Search This Blog

Tuesday, November 29, 2011


I never knew a lot about the word Advent when I was growing up. It seems like we didn't use that word very often in the Baptist church. I always associated it with the Catholic Church, and never took the time to really discover what it means. But now that I am part of a Presbyterian church with my husband, I am hearing this word more and more.  Sunday, one of our pastors was talking about the meaning of the word Advent while leading our adult Bible class. I was struck there in the middle of Bible study with just how meaningful this word is for me now - at this exact moment in my life. And then . . . during church, our other pastor called us out as the word was mentioned again, saying: "Melissa and John are in a season of advent right now . . ."

According to Wikepedia (not always a reliable source, but sometimes helpful and accurate) Advent (from the Latin word adventus meaning "coming") is a season observed in many Western Christian churches, a time of expectant waiting and preparation for the celebration of the Nativity of Jesus at Christmas.

The reason this word means so much to me is that I am in a season of waiting in my life. I am waiting for the children that will call me their mother. Though I will not be their first mother, I will be their forever mother, through the gift of adoption. John and I began this journey several months ago, and through many ups and downs, and the loss of many precious children that we only had for a short time, we are waiting and "expecting" a great celebration.

We are completely done with our home study process, we loved our case worker, found the process with Families First to be a positive one, and now we are "waiting" for the "coming" of our new family members. We are "waiting" for the last document to arrive in the mail, and then we can begin to search for the children that God has out there "waiting" for us.

Every day, I hold my breath when checking the mail. It's totally different from all the times I "waited" for a birthday card, a love letter, a check from a tax refund, or some new purchase from a catalog. I am waiting in earnest and hopeful expectation, for this promise of God to be fulfilled.

Some day I believe that I will show this blog to my children, so they will know how much we wanted them, prayed for them, hoped for them, and how they were already in our hearts - even before we met. And I hope that in some way, they feel the season of advent in their own hearts as they wait for us.

Monday, November 28, 2011

Two Slushies and a Tank of Gas never know when a simple outing can turn into an adventure, as was the case for a trip to the lake house a couple of weeks ago. Samuel had won a county competition with 4-H for a project he did on white tigers. When we went to the county meeting and he won first place, we were given some paperwork for the next level of the competition - that would take place at Rock Eagle 4-H center. Samuel was so excited, but he begged me to go along as a chaperon. Now don't get me wrong - I love kids, and I love nature, and I was a 4-H member myself in the fifth grade. But something about a 2.5 hour bus ride with fifty 5th and 6th graders, and a handful of acne-covered high school kids as "counselors" just didn't appeal to me. Not to mention getting up at 5 am to catch a school bus. "I have an idea," I told Samuel, "I will see if someone will cover my shift at work that weekend. We can go up on Friday and spend the night at the lakehouse. It's just a short trip to Rock Eagle, so we won't have to get up at 5 am. We can have breakfast out, and go meet your classmates at the competition." Samuel thought this was an enchanted idea. He bugged me nonstop until I had emailed the 4-H office to make arrangements, and had found a staff member to work for me for part of the weekend. For two weeks, we talked about our trip, and how we would leave Friday night and go to the lake house by ourselves. "Mitchell and Georgia can't come," Samuel told me, "Because they would be bored at the competition. And besides, I want it to be just me and you." How sweet is that? So Friday FINALLY came. I packed an overnight bag for us, with our clothes for Saturday and warm pajamas. I knew that the thermostat is normally turned way, way down when the lake house is not in use. Three cheers for thinking ahead.  After dinner, we kissed everyone else goodbye, and headed out of town with our overnight bag and one awesome presentation on White Tigers.  Just outside of Gainesville, I stopped for gas and let Samuel get a blue raspberry slushie inside the gas station. All the way through Athens, Samuel raved about that blue slushie, "Mmm! Mmm! This is the best slushie I've ever had! Mmm! Mmm! This is a great trip, Melissa! This is the best slushie in the world!" in his usual dramatic way. When we finally got to the lake house it was late. It was dark outside and we hurried to get the water turned on and the heat going. Inside the house was very chilly- and I was thankful for the warm pajamas. We were both tired but I let Samuel stay up watching cartoons for a little while, just to make the trip even more special.  On Saturday morning, we woke up and got ready, left the house around 8:30 and headed over to McDonalds to grab some breakfast. From there we headed over to Rock Eagle, which is 12 miles from the lake house. We found the bus from our county and were right on time. Samuel gave his presentation on white tigers at 10 am and afterward we ate lunch with his classmates and another mom.  I watched in amazement as Samuel and three classmates ran around the Rock Eagle campus, happily experiencing a little independence - or as much as eleven year old should be allowed to experience. He ate his brownie before his chicken at lunchtime (I didn't say anything about it) and picked out two small items in the gift shop, totaling $7. I took a few photos of the kids, and soon it was time to head to the awards presentation. Although Samuel didn't win, I think he had a good time and grew more comfortable with making public speeches. As we headed out of Eatonton, Samuel asked me if we could stop for another blue raspberry slushie. I told him yes, we would find another Quicktrip gas station on our way out of town, and we did. Samuel sat back in his seat with that slushie in his hand, slipped on a pair of Cody's sunglasses and looked over at me with a smile. "Well," he said, "This has been the best weekend of my life."

Wow! What a compliment! The best weekend of his life- and all it cost me was two slushies and a tank of gas. And so, friends, the moral of the story is this: never underestimate the value of time together.

Friday, November 11, 2011

Just call me Melissy

Mitchell has been the hardest for me to connect with of my three stepchildren. We started off on the wrong foot, because when John and I were dating his mother told him that if he was nice to me, it was a "betrayal" of her love. It's pretty hard to come back from that. But, over the years, Mitchell has come to regard me as a permanent fixture, and if for no other reason than acceptance, he has slowly turned his heart toward me.  As I have learned with other kids, sometimes you just have to be persistent in demonstrating who you really are. We have had many battles, but at the end of the battles, we always say "I'm sorry," sometimes me, sometimes Mitchell. And after almost four years in his life, I have learned about who he really is, and he has learned who I really am.
Mitchell is twelve, almost thirteen years old. His birthday is less than a week after Thanksgiving. He has Asperger's Syndrome - a high functioning form of autism. He is unusually bright, clever and observant. He knows words and their meaning, often to an astounding level. He has an incredible imagination, and is always building or inventing something using physics and his own unique brand of humor. He is the spitting image of his mother, with a round freckled face and the bluest eyes you have ever seen. And like most Asperger kids, he is unbelievably quirky.
As I've mentioned before in my postings, being a stepmother is quite a task. The process of falling in love with your stepchildren takes time. It is not the instant love of a birth mother or "love at first sight" that is attached to infatuation. And while I know that I love him, I am not sure now just when I started to love him. I know that when he was nine I thought I would have to move out of the house because of our personality clashes. I know that for about eight months, he couldn't bear to be in the same room for me for very long. He glared at me with squinted eyes, and he mimicked me behind my back. Tolerance for one another was a task, respect seemed to be light years away.
But somehow, over the course of three years as his stepmom, Mitchell has come to regard me as more than just an annoying clean-freak, barking orders at him every morning and night. I still get the usual response when I leave his bedroom at night after reading and praying with both boys. I say "I love you, good night." Samuel says, "I love you too!" and Mitchell says, "I don't love you!" with the same cheerful tone as his brother. (Fortunately, John has encouraged Mitchell to say "I like you," if he doesn't want to say "I love you.") Yes, I know - love is one of those words that gets all mixed up and confused when you are a pre-teen boy. I get it. But it is frustrating to hear, "I don't love you!" night after night, for three years.
 But somehow, over the course of three years- three Christmases, three New Years - three years of school teachers that he had to tell: "She's NOT my mom. She's JUST my STEPmom" - three years of the flu - three years of Halloween - three years of birthdays - three years of camping trips- hikes - losing a pet - losing a grandpa - starting middle school and much more, somehow, I now have graduated to a new title. I am no longer just "Melissa." Now, I am Melissy.
The change of one simple letter. He changed the "A" on the end of my name to a "Y". Without notice, and without ceremony, he just started calling me "Melissy." And I like it.
I like it because it means I'm important enough for nickname. I'm no longer just someone he has to tolerate. I'm Melissy, maybe a halfway normal and acceptable human being.
 And last week, when all the kids got their flu shots, Mitchell grabbed my hand and held on tight. Yes, it was only for a moment, and I know that it was more of an issue of "needing" my hand, than "wanting" it, but I'll take it any way it comes.
The nurse, who always gets a kick out of our "far from ideal family," looked across the crazy exam room and smiled, "You're stepmom, right?" she asked. "Yes," I said, "just stepmom."
And Melissy!

Monday, October 24, 2011

Dear John,

Tomorrow has been three years since I married you. I think back to that cool October evening when we stood up before our family and close friends and recited vows we had written ourselves. Sometimes I am amazed that after all the struggles you endured because of love in the past, that you even had the capacity to love and trust again. Some people might say the same thing about me.

It's funny that you and I missed each other by minutes our entire lives. We probably stood with our toes in the sand on Mexico beach every summer of our teenage years, never looking far enough down the beach to see one another. We probably passed each other in Gwinnett Place mall, or maybe you came into the food court on your break and saw me standing at a cash register in my red and blue striped chic-fil-a polo shirt. Maybe my family passed yours in a car on Redan road around the holidays. Maybe we were on the same airplane headed to Washington DC in high school, you and Brandon, me and Brandy.

