It's not my story to tell.

The two-year-old girls currently living in our home are the exact same height with blonde hair and only a 0.2 pound difference in their weight.  I'm a biological mom to one and a foster mom to the other.  They're five months apart, and there has not been a day that I've gone into public with them when I've not been asked by a random stranger (if not 3-4 random strangers), "Are they twins?"  

Usually, I politely smile and say, "No they're not," and the little girls continue stuffing their faces while I continue stuffing the grocery cart.  My brief answer suffices most people's curiosity, but not everyone's.  

"Well how old are they?  Oh, they're both two and they're not twins?  Wow, how did that happen?"  

I shocked myself recently when the lady behind me in Target struck up a similar conversation.  Politely but firmly, I responded, "It really isn't any of your business."

My face immediately grew hot, and my ears turned red.  My heart was pounding as I wondered if I had said the right thing and if I should apologize for being rude.  Rarely ever am I quite so forthcoming.

I continued to think about my answer throughout the rest of the day and came to the conclusion that although I could have been more tactful, yes, I had responded correctly.

K's story is not mine to tell.  

IMG_9217.JPG

To my close friends and family members, I can tell how her story affects me.  To her caregivers and educators, I can share pieces of her background that are pertinent to her care and education.  To the random lady at Target, you are a random lady at Target.  And however nice and caring you may be, my foster daughter's classification as a foster child is not your business.

She just started saying her name, but only when asked in a particular way.  We're working on expanding her language, but for now, we ask K, "Who are you?"  Not surprisingly, her answer is always "K" instead of "Foster Kid".  "Foster Kid" may be part of her story, but it is not who she is.  Though she has faced many difficulties in her short life, K is resilient, beautiful, and gentle.  She isn't a "poor child"  or a reason to "bless your heart," common connotations that "foster care" carries with it.  K can't speak for herself, but I guarantee that she wants people to see her for exactly the person that she is and not for the situation from which she has come.  Nobody likes to be pitied.  

As her guardian, my job is to protect K.  At this moment, that means letting her share as much or as little of her story as she wants, if and when she feels ready.   

I'm not sure how many more foster children we will have in our home over the next few months and years, but I do know that it will be my job to protect those kids, as well.  They'll all come with their own stories, and whether they are 2 or 12, whether they can speak or not, they'll decide when to tell them. 

For today, I'm just thankful that my story intersects with K's at this point in both of our lives.  Though the endings of them are unknown, the Author of our stories is kind.  For today, that is all anyone needs to know.

Foster Care: A Hard and Beautiful Calling

foster care

At 7:45 p.m. on Saturday, January 6, I was upstairs doing "the bedtime marathon" with my husband and little ones.  Hair was washed, teeth were brushed, and we were on to our favorite part of the evening: stories.  I love reading to my kids, but even as my oldest sat in my lap, I was already thinking about snuggling with my husband on the couch with Netflix and a glass of wine - the makings of the perfect at-home date night.  

Also at 7:45 p.m. on Saturday, January 6, my phone was ringing on the kitchen counter downstairs because a sweet 2-year-old was sitting in our local CPS office.  When I came downstairs and saw an unknown 405 number on my screen, I knew immediately why we had been called.  Shakily, I pressed "play" and listened to the voicemail.  "Would you be willing to accept placement?"  It still seems strange that such a life-changing event begins with a phone call.

We said “yes”, and so began our foster care journey, less than a week after our home was open and less than an hour after that phone call.  

People have asked us how we are doing and what has been difficult about adding K to our family.  "Everything!" I often want to say.  "Everything about this is difficult."

But that's not entirely true.

Pride is easy.  I can, all too readily, fall into the trap that elevates our family above others who aren't doing foster care.  Along a similar strain, I can feel sorry for myself with absolutely no effort at all, believing the lie that others' lives are less messy than mine and becoming angry with those same people, who have done nothing to warrant my irritation.  

Compassion is easy, too.  If I can have compassion, anyone can.  As more of K's story unfolds, my cold heart continues to melt.  I hate what she has had to face in her short life.  This is not the way things should be when you're two.  I want better for her and for her family.  Saying "yes" on January 6 was both simple and obvious.  How could we not?

foster care 2

What's hard has been saying “yes" every day since then.  Continuing to hear and obey this calling for our lives, even when our will is weak and the Voice calling us feels distant, is anything but natural.  Dietrich Bonhoeffer says, "When Christ calls a man, he bids him to come and die."  Foster care feels a lot like dying sometimes.

