A place to share my voice on important issues: Celebrating our seniors, grief and loss, middle age, infertility, depression, anxiety and learning to live fully! Faith, ministry, international adoption and special needs. Here's to finding our voices and using them!
It has taken me one full week since the day I spoke for the first time at an infertility/adoption conference to formulate my thoughts and put them into words. I am a high maintenance, anxious traveler. It is not easy for me to go places, but I love public speaking (who the heck am I?…if you would have known me as a little girl…seemed super unlikely) and decided to offer to speak at breakout sessions on using the Lament Psalms as a framework to grieve our losses. They liked the idea, so I was asked to speak at two sessions. I have been to many adoption-centered conferences over the years, but my favorite one that I had been to (near Atlanta) six times ended their run last year (Created for Care). I was devastated by this and was searching the web to find another conference I could attend this year when I ran across “Choose Joy Event.” I was immediately intrigued because it also had an infertility focus in addition to adoption. In other words, those for whom forming a family is more difficult than the average bear. So I decided to keep my eye on that conference on social media. When I saw last fall that the organizers of this event were looking for speakers, I decided on a whim to send in an audition video. I was delighted to find out they wanted me to speak.
Over the last several months I have put countless hours into re-studying the Psalms so I could refresh my memory (been awhile since seminary days) and make sure I knew as much as possible about this totally awesome book of the Bible. I wrote, studied, tweaked my writing, wrote out my own story, many times and was super excited to be a part of this. However I didn’t really know what to expect as far as how many would show up to my sessions, what the conference would be like and whether I myself would come away with anything of value personally (I figured I would be hyper-focused on my own sessions to be able to let my guard down to receive anything).
But, boy was I wrong! First of all, I was taken aback by just the beauty of the decor! Emmy Blakely and her team did it up right! The theme was “It is Well,” and the colors were peach and white. The decorations were simple and elegant. Each table had beautiful flowers adorning a simple white tablecloth. I didn’t know a soul (save for one speaker I knew from the Created for Care retreats) and many came with spouses or friends (or met up with friends they’d met last year at the conference when it was held in CA). Although I was uncomfortable and felt like a lone ranger, I didn’t close myself off (the informal mingling thing is my kryptonite) but stayed with everyone. I met some lovely ladies and gentleman and just took in the experience.
The praise and worship band played and sang some beautiful songs, which of course tugged at the heart-strings and reminded me once again of the importance of giving God the glory, even in the midst of the struggle. There were people who have been trying to conceive for months and years. People who have had heartbreaking miscarriages or infant losses. Those who had experienced hope that an adoption was going to happen but for whom it has fallen through. Those who have drained their bank accounts for expensive fertility treatments to no avail…so much collective grief in that room. Yet also the resolve to trust Him and praise the One who makes all things well. So the spirit of God was moving about that room, no doubt.
Beth Barker Forbus was our keynote speaker. She is the founder and president of Sarah’s Laughter-Christian Support for Infertility and Child Loss. Beth spoke from the Word and her heart. Because many at the conference are still trying to conceive, I figured her message would be one of, “don’t worry, there is still hope that you can conceive.” I am quite a bit past that point, and I know that I will never have a biological child. Many of the conference attendees are hoping against hope that they will have that miracle baby they long for, and many of them will. Knowing this, I struggle to find someone with whom I can connect. Someone that knows they are forever “barren.” Someone who can celebrate they are a mother on one hand (through adoption) yet who still has not come to terms with their barrenness. At any rate, when Beth shared that “some of you need to hear a blessing over your situation and to hear that God says “it is well,” I broke down in a quiet sob. In that moment I imagined God looking into my eyes as he held my face and saying, “Valerie, I know.” And that is all. He is not giving me answers, or telling me “be grateful for what you have” in that moment. There is just the loving reassurance that He knows my deep pain and I do not need to explain it to Him or try to justify my feelings. For that moment I will forever be grateful. Even if I needed to go to Atlanta to hear it.
In my sessions where I spoke about the Psalms and took the participants through writing their own Psalms of Lament, God met me there, too. I had mistakenly thought this was for the participants who have “gone through more loss than I have.” But in the sharing of my story I realized as I broke down while saying, “I was never able to conceive a child,” that I was saying that out loud for perhaps the first times ever. Of course I apologized for crying, but the attendees were so gracious and reminded me that all of our stories are ones that would elicit grief and that they wouldn’t expect any of us to remain stoic during their telling. I guess it further lends credence to the message that I was sharing anyway: Grief doesn’t have an expiration date and our losses and how we perceive them are unique to each of us. Yet God invites us to cry out before Him as the psalmists of old have done in beautiful ways.
I was delighted that the attendees at my breakout sessions all set out to work on their Psalms of Lament and seemed to learn from the process and enjoy it. I so wanted all of them to benefit from what I was sharing. My favorite discussion was around the fact that all the Lament Psalms end with a declaration of praise. Not that we always FEEL like praising God in our storms, but that we declare we will praise Him simply because He is good. And that is how we can “choose joy” even amidst the desire and struggle to grow our families. I feel like it was a sacred privilege to be let in on the tender heart-break each was going through and to, in some tiny way, enter into their grief with them. And they with me. I absolutely want to do this again.
The other big takeaway I had was in a breakout session I attended that was led by author (It’s okay about it) and speaker, Lauren Casper. I went to her session because I knew Lauren from those other retreats and had heard her share her heart before. Her session was on “waiting on God,” and since my life story seems a big waiting game at times, I figured I could use her perspective. She briefly shared her story, and then in reflection on what she had learned through the years said something like, “chaos and peace can co-exist.” Whoa. What? In that moment my mind was blown. For so many years I’ve had the mindset that once the chaos passes I can get to the peace. Yet I’ve wondered why the chaos doesn’t pass. I think It has less to do with my circumstances and more to do with my inner turmoil and anxiety over that. Even though my beliefs about the world are that we are in an “already and not yet” place in life (we live in a fallen world yet can experience parts of God’s Kingdom on earth) and I know nothing is perfect, but I’ve not thought about it in the way she described. What that gives me is the realization that I don’t have to wait anymore. For anything. I have what I need to experience peace already. Does that mean all of life is hunky dory or that pain and grief are not a part of it? No, but I can experience God’s peace right now, today, even though nothing has changed in my circumstance. And even as I still wait to see if my family will grow by one more child or not.
