Adoption: The journey from A to B, by way of D, M, (back to A), X, R, Z…

A few years ago, I started keeping a gratitude journal. One sentence, every night. I’m on the third year in that little leather journal, and I often like to look back and see what I was doing last year, the year before…what good things I celebrated as I went to bed on those nights and maybe the few nights surrounding them. Last night I looked back and saw that on May 15, 2016, I was thankful for friends who sat with us on a Sunday morning when we were broken. We were broken because, after a year of investing our hopes (and language learning efforts) into the process of adopting from Brazil, we had hit a major roadblock, and we were in the midst of deciding whether to choose another country. I remember that May 15th well. I remember a lot of tears, and I remember that they lasted for days. A few weeks later, we began the process of adopting from Ethiopia.

Almost exactly one year later, on May 16th, 2017, we found ourselves reading an alert from the U.S. State Department that included these words: “The Department of State will continue to advocate for intercountry adoption from Ethiopia. However, given the uncertainty of the future of adoptions there, prospective adoptive parents should consider other countries.” A few weeks earlier, the Prime Minister issued a suspension on all international adoptions, with no word on the why or the how long. Little coherent information has come out since then. Tuesday’s announcement is the closest we’ve gotten to, “This is direction you need to go.” And so, Tim and I are waiting to find out what the process looks like to change countries…again. Granted, this could all open back up as abruptly as it shut down. But it seems unlikely at this point, so we’re sketching out possible next steps.

A year ago, I was barely holding back tears, pretty much 24/7. Oddly, this week I find myself almost unable to feel…anything, really. At least not anything I can grab hold of for more than a minute or two. I have teared up while talking about it a grand total of one time, for maybe a minute. I have felt angry for a few 30 second intervals, when I think about the process of starting over, or when someone (with good intentions, of course) suggests that we consider an option that is far, far more complex than they realize. Once in a while I look into another country’s program and feel a moment of excitement, even. But mostly…nothing. It’s an odd feeling. I don’t really know what to do with it.

Most nights before we eat, we pray for our kids, “wherever they are, whoever they are.” For a year, that has meant, “Wherever in Ethiopia, whichever African children.” The last few days, the wherever and whoever aspect of it is less about anticipation and more about frustrating ambiguity. But wherever and whoever, there are children that we can’t wait to bring home some day. We need to remember the simple beauty of that. And we may need you, our community, to remind us once in a while to keep that good thing in view and to look for joy in all the parts of this ridiculously roller-coaster-esque journey.

on never knowing when or how it will go

Adoption is weird. That sounds….well, weird when I say it, but it’s true. Adoption doesn’t follow the rules of growing your family. It balks at your timeline and any desire you have to plan ahead. It refuses to give you signs of progress most of the time. In a pregnancy, there’s a timeline. In about nine months, you should open your schedule up. You know, don’t plan to take on any big projects around that time. And the signs of progress are clear—first trimester, second trimester… Now there is a heartbeat, now there are functioning lungs, now the baby is kicking. And of course, you have a pretty good sense of how old your kids will be. You know, they’ll be a few hours old when you meet them.

Sometimes the weirdness of adoption doesn’t bother us that much. It just is what it is, we know that, and some parts of it are beautiful. At other times, though, frustration sneaks up and pounces. Sometimes it comes when we pray for our kids, and I hear exasperation in Tim’s voice as he asks God to help us get to them sooner than later.  Sometimes I feel it when I think about taking teaching assignments in the summer…in the fall…in the spring, and I think, “Should I be signing up to be in a classroom, or do I need to be online this semester?” (P.S. I really don’t love teaching online.) Sometimes it comes when we get referral email after referral email with precious children that don’t fit our profile (siblings). We once got an email about a beautiful baby named Timothy…I mean, come on.

I think the trick for me in this season is to remember that it isn’t an in-between. This isn’t a no man’s land between starting the adoption process and bringing our kids home. This is a learning space, a time to be stewarded well. This is where we take a good look at our marriage, where we take a good look at ourselves, where we try to become better parents before we fly to Ethiopia. I forget that too often. May God continue to send me reminders when I need them most.

Shifting Lenses

We could choose to dance around this topic here, I suppose. Save it for outside conversations. Pretend it’s not that big a deal. It’s tempting to do it that way, honestly. But this is the blog where we keep you updated on our adoption journey, and this is part of our journey.

Those of you following us know by now that we are adopting from Ethiopia. The obvious implication: we are adopting black sons (most likely boys, at least), children who will grow up to be black men. And it would be dishonest to pretend that this fact doesn’t impact the way we encounter our world now. A few days ago I watched a video of an unarmed man being shot outside of his stalled car. Not long ago it was a man lying on the street next to his autistic patient. There was the man choked to death on a sidewalk. The teenagers shot down while playing with toy guns. The man shot an unconscionable number of times through the window of his car. Whatever your argument for the why, or the how, or the who, the fact is that each of these men/boys is some mother’s son. Terence’s mom is named Leanna. Tamir’s mom is named Joy. Michael’s mom is named Lesley. Eric’s mom is named Gwen. Philander’s mom is named Valerie.

