Tuesday, 31 March 2009

Intimate Allies

I have tried to post some of the resources that we have found helpful while dealing with our loss. The book Intimate Allies has been a wonderful tool for us, even though this book has absolutely nothing to do with grief. But it does deal with something that grief greatly affects: marriage.

Losing a child impacts a marriage. The stress of grief and the pain of coping with loss can push people in different directions. Navigating grief together can be difficult. Some days one person feels bad and the other person doesn't. That feeling of disconnect is very isolating. Jeff and I received some very sound advice early on in this journey, when a friend shared with me that in her experience parents often go through grief differently, and that we needed to be prepared to give each other space and to be understanding.

I picked up Intimate Allies because "working on your marriage" is one of the things suggested during adoption education. I figured it couldn't hurt, and I had read some of Allender and Longman's work in the past, and really enjoyed their perspective. I read the book, as I am the reader in our marriage, and shared some of the principles with Jeff, then we began doing the questions together. For the most part the questions have sparked great conversation and lead us to really open up with each other.

What I really appreciate about this book is that it isn't just about getting along with your spouse, it is about joining with your spouse (as "intimate allies") to discover who you are, stand firm against chaos, help each other grow, become one, and fight against sin. This book reminded me of what I vowed to Jeff on our wedding day, and it was so much more than that we would "just" get along.

I pledged: "To love and support from you this day forward for better or for worse, for richer or for poorer, in sickness and in health, as long as we both shall live. I will strive to consider your needs and best interest in all that we do. I will be faithful to you. I will support you in your endeavors, and I will pray for God's will to be done in our lives."

How can Jeff and I fulfill this pledge that we made if we do not actively work to seek the best from each other? This book has really recalibrated my focus. Although our life together has never been harder than it has been in this past year, this hardship has brought us even closer together. I have never been more secure in my marriage than I am now, and that is saying a lot because our marriage has never been hard. This book is a great one for all married couples- whether you are grieving or not. However, for those of us who have the burden of grief weighing on our marriages, having a resource like this is especially helpful.

Wednesday, 25 March 2009

Maybe I Spoke Too Soon

We heard from our agency last week, and it appears that we may be getting some good news in a few weeks. We won't know until we actually receive our referral (information about an available child), but apparently our lawyer is putting one together and thinks it will be ready soon.

Then, two days ago we received our preliminary court papers. These papers will be used by our lawyer, Isaac, to get us a court date once he has located a baby for us. We have been gathering some supplemental information for him to use as well. Yesterday we both had to get our signatures on the documents notarized too. It has been a busy couple of days.

Please continue to pray for Isaac, as he continues his discernment process and as he gathers the necessary paperwork to share with us.

Pray that God will protect us. We are skittish about receiving our referral, because once we see that picture and look into those eyes we will have something to lose again. Pray that the baby Isaac refers to us will be the baby that God has in mind for us.

Pray for our future baby, wherever he (or she) is, that he will receive good care as he waits for us to bring him home.

We are trying not to get too excited. We are thankful that we got this call, because the wait has been getting harder, and having even a little bit of hope is so refreshing.

Saturday, 21 March 2009

The One Year Book of Hope

A few months ago I wrote a post about a book that Jeff and I found very helpful, Holding on to Hope. The woman who wrote that book also has written a devotional entitled The One Year Book of Hope. We received this book at Christmas, and it has been a blessing to us.

This book is organized weekly by a theme, with daily devotions for five days of the week, plus a meditation and prayer section for a sixth day. The devotions begin with a Bible passage, have a few paragraphs of thoughts on a particular topic, and then have a Bible passage or two to look up along with a question or two to answer. Some examples of themes covered include: "Brokenhearted," "Jesus, Man of Sorrows," "Sufferers," "Why?," "The Mysteries of Heaven," and many others related to the pain of grieving. This devotional is aimed at those who are grieving or suffering, but I believe it is a good devotional that anyone could benefit from regardless of their circumstances.

Jeff and I have been reading the devotion and Bible passage together each day, and we have really enjoyed this time together to reflect on our loss and on the hope that God has given us. The devotions provide needed encouragement and perspective on our situation. This, and Holding on to Hope have been among the best resources we have had during this time.

A few passages that have helped me:

"Is it realistic to think that you and I can worship God, not after we've figured it all out, but as our initial reaction to loss in our lives? Job shows us it is. Worshiping God does not require that we understand or approve of what God has allowed into our lives; it simply requires a heart that desires to trust God and a will that is bent toward obedience to God regardless of our feelings. We worship God because He is worthy, not because we necessarily feel like it. And as we worship in the midst of our pain, we are able to gain perspective on that pain. This is a costly worship- which makes it all the more worthwhile and precious to God."

"Jesus calls us to abandon our own agendas, what we have deemed will please and fulfill us, so that we can embrace the kind and quality of life that only He gives. This is not about adding Jesus to the life we are living. This is about making Jesus our life. This is about putting our plans for our lives to death so that the abundant life He offers has room to take root and grow. And death is always painful. This is not an extreme brand of discipleship only for go-getters. This is a call for everyone who chooses to be a follower of Jesus."

