May 11, 2018

The Journey of Surrender


It is a pretty spectacular thing: watching a family be born right in front of your eyes. To see years of prayers answered in a moment. Hopes fulfilled with sweet recognition, tentative hugs and hellos. It is a sacred moment that is full of all kinds of emotion: joy, grief, fear, peace, anxiety, delight... not to mention what the new family must be feeling :) Every placement is different; depending on the needs of the baby, the new family, the social worker handling each case and other things we have less control over like court dates, magistrate's expectations and busy calendars. We are always working to create the ideal conditions for a placement but there isn't a strategic formula that makes every placement magically peaceful and beautiful. Sometimes things are rocky; sometimes things are funny. Often times I feel a connection with a Forever Family but sometimes I don't. 


Often times during the placement process the Lord allows me to see a glimpse as into why a baby is matched with a particular family. I will recognize a baby's expression in the face of their new mom. I will share a particular habit or idiosyncrasy of a baby with a new family and they laugh because it is so "them". A Bible verse given to a mother as a confirmation was found on her new daughter's name tag, something I make for each of our babies with a verse God has given me for them. A similar spirit, a shared interest, the same eyes, the list goes on and on. But if I am honest there are placements where I don't see it. I don't get the gift of a glimpse or a glimmer of the goodness to come. In those rare moments it is easy to let fear creep in and to begin to doubt the sovereignty of a good Father. 


In an effort to grow as a team and serve our community better, over the last few months the management team here at Refilwe has been going through a bunch of personality tests. Most were familiar to me but one I was not familiar with was the Enneagram Test (you should check it out it is super cool and scary accurate). Turns out I am a typical Type 2 nicknamed "The Helper" which is pretty spot on for the me I understand myself to be. One of the more interesting parts of this particular personality test is that it helps identify where our personality goes when we are feeling stressed or anxious. When that happens to a Type 2 we are pushed into a Type 8 whose vices include seeking control and self-protection. Ding! Ding! Ding! That is exactly where I go when I am feeling out of my depth or insecure. I have to fight these impulses when a placement doesn't "feel" nice and work to remind myself of the truth. That God loves these kiddos more than I do. That He sees the whole of their lives while I am only seeing a small portion of who they are and who they will become. That Jesus will pursue each one with His reckless love no where they go or what they do. 


I know my certain expericnce of motherhood is atypical and fractured but I think am able to identify with some aspects of what being a mom must entail. Sleepless nights with a newborn, gleeful joy celebrating skills accomplished, anxiety in illnesses and the temptation to feel that it is somehow my responsibility to control all the aspects of the lives of these little people I love. Some things I can try and control (and probably should): a room's temperature, how much milk goes into a bottle, when a behavior warrants a time out, when we need to visit a doctor or when to start someone on solid food. Those details fall into my realm of responsibility but the really important things like how many days a baby gets to have or how a baby's story gets written is 100% God's job! My heart handles the grief of goodbye exponentially better when I can remind myself of God's goodness and sovereignty over each babies' life even in the midst of my limited view and uncertainty. 

 

One of my new favorite worship songs is off Hillsong's latest album and it is called "New Wine". The first verse says: 

In the crushing/In the pressing 
You are making new wine
In the soil I now surrender
You are breaking new ground 

So I yield to You and to Your careful hand
When I trust You I don't need to understand 

I am working hard to sit in this soil of uncertainty and trust God's careful hand in this season of life. To trust that in the midst of discomfort I can choose to yield to the careful hand of a good, good Father who loves me and these precious kiddos a billion more times that I can ever imagine. I will delight in each glimpse I am blessed with, each glimmer of goodness to come. I will continue to cling to the promise of eternity with Christ; that one day all things will be made new and what was once was unseen will be seen. I have full confidence that one day I will be able to delight in the whole of each story written for each of these little lives I have had the privilege of loving. I will choose to rejoice in this calling; the best hardest job I have ever been privileged to have!


