Mommy, do you have a picture?


Adoption is a part of the way our family moves and breathes. I’m thankful that we are a transracial family because we can never forget to talk about adoption as a way God has put us together. Certainly weekly and at times even on a daily basis, adoption is discussed openly and valuably in our home. We recognize adoption as a beautiful thing.

Still, it felt rather random for Pearl to have asked me recently if I had a picture of her birth mother. She did not use that exact terminology, but thanks to that conversation now we do have a word for what she was asking. The girls know the story of The Rainy Day, but I’ve never shown them pictures. That day I did. At the end, I showed them the picture of The Captain and me, and told them at that point Sassafras was the size of a kernel of popcorn growing in my tummy and we didn’t even know her yet.

Obviously (well, I'm a dolt so it wasn’t but it should have been), Pearl asked if I had a picture of the tummy she grew in.

This was a critical moment for her, and even I saw it for what it was. We are now taking the precarious step of talking about adoption as a beautiful thing to talking about adoption as a necessary thing. 

Pearl is beginning to learn her story.

For adoptive families, everything is on a need-to-know basis. We don’t give our children more information about their stories than they can handle.

To know that she is safe and loved and secure in the family God chose for her has been all Pearl has needed to know so far. As we begin to talk about how we are the second family God chose for her, her need to know her story will continue to grow, as will her need to know that she is safe and loved and secure in our arms.

My prayer is that we traverse this stretch with the unbreakable cord of God’s grace tying us not only together but also to Him. 

The middlest

The Captain and I had multiple opportunities for international and domestic mission trips during our college years. He went to Wales, I went to Nicaragua, and we both came home turned inside out. Through all that we saw, smelled, heard, and held in those countries, God used indescribable poverty to begin to break our hearts for orphans. Nearly seven years before we would begin the process to adopt, God planted seeds in our hearts to do something for the most vulnerable in our world.

Graduation gave way to launching our careers, which turned into years of furthering our respective educations. Finally, we were ready to become parents. Funny how we thought that making that decision would somehow instantly make us pregnant. So funny.

A little infertile while later and days after we had begun to fill out our first adoption application, the Lord blessed us through an unlikely pregnancy with one of the purest miracles of our lives: our sweet Sassafras. Then one day, she turned 18 months old.

And we remembered that we still wanted to adopt.

And we knew it would take a while to complete.

And we suddenly felt that the time to begin the process was very urgently NOW.

Now, as we look back with all the facts before us, it is quite stunning to grasp that at that very moment, Pearl was conceived...both in the flesh and in our hearts.

In flawed yet impeccable harmony. 

We did our own research about all the options and at one point I had a spreadsheet comparing the requirements for 27 different countries. We weren't eligible for many of them due to income requirements, the fact that we already had a biological child, the ages of children who needed families and were eligible for adoption, and our own ages (we were too young for some). More time went into research and prayer and meetings with the agency we selected, and finally we were sure. Our daughter was in Uganda.

Our adoption process entailed mounds of paperwork, hours of adoption education seminars, at least 25 specifically intense highs and intense lows involving inter-country glitches and delays and modifications to this requirement or that new law. For a normally stoic mama, Pearl's adoption drained me of buckets of tears...but God also filled me up with chapters of Scripture and thousands of the most intense prayers I've ever experienced. Any mama who has begged for the safety and health of her child (half a world away or not) will understand.

The day we finally met our beautiful little Pearl remains one of the most intense I'll ever see this side of heaven. The day we stood in court for her and the day we got our "yes" are also on that list.

Because of what we have learned and what we have seen with our own eyes during our trip to Africa, orphan care will always be a part of who we are. Using this little spitfire of ours, God ignited a passion in us for advocating for orphans, and for families to rise up and provide a loving home for other precious Pearls around the world. Further adoptions and/or foster care are definitely in our family's future, though we will wait for God's guidance in how and when to move forward.

Remembering the way Pearl came into our family is hard but beautiful. Hard because for us to be a part of this sweet honey bun's story, we were refined in the fire but also because in order for us to be necessary in her life, Pearl's one-time status as an orphan means she has experienced loss on a level that even adults aren't emotionally equipped to handle.

Lord, help me remember.

Oh, but it is beautiful...because yes, she is now safe and happy and healthy, and for crying out loud we get to love her. Long as I live, I'll never understand how I get to be her mama.

