Sunday, December 28, 2014

7 Quick Takes- Advent & Christmas Recap

--1--
Merry Christmas!  I can't believe we are here already, sitting on the flip side of another Advent gone by.   I didn't intend to stop blogging during most of Advent but it apparently turned out that way.   It certainly wasn't from any lack of excitement around here.   So, for good ole posterity's sake, here's a little recap of the month that was...

Gathering greenery for the windows.


--2--
Are any of you Couch to 5K folks out there still running?   I'm still beating the pavement three days a week with my trusty running partner, our dog Sage.  I actually think running in the winter is more enjoyable than in the summer, but then again, I live in the south.  I did run one morning when it was 26 degrees. Fahrenheit. In the freezing rain.  I don't think the dog was impressed.


--3--
Given the fact that I've been running/walking regularly since June, I decided to sign up for a 10K hike.   I enlisted Tom to join me.  I was a little concerned about Tom doing the hike considering he 1) never exercises 2) never exercises and 3) never exercises.   He does walk a lot though, and splits wood, and then there's the constant chasing of two little boys around the house, yard, etc.  So, it's not like he's in bad shape or anything.  But he's not exactly out there sucking wind every other day, running up and down the lane, like yours truly.    So, when the day of the hike came, I told him he should lead and set the pace.   Which he did.  You know those people who you hate because they never exercise and eat whatever they want and can still outrun you?  I'm married to one.   We finished the hike in under three hours.  Tom was fine.  I needed a hot bath and some ibuprofen.


--4--
Our boys really got into the whole "St. Nicholas' Day" thing this year.  Last year, we put the candy in the shoes but it didn't really make much of an impression on the boys.  This year, John was counting the days until December 6, mostly because he was battling a chronic candy addiction that was still lingering from Halloween.  The kid has a serious sweet tooth and when all candy in the house just "suddenly disappeared" one day in mid-November while they were in preschool, he started to get the DT's.    Watching a four-year old go through a candy detox is not a pretty sight and I think he felt like St. Nick was his only hope.
Enjoying the bounty left by St. Nick.

--5--
We have a large Hispanic community in our area now, and on December 12, our family decided to join with them in their celebration at a nearby church for the Feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe.   Many of the Catholic churches near us have Spanish Masses now, and as a matter of fact, the first Mass that Tom and I attended as a married couple was a Spanish Mass.   I don't speak Spanish well, and Tom speaks absolutely nada.  Yet, we really enjoy these Masses because they are usually filled with a lot of devotion.  This particular Mass for Our Lady of Guadalupe was like none I'd ever seen.  I suppose the closest comparison would be to a Midnight Mass at Christmas.   First, the house was packed!   Standing room only.  All Hispanics except for the few standouts (like us) scattered in the pews.  Second, the music!  Oh my, the music was loud and played by a Latino group standing near the front.  It reverberated off the stained-glass windows and seeped out of the church and into the street.  Third, the flowers!   Roses everywhere!  Dozens of families walked in carrying bouquets of roses and would place them around the image of Our Lady of Guadalupe.  There were hundreds of roses around her!  So beautiful.  And lastly, the children!  The church was packed with young families and hundreds of children.   Many of the little boys were dressed as Juan Diego and the little girls wore white cotton dresses embroidered with images of Our Lady of Guadalupe.  The children would smile and sway to the lively music.  At the end of the Mass, something was said in Spanish and suddenly, all the children filed out of the pews and walked up to the priest, where he gave each one a blessing.    I couldn't help but think Our Lady would be pleased with all the love, affection, and enthusiasm that was being shown in her honor.
Our feast meal for St. Juan Diego's feast day.

--6--
Today is a special day around here, too.   Not only because it is the Feast of the Holy Family, but also because it is the Feast of the Holy Innocents.    It was on this day five years ago that I had my first ultrasound that told me I could expect this miracle to occur.  And on this day three years ago, I found out that I was pregnant with our third child, Karol Elizabeth, whose life on earth was not to be.
Tom and I have petitioned the Holy Innocents many times during our struggles with infertility to intercede for us and I do not believe that it is any coincidence that two times on their feast day, we have been blessed with new life.   So, it was with this in mind that we asked our priest to bless our new home and the graves of our lost babies today.   He graciously obliged and our home is now truly a domestic church from which I can look out upon the blessed graves of my other children.   We are now praying that the Holy Innocents intercede for us on behalf of our future son or daughter whom we hope to adopt someday.



--7--
So, that's about it for my Advent/December recap.   We had a mostly great Christmas Day, aside from the fact that the boys and I have been battling the "cough until you drop" germ that is spreading at epidemic levels in our corner of the world.   Bourbon balls are definitely serving a dual purpose around here this year!  I had to postpone Jesus' birthday party until last night (sorry about that, Jesus) but the boys didn't seem to mind too much.  We blew out the candles on the cake and sang Happy Birthday, and John got his sugar fix and is good for another day.

Sunday, December 21, 2014

The Hunt

The alarm went off and I fumbled for my glasses.   I stood up and slowly walked down the stairs, counting each step so as not to trip in the darkness of the still sleeping house.  Reaching into the coat closet, I pulled out my bundle of clothes and began putting on my assembly of layers, ending with my husband's over-sized insulated overalls and canvas jacket.  I carried my boots into the kitchen and set them by the back door.   I reached for a mug and poured it half-full of leftover cold coffee and added a spoonful of protein powder, stirring it all together with a fork. Drinking it quickly in big gulps, I looked at the clock on the microwave.  I didn't have much time before daylight. I put the empty mug down, laced up my boots, put on my gloves, pulled my knit cap snug over my head, and slipped out the back door.

The cold air slapped me awake.  It was frigid but calm with no wind.  A perfect morning.   I looked around, searching for movement, but saw and heard nothing.   Walking briskly in the twilight, I headed for the garden shed where I’d fashioned a blind behind the garden cages and tomato stakes.  I sank heavy into my chair, pulled up my collar, and placed my rifle on my lap.  I looked up at the dark sky, pierced with a single bright star above me, and waited for the sun to rise and reveal something that I was not sure would actually appear. 

Such has been my morning ritual during these past ten days of Advent.  And each evening, I have repeated a similar version.   I have hunted since I was a young girl:  squirrel, grouse, dove, but never deer.   Never, that is, until these past ten days.  

When I was younger, I never wanted to hunt deer for one very simple reason.   I hated to wait.   All the other animals I’d ever hunted didn’t require the kind of waiting and patience that deer hunting requires.   For years, the thought of sitting day after day in one spot, remaining nearly motionless, seemed torturous.   I didn’t have time for that.   I didn’t have the discipline for that. Let other people deer hunt, I thought.  Patiently sitting in the cold for hours at a time, waiting for something that might not happen, was definitely not for me.   So instead, I walked under trees to spook a squirrel, bashed through the brush to jump a grouse, and paced the corn rows to stir up flocks of dove.  Back then, movement defined my style of hunting.   It defined my style of life.  In those days, I took pride in making things happen, not waiting for things to happen, and that included how I hunted.