Thank you for your continued love, prayer and support. I am eternally grateful for those of you who have joined me in this journey. I am praising God and thanking Him for you today!

xoxoxoxoxo

Apr 15, 2018

Sending Baby J Home

He was worth the wait!
I have been putting off writing this blog not because I don’t want to share the beauty of saying goodbye to Jack or because I am trying to hold my cards close to my chest but because in writing this story down it somehow makes the goodbye real. I believe in my heart that this goodbye is just a goodbye for now, as you will hear, I have been beyond spoiled in the connection I have been gifted with Jack’s parents. Due to the unique set up of his adoption I can have as much contact with his Forever Family as they desire and thankfully they are happy to let me still be a part of their son’s life. I have been the grateful recipient of messages, pictures, videos and have even been able to video message with them several times since they have been home! I am overjoyed that he is now beautifully settling into his new family, his new name, his new life and have been ecstatic to see bits and pieces of the beauty through the contact we’ve had. My grief has been tempered with peace, comfort and joy with the confidence that seeing Jack so settled and happy within the arms of his new family. But the grief has been unlike anything I have experienced before… and that is why I have been dragging my feet in sharing this bit of his beautiful story with you. It is going to hurt but prayerfully in pushing the open wound into the bright light of day will usher in deeper healing and less scaring over time.

    

Whenever I start telling people about what I get to do I am almost always asked, “Do you have children of your own?” or most often, “How many of your own kids do you have?”. I think it is obvious that I love my babies and it is inconceivable to most people that I don’t have any of my “own”. It is a strange calling; to love babies that are sure to leave you with true and ardent love despite the impending, inevitable goodbye. I have never been pregnant but there are parts of this experience that mirror what being pregnant must feel like. As Aunties we daydream about who will come next: a boy? A girl? Twins? How old will they be when they arrive? Will they be healthy or easy; sick or loud? We hope and dream and wait. As I have shared previously, long before I met Jack I dreamed of loving him, or someone like him. For some God ordained reason, I always wanted to have a baby with Down Syndrome and when I scooped Jack up for the very first time my heart almost burst. It is a divine joy to be able to hold and name and kiss the hope differed that has finally arrived. There is always joy and wonder when we receive any new baby; beautiful, redemptive hope wrapped up in a little stranger but holding Jack was different because I had been pregnant with the hope of him for years.

     

I think the first time I cried at the thought of saying goodbye to Jack within the first 24 hours of meeting him. I’ve cried that way over a handful of littles and their inevitable goodbyes before. A hazard of the job, I guess, but my heart has figured out that the grief of goodbye is best doled out over time rather than sitting unexpressed until the actual day of departure. My current screensaver is a quote by Brian Andreas that says, “She said she usually cried at least once each day not because she was sad, but because the world was so beautiful & life was so short.” I feel like that is something I would say. Somehow the beautiful disaster of this calling has turned me into weeper. Those of you who know me well know how much I used to, and sometimes still do, hate to cry in front of other people. Even those closest to me. Mostly because my voice gets two octaves too high and I can’t clearly communicate why I am crying and often when I cry once I can’t stop crying over everything for the rest of the day. I am also sure my prideful spirit and desire to seem put together must have something to do with it as well. I wanted to keep Jack for my very own more than any of the precious babies I’ve loved on before. Partly because I waited for him, partly because of the trauma we experienced when he first arrived but mainly because he is just so special! Everyone who meets him loves him. After I shared his arrival story I had many people from all over the world inquire about how he was doing and if they could be the family to take him home. All the Aunties mooned over him and I think were secretly glad when I was out of the house for any extended time so they could have him all to themselves. I wrestled with my desires knowing that there really was no easy way for Jack to stay with me. People who loved me and could see how much I loved him asked if I would try and keep him, despite the obstacles and impossibilities in the way. For months, I pushed away the thoughts and comments until one day I put them before the Lord and in His mercy, He made the answer incredibly clear. Fighting to keep Jack would be selfish and thinking that I could love him best was incorrect and worse, incredibly prideful. Not all the Father’s words to our hearts feel good but they are all true. I am beyond thankful He spoke clearly to me that day; He knows my wayward heart and exactly what I needed to hear and rehear even today.