Most of the beauty in Pearl's adoption is part of a life she hasn't even seen yet, for her earthly redemption into the family God chose for her before time existed will bridge her understanding of spiritual redemption into His.

Way Back Wednesday

*Mommy Diaries, star date November 2010

What's Way Back Wednesday?

1+1=Chaos

The New and Improved version of the Wilson fam now includes TWO children. That makes me so happy for a multitude of reasons. And...it makes me crazy! How come none of you people told me how hard it is to transition from 1 kid to 2?!

The Captain is a super duper over the top helpful daddy. Yet, even with all his support, we are both still scrambling constantly to give our girls whatever it is they need. Bath time is chaos. Bedtime (well, not for Pearl, but for Sassafras it is) is chaos. Getting dressed to go somewhere is chaos. It takes hours. HOURS. Even with clothes laid out and the bag already packed, it takes HOURS to get these girls dressed and ready to go. I don't understand it. How can the addition of one teeny tiny little girl add so much to our routine? There is always, ALWAYS another mess to clean up. One is making a mess while you are cleaning up some disaster made by the other one. It is unending.

And I won't even tell you about the laundry.

For this I was completely unprepared.

I hear that just as every new mom is unprepared at the life change her first child brings about, every new mom of a 2nd is just as shell-shocked at the chaos of a younger sibling. Our situation is even more intense because our 2nd came to us as a very active, very curious, very mobile 14 month old. We didn't get to ease into having a second, with a tiny little infant who mostly lays still. We jumped full force into toddlerhood, which I've always said was the hardest period in Sass's development. Total, nonstop, mischievous action.

I feel like a total rookie again, trying to figure out the best way to get my kids dressed and out the door for an event (which, no matter how many hours of prepping, is ALWAYS disastrous and we are always even later than we were before, and I'm so sorry if this has affected you but the truth is, it isn't likely to improve anytime soon. Just eat without us, start without us, leave without us...we'll catch up!), the best way to get them both fed in a group setting, the best way to work their schedules around one another so that everyone has what she needs. Everything is a new adventure!

Africa was hard because we were in another world. Coming home has been even harder in some ways because we are trying to find our new normal in our old world. And our new normal is taking way more work than we anticipated! I read on another adoptive mom's blog once that the real work starts when we get them home, and it is oh so very true. Parenting is just hard work, no matter which way you slice it.

I am told by moms with several kids themselves that the hardest transition was going from one child to two, and after that, it's just icing on the cake. I suppose that makes sense. You go from the parents throwing everything they've got into a baby, giving the other breaks here and there, to learning the total absence of breaks in "man on man" combat. Merciful heavens, it makes me wonder what we'll do when they outnumber us?!

Lawdyhammercy.

Just when we'd finally felt that we had this parenting gig sort of figured out, we start all over again. It's true that every child is different, even biological siblings, but Pearl's needs as an adopted child are extremely unique. Pretty much everything we did with Sassafras we are doing differently with Pearl because of her emotional maturity. The basic principles of our parenting style are unchanged, but the steps in which we carry out those basic goals are looking much different with chica numero dos.

And now, since in the 10 minutes it has taken me to record these thoughts, there are now cheerios all over my kitchen floor.

I have some more chaos to attend to...

*Oh yes, it was a difficult transition. It most surely was. 1-2 was hard, and 2-3 was hard. But every time someone tells me how full my hands are, I tell them so is my heart. 

Way Back Wednesday

*Adoption blog, star date September 2010
What's Way Back Wednesday?

After 30 hours of travel across 8 time zones, we finally arrived in Africa last night! Sassafras was magnificent along the journey, and we had the opportunity to see just how long our little sleep-hater can go without rest. The answer? 24 hours, folks. That was 24 hours of pure family togetherness.

Before we left I was dreading the extended travel, but I loved having all that time for us to pour into Sassafras. It was a very, very special time, and we are so thankful that we had that opportunity before bringing home her baby sister! She was definitely focused on the mission of our journey, however, and asked no less than 15 times where Pearl was. Our two bigger planes had TV monitors installed in front of each seat back, which (among many other things) played a GPS screen shot of our progress across the Atlantic and then down over Europe into Africa. The moment that we saw our little place icon coming into the capital city, I was already choking back the tears. Granted, the weariness of all that traveling may have been taking its toll on me, but all I could think was that after so long of staring at my child's birth home on maps and Google Earth, and having studied so many aspects of the country, it was just overwhelming that after all the paperwork, all the waiting, all the heartache, we are finally, truly, really, completely, HERE!

