Saturday, June 30, 2007

Our adoption story...

June 11, 2005 Mark and I found ourselves at Outback restaurant enjoying a late evening dinner after a busy Saturday full of running errands. We were busy running errands because we had been called to be a “Ma and Pa” for our church youth group who would be pushing handcarts on a reenactment of a pioneer trek. It was a huge undertaking with about 300 people involved. I would need to write separately about this experience because it was quite amazing.

Saturday night as we finally made it to dinner, we knew we only had four days before we were to spend the following Thursday, Friday and Saturday with our “family” of eight youth between the ages of 14 and 18 hauling a handcart up the mountain. The preparation for this event caused me to feel a bit anxious. Anxiety over being the Ma to eight children I didn’t really know. I also knew this could be an amazing and spiritual experience and I felt responsible for the young people in our “family” to really catch the spirit of this event. I’m sure my natural opposition to any form of camping was also adding to my anxiety – I have always expressed my “idea” of camping as a Marriott Hotel on the beach!

Why do I begin my adoption story with the events of a pioneer trek? Well, I believe the Lord works using little experiences that build upon each other to guide our hearts. Individual experiences do not always drive action; however, some experiences happen in a certain order at precisely the right moment to touch our hearts. Many of those experiences had been building for both Mark and I over 20+ years of marriage. In fact, my first known experience that suggested I would adopt was when I was a teenager. I was visiting my grandmother who had an amazing doll collection. She would buy dolls at second hand stores and clean them up and crochet new clothing for them. On this day she was restoring a cute little black doll. She commented to me how she loved little black babies. Instantly a thought flashed through my mind that someday I might adopt a little baby like that. Being only 13 or 14 years old I found it odd as being “old and married” seemed to be the last thing on my mind let alone being a mother! However, it was one of those experiences that stuck. I also remember thinking about the one black student in our school. Perhaps there were others, but I only remember one in my grade. He was on the football team and hung out with the popular kids. I wasn’t popular. But what I remember about him was he was always very kind to me. He wasn’t like most of the other popular kids. He impressed me. I’m sure this too was one of the little experiences the Lord intended for me.

As we sat in the restaurant finishing up our meal, we noticed the waiters rearranging the tables to accommodate about twenty people! We initially thought a sports team was coming in to celebrate together. What happened next is difficult to describe. It wasn’t a sports team, it was a family. Yes a single family of twenty! I recognized them from our community. I had read about them previously. They were a family of mixed children, children born to the parents and children adopted internationally. Of course, we weren’t in any hurry to leave and this family was quite a site. They were absolutely beautiful and I was in a trance watching how the mother organized all the children into their seats and helped get the drink order in. My heart was touched immediately as I had that feeling of holding back uninvited tears, I looked over and my eyes made contact with a little boy with beautiful dark eyes and dark skin (later I found out he was born in Africa). He smiled at me and it was all over trying to hold back the tears. At first, I couldn’t believe I was sitting there crying and I tried to hide it from Mark and our server. After only a moment, I noticed Mark was touched too as he sat observing this family with an amazing look of interest on his face. I decided it was no use hiding my tears from him but I did try to conceal them from the server who just brought us a “to go” box. As we sat slowly picking at our leftovers we continued to watch this family. One of their little girls started playing a little game with me. She was more to my back and I guess I had turned and made eye contact with her. Then Mark told me that she wants me to look at her, so I turned around and looked at her and she hid behind her chair. We played back and forth for several minutes, as I tried to “catch” her before she could hide. All the while this little voice inside me told me I needed to talk to the mother of this family. Then the logical argument would flare up – leave her alone, let her eat her dinner in peace. This argument went on, back and forth until the feeling was so strong it moved me out of my chair and over to where she was sitting. I approached her and commented “are all of these your children?” to which she replied “yes”. I told her I thought her family was beautiful. Next, I told her we were touched by their family and it reminded us of little feelings we had had over the years that made us think we too might adopt someday. She gave me the address of an internet chat group that she belonged to for families who had adopted internationally. I thanked her and felt peace about “bothering” her.