Tuesday, 17 March 2009

March Madness

I usually look forward to Spring. God did not make me for snow. Living in Illinois and enduring the Winter has always been a challenge for me. The first full Winter that I was in Chicago I actually cried when I saw the first blades of green grass coming in. I knew Winter was over, and I had survived (obviously barely since I was crying over grass).

The only thing that I like about Winter is Spring. Buds on the trees, the first tiny purple flowers breaking through the brown dormant grass, and tulips, glorious tulips- they bring joy because of what they signal: the earth coming back to life, the end of bleakness and cold, the coming of Easter. Spring has always made me happy.

Last Spring Jeff and I were so excited. We hit a major pregnancy milestone (heartbeat) in March and started to tell our family about the baby. We prepared to tell our friends. We watched basketball...lots and lots of basketball, because I love March Madness. My sister came for Easter, and we went shopping for maternity clothes, and, of course, watched basketball.

I had really looked forward to Spring this year. Although the snow and the cold often suit my mood very well, I am tired of living in a place of mourning. I believed warm weather heralded hope. The beginning of Lent marked an important time of letting go and learning to trust. I thought things would get easier as the flowers bloomed and the Big Dance got rolling.

I was wrong. I had no enthusiasm for selection Sunday. I haven't even filled out a bracket- and not because UCLA ended their season with some disappointing losses. I am happy for the warm weather, but not really moved by it.

Whenever I think of the things that signal Spring, I am reminded of last Spring. We were so happy, so full of hope. We had just begun to recover from the loss of Jeff's dad. We felt released from the darkness of mourning.

I thought that this Spring would make things easier. It always has before. Instead I have found myself back in a place that I thought I had passed. No matter how many times I am told that grief is a roller coaster, I never really learn the lesson. I am always so surprised by the freshness of my grief when it hits hard. Lately, it has been pounding me into the ground. Every portent of Spring, of life, of warmth, and yes, of March Madness, reminds me of the excitement and expectancy of last year. The pure joy of carrying a child inside of me, a new human part me and part Jeff, that God was knitting in my womb. I am reminded of the dreams we had for our life with our little one, the things we talked about teaching our baby, and the plans we made as a family. We lost something special when we lost Leah. I miss it.

Thursday, 12 March 2009

Africa Time

We thought that we would be receiving some court papers last week, so I have been waiting to post an adoption update until I had something new to write about. But the papers still have not come. Ugh. Africa time. In talking to other parents adopting from Africa and reading their blogs, a reoccurring theme is how much longer everything takes than originally estimated. I have been told that when Americans try to move through bureaucracy in-country, they are often given estimates of when documents will be ready. Then when they return at that time, or on that date, and the documents inevitably aren't ready, the explanation for the delay is "This is Africa." Things just move more slowly there. I understand that. I knew this process would slow down dramatically once we sent our dossier in. I also know that when we are in-country we should expect major delays. What I don't understand is why our lawyer, who deals with Americans, doesn't just give us deadlines that he can meet. If he knows documents will take at least two weeks, but will probably take longer, why not estimate a month? Then, if they are done in two or even three weeks, we would be surprised and happy. Instead, we are left wondering why our paperwork is taking so long! Or, our agency could interpret his timelines for us, and add the extra time.

The thing that frustrates me the most about this, is that I had been waiting quite patiently. I knew that everything I was waiting for was far off. Then, I found out that I might get paperwork, and suddenly, I HAVE to have it. The funny thing is, I'm actually doing really well in my overall attempt to trust that God will take care of this and that it will happen eventually. But boy do I want that paperwork.

This particular paperwork doesn't speed anything up or slow it down, since we do not yet have a baby identified. We do want to have it in place before that occurs though. At the beginning of this month, Isaac told our agency he would have a referral for us by about the end of the month. I am not holding my breath. If getting a few pages of paperwork takes this long, then I am betting the referral will also be delayed.

Please continue to pray for Isaac's search (speed, speed, speed), and our patience. Also, we recently applied for some adoption grants, and got some very good signals (asking for more information, calling our agency and making "positive sounding" statements to them) that we may receive some help, so we would appreciate prayers for God's financial provision as well.

Thank you all for praying and for supporting us on this journey!

Saturday, 7 March 2009

Lost and Found

I recently made a trip to the library and picked up some books on adoption parenting and bonding. As I read through one of the books, Parenting the Hurt Child, I came across a list of things to do with your child. One of the items on the list: "Buy a beautiful candle. Light it for the people you and the child miss," moved me immediately to tears.

The adoption journey is frequently presented as one of loss. Many parents come to adoption after infertility or losing a child. All children who are adopted have lost the care of their birth parents, and many lose all connection to their families and birth cultures.

Even as we prepare for the joy of another baby, we continue to grieve the one we lost. Even though our child will learn to trust and love us and find comfort in our care, he or she will mourn the voices, faces, smells, and textures of their early life. We will all wonder "what if?" for the rest of our lives. What if our genes hadn't been corrupted? What if my mom and dad had lived, or hadn't contracted AIDS, or had the money to feed me?