It's hard to have two two-year-olds.  Period.  God bless you mommas of twins.

It’s hard to explain this broken system to my four-year-old when I don’t quite understand it myself.

It’s hard to watch her cry for “mommy”, knowing that that person isn’t me.

It’s hard when very few people really understand how big this thing is that we are doing.  I didn't just birth a newborn, but we added a two-year-old to our family, which I would contend is equally consuming at times.  Most people expect us (and anyone else with a new foster child) to continue with life as it was yesterday, when it will never be that way again.  

It's hard to have family in Texas who is willing but unable to help because crossing states lines requires permission every single time.

It's hard for a Type A person like me not to have a plan.  She might still be here in six months, or she could go home next week.  Either way, I'll probably be among the last to know, just as I'm the last to be informed of team meetings and home visits which I'm supposed to attend.  It's selfish, I know, but I hate being at the mercy of everyone else's schedules.  (Selfishness- there's another easy thing.)

It's hard that her language is so limited.  

It's hard that our family is under constant scrutiny by the same people who removed K from her home.  I'm doing the best I can, but I live in constant fear that I've done something wrong.  I'm afraid that someone will think I'm not doing my job if she falls off the bench at dinnertime and bumps her chin or her head, as my own two-year-old does basically once a week.  

It's hard to have very little information regarding the child who is living full-time in my home.

It's hard to pour out my life for this tiny soul, to be the umbrella that she stands under, taking the rain ... and to be unappreciated for doing so.  She doesn't want me.  I can't comfort her like her mom can.  Her mom doesn't want me, or even like me, either.  I tell K every night before bed that I love her, and she never says it back.  Maybe one day she will, but it's possible that she won't.  Perhaps the hardest thing about all of this is choosing to love someone without expecting a single thing in return.

I've put my life on hold for the moment and am not taking any classes for dental hygiene.  I wanted to slow down this semester in order to give our family my full attention, because I know that what we are doing is important and needed.  And yeah, it's hard.  It's dang hard.  Knowing that it would be hard hasn't made it any easier, and sometimes I wonder if all of this is worth it.

But there are moments when it is also beautiful. 

There are these brief reminders that I get the privilege of doing for another what Jesus did for me: He welcomed me into his family, and he pursues me when I don't want him.  He provides for my basic daily needs but also goes beyond that and loves me, simply because He loves me.

Today, she laughed at me while I played with her.  

Yesterday, she and my biological two-year-old played blocks together ... without screaming or crying or stealing.  Yesterday, I didn't even scream or cry or steal ... all day long.

Last week, our friends rallied to bring us clothes, diapers, and food, reassuring us that we are not in this alone.  She has a built-in new family and set of friends who all adore her.

She knows three words in sign language that she didn't know when she came to us.

I get to be the one to give her experiences that she's likely never had before.

Even when they're all fighting, our own daughters LOVE having another little girl around.  Though everyone has had a rough adjustment, K really is a perfect fit for our family.  

Everyone tells the scary stories of foster care, and then everyone understandably gets scared away from doing it.  I want to tell the good stories, about how the most difficult things are also the right ones and how redemption can be found in the most hopeless of situations.    

This is a hard calling.  And it's so beautiful, too.

Looking Both Ways

"Look both ways before you cross the street."

These are the words that my mom, like many other mothers across the world, etched into the brain of her child.  Of course, Mom was advising me to pay attention to cars which could come from either direction and turn me into smut.  But she was also telling me to look at where I've been and where I am going.

pexels-photo-442584.jpeg

I've been a lot of places in 2017.  Speaking literally, that isn't totally true.  Aside from our winter ski trip to Colorado and a few random visits to Texas to see family, I've mostly stayed in Norman.  The rest of my life, though, has been all over the map.

I quit a few things this year, including dairy, gluten, and my job, but we began a lot more.  This blog.  AirBnBDoorpost Collections.  Piper in "big school".  Dogsitting and human-sitting.  The simultaneous newness of it all felt crushing at times.  I said "yes" way too much.

When your husband works for Hobby Lobby, you naturally take advantage of his employee discount and buy all of the things every chance you get.  After all, one can never have too many Christmas decorations, right?  This year, I purchased a new table runner.  It's mostly made of burlap, similar to seemingly all of the other decor in our home.  But if you look closely, especially when the sun is first streaming in through the windows and shining upon our kitchen table at dawn, you can see tiny gold threads woven throughout it.