We went home and immediately began doing a little research. The first thing Mark and I did was go to the chat group this lady referred us to and completed the steps to join. At the bottom of the page for this group was an advertisement for Holt International. We clicked on the link and began learning about the process of international adoption. As we clicked around their website we came to a page that had a photo listing of children from several countries waiting for a family. The last country was listed as “Caribbean”. There were seven or eight children listed of which four were older girls. Looking at the pictures of the older girls Mark and I almost without words communicated that “we could do this”………then “we should do this”! These feelings sparked so much energy inside of me… if I had stumbled on something so amazing that had been lost.

This all made sense as I looked back on the beginning months of 2005, I found myself having “lost” feelings as I would pray. I felt something big was missing in my life. I remember having thoughts that I was missing something but I just couldn’t put my finger on it. I specifically remember in January of 2005 thinking I should be more satisfied with what I had, and why was I feeling this “lost, missing” feeling. In February we began to plan a family vacation. We decided as a family to travel to the Dominican Republic. Mark had spent time in the DR when he was younger and we had previously visited the Caribbean. It wasn’t a difficult decision to travel again to the Caribbean. I guess almost anyone would agree it is a beautiful place. So in April of 2005 we set off for our week vacation with all our children. It was a wonderful time and we loved that our children had the opportunity to visit another country. During our vacation we thought little about the fact that the DR shared the island of Hispaniola with the country of Haiti. At that time we lived in blissful ignorance about the extreme poverty we would soon come to know on the other side of this beautiful paradise.

Well, I digress. I will return to our night at the computer – June 11, 2005. The feelings that were going through me as I looked at “K’s” picture and read about her are almost indescribable. I remember without thought as we looked over the pictures of all the children, coming to a picture of a little girl who was about seven years old, about the age of our youngest biological child and I blurted out “we will adopt again”. To that Mark gave me a surprised look and in my head this thought came so strongly “what about the little boy”. WELL, I didn’t blurt out that thought to Mark instead I just responded in my mind – “if the Lord wants me to have another little boy He will have to drop him in my lap”. Feeling very satisfied that – that answered that! I left the thought right were it came from – and didn’t “bother” Mark with it.

That night an excitement had come over me. Something inside me knew we had opened a door that was meant for us. The feelings were so strong and convincing I had a hard time sleeping. The next morning was Sunday and instead of getting ready for church I went right to the computer. I had to go see “K’s” picture again and read again the few paragraphs of information describing her. Mark came downstairs and we called "M" to the computer. We asked her to look at the page with all the children’s photos. She gave me a bit of a perplexed look and I asked her “what if one of these girls was your sister?” "M" immediately became excited and then quickly, she became serious and said “Mom, really, are you serious?” Her voice seemed to reflect concern that maybe I was just teasing. I told her I was serious and daddy and I felt strongly that we should adopt another child. She allowed herself to become excited again when she realized we were shooting straight with her. Of course, it was Sunday so we couldn’t contact the agency to find out more about adopting “K”. So we turned our attention to getting ourselves ready and off to church for the day.

On Monday, I contacted Holt. They were amazing and answered all of my questions several times through-out the week. We had also joined the international chat group and began communicating with others about adopting from Haiti. One of the members of the group worked for an orphanage in Haiti called Foyer de Sion. She told me they were having a reunion for families who had adopted from Haiti in Boise Idaho in a week and a half. I didn’t think much about it because we were preparing to go on the pioneer trek. My mind was full of wonder about adding to our family, the week-end ahead “trekking” with a bunch of teenagers and hoping to help them catch the spirit of our ancestors who sacrificed so much as they crossed the plains for religious freedom.

Thursday morning came and a funny note about preparing for the Trek the night before was how we “lost” our little dog Maggie. Maggie is a Chihuahua and pretty small. I was crazy busy trying to get all our stuff together because we were to meet at the church at 6:00 a.m. the next morning. In all my busyness, I noticed Maggie wasn’t following me around like usual. So I asked the kids to try and find her. No one could find her. So I began searching, going through the house calling her name. We couldn’t fend her anywhere. Then we began searching the yard and neighborhood. We searched by foot and by car asking people if they had seen her. Finally after searching for about three hours and feeling frustrated because now I was behind getting ready. I broke down and cried. I told Mark I couldn’t just leave the next morning wondering where she was! Just then "M" came running downstairs with Maggie in her arms. She had crawled into the linen closet when I was putting clean towels away! So, I was very relieved that she wasn’t lost and I went on to finishing up our packing. So much for getting to bed at a reasonable time!

