Adoption · Anxiety · Grief and Loss · Infertility

It Is Well (Choose Joy Event 2018)

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.

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The conference schedule. So exciting!

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).

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Maddy apparently wanted to go with me to Altlanta

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.

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Beautiful decor

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.

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Psalm of Lament worksheet

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.

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Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

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!

 

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Adoption · Grief and Loss

Losing Mai Ling

Has it really been one whole year, already?  Early March 2016 and I was here.  Legacy Lodge at Lake Lanier, near Atlanta, Georgia.  I come here once a year for this very special conference for adoptive and foster moms, Created for Care (C4C).  Last year was my fifth C4C and a unique time in my journey.  B25E22B3-24DD-4B01-8CF7-7294483FE27A

Her name was “Mai Ling.” Such a sweet little thing, and I had seen so many pictures and videos.  We were early into the process of adopting from China again (after many starts and stops).  Our agency noticed her on a list of children needing homes, and thought they would run it by us: Could we adopt her?

From the moment I knew of her, I imagined her in our family.  It seemed feasible.  From the information our agency had, she carried diagnoses of cognitive delays and difficulty walking.    These appeared to be minor and manageable for us.  We know that any child that has lived in an orphanage will have some delays and special needs.  It goes with the territory.  So we thought the needs she had were in line with what we could handle.

My heart was all in.  ALL IN.  We submitted a Letter Of Intent to adopt Mai Ling.  Yet I had this odd feeling that I had seen this cutie’s face before.  Even as I made a special trip out to my parents’ house to show them her picture and share my excitement about hopefully adopting Mai, I had a sinking feeling..

At home that night, I started  my internet research.   About eight months prior, when I was trying to “kick-start” the process, I was looking at several advocacy pages.  These are usually Facebook pages where concerned individuals, often adoptive parents, try to find moms and dads for other orphans.  So on this night in February 2016 I retraced my steps and stumbled upon her picture once again.  I HAD seen her face before.  Only on this advocacy page she was much younger, more babyish looking.  But just as beautiful.  The odd thing was that her listed diagnosis sounded ever more severe: “Brain Malformation.”

What? How can this be? And what does that even mean? Surely there must be an easy explanation for the discrepancy.  Yet my gut told me otherwise.  Of course I found this out on a Friday night.  No offices open, no way to clarify.  Long wait until Monday morning.  Even on Monday, they said what we didn’t want to hear.  Yes, this could be the case.  Often the information available on these children is outdated, lacking, or just plain wrong.  Many of the children in Chinese orphanages have not had their charts updated in years.  That is just how it is.  There can be discrepancies for sure, even though now, there is a push to get many of these old charts updated.

On that Monday morning we spoke with an agency rep. “So that sounds like it is too much for you all.  I will go ahead and withdraw your letter of intent.”   And our response, “Now just hold on a minute.  We owe it to Mai Ling to try to get this clarified, find out as much as we can, and make as informed a decision as possible.”  I wanted to be absolutely certain that this wouldn’t work out before we just said no.  I had fallen in love with her already, of course.  I believed that this living, breathing,  wonderful creation of God was deserving of somebody to go all the way for her.  She deserves a family.   Someone to fight for her.  For me that meant digging deeper, studying as much as I could about her diagnoses to see if we could be her family.   And then to pull out all the stops to make it happen, if at all possible.

The rep agreed to dig for more specifics.  I was on pins and needles for days.  I was praying there was a mistake, and that there was no serious condition beyond what we would be able to handle.  I even began to consider “what if.”  What if she did have a brain malformation, and serious delays that would affect her entire lifespan. She was still so lovely.  A child of God.  No less worthy of a family, of love, of joy.  Could we still adopt her?