Our new table runner is the tapestry of 2017.  At the beginning of the year, I chose a word that I wanted to define my life: joy.  While it is true that The Joy Project allowed me to see with clearer eyes and more gratitude, it is also true that many of my days were like the scratchy burlap that stretches across our table: stiff and dull.  I worried too much and prayed too little.  I obsessively filled my plate with obligations due to self-imposed guilt.  I struggled with my relationship with running, and with relationships in general.  I got mad at my kids and my husband.  I had a lot of monotonous, ordinary days that ended far too late because of studying for school and started far too early because, well, such is life with small children.  I strove for perfection and came up short.  And yet, there were these golden moments of joy that appeared every so often, these threads that God wove in to keep me both brave and humble.

This is where I have been.

I'm not exactly sure what the new year holds.  We could have a foster child in our home any day now, a fact which partially excites but mostly terrifies me.  I don't feel ready, but I'm not sure that I ever will.  When we began Piper's adoption process, we had all of the same feelings, but we closed our eyes, held our breaths, and jumped in anyway.  That is when we watched miracles happen.

Still.

That single word is my desire for 2018.  I know that stillness will require setting more boundaries and saying "no" more often, things which I have already begun to do.  But I also believe that there is more to stillness than the physical removal of commitments from the calendar.  I'm picturing myself in the middle of one of these tornadoes that frequent the plains of Oklahoma.  The winds are blowing up all sorts of debris around me, but I am not frantic.  I am calm.  Grounded.  Content.  Finding quiet in the storm.

This is where I am going.

family
Photo credits: JEShoots and Keeley RIckles

A Few Thousand Diapers Later: A reflection on my daughter's adoption

When my oldest daughter was ten months old, I bought diapers for her for the very first time.    

Ten months!  Do you know how amazing that is?  I'm not even sure that I do.  We never paid a dime.  Her diapers were gifts.

More so when she was an infant but even now, too, Piper's teachers comment on her cute outfits and extravagant hair bows.  

"Where do you get all of her clothes?" they ask.  Well, let's be honest.  They come from her grandparents.  They come in big brown boxes on the porch from her family in Texas.  They come in little pink bags, tied with fancy ribbons and a note that says, "Just because," from coworkers and friends.  

I rarely buy her clothes, and her closet is still overflowing.

I was humbled as we began the adoption process, when money would literally just show up on our doorstep or in our mailbox.  There were days when I would find myself in tears, unsure of how to respond to such generosity but very sure that we didn't deserve it.  Almost a year after bringing Piper home, I was once again overcome by the goodness of our loved ones.  I know that diapers are seemingly insignificant, but I also know that most parents don't wait ten months to buy them.  We were, and still are, so blessed.

The night that Piper was born will always stand out to me above all others for many reasons, but one thing is still particularly striking.  My parents had already waited for hours to see her, and when they finally were able to come upstairs at the hospital, my mom burst into tears.  In fact, I don't think she really stopped crying all night.  At one point, I said something like, "Mom, this is a happy day!  You don't have to cry!"  She responded,

"I know.  I have prayed for so long that I would love her just as if she were your biological child, and I really, really do."

She was always meant to be part of our family.

I knew it during the adoption process, I knew it the moment she was born, I knew it when I was buying diapers for the first time in ten months, and I know it today as she is opening her weekly mail from her family in Texas.  As her parents, we would love Piper regardless of any circumstance, but the continual outpouring of kindness from those who are dearest to us has proven to me that she belongs.  She's our daughter, but she's also a granddaughter, a great-granddaughter, a niece, a cousin, and a friend.  She is partly loved by others because we are special to them, but she is also loved because she is special to them.  

Whenever we tell people our story of infertility, we often get responses such as, "That must have totally sucked.  I'm so sorry."

Yes, it did "totally suck", in more ways than I can begin to articulate.  But no, I'm not at all sorry.  Had I become a mom at 22 like I wanted to be, I would not be a mom to Piper.  The timing of life events is commonly beyond our grasp, but it is always perfect.  Somewhere in Oklahoma in 2012, a teenager had to become pregnant, and simultaneously, we had to be waiting for a child instead of already holding one in our arms.  The waiting was excruciating, but I do not have an ounce of regret in retrospect.