I am so grateful to Emmy and the Choose Joy Event 2018 team, all the speakers, volunteers, and all the wonderful people I met for being part of my journey and for letting me be a part of yours. All in all, I am so glad I embarked on this trip, and wholeheartedly recommend this conference to anyone who has dealt with infertility or desires to grow their family through adoption. It will be of benefit to you wherever you are in that process.
May God bless each and every one of you and may you find deep peace amidst the chaos of this life!
Anxiety will have you believe you should keep your world small. Pull inside of yourself. Withdraw. It is safer that way. Less chance of failure. Less chance of confusion. Less chance of overwhelm. Less chance of “losing control.”
To keep your world small, don’t take any chances. Don’t learn a new skill. Don’t take on a new hobby. Don’t go back to work. Don’t go back to school. Don’t force yourself to meet new people. And for goodness sake, don’t you EVER, and I mean NEVER…do something that is hard or uncomfortable. Don’t go out on a limb! Don’t you do it!
And by doing this you will have less personal satisfaction, less potential friends, less pride at learning a new skill, less of utilizing your God-given gifts to put a smile on someone else’s face. Just… less.
I say…make it BIG, your world. Expand. Push your borders outward. It is worth the risk. Will I fail? In some ways, always. But nobody is perfect. Might I be confused sometimes doing things a new way? Of course. But I can work through that. And if I become overwhelmed? Breathe and pray. Breathe. And. Pray. What about losing control? Nobody but God is in control twenty-four-seven. He’s got this. And He’s got YOU.
If you can get through the discomfort of the unfamiliar, push through the fear and the racing thoughts and the holding your breath and the quickening pulse at the beginning, you will come to the other side of it and beam with pride at all you have conquered.
You will greet so many novel and beautiful things on your way, you will not believe your eyes! Take a risk. Only you know what that risk is, for you. Take a deep breath and go out on a limb. The view from out there is infinitely greater.
First a word about this post: I wrote this weeks ago. My perfectionist tendencies got the best of me and got in my way of publishing this for a while. Is it too delicate a subject? Too personal? Too long, too twisty-turny, not straight-forward enough, not creative enough….such is my mind at work. So good at standing in my own way. It’s crazy. I love to write and if I had my way I would publish so much more. Quality is important, but I also need to remember why I set out to start this blog in the first place: I had something to say, and I was going to say it, perfect or not! So I am done with analyzing. Going to put this out there. I trust it will find the one person it may encourage today. My hope is that someone may find deep affirmation in this post because it puts words to what they’ve been feeling, or that it may be informative for someone who “doesn’t get” this type of struggle. And P.S: It’s helpful for me, too. It’s part of owning my story, and coming to terms with it all. Finally a Disclaimer: If you don’t like to see words such as endometriosis, infertility, or menopause this is not the post for you!
While this is about grief and loss, it is not a post about losing someone close to me. I am fortunate so far in that I’ve got my spouse, child, sibling, and both parents still with me. This is a post about handling transition. One such bridge I am about to cross is that of an infertile woman knocking on the door of menopause. Coming to terms with the idea that I will never know what it is like to conceive, carry, or give birth to a baby. Never. Not ever.
I will be very honest, not because I love to talk about this, but because I am determined as I grow older to use every bit of me: my life, gifts, struggles and issues if I believe it might resonate with one person somewhere. Then, to me it is so worth the discomfort of baring my soul. I want this unfortunate lot to do some good in some way. It may be an attempt to take back some control. When I was going through the thick of the struggle, I felt I had no control over my own body or the way it seemed to betray me.
It has been a little over one year since I wrote some thoughts on our infertility struggle. I wanted to share more as I’ve continued to wrestle with it. Even as I write these words, which is meant to be a post about how I continue to live in the face of loss-I still feel the sadness. The anger. The confusion…yet, there is hope. Because with time, the shedding of tears, prayer and reflection, my grief has changed and become a little less potent.
Please understand, that while I speak in general terms, everybody will deal with it differently. I do believe many struggle with these things and will do some grieving over it in the process. Others may not have. This is about my story, and others who might share some common elements in theirs as well.
Infertility is not a “One time event” that happens, is over and done with, and you have the grief afterward. It comes in bits and pieces. Sometimes it gets to me just a little bit. Sometimes it is a giant tide of emotions rolling in and knocking me over.
For me, it was a loss I already anticipated when I endured years of painful endometriosis and was told it could later affect my chances of becoming pregnant. That diagnosis came in my late teens. And then I didn’t meet the man I would marry until my mid-twenties. Lucky for me, Mike and I both had dreamed of adopting one day, too. I had my plan all figured out: Two biological children and one adopted child from China. But that specific plan wasn’t in the cards for me. Oh, I would become a mom. It would just look a little different.
A couple of surgeries for endometriosis and a couple of years of filling out those silly charts: Documenting everything like your temperature upon waking up, when your cycle is and blah blah blah. I had little patience for ANY of it. The medicine I had to take did not agree with me and didn’t help the roller coaster of emotions already happening. At that stage, the losses were piling up: Loss of the “spontaneous” ability to conceive, loss of being able to try for a family without having to share all about my personal life with doctors and others who asked. Loss of dignity. It was really embarrassing for me to have to talk about these things that should be (in my mind) kept private. I found it horrifying to constantly sit on a cold table in a clinic wearing a ridiculous paper gown that barely covered me while I answered questions about topics not usually up for discussion (in my mind). Ugghhhh! I HATED Hated Hated this.
Another loss along the infertility journey many might experience is the feeling of having no control of what happens with your body. I had this growing awareness becoming pregnant was happening spontaneously to everyone else BUT me. I was confused. Why is it so simple for so many others, but not me? What did I do wrong? Was God punishing me for something? (I do not believe He was, but the thought occurred to me at the time). So during the “trying to conceive” phase, I felt a sense of loss everyday, along with this constant panic: “What if I can’t have a baby?” But then, I would push it away because, well, there was still time and still a chance. And since I was so intolerant of the medications, appointments, and mental anguish of the monthly ups and downs, why not take a break from all this and start the adoption process?
