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.
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.
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.
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?
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 didn’t really know what to expect when we stepped into the house. We only knew it would be a unique experience.
A Nigerian family from our church had invited us to celebrate the 50th birthday of their oldest sister with them. She is visiting America for the first time from Nigeria, and they planned a night of unabated joy.
As the evening wore on, more and more people poured through the doors, all of them dressed head to toe in traditional clothing. The women’s dresses were handmade by one of the sisters, their head wraps bold and bright, heels high, and jewelry big.
We began the evening with a hymn, following by praise songs, words of wisdom from the brother and our pastor, then words of affirmation for the birthday girl from anyone who wanted to speak.
They were effusive in their praise, voices singing loud. No one cared if they were on key or not. It wasn’t about a perfect rendering of the song. It was about praise. It was about joy.
It was a celebration.
“We want to thank God that you are still alive today!” they said, over and over. “We praise God because He could have taken you before today, but He didn’t. He gave you 50 years, and we thank Him for that.”
They pulled out drums and sang, the women all gathering around the celebrated sister, and they danced, laughing and clapping. The younger brother dropped to his knees, his arms raised high to the sky. It was worship. It was celebratory. It was praise.
It was joy.
And I sat in the corner with tears wetting my cheeks because this is the joy I long to fill my home. These people come from a country that has seen deep and lasting hardship, but you wouldn’t know. There was nothing melancholy or solemn about the evening. Only smiles that split wide their faces, and the overflowing joy that comes with praise.
It’s something I’ve seen before. I don’t know why, but I’m forever amazed at the ability of those who have walked through pain and suffering to live in the present with great joy and gladness. But what do I expect?
Why do I look for these things in those whose backgrounds have been less blessed than my own? Is it because I’ve been so immersed in the American mentality my whole life that I falsely and wrongly believe that hardship must naturally be dwelled upon?
Is it because I have seen so many people I know, people who have been unendingly blessed, dwell on hurt feelings and heartaches, simmering in anger rather than living in the blessed beauty of forgiveness and joy?
Oh, America. How much we miss when wrapped inside all our ‘blessing’.
We miss the opportunity for joy when we aren’t willing to look past our anger.
We miss true, unadulterated praise when we get stuck dwelling on the heartaches of the past.
We lose sight of every good thing when we constantly look toward an unknown future in fear.
I’m saddened to think that my country is missing out on a great deal of celebration because we’re so blinded by ease.
Easy Street has made us boring.
“In a word, the future is, of all things, the thing least like eternity. Is is the most completely temporal part of time – for the Past is frozen and no longer flow, and the Present is all lit up with eternal rays.” C.S. Lewis, The Screwtape Letters
Our nation is caught up in the uncertainty of the future right now. We’re rolling in our hopes and our fears, and it’s stealing joy, siphoning it right off before our eyes.
We spend so much time looking into the past, hoping that it will dictate the future, that somehow we seem to have forgotten how to enjoy the present, which is bright with the rays of eternity. The present is where love takes shape – it’s where memories are made, life is lived, and joy is found.
Oh, friends. May we all experience the joy of living in the present today. May we let go of the anger and hurt of the past, and fear not the uncertainties of the future.
May we touch eternity today, right now, in this very moment.
If you haven’t preordered your copy of my novel, Like a River From Its Course, what are you waiting for?* It’s based on the true stories of men and women I spoke with personally – people who did not dwell on the past, but who lived joyfully in the present. This is a book you don’t want to miss!
When I first became I mother, I knew everything there was to know about mothering. As I lay nestled in my hospital bed with Sloan all bundled tight and hot against my chest, I felt a confident calm. Because I had read all the books, so I knew how this was all going to shake down.
I was going to nail motherhood.
Twelve and a half years later, I’m four kids in, and I’ve come to the conclusion that I don’t have a clue what I’m doing. On any given day, I’m pretty sure I’m winging it.
None of my babies, not even the littlest, like to be wrapped tight and lay against my chest for any period of time anymore. They’re busy, and they take their snuggles on the go.
And also, I now understand just how little I know about this act of mothering.
Oddly enough, I haven’t figured it all out. I started out so confidently, and then that swaddled bundle of mine grew into a little boy – a strong-willed little boy with opinions. And then two more joined the fray, and they had opinions.
And then the fourth one came along, and I’ve decided not to allow her to formulate opinions. I’m sure that’s going to work out well for me.
So now I live in a house full of small people, all of them clamoring to make their opinions known, each one pushing back in their own unique way and, quite frankly, there are some days when I think I might lose my mind.
And there are other days when I’m pretty sure it’s already been gone for some time.
