Wednesday, February 24, 2016

Losing

Tenth place out of eleven. He was devastated. I could barely get him to even look at me. He had worked so hard on his pinewood derby car, designing it, sanding it, painting it, and carefully putting on what he was sure would be winning numbers. I don't remember him ever working so hard on something. He displayed it proudly on our kitchen window sill for a week before the derby, sure that he had a winner.

He asked me to come that night to watch him race while Dennis stayed home with Mila and put her to bed. I was flattered that he wanted only me there. Camden had won the derby last year, so the pressure was as high as it gets for a cub scout racing a rickety block of wood on wheels.

And then he lost over and over and over again. With each round, I could see his face becoming more and more dejected. I learned early on in his life that when he's disappointed, he becomes angry and withdrawn. I wrapped my arm around his shoulder as he stomped angrily out of the church building, tightly gripping his losing car. He slammed the van door and angrily turned his back towards me.

"I'm so sorry, bud. I know you're disappointed. How about we commiserate together? Let's stop at the gas station and get some hot chocolate."

We drove home mostly in silence sipping cheap hot chocolate.

Slowly he started talking. How he wasn't sure where he had gone wrong. What he'd do differently next year. How humiliated he felt. How he didn't know how he would tell his brother that he had lost. Mostly, I just listened.

That night as he went to bed, he gave me a long hug and looked at me for a long moment with those huge, beautiful, green eyes that melt women into puddles.

"Thanks for everything, Mom. Thanks for coming to watch me, even though I lost." And then the rare unsolicited, "I love you."

How I adore that little boy.

"You know, Luke... maybe losing wasn't so bad. If you hadn't lost, we wouldn't have gotten hot chocolate and we probably wouldn't have gotten the chance to talk like we did."

He gave me another long hug and I thought my heart was going to explode with tenderness for my sometimes-prickly little boy.

I thought of the past year and how it's brought me literally to my knees, time and time again. I've experienced more discouragement and frustration than I can ever remember experiencing in my life. And yet I think of how grateful I am for what it has done for my relationship with my own heavenly parent. My heart has come closer to God than it ever would have ever otherwise. And what I've discovered has changed me. I feel such tenderness for this person that I know is there but have never seen with my mortal eyes. This Father who weeps with me when I weep, and rejoices with me when I succeed. I wouldn't change this past year of hardship for a hundred years of ease.

Maybe, like with Luke, losing over and over again had really been better for me than winning.

I've never been one to ask for prayers, but they would be appreciated now. Very, very soon our little girl will be in our arms. At any given moment of the day I'm vacillating somewhere between exuberant anticipation and overwhelming nervousness. I think of the grief she will experience when she leaves her country and friends, and I want to weep. It will probably be one of the hardest things she will ever go through in her life. As we approach the finish line I realize that, really, it's just the beginning.


Monday, February 15, 2016

Lock down

We're on the countdown. Very soon we will be flying across the ocean to bring our little girl home. I'd be lying if I didn't admit that I'm terrified. Terrified of rejection. Terrified that things will never be the same again. Terrified of the unknown. But I'd also be lying if I didn't say that there is also peace. Oddly so, and much of it.  And yet I try to imagine the day that we meet her, and my stomach twists up in nervous knots. I doubt I'll get a wink of sleep the night before.

I've lost count of the hundreds of miracles that have led us to where we are. Dennis and I talked about it for a long time last night- of how the Lord started preparing us for this long before we were even married, in tiny little ways that at the time seemed inconsequential but were quietly changing our hearts. We are as prepared as we can possibly be and, at the same time, woefully unprepared. I don't think we can ever be fully prepared for what the Lord has in store for us. Preparation and obedience... and then finally, faith. I think that's as much as the Lord ever expects from any of us. We've completed the first two steps, and now we are riding the final wave. Faith.

The last few months have felt like preparing for a hurricane. Essentially, we've gone into lock down. We pray that the storm will never come, but we are metaphorically boarding up and hunkering down for the long haul, just in case it does. I closed the door on my photography business and I've gotten in my final hurrahs with my friends. As Dennis wrote about in his previous blog post, he asked to be released from his church callings, as did I. We both know that we need to turn our complete attention and energy onto our little family in every possible way, without any distractions. But even with that sure knowledge that we needed to do this, it has brought with it surprising grief- grief of letting go of serving in a church that we both love. But for the time being, our calling is elsewhere- a calling that we both accepted almost a year ago.

We have been working on learning some basic Mandarin, which in case you were wondering, has to be one of the most difficult languages to learn. My Mandarin is atrocious- comically so. I installed Google Translate onto my phone and tried out my newly acquired words that I was so proud of, only to realize that Google didn't even recognize my speech as Mandarin. I thought my kids were going to die laughing when they saw the app's confusion as it tried to figure out what I was saying. I'm crossing my fingers that our little girl has both an abundance of patience and humor.

Our family also started seeing a family therapist in preparation for the changes coming to our family. She has been wonderful and has given them some helpful tools to help us know how to be assertive, compassionate, and when to ask for help. What a blessing our therapist has been for us already.