So we went to a church in Sioux Falls to see a presentation about adopting from China. Actually, it was about International Adoption and that was where our future agency was presenting. But I was always interested in China. So that is what my heart grabbed onto. I was eager to find out about the programs the agency offered, yet was filled with angst when we arrived about “would anything work out for us to have a family at all? ” As we got there and took our seats near a few other couples, I was nervously holding back tears. When they turned on the video, it happened to be placed right in front of a beautiful sculpture of Jesus hanging on the wall, with his arms raised. In that moment God told me “This is what I have for you.” I felt an inexplicable, undeniable pull toward adopting from China. I was overcome with emotion and knew this was, in fact, the future God wanted us to embrace. I believed that God was telling me, “I heard the desire of your heart for a child, and here is the path I have laid out for YOU.”
On the drive home, Mike said the words I longed to hear. “Let’s fill out the paperwork and adopt from China.” And that is what we did.
At this point in my story some might be inclined to say, “well what was the problem then? You got a child, right?” That is correct. We began the long journey to adopt, except none of that was “easy,” either.
The idea of “getting a child” fulfilled a deep need I had, and throughout the paperwork process that hope kept me going. But there was still the unanswered question of, “have we exhausted all our possibilities for biological children, if we cannot afford a second adoption in the future?” Will this process to adopt even work out? So the anticipatory grief of possible permanent infertility loomed over my shoulder and followed me around for the entire decade of my 30’s and into my 40’s. It wasn’t always at the forefront of my mind, rather it hid in the shadows, revealing itself to me more clearly every so often. Like a dark specter. I couldn’t shake it.
As far as grief goes, somewhere along the line it dawned on me that I had to give myself permission to separate the two issues. I had to realize that adopting a child, which I wanted to do, was something I could celebrate, while still grieving the fact that the biological part was possibly going to end up unfulfilled. In other words, don’t mistakenly assume there is no need to grieve infertility because we adopted. Infertility has layers of loss, not just the absence of a child.
The complicated part of my journey was that this question of unresolved infertility hung around for my twenties, thirties and part of my forties: “Can it happen, will it happen?” After we adopted our son, Liu, we revisited the idea of the biological route. But in the time that had elapsed, roughly two years….what was once a door slightly ajar became one that was mostly closed if not quite slammed shut. The doctor told me that “At this point, you wouldn’t even be a candidate for In vitro, unless you use donor eggs.” I decided that I would rather adopt a child that needed a family rather than try to “create” another one. No disrespect to those choosing the latter option. I just knew in my gut that route wasn’t for me.
You might assume I fully grieved after that revelation. Yet I held out for a miracle to somehow occur, not ready to admit I would forever be barren. So the ghost looking over my shoulder kept following me around. And I began panicking about possibly never having a sibling for my son. When I say panicking, I really mean obsessing. Not every minute, but some of every day was spent thinking about it, researching adopting again, asking Mike when we might start the process, etc. It made some days difficult to think or do anything else.The biggest “hurdle” in my adult married life has been the fact that I’ve been in some type of “limbo” for all of it: The struggle and question about “will I have a family?” I haven’t had the benefit of having a couple of babies and saying, “okay, our family is complete now” like I know others have. I have had days where I’ve felt like I couldn’t go on without some type of clarity. I love clarity. First with the biological question and then most recently wondering if we will we adopt again. If you wonder why I don’t know if we will adopt again, it is because there are many rules and regulations for International adoption, more so in recent years due to what is called the Hague Convention, meant to ensure safe practices in International Adoption. So, although we are pursuing this route, our time to complete this is dwindling.
For China specifically, the avenue which still makes the most sense for us, you’ve got to meet the qualifications: The right amount of income, an acceptable Body Mass Index, lack of serious health issues, and both applicants must fall in an acceptable age range. For lots of reasons (those reasons could be an entirely different blog post-maybe later), we have been in the home study phase for over three years. Along the way, we have had two almost/not quite situations ( Fostering Hope: The Princess Dress) that took time to get over (Losing Mai Ling) yet we continue to persevere. Because it is so important, I believe, for my son to have a sibling. And I have a big heart that wants to lavish so much love on another little one.
And yet, I’ve had to begin re-imagining what “family” looks like. This too, is part of the cycle of grief. If one works through the stages of grief made popular by Elizabeth Kubler-Ross, eventually one hopes to get to “acceptance.” But I like to think of it more as “integration” of the reality of the loss into my life, into my personhood. I think with the work I’ve done this past year (with God’s help), I am on my way to that. By “work” I mean staring it dead in the face and telling it, “you won’t ruin me.” Work means talking with a therapist about it (let’s end the stigma! Talking with a therapist doesn’t mean you’re “weak!”), expressing my sadness in writing, prayer, laying paint down on canvas, singing in my car…all ways to get my feelings out. And finally, beginning to visualize a new and different future for my family and me.
So what does this re-imagining look like for me? I always thought it would be best to be “young” when I had children. Isn’t it “unfair” to a child to have parents in their forties and fifties? I thought that for most of my life. But, when you think of a child who has NO family, spending years of their life inside an orphanage with barely enough food to go around, what’s the alternative for them? I’m sure if you ask any of them, they’d be glad for somebody, ANYBODY to take them home and love them for as long as they’ve got. So, if, this second adoption works out, I have to come to grips with the fact that I am older than I thought I would be as a mom to young children. But just because I had a picture of how my ideal family should look, that doesn’t mean anything beside that is “less than.”
That has been the toughest thing to work through: Letting go of the picture I concocted as a youngster of the “ideal family.” Tougher still, is coming to grips with a possible future with only-gulp-one child, if for some reason the second adoption does not work out. There were days in past years when I have thought, again, being totally transparent, that my life wouldn’t be worth living without more children in it… It was such a deep longing for as long as I can remember. Not just for me, but for my son who has special needs. Please don’t tell me he can “have friends,” or that “it’s not so bad being an only child.” I know that many only kids turn out great. I just see our situation as different. And do you know how hard it can be with Autism Spectrum Disorder and other needs to make friends and to otherwise navigate in this world?