But today, I am content with sitting quietly in the darkness, waiting.   Perhaps it is because I am older.  Perhaps it is because I have learned that a lot of life happens while you are waiting for something else.   

During this past week, in those hours of stillness while I lay in wait for a deer to cross into my sight, I’ve had the privilege of watching another morning ritual unfold in the forest.   Spurred by the first rays of morning light, the crows would fly from their perch and circle above me with their raucous wake-up calls.  Back and forth they’d fly, circling just above the trees so than none would oversleep.   I watched as the bundle of dry leaves in the crook of the large oak tree next to me shimmied and shook just before a bushy-tailed gray squirrel popped his head out and scampered onto the closest limb to greet the day.   He would sit there for a moment, preening his fur, and then he would follow the limbs to another tree nearby, where he would roust his friend, and together the two of them would leap from tree to tree, playing tag until they reached the forest floor, where they searched for acorns and played keep-away under the hemlock boughs.   The Carolina wren would awake and take over where the crows left off, singing his incessant piercing rattling chorus of buzzes and trills as he bounced nervously from branch to branch in a nearby brush pile.  In the distance, I heard the haunting “whoo whoo whoo” of a great-horned owl, and I spotted the first brown creeper I’ve seen this season stealthily climbing up the trunk of a poplar tree, hoping to go unnoticed.  So much life around me, and yet, I would have noticed none of it were I not waiting for something else.

As I sat during those many hours, watching this forest scene unfold, I reflected too upon the many other Advents that I have spent waiting for something, not knowing if it would ever come.   The things I’ve always wanted most in life are the things I’ve had to wait for the longest.  Sometimes they came.  Sometimes, they didn’t.   One year, it was a visit two days after Christmas Day from the man I’d fallen in love with for which I waited.   I’d been waiting for ten years for him to come into my life, and that particular Advent before his visit was filled with anticipation.   And there have been many Advents during our years of marriage, during which we have waited for an answer to our ongoing prayers for children, including two Advents during which we waited to see if the life growing inside of me would live or die.   So much waiting.

As the sun went down tonight, deer hunting season here closed for another year.  Ten days, morning and evening, patiently waiting, and I had nothing to show for it.   There would be no venison tender loin for Christmas dinner this year.  No deer meat in the freezer to enjoy on the grill this summer.  

I stood up, folded my chair, and walked back toward the house.   The smell of wood smoke drifted in the air and I knew that it meant a warm fire was burning in our woodstove.   The night sky wrapped around me like a blanket and I could see the golden glow of the Christmas lights shining from the windows of my home, beckoning me.  I walked toward them, feeling defeated but finding comfort in knowing that what I once hunted for was inside.  Waiting for me.

Sunday, November 30, 2014

Promoting Adoption in an Anti-Adoption Culture

Did you know that since 1990, the month of November has been designated as National Adoption Month?  I have a feeling most people in America do not know that and until a couple of years ago, I certainly didn't know either.

If you read this blog, you know that my husband and I have an adopted child and that we are hoping to adopt again.   As with so many couples who struggle with infertility, adoption has always been our best chance of ever having a child and today, adoption is likely our only chance of ever having more. Without the hope of adoption, we would have no hope at all of ever growing our family.  So, it probably goes without saying why I am a huge supporter of adoption.

There is also another, less obvious reason why I am a big fan of adoption and it is a reason every bit as personal as being an adoptive mother myself.  It is because if someone hadn't chosen adoption for my grandmother and for my great-grandmother decades ago, I would not be here.  I would not exist.

My great-grandmother was adopted at the age of five and my grandmother was adopted around the age of twelve.  Because of difficult circumstances, their biological families could not adequately care for them and so they were placed in adoptive homes. I am indebted to the families who opened their hearts and gave those two little girls a chance at a better life.   Because by doing so, they gave me a chance.

How many of us, if we looked at our family tree, would have similar stories?   Probably a lot of us.

Yet, so often, we hear only the negative stories surrounding adoption.  In a society that generally believes that a child is better off not being born than being born and then placed for adoption, it is no surprise that adoption gets very little marketing and positive press within our mainstream culture.

About this time last year, I was speaking to a fellow Catholic and she was telling me about a great movie she'd seen recently.   I had not seen it, so she proceeded to tell me what it was about.   She said it was a story about a young woman in Ireland who got pregnant and was forced to give her little boy to an orphanage run by Catholic nuns.  She said that the young mother loved her boy so much, but the nuns gave the baby to another family without the young mother's knowledge and consent, and instead of telling the mother the truth, the nuns told her that her baby boy had died.   Later, the mother learned the truth and the movie was about how she spent years trying to find her son.

And this was supposedly a "great" movie?   One that my Catholic friend was promoting?  I wanted to ask her, "What part was so great? The part where they made adoption look so terrible and perpetuated the stereotype that babies are taken against their mother's will or the part that made the Catholic Church, particularly the nuns who ran the orphanages, look so evil?"

I, for one, am especially thankful that the Catholic Church has historically served an important role in caring for children and in finding them homes and families when nobody else could or would care for them.   Decades ago, many of those children would've been forced into servitude, or left begging on the streets had they not been adopted.   While certainly not idyllic (no institutionalized care usually is), the orphanages established by Catholic religious communities saved a lot of children; they saved my grandmother and her brothers and sister. Indirectly, they saved me.

Needless to say, I skipped seeing the movie.

Now, all this is not to say that I doubt this story is true.  I do not deny that evil acts have been committed in the name of adoption, both then and now.    For example, today, in America, there is very high demand for domestic babies because the number of couples waiting to adopt is much higher than the number of babies available.  As anyone knows, high demand coupled with low supply can set the stage for corruption and unethical practices, and there is no doubt that some adoption agencies, waiting couples, and birth parents have taken advantage of this fact for their own personal benefit.  Thankfully, states and countries often review their adoption laws and processes to ensure that all the parties involved are treated fairly and ethically to avoid any adoption feeling forced or being shrouded in secrecy.  Still, there are loopholes, and birth parents today can shop around for agencies that offer them the "best deal".  Adoptive parents can feel like they are "owed" something if they help financially support a birth parent or pay thousands of dollars for an adoption placement. Such situations can create pressure on all the parties involved that could result in a sad adoption situation. And when it does, those are the stories that you can bet will be on all the major media outlets and newsfeeds.  Even if those stories aren't the norm.  And they aren't.

