Tuesday, November 24, 2015

Adoption Day for Little Miss!

It is with many tears and much joy that I introduce you to our Little Miss. She has been a firecracker from the beginning, a ball of personality, and her fierce independence helped her push through a pretty rough start. Her mama named her Edith - reward of war. We gave her the middle name of Elizabeth - fullness of God.

She fills every corner of our home with loud color and incredible sass. Her brothers adore her and I love her so much I can barely contain it.

Two months shy of two years. That's how long this little light has been in our life.

Her adoption was only supposed to take a few months.

I'm not really a "praise God through the storm" girl. Maybe if I was superhuman I could manage it...but that hasn't been my experience. It's more like a desperate cling to my Sailor as the wind and rain beat the tar out of me. I don't give up or stop believing, but praise for the circumstance isn't usually forthcoming when I'm soaking wet.

I would say that I am the kind of girl that memorizes the waves and praises God for the destruction once I'm through the other side.

It's been a difficult two years. Our hearts were squeezed and twisted well beyond comfort and we were asked to step into terrifying shores, but the reward is great because it surpassed earthly relevance a long time ago.

Sweet Mama and I continue to write back and forth and I am stunned by the beautiful opportunity that God laid in my lap. I feel unworthy of it. Every letter from prison gives me deeper insight into the darkness Edie's mother has faced alone, yet there is the faintest shimmer of hope. Her life is not over; all is not lost. Through our growing friendship, she is experiencing God's love.

Just this week, I sent my application in for approval to visit her.

As we sat in the courtroom, today, celebrating Michigan's adoption day, I was a remembering mess. God didn't close my womb out of cruelty or pack our suitcases and haphazardly push us onto this path. He, methodically, touched a myriad of pain points with his gentle thumb and whispered for our hearts to follow. This is how he makes all things new. This is how he redeems and connects nonredeemable circumstances to life giving results.

Our life has been a series of God-driven question marks and looking back it's easy to see how one yes led to the next. People love to ask us if we're "done" adopting, now. A reporter asked me, today. My answer is always the same. We will stop saying, yes, when God stops asking.

It's easy for our efforts to be mistaken as sacrifice, but the truth? The return on our time and love far surpasses the moments we give.

This was such a wonderful day of celebration for our family. All day, Edie kept saying, "I adopted! I adopted!" There is powerful identity in family. It feels so good to have finality in this part of our story. There is so much more to come from this little girl, her baby brother, and both of their mothers. But, today, we celebrate with tear-streaked faces.

There is one less lovie stuck in a life-sucking system.

Sunday, October 18, 2015

Another Homecoming

Baby Brother's foster family spent the evening with us on Friday. There was a heavy knowing in the air, but it was really nice to spend time with them and to hear more of their story. Our kids were crazy. The kind of crazy you try your best to hide from people - especially people that are about to leave a costly gift with you (forever).

Sigh. But this is who we are. I like to think we control the chaos....but I always realize otherwise when people step in the front door for the first time.

Friday night went better than expected. He was only up for about an hour halfway through the night. It wasn't a painful or angry cry, it was more of a I-just-woke-up-in-a-strange-place-and-you-are-not-my-mother whimpering.

Ben joked (truthfully) that he makes the same sounds as Little Miss, only his decibel is about one-third of hers.

Last night was a bit rougher. He was up, on and off, for hours and that familiar beg to God set in, "Lord if you love me, please, PLEASE, let him sleep."

I know it's only been two and a half days, but I am tired. So tired.

People that told me I wouldn't notice a fifth - that anything after three is the same - lied.

It's a lot different.

Ben and I were like underpaid circus crew, this weekend, moving to the demands of the set. It took us three hours to get ready for church, this morning, but when we pulled into the parking lot on time, tears misted my eyes. We did it. And I know it will only get easier from here.

I am overwhelmed by the support that has flooded our doorstep.

Every day someone is handing me a gift card or asking if they can bring a meal. Today, we shared our hearts in front of our church, bringing people close to what God is doing in our growing family. Afterward our pastor asked the congregation to invest in God's work through us. He had us stand at the front of the altar and the stream of people that came was continuous. I cried, as family after family gave and shared their support, thanking us for saying yes.

One precious woman told me she had very little to give, but that she was a fierce prayer warrior and committed to bathe our family and Sweet Mama in prayer. Others offered free babysitting, and meals, and haircuts.

I am stunned with gratitude; I don't even know what to say.