I’m a sociologist, so I think about/teach about things like race and ethnicity all the time. I think about relations of power, about historical shifts and institutional discrimination, and I try to open my eyes to my own blind spots. I read research and look at statistics showing things like the degree to which black men are more likely to be shot by the police than are their white counterparts. These issues disturb and enrage me in a deep way as a sociologist and a teacher and a citizen.

But it is a different thing to think through this issue not as a sociologist, but as an adoptive parent. Suddenly I’m not thinking about abstract things like “race relations.” Suddenly I’m thinking about the fact that my sons are statistically more likely to be shot than their white friends and neighbors, and the reality that I cannot entirely protect them from that fact.

Now, don’t read even a hint of self-pity or martyrdom or any other such ridiculous thing in this. That’s not what I’m going for. Our kids will just be our kids, period. We’ll be four imperfect people doing the daily work of learning how to be a family. That process is both beautiful and messy no matter what the composition is. We are pumped to board a plane someday and meet the other half of our family.

But like I said, this is a blog about sharing our adoption journey. And as we think about our somewhere-out-there kids, and about fast approaching parenthood, encountering our culture with new eyes is part of the journey. And in that, we are newly reminded that doing something about the injustices of that culture should probably be part of our journey, too.


What a Gift

A few days ago our staff took a spiritual retreat in the mountains above Colorado Springs. It was a great couple of days to get away, participate in some “soul care”, and to spend a little time in silence and solitude.

One of the opportunities available to us was the chance to meet with a spiritual director for an hour. I thought it would be silly to pass up such an opportunity, so I signed up for one of the open slots. (It didn’t hurt that it cost me zero dollars!).

I met with the spiritual director in an upstairs room of an old, renovated barn-turned-retreat-center. I wasn’t sure what to expect – I had always wanted to meet with a spiritual director, but had never done so. It turned out to be a really helpful hour – probably the best hour of the retreat. We talked about many things – the condition of my soul (my entire being), my work, my calling … and about the adoption process.

As we talked about the adoption, he asked why we had chosen to adopt – infertility? health? age? (Spiritual directors are allowed to get personal). 🙂  I said it was something we both just really wanted to do… it isn’t the result of something else. For us, adoption isn’t a backup plan. It isn’t a second-best option. There are thousands of kids around the world that don’t have family. We get to be their family. We get to show them love.

“Wow,” he said. “What a gift from God – that both of you feel this way.”

I’d never thought about it like that before… but he’s right. What a gift – that Katie and I have the same perspective on such a huge topic. It’s easy to get discouraged in this seemingly never-ending process. I’ll cling to all the encouragement we can get.

What a gift.

A Serendipitous Shuttle Ride

In the name of being more consistent here, and sharing the fun stuff as well as the hard, I thought I’d share a story from my recent weeks out of town. Anyone who has been through this adoption process knows that it’s good to ruminate on the sunny spots along the way.

After a long trip to Seattle and California, I caught a shuttle from my Grandma’s house to the San Jose Airport yesterday morning. I’d actually been feeling a bit stressed about it, because shuttles in the Silicon Valley ain’t cheap (NOTHING in the Silicon Valley is), and we’re in fundraising mode right now. As is often the case, the ride ended up being a fresh reminder about how money worries put us at risk for missing the less tangible gifts.

When I got into the shuttle as the lone passenger, I started chatting with the driver. Within a few minutes, he had told me he was from Ethiopia and I told him that Tim and I are in the process of adopting from there. Thus began a fun and remarkably informative ride to the airport. I confessed that I’d had limited luck making injera (a spongy pancake-like bread used to scoop up food in Ethiopian cuisine) in the past, and he enthusiastically talked me through all the tricks his wife uses when she makes it for their family. It was like drinking from a firehose of information, but I tried to take good mental notes. “I wish you weren’t leaving,” he said, “because I would have her teach you.” He shared ways that he helps his children (born in America) maintain a connection to their culture, and emphasized how important this is. Children need to have more than just a vague sense that they are African, he told me. They need to know what kind of African, and what that means. He also gave me great suggestions for places to visit when we go to pick up our kids someday.

As we pulled up to the airport, he wished me luck and said, “Whoever they are, they will be lucky. They will have a better life here.” Remembering it now, I think back to JJ Heller’s song to her unborn child, and I recall these words: “I hope you know…that I am the lucky one.”