As with most things, we humans can take something intrinsically good and turn it into something bad.  But that doesn't take away the fact that adoption in and of itself was meant by God to be good. Adoption in the Bible has very positive connotations, the ultimate being that we are referred to as the "adopted sons and daughters of God" [Romans 8: 14-17], implying that no matter what, we are loved so immensely by God that He wants each of us to be a part of a family, His family. How much better can it get than that?  His profound love for each of us leads to our adoption.

Adoption can give a child a stable home and family in which to flourish.   Adoption can give a woman facing an uncertain future a second chance, while also letting her make a life-affirming decision for her child.   Adoption can give the couple unable to have children of their own a chance at being the parents they desperately want to be.     But how many of those stories do we hear about?   Why don't more movies with that message about adoption hit the mainstream?

It is always unfortunate when a family feels that they must place a child for adoption and in a perfect world, there would be no need for adoption.  In a perfect world, none of us would ever sin, ever suffer disease, ever be left without a loving mother and father.  But we do not live in a perfect world; we live in a broken world and God knows that.  It is through His mercy and love that he offers us countless opportunities to take our brokenness and turn it into goodness. God always tries to give us a way to turn our pain and sin into something good because He loves us and He understands our broken human nature.  "I make all things new" [Revelation 21:5] He promises, and adoption can do just that, for the birth parent, for the adopted child, for the adoptive parents and beyond. Because when adoption is done out of love, like anything else, it comes from God, and is beautiful and blessed. And that is a message worth promoting.



Sunday, November 23, 2014

How I (Mostly) Cope With Infertility During the Holidays





With Thanksgiving just around the corner, I've been thinking a lot lately about holidays and how my husband and I have tried to navigate through them over the years. During the years that we struggled with primary infertility, the holidays were always particularly difficult.  I could always count on shedding a few tears on Mother's Day, but Thanksgiving and Christmas and New Year's certainly weren't any easier.   Now that we are parents, things have improved a bit, but this is not to say they have become tons easier since we continue to struggle with secondary infertility and trying to adopt.   For instance, just last year, I felt crushed when my sister announced her sixth pregnancy on Thanksgiving Day because it had been on Thanksgiving Day the year before that we'd announced our plans to adopt. One year later, we still had no baby, so her announcement, joyous as it was, was also a reminder of how much more difficult things were for us.   Not to mention, the way my family responded to her announcement compared to ours was pretty devastating to me.

That is just one example of many times that the holidays have been difficult for us because of our struggle with infertility and miscarriage.   And even though my husband and I both come from good families, when it comes to our personal struggle with having children, they just never have been able to relate to the pain we have been carrying.   Some families are better at showing support and compassion than others, and every family is different.   It has taken time for me to understand that what my family may lack in understanding and sensitivity, they have made up for in other ways.

So, as I brace myself prepare for another holiday season (during which we are still waiting and praying for a child), I thought I'd share some of the things that I had to learn the hard way in hopes that it might help someone else navigate what, for me, has always been a very difficult time of year.

  • Be honest with yourself first.
Before you accept that invitation to Thanksgiving dinner, or the Christmas party, or the New Year's Day bash, ask yourself, "Am I really emotionally ready for this?"   Chances are, in any large gathering, especially family gatherings, someone is going to want to talk to you about when you're going to have kids. Or, the opposite extreme, they'll be talking about everyone else's kids and struggle to make conversation with you because you don't have any.  Or, you'll be watching everyone else's kids.  Or someone will make a flip comment to you about having or not having kids.   You get the drift.

For me, there were times when I was not emotionally prepared to face those kinds of situations, but I did it anyway.  I didn't want to turn down an invitation for fear of hurting someone's feelings or appearing unsociable.  However, when I walked into those kinds of scenarios emotionally fragile, the results were often not pretty.   I would either say something uncharitable or snide, or say nothing and internalize the pain until I got home, where I would either crumble in tears or explode in anger and either way, my poor husband was left to to pick up the pieces.   After years of repeating this ugly cycle, I am finally realizing that if I walk into a gathering already feeling tense, jealous, angry, bitter, or sad, I should take that as a warning sign.   If I don't feel like I have the fortitude to turn a "near occasion of sin" into an "occasion of grace", I have learned that it probably would be best for me and all involved to avoid the occasion altogether, which leads me to the next point...

  • Know when to walk away.

This is not to say you should avoid all gatherings at all costs.  But sometimes, when you feel that blood pressure starting to go up and your tongue is almost bleeding from biting it so hard, the best thing to do is to just walk away.   It might only be for a minute or two, it might be for an hour, or you may just need to leave the situation completely.  Sometimes, it might be the most charitable thing you can do in the moment.  Yes, people might wonder what happened.  But you can explain later, if they ask; and in many cases, they won't ask.  As I heard more than once, they'll just wonder "what's her problem?"   And that's okay. Because they aren't expected to understand (I'll get to that point in a minute).

I recall a few years ago, my husband and I were eating New Year's eve dinner with my parents and my sister and her family.   Two months before that, we had lost our first baby to miscarriage, after four years of trying to conceive.   As we sat there at the dinner table, chowing down on our black-eyed peas and turnip greens, my mother decided to elaborate on what a great year it had been for her, specifically because my sister had given birth to their third grandchild that spring.    I suddenly felt the blood rushing to my face as I choked down my food. My heart raced and my jaw was clenched as I put my fork down, stood up, and just walked out the door.  I started walking, fast, and taking deep breaths of the frigid winter air.   My husband soon caught up to me and gave me a long, tight hug.  We talked a bit, I regained my composure, and we slowly walked back, getting there just in time for dessert.  Nothing was said by anyone.   And that is probably a good thing.   We spent the rest of the evening playing games, drinking egg nog and watching the new year come in, as a family.

There have been other times, however, when I was not so strong.  One Christmas, my husband and I headed home a day early.   Watching all the joy of the nieces and nephews and their grandparents opening gifts together and listening to all the talk about how "Christmas is for children" was more than either of us could take.    But we didn't go directly home.  We took that extra day and spent it at a state park doing things we loved to do like hiking and bird-watching and we drove the back roads home.  It was bittersweet but as the distance between us and our extended families grew, the bond between me and my husband seemed to get stronger.

And there was a Thanksgiving, about six years into our infertility journey, that we decided to just forgo family gatherings completely.  Instead, my husband and I took a three-day trip to a national wildlife refuge, where we watched the sun rise and set over clouds of snow geese.   It was something we'd always wanted to do together and so we just did it. I felt liberated from all the questions and emotional strain that I knew we'd have been facing if we'd taken the traditional route of spending Thanksgiving with either family.  So instead, we ate our Thanksgiving dinner in a truck stop and watched bald eagles instead of football, and you know what?   There were dozens of other people there doing the same thing!   It really opened my eyes to the fact that many, many people, for whatever reasons, also spend the holidays alone and they just make the best of it. That truck stop was full of laughter, and joking, and compliments to the waitresses and cooks, and even though we were surrounded by strangers, in a weird way, they felt like family.   Nobody asked personal questions because I think everyone knew not to.  Eating at a truck stop on Thanksgiving Day said enough.

