Tuesday, February 16, 2016

Our ellipsis . . .

I have started this post so many times.  But my heart just wasn't quite ready to put words to keyboard and click the word "post."

Call it self preservation.  Call it fragile hope.  Or maybe fragile faith.

Add in a blog that hasn't been posted to for over a year . . .and it becomes quite clear that this post is more for my own marking than public sharing. : )  But this morning I felt the need to mark this past season down for our own memory if a single other person doesn't make it through.

An ellipsis is, by definition, "a series of dots that usually indicates an intentional omission of words, a pause, or a sudden leap from one topic to another." And such is the word to describe our adoption journey.

These past couple years have been some of the most faith stretching/faith building that I have known. Faith stretching because I had come face to face to the fact that as much as I would have stated differently, far too much of my faith had been built on what I had seen God do for me than on WHO my God was.

That verse in Proverbs 13 that begins as, "hope deferred makes the heart sick . .." often struck a chord in me as I began to understand it in new ways.

It seems unreal to think that we are past the 5th year mark of when we sent off our first adoption papers.  Anyone who has been given a God gifted spark to go, do, or love knows what that drive feels like.  It is invigorating, purpose giving and can consume (we've all done it - everyone you know should be as excited as you are and called to the same passion as you :) ).  You are moving forward and until that is gone, you don't realize what a gift that is.

Our journey has held many twists and turns.  Yet even the twists and turns felt like forward movement and with purpose. Our yes to baby J turned to loss and that void hit hard.  We felt so much conviction our yes was the right answer but weren't prepared to hurt so deeply in it or the journey to follow.  A journey I am learning to be thankful for amidst the mess.

Our grief was often largely compounded by a lack of "next:" a lot of unexpected unknown of if our family was able to grow any other way, a lot of loss associated with our grief (dreams, ability to plan, finances, empty arms) . . .we learned how multidimensional grief is.  How unpredictable it is.  How it both heals and compounds with time in the most unusual combination of ways. We learned how to move forward . . .yet at times I struggled so much spiritually as we continued to wait to see God move. And you grieve the loss of that for yourself.

And that has been much of our past two years coupled with seeing God continue to keep showing up in small ways right about the times I most struggled to see Him.  In a journey that is hard to know how to speak into, God became our one source of both comfort and direction. There has been little "known" to our next year for the past  5+ years and it became revealing to me how much comfort I glean from the known ahead (down to simply knowing we'll make a planned vacation), even as we know tomorrow isn't promised.

Our first year grieving baby J was hard simply in the dynamics of grief.  Towards the end of that year we were receiving increasingly discouraging updates from our Ethiopia agency and from a few personal conversations I was able to be in and be informed of, both Ryan and I felt a increased lack of peace to stay in the program or in the ablity to have confidence in completing an adoption with the current climate we saw.  We started having some serious conversations with God and each other if we should continue or if we needed to walk away.

Can I be honest and say this brought about mixed emotions.  Grief for sure.  We had planned and hoped and prayed. We had been come around by so many and cheered on in this next step for our family.  We had invested years of our family's planning and future in that journey.

It also brought some relief.  For almost 5 years we had protected vacations days and often weeks of them.  Some needed projects, plans, etc for our home, savings, and even trips had been put off until someday "when the adoption was done."  Your heart, while seeking to be intentional in living for "now," was also always just a bit on the other side of the ocean.  It affected our ability, to an exten,t of even what to pour ourselves into with such a huge unknown of our next year and family's needs.  And to think of stepping away from that and just fully into the "now" of where God had us felt somewhat freeing if I'm being honest. 

So we gave ourselves permission to sit with the idea of simply being done. That first night felt amazingly light.

Within two days both Ryan and I were miserable.  We both felt the weight of walking away from what God had called us to.  And bluntly? We both felt the weight of what we would step back into.

I have a dear friend who has walked a hard journey of loss with conceiving and pregnancy.  In phone conversations with her, I felt very seen.  Because you see, when all you have known about conception and pregnancy and growing your family is the fruition of it?  It is all possibility and joy (I do realize these are broad statements :) ) and expectation of completion of a journey.  When you have had pregnancies unknown or children lost . . . to discover you are pregnant (or to even hope you are) is both pure joy and terror in one.  Because the story isn't over yet.  The exhale isn't there.  And the following months become an exercise of surrender and faith and anxiety and fear and trust all woven in one. And involves a willingness to invest more of your heart (and at times finances) when you are weary and so ready to rejoice. All while worth it and deeply desired. 

For us? The thought of signing back up was all those emotions.  Not to mention there was a reality of where we had walked in and where our hearts and lives were in the ability to walk another journey.  My heart was so fragile to hope. Our family was ready to move forward in planning and living again and the thought of a long wait seemed more than we could handle. Finances weren't an endless supply and we were so sensitive to the fact so many had come around us in overwhelming ways already.  After 5 years of yearly paperwork updates, a home study agency change (which meant an entirely new home study . . .not just an update) . . .the thought of starting from scratch paperwork wise and with new agency relationships seemed overwhelming.

