Saturday, December 28, 2013

One Year Later: What I Have Learned Through Adopting Our Son

This December marks three years since we began the international adoption process.  One year ago today, we met our son, Tyson, for the very first time. 

My thoughts about adoption have evolved in these three years. When we made the decision to start the journey, I was fired up with emotion and fervor.  EVERYONE should adopt! RAH! RAH! RAH! I would get a little frustrated with those that told me, "Oh, I could never do what you're doing."  I couldn't understand why anyone would hesitate to bring a child without a family into their home. 

And then we actually started the adoption process. 

For two years, it was as if we were on a roller-coaster ride. A really old, unstable roller coaster where the track is falling apart, the seat belts don't buckle, and the brakes have stopped working.   

It was hard; emotionally tolling on our family, our resources, and our relationships.  

Over the course of the two years it took to complete our adoption from the DRC, I learned a lot in general about adoption.  

Don't assume everyone you work with has integrity. I learned the hard way that there are not as many adoption agencies truly advocating for the best interest of the child as I had imagined.  If you are considering adoption but not sure where to start, head over here.  

The international adoption process isn't for everyone. Not every family has the emotional resources or time to invest in a child that comes from trauma and brokenness. Some parents are fighting to keep their current home situation functioning and healthy. Adding another piece to the already volatile dynamic could cause the family to implode. 

The entire family needs to be on the same page. When the process gets hard and frustrating (and it will), both the husband and wife need to be able to look at one another and know that they made the decision to commit to adoption together.  It is crucial that married couples both be invested fully in the decision to adopt.  

Adoption is an option for the orphan, but it is not the only answer.  Providing in-country hope, resources, and families for orphans who will never be able to be adopted must become a priority for American Churches.  

It is vital to have a group of people surrounding you who get it and completely understand what it means to love a child you have never met. I'm so grateful for the other families that were walking through the process at the same time. We encouraged each other, calmed one another down, and just offered any bit of support we could. We celebrated like we had won the lottery when someone received a new picture of their child. I haven't even met most of them in person, but I feel like I lived a lifetime with them. 

One year ago today, we held our son Tyson Henry Word for the very first time.  In just that one day, I learned a few things about adoption. 

Adoption is birthed from loss. It is possible to experience pure joy and deep heartache at the very same moment.  Holding our baby boy for the first time was one of the sweetest moments of my life. It was also one of the most emotional. As I cuddled Tyson and he clung to my shirt, I was reminded of how this baby had come to end up in our arms at all.  We had traveled across the world because this little one had already faced broken relationships and loss. The gravity of that knowledge laid heavy on our hearts. 

I learned what it feels like to take a child from the arms of a foster mama who loved him deeply. Actually, I purposely did not take Tyson from her arms. As a foster mom myself, I knew I couldn't. Brian held him first and I just hugged her tight. There were not enough words to share my gratitude with her. 

Spending our first few weeks together in Tyson's birth country was invaluable. Our hearts are forever connected the DRC, a country with a bruised past and a volatile present.  Though at times it struggles with instability, it is also a country of beautiful people who hope for a better future. We love our son's heritage and hope to return one day to the DRC with him. 

In the past year since bringing Tyson home, I've learned even more about adoption. 

The bonding time is critical.  Only Brian or I held Tyson for the first few months.  Those in our community were so gracious and understanding with this request.  This time was precious to us and so valuable to our family as he adjusted to his new surroundings. 

I have learned not to take my days for granted with him.  There were months of his life that I missed, so I refuse to waste a minute wishing for what comes next.  I have lost too much of his past already. 

Every single piece of paperwork, every roadblock, every single piece of red tape that was on the path to our son was worth it. Every single one.  And I would do it all over again in a heartbeat. 

I've learned that through these past three years, international or domestic adoption is not for everyone. But, without question, it is for our family.  Through sharing our story, I hope that it speaks to others out there who are considering the journey. 

Adoption has turned my life upside down and wrung me inside out. It has stretched and refined my thinking, challenged my worldview, and convicted me of what is truly important in this life.  

It is the hardest and the best thing I have ever done. Adoption has changed my life for the better.   

Happy One Year Gotcha Day, Tyson Henry Word.  You have brightened our world with your infectious smile and dimples for days. We love you dearly and cannot imagine our world without you in it. 

Thursday, December 26, 2013

A Merry Laid-Back Christmas

We made the decision a few years ago that we would wake up Christmas morning in our own home. The following week may be spent traveling to see our extended families along the East Coast, but that morning would be a time preserved for our little tribe. 

Last year, Christmas ended up being a flurry of packing and planning, as we prepared to fly to the Congo the following morning.  So, we were very content to have no plans and no agenda yesterday, other than to spend time together. 

