Honesty – Reposted with Permission from Dalas at Crunchy Lutheran Mommy

So many people have told me that what they love most about my blog, Crunchy Lutheran Mommy, is my honesty.  That’s why I haven’t been posting much lately… I haven’t wanted to be honest, not on the blog, not anywhere.  And now I feel like I’m in a Dr. Suess rhyme all of a sudden… sigh.  I still have lots of drafts backlogged in my files.  For nearly a month I neglected my weekly pregnancy posts.  I haven’t wanted to take a belly picture because that would mean I’d need to smile for it, and I don’t feel like I can give you an honest smile today.  Or any of the days I might have had time to put up a quick post.

Every time I see someone outside of my own home (which isn’t very often as you might imagine) I get the same reaction “You look so exhausted!”  Here I am trying so hard to put on a joyful, Christ-filled, my-cup-overfloweth countenance and every single person can see right through it.  So much for being a model pastor’s wife, right?  But that’s the truth.  Exhaustion is my truth right now.  Every tiny little activity is exhausting.  Serving my children is exhausting.  Enjoying my children is exhausting.

Every once in a while my Dad asks me “Do you feel like you’ve bitten off more than you can chew yet?”  That’s been his concern this whole adoption, and sometimes it still comes up.  For months I have been saying no, but the question is starting to haunt me like a bad jingle I can’t get out of my head.  And I don’t even have any cutesy music to go with it.  I’m struggling right now.  That’s the only honest thing I have to say, and I hate to say it.  I hate to say it because the last thing I want is a slew of comments or messages or phone calls from people asking me if I’m ok or asking how they can help.  Just my pride talking?  Probably.

Prayer is good, but I know we’re covered in that already, without even having to ask.  So why even post?  Why not just say, we’re going through a tough transition time and I need to take a blogging break?  Why not run away?  I certainly feel like running, but running isn’t going to help me or anyone.  What might help though, is being honest, putting my weaknesses out there for the world and letting ya’ll know I am far from perfect.

It might help other adoptive families have realistic expectations for when they get home.  Did you know that the norm is actually to experience some level of post-adoption depression?  It’s very much like post-partum blues and depression, but even more common for both adoptive moms and dads, and even more complicated because of the deep sadness that naturally accompanies the reality of adopting a hurting child.  Adoption is all about loss.  We don’t like to talk about it much, just like we don’t want to talk about how redemption is all about the cross.  But the one is a living icon of the other, and the picture is poignant.

When we baptize our babies we dress them up in these beautiful white gowns and take family pictures and have a big reception and celebrate it.  Some families remember their baptisms every year (I know we do!) and we linger on the promises and the miracles that have been given to us in our gift of baptism.  But what we don’t see with our eyes as the pastor pours clear, sparkling water over that sweet child’s head is…  the blood, the death.  Because as much as baptism is about new life it is first about death, the death of the person being baptized, the gruesome death of Jesus on the cross.  There is a saying that as Christians we do not need to fear death because we have already died.  We died the death of Christ during our baptism, which means death has no hold over us – just as it had no hold over the God of the Universe.  And there, in the loss and only through that loss comes the beauty and the promise of true, abundant life.

Adoption is also about loss.  Life for these children only comes by means of very deep loss.  Everything that was their life has to die, everything that was meant to have been theirs, that should have been theirs was taken from them.  Only through that reality, can they begin a new life.  But the child isn’t the only one who loses something, the family also experiences loss.  In the end, it will be a blessing to us all.  But right now?  Wow is it hard.  We had a lovely little family.  Two perfectly healthy, bright, beautiful children – a boy and a girl.  Sweet, sheltered, secure little ones… not a real care in the world.  And then we took a hammer to all of that.  We shattered our perfect little family and we changed it forever.

Now we’re a family of broken pieces and broken hearts.  A family where half of our children still don’t understand what it means to have a Mommy and a Daddy.  I overheard my four year old daughter telling a lady the other day that the nannies dropped Hope in her crib when she was in the orphanage.  We try to not talk about things like that in front of her, but she hears and remembers everything.  There is so much her little mind is trying to process: abuse, abandonment, neglect, pain… crushing pain.  Things I never intentionally would have introduced to my four and two year olds, but now they are living those realities second hand by watching us as we try to help their brother and sister heal.

They were away from their home for two months; that was hard for them.  Neither of them have been as secure since that trip.  We spend hours a week in therapy, hospitals, referrals and appointments.  Time I could have been reading stories or making fun crafts or teaching them how to bake.  And us?  We’re exhausted emotionally, physically and spiritually from all of it.  Suddenly we are a family with trauma, a family in need of an incredible amount of healing.  Overnight we went from having it all together to picking up the pieces.  Did we choose this?  Sort of, but not really.  Were we expecting it to be hard, even this hard?  Of course.  But just because trauma doesn’t always come without announcing itself doesn’t mean it isn’t just as traumatic when it finally walks through your front door and decides to live with you for a while.

Adoption is hard.  It is inherently loss, not just for the adoptive children, but for everyone in the child’s life.  Beautiful, lovely, miraculous things come from adoption.  But we do a disservice to adoptive families and their children when we overlook where that beauty came from. It came from ashes, ashes that are blown into a home, leaving the family to clean up the great mess that follows.  It’s not pity that I, or any adoptive parent, needs.  It’s prayer.  Understanding.  Support.  We need to know that if we don’t make that phone call or we don’t send that thank you note or if we never reach out for help it’s not because we don’t care about you.  It’s because our families have just been broken, and it’s taking all of our energy and strength to pick up all the pieces.

Sometimes we need you to reach out to us because we can’t reach out ourselves, but other times we just need space.  Sometimes we need respite, other times we just need a meal we didn’t have to cook ourselves.  Sometimes we need to sit and talk with someone who understands, and other times we just need people to stop asking how it’s going.  But most of all we need huge heaping doses of grace and mercy and love.  We need to know that the people in our lives are going to see our crazy, depressed, angry emotional roller coasters and they’re going to love us anyway.

