Friday, March 25, 2016

fighting to see the good in Good Friday

I wrote this post a year ago, but I couldn't bring myself to publish it then. Through my warped lens of grief, I felt like blogging about the death of my dear friend would make it more real. Maybe, I hoped, if I just didn't share these words, she wouldn't be gone... 

But she still was. She still is. One year ago today, she took her life.

So today, after a hard and good conversation with her husband this morning, I'm sharing these words - just as I wrote them last year with all the raw emotion intact - because I don't think grief is meant to be silent. We exalt comfort and pretend it's right and good and even godly. But? God's word is full of lament and pain and even doubt, so I think I'm in good company to say this life hurts without sugar-coating or silver-lining my words. God is glorified in the pain and not just the platitudes.

So here goes, my post written on Good Friday 2015...

I grew up Lutheran. The rhythms of liturgical seasons still flow through me, but I haven't felt that same somber feeling at Good Friday most years since joining a Baptist church.

Until today.

In my youth, the notes of Ash Wednesday, Lent, and purple vestments joined with the singing of "Were you there when they crucified my Lord?" to elicit a mix of grief, reverence, and expectation. Today the memorial service of one of my dearest friends is doing the same. 

Oh, how I miss her. 

Since her death almost a week and a half ago, I've found pockets of joy here and there but most have been bittersweet. Despite them all, Melinda is gone from this earth. I believe God's words are true in Revelation 21:4 when they promise of heaven where "He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain any more, for the former things have passed away." I believe my friend is there, eternally divorced from this life's torments and brokenness. While I am glad she is fully free, I feel bound by my grief.

Today I am better able to imagine the depths of agony that day long ago held. While I know Sunday is coming, I woke fighting to see any good in Good Friday. While I know I'll see Melinda on the other side of eternity, the day seems too far away and today feels too dim without her.

So I scanned Facebook, busying my mind with anything other than my friend's memorial service later today. And I found words from my friend Hugh that resonated deep in me, and maybe they will in you too:
I know it breaks me with orthodoxy (surprise!) but I have always seen Good Friday as a victory for Jesus.

The most powerful Empire the world had ever known sets out to kill you in the most violent, most painful, most humiliating means it has at its disposal. It humiliates you, beats you, mocks you, spits on you, hangs you on a pole to watch you die in the afternoon sun in front of your mother. They do all of that.

If after all of that, your last words are your forgiving them for what they have done? Then they didn't win. You did. Or more accurately, Love did. (See what I did there?)

Empire has lots of tools at its disposal to strip you of your humanity, of your dignity, of your ability to love. But if you can love anyway in spite of their best efforts to break you, they don't win. And they don't know what to do about that.

I know the darkness doesn't win in the end. And I don't want the darkness to win in my heart, not even today, a day on which I'm tempted to let it overshadow all that is good and light and cheer. I know Melinda wouldn't want that for me or anyone else she loved either.

As I searched through old pictures for our oldest child's school project this past week, my breath stopped for a moment with one in particular. At my daughter's baptism, my friend sits just behind - feet in the water, sunglasses on, smile radiating - cheering with me in my girl's step of faith:

It seems fitting to share, as baptism represents dying in the water and being raised to new life again. Because we can hope in the latter, we deem the former to be worth it. Today I celebrate my friend and I grieve her absence here, in a fickle dance of pain and joy, grief and hope, loss and love.

Depression is a heinous illness, and sometimes - as was the case with my friend - it can become terminal. As much as I want to say "what if..." the reality is that she was doing all the right things with medical care and support and vulnerability, but it wasn't enough. I wish an extra measure of friendship from me or love from anyone else could have changed the story, but we're not the authors of this. We did all we could, and so did she. Please don't talk in hushed tones about the choice she made. Please. In her darkness, she couldn't see choices anymore; if she had seen another way, I know my friend well enough to know she would have chosen it. Just as someone can succumb to breast cancer despite all the best treatments and deepest will to survive, my friend succumbed to another terrible disease, one called depression. 

If you are struggling, tell someone. Seek help. Find a therapist. Talk to a doctor about whether or not medication might be a good option for you. Risk trusting friends to be faithful to you, even when smiles are hard and burdens heavy. 

I've done all of those things in the past year - for myself and my family, but also in honor of Melinda - and I'm better for it. If you need encouragement in taking the next step toward healing, let me know. I'm here for you. 

(If you are in a similar place as my friend was and don't know what to do, the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline is one good option. You can also reach the Crisis Text Line by texting "START" to 741-741. You are precious, and your life is worth fighting for.)

Monday, February 15, 2016


I've been walking down memory lane a lot lately. During one of those strolls, I pulled out my old literary magazine from high school and came across this:

by Shannon Saunders (my maiden name)

She smiles, laughs in public;
the whole world thinks she's happy.