We didn't meet back then because we probably had nothing in common, other than geography.  We missed each other because God had us headed in different paths at that time. I went to Brewton Parker, came to work at Hebron, married someone else. You worked your way up to the top of your stores, became a manager, married and became a father. You and your family moved to Dahlonega. I was in Winder. I never knew about you, and yet, our lives were similar again in so many ways. You were struggling to hold your marriage together, and I was struggling to keep mine together. In 2007, we both reached the end of what we could endure. We both said "that's enough" to the drama, abuse, and the roller coaster of emotions. We were both crushed by the loss of our first marriages, and the realization that we could not save another person from their own destructive habits. We both let go, and accepted that we might never find a partner that would love and us fully.

On Christmas morning of 2007, we were both alone and didn't know the other existed. I never thought I would find you so soon but I am so glad I didn't have to wait any longer. In the beginning, I was nervous to trust again, and so were you. We both had our "baggage" and we both had our fears. I am sure it was work for you to open your life and your children's lives to me. It was work for me to open my heart and allow someone to see me for what I really was . . . broken.

 I remember how we used to stay up late on the phone talking and laughing. And I remember when we both started sharing about our pasts, and sometimes we would cry. And I remember how, not too long after we met, I knew that we were meant to be together. I knew that we would fit into place like two halves that were always made for each other. Remember how you text messaged me and told me to turn on the radio one day and the song playing said "You're my blue sky . . ." and you told me that song was for me. I really couldn't have said it better, John. You're my blue sky. You were the peaceful, calm, blue sky that was waiting behind all those clouds and the lightning. You were always there, hidden behind the struggles and facing your own heartache. And when the time was right, the clouds parted, the sun broke through, and there was the blue sky . . . waiting for me.

I know this is a personal thing to say for the entire world to read, but I love you so much. Every day that I get to spend with you is a precious gift. I am so blessed to be your wife, your partner, and your friend. Thank you for not giving up on love.

Monday, October 10, 2011

Teach your kids to set the table

After one week in my new position, one thing is abundantly clear: families in crisis do not eat dinner as a family and most likely, they never did.

The girls at the shelter have "chores" they have to do each night. They aren't difficult chores - just basic household things around the kitchen. One of the chores is "setting the table" for dinner. The first night, the young lady with this chore grabbed a stack of plates and a handful of forks. She haphazardly tossed them on the table and threw a fork on top of each plate. There were no napkins, no knives, no spoons. Everyone gathered around the table to eat and started grabbing whatever they found in front of them, never passing the serving dishes, just reaching over each other. On my second night, I gently asked if anyone would be upset if I said a blessing before dinner. They all said it was okay with them, so I offered a quick prayer. Then the girls did as the night before, digging and reaching and shoveling food onto their plates.
By the third night, I noticed the same "table setting" was the norm - stack of plates, pile of forks, no napkins, no knives, no spoons, no manners.
By the fourth night, I had to say something. "Does anyone is this house know what it really means to 'set' the table?" I asked the girls. "Yeah," answered the youngest one who had the chore that very night and had just slapped down the plates and forks, "I just did it." "No, you didn't," I told her, "You threw down some forks and plates. They do more than that for customers at the Golden Corral and it's a buffet." The girls looked confused as I explained that when I was a girl, setting the table meant a napkin to the left of each plate, a fork on the left, knife and spoon on the right. There was a little song that my mom taught me, Emily, and Becky when we were girls. The little song helped us to remember how to "set the table." As a girl, I thought the song was fun, as a teenager I thought the song was "stupid" and as an adult, I think the song was brilliant. Establishing order in a household, even through something as simple and mundane as placing silverware on a table in an organized fashion is a step toward establishing order for an entire lifetime.
I don't remember in all those childhood years (and teenage years) that we ever had a meal together where all three pieces of silverware, and a napkin, were not present. I further explained to my girls that on a few special occasions, my mom taught us girls how to set the table with everything from salad AND dinner forks, to fine bone china, bread plates, dessert spoons, and all. "What's China?" asked the youngest girl in the house. Oh, brother. "You know," said one of the others, "that big country where they eat rice all the time."
So here, my friends, is another fine example of why kids are in crisis. Families no longer sit down to a meal together. Kids are used to eating out of boxes or buckets, or paper bags. No one sits together to eat and talk about their day, instead they just scarf up whatever is around to eat, and go on about their business of watching TV or entertaining themselves.
I am so thankful that I grew up in a family where meals together were the norm. During these family dinners, we talked, we laughed, we shared stories about our day, or we just passed the food around and ate together. And I am also thankful that I knew "the fork goes on the left, the knife goes on the right, the spoon goes next to that, and now your table's set." 
Thanks Mom!

Friday, October 7, 2011

Let my heart be broken for the things that break His heart.

I learned something during my first long shift at the shelter where I am now employed. It was my first time handling "intake" for a new resident. The young girl's probation officer delivered her to the shelter, and as soon as I saw her, I thought fantastic, another juvenile delinquent. And now I feel ashamed for even thinking this, but she came in the loose-fitting, elastic waist pants that kids wear in juvenile detention centers. She had a huge stocking cap on top of her head, and walked with her head hung low. She avoided my eyes. For the past week in my new role, I quickly learned that many of our "children" are teenagers who are one move away from long-term jail sentences. Perhaps in my mind I was going to be nurturing meek and broken young ladies who had been neglected and abused, and needed a safe home away from  the mistreatment. In my mind, all of the girls were grateful and sweet. This is not quite the case.
When the girls went to bed, I had a couple of hours left on my shift. I cleaned up the kitchen and checked to make sure everyone was in their own bed. Then I took out the intake paperwork for our new resident. What I read broke my heart. She was born to a drug addicted single mom. From infancy until age five, she was in and out of foster care, passed around to different neighbors and relatives. She was sexually and physically abused. She was neglected. At age five she was adopted by a foster parent that she was never able to attach to. For the next few years she struggled in school, had frequent outbursts, had trouble concentrating, and began acting out sexually and physically. As she got older, she started running away from home, getting into physical fights with her adoptive mom, experimenting with drugs, and having intercourse at age thirteen. At one point, she stayed with a neighbor, until problems started in that placement. She was always missing school, getting into fights, and shoplifting and eventually ended up in a juvenile detention center. Her paperwork concluded with her psychiatrist stating that she suffers from "post traumatic stress disorder and reactive attachment disorder." That big stack of papers might as well have smacked me over the head. This child is not a delinquent. She is a victim. True, she has made her own choices and mistakes. But how many of these mistakes stemmed from an early childhood that was void of safety, security, compassion and guidance? After my first week with my new girls, my resolve is even stronger. I am completely certain that God has called me to parent children who have been discarded or let down by their original parents. And I am so thankful for my wonderful husband, John, who has joined me in this journey! Tuesday at our last appointment with our caseworker, we made a few changes to our adoption application. We were already "open" to all races and genders, but now we are also considering "all ages". We believe God will lead us to the children that He wants to bring into our family. Thank you for your prayers on our journey!

Monday, October 3, 2011

Adoption is a beautiful thing!

John's cousin posted this photo on her facebook page, complete with a sad story about a mother tiger in a California Zoo who was so upset over 

losing her tiger cubs in premature labor, that the zookeepers dressed some little piggies up in tiger pajamas and gave them to the mother tiger so she could nurse them. According to the cute little story, 
Mama Tiger is now recovering from her depression. According to Snopes, this story was fabricated, but it is based on a true story about a Tiger in a THAILAND zoo who nurses these piggies, as part of an experiment at the zoo. Personally, I liked the "fake" story better, but either way, I like this tiger/piggy photo. There is another one saved on my computer showing a dog nursing some tiger cubs. I always think it is really sweet how mothers' instincts kick in whenever a child needs mothering. 
I had a wonderful first day at my new job. It was a short day- just a four hour shift, with some introductory training by an awesome staff member who is going to be my new Dahlonega friend. While talking to her, I learned that she has no children of her own, and a story not too unlike mine. As we talked, she shared with me about how she was "able" to love other people's children as her own. She told of raising her two nieces and a step-niece when their own mother's were unable to parent them properly. She said, "I couldn't have loved them more if they were my own." This is something I have frequently said, about all of my babies from Amanda on down to little Jeremiah. My kids may not be my flesh and blood, and they may not look like me at all, but I could not love them more.
Today I began my new job working with abused and neglected girls in the North Georgia mountains. I can't share identifying information about "my new girls," but I will say they are precious. One I was so drawn to, that I can't imagine how she survived the pain of her past. Just being able to spend time with them and love them was a treat for me. I am so excited that for this season of their lives I can be a mama figure to them. 
One of the girls came and sat with me for awhile during my training. She shared with me that her biological mother "gave" her up, and she was adopted by someone who later abused her. The other staff member told me "her adoptive mother did not know how to discipline and was very mean to her." The little girl just looked at me with sad brown eyes and I said, "I'm sorry, sweetie. Some people don't know how to be parents. I am glad you are here and you are safe now." 
Another wonderful story from today is that one of the girls moved out - on my very first day. Her mentor from the community has opened her home and heart to become her legal guardian! Now that is a story worth sharing!
Thanks for your prayers for the Line Household. I love you all dearly. 

Monday, September 26, 2011

Here I go . . .