(Just as a side note, if you are a family member or friend of an adoptive parent and you’re wondering why we aren’t asking for help, it’s probably because, especially when our children came from hard places, the kind of help we need is so specific that it would be difficult or impossible to just ask for a simple hand on something.  And if we tried to ask we would either come off as ungrateful or unreasonable or both.  Unfortunately, there are just situations where there is no real help that can be given without a logistical brainstorm involved.  Our children’s needs and our new family dynamics make simple things, like bringing in outside help, much more complicated.)

So here’s to honesty.  Here’s to dispelling the myth that adoptive families are superheroes that don’t need anyone’s help.  Here’s to coming out and saying that just because we signed up for this doesn’t mean we will always have our act together, and just because we “chose” these children doesn’t mean we can’t have a bad day, or week or month… or even year. We are just like you, and just like any family, when trauma kicks off its old, muddy shoes and decides to stay a while… we’re going to struggle.  And we are.

May the Lord, in His mercy, turn our sorrow to joy and our tears to laughter.  May He bring the dawn quickly and banish the darkness from our midst.  May He orchestrate the beauty from the ashes, and give us inclination to focus on neither, but rather to seek His face in this and in every season. Amen.

~~~~~

Dalas is a mother to four with another on the way. She is seriously passionate about motherhood, adoption, being “crunchy” (a fancy way of describing how she keeps her family healthy) and her Lutheran faith. You can find her on Facebook, Twitter and on her blog, Crunchy Lutheran Mommy. You can read her original Honesty post here.

Dalas

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Countdown to Christmas Giveaway: Creating Wonder and Magic for a Child Through Traditions

Welcome to M2M’s Season of Giving: Count Down to Christmas Giveaway! Come back each week to catch a sneak peak of new, featured products that will be included in the big, blog redesign giveaway package on December 15th to celebrate Made to Mother’s 1st “blog-iversary!” This week’s highlighted products are BOTH ebooks, OhAmanda’s Truth in the Tinsel and 5 copies of Sarah Mae’s More Than Candy. Both are affiliate links, meaning I receive a portion of any sales clicked-through these links. Thanks for supporting Made to Mother!

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When I think back upon my holiday memories as a child, I remember that I loved traditions the most…Christmas Eve service as a family, with the unshakable anticipation of opening gifts after we got home in the back of my mind the entire time. Warm drinks, cozy treats and pjs while we unwrapped gifts as a family of five in our living room; the heat of our wood stove and the radiant tree lights in the backdrop for years of memories. Us kids could barely sleep that night as we waited with baited expectation for the festivities to come the next day…early morning stockings from Santa, delicious, sugary breakfast treats we rarely got any other day like cinnamon rolls, pancakes or waffles! Then, it was off to my aunt’s house for our annual Christmas party with my mom’s family, playing a gift exchange game and eating lunch. My brothers and I dragged all our new gifts and stocking snacks with us to keep us busy and as evening approached, we headed to our next destination, the best yet; grandma’s house on my father’s side. It would be dark by the time we got there and we would be the last to arrive. My uncle, aunt and our only other cousins, all adults, would be waiting for us with eggnog, a deliciously huge holiday dinner, Christmas records blasting music, and festively-wrapped packages trailing out from under the tree and down the hall. It would be late into the night when we finally piled into our family car, stuffed with food and the trunk packed with gifts and leftovers. We always fell asleep on the drive home, sugar plums and toys dancing in our heads and our hearts full of love, family and fun.

Now, many years later, with children and a home of my own, it is these special family traditions and memories that I want to surround my family with, so that one day my kids will also look back in fondness to the sounds, tastes and smells that come with this beautiful season. But there is also something else I want to instill in my children, which it never seems like my parents were able to break through to me; the importance of this season of giving, of charity and of kindness to others, mirrored in the love that came from the birth of a tiny baby so long ago. Of course, I remember my parents trying, but I was too selfish to want to think of anything else other than gifts and food and fun. How can I expect to do any better with my own kids when the television, wish book catalogs from the newspaper and all their friends in school keep shouting at us, “buy buy buy!” “Gimme Gimme Gimme!” “Me me me!!!”

I’m not completely sure if I will ever be able to compete with all of these other voices, but for right now, we are starting with where I have always found the most beauty of this season…in tradition. In addition to the shopping, food and gift customs the holidays bring, we have decided as a family to begin and continue a few other important traditions to help us remember the true “reason for the season.”

One of our favorite ways to do this is by choosing a daily devotion advent activity to do as a family through the month of December. There are some fantastic apps, books and hands-on kits out there to choose from that are more educational and spiritual than the silly little chocolate punch-holes that you find at the dollar store. Last year, we used Truth in the Tinsel (affiliate link), a crafty way to talk about Christ’s birth and the Bible throughout the whole month of December. And with it, we also got to add a whole new bunch of ornaments to our collection! We liked it so much, in fact, that I modified it to use each week of advent in our small church’s Sunday school. And now they offer a church curriculum version, too. This year, we are doing More Than Candy (affiliate link), which I love because it gives us 25 days of activities to do for others, serving in our community and showing the love of Christmas in real, tangible ways, outside of our home during the holiday season.

Another tradition I like to make sure we keep is reading the Christmas story on Christmas Eve and Christmas morning. However, with children ages 7, 5 and 2 in our home, it’s not always gripping for them when we read it straight from our NIV Bible. So we like to find other creative and fun ways to hear and tell the story over and over again each year. Sometimes we read it from a children’s bible, or listen to an animated re-telling of it on an audio CD, but my favorite way is letting the kids have full creative control in sharing it. The older ones that have heard the story time and time again can often do a great rendition and almost always get all the key facts in the right order. It is also really fun to let them recreate it by putting on a play! Nothing is cheerier than watching three children play out multiple characters and ad-lib the funniest made-up lines. Sometimes there are two Marys because sisters don’t want to take turns and we have even seen vigilante angels storm the castle of Herod in defense of baby Jesus! Of course, the adults often get in on it by the end to play an odd shepherd or a forgotten wise man, too.

Finally, as we buy the food for our holiday menu and wrap our many gifts, I like to remind our children that there are so many others out there that are not as fortunate as we are. We think of ways as a family that we can help those in need and perhaps make the season a little brighter for a few others. Some of the ideas we have come up with include visiting a soup kitchen or holiday pantry and donating food and our time to pass it out. Our kids have their own “Boxing Day,” where we choose at least as many toys or items that we got as gifts and donate them to a charitable second hand store or give to others. Lastly, and one of the most impactful has been participating in Giving Trees or Adopt-A-Family, of which this year, we have chosen The Evans Family.

What are some of your favorite Christmas traditions? How do you make sure your family keeps the right spirit this time of year?

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National Adoption Month Series: Hally’s Story

Sometimes we look back on difficult periods in our lives, and we wonder how we got through them. We wonder if we could do it again; if the strength we had in those moments would return if we were to go through the same or similar challenges once more.

Over ten years have passed since my husband and I began our adoption journey, so some of the details of the process and the intense emotions of the experience have faded, but I clearly recall that God was with us during those years between the birth of our biological son and the arrival of our adopted daughter.

When my husband and I married at 33 and 28, respectively, we were ready to start our family right away. Initially, we simply did nothing to prevent a pregnancy, but after a couple of years without success, we began trying lots of “beginner” measures to become pregnant. By the time our fourth Christmas as a married couple rolled around, we were finally able to announce a pregnancy.

Our son was conceived with the help of oral Clomid, and a second pregnancy came rather unexpectedly a year or so after his birth. The excitement of that relatively-easy conception didn’t last long. I miscarried the baby just days after announcing to my family, friends and co-workers that we were expecting a second child.

Somehow I felt that would be my last pregnancy. I had suspected miscarriages prior to this confirmed one, and I thought we should resume and increase our fertility treatments in order to have the second child we wanted so badly. We tried a variety of different options, all of which were emotional exhausting. I don’t remember how many appointments, ultrasounds (part of the fertility treatment process), at-home pregnancy tests, and injections I had. But I do know it was taxing.

When we had tried without success to become pregnant using the fertility measures my husband and I felt comfortable with, we decided to pursue adoption. We met with the director of a small St. Louis agency and quickly began to pursue foreign adoption. This gave me new hope and a new focus as I threw myself into completing a dossier and all the paperwork required for the complicated process.

Months went by while we waited, researched, documented and prepared for a placement to come from Romania, the country our agency did all their adoptions through. We were nearly ready when something unexpected happened; Romania shut their doors to international adoptions. I was devastated.

A long-awaited conception with baby one, a miscarriage in my second pregnancy, tiresome fertility treatments, an adoption process, and a country with many babies in need of good homes that was no longer willing to release those babies. These challenges and closing doors were getting the best of me, and, all of this was in addition to my full-time job as a high school guidance counselor and my role as a wife and mother to my precious toddler.

I remember crying with my husband, telling him that perhaps it was just not meant to be. I thought perhaps we should be happy with our one beautiful son, but we had always wanted him to have a sibling. Maybe that just wasn’t His plan.

What is it they say about closing doors? When Romania’s door closed, our wonderful adoption-agency pioneer decided to open a new door and venture into Guatemala. She helped Tim and I prepare to be the first family for whom she facilitated an adoption in the country.

More months passed, but just a few short weeks after our son’s fourth birthday, we were sent pictures of a beautiful baby girl available for placement in Guatemala. Our daughter came home to us in January 2002 at four-and-a-half months old, and we held her in our arms on my husband’s 42nd birthday. In the first moments of our meeting, our son looked down at his baby sister in the stroller and said to her “yessa, yessa do like chicken nuggets.” Well, she did, and she still does.

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I love nuggets of truth, and I know the truth is that God has plans for us all. Romania wasn’t His plan for us, Guatemala was. And, when I look into my daughter’s eyes, I know she was the one for this family. Thank goodness for His plans, doors that open when others close, and the strength that He provides as we wait for it all to come into view.

