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.
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.
[Tweet “What better way for the devil to wreak havoc than to keep children from the security of a family?”]
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.
[Tweet “Adoption is a picture of Christ Himself. #adoption”]
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.
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.
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!”
We sat close to the back of the plane, on a (mercifully) half full flight. Taking turns, Lee and I passed Annika back and forth across the aisle, her indignant wails reverberating off the airplane walls in a cacophony of torture.
We avoided contact with the other passengers as much as possible, but when a furtive glance was accidentally exchanged, we were mostly met with pitying stares. Thank you, kind people of Southwest flight 2150. Your patience was noted and deeply appreciated.
As the plane made it’s descent, she finally collapsed on Lee’s shoulder, gasping and snorting from ALL THE CRYING. With five minutes left in our flight, she fell fast asleep, completely exhausted by toddlerhood. And in the few minutes of silence that followed, I reflected on just how far I’ve come.
I thought back to the time when Lee and I flew with Sloan to California and he, too, had an epic melt down on the plane. I was so stressed, near tears myself, entirely frustrated with my uncontrollable toddler. I was certain his behavior was a reflection of my poor mothering, and I’m pretty sure I vowed on that flight that I would never, ever, in a million years have another child because MOTHERING IS TOO HARD!
Yesterday, however, as Annika screamed bloody murder, Lee and I simply laughed. We found her screeching wails quite humorous, mostly because the look on her face was so accusatory. I’m pretty sure she cussed us out more than once as we forced her to sit in our laps.
More than anything, though, I realized that what would have sent me into a fit of frustrated tears and angst a decade ago now only left me mildly amused. I don’t have time to worry about mid-flight temper tantrums anymore. And I also have the experience to know it won’t last forever.
This was one small moment in a very long timeline of events.
I was twenty-five when I had my first baby. I didn’t yet have wrinkles on my forehead, and the weight from that first pregnancy melted away like magic within six months.
I was quite idealistic back then, and even though I tried not to show it, I pretty much thought I had the whole motherhood thing figured out. At least I thought so until that tiny baby grew into a little human with ideas and opinions. Very strong opinions. Very, very strong opinions.
By the time baby number four arrived at thirty-six, I had changed in more ways than one. There are now these pesky lines across my forehead that mock me every time I look in the mirror, and the baby weight hasn’t so much melted away this time around as it’s sort of just shifted around and informed me it doesn’t intend to go without a fight.
I’m no longer idealistic, and I’ve found that motherhood isn’t something you figure out. You only live it, one step and one cup of coffee at a time.
While I would like to have the smooth forehead and wicked fast metabolism of my youth back, I’m not really sure I’d want to relive those days. I’m better now – more comfortable in my skin, more confident with my dreams, and far more open to the kinks that my children like to throw in my otherwise well-planned days.
So bring it on, kids! I’m Mom-ing like a boss these days, so you can come at me with your temper tantrums and your eye-rolling. I may not always handle it perfectly, but I can guarantee I’m more likely to laugh than cry, because I know something now that I didn’t know then:
This is one small moment in a very long timeline of events.
Yesterday has passed.
Today is a new day.
And the baby is now three hours into a nap.
Life is so good.
Has anyone else experienced the hell of a screaming toddler on a plane? Do share. We can commiserate with one another.
He turned the dial and the music cranked, pulsating my (smokin’ hot) minivan as we puttered down the road. Grabbing my camera, he held it out in front of us and snapped a photo, documenting the moment…and Landon’s apparent chagrin.
When we gave Sloan his iPod for Christmas, we loaded it full of music first. We wanted to make sure he had a wide variety of classics, so we downloaded Frank Sinatra, Coldplay, Lacrae, vintage Audio Adrenaline, Michael Buble, Patty Griffin and, of course, DC Talk.
Because we are good Christian parents.
Jesus Freak now blares boldly through the speakers inside our home, and our cars. We jam our way down the road, singing at the top of our lungs:
What will people think when they hear that I’m a Jesus Freak?
What will people do when they find that it’s true?
I don’t really care if they label me a Jesus Freak.
There ain’t no disguising the truth.
We sing and play wicked air guitar, and Lee and I feel good about the theology we’re passing down to our children. I mean, c’mon man: People say I’m strange. Does it make me a stranger? My best friend was born in a manger.
DON’T PRETEND YOU’RE NOT SINGING ALONG!
And so it was that we jammed our way down the road when we passed a police car and ambulance stopped on the shoulder, reaching in to help an older man who had veered off into a side rail. Sloan immediately turned the music down and watched intently as we drove past.
“Oh man,” he said quietly. “That looked bad. What do you think happened?”
I glanced at the situation and told him I had no idea, then I waited for him to turn the music back up so we could go back to our jam. He twisted the dial and the car filled with the bass and drums and electric guitar, and I moved right past the man in his car. But not Sloan. He sat still for a minute, then turned the music back down.
“Sorry mom,” he said. “But…I just…um…can I pray for that man back there?”
I quit drumming along and nodded my head. “Of course you can!” I exclaimed.
“Okay,” he replied. “Good. I’m gonna pray. You pray with me. But don’t close your eyes, okay?! I mean, I think that you should keep them open while you drive.”
He then proceeded to pray the sweetest prayer for a stranger on the side of the road. Prayer for safety and healing. Prayer for wisdom for doctors, and for the man not to feel too badly about the accident. It was tender-hearted and generous, and it stopped me in my tracks.