Nowadays, since we do have children, my husband and I make more of an effort to get along with family and attended holiday gatherings.   We want our children to have happy memories of spending Thanksgiving and Christmas with their grandparents and cousins.  However, before we tackle such a gathering, I still try to remember one more thing...

  • Lower your expectations...and then lower them some more.

This is probably the hardest thing for me to do.  I tend to expect more out of others than I expect out of myself.  I know, not exactly the path to sainthood.   It has taken a lot of time and a lot of prayer for me to turn that around and start expecting more out of myself and less out of others.   I still have a ways to go.   But upon reflection, I have realized that a lot of my pain came from expecting others to respond the way I wanted them to respond.  The way I thought I NEEDED them to respond.  And when they didn't, I had a difficult time dealing with it and it has caused a lot of relationships to slowly die on the vine.

I would have saved myself and my husband a lot of pain and tears if I'd have worked harder to lower my expectations.  It was really unfair of me to expect others to understand my feelings and emotional pain. While my pain certainly felt justified, my expectations in others were not.  They had not walked the path I was on, and in many cases, had experienced nothing quite like it.   To expect them to respond to an adoption announcement the same as a pregnancy announcement was more than I should have expected.  To expect others to see what I largely hid from them was not really fair.  To expect a grandmother to remember a grandchild lost to miscarriage when she is holding another grandchild in her arms was unrealistic.   But instead, I cried out for validation and craved empathy and so, I set my expectations high.   As a result, I kept going to the well called "friends and family" and finding it dry. Everyone was trying to give what they had but for me, it wasn't enough.  I wanted more.  I craved more. More compassion, more concern, more support.  I expected them to see that, but they just couldn't.    As the saying goes, "you can't get blood out of a turnip", and I was squeezing that turnip dry.

It has only been through God's grace that I have begun to realize that I too, am a mostly empty well.   I expected so much from others but I gave little back in return. The truth is that none of us is really capable of giving others what they need, especially when we haven't shared their journey.   We all tend to put band-aids on the deepest emotional wounds, which is better than nothing, but certainly not life-saving. Only the Divine Healer can give us the healing and grace that can help us navigate our feelings and control our emotions.   Once I realized that and started going to His well, I found a little more peace.

So, we are all works-in-progress and thank God for that!   The holidays have been my little test each year along a spiritual journey that seems forever to be tied to my infertility.   And now, as I await my next little test, I am feeling confident. Sure, this Thanksgiving will mark our two-year anniversary of announcing that we plan to adopt, and nope, still no baby.  But rather than be bitter about it, I am looking forward to holding my newest little Godson on my lap, and reflecting on learning that he was coming into our lives a year ago.  And while I didn't exactly handle the news with grace then, his birth is still my blessing.  I know God will be watching how I handle the test this year and He will, I pray, give me the strength I need when I need it.   And if I still fail, with His mercy, I will have a chance to try again.

I have no expectation other than that.





Friday, November 7, 2014

7 Quick Takes - Pot Likker & Corn Pone, Heathens & Saints, and Fall Colors with Snow

It's been a while since I did a Quick Takes and linked-up with Jen over at Conversion Diary so here we go.

--1--
I seem to have left off on the family updates somewhere around our wedding anniversary, so let me just follow that up by saying that Tom and I had fantastic anniversary!   Believe it or not, it was the very first time we'd been away together for more than a few hours since we became parents. Yep, our first time away together. alone. all night. in four years and two months, not that we're counting. I didn't care where we went or what we did, as long as we were together, just the two of us, and it felt like old times.

The boys did great with their grandparents while Tom and I hid away in the Great Smoky Mountains. Any anxiety I had about leaving the boys without a parent was quickly replaced by the long-forgotten joy that came from being able to have uninterrupted conversations and peaceful meals with my husband.  Because we struggled for so many years to have children, it has taken us a while to reach the point where we feel comfortable being away from them for long periods.  But it does take a toll on the marriage sometimes and after four years, it was reassuring to find out that we still really enjoy each other's company.   I promise we won't be letting four more years go by until we do it again.

Our view of Mt. LeConte as we ate a very adult dinner.


--2--
On October 22, we decided to make something Polish to commemorate St. John Paul II's very first feast day.   I have a good friend who makes wonderful perogies from scratch, but after seeing the process, I decided that tackling those would be way beyond my cooking abilities.  So, instead, I opted for the only other Polish food I know of...store-bought kielbasa. We picked a bunch of kale from Papaw's garden and cooked it up with some kielbasa and carrots and served it with cornbread and baked apples on the side.



Here in the south, greens cooked up like this and served with cornbread or cornmeal dumplings are called "pot likker"and "corn pone", so I guess you could say our dinner was "Pole Food meets Soul Food" cuisine.   How appropriate is that!  

--3--
And then there was Halloween, the secular version.  Before my boys were of the age where they understood anything about Halloween, especially the "trick-or-treating" part, our Halloweens were spent in the peaceful bliss of having a bit of candy at home and watching The Great Pumpkin together.   Not anymore. Thanks to Halloween parties planned at their preschool and the local library, I jumped onto the proverbial bandwagon and we made costumes, painted pumpkins and ate way too much free candy.  John was excited by the costume idea and declared that he wanted to be a scarecrow.   When I asked him "why do you want to be a scarecrow?" he replied, "because it's my favorite kind of bird". Nothing gets by that kid!   Joah, who is eluded by most current affairs, seemed completely uninterested in the concept of wearing a costume until I suggested he be a cat. He was all for that, mostly because he often thinks he is one.  Seriously.   Pretending to be a "kitty cat" is one of his favorite games.  Please tell me this is normal for a three-year old.
 


--4--
To balance out celebrating the secular version of Halloween on October 31, we followed up with some little saints costumes for All Saints Day.   I transformed Joah the Cat into a little St. John Bosco and John enjoyed dressing up as his patron saint, John the Baptist.   He particularly relished in referring to himself as "John the BAD-tist" and telling everyone "I eat bugs".  The boys wore their saint costumes to a church party on Saturday night and again to Mass on Sunday. After Mass, everyone enjoyed "St. Benedict's Cross" cookies (the idea for which I completely stole from Kerri, although when Joah saw them, he exclaimed "Look at all that treasure!") and "Blood of the Martyrs" punch.   It was the first All Saints/Souls Day party for our little parish but hopefully not the last.