~~~~~

Hally is a former high school guidance counselor, turned homemaker and freelance writer. She serves as the secretary for her church, and she is a 4-H leader, cheer booster, band parent, book club member, and enthusiastic traveler. She lives with her family outside St. Louis, Missouri, where she regularly writes about parenting, relationships, travel and more at Bloom, Bond & Build

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National Adoption Month Series: Mary’s Story

The chairs were cold and hard, and I was ready to leave. We sat in the gym listening to song after song, as the program seemed to run long. Finally, someone teased us about closing the ceremony, but then dashed our hopes with “just one more number.” I suppressed a huge sigh, as adults are supposed to be above such displays, but my selfishness diminished as I watched a tiny, blond imp walk forward and face the crowd. She shyly smiled and began to sing “Jesus Loves Me.” As she walked back to her seat, a brief, “how cute,” flitted through my mind and just as quickly left as we were finally dismissed.
If you believe that life is filled with random coincidences that we just happen to experience, then you may not understand the rest of this story. But I hope you will read on, despite some doubt, and learn how much God cares; not just about our needs, but our hopes and dreams as well. I personally believe in divine intervention, prayer and faith, but even I forget just how big God is. Little did I know, sitting on those cold, hard chairs, that God had not only heard my prayer, but had just placed the answer right in front of me.