She goes home, and the tears come;
Her mask of ebullience falls to the floor.
I wrote the poem in middle school. As if those years weren't challenging enough, I went to three different schools in sixth, seventh, and eighth grades respectively. I tried on different facades in each: the extroverted Blossom-wannabe who petitioned the principal to allow hats as part of the dress code in sixth grade, the more withdrawn poet in seventh grade who wrote the lines above (and many others verses that aren't fit for public consumption, because most of my middle school scrawl was, well, more middle school-ish), and the bubbly eighth-grade cheerleader who also sported a collection of flannel shirts and pretended to care as much as her boyfriend did when Kurt Cobain died.    

Then I submitted the poem to be published in high school. I had chosen one primary mask by then: perfection. If I could be smart enough in advanced classes, fast enough in the pool, well-written enough in the school paper, dramatic enough on stage, skilled enough on the golf course, godly enough at church, and spirited enough in student government, I'd matter. That's what I thought, at least. I remember spending hours trying to choose the right quote that would show that I was worthy, wanting something witty with a pop culture reference but settling for a verse I hoped would convey that I was good enough. 

Now, as a grown woman, the words of my younger self's poem still resonate. As I wrote last week, striving for enough-ness is still a thing for me. Wearing masks can be too, even though I wrote a year ago about wanting to be a truth teller rather than a mask wearer.


My masks are falling. I'm confronting the lies of scarcity I've been telling myself. I'm wearing bright colors of nail polish and setting up a home office of my own for the first time ever and trusting friends in a whole new way and considering running more 5Ks and connecting more deeply with Lee and... well, I might call it a mid-life crisis except I'm only 33 and hope to live past 66. So let's call it my 1/3-life crisis, k?

Or maybe not a crisis at all. Maybe I'll go with breakdown spiritual awakening, a la Brené Brown. (Side note: if you haven't read her stuff, start here and then here and then here. You're welcome.)

Whether it's a crisis or breakdown or awakening, this walk down memory lane has been good for me. It's nice to finally be growing up from that middle school girl who wrote about pretending.

Monday, February 8, 2016

what my youngest daughter taught me about grief

I opened the email and might have uttered a cuss word under my breath. It had already been quite a week. The news that our daughter's hippotherapy pony had unexpectedly passed away?

Not what I wanted in my inbox.

I seriously considered not telling her. I just didn't want to deal with that.

At least, not this week.

But honesty is one of my core values, so I couldn't stomach telling a lie when we arrived at her session that day and she asked where her favorite equine friend was.

An hour before therapy, I sat down next to her chair. I asked her to turn off her tablet. I looked into her deep brown eyes through her petite pink frames, and I took a deep breath.

"Today, you're riding, but you won't be riding Rambler."

She looked away and started to pout.

"I'm sorry, Zozo. Rambler is dead. You won't get to ride him anymore."

She grabbed her tablet and threw it at me. Then she grabbed the lone goldfish cracker left on her tray and flung it too. I tried to make eye contact again, and she grunted "NO!"

I told her she'd probably get to ride Peanut, the pony she rode the first time.

She said, "No," still not looking at me.

"No ride. No Rambler. No ride."

Then her lower lip pooched out, and the sobs began.

I held her. We cried together. Eventually, she calmed down.

We went out to the barn, not sure how she would handle it.

I second guessed my decision to tell her, wondering if a lie would have been so bad after all.

We got there. She saw Peanut. She told her therapist, "I ride Peanut. No ride Rambler. Rambler dead."

I might have cried a little. But that wasn't the moment that will be forever embedded in my soul.

After her session, I said, "See Zoe. It's sad that Rambler is dead, but it's okay because you got to ride Peanut. That was fun, right?"

As soon as the words left my mouth, I regretted them. I hate when people try to wrap hard things in pretty packages instead of being willing to dwell in the discomfort, but that's exactly what I was trying to do. I winced at my own hypocrisy.

"No," Zoe said again. "No. It sad Rambler dead. I like Peanut. But it not okay Rambler dead. It sad Rambler dead. Rambler my friend. Peanut my friend but Rambler my friend. And Rambler dead."

"I like Peanut. But I sad Rambler."

Not either/or. Both/and.

Amen, sweet girl.

RIP, Rambler.

Monday, February 1, 2016


I haven't blogged here lately. If you've read any of my other writing or even just FB posts, you know I'm going through a season of major transformation. I didn't choose a word for 2016 like I have in years past, but if I did, it would be this:


All my life, I've struggled with feeling like I was never enough - good enough, smart enough, talented enough, pretty enough, faithful enough. Into adulthood, every other sermon or viral post or book about marriage or parenting felt like a reminder that I wasn't wife enough or mom enough. If anything bad happened, even when it wasn't my fault, I blamed my own scarcity. Of course ______ horrible thing happened, and it's obvious why: I'm not enough.

