Thursday, May 31, 2012

June 15th is coming!

We have another court date!  I will fully admit that I'm more than a little nervous as 10 AM June 15th will be here before we know it.  I am hopeful that our trip to court this time will not be a repeat of the same nightmare we had in the first three months of this year.  How much has changed in a year!  And yet, how much is still very much the same.

I just returned last week from a two week vacation to see my family in Texas.  It was nice to be distracted for a little while.  Wonderful to play with neice and newphews.  Lovely to catch up with a few old friends.  It brought much needed relief from daily looking at clothes that have never been worn...a baby bed in which no little head has rested.  And just when I was beginning to wonder how many more distractions I would need to get through the rest of this journey, I had a slow awakening.

I was sitting at the breakfast table with my grandpa.  Sunlight was streaming in and he was, as he always does, listening very intently as though he had something to learn from me.  Grandpa has always embodied Emerson's "Every man I meet is my superior in some way.  In that, I learn of him." Naturally, we were talking about Roman and Daniel and the dichotomy of all the inherent emotions.  Then he mentioned Samuel.  My stomach recoiled.  You must understand that Brock and I have not been pillars of strength and faith that so many are so quick to attribute to us.  I've been downright angry.  I have felt ambushed.  I feel as though my faith has made me look a fool.  I won't go into our private rantings, but suffice it to say that there have been many moments in these last fews months that have been dark with anger and resentment.  When Grandpa mentioned Samuel, I recoiled because it was yet another fresh slash at my already broken heart.  If you aren't familiar with the story of Samuel, it's found in the I and II books of Samuel in the Bible.  I Samuel opens with a godly man named Elkanah with two wives-yea, I know, I don't get it either.  One of them had sons and daughters and the other, Hannah had none because the LORD had closed her womb.  Elkanah loved Hannah more than the other wife and Hannah's "sister wife" provoked her to iritate her since she was barren.  I imgaine that poor woman was jealous of her husband's love for Hannah.  And I can all too easily empathize with Hannah's despair.  An empty womb...the inability to provide a giggling, healthy baby for her husband.  I know the emptiness and longing.  I know the confusion of not having an answer when you ask, "Why not me?"  I know the tears she cried when she went to the temple to pray for a child.  I have cried those very tears.  And then the LORD had mercy on her, opened her womb and she experienced the miracle of having little feet kick in her belly, little tumblings that felt like flutterings.  She got to experience the wonder of feeling her son, the manifestation of her husband's adoring love, grow inside her.  I never felt those feelings for Roman in my womb, but I felt them all in my heart.  And my heart echoed Hannah's prayer centuries after she prayed it.  "I prayed for this child and the LORD has granted me what I have asked of him" (I Sam. 1.27)  That's why I recoiled.  Yes, I did pray and I was certain that Roman was the answer to my many months of prayer.  I was convinced and I felt utterly betrayed.  But that Tuesday morning at my grandparent's table, with the sunlight streaming in, I felt another softer voice asking me to abandon for just a moment the distractions and walk a little further down that path.  It whispered to my heart.

"What's the rest of that story, Ashley?"

After Hannah had weaned Samuel, she brought him to the priest Eli and consecrated him to the LORD.  She offered Samuel back to the LORD and saw him once a year when she went for the annual old testament sacrifice. 

"Ashley, Hannah didn't get to parent Samuel either.  Can you trust God to provide an Eli for Roman?  You can still love him like your son.  Just trust God to provide for him."

And then there was this peace that passes understanding-or as I like to say-a peace that make absolutely no sense.  The good news for Hannah is that God gave her three more sons and two more daughters.  I know that none of them took the place of Samuel, but I also believe that each of them brought a complete sense of pleasure at each of their arrivals into this world.  I look at the story of Job and all that he lost and that God gave him more in the second half of his life than he did in the first, but the losses that he had were still incredible.  I'm certain he still mourned the loss of his first round of children.  And I'm sure that he deeply loved and cherished the second set.  We don't deserve to be excused from immense pain any more than we deserve any of the precious gifts we get.  And even though my faith has been shaken to the core, I still have to cling to the promise that my God still has a good plan.  I am hope-filled that the plan includes little Daniel-the little boy who hugged our neck so sweetly that his little arms hugged our hearts, too.  Precious and tender Daniel. 

