The [uncommon] Movie Moments of Adoption

Let me be clear… the vast majority of moments in our home are far from note worthy, melt-your-heart, “I’m saving the world” moments. We spend most of our time trying to make “time-out” work for us and reminding ourselves that God is in the middle of this whole journey, so we need to be patient.

We recently watched October Baby in theaters… which is a pretty note worthy moment in and of itself! We can’t even remember the last time we were able to make it to the movies since kids came into our lives. Granted, we went to an 11:20am showing and brought a 5 month old baby with us… yup, we’re definitely those people!

We loved the show. Cried several times through it.

On our drive back to the house, I looked at Sara and jokingly said, “Deondre better look us in the eye one day and say, ‘thanks for wanting me’ or I don’t know what I’m gonna do!!”  We laughed and reminded ourselves that it’s highly likely that those words may never come out of his mouth… I just need to swallow that pill now.

The reality is, those lumps that come up in your throat when you watch emotionally charged movies about crazy adoption stories where children are rescued and lives are changed… those teary eyed moments where you feel like real Shalom peace has arrived in a situation and all is back in place… those moments just aren’t frequenters to our home.

But…

Just the other day we had one.

Just the other night at dinner we had a movie moment with our 6 year old. Wish the film crew would have been sitting at our table, dang it!

As we were eating our dinner together, I just started talking with Deondre about adoption out of the blue. We have been dropping those conversations sporadically with him over the last few months to prep him for what is coming very soon.

I told him that in just a month or two, we are going to officially adopt him and his name will look like ours. I explained that we would go before a judge… and he would be a happy judge because this is an exciting thing. We may even have a party afterwards.

It wasn’t a big shocker that he was relatively silent through this whole explanation. Just staring at his plate like he always does when we talk about things he has no clue about.

After some silence and a few bites of dinner, I asked him how all of that made him feel.

He didn’t say anything.

So, we pressed him again… “Deondre, how do you feel about all of that? What does your heart feel about being adopted and living with us forever?”

He remained silent, but without any fanfare, he took his little brown finger and began drawing on the table next to his placemat (like Jesus telling a parable).

Puzzled for a moment, it finally clicked for Sara and I. He was drawing a smiley face.

Each day at school, Deondre either gets a smiley face, straight face, or sad face. His life basically revolves around smiley faces. For him, this was his stamp of approval on the whole thing.

At that moment, we felt it. It was one of those Shalom peace moments. Teary eyed, lumpy throat, “where is the film-crew?” moments.

Now, that moment was quickly followed by, “Finish your food or you won’t get dessert!”… but, we’ll take all of the small glimpses of grace we can get around here.

We’re so excited to be nearing the end of this fostering journey with our son and making it all official. I can’t wait to write that post into our family’s legacy!

Advertisements

Mingling With Brokenness

When I think back on the things that our little guy walked into our home with a year ago, the list was rather short. I assumed there would be a piece of luggage… maybe not the fancy kind that you see scattered throughout airports… but, I figured there would be something simple… something to transport his most valuable possessions and some underwear at least. That wasn’t the case though. He walked into our home with nothing.

However, it doesn’t take long at all to realize that children in the foster system carry around plenty of luggage… especially older children that have been yanked from their homes and moved across the state.

We’ve spent the last year unpacking bag after bag after giant airport-sized bag of brokenness with our son. The reality is… we’ll continue this process long after adoption… long after he has been calling us Mommy and Daddy… long after our home feels normal to him.

There seems to be the thought floating around the Christian sub-culture that adoption is this simple, clean, two-step process… fill out the paperwork… rescue a child from some horrible situation… give them their first hug and warm bed… then, Bam!, they’re yours forever and you can move on to the next thing in life. You’ve earned your little adoption badge to wear proudly around other Christians and you can take pride in getting a few extra stares when you walk around public with a child that looks different than you.

I gotta be honest… I think we really thought it was that easy… or at least I did.

But those blasted bags still pile up around our home waiting to be unpacked. When we walk around and keep stumping our toes on the luggage and dance around cursing their existence, our prideful little adoption badge does us very little good.

As I sit here over a year into this thing, I have to say that the thing about foster care and adoption that is so riveting and redemptive at the same time is this constant mingling we do with brokenness.

In our Christian sub-culture, we have managed to find a way to sweep and mop and polish away the dirt and brokenness of this world from our lives. We have shelves filled with books on theology and best practices for doing just about anything… We eat organic… We even buy organic toilet paper… We devote plenty of attention on making sure that with our kids, only good goes in and pray that crap doesn’t come out… We try our hardest to fight against materialism and avoid our consumer driven culture. I’m not knocking any of those things… heck, we do most of those things!