Although I have learned to cope with my own pain due to loss, I find that it is very difficult to ponder the losses of my future child, and the pain that they will have to go through in order to become eligible to be mine. It saddens me that loss will be such an integral part of our family experience.

One day we will light that candle together and think about the loved ones separated from us. The joy we will have in finding each other and being a family comes with a price. Although our family through adoption wouldn't be a family in a world with no suffering or famines or death, we know that our sorrows will be redeemed through God's work to bring us together. His love will take our broken pieces and make us whole.

Sunday, 1 March 2009

My Lenten Sacrifice

A few years ago Jeff and I joined a small group. Our leader's passion for the spiritual disciplines really impacted my life. I had never met anyone who seemed so willing to give of her time and comfort in order to grow closer to God. The Presbyterian in me suspected she was a bit crazy, or at least, a bit too Baptist. Each week she shared with us her experience with spiritual disciplines and we did weekly assignments to try them out. One of our assignments was to fast. That year she challenged us all to fast on Ash Wednesday, and to consider fasting one day a week throughout the course of Lent.

Fasting is not my favorite activity. I get awfully cranky when I skip a meal. Nevertheless, I gave it a try, and devoted one day a week during Lent to fasting, being mindful on that day to use the act of giving up as a catalyst for prayer and thanksgiving. Since that initial fasting experience, I have always chosen to give something up for Lent. One year I gave all of the money I earned during Lent to clean water projects and micro-loans. Working became so meaningful during that time. Last year I gave up tea and donated the money I would have spent to blood-water mission. That sacrifice was not as great as it might have been had I not already been completely off caffeine because of the pregnancy, though I still missed the comfort of a hot drink during those cold months. Each time I missed having a warm drink, I remembered the plight of those who didn't even have safe drinking water. I enjoyed the experience of giving those things up. I like Lent. Easter feels more meaningful when you prepare for it for it, and long for it to come.

This year, as Lent approached, I realized I didn't want to give anything up. I felt I had sacrificed enough. I don't need to stop eating chocolate to long for Easter. The hope of Easter is all we have had since the 20th of May last year. It feels like we have experienced almost a year of Good Fridays. Everyday we feel the darkness and separation of death acutely, and we long for the light emanating from an empty tomb. There is nothing I can give up for Lent that can possibly compare to the loss of Leah. For me, giving up a material thing feels cheap and useless. How can I give up a cup of tea, and pretend that it matters? How can I call that sacrifice? I knew this year I was being called instead to a sacrifice of the heart.

Pondering Lent takes me back to that day in May, when Jeff and I sat in the ultrasound appointment room at St. Francis. The only place I could bear to look was at the crucifix hanging above the receptionist's desk. My only comfort, as I sat waiting for the confirmation that my baby would die, was that God knew exactly how I felt. He was a father who experienced the grief of watching His only son die. He didn't sympathize with my pain, he knew it.

Yet God knew a deeper pain as well. He grieved not only the loss of His son, but the cruelty of His creation, His people, who nailed that son to a cross. Even though He knew what His son would suffer, He gave Him up to save the very people who drove in the nails. That I cannot relate to.

A God that good deserves my full allegiance. He deserves for me to put everything before Him. I knew I was holding something back. There is only one thing I want that really matters to me right now: a child. I have held on to that desire so tightly, that sometimes I wonder what I would do if God called me to choose between His desires for me, and that dream. I wonder if I would choose a baby over living in God's will. In the process of deciding how to start a family, we have faced many difficult choices. We had to turn down some cheaper and easier options because we felt that they did not align with God's desire for our lives. But it was easier then, because we had options. Now, as we get closer to adopting, I begin to wonder: If I was standing in court, holding my child, and the Judge indicated he didn't want the child in a Christian home, would I lie? Would I look the other way if something seemed strange about my child's background, and I suspected he or she had been taken from a parent unwilling to give them up? Would I be willing to let my desire for a child come before my desire to honor God? How can I believe that I would do the right thing if I cling more tightly to my plans for my life than my trust in God's sovereignty?

On Ash Wednesday I took a walk down to the lake. As I walked, I thought about the nature of sacrifice, and losing Leah, and how I might never have a child to call my own. I am not in the depths of despair. I realize that I probably will have a child. The odds are good that our adoption will succeed, and if it doesn't there are other adoption programs, as well as the possibility of future pregnancies. However, I truly feel that I have to reconcile myself with the truth that God could choose not to give us a child. What I want may not be what He wants for me. He could have a different plan for my life. As for this adoption, I have to place it in His hands. I have to pray that His will will be done. I have been holding on too tightly.

This year my Lenten sacrifice is about letting go. I am giving something up. I am giving up worrying about the adoption (a favorite hobby of mine). I am giving up my belief that God owes me something in return for the loss I have experienced. I am choosing to pray diligently for His will to be done over my own. It isn't easy, but if it was, it wouldn't be a sacrifice.