Then as I began therapy last fall, I started to wade through some hard emotions and felt flooded by it all. I wanted to hide away from the world. I wasn't sure if my friends were friend enough to handle what I was dealing with. (Plus after having lost two of my closest friends in the past two years - one who couldn't handle the new realities after our last adoption and one who lost her life too early to depression, both losses whispering the lie that I wasn't enough as a friend - I felt legitimized in doubting the strength of any other relationship.)

And? If I'm honest, I found myself doubting that God was God enough for it all.

I know that's a pretty risky statement from a ministry leader and Christian writer and speaker, but I'm not going to pretend. I know my God can handle my being real (and, of course, he already knows precisely how I've been feeling), and I hope you can too. (If your first reaction is to try arguing with me because you're uncomfortable with my doubting, please sit with that feeling instead of leaving a comment. I think there's more value in dwelling in discomfort with someone else than in trying to fix them.) I'm beginning to believe that we need more vulnerability and less confidence in self from faith leaders, so I'm willing to risk putting my weakness out there instead of trying to project a perfect speaker/writer/minister image.

My gut instinct was (is) to try to be enough on my own to handle everything, all while feeling like I can never measure up to being enough. Yep, that's exactly as emotionally exhausting as it sounds. 

I'm learning, though, to believe...
I am enough, as I am. Nothing I do or say will make me more enough for my God, my husband, my kids, and my friends.
My friends are enough for me to share my true self and still receive love in return. (And? Community matters enough to keep seeking it, even when mistrust and self-reliance feel more comfortable to me.) 
God is more than enough, for anything and everything I need. The full sufficiency of the gospel and his love for me is enough that all of my labors to earn what he has already freely given are completely unnecessary.
I think this act of learning to reject the mentality of scarcity - scarcity of self, scarcity of genuine community, scarcity in my estimation of who God is - will be a life-long lesson, so I wanted an ever-present reminder. If I'm underestimating the healing that is to come, then maybe someday when/if this is no longer a struggle, this symbol might one day instead be a stone of remembrance. I considered having the word enough inscribed on one of my new bracelets, which bear the Chinese symbol for love, a Luganda phrase which means I love you very much, and a few symbols with deep meaning for me. But a bracelet I could take on and off didn't seem like the right fit. No, I wanted to brand this reminder on my skin.

I am enough.

You are enough.

God is more than enough.


Wednesday, September 9, 2015

If how we talk to our children shapes their inner voice, I want my words to be kinder.

I believe that how we talk to our children becomes their inner voice.

And? Lately I've realized that I'm shaping my oldest daughters to have critical and sometimes harsh inner voices.

But? I refuse to accept the lie that says "this is just how I am." I know I can do better for all of us. But lest this all sound legalistic, let me be clear: my motivation isn't to be perfect or flawless. I know myself too well to aim for that nonsense. I just want to show more grace. That's the goal here. 

So I got myself some bracelets. I was going to use Silly Bands, but I had these jelly bracelets from Oriental Trading handy. (Because, ahem, I ordered them for Jocelyn's and Patience's 7th birthday parties and tucked them away and promptly forgot all about them. Yes, the girls are 8.5 now. Don't judge.)

I'll probably still order some Silly Bands, since these have a strong plastic smell and are hard to put on because they're child sized while my hand isn't. I don't want to wait until they come in, though. I feel a sense of urgency to change how I talk to my girls. So these will do for now.

Here's the plan: The bracelets will start on my right hand each day. With every affirming statement to one of our big girls, I'll move one over to my left hand. With every critical statement to them, I'll move one back to my right wrist. If I'm tempted to say something critical but I don't have any bands on my left hand or only have a few, I'm planning to let it slide as long as there's no immediate safety risk. This will require me to have stored up affirmation before anything critical passes my lips.

Over time, I might tweak the system. While I'm ultimately aiming for the good to substantially outweigh the critiques, I think evening them out is good for now because that's still an improvement from how it's been lately. Maybe in time I'll change the process later to move two or three over for each critical statement so that I make sure the positive words are said more than the negative, but this is my first step.

So far, my personal competitiveness - that same drive that pushed me to improve my times and scores in high school swimming and golf - is pushing me to do better and one up myself, which is making me a more encouraging mom already. In other words, it's working. And with all of the kids a little more angsty lately, I'm hoping a changed mama will lead to a changed family. 

I want to enjoy them. I want them to enjoy me. I'm not talking about being a friend instead of a mother, but I do believe I can and should be friendlier than I've been lately. 

Will this keep working? I'm not completely sure. But I do know they are worth trying something, anything, even something as silly as wearing rainbow colored children's bracelets. After all, I want their inner voices to be uplifting, empowering, loving, kind, merciful, and full of grace.