At the end of the day our formula works pretty well. Our kids don’t walk around cussing people out on a regular basis… Our bodies feel better and free from chemicals… We are able to know tons of things about God and share them with others. It’s a pretty good life… no doubt.

But, as much as we’ve tried to mop around those bags laying around our house or sprinkle homemade organic compost on top of them thinking that they’ll turn into something that’s healthy, they simply don’t.

Brokenness refuses to let us go on with our managed life.

We’re forced to throw our theology book against the wall in anger and tears and actually cry out to God and ask for answers that just aren’t written down in a book. We’re forced to realize that there are many things that we aren’t going to be able to control over the next 20 years of our life as parents.

Although my heart aches for our son and I would love nothing more than to scrub his heart down with a giant eraser so that he wouldn’t have to carry any more bags ever again… I know that God is doing something wonderful in our life as we mingle with brokenness. We are getting to see pieces of him that simply are invisible to us when we lead our managed lives.

A lot of times, stories of adoption are presented as a package with a nice bow on top… it’s labeled “redemption”, and hearts are left warmer because they simply see a sad story turned happy.

We know that God is still writing the redemption story happening in our home, but the beautiful thing at this point is that our family is getting to mingle with “broken”, and it’s the best thing that has happened to us.

The First Day | Remembered

On this day in recent history (last year) we opened our front door to meet a little brown boy wearing a big, blue, dirty Gap winter coat, bright yellow t-shirt with the name of his pre-school plastered across it, and a recently acquired pair of hand-me-down tennis shoes from the CPS office he had spent the afternoon inhabiting.

The moments leading up to that car pulling in our driveway could be described as uncertain and scared on our behalf. Sara sat on our couch with a look on her face that said, “Ryan, you really don’t know what we’re getting into, do you?”. She was skeptical, nervous, worried, and flat out tired from a full day of working with teenagers that didn’t know how to show respect to an adult. I, on the other hand, wouldn’t be able to sit down if I had to. I paced our living room, glancing every 5 seconds or so out the front window to see if that car had arrived yet. We had no idea how this process would go down… what this child would be like, look like, feel like.

The car arrived… we looked at each other and debated if we should go meet them in the driveway or wait for the doorbell to ring. I’m pretty sure we debated long enough for them to get out of the car and begin making their way up our sidewalk before we opened the door and met them on the porch.

There he was… this miniature person… scared out of his mind… hiding behind the only constant he had during this crazy day that he had experienced. It was the case worker that pulled him out of school early.

She looked up at us with a gentle smile and informed us that he is really shy and had only said a handful of words to her throughout their day together.

He walked slowly through our front door… clinging to the caseworker’s leg. CPS had given him a few little cars to bring along and a black and orange blanket that had been handmade and donated to the system… some things for him to hold on to as his own. She also slipped us a small grocery bag with a pair of sock, undies, and an extra change of clothes… but, that was it.

There wasn’t much time for introductions… we quickly gathered around the living room and started to sign papers. It was probably at that point that Sara and I realized (but didn’t let on) that we had no clue what we were doing. We were signing papers… that’s something that adults with responsibility do. We were signing papers in order for this lady to be able to walk out our front doorwithout this child she brought in.

Meanwhile… this little guy had found a safe haven under the coffee table that all the signing was taking place on. He hid… clinging to the blanket and toys that he brought. He laid there and cried. As we tried to listen to the important things being discussed about the papers, we both were having to surpress the lumps in our throat that were being sent up to remind us that there was a real child under our coffee table with tears running down his cheeks. In a matter of minutes, it would be our responsibility to help that child make sense of everything that happened in the last 24 hours.

Within about 30 minutes, it was just the 3 of us. All the caseworkers had said their goodbyes and wished us luck. We had shown him his new room… pulled out our limited number of toys to try to entice him… but, our tokens were beginning to run out. Luckily, it was about to be dinner time and the only thing we could think of to take his mind off of things was to bring him to Gattitown.

Bear in mind… at this point Sara and I had yet to hear his voice. The only noises we knew from this little child were wimpers. At some point in the getting ready to go process, a word was released. I was so excited to hear his little country-ghetto voice appear.

And so we set out… placing a child for the first time in the newly bought booster seat that would now grace the back seat of the car that had seen me through college. This marked a new season in our life.