I want to close with one more story, more than anything so I don't forget it someday.  One of my old roommates was having a Scentsy party and had invited some women from her small group.  She had shared our story with people in the small group and as a result, we had people we've never met before praying for us.  I had the privilege of meeting one of these prayer warriors at the party.  She told me that she was crying and praying on our behalf asking the same "Why?!" questions that I have asked repeatedly-oh the precious feeling of actually knowing that people felt our burden that intensely!  She said that she felt like Jesus spoke very clearly to her and said, "I know.  I've cried those tears, too."  I've known as long I can remember that God is a God of compassion and that He stores up our tears.  I know He knows so much more than I do and that, even when it doesn't look like it, He still "...causes all things to work together for good for those who love Him and who are called according to His purpose" (Roman 8.28)  I also know that my mind cannot comprehend why all of this happened and I know that I might not know this side of heaven.  And I know that my God knows that I don't understand it all either.  If He didn't step in to do something nine months ago, there is a reason.  There is a purpose.  But to know that my all-knowing, all-loving Jesus has cried the same tears I have...the tears of exhaustion from the fight....the tears of anguish about Roman's future...  But I don't believe He could have cried the tears of confusion, of helplessness, and despair. He's not confused.  He's not cruel.  He's not helpless.  He's not causing havoc for havoc's sake.  And I don't believe He's cried tears of despair because even in these, there is a redemptive story that hasn't been finished.  He's still got a plan.  I don't have to understand.  I just trust Him for the strength to get through whatever we will face next.  I will trust Him to still have a perfect plan for Roman's life, for Daniel's life and for our life.

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Beauty from Ashes

Life shouldn't have to look like it does sometimes.  We should be able to grow up in happy homes, find true love, make babies and all live happily ever after with days filled with purpose and work that is more joy than job.  We aren't designed to struggle with lonliness and heartache.  This world is broken.  And yet, hope can still spring new.  Beauty can still rise up from the ashes.

Our emotions in the last month have been a jumbled, tangled mess.  In a single hour, feelings of tentative hopefulness can be deflated by overwhelming uncertainity and then salved with reminders that, in spite of everything we have been through, our good God still has a good plan.  I've been heartbroken, I've been scared, I've been hope-filled, I've been resolute and I've been shaky.  I've been angry, I've been peace-filled and I've been despondent.  It seems like there isn't a single emotion in the spectrum that we have not lighted upon for even a brief snippet.  Looking backward, I miss Roman with every fiber of my being and, while I know logically that we could not have done anything more, I feel responsible that this little guy is still in an orphanage without a mommy and a daddy there.  Looking forward, I am more and more excited about Daniel and the progress that we are making to bring him to a forever home.  Where every step in the last six months of Roman's story brought us a new obstacle, it almost feels like we are being carried by a gentle current through this part of Daniel's story.  Things have fallen into place with remarkable ease.  We've reconnected with the people who helped us with paperwork in Roman's story who were eager and ready to help with Daniel's.  The court in Murmansk would not release the paperwork they had and when we were first told about this, it felt like a horse had kicked us in the stomach.  We would have to redo our FBI background checks, our psychological evaluations, our financial statements and, since so many months had passed, we would need an updated copy of our homestudy.  It seemed like every scrap of paper that had been so incredibly challenging to get the first time had to be redone.  We pulled up our cell phone records for the contact we had made through the Secretary of State's office for help with the fingerprints and, while he did not remember us, he was willing to help us again.  The psychologist who helped us with the evaluation still had our records on file and  was able to fit us in quickly.  Our case worker came to our house the next week for an updated homestudy, and, since writing letters of employment had become routine at this point for home office, we were able to get that in order quickly also.  Everything came in or had come in by April 24th, just in time for us to take it with us to St. Louis on the 25th on our way to the airport for the Bahamas.  Finally, a trip that didn't require snowboots and a visa!  Brock had earned the trip through work and I don't think either of us realized how desperately we needed to be away for just a little while.  Brock had made a connection through a friend of a friend in Washington DC who was able to get our fingerprints apostilled and overnighted back to us, thus saving us the eight week waiting period.  It no longer feels like we are dancing the one step forward, two steps back.  We are moving forward.  Without too much drama and without too much delay. 

Both Brock and I have had  broken hearts before.  The feeling that we'd never be able to feel a certain way again is one that is familiar to us.  In those days, we never would have dreamed that by God saying "no" to one story meant that He was saying "yes" to another one.  In a strange way, the familiarity of those feelings is comforting to me now.  I know beyond a shadow of a doubt that Daniel is a precious little boy.  I have seen a sweet nature in him and have been mesmerized by his joy in his play and the reflective way he seems to take in his enviroment.  I have finally started having dreams about his tender smile and his delicate little body in my arms.  But to be completely open and honest, there is still a part of me that is scared to give my heart completely to this little boy.  We have reason to hope and we have experience to make us cautious.  I know though, that if I had allowed fear to dictate my emotions when Brock and I were dating that I wouldn't have gotten to experience the incredible gift God had given me in a best friend and husband.  In the same way that we both celebrate the families that God has given to the people with whom our lives were once entwined, we pray feverently that God would provide a family for the little boy with whom we have been entwined.  So maybe Roman's legacy to us taught us preseverance because we would not have been in the right country at the time that Daniel's referral became available.  Roman will forever be our son in prayer and we will keep trusting God for whatever comes next in Daniel's story. 

So yes, failed adoptions are just another one of the many things that aren't fair in this life.  But I do know this:  there have been far more blessings in my life that I have not deserved than there have been burdens that I've had to bear.  We were never promised a life free from pain and conflict.  I've just been promised that I have a God who still causes ALL things to work together for His glory.  Our story isn't over yet.