And I want my voice to be all of those things too.

Note: I'm not sharing this for accolades or atta girls. I'm sharing it to be real. I'm also sharing it because I'm guessing I'm not the only one who is struggling with this. Finally, I'm sharing it because I find that posting ideas to the blog makes me feel more accountable to follow through with my intentions, even if no one ever asks me about it. Call me crazy, but going public gives me a sort of personal accountability I can't quite explain. So, there you have it. Here's to changed attitudes in my home, starting with mine.

Tuesday, September 8, 2015

What if we all agreed that different parenting choices don't have to be wrong?

Two of my children entered full time preschool last week. Yes, that's the same 6.5 hour schedule my older four have in elementary school, while most preschoolers in our area go a few days a week for half days.

For one, she needs the long days to fit in therapies and a nap and the building of endurance she'll need to (most likely) be mainstreamed in a typical kindergarten class with peers whose bodies aren't fighting against them with spasticity from cerebral palsy.

For the other, she is ready ready READY to go to school like her siblings. Knowing she didn't have the best start in life, we had her evaluated for the Title 1 preschool program in our district, which serves four year olds who are at risk for academic difficulties in kindergarten with the aim that the high quality, full day preschool program will set them up for success instead. She qualified. We didn't know until a few days before school started that she'd have a spot, though, because she had been waitlisted. Thankfully, a spot opened up in the program operating at the big kids' elementary school, so she goes there with them now, starting and ending 30 minutes earlier than they do so the little ones aren't overrun by the big kids.

Like I said in my last post, these are big changes for all of us!

As far as preschool goes, we didn't do it for any of our other children. One wasn't with us in preschool, so that's easy to explain. One was having too much fun being the only girl and the big sister whose little bro adored her, and I equally didn't want to send her anywhere and didn't want to have an external schedule of pick up and drop off and all that jazz. Her learning style worked just fine for working on early learning skills at home, and that suited us all best. Then the boys didn't do preschool because one was joining our family and adjusting to all that meant and the other, with us from the womb, was helping with that. Oh, and he was also having seizures that we didn't get controlled until just before kindergarten started, so there's that.

All that to say, preschool decisions are different for every child.

So are most parenting choices.

My children are not your children, and your children aren't mine, so that means our child-centered choices about what's best might not be the same.

And? That's okay.

Our world operates on affirmation, though. In school, it's grades and rubrics and standardized tests and other measures of one singular norm. In the workplace, goals and performance reviews and raises, in which the specific job is considered but comparisons against other workers are also common. In parenting? I think the only real universal bar is "they're still alive at the end of the day." Of course, feeding and love and learning and so on are all part of that too, but examples of terrible parenting are clear while the range of good parenting is harder to define. 

Going back to the preschool example, I know friends who have felt judged for doing preschool or not doing preschool or doing too many days of preschool or doing not enough days of preschool or doing a too churchy preschool or doing a too secular preschool or spending too much on preschool or choosing a preschool with long days or being relieved when it's time for school to start again or crying too much when school resumes. And that's not even including the parents who work full time and so have their preschool aged children in some sort of program or childcare environment during business hours year round and the judgment they feel for that.

(Side note: Rock on, working parents. You're doing great, and you'll get no judgment from this stay at home mama.) 

What if we all agreed that different parenting choices aren't wrong?

Can we decide what's best for our kids and then not trouble ourselves with those who disagree or trouble others by trying to force our family's best onto their different dynamics?

And can we also recognize that sometimes we're not really being judged, even when we think we are? (I could go on a tangent here about how you're actually judging someone when you judge that you think that they're judging you, but I haven't had enough coffee today to make that make sense.)

I could have made this about breastfeeding and bottlefeeding and tube feeding or private vs public vs home school or therapy intensives vs surgeries vs assistive devices or Botox vs Baclofen vs SDR (yes, we do it in special needs parenting circles too) or something else altogether. But? We've started two in daily preschool programs that are longer than the norm for our area, especially for families with a stay-at-home parent like me. 

I'm sure this is the right decision for our crew, and this post is my way of saying that. This post is also my way of letting friends know that I am 100% okay with whatever preschool choice they're making too. Parenting is hard enough even when it's a judgment-free zone, am I right? 

So enjoy this new school year, no matter what it brings and no matter what it looks like for your family. And? Be forewarned that at any moment in the coming weeks I might be celebrating that my days are child-free or mourning that I miss my babies.

Being sure of our decision doesn't mean being in control of my emotions, after all. 

Tuesday, August 25, 2015

warning: huge changes ahead!

Let's get this out of the way at the get go: no, we're not adopting again. I know when I usually post about big changes, that's the news, so let's clear that up from the start.