The documents started rolling in.  There were many.  Especially considering what we received for our son prior to adopting him in 2007.   Upon receiving that referral we were emailed one picture, and a couple of sheets of information with the diagnosis, “bilateral cleft lip and palate. ”  Yet through the years we would see there were so many more ramifications of his first 27 months of life in the orphanage.  Now here we were getting lots of pictures, videos, and diagnoses.  Lots and lots of diagnoses, including a brain malformation likely caused by a genetic syndrome.  Yet they were not sure which syndrome it was.

The videos are what got me.  So joy-filled.  Laughing.  Laughing during physical therapy.  Laughing during play.  Laughing during striving to use a walker and get her stiff limbs to walk.  Oh, she was a rambunctious one.  She did not seem to be the girl they described in the medical forms. She didn’t look sick.

I began to reason that, although she would need a lot of therapies, she seemed to be one who was determined to learn and seemed so happy to be alive.  She looked like she could bring so much happiness to anybody she encountered.  I wanted to bring her home.  I wanted to fight for her, get her the care she needed, and love her fiercely.

We submitted everything we had about her to the Adoption Clinic at the University of Minnesota.  It is a good thing to do when considering a referral to get the opinions of some medical experts.  We paid to have this done, believing they would give us the real nitty-gritty about what our day-to-day lives would look like together with Mai Ling if we adopted her.

It was early March 2016 now, and I came to the Created for Care retreat as we waited for word back from the U of M. I came here with a heavy heart, feeling so burdened by the weight of the decision that was upon us.  I held back the tears on the airplane.  I held back the tears when two fellow adoptive moms (and new friends) picked me up at my hotel near the Atlanta Airport the next day.  I held back the tears en route to Lake Lanier where the retreat was finally due to begin. 66935FC1-1645-4CA4-9F01-AECBC8205DE4

My husband surprised me and reserved a villa for me right down by the lake.  Once I stepped into my room, the dam burst.  I just cried buckets.  I held out a tiny bit of hope, but something inside me told me this was not going to happen.  Not because she had “too many diagnoses,” but because our little guy at home has considerable needs, too.  My husband had certainly brought that up earlier, and he was right.  Considering that along with my physical and emotional health, money concerns, our ages,  it was less and less realistic.

I pulled myself together and went to the opening sessions.   I lost myself in singing and worshiping the Lord with 450 other foster and adoptive moms. I remember the main session speakers and the Holy Spirit illuminating His Word through them.  It felt good to be in this community with others who understood this crazy ride we were on. Digging into the Word together, resting and drawing strength from each other and God.    I distinctly felt God speaking to me that weekend.  Not audibly, but in my heart and mind.  Even in my dreams!  That is a tidbit I can’t get into now.  I always have one of those, don’t I? Those, “I’ll write about that later” kind of things.DF904983-B44E-449D-99CC-3939D6174827

I spent a lot of time alone, too. It is always in my times of solitude that I hear most clearly what God wants me to know.  So I felt as though God was giving me this time to grieve over what was not meant for us. When I curled up in my blanket I felt as though God was right there with me reminding me of His love and faithfulness.  No matter how much it hurt, He was there.  Hearing my cries, soothing my hurts.   I even made a couple sobbing phone calls to my mom:   “How can we say no to a precious child of God?” I had studied quite a bit online about genetic syndromes and what the possible ramifications might be.  I realized if it was the one I feared, then her life expectancy could be shorter than typical.  I cried to mom on the phone, ” I want so badly to take her!” She encouraged me to wait until we heard back from the U of M.

Other adoptive moms I spoke to had a range of advice, everything from: “You can do  this,” and ” it will be a good lesson for your son to grow from,” to  ” listen to your gut if it is telling you it is too much,” and, “it isn’t fair for your son to have you pour all of your resources into this.”  Mostly, this all made me angry and I liked it better when people empathized with how horrible it felt to make this decision.