Obviously, I am not a person who moves around a lot. I lived in the same house from the ages of 4-21 with the exception of college. I lived in my little house in Winder from the ages of 21-31 when I briefly lived in Emily's basement "I live in my sister's basement . . ." and then married John and moved to Dahlonega where I remain. Jobs would be the same with me, since I worked in high school at Chic-fil-a "all the good Christian kids worked there," and later I was an intern @ FBC Vidalia where I did everything from change diapers to plan activities for the high school kids. Then I landed this sweet gig at my home church at 21 years old (not quite 21 if you want to get technical) and I have been there ever since.
So if you want to get right down to it, I've never done anything besides take care of children, make sweet tea and chicken sandwiches, or take care of more children.
Well, I've also done quite a bit of writing/ lesson planning, some basic first-aid (okay, that one surgery at camp one summer), cleaned up quite a bit of vomit, conducted some interventions, a few counseling sessions, testified in court, supervised teachers, trained teachers, put up quite a few bulletin boards (that were outstanding, in my opinion), and I've read and studied quite a bit, trained, attended and conducted countless workshops, and copied some coloring sheets. Working for a Baptist church all these years, I've also logged quite a few hours hugging people, shaking hands, sharing potluck dinners, serving at potluck dinners, organizing "fellowships" (get-togethers if you're not Baptist), teaching with flannel-graph, assembling "power bands," jamming to some Veggie Tales or The Sparks Theme Song, cleaning dry-erase boards, picking up puzzle pieces (wow, we have a puzzle for everything here!) and even some very odd things that you would never know happen in the course of a day at a Baptist church.
Once, the women's ministry director and I spent an entire day with a homeless lady who lived under the trucks that park behind Kohl's in Lawrenceville. We took her shopping for clothes and toiletries, and helped her fill out paperwork for government housing. Looking back, it now seems odd that we took her to eat at Longhorn. I can still remember when we pulled up to her "home" behind Kohl's and there was this trash bag of clothing and a bottle of scope - under a trailer in this space of about three feet where she lived. I was probably 23 years old, owned my own little house and had a nice job. I'm sure I was wearing "nude" control top pantyhose, hanging around back there with the trucks behind Kohl's feeling very naive.
Another time I held this little boy on my lap in the housing projects while some of the pastors were putting on a puppet show. Suddenly I realized he had wet his pants and mine too. So I spent the whole day out there with a huge pee stain on the front of my skort (yes, skort, it's a combination shorts/skirt and very handy in the summertime.)
There was also my stalker-friend, 59 year old Mohammed, who stuck around after Revival one night and scared the stuffing out of me, then followed me to Target in the women's lingerie department and scared me again before my mom called and told our then-Associate Pastor that I was NEVER to be left alone at an event again.
Ryan reminded me today about the Dean-O and the Dynamos concert - the WORST event we ever carried out, when there were about two thousand kids crammed into the DHS gym and the air conditioning went out . . . in late May . . . in Georgia. And then after the SECOND song, the two thousand kids lost interest in the music and the super-saved aerobic-dancing girl in her denim overalls and started ripping to shreds their Hawaiian leis . . . getting up to walk around the gym, chasing each other, mobbing the stage area, and making me a nervous wreck. Fortunately the show only lasted about two hours.
And I cannot forget Fort Bluff, the scene of the all-time most regrettable camp I've ever been a part of. There were the narrow triple bunks reminiscent of a Nazi concentration camp, the food that I stopped eating on day one when Vanessa Lopez met me in line for breakfast and said: "Ms. Melissa . . . there was a cocka-roach in my sausage biscuit!" and the crazy rules about coed swimming and the need for 8 year old girls to wear t-shirts over their bathing suits. My exact words to the camp staff  "but all the kids look exactly the same at this age! Who cares?" It was, in fact, a camp with a nice brochure that was NOTHING like reality.
And while on the subject of camp, I will always laugh when I think of "Miss Karen" and the giant bag of poop "at least ten pounds in this bag," the little boy who pooped in the sink backstage during the talent show, (the year with all the Tavious kids at camp . . .) and the farting gymnast who got into an argument over who dealt it - with her gymnast partner- during the talent show. There was the year when fourteen different girls all tried out with the song "Jesus take the wheel," including a rap version and a ridiculous interpretive dance. I will smile when I think of little Josh Trainer, grinning as he won the first place trophy for "Fly Away," and the next day when he became a virtual celebrity in the cafeteria.
Truly this job has been my mainstay for the past 14 years. The people of this church have carried me through a horrendous first marriage that never should have happened. The people of this church have stood by me through my codependency and divorce. This church was a place where I could go to feel successful, sane, and busy. Sometimes this church was a place for me to hide, to get lost, or to blend in with the crowd. Sometimes this church was all that was left of me. Through my time back in schools, two ectopic pregnancies, the loss of two very precious souls, through a new marriage, the transition to step-parenting, and through every triumph and ordeal of my adult life- I've had this sweet gig. I once told someone, "I get paid to tell kids about the Bible. How sweet is that?"
Through this job I discovered that my life's work is to help abused and neglected children. And to parent them. Through this job I learned about forgiveness, repentance, healing, honesty, hard work, recognition, charity, compassion, pain, ambition, passion, creativity, trust, and loyalty. I've learned to work with people who are very different from me. I've learned to be part of a team. I've learned to balance time. I've learned to work for a common goal. And now it's time for this season of my life to end.
I will take so many wonderful memories, so many lessons, and so many important truths with me as I go. I am going to work full-time with abused and neglected children. I am going to further my education, but most of all, I am going to be more available to my family, and be more of a wife to my wonderful husband. I am going to where God has called me, and believing good things will come. So, here I go to Dahlonega! And just as I once stood on the outside of this season, not knowing when I accepted this position at 21 years old that I would still be here all these years later, with a heart full of memories - I don't know what the future holds. But I know who holds the future.

Monday, September 12, 2011

Mom Power

I've been thinking a lot lately about the role of a mom, and the power of that role. The really deep thinking about mom power started about a month ago in Kohl's. I was looking around in the bedding section and overheard a conversation between a young woman, her child, and her mom who was riding around in one of those wheelchair-shopping-cart contraptions. Actually, I'm not sure if I could really call this interchange a "conversation", because it was more like a grumpy disabled grandma insulting her daughter and grandchild relentlessly. It's rare you get to witness this type of family dysfunction on your lunch hour- but I did. It started when the younger woman walked away from grandma and the child to look at some large framed paintings. I was just a few yards away and heard the grandmother fussing at the child. She was saying things like "Stay over here! Don't you dare walk away from me! What are you? Stupid?" And when I heard the last remark, I just turned and glared at her. The little boy was probably six or seven, and he was just doing what normal little boys do. He was touching the edges of pillows, running his finger along the wall, picking up random objects to look at them. He was as quiet as a mouse, and really not more than a few feet from grumpy granny at the time of her reprimanding. He came and stood a little closer to the wheelchair, and she continued on her tirade: "I knew if we came here, your mother would go off and find some crap she doesn't need to buy! Why are we wasting our time here? I didn't want to come in this store anyway! You don't need anything else for your house, it couldn't get any more cluttered!" Then she spoke to the child again, her words ice cold: " Don't even think of asking to go look at the toys! We did not come in here to look at toys! You have everything a child wants anyway! You need nothing else!" It was hard for me not to turn toward the ice queen and blurt out: "No, he doesn't have everything he needs. He needs you to be kind to him and stop humiliating him." But I kept my cool. I started to walk away when I heard the young mother start back-talking granny. She was as cold and sarcastic, but also worn down like she didn't care what verbal abuse her son had to witness. It was really very ugly.
It makes me sad to overhear or see a scene like this one. I just finished reading an awesome book called "Like Family" by Paula McClain. It is a memoir of her experience growing up in foster care, the middle child of three sisters who were abandoned by both parents, and spent their childhood and teen years living in different people's homes with different rules, different levels of dysfunction and so forth. This is a fabulous read (took me three nights to finish) and I laughed and cried, laughed and cried, through the whole thing. I read over one hundred pages the night I picked it up at the library, and woke up John several times giggling because of several funny stories and references to the pop culture of the early eighties when these sisters were growing up. But the reason I mention this book as part of this blog is because the girls in this book experienced all different types of moms. They had an absent mom, a stone-cold mom, a Nazi mom with endless rules, a permissive mom with no rules, a "wonderful" mom who was typical in every way, but eventually gave them back to the system (that was painful to read about.) They also had an abusive mom in foster-care, and yet with all of these moms, they yearned for a closer relationship, the bond they wanted to have so badly. You can feel the ache in the words of the writer, how as a little girl she longed for one of those "mom" figures to claim her, protect her, be affectionate to her, care for her when she was sick, and love her. Isn't this a basic human need? Don't we all want to have a mother care for us.
I am one of the lucky ones, actually, I am among the "more than lucky." I have a mother and a father that I would not change for anything. I am so blessed to have grown up in a home with two pretty normal people, who are still married today, and who were committed to not just each other, but to me, Emily, and Becky in every way. Today I am a well-rounded person with my father's sense of humor and work ethics, my mom's compassion and hospitality, and thirty-four years of wonderful memories because of two amazing parents. And there is not a sum high enough to convince me to call someone else my "mom" or "dad." I esteem NO ONE . . . not even among my relatives, the high honor of being labeled my mom and dad. Those titles are distinct and will not be given to anyone else in my life. But I know it's because of how blessed I was as a child (and still am today) that I didn't need a tribe of men and women to raise me. I had the best.
Mom and Dad are powerful people. They have powerful roles, their words are powerful and their actions will shape the foundation and future of the children they raise.
Just like grumpy granny in Kohl's (who is lucky I didn't roll her into the men's restroom) . . . words are powerful and mom's words are among the most powerful.
May God give me the words to speak to my precious stepchildren, my godchildren, and those children who "wait" for our family. May I watch my words, being ever mindful of the power they contain. May I always remember that when I hold my children I hold their future, their hearts, their tender minds, and their personalities.
Somewhere in the world today (maybe the state of Georgia, maybe elsewhere) are the children who will join our family through adoption. I pray that any damage or pain from the past will be comforted and eased when they are brought into our family for good. I pray that I will have the words to say that will encourage them and heal them, and make them always proud and happy to say "that lady is my mom."