So I have tasked myself with making a life worth living–regardless of what I have or don’t have. Perhaps a better way to put that is opening my eyes to the fact that my life is already worth living: Cultivating gratitude for life itself and the gifts it offers. It is true I have loved ones already in my life. But if I woke up tomorrow and lost everyone dear to me…what would I have to live for? I have to love life itself and all the beauty it offers, from the Creator God Himself. I don’t want my happiness in life to be contingent on everything turning out the way I had planned. Rather, I am taking what has been given, and thanking God for it, enjoying it for what it is. This is my task at hand. I am working on it.
Another aspect still, of grieving the family I could have had, but don’t yet have is embarrassing to admit. Jealousy. Of other families, bigger families. Those that had it easier, that had no difficulty getting the family they wanted. Envy. It is why, for so long I could not, would not go to a baby shower. Just too painful. Or why I would get a lump in my throat when I would see the baby clothes at Target and see the moms-to-be with their swollen bellies excitedly filling their carts with all the necessities for their baby. And I would sometimes just get angry when I heard moms talking about their birth experiences and about bringing the baby home from the hospital. More than one time I asked God, “Why this one thing? You KNEW how important this was to me! WHY?” Luckily, I knew that God was never going to abandon me, even though I was really hurting and struggling with all those feelings. But I ultimately end up realizing God doesn’t owe me a thing. My plan might not be His plan. Yet I have much to be grateful for.
Not every mom can say they had such a beautiful, one of a kind experience of meeting their son for the first time in a dark hallway in China: Liu ran up to me with open arms ready to hug his mom-One he’d only seen in a photos and never met. Yet he was open-hearted and trusting enough to embrace this new life waiting for him across the ocean. It’s breathtaking. I might not have a birth story, but my heart grew ten times bigger that day, and I wouldn’t trade that moment for anything in the world. So I have much to be grateful for even though it is different from many other women’s experience with “meeting their baby.”
The biological question is OUT of the question now. I haven’t reached menopause yet. However, fate stepped in and gave me a medical issue that required medication which for all practical purposes will make it impossible for that “miracle” to occur. So I can FINALLY be done with THAT question once and for all. I have my answer. I will never have a biological child. And while that sentence is still difficult to say, I am relieved I can finally deal with that and work to move past it.
Now the limbo, or possibility of the second adoption is still here. It moves forward, at slower than a snail’s pace. Just when we seem to move forward, some piece of paper expires and we have to redo it. I have just come to realize that clarity on this will continue to elude me for Lord knows how much longer. And in the mean time, will we not meet the criteria and get nixed? What stands between me and a bigger family are some pieces of paper and rules about age, weight, health and finances. That makes me angry, and so, so sad. Some days, like today, I just want to scream. It doesn’t sit well with me that I had to go take the MMPI (A psychological test) to prove I am fit to parent since I have a history of anxiety. Imagine if all those folks that become pregnant had to take that 567 question mental health screening! But, rules are rules. Such is the world of International adoption.
I wonder, too, as I see many friends from high school have already become grandparents some time ago, why I am still trying to form my own family at this point. It is a strange phenomenon. It wouldn’t have been the future I saw for myself, but I have to trust that all will work out as it should, perhaps not with the ending I wanted, either. I know that the Rolling Stones famously sang, “You can’t always get what you want,” but why do some get want they want and others don’t? Just sayin.’ This will make a good blog post in and of itself, too.
How I have dealt with all of this? To be honest, some days I haven’t. Some days I throw myself a giant pity party (although this too is part of a grief “process,”) or drown my sorrows in chocolate chip cookies and stuffed crust pizzas with extra cheese. Yum. But then, I wake up the next day and realize I have to keep putting one foot in front of the other and hang in there until we have a resolution. The adoption process is stressful, in and of itself. But one day, it will end. It has to. And when that day comes, I will work to accept whatever answer God, and the Chinese Government, gives us. And then I will go on living.
A final word on the topic of grief in general. Sometimes I questioned why I was sad, when there was still a chance for me to get pregnant or to adopt. I would tell myself, “don’t grieve until you get to the end and have your answers, be happy or hopeful. ” As if I could push it all away until the one day the adoption process ended for good and I completely knew I was in menopause. Well, that’s kind of silly. Life doesn’t work like that. It works out best for me when I honor my feelings. Give myself permission to be sad or angry. Write out my feelings. Don’t push them away. Paint a picture that represents how I feel. Write a prayer, expressing my feelings. Talk to someone. I always feel a little better and able to keep moving along when I allow the feelings to come, whatever they are, whenever they are…and sit with them for a time… as uncomfortable as that can be. This is a wayforward. It is only when I tell myself I SHOULD feel a certain way that I run into problems.
So this is where I am. Hoping for one more child. Grieving some aspects of the difficult road to a family, and a family “half-realized,” yet starting to see the beauty and blessings of a one-child family: All the time I’ve had with him. The special relationship we’ve cultivated because he hasn’t had to share me, the things we’ve been able to do together, the time I’ve had to learn about his special needs and become a tiger of an advocate for him…and so much more. Our family has been such a gift to me, a source of so much joy!
It should prove exciting to see what an update one year from now will look like. I really hope I have my answers by then. I am weary and discouraged. I want off this roller coaster. There are so many more things I wish I could explain about this journey, but it is not the time. Since I am still in the thick of it, I can’t share too many details. But one day, I will tell the whole story.
I hope that if you are reading this and you are in a similar struggle, you will feel and know that God will see you through all the twists and turns. Don’t give up! He sees you, knows you and wants to meet your deepest need. God bless you. There are many gifts waiting up ahead for you!
I asked him if he still wanted to go on his weekend church retreat or if he changed his mind. My big little twelve-year-old boy responded with, “Of course! It’ll be an adventure!” Liu is a big twelve-year-old and he will be thirteen in five short days. I keep asking myself the age-old question asked by parents of teenagers everywhere: “Where has the time gone?”