So what’s a mom to do when she’s lost her mind, and the children are crying, and the house is a mess, and her husband is out of town, and the insanity of it all just. won’t. stop?
She can start by taking a few deep breaths. In the middle of typing that last sentence, one of my children spilled an entire bowl of cereal. The milk dumped out onto the baby who was standing underneath the table, and I wanted to cry because all I want is to finish a sentence.
Just a sentence.
But you know that thing about crying over spilled milk? Yeah, there’s something to that. Because it was just an accident. He didn’t spill his cereal as an attack on me. He wasn’t trying to interrupt my train of thought.
He was just trying to give his sister a bite of his cereal and his elbow got in the way.
So *deep breath* we cleaned it all up and moved on. Because I know now that damaging their little hearts over an accidental spill isn’t worth it. Growing angry over my children’s childish behavior isn’t productive for them or for me.
As I raise these children of mine, I’m growing up, too. Some days I do great. I take deep breaths, and I smile as I mop up spilled milk.
Other days, I have to leave the room for a few minutes to pull it together.
My friends, Wendy and Amber, have written a wonderful resource for moms to help us as we grow into motherhood. It’s a process, this business of being mom. It’s not innate – not really. Every day is different, every child is different, every life stage is unique, and we have to keep up.
I’m thankful for resources that come along and support my growth as a mom. Using sound biblical guidance, Wendy and Amber have given us tools for dealing with each TRIGGER that might threaten to undo us. We don’t have to do this motherhood gig alone.
If you feel like you’re drowning and you can’t get a handle on the emotions that accompany parenting, I highly recommend this book.
Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’m off to mop up a sticky floor. And also, the toddler has gotten really quiet. That’s never, ever a good thing.
After a week of steady rain, attitudes and annoyances all rubbed up tight against one another to form the perfect storm of insanity inside our home. From the moment the day began, the small people in our midst were clawing at one another’s throats.
You know how little baby tigers play with each other, tumbling around, nipping at one another’s ears and pawing at each other’s faces, and you wonder if they’re fighting or playing?
It was just like that here, but they were definitely fighting.
Even Lee and I felt the stress of a long couple of days, griping at each other in frustration over silly little things. And so the day went with all of us tired and annoyed, and feeling a little trapped.
Not to be outdone, Annika got in on the insanity of the day. Somehow she managed to fall over backward on the hard tile floor four times. By the last tumble, I was exasperated as she wailed and screeched. I was ready to sell the house, and move into a home made of rubber and foam, in a place where it never ever rains, and children never argue, and you can eat all the Nutella you want without repercussion.
If I’m going to dream up a utopia, it’s going to involve Nutella. Amen?
After dinner, the kids asked to watch a movie, and I was tempted to say yes. It would keep them quiet, and meant I could disengage almost completely. But somehow I knew that sitting in front of the TV was the wrong response. So did Lee.
“We’re going to the park,” he announced, and was immediately met with groans.
“But it’s raining. I don’t feel like it. I’m tired.”
The list of complaints went on and on. We ignored them and ushered our little tigers out the door and into the grey outdoors.
There was a break in the weather, so I plopped Annika into the stroller and walked her the half mile to the park where Lee met us. As soon as we arrived it started raining again, and my frustration level hit a high note.
WHY WITH ALL THE RAIN?!
All we wanted was a little free space to spread out – couldn’t God hold off the rain for thirty minutes so we could regroup? I expressed my frustration in a whispered prayer to the Lord.
And then I stopped. Because it was silly to feel frustrated over rain. I knew that it was. Besides, it was more of a steady mist, so why not make the most of it?
While the boys hit the tennis ball through the misty air, the girls and I headed to the swings, and it was there that I found a glimmer of hope at the end of a long day.
As Annika moved back and forth through the weepy sky, her face lit up and giggles erupted. Tia laughed in return, blonde hair slowly growing damp as the rain cleansed us all of the anger that had followed us to the park.
For twenty minutes, we played in the rain. Even the dog enjoyed herself, wandering freely off her leash in the field behind the playground. It was exactly what we needed, and isn’t it funny how water can do that? Cleanse and renew? It’s always that way, isn’t it? And so I was reminded:
As we drove home, all damp and a little chilled, I found myself whispering a prayer of thanksgiving for our opportunity to play in the rain. It wasn’t the way I wanted it to happen, and it didn’t solve all the frustrations of the day.
But once I changed my perspective, I found that the rain was what we needed all along.
The goal now, of course, is to keep that attitude as it appears it’s not going to stop raining here in Florida for the foreseeable future.
Send a lifeboat. And Nutella. And maybe a little wine if you’re so inclined.