Monday, August 29, 2011

Great Expectations!

Summer is almost over- finally! I am so happy whenever I go outside and feel that ever-so-slight breeze that signals the changing of seasons. I do love summer, I love taking my wonderful step-kids to the river, the pool, or the lake. I love how much longer the days are, so we can just enjoy a little more daylight. I love vacations, and the Fourth of July in Dahlonega - spectacular! But, this summer was so hard! I am so glad to see it go away. And it was also HOT! I am not a hot-weather girl by nature. I like fireplaces, snow, sledding, sweaters, a cozy blanket, and a cup of cocoa. So I say "Bring on the cooler temperatures!"
But I can also say that the changing of seasons in nature is reminding me of the changing seasons of my life. I have really seen some changes in myself over the past season or two. I have seen some changes in my "step-parenting", my marriage, and even in my friendships. For the sake of example, I will mention that earlier this summer one of my dear friends really encouraged me that I should "enjoy" my step kids more, instead of always fretting over the fact that they aren't mine "all the time," or that I struggle with infertility. The old Melissa would probably just be hurt by that, but this summer it has been a time of growth and change and I realized I really wasn't "enjoying" them or trying to get to know them. If I truly love kids as much as I say I do, why am I not loving the ones God has put right in front of me, in my house? This summer, some of my favorite memories will be of picking blackberries with Samuel (we picked four huge buckets in about two weeks, adapted the Southern Living recipe for blackberry cobbler and made it for ourselves, our lovely neighbors, Tom and Ginger, and for some other friends around town.) I will also treasure the memory of taking Mitchell to the junkyard just to "poke around" and see what treasures we could find. I will also treasure the back to school shopping with Georgia, and of her helping me color Samuel's hair. One particular memory that will also stand out is of the day the boys helped me take all the covers off the sofa cushions to wash them. Samuel and I left for the day, and when I returned home, Mitchell had dried the cushion covers and replaced every one of them on the sofa and love seat. I was delighted - perhaps ecstatic would be more accurate. All in all, despite the heartbreaking loss of our little ones, the transition of Hannah moving out, and overcoming the loss of Canaan, and losing my precious grandaddy, we had a life-changing summer. And now, this season is coming to an end.
The best part about this season ending is that the sorrow it brought us will only now be a sad memory. But pain is not always a bad thing, as I am learning through the books I am studying at home. Humans hate pain, and so we avoid it, and God is showing me that through pain we learn. Oh, how I hate this, but I know it's true! It's not by accident that I finally pierced my ears for the first time this summer, and gave blood for the first time this summer. I have "avoided pain" at all costs . . . even a silly little prick or minor stick with a needle. I'm not a fan of pain by any means now, but I know that you don't have to run from it. As silly as it seems, I found such victory in those minuscule brushes with pain. I embraced the pain, instead of running from it. And I learned that my fear of the pain was actually worse than the real pain itself. How many of us are running from pain and avoiding pain, and yet living with anxiety and worry over when it will actually hurt us? Yes, I am guilty of this!
One BIG area for me is this adoption process. Mom asked me two years ago when I lost Abigail, if I would "consider" adoption. I assume at the time she was talking of infant adoption. I remember saying, "I would adopt, but I still want the experience of having my own." I am sure all of you women out there can understand this longing. I wanted to feel the baby kicking inside me, feel it growing, see it on the sonogram, yes, even feel that pain of bringing him/her into the world. But most of all, I wanted that heart-stopping, breathtaking moment when I looked at my child for the first time in the hospital and felt the instant bond between us. I wanted that instant connection and intimacy.
But now I see that maybe that is never what God had for me. I have "fallen in love" with my step kids. I have "Fallen in love" with every other child I have parented short-term (23 counting Peniel and Jeremiah.) I have "fallen in love" with my CASA children, the kids I have mentored in schools, and my CR babies who break my heart. I did not love them the instant they came into the world - I did not even know them. But I fell in love with them as I came to know them, and learn all about them, and find out who they are.
And now I know that out there in the world, there is a child or children (I hope two or three), who do not know me, and who's lives have taken a turn away from what is healthy and ideal. They have faced pain, and insurmountable loss. I hope that in their pain, somewhere deep inside them, is a longing for me, and John, and a "forever family". And this fills my heart with a sense of great expectation!
I don't know how old they are, if they are boys or girls, or both. I don't know the color of their skin or their eyes, or their shape, or anything about them. I only know that God has planned for them to be mine through adoption and I am overjoyed at the prospect of finding them!
Between my two ectopic pregnancies, I have only been pregnant for a short number of weeks. It went by too fast. The joy didn't last nearly long enough. But I've had enough pregnant friends to know that there is so much "expectation" in pregnancy and there is so much looking forward, and yes, anxiety, but also a great hope for the future. I also know there is pain associated with pregnancy and childbirth (duh!) And since that is not the way God has chosen to make me a mother, I can either be angry about it, or accept this beautiful gift that is adoption. Accepting that gift means embracing more pain. There is pain in this process. There is sadness, grief, humiliation, anger, frustration - challenges I'm not always sure I can meet. But there is something wonderful waiting for me on the other side of this pain. And I am moving forward in great anticipation and with great expectations for the child(ren) God has for me.
Please pray for me!

I hope you will watch this video!

<iframe src=";byline=0&amp;portrait=0&amp;color=c58611" width="400" height="225" frameborder="0"></iframe><p>Medina's Adoption - BCFS from <a href=";ll Be Honest</a> on <a href=">

Monday, August 8, 2011

The Promise of Canaan

Wow . . . it's been a rough summer. I haven't even looked at my blog in awhile. Maybe no one else is looking either, but hey - it's therapeutic for me so I write. In May, Peniel and Jeremiah went back to their mom. The original plan was for "the month of June" so we could "see how it would go." But I knew they weren't coming back. In my heart, it was easier to just pretend it would only be June. They had been with us for eleven months. I think back on all the things they did for the first time while they lived with us. They had pet dogs! They saw the ocean, played in the ocean, swam in the ocean! They went camping for the first time! They had gobs and gobs of family and presents at Christmas. They both celebrated birthdays with us. They attended a funeral for John's dad. They went to counseling. Jeremiah started and finished kindergarten with us, and Peniel started and finished second grade. It was a beautiful, fantastic, life-changing year for us.
Less than two weeks later, Hannah moved out. It was bittersweet. It was the end of a season in her life, and our lives, but it was joyful because she was going to live with her mom again, and would get to see her dad, sister, and half-brother as often as possible. She had lived with us for two years. It will always be a special two years in my memory. Suddenly, the house seemed very empty. At the kitchen table, there were two empty seats.

