We Adopted, We All Got Sick, And I’m Launching a New Novel: An Update

We Adopted, We All Got Sick, And I’m Launching a New Novel: An Update

There really isn’t a non-awkward way to begin this post. It’s been nearly ten months since I last posted in this space. In internet years that’s practically a lifetime.

A lot can (and did) happen in ten months. For those of you who don’t follow me on Facebook or Instagram, here is the abridged version of events.

We adopted Sawyer in November, and while we thought we were prepared for the adoption journey, there was much about Sawyer’s health that wasn’t disclosed to us, so the learning curve has been straight uphill.

Sawyer Jin Stuart

Shortly after bringing Sawyer home, when we were still reeling from the whirlwind that was China, our oldest son got sick. After a solid month of running a fever, and an ultrasound that revealed a swollen spleen, he was diagnosed with mono. A month after that, he was diagnosed with pneumonia.

On the same day that he was diagnosed with pneumonia, I was diagnosed with mono. This happened to be the same day that Sawyer had major surgery to repair his cleft palate.

The months of January-April are a bit of a blur. We were just trying to survive. We have seen more doctors and specialists than I ever knew existed, and we’ve met our family medical deductible for the first time in our lives, an accomplishment that isn’t nearly as exciting as it sounds.

And here we are, on the other side. Survivors.

Suddenly, my dream from way back in early September seems almost prophetic, doesn’t it?

There’s so much more I could share about these last ten months. They have been some of the hardest, most exhausting, emotionally charged, physically taxing, spiritually formative months of my entire life.

But it’s more than a simple blog post can handle, so I’ll simply leave it at this:

God is good because He is God. Hope is slow, but it is never ending. Life is hard and unpredictable while simultaneously beautiful and miraculous.

In the midst of this hard season, I’ve found myself craving the process of writing like never before. It was my lifeline when the mono knocked me out. In the wee hours of the morning, when fear and despair seemed to constantly drive me from my bed, tapping away at the keys brought and unexpected solace.

And through the storm of life, a new story has evolved.

This fall, I will release my second novel, A Silver Willow by the Shore.

Releasing Fall, 2019!

A brief synopsis:

How do you face the future if you don’t know your own past? 

When an unexpected pregnancy changes her dreams, seventeen-year-old Annie tries to keep it from her mother and her grandmother.  But secrets have a way of coming out.  In a household of strong women, the arrival of a new life sets off a spiral of truth that reveals a past full of whispers and lies—a past that existed in another world under the heavy hand of Soviet oppression.  This history has dictated the circumstances of the present, but hope, redemption, and forgiveness will grow in the rocky places of these generational differences.
A Silver Willow by the Shore is the story of the unshakeable love between mothers and daughters and of the impact that past decisions can have on present day circumstances. This novel weaves together the stories of generations of women, from the gulags of 1930’s Siberia, to the quiet oppression of 1980’s Soviet Moscow, to present day Tennessee.  It is an unforgettable narrative of the treachery of secrets, and of the light that unites the heart of a family.

 

In the weeks to come, I will be sharing more about the book and opportunities to help spread the word. In the meantime, if you aren’t following me on Instagram, hop on over as I’m posting updates there regularly about this newest novel, my crazy life, and the art of the written word.

It’s awkward to jump back in this way after so many months away. It’s like trying to reinsert yourself into a conversation that you walked away from.

But here we are. We’re alive and (mostly) well. We’re surviving, and perhaps even thriving. By God’s grace alone, we’re standing in this place, humbled, changed, and excited about what the future holds.

 

Now, fill me in on you! What has life thrown your way in the last ten months?

Hope Is Slow: The Story of Adoption: Part III

Hope Is Slow: The Story of Adoption: Part III

If I’m honest, (and I’m going to be), I have been waiting since day one for the bottom to drop out of this adoption thing. Every time an email showed up in my inbox from the adoption agency, I braced myself for the news that for whatever reason we would not be able to move forward.

There is trauma involved in a terminated adoption.

But every step of the process was smooth. It was like floating out on the ocean on a calm morning, the water smooth as glass all around us, sun warming our faces. Each stroke of the oar pushed us further along without the glimmer of a wave to hold us back.

It was a bit unnerving.

I knew it couldn’t possibly remain so smooth. It’s not just the unpredictability of adoption that threatened to shake us. It goes much deeper than that.

Adoption is spiritual.

The battle for the life of a child begins at conception. Satan hates children. Their vulnerability makes them an easy target. Christ Himself esteemed children in a day and age when kids were not considered a commodity, but rather a property, good only for extra help around the home and the farm.

“Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for to such belongs the kingdom of heaven.” Matthew 19:14

Children are the least of these. They are blessings and gifts, and they will always be in the crosshairs of the spiritual war we battle in this fallen world.

And the fatherless? Well, what better way for the devil to wreak havoc on a desperate and deprived world than to make sure children never find the security of a family?

Walking in faith toward adoption is a step onto one of the greatest heavenly battlefields, and there are bound to be repercussions.

The chaos in my dream was more than mere coincidence. It was more than the result of sleep deprivation and a movie. The chaos in my dream was a true representation of the battlefield we are traversing.

In the last few months, it has become more apparent to me than ever that we are under spiritual attack. From a hole in our roof that we can’t seem to get a roofer to replace, (we can’t even get anyone to call us back!) to a car accident, to tensions inside and outside our home, to a very bizarre glitch with the immigration code given to our adopted son that threatened to set us back months in going to pick him up.

I can easily wave all these off, pushing them aside as merely coincidental. We should have called a roofer months ago before the rainy season hit. I should have kept my eyes on the road instead of glancing at my daughter’s new ring. We just need to slow down and take a breath. That immigration coding issue could happen to anyone.

There is truth in all the above statements, and I’m certainly not one to look for the devil beneath every rock, but I also believe that satan wants to throw everything into chaos so that when we pick up our son, we are already worn down, beaten, stressed, and at odds.

We are on the bus, looking out both windows. Panic ensues. The world around us is in chaos, burning, tilting, crumbling.

And then someone hands us a child.

I think there are spiritual implications to my dream, and I’m not taking it lightly. I believe that the child represents our adopted son. Every time I held that baby in my arms, the panic and fear I felt abated. A calm washed over me, despite the fact that the world continued to rage.

Despite all the craziness that has been tossed at us these last six months, I don’t for a second doubt that Sawyer is meant to be our son. And so, despite the fact that water keeps dripping into my walls, my car is still in the shop, and the general feeling in life right now is we’re a half a step behind everything, I feel peace when I remember that this little boy is worth every battle.

Beyond that, it is apparent that the child in my dream is a representation of Christ Himself. The two are connected, our Chinese son and our God. Clinging to Christ is the only thing that makes the chaos less…chaotic.

We are in a battle, a war for the ages. Satan wants nothing more than to destroy this adoption, and why?

Because it is a picture of the gospel. It’s a picture of what Christ has done for us. It’s a picture of Christ Himself.

There’s nothing special about our family. We aren’t better than anyone else because we chose to walk this path. We aren’t stronger. In fact, we feel anything but strong right now.

But though the world rages, though the battle grows fierce, though the waves rise, interrupting our smooth as glass ride, though the roof above our head lets in the rain, though the path feels unsteady, still we take tentative steps forward, obediently walking toward not just a call but a command.

“Pure and undefiled religion in the sight of our God is this: To visit orphans and widows in their distress, and to keep oneself unstained by the world.” James 1:27

We believe Sawyer is worth the fight. We believe our four biological children are worth the fight. We believe that Christ is the sustainer, the protector. We believe that the world will keep raging, but our hearts don’t have to falter.

In roughly two months, we will pick up our son. This isn’t the end of our adoption story.

It’s only the beginning…

 

 

Hope is Slow: The Story of Adoption (Part II)

Hope is Slow: The Story of Adoption (Part II)

Hurricane Florence has stalled out over the Atlantic as the Carolinas hunker down and wait for her to make landfall. I’m watching it all unfold with a mild sense of PTSD after we rode out Irma last year (which hit us at a Category 2 when it was all said and done).

It’s an odd sensation, preparing for a hurricane. Your mind is a whir of details as you decide what valuables you need to try and secure, and which ones you need to be okay with losing. Suddenly, you find that you’re able to boil down the most important things in your life to only a handful of people and possessions.

You prepare for the worst, and you hope for the best. There’s an analogy here.

 

 

Back in late January, I got an email from Rainbow Kids, an adoption and child welfare advocacy group that sends out lists of children who are waiting for their forever families. These are usually the children who are most vulnerable, have special needs, or risk aging out of the orphanage and losing their right to be adopted.

I don’t remember ever having signed up for this list, nor had I ever seen an email from them before. It’s quite possible I’d been receiving these emails for years and simply hadn’t noticed, but for whatever reason, on January 28 I had an email in my inbox with the subject line “Waiting Child: Sawyer”.