Now that I think of it, it still makes me angry. I wasn’t angry at those other moms, just that this was a decision I even needed to make.   We shouldn’t even live in a world where a baby is abandoned. Ever. I know all the possible whys: They probably didn’t have the knowledge or resources to care for a baby they knew had health issues.  Lots of possible scenarios as to how this happened.  And of course it is “better” they took her to a place where she could be found and given the help she needs vs. doing the unthinkable to her.  Yet, she had been without a family of her own for over four years.  At some point, she was sent to live in a special orphanage where she would have access to better therapies to help her walk and try to “catch up” to where she should be developmentally.   Even so, there is much better medical care for her in America.  It is just so sad, all of it.  In an ideal world, her birth mother and father would have had the resources, skills, and available medical care to keep her and raise her.   But we don’t live in a perfect world.  Likely her birth mother did the best she knew how:  Wanting more for her daughter (life and a family, healthcare) she made the agonizing decision to  give her a shot at a better life by placing her in an area where she could be found.

Then, she was taken to an orphanage.  The woman who gave her life has vanished into thin air.  She receives precious little in the way of nourishment and it bears no resemblance to that which her mother would’ve given her.  She is held, sometimes, but has to share her caregiver with a lot of others who need attention, too.  Her cries in the night are not often tended to, so she learns the world is an untrustworthy place.  After awhile, she quits crying altogether.  For what use is it to cry? Perhaps she withdraws or finds some other way to soothe herself, like rocking back and forth, back and forth.  She has had many people look at her incomplete file, possible mommies and daddies.  None of them able to adopt her.  Now four years later,  this beautiful human life has some yahoo from Minnesota, as if she were shopping for a new outfit, debating her specs on a sheet of paper, trying to decide if she will take her or not.  It feels wrong to me, this whole process, you see.  She is a human being.  She deserves so much more than this!  It is not fair.  This is the ugly underbelly of life in a fallen world waiting for its redemption.

And yet, that process that seems strange and wrong is what is needed to give these children a home and family, to make the best out of a bad situation.   It is what led us to the adoption of our son.  Without that process, we would not have our Liu.  And Oh! How grateful I am for this boy! I look at him, and am reminded everyday of God’s faithfulness, His great love for us, His redemptive stories we get to be a part of. C588BCB7-8D18-4E39-87B7-BFB22A4B6CA7

In a better set of circumstances, we would have adopted Mai Ling.  I know many others have had to say no to a “referral,” and even two or three.  But nothing could have prepared me for how it would feel for me to have to say “no.”  As you might have guessed, after I got home from the conference, the U of M called to give us their assessment.  They said that Mai Ling had one of two genetic syndromes.  Regardless of which one it was, she probably would never be able to live independently and would need many things done for her, for the duration of her life.  They did not think she would live past the age of thirty.  She would likely never walk or talk.  She would be severely cognitively limited.  At this news, I knew at a gut level we most certainly could not do this. We were not the “right” family for her.

I still wanted to run and get her.  I wanted to love her and help her reach her full potential, whatever it was. To help her find her “voice,” however it looked.  I wanted her to know she is worthy of a family even if she didn’t ever walk, talk, or reach any milestones.  Whether she was in a wheelchair or used a walker.  If she lived to 30 or 40 or however long.   If I had to take care of her the whole rest of my life, who cares?  A person is a person is a person…

But..when I look at MY limitations :  My history of anxiety,  my history of depression, my considerable needs for my own mental health. When I look at my relationship with my son, how close we are and how much time, energy, patience, and help he needs.  When I listen to my husband being the voice of reason and saying, “this will be a lot and we don’t have the resources.”  The realities of how my life looks now versus what I would need it to look like to help my boy plus another girl (needing so much help and constant care), thrive.  It seems too much of a bridge to gap.   And I would be lying if I did not take into account giving him a sister, finally, only to have her living for part of his life…I feel guilty for saying that.  But I have to be honest.  No disrespect to those families able to adopt medically complex/fragile children.  I thank God for you.  But that is not the road we are able to take.

So we said no.  We thought long and hard about it.  Mai Ling deserved that.

