For Keeps

It was a Monday afternoon and I was just grabbing my purse to head home from work. Tyler and I had been gone to Traverse City all weekend, at a bed and breakfast/winery. It had been so beautiful and relaxing. I felt rested, but also restless. My body was at work, but my mind was elsewhere.

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Suddenly my phone rang, and I tensed and then scrambled. I don’t typically get calls while I’m at work. Could it be…? When I saw the caller name, I could barely feign a “Hello?” as if I didn’t know who was on the other end.

“Hi, Cheyenne?” our adoption worker asked.

I confirmed that it was me and she went straight to the point.

“A birthmom has asked to meet you and Tyler this week, if you are interested.”

My hands shook with adrenaline, and I cleared my throat to try to control the excitement in my voice.

Three days later, we sat in the parking lot, waiting for our appointment to meet the woman who was considering us to be parents to her baby. We were equal parts excited and nervous.

Talk about an important interview. I tried to coach myself:

“Don’t look at Tyler when you talk; make eye contact with her.”

“Don’t mention how far behind you are on laundry or that you love to cook but work too much to make home-cooked meals AND keep a spotless kitchen.”

“Don’t bite your lip or touch your face or cross your arms or ramble on and on…”

I was a hot mess.

She, however, was cool and calm. Friendly, yet distant. But when we got to telling her our story, I could see tears in her eyes. Sometime during our conversation, she told us she was having a boy. I couldn’t help it – I turned to Tyler and squeezed his knee “It’s a boy!” I barely choked out. He laughed at me breaking the wall of formality with my emotional and intimate exclamation of what I knew was our shared excitement.

She laughed too, and I could be wrong, but I think that sealed the deal for her.

On November 29, after 3 hours of torturous, un-medicated labor, she gave birth to Isaiah. We were out the door and on our way to the hospital as soon as we could get a grandparent to stay home with Elise.

He was sleeping soundly when we got there, beautiful and bundled in his mama’s arms. She passed him to me and I stared, searching his face for a sign that he consented to me being his Mama too. When he opened his eyes, I knew I was in love and would do whatever it took to win him over.

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The next 24 hours were spent as a proud, doting family. Three parents feeding, snuggling, and swaddling. Three parents cooing and aww-ing over his toes and his hair and his pouty milk-drunk lip.

Her good-bye the next day broke my heart.

Our emotions were high as in the next instant were asked to wheel our crying baby into the special care nursery. They had warned us that his newborn scores were high. He needed to be watched and treated until he was healthy enough to go home.

We were cautiously optimistic that he would improve over the next couple days. Meanwhile, the grandparents all came to visit and brought Elise to see her new baby brother.

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But his symptoms worsened and the next two weeks would be spent separated – Tyler and Elise at home and Isaiah and I across the state at the hospital.

It was agony to be separated, but Isaiah and I bonded during our time as just us. We had a lot to learn about each other and not a lot else to do with our time. My heart broke over his piercing cries and his stiff, curled body. And it melted over his sleeping smiles, happy sighs, and dark eyes that commanded me to hold him tight and never let go.

Isaiah sleeping

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On December 13 we were finally discharged and came home to begin life as a family.  Even though legally we had only “temporary custody” of him, we were over-the-moon with excitement.

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On February 9th, Isaiah’s birthmom called me to say she had made her decision official and signed the paperwork that would make us able to apply to adopt Isaiah. She didn’t need to do that, but we had bonded during our time together in the hospital. This woman is something else… her call meant so much to us.

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And on May 19th, Isaiah Levi became ours.

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Not, “We ‘are’ adopting him.”

Not, “He’s pretty much ours.”

Not, “We’re just waiting for it to be official.”

He’s ours. We’re his.

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For Keeps.

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Reckless Love

It’s been over four months since we first met this tiny stranger we now call our son. Except, he’s not so tiny anymore, and he’s still not technically our son. But he sure has made a himself at home in our hearts. He is the sweetest, happiest baby– so quick to return your smile with a squinty-eyed, scrunched-nose, toothless, ear-to-ear grin.Isaiah four months

Isaiah’s birthmom signed her parental rights over on February 9, so now it’s just a matter of waiting for the court to pick up the file and sign the paperwork to make us his legal parents. It’s annoying to still have this hanging, but there is really no chance he’s going anywhere. This chubby little man is here to stay.

I haven’t had much time to blog since he came along, but I’ve had so many thoughts mulling in my heart. While in the hospital with Isaiah, I witnessed an adoption-reversal happen right before my eyes. And in just the past 2 months I’ve had two friends lose their babies: one in a tragic car accident that took the lives of baby, mom, and grandma; another in surgery on his tiny little heart.

That baby was born on the same day as Isaiah.

Both babies spent a majority of their lives in the hospital with illness. Both mothers – whether they knew it or not – were a great encouragement to me while I was with Isaiah in the hospital for two weeks.