--5--
In between the costume making and cookie making, we also have been plugging away at the mountain of paperwork required for our adoption home study.   I am pleased to report that as of a week ago, all paperwork has been completed and forwarded to our agency.   Now, we await our home visit.   I have grand visions of having all of our home study completed by Thanksgiving but a more realistic plan is probably Christmas.  I just want to be back on the waiting list so so badly! Right now, it feels like we are in a weird kind of limbo but I keep telling myself God will give us the right baby at the right time and I don't need to get too anxious about all the time that has passed (almost two years now) since we made the decision to pursue adoption again.   Many couples have waited much longer. Such is the nature of adoption these days.


--6--
And speaking of adoption, did you know November is National Adoption Awareness month?   If there was ever an issue that needs some serious promotion and marketing, it is adoption.   Please help spread the word because adoption is one of the most sincere gifts of love that one person can offer to another.   It offers so much hope to so many who may be feeling like they are in a hopeless situation.  I hope to find the time to write a blog post devoted solely to this subject before the month ends.   There is so much more that we could be doing to promote adoption in a culture that still sees very little beauty in it.


--7--
So, that's about it for my October re-cap. I am thinking now that October might be my favorite month of the year.  For me, it's always a toss up which month I love more...October or April.  Even though it was the wettest one on record for us, this past month was still amazing.  I can't remember the fall colors ever being prettier and we had some gorgeous days mixed in with the rainy ones. Now the fall colors are mostly gone, and when we awoke on the first day of November, we were greeted with snow on the mountains and our first hard freeze. It was as if Mother Nature was saying "sorry folks, October is over, time for winter".


Dear Mother Nature,  Please turn the heat back on.  Love, John

Of course, she was only teasing us...for now. Everyone in these parts knows that the first hard freeze of autumn is followed soon after by the delightfully warm days of Indian summer, during which Mother Nature will tease us again.  But then the jokes will be over and the gray cloudy skies that herald in an Appalachian winter will be upon us.  October will soon become a distant memory as we huddle next to the wood stove, longing for sunshine and dreaming of April.


Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Autumn Postcard


Leave it to God...



to take so much dying...



and transform it...



into so much beauty...



and to do it...




for no other reason...



than as a gift...



meant just for us.




Tuesday, October 21, 2014

The Funeral

I went to a funeral yesterday.

I'm not sure why I went.   I didn't really know the person who died.  I didn't know what he looked like. I didn't even remember his name.

What I did remember, although vaguely, is his mother bringing him to church many years ago, when he was just a boy.   He didn't like going to church, and would frequently walk out during the Mass.   Eventually, he stopped coming, along with his dad and brother.  But his mother didn't stop.  For 30 years now, she has come to Mass, alone.   And last Friday, it was that boy, her son, who died.   And so, I went to the funeral.

He was younger than me by a few years, which means he was way too young to die.   It was the kind of death nobody will talk about.  Some say suicide.  Some say drug overdose.   Maybe both.   Only those closest to him know, and will probably ever know.   But it doesn't really matter, does it? 

The story is all too common.   It's the story of a conflicted soul, tormented it seems, since childhood, maybe even since birth.  It's a story so common that it has become irrelevant.  And surely, this young man felt that.

His mother tried to save him.  She came to that fountain of grace for years, maybe with only one single prayer on her heart.  A prayer to save him.  Maybe she did save him.   Sitting in that funeral parlor yesterday, it was hard to know.   These things are not mine to know.   

What I do know is that, like her, I have two sons.   Will I lose them both to the world?  Will the demons who whisper in their ears "this will make things easier," "this will make things better," speak louder than my prayers?  My words?   

I don't know.  

They had a hard time finding someone to do the service for this young man.   At the last minute, an elderly priest agreed to make the fifty-mile drive for the ten-minute service.   There were only a handful of people in the pews, mostly friends of his mother, and a few members of family.   Two songs, a couple of readings from scripture, some kind words, and it was all over.  

But it wasn't.   

Because sitting in the second pew, with only his mother by his side, was a young boy with bright red hair and cherub cheeks and freckles on his nose.   And as the priest gave the final blessing, the young boy who had previously been smiling and joking with his mother, started sobbing.   He held his head in his hands, hiding his face, and his body shook.   The priest walked over to the young boy, put his hand on the boy' shoulder, and stood there.   If words were spoken to the young boy, I couldn't hear them.   I didn't really want to hear them.  

The boy looked up, and his mother took his hand and led him out of the parlor.   Out of the parlor and back into the world.   Now it is his turn to be tested.   

The priest walked to the back of the room, found a chair, and sat down.  I watched as he opened his prayer book, and he seemed oblivious to everything else around him.    He seemed deep in prayer.

The rest of us walked to the front, formed the obligatory line, and gave our condolences to the young man's family.   "I will pray for you," I told his mother and she nodded.  

And I will be praying for a red-haired little boy who, through God's mercy, has a daddy in heaven now, praying for him, too.







Monday, October 13, 2014

Little Happies - Lucky 13

Linking up with Stephanie at Blessed to Be.  Thanks, Stephanie!

--one--
Lots to be happy about around here on this October 13.   This is one of the most significant days of the year for us, because thirteen years ago today, Tom and I did this...



...and as they say, the rest is history.   

"Thirteen" has always been a lucky number for us.   Without any forethought to what day it was, Tom popped The Question to me thirteen years ago, on April 13.  Six months to the day, we got married, partly because we didn't want to wait a day longer than the diocese asked us to (hee hee) and partly because of the day's connection to Our Lady of Fatima.  The Blessed Mother always has my back, it seems, so it just felt right that October 13 would be the day .  Not to mention, four years previously, I had spent October 13 with a group of pilgrims at Our Lady of Lourdes grotto in France, where I asked the Blessed Mother to help me find a good man to marry someday.  So, thank you, Our Lady of Fatima and Lourdes.   You found me a good one!


--two--
Today is also the thirteenth birthday for our little dog, Sage (or is it 91 dog years?).   We found Sage abandoned along a woods road in February 2002.   She was such a frightened little puppy and I knew as soon as we saw her that Tom was in love.  She looked like a little black lab puppy and he had been talking about wanting to get a lab so I knew I was doomed.  I did not want a lab because they are big dogs.  I wanted a smaller dog.  But this little puppy went home with us that day and has been with us ever since.   I could write an entire blog post about her, but will just say that when she is gone, I know we will never have a dog as great as she is.  She has truly been a gift to us through  these years of marriage, and especially, during our years of childlessness.   When we found her, the vet said she was about four months old, so we decided to use our anniversary date as her birth date, too.   So happy birthday, Sage!   Oh, and I should probably add that she never did top out at more than 40 pounds. 