We could barely hold our eyes open long enough to get our bags in and settled to our temporary home, and it took surprisingly little explanation for Sassafras to accept the fact that we are sleeping under mosquito nets while we are here. All our sweet little insect-fearing girl had to hear was "they keep the bugs out" to be totally fine with the whole net thing. Actually, I suspect she will demand a net of her very own when we get home! :)

After being awake half the night (because our bodies thought it was mid-day!), we dragged our bleary-eyed selves into a van to go to Pearl's orphanage. As soon as our van left the main road to turn up a side alley, I began thinking back over all that we have gone through the get to this point. We passed a sign with her orphanage's name, and my heart started pounding. Then we passed another sign, and pulled up at a big gate and waited a few minutes for someone from the orphanage to come open it.The van door opened, and there were two of the women who have poured all their energy for the last year into keeping our child (and so many others) healthy and safe. We hugged and cried a few moments, and then we made our way up the steps to the front door.

I recognized the door from some update pics we had received (and I of course have studied to the most minute detail!), and then we saw more workers coming out with literally a small sea of toddlers pouring out onto the steps. We dropped our bags and began scanning the crowd for OUR little familiar face...And suddenly, there she was. Wearing a denim dress that was so big it reached her ankles and a blue knit sweater. Toddling along with her little BFFs wondering what was up at the front of the line.

It took my breath away, seeing her standing there. In the flesh. This child who we have prayed for since the time she was in the womb. This precious little girl whose face we have stared at and kissed pictures of for months. This perfect treasure for whom God chose US, (for some reason we will never understand), to be her parents. Our daughter. Standing RIGHT IN FRONT OF US. It was almost too much. I bent over and looked at her and smiled at her, and she smiled right back. I held out my hands, and she lifted up her arms and walked to me. I picked her up, kissed her face, and held her close for a few moments taking in the hugeness of the moment. And crying/snotting all over her, of course.

Eventually, The Captain reached for her and held her, then we gathered Sassafras over and knelt down so they could get a good look at each other. It was sweet, even though neither of them really knew what to think.

Over the next few hours, we had the pleasure of being able to feed her lunch, bathe her, put her in a dress of her very own, share some gifts and donations for the children, play with her and the other children (each of whom would get a hug and a kiss and some love from their Mama, if I know you!), and spend a little time just with our little family. A few times we would be interacting with Pearl and then look around to check on Sassafras. Before I could even begin to worry that she might feel left out, we would see her in a corner, giving a bear to a crying little boy. Or handing a toy to someone who wanted to play. Or organizing a game of ball with some of the older toddler boys. It made me so proud of her that I almost couldn't (and can't right now) stop the tears. To see her little 3 year old self sharing love with these children, and to know that she was making it her personal mission to brighten the lives of these babies, makes me so unbelievably proud. God has a huge plan for both our girls, and I saw today that Africa has a lot to do with that plan.

It's all so overwhelming. And I am just so very thankful.

After lunch and bath time, it was nap time. We went to a separate room for some quiet time alone with Pearl, and Sassafras "read" her a book. At one point, she laid her head down on my shoulder and drifted off to dreamland. Oh, it was so amazing holding her in my arms and praising the Lord for bringing her into our lives! We laid her in her crib and ate a yummy lunch made of peas/squash/avocado/rice with the orphanage workers. The Captain especially enjoyed the moment when I was asking one of the workers if there was a name for this dish and she (sweetly) responded, "Um, just Peas and Rice." ;)

Meeting and talking with all of these orphanage workers was a huge blessing today. I have never taken lightly the fact that they have been working their tails off for the past year caring for so many little children, including my own! It is a testament to their love for her that she is so strong, healthy, and sweet. I had a few candid chats with some of them, hearing them talk of how much they loved her and how much they thank us for our love for Pearl. I asked a few of them if they were going to be sad when she left to go home with us. I told them we have been praying for them to not be sad when that time comes, and that they will know that we will love her and take very good care of her.

One of the mamas responded that yes, she would be sad, but that she viewed her work with these babies as the way one would in planting a garden. It is good and important work, and others would benefit from the fruits of her labor. She is a very wise woman, indeed. Another worker told me that he had prayed hard for Pearl to have good parents, and only two weeks later he found out she had been matched with someone. He says he will continue to pray for her. What a blessing these people were to us today!