While he was at school today, I packed his little red suitcase. I carefully consulted the list of suggested items to pack as I perused his room. Hmmm. What a curious mix of stuff. A drawer full of miscellaneous little things, spanning all of his years with us, ages 2-12. A whoopee cushion, some plastic submarines, beaded party necklaces, a looking-glass, three pairs of binoculars. You know, important stuff. All of these toys and trinkets he has kept through three moves and many room cleanings. I know what most of them are from and when he got them. I find it strangely comforting that he wants to hang on to these pieces of his childhood. Me, I want to hang on to all of it. His childhood.
The next drawer contains the signs of his “growing up:” A mix of clothes, some already men’s size small. A few last remnants of little boy’s clothes, but men’s small shirt, belt and socks. How is this possible? He still takes his giant stuffed Husky, “Mama Wolfie” with him in the car sometimes, yet even this, I notice, is dwindling. Mama Wolfie used to accompany him everywhere and was a fixture at all family events. I see her lying on his unmade bed, covered with the blanket and wonder, will he take her with on this first church camping weekend?
As I pack his suitcase, I sit on his bed and look around. I am at once excited for him, and filled with trepidation. Will he have enough of everything he needs? Will he be okay? Will he wander off? Then my fears give way to sadness. There will be less and less little boy things. He is on his way to becoming a man. The added complexity of special needs and Autism Spectrum cause me great concern for his future. What will his teenage years look like? Will he have friends? Some kids can be so cruel to others who are different from them.
I sit and stare at the suitcase and marvel at this kid’s bravery. He has already experienced many hard things, including kids saying mean things to him and trying to beat him up. He’s had surgery after surgery to correct the cleft lip and palate he was born with along with hard work in speech therapy for all these years. He’s always up for a challenge and gives it his all, whatever he does. Why would he be scared to go away to camp? He is braver than I am. And so far there is no indication he is at all concerned about being anything other than himself. Authentic. Despite being teased, despite his quirks and challenges.
I finish packing his things and leave to pick him up at school, knowing he will be home for a couple short hours before heading to church to leave for camp. I do as I always have, grab Mama Wolfie and a snack to welcome him in the car after school. He gets in and we start our familiar routine. He throws off his back pack and grabs the husky. “Hi Mama Wolfie.” As we drive down the street he asks how she behaved. “Oh, not good. Not good at all!” “Why? She didn’t like me being gone at school? What happened?” At this point, if I’m well-rested, I get pretty creative. Today I was, so I relayed what happened on the home front: “Well, she knew you were going on this camping trip, and she threw a fit. She tried spilling my coffee, and then knocked over my plate! Then she tried to flip your bed over, but she wore herself out and fell asleep.” He laughs and adds more elements. “How was it after lunch? Did she get into a fight with Maddy (our dog)?” We go on and on, laughing all the way home, until finally he says, “yeah, I’m pretty much the only one that can calm her down.”
After we get home, we just have a little time before we have to go. He comes up and gives me a hug. He’s almost as tall as I am. When did this happen? Dad comes home in time for us both to drive him to church. He puts Mama Wolfie on his bed, and closes the bedroom door. I guess she’s not going along. I hope he sleeps okay without her.
As we drive into the church parking lot, I get a lump in my throat. I know it’s just a couple of nights, but I will miss my little guy, who’s becoming a big guy. We walk inside with him, get him checked in. I hug him goodbye and tell him I love him. Then we watch him walk away as I think, “there goes my heart.”
What do you do, when someone you know is feeling the weight of the world?
She’s a middle-aged woman, at a crossroad, her mind: In
a spiraling, downward swirl?
She has a good life, husband, house, child…to start,
but what she so misses she thought would be here,
and it leaves an ache in her heart.
Two times she lost out on what might have been,
yet another problem, a delay comes along.
Her strength, her resolve’s growing thin.
Not again! Don’t do this to her, don’t make it end like this!
She wants another child, that’s all.
Is this so wrong, to wish?
If it’s not God’s will, in time she’ll understand.
But the years have dragged on and she just wants to know,
What should she do, disrupt it? Move on? What’s His plan?
What would you do, about this woman, about this beggar’s plea?
If you would be so inclined, dear reader, just pray-
For this pleading beggar is me!
Here today is my honest prayer: Gracious God, you owe me nothing. You have already blessed me immeasurably. You know my heart’s desire for another child, and we took this road to pursue another adoption because we thought that was what you wanted for us. If we read that wrong, then close every door. But if it is in your will for our lives, please dear Lord, would you bring this to a positive end, soon? I had thought, honestly, there was a little girl that we were supposed to parent. A sister for my boy. I wonder, was I wrong? Did we mess it up? When it drags on, I have days where I think I can’t do this any longer…I’m too old, our family is set-just the three of us, I should give it up and move on. But then, for some reason, I find myself still holding on to this dream even when it makes no sense in some ways. And I find myself coming to you in the middle of the night, down on my knees begging that you would grant us this miracle. I know you have the power to make this happen. I come to your throne, boldly, as you have invited us to do, to ask you specifically. Lord, will you give us a daughter to adopt? if it is not too late, will you help me hang in there just a little bit longer? It is so hard to live in limbo. Yet I know I am not alone, and will never be. You are always with me, no matter what. Dear God, thank you for hearing my plea. I will follow you all the days of my life, no matter what. I love you, Lord. Amen.
For you, whomever you may be, I pray, also that YOU may feel the freedom to unburden your heart and spirit “To Him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us (Ephesians 3:20).”
“Let us therefore come boldly to the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy, and find grace to help in time of need (Hebrews 4:16).”
The Highway Patrol peered through the driver’s side window of my Jeep. I was awake, but dazed. Moments before, in my rear-view mirror I saw it: The fast red blur not slowing down on the freeway when all of us others were. “He is coming for you. This could be it. You’re going to get hit hard.” Those were my thoughts, and then “Boom.” I recall the hard slam and getting jerked to and fro as the red car bashed into me at full speed. Next thing I remember I was on the side of the highway, car stopped, half in the fast lane, half on the shoulder. “I made it” was one fleeting thought, then “oh! My head!”