A hot out-of-the-oven meal arrived, tonight, with a box of Tim Horton donuts that the kids went bananas for and I thanked God for his provision. This mama is exhausted, but the surge of energy I felt from all the helping hands around me, today, reminded me that we CAN do this...because we're not alone.

The bills will get paid, our sleep will be multiplied, and the kids will experience love.

Speaking of - I am awestruck at the tenderness my babies give so freely. I was worried about Little Miss. She is bossy and commands attention in every way. I knew she would have the hardest adjustment. Yet, she seemed to grow by years overnight. Sure, she still throws around, "My mommy" every other time she looks at her baby brother, making sure he understands the terms. But, she has been so interested in playing, reading, and helping me, I haven't seen any signs of spite or envy.

Baby Brother is such a bundle of sweetness. I've been wearing him, each day, and playing with him as much as I can (the boys rotate feedings). He is so relaxed and happy it's a breath of fresh air.

Rocking with him at night has been very emotional. The deep, fierce, mama bear love isn't there, yet, but I have this tremendous awareness of what a treasure this little boy is. In a way I've never felt before. I think of Sweet Mama everyday. The kids have been writing her letters and drawing her pictures, too. We popped at least 2 or 3 packages in the mail, this week.

I've been texting Foster Mama every time I think of her to ease her unsettled heart and let her know that we're taking the greatest care with her son.

All the while, knowing that the earthly love surrounding Baby Brother pales in comparison to the love of his Father. Wow.

It was a good, good weekend.

Friday, October 9, 2015

"She Wants You"

Why I bother showing up to court on time, I'll never know. An hour went by - still no movement. I made small talk with Baby Brother's family, read some in my book, and listened to background chatter. To most people it was just another day.

I could hear the clanking of chains behind me before I saw her face. I turned, quickly, in hopes to catch her eyes and as soon as they met, tears streamed both our faces. She mouthed "thank you" a dozen times on her way to holding in the jury box. Everything in me wanted to run to her; squeeze her hand. I watched, helplessly, as formalities began. All I could do was meet her gaze and hope she saw love.

Sweet Mama held true to her letter. She stood firm with her rights and forced the case to begin trial. I don't ever want to experience it again. Words will never be able to convey the brutal reality of what happened. Baby Brother's guardian ad litem and attorney hammered her points until the case was nothing but a bloody carcass, wide open for disease and prey. Sweet Mama sobbed on the witness stand and I, barely, held it together. I, literally, stuffed emotion to my toes, willing for it not to come out in distracting heaves.

Given your history with Cisco and [Little Miss], do you really think, it's fair to make Baby Brother wait over a year for permanency?

She held tissues to her face and, quietly sobbed, "no."

If Judge grants you the time that you're asking for AGAIN, what is going to be different when you're released from prison?

She shook her head and shrugged.

I said, "What is going to be different???? Would you say you're OPTIMISTIC that your addiction will be cured? What support do you have? You come from a family of drug addicts - do you expect them to help you? Did they help support you in the past?"

Mama was lost in a sea of pain and panic. The questions came too fast.

The attorney was relentless. I kept waiting for defense to shout "Objection!" but he sat with his head down. He had given up long before we started.

As the questions pressed on, I let go of my heart and let it shatter to the polished floor. Someone pressed tissue in my hand and asked if I was okay. I shook my head.

"Are you, [Baby Brother's] best option, right now?"

I barely heard her whisper..."no."

"I would like to approach the bench."

White noise came on and the attorneys rushed forward. The judge called for recess and asked everyone, but Sweet Mama and security to exit the courtroom, so that she could have some moments of privacy with her attorney.

When we got to the hall, Baby Brother's attorney explained that they didn't want Sweet Mama to have to endure anymore. They recessed to try and convince her to sign over her rights, voluntarily. Apart from the obvious relief from ruthless questioning, a direct release helps Sweet Mama have some footing should she get pregnant, again.

I walked out in silence, I could barely breathe.

Her attorney burst through the doors and pointed at me, "She wants you."

I heard the clerk lock the door behind me and the security guard verified my identity. I walked over to my broken friend and put a hand on her knee. I didn't bother asking if it was allowed.

"Thank you for being such a wonderful mother," she hiccuped between cries, "You are the mother I always intended to be. I don't know what to do. What should I do? I mean... I know what I should do...but I need to fight."