One of the new feelings I had going into the trek was knowledge that I would be participating in an amazing opportunity and no doubt the spirit would be strong coupled with the effort of the trek itself and the beauty of the mountains. I prayed that I might find answers to the questions that had been presented the week-end before concerning our family adopting and concerning the child we would adopt. I didn’t mention it earlier for simplicity of writing but initially we requested the information for three of the girls listed to be sent to us. Two of them were eleven and the other seven. I knew this event would provide some time for me to reflect and pray. I also knew it would allow me to be close to the spirit as we served the youth in our pioneer family. The last day, our stake president (our local church leader) gave an uplifting talk to the entire group about following Christ. In his words I found an answer that still causes me to tear up just thinking about it. The spirit was so strong that his message was my answer as I had been praying that something would touch my heart and confirm our direction. Here are the words that touched my heart – a quote from Gordon B. Hinckley, 1996. “I am grateful that today none of our people are stranded on the Wyoming highlands. But I know that all about us there are many who are in need of help and who are deserving of rescue. Our mission in life, as followers of the Lord Jesus Christ, must be a mission of saving. There are the homeless, the hungry, the destitute. We have done much. We can do more to help those who live on the edge of survival… It is not those on the high plains of Wyoming that we need to be concerned with today. It is with many immediately around us, in our families, in our wards and stakes, in our neighborhoods and communities… If we are to build that Zion of which the prophets have spoken and of which the Lord has given mighty promise, we must set aside our consuming selfishness. We must rise above our love for comfort and ease, and in the very process of effort and struggle, even in our extremity, we shall become better acquainted with our God.”

For me, these words rang true that the steps we were taking pleased the Lord. That proceeding to adopt one of the young girls we had found on the Holt website was in fact the right thing for our family and for the child we would come to know as ours. Little did I know it would take us two plus years of effort and struggle to bring our children home!

The trek was now over and the files from Holt came in the mail. I followed up with my new e-mails from the new group I had joined and found an invitation to the Boise reunion from Crystal who was the adoption coordinator for Foyer de Sion. We didn’t think we could pull off a quick trip to Idaho on such late notice, especially being the very next week-end. By Wednesday we had changed our minds and decided that we should go. Quickly we made arrangements for our children and Mark and I left on Friday for Boise. While in Boise, we enjoyed meeting all of the families and seeing all of the children they had adopted. It was such fun! At this reunion I met another friend that I continue to keep in touch with. When we met the two of us struggled to figure out where we had met before. We went back and forth trying to identify a place we could have possibly met and came up short. We have been friends over the past two years and on many occasions we have helped each other find comfort in the long process we are both going through. She is also adopting and we both have been trying to get our children home now for two years! Anyway, two other things stood out to me. First, before we left, I asked "M" to pray about which of the two older girls we should adopt. Neither one of us felt qualified to make that decision alone. So, I told her she had the right to some inspiration about this decision because it was “her” sister. The other thing that stood out to me was a young boy at the reunion. He was about "MA's" age (10) and had a cute resemblance to "MA". At least his personality seemed to be similar as I watched this young boy throughout the day. Something about him captivated me. As things were wrapping up for the day, I commented to Crystal (who was responsible for child referrals for Foyer de Sion) that if she could find me a little boy just like him – as I pointed to this boy – I would adopt him! She smiled and said “I’m sure I can”. I then told her that I knew we would adopt again someday and that we would probably be talking in the future. Well, my heart had decided on the drive to Boise which girl was right for us to adopt as Mark and I talked about both of them. I was now excited to get home and question "M" about her feelings. When we arrived home it was very late so I had to wait until the next morning to speak with her. It was Sunday morning and everyone was getting ready for church. I walked into "M’s" room and asked her if she received an answer. "M" and I both felt sad about the responsibility of this “decision”. It just didn’t seem right and so she began to speak without confidence…..finally, I said quickly with a tone of urgency, “M", just tell me the girls name that is in your heart” and she blurted out “K!” So our feelings were united. After talking together as a family we decided to do what it took to adopt "K".

