The Weight of a “Happy Birthday”


Each year on this day I have a dialogue in my head about the child who feels like she’s dead…

It all started with a phone call.

“We have an immediate need for a placement of two sisters, 13 and 14, will you take them?”

Even as the memories unfold my chest begins to tighten, is it anxiety or grief or both today? I know that for the few who journey down this road it becomes clear; outsiders don’t understand and no one really shares when the story is not a fairytale. Public silence is the rule.

Today is your birthday, and I just keep flashing back to that day we stood before the judge and you signed on that line that you had chosen the family that had chosen you, fought for you, and hoped for forever with you. The adoption couldn’t have happened without your consent, not at the age you were. And now, 14 years later, I have watched you replace us and choose a new family time and time again. And despite years of therapy to process all that has taken place I find I can’t make my heart understand that love was never going to be enough.

“Mom” number 5.

Therapeutic  parenting?

It swirls in my head every time I try to understand this story; our story.

I know it was never about us but we still have to figure out a way through all of these roads labeled HARD.

We can’t just mute our love for you because you have walked away.

I never saw the story unfolding the way it has. I flash back to adoption workers saying words like “unadoptable,” and my stomach still churns at the thought. No child should ever be labeled that way and yet, now I wonder, what did it mean after all? What was it all for? What was the point  of it all if this is how the story goes?

The girls ask me if you think about them, they ask why can’t they know you and love your children. It has been years since we last had moments with you and we all have to walk our road through the grief. How am I supposed to answer questions like, “doesn’t she miss me?”  Then the adoption worker’s words echo through my head again, “why would you want to adopt them? You don’t have to.”

At 25 and 28, we thought that with enough love, and counseling, and training, and Jesus, it was all going to be a messy but wonderful happily-ever-after.  That is not the reality today.

We didn’t “save you,” we couldn’t heal all the wounds, if any, and today I am not sure we did much of anything for you and your sister at all. I replay all the professionals saying the same “it was too late, there was nothing you could do.” But I can’t tell my heart that, not yesterday, or today, and even if it understood what will that give me?

But we did choose you and therein lies all that was in our control and has the aroma of obedience to the God who drew our paths together and wove you into our hearts.

Why did I ever think a sacred path would be without suffering?

I will cry today, for the millionth time, and replay so much pain, and feel it all again. I will remember your laugh and your smile and I will cry harder.  It is the only way through.  I will answer your younger sister’s questions, and then try again to explain to the youngest who you even are while my heart breaks anew. I will hold them as they cry, and pray again for you, even when my words run dry, because that is the best that I can do. Your dad and I will once again wonder to God “why?” Why did He choose us to choose you if the journey runs this way?

And God will patiently remind us that He doesn’t owe us an explanation for all of our why’s, instead he faithfully holds us in our hard so we can continue to hold you in our hearts. For each of us may not have your DNA but we are still choosing you today.

So Happy Birthday to the one who never had to earn our love but was given all the imperfect that we are from the very start. And has taught us more about God’s unconditional love and how he holds an ever bleeding heart.


A Question About Adoption

IMG_1731 (1)

“Would you do it again?” she asked, curious to know my answer as she watched the tears fall down my face.  I knew what she was really wanting to know–was all the pain worth it?

I think it is easy to romanticize adoption, to paint this fairytale story where there are heros and villains, dramatic turns and plot twists that eventually lead to happy endings for the people involved.  I used to see the ads play on TV tugging at the viewers emotions with pictures of beautiful children in need of homes, sweet smiling families embracing them and words like “changing lives” echoing in the background, alluding to sweet promises of the power you hold to change everything. I used to watch them and bite my tongue, physically forcing myself to stop the words I wanted to yell at the TV screen.  I understood the point of the ads, I understood the need, I just wished it was more accurate. Real life is not a fairy tale. But would people still say yes if they knew what was coming?  That thought makes my heart sink, we are a culture who idolizes the easy, the fun, the “guarantees” that something will feel good and runs from the hard out of abject fear…or maybe that is just me?

I can still hear my dear friends words, spoken in love all those years ago, while we were fighting to adopt our first three girls through foster care, she knew well what the road ahead could hold if we insisted on saying yes, she had already been dwelling years in those trenches, “You don’t HAVE TO adopt them you know?” I did know.

I lost track of the number of people who questioned why in our twenties we would agree to adopt two teens from foster care, or the number of social workers and therapists who would try and dissuade us as well.  At the time I was irritated with them all for trying to change our minds about doing this wonderful thing, I thought kids in foster care NEEDED families after all? Looking back, I can now see that many were genuinely just trying to help us understand what they in all likelihood already knew…the road would be anything but a fairytale and the odds of us saving anyone were statistically impossible. Could they smell our naviate? Sometimes in the heartache I can still hear their words, echoing, always echoing in rhythm to the pound of my heartbeat through the stillness of my tears.

In the midst of our adoption dreams we really didn’t leave room for the messy, the broken, or just how limited we would be in this story.  We also never really considered how it would be for our families who would also go along on the ride, not because they choose this but because we did.  But more then anything we didn’t want to consider that when we signed up to say yes, when we signed on the legal line choosing them forever that would in NO way guarantee they would ever choose US.  The beauty of us doing this in our 20’s was that we were gloriously hopeful for the future, our rose colored glasses shined up and polished to such a fine degree that the glare of their reflection could blind you.  Sure, there would be hard BUT it would all be great in the end, right?

That was before the effects on our girls surfaced, like well hidden emotional bruises, from all the days before us.  They would explode in their consequences and sobering reality into our lives like a set of well placed land mines–eventually leaving us sitting in a crater that looked a lot like the explosion of what once was our dreams of what life would look like. Us, hair scorched, wounds visible, smelling like fire ravaged us, sometimes in shock, we sat.

I have lost track of how many times I have questioned God in the mess, how often I have expressed my inability to navigate this road, certain I was not the right fit.  If God is collecting tears, on this issue alone, I feel certain its volume could easily fill a corner of the ocean. I still have more questions than I have answers, even more than a decade later.  Our girls, now parents themselves, are now both older than I was when we began our story, a fact that I often find incredible and sobering.

And so, through tears, I answered her, my sight clearer and words more certain now then the day we finalized our forevers, even knowing the hard–

“I have learned so much.  I have learned that God is not looking for the perfect but for the willing.  He is not asking us to change others but for us to trust Him while he changes us. He doesn’t expect us to do it alone but instead he promises he will give us himself. And most sweetly he promises that none of it, whether we see it or not, will ever be wasted. None of it.

So, I can say without hesitation that yes, I would do it all over again.  While we can control so very little in the story, we can keep choosing love, we can keep saying yes, we can keep pressing on because the two things I now know are certain are that God is changing me, and that our girls will always be worth it.”