I don’t recall what the Highway Patrol said. But soon there were two paramedics tending to me. Now in tears, I tried to describe what happened as they put the neck brace around me. “We have to take the necklace off,” one said as she grabbed it. “NO! That stays with me! I can’t lose that.” She pleaded with me “Ma’am, if we don’t take it off it may get tangled up and break or get in the way.” “Well, okay, but don’t lose it!” I slowly helped slip it over my head and off, watching her put it inside my purse. I kept my eye on that purse, even in the ambulance on the way to the hospital to get checked out. Thankfully I made it out alive, albeit with a concussion, but all right. And my necklace was kept safe, too.
You might assume the item I’m describing is high in monetary value. A fancy bauble, a gold-encrusted diamond necklace. No. It’s much more valuable than that. It’s my craft bead necklace on clear stretch elastic cord. Three of its beads spell “mom.” It has a pattern of purple, clear-with-gold sparkle, teal, and black beads, too. It is a real thing of beauty. I wear it with dressy or casual clothes alike, matching or not. It is part of my morning routine. I put it on everyday, carefully stretching it over my head in my final act of dressing for the day.
Everything about it shouts “miracles happen,” and reminds me of blessings granted and challenges overcome. It even tells me “challenges are so worthwhile.” How can it say all this?
Nothing about becoming a mom was easy for me. Nothing about staying alive and becoming part of a family was easy for my son. But God is so, so good.
For Mother’s Day, 2016 when Liu was ten he presented the necklace to me. It took my breath away. This boy, having been in an orphanage in China for his first twenty-seven months, bore the challenges of that early life situation. Lack of fine-motor skills, delays in learning, attention difficulties, speech delays (due to cleft lip and palate) and more were with him when we brought his tiny frame home at two years old.
But now, here we were. Look how far we’ve come! He proudly presented this necklace to me. “I hope you take good care of it, I worked really hard on it. See, it has a pattern!” And so, yes. I’ve taken great care of it. I realize the tough work his little hands and mind went to, to sit still for so long, to manipulate the little beads onto the string after diligently arranging them in the pattern just so. And it said, “mom.” I had never gotten a gift like this. Ever. Many moms are barraged with little pictures crayoned onto paper addressed to them all the time. But not me.
The first couple years of Liu’s life with us, we were just trying to make it. Never drawn to artsy things, he was more inclined to break the crayons or rip the paper. He preferred jumping, spinning, taking things apart…his little body not quite sure what to do with the mixed signals sent from a brain that was separated from birth mom and under-stimulated at the orphanage. Lack of ability to communicate verbally made things even harder. So much going on within him.
My complete state of overwhelm had me in survival mode. I chose to focus on the bare minimum. Meeting his need for movement as well as his need for constant, loving, attention and affection.
Occupational Therapy helped a great deal with his fine motor skills, but it took a long time. This kid has needed multiple surgeries and lots of weekly therapies to help him overcome the challenges that he was born with and that came his way in the orphanage and afterward.
So those milestones they talk about that toddlers are supposed to meet? Out of the question when we first adopted him. Much research has been done lately on attachment trauma, and how being separated from birth mom affects their brain and can keep these little ones in constant “fight, flight, or freeze” mode. We didn’t know much about this then, but we learned. We first had to figure out how to slow his body down and help him “learn how to learn.” Until a child is able to feel safe and somewhat settled, they can’t really learn anything. And how can you treat “it” when you don’t know what “it” is? That took many years to uncover the diagnoses and figure out how to best help Liu learn.
It has taken so much hard work for Liu. He still works at his challenges. But so much progress has taken place. Goals have been met, and new ones take their place, each and every year.
Each day when I put on my necklace, I remember. How, long ago, Liu could not sit still enough to work on any one project. his fingers could not manipulate the beads onto the string. His mind not quiet enough to focus on the color pattern. His mouth not yet able to form the words “this is for you, mom.”
And I remember how, even before Liu came along I struggled to become a mom. I didn’t know if I ever would have any children. Now I have this kind, thoughtful and determined boy. We have learned together, all of us how to be a family. How to persevere through all types of trials and how rewarding that truly is. It has never been easy but it has been so very worthwhile and such a beautiful journey.
My beaded “mom” necklace will always be precious to me. I don’t need expensive jewels. Just this token of affection that was painstakingly and lovingly made for me by a boy determined not to let anything stand in his way. Not being in an orphanage, not a cleft lip and palate, not being unable to speak for so long. Not hospital stays or surgeries, not learning difficulties or sensory challenges or “hyperactivity” or being on a “spectrum.” Not being called “different” or having to work so hard on things that may come easily for some. Don’t ever count my boy out. Because you have no idea how far he has come.
I will never grow tired of my necklace and how wearing it reminds me of his tenacity and will to live. Without that, he might have never made it out of that orphanage alive. I will never grow tired of hearing my boy call me “mom.” Everyday when he speaks I am reminded that miracles do happen.
Thank you, thank you, thank you, God for allowing me to be his mom!
Before Mai Ling( Losing Mai Ling), there was another little girl who might have become ours. It happened in the spring of 2014. A couple we knew were temporarily providing foster care to a little girl from a tough family situation. They wondered if we would consider fostering her if the need became long-term and to maybe even adopt her. This came completely out of the blue for us. Having known about the roller coaster-like foster situations of other people, I never believed I would pursue anything resembling foster care. Not even on my radar. I was dead-set against it. Until “Isabelle.”
When you get a call like this, having wanted a little girl as long and as much as I have, you find that your life long “No” quickly comes out of your mouth as a “Yes.” When my husband, Mike told me about this possibility, I was lying on the bed talking on the phone with him. It didn’t matter that we had no idea what was going to happen in Isabelle’s biological family’s situation. I knew that I had to be open to the possibility that this might be the path God planned for us all along.
I was cautious at first. I was so careful not to plan too much on this working out. At first. Listening to the sad situation of Isabelle’s birth mother, “Maria,” and what she was going through made me think Isabelle could end up with us. Don’t get me wrong, if the biological family is able to reunify with the child in a healthy way, then by all means it should happen. So I always knew that would be the end goal for the birth mom, social workers and the little girl herself. As time went on, I just didn’t think that would happen. I knew little about the foster system. And for the first several months, I figured we just did not have enough information to gauge how it would end up. All we could do was wait.
