When we were 7 months in.

There are so many layers to this story, you see.  There is the story of a baby boy born on one side of the world, only to find home and family on the other side.  There is the story of a family of four growing to a family of five.  A story of brothers.  A story of a father and a new son.  A mother of boys.  And, my favorite, a story of a God who does great works through broken and needy people.  Surprising us.  Changing us.  Carrying us.  

Some of these stories are simply not mine to tell.  Perhaps they will be shared at some point in time, but for now, I err on the side of protecting my kids and not airing their life over the internet.  But then there is that last layer.  This is also my story.  The story of a Mama, who desperately loves adoption.  Desperately loves family.  And who learned that she is desperately dependent on God in the crevices of her heart that she didn’t even know was there.  

This is my side of our adoption story.  Kind of like a story of an ugly duckling, we must live the hard of a story like this, before we can see the beauty that comes of it.  

I really hesitate in sharing some of this.  But there is a chance that there is someone like me who will google “what do you do when adoption is hard”, and they will feel some camaraderie.  Because, you can’t say YES to something like this and it not change you.  It will.  And change, simply, is hard for most of us.  During these months, I desperately wanted someone to give me permission to admit the hard.  So, here is permission.  It is okay to be in a place that is hard.  But don’t expect to come out of the other side the same.

The months leading up to leaving for China were significantly harder than I ever expected.  Yes, waiting for Owen was hard, but in all honesty, I could barely focus on that.  I felt attacked.  I had some odd health issues (which now are likely explained by an undiagnosed autoimmune response), and I was ridden with anxiety and fear.  My symptoms lasted for about 6 weeks before they subsided.  My body felt mostly better, but my anxiety remained and my stress levels were through the roof.  We were weeks away from getting Owen.  I was excited, but was deeply afraid of leaving my other two boys for 17 days.  I was afraid of flying to China.  Of the food in China.  Of getting sick while I was there.  I was already surviving on a day-to-day basis when we were ready to leave, I hardly spent any time dreaming about our new boy and what that would mean for our family.  

So much of this is hard to say.  This isn’t how I wanted things to go.  It is very hard for me to even go back to that point in life.  Knowing that I would have to somewhat re-live this to tell this story, I’ve avoided it.  It was hard.  But you all need to know, I simply don’t have it all together.  I feel like I was probably the worst person to adopt when we did.  I was at my very weakest.  I felt literally dependent on the Lord to get me through each day.  

But he did.  It turns out dependency is the best place to be.

So, we did indeed go to China.  I flew half-way across the world and survived it.  I saw the sites, ate their food, didn’t get sick, and welcomed our sweet Owen Kang with open arms.  

And I have never been the same.  

Despite myself, I was able to take in the gorgeous country, and unexpectedly, I fell in love.  Still, I cannot imagine not going back.  A countryside so beautiful, and a people so in need of truth and light.  My heart aches for the orphans of China more today than it did when we first said YES.  Because now I have seen, and I can’t forget.

I will rely on photos to tell much of the story prior to getting Owen.  We spent time in Beijing and then traveled by train to Taiyuan, Shanxi, where we would meet our boy.  We met Owen on a Monday morning.  We had the privilege of meeting him that morning before our afternoon civil affairs appointment.  But, basically, we saw him and right away, he was ours.  He came back to the hotel with us and has not left us since.  

Thinking back at that, I’m truly amazed at how well he has handled this transition.  I say, he was so ready for family.  He has grieved and had moments of unexplained sobbing.  His poor heart probably just can’t comprehend what has just happened and where he belongs.  But, for the most part, he has attached extremely well to both Jordan and I.  He embraces his roll as a little brother, and I really think he is a genuinely happy boy.  

There were many unexpected in this journey.  We prepared as much as we could, but you can never prepare for curve balls.  We read up on getting Owen to attach well to us, and, like I said, that seemed to happen easily.  What I didn’t think about, was preparing my own heart to attach to this boy.  

My feelings of love and endearment for the boy in the photo did not immediately transfer to the boy we met in China, and to say I felt shocked and guilty about that is an understatement.  I naively assumed that if we had any trouble attaching it would be on his side, and so long as he loved us, we would emotionally bond.  However, as I now know, often times these over-the-moon-in-love feelings take time. 