Back to Created for Care 2017.  I have just learned that after all her waiting, Mai Ling has a family!  God’s faithfulness.  God’s redemption. I like to think that the time we took to consider her somehow helped orchestrate things just so.  I like to think this led to her new family being ready at precisely the time her paperwork was available again.  When I think of that, I feel happy to have been part of the story that eventually led her to finding her very own family.  Wow! So now I ponder these things with a confusing set of mixed emotions.  Happy that she will have a family, but sad that I won’t get to love her and take her into our family.

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I know this is not the end of the story for Mai Ling, or the beginning.  She has a story already.  And, she will have a big transition to make, leaving her friends and caregivers in China to come to America.  She will have a family that loves her  (and likely her birth family loved her deeply, too as did her orphanage family)  in America and will help her ease into her new life.

Most of the time I believe we made the right decision.  So this year the conference finds me wondering, “what next.”  As I say goodbye to this chapter, I find myself asking God to give me a sign of what is to come in our own journey to another child.  Is it too late? Is it going to work out, or should we give up?  God didn’t give me answers or clarity.  Instead he introduced me to a new friend over by the cake table.  All I was going to do was run down to the ballroom, grab my cake and take it back to my room.  I mean, I was planning on ordering a pizza anyway.  But this wonderful new friend struck up a conversation and then her friend joined us at a table.  I started sharing my story, then they saw my “ugly cry,”in between my sobs of “am I too old? Should we just give up? I can’t do it anymore!” And right then and there they took my hands and prayed for me.  They reminded me that God has a plan! It is not really in my control.  They reminded me we all have preconceived notions of how this forming a family thing should go, but God often has different ideas!   They reminded me that this is a marathon, not a sprint.  Oh, this was awesome.  Now I have two new friends (you know who you are).

Incidentally, I went back to my room after this.  I wanted to read the Bible, and I have been reading Romans.   I opened my Bible up and it landed on the page which has these verses: Genesis 18:10-13,”I will return to you about this time next year, and your wife Sarah will have a son!…Sarah and Abraham were both very old by this time, and Sarah was long past the age of having children.  So she laughed silently to herself and said, ‘how could a worn-out woman like me enjoy such pleasure…?’ Then the Lord said to Abraham, “why did Sarah laugh?..Is anything to hard for the Lord? I will return about this time next year, and Sarah will have a son.”  I thought that was a funny coincidence since I had been asking my new friends if I was too old.  When I did end up opening Romans, it opened to this: Romans 9:9, ” For God had promised, ‘I will return about this time next year, and Sarah will have a son.”  Well now, that gave me pause for thought.  Either God was trying to tell me something or that was the oddest coincidence ever.  IMG_1076

No matter what happens, this I am sure of: God is good. period. end of sentence.  If we are able to adopt again, God is good.  If it does not work out, now or ever?  Guess what? God is still good.  I am starting to realize this important distinction: My greatest desire, no matter how good it seems to me, means nothing if it is not what God wants for me.  My greatest desire has to be Him.  To bring Him glory and to grow closer to Him every day of my life until He calls me to my Heavenly Home.  To become more like Him.  My gosh… I have a long way to go on that! And to chase after something with more zeal than I chase after Him…well that becomes idolatry.  So no matter how much I WANT something, the sad truth is that God may not want that FOR ME.  He knows best.  The trick is, living in the unknown spaces…waiting for the answer.

So now, I wait. And continue to wait with hands open to receive whatever He has for me, for us.  Listening for God’s answer, whatever it will be. The real miracle now seems to be what God is doing in my heart: Softening it, breaking it, molding and shaping it into a Heart Like His. Wanting, more than anything, to want more of Him!

If I am lucky enough to attend C4C again next year, what will my story be then? Maybe I can meet up with my sweet new friends again over chocolate cake.  Maybe I can return the favor and pray for them as I hear their stories.  Maybe I can once again be the quieter one riding in the backseat of a car of chatty women, listening, thinking and enjoying the scenery.  Either way it will be a picture of God’s faithfulness. I look forward to finishing this blog … down the road!  IMG_1066