Little Sage, the day we found her.
Wise Old Sage, truly living up to her name.


--three--
Along with the celebration that comes with our anniversary, Tom and I also now remember this day as the day we lost our first baby, Francis Gabriel.   Sometimes infertility can feel like a very cruel joke.   It took us almost four years of trying before we conceived Francis Gabriel, and so you can imagine the joy and elation we felt when we learned that we were expecting. However, a few weeks later, our little Francis went to heaven.  We were going to tell everyone we were expecting on our anniversary that year, but instead, I was in the pains of miscarriage and we were alone with very broken hearts.  It was an anniversary we will never forget and I have asked God many times, why then?  Why on our anniversary?  It truly felt like we were being mocked.   Eight years later now, I realize that this was a turning point for me, and for our marriage.  It got harder after that, but our marriage today is also stronger because of that.   So yeah, it makes every anniversary bittersweet now, but Tom and I share this bitter-sweetness together, and I suppose that is what marriage is really all about.  You can't go through stuff like that without it either tearing you apart or bringing you closer together.  I praise God that for us, it was the latter. Definitely God's grace at work.   So, while on the surface, this may not seem like something to be happy about, considering we have our own little intercessor in heaven now, whose prayers no doubt have strengthened our marriage, it really is a Little Happy.   And to mark the occasion, I made some cupcakes with the best frosting ever and we all sang Happy Birthday to Francis on Sunday evening.   It makes me happy to know that our boys will grow up with the knowledge that they have siblings waiting for them in heaven.


--four--
I will end this with one more anniversary we are celebrating.   This past weekend, our parish celebrated its fortieth anniversary.   That's pretty remarkable, considering it's in the middle-of-no-where, in the hills of Kentucky. Our chapel is in a renovated gas station and we have about 40 families.  On an average Sunday, we generally have about 30 people at Mass which makes it feel a lot like family.  We're a mission church, and during an age when missions are being closed around the country, we're pretty thrilled to still be around.  I pray we can make it another 40 years, and even more, that we do as good a job spreading the faith as we have done building houses and providing physical care to those around us.   There is still so much work to do here but our future looks promising, especially if God keeps sending us holy priests.  And speaking of our priest, he is slowly recovering and took his first steps a couple of weeks ago, so thank you to all who are praying for him.


That's about it from here.   Happy 13!

Monday, October 6, 2014

Little Happies -- A Happy Saturday

My Little Happies, all from one day!

--one--

Let's start with dancing.  Or, to be more specific, clogging!  I took up clogging many moons ago (1998, I do believe; I know, ancient history for some of you) and loved it then.  But after moving to Missouri a few years later, I had to give it up because there were no groups nearby to clog with and then life just went on without it.  Until this past Saturday.   I was able to reunite with my fellow cloggers and we performed at our county's fall festival and it felt great!  My joints definitely don't bounce like they used to and I did have a date with ibuprofen and a hot bath afterwards, but nevertheless, it felt so good to be dancing again.  It's great exercise and the crowd really enjoyed it.  Several folks came up to us afterwards asking if they could start taking lessons.  The high point was watching the little kids on the sidelines dancing with us.  We encouraged them to come into the street and dance with us, which they did. Those children had some of the biggest smiles I've seen.   Kids love to dance!  Why do so many of us lose that as adults?   So crank up some music and get movin'.   If there is a clogging group near you, check it out.  It's for all ages and so much fun!

--two--

Saturday was also the feast day of St. Francis of Assisi, one of my very first favorite saints.   As a child, I loved St. Francis because of the legends surrounding his love for animals and nature.  I've always felt close to God's little creatures and I admire St. Francis for being the same way.   He is the patron saint of ecologists so I can't help but have a soft spot in my heart for him.  I called upon St. Francis of Assisi many times during my career to assist me with various challenges and he never let me down.  He also is the namesake of our first child, Francis Gabriel, which also makes him the patron of this little blog of mine.    In honor of St. Francis, we ordered pizza on Saturday for supper and ate it on the back porch, where we could see the sun set and watch for migrating monarchs.   "Keep it simple", I think St. Francis would tell us.   I have so much more to learn from this wonderful saint.  Happy Feast Day, St. Francis!


--three--

We ended our Saturday by building the first fire of the season in our woodstove. I grew up with wood heat as a primary heat source and there's just nothing quite like it on a cold winter day or a chilly fall evening like the one we had this past Saturday.    Nothing warms like wood and as my father always said "wood warms you twice".   Meaning, of course, it warms you when you cut it and stack it and haul it, and again when you burn it.    I'm sure that by the time March comes around, Tom and I will be more than ready to stop hauling in firewood and tending a fire in the stove, but for now, it doesn't get much better than a cozy house with a wood fire on a chilly damp autumn evening.   It's the little things, you know.


Now, go check out Stephanie's blog for more Little Happies because life's too short to stay grumpy!  
  


Thursday, October 2, 2014

An Open Letter to My Guardian Angels

My Dear Guardian Angels,

I wasn't sure whether to address this letter to one angel or many angels, but considering my history on earth so far, I'm pretty sure there are more than one of you assigned to my case!   I hope I haven't been too much of a challenge but I know I haven't made your jobs exactly easy, either.

Anyhow, since today is your memorial, I thought maybe this would be a good time to tell you how much I appreciate everything you've done for me during these past four and a half decades.   I apologize that I don't say "thank you" enough, and I'm ashamed that I don't think of you more often, while I know you are with me every second of my days and nights, thinking only of me.

I just want to commend you on what a great job you've been doing.   You and I have certainly had some adventures, haven't we?   Without you, I know I would've never reached adulthood.   Heck, I probably wouldn't have even reached age one.   And as I got older, I know your job got harder.   Like that time I was learning to drive and I drove that car half-way off a bridge, leaving the front tires suspended over the edge; was that you holding the car up?   Or remember when I walked over that rattlesnake, miles from any doctor, and looked down to see that the snake had just eaten and it was too full to strike at me; was that you who'd fed him that snack?   And that time when I was drowning in the river, sinking ever so slowly to the bottom, was that you who kept me calm and gave me the shove back up to the surface?   The black widow spider that I missed touching by millimeters with my bare hand; the burning snag in the wildfire that fell just seconds after I'd walked under it; the car that I didn't see that I pulled in front of that stopped in the knick of time; the crevasse that I nearly fell into when I slipped on ice while climbing that pile of boulders; the waterfall that saved me from passing out from heat exhaustion...all those times and many many more, was that you looking out for me, doing God's will and giving me another chance?