This week the oldest four started in 1st and 3rd grades. So that's four of the six in school all day.

they have moxie, yes they do

Back in June, Zoe's IEP team - including us - all agreed she should be there for a full day to fit in all her therapies and educational interventions and to build stamina, as we're all thinking she'll probably be able to be mainstreamed in a typical kindergarten class two years from now. (Thankfully, her full day at preschool does include her much-needed nap!) She'll be at the same preschool as last year, where she is loved and loves going, starting Monday. So that makes five of the six in school all day.

Around the same time as Zoe's IEP meeting, Patu was screened for our district's Title 1 preschool program, which serves four year olds who are at risk for academic difficulties in kindergarten with the aim that a high quality, full day preschool environment will set them up for success instead. I won't get into all the reasons why we felt like that would be a good fit for her here, but most of them have to do with her rough start in life. The folks in the Office of Early Learning determined that she qualified for the program, but since they always have more kids who qualify than spots available, she was waitlisted since her needs and risk factors weren't as pressing as other children's. I wasn't surprised by her qualifying for the program or by her not qualifying quite enough to be served. I know how the system works. Well, today we got the call that a spot opened up for her in the Title 1 preschool class at the same elementary school where our big kids go. Yep, that makes six of the six in school all day. She has a staggered entry day on Thursday, and then she starts Monday.

they insisted on picture time on the big kids' first day, of course

So? Not only do we feel like each child is in exactly the right educational program for their needs and in amazing schools we love and trust (even though having our little girls in school all day will be hard for me!), I will be child free for six hours a day. Y'all, I can't even.

Want me to volunteer? Take on a project? Commit to something else? My answer is NO. I'm so excited to reclaim the house from mess and actually go to the gym and volunteer at the school without having to line up childcare to do so and tackle some writing projects I usually do after the kids are in bed and actually go to that doctor's appointment I keep canceling and get a haircut and possibly blog more consistently and maybe even put away the clean laundry instead of leaving it in baskets, so I'm not adding a dadgum thing until I get my bearings.

Also, I might nap. Just being honest here.

Please forgive me in advance for the slew of posts and pics and such as I try to figure out this new existence, because since becoming a mother, I have never had a time with all the kids in school. The last time I had no children during the day was 2006, because I had no children yet then. So please pray for all of us through this adjustment, because this is huge!

Monday, July 20, 2015

#LoveforEli, forever

I was planning to write a post today about our friend Eli. I was going to ask you to pray for him. I was going to tell you all of his bone marrow transplant on April 17, of the rare immune condition that required it, and of the complications with his kidneys and lungs since then. I was going to tell you he turned four around the same time our Patu did.

Eli at the hospital with his mom, dad, and big brother

In my planned post, I wasn't going to be telling you that he won't be turning 5 next year along with her.

In my planned post, I wasn't going to be telling you our prayers for healing weren't answered with a yes on earth but rather a yes in heaven.

In my planned post, I wasn't going to be sharing that Eli's fight and pain and complications ended shortly before midnight last night.

As we've grieved the loss of our referral of Zoe's brother and rejoiced for the sweet couple who will be bringing him home, I've coped by praying for others. That's how I process my own struggles, by asking God to help others in theirs. I'm not sure why, but it works for me. I think it's something about getting my mind off myself, focusing back on God, and loving others through prayer. That combination soothes my heart.

In the past week, I've mostly prayed for Eli and his parents and his big brother.

Eli's mom Lisa and I have met up for dinner and coffee a couple times in the past week or so, as she's been up here from Florida with Eli hospitalized at Duke. We met in our teens, and we've been friends for longer than I've known Lee. I believe she was the one who coined the nickname Shannon Anna Dingle Heimer Schmidt when I started dating the guy I told her might be "the one." (He was, of course.) We've kept up our friendship via email and then social media and even occasional visits. During one of Eli's first visits to Duke, he and Lisa and Lisa's mom joined our family for pizza and soda and chaos... you know, typical Friday night fare around here.

I was dreaming and hoping and longing for the day when his transplanted immune system was strong enough for him to sit with us at our table once again. But that pizza dinner isn't going to happen, not this side of heaven.

My heart aches for them. For us. For a world that isn't going to know the amazing 5 year old and 6 year old and 13 year old and 21 year old and 90 year old that Eli would have been if he had lived past 4.

Please pray for everyone who loved Eli, especially his dad, mom, and brother. They'll be heading back to Florida soon, without their fighter boy. I texted Lisa this C.S. Lewis quote earlier because it seemed fitting: "The death of a beloved is an amputation." Pray for them, for the loss and absence that will never go away, even as they give thanks that Eli is wholly healed and that they'll join him in heaven one day.