Biological children are wonderful, cherished, and exciting.  I know this because I have one, and she is everything I had hoped she would be.  But there is something unique about adoption.  Piper is loved from so many angles, and it is precisely because her birth mother loved her so much that she was able to put her into another woman's arms.  I hated the writing of her story as we were going through it, but now, I'm so grateful that the Author penned it the way that he did.  Not everyone gets to experience the beautiful gift of adoption.  We did, and we will never be the same because of it.

A letter to my daughter's birth parents

November is National Adoption Awareness Month, and every year, I think about posting something different on the blog than the following paragraphs.  But every year, I keep coming back to the fact that this is some of the best, most raw writing I've ever done, and this is a story that needs to be told.  So, once again, I'm posting this letter to my daughter's birth parents that I drafted over four years ago. 

Though we have an open adoption, we haven't had contact with Piper's birth father since 2013, and we only connect with her birth mother a couple of times a year (on her terms).  Despite rarely seeing them, the feelings below remain the same.  We will always love Piper's birth parents for choosing life for their daughter and choosing us as her mom and dad.

***

national adoption awareness month

***

Dear Amanda and Conner,

I have no idea if you'll ever read these words, but I have to write them.  I have to hope that, even if you never stumble across this blog or open the card that we sent on your court day, you somehow know the way that we feel about you.

I remember getting the call that you were at the hospital, Amanda.  It was June 28th, the day that we would meet our girl.  I had simultaneously anticipated and dreaded this day since May 16th, when I first heard your voice on the phone.  Although I was grateful to be allowed in the delivery room when Piper was born, I was also unsure of myself.  

Would I say something stupid?  Would I pass out at the sight of a live birth?  Would I be able to convey my excitement about bringing home Baby Girl without rubbing salt in your wounds?

 At least our case worker would be there to help us know how to navigate this situation that most people never face...

Except that when Andrew and I arrived at the hospital, you only wanted the two of us back there with you.

 Panic.  

I was honored that you and Conner trusted and loved us enough to let us experience something so special, but up to this point, we had depended on Bonni to help us know what to say to you and how to act.  Andrew put his arm around my shoulders, and I quickly prayed for the kind of strength and wisdom that could never come from me.  

Please don't act like an idiot, please don't act like an idiot.

When we walked in the room, my fears were gone, and I immediately felt at home.  "Hey guys!" you grinned.  Even in labor, you were beautiful and calm.

In a few minutes, the nurse came in to check you.  She looked at Andrew and me, hinting with her eyes that we should step out.  We took the clue and started to leave the room when you, Conner, stopped her and said, "No, it's okay.  They're family."  

I wonder if you know how much those words meant.

Time seemed to stand still as we spent the next hour or so talking with both of you and trying to wrap our minds around this huge thing that was about to happen.  Though we had met you before, those moments in the delivery room were especially precious to me as we actually got to know the parents of our little girl.  In the moments away from the agency, the paperwork, and the caseworkers, you became my friends and not just the couple who had chosen our profile book.   

When the nurse came back later, it was "go time."  Andrew and I stood awkwardly at your head and stroked your hair as we tried to think of something to offer other than, "You're doing great!"  Conner, you were a natural.  You knew exactly what to say and do to help your girl.  And Amanda, wow.  You made labor and delivery look like a walk in the park.  I honestly expected so much anger and frustration, but all I saw in that situation was love.  

I wish there was a way for you to have stood back and watched the scene like we did.  Your relationship with each other is inspiring, and your affection for a baby who you bore for someone else is, frankly, earth-shattering.  Those words that Conner whispered as you pushed, "Come on, Amanda, this is the last thing we can do for her," melted my heart in more ways than you'll ever realize.

Just 30 minutes after you started pushing, Piper was here.  I cried the happiest tears of my life as I took in her thick hair, her chubby cheeks, and her perfect little body.  Then I watched as the two of you held her, and my heart broke.  

This was the reason why I had been so afraid of our time together in the hospital.  You clearly loved her as much as I did, yet you knew that she wasn't yours to keep.  

You said that we deserved her, and I knew that wasn't true.

The nurses came in and out to check on Piper as the four of us bounced back and forth in our conversation between the trivial and the significant.   Andrew and I left for about an hour to pick up some food and to give you two time alone with Piper.  We got back to the room and ate dinner together, and I found myself wishing (though I knew the impossibility of my idea) that there was a way for the five of us to be the little family who lived happily ever after.