On any given day, I am certain that I am failing this motherhood gig. I get frustrated with them. I nag. I yell. I overreact. I read with one kid, and let the other two down. I focus on the baby too much, and the older three feel neglected.
It’s easy to get lost in the faults, and to see every flaw in myself and the children. He loses his temper, she is stubborn as the day is long, and he can’t lose graciously.
(Nothing is wrong with Annika, yet. So far she is perfect…like a tiny Mary Poppins)
I get lost in all our shortcomings, and I miss the amazing little people that they’re growing up to be, and the good job I’m doing at being their mom. He gets angry, yes – but he’s also the first to ask forgiveness, and has a heart of mercy the size of Texas.
She’s stubborn, yes – but she’s also deeply empathetic and compassionate. She begs to buy groceries for the man living in a tent behind Target because she feels the weight of his circumstance.
He can’t lose a game without falling apart, yes – but he’s also a peacemaker, quick to smooth things over when arguments break out.
It’s easy to lose sight of the good things in our children when we get lost in the day to day, hectic living. We get swallowed up by all the hard and the long days all mold one into another, and we start missing it altogether. And then they do something that takes our breath away, and remind us that this motherly work we’re doing is a worthy and good use of our time.
[Tweet “Mom, as the madness and mayhem threaten your sanity, remember this: you’re doing a good job.”]
You’re working so hard to teach them how to live generous lives, and it’s hard! The rough edges of their little personalities need so much refining, but don’t lose sight of the diamonds that are shining through beneath the surface. You’re polishing little gems.
You may not see the reward right now, but one day when you least expect it, you may just find yourself being reminded of the impact that you’re having on your children.
And they will also help you remember what it felt like to empathize deeply with the world around you. Untainted by life and adulthood, they see the world through innocent eyes. It’s in those moments you find them teaching you instead of the other way around. That’s what happened to me yesterday.
All it took was a dirty minivan, DC Talk, and the simple prayer of a tenderhearted twelve-year-old.
The blend of familiar chords filled the room, and I closed my eyes. It had been a long few days, and I felt the weight of life squeezing my throat tight. I was tired, my eyes so heavy, the knot in my neck pulling my head slightly to the side.
“Joy to the World, the Lord is Come. Let earth receive her King!”
The melody washed over and through me, and I didn’t sing. I just listened. I was too weary to add my own voice, so I just let the song envelope me.
Christmas songs bring comfort. They are so familiar, and they carry with them years of memories, of happy times and joy filled moments. In a season of weary fatigue, the words and the melody felt like rest.
This Christmas will be a different one for our family. A bittersweet Christmas, indeed. The cancer of a loved one forces us to take it slower this year – to cherish the moments more sweetly – to look for the miracle of healing because that’s all we have left.
I believe He can speak life and health back into my father-in-law’s body.
I trust Him to be good whether or not He does.
We also have the awesome privilege of bringing our sweet “K” back to us for Christmas. How mysterious God is to ordain these two events in such a way. How awesome is His power to dictate that we should feel both immense joy, and desperate sadness, all at the same time.
“Let every heart. Prepare Him room. And heaven and nature sing.”
I’ve written about Love before, and I’ve pondered the beauty of suffering. Walking in faith is easy sometimes. It’s easy to say “I believe” in the face of great joy and peace. But when the soul cries out without the promise of an answer, faith becomes a wrestling match.
Like Jacob with the angel, I tussle with my Savior. I call Him Sovereign, and I question His actions. I praise His goodness, and lament His silence. I waver, then accept, then waver, then accept.
“He rules the world with truth and grace. And makes the nations prove. The glories of His righteousness.”
When the wrestling is finished, I hobble away, and still His Love pulls me back. You don’t wrestle with the Savior and come away unscathed. But the scathing is like a healing – the fire burning away the parts of me that cling to this world, the selfish pieces of my heart that seem so firmly attached to the things I can see and understand.
I don’t understand cancer, and I can’t see the glory of heaven. I doubt, and I question, and I wish that pain wasn’t so…painful. I open my eyes and look at the Christmas decorations up front, and it hits me that the story of Christmas has to be true. If it isn’t, then what is the point of my wrestling?
I battle because I want to believe, and the wrestling points me to Christ every. single. time.
This Christmas will be bittersweet as we cling to the One who came to earth as a humble infant. He was the One they prophesied about for hundreds of years. He was born in a manger, and His birth set into motion a life that pointed to a Creator. He would grow into a man who died on a tree so that I might live.
So that our family could have hope in the face of uncertainty. So that we could hope for a miracle, take comfort in the knowledge of heaven, and cling to peace when life feels foggy.
“And wonders of His Love.”
He tugged on my sleeve and motioned me down. I leaned over, and his lips pressed against my ear, sending a shiver down my spine. He’s the one with the freckled face – the one who is asking a lot of questions, and seeking for the answers. I felt his hot breath, and my heart leapt with a fierce love.
“Is Jesus real?” he whispered. I glanced at his big, blue eyes, so full of wonder and hope, and the lump in my throat dissolved. There are so many things I don’t know – so many questions that feel unanswered. But not this one. The answer to this question is Joy to the world.
I lean down and press my mouth against his ear, and he pulls his shoulder up with a tickled grin.
“Yes,” I breath. One syllable, filled with conviction.
He grabs my hand and smiles, his nose inches from mine. “Good,” he whispers.