I usually end posts with some conclusion or hope or challenge. But today, I have nothing but eyes that are cried out and a heart that hurts from all the hurting... so I'll leave you with Lisa's words, sharing the news of Eli's passing. Let this be the challenge I offer and accept today:
Eli finished his battle just before midnight last night. He went peacefully and felt no pain. We are relieved for him that he doesn't have to be tortured anymore. We are so glad to know he's whole again in heaven, doing all of the things that have always made his soul happy. We are absolutely broken that we don't get to experience him healed here.

Thank you for praying and bELIving. One of Eli's great gifts was that he pulled back the corners of people's hearts to the possibility of Love. If Eli swept out any cobwebs or cracked open a part of you that you had shut a long time ago, please leave it open. For Eli.

Wednesday, July 15, 2015


Be careful if you ask, "How are you?" anytime soon. With the hot mess of emotions I have going on, you're not going to get the simple, "I'm fine," and keep on walking sort of answer.

We got word yesterday that "Sam" will have a family coming for him soon, but it's not going to be us.

I'm sad, but it's a contented sort of sadness. The family who has accepted his referral is a wonderful one. We've already been in touch, and we'll continue to be so that Zoe will know her brother and her brother will know her. We'll be able to see him grow up, albeit through pictures and stories from his actual parents.

Yes, it stings that those parents won't be us.


We trusted God. We placed this in his hands. We prayed, hard. We asked him to choose what was best.

Meanwhile, another couple trusted God. They received a referral. They prayed, hard. They knew our love for this child, but they felt certain of their "yes" to both God and the child we called Sam.

Even though we didn't know he would be available for international adoption until months later, we've known about "Sam" since the week we was born. It's becoming clear that our role in his life was to pray for him daily until his parents knew about him and could begin to do so. They look forward to being able to tell him that he has been deeply loved, every single day of his life. I'm glad we could be part of that. Still sad, yes, but glad/sad.

No, this isn't the story I wanted to be writing, but it's not my story to write. It's God's.

When we announced the plans for this adoption, we ended the blog post with these words:
We know this is crazy, but I hope you’ll share in the joy of this story we never would have crafted on our own. We said our family was complete, but God didn’t agree. We know He writes the best stories, so we’re looking forward to what’s in store.
 And we're still looking forward to what's in store, even though it's different from what we wanted.

Monday, July 13, 2015

laying my Isaac on the altar, not knowing if I'll get to pick him back up

Over the past week, two stories have loomed large in my mind: the story of Abraham and Isaac at the mountain altar in Genesis 22 and the story of the two mothers fighting over one child in 1 Kings 3. In case you need a summary or refresher, I'll share the gist of each:

In Genesis 22*, God calls Abraham to take his long-awaited son to Mount Moriah for a sacrifice, except they had no ram or other animal to offer on the altar. That's because Isaac was meant to be the offering. I can't imagine Abraham's three day hike with his son and two servants, knowing what was to be asked of him at the end point. Then he and Isaac leave the servants behind as they go to the altar. Abraham lays the wood upon the altar, binds his son on top of it, and just before the sacrifice, God puts a stop to it. A ram is provided. Abraham gets to lift Isaac off the altar again.

In 1 Kings 3, two women are sleeping in a house with their newborns when one baby dies. The mother of the dead child switches the children, placing her dead baby in the sleeping mother's arms while taking the live baby back to bed as her own. The sleeping mother awakes and begins to mourn but then realizes the dead child isn't hers. The two women end up in Solomon's court, both demanding that the living child is hers. Given that DNA testing isn't a thing yet, Solomon has to judge which mother should raise the child. His solution? Cut the child in half and give part to each mother. One mother agrees to that plan, even though the baby will die, and the other offers to give the child away to prevent any harm. Solomon rightly determines that the mother is the one who was willing to give up the child rather than allow him to die. A real mother is one who seeks the best for her child, no matter what heartache it might bring to her.

If you've been following our story - see posts here and here - then you probably understand why I've camped out in these two scripture passages.

God has asked us to lay our adoption of "Sam" on altar before him. The beautiful difference, of course, is that no harm will come to Zoe's brother. Another family has been offered his referral or, in terms of this metaphor, the opportunity to pick his adoption up from that altar. If they say no, we will gladly lift our plans from the altar once more and continue to pursue being mom and dad to "Samuel." But for now, we have to leave it all at the altar, trusting God to do what he deems best.