It just doesn’t seem right… how do you reconcile something like this?

For 10 weeks we loved Isaiah as our own, knowing full well he was not our own and could be taken from us at any moment.

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He won’t be taken away from us now. But going through those 10 weeks and then witnessing these families’ losses… it’s stayed with me that we could just as unexpectedly lose either child at any point…

I suppose such a realization could cripple me with fear. And sometimes it starts to.

But besides making me a sappy basket-case, it’s challenged me to cherish every moment and show grace, even when I’m frustrated.

My children NOT napping, in spite of the tranquility it looks like.

My children NOT napping, in spite of the tranquility it looks like.

Ok, not every moment. I’m still human. And don’t forget we are on the undies-side of potty-training a toddler (which, trust me, is much worse than the pull-ups-side of potty training).

The words of another friend has added to my conviction.

Two months back, when we were waiting to get the call that Isaiah’s birthmom had signed off her rights, I was talking to another adoptive mom about how the call really would change nothing about how we felt about Isaiah. No paperwork or phone call could make us love him any more than we already did. She told me in essence that,

“What I’ve come to realize is that each child I have is an amazing gift from God. But I’m not promised any more days with my biological children than I am with my other children. I just need to love them all unconditionally for however long I have them.”

Whether you realize it or not going into it, parenthood requires reckless love. When you love a child, there are no guarantees against heartbreak.

My natural personality is to keep everything the same. I am happy to read books about risk-taking protagonists. But I myself would rather stay in the safety of what I know – the same job, the same community, the same morning routine.

Please don’t ask me to change my morning routine.

Can I get an “Amen”? Surely I’m not the only one.

Risks are not attractive to me. Change is never a welcome event. Hardship, even less so.

Remember the emotional basket-case thing? Yeah, that’s me. I cry even when the team I can’t stand gets eliminated on Amazing Race. I’m fairly confident that no one has ever said of me, “She’s so strong.”

In fact, I am so confident in my weakness that I’ve already decided to home-school both kids all the way through college. I’ve made Elise promise never to date because she’s not leaving home nor is she ever even riding in a car with a boy. And I’ve even designed the “Mom” tattoo that Isaiah will be permitted to get when he turns 16, just so the ladies know he is not available.

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But my instinct to shelter them is really mostly about sheltering me.

Children are worth the risks. Worth the heart-ache. Worth the heartbreak.

So when the time comes that we can consider growing our family again, I inwardly tremble at the thought of fostering. So much about it hits at the very core of my fears. Getting attached, giving them back to a bad situation, having no control, the possible impact on my kids…

But ultimately, I also want my children to learn radical, reckless love themselves over cozy entitlement and constant leisure.

Growing up, my parents demonstrated this for me. They didn’t “foster” per-say… But for several years, we lived with my grandparents while my mom helped with their care. Then years later my uncle moved in with my family for 4-5 years until he passed in 2007. They’ve also opened their home up for months at a time to my paternal grandpa and an intern at my mom’s PT clinic.

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My mom and my Uncle “Grand-brother” Greg

 Although I didn’t always love sharing my house, but I am so thankful that it gave me such a close relationship with these family members. I also witnessed such extreme compassion and hospitality and saw the impact it had. I honestly don’t know that my grandparents or my uncle would ever have come to know the Lord if it weren’t for my parents. That, in itself, is… huge.

And really, having long-term “guests” actually made the time we had as a nuclear family something we looked forward to. Not typical of families with teenagers.

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Obviously these are just words right now. But it stands what I said earlier:

Children are worth the risks. Worth the heart-ache. Worth the heartbreak…

Whether that means unconditionally loving on your own children through potty-training, threenager-hood, junior-high, and some season of rebellion or despondency; or loving on another child that’s never known unconditional love.

Shaken

It’s been about 2 weeks since I last blogged and there are a few reasons for that. As you likely experienced yourself, the summer is busy. Not just “To-Do List-Busy”, but “There’s-Only-So-Much-Summer-Left-Busy.”  Since June was pretty much entirely devoted to fundraising, we’ve been trying to make up for lost time with camping and day-trips.

But perhaps another reason is the celebration of our dear friends’ being chosen by a birth-mom, and bringing their baby home, only to lose her two short weeks later. The mother had changed her mind.

It doesn’t happen a lot, in spite of what you might have heard: About 1 in 20 cases, and usually a birth-mom changes her mind before the couple brings the baby home.

We are heartbroken for our friends. We were so thrilled for them and were so blessed to have met their baby girl. The news rattled us, to say the least. No one expected it. Everything leading up to that point seemed so God-ordained. The birth-family seemed so certain, so relieved to know this baby would have such amazing parents.

The past few weeks have led us through a lot of soul-searching. All of which makes our resolve to adopt ever-more sure.

As I’ve said before, one of the common platitudes we hear is, “It takes a special couple to adopt.”