Looking back on that night is difficult for us. It’s difficult to remember the pain that such a small child felt. It is still incredibly hard for us to understand what it must have felt like to be picked up from school and driven in a car for an hour and a half to a cold, bright, florescent-lit office to sit for the remainder of the afternoon… and then to be dropped off in a home with two white people. No goodbye to the family that you had spent the last 5.5 years with… not even an explanation of why this all occurred.

Every few months, we are reminded of that afternoon when we dig to the bottom of his t-shirt drawer and find that worn down yellow t-shirt with the name of his hometown written on the front. It’s way too small for him to ever wear again. But, it won’t be thrown away. In between those faded threads are the only parts of his early life that he still has.

We hate that even still… as incredibly far as we’ve come with him… with the completely different child that resides in our home today… even still when the caseworkers drop by for a monthly visit, the fear in him shows its ugly face once more. The memories associated with caseworkers unravelling normal. We hurt for him. We pray that one day his life will feel secure and he will know that there will be no more unravelling in this home.

So, here we are… one year later. As this day approached, Sara and I went back and forth on whether this day should be celebrated or even talked about at all. We celebrate the fact that this blessing was sent to us one year ago. We celebrate the incredible progress he has made in this past year. But, we have decided that the celebration will be between mom and dad. To expect him to celebrate such a horrific day would be cruel and unusual.

We look forward to being able to celebrate a different day very soon… the day when his adoption becomes final and his name reflects ours. We pray that day will be one filled with amazing memories that we can all look back on and truly celebrate.

Our Little Bit…

Our life is still crazy with being foster parents and figuring out what it looks like to go from zero to 5 at the drop of a hat. We find ourselves laughing a lot at our little guy.

He has acquired the nickname of “Little Bit” over the last few weeks. Every single night since the day he walked into our home, we tuck him in, read a story, say our prayers, give hugs, and as we walk out the door… without fail… he says, “leave that door open a little bit” (always almost touching his thumb and pointer finger together so we know just how much a “little bit” actually is). So, I just decided that we would affectionately start calling him “Little Bit”. He loves it.

We’re also think that it’s rather funny that, as trendy and cool as we try to be in life (HA!), our foster child is a complete hick! There are always imaginary “coons” running around our house and attacking him in bed at night… He’s dying to get a pair of cowboy boots… and he is obsessed with horses and farm animals. Who would have thought?

Over the last 7 weeks, we’ve got pretty darn good at figuring out what Little Bit is saying. Sometimes it’s like learning a second language. I’m reminded of this every time someone new comes around and they just give him puzzled looks when he tries explaining things. I forget that some people just don’t understand the words he’s saying. One of the cutest things as of late that he has been doing is when he is trying to tell us something over and over again, and we just aren’t getting it, he will resort to acting like what he’s trying to tell us.

Just yesterday, I was playing with him in his room, and an airplane was roaring over our house. He kept asking me, “Who is that holly?… Who dat HOLLY??” I was completely lost. Then he just looked at me and with all his might belted out, “AhhhOOOOOOOO” like a wolf. Ahh… “howling”… awesome.

We are finding that there are so many joys of parenting a 5 year old. Being a foster parent definitely has its difficulties… and our life is filled with so many uncertainties right now… but, we wouldn’t trade having Little Bit in our home for anything. His bright silver smile and squeaky, high-pitched laugh when he gets excited makes our home a better place.

Adoption : Our Story

November is National Adoption Month.

For those of you stumbling upon my blog for the first time, you may be a little confused because you probably came to see some photos. Ehh… well, not today.

Adoption is something that my wife and I have become increasingly passionate about over the last several years. We knew before we even got married that we would eventually grow our family in part by adoption. It wasn’t something that just came to us one day. In fact, we had honestly thought about adoption next to never in our lives. We knew that people adopted, but our culture had never really helped us to see that it could be something a family would do who did not have fertility issues.

We’re incredibly thankful for families that we love who have gone before us and shown us by example that caring for the orphan is something that every follower of Christ is commanded to do. Many of us are called to adopt. Many are called to support those adopting. Many are called to open their homes up to foster children who may be reunited with their birth family eventually. NONE of Christ’s followers are called to do nothing.

Sara and I were also thrown into unique situations in life that opened our eyes real quick to the need. After graduating from college, I moved to Malawi for about a year. A country rocked by the HIV/AIDS crisis and flooded with orphans. Although, at that stage in my life, I didn’t really think a lot about how adoption could play into things, I did think a LOT about what the answer could be for the orphan crisis. It was a time that I wrestled with the brokenness that I saw in the world constantly.