Hannah's empty room
Around this same time, there was a phone call. It was totally unexpected and I need to give you some background information so you will know why this phone call was relevant.
Back a couple of months ago there was a prayer request sent in from a church member. I knew the woman by name. The prayer request was for a young single mom who was pregnant and looking for a Christian family to adopt her baby at birth. I ended up calling the church member who sent in the prayer request. I told her it was none of my business, but that I have struggled with infertility and two losses, and wanted a baby more than anything in the universe. She told me that the young woman had already met with an adoption agency, and had narrowed her choices down to one or two families. I thought that was it, and I let it go.
The call in May was from the same church member. She told me that the adoption agency wasn't working out. The prospective parents had changed their mind. How could they change their mind, I wondered. She asked me if we were interested in the baby. The word "absolutely" could not come out of my mouth fast enough. I called John and then I ran to my mom's office over in the music department. We cried and prayed and held hands. I had so much hope. I can't remember when I had so much hope. It was a boy.
The church member and friend of the birth mom asked if I would be willing to meet with them the next day. I was. We met in my office at the church. It was surreal. The birth mom told me that she wanted to find a good, Christian family to adopt her baby boy at birth. She was unhappy with the adoption agency because their policy was to take the baby into foster care for two weeks until the birth mother could not change her mind anymore. She told me that she wanted him to go home from the hospital with his parents and that she would not change her mind. She asked me if we had any problem with adopting a biracial child. I showed her pictures of Peniel and Jeremiah. I told her how we loved them, how they felt like ours, how we never even considered the color of their skin. This baby, I promised her, would be loved and cherished, and given every opportunity and blessing in life. She showed me pictures of her other three small children. She told me that she could barely provide for them, had no job and was living with her mom. She told me that this baby should have a better life. She would give him a better life.
It all happened so fast. The next Sunday, she met me and John together, and brought her sister. She told us to pick out a name for him. It wasn't hard. The name in our hearts was Canaan. To us, it was a promise kept - a promise of coming into a new chapter of our lives. Canaan was the reason why I had lost two babies before, the reason Peniel and Jeremiah had to leave. The reason why out of the clear blue, Hannah had decided to move out. Suddenly it all made sense.  He was meant to be ours.
She liked the name we had chosen. She began to refer to him as Canaan, growing inside of her.
The next week, she invited me to the ultrasound. It was a 3-D ultrasound. I rode in a car with this young, thin, dark-haired woman, her arms covered in tattoos, her face marked with small scars. We had nothing in common except the child she was carrying. I wanted him, she wanted to give him away.
When I saw his face on the ultrasound, I gasped. His lips were full, his nose was perfect. I could see his eyebrows and the curve of his forehead.
She confided in me and told me that when she had learned of this pregnancy, she had gone to the abortion clinic. She was eight or nine weeks pregnant and paid for an abortion. A few weeks later, she returned for her post-abortion check-up. He was still there. The abortion had failed. I cried when she told me, and I cried later when I told my mom and John. He was our Canaan, our promised one.
For a few weeks, I was in shock and floating on cloud nine. John convinced me that we should at least go and register at the baby store. I had never allowed myself to enter the baby store. I couldn't even walk down the baby aisle of a grocery store. But one night we went out to dinner, and we walked into that enormous superstore full of bottles, diapers, little outfits, blankets, formula, furniture, bedding, cribs, sheets, blankets, car seats and everything I had always deprived myself from dreaming of.
With the help of the store manager (a friend of John's) we created a baby registry. It was perfect.
The diaper bag was perfect. The bedding was perfect. The sweet little bumper pads were perfect. Everything about that night was perfect.
The next week I hoped to hear from the birth mom. When five days went by without a call, I called her myself. It was two weeks before the scheduled C-section. When she answered, she sounded tired, and nonchalantly told me that he had been born earlier that day. He was two weeks early, she had gone into pre-term labor. He was in NICU, six pounds and a few ounces. "Visiting hours are over," she told me, "I guess you should get your lawyer and come to the hospital tomorrow."
That night I hardly slept. I washed a little blue outfit with a tiny teddy bear patch. It was the smallest of the few outfits I owned. I washed it on delicate and dried it with extra fabric softener. It was folded neatly and ready to go the next day. The truth is, I bought this baby blue outfit five years ago when I lost my first tubal baby. It has been hanging in the closet for five years. I held onto it like I held onto the hope of a child.
John and I drove to Buford and met with our attorney. We gave her our paperwork and a check for her services. She told us to go on over to the hospital and see the baby. She would get all the papers moving and meet us there later.
We drove to Gwinnett Medical, but we couldn't move fast enough. We parked in front of the women's pavilion- a place that I hated because it has only meant loss for me before.
We went into the lobby and got directions to the room where the birth mom was recovering. I insisted we stop by the gift shop and get flowers, but when we got there, everything looked so cheery and inappropriate to give someone who was giving up their child. We went on without flowers. We knocked at her door. After a short wait, she called for us to come in. On the table beside her bed was a small book called "Given in Love." I recognized it immediately as being the book the social worker gives to a mom who is surrendering a child for adoption. I breathed a sigh of relief that she was going through with it. She had even told the hospital social worker of her plans. John and I stood nervously at the foot of the bed of this stranger who held the key to our hearts.
I don't remember what I said. I just know that she shifted around uncomfortably under the blanket and avoided our eyes.
"I've decided I'm just going to raise him myself."
The phone beside her bed started ringing. I turned to John and fell apart. I dropped the little blue outfit with the teddy bear. John held my arms while I screamed and cried. I was moving for the door when she answered the phone. Behind me I heard her saying, "you had to know that I could change my mind." I was running down the hallway with John behind me, my tears were falling all over me now. We passed a couple of nurses, a doctor, the happy friends in the waiting room, the proud parents. I passed through them crying, trying not to scream in the lobby. Outside, I was hit with the heat of late-morning in June. John didn't say anything. He just hurried behind me to unlock the car, his camera bag on his shoulder. I know I was screaming and ranting. I know I was making a fool of myself. I didn't care.
We walked out of the hospital having never met Canaan. I am sure that he was probably taken home from the hospital in the blue outfit with the teddy bear, because he had nothing else in the world. He went home with a mother who tried to abort him seven months earlier. He went home to three hungry siblings, no father, no beautiful bedding and perfect car seat, no perfect amazing stroller, no doting grandparents and aunts, cousins, uncles, or me. He was most likely driven home in an old, two-door sports car with bad AC and the same raunchy rap music playing in her car on that day I saw his face on the ultrasound.
I'm sorry, Canaan.
I had this plan that we would put the family cradle (the one my grandaddy built) beside our bed for at least a few months. I could see him there, sleeping under the perfect blankets, with his soft skin and full lips. I would have watched him for hours. I would have rocked him in the rocking chair where Jeremiah had let me baby him last year. I would have whispered in his ear about the great promise of his life, the great gift that he was. I would have given everything I had to make sure he had everything the world could offer. He would have played sports and learned to read music. He would have gone to church, to camp, to the beach, to Sunday school.
Somewhere now, he is two months old. I will never stop thinking of him and what he could have been. I still look at the space beside our bed and think of him there, quietly sleeping, warm and safe. I would have protected him from all the darkness, fear and harm in this world, if only I could have had the chance.
And now it seems like Canaan is a metaphor. It is a place in my heart that I have held onto for a long time. I believe God has promised me that I will be a mother- somehow. Right now, in light of this enormous loss, my promised land seems out of reach. and sometimes I think that like Moses, I may die trying to get there.
Here is my promise, and God, I'm holding you to it:
1 “Sing, O barren,
      You who have not borne!
      Break forth into singing, and cry aloud,
      You who have not labored with child!
      For more are the children of the desolate
      Than the children of the married woman,” says the LORD.
       2 “ Enlarge the place of your tent,
      And let them stretch out the curtains of your dwellings;
      Do not spare;
      Lengthen your cords,
      And strengthen your stakes.
       3 For you shall expand to the right and to the left,
      And your descendants will inherit the nations,
      And make the desolate cities inhabited.
       4 “ Do not fear, for you will not be ashamed;
      Neither be disgraced, for you will not be put to shame;
      For you will forget the shame of your youth,
      And will not remember the reproach of your widowhood anymore.
       5 For your Maker is your husband,
      The LORD of hosts is His name;
      And your Redeemer is the Holy One of Israel;
      He is called the God of the whole earth.
       6 For the LORD has called you
      Like a woman forsaken and grieved in spirit,
      Like a youthful wife when you were refused,”
      Says your God.
       7 “ For a mere moment I have forsaken you,
      But with great mercies I will gather you.
       8 With a little wrath I hid My face from you for a moment;
      But with everlasting kindness I will have mercy on you,”
      Says the LORD, your Redeemer.
Two different women in my church have given me this scripture at two different times without knowing my situation. The first time, this scripture was typed up and hand-delivered to me here in my office with nothing else but the scripture. The second time, two years late, it was attached to a set of tent pegs and given to me as a gift. Coincidence?

Finally, I must add this: Our summer has been painful because of the loss of my beloved Grandaddy, John Timothy Donehoo Sr. I was blessed to be able to speak at his memorial service just a few weeks ago. The reason I wanted to speak at his funeral was to recognize a man who married a widow and adopted her three children, becoming a father to the fatherless and who loved all of his children and grandchildren relentlessly. By his example, he not only changed entire lives of countless people, he chose to be our grandaddy. He was a man of integrity, character, and Christian witness. His youngest adopted child is my mother.
When I graduated from high school, my mom organized a beautiful reception for me at our house in Lawrenceville. She asked everyone in advance to come prepared to give me a "blessing" as I was taking off for college. The written blessings were read to me, and I still cherish each one to this day. There were blessings of friendship, peace, safety, wisdom, faith, and much more. The one that will always be prominent in my mind came from Bunna (mom's mom/ Grandaddy's wife.) She gave me a small photo album, the first picture is me. The second photo is my mom. The third photo is of her (my grandmother), the fourth photo of my great-grandmother. The fifth photo is my great, great grandmother. The sixth photo is my great, great, great grandmother, and the seventh photo is my great, great, great, great grandmother. It is a photo so old it looks like X-ray film. Along with this album, Bunna gave me a blessing: In the Name of Jesus Christ, I bless you, she wrote, with the blessing of maternal love. Because of this blessing, I am even more certain of the promise of Canaan. The promise God has given me is that I will love children with the love of a mother. I will choose to love the children God will give me. I will not love them less because I did not carry them in my body, or because they came to me through difficult and painful circumstances. I will love them as God loves us, as my Grandaddy loved us.
Pray for me!