A few months into this wait, we went to a gathering of some of the family members, including the birth mom. I only knew whatever Mike relayed to me, so I didn’t know I was also going to meet Isabelle for the first time. When we walked in, my eyes grew huge as I saw this little whippersnapper running around.
I tried not to get my hopes up too high as I saw her dancing around the living room. She kept us all entertained as she put her favorite DVD, “Frozen” in the player and turned it on. I was mesmerized by dozens of fancy twirls as her sparkly skirt spun around with her while she sung “let it go, let it goooooo!” This was a far cry from the talk of tanks and battleships that dominate our moments at home with our son. I could surely get used to this (Disclaimer: Yes, of course I know raising a girl is more than dress up and dancing. Sorry if that stereotype offends you).
We had a good time and enjoyed seeing our old friends again. I had hoped, too that Maria would feel more secure in seeing us again and knowing we were still the same people we were so many years ago…that she could trust us.
After that meeting, I was browsing through a store and saw a pretty blue sparkly dress, much like you would see a little girl wear who loved to play “dress up,” or who loved Elsa from the movie, “Frozen.” I bought it. We were going to send it to our friend for Isabelle. But I decided to hang on to it. “I will give it to her myself,” I reasoned. Someday. I hung it in my closet, still in the little garment bag, in front, right where I could see it.
In the months that followed, we didn’t hear much. I badgered Mike from time to time to call his friend and see how things were going. I knew that Maria had several steps to follow in order to be reunified with Isabelle. I had no idea how this was going. We didn’t hear anything for months at a time, and I didn’t know how hard to push. Then we heard that Maria was following the required steps to reunify with her daughter, such as attending parenting classes and remaining drug free. I was impressed that she was working to be a better parent, yet I was angry too. I wished I hadn’t gotten so wrapped up in hoping for something that never materialized. I sort of moved on. Like Elsa in “Frozen,” I tried to “let it go.” After awhile I just figured it was not meant to be for us. One day, still heartbroken over the whole situation, I put the princess dress in a drawer as tears streamed down my face. I didn’t want to have to see that thing every time I opened my closet: Another cruel reminder of a dream dangled in front of me and then ripped away. Why bother dreaming, I wondered.
In March of 2016, right after we made the difficult decision not to adopt “Mai Ling, ” we suddenly heard that things were not as rosy as they seemed in Isabelle’s world. Several of the steps to reunification had not been happening as previously thought. Maria seemed close to losing her daughter. Once again, I wanted to make myself available to be her mom, should her home situation not work out. I felt sad for the little girl. What she had witnessed, what her life had been like at home was just not a good situation for her. I would be here waiting…should she need me. I decided to set aside my fear, anger, and all that stuff. For her.
The problem is that we were also supposed to be in process to adopt from China. But that got pushed to the back burner as we waited to see how this would play out. Even as we weren’t getting any younger. Our son wasn’t getting any younger either. Speaking of Liu, he even got to meet Isabelle. While our friend was fostering her, we brought Liu over for a couple of play dates. I couldn’t believe how well the two got along. I saw them chasing each other around and playing together, and couldn’t help but think it was a match made in heaven. Of course, we see what we want to see.
The matter came to an abrupt end, or so it seems. In the fall of 2016 after what seemed to us like only a few weeks of truly following the “rules,” Maria and Isabelle were fully reunified. Their situation, from what I knew, was still less than ideal. But they are together and that is good.
I learned a lot during those couple of years about foster care. And I know enough to know that my instincts were correct: I believe that I am wired more for an international adoption type situation. But, never say never. God knows His plan for me. I do not yet know His plan on this. The need is great for orphans near and far. I would love a child regardless of where they are from.
Somehow, last year we got going again on the China paperwork. One day, a few months ago I took the princess dress out of the drawer. I reasoned that as long as there are children in the world that need a mom, maybe one of them would find their way to me. I bet they won’t care that I’m a little older, or that my son is a little older. For some little girl we might be just the family she has been hoping for! And just maybe they would like a sparkly blue princess dress and its accompanying tiara that I never saw before. I took it out of the bag, and I hung it up. Not in the front…but a few rows back. I’m still a little afraid to dream after all that has happened, but I’m not giving up just yet.
It was circa late 1970’s. I was lying on the multi-colored shag carpet in my parents’ living room in Bloomington, Minnesota, with my head propped up on a giant floor pillow and my eyes glued to the TV. My beloved grandma was over at our house, too, which she often was. To me, whenever she was there it was a special occasion even if it was just an ordinary day. But this day, like so many others, really was special. We were tuned in to the “Billy Graham Crusade.”
Even at my young age, I had come to really look up to the Reverend Billy Graham. I was introduced to the teachings of Christianity as a little one, taken to church and attended Bloomington Lutheran elementary school all the way up until eighth grade. I accepted Jesus into my heart in Kindergarten. I became so certain of the Truth of God’s Word at age five or six that I was determined to become a mini-evangelist in my own right, telling other kids I met in my neighborhood about God’s son Jesus, and how He loved each and every one of us! And Billy Graham was the Evangelist par excellence! So when he came on the tube, this was serious! He spoke the Truth.
Usually when these crusades were on TV, mom, grandma and I would gather in our living room and tune in for the entire broadcast. We would hear everything from the sermon, the music- including the low baritone voice of George Beverly Shea singing some familiar spirituals up until the final “altar call” where the reverend would invite folks to come forward, meaning they were making a declaration that they needed Jesus. Every sermon, without fail, would come to a close as the melody of “Just As I Am” began to play and he would instruct, “Those of you in the back. Begin making your way down front. The buses will wait on you.” As I watched and listened to that booming and persuasive, yet sincere voice fill our home, I would often glance back at grandma. She would nod her head in agreement to so many of his statements. For a girl so close to her grandma, this made a huge impression.