Tears streamed down my face and I took her hands in  mine. "Baby...you need to fight for YOU. Until you fight for you, you're never going to be able to fight for your kids. I love your kids like my own and I will take care of them as my own. It's time to let go. And trust God that good will follow. Look at this time as an opportunity you've never had. You have two years in a place that is going to feed you every day and keep you warm and safe. Get your high school diploma; get clean. God is handing you a fresh beginning. You just have to take it."

I don't know how long we sat there crying; time was still.

After several moments of sniffling silence, she said, "How are you going to do it? It's so many kids!"

I laughed and cried some more. "I know...but we WILL do it because we love you and we love your kids."

She looked down and whispered..."They're your kids, too. Thank you for writing me. I loved the pictures of Cisco and his brothers. It's helping me get through. If I do this, you have to promise me that you won't let anyone take Baby Brother from you. If I can't be his mom, it has to be you. Do you promise?"

I can hardly see to type this...

I told her about the drawing Cisco made, last night, and let her know she could write to him any time. Her attorney interrupted and told her it was time to decide. I hugged her tight and prayed that she'd feel a surge of strength. She couldn't return the squeeze, but she wet my face with her tears and I thanked God for crossing our paths.

An hour later, court returned to session and the adoption representative was present with signed papers in hand. Sweet Mama cried through all of the Judge's questions as he made sure she was not coerced, paid, or under the influence. Every time she looked at me, I saw Little Miss. Their similarities are so striking, I know this day will haunt me every time I see my girl cry.

Sweet Mama was escorted from the courtroom. I managed a quick hand-squeeze as she walked by and told her not to give up. The door closed, firmly, and I wondered if I would ever see her, again.

Baby Brother's attorney walked the court through placement and adoption recommendations. She looked at me and told the judge in all her years of service she had never seen a foster parent express so much compassion. She told him about my letter to prison, my willingness to encourage her during the recess, and somehow had even picked up the story about Cisco's "I love you" picture.

The judge choked up and told me he has a daughter the same age as Mama. He expressed the heartbreak of her story, thanked me for keeping the siblings together, and noted how Mama's love never stood a chance to her addiction and the addiction that tears through the rest of her family. He explained how easy it is for the players in court to be desensitized to such mess and thanked me for showing kindness.

And then it was over.

On the way out, I asked what will happen if no one picks her up on the day she is released. A likely possibility as she is hours from everything familiar.

"Probably a halfway house."

I sat in my car and sobbed until my meter ran out.

Baby Brother comes home on Friday, but the excitement of our next chapter is dulled by the cost.

There was one moment of connection, where Sweet Mama, Foster Mama, and me were all wiping tears and I thought about the preciousness of Baby Brother. Three mothers representing his past, present, and future, sharing in the agony of his story.

That moment in time can never be replicated. The three of us will never meet, again.

And somehow the weight of that is almost too much to bear.

Thursday, October 8, 2015

A Letter from Prison

She wrote back!

Going into trial tomorrow, I am so thankful for confirmation that Sweet Mama read my encouraging words. I will, likely, not be able to talk to her as she'll be escorted in chains.

I expect it to be a very difficult day, but I know she knows that I believe in her...and love her.

She opened her letter like this:
Dear Rebekah,
Thank you, thank you, thank you, thank you so much. You are the best. I can tell Cisco and [Little Miss] are really happy. Thank you for taking such good care of them. I am so happy my kids got you as a mom. I hope you still tell them I love them and miss them...

I have re-read those words a hundred times already. The middle section of her note talked about her court cases, what she's hoping for, and her plans to fight to the end for Baby Brother tomorrow.

As much as I don't want to be witness to a horrific emotional battle, when she realizes it's too late...I understand her fight. I respect it.

Her letter was written from a clear perspective. She talked about working toward her GED, the parenting classes she's in, and the boot camp program she applied for. I prayed through every word, asking God to guide this new, fragile friendship.

Sweet Mama's closing words are haunting.
Thank you for the pictures, I really needed them. Can you plz send more and tell me more about them? I am not a bad person. I really do love them.
Such a jolt to my heart.

At dinner, I told Cisco that his mom wrote back to me, today. I told him many of the things she wrote about and when I was done, he said, "Could I draw her a picture for you to send?"

He started with a huge full-sized paper heart and wrote along the edges, "I love you". Ty asked when I was going to write again and after a few minutes, said, "Mom, maybe when she gets out of jail and is making good choices, again, she could come over for a sleepover. You know, to get to know us?"