Monday, May 9, 2011

I Opened the Basket

Mother's Day is a hard day for me, but it wasn't always that way. In my early to mid twenties, it wasn't such a big deal because I wasn't trying to have a family of my own. It came and went, and so did my birthday, always right there together. After I lost my first ectopic baby in 2005, I was surprised at the range of emotions that first Mother's day. Then the next couple of years were jumbled together with the drama of a dysfunctional, codependent marriage that was completely fractured by drugs and alcohol, and my desire to become a mother was put on the back burner. After I met the true love of my life and we married, I believed I would soon have that chance to know what it was like to carry a child. Already a dad, John was still supportive of the idea that we try to have children. Then in 2009, eleven months after we married, I was pregnant. This time, the second ectopic baby took with her a fallopian tube, and I lost even more hope that it would ever happen for me. My fertility doctor told me it wasn't "impossible", but "highly unlikely" I would ever conceive again without IVF. The hardest part about the second baby was that the due date for that pregnancy would have been around my birthday and Mother's Day, which happened to be the same day in 2010. Since that loss, we have added two small children to our family through temporary guardianship. They came like a gift from God, on June 22 of last year. They were four and seven when they came to us, loved from day one by me and John, my three amazing step kids, and our niece, Hannah. We were suddenly a family of eight. We needed a special vehicle to accommodate us, and we needed every available space for a bed in our home. Within a few months, the boys felt like mine. I rocked the little one, held him in my arms as much as he would let me. I read to them, spoiled them, got to know them, and I really felt like I was their mother. And it was a wonderful eleven months. Then came this weekend- the "dreaded" birthday and Mother's Day. I would be another year older, still not pregnant, feeling the possibilities drain away with time. But I had my little ones.
Thursday before the "weekend", I went to school for a Kindergarten Mother's Day breakfast. I was filled with anxiety walking down the hallway, afraid that Jeremiah would be disappointed to see me instead of his "real mom." Walking into his room, his face lit up when he saw me, and he took my hand and led me to his table where there was a drawing of a woman with a blue dress and shoulder-length hair. Across the top of the picture were the words "Jeremiah's mom" and in a small box at the bottom, it said: "Her name is Melissa. I love to go somewhere with her. She is as pretty as me. She loves to eat cheese. Her favorite color is purple and she likes to shop at Wal-Mart. She always tells me, "Good morning!" She tickles me and it makes me laugh. She is 16 years old." I tried to swallow the lump in my throat as I realized he was expecting me.
But Thursday night was another story . . .
I went to pick up the boys' natural mom so she could come for a visit with them. In the car she told me that she had decided she wanted to take the boys back. As I drove, she talked about "feeling better," "missing the boys so much," and "wanting to be their mother again." I couldn't speak, but warm tears streamed down my cheeks. She told me she wanted them to finish the school year (17 days) with us, and then move to Athens with her. There were a million things I wanted to say, but no words would come out. At one point she stopped talking and looked at me, before saying: "But you took them as a foster mom, you had to know that you couldn't keep them forever."
My heart was broken. I could only see the past eleven months flash before me like a stream of scenes in my memory. I saw the boys at the beach with us last summer, so afraid of the waves but so excited at the same time. I saw Jeremiah crawling up John's legs so he could hold him high above the surf. I saw Peniel riding high on Amanda's shoulders, digging up shells with Mitchell, and anxiously learning to trust us. I saw John spraying them with the water hose on hot days, and Pork Chop chasing them on their bikes down the driveway. I saw us together at the state park, having a picnic, stopping for boiled peanuts since they had never tried them before. I saw us picking out backpacks and school supplies, Jeremiah's first day of kindergarten, parent-teacher conferences, our big camping trip in the Fall, going on a Haunted Hayride at the state park, picking out Halloween costumes, going trick-or-treating on the square in Dahlonega. I remembered Peniel's birthday, when his eyes looked so surprised to see the PSP in the box and how he told us: "It's the best birthday ever!" Christmas with John's family, Christmas with my family, Christmas morning when they saw all that Santa had brought them during the night.  I saw the snow days when we took turns on the sled and threw snowball fights, when Cody helped them build a snowman, and when everyone kept losing their gloves. I saw us all together at the hospital when John's dad passed away, the mystery and awe in Jeremiah's eyes when he realized Grandpa was in Heaven with Jesus. I saw the boys dressed in their suits at the funeral home, being loved and tended to by relatives from all directions. I remember their excitement over climbing Stone Mountain with Uncle Carl. I saw Samuel and Mitchell teaching them things, helping with homework, playing with them. I saw Hannah drawing with them in the driveway with chalk, all of us decorating Easter eggs together, then the boys searching frantically for the "Golden Egg" the next day in the Easter Egg hunt. After Easter, Jeremiah was ring-bearer in Becky's wedding. He was listed in the wedding program as "nephew of the bride." They were in every detail of my life, so much that it seemed they had always been there.
While the boys' mom talked on and on about her pain and suffering over the last year, my lip trembled as I realized I may soon lose my little companions. At night when I tuck in Jeremiah, we laugh and talk quietly. And just before he falls asleep, I tell him, "Jeremiah, I always wanted to have a little boy to take care of. God sent me one..." and he asks "Who?" and I say, "You!" and he grins and throws an arm across me, whispering, "I yuv you, Melissa." In the other bedroom, Peniel always crawls into bed with Mitchell because he is afraid of noises in the yard at night. After Jeremiah drifts off, I go into their room and look at them huddled together with coon-skin hats on, little pioneers. If Peniel is still awake when I go into their room, he says, "Melissa, will you pray to us?" and we pray together. If I forget to pray for someone, Peniel will interrupt the prayer to say "Don't forget . . . Grandma!" or, "don't forget . . . Mrs. Karen." So I know he is really listening.
All at once, on the Thursday before Mother's Day, I was again overwhelmed with sorrow and grief. I knew there would be conversations, decisions to be made, a possible court battle. I knew there was so much ahead to do in order to discover the "best interests" of my two little ones. But what it felt like initially was that I had been given two children, and then they had been taken away, just as my two angels in Heaven had been years before.
I have been battling with God over my infertility for many years now. It has been the subject of many prayers and late-night chats in the car between me and the Lord. I have begged God, pleaded with God to show me someone in the Bible that I could relate to.  It felt as though every single story of infertility in the Bible ends with God blessing the infertile woman with a baby! Sometimes in old age, sometimes in the middle of a wacky polygamous family of first-cousins, and always out of the clear blue when they least expected a miracle.  I still have hope that this might happen for me, but my experiences with life have taught me to "hope for the best, prepare for the worst." I step out of my doctor's office feeling my hope has been cut off completely. It takes all the faith I have ever had in 34 years to "believe" it might still happen for me.  But I have begged (literally pleaded) with God to show me someone in the Bible who walked in my shoes. There has to be someone- there had to be a woman who was part of God's plan who wasn't granted her miracle baby because she prayed all night and cried like a drunk person, or felt into a heap of ashes and tore her clothing. There has to be someone, somewhere in those sixty-six books who didn't get her "wish" granted. WHERE IS SHE?
On Friday after my emotional Thursday night, it came to me. Maybe "it" didn't come to me, but God spoke to me. He spoke to me in the bathtub. This is where I cry the most. When you have children in your home you can't fall apart at the dinner table or sob uncontrollably while folding the laundry. You have to be discreet so you don't freak them out. So I do my best crying in the tub while the water is running loudly. So there I was, crying in the tub, my heart ripped out of my chest, staring at the bathtub toys all around me, Jeremiah's squid, Toy Story bath scrubber, and crayola soaps. I guess it's only natural this should come to me in the water. It came to me so clearly I almost fell back under the water.
It was Pharaoh's daughter. I am Pharaoh's daughter . . .
I opened the basket.
Little Baby Moses- chosen from the start to lead God's people. So loved by his natural mother, kept safely hidden so he wouldn't be harmed. She kept him for three months. She loved him for three months. She sang to him, rocked him, fed him, and prayed over him for three months. And then she did the only thing she knew to do. She made him a waterproof basket. She put him in the little vessell and placed him in the River. How could she do it? How could she give him up? She didn't know what the future held for him, but somehow she trusted in an invisible God enough to put that baby into His hands and believe that his future was secure without her in it?
Somewhere farther down the river, with his sister watching from the bank, the basket made it's way to where Pharoah's daughter was just minding her own business - bathing. I don't know if she had children, I don't know if she was married. I just know that she was living her life, and someone else's child came drifting into her bathtub. What did she think when she saw that basket? Was it common for people to send little basket boats rolling down the river with an infant inside? Regardless, she opened the basket. She opened the basket and she saw the beautiful baby inside. There could have been a poisonous snake inside, there could have been a severed head. Who knows what passed through her mind, but she opened the basket. And once she opened that basket, there was no turning back.
I am sure there were days when Pharoah's daughter felt she was incapable of being a good mother. I am sure there were days when the burden of slavery upon the Hebrew people made it difficult to raise a child who was a member of another race. I am certain that watching Moses grow and eventually return to his biological family was heartbreaking.  But I am also sure that she never, ever regretted her decision to save him, and raise him as her own.

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Goodbye, Dear Friend Hercules

Two weeks ago, we lost our big buddy, Hercules. John called him the "World's Biggest Lap dog" and it would be an injustice not to post a story or two about the Great Dane who made his home with us for so long. 