We kept it simple, just a few gifts each and monkey bread, which is a must-have for every holiday.  The rest of the day consisted of playing with new toys, napping, and eating. Everyone stayed in their pajamas.  It was glorious! 

Toddlers in footed pajamas equals adorableness. 

Buttery, sugary, cinnamony perfection.

Knox and Bandit getting their Christmas presents- which Bandit promptly went 
and buried in one of his 7,000 holes in the backyard. 

Christmas morning smooches. 
 (FYI- Contrary to what this pic is showing, I do not have bright red hair.) 

J-man's third Christmas with us!!!  

Nothing makes a teenager happier than a gift card that involves music. 

So much for a white Christmas. Oh well- let's run! 

Looking super cute while trying out his new toy.

Did I mention he is super cute? 

Our favorite Christmas tradition- looking through our Family Photo Album from the past year. Blessed beyond measure. 

Hope you had a wonderful Christmas, full of your cherished traditions and favorite people!  

Tuesday, December 3, 2013

A Social Media Christmas: Burdens, Comparisons, and Exhaustion

Remember when the only Christmas decorations you saw were in magazines, department stores, and friends houses who invited you over for parties?

Remember when traditions were passed down through generations rather than over Pinterest and Instagram?

Remember the years before Elf on the Shelf?

Remember when Christmas cards were just that, actual cards? 

I do.

I have to admit, I miss those years. 

Becoming a parent has opened my eyes to all the, ahem, “opportunities” that can be a part of our Christmas celebrations.

Social media has let me know that Santa should be visited, the Polar Express must not be missed, a Christmas parade should be attended, Elf on the Shelf is a ridiculous amount of fun, and Advent is to be creatively celebrated with your children. 

It’s exhausting and overwhelming when I consider all of them.

I’ve seen about 3,253 Elf on the Shelf pictures, each more clever than the first.

There are “Kindness Elves,” doing good deeds daily for their postman, teachers,  third cousins, and the neighborhood cat.

The Polar Express was sold out before I knew tickets were on sale. 

There are many, many ways to do an Advent Calendar.  Each one is the best one, or so I’ve read. 

Christmas cards have already started arriving at my house. The smiling, adorable family photo cards are a mystery to me. How does one get every child to look at the camera and grin at the same time? My boys do a fabulous job of crying, looking confused, or just not looking during every photo op.  Oh, and I still haven’t sent my cards from last year.

Pinterest keeps showing me handmade Christmas wreaths, reindeer cookies, and twig tree ornaments that I should be making.   

I haven’t read a book or my bible in front of roaring fire and my Christmas tree while covered in a blanket.  Instagram has informed me that everyone else is doing that regularly.

According to facebook, 95% friends have finished their Christmas shopping.  All of it was done on Amazon.  I have not yet started.

To be completely honest, I struggle with all of this. It’s a personal problem, I realize, but I share it in case maybe someone out there feels the same way. 

I’ve considered getting off of social media, quarantining my family and emerging on January 2nd back into society.

That option is probably extreme and has the potential to also drive me to insanity.

I'm not at all against decorating or celebrating creatively. Christmas fun has begun in our house. We have hung the stockings and trimmed the tree. (Real Talk: I'm not against instagram. Tonight I posted a picture of my mantle on Instagram, asking for decorating opinions.) We are in the midst of establishing sweet traditions with our boys.  

For me and way my mind works, I just have to view every holiday decision in light of my motives. 

Am I decorating to make our home cozy and welcoming for our family or to be aesthetically pleasing in the pictures I post? 

Do I bake/make/create because that's what every "good mom" does or because it's what I believe is best for my boys? 

Do the Christmas traditions we are planning for the boys bring on stress and exhaustion or joy and life? 

These are the questions that I have to ask in order to refocus and realign myself.

The fact of the matter is that I don’t want to miss this month. I don’t want to lose sight of the hope in this holiday. 

We have two Nativity Sets in our home.  Brian brought this set home from Kenya a few years ago.  

A fellow adoptive friend sent us this Congolese nativity set as we were waiting on Tyson last year. 

They are sweet reminders of God’s promise of a Savior and His faithfulness in every piece of our lives.  While they are simply made and plain in appearance, I think they are the perfect antidote to the holiday madness that I can allow to overwhelm me. 

Christmas isn’t meant to be a burden.  It isn’t meant to choke us with consumerism and comparison.

I don’t want to be blinded by the lights and the glitter and miss the joy and hope.  I don't want to miss the Savior, the redemption, and the ultimate restoration because of His birth. 

Maybe some of you feel this way too. 

Let’s help hold each other accountable, not to doing or spending more, but to truly finding joy this December in the simple things that matter long after this month ends.