I squeezed them so hard for their thoughtfulness.

Cisco's story is a dark monster that could have swallowed him whole if we fed it. Instead, we allowed the light of God to scatter the night and through love, show him how to live open and kind and full of mercy.

I am moved by his unfiltered compassion for a woman who hurt him in so many ways. That is Jesus with skin on - right here at my kitchen table - leaning over a scribbled drawing of hearts and paw prints.

I know this is only the beginning.

Our story just keeps getting better and richer and more lovely.

Sunday, October 4, 2015

Awkward Beginnings

Our family and Baby Brother's foster family met, today, at the Cider Mill to get to know each other. The boys were in their baby brother's face for a few minutes, but then became, quickly, distracted by all the family fun activities.

This girl, however, was very interested in the new baby she's only heard me talk about.

She even shared her donut with him when I wasn't looking and made a sugary mess over all three of us. It filled my heart to see her nurture in ways I've never experienced before.

There sure was a lot of cuteness, but it was still a strange day.

The foster family is wonderful in every way. The awkwardness came from the fact that the son who is so, clearly, embedded into their lives and family is about to be transferred to ours. It doesn't feel right and it, certainly, isn't natural.

I held him for a few minutes, but mostly watched Baby Brother interact with his mother. She fed him his bottle and nestled his cheek, sharing words too soft for me to hear. I felt like such an intruder; a thief of sorts.

I felt nothing for him beyond normal "your baby is so cute - " excitement.

I am surprised that this phenomenon still surprises me, frankly. This was my fifth first meeting...and they've all gone the same way. I think my expectation was higher, this time, because of the difficulty of the decision to say "yes".

But...in the end, the familiarity of this scenario wins. I was introduced to a son that I will, one day, love as my own, but today, that sort of love privileges another woman's heart.

And the sadness in her eyes is too much to bear.

We return to court on Friday for mom's termination trial.

I don't know if mom received my letter, but I am hoping to be able to communicate through her lawyer, who I've had the opportunity to get to know over the last 18 months.

Two women are feeling tremendous loss, this week. Please remember them.

Sunday, September 27, 2015

Walk Into Her Room

Dear Sweet Mama,
I know it’s been a long time since we’ve talked, but I hope it’s okay to write to you. I was in the courtroom, last week, even though we couldn't see each other, and will be there, again, in a couple of weeks. Even though I probably won’t be able to squeeze your hand or give you an update on your kids, I want you to know that I am there. I have so much love in my heart for you and never stop praying that you will feel God’s presence in your time of darkness and that you would know your worth...
I addressed my first letter to the women's prison that houses the mama to three of my babies.

Over the last 18 months, Sweet Mama has been in and out of jail more times than I can count. Several months ago I called the county jail to see what I needed to do to see/write to her. Unfortunately, the restrictions were such that we couldn't communicate without me revealing a lot of personal information that I just wasn't comfortable giving. The permanency of prison, makes letter writing much easier and gives me the freedom to just sign my first name to my letters.

We've been singing a (new to us) song at church, called When You Walk into the Room. The writer is (clearly) speaking of Jesus, but last week, Ben said to me, "That song is so powerful. I feel like we're singing about us and the light our lives are supposed to shine."

All week his thoughts and these lyrics have been the background to the turbulent terms of my heart. Birth mom. Foster mom. Baby Brother.

When You walk into the room
Everything changes
Darkness starts to tremble
At the light that you bring

When you walk into the room
Sickness starts to vanish
Every hopeless situation ceases to exist
And when you walk into the room
The dead begin to rise
'Cause there is resurrection life
In all you do

Two nights after the postponed trial, I laid in bed humming, When you walk into the room...every hopeless situation ceases to exist... The Holy Spirit prompted my heart, "You care for my daughter, when no one else does. Walk into her room."

I sat up and started writing. I opened and closed my letter with personal encouragement, but mostly shared every detail that a mama's heart hangs on...I told her all about her kids. Because the darkness is not dark to Him, I typed out Psalm 139 and sandwiched it between my words and pictures.

For now, I am using the agency as a protective layer. I included a self addressed and stamped envelope with paper in hopes that she'll write back, but my letters won't be contingent on hers.

This isn't just an adoption story because God's care doesn't stop at Baby Brother or our family.

He redeems ALL things and whispers good to the most gruesome detail.

Live open. Heart and hands. Say, yes, every time he calls.

You might find yourself in a garden once hidden.