And during those years when I suffered my darkest spiritual trials.  The years when I longed to have children but for no reason that I understood, couldn't. When I wanted to just walk away from any faith and from any God that would allow that kind of pain to go on year after year, were you there battling those demons with me? When I didn't want to believe that the path I was on was the one God had chosen for me, were you walking it with me?

My faith tells me you were.  You were there.  You have always been there and without you there, I would not be here.  Here, now, at this place where I find myself physically and spiritually. You and me, we've been to dark, dangerous places together, and you keep saving me and bringing me back to where God wants me.

So, thank you for that.   Thank you for being there, always, even when I forget it and even more so, when I doubt it, which I'm afraid is too often.   God-willing, we'll be together for a few more decades while I walk this earth, and I'll try to make your job a little easier during the second-half of the game.  

And, if you would, please pass along my sincerest gratitude to your colleagues who have been assigned to my three most precious gifts named Tom, John and Joah.    I find great consolation in knowing that their bodies and souls are under the care of your fellow angels, and for that peace-of-mind, I thank you most.

So, have happy memorial day and please, keep up the good work! 





Monday, September 29, 2014

Little Happies - Health, A Live Wire & 'Simmon Spittin'

Linking up with Stephanie for my first Little Happies!

--one--
Health!   I'm feeling so much better after a week of feeling miserable.  I don't think it was the flu because everyone tells me that lasts more than a few days. Nevertheless, there's nothing quite like being knocked down for a few days to remind me of how blessed I am each day that I can get out of bed.   It didn't hurt for me to eat a bit of humble-pie, either, and see that the world really does keep turning even when I'm not around.

--two--
Having a husband who can handle things when I am down and out.  And after this past week, having a husband at all!    We had a "close call" with Tom this past week.  He was replacing an electrical outlet and somehow, despite taking precautions, he got hit by a pretty good volt.   I was not at home at the time but according to Tom, the boys saw him hit the floor and came running to his rescue. He said the conversation went like this:
John:  Daddy, are you okay?  
Tom:  I'm okay.   I got electrocuted.
John:  It's okay, Dad.  If you died, you would've gone to heaven.

Thankfully, nobody was going to heaven just yet!  We have a new rule in the house now: no electrical work when the other adult is gone.  On this feast of the archangels, I'm particularly grateful for the angels that were watching over my Tom.

--three--
Kids who make us laugh.  This morning, I took the boys to a nearby scenic overlook so that they could burn off some energy and get some fresh air. They road their tricycles, examined spider webs, tossed walnuts around and sucked on fallen persimmons.  While we were there, an elderly lady, looking quite somber, walked up to the overlook and the boys immediately launched into telling her stories.  I think she was dumbfounded as they excitedly shared all their adventures with her, complete with Joah giving her an overly-enthusiastic demonstration of how to spit out persimmon seeds and John explaining that "the 'possums will come eat the seeds".   I guess it was kind of one of those "you had to be there" moments but it had me in stitches.   It took a while, but before too long, they had that lady laughing too, and picking up persimmons with them.   I bet she won't forget that moment anytime soon.  I know I won't.

Happy Monday to all!  Thank you, Stephanie.

Monday, September 22, 2014

Just When You Think You Are Getting Ahead...

...you get the flu.

Well, I'm not sure it's the flu, since I haven't actually been to a doctor and had any tests done.  But dang, it sure feels like it could be although Tom insists it isn't.  Fever, chills, sore throat, congestion...all close enough for me.

Let's just say I can be a bit of a wimp.

And of course, I don't have time for this.  Who ever does, right?   I keep re-playing the litany of things I was going to do starting this past Saturday over and over in my head.   Ten pages of questions to answer for an adoption home study, four new dance routines to learn before next Saturday's performance, doctor appointments to make to (love the irony!) get flu shots, music with Tom and the boys on Saturday afternoon, baking a pie on Sunday, etc.   All of that and more now safe and secure on the back-burner.

But now I have another litany that I am playing in my head.  It's the list of everything Tom has done while I've spent the past two days being mostly useless.   Dress the kids, brush their hair, make their breakfast, clean up cheerios, referee a hundred squabbles over who gets to play with which toys, hang up laundry, make lunches, coax grumpy kids into naps, wash dishes, make supper, go to the playground, give baths, etc.   All of that and more while he still keeps me safe and secure and ever on his front-burner.

Maybe getting side-lined for a few days is just the wake-up call I needed. Because tonight, as another day in bed draws to a close, all I can really think about is how blessed I am to have a husband like him.  
And that is the medicine that I really needed.

Friday, September 12, 2014

7 Quick Takes - A Natural Remedy

-1-
Seems like a lot of bloggers are in a bit of a funk these days, present company not excluded.  The week kind of started that way for us when Tom woke up on Saturday with a sore throat and fever.   He made a quick rebound but not before he missed a much-anticipated airshow that he'd hoped to attend with the boys. Then there was all the stress surrounding this decision, and now, it is already Friday again.  I really believe all this funkiness going around the blogosphere should at least in part be blamed on the full moon we had this past week.  It was gorgeous but also, powerful.  There's a reason the word "lunacy" is derived from the Latin word "luna" and means what it does.   At least, that's my excuse, and I'm sticking to it!

-2-
Bat trapping site (nets over the water)
So, since this was one of those weeks in which I felt particularly susceptible to lunacy, I spent a considerable amount of time outside.   God gave us the natural world as an antidote to what often ails us mentally and I take full advantage of it often.   This past weekend, I helped with a Bat Blitz and put my biologist cap back on for a couple of nights to help conduct bat surveys.  Unfortunately, we caught very few bats, because, again, full moon.  The moon was so bright that the bats could see the mistnets we put up.  Poor planning on our part, yes, but still, we had fun.  One thing we did catch, however, was a flying squirrel.  They are the cutest little things but not much fun to remove from a mistnet if you value all your fingers.   I allowed my fellow biologist to do those honors since he A) had a pair of heavy leather gloves and B) was getting paid, unlike myself.   Actually, the only flying squirrels I have ever handled were the ones I used to sedate and remove from woodpecker cavities. But that is another story for another day.   Just trust me when I say the little critters have a LOT of attitude!

Flying squirrel.  He was rescued unscathed.
 
 -3-
Actually, if I want to see bats, all I need to do is step out my front door and look up.   We have a Big Brown Bat (yes, that's its real name;  Eptesicus fuscus if you prefer the Latin version) roosting over our porch.   The boys love it and I would too if it didn't leave its calling card right in front of our welcome mat.  Still, it's pretty cool to have a pet bat.   He's been here since July and will probably hang around (pun intended) until mid October or so, at which point, he'll meet up with his friends and look for a warmer abode, which most likely, will be our neighbor's barn.   Then, come spring, he'll probably return to our porch.  I've known folks who have had bats return for years to the same location, and considering bats can live for 20 or 30 years, I guess I might as well get used to him.  Hopefully he will make himself useful by eating a few of the insects that congregate around our porch light at night and dive bomb me every time I try to open the front door.  