But we are not special. We are not strong. We are not prepared for that kind of devastation. We are shaken and weakened just by this news of our friends.

We are fragile… but our God is mighty. 

We won’t withhold love from any baby… but we very well may have our hearts shattered.

We may face more than we can handle on our own… but we are never on our own to handle it. 

What we may experience through adoption is a mere shadow of the heartbreak our Father has over those who reject Him. Yet His heart can handle it, and He does not shut down. He can never grow weary of loving.

“How great is the love the Father is lavished on us, that we should be called children of God!” (1 John 3:1)

And if WE have been adopted into God’s family, we feel ever-more burdened to adopt children into our own. But our ability to stand and move forward with determination has nothing to do with us and everything to do with Him. The God who loves us and will sustain us. The God who loves these children. 

So that no child will leave our home without being loved as our own and covered in prayer for the rest of their lives.

“We love because He first loved us.” (1 John 4:19)

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Please pray for adoptive and foster families. They probably aren’t as strong as you think… we all need your prayers!

What’s Next?

Now that our fundraising events are over, the question we keep getting is “What’s next?”

And I completely understand the sentiment. I’m a planner and always like to have a game plan for “what’s next.”

But other than writing a about a hundred “Thank-you” cards, the next thing to do is really just to wait.

(Anyone know a scribe-for-hire? It’s amazing to know that SO many have contributed to our Adoption Fund!)fundraising status

To wait… one thing I ought to be good at by now, but am not.

Compared to the wait for Elise, this has been a piece of cake. But I’m still always anxious to hear any news from our agency of a birth-mom wanting to make an adoption plan. Any news that could be the first contact that leads to our baby.

Tyler and I were talking whilst washing dishes together last week. It was just after we had put our names in for a birthmom’s consideration. I was expressing my excitement that we finally had a chance – albeit a small one – to be chosen. From January to April the agency had 3-4 birthmoms a month looking for parents for their babies. But since we were approved on May 5, there have only been 2 opportunities for us to be considered. And the first one was twins, which we didn’t put in for.

Needless to say, I’ve been a bit anxious. Waiting just isn’t easy for me.

But Tyler couldn’t relate. He’s excited for our next baby, but his emotion doesn’t wax or wane.

Why couldn’t we ever be on the same page? It’s not like I’m looking for him to cry with me through sad dog-movies. Or sad dog-movie previews. Or sad dog-commercials.

Then he said something that reminded me of why I love him, “I actually don’t mind waiting. It means there’s nothing for us to do. Just to wait for God to take care of it for us.”

My soapy hands paused from scrubbing for a second as his words sunk in. I had been looking for him to connect with me, to draw him into my emotions. Instead, I was drawn to his: steady joy in trusting the Lord to work for us.

So what’s next for us? Well… just waiting. But waiting doesn’t mean nothing is happening or that our purpose in life is somehow immobilized. Just that God is the One in control.

And there’s no one better to trust our lives with.

“The Lord will fight for you; you need only to be still.” Exodus 14:14

No Heroes

One of the most common words of encouragement people give when they hear that we are adopting is, “That’s awesome. It takes a special person. I could never do that.” As if we’re either crazy or we’re heroes.

While I know the sentiment is well-meaning, I cringe a little each time I hear it.

Because aside from my aptitude for stacking cheerios, I’m no more special than you are.

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In all honesty, adoption is not something that we felt called to 7 years ago when we got married. And there is nothing that sets us apart from any other loving couple, except for the fact that God has called us to it now.

I get it… I have also often thought “I could never go through what she’s going through,” or “Wow, they are special people to live so sacrificially.” 

But actually, it’s God’s M.O. to take our circumstances and ask us to simply yield to His plan for redemption through them. No matter how weak and unqualified we feel.

In fact, sometimes our weakness brings even greater glory to the Lord, because in our weakness, He is strong.

I read a banner on facebook recently that said something to the effect of, “God puts you through hard situations to make you stronger.”

But I’m not so sure that’s actually the case. Over and over in the Bible it says, “The Lord is our strength.” Strength is not about us growing, but about us trusting. Trusting that God is working out redemption from our circumstances and will give us enough strength to face each day.

So if anything, our strength comes from being weak.

“My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is perfected in your weakness.” – 2 Corinthians 12:9

“I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.” – Philippians 4:13

“Fear not, for I am with you. Do not be dismayed, because I am your God. I will strengthen you and I will help you. I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.” – Isaiah 41:10

So please… don’t exalt our calling to adopt as any more important than your own. You may feel like life is easy right now and you aren’t living any sort of “calling.” Or, you may feel your weakness has somehow immobilized your ability to serve the Lord. But whatever your circumstances are, they are important to God. And no future plans are more important than every single “today.”

 

P.S. Our Fundraising dinner is this Saturday from 5:00-6:30 pm at Peace Church (6950 Cherry Valley, Middleville, MI 49333). Come grill-out with us!