Before adopting, I would always tell new moms to trust their God-given intuition.  I always felt like God gave new moms insight into what their babies need, and while books and advice were wonderful, each mom could trust that she knew what her baby really needed.  

In those early days, I basically felt like my mommy-intuition was broken.  Not only broken, but missing.  It was simply not there with Owen.  I had no clue what he needed.  I second guessed everything I did.  I panicked every time he cried (which was a lot our first few weeks home), and I was so overwhelmed by this.  I felt guilty and ashamed that my thought was what on earth have we just done?  

I felt the huge weight of our lack of history, and it grieved me.  How was I to care for this baby boy, who is now mine, but we don’t know each other at all?  Not only that, but this boy was learning how to function in a family for the first time.  And at 20 months, he was testing all the boundaries.  Much of my time was spent redirecting him as he was discovering the toilets and outlets and stovetop.  He was on the go, go, go and wanted little to do with tenderness or snuggles.  I was learning to be his Mama and he was learning how to be my son.  I see some moms handle this with grace and compassion, but I felt like we were merely surviving.  And again, I felt overwhelmed with guilt.  

I found myself on my knees.  Often.  Needing to be okay, and knowing that I simply could not do this in my own strength.  God sure loves us in our brokenness.  He loves to step into the gaps, and for us to recognize our desperate need for grace.  It has been a hard journey.  I haven’t always rested in his grace, so many times I have fought it.  But never before have I been so grateful that God is moving and healing despite me.  If loving well and parenting well this past year had been dependent on me pouring myself out on my own, I can honestly say we wouldn’t have made it.  Because I was run dry.  But despite my desperate state, I have been in awe of how God has written this story.  There is a misnomer out there that adopted kids are "rescued". I think many adoptive parents would agree with me, I'm the one being saved in all of this. 

I spent the month of August committing to journaling in my private journal every day.  I have found that when I keep quiet, the emotions bottle up until I feel I’m going to explode.  I don’t need to write for the world to read, but I do need to write.  August was such a healing month for me, as I journaled out my prayers on a daily basis.  I confessed that I felt guilty that my love story with this boy felt so different than it did with my bio boys.  But I was met with grace, and embraced that different doesn’t mean wrong.  Different is just different.  And it is different, because our story is vastly different.  I’ve never had to overcome such obstacles with Jude and Isaac.  Everything has been in our favor, including biology.  I ended that month feeling refreshed and with a perspective of grace rather than condemnation.

I am not the person I was a year ago.  I’m more tender.  More humble.  More compassionate.  Even more aware of my need of salvation, because I have been face to face with my own horrible heart.  My horrible heart that has been completely wiped clean by the blood of Jesus.  I am so thankful I was not trying to love well on my own.  I have been truly blown away at Owen’s adjustment, despite me.

I now have a sweet boy who regularly grabs his well loved blankie and begs Mama to “snuggle”.  And as I sit with this little Asian cutie in my arms, singing songs and snuggling and looking into each others eyes, I am in awe of how he came into our family and just trusted us.  He melts into me, calls me Mama, and knows I’ll meet his needs the best I can.  Things are not perfect.  There is still a lot of history that we’ll never gain back.  But 7 months of history feels so much better than it did at 1 month.  I can say I know this boy.  I am learning when to follow the book and when to chuck it.  And most of all, we are really enjoying each other.  

Love is an action long before it becomes a feeling.  But through this, I am learning that if you choose to love.  Choose the joy and peace and patience and kindness and goodness and gentleness.  Choose compassion and self-surrender.  You can’t help but to surrender yourself right into that love.  

Today, I can say I love my sweet boy Owen beyond what I can express in words.  We’ve grown so much together, and without him I simply wouldn’t be the same.  I can say I am learning to trust myself as his mother and that I find more moments of joy than of overwhelmed fear and guilt. 

I have so hesitated to share this journey, at the risk of being misunderstood.  But there are some of you out there who will understand my sentiments exactly.  And you are the ones who need to hear this.  Despite yourself, you are lovable and loving.  Despite your hard and painful now, there is grace to be found. 

A favorite song of mine has the lyrics, time brings change and change takes time.  

And that has been my prayer, God, that in these moments of rough waters, that I would let you do your refining work to smooth out the edges.  Time brings change and change takes time.  I pray that the result of our difficult seasons, mine and yours, would bring more beauty on the other side.

Written December 21, 2015

Finally shared on June 19, 2019