God has asked us to care more about what's best for "Sam" than what we consider to be best for us. If the other family says yes to the adoption referral of Zoe's brother, that means we set aside our hurts to move forward with a relationship with them, so that the siblings can know each other. Yes, we want for them to grow up together in the same family. But, no, that decision isn't up to us right now. So rather than to allow our feelings to tear apart this little boy or tear at the adoption hopes of another couple, our bold answer has to be that of the first mother in 1 Kings 3:26:
Then the woman whose son was alive said to the king, because her heart yearned for her son, “Oh, my lord, give her the living child, and by no means put him to death.” But the other said, “He shall be neither mine nor yours; divide him.”
I will act as this sort of mother to "Sam," even if I never get to be his actual mother. If it is best for him - which is something only God knows - my prayer is "God, give them this baby boy." Being a parent means putting a child's best interests first, even when it breaks your heart. Perhaps that's what we'll be asked to do, to have fostered love for "Sam" in our hearts for months but then to submit to the adoption by another family. Or perhaps, like Hannah said of her Samuel in 1 Samuel 1:27, we might get to say, "I prayed for this child, and the LORD has granted me what I asked of him."

I don't know how this will play out.

I do know that I will trust God, no matter what.

And I am thankful that we will probably get to be part of Zoe's brother's life, even if we don't get to be his parents.

our first family picture with Zoe, three years and one day ago


*Note on Genesis 22: I know two of my dear friends, both atheists, who point to this story as proof of a macabre god who isn't worthy of worship. I understand their stance. It is a hard story. But for me, it serves as a powerful object lesson. For starters, Abraham tells Isaac that God will provide the lamb, so maybe he trusted all along that God would spare Isaac. We don't know that for sure, though, from the story given in the Bible. If God had Abraham go through with it, sure, I might have difficulty trusting that God, if I'm completely honest. But as this story stands, nothing in it changes in my respect for a God who illustrates to us again and again that he is all we need! I'm not saying that because of blind obedience or "shoulds" - as in "I should believe..." or "pastors say I should..." or "I write about faith so I should..." but rather because I have been there. No, I've never been asked to lay a child on an altar for bodily sacrifice, but I have been called by him to lay my health, my marriage, my child's eyesight, this adoption, and more treasures at the foot of the cross... and in each of tose moments, I've found Christ alone to be sufficient. After all, God provided the ultimate sacrifice of his son on the cross, and this story of Genesis 22 - and my story of my own life - is but a shadow of that. I started this side note as an explanation for friends who aren't Christians, but I think I might be failing at that because I can only explain this through the lens of knowing and trusting a God who you don't know or consider to be real, if you're one of those friends. So suffice it to say: I know in the dark and in the depths and in the quiet and in the loud and in the hard and in the easy and in the doubts and in the tears and in the laughter that he is real to me, so I can't help but read and dissect this story with that perspective.

seeing a miracle
{an update on Zoe's vision}

Remember my last post about Zoe's visual impairments? I wrote:
You know I like to write about the beauty we find in the midst of brokenness. But sometimes
it just feels like brokenness.
Not beauty.
Not yet.
Let's try that last phrase in Zoe's words:

A video posted by Shannon Dingle (@dinglefest) on

We decided to switch ophthalmologists a couple months ago. Our first was a competent clinician and a solid diagnostician, but communication? Not her strong suit. For us, that's a deal breaker, because Zoe's medical and educational teams need information to care for her well, so lone ranger practitioners just don't work for us.

Last week we saw the new doc for the first time.
And last week we felt the beauty, not just the brokenness.

Yes, Zoe's vision is still impaired. But? Wait for it...

The beauty:

  • In March, glasses weren't expected to do much for her, improving her vision some but still leaving her - even with glasses on - in the range of legal blindness defined as 20/200 or worse.
  • Now, her vision with glasses is 20/70. Perfect? No. But 20/70 is considered partially sighted or low vision, not legal blindness. And it means she can see from 20 feet away what I can see at 70 feet, which is a lot better than only seeing at 20 feet what I can see at 200 feet away.
  • And? Her astigmatism is worse than we thought (okay, a smidge of not great news there) but that means she needs one of the lenses replaced with a higher prescription in her current pair of glasses. So her vision next time around could be better than 20/70. 

But that's not even the most beautiful news, y'all. In March her previous eye doctor saw and documented severe retinal malformations, leading to the poor prognosis. This time?

"I don't see anything concerning here," the doctor said. "Her retinas look great. I suppose she could have some retinal damage on the extreme edges that I can't see right now, but that wouldn't affect her vision."


So did the first doc mess up? Was she incompetent? Did she make a mistake?
I'm sure the answer is no to all of those. I sat there with Zoe in my lap during the exam. She was meticulous. She examined my girl's retinas closely. She saw something.

So did the second doc mess up? Was she incompetent? Did she make a mistake?
Once again, no. I sat there with Zoe in my lap once again. She spent even more time checking for retinal issues because of the previous doctor's findings. She saw nothing.

Seriously, this is nothing if not miraculous.

In my struggles with hard news last week, I didn't have the emotional bandwidth to process all that I've shared in this post. Please don't take my silence to imply that we're not in awe of another amazing act God has worked in our little girl's life. We have been on our knees all week, in both praise and prayer. We have been celebrating this, even as we grieve otherwise.