And so Ryan and I began to pray.  We took all those dynamics before God and simply told Him we felt we weren't free to let go of this call . . .and yet struggled to see how all the realities of where we had walked could reconcile with the current adoption climate we saw all around us.  We struggled walking our girls (who already walked a lot of waiting and loss) into another long wait.  We struggled to see how to continue to step forward in this call while being wise stewards of our finances and what had been given in support of us. That weight felt so heavy.  We struggled to make sure we were meeting a need in this call and not simply adding a name to a list.  And we really, really boldly asked Him to make a way that didn't involve us starting from scratch somewhere.  Because momma was just tired and fragile. Then we put our hands out open to Him to wait to speak.

Around that time, some close friends of mine began speaking of a small adoption program in South Africa.  I listened with half an ear because all I kept hearing seemed totally outside of us.  It was a very small Hague accredited adoption program (essentially means an important certification in the adoption world) and in so many words spoke, "start paperwork over from scratch with new agency" to me. : ) I mentioned it in passing to Ryan as a "non possibility," and we were just still sitting and trying to see what was next for our fam.

Then one Monday night, Ryan headed to bsf with the girls and I was home.  I got on the phone with a friend and we were dialoguing where we were at and somehow South Africa came back up.  I began down this long list of why it wasn't a match that largely coincided what all I was really asking God for in this next journey . ..and specifically not having the emotional and mental energy to start paperwork from scratch. At some point, the fact that I had never gotten on the agency's page to confirm any of the details I was throwing it for came up and so I got on the site while still on the phone.

I glanced over the bare basics of the program and saw that they only worked with currently established partnerships for home studies (the agency is in another state) and immediately threw it out as why this all wouldn't work. Our home study agency that we had been forced to change to when our previous agency (large and well known) had stopped working with international adoptions was just a small agency out of another town. So to prove my point to my friend why this all wouldn't work, I agreed to see what their agency for Illinois was . . ..and my heart stopped when I saw our small agency was one of two agencies in all of Illinois with a partnership already in place.

My heart further stopped when I started receiving texts from Ryan that night.  It's been so long since this adoption journey first began that many may not rememner the dynamics we struggled with in the beginning over who was driving the direction we were pursuing.  Adoption often has a driver and a dragger.  And in the beginning, I was a driver and that is ok to a point . .. but then we (I) struggled to transfer that leadership to Ryan and we sat at an impasse for a while.  It was a huge growing season in our marriage and since then, I have really asked and sought and worked to allow Ryan to take/keep that role in this journey of ours.

So when Ryan started sending me long texts one after the other, I started paying attention. Lets be honest, our typical texting relationship is usually about 3 texts from me to his one. :)  But God stirred in his heart that night and he felt confirmation and direction through both the Spirit and Word that we needed to be pursuing this program in South Africa.  And that our reasons for not doing so were purely fear and self and not valid.  I agreed to call the agency the next morning and have a conversation . . .with a long mental list of why it still wouldn't work.

That next day I got on the phone with my long list of questions . . .and within about 5 minutes of the conversation I had tears rolling down my face for two reasons. 

1?  Every question I kept asking had an answer.  After a long year of feeling little to no direction in this area of our life, it was overwhelming in a sweet way to feel God moving in some clear ways and open paths.

2?  It was simply overwhelming as this time in a "new" adoption journey there were no blinders on.  We knew the cost of what we were stepping into and the risks to our hearts, family and lives.  And to step forward meant embracing all of it and trusting that God was big enough to care for us in it all and enough if it all fell apart.

By that night we knew we were moving forward.  And so began the process.  For the sake of time, I will just tell you that it quickly became messy. 

Anyone who knows my history knows there is a part of my journey that was messy in its own as I struggled with depression and an eating disorder in late high school and early college that I sought treatment for.  God was incredibly faithful in bringing me out of that, but it adds a complicating factor to every adoption beginning as agencies seek to make sure it isn't a current factor in my life and this was no different. 

We actually had to do a full in country pre-approval that took several months - and we spent the Christmas season of 2014 wondering if this was God closing the door for good on adoption as we knew it or if He was starting something new.  It was emotional and hard to be placed in this season of unknown again (a theme of our life :) ) but helped serve as a confirmation that we were invested and committed to this new path and new hope for our family's growth.