Way back in 2005, when I was pregnant with our second child, my husband and I happened to be mildly obsessively addicted to the show LOST. We chose not to find out the sex of that second baby, and after much discussion and convincing, I got my husband to agree to name the baby Sawyer. It was partly in homage to our favorite show, and partly just a name I loved.

Then our daughter, Katya, surprised us all (shattering a long-running streak of Stuart males), and the name Sawyer was reluctantly retired. When our third child came along, Sawyer didn’t fit, and so I resigned myself to the idea that I’d never get to utilize that name I’d so come to love.

So on this day in January, I opened that email merely out of curiosity because of the name “Sawyer”, and when I did, the most beautiful little boy I’d ever seen stared back at me. He had a head full of thick, black hair, large curious eyes, round cheeks, and the sweetest little lips.

And he needed a home. The only problem?

 

He was in China, and this hadn’t been part of our family plan.

 

I called Lee that day and tentatively told him about the little boy nicknamed “Sawyer” who needed a home. I figured he’d shake his head and laugh at me. My sweet husband has endured many a phone call in our eighteen years of marriage about children who needed homes. This longing to adopt isn’t something that sprung up in my heart overnight.

It was planted in me many, many years ago. Why I’ve had to wait this long to see the Lord answer this desire in this particular way is a mystery to me. All I can say is Hope is Slow.

So as I explained the situation to Lee, he listened quietly and said, “Okay. Let’s get more information.”

Then…I LAUGHED! I thought he was kidding. But he wasn’t, and so I emailed to inquire about the little boy in my inbox. By the end of that week, we’d spoken with numerous specialists and medical professionals who helped us read his file and get an idea of what issues he faced. We’d called a couple of friends in the adoption community and asked their opinions.

And then we just…made a decision. There was no A-ha moment that made us jump up and say “Yes! This is our son!” It was more an understanding that this situation was in front of us, and we had no reason to say no.

We took tentative steps forward, and within two weeks we were meeting with a local agency to begin our home study. We had just submitted our Letter of Interest to China less than two days earlier, which requested permission to pursue the adoption of this specific child, and we’d been told to expect a reply in 10-14 days.

As I drove to the home study agency, I was seized with fear. It felt a little like the beginnings of a hurricane swarming in my mind. Thoughts swirled, and my stomach tied in knots. Fear gripped me as I thought of all the possible things that could go wrong.

What if we ended up walking through another terminated adoption? What if the adoption went through, but the child had issues we weren’t prepared to face? What if he couldn’t transition to a large family? What if this damaged our biological children? 

Round and round, the fears buzzed and hummed, and by the time I arrived at the agency’s office, I was approaching a full blown panic. “Lord!” I called out, tears stinging the corners of my eyes. “If this is wrong, then stop it now. Don’t let us move forward. But if it’s right, please show me that it’s right.”

I sat in the quiet for a moment, gathering my thoughts, before reluctantly pushing open the door to head inside and meet with our social worker.

And then my phone pinged.

I looked at it and saw an email had come through. The email was from the adoption agency that held Sawyer’s file.

“Kelli,” it read. “You have been granted approval by China to pursue this adoption. This came through incredibly fast. We rarely see it happen this quickly. Congratulations!”

Hope is Slow. Hope is Real. Hope is Here.

To be continued…

(And I promise to get back to the dream in Part I. It’s all coming full circle if you’ll stay with me.)

Sparkle in the Cracks

Sparkle in the Cracks

I’ve been at this parenting gig for awhile now. Not long enough to call myself an expert, but definitely long enough to feel like I’ve got a handle on a few things. Of course, I’ve got a teenager now, and a tween right behind him, so on any given day I pretty much feel like I’m winging it in some way or another.

Besides that, however, I’m pretty sure I’m nailing this motherhood thing. AS IF IT’S HARD!

Every once in awhile, though, I’m thrown for a loop, and it’s usually by something fairly benign. Sometimes the old lessons that I feel like I should have mastered come back to bite me in the backside, and I find myself back at square one, looking at all these small people and wondering why there are so many of them and what on this side of heaven could they possibly want from me?!

Slime.

My 11-year-old is currently obsessed with making slime – making homemade slime in one of my tupperware dishes. And what does one do with homemade slime, you might ask?

Well, I asked the same question and I got “the look”. You know…the look that kids throw your way that make it ten shades of obvious you are completely clueless to anything really important in life. It’s the look that says you should probably just go ahead and give up, because clearly you are failing at life.

“You play with it, Mom,” she answered, and I felt like I needed to apologize for even asking the question. “It’s very satisfying.”