Back to Life in the Blogosphere

When you go to update your blog and it tells you, “It’s been nearly a year since you wrote your last entry,” it stops you in your tracks a little. Time passes so slowly and so quickly in this incredibly difficult journey called adoption.

We disappeared for a while, for sure, and things have been tumultuous at best in that year since we had to cancel the bike ride we had so looked forward to. The last couple of months  of 2015 were spent 1) trying to finish our KY home study, and 2) making sure I survived my qualifying exam in one piece. This last one might sound silly, but I promise, the qualifying exam part of a doctorate redefines what it means to take a test. 🙂

Then, somewhere in the first couple months of 2016, came the knowledge that we might move sometime in the coming months. In the process we uncovered some miscommunications, and we battled confusion and frustration as we tried to decide whether to finish the ONE visit and ONE training that remained for our KY home study, knowing that we’d have to start all over if we left. It was a difficult decision, because we were so close and could have tried to complete the adoption there. But we knew that if we were going to relocate, it needed to be before the kids came, so we didn’t ask them to change countries and THEN change homes/states shortly thereafter.

Then came the leaving, and oh-so-fast it was. Tim was offered a job in Colorado Springs and was expected to be there three weeks later, so we threw our belongings into a truck, found a new place to live, and drove away from our home in Kentucky. We knew as we drove westward toward the sunset that we were essentially back at square one with the home study. We settled our belongings and bought some awesome bunk beds that had been donated to the ReStore by the Olympic Training Center when they remodeled (I had to scrape some Olympic gum off of them too, and wished I had a home DNA kit to quell my curiosity). And we started over again with a new home study agency.

Then the kicker. There had been another miscommunication. The ages of children available in Brazil were not at all what we had understood them to be. We prayed, cried a lot, disagreed a bit, wrestled a ton. We met with our Brazil agent to get a better handle on the situation, we looked at other countries (that gets overwhelming enough on its own), we stared at walls feeling a bit dejected. In discouragement, I wondered aloud why God had let us spend a year learning Portuguese. (Tim graciously reminded me that we have Brazilian family and we want to be able to communicate better with them no matter what–Tim for the win.) It began to feel like the whole thing wasn’t real, like we weren’t actually going to get kids but had just been participating in some sort of charade for a year and a half. The adoption was going to get cancelled, just like our bike ride. (Can you tell I was not a bastion of hopefulness in this time?)

Then the turning point. A friend who does home studies mentioned that she had just seen two adoptions from Ethiopia go through, both for young children, both with relatively quick referrals. We looked at the agency, and indeed they were taking new families specifically for Ethiopia. We talked and prayed and wrestled some more for a couple of weeks. After a time away at a Young Life camp, we felt good about moving forward with Ethiopia.

And so here we are, chugging away at a new home study but making progress much more quickly than before. The cost has gone way up, but that’s something we have always tried to refuse worrying about. I mean, it is all going to have to come from God anyway, and I figure a $20,000 increase ain’t no thang to him. And slowly, surely, it begins to feel real again. In fits and starts, we begin to reawaken to the joy of it. And that feels good.

For those of you who have been faithful to check in on us here, we are genuinely sorry for the “almost a year since [we] wrote.” With a little more hope on the horizon, we’ll get our butts in gear and write more consistently. We can’t wait for you, and for us, to meet our kids 🙂


Thoughts on a Canceled Bike Ride

About a week ago Katie and I decided to cancel/postpone our “Biking to Brazil” fundraising ride. (We’re attempting an alternative option… biking 5,000 miles before we travel the 5,000 miles to meet and pickup our children). It was a difficult decision to make, but we believe it was the right one.

The decision has been both disappointing and relieving for me.

Relieving because the pressure and stress of organizing and training for the ride is gone now. The time-crunch that was weighing down on me is gone. I’m not anxious about the route we’ll take… or where we’ll sleep (without spending money)… or the weather… or who can operate an aid station at mile marker #140… or…

Likewise, we still try to bike several times a week, but if we miss a day it isn’t a huge deal. Or, if we decide to bike a short distance one day, it doesn’t matter. We’re still aiming for those 5,000 total miles – but it doesn’t have to happen by tomorrow. (It doesn’t have to happen in this 80-90 degree weather!).

So, it has been relieving…

…but it has also been disappointing.

I was excited to take a long bike ride. … to peddle myself somewhere around 250 miles. …to be able to look at a map and say, “Wow. I traveled from Harrodsburg, Kentucky to Brazil, Indiana using nothing but my own power.” I was excited – as Katie says – to do something “epic.”

More than anything, I was excited to share the experience with Katie.

So, it has been disappointing…

…but then I realize: We get to do something so much more “epic” together.

God willing, we get to adopt a couple of kids from Brazil. We get to be their family, and they ours. We get to raise them as our own.

…and that, I suspect, will be more exhilarating, rewarding, and “epic” than a bike ride.