Grandma had faith. She didn’t always go to church. Although at times, when my mom was little, she would walk with her to a neighboring one. Grandpa was raised in a Catholic Church, I believe, but in later years didn’t go. He did not object to grandma going to a Protestant Church and taking my mom with her. I’m so glad he didn’t. After grandpa died when I was four years old, grandma would come with us often to the Lutheran Church we belonged to. One of the things she always used to say was, “You don’t have to be a member of a church to be a Christian.” And of course that is true. In my grandma’s case, she lived out her faith simply and quietly everyday. Something I can say about my parents as well.
Grandma was kind. Feisty, to be sure, but good and kind as well. She believed in hard work, the rolling up your sleeves and getting your hands dirty kind of work. An avid gardener, she spent hours out in the hot unforgiving summer sun weeding and pruning her beautiful flower gardens. She never complained, just did what was required of her day in and out as she cared for her home for the many years she outlived her husband. She loved her family, spoke with her daughter every day even though mom had a family of her own and lots of irons in the fire. They would often talk at 10:30 each night when grandma was watching “The Tonight Show with Johnny Carson” on TV and rewarding herself with her nightly glass of beer after a hard days work.
I always knew grandma was on my side. She was my biggest cheerleader. She loved me and took great delight in watching me twirl my baton or twirl around her living room as she sat in her rocking chair. She was the only one I was NOT too embarrassed to dance freestyle in front of. She would choose a record to play in that gigantic console player- often the Statler Brothers, Oak Ridge Boys, or Dolly Parton were the choice du jour-and sit back in her rocker watching me go to town making up goofy dance routines. This would cause her to clap her hands and squeal with delight. Usually some fresh, delicious gingerbread or sugar cookies were sure to follow. I knew she loved me for real. Unconditionally. A “Just as I am” kind of love.
I don’t remember her ever talking in detail or at length about her faith. I just knew it was there. One remark she made has stayed with me until this day. Grandma was over at our house to watch me one time because I was sick and mom had to go somewhere. I was sitting on our rust-colored built-in sofa that my dad had made. Just sitting there in my pajamas reading the Bible. She came up to me, and seeing what I was reading, remarked. “That’s the way to do it, Valerie. (although she would make my name two syllables, more like “Val-ree”. Just another endearing factoid) You just keep right on a-reading that book. Best thing you could ever do.” I really took that to heart.
And so, watching Billy Graham was special for us. For me, I couldn’t hear the simple message enough. God created the world, and it was good. The first humans, Adam and Eve sinned. This is why we live in an imperfect, broken world. But God, who loved us so much and had a plan for our lives, sent his Son to the earth to die on the cross. He took away all of our sins, died, was buried and rose again from the dead. so that we might have eternal life. I could never tire of hearing that God loved even me. Me! Broken and mistake-prone that I am, that we all are. Hearing on those nights that God saved me- while sitting with mom and grandma, two faithful Christ-followers who reinforced the importance of the message- put a fire in my little eight year old pot belly, to TELL EVERYONE about this GOOD NEWS. And that is what I set out to do.
Over the years, the “evangelism” took the form of ministering to elderly folks in care centers as a chaplain. I bet my grandma would clap her hands, nod, and squeal with delight if she could see that I went into ministry. In my messages to the residents of each center, I proclaim the same basic message that they never grow tired of hearing. He loves them just as they are. He loves me, just as I am.
And now, after all these years (grandma passed away in 1986) grandma gets to finally meet the Reverend Billy Graham in person. I hope she tells him how we loved to watch him on TV, and how inspiring he was for us.
Just as I am, without one plea
But that thy blood was shed for me,
and that thou bid’st me come to thee,
Oh lamb of God, I come! I come! (Verse 1)
Just as I am, and waiting not
To rid my soul of one dark blot;
To thee whose blood can cleanse each spot,
O lamb of God, I come, I come! (Verse 2)
Just as I am, Thou wilt receive,
Wilt welcome, pardon, cleanse, relieve;
Because thy promise I believe,
O lamb of God, I come, I come! (Verse 5)
Just as I Am
Charlotte Elliot, 1835
John 1:29; 6:37
Rest in Peace Reverend Billy Graham
November 7, 1918 – February 21, 2018
And, one last thing, reader: He (God) loves you, too. And it’s that “just as you are” kind of love.
I have been thinking about this blog for so long. This was a dream of mine for a good couple of years-yes, years! For as long as I can remember, I have gotten in my own way. I have remained quiet when I wanted to speak up, have burned with deep conviction about certain issues and kept my unique perspectives to myself. Oh I have written many things, but mostly kept them to myself. I hesitated for a long time, thinking I would start sharing these essays and poems when I knew more about blogging, writing, publishing, etc. The truth is, I was afraid. Afraid to fail and make a fool of myself. Afraid of what others might think. Afraid I was not good enough at writing or navigating the set-up.
Here’s the trouble with perfectionism: It can silence your own voice. It can lie to you and tell you that you don’t even have a voice. It can ruin your life and rob you of so much more you could be enjoying! I know this, because I let the pursuit of perfection keep me from trying new things for many years. Since I turned forty (five and a half years ago), I have taken on many new hobbies and found interests that give me so much joy. Had I kept on being afraid to fail, I wouldn’t get to enjoy these new things. I may not be perfect at everything I do, but that will not stop me from living my life and having fun along the way.
So this blog is me, letting my voice be heard. I will share blogs mainly about adoption, grief and loss, aging and spirituality, anxiety/depression, advocacy for seniors and orphans. Some of it will be “heavy” and some, more lighthearted. Some of it will share spiritual truths I learned through my own experiences. I will share pieces of my story related to all the above, hoping that many of you will be able to relate to some of it.
I am writing for anybody that has ever felt voiceless. I know I am not the only one. Even though I have experience with the topics above, I am just now learning about blogging for the first time. Come along on this journey with me!
I would love to know who you are as well, and I need your help! If you like what you see here, follow my blog by leaving your email address to receive notifications on new posts. Hit “like,” share a comment, ask a question. Better yet, share this blog or its contents with someone else you think would enjoy it.
Welcome to valeriesvoice. I am glad you stopped by.