always remind me that God did not have to give me this beautiful little gift, but He chose to do so, and I must never take that for granted.

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

A Mother's Letter

I wrote this letter to my little girl about six weeks ago, before our adoption was final. Now that it has all be finalized, I want to share it because I know I'm not the only woman who has lived through unthinkable life experiences. I am not the only mom who has survived trials she never dreamed she could survive. I'm not the only person to go through a process like this one that can evoke every maternal emotion in the book, both postive and negative. So, here is my letter to my little girl...

In a few weeks it will be final. On December 21, 2010, a judge will finally say that you are officially our daughter. We’ve prayed and waited (sometimes not at all patiently!) for 2 ½ years for this day. You’re only 3½ now, but someday we’ll tell you about the past 2½ years.

We’ll tell you how much every home visit, every intrusive interview, every background check, every home inspection, every piece of paperwork, every conference call and every 4,000 mile round trip was worth this day. It’s all worth the opportunity to look into your little eyes, to tuck you into bed at night, to know that you are safe and nourished, cared for and loved.

We’ll talk to you about your parents and their struggles. We’ll tell you how much they love you. How they wanted so much to raise you themselves. But when they realized that was impossible, they did what was best for you. We pray that you will know them one day. We pray that they will be healthy: spiritually, mentally and physically. That they will be able to tell you themselves how much they love you. We pray that they will be free from the addictions that are such evil and controlling taskmasters.

We’ll tell you about every agonizing trip we made out West. How I cried every time we left you. We’ll tell you about every court hearing and every frustrating delay. We’ll tell you about the wonderful foster family you had, and how you stole their hearts. I hope you get to meet them again someday. And I’ll tell you how I sobbed tears of relief and joy when we finally got to pick you up and bring you home for good on August 14, 2009.

Someday we’ll tell you more about your namesake… your Auntie. Oh, she would have loved you so much. She would have been so tickled to have a niece to bear her name. She loved your first daddy so much. He was her big brother, and despite his problems, she looked up to and admired him. And he loved her. That’s why he named you after her. He remembers her bright and bubbly personality. He envied her carefree spirit. Even though you are very much your own person, you bear, not only her name, but many of her features and characteristics. We’ll explain to you why we changed the spelling of your first name and your middle name so that you would never feel like your job was to replace her—that you don’t have to be any more like her than you already are. You are a separate person, created by God to fulfill your own purpose and no one else’s.

Someday I’ll tell you about the spiritual battle I’ve fought for the past 2 ½ years. About when God had every right to strike me dead for my accusations against Him, but He didn’t. I’ll share with you how I wailed at God when it felt like He didn’t care. I’ll tell you about the time I said that I was tired of God being in control because “He wasn’t doing a very good job.” I’ll tell you about the times I accused Him of being brutal and cruel—how I felt that He had allowed me to be kicked when I was down. I’ll describe how I felt when I believed He had given me more pain than my mother’s heart could bear. I’ll tell you how I felt when my “year of new beginnings” ended without any apparent new beginnings, but feeling more like the same old broken record being played over and over again.

And then I’ll tell you about the spiritual lessons I learned during that time. I’ll tell you how I learned to trust God—to really trust God. I’ll tell you about the months that the only prayer I could utter was, “I trust You, Lord, I trust You.” I often said that prayer with fists and teeth clenched, fighting with all my might against the doubts, the fears and the anger that I felt. I’ll tell you about God’s unfailing love, patience, grace and forgiveness. I’ll share with you how He cared for me during that time. How I felt Him weeping right along with me because He was so familiar with my pain. He knew exactly what I was feeling, and yet He was willing to allow it because He knew the end result would be me becoming just a little more like Him. That is God’s will for all of us—that we each become just a little more like Him. And as painful as it can be, He’s willing to go to any length, to allow however much brokenness as it takes to purify, shape and mold us into His image.

So while we’re thankful for the end of the waiting for your adoption to be final, we realize that this is just the beginning—finally, our new beginning! Even though we’ve been together for well over a year, we have many more years together, many more spiritual battles, many more smiles and joys, hurts and tears. We will go through it all, trusting steadily in God, hoping unswervingly, and loving extravagantly, until one day when God looks into each of our faces He’ll see nothing… but His own reflection.

Daddy and I love you and we are honored to have the privilege of having you in our lives.

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Forever Family

“Forever Family.” That’s a phrase I’ve seen frequently as I’ve been reading and gaining as much understanding about adoption as I can. Our adoption was finalized 30 days ago and we have, indeed, become a forever family--in more ways than I originally imagined.

In adopting our little “Punky,” we have pledged to be here for her through thick and thin, “as long as we both shall live.” At our adoption hearing, the judge asked my husband to leave the room while he asked me some questions. Then I had to leave the room while he asked my husband the same questions. I don’t remember the exact words he used, but the “jist” of it was, “Do you know what you’re getting into? Have you counted the cost? The long-range cost?”