Sara and I both had jobs here in Bryan that put us on the front lines of seeing what destitute poverty looks like here. Seeing what happens when children are not in loving families. I worked for Big Brothers Big Sisters for a year and a half and learned things that were hard to believe. Sara works for Bryan ISD and knows that there are many students right on the line of dropping out and within years will end up in prison.

We’ve learned that there are 500,000 children in the U.S. Foster System at any given time. Sadly, because we tend to not use the words “orphan” or “orphanage” much when referring to children in our own borders, we tend to think that there is only a problem in other countries. We learned just this past Friday that here in the Brazos county, there are only 15 active foster families currently… yet annually, there will about about 100 kids flow through the system in our county.

It’s real easy to look at these numbers and stories and feel overwhelmed and guilt-ridden. Throw in the stats about the global orphan crisis, and you will probably just throw your hands up, grab a pillow to plunge your face into, and sob!

But, God has graciously moved us out of a guilt-driven faith. He’s shown us hope.

Sara and I are in the very last stages of being licensed to foster children. Hopefully within a matter of weeks we will have a little kiddo in our home running around and tearing up all the nice things that married people who don’t have kids have!

But, we’re not out to save the world.

We fully believe that the blessings that come from having a child in our home will far outweigh the struggles… the hurt… the uncertainty. Once we came to the realization that although we (Ryan & Sara) are broken people… just like many foster children, we too, have Reactive Attachment Disorder toward God… we too, hated God and slapped him in the face… we too, never deserved to be called his son and daughter. But, despite these things, while we still hated God, He adopted us. He reached out… pulled us close, called us son and daughter.

So… we care about adoption because it is our story. It is God’s story.

We care about adoption because God has a special place in His heart for the orphan… for the oppressed.

And we believe that God is using His people to step up to the plate and say that we will take the children that no one else wants.

So, we’re eager to see what God has in store for our little family. We’re hopeful that MANY more will join this journey with us to care for children that no one else cares about.

Throughout this month, I’m hoping to write a few more post to help educate us better on adoption and orphan care. Sadly, the church has vered away from teaching about adoption and caring for the orphan over the last several hundred years. But, we’ve seen signs of that changing… and we’re excited! So, if that’s you… someone who has claimed to follow Christ and has never even thought about caring for the orphan in tangible ways… don’t feel condemned! But, perhaps it’s time to open your eyes and ears to what God’s heart is about it and pray about what your involvement needs to be.

I’ll leave you guys with this amazing video. Every time I watch it, I get a huge lump in my throat. Not really a sad lump, but one of those hopeful ones. Be inspired…

Together For Adoption 2010

*Photo from an orphan care center in Chilumba, Malawi, 2007

I could not be more excited to spend the next few days of my life at the Together for Adoption Conference in Austin.

Surrounded by hundreds of people who care deeply for the orphan.

Encouraged to continue on the difficult journey of advocacy and care for the least of those among us.

A few months ago when I was on their website still debating whether or not we would be able to carve out the time to attend the conference, I was reading through the line-up of breakout sessions… and just from reading the different topics covered, my eyes were welling up with tears. You know that feeling… the same feeling I get when something really heroic happens in a movie and you get that lump in your throat. I was simply amazed that there was a conference that would cover so many facets of caring for the orphan… and that this conference was going to be just an hour and a half away from us!

Honestly, I feel like the title is a little misleading… really, this is much more about being together for the ORPHAN. Of course, adoption is a huge part in caring for the orphan… but, there are so many other aspects to this as well, and I’m so excited that we’ll be covering all of them.

So, later today, we’re going to be heading over to Austin for the next few days… we’ll be chillin’ some of our best friends as well, which makes it all the better!

Some of the things that I most excited about with this conference are the breakout sessions. I’ll be attending a session led by Esther Havens about using photography to impact the global orphan crisis. Obviously, this is something extremely close to my heart… and even this week, I’ve been blown away by the doors that God is potentially opening for me to travel and use photography to give a voice to the voiceless around the world!

I’m also attending a session with Aaron Ivey on “Using Music as a Voice for the Orphan”. Can’t wait to learn from him… his songs have spoken deeply to me about the orphan.

Sara and I are also in the last stages of being licensed to become foster parents… so, we’ll be checking out sessions that can help us know more about what to expect. I’ll also be checking out a few sessions about how the church can care for the orphan.

It’s been a while since I have written about many personal things on this blog. But, I just could not contain my excitement about this.

Hopefully, I’ll be tweeting my thoughts throughout the conference… so, be sure and follow me on Twitter @ry_pri if you want to hear what’s happening.