What a day filled with so many blessings! It has been truly one of the most profound days of our lives. I think Sassafras has summed it up best. When we ask her what she thought about Pearl, or what she thought about today, just trying to help her process it, she responded with one word: "Beautiful." Well said, baby girl. It was a beautiful day indeed.

Way Back Wednesday

*Adoption blog, star date March 2011

What's Way Back Wednesday?

In the delivery room the first hour or so after Sassafras was born, I asked the nurses if they knew her blood type. That might seem as weird to you as it probably did to them, like maybe in an odd

is-she-sure-of-this-baby's-daddy

sort of way. Which is preposterous, of course. I know exactly who my baby daddy is. :) But the truth of it was, I was just so incredibly curious about my daughter. I simply wanted to know every last morsel, every single detail about my sweet baby girl! I just loved her so much and wanted to know everything there was to know about her.

In adoption, especially adopting an older baby, toddler, or older child, parents forfeit the ability to know everything there is to know about their child. When we accepted Pearl's referral at 6 months of age, we had to mourn the fact that there were 6 months (+ the 9 it took her birth parents to conceive and grow her) of her life we would never know anything about. And then as we were delayed and delayed and delayed from traveling to get her, we had to continuously grieve the loss of those months with her, of her outgrowing clothes I had bought especially for her, of knowing she was living a life totally apart from all of us and there was not one single thing we could to do about it. From month to month all we had were a few update pics that mostly showed very little in terms of her development. It made me so sad that t

here was no possible way I could ever know everything there was to know about her

.

What God taught me in all of this was that sometimes it isn't all the little details that matter. With Pearl, we lost access to the details. The big stuff, though, like knowing she was safe, somewhat content, and healthy...that was what mattered. And so I let go of the desire to know everything there was to know about my Pearl. I let it go before we left, let it go even more while we were there, and have really let it go since we've been home. It doesn't matter who she WAS, all that matters is who and where she IS. And that is ALL I need to know about her.

So imagine my shock when I was going through a drawer this weekend and found a disk her orphanage gave us after we were granted parental rights (I had stowed it away for safekeeping and promptly forgot about it, in the bustle of embassy trips and packing for day trips to the city and hot yogurt and malaria nets). It wasn't just a casual disk of images...it contained

hundreds of pictures of Pearl from a brand new infant all the way up to the week before we met her

.

{*In lieu of posting her entire pictures for the whole WWW to see, let me paint you a word picture instead. Use your imagination for the rest. :)}

Even from this point, with just a few weeks of life.

When she was little enough to feed and nap in 4 hour cycles.

When she had to be bundled to feel safe and couldn't hold her head up.

Though we had no idea who or where she was,

she was our baby girl.

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Even when she slept on her tummy (apparently Africans either don't know or don't care about this SIDS risk). This explains why she insists to this day upon sleeping on her belly. With her booty shoved in the air. :)

Even when there were so few babies in her orphanage that she could nap in the middle of the floor.

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Even when when her facial features finally started emerging from the mushy chubbiness of infancy.

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Even when the aunties shaved her heads, held her, bathed her, and lotioned her.

Even when someone else got to love her for a time.

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Even when she sat in the big high chair for the first time. Despite the fact that there were 22 other kids in her room, we knew Pearl was a favorite because she always got a high chair.

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Even when she first fell in love with water. To this day, she loves playing in the bathtub. And she doesn't mind if it's cold.

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Even when her hand-eye coordination was just developing.

Even when all she had to do was sit in a bouncy chair and soak in her world, we were crying and praying and waiting. For her.

Even when her real smile first began to blossom.

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Even when she was a little sad because there were too many babies for the workers to give one on one attention.

Even when she first began to walk.

And finally, when she turned a year old, some sweet missionaries not only threw her a birthday party (unheard of in orphanage culture), they Skyped us in to it.

They did that for us because even though she was half a world away, she was our baby girl.

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We had never seen any of these pictures, not in any update and not in any part of her file. We had absolutely no idea we would ever be able to know what she looked like in her early days or in all those months prior to getting her referral. 

And just like that, He has given me some more sweet pieces of the Pearl puzzle. 

I've long since stopped feeling that I had to know everything there was to know about her, but it sure was a sweet surprise to be able to know

just a little more

.