Her bedroom is ready. The linens are freshly washed and clothes are hanging in her closet. She has only seen a handful of pictures of us and we've only seen a few pictures of her, along with a two-minute video clip. Her adoption file is confusing, vague, and at times, self-contradicting. That's it. That's all we know of each other, and still I love her fiercely.

We pray for her every night- that her heart will be prepared. That courage will defeat fear... in all of us. That we will be blessed with patience and understanding as she grieves the life that she knew and the people she loved. But we are not alone in this. Angels, both seen and unseen, are shoring us up. They have been all along the way and I know they won't abandon us now.

Sunday, February 7, 2016

My New Calling

Before you all get excited that Rita has posted a new blog post, I’ll spoil it for you and let you know that this is her husband this time around.  Like many of you, I’m a big fan of Rita’s blog posts and realize that I can never be as eloquent as she is with words.  However, I’ve felt strongly over the past while that I needed to write down my experiences with adopting our daughter, and a few things happened to me today that solidified my resolve to document my feelings and my experiences.

Nearly seven years ago I was called to the stake young men’s presidency, accepting the new calling with a level of frustration and a heavy heart.  You see, I poured my heart and soul into the young men’s program in my own ward, and now I was being torn away.  It was with great difficulty that I accepted the call, but determined to see the silver lining, I realized that now I would be able to have a greater level of influence as I could work to ensure that the other eight wards in my stake had trained leaders, and programs that would help mold and build great young men.  I’ve served as the stake young men’s president for the past three years, but today, I was released.  I asked to be released, and as I listened to the new members of the stake young men’s presidency, my heart sank.  They had just called a young men’s leader from my own ward to be the new first counselor.  A leader who was dedicated to scouting, loved the young men in our ward, and who I wanted desperately to lead my own boys who are now just entering the program.  My heart was heavy laden, and I only became more saddened with feelings of guilt as I realized that because I had asked to be released, this man was now going through what I once did.  I began to second guess the clarity I had felt prompting my request to be released.  I became more saddened and hurt when good friends approached me during church and made comments like, ‘I bet your glad to be released from that prison’, ‘I see you’re all smiles while we’re all sad and angry that they just took our best scout leader’.  Even the newly called man indicated that he was not happy that he had been taken away from our ward.  For the next hour, I sat quietly weeping internally because I felt like my decision to be released from my calling as the stake young men’s president had angered and frustrated many of my friends.

I didn’t want to be released.  I loved my calling.  Over the past seven years, I’d poured my time, talents, and energy into the young men’s programs of my stake.  As I pondered this with increasingly heavy heart, I was comforted by the Spirit of the Lord as it spoke to my mind and gave me clarity.  It told me that I had accepted a new calling.  With complete clarity, my mind recalled all of the wonderful blessings that the Lord has given me and my family over the past year in preparation for our adoption, which is set to finalize in just a few weeks.  The Lord provided a way for us to build our wonderful home.  Rita was offered a part-time job as a school nurse that has a flexible work schedule, daycare option, and advisor that had recently returned from China after teaching English to Chinese students for two years. We were blessed to raise the funds necessary for all of the adoption expenses up until the last month, and as an answer to a sincere prayer and a family fast, an anonymous donor offered to fund the rest.  Just this past weekend Rita ran into my cousin at the store. After approaching Rita saying that she had felt prompted to speak with her, she explained that her husband had served his mission in Taiwan and is fluent in Mandarin.  He had just finished helping missionaries teach two recent converts the missionary discussions and wanted to help do the same for our daughter after she was home, something that we had been praying that we would be able to do with her, but weren’t sure how we would do it.

Then my mind went to the experience I had when we were looking for the right child to adopt after feeling inspired that we should do so.  Rita had searched and combed through hundreds of children’s profiles trying to ‘feel’ which child would be right for us.  Every time she thought she had found ‘the one’ I simply did not feel that same connection.  I began to wonder if something was wrong with me.  Why couldn’t I feel the same way?  I had reserved myself to think that the time was just not right, and I had tried to convince Rita of the same.  Then, out of the blue, Rita sent me the profile of a 10-year old girl.  I read her profile and felt good for the first time, but still unsure if she was the one.  That night I prayed, like so many nights before, that I would know and receive a confirmation that this girl was to be our daughter.  The next day as I sat in a meeting at work, my mind totally affixed on work related things, my mind became completely clear and I was miraculously blessed to have a witness, beyond any doubt, that she was to be my daughter.

As the church meeting closed, my heart was still heavy with the thoughts of what asking to be released from my calling had done to our ward and my friends.  But I had received a re-affirmation that I had been issued a new calling.  A calling to be the father to an abandoned now 11-year old orphan girl living on the other side of the world.  I had been issued this calling over a year ago, but the moment had just arrived that I needed to devote my time, talents, and energy into my family as I had done with my previous calling.  There is no doubt in my mind that we didn’t simply choose to adopt, we have been chosen to adopt, and the miracles that have happened in my life over the past year are a testament to that.  I know that the Lord is at the helm of my life, and I know that our ward will be blessed by this man’s acceptance of his new calling in the stake young men’s presidency.  If only we could see the results before we are asked to have faith…but that’s not part of the Plan.  In the meantime, I’ll pray for the leaders of our ward, and continue to have faith that those whom God calls He qualifies.  This is my testimony.

Dennis