The hospital prepared a room around the corner for Andrew, Piper, and me, and we slowly collected our belongings to spend our first night as a family of three.  Before I went to bed, I walked down the hall to refill my water bottle.  Your door was open, and I stopped.  Conner, you were headed out for some fresh air, so I sat down in a chair next to the bed for some "girl time."  Amanda, as I listened to you share your hopes and dreams, as you talked about your friends, and as you revealed your plans for college in the fall, I felt connected to you in a way that few people will probably ever be able to grasp.  

Though we didn't always talk over the past nine months, we were in each other's hearts as we shared this journey.  We have a unique bond: I wanted so badly to be in your place (to be pregnant), and you wanted to be in mine ("established" enough to raise a baby).  There is no way to explain those feelings to anyone else, but I think you know.

The night passed uneventfully, and I began to think about how the two of you would be going home to a new "normal" in just a few hours.  I started dreading those last moments in the hospital.  Finally, around 2:30 the next day, both of you came down the hall.  This was it.  Andrew and I stepped out of the room to give you the space that you needed with Piper. We held each other tightly and prayed for the words to say as we waited for you to come out.  About five minutes later, the two of you entered the hall with Piper, and all the tears that I had been holding back came flooding out as I looked at your faces.  

 I never guessed that goodbye would be so hard.

Amanda, I've thought that you are unbelievably strong throughout this entire journey, so seeing you dissolved by emotion was almost unbearable.  It would have been wildly inappropriate to take pictures in the moments that followed, but the scene will forever be captured in my mind as you handed Piper to me for the last time and as you, Conner, hugged my husband like there was no tomorrow.  In those moments, every word I had rehearsed was gone.  Each of us knew that there was nothing to be said which could possibly convey the feelings we had.  In shaky voices and through blinding tears, we all said how much we love each other.  Amanda, you asked me to "take good care of her," and I promised that I would.  Then the two of you went around the corner and back to your lives.

I still cannot fathom how a day can be so joyful and so gut-wrenching at the same time.

Andrew and I walked downstairs to the hospital's chapel, where I buried my head in his lap, and we both sobbed.  I had thought that I would be filled with guilt when you two went home without a baby, but really I was overcome with profound sadness.  I was sad for you because of the difficulty of your decision, and I was sad for us because I felt like we had just lost two people who, in a matter of days, had come to mean everything to our family.  

"Be still and know that I am God," the walls of the chapel read, and this is ironically the verse tattooed on the wall of our bedroom at home.  Both of us found it difficult to "be still," because our hearts were so heavy for you.  We prayed over and over for God to give you peace, and I still pray every day that you've found it.

As I got ready to go home the next morning, I burst into tears all over again, and I wondered how many days would pass before I woke up without crying for you.  In the weeks since we have been home with Piper, time has slowly eased the hurt, but I don't think of you any less.  I have never once doubted that you would change your minds about the decision you made, but I have felt an unexplainable stillness in knowing that if you did, I would be okay because as much as I care about Piper, I care about the two of you equally.

Every night before bed, we tell Piper how many people love her, and the two of you are always at the top of the list because you will always be her parents, too.  

IMG_2525.JPG

I can't wait until she is old enough to ask questions about the picture of the four of us on the wall in her room, until she wonders how she got her beautiful black hair, and until she makes the connection that her middle name is the same as her birth mother's.  I can't wait for that day because then I get to tell her, once again, the story of two people named Amanda and Conner who loved her so much that they made the greatest sacrifice two people could ever make.

People say that you can't understand true love until you have a baby.  Although I don't fully agree with that statement, I do believe that I've experienced a fuller and deeper kind of love because I met you.  In your words, Conner, this situation was just "meant to be."

Through our whole adoption journey, I have been the most worried about our relationship with our child's birth parents, and that has actually come to be the most beautiful part of it all.    

You named our sweet girl Grace when she was with you for nine months, and grace has absolutely been the theme of our song.  "Thank you" seems so inadequate for expressing the gratitude we daily feel for your selfless gift, Piper.  Somehow I hope you know just how much you mean to us, not just for giving us a daughter who we could never have on our own, but because of the truly strong and special people that you are.  I love you and respect you both, and because of you, my heart is full for the first time in years.

Love,

Mary Rachel