I had an ache in my heart, a hole of sorts that no surgeon could repair. While I already had two wonderful sons by birth, I longed to adopt a daughter. For me this was a need, but for my husband not so much. Seven years had passed since the topic was first discussed, and I prayed first for his heart to change. But when that didn’t get results, I prayed that my heart would. I asked God to take the desire from me, so it wouldn’t hurt anymore, or cause bitterness. God was not satisfied with those limitations, and with His typical wisdom and no lack of a sense of humor, He opted for the shock and awe approach. The next time the subject was brought up, it was my husband that said, “I think we should look into adopting!” I almost passed out, but recovered quickly so I could get the ball rolling before he could change his mind!

I called several adoption agencies and was satisfied knowing that packets of information would arrive within a few weeks. Then, being a long-standing member in the, ‘it never hurts to ask’ club, I put in one more call, this time to a place more local. We were friends with a couple that managed a Christian children’s ranch. The kids placed with them were temporary wards, while parents were in jail, or couldn’t care for them for other reasons. It was rare that any of the kids were adoptable, so I didn’t get my hopes up as I dialed. My inquiry was answered with one question, “how old?” I explained very logically how we felt that a two or three year-old would be best, giving us time with them before they started school. When that was met with, “oh, that’s too bad,” they went on to tell me that there was a five year-old girl that would be put up for adoption right after Christmas. I heard my voice say, “that is too bad; It’s older than we were thinking,” and with that I hung up.

You can hang up a telephone easily, but it’s much harder to disconnect your heart. That night I didn’t sleep a wink. I laid there thinking about a five year-old girl that would soon be displaced in life. It broke my heart. I vaguely remembered a young girl with huge dimples that one of our friends was caring for at the Ranch. She met us at the door one night, full of energy, talking non-stop and proceeded to use Dale as a jungle gym. Could they be talking about her? How old was she? Was I remembering right? Was her hair blond? The never-ending questions jammed my mind and imagination all through the night. By early morning I noticed Dale was awake too, and asked what he thought about a five year-old. Without hesitation, he said “I think you should call them back!”

She did have blond hair and blue eyes and dimples! Not only was she the girl God placed on my mind that night, she was also the same impish child who sang for us that uncomfortable day in the gym!  She would become our daughter that winter. She ended up with two older brothers to torture gleefully, and parents who knew beyond all doubt that she was a gift from God. God made sure our lives were woven with threads of common friends. It has been over twenty years since we first heard her sing, and she still uses her voice every Sunday, as she now leads worship for our church.

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Mary is the wife of Dale, mother to Matt, Nate and Maegy, and Mother-in-law to Michael and Amber.  She is “Grammy” to Elijah, Asher and Bennett. She lives in the Pacific Northwest and is a full-time pastor’s wife and part time daycare to two of her grandboos. She has a side business called “Leaf It To Me,” making and painting cement leaf castings and speaks for various women’s events around the NW. She has guest posted on M2M before, which you can read here and from time-to-time you can find her sporadic ramblings at http://marylphipps.blogspot.com/.

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National Adoption Month Series: Donna’s Story

Parenthood is an amazing adventure. It is a road riddled with twists and turns and unexpected bumps. It’s also a journey filled with wonder, grace, and joy.

Pat and I never intended to have six children. When we were first married and talked about how many children we would have, I wanted four. Pat wanted two. In the end, we did both. Our first three sons arrived the conventional way. Our next three children arrived through the miracle of adoption.

My older boys were in their early teens when Pat and I became foster parents. One beautiful June evening, we were asked to open our home to a three year old girl and a seven month old boy, both of whom had the chicken pox. A few hours later, Patty arrived clutching a much-loved doll. She had big, brown eyes and a fearful, but beautiful smile. Anthony came into my arms and snuggled into my heart. A few years later, a judge made official the adoption that took place in our hearts that night. We had four sons and one daughter.

Shortly after Patty and Anthony’s adoption, we learned that their birth mother was expecting another child. We agreed to accept this child also. While my boys wondered who would have to share their room and Patty and I wondered if this baby would be another boy or if Patty would have to share her princess status, my husband wondered if we were nuts. When we received the phone call that a baby boy had arrived; I laughed and said, “We needed another one of those.”  We picked Connor up from the hospital when he was just three days old. 

Adoptive parents never really know for sure exactly what we are getting into, but birth parents don’t either. There are days in the lives of every parent when you want to tear your hair out and cry, “This is not what I signed up for!” I have been picking up Legos for 29 years. I have finally graduated out of car seats. I have slept in hospital beds with my arms wrapped around a sick child. I’ve worried when they’ve come home late. I’ve attended hundreds of parent-teacher conferences and countless holiday performances. I’ve lent my son an earring. I’ve overseen enough homework assignments to fill a library. I’ve had pool water spit in my face and baby spit-up on my shoulders. I’ve been blessed with tadpoles and dandelions crushed in a chubby fist. At one point we had one son in the Navy, two sons in college, and our baby in day care. I can bore you to tears telling you about my kids’ accomplishments. I am fiercely protective of them and want only the best for them.

We do not know a lot about our children’s birth mother, but this one thing I do know, she loved her children. She loved her children enough to give them life and we are so grateful she did. Our children, all of them, have enriched our lives far beyond what anyone could have told us.

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Donna is a wife of 34 years to Pat and blessed with quite a lot – 5 sons, 1 daughter, a daughter-in-law, a dog and a cat, a house, a bunch of furniture, and a garage filled with everything but a car. You can follow her on the blog, HoliMess, where she shares about noticing God in the midst of our daily life through crafts, recipes, devotions, comforting words, and encouragement.

Donna

National Adoption Month Series: Christina’s Adoptee Story

I was born in Medellin, Colombia. My birth mother is a maid there, but I do not have any information on my birth father. Immediately after my birth I was sent to live in an orphanage in Medellin and was cared for by nuns. When I was fourteen months old I was adopted by a young couple from Grand Rapids, Michigan. My adoption was finalized in Colombia on October 17, 1983 and a few days later I left for the United States with my new parents. I was met at the airport by my new, extended family which is quite large.