     

One thing I love about adoption is that in its very nature we see God’s redemptive story and how He chose us to be His children. He gave us the right to be called sons and daughters and through Christ we now have access to the Father and all the benefits of being His children. Adoption also depicts the pain of the Gospel; a Son surrendered, a Father who turned away the good of all humanity, sacrifice that in the end brought victory and eternal joy. As our children journey towards their Forever Families there is pain, sacrifice and surrender that marks the way. The mystery of pain that Jack’s birth mother must feel when she allows herself to think of him. The sacrifice of the Aunties who loved and cared for him for his first year and miss him even now. The surrender of a baby you love knowing that you are not the best or only thing he needs to become the man he was made to be. I eternally thankful that the Father and the Son loved us enough to see the joy that lay beyond the cross. I pray that with their help I will willingly embrace not only the joy of adoption but the pain as well; knowing that beauty lives in both.

   

As we received word of Jack’s match to his delightful Forever Family and began to wait for a court date it became clear that my prearranged trip home for Christmas in California was going to set me back in South Africa a day after his Forever Family landed in South Africa. The last thing I wanted to do the few weeks before Jack left us was to be 10,000 miles away! Now that I think about it, God also had to use a trip home to kick Jack out of my room two and half months after we got him. If not for that trip, I probably would have found some excuse to keep him in my bed until he got adopted! I see now how God arranged this all perfectly; not just for my heart but for Jack’s as well. I was able to say my goodbye weeks before his family was to arrive; not because he left me but because I left him to fly to America. God used our time away to prepare both our hearts for the arrival of his parents. My main prayer was that I would be able to make the placement about Jack and his new family, not about me and my grief. God used my few weeks back home to process enough so that when we were together for his placement my prayers could be answered. We had the joy of being able to host his parents, Jake and Rachel, on site for 10 whole days before they left for Cape Town to sort out all the legal parts of the adoption. We spent those days slowly introducing and transitioning Jack into his new family. I only cried in front of them once as we prayed on the day he officially left our house to move to the guest flat on the other side of the property. Jake and Rachel were kind and humble enough to honor our bond and invited me to spend time with him almost every day after he left our home. They invited me to come to the court date where he officially became their son. We enjoyed a celebratory dinner together, did a fun photo shoot with my friend Antoinette and graciously, humbly accepted that Jack still reached for me when we were together. When they were in Cape Town they sent me pictures and videos and added me to their private “Bringing Baby J Home” Facebook page. It is hard to explain how, but somehow when I saw those pictures and videos God miraculously allowed my heart to see this precious boy I loved like my own as their son. I could close my eyes feel his chubby hands on my cheeks, feel when his tiny newborn head tucked perfectly under my chin but when I opened them and saw him in the arms of his new mom and dad he no longer looked or felt like mine. It was the craziest and kindest gift, joy and sorrow wrapped up beauty. Just like my whole year with Jack; a gorgeously refining miracle straight from heaven.

     

I still miss Jack, now beautifully named Jaren Parker. I still cry when I talk about him and his miraculous story. I am sobbing now. There are days when I feel perfectly well adjusted, grateful for this chaotic calling and other days when the grief is so real I feel like my heart is breaking all over again. I am working to wade through the waters of grief being as honest as I can. Doing my very best to be vulnerable and admit when I am having a sad moment and reminding myself of truths previously revealed. God has brought me new babies to love, new adoptions to walk through and placed within my heart a desire for another baby with Down Syndrome. Maybe a girl this time? Actually, I have repeatedly told all my people that I want ALL the babies with Down Syndrome who need a home on their journey to their Forever Family. I happily pour over and shamelessly share every new picture, video and story Jaren’s family shares; rejoicing over every new accomplishment, praying over every challenge. Just like I do over all my biological nieces and nephews; happy to be an Auntie to someone so special. I love being an Auntie, it’s one of the best, hardest things I’ll ever do!