In February of 2014 we officially began the paperwork chase to adopt from South Africa and made the official step to terminate our Ethiopia process.  We felt really protected emotionally by God in all of this as within a short time of this our agency announced they were closing their Ethiopia program due to the current climate there and their inability to confidently refer children reliably and ethically.
To have already process this door closing felt like a gift amidst a lot of hard realities.
Thankfully, our home study was just an update but it still was an entirely new dossier process and I was so thankful that God had gifted us with a few friends ahead of me to walk us through the unknowns and ups and downs that the paperwork process inevitably is.  It felt like a huge answered prayer when our dossier was mailed off to South Africa completed the last week of June and we stepped back into a season of waiting.

As adoption is always unpredictable and full of twists and turns, and this path has been no different.

Because of the small size of the program, and the fact that they work to refer children that can't be reunified or adopted within country (a huge reason we loved the program), waits rarely extended beyond 6 months with fairly open parameters (that we have always had).  But as God continues to refine us and teach us to lean on Him alone and not a predictable process, life or timelines . . .we had learned new reasons to find this true.

A magistrate over there went through a political season and refused to process any cases on his desk for a period of about two months and cases backed up.  Shortly after his personal strike ended, the court workers over there went on strike.  That was thankfully short lived and again, backed cases up.  Then the holidays come and as the cases, several workers took their six week holiday vacation. :)  Anyone want to move?!

We had originally had high hopes for a match by Christmas . ..and I will bluntly say at one time I held the pipe dream of a new year in South Africa.  God saw otherwise.  And so it has been a daily surrender and choice of trust to His timing and sovereign hand.  Our new prayer and hope is to be matched in a timeframe that would allow us to travel so that the girls don't miss the beginning of a new school year.  That isn't a gurantee with what we are currently seeing.

I have related to the story of Jacob much this past year as we stretch closer to a 6 year journey of adoption.  It doesn't make sense in light of a need and a willingness.   It doesn't make sense in the light of God placing us on a path.  I could say all that about his story and I look at in new lenses.  Because God had placed him there.  And we are trusting God has placed us here.

Ryan and I have had the gift of studying the book of Revelation in BSF this year, along with our girls, and God knew the timing of it all.  He has reminded me of the eternal perspective I have lacked.  He has reminded me what true suffering is (and it isn't a delay in plans and dreams).  He has reminded me there is joy and intimacy in learning to suffer/struggle as He did.  He has made so clear that He is the only place to put my hope.

Prayers are still so appreciated and needed (if you made it through all that). 

There are still many days my hope and trust is built on the truth I speak into my heart as opposed to the fear and doubt I feel.  In a really hard period of few weeks, a friend took me back to that Proverbs verse as I wrestled with my fragile hope and faith in trusting God to bring this to pass and reminded me of the second half of that Proverbs verse:

"Hope deferred makes the heart sick: but when the desire comes, it is a tree of life."

I found so much encouragement in that back half of the verse.  I have known, quite well, the truth of that first statement.  I know of so many others who are walking their own deferred dreams and struggling amidst them to grab hold of truth and a hope that won't disappoint.  And there is a reality that long seasons of that can bring much discouragement.

But I love that God knew that already.  And in that verse? I don't hear condemnation.  I hear encouragement and a God who sees us in all of it.  Because there is a reality that seeing God move in answer to our prayers and hopes allows life to take root.  And when I don't always see that in my day to day, I can know I have an eternal hope that will make this all pale in comparison.

But feeling His compassion in this season, encourages me to keep my eyes on Him to move and answer this prayer of hope for our family.

But if not?

Do I dare type we will be ok? 

Because while these past 5 1/2 years have stretched us more than I would have ever asked for.  I have learned He is enough.  And I have had to transfer many "hopes" to only rest in Him.  In my first 5 devotion this morning, I was so encouraged by its direct relation to our family's story and truth of what God has taught us.

"Let's not put a period where our life story just needs a little string of dots. . . .

We must never confuse delays with dead ends.  . . when we confuse what's really a pausing point with a terminal point, we can get into trouble.  And this is exactly what the people of Israel were doing when Moses was so long coming down from the mountain.  When they didn't understand the delay, they decided they couldn't trust God . . .

When there is a delay in our lives, we must determine to fill the gap between here and there by intentionally proclaiming every hint of God's activity.  Just the fact that we woke up breathing this morning is evidence of His goodness.  So, let's make a list and keep acknowledging that just because God is silent in one area of our life does not mean He is silent in every area.

Also, let's think about an area of our life where we've been waiting for what seems like an unreasonable amount of time.  Let's determine today not to mistake this delay for a dead end.  Say out loud, "I will not run ahead of God in this. I will not manipulate or manufacture solutions.  I will not give up until God confirms I should. I will keep seeking God, fully anticipating and trusting His perfect plan to unfold in His perfect timing and His perfect way. And if He does confirm this is a dead end, I will still honor Him."

And so unless and until God us otherwise, our family is looking and trusting Him to grow us and expand to South Africa.

Thanks for loving us in it all.