This is a letter I wrote to my birth mother although she may never read it. It explains the depth of gratitude I feel towards her and the love I have experienced in my life since being adopted.

Dear Mother,

As a mother myself I can only imagine the heartache you must have felt sending me to an orphanage, hoping for a better life for me than you could provide. You knew me before the world did, as I grew from one cell to multiple cells, growing bigger every day. I kicked and punched and slept in your womb. I felt the love you had for me.

I often wonder, when I was born did you cry for me? Did your arms and heart ache for me? As a part of you, I believe you did. I know you wished you could have kept me and watch me grow. Mother, out of love you sent me on to a better life.

When I was still a baby, a new woman and man became my mom and dad and oh what a life they have given me. They watched me learn to walk and talk. They saw me fall and shared my joys and my sorrows. I know the joy that I brought them when they lost hope of having a child. I am a daddy’s girl and he is an amazing man, a God-fearing and loving man. My mom cuddled me, sang to me, played with me, and disciplined me. I know this is the childhood you wanted me to have with an extended family that adored and loved me. My grandparents were the most amazing people I have ever met and I was blessed to call them my grandmas and grandpas. Mother, you gave them a gift and your spirit was always with me.

I kept growing into a teen, and although I went through the typical teenage uncertainty and awkwardness, I was always extremely proud of who I was and still privileged with the life you gave me.  I grew into adulthood without too many incidents. As a young woman, I became a mother. At the birth of my daughter, I felt the elation you more than likely also felt when you saw me. There was a little sorrow in my heart though because you were not there to see this child being born. My mom was there and was able to share the birth with me. My daughter would not have been possible without you and your choice.

As a mother of three wonderful children now, I cannot fathom how you could have given me this life. These three children are the gift that would not have been possible without your sacrifice. Thank you, mother, for choosing life. Thank you for choosing adoption. This life I have is amazing. To quote a popular movie, “I never did thank you for this extraordinary life you gave me!” This is my thank you to you, a woman I may never again meet on this earth, but my spirit knows you and will see you in heaven.