A few friends have said they're impressed by our faith in the shadow of an adoption that might be failing. Please know this: in the midst of deep sorrow in the change of our plans to adopt Zoe's biological brother, God gifted us great joy in this news about Zoe's eyes. He didn't have to do that, but he chose to.

He asked us to trust and hold Sam's future loosely.

Meanwhile, he placed the gift of healing for Zoe in our hands, reminding us of his trustworthiness in a tangible way.

That's beauty in the midst of brokenness, my friends. And we are thankful.

Friday, July 10, 2015

how are you holding up? and other questions

Many of you have asked questions about my last blog post, so...

How are you holding up?

Um, I'm not really sure how to honestly answer that question. I'm listening to a lot of Gungor and Laura Story's Blessings and similar songs in a playlist I made a titled "encouragement" long ago for such a time as this. I'm diving into the Psalms. I'm flipping through albums of memories from Zoe's adoption exactly three years ago and viewing each one as a stone of remembrance of what God has already done in and through our family and her first family. 

Oh, and I'm eating all the things. I like to eat my feelings, and none of them have been healthy this week. 

So if you're homestudy ready now, does this mean...?

No. Let's just stop right there.

For those of you who aren't familiar with the lingo, homestudy ready is an adjective used to describe an adoptive family who has been approved to adopt by a licensed social worker and who has the report - the homestudy - to prove it. That homestudy is used to evaluate a family's ability to be a safe, loving, and suitable adoptive match for a child in need. When prospective adoption situations arise, agencies and lawyers seek out homestudy ready families first, because having a homestudy is like putting your money where your mouth is - it means you aren't just talking the talk of adoption, but you're willing to walk the walk of being scrutinized and background checked and physically examined and having your children medically cleared and getting personal references and providing every imaginable financial detail and discussing any hard parts of your part and... well, let's just say it's a lot. 

(Note: I'm not complaining about that. It's a lot because it should be a lot. When a child loses his or her first family - by choice or abuse or death or disease or poverty* or some other measure of brokenness - the next family to receive the child should be screened well so that the child doesn't have to experience any additional trauma. I'm all for homestudying the heck out of prospective adoptive parents. I'm just saying it can be a lot to open yourself up to, even with the best social worker.)

*Side note: poverty alone shouldn't be a reason for adoption because financial and social supports can and should be extended to try to allow the first family to parent the child. If that is truly attempted and doesn't work, then that means another reason is present in addition to poverty. But when poverty is the only problem, then the solution should be something else other than adoption.

When friends ask what's next for us if this adoption doesn't happen and we have a homestudy ready and we're already pre-approved for international adoption by US Citizenship and Immigration Services, they're asking if we're going to adopt a different child. The answer? No. Not unless God moves us in a way we're not expecting right now.

Adoptions fall through. We know that. But our family has never experienced an adoption failure before, and words can't describe this hurt. It's like having a miscarriage but the baby is fine, thank God, but you'll never get to hold and love and raise him like you expected so the loss and grief and sadness is still deep and profound. Loving someone else is always risky, and right now we're feeling too raw to even consider that sort of risk again.

We've said no before and had God turn it into a yes, so we'll see what happens this time. We weren't planning to adopt yet when my friend Georgeanna contacted us about Zoe and we weren't planning to adopt three at once or from Uganda at all until another friend shared a waiting sibling group with us, so we've learned to hold our "no" loosely. After all, we want to be faithful in all circumstances, not just the ones we choose. But for now, our hearts are with "Sam" and not ready to open up to any other children than him and the six God has already placed in our home.

How's Lee? How're the kids?

Lee is grieving hard too. From comments made to us in passing, we've realized some people assume I'm the driving force in our adoptions. That couldn't be more wrong. Lee and I are a team. I guess you could say he's the leader and I'm the mouthpiece. His heart is as 100% in this adoption as mine is.

We haven't told all of the kids yet. Some are too young to fully understand. The big girls do know, though. They say they won't be sad until they know for sure that he's going to be adopted by the other family. Patience says she's sure the other family is going to say no to the referral and then we're going to get to be Sam's family. I'd love for her to be right.

Do you think you might be able to adopt Sam after all?

I really don't know. I want to say yes. I want this to work out in the way we imagined. I want God's plan for this to match with ours. I want to be hopeful.

But hoping hurts right now.

So I'm not hoping. I am trusting:
that God is still God.
that God has a plan for us and for Sam and for their birth mother and for the family considering the referral and for you.
that God's plan is far superior than anything I could ever imagine.
that he loves me more than I will ever understand.
that beauty can still come out of brokenness.

None of this is in our hands right now, so we'll wait and trust as our homestudy and dossier sit ready in a drawer, just in case.