If you would read any of my blog posts from a couple of years ago, you’d know I could answer a resounding YES! to that question. I’ve wrestled with God over this issue. I’ve even wrestled with myself over it. My emotions have swung from one extreme to the other. I’ve begged God for this adoption to be final, quickly and easily (picture God smiling and shaking His head over that one!) I’ve also begged Him to provide someone else—someone younger, more grounded and better equipped to raise this little girl. I’ve thought and journaled about all that I will lose if I commit the rest of my life to raising her (I will be an old woman by the time she’s an adult.) I’ve wept over the fear of being hurt again. Our parental hearts have been broken, devastated. What if we get hurt again?

After all that wrestling, journaling, weeping and praying, God impressed upon me that I have so much more to gain than I could ever lose, and that we are His choice as the ones to parent this precious little life. It’s been a joyful, yet sobering realization. The weight of this honor is heavy, but one that we can and must bear.

But our Forever Family means even more than that. Not only have we adopted our little one, she has adopted us. If you talk to her about Grandma and Grandpa, you had better not be referring to my husband and me! Despite my referring to myself as “Mamaw,” she began calling me “Mommy” very shortly after she came to live with us. And even though we referred to my husband as “Papaw,” within a few months, she began calling him “Daddy.” At first, it was uncomfortable, but now it feels so natural, it’s hard to imagine being Mamaw and Papaw again.

Not only have we and our little girl adopted each other, the same thing has happened with our extended family and friends. As I stated earlier, you had better not refer to us as Grandma & Grandpa, because our punkin’s grandma and grandpa (my husband’s parents) are her favorite people in the world! She also has lots of little cousins, aunts and uncles who have become incredibly attached to her. She fits so naturally into our family—she’s the youngest cousin, but only by 10 days!

Then there’s our church. We had a celebration last weekend and (even though it’s against the rules to run in God’s house,) it was an amazing joy to see her and her cousins and friends racing up and down the halls of our church. It was hard to maintain our composure as we saw three fourths of the congregation stand up to show their connection to and support of us. What a confidence boost for us to know that we are not alone in this endeavor. Our pastor did a beautiful job of acknowledging the difficult aspects of this adoption as well as the incredibly joyous ones, but more about that later.

I have more I want to share about our celebration weekend and I’m sure it will appear in this blog, but for now, there is laundry to be done, thank you notes to be written and a little munchkin to chase—naptime is over!

Monday, January 17, 2011

Trusting My Unswerving Hope

I have not written a blog in a very long time. The holidays are tough for us (and many people), and when you throw in something as huge and emotional as the adoption of a grandchild, it’s hard to capture enough coherent thoughts to make enough sense for a blog. But today, I’m going to give it a shot…

On December 21, our adoption was finally final. It was the day we for which had waited and worked for over two years. We had endured the probing questions of our social work for our home study. We had child-proofed our home. We had attended the required class. We had had our well tested. We had had a fire inspection and a safety inspection. We filled out what seemed like endless paperwork—twice—once for our state and once for our granddaughter’s state. We had had two FBI/BCI background checks. We had physicals to make sure we ere healthy enough to parent a young child. We had secured five references. I had made ten 2,000 mile trips out West, my husband had made five. We had been to court hearings, supervised visits with our little girl and finally graduated to unsupervised visits. We brought her home for two weeks, then took her back. Two weeks later we went to pick her up for good. The process was exhausting—and we didn’t even have any opposition. (I can’t imagine what people go through in bitter custody battles.)

I thought I would wake up on December 21, feeling exuberant, filled with nothing but pure, unadulterated joy. I did have joy—this was the day for which I had pleaded with God—but I also had so many other emotions raging in my soul. I was an emotional basket case, but I wasn’t ready to admit that yet.As I endeavored to go through my day, emotions securely stuffed, I began to realize I couldn’t do it. Some of those emotions began to leak out.

The first emotion I was able to admit was the grief… Grief that we have been denied the privilege of being our little girl’s grandparents--where we would go and visit every few months, be together as a family every Christmas, and maybe even have her come and stay with us for summer vacations… Grief that her parents still struggle with addiction and mental illness--that, despite their intelligence and creativity, they are not yet living as happy, healthy contributors to society… Grief that our little girl’s auntie, her namesake, is not here to enjoy her little niece.

Later, I realized another powerful emotion that was not as securely stuffed as I thought--fear. We’ve been down this parenting road before and we had thought we were doing a pretty good job, but now, 25 years into our parenting journey, we have one child entrapped in addiction and the other is deceased. Will we fail again? What could we be thinking… could our hearts survive the sting of failure and the pain of loss again? What could God be thinking… isn’t there someone younger and better equipped to do this job than us? What could the authorities be thinking… they put us through this rigorous process and they say we passed--do they really know what they’re doing?

This is where trust comes in… and hope. Trust that God truly is in control and that He knows what He’s doing. Hope in His promises that He knows the future he has for us and our little girl and her biological parents, that they are plans for good and not for evil, plans to give us a future and hope--unswerving hope!!

I made it through December 21. And once I did, I was ready to celebrate! And we did just that this past weekend. More about that later... when I am able to capture all the thoughts and emotions that are swirling. Until then, I will trust steadily in God, hope unswervingly and love extravagantly!