My adoptive parents are amazing people who have raised me in the Light of Christ. I am beyond blessed with this life I have been given.

~~~~~

Christina is a single mom of three wonderful children. Being a mother is the most challenging yet rewarding job there is for her and she wouldn’t change one thing about being a mommy.

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An Unexpected, Full Quiver – Katie’s Story

I’ve always wanted a big family. Okay, well, originally I thought that meant four kids. When I was in high school I felt God distinctly tell me that He would call me to adopt someday. Those feelings were solidified when I met my husband, Tim, and he felt the same way too. After we married, we said that we would have four or five kids, but joked that we would have ten or twelve. Our first, a daughter, was born in 2007 and I just loved being pregnant. I knew then that I could happily carry and birth four or five more, if God allowed. We named her Selah, which means to “pause” or “meditate,” and I adored being able to do just that as a mother to my little girl.

What I never anticipated was having trouble conceiving or sustaining pregnancies after Selah. We began trying for our second little angel the year after she was born, but instead, had three back-to-back miscarriages over the next year. By the time Selah was three years-old and all the rest of my mommy friends were pregnant with or already having their second and third babies, I began to despair, thinking that our hopes and dreams of having a large family were quickly dwindling.

We tried fertility treatments next and it was at this time that Tim and I also began to seriously consider adoption. We researched the costs, different agencies and countries to adopt from. I became so certain that adoption would probably be where the rest of our children would come from that I was surprised when we found out at the end of 2009 that the fertility treatments had worked and we were expecting a healthy baby boy. Elijah, meaning “The Lord is the one, true God,” joined our family in May of 2010 and I was overjoyed to have another sweet little one in my arms.

After Elijah was born, we looked into adoption again, but decided that we needed to wait for more consistent finances. I took the next year to enjoy motherhood and it wasn’t until the middle of 2011 that we felt confident in beginning the process of adoption when Tim’s job was more secure. We had just signed the official adoption paperwork, requesting to adopt a sibling group from Ethiopia, when we were surprised to find out we were expecting, AGAIN, this time without the help of fertility treatments! In April of 2012, we welcomed Isaac, which means “laughter” because of the huge surprise he gave us.

We knew we still wanted those two African children, though, whoever they would be, and we eagerly looked forward to word from our agency and dreamed of whom they would match us with. Selah hoped for a younger sister to play with and Tim and I tossed around what Old Testament names we would use once we got the news. But time seemed to drag on and with each passing week without word from our agency, we grew anxious. Finally, in January of 2013, just nine months after our surprise Isaac was born, we were matched with twin boys only five months younger than him. They were born in Harar, Ethiopia the previous September and then moved to an orphanage in Addis, Ethiopia.

In April, we flew to Addis and spent ten days meeting and holding our sweet, new additions to the family, touring the country and even taking a bus to visit Harar, 500 kilometers away from the boys’ new orphanage. By July, at ten months old, they were legally ours and we flew back to Addis and brought home Moses and Zechariah, which mean “drawn out” and “God has remembered.”

For years, we had prepared ourselves from agency classes, social worker visits and numerous books and resources that the biggest struggle of international adoption would be teaching these children how to bond with us as parents and siblings. However, their connection with all of us was as instant as if I had carried and born them myself.  Instead, it seemed to us that the biggest adjustment to adopting twins less than one years-old was that because Isaac was only five months older, we essentially have triplets. And since the twins were adjusting to a new home, new parents and a new routine than they were used to in their orphanage, it was much like having newborns again. They were up every three hours at night, often on opposite schedules. And once they started crawling and walking, along with Isaac, life only got crazier! Thankfully, our older two, Selah and Elijah, now 7 and 4 have been wonderful, big helpers and we have had many, many dear friends and family step in to help as well.

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But, God wasn’t done with our family yet, nor His miraculous, surprising ways. Just when I was beginning to adjust to having four rambunctious and destructive boys, 3 of them under two years-old, we had another surprise pregnancy in January of 2014. We found out that we were expecting TWINS a month later and a few weeks after that, the ultrasound showed that they were BOTH boys. I grieved this news for a short time, but God continued to bring me new mercies each morning.

Our precious new set of twins arrived via caesarian section on September 14, 2014. Noah Robert and Josiah Paul, our smallest babies yet, weighed in at 7 and 5 pounds, respectively. Their arrival meant that as an entire family we could no longer fit in our eight passenger minivan and we are bursting at the seams in our 3 bedroom, 1 bath 1200 square foot home. However, this past summer, God provided Tim with a significant and long prayed-for promotion at work, which allowed us to get approved for a loan on a new, 2015 Ford Transit nine-passenger van. He has also blessed us with a large community of family, friends and even strangers who want to help us with meals, housecleaning, childcare as well as the remodeling to expand our small house to accommodate our large family!

Katie Twins

We are amazed at God’s gift of seven children in seven years, and it has opened our eyes to become aware of our need for Jesus, family, friends and our church to help us. He has blessed us with the chance to experience and embrace the most beautiful picture of community and the powerful testimony of His provision as we open the doors of our lives, hearts and home to experience His grace, “do life” together, and raise this pack of children with the help and love of a multitude of others. And while I cannot even remember what life was like just seven years ago with only one baby girl, God’s grace and goodness has been abundant, and we continue to trust that He will provide for all our needs.

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Made to Mother is partnering with the Evans Project to fundraise and build enough support to be able to help expand Tim and Katie Evans’s home and assist in funding the purchase of their new family car. For years Tim and Katie have played a huge part in and blessed the lives of so many people. They have opened their home and lives to everyone who has needed or asked for help. We now see this as an opportunity to give back to them that blessing, as we donate our own time and resources and ask others for help in supporting this family.

If you would like to learn more about the Evans Project, please visit the Evans Project Page for more information and to donate. 100% of your donations will go directly to the Evans family. Thank you so much for supporting this loving, godly family and being a part of the amazing work that God continues to do through them!

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National Adoption Month Series – Christina’s Story

My husband and I tried unsuccessfully to get pregnant for 16 months before we pursued fertility options. At our first clinic visit they ran some tests and called me a week later with the results. They discovered that I have what’s called “diminished ovarian reserve” and told us it was unlikely that we would be able to successfully conceive on our own.

I was extremely saddened by this news, but I refused to stay depressed over it. I gave myself 24 hours to cry over it and then my husband and I discussed our options. Despite my disappointment, I felt relief amidst the pain. Neither of us can actually remember who thought of adoption, but we both always knew we were open to it and immediately decided to pursue that route instead of additional fertility treatments at the clinic.

My mother suggested meeting with her and my dad’s trust attorney, who was very passionate about adoption and could possibly represent us as we moved forward. When we met with him for a consultation we overwhelmed with the many different types of adoption to choose from. He encouraged us to sleep on it and see how we felt the next day. When we did, our hearts leaned toward private domestic adoption, so on Easter Sunday we announced to our family that we were pursuing adopting a U.S. baby through our new attorney.

I got straight to work on our paperwork and home study and I couldn’t help but also start to create a nursery for our hoped-for little one. The crib came first, and one of my best mom friends took me to Babies R Us to register for gifts. I was definitely excited! Since I hadn’t yet experienced any heartbreak on our journey to having a baby, I viewed an empty nursery with hope and it wasn’t painful for me. If anything it made me more joyful.

I must have emailed our attorney three different times, asking if there was anything I should change in our profile. I was politely reassured that we should be as authentic as possible and that someone would love us and pick us for who we are. Nine weeks later, we got a call with a match and were informed that we were their second choice. I have adoptive couple friends that had experienced failed matches and placements that fell through, so I tried not to get my hopes up, but I was still ecstatic.

We met with the expectant mother and father a week later, along with our attorney. We immediately hit it off, exchanged numbers and began texting. Over the next few weeks we took them to lunches, shopped for maternity clothes and even got to go with them to a doctor’s appointment and see the baby girl on 3D ultrasound! It was really important to me that they agreed with the name we had chosen for our daughter. I wanted them to see her in their minds and call her by the same name that we would raise her with, even though I knew we had the final, legal say in the matter after the adoption was finalized.

Not long after, our birth mom showed early signs of labor and was admitted to the hospital. Finley was born nine weeks early with minimal complications. In a normal birth situation in our state of California the birthmother will sign relinquishment papers upon being discharged from hospital. She then will have only 24 hours to change her mind. But due to legalities and because our baby came so early we had to wait about three weeks before she was able to sign. I was nervous, only because I was growing so emotionally-invested in this little baby that I could now hold and help care for. And I could tell that our birthmom was in love with Finley, too.

Our baby was in the NICU for a total of five weeks, and I was there around the clock the entire time. The birth parents also visited frequently and I realized that we were about as open as it gets. It was odd to most of the nursing staff and one social worker kept encouraging our birthmom to call and get updates on her baby. She made me feel like a bad person, questioning my reasoning for requesting that I be the only one to hold Finley skin-to-skin. I had asked our birthmom not to hold her this way because I wanted Finley to bond solely with me and to get used to my scent since we would be taking her home. But, for some reason the social worker continued to call our birthmom with updates, even after the medical rights were released to us.