Then she had me stick my hands in the slime and squish it around, and…okay yes, the way it rolled through my fingers was kind of satisfying.

Then she took her tub of slime to her room, and I stared at the aftermath and felt my blood begin to boil ever so slightly, because making slime is a messy endeavor. It involves Borax and shaving cream and glue, and then you throw in food coloring, because obviously. And you top it off with glitter because everyone knows that the world spins on an axis of glitter.

The agreement we’d struck in this whole “slime making” ordeal was that she had to clean up after herself, and she did that as well as any 11-year-old would, which means there were faint streaks of shaving cream spanning the width of the table, half dried drips of glue running down the sides of the chair, and Borax crystals crunching beneath my feet.

But the piece de resistance was the glitter that now permanently resides in the cracks of my table. My brand new table. The table that Lee and I spent actual dollars on for the first time in our adult lives. Every table before this one was a hand me down. The last table was in such bad condition that it became a hazard to anyone who attempted to sit at it.

But this new table is a gem, and now it sparkles. Hot pink sparkles, to be exact.

My initial reaction was indignation. I mean, how dare she?! Why couldn’t she be more careful? WHY DID SHE NEED TO MAKE SLIME IN THE FIRST PLACE?!

So many questions, none of them with decent answers, and as I set to trying to remove as much of the glitter as I could the two year old came tearing by me, belly laughing at the top of her lungs while her brother chased close behind.

“Hi Mommy!” she yelled as she ran past, and then she crashed into the end table where someone had left a cup of lemonade, which immediately spilled and scattered across the floor I had mopped just moments earlier.

I wanted to cry. I wanted to erase all the glitter, and silence all the noise, and dump slime over all the heads, then drink wine and eat ice cream and wallow in my own self pity.

I opened my mouth to let out a sigh of frustration, but then I caught her eyes. They were big and wide, and full of toddler remorse, and it stopped me in my tracks.

I felt suddenly so foolish because hadn’t I already learned this lesson 100 times over? Don’t I know that these children don’t keep – that they grow and suddenly they’re not into slime, but boys and makeup and trendy clothes?

I knelt down in front of her and gave her a big hug, squishing her soft cheek against mine because it sinks in and feels so sweet. She threw her arms around my neck and squeezed hard, then kissed me straight on the mouth.

“I wuv you!” she yelled, then off she ran again while I pulled out a rag to mop up the lemonade that was sure to make our feet stick for days.

And now I’m sitting at my table alone. The kids are all in bed, and I’m here typing out the story of a day when I had to relearn the lesson that babies don’t keep, and that spilled lemonade isn’t worth losing my cool.

And while I write, the table sparkles in the glowing lights, flecks of pink glitter lighting up the cracks right in front of my eyes.

It’s really quite lovely.

On Family, Accidents, and Doing Things Right

It was an accident.

Accidents are never intentional, and he certainly didn’t intend for this to happen. But it did, and it scared him. It scared all of us. The sound of her head reverberated off the concrete floor with a sickening thud, and everyone near cringed and gasped, because that’s a sound that gets stuck in your gut and settles there awhile.

While we talked with friends, he was entertaining his sister nearby. She giggled with delight as he grabbed her and tossed her in the air. Until that last time when she flung her head back, slipping from his grasp and hitting the floor.

annikaoh2

My husband immediately ran to her, picking her up and cradling her as gently as only a father can as she whimpered in his arms. And while my heart raced at the thought of a possible concussion, I couldn’t help but shift my eyes to him. My first born. The only one of our kids so far to suffer a concussion.

I’ve never forgotten the sound of him falling down the stairs. He wasn’t much younger than she is now, yet I can still hear the thud as he landed at the bottom. He whimpered just like her. But then he started vomiting violently.

We spent a day and a half in the hospital while he recovered from the fall, and I worked my way out of the cloud of guilt and shame that settled on my young shoulders. I should have been watching him closer. I should have taken off his shoes. He could have broken his neck. It could have been so much worse.

I know the regret that comes with the sound of a head hitting the floor too hard.

And so as Lee walked and comforted her, checking her eyes and soothing her fear, I went to him. Because I could see the horror in his eye. He adores his sister. He was terrified that he’d caused harm.

But it was only an accident.

He walked toward a corner of the room, trying to escape the prying eyes, and maybe the guilt that was shuddering its way into his heart, but I wasn’t about to let that happen.

I grabbed him, and pulled him in for a tight hug. He resisted at first, anger a mask for sheer terror, but I held tighter until he finally stopped pulling away. That’s when he started to cry.