John adopted Hercules over five years ago. He was already five years old, full grown, weighing over two hundred pounds when John took him in. Hercules always brought our family a lot of attention whenever we were traveling with him.  He was a close companion of Jack, our terrier-beagle mix. Hercules and Jack were pretty much always together, from the living room where they would rest on opposite counches, to the neighborhood where they would roam together if they got away from us (before the backyard was fenced.)  My first encounter with Hercules was on my first date with John. We had dinner at the house, and when I first walked through the front door, these two crazy dogs came rushing at me, barking with tails wagging.  Hercules' tail was about two feet long and he got so excited, whacking his tail on the wall beside where I stood, that his tail burst open and blood was splattering all over the walls. It was quite alarming! I remember teasing John about not being afraid of the blood splatters on the wall leading down to the basement and about my being out on a date in the middle of the mountains with a complete stranger. 
I didn't know how to take Hercules at first: he was so large and intimidating, and yet, as gentle as a lamb. I would drive off to find him if he got away from the boys, and when I found him and called to him, he would jump into the cargo space of the Jeep and his huge tail would hang down. Several times, I had to try hard to not smash his tail when I closed the cargo door. Most of the time, he had this dopey kind of look on his face, but he was still pretty smart. He knew to stay away from the cats, and not try to steal food from Pork Chop.
Another special memory would be the day I brought Jeremiah and Peniel home, in June of last year. The boys were not used to indoor dogs, but I told them we had two big ones, and one small dog.  But I guess when you weigh 36 pounds like Jeremiah, a 178 pound dog that stands as tall as the kitchen counter is a little bit freaky.  I will never forget how the boys took one look at Porky and Hercules, and ran into our kitchen pantry, huddling together and shouting: "There's a horse in your house! It's a horse in your house!"  When Jeremiah finally came out of the pantry, I sat him on the kitchen counter and he looked around worriedly. His eyes found Jack, little scruffy, 30 pound Jack. "I yike the jello dog," he told me through his tears . . . but it wasn't soon before he learned that Hercules was the gentle one. Jeremiah played with Herc's tail, tried to ride him through the house, picked up his big feet and drove matchbox cars down his hip bone. Yes, he was a very patient old dog. He outlived most great Danes by 2-3 years, and he died peacefully on our back porch.

We Love you, Hercules! Rest in Peace!

"If there are no dogs in Heaven,
then when I die I want to go
where they went."

Will Rogers, 1897-1935

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Living in a Shoe

My mom has started referring to me as "the young woman who lives in a shoe" and my friend Sara, calls me "18 kids and counting," although I have never watched that show. I think that living in a "full house" grows you and stretches you in ways you never knew you could be stretched.  When I first went away to college in 1995, it was hard moving into a dorm full of people. We shared a community bathroom, the laundry facilities, a small kitchenette, and a large living space that was called the "lounge." It takes awhile to get used to all the sounds, sights, smells, and scenes that you are exposed to when you leave the comforts of home for a girls dormitory.  I think that is kind of the way it is at my house when people come to visit, or when the girls have a friend over.  Maybe the 15-passenger van in the driveway is a little intimidating, or maybe its the issue of standing in line to use the restroom. Either way, I can always tell when someone is a little less than comfortable with our wacky house that is busting at the seams.  I like to think that I am doing what God always wanted me to do, creating a home for kids who need one, creating memories for those kids, and loving them as they should be loved. Psalm 68: 5-6 says God is a "5 father to the fatherless, a defender of widows, is God in his holy dwelling. 6 God sets the lonely in families." I look around our kitchen table and think about these verses often. God has put together our family of different backgrounds, and I am very thankful we are exactly what we are. Just take a "typical" evening in my house- I get home from work about 7 pm - there is a little boy with brown skin playing on the floor with a Rottweiller. There is a red-haired, freckle-faced girl talking about a paper she has to write on Harper Lee's book, To Kill a Mockingbird, an autistic 12-year old in glasses trying to play the harmonica, and another boy in glasses making origami birds out of every piece of paper he can find. There is another beautiful brown-skinned boy, digging through the laundry trying to find something he lost, and another dog sniffing at the laundry pile. In the kitchen, a teenage girl and teenage guy take turns on the computer, working on projects, and a sweet bald man is trying to cook dinner amidst the chaos. There are times when it seems overwhelming- the dirt on the floor, the legos in the drain of the bathtub, dog hair all over the furniture, Kool-aid knocked over on the counter - and there are times when I fantasize about the peace and quiet I once knew when it was just me. And then I remember when it was "just me", and I had to sleep with my gun, Rottweiller, and all the lights in the house turned on. I would wake up three or four times a night to check and make sure the doors were all locked. I would sit in silence over a meal, or just park myself in front of the television at night for the company of the Golden Girls. I would take a walk in the neighborhood with my sweet dog, or go walk on the treadmill at the Y. But I was alone. And then there was Christmas of 2007. It was the first and only Christmas that I ever woke up alone. Yes, my sweet doggie was there, but there was no one to exchange gifts with, or share a nice breakfast. I was "the lonely" and God "set" me in a family. He had not forgotten me, although there were times I felt forgotten. He remembered me, and my heart's desire, and moved me and my sweet guard dog to Dahlonega to live with John and his three awesome kids. Then he blessed our home with three more great kids, and others would follow. Thinking about it, I rather like my life in a shoe. There is always something happening, always someone to talk to, or share a meal with. Yes, I like being the young woman who lives in a shoe. I think I will stay there, although we may need to switch our shoe to wide-width.

Monday, February 14, 2011

Tomorrow is OUR Valentine's Day!

Yes, I know that today is actually "Valentine's Day" but John and I will have our own reason to celebrate tomorrow because it will be exactly three years since our first date.

Three years ago, I was newly single, having finally surrendered my hope of "saving" a man who was hopelessly addicted to drugs and alcohol. I had been married for four years, eleven months and twenty-one days. I had seen my first "husband" through 4 mental hospitalizations, three stints in residential rehab, 2 incarcerations, multiple court appearances and arrests, 2 DUIs, one "hit and run", and 3 months on life-support at Grady Memorial - all of which didn't serve to turn his life around like you might think. Three years ago, I had decided that I might not ever have the family I dreamed of, that I might be "DIVORCED" and unwanted for good. Three years ago, I bought myself flowers and candy and determined that I was okay just being alone in a small house with a sweet dog and fat cat, Law and Order reruns, and a purposeful career.  But you see, three years ago, I had been talking online to a blue-eyed man in Dahlonega whom I had yet to meet in person. He had an easy laugh when we talked on the phone, and I could tell he loved his children, but he seemed so busy that I thought we would never meet.  But that Valentine's Day in 2008, John mentioned that, he too was alone for the holiday of sweethearts. He had worked that night, and had gone home to eat a simple dinner and watch television. He asked me if I might want to have dinner with him the next day- February 15. I agreed that it was time for us to meet. We had talked online and on the phone for quite awhile, we had talked about our first "marriages" and about seeing our exes decline into instability and recklessness. We had laughed into the phone about funny videos we had seen, or about the crazy children in our lives. He had grown up just around the corner from my grandparent's house in Stone Mountain.  He had vacationed on the same little spot of deserted beach in Florida all his life, just like me. We had worked at the same mall all through high school, he was on the same trip to Washington DC that I took at 16 years old, and we had literally missed each other by inches all of our lives.

So John invited me to dinner on the Friday night after Valentine's Day.  I drove to his house, where he had cooked pot roast and green beans. He had burned a few canned biscuits, and had bought me a diet coke, having learned it was my favorite. After dinner we bowled on his children's Wii and played with his two dogs. We tried to replace the awkwardness of a first date with interesting conversation, and found ourselves talking about politics. He read different books than me - had experienced life in different ways than me - had three brothers while I had two sisters - was a Presbyterian at a tiny little church and for Heaven's sake- a Democrat! But the longer we talked, the more I realized that the things I once thought were so important in a partner were really minor issues compared to the compatibility of finding someone who loves the same Lord that you do, and lives a life of integrity, trying to be an example for his children.

When our "date" was over, I said goodbye to John and he walked me outside. I wondered if he was still interested in me, and what would happen next. He didn't kiss me or try to hold my hand, he just gave me a gentle hug and told me to drive safely. I drove home, and thought about our date as I fell asleep.  The next day, John called so say "I had fun last night."
"Me too," I replied, "Let's do it again sometime."
"How about tonight?" He asked. And we ended up seeing each other on February 16th, when I made homemade chicken and dumplings and he brought me peach roses. And again on February 17th. And again the next weekend. And the weekend after that . . . .

And eight months later, we married in a simple outdoor wedding at my Great Aunt's house in Covington. Amanda stood with me, and Georgia stood with John. The boys wore matching sweaters, and after the ceremony, John and I took 3 nights for a honeymoon in Dillard. And after this humble beginning, I moved into that house in Dahlonega where we shared our first meal together. I brought my household full of "stuff", my sweet dog, fat cat, and a whole lot of hope for the future.

And every day since then has been another day with the love of my life, my partner in this world . . . my best friend. Happy Valentine's Day, Bunky! I love you so much!

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Don't come into my cave if you are afraid of the dark . . .