Needless to say, I learned very quickly that some people just do not support adoption. I was filled with what-if’s and life-changing emotions that I had never experienced before. It was truly one of the most difficult times in my life. I also struggled with guilt as I watched our birthmom grieve her loss, and I literally cried myself to sleep one night over it. Who wouldn’t? Someone had placed their firstborn child in our arms. My husband and I believe it is the most generous thing one can do for someone else. It’s just indescribably amazing.

After the birthparents terminated their rights, they still visited each day and it was as though nothing had changed. The hospital staff was very confused, wondering why I would let the birthmother still see and hold the baby. I knew that some adoptive moms are very sweet and open with the birthparents but as soon as those papers are signed, they change their tune. I didn’t want to be one of them. I wanted to build trust. I knew we were going to be forever attached with this couple.

This relationship we share is unique; bonded by a baby. And on top of that bond, we also have a friendship. We discuss life, interests and experiences; probably more so than we discuss Finley. The first year after she was born we had visits about every six to eight weeks because we live fairly close and my work schedule was nonexistent. We have open communication and I text photos every Friday. Our open adoption works best this way. Of course, I understand that life can and will change things as time goes on, but as long as my daughter knows she was carried and placed in love then I am happy.

We finalized our adoption this past summer. Finley is now 14 months old. I’ve thought of her as our daughter from the beginning so I didn’t think that officially finalizing it would be that big of a deal. I literally thought it’s just signing another paper, but as soon as we sat down in court and the judge began to speak, it hit me like a ton of bricks! I cried the ugly cry and could barely get out my words. We were able to profess our love for our daughter in a courtroom. The official terminology they used alone is enough to make you cry and it was by far one of the best days of my life. I got to sign my first birth certificate. You can watch the court finalization video here.

Two days later we had Finley dedicated in our Christian church, and her birth family came to witness it. It was so beautiful to me because the first open adoption picture I saw on Pinterest was of birth parents and adoptive parents together at their child’s baptism. I still get emotional thinking about how I accomplished the exact moment that I longed for!

To say we are blessed is an understatement. Our placement happened very quickly and our daughter came so early. She’s a happy and healthy baby with many people that love her. I want to continue to create awareness about adoption and educate everyone I can on the importance and origin of open adoption. And we look forward to adding to our family through adoption again in the coming years.

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Christina Smallwood is a 29 year-old business owner from Southern California. She loves God, her family and taking photos of everything. Her greatest joy is living a simple life as mom and wife!

Christina

National Adoption Month Series: Elysa’s Adoptee Story

The drive felt like it took hours even though it had only been minutes. My dad stopped the car in front of a white house, and I felt my heart stop beating for just a moment. Pink balloons decorated the inside of the garage where unfamiliar faces gathered. I took a deep breath and somehow got the feeling back in my hands so I could open the door. I was only 16 and I was about to walk into something most 16 year-olds don’t ever do.

I had wondered and questioned for so many years, and the time when I would see her face to face was here. I got out of the car, wearing one of my favorite outfits and my hair done up in curls. I started walking up the driveway which felt like miles and miles. Then I saw her: someone I had never seen before but felt a connection the moment our eyes met. With tears filling her eyes, she ran to me and hugged me as tight as she could. I mutually embraced her. She couldn’t let go of me as she cried.

The last time we saw each other was in a hospital room 16 years ago. She was my birth mother. She made a courageous choice 16 years ago. She chose life for me and for a family she knew could give me a better life than she could offer. She blessed a young couple who couldn’t have children of their own with me, and in return, she blessed me with a wonderful family to spend my life with.

I was adopted when I was 3 days old. My adoptive parents already had a daughter they had adopted a few years earlier. Adopting another child was not necessarily in their plans at the time, but it was certainly in God’s plans. My birth mother sought counsel from the Crisis Pregnancy Center knowing she did not want to go through an agency for my adoption. With this being an unfamiliar situation for the counselor, the founder of the center became involved. God’s hand was at work in incredible ways, for the founder was a dear friend of my adoptive parents. She immediately contacted them and told them about a 19-year-old girl who was pregnant and needing a home for her baby. They felt this was clearly God’s plan for them to adopt me, and I became part of their family.

Growing up, I always knew I was adopted. In fact, just the other day, I was discussing this with my parents, and I thanked them. I thanked them for raising me with the knowledge of my adoption. It showed that they saw my adoption as a beautiful thing and were proud of it. For anyone who has adopted or is considering adoption, no matter the situation, telling your child about their adoption is the best gift you can ever give them. Not only is it the honest thing to do, but being adopted is so beautiful and special: in fact, it was God’s idea.

Knowing that I was adopted growing up was wonderful, but I always had many questions. My parents were always very good about answering them the best way they could. But as the years went on I wanted to know about my birth family: Where is my birth mom now? Where is my birth dad? Is there anyone that I look like…share the same personality with? Does my birth family ever think about me? Do I have any siblings? The curiosity was something I could never help. I had the security of knowing that I was truly blessed to be adopted into a family that took me in as their own, loved me unconditionally, and always respected the fact that I was going to have questions. Still, there were a lot of unknowns,

My curiosity increased as I got older. When I was 15, I talked to my parents about taking steps to contacting my birth mother. My parents, understandably, were hesitant because of how much was unknown. There is a risk in taking these steps. After 15 years, we didn’t have any idea where my birth mother was in life. Would she want to hear from me? Would her reaction to my contact be healing, or would it affect me negatively?

After much prayer, my parents agreed that it was the right time, and I began to work on my letter to her. At first, it was hard to think of where to start. What do you say to someone you have no relationship with, don’t know at all, but still have a deep connection with? Eventually, I found the words I wanted to say, wrote the letter, and included a few pictures in the envelope. Once again, God’s hand was working.

Overjoyed upon receiving my letter, my birth mother wrote back to me. Words cannot describe the feeling I had when I opened that letter. Pictures of her, my half-brother and some of her friends were included in the envelope. My heart was beating so fast as I looked through the pictures and read her words. I could feel the emotion in her letter, and I felt so much joy in knowing that she wanted nothing more than to know me.

After many letters back and forth between the two of us, my parents agreed to take a trip to North Carolina to meet my birth mother. That is when my relationship with her began. In all honesty, building a relationship with a birth mother is not easy at all. It takes a lot of learning along the way and a lot of understanding. You see, I wasn’t in need of a mother at all. In fact, God blessed me with an incredible mom who adopted me and called me her own. To learn how to have a relationship with someone who can feel the need to mother is hard at times. It has taken several years for me to learn how to separate things and make the relationship a friendship in respect for my adopted mom who has dedicated many years to being my mom.

The last several years, I have continued to build relationships with my extended birth family. My uncle has become an incredible part of my life and has been a great support and encouragement and I have loved getting to know my birth grandma who has always shown such love to me and has taken the time to get to know me. But what I have appreciated the most in my process of getting to know my birth family is seeing how truly blessed I am to be raised by the parents God gave me.

There is a lot of divorce in my birth family and, unfortunately, a lot of relationships there are broken and estranged. That was all very new to me. Growing up, I never experienced divorce in my family or my extended family. Everyone loves each other, everyone forgives and respects one another. Being part of my birth family’s life is truly a gift, and I wouldn’t change it for the world, but I am beyond grateful that I didn’t have to grow up in divorce and broken families. God had a plan for my life, and His sovereignty in my life is overwhelming to think about.

Now, at 24 years-old, I continue to be in relationship with my birth family. Just this year I met my birth dad for the first time. It took many years for him to agree to meet me and it was many years of me having to remind myself that it’s not my fault that he didn’t want to take that step. It took a lot in me not to feel abandoned by him or hurt from him. I knew that if God intended for my birth dad to be a part of my life, then it would happen someday. What helped through that process was the fact that I was adopted by the best daddy a girl could ask for. I didn’t need a dad, but there was still an empty space I had before meeting my birth dad. It was a space I could have lived the rest of my life having, but I am thankful I didn’t have to. After meeting my birth dad, I learned a lot about him and have gained understanding about why he wasn’t ready to meet me right away. I felt the same feelings when meeting him as I did meeting my birth mother eight years ago. I’m not sure why I lose the feeling in my hands every time I step into these situations, but it has happened twice now! But meeting my birth dad was so special for me! I am truly grateful for the relationship I am building with him today and for his interest in my life. I love having him a part of it.

Today I have an even stronger appreciation for adoption. God’s sovereignty is what comes to mind when I think about the story God has written for my life. Being adopted is a huge part of who I am, and I intend to raise my own children with an appreciation for it as well. 24 years ago, a 19-year-old girl faced an extremely difficult choice: a choice that affected not only one person, but many. She chose life.