While in the process of gathering our information for our homestudy (which is a document written up by a social worker as the foundation for our dossier which basically outlines every detail about us as individuals, parents and as a family) and our dossier, I had two very unique experiences that lead me to question beginning a second adoption before we had completed the first one. Both experiences led me to other organizations who emphatically communicated it wasn’t possible. Both of these organizations told me the same information about the rules as pertaining to the Haitian government requiring our first child was home before we could begin the process to adopt again. But I continued to have a strong feeling that we had another little girl. Each time I would ponder this, the question “what about the little boy” would enter my mind. Feelings about the little girl were so strong I couldn’t leave it alone. On November 4, 2005 I sent an e-mail to Crystal at Foyer de Sion. I thought for sure I was just speaking as a friend about my strong feelings about this little girl (and perhaps the little boy) and my request to her was to keep me in mind as new children entered the orphanage. I knew Crystal had a gift for helping the children of Foyer de Sion find “their” families. All the while, I had also been “educated” by these two other organizations that convinced me I wouldn’t be able to begin a second adoption until “K” had come home anyway. So, feeling safe in communicating these feelings to Crystal I didn’t expect what happened next. She sent me some pictures of a few little girls between the ages of 3 – 6 which fit the description I had given her. AND she sent me "MV" and "R’s" pictures, along with another little boy and girl that were cousins. Immediately, my heart recognized "MV and "R". I was so startled by it. I immediately became aware of that “feeling” the same feeling I had the night we had found “K” and the thoughts of me blurting out we would adopt again and the question of the little boy……it all became so overwhelming. Just moments after the pictures came through; I received a phone call from my daughter, "M" asking me to pick her up at her friend’s house. It was a Friday night and Mark and I had planned to go out together on a date. As all the kids went their different “Friday night ways” we discovered "Z", who was seven at the time was going to be left home alone if we went out, so we stayed home. Mark watched TV while I e-mailed Crystal. Unfortunately, he left the car in the drive way instead of putting it in his garage. Our son "S" moved it up behind the two car garage when he left earlier in the evening. So when I left the computer and pushed the button to open the two car garage (thinking Mark’s car would be where it always is - in his garage) I jumped into the car while saying out loud “heaven help me” as I believe my heart recognized these two little siblings as belonging with our family and as the two little ones that had caused me to write the e-mail to Crystal to begin with. AND, as I backed out of the garage I backed right into Mark’s car! This was the beginning of a string of opposition working to keep us from committing to their adoption. I spent the next three months praying and working out the feelings inside of me about adopting "MV" and "R". All the while, Mark didn’t have strong feelings either way. I really wrestled with the feelings more than anything ever in my life. I look back now and I realize my heart knew from the beginning they belonged with our family but it would take the experience of the next three months to confirm it to my mind and to Mark. Many tender mercies were given as the Lord stretched my understanding allowing me even a small glimpse of the future which confirmed the little boy was indeed meant to be part of our family! The Lord had just dropped him in my lap! My heart knew things my mind was struggling with. The Lord so patiently walked me through a process that brought my heart and mind together. For this I find it difficult to express my gratitude with words. Windows and doors immediately began to open once we committed to adopting them. However, it did require taking a big step into the dark before we would see and experience the many things that confirmed this to us.

They were meant to be part of our family. And no matter what the world would think or say, I couldn’t risk meeting my God and answering that fear stopped me from doing that which I knew was mine to do. Adopting "MV and "R" was my responsibility – I knew that I had made commitments to them and to my God before this life. I simply couldn’t live with myself if I ignored these feelings that so moved me.

Not exactly a story that would fit in a nutshell but as condensed as I could make it. We feel such a deep sense of respect and gratitude for the privilege we have of raising all of our children. I am humbled and grateful to my Heavenly Father who led us to this place in our lives that have been so full of purpose, not without challenges, but even the trials seem to be stretching us to accomplish our responsibilities that have eternal consequences. Eternal consequences that will prove the superior blessings in store for our little family as we transition from what we were to what we are to be.