This is as real as it gets, so please don't read this and then post some silly comment about how I need to keep my chin up or "look at the bright side."  For those of you who might think I'm not looking at the bright side, let me assure you that I am over-the-moon happily in love with my husband, abundantly grateful for my ever-supportive and loyal family, and crazy about my step-kids and foster kids. But here goes:  INFERTILITY STINKS.  I would use another adjective besides "Stinks" here but it would not be very nice. 
Last week, I was talking with a little boy who is adopted. He told me that he will not have any brothers or sisters because "my mom's stomach is broken." It was all I could do not to fall into the floor in a heap of emotions and just cry for his mom. Because I know what it's like to have a "broken stomach" and feel the ache of longing to carry a child, but also feeling like a part of you is so damaged or broken (and not because you did anything to cause that) and it is a disgusting, lonely, and miserable feeling.
Yes I know- REJOICE ALWAYS... The Bible says so. I want to rejoice always, I want to be so happy for the 12 people a day that cross my path with their perfect ultrasound photos. I want to REJOICE in this situation that I am facing. I want to rejoice in the crazy misfit family that God has given me. 
But some days it is hard . . .
I've had Jeremiah and Peniel since June 22 of last year. I love them so much, and they have healed my broken heart in so many ways.  But slowly, they have begun having overnight visits with their mom. This past weekend was the third time they have had an overnight visit with her. When they came back to me, they were awful. From his car-seat, Jeremiah was throwing a fit and when I tried to correct his behavior, he shouted "I don't yike you, Meyissa! You are the WORST BABYSITTER EVER!"  And let me tell you, that remark did not sit well with me.  Of course, I didn't cry in front of him- I did it much later, in my bedroom with John lovingly rubbing my back and telling me that I am NOT a babysitter. Becky later pointed out that if I was a babysitter, I'm really getting the shaft.  I feed, clothe, and bathe this child - wash his dirty butt when he has diarrhea and frequently fall asleep with his toes stabbing my in the back because he wakes up in the middle of the night and comes into my room.  And I don't get paid a dime for any of that!
Samuel wrote a letter to his mom in jail and gave it to me to mail. It read "I miss you when you are in jail. You are the best mom in the whole world." If the irony of that escapes you, don't worry - it escaped him too.

Obviously the hardest part of being a step mom or foster-mom is the fact that I am a substitute for the real thing. It's like when you watch a soap opera and suddenly without warning your favorite character is replaced by a new actor. The narrator's voice announces: "The part of Dash Wellington will now be played by . . ." and gives the name of the new actor who will take the place of your old favorite one. The new actor can do all the same things, read the same lines, romance the same ladies as part of the plot - but in your heart he will never feel like the real Dash Wellington. Well, that's me . . . the babysitter with the broken stomach. To my kids, I am just a stand-in for the real thing. Or at least that's how I feel right now. I'm just down in the dumps- in my cave.  It doesn't mean I won't come out . . . and it doesn't mean I will be this way forever. I will come back into the light of day, I will hear the boys laughter and their arguing over who can fart the loudest. I will hear the girls talking about their guy troubles and discussion about prom dates. I will look around our crowded kitchen table and think about how blessed I am - how fortunate I am to share my lives with them, to grow and learn with them . . . to see their progress in life, and to hear about their adventures.
So, if you read this blog and you pray- please pray for me. Pray that I can rejoice in all things. Pray that I can see God's hand at work in this- that I can "let go" and accept things as they are, or find fulfillment in God's perfect will for my life- even if is disagrees with my own plans. 

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

All that's new in 2011

It's been awhile since I posted anything, and I am very happy that a few people have mentioned that fact. Every time I thought about writing and updating this blog, I got distracted. Yes, I know it's hard to believe that I ever get distracted . . . four boys under 12 years old, several teenage girls, more dogs than many people will have in a lifetime . . . but, yes, I do often get distracted. But aside from the usual madness in the Line Castle, we have recently had some other situations that diverted our attention, and rightly so.

First of all, we lost John's precious and devoted father, Jack, on January 5th. Jack was an incredible father, husband, grandfather, church leader, friend, and neighbor. He and my sweet mother in law, Fran, are a gift from God, something I never expected to find in another family. It seems that God doubly blessed me when he sent John into my life, because I not only got a wonderful husband, but an equally wonderful second family.

John's dad had several small strokes in 2010, the most recent one causing him to lose his speech. Communicating with Jack was hard, and you could sense his frustration, though he was always gracious and glad to see us and the children. Jack's health was progressively deteriorating for all of the last year and a week before his death, he took another bad fall in the house, resulting in some bleeding in the brain. On Sunday, January the 2nd, John's brother called to say that Jack was not doing well and that we should come down to the hospital. Jack had stopped breathing several times, and had to be intubated. Fran and the guys explained to the hospital that Jack never wanted to be kept alive this way. Jack had signed a DNR order with his attorney three years prior, and had always been adamant that he never wanted to be hooked up to machines in the hospital. So around eleven in the morning that Sunday, Jack was taken off all the machines. His breathing was labored, and although he did open his eyes at times, and would even squeeze your hand, he was fading away. John and his brothers stayed right by Jack's side through the entire ordeal. On Sunday night, the Dr. advised to move Jack to Odyssey house, a hospice facility nearby. For the next three nights, each of Jack's sons took a turn staying with him all through the night, talking to him, playing his favorite bluegrass and gospel music, and making sure the football games were always on the television. Fran brought Jack's Georgia Tech blanket and covered him and Georgia and I stayed as long as possible Sunday and again on Monday. On Tuesday, the kids returned to school, and by Wednesday when I returned to the hospice facility, Jack was barely hanging on. John had been there for several hours that morning already, and decided to go over to his parent's house to shower. Fran and I took over by Jack's bedside, and we tried to talk to keep our minds off the difficult task of watching Jack leave this world. John had plugged in Jack's laptop and turned it to a Pandora station that featured all bluegrass and country gospel. A few times that morning I heard Elvis or Johnny Cash singing an old hymn and I smiled when I heard "The devil went down to Georgia," sharing with Fran about the time when Mitchell decided to sing it for my entire family. After a short time, I stood up and crossed the room. I found the Gideon Bible in a drawer and opened it to Psalm 91, laying it on the bed at Jack's feet. While Fran held her husband's hand, I touched his feet and prayed for God to take him gently, and without any suffering. His breathing was devastating to hear, and many times I had to get up and pace the room to keep from falling apart. Fran patiently and tenderly spoke to Jack, reassuring him that she was there by his side. When he stopped breathing, Fran suggested I go and find a medical staff member to come see him. When I stood up, Jack took one more breath and then he was gone. I hurried to the nurse's station, and felt the tears in my eyes. "I think my father in law is . . ." and I couldn't even say the words. Two nurses and a technician followed me back to the room. Fran was still holding Jack's hand. One of the nurses listened with a stethoscope and used a small blood pressure cuff, then nodded to the other nurse. It was so quiet, so final. We sat for a moment without a word, until I realized what was playing from the laptop, "In the sweet, by and by . . . we shall meet on that beautiful shore." Fran turned and looked at me with tears in her eyes and said softly, "we had 53 and 1/2 years."

Explaining to the kids that Grandpa's life is now in Heaven but his body remains on earth is a difficult task, especially with a five year old. Jeremiah's questions ranged from "Will Grandpa be old in Heaven?" to "Will I be old and die?" Georgia had a very hard time and expressed her emotions openly. Mitchell grieved in his very own way, as did Samuel. Peniel told us in the van that saying goodbye to Grandpa was "saying a happy goodbye," because we know we will be together again one day.

Following Jack's death, relatives from Michigan, Florida, and Ohio filled John's childhood home with food, photographs, and warmth. The kids and I spent the weekend with these wonderful people, many of whom had never met me, and most who had not seen the children in several years. We talked of how Jack was reunited with his son, Mark, John's brother who died nineteen years ago, and with his own parents and brother. My mom and Uncle put together a bluegrass band to play "I'll fly away" at the Saturday funeral, and Samuel got strep throat in the middle of all of it!

One of the most precious things that happened after Jack's death was when Fran gave John his father's wedding band. John has been without a wedding band for about 6 months since his was accidentally destroyed. He hasn't found another ring he liked as well as his original one, so he has been without a ring. Following Jack's death, Fran gave John the ring his dad wore for 53 and 1/2 years. I can only hope and pray that we will have as long as they did, and that we will love each other as completely and honestly as they did, sharing joys and sorrows and a house full of memories.

The day after the funeral a great snowstorm hit us! John told the kids it was "Grandpa's snow," a beautiful, thick, pure white snow blanketed everything you could see, from our yard, to our street, even our cars. The snow in Dahlonega was about seven inches or more and fluffy. It was like a gift in many ways: it forced us to stay home and spend time with each other, and we enjoyed our gas fireplace logs that Jack and Fran had given us for Christmas! The snow afforded us some extra time to love on each other, gather around the fireplace and enjoy chicken and dumplings. Cody and Samuel built a fantastic snowman, Hannah built an igloo that unforunately collapased, and we had hours of snowball fights and sledding. Pork Chop donned her Harley Davidson sweatshirt and chased the kids around in the snow, jumping up and down with excitement.

School was closed for an entire week - for most of north Georgia. The kids became stir crazy and a little grumpy around Wednesday, and with a snow shovel and ice-scraper, John had to return to work and open his store. I was able to work from home, and catch up on some phone messages and emails from the week before. On Thursday, I went into the office for a little while, being that we only opened for a few hours that day, and had the chance to stop and help a college student who had run off the highway into the median. God protected us and our cars throughout the icy week, and the weekend came and went. Now I am back to work, and the kids are back to school. It's time to get back into the routine of life, although life is different now. My husband's father is gone. He lives on through John, and through his brothers, and through all the grandchildren, but he resides no longer in the flesh and on this earth. He reigns with God, maybe he talks about math with God, maybe he square dances, or listens to Elvis and Johnny Cash - live.  Most of all, I like to imagine him at peace, happy, whole . . . and I pray that he found my little babies, and told them I can't wait to hold them . . . one day.