He’s taller than me now, and he weighs almost as much as I do. Hugging him is a little like hugging Marmaduke – he’s a giant, but he’s still just a puppy.

“I’m so sorry,” he whispered. “I didn’t mean to.”

Of course you didn’t.

I walked him (half dragged, really) over to see that she was okay. She was going to be fine. No signs of concussion. A little stunned and shaken up, but otherwise fine.

I could see relief swimming in his bright, blue eyes. But it would be a little while before the fear  began to subside.

She really is fine. We watched her closely for a few days for any signs of concussion and saw none. We rejoiced in that, because we all adore her.

I’m writing this morning while the darkness still hovers over the ocean right outside my door. Lee and I snuck away for a night because we needed it. We needed to reconnect after an intense season.

sanibel

I’ve been exhausted and fatigued the last few months. Early mornings followed by long days have pushed me to the edge of my sanity. It’s been a good season – I’m not complaining – but even the good can leave one drained.

It was as though life had settled upon us with the same reverberating thud that we heard when Annika’s head hit the floor. It’s left us stunned and a little disoriented, but not really wounded. We just needed a minute to collect ourselves.

We needed to look at one another and remember that we matter. Our marriage matters. 

There’s something so unique and melding about family. All these personalities all meshed up against one another provide plenty of opportunity for conflict, and sometimes we do things wrong. Sometimes we forget how to love well.

But sometimes we don’t.

Wrapping him in a hug that afternoon instead of checking on her was the right thing to do.

Getting away, just the two of us, for twenty-four hours was the right thing to do.

Family is sacrifice – it’s finding the little moments of each day that matter and falling in to them. I miss the mark on this often, but every once in awhile I do it right.

And the right is what keeps us pressing on.

 

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We’re all Aly Raisman’s Parents, and We All Deserve a Hug

The Olympics are killing me.

This happens every four years. The greatest sports competition in the world takes the stage, and I forget to sleep for two weeks. I try to be a responsible adult, and I tell myself over and over that I won’t stay up and watch every event, but I’m a sucker for human interest stories, and the Olympics drags me kicking and screaming into the arena.

United States' Simone Biles bites her gold medal for the artistic gymnastics women's individual all-around final at the 2016 Summer Olympics in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, Thursday, Aug. 11, 2016. (AP Photo/Dmitri Lovetsky)

United States’ Simone Biles bites her gold medal for the artistic gymnastics women’s individual all-around final at the 2016 Summer Olympics in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, Thursday, Aug. 11, 2016. (AP Photo/Dmitri Lovetsky)

We’re a week into this event, and I’ve got the bags under my eyes to prove it, but it’s been worth it to cheer on the athletes. Plus, it’s provided a tiny bit of motivation to get back to the gym and actually put in a modicum of effort.

Because when you watch the sacrifices these athletes have made, it sort of obliterates any excuses one may have to skip that extra round of crunches.

Last night, I watched once again as athlete after athlete finished first, second, third…

I watched Michael Phelps smoke the field in the 200 IM. I watched Simone Biles soar to the top of the podium in what I’d call her destiny (if I believed in destiny).

And I blinked back tears as so many of them rushed into the stands to hug their moms after it was all said and done.

Parenting children is the ride of a lifetime.

We know everything about these kids of ours, from their greatest strengths to the weaknesses that threaten to hold them back, and we walk the razor thin line of knowing when to push, and when to step away.

We make mistakes along the way, and we will always wish we did something better. At the end of the day, most of us know we won’t watch our children get a gold medal hung around their necks.

But all of us, without doubt, will watch as our children navigate the world of growing up. We’ll cheer them on from the sidelines of life, sometimes with our hands over our eyes, waiting with bated breath to see just how far they’ll go.

Let’s face it – We’re all Aly Raisman’s parents. Some of us mask it better, but all of us feel like a nervous wreck at times watching our kids grow up.

Today is a shout out to all the awesome parents who are doing the hard work. This is for the parents who are pushing their kids to succeed, and the ones who are cringing when they fall short.

This is for the parents who are wondering if they’re not doing enough, and for those who feel like they’re pushing too hard.

This is for all of us who are trying to do the best that we can, wishing we had a crystal ball to give us the outcome and save us so much emotional stress.

This is for the parents of potential Olympians, future business leaders, possible missionaries, someday stay-at-home moms, and young men who will work hard to provide for their families.

This is for all of us raising kids in a world that feels scary and dangerous.

Maybe we will cheer them on to gold someday, or maybe we won’t. Either way, we’re doing a heckuva a job. 

We will all deserve a great big hug at the end of this road.

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