Sunday, September 20, 2015

Giving God Room

I'm not sure how many adoptions it will take for me to see the fullness of what God is doing in and with our lives.

I went to the TPR (termination of parental rights) pre-trial on Tuesday for Baby Brother. I sat through two hours of cases before it was our turn. Mom wasn't present and the judge wasn't messing around. He set the TPR trial three days later (Friday). That's unheard of.

Looking  back, I should have seen the signs. Something was amiss, but I was too wrapped up in conversation to notice. For an hour or so on Friday, I met the only family Baby Brother has ever known and soaked in every detail his precious foster parents shared. 

Their love for Baby Brother was so evident, I came home with a deep ache in my heart for the loss they are about to experience. In the courtroom, we exchanged one story after another, binding our families together in a bond so special, only a few can understand. Tears veiled their eyes with every story and I was taken back to a faraway place.

I remember the first time I realized Rebekah loved Tyrus as much as I did. When his eyelashes started to come in, we "oohed" and "ahhed" as if it was the first time such a miracle had been performed. One boy; two mothers. Both, fiercely protective and crazy about him in every way.

Over the last few weeks, God has given me a deep love for our new little guy. I don't know if it was the emotional decision or place of sacrifice, but I know Baby Brother's placement in our family is significant.

As I sat across from his foster mom, on Friday, I experienced her profound affection for her son and saw the breaking taking place in her heart. When parental rights were being terminated on "all known and unknown fathers", the court used language like, "no father has stepped forward to care or support this child", and I could hear the silent shouting of his foster father beside me.

Baby Brother's biological mom is in prison, but was present in the court room via two-way video. The trial ended before it really started, when her attorney argued under statute such and such that mothers must be, physically, present for termination trials.

Why these people can't pull the law together before wasting everyone's time, I will never understand.

All I really heard from the two-way feed that wasn't visible to me was uncontrollable sobbing.

That's when it hit me.

The brokenness no longer lies between two mothers. Now, there are three.

Adoption can be beautiful and redemptive and regenerating. But it's also ruinous.

It leaves ache in its wake to which some are unable to recover.

Foster families are one of God's greatest treasures. Baby Brother's family was thrilled to hear that we already consider them an extension of ours and look forward to a lifetime of friendship. My gratitude will never be able to offer repayment for what they have done for our son.

Baby Brother spent many weeks in the hospital  after his first breaths of life, as his little body required special surgeries and attention. Many days went by before he was matched with a family and when they walked into the nursery for the first time, it was evident how loved the surrounding babies were. Baby Brother's corner was not loud and cheerful. It didn't support attention, affection, or thought...Until. Until this gift of God walked into the room. Everything changed.

Knowing what THIS family did for my family, clogs my throat with tears. They showed up when no one else did. While most say no for fear of falling in love, they stood up. While most would have turned their back on his medical condition, they opened the door. They cheered and cried and nursed Baby Brother through surgery and health.

Families like this deserve medals and honors and floods of public affirmation.

I am more than humbled by their quiet generosity.

They waved off my thanksgiving and, instead, thanked me for saying, yes. I couldn't help but feel inadequate in the presence of such giants.

As if my heart wasn't wrecked by this growing story, already, I felt sick over the casual regard the courtroom displayed for mom.

I get it. This is baby number three. Same story. Same progress. The courtroom sees a drug addict, a convict, an unfit mother.

I see a girl cycled in curses; broken by addiction. And I believe in her.

My heart is so inter-tangled with the heart of our Father, I only see a horizon of hope for her. I know this is her time and I am thankful that she is, finally, serving a prison sentence. I was never able to write her in county jail due to restrictions that existed, but, today, she is at a long-term facility that will allow me to write and email and send pictures.

Sometimes I step out and look around me and I can't believe where I am. Sure, the girl who couldn't have babies is about to have five. But it's so much more than that. The girl who couldn't have babies understands deep treads of love that rest on painful stories; the reward that comes with embracing all those who loved my little people first; God's heart to pursue the lost at all costs; and, of course, the inexplicable joy of offering Light in a world of darkness.

I have no idea what our  new time frame is. We left the courtroom without a re-scheduled trial date. The foster family and I have already exchanged several communications since Friday, which included the most life-giving photos of Baby Brother. He looks just like Little Miss! I scroll through the pictures at least once every few hours.

In the eaves of heaviness, I have great peace. I know this time is on purpose and I'm giving God enough room to move as he sees fit.