Big Brown Spot = Big Brown Bat
Big Brown Bat calling card (aka guano)


-4-
So that was pretty much our weekend.  On Monday, we took some time to pick a few marigolds (Mary's gold) and place them at our statue of the blessed mother.  We sang happy birthday to her and said a Hail Mary before the 30-second attention span of our boys wore off.  Our poor statue of the blessed mother has had a rough life, as you can see in the photo.  She's been knocked over by deer, hit by falling limbs, covered with snow and ice, and moved 500 miles but she still stands there steady and strong, watching over us.




-5-
We've been getting a lot of rain here this past month, and I am again reminded of what it feels like to live in a temperate rainforest.  The foggy mornings and afternoon showers have created a damp forest filled with mushrooms of every shape, size and color.  We found these in our front yard this past week. I wish I knew what they are called and am adding "learn mushrooms" to my bucket list because I just am amazed by their diversity.


And where there are toadstools, there must be toads, right?  We found two, one of the yellow and one of the brown variety.  

American Toad, brown color phase.
 
American Toad, yellow color phase.


-6-
Now is also when all of the late summer wildflowers are blooming in our meadow and putting on quite a show.  

Purple Ironweed


There are about a million kinds of asters so, unlike "learn mushrooms", "learn asters" will never make it onto my bucket list.  However, I do appreciate their delicate structure and beauty.

Some kind of aster.
The walnut trees are dropping their leaves, making them one of the first species of trees in the south to do so, and adding to the yellow hues along our lane.  I have particularly enjoyed running in the mornings amid their falling gold leaves, although the occasional gray squirrel chucking a walnut at me as I pass under him does keep me from getting too lost in the moment!


And who could overlook the bright fuscia of the fruit of the big leaf magnolia tree and the strawberry bush!  In the mountains, strawberry bush also goes by the name "hearts a-bustin' with love".  Well named, don't you think?

Strawberry Bush
Big Leaf Magnolia

-7-  
With all signs now pointing toward autumn, the cool weather we are expecting this weekend will only add to the anticipation.   If any of you go by the woolly worm forecast, and are not quite ready for another winter like last year, you'll be happy to know that the woolly worm that the boys and I found this past week indicated that we are in for a mild winter.   You heard it here first folks!  The woolly worm is as good a predictor as anything I know, although I haven't yet checked the persimmon seeds to see if they are forecasting the same.



All of this is just to say that, if like me, you've been in a bit of a funk lately, I hope you take some time to get outside soon and enjoy the creation that God gave us during what is a season of beautiful transition. Just a small corner of His world is bigger and more complex than all of ours and taking the time to notice it is one of the best cures for lunacy I know.

Shirt and shoes required.  Pants optional.

Have a great weekend and thanks to Jen for hosting this Quick Takes!



Thursday, September 11, 2014

Harder and Harder

We withdrew our application to adopt with Catholic Charities today.

And it broke our hearts.

It's not supposed to be this way, you know.  Adoption isn't supposed to be so hard. Adopting domestically especially should not be so hard.   Adopting as Catholics working with a Catholic agency, in particular, should not be so hard.

My great-grandmother was adopted.  In those days, if a parent couldn't care for their child, they or others looked for a family they trusted and gave that child to them.  A trip to the county courthouse a few weeks or months later sealed the deal.   Or in my great-grandmother's case, the deal was never made official.  She just lived with another family as their daughter for the rest of her life and took their name. The family cared for her and raised her as their own and until death, she loved them dearly.

I'm not advocating that we return to those days.  Of course not.  I'm certainly understanding of the need for background checks, family histories, tests for communicable diseases, inspections of the home environment, and even, to some degree, the financing of birthmothers' expenses and payments that support agencies who assist couples trying to navigate the adoption process.   All of this is necessary today and understandable.

However, I do not understand why a process that is already fraught with red tape as well as emotional and financial stress, that takes months to complete followed often by years of waiting, why do we make it even harder?

We withdrew our application because it was getting too hard.  Harder than it needed to be.  Harder than, in our opinion, it should be.   We withdrew because someone decided that before a couple completes a home study (and all that involves), it would be "good" for them to attend mandatory trainings for six weeks.  Even if the trainings are located 100 miles away from their home. Even if the trainings require couples with children to find childcare.  Even if the trainings require the couple to take time off work.  Even if the trainings are only offered once or twice a year.  Even if the couple has already been through the adoption process before.

We tried to get on-board.  We really did.   We arranged the child care.  My husband informed his employer that he would not be able to take any business-related trips for the next six weeks, and his employer graciously understood and agreed.   We tried to figure out a way for my husband to make up the hours of work that he would be losing in order to attend the mandatory trainings.  He'd have to work on weekends, or late into the night.  We would be leaving in early afternoons and getting home after our boys were already tucked into their beds, hopefully sound asleep, but without their nightly ritual of bath, story, prayers. We ordered the two books we were required to read, one about open adoption and one about transracial adoption, and read the first 55 pages required before the first meeting.  We burned the midnight oil as we each wrote up our responses to the 22 questions (plus subparts) that the agency asked us to address for our "social history".

In the end, we realized that it just wasn't going to work.   It was too much for us to agree to.   So, we are back to the beginning again.   After already having started this process once before, in November 2012, we are back to square one again.

We will find another agency, but it will not be the one we wanted.  We wanted to work with Catholic Charities because we are Catholic.  We love our Church and when we decided to adopt again, we wanted to do so within our Church, and we were happy to put our finances and time into supporting our Church in that manner, even though we knew our odds of getting a baby were better if we went elsewhere.

And so, I will end where I began, by just asking, why do we have to make this harder than it already is?  What is really necessary for a couple to be ready to adopt?  Is it 6 hours of videos followed by 3 hours of discussion?  Is it completing 10 hours of required reading about transracial and open adoption?   Is it attending 8 hours of parenting classes?    All of this is well and good, but when it gets to the point that these requirements become discouraging, instead of encouraging, to couples pursuing adoption, I think adoption agencies may have missed the bigger point.  I think maybe they have forgotten that what is really required can not be found in a book, or a video, or a support group, or a classroom exercise.

My great-grandmother was adopted by a minister and his wife who were older in age and known throughout the community as "barren" because they had no children of their own despite years of marriage.  They were known to be good-hearted people, hard workers, devout Christians, and financially stable because he got a small stipend each month for his service in the Civil War.   And so, when a small girl was found abandoned at a train station by her mother, it was to them that the child was taken.  Because they met all the requirements.  
And as a result, here I am today.
Just trying to meet all the requirements, too.