   

Thank you for your faithful prayers and love for me and Jack while he was in our home! I appreciate the way God uses your love, prayers and support to uphold me and all our babies. All my love!!!

Jul 2, 2017

Little Moose Heads Home


I am not sure how time flies by so quickly but somehow 712 days seems like they flew right by! It feels like just yesterday we got this snuggly, kissable little person and now he is in the arms of his Forever Family... enjoying a mommy, daddy and big sister! 


When I try and articulate those first few weeks of "getting to know you" I remember most feeling grateful that this precious little moose had been rescued and feeling extremely humbled that God would bring him into our arms. Right after birth this precious bundle was tied in a plastic rubbish bag and abandoned in a local dumping area. Thankfully our good, good Father allowed his newborn voice to be heard and he was found before he was lost to the cold morning. I had the honor of naming him and gave him a name meaning "God has heard" -- beyond grateful that he had been heard!!


The lessons that each child's unique story and personality bring are as varied as the babies themselves. I think "S" taught me many things. As a newborn he brought the reminders of God's mercy; His willingness and ability to rescue and save. As a toddler he reminded me the importance of consistency and patience as he continually (and loudly) pushed against the boundaries set around him. He reminded me of a little moose... pushing again and again; just too see if his will and desire could change the boundary lines around him. Oh, how he reminded me of me! 

 

During S's first year with us I spent time memorizing Psalm 16... my favorite bits reminding me: 
The Lord is my chosen portion and my cup;

    you hold my lot.
 
The lines have fallen for me in pleasant places;

    indeed, I have a beautiful inheritance.

I bless the Lord who gives me counsel;

    in the night also my heart instructs me.
 
I have set the Lord always before me;

    because he is at my right hand, I shall not be shaken.

Many a season I have found myself complaining about where God's boundary lines placed me but the truth reminds me (and most days I can see) that the lines have fallen for me in pleasant places. That my inheritance is beautiful and Christ is my portion. Our little moose sometimes forgot that the boundaries of napping and finishing his food were good lines that had actually be created for his overall growth, joy and success -- not to torture or tease him with what "could be" if things were different or if he could have his way. Out of love, it was our job to remind him of the boundaries and the freedom and joy that would become available to him each and every time he chose to listen and obey. 



Some boundaries of my current call are uncomfortable and taxing but God has placed me in a community where we get to witness story after story of God's grace, mercy and beauty! Including 712 days with a Mister who's giggle would brighten the darkest day, a little parrot repeating words perfectly not having a clue what they meant. A little person who would call for kisses and once in your arms lean in for not one but twenty kisses at a time. We bore witness to many of his firsts... two Christmases, two birthdays, first steps, words, foods, temper tantrums and smiles. How lucky were we?!

 

And even with this precious placement there is joy and pain, growth and faith all being developed within the boundary lines of this little person's story. We joyfully experienced a gorgeous match with a family specifically handpicked and prepared for this little man and painfully had to walk 3 older boys waiting for their families through another goodbye. Our faith was bolstered after watching a new family born over a two-day placement after 712 days of waiting, wondering and hoping for God to make a way. And we ask God to help our unbelief as we trust and wait for families for all of our kiddos... even in the face of "impossible" challenges and ridiculously frustrating roadblocks. 


I am a better Auntie because of this little man and even today sorting pictures for this blog I teared up missing his boisterous, joyful and loud presence in our home. I know that God rescued this little man for divine purpose and I hold in my heart hopeful expectation for the other side of eternity when I can see the whole of his life unfold for the glory of God and the good of his generation.

Thank you to all of you who have contributed to our little man's life! Without your prayers and love, financial support and provision I would not have been able to bear witness to this person's life. I am a better Auntie with you on my team... I love and thank God for each of you! Until next time!!!

The Journey of Surrender

It is a pretty spectacular thing: watching a family be born right in front of your eyes. To see years of prayers answered in a moment. ...