~~~~~

Elysa is a mommy to three and a wife to one incredible man. She is a business owner, photographer and has a heart for ministry. Following Christ and striving to live a life Glorifying HIM in all that she does. You can catch some of her writing at the collaborative blog, www.artichokeheartsblog.blogspot.com.

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A Changed Life: What I took Home from #Allume

In addition to a large box of books, notepads, keepsakes and trinkets that I had to hike ten blocks in the hot, South Carolina sun and find a UPS office to ship home for $27, I boarded my 6 am flight home to Portland, Oregon with so much more. A head exploding with new information, thoughts and ideas to write about, a heart full of new contacts and friends and their warm stories. And a body weary from the hustle and bustle that only a cross-country trip for five days at a blogging conference with hundreds of other women can produce.

I got the chance to meet some of my favorite bloggers, authors and speakers, listen in on some amazing, life-changing sessions and keynote lectures. Nearly all day long for three days I was able to engage in deep and heart-wrenching conversations with new acquaintances from all over the world and in every sort of walk of life and circumstance. I made business connections and networked with big names in Christian literary agencies and publishing companies and spoke with several remarkable philanthropic organizations that aid and serve people in varying cultures living through a multitude of tragic events and conditions. And I shared a tiny room with three women I had never met before, who, by the end of the conference have become dear and hopefully, life-long friends.

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Of course I had my expectations and preconceived notions of what Allume was going to be like. Some were unrealistic or just wishful thinking that didn’t come true. Others were fears and apprehensions that for the most part were relieved and overcome. I forced myself to get out of my comfort zone and work up the courage to talk with complete strangers about my writing and the Made to Mother Project, exchanged business cards and asked for social media follows. I pushed away the initial feelings of envy and competition to really listen to other writers, authors and “mommy bloggers,” and I ignored the “not good enough” thoughts that nagged at my soul as I listened to the wisdom of those who have gone before me and have twice (or six times) the platform or book deals that I have. I learned to encourage and cheer on others, practice TRUE hospitality in many different forms, and to change my default mindset from one of of categorizing and comparisons to blessing and reassuring others. Finally, I came away from Allume with the new mantra to trust Him with this calling I have received, to write the story that was assigned to me, work my own patch of land that He has allotted and to repeat, repeat, repeat.

Allume seriously changed my life last week. It reconnected and uplifted my faith in Christ and it gave me the motivation and help to adjust my self-talk and trust God more with my tiny little microphone IN HIS TIME. And, on a completely different note, it gave me a front-row, inside look at the SOUTH. And, wow, I fell in love with that part of our country! I drank gallons of sweet tea, consumed plates of grits; I adored the “y’alls” and drawls and simply cherished the downright, sweet southern hospitality of everyone I met there. And I will be back. Soon.

In the meantime, I have resolved to take a little time off from my crazy obsession of blogging, promotion and social media to rethink, reevaluate and refocus myself. Countless Allume speakers convicted me to spend more authentic time with my family and community, and realign my writing priorities and future so they fall UNDER my first priority as a wife, mom and friend. That being said, as November quickly approaches and with it a big month of sharing adoption stories here at M2M, you are going to see fewer personal posts and less participation in linkups and promotions. I want my family to know that they are the most important job I have; I want more of others and less of me, and I want God to receive ALL the glory through the continuing work of the Made to Mother Project. So, thank you, Allume, for an amazing week of self-reflection and transformation to live more intentionally, love bigger and embrace true hospitality!

what i took home from allume